9 October 2016

PARRHESIA: Blessed John Henry Newman's views on aggressive insolent factions

Today, on this splendid Festum of Blessed John Henry Newman, I can think of no better, nor more relevant, topic for thought than our great Blessed's Parrhesia with regard to what magisterial authorities of the Church were up to in Rome.

Early in 1870, B John Henry received a letter from his bishop William Ullathorne about the disgraceful bullying going on at the [First] Vatican Council. He replied with words which became justly famous: "Why should an aggressive insolent faction be allowed to 'make the heart of the just to mourn, whom the Lord hath not made sorrowful?'" ... words which spring easily to mind when one thinks about the synodical goings-on in Rome during this last couple of years and the Exhortation Amoris laetitia which emerged from those flawed processes. Seven months later, on 23 July, Newman saw the Definition of papal infallibility five days after it had passed through the Conciliar Aula. He was relieved, even delighted, at its "moderation"; it afforded him no problems; but "does it come to me with the authority of an Ecumenical Council?" 

Newman did not instantly accept it as such. He wanted to know what the conciliar minority would do. This was important, because unanimity, at least 'moral' unanimity, was accepted as essential for the validity of a conciliar definition of doctrine. If the Fathers "allege in detail acts of violence and deceit ... if they declare they have been kept in the dark and been practised on, then there will be the gravest reasons for determining that the Definition is not valid."

We may not possess 'our Cardinal's' immense erudition. But we are subject to the same moral imperatives as those by which he was moved to speak as he did.

After Vatican II, Cardinal Heenan (who deserves rehabilitation; he was an Archbishop of Westminster a cut above most of them) complained (Sire pp 200-201) that "During the last two weeks of the Council the fathers were called upon to cast their votes before they could possibly have studied the text and context, much less the implications, of the amendments".

Sadly, the Fathers of Vatican II, who were indeed subjected to acts of violence and deceit, kept in the dark and practised on, made no such corporate protest as would (in Blessed John Henry's view) have nullified the Council. Nor, even more sadly, did Parrhesia move them to make formally any individual protests. Even Archbishop Lefebvre's subsequent repudiations of the texts he had signed were not articulated until it became clearer, well after the Council, whither the Church was being led. Let us not condemn these men; it is easy for us very much lesser men to be wise half a century after the event. But the fact remains: they did not protest; they did not repudiate.

Not, of course, that this failure to protest mattered or matters too desperately, since Vatican II, unlike Vatican I, claimed to define no dogmas. Even less competent is a Synod (still less a mere episcopal Conference) to assert doctrinal or legislative authority. Nor, as I have repeatedly pointed out, does an Exhortation ex sese have exalted Magisterial authority. If it repeats what the Church has immemorially taught and practised, then it is  for that reason magisterial; if it were to bear manifest signs of shameless rupture (and I don't think Amoris laetitia does that), the reader would have to draw the necessary conclusion and repudiate it.

But what if such a document appears to hint at, to leave a loophole for, to wink salaciously in the direction of, the new, the heterodox, the ruptured? In this case, we should interpret and accept it solely in terms of previous magisterial documents which we can employ to clarify its ambiguities and fill up its lacunae ... while regretting that our Holy Father was too timid, possibly even too craven, to use this opportunity to speak, with Parrhesia, that Truth which is in Christ; the Truth which is Christ; the Truth of whom the Roman Pontiff is the Vicar. We should most certainly not behave like the Graf von Schoenborn, who at that News Conference condescendingly talked about 'Development', dishonestly mentioned Newman, and disgracefully shut Parrhesia down.

This is a time when we, laics and clerics and bishops, are called upon to speak with the same Parrhesia that Blessed John Henry employed. If Eminent gentlemen who, in Newman's words, wear the royal hue of empire and of martyrdom, attempt to bully, to intimidate, to misuse their status to silence any who speak out, we should remember 'our Cardinal's' condemnations of an aggressive insolent faction

We have the Holy Father's own reiterated encouragements of Parrhesia as our defence and inspiration. Not to mention Canon 212.


Woody said...

Perhaps a related treatment from Dr. Adam DeVille at Eastern Christian Books: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-word-from-adrian-fortescue.html

Anonymous said...

I noticed in Pope Francis' latest aeroplane comments about 'transgender' issues that after his seemingly habitually confused and confusing attempts to balance truth and compassion, he begged reporters: "Please, don't say, 'The pope will bless transgender people,' OK?" That suggests to me that he is perhaps beginning to get the message from some who have the boldness to confront him about the way things are being said and done and the signals he is sending.

Jacob said...

Dear Father,

I have a question for you regarding Blessed John Henry Newman. A number of years ago at Father Zed's blog, he mentioned a small, out of the way church in Rome that Newman preferred for prayer when he visited Rome. This church was /not/ his church as cardinal, San Giorgio al Velabro. I have asked Father Zed, but he does not recall the blog of which I am thinking. Perhaps you know know it? Thank you.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The Church is not a simple democracy, where the majority or even powerful rule. It is communio, even one sheep that separates from the and cries 'non placet' has to be sought out and taken into account.

Rose Marie said...

I think the process Fr. Blake describes is working just fine. Cardinal Burke has been defenestrated, Cardinal Muller given the silent treatment, Cardinal Pell cut off at the knees, and Cardinal Sarah has a bag over his head, but he keeps talking anyway, rather like the decapitated St. Denis.

pjotr said...

"if it were to bear manifest signs of shameless rupture (and I don't think Amoris laetitia does that), the reader would have to draw the necessary conclusion and repudiate it." Now the directives in the diocese of Rome (the diocese of Pope Francis) are known - directives that say that divorced and 'remarried' can have access to the sacraments in some cases (without having to amend their lives) - we can only conclude that the intention and policy of Pope Francis do bear manifest signs of shameless rupture. The veil is definitely lifted.