16 December 2017

The Curia Romana (1)

Jorge Bergoglio has no Magisterial authority whatsoever. The Bishop of Rome does. But, of course, Jorge Bergoglio is Bishop of Rome; and so, qua Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis possesses the very considerable authority defined dogmatically by the First Vatican Council and expressed legally in the two Codices Iuris Canonici. Being Bishop of Rome is what counts. And being Bishop of Rome, like being Bishop of Anywhere, means being Bishop of Somewhere. And being Bishop of Somewhere means being Bishop of certain people ... of certain living and breathing Christian humans.

What is "a Bishop"? There is a (largely Anglophone) ecclesiastical underworld populated by what are often called "Episcopi vagantes", "Wandering Bishops". These are persons who have privately secured for themselves technically 'valid' episcopal orders. Many people suspect that their motive for doing this has been personal vanity, because these are 'bishops' who are not surrounded by the serried and serious ranks of their presbyterium, nor ministered to ad altare by their cheerful bustling Deacons, and who lack the boisterous, sometimes disorderly, mob of 'their' Laity, laos. And they are not, these Episcopi vagantes, in peace and communion with the Apostolic, or indeed with any other, See. Far from it.

Per contra, in Catholic (and Orthodox) ecclesiology, a Bishop is a man who discharges the functions of the high Episcopal office in the context of the structured Church life of People, Deacons, and Presbyters. A gathering of Christians so structured is known as a "Particular Church". Like any other Diocesan Bishop, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is a Bishop with a Presbyterium, a Diakonia, a Laos. He is not a lonely isolated individual with technically valid orders and a technically valid Electio in Summum Pontificem tucked into his back pocket. He is not, that is to say, a Papa vagans. With his usual acuity, Blessed John Henry Newman argued, in the case of some early popes who showed signs of doctrinal wobble, that, since this happened after they had been beaten up in Byzantine prisons, it had no bearing on the Papal Office, since they were acting as individuals in physical and moral isolation from their Ecclesia.

In the Particular, local Church of Rome, the "Cardinal Presbyters" are the Pope's presbyterium, which is why they have "titular" churches assigned to them of which they are the titular parish priests. Mutatis mutandis, the Cardinal Deacons. You will see where this is leading. The 'Cardinalate', if that is the right word, is not without theological significance. It is part of the organic structure of the very important Particular (i.e.local) Church of which the Successor of S Peter is the Bishop. This is seen most easily and most visibly in the persons of the curial Cardinals who permanently work in Rome. But it applies also to the other Cardinals throughout the world, who qua Roman Presbyters have their titular churches and are distributed among the boards of the Roman dicasteries. The Cardinal Archbishop of Timbuctoo wears red and is addressed as 'Eminence' not because he is the important local 'Primate' of a big 'National Church', but because he is Cardinal Presbyter of the Titular Church of SS Promiscuus and Miscellaneus*, which, until the Risorgimento, the Pontiff used to visit for the Stational Mass on February 31.

There has sometimes been a tendency, which I very strongly condemn, to want to separate the notion of the Pope from that of the Curia. The Pope, it is sometimes said, is the Pope and has his highly significant dogmatically based prerogatives which we can't really avoid fessing up to because they were dogmatically defined at Vatican I. But the Curia ... that is nothing more than a civil service, and a rather unattractive one to boot ( ... er ... ). Not only is it without doctrinal significance, but its members get in the way; they behave in a bossy fashion in their dealings with the Churches throughout the world. Perhaps they should be cut down. Perhaps they should be put in their place. Might we not be happier without them? Liberal journalists are programmed to cheer any pope whose sycophants put it about that he intends to savage the Curia.

In my view, this is not merely humanly unfair but is also extremely flawed theologically. It is a direct assault upon that structure, the structure of the Particular local Church of Rome, within which the Supreme Pontiff necessarily discharges his unique and indispensible role. It is a solvent which, because it seeks to split off the Pope from the structures of his Particular local Church, has the potential to leave the Roman Pontiff as a lonely and decontextualised figure; in effect, a very powerful Episcopus vagans. And that sounds to me very much like saying 'a theologically dubious Absolute Monarch'.
To be continued.
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*I owe this intriguing duo, and their Feast Day (a semidouble), to the fertile imagination of the late Rt Revd Mgr Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, Protonotary Apostolic and Master of Arts (Oxon.). 

6 comments:

Joshua said...

While Knox supplies the delightful names of the saintly martyrs that grace the 31st of February, he omits reference to their titular church, where one supposes their noble bodies repose until the general resurrection. Is it a most gracious structure, rebuilt by the munificence of an eighteenth century Bavarian Cardinal in glorious rococo with a trompe-l'œil ceiling depicting Promiscuus and Miscellaneus, amidst a retinue of angels and archangels bearing the instruments of their passion, ascending vertiginously to the very throne of our Triune God? And perhaps their sacred skeletons have been reassembled with gold filigree and precious gems, posed artfully with palms in their hands, and recline in their glass-walled niche beneath the high altar? (I think of it as a miniature Ottobeuren in the City.)

Dear Father, do tell!

Sue Sims said...

While we're on the topic of Mgr. Knox (through whose writings I was brought into the Church), today is the 60th anniversary of his death. Please remember him in your prayers.

Aaron Sanders said...

I appreciate this attempt to underscore the theological importance of the Roman Curia, Father, but I would appreciate your thoughts on a few misgivings I have about your stress upon the place of the curia within the local church of Rome.

1) You seem to be using interchangeably the "Roman Curia" and (without explicit mention) "College of Cardinals." But while it is true that all cardinals are assigned at least minimal involvement in curial dicasteries, what are we to do with the priest whom the French diocese of Remulak has loaned for three years to a mid-level desk at the Pontifical Council for Culture? Is that un-incardinated, un-entitled priest also to be seen as an organic and significant part of the ecclesia Romana particularis?

2) A second consideration makes me think not. When, in days of yore, popes appointed cardinals whose clerical character extended no further than minor orders, those cardinals' pre-eminence could not rest upon status as presbyteri/diaconi Romanae ecclesiae in any robust sense of the term (I must confess I do not know if they were granted tituli by some legal contrivance). Instead, their eminence, I argue provisionally, proceeds from their amalgamation to the juridic personality of the Bishop of Rome, as extensions of his ministry. We do not, after all, accord this reverence to the entire Roman clerus, even if the cardinalatial dignity may have its roots there originally. On the contrary, while the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador now enjoys priority over non-cardinal metropolitans by virtue of his connection to the Petrine office, the incardinated deacon of the Roman parish of St. Ipsydipsy is outranked by all the world's presbyterate, and takes no precedence over his fellow deacons when visiting another diocese. Yet he is more truly part of the particular church of Rome than are a vast number of its curial officials.

3) If we *do*, nonetheless, rest our case upon the curia's place within the particular church of Peter's successor, have we not created for ourselves a nasty situation in which many of that particular church's most influential members are guilty of absenteeism and pluralism? Flying in for quarterly meetings in Rome (whose tituli have been abandoned to vicars) while shepherding a distinct metropolitan church elsewhere (and thus charged with representing that church's own traditional articulation of the faith and consuetudines) does not sound like the greatest qualification for speaking and acting as an organic member of the Roman particular church.

Aaron Sanders said...

I appreciate this attempt to underscore the theological importance of the Roman Curia, Father, but I would appreciate your thoughts on a few misgivings I have about your stress upon the place of the curia within the local church of Rome.

1) You seem to be using interchangeably the "Roman Curia" and (without explicit mention) "College of Cardinals." But while it is true that all cardinals are assigned at least minimal involvement in curial dicasteries, what are we to do with the priest whom the French diocese of Remulak has loaned for three years to a mid-level desk at the Pontifical Council for Culture? Is that un-incardinated, un-entitled priest also to be seen as an organic and significant part of the ecclesia Romana particularis?

2) A second consideration makes me think not. When, in days of yore, popes appointed cardinals whose clerical character extended no further than minor orders, those cardinals' pre-eminence could not rest upon status as presbyteri/diaconi Romanae ecclesiae in any robust sense of the term (I must confess I do not know if they were granted tituli by some legal contrivance). Instead, their eminence, I argue provisionally, proceeds from their amalgamation to the juridic personality of the Bishop of Rome, as extensions of his ministry. We do not, after all, accord this reverence to the entire Roman clerus, even if the cardinalatial dignity may have its roots there originally. On the contrary, while the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador now enjoys priority over non-cardinal metropolitans by virtue of his connection to the Petrine office, the incardinated deacon of the Roman parish of St. Ipsydipsy is outranked by all the world's presbyterate, and takes no precedence over his fellow deacons when visiting another diocese. Yet he is more truly part of the particular church of Rome than are a vast number of its curial officials.

3) If we *do*, nonetheless, rest our case upon the curia's place within the particular church of Peter's successor, have we not created for ourselves a nasty situation in which many of that particular church's most influential members are guilty of absenteeism and pluralism? Flying in for quarterly meetings in Rome (whose tituli have been abandoned to vicars) while shepherding a distinct metropolitan church elsewhere (and thus charged with representing that church's own traditional articulation of the faith and consuetudines) does not sound like the greatest qualification for speaking and acting as an organic member of the Roman particular church.

Joshua said...

Further curious details concerning Saints Promiscuus and Miscellaneus may be of interest: for these are what are known technically as “composite” saints, rather like those I beheld displayed in the museum underneath Santa Maria Maggiore, one of which which consisted of the head of one saint emplaced between the respective arms of two others.

For our saints began as two groups of martyred Christians of every age, sex and condition, each party burnt to death on a common pyre under the monstrous Diocletian, who slaughtered innocents innumerable that he might destroy our Faith and sustain his Empire, but instead damned himself while sending hordes to heaven.

When at length the smoking cinders were secretly raked through at night by the braver among the surviving faithful, that they might convey those sacred relics to their hiding places in the catacombs, such had been the ferocity of the fires that from each only a fraction of bones were recovered – but, by a prodigy of providence, the two collections amassed therefrom amounted in each case to a full if somewhat disproportioned skeleton, wondrously comprised of remnants from each burnt believer’s body.

For we, though many, are one body in Christ, as the Apostle taught, and are every one of us members one of another (Rom. xii, 5); likewise, the Didache (ix, 4) reminds us that the broken bread – here, the martyrs’ jointly roasted fragments – was once many grains scattered over the hills, milled and baked and gathered together into one, which foreshadows the assembly of the whole Church in the Kingdom of God; and the glorious martyrdom and astonishingly-assembled relics of these witnesses-unto-death is a literal demonstration of this.

The names of those in the two condemned parties having been lost in the confusion, the miraculously complete mixed skeletons were posthumously entitled Saints Promiscuus and Saints Miscellaneus, which collective pair by an understandable simplification were later referred to as Saints Promiscuus and Miscellaneus, as if each were a singular rather than a plural. By a late decision of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, for this reason the Common of Many Martyrs is used for them all.

It is to be regretted that not only scoffing atheists of recent ages, but also some of the learned Bollandists, and even the once-well-known Father Thurston, had unkind things to say about the cultus and curiously assembled relics of these great martyrs, to defence of which the redoubtable Monsignor Knox sprang in his works of piety; unsurprisingly, during Bugnini’s saint-denying sway their feast was dropt from the Calendar even of Rome herself, the place of their martyrdom, and on their natal day the honours of the altar are now paid them only at their titular church.

Stephen said...

Hmmm...even here would it no be more accurate to say "eastern Roman prisons" rather than Byzantine prisons? Nobody would have known where or what a Byzantine prison was, back then. An imperial prison, yes, perhaps also that, but not Byzantine.

It is akin to the slang term used today by Mexicans to refer to Americans - Gringos. The country or geographic area called Gringo does not exist (as the country or empire named "Byzantine"did not exist). And even if Mexico or Canada were to take over America and historians were to rename it Gringo, it doesn't make those who lived in America before then Gringos.

Americans call themselves Americans and live in America. Just like the Romans in the eastern part of the Roman empire called themselves Romans.

I mean, if liturgy is to have meaning and context that is accurate, should not history and language?