1 February 2020

Yet more Definitive tenendum?

The 1998 CDF Commentary on Ad tuendam fidem (paragraph 11) gave examples of "truths connected to revelation by historical necessity and which are to be held definitively". One was "the legitimacy of the election of the Sovereign Pontiff".

I have near my desk a useful little CTS pamphlet (1958) (it cost me 6d when I was a smart little chap of seventeen ... money well spent): The Popes from St Peter to Pius XII. Jolly good for dates and simple summaries. Based upon the Annuario Pontificio of 1904 and 1905. Each pope has his own number. Numbers 112, 114, 116: Pope Formosus was posthumously deposed by his successor Stephen VII but rehabilitated by his successor Theodore II. 119 Leo V:  "Regarded as probably an anti-pope". Leo VIII (993): "His election is of doubtful validity". 133 Benedict V: "His election is of doubtful validity". 146A Sylvester III: "His election is of doubtful validity". 147 Gregory VI: "His election therefore is of doubtful validity". 200 Urban VI: "The election ... has however been generally deemed valid".

Quite a bag of popes here about whose legitimacy (or illegitimacy) greater or lesser doubts are openly expressed. If the list-makers are themselves in such states of doubt, how can the ordinary Catholic know how to submit to the requirements ("to be held definitively") implied by the Commentary? Urban VI, number 200, is fairly important. Upon his status depends the question whether, from 1378 onwards, the 'Roman' popes or the 'Avignon' popes were the true line. The schism lasted until 1417 and there has never been, as far as I am aware, a definitive resolution of the uncertainties before that date. To say that his "election has been generally deemed valid" seems to my untutored and uncanonical eye much weaker than to say "the legitimacy of his election is to be held definitively". And, to add to the confusions, respectable authors have imported an axiom Papa dubius Papa nullus (I can't discover who first deployed it) to argue that, during the Great Schism, there was for four decades no Pope at all. You can see why this has some appeal: after the Council of Pisa (1409) the 'Roman' pope, Gregory XII, commonly regarded as the 'real' pope, did not have jurisdiction beyond Italy; the 'Avignon' 'antipope' Benedict XIII was accepted by nobody outside a little Spanish town called Peniscola; and the Pisan 'antipope' Alexander V held sway over the rest of the world.

But ... Oh dear ... I've just discovered that my schoolboy list is out of date. It is rather different from that in the current Annuario Pontificio. Apparently, the list in my leaflet dated back to 1904/5, but there was a revision in the 1940s. Indeed? Then the scholars who did that revision, the person responsible for that revision, did not, apparently, regard the previous list as definitive tenendum. And ... Ah!! God bless Wikipedia! There was more revision in 2001! Gracious! So those responsible for doing that did not regard the list which they picked up to revise as being definitive tenendum. So, why on earth ...

Yeah ... I know ... I am trying your patience. The Commentary was simply clobbering modern sedevacantists ... and so it jolly well should ... all power to its elbow. There was no intention to spray irrelevant anathemas all over historical pedants who hold divergent views about the status of long dead popes and antipopes. Nor was it excommunicating the chappies who keep revising the list in the Annuario every generation or soHave some common sense, Fr H. Fair enough.

But ... and this is my point ... I think the methodology of the Commentary is lacking in logical rigour. It cannot really mean exactly what it says. (It was not approved by the then pope ... nor approved in forma specifica.) And it risks dragging into disrepute the entire concept of "to be held definitively". In strictly logical terms, why should it be 'what-the-Hell-who-cares' to dispute the validity of the election of Gregory VI but totally terrible to question that of Francis I?  Over the years, apparently, definitive tenendum gradually and gracefully evaporates. As the magicians say, Now you see it, now you don't.

My tentative conclusion (I really am open to well-argued elucidations but not to irritable rants) is that this paragraph in the Commentary is intended to point pastorally and reliably to where authentic Church Life is, here and now, to be found and lived. It is to be found in communion with Francis, who really is Pope (not in sedevacantist groups). Sure pointers to sure realities; reliable notice-boards about real minefields where Death truly lurks. That is why, here and now, observing it as definitive tenendum keeps you safe, and is important. But, despite its rather fierce appearance, this language is not intended, cannot be intended, as an implacable iron rule to resolve every doubt in past history - it just doesn't work - nor can it, need it, be an eternal mill-stone round the Church's neck.

It cannot be wrong to speculate on what future generations of editors of the Annuario Pontificio might decide about the status of Francis I. Although it may be imprudent or a waste of time better spent otherwise!

So ... yes ... you do have to be in communion with Francis. It's essential to you and your salvation in this precise moment that God has placed you in. But that in no way prevents a harsh judgement being made in the future with regard to the present occupant of the Roman See ... just it has been upon Leo V or Leo VIII and all the rest of those I list above. That judgement may be made by future popes and Councils; more probably, it may be made simply by the evolution of historical consensus.


Anita Moore said...

I don’t recall that there was any doubt or controversy about Pope Francis’s election. My recollection is that he was universally acclaimed as sovereign Pontiff at that time. If the Pope is the touchstone of Christian unity, then how can the entire Church err by universally acclaiming a false Pope at the time of his election? (And it seems to me the universal acclaim is effective, even if we don’t like the man selected to be Pope, or develop buyer’s remorse later on.) This is a question that I ask but have yet to get a response.

PM said...

'Buyers's remorse' is an apt phrase. In the case of Urban Vi, for example, there are no good grounds to dispute the validity of his election. He turned into a psychopathic and murderous tyrant, but that would not retrospectively invalidate the cardinal electors' acts.

The Great Schism poses all sorts of interesting questions. Take for example St Vincent Ferrer OP, a canonised Saint who (according to the official Roman lists) have his allegiance to an antipope. Presumably he gave his allegiance in good faith and is held to have been inculpable.

Ben said...

The CDF Doctrinal Commentary gives two basic ways that something is taught definitively – solemn definition by Pope or Ecumenical Council; or being proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So, we need to interpret its statement on papal elections in that context. Since it would not appear that there has ever been a solemn definition about the legitimacy of any papal election, the Commentary is presumably suggesting that the legitimacy of this or that papal election has become a teaching to be held definitively in virtue of it having been proposed as such by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

This would not apply indiscriminately to the election of every purported pontiff who has ever had their name included on the list in the Annuario Pontificio. Rather, it would depend on the historical reality that such-and-such a papal election had been universally accepted by the worldwide Episcopate. (The Annuario Pontificio, obviously, is not the ordinary and universal Magisterium.)

Here footnote 17 of the Doctrinal Commentary is suggestive: ‘It should be noted that the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium is not only set forth with an explicit declaration of a doctrine to be believed or held definitively, but is also expressed by a doctrine implicitly contained in a practice of the Church’s faith…’

One sign that a Bishop was implicitly proposing the legitimacy of a papal election as ‘definitive’ in his ordinary Magisterium might be if he would refuse to tolerate any of his priests doubting said election (for example by omitting the current claimant's name in the Eucharistic Prayer). If a priest-historian academically questioned the legitimacy of some long-forgotten pontiff from turbulent times, it is doubtful that the Bishop would concern himself. So it could just be that at no stage in history was that particular forgotten pope universally accepted.

Now, the ordinary and universal Magisterium must always include the Pope himself, so sedevacantists might contend that if applied to the legitimacy of the election of a ‘Pope’ currently reigning, the argumentation against them is circular: since, they would say, there is in fact currently no Pope, then the ordinary and universal Magisterium cannot presently be in operation.

In response we might say, we should go not just with ‘the letter’ but also with ‘the spirit’ of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, and agree with Anita Moore above: ‘How can the entire Church err by universally acclaiming a false Pope at the time of his election?’ The whole reason the ordinary and universal Magisterium (taken according to the letter, by which this necessarily includes the true Pope) is infallible, is that God would not allow the entire People of God to be led into error in this way. But equally, he would not allow the whole Church to unanimously follow a false 'Pope', with endless ramifications.

Even though the Holy See chose to issue the Doctrinal Commentary without explicit papal approbation (I would imagine Pope John Paul did informally approve it behind the scenes), I would still be somewhat nervous about disregarding teachings it states to be definitive, since if the CDF was right and I was wrong, I would ‘no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church’. (Doctrinal Commentary 6)