28 June 2009

Brichtelmestunensis dixit ...

Some time ago, a blogger whom I read and admire wrote : "the centre of communion is the person of the bishop of Rome". I wonder if this is quite accurately focussed.

A long time ago the well-know Anglican Catholic theologian Eric Mascall, described by Fr Aidan Nichols as a separated Magister fidei Catholicae, pointed out that there are papal vacancies, and this must have a significance. History provides us with examples as long as some three years, but even if the longest papal interregnum were only three minutes the logical problem would remain. During that three minutes, would we have to say that the Church Universal had no visible and earthly centre of unity?

I feel we are on safer ground in asserting that the centre of communion is the Roman Church, which at the beginning of the second century S Ignatius decribed as presiding over the Agape. The Roman Church, unlike the Roman Pontiff, never for a moment ceases to exist. And the Roman Pontiff himself is not a conceptually isolated individual, an episcopus vagans. His existence and meaning and ministry and significance are rooted in and inseparable from the fact that he is Bishop of Rome, Peter's Church, where Peter still speaks with authority.

My proposal in no way disturbs the definitions of Vatican I about papal Primacy and Infallibility. The bishop of any church is that church's authorised Spirit-endowed teacher, equipped with what S Irenaeus described as his charisma certum veritatis [reliable gift of truth]. So the bishop of Rome is the one who authoritatively articulates the teaching which the Roman Church authentically preserves and expresses.


Nebuly said...

Hence entering 'Full communion with the Holy See' rather than with the Pope

Fr Ray Blake said...

If I were Brichtelmestunensem I would suggest that Peter himself, as Vicar of Christ is the centre of communion.
During the vacancy of the Holy See, Peter is not absent, but the Petrine office can only be excercised through the Bishop of Rome. It is Peter who gives authority to the Holy See, not the See which gives authority to Peter.

When we speak of being "in communion with the Holy See", it actually means that this communion is recognised by Peter in the person of his successor.
A diocese does not act (properly)except in the person of the Bishop. I would find it difficult to see it as a seperate theological entity, except in the writings of modern liberal theologians with a protestant bent.

The young fogey said...

Of course Roman Catholicism is not centred on the Pope's person but his office.

Figulus said...

I confess that although I am not sure what "the centre of communion" may be, I do not have a problem with what your blogger wrote. Christian communion is practiced through the primacy of church of Rome. What is the center of that communion? Could it not be infallibility?

It seems to me that unity and infallibility go hand, insofar as there is not much point to having one if you don't have the other. But perhaps that is only because of my western individualistic and legalistic way of viewing the world.

Nevertheless, you make a valid distinction. Doctor Luke Rivington made the same point in his masterful "The Primitive Church and the See of Peter" (1894). In chapter 5 he describes how the metropolitan bishop of Carthage, St Cyprian, wrote to the church of Rome requesting instruction on how to handle the matter of canonically imposed penances being circumvented by writs of indulgence given by recognized martyrs. The cardinal clergy of Rome, their see being vacant, wrote back with instructions. The clergy pointed out that their instructions where provisional, since no final decree could be made without a legitimate bishop sitting on the chair. It is interesting that a priest of Rome, speaking for his church, could issue instructions to a far-away metropolitan. Dr Rivington stated that this was a manifestation of Rome's primacy, as opposed to that of its bishop per se.

Of course, a provisional instruction can in no way be considered infallible, since it can and probably will be overturned by a later papal decree. In that sense, Rome's primacy can only be considered infallible when it is exercized in the person (or office if you prefer) of its bishop.