3 November 2009


Since this topic is again a bit of a talking-point, I will (again) quote some words of Cardinal Ratzinger, which seem to me the most remarkable observation made on Papal powers - by someone who subsequently became Pope - for well over a thousand years.

After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything ... especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council ... In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of Faith ... Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity ... The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition.
Since this is how Benedict XVI sees papal power, how can any catholic-minded person have any objection to it?


Independent said...

It sounds not unlike George Bernard Shaw saying that unlike infallible science the Pope is a man on his knees asking that in some matters he may have the last word. I can't remember in which preface this appears, either "St Joan" or "The Doctor's Dilemma".

Patrick Sheridan said...

Papal arrogance is best seen in 20th century liturgical reform...I speak as a faithful Roman Catholic too!

johnf said...

Patricius - I wonder whether that example is arrogance or the Pope of the day being bullied by the reformers.

Anonymous said...

True Patricius, certain modern (I exclude the current) popes have gone about their engagements as though they were Saul "belching naught but chains and death" toward followers of The Way. I am savoring the fact that Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to proclaim his benevolence through men that otherwise wouldn't give Anglo-Catholics the time of day. There will soon be a day of reckoning for those who have gone about "full of wrath and threatening breath."

Fr Ted said...

A useful quote for me elucidating much of what is going on.

Perhaps I could offer the following quotes from an earlier blog which have also helped:

This is by way of a little documentation about Anglican/Roman Catholic unity matters in the light of the excitement over the latest offer from Rome.

Firstly, Pope Leo XIII (Apostolicae Curae, 1896): "... ordinations performed according to the Anglican rite have been and are completely null and void".

Archbishops Benson and Maclagan (Canterbury and York respectively) 1897 "... in overthrowing our orders, he [Leo XIII] overthrows all his own, and pronounces sentence on his own Church".

St. Pius X (Successor as Pope to Leo XIII) gave an assurance to the Anglican divine Dr. Briggs that "this decision of his predecessor was not infallible".

Cardinal Ratzinger (the present Pope) spoke warmly of "the continuing stream of genuinely Catholic life and practice which has existed within Anglicanism throughout its history."

... if you may.

However, I do note that a rather earlier commentator on another subject wrote "All is flux". The judgement of history on our present dilemmas may suggest that "flux" should be read in a pathological and somewhat eighteenth century sense!

Joshua said...

Papal infallibility is a negative infallibility - mark this well.

It is a guarantee that the Pope will not lead the whole Church into error: it prevents him from solemnly declaring and defining, from the seat of St Peter, some erroneous statement to be dogma.

This is simply the logical outcome of the fact that Our Lord prayed for Peter that his faith fail not.

And the cases of Honorius I and John XXII (who both taught erroneously in their private capacity) stand as evidence of how narrowly defined Papal infallibility really is.

Newman, of course, got it right: far from being a maximalist's panacea, Papal infallibility has over time had almost the opposite force: it has only been solemnly exercised once since it was defined, and many tend these days (wrongly, but for the right reason in a sense) to discount other, often quite definite Papal statements, as "non-infallible" and therefore in some sense questionable.

Joshua said...

Recall that the dogmatic pronouncements of 1950 and 1854, far from being high-handed Papal fiats in defiance of traditional beliefs, were on the contrary if anything "tardy" responses to the acceptance throughout the universal Church of Marian theological views that had become standard much earlier. The way the Orthodox complained of both declarations speaks far more of their opposition to the Papacy than to any divergence of views - as if the All-Holy Theotokos was ever besmirched by sin (I recall the Megalynarion sung at the Divine Liturgy says the exact opposite), or as if she were not taken up body and soul into heaven! The fact that many Anglicans opposed both definitions shews, sadly, how Protestant they were.

Steve said...

Ah well - comfort is at hand, then, for those of us who believe that JPII's declaration that he had no authority to admit women to the priesthood (not infallible, of course, as he never said it was) was wrong!

GOR said...

One of the outstanding characteristics of Pope Benedict is a deep humility. While this was not always recognized when he was head of the CDF, it has been abundantly clear since his accession. He has admonished theologians that, while they have an important role in studying and explaining Church doctrine, they must always have a deep humility in the face of this task.

In his Foreword to Jesus of Nazareth he was at pains to point out that the work was a personal effort of his, not a pronouncement of the Magisterium: “Everyone is free, then, to contradict me. I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.”

Certainly, not the words of an ‘absolute monarch’ - but of a shepherd seeking “to confirm the brethren in the Faith”.

Tawser said...

At this risk of opening a can of worms, couldn't this quote be used in defense of SSPX? Doesn't it at least imply that when the pope acts, not as the humble servant of Tradition, but as its hostage taker and virtual point of origin, his acts are not valid? It does SEEM to suggest some practical limits to the power of the pope. Otherwise, isn't it just a comforting form of words?

Unknown said...

But didn't the then Cardinal Ratzinger, in 2003, state that Apostolicae Curae, inter alia, was infallible? I believe it was on a list of rulings by the ordinary magisterium which, the cardinal claimed, were infallible.

The statement was not generally well received.

Steve said...

It's all rather reminiscent of what Roy Plomley used to say at the beginning of "Many A Slip";

"The Chairman's decision is final, ESPECIALLY when he's wrong!"