26 September 2014

Hermeneutic of Continuity

I regard as extremely good news the report that the Holy Father has said that the Pope cannot change the Lord's doctrine with regard to the indissolubility of marriage.

This is a welcome reaffirmation of the teaching given by Cardinal Ratzinger. He criticised the idea which had got around in the 1960s, that a pope, especially if acting on the mandate of an Ecumenical Council, can "do anything". It was indeed an absurdity, the idea that the Council had in some way sanctioned a maximalising Papacy which could "do" anything, change anything. Especially as such a notion contradicted the teaching of Pastor aeternus, in which Vatican I made clear that the Holy Spirit is not entrusted to the pope to enable him to innovate doctrinally.

And, splendidly, S John Paul II dealt with the error of the sacerdotal ordination of women by simply saying that the Church facultatem nullatenus habet to innovate in this way. This is exactly the way to deal with 'liberals' who try to maximalise the Papacy by implying that a pope, if he has a Council, or a synod, or whatever, behind him, can change anything. They promote this approach, of course, because it makes the integrity of the Church's teaching into something which is vulnerable to political machinations within gatherings of talkative ecclesiastics. They need to be reminded what the Church, what the Pope, what episcopal gatherings, cannot do.

There have been worries in some quarters that Pope Francis might be returning to a maximalising Papacy such as that which Benedict XVI discerned in the culture of the 1960s, and so admirably reprobated. Those who entertained such anxieties should be greatly reassured by the Holy Father's words.

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