Towards the end of his speech concluding his Synod our Holy Father Pope Francis delivered the following very fine passage:
"Il Papa, in questo contesto, non e il signore supremo ma piuttosto il supremo servitore - il servus servorum Dei; il garante dell'ubbidienza, della conformita della Chiesa alla volonta di Dio, al Vangelo di Cristo e alla Tradizione della Chiesa, mettendo da parte ogni arbitrio personale, pur essendo - per volonta di Cristo stesso - il Pastore e Dottore supremo di tutti i fedeli (Can. 749) e pur godendo della potesta ordinaria che e suprema, piena, immediata e universale nella Chiesa".
This is reassuringly similar to the teaching I quoted recently from Cardinals Ratzinger, Burke, and Newman, and from Vatican I. Indeed, it so resembles the words of Benedict XVI that I have wondered if Francis, or his drafter, had a passage of Ratzinger before him. All splendid stuff. But there are perhaps a couple of Benedictine nuances left implicit rather than being fully expressed. I will begin with the passage about the pope as il garante.
Earlier in the speech, referring to his Synod, the Pope used similar terminology: "the presence of the Pope is the guarantee for everyone"*. In commenting on this, the great Father Zed, Archiblogopoios, acutely commented "I don't think [it is] the mere presence of the Pope that guarantees anything". I think this is a very good point to make. On Tuesday the 24 June this year, the Pope was addressing some of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Apparently (the account made available was very summary) one of the younger members of the Order, who had been moved from the FFI theological institute to study in the Roman universities, asked how he could be confident of the orthodoxy of what he was now being taught: that this was the young man's question is suggested by the statement that the Pope "then explained that the Church guarantees orthodoxy through the Pope".
But, as Fr Zed points out, the Pope is not some sort of talisman or magic totem or animistic fetich, the mere presence of which automatically sticks or stamps a guarantee onto something which is happening . The Pope must speak, write, or act to discharge his Petrine Ministry. This, I imagine, is why Cardinal Burke has opined that the Pope has done a lot of harm by not stating openly what his position is, and that a statement from him is long overdue. We may disagree ... many do ... with Cardinal Burke's personal prudential assessment of how matters stand, but we cannot, I think, dispute the categories within which he is working.
Secondly, this passage does not make explicit some interesting negatives and implied negatives which exist in the passages I quoted in my earlier post: negatives which ultimately go back to Pastor aeternus of Vatican I, reminding us ... and even reminding the popes themselves ... what they cannot do. There are cannots inscribed so deeply in the Tradition that not even Canon Law, not even papal enactment, can override them (as Benedict XVI pointed out when he issued Summorum pontificum). Even when backed by an Ecumenical Council (let alone by a mere Synod), there are very many things which Popes cannot do (not merely should not do.) After all, the Spirit is not given to them so that they can make known some new teaching (doctrinam), but so that they might religiously guard and faithfully set forth (sancte custodirent et fidelier exponerent) the revelation or deposit of Faith handed down by the Apostles (Denziger 3070). (So that if a pope were to teach error, as, for example, John XXII did, it would not be by the inspiration of the Spirit.) While clever people can often prove that black is white, prima facie the words custodirent and exponerent indicate preservation rather than daring openness to a Spirit Who can surprise us, or clever doctrinal innovation. The Commonitorium of S Vincent of Lerins, and B John Henry's Essay on Development still have much to teach us; as well as the term phrouria as used of episcopal and papal ministries; and Newman's interesting commendation of the Roman Church as a remora against innovation.
So: I vigorously applaud the words of our beloved Holy Father with which I began this post. They are bang on, and admirably expressed. But we must understand them, as I am sure Pope Francis himself does, in their full context of (1) the need for the Pope to act/speak to guard the depositum, not just to 'be present'; (2) the need for the Pope to understand the very considerable limitations of his Office. He, and those from whom he accepts collegial or collaborative advice, are under a solemn obligation to be aware of all the things which are ultra his vires.
The Sovereign Pontiff ended his speech with a quotation derived ultimately from Pastor aeternus; it is good to know that this is a document to which he pays careful attention. We should do no less.
*I owe to a learned correspondent this corrected version of the English translation put out by Rome. It all goes to show ...