25 June 2017

Sporting the Papal Oak*: the Vocabulary of Gesture

I am finding it difficult to elaborate a workable hermeneutic by which to understand the unwillingness of the Roman Pontiff to allow his door to be opened to the Four Cardinals.

It has been critically pointed out by others that he opens his door to some rather unusual applicants. This seems to me to be not at all a just object of criticism. I applaud him for it. How can anyone fail to notice that, in so doing, he is following the example of his Line Manager, the Second Person of the Blessed and Undivided Trinity? Whom did the Incarnate Word ever turn away?

But ... well, may I put it like this. If I ran a very welcoming household, admitting anyone who knocked, friends and foes, from tramps to parliamentary candidates, talking to all, hearing their troubles, struggling with their worries, and trying to resolve their uncertainties, but refused ever to find a moment to hear and talk with my wife, children, and grandchildren, what judgements ought to be made of me?

The Lord washed the feet of his most intimate friends, and that pedilavium was seen in the Church when Abbots washed the feet of their sons, Bishops the feet of their presbyters. But the present occupant of the Roman See refuses this service of humility to his associates and rigidly confines it to people whom he has, as far as we are informed, never met before. I am impressed by the symbolism of what he does do ... with its gracious imagery of openness to those on the social peripheries ... while being puzzled by the determined rigidity of his exclusions.

Perhaps ... who am I to speculate? ... our Holy Father feels impatient that Four Cardinals are unable to understand his recent document Amoris laetitia. Possibly he suspects that they fail to understand because they are determined not to understand. I know exactly the same feeling. Both in the parochial teaching ministry, and in a scholastic environment, I have sometimes had that very feeling. In my simplicity, however, I have usually tried to devise other strategies by which to make myself understood. Should I really have just refused to waste my time? Is that the message and example we lesser people are to infer from the conduct of the Vicar of Christ?

Papa Ratzinger once invited to tea a dissident theologian with a life's history of heresy and of malevolent and unpleasantly expressed antagonism towards himself: Hans Kueng. I thought that was a rather fine and lovely gesture. Or: perhaps not so much a mere gesture as a real and Christ-like openness to a brother in Christ. Was I merely naive to think this? Should Ratzinger simply have locked the door, eaten all the sandwiches himself, licked his lips, and had a nap?

I can understand it if the present occupant of the Roman See has a mental list of people he would rather not meet, which includes bishops whom he has just sacked as well as the Four Cardinals. That would be very humanly and endearingly understandable. Many pastors have, at least in petto, just such a list of parishioners. I once went along one particular street rather than another to avoid the risk of meeting such a person. But then, in my examination of conscience, it occurred to me: suppose Providence had disposed the likelihood of such a meeting with the intention that some particular good would result from it?

I am finding it quite a struggle to discover the truly Christian and pastoral meaning in locked doors, unanswered letters, and rigid exclusions.

*Male undergraduate sets of rooms in Oxford used to have an inner and an outer door. The latter was called the 'Oak' and it was said to be 'sported' when it was shut. 'Sporting one's Oak' occurred when, in some such emergency as an Essay Crisis or a woman, the undergraduate concerned had no time for socialising. Will Papa Bergoglio go down in the History books as the Papa Robustus, the Oaky Pope? Will the next step of the Four Cardinals be to compose in Greek elegiacs a paraklausithyron?

10 comments:

tradgardmastare said...

It's like the year of mercy in that it doesn't seem to apply in house,not mentioning any Scottish cardinals or anything...

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Father, with all due respect, the only "workable hermeneutic" is that Francis believes he is accountable to nobody. It's his way or the highway. You don't have to be a respected theologian to see that!

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

It was easier being a pro wrestler and having to face Gorilla Monsoon in the months of May through September (A virtual unstoppable deluge of Gorillas) than it is to be a faithful Catholics and face the unstoppable deluge of stuff pouring out of the Vatican.

Liam Ronan said...

Ah, but in the end there is One Who must be met by all, Whose Interrogation must be answered, and Who may shut His Door on those who cannot manage a simple yes or no when presented with the final statement of their accounts.

marty said...

A truly great teacher is able to teach on different levels to different students so they will all be able to grasp the concept he is attempting to teach. If not maybe the teacher should go back to school.

John said...

As a parent, when you give in to a tantrum, you give power to the tantrum, not the initial request. If this group of princes needed an explanation, or whatever this may be called, there's no need to publicly rebuke the Pope if they are really only asking for an explanation... it's a loaded document (the dubia). If was simply an explanation, there's no need to make it public, and humiliate the Holy Father. I'm not saying that the dubia itself is incorrect, but their method of action seems out of line. So, to not give credence to the tantrum seems like a prudent action.

John Vasc said...

Not wanting to meet people who are one's intimates, but going out of one's way to meet and demonstratively embrace outsiders, can be a sign of clinical depression: a kind of social Don Giovanni complex.

DeHereticoComburendo said...

Perhaps it’s all just an unfortunate misunderstanding and Pope Francis, like the sales assistant in the celebrated Two Ronnies comedy sketch, simply misheard. “Fork ardinals? Fork ardinals - what in the name of Evita Perón is that?!”. “No, Holy Father – it’s the ‘Four Cardinals’. They have some dubia for you - they’ve got a hermeneutic”. “Well bully for them. Tell you what , cancel them and get me a photo-opportunity with an ethnic minority gay single-parent refugee. I’m not ’avin’ people seein’ me ’ob-nobbin’ with ’ardinals”.

Éamonn said...

John: Their method is entirely correct. They asked for clarification privately and after several months of silence made their request public. This is not a tantrum. This is a group of four very senior and very experienced bishops following canon law very carefully, as they do their episcopal and cardinalatial duty. There is no tantrum here, although I am almost tempted to diagnose a case of the petulant sulks elsewhere. In any event Luke 11:11 applies I think, to say nothing of Luke 22:32.

John Vasc said...

Éamonn: ...not to mention Matt.18:15-17: "But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican."