Sh*# my Pope says

23 11 2010

Or: Our anti-ultramontanist rant of the week

If I were to crystallize my view of church authority in general, it would go something like:

Ex opere operato works only for the sacraments. Every other work of God in creation is mediated, and in some sense up for grabs.

The necessary corollary to this is that we must give due deference to the directives of our pastors, there are some cases where a statement does not have to be infallible in order to be definitive, blah, blah, blah. But even in spite of all of these qualifying statements, the idea is still that none of this is written in the heavens or is particularly comprehensive. Just because something has been defined does not mean that we somehow understand everything involved in the issue, or that it won’t mean something radically different three centuries from now, etc. Often, even such definitive or authoritative statements mean that open discussion can no longer be had about such and such a topic. It does not necessarily mean that the infinite weight of the truth has been revealed in it, or that the position is now an attribute of God, and so forth.

Occasional writings, papal encyclicals, and off-the-cuff statements are for me then to be taken with a certain grain of salt. That is the real background behind a recent comment of mine in another forum:

Modern Catholics believe some pretty silly things at times. Some Pope says something in some passing document and all of a sudden it is the “Catholic position”. All of a sudden, the Papacy and the entourage that surrounds it are some sort of oracle at Delphi, telling us on every issue what we should and shouldn’t believe. (I found it particularly rich that Cardinal George said that the opinion of the bishops is THE Catholic opinion. Who said clericalism is dead?) Whatever happened to the force of reason, Scripture, and tradition? Maybe we need to adopt more of Richard Hooker’s approach in the Anglican tradition.

All I know is that fifty to a hundred years of documents does not a tradition make. It seems very disturbing that otherwise rational people seem to try to read every single Papal statement like a Gypsy reads tea leaves at the bottom of a glass. Word to the wise: we may not have a direct line to the Holy Ghost, but neither do they.

In other words, when thinking about any particular problem, the first thing that one should not ask oneself is, “what does the Pope say?” That’s just Jesuitical crap. Perhaps my position comes from a radically different view of the constitution of the Church: if the Church exists to preserve and spread the depositum fidei as something transparent and comprehensible, then the burden of the Papacy is to uphold and defend the depositum. Run first to the depositum fidei, and then to the Pope. If the depositum is somehow bogged down in interpretational problems due to a hermeneutic of such-and-such, then yes, one must always have recourse to authority for even the most basic questions.

I suppose I was spoiled as a young man with having a copy of Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma handy. There, I could read about all of the doctrinal questions in the Church and the grades of certainty given to each. It may seem all too legalistic, but also it seems a lot more sane. It gives a lot of perspective to any document in the last thirty years regarding such issues as social justice, war, the death penalty, or population policy. Things are not true because of who said them, but because they correspond to the reality presented in the natural order and Revelation.

It goes without saying that some Vatican official or bureaucrat (even if he is the Pope) may not always get it right, especially if he is going out on a limb in terms of stating something with a dearth of tradition behind it (as is the case with a lot of the post-Vatican II magisterium). Look not to who is saying it, but rather to why he is saying it, and what reasons he has to back it up. If there is not a whole lot there, then your assent should not have a “whole lot there” either.

Then again, I am a sort of deconstructed cafeteria Catholic. I don’t really have doubts about Catholic doctrine, more just an attitude of “good luck figuring out what that really means”. A person from a hundred years ago would find both the Church and society of today unrecognizable. I have little reason to believe that I would be able to recognize the Church of a hundred years from now. Not that it matters, because I won’t be around to see it anyway.


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31 responses

2 12 2010
The Singular Observer

Amen Arturo. The characterization of history is a powerful propogandistic tool.

2 12 2010
Sam Urfer

The strong Church/Secular division is largely the legacy of St. Gregory VII, aka Hildebrand, who is coincidently also the major villain for both Luther and Calvin in their analysis of history, following an old Spiritualist Franciscan school of thought going back to good ol’ Joachim of Fiore. They felt that the divide between Church and State was untenable and damaging to Christendom. One of Luther’s biggest disappointments in life was that the HRE was the hyper-devout Carlos V rather than a new Frederick II. These things go way back, and have long half-lives, and it is never as simple as team sports, for sure.

For an interesting read: http://www.reformed.org/documents/geneva/revelation.html

2 12 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Some notes (apropos or not of the above conversation)

Many divisions between the feudal church, the Reformation, and the Tridentine period are artificial and far from helpful. Modernity is just as much a product of the Catholic Church as it is of Protestantism. De Vitoria and the Salamanca school were Catholic, as were Descartes, Malebranche, and so forth, and even they did not see themselves as being particularly innovative. (There are predecessors of Descartes’ thoughts in Augustine and ancient philosophy.) Ignatius Loyola virtually created the modern idea of assent. Many of the Protestant reformers saw themselves as attacking ecclesial practices that were only a few centuries old, and so forth. Many of the “sacred cows” that we see being attacked / preserved during this time were often products of their time and nothing more. We see things as having been set in stone, but they didn’t. In many ways, the “Tridentine” was just as revolutionary as the “Lutheran” or “Calvinist”.

Reading history as being a struggle between “Team Catholic” and “Team Everyone Else” is disingenuous. It assumes uniformity within the “Team Catholic” ranks themselves, and it simply wasn’t there. In some ways, the Protestant theologies of kingship make a lot more sense in the religious realm than our latter-day ultramontanist visions of the separation between Ecclesia and Imperium. Perhaps it is the complete and absolute distinction that gave birth to secularism in the first place. If anything, the rise of Protestantism and the consolidation of the Church under Tridentine structures were indications that people were never that comfortable with the idea of the Papacy as absolute divinely-inspired shot caller / Mormon elder – prophet. Even such crises as Jansenism and the reforms of the Church in the Holy Roman Empire in the 18th century were indicative as to how much secular power had influence in ecclesial affairs prior to the French Revolution. It is only after that event, best symbolized by the enthronement of the goddess Reason on the high altar of Notre Dame, that secular/religious absolute dualism entered into the consciousness of Catholicism.

2 12 2010
dominic1962

Yes, good discussion guys.

One last point, how does one worship as a “post-modern” man? To me, it seems that an appeal to Marx and Freud really do not do us any good. Is a certain pining for the “good ol’ days” prevalent in Traddy circles? Sure, but it is only a little more refined (in the sense that it is much more focused on particular issues) than the general pining for the “good ol’ days” found in much the rest of society.

The way I see it, the liturgy as enshrined by the pre-Vatican II books is not any less suited for today than it was at any time in the past. We might not be able to properly appreciate it at this moment in history, but that would be more reason to hold on to it than to change it.

1 12 2010
Sam Urfer

So the Novus Ordo is Medieval, and so is Cranmer’s book of Common Prayer (which had extensive Medieval sources which he utilized).

Many contemporary Medivelists (and I have been taught by some of the best) no longer believe in the historical construct of “feudalism” (cf. http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.2307/1869563 ). The Medievals had a hierarchical view of reality, social and cosmic, but not quite in the same cartoon way that they have been painted on occasion.

Good discussion.

1 12 2010
sortacatholic

Okay, last words (promise, Arturo):

SU = Sam Urfer

SU: The Tridentine liturgy, practically by definition, is not Medieval.

The Tridentine liturgy is that of the medieval/renaissance Diocese of Rome extended to the Universal Church. There is some development from the 11th and 12th century predecessor western liturgies to Trent, but the progression between the diverse medieval liturgies and the Tridentine standardization is quite smaller than the progression from the Tridentine liturgy to the Novus Ordo.

SU: A large part of the point was to reduce and remove perceived Protestant-ish errors of the late Medieval period; hence why local traditions older than two hundred years were allowed to be kept. It was a two hundred year period which was seen as being problematic.

What are these inchoate “Protestant” ideas? Do you mean Hus, the Lollards (Wycliffe), the Waldenses? Yes, the western apostolic liturgies have always tended towards the resolution of eucharistic controversies (the eastern liturgies grappled with christology.) Still, I don’t see the connection between the Tridentine liturgy and control of “antecedent” and “mature” Protestant theologies. The minutes of the Council itself amply counter these theologies, however.

SU: Not every dissent against the hierarchy’s muckity-mucks is necessarily bad. It would be a rather inconsistent case for a Traditionalist to make, eh?

“How can you eat your pudding if you don’t eat your meat!” 🙂 Point well taken.

SU: You might argue that the “principles” of the Reformation led to democracy, or freedom, or what have you, but it is a stretch to take that away from the actual writings of the Reformers themselves, particularly Calvin and his Taliban-style followers.

As we’ve noted, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cramner (by proxy) — were “politicians” that moulded national identities through coersion and force as well as liturgy and theology.. You’re also correct that there is no linear movement from Reformation to the notion of modern “liberal” democracy. Still, feudalism could not and cannot support the socio-political organizations that we experience/enjoy/loathe today. To paint the seminal Reformation junctures as “evil heresies” against the Church denies that Catholicism today is, in some perhaps unquantifiable or intangible part, entangled in the “assembly code” that shapes “western” society.

A romance of past times through a reification of the Tridentine liturgy is an infantilization (Freud and Marx in the same sentence! Extra points!). No looking back. All liturgy is today, and only today. This is why I have stopped going to the Extraordinary Form. I love the liturgy, but not many in the movement. I find that many attend for ideological reasons and not because of a love of the text and language of the Mass. I worship as a post-modern man that is not afraid to acknowledge, confront, engage, and even enjoy the fruits of age-old “heresies” that are anathematized as if they happened with the vividness of yesterday evening.

This has been a wonderful discussion! Thanks Sam and Dominic!

1 12 2010
Sam Urfer

You might argue that the “principles” of the Reformation led to democracy, or freedom, or what have you, but it is a stretch to take that away from the actual writings of the Reformers themselves, particularly Calvin and his Taliban-style followers.

1 12 2010
Sam Urfer

“Unique perspective” could also be painted as “heretical taint” is what I think we are trying to say here. I understand your point of view, for sure, i used to hold it myself. But like Dominic, I disagree.

The Tridentine liturgy, practically by definition, is not Medieval. A large part of the point was to reduce and remove perceived Protestant-ish errors of the late Medieval period; hence why local traditions older than two hundred years were allowed to be kept. It was a two hundred year period which was seen as being problematic.

Not every dissent against the hierarchy’s muckity-mucks is necessarily bad. It would be a rather inconsistent case for a Traditionalist to make, eh?

1 12 2010
Sam Urfer

Not absolutely; there were republics in the Middle Ages, and they were quite religious in nature. Monarchy was seen as sacramental, but so were the offices of the medieval Italian republics; it was less monarchy in particular and government in general which was sacramental. My point was that Protestant thought was not necessarily “progress” towards some sort of democratic ideal, but another turn on the roller coaster, in this case towards absolute monarchy. History is not a simple line of progress which we can or should “get on board” with; it is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and is not nearly so simplistic as you paint it.

1 12 2010
sortacatholic

Thanks for your correction. It is true that both Catholic and Protestant kings appealed to this notion to legitimize their rule.

However, what would you call the role of the monarch in a “Catholic Kingdom”, especially one where both the king and the clergy supposedly hold divinely-bestowed, indelible positions within both the transcendent/celestial and temporal worlds? Perhaps “divine right” is a Protestant concept. Still, one of the lynchpins of high medieval European society was the notion that the Pope and his hierarchy crowned and legitimized kings as divinely-appointed ontological successors of a realm, just as priests are ordained through apostolic succession. This link became tenuous after the Reformation even in nominally Catholic countries (i.e. France, as mentioned.)

1 12 2010
sortacatholic

Quite true, Sam. Luther was a “politician” and theologian. Yes, he tried to suppress the peasantry (the “Two Kingdoms”). Also, he clearly sided with with nobles that catalyzed his movement. He didn’t shack up in Wartburg Castle and whip up Die Bibel for kicks. Life for the 16th century Saxon peasantry was not qualitatively better because of Luther’s movement. The same can be said for the Swedes, the Genevans, the Scots, etc.

However, the theological ramification of sacerdos vs. minister removed the notion that the clergy were a separate class or sphere within European society and economy. This was, and is, an extremely crucial development in European culture, even for minority Catholics in “traditionally Protestant” lands (this includes the U.S.) American Catholics hold a unique perspective on the celibacy issue because the notion of “clergy” in the US is predicated not on the notion of sacerdos, the ontologically “set apart man” as part of a joined celestial-temporal world, but a minister who is merely a member of the body politic.

Dominic: Yes, that’s why I said “useful idiots”. Luther supported them then flipped when it suited his needs.

Your comment illustrates the peril of integrism-tridentinism: the notion that an adherence to the medieval liturgy can provide an imaginary backstory to contemporary movements. The Reformation was not a “G.I. Joe” story. The divide within Christianity experienced in the 16th century was not due to one factor. Also, I am quite certain that it could not have been stopped or overturned by Rome. The Reformation was the inevitable confluence of economic, social, religious, statist, cultural, and occupational changes that had been brewing for at least two hundred years previously.

The notion that the medieval liturgy, and especially its practice today, can change the obvious course of history or compensate for the inevitable division of Christendom after the failure of the medieval worldview ignores the reality that any belief or liturgy necessarily lives within its current context.

Please don’t romanticize the counter-reformation or paint any revolution against the Church as necessarily “bad”. Many of the Renaissance Popes were grim dudes indeed, even if they left behind some awesome artwork.

30 11 2010
dominic1962

Yes, that’s why I said “useful idiots”. Luther supported them then flipped when it suited his needs.

30 11 2010
Sam Urfer

Also, you are aware that “Divine Right” was a Protestant concept that the French kings borrowed, aren;t you?

30 11 2010
Sam Urfer

Someone better tell Luther that, what with the violent suppresion of the peasentry that he blessed when they tried to overthrow the feudal structure. Indeed, the Reformation did much to give power to the nobility and the the Bourgouise.

29 11 2010
dominic1962

There are a lot of different ideas and theories as to how, when and why “nation-states” came into existence. My point was with the union of Castile and Leon, basically modern “Spain” was born.

The Protestant idea of a merely “temporally defined vocation” is wrong, of course. However, the clash between the Monarch/State and the clergy was going on before Luther (i.e. with the investiture issue). The way I see it, the Protestant “reformation” succeeded only because certain crowned heads saw this as an opportunity to gain for themselves the temporal holdings of the Church. Had there not been this temporal power backing, the whole thing would have went the way of the Peasant’s Revolt or the way of Hus.

Now, the Protestant idea that there is no priesthood but that the “minister” is no different from the baker or plowman would prove useful to some of the powers that were at the time. If this little notion of Martin Luther is true, than clergy are at most function holders and thus their rank in society of the time would basically be no greater or less than what they would have been in lay life. People like the Religious, since they differ in no meaningful way from the rest of the laity, could be kicked out of their monasteries because they are not doing anything “useful” with them anyway. The whole situation stinks and the bastard system that came out of this way of thinking is certainly no “improvement” over what came before.

Of course, the whole ontological change issue is settled-when a man is ordained this is an ontological change that happens to him. He is essentially different (not just in function) from the layman. As such, post-Reformational notions of vocation (at least as you seem to describe them) are heretical in the Church’s eyes.

As to the marriage of clergy, I do not think the whole temporal vocation vs. ontological change is the issue. The Easterners have their own married clergy discipline and that’s not seen as a “threat”. I think the more reasonable explanation is the sheer traditional weight of the Latin Rite celibate clergy. Actually, this is probably the primary reason. As I said before, there is no real reason to change this venerable tradition. Unfortunately, that is not a good enough reason to remove something from the chopping block. When the liturgy got jacked around with, the completely novel and wholly innovative “hope” that a banalized and stripped down “Eucharistic Liturgy” would be more appealing to Protestants and more “accessible” to the rank and file got the liturgy changed, and what was “hoped” for never came to pass anyway. At this point, however, I don’t think any venerable traditions are going to get tossed. I don’t think the powers-that-be in Rome are willing to take more chances with changes that promise much but haven’t delivered.

The other reason is would seem to be is the fact that most of those clamoring for married clergy do not do so in the way that the East has them but rather as a way to remake the priesthood into their own wacky image. If I were in the top, why would I want to grant something that would vastly remake something as important as the priesthood to my internal enemies? I do not see many in the way of pillars of Catholicism clamoring for such a change and presumably would also not line up to be a part of it. Thus, the last thing I’d want would be to with a stroke of the papal pen, give a large degree of sacerdotal authority to the kind of people I do not even want to have as CCD teachers.

29 11 2010
sortacatholic

Dominic: Spain managed to become a nation state w/o Protestantism.

Eventually, yes. In 1975.

Who funded the counter-reformation: The Hapsburgs, particularly “la catholica magestad” Philip. Where was their “home base” at the time: Spain.

Dominic: As to the Church being “feudal”, is that not a rather sloppy polemical use of words? Do you have a specific meaning in mind, or is the term “feudal” supposed to invoke thoughts of “Dark Age” backwardness, oppression, and all the other Black Legend stand by’s?

You are right. My use of the term “feudal” is quite “sloppy”. Let’s try this.

In my view, Protestantism and the Reformation (in general) brought about the following effects to greater or lesser degrees.

Luther’s concept of “vocation”/”priesthood of all believers”, also shared by Calvin, Zwingli, Cramner (at least by his liturgy), etc. shattered the concept of sacerdos (priest), then replaced with minister. Luther emphasized that the cleric was no different than the baker, etc: the only difference was that the minister was called to serve the laity without any ontological difference (i.e. special divinely-ordained, indelible powers to offer the Holy Sacrifice etc.) Hence, the Reformation collapsed the pope/king/noble/clergy/serf pyramid of the feudal era into a king/”state” (bureaucratic)/clergy-laity system. The clergy became “employees” of the crown and state bureaucracy, but were of the same general class as most of the laity because their vocation was not divinely but temporally ordained.

Case in point: the French Revolution was shocking not because of the sacking of N-D de Paris, but because the “second estate” (the Catholic hierarchy) was disestablished. The “desacralization” of the clergy, and in turn their explicit legitimization through the Church and its King of France “by divine right”, shattered the very remnants of feudalism in France. Remember, Napoleon crowned himself and then Josephine right in front of (and in defiance of) the hierarchs. Why do you think Abp. Lefebvre loved the Ancien Regime? It certainly was the last France ever saw of the divine right of kings “under the apostolicity of Rome”.

My characterization of the Church as “feudal” stems from its reliance on ontological categorization of roles rather than the idea of temporally defined vocation. Recent Vatican proclamations on the nature of ordination (e.g. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) demonstrate the way in which Rome still wrestles with the question of “ontology versus vocation”. Some people dread the idea of married Roman clergy because, I suspect, it would be an affirmation that the post-Reformational notions of vocation have triumphed over the Church’s remnant-feudal model of divine right. Still, why can’t an ontological priesthood and matrimony exist? Or, is the “baggage” of the Reformation and the legacy of Trent to great a pressure for Rome to resist?

29 11 2010
dominic1962

Who cares what effect Protestantism had on society, I’m speaking about doctrinal/disciplinary matters of religion. However, since we are going on this bird walk, Protestantism alone did not make for nation states and a national identity. Correlation does not imply causation. Who’s to say how that would the socio-political map of Europe would have developed had Protestantism been successfully quashed? Spain managed to become a nation state w/o Protestantism.

As to “reaping the benefits” of Protestantism, granting that what you say mostly corresponds with truth, I can hardly do anything else. One cannot choose when and where to be born. As to these things being “benefits”, well, that is, of course, debatable.

As to the Church being “feudal”, is that not a rather sloppy polemical use of words? Do you have a specific meaning in mind, or is the term “feudal” supposed to invoke thoughts of “Dark Age” backwardness, oppression, and all the other Black Legend stand by’s?

As Pope Pius IX clearly annunciated, it is not for the Pope (or the Church at large) to, or be expected to, align themselves/ourselves with the world. As the Fathers, Doctors and Saints have always taught, the way of the World is the wide and easy path. To conform to that, or even just become a fellow traveler of that path is to, in effect, deny our own mandate.

The Church should not surrender on even the most minute point because of pressure from the world or because of 5th Columnist weakness of Her own members who want nothing more than peace of the “let’s just all get along” type with that same world. The Church can, if She wishes, change matters of discipline as She has through the ages. The celibacy thing could indeed change, but there is no *real* need for it to change and the time is definitely not right to introduce such an innovation in the long standing tradition of the Western Church.

Nothing done by heretics can possibly be “divinely inspired” however, as you should now, God allows things to happen by His permissive will, possibly even as part of his chastisement. Such “successes” do not, in any way, imply the approval or even the outright favor of the Almighty. God used the Nations to chastise His people Israel, He can continue to use or permit them to gain certain things over His people yet to this day.

What is your solution to this disjunction that you propose? It seems to me from what you’ve written so far (and I may very well be wrong) that the solution is just to whore ourselves to the world, capitulate in every way imaginable to conform to the ways of the world in practically all things. In other words, something that smacks of Americanism. That path, of course, will make us almost as irrelevant as the “Main Line” Protestant sects.

To me (granting the disjunction) it seems easy, we are living in a vale of tears after all. That the rulers of this world do not conform themselves to the will of God, that society is out of whack in its reflection of heavenly society, etc. is just part and parcel of being in a fallen world. Capitulating and making the Church conform to this order of things certainly isn’t going to make things any better, it will only make things unimaginably worse.

29 11 2010
sortacatholic

Dominic: Sure, the peasantry did prove very useful to the Protestant revolt, by providing the useful idiot lemmings to do their grunt work. A bunch of university professors, disgruntled clergymen and nobles alone couldn’t have done anything.

First, let’s investigate the term “Protestant revolt”. Such a term presupposes that the “revolt” has had no effect on Catholicism, and that Protestantism’s legacy on European society is necessarily deleterious. The theological and political Reformation of the 16th century gave birth to the nation state and national identity, two core concepts of (post)-modern “western” identity. While the rise of nation states also sowed war and suffering (Thirty Years’ War) and ideological coersion (the BCP and the Northern Rising), the example of the Dutch Calvinists mentioned earlier handily illustrates the way in which the religious convictions of laity transformed the commerce of what we now call “western civilization”. A summary dismissal of the profound influence of Protestantism and its focus on lay vocation, pietism, and ministerium is, in part, a rejection of the very world you live and breathe. Are you willing to dismiss Protestantism as a “revolt” and yet reap its benefits?

Dominic: The Holy Spirit simply does not speak through heretics and schismatics and He also does not speak through the real Faithful in a way opposed to the “institutional Church” because such a thing does not exist.

Hence, you are convinced that the state of the Church is essentially feudal, even after Vatican II. The peril of ultramontanism and papoaltry is its utter reliance on exclusive self-reference even if the laity have advanced serious critiques about the health of the clergy and the administration of the hierarchy, among other matters. There will come a time (if it hasn’t come already) when the neo-feudal Church will cease to have any association with “western” “modernity”. For some, especially fundamentalists and tridentinists, this will be a victory. Others will view the Church’s inability to compromise on even non-dogmatic matters a sign of Rome’s increasing marginalization.

If I read you correctly, the Church should not surrender even disciplines such as celibacy lest it cave to the very principles of reformation and enlightenment it has so wearily battled. Trent tried (and failed) to preserve the feudalistic universe that had died in Europe. I suspect that since you believe the beliefs and actions of the Protestant reformers, rulers, and peasantry to be not divinely inspired, then the movement from feudalism to nation under Protestantism is not divinely inspired either. Hence, a faithful Catholic must, to this day, live in a constant disjunct between “modern” “western” “society” and the structure of the (still mostly counter-reformational) Church since the European nation-state is the model for western democracy. Do remember, however, that the 1962 liturgy is a re-“feudalization” of Catholicism in the wake of the Reformation. Even Low Mass is no escape from the disjunct between nation and church, hierarchy and democracy, that plagues the Catholic conscience.

29 11 2010
dominic1962

The Holy Spirit simply does not speak through heretics and schismatics and He also does not speak through the real Faithful in a way opposed to the “institutional Church” because such a thing does not exist. Sure, the peasantry did prove very useful to the Protestant revolt, by providing the useful idiot lemmings to do their grunt work. A bunch of university professors, disgruntled clergymen and nobles alone couldn’t have done anything.

No, actually I’ve talked to real people about married clergy and no, by and large they at most think its not a big deal one way or another. In the way of demographics and culture, many people just really do not advocate such progressive reforms. Many people, even practicing Catholics, are not rabble-rousers and actually do not strain for another “new springtime” of “reform”, etc. You may want that, a number of other people may share your views, but I wouldn’t universalize your particular notion.

As the mystics and spiritual doctors would say, we must be careful what we think is the Holy Spirit as even “pious” thoughts and desires can really be self-deception or the wiles of Satan and his minions. We should also be very careful attributing the notions and opinions of “alienated” laity as the Holy Spirit trying to tell us something. The Holy Spirit generally speaks through those who have reached high levels of divine intimacy, which would be a practically impossible state to have reached by those who have self-selected themselves into a state of separation in one form or another from the bosom of Holy Mother Church. It is possible (of course) for the HS to speak through even a complete and evil sinner through the charismatic gifts, but this is rather extraordinary and also would not bode well if the message is not in line with what the Church itself is saying.

We could do with a smaller Church, I’m OK with that. It is not the place of the Church to change so as to become aligned with the “alienated”, it is the business of the “alienated” to realign themselves with the Church.

28 11 2010
sortacatholic

Dominic: As to the comment about the HS speaking through the laity and not through the “institutional Church”, well, I say that is just complete and utter bullshit, and it of course savors of something worse than bullshit. We will just have to agree to disagree on that point probably.

Since you haven’t given a reason for your disagreement, consider this.

I’m convinced that there are certain points in Christian history where the “Holy Spirit” has spoken through the (plebs, laity, unwashed, peasants, serfs, et al …) and not through the first and second estates. Would you not say that the rebellion of the Netherlands against Spain in the 16th century and the great commerce of the Reformed Dutch was not impelled in some way by internal religious conviction? The “crisis” of the Reformation (at least from Rome’s standpoint) was not merely the convictions of a few university professors. It was, in some part, due to the willingness of the unwashed to participate with conviction in the Protestant project. Call it the Holy Spirit or religious conviction, or even fervor, but the laity have often played instrumental roles in the upheavals and reformations of Christianity. Often the clerical casts lost their battles even before commencement merely because, as with the Reformation, the Pope and his court did not realize the rot with feudalism until the stench of feudalism’s death finally reached the Tiber.

Dominic, you may say that the laity you know do not care about married priests. Perhaps you haven’t asked, or they haven’t told you. Still, many people outside the mantilla set are hurting for a new Counter-Reformation. Below the jump.

Dominic: neither should one expect priests to be married and live in the “real world” in order to minister to their lay flock.

Yes, there are many celibate priests that are good pastors. Yet very few priests in my experience are bold enough to live “outside the rail”, so to say. The issue of married priests has something to do with the abuse crisis. The question is also one of accountability.

I remember reading a message on a traditionalist board from a woman who was against married priests simply because she was afraid that the priest would use birth control and not homeschool his kids! She was also afraid that a priest’s wife would take over her little clique of women who intimidated all of the other women in the parish. Who gives a bloody crap about how a priest raises his family or little fundamentalist machinations? Go join the SSPX if that possibility bothers you or you like rad-trad fun ‘n’ games.

What we nominal Catholics are thirsting for is an interjection of secularity, of fallibility, into the clerical life. Celibacy strangles the relationship between the laity and clergy. Now that the pedestal has been kicked out from under the priestly caste, let’s bring the priests into the community with all their difficulties and weaknesses in full view.

This is the influence of the Holy Spirit through the alienated laity: souls thirsting for a living church, and not the dessicated dreams and ideals of ultramontanists or integrists. Sadly, these dreams still direct Rome and her policies. There will come a time when, as with the Reformation, when the clerical situation will become excruciatingly unbearable. Only then will Rome change her tune, only to find that the church has been emptied of all save the most sanctimonious.

28 11 2010
dominic1962

sortacatholic:

I don’t think I’m missing the point, I think we disagree. I don’t think the “clerical caste” is the problem so much, however, it can be (admittedly) a double edged sword. When things work, it works well, when things go haywire they really go haywire. I wouldn’t mind if we started ordaining married men, but right now, I certainly am not advocating it. Seeing how the permanent diaconate program works in many dioceses, I couldn’t imagine a married priest training program being much better in the current situation. In fact, it would seem like it would just be even worse. Maybe some day. However, besides people like us who actually think about this stuff, I would say that most laity (at least in my experience) could care less about married priests or not. They certainly don’t leave the Church or go lukewarm over it. However, I’m from the Midwest and our people (at least outside the cities) don’t get heated over these things and they do not carry any pretensions of being progressive or “knowing better” even if they do.

As to the laity knowing “much much more” about the secular world and the demands and rewards of companionship in marriage, some do certainly but I wouldn’t even say most. Then again, some clergy I know know a lot more about the “real world” than their flock. The clergy do not have a monopoly on dyfunctionalism, not by a long shot. No one ever expects an oncologist to have or have had cancer in order to practice his trade (not that marriage is like cancer, just to be clear) and neither should one expect priests to be married and live in the “real world” in order to minister to their lay flock.

As to the comment about the HS speaking through the laity and not through the “institutional Church”, well, I say that is just complete and utter bullshit, and it of course savors of something worse than bullshit. We will just have to agree to disagree on that point probably.

There are a lot of things used to “pull the strings” behind the scene besides sexuality. To tell you the truth, during my time in the seminary, that was about the least “oppressive” thing to deal with. It makes for good and seedy popular appeal and it is an easy strawman to set up, but that really isn’t the “problem”.

As to TOTB, amen to that. Talking with some of the starry eyed neo-cons, I always have a sense that they are really setting themselves up for a huge disappointment. Life is often simply mundane or messy, that is just the way it is. Sex is a good, but to almost put it up to the level of a sacrament and tie in all sorts of profundities of theology to it puts it upon a pedestal that it simply shouldn’t be on.

28 11 2010
Turmarion

I would say that the Catholic Church needs defending from the vaginal mucus brigade….

ROFLOL!!! Excellent! I love the term “doctrinal inflation”, too!

27 11 2010
Arturo Vasquez

On the case of the theology of the body and similar fads, I think what one has to fear most is a certain over-extension of the magisterium, or perhaps one could call it “doctrinal inflation”. If you end up commenting on everything in some faux profound way, it becomes very hard to distinguish between actual truth and opinion (even if it is a very important opinion, or just an opinion of an important person). There is a danger that no one will take you seriously in the end. I would say that the Catholic Church needs defending from the vaginal mucus brigade, but I am not entirely convinced that they are big enough to be a threat, though not from lack of trying. Any of us who have had to jump through hoops to get hitched in the Church know the dread of the being threatened with mandatory NFP classes. But often the art of surviving as a Catholic lies in being able to dodge the intrusive taxes on time and the pocketbook by the clergy.

27 11 2010
Turmarion

rr: [M]any RC laity in America have a poor understanding of basic Catholic, and indeed basic Christian, doctrine.

I’d say that most laity of all denominations have a “poor understanding of basic Christian doctrine”. Even Evangelicals, in my experience, no longer have a zillion Bible verses at the tip of their tongues or seem to have much understanding of what they do know.

Without romaniticizing either the laity or the clerical caste, I think one could argue (if you read the actual history) that the laity is about the same as it always has been, mutatis mutandis, and that the clerical caste is indeed sick and dysfunctional. Just altering the celibacy rule, in my opinion, isn’t enough to solve the problem; but ignoring the problems altogether, as the Vatican seems determined to do, certainly won’t help.

sortacatholic: You’re right TOTB, as is the case with much of JP II’s writing, is nearly impenetrable. I’ve read some of Benedict’s writings, and it’s amazing–German professors (which he once was) are certainly not noted for clarity or ease of understanding, but I find that if you follow him closely and read through, that Benedict is quite elegantly lucid and (relatively) easy to follow. By contrast, his predecessor, though obviously brilliant and erudite, tends to read like a parody of a completely incomprehensible philosophy prof. Go figure.

Anyhway, the main problem, IMO, with TOTB, at least as I’ve seen it taught and explained, is that it sets up impossibly high standards for marital sex. It inculcates a kind of attitude that sex is so profoundly sacramental, sacred, etc., that the least blemish in one’s attitude, love, or self-giving renders it somehow sacreligious. There’s no room for sex to be fun or spontaneous or silly or–in the good sense–dirty.

Without elaborating or giving details (for obvious reasons), I have been privy to friends whose marriages were damaged (to the point of ending, in one case) in large part (not exclusively, but largely) by just this over-idealization promoted by TOTB.

rr, between the two extremes of which you speak there’s still a lot of territory. I happen to own Ott’s book, BTW, and while it is a truly amazing work, I think it is a perfect example of the problem with Catholic theology. The older I get and the more philosophy and theology I read, and the more my lived experience in the Church, the more I think that Scholasticism and Thomism was a really bad turn in Church history. Even St. Thomas himself, with whom I pick no bone, declared it was “all as straw” after his vision. I believe that the Orthodox comfort with mystery is much nearer the ideal than the compulsive need to define degrees and sub-degrees and sub-sub-sub-degrees of authoritativeness of teaching.

The problem is that once you embrace such a method, you paint yourself into a theological corner. You’re either stuck with what you’ve declared, or you have to admit you were basically wrong all along; both of which are, to say the least, problematic.

In actual praxis, I’m about where Arturo is, at least as I read him. You listen with resepct to the Church, the Pope, the Magisterium, etc., try to understand them as best as possible, and then do what you need to do in terms of the concrete specifics of your own life. Even the then-Cardinal Ratzinger said as much regarding, say, contracetpion in Salt of the Earth: he laid out the macroscopic principles, but then said that the application is between any couple and their confessors. Sounds good to me.

26 11 2010
rr

quote: “The laity of the developed world is demanding (in plurality) that the Church wed married men that can live both in the clerical state and among the laity with their families. The “unwashed laity” know much, much more about life in the secular world and the demands and rewards of companionship. The Holy Spirit is speaking through the laity and not through the institutional Church.”

I certainly wonder at times if Rome is just out to lunch on several aspects of its teachings and discipline related to human sexuality. That being said, I would take care not to romanticize the laity. From my experience, and I believe that polling confirms it, many RC laity in America have a poor understanding of basic Catholic, and indeed basic Christian, doctrine. The comment that many are similar to mainline Protestants is quite true, but that isn’t exactly good news. One can get away with denying the Incarnation and resurrection in many mainline Protestant churches. So why should anyone want to take their cues from a group of people whose beliefs are similar to mainline Protestants?

26 11 2010
sortacatholic

Dominic: The same laymen who ignore Humanae Vitae and are, for most intents and purposes, ELCA would have no idea what the “lower orders” or the “subdiaconate” is and the reasons they’d have for married priests would be things like, “Gee, I bet Father is lonely. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could marry like the Methodist pastor down the street?”

Dominic, you’re missing the point.

Yes, many non-observant, cultural Catholics might not know the nuances of theology and liturgy. Many priests and laity are functionally Episcopalian or ELCA. Yet my discussion with even the most perfunctory Catholic laity has revealed one common point: the clerical caste is unhealthy and a detriment to the growth of the church. Plenty of nominal Catholics will return to the Church if the “lower clergy” are allowed to wed before the diaconate. Even devout Catholics have admitted that the clerical caste is completely dysfunctional (although many neo-cons and fundamentalists inexplicably defend the celibacy status quo). The laity of the developed world is demanding (in plurality) that the Church wed married men that can live both in the clerical state and among the laity with their families. The “unwashed laity” know much, much more about life in the secular world and the demands and rewards of companionship. The Holy Spirit is speaking through the laity and not through the institutional Church. Why isn’t Rome listening? Why perpetuate the sick and emotionally tortured policy of compulsory celibacy? I, and millions of other laity, haven’t a clue why Rome perseveres with celibacy other than that the control of sexuality is the control of power and ideology.

25 11 2010
dominic1962

The same laymen who ignore Humanae Vitae and are, for most intents and purposes, ELCA would have no idea what the “lower orders” or the “subdiaconate” is and the reasons they’d have for married priests would be things like, “Gee, I bet Father is lonely. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could marry like the Methodist pastor down the street?”

There is more between “hanging on the Pope’s every word” and “could not care less” and this is the real issue. We shouldn’t look to exalt the ignorance of either side of your dichotomy. The “Cross and Thermometer” (I suppose those would be neo-cons, to use an older epithet) people need to pick up something like Ott (for starters) and see the real richness that is in Church teaching and legitimate theological opinion.

The other folks, if we accept your description of them (which is not too far off) need to learn how to be in the world but not of it again. If the bulk of our unwashed masses really are ELCA in all but name, this is a very sad state we are in indeed.

25 11 2010
sortacatholic

Arturo: Modern Catholics believe some pretty silly things at times. Some Pope says something in some passing document and all of a sudden it is the “Catholic position”. All of a sudden, the Papacy and the entourage that surrounds it are some sort of oracle at Delphi, telling us on every issue what we should and shouldn’t believe. (I found it particularly rich that Cardinal George said that the opinion of the bishops is THE Catholic opinion. Who said clericalism is dead?)

This is true to a point. We must always remember that 95%+ of self-identified Catholic couples in the United States use some form of birth control. It’s the 2% “cross and thermometer” set (great neologism, Arturo) that hangs on the pope’s every word. Most everyone else could care less. While Catholic fundamentalists, tridentinists, and the religious rightists get a lot of print and air-time, the “everyperson’s Catholicism” is rather agnostic. Ultra-dox Catholics lambaste Anglicanism. Well, your average RC parish is darn close to Anglicans and liberal Lutherans liturgically and pastorally. The only difference is that the person up front comes in one sex only.

The cross and thermometer set often elevate Theology of the Body to the position of an infallible document. This is a dubious case that has only complicated efforts to reach ordinary Catholic couples. In English translation, TOTB is very a difficult and almost incomprehensible text. Yet, many in the C&T movement have tried to boil it down to popular tracts that poorly reify the text. It’s no wonder that the majority of Catholics disregard many of the orders from Rome after Humanae Vitae and TOTB. These texts drain the blood from the reality of marriage. Should the Church one day permit barrier contraception, expect the ultra-dox to reject this permission. Ultramontanism often catapults itself above even papal decisions.

As for me — I’m with you. ex opere operato, and the rest is schmaltz. I openly advocate for married priests and the admission to women to the lower orders and the subdiaconate. I’m sure that many other laypeople agree with some of these positions. Sometimes the Holy Spirit breathes on the laity first. The ultramontanists, ultra-dox, and fundamentalists will go their way. I’ll keep on praying for a healthier, pragmatic Catholicism.

23 11 2010
john burnett

Isn’t it interesting, though, how Catholic thought always comes down to *authority*?— what level, how infallible, is it permitted to dissent, magisterium, decrees, laws, dicasteries— how many are the words for what is called, in short, ‘Rome’s authority’— and how formal and numerous are its organs, its offices, its grades of documents, its pronouncements— just like a government bureaucracy (which it is)! ‘Roma locuta, causa finita!’

Hardly a single statement of ‘Catholic doctrine’, of any ‘Catholic position’ is free of such legalism; it seems to be the fundamental stance of RC ecclesiastical life. And yet it’s *completely* unknown in the fathers of the church! We simply *don’t* find it there! It seems to have emerged in the West especially when Nicholas I in the 800s, and then Gregory VII Hildebrand in the 1100s start pushing papal (and German) supremacy over the whole Church, and to have gotten massively underway during and after the Renaissance. I certainly don’t find this approach in the scriptures— not that the scriptures are a kind of anti-pope, but simply to say that vatican legalism does not seem to have been part of the original vision. To get back to that, maybe we would need a pope who would just refuse to use the whole mediaeval-renaissance-19th century nomenclature, and just write ‘open letters’ instead of ‘encyclicals’ and make (hopefully wise) ‘observations’ rather than ‘decrees’. (Sorry, just dreaming.)

I like what you say about the ‘depositum fidei’, though, if by that you mean the christian tradition (the fathers and councils, etc)— ‘if the Church exists to preserve and spread the depositum fidei as something transparent and comprehensible, then the burden of the Papacy is to uphold and defend the depositum. Run first to the depositum fidei, and then to the Pope’— although i would question whether ‘the Church exists to preserve and spread the depositum’; i would have thought it exists to spread faith in Jesus Christ. Of course, that has to be the right faith, though, and as Irenaeus said, that necessarily involves us in tradition. But we find in tradition what the Church has said— what has worked— not, there, as a matter of law, but of experience.

The statements of some of the popes have been important parts of our experience, but they are not the whole of it; nor does one bishop sitting on one chair mystically have the power to decide all things ‘ex sese et non ex consensu ecclesiae’. That’s just wrong! And indeed, there have even been times when the pope was measured against tradition and found wanting— Honorius I, deposed by the 6th Ecumenical Council, for example. So yes, thoughtful persons must ‘run first to the depositum fidei’, and then to the bishops!

But i don’t understand what you mean here: ‘If the depositum is somehow bogged down in interpretational problems due to a hermeneutic of such-and-such, then yes, one must always have recourse to authority for even the most basic questions.’ Are you speaking only of practical matters that need decisions right now (like, prostitutes using condoms)? If more than such practical, ad hoc decisions, wouldn’t a ‘Roma locuta, causa finita’ kind of recourse to authority contradict your main argument, ‘that some Vatican official or bureaucrat (even if he is the Pope) may not always get it right, especially if he is going out on a limb in terms of stating something with a dearth of tradition behind it’?

But otherwise, it seems that what you’re suggesting is that we have to look at tradition and work out, as best we can, whatever answer to a new question seems consistent— and let our descendants determine whether it has proved workable, in the long run. That seems reasonable.

Plato says that humankind lives in the ‘middle’ (the metaxy), between the animals, who know nothing, and the gods, who know everything. But it seems that much of history, especially the history of the church, is an effort to declare exceptions to that fact. Everyone else is fallible— but not *me*!

There is the natural vantage point of leadership, which necessarily has a wider perspective on issues. And grace is given to the bishops to guide the Church, and it seems that Peter was chief among the (equal) apostles. There is also such a thing as the spiritual insight given to the saints. But all of this— even the insight given to the saints— is still in the metaxy. The saints and even bishops may see things more deeply and more dispassionately than shallow and passionate persons do, but that is not, and cannot be, the function of an institution, even of the bishop of Rome purely as occupant of such and such an office. If the pope actually is a saint, he may be granted insight. But even with that, the papacy is still in the metaxy. Tradition is a sure guide, but even he still has to work out the ways he has to lead, as we head creatively into the future.

23 11 2010
Henry Karlson

Arturo

I agree, the distinctions of teaching authority are quite important. I have pointed out many times how such imprecision has made a muddle of things in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Theologians and bishops both know, what is found in the Catechism is a collection of teachings, not all of them say magisterial authority. The layperson taking the text thinks it is all the same. The same, of course, happens with papal discussions. Of course, what a pope says (and what a bishop says!) should be taken into consideration, looked at, examined, by the people who do such work– but you are right, the ultra-montanist approach to the Pope is troubling.

23 11 2010
SAF

All I can say to this (since I still have one more pie to bake tonight) is: I love this blog. My husband just read this entry too, and concurs. Fresh air…

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