Spirituality of the Church Roman Style

Pius XI gets it right (for a graph or two anyway):

14. Let Us explain briefly the nature and meaning of this lordship of Christ. It consists, We need scarcely say, in a threefold power which is essential to lordship. This is sufficiently clear from the scriptural testimony already adduced concerning the universal dominion of our Redeemer, and moreover it is a dogma of faith that Jesus Christ was given to man, not only as our Redeemer, but also as a law-giver, to whom obedience is due. Not only do the gospels tell us that he made laws, but they present him to us in the act of making them. Those who keep them show their love for their Divine Master, and he promises that they shall remain in his love. He claimed judicial power as received from his Father, when the Jews accused him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. “For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son.” In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.

15. This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things. That this is so the above quotations from Scripture amply prove, and Christ by his own action confirms it. On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honor and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.

But then he falls back into the things-go-better-with-Christ meme:

20. If the kingdom of Christ, then, receives, as it should, all nations under its way, there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth – he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity; who said also: “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! “Then at length,” to use the words addressed by our predecessor, Pope Leo XIII, twenty-five years ago to the bishops of the Universal Church, “then at length will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”

21. That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to the end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever. The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.

If we applied these parts of the encyclical to the current work of reforming the Vatican Bank, I mean, the Institute on Religious Works, we might recognize the truth of graphs 14 and 15 and see the holes in 20 and 21. In a recent interview with John Allen, George Cardinal Pell admitted that the techniques of modern bureaucratic structures administered by lay people (even secular lay people) may do a better job of overseeing a financial institution than church officers:

Cynics say they’ve seen previous waves of supposed financial reform in the Vatican come and go, and nothing much ever changes. What makes this different?

Nobody in living memory has seen anything like this before. What’s so new are the structural reforms. We’ve now got different focuses of authority and checks and balances. We’re also injecting some of the top financial people from around the world into the leadership of these different agencies, and they won’t stay on these boards if the businesses aren’t run properly.

We’ve never seen such an injection of lay leadership into the senior ranks of the Church as we’re seeing now with finances. That’s extremely healthy, because it’s an area in which we clerics don’t necessarily have any expertise.

Going forward, you won’t be able to change the system back to what it was before simply by changing one person. A whole network of institutions is being set up, with more to come.

The lesson may be, then, that Christ’s spiritual rule is different from his secular rule and that the church operates differently from society. Only Constantine echoing David makes us think Christians hold the key to running the world (and look how well Israel and the Holy Roman Empire turned out).

10 thoughts on “Spirituality of the Church Roman Style

  1. We confessionals are very concerned when we see our ministers treating our churches as businesses or corporations, but I think we need to be just as wary when our businesses start acting like churches. If I go into a burger place, I don’t want a Bible verse or pamphlet – I was a damn burger. So, that’s why I stay away from the Our Lady of Guadalupe Taco Truck, though Lord knows I need an intercession after one of their burritos.

    Unfortunately, I think the Church of Rome isn’t too sure what it is – is it a Church? Is it a State? Is it also a bank, a fraternity, or a tourism committee?

    One thing it can be sure of, however, is that it is still completely in the tradition of St. Peter. Or at least that’s some would have us believe.


  2. Seth,

    I’m not staying away from Lady Guadalupe’s Burrito Truck. I think it’s apples & oranges on this one. You can legislate Christian morality (not arguing the merits of that though), but you can’t moralize a burger, just like the meat that’s been sacrificed to idols doesn’t affect the meat. Hence why I don’t have an issue buying an iPhone even though Apple throws around support for Gay Rights Parades, etc. Even though In-N-Out has bible-verses on their packaging (in out-of-the-way places mind you), I’m still going to eat their damn-good burgers.

    I’m in agreement religion should stay out of businesses (contra Hobby Lobby) though.

    You might actually need intercession after eating Lady Guadalupe’s burritos though – Lord knows I do… especially when I go heavy on the hot sauce – Ouch!


  3. Last week from Foreign Policy on the limitations of spiritual rule of earthly things:

    The IOR’s headaches of late have been one after the other. The U.S. State Department in 2012 named the Vatican a nation “of concern” for money laundering. The bank refused to explain to JPMorgan Chase why, over the course of 18 months, 1.8 billion euros entered and left one account. One of the reformers brought in to lead the bank left fearing for his life, telling Reuters, “I have paid the price for transparency.” The bank was found in July 2012 to have failed to meet seven of 16 anti-laundering recommendations by an FATF committee. The five members who make up the FIA and supervise the Vatican’s financial dealings were supposed to serve until 2016, but resigned early at Pope Francis’s request and have been replaced with outside experts, including Juan Zarate, who is best known for helping the second Bush administration develop a slew of innovative ways to apply sanctions on rogue states and terror groups. Cleaning up the Vatican’s bank may, surprisingly, prove to be nearly as challenging.


  4. It’s one thing to excommunicate the mafia, it’s a whole ‘nother to get free of the vig.


  5. Nate,

    I’ll still go to In-And-Out and enjoy that damn good burger, but it doesn’t mean I have to like the fact that they hide Bible verses everywhere. I guess my issue with In-And-Out and their ilk is that I really don’t see the point. What power does a lone Bible verse printed on the bottom my soda cup have? What if I don’t even see it? Or does it effect me through osmosis or maybe through the bubbles of my Dr. Pepper? It seems almost as totemistic as anything Rome has to offer in their medals and baubles. In the end, it depicts a Christianity that is platitudinous and absurd.

    I agree, that hot sauce is like napalm. How ironic is it that I would suffer from Montezuma’s revenge after eating a burrito from Our Lady of Guadalupe Taco Truck?


  6. “In the end, it depicts a Christianity that is platitudinous and absurd.” Not at all. It depicts one that is important to the owner, who wants to wear his faith on his sleeve. If it is true, what is wrong reminding people of its presence?


  7. I wonder how Francis’ economic teaching applies to the Vatican Bank:

    it is obvious that not only is wealth concentrated in our times, but an immense power and despotic economic dictatorship is consolidated in the hands of a few, who often are not owners but only the trustees and managing directors of invested funds, which they administer according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure. This dictatorship is being most forcibly exercised by those who, since they hold the money and completely control it, control credit also and rule the lending of money. Hence, they regulate the flow, so to speak, of the lifeblood, whereby the entire economic system lives, and have so firmly in their grasp the soul, as it were, of economic life that no one can breathe against their will

    What happens in the Institute on Religious Works stays in the Institute on Religious Works.


  8. Spirituality of Vatican leaks:

    As Pope Francis and Vatican officials try to completely revamp the Vatican’s economic policies and the procedures at what is commonly called the Vatican bank, differences of opinion are normal, but leaking documents about those discussions is illegal, said the Vatican spokesman.
    “The fact that complex economic or legal issues are the subject of discussion and diverse points of view should be considered normal,” said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, in a note published late Friday.

    The spokesman’s comments came after the Italian magazine L’Espresso published three articles allegedly illustrating how “power struggles between the most important prelates are placing the reforms of Pope Francis at risk.”

    The articles particularly target Australian Cardinal George Pell, head of the Secretariat for the Economy. The leaked minutes of a meeting of cardinals, the magazine said, show top Vatican officials are concerned about a lack of checks and balances as the cardinal gains more power over Vatican spending, hiring, income and revenues.

    “Passing confidential documents to the press for polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned, and is illegal,” Lombardi said.


  9. If mercy characterizes this papacy, where’s your mercy now?

    In September, steamy exposés in the Italian press focused on Pell’s record in handling sexual abuse complaints while he served as the archbishop of Sydney in Australia, suggesting that criticism from an Australian Royal Commission might weaken Pell to such an extent that Francis would be compelled to get rid of him.

    Last week, the anti-Pell campaign scored another hit, this time with leaked receipts from his department showing it had managed to spend more than a half million dollars in its first few months of operation, despite its mandate to impose discipline and sobriety.

    Virtually every time Pell has tried to notch a success, somebody inside the system has fired back.

    When he claimed in December to have uncovered hundreds of millions of euros in hidden assets, for instance, officials in the Secretariat of State prepared a memorandum insisting those funds were perfectly legitimate and had been set aside for unforeseen expenses. The memo was leaked to the press, forcing Pell to scramble to defend his alleged discovery.

    The same thing happened in February when Pell briefed cardinals on where things stand, among other things saying his office had found an almost $1 billion shortfall in the Vatican pension fund. Days later, officials of the fund issued a statement insisting that it’s in good shape and rejecting “alarmist” accounts of its viability.

    In the end, none of that was sufficient to cause the pontiff to abandon Pell.

    Poor church for the poor, or rich church for powerful bishops?


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