Every Minor Order Ministry

If you’re ever tempted to think that Rome’s church government is ancient, consider how much it has always been a work in process (with notable interventions from Trent and Vatican II):

On the Sunday of the Word of God this year, Pope Francis solemnly instituted lectors and catechists. They were drawn from nations around the world. The pope gave to each of the lectors a book of the Scriptures, and to the catechists a cross. There were prayers, and he enjoined these servants of the word to bring the Gospel to the world through their ministry. None of this was truly extraordinary, however. What made the event historic was that, for the first time, the rite included women.

It was a long time coming. In 1965, a subcommittee of the Consilium (the body of scholars and churchmen who crafted many of the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council) gathered to study what was then called “minor orders,” including what we now call instituted lectors and acolytes. In Christian antiquity various people held these offices, but gradually they were restricted to seminarians on their way to being ordained to the priesthood. Over time, the priesthood assumed all the roles formerly held by a variety of ministers. The committee acknowledged the possibility of turning the page on this clericalization of ministry, but they did not discuss including women out of deference to those bishops who believed that the minor orders were part of the sacrament of Holy Orders, rendering women ineligible.

Nevertheless, a door was opened by the Consilium’s final report in 1967, which affirmed that the Church has considerable flexibility in reforming the offices below the level of deacon. The minor orders, although rooted in antiquity, can be reconfigured, they argued—some abolished, others added or adapted—to respond to the needs of the Church. The question of who receives them, and whether they are permanent or temporary, was not settled.

By the time of the council, everyone recognized that the Church’s practice of minor orders had become incoherent. The history was venerable, but modern-day seminarians were deriving little benefit from being ordained into these roles. It was more or less a formality they went through, with the rites serving as stepping stones in a cursus honorum that led to priestly ordination—their real goal. They moved through the minor orders quickly, sometimes celebrating two at a time. Some found it embarrassing to receive deputation, in solemn ceremonies, for tasks other people carried out. The role of doorkeeper was, for example, already filled by sacristans and ushers. Altar boys performed the role of acolyte. The priest read the readings at Mass. To be an actual exorcist was an advanced and specialized role quite separate from the “order of exorcist” conferred on them, which really meant nothing. One of the principles of the reform was “truthfulness.” By this canon, the minor orders were failing badly.

Pope St. Paul VI was interested in keeping the minor orders as a part of seminary formation. His focus was on renewing them and establishing a more coherent plan. Pastoral bishops saw this in a wider frame of reference, however, and had more ambitious goals. They wanted to simplify the preparation for priesthood and render it more realistic, but they also kept an eye on the horizon of lay ministry, which was a growing phenomenon. There was considerable interest, especially in mission dioceses, in strengthening lay ministries and finding ways to bless them. There were requests not only to institute women as lectors and acolytes, but also to consider instituting ministries of catechesis and various forms of pastoral service, which were already being filled successfully by women. There was also the question of allowing lay people to preach and conduct worship services in the absence of a priest. Some kind of blessing for music ministers, such as cantors, psalmists, and organists, was on the wish list too.

The topic of minor orders continued to be discussed among the various dicasteries of the Curia during the period immediately following the council, prompted at times by interventions from local churches and from the pope, but the conversation dragged on without resolution, at least in part because there were so many different discussions going on at the same time. It wasn’t even clear where this topic belonged in the flow chart of the reform: Holy Orders? Baptism? Blessings? Clergy formation? Liturgy? Evangelization and mission? All of the above?

In 1972, Pope Paul VI issued his motu proprioMinisteria quaedam, which put an end to the discussion. He suppressed the orders of doorkeeper, exorcist, and subdeacon. He changed the terminology of “minor orders” to “ministries” and defined the ministry of lector and acolyte as lay ministries. Following an obscure precedent set by the Council of Trent, he added that “ministries can be entrusted to the lay Christian faithful; accordingly, they do not have to be reserved to candidates for the sacrament of Orders” (MQ III). Nevertheless, he reserved the instituted lay ministries of lector and acolyte to males “according to the venerable tradition of the Church” (MQ VII). . . .

Not the Priesthood Jesus Founded

It does look more and more like the Roman Catholicism that is supposed to be so much like the ancient church (and which needed to be modernized at arguably the worst time to do so –the 1960s) was much more a reaction to the reforms for which Protestants called. From an interview with Clare McGrath-Merkel at Crux:

Camosy: You’ve done a lot of work on the theology of the priesthood. Can you give us the short version of your central view or a couple central ideas that could give Crux readers some insight into how you are thinking about this topic?

McGrath-Merkle: My work has been focused mainly on the theology of the priesthood and its possible role, if any, in the crisis of sexual abuse and cover-up. The causes of the crisis are, of course, varied, but I have wanted to try to understand how this theology might have somehow contributed to a clerical identity prone to the abuse of power.

The understanding I’ve come to is that what we think of as the official theology of the priesthood is actually a 400-year-old revolutionary one, linked to clerical formation spirituality. Its underlying spiritual theology has influenced the training of seminarians up until Vatican II and has had a major resurgence since the 90’s. Interestingly, it hasn’t been of much interest to most systematic theologians.

This theology was proposed in the early 17th century by a little-known cardinal-Pierre de Bérulle, the founder of the French School of Spirituality, and is a rather psychologically and spiritually unhealthy one. Leading up to my research on the possible historical roots of the crisis as found in this theology, I explored some current serious psychosocial maladaptions in priestly identity in a 2010 article.

Arguably, Bérulle’s innovations have contributed to an unhealthy priestly identity and culture over centuries, principally through both an over-identification with Christ and an exaggerated sacrificial spirituality.

What was behind these innovations?

Bérulle wanted to form a new kind of priest during a time when clerical corruption was still rampant in France, a half century after the Council of Trent’s reforms. He particularly wanted to defend the Church against Protestant objections to the necessary role of the priest in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Interestingly, he made major departures from tradition when he tried to answer Protestant Reformers on their own ­­terms-who had rejected St. Thomas Aquinas, particularly his conceptualization of the sacramental character of the priesthood.

If I could boil it down to one central idea, Bérulle asserted that the priest is not just an instrument of Christ, as Aquinas asserted, but is somehow connected to Christ as a part of His Person. In fact, Bérulle proposed that priests pray constantly so that they could give over their person to Christ, the Incarnate Word, so that He could then replace His Person with theirs.

In terms of pious rhetoric today, the idea that the priest is in some kind of essentialist relation to Christ is defended by insisting there is an “ontological” difference between the priest and laity. [emphasis added] The word “ontological” merely points to something having to do with being. Many documents, books, and popular articles on both the theology of the priesthood and priestly spirituality are available today that refer to this “ontological” difference between priests and the laity. But, if it’s used to denote an essential difference, it’s metaphysically impossible, because if a priest’s essence changed, he would no longer be human.

Bérulle’s priestly identity is very different than the priestly identity proposed by Pope St. Gregory the Great-a more humble, service-oriented but still cultic vision of the priest, which I have also explored as one model for renewal in a 2011 article. Gregory’s pastoral manual served the Church for a thousand years before the Berullian priestly identity and spirituality took over.

Lots to see here. Stop. Consider.

The Mystery of Dialogue

Another blog is up and running and it targets yet again Calvinists for ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics (most of whom converted from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism). This ecumenical endeavor, however, is different from Bryan and the Jasons Called to Communion. In fact, Bryan Cross would likely be fairly dismissive of “Catholics and Calvinists” (CaC vs. CtC). Cross once identified two kinds of ecumenism, one false, and one true. The former is wrong because it is — well — liberal:

That is because it seems to seek its goal of achieving general agreement about doctrine by way of compromise. So those who think a particular doctrine is essential feel pressured to drop their belief that this doctrine is an essential doctrine in order to attain some unity with those who think that that doctrine is adiaphorous (i.e. indifferent, non-essential). The very nature of the goal of this type of ecumenicism makes this kind of compromise essential to ecumenical progress. As someone said to me a while back, “True ecumenicism means everybody has to compromise.” And the necessary result of such a methodology is a least-common-denominator minimalism regarding doctrine, an acceptance as sufficient of something far short of the unity in communion to which Christ calls all His people.

In contrast for Cross, true ecumenism comes from recognizing the truth and unity of Roman Catholicism:

. . .this ecumenicism has complete agreement on doctrine as its goal, or more precisely, complete agreement on what each person believes to be essential doctrine. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, it rejects compromise regarding what anyone believes to be truly essential as a means of achieving its goal. As a result, there is no pressure to compromise in order to attain this ecumenicism’s goal. Instead of proposing compromise as a means to reaching a watered-down unity, this type of ecumenicism recognizes that we are not fully united until we are doctrinally united on every doctrine about which anyone believes to be essential. In this ecumenicism we do not sweep our essential doctrinal differences under the rug. We even straightforwardly, and in genuine charity and sincerity, remind each other that the other person’s position, from the point of view of our own tradition, is nothing less than heresy.

That is not exactly a conversation starter and explains why discussions with Bryan and the Jasons generally descend to Dr. Dave Bowman’s conversation with H.A.L. 9000.

How then is CaC different from CtC? Put simply from this observer’s perspective, it’s the difference between the pre- and post-Vatican II church. While Bryan and the Jasons reflect a no-salvation/truth-outside-the-church outlook, CaC seems to embrace Vatican II’s ecumenism:

Our refusal to engage in “sheep stealing” is not merely a rhetorical front, as if that posture itself were a guise under which to carry on a still-deeper project of effecting conversions. It is also not a bracketing of theological questions for the time being, as if we will for a time carry on a project of “ground-clearing” only to then change gears and begin bringing in the sheep. We recognize that this a pervasive – and deeply problematic – style of Catholic and Reformed engagement, and we repudiate it in no uncertain terms.

Rather, our approach is rooted in the ecclesiological vision articulated by the Second Vatican Council and by other leading ecumenists that there are genuine gifts cultivated by the Holy Spirit outside the boundaries of those churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome that are genuinely beneficial to the churches which are in such communion, and which lead these churches into a deeper desire for union. We want to understand those gifts more clearly, and we want to help other Roman Catholics understand the under-appreciated richness of the Reformed tradition more deeply. We do this while seeking, of course, to have our own views as Roman Catholics – devoted first to Scripture and then to the Roman Catholic tradition expressed in such thinkers as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Cardinal Newman, and the great theologians of the twentieth century – come to be better understood by our brothers and sisters in the Reformed tradition.

An initial observation is this: why don’t CaCers engage in dialogue with CtCers? After all, it sure looks like Roman Catholics are on different pages when it comes to church unity and what to make of Reformed Protestants.

That conversation might then include discussions of Vatican II and the apparent rupture of the church’s understanding of its relationship to those outside the church (both other professing Christians and non-Christians). In fact, since CaC is interested in the shared use of scholasticism by Roman Catholics and Protestants, the dialogue it promotes might include trying to reconcile a church that was for much of its modern intellectual history committed to Thomism and then after 1965 opened itself to non-scholastic methods (and more). In other words, I don’t understand (maybe a dumb Protestant) how you invoke both scholasticism and Vatican II on theological discussion since the former achieved remarkable clarity and the latter was purposefully equivocal.

That difference between Vatican II and scholasticism also brings up the tricky matter of the Council of Trent. Why is it that the church that relied on scholasticism as its method for articulating theological and dogmatic truth did not open dialogue with but condemned Protestantism? Trent was not an invitation to dialogue. It put an end to it. So the challenge for CaCers is how to read 16th- and 17th-century theological sources as a way to pursue what Vatican II had in mind when those old sources drew clear lines between truth and error and pursued ecumenism far more along the lines that Bryan Cross advocates than what Pope Francis embodies.

The larger point here is one about Roman Catholics understanding Roman Catholicism. Instead of trying to understand Calvinism, making sense of Rome’s fits and starts and changes might be much more useful for dialogue (whether ecumenical or academic). For Protestants like mmmmeeeeeeEEEE, Roman Catholicism looks like a moving target. That is a mystery that needs much more attention from Roman Catholics than appreciating Luther or Calvin. In fact, as Mark Massa has argued, it is a mystery up to which the post-Vatican II church is still catching:

. . . the widespread acceptance of the seemingly self-evident truth that things change will make it increasingly difficult to propound or defend Church teaching and practice by appealing to timeless, static categories of propositional truth. This applies most particularly to the intellectual tradition of scholastic natural law, which the Catholic tradition has relied on for presenting its most important teachings since the thirteenth century. The fractious nonrecption of Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, if nothing else, illustrates this with startling clarity. Whatever the truth of Paul VI’s teaching, the massive noncompliance accorded his encyclical shows that the great majority of American Catholics did not form their consciences along the lines of such moral reasoning, and have not since. There are of course many possible reasons for this lack of compliance on the part of the vast majority of practicing Catholics on an issue that the hierarchical Church has termed “serious matter.” Some of those reasons may indeed involve personal ignorance, sinful willfulness, or just plain selfishness. But an important reason for that noncompliance, what I would label as the main reason, is that the classical unchanging world it presupposes no longer makes sense to the vast majority of the faithful in the United States. What Bernard Lonergan so elegantly called the “transition from a classicist world view to historical mindedness” in fact describes the intellectual revolution that mainstream Catholics underwent during the sixties.

Whatever the strengths of that older classicist worldview — and it served the Catholic Church extraordinarily well for centuries — it can no longer provide plausible explanations for Church teaching . . . . The older intellectual categories of scholastic natural law, first enunciated so brilliantly by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, appear unable to accomplish that now. Perhaps the intellectual justification offered in its place to explain Catholic teaching will represent the most important long-term fruit of the intellectual revolution sponsored by historical consciousness in Catholic Christianity. Time will tell.

Some of us are still waiting for converts to Roman Catholicism to have a conversation with clergy and academics like Massa. It sure doesn’t seem like a meaningful conversation can take place between confessional Protestants and Roman Catholics as long as one side is so uncertain about that for which it stands.

Postscript: Comments should be open at a cite committed to dialogue.

This Day in Protestant History

Four hundred fifty years ago Roman Catholic clergy professed a faith that said “not gonna happen” to Protestants. The Tridentine Profession of Faith became obligatory for all bishops, priests and clerics charged with teaching. It reads:

I, N, with a firm faith believe and profess each and everything which is contained in the Creed which the Holy Roman Church makes use of. To wit:

I believe in one God, The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God. Born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary: and was made man. He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, and who spoke through the prophets.

And one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Apostolic and Ecclesiastical traditions and all other observances and constitutions of that same Church I firmly admit to and embrace.

I also accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church has held, and does hold, and to whom it belongs to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures. Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

I also profess that there are truly and properly Seven Sacraments of the New Law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and necessary for the salvation of mankind, though not all are necessary for everyone; to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony; and that they confer grace; and that of these, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders cannot be repeated without sacrilege.

I also receive and admit the accepted and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church in the solemn administration of the aforesaid sacraments.

I embrace and accept each and everything which has been defined and declared in the holy Council of Trent concerning original sin and justification.

I profess, likewise, that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially, the Body and Blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that a conversion takes place of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood, which conversion the Catholic Church calls Transubstantiation.

I also confess that under either species alone Christ is received whole and entire, and a true sacrament.

I steadfastly hold that there is a Purgatory, and that the souls therein detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful. Likewise, that the saints, reigning together with Christ, are to be honored and invoked, and that they offer prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be venerated.

I most firmly assert that the images of Christ, of the Mother of God, ever virgin, and also of other Saints, ought to be kept and retained, and that due honor and veneration is to be given them.

I also affirm that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the Church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian people.

I acknowledge the Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church as the mother and teacher of all churches; and I promise true obedience to the Bishop of Rome, successor to St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and Vicar of Jesus Christ.

I likewise undoubtedly receive and profess all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the sacred Canons, and general Councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent, and by the ecumenical Council of the Vatican, particularly concerning the primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching.

I condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto, and all heresies which the Church has condemned, rejected, and anathematized. This true Catholic faith, outside of which no one can be saved, which I now freely profess and to which I truly adhere, I do so profess and swear to maintain inviolate and with firm constancy with the help of God until the last breath of life. And I shall strive, as far as possible, that this same faith shall be held, taught, and professed by all those over whom I have charge. I N. do so pledge, promise, and swear, so help me God and these Holy Gospels of God.

Do Protestants get any thanks for provoking such remarkable clarity?

You Don't Protest Enough

Mark Shea explains unintentionally why attention to the forensic aspect of salvation is so important and why efforts to downplay that importance by elevating sanctification need great carefulness:

What then does the word “merit” mean in 1990s terminology? In the words of one of the foremost Catholic theologians of the 20th Century (Hans Urs Von Balthasar), the best modern equivalent for what the medieval and renaissance Church meant by merit is “fruitfulness.” (A term Evangelicals are abundantly familiar with from John 15 and other Scriptures.) Now “fruitfulness” (as all Evangelicals know) refers to the outworking of God’s grace in our lives, both in changing us into the image of Christ and in “bearing fruit for the Kingdom” by, say, winning hearts for Christ, feeding the hungry, caring for the needy, etc. None of this (as I learned long ago in Evangelicaldom) is “works salvation” but is simply the way in which we participate in the divine life, go “from glory to glory” and cooperate with the sanctifying power of Christ. With that in mind, let’s now look at the Trent quote above and see what we can make of it.

The Council says that “the gifts of God are also the good merits of him justified.” Is this saying “Salvation means God does half and we do half?” No. It is saying something far more radical. It is saying that God does it all and we do it all. Following Paul (who urged the Philippians to “work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”), the Council asserts that the fruit borne by the believer is real fruit which is really and truly given by God and therefore really and truly a part of the believer’s life. Instead of seeing salvation as “snow on a dunghill” (a mere legal decree of righteousness which gets us to heaven yet which leaves us unchanged in our inner being), the Council sees salvation as a process which really changes us in our inner being and conforms us to the image of Christ.

If the Obedience Boys, then, are going to talk about what we do in sanctification or encourage us to look to our works for some measure of assurance, they should understand that those who still protest (read Protestants) don’t want a return to Trent:

Trent, then, insists that salvation is incarnational. Just as the Word is made flesh, so (in us) grace is enfleshed in real, solid, tangible change and the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). For the very essence of the saving gospel is that it is to really bear fruit in our lives and become kneaded into our full humanity. Thus, what the Council means is that our good fruit (or merits in 16th Century speak) really are ours as well as God’s great gift. When we, under grace, do a good thing it is really we who do it… because God willed that we do it. (A truth my Evangelical friends believe as much as Trent–when they are not arguing against Rome.)

I don’t know about you (or what tune you use), but I’m not sure how those who put sanctification on a par with justification sing “Rock of Ages” in a good conscience:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

Imagine if Protestants Had Received Such a Hearing

A report from the early days of the Synod in Rome:

The first days of discussions at the global meeting of Catholic bishops have focused partly on how to change “harsh language” used by the church in discussing family life and on acknowledging that people grow in faith slowly, according to Vatican observers of the meeting.

One theme said to be included in 70 speeches made by prelates over the past two days is how the prelates label people with words that “are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to the church.”

Briefing reporters Tuesday on the event, known as a Synod of Bishops, Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica said one or more synod members specifically referred to three terms commonly used by the church:

“Living in sin”: a reference to couples who live together before marriage;
“Intrinsically disordered”: a reference to gay people; and
“Contraceptive mentality”: a reference made by some prelates to refer to a society that does not respect life.

“To label people … does not help in bringing people to Christ,” said Rosica, summarizing the synod member. “There was a great desire that our language has to change in order to meet the very difficult situations.”

Imagine just how much Trent’s “let him be anathema” harshed Ursinus’ buzz.

Conciliarism on the Eve of Reformation

It may come as no surprise to hear that Thomas Cardinal Cajetan, Luther’s chief antagonist in 1518 at the meeting in Augsburg, was a high papalist who took a decidedly anti-conciliar position with his 1511 work, De comparatione auctoritatis papae et concilii. As Francis Oakley explains, this book by Cajetan disrupted the council, then meeting in Pisa, and the bishops (from exile) sent Cajetan’s treatise to the leading theological faculty of Europe, Paris, for evaluation. There Jacques Almain responded with a vindication of the conciliarist position. It involved three grounds, as Oakley summarizes:

First, just as coercive civil power is present in a political body as a whole before it is wielded by any of its members, so, too, is it with the Church. The supreme ecclesiastical power, which Christ admittedly conferred directly upon Peter, he had earlier conferred ‘in its plentitude’ on the Church. So true is this, indeed, that had he failed after the Resurrection to institute anyone as his supreme pontiff or vicar general, the Church being possessed already of the ‘supreme coercive power’, could itself have done so. . . . .

secondly, the ecclesiastical power residing in the Church is ‘greater in extension’ than is that residing in the pope. When Christ conferred upon Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he gave them to him not as a private person but ‘as a sign and figure’ or representative of the universal Church. Hence it is by the authority of the Church and in its place that Peter and his successors have wielded the power of the keys — ‘just as kings exercise the power of jurisdiction in place of the community.’ But the general council immediately represents the universal Church and it has the power of the keys ‘more directly than does Peter’. . . .

Third, the eccleiastical power which resided in the Church is not only ‘greater in extension’ than that residing in the pope, it is also ‘greater in perfection’ too. For it resides in the Church with constancy . . . so that the Church ‘is unable to err in those things that pertain to the faith and to good morals, nor can it err in passing sentence [on such matters . . . since it is assisted always by the Holy Spirit, doctor of truth and infallible director’. . . . For popes can err, and manifestly have erred in matters of faith, and have done so in their official public capacity as well as in their private personal beliefs, whereas from that danger the Holy Spirit protects the general council, representing truly as it does that council of apostles and disciples which was the recipient of Christ’s promise that he would be with us always even to the consummation of the world. (125-26)

So strong was this disagreement between Cajetan and Almain, and so strong was the conciliarist movement, that the Council of Trent represented one of the diciest moments in Roman Catholic history. According to Oakley:

. . . concern about the danger to the papacy which [conciliar views] still posed helped, accordingly, to bolster reluctance at Rome to respond to the Protestant challenge in Germany by summoning the general council for which so many Catholics pleaded. When the Council of Trent did finally meet in 1545, it was not only suspicious representatives of the evangelicals who turned out to want the matter of the superiority of pope to council placed on the agenda. Apprehension about the potential recrudescence of conciliarism, very much on the minds of the papal legates, was also, as Paulo Sarpi was to note later on in his ascerbic history of Trent, widespread among the council fathers themselves. And not, it turned out, without good cause. Given the way in which events were to unfold, one is forced to concur in the judgement that ‘there was . . . scarcely any set problems that was so controversial at Trent or that brought the council so close to collapse as the question of primacy and the relationship between the primate and episcopate’. Disagreement about the respective powers of pope and council, though partially downplayed in response to the threat posed by Protestant dissent, rumbled on through the council’s first two periods in the 1540s and 1550s, rising to the level of something more than a subdominant whenever the issue of reform in head and members came to be discussed. And in 1562-3, during the council’s last phase when a French delegation of some significance had finally joined the ranks of the participants, the issue helped precipitate what was clearly Trent’s greatest crisis.

Aside from the ecclesiological debates over a bishop’s power (whether it came through the pope or directly from Christ), and whether bishops were bound to reside in their dioceses, was the question of papal primacy.

Here the level of disagreement was such as to preclude not only that papally sponsored redefinition but also any decree at all on the controverted nature of the Christian Church. So menacing, indeed, was the atmosphere at the council, and so rancorous the dissent, that it was something of a triumph for the diplomacy of the papal legates to have succeeded finally in sidestepping the pursuit of that issue in a compromising context in which appeals were being made to the superiority decrees of Constance and Basel . . . and in which the celebrated Charles de Guise, cardinal of Lorraine, proudly proclaimed himself to be a Frenchman, one nourished at the University of Paris where, he noted, the Councils of Constance and Basel (but certainly not that of Florence) were held to be fully legitimate and ecumenical in status, and where those rash enough to deny the superiority of council to pope could expect to be censured as heretics. (130-31)

Why Jason and the Callers decided to go all in on a theory of papal primacy and chose to ignore the theory of conciliarism (which no less depends on apostolic succession) is not just a mystery but audacious.

The Limits of Unlimited Authority

When you hunt around for explanations of the Council of Trent’s anathemas on various Roman Catholic websites, you find a recurring assertion that the church cannot damn anyone to hell, only God can do that. The anathemas as such only apply to Protestant doctrines, not to Protestants themselves.

Like other excommunications, anathemas didn’t do anything to a person’s soul. It didn’t make him “damned by God” or anything like that. The only man who can make a man damned by God is the man himself. The Church has no such power. An anathema was a formal way of signaling him that he had done something gravely wrong, that he had endangered his own soul, and that he needed to repent. Anathemas, like other excommunications, were thus medicinal penalties, designed to promote healing and reconciliation.

Love the Protestant, hate Protestantism, I guess.

This explanation is odd for a couple reasons. First, if Protestants are not anathematized by Trent, is it not the case that Protestants are still schismatics, which is not a good condition for the soul since schism is a mortal sin?

Sins against Faith: 2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith”9 as our first obligation. He shows that “ignorance of God” is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations.10 Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him. 2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith: Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness. 2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Some apologists will also tell us that we are under obligation to go to Mass if we want to go to heaven.

We may be spared Trent’s condemnations, but the very idea of no salvation outside the church and Rome’s claim that it has the power to dispense grace takes Protestants from the Council’s frying pan into Rome’s fire.

The other odd aspect of this distinction between Rome’s authority and God’s when it comes the fate of souls is that the papacy does apparently have the power to canonize saints. This implies that the church can determine who is in heaven. It even has access to a treasury of merits to liberate souls from purgatory with indulgences.

Now maybe such limits on Rome’s power truly exist. But why does it seem like a case of public relations where Roman Catholic apologists are uncomfortable with hell and try to distance themselves from anathemas but not so much with heaven and the process of canonization? Have Rome’s apologists been reading Rob Bell?

Are Protestants Logocentric? Proudly (in a humble way)

From Luther’s comments on John 3:

What should Christ do, and of what use is the Messiah? What kind of Messiah is He? . . . What does He do? He testifies. If He walks in such weakness and holds on His kingdship no more fimrly than that He testified, is there nothing else that He can do but preach and talk? If He is no soldier, possesses no land (not even the width of His palm) and no people, what does He do? Preach. Yes, such a Messiah are we bidden to accept.

How if it be God’s will that the Messiah should not come like a Caesar? Such an honour He will not grants unto them, that He should come arrayed with power like theirs. But that He comes so unadorned and does nothing but preach, that is unspeakable wisdom and strength, yes, the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, for whosoever believes in Him shall live eternally. But who sees this? You are not meant to see it. His reign and His preaching are a testimony. It is a preaching which testifies to things which no man can hear, see, or read in books of the law or anywhere else in the world. To witness means to speak of what the hearer has not seen. A judge does not judge what he sees. He must hear witnesses. But here He must preach and witness to something which men do not see, and that is how the Lord Christ is a witness to the Father in heaven, high uplifted above all men. He shall do nothing but preach, and His preaching shall be His testimony to the Father, how He is inclined, how He desires to make men blessed and to redeem them from their sins, and from the power of death and the devil. That is His testimony.

Luther might explain why Protestants have stressed sermons as the center piece of worship.

This would explain why Roman Catholics emphasize the Mass:

The Tridentine Decree on Justification is one of the most impressive achievements of the council. The leaders of the council had reported to Rome that “the significance of this council in the theological sphere lies chiefly in the article on justification, in fact this is the most important item the council has to deal with.” But reading it can give one a false impression of the significance of justification within Roman Catholicism. The decree was needed, and the doctrine received the attention that it did, because of the Protestant challenge. For the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church, however, the doctrine was not very important. In 1564 Pope Pius IV promulgated the Creed of the Council of Trent. Justification is mentioned just once in passing: “I embrace and accept each and every article on original sin and justification declared and defined in the most holy Council of Trent.” Shortly afterward, his successor, Pope Pius V, promulgated a Catechismus ex Decreto Concilii Tridentini, the so-called Roman Catechism. This contains only scattered passing references to justification, mostly in the context of teaching on the sacraments. The sacramental system is as central to the catechism as the doctrine of justification is peripheral, and the need to offer satisfaction for sins receives the sustained exposition denied to justification. Justification needed to be treated in response to the Protestant threat, but at the heart of the Christian life in Roman Catholicism is not justification but the sacramental system. The Council fathers turned from justification to the sacraments, and the Decree on the sacraments begins with the observation that all true righteousness begins with the sacraments; having been begun, increases through them; and, if lost, is restored through them. (Anthony Lane, “A Tale of Two Imperial Cities,” in Bruce L. McCormack, Justification in Perspective, 141-42)

Two paradigms, indeed, (but not much reform in the Counter-Reformation).

Paradigms within Paradigms

In an effort to show that OldLife is not unaware of developments in the Roman Catholic world and to help Called to Communion folks shed their own romantic understandings of Rome, I offer a few reflections from John W. O’Malley on differences between Vatican II and the Council of Trent. I had the privilege of taking a class from O’Malley, a leading Roman Catholic historian, during my days at Harvard Divinity School when he was teaching at Weston School of Theology. The quotations to follow come from “Trent and Vatican II: Two Styles of Church,” From Trent to Vatican II: Historical and Theological Investigations (OUP, 2006):

Trent and Vatican II dealt not only with different issues in quite dissimilar historical circumstances, or deal with and/or avoided the same issues in the same or different ways. They were different cultural entities. In this regard, Vatican II was not only unlike Trent but unlike any council that preceded it.

We are dealing, in other words, with two significanlty different modles of council. True, within Catholicism the continuities almost always outweigh the discontinuities. But Trent and Vatican II, when viewed in the large, are emblematic of two fundamental, interrelated, but notably different traditions of the Western Church. Those traditions are the juridical or legislative-judicial and the poetic-rhetorical. They both have their origins in the Greco-Roman world of antiquity and antedate the advent of Christianity.

O’Malley is here playing off the different ways in which each council communicated. Trent issued anathemas and called for crusades. It asserted church authority and hierarchy in response to the dangers posed by both Protestants and Ottomans. It echoed the precision and order of Thomism and scholasticism where the church had neat and definite beliefs that needed to be affirmed, or else. In contrast, Vatican II avoided condemnations for engagement with the modern world. Instead of issuing condemnations, Vatican II spoke in terms of praise and congratulations. Rather than pounding the table, the 1960s bishops wanted to engage in persuasion. And instead of invoking the precise formulations of scholasticism, Vatican II followed the Ressourcement movement of trying to recover the early church fathers as an alternative to Thomism.

He continues:

In adopting a new style of discourse for its enactments, the Council thus effected a shift of momentous import. . . . It is perhaps fitting to conclude with one of the most radical of those ramifications. Vatican II was, indeed, unlike any council that preceded it. In fact, by adopting the style of discourse that it did, the Council in effect redefined what a council is. Vatican II did not take the Roman Senate as its implicit model. I find it difficult to pinpoint just what the implicit model was, but it was much closer to guide, partner, and friend than it was to lawmaker and judge.

If O’Malley is right, and I dare someone to question his historical insights, this puts CTC in a pickle. Those called and calling like the authority of Trent and Vatican I, when Rome assumed an authoritarian posture, the one that supposedly answers the diversity and confusion of Protestantism. At the same time, CTCers often invoke the early church fathers which Rome appropriated through de Lubac’s Ressourcement efforts. But as O’Malley suggests, these two phases of twentieth-century Roman Catholicism two exist uneasily side by side. It is hard to be judicial, laying down the law, and rhetorical, trying to persuade. This may explain why Protestants are unsure of their status. We thought we were condemned, but now were only separated brothers.

Either way, the folks at CTC do not seem to acknowledge these different sides of Rome. Maybe Called to Communion should be renamed Called to Confusion.