Whatever Happened, It Deserves to be Mentioned

While Bryan Cross and others shrug their shoulders about Vatican 2’s significance, practically everywhere you go in other Roman Catholic venues you find acknowledgement that something changed in the church and it was disruptive. Bryan likens this line of attack to an accusation of bait and switch — such that when he blogs about the virtues of Rome he doesn’t mention the elephant in the room that Vatican 2 became for conservatives and traditionalists (but of course, according to Bryan, conservatives don’t exist — you’re either Roman Catholic or you’re not). Well, try as I might, I am having trouble finding other Roman Catholic apologists or scholars who are as reluctant at JATC (Jason and the Callers) are to talk turkey about Vatican 2.

So in the spirit of the season, here are a few servings:

It is hard, from these standpoints, not to stress the discontinuity, the experience of an event, of a break with routine. This is the common langauge used by participants and by observers at the time — the young Joseph Ratzinger’s reflections after each session, published in English as Theological Highlights of Vatican II, are a good example. It is from this perspective that James Hitchcock calls Vatican II “the most important event within the Church in the past four hundred years,” and the French historian-sociologist Emile Poulat points out that the Catholic Church changed more in the ten years after Vatican II than it did in the previous hundred years. Similar positions are held by people along the whole length of the ideological spectrum. Whether they regard what happened as good or bad, they all agree that something happened. (Joseph A Komonchak, “Benedict XVI and the Interpretation of Vatican II,” 108)

I do find it odd that the very institution that is supposed to govern interpretations within the church — the papacy, the office that protects Rome against Protestantism’s opinions — can’t even control the interpretation of such a central feature in church life.

Then comes this from Eamon Duffy:

On every front, then, the Council redrew the boundaries of what had seemed to 1959 a fixed and immutable system. For some Catholics, these changes were the long-awaited harvest of the New Theology, the reward of years of patient endurance during the winter of Pius XII. For others, they were apostasy, the capitulation of the Church to the corrupt and worldly values of the Enlightenment and the Revolution, which the popes from Piux IX to Pius XII had rightly denounced. And for others, perhaps the majority, they were a bewildering stream of directives from above, to be obeyed as best they could. Many of the older clergy of the Catholic Church found themselves sleep-walking through the Conciliar and post-Conciliar years, loyal to an authority which called them to embrace attitudes which the same authority had once denounced as heresy. Pope John’s successor would have to do with all this. (Saints and Sinners, 274-75)

Bryan is wont to shrug at such quotations from historical works, but I’m not sure how he doesn’t feel the weight of the change of authority — the very authority that he uses to show Protestantism’s inferiority — that Duffy notes. He can hide behind the claim that no dogma changed at Vatican 2. Yet, the line between sin and heresy and dogma and discipline was never so clear that the priests Duffy mentions knew how to sort it out and instruct the faithful on what was no longer required and why it wasn’t even though it had been sinful before not to perform certain acts of obedience.

Even for those hopeful of a restoration of Rome’s conservative posture — hard to believe given stories about conservatives’ perceptions of Pope Francis — Vatican 2 was a ecclesiastical bowl of confusion:

Of course, the fact remains that none of the documents of Vatican II are taught ex cathedra. Therefore, none of the teachings of Vatican II are formally pronounced as dogmas by the Second Vatican Council itself. So, very strictly speaking, a person can dissent from Vatican II itself without being a formal heretic. However, to dissent from an ecumenical council is no small matter. To put it informally, one may avoid being a heretic, but still may be a “bad” Catholic.

How did this confusion take root? It can best be explained as rising from the concept of conciliar self-verification. In other words, the Second Vatican Council teaches that the fathers at an “ecumenical council” are teachers of faith and morals, and their “definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.” The problem is, the ecumenical council making this statement is itself an ecumenical council—and, therefore, is making statements about itself and not making it with the highest authority, i.e., ex cathedra.

In other words, one might say this is the conciliar version of chasing one’s own theological tail. The fallout has been that, for several generations of Catholics, from academics and Church leaders to the laity in the pews, the lasting impression is, “Vatican II said it was okay to disagree with the Pope.”

Thus began the era of “taking sides.” It was as if the Catholic faith became no more than a grand game—Pope and established Church teachings versus the dissenters—and individual Catholics could simply pick which team to root for. Some called themselves liberals (the “left”) while others called themselves conservatives (the “right”). Each group dissented from Vatican II, but for different reasons.

Many liberal nuns in the U.S., for example, continue to sympathize with anti-life groups that claim they are helping the poor by promoting the poor’s right to funds for abortion and contraception. They claim to be supporting social justice by defending, or, at least, sympathizing with, the gay agenda. They are especially vocal in demanding that the Church ordain women to the priesthood—even after John Paul II informed them that the Church teaching on an all male priesthood is infallible and, therefore, cannot be changed.

On the other hand, the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, continues to err on the side of utter conservative rigidity. They reject the Second Vatican Council as a movement of the Holy Spirit, and cling to the minutiae of 500-year-old rituals as necessary, for their own sake. The change of the liturgy from Latin to English, or the vernacular of each particular country, is their most well-known objection.

Therefore, today, 50 years after the opening of Vatican II, the misinterpretation of one of its most salient documents, Lumen Gentium, continues to drive a number of Catholics in the United States into one of two camps, the “right” or the “left.”

So the next time Bryan wants to call conservative Presbyterians to communion, he might want to go through the fine print with those he’s calling.

Papal Obsession: What's in A Name?

One positive consequence of recent interactions with Roman Catholics like Brad Gregory, Christian Smith, the indefatigable Bryan Cross, and the stellar work of Francis Oakley is an awareness of just how complicated and fascinating the history of the papacy is. Eamon Duffy puts it this way in his new book on the papacy:

Thomas Hobbes famously remarked that the papacy was “not other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned on the grave thereof.” The comment was certainly not intended as a compliment, but it encapsulated an important historical reality nonetheless. Through no particular initiative of their own, the Popes inherited the mantle of Empire in the West; the papacy became the conduit of Roman imperial values and symbolism into the European Middle Ages. In a time of profound historical instability at the end of antiquity and in the early Middle Ages, the see of Peter was a link to all that seemed most desirable in the ancient world, custodian of both its secular and its sacred values. The papacy embodied immemorial continuity and offered divine sanction for law and legitimacy. So popes crowned kings and emperors and, on occasion, attempted to depose them. Even in the eighth and ninth centuries papal authority stood high, although the papacy was the prisoner of local Roman politics and many of the popes themselves were the often unlearned sons of feuding local dynasties. (17-18)

Anyone with a historical awareness, with visions of Christianity having access to and reach within corridors of power, and with a desire for a church that has roots deeper than some denomination that emerged in the 1780s, would likely be drawn to membership with a church such as Rome presents. At the same time, a concern for the spiritual depths of Christianity has not always been at the forefront of the papacy’s ministry, unless maintaining supremacy in European politics and mediating the Roman Empire were crucial pieces of that spiritual service.

The historical and cultural depth of the Vatican gives almost every aspect of the papacy significance beyond surface impressions and as a result should stimulate the imagination of anyone who studies the past. The case of Gregory XVI, who became pope in 1831 and who is the subject of Owen Chadwick’s first chapter (A History of the Popes, 1830-1914), illustrates the point.

The most famous pope of the Middle Ages to assert papal power against emperors and kings was Pope Gregory VII, Hildebrand. Ever since the high Middle Ages popes were conscious that in Gregory VII they made an emperor to kneel in the snow at Canossa, that in Innocent III they acted as the international authority of Europe, that in Bonfiace VIII they asserted the ultimate secular power of the pope as well as his ultimate spiritual authority. They were also aware that these tremendous claims were not often recognized and sometimes were repudiated with contempt or with force. Gregory VII died in exile, Boniface sickened and died after being kidnapped and rescued. In the Counter-Reformation, when Spanish and afterwards French power became strong in Italy, they grew hesitant of using such names lest they remind Europe of the contrast between the past glories of the Holy See and the weakness of its present occupant. No one had chosen the name Boniface since 1389, when the see was divided by the Great Schism. Gregory XIII was a famous name of the Counter-Reformation and shortly afterwards there were two more Gregorys; one ruled for less than a year, the other for two years, yet they were important. Towards the end of the seventeenth century and early in the eighteen century there were three weighty popes who took the name Innocent. But in the eighteenth century they preferred to take gentler-sounding names, such as Clement (four of those), Pius, or Benedict. The coronation of Pius VI in 1775 stared the age of the Piuses — during the next 183 years there were only fifty-four years in which the pope was not named Pius. And when they were not called Pius they avoided high-and-mighty sounding names — with one exception. . . .

The name Gregory was a claim. This was a cardinal who reacted against the French Revolution and all that it stood for. He seems to have had Gregory VII in his mind; but also, while a cardinal, he did a lot for the Congregation de Propaganda Fide, and the last Gregory had founded the Congregation. When the French Revolution kidnapped the Pope, he published a cry of resistance to the revolution The Triumph of the Holy See and the Church against the Attacks of Innovators (1799).

Just when the papacy looked moribund, and many said that Pius VI was the last pope in the history of Europe, and no one could see how the institution could survive even in Italy, he published this book, which rejoiced in the coming victory of the Church over its enemies. . . .

In not liking the way the modern world was going Gregory XVI was characteristic of the popes, with one possible exception, for the next 127 years. (1-3_

This messiness of Europe and the papacy’s place in it is what defenders of the popes and their infallibility generally leave out. Does history undermine spiritual authority? Critical biblical scholarship has long raised the issue of the humanity of the Bible in ways the complicate assertions of Scripture’s divine origin. Conceiving of and maintaining the papacy’s spiritual rights and gifts while paying attention to its tawdry political successes, setbacks, and ambitions is perhaps just as plausible as conservative Protestant defenses of the Bible’s inerrancy. But the problem for folks like the Callers is that we actually can see how they make the sausage. The papacy is an institution that left behind records, and combated other institutions that also left a paper trail. The authors of Scripture left no such traces. We don’t know how many drafts, for instance, Paul may have written before getting it just right to send a letter to the Christians at Rome. When the Callers don’t acknowledge the actual guts of the making of the papacy and insist only on the spiritual truths of the papacy, they appear to be in denial. They may simply be ignorant. But their claims for the papacy’s power, antiquity, and charism are decidedly partial.

But for the rest of us, the papacy is breathtaking in its preservation of an ancient order, despite all the changes between Rome in 70 and Paris in 2010, even if that order is now confined to 109 square acres.

The Primacy of James (or the Ante-Ante-Nicene Fathers)

One of the puzzles of Roman Catholic claims about the primacy of the papacy is that the biblical support for this view rests almost entirely on Matt. 16:18. Theologians and church members (at least of Protestant derivation) should always beware of so little biblical support. In addition, when you read the New Testament (if you do), Peter largely fades from view. In Acts Peter does not show up after the fifteenth chapter (according not to superior biblical knowledge but to a word search — “advanced,” mind you — at ESVBible.org). The rest of the book is really Paul’s story. And the rest of the New Testament is really Paul’s teaching. Yes, Peter, John and James write epistles but they are short compared to Paul (leaving aside Revelation in page count totals).

What is also striking about the New Testament is the interaction among the apostles. Galatians 2 proves to be a particularly difficult text to square with claims about Peter’s primacy, not to mention his infallibility, since it records Paul publicly rebuking Peter for caving to the Judaizers. Here first is Calvin’s rendering of Paul’s order of James, Peter, and John in Galatians 2:9:

I have already stated, that James was the son of Alpheus. He could not be “the brother of John” who had been lately put to death by Herod, (Acts 12:2,) and to suppose that one of the disciples had been placed above the apostles would be absurd. That he held the highest rank among the apostles, is made evident by Luke, who ascribes to him the summing up and decision of the cause in the council, (Acts 15:13,) and afterwards mentions his having assembled “all the elders” of the church of Jerusalem. (Acts 21:18.) When he says, that they seemed to be pillars, he does not speak contemptuously, but quotes the general opinion, arguing from it, that what was done by such men ought not to be lightly set aside. In a question relating to diversity of rank, it is surprising that James should be mentioned before Peter; but the reason perhaps is, that he presided over the church at Jerusalem.

Calvin follows with these remarks on Paul’s rebuke to Peter:

Now, as I have said, he goes further, and asserts that he had blamed Peter for leaning to the other side; and he proceeds to explain the cause of the dispute. It was no ordinary proof of the strength of his doctrine, that he not only obtained their cordial approbation, but firmly maintained it in a debate with Peter, and came off victorious. What reason could there now be for hesitating to receive it as certain and undoubted truth?

At the same time, this is a reply to another calumny, that Paul was but an ordinary disciple, far below the rank of an apostle: for the reproof which he administered was an evidence that the parties were on an equal footing. The highest, I acknowledge, are sometimes properly reproved by the lowest, for this liberty on the part of inferiors towards their superiors is permitted by God; and so it does not follow, that he who reproves another must be his equal. But the nature of the reproof deserves notice. Paul did not simply reprove Peter, as a Christian might reprove a Christian, but he did it officially, as the phrase is; that is, in the exercise of the apostolic character which he sustained.

This is another thunderbolt which strikes the Papacy of Rome. It exposes the impudent pretensions of the Roman Antichrist, who boasts that he is not bound to assign a reason, and sets at defiance the judgment of the whole Church. Without rashness, without undue boldness, but in the exercise of the power granted him by God, this single individual chastises Peter, in the presence of the whole Church; and Peter submissively bows to the chastisement. Nay, the whole debate on those two points was nothing less than a manifest overthrow of that tyrannical primacy, which the Romanists foolishly enough allege to be founded on divine right. If they wish to have God appearing on their side, a new Bible must be manufactured; if they do not wish to have him for an open enemy, those two chapters of the Holy Scriptures must be expunged.

Of course, defenders of the magisterium need not trust Calvin since he is writing out of a position of disobedience to the papacy. That is why it is intriguing what a Roman Catholic biblical commentary has to say about this passage:

St. Paul says that he withstood St. Peter to the face “because he was to be blamed,” inasmuch as, whereas he had hitherto eaten openly with Gentiles, he was now led by fear of the Judaizers to refuse to do so, “fearing them who were of the circumcision.” “To his dissimulation,” adds the Apostle, “the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation.” St. Jerome maintained that the whole scene was a “dissimulation,” Peter was not “to be blamed” by Paul, but solely by those brethren whom he had offended by withdrawing from their table; the scene, therefore, was meant to appease both parties, viz. those who believed in circumcision—for they could follow Peter, and those who repudiated circumcision—for they could follow Paul. St. Jerome’s reasons for holding this view are briefly that Paul could not have withstood Peter, who was his senior, and further that Paul, by circumcising Timothy and shaving his head at Cenchre, was guilty of the same obsequiousness towards Jewish prejudices. Some, he says, try to avoid the dilemma by saying that “Cephas” is not the Apostle Peter, but one of the Seventy disciples, and, moreover, that Acts is silent concerning the whole affair. But St. Jerome replies that Cephas and Peter are but Aramaic and Greek forms of the same name; that he knows of no other Cephas than the one who is termed at one time “Cephas,” at another “Peter”; and finally, that St. Luke was not bound to mention every event he knew of.

St. Chrysostom’s explanation is fundamentally the same as that of St. Jerome. It could not, he urges, have really been a dispute, for this they would have had in private. Therefore “to his face,” κατὰ πρόσωπον, must be a figure of speech, and the equivalent of “in appearance,” σχημα. The explanation, then, is that Peter withdrew from the table of the uncircumcised converts for two reasons: lest he should offend the Jewish converts, and in order to give St. Paul an occasion for correcting him. This correction was necessitated, not because St. Peter was in the wrong, but because those who saw him eat with Jews might fancy he did so out of fear of St. Paul. The latter, of course, had no such feeling. “Paul, then, rebukes, and Peter bears with it; so that while the master is silent under rebuke his disciples may be the more easily induced to put aside their suspicion. . . . Peter, then, joins Paul in this pretense, συνυποκρινεται, as though were really in fault, so that owing to this rebuke they might be corrected. . . . Thus, by his silence Peter corrected their false suspicions; he put up with the imputation of dissimulation so as, by a real dissimulation, to free the Jews.”

This view was strenuously combated by St. Augustine, who pointed out that it made Scripture untruthful. St. Jerome replied that his view was derived from Origen, and that it seemed to him compelling from the twofold consideration that (a) Peter knew from the conversion of Cornelius that the Gentiles were to be received into the Church, and (b) that St. Paul had done the same in the case of Timothy, and in shaving his own head at Cenchre. Finally, he endeavored to show that he and Augustine were really saying the same thing in different words. But Augustine declined to accept this statement. The idea that the whole scene was fictitious was repellent to him, since it imperiled the whole truth of Scripture: “Non nunc inquiro quid fecerit, sed quid scripserit quaero.” “If Peter was doing what he had a right to do, then Paul lied when he said that Peter walked not uprightly unto the truth of the Gospel. . . . But if Paul wrote the truth, then it was true that Peter walked not rightly.” St. Augustine then shows that the cases of Timothy and the shaving of Paul’s head are not parallel with this episode at Antioch; he further points out that in St. Jerome’s list of authorities for his view Apollinaris the Laodicean and Alexander are heretics, while Jerome himself acknowledges that there are errors in Origen and Didymus. Augustine’s main exegetical point, however, is that the scene at Antioch took place either after or—as he himself at that date seems to have thought merely more probable—before the Council at Jerusalem. If after the Council, then it is to be noticed that whereas the Decrees forbade anyone to compel the Gentile converts to Judaize, they did not prohibit the Jewish converts from Judaizing. If before the Council, then it is not to be wondered at that St. Paul should urge St. Peter to uphold what he had already learnt from the case of Cornelius. But Augustine really based his whole position on the irrefragable veracity of Scripture; again and again in the course of the controversy does he return to the principle that if the scene is fictitious, then we can no longer trust Scripture. It is certainly remarkable that St. Jerome nowhere takes up this point, while his marked descent from acrimony to an unusual suavity in the course of the correspondence seems to indicate that he felt that Augustine’s position was really the sounder, though he never sang the palinodia for which St. Augustine called!

The point to notice in this commentary is the lack of consensus among the early church fathers even about as important an episode as this for claims about the primacy of Peter. The constant theme at Called To Communion is that the early church is in agreement about the deposit of the faith and that this provides a much more certain basis for faith than do Protestant interpretations of the Bible. Well, if Jerome, Chrysostom, and Augustine don’t see eye to eye on this matter, how unified are those early fathers? What kind of consensus exists that falls right down from Matt. 16:18 to a unified body of truth? Or how is it that Roman Catholic understandings of the early church fathers’ teaching do not rely on interpretations while Protestants only have their opinions? History is not so easily appropriated.

And that is an important point implicitly in Eamon Duffy’s history of the papacy (Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale, 1997). As students of the Reformation may know, Duffy is one of those historians that Roman Catholics like to cite because his book on England (The Stripping of the Altars) shows how vibrant Roman Catholic piety was before Henry VIII came along. Instead of being moribund, late medieval piety was alive and popular. But his introduction to Saints and Sinners will not set well with those CTCers who claim that the reality of Rome needs no interpretation:

All the essential claims of the modern papacy, it might seem, are contained in this Gospel saying about the Rock, and in Irenaeus’ account of the apostolic pedigree of the early bishops of Rome. Yet matters are not so simple. The popes trace their commission from Christ through Peter, yet for Irenaeus the authority of the Church at Rome came from its foundation by two Apostles, not by one, Peter and Paul, not Peter alone. The tradition that Peter and Paul had been put to death at the hands of Nero in Rome about the year AD 64 was universally accepted in the second century, and by the end of that century pilgrims to Rome were being shown the ‘trophies’ of the Apostles, their tombs or cenotaphs, Peter’s on the Vatican Hill, and Paul’s on the Via Ostiensis, outside the walls on the road to the coast. Yet on all of this the New Testament is silent. Later legend would fill out the details of Peter’s life and death in Rome — his struggles with the magician and father of heresy, Simon Magus, his miracles, his attempted escape from persecution in Rome, a flight from which he was turned back by a reproachful vision of Christ (the ‘Quo Vadis’ legend), and finally his crucifixion upside down in the Vatican Circus in the time of the Emperor Nero. These stories were to be accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early Church — Origen, Ambrose, Augustine. But they are pious romance, not history, and the fact is that we have no reliable accounts either of Peter’s later life or of the manner or place of his death. Neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church at Rome, for there were Christians in the city before either of the Apostles set foot there. Nor can we assume, as Irenaeus did, that the Apostles established there a succession of bishops to carry on their work in the city, for all the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the deaths of the Apostles. In fact, wherever we turn, the solid outlines of the Petrine succession at Rome seem to blur and dissolve. (p. 1)

As I’ve said, the idea that only Protestants have opinions and Roman Catholics have epistemic certainty is nonsense historically considered.