I’ll See Your World Order and Raise You One Principality and Two Powers

Isn’t this what caused mainline Protestantism to go south, namely, identifying the church with the work of building human civilization? George Weigel explains:

If there’s anything Catholics in the United States should have learned over the past two decades, it’s that order—in the world, the republic, and the Church—is a fragile thing. And by “order,” I don’t mean the same old same old. Rather, I mean the dynamic development of world politics, our national life, and the Church within stable reference points that guide us into the future.

Didn’t the apostle Paul (saint if you will) think the church had/has bigger fish to fry?

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6)

Russia, neo-liberalism, social justice warriors have nothing on sin, the flesh, and the Devil.

Of course, political order is a good thing, so good that churches need it to function — it may actually be that political order precedes church order rather than the other way around. But if the church sees its mission as supporting political order, it may seriously underestimate the amazing work God called ministers of the word to do. And that perspective might prevent a reviewer from writing this about a book on the nineteenth-century papacy:

Whatever misgivings one may have about the First Vatican Council, one does not need to squint to see a providential hand in Pastor Aeternus. As secular governments continue to chip away at different forms of civil society, especially religious forms, a strong papacy can serve as a powerful counterweight.

Counter-weights to secular governments chipping away at civil society? Isn’t that why we have The New York Times?


Irony: When A Council Kills Conciliarism

Oakley’s chapter on the First Vatican Council contains the following nuggets. The first is that conciliarism was alive and sort of well in ecclesiologists such as Henri Maret, the last dean of the theology faculty at the Sorbonne. Oakley describes his position this way:

In conscious opposition, then, to De Maistre, Maret sought to identify in the Church’s constitution a liberal element that could open the way to his longed-for ‘reconciliation of the Church with the modern notion of freedom’. Noting the presence in the Church’s constitution of a ‘democratic element in that any member of the faithful could be called to the episcopal state and that is was the original practice of Christian communities to elect their bishops, he insists, none the less, that democracy cannot claim sovereignty in the Church. But nor does that sovereignty reside in any form of absolute monarchy. It belongs, instead, to monarchy tempered with aristocracy (in one place he calls it ‘a monarchy essentially aristocratic and deliberative’), in effect, what is sometimes called a mixed government, one framed along the same lines as ‘constitutional and representative monarchy’ in the world of secular regimes.

That much can be said, Maret believes, even without having determined the precise relationship between pope and bishops. But as soon as one attempts to make that determination, one comes up against the fact that two long-standing schools of thought compete for one’s allegiance. The first is the Italian school, which . . . . says, ‘the pope possesses a monarchical power that is pure, indivisible, absolute and unlimited.’ . . . The competing school, that of Paris, . . . asserts to the contrary that, while the pope is indeed the monarch of the Church, that monarchy is ‘truly and efficaciously tempered by [the] aristocracy’ of bishops. . . .

One has to decide between these competing schools, and to do so (he says) one has to put them to the test of scripture and tradition. So far as the scriptures are concerned, the celebrated cluster of texts (notably Matthew 16 and 18) which together constitute what he calls (and pace De Maistre) the very ‘constitutional charter’ of the Church, certainly seem to suggest that the sovereign power was given, not to Peter alone, but to the ‘collective unity’ of Peter and the other apostles, and to exclude from the government of the Church therefore any sort of ‘pure, absolute and indivisible monarchy’. But it is to the acts of the general councils down through history that one must turn for the ‘authentic commentary’ on and ‘legitimate interpretation’ of that fundamental scriptural’constitutional charter’. . . . [O]n the conflicted issue of the pope-bishop relationship the decrees emanating from Constance and Florence are ‘the most weighty and celebrated’. (211-213)

Maret’s conclusion was that Haec Sancta and Frequens, the conciliar determinations that resolved the Western schism, were not “dogma of faith,” but “constitutional law” that regulated ecclesiastical power. These were decrees that stated more clearly and solemnly than had been before that the “Church’s constitution was to be viewed as a mixed one, a ‘monarchy . . . essentially aristocratic and deliberative’, one in which the pope, while possessing by divine authority the plenitude of power, was no pure absolute and unlimited monarch but a ruler who, in the exercise of that power, was limited by the aristocratic element constituted by the bishops themselves — ‘true princes,’ he added, possessing by divine right a share in the Church’s sovereign power.”

The second nugget is that First Vatican Council ended this tradition of conciliarism:

Maret’s position was to be doomed, thrust into the outer darkness of heterodoxy by Pastor aeternus, the First Vatican Council’s historic decrees on the primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility of the pope. Or so the pertinent curial officials clearly concluded. If Lord Acton as a layman was able to avoid any forthright endorsement of the council’s teaching on infallibility against which he had fought so vigorously, clerics like. . . Maret were permitted very little room for manoeuvre. . . . [Maret] was to find that his earnest attempts to identify some fugitive common ground between his own form of neo-Gallicanism and the ecclesiology which informed Pastor aeternus were unacceptable at Rome. In August 1871, then, though without specifying what is was, precisely, that he had in mind, he publicly disavowed ‘whatever in his book and in his Defense is opposed to the Council’s definition.’ (216)