Monday, June 6, 2005

Good discussion keeps getting gooder

The discussion over at Papal Ponty's about papal infallibility is holding up nicely. Some of the recent highlights include:

The same Orthodox reader said:

I don’t think the limitations of plenitudo potestatis can be explained by defining ‘ex cathedra’ narrowly, and I can’t help but see the infallible/indefectible and ordinary/extraordinary magisterium distinctions you make as just that. What are we to make, after all, of boundless claims like those in Gregory VII’s Dictatus papae in which he declared [many things about the sovereignty of the Pope in all kinds of sociopolitical and canonical areas]...

To which Michael Liccione said:

The questions you’ve chosen to address are what it means to say that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, and what role the general notion of papal jurisdiction plays in that. You answer the first by citing martyrdom ("witnessing”) in general, in life as well as in death, and you answer the second by presenting, as an implicit counterexample to Catholic doctrine, a millennium-old synodal document in which a pope mixed his claims to political jurisdiction with by-then traditional claims to ecclesial jurisdiction. Your whole approach amounts to kicking up dust.

Here’s why. First, nobody denies that martyrdom of life and in death is an important sign that Christianity is true, and thus that martyrdom helps prevent the gates of hell from prevailing against the Church. That is not the question. What is not only questionable, but plainly false, is the claim that martyrdom somehow suffices to enable us to identify what does and does not belong to the deposit of faith. Hence the pertinent questions here are whether the dogma of papal infallibility is true and thus helps us make the needed identifications [sic]. ... All you do, however, is broaden the subject to that of papal jurisdiction generally and then, presumably to question the Catholic doctrine thereon, trot out a millennium-old synodal document in which a powerful, reforming pope mixes claims to ecclesiastical jurisdiction with claims to political jurisdiction. Now since the role of the papacy in secular politics is not a matter pertaining to the deposit of faith, no amount of error by popes on that topic—to the extent there has been error—is relevant to the issues of this thread.

The Orthodox reader replied:

What strikes me is that we need an ecclesiastical equivalent of lawyers to explain this dogma. Just look at this thread; we’ve already got disagreement from smart RC folks about the scope of infallibility. If you guys still have questions about it and it’s such a critical dogma, what should less-informed persons like me make of it? How can you expect anyone to understand it’s [sic] scope? And what practical value can it possibly have for the life in the church?

If you can provide a definition of Papal infallibility that comports fully with church dogma and those participating here can agree, I’ll gladly stipulate to that definition for discussion. Was it always with the church? If it developed over time, what was the first infallible teaching and which Pope spoke it? If there is no clear definition to be found, then you must let me consider every dogmatic Papal declaration describing the nature of authority vested in the “Petrine office” as providing legitimate evidence of the RC position regarding infallible teaching from that office.

To which Michael L. replied:

Once again, Michael, you’re introducing a false dichotomy. Just as there is no inherent opposition between authority as witness and authority as magisterium—rather, the latter enlightens the former and the former vivifies the latter, thus rendering them mutually dependent—so too there is interdependency, not opposition, between the salvific and legal aspects of the Church. That there must be legal aspects to the Church is clear just from how bishops, synods, and councils must work to resolve disputes, promulgate disciplinary rules, and establish guidelines for handling hard cases. Such legality helps to protect and sustain believers’ common life as such, especially sacramental life; that in turn helps equip us to bring Christ into the world. Life-sustaining law only becomes stultifying legalism when people use “the rules” to try to ascertain how little of the truth they can get away with believing or doing—or how much they can get away with violating.

...I’ve already provided the relevant definition [sic]: that of Vatican I, which was reaffirmed by Vatican II. The truth it defines, as distinct from the words used in the definition, always belonged to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church AND developed over time in the Church. ...

The definition promulgated by Vatican I was crafted largely to exclude much that certain ultramontanists of past and present wanted, incontinently, to include. That included, among other things, claims by certain popes to a political authority that they sometimes enjoyed de facto but which never pertained to the deposit of faith. That popes sometimes erred in mixing their political positions with the legitimate exercise of their ecclesial jurisdiction is not a counterexample to Vatican I’s definition; indeed your use of Dominicae papae isn’t even relevant to that definition. If you wish to discuss the broader notion of papal jurisdiction, I am open to doing so. But that is a far more elastic notion, historically as well as conceptually, than that of papal infallibility.

At this point, another Catholic reader added this:

[C]ouncils are not considered authoritative or infallible until the Pope ratifies their canons and decrees. There are examples of councils having only some of their decrees ratified by the Pope; the remaining, unratified ones are not considered to have ever been issued. ...

A very interesting and revealing discussion of the Council of Chalcedon occurs in Cardinal Newman’s “Development of Christian Doctrine” in which a hesitating, vacillating body of bishops is finally told what to define by St. Leo, not the other way around: “The Council, after its termination, addressed a letter to St. Leo; in it the Fathers acknowledge him as ‘constituted interpreter of the voice of Blessed Peter,’ [Note 81] (with an allusion to St. Peter’s Confession in Matthew xvi.,) and speak of him as ‘the very one commissioned with the guardianship of the Vine by the Saviour.’ (Chapter 6).

Finally, I added my own two cents', much in line with what I later discovered to be Michael L.'s views:

Re. 15: “What are we to make, after all, of boundless claims like those in Gregory VII’s Dictatus papae…”

Sorry to be so underwhelmingly blunt, but, insofar as that document is not the dogmatic promulgation of papal infallibility (a la Vatican I), I don’t make much of it and don’t have to. As tempting as it might be for you to try cornering me with such quotes, I, as a Catholic, am not bound to Dictatus papae et al. in any way like I am to Pastor Aeternus (and Lumen Gentium, etc.). Vatican I’s PA [in its drafting – EBB] no doubt had all such high medieval Gregorian papalism before it, and nonetheless molded the language according to the Catholic truth, on the one hand avoiding a plunge into pure ultramontanism and on the other hand avoiding a slide into retro-papalism (i.e., as if centuries of early-to-high medieval [Western and Byzantine] fragmentation had not clearly underscored the need for a powerful centralized organ of truth).

Further, a number of the clauses in DP are canonical provisions that allowed the papacy to function in a particular (ie., prior) milieu. They were, like all canons, ancillary clauses meant to facilitate a divine truth. While the divine reality of the papacy is not negotiable for the Church, the particular canons attached to it (a la DP) are indeed much more flexible. As Michael L. alluded to, this is very much the intent of JP II’s Ut Unum Sint: to keep the divine reality of a shepherd for the shepherds while (ecumenically) sacrificing contingent canonical measures and structures. At any rate, I’d be surprised if you, as a knowledgeable Orthodox, weren’t familiar with the incredible complexity (in the East just as much as the West) of navigating “outdated” canons in order to preserve truths of the faith today. Meyendorff and Florovsky discuss this messy issue in a number of places.

My point is, dogmatically speaking, I have PA to assent to, and, while you do not, you still have the same “canonical conundrum” (in other issues) that you seem to pit against clear Catholic dogma.

Please permit me to paste in a pertinent papal quote Papal Ponty prominently posted:

A Catholic can turn and twist as much as he likes; he cannot go back before Vatican I, which was solemnly confirmed by Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 22). As always, the only path after definition is that of an integration into a larger, all-embracing whole. And this whole has been available for a long time: it is the indefectibility of the believing Church, of which the indefectibility of the Petrine office is only a particular aspect, theologically undergirding and confirming the reality of the unifying Holy Spirit. ... [I]t is also futile frantically to avoid the biblical word “authority” (exousia), substituting “service” for it, because all biblical authority exists solely for service. Indeed, the People of God benefit from a service only when “authority” is effectively present: for authentic proclamation, for government, for administering the sacraments. To drive a wedge between authority and service is also dishonest.

... Real authority—the authority of the whole hierarchy, i.e., the bishops with the pope in their midst—is needed to show not only a practical but also an objectively guaranteed right way through the confusion of opinions and hypotheses. Niether [sic] biblical texts nor the sixteenth-century creeds (nor those of later times) can substitute for this authority.

(Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church (1986), pp. 125-126.)

At this point, I return to my three most dominant concerns about the papacy and the East.

First, if the See of Rome really has cut itself off from the Church, why does the East waste so much attention on it? Granted, the need stifle papist heresy would compel the Eastern Churches to toe the line – but why does one cacodox (great Orthodox polemical word!) bishopric still have so much staying power against the full array of the East? I mean, if the Pope really is the megalomaniacal old uncle who’s cut himself off from the family, and should just be left to himself – a claim I’ve heard more than once on various theological boards and blogs – then why DON’T the Eastern Churches just let Rome mutter itself away in monomaniacal Alzheimer’s?

Given I can never “solve” the myriad very complex historical and theological issues at play, how can I dare cut myself off from that See that even the East refuses to let go? I am a Catholic not because I “see” how Rome is “just right” on everything, much less so because I “just know” everyone else is “just wrong” on everything, but rather, quite simply, because being a Catholic is the only way I know, by the light of humble faith, of affirming all the Church has always held without also pitting myself against something she may or may not hold. I cannot exist in the crevasse of polemics; I must have a viable home to grow in prayer and holiness. And Catholicism is the only habitat that is, well, catholic enough to preserve the fullness of unanimously accepted (er, as if...) Christian truth *as well as* obedient enough to “err on the side of excess” by preserving even the most controversial facets of the depositum fidei.

Second, the fact that the East is not willing (or functionally able) to “let Rome roam” is quite telling. What other see in the history of the Church, once it’s stubbornly and clearly pitted itself against the Faith (as the East says Rome has) has ever been given a room to come back to? Obviously the door of reconciliation is always open for heretics, but their heresy ipso facto nullifies their episcopal authority and ecclesial permanence. A heretical is no longer a see. Hence, if Rome really is so far gone, why does the East still insist it is, even in a very attenuated “supremacy of love,” an integral part of the Church? And, insofar as the Petrine ministry is recognized by numerous Orthodox as a given for the Church, why hasn’t this ministry passed on to someone else? Why doesn’t Constantinople use the language Rome always did and still does? Where is Orthodoxy’s Petrine office in the apostolic college?

Third, in conjunction with the second concern, where and what is Orthodoxy’s magisterium? Far from trying to “impose” “Latin” concepts on the Eastern tradition, I am genuinely asking for guidance about the increasingly pressing question of “who speaks for God” in the East?

Now, not one of these concerns is an argument per se – but together they form key phenomenological and conceptual contours of the Catholic-Orthodox debate that guide the evidence, like water over carved rocks (or indeed, like living waters over a hewn Rock), in favor of Rome.

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