Sunday, June 5, 2005

Shazzam! Iiiiiiit's... papal infallibility!

The Pontificator, new brother in the catholica, whom I now call Papal Ponty, has posted a couple quotes from Fr. Stanley Jaki's Keys of the Kingdom (link) and And on This Rock (link), two superb reflections on the papacy from a superb Benedictine physicist-theologian.

In _Keys_ Fr. Jaki says,

The real difference between Protestants and Catholics concerns their judgment as to what is the most reliable means of securing and holding fast to that truly ineffable tie with the divine. Their difference is real in spite of the fact that both have to satisfy the same human nature which is a composite of the tangible and the intangible. At the risk of oversimplifying a problem on which long volumes could be written, the Protestant answer implies an effort to go from the intangible to the tangible; whereas the Catholic answer implies the opposite course.

A blank reader was unimpressed.

Why? Very little sense in Jaki of the Reformation’s happy knowledge that faith comes by hearing and that there can be an enjoyable inhabitation of a faith which is linquistically [sic] mediated. Some RC theologians understand this better than others: von Balthasar does, Rahner much less so.

In reply I said,

Would the rejection of a consecrated chain/order of bishops be a move towards or away from tangibility? Would the rejection of clerically mediated confession/absolution be a move towards or away from tangibility? And iconoclasm? Would all or any such moves be a move towards or away the concretization of the Incarnation? I don’t mean to simplify the issues here, but I fail to be impressed by a failure to be impressed by what seem like perfectly straightforward observations by Fr. Jaki. Accepting the fundamental concreteness of the spoken Word is one thing; accepting the equally concrete sacramental effects of that Word is quite another.

Then, in _This Rock_, Fr. Jaki says,

Papal infallibility is not a magic power whereby our ordinary human condition is raised to such an extraordinary level that everything becomes absolutely clear, that is, free of any grey area. Revelation leaves essentially intact the human condition which, to paraphrase Paul’s words, is to see through a glass darkly. In certain kinds of politics, philosophy, and science which frown upon revelation, the accent all too readily shifts from imperfect seeing to a scepticism void of any vision. This fateful process is precisely what is prevented through a reliance on the light of Revelation. That light secures confidence in trusting our perception of the supernatural as well as of the natural. To keep that light distinct from the mirage of illusions, however sophisticated and fashionable, is the function of an authoritative Magisterium in which the papacy has an irreducible role, both ordinary and extraordinary. Those mindful of the human condition will not find it surprising that even with respect to the pope’s extraordinary Magisterium, one shall never have the absolute clarity of mathematical logic, which is a superb tautology anyway.

An Orthodox reader chimed in oh so cleverly,

Papal infallibility isn’t magic, it is fiction.

I replied:

“Ecclesial infallibility isn’t magic, it is fiction.” Fine line, difference, qualifier?

[quoting Fr. Jaki:] “To keep that light distinct from the mirage of illusions, however sophisticated and fashionable, is the function of an authoritative magisterium in which the papacy has an irreducible role, both ordinary and extraordinary.”

Forget the pope’s place in it, what is Orthodoxy’s Magisterium?

After more comments by this Orthodox reader, as well as a diffident assessment (by an Orthodox priest) of an overly mechanistic view of the Church's indefectibility, I said:

It seems very easy for Orthodox to claim each individual Christian bears within himself the fullness of the faith handed on to him (a point Chris Jones makes again and again), but what seems tougher, for Orthodox and Protestants, is that this same kind of “plenary orthodoxy” resides in the Pope. This is not an argument, I admit, but I am struck by juxtaposition between saying boldly, on the one hand, even the “lowliest” saint bears the faith indefectibly and fully but on the other hand denying a similar orthodoxy can reside in the uncontested head (coryphaeus) of the Apostolic College. So I ask again: What is Orthodoxy’s Magisterium? It’s one thing to say the faithful can and do preserve the faith — a claim I doubt any serious Catholic would deny — it’s quite another to say the faithful, singly or collectively, have it within themselves to define and dogmatize dogmas as truths of the depositum fidei.

And as far as the desire to define goes, I think it’s highly ironic the faithful have always outstripped and in a sense pulled along the episcopacy towards those much waylaid dogmas, the Immaculate Conception and Purgatory. The balance for me as a Catholic is that the faithful, as the living vessels of the Spirit, do, as a whole keep in step with Him in the sensus fidelium, while the episcopacy, as the pastors established by God over the faithful, then define and dogmatize the work of the Holy Sprit in order for the faithful to continue walking. The dilemma you seem to be in (esp. regarding the IC[1] and Purg, but just as much so generally) is this: the faithful have consistently held and developed these dogmas, but as soon as they become “papal property”, they somehow seem imposed by some abstract, aloof “office.” If you believe in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and in her total freedom from sin and in the final cleansing of the faithful before Heaven, why deny they are dogmas of the Faith? In their theology and piety, Protestants don’t “play with” dogmas they reject; I hope you wouldn’t either. ...

[The Orthodox reader] said: “The fiction is that the gates of hell have prevailed if the one officer falls though other saints stand true. In this case the apostolic witness remains without your selected officer.”

Something strikes me as a bit off in this, as if indefectibility or impeccability is being confused with infallibility.

The claim is not that the Church will have failed if the pope teaches or lives error, but that God will have failed the Church if the Pope teaches AS DOGMA what is in fact error. The claim is also not that the Pope always teaches infallibly, but only that when he does teach infallibly, he does indefectibly. Papal ordinary magisterium means the pope teaches truth infallibly along with the Church; his extraordinary magisterium means the Church believes infallibly what the Pope dogmatizes. In the former case, the Pope is infectible *in union with* the infallible sensus fidelium. In the latter case, the Church is indefectible *in union with* the infallible Petrine authority to bind and loosen, open and shut.

I don’t have the time at the moment to explore this further, but I think it is a crucial distinction, which may help ... this discussion. ...

I’m [also] curious if you [Orthodox priest] think the episcopal hierarchy is too much of a rigid mechanism, and could be kept or jettisoned, since God will preserve his Church either way. Since I’m sure you agree the episcopacy (as the living pastoral authority of Tradition, in union with the living (lay) bearers of the Faith) is indeed essential to the structure and indefectibility of the Church, I would like to better understand how Peter, as head of the Apostles, fits into that essential mechanism. If Peter is clearly a irreducible part of the episcopacy and if the episcopacy is an irreducible part of the Church, then I fail to see how Peter, as the head of the infallible voice of God (episcopacy), is not also an essential “mechanism” for the Church.

The same goes for the “mechanism” of priestly absolution, the mechanism of the epiclesis in the Eucharist, the mechanisms of connubial consummation, the mechanism of the anointing with oil, the mechanism of icons, the mechanism of the spoken Gospel, etc. By my lights, it’s quite parsimonious (and Khomiakovian) to deny the role of some less preferred ecclesial mechanisms (e.g, the Papacy) in favor of assurances about messy providence and our more preferred mechanisms of faith. The very word “mechanism” is loaded; let’s just call the Papacy another of the Church’s many “sacramental endowments”. While it is far from being “mechanistic” (as Fr. Jaki’s quote expressly states), Catholicism (and Cathodoxy) is nothing if not sacramental. Far from squinting critically at the mechanisms of office and official chrisms, I recall it was the Apostles that insisted the office of Judas be filled, as if a mechanical breakdown needed fixing.

[1]Forget for a moment the difference between the East’s “necrotic” definition of ancestral sin and the West’s more “juridical” understanding: on the terms of the dogma itself, do you or do you not agree our Blessed Mother the Theotokos was preserved from all sin? The West can and does affirm *with the East* that she was not spared from the pain of sin-as-death-and-suffering – hence the Assumption! – yet, the East seems unable or unwilling to accept the perfectly plain truth *of our common Tradition* that our Lady was singularly graced by God to be a spotless vessel for the Lord. Are you as an Orthodox really willing to deny this?

If the Catholic Church dogmatically stated original sin always and only means the moral guilt on account of our lack of divine light received from Adam, then, yes, we would be irreconcilably at loggerheads. But insofar as the dogma of the IC was dogmatizing the particularly Western dimensions of the truth about our Lady (and thus about our Lord’s birth) *without anathematizing* any broader Eastern dimensions of that truth, then I see no good reason for you to reject the dogma.

The IC is for me another fine example of the immensely deep catholicity of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic, I can and do embrace both realities (East and West, mortal sorrow and moral sinlessness), while you as an Orthodox seem to me pinned down to only a share of the truth.

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