Sunday, September 23, 2007

I score two votes to your one...

In recent correspondence with Brian Coyne, he commented:
I do believe the Church, where Church is understood in the fullness of meaning of "the Body of Christ", can make a claim to infallibility. The Pope and the Bishops certainly have an important role, but it is not an exclusive or singular role, in interpreting what God is saying to humankind through "the Body of Christ". This is, if I interpret him correctly, precisely the point +Robinson is endeavouring to raise as a critical point that needs wide discussion at the moment. I'd fully support him in that.
I was instantly reminded of a comment Fr Richard John Neuhaus made in the June/July edition of First Things about Prof. Daniel Maquire of Marquette University:
In his pamphlets, Maguire explains to the bishops that they are not the authentic teachers of the Church because there is not just one Magisterium but three magisteria—the hierarchy, the theologians, and the wisdom of the laity. Since he is both a theologian and a layman, he gets two votes to their one. Any other questions?
The various elements that act as "authorities" in the Church do not all act in the same way. The "Sensus Fidelium", "Magisterium", "the Scriptures" and "the Tradition" are all authorities in the Church (and thinking with the Church invovles thinking in some manner with all of them), but each is distinct in its nature and in the way in which its authority is exercised in relation to the other authorities. Therefore, the Faithful do not direct their "authority" against the "authority" of the Magisterium, nor is the authority of "The Tradition" to be invoked against the authority of "Scripture".

5 Comments:

At Monday, September 24, 2007 11:44:00 am , Blogger Athanasius said...

I read Maguire's argument a few months back, and had a good horse-laugh. Does being a lousy theologian invaldate your vote? In that case, Maguire has fewer votes than he might think.

Anyone who reduces the sensus fidelium to a voting process obviously doesn't understand what the concept means.

Maguire thinks of the Church as a liberal polity based on individual rights, though he finesses the concept by introducing a First, Second and Third Estate a la revolutionary France.

But the scriptural model of the Church is the Body of Christ, not an electorate. A body has organs, with distinct and unique functions that contribute to the whole. In contrast, Maguire's Church merely has parts, with no higher unity.

Thr Church's organic unity would be oppressive in a political community. But that's because a political community is ordered to temporal concerns which are matters for prudential judgement. In contrast, the Church is not a political community, and is ordered to Truth.

To complain the Church is oppressive is to complain that the Truth is oppressive - and the both complaints are heard more and more often, I'm afraid.

 
At Monday, September 24, 2007 12:04:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I don’t see “authority” in the church as a capacity (in the sense that a policeman has the “authority” to arrest me) or as an institution (in the sense of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, say) but rather as an abstract quality. The church has holiness, the church has oneness, the church has apostolicity, the church has authority.

And, just as it means nothing to speak of different onenesses or different apostolicities, I don’t think it makes sense to think of the church having different authorities, which could potentially collide.

The quality of authority possessed by the church is not the power to give orders – to tell people what to believe, or what to hope for, or what to love. Belief is a matter of faith, and faith cannot be mandated by orders, however strongly worded.

Rather, to understand what “authority” is in the church, we need to forget the modern sense in which the word is mostly used nowadays, and recall the connection with the word “author”. Authority is the quality possessed by an author. The author is the origin or source of the ideas and the works that he creates.

To say that the church has “authority”, then, is not really a claim to any kind of power. Rather it is the (much more radical) claim that the church is the embodiment of Christ – the sacrament of Christ’s continuing incarnate presence.

Even the most enthusiastic ultramontane papalist does not pretend that the Pope embodies the incarnate presence of Christ, or that the college of bishops does so. It is only the church, united by baptism and the eucharist, the people of God, the body of Christ, which can make this claim.

The church, therefore, claims a radical and profound authority which no pope, theologian, layman or group of layman can ever claim. Whatever “authority” a pope has or claims can only ever be a specific exercise or expression of the church’s authority.

In that sense, the pope’s authoritative, prophetic, teaching role cannot be divorced from the church, and cannot be exercised independently of the church. The pope has no intrinsic teaching authority of his own; rather he expresses the teaching authority of the church.

Consequently the authority of scripture cannot be opposed to the “authority” of tradition, or the “authority” of the faithful to the “authority” of the pope. Given this understanding of authority, these statements simply make no sense.

But, equally, a pope delivering a teaching not in fact believed and taught by the church would not be exercising or expressing any kind of authority, no matter what terms the declaration concerned was couched in.

There are those who understand the Declaration on Papal Infalliblity as a kind of assurance that no pope will ever do that – that the Spirit would if necessary strike him dumb, or cause his hand to wither, or strike him dead, rather than allow him to lend apparent authority to an erroneous teaching by proclaiming or signing it.

I don‘t take this view. Aside from being needlessly dramatic, it is difficult to reconcile with the notion that even popes enjoy free will. It also suggests an ultimate lack of faith in the church as the embodiment of the incarnate presence of Christ. The reality is that what actually stops popes from proclaiming their personal insights and convictions as dogma is precisely the knowledge that they have no authority – there’s that word again - to do so.

 
At Tuesday, September 25, 2007 8:02:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

I don’t see “authority” in the church as a capacity (in the sense that a policeman has the “authority” to arrest me) or as an institution (in the sense of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, say) but rather as an abstract quality.

There is nothing "abstract" about the Authority of the Church. It is in fact, very concrete. Just as God's own authority--the Authority of Truth and of his Word--was incarnate in the person of Christ, so too it is concretely incarnate in the Church today.

And, just as it means nothing to speak of different onenesses or different apostolicities, I don’t think it makes sense to think of the church having different authorities, which could potentially collide.

I agree with you there--but wonder how better to express myself. All Authority in the Church is the Authority of Christ, of The Word, of the Truth--but it has different and distinct "locales" (?) -- eg. Scripture, the magisterium of the pastors, the Tradition, the Sensus Fidelium. You are correct, Peregrinus, to say that these are not "authorities", but may we can see them in some sort of relationship analogous to the Trinity. Within the Trinity there is one authority, but the authority is "given" (for instance) by the Father to the Son (eg. Matt 28). So there are "Authorities", yet only One Authority.

The quality of authority possessed by the church is not the power to give orders – to tell people what to believe, or what to hope for, or what to love. Belief is a matter of faith, and faith cannot be mandated by orders, however strongly worded.

Indeed one cannot be ordered to believe, but one who does believe, and who believes that submission to the authority of the Church is of the essence of this belief, can surely also submit himself to believe that which the Church "orders" to be believed? Christ said that "all authority in heaven and on earth are given to me" and he followed this up with nothing less than "marching orders" for the apostles: "Therefore go and make disciples..."

Authority is the quality possessed by an author. The author is the origin or source of the ideas and the works that he creates.

The Father is the Author of all, and can even be said to be the "Arche" or "source" of the God-head from whom the Son and the Spirit proceed. The Father gives authority to the Son, and the Son gave his authority to his apostles to shepherd the Church. Yes, the Father is the "author" and the prime "authority", but the authority which Christ exercised and which the apostles and their successor exercise is the same.

Even the most enthusiastic ultramontane papalist does not pretend that the Pope embodies the incarnate presence of Christ, or that the college of bishops does so. It is only the church, united by baptism and the eucharist, the people of God, the body of Christ, which can make this claim.

Indeed, but this is not the argument. The argument is not that the Pope is some sort of "sacrament" of Christ--that indeed can only be the whole Church. But the Successor of Peter and the Successors of all the Apostles are successors to the authority transmitted to them by Christ, which, as I said, is the authority of the Father (cf. Matt 28 et al).

Whatever “authority” a pope has or claims can only ever be a specific exercise or expression of the church’s authority.

This is not entirely true, for it is necessary that the pastors--precisely as SHEPHERDS--of the Church exercise authority over the flock. The flock does not shepherd itself, but requires Shepherds (acting with the authority of the Chief Shepherd, Christ) to guide them. I am sorry if the image of the faithful as sheep offends your sensibilities, but it is a Scriptural image!

In that sense, the pope’s authoritative, prophetic, teaching role cannot be divorced from the church, and cannot be exercised independently of the church.

Indeed not--just a shepherd has no authority except over the flock!

The pope has no intrinsic teaching authority of his own; rather he expresses the teaching authority of the church.

But this is only true in so far as the Pope himself is a part of the body of the faithful. Otherwise, surely you are not suggesting that the Shepherd gets his authority from the Sheep? Rather, the Shepherd gets his authority from the Owner of the Sheep!

But, equally, a pope delivering a teaching not in fact believed and taught by the church would not be exercising or expressing any kind of authority, no matter what terms the declaration concerned was couched in.

Quite true, but this has never ever happened. That's what we mean by "infallible".

There are those who understand the Declaration on Papal Infalliblity as a kind of assurance that no pope will ever do that

On the contrary, rather than being the source of assurance, the doctrine itself is an expression of that assurance which the faithful already have in the promise of Christ that the Church will be built upon the Rock of Peter and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

The reality is that what actually stops popes from proclaiming their personal insights and convictions as dogma is precisely the knowledge that they have no authority – there’s that word again - to do so.

Or rather, that "their" authority is limited by its relationship with the other "authorities". I am sorry, but I have difficulty putting it any other way.

 
At Wednesday, September 26, 2007 8:12:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

“There is nothing "abstract" about the Authority of the Church. It is in fact, very concrete.”

I meant abstract in something like the grammatical sense. There’s nothing abstract about the apostolicity of the church, either, yet ‘apostolicity’ is an abstract noun.

Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the authority of the church, like its apostolicity, is not a power, or a capacity, or a function, but a quality. But, yes, I agree that it is an incarnate quality.

“All Authority in the Church is the Authority of Christ, of The Word, of the Truth--but it has different and distinct "locales" (?) -- eg. Scripture, the magisterium of the pastors, the Tradition, the Sensus Fidelium. You are correct, Peregrinus, to say that these are not "authorities", but may we can see them in some sort of relationship analogous to the Trinity. Within the Trinity there is one authority, but the authority is "given" (for instance) by the Father to the Son (eg. Matt 28). So there are "Authorities", yet only One Authority.”

Given that the Trinity is a sacred mystery, I’m not sure we can improve our understanding of something else by using the Trinity as an analogy!

Seriously, though, the way I think I would put it is that the church’s authority, its quality of being the incarnate presence of Christ, is expressed through scripture, tradition, etc. But these are all expressions of the same authority.

“Indeed one cannot be ordered to believe, but one who does believe, and who believes that submission to the authority of the Church is of the essence of this belief, can surely also submit himself to believe that which the Church "orders" to be believed? Christ said that "all authority in heaven and on earth are given to me" and he followed this up with nothing less than "marching orders" for the apostles: "Therefore go and make disciples..."”

I come back to the fact that the authority of the church – or indeed of Christ – is not the power or capacity to give orders. It is the quality of being the author, the creator, the source of all that is. And that quality demands our attention, our respect. The significant verb in the scriptural quote - you stopped before you got to it – is not ‘go’, but ‘teach’. Indeed, the church’s authority is often described as a teaching authority. And a good teacher, as we know, guides, developes, brings out, educates. But he does not tell his pupils what to think. Still less does he try to make them think what he wants them to think.

The modern sense of authority – the power of a king, ruler or government – corrupts our understanding of the nature of the authority of the church. It is very difficult for us to get past this.

I suggest that the authority of the church does not and cannot compel us to do anything, and any attempt to do so is inauthentic (NB the same root as authority!) because the author of creation has endowed us with free will. Authority cannot tell us to believe something we find unreasonable or unconscionable, because the author of creation has endowed us with reason and with consciences.

“It is necessary that the pastors--precisely as SHEPHERDS--of the Church exercise authority over the flock. The flock does not shepherd itself, but requires Shepherds (acting with the authority of the Chief Shepherd, Christ) to guide them. I am sorry if the image of the faithful as sheep offends your sensibilities, but it is a Scriptural image!”

I’ve no problem with the sheep/shepherd image, but we must remember that the church is the sheep as well as the shepherds, and the authority of which we are speaking belongs to the church, and is expressed by the church.

“[P] In that sense, the pope’s authoritative, prophetic, teaching role cannot be divorced from the church, and cannot be exercised independently of the church.

[DS] Indeed not--just a shepherd has no authority except over the flock!”


Here your analogy does break down, I think. A shepherd has no authority at all over his flock, in the radical sense in which the church claims authority – i.e. the quality of being the author, or source. It is the church – i.e. the flock and the shepherd both – which have that authority.

“But, equally, a pope delivering a teaching not in fact believed and taught by the church would not be exercising or expressing any kind of authority, no matter what terms the declaration concerned was couched in.

Quite true, but this has never ever happened. That's what we mean by "infallible".”

Well, popes have taught things which later popes, or the later church, repudiated. But I concede they have never done so in terms which appear to engage the charism of infallibility as formally defined.

But this is a slightly circular argument. The charism was only recently formally defined and, while there was intense debate about the terms in which it would be defined, naturally it was never going to be defined in terms which might embrace a papal pronouncement which was subsequently dropped or disregarded by the church. But that can hardly be said to prove very much.

My real point is that, even granted that no pope has ever taught error in terms which invoke the charism of infallibility, a future pope could, hypothetically, do so. To deny this is to deny the doctrine of free will, which I am not prepared to so.

Consider an evilly-disposed pope who secures election by corrupt means (and this much is not hypothetical, but historical). Suppose that for his own purposes he wishes to proclaim, say, the divinity of the Virgin, something which quite clearly the church has never taught or believed, and he wishes to invoke the full and awful majesty of his office to do so.

Could he? Yes. He could issue a proclamation which very specifically and legalistically replicated the appropriate terms from the definition of papal infallibility, so that there could be no doubt that it was formally within the scope of that definition.

Would his proclamation be infallible? No, absolutely not; it would be erroneous.

There are those who assert that this cannot happen; the Holy Spirit would intervene by special divine action to prevent it. I do not accept this.

There are those who assert that we can believe with confidence that it will not happen, and that the dogma of papal infallibility gives us this assurance, and that we need not worry about the mechanism by which it is prevented from happening.

I say that, wildly unlikely as it may be in reality, it could hypothetically happen. But the pope concerned would nevertheless not be speaking infallibly. He could not be because what he would be saying would in fact be erroneous.

How can this be reconciled with our understanding of infallibility? Actually, quite easily. The pope only exercises this charism when he speaks “as shepherd and teacher” of the whole church. In this instance, notwithstanding his claim, he would not in fact be speaking in that capacity. He would not be speaking for the church, but for himself. The role of the pope is to articulate and proclaim what the church believes and teaches. If the pope’s teaching does not come from the church, then it does not have the authority of the church. And the church’s authority is the only authority there is.

I’ll stop here. This is already too long for a combox.

 
At Wednesday, September 26, 2007 8:39:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Yes, I agree. These comments are like mini-essays!

But I will hold my position on saying that the authority of the apostles (Christ's authority and the bishops' authority) is the authority of shepherds and is exercised vis a vis the sheep. The idea of sheep having this authority together with the shepherds is just silly.

Also, while I believe it may be a little naive to suggest that your hypothetical situation of an heretical pope willfully using his authority to mislead the Church is impossible simply because Christ assured us such a senario would not happen, nevertheless, I am somewhat inclined to this naivety...

 

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