21 April 2014

Learning From The Patrimony

One of the joys of the creation of the Ordinariate for me has been the opportunity to connect to a current of thought of which I was unaware before: a corpus of liturgical history which has greatly influenced me.

I recently bought a copy of Dr Eric Mascall's Corpus Christi. It is really worth reading, not just for his beautiful English prose style (another potential gift of the Ordinariate, by the way, to those used to what English Bishops write).  I found what appears to be a photo of the author being used as a page marker: the joy of second-hand books!

I also found something published in 1953, at the very height of ultramontanism which offers a clear view of a healthy view of the relationship between Bishop and Pope, and which, it seems to me, points towards an answer to the question: how do we recover from where we are?

"To return to our previous point, The Church, as a visible and tangible society, living in the historic process, needs a visible and tangible organ of its unity, though that union is, as I have emphasised, an interior and mystical unity and not a moral or political one.  The Church is a visible and tangible society, but it is a sacramental one, and the organ of its unity will be a sacramental organ.  This is why, as I see it, the apostolic Episcopate precisely fulfils the requirements for such an organ, for the episcopal character is conferred by a sacramental act.  And this is why it seems to me impossible to locate the organ of the Church's unity in the Papacy, for the papal character is not conferred by a sacramental act at all, but by the purely administrative and organisational process of election.  Whether the Papacy has, by divine providence, a unique status in the Church and, if so, what are the functions which attach to it are, of course, important questions, but by its very constitution the Papacy does not, so far as I can see, possess the nature which is required in the organ of the Church's unity.  It might be an adequate organ if the Church's unity was the unity of an organisation; it does not seem to be adequate to the unity of a sacramental organism.  (Neither would the Episcopate be an adequate organ if it were in its essence what many people believe it to be, a merely governmental and organisational contrivance; but it is adequate if it is, as Catholic theology maintains, a reality of the sacramental order.)It is perhaps an unconscious realisation of this fact that has led the Pope to appropriate more and more exclusively to himself the episcopal character, to the detriment of his episcopal brethren.  There are, I believe, some theologians who maintain that all episcopal character primarily inheres in the Pope as universal bishop and that other bishops possess it only by delegation from him; it is certainly commonly maintained by Roman Catholic theologians that the Pope has a direct and immediate episcopal relation to every one of the faithful. I do not deny that the Pope is the successor of Peter, but the common post-Tridentine Roman attitude seems to me to make Peter not merely the Prince of the Apostles but, in effect, the only apostle.  I think the Roman Church is right in insisting that the Church is a visible and not an invisible body, but I think it has gone wrong in treating the Church's visibility as an organisational rather than as a sacramental one, and so in locating that unity in the organisational organ of the Papacy rather than in the sacramental organ of the Episcopate; and the consequence has been, as I have suggested, that the Papacy has infringed upon the Episcopate and, in the Papal Communion, has all but absorbed it. However I do not think that the remedy is for the Episcopate to claim that it is collectively what the Pope claims to be individually; that would only perpetuate the error in another form.

I would maintain, then, that as a visible reality in the historic order, the Church's unity is established in our lord's institution of the Apostolate, which is continued in the universal Episcopate; the bishop is the link between the local and the universal Church. This fact is reflected in the ancient requirement that for the consecration of a new bishop at least three bishops are normally required as consecrators; that is to say, although the diocese gathered round its bishop is the self-coherent manifestation of the Body of Christ, its perpetuation requires, at least in principle and ideally, a repeated recourse to the universal Apostolate.  This requirement, which had largely become obsolete in the West, was restored by the Church of England in the sixteenth century; it has, I gather, never been abandoned in the Eastern Church.  With the devolution of so many of the bishop's sacramental functions upon the second order of the ministry - the presbyterate - the status of the diocese, gathered round its bishop, as the organic local manifestation of the Catholic Church has, of course, become very  much obscured. It is the parish priest, rather than the bishop, round whom the faithful are normally assembled for the great liturgical action by which the Church's life is maintained, though I am told that in the small dioceses of such countries as Greece the bishop has retained more of his primitive liturgical position. Nevertheless, the sacramental functions of the presbyterate are limited and partial, and nowhere in Catholic Christendom has the bishop abandoned his status as the sole minister who can sacramentally delegate, even partially, the apostolic character to others. Every presbyter has received his partial apostolate from the hands of the bishop in the sacramental rite of ordination; while the bishop himself has received his full apostolate from those other bishops who represent the Apostolate of the universal Church.  The diocese, gathered round its bishop, is thus not merely a part of the Church of God, but is its full manifestation in a particular place.  Like the cell in a living organism, it is a coherent organic entity, yet it lives only because it coheres in the whole body.  Like the sacramental body of Christ in the Eucharist, the mystical Body of Christ which is the Church is not divided into portions by its extension in space and time; it is tota in toto, et tota in aliqua parte."

Dr Mascall makes some very interesting points here, not least in identifying the episcopate of each Bishop (I'm Catholic enough to prefer a few more capitals, by the way) and pointing out the absurdity of Bishops' Conferences having any locus in the Church.

What he also points to, however, is that the way forward will come from good Bishops who understand the Liturgy and who regulate it within their dioceses.  There is no reason why, for example, the Bishop of Dunderthorpe shouldn't authorise some of his priests - indeed a parish - to become Sarum Use parishes in accordance with the Tridentine decrees, and look to see how pre-twentieth century liturgical practice might inform the worship of his subjects.  I could imagine it rather popular: I could imagine that diocese attracting vocations; I could imagine a virtual spiral: and none of this would trespass on his brother Bishop of Withernesea who, determined to follow the practices of the recently replaced Archbishop of Los Angeles, was emptying his diocese of all worshippers under the age of 50.

There is a good reason for the Bishops to meet in Low Week.  It is a good idea to make sure that there is a coordinated Catholic response to government initiatives affecting all of England and Wales. 

But each Bishop is the successor of the Apostles.


Ben Trovato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Trovato said...

Very interesting. I think at once of Bishop Edmund Forrester (in Mitre and Crook).

But what of bishops who are heretics or apostates (eg at the time of the Arian heresy - and possibly now)?

Does the Papacy not have that role of guaranteeing where the Church in fact is, in such situations? Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia has its uses.

Ttony said...

Ben: yes indeed. The Pope is (should be) the guarantor of orthodoxy, the safeguard given to every Catholic that his Bishop hasn't gone wrong.

Ttony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lazarus said...

I suppose one question I'd ask is regarding Mascall's claim:

'...the organ of its [ie the Church's] unity will be a sacramental organ.'

Why will it? Of the two organs which -historically- seem to have established unity in the Church, one is the Papacy and the other is Ecumenical Councils. Neither seem to fit Mascall's definition of a sacramental organ. And when I see actual history so divergent from a claimed principle, I can't help wondering abut the principle.

Ben Trovato said...

Good points, Lazarus.

I suppose the argument could be that both the election to the papacy, and the operation of an Ecumenical Council (and the production of a universal Catechism, come to that) are the formal collective acts of the sacramentally ordained Bishops, and that their legitimacy derives from that fact. But then, one could argue for the Conference on that basis, which I really would rather not do...

The question, whence does this principle derive? is clearly a good and important one.

Lazarus said...

At a loose level, I think it's true to say that the Papacy does derive its authority from *something* to do with Bishops: the Pope is essentially the Bishop of Rome and head of the college of Bishops:

From the Catechism:

S.877: 'For this reason every bishop exercises his ministry from within the episcopal college, in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter and head of the college. So also priests exercise their ministry from within the presbyterium of the diocese, under the direction of their bishop.'

Its this level of collegiality between Bishops -that they form a body- that Mascall (and Anglo-Catholics in general) seem to downplay. (And why you get that fascinating phenomenon of episcopi vagantes in the Anglican Catholic revival.)

In what precisely that collegial bond consists is a difficult question. But (pursuing my earlier thought) two obvious visible ways are in an Ecumenical Council and through the Papacy. And perhaps they both boil down to the Bishops being in union with the Pope:

s.857: she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ's return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, "assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church's supreme pastor"

In sum, there is a dimension of collegiality between Bishops which (in some way) requires the Papacy. I think the precise details of that are open to dispute -not least because the Orthodox will dispute much of the traditional Catholic understanding. But it's both a mistake to think of the Pope as some sort of fourth super-order (as you get hints of in some ultramontanism) or as a rather decorative (but inessential) 'just another Bishop' as you seem to get in some Anglo-Catholic/Orthodox understandings. Both understandings miss the point that it is precisely as a bond between Bishops that the Papacy exists.

And coming down to earth, that theoretical line of argument seems to reflect practical realities. Anglican Bishops don't agree on anything (and don't really see the need to). Catholic Bishops might occasionally wander off, but do have a sense of responsibility to the college of Bishops and do get the occasional wallop from the Pope to keep in collegial line.

FrereRabit said...

I think your photo is of Father Algy of the Society of St Francis (Anglican Franciscans.

Ttony said...

Lazarus, I don't think we disagree about the heart of this issue, but I wanted originally to make two points: first, that there is an Anglo-Catholic corpus which has become ours, which has been received, as it were, along with those who have lived by it; and, separately, an insight from that corpus answers a question Ben raised recently in a way that the sort of writers I have been brought up with have come nowhere near.

The Bishop-Pope relationship is, of course, the thing that VI never got round to, and VII ducked, so modern Catholicism could end up with the unbalanced view of the role of the Pope which obtained from the time of Pius IX, and which continues to persist in some quarters. Certainly B16 and the current Pope have far more closely defined their role in terms of their Roman episcopate rather than in terms of their jurisdiction over the Church at large.

And that's one of the things that attracts me in Mascall's piece (to which I have done scant justice): the Catholic Church isn't just the Roman Church, the Latin Rite Church: there are 20-odd Churches which subsist in the Catholic Church, and that number will rise as others are reconciled. I think that's why the sacramentality about the organ of union is important: the Pope's role is much less central to the ecclesiology of all of the other Churches.

But either way, here are some arresting, beautifully expressed ideas, about the relationship of the Pope and the Bishops, and the relationship between the local Church and the Church, which I would never have come across had not Pope Benedict decreed the Ordinariate, and had the Ordinariate not included people who will share their patrimony with us.

Lazarus said...

Ttony, hope I haven't given the impression that I was finding fault with your enterprise: I completely agree with you that there is much in the intellectual heritage of Anglicanism that should be welcomed into the Catholic Church and Mascall is undoubtedly part of this. On a purely personal note, however, this is the sort of theology that I cut my teeth on as an Anglican and I think in general terms it has a tendency to postulate some sort of rupture between (roughly) patristic orthodoxy and the modern 'Roman' Church. (Various writers will locate that rupture in different ages/figures.) Much that is good, certainly, but much that needs to be treated with care in its reception, particularly as it can exacerbate an existing tendency towards an undue emphasis on ressourcement in modern Catholicism.

On the specific issue of the Papacy, I think Mascall is saying much that an Orthodox theologian would echo. Grappling with these insights can only be helpful, so long as we are patient in that reception and aren't too quick to dismiss the other important insights of (broadly) ultramontanism.

Anagnostis said...

"...when I see actual history so divergent from a claimed principle, I can't help wondering abut the principle."

Indeed (said the ex-RC convert to Orthodoxy). :)

Ben Trovato said...

I think it is worth reflecting on the fact that the Petrine Office pre-dates the episcopacy, according to the Gospels. Our Lord proclaimed Tu es Petrus long before the consecration of the apostles as the first bishops at the Last Supper. So I don't think the papacy can be said to arise from the episcopacy in the strictest sense.

Of course they are related: they are all parts of one Body, with Christ for a Head. But I don't think that proclaiming the primacy of the Pope (over and above the bishops) as the visible locus of Unity is ultramontane.

But I am open to persuasion that I am wrong.

Anagnostis said...

Ben, are you perhaps looking at the thing the wrong way around, and thus "begging the question"? Did the Councils and the Fathers really speak in that way about the nature and origin of the Roman primacy and the episcopate? How does that cohere with the actual life and behaviour of the Church in the first centuries?

Lazarus said...

Anagnostis, I think those are precisely the sort of questions that dialogue with Orthodoxy (and patristically minded Anglicans) need to engage with (and indeed have). I wouldn't want to shortcut the detail and care needed in that dialogue, but, from a Catholic point of view, I think the key issues are development and the living Magisterium of the Church. Did a fully fledged understanding of the Petrine office exist in (say) the second century? No (but then neither did a fully fledged understanding of the priesthood). However, looking back from the perspective of that (better) understanding, we can see it makes sense of (eg) scripture and the drive for collegiality that did exist. Is faithfulness to Christ simply a matter of ressourcement? No: the Church teaches with a living authority and, whilst refreshed and challenged by a revisiting of the sources of patristic authority, its task is not simply to reproduce them but rather to be faithful to them.