Despite my strong disagreement with the argument of his recent blog post at “Where Peter Is” (see the link), I have to applaud the author, Mike Lewis, for articulating in clear fashion what is the basic tension which exists between what he calls the “Ecclesial Catholic” versus the “Fundamentalist Catholic”. The EC’s are those who follow the Pope with unconditional obedience, and the FC’s are those who (he reasons) make “their understanding of Tradition” as assuming epistemological control over what is right even if it means challenging X Pope who teaches something they don’t agree with. The EC , according to Mr. Lewis, is not obliterating logic or reason, but suggests that one cannot ascertain whether his or her reasoning is not flawed, and so must thrust themselves with unconditional trust that the divine Magisterium will always be guaranteed to be unerring. The FC, for Mr. Lewis, is basically a self-made Pope since he insists that he can challenge X Pope and be somewhat confident.
I think one could spend 10,000 words going into the problem here, but I would only ask this one question – What would Mr. Lewis do if the Pope came out and said “I command all the faithful to not obey my commands”? Does one allow the Pope to re-create the laws of logic such that he could actually make this a legitimate command? A command to not obey commands? Sounds like a contradiction. What if I choose to disobey this particular command? Does that mean I am saying I want to be disobedient? The problem spirals into the bottomless abyss.
If it turns out that the Pope himself is not granted the right to re-make the laws of knowing, re-create perceived reality, and re-shape fundamental truths which are self-evident and without which you necessarily contradict yourself, then we have a bit of an enclosure outside of which the Pope himself, supreme as he is, *cannot legitimately transgress*. In other words, the Pope himself *must* work within an enclosure. His right to be right is not boundless. And if just this puts a limit to the capacity, why not other things like the “faith as it has always been understood”? If it were not so, then we must be open to the possibility of a Pope coming out and teaching that the Christian faith is actually the Islamic one, and this would require the “Ecclesial Catholics” to edit their entire perceived reality to finely adjust to that arbitrary dictum. Stick that in your epistemological pipe, smoke it, and inhale deeply. I think we need to take a step back before we equip the Pope with an epistemological control whose problem is far too large even for the authority of the Pope.
I’m sorry, that is simply not what Papal authority is for. The authority of the successor of Peter is precisely *not* to do this, as Vatican I itself taught us. Therefore, despite this breaking up the floor underneath which stands many Papal apologists, the Keys of the Kingdom are not a blank check from heaven by which any and all input is true and valid. As even Pope Benedict XVI wrote, when he was Fr. Joseph Ratzinger:
“After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the given-ness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy)