It is often supposed that the Office of St. Peter in governing the universal Church, as understood by Catholics, is diametrically opposed to the collegiality or synodality which certainly marks the era of Ecumenical Councils (325-787 A.D.). Catholics have always attempted to reconcile the two into one coherent model of Ecclesiastical theory. Often enough, those studying into Catholicism from the outside get the sense that Catholics are sort of straining the logic just in order to maintain their novel innovations put down into dogmatic form at the Councils of Lyons (1274), Florence (1439), and Vatican (1870). In other words, Catholics are viewed as trying to say that oil and water actually do mix, and we have all sorts of mental gymnastics that get communicated in psuedo-sophisticated language. It is far better and easier, it is urged, to just recognize that Papalism (oil) and Collegiality (water) are diametrically opposed to one another, and that either the former is true, in which case the Pope dogmatically decides everything by himself, rendering all investigation and question superfluous, or the latter is true, in which case the Bishops form a decree based on majority vote or a reached consensus, and only then can it be recognized as authoritative. However, I want to push-back to this seemingly common sense reaction that characterizes so much of the Protestant and Oriental critiques in the ecumenical dialogue. Continue reading
With all the new literature (see David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved and articles over at Eclectic Orthodoxy) coming out on the doctrine of Universalism, i.e. one day all created beings will return to the glory and communion of God, I thought it would be well worth sharing some statements made by St. John Paul II which he gave in a general audience in 1999, just about 20 years ago. It is nothing but a re-assertion of the Christian tradition on human freedom, the reality of sin, and the real danger of eternal damnation. He wrote:
“God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him…Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely….By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will ‘weep and gnash their teeth’….or like Gehenna with its ‘unquenchable fire’ ….All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain….. Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for ‘eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’….hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. …..This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: ‘To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell”‘ (n. 1033)…Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state….Damnation remains a real possibility, but it is not granted to us, without special divine revelation, to know which human beings are effectively involved in it. “
An article on primacy and collegiality. One author that was consulted is Dr. Francis Oakley, popular for his scholarship on Medieval conciliarism. It brings to mind something I’ve noticed over the past few years. There has been a growing crave today, even by conservative thinkers, for the Catholic Church to dial back on the power and authority of the Pope (the nature and scope, thereof) in order for the Church to be able to take the reign and control the wild horse. One caution I would bring to bear. In the first place, it always sounds good to say “the Church” could come in take the reigns, but we rarely think of what the face of this looks like. Is this somehow to be an Ecumenical Council of bishops who are of the same mind? That certainly would be nice. However, right smack dab in the middle of Conciliarism’s heyday’s, the era wherein the Councils of Constance, Pisa, and Basel were met, the faithful had a chance to see how pitting a Council against the Pope , or over the Pope, worked just as bad, if not worse, as maintaining the tradition of a Pope over the Council. Conciliarism really didn’t get off the ground, and its hopes were far too high for what it gives. A disaster it was, and everyone knew it.
What I am saying here is that if we are to observe a situation like we are in today with the Pontificate of Pope Francis, where we could certainly use an organ in the Church to set him straight, and posit a return to Conciliarism as the solution, I would only say that we should not incur the sort of amnesia that would make us forget the disaster of Conciliarism experienced in the West after the Great Western schism. Programmatic Councils for the reform of Head and Members were ultimately ignored, the decrees of Pisa and Basel were likewise ignored in light of the fact that the Council depended on the Pope’s co-operation (even by Conciliarist standards), and things quickly returned to the ordinary way of Papal supremacy.
But even with that aside, let’s play with the on-button of Conciliarism. What would that yield? Of the 5,000 or so Bishops of the Catholic Church around the world, how many of these have so much as made a peep against Pope Francis? Oh yes, I know of the famous few. But any more? Conciliarism, therefore, in this current situation, would be like building a wonderful looking sports car that has no gas tank or engine. It exists as a beautiful solution merely in theory.
A return to Byzantine ecclesiology? Again, it sounds great. However, we are missing the Emperor to convene Councils. The recent “Pan-Orthodox” attempt at Crete (2016) , which was nearly a century in the making, was certainly just as frustrating at any other ecclesial model which must face the paralysis of opposing wills. Yet, not a single Council by the Orthodox, recognized as Ecumenical, ever took more than a year or so to both call and convene. A century in the making, and it ends with a failure to actually convene as Pan-Orthodox.
What do I mean by all of this? I mean that “what works” cannot be the controlling hermeneutic with which to identify the Lord’s plan for His Church