Papalotry and Episcopal Synodality: Two Ditches?

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Dr. Douglas Farrow, Professor of Theology and Christian Thought at McGill University, threw down the gauntlet in a recent article for Catholic World Report with a sharp critique of the current regime run by Pope Francis. Though it is clear he put much thought into the content, I have to say that the article is ultimately a bust. The beginning portion decries the growing rise of “Papalotry” that begin to show itself, according to Farrow, with even the famous Dictatus Papae which came out during the Pontificate of Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085). I could find you similar claims being made by at least Pope St. Nicholas I (858-867) in his interaction with King Lothair II and his overturning of Episcopal synods in Constantinople in favor of St. Ignatious as rightful occupant of the Patriarchal chair. But I digress. In any case, the current situation in Rome is that the Papacy is beginning to be exalted above its rightful place and appropriate function (see Cardinal Ouellet’s letter to Archbishop Vigano, for one example). Thereafter, in the second half of the article, Farrow decries the beefing up of Episcopal Synods as carrying the ability to exercise magisterial authority, since this will allow the ability of fragmented Synods and particular churches going their own way. With Francis’s desire to decentralize the Papacy, this reduces him to a quasi-neutral referee, and may, in the end, this plan for decentralization is just another form of returning to Gallicanism.

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Gates Of Hell Will Not Prevail? St. Basil the Great on 4th Century Arianism

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“It is not only one Church which is in peril, nor yet two or three which have fallen under this terrible storm. The mischief of this heresy spreads almost from the borders of Illyricum to the Thebaid. Its bad seeds were first sown by the infamous Arius; they then took deep root through the labours of many who vigorously cultivated the impiety between his time and ours. Now they have produced their deadly fruit. The doctrines of true religion are overthrown. The laws of the Church are in confusion. The ambition of men, who have no fear of God, rushes into high posts, and exalted office is now publicly known as the prize of impiety. The result is, that the worse a man blasphemes, the fitter the people think him to be a bishop. Clerical dignity is a thing of the past. There is a complete lack of men shepherding the Lord’s flock with knowledge.

 

“Ambitious men are constantly throwing away the provision for the poor on their own enjoyment and the distribution of gifts. There is no precise knowledge of canons. There is complete immunity in sinning; for when men have been placed in office by the favour of men, they are obliged to return the favour by continually showing indulgence to offenders. Just judgment is a thing of the past; and everyone walks according to his heart’s desire. Vice knows no bounds; the people know no restraint. Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement. And now the very vindication of orthodoxy is looked upon in some quarters as an opportunity for mutual attack; and men conceal their private ill-will and pretend that their hostility is all for the sake of the truth. Others, afraid of being convicted of disgraceful crimes, madden the people into fratricidal quarrels, that their own doings may be unnoticed in the general distress. Hence the war admits of no truce, for the doers of ill deeds are afraid of a peace, as being likely to lift the veil from their secret infamy.

 

“All the while unbelievers laugh; men of weak faith are shaken; faith is uncertain; souls are drenched in ignorance, because adulterators of the word imitate the truth. The mouths of true believers are dumb, while every blasphemous tongue wags free; holy things are trodden under foot; the better laity shun the churches as schools of impiety; and lift their hands in the deserts with sighs and tears to their Lord in heaven. Even you must have heard what is going on in most of our cities, how our people with wives and children and even our old men stream out before the walls, and offer their prayers in the open air, putting up with all the inconvenience of the weather with great patience, and waiting for help from the Lord.”
+ St. Basil the Great, Letter #92, “To the Italians and Gauls”

Of course, the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church. We know this as certain since Christ our Lord promised so, and He cannot lie. However, ever since the beginning of the Christ-mission with the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost, the Church has seen massive ups and downs, and perhaps very few ups. Therefore, we should not be so shaken at devastating times in the Church. That the Gates of Hell shall not prevail does not mean the Church cannot be dwindled down to a few who hold to the Apostolic faith in comparison to the Masses. It does not mean the Church will always be numerous, rich, convincing, seen as credible, or filled with morally virtuous members. It means that Christ will sustain the root and shoot of the Everlasting Covenant as He instituted it, with all its means to be sanctified and glorified in her holy sacraments, for the sake of the “remnant” or the “elect” which have not been hardened to the truth. The Church survived 4th century Arianism, despite how St. Basil describes it. The Church has survived every other oncoming onslaught. It is always the story of Job, even if corporately applied to the New Israel, over and over again. Stay strong. Don’t expect every question to be answered. Focus on dying a happy death, and He who works His oxen with a light yoke and an easy burden will soon give you eternal rest.

We’ve learned the wrong lesson from Donatism!

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I remember when I reverted into Catholicism in 2013, I was keen to point out so many of the moral problems that were going on in the Church, whether on a parish level or something higher than that. And the Apologists of the world at the time would respond to me saying something to this effect: “Oh, pffft. That’s Donatism, bro! Your grinding your gears by returning us to the 3rd and 4th centuries when the Catholic Church has already solved that problem! Its no worries, man!”

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