Tuesday, 23 December 2014

People often ask...

...what do you believe? One reader wrote to me recently and besought my help in the fledgling church, in the Ordinariate "tradition," to which he is attached when, in another forum, he had noticed that I had said that I was churchless. When I replied and said that I could not, in good conscience, render any support whatever to the Ordinariates; for many reasons that I need not elaborate here but ultimately resting on the monstrous claims of the bishop of Rome; he replied giving a succinct exposition of Roman primacy and all the rest of that. I'm afraid I've heard it all before. Questions of liturgy aside, I would say that Roman primacy is out of date. It is not of apostolic origin and developed undoubtedly out of the secular polity of the Roman Empire; just as the comparative see of Constantinople. I believe, as a pious fool one might say, that the blessed apostles Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome; this is attested to in our tradition. But I do not believe that St Peter claimed episcopal authority over the Romans anymore than he founded a see in Rome. Later popes, assuming "Petrine" authority unto themselves and many imperious titles besides (pontifex maximus not the least), tore the Church assunder in their arrogance, confirming Latin occupation of Constantinople, imposing erroneous doctrines on pain of hell fire, bulldozing local traditions and generally dispensing God's Grace like maundy money; so much so that arguably the crux of all schism in Christianity can be laid at the feat of this greatest bridge-builder. It is an arbitrary and demonstrably false model of ecclesiastical polity that one man claims universal, supreme jurisdiction over all bishops, all traditions, all doctrines and the regulation of the sacred liturgy. Do other bishops share less in the episcopate than this one man who exalts himself? I can only repeat that this doctrine is repugnant to the writ of God and destructive of unity. Indeed they are anathema who believe in the doctrine of Papal Supremecy; just as hellbound as any Presbyterian.

Thus far I have said only what I do not believe. What do I believe then? Well, I am conscious enough of my own failures to perceive rightly that I am in the Wood between the Worlds. The only strong conviction that I have as yet is my avowed intent not to dive back into the pool from which I came. So please, readers, stop writing to me and begging me to return to the bosom of Rome. It will not happen.

Never fear! I pray God daily that I shall not apostatize. I do fear, however, that for people like me there is no home, no church in which we're welcome. I could never hope to rise to any platform from which I could happily enforce my correct liturgical views in a mainstream church anymore than I could meekly sit in a pew and endure one collect every Sunday and do nothing. These churches are doomed to hell fire for their complacency. That's the mainstream churches out the window and I am not at all interested in renegade churches and congregations, episcopi vagantes or other fringe lunatics. Religion, for them, is simply a palliative; something that serves to numb their innermost feelings of inadequacy and a theatre in which to dress up. For some these congregations are the fora to prey on the elderly in hospices, posing as real priests, manipulating the vulnerable with drugs adminstered with prayers into the signing of wills, and looking elsewhither for legitimacy. Most of the time, these sins notwithstanding, they are also as guilty of liturgical complacency as the mainstream lot and consider extra lace and candles the hallmarks of tradition.

What, then? I wouldn't have said I was a cynic but in the seasonal words of Dickens: "Tradition was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."


  1. "So please, readers, stop writing to me and begging me to return to the bosom of Rome. It will not happen." A very wise decision!

  2. Most people use religion as an uncertainty reduction device. If you bring the true level of uncertainty into their awareness in anyway, they shall shun you. Unfortunately, they are in every denomination.

  3. It doesn't give me any joy to argue in favour of the Petrine office, as I agree with many of the criticisms offered here of its incumbents and their abuses. But...

    My original question, copied in below, (not exactly begging you to return to the bosom of Rome) advanced a very minimal, traditional and non-institutionalist notion of the authority of the bishop of Rome. Your answer is (1) a sociological point which doesn't affect the traditional belief (2) a claim that Peter wasn't the first bishop of Rome, which is neither here nor there, as my argument was about the foundation of the Roman church by the Apostles, not its episcopate (3) an argument that papacy isn't of Apostolic origin... but then neither is the canon of Holy Writ... nor any liturgical rite... (4) railery against papal abuses which my question had granted anyway.

    One doesn't need to be either ultramontane, nor have a kind of ultramontane-in-reverse "no popery". Communion with the Apostles through one's bishop, and thence communion with St Peter, is part of what the Church is, whatever the abuses of the episcopate. There is little point in lamenting the demise of Tradition and Liturgy if you will not accept and live out the traditions enshrined in the Roman canon.

    "Chief architect of many of the church's ills - I don't disagree - but I'd be interested in how you justify a rejection of communion with the apostolic foundation of Rome and its bishop with Tradition. Whatever the abuses of authority, all baptised Christians are placed within the spiritual authority of St. Peter by Christ. I think this stands for Protestants, Orthodox and the rest - although as an erstwhile Anglo-Catholic I don't think this authority need necessarily be exercised by direct institutional channels. The authority of St. Peter is there as part of the Church's foundation on the Apostles, and is present wherever and whenever the Church is brought to completeness when the Eucharist is offered in communion with a bishop in the apostolic succession. Criticism, yes, "get thee behind me Satan" if you like: but isn't communion with St. Peter simply part of the foundation upon which Christ built the Church? Lex orandi, lex credendi: one doesn't have a Roman canon without a prayer for the bishop and the Pope, whatever you think of the sorry pair."

    1. But how is the unique authority of the bishop of Rome supported by tradition? I would say that a more traditional hermeneutic of episcopal polity has the authority of each bishop as supreme in his own diocese - this is supported by the writings of the Fathers (I have in mind Cyprian of Carthage).

      Perhaps your mind is more nimble than my own but I fail to see how my answer is sociological. I have appealed to papal history and theology more than anything in my rejection of papal supremecy.

      To your second point I would say that any church, be it the English Church, the Irish Church, the Roman Church, whatever, has an apostolic foundation if it has a valid apostolic succession.

      Liturgical rites are not relevant to the question of Papal supremecy, except incidentally where papal supremecy has affected them. The Roman rite is my especial preference, in its Sarum form (with one or two exceptions), but only because it is that rite in which I am the most read and experienced.

      As for Holy Writ, this has come down to us from legitimate ecclesiastical authority; namely, by convocation of bishops in an œcumenical council.

    2. Just to clarify a couple of points. By sociological, I meant your point that the city of Rome's Imperial prestige accounts for the papacy's development. And when I say that the Roman church has an Apostolic foundation, I meant in the sense that it was built on the martyrdoms of Ss. Peter & Paul.

      For the authority of the church - but also the bishop - of Rome in tradition, I would point out Irenaeus, Clement, Ignatius etc. but I am sure that you already know all this stuff at least as well as I do. It is a lot later, the fourth or fifth century (was Leo the first?) before people start joining the dots with the exercise of Roman authority and our Lord's words to Peter; but to reject this as tendentious is also to reject the possibility of the Petrine office being an Apostolic tradition in advance.

      Even the Ravenna statement 2007 - but I don't whether the Orthodox theologians who co-wrote this spoke for anyone but themselves - accepted the doctrine as traditional. I am not arguing for anything stronger or more rigid in practice than the basic level of recognition of an authentic tradition in that statement.

      I agree that the bishop is supreme in his diocese; but then also each bishop has also an universal and Apostolic teaching and ruling role in the Church. And it is in that light that I understand the universal role of Peter's See.

      I think more than anything, I would like to press you on the point of liturgy, and to dispute your claim that the liturgical rites are irrelevant to papal supremacy. Is there any ancient Western liturgy, or fragment of it - Milan, Sarum, Mozarabic, Stowe - that does not contain within the Eucharistic prayer a petition for Papa along with bishop? This isn't a rhetorical flourish: I genuinely don't know all the rites. But if they all do mention both, it seems to say something.

  4. Hi Patricius! I would like to know what do you believe (today) about the eucharist. Do you believe that the offerings really become the true flesh and blood of Christ?

    1. That would be the subject of a post, not a comment. Suffice it to say that I do believe in the Real Presence but in a different mode to "transubstantiation," which I reject entirely. I think it rash to define the Real Presence as much as the Incarnation. How do we really understand the union of the Divine and Human in the One Person of Christ?

      With regard to the Real Presence, if I had my way:

      1. Major elevation of the host and chalice in the midst of the Canon would be abolished on pain of latae sententiae excommunication. The liturgical books would be revised to reflect this change.
      2. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament would be abolished along with the Forty Hours prayer and adoration.
      3. The feasts of Corpus Christi, Precious Blood and blessed sacrament processions would be abolished.
      4. Masses coram Sanctissimo would be abolished.
      5. The rites for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would be significantly revised to incorporate the change; restoration of pre-Tridentine praxis being the desired order.
      6. The Sacrament would no longer be reserved in tabernacles under lock and key but kept apart in the priest's house in a fitting place and kept solely for communion of the sick.

      That is, in brief, what I would do if I were the pope. If popes have the authority to change so much else, why can I not introduce these changes, for the good of humanity and the tonic for their superstition?

  5. With regard to this posting and comment thread I will content myself with commending to readers' attention two small books on this subject: *Jurisdiction in the Early Church: Episcopal and Papal* by Dom Gregory Dix (London, 1975: Church Literature Association) and *Communio: Church and Papacy in Early Christianity* by Ludwig (Freiherr von) Hertling, SJ (Chicago, 1972: Loyola University Press). Dix's work, posthumously published with an introduction by Thomas Parker of University College, Oxford, originally appeared as a serialized review (of Berenson J. Kidd's *The Roman Primacy to A. D. 461 [1936]; Kidd was Warden of Keble College) in five or six issues of the quarterly journal *Laudate* in 1937-39; Hertling's, in German, in the journal *Una Sancta* (v. 17, 1962). I suppose that Dom Gregory Dix needs no introduction to readers of this blog; Fr. Hertling (1892-1975) was a Jesuit church historian, and a Bavarian nobleman whose father was briefly Chancellor of the Second Reich in 1918. Hertling's little book (of 86 pages) is the most moderate and low-key defense of the papal primacy which I have ever read; Dix's (124 pages) with his characteristic sparkle and verve.

    1. Also worth reading: von Döllinger, Abbe Guettee and a libellus called How the Popes became Infallible by August Bernhard Hasler.

    2. Thanks for the reading list to William Tighe & Patricius. I'll probably start with Dix.

    3. Another good book to read, but a rather large one (568 pp), would be *The Church and the Papacy: An Historical Study* (The Bampton Lectures for 1942) by Trevor Gervase Jalland (London, 1944: SPCK), the greater part of which deals with the first millennium (although it goes down to Vatican I). Jalland (1898-1975) Vicar of St. Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, from 1932 to 1947, and subsequently a member of the Theology Faculty of the University of Exeter, shows himself very favorable to the papacy, without, however, being an "Anglo-Papalist" (as the final chapter demonstrates). Dix is said to have served as an unofficial research assistant to Jalland as the latter was preparing the book.

    4. "I'll probably start with Dix."

      I'd suggest reading Hertling first, then Guettee, then Dix, and then von Döllinger. If you desire more, Jalland and then Hasler.