Friday, November 14, 2008

Keeping up appearances

One of the revealing features of the Catholic church is the way in which her official proceedings are empirically indistinguishable from the methods and tactics of any merely human, highly politicized institution. If we didn’t already know that she had the benefit of a divine teaching office at her disposal, we might almost be led to suspect that the one true church was just another fallible, defectible, and wholly uninspired organization. The Lord truly moveth in mysterious ways.

“Among the Churches the Roman Catholic Church faced the challenge in ways which specifically interests the historian of ideas. Conservative by inheritance of centuries, more conservative by resistance to radicals in the age of Reformation, ultra-conservative because in many countries a society of peasants or labourers who of all classes had minds least open to disturbing ideas, it ws nevertheless a Church committed to history; that is, it could not sweep the challenge behind the door or pretend that it all sprang from infidel illusion. Some of the founders of modern history—Mabillon, Tillemont, Muratori, to mention only three—were dedicated priests. Tradition was important to the structure of doctrine which fed men’s faith…Tradition was continuity, and continuity was history. Commitment to tradition was also commitment to history, and a main reason why the study of Christian history was inescapable in Catholic teaching,” O. Chadwick, Catholicism and History: The Opening of the Vatican Archives (Cambridge 1978), 3.

“Facing this challenge in the realm of doctrine, Catholic thinkers began to analyse the relation between a belief and its definition in language which Newman called development. The idea of development had more than one ground, and was variously expressed, and had diverse consequences. But the momentous part of it was the recognition that history makes a difference to the religious understanding of the world,” ibid. 3.

“A Church committed by principle to historical enquiry, and simultaneously committed by its members to conservative attitudes, must experience inward tension. The worst tension was generated by the arguments over the relation between history and dogma,” ibid. 3-4.

“Soon after the Council of Trent ended is third sitting in 1563, Pope Pius IV had the plan of publishing to all the world the full acts. If he had done so, the history of European controversy would have been different. But he died, and his successor would not publish. On reflection, Rome saw that to publish the discussion which lay behind the decrees would lead to argument on the meaning of the decrees. It was better to have the decrees unadorned, part now of the laws of the Church,” ibid. 46.

“By Massarelli’s diligence, no Council in Church history was better documented. But at that date, probably with the intention of silencing unnecessary discussion about predestination and grace, popes consciously adopted the policy of allowing no one to consult these papers. Not to make them available became an established rule of the Roman Curia,” ibid. 46.

“Massarelli was secretary of the Council of Trent at all three of its phases. He kept the minutes, and wrote as many as seven different diaries of the proceedings, diaries of unequal value. Massarelli’s protocols and diaries were necessary to understand the course of the Council of Trent. No other sources, not even the reports of legates to the Pope nor the letters of national leaders or ambassadors to their sovereigns, shed so intimate a light as the papers of this efficient secretary of the Council,” ibid. 50.

“But Massarelli reported what was said. He recorded the differences of opinion, the follies as well as the wisdom of the speakers, and unedifying as well as the edifying. If Massarelli’s diaries were published, the decisions of the Council of Trent, sacred in so many minds, would no longer appear the unchallenged expression of a common Catholic mind, but the end of hard-fought debates over nuances of expression,” ibid. 50.

“This was particularly true of the early debates on scripture and tradition, the authority of scripture, and its canon. In the cold light of finality, the formulas look rigid against Protestants. Seen as the end of a long debate with differing opinions, the formulas have more nuance, more flexibility, than any Protestant hitherto supposed. The examining commission particularly objected to the minutes which Theiner [prefect of the Vatican archives] proposed to publish, and had already in proof, of the debate on the canon of holy scripture. Thus the Dominican Father Tosa, lately an enthusiast, became the main speaker on the commission of enquiry, that to publish was dangerous, or harmful to the Church,” ibid. 50-51.

“When the Vatican Council met in December 1869, it soon divided into parties on the question of the teaching office of the Church, and the nature of the Pope’s infallibility…The theoretical argument pressed sorest upon the historians. If men started to declare the Pope (in some way) infallible, the historians looked back upon the history of the Church and saw moments when the Pope was wrong, and either inferred that the Pope was not infallible or argued that the doctrine must not be defined in such a way as to cover that error. The leader of the extreme opposition, though not a bishop at the Council, was the historian Döllinger of Munich. In Rome worked two of his pupils, both historians, Acton and Friedrich. The little handful of bishops with historical training were to a man opposed to definition—Bishop Hefele of Rottenburg, Cardinal Rauscher of Vienna, Bishop Greith of St. Gall. One or two of the leaders of the defining party gave the impression that history did not matter. How shall we test an eternal and unchanging truth by the studies of academics who cannot even agree with each other? Archbishop Manning of Westminster, who was specially prominent in favour of infallibility, uttered sentences which certainly sounded antihistorical,” ibid. 61-62.

“Theiner was a historian, and therefore at this moment uncomfortable. In the division of parties the Pope, and the Pope’s men, could hardly think of the other side as fully loyal to Catholicism…He [Theiner] was a historian at a moment when historical enquiry was unpalatable. He was a German inside the Vatican at a moment when the German bishops were unanimous in opposing what the Pope wanted…One of the Jesuits was rumoured to have said, ‘Theiner is the only survivor from the early entourage of Pius IX. He must be got rid of’,” ibid. 62.

“The Vatican of 1869-70 was a different place from the Vatican of 1855. In 1855 Theiner was at home in the air of the Curia. In 1870 he no longer had a natural habitation. One example will suffice: the most unpopular or popular letters of the day were the reports from Rome to Munich, published in the Allgemeine Zeitung of Augsburg, under the pseudonym Quirinus. These letters contained a brilliant pillorying of the majority in the Vatican Council, and repeatedly used information available to no one else among the journalists,” ibid. 62-63.

“When the Vatican Council opened in December 1869, its mode of proceeding was instantly a matter of controversy; whether the heads of the Catholic states should have been invited, who should have the right to propose motions, how the debates should be conducted, whether a simple majority was enough to carry a motion. Naturally everyone wanted to know how Trent conducted its business. The Curia did not wish the proceedings of Trent to be prominent. For the debates of Trent were conducted with less control than the debates of the first Vatican Council—for one excellent and compelling reason, that the number of persons present at Rome was often ten times the number of those present at Trent. An assembly of 60 may behave as an assembly of 600 may not—that is, if useful business is to be done,” ibid. 63.

“Within the first few days of the Council Theiner received orders not to let anyone see his papers on Trent. The order was not specially directed against Theiner. Another Oratorian, Calenzio, who was working on Trent, likewise received notice to stop. Not to release even the order of business at Trent was a sign of the besieged stance which prevailed among the cardinals during the last days of papal Rome. Sooner or later the opposition would discover the mode of proceedings at Trent,” ibid. 63.

“In the spring of 1870 opposition bishops were found to possess the order of business at the Council of Trent. They made use of it in argument. The Curia inferred that the knowledge of the document could only have come from the Vatican Secret Archives. Suspicion fell on Theiner,” ibid. 63-64.

“On 12 April 1870 Pope Pius IX suddenly summoned Theiner to his presence. He was excited and angry. He said that Theiner was reported to have taken Lord Acton into the Secret Archives and given him documents for his use…He started blaming Acton—‘he is not one of us’—and Friedrich and Döllinger—and the all of the German bishops,” ibid. 64-65.

“Theiner’s fate was decided a few days before 5 June. He was out at a villa in the country, working tranquilly away at the life of Pope Benedict XIV, and received an order to return. He went to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Antonelli, who informed him what was decided; characteristically adding that he wished him well, but was powerless to help. Theiner said he was innocent, but in vain. He was required (4 August 1870) to give up the keys of the archives. They trusted him now so little that they walled up the door which led into the archives from Theiner’s apartment in the tower,” ibid. 65.

“After Theiner’s death, Professor Friedrich, by then excommunicated for his resistance to the Vatican Council, declared in the Kölnische Zeitung that it was he, and not Theiner, who gave the papers to the bishops of the opposition,” ibid. 65-66.


  1. Pope Pius IV had the plan of publishing to all the world the full acts. If he had done so, the history of European controversy would have been different.

    Steve, does Chadwick give any of the flavor of these deliberations?

    One or two of the leaders of the defining party gave the impression that history did not matter.

    This is really a prevailing attitude these days, especially with regard to the early papacy (all the papacy, really). All that matters to the papacy, it seems, is to hold onto its power, and they will shape the theological side of the issue any way that they can.

    An assembly of 60...

    Unreal that such a small group could have done so much damage.

    “On 12 April 1870 Pope Pius IX suddenly summoned Theiner to his presence. He was excited and angry. He said that Theiner was reported to have taken Lord Acton into the Secret Archives and given him documents for his use…He started blaming Acton—‘he is not one of us’

    I remember Neuhaus crowing in the pages of First Things some time ago that, even knowing what he knew, Acton remained a Catholic.

    They trusted him now so little that they walled up the door which led into the archives from Theiner’s apartment in the tower,

    Such vindictiveness. And such a willingness to act in a way so out-of-touch with reality. You can tell a tree by its fruit.

  2. What's the assessment by Catholic loyalists towards Chadwick's work?

    Do they more or less grant veracity, or do they disdainfully dismiss?

  3. No church I've attended has acted like anything other than a power grab or a cult of personality. One preacher or pastor dominates: sometimes they do good things, sometimes not. The Catholic Church is just the AT&T while everyone else is the mom-and-pop shops: more organized, more affluent, more connections. The bigger the church, the bigger the egos (despite the pretense otherwise). The method of control varies of course, but the end is to keep the sheep inline. Mind your theology, Mister! No Arminianism or Universalist garbage here!

    And of course, it's frequently about money. Ever see a mega-church pastor who wasn't raking in close to (if not more than) 7 figures a year?

  4. S&S -- Chadwick, I've just recently come across (and purchased) Chadwick's "From Bossuet to Newman":

    The author's concluding paragraph says, "The question then for those who think Newman's theology is Catholic, is this: those new doctrines, of which the Church had a feeling or inkling but of which she was not conscious-- in what meaningful sense may it be asserted that these new doctriens are not 'new revelation'?

    Even Rome admits (or has admitted) that revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. So Chadwick's statement is a challenge to them. My guess would be then that they'd say he's a crank.