Sunday, August 12, 2012

Papal Shell Game: It’s not there, and now you see it, and now you don’t.

Even though that thread went on an on to over 1000 comments, and devolved into some simplistic Catholic-Answers-style sniping by a Roman Catholic individual named Arnold, something significant happened in the Green Baggins comment thread, Arguments Concerning the Papacy.

I’d like to point to a couple of highlights.

First some background. Earlier, and in another context, Bryan had explained why anyone has the burden of proof:

When a party goes out from the Catholic Church, as Protestants did in the sixteenth century on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture, and that party seeks to justify its actions by making a case against the Catholic Church, that party has the burden of proof, just by the fact that they are the ones who went out from the Church. The benefit of the doubt in any such dispute rests with the Church. Any heretic or schismatic can claim to be the Church, and claim that everyone else went out from him. But if it is enough to claim to be the Church, then the “went out from us” criterion would be worthless. So, the visible Church in continuity with the Apostles must have at least the benefit of the doubt in such disputes.

Aside from the fact that Bryan makes a key assumption here, which we would reject (i.e. “the Catholic Church” is “the visible Church in continuity with the Apostles”), he provided for the world the criteria by which he himself would feel compelled to put forward that “Scriptural and historical case for the early papacy”. He had not done so up to that point.

For that reason, I continued to harp on this Minnerath message:

In the first millennium there was no question of the Roman bishops governing the church in distant solitude. They used to take their decisions together with their synod, held once or twice a year. When matters of universal concern arose, they resorted to the ecumenical council. Even [Pope] Leo [I], who struggled for the apostolic principle over the political one, acknowledged that only the emperor would have the power to convoke an ecumenical council and protect the church.

At the heart of the estrangement that progressively arose between East and West, there may be a historical misunderstanding. The East never shared the Petrine theology as elaborated in the West. It never accepted that the protos in the universal church could claim to be the unique successor or vicar of Peter. So the East assumed that the synodal constitution of the church would be jeopardized by the very existence of a Petrine office with potentially universal competencies in the government of the church (in How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? James F. Puglisi, Editor, Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ©2010, pgs. 34-48).

In addition to posting this selection, I said:

I’ve recently been in a discussion with Bryan in which he made the claim that anyone leaving “the Church that Christ founded” “has the burden of proof” to explain his reasons. What goes along with this, in his mind, is that any evidence that is derived from a “solo-Scriptura” hermeneutic is “question-begging”, and thus discussing it is not something he has to do.

I’m producing an archbishop, from his own communion, who is now disagreeing with his claims that the early church was somehow unified around “the bishop of Rome”. This archbishop, who was on the Vatican commission studying this very issue, thus disagrees with Bryan, [supposedly] from within Bryan’s own “interpretive paradigm”.

Bryan has a PhD in philosophy, and he loves to throw his weight around, telling everyone what’s wrong with their argument. Here, now, is an argument he understands — an argument from within his own authority — and he seems to be at a loss as to how to respond to it.

Bryan responded in the very next comment:

Nothing Archbishop Minnerath says in the first boldened section is incompatible with Catholic doctrine or a recognition of papal primacy, because what he is talking about there is the manner in which the primacy is exercised, namely, in a conciliar form that also reflects very clearly the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. The Church could, in principle, go back to that form of the exercise of the primacy [emphasis added]. See Adam DeVille’s Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy. The second boldened section is likewise fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, because Petrine theology was in fact elaborated more in the West than in the East. That’s not surprising. Given the Petrine office, where else would we expect it to be more elaborated. But that does not mean that the East never recognized papal primacy. Otherwise, the Ravenna document would be, for the Orthodox, a corruption, unfaithful to their patrimony. Metropolitan Ware recognizes that sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum (pastoral care of all the Churches) belongs to the pope by divine right. (see here.) But again, he is concerned about the manner in which that care is exercised. That’s in part what needs to be worked out in Catholic-Orthodox reunion. Finally, the last boldened statement in the quotation from Archbishop Minnerath is referring to the fact that Alexandria and Antioch were also Petrine Sees. There is a genuine sense in which those Sees also share Petrine authority. And the East has perhaps been more conscious of this than the West, although it is reflected already in the canons of Nicea, and if my memory is correct Pope Gregory the Great affirms it as well. But Archbishop Minnerath’s statement is not a claim that the Eastern Churches never recognized the primacy of the successor of St. Peter at Rome.

Note this phrase:

what he is talking about there is the manner in which the primacy is exercised, namely, in a conciliar form that also reflects very clearly the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. The Church could, in principle, go back to that form of the exercise of the primacy.

Roman Catholics now are distinguishing between “the Petrine ministry” and “the manner in which the primacy is exercised”.

Two things are important at this point. First, Bryan is fudging again, because an earlier selection of the Minnerath quote very much did emphasize that it was the theology of “the primacy”, and not merely “the exercise of it which the East never recognized.

Second, and more importantly, George Tavard has noted, “a major source of the current Catholic-Protestant dilemma on the matter [of “papal primacy”] is that Catholics have been used to regard[ing] as constant what is a variable. In opposition, Protestants have taken variations to be tokens of unauthenticity” (from the essay “What is the Petrine Function” in the work, Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Paul Empie, T. Austin Murphy, eds., “Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue”, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, ©1974 U.S.A National Committee, Lutheran World Federation and Bishops’ Committee for Ecumentical and Interreligious Affairs, pg 212).

By this I mean, the “exercise of the primacy” is, as Tavard said, “a variable” over time. Klaus Schatz (“Historical Considerations Concerning the Problem of the Primacy” in James. F. Puglisi, ed., “Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church”, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press ©1999) notes, the problem ofcontinuity or rupture arises whenever the primacy, in response to new historical challenges, takes on a new historical form.

“New historical forms” of the papacy
The new way of trying to explain away the historical fluctuations, manifested in, as he identifies it, five separate “historical fluctuations” which followed the period of the nonexistent early papacy:

1. “The first new epoch-making step… in the fourth and fifth centuries, the process … beginning with Damasus (366-386) and culminating with Leo the Great (440-461): the translation in juridical terms of the apostolic paradosis as ultimate reference for the communio of the church.” That is, when the Roman emperors were giving lots of money to bishops of Rome, the bishops of Rome were discovering that they could claim to be in charge of the whole ball of wax.

2. The conversion of the Germanic peoples in the seventh and eighth centuries, “that is, Rome as norm and guarantee of “correct” religious practice, not only in matters of faith, but also in liturgy and law…” (This led to the pornocracy of the ninth and tenth centuries).

3. “…from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, beginning with the Gregorian reform and culminating with the popes of the thirteenth century from Innocent III to Boniface VIII. (“This period marks also the definitive separation from the Oriental Church”. It is also the inquisition-loving medieval papacy that we have all grown to know and love.)

4. “The fourth step is taken against the background of the ecclesiastical splits and divisions from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century” in which “the pope is now the point of confessional identity or the criterion of the true church”. “Understandably, the magisterium and infallibility now take on an importance they did not have as yet…”

5. “The fifth step … supposes, as historical background, the French Revolution, Western liberalism, the separation f State and Church and the dissolution of the societas christiana culminating in the definitions of Vatican I… (from pgs 5-7).

Of course, there is that seventh step (again, Schatz does not include those first five centuries of “the nonexistent early papacy) is “the historical possibilities that the papacy comes to enjoy through modern means of transport and communication … “a ‘personalization’ of the primacy…”

And Schatz also defines “two positions that are not possible, because both are an immunization against history and cannot advance the ecumenical dialogue:

One would be a traditionalism that would deny a priori the legitimacy of the new steps and for which, if a primacy was ever recognized, it would have to be reduced to the dimensions of the first three centuries. The other would be the “Catholic” danger, that is, the equally aprioristic defense of the historical developments as being brought about under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We have to accept the possibility of developments that are against the Gospel, if not in the judgement of a whole era, which as a whole is always very vast, ambiguous, and heterogeneous, at least as regards particular aspects (pg 8).

He is talking very vaguely about the same kind of thing that Raymond Brown and Francis Sullivan (among others) have talked about, and that is, the notion that somehow, even though there was no monoepiscopacy in Rome through all of the first and most of the second centuries, and still further, no “juridical” “primacy” until Damasus and Leo “discovered” it in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, the Holy Spirit somehow “guided” the “development” of these things to be part of the “permanent structure” of the church.

Bryan said:

But Archbishop Minnerath’s statement is not a claim that the Eastern Churches never recognized the primacy of the successor of St. Peter at Rome.

My response:

DeVille’s is a work of wishful thinking. And you’d disagree with Ware on a thousand issues. As you are wont to say, any theologian can say anything, and none of it is binding. Neither of these has any authority among the Orthodox at any rate.

Of course nothing in Minnerath’s work “is incompatible with Catholic doctrine”. “Catholic doctrine” has cut itself free from any historical reality. But Minnerath is in an ecumenical discussion with people who will not permit him to be evasive as you are evasive, and thus, he must be honest with history.
So every time you cite “Catholic doctrine” on this, you are begging the question.

And contrary to what you say, Archbishop Minnerath’s statement is precisely a claim that the Eastern Churches never recognized the primacy of the successor of St. Peter at Rome.

In reality, the Roman “primacy” has been a travesty of history, inflicting great harm on the Christian church, in many different eras, in many different ways.

There is no way this notion of a “petrine ministry” is a focal point of unity in the church. We should resolve ourselves that this institution needs to be consigned to the ash heap of history, sooner rather than later.

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