Wednesday, October 25, 2017

“Rome”, “Roman”, and the source of “anti-Catholic bigotry”

Walls, Collins charged with anti-Catholic bigotry

Walls, Collins, and “Rome”

The charge has been raised that because Walls and Collins use the abbreviations “Rome” and “Roman” for “the Roman Catholic Church” (instead of simply calling it “the Catholic Church” all the time), that some kind of “anti-Catholic bigotry is behind it.

In titling their work “Roman but Not Catholic”, authors Ken Collins and Jerry Walls have staked out some property amidst two different and competing concepts, that are not altogether accepted (it seems) by Roman Catholics. I’ve already mentioned Turretin and his complaint that by claiming the title of “The Church”, he said, “[Roman Catholics] think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them …” by simply “hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church” (Turretin, “Institutes”, Vol 3. pgs 2-3).

This is how the Roman Catholic Church seeks to win arguments: by co-opting the meanings of words. And for sure, both of the words, “Roman” and “Catholic” (the latter also being available with a small “c”) have generated their fair share of contention. So defining them is going to be very important.

But it is possible to go too far. One Roman Catholic writer, largely without having read the book, it seems, has tried to slur it in Facebook discussions, by suggesting that some anti-Catholic bigotry has been behind it.

It is a fact that your use of "Rome" simply is part of the anti-Catholic legacy of American history. And you are doing it for a reason - the same reason that the Protestant KKK and Know-Nothings did it, and it has nothing to do with "reason" and everything to do with poisoning the well on a subrational basis. And you know it.

A “subrational basis”. This man is reading everyone’s minds. Since “anti-Catholic bigotry” has been brought up, it needs to be addressed.

“Anti-Catholic” is decidedly NOT what this work is about. If I have one complaint about this work, it is that the authors are far too forgiving of Rome.

The truth is, Roman Catholic Church, and Roman Catholicism in general, have for centuries operated in multiple spheres of influence. Historically, “the Church”, and the papacy in particular, has claimed global domination. Historical memories of its interactions with the Holy Roman Empire prior to 1000, and with various kings afterward, have associated its behavior with things political and not specifically religious.

Rome is not the center

Here is a spoiler alert: “Rome is not the center”. That’s the conclusion of the work. This is certainly contrary to certain ancient and modern conceptions of that notion. Even though it doesn’t officially call itself “the Roman Catholic Church”, there has been no question, throughout history and in a thoroughly dogmatic way, “Rome” is the center of the church, in the form of its government, and in the form of its spiritual leadership.

The notion first takes root in a passage supposedly from Irenaeus and supposedly dating from the second century, and much-used by Roman Catholic apologists. The website Orthodox Answers asks, and answers the question:

Did not St. Irenaeus teach that all churches must agree with the Roman Church?

At the time, Rome was the capital of the empire, and this status led to everything else: Rome was where the great martyrs came to die, and the natural place of authority. The Roman Church was larger, more diverse, wealthier and more generous. In their struggle against all sorts of heretics who claimed ‘secret apostolic traditions,’ the defenders of orthodoxy could always point to the Faith of the Roman Church as a sure authority. Both Peter and Paul had preached there and together, they had entrusted the leadership of the Church to trustworthy men. Moreover, Christians from other apostolic Churches often went to Rome for business and as a result, the Faith was informed by a constant exchange of information. Irenaeus expressed this idea in these much-debated words:

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we shall put to confusion all those who… assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the Apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the Faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should convene with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, because the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

This passage is controversial because we only possess a Latin translation and there is always suspicion of tampering. Scholars also debate the original meaning and underlying Greek for convenire: is it to ‘go to,’ to ‘resort to’ or to ‘agree with?’ Either way, it seems rather futile to either minimize or exaggerate the strength of this passage because Irenaeus’ intention is rather straightforward. He is affirming the importance of assured apostolic Tradition at a time when heretics were introducing new doctrines that were totally at odds with the Faith preserved and taught in the Churches of apostolic origin.

Historically, the quote is debatable in several ways. Paul certainly did not “found” nor “organize” the church at Rome. A reading of his letter to the Romans makes that clear. Nor is it clear that Peter “founded” the church at Rome – it is far more likely that churches existed in Rome very soon after Pentecost and long before Peter ever arrived there. Although, historically, it seems as if he may have been there for a few years. That in itself is not even clear.

The manuscript evidence behind this quote is even more telling. Eric Osborn, in his work on Irenaeus, notes that only Greek fragments exist (and Irenaeus wrote in Greek). What we know of “Against Heresies” derives from one bad Latin translation dated 380 – approximately the time when “Pope Damasus” was pope. Damasus is known for having attempted to rewrite Roman history in order to make it seem as if the church had played a bigger role than it did.

Nevertheless, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” (following other Roman and Catholic traditions) re-emphasizes this continuing central place for the Roman church – “The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it…. This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (ccc 816). Please note that “the successor of Peter” can be located nowhere but Rome.

This can mean nothing less than the center of the government of the church (the whole, small “c” church, in addition to what they call “The Church” or “The Catholic Church” or “The Roman Catholic Church” – there is no mistaking what they mean when they say “Church”) is in Rome. Where “all must be in communion” and where not being in such communion as they define it is to be somehow lacking in something, or “not participating in the fullness of the faith”.

Seeking to claim political leadership

This notion that “Rome is the center”, however, goes beyond the government of the entire church. It has, at many points in history, spilled out into the political realm.

Historically, Roman Catholicism (or, “The Catholic Church”, if you prefer) held an ongoing rivalry with emperors and kings in which their religious authority sought to subdue political authority. If the Bishops of Rome found themselves enriched by Constantine, it was the “Donation of Charlemagne” that really lined their coffers in the middle ages:

Charlemagne’s generosity re-endowed the papacy on a truly epic scale, an excellent return on all the anxious letters and supporting documentation with which Pope Hadrian had bombarded the king in the later 770s.

You can’t put a figure on the increase in papal income, but it was clearly colossal. Its scale is strikingly reflected in the collection of more or less contemporary papal biographies, the Liber Pontificalis>. Whereas their immediate predecessors such as Stephen II (752– 7) or Paul I (757– 67) were able to renovate respectively one of the great charitable hostels for pilgrims (xenodochia) and an admittedly major monastery, the new income allowed Hadrian I (772– 95) and Leo III (795– 816) to unleash an extraordinary wave of renovation, building and gift-giving aimed equally at the secular and religious infrastructures of the city.

Hadrian I, to judge by his investments, had a strong eye for urban planning. He is recorded as dropping a cool one hundred pounds weight of gold on a major restoration of the city’s defences. He also put three of the city’s ancient aqueducts – the Sabbatina, Virgo and Claudian – back into full working order, and commissioned a major restoration of the riverbank and porticos in front of St Peter’s.

Quite a set of achievements, but [it is] only a small selection from the record, which also included a grand new set of bronze doors for the main entrance to St Peter’s. The biography of Leo III, on the other hand, is more or less completely taken over by the list of his donations, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Some of the omissions are deliberate.

There is no mention in the Liber Pontificalis that he prostrated himself in front of Charlemagne after crowning him, or of the second rebellion against his authority on the part of some of the Roman nobility in 813. But some less charged events of importance, such as his second journey to Francia, also pass unmentioned.

Instead, the biography largely consists of gifts made by Leo III to the various religious institutions of the city. In particular, under the year 807 the author inserted an unadorned list of donations, which begins:

The Saviour our Lord’s Church called Constantinian, fine silver crown, 23 lb
God’s holy mother’s basilica ad praesepe, pure silver crown, 13 lb 3 oz
Her Church in Callistus’ titulus, silver crown, 13 lb 3 oz
Her deaconry called Antiqua, silver crown, 13 lb
Her Church called ad martyres, silver crown, 12 lb 3 oz
Her deaconry called Cosmedin, silver crown, 12 lb

It goes on to record, altogether, a total of one hundred and nineteen gifts of silver to different religious institutions around the city, and it has been calculated that the total comes to about a thousand pounds weight of precious metal gifts made in Leo’s time. In later eighth- and early ninth-century Rome, the donation of Charlemagne was far more important than the Donation of Constantine and provided the means for a complete revamping of the Holy City in everything from its water supply to the splendour of its churches (Heather, Peter. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders (pp. 330-332). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition).

Popes did not want to be seen as bowing to emperors, and over time, this sentiment increased. In 1077, a dispute between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII (“Hildebrand”) led to an altogether humiliating experience for the young emperor (and “his wife and infant son”):

On January 25, 1077, with a blizzard raging, Henry arrived at the gates of Canossa. Here is Gregory’s own account, written just weeks after, of what happened:

Finally he came in person to Canossa, where we were staying, bringing with him only a small retinue and manifesting no hostile intentions. Once arrived, he presented himself at the gate of the castle, barefoot and clad only in wretched woollen garments, beseeching us with tears to grant him absolution and forgiveness. This he continued to do for three days, until all those about us were moved to compassion at his plight and interceded for him with tears and prayers. Indeed, they marvelled at our hardness of heart, some even complaining that our action savored rather of heartless tyranny than of chastening severity. At length his persistent declarations of repentance and the supplications of all who were there with us overcame our reluctance, and we removed the excommunication from him and received him again into the bosom of the holy mother church.

Lampert of Hersfeld’s version is very similar:

His whole entourage was left outside and he himself, laying aside his royal garb, with nothing in his appearance, with no display on splendour, with bare feet, he remained fasting from morning to evening, waiting for the judgment of the Roman pontiff. He did this on the second day and on the third day. At last on the fourth day he was allowed to come into the pope’s presence and after many arguments and counter-arguments he was finally absolved from excommunication…

This political impetus reigned among the popes – the Bishops of Rome – for centuries, culiminating in one of the most famous papal statements in history, that of Unam Sanctam (which, it is claimed, refers to a political dispute between Pope Boniface VIII and Philip the Fair, the king of France), which closes with this statement:

we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

This was the attitude that reigned among the popes throughout the middle ages. Perhaps it is this “subrational basis” that Peter Sean Bradley has in mind.

Beyond Political: “Religious Anti-Judaism”

The Roman Bishops did not simply claim “political supremacy” over secular rulers. They used this “political supremacy” to effect sentiments that lasted well in to the 19th and 20th centuries, to horrific consequences. In a 1998 document, the Vatican issued a document entitled, “ We Remember: A Reflection On The Shoah.” Ostensibly, the document was issued with the hope “that the document [...] will help to heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices”.

However, the document goes to great lengths to make distinctions between “religious anti-Judaism” that was practiced very much throughout church history (prior to the Reformation, one must add, at a conciliar and even papal level, one must add), and the “racial anti-Semitism” that was engendered in Adolph Hitler’s Final Solution. It was a final solution because other “solutions” perhaps had tried and failed. This is how the Vatican report puts it:

Thus we cannot ignore the difference which exists between anti-Semitism, based on theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church on the unity of the human race and on the equal dignity of all races and peoples, and the long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility that we call anti-Judaism, of which, unfortunately, Christians also have been guilty.

This “religious anti-Judaism” became embodied in the dogmas of “the Catholic Church” at the Fourth Lateran Council (which was known as “a great summary” of the thinking of “Pope Innocent III”, who, himself was one of the “greatest” popes of the middle ages):

In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress.

In some quarters, it is fashionable to bring up the notion that in his later years, Martin Luther became quite caustic toward the Jews. But such attitudes, and even church laws, long predated Luther in this.

“A deeply ecumenical book that will serve the cause of Christian unity”

It was certainly not the authors’ purpose to point any of this out. Nor to draw upon it in any way. Chapter 1 of “Roman but Not Catholic”, this written by Jerry Walls, begins with this text:

Despite what our title may suggest, we intend this to be a deeply ecumenical book that will ultimately serve the cause of Christian unity. True ecumenism requires forthright and respectful acknowledgment of differences, but even more important, it proceeds from a hearty recognition and appreciation of the more important common ground we share by virtue of our common commitment to classic creedal Christianity. While this book is concerned primarily with exploring honest differences, we never want to lose sight of that common ground. So although this will be the shortest chapter in the book, it is only so because there is no need to belabor points where we agree. Still, we want not only to recognize but also to celebrate the profound fellowship that unites all persons whose hearts and minds have been captured by the incomparably beautiful truth definitively revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In a section that Ken Collins wrote in the Introduction bears this out: the use of the words “Rome” and “Roman” is simply shorthand for writing out “Roman Catholic Church” or merely “RCC” all the time:

The unfortunate reality, substantiated throughout the pages of church history, is that the ancient ecumenical church broke up into distinct theological traditions. We fully and unabashedly recognize this historical truth. Therefore, we most often refer to the Roman Catholic Church (instead of simply the Catholic Church) in order to avoid the confusing wordplay that does not fully acknowledge the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy, much less that of other equally Christian theological traditions such as those that make up Protestantism. Moreover, for the sake of style and also to avoid tedium, we employ the term “Rome” to refer to the Roman Catholic Church (instead of repeating RCC), recognizing, of course, that this particular tradition is in no way limited to Europe but is a global communion of faith.

A 21st Century Source for “anti-Catholic bigotry”

Perhaps when he is speaking of “anti-Catholic bigotry”, Peter Sean Bradley has in mind the a different kind of “bigotry” – found in some of the things that Philip Jenkins wrote about in his “The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice”

Since the 1950s, changing cultural sensibilities have made it ever more difficult to recite once-familiar American stereotypes about the great majority of ethnic or religious groups, while issues of gender and sexual orientation are also treated with great sensitivity. At least in public discourse, a general sensitivity is required, so that a statement that could be regarded as misogynistic, anti-Semitic, or homophobic would haunt a speaker for years, and could conceivably destroy a public career. Yet there is one massive exception to this rule, namely, that it is still possible to make quite remarkably hostile or vituperative public statements about one major religious tradition, namely, Roman Catholicism, and those comments will do no harm to the speaker’s reputation. No one expects that outrageous statements or acts should receive any significant response, that (for example) performances of Kushner’s Angels in America should be picketed (Jenkins, Philip. The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (Kindle Locations 125-132). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition).

Jenkins's list of chapter titles give a clear view of where the various "prejudices" come from, and what they are associated with:

The Catholic Menace
Catholics and Liberals
The Church Hates Women
The Church Kills Gays
The Pedophile Priest Crisis
Catholics in the News Media
Catholics in Movies and Television

Not one of these “prejudices” addresses Roman Catholicism in its religious sphere, and in fact, they seem to have little truck from the political realm that I’ve discussed above, either; each one of them addresses it from frequently different constituencies -- in many instances, from constituencies where evangelicals share common political goals with Roman Catholics.

Further to that, however, while some of the early Protestant churches may have sought the help of governmental protection in some instances (as Luther asked for the help of German princes), no Lutherans or Methodists or Presbyterians or Pentecostals today are seeking to employ governments to ban Roman Catholicism.

In the recent dispute over the Obama administration mandate to requiring Catholic organizations to purchase health insurance that covered contraception, it was a particular Roman Catholic sensitivity that ran into a particular liberal sensitivity (“women’s reproductive rights”), and it was evangelicals who stood alongside Roman Catholic institutions to oppose the Obama administration’s mandate.

* * *
The use of “Rome” and “Roman” to describe those things that uniquely are “developments” of “the Catholic Church” is a totally legitimate means of avoiding repetition in a very long text. Meanwhile, Peter Sean Bradley ought to look elsewhere if he’s going to call someone an “anti-Catholic bigot”.

The bottom line is that “the Catholic Church” clearly, identifiably, and by its own understanding, has “Roman” roots, and the “anti-Catholic bigotry” that Peter Sean Bradley is trying to identify comes from sources that he’s not considering.

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