Friday, February 15, 2013

Last among equals

I happen to think the pope's resignation could be an example of humility. He seems to have voluntarily stepped aside to make room for a successor because (among other reasons) he thinks to hang on as pope at this point would not be in his own best interests let alone the RCC's best interests. He doesn't think he's capable enough to lead the RCC any more. He doesn't think the RCC would do as well with him at its helm as it would with another. Or so it seems to me at this point.

At the same time, others better informed can of course correct me, but as far as I understand there is some tension or at least an unsettled dispute between the pope, the bishops, and councils (e.g. conciliarism) over who has the final authority in the RCC. For example, Win Corduan has documented a bit of this.

Now, the RCC has the doctrine of papal primacy in place. I take it Catholics see the papacy as central to the RCC since they believe Christ himself founded his church upon Peter.

However, if there is an unsettled dispute over final authority within the RCC, then, I wonder, why doesn't the pope step away from papal primacy? Instead of first among equals, why not adopt the attitude of last among equals? Isn't this the way of humility?

Or why not at least accept other bishops have equal authority to the pope, deferring to the judgment of all the bishops (including the bishop of Rome) on a matter? Generally speaking, aren't two brains better than one?

Why not let the bishops or councils have the final authority? Why insist on papal primacy? Why not step aside if the matter of final authority is in legitimate dispute? All things equal, isn't it better for a single man to decline authority and allow a group of (it would seem) equally qualified men (bishops, including himself) to exercise it?

Perhaps Catholics will counter all things aren't equal. Rather, to do so would conflict with the belief that Christ founded his church on Peter and gave the power to "bind and loose" to Peter. That it's hardly proud to abide by what Christ has instituted. After all, the pope is supposed to be the vicar of Christ.

But if there's an unsettled but legitimate dispute between the pope, the bishops, and councils over final authority in the RCC, then one might think there's room to consider the possibility that bishops or councils could have the final say-so for the RCC instead of the pope. Perhaps the interpretation of such passages may not be so clear cut. Further I would think other bishops could ask questions like, aren't all the apostles of Christ "vicars" of Christ? What makes the bishop of Rome so special as the vicar of Christ such that he is the sole vicar for the entire RCC whereas all the other bishops in apostolic succession are only bishops of their diocese?

But I'm obviously treading as gracefully as a bull in a china shop with respect to these matters. Not to mention coming across as woefully ignorant. However, I'm sure people like John Bugay, Matt Schultz, Jason Engwer, Steve Hays, etc. can weigh in far more knowledgeably than I ever could. So I'll stop now and defer to them if they or others wish to correct me or otherwise add their thoughts.


  1. Hey Patrick, I think it's a good idea, but it won't fly.

    Popes already call themselves "servants of the servants of God". And we know all the serving they do. Especially the medieval popes.

    I believe they would allow themselves to be called "dog biscuits" so long as it had no bearing upon their claim "I'm the boss of you" and "I'm the king of the world".

  2. It is interesting that they can call Councils (Trident, Vatican I, and II) to lend more legitmacy to some big change. If Christ speaks why do they need a Chorus of Amens?