Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Bergoglio’s Gig: De-centralize

Why did the Vatican remove the pope’s document?
Why did the Vatican remove the pope’s document? 
It used to be said that “all roads lead to Rome”. But it seems as if Bishop of Rome Bergoglio is working to turn that flow in the other direction. The Italian journalist Sandro Magister captures the key distinctives of the recent “Apostolic Exhortation” of “Pope Francis”, entitled “Evangelii Gaudium”, and that appears precisely to be this pope’s program.

According to Magister, these distinctives offer: “More autonomy for the national episcopal conferences. And more room for different cultures. The two points on which ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ most distinguishes itself from the magisterium of the previous popes”.

[By the way, some of you may have noticed that The original file has been removed from the Vatican website and replaced with the graphic nearby, leaving only the difficult-to-navigate .pdf file available. I don’t know why they did this, but fortunately, I have saved the original .html document and republished a .pdf version of it here. All the links seem to be intact.]

(JB note: Interestingly, the original article seems to have re-appeared. It would be interesting to compare the two versions to see what edits the Vatican made.)

Magister seems to have gotten to the heart of what Bergoglio is trying to accomplish.


On the role of the pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio credits John Paul II with having paved the way to a new form of the exercise of primacy. But he laments that “we have made little progress in this regard” and promises that he intends to proceed with greater vigor toward a form of papacy “more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.”

But more than on the role of the pope - where Francis remains vague and has so far operated by making most decisions himself - it is on the powers of the episcopal conferences that “Evangelii Gaudium” heralds a major transition.

The pope writes in paragraph 32 of the document:

“The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position ‘to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit.’ Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach” (emphasis added).

Here, it is very important to note that Christ intended no papacy. The papacy, neither biblical nor a part of the history of the church of the first three centuries is, in fact, simply an extension of idea that Jesus put down in a radical way: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” The papacy is the result of the cumulative efforts of fourth century Roman bishops to aggrandize themselves as widely as possible.

In addition, it is clear that Bergoglio is taking the position that is the opposite of that taken by his predecessors, especially Ratzinger. In this disagreement, Ratzinger held the position that:

In every particular Church “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active”. For this reason, “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”. It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporallyprior to every individual particular Church [emphasis in original].

It is clear that Bergoglio is taking the opposite position here. As I described it:

The problem with “Ratzinger’s formulation”, according to Kasper, is that “the ontological and temporal priority of the universal Church becomes completely problematic when by some secret unspoken assumption the Roman church is de facto identified with the pope and the curia”.

While acknowledging that the CDF [Ratzinger’s] formulation is a development of the Vatican II understanding, Kasper says it is “a reversal”. “What needs to be criticized, continues Kasper, is the response of the CDF to the ecclesiological threats, namely the declaration that the universal Church is ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular church. Kasper contends that the CDF identifies the una, sancta, catholica, et apostolic ecclesia [“one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”] with the universal Church in a way that excludes the particular churches” (231).

One might (and should remark here) that the characterization of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” with the church at Pentecost is itself an anachronism [with the word “catholic” not being applicable until Ignatius in 110 AD], but the Roman Catholic Church is nothing if not anachronistic at its very core.

This is a “Blueprint for Anarchy” at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church if ever there was one.

The second area that Magister has identified is closely related to the first:


As for the encounter between Christianity and cultures, Pope Francis has insisted a great deal, in paragraphs 115-118 of "Evangelii Gaudium," on the idea that "Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression," but ever since its origin "is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture."

In other words:

"Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it."

With this corollary:

"While it is true that some cultures have been closely associated with the preaching of the Gospel and the development of Christian thought, the revealed message is not identified with any of them; its content is transcultural."

In maintaining this, pope Bergoglio seems to be reaching out to those who hold that the proclamation of the Gospel has an original purity of its own apart from any cultural contamination. A purity that should be restored to it, freeing it mainly from its “Western” trappings of yesterday and today, allowing it to “inculturate” itself each time in new syntheses with other cultures (emphasis added).

Of course, the notion that “the proclamation of the Gospel has an original purity of its own apart from any cultural contamination” is not original with Bergoglio. One major embodiment of that notion occurred during the Reformation, for example. Rome rejected that one.

And on the other side of that issue, it seems clear to me that the “Western” trappings of yesterday, especially, became enshrined again in the fourth century as Roman pagan culture was enshrined in Roman liturgical practice. There’s a lot to that that hasn’t really been discussed recently, but it’s something that I think deserves a closer look.

No comments:

Post a Comment