John XXIII, the Old Catholic Pope?

johnxxiiiMy attention was drawn to this article on an ultra-traditionalist website. Naturally, the ultra-traditionalists, sedevacantists or whatever, intend to express the idea that Vatican II was set up against the reactionary position of Pius IX and the definitions of Vatican I. Therefore Vatican II was set up to break with the “hermeneutic” of tradition and continuity.

I read this article differently. If the facts reported in the article are true, John XXIII aligned himself with the Vatican I minority who were either “inopportunists” or became Old Catholics. From thence comes the provocative title of this posting. My own definition of Old Catholicism would be something like Catholicism without any pretension to absolute authority of a single Bishop, doctrinal infallibility or claim to temporal authority over secular leaders – and with an ecclesiology of a kind that would be compatible with dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy.

The central thesis of this article is that Vatican II was convened explicitly against Vatican I. Afterwards, Paul VI tried to moderate the “rupture” by appending notes (nota praevia) to the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium to save the Papal prerogatives in matters of dogmatic teaching and governance of the Church. It’s an interesting hypothesis.

The questions of particular interest to the author of the article are the temporal authority of the Pope, a remainder of the old medieval Papacy of characters like Boniface VIII and others, and upheld by Pius IX in the nineteenth century. John XXIII introduced an opposition to the old militant and triumphalist spirit to affirm the Church as mater et magister, mother and teacher.

One of the common policies of the Vatican after 1975 – when a strong reaction against the Council became public and accelerated – has been to try to link Vatican II to Vatican I in order to give legitimacy to the former. It was for this reason that John Paul II beatified John XXIII together with Pius IX. This is also why we sometimes see the Vatican adopting “conservative” measures. And it is for this same reason that Benedict XVI is now insisting on the “ hermeneutics of continuity.” The goal of all these initiatives is to pretend the Council was not what it really was: a planned revolution in the Catholic Church that intended to destroy her and replace her with another completely different Church.

Of course that is how the traditionalists see it, but they don’t seem to be factually wrong in the light of the evidence they produce. The difference is that I see it from another point of view, Old Catholic. In a way Paul VI and his successors up to John Paul II represented an attempt to recover the continuity with the Piuspäpst Church against the original intentions of Pope John. Benedict XVI, to an extent, seems to mirror John XXIII in this episode of history from 1963 to 2005. But, let us not speculate any further about whether Benedict XVI is more in line with John XXIII or Paul VI…

The article continues by discussing the issue of Ostpolitik, which with John XXIII only reflected the policy of Pius XII in relation to the Nazis – keep quiet so as not to provoke a worse persecution of the Church by condemning the power in place as Pius V had done with Elizabeth I in 1570. That is another question.

Read the article, and I would be interested if readers can dispute the factual basis of the traditionalist article or offer a basis for constructive progress in this reflection.

* * *

Here are a couple of earlier articles of mine on Old Catholicism:

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32 Responses to John XXIII, the Old Catholic Pope?

  1. Stephen K says:

    It was interesting reading the extracts in the article. However we have to be careful of anachronisms. At any given point of time any intentions one has are necessarily limited by counter-intentions and the fact that nothing ever goes according to plan because every reaction demands a new and uncalculated counter-reaction or response. The views of the various participants at Vatican II would have evolved over the four years and afterwards, hardening or otherwise. Certainly, the personalities and persuasions of the first two Popes were extremely influential on the way Vatican II articulated itself during and after its sessions and each of Paul VI through to Benedict XVI have influenced how it has been viewed and interpreted. But the author of the article is effectively attributing to what is a complex, evolving history and institution a very simplistic “white hat-black hat” paradigm common to apocalyptists who are found frequently amongst Roman traditionalists. The author presents as “facts” words and writings by different individuals: and my comment is “so what?”. So this is what they thought or said at particular points in time. As if the whole deroulement of events hinges solely or so deliberately from such things!

    Dom Cuthbert Butler’s book on the history of Vatican I reveals a Council whose deliberations were marked less by the Holy Spirit than by political fear and wheeling-and-dealing in an atmosphere of ultramontane haste as war loomed: hardly the environment for careful deliberation!

    I think the truth is much less sinister: I think that the bishops at Vatican II all brought varying degrees of theological and pastoral competence and values and the synergies created through discussion and personal interactions moved and stimulated and shaped the language of the decrees. I think few had any idea that organisational turmoil would result. Few then, as now, really allow themselves or are able to contemplate what real aggiornamento might mean or look like: the dismantling of the author’s darling Constantine settlement and the voluntary abdication of the pomp and assertions of imperial ecclesiasticism. The rupture which ensued could hardly be said to have come from the bishops, but from the people as a whole, a reality which many traditionalists cannot acknowledge except in terms of characterising their disaffection as Satanic or self-centred disobedience to a divine ordinance.

    I also think that we are all, the author and Benedict XVI alike, the products of our own time. No-one quite thinks like Pius IX anymore as he himself did “in his own time”. Those who imagine they think like him – like the author of the article – actually think as Pio Nono Revivalists, which is an entirely different thing.

    • I indeed remember what my old church history professor said about avoiding anachronism or judging the past with the standards of our own time. One thing I find with the traditionalists, or the progressives for that matter, or in anyone who places ideology over rational thought and empathy for others, is that they do not have a sense of history.

  2. Michael Frost says:

    I think we may have an issue with a key definition, what is “Old Catholicism”? If the definition is…”My own definition…Catholicism without any pretension to absolute authority of a single Bishop, doctrinal infallibility or claim to temporal authority over secular leaders – and with an ecclesiology of a kind that would be compatible with dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy”, then I don’t think we’re really talking about Catholicism after about Pope Nicholas the Great or possibly even Pope Gregory the Great. This wouldn’t be the RC Church of the medieval, scholastic or Reformation periods, nor of Trent and the Counter Reformation. The temporal political power of the papacy alone in these periods is inconceivable today. And the East (desperate to save Empire) rejected the reunion “councils” of the 13th-15th centuries.

    The above definition would be more the Church of Rome before even Leo the Great? So we’re back to about the year 425? But the 19th Century Old Catholics and, to a slightly lesser degree, High Church/Oxford Movement Anglo-Catholics didn’t appear to be looking at “The Church” as it existed pre-schism and prior to the rise of the papacy. They seem more inclined to tinker with the post-Trent Church and its theology and practice vis-a-vis the major confessional Protestants (esp. Lutheran and Reformed).

    Father Chadwick’s definition would lead me to argue that this form of Old Catholicism is really that of Sts. John Cassian (the father of Western Monasticism who spent his formative years in the East), Vincent of Lerins (who based doctrine on the continuous reception of same from the past), and then, just slightly later in the 5th Century, Faustus of Riez (who tries to cement a pre-Augustinian understanding of dogma). All three are considered semi-Augustinians, and the influence of Augustine on the RC Church, its dogma and its papacy, ends up being a radical change from what the West had held and what it and the East had held.

    • The problem is having to apply retro-futurism (as in Invisible Empire and all that). My dream would be that of some of the Anglicans in the 19th century, recreate medieval Catholicism to some extent but without the nasty bits like the Inquisition, Boniface VIII, etc. We do have to remember that there never was a golden age, and that we can only be selective in choosing our favourite dishes from the menu.

      It is a real mind-twister, and no doubt the kind of thing that led men like Guénon, Frithjof Schuon and Julius Evola to abandon Christianity as something intrinsically unworkable for Sufism or Nordic paganism.

      I still believe we can save Christianity, but only through a creative use of retro-futurism.

  3. Michael Frost says:

    I think Fr. Chadwick’s definition might fit best with the description of the Western Church during the century era of the first 3 Ecumenical Councils. A much simpler, quieter, younger Church, one watching its older, more mature, and more disputatious brother. The Councils and the secular politics were dominated by the East. Theology is “Greek” and Eastern doctors like Basil, the 2 Gregories, and Athanasius are masters of the field. The Emperor and Empire allow the West to avoid most political issues. Even the “heretics” like Arius and Nestorius are Greek/Eastern (though the Donatists will spark some things). The Western Church is still using the Old Latin Bible (pre-Jerome) . Then Jerome, Augustine, and Leo…forever change the West.

  4. Evagrius says:

    “Of course that is how the traditionalists see it, but they don’t seem to be factually wrong in the light of the evidence they produce. ”

    But then, that’s the trick, isn’t it? Produce a certain amount of evidence, skew it, suppress other evidence, charge the whole thing with a heavy rhetorical slant, and hey, presto, you’ve got a tradgic polemic ready for the presses (leave your critical faculties at the door; using them is a sign of modernism).

  5. William Tighe says:

    Not to abuse the hospitality of Fr. Chadwick, I need not say anything more than that I regard “Northern Catholicism” as a kind of imaginary Catholicism, without any real concrete historical existence (cf. the Vincentian Canon, and cf. the articles which the Anglican Benedictine Dom Gregory Dix published in *Laudate* [the quarterly publication of Nashdom Abbey] in 1933, “Nordic Spirituality,” and “Northern Catholicsm,” both of them book reviews of *Northern Catholicism* [a book of essays commemorating the centennary of the Oxford Movement] ed. N. P. Williams); it is as though St. Vincent’s warchwords “ubique … semper … ab omnibus” were somehow to become “nusque … numquam … ab nullis.”

    What I would like to do, for those interested, is to draw readers’ attention to two articles by Walter Ullmann, the great scholar of medieval Canon Law, medieval Political Theory, and (especially) the medieval papacy (viewed particularly from the perspective of law and “ideology”). They are “Leo I and the Theme of Papal Primacy” and “The Significance of the ‘Epistola Clementis’ in the Pseudo-Clementines.” Both were published in the same volume of The Journal of Theological Studies* – Vol. XI (new series), 1960, the former on pp. 25-51, the latter on pp. 295-317. The former article expounds upon the manner in which Leo “clothed” claims which the Roman See had been advancing for itself for at least well over a century before his pontificate in the garment of Roman Law, and particularly the law of inheritance, and in doing so produced full-fledged, if still “in the womb” the whole juristic foundations of medieval “papalism,” up to, and including, the idea of the papal “plenitudo potestatis,” while the second article explores obscure 3rd and even 2nd century ideas of the Bishop of Rome as Peter’s (unique) heir, and the nature of the connexion between St Peter and Linus, Cletus and, most especially, Clement.

    Thus, in my view, if we are to speak of an Old (Western) Catholicism in terms of “Catholicism without any pretension to absolute authority of a single Bishop, doctrinal infallibility or claim to temporal authority over secular leaders – and with an ecclesiology of a kind that would be compatible with dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy” we will look in vain for anything of the sort, at least after the clash between Pope Victor and the Asians in the 180s — and before that time, since we have little evidence of any sort, we all can find almost whatever we wish there, or at least imagine it to be there. Readers might at this point wish to consult the erudite *The Church and the Papacy* (1944) by the Anglican scholar Trevor Gervase Jalland (quondam Vicar of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, a position more recently graced by Fr. John Hunwicke), an Anglo-Catholic but not an Anglo-Papalist, but nevertheless a scholar demonstrating an almost unbounded admiration for the 4th and 5th century papacy; certainly, no reader of Jalland will find there any suggestion or hint that there ever was any such “Old Western Catholicism” that somehow subsequently migrated to more northerly latitudes, and emerged, in not obviously compatible ways, in conciliarism, high-church Anglicanism, Gallicanism and (especially) Ultrajectine Old Catholicism and its offspring, both legitimate and illegitimate.

    • Good points here, William, by reductio ad absurdam. The conclusion I draw out of this is that Christianity can perpetuate itself not only through organic continuity and “legitimacy” – which may seem intellectually satisfying but not in pastoral terms – but also by human invention. If we relied on the so-called mainstream structure of Roman Catholicism or the ancient Patriarchates, the Church would not be accessible for most people.

      It needs a lot more thought together with my discovery of retro-futurism in a content of post-modern culture. The absolute papal model of the Church requires a civil authority and police to enforce it – and this is why some traditionalist groups latch on to the likes of Franco, Pinochet and many other dictators in South America who would have you shot for sneezing! I am deeply dissatisfied by the constantly recurring theme of “convert to the RC / Orthodox Church or die”.

      We either have to find a new way for Christianity or abandon Christianity. If we abandon Christianity, then we have to find something else. Ideas?

      • Michael Frost says:

        In light of the 20,000 plus Christian religious denominations & religious groups worldwide, a veritable explosion over the past century or so, I think the world has “found new ways for Christianity”, which is one reason for the growth in the developing south. The dramatic rise of Pentecostals worldwide over the past 100 years has been amazing. Just look what is transpiring in the Americas. Rise of evangelicals. Megachurches. Prosperity gospel. Hispanics leaving RC Church. Emergent church. Hipster church. Church for every group–homosexuals, goths, barely churched, etc. We’ve got churches in strip malls, movie theatres, houses, etc. Open the phone book in any decently sized city in USA and the plethora of options under Christianity is astounding.

        I suspect many of us here aren’t big fans of many (most?) of these new expressions? Myself included. For example, count me out for the prosperity gospel group that means on Sundays in the local 16 Megaplex movie theatre and advertises “come as you are”, pimping donuts & expresso, comfy highback reclining chairs, and whose worship is mostly just praise singing of trendy Christian rock songs.

        So I wonder if your (our) concern is really more, can we find a new/better way for traditional or historic Christianity? One that maintains close ties to its past and its traditions. And one that is willing to continue its deep engagement with logic and reason (learning) along with faith. And one that is more willing to get along and work together with its close brothers?

      • Western Orthodoxy is not available in Europe.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Father, I was specifically commenting on your comment: “We either have to find a new way for Christianity or abandon Christianity.” There has been a whole lot of “new ways for Christianity” around the globe over the past 100 years. Thought I saw some figures claiming Charismatics & Pentacostals are now around 300,000,000-400,000,000 (in all their forms and denominations and subgroupings within denominations) just in a century! This is one of the largest and quickest “changes” in Christian history. Key is whether it will be around in say another 400 or 1,400 years…

      Keeping in mind that while I may be Western Orthodox, the nearest Western Rite Church is 2 hours away so I worship (but don’t commune) at the local continuing Anglican ACA/TAC Church…As for Europe and more traditional, historic forms of worship, while there may not be an officially sanctioned Western Rite of the Eastern Church (as there is in USA), there are lots of forms of western orthodoxy. Everything from tradionalist RCs (both canonical and otherwise), Old Catholics, High Church Anglicans, High Church Lutherans, etc. And some movements back into Europe (e.g., PNCC). I would think that if a European looked carefully and closely, he’d be able to find something that approximates western orthodoxy in general. Whether he could take communion there or be a full member, that is a different question/issue.

      • there are lots of forms of western orthodoxy

        Indeed, a whole new ball game, as you are talking of Europe. In canonical Orthodoxy, only ROCOR has something in England with a couple of priests, and the attempt to set up something with a western rite with the Antiochians failed back in 1994. For you, are the traditionalist RC’s, Continuing Anglicans, Nordic Catholic Church, etc. Orthodox in your eyes? If so, Orthodoxy is an ideal, not an institution. Why don’t you write a whole article on the subject?

      • Michael Frost says:

        You’ll notice I tried to be careful with my capitalization when it comes to “o” and “O”, and mentioned that I don’t commune outside of my “O”. But I approach the ecumenical question/issue/state of being from both an historical and a practical approach. And I’d like to think I look at it from a range of sources, old and new. I think the practical approach (worshipping with others when I couldn’t with my own “O”) has served me well. When I was in USAF I didn’t have an Orthodox priest at Clark AB, Republic of the Philippines. So I worshipped for 6 months with a High Church Lutheran pastor (whom I have no trouble also calling a priest). I came to have the highest respect for their worship and their confessional theology. I studied Luther, Melanchthon, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, and the Formula of Concord. And even today I have no issue worshipping with my continuing Anglican brothers and sisters. Over the decades (on and off) they’ve opened my eyes to Archbishop Laud, the Non-jurors, the Oxford Movement, etc. Same for PNCC, which led me to study Dollinger and the Old Catholics. I only wish some day I could find a High Church Methodist congregation; I find John Wesley to be so very orthodox on so many things and a needed corrective for RCs, EOs, and Prots.

        In an ecumenical mind and as regards your recent comments about monasticism, I’d recommend that every Christian read the Conferences and Institutes of St. John Cassian, the founder of Western Monasticism. He drank deeply from the East before transplanting what he learned in Gaul. St. Benedict used him to create his Rule. I think people like Melanchthon and Wesley also did same about the Greek East.

  6. William Tighe says:

    “and before that time, since we have little evidence of any sort, we all can find almost whatever we wish there, or at least imagine it to be there”

    This calls to mind an autobiographical reflection, which readers may find interesting, or at least amusing. In 1979 I attended the “Canterbury Lecture” at the Greek Orthodox cathedral in London; that year’s lecturer was the then Fr. Kallistos (Ware). At one point in the lecture he discussed differing ideas of bishops as “successors of the apostles” in the Greek East and the Latin West: for the former, his view was, bishops “replaced” the apostles (insofar as they could be replaced) after the death of the apostles, but “bishops” and “apostles” were wholly different things; for the latter, bishops WERE apostles (but without the miraculous special gifts accorded to the 12 and St. Paul). His principal piece of evidence was how St. Irenaeus, following Hegesippus, supposedly regarded Pope Hyginus (pope ca. 136 – ca. 142) as the EIGHTH Bishop of Rome (which would make Linus, not St. Peter, the first bishop) whereas the Latin tradition came to number him as Rome’s NINTH bishop (thus making St. Peter the first “pope”). I had been doing some reading on the early Roman succession lists beforehand, and the manuscript tradition of St. Irenaeus’ *Against the Heresies* actually appears to indicate that when Irenaeus was quoting or paraphrasing Hegesippus the Roman bishops were numbered in such a way as would make Linus the first of them, but when he was referring to them “on his own” (so to speak) he numbered them in such a way as to make St. Peter the first Bishop of Rome (the early published versions of St. Irenaeus’ work unfortunately relied on a manuscript – the Ms. Passerat — in which a 16th-Century hand had systematically altered the adjective “nonum,” referring to Pope Hyginus, to “octavum” wherever the former word appeared). I brought this to Fr. Kallistos’ attention in my letter, to which I never rec’d a written reply, but when I next had occasion to speak with him, some two years later, he remembered my letter, remembered it as “an interesting letter,” and then as “an interesting letter to which I did not reply,” and then concluded that if I was correct in what I had written about the subject it was evidence of “how early the West began to lose sight of the Patristic view of the matter.”

    • Michael Frost says:

      From our modern/post-modern perspective, if only those ancients would’ve keep more and better and more reliable records created by authoritative sources of impeccable credentials definitively establishing exactly who did what, when, where, how, and why! But gives us something to discuss, ponder, argue, and fret over today? 🙂

      When looking at apostolic succession and the formation of sees, esp. as regards St. Peter, things can get quite…interesting. I do hope then Fr. Kallistos pointed out that St. Peter is the founder of the See of Antioch and did so before going to Rome? [From Wikipedia, just because I could grap it quickly & it isn’t denominational: “It was in the city of Antioch that Christians were first so called (Acts 11:26). According to church tradition, Saint Peter established the church in Antioch, and was the city’s first bishop, before going to Rome to found the Church there. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the Pope in Rome is the definitive successor of Peter, and not the patriarch of Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c.107), counted as the third bishop of the city, was a prominent apostolic father.”]

      Is interesting how a Church’s “tradition” usually ends up supporting that Church’s position on something important? Goes for RCs, EOs, and Prots. Guess that is how it is supposed to “work”?

      • William Tighe says:

        Well, my own view is that St. Peter’s sojourn in Antioch was subsequent to his first visit to Rome in ca. 43 AD — cf.: this wonderful book, which can be read online here:

        and, in any case, there is absolutely no evidence either way.

      • William Tighe says:

        I should have added, that Edmundson (1848-1930) was an amazing Anglican clergyman polymath (of not particularly Anglo-Catholic proclivities) who wrote books about Dutch History, the exploration of the Amazon River, the poet John Milton, among other subjects; the linked book was delivered as the Bampton Lectures in 1913. I first came across a reference to that book in JAT Robinson’s *Redating the New Testament* when I read the latter shortly after its publication in 1977 (Robinson praises Edmundson’s book repeatedly, and notes that it is virtually the only modern published Bampton Lectures to have disappeared almost without a trace — Robinson was aable to find only two brief contemporary reviews of the book — immediately upon publication), and when I had the opportunity to converse with Robinson in 1982 (a year or so before his death) he urged me in the strongest terms to get the book (which I had already perused in the Cambridge University Library) which finally I managed to do in 1985. (That was before the slew of “published on-demand” paperback editions of the book currently available online.)

        My own interest in the book relates to my interest in the anonymous “Epistle of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church” (sometimes called “the first Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians”), which is generally dated to ca. 96 AD (because it is thought to date shortly after the “persecution” [if it was a persecution] that the Emperor Domitian is thought to have launched against the church in 94 AD, but before Domitian’s assassination in September of 96 AD), but which Edmundson believes (and he convinced Robinson, and convinces me) was written sometime between the sacking of Rome in December 69 AD (the climactic act of the civil wars of “the year of the three emperors”) and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in September 70 AD. Edmundson has some interesting (and to some extent evidence-based) ideas about the identity of “Clement the bishop” (whom he accepts as author of the letter) — ideas which mesh, to a certain extent, with those of Walter Ullmann in those articles of his to which I referred earlier on this thread.

      • Evagrius says:

        “I do hope then Fr. Kallistos pointed out that St. Peter is the founder of the See of Antioch and did so before going to Rome?”

        Not necessarily. There is good reason to suggest that Cephas and Peter were different men – Cephas one of the Seventy, who went to Antioch and the Council of Jerusalem, and Peter the Apostle, who went to Rome. B. D. Ehrman has written an article on the subject.

        For myself, I find it impossible to read Mt 16:16-19 in any interpretation other than the traditionally Papal, given the passage’s clear links with Is 22:15-22 and Rev 3:7-8.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Evagrius… Love the screen name; I think of the esoteric philosopher Evagrius Ponticus (who wrote some pretty…interesting…things). Like I said, Churches tend to interpret tradition and things related to it in ways that are congruent with their own position. I’d note how strongly Rome and RCs have to react to the issue of Peter being bishop in Antioch first, because it doesn’t fit their narrative. And as I said, too bad the “data” isn’t as clear as us moderns would prefer. [Relying on Isaiah 22:15-22 and Rev. 3:7-8 in support of papal infallibility and supremacy would be an RC argument, and, from my tradition, one based on rather tangential thoughts when other clearer, stronger evidence seems much more direct and to the immediate point (e.g., Acts 15, esp 15: 6-21–It is James, not Peter, who “judges”, at the Council). But that agrees with my Church’s tradition and interpretation. And the RC position wasn’t the interpretation of the Apostolic Church, the Patristic Church, the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, or at any time the Church was undivided in her history. As dogma, not even made official until 1870 by a truncated RCC, with EOs and Prots outside. Like I said, our traditions disagree.]

      • Michael Frost says:

        Evagrius, When you write, “For myself, I find it impossible to read…in any interpretation other than the traditionally Papal, given the passage’s clear links….”, I believe it points out how we tend most very strongly to interpret things in accordance with our background, preferences and biases. The tradition becomes what we want it to be because that is the way it needs to be for us. The tradition can also unbecome what we need it to to unbecome because now that is the way we need it to be. And that isn’t limited to RCs or EOs.

        I’m reading Manschreck’s 1958 bio of Melanchton (“M-The Quiet Reformer”). Of all the ways he could’ve started his work, he chose to begin with the first days after Philip arrives in Wittenberg, August 1518. Biographer discusses how Philip “visited the Schlosskirche, with its thousands of special, holy relics, displayed in fabulous gold and sivler casements–17,443 relics which could help a person reduce his future stay in purgatory by as much as two million years.” The footnote gives the precise number from one source as 1,902,202 years and 270 days. Biographer, of course, points out how much money these relics made off of pilgrims (“the electors of Saxony collected large sum of money from curions and pious pilgrims”) and has a long paragraph giving details of some of the most famous (“The thorn that brought blood to the brow of Jesus”, “a piece of the cloak of John the Baptist”, “some of the milk of the Virgin Mary’s breast”, “four strands of Our Lady’s hair”, “a tear that Jesus shed at Lazarus’ tomb”, and many more.

        But given Melanchthon’s place in The Reformation, I doubt the biographer could’ve seriously considered any other way to introduce his subject. It just seems to fit the needed narrative. It captures the essence of much of the Lutheran critique of then then moribund RC Church, where the piety of the laity was almost entirely focused on doing works to get into purgatory (to escape hell) and then rely on others and the Church to do works for you to get out of purgatory (to get into heaven). Here a tradition is used to tell a story that will then surround the subject’s life. [See also Duffy’s masterpiece on the English Reformation, The Stripping of the Altars, which goes into great detail how the theology of indulgences and purgatory were at the heart of the laity.]

        But interestingly, the modern RC Church has all but whitewashed all of this from its modern theology, history and activity. And it doesn’t like to talk about the abuses of the past in these areas. It’s as if purgatory, indulgences, and relics had disappeared into the ether (though one sees things remainin in the RC CCC). Here an old tradition is undone in order not to confuse the new, different story. In my adult life I can only remember one instance where an RC preacher preached clearly and unambiguously about indulgences and the super-treasury of merit, John Corapi; does that tell me something… interesting…about the ideas, person, and his Church?

  7. Dale says:

    Michael, what I find interesting is that modern Romans are not only distancing themselves from the most egregious abuses of indulgences and plenary indulgences but also from doctrines formulated as late as 1870. We have had several discussions on this site in which Romans have attempted to portray the definition of the personal infallibility of the Pope as an infallibility held by the entire Church (which all old Catholics, both East and West, would agree with), although the actual documents declare just the opposite, that the infallibility of the Pope is a personal charisma not at all dependent upon the Church at all!

    They also seem, as you have pointed out, more than ready now to assign universal jurisdiction to ancient documents, but if these were historically true, why the centuries of using the forgery of the “Donation of Constantine” as the foundation for this universal jurisdiction? In the “Donation” the authority of the Pope of Rome was given to the person of the Pope not by Christ, but by the emperor who supposedly gave him the world as a personal gift.

    But, in hindsight, I am happy that modern Roman Catholics are trying to rectify some of these theological oddities.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, As regards, “But, in hindsight, I am happy that modern Roman Catholics are trying to rectify some of these theological oddities.” … Those “oddities” are still official dogma. Anyone joining the Ordinariate is joining himself to same, in their entirety. You shouldn’t confuse the “confused” theology and dogma of individual RCs (too many of whom were and are poorly catechized). Always start with the official documents: RC CCC, Ecumencial Councils, and Papal Bulls/Encyclicals. There is NO confusion there regarding these issues! Just from RC CCC: Indulgences at Para. 1471-1478; super-treasury of merit at 1476; Purgatory at 1030-1032, 1479; the primacy, supremacy, & infallibility of the pope at 880-896.

      Don’t even get me started on the “Donation”! I’ll go into both apoplexy and fits of histrionic laughter. But never forget, Rome “used” it to get what it wanted and then justified what it had already achieved thru it by other means. So when the “tradition” didn’t fully work, there was another “one” readily available.

      • Dale says:

        Michael, actually I have seen “official” Roman Catholic sites which purport that the Pope’s infallibility is some type of voice of the consensus of the Church. Although, I will and do agree that these theological declarations, of which I do not believe are a natural conclusion either of the Roman liturgy or the filioque, are indeed official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, which is one reason I have never considered the Roman option. Of course, the Byzantine option, is not really too much better; especially since it demands the destruction of our ancient western heritage; which is contrary to catholicity.

    • Stephen K says:

      Dale, I must say I myself have never seen papal infallibility expressed as no more than the voice of the consensus of the entire Church; my own recollection is that it has always been presented – or rejected – as the personal charism of the Pope. Today’s traditionalists or conservatives within the RCC rely very firmly on the various categories of infallibility as asserted or characterised by any Pope, particularly by John Paul II and Benedict over the question of women’s ordination, etc. Archbishop Lefebvre’s declaration of 1974 attempted to make a distinction between the Popes on the one hand and any particular Pope – to wit, Paul VI – with whom they disagreed on the other, but this was an attempt at subtlety never marketed amongst the general RC populace. So it’s interesting what you say and that some people high up put that slant on it. Most people would in any case not spend any time trying to tease out such doctrines: they have simply grown up encouraged – accepting that the Pope is “the Head” and whatever he says, more or less goes. Which gets to the root of a whole lot of problems, I think.

      • Dale says:

        Yes, Stephen, when you state: “I must say I myself have never seen papal infallibility expressed as no more than the voice of the consensus of the entire Church,” has been what I have been told by many believing and well-educated Roman Catholics, including clergy, but it is in direct opposition to the Council, which does state that papal infallibility is indeed personal; the Council stated: “Definitions of the Roman Pontiff of themselves, and not by virtue of the consent of the Church, are irreformable.”

        Also, I agree with you that most Roman Catholic laity do not worry about these issues; they simply understand that somehow, someway, they know not how, the Pope is the head of the Church. And are often genuinely confused when so many others, especially Old Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, have such serious problems with it.

      • Stephen K says:

        And yes, even further, Dale. The first Vatican Council speaks in terms of “definitions” but the practical or ‘on-the-shop-floor’ way this has seeped into much RC thinking is to extend it to “pronouncements (of any kind)”. Despite efforts to acknowledge distinctions between terms and confine papal infallibility to strict ex cathedra occasions, encyclicals and such-like are regarded by some as the ‘infallibility you have when you don’t have infallibility’. [cf. Lumen Gentium 25].

        [A propos of all this, I could not find anywhere in the RC Catechism any explicit discussion of papal infallibility to any greater degree than at paragraph 553 which appears to express the “power to bind and loose” as, amongst other things, the “authority….to pronounce doctrinal judgments”. Does the word “pronounce” signify something significantly less than “decide” or “determine” (which is how I suggest most people understand it)?]

        I feel sorry for Popes, burdened as they must be with the weight of precedent and continued assertion of authority and the royal “We”. I wonder what the effect would be if a Pope commenced an encyclical with the words “I would like to share with you some reflections I have been having. This is how I see things; I hope you may be able to find in them a source of love and generosity in faith in Jesus; draw from them what you can………etc etc”?

      • You should read Hans Bernard Hasler, How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion. Of course, the problem only came to a head with Vatican I after many centuries. Hasler makes the point that every ideology attributes infallibility to the leader – “Der Führer hat immer Recht“, “Il Duce ha sempre raggione“, “Big Brother is always right“, and just the same with the Communists.

        The result is that the Church is nearly dead in countries like Belgium and most of France.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, As regards your comment, “[A propos of all this, I could not find anywhere in the RC Catechism any explicit discussion of papal infallibility to any greater degree than at paragraph 553 which appears to express the “power to bind and loose” as, amongst other things, the “authority….to pronounce doctrinal judgments”.

        For the RC CCC on the primacy, supremacy, & infallibility of the pope see paras. 880-896. This is the section on the Hierarchical Constitution of the Church. Para. 891 details “infallibility”.

        Hope you’re using the 2nd Edition. The first edition was riddled with errors. The revised 1st put the revisions in the back, but not in the primary text. Only the 2nd Ed. cleaned up the text. For example, check out the differences between the 1st, 1st Rev., and 2nd Editions in regard to the precepts of the Church at para. 2041-2043.

      • Dale says:

        Stephen, interesting reflections. But one of the real problems is that ex cathedra has never been explained. When does it indeed happen? How do we know? The whole concept of only in Faith and Morals is very ambiguous as well. For the Church are not virtually all things, in the end, issues of Faith and Morals?

        I think one of the problems, well at least for me, is the question of the infallibility of documents such as the “Syllabus of Errors.” I personally find the document quite offensive, especially as it relates to the participation of a the electorate in the political process.

        When one looks at the very pronouncement of infallibility as a reaction to the end of the Papal States and the loss of the Pope’s temporal political power it all seems, if anything, slightly sleazy: I am unhappy, I am going to lock myself in my room for eternity (the prisoner of the Vatican period in history), and I am infallible as well. So there! Sounds like the reaction of a teenager who does not get his way.

      • Michael Frost says:

        I hope we aren’t throwing babies out with bath water!

        I think all Christians do periodically need to reevaluate what strength and assurance the(their) Church’s teaching has, which we usually do by saying it is “infallible” or expresses the fullness of truth. But at a most basic level, all Christians believe they have the truth about those things that are most important. And that truth comes from God through His Church. For Protestants, that (normally) means pondering both the words of scripture and their meaning/interpretation. For RCs, that (normally) means the Papacy and Magesterium. For EOs, that (normally) means the Ecumenical Council.

        But however it is expressed, most Christians of any background believe they have and share the truth about first things. We all take it for granted that “infallibility” or “truth” is ultimately a gift of the Holy Ghost! And that the Church will be preserved by the Holy Ghost from error that leads believers astray. We believe the Holy Ghost inspried and preserved Holy Scripture as an “infallible” tool and rule (when properly interpreted by…(fill in the blank). Many of us believe the same about the (our) Church.

      • Dale says:

        Michael, well, yes and no. I think that fixations of infallibility of the Church is very different vis-a-vis specific denominations. The Romans have a very 17-19th century concept of infallibility resting upon a secular concept that found its expression in centralizing government and autocracy that reached its zenith in France under the Bourbon dynasty. I have always felt sorry to the later Stuarts who attempted to introduce this political, modern, theory into Britain.

        Byzantine Orthodoxy has tied its sense of infallibility, perhaps intellectually to the Councils, but on the ground level usually to a collection of ethnic traditions (So much modern Byzantine conversation is concerned not with confronting [perhaps not the correct word here] the modern world and rampant materialism, but in question concerning pews and hair…it is all very sad).

        Anglicanism, on the other hand, does not really try to deal with the issue at all! And in her branch theory (which as I become older, I have a new and growing respect) tends to find the “true” Church in all Apostolic communities to some extent (I am speaking here of traditional Anglicanism and not the modern, official version). Hence, Anglo-Catholicism is noted for its following of tradition without the need to spew condemnation of anyone who dares to disagree.

  8. Stephen K says:

    Michael, I agree that we tend to interpret anything through our own background, preferences and bias. We even interpret tradition influenced by whatever it is we have experienced as tradition! This lies at the heart of the intractability in so much religious discussion. I think that the moment we open our mouths, we can do no more than utter a personal and idiosyncratic perception of things. This is not to say that we cannot ever articulate a glimpse of truth, but to say, rather, that truth is a lover who gives us kisses but refuses to be possessed in her or his entirety. We ultimately believe what we want to believe, but that is not so much a problem as the tendency we have to refuse to allow that anyone else saying or doing anything different might also perceive something of truth. Truth, with a capital ‘T’ can be used to express an essence or aspect of the other word “God” but we tend to reduce it to nothing more than a lower-case created element sitting out there waiting for us to discover it and be appropriated by some greedy power-junkie like some valuable mineral resource and retailed to everyone else at exorbitant prices. At my stage of life, my brain grooves have long been defined by romanised religious culture and though I recognise where this is limiting and limited, my vocabulary and categories, like the vestiges of a provincial accent, will betray me! It is no solution – and I suspect the Dalai Lama was alluding to this when he exhorted everyone to try to work things out within their own tradition – to “convert” to anything, because freedom is not obtained when the slave of Pharoah simply becomes the slave of the Babylonians, but when he no longer has to stay or go as another tells him! There would probably be much debate over the subject of which idea or doctrine within Christianity is the most divisive, most spirit-killing or preposterous, but it occurs to me that it may be the claim to infallibility, whether of the papal or scriptural variety. A personal response.

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