Reams have been written about the notions of truth and ideology, the latter word being extremely ambiguous and difficult to define with any accuracy. Many of us grew up in the latter half of the twentieth century, only a few years after the demise of Hitler and Stalin. The absolute nature of authority could only be subordinated to the use of critical reason. The tragedy of Germany could have been avoided had this highly cultured people been more critical of the lie that was constructed on Hitler’s conspiracy theory concerning the Jewish people and their purported role in the outcome of World War I in 1918. The whole tragedy hinged on a notion of infallibility of the one with authority: Der Führer hat immer Recht, Il Duce ha sempre raggione, Russian clocks are always right, and so forth. We are reminded of the absurd episode in 1870 when Pope Pius IX notoriously exclaimed “Tradizione! La tradizione son’ io!” in response to objections made by Cardinal Filippo Maria Guidi of Bologna. The idea in the Pope’s mind was perhaps inspired by Louis XIV as he in his turn affirmed L’Etat c’est moi. The idea returns again and again, even in a Don Camillo film in which the Communist major Peppone answers an objection by saying that the only authority he knew was the People, and he was the People. Surely, this was written as a satire to this constant claim to absolute authority.
It is in this context that I have readily read Döllinger’s famous book on the Pope and the Council and the English translation of August Bernard Hasler’s Wie der Papst unfelbar wurde (how the Pope became infallible). One of the greatest intuitions of the Modernists was historical criticism, using our reason in matters requiring such.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the ideology of infallibilism rears its ugly head from time to time. This morning, I found Fr Hunwicke’s article The pope and the Spirit. He as a Roman Catholic priest has to be careful what he says and is bound to assenting to the definition of Vatican I in the way Newman worked it out. We Anglicans are free to affirm that papal infallibility is abject nonsense and discredits the very notion of faith if allowed to stand. After the brief ray of light from 2005 until 2013, a period that paralleled the pontificate of Benedict XIV in the eighteenth century, we are back to the nonsense of the cult of the Pope, at least in the minds of some.
Looking at Fr Hunwicke’s article and his reference to one Monsignor Pinto, I would imagine that such buffoons are in the minority, even in the Roman Curia. Many simpler people can be brought to believe in the mumbo-jumbo of Wiccan witchcraft and in the most irrational. The cult of the Pope is a very real drift in popular religion leading to absurdity and the caricature of itself. Infallibilism is a perfect apologia for atheists and most people who have concluded that it was all nonsense. Evelyn Waugh perfectly portrayed it in Brideshead Revisited and the contrast between Charles Ryder, Rex Mottram and Brideshead who was the sanctimonious git who had tried his vocation with the Jesuits.
The rational defence of faith is called apologetics, establishing the credibility of a proposition. Such a discipline is largely exhausted, and Modernism in the 1890’s and 1900’s was designed to try to clean up apologetics through the use of historical criticism and contemporary scientific knowledge. Both historical criticism and scientific knowledge has progressed since then. Faith and mystical experience are above such empirical criteria, but not the notion of the leader being infallible. It is always the drama of mysteries being beyond and not against reason. It is an insult to be asked to believe in something that is absurd and patently wrong.
We have certainly arrived at a historical watershed at which the whole notion of Church and faith will be rejected or understood in a way that can resist the criticism of materialism and religious fanaticism. Where is it all going to go? Good question…
“After the brief ray of light from 2005 until 2013, a period that paralleled the pontificate of Benedict XIV in the eighteenth century, we are back to the nonsense of the cult of the Pope, at least in the minds of some.”
The very oddity of Ratzinger’s pontificate is that in retrospect he was possibly the most committed to putting the papacy into the background of Catholicism. He was pillared so often for being doctrinaire and aloof, yet, in retrospect, he was perhaps the most committed to taking the papacy out of the spotlight, focused more on the religion itself. All it takes is one new guy on the papal throne, then things change on a dime – as we’ve seen.
Of course, Vatican I, and the unfortunate legacy of Pius IX, makes things…complicated.
I just noticed an article of similar nature at ‘Foolishness to the World’, but where the conclusion is supportive of docility in clergy and laity accepting meekly the decisions of their bishop in chief, in this case, the Pope. Perhaps our generation’s experience with absolute power corrupting absolutely is proving an antidote for the more extreme hero worship of the mob extant in the first part of the 20th Century, but calling us to understand that in the first instance, man is called to be obedient unto God, and then to ‘those whose authority depends from God’: which calls for careful discernment of the opinions and facts with which one is presented – in a diocese, in an election, in a demonstration, in any sort of human disagreement, if one hopes to see a return to peace and tranquillity?
Having just returned from Rome with a fanatical personality of the Pope worshiper, I can only say that it is not some, but many who would follow this Frankie to hell. What is interesting is how intensely these same people almost hated Pope Benedict. Religious drivel and kitsch sells.
The credibility of the papal claims is something I find extremely hard to swallow in light of the near constant demolition and re writing of Catholicism at the hands of the popes for the last century or more. How is it possible to believe that the Papacy is a necessary at all, or that the Pope actually enjoys infallibility under certain conditions?
Sometimes to me it seems like a monsterous and pompous lie that many well meaning people buy into, not based on any serious arguments from scripture,tradition or reasoning process,but simply because they happen to be Catholic,or they want to believe in the infallible papacy for some reason.
I was a convert to Catholicism, and to be honest it was more about my love of Gregorian chant, monastic life,the rhythm of the Divine Office and the stories of the saints than anything else. I to this day do not really understand the almost fanatical cultlike adoration of the office of the papacy and the person of the pope that so many Catholics have. Does this mean I’m not really Roman Catholic?
Sometimes I ask myself this question and I’ve got no concrete answer. I don’t feel like I’ll ever see evidence that the papacy has been anything more than an excuse to abuse power and destroy rather than to defend or build up anything.
Had I been born under the reign of good popes when the church seemed healthy I might have felt differently, but as it stands today, with over a hundred years of papal meddling and papal buffoonery and the papally sanctioned wreckage of Vatican Deux it’s hard to see them as anything more than troublesome and way overrated.
J.D. Although I love the same things that you have outlined above, I have never been able to feel drawn to the Papal religion in its modern manifestation. Not only can the modern personal infallibility of the Pope not be proven from ancient sources, it was necessary to forge documents, such as the “Donation of Constantine” (and even that is bizarre because according to this forgery the power and universal jurisdiction of the Popes does not come from Christ but was a bequest of the Emperor Constantine…but even in the time that it was forged no one was theologically illiterate enough to believe in the Pope’s personal infallibly), and to inject forged interpolations into the Church Fathers and early councils makes to give even a veneer of historical respectability. Dollinger’s book, “The Pope and the Councils,” placed, of course on the Index, is a much needed reading for anyone considering the Roman option.
A friend of mine in London carefully went through Döllinger’s references, checking each one with the sources available in a university library. The object of this exercise was to become absolutely certain of Döllinger’s intellectual integrity. This book is excellent, as is the one by Hasler – even though Hasler was one of the Swiss progressivist people like Küng who would make the RC Church like the present-day Anglican Communion.
With the aid of the “External Links” of the Wikipedia article, “Ignaz von Döllinger”, listing works in the Internet Archive, I see there are various scans of different editions of the English translation, including the “Third Edition Revised” (1870), as well as of the German original, and also of J.B. Robertson’s translation of Joseph Hergenröther’s “Historico-Theological Criticism” of it, Anti-Janus (1870).
Distinct but not unrelated matters are (teachings concerning) the infallibility of the Church and the infallibility of Ecumenical Councils.