Wednesday, March 6, 2019
A larger Pope than Luther faced. . .
Modern popes -- more in the legacy of Vatican I -- and the globalization of a church body have made a centralized authority and supreme office even more essential to maintaining order. This central authority has come to reside exclusively with the office of the pope. The problem facing such a pivotal office is not only the heresy of prior occupants of that office but also the current state of affairs in which Francis has assumed more and more direct control while appearing to have delegated that authority and making a more democratic church structure. Even Benedict XVI, while still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, made Peter and his successors the rock which alone guarantees the right faith and the right understanding of the Word of God. If the pope is that essential link, then what of the heresies of the past (of such Popes Liberius, Vigilius, Honorius, Nicholas Paschal II, John XXII, etc.)? Indeed, Francis has taken upon himself the sole right to adjust the catechism and to initiate distinct breaks with the past -- a hermeneutic of discontinuity -- instead of the preserver of the ancient and unchanging truth. So the question comes down to this -- if the pope is a poor captain does that mean the the Roman Catholic Church is shipwrecked?
Luther was certainly unkind with respect to the papacy and its occupant in his time but at that time the pope was less central to the fidelity of the church to the faith than the current pope is today. Indeed, so much dependency on the pope for the strength of the Roman Church, while working acceptably even when popes may be personally immoral but doctrinally orthodox, creates an impossible situation when even moral character is not in question but doctrinal orthodoxy is. When the infallibility of the Pope became the exclusive guarantor of the Roman Church's fidelity, his supremacy over the Roman Church combined with his immunity from earthly judgment has created a crisis even Luther's challenge did not present.
The East has placed infallibility in the Ecumenical Council(s) in which the individual bishops, priests, deacons, and theologians may confess error or heresy, the Council protects the Church from serious theological error and thus preserves the Church itself from heresy. For Luther this infallibility is posited in the Scriptures. While Luther cites approvingly the evidence of the Fathers and early church for his positions, he does not accord them a role above Scripture itself or even equivalent to Scripture. For Rome all of this authority is posited in one individual. Rome long ago left behind a conciliar shape in favor of a papal structure and this occurred largely after Luther and in the more modern era (think liturgically of how this was exercised when comparing the actual canons of Vatican II with what was published as the new mass).