Monday, December 16, 2019
The ups and downs of popes. . .
The much ballyhooed Amazonia Synod, that is, the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon end up with hope and fear that many changes would come from this gathering. For example, there was the expectation that the Synod would endorse married priests, an expanded role of women, a female diaconate, and a host of other things. The issue was, of course, the great need for more priests. However this was not the only issue. Along the way that was talk of the creation of an “Amazon rite” of the Mass to recognize and incorporate the dignity of indigenous cultures. Don't forget the distraction or perhaps illustration of these issues created by the pachamama incident.
In the end, there were recommendations but all of it was left back on the plate of Pope Francis. Who knows what he will do with them? I have no clue to what goes on in the mind of this Pope and I am not sure if anyone does -- including those who know him best. He seems to have learned well the art of dodging your enemies by keeping them guessing. That said, it does no one, even this Lutheran well beyond the pale of Rome, any good to have a Pope who keeps them guessing. If there was ever a redeeming feature of the papacy (even Lutherans recognized this), it was the ability for one voice to speak clearly and convincingly on behalf of the eternal Gospel and to be the public face of the creedal and confessional orthodox Christian Faith. That is not this Pope's gift. That is what makes him so dangerous. And it seems that he is appointing bishops who, like him, know the art of keeping them guessing as it seems Rome drifts.
In my own church body we dally every couple of years with the idea that the church is a democracy and that God had in mind a legislative body to vote on matters of the faith like they do voting on whether or not to commend apple pie and motherhood (too bad motherhood needs to be commended!). The strangeness of conventions and votes that border on voting up or down on the Word of God and what it says is no less odd than a papacy and both can go very bad very quickly. Sometimes the best church assembly (even in the local congregation) is one that votes on pretty much nothing at all. I can say that because it has been a very long time since I have voted on a convention floor and I have never voted in a congregational meeting (pastors have voice but no vote).
Some will surely take to the comments to defend pope or laity voting but I think we miss the point. The faith does not need reforming but conserving. The church needs reforming from time to time but care needs to be given lest we forget that we are dealing with structures that may come and go and not with the Word of the Lord that endures forever. Even good popes remember that they have no cause or power to invent doctrine or change it but do best when they can defend and pass on faithfully what came before them. Here even Lutherans sometimes forget as quickly as others that the faith is not subject to change or the tyranny of the moment but is the once forever faith, the sacred deposit, the holy tradition, the creedal confession that is preserved and passed down as it was received. No less than St. Paul himself insists that this is the ultimate mark of catholicity, having passed down what he received. The Church does not need creativity as much as she begs for fidelity. In that Rome and Wittenberg should both say "Amen."