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Wednesday, December 4, A.D. 2013
Francis’ Dilemma

I wish those on the old calendar a blessed feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple—and Advent greetings to everyone.

Proph posted interesting thoughts today on the Orthosphere about conciliarity in the “post-conciliar” (Roman) Church: “Pope Francis and synodality.” His words are worth repeating:

Nearly everyone agrees the period surrounding Vatican II saw great damage done to the Catholic faith, but nearly no one understands why. Much has been said about “ambiguities” in the conciliar texts, their questionable Magisterial status, etc., all of which misses the point: people do not live in a purely abstract, rationalistic sphere of minimalist orthodoxy. Faith rather is lived in a real world of concrete institutions and networks of relations, and if the faith is not fused with that lived reality, then it will not be lived at all. The Council endeavored, in the service of aggiornamento and ecumenism, to destroy the carefully-cultivated synthesis of faith and life that had prevailed for centuries, and this was its primary error: the hubris of thinking that it could dismantle what generations of saints had built over two millennia and replace it with something engineered on the fly in under a decade without expecting disastrous consequences.

I suppose that Proph meant by “everyone” those of us of Orthospheran tendencies. I know many folks who think that the contemporary Roman situation is perfectidoo. Regardless, I think that Proph has aptly analyzed the fault of the council and of its implementation. As Proph and the rest of the Orthosphere crowd surely know, this fault is modern man’s common vice—and the root of that fetid tree frequently (and unfortunately) called rationalism. The ancient Greeks were the real rationalists; the shortsighted masters of nature who follow in Bacon’s footsteps deserve another name—perhaps Caecicelsians. The arrogant attitude of “we know better” along with naive reductionism make modern man the proverbial bull in the china shop of civilization. That Christian bishops would be so foolish as to eat its rotten fruit is what puzzles—and troubles.

Proph’s main complaint in the post concerns Pope Francis’ words about conciliarity. I responded to Proph’s dismay:

From the Orthodox perspective, this looks excellent — we’ve been complaining about ultramontanism for a very long time. However, Rome’s practice of superpapism for so long, coupled with the relatively recent lowering of orthodox and orthopractical standards for hierarchs, has resulted in an episcopacy unfit to rule. So, I agree that devolving decisions to national or regional episcopal conferences in the Roman Church is unwise now (though not absolutely), yet I smirk when I think about the Latin intellectual legacy behind subsidiarity in the political realm. Intelligent governing arrangements — except for “Peter,” whom alone among all rulers the Holy Spirit vouchsafes to guide properly.

Seriously, though, if Rome is to return to the ancient collegial way (not quite alien to the Western patrimony if you go back far enough), it must get its house in order. You would not hand over your car keys to an irresponsible teenager — surely the pope shouldn’t hand over (share) Peter’s keys with unready bishops. How, though, are the Latins to raise up bishops fit to be, uh, bishops? Or better yet — to raise up its flock so that the people themselves keep the bishops in line just as the bishops oversee the people (another form of our grating Eastern symphony)?

You see — there are real unintended consequences to clericalism, such as a spiritually emaciated laity, and it shows when the chain of command breaks (e.g. modernity). Ditto for ultramontanism with regard to the episcopacy. It’s a mess.

I wish Pope Francis the best in his attempts to re-evangelize his lost sheep.

Proph responded amicably and with insight:

I was hoping you’d chime in, Joseph. In principle I have no objection to synodality. The Orthodox model seems to work well, for the Orthodox, who have over 1000 years experience with it, a whole network of customs and safeguards built into it, and (I’m given to understand) procedures in place by which a diocesan synod can oust an unruly bishop; but we can’t engineer an equally functional system in the West on the fly in five minutes. It’s hubris to think we can and idiocy to suggest we ought to try. More importantly, though, the Orthodox have a commonly-held and valued tradition to glue them together even in the absence of a central administrative apparatus or figurehead, and it is precisely that tradition which serves as a visible symbol of unity. The equivalent tradition in the West has been deliberately dismantled and it’s not even clear the bishops all share the same faith anymore.

I am also especially alarmed by what can only be described as neo-ultramontanism among some ordinary Catholics (e.g., the Catholic Answers Forum variety), who already regard every episcopal utterance (even the horrid Scalfari interview) as divinely inspired and every prudential governing decision as being a response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I hate to imagine how that dynamic would play out if, in 20 or 30 years, the bishops conferences of two different nations issue competing doctrinal guidelines.

(Emphasis mine)

I do not know if Proph is correct (I hope not but fear so), but the question, again, is why??? I have asked dozens and dozens of faithful, learned, intelligent Latins that question, and I am never satisfied by their responses. How many bishops were at the Second Vatical Council? Two thousand? (Wiki check: “up to 2625,” though I am not sure how many were bishops.) In addition to the bishops at the council, consider the thousands of Roman priests, members of religious orders, and laymen in positions of influence in Roman Catholic institutions and circles at the time who got on board that crazy train. How is it that so many of them would so readily transform, in so little time, their ancestral religion? We’re not talking about the hedonists of the West, or Communists, or atheists, or devotees of Comte, or fans of Freud, or Nietzsche junkies. Rather, it was the faithful flock in the pews and their pastors in the pulpit who swallowed the radical redirection of the council and of its implementation. It doesn’t matter if the episcopacy, clergy, and laity failed to apply the council faithfully. They did what they did. Why? How did it happen? Was everyone already a Roger Mahoney or a Simone Campbell in waiting, though hiding until they realized that, hey, everyone wants to throw off that old fuddy duddy relic of Christendom past and get groovy. Was the council like band camp for heretics, where they realized that they were not alone after all—and then the party started? Or did the demons pull off a marvelous stunt after laying the foundation for two centuries? It’s simply bizarre.

Anyway, I don’t know what the pope should do to make the Roman ark more seaworthy in a time of great flooding—or how to navigate it safely toward Orthofriendly waters. I would hate to have that job. Consider that when you next think ill thoughts of the pontiff. What a task the man has!

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, December 4, Anno Domini 2013
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