Archive for the ‘Vatican I’ Category

Michael Joseph at Evangelical Catholicism has posted a detailed account of the rather chaotic process by which the First Vatican Council arrived at its decision concerning papal infallibility. Many thanks to Michael for making his excellent research available! The article is in six parts:

I look forward to reading the entire paper … but sometimes I like to cheat and read conclusions first. If you’re like me, here’s Michael’s conclusion:

What becomes apparent from such a survey of the infallibility controversy of the First Vatican Council is the impact of the Minority upon the final adopted decree, Pastor aeternus. From the onset, those bishops that fought vehemently for the definition of papal infallibility were concerned with a theoretical, dogmatic pronouncement that focused upon the precise locus of infallibility within the Church. Such is the case with Manning, whose arguments stemmed from a juridical and ideological mindset rather than from a practical or historical consciousness. However, the greatest of Minority speakers pointed to the historical difficulties surrounding the definition, and forced the Council Fathers to adapt the schema to fit within the concrete, historical actions of the Church. While many of the Minority left the Council in what they perceived to be defeat, they truly succeeded in forcing the Council to consider historical facts in its formulation of doctrine, naturally distilling the forceful doctrine of the Ultramontanes. Even Newman realized this Providential effect: “Pius has been overruled—I believe he wished a much more stringent dogma than he has got. Let us have faith and patience.” Faith and patience would indeed be necessary for those bishops haunted by the Council; the Church would not again official take up the matter of papal authority until the Second Vatican Council, ninety-two years later.


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See Part I and Part II.

3. We come now to a third hermeneutical principle: the historical interpretation. As is the case for all dogmas, so also for the First Vatican Council it is fundamental to make a distinction between the unchangeable binding content and the changeable historical forms. This principle was clearly expressed by the Second Vatican Council: “The deposit and the truths of faith are one thing, the manner of expressing them is quite another” [Gaudium et spes, 62]. Hence it would be wrong to take the formulations of the First Vatican Council as the only possible way of expressing what the Petrine ministry concretely means and what is permanently binding in it.

The Fathers of the First Vatican Council experienced specific historical conditions that led them to formulate things the way they did. The Council majority saw the Church besieged from all sides and in an almost apocalyptic situation. They were traumatized by the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the absolutism of modern states, by Gallicanism and Episcopalism, and wanted to make sure that the Church would remain capable of action even in extreme situations. This is why they reverted to the modern idea of sovereignty: they defined the primacy of the Pope in terms of an absolute sovereignty, in such a way that he could act even if he were to be prevented from communicating with the Church. Their statements on primacy were especially conceived for extreme and exceptional situations.

The understanding of the primacy in the sense of sovereignty does not mean – even according to the First Vatican Council – that the Pope’s power is unlimited. It is limited in several ways: by revelation itself and by the binding tradition, by the sacramental structure and the episcopal constitution of the Church, and by human rights given by God. Therefore the problem is not the dogma of the First Vatican Council itself but its maximalist interpretation both by its Ultramontane advocates and by its critics. This has turned what was considered an exceptional situation into a normal one. The exceptional case has been, so to say, stretched in time and made permanent. Therefore we should agree with Cardinal Ratzinger when he says that the centralized image given by the Church until the Council did not stem directly from the Petrine ministry. The uniform canon law, the uniform liturgy, and designation of episcopal chairs by the central power in Rome – all these are elements that do not necessarily belong to the primacy as such.

If we separate the declarations on the primacy of jurisdiction from their historical forms, then we find their binding essential meaning, that the Pope is free to act according to the specific and changing necessity of the Church. The primacy should therefore be interpreted in the light of the needs of the Church and applied accordingly. In this sense, Pope John Paul II, in Ut unum sint, speaks of the need to find ways of exercizing the primacy according to the new ecumenical situation of today.

4. A fourth and last hermeneutical principle is the interpretation of the Petrine ministry in the light of the gospel. The importance of this principle has been highlighted especially in the dialogue with the Lutherans, but also Catholics agree on its significance. Real value in the Church belongs to what has its foundation in the gospel and not to what is only a human invention.

In this sense, the Catholic Church is convinced that the primacy is founded in the testimony of the Bible and ultimately in Jesus Christ himself. Mention should be made not only of the well-known Petrine references in the New Testament (especially in Matt. 16:18f; Luke 2:32; John 21:15-17) but also of the fact that Jesus gave Simon the name Kephas (John 1:42), meaning “rock,” thereby explaining his function in the Church. Furthermore, mention should be made of the privileged role of Peter among the twelve as their spokesman and representative, and his role as leader of the early community in Jerusalem, as well as the entire Petrine tradition in the Bible (especially 1 and 2 Peter) which goes beyond the earthly existence of Peter, extending into the postapostolic and postbiblical era and tradition.

While it is true that historical interpretation of the Bible provides a firm basis, historical interpretation alone does not provide the ultimate foundation for our belief. In its original meaning, the gospel is not a book but the message witnessed in the Bible and, in the power of the Spirit, also proclaimed and believed in the Church. Therefore the Bible witness cannot be cut off from this witness of the living Church tradition. Thus today a purely historical understanding of the gospel, which looks only for the exact historical meaning of the words of the so-called historical Jesus, is obsolete. Historical exegesis is certainly legitimate, helpful, and fundamental, but theological debate cannot be in a narrow sense biblistic and should not separate the Scriptures from the living tradition. It should take into account both Scriptures and tradition, employing a spiritual and theological hermeneutics.

In this sense, the faithfulness of the community of Rome despite persecution and the confrontation with Gnosticism, its steadfastness against Marcion, and its contribution to the final establishment of the biblical canon, together with the role of its bishops, who very early took over responsibility for the unity of the Church beyond the Roman community, were all factors that convinced the early Church that in the church of Rome and in its bishop the promises given to Peter are realized and still at work. And so, from the third and fourth century on, the Church referred to the biblical witness, which is given especially in Matt. 16:18.

However, such a historical and, at the same time, spiritual interpretation entails not only finding the formal biblical foundation of the Petrine ministry but also highlighting its meaning and exercise according to the Gospel, that is, its interpretation not in the sense of power but in the sense of service. Indeed, the Gospel says: “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Matt. 20:27). This aspect is reflected in the expression servus servorum Dei used by Pope Gregory the Great.

Pope John Paul II has emphasized this dimension anew. He has referred to the martyr bishop Ignatius of Antioch, who described the primacy of Rome as the “primacy of love.” Thus, the Pope himself has given an important indication for a new interpretation of primacy inspired by the gospel. His interpretation is not a jurisdictional one based on the idea of sovereignty; it is a spiritual one based on the idea of service – a service to unity, a service and sign of mercy and love [Ut unum sint, 88-93].

This closer reference to the Bible has brought it about that the commonly employed language now substitutes, for the expressions papal ministry and papacy, the terms Petrine ministry and Petrine service. This linguistic change is quite telling. It seeks to give the papacy – developed throughout history and in part also burdened by history – a new interpretation and reception in the light of the gospel, not renouncing its essential nature but setting it in a new, wider spiritual understanding on the theoretical as well as on the practical level. The Petrine ministry is episkope; that is, it is a pastoral service following the example of Jesus the good shepherd, who gives his life for his flock (John 10:11). In this sense Peter admonishes his fellow elders: “Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (I Pet. 5:2-4).

In this sense we can say that the Petrine ministry should be interpreted theologically as episkope. Such an interpretation of the juridical formulations would correspond to the intentions expressed in the Proemium of the First Vatican Council, taken up also by the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul made reference to this interpretation in Ut unum sint, placing such juridical formulations in a biblical and theological context. This could constitute an ecumenically useful approach.

Such a pastoral understanding of episkope does not exclude authority in the biblical sense of exousia, a primacy of jurisdiction and a pastoral primacy cannot be mutually substituted or places in opposition, as some theologians propose. For pastoral responsibility without the means to carry it out would be void and would not help the Church in the urgent situations in which she would most need it. Rather, the question is now the service of episkope in the spirit of the gospel can be carried out with exousia. This question concerns, in different ways, both our ecclesiological traditions.

In conclusion, I would say that with the help of such an interpretation in the light of the four hermeneutical principles outlined above, it is possible to uphold the binding and unchangeable essence of the Petrine ministry and, at the same time, open and explore a pathway and prepare a new spiritual reception in our own Church that – as we hope – can facilitate a broader ecumenical reception as well. My hope is that, as was the case in the first millennium, the Petrine ministry may take a form that, although differently exercised in the East and in the West, could be recognized both by the East and by the West within a unity in diversity and a diversity in unity. I have no illusions. I am aware that the path ahead, on the basis of human measures, may yet be long. But I still hope that when we patiently and at the same time courageously do what we can do, God’s Spirit will help and accompany us to reach what He has in mind for the full visible unity of the Church.

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2. The second principle of dogmatic hermeneutics concerns the rereading of the First Vatican Council in light of the whole tradition and the integration of that Council within this tradition as a whole. The texts of the First Vatican Council itself already pointed out this route. The introduction to the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor aeternus described it as the intention to interpret this teaching “secundum antiquam atque constantem universalis Ecclesiae fidem” and defend it against mistakes. Clear mention was made of the declarations of the previous Popes and of the preceding Councils. The First Vatican Council even appealed to the consensus between the Church in the East and the Church in the West. The Second Vatican Council reinforced especially this last point when it mentioned the legitimacy of the particular tradition of the Oriental Churches and recognized that they can rule themselves according to their own law.

Such indications express an important concept, valid for all Councils: the Church is the same in all centuries and in all Councils; this is why each Council is to be interpreted in the light of the whole tradition and of all the Councils. The Holy Spirit, Who guides the Church, particularly in its Councils, cannot contradict Himself. What was true in the first millennium cannot be untrue in the second. Therefore the older tradition should not be simply considered as a first phase of a further development. The other way round is also true: the later developments should be interpreted in the light of the wider older tradition. Therefore the First Vatican Council should be seen in the context of the older Councils. Thus the first millennium’s ecclesiology of communion, reaffirmed in its validity by the Second Vatican Council, constitutes the hermeneutical framework for the First Vatican Council.

In the meanwhile, especially after Cardinal Ratzinger’s conference in Graz, the normative importance of the first millennium has been widely recognized also in Catholic theology. But it is essential to understand it correctly. It is clear that it is not a question of simply going back to the first millennium or reverting to an “ecumenism of return.” Such a return to the first millennium is impossible, in any case, for historical reasons: divergent views already existed in the first millennium, and so it cannot offer us any miraculous solution. Moreover, significant developments have taken place in the second millennium not only in the Catholic Church but also within the Eastern Churches. Why should we suppose that the Spirit guided the Church only in the first millennium? And did not the first millennium already contain the foundations of what developed in the second, which is true of the Eastern tradition also?

Therefore today, at the dawn of the third millennium, we cannot turn back the clock of history; but we can interpret the different events of the second millennium in the light of the first one in order to open the door to the third millennium. The Second Vatican Council had already initiated the interpretation of the First Vatican Council within the wider horizon of communio ecclesiology.

A corresponding reception on the part of the Churches in the East has not happened so far. Such a reception would not imply a mechanical acceptance or a submission of the East to the Latin tradition: it would entail a lively and creative process of appropriation into one’s own tradition. This would enrich the tradition of the Eastern Church and give it a greater degree of unity and independence that is currently lacking. Also, the Latin tradition would be freed from the constraints in which it found itself in the second millennium. The Church as a whole – as the Pope has expressed many times – would start breathing with two lungs again. This implies that integrating the other tradition and vice versa could lead to different forms and expressions in the exercise of the Petrine ministry, as occurred in the first millennium and as occurs today in the Oriental Churches in full communion with Rome.

To be continued …

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The Catholic Church is dogmatically bound to the First and Second Vatican Councils, which she cannot give up; also the Orthodox Churches are de facto bound by their critique of, and opposition to, these dogmas. Rereading and re-reception are not an escamotage [slight of hand]. It means to interpret the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the primacy and infallibility of the Pope according to the “normal” and common rules of dogmatic hermeneutics. According to these rules, dogmas should be abided by in the sense in which the Church once declared them. But in the Catholic view, this does not imply an irrational and fundamentalist compliance with a formula. In fact, according to the First Vatican Council, faith and understanding belong together. Catholic teaching therefore recognizes a progressive deepening in the understanding of the truth that was revealed once and for all. There is a history of dogmas in the sense of a history of understanding and interpretation, and there are corresponding theological rules of interpretation. In this context, Ratzinger speaks of a rereading, Congar and others speak of a re-reception of the First Vatican Council.

The concept of reception, which has often been neglected in the past, is fundamental for Catholic theology, particularly for ecumenical theology and the hermeneutics of dogmas. Such reception and re-reception do not mean questioning the validity of the affirmations of a Council; rather, they mean its acceptance on the part of the ecclesial community. This is not a merely passive and mechanical acceptance; rather, it is a living and creative process of appropriation and is therefore concerned with interpretation …

1. A first rule for such a rereading and re-reception of the Petrine ministry is the integration of the concept of primacy in the whole context of ecclesiology. This rule was formulated by the First Vatican Council itself. It affirmed that the mysteries of faith are to be interpreted “e mysteriorum ipsorum nexu inter se,” that is, according to the internal context binding them together. The Second Vatican Council has expressed the same idea with the help of the doctrine of the hierarchy of truths. Therefore no dogma should be considered as isolated but should be interpreted taking into account the whole doctrine of the faith. Especially it should be interpreted on the basis, in the context, and in the light of the basic Catholic dogmas on Christology and the Holy Trinity.

This integration of the primacy had already been suggested by the First Vatican Council. The Council describes the meaning of primacy in the Proemium to the Constitution Pastor aeternus. It affirms that, according to God’s will, all faithful should be kept together in the Church through the bond of faith and love. It then mentions the famous quotation that is now at the basis of today’s ecumenical commitment, “ut omnes unum essent.” Finally, it refers to Bishop Cyprian: “ut episcopatus ipse unus et indivisus esset,” Peter was called to be “perpetuum utriusque unitatis principium ac visibile fundamentum.” An article recently published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith presents again this formulation in its fundamental importance for a theological interpretation of the juridical declarations on the doctrine of primacy. Thus, the unity of the Church is the raison d’etre and the context of interpretation of the Petrine ministry.

Because of the outbreak of the Franco-German War, the First Vatican Council was not able to proceed with the integreation of primacy into the whole ecclesiological context. This process remained uncompleted, since it only managed to define the primacy and infallibility of the Pope. This led later to unilateral and unbalanced interpretations. Nonetheless Vatican I had affirmed that the primacy does not cancel but confirms, strengthens, and defends the direct authority of the bishops. Pope Pius IX explicitly highlighted this when he confirmed the declaration of the German bishops against the dispatch of Bismarck. In this way, Pius IX defended himself against extreme interpretations and defended the position of the bishop as the ordinary pastor of his diocese. Even the formula considered scandalous in the ecumenical perspective, that the Pope is infallible “ex sese, non autem ex consensu Ecclesiae,” had already been interpreted during the Council by the speaker of the Doctrinal Commission in a purely juridical sense, in the sense that definitions did not require juridical ratification from a higher source, but, in theological terms, it is not a question of an infallibility that is separate from the faith of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council took up the question and took a second step towards the integration of primacy into the whole doctrine of the Church as well as into the whole collegiality of the episcopal ministry. This Council also reaffirmed the importance of the local Church, of the sacramental understanding of the episcopal ministry, and, above all, of the understanding of the Church as communio. This has revived synodal elements, especially at the level of synods and bishops’ conferences.

Nevertheless, the Second Vatican Council was not able to reconcile fully the new elements – which in reality correspond to the oldest tradition – with the statements of the First Vatican Council. Many issues have remained unconnected. Sometimes there is mention of the existence of two different ecclesiologies in the texts of the Council. This has led, since the Second Vatican Council, to a controversy on interpretation, to some degree continuing even today. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council, too, has remained an uncompleted Council. The integration of the Petrine ministry in the whole of ecclesiology, the relation between the universal and the local dimensions of the Church, the applicability of the principle of subsidiarity, and other questions raise theological and practical questions that have not yet been definitively resolved.

When one takes seriously that the Petrine ministry is constitutive within the Church and that all other ministries have to be in communion with it though they are not derived from it but have their own sacramental root, then a one-sided pyramidal conception of the Church is overcome and a communal one prevails, where the different institutions and ministries have their respective irreplaceable roles and are in an interplay with each other. Such a communal view, which makes room for the freedom of the Spirit, could result from a fuller reception of the Second Vatican Council.

To be continued . . .

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