Thursday, 5 June 2014
The Synod and Pastor Aeternus
I have mentioned a new kind of ultramonatism I think is at work in the Church; one whereby anything a Pope says or does is expected to be supported and affirmed simply because it is the pope saying or doing. As a result, where a Pope appears to be departing from established doctrine or fails to follow the norms of the liturgy, no challenge is given and no criticism made “because, well, it’s the Pope.” This is an excessive ultramonstanism that sees the pope as always and everywhere above criticism. It is wrong. Not everything a Pope says in his weekly audiences, his addresses to the Curia or to visiting youth groups or lay groups etc carries doctrinal infallibility; not everything a Pope does in his liturgical celebrations sets a universal norm. As Pope Benedict XVI noted (writing as a private theologian) “The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development. It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities” (Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press. p166).
In reality, a Pope is as bound by defined doctrine as anyone else, and is as obliged as everyone else to follow the norms of the Missal(s) solemnly promulgated by his predecessors. His authority is limited to what might be called “being the Caretaker of the Faith”. Certainly he is able to affirm genuine doctrinal developments (those in harmony with what has always been believed), and may formally tinker with the liturgy to ensure the lex orandi lex credendi where he sees the liturgy insufficiently or erroneously proclaims the Catholic Faith, but he cannot proclaim his favourite theories to be new doctrine or impose his liturgical idiosyncrasies on the universal Church. That would be to see the doctrine of the Faith and the Church in her worship as his personal property to do with as he will, and I doubt any Pope of sincere heart would fall to this level of heresy and pride.
That is why, although many are disturbed by the current Pope’s off-the-cuff comments, we should have confidence in the forthcoming Synod on the family. It will deliver no stunning blows to the Catholic world. Indeed it cannot, because the Pope cannot. We might find we are given new pastoral directives which allow us to apply the Faith with greater speed or accuracy in difficult situations, but we will not receive new or contradictory doctrine, nor any new pastoral practices that fly in the face of defined Doctrine. No pope would want to set himself above Divine Revelation or the orthopraxis of the centuries, and that includes Pope Francis. An erroneous understanding of the Faith or a pride beyond telling would be needed for a pope to fall in such a way. So we should have no fears about the Synod, only hope; hope that we will be given sound pastoral tools for assisting those in irregular and difficult situations to live the Faith as best they can.
If the synod does attempt to change doctrine in an inauthentic way so as to accommodate contemporary secular ideologies and social constructions, it’s acts will remain at the level of ‘attempt’, because it can no more change the natural moral law than it can change the law of gravity. It must also bear in mind that if it attempts such changes, it is the good name of Pope Francis that will suffer; he will be viewed by history as a destroyer because Popes are personally charged by the Lord with the preservation of Tradition, not its destruction:
“For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.” (Pastor Aeternus, Ch.4, Vatican I)
What if the Synod does fall into suggesting doctrinal hanges or pastoral practices that play false to defined doctrine? I can only think that the appropriate response would be to say, “We obey for the moment, but we do not agree, and we seek a change to bring us back in line with what has always been believed, and a practice that is faithful to that belief”. I cannot foresee such a situation coming about. Christ is in Charge, and the Holy Ghost is at work so that the Holy Church of God will “keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.”