With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rock and Role

Barth has that famous quote that the only non-trivial, non-short-sighted reason for refusing full communion with the Catholic Church is the analogia entis. Recently, I've had some fascinating discussions with my Anglican comrades, and for them the only non-trivial, non-short-sighted reason for refusing full communion is Vatican I. Petrine primacy is the stumbling block of stumbling blocks. Actually, the idea of papal primacy is not nearly as unpalatable to them as the idea of papal infallibility. That is a related ecclesiological and pneumatological issue, but not the same issue. Nonetheless, the question of papal primacy more generally has been on my mind of late. As per usual, I've found Balthasar's thoughts on the matter to be illuminating. Particularly interesting in the following passage from In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic is Balthasar's claim that some sense of Petrine primacy is presupposed not only by the Evangelists and Fathers but also by all of the "differing views" that hold Rome's papal theology to be "unevangelical and intolerable" on any given point:
Notwithstanding all the problems connected with the papacy throughout the history of the Church, two things speak in favor of its recognition within the Communio Sanctorum and its apostolicity.

In the first place (and we have already touched upon this) the Petrine element is taken for granted, so to speak, right at the beginning, in the Petrine texts of the New Testament. And of these the most impressive is not the passage in Matthew but rather the overpowering apotheosis of Peter at the end of John's Gospel of love, which begins with the choosing of Peter in the first chapter and contains, at its center, the Apostle's great confession of faith in the Lord.

The Lukan text, in which Peter is commissioned to strengthen his brethren, is no less striking than the passage in Matthew. Then there are the very many other places in Gospels, letters, and in the Acts of the Apostles. How can anyone who claims to adhere to the Word-the Word alone-fail to be profoundly struck by these texts?

In addition there is the fact that, since the first and second centuries, an undisputed primacy of the Apostolic See has been attributed to the Bishop of the Roman community. Rome had no need to demand to be recognized; rather, it was unquestioningly acknowledged, as we can see from the Letter of Clement, the Letter of Ignatius, from Irenaeus, from the sober Admonition to Pope Victor, etc. The principle of primacy had long been established by the time Rome allegedly began to put forward exaggerated claims when starting to develop its own theology of primacy. There can be many differing views as to when these increasing claims began to be unevangelical and intolerable within the context of the Church–in the fourth or ninth or twelfth century–but the "unhappy fact" had already taken place.

One can only try to restore an internal balance within the Church, as the Second Vatican Council saw its task to be; it is impossible to abolish the principle without truncating the gospel itself.

One of the major points of difference with the Anglicans has been the role that of the Petrine office in the maintenance of Church unity. Here is Balthasar on that aspect of the teaching:

The second argument for the Petrine principle is the qualitative difference between the unity of life and doctrine within the "Roman" Catholic Church and the unity that exists within all other, Christian communions. For, if we begin with the Orthodox, no- ecumenical council has been able to unite them since their separation from Rome. And if we turn to the innumerable ecclesial communities that arose from the Reformation and subsequently, even though they are members of the World Council of Churches, they have scarcely managed to get any further than a "convergence" toward unity. And this unity, as we see ever more clearly, remains an eschatological ideal. Christ, however, wanted more for his Church than this.

If we look only from the outside, the Petrine principle is the sole or the decisive principle of unity in the Catholica. Above it is the principle of the pneumatic and eucharistic Christ and his everliving presence through the apostolic element, i.e., sacramental office, fully empowered to make Christ present, and tradition, actualizing what is testified to in Scripture.

Above it, too, is the Sanctorum Communio, the Ecclesia immaculata, concretely symbolized by the Lord's handmaid who utters her Fiat. But these deeper principles could not exercise their unity-creating power right to the end without the external reference of the Roman bishop. And the more worldwide the Church becomes the more threatened she is in the modern states with their fascism of the right and of the left, the more she is called upon to incarnate herself in the most diverse, non-Mediterranean cultures, and the wider theological and episcopal pluralism she contains, the more indispensable this reference-point becomes. Anyone who denies this is either a fanatic or an irrational sentimentalist.
Pax Christi,


  • At 6/14/2010 9:21 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    It just buoys me to see you staying with the ship. I'll be back soon if it remains afloat during these lonely times.
    Pax, Pat.

  • At 6/14/2010 9:29 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Aside from Von B's fine observations, to me one very practical reason for papal infallibility and primacy is simply to avoid any semblance of what would become a "holy bureaucracy" (if one can even tolerate such an oxymoron....).

    If not in the person, then we are left with only an abstract, free floating authority whose utter arbitrariness is only ever brought to determinate discipline by either a majority consensus or an elite bureau who somehow claim the very same sense of superiority to render infallible judgments...things that make you go "hmmmmmmmm"....

  • At 7/10/2010 11:49 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    Indeed. There is a clear practical advantage despite the many ways that such authority could conceivably be abusive in the eyes of our "separated brethren." I've come to think that the Scriptural and Patristic support is actually remarkably convincing (then again, it is preaching to the choir): http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12260a.htm

    Pax Christi,


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