The Reception of Pope Francis

Posted July 25, 2017 4:40 am by Editor

The Reception of Pope Francis

I am not sure, like most Catholic clergy nowadays, that the Orthodox are not Catholic or part of the Catholic Church, as one might say the churches founded in the sixteenth century are not, or those without valid sacraments are not. Of course those who receive baptism are always in some sense part of the Catholic Church, even if after baptism they go into schism. With the ‘two lung’ theory one might suggest that the Catholic Church itself is deficient without a unity of East and West and the Orthodox would say the same, hence the reaching out of East and West.

In practice one could even suggest that the Great Schism of 1054 only came into effect in 1870 with Vatican I. Until then there seemed to a fair degree of inter-communion, even the acceptance of mutual jurisdiction, Orthodox nuns sought out Jesuit confessors, even Orthodox declarations of marriage dissolution/divorce* were often accepted in most parts of Italy and most of parts of the Catholic world east of Italy. And although as in the Eucharist we might have expressed our theology very differently that these expressions were actually cultural rather than actually an expression of different beliefs, ultimately we could both say, “this is Jesus”.

Yesterday I was listening to Austin Ivereigh on the BBC, the self appointed Papal apologist, who was speaking about the ‘reception or non-reception’ of Amoris Laetitia and the Holy Father’s teaching or even reign and in Saturday’s L’Osservatore there was this fascinating article which speaks of the Italian clergy, high and low opposing Francis. The inference being the Pope was a goody the clergy baddies and ignorant too. Historically that is not how the Church works and this article will probably only serve to highlight the isolation of the Pope and encourage others to speak about it.

I rarely agree with Ivereigh, I often wonder if the Pope does but I think that his reference to’reception’ is important. In the West we have a very feudal and increasingly from the US a presidential attitude to authority, which sees it coming down from above and is imposed on those below. The Orthodox approach is I suspect a little more ‘Catholic’, certainly patristic, it is that Councils and Bishops teach but this is their teaching not the Church’s belief until it is accepted by the whole Church (St Vincent of Lerrins, Catholic faith is that believed always, everywhere and by all).

Thus ‘The Faith’ is the belief of the whole Church and certainly not a few of its hierarchy. Indeed a Pope or Bishop cannot identify themselves as the Church they are ultimately as significant or insignificant as anyone else. Newman interestingly wrote after Vatican I that what the non placet party did and what happened to them was of great importance, obviously he was interested in the long term reception of the teaching Vatican I, post Vatican II we might be thinking not of Old Catholics but of the East too.

In the early days of this Pope’s reign when he so often described himself not as Pope but as Bishop of Rome I thought that we might move to an understanding papacy acceptable to the lungs of both East and West, in line with Patristic teaching, and what I would say was in line with truly Catholic sentiment. A bishop has authority only because he acts in communion with his diocese and with the Church Catholic (the Church in Heaven and on Earth). The Bishop of Rome is no different, indeed than being President of the Church or even its monarch he is the servant of the servants, a title little used nowadays.

I have been bashed by a notorious sedevacantist recently; no rational person would question the election of Francis, he is Pope, despite the manipulations of the St Gallen group. What is a much more a Catholic concern is the acceptance of Francis’ teaching, ultimately how the Church will remember him, indeed if it will remember him at all or as little more than a brief historical throwback or curio. Remembering or not remembering is how the Western Church really deals teaching from above, from Councils, Popes and Bishops.

If the L’Osservatore article is correct, and there is no reason to imagine that it is not, or that it is just reserved to Rome or Italy, it would seem that despite popular acclaim of journalists and those outside or the edge of the Church that the clergy as it says ‘high and low’ -and presumably the committed laity- will quickly forget Francis, most of them of course will still continue when Francis moulders silently in his tomb amongst his predecessors.

 ‘In the end the Lord wins’.

 *On the Orthodox divorce practice, I had a discussion with an Orthodox priest who said, it was practice of Orthodoxy but not its belief because it was plainly contrary to scripture and contrary to Orthodox practice, generally, of lifelong loving Orthodox marriages and therefore it could not be deemed ‘accepted or received Orthodox teaching’.

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