7.16.2007

Benedict Steps Back

I haven't commented at all yet on the two recent sources of controversy from the Vatican, namely the pope's Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum allowing greater use of the Tridentine Mass, or the recent CDF document affirming that Protestant churches are not actually "churches." Or whatever it said. I don't really know, because I haven't actually read it, and the reason is that I don't particularly care, to be perfectly honest.

Based on criticisms that I've read of the CDF document, it sounds to me like it simply restated an old doctrine using pretty much the same language used in Dominus Iesus a few years back. Remember that whole brouhaha? But there was nothing particularly shocking about what it said -- in fact, it would have been quite shocking if it had said something else. The mainstream media completely misunderstood what made that particular document newsworthy, and I suspect the same is true of this recent CDF document. Not that I have any intention of reading it anytime soon.

It seems like it's essentially an argument over terminology. Protestant communities (or whatever) say that they are churches, while the Vatican says that they are not. Well they are what they are, and if Protestants want to call them "churches," I don't see why they particularly care if the Vatican disagrees. (Hello? They're Protestants!) The word "church" can mean one thing in Protestant theology and something entirely different in Catholic theology, no?

Now what about the Tridentine Mass? I don't particularly care a great deal about this either. I love the Latin language. I love to read it, I love to hear it spoken, I love to hear it chanted, Gregorian-style. I have no problem with people going to Mass in Latin if that's what they want. I do, however, have a very serious problem with using the 1962 Missal, without eliminating the prayer for the "conversion of the Jews." Apart from the use of Latin, I don't really understand why Traditionalists were so gung ho about the Tridentine Mass. But obviously they would not have been satisfied with simply having the Novus Ordo liturgy in Latin.

Anyway, I thought I would call attention to this article, "Pope Benedict's Mistake," by James Carroll in today's Boston Globe. Carroll takes issue with Benedict's literalist understanding of apostolic succession, among other things. It's quite interesting. The whole concept of "apostolic succession" is so ludicrous when one looks at the historical evidence that it really cannot be used as the basis for any serious ecclesiology, but Benedict persists...

I suppose it would have been shocking if he had said anything else.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Talmida said...

You haven't lost much by not reading the CDF document, Pear. It's pretty much what you say, just a restatement and clarification of what previous documents said.

What I found particularly amusing was that the non-churches are to be called "ecclesial communities". Huh? What else is a church, but an ecclesial community?
I'd love to know how it translates into Greek -- not ekklesia, but ekklesia?

AS for Carroll, he seems to have the same lack of information that most of the media do. Interesting theory on Benedict, but I still think it's more about the secret language, the private vocabulary.

He's just not speaking to us, the Church, he's writing (and speaking) to the Curia, the theologians, the scholars.

5:27 PM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

Your point about "ecclesial communities" is well-taken. The Greek ekklesia doesn't really mean "church," strictly speaking, but refers rather to an "assembly" of people. However, if we grant that the word "church" is an acceptable translation of ekklesia, as English translations of the Bible tend to do, we can look to the NT for some guidance on this matter.

The earliest uses of the term ekklesia in the NT are in the (authentic) letters of Paul, who never unambiguously uses the term to refer to the entire body of Christians. He is always referring to particular, local churches (with some ambiguous possible exceptions). The notion of a single, universal ekklesia appears to be a later development.

On the other hand, in Matt 16.18 it hardly seems that Jesus could be referring to a local church. (It is important to note that even though these words are attributed to Jesus, this text is later than Paul's letters, and is not generally considered historical for a variety of reasons.)

Anyway, if the Bible has anything to say on the matter, it's that the word ekklesia can have different meanings, depending on who is using it. Which is pretty much the point I made in my post.

As far as Carroll goes, its true he seems as ill-informed as the media is typically, which is unfortunate because he really should know better. But I think his point about apostolic succession is quite valid, and...well, I can't remember what. Something about using inadequate theology and thereby inviting criticisms from the likes of Richard Dawkins, et al.

I don't know, I'm too tired to remember exactly what it was that I liked about his article, but it was something to that effect.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Talmida said...

You're right, the apostolic succession point was important.

I'm not saying I agree with our Benedict -- but I think I see where he's coming from. I guess I just don't expect anything other than what I get from Rome.


Why is it so damn HARD to be catholic??

:-)

8:48 AM  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

That's a very interesting point, actually. Why are people ever surprised by anything that comes out of the Vatican? It is the most predictable organisation in the world. Getting angry about something any reasonably informed person could have predicted -- like the contents of the recent CDF document, for example -- seems quite irrational. I mean, let's say the Vatican was to announce that, in the fall, they were going to release a document clarifying the official position on the ordination of women. The fall rolls around, and the document comes out, restating the traditional position. People would be angry about it, but why? You should have seen it coming!

Maybe people hope that just maybe this time things will be different. They'll change something. But that's a very silly position to take. Because that kind of change happens every few centuries, if that.

I don't think it has to be "hard" to be Catholic at all. As long as you maintain very low expectations about the Vatican, you'll never be disappointed.

1:22 PM  

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