The Case for Papalotry?

Daniel Schwindt, writing over at The Distributist Review, offers up what he calls “The Case for Popery.” Although Schwindt is normally on his game when it comes to Catholic (social) teaching, this is not his best effort. Consider, for instance, these paragraphs:

Although most Catholics will readily claim “faithfulness” to the Church, in practice this tends to look a lot like the Protestant obedience to Scripture. It begins in good intentions and ends in arbitrariness, and the individual just winds up being obedient to himself alone.

Enter, the Pope.

The office of the pope—the Chair of Peter—was instituted to prevent precisely this sort of descent into abstraction and arbitrariness. Christ knew humanity, and in his supreme wisdom he left behind, not a book or an abstraction, but an Apostle. An Apostle named Peter. And he left him with instructions and a set of keys. The papacy provides the Church with an actual point of reference—a living, breathing, center of gravity within time and place.

Whether intended or not, this type of maximalist rhetoric is deeply insulting to Eastern Catholics everywhere, none of whom recognize the pope as their patriarch nor belong to his rite. Acknowledging in full the pope’s supreme jurisdiction over the Church does not mean following on every word and action he undertakes, particularly if his words and actions are ever contra fide. This is not true just for Eastern Catholics; it is true for Latins as well. 2,000 years of Church history has witnessed scoundrels, rogues, and — yes — even a heretic or two sitting on the papal throne; should these men be considered “point[s] of reference” for the faithful as well? And what of the college of bishops? What are they worth in Schwindt’s papal-centric scheme? Did Christ not have 12 Apostles? Is the Church not more than one man’s successor?

2 comments

  1. Gabriel, you ask a very pertinent question with the following statement: “And what of the college of bishops? What are they worth in Schwindt’s papal-centric scheme? Did Christ not have 12 Apostles? Is the Church not more than one man’s successor?”

    But here is the problem. The actual decree of Papal Infallibility has already answered this question. Infallibility is a “personal charisma” (according to the Catholic encyclopedia) of the Pope and the Council declared that the infallible pronouncements of the Pope do not depend upon the “consent of the Church.” This would appear to exclude the bishops and the so-called magisterium as well from any share in infallibility. I do know that there has been a recent attempt, I think anyway, to distant today’s understanding of Papal Infallibility from this concept, but it is still the concept expressed in Vatican I; and outside of doing away with it completely, I do not see how it can be modified.

    Of course, the present more popular understanding the position of the Pope in the Church seems to be devolving into rock-star status. I really miss the days when the Pope was the prisoner of the Vatican.

  2. I don’t see that there is anything wrong with what he writes here. It remains vague enough to allow for various interpretations. I think it is unfair to read it as saying that we need to follow “every word and action [the pope] undertakes”; it does mean submitting oneself to be ruled by him in his official acts. And I don’t see that this is an insult to the Churches sui juris or to their patriarchs. As the Code of the Canons of the Eastern Churches puts it: «The bishop of the Church of Rome, in whom resides the office (munus) given in special way by the Lord to Peter, first of the Apostles and to be transmitted to his successors, is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the entire Church on earth; therefore, in virtue of his office (munus) he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church which he can always freely exercise.» Yes, one needs to avoid maximalist interpretations of that principle, but the principle itself is perfectly good and necessary.

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