LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Oh Dear . . .

‘A convert, and a fairly recent one’ : that’s me, and it means that there are still things which I come across which I find anything from confusing to downright impossible to understand : and one of these latter I encountered recently in a post on another blog.

I’ve always realized that there are some Catholics who have a ‘thing’ about liturgy and tradition; what I’ve discovered, however, is that there are some Catholics who appear to believe that liturgy and tradition are so important that they take precedence of everything else, including papal authority . . . and that I find extraordinarily difficult to get my head around.

Of course I understand that tradition is crucial to the Church, and to the perpetuation of the Deposit of Faith : but my understanding was that one of the reasons why Our Lord gave power to Peter was to ensure that the Church would always have one person who could, inerrantly, interpret tradition to – and in the light of – the world so that the teachings of Christ could be seen afresh in every generation.

It appears, however, that this is not the case – at least in the minds of some Catholics – and that if the Pope comes into conflict with tradition then tradition must win because it’s been there longer. As the blogger I referred to earlier said, ‘The Catholic Tradition is more solid than the arbitrary decisions of self-important Popes’ !

I’m sorry; but if tradition must always relate only to the oldest authority, then nothing can ever change. English Common Law relies on tradition; but it does not automatically assume that the oldest authority must be right – it considers all the relevant authorities in light of the circumstances, and determines what the correct decision is – and I’d always assumed that this was, in effect, what the Pope did; collate and consider the authoritative traditions and teachings of the Church, seek the advice of competent experts, and then determine the Church’s position on that case at that time.

One of the reasons I became a Catholic was because I came to recognize that – however sincere and right-minded they were – reliance on my own opinions was not a safe path to Heaven : but that the Catholic Church offers the security of reliance on the teachings of the Church, as expressed by the Pope. If I follow those teachings, I cannot sin; and though he may have to answer for them on the Day of Judgement, I shall not.

I respect those who, in conscience, feel unable to subscribe to this position; but I’d value the opinion of a competent theologian as to whether they’re really Catholic.


  1. How perceptive you are, dear Penitent Catholic! I am reminded of the Mad Hatter's tea-party in respect to jam- yesterday or tomorrow, but never today. The traditionalists claim to respect yesterday's Popes, the liberals appeal to tomorrow's Popes, but the only one that matters to us is today's.

  2. Not a competent theologian,just a Catholic. I've long been under the impression that the name for those claiming to be more Catholic than the Pope is "heretic". Perhaps "joker" might be a better term because there can be hardly anything more ridiculous than referring to the pope as "self important"!

  3. The quick answer to your final question is “once a Catholic, always a Catholic” (which is implicit in canon 11). However, since schism is defined to be “refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (canon 751) and schism attracts a latae sententiae excommunication (canon 1364), the potential is there for stubborn adherence to such opinions to render the holder excommunicate.

    However, I suspect that the more obdurate holders of such opinions may reason like this: “by departing from the apostolic traditions in the matter of x, the pope himself has fallen into heresy and therefore has no authority in the matter of x/is no longer pope/has himself incurred excommunication therefore cannot himself exercise the office of pope”.

    Now, canon 333 states that there is no appeal beyond the decision of the pope and canon 1404 states that the first see is judged by no-one. Therefore anyone making such a claim of the pope is on very sticky ground indeed, canonically speaking.

    However (and here I’m off into the realms of speculation) it would appear to be theoretically possible that the pope could incur a latae sententiae excommunication (i.e. one that occurs because of the act itself, independent of any judgement). At this point one possibly has to invoke the axiom of the infallibility of the Church and that therefore such a theoretical possibility would not occur in reality.

  4. "A convert, and a fairly recent one’ : that’s me,"

    Don't worry. When you have been in the Church long enough you'll view the pope in the same way as 99% of other Catholics do.

  5. ...that if the Pope comes into conflict with tradition then tradition must win because it’s been there longer.

    "The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition, and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes, and is thereby able to oppose those people who for their part want to do what has come into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith. That is why, with respect to the Liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile."

    Cardinal Ratzinger, The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid, published by St Michael’s Abbey Press, Farnborough in 2004.

  6. DM

    As an Orthodox Christian, I would simply observe that, like most Roman Catholics (including most "Traditionalists), your understanding of Tradition seems very attenuated at best; I would also observe that this is certainly the consequence of the way in which the Papacy has developed in the second millenium, and especially since Trent - effectively smothering the living Tradition and substituting Itself, as I wrote recently on another blog. What you have to realise is that this idea of "Tradition" as "the Pope of today telling us what he understands from yesterday" is a very modern conception, even in the West.

    The views of the blogger you're discussing here are representative of a particular reaction to the "post-Conciliar crisis" - perhaps the only one that can really claim to be radical (i.e. going to the root): in accordance with its very unillusioned assessment of the last thousand years in the West, true recovery must entail rediscovery of the model of primacy exercised in the early centuries.

    the Catholic Church offers the security of reliance on the teachings of the Church, as expressed by the Pope. If I follow those teachings, I cannot sin; and though he may have to answer for them on the Day of Judgement, I shall not.

    I would ask you very seriously to reconsider this. We are all free and responsible before God. Determinism is not Christian - neither can Christianity be reduced to "teachings" in a merely propositional sense. We are commanded to "become by grace what God is by nature" (St Athanasius), and the essential means of attaining this is by rendering doxa (glory) and eucharistia (thanksgiving). Ortho-doxy is "right-glory". For the Orthodox, dogma, liturgy, sacrament, spirituality are part of seamless, single expression of "right-glory", by which means we "put on Christ" and enter into the reality of the age to come. It is not something subject to being dispensed, reconstituted, proscribed or withheld by any authority on earth. It is the supreme incarnation of the "life of the Holy Spirit in the Church" and therefore a primary locus of all theology and dogma.

    This is the holistic, organic vision that
    some Catholics such as our blogger wish to recover within Roman Catholicism. I wish them well, but I don't think it's possible myself.

  7. Yes, the attraction and wonderful thing about the Catholic faith is that the Church possesses the truth about 'The Truth' so to speak (or is it the other way about in terms of capitalisation), but just as you say the Common Law supports the view of a living breathing tradition, one must also recognise that modern expressions, views, of that truth can actually be in error. Just as a coin can be viewed as circular or as a straight line, so too can perceptions be flawed by dint of the climate they are in, or how they are expressed.

    That said, I like your post, DM, as I think you're heading towards a right viewpoint; however, I think Moretben is touching on the difficulties with it too.

  8. "...that if the Pope comes into conflict with tradition then tradition must win because it’s been there longer."

    The trouble with this, of course, is that it raises the question of who is competent to judge whether or not the Pope has come into conflict with tradition.

    Moreover, if one feels free to say that the post-Vatican 2 popes have come into conflict with tradition, why not (as Moretben does) subject the pre-Vatican 2 popes to the same test?