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One of the ‘essentials’ of Christianity then, considered from an historical perspective, has been the need for a source of authority. The reasons are not far to seek.

From the beginning, as we have seen, individuals took it upon themselves, even in Christ’s own presence, to say what was and was not meant when He spoke. Satan plays on our egotism and self-will, as he did on those of our first parents; why should he find new tricks when we keep falling for the old one?

If that is one trick, then there is another which is equally successful, and it is one Our Lord Himself criticised frequently – it is the love of laying excessive burdens on the faithful. There is something in the mind-set of those of us attracted to religion which loves to codify, to elaborate, to set out in detail how this or that or the other should be done. Christ told these ‘hypocrites’ what He thought of them often – Matthew 23: 1-12 is only one of many such criticisms of such behaviour by Jesus. (Matthew 6, 15 and 16 are full of such rebukes). But it comes naturally to men in positions of authority to lay down the law.

Thus, is it the case that at the same time as using their authority to guard and define the deposit of Apostolic truth, Church leaders have (literally) anticipated about the equivalent of phylacteries?  I love ancient liturgies, but I can’t get myself to the point of arguing with Christians who prefer something newer – is that really what Christ meant we He told us to love one another? If not caring enough about a second epiclesis means I am going to Hell, well I will be seeing a lot of other folk there. Christ had nothing to say on that matter, as He did on the subject of the filioque clause although He took a very hard line on those who called their brother a fool; this seems not to have stopped Christians calling each other worse that ‘fool’ over matters on which neither Our Lord nor His Apostles passed an opinion.

For a Faith founded on a call to forgiveness and humility as the road to redemption, Christianity’s leaders seem to have had a great deal of trouble with this two qualities, and absolutely none with throwing anathemata at each other – which given Our Lord’s strictures, has always struck me as odd.

As much as individuals need to curb their tendency towards pride and self-will, so too do individual leaders. Here, it seems to me, that this present Pope and his predecessor have served well. I am aware that some Catholics were affronted by some of John Paul II’s more ecumenical gestures, and by his apologies for things like the treatment of Jews and the sack of Constantinople in 1204, but in that how much there was of humility and repentance, and what an example he set to others. The same is true of Pope Benedict with groups like the SSPX, or with the founding of the Ordinariates to allow Anglicans to come into the Church corporately.

Yes, some purists are shocked and clearly want converts to be bound with as many yokes as they can bear, but that was not the way of Christ, and it is not the way of this successor of St. Peter. One of the oldest of Papal titles was ‘Patriarch of the West’, and, whatever arguments there are over the meaning of ‘primacy’ and the position of the Pope, no-one can deny that he was, and remains, the Primate of the West, and of its missions globally.

That the leader of two billion Catholics, the largest Christian Church by far, can show such restraint and such humility, and such care, is a clear enough sign:

11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.