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38600_843539887358_21706405_45824793_33715_nIt is one of the pleasures of Jessica’s community here that there is a real opportunity for thoughtful exchanges with other Christians who, whilst having a view different from one’s own, are not trying to prove some polemical point, but rather to do what I like to do, which is to advance understanding through discussion. I much enjoy what Malcolm and Geoffrey bring, in this respect, as I do the contributions of Struans, whose response to my last post deserves, as usual, to be rescued from the comments box.

Taking on board my points about the Papal States having existed for a good reason, Stuans went on to make a series of excellent points which provide food for thought and further discussion.

His first one is this:

(a) if there was a need at one point (even for an extended period of time) for a protective capacity for the papacy, that doesn’t necessarily mean at all that such structures need to be maintained for all time, especially in todays Europe – so if the Vatican current power structures are as they are because of the possibility of external threats, then I suggest that todays more benign environment is an ideal time to reform now that the threat is diminished

To which I would say that it remains essential for the Pope not to be the subject of any earthly ruler, so we need the Vatican City state. As my previous posts suggest, reform of the actual system of governance is something (with the caveats mentioned below) I would welcome.

His second point is this:

(b) that there was a possible perceived need for the papacy to have such protective capacity as you have outlined was, I suggest, a direct result of the papacy claiming exclusive power for itself, in the sense of it’s claimed ability to direct all of Christendom by the say so of one man. If there were a continuation of a distributed form of power, such as existed before the Gregorian reforms, by either ecumenical councils, or otherwise, then I suggest that there would be less of a threat to the bishop of Rome – he’d be just one bishop amongst others. Indeed, it’s not the case that to have the bishop of Rome agree is a prerequisite to agreement at ecumenical councils as evidenced by Nicaea.

Here I am not sure that there is not a misinterpretation involved, but since it is one shared by many Catholics, it is a fruitful one.

Does the Papacy claim to direct all of Christendom? One of the advantages of the 1871 definition of Infallibility (and there are some) is that it clarifies what is of God and what is not. On matters of faith and moral teaching, the Pope is, when speaking as Pope, infallible There’s no inherent reason why that gives (or gave) him any claim to rule any secular State or to direct its activities. Newman thought that the loss of the Papal States might be a blessing; so it is.

The idea though that the Pope is one bishop among others is one not held at Nicaea (where Rome was recognised to have precedence). Since Christendom before its division did not take such a view, why it should now eschew historical practice and take up something novel is unclear. The last Pope recognised that he was a Bishop, but he is one with special responsibilities. You may be able to run a national or local church is synodical manner; you cannot do that globally. Look at the UN if you want to know what happens if you try that one.

(c) if the papacy is able to evidence threats by temporal powers, then I suggest that it oughtn’t be assumed that the papacy has been benign in the coming about of such matters: I offer, from an English perspective, the praemunire controversies.
However, I accept that it is easy to look back with hindsight.

No side in any historical controversy is blameless, but it might be noted that it tends to be the bishops and archbishops who get killed, not the monarchs concerned; Becket would be one example, but Cranmer another.

The sticking point for the majority of the world’s Christians though will come on something insisted on by a minority, and it is well expressed by Struans:

Indeed the basis, so I believe, for unity, as proposed by the Anglican Communion in it’s involvement with the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission is that the bishop of Rome can be recognised by Anglicans as head of the church as long as that is understood to be a primacy of honour amongst bishops, not of power.
Needless to say, not to have primacy of power is a sticking point here.

I would say that depends on the meaning of primacy and power. Primacy of honour is worth nothing when the Truth is at stake – unless those who accord it acknowledge it to be more than mere words. In the end, on various matters, there are, as Geoffrey’s posts show, some things on which the Church cannot compromise: Christ in the Word Incarnate; God is Triune in nature; Christ alone saves. There are a bundle of other things tied in there too. But, at its lowest, we need an umpire and we need others to abide by his decision. Our history as Christians suggests we are bad at accepting his decisions. Those who don’t want him to make those rulings are, in advance saying they want to go their own way. That is fine, but sets severe limits to ecumenism.