• RSS Queering the Church

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
  • RSS Spirit of a Liberal

    • Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand September 15, 2014
      Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier's Story has just been released. The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain--"Ain't gonna study war no more." Golden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout that is […]
      Obie Holmen
    • Gay Games Symposium July 21, 2014
      I am pleased and honored that the UCC has asked me to moderate a symposium during the games entitled Queer Christians: Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future. [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
      Obie Holmen
  • RSS There Will be Bread

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
  • RSS The Wild Reed

    • Photo of the Day April 17, 2018
      See also the previous Wild Reed posts:• Spring's Snowy Start• Farewell Winter• Out and About – Winter 2017-2018Image: Michael J. Bayly.
      noreply@blogger.com (Michael J. Bayly)
    • The Spring Blizzard of 2018 April 14, 2018
      It's being called a blizzard and a winter storm of "historic" proportions. I'm opting to acknowledge the season we're actually in (as hard as it may be to believe) and calling it the spring blizzard of 2018. . . . And, yes, it's still very much happening right now in the Twin Cities and across southern Minnesota.I was out in it […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Michael J. Bayly)
  • RSS Bilgrimage

  • RSS Enlightened Catholicism

  • RSS Far From Rome

    • the way ahead March 23, 2013
      My current blog is called the way ahead.
      noreply@blogger.com (PrickliestPear)
  • RSS The Gay Mystic

    • Mystical Czech artist, Marie Brozova February 22, 2018
      About Life, Universe and All…The luminous Czech artist, Marie Brozova, creator of the wonderful 'Forest Shaman' painting featured on my blog, lives with her husband and seven cats deep in a Czech forest - without electricity or running water. No computers, no cell phones, no TV. Only the silence and the sounds of nature and the spirits. Artist Mari […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Richard Demma)
    • SPICING UP THE CHURCH: February 14, 2018
      Here is the website of the wonderful meeting group for gay Christians in the Czech republic, Logos. And below is their position statement. Check them out. Logos – Gay Christians in the Czech RepublicWe are an ecumenical fellowship of gay and lesbian Christians and their friends, in which we share our faith in all its diverse manifestations, and try to suppor […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Richard Demma)
  • RSS The Jesus Manifesto

    • Another World is Neccessary: Anarchism, Christianity and the Race from the White House July 30, 2008
      I’ll be presenting at the upcoming Jesus Radicals conference in Columbus, Ohio. My session (on the relationship between Church and State) will be on Friday afternoon. If you’re in the area, drop by. I’d love to meet some of the folks who frequent this site. Here’s the info: August 15-16, 2008 St. John’s Episcopal 1003 W Town Columbus, OH [...]ShareThis […]
      Mark Van Steenwyk
  • RSS John McNeill: Spiritual Transformations

  • RSS Perspective

    • Kittens go to the vet April 20, 2018
      Today my sister gave me a ride to the vet to take the two kittens. One had an eye that hasn't opened and the vet place had taken a step back from agreeing to adopt the kittens out. But things seem to be working out. The vet loved the kittens and said they would be very adoptable - they said they would take them in about a week or so. The kitten with the […]
      noreply@blogger.com (crystal)
  • Advertisements

The Bishops of Rome

William Lindsey’s post on “The Canonization of John Paul II : I dissent”, has drawn some vigorous and useful discussion.  One of these comments asked for substantiation of my assertion that JP II had been responsible for undoing some important decisions of Vatican II, which I promised to provide in a separate post – which I am now preparing. However, the issue of Vatican II and of John Paul’s relationship to it cannot be understood without reference to the bigger story of papal power an collegiality, which  I am also researching. In the meantime, it could be helpful to look at some of the features of the papacy from the earliest times, which I originally placed at Queering the Church.

Whenever I look at the institutional Catholic church, as represented by the Vatican establishment and local bishops around he world, at its centralised, totalitarian power structures, its despotic control of speech, and self-selecting methods of appointment and promotion, its wealth, flamboyance and ceremonial, I wonder how the small band of early Christians, so utterly different in culture, ethos and practice, could ever have developed into what we know today as the Roman Catholic church?

“All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. Day after day they met as a group in the temple, and they had their meal together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts.”

-Acts 2: 44-46

This passage is well known, and clearly refers to a small group of people sharing possessions, as is feasible when a small group share strong beliefs. But what happened later? How did the sharing of possessions extend to the trickier issue of decision-taking? Later in Acts, we read, in connection with the journey of Paul & Barnabas to Antioch:

“Then the apostles and the elders, together with the whole church, decided to choose some men from the whole church and send them to Antioch with Paul & Barnabas.”

-Acts 15:22

To me, that sounds pretty much like joint decision taking, as well as a simple sharing of possessions. We have at least a superficial dramatic contrast between the earliest church, and the modern power structure we have today. This may, of course, have been inevitable. It is clearly impossible for a church the size that we have today, to literally live together and share all possessions in common (although some religious orders make a determined effort to do just that). Perhaps a democratic church is also simply no longer possible, given its size.

Still, I don’t like obvious contradictions, and for a long time have wanted to know more about how this one developed. Reading Eamonn Duffy’s splendid history of the papacy, “Saints and Sinners”, has given me that opportunity. I have now completed a first reading, sufficient to provide at least room for some initial reflection. More detailed consideration will come after a further, slower reading and more careful analysis.

The first burning question I had was settled within the first few pages. The official Catholic position is that the papacy was founded by Christ himself, and with an unbroken line following down 2000 years, the Catholic Church has a clear and incontrovertible status as the one true church. Further, since the popes stand in the direct line of succession, they are effectively Christ’s spokesmen on earth, so that the Lord could not allow popes to be in serious error on matters of teaching. (Anybody seriously ready to stand by that second proposition after reading this, or any other history of the papacy, should watch their cheque books. There could be any number of people ready to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge). The response to the first proposition is easy: bollocks.

Duffy makes clear, right at the outset, that although the traditional view is that Peter and Paul were the first Popes and martyred in Rome, there is no historical evidence for this. He does not deny this, just states “not proven”. Far more damning, is the clear evidence that they could not have been popes, or even bishops of Rome, for the very simple reason that the office simply did not exist. In the very beginning, Rome was just one of a number of Christian communities spread across many cities of the Mediterranean. In each of these cities, the local churches were independent of each other, each led by their own elders, or “presbyters.” In some of these cities, there began to emerge the office of a “bishop” as leader among the presbyters but Rome was late in starting the practice, and even where they did appear, in some cases there were more than just one bishop to a city.

There was clearly no bishop of Rome until at least after 107 AD, and even by the middle of the 2nd century, Amicetus, the first of the early “popes” to be known in the historical record, referred to his predecessors as “presbyters”, and not as bishops.

The picture presented by the official Catholic version, of an unbroken line of popes in undisputed authority over the church, is just like so much of Vatican claims: remarkably economical with the historical truth.

Looking back over the full 2000 year story, the overriding impression that I have is one of a constant struggle over ever-expanding power, a struggle waged between the popes and temporal power over their respective domains, struggles to secure papal office, a gigantic (unresolved) struggle with the Eastern churches for undisputed primacy, struggles with the cardinals and bishops over the limits of papal authority against local jurisdictions, and often struggles with the Vatican staff itself, attempting to preserve their own way of doing things against brief reforming interludes. Bureaucratic inertia and fiefdoms, it seems, outlive the human spans of single reforming bishops.

To my disappointment, I see very little evidence of the long –term success of reform movements. There have been many reforming popes: most notably perhaps a wave of important reformers early in the second millennium, the counter-reformation which attempted (too late) to implement the reforms they could not commit to before Luther made his mark, and most recently the invigorating breath of Vatican II.

Latterly, we have seen the reaction set in, with determined efforts by the curia, and then by John Paul II and Benedict XVI to undo those parts of V2 reforms (but not all) that they disapproved of. One observation about Benedict’s resistance in particular that has stuck with me, is an observation that Benedict felt the Council showed too much complacency with the world outside, and was not sufficiently rooted in Christology, in particular. This is an observation that intrigues me: what aspects of Christ’s example and message does Benedict think the church should be emphasising more than it does? I don’t suppose it is the bit about paying scrupulous attention to the letter of religious law. Christ was well known for His rejection of religious legal literalists, and for placing love and service ahead of religious scruples. I haven’t yet read of Benedict telling us to give the catechism on sexuality, or canon law, less importance than the primacy of love.

This would be unbearably depressing, were it not for a compensating sense of the modern church that I have, not discussed by Duffy: that of a theologically more educated, more assertive laity (and religious sisters). Even as it is seeking to regain and extend the control it had before the Council, the Vatican has to deal with an uncomfortable fact which was not an issue earlier: in a democratic, educated and electronic age, asserting a claim to control is a lot easier than actually achieving it. They cannot put the genie of lay participation back in the bottle, they can not put the toothpaste back in the tube.

I hope to bring you more detailed observations, and summaries, of the rise of papal power later.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: