Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Pope, "Papal Doctrines", and an Ecumenical Suggestion

It strikes me that most, maybe even all, of the doctrines of Roman Catholicism with which the Orthodox disagree are what I call “papal doctrines.” By that term I mean doctrines whose effect is to bolster the papal claims to universal authority, supremacy, and/or infallibility. Offhand, I can think of about five such doctrines.

Communion of Saints
As formulated in Roman Catholicism, this becomes a "papal doctrine", since it is the Pope who determines who is canonized a saint. This leads us directly into the doctrine of

for it is the Pope who controls the “treasury of merits” accumulated by Christ and the saints. The Pope applies these merits at his own discretion. The Pope can get you out of Purgatory sooner than you otherwise would get out, or he can allow you to skip it altogether, as the current Pope did this past December 5th.

In Persona Christi Capitis
Catholic priests celebrating the Eucharist (and other sacraments) are said to be acing in the power, in the place, and in the person of Christ, the Head. (Orthodoxy teaches that Christ’s presence is not in and through a priest, but is direct. Christ is still filling His own place, which is therefore not vacant. Orthodox priests minister alongside Christ, performing the visible counterparts of what Christ, in His own Person, place, and power, is performing invisibly.) The Catholic teaching is a “papal doctrine” not only because Catholic priests are said to stand in the Person and place of Christ (which would be enough to make the doctrine qualify as "papal"), but also because even while representing Christ, they nevertheless stand under obedience to bishops and Pope.

The Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son. The Pope is said to be the Vicar, on earth, of the Son. The implication is that as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son in heaven, so He is also sent by the Son’s Vicar on Earth. The Pope thus becomes custodian of the Holy Spirit on earth.

Note, the closest I can come, offhand, to seeing this spelled out explicitly, is this, from the Catholic Encyclopedia online:

St. Paul was careful (I Corinthians 12, 13, 14) to restrict authoritatively the use of these charismata within the ends for which they were bestowed, and thus insist upon their subordination to the power of the hierarchy.

The effect, then, of the filioque, although not explicitly said, is greatly to enhance papal claims, making it into what I’m calling a papal doctrine.

Doctrine on Religious Freedom
I’ve already commented on this frightening doctrine.

Now if this pattern I think I see holds up, in which just about everything we Orthodox regard as error turns out to be a "papal doctrine", it may reinforce Catholic conviction that the Pope is necessary to keep us on the straight and narrow, while it will strengthen Orthodox conviction that the central problem between us is the Pope.

I have a suggestion, though, for how we might make tremendous progress together on this issue while (for the time being) bypassing "papal doctrines".

The previous Pope asked for input from non-Catholics about how what he called “The Petrine Ministry” might become more acceptable to us. My response is, the first thing is to make it truly Petrine, more like the ministry St. Peter exercised. A first, major step in that direction would be for the pope to renounce all his secular-style power, together with all its trappings, and limit himself to trying to be a spiritual leader. This would move us all along by several giant leaps.