Saturday, September 11, 2010

“My Kingdom is Not of this World.”

We’ve been reading a book called Byzantium, by Judith Herrin. Especially in her section dealing with the conflicts between Rome and Constantinople, she is a remarkably neutral and understanding (probably Jewish?) third party. She’s even got a surprisingly good grasp of the theological points of controversy. She points out that from Rome’s point of view, reunion of East and West always meant submission to the pope. The issue, for Rome, was how to word this, and other matters of disagreement, in such a way as to come up with a formula acceptable to both sides. Put another way (by me, not by Herrin), it was all a word game.

My first reaction was: It’s exactly the same now, a thousand years later!

A recent example of the same tactic: I remember Pope John Paul II asking non-Catholics to explore and discuss with him what they thought the “Petrine Ministry” should be. I said the first thing is, it should actually be a ministry rather than the ultimate form of control (the very opposite of ministry); and the second thing is, it should be genuinely Petrine; viz., should limit itself to the forms of ministry St. Peter actually exercised, and not the things Rome fantasizes he would have done, given the opportunity. Those suggestions were not very well received. Of course not; they defeated the purpose of the question, didn’t they? Because of course the question, underneath the concilatory words, was, "How can we sugar-coat the pill of submission so you can accept to swallow it?"

And my second thought, reading this chapter, was: it’s what you mean that counts. It’s dishonest to try to mask your meaning with pretty or ambiguous words. See The Catechism of the Catholic Church for a prime example of just such ear-pleasing equivocation, a book that contrives to be so vague and in places even so self-contradictory Catholics can use it to support quite a diversity of positions.

That, of course, is what it’s for, “bringing people together”, conservatives, liberals, rad-trads, everybody able to subscribe to the same words, even though by those words each person may mean something quite different from what his neighbor means. This trick, shared words, passes for unity. Shared meanings don’t seem to matter – except one, the meaning of the papacy. The Catechism does make abundantly clear that Catholic “unity” consists of submission to the pope, "the perpetual and visible source and foundation" of it. (Paragraph 882)  Just submit to him and you can keep your precious diversity; who cares? That’s the beauty of it, unity (so called) in diversity, e pluribus unum and all that.

No, what Herrin describes hasn’t changed in all these centuries.

Do you know any pope of the past thousand years who did not aspire to exercise authority, as by divine right, over the whole world? Yet when Christ was offered dominion over all the kingdoms of the world He rejected the diabolical temptation.

That, I think, should tell you all you need to know.