Wednesday, April 05, 2006

On Egaliterianism in the Church:

This is a response to parts of a thread Kevin posted to this humble weblog back in February. His words will be in fire coloured font.

A very successful tactic of egalitarians in the Church was to hijack otherwise fine phrases and suit them to their agenda. Collegiality, which was meant to express the relationship between the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops (and the balance that is struck, so that the Bishop of Rome is not the popular caricature of some irresistible despot who makes every decision himself) has been perverted into the idea that not only can the Roman Pontiff not act individually on issues, neither can local Bishops, who are told to be “collegial” and go along with what other Bishops say. It is not enough for each to be recognized as a Bishop, some having different responsibilities and purpose. We must do away with the idea that Bishops are difference in any sense, all have equal authority (as in the Bishop of Rome is no more powerful than the Bishop of Detroit). Their next plan would be essentially to do away with any such distinctions, destroying the hierarchical nature of the Church.

Yes, there is a problem here with the understanding of collegiality, particularly when it is applied to bishop's conferences which is a misappropriation completely. Collegiality is a doctrine of the church and is rooted in what is of the church by divine institution. Thus, the totality of the episcopate in union with the pope is properly seen as "collegial" and is manifested most clearly at ecumenical councils. However, at provisional synods, it can also be represented if the synod's doctrinal judgments are given at least a tacit approval by the pope.

Ecumenical councils originated in the mind of emperors but the church chose to appropriate them as a useful means of defining doctrine and suppressing errors. Strictly speaking, they are simply more solemn gatherings of bishops than plenary synods the latter of which has Scriptural warrant (see Acts xv). But ecumenical councils are not of divine institution even though they are always in some sense magisterial. By contrast, bishop's conferences are also not of divine institution but they are also generally speaking not magisterial in any proper sense of the term. For that reason, the doctrine of collegiality (which implies a magisterial voice) cannot be applied to bishop's conferences as many are wont to do. Or as I noted in a commentary on certain parts of the code of canon law back in April of 2003:

It is important to note though that in order that the doctrinal declarations of the Conference of Bishops to constitute authentic magisterium "they must be unanimously approved by the Bishops who are members, or receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See if approved in plenary assembly by at least two thirds of the Bishops belonging to the Conference and having a deliberative vote" (Pope John Paul II: Apostolic Letter Apostolos Suos). Further still "[n]o body of the Episcopal Conference, outside of the plenary assembly, has the power to carry out acts of authentic magisterium". (ibid.) Finally, "the Episcopal Conference cannot grant such power to its Commissions or other bodies set up by it". (ibid.) Just as the pope cannot delegate his charism of infallibility to anyone, the conferences cannot delegate its magisterium to commissions or other legislative bodies. [Excerpt from Rerum Novarum (circa April 17, 2003)]

In other words, the pope's role in any authentically collegial action is required whereas the pope is not required to act with the consent of the college of bishops. Or as the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium noted in section 22 in defining the doctrine of collegiality of the episcopate:

[T]he college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. [Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium §22 (circa November 21, 1964)]

This is why those who would whine about the pope electing to do certain things himself as not being "in the spirit of Vatican II" only show that they have no idea what they are talking about and need not to be taken seriously. This is in some sense related to the whol;e egalitarian question (since collegiality is often misappropriated to defend an egalitarian approach); ergo, I touched on it here in the context of this response.

A second issue where egalitarianism is all the rage is in liturgical studies. Here as well they have perverted words. Taking the word ‘presider’ (a term used by such Church Fathers as Justin Martyr to describe the priest who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass) to mean that the priest simply “presides” over the congregation, there is no difference in authority between the average priest and the layman.

That is a perversion of the term certainly.{1}

To add to this fact, it is becoming the increasing trend for the priest’s responsibilities to decline during Mass, the lay faithful doing more. This includes the reading of Scripture, the handing out of communion, the setting up for Mass, etc. Increasingly during each Mass, the priest is always surrounded by the lay faithful, just with more elaborate garments.

We do need to be careful here and not confuse what others can do with what they should do. For with the suppression of the minor orders, a lot of what the minor orders used to be allowed to do has passed onto the lay faithful. There is nothing wrong with this provided that it is kept in proper balance. Certainly nothing Kevin notes above is in and of itself problematical.

Heck, I used to set up for mass when I served the altar with the sspx and/or served as sacristan. Obviously more could be noted than what Kevin does but it suffices to say that this is an area where things can be carried too far.

It was not enough to say that the priest was a sinner just like we were (indeed why he faced the same direction as the congregation during Mass, one of those reasons at least) and that he had rights as a Catholic just like we do, but those rights must include he has no different purpose than the lay faithful.

We must be careful to not confuse the priest's sacramental functions with various liturgical roles. Believe it or not, the idea that the priest was to do everything at mass was nearly as imbalanced as the idea that the laity can do anything the priest can do. However, there are certain roles and functions that only the priest can perform and these need to be emphasized so that there is no confusion involved.

Since just about anyone can “preside”, the priest is there not because of his sacramental powers conferred upon him at ordination to offer sacrifice; the priest is simply our representative before God at Mass.

We should be careful to not presume that certain liturgical functions being done by lay people somehow implies this because that is begging the question. Is it possible that some of those who are involved in various functions take the view that Kevin notes above??? Sure it is but abuses should never be used in and of themselves to disprove a principle. Otherwise, we open up a whole can of worms which is best left closed if you know what I mean.

There seems to be no justification for altar service being permitted to females other than "well boys do it, so girls must be allowed to do this as well; otherwise we are subjecting girls to discrimination."

I disagree, justification could be made (for those who want to make it) that since the altar server role is by logical extension a sacramental, that for that reason girls need not be excluded from the role.

Yet most parents would not as soon dress their little boys up in dresses because "since girls wear them as well, boys must."

Nice retort :)

Furthermore, since as a Catholic they admit that women cannot be priests, then according to their logic, Rome is indeed discriminating by not allowing women to be priests.

I fail to see where this "logic" comes from or even that it is the logical progression from the idea of female altar servers in a church where there cannot be women admitted to the sacrament of Order.{2} Readers are asked to not infer from the above statements that I necessarily support altar girls...only that we need to be careful to not caricature the positions of those who do as my good friend Kevin (with all due respect and I would argue unintentionally) does above.


{1} The Orthodox historian Fr. Nicholas Afanassieff explained the meaning of that term in the context of the subject of papal primacy in this fashion:

We find the first direct evidence about the priority of the Roman Church in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. Speaking of the Church of Rome, Ignatius uses the phrase 'which presides' in two passages...The Roman Church 'presides' in love, that is, in the concord based on love between all the local churches. The term 'which presides' [Greek given] needs no discussion; used in the masculine it means the bishop, for he, as head of the local church, sits in the 'first place' at the eucharistic assembly, that is, in the central seat. He is truly the president of his church...

[Ignatius] pictured the local churches grouped, as it were, in a eucharistic assembly, with every church in its special place, and the church of Rome in the chair, sitting in the 'first place.' So, says Ignatius, the Church of Rome indeed has the priority in the whole company of churches united by concord...[Fr. Nicholas Afanassieff: The Primacy of Peter Ch. 4, pgs. 125-126 (c. 1992) as quoted in I. Shawn McElhinney's Essay The Ante-Nicene Development of Papal Primacy (c. 2001)]

By corollary extension, if the term "president" and "presider" refers to the one who sits in the first chair and is the leader of a church (i.e. the bishop) then the priest who is the vicar of the bishop cannot be seen as merely one among equals in the eucharistic assembly. Instead, the priest heads up the assembly in the absence of the bishop and there is a marked distinction in authority between the priest and everyone else present.

{2} Bishops and deacons by logical extension due to the barring of women from the priesthood: the latter prohibition would seem to me to at least imply a barring from the sacrament of Order in all of its grades and not just the priesthood.