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.


The Marian Model

Given our culture’s severe misunderstanding of marriage (including, especially Catholic circles) in attempting to discuss marriage, I have covered many issues that may be considered tangential, but which I view the building blocks of any discussion. When discussing the man’s responsibilities towards marriage, it was essential to discuss the nature of authority, and the love which is required for that authority to function properly. I will attempt to do the same when focusing on woman.

We know from Ephesians 5 that the woman in a marriage represents the Church, just as the husband represents Christ. This always struck me as peculiar when I read Ephesians 5. For the husband there is a very personal representation that is the analogy has two persons, man and Christ. The woman on the other hand is compared to what is known in our minds as an object. Now while modern philosophers within the Church do in their writings speak of the Church as a person (and in a sense classical theology would understand this since the Church is the body of Christ), I’d like to take a different route. In a certain sense, we could describe the woman in relation to Mary.

Now before we start, a few things need to be explicitly understood. First and foremost, we are speaking in an analogical sense. We are not speaking in a literal sense, that Christ and Mary are married. Yet as Mary was, forgive the cliché and bad pun, “the perfect woman”, if we want to understand how a woman is to act, should we not look to our Blessed Mother?

However, the appropriateness of using the Blessed Virgin in this analogy not only corresponds with her being woman, but in relation to the Church as well. The Second Vatican Council recognized this insight. They devoted a lengthy section of the dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium to this relationship. I will only quote a few passages, but I recommend everyone, I don’t care who you are to read this section.

    By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ. For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God's messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.

As one can see, there is ample reason to consider Mary for this discussion. Numerous virtues are mentioned that both the Church and the Bless Mother posses. If the wife is to be the model of the Church, one would need to consider these virtues as well. In future columns we will do just that. There is however one more way I’d like to consider this comparison, primarily by referencing a popular Marian devotion, which is to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.

When one is a young bachelor such as this humble journalist, one is going to eventually end up discussing the marriage issue amongst friends, particularly those of the female persuasion. Even in Catholic circles, my constant reference to Ephesians 5 and the issue of subjection tends to draw quite a bit of anger from the females; however they rarely seem to understand it. So often I hear “there is no way I am going to be subject to a husband, I will never be in a marriage where he has 100% authority and I just do whatever he says.” While it is understandable the world sees the Catholic concept of marriage as this (failing to understand the mystical elements), it is far less forgivable that Catholics see it in this sense as well. We seem to underestimate just how devastating feminism has been in the Church today. We think like egalitarians. We think equality in dignity means equality in everything else. If man has authority in one aspect, he must have authority in domination in every aspect. It’s an all or nothing game for some today. There’s just one problem with this concept. It is as far from Catholicism as night is from day. In his landmark encyclical (and required reading for any study of marriage or the mystical union of man and woman before anything else) Casti Conubii Pope Pius XI, in developing the thought of Leo XIII (who wrote what could be viewed as the groundbreaking work on Christian Marriage Arcanum), had the following to say about the issue of “subjection” in Ephesians 5:

    This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.

One could say that while the man clearly has authority in the household, there is indeed “the sphere of the woman.” Women by nature are far better at matters of the heart than us men. Whenever the child needs discipline, they are sent to the father. Whenever it is something deeply personal, that requires great care and love to talk about, the father is the last person that child dare approaches. We don’t handle these matters well, but the mother most certainly does. It could be said that in matters of the heart, the woman reigns supreme. It is her guiding influence in manners of the heart that keep the marriage along a safe course, and it could be said it is the principles of love and the heart which keep the head of the household in the right direction so that he may lead.

It is here the Heart of Mary may be reflected upon. Not tainted by original sin as the hearts of everyone else, Mary’s heart could indeed be viewed a heart of perfect love. That love manifests itself in two ways, in regards to Christ and in regards to the Church. Whenever a Catholic asks the intercession of the Mother of God, it can be said to be the classical principle of going “to Christ, through Mary.” Mary leads us always to her Son. She never uses her love for her own sake, for her own glory. That is the antithesis of love. Love has no room for narcissism. It always to someone else. It could also be said to function for the benefit of the Church as well. In all the Marian apparitions, whatever one thinks of them, it is always something similar that Mary appears to draw people to the Church. As a result, what logic and clever argument could not do, a Mother’s love would do in causing numerous conversions to the Church.

In what specific ways did the Heart of Mary act, and how can this relate to the issue of the action of women in marriage? Future installments will ponder this very relevant question.