Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On appointing a pope

I know next to nothing about Roman Catholic theology on this point, but Bavinck wonders why the pope who is infallible under certain conditions and on certain matters, "is still appointed by fallible people, even though they are cardinals. Who is in a better position than he who is himself infallible to designate his successor? It is therefore very well possible that in the future papal sovereignty will prove to be incompatible with the power of cardinals. In any case Rome has not yet walked the road of the deification of humanity to its conclusion." (RD, vol 1, p492).

The point is perhaps strengthened now that we have seen a pope retire.


Thomas Renz said...

I don't know a great deal about this but Bavinck possibly overlooks two things: (1) The Roman Catholic teaching is that the church is infallibly held in the truth - the pope's (carefully circumscribed) infallibilty is a sub-category or an instance of the church's (carefully circumscribed) infallibilty. (2) The promise of Christ, as understood by the Roman Catholic church, extends specifically to divine assistance which ensures that dogmatic definitions (of faith or morals) are infallible.

Marc Lloyd said...

Thanks for that, Thomas. I don't know if Vatican II has changed things but Bavinck and Whitaker are pretty insistent that the RC view eventually boils down to the infallibility of the pope alone even over and against the rest of the church if need be. RCs may not agree with that reading, of course. On (2) are you saying that even the pope could not infallibly choose the next pope?

Thomas Renz said...

I don't think Vatican 2 changed anything. The definition of papal infallibility as it was promulgated at the First Vatican Council in 1870: "Faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith...we teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when in discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith and morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiffs are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church."

Put more simply, papal infallibility means that when the Pope (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority over the Church (3) on a matter of faith and morals and (4) to the whole Church, he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from doctrinal error, because (5) he possesses in this instance the infallibility Christ wills for his church in defining doctrine and morals and consequently (6) such statements cannot be reformed even if the whole church were to agree that they should be.

I can see how one might conclude from this that the Pope is above the church but I can also see how a Roman Catholic might legitimately complain that this is not so.

And, yes, infallibly choosing the next Pope doesn't come into it, as identifying the next pope is not a matter of teaching faith and morals.

Thomas Renz said...

The entry in the 1917 (i.e. pre-Vatican 2) Catholic Encyclopedia looks interesting and seeks to show how the pope as an organ of the church's infallibility fits win with ecumenical councils. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07790a.htm

Marc Lloyd said...

Mmm. Ta. Yes, well, I'm no expert but it does sound like he has a pretty absolute (though limited) authority over the church. I can see that the RC might not like it but for the Reformed the question of how "the church" / "tradition" is to be corrected is pretty key and it seems an ultimate answer for the RC might be by the Pope. In the end the Pope can pronounce with absolute authority what the Scriptures mean. The Scriptures could never correct the ex cathedra pronouncements of the Pope. I guess the RC would say well, the Pope will never contradict the Tradition or the Scriptures but.... Perhaps some Evangelicals might be in a similar place with the Spirit and the Scriptures. Dunno.

Marc Lloyd said...

Something to possibly think further about on retirement! :)

Thomas Renz said...

http://catholicism.org/apologetics-infallibility.html deals with historical examples in an attempt to show that it is not possible to name a single case of a pope teaching error ex cathedra. It only examines cases that were cited prior to the official declaration of the doctrine. For us who have come later, a critical issue might be the definition by Pius IX of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.

A faithful RC must accept this doctrine to be in agreement with Scripture or even to flow from a full understanding of Scripture. Any who struggle to see how this doctrine fits with Biblical teaching must either accept it on faith that it does somehow cohere with Biblical teaching or abandon/reject the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope, even in the carefully circumscribed form in which we are urged to accept it.

This does of course relate to our understanding of the church. Did Christ make promises that apply to the church as a visible body? The existence of Arian and JW churches shows that an inerrant Scripture on its own does not preserve communities from grave error. But is there a body, the true church, which Christ preserves from such fundamental error in interpreting Scripture? (RC do of course grant that error has been taught within the church, even by popes. The issue concerns the fundamentals of the faith which Christians have to affirm everywhere in the world on pain of excommunication.)

If so, there can be no *need* to change the church's fundamental teaching on faith and morals, as what is to be believed and how we are to conduct ourselves before God does not change, even if forms and specific applications might change.

If not, there can be no *authority* to change the traditional interpretation of Scripture for the whole church, as interpretation is left to individuals or to communities (denominations) which define themselves as those who submit to a particular interpretation of Scripture, even if other parts of the church don't.

Just thinking out loud.

Marc Lloyd said...

Mt 16:18 would seem to suggest that Christ will keep his church (or at least a bit of it!) from apostasy and church-unmaking heresy. I don't think that could be claimed for any particular visible "church" like the C of E or the Church of Rome but neither does it seem very sensible to apply it somehow only to some invisible church.

Thinking aloud allowed here!

Thomas Renz said...

Yes, this appears to be the dilemma in a nutshell. It seems implausible to read Christ's promise as made to an entity that cannot be sensed and rather bold and not very plausible to claim it for one of the institutions that we can sense.