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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Playing Catholic Jeopardy

The Answer: The Bishop of Rome

What's the question?

Well, therein lies a tale.
And, yes, it does have something to do with the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope and the Council: Take I
In 857 AD, a layman living in Constantinople, named Photius, was well-known for his learning about the Catholic Faith. He was also related by marriage to the emperor. The emperor, sadly, was living in incest with his daughter-in-law. The patriarch of Constantinople, one Ignatius, judged that this constituted public scandal and mortal sin, and so refused the emperor reception of the Eucharist at the high feast of Epiphany in that same year.

The emperor did not much like being refused. He banished Ignatius, sent Photius through an intensive six-day course in the priesthood, and then had him ordained patriarch of Constantinople. To add insult to insult, the bishop who ordained Photius had been excommunicated by Ignatius long before Ignatius was banished. Photius' willing acceptance of this ordination by an excommunicate bishop to an already occupied see made Photius automatically excommunicate.

Obviously, Ignatius was unhappy with all this. He protested strenuously to the Pope. Just as obviously, both the emperor and Photius defended themselves. Each wrote separate letters to the Pope begging him to investigate the matter and justify the new consecration. 

The Pope called Fourth Constantinople, the eighth ecumenical council of the Church to resolve precisely this problem. The Council not only deposed Photius and declared his ordination invalid, it also declared that the man could never again be validly ordained nor ever hold the patriarchate of Constantinople. Remember, Fourth Constantinople was called precisely to deal with the problem of Photius, and this was their solution, ratified by the Pope. 

Of course, neither the emperor or Photius were willing to stand by the resulting decision of an ecumenical council, ratified by the Pope. Photius excommunicated the Pope. Sadly for him, his emperor was soon murdered, another seized the throne. Photius was sent to a monastery to live out penance and Ignatius was restored as Patriarch of Constantinople.

But Photius was smart and Photius was young while Ignatius was old. Photius not only did penance, he ingratiated himself with everyone, including the now-restored Ignatius. And he waited. When Ignatius died, Photius had become so popular that the whole city begged the Pope to place Photius on the patriarchate's throne. The Pope ignored his own personally ratified decrees, the decrees of the eighth ecumenical council, and did so. Photius was now Patriarch of Constantinople.

The Pope and the Council: Take II
Why do I tell this story?
Because every traditionalist who loves the Latin Mass is always on about the horror of Vatican II, how it was mis-interpreted, slapped around, how the liturgy was dressed as a prostitute and forced to do the walk of shame according to the rules of the liberal modernist Freemasons in the Church. 

"Oh, how terrible that the liberals distorted the true teachings of the Council!" they cry. "You see, if we follow the council's documents, the Mass should really look like X or Y or Z! The Council was suborned!"

Perhaps it was.

After all, just as with the Eighth Ecumenical Council, we must not only ask whether Vatican II was suborned, but who, exactly, suborned it.

The answer is, of course, the answer which heads this essay: if the Council was suborned, the Pope did it.

Now, you can claim the Pope was fooled, the Pope didn't know, the Pope was in Mongolia while nefarious Freemasons twisted the Council all out of recognition. You can claim whatever you want. 

But we all seem to forget that the Pope who instituted the Novus Ordo was at the council. 
He participated in the discussions, he voted on the decrees in the first session.

He knew full blessed well what was in the Vatican II decrees. If he didn't know what was in the decrees, he was either stupid or a fool. You can say he was stupid, you can say he was a fool, but you can't claim that he was ignorant of what the Council wanted. You cannot claim that he was ignorant regarding how what he voted on matched up against what he eventually implemented.

If you are a traditionalist, you fully recognize that the Pope has the power to sweep away conciliar decrees.
That's exactly what the Pope did after Fourth Constantinople.
That's exactly what the Pope did after Vatican II.
So quit blaming the Council for the Novus Ordo.

If you don't like the Novus Ordo, lay the blame wherever you will, but you cannot ignore the facts: the Pope bears the sole praise/blame for the Novus Ordo liturgy. If you leave that out, you demonstrate willful blindness to the facts.

Prudentially Speaking
Now, there's nothing wrong with saying the Pope screwed up in his prudential decision to implement the new liturgy. The Pope's prudential judgement has been wrong in the past. Consider the sin of abortion:
Sixtus V excommunicated all who practised abortion (1588), irrespective of opinions about animation. Absolution from this excommunication was reserved to the Pope himself. 
Gregory XIV later decided that the action of Sixtus was not reducing the scale of the abuse and, while still condemning all abortion, allowed that others beside himself might absolve from the sin of abortion before the time of animation. Gradually Catholic thenlogical opinion came to discard the Aristotelian distinction between the animate and the inanimate foetus.
...[I]n 1869 ...Pius IX in revising the list of excommunications reserved to the Pope quietly suppressed all mention of different categories of abortion. Thus a distinction which had been used by canonists to reduce the penalty—though not the sin—of abortion was discarded for good.
Was Sixtus V right to do what he did? 
Probably not.
Gregory XIV certainly didn't think so.
Pius IX certainly agreed with Gregory XIV.

And Sixtus V's judgement was always a concern. His edition of the Vulgate, for instance, was rife with errors.

But, for at least several years, the Church had to labor under Sixtus V's prohibition on absolution for abortion.  

So, today we have had a Pope who, by at least two later Popes' judgements, made a bad call on the liturgy. Too bad, so sad. Life is like that sometimes. 

The point is this: if you really are a traditionalist, and you really believe the Pope has greater authority than an ecumenical council, then you cannot blame Vatican II or the modernists or the Freemasons or the small green leprechauns of the Emerald Isle for the Catholic liturgy available in most parishes today.

The Pope, for good or ill, is responsible for what we celebrate.
Stop blaming people who don't deserve it. 

Told ya' so...

For those who think Fourth Constantinople was a one-off deal, it wasn't.

Pope did the same thing with Fifth Lateran - council decreed a lot of reforms, Pope signed off, nobody did squat about reform, Martin Luther hammers 95 Theses on the door seven months later.

Pope did the same thing with Council of Constance. Council decreed there must be an ecumenical council every five years, Pope signed off on it. Yeah. Whatever. That was the end of that.

Ecumenical councils are advisory. Popes do what they want.


Andrew said...

I think you must hang out with different traditionalists then I have met. None of the ones I know have shown any reluctance to be critical of Paul VI, John Paul II, or any other Pope if they think he messed up.

On the other hand, there are a great many cases where the liturgy as celebrated in a parish near you contains elements that were not condoned by ANY Pope, and were thought up by the local priest, music director, liturgist, etc.


Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Your comments make sense. The head man is the one who is ultimately responsible for what goes down. The other factors (Freemasons, modernists, councils) wouldn't get to first base if the Pope stopped them. Look at Pius X. He drove the modernists underground with that oath. Both the pro-Novus Ordo and anti-Novus Ordo folks need to realize that things won't change until the head man changes, either by changing his mind or being replaced by another man.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Think of all the books that have been written about Vatican II:

What Went Wrong With Vatican II by Mcnerny or Crisis of Truth by Ralph Martin or Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning, and yada, yada, yada.

What a waste of ink.

Vatican II is only as meaningful as the Popes decide it is. Beyond that, it is completely irrelevant.

I really don't want to hear another traditionalist complain about Vatican II - the council isn't responsible for any of what followed.

Flambeaux said...

Complaining about the Council is, for most, the only alternative to straight-up sedevacantism.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Sadly true.

People won't allow the Pope to exercise bad prudential judgement, i.e., they won't allow for the possibility of a stupid Pope.

Somehow, infallibility has been transmuted into impeccability or perfect knowledge or perfect judgement. So, we blame a whole roomful of men for the imperfections of one man.

I'm pretty sure that's not the solution to the problem.

Andrew said...

Not sure that I can agree with:

"Vatican II is only as meaningful as the Popes decide it is. Beyond that, it is completely irrelevant."

The Council happened. The Pope can't make it unhappen. Benedict XVI (or any other Pope) can't undo Vatican II with a wave of the magic wand anymore than he can undo the Council of Nicea or Trent.

It's also important to remember that the Pope is not an all-powerful Big Brother who sees all and controls all in the Church. Examination of the Council documents is worthwhile, because plenty of people read them. If there is ambiguity in the documents it can lead to confused implentation by the faithful, even if the Holy Father knows exactly what the Council means and goes around saying so.

"The Pope can do no wrong. Any critcism of the Pope is equivalent to heresy" is not something I've seen from anyone I'd describe as a traditionalist. It IS something I see from what I'd describe as theological neo-conservatives. It's been my experience this mindset is quite prevalent at Steubenville. Of course they contradict themselves by having no problem criticizing the Pope on matters involving just war theory or social doctrine.

Fr. Ripperger did an excellent piece comparing traditionalism and neo-conservatism.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

All kinds of councils have happened in the course of Church history. So?

Any council is irrelevant unless the Pope ratifies it.

The Pope can toss conciliar decisions overboard with no repercussions.

Now, you can argue about the Pope being unable to throw over accurate dogmatic statements, yada. But no doctrinal statement is dogmatic unless the Pope ratifies it, no prudential decision can stand if the Pope turns against it, even if it IS ratified.

So, councils don't really matter. What matters is what the Pope ratifies and implements. Period.

Flambeaux said...

And popes can also ignore conciliar decrees, as has happened several times.

Fr. John Hunwicke had an excellent post about this on his late blog Liturgical Notes citing.

Jordanes551 said...

"The Pope can do no wrong. Any critcism of the Pope is equivalent to heresy" is not something I've seen from anyone I'd describe as a traditionalist. It IS something I see from what I'd describe as theological neo-conservatives.

"The Pope can do no wrong. Any criticism of the Pope is equivalent to heresy" is a straw man, a caricature of the views of those whom "traditionalists" have taken to calling "neo-conservatives" (and this "neo-con" talk is an imposition of U.S. political categories and controversies upon the Universal Church). It's also a caricature of Steve's expressed views here.

Andrew said...

There is a large overlap between theological neo-conservatives and political neo-conservatives, but I used the term here only in the theological sense, the meaning of which was explained in more detail in the article that I linked to.

I have indeed met people on many occassions who don't think the Pope is capable of making an erroneous statement. Period. If you've only encoutered it as a straw man, that's great, but such a mentality does indeed exist.

To clear up some confusion, yes, a Pope ratifies councils, but a later Pope can't pretend that his predecessor didn't ratify a past council.

Andrew said...

To be a bit more clear on my question to Steve,

Do you mean to say Vatican II would have been irrelevant if Paul VI had said so?

Or that it can be made irrelevant today if Benedict XVI says so?


Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yes, Vatican II would have been irrelevant if Pope Paul VI had said so. All he needed to do was refuse to ratify anything the Council said - then it would not have been an ecumenical council. Instead, it would have been a lot of bishops who were apparently on vacation in Italy.

A later Pope doesn't need to pretend his predecessor didn't ratify a council. He can just ignore the council's ratified statements. That's exactly what happened after Fourth Lateran.

Fourth Lateran had a long list of reforms that were supposed to be implemented. The Popes ignored them entirely - didn't implement ANY of them. Same thing happened after the Council of Constance. According to Constance, we were supposed to have an ecumenical council every five years - a decision duly ratified by the Pope.

But we didn't.

It's 500 years later, and Constance STILL hasn't been implemented.

The idea that we should give a rip about either the spirit of Vatican II or the words of Vatican II is really a kind of conciliarism.

A council only matters insofar as a Pope decides to implement it. Otherwise, it is like the advice a parish council gives your local church pastor - interesting, but irrelevant.

Andrew said...

Thanks for clarifying Steve.

Andrew said...

Just a couple more questions. If it's a waste of time spending reading Vatican II documents, why did you reference Nostra Aetate in a recent post?

Secondly, do you see a difference between a Pope having the ability not to implement what a council has said, and a Pope having the ability to declare that a Council has taught error on a matter or faith or morals?

For example, does the Pope's ability to render Vatican II irrelevant, mean that he can declare Nostrae Aetate was in error, and that all Jews across all time are personally responsible for killing Christ?

Pax Christi

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Doctrine does not change.
The Pope cannot decree doctrine false.

It doesn't matter whether it is you, me, a council or the Pope presenting the doctrine - it is doctrine.

Insofar as I reference a conciliar document, it is because that document explains the doctrine clearly. Why reinvent the wheel?

Obviously, there's a difference between papal infallibility (the ability to judge whether a council has taught doctrine correctly) versus prudential judgment (how best to implement a doctrine).

But, since Vatican II declaimed itself a "pastoral council", not a doctrinal council, the council itself is saying that everything it adjudged was prudential, not doctrinal. The Popes are free to ignore conciliar prudential judgement.

Insofar as a council is able to proclaim doctrine, that is due to the fact that the doctrine is a pre-existing truth. It is true regardless of whether or not a council recognizes it as true.

Conciliar doctrinal statements merely reiterate what we already know to be true. Conciliar prudential/disciplinary statements have no weight other than what the Popes give them. So, in these regards, councils are not particularly relevant.

Thus did Chrysostom say, "What good ever came out of an ecumenical council?"

Andrew said...

I agree that not everything in a council document (like other types of Church documents) has the same weight or authority.

However, I would submit that you've backed off the claim that Pope can make the Council or its documents irrelevant, or that reading and discussing them is a waste of time.

As you say, the documents can and do present doctrine clearly sometimes. Other times they present doctrine in what is arguably a confusing manner, and sometimes they present no doctrine at all. So we see at least two reasons for studying and discussing the documents:

1) They are a source for learning doctrine.

2) They can be useful for clearly presenting doctrine to other people.

If the Pope chooses to ignore anything non-doctrinal that was in the council documents it does not make the above points less true.

Pax Christi

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Ok, let me make this clear.
There are only two things a Pope can do in governing: teach doctrinal truth or administer prudential decisions.

Truth pre-exists councils. What a council says about the truth is irrelevant because a council is not necessary to teach the truth.

Prudential decisions about Church governance belong to the Pope alone, not to a council. The council can recommend, but the Pope is free to ignore the recommendation. So councils are not necessary to prudential decisions either.

Councils are in no way necessary to the passing on of the Faith.

Reading or discussing conciliar documents dealing with prudential decisions is a complete waste of time. The Pope is the one who makes prudential decisions, not the councils.

So, complaining about how Sacrosanctum Conciliam, for instance, was not properly implemented is just stupid. If the Pope doesn't care what the document said (and obviously none of them have cared very deeply, if at all), why should I care what SC said?

Insofar as Nostrae Aetate said the Jews were not corporately responsible, it simply summarized two centuries of papal teaching. It is useful only as a summary of papal teaching, and not beyond that.

Papal teaching trumps conciliar ruminations. Period.

Andrew said...

But as you said, the Council documents were approved by the Pope. So the Council documents ARE papal teaching.

Pax Christi

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yes, and as I ALSO said, Vatican II, according to its own self, produced only PRUDENTIAL (pastoral) judgements, so the Pope is free to set any of those aside at any time.

Thus, Vatican II is a completely irrelevant council.

Andrew said...

You just said that Vatican II also summarized papal teaching and is a source to read about doctrine.

The Vatican II documents contain pastoral judgements. That's true. But it's not the only thing they contain. If it was the only thing they contain, then the statement that not all Jews are presonally responsible for the killing of Christ, would be a pastoral judgement.

But going beyond the question of pastoral vs dogamatic, just because something is pastoral doesn't make it irrelevant. A leader has advisers. Sometimes he takes their advice, sometimes he doesn't. Even when he doesn't take their advice, the advice is often not irrelevant as it can help form his thought process and lead to whatever action he does take.

It's not doctrine or dogma that Steve Kellmeyer should remember his wife's birthday (or that I should remember mine). I would venture to say it's also not irrelevant to either or us if we forget or remember.

As has been the case on other topics in the past, I think on substance we at least largely agree, but are using different terms. And terms matter.

Did Vatican II revolutionize the Church? No. Is it the cause of all the ills in the world? No. Do liberals and traditionalists both make it out to be things that it's not? Yes.

But it's not irrelevant.


Steve Kellmeyer said...

Andrew, think before you type.

Yes, VCII summarized papal teaching. So does Ludwig Ott's book, Frank Sheed's books, lots of different sources summarize papal teaching. So?

The teaching on the Jews pre-existed the Council. VC II said nothing new on doctrine because it CAN'T have said anything new.

If it said something new, it would have been heresy.

Everybody kicks because they claim VCII wasn't implemented before or is being torn down now.

But NOBODY SHOULD CARE if VCII was or wasn't implemented. That's the POPE'S decision, not yours, not mine.

When ANYONE kicks about the status of VCII prudential judgements, they are implicitly saying the Pope was bound by VCII.

Because VCII is not relevant.

It CANNOT be relevant unless the Pope implements it. If the Pope doesn't implement it, then nobody has a right to kick.

If you're going to insist VCII matters, then you should start complaining about Photius and about Constance and the lack of ecumenical councils every 5 years, and yada, yada, yada...


VCII is irrelevant, just like all the other councils have been. The only thing that matters is what the Pope implements. That's it. Anything a council says or does that a Pope doesn't affirm or implement is a dead letter.

Andrew said...

Hi Steve,

I try thinking before typing, not always succesfully though. I appreciate your help in stimulating my thought process, and hope I may offer a little of the same to you.

The question is relevant to what?

Is it your contention that Frank Sheed's books or Ott's books, or your books are irrelevant? To everything? Does nothing you do matter to anyone, simply because you're not revealing public revelation?

Saying Vatican II did not define any new dogmas and saying that Vatican II is irrelevant are not equivalent statements. The Civil War didn't define any dogma. It's relevant.

You seem to be asserting that Vatican II is irrelevant because the Pope has said it's irrelevant. When did he say so? From what I've read, he's said exactly the opposite on many occasions, so by your logic, if he thinks its relevant, it's relevant, right?

Does the Pope get up each morning and let us know which documents are relevant that day?

You seem to be making an enormous jump from (1) observing that something doesn't happen to (2) concluding that means the Pope doesn't want it to happen.

The Pope is not all powerful. Isn't it just possible that the Pope may want something to happen that....gasp..doesn't happen? Or happens incompletely or imperfectly? Consider abortion. People keep on having abortions. Does that mean the Pope doesn't care about abortions, because if he cared, they'd all stop. Right?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yes, all of our books are irrelevant. Of course they are.

The Pope can say many things, but unless the words are acted on, they don't mean anything.

We aren't Protestants, who think that praying a specific set of words is sufficient for salvation. Words have to be backed by action.

The Pope can SAY VC II is relevant all day long and twice on Sunday, but if he doesn't IMPLEMENT any of the VCII reforms, then it isn't relevant.

The Popes mouthed kind words about Constance's direction that an ecumenical council be held every 5 years. They just never DID it. And eventually, they stopped talking about doing it. Does the simple fact that the Council of Constance took place make its direction about having ecumenical councils every five years relevant to us today?

I don't see how it does. That directive is completely irrelevant because the Popes never implemented it. Same with VC II. The Popes talk a good game about it, but they don't really do anything with what it says.

And you're exactly right - if something doesn't happen, the Popes don't want it to happen.

Look, if Benedict or JP II or Paul VI wanted to reform the liturgy a la VCII, they would do it. They haven't. They implemented and continue to retain something completely different from what VC II advised, just like they implemented and retained something completely different than what the birth control commission advised.

We aren't talking about abortions - over which they have no control, but against which they constantly preach. We're talking about liturgy, over which they have COMPLETE control. We're talking about the TEACHING of the doctrines on abortion and contraception, over which they have COMPLETE control.

Whether you think what they are doing is right or wrong is beside the point. The Popes haven't implemented anything else, haven't taught anything else, therefore they don't yet want anything else.

Maybe they'll change their minds in the future. Maybe in the future they'll hold ecumenical councils every five years. But I'm not holding my breath.

Andrew said...


You say the Pope has complete control over teaching, but at the same time you say the teaching doesn't matter, it's just words, it's the implementation that matters. The Pope does not have full control over the implementation of teaching.

Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae both call for priests and bishops to preach the fullness of Church teaching on marriage, including the condemnation of contraception to the faithful. In very large part this has NOT happened. How many sermons on contraception have you head in your life? By your reasoning, the Pope obviously does not care about contraception and Humanae Vitae is a dead letter.

Ultimately you're denying the free will of anyone who is not the Pope. You're also appointing yourself the authoritative evaluator of the Pope's actions. How do you know that the Pope is or isn't working to implement Vatican II documents? Do you have him under surveillance? Are you aware of every private conversation he has with Bishops, Priests, and laymen? Say the Pope tells Bishop X to do Y. Bishop X says "No". Or more likely he says "Yes, your Holiness" but actually does nothing. What exactly does the Pope have to do in your view to show he's really serious? Excommunicate? Execute?

Or the take the TLM. The extraordinary form is spreading by a decent rate. One might think the Pope cares about this. On the other hand, some bishops continue to refuse the celebration of the EF in their diocese (like mine), but the Pope hasn't called for their head, at least not publicly. So does the Pope care and not care at the same time? Is Summorum Pontificum relevant and irrelevant?

Why exactly do you write books if they're entirely irrelevant to everything?

Inca said...

No, Andrew, that's exactly what I don't say.

The teaching of the Church is not just words, it is the Absolute Truth. It is THE WORD, it is Christ.

The ecumenical councils doctrinal and dogmatic decrees are just words about the truth. They are not useful unless the Pope says they are.

The Pope tells us how to speak the Truth. He does not control how each one of us acts once we hear the Truth. Through the Pope, the Truth about contraception and abortion has been taught. His office is necessary to passing on the truth to each generation.

Sure, the Pope *COULD* be working to implement the Council of Constance and establish ecumenical councils every 5 years. Believe that if you want.

Same goes for the liturgy described by Vatican II. If you want to believe that the popes have been working to implement VC II's liturgy, even though we KNOW they implemented something completely different right after the Council and have made no substantive changes in the 40 years since, then go ahead and believe it.

Of course, neither the NO nor the TLM is the liturgy described by VC II. But that's not relevant to you, so who cares? I can't stop you believing that any more than I can stop you believing that contraception is really not that bad. Neither can the Pope stop you believing what you want.

Why do I write books? Why do I write this blog? As Hillaire Belloc said about essentially all of his books, "To make money."

Just because some people find my books useful in understanding the Faith doesn't mean they are necessary to the Faith. They aren't. Neither are the ecumenical councils. The existence or lack thereof of any or all of the Councils does not affect the divinity of Christ nor the efficacy of the sacraments.

Neither my books nor the councils are relevant to the Truth. The Pope allows us to use some of those councils if we want, but they aren't, strictly speaking, necessary to understanding the truth.

Andrew said...

You're last paragraph sums up the contradictions you keep tying yourself up in Steve.

Unnecessary does not mean the same thing as irrelevant.

If you're books may be useful to someone understanding the faith (and thus potentially aiding them to attaining salvation) then they most certainly are relevant- unless the salvation of souls is irrelevant.

But even if your books convince nobody, and simply bring in some money support you and your family...again they are relevant. Money is relevant.

Christ is the Truth. Everything is relevant to Christ, because He either wills or permits everything that happens.

You have good points about the Council that a lot of people miss, but you are using your language imprecisely.