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More Fr. Hunwicke - What exactly is a pope?

posted May 27, 2014, 4:57 PM by Rochester Ordinariate
This is so good, I reproduce it in full:

24 May 2014

REMORA: What exactly IS a pope?

"[I]t is one of the reproaches urged against the Church of Rome, that it has originated nothing, and has only served as a sort of remora or break in the development of doctrine. And it is an objection which I embrace as a truth; for such I conceive to be the main purpose of its extraordinary gift. ".

I feel supremely comfortable with these words of Blessed John Henry Newman. I have no problem with the idea of a pope who keeps anathemas under his camauro. A pontiff who issues a Syllabus of Errors seems to me a pontiff who is earning his paycheck. When Pio Nono, with the assent of Vatican I, issued his admirable negative, "The Holy Spirit was not promised to the Successors of Peter so that by his revelation they should reveal new teaching", I would have applauded. Three cheers for the author of Pascendi Dominici gregis. Cardinal Ratzinger's insistence that the Pope is but the humble servant of Tradition had me raising my glass to drink his toast. (Indeed, during his Pontificate I was rarely sober.)

Newman went on to write with approval about the the lack of creativity among the early popes: "The Church of Rome possessed no great mind in the whole period of persecution. Afterwards, for a long while, it has not a single doctor to show". The Roman Church and its bishop, long before the concept of Conciliarism was even a glint in the eye of the Emperor Constantine, were bulwarks against error, barriers against the brilliant and innovative theologians who dazzled the intellectual world, and whom we now call heretics; but those early popes were not mighty teachers. S Leo? Even he, Newman points out, was but "the teacher of one point of doctrine". S Gregory? He "has no place in dogma or philosophy". The great orthodox thinkers, writers and and preachers, the men who directed and influenced Councils, who ex consensu Ecclesiae are now its authoritative Fathers and Doctors, mostly lived far from Rome and, in many cases, were not even Bishops.

Let me put my cards on the table. The Papacy, as Dix loved to emphasise, existed before Councils, and it gave many of its greatest services to Christendom before the "Conciliar period". Its service as a remoraagainst innovation has operated, in our own time, outside Councils and without didactic brilliance.Humanae vitae was not a great document; it was not full of the splendid and moving tropes of the inspirational teacher; it was more important than that. It simply held the line against developments which were destined to subvert the entire structure of sexuality hardwired into human nature. And its promulgation was done, against the advice of his very own Commission of Experts, by a flawed pope who was not a little amletico Ordinatio sacerdotalis lacks any explanations whatsoever. It just makes clear, with a terseness and brevity which cannot often have been equaled in Papal documents, where error lies. These two Papal interventions are more important than all the wordage of Vatican II.

This is the selfsame Papacy, acting in precisely the same way, which gave Marcion the brush-off when he turned up in Rome in the 140s with his proto-Nazi claptrap. The condemnation of Marcionism is not weakened by the fact that it rested on no "Conciliar Mandate", or by the absence of a brilliant teaching document issued by a wonderfully clever Roman Pontiff.

Very occasionally, a Pope is, in addition to being Pope, also an important Teacher. One thinks of Innocent III, Benedict XIV, Benedict XVI. Thank God for such rare and glorious exceptions. But they are not what the Papacy is about. At base, the Pope is just the man who goes around sticking into the ground the notices which say BEWARE OF MINES.

It gets dangerous when people start to expect much more of a Pope than this.
Posted by at 10:41