The Pope’s Loyal Critics

The Pope’s Loyal Critics October 31, 2014

In contrast to the sour traditionalists I described yesterday in Traditionalists on Francis, Philip Lawler offers an example of sane concerns about Pope Francis’ views and desires, in Could respect for the papacy mean resisting the Pope?

Pope Francis might wish to change the Church’s teaching, but he realizes that he cannot do so unilaterally. He needs the full support of his brother bishops, to assure him that he is not merely promoting his own personal preferences. If he is contemplating an important change (as in this case he is), he needs much more than a voting majority; he needs an expression of support so overwhelming that it trumps what Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead”—the consistent witness of faithful Catholics across the centuries.

Nothing approaching that level of support materialized at the October meeting of the Synod. In his closing address (which I strongly encourage everyone to read, Pope Francis tacitly acknowledged as much and signaled that he wanted above all to preserve the unity of the Church.

Lawler is responding to Ross Douthat’s NYTimes column on the Extraordinary Synod, which was another sane conservative response. But not necessarily right. Another response is offered by my Patheos colleague Artur Rosman in Doubt Douthat’s Donatist Precipice. Artur writes (there are lots of useful links in his column):

What I see in Douthat’s article instead is the specter of a shapeless, because baseless, fear.

First of all, nothing was decided at the Synod. What we see is the sausage being made up close in ways that weren’t possible before social media. Vatican I was a sausage factory, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere. But so was Paul opposing Cephas. The early Christians were probably not as heroic as we think of them and possibly doctored their accounts of martyrdom. Constantine adopting Christianity was its own mess, as was the takeover of the bishoprics by corrupt Roman aristocrats afterwards. The Byzantine side was, and still is, Byzantine (there so much more than 1054!). Douthat mentions the middle ages with the kind of aversion you’d expect from Zmirak. But it is true they were a mess, and what a productive one!

Everything before, during, and after Trent followed the same pattern. There is not a period in Church history that exhibits the kind of neat conservative unanimity and equilibrium Douthat measures the Synod (so far) against.

“God writes straight with crooked lines” is a cliche because most of us, being misshapen by the Fall, like the last part, but it’s worth remembering the first.

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