Thursday, November 23, 2006

Rome in Crisis?

The Roman theological schools have been thrown into crisis by Pope Benedict XVI's recent disavowal of infallibility. High-level meetings between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (The Holy Office), the Rectors of the Pontifical Universities and the standing committee of the International Theological Commission have struggled to come up with a plan of action following the Papal decree abolishing infallibility...

Or not.

If one were to read today's Daily Telegraph however, one would suspect that a major crisis has been provoked by the preface of the Pope's forthcoming book:
The Pope has shocked theologians and opened a chink in the theory of papal infallibility by saying that people should feel free to disagree with what he has written in his latest book, a meditation on Jesus Christ.
Entitled Jesus of Nazareth, the first book that Pope Benedict XVI has written since his election as Pope in 2003 will be published next spring.
Let me assure you of one thing, dear readers... No serious theologian is in the least shocked that the private work of a theologian-Pope carries with it the guarantee of infallibility. Indeed, it doesn't carry with it any magisterial authority whatsoever and I don't recall anyone claiming that the books that Pope John Paul II published carried any magisterial authority either.
So where is this article coming from? The journalist seems to have lighted upon the following statement of Professor Giuseppe Alberigo, Professor of Church History in Bologna who says:
"I really believe this is the first time this has ever happened," he said. "It is an extraordinarily important gesture. What it means is that the Pope is not totally infallible. As well as being the Pope, he is a common man, hugely studious in this case, but like all men he is subject to debates, arguments and discussions." He added that Pope John Paul II "could never have made a distinction between 'official' Pope and 'ordinary' Pope".
It's worth noting that Prof Alberigo is a historian, rather than a theologian, but it seems extraordinary that such a distinguished scholar should be so blind to the lack of theological significance to Pope Benedict's reminder that he was writing as a private theologian. The fact that in his private writings a Pope does not enjoy the charism of infallibility is basic theology - I suspect it forms part of pretty much every introductory course on Revelation or Ecclesiology. I'm willing to believe Alberigo when he says that no Pope has ever come out and explicity said that a particualar piece of private writing is non-infallible, but can Alberigo be blind to the fact that the Church teaches that the charism of infallibility extends to quite a narrow range of Papal activities? Alberigo is supposed to be an expert in the Councils of the Church [he edited the very useful critical edition of the documents of all the Ecumentical Councils from Nicea to Vatican II] - I therefore find it extraordinary that he doesn't have a keen understanding of what Vatican I and Vatican II teach about the infallibility or otherwise of the Papal magisterium.
Incidentally, it's worth reminding ourselves where we might have heard of Professor Alberigo before. Sandro Magister mentioned him back in June of last year:
Forty years after its closing, Vatican Council II is still waiting for its story to be written “not from a partisan stance, but according to the truth.” Cardinal Camillo Ruini made this statement while presenting a newly issued book, published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The author is Bishop Agostino Marchetto – a scholar of Church history who later served in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and is now the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People – and it is entitled “The Ecumenical Council of Vatican II: A Counterpoint to Its History.” The presentation of the volume took place in Rome on June 17, in the “Pietro da Cortona” room of the Capitoline Museums.
Why “counterpoint”? Cardinal Ruini explained immediately. Marchetto’s book acts as a counterpoint, or indeed as the polar opposite, to the interpretation of Vatican II that until now has monopolized Catholic historiography throughout the world. It is the interpretation advanced by the five-volume “History of Vatican Council II” directed by Giuseppe Alberigo and published in six languages between 1995 and 2001. In Italy, it was published by il Mulino and edited by Alberto Melloni.
Ruini began by making a “somewhat joking” comparison between the history of Vatican II as recounted by Alberigo and the history of the Council of Trent written by Fr. Paolo Sarpi, which was published in London in 1619 and immediately placed on the index of prohibited books. This was a brilliant and successful reconstruction, but it was highly inflammatory and partisan. Seventeen years later, a reply came to Sarpi from Jesuit Fr. Pietro Sforza Pallavicino and his “Istoria,” which was much more extensively documented but no less passionate and partial. It would be three centuries before the Council of Trent would see its first balanced and thorough history, which was published by Hubert Jedin between 1949 and 1975. And Ruini called for precisely this: a “great and positive history” of Vatican Council II, preferably before another three centuries go by. The final pages of Marchetto’s book, he said, give some indications for producing this “new and different” history.
The central thesis of Alberigo and his “Bologna School,” founded by Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti in the 1960’s, is that the documents produced by Vatican Council II are not its primary elements. The main thing is the event itself. The real council is the “spirit” of the council. It cannot be reduced to the “letter” of its documents, and is incomparably superior to these.
In other words, Alberigo is seen as being one of those figures criticised by Pope Benedict XVI in the course of his 2005 Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia for advancing the so-called 'Hermeneutic of Discontinuity':
The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.
The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.
The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965.
Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion". And he continues: "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

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