Monday, May 12, 2014

Reply to the Ridiculous Bum Rap that I (and Many Apologists) are "Ultramontanists" Who are Special Pleading and Defending the Pope No Matter What (as if his favorite color or ice cream were infallible, binding decrees)

 Pope St. Pius X

By Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong

[This was originally part of another paper that had to do with disputes about liturgy. I thought that it needed to be available separately (slightly edited), for clarifying purposes, in light of all the patent nonsense and sheer hogwash that has been spread about Pope Francis for now over a year, from theological liberals, secularists, and radical Catholic reactionaries alike, and given the silly charges levied against the Holy Father's defenders: of whom I am a proud member]

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Being classified as an ultramontanist is almost a boilerplate response to anyone who critiques these sorts of things. It's untrue, as I will show. But it's very common to reply to defenses of a pope or papal authority by making out that one supposedly agrees with absolutely everything he says or does, or that his color of socks or what side of bed he gets out are magisterial matters, etc.

This has never been my position, as I've explained many times. But if it is thought that it is, then I can be potentially (or actually) dismissed as a muddled, simplistic irrelevancy, without my arguments being fully engaged. Nice try, but no cigar.


As most know, who read anything of mine, I am a huge devotee of Cardinal Newman. I edited The Quotable Newman (Sophia Institute Press, 2012). His Essay on Development was the key that persuaded me to become a Catholic back in 1990. Now, since the 19th century was brought up in this regard, it was Newman who fought most valiantly against that mindset: opposing those such as Cardinal Manning and William G. Ward (also sometimes known as Neo-Ultramontanists). Cuthbert Butler, the historian of Vatican I, described Ward's view as follows:


He held that the infallible element of bulls, encyclicals, etc., should not be restricted to their formal definitions but ran through the entire doctrinal instructions; the decrees of the Roman Congregation, if adopted by the Pope and published with his authority, thereby were stamped with the mark of infallibility, in short “his every doctrinal pronouncement is infallibly rendered by the Holy Ghost”.

This has never remotely been my view. Before I converted, as a card-carrying evangelical, I opposed the notion of infallibility itself  tooth and nail; despised the view as hopelessly naive and false to history. It was my biggest objection: infinitely more so than Mary or things like tradition or infused justification. I read Dollinger, Kung, and George Salmon in order to try to disprove it. Thus, I was not at all predisposed as a young convert, to ultramontanism. That would be the very last thing likely to happen. In fact, if that were what Catholicism required, I highly doubt that I would have become a Catholic at all. I follow Cardinal Newman (as I invariably do). He wrote (and I totally agree):

To submit to the Church means this, first you will receive as de fide whatever she proposes de fide . . . You are not called on to believe de fide any thing but what has been promulgated as such -- You are not called on to exercise an internal belief of any doctrine which Sacred Congregations, Local Synods, or particular Bishops, or the Pope as a private Doctor, may enunciate. You are not called upon ever to believe or act against the moral law, at the command of any superior.
(The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman [LD], XX, 545 [in 1863], edited by Charles Stephen Dessain (London: 1961-1972), in Ian Ker, John Henry Newman: A Biography, Oxford University Press, 1988 [764 pages], 530-531)

I say with Cardinal Bellarmine whether the Pope be infallible or not in any pronouncement, anyhow he is to be obeyed. No good can come from disobedience. His facts and his warnings may be all wrong; his deliberations may have been biassed. He may have been misled. Imperiousness and craft, tyranny and cruelty, may be patent in the conduct of his advisers and instruments. But when he speaks formally and authoritatively he speaks as our Lord would have him speak, and all those imperfections and sins of individuals are overruled for that result which our Lord intends (just as the action of the wicked and of enemies to the Church are overruled) and therefore the Pope's word stands, and a blessing goes with obedience to it, and no blessing with disobedience. (Letter to Lady Simeon, 10 November 1867; my italics)

I wrote in a paper, dated 29 March 2004:

Vatican I wasn't even (technically) "ultramontane" in its conclusions -- truth be told. The ultramontanes (people like Cardinal Manning) wanted an even broader range of papal infallibility, to include virtually everything the pope said. What was passed was quite a moderate form of papal infallibility. The "moderates" won the day, not the radicals. And that was precisely because they took a realistic view of history: the Honorius and Vigilius and Liberius incidents, for example, made a broader definition impossible because it would not be true to the facts of history. . . .
Vatican I was a quite moderate position, given the true ultramontanism of the time. The more radical position lost, and it lost decisively, because once the ex cathedra definition is given, it is irreversible. So what some consider the triumph of this radical papalism was actually its profound defeat. The pope's infallibility was strictly limited.

Apparently some detractors of Pope Francis think I accept every jot and title of everything popes say. This is untrue. Five minutes spent at the search box on my blog (which contains over 2,500 papers, so that none of my views are exactly secrets) would have easily disproven this notion. But we're all busy. Or one could hit "Catholic Apologetics" at the top, select my Papacy page, and see the section there, entitled, "Disagreeing with Popes." Instead, because I accept Summorum Pontificum in what I think is its plain meaning and intent, and say that it is in line with the Mind of the Church, I'm told that I simplistically apply that concept and am an ultramontanist: even of an "extreme and undifferentiating" sort.

Now that one has arrived at this section of my blog, he can see the first paper posted, entitled, "Laymen Advising and Rebuking Popes." This was written in 1997 (the year my website went online). In it, I write things like the following:

Pope John XXII was soundly and successfully rebuked by the masses when he temporarily espoused belief in a false doctrine. St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and St. Francis of Assisi rebuked popes, and their advice was respected and heeded . . .

The pope does not act in isolation, as some sort of arbitrary dictator. That is a caricature of Catholic doctrine. He works closely with bishops, priests, nuns and monks, synods, Councils, and the laity. . . .

I posted another paper in November 2000, with some additions in 2001: originally in dialogue with Mario Derksen, whom I was trying to dissuade from a radical Catholic reactionary position. He subsequently became a sedevacantist. I tried. This was entitled, "Are All Catholic Laymen & Non-Theologians Qualified to Freely & Frequently Criticize the Pope's Opinions and Prudential Judgment?" I wrote there:

Yes, one can conceivably question the pope -- especially his actions (we are not ultramontanes), yet I think it must be done only with overwhelming evidence that he is doing something completely contrary to Catholic doctrine and prior practice. It is not something that a non-theologian or non-priest should do nonchalantly and as a matter of course . . .
In any event, if you want to take one particular view of what is prudent for a pope to do, that is your perfect right. . . . 

Even Protestants observe the ludicrous exercising of private judgment against a pope, since any moderately informed Protestant knows that a Catholic ought to be obedient to the pope in all but the most extraordinary circumstances (that is surely how I would have perceived your spirit in this, when I was still Protestant. I would have immediately determined that RadCathRs of this sort were liberal or radically inconsistent Catholics).  . . .


My point is not that a pope can never be rebuked, nor that they could never be "bad" (a ludicrous opinion), but that an instance of rebuking them ought to be quite rare, exercised with the greatest prudence, and preferably by one who has some significant credentials, which is why I mentioned saints. Many RadCathRs make their excoriating judgments of popes as if they had no more importance or gravity than reeling off a laundry or grocery list.
 
Even if they are right about some particulars, they ought to express their opinion with the utmost respect and with fear and trembling, grieved that they are "compelled" to severely reprimand the Vicar of Christ. St. Paul showed more deference even towards the Jewish high priest than such people do to popes (Acts 23:1-5) . . . we have both St. Paul and our Lord Jesus expressing the most vehement criticisms of appointed religious leaders, yet Paul showed quite considerable deference when he found out who he was criticizing, and Jesus commanded obedience to the very same people whose hypocrisy He excoriated [Matt 23:1-3].

I took up the topic again in 2008, this time providing two examples where I actually differed from popes, myself. The paper was called, "Is It Dissent Against the Pope and the Church, and Downright Disobedient For a Catholic to Favor the War in Iraq?" I stated:

To be in favor of this war is not at all a position in dissent against the pope, because in these areas of prudential judgment of nations he is only an advisor: albeit one who should be listened to with the utmost respect. The pope also doesn't have all the secret intelligence that nations have. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote on 5-2-03 (exactly five years ago):
The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

(Interview with Zenit on the Catechism)
The present Holy Father again wrote in June 2004:
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
("Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles" -- L'espresso [link] )
. . . So a "real Catholic" has every right to disagree with even popes' opinions in matters of war, as long as the war is not manifestly opposed to Catholic principles of just war altogether. Pope Benedict XVI said so. . . .
As the pope noted above, Catholics in good standing can differ on the death penalty. I happen to think that it is a wise policy to oppose it, and agree with Pope John Paul II, but on the other hand, we mustn't get legalistic when it is not an absolute requirement to oppose the death penalty. I continue to favor it in instances of mass murderers and terrorists, in the face of overwhelming evidences of guilt.

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