Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Futile Reform"

In his days as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI put together a book from a collection of smaller writings and speeches. This book, Called to Communion, his been a bit of a treasure trove for me. It is short, and fairly accessible, both benefits during a rather busy period in my life.

In his chapter entitled "A Company in Constant Reform", Benedict XVI takes up the matter of futile reforms. Here's a section that I found noteworthy, so I share it here:

[Concerning this work of reform, e]verything that men make can also be undone again by others. Everything that has its origin in human likes can be disliked by others. Everything that one majority decides upon can be revoked by another majority. A church based on human resolutions becomes a merely human church. It is reduced to the level of the makeable, of the obvious, of opinion. Opinion replaces faith. And in fact, in the self-made formulas of faith with which I am acquainted, the meaning of the words "I believe" never signifies anything beyond "we opine". Ultimately, the self-made church savors of the "self", which always has a bitter taste to the other self and just as soon reveals its petty insignificance. A self-made church is reduced to the empirical domain and thus, precisely as a dream, comes to nothing. (emphasis added)

I find it inescapable to see that, in choosing between a Catholic/Orthodox model of Church and a Protestant/Post-protestant model, we are choosing between a God-made and a man-made institution. "A self-made church...comes to nothing" indeed.


Thos said...

A fellow by my first name at the Boar's Head Tavern blog gave a link to this post. I would respond there, but they do not accept open comments.

He said "All reforms are man-made, and therefore ultimately to be undone. So says B16 in this quote [linking to my post]. Other than the irony that he was elected by a majority vote, what do you think?"

First, and most important to me, I wanted to be clear that then-Cardinal Ratzinger did not say "all reforms" are man-made. I was not clear enough on this, but the quote was specifically under the heading of "Futile Reforms". So, he was more saying that all man-made reforms will fail, than that all reforms will fail because man-made. In other words, this section was not a refutation of sempre reformanda, but a critique of liberal reform movements that follow the majoritarian view.

Secondly, and in that light, I think any irony that B16 himself was (later) elected to the pontificate by the college of cardinals evaporates. Unless, of course, he was elected to effect the cardinals' penchant for some personal reform agenda or other, in which case the irony would remain.

I have not been around BHT in a long while, and do not know this contributor's thoughts, but I felt some solidarity with him, and appreciated his truthfulness. Check it out.

Peace in Christ,

Tim A. Troutman said...

The divinity of the Church herself needs to be brought into the discussion. As the body of Christ, though she herself imperfect in her membership, she has been given not mere authority but divine, infallible authority.

So when Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the man made reforms, this cannot be understood in context of the Catholic Church. When (mere) men act in an official capacity through the Church, they are not acting as mere men. They are acting in and through the divine Church which is infallible. The men themselves may not be infallible but the Church is and she has a living voice.

To a Protestant, in practical terms the word "reform" means schism. To a Catholic the word is given no further qualification. As a hierarchal institution, the Church is able to reform without schism.

So the commentors at BHT are off in their logic. First as you pointed out, the argument of irony fails partly when considering the college of cardinals (this is not a popular vote of the faithful for example) and the greater importance that he is being elected to fill a role which was divinely instituted.

The election process is utterly insignificant here, it is the office to which one is being elected. Protestant vocations, for example, are objectively arbitary in the absolute fullest sense of the word. But, it has far less to do with the selection method than with the lack of apostolic origin of the office to which they are being "ordained" into. In many ways, there are probably many similarities in the processes of Catholic priests being ordained and their Protestant counterparts.

But returning to the papal office, it is divinely instituted and divinely protected. The process of selection is largely a matter of pragmatics as far as I can tell, it is the office which is divine not the method of ordination. Yet the election process of bishops itself (even the bishop of Rome) extends to the time of the apostles and therefore is in accord with the sacred deposit of faith.

In the Davidic kingdom, election was a birthright by blood lineage. But if a king had more than one son, only one is eligible of course. Whatever the customs or traditions may have been for selecting, there was surely human involvement. This doesn't invalidate the Davidic kingship or make any irony of anything we might say negatively concerning human involvement in the divine hierarchy. Least of all does it invalidate the Davidic kingship which God promised would last forever and to carry this thought through into modern times - neither does it invalidate Christ's promise that the Church would be built on Peter and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against her.

Kim said...

Thos, I believe that blogger is The IM. I'm making that assumption based on what he said here:

Certainly sounds like him. And I think he's a Merton fan.

Joseph said...

Unfortunately, we are witnessing the fruits of "man-made" reform in the Anglican communion at the moment. Though fracturing and schism are the inevitable result, it is nevertheless painful to observe.

Our separated brothers and sisters are in need of prayer at this moment of anguish for them. Unfortunately, the threatened "schism" is just another proposed "man-made" reform that will inevitably suffer from a similar fate as this one.

At the same time, the Lutheran communion in Germany is facing a similar and desperate situation as they are in the process of ordaining an openly gay bishop.