Thursday, June 18

Further to whether Benedict XVI remains Pope

I've had conversations about my June 13 essay, Francis is not the Pope because there's only one way a Pope can resign and specifically this passage:

"As for Catholicism, its biggest problem is the issue of transmission when a Pope resigns or is deposed.  In truth there is no such thing.  The only way to stop being a Pope is to die.  And only with a Pope's death is the authority to interpret the teachings of Jesus transmitted to the next Pope."

One correspondent argued, "After all, if the occupant of the See of Peter has the right to 'bind and loose' one might expect him to be able to release himself from the Papacy."

My reply was to ask, in essence, whether a mortal could divest himself of a divinely transmitted authority.  In other words, would this be the one thing that a Pope couldn't do within his sphere of responsibility:  abrogate the responsibility transmitted to him by divine means? 

(This wouldn't preclude the Pope resigning as head of the Vatican state, which is a temporal responsibility.)  

However, the big question is whether Peter's authority to loose and bind was indeed transmitted to successive leaders of the Church.  My argument that Benedict XVI remains the Pope until his death rests on the assumption that the authority has been transmitted, and in an unbroken line.

On what grounds do I rest my assumption?

First, it's important to realize that Jesus did not choose Simon to head the religious order he established.  Jesus recognized that this was the person God had chosen. This is beyond dispute. To return to the famous passage:

In a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples ... Jesus asks, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" The disciples give various answers. When he asks, "Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answers, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus then declares:
"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. [...]

Having recognized that Simon is the lineage holder, Jesus goes on to say:
"And I tell you that you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Again, Jesus is simply recognizing the authority that God has vested in Peter ("And I tell you that you are Peter") or validating it, if you will.

The power to bind and loose is an extraordinary and terrible authority but Jesus took pains to indicate that he conferred it on Peter, not the person of Simon.      
From this it seems to me that the authority belongs to the first lineage holder, the rock on which the Church is to be built. Thus, I reason that the authority was transferred to successive lineage holders. These eventually came to be called the Bishop of Rome or Pope.     

Assuming for the sake of discussion that my reasoning is correct, why couldn't this transmission occur at any time, as the correspondent suggests?  Must a Pope die before the authority could be transferred to another?

We have to attempt to imagine what it means to bind and loose and the kind of power such authority represents.  The power isn't dependent on the physical state of the Pope.  So why transfer it except in death?  Even so, this would still leave questions, as even a glance at Wikipedia's article on the Pope makes clear.  

A question Wikipedia does not address revolves around the mystery of transmission.  This transmission represents the workings of a divine power. So does this divine power twiddle its thumbs while waiting for humans to elect a new Pope?  Does it sort of hang in limbo while humans gather candidates, discuss and debate, then vote for a new Pope?  

By all definitions of the divine, I say no.  I'd say that on the death of a Pope the authority is immediately transferred to another mortal.  

If I'm correct this would mean the new Pope isn't so much elected as recognized. 

How?  I don't know. But I will take a leap and speculate that the recognition is perhaps chiefly by the same sign by which Jesus recognized Peter: the person has an innate and unshakable certainty that Jesus is the Christ. It is this one who could be recognized as petra -- the rock on which the teachings of the Church is founded, the next person chosen by God to be responsible for preserving the lineage teachings.

But given the history of the Popes, which includes a number of resignations (forced and voluntary) and outright deposings, this line of speculation raises the question of whether every person formally installed as the Bishop of Rome was the true lineage holder.

If not, then given the fact that the divine pays no mind to politics there must always have been someone hanging around HQ that the faithful among the Church hierarchy instinctively turned to for advice, and particularly advice on teaching the clergy.  That person would be the petra, the true lineage holder, no matter who held the title of Pope.

Following this line of speculation further, this could mean there were a number of instances in the history of the Church that represented a tacit bicameral leadership.  When the Church became a political institution it was in stiff competition with the vaunted divine authority of kings.  And so the political responsibilities of the Pope vastly increased. Yet the kind of person best suited to such responsibilities might not always have had the gifts to make him a good trainer of teachers or even a qualified interpreter of the teachings.



bdoran said...

You are fearlessly applying Protestant personal interpretation of scripture here...

Pundita said...

Protestant? Since when have Protestants been interested in the phenomenon of transmission as it applies to transmitting divinely-conferred authority? As to my interpretation being personal -- well, I'm defending the Roman Catholic claim of papal supremacy although I'll concede I'm doing it in an unscholarly or at least unorthodox way. However, I am basing my interpretation on a very literal reading of the "Rock" dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter.