Wednesday, 19 May 2010

More from von Döllinger on Papal Primacy

'For thirteen centuries an incomprehensible silence on this article [i.e. the primacy of the Pope - Acro.] reigned throughout the entire church and her literature. None of the ancient confessions of faith, no catechism, none of the patristic writings composed for the instruction of the people, contain a syllable about the Pope, still less any hint that all certainty of faith and doctrine depends on him. For the first thousand years of church history not a question of doctrine was finally decided by the Pope. The Roman bishops took no part in the commotions which the numerous Gnostic sects, the Montanists and Chiliasts, produced in the early Church, nor can a single dogmatic decree issued by one of them be found in the first four centuries, nor a trace of the existence of any. Even the controversy about Christ kindled by Paul of Samosata, which occupied the whole Eastern Church for a long time, and necessitated the assembling of several councils, was terminated without the Pope taking any part in it. So again in the chain of controversies and discussions connected with the names of Theodotus, Artemon, Noetus, Sabellius, Beryllus and Lucian of Antioch, which troubled the whole Church and extended over nearly 150 years, there is no proof that the Roman bishops acted beyond the limits of their own local Church, or accomplished any dogmatic result.

…In the Arian disputes, which engaged and disturbed the Church beyond all others for above half a century, and were discussed in more than fifty Synods, the Roman see for a long time remained passive. Through the long episcopate of Pope Sylvester (314-335) there is no document or sign of doctrinal activity, any more than from all his predecessors from 269-314. Julius and Liberius (337-366) were the first to take part in the course of events, but they only increased the uncertainty. Julius pronounced Marcellus of Ancyra, an avowed Sabellian, orthodox at his Roman synod; and Liberius purchased his return from exile from the Emperor by condemning Athanasius and subscribing an Arian creed.'

‘Janus’ (Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger (1799-1890), Catholic historian and priest, German academic in the University of Munich), in The Pope and the Council

A Roman Catholic may well respond to von Döllinger's critique with the defence that papal infallibility does not mean that a pope cannot ever err, but only that he cannot err when he speaks ex cathedra; therefore, if the errors von Döllinger cites are true, then ipso facto the Popes were not speaking ex cathedra when they rendered those decisions. This response does, however, smack of equivocation, does it not?
It seems to me that the only possible recourse a Catholic who wishes to defend papal primacy and infallibility in the cold light of history can have is either to assert a theory of doctrinal development whereby early historical facts which contradict the later dogma are reconciled to it on the grounds that the 'seed' of the dogma had not yet sprouted and taken root, or to simply baldly assert the absolute primacy of dogma over history itself (cf. Pope Pius IX: "Tradition? I am Tradition!"). In the years since Vatican I, both paths have been taken by Roman Catholic apologists, sometimes simultaneously!


Kevin Davis said...

"...on the grounds that the 'seed' of the dogma had not yet sprouted and taken root."

Yep. Hence, Newman's theory is still the best and only plausible theory. The elegance of Newman's view of history, thanks to his 19th century romanticist context, lends itself to the elegance of his theory of doctrinal development. On this account, the Christian-Catholic faith grows through the contingencies of history, being formed by these contingencies...even materially formed. Thus, the Marian dogmas developed in order to protect the church from the threats of an overly male, hierarchical, pragmatic, and rationalist church. That was von Balthasar's thesis, which, in my opinion, presupposes the historical vision of Newman.

M.A. Henderson said...

Yes, I agree Kevin, Newman's theory is very elegant, and as I wrote in a previous post on infallibility, it is really the only resort for Roman Catholics who are conscious of history...but is it true? There is an element of truth in it, of course, but I believe the romantic element in it that you mention elevates the human word over the divine word in the life of the RC church. von Balthasar, brilliant though he undoubtedly was, is a good example of this, not only because of his passing strange relationship with Adrienne von Speyr, but also in some of his theological speculations. So it seems to me, anyway.
Thanks for your comment!

Matthias said...

So the Old cathlolics -and those of their number who are still faithful to the Gospel can see clearly what the RCC hierarchy and other catholics cannot see about papal infallibility. That it is built upon HUman tradition and not upon the Scripture. You know, Luther made it all so explainable .when i get to heaven i am going top thank him-but i will probably be in line for at least 1000 years

Paul said...

Pastor Henderson, I just worked through some big sections of The Pope and The Council . Very helpful. I've gotten a great deal out of mining the various sources you reference in your posts. Thanks for your work on this blog.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks for the kind words Paul. von Dollinger's work is very learned and well worth the effort of studying. 19th C. theology was in many ways much advanced over our own time.