Thursday, 14 March 2013

Is the Pope a Catholic?

For years now I've disagreed with the many  Lutherans I've come across - from folk in the pews to seminary professors - who argue that the Roman Catholic Church has changed in a fundamental way since Vatican II. They point to cosmetic changes like the introduction of the vernacular language in the Mass (btw, the Latin Mass is back) and the removal of statues of Mary and the saints to the backs of churches (btw, they're coming back to the front) and more weighty ecumenical developments like the  Catholic-Lutheran 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification'. But I demur. Granted, there were some shifts of emphasis announced at that Council, but they were organic developments of classic Roman Catholic doctrine (particlarly in the area of ecclesiology and salvation for those 'outside the church', where Rome simply extended the boundaries of the church and its authority to include other Christians and even non-Christians), not fundamental changes in the doctrines that divided Western Christendom at the time of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation. If you don't believe me, just note how many times the Council of Trent is referenced in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church. Rome remains semper eadem - ever the same.

Exhibit # 1: the new Pope, Francis (Jorge Bergoglio). Here is the text of his address to the faithful from the balcony of St Peter's:

Brothers and sisters good evening.
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.
First of all I would say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI.. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady protect him.
Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory to the Father…
And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood. My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favour. Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence.
[The Protodeacon announced that all those who received the blessing, either in person or by radio, television or by the new means of communication receive the plenary indulgence in the form established by the Church. He prayed that Almighty God protect and guard the Pope so that he may lead the Church for many years to come, and that he would grant peace to the Church throughout the world.]
[Immediately afterwards Pope Francis gave his first blessing Urbi et Orbi – To the City and to the World.]
I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon.
We will see one another soon.
Tomorrow I want to go to pray the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.
Good night and sleep well!

Note the claim to universal jurisdiction over the church. Note the prayers to Mary (even for her protection of Rome). Note the plenary indulgence, which grants the remission of the temporal punishment (i.e. in purgatory) due for all sin at that particular time, granted out of the treasury of merits of Christ and the saints (note well what I call the Roman "and" - Christ and Mary and the saints, faith and works, scripture and tradition, which reflects the synergism that is at the heart of Rome's system), which merits the church dispenses by virtue of holding the power of the keys to heaven. It should be noted that the indulgence does not graciously release the pentitent from the debt of his sin, but provides him with the means of paying that debt. One may well ask, with Luther, why it is that if the Pope has this power he does not use it more often?
Is the Pope a Catholic? 
You bet!
And the Reformation is not over either.

Note to non-Australian readers: I'm not sure how well the pun implied in my post title translates to other cultures. In Australia, if somone asks a question to which the answer is an obvious "Yes!", the respondent might instead reply, "Is the Pope a Catholic?"


SCEcclesia said...

Cool, eh? If the Lutherans were electing a new president, would you be surprised if they were to elect a Lutheran? (You don't have to answer that question if you don't want to!)

Mark Henderson said...

I think you missed the point of the post, David, which was to say to Anglicans and Lutherans who pine for reunion with Rome - hey, look, the new pope's a Catholic!
I personally never expected anything less.

Anonymous said...

The Pope may be Roman Catholic, but not Catholic. As traditional Protestants, don't we hold the term Catholic for ourselves since we belong to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church? We simply removed the errors of the Roman Church.

Mark Henderson said...

Dear Anon,.

The point you make is quite correct. But there is a pun in my title that might not translate well into American or other cultures. In Australia we have a saying - if a person asks a question to which answer is a very obvious "yes", the respondent might instead answer "is the pope a Catholic?"

Also, when Protestants or others denominate themselves as catholic it is with a small "c". "Catholic" is generally understood as referring to Roman Catholics. Hence in Australia the Roman Catholic Church is known as the "Catholic Church of Australia", a Roman bishop is a "Catholic" bishop, and so on. This is so entrenched it's impossible to overturn. Usually, though, I use the term "Roman Catholic" for precisely the reason you suggest.

Hope that clarifies things for you.

Anonymous said...

Ah, thanks for clarifying and good day to you!

Mark Henderson said...