Monday, February 04, 2013

Amazon Review.

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Papal Primacy (Theology)
Papal Primacy (Theology)
by Klaus Schatz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars A penetrating introduction and survey of the history of papal primacy.February 3, 2013
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Klaus Schatz's "Papal Primacy: From its Origins to the Present" focuses on and integrates the history of the specific issue of the claim of the bishop of Rome to primacy within the Christian church. Schatz' work is truly "catholic" in its chronology, starting with the texts of the Gospels and then working its way through the early church, the imperial church, the medieval church to Vatican I and Vatican II. For people like myself who have read the history of the papal claims "episodically," i.e., in the context of individual historical periods or papal reigns, the virtue of this book is in connecting the dots or showing the picture that the puzzle pieces are forming.

For example, Schatz confirms that one of the historical facts that tended to support the Roman church's claim to having some kind of charisma in relation to the teaching of orthodoxy was that time after time the Roman church simply ended up on the "right" side of theological disputes. On Arianism, Monothelitism, Monophysitism, the dating of Easter and other issues, the side that the Roman church ultimately prevailed. Schatz observes:

"Nonetheless, there is no avoiding the question: How is it that in fact Rome always took the right side from the very beginning, even though it by no means had the better theologians or the better theology? The better theologians were in the Greek-speaking East or, as far as the Latin regions are concerned in North Africa from the third century onward."

And, yet, Rome's history of common sense seemed to speak to something about the Roman claim to some kind of pre-eminence as the city where Peter and Paul had died.

Schatz's obvious thesis is that the idea of Roman, then papal, primacy developed over time, often, perhaps typically, in response to historical developments outside the church, such as the development of nation states. And, yet, notwithstanding this development, which added new elements to Roman claims, there was also a continuity in the Roman claims that became more and more accepted as the Roman claims expanded. (p. 16.)

Schatz' claims that the question of whether the "primitive church was aware, after Peter's death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome" "must be answered in the negative" (p. 2.) and that if "one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200 or even 300 whether the Bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians...he or she would certainly have said no." (p.3.) But, nonetheless, there is the Letter of Clement (ca. 95 AD) attesting to the Roman church's sense that it had some responsibility for other churches, albeit this sense of responsibility was shared by other churches, such as Corinth, who wrote a similar letter to the churches in Greece. (p.5.) Also, from the earliest times, the Roman church was consistently praised for its obedience to the faith. (p. 10.) By the mid-second century, the Bishops of Rome were assuming a leadership role in the Quartodecimanian controversy by appealing to the Roman tradition for dating Easter as normative over that of other traditions. (p. 12.)

Schatz offers a nice bit of detail by pointing out the role that Rome paid as a kind of "communications hub" for passing letters of recommendations - or "communion letters" - vouching for the Christian membership of travelers from the East to the West. (p. 17.) During this time, the apostolic origin of Rome caused it to be ranked with the other great sees of Alexandria and Antioch. (p. 18.) (Jerusalem and Constantinople would come later.) Communion of the bishops was important, according to Schatz, and Rome was held in high esteem, but Schatz does not believe that Rome was by this time considered to be the sine qua none of Christian communion.(p. 21.)

In the third century, Rome's prestige had become more institutionalized: by 385, Pope Siricius was answering questions from Spain, Rome was seen as outranking the other apostolic churches as a matter of divine prerogative and it was being substantially acknowledged that no council was valid without the assent of the bishop of Rome. (p. 29 - 30.) Roman claims to primacy were resisted and embraced, often depending on whether the Roman position favored the position taken in the disputes of other churches. Thus, where Rome's position supported a theological position, that side would tend to talk about Rome's position as guarantor of orthodoxy and as the heir to Peter. As the turbulent fourth and fifth centuries wore on "it repeatedly appeared that the East could not achieve peace on its own and depended on Rome and the communion of the West in order to obtain it." (p. 48.) Thus, Rome would be appealed to in turbulent times with language recognizing Rome as the successor of Peter, and when the crisis passed, the East would walk back its previous laudatory comments. (p. 47.) (During this period, according to Schatz, the idea of infallibility was not necessarily the infallibility of the bishop of Rome but that of the Roman church. (p. 50.))This phenomenon appears to explain why supporters and detractors of the claim of Roman infallibility can mine the non-Roman sources and find continuous threads supporting their respective positions. (p. 61.)

A similar schizophrenia informed imperial dealings with Rome. Justinian, for example, treated the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Christian church. Other emperors acknowledged that the Bishop of Rome was not subject to trial. (Interestingly, Pope Gelasius in 494 was adumbrating a "two powers" theory of the relationship between the church and the state. (p. 47.)

Schatz also provides a fascinating analysis of the medieval development of papal claims. Schatz offers the interesting insight that one of the factors that contributed to the growth of the viewpoint of Rome as the center of the Christian world - apart from possessing the graves of Peter and Paul and a first rate bureaucracy - was the formation of European-wide religious orders, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, who worked outside of the Diocesan system under a special patronage of the pope. These institutions seemed to point to the papacy as exercising direct control over the life of Europeans at "ground level" in a way which was not possible previously. (p. 83.)

Schatz also gives short shrift, and provides a thorough examination, of the famous False Decretals of Isideor, forged around 850 AD, which are usually offered as the basis for papal claims in the Middle Ages. Schatz points out that the decretals were forged in an effort by Carolingian suffrage bishops to weaken the claims of their nominal superiors, the Metropolitan bishops, by strengthening the claims of the Metropolitans superior, the Bishop of Rome. (p. 70.) This phenomenon of "preferring the pope at a distance" seems to be a recurrent fact of European ecclesiastical history. (Cf. p. 142 (Austrian prince-bishops support papal authority over the claims of their metropolitan bishops in pre-Revolutionary Hungary.) Further, the False Decretals of Isidore didn't actually create new doctrine. Schatz writes:

"Thus, the immediate intent of the False Decretals was not the strengthening of Roman authority. Instead, they made use of the acknowledged authority of Rome in order to break the much closer and more dangerous authority of the metropolitans. To that extent they are first of all a testimony to the degree to which the positionof Rome was already acknowledged as a matter of course: For even, or especially, in a forged document one appeals to notions of law that already seem at least plausible in order to support one's own doubtful claims." (p. 70.)

Hence, Schatz is not impressed with the claim that papal centralism destroyed collegiality, as Dollinger claims; rather he finds that it was the self-immolation of collegiality that created papal centralism. (p. 72.)

Schatz does however find the trend in the middle ages of describing the church as dependent on the pope, and denying the reverse, to be "dangerous." Schatz does a nice job of explaining his concerns, particularly in the context of the Great Schism. On the other hand, it also appears that this was a thread of papal theology that ultimately was not adopted, in that at Vatican I, the basis of papal infallibility was the pope's obligation to consider the teachings of tradition.

Schatz's discussion of the conciliar crisis is fascinating and informative. Schatz takes the reader through the back and forth on the claim concerning the relative authority of pope and council, which arose out of the Great Schism and ended with schismatic councils. Schatz has a nice explanation of Haec Sancta, which defines the councils' pre-eminence, and the non-dogmatic nature of an "emergency measure. (p. 112.)

I was surprised at how much I did not know about the period after the Reformation until Vatican I. That period saw the evaporation of the gains made by Pope Gregory VII in the Investiture Crisis. The goal of that crisis for Gregory was to have local churches select their bishop, rather than the monarch, who would then be invested by the pope. As the modern nation-states emerged, the monarchs simply assumed the power of appointment. (p. 133.) Moreover, the emergence of the modern state, which simply made the church a branch of the government, as in the case of the French Gallican church, put an end to the debates about conciliarism. (p. 133 - 134.)

The turn to the definition of papal infallibility was surprising. I had often heard Vatican I described as a reaction to the loss of papal temporal power in Italy. Although that had some merits - in the sense of a showing of solidarity from below than an atavistic grab from above, according to Schatz - it was apparently the destruction of the Gallican churches of the ancien regime that cleared the way to a full-throated ultra-montanism. Prior to the French Revolution, the French Gallican church was adamant in its position that the pope could not define any matter of faith or morals for the French church which the French church did not assent to. The French Revolution suppressed that Gallican church, and Bonaparte entered into a concordat with Pius VII in order to obtain legitimacy. As part of the concordat, all bishops, whether "Constitutional" or Gallican, were required to resign on orders from the pope. This was a power that the French church never had recognized previously. After the Revolution, parish priests again preferred the "pope at a distance" to their superiors. A similar evolution was occurring in Germany. In Britain and Spain, the leading Catholics were converts for whom the essence of Catholicism was the papacy. Lay Catholics came to demand a definition of papal infallibility throughout the 1830s through 1860s. Vatican I responded to that impulse.

Schatz concludes by pointing out that the history of papal primacy shows a continuity and a development. While the period of the early Nineteenth Century focused on the pope, earlier eras had focused on the Church of Rome as being infallible. The definition of Vatican I maintained continuity with this tradition by making the pope's infallibility a special dimension of that infallibility, albeit one found in the special office that exists in the Roman church.

All in all, this is a fascinating and eye-opening book. I think Catholics of all impulses should read it. Traditionalist Catholics may find it challenging in that the form of papal primacy and infallibility do not appear as a bedrock institution at all times throughout history. On the other liberal Catholics should also find it challenging because the institutions of papal primacy and Roman infallibility do appear as a constant feature of the Roman church going back to the earliest information we possess. All in all, this book is even-handed and seems to be a scholarly work as opposed to one of apologetics.

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