Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Shifting Paradigms

One of my interests has been the history of ideas.[i] Lately there have been a lot of articles in the popular press on the Virgin Mary and how she is becoming accepted in Protestant churches. As Protestants begin to accept and engage in dialogue about the Virgin Mary as more than the human mother of Jesus and as Catholics, Protestants and people of faith engage in more dialogues about the roles of women in the church and society, I suspect there may even be discussions about doctrine of papal infallibility and perhaps there may even be open non-confrontational dialogue about abortion. These ideas are related to each other and another idea that I will be developing.

The Roman Catholic Church proclaims that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra on matters of church doctrine his teachings are infallilible. Roman Catholics base the doctrine of the papacy on the belief that the bishop of Rome inherits the position and authority of the Apostle Peter. The Petrine doctrine of papal supremacy was first stated by Pope Leo the Great (440-461) and defended in the writings of certain church fathers, in particular Augustine and Gregory the Great, who himself became pope in 590. Today Catholic doctrine holds that the pope is the representative of Christ on earth, and that his solemn official pronouncements on matters of faith and morals are infallible, safeguarded from error by God. This doctrine is based upon the biblical text of the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. However this text, while acknowledging the foundational role of Peter and the apostles, says nothing about Peter's successors, the infallibility of those successors or their exclusive authority. The argument is based more on tradition than scripture.

The dogma that the Church is infallible in her definitions on faith and morals was formulated ecumenically for the first time in the Vatican Council in 1870. I will discuss the reaction to this doctrine in another blog. However, what is important for this discussion is that the doctrine of papal infallibility has only been invoked on a few occasions and I believe in all instances in matters pertaining to the Virgin Mary. Pope Pius IX first pronounced the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and subsequently as infallible in 1870, this being the first time the doctrine was invoked. In 1950, Pope Pius XII declared that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was an infallible doctrine of the Catholic faith. I am not aware of any other ex cathedra proclamations.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception proclaims that Mary was conceived without any stain of Original Sin. Thus began an argument among and between theologians and scientists as to when life begins. Does human life begin at conception? In 1871 the American Medical Association’s report on criminal abortion, perhaps influenced by the debate surrounding conception arising with doctrine of Immaculate Conception, ended with the observation, “We had to deal with human life.” Abortion before quickening became a crime in Connecticut in 1860 and by 1973 it was a crime in most states. The United States Supreme Court addressed the question, as well as the regulation of abortion, in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, (1973) with the Justices writing six separate opinions, but the issue is still hotly debated.

This blog has shown how three seemingly unrelated ideas are related.

I note that the doctrine of infallibility became dogma in 1870. Since ideas have to be examined in their context to be properly understood, I note that Pope Pius IX asserted for the first time and established papal control over worldwide Catholic missionary activity. The definition of papal primacy by the First Vatican Council centralized ecclesiastical government in Rome. This new exercise of papal power followed the loss of papal temporal power that occurred when the Pope lost political control of the Papal States. Thus as the pope lost political power, he asserted spiritual power. From 1870 to 1929, the status of the city of Vatican was in limbo. The history of this time period, and the reaction of the papacy to this situation, is explored in the controversial book, Hitler’s Pope.

My interest is the reaction to proclamation of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Initially it should be noted that most of the non-Italian cardinals, including the cardinals from Germany, vehemently opposed this doctrine.

The papacy addressed the limbo situation by asserting the supremacy of canon law and asserting absolute control over all catholic entities and properties. The papacy entered into treaties containing provisions recognizing these assertions. This was necessary because, for instance, in Germany beginning with Bismarck, the German government asserted the right to veto all faculty and pastoral appointments and assignments.

I will follow-up with a blog on the worldwide reactions to the proclamation of the doctrine of papal infallibility.

[i] The synoptic problem is considered to be one of the most difficult research problems in the history of ideas.

copyrighted 2005


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