Thursday, 17 March 2011

Catechism for the Confused: the status and value of Councils of the Church

I've been collecting up useful links for some time to start a little series rehearsing key elements of doctrine that are confused by our acatholic confreres, so as to equip ourselves better in the debate with them and others.

And of course, one key topic for such a schema would be the status of Councils: their relative authority to that of popes; their formal propositions vs the supporting argument to reach them; the distinction between pastoral decisions and theological definitions.  There have of course been many words devoted to this topic in recent years.

But none better than the excellent series just posted over at the excellent Fr Hunwicke's blog, so if you haven't already, do go and read them.  And there is also a very helpful short commentary on some of the key issues Fr Hunwicke raises over at Valle Adurni.

Councils have their place but...

Fr Hunwicke's first post on the subject cites two reasons for the tendency to overestimate the importance of Councils in the scheme of things:

"Two quite different motives exist for the over-estimation of councils: firstly, the view of some Orthodox that it is in councils that the Magisterium of the Church is uniquely discerned. Orthodox might forgive us Latins for an occasional suspicion that the prominence assigned to councils in some Orthodox ecclesiologies has something to do with needing an alternative to set against the Papacy. And Anglicans will recall Gregory Dix's insistence that, compared with the operation of the Roman Primacy, councils are johnny-come-latelies which have a slightly sinister connection with the growth of Caesaro-papism. We also tend to wonder why, if Orthodoxy is the Church and councils are so important, Orthodoxy itself seems to do so superbly well, in bad times and in good, without councils, and has done for so many centuries....

The second factor which has led to an excessive estimate of Councils is the modern superstition that there is something God-given about Democracy. While many Orthodox may be conciliarists, they are conciliarists because they see councils as bulwarks of Tradition and of orthopraxy. But the Modern Churchperson is likely to see councils as an admirable simulation of secular democracy and as a way of making the Church vulnerable to the infections and corruptions of the Zeitgeist: in other words, the Modernist is likely to favour councils for a reason diametrically opposed to that which makes them attractive to some Orthodox."

Fr Hunwicke's basic thesis is that Councils have their place, but the attention given to Vatican II is out of all proportion to its worth.  I for one strongly agree with his conclusion in the last of his four posts on the subject that:

"And the fetichising of Vatican II distracts attention from the real and significant and valuable actions of the Roman Magisterium, which deserve so very much better than the sneers directed at them by illiterate fools. Humanae vitae and Ordinatio sacerdotalis, slender volumes, are worth more than all the paper wasted at Vatican II. Documents of the CDF, keeping up with the errors proposed in areas of ethics by the World's agenda, represent the locus to which perplexed modern Catholics should turn for teaching and guidance."

Please do keep Father in your prayers, as one gathers he is currently preparing for ordination as a member of the English Ordinariate, and indeed for all of those currently preparing to formally enter the Church...

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