Monday, 13 August 2012

Ultramontanism?: History wars over the papacy and Hull's Banished Heart

I've posted previously here and here on Geoffrey Hull's Banished Heart, which I'm currently reading.

A few readers think I'm being too harsh on Hull, or misreading him, so I thought it might be timely to post again on this book since it does go to the core of some important current theological debates, in particular, the question of whether a Council or a Pope could advocate outright error.

I'm a few chapters further advanced than when last I wrote, but I'm still only part way through it, so read my comments with that in mind: I may want to amend my views in the light of what he says further on, as well as alternative assessments of his work provided by commenters!

Why I'm struggling with Hull's approach

That said, I have to admit that the more I read this book, the more annoyed I have become with it, because on those parts of the history he discusses that I know something about, his treatment of events seems very selective indeed, generally favouring the Eastern Orthodox view of history over the Western.

It is not that his view necessarily contradicts defined dogma: Hull is mostly (but not always) fairly careful to assert his personal agreement with defined Catholic doctrine (albeit not necessarily Ordinary Magisterium or the weight of Western theological opinion) where appropriate.

Nonetheless, his approach does, I would suggest, lead one to a position that I think is at odds with the Western Catholic tradition.  Now maybe that's fine if one is an Eastern Catholic.  But does it really bolster the case for the Traditional Latin Mass which very much represents the patrimony of the Western tradition?

Hull seems to think that insistence on the primacy of the universal church over the local, and the universal jurisdiction of the papacy in relation to the liturgy inevitably leads to an insistence on uniformity.  Pope Benedict XVI, I would suggest, has provided an alternative, and I think superior, approach to resolving these tensions which is worth keeping in mind as one assesses Hull's arguments.

More fundamentally, I'm worried that some of Hull's positions, taken to their logical conclusion, do lend support to positions that are outright erroneous.

Selective history: the case of the filioque

Hull's chronicling of the history of the contest between East and West, and liturgical development is certainly interesting.  But it seems to me to frequently omit any discussion of some fairly crucial points, and not infrequently to accept uncritically the Eastern version of events. 

Hull's discussion of the addition of the filioque (the stipulation that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father 'and the Son') to the Creed is a case in point (pp75-78 in particular).

The Eastern objection to the filioque is twofold: first that it was added to the Creed without the approval of an Ecumenical Council; and secondly, they consider the statement itself to be heretical.

Hull does take the Western view that the filioque is perfectly orthodox.  And he acknowledges that the addition of the filioque to the Creed was given early papal approval, by Gregory I. 

But he provides no context as to the reasons for its addition, namely to combat the Arian heresy which was rife in the West in sixth to seventh centuries (including in the Frankish territories), but which had long since been utterly extinguished in the East. 

Instead he presents it mainly as yet another political stab at the East by the Frankish court.

In reality, as the expanded Creed spread across Europe, theologians inevitably integrated it into Western theology: hardly surprising then that later Councils chose to reaffirm it, rather than drop it in the interests of ecumenical relations as Hull seems to advocate!

The Bulgarians and cultural customs

In terms of selectivity, when Hull discusses the battle between the Eastern and Western Churches over the use of the vernacular in relation to the conversion of Bulgaria (pp90-93), he completely ignores the important and extremely relevant to the topic distinction the Pope of the time made between different types of customs. 

I have to say I'm not quite sure why a traditionalist would be so strongly making the case for vernacular languages, and arguing against the subsequent Latinization of many dioceses, as he does. 

But I assume the reason why he ignores the associated debate on which customs have to be adopted and which ones are optional is because it runs rather counter to his claims as to the duty of the papacy to protect 'immemorial customs' (whatever that might mean) - for this debate included the famous decision that permitted Bulgarian women to continue wearing trousers, notwithstanding (Jewish and) Christian 'immemorial'(?) customs on what constituted men's and women's clothing!

England's Greek Archbishop

In some cases, I think he just misses the point.  He cites the appointment of an apparent 'minder' for the remarkable seventh century Archbishop of Canterbury  Theodore of Tarsus, lest he introduce any Greek customs into England, for example, as an example of anti-Greek cultural sentiment amongst the Latins.

What he omits to mention is that the 'minder' in question, was Theodore's friend Abbot Hadrian, who had actually turned down the job himself and suggested St Theodore, a Greek refugee monk from Tarsus, in his stead.  In reality the Pope's insistence that he accompany his friend seems to have been more of a case of 'you're not going to get out it that easily'.

Indeed, that the Pope was willing to appoint an Eastern rite native Greek speaker to such an important diocese is hardly evidence of anti-Greek sentiment!  In fact his Greek status was arguably something of a conciliatory gesture to the Irish Church at the expense of the extreme Romanizing party in the period immediately after the Council of Whitby, at which the Irish had agreed to conform to Roman practice on issues such as the date of the celebration of Easter. 

And indeed, the new Archbishop did prove able to unite both parties (albeit not without some major battles along the way), not least by passing on his own Greek scholarship and personal knowledge of the Holy Land, and thus laying the foundations for the mini-renaissance in that land that was to produce scholars such as Bede and Alcuin. 

Nor did he in fact fail to introduce 'Greek' customs: amongst other things, he is almost certainly responsible for the introduction of the litany of the saints to the West!

Papal error?

But by far the most serious of the problems with Hull's historical treatment that I've come across so far, from a Catholic perspective, I would suggest, relates to his discussion of alleged papal heretics.

The papal doctrine of universal jurisdiction over the Church rests on that Scriptural promise that the Church will rest on Peter, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And over the first millenium of the Church's history, even the Eastern Churches generally accepted the continuing orthodoxy of Rome as a reference point (in between long bouts of schism due to the Eastern adoption of assorted heresies that is).

Since the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I there has been considerable theological debate on whether or not (and if so how far) a pope can err in his non-infallible teaching.

I'm certainly with Hull in opposing ultramontanism, the view that absolutely everything a pope says or does must be right.  I would certainly agree that a pope can be imprudent, fail to defend the faith, use arguments to justify something that don't really stand up, teach in a way that obscures rather than enlightens, and make very bad pastoral decisions indeed.  

But I think it is a step too far to suggest, as Hull does, that suggest that he can teach outright error.  Hull cites five cases of alleged papal heretics (pp143-4) often cited by extreme traditionalists.  In my view not one of them stands up to scrutiny.

Five cases where the Church was preserved from papal error...

The first case he cites is St Peter himself, over the dispute with St Paul over the imposition of Jewish practices on gentile converts.  Yet this was not a question of doctrine but of practice.  What this case actually seems to demonstrate is the long tradition of something Hull rails against, namely allowing practices of a culture and religious tradition to continue in the initial period of evangelization for reasons of mission (indeed, St Paul himself had one of his converts circumcised in order to avoid trouble with the synagogues they were visiting) but suppress them later as far as possible.

This second case concerns Pope Liberius' alleged signing of an Arian creed; in fact, despite exile, imprisonment and torture, he never did: the document claiming to be by him on this subject has long since been demonstrated to be a forgery.

He claims that Pope Honorius I was posthumously condemned for heresy: in fact the was condemned for that all too familiar modern sin, failure to teach, which is not quite the same thing: instead of soundly condemning what was clearly heresy he obfuscated.

He also cites the case of Pope Sixtus V.  But in fact that pope died (rather suddenly!) before he could officially promulgate a revision of the Vulgate containing serious errors.

The interesting case of Pope John XXII and the beatific vision

In fact perhaps the closest run case is probably that of Pope John XXII, who set out the theory that the souls of the just would not enjoy the beatific vision until the Day of Judgment.

It should first be noted that he cannot be judged a formal heretic for his views on this subject for exactly the same reason as St Thomas Aquinas cannot be judged a heretic for his rejection of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: one cannot be adjudged a heretic against a doctrine that has not yet been formally defined.  And John XXII made no attempt to formally define doctrine on this topic; the issue was decisively resolved by his successor.

More importantly though, Pope John XXII expressly stated his views as a 'private theologian' rather than as pope: he explained that his sermons on the subject 'were not intended to define doctrine but simply to begin discussion on a difficult theological issue' (Warren Carroll, The Glory of Christendom, Vol 3, pp372).  In other words, what he said was not magisterial teaching.  Moreover, he eventually retracted his opinion.

Ubi Petrus vs the sede view of the world

So can a Pope actually actively lead the faithful astray when he teaches officially on doctrine? 

Whatever your theological views on this subject, I don't think that the history Hull cites provides any support for this contention.

Moreover, Hull goes a dangerous step further.

Hull argues that in the cases above, the dictum 'where Peter is, there is the Church' ceases to apply, so that in the case of Pope Liberius, for example, "the true Church became the small band of Christians gathered around the persecuted and excommunicated Bishop of Alexandria [ie St Athanasius]" (p144). 

Sorry, but it seems to me that this is straight up sedevacantism: the Catholic Church has never accepted that there have been periods where the seat of Peter was vacant due to the heresy of a pope, quite the contrary.

In my view, those who hold that a pope can in fact be a heretic have one thing in common: they tend to assert that 'we [and not he] are the Church'.

At one end of the spectrum this camp takes in extreme traditionalists and sede-vacantists; at the other liberals who hold that doctrines can actually change, and the majority rules principle applies.

It is equally dangerous at both extremes.

For a genuinely Catholic history....

I haven't bothered to dig into some of the history Hull discusses that I'm less familiar with, but I strongly suspect that if I did I would find similar errors, omissions and very selective treatment of what actually occurred.  Certainly I've noticed that almost all of his references are very old indeed, and yet there is a lot of very good, more recent scholarship around on many of the topics he deals with.

Of course, what is driving this selectivity is a particular theological perspective, and I'll say more about Hull's ecclesiology (he is basically on the side of Cardinal Kaspar in the famous Kaspar vs Ratzinger debate on the primacy of the local vs the universal church) and his, in my view erroneous, view of what constitutes the Tradition in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, if you want to read an actually Catholic history that deals with these issues, I would strongly recommend Warren H Carroll's A History of Christendom series.  As well as being highly readable, entertaining books, this series provides an excellent sketch of the history of many key doctrinal points, as well as answers to many of the common lines of attack on the history of the Church.  A set of books for every Catholic should own in my view...


Bob T. said...

I just don't get this thread, sorry! Seems to say more about you than about this writer. The book is supposed to be a particular point of view about a historical problem, not a history of the Church but you are picking it to pieces as if it was just that (anyway who would even try to compress 2000 years into 200 pages?). The Introduction states it is not a history of the Church and reflections on a particular issue. And isn't speculative theology all about speculating or do you subscribe to the straitjacket school of scholarship? When I read any book I am interested in another person's perspective (that's really the fascinating part), but you seem to approach a book demanding to have all your own ideas confirmed. I found the concept of the book quite original and actually helpful at a time when I was drifting away from the Church after my faith was anesthetised by the kumbaya crowd. Sure, not everything in his book resonated with me but so what? And I must admit I found parts of the book a bit boring, but your blinkered hatchet job is ten times more boring I'm afraid. I've never seen anybody go so ballistic over a book other than Portnoy's Complaint.My advice: quit nitpicking and get a life!

Kate Edwards said...

Bob - First I wouldn't normally publish a post as rude as yours - please stick to the arguments rather than attacking me or anyone else personally.

I'm trying to promote some legitimate theological debate here - if you are not interested in that, don't read the blog!

Secondly, if you found it helpful in reconnecting with the Church that is great.

My concern, as I've stated is that it could however lead some into error.

And the reason I've critiqued his history is because far from sticking strictly to the question of the liturgy, Dr Hull feels compelled to provide a long list of incidents that have 'scandalized' the Greeks through the last two millenia without providing any of the Catholic context.

As well as the things mentioned in this post, his list includes things like clerical celibacy (which he blames for the abuse crisis), the crusades (on which he provides an extremely distorted storyline of the type you would expect to hear from protestant attackers) and much more.

I realise that this book is popular with many traditionalists, but I think its approach requires critical examination, and I'll continue to do that...

Helen said...

Heavens -- how nasty this all is. I agree that Bob T. was way out of line -- I dislike reading aggressive posts like that but I have to agree that you seem to have a bee in your bonnet about this book. You seem to think that there is some kind of orthodoxy of interpretation outside what the Magisterium defines; surely a scholar is entitled to his view of history and any study of liturgy needs plenty of historical context on both sides of the Roman-Constantinopolitan divide. Historiography can't advance if everyone has the same viewpoint!

I read the book in the 90s and found it scholarly and balanced (I have a doctorate in history, have supervised many theses and know bad tendentious historical writing when I read it), with context aplenty (the footnotes were excellent) though obviously polemical and surely for those of us who've had our lives ruined by the destruction of the liturgy there IS something to be upset about. I lived through all that chaos in the 60s and 70s. But I guess you are pretty young and enjoy the heat of debate; I don't. Really, your comments it read as if the only conclusion anybody is allowed to come to is that either the author is a total ignoramus or that and you alone have the correct view of history and are the best interpreter of the mind of the Church. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between! You don't promote civilised debate by attacking an author's integrity and judging his motives (that's God's job).

I have always enjoyed your blog, Kate, but honestly this is really turning me off. What about a bit of charity all round (that means you too Bob!)? The golden rule, remember that? Young people!!! My mother would have knocked your heads together ... which would land her in gaol today, I guess! God bless us all on this eve of His Mother's Assumption into Heaven.

Kate Edwards said...

Helen - I find your and Bob's comments really disturbing.

Is it not possible to discuss whether or not one agrees with a book?

Is intellectual and theological debate for some reason prohibited?

Is discussion of whether something is orthodox or not prohibited?

Or does this prohibition only go to those people, books and other sources that you personally happen to agree with?

In particular, I'd invite you to point me to just where you think I am attacking Hull's integrity and motives?

In fact this post is about the selection of material he uses, his arguments and theology, and the logical consequences thereof.

Unlike you and Bob, I'm engaging with the text and the ideas in it, and trying to promote legitimate debate on it, not the individual who wrote it.

In fact the main point of my post was that I think Hull is advocating an erroneous theological position, one that potentially leads to sede vacantism.

My argument was that Hull suggests the seat of Peter has been vacant at various points in history due to heresy on the part of Popes. I think that view is incompatible with Vatican I's teaching that:

"Therefore whoever succeeds to the chair of Peter obtains by the institution of Christ himself, the primacy of Peter over the whole church. So what the truth has ordained stands firm, and blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the church which he once received..."

It is not nitpicking or a lack of charity to draw attention to this; quite the contrary.

Now if you think I'm wrong in my refutation of the particular examples he gives or on the doctrine, or about my summation of his arguments, by all means post here on that.

On the other issues I touched on, my point was simply that Hull is presenting the Eastern Orthodox line or perspective on various historical events without giving the Roman perspective. Now he is free to do that, I'm simply pointing out that his view is one particular one, has theological consequences, and there is another side of the story that can and should, in my view, be told.

One can certainly debate the legitimacy of his or my take on those events, and I would be happy for you to take issue with the specific points I've raised and debate them.

I would point out though, that I'm responding to Hull's revised edition of his book, which may be quite different to the version you read, since he has certainly inserted references to very contemporary events indeed in it.

And for the record, I am alas, not a young person by any stretch of the imagination. I am however both a historian and a theologian.

Please folks, keep your comments to the issues, I won't be saying it again...

proud&catholic said...

It saddens me that you dislike Eastern Christians so— maybe you had some bad experience with them but I really must differ with your approach, speaking as one married to a Maronite Catholic and as a Western Catholic whose faith was saved by reading the works of men like Michael Davies, Klaus Gamber and Geoffrey Hull who at least had the courage to stick up for the old Mass when most others were just going with the flow. Maybe you were too? Just 2 points. #1 You stick up for the Crusaders. Fair enough, but you need to visit the ruined village near my wife’s folks home in Northern Lebanon where Crusaders massacred the whole Christian population because they were sheltering a Muslim doctor the good Catholic knights were after and it’s not just a legend. History is less black and white than people on either side think and has been since Adam and Eve. Didn’t Pope John Paul II encourage us to apologize for the crimes committed by Western Catholics on Eastern Christians? But you seem to want to sweep it all under the carpet. When Eastern Christians then apologize for crimes they committed against us we’ll really be getting someplace but somebody’s got to start. Point #2: do you truly think there is no connexion AT ALL between priestly celibacy (fine for guys that really have a vocation) and all the gays that have flocked into the priesthood? If types like that slipped through the net in stricter centuries the institution of celibacy though good in itself (re St Paul) was like a bomb ready to go off when Vatican II opened the flood gates of liberation. How much pedophilia do you read about in Eastern churches in comparison? Maybe on Mount Athos but no way is it commonplace in parishes and I talk to a lot of Orthodox people. As a woman you were not at my junior high where celibate priests were interfering with boys and getting away with it. So forgive me Madam if I stick up for any Catholic writer who stopped me from giving up on Christ’s Church after seeing what I witnesed. God bless him is all I can say.

(I hope you don’t find this comment rude and will be kind enough to post it).

Kate Edwards said...

Proud Catholic -

I certainly don't dislike Eastern Christians.

And more to the point, I very much enjoy many of the Eastern Fathers, particularly St John Chrysostom and happily read and get a lot out of modern expositions of Eastern theology by people like Norman Russell (who first introduced me to the filioque debate many years ago) and my most recent discovery, Patrick Reardon.

And I certainly wouldn't suggest that everything the Crusaders did was justified!

I realise too a lot of people have gotten a lot out of Hull that is positive, and that's great.

But that shouldn't mean that what he says is above scrutiny, or that the implications of some of it don't have the potential to lead people astray.

On the crusades for example, Hull gives a little diatribe about how the Eastern Church doesn't have a concept of 'holy war'. Well neither does the West!

What we actually have is a doctrine of just war. Was the First Crusade at least justified on just war principles? Most Catholic theologians think yes. Was it always conducted in accord with those principles? Well that is whole other question!

Similarly Hull denigrates clerical celibacy as a 'man-made custom' despite the fact that even though only sporadically enforced in the West at times, the Catholic Church has always asserted, with considerable justification, that it has apostolic origins.

That is not to say that the Eastern tradition of married clergy isn't apostolic-ecclesial too - this is a case like the date for the celebration of Easter where both sides can trace the origin of their disciplines back to different apostles.

In other words, what I'm suggesting is that a bit of mutual respect is needed, rather than seemingly attacking everything that is Western and praising everything that is Eastern.

And as to clerical celibacy and paedophilia, no I don't think there is any connection. The stats suggest that paedophilia rates amongst catholic clergy are actually lower than for other denominations that allow married clergy and for the population more broadly.

Moreover, there is no evidence that paedophilia amongst the clergy is anything but a pretty recent phenomenon.

I'm sure there have always been odd exceptions, but the reason the bishops handled the current upsurge so badly is clearly in large part becuase it wasn't something they had had to deal with before!

In my view the sexual abuse scandal reflects the collapse of traditional morality (a result in large part of modernism and rationalism), and a failure to properly screen seminarians and form them appropriately.

And for the record, I've never been one to 'go with the flow'. I returned to the Church (I was brought up protestant after the age of about 7) in my late teens after experiencing trad masses in the south of France. I then experienced what can be done to make the best of the novus ordo at the Brompton Oratory. When I then went to University in Australia, I was providentially placed in the midst of a very conservative congregation, many of whom went on to form the core of the Latin Mass group in Canberra when it started up after the indult.

But I'm not an uncritical supporter of everything that calls itself traddiedom.

In my view the failure of the EF to really spread, and numbers in congregations to really grow in this country following SP in particular means we should be taking a hard look at some of our assumptions and ways of doing things.

And that means critically examining our theological assumptions as well.

proud&catholic said...

Such an interesting thread! I have enjoyed following this discussion and I really appreciate you taking the time to explain so much to me and tell me about your own journey. Just one thing puzzles me, re Geoffrey Hull “seemingly attacking everything that is Western and praising everything that is Eastern.” Surely the main purpose of his book is to defend the WESTERN liturgical tradition. What he attacks are tendencies in the West that have undermined it. He surely is not impressed by the hardening of schism in the East or the patriarch of Constantinople’s destruction of the Syrian and Coptic rites in Orthodox churches or Russian Orthodox persecution of Uniats etc. etc. I feel you are rather hard on this writer but we can’t expect any one book to be perfect. Would you like to have to write something like this? What a task! I feel the good this book has done far outweighs any flaws on viewpoints or minor details, but that’s my humble layperson’s view for what it’s worth and I am not a university professor like the author of this book.

Now please don’t block me for saying this as I know converts are very sensitive but you don’t seem to understand very well the mind-set and psychology of traditional Catholics who resisted the changes all along and paid the price. I can assure you it was (actually still is) a real persecution and you can’t expect a man who lived through all this to take a totally rosy view of the Church which at times has been a place of torment instead of the spiritual home Our Lord meant it to be. What do the Native Americans say about walking 100 miles in a man’s moccasins before criticizing him? As learned as you must now be in our theology, you will never see things exactly the way a cradle Catholic does. Not that this makes you any less a Catholic once you have embraced the true Faith. We all suffer the Cross in different ways; the main thing is to attribute the best intentions to people who write about our holy religion in good faith.

My family and I wish you a blessed feast of the Assumption/Dormition of Our Lady.

M. Strumbiene said...

The Western Church doesn't have a concept of 'holy war'? Please read up on Charlemagne's campaign against the pagan Saxons with the Church's blessing, the massacres of Albigensians as well as Catholics by Simon de Monfort's troops as part of a papally ordered crusade and the Teutonic Knights' genocidal war on my Lithuanian ancestors. If you were about to get your throat cut by a crusading knight blessed by Rome I don't think you would be wondering whether the theory was a 'holy war' or a 'just war'. Murder is murder, whatever fancy term theologians place on it. Thou shalt not kill.

Stephen K said...

The way I understood Dr Hull's book was, in a nutshell, that his principal thesis was that the seeds of Catholic disintegration doctrinally were to be found in the deconstruction and modernisation of the liturgy and that the latter was caused by a centuries-old development of a purely juridical approach to Catholic faith, which approach was centred on the development of the view about papal authority and the duty to accept everything top-down. In short, a severe focus on orthodoxy rather than on orthopraxis led ultimately to errors and problems in both.

Now it seems to me that the cause and effect relationships Geoff Hull asserts are not so neat, but clearly, he sees the Eastern traditions as operating more holistically and less pyramidally and vertically.

I don't argue here that he is either right or wrong because I think at the very least his book displays a very detailed chronicle of the origins of diverse liturgies and how they have been regarded. It is not unreasonable, I think, to be prepared to accept that he hits a few nails on the head. This is borne out I think by the character of much Catholic blog controversy: everyone's position is scrutinised to within an inch of its life by reference to some "sic vel non" measure, when both traditional mystics and some moderns would say that such things, faith and virtue etc are much more "phenomenological" in origin and character.

All in all, an interesting book (I refer to the original edition).

Kate Edwards said...

Proud Catholic - I'm pretty sure being baptised a catholic as a baby and being brought up one until the age the Jesuits say 'got you' counts as cradle catholic! It was just that my atheist-presbyterian father took advantage of my catholic mother's illness, a change of country, and the confusion of the church in the 60s to tkae me out of school and sned me to his church contrary to the promsies he made when they married...And her later attempts to get me back to the church as a teen failed because of the awful liturgies and twaddle served up at the time.

But in any case, after more than thirty three years of being a practising catholic and a lot of reading plus a theology Masters degree, I think I have a pretty good feel of the things people, including myself, have been through and continue to experience!

As for the sensitivity of or alleged lack of understanding of converts - I really do think that is something Hull gets wrong. The apostles after the all were all converts who became bishops after but three years of instruction...

In any case, to get back to the main point, it is true that the stated purpose of the book is to defend the Western liturgical tradition. My point is that on the chapters that I've read so far, he doesn't seem to be doing that. Instead he actually seem to be arguing we need to adopt the Eastern liturgical tradition and approach.

And while one can argue that the West has done things to harden the schism, you'd have to say that the blame lies firmly on both sides.

In any case, as I've tried to suggest a few times, the real issue at stake here is consistency with catholic doctrine.

If we defend our liturgical views in ways that run counter to or otherwise undermine the faith, then we have provided no defense at all.

Kate Edwards said...

Stepehn K - I think your summary sounds basically right.

And I certainly don't disagree with everything in it, far from it, as I'll indicate in subsequent posts.

But I do think texts and ideas deserve to be scrutinised thoroughly for their orthodoxy and where they lead us, and that'a a far thing from a narrow sic et non focus.