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Papal jawboning

As mentioned in my last entry on the Tridentine Mass, the French bishops have been lobbying intensively against it. Rumor has it that some of them have pointed out that it’s wiser not to order changes those on the spot will refuse to carry out. Apparently the Pope’s been doing some jawboning (click on the link for an amusing title), and has “brought them to a reluctant but decisive change of view, or at least to a recognition of the limits of disobedience.”

Not surprising. If I held a position as weak as that of the French bishops in this matter I don’t think I’d like to defend it in a one-on-one with Benedict XVI. The more polite and reasonable he was the worse it would be. Incidentally, I’ve never understood why people think the Roman Catholic Church is so authoritarian. In theory the Pope can do almost anything, in fact he has to act like other leaders who don’t have direct means of physical coercion and whose goals can’t be achieved without willing cooperation. Also, the more traditionalist the Church is the less dictatorial it becomes, since tradition is the way you maintain coherence in the absence of an administrative structure. There is no one as dictatorial as a modernist.

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Some have observed that, in practice, the average Protestant Pastor has much more influence over his congregation than the Pope has over RCs. A local pastor used his ‘authority’ to interpret scripture (or the implications of a lack of explicit scripture) to convince a friend of mine that it’s ok to get a vasectomy.

In Protestantism, there’s ‘individual conscience’ and the right/authority to interpret scripture but nobody’s thinking develops in a vacuum. So, in reality, some popular Evangelical authors have more influence (authority?) than the Pope in determining which way evangelicals go on all but the most fundamental issues.

If you don’t have tradition, doctrine and discipline then whoever seizes power at the local level becomes absolute. There’s no way even in concept to appeal over his head, unless you want to drop out altogether and become a church of one. We can’t live like that though, because we’re social beings.

The same process applies in the Catholic Church. Various dissenting theologians, liturgists, educators and other functionaries say they want to get rid of Vatican tyranny and empower the “people of God.” In fact of course their efforts, to the extent successful, make what they say the new unappealable absolute and so turn them all into superpopes. That’s the point of the witticism that the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist is that it’s possible to negotiate with a terrorist.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.