Austen Ivereigh, the author of a most interesting biography of Pope Francis entitled The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope tweeted a link the other day to this post at the blog Where Peter Is There is the Church.
Mike Lewis writes:
Those who support the position of Pope Francis, and accept his authority on matters of faith and morals to be binding take what can be called an ecclesial approach to Church teaching. In this context, ecclesial is defined as someone who gives a pride of place to the Magisterium: the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops in communion with him. The ecclesial Catholic assents to the teachings on faith and morals handed down by legitimate authority in the Church, and trusts — based on Christ’s promise and with the help of the Holy Spirit — that the Church and the see of Peter will remain faithful to Christ in perpetuity. Along those lines, the ecclesial Catholic respects the pope’s role as guarantor of obedience to the Word of God, and the authentic interpreter of Holy Scripture and Tradition. In addition, the ecclesial Catholic attempts to think with the Church, rather than to criticize the Church.
I found this description of “ecclesial Catholic” interesting, because this is basically what we were taught in our preparation for entering the Catholic Church. “Where is Peter, there is the Church” was an essential part of ecclesiology we had to accept in order to come into full communion with the Successor of Peter and rightfully, juridically call ourselves Catholic. No more could we say, well, I’m catholic, just not Roman Catholic, as if official membership and communion with the Bishop of Rome was not essential.
Then, however, I think Mike Lewis sets up a false dichotomy.
Many of those who reject Francis’s position, and instead appeal to earlier teachings or scriptural understandings as the higher authority can be said to have a fundamentalist approach. For the fundamentalist Catholic, the highest Magisterial authority is the Tradition itself, as understood by the Church as handed down from the Apostles. The fundamentalist will reject Petrine authority or new doctrinal developments promulgated by the Holy See, if, in light of their understanding of Tradition, they determine that the new teaching does not conform to it. If the teaching of the current pope does not appear to them to align with the traditional understanding, they will appeal to the teachings of prior popes that they believe contradicts the new teaching.
While I do think there are people who take a fundamentalist approach —who use proof texts from papal encyclicals the way Protestant evangelicals can sometimes use Scriptural proof texts to defend their positions, this is a stereotype and borders on smear.
I do not think one is necessarily either in one camp or the other, but there is a spectrum, and many nuances where one might find oneself.
I admit, it was much easier to be an ecclesial Catholic under Pope Benedict XVI! I also think Catholics who hold to Tradition also believe in the teachings regarding Peter as the sign of unity and, guided by the Holy Spirit, the guarantor of the faith. So one who truly holds to Tradition is also an ecclesial Catholic.
But, we are living in a state of tension right now, because Peter seems to be contradicting Peter or at least opening up the possibility and what does that say about the Catholic faith? Does it mean Tradition is meaningless and we are all merely legal positivists now and therefore no matter what comes out of a Pope’s mouth is what we must believe, until the next Pope and then we must just as docilely accept what he says, even if he totally undermines the magisterium of his predecessor?