"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

You say one must not papalize

Aristotle once wrote,
"You say one must philosophize. Then you must philosophize. You say one should not philosophize. Then (to prove your contention) you must philosophize. In [either] case you must philosophize."
The same could be said if we replaced the word 'philosophize' with the word 'papalize'. Either we follow a magisterial authority, or we make ourselves into one. Some Protestants openly embrace the autonomy of individualism. See, for example, my discussion with "j" starting at post #61 in the combox of
this article. But other Protestants recognize that individualism is a problem, and claim to reject it. In my discussion with Alastair in the combox of this article, I argue that 'papalizing' is the only alternative to individualism. Either we embrace individualism like "j", or we set up our own universal magisterium, or we submit to a magisterium with sacramental authority over the whole Church, i.e. the successor of Peter. In that way I argue there that the anti-sectarianism of catholicism (with a small 'c') is actually still individualism, only covered in the language of tradition and respect for the Church. What allows catholicism to be individualistic is its conception of the visible Church as merely the aggregate of all believers and their children. It is easy to talk about submitting one's interpretation of Scripture to the authority of "the Church" when one's conception of "the Church" (at least in its essence) is the aggregate of all believers and their children. Such an aggregate is a mere abstraction. Submitting to an abstraction means no submission at all, hence individualism.


Al said...

I'm sorry, but where on earth did I ever suggest that I thought that the Church is 'merely the aggregate of all believers and their children'? Frankly, I find that a woefully deficient way of thinking about the Church. I fear that you are caricaturing my position, perhaps because you have stereotyped ideas about what non-RCs must believe.

I would like to continue this conversation with you further. Unfortunately, I don't know how much I will be able to write in the next few days, or whether I will have access to a computer.

Magotty Man said...

You are not mentioning the other alternative - "conciliarise".

Not that I'm an expert or anything.

Bryan Cross said...


I'm sorry if I caricatured your position. I didn't mean to do that. In my opinion, anyone who denies that the visible Church is an institution is left with the visible Church as (at most) the aggregate of all believers and their children. But if you can present a position on the unity of the Church that is somewhere between mere aggregate and institution, I'm all ears. But I won't settle for metaphors like "institutional dimensions".

- Bryan

Bryan Cross said...


I talk about that indirectly (without using that term) in my most recent post at Alastair's blog. Who has the authority to call a council? Who decides which persons are truly bishops (and thus should be invited) and which aren't? Who decides what constitutes a valid council? Whom do we follow (and why) when there is a schism among the bishops?

From the beginning the bishop of Rome always exercised the authority of recognizing or ratifying or nullifying councils. This is why the "Robber's Council" is not an ecumenical council. One of the reasons Dioscurus (bishop of Alexandria) was removed from his office (apart from his Cyrillianism) was that he attempted to excommunicate the bishop of Rome. But you cannot excommunicate the principium unitatis. The Council of Chalcedon understood that the bishop of Rome could excommunicate Dioscurus (and nullify canon 28 of that Council), but that Dioscurus could not excommuicate the bishop of Rome.

- Bryan