|Professor Leonard Swidler was a former teaching colleague with Pope Benedict at the University of Tubingen. Professor Swidler, like many people today who were excited and energized by the Second Vatican Council, has become increasingly disturbed in recent times by the endeavours to turn back the insights and reforms of that Council. Headlines over Easter generated by Pope Benedict have drive Dr Swidler to address this open letter to his former colleague.|
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part IV
In this commentary Professor Swidler continues his detailed examination of the eight basic principles of democracy that undergird his arguments. This leads in to his conclusion where he answers his opening question in this series of commentaries "Can there be a Spirituality of Democracy?"
III. Spiritual and Democratic Principles (cont'd)
6. Principle of Accountability
Again, this principle is something interior, spiritual, that flows from the exterior fact that leaders of a community were elected by the community specifically to act for the benefit of the electing community, the "constituents". In democracy it is the demos, the people, who kratia, who rule through their chosen exercizers of power.
Often one hears a demur that the Church is not a democracy precisely because its authority comes from God. But this claim proves far too much, for it is true of all authority, secular as well as religious-just as Jesus himself pointed out to the secular potentate Pontius Pilate: "You have authority only because it was given to you by God" (John 19:11). Just because authority comes from God does not militate it being mediated by a variety of human instruments, as, for example, by birth (as in monarchies and aristocracies), or by limited suffrage or one-person-one-vote suffrage, or indeed, by cardinals, or bishops in a Provincial Council, or all the bishops and key lay people in an Ecumenical Council. Remember, the key first seven Ecumenical Councils were all called by, presided over, and promulgated, not by the pope, not by the bishops, but by laity, both male and female — the Emperor or Empress.
Thus, the chosen leaders, by whatever means, are responsible to the choosing constituents. This is manifested in a variety of ways, such as the very traditional (first articulated in 1140 by Gratian, the "Father of Canon Law") "Doctrine of Reception": "The canonical doctrine of reception, broadly stated, asserts that for a law or rule to be an effective guide for the believing community it must be accepted by that community." For example, Pope Gregory XVI's and Pope Pius IX's dual condemnation of freedom of conscience as "madness" (deliramentum) in 1832 and again in 1864, simply were not accepted by the bulk of Catholic faithful, and then was definitively rejected by the Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican II in 1965.
We have especially outstanding examples of how well this principle of accountability was put into action early in the history of our American Church. John England (1786-1842) was the bishop of North and South Carolina and Georgia from 1820 to 1842, when he died all too early. Bishop England — along with the first American bishop John Carroll — was a giant figure, whose accomplishments have unfortunately not been matched since.
What I want to lift up here is his immediate provision for annual diocesan Conventions for all the clergy, and a proportional representation of the laity from each congregation, elected by all the people. The Convention possessed certain decision-making powers parallel to those of each Parish Vestry, such as control of the General Diocesan Fund (used for the seminary, schools, hospitals – all of which England started – widows and orphans and similar concerns). The bishop was required to make a full report on the expending of all funds to the Convention; England in fact did an exemplary job of this at every Convention.
In addition, he took the opportunity to present an overview of the Church in all America as well as in his diocese at each Convention. Consequently his twenty-six Convention Addresses give a history of the Catholic Church in America for those years. Most importantly, it was through the Convention that the scattered Catholic churches began to grow together with a sense of unity and belonging to a larger church, a "catholic" Church, which was their Church where they had both rights and responsibilities. Early in 1842, however, he died, and with him his Convention, Constitution, and mostly everything else, it seemed, that made him great, for the small leaders who came after him could not match the stride of his footsteps.
7. Principle of Separation and Balance of Powers
Once more the Separation and Balance of Powers are exterior rules that clearly reflect a very reasonable interior, spiritual, human insight. As with the perception that limited terms of office would help greatly to ward of the corrupting influence of unlimited power, so to would the principle of the separation of ruling powers.
When we think of the modern democratic principle of the "Separation and Balance of Powers", from the time of Montesquieu's De l'Esprit des Lois (1734 A.D.), we normally think of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers being separated. In the ancient and medieval Catholic Church there was, for long stretches of time, a similar separation of powers, though the terms used were not precisely those of Montesquieu or of today. The holders of powers were: i) bishops, ii) teachers, and in the Middle Ages, iii) canon lawyers. I will deal briefly only with the first two.
It will probably come as somewhat of a shock for many Catholics to learn that in the history of the Catholic Church the pope and bishops were not always the supreme teachers of what was true Catholic doctrine. For well over nine centuries of Catholic history it was the "teachers," the theologians who were the supreme arbiters in deciding what was correct Catholic teaching. This occurred in the first three centuries of the Christian era and again from the 13th through the 18th centuries. Concerning the first three centuries, one need only remember such outstanding "teachers", who were not even priests, let alone bishops, as Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.) and his successor Origen (185-254 A.D.). It is clear that there were lay teachers in the Roman Church as well in this early period, for we find the Roman priest Hippolytus (170-236 A.D.) stating such in his Apostolic Tradition: "When the teacher … Whether the one who teaches be cleric or lay, he will do so."
The highly regarded Cardinal Jean Daniélou clearly described the situation at the first half of the third century in Alexandria when, in writing about Origen, he stated:
There were two distinct types of authority in the early Church … The visible hierarchy of presbyters [clergy] and the visible hierarchy of doctors [free teachers] … There were two distinct types of authority in the early Church. Both could be traced back to the charismata of the early days, but they were each derived from different ones. The two hierarchies took up different attitudes on certain points. The presbyters turned more towards the worship of God, the didaskaloi [free teachers] rather to the ministry of the word and to Scripture. Clearly Origen represents the viewpoint of the didaskaloi.
Concerning the Middle Ages from the thirteenth century, on no less a person than St. Thomas Aquinas clearly distinguished between the professorial chair – cathedra magistralis, and the episcopal throne – the cathedra pontificalis vel pastoralis. "The first conferred the authority to teach, auctoritas docendi; the second, the power to govern and, if necessary, to punish, eminentia potestatis." There was no subordination of the magisterium of the teacher to that of the bishop; they were on an equal plane: "Teachers of sacred Scripture adhere to the ministry of the word as do also prelates."
In the fourteenth century we find the French theologian Godefroid de Fontaines posing the following question (and note how he poses it): "Whether the theologian must contradict the statement of the bishop if he believes it to be opposed to the truth?" He answers that if the matter is not concerned with faith or morals, then he should dissent only in private, but if it is a matter of faith or morals, "the teacher must take a stand, regardless of the episcopal decree … even though some will be scandalized by this action. It is better to preserve the truth, even at the cost of a scandal than to let it be suppressed through fear of a scandal." And, Godefroid pointed out, this would be true even if the bishop in question were the pope, "for in this situation the pope can be doubted."
Thus from the medieval Scholastic perspective, the theologians were supposed to determine truth and error, and it was then up to the bishops to punish the offenders. That is why from the thirteenth century onward episcopal decrees were often issued "with the counsel of teachers" (de consilio doctorum). For example the bishop of Paris, Etienne I, condemned several propositions as heretical "with the counsel of the teachers of theology" (de consilio magistrorum theologiae). The Western Schism (late fourteenth/early fifteenth centuries when there were two and even three popes simultaneously) further reinforced the prestige and authority of the theologians, so that at the two Ecumenical Councils which resolved the Western Schism, Constance (1314-18 A.D.) and especially Basel (1431-49 A.D.), there were often hundreds of theologians present and only a handful of ignorant bishops and abbots.
Hence, as Roger Gryson put it, "one cannot find any question on which the universal Church's ultimate criterion of truth did not come around to the unanimous opinion of the Scholastics [theologians], through faith in their authority (eorum auctoritate mota)". And by the middle of the sixteenth century the famous Spanish Dominican theologian Melchior Cano applied to theologians the words of Jesus, "Whoever hears you hears me, who rejects you rejects me": "When the Lord said: 'Who hears you hears me, and who rejects you rejects me,' he did not refer with these words to the first theologians, i.e., the apostles, but to the future teachers in the Church so long as the sheep need to be pastured in knowledge and doctrine."
This "separation of powers" wherein the theologians exercised the teaching power and, as St. Thomas described it, the bishops Regimen or "management," continued through the end of the "Old Regimen" the French Ancien Régime, at the beginning of the last century.
Today, especially in the wake of the extremely centralizing effort for a quarter of a century by Pope John Paul II, there is a an intense concern that all power have been pulled into the single hands of the bishop, who acts as the arbiter of all teaching, legislator of all laws, judge of all conflicts, even ones in which he is entangled, and executor of all decisions. Some of the results of this destruction of the Principle of the Separation and Balance of Powers are manifest in the recent Grand Jury Report on Clergy Sex Abuse.
8.The Principle of Dialogue
Question: Can there not be, indeed, ought there not be different opinions, followed by possible dissent, then dialogue, and only thereafter decision in the Church, even on matters of the greatest religious significance? Indeed, should not this sequence of actions be adhered to especially in matters of the greatest religious significance?
Response: "The Christian faithful … have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church." "Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in which they have expertise." These are not the wild words of a radical group of non-Catholics, or even of a group of liberal Catholics. They are the canons 212,3 and 218 of the new 1983 Code of Canon Law. This might seem to some to seal the argument, but there is more. Listen to these "radical" words:
Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she always has need … Let everyone in the Church … preserve a proper freedom … even in the theological elaborations of revealed truth … All are led … wherever necessary, to undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform … [All] Catholics' … primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be renewed and done in the Catholic household itself.
Who this time are the radical advocates of freedom and reformation "even in the theological elaborations of revealed truth"? All the Catholic bishops of the world gathered together in Ecumenical Council Vatican II. (Decree on Ecumenism, No. 4)
Recall again that the same Council also declared that "the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all human beings are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power … Nobody is forced to act against his convictions in religious matters in private or in public … Truth can impose itself on the mind of humans only in virtue of its own truth" (Declaration on Religious Liberty, Nos. 1 & 2). The Council further stated that the "search for truth" should be carried out "by free enquiry...and dialogue … Human beings are bound to follow their consciences faithfully in all their activity … They must not be forced to act contrary to their conscience, especially in religious matters" (ibid., no. 3).
There is still more: In 1973 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith stated that the "conceptions" by which Church teaching is expressed are changeable: "The truths which the Church intends to teach through her dogmatic formulas are distinct from the changeable conceptions of a given epoch and can be expressed without them". (The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's 1973 Declaration Mysterium ecclesiae.) But how can these "conceptions" be changed unless someone points out that they might be improved, might even be defective, that is, unless there is deliberation, possibly dissent, and then dialogue leading to a new decision on how to express the matter?
And a real mind boggler: "Doctrinal discussion requires perceptiveness, both in honestly setting out one's own opinion and in recognizing the truth everywhere, even if the truth demolishes one so that one is forced to reconsider one's own position, in theory and in practice". (Words of the Vatican Curia — in the 1968 Vatican Secretariat for Unbelievers' Document Humanae personae dignitatem.)
Even Pope John Paul II encouraged responsible dissent and supported theologians in their invaluable service done in freedom. In 1969, then Archbishop of Cracow, he said: "Conformity means death for any community. A loyal opposition is a necessity in any community". A decade later, as pope, he declared that, "The Church needs her theologians, particularly in this time and age … We desire to listen to you and we are eager to receive the valued assistance of your responsible scholarship … We will never tire of insisting on the eminent role of the university … a place of scientific research, constantly updating its methods and working instruments … in freedom of investigation" ("Address to Catholic Theologians and Scholars at the Catholic University of America", October 7, 1979 [emphasis added]). A little later he even went so far as to remark: "Truth is the power of peace … What should one say of the practice of combating or silencing those who do not share the same views?" (More than ironically, even as a countersign, that statement was issued on December 18, 1979, three days after the close of the "interrogation" of Schillebeeckx in Rome and on the very day of the quasi-silencing of Hans Küng.)
One of the main functions of the Magisterium, and especially the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, therefore, ought not be to put a stop to deliberation, dissent, dialogue, and then decision, but instead precisely to encourage, promote and direct it in the most creative possible channels. As a 1979 petition in support of Father Schillebeeckx signed by hundreds of theologians urged:
The function of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith should be to promote dialogue among theologians of varying methodologies and approaches so that the most enlightening, helpful, and authentic expressions of theology could ultimately find acceptance. Hence, we call upon the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to eliminate from its procedures "hearings," and the like, substituting for them dialogues that would be either issue-oriented, or if it is deemed important to focus on the work of a particular theologian, would bring together not only the theologian in question and the consultors of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but also a worldwide selection of the best pertinent theological scholars of varying methodologies and approaches. These dialogues could well be conducted with the collaboration of the International Theological Commission, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, universities, theological faculties, and theological organizations. Thus, the best experts on the issues concerned would work until acceptable resolutions were arrived at. Such a procedure of course is by no means new; it is precisely the procedure utilized at the Second Vatican Council.
Indeed, even the Pope and the Curia wrote of the absolute necessity of dialogue and sketched out how it should be conducted. Pope Paul VI in his first encyclical, Ecclesiam suam (1964 A.D.), wrote that dialogue:
is demanded nowadays … It is demanded by the dynamic course of action which is changing the face of modern society. It is demanded by the...maturity humanity has reached in this day and age … This desire to impress upon the internal relationships of the Church the character of a dialogue … It is, therefore, our ardent desire that the dialogue within the Church should take on new fervor, new themes and new participants, so that the holiness and vitality of the Mystical Body of Christ on earth may be increased.
Then in 1968 the Vatican declared that:
the willingness to engage in dialogue is the measure and strength of that general renewal which must be carried out in the Church, which implies a still greater appreciation of liberty … Doctrinal dialogue should be initiated with courage and sincerity, with the greatest freedom … recognizing the truth everywhere, even if the truth demolishes one so that one is forced to reconsider one's own position … Therefore the liberty of the participants must be ensured by law and reverenced in practice". (Humanae personae dignitatem, emphasis added)
We can now, I believe, answer with confidence the initial question, "Can there be a spirituality of democracy?" with a resounding Yes! More than that, we can see that there can be no Democracy without a vital Spirituality of Democracy. The externals of democracy, as those we analyzed above, and others, are essential. However, if there is no corresponding democratic understanding, democratic consciousness, Democratic Spirituality, the result will be a moribund shell which will quickly succumb to one form of tyranny or another. This is the clear lesson we humans have been painfully learning day by day in secular history.
What has this to do with the Catholic Church? As we have seen, in the beginning centuries the Catholic Church was democratic in very many ways. However, when the Roman Empire became Christian in the fourth century, the Catholic Church simultaneously began quickly to become increasingly Imperial both in structure and in spirituality. Then in the Western Middle Ages, the Church added the feudal dimension both to its external structure and its internal consciousness, which has largely perdured until Vatican Council II, which created a consciousness, a spirituality largely given over to the principles of freedom, dialogue, reform, collegiality, that is, democracy.
But the external structures of those spiritualities were largely frustrated in the last quarter of a century. However, now, in spite of the fears of many, the way to install those democratic structures under the impulse of a spirituality of democracy begins to seem possible once more. There will not be leadership in this direction from above, but "permission" seems apparent with the sign of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical-on love!
The leadership to democracy must now come from below. From you and me.
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part IV
What are your thoughts on this commentary?