NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part IV
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PART X | PART XI | PART XII | PART XIII | PART XIV
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
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,
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
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
8.The Principle of Dialogue
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?
"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
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.)
John Paul II
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
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
The leadership to democracy must now come from
below. From you and me.
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part IV
PART I | PART II | PART III | PART IV | PART V | PART VI | PART VII | PART VIII | PART IX
PART X | PART XI | PART XII | PART XIII | PART XIV
1. James Coriden, The Canonical Doctrine of Reception; see: http://arcc
2. See Leonard Swidler, Freedom in the Church (Dayton, OH: Pflaum
Press, 1969), ch. IV.
3. Apostolic Tradition (Hippolytus), XIX.
4. Jean Daniélou, Origen (New York: 1955), p. 50.
5. Roger Gryson, "The Authority of the Teacher in the Ancient and
Medieval Church," in Leonard Swidler and Piet Fransen, eds. Authority
in the Church and the Schillebeeckx Case (New York: Crossroad, 1982),
6. Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibitales, III,a. 9. Doctores sacrae scripturae
adhibentur ministerio verbi Dei, sicut et praelati.
7. References and fuller discussion in Gryson,"The Authority of the
Teacher," pp. 176-87.
8. Ibid., p. 186.
9. Citation found in ibid., pp. 186f. The original reads: Cum Dominus
dixit: Qui vos audit me audit, et qui vos spernit me spernit, non modo
ad primos theologos, i.e. apostolos verba illa referebat, sed ad doctores
etiam in Ecclesia futuros, quamdiu pascendae essent oves in scientia et
10. Reprinted in Leonard Swidler, Küng in Conflict (New York: Doubleday,
1981), pp. 516f.
Dr Leonard Swidler is Professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple Univiserty, Philadephia. He is also one of the founders of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) [www.arcc-catholic-rights.net] and a continuing member of its board. With his wife, Arlene Anderson Swidler, he has written and been published extensively over the decades. Further information about their work can be found at: http://astro.temple.edu/~swidler/
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