SPidge Tales

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Papal Infallibility?

This past Fall, an event not so much published outside of Catholic circles, yet nonetheless significant, took place. Pope Benedict XVI invited his old colleague and friend Hans Kung over for lunch. During the 1960’s, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict’s name before becoming Pope) and Fr. Hans Kung were two young scholars taking part in the Second Vatican Council. Both were on the liberal side, and in favor of the reforms instituted at Vatican II for the Catholic Church. Kung even helped Ratzinger get a faculty position at the University of Tubingen, long known as one of the most prominent, both Catholic and Protestant, theology schools in the world.

However, after the student protests and riots of the late ‘60’s, Ratzinger became disenchanted with the seemingly anarchist and deconstructionist bent to the revolts, and shifted solidly to the right. Kung and Ratzinger both grew to become two of the greatest Catholic theologians of the century, up there with the likes of Rahner and Von Balthasar, yet their personal relationship became strained with their diversions to opposite ends of the theological spectrum.

There is an old joke about Kung. It goes something along the lines of “Hans Kung would never want to be Pope, because then he would not be infallible anymore.” Kung has gotten into trouble, and actually had his license to teach Catholic theology revoked by Pope John Paul II, in large part due to his denunciation of doctrine of papal infallibility, first declared in 1870 at the first Vatican Council. This did not affect him practically that much, since he still retained his priestly duties, and he just switched over to the Protestant faculty department at Tubingen and continued to teach the same courses he has always taught. He writes and teaches in a manner where he is always extra, maybe over, confident in the truth of his statements, which may be partly the reason for the joke above.

Benedict and Kung, though seeing the world in different ways, still have much respect for one another, and recognize that they both still share a common faith, and agree on the most important issues. And, while I do not necessarily have a problem with the doctrine of papal infallibility in and of itself—after all, it is defined rather strict and narrow; the Pope may only speak infallibly when he is speaking on strict and clear matters of faith and moral doctrine—I can appreciate some of Kung’s fears and criticisms.

Kung is right that a doctrine such as papal infallibility can too easily lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is synonymous with the Kingdom of God, and is also right that it puts another wedge between the Catholic Church and our separated brethren in the Eastern Churches. Ironically, much of modern papal power, and the abuse of papal power during eras such as the Middle Ages, can be traced to St. Augustine. Yet, in the City of God, Augustine is NOT trying to identify the City of God with Church.

For Augustine, yes, there are two major civitas, cities or societies, the City of God and the City of Man. Many interpreted Augustine as defining the City of God as the Church and the City of Man as Rome. This is not correct. The City of God is all of the faithful. This includes the angels in Heaven, the souls in Heaven, and the faithful people still alive on earth. While the faithful on earth include some, probably many, members of the Church, NOT all members of the Church are members of the City of God, since there are some baptized persons who are not faithful, and choose not to follow God. Also, it is possible, and probable, that there are persons who are not members of the Church, yet are nonetheless faithful to God and belong to the City of God.

The City of Man includes the fallen angels, the souls of the dead who have rejected God, and those people still living on earth who do not follow God. This cannot be identified strictly with Rome or any particular human society (insert: Nazi Germany, Iraq, Afghanistan, if you are a commy lefty, the USA, or the next bad-guy nation to come along), since there are always at least some people in every society who are faithful and thus belong to the City of God.

Augustine knew not to strictly identify the Church with God’s Kingdom or God’s will, and also knew not to strictly demonize the world, or any human society, with the Devil’s work. Yet, after him, papal power grew, probably too much. It is what divides East and West to this day. What should be the eventual arrangement that would bring East and West back together? Is it a universal recognition of the Pope being in charge on earth? Is it a recognition of the Pope as one among equals among the other major Patriarchs? If there is a compromise, it will probably be somewhere in the middle. But, a cordial meeting between Kung and Benedict, and Benedict’s desire to reach out to our separated brethren in the East, leaves us with hope. A hope for a time, as Augustine prayed for, where:

“There we shall rest and we shall see. We shall see and we shall love. We shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end. For what other thing is our end, but to come to that kingdom of which there is no end?”


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home