N’appelez personne sur la terre votre père; car un seul est votre Père, celui qui est dans les cieux. (…) Le plus grand parmi vous sera votre serviteur. Jésus (Mattieu 23: 9-11)
Si quelqu’un veut être le premier, il sera le dernier de tous et le serviteur de tous. Jésus (Marc 9: 35)
Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix. (…) Là où il y a l’erreur, que je mette la vérité … Saint François d’Assise
Il n’a choisi pour pierre angulaire ni le brillant Paul ni le mystique Jean, mais un pantin, un vaniteux, un pleutre — en un mot, un homme… Tous les empires et royaumes ont échoué à cause de cette faiblesse inhérente et permanente, qu’ils ont été fondés par un homme fort appuyé sur des hommes forts. Mais cette chose unique, l’église chrétienne historique a été fondée sur un homme faible et c’est pourquoi qu’elle est indestructible. Car aucune chaine n’est plus forte que son maillon le plus faible. Chesterton
Mater si, magistra no. Garry Wills
Un cardinal a rompu son vœu du secret et publié son journal décrivant le conclave qui a élu le Pape Benedict XVI, révélant dans un compte rendu extrêmement rare qu’un cardinal argentin avait été le principal adversaire et presque bloqué l’élection de Benoît XVI. CNN (2005)
Avec l’élection d’un nouveau pape, la presse va répéter les vieux mythes — que Christ a fait de Pierre le premier pape et qu’il y a eu une « succession apostolique » des papes depuis lors. Les chercheurs, y compris de grands érudits catholiques, comme Raymond Brown et Joseph Fitzmyer, savent depuis longtemps que Pierre n’était pas pape. Il n’était même pas prêtre ou évêque — des fonctions qui n’existaient-elle pas au premier siècle. Et il n’y a pas de succession apostolique, juste les rebondissements et les enchevêtrements de titulaires d’une charge multiples, souvent interrompus et contestés. C’est une corde de sable. Au début du XVe siècle, par exemple, il y avait trois papes, dont aucun ne voulut démissionner. Un nouveau Conseil dut être rappelé pour tout recommencer. Il nomma Martin V, à condition qu’il convoque des conseils fréquents — une condition qu’il éluda une fois au pouvoir. Mais Jésus n’a-t-il pas dit, » tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre je bâtirai mon église » (Mt 16,18) ? Oui, mais il a aussi ordonné à ses disciples de ne pas chercher la première place entre eux (Mark 9.33-37) et a dit « N’appelez personne sur la terre votre père; car un seul est votre Père, celui qui est dans les cieux. » (Matthieu 23,9). Garry Wills
Vous avez dit successeur de Saint Pierre?
Mais dont le nom inédit du Saint François ami des pauvres et les pratiques passées laissent espérer une réorientation, vers un peu plus de simplicité, de la curie romaine …
Remise des pendules à l’heure, avec le célèbre historien, éditorialiste et catholique dissident américain Garry Wills.
Qui a le mérite de rappeler la dimension parfaitement mythique du titre de « successeur de Saint pierre » que nos médias nous répètent à longueur de journée …
Tout simplement parce que, suivant l’injonction du Christ à refuser tout titre hiérarchique, Saint Pierre n’a bien sûr jamais été pape…
(d’une église de Jérusalem tentée d’ailleurs au départ, avec Jacques le frère de Jésus, par une succession de type dynastique et très vite marquée par des frictions avec Paul ou les autres) ….
Et donc qu »il n’y a tout simplement pas pu y avoir de « succession apostolique » remontant à Saint Pierre …
Mais une succession fréquemment mouvementée de chefs de l’Eglise parfois parallèles …
NY Review of books
March 10, 2013
The next pope should be increasingly irrelevant, like the last two. The farther he floats up, away from the real religious life of Catholics, the more he will confirm his historical status as a monarch in a time when monarchs are no longer believable. Some people think it a new or even shocking thing that so many Catholics pay no attention to papal fulminations—against, for instance, female contraceptives, male vasectomies, condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS, women’s equality, gay rights, divorce, masturbation, and artificial insemination (because it involves masturbation). But it is the idea of truth descending though a narrow conduit, straight from God to the pope, that is a historical invention.
When Cardinal Ratzinger was asked, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, if he was disturbed that many Catholics ignored papal teaching, he said he was not, since “truth is not determined by a majority vote.” But that is precisely how the major doctrines like those on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection were fixed in creeds: at councils like that of Nicaea, by the votes of hundreds of bishops, themselves chosen by the people, before popes had any monopoly on authority. Belief then rose up from the People of God, and was not pronounced by a single oracle. John Henry Newman, in On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine (1859), argued that there had been periods when the body of believers had been truer to the faith than had the Church hierarchy. He was silenced for saying it, but his historical arguments were not refuted.
Catholics have had many bad popes whose teachings or acts they could or should ignore or defy. Orcagna painted one of them in hell; Dante assigned three to his Inferno; Lord Acton assured Prime Minister William Gladstone that Pius IX’s condemnation of democracy was not as bad as the papal massacres of Huguenots, which showed that “people could be very good Catholics and yet do without Rome”; and John Henry Newman hoped Pius IX would die during the first Vatican Council, before he could do more harm. Acton’s famous saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” was written to describe Renaissance popes.
With the election of a new pope, the press will repeat old myths—that Christ made Peter the first pope, and that there has been an “apostolic succession” of popes from his time. Scholars, including great Catholic ones like Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer, have long known that Peter was no pope. He was not even a priest or a bishop—offices that did not exist in the first century. And there is no apostolic succession, just the twists and tangles of interrupted, multiple, and contested office holders. It is a rope of sand. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, for instance, there were three popes, none of whom would resign. A new council had to be called to start all over. It appointed Martin V, on condition that he call frequent councils—a condition he evaded after he was in power.
But didn’t Jesus say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16.18)? Yes, but he also ordered his disciples not to seek rank among themselves (Mark 9.33-37), and said “Do not call any man on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven” (Matthew 23.9, NEB). How do we reconcile these sayings? G. K. Chesterton gave the best answer. Christ, founding his church, did not choose Peter because he was above others, but because he was not above them:
He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man… All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by a strong man upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.
In the coming election, we do not have to fear Dante’s hell-bound popes, Acton’s mass-murderer popes, or Newman’s in-need-of-death pope. Happily, we can expect the new pope to be a man ordinary and ignorable, like Saint Peter.
The New York Times
February 15, 2013
A Failed Tradition
By Garry Wills
302 pp. Viking. $27.95.
Garry Wills wants us to know that he really bears no animus toward priests. Truly. Some of his best friends, not to mention his mentors, are priests. His quarrel is not with priests but with the specious notion of the priesthood, which, he argues, finds no precedent in the early church and precious little warrant in the New Testament.
Jesus never claimed for himself the mantle of priesthood, nor did he, a Jew, hail from the priestly tribe of Levi. The sole reference to Jesus as priest in the New Testament, Wills says, occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews, an enigmatic letter of unknown provenance. The writer of the letter introduces the notion of Jesus as priest not in the line of Aaron (Levite) but in the tradition of Melchizedek, the obscure Canaanite king of Salem who makes a cameo appearance in Genesis and is mentioned again briefly in Psalm 110.
Using his linguistic skills and his impressive command of both secondary literature and patristic sources, Wills raises doubts aplenty about “the Melchizedek myth,” and the priestly claims for Jesus in the “idiosyncratic” Epistle to the Hebrews. He notes as well the linguistic anomalies of the Genesis passage and even questions the inclusion of Hebrews in the canon of Scripture.
The Epistle to the Hebrews also posits a novel interpretation of the Crucifixion, Wills argues, that of substitutionary atonement: the death of Jesus was necessary to placate the anger of a wrathful God against a sinful humanity. In this scheme, God demanded the blood sacrifice of his own son. Wills challenges this notion on several grounds, including its regressive “substitution of human sacrifice for animal sacrifice.” In fact, he points out, the Greek word for “sacrifice” occurs 15 times in Hebrews, more than in the rest of the New Testament combined.
Jesus, moreover, understood himself as a prophet, not a priest. “Jesus was acting in the prophetic tradition when he cleansed the Temple, driving out the money changers,” Wills writes. “Though he attended the Temple, as any Jewish layman would, he performed no priestly acts there; presided over nothing; did not enter the Holy of Holies; made no animal sacrifice,” according to Wills. “He excoriates priests, and priests in return contrive his death.”
So, to quote the book’s title, “why priests?” The standard Roman Catholic teaching is that all priestly authority derives from Peter, to whom Jesus bestowed “the keys of the kingdom”; the authority of every priest, according to Catholic doctrine, can be traced through a line of “apostolic succession” back to Peter, the first bishop of Rome. The teachings of Jesus, however, were radically egalitarian: “The last shall be first, and the first last.” Neither Jesus nor his followers claimed to be priests, Wills maintains, and “there is no historical evidence for Peter being bishop anywhere — least of all at Rome, where the office of bishop did not exist in the first century C.E.”
Having attributed the abiding conundrum of the priesthood to “the Melchizedek myth” propagated in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Wills writes that this new priestly class began over the centuries to arrogate to itself powers and prerogatives unimagined by Jesus and his disciples. Although Jesus had instructed his followers not to “address any man on earth as father,” priests demanded that very honorific.
Central to the priestly claims to authority, Wills says, was the importance of the sacraments, especially celebration of the eucharist, which could be performed, the church declared, only by priests. “The most striking thing about priests, in the later history of Christianity,” the author writes, “is their supposed ability to change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
This exclusivity, according to Wills, derives from Thomas Aquinas rather than Jesus. The Thomistic view of the eucharist understands the Mass as re-enacting the sacrifice of Christ, from which all other graces devolve to the believer. The church, following Aquinas, vested the power of transubstantiation — the bread and wine of holy communion actually becomes the body and blood of Christ — in the priesthood. With that magical power, the priesthood increasingly set itself apart from the laity.
Wills argues that an alternative understanding of Jesus and the eucharist, one more consonant with the New Testament (Hebrews excepted) and informed by Augustine, sees Jesus as coming to harmonize humanity with himself. The eucharistic meal remains a meal (as it was in the first century), not a sacrifice, one that celebrates the union between Christ and his followers. “One does nothing but disrupt this harmony by interjecting superfluous intermediaries between Jesus and his body of believers,” Wills writes. “When these ‘representatives’ of Jesus to us, and of us to Jesus, take the feudal forms of hierarchy and monarchy, of priests and papacy, they affront the camaraderie of Jesus with his brothers.”
If some elements of Wills’s thesis sound familiar, they are. In the not-so-distant past, another formidable thinker and critic — someone who also favored Augustine over Aquinas — mounted a similar case. In his 1520 “Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” Martin Luther argued against “Roman presumption” and punctured the pretensions of the clergy: “Priests, bishops or popes . . . are neither different from other Christians nor superior to them.”
Similarly, in “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” published the same year, Luther wrote that “priests are not lords, but servants,” and “the sacrament does not belong to the priests, but to all men.”
If the priesthood is superfluous, if priests are indeed an accretion of church history, where does that leave Wills himself, a cradle Catholic who spent more than five years in a Jesuit seminary preparing to become a priest? His final chapter is a model of elegant simplicity, a contrast (intended or not) to the flummery often associated with his own church. He opens by repeating that he feels “no personal animosity toward priests,” nor does he expect the priesthood to disappear. “I just want to assure my fellow Catholics that, as priests shrink in numbers,” he writes, “congregations do not have to feel they have lost all connection with the sacred just because the role of priests in their lives is contracting.”
If the early followers of Jesus had no need for priests, Wills continues, neither do contemporary believers. “If we need fellowship in belief — and we do — we have each other,” he writes. Catholic believers can also find sustenance “in the life of other churches.”
What does Wills believe, if not in “popes and priests and sacraments”? With legions of other Christians, he affirms the Nicene Creed; the mystical body of Christ, “which is the real meaning of the eucharist”; and the afterlife. Wills also expresses appreciation for the Blessed Virgin and for the saints: “I do not want to get along without the head of Augustine or the heart of Francis of Assisi to help me.”
“There is one God, and Jesus is one of his prophets,” Wills concludes, “and I am one of his millions of followers.” For those millions, scattered across time and space, that’s an affirmation worthy of celebration.
Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, is chairman of the religion department at Dartmouth College. He is completing a biography of Jimmy Carter.
The New York Times
February 12, 2013
THERE is a poignant air, almost wistful, to electing a pope in the modern world. In a time of discredited monarchies, can this monarchy survive and be relevant? There is nostalgia for the assurances of the past, quaint in their charm, but trepidation over their survivability. In monarchies, change is supposed to come from the top, if it is to come at all. So people who want to alter things in Catholic life are told to wait for a new pope. Only he has the authority to make the changeless church change, but it is his authority that stands in the way of change.
Of course, the pope is no longer a worldly monarch. For centuries he was such a ruler, with all the resources of a medieval or Renaissance prince — realms, armies, prisons, spies, torturers. But in the 19th century, when his worldly territories were wrested away by Italy, Pope Pius IX lunged toward a compensatory moral monarchy.
In 1870, he elicited — from a Vatican council he called and controlled — the first formal declaration that a pope is infallible. From that point on, even when he was not making technically infallible statements, the pope was thought to be dealing in eternal truths. A gift for eternal truths is as dangerous as the gift of Midas’s touch. The pope cannot undo the eternal truths he has proclaimed.
When Pope Paul VI’s commission of learned and loyal Catholics, lay and clerical, reconsidered the “natural law” teaching against birth control, and concluded that it could not, using natural reason, find any grounds for it, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the secretary of the Holy Office, told Paul that people had for years, on papal warrant, believed that using a contraceptive was a mortal sin, for which they would go to hell if they died unrepentant. On the other hand, those who followed “church teaching” were obliged to have many children unless they abstained from sex. How could Paul VI say that Pius XI, in his 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii, had misled the people in such a serious way? If he admitted it, what would happen to his own authority as moral arbiter in matters of heaven and hell? So Paul VI doubled down, adding another encyclical in 1968, Humanae Vitae, to the unrenounceable eternal truths that pile up around a moral monarch.
In our day, most Catholics in America have reached the same conclusion that Paul VI’s commission did. But successive popes have stuck by Pius and Paul and have appointed bishops who demonstrate loyalty on this matter. That is why some American bishops in the recent presidential election said that President Obama was destroying “religious liberty” if his health plan insured funds for contraception. Nonetheless, more Catholics voted for Mr. Obama than didn’t. In a normal government, this disconnect between rulers and ruled would be negotiated. But eternal truths are nonnegotiable.
Wistful Catholics hope that on this and other matters of disagreement between the church as People of God and the ruling powers in the church, a new pope can remedy that discord. But a new pope will be elected by cardinals who were elevated to office by the very popes who reaffirmed “eternal truths” like the teaching on contraception. They were appointed for their loyalty, as were the American bishops who stubbornly upheld the contraception nonsense in our elections.
Will the new conclave vote for a man who goes against the teachings of his predecessors? Even if they do, can the man chosen buck the structure through which he rose without kicking the structure down? These considerations have given the election of new popes the air of watching Charlie Brown keep trying to kick the football, hoping that Lucy will cooperate.
As this election approaches, some hope that the shortage of priests, and their damaged reputation and morale, can be remedied by adding married priests, or women priests, or gay priests. But that misses the point. Whatever their sexual status, they will still be priests. They will not be chosen by their congregations (as was the practice in the early church). They will be appointed from above, by bishops approved for their loyalty to Rome, which will police their doctrinal views as it has with priests heretofore. The power structure will not be changed by giving it new faces. Monarchies die hard.
In 1859, John Henry Newman published an article that led to his denunciation in Rome as “the most dangerous man in England.” It was called “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine” and it showed that in history the laity had been more true to the Gospel than the hierarchy. That was an unacceptable position to Rome. It still is. Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was asked if it did not disturb him that Catholics disagreed with the rulings of Rome. He said no — that dogma is not formed by majority rule. But that is precisely how it was formed in the great councils like that at Nicaea, where bishops voted to declare dogmas on the Trinity and the Incarnation. There was no pope involved in those councils. Yet they defined the most important truths of the faith.
Jesus, we are reminded, said to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” But Peter was addressed as a faithful disciple, not as a priest or a pope. There were no priests in Peter’s time, and no popes. Paul never called himself or any of his co-workers priests. He did not offer sacrifice. Those ideas came in later, through weird arguments contained in the anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews. The claim of priests and popes to be the sole conduits of grace is a remnant of the era of papal monarchy. We are watching that era fade. But some refuse to recognize its senescence. Such people will run peppily up, like Charlie Brown, to the coming of a new pope. But Lucy, as usual, still holds the football.
Garry Wills is the author, most recently, of “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition.”
Details of papal conclave revealed
September 23, 2005
VATICAN CITY (AP) — A cardinal has broken his vow of secrecy and released his diary describing the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, revealing in an exceedingly rare account that a cardinal from Argentina was the main challenger and almost blocked Benedict’s election.
Excerpts of the diary, published Friday, show Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led in each of the four ballots cast in the Sistine Chapel during the mystery-shrouded April 18-19 conclave. But, in a surprise, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, was in second place the whole time.
Most accounts of the conclave have said retired Milan archbishop Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini was the main challenger to Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI after his election, and that a Third World pope was never realistically in the running.
While Bergoglio never threatened Ratzinger’s lead — and made clear he didn’t want the job, according to the diary published in the respected Italian foreign affairs magazine Limes — his runner-up status could signal the next conclave might elect a pope from Latin America, home to half the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics.
The diary of the anonymous cardinal is also significant because it shows that Ratzinger didn’t garner a huge margin — he had 84 of the 115 votes in the final ballot, seven more than the required two-thirds majority.
His two immediate predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope John Paul I, are believed to have garnered 99 and 98 votes respectively, and that was when there were only 111 voting cardinals.
« It does seem that somebody wants to indicate that the conclave was a more complex process than was being depicted and that Benedict’s mandate was not a slam dunk, » said David Gibson, a former Vatican Radio journalist who is writing a biography of Benedict.
Finally, the diary includes a few surprises, including a vote in the final ballot for Cardinal Bernard Law, forced to resign as Boston archbishop because of the church sex abuse scandal.
And it offers other colorful insights of what went on behind the scenes during the two days the 115 red-hatted princes of the church were sequestered in the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican’s Santa Marta hotel to select the 265th leader of the Catholic Church.
Because the hotel prohibits smoking, Portuguese Cardinal Jose Policarpo da Crux would sneak outside for an after-dinner cigar, the diary says. And Cardinal Walter Kasper shunned the minibuses that shuttled cardinals to the Sistine Chapel, preferring to walk by the Vatican gardens instead.
Diary draws no comment
« Sunday, April 17: In the afternoon I took over my room at the Casa Santa Marta. I put down my bags and tried to open the blinds because the room was dark. I wasn’t able to. One of my fellow brothers asked a nun working there, thinking it was a technical problem. She explained they were sealed. Closure of the conclave… » the diary begins.
The published diary entries were interspersed with commentary from Vatican journalist Lucio Brunelli, who says he obtained the diary through a trusted source he had known for years. He told The Associated Press he spoke in Italian to his source — a hint the cardinal in question was Italian.
Brunelli says he couldn’t identify the author because of the vow of secrecy each cardinal took before entering the conclave. Punishment for violating the vow is excommunication.
In Buenos Aires, a spokesman for the archdiocese, Enzo Paoletta, said Bergoglio had no comment on the report.
Nothing official is ever recorded from conclaves, and the ballots are burned in the Sistine Chapel stove — ashes that signal to the world through white smoke or black whether a pope has been elected.
As a result, the diary’s tallies — which Brunelli said he confirmed through other cardinals — are unusual, although previously tallies have leaked out piecemeal.
According to the diary, Ratzinger won 47 votes and Bergoglio 10 on the first round of balloting, while Martini got nine and some 30 others got a few votes.
In round two, Ratzinger edged up to 65 and Bergoglio 35.
By the third ballot, Ratzinger had 72 votes, just five shy of the two-thirds majority needed to win. But Bergoglio got 40, just over the threshold needed to stall the conclave, if his supporters wanted to.
However, the diary says Bergoglio made it clear he might not have accepted the job. The cardinal recalls watching Bergoglio cast his ballot: « The suffering face, as if he were begging: ‘God don’t do this to me. »‘
Marco Politi, Vatican correspondent for La Repubblica, said if the diary showed anything, it’s that outsiders really have no idea what happens during a conclave, since so many of the media’s preconceived ideas were proved wrong.
« To know more, we have to wait for other tears in the secret, » he wrote Friday.
Gibson speculated the diary’s author was Italian and wanted to set the record straight that Ratzinger, a German, didn’t have as significant a margin as some had suggested.
« Outside of Italy, Catholics and churchmen have a very kind of mystical view of the Vatican and especially the conclave, » Gibson said.
« The Italians have always had a more kind of political view of the process … for them it’s their election, and they’re much more comfortable with it, as a human as well as a divine process. »
Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.
Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l’amour.
Là où il y a l’offense, que je mette le pardon.
Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l’union.
Là où il y a l’erreur, que je mette la vérité.
Là où il y a le doute, que je mette la foi.
Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l’espérance.
Là où il y a les ténèbres, que je mette votre lumière.
Là où il y a la tristesse, que je mette la joie.
Ô Maître, que je ne cherche pas tant à être consolé qu’à consoler, à être compris qu’à comprendre, à être aimé qu’à aimer, car c’est en donnant qu’on reçoit, c’est en s’oubliant qu’on trouve, c’est en pardonnant qu’on est pardonné, c’est en mourant qu’on ressuscite à l’éternelle vie.