Monday, February 18, 2013

No, the Holy Spirit doesn't "choose" the pope

Jim points out that the guys at Bibledex have begun to put out a series of videos on the papacy. I must say, the first one, which features Simon Oliver, was better than I was expecting. To be fair: one doesn't expect Anglican scholars to be especially positive about the papacy or to understand the subtle theological nuances regarding the Catholic understanding of the office. Still, Oliver has a lot of good things to say:

Nonetheless, while I appreciate Oliver's sympathetic treatment, the video isn't entirely accurate. Again, that's not surprising given the source.

I don't have time for a long post detailing my quibbles. Let me just mention one big one.

Conclaves are not "Inspired"

Oliver speaks of conclaves as "inspired". This is incorrect.

Although this might take some non-Catholics by surprise, "inspiration", properly speaking, is a term reserved for Scripture in Catholic theology. In past centuries the term had a wider meaning than it has today in Catholic theology. In previous times, it might have been used to simply refer to the guidance of the Spirit. So one will find older texts which speak of Councils as "inspired".

However, since the time of Leo XIII, who specifically defined "inspiration" in relationship to Scripture (Providentissimus Deus, 1893), specifically, to the mystery of Scripture's divine and human authorship, one is hard-pressed to find Church documents using the term to describe Tradition or Church councils.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Second Vatican Council, defines the Catholic understanding of inspiration in paragraphs 105-107. A key line appears in CCC 107. For Catholics, inspiration means that "all that the inspired authors affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit".

That is not what Catholics affirm about everything a papal document has to say. A pope is not infallible in all that he says in Catholic theology. Moreover, Catholic teaching does not hold that a papal conclave that elects a pope is somehow inspired.

Ratzinger on Conclaves

Here I point the reader to a piece Catholic journalist John Allen recently published in which he cites Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the topic:
. . . Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected. This was his response:  
"I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. ... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined." 
Then the clincher: "There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!"


Nick said...

National Catholic Reporter is a newspaper condemned by the Church. You should put that in the blog post in the name of truth and in order to avoid scandal and participation in the sin of heresy, which NCR is guilty of and its contributors participate in by writing for it.

MarkV said...

The Bible tells us that the Devil quoted scripture (referencing Ps 2 then Ps 78).... by your logic, does that make the devil 'righteous'? Or is the Bible profaned? The reality is that neither is true.

Honestly, I could not find any official document where the Church "condemned" the NCR as a whole. In '68 there was condemnation for the way they reported on Humanae Vitae, but not the paper as a whole. Recently there has been open frustration with their editorials (not reporters, not bloggers) that the NCR seems to be 'officially condemning church teaching'.... but that is the NCR, not the Bishops.

MarkV said...

Michael, I am not entirely sure I agree with the logic of any of his response. He seems to say that the Holy Spirit is only giving 'suggestions' but doesn't care who is actually chosen or if the 'suggestion' is followed. But then this suggests that the Holy Spirit does not guide the Church in one of its most important events -- the selection THE guide for the Faith!

If he saying it is more of a guide than a suggester, then the only analogy I could think of my hands being able to 'move' a toy truck (directly involved), but only being able to 'guide' or 'redirect' flowing water (indirectly involved). But to suggest the Holy Spirit is only a 'guide' in the process is to suggest it secondary and the conclave primary. If the conclave is primary, the Spirit is subservient in this matter. But I thought we believed it primary in all matters.

He also seems to suggest that those making the choice can thwart the will of God for His Church or that the Spirit only has a tangential role and is indifferent in the matter.

And the clincher is really no clincher at all to me ("There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!") Was Israel no longer the chosen people of God because they sinned?! Saul was chosen and anointed but once he turned against David is the argument that he wasn't reeeally chosen?! If it was men that picked a bad pope, then he is suggesting a 'not my fault', finger-pointing response of the Holy Spirit who can sort of 'wash its hands' of the decision.

Since this is not a doctrinal position or an article of faith, I think I am allowed to disagree here. I believe the opposite. Does the Holy Spirit choose the pope? Yes. The Holy Spirit -- the actual spirit which makes His Holy Church holy -- is directly involved in the process, not tangentially involved. Otherwise all the presumptions above become true. Once the person is chosen with the help of the Spirit, they can still sin! They can still exercise Free Will. God CHOSE Peter. We don't look at Peter's faults/sins and work backward (as Ratzinger did) and say that Peter sinned and made mistakes therefore Christ didn't reeeally chose him. We work forward and say that Peter was chosen by Christ, and he sinned when he forgot the mercy of Christ, tried to do things on his own (without God), or to please others. (Paul's rebuke comes to mind.)

Just because a pope is chosen by the Spirit doesn't mean that the pope loses free will. Just because a pope sins doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit did not pick him.