Thursday, February 01, 2007

Whence motu?

Prompted on by this post at WDTPRS, more so honestly by the comments thereto, I'm going to brain dump on the whole "status of the motu proprio" issue. What are my hidden sources, my gnosis? Nada, just purely reading the temporal tea leaves combined with a personal study of things RatzingerBenedict, particularly his books (forward hint: this post gives you an idea of part of my theory) but also his speeches, a sprinkling of his Angelus addresses, homilies and so forth.

So, now that you're surely foaming at the mouth with anticipation, what's this great theory I intend to unload on all of St. Blogs? Simply that Benedict has approached everything in his pontificate through a hermeneutic of unity and that this unity is the lens through which he has viewed his duties. Looking at some of his audiences and his visits - including Archbishop Rowan Williams and his visit in Turkey to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I - clearly shows he is very affected by the prayer of our Lord, "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21) But before anyone gets going, he has also made clear in his reaction to the Assisi gatherings in 1986 and 2002 ("this cannot be the model", he is quoted as saying) that unchecked and uncritical ecumenism that rapidly descends to syncretism is not anywhere in his realm of interest. Far from his mind is the "I'm okay, you're okay, your faith is as good as mine, let's sing Kumbaya" type of ecumenism that ran rampant in the confusion after Nostra Aetate and Unitatis Redintegratio. No, he is working - and the good reader will note that he is working, not just hoping - for a true unity that comes from proper recognition of Truth.

Well that's all fine and dandy, you're surely saying, but what does that have to do with the motu proprio? For the answer we need only turn back the clock to 1968, to the release of, and reaction to, Humanae Vitae. I'm sure some think I've gone off my rocker, to be tying Humanae Vitae, a document with far-reaching ramifications to a document which "simply" allows the free (or perhaps even just "more free") celebration of a rite which is already free and not abolished. I assure you, many are the time when one will be correct in asserting I've had my proverbial screw turn loose, but this is not one of them. For what was the impact of this document and its reception on the Church? Rampant dissension, open mockery and a near-schism that effectively shuttered a papacy. Why? Because large numbers of bishops and clergy were simply not on board with the teaching and were not reminded of before, nor informed of after, its promulgation that dissent on this issue was simply a bridge too far. We have lived with this near, some would argue de-facto, schism for nearly forty years now and only with the passing of a generation does it show any signs of healing.

But before I tie it all together, there is one more issue to bring in. Perhaps the singularly most disappointing and distressing event in the time spent at the head of the CDF by then-Cardinal Ratzinger was his dealings with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. When Pope John Paul II issued Ecclesia Dei and declared Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers to be in schism, Cardinal Ratzinger saw the sour fruit of his failed attempts at reconciliation turn into the bitterest of wine. I would make the supposition that he intends to expend whatever effort and energy necessary to ensure such a schism does not happen again on his watch.

"A schism over the liturgy?" I hear mumbled. Sounds kind of crazy, doesn't it? But I'm not talking about the Catholic-Orthodox kind of schism with reciprocal excommunications. I'm talking about the same type of "soft schism" as has been endured ever since Humanae Vitae and the Truce of 1968. This time, however, with the background of 1968 still fresh in peoples' memories, another direct attack on Papal authority (and, indirectly, on episcopal collegiality) likely with several bishops (c.f. the French Bishops' response to the idea of the motu proprio) backing it would force another face off that this time may not be resolvable with any kind of truce, even one as favorable as that of 1968. So yes, this "soft schism" would have the potential to become "hard" quickly if its instigators want to push the issue.

In this light, it begins to make sense that the Pope would take his time to gently convince those who have come out against the motu proprio that it is the right thing to do and to help understand and allay their fears. We already heard some evidence of this happening when the Pope made a certain phone call. He seems to practice the ancient art of quietly but firmly allowing others to realize they simply are wrong and to find a way to bow out of the discussion with some semblance of their ego intact. The phone call was a start - I have the feeling he is now allowing those who raised a ruckus over this issue an opportunity to quietly move on to other topics before being shut down. And in the end, the best fight is one where you don't have to.

Finally, there is also the issue of the Post-Synodal Exhortation on the Eucharist. The Church has been waiting on this for what seems to be a very long time to some (yours truly included). If, however, the Pope is utilizing this opportunity to clear up some misunderstandings (intentional or otherwise) and some of the liturgical, homiletical and theological malpractice that has been thrust upon us by "those who know better" it would make eminent sense to make sure these two documents work in harmony to improve the liturgical lives of those who attend both rites. Allowing the free celebration of the Pian Rite while allowing the continued misuse of the Pauline Rite does not fully serve the purpose, nor does its fixing the latter in lieu of the former. It does, however, present that much more difficulty in ensuring acceptance, even grudging if necessary, across the board.

I don't think the gentle nudging and explicating is over just yet. My belief is the Pope is working calmly and gently behind the scenes to make sure everyone knows the way things are going to go and that their acquiescence if not their outright support is expected. Kind of like getting that silent "look" from a grandparent who is normally very easy-going - if you're getting "the look" you know you're out of line and nothing more need be said.

I'd be more than willing to wager that he does not release either document until he feels sure they will contribute to greater unity across the entirety of the Catholic Church since, if I read him correctly, that is something he finds as his great challenge as Pope. Who would ever have thought a Rottweiler was a sheep dog?