Continuing the serialised article from the 1968 copy of TIME magazine I found in an antique store (see here for Part One and Part Two), I am going to skip just a bit where the un-named journo gives a potted history of the Church, and pick it up with the Counter Reformation… Here, then, is Part Three of “Catholic Freedom vs Authority”:
From Secular to Spiritual. With the breakup of Christendom, the Popes lost much of their secular power. The watershed was the Reformation, which cost the papacy nearly half of its faithful subjects. Increasingly, bishops of Rome concentrated on purely spiritual matters, as a way of reasserting their authority. The Counter Reformation Council of Trent, which was closely directed by three strong-minded Popes, marked the beginning of the modern era of “papal maximalism.” Theoretically at least, the question of papal prerogative seemed to have been settled by the First Vatican Council of 1870, which declared that the Pope, when he speaks ex cathedra for the church on matters of faith and morals, is infallible. The decree was opposed by more than one-fourth of the assembled bishops–several of them quit the council rather than have to vote on it–but psychologically the decision made a certain amount of sense. It came at a time when the church was under strong attack from the secular forces of the Enlightenment. The papacy, for many Catholics, seemed like the only anchor of faith in a dark and hostile world.
The prestige of the papacy reached its peak during the lengthy reign of the learned, ascetic Pius XII, who issued the only ex cathedra statement of the century that was clearly labeled infallible: his 1950 decree that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven after her death. John XXIII, although a humble man who thought of himself as the servant of the church rather than as its overlord, possessed an undeniable charisma that delighted Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Paul VI was a friend and protégé of Pius; by temperament and training, Paul believes in the necessity of a strong papacy as the church’s defense against the threat of anarchy. Inevitably, he has been compared with his immediate predecessors, and not always favorably. Paul often suggests a not-so-brilliant version of Pius XII trying hard to live up to the image of John XXIII. More recently, Vatican clerics have begun to compare him with Pius IX, who reigned from 1846 to 1878. Rather as Paul did, Pius entered the papacy with a reputation for being a liberal. But after an abortive revolution in Rome forced him into exile from 1848 to 1850, he turned implacably conservative. His Syllabus of Errors in 1864 denounced almost every trend in modern secular thought as anti-Christian. He virtually demanded that Vatican I proclaim his infallibility. After Garibaldi’s troops took Rome in 1870, Pio Nono became the self-styled “prisoner of the Vatican,” uttering impotent fulminations against a godless world.
Pilgrim Pope. Paul, however, is much too complex a figure to be dismissed as a reactionary. Certainly he is no Vatican prisoner. His ambitious trips to Jerusalem, New York, India, Turkey, Portugal and Colombia are dramatic evidence of his desire to be a “pilgrim Pope.” Time and again he has expressed his dedication to the cause of world peace–in Viet Nam, Nigeria and elsewhere. Paul has introduced a subtle new diplomatic policy of negotiation with Communism that has improved the lot of his church in Eastern Europe and may lead to a more fruitful Christian-Marxist dialogue. His encyclical, Populorum Progressio, boldly amplified the writings of John XXIII in expressing sympathy for the economic ambitions of underdeveloped nations.
On many churchly affairs Paul has taken a moderately progressive path. He has expressed a genuine desire for ecumenical encounter, particularly with the Orthodox Church. He has continued to inaugurate a series of modest reforms in Catholic life. Last week, for example, the Vatican approved translations of three new alternative canons, or rites of consecration for the Mass–the first major change in that section of the liturgy in 1,300 years.
Paul has streamlined many of the baroque papal ceremonies and abolished the archaic privileges of Rome’s Black Nobility. He has not only internationalized the Curia but also has brought about the most sweeping reform in that musty bureaucracy since 1588, by abolishing a number of useless offices, limiting appointments to five-year terms and providing the church with a kind of executive prime minister in the form of the Vatican’s Secretary of State.
“On matters of structure,” says one official of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Paul is willing to modernize. But not on matters of faith and morals.” Theologically, the Pope is not a progressive thinker. He has repeatedly referred to himself as a student of Jacques Maritain, the gentle French philosopher whose “integral humanism” was a sensitive rethinking of the insights of Thomas Aquinas. Maritain was a fresh and life-giving force within Catholicism during the ’30s and ’40s, most notably in his defense of political democracy against the charms of fascism (Paul, in his years of service with the Vatican Secretariat of State, strongly opposed Mussolini). Since the Second Vatican Council, however, Maritain has turned his back on any kind of theological or philosophical progress. So has Paul. Some Vatican officials date the increasingly negative tone of Paul’s speeches from the publication two years ago of The Peasant of the Garonne, in which Maritain railed against the errors of theologians who would abandon the “perennial philosophy” for the seductive lure of existentialism or other modern “fads.”
Next installment soon…