Saturday, July 16, 2011

Disjointed note on Balthasar about Catholicism that is anti-Roman

The anti-Roman attitude within the Catholic Church is nothing new. As Balthasar noted in his book The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church, "we cannot but suspect that" this attitude "has something to do with the Church being flesh," that is, sarx, just as Paul used the word. It also has to do "with the close interdependence of her members." We must not forget that which Balthasar seeks to remind us, namely that the "Church as a whole is not pure spirit nor angelic idea, and neither are her leaders." This is not just some fact employed to keep us from being infuriated with leadership failures, but to remind us that a Church of pure spirit or angelic essence "would not be appropriate for the Church of the Incarnation" because not only did the Word become flesh and make "his dwelling among us" (John 1:14), the Word did not leave us orphans (John 14:18), which is why we have the Church and why we see the first Christian Pentecost as the founding movement of the Church.

Balthasar notes the "hardness" with which "Jesus forms Peter to make him the 'rock,'" thus enabling him, empowering him, "to support his brothers." Indeed, Jesus spares Simon Peter no "censure" or "humiliation." Why? Because Peter "must learn that the love of Christ is uncompromising at the very core of his 'meek and lowly' heart." Peter has to learn this in order to teach it, to communicate it, to others. Finally, we are getting to the crux of the matter concerning the Church. Christ does not allow Peter "to be merely meek and lowly with also – in the name of his Master – representing the inexorable love of God, whose demand for ‘more’ might seem to be a lukewarm person to a 'law' externally imposed." In truth, this ‘more’ that is demanded "is built into" Peter, that is, it is internally realized in relationship. "The saints," Balthasar tells us, "knew how to distinguish between the representation of this 'more' and the weakness of the representative."


Two further things need to be touched on. The first, which flows from the necessary distinction I just noted is the relationship between office and charism. The second is the matter of infallibility. As to office and charism, Balthasar clearly states that there is no contradiction here, at least not theologically, of the kind imposed by the Weberian reduction (i.e., "the routinization of charisma). There is, however, a tension, which is a sign of life. He begins by noting that "'Office' in the New Testament clearly has a charismatic aspect." The trouble here is distinguishing, yet again, between the office and the office-holder. Only one who grasps, at least to some extent, "the mysterium of the Church" "can try- nonpolemically, impartially- to show how tension-filled facets of Christ's one truth mirror each other."

As to infallibility, Balthasar asks, can we truth the authority given to the papacy? This determination "is not a matter of opinion because the Gospels speak of Peter and his office in clear language." Nonetheless, precisely because of his office and its importance to the Church, Peter "is subject to temptation in a special way." Balthasar notes that the promise that "the gates of hell will not prevail" is no guarantee, as subsequent experience (i.e., history)shows, "that the Church and the office of Peter will not be attacked by all sides." Instead, the Lord's promise is "a magnetic pole that attracts the darkest powers of world history: 'Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat' (Luke 22:31)." Balthasar goes on to show that "the tempter and the tempted are brought even closer together - even to the point of exchanging roles" when, on the road Caesaria Philippi, Jesus "rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God but of men' (Mark 8:33)."

As defined by the First Vatican Council, infallibility "is not a personal trait of the empirical Church or of her representatives, but - in the words of Reinhold Schneider - it is the rock that juts out from temptation's foaming turmoil and, by the merciful act of God, saves the Church from foundering." One cannot think about the twin dogmas of infallibility and immediate universal papal jurisdiction, both of which were wholly validated by the Second Vatican Council, apart from the circumstances in which these were promulgated, just as one cannot think about these same dogmas separate from how carefully and circumspectly they have been exercised. So, whether you like it or not, both are necessary for the Church.

In addition to Balthasar's treatment of the office of Peter and the structure of the Church, I cannot recommend too highly Hermann Pottmeyer's Towards a Papacy in Communion: Perspectives from Vatican Councils I & II.

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