Thursday, July 28, 2011

Need for a New Reformation

Croweds Gathered in Saint Peter's Square
the first night of the conclave that elected
Benedict XVI
We have seen that both the Carolingian and Ottonian Reformations were carried out not by prelates but by the Emperors and their officials.  These should not be considered as “external” reformations however as it was understood in both the ninth century (the Carolingian (which refers to the Emperor Charlemagne) and the tenth century (The Ottonian Reform under the Emperors Otto I, II, and III) that the Emperor, not the pope, was the Vicar of Christ and that the Church stood under his “Protection”—protection here being somewhat akin what Elizabeth I of England would later claim to be the royal “governorship” of the Church, eschewing the title “head” which was perceived in both instances as belonging uniquely to Christ.  The next Reformation we will look at is the Gregorian Reformation, named after Pope Saint Gregory VII, one of two popes Gregory known as “Gregory the Great.”  (Patristic scholars like to call Gregory I “the Great;” historians award the title to Gregory VII.  Both really deserve the title, but from different perspectives and for vastly different reasons.)  Actually the Gregorian Reform, though named after Gregory VII, began before him and was the work of a number of curial (if that is not too anachronistic a word) officials .  The reason I fear that it might be too anachronistic is this is the very early stages of development of what would today  be called the Roman Curia.  Influential in this Reformation, which will be the most successful yet, will be an illustrious array of men such as Saint Romuald of Ravenna, Saint Peter Damian, John Gracian, Bruno of Eguisheim-Dagsburg, and the monk Hildebrandwho will ascend the papal chair in 1073 as Gregory VII. 
       It is always ideal when Reformation comes from within the ranks of Church leadership whether through Papal leadership as it will with Innocent III or Conciliar Leadership as at Trent.  But what happens when the internal leadership either is not interested in Reform or cannot overcome its internal division in order to fashion and hold to a program of Reform such as happened after Lateran V in 1517?  (Don’t worry if you don’t know much about Innocent or Lateran V, we will look at those episodes in detail as time and blog entries unfold.)  As I am writing this I can’t but help think how these very days our federal government is so divided over various self-interests (Republicans, Tea-partiers, Democrats) that they can’t forge a program to meet a national crisis regarding the debt.  This is what happens when people lose their sense of the common good and seek only to preserve their own self-interest.  This happens in Church politics as well as national politics.  Original sin sits as heavy on a bishop’s mitered head as a politician’s fat ass.  
      And that is why I want to look at the question of Reformations in the history of the Church.  Today there is no Emperor to take charge and clean up the mess and the curias (or technically curiae) of John Paul II and Benedict XVI are too complicit in the problems for the their papacies to be effective in the needed reform the Church . 
     Why do I think that the Church today needs yet another Reformation?  Well, in the first place, the Church always needs a Reformation. Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda—the Church, always reforming and always in need of reform.  That is just a principle of history of the Church.  Just as no one of us individual Christians is ever quite “there” but continue to journey on towards the perfection to which we are called in our baptism so too the collective assembly of the faithful is never fully what Christ calls us to be as his Church. 
      I do have some more concrete examples of why we need to have a Reformation—and it is not an exhaustive list.  I am sure there are other reasons beyond the one’s I am going to enumerate.

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