|The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve|
... papal primacy in the first millennium was envisaged principally as witness, and was closely linked to what had been called the apostolicity of the Church. In the second millennium, until Vatican Council II, papal authority was understood as a matter of power, and was linked to the Church’s attribute of unity. A more recent kind of theology, reflected in the documents of Vatican II, links papal primacy rather with service, and interprets it in relation to the catholicity of the Church.
It is an interesting observation and if there is a flaw in Dulles’ analysis it is that applies this three-millennia-schema to papal authority when in fact it actually fits the wider self-understanding not simply of the papacy but of the Church itself. It was not only the papacy, but the Church itself that understood its apostolic mission to be kergymatic, that is to witness to the Gospel to the ends of the earth. That understanding of mission shifted as the first millennium gave way to the second, the very time of the Gregorian Reform of which we are soon to speak, and not only the papacy but the Church itself saw that its “mark” of unity required to have a universal dominion, i.e. a power that extended over all peoples of all times. The transition was not a smooth one as well shall see—in fact well into the second millennium there were still voices such as Peter Waldo and Francis of Assisi—who rejected the power model in favor of the witness model. Nonetheless, the power model won out and the Church fitted its structures to accommodate it. The papacy picked up the trappings of monarchy, the bishops forged alliances with the princes—indeed were often princes themselves. The hierarchical nature of the Church became more evident as ecclesial power consolidated itself in the hands of prelates and indeed as the evangelical concept of authority gave way to the notion of “power” in ways that Jesus had explicitly condemned. The liturgy too evolved in ways that emphasized power and hierarchy. Ecclesial and social hierarchies mutually collaborated to reinforce each other’s dominance over the working and peasant classes and the Church became hopelessly (though at the time it was seen not as hopeless but as the ideal) entwined with the civil powers to create the ancien regime. When that regime came tumbling down with the Bastille in 1789 (and the subsequent decade) the Church worked for its reestablishment, despising democracy, trumpeting absolutism and monarchy. If you recall the various entries in this blog about “Americanism” you will remember that the Holy See really didn’t know how to deal with the unique situation of the American Church with its republican convictions in a world of monarchial Catholicism.
And so, according to Dulles, the time has come again to shift the paradigm—this time from power that guarantees the Church to be “one” (though it never really did) to the catholicity of the Church marked by an upcoming millennium of service. And here is where the conflict lies. There are those who cannot let go of the “power” paradigm with its trappings of monarchy and lordly domination. They love their Tridentine Mass which so clearly displays the hierarchy of persons in ecclesial society. The Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest based at Gricigliano in Tuscany epitomizes this ecclesiology of obsolescent fantasy and the ostentatious displays of Cardinals Burke, Pell, and Castrillón Hoyos as they travel the world in their ermine trimmed cappae magnae keep alive the hope of those who believe in a world of kings and peasants and hope to see once again throne and altar united and Catholicism supreme throughout the world.
There is, on the other hand, those who recall and regard as prophetic the speech by Bishop Emil deSmedt in the first session of Vatican II calling for an end to “triumphalism, juridicism, and clericalism” There are those in the Church today who have a radical vision of a Church putting itself at the service of the poor. Some, like Mother Teresa, embraced this new vision from a very conservative perspective. Others, like Dorothy Day came at it from a very left field. Some, like Archbishop Helder Camara or the American bishop, Bernard Topel just walked away from cumbersome pomp of their office and became witnesses to a truly apostolic Gospel. Others, like the martyred Oscar Romero had been “party men” who found themselves surprisingly, even against their own expectations, converted to a radical Christianity. Some were simply hard workers who pitched in and got things done like the four American churchwomen (Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan) martyred in El Salvador. Some, like theologian Monika Hellwig, left religious life in order to live the Gospel even more authentically than would have been possible as a religious. Others—like Dulles himself—found that religious life and the institution of the Church gave them the better platform from which to make their contribution.
There are those who find this paradigm shift to be very difficult, indeed threatening, to accept and who do what they can to resist it. Gamarelli’s stays in business supplying silver buckled shoes and purple stockings for those curial monsignori who are not about to give up the buttons and bows they’ve dreamed of since their seminary days. Those members of the Roman Curia who are members of or have influence with the Congregation for Bishops try to insure that men named to the episcopacy today are not too inclined to the service model foretold by Dulles. Certainly in the United States most bishops are quite friendly to be with and usually without much pretense, but at the same time are corporation men through and through who will not effect any drastic social reformation within the Church or regarding the Church’s position in society. But the wheels of history, while they do turn slowly, turn nonetheless and eventually one will come to the Chair of Peter who knows that humble service speaks the gospel more convincingly to our contemporary world than do the circumstances of pomp. Dulles, I have no doubt, is right—service will mark the Church of the third millennium but we are only in the second decade of that epoch and there is much time to come. The autocracy and the silk gowns alike will one day appear as ridiculous anachronisms and the battles over models of the Church will be a historical footnote—at least until the paradigm must shift again.