Francesco Podesti's painting of
Pius IX proclaiming the dogma
of the Immaculate Conception
shows the Papal Court in full
I mentioned the other day in writing about the blog The New Liturgical Movement/Novus Motus Liturgicus, that the self-appointed mission of TNLM/NML is to put the toothpaste back into the tube and restore the Church to its monarchial model that we can remember from the 1950’s. I was asked by a respondent to clarify what I mean about “restore the Church to its monarchial model.”
Throughout its history the Church has had several ways of looking at itself. In its earliest phase it was the Synagogue. The Church was born from the Synagogue. The Greek word συναγωγή (synagogue) means “assembly.” Another word for assembly in Greek is ἐκκλησία which transliterates to ecclesia, the word we use for Church (the congregation, not the building). The first two generations of Christians met in the synagogues of first century Judaism and worshipped alongside their Jewish co-religionists. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism and the first generations of Christians were Jews or aspirants to Judaism who had come to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah. Eventually, somewhere around the year 80, they would be excommunicated from Judaism for the dissent within the community this faith in Jesus caused. But they took the practices of the synagogue with them. Our tradition of Morning and Evening Prayer, for example, today enshrined in the Liturgy of the Hours, developed out of the morning and evening prayer of the Synagogue. The synagogue was led by a board of elders—πρεσβύτεροι—presbyters or elders—under the leadership of an ἐπίσκοπος—an episcopos or overseer—from which we get our word “bishop.” These Christian synagogues, once expelled from Judaism, recognized each other by a common faith in Jesus and though they would develop with local variations in liturgy and practice, they offered Eucharistic hospitality to visitors from other assemblies based on that common faith. In other words, they were in communion with one another—not simply because they shared the Eucharistic communion, but rather they shared the Eucharist together because they shared the same faith. Now notice—and I want to be very clear about this for those who speak of the pre-conciliar rites as “The Mass of All Ages”—they did not celebrate the pre-Vatican II rite. That only comes much later, much later. From the descriptions that survive of second and third century liturgy, they retained the basic synagogue format of readings from the Prophets and the Law, to which they added the letters of the apostles and the Gospels. They interspersed their worship with the singing of psalms. There were prayers both of petition and praise. They then took a collection for the needy among the community—or those of other communities in need—and then offered the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the εὐχαριστία or, more properly, the ἀναφορά (anaphora). We will look in a future posting at the constitutive elements of this prayer but we would know it today as the Prayer of Consecration or the Canon of the Mass or the Eucharistic Prayer. This was followed in turn by the communion in which those present shared the Eucharistic elements as a sacramental witness that they were united in the one Body of Christ. The various local Churches were very much aware of the ties that bound them to one another. When a bishop visited from another Church he was invited to preside at the Eucharist as a sign of the communion of Churches. Collections were taken up in the Church to help other local Churches undergoing particular needs. When a new bishop was chosen, the surrounding bishops would gather to approve the election by the clergy and people and to consecrate the new bishop into their fellowship.
In this growing network of Christian assemblies certain assemblies—or Churches—stood in particular honor and prestige because of their having been founded by Apostles. The Church of Rome held a particular honor in this regard, but so too did Alexandria (Mark), Antioch (Peter), Jerusalem (James) and Constantinople (Andrew). Over a period of time these five Churches developed into what was referred to as the Pentarchy. The Church moved from a communion of local Churches under their respective bishops to a communion of patriarchates with the local Churches clustered around their patriarchs. It was only in the time of Justinian (sixth century) that it was clarified that the fives patriarchates stood in this order of importance: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Nevertheless, a certain primacy to the Roman Church had been acknowledged from the end of the first century (the Letter of Clement) and more definitively established at the time of the Council of Nicea and then again at Chalcedon in the time of Leo I. The Roman Church was acknowledged for its pride of place as the leading Church because it was founded on the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul. All the lists of bishops of Rome for the first five centuries list Peter and Paul jointly as co-bishops of Rome. But notice, just as they did not celebrate the Eucharist according to the norms laid down by Pope Saint Pius V, neither were the Roman bishops “popes” in the same sense or with the same authority they would later acquire. The visible and temporal aspects of the Church are conditioned by historical development. The Church exists in history and is affected by it as is any human institution. And while the Church can be said to be a Divine Institution on a theological level, in its earthly manifestation it is historical and subject to the vicissitudes of history.
In this second period then the Church saw itself as a communion of local churches ascribing to one Creed as laid down at the Council of Nicea and clarified by subsequent Councils. The Church of Rome and its bishop stood in a primacy of honor among the Churches of the world and their bishops, but it was definitely a fraternity and not a monarchy. It was a primacy of honor not a position of power. The Churches of the East which separated with Rome in the schism of 1054 (there are Churches which had separated from the universal communion earlier in refusing to accept the Chalcedonian formula regarding the precise relationship of the Divine and Human natures of the one Christ) still work pretty much in this fraternal model but, as in most families, with considerable jealousy and strife among some very competitive brothers. Notice, I said that the Churches of the East separated with Rome, not from Rome. While Rome was trying to assert its authority over Constantinople and the other Churches of the Greek World, those Churches had never acknowledged Roman supremacy and so cannot be said to have broken away from under. Primacy—yes. Supremacy, no. In great part it was precisely this struggle for power that triggered the break. It was also at this period that we see, in the Western Church, the practice of bishops concelebrating the Eucharist with their brother bishops or with their priests disappear and be replaced by the senior clergyman presiding singularly over the Eucharist. The Eastern Church which retained a more fraternal ecclesiology, also retained the practice of concelebration.
After the schism of 1054, the Roman Bishop as Patriarch of the West, stood in a position superior to the other western bishops. He was their patriarch. Following much the same model as the Holy Roman Emperor was using at this precise period in history to assert his authority over lesser kings, princes, dukes, counts and other nobles of the empire, the Popes worked diligently to carve out a place of superior authority over the Churches of the West. They had competition in this from the Emperors who saw themselves as Heads of the Church and Vicars of Christ. That led to the investiture conflict of the 11th century. The papacy eventually won the point that the Pope, not the Emperor, ruled the Church. Unfortunately in the East—the Byzantine Empire and later the Russian Empire—this point was never made and the Church remained subject to the temporal power as an agency of the State. In the West as papal power increased, the popes also had to meet the resentment of bishops who felt their own power and right to be under siege by the growing papal authority. It was a back and forth struggle for centuries. While the papacy had great influence at the time of Pope Saint Gregory I (c 600), the political turmoil of the latter seventh and eighth centuries put it into decline. When Rome went into decline, the corresponding power of the other bishops in the west increased proportionately. A weak papacy made for strong bishops; a strong papacy for weaker bishops. Charlemagne briefly restored the prestige of the Roman papacy but the papal scandals and infighting among the Roman families competing for the papacy in the ninth and tenth centuries sent the papacy into its worst decline. The Reform efforts of the Ottonian Emperors and then the Gregorian Reform of the 11th century restored the greatness of the papacy which peaked in its power in the reign of Innocent III (1198-1216). The overweening pride of Innocent’s successors—most infamously Boniface VIII—led ultimately to the Avignon papacy of the 14th century and the Great Western Schism that lasted until the end of the second decade of the 15th. Although John XXII at Avignon was one of the greatest popes of history (reigned 1316-34), overall the Avignon papacy and the situation of popes and anti-popes during the Great Schism led to a near total collapse of Papal authority. With that collapse of papal authority we see the rise of Conciliarism—the idea that the supreme authority in the Church is not the pope but with an Ecumenical Council. This idea is somewhat of a fallback on the ecclesiology still held by the Orthodox Churches of the East where the assembly of bishops is superior to any one Patriarch. The papacy reached its low point when in 1415 the Council of Constance required the resignation of Gregory XII (along with the two anti-popes) and elected Martin V. Subsequent popes were determined to establish the principle that they were not subject to Councils—or any other human authority. It may be said that it was from this time that the papal monarchy was established.
This development of the papal monarchy at the end of the 15th century corresponds to the rise of the nation states in Europe. Just as the Popes make it clear that they are not answerable to the bishops, so too were Kings in France, Spain, Portugal, and England making it clear that the power of the feudal nobles was giving way to the absolute power of the Crown. Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the theory of the Divine Right of Kings would establish itself. In Protestant England this absolute monarchism would be checked by the Civil War/Commonwealth (1642-1660) and the Glorious Revolution (1688). In Catholic France, Spain, and Portugal Divine Right would continue until the French Revolution (1789) and its Napoleonic aftermath. Papal power and authority consolidated itself at this same period not only over the Papal States but on a “spiritual” plane—over the Western Church. The collapse of Papal civil government in 1870 only reinforced the Pope’s absolute monarchy over the Church. The Italian anti-clericals who supported Italian nationalism and the seizing of the Papal States thought that by destroying papal civil authority they would destroy the Church. This only made Pius IX and his successors more determined to tighten their hold over the Church—a kingdom beyond the reach of Garibaldi and his anti-Church red-shirts. Despite being confined to the 108 acres of the Vatican and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the Papal Court maintained full splendor in ceremonial—not only in the basilica but in the Apostolic palace. For full-court occasions, prelates were garbed magnificently in scarlet and purple silk with trains and furs and bejeweled rings and pectoral crosses. Noble Guards and Swiss Guards and Palatine Guards—each in their varied uniforms stood in their assigned places. Gentlemen of the papal chamber in velvet knee breeches and cutaways and frilled shirts waited on the pope and his attendants. And everyone except the pope had shoes with silver buckles; the pope wore embroidered slippers. It was splendid—any Persian satrap would be green with envy, though it probably left Jesus scratching his head wondering what it was all about.
In 1958, the same year that Pius XII died, Queen Elizabeth abolished the custom of debutantes being presented at Court. Princess Margaret said: “We had to put a stop to it; every tart in London was getting in.” Considering that Margaret herself was somewhat of a slut one can only imagine the sort of trash that was being allowed to curtsey to the Queen. It certainly wasn’t like when the Countess of Grantham presented Rose MacClare to George V and Queen Mary in last season’s Downton Abbey. Ah, but the world changes. No one knows that better than Queen Elizabeth. Over the years she has made great changes in the Court of Saint James. In fact, she has all but abolished it. Oh, she still takes a Lady in Waiting or two with her wherever she goes. (Someone needs to carry the odd banknote in case the Queen wants some spur-of-the-moment shopping.) Most of the antique offices have been abolished. The Groom of the Stool, for example, was responsible for providing a portable toilet (I know, the Queen prefers the less vulgar “commode,” but my “gentle readers” might not be familiar with the precise meaning of that word) for the sovereign—a convenience rarely needed in this day of almost universal plumbing. And who needs a garde-vaiselle today? Who even knows what a garde-vaiselle is? No, modern conveniences and the fact that the £ simply does not go as far today as it once did, had required certain economies to be made on behalf of the Crown.
Similarly Paul VI took a look at the papal court and trimmed it way down. Unlike John XXIII who loved the pomp of the papal monarchy, Paul VI drastically simplified the dress of prelates, eliminated the noble and palatine guards, and did away with many of the superfluous members of the papal household. It simply was time. Paul also laid aside the papal tiara—an ornament that the popes had worn—in one form or another—for over a thousand years.
Correspondingly, It was in the reign of Paul VI that the custom of concelebrating was revived in the Roman Rite. During the Second Vatican Council, Paul made a point of concelebrating with bishops as a visible sign of the collegial—rather than monarchial—nature of authority in the Church. Bishops too in their dioceses began concelebrating with their priests at various occasions, indicating that (at least symbolically) they understood their priests shared in the bishop’s ministry and authority. Priests don’t concelebrate with the faithful as they have different roles in the Eucharistic celebration, but churches began to be designed to show the priest(s) with the faithful gathered around in a community and the priest(s) celebrating with as well as on behalf of their people.
There were other changes as well. Many priests began wearing ordinary clothes more often, especially in social occasions with their parishioners. And many priests began going by “Father-and-their-Christian-name” rather than by their title and surname; in fact some priests have grown comfortable being addressed on a first name basis. It is rare now to see a person kiss the bishop’s ring—a monarchial custom if ever there was one. And titles like “Your Excellency” are less commonly used than simply “Bishop.” Of course sometimes such changes—whether on a parish or diocesan level—are only cosmetic and power sometimes remains what it had always been, the pastor or bishop following a dictatorship model rather than a royal one—but that is human nature. Some people just need to be in charge. Jesus didn’t think much of that; neither do I. And there are those who miss the days of silk trains and canopies and buckled shoes. Fortunately the “canons” of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, continue to offer an ecclesiastical fantasyland for those who want to play dress up and bow and curtsey. But when I see that I feel like agreeing with Princess Margaret: we have to put a stop to that: every tart in Christendom is getting in.