Friday, March 29, 2013

The Pope, outcasts, washing women's feet, and antinomianism

An excellent post by Canon Lawyer, Edward Peters, "Popes, like dads, don't have a choice in the matter" (In the Light of the Law, March 28, 2013):
Pope and dads set examples whether they want to or not. If I have dessert despite not having finished my supper, my kids do not experience that family rule as something presumably oriented to their welfare, but rather, as an imposition to be borne until they, too, are old enough to make and break the rules. Now, none will dispute that Pope Francis has, by washing the feet of women at his Holy Thursday Mass, set an example. The question is, what kind of example has he set?

... I have never doubted that liturgical law expressly limits participation in that rite to adult males, and I have consistently called on Catholics, clerics and laity alike, to observe this pontifically-promulgated law in service to the unity (dare I say, the catholicity) of liturgy (c. 837). Pope Francis’ action today renders these arguments moot. Not wrong, mind. Moot.

By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive.... What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example at Supper time.

We’re not talking here about, say, eschewing papal apartments or limousines or fancy footwear. None of those matters were the objects of law, let alone of laws that bind countless others. (Personally, I find Francis’ actions in these areas inspiring although, granted, I do not have to deal with complications for others being caused by the pope’s simplicity).

Rather, re the Mandatum rite, we’re talking about a clear, unambiguous, reasonable (if not entirely compelling or suitable) liturgical provision, compliance with which has cost many faithful pastors undeserved ill-will from many quarters, and contempt for which has served mostly as a ‘sacrament of disregard’ for Roman rules on a variety of other matters. Today, whether he wanted to, or not, Francis set the Catholic world an example, about solidarity with outcasts, certainly, and about regard for liturgy.

A final thought: we live in antinomian times. One of the odd things about antinomianism (a condition that, by the way, does not always imply ill-will in its adherents though it usually implies a lack of understanding on their part) is that antinomianism makes reform of law not easier but harder: why bother undertaking the necessary but difficult reform of law when it’s easier simply to ignore it?

It’s a question with reverberations well beyond those of a foot-washing rite.
What I find particularly insightful here is the possibility, not merely of the obvious connection between antinomianism (disregard for law) and ill-will, but between antinomianism and good will, and even compassion. As my mother used to repeat ad nauseam: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Food for thought here. Thank you Dr. Peters. Or, would I have rather preferred the unperturbed bliss of remaining undisturbed?

[Hat tip to R.C.]

Update (3/29/1013):

Dr. Edward Peters has followed up his earlier post with another provocative and thoughtful retrospective on the Mandatum right controversies. As he admits, his area of expertise is ecclesiastical law. But then, this allows him also to say that he has, along with many others, "long been open to revising the Mandatum rite so as to permit the washing of women's feet," which might lead one to wish to consult someone with some theological expertise, like, say, Fr. Zuhlstorf, who offers appreciative constructive disagreement with parts of Peters' post like these (I recommend reading Fr. Z's commentary along with Peters' post). In fairness, Peter's does add that he understands that "strong symbolic elements are in play [in the Mandatum rite] and I might be under-appreciating arguments for the retention of the rite as promulgated by Rome."

Concerning Pope Francis' breach of liturgical law on Maundy Thursday, Peters writes:
If liturgical law permitted the washing of women’s feet at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, no one would have noticed the pope’s doing it. What was newsworthy (apparently, massively newsworthy) is that, precisely because liturgical law does not authorize it, the pope’s performance of the action was huge news.

... Few people seem able to articulate when a pope is bound by canon law ... and when he may ignore it .... Most Church laws, however, fall between these two poles and require careful thinking lest confusion for -- nay, dissension among -- the faithful arise. Exactly as happened here. Now, even in that discussion, the question is not usually whether the pope is bound to comply with the law (he probably is not so bound), but rather, how he can act contrary to the law without implying, especially for others who remain bound by the law but who might well find it equally inconvenient, that inconvenient laws may simply be ignored because, well, because the pope did it.

... A pope’s ignoring of a law is not an abrogation of the law but, especially where his action reverberated around the world, it seems to render the law moot.... What is not good is to leave a crystal clear law on the books but show no intention of expecting anyone to follow it. That damages the effectiveness of law across the board. (Emphasis added)


JM said...

I remain flummoxed that with the Church in rough shape, clerics apparently exisiting an a priest-world bubble think the remedies involve breaking traditions and being open and progressive -- the 70s! -- when we have gone so far in that direction that caricatures of legalism and dead orthodoxy are truly just that, old school stereotypes very view people under 50 can even remember, much less encounter. Also frustrating that each Pope now elected seems to be chosen for something "new" they can bring, as if changing emphases or programs will stoke revival. What if a Pope simply assumed office and ran things, rather than trying to present a happy face and institute roll-outs or reposition images? Buying into the modern paradigm much like CBN and Pat Robertson, we will make Catholicism a "brand," and brands come and go. Oh for the day a Pope makes little news and simply operates like a Pope. That used to be considered boring, and boring, I am coming to believe, is the best thing possible. Last night I say a news leader; "The Peoples Pope!" on CBN. Curmudgeon I am, I thought, funny, isn't he supposed to be God's. Probably unfair, but it does suggest a bit of how signals are being read. I guess whether you take this as good or bad has to do with how you read the tea leaves.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dr. Peters is a mo'smarter (Lincoln used to say that) man than am I but, as might be expected,his approach to the radical novelty of Pope Francis' action is anchored solidly in positivism; that is, the law.

How about the fetid fact that he is the FIRST Pope in the entire history of The Catholic Church to do such a thing?

Laws, schmaws, man.

How about choosing a slammer for Maundy Thursday Mass?

Those quick to defend that decision would be damn slow to choose a prison for their Wedding, Funeral, or First Communion.

He who, repeatedly, refers to his own self as The Bishop of Rome has a Totalitarian Humility and everything WILL surrender to his humility, or else.

His refusal to follow in the red shoes footsteps of his predecessors can be seen as humility (I do, but I use totalitarian as a modifier) or it can also be seen as an ostentatious display of I-am-holier-than-those-Popes-who-came-before-me-and wore-all-of-those-gaudy- things-and-did-all-of-those-fancy-schmancy-things.

Until this Bishop of Rome came along, we all thought those ecclesiastical traditions had some meaning and symbolised the authority and majesty of a Monarch occupying a Divinely-Designed Office but now we are having our noses rubbed in the dog shit that it presumably really is.

When will we know that he has true humility?

Well, when he does something he does not want to do - you know, like wear the mozzetta, wear the shoes, live in the apostolic palace, give blessings to those not Catholic, wear the Fisherman's ring, wear the Papal Mitre, etc etc etc etc etc....

A real act of humility would be an abdication. Immediately.

It is clear he does not want to be identified as Pope - he signs his letters with Francisco with no indication he is the Pope and he self-identiifes, repeatedly, as Bishop of Rome.

He will drag our Sacred Rites down into the ecclesiastical version of a Buenos Aires slum and the conservative cheerleaders will rhetorically do the wave in celebration of his simplicity.

I'll guaran-damn-tee you that the conservatives who defend all of this putative humility would have looked like Spider Monkeys throwing their feces at a Zoo Keeper if Ronald Reagan refused to live in the White House and called his own self, Governor; but let a Pope pee on precedent and suddenly he is the bees knees.

Do we REALLY think he is Holier and Humbler than Pope Saint Pius X who did ALL of the things, and MORE, that The new Bishop of Rome refuses to do?

As Haley Barbour routinely says; I was born at night, but not last night.

And I will finish by confessing I am far more of a sinner than is he and far Mo'dumber (Lincoln,again) than he but I can not let this revolution go down the road past me without registering a complaint - not that it will change one blessed thing for he is on his absolute best behavior right now; wait'll; ya get a load of what is coming down the pike...

Anonymous said...

The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions, but so is the road to Heaven.

Charles said...


That's about as good a refutation as the liturgical one that says, you know, the Novus Ordo can really be celebrated very reverently too.

Uh-huh. So it can. And what does that tell us about that wax nose?

Conscientious Catholic said...

Not only did Pope Francis wash the feet of two women, but one of them was a Syrian Muslim, while the other was an Italian woman. Hopefully, this is NOT where we are turning. He has said he wants to have a better dialog with them. ????? I'm really waiting to see how he deals with the Society of Pius X.