9 January 2009

More ecumenical oddities

So - see previous post - valid sacraments can exist outside the Church. But that could simply mean that individuals might 'possess' valid Baptism, or valid Order, as mere individuals, outside the boundaries of the Church. But Roman praxis soon went far beyond this minimalist approach. When groups of dissidents wished to be reconciled to the Holy See, they were in fact regarded as members of corporate churches; as, for example, in the 'Union' Councils of the Middle Ages. And when the Ukrainians sought union with Rome; when the Melchite patriarchate of Antioch did the same in the 1720s; they were received as Churches. Nobody said 'Well, your orders are valid but your clergy lack jurisdiction, so you'd all better go to Confession and make a General Confession now that you're Inside the Church'. Jurisdiction to absolve validly was assumed, in the relaxed atmosphere of the eighteenth century Aegean, to exist among the Byzantine clergy, and tidy theorists were still discussing in the early twentieth century exactly how it was that 'schismatics' did have jurisdiction (remember that in Western theology it is not enough to be validly ordained to absolve; you need jurisdiction). Nor, when the Great Western Schism was healed, did the papacy regard the countries which had adhered to (what became thought of as) antipopes as needing radical adjustments of the canonical life they had led while 'in schism'.

And consider England during the period 1534-1554. Suppose, in, say, 1548, you had a parish priest who was ordained in, say, 1540 by a bishop consecrated and installed in, say, 1536. The orders of both priest and bishop would be valid, but neither possessed jurisdiction (because the bishop was installed without papal mandate). But I do not recall that any of Cardinal Pole's enactments required much of the peasantry of England to make a general confession and be absolve from all the sins they had committed since the start of the Henrician disorders.

It had become accepted, not only that valid sacraments could exist outside the Roman Unity, but that authentic church life with real 'jurisdiction' existed ouside that unity. Whatever the notorious bull Unam sanctam of Boniface VIII, in which he stated the necessity of all to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, did mean, it was not in practice held to mean that (for example) the Byzantine churches were not in some sense real churches.

My tendency is increasingly to become prolix. I'm sorry. I'll get onto Joseph Ratzinger's contribution to ecumenical theology next time.


Fr William said...

Not prolix in the least, Father, but rather considerate to those of us who, if you chose to be more laconic, might not fully understand the context or the references.

And may I (belatedly) second the sentiments of Pastor in Valle in thanking you for one of the most consistently informative and thought-provoking blogs around.

Christopher said...

I recall that Cardinal Pole gave absolution to parliament on St Andrew's Day 1554, which was subsequently passed on to all the parishes in the land. So while peasants weren't required to confess, they must have been deemed in need of absolution. I wonder - was that only for the sin of adherance to schism?

rev'd up said...

The thought comes to mind of comparing the Church to the earth in Genesis 1.

"And God said, let the earth(Church) bring forth grass(Sacraments), the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit(good works) after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."

Very mechanical indeed.