Another One Takes the Plunge
I most certainly wish Mr. Marshall and his family well on this next stage in their spiritual journey. May God bless them richly.
I suppose it will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I do not find Marshall's apologia to be terribly persuasive. It is essentially the same problem I had with Jeff Moore's statements of earlier this year. This is what Marshall says about the key issue, in my mind:
I don't need to make any fancy argument for the authority of Rome. It is simply that Christ instituted St Peter to bind and loose on earth (the earth denoting universal jurisdiction) and that this office is protected by the Holy Spirit so that the Church will never be led into error in the realm of Faith and Morals. The buck stops with Peter and with his successors in Rome - all the way up to the present Pope, His Holiness Benedict XVI. This charism for truth is not based on the moral superiority of the popes or their intellectual astuteness. It is based in the power of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the promise of Christ.
There is pretty much no statement in this paragraph that I do not take at least some exception with, based upon my rather extensive study of Scripture and the Fathers of the Church on this question. Where does Father P get the conclusion that the office of St. Peter is "protected by the Holy spirit so that the Church will never be led into error in the realms of Faith and Morals"? He seems to take it as self-evident, but I have serious questions as to whether St. Peter himself was protected from such error, based upon Gal 2:11-14 (which is infallible Holy Scripture, as I am sure Fr P would agree). And if Peter himself could err, then I can see no reason to believe that his successors in Rome alone (as opposed to Antioch, for example, which also can trace its ancient lineage of bishops back to the era of Petrine evangelism) would be so protected.
Fr P's claim to universal jurisdiction and the protection of infallibility for the bishops of Rome is further complicated by the fact that there is no surviving evidence that the first several centuries of Roman bishops claimed such rights and abilities over the entire Church. And when they did get around to it, the earliest claims to a special Roman primacy typically relied upon their status as guardians of the relics of SS Peter and Paul and the impeccably consistent orthodoxy of their doctrine rather than what became the classic "proof text" inscribed around the base of the dome of St. Peter's. And while the ancient councils of the universal Church unquestionably recognized the primacy of honor of Rome, I am unaware that the Eastern primates ever recognized either the universal jurisdiction or infallibility of their brother in Rome. In short, the opinions of the ancient bishops of Rome were deeply respected by the Greek-speaking Church (as the Tome of Leo's reception at Chalcedon indicates), but the Roman popes had no special authority over Alexandria, Antioch or Constantinople--and never have. The logic of Fr P's argument seems to indicate that the entire Eastern Church failed to understand the Lord's clear instructions for the monarchial government of the Church, thereby disregarding the protecting hand of the Holy Spirit over the unique Petrine office by never submitting to jurisdiction of the bishops of Rome. So despite the protection of the Holy Spirit, the unity of Christ's Church on earth was fatally compromised before Constantine even proclaimed toleration for the Church! Pardon me if I am a bit skeptical.
Like Fr P, I believe the Holy Spirit protects the Church. The decrees of ecumenical councils (i.e., the seven that all of the Patriarchal sees have participated in and are recognized by Chalcedonian Christians in both East and West) are, I believe, infallible. But I am unconvinced that this infallibility abides solely in the Roman Pontiff and in councils he alone has convened (if he chooses to call a council rather than acting on his own to declare a dogma). This doctrine is, I presently believe, a medieval development that took place solely in the Latin-speaking West. It has only been endorsed by councils of those bishops that remained in communion with Rome after the Great Schism and did not separate from it in the sixteenth century (e.g., Vatican I). And since IMO Roman jurisdictional primacy and infallibility is a medieval development that was unknown to the ancient Church, I would need to be convinced (a la Newman) that doctrine develops over time in ways that might not have been at all clear to the ancients themselves, even if these later developments were somehow always there in nuce (rather like the buried ancient acorn that becomes the mighty oak of modern Roman dogma).
Again, I eagerly await an informed reflection from my friends who are former Anglicans on these points. For me to be convinced, I will need a thoughtful dialogue on Roman primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility based upon historical evidence and/or clear rational argument, and not merely the "Jesus said it; I believe it; that settles it" approach one sometimes encounters. I promise to listen carefully.
My sincere best wishes to Fr P and his family, and to all of my many Roman Catholic friends. As I hope you know, I agree with you as to 98% of the content of the deposit of Faith. And I deeply long for the day, I hope not too far off, when we will be reunited in one visible Body. There are encouraging signs of Roman/Orthodox rapprochement, and I suspect that any agreement that the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Churches could reach with the Roman Pontiff on these contested issues is probably one I could endorse as well. Pope Benedict seems to be just the man to accomplish this reconciliation. May God bless him in his crucial ministry. Let us pray for the happy day when we all will be one, even as Christ and the Father are one.