Thursday, December 5, 2013

Parallels in the economics of Andrew Carnegie and Pope Francis

Andrew Carnegie 

Andrew Carnegie was a 19th century Scottish immigrant and steel industry tycoon. Considering the wealthiest Americans in history, Forbes ranks Carnegie #5, having had wealth valued at 0.60% of the entire U.S. economy. After selling his company to U.S. Steel in 1901 at the age of 65, he focused on a life of philanthropy. In addition to multiple donations, perhaps his most well-known enterprise at that stage entailed donations of about $60 million to fund over 1,000 libraries in the United States. (See bio)

This behavior reflected a personal belief of his regarding the responsibility of those with great wealth to enrich the lives of others in a lasting way. In June of 1889, he published the article Wealth in the North American Review. The article begins:
The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship. The conditions of human life have not only been changed, but revolutionized, within the past few hundred years. In former days there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, and environment of the chief and those of his retainers. (p. 653)
Carnegie goes on to describe how the relatively wealthy in the past still lived in modest accommodations relative to the poor. But the industrial age revolutionized the disparity in wealth. He thus believed in a certain obligation of the rich for the poor "so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor."

On November 24, 2013, Pope Francis I released the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, also known as The Joy of the Gospel. Although an apostolic exhortation bears less authority than, say, a papal encyclical, and although this exhortation does not define faith or morals, it still calls for the reverential consideration proper to the papal office.

Pope Francis, like Carnegie, speaks of the phenomenon of a disparity in wealth between the wealthiest and the poorest:
While the earnings of a minority [i.e. the wealthy] are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. (#54)
Both men indicate this income gap is remedied when the wealthy grant certain ethical considerations proper to Christian philosophy. Says Carnegie:
The highest life is probably to be reached...while animated by Christ's spirit, by recognizing the changed conditions of this age, and adopting modes of expressing this spirit suitable to the changed conditions under which we live; still laboring for the good of our fellows, which was the essence of his life and teaching, but laboring in a different manner. This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community... (661-662)
You see Carnegie here promoting the Christian virtue of modesty as well as the idea of the wealthy's call to utilize "surplus revenues" for the betterment of society. This sentiment finds itself presented anew in Pope Francis' exhortation:
In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. ... Ethics––a non-ideological ethics––would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”. ... Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings. (#56-58)
Carnegie also considers the difference between donation in the form of welfare to individuals and what I would describe as systemic donations that enable the many. In the below quote, he ponders the hypothetical donation of Mr. Tilden:
But let us assume that Mr. Tilden's millions finally become the means of giving to this city a noble public library, where the treasures of the world contained in books will be open to all forever, without money and without price. Considering the good of that part of the race which congregates in and around Manhattan Island, would its permanent benefit have been better promoted had these millions been allowed to circulate in small sums through the hands of the masses? Even the most strenuous advocate of Communism must entertain a doubt upon this subject. Most of those who think will probably entertain no doubt whatever.
This mentality does not seek to give where use of the contribution will quickly pass. It resembles the adage: "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime." Pope Francis describes a similar temperament with regard to welfare and systemic giving:
Welfare projects...should be considered merely temporary responses. ... Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. (#202, 204)
Both Carnegie and Francis assert a certain weakness in making small donations which result in "temporary" and non-"permanent" benefits. In other words, they believe the systemic problem will persist under such giving. Regarding Carnegie's mention of Communism, in TCV's previous post, I also cited the Pope acknowledging the Church's opposition to Communism.

Implicit in Carnegie's discourse is the notion that human beings have in themselves a dignity worthy of the assistance of others. His call to the wealthy to make use of their surplus wealth for the betterment of society reveals this. Although this parallel is less explicit than the others, I want to examine Pope Francis' reflection on the human aspect:
The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption. (#55)
Keeping with the Pope for another moment, I think he carried this idea forward to a vital moral issue of our time––the matter of abortion. Later in the encyclical, while describing various groups in society sometimes viewed as instruments of profit to others, the Pope tied in the matter of the unborn:
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us. ... Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. ... Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations”. It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
Pope Francis, at St. Peter's Square, Nov. 13, 2013

Strains of the same mentality which denies or forsakes human dignity can permeate both the most virulent profit-seeker, such as a human-trafficker, and the most sympathetic victim, a woman impregnated by rape whose choice for life communicates profound heroism. The Pope is exhorting souls to reject the idea that humans are commodities to be used or eliminated to solve a problem as if they were tools. I have seen online proponents of abortion defend it on the grounds that the child would cause financial hardship. In the examples in this paragraph, the human-trafficker certainly merits less sympathy than the young woman who reluctantly finds herself pregnant and seeks abortion, however, in both cases, the idea that human life is secondary to financial advantage exists in one form or other.

This article is not intended to claim that the totality of Carnegie's and Pope Francis' arguments are identical from top to bottom, nor is it intended to be viewed as an endorsement of every word in the respective documents. Rather, it is to focus on several characteristics in which Carnegie and Francis have overlap. I think part of the intrigue in this comparison is that one man is among the wealthiest in world history and the other is perhaps the most well-known contemporary religious leader in the world, known for carrying his own luggage and personally calling common citizens, including a rape victim. One could not automatically reject Pope Francis for being an economic outsider, ignorant about economics, at least not entirely ignorant, when several of his arguments reflect the sentiments of one of the most successful entrepreneurs in history.

Both men acknowledge an economic disparity among society. Neither speaks to eliminate the wealthy, but of the wealthy's call to assist others. Neither seeks to solve the disparity with mere welfare distribution. One could say these men are both opposed to free market "greed" while yet rejecting a Communist solution––which, as another Pope, Pius XII, described in Divini Redemptoris, culminates "in a humanity without God." Both men recognize due regard members of society are called to have for each other. And both include Christ in the remedy.

Carnegie photo at top is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Parable of the Great Feast: On marriage, God, and Pope Francis

Parable of the Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist, (ca 1525-1545), 
acquired from Wikimedia Commons

16b A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." 22And the servant said, "Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." (Luke 14:16-24)
The context proceeds a moment later to the infamous line:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (14:26)
As with many parables, there is a master and servants with the master representing God and the servants representing the people. The "invitation" to a banquet in the above parable corresponds to the eternal banquet (Rev. 19:9ff, CCC#1344, etc.).

In the parable, there are those who decline to attend. The passage refers to these "excuses." One points to his wife. The other two point to their professions. Of these persons, the master in the parable says they shall "[not] taste my banquet."

A cursory reading of the text may lead one to think one must follow God so "exclusively" that one cannot have a spouse, a family, a job, or even a "life." And that cursory reading would think the other of this text mad that any deviation from that exclusivity results in failure to attend the banquet––the figure of going to hell.

What could be so horrible about getting married or making a living or having a family? The answer is: nothing, in and of themselves.

I'll focus on the married servant, which I think will reveal the answer to each servant. We see Jesus opening his ministry in John's gospel account by attending a wedding and turning water into wine there at the prompt of his mother. (John 2:1-11). Jesus also affirms the sacrament of marriage as a divine event when he recalls Genesis:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Is Jesus here contradicting what he said in Luke? If the parable's servant in Luke is to part from his wife for God's sake, isn't that a contradiction to Matthew 19 which states that the marriage was God's doing in the first place?

Again, a cursory reading of both texts may appear that way at first, but within them is the answer. A proper understanding of the totality of the teaching would recognize that a true marriage is indeed godly and bears mutual love, of giving oneself to the other (cf. Eph. 5:33). I also treated this teaching in a prior post, What did the Catholic Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, in which we saw in Scripture and Pope Leo's words the beauty of a marriage which resembles Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride, respectively.

If one's marriage bears those characteristics, if the partners love one another in the figure of Christ and the Church, then that marriage has not become an "excuse" to refuse God's invitation. Rather, that marriage is united with God and united with God's invitation. Choosing that kind of marriage does not result in excluding God.

The two most profound commandments of Christ are to love God and to love neighbor (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). There is not a dichotomy between the two. Thus, we can recognize that in The Parable of the Great Banquet, the married servant, by "refusing" the master's invitation, revealed that he had separated the two commandments. His marriage was ungodly. He chose his wife instead of God rather than his wife together with God. In a sense, in this servant's mind, his wife had replaced God, and thus became an idol of sorts.

Consider a couple views from the early Church. St. Basil (d. 379) writes of the verse in this way:
But he says, I cannot come, because that the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God. (St. Basil, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
St. Gregory (d. 604) writes:
But although marriage is good, and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring, but the lust of pleasure. And so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented. (St. Gregory, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
Both of their points are that the foolish servant represented someone who took something good, marriage, and amputated it from God.

The decisions of the man with the field and the man with the oxen reveal the same. Their professions became something of a false god in place of God. There was no time for God in their work on the farm. The idea is the same here. Our work must not be something that we use as an excuse to avoid God's prompts. The same would go for the hyperbolic statement in Luke 14:26, that we must "hate" our family for God's sake, again shows how much we must keep God in the equation. The foolish servants in the parable all flocked to "good" things, but made them bad by refusing to consider God in their engagement with those good things.

St. Paul synthesized this idea well:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
All this leads to a final thought on the mistake of seeing someone write a criticism of a particular category of a thing and presume he is criticizing the entire category. In the above examples, it is proper to recognize only the folly of participating in marriage or work if those things are absent of God. It is faulty to presume Christ condemned marriage and work categorically.

This past week, the media engaged in another poor representation of Pope Francis' words in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Various voices seem to think he categorically condemned free financial markets and capitalism. For example, the Pope writes the following:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. ... In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. (Evangelii Gaudium, 56-57)
You see if we read carefully, the Pope is not calling for categorical rejection of a free market. He is rather calling for a balance. He is calling for a market that includes ethics and due consideration of God––just as the master in The Great Banquet parable calls for those workers to still accept his invitation. What Pope Francis is condemning is a marketplace that has excluded ethics, excluded God. In other words, a business that commoditizes human beings commits offense against those persons. This can be seen, for example, in countries where workers are deprived of their due wage, or where there is price fixing, or monopolies, or collusion, etc.

Some opining in the media go so far as to brand the Pope a Marxist or Communist or that he wants a world government. But such representations of the document belie statements within it such as:
All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. (#60)

If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.

It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility. (#240)
So these are just a few excerpts where the Pope condemns government corruption (not just financial corruption in marketplaces) and also emphasizes the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, which are concepts in Catholic thought based on the due freedom of an entity, whether individual, corporate, or public, such as a nation. He criticizes not free markets, but free markets which violate and manipulate persons. He criticizes not the wealthy, but the wealthy who exploit and debase persons. He even writes "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike." (58)

In a 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, the Pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, clearly did not create a dichotomy between rogue economies and communist thought. 
[The Church] condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it.
In other words, everyone already knows the Church is opposed to Communist thought, but not everyone knows that the Church is opposed to what Pope Francis here calls "savage economic liberalism." To recognize him to condemn one is not to understand him to embrace the other. Yet many in the media have committed that exact error in interpretation.

The media also seems deluded that Pope Francis' teaching here is revolutionary. The media did not have the same sort of frenzy when Pope Benedict XVI said:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 2013)
This statement by Pope Benedict encompasses a point Pope Francis drives home in Evangelii Gaudium––that a market which is "selfish and individualistic" (i.e. disregarding God) is what should be criticized.

So, once again, one should not make the false assumption that the Pope has "categorically" condemned free markets or all forms of government or all persons with wealth. Rather he is exhorting those entities to do what the master in The Parable of the Great Banquet asks of everyone––to include God in all that they do.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A brief theology of gravity

I've been reading Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. In it is an interesting analogy of gravity, a scientific law speaking to theological realities. While analyzing the statement in the Our Father prayer "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," he writes:
...Jesus himself is "heaven" in the deepest and truest sense of the word––he in whom and through whom God's will is wholly done. Looking at him, we realize that left to ourselves we can never be completely just: The gravitational pull of our own will constantly draws us away from God's will and turns us into mere "earth." ... what we are ultimately praying for in this third petition of the Our Father is that we come closer and closer to him, so that God's will can conquer the downward pull of our selfishness and make us capable of the lofty height to which we are called. (p. 150)
The idea of recognizing divine things within nature is called a theophany. In breaking down the etymology of theophany, we see theos "god"  and phainein "to show." Now, in certain Scriptural contexts, the term "the world" does not always refer to mountains and oceans and merely a created domain, but it can refer to the fallenness of creation, marred by the original sin (e.g. John 15:19; 17:14). Man lives in a damaged state and does not always love his neighbor as he ought. Lies, greed, lust, uncharity, and other sins abound, even sometimes from our own hearts.

Thus, the figure of a "gravitational pull" toward "mere 'earth'" is the Pope's way of analogizing the idea that we have a tendency to fall away from God. But the thing about gravity is that it is a conquerable force. Even a person can "jump" and defeat, so-to-speak, gravity for a moment. And with a powerful enough vessel, the gravitational force of the earth can be escaped. The Pope's analogy sees Christ as this vessel without which we are doomed to continue falling back into the murk of this world. He writes "left to ourselves we can never be completely just" but that Christ is the one "through whom God's will is wholly done." Attachment to Christ is the means to escape the gravitational pull toward a world grasping to draw us back to a life of uncharity, of "un-love."

Although the Pope does not delve into the following, I recalled another related analogy in a prior master's theology class. The moon is the figure of the Church.
CCC#748 The Church has no other light than Christ's; according to a favorite image of the Church Fathers, the Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun.
You see in the above Catechism sentence, the reason the moon is able to reflect light is because it first receives and redirects that light from the sun. The moon is not the source of light, but is that which receives it. In the same way, we, the Church, are not the source of divine light, but we receive it from Christ, who is in this analogy the sun.

Continuing with these theophanies and this thought experiment, consider what effect the earth and moon have on each other. The gravitational pull of the earth has paralyzed the moon, so to speak, such that its rotation has conformed to the earth's, and the same side of the moon always faces the earth. This is called tidal locking. However, even though the moon has the weaker gravitational force, it still has its effect on the earth, tugging at the oceans, causing the tides, which is called tidal bulging.

If we look at this phenomenon in light of the fallen world and Christ's Church, we can see sort of an inspirational figure. Even though the moon is subject to the earth (i.e. the Church faces forces from the "world"), the moon can change the very shape of the earth with its own power (i.e. the Church, when operating by its strength, transforms the "world").

We can contribute to this "gravitational" phenomenon in the spiritual sense when we contribute to the power of the Church by loving neighbor, defending the truth, giving due care to the needy, selflessly giving of oneself to one's spouse, and so forth. These are the things in accord with the will of God. These are the kinds of virtues Christ accomplished "wholly" as Pope Benedict writes. In doing this, we are accepting the hand of Christ, his empowering graces and the "sunlight" he sends, and we can escape the sinful gravitational tendencies of this world––tendencies we could not escape without Christ––and ascend to "lofty heights."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Could this lead to Orthodox-Catholic unity on the papacy and beyond?

Apostle Peter Preaching by Lorenzo Veneziano, 1370 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, I reviewed perspectives on the office of the papacy from both the Catholic Church and a current Orthodox view. I'll begin with the Orthodox view, as articulated by Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware in early 2011 (all of his quotes herein come from between 28:00-47:00 of this recording). He believes the matter of the papacy to be the critical foundation toward unity on all divergent views of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches:
I truly believe that if we Orthodox and Catholics can make genuine progress on the way we understand primacy, then most of the other issues that arise between us could be solved.
Praying for the Church, it was Christ to the Father petitioning "that they may be one, even as we are one." (John 17:12) At the heart of all the councils and documents, which can sometimes give the appearance of imprudent bureaucracy, the goal here is one of love. This is the ultimate goal of every action of any Christian from the highest hierarchical level to the lowest lay level in every aspect of life. These two Churches have so much in common and recognize the validity of each others' priesthood and the sacrament of unity, the Eucharist. (cf. Joint International Commission, #13, 1993) Like Metropolitan Ware and all of the recent Popes, I have a certain optimism toward reconcilement of the two Churches. (See also comments on Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis I on Orthodox relations in prior post.)

Metropolitan Ware begins with a reference to The Ravenna Statement, a 2007 joint document between officials of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches regarding the primacy of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome:
In the Ravenna Statement it is stated unambiguously, "The fact of primacy at the universal level is accepted by both East and West." And that statement was endorsed by all the delegates, the Orthodox as well as the Catholics. …  Now, this statement stressing the existence of universal primacy is the first time, at any rate in recent history, that the Orthodox Church at a high official level, has affirmed in principle, the universal primacy of the Bishop of Rome. …  But the question then arises, what kind of universal primacy is meant? How is it to be interpreted?
We begin with this common point: the Bishop of Rome exercises a "universal primacy." Both the "East" (Orthodox) and "West" (Catholics) hold to this basic statement. The extent of what that means remains in negotiation. Metropolitan Ware nevertheless believes The Ravenna Statement is a crucial document in reconciling the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the papacy because it cites an ancient canon especially revered by the Orthodox:

[T]he statement of Ravenna offers us a precious guideline. It appeals to the 34th apostolic canon. Now, I don't think the apostolic canons, which are 4th century in date, are particularly well known in the western canonical tradition. But for the Christian East, the apostolic canons have always been held in very high regard, especially the 34th apostolic canon, which is seen as the touchstone for primacy. … Now, the canon says, "The bishops of each province must recognize the one who is first––" protos is the Greek word "––the one who is first among them, and consider him to be their head. And they must not do anything important without his consent. But the first, the protos, cannot do anything without the consent of all."
In other words, Metropolitan Ware believes reconcilement on the papacy can be achieved if this mutual dependence of sorts, as articulated in Apostolic Canon 34, be harmonious with any view of papal primacy. 

Consider a final, lengthier quote from the Metropolitan on what remains unresolved regarding this canon and Catholic teaching:
The 34th apostolic canon suggests a relation, a mutual relation, between the one who is first and the other bishops. The protos, the head, the first, is not to do anything without consulting the others. But the others are not to do anything without consulting him. So the pattern here is mutuality, reciprocal concord, co-responsibility, interdependence. So if we apply this to papal primacy, it means that the members of the episcopal college and equally the patriarchs of the East cannot act without their head, the Pope. But equally, the Pope cannot act without the members of the episcopal college and the Eastern patriarchs. Now, I wonder how far such an understanding of papal primacy can be reconciled with the decrees of the first Vatican council, or, for that matter, of its successor Vatican II. In the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the document of Vatican II, it is clearly said that the college of bishops cannot act without its head the Pope, whereas the Pope can very well act without the college, section 22. In the words of the nota explicativa praevia [an appendix to Lumen Gentium], section 4, "As supreme pastor of the Church, the sovereign pontiff can always exercise his authority as he chooses while the college of bishops acts only at intervals and only at the consent of its head." Now that doesn't seem to correspond to the kind of reciprocal relationship that the Ravenna statement envisages when it invokes apostolic canon 34. If it proves possible to reinterpret the authority of the Pope in the perspective of this canon, here is certainly an understanding of papal primacy that may well prove acceptable to the Orthodox Church. For this reason, I regard the Ravenna statement as a document full of hope. 

The bottom line from this Orthodox perspective is thus: The Orthodox can embrace a Catholic view of the papacy if it is in accord with apostolic canon 34. Yet Vatican I and Vatican II contain statements that seem unfaithful to canon 34. How can this be resolved?

At the first Vatican council was articulated the definition of papal infallibility. This dogma is at the heart of the Roman bishop making other dogmatic statements on faith or morals by virtue of his office. Elsewhere in Metropolitan Ware's talk, he expressed disapproving concern at the idea that a member of the Church could be able to so act as an island. Mutuality was his repeated concern.

I think it is helpful if we rewind even before the final decrees of Vatican I, and examine what led up to the decree on papal infallibility. Recently I finished reading through The Gift of Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Ferrer Gasser at Vatican Council I. This text is basically a behind-the-scenes look at Vatican I, as the bishops came to understand what was meant by the concept of infallibility as it related to the office of the papacy. Bishop Gasser oversaw a committee clarifying the defining paragraph on infallibility at Vatican I as well as reviewing suggestions submitted by other bishops. The value of this document is that it clarifies the intent of the final definition and perhaps dispels misinterpretations of the definition that were not intended by the bishops.

One thing I derived from reading this text is how papal infallibility is a gift of a singular office, yet intertwined in little-known ways with the Church itself and the Church's corporate infallibility.

Following are some observations of the text. References in parentheses are ebook locations.

Bishop Gasser described an interesting theological perspective on papal infallibility as put forth by Cardinal Thomas Cajetan, a sixteenth century theologian:
[T]o use the words of Cardinal Cajetan––from the fact that when the Pope makes a judicial and definitive decision determining that it must be held as such by the Church then it is clear that we are all bound to accept his decision and that whoever pertinaciously clings to the opposite view is considered a heretic. Therefore the whole Church is able to err, following the decision of a Pope, if the Pope in such a definition is able to err. Therefore it must be believed that the promise of Christ made to the Church, viz., "The Holy Spirit will teach you all truth" (Jn 16:13), is fulfilled through one person with no more difficulty than through a multitude, thus preserving the divine order which governs the lower through the higher and the higher through the uppermost. (278-284) 
It is understood in the Catholic Church that the Church, due to the operation of the Holy Spirit, corporately has the gift of infallibility (i.e. to teach without error in defining for the whole Church matters of faith or morals, cf. Jn 16:13, et al). It is also understood in the Church to accept as infallible similar definitions of the Pope. Thus, in simple terms, the above paragraph means the following: If the Pope has the protection of infallibility, and the Church accepts his teaching, then the Church will remain infallible in doing so. However, if the Pope does not have the protection of infallibility, the Church could therefore accept an erroneous teaching of the Church, and thus the Church corporately would not have the gift of infallibility. This would violate the promise of the Spirit given to the Apostles. The Catholic Church is arranged such that the entire Church believes an infallible statement of the Pope, because it is ultimately an errorless statement of the Holy Spirit. And since the Orthodox have expressed certain agreement to papal primacy, this analogy by Cajetan may prove helpful since it ties the Pope to the other bishops.

Whether or not one accepts the Catholic concept of infallibility in the first place, I think there's an important point here not to be missed: The idea of papal infallibility rises or falls with the infallibility of the corporate Church.

In speaking to the bishops prior to the vote, Gasser describes this nuance:
[T]here belongs to the Roman Pontiff a separate infallibility. But in saying this we do not separate the Pontiff from his ordained union with the Church. For the Pope is only infallible when, exercising his function as teacher of all Christians and therefore representing the whole Church, he judges and defines what must be believed or rejected by all. He is no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support. (loc 492-496)
[W]e do not separate the Pope, defining, from the cooperation and consent of the Church, at least in the sense that we do not exclude this cooperation and this consent of the Church. ... Therefore the Pope, by reason of his office and the gravity of the matter, is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth. These means are councils, or the advice of the bishops, cardinals, theologians, et cetera. Indeed, the means are diverse according to the diversity of situations, and we should piously believe that, in the divine assistance promised to Peter and his successors by Christ, there is simultaneously contained a promise about the means which are necessary and suitable to make an infallible pontifical judgment. ... [W]e do not separate the Pope, even minimally, from the consent of the Church, as long as that consent is not laid down as a condition that is either antecedent or consequent. We are not able to separate the Pope from the consent of the Church because this consent is never able to be lacking to him. (loc 496-508)
In brief, what Gasser is saying here is that the Pope remains united to the Church and is "held to use" means necessary to formulate a definition (such as councils, bishop advice, etc.), but that this cannot be an absolutely mandatory aspect of the charism of papal infallibility. He subsequently explains why.

He says when we consider whether or not there necessarily must be formal consent of the Magisterium when making a definition, we reach the matter's "extreme point." By this, he means it is possible to discern the Church's teaching via existing sources of the faith, such as Scripture, antiquity, etc... In his own words, Gasser explains:
It is true that the Pope in his definitions ex cathedra has the same sources (fontes) that the Church has, viz., Scripture and tradition. It is true that the consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions. But from all that it can in no way be deduced that there is a strict and absolute necessity of seeking that consent from the rulers of the Churches or from the bishops. I say this because this consent is very frequently able to be deduced from the clear and manifest testimonies of Sacred Scripture, from the consent of antiquity, that is, of the holy Fathers, from the opinion of theologians and from other private means, all of which suffice for full information about the fact of the Church's consent. (loc 591-596)
In saying there is not a "strict and absolute necessity" of formal consent, Gasser's above caveat seems to be a stereotypical view of the papacy – that the Pope can and will operate in a rogue manner, as if alien to the Church, and could, in theory, violate a united voice from the Church. Yet what is the context of this statement? It is immediately preceded by the idea that  consent of other bishops is a "rule" for papal definitions. And we know from other statements in Gasser's presentation, that Magisterial consent is a rule because Magisterial consent is a means by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the Church. Recall how he quoted Cajetan saying "'The Holy Spirit will teach you all truth,' is fulfilled through one person with no more difficulty than through a multitude..."

In my assessment of Gasser's argument, he does not wish to impose a formal consent from the Magisterium when the Pope is able to clearly deduce the will of the Church from pre-existing Church teaching. If the Pope ever exercised his office in this way, I would submit that consultation of Scripture and pre-existing Church teaching remains faithful to Metropolitan Ware's belief that the Pope must not make decisions by himself, in accord with Apostolic Canon 34. If a matter is "clear" in the teaching of "antiquity" or "Scripture," the Pope would remain faithful to his peers in consulting sources they also deem authoritative. And, in consulting Scripture and other Tradition, the Pope would indeed be consulting the word of God in writing and through the words of bishops preceding him. In neither case, be it acquiring formal consent or informal consent via antiquity, the Pope does not act alone.

Fr. James T. O'Connor, translator of the Relatio, summarizes this aspect of Gasser's presentation:
Although the Pope is morally bound to do everything prudently necessary to prepare for a definition of faith, there is no juridical necessity for him to prepare the definition in any specific way, nor is his definition once proclaimed subject to review or approval by the other bishops or the faithful.
If there is to be reunion with the Orthodox Church on the matter of the Papacy, could this "moral" obligation of the Pope to consult the other bishops on a definition be a means? In other words, when the Church voted on papal infallibility in the context of Gasser's presentation, those at Vatican I passed on including a "formal" or "juridical" imposition on the Pope to consult other bishops while at the same time understanding him to have a moral obligation and service to that which the Spirit has revealed through the corporate Church. Could a non-juridical obligation of some sort be that which satisfies the requirements in Apostolic Canon 34 as described by Metropolitan Ware?

Since the Pope has a moral obligation to consult the Church, even though not a "mandatory" one, could the comparison be made to God not being required to come incarnate, mandatorily, but we can be assured that He will because it is most fitting? Can we be assured that the Holy Spirit would likewise teach through the Church and papal office by ensuring due diligence?

Let's take one more look at some of the statements above that at least lean toward Apostolic Canon 34:

  • The Pope is "no more able to be separated from the universal Church than the foundation from the building it is destined to support" when exercising his "function as teacher."
  • The Pope "is held to use the means suitable for properly discerning and aptly enunciating the truth."
  • "[T]he consent of the present preaching of the whole Magisterium of the Church, united with its head, is a rule of faith even for pontifical definitions."
  • "[T]the Pope is morally bound to do everything prudently necessary to prepare for a definition of faith."

Could this obligation to which the Pope is "held," this responsibility to consult the Church to which the Pope is "morally bound," be the key to reconcilement with the Orthodox Church? If not the solution, I would submit that these seeds underlying the definitions of Vatican I and of Apostolic Constitution 34 may be those that germinate into united maturity.

In closing, it might be worth noting that the Pope has explicitly exercised this obligation in writing. In 1995, Pope John Paul II made a definitive statement about the grave immorality of abortion. In his statement, which cites the authority of the office from whence he spoke, he specifically cites having consulting the voice of his peers:
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops-who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine–I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 62, 1995)
You see the Pope articulating that what he is asserting is something already unanimously voiced by the Magisterium. His statement, according to his own declaration, is not made in isolation from the bishops. It is a statement communicating what those bishops had previously and then articulated.