"He Ain’t Nothing Special"? Cardinal Archbishop of Paris and Creative Minority Report on Clash of Ecclesiologies

The Creative Minority Report (“We laugh because we believe”) carry’s this AFP report under the heading He Ain’t Nothing Special:

Is it any wonder that nobody goes to Church in France anymore?

Check out this obnoxious statement by a Cardinal from a country known for its unpleasantness. From Rorate Caeli:

LOURDES (Hautes-Pyrenees), 14 September 2008 (AFP) – Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, president of the Conference of Bishops of France, stressed that the relationship between the pope and the bishops “is not a servile relationship of subordination”.

“The relationship of the pope with the bishops is not a boss/employee relationship. He is not the CEO of a multinational corporation who is coming to visit a branch office,” said Cardinal Vingt-Trois during a press briefing held after the meeting between the pope and the bishops.

“We have welcomed him and listened to him as a brother who has come to reinforce the faith of those with whom he works and with whom he is in communion,” said the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris.

“We are in a relationship of communion, of affection, and of collaboration. And when we have things to say to him, we say them” said Cardinal Vingt-Trois.

Earlier the pope had spoke before the bishops calling for the steadfastness of the Church in the face of the challenges of the contemporary world – a speech with the tone of a directive which was met by somewhat lukewarm applause.

While it is certainly true that the relationship is not one of CEO to employees, he is also not just merely a visiting dignitary from Luxembourg. Come to think of it, I can’t imagine that they would make such an odious statement about a visiting dignitary from Luxembourg.

The hierarchy in France is living up to its deserved reputation for tepid Catholicism and bad manners.

The hierarchy in France should thankful that the relationship is not of CEO to employee for it was, they would have all likely gotten the sack.

Perhaps Pope Benedict should put some of the Bishops to the episcopal guillotine and replace them with some of the more traditional minded in France. You know who I mean. That would get their attention.

Posted by Patrick Archbold at 11:08 AM

It appears that a “clash of ecclesiologies” is taking place here. Catholic ecclesiology understands the Church to be structured “heirarchically” (Lumen Gentium 18ff) while at the same time affirming that the purpose of this hierarchical structure is to preserve the “communio” of the Church. It is possible to play the two aspects off against one another, especially when the place of the Bishop of Rome in this ecclesiology is discussed (as often happens in dialogue between East and West).

As Patrick notes, the Cardinal is quite right in saying that the relationship between the bishops and the pope is not essentially “hierachical” but rather “communal”. In other words, while the Bishop of Rome has absolute primacy among the bishops, he is not a “bishop over the bishops”. Does this mean that they do not owe “obedience” to the Holy Father? Hardly. Get a load of the “Spirit of Vatican II” in paragraph 22 of Lumen Gentium:

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock; it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter, was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head. This college, insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. In it, the bishops, faithfully recognizing the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own authority for the good of their own faithful, and indeed of the whole Church, the Holy Spirit supporting its organic structure and harmony with moderation.

That’s Vatican TWO, folks, not Vatican ONE. It is why the Eastern Orthodox Churches say that nothing has changed in the Catholic Church regarding our understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome.

Of course, they are only partly right in this. What has happened is that the “communal” aspect of the relationship between the bishops and the pope (which Cardinal Vingt-Trois emphasises) has been added to the pre-Conciliar hierarchical understanding of the relationship. But the hierarchical relationship still remains as real and important as ever, and should never be played off against the communal relationship in a sort of “clash of ecclesiologies”.

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9 responses to “"He Ain’t Nothing Special"? Cardinal Archbishop of Paris and Creative Minority Report on Clash of Ecclesiologies

  1. Mike.

    Some bishops are surprisingly oblivious to their own contradictions.

    They will fight against a rigorous doctrine of papal authority, as if they are defending the very lives and liberty of all the world.

    Meanwhile, they assume an enourmous amount of authority for themselves.

    So when they suppress the Latin Mass they think they’re being dutiful Shepherds. And when the Pope says “hey lighten up on all that” they think he’s getting overly authoritarian.

    They’re not against a heirarchy. They just want to be at the top of it.

  2. Schütz

    You could be right. The pope seems to have had some forceful reminders of his own in his address to the French bishops…

  3. Peregrinus

    Oh dear, David. You need to sharpen your critical skills a bit.

    The reported remarks of Archbishop Vingt-Trois [how did he get that name, by the way?], were made “during a press briefing”. And the question that leaps at once to mind is, what question was he answering? Quite obviously, if the question either asked whether the Pope had a CEO-branch office relationship to the French church, or proceeded on the assumption that he did, then this would put quite a different cast on the Archbishop’s response, because the proper focus of the answer would have been on correcting that misapprehension.

    And the other question that leaps at once to mind is, what [i]else[/i] did the Archbishop say? Has his answer been edited? By whom? And to what end? Just because you found it in the Creative Minority Report isn’t an [i]absolute[/i] guarantee that it comes to you free of bias or spin, you know.

    Bactracking from the Creative Minority Report we come to Rorate Caeli, where we learn that the English version of this AFP report is an “unofficial translation” prepared by someone with a pseudonym. Hmmm. Another step back takes us to the French text, on the website of a religious news agency called [i]La Croix[/i].

    Here we find tha the English phrase “servile relationship of subordination” is a translation of des rapports de subordination servile. “Unofficial”, indeed. The adjective servile has been moved by the translator from qualifying subordination in the original to qualifying “relationship” in the translation. More importantly, we also find that he has transliterated, rather than translating, both servile and subordination.

    I make this point because subordination servile doesn’t all all have the connotations in French that “servile subordination” has in English. The verbs server and subordiner, and all their cognates, are used extensively in French discourse on workplace relations and where a CEO-branch office analogy is being discussed, this would be quite natural language to use. It wouldn’t at all have the pejorative flavour that “servile subordination” has in English. A more competent translation would reflect this.

    It’s not surprising that this has escaped the author of Creative Minority Report; he’s quite explicit about his prejudice the French people are rude, so naturally he is going to fall with glad cries on a dodgy translation which gratifies his prejudice; he’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. But his very openness about his bias is a signal to us to read carefully what he says.

    We can dig further, and go to the AFP site to read the original report (in French) (http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5h_FfuVKTVBOFZai5ohdbup2JOODw). And there we find that, yes, it’s a good deal longer than the edited version that CMR (at several removes) quotes. And, no, it wasn’t the pope’s call for steatfastness that was met with “lukewarm applause”; if AFP is to be believed, that was a response to a rather more specific point about the admission of divorced-and-remarried Catholics to communion. And, yes, Cardinal Vingt-Trois’ “CEO” comments were in response to a question about whether the Pope wanted to “call the bishops to order”.

    In fact, if we strip out the management-speak and replace it with church-speak, the Cardinal’s remarks are a pretty close reflection of the assertion in the Catechism that “the bishops should not be thought of as the vicars of the Pope. His ordinary and immediate authority over the whole church does not annul, but on the contrary confirms and defends, that of the bishops.”

    As for the communal relationship and the hierarchical relationship being “played off” against one another, I don’t see anything of that in Cardinal Vingt-Trois’ remarks, given the question he was answering. In your own take on the matter, however . . .

  4. Past Elder

    You guys are too much fun!

    I think Peregrinus is on to something. But I have to admit, I speak limited French and with a Russian accent to boot (I was taught fifty years ago by an old Russian woman who as a young woman was part of family at the tsarist court, where French was spoken, until the Revolution — not VII, the Communist one) but that’s enough to wonder too what’s up with that name.

    One thing is clear in any language — it will business as usual in the one-time “eldest daughter of the Church”. What a great witness, that episcopal college in succession from the Apostles!

  5. Schütz

    Perry,

    I have no French at all. One of my weaknesses.

    And I didn’t go into the matter very deeply, because my “criticism” was indeed as much for the Creative Minority Reports comments as for the Archbishops.

    I wasn’t having a go at the Archbishop (I’m sorry it came across that way by the fact that I reported on the CMR’s take on the AFP report) or Patrick really, but commenting on how the story and the way it was criticised displayed a “clash of ecclesiologies”, when in fact there is no conflict between the two.

    If you look again at my posting, I don’t say either tha Patrick is wrong or that the Archbishop is wrong. In fact, the only time I mention either of them is to say that they are quite right. Both of them.

    Which is what I meant by a “clash”.

    But thank you for your enlightening investigations.

  6. Peregrinus

    My apologies, David; I completely misread your intention.

    But the real question remains: how on earth did Cardinal Vingt-Trois (“Cardinal Twenty-Three”) come to be so called? I think we should be told.

  7. Schütz

    Is there a French version of “Four and twenty black birds minus one”?

  8. Christine

    You guys are too much fun!

    Aber klar! Of course we are! Why do you think you keep coming back here???

  9. Tony

    I recommend the following site for those of us who share David’s ‘weakness’: http://www.cs.vu.nl/~gpierre/french.php

    I also enjoyed Pere’s ‘investigations’ even if they were ‘fueled’ by misunderstanding.