Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bellarmine on Papal Authority and Curial Reform

On Temporal and Spiritual Authority (Natural Law Paper)
Bellarmine, Robert 
(2013-07-16). Liberty Fund Inc. Kindle Edition.

"The reason why there is not a greater abundance of examples in the New Testament is that God wanted to begin his Church with poor and humble men, as is said in 1 Corinthians 1, so that the growth of the Church would not be reputed the work of man, which would have happened if it had grown through the favor of princes. Indeed, to the contrary, in the first three hundred years God wanted the Church to be oppressed with all force by rulers all over the whole world, in order thus to demonstrate that the Church was His work and that it was more powerful in suffering than they were in oppressing it." (p. 15).

The bulk of this book is a refutation of Barclay's critique of Bellarmine's theory of the Pope's exercise not only of spiritual authority but even of temporal power for cause. The primacy of the spiritual sheds light on the Pope's power to depose kings and princes for the sake of saving the souls of the Catholic subjects. As bizarre as it may sound to us today, realism permeates Bellarmine's discussion; the writings of the great Jesuit Cardinal merit our thoughtful attention. They should shake us out of complacency or resignation in the face of a world which seeks forever to deprive us of our baptismal birthright.

Needless to say, it is not a book for everyone, but I am glad I picked it up. Given all the talk about reforming the Roman Curia, I found the last short essay, written and delivered to the Holy Father for his counsel, to be particularly enjoyable: On the Primary Duty of the Supreme Pontiff (pp. 406ff.)

Bellarmine speaks here about the Pope's universal mission as being the most important of his threefold exercise of power (universal, particular, temporal) and, since he cannot govern everywhere immediately or directly, the crucial importance of naming good bishops for the sake of the flock. He points out areas in need of reform in this regard, most of them still applicable today:

"It seems to me that there are six issues that need to be reformed and they cannot be neglected without harm." (p. 411)

1. long-term vacancy of churches (Bellarmine things vacancies should be filled within three months!).
2. the advancement of less than useful prelates: churches should be provided with good people, and not people with good churches.
3. the pastors’ absence from their churches (with bishops or cardinals often at the Papal Court working and enjoying the benefice of a neglected diocese).
4. spiritual polygamy, that is, when many churches are assigned to one person (Bellarmine singles out the case of Cardinal-Bishops holding more than one benefice).
5. the easy transferring of bishops from one church to another, which can be seen especially in six cardinal bishoprics and in the Spanish bishoprics.
6. that bishops resign without legitimate cause (this being the only one for which I cannot find a contemporary instance).

St. Robert Bellarmine is not in the least blase` about the Church and the Papacy, but by the same token for all his faith in its supernatural character he gazes up and points out its foibles with a clear eye.

Accolades for Stefania Tutino: she has produced an eminently readable English edition, rich in bibliography and explanatory notes.

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