"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Papacy Since 1500

The East, while never denying the seniority of the Roman bishop in the patriarchal τάξις of the early Church, has nonetheless objected to certain innovations in the modus operandi of the papacy, especially in recent history--i.e., from 1870 onward. Since the 19th century, particularly in the papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903), we see papal roles change dramatically with the loss of the Papal States and the rise of the pope as "global teacher" whose writings begin to increase in number and scope alongside his increasingly well-financed claims to authority, most egregiously (and ecumenically intolerably) manifested in the claim (in the 1917 Pio-Benedictine code of canon law) that the pope is the one who appoints all the world's bishops. This is so startling an innovation, so unprecedented a claim (until the end of the nineteenth century the popes were not even appointing all the bishops on the Italian peninsula--never mind the rest of the world), so wholly without theological justification, that Eamon Duffy, author of the best one-volume papal history Saints and Sinners rightly called it a "coup d'Église."  This idea that one man appoints all the other bishops will never fly in the East.

Now a new volume out from Cambridge looks at other transformations, focusing, in the main, on individual popes from Julius II onward. This is not a comprehensive history like Duffy's, but still looks fascinating.

James Corkery and Thomas Worster, eds., The Papacy Since 1500: from Italian Prince to Universal Pastor (Cambridge UP, 2010), 286pp.

Going back even farther, into the latter part of the first millennium, we have another new work out from Cambridge:

Caroline Goodson, The Rome of Pope Paschal I: Papal Power, Urban Renovation, Church Rebuilding and Relic Translation, 817–824 (CUP, 2010), 408pp. + maps + illustrations.

Goodson's book looks to be a continuation of the arguments first begun by Pope Leo the Great, and analyzed by Susan Wessel: viz., the project of rebuilding (in Paschal's case quite literally) a "spiritual" Rome to recover "universal" respect and allegiance after the transfer of the capital to Constantinople and the collapse of the empire in the West.


  1. I think there might be some confusion here between the election of the bishops with the actual appointment. Certainly, Catholic bishops of all rites were named by the Roman Pontiff before 1870. However, various privileges of presentation of the candidates, or electio (the word, of course, has nothing to do with ballot casting by a gaggle) was sometimes performed at a local level. The candidate being presented, the Roman Pontiff elected him. Analecta OSBM series III and ed. Welykyj, Documenta Pontificum Romanorum H.Ucr.Illustrantia vol. i-2 are ample testimony of this.

  2. A strange "coup d'Église." It appears that Duffy forgot to actually read the 1917 CIC itself. On page 1, the first canon states: "Licet in Codice iuris canonici Ecclesiae quoque Orientalis disciplina saepe referatur, ipse tamen unam respicit Latinam Ecclesiam, neque Orientalem obligat, nisi de iis agatur, quae ex ipsa rei natura etiam Orientalem afficiunt."

  3. Dear Fr. Athanasius: Thanks very much for these helpful clarifications. You're right about how often "election" is thought to entail some kind of popular contest when it does not. So can I count on you to review this new book for Logos?!


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