"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, September 11, 2017

The Ghosts of Conciliarisms Past

There are certain books that are easily forgotten, and there are others that are impossible to forget. In this latter category is Francis Oakley's 2003 book The Conciliarist Tradition: Constitutionalism in the Catholic Church 1300-1870Given that the problems of papal and conciliar or synodal authority are very alive and well in both Orthodoxy and Catholicism at the present moment, this is a book that will not go away--nor should it.

For those of us who work, as I do, in the areas of the papacy, ecclesiology, and ecumenism, it is a book whose treatment of conciliarism systematically dismantles all the easy retroactive rubbishing of the Council of Constance and the self-serving claims of centralized papal authority which began at Constance, were dogmatized at Vatican I, and since then have shot through the stratosphere since Vatican II, to the detriment of us all. As I noted here, Oakley has made it impossible for Catholics to do anything other than rest very uneasily when Constance is raised.

And it is raised again in Conciliarism and Heresy in Fifteenth-Century EnglandCollective Authority in the Age of the General Councils by Alexander Russell and published this summer by Cambridge University Press, as Oakley's book was.

About this new study we are told:
The general councils of the fifteenth century constituted a remarkable political experiment, which used collective decision-making to tackle important problems facing the church. Such problems had hitherto received rigid top-down management from Rome. However, at Constance and Basle, they were debated by delegates of different ranks from across Europe and resolved through majority voting. Fusing the history of political thought with the study of institutional practices, this innovative study relates the procedural innovations of the general councils and their anti-heretical activities to wider trends in corporate politics, intellectual culture and pastoral reform. Alexander Russell argues that the acceptance of collective decision-making at the councils was predicated upon the prevalence of group participation and deliberation in small-scale corporate culture. Conciliarism and Heresy in Fifteenth-Century England offers a fundamental reassessment of England's relationship with the general councils, revealing how political thought, heresy, and collective politics were connected.

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