One of Our Lord’s commands that we have difficulty fulfilling is this one:
But it is not only for them that I am interceding, but also for those who believe in me through their Message, That they all may be one–that as thou, Father, art in union with us–and so the world may believe that thou hast sent me as thy Messenger. (John 17:20-21 TCNT)
No where is that more apparent than the relationship between those who are under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome–the Roman Catholics–and those who are not, whether the latter be Protestant, Orthodox or otherwise. Most Protestants have brushed off any idea of union with–or certainly under–Rome. Unless you figure that Protestant and Orthodox churches will simply roll the Roman Catholics–and in some places like Latin America that’s a possibility–sooner or later some accommodation with the See of Peter needs to be considered, or at least the obstacles to that accommodation need to be dispassionately discussed.
A serious discussion of this is Trevor Gervase Jalland’s The Church and the Papacy. Jalland, Vicar of St. Thomas the Martyr in Oxford and an Anglo-Catholic, delivered the Bampton Lectures at Oxford in 1942. These lectures became the book. As such it presupposes a fairly broad knowledge of the history of the church. Jalland’s main objective is to examine the validity of the claim of the See of Rome to Petrine Primacy, and how that claim has been actualized over the centuries.
The focus of his interest is the period from the New Testament to the end of the sixth century, which takes up most of his narrative. He brings out three important points which become leitmotifs in the history of the Roman Empire church in general and the Roman see in particular.
The first is that the assertion–and the acceptance–of Petrine primacy for the Roman see was relatively early in its history. It should be understood that the church’s structure was “looser” at that time and this primacy didn’t mean then what it means now, but primacy it was all the same.
The second is that the principal objective in bishops of Rome exerting this primacy was to insure that the faith which was handed down by the apostles–the paradosis, to use the transliterated Greek term that Jalland employs frequently–was preserved and maintained. That brought a conservatism to the way Rome responded to the many doctrinal crises that came from the East, a salutary one in most cases.
The third is that this primacy was set in opposition to the Caesero-papism that dominated Eastern church polity. From Constantine I onward Eastern Roman emperors exerted enormous authority over the calling of and presiding over Church councils and the doctrine which they promulgated. The See of Rome did not feel that the state really had any business doing this, although they frequently had to express this opinion very diplomatically. That rivalry was exacerbated by the rise of the see of Constantinople, which had no antiquity (as opposed to that of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch or even Jerusalem) and that rivalry ultimately paved the way to the split between Roman Catholic and Orthodox in 1054.
It’s tempting to observe that, had Rome stuck to the program above, it could have avoided many of the problems that arose later. Jalland doesn’t really come out and say this, but he does show that many of the changes in the nature of the Papacy in the Middle Ages were due to the increasingly politicized nature of the Papacy itself. This manifested itself in two forms. First, the Pope, having sent the Eastern Emperor packing so to speak, felt that he was over the monarchs of the West, and that headship involved political authority. The second was that, by virtue of Papal territory in Central Italy, the Pope became a secular ruler in his own right, with the political role that accompanied that. Both of these created conflict between the Pope and secular rulers, and that conflict helped to fuel the Reformation itself both on the Continent and in Great Britain.
Jalland describes two points in Papal history where a major turn of history took place at a point of weakness in Rome. The first is the Reformation: Jalland describes a Papacy enmeshed in worldly considerations and taking a “deer in headlights” attitude to the oncoming storm in Germany. The second is Vatican I, where Papal infallibility was proclaimed. Jalland opined that the crisis occasioned by the reunification of the country and the progressive disappearance of the Papal States lead Pius IX to seek help from above, first in the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in 1854 (a doctrine not well supported in tradition) and his own infallibility in 1870, the promulgation of which provides the “book ends” for the lectures.
Jalland, unusual among Christian historians, has a good grasp on the relationship of doctrine with ecclesiology, and the impact of “church politics” (which includes both politics within the church and its interaction with the state.) He avoids the kinds of artificial constructs and sweeping generalizations that plague debates within the church these days. He has an Anglo-Catholic’s aversion to state control of the church, one seen also in Luckock. That is an appropriate backdrop to one of the most interesting narratives in the book: how Pius VII outlasted Napoleon in spite of the latter’s attempt to use the Papacy for his own purposes, something that Stalin’s successors would have done well to remember.
So now that he has shown the antiquity of Petrine primacy, where did he think things were going with Rome? In the last lecture he makes the following statement:
The latest tragedy of its history seems to lie in this, that the vain attempt to save what had long ceased to be valuable contributed its failure to appreciate the opportunity for fulfilling its world-wide mission as a centre of unity and order for Christian society as a whole under changed conditions, and led only to a comparatively sterile reassertion of its primatial status.
Jalland was unsure of where all of this was going, both for the Roman Catholics and for everyone else. Three quarters of a century after Jalland gave these lectures, we really don’t have a clearer picture. Vatican II had a great deal of promise but its own mandate for change was at once too broad and too narrow, and worse it became the tool of those with a sub-Christian agenda. The current Occupant of the See of Peter, back to the usual agenda of protecting the Vatican’s turf, currying favor with the “gods of this world” and using the authority of an infallible successor to Peter to make this happen, has left many inside and outside the Church in the lurch. As for the Protestant world, the Main Line churches, descendants (in the US) for the most part of the state churches (in Europe) that emerged from the Reformation, have lost center stage to the Evangelicals and Pentecostals, whose propensity to splinter makes putting the pieces back together difficult just by the sheer number of the pieces themselves.
What Christianity needs is leadership which is committed to transmitting the paradosis of the Apostles without expanding it. If the See of Peter ever rediscovers that mission, it will fulfill the final charge which Our Lord gave to Peter:
When breakfast was over, Jesus said to Simon Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others?” “Yes, Master,” he answered, “you know that I am your friend.” “Feed my lambs,” said Jesus. Then, a second time, Jesus asked: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master,” he answered, “you know that I am your friend.” “Tend my sheep,” said Jesus. The third time, Jesus said to him: “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was hurt at his third question being ‘Are you my friend?’; and exclaimed: “Master, you know everything! You can tell that I am your friend.” “Feed my sheep,” said Jesus. “In truth I tell you,” he continued, “when you were young, you used to put on your own girdle, and walk wherever you wished; but, when you have grown old, you will have to stretch out your hands, while some one else puts on your girdle, and takes you where you do not wish.” (John 21:15-18 TCNT)