Saturday, July 13, 2019

Pius VI and the Synod of Pistoia

One of the most brazen attempts to undermine the traditions of the Church prior to the post-Conciliar age occurred at the Synod of Pistoia in 1786, held in the region of Florence under the presidency of Bishop Scipio de Ricci, Bishop of Pistoia and Prato.

The Synod of Pistoia was the last gasp of the Gallican movement, which attempted to detract from the authority of the Holy See by transferring much of the governance of national churches over to their respective governments and synods of local bishops. It asserted radical innovations in Church governance and proposed sweeping reforms that touched on everything from monastic discipline to the sacramental theology to the order of the liturgy. In many places, the acts of Pistoia anticipate the thinking of the theologians of the Nouvelle théologie responsible for the calamities that followed the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Pius VI condemned the organizers of the Synod of Pistoia as “embarked on confusing, destroying, and utterly overturning [sound Christian doctrine] by introducing troublesome novelties under the guise of a sham reform" in his 1794 bull Auctorem Fidei. His bull goes on to condemn many of the propositions of the Synod as heretical, erroneous, impious, or contrary to Catholic custom.

I have been rereading a lot of the writings surrounding the Gallican controversy and the Synod of Pistoia in light of the coming Synod of the Amazon. A lot of the teachings given by Pius VI were prescient of our current crisis. I want to share some of the more relevant condemnations from Auctorem Fidei that might be eye-opening. The entirety of papal teaching on the Synod of Pistoia can be found in Denzinger 1501-1599.

I will list each condemned proposition in italics along with my commentary afterward:

On the Use of Persuasion to Enforce Discipline

"[The Church] does not have authority to demand obedience to its decrees otherwise than by means which depend on persuasion" (DZ 1505).

This proposition, condemned as heretical, essentially consists in asserting that the Church's only means of asserting its teaching and discipline is through the power or persuasion--that the only God-given power the Church possesses to regulate its affairs is by persuasion, and as such lacks the divine authority to enforce discipline through laws, positive decrees, and spiritual and temporal punishments. I found this interesting because the condemned proposition essentially mirrors the attitude of the contemporary Church, which envisions its only means of operation as a continuous dialogue with itself in the world through the tools of persuasion. Or, as Pope John XXIII said at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, "The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations."

Do not mistake me, as I am not asserting John XXIII formally denying what Pius VI says in Auctorem Fidei—after all, John is only saying the Church "prefers" to use persuasion whereas Pistoia claimed that the Church could only resort to persuasion—but the attitude expressed by John XXIII and subsequent popes certainly represents a clear divergence from the teaching of Pius VI.

On Local Bishops Possessing Doctrinal Authority

Pius VI condemns the following proposition as schismatic or at least erroneous:

"The doctrine of the synod [of Pistoia] by which it professes that "it is convinced that a bishop has received from Christ all necessary rights for the good government of his diocese" (DZ 1506).

Pius elaborates that the reason this proposition is schismatic is because it infers "as if for the good government of each diocese higher ordinances dealing either with faith and morals, or with general discipline, are not necessary, the right of which belongs to the supreme Pontiffs and the General Councils for the universal Church." In other words, if one were to assert that a bishop of a confederation of local bishops possess "all necessary rights" for the government of his diocese, we are immediately confronted with how this is understood with regards to matters of universal faith and morals. If a bishop possesses "all necessary rights" without any reference to the Church universal, then we only have two options (1) matters of faith, morals, and discipline are among those things that can be determined by a local bishop, or (2) that those things which traditionally fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff are simply necessary.

We cannot but be reminded here of Pope Francis' teaching in Evangelii Gaudium that "genuine doctrinal authority" in order to possess the "concrete realization of the collegial spirit" that the "new situation" of the Church calls for (EG, 32). Whereas Evangelii Gaudium sees this kind of doctrinal decentralization as a wholesome development in the service of collegiality, Pius VI sees as leading to schism, and it is simple to see why: if local bishops possess "all necessary rights", including "genuine doctrinal authority", then the results would be that what constituted the faith itself would be determined by local taste; one of the marks of the Church, Catholicity, refers to the universality of faith. If what constitutes the faith is left more to local conferences, that Catholicity would be fractured. We'd be left with what would be essentially be a loose confederation of national churches that "agree on essentials." I have written elsewhere on why the concept of "we agree on essentials" is fallacious (see "We Agree on Essentials", USC, May 2008). How does that principle work in Protestantism? It is a recipe for schism, which Pius VI clearly saw.

This concept is condemned again in DZ 1510:

"Likewise, the doctrine by which parish priests and other priests gathered in a synod are declared judges of faith together with the bishop, and at the same time it is intimated that they are qualified for judgment in matters of faith by their own right and have indeed received it by ordination, [is] false, rash, subversive of hierarchic order, detracting from the strength of dogmatic definitions or judgments of the Church, at least erroneous."

Whereas the previous condemnation attacks the idea that a bishop can possess authority over doctrine and morals, this one condemns the idea that a gathering of clergy in a synod could possess such authority. Now, this does not address national episcopal conferences (such things did not exist in 1794, and such conferences are gatherings of bishops, not priests), but the principle remains: local bodies of clergy cannot, apart from the universal Church and the Holy See, make their own judgments on what constitutes the faith or morality of the Church.

Pius returns again to this subject later in Auctorem Fidei:

"The proposition stating that any knowledge whatsoever of ecclesiastical history is sufficient to allow anyone to assert that the convocation of a national council is one of the canonical ways by which controversies in regard to religion may be ended in the Church of the respective nations; if understood to mean that controversies in regard to faith or morals which have arisen in a Church can be ended by an irrefutable decision made in a national council; as if freedom from error in questions of faith and morals belonged to a national council
" (DZ 1593).

This proposition is considered schismatic and heretical by Pius VI that a national council could ever arrive at an irrefutable decision in matters of faith. While the condemnation of DZ 1506 applies to bishops alone, and 1510 applies to local clerical synods, this statement extends Pius's condemnation to national councils, presumably episcopal councils. It is condemned as "schismatic, heretical", for the same reasons mentioned above. Local churches must all have unity with each other and the Holy See on matters of faith, but how can this be if national councils have authority to determine doctrine?

Against Local Innovations


Also condemned is the following:

"[That a bishop is] "to pursue zealously a more perfect constitution of ecclesiastical discipline," and this "against all contrary customs, exemptions, reservations which are opposed to the good order of the diocese, for the greater glory of God and for the greater edification of the faithful" (DZ 1507)

Pius VI says this proposition is not only schismatic, but erroneous and subversive of the hierarchy, "in that it supposes that a bishop has the right by his own judgment and will to decree and decide contrary to customs, exemptions, reservations, whether they prevail in the universal Church or even in each province, without the consent or the intervention of a higher hierarchic power" (ibid). This proposition is not so much about doctrine as about custom and discipline, which Pope Pius VI notes has a unifying affect. There is something relevant to the unity of the Church when the same customs are observed throughout the world. It would be subversive of the hierarchy for that Church authorities to enforce one discipline somewhere and exempt from it elsewhere—now please, before some one hops in the comments and says, "But Boniface, there's lots of dioceses and local churches that have customary exemptions, blah blah, Americans can eat meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and this country can do that blah blah," yes, I know and that's not what I'm talking about—in my own state we are allowed to eat muskrat during Lent and that's fine. What Pius is getting at are local changes to customs that are much more integral and universal...you know like, oh I don't know, for the sake of argument...like, allowing the ordination of married men in a certain province because of local conditions of something.

The Number of Altars in a Church

Pius VI condemns the following rule of the Synod of Pistoia relating to altars in churches:

"...it is fitting, in accordance with the order of divine services and ancient custom that there be only one altar in each temple, and therefore, that it is pleased to restore that custom" (DZ 1531).

One need only think of the elimination of side altars (or their relegation to mere decoration) and the abolition of private masses that came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Pius VI says that such a proposition is "rash [and] injurious to the very ancient pious custom flourishing and approved for these many centuries in the Church, especially in the Latin Church" (ibid). The removal of accessory altars has certainly been injurious to piety by making the sanctuary only about what happens on Sunday morning with the "gathering of the community" and not on regular acts of piety that can go on there at all times.

Against Simplification of the Liturgy


Interestingly enough, part of what the Synod of Pistoia was trying to accomplish was a "greater simplicity" of the liturgy. To that end, it proposed introducing a liturgy in the vernacular, and having the laity recite the prayers aloud with the priest:

"The proposition of the synod by which it shows itself eager to remove the cause through which, in part, there has been induced a forgetfulness of the principles relating to the order of the liturgy, "by recalling it (the liturgy) to a greater simplicity of rites, by expressing it in the vernacular language, by uttering it in a loud voice"; as if the present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church, had emanated in some part from the forgetfulness of the principles by which it should be regulated,--rash, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favorable to the charges of heretics against it" (DZ 1533).

Note Pope Pius' teaching that the "present order of the liturgy, received and approved by the Church" could not proceed from a fundamental forgetfulness of the principles which regulate the Catholic liturgy. This is essentially opposed to the critique that the traditional Mass of the Church had, over the ages, derogated from the principles of right Christian worship; i.e., that the authentic worship of the Church had been obscured by an "encrustation" of traditions accumulated over the ages. Pius says that the traditional Mass, by virtue of being universally received and approved by the Church, necessarily preserves the proper liturgical principles—if it did not, why would the Church have received it?

This teaching does pose an interesting conundrum, however. Pius essentially teaches that a liturgy that is received and approved by the Church, by that very fact, has consonance with proper liturgical principles; this is similar to what the Council of Trent teaches that no authentic ritual or gesture of the Church's liturgy can be an incentive to impiety (Session XXII, Can. VIII). Thus, the concept that the traditional Latin Mass is incapable of answering to the needs of the faithful or that it, over time, became detached from the basic principles of Christian worship is false.

Also condemned is the following:

"...it would be against apostolic practice and the plans of God, unless easier ways were prepared for the people to unite their voice with that of the whole Church"; if understood to signify introducing of the use of popular language into the liturgical prayers" (DZ 1566).

Pius calls this "false, rash, disturbing to the order prescribed for the celebration of the mysteries, easily productive of many evils" (ibid).

On Promoting Worthy Men to Major Orders


The following is also condemned:

"The doctrine of the synod which says that in promoting to orders this method, from the custom and rule of the ancient discipline, was accustomed to be observed, "that if any cleric was distinguished for holiness of life and was considered worthy to ascend to sacred orders, it was the custom to promote him to the diaconate, or to the priesthood, even if he had not received minor orders" (DZ 1551).

This is interesting given the elimination of Minor Orders after the Council; but it is more interesting in the context of the debate about viri probati, "approved men." The condemned statement does not have anything to do with ordaining married men of good repute to solve a priest shortage in a particular region, but the underlying principle is the same: the idea of taking men of good reputation and promoting them to positions of authority within the clergy by skipping over the intermediate steps that should accompany an ordination.

More relevant to this discussion is the following:

"Likewise, the doctrine by which it professes to desire very much that some way be found of removing the lesser clergy (under which name it designates the clerics of minor orders) from cathedrals and colleges by providing otherwise, namely through approved lay people of mature age, a suitable assigned stipend for the ministry of serving at Masses and for other offices such as that of acolyte, etc." (DZ 1555).

Again, the Synod was looking to replace the administrative diocesan function of certain members of the clergy (traditionally reserved to the canons of a cathedral chapter) with "approved lay people of a mature age"; similarly, the Synod of the Amazon is looking to replace the ministry and jurisdiction of priests with "approved men" (literally viri probati) of a certain age ("elders").

"Special Ministry" of the Ordained

"Likewise, the doctrine which intimates that there was no other title for ordinations than appointment to some special ministry" (DZ 1552).

Pius IV condemns the idea that the essential purpose for the priesthood is just to perform a specific ministry that is in need to being fulfilled. Many have noted the tendency of the priesthood today being reduced to a kind of vending-machine function—a priest shows up on Sunday just so people can "get their sacraments" they can't get elsewhere but all other juridical and administrative functions are carried out by lay people. The priest in this scenario exists merely to fulfill some special ministry nobody else can do. His role within the Church and the life of the faithful is radically reduced.

Even though Pistoia was making these claims from different motives than what we see in the discussions about the Amazon and viri probati, again, the principle is the same: we err if we think the issue of priesthood and who to ordain is merely about making sure people "getting sacraments"; the priesthood is much bigger and more integral than that and if this is the only dimension in which we can think about it, we are already wrong.

Bishops Translating Feasts to Sundays


This one made me laugh. Apparently, the Synod of Pistoia discussed allowing bishops to translate holy days of obligation to Sundays and even allowing penitential fasts to Advent:

"The deliberation of the synod about transferring to Sunday feasts distributed through the year, and rightly so, because it is convinced that the bishop has power over ecclesiastical discipline in relation to purely spiritual matters, and therefore of abrogating the precept of hearing Mass on those days, on which according to the early law of the Church, even then that precept flourished; and then, also, in this statement which it (the synod) added about transferring to Advent by episcopal authority the fasts which should be kept throughout the year according to the precept of the Church; insomuch as it asserts that it is lawful for a bishop in his own right to transfer the days prescribed by the Church for celebrating feasts or fasts, or to abrogate the imposed precept of hearing class" (DZ 1574).What does ole Pius VI have to say about letting bishops, on their own authority, translate holy days to Sunday? He says it is "a false proposition, harmful to the law of the general Council and of the Supreme Pontiffs, scandalous, favorable to schism" (ibid).

By way, I feel like I have to explain the implication here because I fear some simple people will not grasp it. If you read this and walk away thinking, "The translation of feasts by bishops is totally invalid then and if going to such transferred holy days does not fulfill the obligation," then you are errant. Pius VI believed allowing bishops such authority would be harmful to the Church; the modern Magisterium disagrees and has allowed that very authority to bishops to translate certain feasts. Whether you think this was a bad idea or not—and I certainly think it was—the bishops were granted the authority to do so and such translations of feasts are valid (even if stupid) and people who attend on those Sundays have fulfilled their obligations.

Conclusion

I recommend reading the acts of the Synod of Pistoia, its history, and the papal condemnations of not only this synod but everything related to Gallicanism. It seems like, in many respects, we are revisiting the controversies of the day, but with the Church now affirming the positions once taken by the Gallicanists, at least with regards to the power of local churches and the concept of "synodality." This is not at all to suggest that the alternative should be a mindless centralization; indeed, as we discussed earlier this summer, we really need to get back to the fundamentals of what it means to carry authority within the Church. The relationship between the pope, the bishops, and the national churches is all in flux right now. May the Lord right the ship in our days.



3 comments:

top8305 said...

Thanks, Boniface, for this post and your impressions. Second time at bat, these condemned errors... Pax Christi

David said...

Boniface, are there any particular books or sources you would recommend for someone wanting to learn more about the Synod of Pistoia?

Boniface said...

It'd hard to find a single good source on it. I had to piece this article together from several places.