Fr Hunwicke on adherence to the written word

As usual, perceptive but humorous:

When the first wave of Ordinariate clergy were being ‘formed’ at Allen Hall, our teaching was solidly, insistently, based upon the Conciliar and post-Conciliar Magisterium. This meant the written words of Vatican II and, mainly, the Magisterial documents of our recently canonised S John Paul II. Written documents like Veritatis splendor and Familiaris consortio. Is the Holy Father now telling us that we ought not to be ‘closed within’ such written words? Heaven help us; it’s only a couple of years since we learned all that stuff from expensive written texts provided for our education by funds which, I think I understood, the English Bishops generously made available! Making a bonfire of them seems a bit premature!

Of course, those written words did not represent the end of the Magisterium. There must be development! But, surely, any developments cannot just ignore or rubbish the teaching of those documents? S Vincent of Lerins and B John Henry Newman analysed the difference between change and development. A human foetus cannot develop into an octopus, nor an acorn into a lemon tree.

I have heard it suggested that rhetoric like the Holy Father’s is a danger to his own authority, rather like cutting off the branch that one is sitting on. If the magisterial documents, the written words of a predecessor are now of negligible consequence, how, people wonder, is his own authority any greater? When Pope Francis issues some written words which he desires to be seen as having Magisterial authority, what would be his answer to the naughty little boy who said “Ah, Holy Father, I’m not going to close myself within your written word. Give me the God of Surprises any day”?

I’m not sure what the answer is to all these troubling fears. But I do sometimes feel a little uneasy lest there be a tendency among loyal and well-meaning people to regard the lightest words obiter dicta of whoever may be the current Bishop of Rome as having enormously, fabulously, greater authority than those of boring earlier pontiffs which are now merely part of a dead old world we call History. If such assumptions are around, I can only say that I do not agree with them. On the contrary, I share the Patrimonial, ‘Inklings’ views expressed by CS Lewis and DL Sayers about the importance of being open to the wisdom of earlier ages which may not be flawed by resting upon the same implicit assumptions as is our own age. Indeed, I’m sure it cannot really be the hope of the Holy Father that, as soon as he is dead, everybody will heave an enormous sigh of relief and dump his written Magisterial legacy into the bin, and start going into ecstasies about Pope Leo XIV and the daily wonders of his every word and gesture.

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