Primacy and Collegiality – What about Conciliarism?


An article on primacy and collegiality. One author that was consulted is Dr. Francis Oakley, popular for his scholarship on Medieval conciliarism. It brings to mind something I’ve noticed over the past few years. There has been a growing crave today, even by conservative thinkers, for the Catholic Church to dial back on the power and authority of the Pope (the nature and scope, thereof) in order for the Church to be able to take the reign and control the wild horse. One caution I would bring to bear. In the first place, it always sounds good to say “the Church” could come in take the reigns, but we rarely think of what the face of this looks like. Is this somehow to be an Ecumenical Council of bishops who are of the same mind? That certainly would be nice. However, right smack dab in the middle of Conciliarism’s heyday’s, the era wherein the Councils of Constance, Pisa, and Basel were met, the faithful had a chance to see how pitting a Council against the Pope , or over the Pope, worked just as bad, if not worse, as maintaining the tradition of a Pope over the Council. Conciliarism really didn’t get off the ground, and its hopes were far too high for what it gives. A disaster it was, and everyone knew it.

What I am saying here is that if we are to observe a situation like we are in today with the Pontificate of Pope Francis, where we could certainly use an organ in the Church to set him straight, and posit a return to Conciliarism as the solution, I would only say that we should not incur the sort of amnesia that would make us forget the disaster of Conciliarism experienced in the West after the Great Western schism. Programmatic Councils for the reform of Head and Members were ultimately ignored, the decrees of Pisa and Basel were likewise ignored in light of the fact that the Council depended on the Pope’s co-operation (even by Conciliarist standards), and things quickly returned to the ordinary way of Papal supremacy.

But even with that aside, let’s play with the on-button of Conciliarism. What would that yield? Of the 5,000 or so Bishops of the Catholic Church around the world, how many of these have so much as made a peep against Pope Francis? Oh yes, I know of the famous few. But any more? Conciliarism, therefore, in this current situation, would be like building a wonderful looking sports car that has no gas tank or engine. It exists as a beautiful solution merely in theory.

A return to Byzantine ecclesiology? Again, it sounds great. However, we are missing the Emperor to convene Councils. The recent “Pan-Orthodox” attempt at Crete (2016) , which was nearly a century in the making, was certainly just as frustrating at any other ecclesial model which must face the paralysis of opposing wills. Yet, not a single Council by the Orthodox, recognized as Ecumenical, ever took more than a year or so to both call and convene. A century in the making, and it ends with a failure to actually convene as Pan-Orthodox.

What do I mean by all of this? I mean that “what works” cannot be the controlling hermeneutic with which to identify the Lord’s plan for His Church

2 thoughts on “Primacy and Collegiality – What about Conciliarism?

  1. It seems to me that the push to see the Pope operate less monarchially, aside from
    the specific problems concerning this particular current pontiff, originates more from an ecumenical drive (Orthodox in particular.)

    The Pope’s actual authority is what’s Doctrinal, and the way it has historically been exercised is what falls into the realms of discipline. In an ideal world, I don’t think this would be a bad idea to return to a somewhat more collegial model in the governance of the Church, better reflecting how it existed in the first century. Albeit, 1) we could never lose the proper recognition that the Pope is the ultimate authority, and 2) you are quite right that as far as our inner concerns go right now, this would be deeply problematic, as nearly the whole Church is as problematic in its ideology as is the Holy Father.

  2. Come Holy Spirit Come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Your well-beloved spouse!
    Thank you Eric!

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