John Rao in the Remnant Newspaper reminds us of the importance of remembering why the two might not always be congruent.
“This brief which destroys the Company of Jesus is nothing other than an isolated and particular judgment, pernicious, reflecting little honor on the Papal tiara and deleterious to the glory of the Church and to the glory and propagation of the orthodox (i.e. Catholic) faith….Holy Father, it is not possible for me to commit the Clergy to the acceptance of the said brief.” – Archbishop Christophe de Beaumont of Paris to Pope Clement XIV
Indulgence in a fetish is a dangerous habit, blocking, as it does, access to the full reality of the given aspect of life that it masquerades, but escape from its influence is immensely difficult. The fetish in question here is “the papal fetish”; the obsessive insistence upon the orthodoxy and goodness of all statements and actions coming from a reigning Pontiff, regardless of every indication that the opposite may actually be true.
And, as with fetishes in general, this papal fetish blocks access to the full appreciation of the glorious purpose that the Papacy really has, preferring a mess of willful pottage to the banquet of truth it is meant to offer to the faithful.
I began to realize the hold of this powerful fetish as soon as I became involved with the Roman Forum, which was just when the Novus Ordo descended upon us. It was at that time that Dietrich von Hildebrand began to argue that the Traditional Mass could not be abrogated, and that although its temporary replacement had to be recognized as legitimately promulgated by papal authority, we had to fight for the correction of its horrible deficiencies, and seek, as our final goal, the full restoration of the Mass of the Ages. “Accept the reality of the legitimate authority, but fight to have its horrible actions revoked,” became his battle cry. And for this, papal fetishists treated him as promoting schism and even heresy, insisting, as I heard one distinguished conservative say, that “if the pope ordered me to hear Mass standing on my head I would gladly do so”.
Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed the truth that we could never be obliged to stick our feet up in the air during the Sacred Liturgy, and that we had every right to listen to the prayers at the foot of the altar right side up instead.
Those who adopted the von Hildebrand battle cry, and who therefore recognized that legitimate authority could make terrible decisions that loyal Catholics had to fight to correct, took heart in the fact that almost the entirety of Church History shared their view. For Catholics, historically, have mostly been untouched by the papal fetish, and to a large degree because the Papacy itself for long stretches of time did not do much to encourage it. St. Peter, as the Romans say, has all too often preferred to “sleep” rather than to stir up popular enthusiasm for his prerogatives in a way that might actually force him to have to do something active on behalf of the universal Church. Weak and lazy popes have often been our curse.
Yes, the Supreme Pontiff can sometimes be shown to have taken action and demanded obedience on his own steam, as when Pope Leo the Great wrote his Tome for the Council of Chalcedon, and Pope Gregory the Great sought vigorously to deal with the collapse of effective imperial government in the West. But much of the time outside militants had to stir the Papacy to exercise its rightful authority, as—ironically, given the position of the Eastern Orthodox today—in the Early Middle Ages, by Greeks of the caliber of St. Maximus the Confessor at the time of the Monothelite Controversy and Pope St. Martin I.
Interestingly enough with respect to the current argument, the greatest assertion of papal supremacy in pre-modern times, that which was associated with the reform movement of the High Middle Ages, was ushered in, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, by nothing less than the booting of bad but actually legitimate popes from off of their thrones through the intervention of the German imperial authority coming into Italy from across the Alps. This was undertaken with the enthusiastic approval of militant reformers such as St. Peter Damien, and with judgments uttered by reformed popes regarding their wicked predecessors that would perhaps make even the hardiest opponents of the current pontificate blush.
Christendom was grateful for the intervention of such outside secular help once again in the fifteenth century when the Papacy was hopelessly caught in a three way fight for the title of Supreme Pontiff. It was then that the Emperor Sigismund, in violation of all existing canonical rules, pressed the claimants to the See of Peter, including the legitimate Roman one, to abdicate to make the way for a new and universally recognized successor.