Wednesday, July 01, 2009

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) on Papal Supremacy

Dave Armstrong (7-1-09)

St. Bernard thundered against sin and corruption, as he should have, and rebuked popes when the occasion arose to do so. But nothing in any of this indicates that he wanted to ditch the papacy, let alone the Church, and start anew, as the so-called Protestant "reformers" did. Nor did he rail against all popes. He liked Pope Innocent II (r. 1130-1143) quite a bit:
Innocent II is praised by all, especially by St. Bernard, as a man of irreproachable character.

(The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pope Innocent II")
His support for the office of the papacy extended, however, far beyond admiration of one man. Writing in 1148, to the new Pope Eugene II, he exclaimed:
Who are you? The high priest, the Supreme Pontiff. You are the prince of the bishops, you are the heir of the Apostles; in primacy you are Abel, in governing you are Noah, in patriarchate you are Abraham, in orders you are Melchisedech, in dignity you are Aaron, in authority you are Moses, in judgment you are Samuel, in power you are Peter, by anointing you are Christ. You are the one to whom the keys have been given, to whom the sheep have been entrusted.

(from De consideratione; cited in Christopher Ryan, The Religious Roles of the Papacy, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1985, 119-120)
In the same work, St. Bernard continues:
It is true that there are other doorkeepers of heaven and shepherds of flocks; but you are more glorious than all of these, to the degree that you have inherited a name more excellent than theirs. They have flocks assigned to them, one flock to each; to you all are assigned, a single flock to a single shepherd. You are the one shepherd not only of all the sheep, but of all the shepherds.

(Ryan, ibid., 120)

Do you ask how I can prove this? From the word of the Lord. For to whom, and I include not only bishops but Apostles, were all the sheep entrusted so absolutely and completely? "If you love me Peter, feed my sheep." . . . To whom is it not clear that he did not exclude any, but assigned them all? There is no exception where there is no distinction.

(Ibid., 120)

And perhaps the rest of the disciples were present when the Lord, entrusting all to one man, commended unity to all in one flock with one shepherd . . . James, who appeared as a pillar of the Church, was content with only Jerusalem, leaving to Peter the universal Church.

(Ibid., 121)

The power of the others is bound by definite limits; yours extends even over those who have received power over others. If cause exists, can you not close heaven to a bishop, depose him from the episcopacy, and even give him over to Satan? Your privilege is affirmed, therefore, both in the keys given to you and in the sheep entrusted to you.

(Ibid., 121)

. . . although each of the others has his own ship, to you is entrusted . . . the universal Church which is spread throughout the whole world.

(Ibid., 122)

Before everything else, you should consider that the Holy Roman Church, over which God has established you as head, is the mother of churches . . .

(Ibid., 123)
Elsewhere, we observe his strong fidelity to the Apostolic See, Rome, and the supreme authority of the popes:
. . . if such a festival seemed advisable, the authority of the Apostolic See ought first to have been consulted, and the simplicity of inexperienced persons ought not to have been followed so thoughtlessly and precipitately . . . what I have said is in submission to the judgment of whosoever is wiser than myself; and especially I refer the whole of it, as of all matters of a similar kind, to the authority and decision of the See of Rome, and I am prepared to modify my opinion if in anything I think otherwise than that See.

(Letter XLV, To the Canons of Lyon, On The Conception of S. Mary; c. 1140; from Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, translated by Samuel J. Eales, edited by Francis Gasquet, Benzinger Bros., 1906, 307-308)
St. Bernard (vastly differently from Luther and Calvin) holds to the indefectibility of Rome:
I consider it most especially proper that damages to faith should be mended in the very place where faith can undergo no falling away. This surely is the prerogative of your See. For to whom else was it ever said: "I have prayed for you," Peter, "that your faith should not fail"? . . .

Therefore, what the rest of the text says is demanded of the successor of Peter. "And you," it says, "when once you have turned, strengthen your brothers." Surely that is now necessary. The time has come, most beloved Father, for you to recognize your primacy, to prove your zeal, to honour your ministry. I doing so you will clearly fulfil your role as Vicar of Peter, whose See you also hold, if by your warnings you strengthen the hearts of those fluctuating in faith and if by your authority you destroy those who corrupt the faith.

(Ryan, ibid., 124; from Epistle 190 to Pope Innocent II)
Jesus gave to Peter and the popes, his successors, universal jurisdiction, as St. Bernard and the fathers held, but not in such a way that bishops did not have authority in their own regions, too. The popes were not to be some kind of gods on earth. In the same works I cited from St. Bernard above, he also asserted a certain brotherhood, within the hierarchy, without denying in the least bit the pope's preeminent position:
. . . you are not the lord of bishops, but one of them . . .

(Ryan, ibid., 123; from De consideratione)

. . . you have been elected to the supreme position . . . Not, in my opinion, to dominate . . .

(Ibid., 125)

I do not think it is unconditionally yours but is subject to limitations. It seems to me that you have been entrusted with stewardship over the world, not given possession of it.

(Ibid., 126)

You are wrong if you think your apostolic power, which is supreme, is the only power instituted by God. . . . there are intermediate and lesser ones.

(Ibid., 127)
This is a classic example of Catholic "both/and" reasoning, whereas Protestantism in general -- and particularly Luther and Calvin -- are notorious for an "either/and", unnecessarily dichotomous outlook.

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