Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jesuit 'obedience'

Comment: the Jesuits have reaffirmed their obedience to the Pope. They take a special vow of obedience to the Pope, which is supposed to emphasise this obedience, and history shows many examples of Jesuits being faithful to this in the most difficult circumstances. This has been less evident in recent times, and Pope Benedict asked them to reaffirm it.

What, however, do they mean by 'obedience'? Fr Z has the answer:

On the traditional obedience of the order, Father Carlo Casalone, the Jesuit superior in Italy, explained that it is always accompanied by “many commonplaces” and is interpreted “in militaristic terms.”

“In reality, obedience understood as uncritical obedience to the will of another is not a virtue,” he observed, emphasizing that in reality it is a matter of “seeking the will of God together with another person, that is, seeking the good to be done.”

This is quite mad.
'Seeking the will of God together with another' is not 'obedience', or if it is it robs the term of all meaning. It is simply a discussion about what to do. What happens at the end of the discussion, if there remains disagreement, and one discussant has an obligation of obedience to the other? Fr Casolone is silent. But it is at this point that obedience comes into play, and, yes, it looks awfully like 'obedience to the will of another', and it is indeed a military virtue, appropriate to a soldier of Christ, as all confirmed Catholics are.

Are there limits to obedience? Of course. When the commander exceeds his authority, fails to promulgate the command in the proper way, or commands something immoral. A mere disagreement about the best course of action does not justify non-obedience: that would make it impossible for an army, or a state, or the Church, to coordinate the great numbers of people under its authority in any coherent policy. Fr Casolone does not seem to understand this. We are entitled to our opinions, when it is a matter of prudence rather than doctrine, but we are still obliged to obey.

Contrast two cases. The Jesuits submitted to some very harsh Papal commands in the 17th and 18th Centuries, culminating in their own suppression as a religious order in 1773. This command was unjust, in the sense that they did not deserve to be suppressed. But the political situation was such that the Pope felt that this was necessary for the good of the Church. He may have been wrong, but the Jesuits obeyed, showing that the Pope at least had the capacity to carry out a coherent policy to respond to the pressing problems of the day.

By contrast, the great Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, accepted that the Pope had the legal right to impose his candidate as a canon of Lincoln Cathedral. But as the candidate has no intention of doing the work for which he was to be paid, he refused to confirm the appointment. The command, which amounted to a command to cooperation in the subversion of an ecclesiastical post, intended for the care of souls, to the purpose of cash generation, was immoral, and Grossteste was right. As he put it, "out of filial reverence and obedience I disobey, resist, and rebel".

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen