Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Twisted Fantasies

So, Fr. Z and The Hermeneutic of Continuity are stirring up all sorts of terribly unrealistic hope that the papal tiara might come back on the trip to Britain. I don't think there's a chance in hell, as much as I'd like to see it just as a sign of the vindication of tradition.

The Pope is the Visible Head of the Church, and so crowning him is not about the man or his temporal authority. And as much as some crazy trad triumphalists may want it to be, it is not supposed to be some sort of monarchist gesture (whether medieval or absolutist) glorifying the papacy. Rather, it is about crowning the Church, putting a crown on Her Head. In this way it is an iconographic action akin to crowning a Marian icon or statue, with a deep theological significance as also expressed in things like the Feast of Christ the King and the Fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. There is a reason Eastern bishops' mitres are all crowns; because they are Head of their local church. It is the Church being crowned, the image of the Head of the Church (and thus an image of Christ), not the man.

However, one argument given in the comments thread about why it's not likely is true but frustrating: "All the other arguments notwithstanding, most importantly the restoration of the tiara would be a direct, in-your-face reversal of Pope Paul VI’s public decision to discontinue it, which popes simply don’t do to other popes."

Of course, Popes have done that to other Popes in history all the time. It is only with the relatively recent ultramontane hyper-sacralization of the figure of the pope, that popes have done all this double-speak and passive-aggressive nonsense to maintain the appearance of deference to recent predecessors. Which I think is actually as sign of institutional weakness and stagnation. A vibrant organization changes regimes and shakes things up all the time; gradualism is false idol.

It is also ironic that this sort of ultramontane deference to predecessors is actually one cause of the Popes not using the full authority in practice that ultramontanist attitudes fight so hard to attribute to them in theory!

I think many of us know the story of Pope Formosus, whose successor Stephen dug up his corpse and put it on trial (and then desecrated it and tried to destroy it, though it was recovered):

That's how you show people that change is here!

This line of thought got me into some rather sick fantasies today. I imagined that, if I were elected Pope, I'd have my coronation, of course. But I'd first insist that every Pope who hadn't had one in between...have one first. Their corpses would be dug up and set, in whatever state of decay, in thrones at the Lateran (because, as Pope, I'd start using my actual cathedral a lot more than St. Peter's).

After being severely rebuked by me, in the flesh ("Take this crown, of which you have made yourself unworthy through arrogantly rejecting it in the name of false humility!"), they'd be briefly crowned with the same tiara that would then be put on me. Paul VI was crowned, but I'd probably have him there (in his own ugly tiara) and chew him out too for his inaction. In refusing to be crowned themselves out of some notion of democratization or personal "humility"...what they have really done is refused to crown Christ, refused to crown the Church.

Their official portrait in Vatican publications from then on (during the rest of my reign, at least) would be the horrible photo of their rotting corpse wearing its crown at last. Symbolic, as it were, of the responsibility and authority they shirked in life by their weakness and administrative incompetence (however personally holy).

Shocking, grotesque, macabre. An image for the people to remember, to say, "Those days are over! I'm serious about this." Or just have them think I'm crazy...


Hoanyeon said...

I think it was the change of emphasis from Pope as monarch to Pope as democratically elected caretaker is the fault of the disuse of the tiara.

Michael D said...

Wow, corpse coronations? Now THAT'S change we can all believe in.

A Sinner said...

Exactly. Bwahahahaha!

sortacatholic said...

Pope Benedict will never wear the tiara. Pope Paul's symbolic renunciation of Papal temporal power was one of the positive fruits of his papacy.

Yeah, tiaras look really cool. Still, the resumption of the tiara would send a message of defiance and arrogance to the world. Pope Benedict can ill afford that stance given the problems on his plate.

WDTPRS is legendary for its crackpottery, especially in the comboxes. Par for the course.

A Sinner said...

Well, the appearance of arrogance needs to be dealt with, certainly; Catholics need to be properly catechized first. But I think the reality of arrogance is more of an issue than its appearance. As I said, I think presumptuously bucking tradition in the name of the appearances of actually more arrogant.

Can you imagine the Queen saying, "no, I'm not going to wear the crown, I'm more humble than that!" Talk about arrogance! It's not about you! It's about the nation as a whole (or in this case, the Church). "The Crown" is, of course, in the British tradition...the name which is used to describe the sovereignty of the nation itself, the legal embodiment of government. This should pose no problem in the Church either (and I'm no monarchist).

As for The needs be defied. Why do we care what they think? Why do we care about our PR vis a vis them? People with open hearts will hear the truth, and those who hate the Church anyway will find a way to malign her and justify their obstinance somehow. "Doth this scandalize you?"

And though I think the idea of the Pope also being the King of Central Italy is not important at all, one way or the other, certainly the notion that the Church indeed has "temporal power" in some sense is important. The other notion can get too close to a notion of Church and State as totally separate spheres with the Church reduced to the status of a private organization. But, no, it has public standing and, what's more SOVEREIGN public standing. By nature.

And I'm no altar and throne theocrat or anything like that. But to reduce this to a mere "political" question or symbol is as dangerous as reducing the liturgy to a mere "aesthetic preference." The papal tiara stands for theological truths, the very truths which seem to have suddenly gotten so weakened since its desuetude.

The tiara was NEVER just the Pope's temporal crown as King of the Papal States. It was always linked to the papacy as such (in its ecclesiastical/spiritual function), NOT just his governorship over the Papal States.

I think all this talk about the pope's "temporal power" and "renouncing" (like various concepts related to "Vatican II") a mere bugaboo. A thought-terminating cliche that all sorts of people use for all sorts of agendas that doesn't even necessarily mean anything.

Is the Pope not sovereign of Vatican City still? Is there not still a hopelessly corrupt Vatican Bank? Does the Pope not still receive all sorts of diplomatic visits? Is not the Church or our day as hopelessly entwined in politics as ever?

Making the bureaucracy less whimsical doesn't solve anything (nor, as the British Monarchy shows, is getting rid of the whimsy necessary to de-fang the authoritarianism). All the dictators of the 20th-century have preferred drab, and it didn't solve a thing.

Anonymous said...

A Sinner,

That is a very good point as regards the Queen and the Brisith crown not being about her, Elizabeth, but about the entire English people, their identity, history and sense of common bond, order and mandate- all represented in the monarch.

Though I do think what Benedict could do in the name of Tradition, more than any tiara could, would be to celebrate publically the Traditional Mass in St. Peter's or in John Lateran.

A Sinner said...

Well yes, that would be amazing and much more important. I'm just saying I'm not against the tiara on "that's triumphalism" grounds.

Because I am against triumphalism, of course, and many ultramontane attitudes, but people seriously misunderstand the tiara if that's what they think it is about.

But, of course, there are bigger fish to fry right now, and it is insane to think he might wear the tiara if he refuses to even celebrate the extraordinary form he approved because of some vague political fear about what that might do.