An essay presented for a course in Ecclesiology at Allen Hall Seminary, London.
July 1998 - Oddvar Moi
In this essay I will try to discuss the title What is a bishop? in the following way: First I will only look at three periods of Church History: 1) The time of the early Church Fathers, 2) 19th Century including Vatican I, and 3) Vatican II. Secondly I will look at two aspects of the role of the bishop: 1) Very briefly at some general characteristics of a bishop, and 2) more thoroughly at the relationship between the bishop of Rome, the Pope, and all the other bishops of the world.
The essay will in some ways be a bit disjointed, since it is only the last point I will be able to cover in some depth. But time and space are limited and I see no other way of writing this essay while taking into consideration the crucial relationship between the pope and the other bishops in the world, which has also been the centre of attention for the lectures this semester.
CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF A BISHOP
The importance of the bishop in the Church is seen very clearly when we start by looking at the Nicene Creed's definition of the Church as Apostolic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Church as apostolic in this way in its section on the Creed:
As the Father sent Christ, Christ sent the apostles, therefore the apostles are an integral and necessary part of the Church:
The next logical step is that the Catholic Church sees the bishops as the successors of the apostles.
It is common to use three different terms to define the office of Bishop: The teaching office, the sanctifying office and the governing office. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines these offices in these ways:
BIBLICAL AND PATRISTIC PERIOD
So far in the essay I have presented the very clear teaching of today - i.e. after Vatican II - of what a bishop is. This has not always been this clear, since the New Testament doesn't spell out very clearly how the hierarchy of the Church is supposed to be organised. After Jesus' institution of the apostles, which is mentioned by all the evangelists, it only gives a few glimpses of his mission to the apostles; in Acts and the letters of St. Paul, about ordination of leaders of the new churches that had been planted.
Soon after the apostolic era, though, we have some very important descriptions of what a bishop is, definitions that the Second Vatican Council drew heavily on in their description of bishops in Lumen Gentium. The first of these post-apostolic writers is Ignatius of Antioch (110) who focuses on the bishop as the one and only centre of the local church's eucharistic unity. He emphasises the importance of always sticking with your bishop to avoid being drawn away from the true Church by splinter groups. The main point of Irenaeus of Lyons (150), also in his case against the heretics, is that a true bishop is a successor in the apostolic tradition; by literally being instituted by bishop that were in the apostolic tradition and also by teaching the true faith of the apostles. Secondly Irenaeus is one of the first to point out that Rome is the most authentic place of apostolic teaching since it is the place of martyrdom of St. Peter. The third of these early post-apostolic witnesses is Cyprian of Carthage (258). His main point is the molecular structure of the Church: The universal Church is a communion of communions, whose centre is Rome.
From these early patristic witnesses we learn that the complete local church is the diocese, with the bishop as the centre of unity, a parish is always only a part of the Church, a part of the diocese. The bishop represents the teaching of the Church to his people and he represents his people to the universal, whose centre is the bishop of Rome. It is also clear from these writers that the hierarchical structure is a part of the essence of the Church, and a point often made is that this is a guarantee against heresies.
From here I skip about a thousand years of Church History to arrive at the beginning of a movement most important for our discussion of the relationship between the bishops and the pope; Counciliarism.
The Papacy had its best time in the 13th century followed by a very sharp decline in the 14th century, exemplified by the transfer of the papal court to Avignon (1303-78), and the Great Western Schism (1378-1417), when rival claimants were seen contending for the throne of St. Peter and for the allegiance of the Christian nations. This scandal shook men's belief in the monarchical form of government and drove them to seek elsewhere a remedy for the evils which then afflicted the Church. It was not strange that the advocates of a general council as the ultimate court of appeal to which all, even the pope, must yield, then was secured a ready attention.
The success of the Council of Constance (1414-18) in securing the withdrawal or deposition of the three rival popes had supplied a strong argument in favour of the conciliar theory. It is clear both from the speeches of some of the Fathers of Constance as well as from its decrees that such a feeling was rapidly gaining ground, and that many people had come to regard the government of the Church by general councils, convoked at regular intervals, as the one most in harmony with the needs of the time. As a result, in the 39th session of the Council of Constance (9 October 1417) we find it decreed: That general councils should be held frequently; that the next should be convoked within five years; the following seven years later, and after this, a council should be held every ten years; that the place of convocation should be determined by the council itself, and could not be changed even by the pope unless in case of war or pestilence, and then only with the consent of at least two-thirds of the cardinals. 
The next "ism" we will look at, Gallicanism, builds on the idea of Counciliarism and, as the name tells us, it has its origin in the French Church. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the reaction against the Protestant denial of all authority to the pope had enfeebled Gallican convictions in the minds of the clergy, if not of the parliament of France. But at the beginning of the seventeenth century we see a strong revival of Gallicanism. In 1663 the Sorbonne solemnly declared that it admitted no authority of the pope over the king's temporal dominion, nor his superiority to a general council, nor infallibility apart from the Church's consent.
In 1682 matters had become much worse and the king, Louis XIV, assembled his clergy and they adopted famous Declaration of the Clergy of France. Here, for the first time, Gallican ideas were organised into a system, and received their official and definitive formula. Stripped of the arguments which accompany it, the doctrine of the Declaration reduces to the following four articles:
1) St. Peter and the popes, his successors, and the Church itself have received dominion from God only over things spiritual and such as concern salvation and not over things temporal and civil. 2) The plenitude of authority in things spiritual, which belongs to the Holy See and the successors of St. Peter, in no wise affects the permanence and immovable strength of the decrees of the Council of Constance contained in the fourth and fifth sessions of that council. 3) The exercise of this Apostolic authority must also be regulated in accordance with the canons made by the Spirit of God and consecrated by the respect of the whole world. The rules, customs and constitutions received within the kingdom and the Gallican Church must have their force and their effect .. 4) Although the pope have the chief part in questions of faith, and his decrees apply to all the Churches, and to each Church in particular, yet his judgement is not irreformable, at least pending the consent of the Church.
According to the Gallican theory, then, the papal primacy was limited, first, by the temporal power of princes, which, by the Divine will was inviolable; secondly by the authority of the general council and that of the bishops, who alone could, by their assent, give to his decrees that infallible authority which, of themselves, they lacked; lastly, by the canons and customs of particular Churches, which the pope was bound to take into account when he exercised his authority.
From France Gallicanism spread, about the middle of the eighteenth century, into the Low Countries, and it was introduced it into Germany where it took the forms of Febronianism and Josephism. The Council of Pistoia (1786) even tried to acclimatise it in Italy. But its diffusion was sharply arrested by the French Revolution, which took away its chief support by overturning the thrones of kings. Against the Revolution that drove them out and wrecked their sees, nothing was left to the bishops of France but to link themselves closely with the Holy See. After the Concordat of 1801 the French Governments made some pretence of reviving, in the Organic Articles, the "Ancient Gallican Liberties" and the obligation of teaching the articles of 1682, but ecclesiastical Gallicanism was never again resuscitated except in the form of a vague mistrust of Rome.
When the Vatican Council opened, in 1869, it had in France only timid defenders. When that council declared that the pope has in the Church the plenitude of jurisdiction in matters of faith, morals discipline, and administration that his decisions ex cathedra are of themselves, and without the assent of he Church, infallible and irreformable, it dealt Gallicanism a mortal blow. 
Ultramontanism is a term used to denote a Catholicism which recognises as its spiritual head the pope, who, for the greater part of Europe, is a dweller beyond the mountains (ultra montes), that is, beyond the Alps. The present use of the term came into use after the Protestant Reformation, which was, among other things, a triumph of ecclesiastical particularism, based on political principles, which was formulated in the maxim: Cujus regio, ejus religio. Among the Catholic governments and peoples there gradually developed a similar tendency to regard the papacy as a foreign power, as we have seen in Gallicanism. The Gallicans then, applied the name of Ultramontane to the supporters of the Roman doctrines, whether that of the monarchical character of the pope in the government of the Church or of the infallible pontifical magisterium. 
To understand these emotions we need to look a bit more at the French Revolution 80 years earlier. The Church in France had been severely damaged by the revolution, but after some decades of turbulence there was a visible religious revival in France. P. P. Hughes says about this fact: "Religious revivals are times of enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is not a critical thing. This particular revival was very consciously, in France, a militant reaction against the classical rationalism of the eighteenths century, the deism, the naturalism, the atheism." He goes on to say: "Seminaries and schools of theology had been swept out of existence after 1789. Nor was the long break in the traditional scholastic formation repaired by the time the council met. Almost the only thinkers now were the apologists - amateurs as always. ... The prelates (in France, but even more in Germany and Austria) who were inopportunists at Rome had long been fighting at home superficial untrained zealots. .. The bitterness of the spirit that animated this faction-fighting in France at the time of the Second Empire is hard to exaggerate. Here is the one principal cause, it might be argued, of the least pleasing incidents of the great council of 1869-70." 
J.M.R. Tillard also talks about Ultramontanism and defines it as a tendency to make the pope 'more than a pope'. And he says that "this climate of ultramontane opinion which accompanied and to some extent brought about the definition of pontifical primacy in 1870, has marked the Catholic understanding of the papacy as deeply as if the two were to be identified. .. (It) has come to look upon the pope with religious or simply emotional attitudes which sometimes obscure the essential characteristics of the bishop of Rome's function. (These opinions are still important, because) Vatican II has hardly touched Catholic sentiment at this point." 
Tillard goes on to describe the ultramontane climate with many extreme examples: " (Some could say about the pope: 'God has spoken and it remains only to say: Fiat voluntas tua.' ... But the ultramontane temper .. is stubbornly unable to grasp that any impassionated exaltation of the pope .. runs the risk of compromising the cause of God himself. .. But anyone who dared raise some major objection was taken to be depraved."  Tillard concludes his assault with the following: "The great idea running through the pontificate of Pius IX is to profit from the extraordinary combination of circumstances which gave him the events of present-day Europe as a weapon to crush the final remains of Gallicanism." 
When we finally turn to the First Vatican Council itself, I will try to look more objectively at the documents that came out of the council, while keeping these sentiments in mind.
This council is more than anything else associated with the doctrine of papal infallibility, but surprisingly enough this matter was not at all on the original agenda of the council. Pope Pius IX wanted to "restate the faith in certain matters where it had been attacked or misunderstood, to review the whole matter of clerical life and its needs, to provide new safeguards for Christian marriage and the Christian education of youth, and to take up in this new age the ancient problems of the relations of Church and State and provide appropriate guidance, so as to promote peace and prosperity in the national life everywhere." 
When Pius IX consulted with cardinals and diocesan bishops in various countries, they all wanted from the council a formal condemnation of the various anti-Christian philosophies of the time, and of the new rationalistic interpretations of Christianity. They asked for a "re-statement of the Catholic faith, particularly about the kind of thing the Church of Christ is, and about the rights and prerogatives of the pope; only ten, out of the fifty or so consulted, referred to the definition of infallibility." 
The first thing the council dealt with when it started in December 1869, was a statement of Catholic belief, the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius. After four months of work this Constitution was unanimously approved on 24 April 1870 by the 667 bishops present.
But in the end of January 1870 the "infallibilist" bishops had begun to move and various groups had sent in petitions to the Pope that the question of infallibility be added to the agenda of the council. In all, nearly five hundred bishops signed one or another of these petitions, while 163 bishops signed on of the petitions in the contrary sense.  In the beginning of March Pius IX accepted this advice and plans were made to include these ideas in a constitution on the Church. But this was not good enough for the extreme infallibilists and on 29 April the pope consented to have prepared a new text, a "draft of a separate, short Dogmatic Constitution that was to deal only with the pope's primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church and with the prerogative of infallibility."  The minority protested and sent in a petition against this plan to discuss a doctrine about papal prerogatives before determining the doctrine of the Church generally, but to no avail.
The debate about this document was divided into several parts, one of them was on the subject of the papal primacy over the whole Church of Christ. To my surprise, Hughes says that this debate was not very divisive. "Not a single bishop questioned the doctrine of the primacy, whether in principle or in its practical implications. .. The discussion turned on the words to be used to express the matter defined. .. (The critics) regarded it as a serious blemish that this section on the pope's over-all authority had not a word to say about the complementary Catholic belief that the diocesan bishop's authority is also divine in its origin, that the bishop is not a mere vicar or delegate of the pope."  As we know, this problem wasn't fully remedied until 1964.
The final debate of the council, on the infallibility decree was a lot more difficult, but even here most bishops on both sides were quite moderate. "The general sense of the directing mind of the council was to produce a text of the strictest theological accuracy, that no particular party would be able to cite as a warranty for the condemnation of other parties." 
Many minority bishops didn't primarily object to the content of the proposed text, but they didn't find the time opportune to make this kind of declaration about the role of the pope. The minority was also able to change the text of the Constitution in several ways, e.g. to change the text and the title so that it became clear that it was the doctrinal definition of the pope and not the person that is infallible. These changes made the Constitution so 'moderate' as to greatly displease some of "the extreme papal school."  In the end very little separated the majority from the minority; the "addition of a phrase explicitly mentioning the role of the bishops and the Church in the 'evolution' of an infallible pronouncement"  seems to have been enough.
The text starts out with a description of Jesus Christ as the eternal shepherd of our souls, and how he chose apostles and bishops to govern his Church. Among these apostles Peter is the head and the source of unity.
The next three chapters talk about the primacy of Peter, how it was instituted and what powers and character it has. This last point is somehow balanced with a description of the powers of the ordinary diocesan bishop.
Then, finally, in the last chapter we find the famous definition of infallibility, clearly defined and quite well protected from being abused.
At the final vote 535 bishops voted for the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus and only 2 against, but around 70 of the minority bishops had decided not to vote at all. But even these bishops, "once returned to their flocks, published their belief and acceptance of the decree against which they had voted - some half-dozen of them after severe interior struggles. The Holy See bore no ill will for their opposition" and some of them were made cardinals within the next few years.  Schisms and tensions after the council were also smaller than the minority had predicted, only in Germany and Switzerland a group of clergy organised themselves as the Old Catholic Church.
What did Vatican I do to the office of bishops? is a question sometimes asked. Not very much in one way, since the documents of the council are quite balanced. But if one adds the ultramontane sentiment - a sentiment that was very strong until the end the papacy of Pius XII and even today hasn't quite disappeared - the answer given will be quite different. Attacks on the Church starting with the French revolution, and continuing with the modern governments in most European countries and the new scientific mindset that has developed throughout the 19th and the 20th century, seem to have created an enormous need of and a devotion to a strong spiritual leader.
Tillard also agrees with this view when he says that Pastor Aeternus lends itself to a "moderate interpretation when the finer points in the discussions surrounding it are taken into account. .. (But) the document was 'received' and commented on as an ultramontane triumph, extremist sentiments being once more read into it." 
If this is correct, it wasn't really Vatican I that made the pope very strong and the other bishops of the world somewhat weaker, and it also wouldn't really be possible for Vatican II to change this attitude. Since it was more irrational forces that had created this extreme devotion for the Holy Father, similar forces or changes also seem to be needed to re-establish a more balanced perception.
So to the question: Did Vatican II successfully re-establish the role of the diocesan bishop? the answer will have to be no, since this was beyond the power of the council. Vatican II did finish, though, what was not finished at Vatican I; namely to define the role of the bishop, both in relationship to the pope and in relationship to lay Christians. How this will change the Church in the long run is really too early to say.
The Dogmatic Declaration on the Church was one of the greatest achievements of the council, according to Gérard Philips, and in working on the declaration the council went "explicitly back to the programme of the Council of 1870 and determined to take it further. That programme had remained incomplete, and to give it a proper dogmatic balance, it needed to be supplemented, chiefly in regard to the bishops and their relationship to the Pope." 
A very important change in Lumen Gentium compared to document from earlier councils, is that it doesn't at all start its treatment of the Church with the hierarchy. Chapter I is called The Mystery of the Church and deals with how the Trinitarian God has invited every creature to receive the light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church.  Chapter II is called The People of God and explains how God has willed to make men holy and save them and make them into his own people. 
Then, finally, as number three comes a chapter called The Church is Hierarchical. This chapter starts out by reaffirming several point from Vatican I's Pastor Aeternum:
This link between the authority of the Pope in Vatican I and Vatican II's new dogmatic definition of the bishops was universally welcomed. The primacy definition in 1870 had shown itself to be a sure guarantee of episcopal authority against temporal powers. All these powers, the last of them being Gallicanism, "were definitively rejected by Vatican I. Hence the function of the college of bishops could now be assessed without risk of an abusive application. It was not a matter of contrasting two rival powers, but of describing the organic union, unique in its kind, which links the supreme head of the Church hierarchy with the bishops as a group." 
Tillard also thinks that Lumen Gentium is important for having set the teaching of Vatican I on the papacy within a new perspective. The vision controlling the understanding of the Church "is no longer that of the ultramontane majority of 1870, but that of the more balanced and lucid elements in the majority of Vatican I. .. At Vatican II Pastor Aeternus was 'received' in the dogmatic sense by the minority of Vatican I after nearly a century of deepening study and fresh thought."  This time of 'receiving' this teaching will have to continue for some time still, and I agree with Tillard when he says that the "boundaries in practice between the authority and power of the bishop of Rome and the other bishops" hasn't been settled yet.  Only the future can tell us when and how this will happen.
Lumen Gentium has a very biblical, balanced and rich teaching of what a bishop is. Many excerpts that show this teaching are included in the quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the beginning this essay, and there is no need to repeat them here. Lumen Gentium also has incorporated into the text a lot of the recently rediscovered patristic teaching about the bishop, which I also mentioned earlier in my essay. It these ways it seems to me that my work has come to a natural end.
HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS (ordered chronologically)
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