Saturday, 24 August 2013

Tu es Petrus

The phone call by His Holiness Pope Francis to an Italian student in Padua who had written to His Holiness about his hopes for the future after graduation has raised eyebrows, including those of Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith.

Pope Francis asked to be called 'tu' by the Catholic layman. Fr Alexander says that this is noteworthy because the more polite and reverent 'lei' is used for addressing members of the hierarchy of the Church.

As Fr Lucie-Smith goes on to say,

...'it is a little bit like the Queen inviting you to call her Lilibet. And it goes further. The Pope provides us with a theological justification for this informality. The student said of the phone conversation, “He said to me, do you think the Apostles would have used the polite form with Christ? “Would they have called him your excellency? They were friends, just as you and I are now, and with friends I’m accustomed to using ‘tu’.”

I'm less concerned about the 'tu' or 'lei' thing and more concerned about Pope Francis's justification for introducing this element of informality into the conversation 'between equals'. Do we or do we not know whether the Apostles would have used the polite form with the Lord? As one commenter on the Herald website called Annie has pointed out, the Apostles consistently called Jesus, 'Lord', 'Master', 'Teacher' or 'Rabbi', all these titles being from their outset and in their immediate meaning 'honorific'.

If the Holy Father wishes to break down the formal barriers between Pope and people, Shepherd and sheep, then as for the way in which His Holiness does this is going to be a ball entirely 'in his court,' so to speak. It reminds me a little of those moments when one addresses a Priest as 'Father' or a Bishop as 'My Lord' and they say, "No, no, just call me Barry!" or something.

Priests and Bishops should not 'lord it over' their flock, but equally they should be comfortable enough with the Office into which they have been called to accept the titles that come with it. If everybody called their parish priest by their first name you may soon have a situation when the idea of ontological change becomes forgotten and the sacredness of the priesthood becomes lost because we are all 'mates'.

Jesus said to His Apostles, "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. Amen, amen I say to you: The servant is not greater than his lord; neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them." 

In this one passage we receive a re-run of the washing of the feet of the Apostles (who were all men) while Jesus accepts the title of Teacher and Lord. The humility of the Lord, who washes the feet of the Apostles, some of whom are scandalised by the very idea, is not destroyed by His acceptance of the titles 'Lord' and 'Master' because this is an acknowledgement of the Truth that sets them free. If Jesus is just 'best mate' and they are too focused on that then how can they discover their need for the mercy that flows from His divinity, His condescension and His generosity.

The office of the papacy, the office of Bishop, the office of the priesthood - these are sacred things. It may be that Cardinals love to be called 'Your Excellency', it may be that some cannot bear it and curl up and die a little inside each time it is said. If they curl up and die a little inside, then are we not talking of the humiliation of the priest which comes with the office? However, how the individual Churchman feels about it is not the point. It is not primarily about them, as persons, but the Office which they have assumed and accepted at some point in their life as a priest, or bishop or pope.

I feel privileged to be on friendly terms with some Catholic priests. It is a great joy to be in the presence of priests, partly because they have wonderful personalities and often a great sense of humour but also because when I am in the company of a priest I am in the presence of a 'Father in God' to me. Those who say, 'Don't call me Father' forget that when they say, "Oh, just call me Kevin!" they deprive me of a spiritual father, making me, even if momentarily, a spiritual orphan.

Let us pray that on this the Feast of the Apostle, Saint Bartholomew, priests, bishops and the pope grow to be comfortable in the skin - the Office - that the Lord has given them and never try to deny what they are out of a sense of false humility, or out of misunderstanding of the great dignity in which they have been vested by the Lord Jesus Christ. Titles in the Catholic Church for priests, bishops and the pope come from being 'Alter Christus'. We only call people by such titles as 'Father', 'My Lord', 'Your Excellency', 'Your Holiness' because of Jesus Christ and the powers He has given those who He has called into His service.

Of course, none of this 'tu' or 'lei' stuff would have occurred if the Pope was English...


Martina Katholik said...

Just read this book and you will understand everything:
The Jesuits and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, Father Malachi Martin

Martina Katholik said...

In this video the Pope doesn´t want the nearly naked indigenous people of Brasil to genuflect before him. It´s obvious that some aren´t happy about this:

umblepie said...

A brilliant post, absolutely spot-on in everything you say.

Vincent said...

I have to say that this does make me uncomfortable about this pope - although that may be my traditional upbringing. Although I'm not particularly comfortable kissing a bishop's rings, there is a certain honour that comes with the position.

In Italy it is customary to kiss a priest's hand when one meets him for the first time, a far more significant act than the English handshake, I suppose. But then, in England, you're meant to stand when a priest enters the room.

I suspect some priests find this quite unpleasant, but accept it because "that's what's done".

If I were Pope I'd have to 'force' myself to wear all the trappings of power, including *gasps* the Papal Tiara.

Why? Because when you're - as Our Lady of Good Success described him - the King of Christendom, people should shave their straggly student beards, dress up, and refer to you as "your Holiness". Because that's what you are. It's a typical modern style to ignore what's true. The papacy demands honour,and sometimes letting your subjects forget that you demand such honour leads to people treating the kingdom you're protecting with less honour.

Let us hope that Pope Francis is inspired to realise this. Pray for the Pope!

Elizabeth said...

Great post and I agree completely.

@Vincent: I too am a bit shy about kissing a Bishop's ring but I do it anyway. Unfortunately, I'm usually one of only a couple of people that do.

I remember in the 1960s at my Catholic grade school in Chicago, anytime one of the priest's entered a classroom, everyone stood. I don't remember being told to....we just all did. Must have been taught to us at a young age. A certain sign of respect for the office of the Priest. I wonder if there are many Catholic schools that still teach that to the kids in their charge.

Elizabeth said...

This is a bit off-topic but what occurs to me is if this Pope will one day lift those rather specific modesty attire rules when entering St. Peter's.

Or I wonder if he were to be greeted by a woman (dignitary or otherwise) whilst wearing the customary veil or head-covering, would he tell her kindly and humbly to remove that silly thing from her head because we don't do those things anymore?

ref said...

I think this is rather a non-argument. Yes, the Italian usage like many European languages has a less formal mode of address for family and friends and a more formal one which is not just reserved for addressing the clergy, but used generally when addressing a stranger, customer in a shope etc. It is less a less common distinction now than formerly. But the point is that in the liturgy the priest is addressed as tu in the dialogues, so is Our Lady in the Hail Mary, and so is God in the Our Father! So if they are happy to be addressed in that way, why not the pope? And on the "Father" point, Catholic secular clergy were called Mr So and So until 100 years ago without violating the distinction between ordained and lay, so please don't look for deep theological implications in what is merely a social convention.

Lynda said...

Important point well made. It's worrying that Pope Francis doesn't appear to give due honour to the critical office of the papacy.

Celia said...

I do agree that in itself it seems a trivial thing, but its significance, if any, is related to what Francis' intentions are regarding the office of Pope. Is he just a rather matey, unstuffy bloke who wants to be everyone's friend, or is this part of a 'brick by brick' approach to downgrading the authority and importance of the pope, with,the ultimate result that the Catholic Church becomes an imitation of the Anglican church, a loose federation of national churches nominally under the leadership of the bishop of Rome, but doing their own thing (actually, would that be all that different from present practice...?).

If this is just a little more humility, well, that only works so long as you are acknowledged as officially superior- the 'We are brothers' moment was significant and moving precisely because it resulted from the Pope Emeritus' recognition of Francis' superiority of office. Once you've reduced the holder of that office to an average guy then the humble gestures become redundant.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Somewhere there is an essay by G.K.Chesterton about what he calls a modern convention of addressing one parents by their Christian names. He points out that there are umpteen Kevins or whatever in the world but only one who is your Father and you should remember and honour him as such.

I think the same goes for priests. For goodness sake the Catholic community has contributed very large sums of money and honour into making them into priests and they should respect what has been done for them and the fact that we look to them for spiritual fatherdom as the next best thing to Christ.

Jonathan said...

Is he really the pope? I have a hard time understanding how God can allow a pope who shows, almost everytime that he speaks, that he is ignorant of basic Christianity. In not knowing how the apostles addressed Jesus he is showing that he is totally unfamiliar with the Gospels.

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