Fr. J. D. CRICHTON reviews an Archbishop's outspoken book
BL 44,CK POPES. Authority : Its Use and Abuse, by Archbishop Roberts, S.J. (Low:mans. Green. 8s. 6d.).
A HORITY is not a notion
.1 -1 that commends itself to modern man. At best he regards it as a regrettable necessity, and usually equates it with authoritarianism. for which he has coined he current saear word "Fascism."
That this is not normal can be seen 'min the Middle Ages when. in spite .11 a great deal of resistance to tuthority, both sacred and secular, there was an instinctive realisation of ts necessity in the conduct of human affairs.
Yet since authority in the ruler implies obedience in the subject, and since obedience which can involve a greater crucifixion of the will than any other virtue, THD8 directly counter to the inherent tendencies of fallen man, it will always provide peculiarly acute difficulties.
A UTHORITY, even a divinely L.-I-guaranteed authority, is vested in sinful man who in the exercise of it remains subject to his own prejudices, ignorance and emotions. In spite of Lord Acton's aphorism, it is not sufficiently realised that authority is dangerous to the holder of it who, acquiring the habit of command, can too easily overlook the good of the subject and mistake his own sentiments and purposes for the common good which he exists to promote. In the last analysis authority is essentially creative and it is not without its importance that the very word derives from the same root as "author" (augere-to originate or increase something).
Far from being a merely repressive factor, or, what appeals strongly to English minds, a mere tidier-up of the social order, the function of authority is to promote and increase life, while at the same time through the exercise of justice, its supremeprerogative, it contrives the harmonious development of the different currents of creative life.
This will involve lopping off here and there, and inevitably some will feel repressed or frustrated. That indicates another duty of authority: the reasonable presentation of its directives. Perhaps this will not always be possible but the less there is of the diktat and the sit pro ratione voluntas, the more effectively will authority function. If we can go further, and as Christ our Lord did, identify law and obedience with love as Dom Ached Watkin showed in his book The Heart of the World, then we have arrived It the "perfect law of liberty" which is the prerogative of the sons of God. It is in this way, and at this deep level, that authority will commend itself to modem man, and this is what Archbishop Roberts is concerned to do in this book. BEGINNING with a striking chap ter called "On Commending Authority." which first appeared as an article in Bluckfriars, he goes on to consider the nature of authority and its functioning in the Church.
Since the Church, by its very nature and foundation. is an authoritative society "holding the warrant of Ciod" in the things that belong to God, il is of peculiar importance that Catholics should understand the nature of the authority which rules them and that the rulers should be concerned to "commend" their authority both to their own subjects and to those outside the Church.
Where, as in the Church. you have an authority that is not answerable to its subjects, hut to a superior who may be remote and in the last resort to God alone whose sanctions seem infinitely far away, then it is particularly important that that authority should be exercised with scrupulous care.
It is the author's view that where you have an authority that cannot he criticised to its fare, it becomes the occasion of underground resentment and scurrilous gossip. Where you have an authority, he says, which in its administration of justice-and he twice instances ecclesiastical courts-is unduly dilatory or inefficient. then you are not cornmending that authority and you are endangering the salvation of souls for the good of which these courts exist.
rITHER instances of the abuses of Is-irauthority that he draws attention to are the Suppression of the Jesuits by Clement XIV and the condemnation of Fr. Ricci and his companions in China in the 17th century.
But what gives this hook a peculiar importance is that it is written by an Archbishop who incidentally got himself demoted from the Sec of Bombay-who calmly and objectively reviews t h e exercise o f authority in the Church and is not afraid to point out certain imperfections.
What is even more important is that he has some positive and concrete suggestions for their correction. His great theme is that. especialle in our own age, authority needs to commend itself to those who are its subjects. It is not sufficient to state it, or to set it out in all its vigour, or to prove it by irrefragable arguments. Fallible and rebellious human beings must see the point of it all and need to be persuaded that its exercise is necessary and for their good. Hence it must not only be but appear to be reasonable. It must be informed, and the Archbishop is of the opinion that the holders of authority should be willing to listen to reasonable criticism of themselves.
There are all sorts of dangers inherent in such a practice which the author, with his vast and varied experience, cannot be unaware of, but which in point of fact seems to be operating in the Church at the highest level. In matters of liturgical reform, for instance, Rome has shown herself very willing to listen to the suggestions of Bishops and pastors who wish to make the treasures of the liturgy more available to the people. The restored Easter Vigil is one concrete example of the fruits of such an interchange of views.
'Price or unity' A CHAPTER. called "Obedience r‘the Price of Unity" which appeared first in a Church of England magazine suggests that the "commending of authority" has a wider relevance outside the Church.
No doubt a more efficient diffusion of knowledge about the Church is called for, controversy is occasionally necessary, but if we ask ourselves why people do nol more readily become Catholics, the answer may he that we have not yet made them like us sufficiently. They may feel crushed by our arguments-and they don't like that-they are suspicious of our assumption that we (personally) are always right. They think there is something a bit "Smart Alick" about it.
But they warm to us if we show an interest in them and their views. They will be turned towards the Church if we can help them in however humble a way and then we may be able to go on and show them not only that the authority of the Church is divinely warranted but that it operates for the good of men, for them and their salvation.
The Archbishop does not put it quite in that way but it is implicit in his thesis and demonstrated in his own action when he resigned the See of Bombay to make way for an Indian who could commend the authority of the Church to the Indians as an Englishman could never hope to do. His successor is the distinguished Cardinal Gracias.
ACAT may look at a king. and a reviewer may criticise an Archbishop's book, especially when he is encouraged to do so by the very views set out in it.
We regret that the author did not work out some of the implications of his views, and that, no doubt in the interests of peace, he sometimes gives the impression of pulling his punches. He gives the ablest account of the Jesuit theory of obedience that we have seen, but in the matter of submitting the intellect to the superior's will there does seem to be a difference between the Thomistic and the Jesuit view, in spite of the saving clause. "as far as the will can bend the understanding."
Yet, as we have indicated. this is an important book which will help the laity to understand better the nature of the authority they live by and which should be required reading for the clergy, and perhaps even for Bishops.