On Contemporary Critiques of Ultramontanism; With a Comparison of Recent Supreme Pontiffs to Liverpool FC Managers

Jürgen Klopp’s appoitment as Liverpool FC’s new manager may not be “the most exciting event … ever,” but it is certainly terribly exciting. I have been a Liverpool supporter ever since my youth, when, not having a TV, I started looking for soccer clips online and found Timbo’s Goals, a now long defunct LFC fan site that featured clips from the glory days of the 70s and 80s, as well as the most recent games. The clips took ages to download on our dial-up connection, but it was worth it. From Keagan and Toshak to Kenny Daglish to John Barnes and Peter Beardsley to Robbie Fowler and Steve Mcmanaman, I got to know all the greats. Gérard Houllier was Liverpool manager in those days, and the first stomach-turningly exciting moment that I had as a Liverpool supporter was watching Houlier’s team defeat Deportivo Alavés in the 2001 UEFA Cup final (on a TV at the house of philosopher Peter Colosi).

Watching Jürgen Klopp’s presentation  was a little bit like watching clips of Pope St. John Paul II emerging on the loggia of St Peter’s after his election to the papacy. The comparison might seem not only to be in bad taste, but also to be misleading. “A pope’s rôle in the Church is not much like that of a manager in a football club,” my readers are presumably thinking. A lot has been written recently in the sort of Catholic blogs that I read— especially ones that to some degree share my integralism— about what popes are not. The pope is not a Soviet style dictator, or oriental tyrant who’s slightest whim is law. He is not the incarnation of the Holy Spirit delivering new revelations and so and so forth. Such warnings against exaggerated notions of the Pope’s rôle are all very well as far as they go.  The Holy Father is the servant of the truth, not its creator. And the pope’s very importance as Vicar of Christ on earth can easily lead to exaggerated ideas about his power. As one of the best of the recent treatments of what the pope is not, Elliot Milco’s series against certain forms of excessive ultra-montanism, puts it:

Because the pope is a symbol of the unity of the faithful and possesses, by virtue of his universal jurisdiction and care of souls, a paternity with respect to all Christians, certain mistakes are easy to make.

This is of course true. I think it very important to spell out exactly what our duties toward the Holy Father are, and exactly what his universal jurisdiction entails, and under exactly what conditions his teaching on faith and morals is infallible. Certainly, there is a danger of an exaggerated maximalism extending his rôle beyond its proper limits, but of course there is also a danger of an exaggerated minimalism. Witness the theologians who claim that questions that popes have clearly wished to settle in teaching directed to the universal Church (eg. Bl. Paul VI’s teaching on the immorality of contraception in Humanæ Vitæ, or St. John Paul II’s teaching on the impossibility of the ordination of women in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) are not in fact infallible.

However understandable though, I find something sad about the fact in the vociferous anti-ultramontanism of Catholics with integralist tendencies today. Originally, integralism was a part of the ultramontane movement— as C. van der Krogt points out in a highly informative paper, the name seems actually to have been invented for a Spanish party that defended Bl. Pius IX Syllabus. And integralism reached what van der Krogt calls its “classical form” in the reign of Pope St. Pius X among those Catholics who supported the saintly pontiffs anti-modernism. Naturally such integralists had strong views of papal authority. Nevertheless, there had been signs even in the pontificate preceding Pius X’s that integralism might also go a more Gallican route. French integralists had been opposed to Pope Leo XIII’s policy of ralliement (in fact, continental integralists are still angry about ralliement today). Later Pius XI’s condemnation of Action Française angered many French integralists, and famously lead to Cardinal Billot resigning his cardinalate.

But the real test for the synthesis of integralism and ultra-montanism came with Vatican II. Vatican II apparent abandonment of the key integralist theses on the relation of Church and state, seemed to force integralist ultramontanes to choose between their integralism and their ultramontanism. Most abandoned or moderated their integralism, but some went the other way. Archbishop Lefebvre went into a strange sort of opposition to the policies of the Holy See. His roots in ultramontanism were too strong for him to adopt a fully Gallican position, however— hence his invention of the nonsense distinction between “eternal Rome” and “neo-Modernist Rome.”

As for me, I have long held that one can be a true integralist without rejecting Vatican II or the teachings of the post-conciliar popes. In my undergraduate thesis, I argued that the most important teachings of Vatican II—especially its teachings on theological anthropology— actually support a form of integralism. One can be an integralist without being a “traditionalist.” This might seem like special pleading, but I think that it is actually true. I admit though, that it was easier to argue for my position in the last pontificate, with all the talk of reading Vatican II with a “hermeneutic of continuity in reform,” than it is in the current pontificate.

Pope Francis’s pontificate has caused a good deal of anti-ultramontane rhetoric among all sorts of “conservative” Catholics, but especially among integralists (few as they are). In a rather extraordinary lecture Prof. de Mattei, one of the most distinguished of contemporary integralist thinkers, admits that while he would have been in the ultramontane party if he had lived at the time of Pius IX, he finds anti-ultramontane thinkers such as Bl. John Henry Newman more helpful for current circumstances:

[W]e should study well, as M. Davies did, the limits of obedience to the Pope and the “fluid” Magisterium he offers daily, holding dearly, on this issue, to the teaching of the great English Cardinal, J.H. Newman, whom M. Davies admired as he did Cardinal Manning. I know he was the object of criticism for his admiration of Newman, considered a liberal by some traditionalists.  Newman’s anti-liberal orthodoxy was, however, confirmed not only by Leo XIII, who made him a cardinal, but also by St. Pius X in his papal brief to the Bishop of Limerick of March 10th 1908. As far as I’m concerned, I can say that if I had lived at the time of the First Vatican Council, I would have been with Manning, against Newman.  But since I live in the times of Vatican II, I think that Cardinal Newman, in his works, most of all the one dedicated to the Arians of the IV century, offer us better arms than Manning’s to combat the Modernists who have taken over the running  of the Church.

Now, I am of course a great admirer of Newman, and think that despite his anti-ultramontanism his piety toward the Holy See was irreproachable (see: here and here). Nevertheless, and even though some of the arguments made are quite sound, I find the current anti-ultramonatism sad. One reason that I think it sad is that in the history of the Church the greatest revivals of Catholic life have nearly always been brought about by movements who allied themselves closely with the Holy See, and saw themselves as carrying out a program proposed by the Supreme Pontiff. Thus the monks of Cluny obtained exemption from local episcopal jurisdiction, and tried to carry out the reforms of the great popes of the high Middle Ages— especially Pope St. Gregory VII. Similarly the Cistercians and the Norbertines devoted themselves to supporting the reforms of Gregory’s successors. Later still St. Dominic accepted his mission of preaching against the Albigensians  from the Holy Father. In the Counter-Reformation, St. Ignatius put all the energy of his movement at the immediate disposal of the Holy See through the so-called “fourth vow.” And after the disaster of the French Revolution, it was the ultramontane movement— a genuinely popular movement— that brought the revival of Catholic life in the 19th century. Vatican II apparently ended the ultramontane movement, but in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II many of the movements (movimenti) that attracted the most conversions and vocations had a sort of neo-ultramontane devotion to Pope John Paul II.

Of course, all times are bad times, and the Church has always been in badly in need of reform. But there have been periods when there was a clear elan toward renewal, and other periods when decline seemed quicker and the reform movements counter-productive. And in part the difference depends on the extent to which the Roman Pontiffs have devoted themselves to true reform. Through his infallibility in matters of faith and morals the Pope is a break on the corruption of the faith, whatever his personal strengths and weaknesses, nevertheless a great deal does nevertheless depend on his giving a clear direction to those who love justice and hate iniquity. To quote Bl. Cardinal Newman: “the Church is a Church Militant, and, as the commander of an army must be despotic, so must the visible head of the Church be…” Popes who have energetically defended the Faith handed down from the Apostles and shown zeal for the correction of morals have always found movements willing to help them. But when the Renaissance popes neglected spiritual matters to worry about temporal things, the Protestant Reformation happened.

Thus in a way the pope really is like a football manager with the Church Militant as his team. If Jürgen Klopp is like Pope St. John Paul II, to whom can one compare Pope Francis? I’m afraid the comparison that occurs most readily to me is Roy Hodgson. Hodgson, like Pope Francis is a likable old man. And like Pope Francis he can talk eloquently and insightfully on certain subjects— listen to Hodgson on the virtues of 4-4-2, or to Pope Francis on the evils of technocratic capitalism. But I’m afraid that I must admit that like Hodgson at Liverpool, Pope Francis is some ways not very suited to his job. Just as Hodgson was liked by non-Liverpool supporting experts such as Philippe Auclair, was too reverential to anti-Liverpool figures such as Sir Alex Ferguson, gave playing time to unworthy players such as Paul Konchesky, and consequently angered the most fervent Liverpool supporters. Just so, Pope Francis is well liked by non-Catholics, is friendly toward the likes of Leonardo Boff, and gives encouragement to the likes of Cardinal Kasper. Thus, while I love Pope Francis with filial piety and am eager to learn from him and “be challenged by him” (as the children and journalists say nowadays), nevertheless I think it not inconsistent with filial piety to join in the plea of The Lake Garda Statement:

[W]e beseech the Roman Pontiff to fulfill his duty as Vicar of Christ and Universal Shepherd by leading the way to a restoration of the continuity between the Church’s venerable teaching on the Social Kingship of Christ—never repealed—and the practice of churchmen both high and low.

The comparison of Roy Hodgson to Pope Francis, and of Jürgen Klopp to St. John Paul, naturally leads to think of which other popes could be compared to which other LFC managers. The cerebral Rafael Benítez is clearly Pope Benedict XVI, and the majestic Kenny Dalglish is Pius XII. But who is Brendan Rodgers? Strange as it might seem, I would compare him to Bl. Paul VI. Rodgers came in as a sort of progressive, young, but highly qualified manager, who knew Spanish and could talk about tiki-taka and the possession game, and at first caused a lot of enthusiasm, but ended with the whole club in a sort of depression. In a similar way, Bl. Paul VI was elected to the See of Peter as a sort of progressive, young, but highly qualified prelate, who read cool theologians like de Lubac and Guardini and had edgy artistic taste. He too was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm initially, but after 1968 all was sadness and depression…

5 thoughts on “On Contemporary Critiques of Ultramontanism; With a Comparison of Recent Supreme Pontiffs to Liverpool FC Managers

  1. Hmmm…Presumably Ultramontanism considered as the contrary of the various Gallican positions that were excluded by Pastor Aeternus is de fide. Considered as an ascription of inspiration to the occupant of the Holy See it is a heresy. I don’t believe Pastor Aeternus was inopportune and I don’t believe that the now excluded Gallican positions were ever tolerated propositions for any reason other than fear of the French kings. Yes, many great reforms have flowed from the Holy See but many serious corruptions have also come from the abuse of her privileges as Cardinal Pole pointed out at Trent. The misuse of the plenitude of power in the late Middle Ages filled the western church with abuses and it is hard to deny there has been a rash proliferation of religious orders. My preference will always be for Bill Shankly (Gregory I) and Bob Paisley (Innocent III).

    Liked by 2 people

      • I’m sure trips to Medjugorje have saved many souls from eternal damnation as well. The Legionaries seem to have helpfully established that it can be a bad idea to establish a religious order so the question is: was Lateran IV right that no new forms of religious life should be introduced? Admittedly, Lateran IV’s prohibition was disciplinary but perhaps it could have been dogmatic by analogy with Trent’s prohibition of new rites. Nevertheless, the WWI style annihilation of religious communities since the ‘sixties might hint that they did not after all represent perennial features of ecclesial existence. It is interesting that the church was rescued in the sixteenth century by the revival of the Franciscans by the Capuchins, the Carmelites by the Teresians and the Dominicans by… Thats the problem, I recon. Lyon II entrusted devotion to the Holy Name to the Order of Preachers. The third order of preachers were originally called the Militia Jesu Christi. If only St Ignatius had founded the TOPR instead, perhaps the De Auxiliis controversy would never have arisen and the Enlightenment and Reformation would now lie crushed beneath the feet of holy mother church. Ahem… which all goes to show, relying on religious orders is like buying in foreign players. It has its place but its no substitute for a decent youth system and once it gets out of hand the club’s traditions are broken and there is no chance of the national team ever winning the World Cup. If you see what I mean.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah that brings back my youth.. though I had the good fortune to support them in the glory days of the late 80’s. Rush and Dalgleish, what a combination. And Hansen immaculate at the back.
    Would this analogy make Alex Ferguson a sort of schismatic patriarch?

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