The Pope’s Two Bodies: the The Weinandy-Farrow Thesis as Lancastrian Ecclesiology


In a recent article for The Catholic Thing, the Capuchin theologian Fr. Thomas Weinandy comes to some rather startling conclusions. He argues that Pope Francis is both the visible ruler of the Church on earth— as Vicar of Christ— but also at the same time the head of a ‘schismatic church’ which has separated itself from the Unity of the Una, Sancta, Catholica. Here are Fr. Weinandy’s words at length:

[W]e perceive a situation, ever-growing in intensity, in which on the one hand, a majority of the world’s faithful – clergy and laity alike – are loyal and faithful to the pope, for he is their pontiff, while critical of his pontificate, and, on the other hand, a large contingent of the world’s faithful – clergy and laity alike – enthusiastically support Francis precisely because he allows and fosters their ambiguous teaching and ecclesial practice.

What the Church will end up with, then, is a pope who is the pope of the Catholic Church and, simultaneously, the de facto leader, for all practical purposes, of a schismatic church.  Because he is the head of both, the appearance of one church remains, while in fact there are two.

The only phrase that I can find to describe this situation is “internal papal schism,” for the pope, even as pope, will effectively be the leader of a segment of the Church that through its doctrine, moral teaching, and ecclesial structure, is for all practical purposes schismatic.

In a web-exclusive for First Things, Douglas Farrow develops Fr. Weinandy’s position even further:

The kairos, the culture of encounter, being lauded in the Pan-Amazon Synod is a Bergoglian kairos and culture. The church “called to be ever more synodal,” to be “made flesh” and “incarnated” in existing cultures, is a Bergoglian church. And this church, not to put too fine a point on it, is not the Catholic Church. It is a false church. It is a self-divinizing church. It is an antichristic church, a substitute for the Word-made-flesh to whom the Catholic Church actually belongs and to whom, as Cardinal Müller insists, it must always give witness if it means to be the Church.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us, quite frankly, with the question of how both the true Church and the false can have the same pontiff, and what is to be done about that fact

It happens that just as I was reading Fr. Weinandy and Prof. Farrow on the two churches of which the one pope is head, I was going through the first chapter of Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies for a class with the licentiate students in Heiligenkreuz. I was struck by the parallels between the Weinandy-Farrow thesis and the theory of the King’s two bodies developed by Tudor jurists, or rather of the use made by that theory by the Long Parliament in its struggle with King Charles I.

Kantorowicz explains how the Tudor jurists distinguished between the king’s natural body, and his body politic. The king’s body natural is subject to weakness and death, but his body politic is immortal and invulnerable, being united to a new body natural when the current body natural dies. The analogy that would spring to mind at once would be with Christ’s natural body and His mystical body. And indeed the Tudor jurists do make some use of that analogy. But in general that analogy does not serve their purposes, since the Christ’s natural body is of course superior to His mystical body (we adore His body really present with latreia, which we do not do for His mystical body), but the jurists wanted the King’s body politic to be superior to his body natural. They therefore ended up reaching for another analogy: the relation of the Divine Nature and the human nature in the hypostatic union. Here the Divine Nature corresponds to the body politic and the human nature to the body natural.

Kantorowicz gives a rather amusing discussion of how all the major Christological controversies of the early Church are repeated in discussions of the two bodies. For the most part the analogy corresponds to orthodox doctrine, but at times it strays in a “monophysite” or “Nestorian” direction. The Nestorian reading can be seen most clearly in the use made of this Tudor doctrine by Jurists of the Stewart period:

Parliament succeeded in trying “Charles Stuart, being admitted King of England and therein trusted with a limited power,” for high treason, and finally in executing solely the king’s body natural without affecting seriously or doing irreparable harm to the King’s body politic

This extreme parliamentary position has effectively separated the two bodies— just as as Nestorius separated the natures of Christ.

Parliament claimed to be defending the “Lancastrian Constitution” of England, according to which “Sovereignty was identified not with the King alone or the people alone, but with the ‘King in Parliament.’” But clearly if ‘the King in parliament’ could be opposed to the natural body of King Charles I, the supposed balance of the Lancastrian Constitution was revealed as a polite lie.

It is no accident that some of the severest critics of Farrow’s article (eg: Adrian Vermeule), are also those who have little patience for ‘confused’ notions of sovereignty.

Where does this leave us with respect to the Pope? The case of the pope is rather a special one. Our Lord gave very solemn promises to Peter and His successors, which were never given to any English king. And yet, at one level a ‘two bodies’ type solution is understandable. After all, the pope, when teaching ex cathedra, is infallible, whereas when he speaks as ‘private doctor’ he is not. But it seems to me that the extreme thesis that Weinandy and Farrow are entertaining, where the Pope is simultaneously the head of the Church and also the head of a schismatic group, is not really tenable. What are schismatics after all, other than “those who refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to hold communion with those members of the Church who acknowledge his supremacy” (Sth IIaIIae, Q 39, A 1)? If one tries to pull the sort of trick on the Supreme Pontiff that Parliament pulled on Charles I, could it truly be said “Blessed Peter perseveres in the rock-like strength he was granted, and does not abandon that guidance of the Church which he once received”?