§ 5: A Prolepsis
I’d like to begin this discussion with a hermeneutical insight. Throughout the treatise we find a polemical dialectic directed at papal authority in two different ways. First, we see a polarization between the Pope and the Church, couching the papal office completely in terms of potestas supra rather than ministerium ad et inter. Were the Smalcaldic fathers justified in doing so? Certainly some of the Renaissance popes favored the exercise of their office in such terms. Was this in virtue of their office or in spite of it? The Reformers seem to hold that the office itself is to blame for the deplorable behavior of Julius II et al. While warranted given their cruel treatment by his legates (with a few notable exceptions), this does seem to be a rather unsubtle tack, particularly in light of the careful deference given to patristic witness throughout the treatise. Rather, the abuse of the office should be defined precisely in light of its true res. This approach eliminates the Pope vs. church polarity in favor of a Pope-within-the-church context much more in line with the tradition. Does this absolve the pope? Certainly not. If anything, it’s a harsher corrective. Neither does this close the book on what the petrine office is ontologically or functionally.
Secondly, the theologians of the Smalcald Assembly polarize the Magisterium (seemingly reduced to the person of the Pontiff) to Scripture. This reminds me of the “They’ve got the Pope, we have the Bible” line taken by Gerhard (whose spiritual theology, by the way, I certainly respect). Again, this polemic, in light of the poor exercise of the pastoral office, is understandable. But is it reasonable? Further, does it not justify a similar polarization of interpretation with the individual playing a similarly despotic rôle over Scripture, wielding the Word interpretively as he wills?