Marcel Metzger, The Lessons of Tradition,
RDC 49/1, 1999, p. 9-38.
The Bible evidences many of the elements of democracy. However, western countries have lived for a long time under monarchic regimes and ecclesiastical institutions have been influenced more by those ages of monarchy than by biblical sources. The lack of structures to keep a check on the use of power, the tendency to secrecy, have cast suspicion on ecclesiastical authorities in the case of many recent events. However, the numerous expressions of repentance and the petitions for pardon indicate an awareness of these failures.
Basing their ideas on biblical sources and on the political thinking of the Ancients, the theologians of the Middle Ages were familiar with democracy as a political philosophy. However, it was only in recent times that it found its way into the official texts of the Magisterium as a system of government. The Popes of the 19th century were critical of the tendency to confuse the method of appointing rulers (by democratic election) with the source of authority (which comes from on High). For half a century the Popes favour the idea that power within a State is based on law rather than on election. Promoting the dignity of the person and the autonomy of civil society, the thinking of the Catholic Church shows a continuity with the past.
Even though one must bear in mind that there are many forms of Protestantism, one may state that by calling into question the legitimacy of the Papacy and by propounding the universal priesthood of the faithful, the Protestant Reformation dealt a severe blow to clerical power and hastened the development of the modern democratic state. By challenging the power of religion at a time when politics and religion were closely allied, the Reformers questioned the legitimacy of all power, religious and political. Today, it is possible to distinguish two attitudes to politics: indifference (especially among Lutherans and certain Evangelicals) and radicalism which is the fruit of conviction (among the Baptists or the Reformed.) Between the two there exists a third attitude: putting into practice an ethical code of responsibility.
What happens when the Church finds itself in a democracy? It receives values and culture into its practices but in a complex fashion. Thus, Vatican II puts emphasis on the participation of all in the life of the Church. However, that comes about sometimes in a technocratic fashion. In the dioceses of Quebec, for example, the reforms instituted by the Council became grafted on to institutional changes which were already being made but did not modify their orientation. The separation of powers into executive and legislative remains to be made. A Church of participation remains to be invented.
As sources of values and as guardians of revealed truth, the Churches have reacted in different ways in the face of emerging democracy and the extension of human rights. The Churches have been very active in international bodies which for the past half-century have been engaged in codifying human rights. But frequently they are at a loss when it comes to applying to themselves democratic principles and modes of action. The rights proclaimed by the international bodies are unconditional, indivisible, equal and pose a challenge to the Churches, spiritual communities, regarding their modes of action as human societies, especially in regard to the exercise of power and in regard to pluralism. One can not fail to observe that religious authorities, in particular the Holy See, rarely ratify the international Conventions the signing of which they urge.
Richard Puza, Democracy and Synod,
RDC 49/1, 1999, p.125-139.
If the Synod has always occupied a central position in the constitution of the Church as an expression of community, the development of diocesan synods has been less regular than that of provincial and ecumenical councils. Under the influence of Vatican II some initiatives have been taken (for example the Synod of Wurzburg, Germany), but they are limited. The Church is a community but it is also a society; to do justice to this concept, synods should take place at regular intervals and a large number of the faithful should participate. The synods are a means of making the Church more democratic.
Pier V. Aimone, The Dignity of Believers in Law and in the History of Canon Law,
RDC 49/1, 1999, p. 141-168.
The concept of the dignity of believers is recent. However, one finds in the Decree of Gratian rights and duties attributed to the laity. In particular, there are personal rights which protect the individual when faced with the hierarchical structure of the Church. The medieval canon law of the twelfth and thirteenth century has thus made its contribution, albeit embryonic, to the principle of equality of all believers in their dignity and in their work.
Jacques Joubert, The Popes and Democracy,
RDC 49/1, 1999, p. 169-192.
From the French Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the positions adopted by successive Popes regarding political structures have been influenced by history, but the development in declarations shows no radical change. Regarding the form of political government, by admitting the principle of democratic election, Leo XIII distanced himself from monarchy. Pius XII took another step in that direction by extolling the application of the democratic principle in all regimes. It is at the level of human liberties that one finds the most significant change of attitude. Democracy is presented as being ordered to the respect of the immutable rights of the human person.
Modern democracies claim to represent the will of the people. However, a portion of the people always finds itself rejected by society and thence there arises a problem for the body politic. This is not capable of responding to the claims of those who find themselves on the fringe of society, since these claims are subjective. The Church also finds itself faced with the same problem in so far as it is an assembly of the People of God celebrating in the Crucified the memory of one condemned to death, "an outcast of the people".
Democracy is not absent in the life of the Church even though the demands of Truth in a spiritual community place a limit on its extent. Democracy of number: the election of the Pope is the most obvious example. Democracy of effective participation: one finds here a failure of courage which is injurious to the system of canon law itself. Really, if practice is not received into Canon Law (by way of what is known as custom), there is a grave risk that there will result a behaviour which is not merely outside the law, but which is lawless.
(Translation: Christopher Twohig)
Matthieu Smyth, "The Canons of Gallic Councils, evidence of episcopal responsibility in relation to liturgical matters in the West",
RDC 49/2, 1999, p. 259-277.
The Canons of the Councils which took place in the sixth and seventh centuries are an important source of information regarding liturgical practices in Gaul. They bear witness to the concern of the bishops in the matter of divine worship. At that time the liturgy was still the responsibility of the local bishop or metropolitan and his alone. A characteristic of those canons was the spirit of freedom allowed and the absence of minute prescriptions. At the same time the bishops were ready to welcome liturgical innovations originating in other regions, especially those originating in Visigothic Spain.
Born around 460-465, Denis was a Scythian monk, "but totally Roman in his ways" (Cassiodorus). He was neither Goth nor Georgian nor Armenian, according to P. Peirz. Neither should he be confused with Denis, the Pseudo-Areopagite, as P. Dragulin attempted to do. He was a disciple of a certain Petrus, Scythian bishop at the end of the fifth century and he came to Rome at the end of 496 where he worked on papal archives until 521. The date of his death is not known (between 525-550).
The Holkham manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford is not merely a copy of the "Hispana". It contains a number of sections and texts which constitute new collections of canons such as those of the Lateran Council of 826. It contains also various letters taken from the False Decretals, etc. The manuscript is of Roman or at least Italian origin and contains a complex body of material which can be dated as coming from the last quarter of the XIth century. It is representative of the canon law immediately prior to the Gregorian Reform.
Arnaud Join-Lambert, "French diocesan synods and their Acts (1983-1997)",
RDC 49/2, 1999, p. 353-376.
Although the Code of 1917 provided for diocesan synods to take place every ten years, in fact they took place in France only irregularly between 1919 and 1961. After Vatican II they disappeared almost entirely. However, the Code of 1983 breathed new life into synodal-type assemblies. But their diverse designations (synodal process, diocesan assembly, forum, etc.) raise a canonical question: What is the precise nature of these assemblies? One observes also a great diversity in the Acts emanating from those synods. As an organ of government under the direction and responsibility of the bishop, these "en masse" synods appear to be unsuitable. Yet they inspire a great vitality into the Diocesan Church.
The Church played a very important role in medieval society and this explains how, from the twelfth century onwards, medieval jurists incorporated into legal texts derogations from the ordinary law to the advantage of royal power, those derogations being used by canonists. This use of canon law for secular purposes was clearly the sanctioning of a monarchy of divine prerogative, precedent being found in pontifical law. Sometimes protecting ecclesiastical persons and property gave rise to principles which, beginning in the nineteenth century, regulated disputes coming before administrative courts. In considering the question of the "ends" of the State, a study of excommunication helps to clarify certain important points in the case of contentions issues in French Administrative Law.
Jean-Luc Hiebel, "Chronicle: The teaching function of the Church",
RDC 49/2,1999, p. 377-410.
Having considered several commentaries on the Code of 1983 there is a study of publications in recent years concerned with the school and the university, with religions liberty and laicism and with the relationship between the teaching of theology and truth.
(Translation: C. Twohig)