Democracy and Ecclesiology

One problem with some forms of conciliarism, particularly that practiced at the later phases of the Council of Basel, was an excessive capitulation to a prototypical “democratic” polity. One observer of the time, at Basel, put it this way:

In the old days bishops, full of the fear of God, the zeal of religion, and the fervour of faith used to settle the affairs of the Church. Now the matter is in the hands of the common herd; for scarcely out of five hundred members, as I saw with my own eyes, were there twenty bishops; the rest were either the lower orders of clergy, or were laymen; and all consult their private feelings rather than the good of the Church…Where everyone seeks his own interest, and the vote of the cook is as good as that of a legate or an archbishop, it is shameless blasphemy to claim for their resolutions the authority of the Holy Ghost.:”(Cited by Joseph Gill, S.J., Eugenius IV: Pope of Christian Union [Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1961], pg. 210.)”:

The remark reminds me of one made by Philip Schaff almost 400 years later concerning the effects of democracy on American Protestantism:

Thus we have come gradually to have a host of sects, which it is no longer easy to number, and that still continues to swell from year to year. Where the process of separation is destined to end, no human calculation can foretell. Anyone who has, or fancies he has, some inward experience and a ready tongue, may persuade himself that he is called to be a reformer; and so proceed at once, in his spiritual vanity and pride, to a revolutionary rupture with the historical life of the church, to which he holds himself immeasurably superior. He builds himself of a night accordingly a new chapel, in which now for the first time since the age of the apostles a pure congregation is to be formed; baptizes his followers with his own name, to which he thus secures an immortality, unenviable it is true, but such as is always flattering to the natural heart; rails and screams with full throat against all that refuses to do homage to his standard; and with all this though utterly unprepared to understand a single book, is not ashamed to appeal continually to the Scriptures, as having been sealed entirely, or in large part, to the understanding of eighteen centuries, and even to the view of the Reformers themselves, till now at last God has been pleased to kindle the true light in an obscure corner of the New World! Thus the deceived multitude, having no power to discern spirits, is converted not to Christ and his church, but the arbitrary fancies and baseless opinions of an individual, who is only of yesterday. Such conversion is of a truth only perversion; such theology, neology; such exposition of the Bible, wretched imposition. What is built is no church, but a chapel, to whose erection Satan himself has made the most liberal contribution.

Such is the aspect of our land. A variegated sampler of all conceivable religious chimeras and dreams, in connection with more sober systems of sectarian faith! Every theological vagabond and peddler may drive here his bungling trade, without passport or license, and sell his false wares at pleasure. What is to come of such confusion is not now to be seen.:”(The Principle of Protestantism 149-50)”:

It’s no wonder that democracy has always been considered by the most sophisticated forms of political discourse, Christian and non, as the worst form of government. And it’s no wonder that to the extent that conciliarism came to be identified with democracy, the papacy and its defenders would oppose it.

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