There is something special, we think, about celebrating—as both the Forma Ordinaria and the Forma Extraordinaria do today—the Dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, known, more commonly, as “St. John Lateran.” (We’ll call it the “Archbasilica” here, though we acknowledge that “St. John Lateran” is what everyone calls it.)
As most folks know, the Archbasilica is the cathedral church of the bishop of Rome and, therefore, the “mother church and head of all the churches of Rome and the world.” And the Lateran basilica traces its foundation back to Constantine’s gratitude to Pope Silvester for his baptism and miraculous cure. The feast of its dedication therefore points to the unity of the Church throughout the world and to the history of the Church, as the persecutions ended (for the most part) and the Church began its progress in the light of day.
It seems to us that the feast of the Dedication of the Archbasilica is exactly the sort of salubrious ultramontanism that we ought to celebrate more. Not the sort of super-dogmatic ultramontanism that devolves quickly into what Elliot Milco has called Mottramism—after the hapless convert Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited. You know the sort. “Everything the Pope says must be absolutely true and correct no matter what.” “This Pope is the best exponent of such-and-such doctrine.” So on and so forth. Such Mottramism does a real disservice to the Church, which is forced to depend on one man’s off-the-cuff statement, to the pope, who may not have signed up for the job if he knew his every thought was going to be treated as dogma, and to the faithful, who ought not to be deprived of the teachings of so many good and holy popes over the centuries. This is not a good ultramontanism. But the feast we celebrate today is good ultramontanism.
The feast of the Dedication of the Archbasilica reminds us first that we are members of one Church. We can look at the Archbasilica and see the church of the bishop of Rome, who is, ultimately, our bishop, too. This is a key point from Milco’s exposition of Pastor aeternus: the pope is everyone’s bishop—that’s what universal, immediate, and ordinary jurisdiction means—he is not merely the bishops’ bishop or some higher, appellate instance of the Church. He’s our bishop and your bishop and our bishops’ bishop, too. Thus, when we look at our bishop’s church, we see a building that represents in some way the unity of the Church.
The Archbasilica reminds us also that there is an unbroken—if a little bruised, frankly—cultural trajectory from ancient Rome through the Church to the present day. We can look at the Archbasilica and see an unbroken path leading all the way back to Constantine’s baptism by Silvester all those years ago. The Archbasilica represents, to put it another way, continuity between ancient Rome, those parts of it worth saving, at any rate, and the Church of today.
This is a sort of ultramontanism that we need more of. Not the pope as some sort of magical figure, but the pope, and his cathedral church, as a sign of unity and continuity.
We were in the process of writing this post when we were called away from our desk on some business. When we got back to our desk, we found that Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., had reposted his 2011 piece, “The Dedication of the Lateran as the Feast of the Church Militant,” from his blog, Sancrucensis. A brief selection:
The Apostles shed their blood in Rome, but their blood became the seed of the conversion of the whole city and all that was great in it. And the symbol of all this is the dedication of the Lateran Basilica to ‘Christ the Savior’.
While we hope for the final peace of the heavenly Jerusalem we are at war. The Church on earth is Roman, She is militant. The daily combat combat waged in our souls against the false gods of this world is more than a merely individual struggle; it is one battlefield of a great war that is to spread the new pax romana throughout the world. It is sweet and noble to fight and suffer for such a City!
(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.