Another excerpt from Dom Prosper Gueranger, and this one is most interesting. It is from the Greek Menaea for Pope St. Leo the Great, written, according to Dom Gueranger, many centuries before the Great Schism of 1054. The words from this hymn certainly do seem to establish a strong
belief in Papal primacy. They also highlight how the early Church viewed doctrinal orthodoxy/purity/correctness as one of the most vital characteristics of a bishop, especially the Sovereign Pontiff. No bonus points for saying Catholic things 99% of the time……they are demanded 100% of the time. See what you think below:
O happy Pontiff! Glorious Leo, thou hast been made companion of the faithful priests and martyrs; for thou was t most invincible in battle, and immovable as a tower and fortress of religion. Thou dist proclaim, with most prefect orthodoxy and wisdom, the unspeakable generation of Christ.
O ruler of…
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From p. 15-17 of Eastern Orthodox theologian Vladimir Solovyov’s wonderful work, Russia and the Universal Church:
There is in the Christian Church a materially fixed point, an external and visible center of action, an image and an instrument of the divine power. The apostolic see of Rome, that miraculous ikon of universal Christianity, was directly involved in the Iconoclastic struggle, since all the heresies were in the last resort denials of the reality of that divine incarnation, the permanence of which in the social and political order was represented by Rome. It is indeed historically evident that all the heresies actively supported or passively accepted by the majority of the Greek clergy encountered insuperable opposition from the Roman Church and finally came to grief on this Rock of the Gospel. This is especially true of the Iconoclastic heresy; for in denying all external manifestation of the divine in the world it was making a direct attack on the raison d’être of the Chair of Peter as the real objective center of the visible Church.
The pseudo-Christian Empire of Byzantium was bound to engage in decisive combat with the orthodox Papacy; for the latter was not only the infallible guardian of Christian truth but also the first realization of that truth in the collective life of the human race. To read the moving letters of Pope Gregory II to the barbarous Isaurian Emperor is to realize that the very existence of Christianity was at stake. The outcome of the struggle could not be in doubt; the last of the imperial heresies went the way of its predecessors, and with it the circle of theoretic or dogmatic compromises which Constantine’s successors had attempted between Christian truth and the principle of paganism was finally closed. The era of imperial heresies was followed by the emergence of Byzantine “orthodoxy.” To understand this fresh phase of the anti-Christian spirit we must revert to its origins in the preceding period.
Throughout the history of the great Eastern heresies, extending over five centuries from the time of Arius to that of the last Iconoclasts, we constantly find in the Empire and Church of the East three main parties whose alternating victories and defeats form the framework of this curious evolution. We see in the first place the champions of formal heresy, regularly instigated and supported by the imperial court. From the religious point of view, they represented the reaction of Eastern paganism to Christian truth; politically, they were the declared enemies of that independent ecclesiastical government founded by Jesus Christ and represented by the apostolic see of Rome. They began by conceding to sar [sic], whose protégés they were, unbounded authority not only in the government of the Church but even in matters of doctrine; and when Cæsar, impelled by the orthodox majority of his subjects and by the fear of playing into the hands of the Pope, ended by betraying his own creatures, the leaders of the heretical party sought more solid support elsewhere by exploiting the separatist and semi-pagan tendencies of the various nations which were free, or were aiming at freedom, from the Roman yoke. Thus Arianism, the religion of the Empire under Constantius and Valens, but abandoned by their successors, claimed the allegiance of the Goths and Lombards for centuries; Nestorianism, betrayed by its champion Theodosius II, was for a time welcomed by the Eastern Syrians; and Monophysitism, thrust out from Byzantium in spite of all the efforts of the Emperors, finally became the national religion of Egypt, Abyssinia and Armenia.
At the opposite extreme to this heretical party, trebly anti-Christian — in its religious doctrine, its secularism, and its nationalism — we find the absolutely orthodox Catholic party engaged in defending the purity of the Christian idea against all the pagan compromises and in championing free and worldwide ecclesiastical government against the onslaughts of Cæsaropapism and the aims of national separatism. This party could not count on the favor of earthly powers; of the higher clergy it included only individuals here and there. But it relied on the greatest religious force of those times, the monks, and also on the simple faith of the mass of devout believers, at least in the central parts of the Byzantine Empire. Moreover, these orthodox Catholics found and recognized in the central Chair of St. Peter the mighty palladium [sic] of religious truth and freedom. To indicate the moral weight and ecclesiastical importance of this party, it is enough to say that it was the party of St. Athanasius the Great, of St. John Chrysostom, of St. Flavian, of St. Maximus the Confessor and of St. Theodore of the Studium.
Catholic Analysis, our “sister site”, presents its series on Pope Alexander VI, the poorly-treated blasphemabitur reformator. Here, its posts are listed.
- The Personality of Pope Alexander VI details the pontiff’s personality.
- The Borgia Family deals with the pontiff’s family.
- The Cardinalate of Rodrigo Borgia elaborates on Rodrigo’s time as a cardinal.
- The Election of Pope Alexander VI details Alexander’s election and coronation.
- Pope Alexander VI and the Italians explains Alexander’s connections with the Italians.
- Pope Alexander VI and the French grapples with Alexander’s interesting relations with the French.
- Pope Alexander VI and the Spanish touches on his closeness with his native country.
- The Legacy of Pope Alexander VI gives the rest of his legacy.
Shepherds & Kings: A Look at the Papacy
There is to be one Shepherd here. It was first King David (Ezekiel 34:23), then Jesus (John 10:11), and now is the Pope (John 21:17). This role is tied to the role of King. As David was King (2 Samuel 5:12) and Christ is King (Matthew 27:11), so the Pope is (as the Vicar of Christ) “father of princes and kings”.
Historically, the Pope has been the unifier of everyone: emperors, artists, the religious, and so on. Whenever emperors would abandon the Faith, they would be publicly corrected. Whenever artists sought to honor Christ, they would be promoted. And whenever Christians in the East would fall into heresy, the Pope would be the one to bring them in line, as Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Solovyov noted.
The Pope has a temporal role. Only the Pope can thoroughly ensure the recognization of Christ as King in society.
Pope Gelasius I wrote to Emperor Anastasius, “There are two powers, august Emperor, by which this world is chiefly ruled, namely, the sacred authority of the priests and the royal power. Of these that of the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.”
On the correction of earthly monarchs, I often think of the Walk to Canossa, the journey of penance taken by Henry IV, of the Holy Roman Empire, in reparation for his grave sins against the Pope. This was done only out of selfishness on Henry’s part, of course, but still, under the right societal conditions, people can be motivated to repent. I also think of Emperor Theodosius, who only repented after forceful rebukes by St. Ambrose. Should we not incentivize such righteous actions in our own societies? Of course, we should!
Much temporal good has come from our Holy Mother Church, the Mater et Magistra (“mother and teacher”). In the Middle Ages, for example, during which the power of the Church was at its highest, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people. This was all due to popes leading as shepherds and flocks following like sheep. The laypeople of the period, I think, had a greater appreciation for hierarchy and understood that, if left to its own devices, society would collapse. Remember that God had to come down to His people; His people did not go up to Him. Society, today, unfortunately, detests anything other than near-absolute egalitarianism.
Now, imagine for a moment, a Papacy unhindered by societal pressures, free to guide its flock to the fullest, and empowered to pave a beautiful kingdom for Christ’s return! Shepherds like Pope Alexander VI understood and promoted this possibility. Unfortunately, because of the rise of democracy and secularism, the temporal honors historically afforded to popes have dwindled. Now, an Alexander would be almost universally despised, and for no reason!
The Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the Visible Shepherd, the Father of princes and kings, the pinnacle of civilization — he needs us. Pray for him and forever support him in every way possible. And pray that the Church may be empowered to pave the way for Her King.
“[W]hat is certain is that the ruins and traces of the Holy Empire are all about us. An understanding of its history and continuing influence is key to understanding the practical implications of the Social Kingship of Christ — which idea, in so many ways, is the ideal successive Emperors and their loyal subjects sought to follow on Earth, and without which, as Pius XI teach[es] in Quas primas, real peace is impossible.” – Charles A. Coulombe
The Church is my greatest weight. Of course, the weight of over a billion souls would likely be rather large, especially post-McDonald’s, so I suppose that nothing else is really comparable.
What does this mean? In an age of moral relativism, instability, and self-gratification, much like the age of the Roman Empire prior to its Christian conversion, I found myself alone and empty after a scarring experience. So, I sought the counsel of philosophy and history – surely, men had answered my questions before! – and I was, after seemingly endless struggles with myself and others, eventually comforted. The Church became vindicated in my heart.
The more I study, the more I am forced to accept Catholicism as the true Faith. The depth and size of it, as well as its impacts on culture, force any serious student to step back and pay at least a bit of attention. It took me a while to overcome my initial ambivalence toward any religion in particular – though I was always appreciative of God and enamored with the subject in general – but once I had crossed the proverbial Tiber, there was no going back.
I was baptized Catholic, and I vaguely recall some crossing with holy water and lighting prayer candles, but I was hardly raised to practice the Faith. In high school, I dug into a box of things from my infancy. I spotted a rosary within it, along with a note saying that it belonged to my great-grandmother. I mentioned it to a Catholic friend, and he gave me some information about it. That set of events started the arduous process of reconciliation.
Later, at the urging of the aforementioned friend, I casually flipped through the writings of the Church Fathers (prominent ancient Christian leaders). I quickly became impressed. I only did this, originally, to assuage my ego. I had made a theological speculation, and he answered me with, “Well, did the early Christians believe that?” I did not know. Anyway, he was right, and I was wrong.
My advice for anyone that wishes to be a Protestant is to avoid the Church Fathers like one would avoid a plague. I once remarked to a professor that introducing the former to the latter is like shaking a baby: it might teach them a lesson, but it also might kill them.
In my search for the Truth (capital ‘T’ intended), I asked a long series of questions.
On the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, I asked: Does God still reveal things to us, or does His message end with the Bible? What would He reveal things through?
The idea that God arbitrarily ended His message with the Bible and deliberately chose to allow confusion over doctrine became untenable to me, especially in light of verses like Deuteronomy 31:6 (He will never leave us) and John 17:11 (He requests Christian unity). The Protestant position on this (Sola Scriptura) then made little sense. How could that idea, unprecedented before the Renaissance and ungrounded in Tradition or common sense, be true? I have found no sensible argument in favor of it.
What would His mouthpiece be, though? His Bride (Mark 2:18-20), the Church, of course! As a wife understands the workings of her husband, so does the Church understand Christ. From there, how is She structured? This is where apostolic succession (the lineage of bishops from the time of the Apostles to the present) comes in. Bishops are given special power (Luke 21:15) – which even Simon Magus knew was handed down (Acts 8:18-19) – after the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) in their consecration ceremonies. They can trace themselves back to the very beginning of Christianity. All of this “clicked” in my head when I first read these words from St. Ignatius of Antioch: “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.”
Now, who leads it? This is answered by Matthew 16:18, the famous verse, which helped me grasp that Christ built His Church on Peter (aka Cephas), the faithful “rock” (Greek, Aramaic). It’s a parallel to the story of Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20-22), who represented his king. St. Peter, called by Christ to “feed [His] sheep” (John 21:17), likewise represented his King. Some in the historical-critical movement have, naturally, raised objections to St. Peter’s primacy. But even agnostic Protestant historian John Julius Norwich wrote of the pope, “It seems more likely than not that St. Peter did in fact come to Rome and was martyred there, probably somewhere on the Vatican Hill…[and] there can be little doubt that he was the generally acknowledged leader of Christ’s disciples.” Whenever I doubt, I latch on to this information: the historical basis for the Papacy is rock-solid.
My goal is to increase the powers and jurisdiction of this great entity to the fullest capacity, because I recognize the impact that She has had and can have on the world. Documents like Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae urge respect for the sanctity of life, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno offer economic principles rooted in good morals, and so on. If only humanity would follow the path that the Church has set forth! This temporal aspect, even by itself, is enough to drive me, despite how burdensome this desire can be.
In conclusion, I will leave the reader with a quote from G. K. Chesterton. “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
For Protestantism to make much sense, the Church must have, at some point, abandoned the truth and become apostate. Otherwise, Protestantism has no license to exist. But when was this “Great Apostasy”? Protestants offer varying opinions, but none of them hold up to scrutiny.
Was it right after the deaths of the Apostles?
A view most supported by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is that, after the Apostles, the Church quickly fell into apostasy. This would be a massive blow at both God’s promise to guard His Church (Joshua 1:5; Matthew 16:18) and all of the doctrine mentioned hereafter. But if this were true, would not one of the disciples of the Apostles have spoken out? We have writings from many of them, including Pope St. Clement I, St. Barnabas, St. Polycarp, and St. Ignatius of Antioch. None of them mention a “Great Apostasy”. But even if we indulge the other side and admit the possibility that even these men fell away, we still have early documents and creeds (like the Didache) that were probably formulated under the authority of the Apostles. Because Christians continued to be in accord with these extra-Biblical teachings, we know that they must have been in accord with the true Church.
Was it at the time of Constantine?
A semi-popular view is that Constantine corrupted Christianity by encouraging “pagan” elements and demanding a decision from the First Council of Nicaea. This is the view that I come into contact with most often, but it is also the most problematic. If the Church became apostate by 337 (the year of Constantine’s death), then the Biblical canon – which only really started to be compiled by St. Athanasius in 367 – may be wrong: we would have no assurance of its infallibility. Also, on top of that, all later theology would be necessarily nulled.
Was it during the Middle Ages?
The possibility of an apostasy in Medieval times seems far-fetched, too. This theory revolves, primarily, around hatred for some “bad” popes. Rather than focusing on doctrinal issues, proponents of this theory typically resort to character defamation. Many attack the Crusades, which tamed a fanatic Islam, and such. But in this period, literacy rates increased, art flourished, the university system developed, laws were better-codified, and the Bible became more accessible to lay people [1, 2]. The only seemingly objectionable doctrinal development was Pope Boniface VIII’s declaration, “Outside of the Church, there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins”, but even this originates with St. Cyprian! The teaching relates to: 1) the fact that baptism (whether by water, blood, or desire) brings one into the Church (even if done within a Protestant community), because the sacrament was entrusted to Her and She allows anyone with the right intent to perform it, and 2) the importance of conscience and the dangers of apostasy. Nothing worthy of damnation here!
Was it just before the “Reformation”?
The idea of a “restoration” being needed just before the “Reformation” also seems improbable. This common idea is based on the “selling” of indulgences [1, 2, 3] (Martin Luther attacks the practice multiple times in his Ninety-Five Theses), but is mostly due to a misunderstanding. Again, the Protestant understanding usually relies on the assault of characters: people like Johann Tetzel are demonized — perhaps rightfully — for abusing the system. But this abuse was not a doctrinal problem of the Church; rather, it was a disciplinary problem of men. Indulgences simply remove the temporal punishment due for past sin — they are not a “Get out of Hell free” card — and even when they were “sold,” they required some sort of penance. Indulgences only have a salvatory effectiveness (remittance of time in Purgatory) if the recipient is already destined for Heaven. So, it would seem that the fuss is all about nothing.
In conclusion, I see none of these options as likely.
Frequently, critics of the Church will accuse it of being extraordinarily wealthy (and with that comes the implication of corruption and moral depravity). But the Church is not that wealthy.
In 2011, the Vatican had a $19 million (15 million euros) budget deficit. The Vatican typically faces a budget deficit every year (the year 2010 being a rare exception).
Dioceses all over the world have also been struggling financially. You can read about an example of that here.
The thing about the Church’s money is that it is typically spent in the following fields: general charity (ex: Catholic Relief Services, etc.), salaries (which, I assure you, are comparatively low next to many jobs), parish upkeep, missionary work, education, and social outreach.
First of all, some of those services are run independent of each other (and some are even managed by lay people, so the Church is not always able to exercise direct control and have more flexibility in those situations).
Second of all, those areas need a certain amount of stability, so when possible, budgets are left largely unchanged. The Church can not abandon its mission just because money is tight. We can not stop building irrigation systems in Ethiopia, providing clean water in the Philippines, putting HIV and AIDS programs in place in the developing world, and other charitable works.
The Church certainly does not waste what money it has, either. Catholic organizations are widely cited as some of the most efficient and productive organizations in the world. When it comes to Catholic Relief Services (a charity governed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), for example, 94% of the money they spend goes directly to programs that benefit the poor overseas (unlike many other charities that pay their leaders high salaries and provide many perks to them). You can read more about CRS’s efficiency here.
Despite all of that, the Church’s Institute for Works of Religion (most commonly known as the Vatican Bank) has been subjected to controversy. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the Vatican Bank has strong ties to the mafia, trying to link it to events that occurred in the 1980s. However, there is no proof that the Vatican Bank has or ever had any real ties to the mafia.
Many Protestants think the Church is a sort of all-powerful behemoth, capable of getting anything it pleases, but they do not take into account that the Church’s temporal authority has been greatly curtailed in the last few hundred years. Long ago are the times when the Church was able to demand action by governments and was able to bring about social change when it was needed. Now, the Church is lucky to even get represented at all in most debates.
So, the next time someone tries to suggest that the Church is some sort of corrupt organization intent only on making and hoarding money, please correct them.
The Church openly recognizes that popes are not perfect.
Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was asked on Bavarian television in 1997 if the Holy Spirit is responsible for who gets elected Pope. His response was:
“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. … There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”
There is a common misconception among Protestants that the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility means, essentially, that popes can never be wrong about anything. However, that is not what the Church teaches. The Pope is only infallible when he is speaking ex cathedra (basically, when he is instructing all of the faithful at once about something relating to faith or morals).
In the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) papal infallibility was defined:
“Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”
(By the way, you can read the documents from the First Vatican Council here.)
Popes are capable of sinning, just like any other person, and they know that. In fact, Popes typically go to Confession fairly often, even though Catholics are only duty-bound (by one of the Precepts of the Church, which you can read about here) to go to Confession at least once a year.
Now, some point to popes such as Pope Alexander VI and others as proof that popes are corrupt and unworthy of their office. However, I do not believe that personal flaws necessarily mean a pope is bad, nor do they prevent a pope from doing good.
For example, Pope Alexander VI helped with negotiations between Spain and Portugal (which eventually led to the Treaty of Tordesillas and what is sometimes called the “Papal Line of Demarcation”) and encouraged the development of education by signing a papal bull which founded King’s College, Aberdeen. He also, after the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, welcomed thousands of Jews into Rome.
If you read more about the what some call “bad popes,” you will see that, underneath a handful of flaws, the vast majority of them were men with many positive attributes who, for one reason or another, felt called to serve God.
But let us look at this from a different perspective. Not all Presidents of the United States are well-liked, but that does not have any bearing on their authority. Even if you may not like the person administering the law, you are still obliged to follow the law.
Popes are not perfect, but that is irrelevant. They are the successors of St. Peter. They have been chosen to lead us, and it is our job to listen to them (on matters of faith and morals, at the very least). After all, the Holy Spirit is more than capable of speaking through them and making sure that we are not led astray.