Saturday, October 12, 2013

The danger of good popes, and the benefit of bad popes

The benefit of bad popes is that they remind us that they are, despite all their God-given charisms, mere men with feet of clay, fallen sinners like you and me. The danger of good popes is that they can prevent us from remembering this fact.

Brantly Millegan, "The Danger of Good Popes" (On the Square, September 27, 2013). Excerpts:
Pope Benedict IX was elected pope in 1032 when he was just a teenager: different sources put his age at somewhere between 11 to 20 years old. His father was the Count of Tusculum and used his influence to obtain the papacy for his son. Benedict IX indulged in extreme sexual immorality, including orgies and unnatural acts. The Catholic Encyclopedia calls him “a disgrace to the Chair of Peter.” Papal historian Ferdinand Gregorovius wrote regarding Benedict IX: “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest . . . occupied the chair of Peter and profaned the sacred mysteries of religion by his insolent courses.” In an attempt to end the shame, Benedict’s godfather Fr. John Gratian offered Benedict a large sum of money to resign the papacy, and Benedict took it. He’s the only pope in history who’s known to have sold the papacy.

... Another story from papal history: A major dispute in the Church in the seventh century was whether Jesus had one will (monothelitism) or two wills (one human, one divine; dyothelitism). Pope Honorius I sided with monothelitism. Fortunately, forty years after his death, the ecumenical Third Council of Constantinople (approved by Pope Leo II) defined dyothelitism as dogma, and monothelitism as heresy. Pope Honorius I was listed as a heretic among those who had taught monothelitism. That’s right: an ecumenical council dogmatically defined a previous papal teaching as heresy and listed the past pope as a heretic.

A number of Catholic authors have endeavored to defend Pope Francis from criticism, particularly stemming from his recent interview. They have tried to defend him not only from misinterpretation, but also from criticisms of what he actually did say, his style, his choice of what to emphasize, etc. Their goal is admirable, and I largely agree with their sentiments, but in an effort to defend Pope Francis, Catholics must be sure to not overstate the role, powers, and privileges of the papacy.


Was the Holy Spirit at the Conclave?

... while God’s providence certainly extends over all of history, there’s no guarantee at all that the Holy Spirit will guide the Cardinals to a good pope or that the Cardinals will listen accurately even if the Holy Spirit is prompting them. I have no reason to doubt that the Cardinals at recent conclaves have taken their duty seriously and prayerfully, but praying before making a decision doesn’t make the resulting decision the direct working of God. Very bad people can be chosen to be pope and in fact have been chosen to be pope. The only guarantee is that whoever they choose, the pope won’t infallibly teach something that is incorrect.
[Hat tip to JM]


Ralph Roister-Doister said...

What an ill-informed bag of vomit this is. Before you can write about good popes you have have had some experience in your lifetime with some. I'm sick of the whole damn lot, and bootlickers who inform the rest of us that they really didn't say that, they really meant this, and its really not about that its about this. The whole buttkissing lot of you can eat my shorts

Sheldon said...

Whoa, Ralph! I can see you either didn't have your coffee yet, or on your third day without nicotine.

Isn't the point, rather, that the "good popes" (those who aren't fathering children or engaging in perverse sexual acts) can blind us from noticing that they, too, are capable of other hideous stupidities, like, say, kissing the Koran or allowing pagan prayers or chicken sacrifices at Assisi?

JM said...

I'm with Ralph. The bootlicking is rather phenomenal. If I read one more defense of Francis that talks about people taking aim at him. Doino at FT is especially egregious. Popes are the new Mejorgorje, awe-inspiring, glow in the dark, magical beings. They say "extraordinary" things and inspire people the way Obama does. Quick, let's all rush to the documentary bio about a Pope who has been "epochal" after all of six months in office. James Martin sj will be leading the canonization service!

David Brainerd said...


Come on guys, you know Francis didn't really mean that, he meant this. Give the guy a break. Its not his fault he has diarrhea of the mouth.