Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Unbelievably bad popes who can strengthen one's faith in Christ's promises and the Church

Dr. Howard P. Kainz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Marquette University and former executive member of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, offers an eye-opening review of a book by James Hitchcock, History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012).

His review, "The Church: God Writing Straight with Crooked Lines" (New Oxford Review, July-August 2014), is substantial and full of fascinating detail. The excerpts about some of the historical popes alone are enough to bolster the confidence of anyone concerned about rocky periods in Church history. Here are several excerpts:
Celibacy was eventually mandated in the eleventh century to prevent family dynasties — even in the papacy. For example, in the sixth century, Pope St. Hormisdas was the father of Pope Silverius, and Pope Felix III was the grandfather of Gregory the Great....

... In the ninth and tenth centuries, corruption of kings and clerics was common. Charlemagne married five times, had six concubines, and forced his daughters to have their children out of wedlock in order to avoid potential political entanglements with his sons-in-law. The institution of the papacy was often in disarray. For example, Pope Stephen VI ordered the body of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, to be exhumed and tried for violations of Church law; Formosus was found guilty, stripped of his vestments, and desecrated. Later that year, Stephen himself was strangled in prison. Bribery was common. Benedict IX paid to become pope in the eleventh century, but later resigned on the condition that he receive his money back. The general picture by the fifteenth century was not very pretty. As Hitchcock observes, “Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), a Franciscan who was notoriously immoral in his private life, set out to make the papacy a feared military force, placed his nephews in important principalities, and arranged their marriages with an eye to effecting strategic alliances. He supported a plot to assassinate the Medicis, the ruling Florentine family, who were to be killed at Mass by two priests…. Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) was a Spanish cardinal, a member of the Borgia family, [and]…became one of the most notorious of all the popes, the worst since the tenth century.” Hitchcock adds that the future Pope Pius II came from a background of pornographic authorship.

... Popes themselves conflicted with one another: In 1570, for example, Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth; but a few years later Pope Sixtus V declared that she was an admirable woman. The Church hierarchy was sometimes involved in criminality; for example, some cardinals in the sixteenth century tried to poison Pope Leo X, who got wind of the plot and executed their leader. Leo’s unfortunate decision to recognize the right of the king of France to nominate bishops caused problems of authority for the following three centuries.

... In the fourteenth century there were three claimants to the papacy — Urban VI, Clement VII, and John XXII — which helped give rise to the conciliar movement, so that cardinals could depose popes in such cases. But this “solution” turned out to be a vicious circle, since councils are customarily called by popes. In the twelfth century, Peter Abelard, famous for his romantic affair with Heloise, eventually became a reforming abbot whose monks tried to poison him. And in the sixteenth century, some unlikely popes began to lead the way to reform. As Hitchcock writes, “Papal support for the reforming impulse in the Church began with Paul III, who led a scandalous life. He fathered children, and his ecclesiastical career flourished primarily because of his aristocratic Farnese family connections and the fact that his sister had been one of Pope Alexander VI’s mistresses. By the time of his election, he had undergone a change of heart, although he still used his office to favor his children.” But the Church was unable to head off the very different approaches to “reform” carried out by Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and others. So the Council of Trent was called to stem the disruptive tides, beginning with the Protestant Reformation.

Many such councils have been called in the hope that they would clear up ambiguities and differences once and for all. But, as Hitchcock observes, the history of Church councils would lead us to a different conclusion. The fourth-century Council of Nicaea left unresolved the question of Christ’s divinity. The fifth-century Council of Chalcedon seemed to make Constantinople and Rome equal sees. And Trent opened up with disputes that seemed to portend similar or even worse ambiguities. For starters, France boycotted the proceedings, leaving mostly Italian bishops, along with a few other European bishops. Pope Paul IV opposed the Council as a threat to papal authority, causing a hiatus. But as Trent resumed under the aegis of Pope Pius IV, acrimonious national and doctrinal factions developed, leading to some ambiguity in the final decrees. For example, Christ was declared to be present “whole and entire” under both species, bread and wine, and frequent Communion was encouraged; but the “frequent Communion” recommended for seminarians was once a week, and for nuns once a month. Disputed questions about justification and the relation of grace and free will were left unresolved. And Mass in the vernacular was prohibited, even though, as we saw above, Latin was first chosen because it was the vernacular.

... About a third of the Council Fathers at Vatican I were either opposed to the declaration of infallibility or wanted to attach conditions to its announcement. A lingering problem was that, in the past, two popes had dabbled in heresy — Pope Honorius in the seventh century accepted monothelitism, and Pope John XXII in the fourteenth century supported (but later recanted) the doctrine of “soul sleep” before the Last Judgment. So the condition of “speaking ex cathedra” was finally emphasized, to take into account the possibility of occasional papal infelicities.
Read the whole article >> Hitchcock's conclusion is a good bit more upbeat and optimistic than many would seem to be the blogosphere these days. But as Kainz says, by way of conclusion, "Perhaps the sedevacantists in our midst, by boning up on Church history, warts and all, might realize that her present state is miraculous -- not the work of men, but of God, who writes straight with crooked lines." And how crooked those lines have been for those willing to examine them! As I have oft contended, the better versed one is in Church history, the more one's faith, counter-intuitively, is bolstered by the miracle that is the Church.


Mighty Joe Young said...

Celibacy was eventually mandated in the eleventh century to prevent family dynasties

Nope. As documented by Fr Christian Cochini in "The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy," Pope Siricius (AD 386) issued his Decretals and Cum in Unum ordering all priests to, once again, return to the Apostolic praxis of continence.

Cochini's book is a must read for Trads for in it is the documentation necessary to war against the Celibacy-it's-ony-a-discipline machinations to bring His Holy Church into line with the eastern schismatic heretics, the protestants, and the Jews

a pretty good summary of continence/celibacy can be found here


Anonymous said...

"Unbelievably bad popes who can strengthen one's faith in Christ's promises and the Church"

Not mine.


Anonymous said...

It is inaccurate to say that Latin was chosen because it was the vernacular. This is to greatly simplify the change that took place from Greek to Latin in the liturgy. It is true that the language of places like Rome and Milan was Latin and the upper classes would understand the prayers of the Mass, but that would still leave the masses unable to understand the stylized language of the prayers. And of course this would leave those in much of the empire, the non-Latin speakers completely unable to understand the language. Uwe Michael Lang has written extensively on this and demolished the mindlessly repeated "Well we all know that Latin was chosen because it was the vernacular, just as the Church finally caught up with the times following V II..."

Mighty Joe Young said...

Karl. As both God and man, the promises of Jesus are infallibly true and completely reliable.

The alternative to that truth is that Jesus is the Devil.

There is no middle grind.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"According to Hitchcock, 'Along with Schillebeeckx, Haering, and to a lesser extent Rahner, the German-Swiss priest-theologian Hans Küng was the increasingly bold and abrasive chief spokesman for aggiornamento, demanding that the Church accommodate herself to a changing culture, while de Lubac, Danielou, Maritain, Balthasar, Bouyer, Ratzinger, and others protested what they considered distortions of the Council.'”

IMO, the works and the influence prior to the council of most of the gents mentioned above did as much to "distort" its fruit, and its "spirit," as Kung's abrasiveness. Casting Kung as the Judas goat doesn't cut the mustard.

Beyond that, whatever comfort one gleans from knowing that "heresy-dabbling" began before the twentieth century is diminished by the knowledge that the punishment for such dabbling today is more likely to be a nod-wink than a throw down (much less a neck-stretch).d