Posts Tagged ‘Pope’

The Heretic Pope

May 8, 2020

In my post speculating on whether certain statements made by Pope Francis are truly compatible with Christian teachings, I asked if there could be a heretic pope, that is to say, a pope who made a pronouncement on Catholic doctrine at odds with scripture or Catholic traditions. In fact, there has been at least one such pope. Pope Honorius I who served as the Bishop of Rome from 625 to 638. As Pope, Honorius I endorsed the doctrine of Monothelitism, a doctrine which was rejected as heresy at the Third Council of Constantinople. That council also anathematized Honorius by name along with the Monothelites generally, formally condemning that Pope as a heretic.

Pope Honorius I

You might be wondering what on Earth Monothelitism is and why Pope Honorius I supported the doctrine. To understand what was going on here, we are going to have to explore early Medieval Christian theology as well as the history of Italy in the seventh century. Medieval Christendom was divided between the Latin-speaking west and the Greek-speaking east. In general, the leaders and theologians of the east were far more interested in debating abstruse points of theology than the more prosaic west. This might be the result of the difference in the intellectual cultures of the eastern and western parts of classical civilization. The Greeks produced philosophers like Plato and Aristotle who developed grand theories about the universe, while the Romans were more interested in building roads and aqueducts. Whatever the reason, this difference between east and west meant that the leaders of the east, the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria had all supported some doctrine that was eventually declared heretical, while the Roman Pope just went along with whatever seemed most orthodox.

One of the more contentious matters of dispute among Christian theologians was precisely who and what Jesus Christ actually was. Was Jesus, the Son of God, a subordinate being created by God (Arianism) or God Himself, one person in the Trinity. If Jesus was God, how precisely was His human and divine natures related? Was Jesus a human who had been “adopted” by the Father, wholly divine (Monophysitism), or some blend of human and divine (Dyophysitism)? For various reasons, perhaps more to do with politics and nationalism than theology, the doctrine of Monophysitism became widely held in Syria and Egypt, while the idea that Christ had two natures held sway in Greece, Anatolia, and Constantinople, not to mention the Latin West.

In 451, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon condemned Monophysitism and affirmed that Jesus Christ had two natures, one wholly divine and one wholly human. The Monophysites simply refused to recognize the Council of Chalcedon as legitimate and went their own way. Not even pressure and persecution by the Roman government could make the heretics see the error of their ways. Rather, they began to see the Roman or Byzantine government as an oppressive regime of heretics and there was a continual danger that the Monophysites of Egypt and Syria would either rebel themselves welcome any invaders as liberators. This did indeed occur when the Sassanid Persians invaded the Byzantine Empire in the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628.

To forestall similar defections when the Arab Muslims invaded in the 630s, The Byzantine Emperor Heraclius proposed a compromise. With the assistance of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius I, the emperor promulgated the doctrine of Monothelitism or One Will. Christ had two natures, just as the Orthodox contended, but only one will or energy. Like many compromises, the compromise of Monothelitism failed to please either side. The Monophysites were not satisfied and the Orthodox were horrified by any compromise with the heretics. Heraclius had the Patriarch of Constantinople on his side, though, and he decided that if he could get the Pope, with the Papacy’s reputation for unwavering orthodoxy, on his side everyone would accept the new doctrine. So, Heraclius and Sergius put some pressure on Pope Honorius.


You might think that since Rome is a long way away from Constantinople, Honorius wouldn’t care too much about pressure from the Emperor. In fact, Italy was a part of the Byzantine Empire in the seventh century and the Pope was a subject of the Byzantine Emperor. A century before Heraclius, the emperor Justinian had determined to recover the western provinces of the Roman Empire from the Germans who had invaded and occupied them. Justinian was especially eager to reconquer Italy from the Ostrogoths since it was a bit silly for him to refer to himself as the Roman Emperor when he didn’t even control Rome. Unfortunately, neither the Byzantines didn’t really have the strength to gain a quick and decisive victory over the Ostrogoths and the war ground on for decades, doing more damage to Italy than the barbarian invasions had. All of Justinian’s efforts were wasted in the end, as not long after he died the Lombards invaded Italy and conquered most of the peninsula. The Byzantines were stubborn, though, and managed to hold on to the southernmost parts of Italy as well as a strip of territory in Central Italy extending from Ravenna to Rome. So, for at least a little while longer the Pope had to worry what the Roman Emperor wanted, and Pope Honorius gave his support for the doctrine of Monothelitism.

Italy in the seventh century

It was all for nothing in the end. The Islamic armies overwhelmed the Byzantines, with the support of the  Monophysites in Egypt and Syria who greeted the Arabs as liberators from the tyranny of the heretical court in Constantinople. By the end of the seventh century, the Byzantine Empire was reduced to a rump empire in Anatolia, Greece, and the Balkans, with toeholds in Italy. The Monophysites were permanently lost to Christendom and there didn’t seem to be much point in compromising with them. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Third Council of Constantinople met in 680 and condemned Monothelitism along with Pope Honorius.

The story of the Heretic Pope does not seem to have much relevance today. When the First Vatican Council debated the question of Papal infallibility back in 1870, opponents of Papal Infallibility brought up Honorius I, pointing out that a pope who was subsequently anathematized for heresy could hardly be considered, in any sense, infallible. Supporters of Papal Infallibility noted that Honorius was not speaking ex-cathedra and that his understanding of the details of the Monothelite controversy was hampered by his ignorance of the Greek language.

Are there any lessons to be learned from the history of Honorius I? Perhaps his story shows that it is not a good idea to place too much power into the hands of just one man, particularly in matters of religious doctrine. The Catholic Church might be better served by having regular ecumenical councils of Bishops to decide basic policy with the Pope being a sort of executive who is first among equals rather than an absolute ruler. The story of Honorius I might also demonstrate the peril of mixing politics with religion. The whole Monophysite/Monothelite controversy would have been of little concern to anyone except theologians if it had not become a matter of nationalism and imperial politics. It might also show the need for Christian unity in the face of Christianity’s enemies. The Muslims would not have taken Syria, Palestine, and Egypt from the Byzantines so quickly if the populations of those regions had not been disaffected from Constantinople by religious differences.

No matter what lessons may be learned from the story of the heretic pope, it is an interesting bit of Papal history, not as strange as the Cadaver Synod, perhaps, but fascinating none the less.

Christian Revival in France

February 22, 2015

It is a commonly held viewpoint in our times that history moves in only one direction, from the benighted past to the enlightened present. This viewpoint is justified in the fields of science and technology. We obviously have much greater knowledge of the natural world and far better tools and machines than our ancestors could have dreamed of. This progressive view of history is less justified in politics and culture. In those fields it is less clear what really constitutes progress and whether history is really moving in a straight line toward some end. What I am trying to get at is that our ideas about what is right and wrong, or true and untrue, or desirable and undesirable are not necessarily superior to the ideas of our ancestors nor is it certain that we are forever moving in a certain direction toward the truth or the good, etc.

I mentioned, in passing, in a recent post that the idea of our time being uniquely liberated in its sexual mores while all past ages were repressed and puritanical is not really true. These sorts of cultural movements seem to go in cycled. A similar idea is held about the status of religion in society. It is often believed that religion is a relic of past ages in which people were ignorant and superstitious. In our more enlightened times, in which we have solved many of the mysteries of the universe, religion is no longer needed. As people become more educated, the influence of religion must fade. Europe is held as an example of this phenomena. The continent has become steadily more secular over the last two centuries and surely before long the people of Europe will be entirely free of religion. The fact that the United States is just as advanced as Europe in science and technology but has remained consistently more religious than Europe may seem to disprove the rule that societies become more secular as they advance, but the US is, in some ways,culturally backward compared to Europe, especially in the Red States. After all, those ignorant Americans still don’t have nationalized medicine or strict gun control. In twenty years, the US will be just as secular as Europe. After all, that is the way history is moving. So goes the argument.

But, perhaps not. Religious observance too tends to run in cycles. Periods of great fervor,even fanaticism in religion alternate with periods of laxity and skepticism. Atheism is by no means a new phenomena. There were atheists in ancient Greece and Rome, and curiously enough, they used the very same arguments against religion that the so-called New Atheists use. The current period of secularism in Europe may be followed by a religious period and there is no reason to believe that the US must inevitably follow in Europe’s footsteps.

Consider this article from The Week, about a possible religious revival in France.

On a recent Sunday, my family and I only showed up 10 minutes early for Mass. That meant we had to sit in fold-out chairs in the spillover room, where the Mass is relayed on a large TV screen. During the service, my toddler had to go to the bathroom. To get there, we had to step over a dozen people sitting in hallways and corners. This is business as usual for my church in Paris, France.

I point this out because one of the most familiar tropes in social commentary today is the loss of Christian faith in Europe in general, and France in particular. The Wall Street Journal recently fretted about the sale of “Europe’s empty churches.”

Could it be, instead, that France is in the early stages of a Christian revival?

Yes, churches in the French countryside are desperately empty. There are no young people there. But then, there are no young people in the French countryside, period. France is a modern country with an advanced economy, and that means its countryside has emptied, and that means that churches built in an era when the country’s sociological makeup was quite different go empty. In the cities — which is where people are, and where cultural trends gain escape velocity — the story is quite different.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. My wife and I now live in an upper-crust neighborhood with all the churches full of upwardly-mobile professionals. When we were penniless grad students, we lived in a working class neighborhood and on Sunday our church was packed with immigrant families and hipster gentrifiers.

It was only recently that I was struck by the fact that, imperceptibly, the majority of my college and grad school friends who were Christmas-and-Easter-Catholics when we met now report going to Church every Sunday and praying regularly. On social media, they used to post about parties; now they’re equally likely to post prayers for persecuted Middle East Christians or calls to help the homeless over the holidays.

My friends live all over town; some of them are young singles who move around a lot; all of them report looking for those mythical “empty churches” we hear so much about — and failing to find them. In fact, it’s closer to the other way around: If you don’t show up early, you might have to sit on the floor — and people are happy to do it.

The massive rallies in France, underwritten by the Catholic Church, against the recent same-sex marriage bill stunned the world: Isn’t France the poster child for sexually-easygoing secularism? Perhaps more than a million people took to the streets, and disproportionately young ones, too. (Compare Britain’s “whatever” response to its own same-sex marriage act, passed around the same time.) But they forgot that a century of militant secularism didn’t kill the Old Faith — it merely drove it underground. And perhaps by privatizing faith, the secularists unwittingly strengthened it; after all, the catacombs have always been good to Christianity.

There is more.

I hope that this is really the case, that there is a revival of Christianity in France and ultimately Europe, with the difference that there will be no more state sponsored churches. The melding of church and state that took place in the late Roman Empire and afterwards has been very bad for Christianity. Most of the bad behavior attributed to Christianity, which has served to discredit the church in the eyes of many, has been the result of an institution backed by the state, and employing coercion. Whatever form a possible revival of Christianity in Europe might take, it would certainly be better than the alternatives. I believe that secularism is a dead end. Man does not live by bread alone. He needs something higher to believe in. If people do not have religion, they will find something else, or they will cease to live. As it is, Europe is dying.

The are many who believe that the future of Europe is in Islam. They project a future in which thanks to a higher birthrate and conversions, the Muslim population of Europe will come to be a majority and impose their culture and values on Europe. I am not so certain of this, myself. It is unwise to take current demographic trends and project them in a straight line into the indefinite future. People do react to events and it may be that the Europeans will wake up to the threat to Islamization. Whatever happens, the influence of Islam is not a good one, and the less such influence Islam has on Europe and the world, the better. Secularism cannot really counter Islam. You can’t fight something with nothing. If the Europeans do not want to descend in the poverty and barbarism of the Islamic world, they will have to find a competing ideology, and what better than their Christian heritage.


The Only Good Marxist

December 17, 2013

I have not weighed in on Pope Francis’s recent remarks on economics and capitalism in part because I was afraid that I might be misunderstanding his comments in context and also in part because, not being a Roman Catholic, I do not feel obliged to follow his lead on any subject, nor am I under any obligation to defend him. I do take some exception to some things the pope said when clarifying his positions.

Pope Francis, who made headlines in recent weeks by lambasting ‘trickle down” economic theories as unfair to the poor, is shrugging off criticism from political conservatives who dubbed him a Marxist.

“The Marxist ideology is wrong,” Francis told the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa for a story released this weekend. “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

Marxism is an ideology that is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people throughout the world. It has condemned billions to lives of poverty, fear and oppression. Every country that has adopted a politics based on Marxist principles has become a vile tyranny with no regard for the lives of its citizens and the greatest persecutors of religion in history. The Marxist ideology is more than simply wrong. It is evil.

Those who call themselves Marxists are associating themselves with the most ruthless and evil tyrannies in the history of the world. To say that that there are Marxists that are good people is the same as saying that Nazi ideology is wrong but there were many good Nazis. There were good people who were Nazis, just as there have been many good people who have been Marxists, but their support of an evil, murderous ideology outweighs whatever good they may have done. They are not, then good people.


October 13, 2013

Recently, the Vatican issued a commemorative coin to celebrate the accession of Pope Francis I, featuring the Latin phrase that inspired the new pope to become a priest. Unfortunately there was a minor error in the coins that required the Vatican to recall them. Here is an account in Yahoo News.

Copy editors the world over can empathize (and cringe) with this mistake.

The Vatican issued a recall this week because about 6,000 of commemorative coins spelled the name “Jesus” as “Lesus.”

The medallion celebrating Pope Francis, includes a Latin phrase that reportedly inspired the new pope to become a priest.

In English, the phrase reads: “Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, follow me.”

So it read, in Latin, “Lesus therefore…”. That isn’t too bad compared to other famous typos, and if you could acquire one of these defective coins they will no doubt become very valuable in coming years.

But as a coin dealer told The New York Times, the flawed coins could be highly sought after by collectors.

“Regardless of what the Vatican decides to do now, it’s an interesting purchase for a collector,” Francesco Santarossa, owner of a numismatic and philatelic shop near St. Peter’s Square in Rome, said in a phone interview. “I don’t think they ever made such a mistake in the 600-year-long history of papal medals.”

At least the mistake was only on a coin and not in a new edition of the Bible.

Of course, the Vatican copy editors aren’t the first to miss a typo. There are many other famous mistakes throughout the history of Christian printing.

For example, the 1631 printing of the King James Version Bible has been dubbed the “Wicked Bible.” As one peruses the 10 Commandments, one will notice that Exodus 20:14 reads “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

England’s King Charles 1 and the Archbishop of Canterbury were not amused. Most copies of that bible were burned. The printers were fined 300 pounds (a large sum at the time) and lost their printing license. Only 11 copies of the “Wicked Bible” are known to exist today. The New York Public Library and The British Library in London each have copies.

And there’s the 1612 King James edition of the “Printer’s Bible,” which famously rewrites Psalm 119: 161  “Printers have persecuted me without a cause” rather than “Princes have persecuted me…” Speculation is that a typesetter, disgruntled with his publisher, introduced this error.

There are many more examples of “bible errata,”often amusing in retrospect but scandalous in the day. For example, A KJV printing in 1611 became known as the “Judas Bible.” It replaced “Jesus” with “Judas” in the passage from Matthew 26:36 “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.”

I wonder if anyone with a copy of the Wicked Bible ever said to their spouse that they were required to commit adultery because the Bible told them so.


Pope Francis I

March 13, 2013
English: Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio SJ, Archb...

The New Pope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, that didn’t take long. Somehow, I thought the process of choosing the new Pope would take longer than two days. The new Pope is Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Buenos Aires, Argentina and he has taken the name Francis I. Francis is the first Pope from the New World and the first Pope from outside Europe in many centuries.

The 76-year-old – now known as Pope Francis I — was the archbishop of Buenos Aries and was appointed by Pope John Paul II.

Bergoglio became the first pope from the Americas elected and the first from outside Europe in more than a millenium.

“I thank you for this greeting you give me,” Francis told thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“Let us pray always, not just for ourselves, but for others and everyone in the world because there is a great brotherhood among us,” Francis said.

CBS News papal consultant Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo said Bergoglio “did not want to be pope.”

“This man did not expect to be pope,” Figueiredo said, adding that Bergoglio’s selection is an “incredibly courageous choice.”

The new pope, who had a lung removed when he was a teenager due to a lung infection, reportedly got the second most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election to replace Pope John Paul II. Bergoglio is the first Jesuit to become pontiff.

CBS News reports that Bergoglio is not a favorite of the Vatican curia.

“This man now has a clear mandate from 115 cardinals to come in and clear out the curia,” Monsignor Figueiredo said.

Cardinals overcame deep divisions to select Pope Francis I – the 266th pontiff — in a remarkably fast conclave.

Tens of thousands of people who braved cold rain to watch the smokestack atop the Sistine Chapel jumped in joy when white smoke poured out, many shouting “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a pope!” — as the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica and churches across Rome pealed.

Chants of `’Long live the pope!” rose from the throngs of faithful, many with tears in their eyes. Crowds went wild as the Vatican appeared on the square, blaring music, followed by Swiss Guards in silver helmets and full regalia. At least 50,000 people jammed into the square.

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be Pope. It seems to be a lot of trouble to me, though maybe the job pays well. Anyway I wish the new Pope well and I hope he is successful.

By the way, why do they keep picking old men as Pope? Francis I is 76. Benedict XVI was 78 when he was made Pope. Why not a younger, more vigorous man. Maybe not as young as Benedict IX, was either 20 or 11 depending on the source, ( it was nepotism), but maybe someone in their fifties.


Pope Benedict XVI to Resign

February 11, 2013

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

I was a little surprised to learn that the Pope is planning to resign at the end of the month. Here are some details from the Wall Street Journal.

VATICAN CITY— Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he planned to step down at the end of this month because of his deteriorating physical strength, a move that hasn’t happened in the Roman Catholic Church in centuries and that is likely to pave the way for a new pontiff by Easter.

In a speech in Latin to cardinals, the 85-year-old German pontiff, who has been in office since April 2005, said that leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was a job that required strength of both mind and body. But the pope said his strength had “deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

A papal spokesman added during a briefing with reporters that Pope Benedict had been thinking about the move for some time, saying it wasn’t due to an illness. Father Lombardi, the spokesman, said the pope would retire to a life of prayer and writing. He also said the pontiff had “no fear” of any potential schism in the church as a consequence of the pope’s resignation.

The resignation, which the Vatican said would take place as of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, will give way to a conclave, a gathering of cardinals who will elect the new pope. Normally, after a pope dies, there is a nine-day mourning period before the selection his successor. This time, the process can begin right away, said Greg Burke, the Vatican’s media adviser. “This means we’ll have a new pope by Easter,” he added. The holiday falls on March 31 this year.

That’s too bad, though I thought he was too old for the job when he was first selected to be pope. Even though I am no longer Catholic, I always rather like Benedict XVI aka Joseph Ratzinger, if only because the liberals and the secularists hated him.  I hope the next pope is a younger, more dynamic man who is up to defending the faith in an increasingly hostile world.

I didn’t know that a pope was allowed to resign and it certainly isn’t common. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII, in order to end the Great Schism in which two or more men claimed to be the legitimate pope. From 1378 until 1414, there were rival popes at Rome and Avignon, with eventually a third pope at Pisa. All of Europe was divided between allegiance to one or the other pope until the issue was finally resolved by the Council of Constance, after which all of the popes were made to resign in favor of a new pope, Martin V who became pope in 1417.

That was a completely different situation, of course, and I don’t imagine there will be any trouble of that sort today. In fact, I would imagine that by resigning, Benedict will have more influence in the selection of his successor than he otherwise might have had.

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