Sunday, September 25, 2022

An Alternative Take on Fr. Capodanno



[Sept. 25, 2022] Not long ago, traditional Catholic outlets reported on the suspension of the cause of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, a United States Marine Corps chaplain and Maryknoll Father who died on the battlefield in Vietnam shielding a Marine from machine gun fire. The story was presented in such a way as to suggest that the reason the cause was suspended was because the advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints that suspended the cause was "woke," based on an objection to Fr. Capodanno serving in the U.S. armed forces. 

After reading about this decision in depth, I found myself frustrated with the way traditional Catholic outlets chose to cover it, which I find to have been disingenuous on several points, which I will enumerate here.

1. Fr. Capodanno's Cause Has Not Been "Canceled"


The decision of the advisory panel relates to a document known as a positio; this is essentially a summary of the candidate's cause. The advisory panel's purpose is to examine the positio, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. The positio for Fr. Capodanno's cause was examined by an advisory panel to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints in May of this year. This panel renders a consultative vote to the Dicastery; this means it is merely advisory, and the Dicastery can accept or reject the panel's recommendation. 

The advisory panel's vote recommended the suspension of the cause. However, since this vote is consultative and not binding, Fr. Capodanno's cause has not been "canceled"; it has merely hit a roadblock. The Dicastery has the option to reject the panel's judgment, and the postulator of the cause has the option to appeal, which, to my knowledge, has already been done. The Fr. Capodanno Guild itself does not believe the cause is dead. The Guild (a private association promoting Fr. Capodanno's cause), said, “Other causes have had to struggle through the process in Rome...Initial engagements with congregation leaders have emphasized the widespread interest in the cause,” the Guild said. “These leaders have responded that the possibility to move forward exists and should be pursued.” (source) Certainly, the negative vote is a setback, but it is hardly tantamount to the case of Fr. Capodanno being canceled. 


2. His Cause Was Not Suspended Because of the Ukraine War


A more important clarification relates to the reasons why the panel voted the way it did. Traditional Catholic coverage of this event focused in on the widely reported objection that "with ongoing military action in the world (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church." It was alleged that limp-wristed wokeness had torpedoed Fr. Capodanno's cause; that it was suspended for mere optics. One outlet even ran a headline that Fr. Capodanno had been "unsainted." 

In fact, the objection about the Ukraine war was only one of many. There were five reasons the panel gave for the vote of suspension. These five reasons were:
  • The positio focuses mainly on the final years of Fr. Capodanno's life. In doing so, it offers little documentation of spiritual growth over time.
  • Fr. Capodanno's own congregation, the Maryknoll Fathers, had not pursued Fr. Capodanno's cause.
  • Fr. Capodanno seemed fastidious about his appearance in such a way that may have suggested the sin of vanity.
  • Father's dissatisfaction with his assignment to Hong Kong indicates disobedience.
  • With ongoing military actions in the world today (think Ukraine), raising someone from the military for veneration may not be appropriate for our Church.
That several Catholic media outlets chose to report only the objection about Ukraine was disingenuous, as it gave the mistaken impression that squeamishness about the military was the sole reason that Fr. Capodanno was "canceled." As there were five stated reasons for suspension, any one of those reasons could have been the cause, or (more likely) it was a judgment based on the cumulative weight of all the causes. As neither the advisory panel nor the Dicastery nor the Fr. Capodanno Guild nor the Archdiocese for Military Services has stated that concerns about Ukraine were the sole reason for the suspension, it is disingenuous and false to suggest otherwise—and suggesting these reasons are "woke" is downright slanderous. They all fall within the purview of reasoned objections, as we shall see.

To those who say that "optics" or "untimeliness" are not valid objections: I agree that this objection is weak, but it is not unfounded; in my readings of Church history, I have often come across Congregations and even the Roman Pontiffs taking juridical action or refraining from it based on timeliness, or what today we would call "optics." But even if it is a weak objection, it is still perfectly legitimate to proffer weak objections.


3. Francis's Novel "New Path to Sainthood" In Play


I realize that the Fr. Capodanno Guild has responses to all of the objections of the panel. However, having not read the positio myself, I am certainly not going to comment on their merit relative to the objections. I will say, however, that the first objection is not insignificant. Traditionally, the only time one's life is not completely relevant is in the case of martyrdom. Since Fr. Capodanno's cause was not a martyrdom, his manner of living is relevant; there needs to be a demonstration of growth in virtue leading up to the time of his death.

Now, it may be responded, "Fr. Capodanno is proposed for canonization under the criteria of 'giving freely of his own life,' which does pertain to the end of the candidate's life in particular." This, in fact, is the response offered by the Guild. To this I would ask, where in Christian history have we heard of candidates being canonized for "giving freely of his own life"? If you've never heard of that path to canonization before, it's because it is a complete novelty conjured by Pope Francis in 2017 with the motu proprio Maiorem hac dilectionem. The purpose of this "new path to sainthood" was for cases whether neither martyrdom nor heroic virtue seemed applicable.

This raises several points:

(1) To my knowledge, no one has yet been beatified or canonized under the guidelines laid down in Maiorem hac dilectionem. That being the case, extra caution is prudent before proceeding. It has not been settled exactly what level of documentation is sufficient for a candidate to move forward under this process, and—given the times being what they are—it is preferable to move with greater rather than less reluctance.

(2) Granting the validity of the "new path to sainthood," this method still requires the candidate to demonstrate Christian virtues to the degree that they had a "reputation for holiness" (Art. 2). If the advisory panel believed the documentation of the positio did not demonstrate this "reputation for holiness" due to its focus on the end of Fr. Capodanno's life, then this is a legitimate objection.

(3) The idea of traditional Catholics objecting that a candidate has not gotten beatified fast enough under a novel "new path to sainthood" created by Pope Francis in 2017 is rich. 

4. Do You Want a Devil's Advocate Or Don't You?


We must now consider the content of the objections themselves. The reader may feel that these objections are trite, insignificant, and seemingly slight. I agree. However, this is a proper part of the examination of candidates for sainthood.

Traditional Catholics are habitually complaining about the elimination of the office of Devil's Advocate in modern canonizations. While the office still technically exists, its role has merely been revamped to be less adversarial, and it is true that modern canonizations no longer resemble the trial that they did in earlier ages. This is what concerns traditional Catholics—that there appears to be a lack of scrutiny, of due diligence in vetting candidates. But if we did have a Devil's Advocate exercising his traditional function, what would it look like? I refer you to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia's entry for the Advocatus Diaboli:

"To prevent any rash decisions concerning miracles or virtues of the candidates...all documents of beatification and canonization processes must be submitted to examination, and the difficulties and doubts [raised] over the virtues and miracles are laid before the congregation and must be satisfactorily answered before any further steps can be taken in the processes. It is his duty to suggest natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues...his duty requires him to prepare in writing all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight, against the raising of anyone to the honors of the altar." (source)


The Devil's Advocate is supposed to intentionally bring up all possible objections to a candidate's sanctity, even ones we consider trivial, "even at times seemingly slight." That is literally his job. To put it crassly, the job of the Devil's Advocate is to crap all over whatever candidate is brought before him, using whatever grounds he can scrape up, even if they are petty. 

Although the Devil's Advocate no longer fulfills his role in this manner, we see that the advisory panel to the Dicastery does. In examining a candidate's positio, the panel is tasked with highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the cause. In Fr. Capodanno's case, we see the panel is carrying out the function traditionally assigned to the Devil's Advocate in suggesting selfish motives for Fr. Capodanno's actions and raising "all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight" against elevating him to the altars. The Devil's Advocate (or, in this case, advisory panel) need not even believe the objections they are raising; it is their job to raise them nonetheless.

In other words, the advisory panel here was doing exactly what the Devils' Advocate used to; doing exactly what trads complain isn't being done enough. When you say you want the Devil's Advocate restored to its traditional role, this is what you are asking for. This is the sort of thing the Devil's Advocate would do, and probably more so. If you have ever said that the Devil's Advocate should be restored but take issue to these petty sorts of objections, then I respectfully suggest you need to learn more about this whole process. 

I personally think it's good that these sorts of objections are brought forward; "all possible arguments" are supposed to be made against the candidate. As mentioned above, the decision is not binding, and can be appealed. This gives the postulator, the Guild, and supporters of Fr. Capodanno to revise the positio to more specifically address the concerns of the panel. 

Do I think these specific objections merit the cause being suspended? I do not. I am frankly surprised that these objections resulted in the negative vote. But I am not surprised at the types of objections. Which brings me to my final point—

5. "We All Know How These People Are"


In my (long) experience debating these sorts of issues with traditional Catholics, when I point out that the specific facts in a case do not warrant the narrative trads are making of it, a standard response is, "Yeah, well even so, we all know how these people are."  Even if it can't be proven that Fr. Capodanno's cause was suspended because of a progressive attitude towards the military, "we all know" why they did this. It is a way to preserve the narrative despite lack of evidence; a way to say, "Even if my premises are all wrong, my conclusion still stands."

I sympathize with this. Indeed, we all do know exactly how "these people" operate. We've had ample opportunities to observe them over the past several years. Even so, the cause of a candidate for canonization is a juridical process, and as such must be subject to juridical norms. Imagine you were on trial for a crime. Imagine that you were able to empirically demonstrate conclusively that you were innocent of the charges. Now imagine, after proving your innocence, that the judge simply said, "Well, even so, we all know how you are," and found you guilty regardless. That would be a travesty of justice; it is no less a travesty to shrug off the facts here by saying, "C'mon, we all know how these people are." 

Conclusion


This post is neither pro-canonization nor anti-canonization for Fr. Capodanno. But it is pro-"support the process." And again, I want to stress, if you have ever lamented the reform of the Devil's Advocate but also dislike these sorts of trivial objections being put forward, then you are being inconsistent. Do you only want the Devil's Advocate to screen out candidates you disapprove of a priori but not apply that same rigorous screening to candidates you support? Either we apply rigorous procedural scrutiny to candidates or we don't. 

I think Fr. Capodanno deserves another round. I hope the appeal is granted and the postulator brings back a beefed up positio that definitively answers the objections raised by the panel. But the narrative that his canonization was "canceled" because the "woke" panel objected to the Ukraine War is simply untrue.







Friday, September 09, 2022

Response to Robert



Earlier this month, I was written an open letter by Robert at the lovely blog Pater Familias. This post is my response to his letter. Before you read this post, therefore, you should visit Robert's "Letter to Boniface" post and read it in order to understand my response in context.

My brother, I am touched by your correspondence. I commend you for your candor and openness. You brought up many points, to which I don't know if I will have adequate answer; but I will answer as I can, according to my poor ability. Please understand that my words here represent my own peculiar spiritual approach to the vicissitudes of life. I am no spiritual advisor and do not intend to lecture you on how you ought to be doing things; I am just one beggar telling another beggar where I have found some bread. 

You spoke of the fear that your children may one day apostasize. I understand the anxiety a father experiences over their children's faith; I have suffered with it myself occasionally, although—thanks be to God—it is something I no longer fret over. Certainly not because the world has gotten any better. Rather, it has served me well to remember what Christ has said: "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). If I wish to have peace, my focus must be on what is before me. The only moment I have any control over is the present, and this is where our Lord desires us to keep our focus. Now is the day of salvation; now is the moment of grace. What good can come of anxiety over a future that has not happened, and may never happen? The best way I can secure my children's faith in the future is to be Christlike now.

We imagine our theater of action is vastly broader than it is; in actuality, it is quite small, confined to the tiny, fleeting moment we retain control over, a moment so brief it is gone by the time we even conceive of it. But it is to our great benefit that the window is so small, for it puts our salvation into a context we can manage. The grand arc of my life, my eternal destiny, and that of my children and friends, and the will of God overarching it all—it's all too much for me to maintain in head and heart; "such knowledge is too wonderful for me; far too lofty for me to reach" (Ps. 139:6). Thank God He does not ask me to navigate such a tremendous vessel all at once! Rather, he commits to me a single oar and tells me "Row well, and live"; he entrusts me with a single coin and says, "Use this wisely." And that I can manage, especially with the aid of His grace which enlightens my mind. The burden of our salvation is actually quite small; "my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). That's not to say salvation is not of tremendous import, obviously, but it is one of the paradoxes of the Kingdom of God that the import of such a grave matter can be a burden of light and an easy yoke. Just because something is important does not mean it must be draining; I am reminded of Chesterton's famous quip, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." To achieve great things, we must become small. That includes shrinking the locus of our attention in the way Christ suggests in the Beatitudes.

This relates to our Lord's command to be as children. We usually interpret the childlike faith to relate to trust, and this is certainly true, but I think it also relates to our focus. Children are concerned only with what is before them; they take no care for tomorrow and scarcely remember yesterday. Their attention is entirely fixated upon whatever they are doing at the moment. Imagine if your own spiritual attention was so fixated on the moment! Invest that kind of focus in the here and now and you will do better. "Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?" (Matt. 6:27)

I realize this is easier said than done, especially given the darkness that is overtaking the world. You mention your disgust with the world increasing with each passing year, and a fear that your faith is being corrupted by a kind of judgmental self-righteousness. I read this part of your letter many times, contemplating it from various angles, and I think you are correct to be concerned about this matter. Our Lord does not want us to be consumed with disgust, even if we are surrounded by things that truly merit it. Jesus promised that His commandments would bring us joy. He said, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love...These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11). Our Lord intends our joy to be "full." If we are not people of joy, we therefore must stop and ask why?

The world is covered in darkness, the Church is in chaos, society is adrift, the economy is collapsing. How can we be joyful? I return, again, to my previous theme, reduction of scope; in other words, my brother, who told you any of this was your concern? Has God laid it upon you to save the world? Is the goings on of the Vatican your personal responsibility? Or are the economy and western civilization entrusted entirely to your hands? Assuredly not. Of course, there are some men whose responsibilities are much more vast; some men have been given ten talents, and their obligations are weighty. But such is not you, and such is not me. The Church? Not my concern. The country? Not my concernat least not in the sense of making it all my personal business and wasting my energy fretting about it all. Commending it all to prayer is the best we can do, fulfilling what Paul asks of Timothy, to make prayers and supplications for all all in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Then what is my concern? The Lord requires my faithfulness in the things He has entrusted to me. What talents has He put into your hand? Your work, your children, your wife, your parish. All relatively modest, when you think about it; at least vastly more so than worrying about the world, the church, and society. My brother, just be attentive to the little circle of this universe that is under your immediate gaze. Hug your wife and children. Be diligent in your daily tasks. Plant and grow your garden and rejoice in the dirt under your fingers, the greenness of grass, blueness of sky, and the wind on your face. Walk down your road and marvel at the movements of bone, sinew, and limb before the ravages of age deprive you of them. Thank God for the breath in your nostrils. 

The small things, the small things, ah, yes, that is where happiness lies, if it lies anywhere. Not in the fire, or earthquake, or roar of wind but in the still, small voice. Find Him there. I understand your restlessness to "do more" and "be more"; believe me! I feel it every day of my life. But if you want to do more, then be less. If you want Him to increase you, then decrease. In the Kingdom of our Lord, the way up is down. Instead of thinking about doing greater things, do average things with greater love. Imbue your routine with meaning, and you may find that a golden tide washes over all of it and the mundane becomes bathed in glory like a sunbeam falling through your window on a summer afternoon.

You noted that you are alarmed at your shortcomings despite doing the "right things." I see how this alarms you, but I think it alarms you more than necessary. The faith is not a matter of box-checking;  certainly these things you mentioned (Rosary, First Fridays, Adoration, etc.) are all of great importance. But we delude ourselves if we think things are going to go our way just because we have checked the boxes. There is a "not knowingness" that is inherent to faith; a kind of "not yet"—a haze that caused St. Paul say "we see in a mirror yet darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12); this mist must simply be accepted. Embrace your status as a viator; we are not yet what we will become (cf. 1 John 3:2). We are pilgrims, whose feet ache, whose brows are beaded with sweat, whose stomachs hunger; and for all our trials we do not see clearly our destinationbut it is sufficient to know we are on the road there. We wrestle with God like Jacob wrestled the angel. You must simply accept this; accept the not-knowingness. Of course, continue to do the "right things," but abandon any notion that the "right things" are going to yield some specific, concrete result in the here and now. Paradoxically, if you let go of that expectation, you might find things begin to change for you. Things change for us when we stop forcing them; the Spirit works in those realms beyond our mind and strength.

Of course it is only by grace that any of us can hang on. But what has comforted me greatly is a passage from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul says, "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not" (1 Cor. 8:12). If we yield ourselves to God in sincerity, He accepts our offering based on what we have, not what we lack. If we invest our talents faithfully, His standard of judgement is proportional to what we had to work with. The man who is given one is only expected to yield one; the man with ten is expected to yield ten. I have returned to this passage again and again to help me see my own life in perspective. I hope it may be of benefit to you as well. That we hang on by grace is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, it is a tremendous consolation, or ought to be. 

I understand loneliness all too well. I, too, am a father, but I have been divorced for several years and have no woman. I'm not sure if my loneliness is of the same as yours; I am fairly content where I am at and don't feel the urgent desire for companionship you express. Such was not always the case, though; I have spent many years learning the art of happiness. St. Paul says he had learned to be content in all situations (cf. Php. 4:11-13). I have realized over time that I, too, can be happy despite my circumstance. I can be happy even in my loneliness. Just like I can have faith even when I don't understand. I can have hope even when I feel broken. I can have love even when darkness is crashing around me. We all can.

Have you ever seen the HBO John Adams series? There is a fantastic scene at the end where John Adams, now elderly and looking back on his life, counsels his son to live in jubilation at the wonders of the mundane. I highly recommend you watch this scene if you haven't seen it before. 

Your expression of the loneliness at Adoration grieved me. I do not know what to tell you, other than such has not been my experience. But then again, when I come before our Lord, all I expect Him to do is just be. I suppose I do not contrast His "affirming" or "speaking" with His "being." When I come before Him, I come unto the ineffable light, that which simply is. And in merely beholding Him, He both affirms and speaks all that must be affirmed and all that needs be said. His gaze is transformative. Heaven is the vision of God. The only thing that ever needs to change in light of that vision is me.

I will say one more thing: when I was a new Christian, I glossed over the Beatitudes because they seemed so simple. Of course I affirmed them and believed them, but they seemed very "basic"; I was eager to get onto bigger things. I did not want milk; I was eager for meat. But now I see that what St. Paul said applied to me: "I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready" (1 Cor. 3:2). I have since gone back to the Beatitudes and found a treasure trove of riches therein, especially of value for maintaining the right balance and proper spiritual focus. I have derived more spiritual benefit from them than I ever though possible. So I encourage you to interiorize the Beatitudes until they are your very breath and the pulse in your wrist.

I apologize in advance that my answer is so poor. I fear I may not be of much help to you. But know that I have prayed for you in hopes that you, too, may find light, refreshment, and peace in His glory. 




Friday, September 02, 2022

Answering Objections about Hyperpapalism and Gregory VII


[Aug. 30, 2022] A few days ago, One Peter Five published an essay of mine entitled "Hyperpapalism Under Pope St. Gregory VII." While most feedback on the article was positive, I received some criticisms I'd like to address in a brief follow up. I don't usually respond to criticisms, but I am feeling saucy today.

The gist of the One Peter Five article is two-fold: 

(1) That historically the papal office has grown its authority by means of the gradual expansion of precedent—i.e., those prerogatives claimed by the popes by custom.

(2) While papal precedent has traditionally expanded, there were times when the popes were not successful at growing their precedential powers. A notable example was the pontificate of Gregory VII, who made radical claims about the powers of the papacy during the Investiture Controversy. Though the emperors eventually agreed to give up episcopal investiture with ring and staff, the push-back to Gregory's claims by significant segments of the Church (and state) was substantial enough that succeeding popes withdrew from Gregory's radical agenda, instead opting for a much more moderate version of his program.

I concluded with the observation that if we did not want Francis's actions to become established precedent, then we, too, need to offer "push-back" to the Franciscan program.

Regarding Dictatus papae

Some critiques I received were extremely particular gripes about my interpretation of Gregory's document Dictatus papae, specifically Article 10 ("That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches") and Article 23 ("That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter, St. Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, bearing witness, and many holy fathers agreeing with him. As is contained in the decrees of St. Symmachus the pope.").

In my essay, I reference Article 10 briefly in summary, saying, "Dictatus papae claimed...that his name alone should be said during the liturgy," which is essentially just a paraphrase of the text of Article 10. The critique is that I am interpreting Article 10 too literally; that it does not mean literally that the pope's name is the only name to be said in the liturgy, but the only name to be said universally

I respond: I offered no interpretation of Article 10. I merely paraphrased what it stated as an example of the claims of Pope Gregory VII. I my discussion of Dictatus papae, I linked to a longer essay I wrote on Dictatus papae in 2012. If the critics had read this, they would have found my analysis of Article 10:

Two interesting statements are found in Articles 10 and 11. Article 10 states “[The pope’s] name alone shall be spoken in the churches.” This clearly refers to the practice of including the name of the reigning pontiff during the Roman Canon. This decree perhaps means that the pope’s name alone shall be mentioned universally (versus bishops or secular rulers, who are only mentioned within their respective territories). Eleven is of more interest, for after establishing that only the pope’s name shall be used universally, it goes on to say of the pope “that this is the only name in the world.”

This phrase sounds a little awkward in English and makes no sense on the literal level. The Latin says Quod hoc unicum est nomen in mundo, which can also be rendered “there is only one such name [pope]” or “the title [pope] is only to be used of the Roman pontiff”, which would be a declaration against both the Holy Roman Emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople, both of whom had tried to usurp the title “Universal” in one way or another. This was already stated in article two, but perhaps it builds on Article 10, which stated that the pope’s name alone shall be spoken in the churches, and that in article eleven this is to be understood as applying universally and exclusively.

I think it is clear that I allow for varying interpretations of Article 10, none of which I argue for in my One Peter Five essay. At any rate, Dictatus papae did not come with any interpretive key, and the original context of its articles has long been lost. This is why it remains such a fascinating document—we know what it literally says, but its meaning is debated.

The second critique concerns Article 23, the strange clause where Gregory argues that a canonically elected pope "is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St. Peter." Of this I said that Gregory believed "the pope was de facto a saint by the grace of the Petrine office." The critique here was that, again, I was taking this passage too literally. It was argued that this is just another way of suggesting that the pope's authority comes by virtue of being successor of St. Peter. 

I respond, in my 2012 essay I offer three possible interpretations of this bizarre phrase, which in Latin reads "meritis beati Petri indubitanter efficitur sanctus." In 2012 I was unsure whether Gregory meant efficitur sanctus ("he becomes a saint") in the sense of literal, personal holiness. After studying Gregory's other writings, however, I am convinced this is what he meant indeed. This is corroborated by Gregory's letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz. Penned in 1081, a lengthy treatise penned in defense of Pope Gregory's policies. In this letter, Gregory expands upon the concept of efficitur sanctus. Commenting on the superiority of popes over kings, he says:

If, then, men who fear God come under compulsion with fear and trembling to the Apostolic See where those who are properly ordained become stronger through the merits of the blessed Apostle Peter, with what awe and hesitation should men ascend to the throne of a king where even good and humble men like Saul and David become worse! What we have said above is thus stated in the decrees of the blessed pope Symmachus—though we have learned it through experience: "He, that is, St. Peter, transmitted to his successors an unfailing endowment of merit together with an inheritance of innocence;" and again: "For who can doubt that he is holy who is raised to the height of such an office, in which if he is lacking in virtue acquired by his own merits, that which is handed down from his predecessor is sufficient. For either he [Peter] raises men of distinction to bear this burden or he glorifies them after they are raised up. 


The quote above can be found in “Letter to Hermann of Metz, Registrum, Book VIII, Letter 21, as found in The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII, translated with an introduction by Ephraim Emerton (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1969), pg. 174. 

We know Gregory is speaking of the same concept as Article 23 because both his letter to Hermann and Article 23 reference Pope Symmachus. This passage strongly suggests Gregory does indeed take efficitur sanctus to mean personal holiness. This is evident in several ways:

First, consider the contrast: Gregory contrasts kings who are "made worse" by their office with popes who "become stronger" through the merits of Peter. The references to Saul and David becoming "worse" is clearly a reference to their personal sins. Ergo, for the contrast to make sense, Gregory must be contrasting personal vices with personal virtues. Kingly office makes one "become worse" by temptation to personal vice; the occupant of the Apostolic See will "become stronger" by being supplied with personal virtue through the merits of Peter.

Second, notice that Gregory is speaking of the popes' personal merit. Each successor of Peter receives "an unfailing endowment of merit," but also "an inheritance of innocence." The phrase "inheritance of innocence" is awkward, but I think it is clear that he is referring to a pontiff's personal innocence, which he is provided by virtue of holding the Apostolic See. This is made explicit with his final clause, a striking passage that merits close attention:

For who can doubt that he is holy who is raised to the height of such an office, in which if he is lacking in virtue acquired by his own merits, that which is handed down from his predecessor is sufficient. For either he [Peter] raises men of distinction to bear this burden or he glorifies them after they are raised up.


Again, he says that "he is holy" by virtue of being raised to the Apostolic See. This is understood in such a sense that even if the pope lacks this virtue in a personal sense, it is provided for through the office, a Petrine "inheritance" that "glorifies" the pope after his canonical election.

This all suggests that Gregory believed that one who ascends to the papacy is possessed of a kind of "supplied holiness" by the merits of St. Peter. This sanctity is described with the words "holy," "endowment of merit," "inheritance of innocence," "virtue," and "glorifies," all of which are used in a personal sense. This letter provides the context for Dictatus papae Article 23, and anyone suggesting Gregory does not mean this must offer a better interpretation of this passage. At any rate, I do not think I am amiss for taking the obvious interpretation, and I cited this passage as support in my One Peter Five essay.

I will grant that it is an admittedly obscure text and concept; but if it is so, it is precisely because it was not reaffirmed by successive popes, which was the point I was trying to establish by citing it to begin with.

Supporting Heretics


One critique I predicted when I wrote the essay is that the argument "supports heretics" by citing the enemies of Pope St. Gregory VII to establish a point. After all, these opponents of Gregory were arguing in favor of Emperor Henry IV, a repeat excommunicate. And they supported a practice (lay investiture) that was ultimately condemned by the Church. What sort of pathetic point must I be trying to make if I am enlisting these chaps in my corner?

The citation of men like Gerard of York, Hugh of Fleury, St. Ivo of Chartres, Wido of Osnabrück, et al is not meant to be taken as an endorsement of their ideas. I am not concerned with the content of their protest but the mere fact of their protest. As I stated in the One Peter Five essay:

These examples are not cited to argue that the positions of the pope’s opponents were correct. Many of them had their own problems...This is all irrelevant; the point is simply that there was significant, sustained opposition from the European episcopate.

Those who opposed Gregory VII did so for many reasons: some were political hacks just doing what Emperor Henry IV wanted them to do, some agreed in principle to Gregory's reforms but opposed the pace at which he sought to implement them; others affirmed Gregory's crusade against simony but opposed his ideas about lay investiture; some agreed that laymen should not dominate the Church but denied that kings and emperors were laymen; others believed that Gregory had valid points but that custom should take precedence; some denied the theoretical powers Gregory claimed; others affirmed Gregory's claims of spiritual authority but denied his aspirations to temporal supremacy; some, like St. Ivo of Chartres, were saintly men whose opposition was motivated by a sincere zeal for the good of the Church; others were just hoping to maintain their ill-gotten benefices obtained through bribery. The point is, we do ourselves much harm when we segregate historical characters into good guys and bad guys, especially within the Church. There is usually a diversity of motivations that need to be studied to truly understand the times. 

It is not "supporting heretics" to observe the phenomenon of broad opposition to Pope Gregory's ideas. I am not defending any specific rationale for their opposition, merely noting that Gregory's teaching provoked opposition and was considered radical. This is the common consensus of historians on this period. In the essay I cite medievalist Norman F. Cantor who, speaking of the ideals enshrined in Dictatus papae, said, “Dictatus papae was a sensational and extremely radical document, and it is inconceivable to think that Hildebrand [Gregory VII] was so naïve as to not realize that it would make that impression.” Gregory's document was radical and was perceived as such, most likely by the pope himself as well.

Ultimately, viewing Church history merely a series of villains and heroes isn't helpful if we want to truly understand the history. People are not dramatic foils, and even if one side was wrong on one point does not mean they were wrong on all points, nor that the "good guys" did not have their own problems. Not every historical observation is made to score a point for a side. 

"Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel"


Finally, my favorite: a critique of the overall thrust of the article, suggesting that I am pathetically scraping the bottom of the barrel by "going all the way back" to Gregory VII to find ammunition to attack contemporary Ultramontanism. This critique is annoying for two reasons:

My article is not a polemic against contemporary Ultramontanism. It is a historical observation about the ebb and flow of papal power in previous ages and how that may apply to current discussions about papal authority. It may have import in the current discussions about hyperpapalism, but that is secondary.

Furthermore, the charge of "going all the way back" to Gregory VII is confusing to me. As Catholics, "going all the way back" is what we do. The pontificate of Gregory VII was pivotal in the history of the Church, marking the turning point between two differing conceptions of ecclesiastical power that had characterized the first and second millennia of Christendom. This period was not inconsequential, and the implication that our history has less relevance the further back we go is not a Catholic approach. Ridiculing an argument because its source material is "old" is a tactic that has been used before, but not by serious Catholic scholars.

* * * * *  

I could say more but I think this is sufficient. Hopefully these concepts have provoked further discussion on these important matters we are all trying to understand.



[1] Norman Cantor, Medieval History, 2nd ed. (Toronto: MacMillan Co., 1971), 286