The splendor and death of ultramontanism

15 11 2019

Reading John O’Malley’s recent book Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church in the context of the last few years of the Catholic Church is a peculiar experience. On the one hand, Vatican I shows how a Pope Francis is possible in spite of supposed centuries of settled doctrine and praxis. The Pope can do what he likes and there is no real mechanism to stop him (prima sedes a nemine iudicatur). On the other hand, the Jesuit papacy is the next stage of the backlash against Papal power that started at Vatican II (though this received a major assist from “reactionary” Pope Benedict’s casting off the Papacy in a manner unprecedented in modern times.) Previous devotees of the monarchical Papacy are now finding their “inner Gallican”, if not their barely suppressed inner sedevacantist, while rebels of the past are taking up the mantle of past defenders of the cult of the Papacy. The wheel of fortune was spun once more and turned everything upside down. Those who think that things will “return to normal” are quite mistaken in my opinion. Read the rest of this entry »

Misc. Cath. stuff

10 02 2011

From dotCommonweal, I found this rather interesting link. Here are the money quotes:

A sympathetic priest in Rome who has known Paul for 40 years said recently: “The Pope knows better than anyone else that he is a failure. He has a strong sense of history. After the turmoil following upon the Vatican Council, it will take two or three generations to reconstruct Catholicism. It is Paul’s fate to sit on the papal throne at the worst possible time, beset both by those who want to change nothing. The Vatican Council released demons. Paul, poor fellow, has no friends — at least he has no solid constituency. Right now he may be the loneliest man in the world.”…

Paul has appointed a number of Frenchmen to high Vatican posts, including Cardinal Villot, his secretary of state. Even his Italian appointees tend to a French point of view. “What we need now,” one hears more and more among the Pope’s in-house critics, “is a genuine Italian pope, like John XXIII.” A real Italian they argue, would know how to handle the present crisis of Catholicism, because of the Italian ability to make adjustments when a battle appears to be lost. On the contrary, the Frenchmen around Paul — a group sometimes called the Pope’s French Mafia — reinforce his abstract, overly analytic, intellectualist assessment of the Church’s problem and his disdain of compromise.

Here one should comment that Pope John Paul II’s reign changed everything. Looking at this series of articles, it is hard not to see that it sort of wiped out everything that came before it, both “traditionalist” and “progressive”. I think I would term it a “Napoleonic papacy”, in that it was the revolution in the Church stabilizing itself. But I have argued this line enough before.
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Sh*# my Pope says

23 11 2010

Or: Our anti-ultramontanist rant of the week

If I were to crystallize my view of church authority in general, it would go something like:

Ex opere operato works only for the sacraments. Every other work of God in creation is mediated, and in some sense up for grabs.

The necessary corollary to this is that we must give due deference to the directives of our pastors, there are some cases where a statement does not have to be infallible in order to be definitive, blah, blah, blah. But even in spite of all of these qualifying statements, the idea is still that none of this is written in the heavens or is particularly comprehensive. Just because something has been defined does not mean that we somehow understand everything involved in the issue, or that it won’t mean something radically different three centuries from now, etc. Often, even such definitive or authoritative statements mean that open discussion can no longer be had about such and such a topic. It does not necessarily mean that the infinite weight of the truth has been revealed in it, or that the position is now an attribute of God, and so forth.
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The Metaphysics of the Evil Eye

11 02 2010

Part II – The Pope and jettatura

From The Evil Eye, by Frederick Thomas Elworthy:

Pope Pio Nono was supposed to be a jettatore, and the most devout Catholics, whilst asking his blessing, used to point two fingers at him. I remember once in Nice there was a gentleman who had this reputation. The Préfet, being a Frenchman, invited him to a ball. He soon, however, discovered that if the jettatore came many others would not, and he had to convey to him delicately the request not to accept the invitation.”

Ask a Roman about the late Pope’s evil eye reputation, and he will answer: “They said so, and it seems really to be true. If he had not the jettatura, it is very odd that everything he blessed made fiasco. We all did very well in the campaign against the Austrians in ’48. We were winning battle after battle, and all was gaiety and hope, when suddenly he blessed the cause, and everything went to the bad at once. Nothing succeeds with anybody or anything when he wishes well to them. When he went to S. Agnese to hold a great festival, down went the floor, and the people were all smashed together. Then he visited the column to the Madonna in the Piazza di Spagna, and blessed it and the workmen; of course one fell from the scaffold the same day and killed himself. He arranged to meet the King of Naples at Porto d’Anzio, when up came a violent gale, and a storm that lasted a week; another arrangement was made, and then came the fracas about the ex-queen of Spain.

“Again, Lord C—— came in from Albano, being rather unwell; the Pope sent him his blessing, when, pop! he died right off in a twinkling. There was nothing so fatal as his blessing. I do not wonder the workmen at the column in the Piazza di Spagna refused to work in raising it unless the Pope stayed away!”

Mr. Story tells another tale–of Rachel and a rosary blessed by the Pope, which she wore on her arm as a bracelet. She had been visiting a sister who was ill in the Pyrenees, but one day she was so much better, that Rachel left her to visit another sister. While laughing and chatting merrily, a message arrived that she must return instantly as a fit had come on. Rising like a wounded tigress, she seemed to seek some cause for this sudden blow. Her eye fell on the rosary, and in rage and disappointment she tore it from her wrist, and dashed it to the ground, exclaiming: “O fatal gift! ’tis thou hast entailed this curse upon me!” and immediately sprang out of the room. Her sister died the day after.


We can question if this is from a reputable source, but considering the fortune of Pope Pius IX, such stories would be hardly surprising if true.

Modern Catholics, as I have been writing of late, tend to have this tendency to think that the Church and the world function exactly along the lines of a well organized PTA meeting. God is nice, the saints are our friends, the world is governed by rational principles just like a clock… But the idea that a Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth, could be the cause of curses, and that the saints can “punish” you just as well as help you… that seems like complete blasphemy to the modern, sanitized Catholic ear. What do you think we are? Pagans?!

As I have said in the past, to be deeper in history is to cease to be anything. We have changed, and perhaps are changing, too much.

All the Church news that’s fit to print

20 01 2010

The thought of Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx is examined in this rather perceptive article in the New York Times about the Church in the last seventy years.

I thought this quote in particular to be the most pertinent:

Like many Catholic theologians who influenced the council, Father Schillebeeckx had reacted against the neo-scholastic theology that the church adopted in the 19th century as a bulwark against hostile modern ideas. Distilled from the thought of Thomas Aquinas but frequently handed on without any examination of Aquinas’s writings or their medieval context, this neo-scholasticism articulated the faith in series of abstract concepts and propositions presented as absolute, ahistorical and immutable.

Father Schillebeeckx found alternative intellectual resources in modern phenomenology, with its meticulous attention to the actual experience of consciousness. And by studying Aquinas in his medieval context, he recovered a Thomism that expounded the presence and mystery of God in far less rationalistic and conceptual ways than did its neo-scholastic versions.

Of course, a lot of these thoughts are rather broad generalizations. But for me, they articulate again that, in many ways, the Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II Church was not all that old. Such things as frequent Communion, Gregorian chant, militant reactionary social teaching, and Baltimore Catechism-style formulations of the faith were just as much a product of modernity and its scholarship as the thought of Loisy or the public services of Taizé.
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Papal Coronation Oath

15 02 2009


I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort; To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order, should such appear; to guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the divine ordinance of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, whose place I take through the Grace of God, whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess; I swear to God Almighty and the Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared. I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I. If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice. Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone — be it Ourselves or be it another — who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the orthodox Faith and the Christian religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.

I post this not in order to further throw my hat into the ring of traditionalist conspiracy theorists who seem to think that the last two Popes were invalidly installed since they omitted this oath, but rather to show such an oath as evidence for a different and increasingly lost sense of the nature of authority in the Church. One cannot reduce the truth of Christianity to a mechanism of who can make an authoritative statement; authority lies in paradosis, the fact that the Church passes on wholly and integrally the Faith given to the Apostles. Neither is their a charism to “develop” or “expand upon” it, and even the Pope himself, supposedly not subject to anyone else on earth (prima sedes a nemine judicatur), puts himself under obedience to the decrees of his predecessors and holy Tradition. In other words, authority admits something above itself. The truth of the Gospel is the “being” of the Church, its foundational essence, and as the scholastic adage goes: operatio esse sequitur (act follows from being).
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