Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Peter, this is the Lord himself! Abandon the position!" When a Future Pope Pretended to be God to Get a Current Pope to Resign

Benedict attending the remains of Pope Celestine V

Before Benedict XVI, in the almost 2,000 year history of the papacy, as many as ten popes may have abdicated or resigned. I say "may have" because most of the "resignations" are historically uncertain. What is known is that, assuming the truth of each resignation account, all but one occurred due to circumstances of violence or political necessity or pressure.

The only "peaceful" resignation was that which has the least attestation - John XVIII (1004-1009), who according to one (and only one) source voluntarily chose to end his life as a monk.

Pontian (230-235) and Marcellinus (296-304) were arrested, tortured and executed by Roman authorities, possibly abdicating before the end. If Liberius (352-355 or 352-366) resigned (which the Church itself and most historians now dispute) it was due to being exiled by the Arian emperor Constantius II. The unfortunate Benedict V (964, 1 month) was deposed by Emperor OttoSylvester III (1045, 1 month), Gregory VI (1045-1046) and Benedict IX (three non-consecutive reigns from 1032-1048 involving at least two abdications) all resigned due to the complex and violent political and family rivalries of the time. Gregory XII (1406-1415) resigned to end the Western Schism.

Arrest, torture, banishment, Italians fighting, schism.

Benedict XVI claimed that he resigned partly because he didn't feel up to attending World Youth Day. This is one reason why some people are a bit put off by the whole thing.

But I digress.

Perhaps the most interesting confirmed papal resignation story is that of Celestine V (1294, 161 days), the reluctant hermit pope.

"Peter of Murrone" was a celebrated monk who had founded a new Benedictine order that would later take his papal name.

In 1294 he was 79 years old and living in a hut on top of a mountain in Abruzzo.

In the meantime, the cardinals in Rome had been deadlocked for two years on electing a new pope after the death of Nicholas IV in 1292. It is recorded that Peter himself had warned them that Christ would take vengeance if they didn't quickly come to a decision.

This may have been a mistake.

The cardinals chose Peter.

In one of his popular histories of the Church, Malachi Martin colorfully describes the cardinals and others scrambling up to reach Peter and inform him of their decision. May I be forgiven for observing that it reads like something out of Monty Python:
One fine day in the year 1294, Peter had some visitors. Climbing laboriously up his mountain came three bishops, a Roman senator, a cardinal with his retinue, a group of noblemen and knights, and several thousand people. They suddenly invaded the mountainside clamoring for his approval, begging him in the name of Jesus to utter the magic words: "I accept the grade of Pope."
...A young monk rushed in whispering that the "Saracens were invading the monastery." Up the mountainside outside Peter's tiny hut about 7,000 people were led by mounted knights, the three bishops, and the cardinal, all at the end of their tether, each one intent on being the first to reach the pope-elect. Peter's hut was obvious to them. The oldest of the bishops advanced, peered in through the little opening and found himself looking at the haggard face and timid gaze of a very old man. "Peter, our beloved brother, it has seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit to choose your Excellency as successor of Peter the Apostle, Rector of the Universal Church, and Father of all mankind. Do you accept?" A shout went up from the 7,000: "Long live Pope Peter, our Father. Long live the Bishop of Rome! Long live Peter!"

It took Peter only a few minutes. His monks, now free of their initial fright, ran from their hiding places, shouting: "The Call! The Call! The Prophetic Kingdom is here! The Call! The Call!"
The waiting cardinal and bishops saw Peter's eyes gazing meditatively on the crowds, then up over their heads to the surrounding mountains and the skies. Certainly there was peace in his hermitage, the face of the sweet-smelling earth and shining skies, the nights alone with the stars and the whispering winds, his colloquies with streams and flowers. Could it be that the Lord wanted him to leave? The cardinal and bishops who were nearly beside themselves with worry that he would not talk, much less leave his hut, finally heard the long-desired words: "I accept the grade of Pope."
...The monks all ran about in a veritable ecstasy, chanting: "Paradiso! Paradiso! Come all ye Turks and Jews! Believe in Jesus Christ. Rise, Christian soldiers! Kill all infidels!"
The crowds knelt down, extending their hands and shouting: "Blessing! Blessing! Holy Father! Blessing!"
At length, Peter appeared around the corner of his hut. He raised his hand and blessed them in an immense silence.
Then they placed him on a donkey and the procession set out.
Peter was duly crowned. It soon became clear however that while he was a good and holy man (he would later be proclaimed a saint), Celestine, as he had named himself, was completely unprepared to be a pope, unable to deal with the worldly machinations of his court, to say nothing of actually reforming (as he had originally very much desired) the papal bureaucracy.

King Charles of Naples installed him in his own castle and, there, built him a special hermit's cell. Charles attempted to control him but also had a favorite, Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, waiting in the wings to replace him. Here is Martin again:
But there was no peace for Peter. They extracted him from his cell periodically, set him on a throne, surrounded him with clerics, quick witted, wily, smiling, obsequious, whispering, always whispering. The people who came to see him never got to him. The clerics were always talking monies or politics or plots. Between him and the people there was woven a labyrinthine web—a wall—of intrigue, of lies, of servitude, of deceit. And always Gaetani in the background. Gaetani whispering, eyeing him sideways, never smiling, bowing his head at everything Peter said.
Perhaps he should resign? Martin narrates another Monty Pythonesque scene:
He now saw himself trapped. All he could achieve would be silent heroism of a particular kind: to be plotted against, to be laughed at, to be held a fool, to be deceived, to be treated like an idiot by the great and the mighty. Even to be done to death. Could that be what Jesus wanted?
Late one night in that November of 1294 when he was still pope, Peter was wakened by a sepulchral voice talking in the darkness of his papal hermit's cell. "Peter! Peter! My servant! Peter!"
Automatically, Peter said: "Yes, my Lord." Then he began to realize the pit of insane foolishness into which they intended to shove him. "Peter!" the voice went on, "this is the Lord himself!"
The undertones of that voice began to strike an eerie note of familiarity in Peter's consciousness. "Arise, Peter! Abandon this position! Retire to Murrone! Pray! Peter! Pray! Pray! Pray!"
There was much more of the same. Peter could not mistake those accents after a few moments. Gaetani had never been able to pronounce the "t;" it always came out sounding like a "d." He even called himself "Gaedani."
Peter was not fooled, but Gaetani's trick worked to the extent that by the following morning, Peter had made up his mind. He would abdicate.
Did this actually happen?

Malachi Martin, a learned but colorful figure himself, presumably sourced this from John Gower's Confessio Amantis, though as far as I know Gower, a friend of Chaucer, did not allege that it was Gaetani himself who pretended to be God but rather that it was a confederate.

Regardless, the record is clear that Celestine did resign. And Gaetani succeeded him, becoming Pope Boniface VIII. Ex-pope Celestine would soon be captured and imprisoned by Boniface and would die in custody. Some say he was smothered with a pillow on the pope's orders, though this is disputed.

The papacy enjoys supernatural protection. Or so Catholics believe. But the actual history is, shall we say, rough. To say nothing of the men who occupied the throne.

What will future historians say of our own period?

Will it be banal:

The annoyances of World Youth Day in Rio, to be replaced by writing, prayer and the occasional tall beer.

Or is there something more going on?

Who is the Bishop in white?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Twitter Poll Result: Majority of Traditionalist Catholics Not Certain Francis is Pope

Okay, the post title sounds a bit like it's from the Onion.

I suppose I could have titled it "Twitter Poll result: Water is Wet."

But still.

The majority of traditionalist Catholics either do not believe Francis is the pope, are uncertain if he is, or are unwilling to commit to saying so.

Or so say two silly Twitter polls I just did.

Yes, they're silly Twitter polls and only silly Twitter polls. They feature, respectively, 597 and 732 "votes" from my followers and those who received retweets from my followers, etc.

But I have no good reason reason to believe they inaccurately track the views of traditionalist Catholics as a whole.

What is a "traditionalist Catholic"? I suppose we might define it as the label for those who take seriously the traditional teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Since the Catholic religion is based on tradition - beginning with the "tradition" of the Old and New Testaments - one might be forgiven for saying it denotes those who take their Catholicism seriously.

I don't find the poll results shocking or surprising. I'm sure you don't either. Among other things it fits with the anecdotal evidence I've gathered from speaking with Catholic acquaintances, friends and fellow parishioners, both in person and online, over the past many months.

But looked at another way, the general fact is indeed a shock. Who would have predicted it, say, six years ago? While Vatican II and the pontificate of Paul VI did cause many thousands of Catholics to become (and remain) sedevacantists, sedevacantism has always been a decidedly "fringe" movement that, as far as I can tell, has essentially been frozen in numbers for many years.

That most serious Catholics have at the least doubts about the actual identity of the current pope, with a quarter to perhaps almost a half believing that the current apparent occupant of the chair is, to put it unsubtly, an imposter or anti-pope is of course unprecedented in modern times.

Some words about the voting sample: 

I assume most of my Twitter followers, or receivers of the retweets of my followers, fall into the "traditionalist" or "serious" categories. To the extent that some may not, it would only increase the "doubts about Francis" numbers among those who do - as one wouldn't expect many lukewarm or non-Catholics to vote "Benedict" or have doubts about the identity of the current pope, etc.

Do my Twitter followers (or those who receive the retweets of my Twitter followers, etc.) make up a diverse and relatively representative sample of traditionalist Catholics? Actually, I think they do. If you think it's all people who agree with me about everything, you haven't been reading my feed recently. 

But enough of the preliminaries. Here are the two poll questions and results:

December 24-25 (not the most optimum time for a Twitter poll, I admit, but still):
Who is currently the pope? (597 votes, total) 
Francis, 52%, 310 votes a. 
Benedict, 27%, 161 votes a. 
Someone else, 1%, 6 votes a. 
No one, 20%, 120 votes a.

This seemed to show a slight majority for Francis over the sum of the other alternatives, or a two-thirds majority if the "No one" category is removed.

As many pointed out, that poll did not include an option for, among other things, those who were unsure. Another twitter friend pointed out that the wording might have biased things a bit towards Francis in that before "pope" it did not include "true" or "actual", etc.

So I decided to do another poll, which only ended a few minutes ago:

December 26-27:
Who do you think is currently the true pope? (732 votes, total) 
Francis, 38%, 278 votes a. 
Benedict, 24%, 176 votes a. 
Not sure/not my call, 19%, 139 votes a. 
Other/the seat is vacant, 19%, 139 votes a.

I interpret the 14% fall off in Francis votes (and the only 3% fall off in Benedict votes) to indicate that a quarter or more of the original Francis total was "soft". Some voted "Francis" in the first poll because the options told them they had to commit to someone, but many were in fact unsure.

What would the poll results look like if we liberally (and almost certainly falsely) assume that all of the "no" and "other" votes were from classical sedevacantists - people who would have voted "the seat is vacant" in all polls for the last sixty years worth of popes? I ask this not to disenfranchise sedevacantists but to attempt to isolate the "Benedict/Francis" effect. The results would change somewhat. Francis gets a clear majority if one has to commit (Poll 1), but still fails to achieve one if one doesn't (Poll 2).

Poll 1:
Who is currently the pope? (471 votes, total) 
Francis, 66%, 310 votes a. 
Benedict, 34%, 161 votes a.
Poll 2:
Who do you think is currently the true pope? (593 votes, total) 
Francis, 47%, 278 votes a. 
Benedict, 30%, 176 votes a. 
Not sure/not my call, 23%, 139 votes a.
One could, if one wanted, make other methodological assumptions to whittle away the remaining slight "doubts about Francis" majority in the second poll. But what would be the point? It's clear that the Francis reign coupled with the bizarre circumstances of Benedict's exit and pope emeritus behavior - living within the Vatican, the white cassock and all the rest - have led to unprecedented doubts and uncertainty about the actual identity of the pope among serious Catholics, and it's reasonable to assume that such doubts and uncertainties will only grow.

Some have argued that the best attitude is to essentially punt on the question. It doesn't matter who is pope. We can't know. It's not up to us to say. And so on.

That, in and of itself, is of course damning. And who would have predicted it six years ago?

We don't merely have a bad pope. Not even merely a really bad pope. Something else is going on.

Or so most traditionalist Catholics now believe. At least according to our Twitter feed.