Pope Saint Callixtus I – Laxity, Contraception, Abortion in AD 217

What happens when you have canonized Catholic saints criticizing and resisting a canonic Catholic pope? That’s exactly what happened with Pope Saint Callixtus I, who died in AD 223.

Tertullian and Origen spoke against Pope Callixtus for his laxity. And Saint Hippolytus became the Catholic Church’s first antipope in resistance to Pope Callixtus who he saw as promoting and allowing: contraception, abortion, heresy, and easy-penance.

Why the conflict?

Before we get started I want to stress that all this happened 100 years before Constantine legalized Catholicism. Some wrongly assume that before Constantine the Church of Rome was a happy assembly of saints without church politics. Not quite. The Church of Rome has been plagued with conflict and controversy from the very beginning (as detailed in this book).

The document Philosophumena (attributed to Saint Hippolytus of Rome) recounts how Pope Callixtus had once been a Roman slave belonging to a Christian master named Carpophorus. Carpophorus placed his slave Callixtus (the future pope) in charge of funds that he had collected from other Christians for the care of orphans, widows, and the poor.

Callixtus the slave who lost all the money. He fled Rome but was discovered boarding a ship near Portus, the harbor city of Rome. Callixtus jumped overboard to avoid capture but was arrested nonetheless and taken back to his Christian master Carpophorus.

In an attempt to recover the money, Callixtus the slave physically assaulted Jews inside a Roman synagogue in attempt to either get a loan from the Jews or to collect debts from Jews. He was re-arrested. At this time, he was denounced as a Christian (probably by the Roman Jews) and sent as a prisoner to the mines of Sardinia.

Enter the Emperor Commodus. Commodus was the son of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. You likely remember him from the film Gladiator:

The Emperor Commodus had a “Christian” mistress named Marcia (you might be surprised to learn that Rome one hundred years later had a collection of so-called “Christian prostitutes” that were regulated by Constantine’s son). The “Christian mistress” Marcia was served by a eunuch named Hyacinth who was also an ordained presbyter. (100 years later, eunuchs were banned from ordination at the Council of Nicea).

Marcia and Hyacinth appealed to the Roman Emperor Commodus for the release of Christian prisoners from the mines of Sardinia. This imperial intervention effected the release of Callixtus and other Christians in the mines. Life in the mines was rough and they had suffered there as witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ. These Christians were honored by Christians back in Rome as quasi-martyrs.

Callixtus’s Rise to the Papacy:

  • Pope Victor I as Bishop of Rome honored Callixtus with a monthly pension from the Catholic Church, supposedly to honor him as a living confessor (one who suffered for Christ, but did not die).
  • Pope Zephyrinus (successor of Victor I) honored Callixtus in AD 199 by ordaining him as one of the prestigious “seven deacons of Rome,” and appointed him as guardian of the catacombs along the Appian Way. To this day, these catacombs are named after Callixtus as the “Catacombs of Saint Callixtus.” From his time until the time of Constantine, this catacomb became the ceremonial burial place for nine bishops of Rome. (Origen visited Rome during the reign of Pope Zephyrinus.)
  • Deacon Callixtus became the chief advisor of Pope Zephyrinus in Rome.
  • In AD 217, Pope Zephyrinus received the crown of martyrdom and the Deacon Callixtus was the obvious choice for Bishop of Rome.
  • Callixtus became Pope in AD 217 and established Santa Maria in Trastevere as his principle “cathedral” in Rome (this was before the Lateran basilica was given to the Church by Constantine and before the construction of the basilica at the Vatican).

Pope Callixtus as a “Lax Pope”:

Callixtus’s “pre-mining” life had been one of financial controversy, and yet he had proved himself faithful to Christ in the mines and worthy of respect and office in the Church of Rome. Perhaps it was his controversial past that lead to his position of laxity for the Church in Rome.

In AD 217 (the first year of his Pontificate), Pope Callixtus issued the “Decree of 217” which scandalized many, especially Tertullian who documents the episode. The Decree of 217 stated that penance and absolution would be enough to re-admit Christians to the Eucharist for the seven sins previously restricted. These seven sins were:

  1. murder
  2. idolatry
  3. fraud
  4. apostasy (publicly renouncing Jesus Christ)
  5. blasphemy
  6. adultery (sex with someone besides your spouse)
  7. fornication (sex outside marriage)
    (this list is found in Tertullian’s De Pudicitia*, Ch 19).

Pope Callixtus also allowed:

  • not requiring public penance from heretics entering the Catholic Church.
  • clergy t0 marry before and after ordination.
  • noble women to contract Christian marriages with plebs and slaves (forbidden by Roman law).

The Christians at the time were divided on this lax approach to sinners.

  • Tertullian openly wrote and taught against the lax novelties of Pope Callixtus.
  • The Greek-speaking Roman priest Hippolytus was elected as a rival Bishop of Rome and became the Church’s first Anti-Pope.
  • Origen relates how when he was in Rome he heard the famous Hippolytus preach – showing that Origen was sympathetic with Hippolytus’ theology. It seems however that Origen greatly respected the Bishop of Rome and that he heard Hippolytus preach before Hippolytus presumed to become a rival Bishop in Rome. Nevertheless, Origen’s strictness would seem to make him more sympathetic with the ancient practice of making sacramental absolution rare.

In general, opponents of Pope Callixtus alleged that his policies would lead to a lower of morals among Christians, and this proved to the case with regard to contraception and abortion.

The Problem of Abortion and Contraception among Christians during the time of Pope Callixtus:

Hippolytus laments that Catholic women in Rome began to engage in contraception and abortion during the lax reign of Pope Callixtus:

Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round [their belly], so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time! And withal, after such audacious acts, they, lost to all shame, attempt to call themselves a Catholic Church.

For Hippolytus, this rise in contraception and abortion among Roman Christian women was a sign that the laxity of Pope Callixtus was bearing evil fruit.

Five or six years later, Pope Callixtus received the crown of martyrdom in AD 222 or 223 and was enrolled in the number of the saints. His feast day is October 14.

Conclusion:

Do grace and mercy lead to laxity. It’s a common question: If God forgives me no matter what, why not just keep sinning? Why change my life at all?

This precise question is tackled by Saint Paul in his epistle to the Romans 6:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried[a] therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

It was and will be a perennial question for Christians in every age. If a Christian can just “pray the prayer” (as Evangelicals say), just be baptized, just go to confession, or just get an indulgence, why live like a saint?

Problems also with Rigorism:

But there is an opposite error. If the forgiveness of sin is rigorous (as it was before AD 217), two results follow:

  1. First, is simply despair. If forgiveness if far off, why even try?
  2. There is a second result that I would like to suggest that I rarely see in Patristic studies. I believe that the popularity of Gnosticism and Gnostic sects the exploded in the 100s was partly due to the lack of access to sacramental absolution. Gnostics promised that there were secret ways (not depending on morality or absolution) that allowed access to God. If a Christian had fallen into apostasy, murder, or adultery and could not find forgiveness and communion within the Catholic Church, there would be extreme pressure to join a Gnostic cult where immediate salvation and access to God was assured.

All Catholics today (even the SSPX) would grant that Pope Callixtus made the correct move, by allowing for “easy” absolution of grave sins before the time of death. (Easy, by the way, still entailed periods of public penance.) Did this new laxity come with a price? Yes. Did Catholic women try to “get away” with contraception and abortion? Yes. Does that still happen today? Yes.

Is the solution to this form of laxity to make the conditions for sacramental absolution more strict? No. I don’t think so. People can and will take advantage of grace in every age. There is no way to prevent that. However, we must always be in a position to recognize the forgiveness and mercy of Christ who was ready to immediately forgive the repentant Peter, Thomas, Paul, et al.

Question: I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic of lax vs. rigorous absolution. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

When Parents Die: Vladimir Lenin vs St John Paul II

When Vladimir Lenin’s father died, he declared that God could not exist, and he became and atheist and Marxist.

When Karol Wojtyła’s mother died, his faith in Christ became deeper, and he became a priest, became Pope John Paul II, and was later canonized as a saint.

Both men had pious fathers and both men lost their parents.

However, Lenin became a tyrant and mass-murderer. John Paul II became an inspiration for the entire world and pointed people to return to faith in Christ.

What made the difference in their life choices?

Question: Please leave a comment to share your ideas or thoughts on this. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Can you be a Christian and a Socialist? The Popes Say No

Popes have taught clearly that "Christian" and "Socialist" are mutually exclusive

Early this week, I posted “Catholic Condemnation of Socialism in 5 Papal Quotes (Pope Leo XIII Puts the Smack Down on Socialism)” and as expected, folks came out of the word work saying things like “Aha! But the Church doesn’t condemn Christian Socialism, but only condemns Marxist or atheistic Socialism.”

This isn’t true. Simply read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum and you’ll discover that he condemns Socialism as an economic error contrary to natural law and social justice. But if that does not convince you, here are some quotes from subsequent Popes further laying the smack down on Socialism and even on so-called “Christian Socialism”:

Pius XI against “Christian Socialism”:

Here is a quote form Pope Pius XI on the 40th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum showing that “Catholic Socialism” or “Christian Socialism” is condemned by the Catholic Faith:

“Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true Socialist.” (Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, May 15, 1931. n. 120)

You cannot be “a good Catholic and a true Socialist.” It just doesn’t get any clearer than that! In that same encyclical, Pius XI also teaches:

“We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.” (Quadragesimo Anno, n. 117)

The important distinction made by Pope Pius XI is that even if Socialism is modified to “truth and justice on the points” of error, it “cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church.” Socialism is inherently broken and motivated by covetousness. Socialism is, they say, the Gospel of Envy.

And one extra quote from Pius IX on Captitalism as not fundamenetally flawed as is Socialism:

“Capitalism itself is not to be condemned. And surely it is not vicious of its very nature, but it has been vitiated.”

Socialism is inherently flawed and condemned. Capitalism is not condemned. Capitalism is instrumentally neutral. It can be used for virtue or it can be used for vice (“vitiated”).

Pope John XXIII against “Moderate Socialism”:

And I’ve heard it said by some Catholics: “Yeah, but Leo XIII and Pius XI didn’t live to see later moderations of Socialism, so what they were condemning was an earlier form of Socialism.” In order to refute this objection, we have have Pope Saint John XXIII’s reiteration and approval of the previous papal condemnations of Socialism [the comments in red are my own]:

Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism [Catholics cannot even try to modify Socialism!]. The reason is that Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being [Socialism is fundamentally materialistic and closed off to the spiritual]. Since, therefore, it proposes a form of social organization which aims solely at production; it places too severe a restraint on human liberty, at the same time flouting the true notion of social authority.”
(Pope John XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961, n. 34)

Pope John XXIII teaches us that:

  • Pius XI was right on Socialism as being opposed to Christianity
  • Catholics may not subscribe “even to moderate Socialism”
  • Socialism is materialistic
  • Socialism restrains human liberty

Pope Paul VI on Socialism as Corrupt Ideology:

And Pope Paul VI also condemned Socialism in 1971 on the 80th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum against Socialism:

“Too often Christians attracted by Socialism tend to idealize it in terms which, apart from anything else, are very general: a will for justice, solidarity and equality. They refuse to recognize the limitations of the historical socialist movements, which remain conditioned by the ideologies from which they originated.” (Paul VI, Octogesima Adveniens, May 14, 1971, n. 31)

Pope John Paul II as Reaffirming Leo XIII’s original condemnation of Socialism:

On the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s condemnation of Socialism, Pope John Paul II issued the document Centesimus Annus reiterating the Catholic condemnation of Socialism:

It may seem surprising that Socialism appeared at the beginning of the Pope’s critique of solutions to the ‘question of the working class’ at a time when ‘socialism’ was not yet in the form of a strong and powerful State, with all the resources which that implies, as was later to happen. However, he correctly judged the danger posed to the masses by the attractive presentation of this simple and radical solution to the ‘question of the working class.’” (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, May 1, 1991, n. 12)

John Paul II lived under Socialism and understood its corruption of the working class. He perceived Leo XIII as a prophetic voice at the turn of the century.

The Popes of the 20th century explicitly teach that whether we modify Socialism in the shape of “Moderate Socialism,” or “Christian Socialism,” or “Theistic Socialism,” it still doesn’t fit into Catholic teaching. Socialism is not Christian and never will be Christian.

Godspeed,
Dr Taylor Marshall

Catholic Condemnation of Socialism in 5 Papal Quotes

Pope Leo XIII Puts the Smack Down on Socialism

Sometimes you hear Christians says, “We can be faithful Catholics and Socialists with regard to economics, because we aren’t atheists like Marx.”

Actually, that’s not true. The Pope’s have spoken explicitly and condemned “Socialism” on theconomic grounds and in terms of social justice.

Socialism was condemned explicitly by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum.

I’ve included 5 quotes to help you understand how socialism is situated and condemned by Catholic theology. All the text in red is my commentary:

4. To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich [this has often been the strategy – to employ “covet thy neighbors goods” as a lever for social revolution], are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer [the Pope says the working man is the first to suffer in Socialism – and history proves His Holiness correct]. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, [it is “distorted” to ask the State to ‘transfer private property to the community”] and create utter confusion in the community.

The second quote emphasizes how the wage-earner is abused by Socialism:

5. Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner [wage-earners are abused], since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages [a person has right of liberty to use his wages as he sees fit], and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life [the wager earner has the right to seek to better his condition].

The third quote from Rerum Novarum condemns the Socialist principle that children belong to the State and not the father – and Pope Leo XIII quotes Saint Thomas Aquinas to validate his point:

14. “The child belongs to the father,” and is, as it were, the continuation of the father’s personality; and speaking strictly, the child takes its place in civil society, not of its own right, but in its quality as member of the family in which it is born. And for the very reason that “the child belongs to the father” it is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, “before it attains the use of free will, under the power and the charge of its parents.”(4) The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice [it’s against social justice to replace parental supervision with State supervision], and destroy the structure of the home [hmmm…as socialism takes root, is it not historically evident that the domestic structure crumbles?].

The fourth quote regards the just due to labor:

15. And in addition to injustice, it is only too evident what an upset and disturbance there would be in all classes, and to how intolerable and hateful a slavery citizens would be subjected. The door would be thrown open to envy, to mutual invective, and to discord [This happened in Russia and Cuba. When social change is depended on covetousness of one class against another, hatred and murder follow]; the sources of wealth themselves would run dry, for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents or his industry [Yep, why work hard when you get paid the same for the chump doing nothing? It’s entirely unjust!]; and that ideal equality about which they entertain pleasant dreams would be in reality the levelling down of all to a like condition of misery and degradation [Socialist communities always lead to the poverty of all – not to a stable middle class]Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected [Did you get that? “utterly rejected”], since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind [it’s directly against natural law and social justice], and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property [Private property, not shared property, IS THE FIRST AND FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE to alleviate poverty]. This being established, we proceed to show where the remedy sought for must be found.

The fifth and final quote for today comes from paragraph 17 and shows how Socialists “strive against nature”:

17. It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain [Socialists strive against nature!]. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition [we have different aptitudes, assets, and liabilities]. Such unequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition [handicaps do not prevent humans from the dignity of work and production]. As regards bodily labor, even had man never fallen from the state of innocence, he would not have remained wholly idle [work is not evil – it’s part of the pre-sin vocation for humans]; but that which would then have been his free choice and his delight became afterwards compulsory, and the painful expiation for his disobedience. “Cursed be the earth in thy work; in thy labor thou shalt eat of it all the days of thy life.”

So what can we summarize about the condemnation of Socialism from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum:

  1. Socialism promotes envy between classes. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”
  2. The transfer of private property to community property is against nature and justice.
  3. Socialism hurts the working man first and foremost.
  4. A person has the right to improve his social condition through labor. His social condition should not be taken away from him.
  5. Socialism perceives children as belonging to the State chiefly, and thus the State has a prior right over the father of the child with regard to guardianship, education, and labor. This the Pope condemns.
  6. Socialism must be “utterly rejected.”
  7. Socialism leads to “condition of misery and degradation.”
  8. The Pope recognizes that not every human has equal aptitude in this life for wage-earning.
  9. Labor is good and not evil. Socialism wrongly presumes that work is always an exploitation of one class serving another class.
  10. It is evident in these quotes, but especially elsewhere, that those who have acquired private property should share their goods with those who are in need. This is the call to almsgiving that Proverbs and Christ repeatedly exhort us to practice.

Please share this post with others so that they can see that Socialism per se is condemned by Catholic social teaching.

Godspeed,

Dr Taylor Marshall

Vatican 101: Your Guide to How the Vatican Works

+ List of the Vatican Dicasteries

What is “the Vatican” and how does it work? Most Catholics are partially ignorant about what “the Vatican” is and how it works. The Vatican City State is a sovereign nation, but it is also the collection of dicasteries that oversee legal cases, liturgy, money, abuse, doctrine, religious orders, appointment of bishops…basically all the newsworthy and controversial elements of Catholicism.

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Over the last couple years I’ve been able to spend time in Rome and even some time with priests, bishops, and cardinals working within the Vatican. What was once a knotted mystery has become more clear to me and I wanted to share a basic outline so that you can also better understand how the Vatican works:

Understanding the Roman Curia as Dicasteries:

“The Vatican” is literally the geographic location of Saint Peter’s burial at the foot of the “Vatican Hill” outside the ancient boundaries of the city of Rome (See my book The Eternal City for thorough details about the geography and tradition of Peter’s burial). But a more accurate term for what most people mean by “the Vatican” is the “Roman Curia,” which is a collection of “dicasteries” or departments working for and under the Pope.

The word dicastery comes from the Greek word δικαστήριον meaning “place of justice.”

The Church is not a nation, but to use an analogy, you might think of the heads of each “dicasteries” as the “cabinent” of the United States President. I know, I know. It breaks down. You don’t need to leave a comment to me about how the Pope is not like a President. I’m only making an analogy.

So the Pope appoints leaders or prefects (usually cardinals) to each of the dicasteries to aid His Holiness in the governance of the Church:

List of the Vatican Dicasteries:

Here are the Vatican dicasteries organized into their six various species:

  1. Secretariats:
    The Secretariat of State (most powerful dicastery – headed by Cardinal Secretary of State)
    The Secretariat for the Economy (created by Pope Francis to oversee financials)
    The Secretariat for Communications (Vatican Radio, Osservatore Romano, Vatican Press, etc.)
  2. Congregations:
    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (one might say this is the second most powerful dicastery, after the Secretary of State)
    The Congregation for the Eastern Churches
    The Congregation for Divine Worship (liturgy and sacraments)
    The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the process of canonizing saints)
    The Congregation for Bishops (researches and selects bishops for dioceses)
    The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly named Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith)
    The Congregation for the Clergy (priests, deacons, seminaries)
    The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (religious life)
    The Congregation for Catholic Education (Catholic universities, but not seminaries)
  3. Dicasteries
    The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life (created by Pope Francis)
    The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (created by Pope Francis)
  4. Legal Tribunals (operate like courts):
    The Apostolic Penitentiary (excommunications, dispensations, indulgences)
    The Tribunal of the Roman Rota (highest appellate tribunal; usually handles contested marriage annulments)
    The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (Supreme court seeing appealed cases from Roman Rota and conflicts between Congregations)
  5. Pontifical Councils
    The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (handles ecumenical relations with non-Catholic Christians, and notably Jewish relations)
    The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts (interpreting canon law)
    The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (handles relations with non-Christian religions)
    The Pontifical Council for Culture
    The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (for re-evangelizing the West)
  6. Offices of the Holy See:
    The Apostolic Camera (the Papal Treasury)
    The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (modified by Pope Francis; see  Secretariat for the Economy above; oversees property of the Holy See)
    The Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See (oversees finances)

*Note: The tendency of Pope Francis has been to close and collapse “Pontifical Councils” into what he calls “Dicasteries.” Pope Francis has closed down four “Pontifical Councils” and erected two new “Dicasteries” listed above.

My opinion is that a reduction in the number of dicasteries is a positive reform of the Church.

Each dicastery works at the pleasure of the Holy Father. The Pope appoints all offices and he can close and open new dicasteries according to his pleasure.

Other Departments in the Vatican

You also have other departments in the Vatican that are not technically dicasteries such as:

  • The Pontifical Swiss Guard
    • Approximately 130 soldiers that where colorful uniforms while protecting the Pope and providing border security for Vatican City.
    • Fun fact: the Swiss Guard makes use of the Glock 19 pistol and Heckler & Koch MP7 .
  • The Vatican Bank (Official Name is: Institute for the Works of Religion – I’ll do a future post on this.)
  • The Pontifical Commissions (3 of which fall under the CDF):
    • Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church (art, books, archives)
    • Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
      • Oversees 1962 Extraordinary Form of Mass.
      • Answers to and is located within CDF.
    • Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology
    • Pontifical Biblical Commission (publishes articles on biblical studies; answers to CDF)
    • International Theological Commission (publishes theological articles; answers to CDF)
    • Pontifical Commission for Latin America (answers to Congregation for Bishops)
    • Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (instituted by Pope Francis in 2014; headed by Cardinal O’Malley of Boston)
  • Temporary or Interdicasterial Commissions (temporary commissions for tasks, such as producing a Catechism of the Catholic Church)

How to Be Better Educated about the Catholic Church:

  • As the Church faces new issues, new dicasteries are created and some are closed. There is nothing of divine right with the Roman Curia. The Pope can open and close dicasteries to help him govern the Church. Technically speaking, he could close all the offices.
  • It’s worth following the current issues in the Catholic Church and having an understanding of how these issues flow into and out of the “Vatican” through the various dicasteries.
  • It’s also worth printing out on a piece of paper the dicasteries of the Catholic Church.
    • Print them out and place them in your Bible so that you can pray for their leaders and for their work. It’s worth following which Cardinals head which dicasteries.

Here are the current leaders/prefects of some of the important dicasteries:

The Secretariat of State: Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin
The Secretariat for the Economy: Australian Cardinal George Pell
The Secretariat for Communications: Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller
The Congregation for the Eastern Churches: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri
The Congregation for Divine Worship: Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints: Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato
The Congregation for Bishops: Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni
The Congregation for the Clergy: Italian Cardinal Beniamino Stella
The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life: Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz
The Congregation for Catholic Education: Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi

The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life: American Cardinal Kevin Farrell
The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development: Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson

All the Cardinals that lead dicasteries are usually seen as papabile – unspoken candidates for the next papacy.

Holy Apostles, pray for the Cardinals.

Question: Do you have questions or comments about the Roman Curia? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Is Peter’s Historical Chair inside the Vatican?

In the Catholic calendar up until at least 1955, January 18 was the Feast of the Saint Peter’s Chair at Rome. The “chair” is an Old Testament sign of magisterial authority, as Christ Himself gave witness:

“Saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten on the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not. For they say, and do not.” (Matthew 23:2–3, D-R)

The commemoration of Peter’s chair in rome honors the preeminent magisterial authority of Saint Peter to whom was given the Keys of the Kingdom. Peter’s office as the Vicar of Christ recalls the promise of God to the “royal steward” or “vicar” in the royal household of the Davidic king. This prophecy promises that the king’s steward will “become a throne of honor”:
“And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father.” (Isaiah 22:22–23, D-R)
Saint Peter's Chair Taylor MarshallYet did Saint Peter as the first Vicar of Christ have his own physical cathedra (Greek: “chair”)?
There is a third century anti-Marcionite poem that seems to testify to this historicity of Peter’s cathedra:
Hac cathedra, Petrus qua sederat ipse, locatum
Maxima Roma Linum primum considere iussit.
– Adversus Marcionem (Patrologia Latina II, 1099)
The Latin translates:
“On this chair whereupon Peter himself sat
The great Rome placed Linus and commanded him to sit.”
Saint Linus is of course the successor of Saint Peter, that is the second pope of Rome. Is this cathedra, Petrus qua sederat ipse, a literally chair or is it merely a poetic allusion to Peter’s authority? I suppose that there is no way to know for sure, but Tertullian (cf. De præscriptione hæreticorum, 36) and others seem to suggest or assume that a true physical chair kept in Rome had been that of Saint Peter.
Regardless, the chair depicted above is the traditional “Chair of Saint Peter”. In Old Saint Peter’s, this chair was prominently placed in the baptistry and the Pope would sit on it in order to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. This chair and custom are confirmed to as early as AD 366.
Today, it is enshrined in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I don’t know whether carbon dating has been performed on it. If you’re aware of any studies or archeological investigations, please send them my way.

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How St Francis differed from Martin Luther or Catholic Reform vs. Protestant Reform

How did Saint Francis’ reformation of the Catholic Church (“Francis, rebuild my Church”) differ from Martin Luther’s “reformation”?

For Audio Podcast version of: “My True Opinion of Martin Luther” click here.

Essentially, Francis teaches us that we cannot fight heresy by creating new heresies. Francis always submitted to the Church, the popes, and the bishops.

Whenever “reformation” begins to the buck against the institutional Church, more heresy arises. For example, in many regards the Monophysite heresy (i.e. “Christ has one nature”) was an over-reaction to the Nestorian heresy (i.e. “Christ is two persons”). The Catholic Church has always sought to aim directly at the truth, and not merely at the destruction of error. Too often the refutation of error crosses over into further error.

Similarly, Luther and Calvin sought to displace misunderstandings about grace and merit (i.e. the faulty nominalism spawned by William of Ockham) by creating an alternate vision of grace and merit (which ironically embraced Ockham’s nominalism and repackaged it). Luther’s “solution” was in fact heretical. A quick fix is often faulty. Duct tape can “fix” almost anything – but it eventually gives way to other problems.

The annals of Church history are filled with Catholic Reformers: Paul, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Maximus, John Damascene, Pope Gregory VII, Francis, Dominic, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius, Teresa of Avila, et al. Each of these Catholic Reformers retained the unity of Christ’s Church, submitted to church leadership, and patiently brought about renewal. In many cases, each experienced active persecution from other Christians and even fell under the suspicion of heresy. However, their humility and silence eventually vindicated their cause as advocates for the evangelical truth of Christ’s doctrine.

Saint Francis of Assisi is perhaps one of the best examples of patience in the cause of reform. When St Francis went to Rome to seek recognition from the Pope, the Pope dismissed him impatiently and told him to go “lie down with the pigs.”

After a little while, Francis returned smeared with swine feces and stinking to high heaven. When the Pope objected, Francis answered, “I obeyed your words and merely did as you said. I lay down with the pigs.” Suddenly the Pope realized that this was a holy man who was willing to obey even in the face of humiliation. The Pope listened to Francis’ vision for renewal and the rest is history.

When rebuffed by the pope, Saint Francis could have appealed to Sacred Scripture, showing this his pattern of life was poor and lowly like that of Christ. He might even have contrasted his own “biblical life” against the extravagance of the Papal court. Francis may even have rightly rebuked the abbots, bishops, and cardinals for lacking evangelical witness. Instead, Francis followed the path of Christ. He allowed himself to be misunderstood and maligned, knowing that God would bring about his vindication…and God always does.

Contrast Saint Francis to Martin Luther. Luther did not visit Rome for confirmation of his cause, nor did he respect the structures of the Church. In fact, Cardinal Cajetan met privately with Luther and explained how Luther might modify his message so that Cajetan could have it approved by the Roman Curia. If Luther had moved more slowly and charitably, he may have become “Saint” Martin Luther.

Unfortunately, Luther was adamant and stiff-necked. He would not attempt compromise. If the Pope would not agree with him, then he would reject the papacy. Period. Luther would not tolerate any authority that failed to support him immediately and without question. Consequently, when the papal bull arrived, Luther burned it publicly and began to curse the pope as Antichrist.

Note the difference between Francis and Luther. The former moved slowly and humbly. The latter acted independently and rashly. Consequently, the history of Protestantism is marked by rash and hasty division – there are now 36,000 Protestant denominations.

As the Apostle James wrote: “the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (Jas 1:20). History shows that God does not use “hot-heads” to guide His Church into righteousness. God chooses those who are little, meek, and humble – for such is the kingdom of Heaven.

Herein lies the mystery of Catholic Reform.

Which is MORE Traditional: Mass ad orientem or versus populum?

And the Roman Ciborium in Roman Architecture

Ever since Cardinal Sarah’s ad orientem endorsement, and subsequent slap down by voices in the Holy See, there is debate on both sides favoring ad orientem celebration of the Holy Mass.

My goal here is show that both ad orientem AND versus populum are part of the ancient Roman Rite – and to show how the ciborium/baldacchino is a determining factor in the architecture governing each. Before we get started, let’s define vocab and issue a clarification to the liturgical police on each extreme:

Defining Terms of the Debate

ad orientem: Latin for “to the East.” For those new to the debate, ad orientem refers to the priest celebrating Mass on the same side of the altar as the people. People wrongfully call this “priest with his back to the people.”

versus populum: Latin for “toward the people.” This refers to the priest celebrating Mass on the opposite side of altar so that he is facing the people in the nave.

ad Deum: People wrongfully use ad Deum (Latin for “toward God”) as a synonym for ad orientem. I dislike this usage because it’s confusing and it presumes that versus populum is not ad Deum or “toward God.” When Pope Boniface VIII celebrated Holy Mass in AD 1300 at Old Saint Peter’s Basilica versus populum, he was celebrating Mass ad Deum (to God). It’s blasphemous to say otherwise. A valid Mass is always ad Deum no matter where the priest stands.

ciborium: Usually this refers to the precious vessel that holds the hosts during Mass. It can also roofed baldacchino that stands over the altar.

Showing My Liturgical Preference Cards Up Front

When writing about liturgy, everyone wants to size you up and classify you: Is he trad, is he liberal, is he reform-of-the-reform, whatever. So here is my perspective. I prefer the EF Latin Mass and I’m a member of a FSSP parish. But I attend the so-called Novus Ordo for daily Mass – and I usually attend the Novus Ordo when I travel. I have attended the Novus Ordo in Saint Peter’s Rome. I’ve attended the EF Latin Mass in Saint Peter’s in Rome. I received Jesus Christ and for this I’m grateful.

I can serve the EF. I’m good at Latin and I understand most of it in the Mass. I can listen to the Epistle and Gospel in Latin and understand it.

I love ad orientem. I find priests smiling over the altar as distracting. Personally, I find the priest facing with the congregation more Christocentric. For me, the elevation is more dramatic and devltional ad orientem. Silent canon makes more sense ad orientem, in my opinion. All pluses from my point of view.

Conclusion: I like the Latin Mass, but I never make a stink of it. I’m not exclusivist.

Talking Latin Mass Will Always Get You Judged…

I almost hate writing about anything Latin Mass because it gets me labeled by both extremes in the Church. So let me just issue a clarification:

For liturgical progressives who want to judge me: I don’t believe that attending the EF Latin Mass is a statement or that it means that one is “rad trad” or hates his local bishop or the Pope. Far from it. I love the Ordinary Form of the Mass. I attend it daily. I love my local bishop and pray for him daily. I love the Holy Father and pray for him daily and was even honored to shake his hand recently when he kissed my baby. I know that these hostile elements can exist in the “trad movement” but I’m not into that. So if you want to lump me in with the “mean Latin Mass haters,” you’re wrong.

For Traddies who want to judge me: I don’t think that Latin EF Mass and ad orientem is divinely mandated liturgy, nor do I think it’s always the best. If you think for saying this, I’m a Freemason, heretic, idolator, New World Order-ist, Novus Ordo-ist, Neo-Catholic – you’re incorrect and I’ll ignore your comments.

Both Versus Populum and Ad Orientem in the Roman Tradition

I just got back from Rome. If you’ve been there, you know already that the major churches in Rome have always had the priest facing the people over the altar (photos at the end of the post):

  • St Peter’s
  • St Paul’s outside the Walls
  • St John Lateran
  • St Mary Major
  • St Clement’s
  • St Maria in Trastavere

Why? Because versus populum was part of the ancient Roman tradition. Where there was space and a big budget (as in these important Roman churches), they worked it versus populum. However, this elegant arrangement usually requires the presence of a ciborium (a stone canopy or baldacchino) over the altar.

trastevere

Where there isn’t space to do it right (that is, no ciborium over altar), they worked ad orientem with dignity.

Those that study the issue know that it has to do with whether a Roman ciborium/baldacchino can be built over the altar. Generally speaking, if there is a ciborium, it’s versus populum. If not, there’s ad orientem.

There is a Roman way of doing versus populum and Pope Benedict pointed that out: screens and/or baldacchino, candles on the altar (causing visual disruption), and especially a crucifix in the middle. The silent canon especially balances out versus populum and the attention on the priest.

My personal preference would be that everything should be ad orientem – unless you can install a ciborium/baldacchino over the altar – ideally with a sunken confessio for relics under the altar. If not, it should be ad orientem.

The problem, in my unimportant layman’s point of view, is that parishes in the 1950s-1980s plunged into versus populum altars without understanding the ancient Roman requisites for such people-facing altars. So now we have a churches where the altar lacks dignity and is often dwarfed by “the presiders chair” and the ambo. The ciborium canopy magnified the dignity of the altar within the versus populum context. We need to rediscover this feature of Roman liturgy and architecture. We need to start building a ciborium canopy over the altar.

Photos of Examples of Versus Populum with Proper Ciborium

Here are photos of the churches above showing how the ancient Roman versus populum worked with the ciborium canopy or baldacchino:

Here’s Pope Pius XII celebrating versus populum…but under the baldacchino with candle and crucifix “obstruction.”

saint peter's versus

Here’s the Pope’s cathedral Saint John Lateran. Note the amazing baldacchino which contains the skulls of Saint Paul and Saint Peter behind the gold grating above the altar:

st john lateran versus

Here’s my favorite church Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome. Historic versus populum, but with a baldacchino. This church is so God-honoring. Beauty. Truth. Goodness. I try to attend Sunday Mass here (Ordinary Form) whenever I can:

trastevere

And here’s San Clemente in Rome. Small church with versus populum with a modest baldacchino:

Luminance HDR 2.0.0 tonemapping parameters: Operator: Fattal Parameters: Alpha: 1 Beta: 0.9 Color Saturation: 0.8 Noise Reduction: 0.05 ------ PreGamma: 1

I could also include Saint Mary Major and Saint Paul’s outside the Walls. The point is, if you’re going to do versus populum, you need a baldacchino/ciborium over the altar. If not, ad orientem tends to be the “traditional” way to construct a church.

Comments

Question: I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Do you have a preference? How is your parish set up? Do you like it or not? How could we improve our altars using the Roman churches as models? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

History of Catholic Cardinals: Their Power and Number

The Roman Development of the Office of Cardinal

Having just returned from teaching Roman Church History in Rome, I’ve been reviewing the history of Roman cardinals. Here’s a brief timeline:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 5.02.32 PM

  • 6th century – In Rome the first cardinals were the seven deacons of the seven regions of the city. The deacons, not the presbyters, had immediate access to the Pope of Rome. This is why deacons in Rome were granted the privilege of wearing a more dignified vestment (the dalmatic) than that of the priest (the chasuble).
  • 8th century – The term “cardinal” is attached to the senior priest (pastor) in each of the titular churches of Rome. For the significance of titulus in relation to the churches in Rome, see my book The Eternal City where I relate how the Latin term titulus was used to denote licensed altars in the city of Rome based on the Old Latin (pre-Vulgate) translation of the Old Testament.
  • By decree of the Lateran Council of 769, only a cardinal priest or deacon was eligible to become pope. This is no longer the case. Any Catholic male may be elected as Pope. Laity could not participate in the election. Armed men could not be present for papal elections.
  • 9th century – Pope Stephen V (816-17) decreed that all 7 cardinal bishops were bound to sing Mass on rotation at the high altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, one every Sunday. He also mentions the distinction of cardinal bishops, cardinal priests, and cardinal deacons.
  • 11th century – In 1059, during the pontificate of Nicholas II, cardinal bishops were given the right to elect the pope under the Papal Bull In nomine Domini. Emperors could not nominate candidates or veto a winner. Emperors could still “confirm” the election. Election must take place in Rome. Pope is pope from moment of election and consent and not from coronation or enthronement.
  • 12th century – At the Third Lateran Council in 1179 the right to the whole body of cardinals – bishops, priests and deacons – to elect the pope was re-established for the first time in over 100 years.
    Also, a 2/3 majority was required for a valid election.
  • 13th century – In 1244, cardinals were granted the privilege of wearing the red hat by Pope Innocent IV.

Cardinals in Post-Tridentine Era

  • The chief clergy of any diocese were often called cardinals. However, the use of the title “cardianl” was reserved for the cardinals of Rome in 1567 by Pope Saint Pius V.
  • In 1517, Pope Leo X added 31 additional cardinals, bringing the total to a staggering 65 cadinals!
  • Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) capped the number of cardinals to 70, comprising of:
    • 6 cardinal bishops,
    • 50 cardinal priests,
    • 14 cardinal deacons.
    • This was modeled on the Sandhedrin pattern of Moses and the Old Testament – seventy elders to assist in judging Israel.
  • During the pontificate of Pope Saint John XXIII, the limit exceeded 70.
  • 1965 Pope Paul VI also increased the number of cardinal bishops by giving that rank to patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
  • In 1970, Pope Paul VI raised the number of cardinal electors at a cap of 120 cardinal electors while at the same time fixing the maximum age for cardinal electors at the age of 80 years. Hence, for the first time in history, elderly cardinals could no longer vote.
  • Of the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 at the time of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, 115 participated in the conclave of March 2013 that elected his successor. The two who did not participate were Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja (for health reasons) and Keith O’Brien (following allegations of sexual misconduct).
  • As of 9 July 2016, there are a total of 212 cardinals, of whom 113 are cardinal electors under the age 80.

Pray for our current Holy Father Francis of Rome, and pray for our Cardinals who have been chosen by God to elect the next Holy Father.

And I just can’t resist, here’s the video from a week ago of Pope Francis kissing my baby: Click here to watch.

Video: Pope Francis Kissed My Baby Margaret Today in Rome!

This morning, the Vicar of Christ and Successor of Saint Peter took our baby daughter Margaret Grace Carol Marshall (“Carol” for Karol Wojtyła aka Saint John Paul II  – she was born on Saint John Paul II’s feast day).

In the video below you’ll see how Pope Francis stops the Popemobile when he looks and sees my wife Joy holding our baby Margaret. Next he motions for our baby Margaret to be brought up to him in the Popemobile. He kisses her, blesses her, and then laughs. You can then see me (Taylor) shake hands with the Holy Father. At the end you can see Joy’s ecstatic mother’s smile after the Vicar of Christ on earth has just kissed her baby girl.

Here’s the video (click here to being watching it):

Please pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis that God might reward him for his kindness and generosity to our baby and our family.

Also, my son Becket had his First Communion in Saint Peter’s Basilica about an hour before this happened with the Pope. It’s a red letter day!!!

Godspeed,
Taylor