What is the St Gallen Mafia? How does it relate to the election of Pope Francis? Who is in it? What is it? And how do we know about it? We answer all these questions in this weeks podcast/video:
Cardinal Daneels refers to his membership to a certain St Gallen club or “mafia” (his term) that met together to forge support for the election of Pope Francis (and perhaps for the pre-mature resignation of Pope Benedict). Dr Taylor Marshall and Timothy Gordon (author of Catholic Republic https://amzn.to/2wJvTmI) discuss the origin of the St Gallen Mafia, who were members, and the role especially of Cardinal Daneels and Cardinal Martini in the theological agenda of their self-labeled “mafia.”The election, support, and theology of Pope Francis make sense as we come to understand this St Gallen Mafia.
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Why Won’t Pope Francis Respond to Viganò? As a follow up to why did Pope Benedict resign, we look at the political history of Pope Francis and the influence of the Argentinian ruler Juan Perón (1895-1974). We examine the clip of Francis on the plane when he says he will “not say one word” regarding the 11 page testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
POPULARITY: 1,626,348 downloads on iTunes as of today.
SHOUT OUTS: A huge “shout out” to all 708 (!) of you who wrote amazing 5-star reviews at iTunes. Please rate this podcast by clicking here. From there you can leave a review. I appreciate you for this! Thank you!
Subscribe to This Weekly Podcast:
Apple/Mac Users: Please subscribe via iTunes by clicking here and then clicking on “View in iTunes.”
Android Users: For listening to The Taylor Marshall Show on Android devices (free) using the Stitcher app.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has recently released his testimony against Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal McCarrick, and Pope Francis. As former Papal Nuncio (ambassador between Vatican and Washington DC), he alleges that Pope Benedict had censured Cardinal McCarrick for his sexual predatory behavior, but that Pope Francis reinstated McCarrick. Cardinal Wuerl was aware of it all, as were many high level Cardinals that he lists in his 11 page document (link below).
Many are asking “Who is Archbishop Vigano?” so here are the details:
I’ll put it in bullet point to save me time formatting and to get you the information:
He was born 16 January 1941 in Varese, Italy.
His brother Lorenzo Viganò is a Jesuit priest.
He speaks Italian, French, Spanish and English.
Viganò was ordained a priest on 24 March 1968.
He earned a doctorate in both canon and civil law.
He joined the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1973, with papal diplomatic missions to Iraq and Great Britain.
From 1978-1989, he held posts at the Vatican Secretariat of State.
From 1992-2009, he was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria by Pope John Paul II.
In 2009, Viganò was appointed Secretary General of the Vatican City Governatorate by Pope Benedict XVI. This made him second ranked Vatican administrator to Pope Benedict XVI
CONTROVERSY IN ROME: In 2010, Viganò was involved in a scandal. Letters by him were leaked. One such letter late appeared in the Papal “Wikileaks” through the Pope’s butler. In these letters, Viganò complained of corruption in Vatican finances and of collusion against him by Vatican officials. Cardinal-President Emeritus Giovanni Lajolo, President Giuseppe Bertello, Secretary-General Giuseppe Sciacca and former Vice Secretary-General Giorgio Corbellini issued a joint statement on behalf of the Governatorate of the Vatican: “The unauthorized publication of two letters of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the first addressed to the Holy Father on March 27, 2011, the second to the Cardinal Secretary of State on May 8, for the Governorate of Vatican City is a source of great bitterness”. It continued, “The allegations contained in them can not but lead to the impression that the Governorate of Vatican City, instead of being an instrument of responsible government, is an unreliable entity, at the mercy of dark forces. After careful examination of the contents of the two letters, the President of the Governorate sees it as its duty to publicly declare that those assertions are the result of erroneous assessments, or fears based on unsubstantiated evidence, even openly contradicted by the main characters invoked as witnesses”.
One year later on 13 August 2011, Pope Benedict appointed him Nuncio to the United States. Reuters reported that Viganò was unwilling to take that assignment. It would seem that his willingness to be controversial in 2010 regarding corruption is what made Pope Benedict trust him for the USA.
In 2014, Viganò ordered officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to end an investigation into sexual misconduct on the part of Archbishop John Nienstedt even after two auxiliary bishops explained that the investigation was far from complete. He ordered those bishops to destroy a letter they wrote him in which they objected and told him “this would rightly be seen as a cover-up”.
On 24 September 2015 during his visit to the United States, Pope Francis met Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This was seen as an embarrassing moment for the Pope. It was Viganò who arranged and insisted on the meeting.
On 12 April 2016, Pope Francis accepted Viganò’s resignation.
On August 25, 2018 Viganò released an 11-page letter explaining that Pope Benedict XVI had secretly sanctioned Theodore Edgar McCarrick from public ministry and that McCarrick was rehabilitated by Pope Francis. McCarrick began to appear publicly and also arranged the appointment of key American bishops and cardinals, such as: Blase Cupich and Joseph W. Tobin. If true, it means that Pope Francis has known about McCarrick’s predatory behavior for years…and has promoted him.
PS: In case you missed it, here’s my Youtube video explain how the Viganò controversy actually goes back him blowing the whistle to Pope Benedict regarding the Vatican Bank Scandal of 2010-2011 – which led to Vatileaks Scandal. Click here to watch it.
The 2002 Boston Scandal, the Cardinal McCarrick Scandal, and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report reveals that the bishops are at ground zero in this scandal.
Some bishops didn’t properly vet seminarians and admit perverts.
Some bishops ordained mental disturbed, predatory priests.
Some bishops covered the crimes of Judas priests.
Some bishops relocated the predatory Judas priests.
Some bishops made secret payouts to victims to keep them quiet.
Some bishops have been molesting and having homo-relations with seminarians and priests.
The laity are shocked that so-called Episcopoi (Greek word for “bishop” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer”) could do such horrible things and still show up smiling for photos after the post-confirmation ceremonies. How could this be?
Denial of Christian Faith. These clerics are secretly atheists, agnostics, or Satanists who see the Church as a social justice network that pays well and provides a lifestyle of insurance, income, retirement and unquestioned access to compromised men and vulnerable children.
Homosexuality. The 2004 John Jay Report publicized that 80% of priest abuse victims are male. The orientation of abuse was overwhelming homosexual According to James Martin and Larry Stammer, 15–58% of American Catholic priests are homosexual in orientation. Father Dariusz Oko of Poland has suggested that 50% of the bishops in the United States are homosexual.
Evolution of the Mega-Diocese. Since 1900, the concept of the Catholic diocese has morphed into something that would not be recognized by Christians of the medieval period, and certainly not by the Church Fathers.
Today, I want to focus on the third. The problem of the Mega-Diocese: what it is, how it happened, and how it leads to clericalism and sexual abuse.
I am NOT stating that the Mega-Diocese is the root cause of sexual scandal or that eradicating it will fix everything! We need a a refocus on intrinsic evils, formation of true consciences, biblical literacy, removal of sexual active bishops/clergy, orthodox theological, Thomism, liturgical reverence, and heroic priests. But the Mega-Diocese is certainly infertile soil for these changes. Read on to discover the historic origin of this deformation and why it fosters abuse.
Picture above: a bishop gathered with his diocese.
What is a Mega-Diocese?
A Mega-Diocese is a diocese so enormous that a bishop cannot oversee it. Remember “bishop” in Greek is επίσκοπος (episcopos) which means “overseer.” Epi means “over” as in the word epidermis. Skopos means “see” as in the English words scope and telescope.
Parents eagerly search for schools with a low teacher/student ratio. Everyone in education knows that as you raise the teacher/student ratio, scores and academic performance go down. 12 students to 1 teacher proves to produce higher scores and better outcomes. 40 students to 1 teacher proves to produce lower scores and more drop outs.
But we currently have very high Disciple/Bishop Ratios:
What we have created over the last 150 years (since the loss of the Papal States, really) is an insanely high disciple/bishop ratio with regard to bishops. Bishops belong to the magisterium in union with the Pope. Magister is Latin for teacher. The bishop is the primary teacher. So we are discussing a student/teacher ratio here, as well. As the disciple/bishop ratio increases, what do we see? Lay people know their faith less (akin to lower scores), and they drop out at higher numbers (leave the church).
Currently here are the number of baptized in the top 4 USA archdioceses:
1 Los Angeles 4,174,304
2 New York 2,521,087
3 Chicago 2,442,000
4 Boston 2,077,487
How can a bishop manage this? He cannot. Not even Saint Paul could manage this? So how did we get here?
How did we get high Disciple/Bishop Ratios?
In the Patristic and Medieval Church, every wrinky-dink town had it’s own bishop. For evidence look at Italy:
Italy has 227 dioceses. 116,350 sq mi and population of 60,483,973 people
USA has 167 dioceses. 3,796,742 sq mi and population of 325,719,178 people
Here are 2 maps that I created for reference:
What we see here is that the Catholic Church from AD 100-1500 was appointing a bishop for almost every “town” in Italy since a bishop should be able to geographically access his flock.
After 1520, but especially after 1870, the Catholic Church slowed down its bishop appointments, and the Papacy began to settle for “mega-dioceses.” By the 1900s, this problem was everywhere in the United States and has become ridiculous since the death of Pope John Paul II.
In 1950, the bishop of Los Angeles served 832,375 lay Catholics. In 2016, the archbishop of Los Angeles was responsible for 4,392,000 lay Catholics.
How the Mega-Diocese Fails Christians:
The Mega-Diocese is based on the presumption that one man can shepherd a million people and oversee hundreds of priests (both are impossible). The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 1,117 priests and 4,392,000 baptized laity. One bishop can not oversee 1000+ priests. One bishop cannot be shepherd for 4.3 million people. For reference, the entire population of England in AD 1086 was 3.6 million. Imagine if all of England in AD 1086 had only one bishop! Ridiculous.
In order to “fix” this problem, the Popes began to appoint “Auxiliary Bishops.” According to Apostolic example, Patristic custom, and ancient Catholic Councils, a bishop must be a bishop of a geographic place. So you cannot have 3 bishops of the same geographic region. For Saint Ignatius of Antioch or Polycarp, multiple bishops in one place would be a schismatic and heretical act. There is only one geographic bishop for one geographic place.
So the Popes (initially Pope Leo X) created a legal fiction called Auxiliary Bishops with titular sees. The Pope appoints the Auxiliary Bishop to a geographical diocese that no longer exists, and then sends that auxiliary bishop to work inside the diocese of another bishop. Incidentally, the Pope that first allowed this legal fiction was the infamous Medici Pope Leo X (the same Pope whom Martin Luther spoke out against in 1517). Previous popes had banned the custom of auxiliary bishops with fictional titular sees.
For example, Bishop Robert Barron (to choose the most well-known auxiliary bishop) is an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles. However, since every bishop must actually be a canonical bishop of his own geographical area, Bishop Barron is actually the titular bishop of “Macriana in Mauretania” – an ancient Berber town in Algeria.
On paper and in reality, this canonical appointment to Macriana in Mauretania is ridiculous. Bishop Barron has nothing to do with Macriana and we shouldn’t create the legal fiction of bishops over non-existing “sees.”
In the early Catholic Church, Bishop Barron would simply be bishop ordinary of his pastoral region of Santa Barbara. He would simply become Bishop of Santa Barbara – not Pretend Bishop of “Macriana in Mauretania” but really serving the people of Santa Barbara under the auspices of the geographical bishop of Los Angeles. What a mess.
I’m not blaming Bishop Barron or any auxiliary bishop for this situation. They are obeying the directives of canon law and the Pope and are in good faith with regard to their appointments. There are great men serving as auxiliary bishops throughout the world. But when we look at it from a systemic point of view, it reveals an ecclesiological problem that contradicts both the Council of Nicea and biblical and patristic theology about the local ecclesia.
How to fix the Mega-Diocese? Break it up with Subsidiarity
The Mega-Diocese is an offense against the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity – the doctrine that matters ought to be handled by the smallest and most proximate competent authority – not by a Cardinal Archbishop living 90 miles away who also has the direct canonical care of souls for 1 million people. It’s a mistake to ask a bishop to be responsible for 1 million people and 1,000 priests. It’s a crime against the laity, too. The Mega-Diocese is bad for everyone.
When we see a public school teacher with 50 students in a class, we know its bad for the teacher and bad for the students. Everyone loses. Same the episcopal-diocesan structure.
How do we fix the Mega-Diocese problem? Obviously, a diocese of over one million souls is too big and too spread out. We need to follow the custom of ancient popes and have many, many, many more dioceses and bishops appointed. We need ecclesial subsidiarity. If Italy has 227 dioceses and the USA has 167 dioceses, we have an apparent problem. Creating more Mega-Dioceses and more and more auxiliary bishops will yield more abuse inside a broken system.
How big should a diocese be?
There were around 150-250,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Paris during the medieval era. It may seem extreme, but I don’t see the benefit of having a diocese any bigger than that. If a bishop had 100 priests and 100,000 people, it would be a manageable situation.
Still don’t believe me, ask Moses:
The biblical Mega-Diocese of Moses in Exodus 18 and the advice of Jethro:
Moses was exhausted overseeing the 400,000 Israelites under his pastoral supervision. His father-in-law Jethro observed this and rebuked Moses while providing a solution to break up his “Mega-Diocese”:
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law (Jethro) saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone….21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
If Moses couldn’t handle it, so also the modern bishop cannot handle it. Moses followed the advice of Jethro. He appointed men to oversee “thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” He didn’t place men “over 10,000 or even 100,000.” That’s too much! In other words, Jethro tells Moses: “Lets practice pastoral subsidiarity.”
It’s comical that my own enormous state of Texas has – 15 dioceses! The disciple/bishopratio here is horrible. Moreover, bishops spend entire weekends driving out into the country for confirmations at their parishes hours away.
Just like parents with kids in the school district, we lay people should beg and ask for a better disciple/bishop ratios. Say no to more auxiliary bishops. That’s a cheap bandaid covering the wound. The Archdioceses of LA and NYC should be broken into the 5 dioceses. The reason it won’t happen now is money. But in a pastorally sensitive church, those Mega-Dioceses would be prudently divided into 5 geographic dioceses. Let an auxiliary bishop simply be a bishop of that deanery and call him “bishop ordinary.”
Until we break up the Mega-Dioceses, do not expect clerical sexual scandal to get better or heal. The Mega-Diocese is unaccountable, noisy, not policed, and unsupervised. The Mega-Diocese allows the predatory priest (and bishop) to wear camouflage. Meanwhile a bishop close to his people and even closer to his priests as “father to fathers” is both more accountable and a better supervisor as episcopos.
I’d love to hear more recommendations, objections, and thoughts, especially from laity and clergy existing within the Mega-Diocese structures. One thing that I didn’t cover is that Mega-Diocese usually have low native seminarian counts and low ordination counts. They statistically cannot produce vocations. If the bishop is the sacramental “father of fathers,” then he is the overworked “absent father figure” within a Mega-Diocese. Vocations are not conceived by absent fathers.
PS: I would also add that bishops should be chosen from among the local presbytery or at least from near regional dioceses, and not “imported” from elsewhere. Moreover, bishops should not be moved all over the nation like bishop pieces on a chess board. A bishop should stay the bishop of one place for life…like marriage. St John Fisher, pray for us.
Did Mary die and enter a tomb to later be resurrected and assumed into Heaven? Or did God immediately raise up her body into Heaven?
You might be surprised to learn that Catholic iconography, saints, Eastern liturgy, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and even Pope Pius XII taught that she first died and then her body was assumed into Heaven. But her “death” was different. Let’s discover the distinction. Here’s a video I produced on the topic:
A curious element of the Roman Canon is that it refers to the chalice as “this chalice”:
Simili modo postquam coenatum est, accipiens et hunc praeclarum Calicem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas: item tibi gratias agens, benedixit, deditque discipulis suis, dicens: Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes…
Which I translate as:
In similar way, after He had supped, taking also this precious chalice into His holy and venerable hands again giving thanks to Thee, He blessed it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: All of you, take and drink this…
There is a tradition that the chalice used in Rome was once the actual chalice used by our Lord Jesus Christ at the first Eucharist.
When the Roman Emperor Valerian ordered the beheading of Pope Sixtus II in Rome, the Pope’s deacon named Lawrence sold the gold chalices and precious items and gave the proceeds to the poor. However, there was one item that was preserved. According to legend it was the chalice used at the Last Supper by Christ and served as the personal chalice of Saint Peter who had brought it to Rome. This is why the Roman liturgy reads: “hunc praeclarum Calicem.” Laurence gave this special chalice to a Roman soldier who took it to Spain.
Here is a photo of it paired with a painting from 1560 by Juan de Juanes that incorporated it:
And painted by Juan de Juanes:
If this tradition is valid, then this is the chalice of the Son of God and also the chalice of Saint Peter used by Peter and all popes up till the martyred Pope Sixtus II. The mystery of faith.
Pope Zachary is one of the top 10 Popes of the early medieval periods. Let’s take a look at some high points in his pontificate:
Pope Zachary appointed Saint Boniface (Apostle of Germany) in AD 742 as Papal Legate to the German dioceses.
Pope Zachary condemned the practice of worshipping angels in AD 745.
He is the Pope known for deposing the Merovingian King of the Franks, Childeric III and then granting the crown to Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne. Saint Boniface crowned Pepin King of the Franks at Soissons in 752.
Pope Zachary accused the court of Constantinople, along with its Patriarch, and its Emperor Constantine V of heresy. They promoted iconoclasm: the destruction of images of Christ and the saints and banned their production. (Here’s my podcast on iconoclasm in its Byzantine context.)
Pope Zachary built the original church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (“over Minerva”) over an ancient temple to Minerva near the Pantheon. This church would later become a setting for the Dominican Order. It’s (revised) interior is stunning.
Pope Zachary forbade the selling of slaves to Muslims in the city of Rome.
But here is why I really like Pope Zachary: While restoring the Lateran Palace, he relocated the relic of the skull of Saint George to the church of San Giorgio al Velabro (a church I visit annually in Rome).
Here’s a photo of me in San Giorgio al Velabro kneeling by the altar that holds the skull of Saint George.
It looks empty now but a cleric in the church told me that the skull is still in there. Just not visible (if I understood his Italian).
On the interwebs you sometimes bump into a few Catholics that assert that canonizations are not infallible or are reversible. They will cite saints who are allegedly un-sainted (eg. St George, St Christopher, St Philomena – I explain why they are NOT un-sainted in this podcast) or they will object to canonized saints that they don’t like (eg, St John XIII or St Josemaria).
Canonizations are Infallible. Here’s why:
Concerning the Potential Problem of “Damned Saints”:
When a person is damned, he hates and curses God forever in Hell. That’s what damnation is. It’s a decision to reject God and His love. The damned person lacks all charity toward God. As Thomas Aquinas, would say, he belongs to the Kingdom of Satan. He is officially anti-Christ.
If the Church mistakingly were to canonize a damned man, then that means monks and nuns would be praying the Liturgy of the Hours and commemorating a man who currently curses God – and doing so annually in the liturgical cycle. Moreover, this would entail that priests are celebrating Masses in honor of a man who is literally diabolical. Even more so, churches, chapels, and cathedrals would be erected and consecrated in honor a man who hates God. No doubt, the devil would love all of this. So canonizations are infallible.
Concerning the Potential Problem of “Make-Believe Saints”
The same goes saints who are claimed to not have existed. If someone were to say that St George or St Christopher were make-believe people, then you have the Liturgy of Hours and Holy Mass celebrated to what amount to cartoon characters. It would be like celebrating Mass in honor of Luke Skywalker. It’s a mockery of true religion.
[Shameless plug: Check out my #1 Bestselling Historical Novel Sword and Serpent for a plausible biography of Saint George (and the “Dragon”) along with Saint Christopher by clicking here.]
We can grant that the legends and hagiography about certain saints are exaggerated or embellished, but we cannot say that the Church formally venerates imaginary people, celebrated Mass in honor of imaginary people, or that there are Churches dedicated to imaginary people.
If so, the devil would love all of this. So canonizations are infallible. It’s also worth noting that when a Pope canonizes a saint he invokes his authority as Vicar of Christ and successor to Saints Peter and Paul in a way similar to declaring dogmas infallible.
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:
apostasy (publicly renouncing Jesus Christ)
adultery (sex with someone besides your spouse)
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.
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:
First, is simply despair. If forgiveness if far off, why even try?
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.