“The object of our life is ‘to seek God’; that is our destiny, our vocation. This vocation is incomparably high, because every creature, even the angelic creature, is of its nature infinitely far removed from God. God is the fulness of Being and of all perfection; and every creature, however perfect it may be, is only a being drawn out of nothing and possesses only a borrowed perfection. Moreover, as we have said, the end of a free creature is, in itself, proportioned to the nature of this creature; as every created being is ‘finite’, the beatitude to which it has a right by nature is necessarily limited. But God, in immense condescension, has willed to admit us to share His intimate Divine Beatitude. This Beatitude, placed infinitely beyond our nature, constitutes our last end and the foundation of the supernatural order.”

– Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ the Ideal of the Monk

CLEMENT XI 1700-1721

Concerning Truths which Necessarily Must be Explicitly Believed

[Response of the Sacred Office to the Bishop of Quebec, Jan. 25, 1703]

1349a Whether a minister is bound, before baptism is conferred on an adult, to explain to him all the mysteries of our faith, especially if he is at the point of death, because this might disturb his mind. Or, whether it is sufficient, if the one at the point of death will promise that when he recovers from the illness, he will take care to be instructed, so that he may put into practice what has been commanded him.

Resp. A promise is not sufficient, but a missionary is bound to explain to an adult, even a dying one who is not entirely incapacitated, the mysteries of faith which are necessary by a necessity of means, as are especially the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

[Response of the Sacred Office, May 10, 1703]

1349b Whether it is possible for a crude and uneducated adult, as it might be with a barbarian, to be baptized, if there were given to him only an understanding of God and some of His attributes, especially His justice in rewarding and in punishing, according to this remark of the Apostle “He that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder’; [Heb . 11:23], from which it is inferred that a barbarian adult, in a certain case of urgent necessity, can be baptized although he does not believe explicitly in Jesus Christ.

Resp. A missionary should not baptize one who does not believe explicitly in the Lord Jesus Christ, but is bound to instruct him about all those matters which are necessary, by a necessity of means, in accordance with the capacity of the one to be baptized.

In the earlier instalments of this essay, we have seen, first, that there is a well-established theological opinion that a pope can lose his office because of heresy, and next, that this loss of office could be authoritatively declared without implying that anyone in the Church has a power greater than, or equal to, the pope’s. In particular, I argued in favour of the position of John of St Thomas and of certain other outstanding theologians, that an official declaration may be made that a pope is an incorrigible heretic, and therefore, according to the divine law promulgated in Titus 3, must be avoided. According to this view, after such a declaration, Christ Himself deposes the pope.

But who would have the right to make this official declaration of heresy, which would introduce into the pope a disposition incompatible with his continued possession of the papacy?

To decide this, we need to consider by what title they would have to be acting. By what right would this group of people, rather than that one, have the right to make a public declaration, with legal consequences, about the heresy of a pope? The answer seems to be, because they are charged with the spiritual good of a community that would be gravely harmed if the declaration of heresy were not made. Now, the pope is by divine law the head of two communities, each of which would be gravely harmed by his heresy: the universal Church on earth, and the local church of Rome. Therefore, there seem at first sight to be two possible groups of people who could make the declaration of heresy: the body of bishops, gathered in council, as representing the universal church, and the college of cardinals, as representing the church of Rome.

It has to be admitted that there are some weighty authorities in favour of a general council of bishops. Bellarmine gives as one of the six possible reasons why a general council may be called, “the suspicion of heresy in a Roman pontiff”, adding that the council must depose him if he is found to be heretical (De conciliis, book 1, IX). This may seem to contradict what he says elsewhere about a heretical pope’s being ipso facto deposed. Presumably, what he means is that it belongs to such a council to make the two admonitions required by divine law, and that after the failure of the second admonition, the pope would lose the papacy ipso facto, without need for any further declaration from the council. In practice, then, his position about the loss of the papacy would not be very different from the alternative position upheld by Cajetan, John of St Thomas, and St Alphonsus (it may be that Bellarmine’s position was that, ideally, such admonitions would be made by a council, but provided that admonitions were clearly made in a public way by someone important, the papacy would be lost ipso facto in the case of pertinacity.)

John of St Thomas explicitly asks whether it is the bishops or the cardinals who should admonish the pope and make a declaration of pertinacity, and he says that it is the bishops. He gives two arguments for this, one positive and one speculative. First, he says that this is clear from the practice of the Church, as happened with Pope Marcellinus, Pope Symmachus and at the Council of Constance. Secondly, he says that the authority to make the declaration of papal heresy has not been given by any explicit law to a particular group, such as the cardinals, and therefore it belongs to the Church as such, and therefore it belongs to a general council, as representing the Church (Cursus Theologicus, De auct. Summ. Pont. disp. 2, art. 3, XVII.)

Neither of these arguments seems decisive. The affair of Marcellinus is too uncertain for any argument to be built on it; in any case, it did not involve a general council. The synod that met to discuss the position of Symmachus was likewise not a general council, but a gathering of bishops from nearby dioceses: and according to Bellarmine, such gatherings were the forerunners of, precisely, the college of cardinals. The Council of Constance “accepted” the renunciation of the papal claimants, but it does not follow that it had to accept these renunciations for them to be valid, nor that it would have had power to declare a pope deposed for heresy; papal heresy was not in question.

As for John’s speculative argument, this would be convincing if it were certain that a ‘general council’ without the pope at its head could represent the Church. But can it? Can there even be a general council without the pope? To call it an ‘imperfect council’, as some people do, seems like calling a decapitated human being ‘an imperfect man’. Each diocesan bishop has ordinary power to rule his diocese, but he does not have ordinary power to help rule the whole Church, or else the popes would be obliged to call general councils frequently. And again, who would have the authority to summon an ‘imperfect general council’?

The college of cardinals, on the other hand, unlike the ecumenical council, is a standing institution. It has its proper head, or at least, a president, namely the dean, who can summon the other cardinals to a conclave. According to the present law of the Church, it has the right to elect a pope, when the see is vacant. It can therefore be said to be charged with a general care for the spiritual good of the Roman church. It would therefore seem fitting that in the case of a suspicion of heresy in the Roman pontiff, the dean of the college should invite his fellow cardinals to discuss the matter, and if necessary, to admonish the pope twice and make a declaration in the case of pertinacity.

The judgement of Bellarmine and John of St Thomas, that a general council would be the proper body, was perhaps influenced by the memory of the Council of Constance. More recent authors, such as Louis Billot, often speak of ‘a general council or the college of cardinals’ as being the interested body, without trying to determine the question. Journet does not address it.

How many of the cardinals would need to agree, for their declaration to have legal force? Nothing in law determines this, as far as I know. It seems only reasonable that such a grave matter should be performed with at least as much care as is taken in the election of a pope, and so according to the present law, a majority of two-thirds would be needed. Of course a declaration of incorrigible heresy and of consequent loss of office would not in itself be infallible. But if it were accepted by all Catholics, then that would be a sign of its truth. Billot writes that the adhesion of the whole Church is the infallible sign of the legitimacy of a pope (De ecclesia Christi, vol.1, 29:2).

What if there is a suspicion of heresy, but the cardinals will not act? In that case, there are still three remedies: prayer, penance and the Swiss guards. Prayer and penance are the principal arms in any supernatural work. But the Swiss guards could also act in defence of the Church. No one is allowed to use physical force against a Roman pontiff, as this brings with it an automatic excommunication. But it would not be using physical force if the front door of his residence were kept locked, and the means of communication with the outside world were cut off, provided that he was given all that was needed for his bodily and spiritual welfare. Time is greater than space, we are told. So I suggest that such a pontiff could be given whatever time heaven wishes him to have, while being kept within a pleasant and well-defined – and well-guarded – space.



While I mostly ignore news (which is probably wrong), whenever current events bring me to actually follow them, it is interesting to compare headlines in German and Anglophone media. According to what I catch from the latter, everyone, apart from us, seems to be concerned about the perceived fact that we are currently naively facilitating the Muslim invasion of Europe.

Of course, the ‘refugee crisis’ is in the German headlines as well, but from a quite different angle. There are probably hosts of people who could say something more intelligent or thoughtful about this than I, but since I have been told, courteously, but repeatedly, to post something here once more, here my inchoate musings:

For one thing, the shameful German history of the first half of the 20th century has a strong influence on the debate, in different ways.

Among my grandparents, two were refugees themselves, having lived in Pomerania and Silesia until the end of the war. They and their families, though in the latter case recognized as ‘anti-fascists’ even by the occupying powers, lost all their material goods, and, having nothing left to offer on the black market, starved more than others did at the time. But the thing that really enraged me, as a child and youth, was the fact that, when they came to the area that remained Germany, they were resented and despised, because the people of that area had to give up rooms to them, because their clothes were shabby, because they came from the East, were ‘Poles’ themselves.

Even more dramatically, there is the question of those directly persecuted by the National Socialists. Of course, at some point, it became difficult or impossible to leave Germany, because of the Germans. But I have always been thinking, up to now, that all allied or neutral countries ought to have been falling over themselves, so to speak, to receive Jewish refugees. I used to think that once someone got to the US, or Britain, etc., there was a happy end – and was shocked that too often, this was not the case.

I do not know to which extent these particular points actually influences attitudes or decisions, consciously or unconsciously, but I guess that they do, at least somewhat.

Then, there is the fact that the large majority of people critical of the refugee policies (or worse) are so from the wrong reasons entirely. The refugees could consist entirely of Christian families with children, so grateful that they got into safety that, however crowded, cold, monotonous their camps, they would not consider anything less than full compliance with our society’s ‘values’: Those people would still rage against ‘foreigners’, against the fact that housing and feeding them cost us money that they would rather spend on themselves.

Of course, they are opposed by the good people. Those who remember that we, the Germans, are the very last people who are permitted to refuse anyone for their ‘strangeness’, their culture, etc. I myself probably belong to them, to a not inconsiderable extent. And we imagine, indeed, the families with little children whom we cannot leave to drown in the Mediterranean, to starve or be shot in Syria, to freeze somewhere at the EU borders. If we are Christians, we believe that among them there are our brethren in the Faith, persecuted for it, whom we give refuge, as the Holy Family found in Egypt.

We are not the people who try to burn down refugee housings. We are disconcerted, however, when even the mainstream media in Germany, in some hidden corners of the news, start to report that Christian refugees are being attacked, in many places, by their Muslim compatriots. We would be interested, by the way, to have some demographics about the refugees that come. When we do see people, in the news, on the streets, there is a curious preponderance of young men without any family. Given the cost for getting to Europe, it might make sense to send just the sturdiest person, first, in the hope to get the family to follow. It could also be very tempting for unmarried young men to use the current political situation to get to Europe, where everyone has smartphones, a big car and whatever you dream of, and where they would not let you go to in peace time.

And because people are trying to burn the places where refugees stay, and go on the street with frighteningly xenophobic paroles, no one dares to follow social workers’ suggestions that Christian and Muslim refugees be housed separately – no, in Germany, there is tolerance, no religious separation. No one dares to ask what the consequence of continued boredom, in close quarters, might be even for completely average human beings, many of them young males (for whatever reason), and if local communities, leaving those xenophobes aside, are equipped to deal with that. No one nice dares to say that in the long-run (at least after the immediate crisis has past) it might be a country’s right to decide which rate of permanent immigration it thinks is compatible with national welfare. Actually, even hypothetically writing this, a part of my mind denounces me as a crypto-fascist.

Which is to say, I guess, that Germany faces some unique challenges regarding the refugee crisis.

I was recently clearing out part of the attic, and came across a tattered prayer-book. It contains a prayer for happy friendships, something which I’ve not seen elsewhere. Here it is:

   THRICE-BLESSÈD almighty Lord and God, Who hast made this world for man and rulest it still only for his good;

   Who hast established man in paradise and callest him ever into perfect amity with Thee;

   Thou who hast taught man through the holy Scriptures that the faithful friend is a sturdy shelter and a treasure beyond price, and who hast promised the boon of true friendships to such as feareth Thee;

   Thou also who didst knit together the heart of Jonathan with that of good David Thy servant, that he might love him as his own soul;

   and hast provided at the incarnation of the everlasting Word, our Lord Jesus, friends to Him that should solace and delight His earthly hours, Lazarus, whom He returned from the temporary tomb, and John, who laid his head upon our Saviour’s breast;

   grant to us, we beseech Thee, the gift of happy friendships; and teach us so amiably to foster, loyally to preserve and nobly to rejoice in them, that we may deserve to drink the new wine of Thy Kingdom with the old wine of trusted friends, in the presence of our only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

As in the theatres, when it grows toward evening, and the spectators depart, then going out and laying aside their dresses, they who seemed kings and generals are seen as they really are, the sons of gardeners and fig-sellers: so also when death is come and the spectacle is over, and all the masks of poverty and riches are put off, by their works alone are men judged, which are truly rich, which poor, which are worthy of honour, which of dishonour (Pseudo-Chrysostom, quoted in Catena Aurea on Lk XVI:24).

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