With regard to the present day situation of the Church, the times that we are living in lend themselves to innumerable historical parallels. In effect, the crisis opened by Vatican Council II is certainly the most serious of History. From top to bottom the Church edifice was revolutionized. It is normal, therefore, for Catholics to ask if there have been analogous precedents to what we are now witnessing, in order to know how to act. If this is opportune with regard to the ecclesiastical crisis, it is imperative with regard to the Papacy. In fact, after the proclamation of papal infallibility, the notion began to spread that all the positions of a Pope are infallible and irreformable - a Pope can never err, and whoever thinks such a thing would be committing a crime. The reality, however, is not so simple. The conditions under which papal infallibility is guaranteed are very restricted and rare. For a document of the papal Magisterium to be considered infallible, very precise elements are necessary. Thus, there is a significant margin of error in the attitudes assumed by a Pope. Saying this, I by no means want to encourage any lack of respect for the pontifical authority. I only want to place myself within the actual situation as it was desired by Our Lord and taught by the Church.
The Papacy is for me the perfect institution: it is the mainstay of the created universe, the pillar of the temporal order and the summit of the spiritual order. The stairs that Jacob saw in his dream, with angels rising and descending on it, I consider as a symbol of the Papacy. It is by means of the Papacy that the earth meets Heaven. So much so that one might ask if some future theologian will study whether the attitudes of a Pope on earth might have juridical repercussions in Heaven. The words of Our Lord, "And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in Heaven" (Mt 18:18) seem to suggest a certain "Heavenly jurisdiction" in the exercise of the Petrine Primacy. I mention this not to defend a new theological question - the times unfortunately are not propitious for this - but to make public my unrestrained veneration for the Papacy.
Even with the highest esteem for the Primacy, I do not see any problem with facing the following reality. The Pope can err; many Popes have erred in innumerable fields, not excluding doctrinary teachings, and some have even fallen into heresy.
In my last column I showed the liturgical errors of St. Anicetus and St. Victor I, both Popes, and the resistance of St. Polycarp of Smyrma and St. Irenaeus of Lyons respectively in face of them. I narrated briefly how St. Marcellinus, Pope during the persecution of Diocletian, moved by fear, burned incense to the idols. A brief overview was given of the adhesion of Pope Liberius to Arianism, which was resisted by St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, and St. Hilary, Bishop of Potiers. I also described the position of Pope Zozimus, who in written documents supported Pelagius and ordered those who were combating him to retract their objections, as well as the responses of St. Augustine, St. Aurelius and other African bishops who showed energetic resistance to that Pontiff. Finally, I referred to the case of Pope Vigilius, who, under the pressure of the Emperor Justinian, signed a Monophysitist document. In this week's column I will give several more examples which seem useful in understanding the lesson they contain. The incomplete history of events expounded here does not go beyond the 7th century. Perhaps I will have to return to the subject to present the documentation of the cases to which I have referred, or perhaps to give yet other cases.
1. The case of Pope Vigilius, which readers already knows, had a great repercussion in the Church of the time. In the West, the pontifical prevarication caused great indignation, even causing a schism in northern Italy. After the death of Vigilius, his disrepute continued for some time in the Church. In this general climate of confusion following the doctrinary fall of a Pope, one can understand the attitude of the Irish monk St. Columbanus. While in Italy in the city of Babbio, he learned from Agrippinus, Bishop of Cone, that Pope Boniface IV (608-615) was manifesting strong Nestorian tendencies. Concerned about the bad reputation of the See of Peter, St. Columbanus wrote to the Pope. After first affirming his humility, the Saint did not hesitate to make an admonition: "Vigilance, vigilance, I beg you, o Pope. Vigilance, I repeat, because perhaps Vigilius did not have enough vigilance" (Epistula V). St. Columbanus entreated the Pope to prove his orthodoxy and assemble a council that would clarify the doctrinary confusions of the time. He ended the letter with a reprimand of the Pope.
2. In order to follow the heresy of Pope Honorius (625-638), some background information is necessary, which I will give here in a very brief way. The doctrines of monoenergism and of monothelism are two variants of monophysitism. The author of the heresy, Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople, defended the notion that in Christ there was only one single energy and one single will. This was countered by the strong and efficient opposition of St. Sophronius, who was afterward Patriarch of Jerusalem. This heresy was also combated by St. Maximus the Confessor and various Popes, as will be seen below. In an attempt to thwart the attacks of St. Sophronius and gain approval for the new heresy, Sergius wrote to Pope Honorius. The Pope responded with a letter of approval. In the document, Honorius praised the efforts of Sergius and approved his thesis about the single energy. The arguments of those who opposed him, said Honorius, could be reduced to merely a grammatical question. It was sufficient, Honorius affirmed, to teach that the same Word Incarnate divinely operates divine things and humanly operates human things, and that in all His action there is only one acting, therefore, only one will.
Sophronius was elected Patriarch of Jerusalem. He called a synod to combat the heresy. The final document of the assembly was a anti-monothelist profession of faith. The Patriarch also wrote a treatise about the first heresies and how the Church had always combated them. The central point of his analysis was to demonstrate that the Church had always taught that there were two energies, one human and one divine, in Christ. This is a natural consequence of the double nature of the Savior. To affirm the contrary is to fall into monophysitism. The documents of Sophronius - the conclusion of the synod and the treatise - were sent to Honorius. The Pope reproved the Patriarch, warning him that he should not separate the energies in Christ.
With this situation standing between Honorius and Sophronius, the Emperor Heralitus launched edicts about religious unity and the faith, in which he favored the heresy and combated St. Sophronius.
Monothelism was condemned by the successors of Pope Honorius: Pope Severinus condemned it in 640, Pope John IV in 642, and Pope Theodore I excommunicated Pyrrhus, Patriarch of Constantinople, for defending the same error. Pope St. Martin I was imprisoned by the Emperor Constans II, and died a martyr because he would not accept monothelism. Pope Eugenius I also rejected this doctrine. The Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680-681) condemned monothelism and condemned Pope Honorius as a heretic. The condemnation document was elaborated by Pope Saint Agatho.
3. The Council of Toledo of 638 praised King Chintila for a law of interdict against those who professed the Jewish faith from remaining in Spain. The Council determined that in the future every King should swear to maintain this rigorous prescription, under punishment of anathema. This attitude of prevention in relation to the errors of the Jewish religion was a confirmation of a canon of the Council of Toledo of 633, presided over by St. Isidore.
Pope Honorius sent an admonition to the Bishops of Spain, expressing benevolence in relation to the Jewish errors. In view of this, St. Braulio of Saragossa, disciple and friend of St. Isidore of Seville, reprimanded the Pope immediately after the Council of 638. He stated that he found it incredible that baptized Jews had received permission in Rome to return to their superstitious practices. The Saint sent Honorius a relation of the "past and present acts" of the councils regarding the Jewish errors. Directing himself to the Pope, St. Braulio first manifested his respect toward the "the first and most eminent of the Prelates," to the "chief of our ministry.`" But then he affirmed that he could not believe that the "astuteness of the serpent had been able to leave traces of his passing over the stone of the Apostolic See."
One of the "dogmas" of progressivism that unfortunately is held by many in high places of the Church today is that of not combating the errors of the Jewish religion, which, nonetheless, continues to profess the same principles. It is interesting to see here how the Councils and the Saints have acted so courageously in the past. And how even when a Pope, a heretic Pope, had sustained the Jewish errors, he had received the exemplary resistance of a Saint.