The Power That Resides Within The Modern See of St Peter
The religious strength of the popes and their development of doctrine.
A very different religious world to the first Petrine Holy Father’s view of the Ancient World. In the 19th and 20th Centuries various of our Holy Fathers were threatened militarily and politically namely Pius IX and Pius XII. Francis I now rules the church from the Vatican City unimpeded as has been the case since Pacelli and 1944 (Pius XII) when Nazi Germany menaced His Holiness.
The unification of Italy under Garibaldi and Cavour of Piedmont eclipsed the Vatican in 1870. The territorial integrity of the City State of the Vatican was guaranteed by the new Kingdom of Italy in the 1870’s which has never been infringed since. The Papal States have been lost by the Papacy in the unification of the 19th Century Italy in the 1870’s to the Pope IX grief but no severe damage to the institution of the Papacy.
The Essence of the Power of the Popes
This has never been intended to be temporal (by Christ and his Apostles) and where the Popes have trespassed into the affairs of States or secular politics they have always come off worse. The inner power of the Popes is their religious authority derived from Christ’s promise to their esteemed predecessor: Simon Peter “Thou art Peter and upon this rock (Peter himself) I shall build my Church”. Christ is still constructing his Church but He is making and He has made good progress. The Popes have driven forward the process or at least held their ground – marking time. The Pope cannot permit himself to be toppled in any sense - in the same way a Bishop cannot allow that outcome. The Pope must always extricate himself intact without indelicacy or unnecessary trouble from entrapment. Pius XII handled the Nazi menace adroitly.
The Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ
These titles describe the power of our Popes. Truly they ministered to Christ’s sheep on earth and they are the supreme Bishops of Rome. Rome is the centre of our Church and that city was the centre of the Roman Empire when that Empire was great. Thus Catholicism carries on the same tradition to our days. They say the Pope is “primus inter pares” (first among equals), a little misleading as his Cardinals and Bishops are not in any sense his equals. The power of the Pope lies in the solitary nature of his office – only he knows how to feed his sheep. Yet if he fails we all know it. He must lead from the front by example as with all leaders. This means his life story is on the block. John XXIII and Paul VI were both men of distinct Holiness and Italian – a great reservoir of Popes.
We have now gone to Francis I about whom I know very little. May he also feed his sheep. John Paul II was a Polish priest and political powerhouse who helped to transform Eastern Europe – a real leader through his Roman Catholic religion. Roncalli (John XXIII) made the ground breaking decision to start the Second Vatican Council in 1960 and yet died before he could see it bear fruit in the vernacular Ritual (English translated mass). Paul VI is best known for his teaching encyclical Humanae Vitae (against contraception) (see my essay released on Kindle 27/06/13).
What are the correct deductions from the story of our modern Papal history.
I must mention the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary the Mother of Christ defined by Pius IX in 1854 and “spoke of” to Bernadette by the Virgin at Loudres. Secondly the First Vatican Council in 1870, under Pio Norio’s guiding hand, pronounced the Doctrine of Papal infallibility when he is teaching faith and morals as the Supreme Shepherd and Teacher. Clearly the Pope, if he is worth his salt and we Catholics, if we really support the Pope and his Church must all of us acclaim this teaching of Papal infallibility. Pio Nono was the player who set up this checkmate and won the game too, as imitated by Pius X in particular, Pius XI and Pius XII as the latter pronounced the doctrine of the Glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven bodily in the mid 1950’s. If you really believe in your cause and have given your pledge to serve the Roman Catholic Church all these teachings fall into place. It takes conscience to proclaim and Newman believed in conscience all his life. He endorsed in his lifetime the Immaculate Conception teaching and Papal Infallibility in the First Vatican Council 1870-71. Newman would have wholeheartedly backed Pius XII’s enunciation of the doctrine of the Glorious Assumption in the 1950’s. He was an avowed devotee of Mary the Mother of God whose name he chose at his Roman Catholic Confirmation in 1845 approx. Roncalli did not pronounce doctrine but he supported his predecessor Pacelli – Pius XII. Montini ( Paul VI) worked on the Immaculate Conception teaching and the Virgin Birth (ancient doctrine) and the Assumption dogma in his 1966/68 encyclical on contraception. He was following through the theme in these papal teachings as applied to young women and men and he exercised his teaching authority in that encyclical. He was not frightened to use his Pastor’s power to elucidate for his Flock’s benefit despite expected and vocal opposition. That is the sign of a true successor to Peter himself.
Even the Pope has a conscience and the dictates of his conscience illuminate our consciences as the faithful. Without the Pope’s conscience properly discovered by us and his own worked out conscience we would be leaderless and like lost sheep. It is the Good shepherd with this lamb on his shoulders which adorns the wall of the Roman Catacombs – the image painted more than 1000 years ago. We all have our consciences but we must inform them with the mind of Christ as expressed by His Vicar and the Bishop of Rome himself during our lifetime. Christ never made it to Rome but he gave final authority to the Petrine line before he was crucified. It is our duty to frankly interact with the Pope, his Cardinals, his Bishops and Priests and fellow laymen and women. The Pope must have the confidence to emulate his predecessors particularly Pio Nono and Pius X – two absolutely seminal and defining Popes with Pius XI (Achille Ratti) and Pius XII not forgetting Paul VI. He always has the weight of history on his side in his perorations.
The pope is the arch orator and foremost thinker and high Priest in our Catholic Church. He defines and we follow his definitions in our lives, not slavishly but affectionately, to Christ himself of whom he is Vicar. The Holy Father draws us to Christ and coaxes us forward. It works by word of mouth – we do not have to read all the Pope’s works. The Pope will never be one sided but he will advocate in the best sense as the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most gracious Advocate. The Pope must put his polemic to us sincerely so we may pick up his thread ourselves and develop his argument. The dialogue goes on and the Holy Father leads his flock. To be led is not to ignore and subjugate your conscience – it is to find a way through difficult and inhospitable country. Trust in God, the Son and His vicars and the episcopacy of Rome – lead on in Majesty – in lowly pomp ride on. Honour the Holy See and drink to the Pope in all sincerity.