Not Baptized?

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God possesses infinite life. He shares His life with us.

He gives us existence and capacities–including interior, spiritual capacities. We can feel, think, choose, love. And He unites Himself with us in Christ, in order to give us immortality and eternal friendship with Himself, the Source of everything beautiful and good.

We call our share in God’s life “grace.” It comes to us from Christ the divine eternal Son, through Christ the man, the son of Mary. God is the source of grace. The humanity of Christ is the instrument through which God gives us His grace.

The humanity of Christ: His human pilgrim life; His human death; His human resurrection; His human ascension into heaven. Through this humanity–Jesus Christ’s–we receive holiness from the unapproachable, true God. Grace.

Baltimore Catechism sacraments

Christ the God-man gave us the sacraments. He uses the sacraments of His Church to give us His grace. St. Thomas Aquinas employs this analogy for God’s giving of grace through Christ and the sacraments:

Imagine that our salvation and holiness were a wooden settee. God makes the settee out of wood, using His ‘hands’ (His humanity in Christ) and using His ‘tools’ (the sacraments.)

Could God Almighty share His eternal vitality with a particular human being using some ‘tool’ about which we Catholics know nothing? Certainly. God is God.

But, by the same token, can we say that we know of any way to get to heaven other than Holy Baptism and communion in Christ’s Church? No. We know of no other way. We would be dishonest as hell if we pretended that we did.

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Holy Baptism comes from Jesus Himself. Before He ascended into heaven, He commanded His apostles to make disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

A Catholic baptism is a ritual washing. It is also an initiation ceremony, and a naming ceremony. In other words, Holy Baptism has certain aspects in common with similar rites in non-Christian religions.

But Baptism makes no sense at all, if you don’t understand it with reference to the Christian faith. A baptism is, first and foremost, an act of obedience to Jesus of Nazareth.

We obey Him in this way because we believe Him to be 1. God, 2. alive, 3. active in saving souls, through the sacraments which He gave to His Church.

The Church ministers Christ’s sacraments–as His instrument, a ‘tool’ in His hands. In the Church, we have particular individuals, sacred ministers, who can act in the person of Christ at Mass, and on other occasions. A particular sacrament, Holy Orders, makes a man a sacred minister within the ministering Church of Jesus Christ.

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Sometimes when a sacred minister says “I” or “my,” he does not mean himself, in the sense of Joe Schmoe. He means, “I, Jesus.” In these moments, the sacred minister serves as a personal instrument of the Lord in the bringing about of a sacrament.

“This is My Body…This is My Blood,” would be the pre-eminent example.

To perceive by faith that Jesus Christ speaks these words at Holy Mass, using the priest as His personal instrument to bring about the consecration: that perception of faith is the key to embracing the Church’s sacraments for what they truly are. That is, perceiving Jesus acting in the priest at Mass = embracing the sacraments with Catholic faith.

Clovis Baptism St Remi

Since I hold the Catholic faith, by God’s grace, I can say this: When I have, hundreds of times, applied water to someone in a kind of ritual cleansing, I believe that Christ has acted to bestow the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Every time.

Most, if not all, of the people present on those occasions have believed the same thing. We have all believed it, because the Church believes it. We have shared, in an imperfect manner, in the perfect faith of Holy Mother Church, the perfect minister of the sacraments of faith.

On all those occasions, I have always undertaken to say what the ritual book instructs me to say. Who would I be, to think that I could improve on that? Who am I to tinker with something so sacred, so hallowed by the centuries, and so crucially important?

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All that said, perhaps you have heard, dear reader, about a serious problem that has arisen in the Church, regarding the ministering of Holy Baptism?

The problem has only just begun. It appears to be two-fold.

1. Many poor souls have to wonder if they are in fact baptized, since some ministers have said, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” instead of “I baptize…”

2. This hardship for earnest Catholics has led many to criticize, and even mock, our Church.

I think we can understand the criticism. Consider the situation: A family and their friends with a baby, coming to a Catholic church building (which has been dedicated for sacred use by a bishop), holding a child over a baptismal font (itself also consecrated for this holy purpose), participating in a ceremony conducted by a duly ordained Catholic clergyman, a ceremony in which the clergyman applies water to the child in a ritual cleansing (a ‘baptism’).

And the clergyman says:

[first-person pronoun] baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All the circumstances naturally lead everyone present to think: This is a Catholic baptism. No reason to doubt it.

That is, until the Vatican declares: If the first-person pronoun used was singular, all good. If plural, no baptism occurred.

You sure? Yes, we are absolutely sure no baptism occurred.

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What if the minister said “we” by mistake? What if he was not a native speaker of the local language? Does what he meant to say count at all?

We Catholics have traditionally understood: What the minister means to say not only counts, but is the decisive thing. A sacrament occurs when the minister intends to do what the Church intends to do, by employing the necessary words and material.

Can I personally say that I have never flubbed the words? I can’t. I probably did, at some point. Over half the baptisms I have ever done have been in my second language.

But: However imperfectly I might have spoken, did I nonetheless habitually have the intention of celebrating the sacraments as Holy Mother Church celebrates them? Yes. I can say that without hesitation.

So I rest serene that my errors of diction have not impeded Jesus in His work.

Back to the Vatican declaration. In 2020, the Holy See responded to this question: Is a baptism conferred with the words, ‘We baptize you…’ valid? Answer: No. Anyone baptized with these words must undergo baptism again, as if he or she had never been baptized.

The pope approved the response. And the Vatican also published an explanation of its answer.

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Let me say two things. This procedure is how things should work in the Church. The Holy See has the authority to settle questions like this. Also: only a very foolish cleric chooses to alter the words used to confer the sacraments.

That said, I humbly propose that there are three reasons why we might wonder about this Vatican judgment. I do not think it is correct. I think the Holy See should reconsider.

The three reasons:

1. In the first paragraph of the Vatican’s explanation of its ruling, they cite the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Vatican writes:

[In this case] the ancient temptation resurfaces, that is, to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable. In this regard, St. Thomas Aquinas had already asked himself the question, ‘Whether several people can simultaneously baptize?’ He replied negatively. (Citing ST III q67 a6)

Citing St. Thomas as an authority on this matter does not serve the purpose. Let me explain why.

St. Thomas considers the words used by the minister of a sacrament in questions 60, 64, 66, and 67 of Part III of the Summa (as well as in additional questions later on, considering sacraments other than Holy Baptism.)

In his considerations in these four questions, St. Thomas recognizes not one, but two, traditional formulas for conferring baptism.

In the Latin-speaking Church, the minister says, “I baptize you…” St. Thomas explicitly refrains from ascribing the phrase “I baptize you” to Christ’s institution. (Christ instituted the use of the name of the Holy Trinity, but Matthew 28:19 does not include ‘I baptize you.’)

In the Greek-speaking Church, on the other hand, the minister does not refer to himself at all. Rather he uses the passive voice, saying “[Name] is baptized in the name of…

St. Thomas therefore opines:

“As to the addition of “I” in our form [the Latin], it is not essential. It is added in order to lay greater stress on the intention.” (emphasis added)

To lay greater stress on the intention. What intention? To do what the Church does in a baptism.

In other words, the sentence uttered by the minister is not some kind of incantation. It a verbal communication of his intention in acting as he does: that is, applying water to someone in a ritual washing.

What am I doing now? Am I rinsing the baby dandruff off your little scalp? No, “I baptize you in the name of the Father…”

To reiterate. St. Thomas: “I baptize” is not essential. It expresses the intention of the minister.

Okay, but doesn’t singular versus plural matter? What if a priest stood at the altar during the consecration at Mass and said: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is our body… Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of our blood.”

I think we would all agree that this would not result in the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament. It would be an ‘invalid’ attempt. It would result in a nonsensical, ridiculous situation, and the priest should have his head examined.

But St. Thomas’ explanation of the baptismal words (which takes the Greek Church practice into account) teaches us that the “I baptize” is not the same as the “My” of the Body and Blood at Holy Mass. There is no Mass without the priest using the exact words of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine. But the Greek-speaking Church has celebrated countless beautiful baptisms without anyone there saying “I baptize.”

The fact of the matter is: the Vatican addresses one situation in its response, while St. Thomas addresses something quite different in question 67, article 6, of Pars III.

In the cited article, St. Thomas concludes that several people cannot baptize at the same time. He gives this example:

Suppose a child to be in danger of death, and two persons present, one of whom is mute, the other without hands or arms. The one would have to speak the words, the other perform the act of baptizing.

He considers two possible explanations for why that would not work.

The first possible explanation:

Were they to say, “We baptize you…,” the sacrament would not be conferred because the form of the Church would not be observed, i.e., “I baptize you…”

St. Thomas unequivocally rejects this explanation for why it wouldn’t work. He writes:

This reasoning is disproved by the form observed by the Greek Church, since their words differ far more from our form than does ‘We baptize…”

According to St. Thomas, therefore, it is not the words “We baptize…” that renders it impossible for multiple people to baptize a baby. Rather it is the second explanation he proposes, namely:

If several concur in conferring one baptism, this seems contrary to the notion of a minister, for a man does not baptize save as a minister of Christ, as standing in His place; wherefore, just as there is one Christ, so should there be one minister.

In the case that sat before the Vatican for judgment, there was only one single minister. He substituted “we” for “I,” yes. But only he did the baptism. St. Thomas, in concluding that several cannot baptize, was addressing a different situation.

To my mind, this seriously compromises the integrity of the Vatican’s response. It also brings us to problem #2 with the Vatican’s explanation.

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2. When a minister substitutes “we” for “I” when baptizing, who exactly does he mean by “we?” Do we know?

The Vatican explanation assumes that the ‘we’ the minister means is: the persons present at the ceremony. The Vatican puts it like this:

Apparently, the deliberate modification of the sacramental formula was introduced in order to express the participation of the family and of those present.

The Vatican rightly points out:

No group can make itself Church… The minister is a sign-presence of Him who gathers… The minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.

Amen. Excellent points. But what if these points, too, do not actually address the case?

The Vatican also says this, in their explanation:

In the celebration of the sacraments, the subject is the Church, the Body of Christ together with its Head, that manifests itself in the concrete assembly. Such an assembly therefore acts ministerially.

What if, by “we,” the minister means this ministering Church? What if the “we” is not limited to the family and friends present as a mere human community, but actually refers to the Holy Mother? The “we” that is the Church.

If the minister has this ‘we’ in mind, would that change the situation? And perhaps allow for a different Vatican response?

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This brings us to the third problem with the Vatican’s explanation for its negative response.

3. The Vatican assumes ill will on the part of the minister who says “we” instead of “I.”

The Vatican ascribes the rationale for the minister’s change of pronouns to “debatable pastoral motives,” adding: “Often the recourse to pastoral motives masks, even unconsciously, a subjective deviation and a manipulative will.”

The Vatican continues:

The minister’s intention to do what the Church does must be expressed in the exterior action constituted by the use of the matter and form of the sacrament.

They add: Substituting ‘we’ for ‘I’ does not

manifest the communion between what the minister accomplishes in the celebration of each individual sacrament with what the Church enacts in communion with the action of Christ Himself…

Therefore, in every minister of baptism there must not only be a deeply rooted knowledge of the obligation to act in ecclesial communion, but also the conviction of St. John the Baptist: although many ministers may baptize, the virtue of baptism is attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended.

Stirring words.

But who will test baptismal ministers for the necessary deeply rooted knowledge and conviction? How will we know when these necessary conditions are present?

And are you really saying that the mere substitution of ‘we’ for ‘I’ proves, in and of itself, that the necessary intention to do what the Church does is not there?

No clergyman should ever substitute any words in conferring a sacrament. The Vatican should emphasize our obligation to ‘say the black and do the red,’ as they say.

And maybe that is precisely what this Vatican response actually intends to convey.

Which would mean that perhaps the Vatican authorities are, at this very moment, concerned and preoccupied with the unforeseen consequences that their ruling has had, namely:

1. Many good, earnest Catholics have to worry about the validity of their own baptism, or their children’s. And they have to take onerous steps to deal with that worry.

2. Our Church looks like a ridiculous and pedantic institution that can’t manage to get its head out of its butt.

Maybe, even now, they are reconsidering what they have done. I hope so.

Because this action, like so many other actions of the hierarchy, is obtuse and unfair.

Send a message to loosey-goosey clergymen by laying a burden on earnest laypeople? Really?

Two non-church Churches and a Ghost Palace

Sunset on the Garonne, in Toulouse, France

St. Thomas Aquinas’ mind stretched across many boundaries during his pilgrim life, and his bones straddle a boundary, even in death.

In the annals of French history, the same term–Jacobin–refers to two different groups. The Jacobins of the late 1700’s hated the monarchy and played a major role in the Reign of Terror that followed the 1789 revolution (1).

This group got its name from holding its meetings in a building that had once been a Dominican friary. Because Jacobins also = Dominicans.

After St. Dominic founded his religious order in 1214, the first Dominicans in Paris lived in the friary of St. Jacques. Parisians came to refer to them by the name of their house. Hence, “Jacobins” (2).

St. Thomas Aquinas’ tomb

St. Thomas’ relics lie under the single altar in the “Church of the Jacobins” in Toulouse. Which does not mean: Church of the French Revolutionaries. It means Church of the Dominicans. The friars built the church during the first decades of the order’s life. It is their “mother church.”

Except it isn’t. Because it isn’t a church anymore.

The (French-Revolution) Jacobins despised the (Dominican) Jacobins and expelled the order from France in 1789. Fifteen years later, Napoleon put the Church of the Jacobins to use as a military barracks. The bishop moved St. Thomas’ relics to the nearby church of St. Sevrin (an ancient marvel itself.) The holy bones remained there for almost two centuries.

As the 19th century wore on, the people of Toulouse came to dislike the army using the old Dominican church as a barracks. The city took ownership of the building and turned it into a museum. In 1974, the government came to an agreement with the Church, and the bishop moved St. Thomas’ remains back.

Jacobins Toulouse

There is one Holy Mass celebrated in the building each year, on January 28, the anniversary of the arrival of the saint’s bones in Toulouse in 1369, St. Thomas’ feastday.

This non-church church is truly a unique Gothic edifice, with a single row of columns supporting the roof. The altar sits in a strange position–not in the apse, but near the middle of the northern of the two naves formed by the one row of columns.

Jacobins Toulouse column

An unusual place. A church that isn’t a church anymore.

But you can pray there. I could hardly believe that I was actually kneeling in front of this altar. For decades I have thought about visiting my friend’s tomb–my daily companion, through his books, since I was nineteen years old.

Jacobins Toulouse

…While St. Thomas walked the earth, King St. Louis IX built a chapel adjoining his palace in Paris–the Sainte Chapelle. The king built it to house the Lord Jesus’ Crown of Thorns.

That relic no longer remains in the Sainte Chapelle. (It was kept in Notre Dame–a priest had to run in, to rescue it, during the 2019 fire.) There is never a Mass in Sainte Chapelle anymore, not even once a year.

But the famous stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle not only captivate you with their luminescence–swaddling you in light–but they also convey a stunningly unified message. All 1,113 panels contribute to communicating one single idea.

20220204_161515Namely: God Almighty governs all things. He has given human beings a circumscribed share in that government. To some human beings, he has given the authority to govern nations. To the custodian of Christ’s Crown of Thorns, He has given the secular government of Christendom.

The panels in the windows of Sainte Chapelle depict episodes or images from: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel and Kings, Judith, Esther, Tobit, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Holy Gospels, and Revelation. One window has panels depicting the history of the Crown of Thorns, since the Passion.

All the episodes and images relate to the theme. Together, they communicate the idea. The King of France, custodian of Christ’s crown, possesses divine authority to rule human affairs.

[NB. I didn’t make this thesis up. It comes from Alyce Jordan’s book Visualizing Kingship. Also, you can see close-ups of the window panels by clicking HERE.]

The Sainte-Chapelle message, of course, goes against our American idea that the authority to govern comes from the consent of the governed. But that was not really a point in dispute when King Louis built his chapel. Rather, the potentially disputable point had to do with the consent of the pope.

Which is not to say that the Sainte Chapelle was meant to be anything other than a place for prayer, and above all for the celebration of Holy Mass. By a duly ordained priest. King Louis revered the Apostles and their successors.

But the king believed he had his mission in life from God, not from the pope. His chapel conspicuously avoids depicting St. Peter in any exalted manner.

As we mentioned here before, King Louis’ grandson–King Philip IV “the Fair”–wanted Pope Boniface VIII deposed from office, for interfering too much. But Boniface insisted that the king had his authority only by delegation from the pope. Philip strenuously rejected this idea.

That conflict ultimately resulted in the building of what is now an eerie ghost palace, which sits on top of a majestic hill rising east from the Rhone river in Provence. The Palais des Papes.

The Palais des Papes, as seen from the west side of the Rhone

In the fourteenth century, Avignon, France, became the capital of western Europe. All roads led there. After Boniface VIII died in Rome, and his successor died after a months’-long papacy lived entirely in Perugia, Pope Clement V got elected in absentia. And proceeded never to set foot in Italy.

Clement V reigned over the Church on earth from France. So did the next five popes.

The Coronation of the Virgin by Rudolfo Ghirlandaio, which hangs in the Petit Palais in Avignon

The huge banquet hall where Pope Clement VI entertained the monarchs of Europe: it’s now a bare chamber. Just cold stone walls. The loggia from which Blessed Urban V blessed pilgrims: it now looks out on an empty windswept courtyard. The cavernous Gothic chapel where popes were crowned: silent. (Carved facsimiles of the Avignon popes’ tombs sit in an adjoining room, adding to the ghostliness.)

The real tomb of Innocent VI, in the charterhouse in Villeneuve, across the Rhone from Avignon.

They raked-in a lot of shekels in that old palace. The Avignon papacy was a business. The pope conferred countless ecclesiastical offices each year, and every time the coin had to ring in the coffer before the transaction was complete. They had huge trunks full of cash hidden in the floors.

But the money wasn’t all spent profligately. Clement VI entertained lavishly, but his banquets fostered peace between nations. And all the Avignon popes were highly cultured men who doled out huge sums to endow schools and pay professors, including scholars of Hebrew and Greek (to improve study of the Holy Scriptures).

They knew they belonged in Rome. The pope is the bishop of Rome, after all. You can hardly condemn absentee bishops, or absentee parish priests, when you yourself are one.

Urban V tried to return to Rome to live and govern, but then he fled back to Avignon when he feared for his safety in Italy. Urban’s successor Gregory XI then finally gave in to St. Catherine of Siena’s many behests and moved back to Rome for good.

But it wasn’t over yet. Gregory’s successor was challenged by a false pope who had been elected by a large number of Cardinals. The false Clement VII moved back to France and set up shop in Avignon, like the old days.

(It’s hard to imagine just how deeply confusing the Western Schism was to your average Catholic Joe of the time. The false pope sat in the throne that the real popes had used for three generations, and the real pope was a stranger in his own country.)

It took four more decades to settle the schism. Finally the new pope, Martin V, traveled from the Council of Constance to Rome, and the days of popes in Avignon ended for good.

The ghosts remain.

January 28, 1369 + Other Things French

Couvent des Jacobins de Toulouse - Autel de St Thomas d'Aquin
Tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas, Toulouse, France

As the years have passed, my devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas has steadily increased.

I loved him decades ago; I loved him even before I became Catholic. Back in the 90’s, while studying at Catholic University in Washington, I went religiously every January 28 to hear one of the learned Dominicans give the St. Thomas-Aquinas-Day sermon at the Basilica of the National Shrine. A Dominican always gives the sermon that day, because St. Thomas was a Dominican priest.

Meanwhile, though, I knew perfectly well that St. Thomas did not die on January 28. Yes, we generally keep the feasts and memorials of saints on the anniversaries of their deaths. But St. Thomas died on March 7, not January 28.

In fact, the Church used to keep the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas on March 7. His death day was his feast day for six centuries, from his canonization in 1323 until 1969. But after the Second Vatican Council, the Roman authorities decided to try to keep Lent as free as possible of festival observances. Since March 7 almost always falls within Lent, we needed a new day for St. Thomas.

st ambrose catedra petriAs an aside, to keep anyone from hissing at the mention of Vatican II:

Today is an unusual exception to the death-day rule for saints’ days, of course. It’s the anniversary of the conception of our Lady in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.

More to the point, though: Yesterday we kept the Memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan. He did not die on December 7, but rather on April 4. But since April 4 always falls either within Lent or Holy Week, or early in Easter time, St. Ambrose’s feast day is kept on his ordination anniversary. And it has been kept on December 7 since at least the 1000’s. (As in, before the year 1100 AD.)

In other words, Vatican II did not invent the idea of moving saints’ feast days out of Lent, to an alternate anniversary date. That idea itself has a long, long history.

Back to St. Thomas Aquinas: In the revision of the festival calendar after Vatican II, they did not just randomly pick January 28 out of a hat. The date already served as a secondary feast day of St. Thomas, among Dominicans. It marks the anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas’ relics in Toulouse, France.

The arrival of his relics in France. Hmm. How’s that?

I never carefully considered the question myself, until recently. But when you finally get the chance to visit the place where someone you love died, you start wondering about stuff like this.

St. Thomas died while on his way to an ecumenical council convened in Lyon, France, by Pope Gregory X. The pope called that council primarily to try to heal the East-West schism in the Church, which was then a couple centuries old. Pope Gregory personally requested that Thomas Aquinas come and participate, even though the 49-year-old theologian was not well.

Thomas accepted the summons. While on his way from Naples to Lyon, he took sick south of Rome. Thomas breathed his last in the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova.

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The Cistercian abbey building where St. Thomas died, Fossanova, Italy (photo credit: yours truly)

The Cistercians of Fossanova eagerly retained St. Thomas’ mortal remains. They generously offered visitors the opportunity to venerate the holy man’s relics. The monks had no intention of parting with the great treasure that Providence had delivered to them.

But the saint’s brother Dominicans painfully wanted to entomb their eminent teacher’s remains in one of their own friaries.

The ensuing battle over St. Thomas’ bones lasted almost a full century. Meanwhile, events which we have recently considered here unfolded. Events involving the highly unstable late-13th-century papacy.

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

The pope who summoned St. Thomas on his final earthly journey, Gregory X: he had been elected only after a two-year deadlock between the French and Italian factions of the College of Cardinals. We discussed earlier how Pope Celestine V, who was also elected in a conclave that lasted over two years, renounced the papacy in 1295. We also covered how Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII, died shortly after suffering an attack by the king of France’s henchmen.

Boniface’s death led to the brief papacy of Blessed Benedict XI, then to the world-changing Conclave of 1305. The sitting Archbishop of Bordeaux, France, became Clement V. And he never set foot in Rome. Ever.

Pope Clement V moved the Holy See to France, to the town of Avignon. There, Clement’s successor John XXII canonized St. Thomas.

Wait. Moved the Holy See to France?

[Click HERE to listen to a thorough and very-helpful explanation by the late Dr. Brendan McGuire.]

Now, Rome had become a dangerous place for a pope to live.

And the king of France had consolidated enough authority to dominate the Church.

But: Move the papacy to France? Really? I will have more to say about this. As far as St. Thomas’ bones and Toulouse:

Blessed Urban V traveled from Avignon to Rome in 1367, recognizing that he belonged in the city of Saints Peter and Paul. Sixty years had passed since the last time the Bishop of Rome had set foot in his own diocese.

Urban had good intentions, but his effort proved half-hearted. He abandoned Rome, and returned to Avignon, in 1370. In the meantime, the pope ordered that St. Thomas’ remains be moved from Italy to France. (The pope actually followed St. Thomas’ bones, when he returned to Avignon.)

Between August 1368 and January 1369, the Dominicans carried their brilliant brother’s remains in solemn procession, from near Fossanova to Toulouse, with a number of extended stops along the way. On January 28, they arrived at the original Dominican church, built by Dominic himself a century and a-half earlier.

Then they continued the procession, taking the bones of Thomas’ right arm north to Paris. That reliquary remained in a Dominican chapel near Notre Dame, until the French Revolution four centuries later.

Holy Thursday Notre Dame 2018
Paris’ Archbishop Michel Aupetit (back) takes part at the start of the procession of Easter’s Holy Thursday on March 29, 2018 at Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / Ludovic MARIN (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

…More to come on the Avignon papacy, as I mentioned. But for now let’s turn to more-current events. After all, as in the 1300’s, a great deal of Catholic drama has lately unfolded in France.

1. Two and a-half years ago, on the day after Palm Sunday 2019, the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. It caused many of us a great deal of sorrow.

I remember the then-Archbishop of Paris rallying his people for Holy Week at the nearby church of St. Eustache. I was moved by the Archbishop’s evident faith and his fatherliness. A few months earlier, he courageously had appeared on French radio to defend the rights of the unborn child.

For the past couple years, Archbishop Aupetit has appeared on every list of possible candidates for Cardinal.

(Amazingly enough, there is not a single diocese in France right now with a sitting Cardinal-Archbishop. Pope Francis has only ever created one French Cardinal, and he is a Vatican official. We have come a long way from the French-dominated College of Cardinals of the fourteen century.)

But now Pope Francis has summarily relieved Archbishop Aupetit of duty.

I find the situation very hard to understand. It appears to have layer upon layer of intrigue, with none of the facts even remotely clear to the general public.

I intend to try to sort it out, and I will share my understanding of it with you, dear reader.

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

2. As we noted here, in October the independent commission erected by the French bishops’ conference published its report on sexual abuse. I read the English translation of the summary report carefully, and I look forward to reading the whole report, once the English translation becomes available. (The CIASE promised to publish a full English translation by the end of 2021.)

Now, however, a small group of French Catholic intellectuals has published a preliminary critique of the Rapport Sauvé.

[I made a Google translation of the critique; you can read it by clicking HERE.]

Pope Francis had a meeting scheduled for tomorrow with Jean-Marc Sauvé and other authors of the CIASE report, but the Vatican has postponed such a meeting indefinitely.

On the plane returning from a trip he took to Cyprus and Greece, the pope explained to a journalist that he had not read the CIASE report, but that…

“…in doing these studies we have to be careful in the interpretations that we do over long periods of time…A historical situation should be interpreted with the hermeneutics of the time, not ours… The abuses of 100 years ago or 70 years ago are a brutality. But the way they were living it is not the same as today.”

In September 2018, Pope Francis reacted in the same way to the Pennsylvania Grand-Jury report. I mentioned then that I find this position to be inherently dishonest. As a reporter put it to Donald Card. Wuerl at the time: “What could possibly ‘evolve’ when it comes to child sexual abuse?”

So the Vatican position on the Rapport Sauvé appears to have shifted as a result of the French Catholic intellectuals’ critique. I find the critique to be embarrassingly tendentious, small-minded, and defensive. But it nonetheless brings up some questions worth considering. Watch this space for more on this.

 

Pisa & Florence

When the wind blows hard, it requires some effort…

But without wind, no problem…

Germans, Mexicans, Filipinos, and plenty of Americans taking each other’s pictures in such poses.

Seems unfair to the tower, which still does its duty: holding the bells aloft, to summon Christians to Mass in this magnificent Duomo next door.

St. Ranieri presides over the south trancept.

Pisa’s “Palazzo Blu” has a collection of interesting paintings like this one, artist unknown…

Which brings us to another town, further up the Arno…

Arno in Pisa
Arno in Florence

The cloisters of Florence abound with paintings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This last one adorns the wall of a cell in the Museo San Marco, where Fra Angelico produced the most breathtaking collection of paintings I have ever seen, for the spiritual benefit of his Dominican brothers.

One cell has this painting, which has inspired me for over twenty years. I never knew where the original was, until now…

The ghost that haunts Fra Angelico’s San Marco most intently, however, is Fra Geronimo Savanarola. He ruled as prior at the time of his arrest and execution in the Piazza della Signoria.

I will have more to say about Savanarola when I get home and have a real keyboard to work with. I think he is both less of a hero and less of a villain than his lovers and his haters make him out to be. He was, without a doubt, an eminently learned Thomist.

The thing he did that I find most charming: he appealed to an ecumenical council against the corrupt Borgia pope and proposed that Florence replace Rome as the Holy See.

(Savanarola wasn’t as kooky as you might think there; an earlier pope lived for a decade in Florence–and presided over an ecumenical council there– earlier in Savanarola’s 15th century.)

…I did not realize until I saw the statue in person that Michelangelo’s David holds a stone in his right hand–to use against Goliath, I suppose.

On the south side of the Arno, you can see this crucifix by the same artist.

Visiting St. Thomas III: Where He Died

In the infirmary, second floor of this old building at Fossanova Abbey. There’s a little chapel there now.

Fossanova is about an hour’s drive from Thomas’ birthplace in Roccasecca. Not exactly close, since he didn’t ride a horse and traveled exclusively on foot.

But considering that the man had walked some 9,000 miles in his life, had lived in Paris, and was in fact on his way to Lyons, France (on foot) when he fell deathly ill, the moment came remarkably close to Aquino, and the mountains he gazed upon in his youth.

When I visited Ars years ago, a saint who had previously intimidated me by his austerity of life (John Vianney) became human to me, when I saw the very confessional where he sat for hours on end, and the ramshackle little kitchen where he boiled his potatoes.

Now, a saint whose mind has intimidated me suddenly became more human, because I have seen the mountains where he grew up, and where he died.

The ridges of Lazio could move you to contemplate the Five Ways, to be sure. That’s just the beginning of what they can make you contemplate.

The Concluding Chapters of the Summa Contra Gentiles

We face judgment immediately after death:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 91

The blessed souls remain fixed forevermore on the good:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 92

The damned souls remain fixed forevermore on evil:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 93

The souls in purgatory do not change their wills, either:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 94

The reason why we cannot change from good to evil, or vice versa, after death:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 95

The Last Judgment:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 96

The cosmos after the Last Judgment:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 97

St. Thomas wrote many books. Among them, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles have the most-monumental status.

St. Thomas did not live to complete the Summa Theologica. He died while working on Part III, and his student completed the task, using St. Thomas’ earlier writings.

St. Thomas did, however, write the entire Summa Contra Gentiles himself. Book IV is the final book of the SCG. So: we have reached the conclusion of the most-monumental work of St. Thomas that he himself also reached.

Praise the good Lord.

Reading Book IV aloud has done me enormous good. Hopefully it has done you some good, too, dear reader/listener.

Not sure when I will record more podcasts, or what they will include. Let me know if you have any thoughts.

Five SCG Chapters on Resurrected Bodies

tombstone cross

We will rise in bodies of the same nature as we have now, flesh and blood…

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 84

But with a different disposition: incorruptible and immortal…

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 85

…With perfect agility and freedom from suffering, for the blessed:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 86

With a place in the heavens:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 87

We will rise male and female, as we are now.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 88

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