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.

 

AD 1300 and Following

Pope Boniface Colonna Schiaffo di Anagni
Schiaffo di Anagni

We had a Jubilee Year in AD 2000. A group of us seminarians at Catholic University in Washington managed to get ourselves to Rome, to visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. We met Pope John Paul II. A few years ago I wrote an essay about the effect that visit had on my Catholic-convert soul.

Pope Boniface VIII beautified Rome for the first-ever Jubilee Year there, in AD 1300. The Muslim conquest of the Holy Land meant that Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher could no longer occur. So the pope opened Rome; he restored the ancient Christian custom of coming on pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul.

Pope Boniface made a huge success with the Jubilee Year 1300. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came. There was, nonetheless, a foreboding absence from the ranks of those pilgrims. Among the throngs in the Roman streets that year, there was not a single European monarch. None came.

In other words, something lovely happened in Rome in 1300. But something terrible was about to happen. Five weeks ago I promised more information about the Avignon papacy and a digest of our Catholic faith in the office of pope. Seems like AD 1300 is the best place to begin…

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

The reign of Boniface VIII marked a turning point in history, ending a period that had begun seven centuries earlier, with the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great. Gregory had filled a power vacuum in western Europe when the reach of the Byzantine emperor into western affairs waned. The Sucessor of St. Peter became the pre-eminent authority in shaping the politics of the western half of the now-crumbling Roman empire.

Seven centuries later, however, Pope Boniface found that he could not command the absolute allegiance of the grandsons of the monarchs over which his predecessors had held sway. Gregory the Great, acting out of charity towards the poor, had made the Holy See a model of administrative efficiency at the dawn of the seventh century. The latter part of the thirteenth century, however, saw an altogether dysfunctional Roman operation.

Between 1254 and 1285, the pope was absent from Rome for all but four years. (Some historians call this period the “Viterbo Papacy” because the pope was so often resident there.) During this interval, conclaves held to elect a new pope after the death of the old one often dragged on for years. The conclave that elected Pope Gregory X stretched from 1268 to 1271. Indeed, sometimes conclaves would last longer than the ensuing papacy: the conclave that elected Celestine V lasted over two years, but the poor pope reigned for only five months. Also, men who had never even been ordained to the priesthood were often elected pope.

The Cardinals, after the new pope shows total ignorance of Scripture: “Gosh, I guess we should have put ‘in Holy Orders’ in the job description!”

We mentioned last month how Pope Celestine resigned the papacy in 1294. Celestine had consulted with a learned Cardinal, Benedetto Caetani, about the legality of resigning. Caetani had advised Celestine that he could legally resign. In the subsequent conclave, Caetani became Pope Boniface VIII.

(Caetani’s role in Celestine’s resignation would later be used against Boniface in an elaborate p.r. campaign by King Philip IV of France–even though Caetani had not, in fact, pressured Celestine in any way.)

In 1303 conflict between Rome and Paris reached the breaking point. Boniface declared as solemn doctrine the practical reality that his predecessor Gregory had seized upon, that is: God had subjected all human beings to the Roman Pontiff. King Philip responded by calling for Boniface’s removal from office, and the king spread false charges against the pope. Philip arraigned Boniface for heresy and demanded that an ecumenical council sit in judgment on him.

Meanwhile, Pope Boniface, staying in his hometown of Anagni, outside Rome, prepared a document excommunicating King Philip.

Henchmen of the king’s arrived and commandeered the building, intending to arrest the pope and take him to France for trial. The historical record is not clear regarding what happened when the henchmen encountered the pope. They may have physically assaulted him. They almost certainly at least slapped him. The slap has come to be known as the Schiaffo di Anagni.

Dante refers to this outrage in Canto XX of Purgatorio. The poet calls King Philip “the new Pilate,” who “mocked and imprisoned Christ a second time, in His vicar.” Dante adds: “I see vinegar and gall renewed, and between living thieves I see them kill Him.”

After the Schiaffo, the townspeople of Anagni turned on King Philip’s henchmen, allowing Boniface to escape and return to Rome. But he did indeed die, in a month’s time, at age 73.

Benedict XI was then elected pope in a one-day conclave.

As a Cardinal, the new pope had stayed with Boniface through the ordeal in Anagni. But, by the same token, Benedict wanted no more trouble with King Philip.

Benedict tried a middle way, restoring all of King Philip’s ecclesiastical prerogatives, but meanwhile pursuing legal action against the ruffians of Anagni. And Benedict refused to put Boniface through a posthumous trial for heresy, notwithstanding King Philip’s demand for such a procedure.

Benedict died of dysentery, in Perugia, north of Rome, after only eight months in Peter’s Chair. The ensuing conclave lasted eleven months, from July 1304 to June 1305. It proved to be a highly significant event. More to come…

John XXIII, Old and New

John XXIII Vatican IIToday we keep the Memorial of Pope St. John XXIII, on the 59th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. [Click HERE for a little compendium of my homilies commemorating the 50th annversary.]

You may not know, dear reader, that Pope St. John was actually the second John XXIII to summon the world’s bishops to Rome for an ecumenical council. (You might not know this unless you have traveled through the cities of Tuscany and read all the historical markers in all the churches.)

Some background:

When Giuseppe Roncalli took the name John at the end of the conclave in 1958, he mentioned to a French Cardinal that he had chosen this name “in memory of France and in memory of John XXII who continued the history of the papacy in France” (We know about this private remark from Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography, John XXIII: Pope of the Council.)

The pope to which newly elected Pope John referred was: the pope who occupied the Chair of St. Peter from 1316 to 1334. John XXII did not occupy it, however, in Rome. He occupied it in the Provencal town of Avignon. John XXII was, in fact, the first pope to both get elected and die in Avignon.

Age of the Great Western Schism Clinton Locke

John XXII’s predecessor, Clement V, had moved the papacy from Rome to France. (More to come on the why and how of this, plus a thorough digest of our Catholic faith in the papacy, in a subsequent post.)

Pope John XXII gave us the prayer “Soul of Christ,” which I daily recite after Holy Communion. He also taught erroneously about the beatific vision (though not in a magisterial utterance), and he had to recant later in life. William of Ockham developed his skeptical philosophy largely because of Pope John XXII’s often wild statements.

But no one despised John XXII, and the money-grubbing papal bureaucracy in Avignon, more than the aging Dante Alighieri. In Paradiso XVIII, the poet wrote of the pope and his courtiers:

Watch, [o heaven of justice], wherefrom issues the smoke

that tarnishes thy ray, that once enkindled wrath

may come on the hucksters in the temple that was

raised and walled with miracles and martyrdom.

O host of Heaven I contemplate, be heard your prayers

to aid all those on earth, led on by bad example…

Thou who recordest but to obliterate [Pope John, who was forever excommunicating people, then lifting the excommunication],

consider that Peter and Paul, who died to save

the vineyard thou hast spoiled, are living yet.

Thou can’st well say, “So ardently do I crave

Florentine coins that I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”

dante

More to come on the Avignon papacy. But to get to the first “John XXIII…”

You may not imagine that an old book called The Age of the Great Western Schism by a 19th-century Episcopalian churchman could be a can’t-put-it-down page-turner. But it is.

In 1376 the seventh Avignon pope, Gregory XI, finally departed France to return to the city consecrated by the blood of Saints Peter and Paul. He reached Rome in early 1377. After Gregory’s death soon thereafter, however, the Cardinals divided into two parties. (More later on why.) In 1378 two conclaves elected two popes. Urban VII reigned in Italy; Clement VII reigned in France.

Now you might thus surmise: The first John XXIII succeeded Clement; therefore not a real pope. Good guess. But the real history has more twists.

Two popes, each with a valid claim to legitimate election: the schism lasted for a generation. Finally Roman Pope Gregory XII and Avignon “Pope Benedict XIII” agreed to meet near Genoa, with both parties of Cardinals. Both popes promised to resign; then the conclave would choose one pope.

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Last month I found myself on the Ligurian coast, just south of where the meeting was supposed to have taken place. When the Roman pope did not arrive, the Avignon pope continued journeying south. He made it to La Spezia (where I changed trains). Meanwhile, Pope Gregory made it as far as Lucca (where I spent two lovely days.) Then Gregory balked. Didn’t have the heart to resign as promised.

At this point, the Christian world lost patience. Gregory’s Cardinals left him in Lucca and met up with some Avignon Cardinals in Pisa. They summoned an ecumenical council there, in the sublimely beautiful duomo with the famous leaning campanile.

Pisa duomo and tower

Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals, along with other churchman and reigning monarchs, summoned an ecumenical council, on their own authority. Christendom came together in 1409 (minus the two competing popes).

The Council Fathers enjoyed referring to Gregory not as Gregorius but as “Errorius” and to Benedict not as Benedictus but as “Benefictus,” in honor of his practice of selling benefices, or church offices, for cash.

The Council of Pisa condemned and deposed both. Then the Fathers chose another pope, who took the name Alexander V. (Now the world had three popes.) Alexander soon died. His successor: John XXIII.

This 15th-century Pope John attempted to hold an ecumenical council in Rome, just like the 20th-century Pope John ultimately would. But Pisan-pope John XXIII’s effort failed abysmally; hardly anyone came. Then the emperor of Germany convinced him to summon a council north of the Alps.

The Council met in Constance, accepted the resignations of both Gregory XII and “John XXIII,” deposed “Benedict XIII,” and elected Pope Martin V, who then returned the papacy to Rome. He lies now in the confessio of the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

st john lateran painting

Now, I hold unflinchingly to our Catholic faith in the papacy. (As I mentioned, I will delve into that soon.) That Catholic faith in the divinely instituted office of the Successor of St. Peter stipulates: an ecumenical council can only be convoked by the pope, or at least with the explicit permission of the pope.

We faithful Catholics have to acknowledge, however: Were it not for the Council of Pisa–manifestly not convoked by any pope–we might not know for sure who the pope is.

Yes, it’s true: the Lord in His Providence could have solved the problem of the Western Schism in some other way. Other, that is, than the Council of Pisa choosing a pope, who then had “John XXIII” for a successor, who then called the Council of Constance, which then gave us the indubitable Pope Martin V. The Lord could have saved the day by some other design, some course of events that did not include Cardinals and other senior churchmen calling a Council without a pope.

But the fact is that it happened the way it happened. Which explains why the Council of Pisa in 1409 is found neither on the list of official Catholic Ecumenical Councils nor on the list of condemned, not-real Councils.

Rome Bone Church Painting + Adventure in the Western Schism

The patron of the Catholic parish in Rocky Mount, Va: we mark the 795th anniversary of his death today.

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This Caravaggio painting hangs in the museum attached to the Capuchin Church of St. Mary of the Conception, in Rome.

I had the chance to gaze upon the painting, shortly before I flew home from Italy. It falls in my favorite category of paintings: St. Francis memento mori.

To be honest, I didn’t make a special trip to the “Bone Church” this time. I just stopped-in to kill an hour. The nondescript-looking building sits around the corner from the pharmacy where I had managed to get an appointment to have a coronavirus test. (I needed a negative, in order to board the plane the following day.)

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I had prayed in the Bone Church before, twenty years ago. It enraptured me then. It is an artistic masterpiece.

Cappuccine_crypt
Capuchin Crypt in Rome

This time, though, I came away with a different thought.

The graves that the anonymous 18th-century Franciscan artist disturbed, in order to decorate his unique chapels–those graves should have been left in peace. Yes, we need to remember how short life is, every day. But not by disturbing other peoples’ bones.

…Before I got to Rome, I visited a number of ancient cities in Tuscany. I encountered monuments from the 14th and 15th centuries, monuments that turned my little Italy trip into An Adventure in the Western Schism.

Dante Vergil Delacroix
The Barque of Dante by Delacroix

Back in 2013, we remembered Pope Celestine V, the last Roman pontiff to abdicate, prior to Benedict XVI.

(Do not confuse Celestine V with Celestine III, who reigned during St. Francis’ lifetime. The earlier Celestine wanted to abdicate, but the Cardinals talked him out of it.)

We have this in common with the great Florentine poet Dante: living through a period with two living popes. One reigning, one retired. Dante was 29 when Celestine renounced the throne of Peter, in 1294.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante puts Celestine V in the antechamber of hell. There dwell…

the souls unsure, whose lives earned neither honor nor bad fame…

neither rebellious to God nor faithful to Him.

[They] chose neither side, but kept themselves apart.

Now heaven expels them, not to mar its spendor,

and hell rejects them, lest the wicked of heart take glory over them.

Mercy and justice disdain them.

Benedict pallium Celestine V
Benedict lays his pallium on the coffin of Pope Celestine V, in 2009. (L’Osservatore Romano photo)

About Celestine himself, Dante writes:

I beheld the shade of him who make the Great Refusal,

impelled by cowardice, so at once I understood beyond all doubt that

[in this upper circle of hell we find]

the dreary guild repellent both to God and His enemies,

hapless ones never alive.

Anyway, Pope Boniface VIII succeeded Celestine V in late 1294. And thus began a dramatic century+ of history–history that unfolded, in part, in the cities I got to visit last month.

Ecumenical Councils were attempted in Pisa and successfully accomplished in Florence; the pope resided for a decisive week in Lucca; Rome had the first-ever jubilee year, with hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city–and shorlty thereafter the papacy moved to France, for three-quarters of a century.

More to come on all this…