20 June 2023

I wonder how she killed him (1)

 It is the wisdom of our age that we observe the approaching end of a pontificate by reading accounts of a pontiff's declining health, by speculating on the configurations and combinations of interests among potential candidates for the succession; and upon the motives of those who are or are perceived to be kingmakers.

How very modern, all of it, how neatly choreographed; how civilised; how overwhelmingly gruesome. Matters, at certain periods in the first millennium, had a rather more ... er ... Hollywood? ... quality. The plebs sancta Dei in Rome was more likely to wake up to the reality of a new pontificate and to gossip about how 'she' had had yesterday's pontiff killed off. "Our parlourmaid's second cousin said he hollered for more than an hour. But the pontifical physician's wife's drinking partner flickered her eyebrow when I mentioned poison ..."

Dom Gueranger's many volumes in their many translations are not magisterial. But they did the rounds for an incredibly long time and have never, to my knowledge, been accused of blatant and obvious heterodoxy. For your delectation, I reproduce parts of his entry for S Silverius, Pope and Martyr, for June 20.

"The inevitable play of human passions, interfering in the election of the Vicar of Christ, may perchance for a while render uncertain the transmission of spiritual power. But when it is proved that the Church, still holding, or once more put in possession of, her liberty, acknowledges in the person of a certain Pope, until then doubtful, the true Sovereign Pontiff, this her very recognition is a proof that, from that moment at least, the occupant of the Apostolic See is as such invested by God himself."

I just lerve the orotund nineteenth century prose, don't you?

NOTA the uncertainties, which I have reddened, about who ... really ... was pope. Provided a papal transition happened sufficiently long ago, it does not ... apparently ... matter a lot who was the real Pope.

There is an old Anglican joke about a preacher who prayed that a then-current Archbishop of Canterbury might be granted the greatest gift a fortunate human can receive, God's glorious crown of Martyrdom (can anybody give chapter and verse?). There is more than a dash of the same instinct in Gueranger's next bit: "... the occupant of the Apostolic See is as such invested by God himself. This doctrine the Holy Ghost confirms, by giving thereto, in the pontiff [Silverius] we are celebrating today, the consecration of martyrdom."

But not all murdered popes were declared martyrs. I'd better return to this later.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. What struck me about St Silverius is this:

The bishop of that city received the illustrious exile with all possible marks of honour and respect; and thinking himself bound to undertake his defence, soon after the pope’s arrival repaired to Constantinople, and having obtained a private audience, spoke boldly to the emperor, terrifying him with the threats of the divine judgments for the expulsion of a bishop of so great a see, telling him—“There are many kings in the world, but there is only one pope over the church of the whole world.” 3 It must be observed that these were the words of an oriental bishop, and a clear confession of the supremacy of the Roman see.

I think the monks of Mt Athos tend to overlook this fact.

Peter Presland said...

"But not all murdered popes were declared martyrs..."

On a careful and dispassionate weighing of publicly available evidence, neither have all murdered popes been declared murdered.

Chuck said...

>On a careful and dispassionate weighing of publicly available evidence, neither have all murdered popes been declared murdered.

They officially say that Bl. Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani) died of a heart attack. The latest example.