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Both Benedict and Francis are holy men – but with naturally different personal styles

It does not rock the barque of Peter to put aside minor traditions

By on Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Pope Francis (second left) as a young man with his family (CNS)

Pope Francis (second left) as a young man with his family (CNS)

In response to my last blog about the style the Holy Father brings to his office – a style that seems to suggest a new, Franciscan simplicity in contrast to former papal ceremonial – Peccator has written a thoughtful post raising several issues. I take them seriously and this is my response: Peccator’s argument is that Pope Francis should not jettison past practice because “the symbols, traditions and ceremonial of the papacy belong to the office, not the personality.” He further thinks this new style “comes off as a repudiation of past popes” and that Pope Francis, though a “good man” is “not a good representation of the continuity of the centuries… which is precisely what Peter must do: preserve the Faith that has been handed down to us.” He adds, “We are in desperate need of signs that point to God’s glory” and that “man needs splendour.”

I think we have to distinguish here between what is essential to the tradition and what is inessential. There is no indication that Pope Francis will depart in any way from preserving the deposit of Faith entrusted to him. Transmitting the magisterial teachings of the Church to the present generation will be his primary task, and from reading some of his past homilies as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, his orthodoxy is clear. (If there had been any doubt on this score, the Holy Spirit would hardly have inspired his fellow cardinals to elect him.)

But there are also minor and inessential traditions which have accumulated over the years and attached themselves to the papacy – and it does not rock the barque of Peter if they are put aside. I grew up when Pope Pius XII was carried through the crowds in a kind of elevated sedan chair, the sedia gestatoria, wearing the papal triple crown and flanked by ushers waving ostrich feathers. Well, despite these being seen at the time as traditional elements of the papal office, they have all vanished. The pope now travels about in a “Popemobile” and he no longer has a coronation, only an inauguration (I’m not quite sure what happened to the ostrich feathers.)

There was an era when Catholic triumphalism flourished and Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman could write the hymn “Full in the panting heart of Rome” and refer to “The golden roof, the marble walls, the Vatican’s majestic halls…” This way of viewing the mother church now sounds quaint and slightly queasy; it no longer seems appropriate for these changed times except in certain ultramontane circles. To some extent the Church must be sensitive to the age it inhabits, never surrendering to the spirit of the age, but adapting its apostolate to address a changed world; the (untraditional) papal twitter account is one example of this.

Further, without wanting to draw attention to his own person, each pope brings his individual “stamp”, his character and his charism to the office. Sean Fitzpatrick writes in Crisis magazine that “The last papacy dedicated to St Benedict preserved the culture of faith like St Benedict did, from deep within the fortress of sacred, solemn tradition. Now may the papacy dedicated to St Francis propagate the faith like St Francis did, in the wide landscape of joyful, jubilant creation. As Benedict XVI was precise, so now may Francis be passionate.” That is one way to make the distinction between these two very different men. It is not a choice between Benedict or Francis, or a choice between Cephas or Paul; both popes are holy, Christ-centred men – but with naturally different personal styles in embodying their office.

Pope Francis broke with tradition again yesterday: he stood to receive the cardinals during his inaugural Mass when it has been customary to sit down. Does this matter? He also chose to wear a Fisherman’s Ring made of gold-plated silver, rather than the solid gold ring of his predecessor. What is wrong with that? Perhaps wearing black shoes rather than red could come to symbolise sinful humanity in need of redemption? It is early days – but in all that pertains to sacred tradition and to the worship of God I am sure Francis will have the same desire for reverence, beauty and solemnity as Benedict, and which Peccator rightly recognises as part of man’s hunger for the transcendent. And in all that pertains to Jorge Mario Bergoglio – the Argentinian who first discovered his vocation when he went to Confession, aged 17, in 1953, and who has adopted Francis of Assisi as his papal patron – he will be his own man.

  • Pope Zicola

    Now THAT, dear Parasum, would be the makings of an interesting TV documentary!
    We know that our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, was able to pick up boxes of CDs, books and music for his retirement – but we never found out what happened to his stuff back in Bavaria when he was elected Pope. We know he left his cat with the neighbours… that’s about it.
    And people moan that ideas for new programmes are few and far between… heh! If only these media types would delve just that little bit deeper into the tea caddy or biscuit tin and brainstorm without the hangover – instead of the alcohol-fuelled liquid lunches at the Ape and Atheist…
    I read today that HH Pope Francis got round to cancelling his newspapers PERSONALLY i.e. he phoned up the kiosk in Buenos Aires where he bought his newspapers instead of relying on an off-duty cardinal to do it for him. The poor proprietor on the other end of the line thought it was a joke at first, then he wised up…

  • $24570317

    You could ask NYer, whose use of the phrase I quoted – with quotation marks. But I think his meaning is clear, and I mean the same.
    We matured in different ways of course – but that was, in both cases in my view, because we did so in different times. All human beings are products, to some extent, of their times.

    “one” is a pronoun, like “it”.
    Consider: “It’s driving its car” (Well I’ve been called “it”, and on this website too!)
    There’s an apostrophe for the first “its” because it’s a contraction, but not for the second “its” because that’s a possessive.

    Consider: “Ones driving ones car”. There should be an apostrophe for the first “ones”, it’s a contraction, but not for the second which is a possessive: “One’s driving ones car”.

    “One’s driving one’s (or ones’) car” is ridiculous and confusing.
    That’s why things are different for pronouns.

  • $24570317

    I wish some people would find out the actual meaning of an “exponential” increase or decrease. Poor little “e” – among other things, the base of natural logarithms. If you want to know I’ll explain it to you (sometime). Actually now is quite a good time as I have a bad cold and cough and cannot settle in bed with a high temperature.

    But when you look at the figures to which you refer, there is a huge problem.
    In order to draw the conclusions you make, it is necessary to have other figures which you cannot possibly have.
    Those “impossible” figures are those that WOULD prevail had there been no V2. The Church would be of 1st Century proportions – well I exaggerate (probably) but you know what I’m saying. I deny your totally unproven claim that V2 was the cause of the declines you mention.

  • $24570317

    “…you and your ilk ..”

    My ilk?

  • $24570317

    Thanks Parasum. Drowsy making cough mixture having an effect – will reply later.

  • Faith

    Good grief! What a bunch of Pharasees! Learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6.

  • cappitt

    There are some disappointing comments following Ms. Phillips column. The upshot of some of them seems to be that as long as the lace, brocades and gold are in vogue, the Church is alive and well, and obedience demanded. When they’re missing, somehow the Church is in danger of collapse, and the grumbling begins. Is that all you believe in. If fiddle-backs are what make or break a Church, we are in worse shape than anyone could have possibly imagined. And frankly, you’ve missed the boat if you think this what we should be fretting about. Let me out, please, if this is all about “getting dressed up” and “playing Church.”

  • Benedict Carter

    How many readers (I know from other blogs that I am not the only one) felt a great sense of disquiet as Bergoglio stepped out onto the loggia?

    Tauran’s introduction was so cold, so perfunctory, and the Pope himself looked absolutely uninterested, cold, aloof, bored.

    It struck me immediately that something alien, weird, hard, had come onto the balcony.

    Many Catholics in Buenas Aires are very fearful for the Church now that their Archbishop is Pope. He is well-known to them to be “an enemy of orthodoxy”, as one has written elsewhere.

    I am very fearful about this Pope.

  • Benedict Carter

    The head of Argentinian Masonry has said that “our candidate was chosen Pope”.

    Nuff said.

  • teigitur

    He has only been there for a week Benedict. Give him a chance.

  • Benedict Carter

    James states below that “The Pope has authority to do exactly what he wants with tradition..”.

    This is so false, so utterly wrong, that one despairs at the almost total ignorance of the modern Catholic about the Faith first of all and then the entire Catholic ethos surrounding it. Total ignorance.


    Papal Coronation Oath. The full text of the Oath reads:

    “I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach, to alter (change), or to permit any innovation therein.

    “To the contrary, with glowing affection as Her truly faithful steward and successor, (I vow) to reverently safeguard the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort.

    “To cleanse all that is in contradiction with canonical order that may surface.

    “To guard the holy canons and decrees of our Popes likewise as Divine Ordinance of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, Whose place I take through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to severest accounting before Thy Divine tribunal over all that I confess.

    ”If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful day of Divine Justice.

    “Accordingly, without exclusion, we subject to the severest excommunication anyone—-be it our self or be it another—-who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic tradition and the purity of the orthodox Faith and the Christian Religion, or [who] would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or [who] would concur with those who undertake such blasphemous venture.”

    [Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, P. L 105, S. 54]

    Thus the Pope here says in so many words: “If I deviate from the traditional teaching and practice of the Church, may God not have mercy on me.” This Papal Oath is part of our Catholic heritage. It began around the 6th or 7th Century. And even though it is not said anymore, it is, if you will, the Church’s “Job Description” of the Pope, and any Catholic who professes to follow Peter, who has no authority to leave the way of Tradition.

    This Papal Coronation Oath is a wealth of instruction for us:

    1) It demonstrates that even the Pope is forbidden to deviate from Tradition,
    2) The fact that a Pope takes this Oath shows that it is possible for a Pope to deviate, otherwise there would be no need to take such a solemn, terrifying oath.

    [When Pope Saint Pius X condemned Modernism in Pascendi, he opened that encyclical stating that if he took no action against Modernism, he would have failed in his primary duty. This shows that it is possible for a Pope to fail.]

    In fact there are examples in history of Popes who deviated, such as Pope Honorius I, Pope John XXII and Pope Nicholas I. Archbishop M. Sheehan in his 1951 “Apologetics and Christian Doctrine”, points out that far from undermining the Papal Office, the occasional weaknesses and mistakes of the Popes serve as proof of the Papacy’s Divine institution. “We may, indeed, make no difficulty,” says Bishop Sheehan, “admitting that in the long history of the Papacy, there have been errors of policy. It seems as though God wished to make the occasional weakness of the Papacy a motive of credibility, a proof that the Church is Divinely supported.”

    [Pope Nicholas I, whose declaration on the validity of the minister of Baptism (whether it could be a Jew or a pagan), noted in passing (according to Bellarmine) that "Baptism was valid whether administered in the name of the three Persons or in the name of Christ only." In this Pope Nicholas was mistaken. Baptism in the name of Christ only is not valid. See (John Henry Newman, Certain Difficulties (London, 1876), cited in Michael Davies, Lead Kindly Light The Life of John Henry Newman (Long Prairie, MN: Neumann Press, 2001), pp. 181- 182.) Likewise, "Pope Honorius is, among all the Popes in any way guilty of heresy, both the best known and the most culpable even though this concerned only a single episode in an otherwise great Pontificate. The phrase he used when justifying his compromise with the heretics has a surprisingly up-to-date ring about it, for all that it was spoken in 634: 'We must be careful not to rekindle ancient quarrels.' On the strength of this argument, he allowed error to spread freely, with the result that truth and orthodoxy were effectively banished. St. Sophronius of Jerusalem was almost alone in standing up to Honorius, and accusing him of heresy. Eventually the Pope came to his senses, but he died without having repaired the immense damage caused to the Church by his lack of decision. For this reason the Sixth Council of Constantinople cast its anathema upon him, and this was confirmed by Pope Leo II.

    All the great Ecumenical Councils since then have endorsed this verdict; even while proclaiming the dogma of Papal Infallibility, the Church of Rome upheld the anathema cast many centuries ago upon one of her Pontiffs on account of heresy. Pope John XXII said at Avignon, on the Feast of All Saints, 1331, that the soul does not enter the Beatific Vision until the resurrection of the body, at the last day. Protests followed, and a rebuke from the University of Paris whose theologians were consulted. John XXII died in 1334, admitting and recanting his error.

    The Testament of Gregory XI, dated 1374, is both moving and instructive. For in it he recognizes in effect that he may have committed 'errors against the Catholic Faith or adopted opinions at variance with the Catholic Faith' in his teaching given 'in public or in private' and he now abjures and detests any such thing of which he may have been guilty. John XXII, upon his deathbed, solemnly recanted every opinion, every teaching, contrary to the Catholic Faith, alluding to his heretical sermon given on the Feast of All Saints in 1331, 'submitting all that he may have said or written on the subject to the judgment of the Church and of his successors: determinationi Ecclesiae ac successorum nostrorum'." (Quoted from "The Question of Papal Heresy, Scandal or Schism" by Abbe Georges de Nantes, The Catholic Counter-Reformation of the XXth Century, June, 1973).

    It is necessary to understand this in order to counteract the false notion of Papal Infallibility held by many Catholics who claim that the Pope can pretty much do or say anything he wants simply because he is Pope. This is not what the Church teaches.

    In a sermon on the subject, the eminent 19th Cardinal John Henry Newman quoted a Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Switzerland that received the approval of Blessed Pope Pius IX. The letter was on the subject of Papal Infallibility, and what a Pope may or not teach. The Swiss Bishops clearly stated:

    "It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope, or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine the object of a dogmatic definition. He is tied up and limited to the Divine revelation and to the truths which that revelation contains. He is tied up and limited by the creeds, already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church. He is tied up and limited by the Divine law, and by the constitution of the Church . . ."

    [Taken from a sermon by Cardinal Newman published in Lead Kindly Light, The Life of John Henry Newman, Michael Davies (Neumann Press, Long Prairie, 2001) p. 184.]

    The Pope himself, then, is bound to teach what has always been taught by the uninterrupted teaching of his predecessors throughout the centuries. We likewise learn from the Coronation Oath, the Pope is also bound to not deviate from Tradition.

    Throughout the ages, the Popes, Saints and Holy Doctors have taught that the first duty of all Catholics, including the hierarchy in Rome, is to maintain Tradition; that is, to maintain the purity of the Faith in doctrine and practice. We are also commanded to abhor novelty. Pope Saint Pius X wrote in his Encyclical Against Modernism:

    “But for Catholics nothing will remove the authority of the second Council of Nicaea, where it condemns those ‘who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind . . . or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow anyone of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church’. Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV and Pius IX, ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration:

    ‘I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church’.” [Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi, Encyclical against Modernism, 1908, para. #42.]

    And the Second Council of Nicaea teaches infallibly, “If anyone rejects any written or unwritten Tradition of the Church, let him be anathema.”

    [Cited from The Great Facade, p. 28.]

    Yet the discarding of Tradition and the introduction of novelties has been the defining element of the post-Conciliar Church.

    Make your own conclusions.

  • Benedict Carter

    His form is already known. While it’s certainly true that God can change a man when he becomes Pope (Pius IX for instance), the omens are NOT good at all. Anything else is just blindness, which Catholics seem nowadays to be particularly prone to. If the Masons, B’Nai B’rith, Boff and Kung are lauding his election, every Catholic should be very concerned.

  • teigitur

    I have to admit I was a little troubled that Kung seemed to approve. Though of course he is capable of anything.

  • LocutusOP

    I quite agree with everything Tridentinus wrote.

    Of course, Catholics are bound by sacred tradition, and sometimes the line between sacred tradition and regular tradition is razor-thin, such that the two cannot be distinguished.

    Take the chapel veil, for instance. Without doubt a sacred tradition. Now that most Catholics don’t respect this tradition, what other traditional aspects of the liturgy are we to abandon? Should men start showing up in Church with hats and caps?

    There is a certain humility in following what previous generations has held to be venerable. Sometimes we just have to go along with it so as not to keep things in constant upheaval.

    It’s as Pope Benedict XVI used to say “He must decrease, and I must decrease”. The same principle applies. Every break with tradition – especially when following a long line of breaks – places more attention on the person and less on the role of bishop and the Church, and the last thing we need is a Pope with groupies who like him more for what he is/does than his leadership as bishop.

  • Julian Lord

    Bad grammar.

    “One’s” as a contraction of “One is” should be completely avoided ; not only is it confusing, but it’s awfully inelegant, as well as being completely pompous. There’s also a mix of the formal with the familiar, so that it’s a stylistic error as well.

    As for one’s, ones’, and ones : the first is the genitive singular, the second genitive plural, and the third is just the plural of “one” (the number, NOT the pronoun) ; “its” is a possessive adjective ; “one’s” is the genitive form of a pronoun.

    Therefore NOT “One’s driving ones car” BUT “One is driving one’s car” ; or really, just “One is driving *the* car” (the possessive is ordinarily implicit in such phrases).

  • Julian Lord

    The Pope has authority to do exactly what he wants with tradition

    No he doesn’t — you are spreading falsehoods and, I believe, anathemata.

  • Benedict Carter

    No-one is saying that at all. A very facile comment.

  • Tridentinus

    Thanks Jabba, it seems one has simply placed one’s apostrophe in the wrong place. ;-)

  • Tridentinus

    Vide the post of JabbaPapa below.

  • Tridentinus

    My apologies. In the cold light of day ‘ilk’ seems inappropriate although it is not in itself a rude word. I was referring to MajorCalamity’s description of you, ‘…, and those of your persuasion’ which can be expressed as ‘ilk’. The comment has been pulled, anyway, so someone, if not yourself found this offensive. I assure you I had no desire to offend.

  • Tridentinus

    Exponential apart from its mathematical significance also means informally a rapid increase or decrease. It is patently obvious that I was referring to a rapid decrease in this case.

    According to the Daily Telegraph, 23 Dec 2007, Attendance at Mass in 1991 was recorded as 1.3 million, a drop of 40 per cent since 1963. But over the past six years (during Benedict XVIs pontificate it has fallen by only 13 per cent albeit with the rate of decline slowed by immigrants from Catholic countries.

    One may say, post hoc ergo propter hoc is an invalid argument, but a 40% drop strikes me as a cause for concern.

  • Fr F Marsden

    We don’t know how intricate many of the details of Vatican protocol are, but all credit to Pope Francis if he wishes to cut through some of the flummery and over-elaborate ceremonial. In Pius XII’s day didn’t everyone have to leave the Pope’s presence backwards and bowing?

    However, in the liturgy, we have seen for 40 years how “noble simplicity” easily degenerates into shabby minimalism. It would be a pity if Benedict’s efforts to restore more reverence to the Sacred Liturgy went into reverse.

    As an instance – at a diocesan deacons’ retreat last weekend, which took place at a nice hotel and country club (ex-Salesian junior seminary, in fact), the organising committee of deacons had brought altar cloth and candlesticks etc., but forgotten to bring chalice and paten for the Mass on the Friday evening.

    So what ended up happening for the Fri evening Mass? Well, they used two Stella lager glasses as chalices and plates from the bar as patens. Decent wine glasses – preferably cut glass – I could forgive, but beer glasses?

    By the time of the Saturday Mass they had managed to find a not very nice pottery chalice and paten. Some of the deacons apparently found the use of the beer glasses quite amusing.

    We have to be much more alert as to the use of symbols which are totally inappropriate to the Sacred Liturgy. It can set a dreadful example and cause scandal.

    Personally I would like to have seen in the Papal inauguration the restoration of the burning flax, waved before the new Pontiff, with the warning against the dangers of earthly glory: “Sic transit gloria mundi” – Thus passes the glory of this world.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Pope Francis is Catholic, and he will help the Church become more Catholic.
    More holy, charitable, pro-life. He will continue the good work of Pope emeritus.

  • Pope Zicola

    I’ve gotta admit, Benedict, that when the announcement was made about who the new pope was, my first words were:

    Wha’? Who? Did you get that? (I said, turning to my mum) No? Neither did I…

    It sounded nowt like Shoenborn!