“Robert Bellarmine was perhaps the most effective theologian and apologist for the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation battles with Protestantism. His success was obtained through his logical, temperate reasoning rather than through mere dogmatic assertions. Many returned to the Church because of his rational arguments and saintly manner.
Robert Frances Romulus Bellarmine was born in Tuscany, Italy on October 4, 1542. His mother, Cinthia Cervino, was the sister of Pope Marcellus II. Over his father’s objections he joined the Society of Jesus in 1560 and began a study of Aristotelian philosophy.
He went on to study at Florence, Padua, and Louvain; he concentrated his studies on Scripture, Hebrew, patristics, and Church history in order to defend the Church from the heresies of the Protestant Reformers. He became the first Jesuit professor at Louvain, where he lectured on the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas.
After his ordination at Ghent in 1570, Bellarmine was recalled to Rome to teach theology at the newly founded Roman College. Later he became its rector. He held the chair of controversial theology while producing his major work, The Controversies, an apologetic defending the teachings of the Catholic Church and effectively refuting Reform theology. This writing proved so effective in bringing people back to the Church that academic centers were created in Protestant universities solely to respond to it.
Bellarmine played a leading role in preparing the Clementine revision of the Vulgate Bible, writing the introduction in 1592. Shortly thereafter he was made provincial of the Naples province for the Society of Jesus and raised to the cardinalate by Pope Clement VIII.
King James I of England entered into a written debate with Bellarmine over the temporal power of the pope; James denied it existed. Thomistic political philosophy led Bellarmine to the conclusion that the pope may justly wield temporal power where temporal matters affect spiritual matters. This view of limited papal civil power aroused the hostility of many in Rome, including Pope Sixtus V.
Bellarmine also became involved in the case of his friend Galileo. He convinced Galileo to agree to declare his findings as hypotheses for the time being, at least until they could be irrefutably proven.
The last years of Bellarmine’s life were dedicated to writing spiritual works including the Art of Dying Well and a commentary on the psalms. He died in Rome on September 17, 1621. He was canonized in 1930 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.”
-by Fr Ray Ryland (1921-2014), for Catholic Answers, was an Episcopal priest who converted to Catholicism in 1963. Married and a father of five, he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983 under the pastoral provision granted by the Vatican for the admittance of married Anglican priests to the Catholic priesthood.
“For centuries, Eastern Orthodox theologians have tried to put their brand on Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred in 258. They have hailed him as chief exponent of the Eastern theory of national churches totally independent of Roman control. From the twelfth century onward, Byzantine writers opposing Catholic ecclesiology “found their strongest argument in the ecclesiology of Cyprian.”
Cyprian is also a favorite of Anglican apologists in their arguments against the papacy. One of them has said that defenders of the Church of England’s break with Rome can base their entire case on the writings of Cyprian. To a Catholic it seems risky, at best, for Anglicans to base their whole apologetic on one interpretation of a few passages from the writings of one saint—especially since, as we shall see, Cyprian always submitted to papal authority.
Both Orthodox and Anglicans contend that Cyprian was a non-papal Catholic, a third-century “episcopalian.” Cyprian held that each bishop is completely in charge of his own diocese and with all other bishops shares responsibility for the unity of the Church. Thus far he was on solid Catholic ground. But then he entered on less solid ground. Cyprian claimed that the unity of the Church is to be preserved by all the bishops unanimously holding the true faith. He never told us what is to be done when bishops disagree over doctrine. He did say that when bishops disagree in matters not involving doctrine, they must simply agree to disagree.
Where did Cyprian fit the pope into the picture? He laid great emphasis on Matthew 16: the naming of Peter as “rock,” the promise to build the Church on Peter, the gift to Peter of the keys of the kingdom. He taught that the Church was founded on Peter and also on the other apostles, insofar as they constitute a body under the headship of Peter. Scholars (both Catholic and non-Catholic) are divided over the connection Cyprian saw between the Church’s episcopate and the successors of Peter.
Cyprian was headstrong. He apparently did not see the anarchical consequences of his theory of the independence of bishops. His favorite and almost only teacher was Tertullian, who died a heretic. The lack of clarity in Cyprian’s writings may also be due to his having been rushed from baptism into the episcopate in only two years, with little theological preparation.
Cyprian’s position has offered scope for the arguments of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who argue that the authority of the pope did not exist in the early centuries, but was a later development not based on any divine authority.
Nicolas Afanassieff assures us that the first Christians had no idea “that there could be a power over the local churches” and certainly no idea that such power might belong to an individual (the bishop of Rome). He solemnly recalls as “historical fact” that at least in the first three centuries every local church (diocese) was totally independent of any other church or any other bishop. In earlier articles I have shown this claim to be erroneous. In the first century, Pope Clement exercised authority in the name of Jesus Christ to settle a schism in the church at Corinth. No one questioned the Pope’s exercise of authority. Indeed, the Corinthians welcomed it. For many decades in their liturgy the Corinthians read from Clement’s letter to them. In the second century Pope Victor threatened to excommunicate large sections of the Church in the East if they did not observe Easter according to the practice of Rome. Though some decried the wisdom of his declared intention, no one questioned his authority. Eventually his will prevailed throughout the Church.
Now we turn to Cyprian himself—mainstay, we are told, of the anti-papal ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodoxy. To determine what Cyprian really believed about universal papal jurisdiction, we have to move beyond the ambiguities of his writings and examine his dealings with the papacy. His actions not only speak more loudly than his words; they also speak much more clearly.
In his own diocese Cyprian had to deal with a widespread threat to the Church’s discipline. Confessors (those being punished by the state for not renouncing the faith) and martyrs awaiting execution were usurping the authority of the bishop.
Under intense persecution by the Roman government, many Christians had lapsed or apostatized, thereby coming under the Church’s ban. After the persecution abated, the lapsed who repented would obtain from the martyrs and confessors certificates requesting the bishop to reduce or cancel the punishment due them. It was the bishop’s responsibility to evaluate the sincerity of the penitents. The bishop also had to decide what effect the confessors’ and martyrs’ certificates should have on the penance of the lapsed.
(Note this fact. What the Catholic Church teaches today about “indulgences” she was teaching and practicing in Cyprian’s time. The granting of indulgences is made possible by the solidarity of the Mystical Body of Christ. By virtue of that solidarity, the sufferings of some members of the Body have the power to lessen the punishment of other members of the Body. This is precisely what the martyrs’ and confessors’ certificates were intended to do.)
Imprudent confessors were ignoring the bishop and, on their own authority, freeing the lapsed from the prescribed penance. Cyprian believed, rightly, that this irregular procedure threatened the whole of the Church’s discipline. He wrote letters to several persons about this problem and sent copies of all the letters to Rome, asking the Roman clergy to consider what he had written.
He addressed the Roman clergy rather than the pope because there had been no incumbent in the see of Peter for a couple of years: After the martyrdom of Pope Fabian (250), active government persecution had prevented the election of his successor. Yet Cyprian showed deference to the see of Peter even when it was vacant. He would take no final action with regard to reconciling the lapsed and apostates without consulting with Rome.
During the persecution, Cyprian himself had gone into hiding. Some of his people criticized his action and sent their complaint to the Roman clergy. (Why would Carthaginians take this matter to Rome, if the local churches were absolutely independent, as Eastern apologists assert?) The Roman clergy wrote to Cyprian and asked for an explanation. Did Cyprian indignantly reject their request and assert his complete independence as a bishop? No. On the contrary, he sent the Roman clergy a defense of his conduct.
Still another action on the part of the Roman clergy, when the see of Peter was vacant, reflects the primacy of Rome. In a letter to Cyprian’s archdeacon (bypassing Cyprian, bishop of the diocese), the Roman clergy told the Carthaginian clergy how they should deal with the lapsed. Did Cyprian condemn this action as interference infringing on his autonomous jurisdiction? Not at all. He wrote the Roman clergy that he had read their letter and in practice would uphold their opinion.
Schismatics from Carthage went to Rome to join the schism of Novatian there. Cyprian denounced the wickedness of the Novatians in Rome and spoke scornfully of the Carthaginian schismatics who had gone to Rome, “the chair of Peter and to the principal [or ruling] church, whence episcopal unity has taken its rise.”
Obviously Cyprian did not regard his own see, Carthage, as “the” or “a” chair of Peter. He said the schismatics who went to Rome were going to “the chair of Peter.”
This “chair of Peter,” said Cyprian, is “the principal Church.” Irenaeus had used these same words about Rome. Tertullian had defined the phrase to mean “that which is over anything, as the soul presides over and rules the body.” Cyprian called Tertullian his “master” and read his writings every day. We can assume that he followed his master in using “principal” to mean “sovereign ruling.”
Speaking of the schismatics who had gone to Rome, Cyprian said, in effect, “They are wasting their time!” Not only is Rome the source of the Church’s unity (“whence episcopal unity has taken its rise”), the schismatics are wasting their time because the Romans—the “chair of Peter,” the pope—are “they to whom faithlessness can have no access.” This is an astonishing statement—astonishing, that is, outside the context of papal infallibility. But we must assume that Cyprian meant what he said.
In practice Cyprian contradicted his own teaching about the independence of each bishop. When Marcion, bishop of Arles, left the Church’s communion and joined the schismatic Novatians, the bishops of the province wrote to the pope asking him to take action. (If they were independent of Rome, why did they not take action themselves?) The action required was for the pope to excommunicate Marcion and appoint a replacement. For unknown reasons, the pope delayed his response. Faustinus, bishop of Lyons, wrote to Cyprian about the matter, seeking his advice.
Cyprian thereupon wrote to the pope, urging him to take action. His letter implies that the pope was the one—the only one—to set matters straight in Arles. He urged the pope to write “letters of plenary authority [literally ‘most full letters’] by means of which, Marcion being excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place.”
Regardless of what Cyprian may have written about the independence of each bishop, here he clearly recognized the authority of the pope to remove and install bishops (for good cause) anywhere in the world.
BAPTISM BY HERETICS
It was Cyprian’s struggle with Pope Stephen over the subject of baptism by heretics which has most endeared Cyprian to Eastern Orthodox and Anglican apologists. It is also that.aspect of Cyprian’s career that caused the Donatists (fourth-century heretics) to claim him as patron saint of their position. Repeatedly to their chief opponent, Augustine, the Donatists quoted Cyprian. Augustine acknowledged Cyprian’s error, but emphasized Cyprian’s refusal to break with Rome.
In his conflict with the schismatic Novatians, Cyprian drew the erroneous conclusion that baptism by heretics is invalid, contrary to the Church’s teaching. By the force of his personality and of at least three African councils that he dominated, Cyprian lined up the bishops of Africa behind his position. Rejection of heretical baptism was an innovation that found wide support in the East.
On this issue, as on others, Cyprian’s thinking was confused. On the one hand he insisted that each bishop was perfectly free to decide whether to accept or reject baptism by heretics, since the issue was not doctrinal. At the same time, in vehemently expounding his position he invoked weighty dogmatic considerations. Cyprian sent Pope Stephen a report of the African synods, explaining that he and the synods had not laid down any law binding all the African bishops. He sent the report because he believed that the Pope should be consulted, even though this was not a doctrinal issue
The issue was whether persons outside the Church’s unity could baptize validly. Stephen ruled that they could, if they used the proper form. Persons who were baptized by heretics and who repented and returned to the Church were to be received by the laying-on of hands. Stephen’s answer to Cyprian makes it plain that his ruling is not a definition of faith, yet Stephen forbade rebaptism of those who had received heretical baptism and decreed excommunication for those who performed rebaptisms.
In his reply to Cyprian’s report, Stephen reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) was successor of Peter, whom Cyprian had extolled in his writing on unity and on whom Jesus Christ had founded his Church. Stephen further reminded Cyprian that he (Stephen) held the chair of Peter, about which Cyprian had written enthusiastically. Finally, Stephen called for Cyprian’s obedience.
Immediately upon receiving Stephen’s reply, Cyprian dispatched legates to Rome to try to persuade the Pope to change his ruling. It was a most inopportune time for Cyprian to do this. The Pope was then contending with schismatic Novatians who were rebaptizing Catholics who joined them. The African legates would probably have been identified in people’s minds with the Novatians. This would have lent the eminent name of Cyprian to a heretical group.
So, for the good of the Church and of Cyprian, Stephen refused to receive the legates, ordering them not to spend a single night in Rome. When the legates returned to Carthage, Cyprian sent messengers to the East to enlist support for his cause of rebaptism. He wrote to Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia and partisan of Cyprian’s cause. Firmilian responded to Cyprian’s letter, and Stephen’s ruling, in a letter filled with indignation and bitterness. Yet Firmilian’s letter itself implicitly recognized the Pope’s authority. Firmilian expressed no indignation over Stephen’s emphasizing his role as Peter’s successor and his claim to what we call universal jurisdiction.
If Stephen’s claim had not been universally accepted, Firmilian’s ultimate weapon against the despised ruling would have been to deny and reject papal authority. That weapon was not available to him, so all he could do was fulminate in bitterest terms.
There is no evidence that either Cyprian or Firmilian was excommunicated. Did Cyprian accept Stephen’s decision and stop rebaptizing those who had received baptism from heretical hands? Jerome says the African bishops corrected their decision to rebaptize and “issued a new decree.” Augustine says the Easterners followed the Pope’s directive: “they rescinded their judgment, by which they had decided that it was right to agree with Cyprian and that African council.” In another place he writes that the Easterners “corrected” their judgment about rebaptism.
Anti-papal apologist John Meyendorff asserts that this event was simply a regional reaction against incipient Roman centralization. There was nothing “incipient” about what Meyendorff calls Roman centralization, but which Catholics call papal universal jurisdiction. That jurisdiction had been exercised since the first century, as has been shown. Furthermore, the controversy was not about centralization at all, but about sacramental and ecclesiological issues of the deepest import.
Eastern and Anglican apologists who rely on Cyprian’s controversy with Pope Stephen to support their case for independent national churches forget or ignore the key fact: Cyprian never even questioned, much less denied, the Pope’s authority to make his ruling and its penalty for non-observance. He only opposed the content of the ruling. Cyprian’s insistence on rebaptism was attractive to many minds. It seemed to safeguard Catholic truth by drawing a sharp line between orthodoxy and heresy. But papal universal jurisdiction and papal teaching authority made all the difference.
In this controversy, “it needs only a few lines from the pen of the Pope to overthrow all that scaffolding of texts and syllogisms. The partisans of innovation may resist as they please, write letter after letter, assemble councils; five lines from the sovereign Pontiff will become the rule of conduct for the universal Church. Eastern and African bishops, all those who at first had rallied round the contrary opinion, will retrace their steps, and the whole Catholic world will follow the decision of the Bishop of Rome.”
Eastern opponents of the papacy are mistaken in their reliance on Cyprian as the mainstay of their apologetic. Cyprian repeatedly deferred to the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome. In at least one instance he begged for the exercise of that authority. With regard to heretical baptism, he opposed a pope’s ruling but never questioned papal authority. The Eastern churches today recognize that Cyprian’s teaching was wrong and that the pope—as usual—was right.”
1. John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), 12.
2. St. Cyprian, The Lapsed: The Unity of the Catholic Church (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, 1957), chapters 4 and 5.
3. Nicolas Afanassieff, “The Church Which Presides in Love” in John Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter (Leighton Buzzad, Bedfordshire: Faith Press, 1973), 83, 73.
4. Quoted by Luke Rivington, The Primitive Church and the See of Peter (London: Longmans, Green, 1894), 58.
6. Ibid., 71.
7. John Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 221.
(inset) -SS. Cornelius and Cyprian from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves; on Pierpont Morgan Library. The Netherlands, Utrecht, ca. 1440, 7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm). Cornelius, holding a horn (cornus in Latin—a pun on his name), and Cyprian, with the sword of his martyrdom, share a feast. Birdcages, executed in silver and gold, comprise the delightful border. They may allude to Cornelius as patron saint of pets or to an interest of Catherine.
Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for intercession with the Lord for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. Please click on the images for greater detail.
“Sacrifice or I’ll make you sacrifice.” Such was the choice that the Emperor Decius enjoined upon third century Christians. In response, some Christians refused, suffering torture or martyrdom. Others fled, losing their property. Far more, however, offered sacrifice to Roman idols or bought documents that said they did. These Christians “lapsed” (lapsi, the lapsi): their actions broke the first commandment and denied Christ, who said, “whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven” (Matt 10:33).
After 18 months, the Decian persecution ended, and many of the lapsed wanted to return to the Church. Today’s martyrs, Pope Cornelius and Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, responded to them with compassion. St. Cyprian preached, “My heart bleeds with each one of you, I share the weight of your sorrow and distress … when my brethren fell, my heart was struck and I fell at their side” (The Lapsed). He saw the persecution as a trial for the Church. The lapsed had failed this trial, and they needed healing in order to regain communion with God. Cornelius and Cyprian desired the reconciliation of the lapsed, but two different forces impeded that goal.
The laxist party raised the first obstacle. They immediately permitted all the lapsed to receive the Eucharist. This admittance, however, achieved no reconciliation. Jesus gives us a remedy—penance—for the festering wound of mortal sin, and the Eucharist cannot help those with that wound. Cyprian comments that laxist indulgence “does not mean the granting of reconciliation but its frustration, it does not restore men to communion but bars them from it and from salvation.” As Saint Paul teaches, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor 10:21). “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).
The laxists substituted their own standards of mercy for God’s standard of mercy, revealed to us through scripture. Despite their well-meaning intention, their approach nonetheless exalted their judgment over God’s judgment. Cyprian knew that the Eucharist is neither a mere reward for good behavior nor a mark of elite status. It is communion with Jesus. Grave sin in the soul thwarts this communion, and Cyprian saw the reason for the necessity of penance: it provides an opportunity for glory. “He who has made such satisfaction to God, he who by his repentance and shame for his sin, draws from the bitterness of his fall a fresh fund of valor and loyalty, shall by the help he has won from the Lord, rejoice the heart of the Church whom he has so lately pained; he will earn not merely God’s forgiveness, but His crown.”
The other threat to reconciliation arose from Novatian, who set himself up as anti-Pope against Cornelius and led many into schism. Novatian and his followers also replaced God’s standards of mercy for their own. They were rigorists and refused to absolve the lapsed. Novatian “did what the Lord did not even grant to the apostles”: he endeavored “to separate the chaff from the wheat” (St. Cyprian, Letter 51). Even Saint Peter lapsed when he denied Christ three times, yet he made a threefold reparation and Jesus forgave him. God is a merciful Father. He desires all to be saved and reconciled to himself, and all who stand in the way of that reconciliation betray him.
In these conflicts, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were faithful to their call to be merciful shepherds. They testify to true mercy, mercy which neither ignores the damage sin causes nor despairs of its healing. By reconciling people to the Eucharist, Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian cultivated communion in the Church. By their life and martyrdom, they now live in the fullest communion with God. We share that communion with them at every Mass.
God our Father,
in Saints Cornelius and Cyprian
you have given your people an inspiring example
of dedication to the pastoral ministry
and constant witness to Christ in their suffering.
May their prayers and faith give us courage
to work for the unity of your Church.
Love, Lord have mercy on me, for I am a sinful man,
-St. Vincent de Paul Church. Huntington Beach, California
Often in an ecumenical chapel, the crucifix (the moment of our salvation) facing the congregation is turned around displaying a plain cross for Protestant services. The devil in me imagines Jesus turning his back on Protestants. 😉 Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers
“The new empress had converted to Christianity the year before and was eager to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her son, the emperor, although not yet a Christian himself, gave his mother permission to use the imperial treasury to buy up whatever sacred relics she could find during her stay. With that, St. Helena headed off to see the sites of Christ’s earthly ministry, intent on locating what physical relics remained from his public life.
Helena’s most important discovery is reputed to have been the cross on which Christ was crucified. According to traditional accounts, after ordering the destruction of a pagan temple built near Calvary by a previous emperor, Helena had her men excavate the site. There they found three crosses. To determine which one was Christ’s, Helena had a mortally ill woman touch each of the crosses. When the woman was miraculously healed after touching one of them, Helena proclaimed that cross the True Cross.
In honor of his mother’s find, Emperor Constantine ordered a church to be built on the site. That church became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (known by the Orthodox as the Church of the Resurrection). Most Christians believe it to house both Calvary and Christ’s tomb. The first day that the True Cross was brought outside the church for adoration by the faithful, September 14, 335, would become the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which we celebrate today.
Protestants often are deeply uncomfortable with Catholic devotion to the crucifix, a sacramental that depicts the corpus (body) of Christ on his cross. They want to know why Catholics don’t simply have empty crosses in their churches, as is the custom in many Protestant churches. After all, they claim, Christ has been raised from the dead. Doesn’t a bare cross better show that he is risen?
Despite their affinity for crosses, many Protestants are also skeptical of the Church’s claim to possess the True Cross and to make relics from that cross available for veneration by the faithful. Not only do they doubt the authenticity of the relics, but some anti-Catholics even scorn the value of the True Cross itself. As the late Bart Brewer wrote:
It is said that if all the pieces of the [true] cross [of Christ] displayed in Catholic churches were assembled together, it would take a ten-ton truck to carry them. It is clear that most “relics” are frauds. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Bible that supports the veneration of relics, even if they are genuine.
So, on the one hand, many Protestants object to crosses that display Christ’s body in favor of bare crosses—and, on the other, they often reject the value of the True Cross itself, even if pieces of it were real. How do we as Catholics answer these objections? The story of how Helena recovered the True Cross may be useful in answering both objections.
As we saw, when Helena and her men excavated the site where Calvary had been located, they found three crosses. Naturally, they assumed that two of the crosses belonged to the two criminals executed with Christ (Matt. 27:38). Not having any interest in the thieves’ crosses, they sought to determine which cross was Christ’s and accepted a miraculous healing as proof of the True Cross.
Bare crosses alone, such as the ones Helena found near Calvary, were of no interest unless she could prove which one of them was Christ’s. The other crosses might have been interesting archaeological finds, but had no lasting value to her.
But even without Christ’s body hanging upon it, the actual cross on which Christ died is sacred because of its relation to him. Think of a throne without a king, a bench without a judge, or the presider’s chair in a church without a priest. Even when not in use, thrones, judicial benches, and presider chairs do have inherent value as symbols of the authority of the one who uses them. In like manner, the True Cross is sacred and worthy of Christian devotion because the one who used it is God himself.
From its beginning, the Church has reverenced the image of Christ on his cross and has considered the manner in which Christ died to be an integral part of the gospel. St. Paul wrote:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21–24, emphasis added).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that we do not merely preach Christ’s resurrection but the resurrection of the one who was crucified, which acts as a confirmation of the divinity of God the Son:
The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his resurrection. He had said: “When you have lifted up the son of man, then you will know that I am he.” The resurrection of the crucified one shows that he was truly “I AM,” the Son of God and God himself (653, emphasis added).
When Protestants ask why Catholics use a crucifix instead of a bare cross, the answer then is twofold. We don’t separate Christ’s body from his cross because we value both his body and his cross. God the Son died as man to save the world, which means that his human body is sacred and worthy of our worship. And since he chose to die by crucifixion, the cross on which he died is worthy of our veneration because that was the means by which he saved the world. A bare cross has no value unless it is clearly his cross. As Paul said:
Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14).
And not only does the cross attain value by its relation to Christ—we too can become distinguished by our connection to the cross. Have you ever seen an icon or holy card of Helena? In practically every image created of her, iconographers and artists render her as holding a cross. That’s because Helena is most readily identified by Christians not by her relationship to her son the emperor, but by her relationship to Christ and his cross.
Today’s feast commemorates not just the death of Christ (as does Good Friday) but invites us to venerate the Cross itself, by which He redeemed the world.”
“Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has left household or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and the sake of the Gospel, who will not receive back a hundredfold now in this present age – households and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” So, according to St Mark, Jesus answered the plea of Peter, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” The answer is striking because in the mix of this-worldly promises – just where we might feel uneasy that our Lord is preaching a kind of prosperity gospel – we are assured that there will be persecutions to boot: a thoroughly this-worldly promise.
The persecutions, however, are not just an add-on, another item in the list: it is not households and brothers and sisters… and persecutions, but all these things with persecutions. The common theme uniting the items of the list is family, the most immediate and intimate community of which we find ourselves a part. Even fields, the land a family-owned, formed an essential part of the family unit in the worldview of ancient Israel: land could never really leave the possession of the family that owned it, although it might be sold away for a time – and in that case, it should ideally be given over to another family member. The natural family, this tightknit, even sacred unit of society, is what the followers of Jesus must be prepared to leave behind – not to become individuals, solitary wanderers, but part of a greater family.
That new family is the Church, the family of the Lord’s disciples, who do the will of his Father and so become as brothers, sisters and mothers to him. And one of the surest bonds of that family in this world is precisely persecution – very often persecution at the hands of those who have been left behind. We sometimes hear it said, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, for future generations. It might as well be said that it is the cement of the Church in every present generation. In part, this is a sociological phenomenon: groups form their identity by distinction from other groups, and the experience of persecution even in mild forms can contribute to that self-differentiation from outsiders. More powerfully, the martyrs bear an eschatological witness: they testify that this age does not have the last say, and that there is indeed an age to come and in it the promise of eternal life. The martyr cries out with the Psalmist, “In righteousness I shall behold Your face; I shall take my fill when I awake of the vision of You.-Ps 17:15” By reminding us all of that common desire, the martyrs draw the Church into that unity of heart and soul which is a keynote of Acts – a unity of heart and soul which in those earliest times found external expression in the sharing of possessions and livelihood, making of the Church a single great household.
The martyrs are blessed not just because they go to behold the vision of God, but because they, like Christ, lay down their lives for their friends. Like all the beatitudes, this one speaks to us of a transformation that, by drawing us each closer to Christ, draws us closer into communion with one another also. ‘Blessed are they’: the promise is something we share, and we must learn to see the sharing as part of the gift. ‘
In 2017, The Pontifical Academy for Life released a short document called “Clarifications on the medical and scientific nature of vaccination.” This clarification was written in collaboration with the Italian Bishops’ Conference and the “Ufficio per la Pastorale della Salute” (“Association of Italian Catholic Doctors.”) The 2017 document notes declining vaccination rates in Italy, encourages vaccination, and concludes, “While the commitment to ensuring that every vaccine has no connection in its preparation to any material of originating from an abortion, the moral responsibility to vaccinate is reiterated in order to avoid serious health risks for children and the general population.”
In the 2005 document, The Pontifical Academy for Life teaches that we have a duty to request and use those vaccines which are produced in a morally acceptable way. In the United States, we can make specific vaccine brand choices to avoid some vaccines derived from aborted fetal tissue. In the 2017 “clarification” they do not comment on the issue of vaccine brand choices. They state, “We believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.” Of note, this clarification was written by Italian bishops and Italian physicians. In Italy, patients do not have the same vaccine brand choices as in the United States.
In the United States, the National Catholic Bioethics center states that we should choose ethical vaccines when they are available. The NCBC’s “FAQ on the Use of Vaccines” was most recently updated in 2019, and is frequently cited by U.S. bishops.
Some, but not all of the Coronavirus vaccines under development are derived from aborted fetal tissue. This article from Science magazine, published in June, 2020 provides a good summary of the coronavirus vaccines under development and the cell lines used for each vaccine. Of note, the United States government has provided 1.2 billion dollars of funding for the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which is being developed using the HEK-293 cell line. This cell line originated from kidney cells from a fetus that was aborted in 1973.
For some vaccines there are no morally produced brands. In the United States, these vaccines are MMR, hepatitis A, and varicella. So should we use these vaccines, when there is no alternative?
In the 2005 document, The Pontifical Academy for Life says we can use them “on a temporary basis” and “insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women.” In the 2017 document, the Pontifical Academy for life writes, “Especially in consideration of the fact that the cell lines currently used are very distant from the original abortions and no longer imply that bond of moral cooperation indispensable for an ethically negative evaluation of their use. On the other hand, the moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others is no less urgent, especially the safety more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”
(Saint Bonaventure (Brevil., III, ix) lists the same. The number seven was given by Saint Gregory the Great (Lib. mor. in Job.) XXXI, xvii), and held for most of the Middle Age theologists. Previous authors listed 8 Deadly Sins: Saint Cyprian (mort., iv); Cassian (instit caenob., v, coll. 5, de octo principalibus vitiis); Columbanus (“Instr. de octo vitiis princip.”in”library. Max. vet. Patr. “(, XII, 23);” Alcuin (virtut et vitiis, xxvii and ff.))
“See the souls over whom anger prevailed. In the warm bath of the sun they were hateful, down here in the black sludge of the river Styx do they wish they had never been born.” — Virgil
The river Styx is a toxic marsh that eternally drowned those who are overcome with rage while they are alive. Those who expressed anger (The wrathful) attacked each other on the swamp’s surface while those who repressed anger (The sullen) eternally drowned beneath the marsh.
We have seen a lot of wrath lately.
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for He remembers their sins in detail. -Sir 27:30-28:1
This song is from the Carmina Burana and the first stanzas in Latin are translated as follows:
Estuans interius ira vehementi in amaritudine loquor mee menti: factus de materia, cinis elementi similis sum folio, de quo ludunt venti.
Burning inside with violent anger, bitterly I speak to my heart: created from matter, of the ashes of the elements, I am like a leaf played with by the winds.
Dante described wrath as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”. St. John Chrysostom said this regarding anger: He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices (Homily 11). St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Consequently, lack of the passion of anger is also a vice, [for it is] a lack of movement in the will directed to punishment by the judgment of reason” (Summa Theologica II, IIae 158.8).
St. Thomas, following Pope St Gregory the Great, also lists the “daughters” of anger (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 158, A. 7) as quarreling, swelling of the mind, contumely (contempt or derision), clamor, indignation and blasphemy. For indeed, sometimes anger is directed at one who we deem unworthy, and this is called “indignation.” Sometimes wrathful anger manifests a pride where our anger is rooted in obstinate opinions and superiority. And anger surely gives birth to quarreling, derisiveness, and clamor. Anger directed at God often produces blasphemy.
Of the Virtues that are medicine for anger – Clearly meekness is the chief virtue to moderate anger. Meekness is the proper middle ground between too much anger and not enough anger. Cleary the virtues associated with Charity such as love and peace along with proper fraternal correction assist in both curbing anger and directing it to useful ends. Prudence too will help direct and moderate anger especially through the foresight, circumspection, caution, counsel and discrimination proper to it. Finally humility helps alleviate the swollen mind of anger.
The sin of anger is ultimately a hateful and hurtful thing. It tends to destruction and must be mastered by meekness and patience. Perhaps it is best to remember a scriptural admonition:
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not; it leads only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.(Psalm 37:8-9)
Wrath, or hatred if you will, is an acid within the soul that eats away at the heart until there is almost nothing left – St. John Cassian himself refers to it as a “deadly poison.”1 It turns the Christian soul into a volcanic being, literally waiting to erupt and spill over its hate on to whatever it deems as its target and/or its oppressor. Wrath blocks the light of Christ from filling the soul – when one’s soul is filled to the brim with whipping torrents of blackened anger, clear judgment and humility of heart are not to be found, and if they are, they are buried beneath layers of ash and fire. In this, we see the truly suffocating effects of wrath.
“No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness.”2 (St. John Cassian). It is a sin that places the soul within reach of the flames of Hell, “in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:22) If left unchecked, wrath eventually produces the most evil fruits: desire for another’s harm or downfall, all-consuming hatred, violence, and many others. “If the passion of anger dominates your soul, those who live in the world will prove to be better than you and you will be put to shame…”3 (St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic)
So, how do we combat this sin and its effects? How are we able to calm a rage within us that seems to have consumed us? The cause of wrath needs to be uncovered beneath the piles of magma that surround the heart – in other words, get to the root of one’s rage. The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”, has an incredible effect of calming the soul, taming it like a wild beast, and penetrating the heart to replace the fiery heat of rage with a gentle warmth. This prayer can often reveal what has been causing our anger.
“When anger tries to burn up my tabernacle, I will look to the goodness of God, Whom anger never touched… And when hatred tries to darken me, I will look to the mercy and the martyrdom of the Son of God…”4 (St. Hildegard of Bingen) When we find ourselves consumed by the sin of wrath, a sure antidote is found in gazing upon the crucified Savior, Who lifted not a finger against His persecutors, never once cried out against them, never once fought back. “Picture to yourself all the torments and indignities of His Passion, and amazed at His constancy, blush at your own weakness.”5 (Dom Lorenzo Scupoli)
Here, we see the virtue of humility come to our aid in the combat against wrath, for wrath is intimately linked with pride via self-justification of one’s seemingly “righteous” anger, an aspect of wrath which seems to me to speak to the inability to see clearly through one’s rage, as outlined above. As Evagrius notes, wrath “darkens the soul,”6 and this darkening causes the Christian to be lost in their own stormclouds within. Humility shines a light through these clouds, and allows us to see clearly once again.
With humility comes mercy and compassion towards others, a sure way of putting out the fires of wrath, for “the limpidity of mercy is known for patience in bearing injury, and the perfection of humility when it rejoices in gratuitous slander”7 (St. Isaac the Syrian), and injury (either perceived or real) is the great spark that sets the sin of wrath into motion. “If you are truly merciful, when you are wrongfully and cruelly deprived of what is yours, you will not be angry within or without…”8 (St. Isaac the Syrian)
Love, pray for me,
1 – Institutes, “On the Eight Vices”
2 – ibid.
3 – A Century of Spiritual Texts, 30
4 – Scivias, IV:7
5 – The Spiritual Combat, 52
6 – Praktikos, 23
7 – On Ascetical Life, VI:8
8 – ibid., VI:9
“It is said that the Stella Caeli chant was composed by the Sisters of the Monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra, Portugal, during the “Black Death” (1347-1351).
It is in some ways reassuring that we humans experience the same calamities throughout the ages. We go through pandemics, as our ancestors in the faith did, and they learned to live with it. Fortunately for us, we have more drugs at our disposal.
When we go through such dire situations, we should do whatever it takes to keep our peace. Nothing happens outside the permissive Will of God. It’s something that we have to remind ourselves over and over.
In the Stella Caeli, we pray to our Mother Mary to beg our Lord for succor. We acknowledge that her Son denies her nothing. When we pray this prayer, we ask our Lady to help us just as the Sisters of the Monastery of Santa Clara did. And we know she will intercede for us.
In some earlier versions of this prayer, the text is a little different. The most popular version says “O Glorious Star of the Sea”, which seems to be the oldest; while some say, “O most pious” Star of the Sea.
If you’re really interested in a scholarly treatise on the Stella Caeli, read this paper. It goes deep.
You can pray this chant until the pandemic is over.
May our Lady see our plight and intercede for us in this grave time.
“…Stella caeli exstirpavit, a medieval chant petitioning the Blessed Virgin for protection from the plague. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the chant has made a comeback among Catholics…
Through this fourteenth-century chant, we can tap into the memory of the Church and find some guidance on how to respond existentially—not just procedurally—to the uncertainties and challenges of the current pandemic.
When the plague broke out in 1317, a now-familiar terror set in, including the fear of contact with others who might carry the hidden disease. As one town became a hotspot, the local monastery of cloistered nuns considered running for the hills. Suddenly, a strange beggar appeared and passed them a paper. Unfolding the paper, they found a prayer to the Blessed Virgin that he instructed them to pray daily for their protection.
That chant, Stella caeli exstirpavit, became the cry of Christians in the many recurrences of the plague that followed.
“Stélla caéli exstirpávit
quae lactávit Dóminum:
Mórtis péstem quam plantávit
prímus párens hóminum.
Ipsa stélla nunc dignétur sídera compéscere,
Quórum bélla plébem caédunt dírae mórtis úlcere.
O piíssima stélla máris a péste succúre nóbis:
Audi nos, nam fílius tuus níhil négans te honórat.
Sálva nos, Jésu pro quíbus vírgo máter te órat.
The star of heaven, she who nourished the Lord, has uprooted the plague of death which the first parent of mankind planted.
That very star is now worthy to restrain the constellation, whose wars cut down the people with the sore of dreaded death.
O most loving star of the sea, save us from the plague:
Hear us, for the Son, denying nothing, honors you.
Save us, Jesus! For us, the virgin mother entreats You.”
It is a short prayer, but one that tells a rich story, our story. God planted a garden and set our first parents there. He also cultivated their souls, planting within them special graces protecting them from sickness and death. God didn’t make death or intend His garden to be a place where death lurked (cf. Wis 1:13-15).
By rejecting God, however, our first parents uprooted the seeds of immortality and planted in their stead “the plague of death,” Original Sin, the wound in our nature that opened us up to sickness and death. Our first parents planted this sickly seed and we have harvested its rotten fruit, including Covid-19, to this day…
Living in a world full of sickness and death, we may wish to curse our stars. Indeed, people have often looked to heavenly constellations fearing what they might portend. While not subscribing to a fatalistic astrological outlook, the Scriptures describe Satan leading the rebellion of the fallen angels using the imagery of the stars: Satan’s “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth” (Rev 12:4).
These fallen angels, no longer “stars of heaven,” sow violence upon the earth, forming “the constellation, whose wars cut down the people with the sore of dreaded death.” In our fallen world, then, we contend with the effects of the evil implanted in our nature, but also with the mischief of the agents of evil.
But God never abandoned His garden to be choked to death by weeds. In the Blessed Virgin Mary, God begins the story of our replanting, first uprooting Original Sin from human nature by preserving her from all stain of sin. From the verdant garden of Mary’s humanity sprang the healing antidote to sickness and death.
Unlike the demonic constellations of the enemy which are cast down from heaven, Mary is the Star of Heaven arising to frustrate the machinations of the devil. In her person and through the fruit of her womb, God re-orders creation, shifting the cosmic balance in our favor.
Sometimes we forget how broken and susceptible to decay our world is. The current pandemic can jog our memory and point us where to turn for help. Mary is not just the beginning of God healing our nature or a cold, impersonal, cosmic sign. She is our “most loving star of the sea,” a continual maternal protection. “[S]he who nourished the Lord” nourishes us too.”
“It has always struck me as slightly strange that this promise of divine adoption is offered to the peacemakers. Not in the sense that it should not be offered to them, but rather that, surely, it should be offered as the reward of all the beatitudes. After all, all of the beatitudes school us in the life of grace, and the life of grace is expressed in our divine adoption.
The question of whether the rewards of the beatitudes are suitably assigned, and whether they refer to this life or the next, vexed the Fathers. Some held, with St Ambrose, that all the rewards of the beatitudes refer to the life to come; while Augustine says that they all refer to this present life. Chrysostom takes a middle way – some are for the future, some are for this life. Aquinas tries to settle the question by, as usual, making a distinction. Some happiness is preparing us for future beatitude in heaven, but some happiness, imperfect but still real, can be attained in this life. ‘For it is one thing,’ he says, ‘to hope that the tree will bear fruit, when the leaves begin to appear, and another when we see the first signs of the fruit.’ St Thomas assigns the beatitude of the peacemakers to 1 a contemplative happiness, which prepares us for the life to come; by making peace we show ourselves to be true followers of God, Who is the God of unity and peace. 2
But how exactly do we achieve this? Part of the way to achieve some sense of the promise offered by this beatitude is to see to whom the offer is made: peacemakers. In the scriptures, this does not have the sense it might have today of blue-helmeted UN military personnel, nor even, in the first instance, those who try to make peace within
and between homes, families, and communities. To jump to this level is already to get ahead of ourselves.
In the Scriptures, peace is richer and fuller. The meaning of the Hebrew word for peace, shalom, connotes a completeness, a wholeness. In the Psalms, peace is the reward of justice, and the crown of the rewards of the just man. Peace has its source in God – it is even a divine name as we hear in Judges when Gideon builds an altar to the Lord, and calls the place ‘the Lord is peace.’3
This revelation of Peace as a name for God finds its fullest expression in the name given to the coming Messiah by the prophet Isaiah: the Prince of Peace; and this 4 promise of peace is manifested by the angels that first Christmas night: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’ But the true 5 revelation of divine peace is found, ironically, in the cross, where Christ, the Prince of Peace, shows us that the peace He offers, is profoundly different to that of the world. For St Paul, this peace of the cross is, at its heart, a reconciliation of all things in Christ, ‘whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.’ It is in this 6 reconciliation that we find the ultimate expression of the wholeness and completeness that peace means.
But if this peace is something brought about by a divine action, how can we be peacemakers? The peace of the cross flows into our lives through the sacraments. We can see that quite clearly if we think of the words we hear at the end of sacramental confession, ‘The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.’ True peace, which 7 flows from the cross, brings peace to our souls through the sacraments. To understand this, it is worth remembering that the sacraments are the actions of Christ Himself, and 8 their power is rooted in His Passion. So when we go to confession and hear the priest 9 say, go in peace, these are the words of our Divine Healer in the Gospels. The 10 sacraments bring about that wholeness and completeness which is rooted in the reconciliation of the cross. To live an integrated life, to live a peaceful life, we must live a sacramental life. To build peace, to be a peacemaker, means, first of all, bringing peace to our own souls. Only then can this become a peace which we share with others, and bring to perfection within our own society.
To be a peacemaker is, by its very definition to be already a son or daughter of God, because true peace requires that graced communion with God which the sacraments give us. In that sense, this sacramental life are the leaves of a tree which promise good fruit in the future. The fruit of this beatitude promise will only be made manifest when all things are reconciled in Christ at the end of time. Until then, we must live in communion with God Who gives light to our darkness, and Who, through the sacraments, guides us into the way of peace.11″
ST I-II, 69, 2, resp.
ST I-II, 69, 4, resp.
Rite for the Reconciliation of Individual Penitents
-A 1894 print by Udo Kepler shows the pope’s nuncio (ambassador) Archbishop Francesco Satolli, who was appointed in 1893 as the first Papal Delegate to the United States, casting a shadow (looking a like Pope Leo XIII) in 1894 holding a crosier, sitting atop an enormous dome labeled “American Headquarters” and casting a large shadow in the shape of Pope Leo XIII across the landscape of the United States. Several cities, some with buildings labeled “Public Schools,” are encompassed by the shadow of the Pope, including New York City, the U.S. Capitol building, “Memphis, New Orleans, El Paso, Denver, [and] San Francisco.” Please click on the image for greater detail.
“In 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that some businesses were exempt from the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate if they had a religious objection to it. After the decision was released, Ronald Lindsay, an advocate for atheism and author of the book The Necessity of Secularism, penned an online essay titled, “The Uncomfortable Question: Should we Have Six Catholic Justices on the Supreme Court?” Lindsay mentioned past Catholic prejudice and his own risk of sounding bigoted, but he still argued that the Court’s ruling could be explained only as the result of Catholics following the rule of the pope rather than the rule of law.
Imagine the outcry if Lindsay had complained about a group of female judges he claimed were biased against men. What if Lindsay had complained that there were too many Jewish judges on a certain appeal circuit? In those cases there would be widespread condemnation, but because Lindsay attacked Catholics, he was given a free pass.
This double standard is nothing new. When we trace the history of Catholicism in the United States back through the centuries we see that not only is anti-Catholicism the last acceptable prejudice, it was also one of the first.
-famous 1876 editorial cartoon by Thomas Nast showing bishops as crocodiles attacking public schools, with the connivance of Irish Catholic politicians. Please click on the image for greater detail.
Religious “freedom” in the New World
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, British colonists traveled to the New World in search of religious freedom and they found it—but only for their respective churches. Most of the colonies established some form of Anglicanism or congregationalism as their official religion while other Protestants, not to mention Jews and Catholics, were subject to persecution if they did not attend these worship services.
Some colonies would not even tolerate the existence of these religious groups, which is evident in Massachusetts’s “Act against Jesuits and Popish Priests,” passed in 1700, which gave Catholics several months notice that they had to leave the province. Even the colony of Rhode Island, whose tolerance for members of religious minorities earned it the nickname “Rogue’s Island,” forbade Catholics from serving in public office.
Why were Catholics treated so poorly? Many of these early eighteenth-century restrictions were a response to the so-called “Jacobite uprising” in England in 1745 that attempted to install the Catholic Prince of Wales, James Stuart, to the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones. The plan failed, leaving the prince’s father James II as the last Catholic monarch to ever reign over the British Isles.
The other prominent location of Catholics in America was the colony of Maryland, which its founder George Calvert actually called terra mariae, or Mary Land. Even though this colony would become home to the first American diocese, it still had a majority Protestant population. After Calvert’s death, his son Cecil gave the following instructions to the governor of Maryland in hopes that a Protestant majority would not erode the religious freedom Catholic’s enjoyed: “[I]nstruct all the Roman Catholics to be silent upon all occasions of discourse concerning matters of Religion; and that the said Governor & Commissioners treat the Protestants with as much mildness and favor as Justice will permit.”
The Great Migration
By the mid-nineteenth century, the industrial revolution drew hundreds of thousands of Americans out of the farmlands and into urban areas. In the 1840s the Catholic population in these areas exploded after the Irish potato famine brought millions of Irish immigrants to cities like Boston, New York, and Baltimore. These Catholics formed labor unions to protect themselves from violence and discrimination, the latter of which could be seen in “Irish need not apply” signs that littered storefronts across the United States, some as late as 1909.
Despite this hostility, Catholic immigration to the United States accelerated, and anti-immigrant activists blamed increased public welfare spending and rising crime rates on the “hordes” of Catholics flooding the country. Some critics also saw the influx of Catholics as a threat to democracy itself because of Pope Leo XIII’s condemnation of “Americanism,” or the heretical view that the Church should have no influence on public policy but should instead adapt to a changing culture.
Unfortunately, many people interpreted the pope’s exhortations for the Church to shape society as a mandate to conquer it and instill a theocracy. Ellen G. White even claimed that Catholics would force all citizens, including her fellow Seventh-day Adventists, who celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, to worship on Sunday. (Some Adventists still promote this conspiracy theory in a book called National Sunday Law).
The combination of fear and resentment toward Irish, Italian, and German Catholics also fueled the rise of a semi-secret political society called the Know-Nothing Party. The name came from the group’s members who would say they knew nothing about whatever the organization was planning. It’s no surprise they stayed tight-lipped, given that the Know-Nothings used violence and intimidation to keep Catholics and other immigrants from being elected to public office.
On August 6, 1855, what is now called Bloody Monday, armed Know-Nothing mobs controlled the city of Louisville, Kentucky, and made a show of force to prevent Catholics from “rigging” the day’s election. What transpired were a series of beatings, lootings, acts of arson, and murders that resulted in the deaths of at least twenty-two people and the near destruction of the city’s cathedral.
Unfortunately, the Know-Nothings tactics won dozens of state and local elections in the 1850s, when they ran as the American Party. After one of their candidates, Levi Boone, was elected mayor of Chicago, he banned immigrants from the city’s government and police force. The Know-Nothings also sought to ban Catholics from holding public office.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution specifies that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” but this applies only to positions in the federal government. States and local municipalities could exclude atheists, Jews, Catholics, and other religious groups from public office until the Supreme Court’s 1961 Torcaso v. Watkins case ruled that religious tests represented an establishment of religion and were therefore unconstitutional.
The Catholic “menace”
As quickly as the Know Nothings appeared, by 1860 the party was torn apart by the issue of slavery. Anti-slavery Know Nothings became Republicans, while the pro-slavery members joined the Constitutional Union party, which faded out of existence after losing the 1860 presidential election. But the demise of the Know Nothings did not end the spread of their anti-Catholic rhetoric.
The most infamous group that assumed the anti-Catholic mantle was the Ku Klux Klan. Decades before their assault on racial integration, the Klan fought to protect white, Protestant America from “papists” who it claimed were immigrating to conquer America by numbers and even by force. Many Klan members believed that every Catholic parish kept a stockpile of weapons to use in a future war against Protestants.
Even though Klansmen had no qualms about using violence and other intimidation tactics, they considered their most potent weapon against the Church to be mandatory public school attendance. In 1922 the Klan teamed up with the Freemasons to pass the Oregon Compulsory Education Act. They hoped public school would tech Catholic children “civic lessons” and wean them of their troublesome immigrant heritage, including their attachment to their Catholic Faith. The act would also have the practical effect of closing down every parochial school in the state.
Thankfully, after vocal opposition from parents and campaigning by the then-forty-year-old Knights of Columbus, the case was brought before the Supreme Court. In 1925 the Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that the Compulsory Education Act was unconstitutional and that parents have a right to determine their child’s education.
The Kennedy legacy
Even though the Supreme Court sided with the Church on school choice, Protestant America still viewed Catholics with deep suspicion. In 1928 Al Smith became the first Catholic nominated for the presidency but he lost the election, at least in part, because of his Catholic Faith. In one case, Smith was accused of imposing his Catholic morality on the public because of his opposition to alcohol prohibition, a stance that drew heavy backlash from tee totaling Protestant moralists.
It would be more than thirty years before another Catholic ran for president, and Protestants opposition remained fierce. The famous evangelist Billy Graham convened a group of his fellow Protestants in Montreux, Switzerland, in order to devise a plan to halt the momentum of John F. Kennedy’s campaign.
In the face of this criticism, Kennedy realized the importance of keeping the “religion question” from sidelining his message to voters, so on September 12, 1960, he gave an historic speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that provided the framework for future Catholics to assuage the fears of non-Catholic voters. He said:
“I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the Church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as president—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”
So where are we today? According to the Gallup polling agency, in 1958 only two-thirds of Americans were willing to vote for a Catholic presidential candidate. Today, 94 percent would do so, but that willingness often assumes that the candidate will not impose his faith on the American people. This includes not just the imposition of sectarian morality (like legislating mandatory Mass attendance) but the imposition of Catholic principles that all people should be able to recognize from reason alone, such as the right to life for unborn children.
Do Catholics still face prejudice in American politics today? Probably not so long as their Catholic identity is a line in their biography or a photo opportunity of something innocuous like helping at a Catholic food bank. But when Catholic politicians try to defend the unborn’s right to life or the natural definition of marriage, you can bet their faith will become a target for criticism.
But that cannot stop them or us from acting in accordance with our Faith in the public square. To do so would render in vain the many sacrifices Catholics have made that ensure you or I could run for office or even have a voice in the polling place and public marketplace of ideas.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine