Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Photopost Request: House Chapels and Oratories

Following up on Peter’s post this past Monday, let’s do a photopost of your house chapels, oratories and prayer corners. Please send your photographs, along with any information you think pertinent, to If you would prefer that your name and location not be published, that’s certainly not a problem, just make sure to let me know that in your email.

I got the idea to do this from a spontaneous submission which we received on our Facebook page from Fr Rinaldo Damian, who is semi-retired and living in the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. When he moved back there after serving for many years in Miami, he acquired the former convent of St Augustine’s parish, and restored it to use for the celebration of Mass. The chapel has several artifacts from churches that were closed in Paris. Bishop Robert McManus of nearby Worcester, Massachusetts (who was ordained a priest for Providence, and then served as its auxiliary bishop) consecrated the chapel last year and dedicated it to St Damien of Molokai. Our thanks to Fr Damian for sharing these pictures with us.

A Look Back on the Festival of Saint Louis 2021 (Guest Article and Photos)

NLM thanks Anna Kalinowski for her detailed commentary on the second annual Festival of St. Louis, once again a great success (as the stirring photos help convey).

The Apotheosis of St. Louis in Forest Park, where Catholics of St. Louis, Missouri, meet weekly year-round to pray the Holy Rosary

A few weeks ago, Catholics in Saint Louis, Missouri, outdid themselves once again in celebrating the feast of their city’s beloved patron. Faithful from all over the archdiocese and many out-of-state visitors came together to participate in an impressive series of liturgical and paraliturgical events known as The Festival of St. Louis.

The celebrations, which were organized primarily by the Oratory of SS. Gregory and Augustine, began officially in the Archdiocese’s mother church, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, with Solemn First Vespers on the evening of Tuesday, August 24th. Solemn seven-cope vespers may very well have been a first in the basilica’s history of a hundred-plus years.

The proper chants for Vespers were taken from a manuscript of an Office composed just after St. Louis’s canonization in 1297 for use at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It was for many years the most widely celebrated Office for Louis, King of France.

Procession into the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis for Solemn First Vespers

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The St Matthew Triptych by Orcagna

In 1367, the Florentine money-changers’ guild commissioned the painter Andrea di Cione, generally known by the nickname Orcagna, to make a triptych of their patron Saint, the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew. Orcagna, who was then running one of the busiest artistic workshops in the city, fell ill in the course of the work, and left it to be finished by his brother Jacopo when he died the following year. The emblem of the guild is seen at the top of the two side panels above the pinnacles.

Public domain images from Wikipedia; click to see in high resolution.
Its peculiar shape is owed to the fact that it was originally hung on one of the octagonal pillars of the famous church and guildhall known as the Orsanmichele. The central panel, which is mostly Orcagna’s own work, shows St Matthew with a pen and the Gospel book in his hands, the latter identified as his by the opening words “The Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ…” In accordance with the convention of the times, the beautiful decorative carpet on which he is standing is vertical, so that it can be seen; this was probably done by Jacopo. In the pinnacles above him, angels hold the crown and palms of martyrdom.

The side panels show four stories from the Saint’s life, running clockwise from the lower left. In the first one, Christ calls him away from the tollhouse, as described by Matthew himself in chapter 9 of his own Gospel. The Lord is accompanied by the four Apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John, whose calling has already been described before this point, but the rest, who are named in chapter 10, are not yet with him.

The remaining panels show stories from the life of St Matthew as recounted in the Golden Legend. In the second one, when he had gone to Ethiopia to preach the Gospel, he came to a place where two magicians had gained control of the populace, and were worshipped as gods. At Matthew’s preaching, the people were converted to the faith; the magicians therefore planned to punish them by turning two dragons loose on them. Signing himself with the cross, the Apostle went out to confront them, at which the dragons lay down asleep at his feet.

In the third panel, he raises the son of a king named Hegippus from the dead, which the magicians were unable to do. This leads to the conversion of the king; furthermore, at St Matthew’s exhortation, his daughter embraces the state of consecrated virginity, a proposal in which she is followed by many other young women.
Hegippus is then succeeded by his brother Hirtacus, who turns against Christianity, and has St Matthew killed at the altar when he had just finished celebrating Mass, as seen in the fourth panel. Iphigenia, who is seen at the lower right, is still named to this day in the traditional Martyrology of the Roman Rite.

The story goes on that the people wished to avenge the Apostle’s murder by burning down the royal palace, but were restrained from doing so by the clergy, who rather celebrated his martyrdom. Since Iphigenia and the other virgins would not abandon their consecration, Hirtacus set her house on fire, but the Apostle turned the fire back on his house, which was destroyed. Hirtacus, afflicted with incurable leprosy, then kills himself, and is succeeded by Hegippus’ son, who effects the complete conversion of Ethiopia to Christianity, filling it with churches.
Just over half a century later, in 1419, the same guild commissioned the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti to make this bronze statue of the Apostle for one of the building’s external niches. It is now kept inside for preservation...

(Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0)
while a copy is displayed in the niche itself.
(Image from Wikimedia Commons by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0)

How Do Friendships Endure? by a Monk of Pluscarden Abbey

Here is an essay on the nature of friendship by a monk of the community of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, reproduced with permission from the Pentecost edition of their magazine, Pluscarden Benedictines. Friendship is an important aspect of the life of Benedictine monks, who are, in principle, bound to live in community with the same people for may well turn out to be several decades. As such, their lives as celibates in long-lasting and stable communities puts them in a position to consider the nature of human friendship and its relation to friendship with God. The bond that unites the community is the noble call of their common work of the worship of God, the opus Dei.

This essay is similar in theme, but at the same time in stark contrast to the series of three, I posted recently on the pictorial allegories of love as described in the Song of Songs: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Whereas the Song is a romantic and passionate love poem in which spousal love is portrayed as analogous to and participating in our love of God and God’s love for us, caritas, our wise Benedictine focuses on friendship (philia, amicitia), in which is there is no romantic component, and makes the argument that this too, if authentic, is a participation in ‘divine friendship’, which is an alternative way of referring to that same caritas. Caritas is a love which is simultaneously multi-faceted, superabundant and yet, paradoxically simple. Friendships, as with the spousal relationship in marriage, are therefore a training ground for heaven.

While the writer’s focus is primarily (though not exclusively) on deep and lasting friendships, my thoughts ran as I read it to the significance of superficial and temporary friendships. One thing that the last 18 months of enforced wearing of face-hiding masks and social isolation has taught me is how important regular and superficial contact with people is. For the most part, in the time of COVID, I have managed to maintain in some form at least my close friendships, but the number of regular face-to-face contacts with strangers has reduced dramatically, and I can feel the difference. Saying, ‘hello’ to strangers or to a person only seen in that one context regularly, say at the checkout of the local store, and who then returns the greeting with a smile, has a part to play in relieving loneliness too. Perhaps even these simple short interactions can also be small but significant occasions that lead us and others to heaven!
Photos by Peter Chalmers
There is a scene in the film About a Boy in which a couple asks the protagonist, played by Hugh Grant, to be godfather to their new baby girl. Grant plays an aging pop star who is drifting in life, and has for years been living off the royalties of the only hit single of his career. Though capable of personal charm, he is a cynic who claims he delights in a life of selfishness and irresponsibility in his personal relationships. At the beginning of the story, when asked to be a godfather he immediately refuses. The parents respond by suggesting that maybe he has hidden depths to his personality and that taking on this responsibility might help to bring them out. ‘Now that’s where you’re wrong,’ he replies, ‘I really am this shallow.’
However, in the course of the film, he meets a boy who draws him into friendship by stimulating his latent instincts to be a father. This in turn opens him up to other deeper and more satisfying loving relationships that he previously claimed he did not need. Its ring of truth for me was that it was not presented as a story of transition from misery to ecstasy, but rather, from relative contentedness to a far richer and more joyful life: from grayscale to glorious technicolor. It’s not that the friendships he had were nothing, rather, they were not enough, and he didn’t realize it until one of them developed into the life-changing friendship between himself and the boy.
I am not suggesting that shallowness and superficiality are all we need in our personal interactions, but I am going to say that shallow and superficial human interactions are underrated! Most of us need the full spectrum ranging from superficial and temporary to deep and permanent; one might say that God’s love is a single utterance that draws all loves, grey and colored, into itself.
Here then, is the essay.
How do friendships endure? It is certainly an interesting question. Both classical philosophy and St Thomas Aquinas applied the term friendship (philia, amicitia) to a wider range of human relationships than we are used to doing. Or rather, to be more precise, the Greek and Latin words which they used covered a wider range of meanings. Still, these terms obviously included our ordinary friendships. I cannot help but think of my best friend Paul in this context. We have known each other for over twenty years now. Our friendship endures and thrives, even though twelve years ago I entered a contemplative Benedictine monastery, while he has since become a husband and a father of four. That, plus a busy professional life, consumes more than 100% of his physical, mental and spiritual energies. We see each other a couple of times a year, at best, and yet the bond between us is stronger than ever, I would say. Why is this? Basing myself solely on Aristotle, I could already say a great deal: true human friendship is based on virtue, on worth; there has to be a certain equality between friends and the attachment must be mutual, but once it exists, friendship provides an ideal setting for growth in virtue; this growth in its turn strengthens the bond, and so it goes...
For St Thomas, this is how we prepare “the ground” for charity, which alone can carry us to God and life everlasting. Still, Aquinas would obviously want me to move beyond these basic truths and see my natural love for a friend itself as (with the help of grace) charity – so not just a mere setting for something greater, but the privileged means of achieving life everlasting. This is how we make our way to heaven: “not by bodily movements but by the soul's affections”, by enlarging the scope and the intensity of our human loves (2a2ae.24,4). Even though there can be no “natural” equality between God and man, charity (what God is in his essence and that thing “with which” we love him in our turn) is a kind of friendship! Charity “is our friendship for God arising from our sharing in eternal happiness” (2a2ae.24,2). It “is not based principally on human virtue, but on the divine goodness” 10 (2a2ae.23,3), expressed in “his sharing his happiness with us”.
In this present life, we can only experience it within our souls where “we have intercourse with God and the angels, though imperfectly” (2a2ae.23,1). My friendship with Paul then is ultimately a participation in this “divine friendship” – a unique virtue, the highest of all virtues, which alone “attains God himself so as to rest in him without looking for any gain” (2a2ae.23,6). Let me take a few steps back and start again. I could say that my friendship with Paul has endured because somehow we found each other equal in worth (more or less), and we mutually affirmed one another with (more or less again) the same intensity. Before that could happen, “life” somehow had to throw us together. We started off as what people would call “colleagues” nowadays (as students in the same department of the University of Warsaw) and teammates (representing our university in volleyball), not friends as such. But Aristotle would already apply the term philia to both of these fairly superficial connections, and St Thomas took up this broad understanding: “the chief concern of any friendship is with the main source of that shared good on which it is based” (2a2ae.26,2).
In other words, any shared good can become the basis of an amicitia. Yet I had studied and played volleyball with dozens, if not hundreds of people over those five years, and the vast majority of these “friendships” lasted only as long as the shared good on which they were based lasted, that is, only as long as we had the same preoccupations. Moreover, I had been in relationships with women which, at the time, seemed deeper and stronger than anything else in my life – but they all ended. Not so with Paul. Our friendship has survived all sorts of losses of lesser goods over the years. Why? Because we found each other good somehow, I think.
Man always aims at some good, Aristotle would say, even when in the middle of making a complete mess of his life. We love and desire “goodness” naturally, wherever we see it, even when we are deluded and the good is only apparent. So I can love the genuine good that comes with playing volleyball and, by extension, “love” all those who share this experience with me, especially when they are on my team and play well. But it is 11 slightly different when it comes to good people as such, because the “shared good” is hardly separable from them. What is more, it is also hardly separable from me, as I want to be good too. Not in some flat, moralistic sense; I just want to be a good instance of man, or even simply a good me. What happens when I see a man who appears good? “There are two things that we love in friendship,” wrote Aquinas, “our friend himself, for whom we desire good things; and the very good itself that we desire for him” (2a2ae.25,2). This “very good” in the case of people has to do with virtue, according to the classical tradition: a good man is a virtuous man; his virtue constitutes his worth as a man.
Our friendship began because Paul’s goodness somehow manifested itself to me through the dispositions which constitute his character, and vice versa – though back then we would never think of it this way. It endured because these dispositions are stable, repeatedly manifest themselves in what he does, and so they tend to strengthen the initial affirmation. This provides an ideal setting for growth in virtue for both of us; these “two things that we love in friendship” – we love them more and more, as the “two loves” and the two friends reinforce one another. St Thomas went further by placing friendship in the grandest of all possible schemes of things – “within” the theological virtue of charity, which then, in its turn, takes it right “into” God. I am able to love other people, including my friend Paul, because God loved me first – and that, for Aquinas, is specifically by sharing his eternal happiness with me. This is how God's love manifested itself, this is “God's virtue”, so to speak, through which I am able to know what he is like, to know his “character”.
Astoundingly, since eternal life is what I have in common with God now, I am able to have a personal relationship with a Being utterly beyond my reach otherwise. And this, in turn, enables me to love others (with various types of love and degrees of intensity), even my personal enemies and grave sinners, ultimately as also belonging to God, as his (potential) friends. Love, says Aquinas, “derives its species from its object, but its intensity from the lover” (2a2ae.26,7). Therefore, I will naturally desire greater good for 12 people whom I consider nearer to God, but the nearer the person is to me, the more intense this desire. No two relationships in my life will be the same then; their quality will depend on people's nearness to God and their nearness to me. Or perhaps, more precisely, on my inevitably skewed perceptions of these “nearnesses”. So really, in the final analysis, my friendship with Paul endures because, to a large extent, it has eternal life as the shared good on which it is based. Consequently, our friendship provides us with an ideal setting not merely for further growth in virtue, though it does – it is rather a training ground for heaven. In eternity “the entire order of love will be determined with reference to God, so that the closer another is to God the more dearly will we love him and see him as our own,” says St Thomas (2a2ae.26,13). In other words, the closeness to God will be the same as nearness to me. There is therefore no form of amicitia better than true friendship in approximating what will go on in heaven.
This is the best “simulator” available, if you like. But it does not stop at this, there is one more final consolation: Paul and I will still be friends “up there”, according to Aquinas (providing we both make it, of course, one can never presume that). True, closeness to God will be by far the most important factor in determining the order of our loves in heaven, but our earthly attachments will survive also – grace does not supplant nature, it perfects nature.

Monday, September 20, 2021

In Uncertain Times, House Chapels Proliferate

In Western history, house chapels are a phenomenon associated mostly with aristocrats who lived on large estates and could afford to employ a resident chaplain. In times of persecution, these chapels often became important places of refuge, since their remoteness, together with the status of the family owners, introduced a kind of safety buffer between the outside world and the services that took place within. This safety was not always enough, alas, to prevent priests from being surprised and captured by hostile state forces.

While some house chapels of the aforementioned sort are still in existence and functional, it is becoming more common to see modest chapels being built in the homes of ordinary Catholic laity. A basement renovation, a small spare room, an attic, all offer possibilities for building an altar and setting up a space that is appropriate for the Mass and other devotions in a time of necessity. Some families simply wish to create a prayerful space where they can gather for individual or group prayer, in an environment that reminds them of and connects them with the parish or chapel where they usually go for Mass. Others, keenly aware of the grave and deteriorating situation in which the Church finds itself in the West, have decided to “plan ahead” by making a suitable space for eventual underground or “canceled” priests. One diocese has already outlawed private traditional Masses altogether, and there may be more that follow suit. Priests in such dioceses will benefit from having places of refuge where they can bypass the unjust restrictions and offer Mass to God, in the presence of grateful laity.

In January, I published an article at NLM called “Building a Home Altar,” which offered practical advice about specs that could be used for an altar, as well as some other desiderata. Afterwards I received some interesting photographs, a selection of which I wish to share for the edification and inspiration of readers who may be thinking along similar lines.

The first set of photos is of a lovely chapel in a basement. The family has plans for further decoration.

The second set of photos shows another basement chapel. The owner is friends with a woodworker who built for her, out of spare parts, a shrine to the Sacred Heart, located in the same room. One notes the Stations of the Cross as well: it seems that this space is well appointed for personal and family prayer. We all know of families who have to drive long distances to get to a traditional Mass. For such families, having the Stations at home, set up along the perimeter of a sufficiently large room, would be a boon, especially during the season of Lent.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Hymn of the Ember Saturday Masses

As I noted yesterday, the Ember Days are one of the oldest parts of the Roman Rite; Pope St Leo I (444-61) preached many sermons on them, and believed them to be of apostolic institution. One liturgical feature which argues strongly in favor of their great antiquity is the inclusion in all four of the Saturday Masses of a reading from the third chapter of Daniel, in which the three children, Ananiah, Azariah and Misael, are thrown into a furnace as punishment for refusing to worship the statue of the Babylonian Emperor. This is the single most frequently represented Biblical story in pre-Constantinian Christian art, since it reflects exactly the situation of the Christians in the Roman Empire, who were persecuted for refusing to worship the statue of the Roman Emperor. (Already in the New Testament, Babylon, the persecutor of the Jews, is twice taken as a symbol of Rome, the persecutor of the Christians: in 1 Peter 5, 13, and six times in the Apocalypse.) The universal custom of singing the canticle which the children sing in the furnace, the Benedicite, as part of the Divine Office, also attests to its great significance for the ancient Church.
Detail of a Christian sarcophagus of the Constantinian period (ca. 305-335), known as the Sarcophagus of Adelphia, discovered in the church of St John in Syracuse, Sicily, in 1872. On the far left, the Emperor Nebuchadnezzar points to a bust of himself set on a column, the gesture by which he commands the three children to worship it. Even though the Biblical text states quite unmistakably that the Emperor made an enormous “statue”, in early Christian art it is usually represented as a bust on a column, since that it what the Romans used. (On the right side are represented the Miracle at Cana and one of the three Magi. Image from Wikimedia Commons by Davide Mauro; CC BY-SA 4.0)
The reading consists of only five verses, Daniel 3, 47-51, which are presented in a slightly different order from that of the Biblical text, as noted below; the words in italics are paraphrased from verse 46. (We may note in passing that no historical Christian lectionary presents all of its readings according to the strict letter of the Bible itself.)

Lectio Daniélis Prophétae. In diébus illis: 49 Angelus Dómini descendit cum Azaría et sociis ejus in fornácem: et excussit flammam ignis de fornáce, 50a et fecit medium fornácis quasi ventum roris flantem. 47 Flamma autem effundebátur super fornácem cúbitis quadraginta novem: 48 et erúpit, et incendit, quos répperit juxta fornácem de Chaldáeis, ministros regis, qui eam incendébant50b Et non tétigit eos omníno ignis, neque contristávit, nec quidquam molestiae íntulit. 51 Tunc hi tres quasi ex uno ore laudábant, e glorificábant, et benedicébant Deum in fornáce, dicentes:

A reading of the Prophet Daniel. In those days, 49 the angel of the Lord went down with Azarias and his companions into the furnace: and he drove the flame of the fire out of the furnace, 50a And made the midst of the furnace like the blowing of a wind bringing dew. 47 And the flame mounted up above the furnace nine and forty cubits: 48 and it broke forth, and burnt such of the Chaldeans as it found near the furnace, the ministers of the king who were heating it. 50b And the fire touched them not at all, nor troubled them, nor did them any harm. 51 Then these three as with one mouth praised, and glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying:

The reading ends abruptly (and should always be chanted without the notes that indicate the conclusion) to segue into the following hymn, the only case where a reading is followed by a hymn instead of a gradual, tract, or alleluia. The text is closer to that of the Septuagint version, and the Old Latin version which depended upon it, rather than the Vulgate, a fact which also indicates its great antiquity. The words “and praiseworthy and glorious unto the ages” are very cleverly incorporated into the doxology.

Benedictus es, Dómine,
Deus patrum nostrórum.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou, o Lord, God of
our fathers,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Et benedictum nomen glo-
riae tuae, quod est sanctum.
Et laudábile et gloriósum
in sáecula.
And blessed is the name of Thy
glory, which is holy,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es in templo
sancto gloriae tuae.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou in the holy
temple of Thy glory,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es super thronum
sanctum regni tui.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou upon the holy
throne of Thy kingdom,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es super
sceptrum divinitátis tuae.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou upon the scepter
of Thy divinity,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedictus es, qui sedes super
Chérubim, íntuens abyssos.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou who sittest upon
the Cherubim, looking upon the
depths, And praiseworthy and
glorious unto the ages.
Benedictus es, qui ámbulas su-
per pennas ventórum et super
undas maris.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou who walkest
upon the wings of the winds,
and upon the waves of the sea,
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages.
Benedícant te omnes Angeli et
Sancti tui.
Et laudent te et gloríficent
in sáecula.
Let all Thy Angels and Saints
bless Thee,
And praise Thee, and glorfy Thee
unto the ages.
Benedícant te caeli, terra, mare,
et omnia quae in eis sunt.
Et laudent te et gloríficent
in sáecula.
Let the heavens, the earth, the sea
and all things that are in them bless
Thee, And praise Thee, and glorify
Thee unto the ages.
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spirítui Sancto.
Et laudábili et glorióso
in sáecula.
Glory be to the Father, and to the
Son, and to the Holy Spirit, And
praiseworthy and glorious unto
the ages.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc,
et semper, et in sáecula saecu-
lórum. Amen.
Et laudábili et glorióso
in sáecula.
As it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be, and unto the ages
of ages. Amen.
And praiseworthy and glorious
unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Benedictus es, Dómine,
Deus patrum nostrórum.
Et laudábilis et gloriósus
in sáecula.
Blessed art Thou, o Lord, God of
our fathers, and praiseworthy and

glorious unto the ages.

On the Ember Saturday of Pentecost, the reading is the same, but the hymn is replaced with an Alleluia, which is then repeated the following day on the feast of the Holy Trinity. “Alleluia. Benedictus es, Dómine, Deus patrum nostrórum. Et laudábilis et gloriósus in sáecula.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

St Satyrus, the Brother of St Ambrose

On the calendar of the Ambrosian Rite, which has neither Ember days nor the feast of St Francis’ Stigmata, today is the feast of St Satyrus, the brother of St Ambrose. Our only sources for his life are two orations delivered by his brother, one on the day of his death, and the other a week later. We know that he was the second of their parents’ three children, born after a sister named Marcellina (who is also a Saint); this puts his birth somewhere around 335, before his brother’s in about 340, at either Trier, where their father sat as governor of a Roman province, or at Rome. Being of the senatorial aristocracy, both brothers followed in the path of their father’s career and served as governors of Roman provinces, but that assigned to Satyrus is unknown. In 374, when Ambrose was made bishop of Milan, his brother left public office in order to help him with the administration of the diocese, as well as to care for their sister and of the family patrimony. St Ambrose praises him for his chastity in terms that clearly indicate that he was not married.
The altar of St Satyrus in the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan.
More than once, these duties required Satyrus to travel to Africa. Like many men of his class and period, whose public responsibilities were difficult to reconcile with the discipline of a Christian life, he long remained a catechumen. (St Ambrose himself was a catechumen at the time of his election as bishop by popular acclamation; the Ambrosian Rite adds a commemoration of his baptism to the Mass of St Andrew the Apostle on November 30, and keeps his principal feast only a week later, on the day of his episcopal ordination.) Ambrose, however, notes the following episode in proof of his strong faith.
On Satyrus’ return from the last of his African trips, his ship was wrecked on shoals just off the coast of either Sicily or Sardinia. Before jumping off the boat, one of his fellow passengers gave him, at his request, a small piece of the Blessed Sacrament, which he then wrapped up in a small cloth, and fastened around his neck. St Ambrose attributes his safe deliverance from the sea to this, noting that Satyrus’ faith in God was so strong that he did not even bother to grab onto one of the planks of the broken vessel. After safely reached land, he decided to be baptized; he had, however, evidently already contracted the unknown disease which would take his life shortly thereafter. Having returned to Milan, he died in either 378 or 379 in the arms of his siblings.
The Shipwreck of St Satyrus, by Giambattista Tiepolo, 1737; in the chapel entitled to him where his relics were formerly kept, also within the basilica of St Ambrose. 
Ambrose had his brother’s mortal remains placed by those of the martyr St Victor, in a chapel attached to the basilica now named for Ambrose himself, but then called “the Basilica of the Martyrs.” Both Satyrus and Victor were later removed from this chapel, known as “St Victor in the golden heaven”, into a reused pagan sarcophagus. (Victor was later moved again to the basilica named for him with the appellation ‘ad corpus’.) In 1941, an examination of the relics ordered by the Blessed Card. Schuster showed that they are those of a man of about 40 years of age, quite similar in body type to Ambrose. Since 1980, they have been kept in a crystal urn in the first chapel on the right side of the basilica.
The original location of Satyrus’ burial within the chapel of St Victor.
An inscription which notes the site as the place of his burial, alongside several early martyrs of the church of Milan.
A closer view of the relics as they are today.
Devotion to St Satyrus is first attested in the ninth century, when Anspert, archbishop of Milan, built a small church dedicated to him, his brother, and St Silvester. This was later absorbed into a church constructed by the architect Donatello Bramante in 1476-82, which is still to this known as “St Mary near St Satyrus.” His name first appears in liturgical books of the Ambrosian Rite in the 10th century. In view of his role as his brother’s assistant in the administration of the diocese, he is traditionally honored in Milan as the patron Saint of sacristans.
The story told above about the shipwreck forms a large part of the Ambrosian preface for the Mass of St Satyrus.
Vere quia dignum … aeterne Deus: Tuam incessanter gloriam collaudantes, tuamque in tuis Sanctis magnificentiam prædicantes. Qui talem beato Confessori tuo Satyro virtutum copiam tribuisti, ut germani sui gloriosi Pontificis Ambrosii, Doctoris et magistri Ecclesiarum praecipui, in multis exercitiis consors effectus, fidelissimus et probatissimus athleta Christi Filii tui ipsius industria censeretur. Nam in ipso tirocinio fidei ita clarus enituit, ut inter undas pelagi, cum dissoluta compage navis durum fuisset perpessus excidium, quamvis adhuc nondum Baptismate sancto perfusus, de tuo tamen non esset diffisus auxilio. Sacramentum denique Corporis Dominici sudario inditum collo circumdedit, et se tali remigio fultum spumante aequori committere non dubitavit. Sed tua potentissima dextera, quæ Apostolorum Principem Petrum in fluctibus ne mergeretur erexit, hunc quoque non dissimili potentia illæsum atque incolumem perduxit ad litus. Haec tua est, Domine, totius virtutis operatio. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli…
Truly it is worthy… eternal God: unceasingly praising Thy glory, and proclaiming Thy greatness in Thy Saints. Who didst grant Thy blessed confessor Satyrus such an abundance of virtues, that he, having become in many affairs the colleague of his brother, the glorious bishop Ambrose, the foremost doctor and teacher of the churches, was for his diligence deemed a most faithful and excellent champion of Christ, Thy Son. For while yet in the first service of the Faith, he so distinguished himself that amid the waves of the sea, when he would have perished miserably by the wreck of his ship, although he was not yet washed by holy Baptism, he still did not lack for trust in Thy help. Therefore, he placed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body, enclosed in a cloth, around his neck, and did not hesitate to entrust himself to the frothing sea, supported by such an oar. And Thy most mighty right hand, which in the waves lifted up Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, lest he drown, with like power also brought this man safe and unharmed to the shore. This, o Lord, is the working of the fullness of Thy might. Through the same Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise Thy majesty…

By Nothing But Prayer and Fasting

Because of the movable date of Easter, and of everything that depends on it, the Ember Days of September can occur within any of the weeks after Pentecost from the 13th to the 19th inclusive. This year, they occur within the 16th week, but next year, they will fall within the 15th week. In the Roman Missal, they are traditionally placed after the 17th week [1], a textual arrangement which reflects a very ancient theme that permeates the Masses of this set of Ember Days

The Collect of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost is a very ancient one, found in different places in the various versions of the Gelasian Sacramentary, but already fixed to the 17th Sunday in the Gregorian Sacramentary by the end of the 8th century. “Da quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia, et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. – Grant to Thy people, o Lord, to shun (or ‘avoid, escape from’) diabolical contamination, and to follow Thee, who alone art God, with a pure mind.” [2] This is the only Mass Collect of the ecclesiastical year that refers directly to diabolical influence, but the Secret of the 15th Sunday has a similar theme: “May Thy sacraments preserve us, o Lord, and always protect us against diabolical incursions.”

Folio 115r of the Gellone Sacramentary, a sacramentary of the Gelasian type dated 780-800, with the prayer “Da quaesumus...” assigned to the 20th week after Pentecost. (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 12048)
On the Ember Wednesday of September, the Gospel is St Mark’s account of the healing of a possessed child, chapter 9, 16-28. Apart from Easter and the Ascension, the ancient Roman lectionary makes very little of use of St Mark, notwithstanding the tradition that the Evangelist was a disciple of St Peter and composed the Gospel while he was with him in Rome. Here, his version was surely chosen for the moving account of the exchange between Christ and the child’s father, which is less detailed in St Matthew’s version.

“And He asked his father, ‘How long time is it since this hath happened unto him?’ But he said, ‘From his infancy, and oftentimes hath he cast him into the fire and into waters to destroy him. But if thou canst do any thing, help us, having compassion on us.’ And Jesus saith to him, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.’ And immediately the father of the boy crying out, with tears said, ‘I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.’ ”

The lower half of Raphael’s Transfiguration, the story which precedes the Gospel of Ember Wednesday. The possessed child’s father, on the right side in green, presents him to the Apostles; Raphael beautifully captures the pleading in his facial expression. The brightness of the figure symbolizes his faith, as it does likewise in that of the possessed child, for devils, as St James says, have no doubts about God. (“Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” 2, 19). The brightest figure, the woman kneeling next to the boy and pointing at him, is an allegorical figure of Faith itself; where the light on these figures expresses their belief, the nine Apostles on the left are wrapped in shadow to symbolize the lack of faith that prevented them from casting out the devil.
At the end of the passage, the disciples ask Christ why they could not expel the devil, to which He replies, “This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” In the Office, these words are sung at Lauds as the antiphon of the Benedictus.

On Ember Friday, the Gospel is that of the woman who anoints the Lord’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee, St Luke 7, 36-50. This is one of the very few examples of a Gospel which is repeated from another part of the temporal cycle; it is also read on the Thursday of Passion week, and again on the feast of St Mary Magdalene, with whom the woman is traditionally identified in the West. This identification is partly reinforced by the words of St Luke which come immediately after it (chapter 8, 1-3), although they are not read in the liturgy.

“And it came to pass afterwards, that He travelled through the cities and towns, preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God; and the twelve with him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary who is called Magdalen, out of whom seven devils were gone forth, and Joanna the wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who ministered unto him of their substance.”

On Saturday, the Gospel is two stories from St Luke, chapter 13, 6-17, the parable of the fig tree, and the healing of the woman “who had a spirit of infirmity… and was bowed together, (nor) could she look upwards at all.” The choice of this Gospel for the Saturday is a very deliberate one, since it takes place in a synagogue, the ruler of which, “being angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, answering, said to the multitude, ‘Six days there are wherein you ought to work. In them therefore come, and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” To this Christ answers, “Ye hypocrites, doth not every one of you, on the Sabbath day, loose his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead them to water? And ought not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

An ancient Christian sarcophagus known as the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers, made in the second quarter of the 4th century, now in the Vatican Museums. The healing of the crippled woman is depicted in the upper left.
Each of these Gospels, therefore, refers to the same theme as the Collect of the 17th Sunday, the Church’s prayer to the Lord to protect Her and Her individual members from the malign influence of the devil.

It is a well-known fact that the Ember Days are one of the very oldest features of the Roman Rite. Pope St Leo I (444-61) preached numerous sermons on them, and believed them to be of apostolic origin, as he says, for example, in his second sermon on Pentecost. “To the present solemnity, most beloved, we must also add such devotion, that we keep the fast which follows it, according to the Apostolic tradition. For this must also be counted among the great gifts of the Holy Spirit, that fasting has been given to us as a defense against the enticements of the flesh and the snares of the devil, by which we may overcome all temptations, with the help of God.” (Sermon 76, PL 54, 411B)

Likewise, in his second sermon on the Ember Days of September, he refers to Christ’s words about fasting which are read on Wednesday. [3] “In every contest of the Christian’s struggle, temperance is of the greatest value and utility, to such a degree that the most savage demonic spirits, who are not put to flight from the bodies of the possessed by the commands of any exorcist, are driven out just by the force of fasts and prayers, as the Lord sayeth, ‘This kind of demons is not cast out except by fasting and prayer.’ The prayer of one who fasteth, therefore, is pleasing to God, and terrible to the devil…” (Sermon 87, ibid. 439b)

The collect of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost is one of the more obvious cases of a prayer deemed unsuitable by the post-Conciliar reformers for the ears of Modern Man™, who must never be confronted with any “negative” ideas while at prayer. Despite its antiquity and the universality of its place within the Roman Rite, it was removed altogether from the Missal, along with the Ember Days, most references to fasting, and all references to the devil. In a similar vein, when the pseudo-anaphora of pseudo-Hippolytus was adapted as the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the original version of the section that parallels the Qui pridie, “Who, when he was delivered to voluntary suffering, in order to dissolve death, and break the chains of the devil, and tread down hell, and bring the just to the light, and set the limit, and manifest the resurrection,” was reduced to “At the time He was betrayed and entered willingly into His Passion…”

However, as Fr Zuhlsdorf once noted, the 2002 revised edition of the Missal contains certain hints of an awareness that the post-Conciliar reform wantonly threw out far too much of the traditional Roman Rite. Among the things which it restored is the traditional prayer of the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, which now appears as an optional collect among the Masses “for any necessity”, raising the total number of references to the devil in the Missal to one.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal contains an exhortation (and no more than that) to the effect that Rogation Days and Ember Days “should be indicated” (“indicentur”, not “indicandae sunt – must be indicated”) on local calendars, and a rubric (I.45) that it is the duty (“oportet”) of episcopal conferences to establish both the time and manner of their celebration. Unsurprisingly, this rubric has mostly been ignored. However, it has become impossible for any Catholic who loves the Church to ignore the hideous consequences of the almost total abandonment of any kind of formal, liturgically guided ascetic discipline, and the free reign which this seems to have given to the devil. A permanent and universal restoration of the traditional discipline of fasting, including the Ember Days, would be a small but important step in the direction of ending that free reign.

[1] In many medieval liturgical books, they are placed after the last Mass of the season after Pentecost, as for example in the Sarum Missal.

[2] The earliest manuscripts read “dominum” instead of “Deum”; the change would have been made since “Domine” is already said at the beginning. Many manuscripts read “puro corde – with a pure heart” instead of “pura mente.”

[3] It is tempting to think of this as proof that the Roman lectionary tradition, which is first attested in the lectionary of Wurzburg ca. 700 AD, was already set down 250 years earlier in Pope Leo’s time. This is quite possible, of course, but it is equally possible that the unknown compiler of the lectionary was inspired to choose this Gospel by reading Pope Leo’s sermon.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Another Lesson from a Conciliar Failure

A reader’s comment on my article yesterday about one of the failures of Lateran V reminded me of another instructive episode from the history of the ecumenical councils.
In 2002, one week before the 40th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, George Weigel, a great admirer of that assembly, wrote the following:
“I’ve been much struck recently by the question of whether, in the mid-third millennium, Vatican II will be remembered as another Lateran V or another Trent. Lateran V was a reforming council that failed; Trent was a reforming council whose success defined Catholic life for almost four centuries. Lateran V’s failure was one cause of the fracture of Western Christianity in the Reformation -- and thus of the wars of religion, the rise of the modern state, and the gradual erosion of Christian culture in Europe. Getting it wrong, in this business of conciliar reform, can carry high costs.”
But by its 40th anniversary, Vatican II was already neither another Lateran V nor another Trent. Forty years after the start of Trent puts us in the year 1585. By that point, the Church had already made huge strides in implementing the reforms ordered by the Council, and the movement to continue doing so was gaining strength every day, with the strong leadership and support of the Papacy. The spread of Protestantism had been halted in much of Europe, and even reversed in some places; the evangelization of the New World was proceeding apace. New religious orders such as the Jesuits and Oratorians were thriving and spreading, and inspiring the older ones to highly successful reforms. The model of Counter-Reformation bishops, St Charles Borromeo was still alive, and a leading figure in the implementation of the Council’s decrees.
St Charles Borromeo Giving Communion to Victims of the Plague, ca. 1616, by Tanzio da Varallo (1575-1633); from the church of Ss Gervasius and Protasius in Domodossola, Italy. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
It hardly needs saying that forty years out from Vatican II, the Church was not thriving as it was in 1585.
On the other hand, forty years after the start of Lateran V puts us in the year 1552… smack in the midst of the Council of Trent. Forty years after Lateran V had so spectacularly failed to bring about any of the reform that the Church so desperately needed (and helped trigger the Reformation), the Church did not content itself with monomaniacal repetition of the catchphrase, “You have to accept Lateran V!”, while ignoring the fact that everything was burning down around it. Rather, it recognized that its previous feint at reform had failed catastrophically, and set about at Trent to do well what it had done badly at Lateran V.
It hardly needs saying that forty years out from Vatican II, the Church wasn’t doing this either.
If we wish to find a more useful parallel between Vatican II and another ecumenical council, we will find it, rather, in that which was held in the Swiss city of Constance between 1414 and 1418. I hope I will not try the reader’s patience too much with some necessary historical background.
In 1309, the Popes took up permanent residence in the French city of Avignon. The reasons behind this are irrelevant to my purposes; what is relevant is that the Pope himself thus became the Church’s most prominent absentee bishop. (Since he was also the temporal ruler of Rome and environs, the ensuing long papal absence also reduced the Eternal City itself to an appalling state.) This scandal of almost 70 years’ standing was ended in 1376, to be replaced within a year by a far greater scandal, the Great Schism of the West, which lasted for forty years, during which there were at first two, and then three different claimants to the throne of St Peter. By the time the Council of Constance began in 1414, the reputation of the Papacy was deservedly at one of its lowest ebbs.
The former cathedral of Comnstance (which ceased to be a diocese in 1821), seat of the sixteenth ecumenical council. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Fb78, CC BY-SA 3.0)
In reaction to what seemed to many a radical failure of the Papacy to fulfill any part of its purpose, there then arose a movement now known as Conciliarism, the idea that the ecumenical council as an institution within the Church is superior in authority to the Pope, and that the Church should look first and foremost to it, and not to the Papacy, for leadership. Constance itself was the high-water mark of the movement, and in a great wave of enthusiasm for such councils (which will, I think, strike almost any modern reader as completely bizarre), in October of 1417, it issued the decree Frequens, establishing that henceforth, they would be held continually: five years after the close of Constance itself, seven years after the close of that council, and thenceforth, every ten years.
The Pope whose election finally settled the Great Schism, Martin V, closed Constance the year after his election, announcing that the next council would be held, according to the schedule laid out by Frequens, at Pavia in 1423. He was still alive five years later, and in due course sent his legates to Pavia; they arrived to find two abbots waiting for them. Over the following weeks and months, they were joined by fewer than 30 other prelates, whose assembly achieved nothing other than to announce that the next council would be held in the Swiss city of Basel in 1431. In that year, Martin V was succeeded by Eugenius IV, whose legates found the same tiny numbers at Basel that his predecessor’s had found at Pavia.
The Church now recognizes Basel (which lasted for 14 years, changing its location twice, and its purpose on the way) as an ecumenical council, but not Pavia; the reasons for this are very complicated, and not germane to my purpose. My point is rather that noted by Mons Philip Hughes in his book The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils: “Almost nowhere, it seemed, were bishops interested in General Councils. The great wave of enthusiasm which had carried the decree Frequens had crashed more rapidly than it had risen.”
This is the truest parallel we will find among the ecumenical councils with Vatican II: a wave of enthusiasm for something new, something which everyone hopes will bring great benefit to the Church, followed by the sudden and almost inexplicable dissipation of that enthusiasm. Just as the bishops who attended Constance and issued Frequens did not bother to attend the council which they themselves had called for, the bishops who wrote and approved the documents of Vatican II seemed afterwards to care nothing for what they had written during it.
The versus populum altar installed in Notre Dame de Paris by Cardinal Lustiger in 1989, destroyed by the collapse of the church’s ceiling in the fire of April 15, 2019, an innovation never asked for by Vatican II.
To stick to the purview of NLM: they wrote in Sacrosanctum Concilium that “there must be no innovations (in the liturgy) unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them,” and showed no interest in the fact that any number of innovations were introduced into the liturgy that the good of the Church genuinely and certainly did not require. They wrote that “Gregorian chant … should be given pride of place in liturgical services,” and that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” and showed no interest in the fact that the ensuing reform permitted them both to vanish almost entirely. They wrote that “(T)he accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints”, which have been read in the liturgy from the very earliest days of the Church, “are to accord with the facts of history”, and showed no interest in the fact that such accounts were removed from the Divine Office almost entirely.
Similar examples might be drawn from any of the Council’s documents; here I offer only one more. In Dei Verbum, they wrote very rightly that “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels … faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation…” They then showed no particular interest in the fact that teachers in seminaries and Catholic theological faculties embraced the worst of modern Biblical “scholarship” and openly denied this very point.
What, then, do we learn from all of this? No more, perhaps, than to ask a question: “If the very authors of the document of an ecumenical council showed no enthusiasm for its implementation, why must I be required to show even more enthusiasm for it than they did?

Ss Cornelius and Cyprian

Today is the feast of one of the most important of the Latin Fathers of the Church, St Cyprian of Carthage, who was martyred on September 14, 258. With the introduction of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, his feast was moved forward to September 16th. In the Roman Rite, he has long been celebrated in joint feast with his contemporary Pope St Cornelius, with whom he corresponded, and with whom he was joined in opposition to an heretic sect called the Novatianists, who denied the possibility that serious sins committed after baptism could be forgiven. The latter was martyred in June of 253, in the third year of his papacy.

Between 1565 and 1571, the painter Paolo Caliari, usually known as Paolo Veronese (Paul from Verona) painted an altarpiece for the high altar of the abbey of St Anthony the Abbot on the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon. This abbey was suppressed and destroyed during the Napoleonic invasion of Italy, and the painting is now in the Brera Gallery in Milan.
At top we see St Anthony, the patron of the church, represented as a mitred abbot, holding a crook decorated with a pannisellus, a piece of cloth that originally served to protect the metal of the shaft. (See this article from 2008: Veronese paints his rough and dull habit, typical of an Eastern hermit, in intense contrast to his bright green and gold cope, a reminder to us from a wiser age that the poverty of religious is not practiced by impoverishing the house or the worship of God.

Standing beneath him are Ss Cornelius on the left, and Cyprian on the right. I was unable to discover why they were chosen for inclusion in this painting, and if anyone knows, I would be glad to hear from them in the combox. UPDATE: thanks to commenter Alberto for noting that relics of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian were kept in the altar over which this painting was displayed.

Artists of the Venetian school like Veronese excelled at painting rich cloth like the colored and brocaded copes of the three Saints, but tended to be weak on their drawing, and as a result, their lines are often rather hazy. (Michelangelo, very much a product of the Florentine school which excelled at drawing, is supposed to have said of the Venetian artist Titian that he would be a superb painter if he would just learn how to draw.) This is evident when one looks at the painting in a closer view; it almost gives the impression that one could feel the texture of the brocade if one were to touch the painting, but the drawing of the designs on the copes is very vague.

Also note that Cornelius is wearing white, although he is a martyr no less than Cyprian, who is wearing red; this was certainly done for the sake of contrast and nothing else, just as St Anthony’s liturgical color would be white rather than green. The artist is clearly not aiming at any particular kind of accuracy, since the server who holds a liturgical book would never be dressed like the page seen here is.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Lessons from a Failed Council and a Failed Reform

One of the most important reforms of the Council of Trent was the abolition of a very common and long-standing abuse known as “plurality of benefice”, or “pluralism” for short. The history of this abuse, and how it was not remedied by the previous ecumenical council, Lateran V, is, I think, something quite instructive for us today. However, because Trent did remedy it so effectively, it is a matter now totally removed from our collective experience as Catholics, and thus first requires some historical explanation.
A painting of the choir of the cathedral of St Vigilius in Trent, showing how it was set up for the sessions of the ecumenical council. Photo by Nicola de’ Grandi.
“Benefice”, from the Latin “beneficium – a benefit”, is the term for the material means by which the clergy were paid for the performance of their liturgical, sacramental, and administrative duties. The word is, of course, related to the term “benefactor.” In the earliest days of the Church, when a benefactor made a donation of either money or property, the administration thereof was generally left entirely to the discretion of the bishop, who as head of the local church received the donation in its name. It is not difficult to imagine how this system, especially when in the hands of less worthy successors of the Apostles, could become unpopular with both the clergy and laity alike.
Therefore, already beginning in the 6th century, it became common to earmark such donations, as we would say today, for specific purposes, the purposes in question being very often the performance of specific jobs within an ecclesiastical institution. To give a purely theoretical example: if the Duke of Alicubi wished to dedicate the revenues of some of his properties to the use of the Church, he would not simply give them on a regular basis to the bishop to do with as the latter pleased. He would rather legally assign the rents of a certain farm to become part of the salary of the dean of the local cathedral chapter, the tolls collected on a certain bridge to the salary of the precentor, the tithes collected at a certain mill to the cathedral schoolmaster, etc. In return, the recipients of his benefices were generally required to say specific prayers (often a great many of them) for his welfare and intentions, in honor of his patron Saint, and for the eternal repose of him and his family members.
A portion of the choir stalls of Sarum Cathedral. Within the medieval benefice system, it would not be unusual for individual stalls within the same choir to be differently endowed by different families (note the various crests above the seats), and thus offer different salaries to the clerics who held them. (Image from Wikimedia Commons by Hugh Llewelyn, CC BY-SA 2.0)
By the 11th century, such earmarking was established as a nearly universal custom in Western Europe. As a system, it brought many benefits to the Church, guaranteeing the maintenance of the clergy, and hence the regular performance of their duties, as well the upkeep of church buildings, schools, and vast charitable activities of every conceivable sort. Remnants of it exist in various places to this day, and will be familiar to the readers of certain English writers; for example, the clerical “livings” often mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels are essentially the same as medieval benefices. The Warden, the first novel in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles (if indeed a book, which is almost wholly plotless, can be called a novel), concerns the clerical administration of a charitable institution and the lucrative benefice (although not named as such) attached to the job of running it.
But like all systems created by human beings, it was liable to any number of abuses, one of the worst of which was called “plurality”, the holding of more than one benefice at a time by the same person. Originally, this emerged because many of them were small and limited in scope, and thus, it was possible for a single person to fulfill the duties attached to more than one of them. Over time, however, as many benefices became spectacularly lucrative for their holders, the abuse arose by which a cleric, often the scion of a noble or powerful family, was granted a formal dispensation to hold more than one of them, even though it was impossible for a single person to do all the work required by the various positions. Out of the huge income thus accumulated, he would pay “vicars” (from the Latin “vicarius – one who holds the place” of someone else), generally men of lower societal class, to do the work which the benefices had been created to pay for.
Pope Sixtus IV Making Bartolomeo Platina the First Librarian of the Vatican; fresco by Melozzi da Forlì, 1477, now in the Painting Gallery of the Vatican Museums. The cardinal facing the Pope, his nephew Giuliano, was at the time this painting was made simultaneously bishop of the French sees of Carpentras, Avignon and Coutances, plus Lausanne in Switzerland and Catania in Sicily, and cardinal priest of St Peter in Chains. Before becoming Pope in 1503 with the name Julius II, he would acquire two more French sees, Viviers and Mende (resigning the latter after 5 years), as well as Bologna and the suburbicarian sees of Sabina and Ostia, and be made archpriest of the Lateran basilica.
Thus, for example, the same person might be simultaneously bishop of a see in Italy, abbot of an abbey in France, archpriest of a church in Germany, and archdeacon of a church in Spain, drawing the salaries attached to these offices, but doing little or none of the work required of any of them. Not only is such a theoretical scenario not an exaggeration; this form of corruption ascended to the very highest levels of the Church. In the ten years before his election to the Papacy as Clement VII, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici was at one point simultaneously bishop of three different sees (one in Italy and two in France), and the holder of three cardinalitial titles. From 1525 until his election to the Papacy in 1534 as Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese held five of the seven suburbicarian sees whose bishops are ex-officio members of the college of cardinals, while also being bishop of Parma and archpriest of the Lateran basilica in Rome. One of the many reasons why St Charles Borromeo stood out as a model Counter-Reformation bishop was that his eight predecessors had left the running of the see of Milan to vicars, and he was the first archbishop to actually reside there in 80 years. (The highly deleterious practice of episcopal non-residence was also strictly forbidden by Trent.)
Of course, many less prominent pluralists (say, the cousin of an Irish duke who held stalls in the choirs of four different churches) passed unnoticed by the Holy See. But a man does not hold five of the seven suburbicarian sees simultaneously without the full knowledge of the Pope and his curia, and the issuance of the pertinent dispensations. The first lesson to be drawn from this is, therefore, that it is perfectly possible for the Pope do something which is legal, in the sense that he has the authority to do it (e.g., granting the necessary dispensations to pluralists), and nevertheless completely immoral. Plurality of benefice, from which many important prelates benefitted, and more than one future Pope among them, was just such a thing, because after all, it was no more than a legalized form of theft, by which the monies donated to the Church for the performance of specific duties were given over to other purposes.
A reconstruction of the Lateran complex as it stood in the Middle Ages; the hall where five of the ecumenical councils were held is in the structure in the middle with five small apses sticking out the side. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
The Fifth Lateran Council was called in 1512 by a very successful pluralist, Pope Julius II (once the holder of eight sees simultaneously), but he did not live to preside over it. That duty fell to his successor, Pope Leo X, who had personally never been more than a cardinal resident in Rome and the administrator of a single see, but showered his cousin Giulio with incompatible ecclesiastical jobs. Nevertheless, the council recognized that plurality of benefice was a scandal that needed to be addressed, and therefore decreed that no one was allowed to hold more than four of them simultaneously.
Here, then, is the second lesson to be drawn from this matter: it is perfectly possible for an ecumenical council (such as Lateran V) to correctly identify a problem within the Church (the abuse of plurality of benefice), without correctly identifying the solution to that problem. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for said council to correctly identify a problem, and offer as a solution the exact opposite of what was needed to solve it, by de facto allowing it to continue. And it is perfectly possible to say this without denying the legitimacy of Lateran V as an ecumenical council.
Likewise, it is perfectly possible that Vatican II correctly identified a problem within the Church, the then-current state of its liturgical life, without correctly identifying the solution to that problem. Indeed, it is perfectly possible for said council to have correctly identified the problem, and offered as a solution the exact opposite of what was needed to solve it. (Of course, no two councils or the events that follow them are exactly alike, and so we must here once again note that the post-Conciliar reform is what it is in large measure because it rejected what Vatican II had said about the liturgy.) And it is perfectly possible to say this without denying the legitimacy of Vatican II as an ecumenical council.
In his book The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870, Mons Philip Hughes wrote that “Of all the chronic scandals of the fourteen to the sixteenth centuries none had given rise to more continuous resentment than the papal licences to ecclesiastics to hold more than one see, or abbey, or parish simultaneously--scandals connected with what is called compendiously, the benefice system. Trent utterly forbade this practice--even where the beneficiaries were cardinals--and the council ordered all existing pluralists to surrender all but one of the benefices they held.” A third lesson, therefore: there is no reason to be scandalized at the idea that an ecumenical council can fail in one way or another, or indeed, fail completely. Trent was a success because it did correctly what Lateran V had done incorrectly. We may well hope that the firestorm of problems which have broken out in the Church in the wake of Vatican II will likewise be remedied by a future Council, and we may hope for this without “rejecting” Vatican II any more than we “reject” Lateran V.

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