What is interesting about the “legend” that has grown up around Pope John Paul I is the claim that he somehow favored or leaned toward a socialist interpretation of Catholic social teaching. Nothing could be further from the truth. His father was an ardent socialist, but his mother refused to marry his father until he promised he would not interfere in any way with their children’s religious upbringing — and he kept that promise, eventually renouncing socialism and becoming reconciled to the Catholic Church. John Paul I had a great love for all people, but very carefully refused to give the socialists an inch, being advised by the future Pope John Paul II that they would take a mile.And if that was not sufficient warning, John Paul I had the example of how Pope Pius IX’s reputation was destroyed by disappointed liberals, radicals, socialists, modernists, and New Agers trying to leverage authentic reforms into the “new things” they were so anxious to implement to replace traditional religion and government. As we noted in the previous posting in this series, Pius IX was far from being the reactionary, conservative monster that liberal legend created out of its own desperate need for a villain. The notorious “Pio No-No” is, in fact, an imaginary being who to every suggestion or proposal that smacked of liberalism of any kind just shook his head and said, “No, no.” The real Pius IX was a liberal . . . but the American kind, not the European variety.
|Alexis de Tocqueville|
To reiterate the difference, American-style liberalism which found its expression in the democracy that Alexis de Tocqueville chronicled in Democracy in America was based on the sovereignty of the individual human person. According to de Tocqueville, in America “the People” is not an abstraction, but the consciously organized political body, each member of which possesses inalienable rights.
Some political rights (never inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and private property) are necessarily delegated to the group, especially those, the “social virtues,” that can only be exercised by members of groups. These, however, can never be exercised absolutely. All rights, even natural rights that are held absolutely, are necessarily limited in their exercise, the most important limit being that no one is to be harmed by the exercise of a right, including the right-holder, other individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole.
European-style liberalism, however, assumes as a given that all rights come from the collective; people don’t delegate rights to an abstraction, an abstraction hands out rights to people. Swept under the rug and ignored is the fundamental contradiction in European liberalism: that refusal to accept that human beings create the abstraction of the collective; the abstraction of the collective does not and cannot create human beings.
|Pope Pius IX|
Still, although a liberal, Pius XI was unable to act on it due to the attacks on the Papal States from within and without by European-style liberals and radicals. These were intent upon bringing Church and State up to date and conform them to the “new things” of socialism, modernism, and the New Age.
Nevertheless, it is one of the supreme ironies of history that the very thing intended to undermine, even abolish the papacy — the conquest of the Papal States by Sardinia — only resulted in making it a stronger and more powerful force in the world than ever before. Freed from the necessity of governing as a civil ruler Pius IX was able to devote himself almost exclusively to the needs of the Universal Church.
It is easy to see the Hand of Providence (or at least to believe one has seen it) in the fact that Pius IX had the longest pontificate in history to date at the very time when a change in leadership would have been most dangerous. Almost by chance it seemed to many that the Catholic Church had a leader with a clear vision and sound principles just when society was dissolving in chaos before the onslaught of the “new things.”
Although it is a tribute to the effectiveness of socialist, modernist, and New Age propaganda, the fact that so few even in the Catholic Church are aware of Pius IX’s accomplishments is a disgrace approaching the magnitude of a scandal. Dismissed as a political reactionary by superficial commentators themselves pushing a (European) liberal agenda, religiously and politically the Catholic Church made immense gains during his pontificate.
From a tactical point of view, the head of a Church with no political aspirations other than recovery of its own territory (which could be ignored) was in a much better bargaining position with a sovereign nation than, say, the head of the Church of England. Queen Victoria’s religious position was necessarily secondary to her political role as titular head of the British Empire, and political considerations were always a factor in virtually any decision made by the Church of England’s de facto head, the Archbishop of Canterbury. No longer could governments discriminate against Catholics on the rather specious grounds that they were foreigners and subjects of an Italian princeling who planned on overthrowing the government.
Pius IX concluded concordats with many countries and gave strong support to the Central Party in Prussia and the Catholic Verein movement in Germany. He reestablished the hierarchy in England and the Netherlands and restored the Catholic Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Mostly in the United States and the British Empire he founded more than two hundred new dioceses and vicariates apostolic.
|Hill of Martyrs, Nagasaki|
One of the most significant events during his pontificate, which Pius IX himself described as a “miracle,” was the discovery that Christianity had survived in Japan for almost a quarter of a millennium after Catholic priests and all other foreigners were expelled in the seventeenth century. In 1865, some years after missionaries were allowed back into the country (but forbidden to proselytize), a group of people from Urakami village near Nagasaki visited the new Ōura Church.
One woman approached Father Bernard Thadee Petitjean and (according to most sources) asked how his wife was. On being told that he was celibate, she then asked who was pope. When informed on this point, she asked (depending again on the source) either to see his Rosary or the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the church (possibly both). Satisfied that the three key questions had been answered correctly, she told Father Petitjean that they were “Kirishitan.”
It turned out that there were tens of thousands Kirishitan, mostly around Nagasaki. When the persecutions finally ended in 1873, most returned to the Church, although a significant minority continued to practice a corrupt version of Catholicism, “Hanare Kirishitan,” mixed in with Shinto, Buddhist, and animist elements down to the present day.
|First Vatican Council|
With respect to Catholic social teaching, however, the crowning achievement of Pius IX’s pontificate was the First Vatican Council. Most people are familiar with the fact that it was during this council that the Church formally defined the infallibility of the teaching office of the pope in matters of faith and morals. Since many socialists, modernists, and New Agers claimed to have special revelations or dispensations straight from God the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, this was a critical “weapon” in the ongoing struggle against New Christianity/Neo-Catholicism.
Admittedly, even many Catholics today do not understand papal infallibility. This is despite the fact that the title of the document defining it was changed from De Romani Pontificis Infallibilitate, “On the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff,” to De Romani Pontificis Infallibili Magisterio, “On the Infallible Teaching Office of the Roman Pontiff.” This change was made due to the fear that people would think that the pope cannot make a human error or can somehow create truth out of nothing.
|Pope Honorius I|
No, papal infallibility only means that through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and under certain conditions when the question involves a matter purely of faith or morals, the pope can declare something not merely true as has always been believed, but infallibly true. Science of any kind — including theology and philosophy! — does not apply in such instances; scientific proof is necessarily lacking in matters of faith and morals. Most simply put, infallibility means that the pope can say infallibly that something is true, but he cannot make something true by saying it.
Once infallibility is correctly understood, it explains why the philosophical or theological errors made by a number of popes, such as Pope Leo XII when he approved the collectivist “theory of certitude” of de Lamennais (a theory later condemned as heretical), or Pope Honorius I in the early seventh century when he ratified monothelytism as orthodox, are not really an issue. These and other questions, such as the opinion of Pope John XXII regarding the Beatific Vision, are philosophical and theological — scientific — in nature, things to which reason is properly applied, not faith, and no pope is infallible in his reasoning.
If, on the other hand, a pope started teaching that God is not a Trinity, or that the Eucharist is not the Body and Blood of Christ — matters of pure faith — or that abortion is allowable (morals), then papal infallibility would be open to question, but not otherwise, according to Catholic belief. Given that the New Christian/Neo-Catholic movement invariably based its “new things” on some personal revelation, such as the divinity of human society, the non-existence of God, denial of the natural law (especially private property), and so on — that is, assertions based on faith (albeit a personal faith misapplied to matters of science) that cannot be proven by reason — papal infallibility was a powerful tool in the struggle to restore orthodoxy.
Surprising many people — especially Catholics — the other important doctrine defined during the First Vatican Council was the primacy of reason. Reason is the essential foundation of faith. This is because while matters of faith cannot be proved by reason, neither can they go contrary to it. Thus, as the Council Fathers declared,
If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made [by the empirical evidence of the senses], by the natural light of human reason [by the human intellect]: let him be anathema. (Vatican I, Canon 2.1)
|Pope Pius XII|
Thus, as Pope Pius XII would reiterate in § 2 of his encyclical Humani Generis in 1950, “absolutely speaking, human reason by its own natural force and light can arrive at a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, Who by His providence watches over and governs the world, and also of the natural law, which the Creator has written in our hearts.”
A key element in Pius IX’s struggle against the “new things,” then, was to restore the primacy of reason and the legitimate role of faith. This was critical because the New Christianity always based its reasoning on faith instead of its faith on reason, leading inevitably to rejecting reason altogether . . . paradoxically maintaining in most instances that the innovative doctrines were wholly reasonable because they were consistent with the new revelation.
Armed in this way with orthodox faith and sound reason, the Catholic Church was now prepared to counter the inroads made by the “new things” of the modern world that had wreaked such havoc around the globe. All that was needed was the right leader . . . and that was the one thing both liberals and conservatives inside and outside the Church were determined the world was not going to get, come what may.#30#