Rorate Caeli

The Pope is Just the Vicar:
On the Footsteps of Fr. Calmel, O.P.


by Cristiana de Magistris on and published also in Corrispondenza Romana

When, in the years of Vatican Council II and the immediate post-Council, with revolutionary winds blowing over the Church of Christ, a Dominican theologian, Father Roger-Thomas Calmel, raised his counter-revolutionary banner, with his pen and his word, his voice was heard calling the faithful to relentless resistance in fidelity to Tradition always with an attitude of peace and even spiritual joy amongst  trial. 

The message of Father Calmel has never ceased to be relevant. But it becomes of particular interest when one is faced with it anew - and it is our case - of truth "always, everywhere and by all" established begins to waft the breath of the baleful doubt, starting from the top of the Catholic hierarchy.

The prophetic spirit of Father Calmel, is like few in the past 50 years, he had foreseen this tragic possibility and warned the faithful by providing them with the weapons to remain faithful to the Church at all times and thereby avoid the temptation of sedevacantism or even that which is more deadly, despair.

Since this is a crisis of authority, by which the errors are advocated by those who would have the task of condemning them, the point of departure , which is fundamental and indispensable, is to understand where the power of Authority  comes  from, starting at its vertex, the Pope.

Father Calmel began by stating that the Head of the Church is one, our Lord Jesus Christ, who "is always infallible, always sinless, always holy [...]. He is the only Head, because everyone else, including the highest, have no authority except by Him and through Him. "Going up to the sky, this invisible Head left to his Church a visible head as His Vicar, the Pope, "who only enjoys a supreme jurisdiction." "But if the Pope is the Vicar of Jesus, [...], he is only the Vicar: vicens regens, taking the place of Jesus Christ, but remains distinct from Him.  " Evidently the Pope's prerogatives are quite exceptional, guarding the means of grace, the sacraments, and the revealed truth. He enjoys , in some cases, well-circumscribed and determined infallibility. For the rest, "he could be lacking in many regards." Church history - apart from a bunch of Pope Saints and a small number of unworthy Popes –is full of mediocre and imperfect Popes. This should neither surprise nor frighten. On the contrary, it is precisely in weakness, and sometimes even in the unworthiness, of the popes that brings out the Lordship of our Savior, who is the only Head of the Church, on which he exercises His government "holding in His hand even the insufficient Popes as well as their failures and limits ".

Now, Father Calmel warns, because this trust in the invisible Head of the Church is so profound as to exceed all possible deficiencies of His Vicar on earth, it is necessary that our spiritual life "is referring to Jesus Christ and not to the Pope; that our interior life, which embraces - no need to say it - even the Pope and the hierarchy, is based not on hierarchy and the Pope, but on the divine Pontiff [...] from whom the visible supreme Vicar depend even more than other priests ".

And for good reason, obvious to all as well as very basic: "The Church - writes this illustrious son of St. Dominic - it is not the mystical body of the Pope.  The Church, with the Pope, is the mystical body of Christ. When the interior life of Christians is increasingly oriented to Jesus Christ, they do not fall into despair, even when they suffer unto agony from the shortcomings of  the pope, be it an Honorius I or the  antagonist popes at the end of the Middle Ages;  or be it, in the extreme case of a pope who is lacking according to the new possibilities offered by modernism. "Even if a pope had come to the extreme limit to change the Faith ", or blindness or spirit or fantasy (chimera) or to a mortal illusion " (among many offered by modernism), well, "the pope who could come to this point would not deprive the Lord Jesus His infallible government, who holds him in His hand, the pope mislead, and He would prevents him from committing to the perversion of faith, the authority received from above. "

But even in these unfortunate cases, the interior life of Christians cannot exclude the Pope, without ceasing to be Christian. A real interior life, necessarily centered on Jesus Christ, always includes his Vicar and the obedience due to him, but "this obedience, far from being unconditional, is always practiced in the light of theological faith and natural law."

And here comes the thorny issue of obedience to the Vicar of Christ. Thorny, notes once again Father Calmel, only for those who want to ignore or disregard the articles of the Catholic faith regarding the Supreme Pontiff. It should be recalled that every Christian lives "through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ, through His Church, which is governed by the Pope, to whom we obey in all that is within his competence. We do not live totally, by and for the Pope, as though it were he that had purchased eternal redemption; that's why Christian obedience can neither always nor in all things identify the Pope with Jesus Christ. "

A Christian who wants to be unconditionally acceptable to the Pope, always and in everything "has necessarily abandoned himself to human respect" and he "demonstrates much superficiality and complicity." It is also true, recognizes the Dominican theologian, he who often preached obedience to the Vicar of Christ, which has more than the stench of servitude than the perfume of virtue, sometimes to make a career, or to prepare his head for the cardinal's hat, or to give luster to his Order or to his Congregation. But note well, "neither God nor the service of the Pope are in need of our lie: Deus non eget nostro mendacio." We must always remember the subordination of obedience to the truth and authority of Tradition. The Pope, like all men of the Church, cannot legitimately use of his authority if not to define or clarify the truth that has always been taught. If one depart from this path, it would cease the duty of our obedience and would be worth the admonition of St. Peter: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). [1]

The Pope in as much as he is Pope - it is not always infallible, and - as a man - is never flawless. "We should not be shocked if trials, sometimes very cruel, came upon, the Church precisely by its visible head. We should not be shocked if, although subject to the Pope, we cannot follow him blindly, unconditionally, always and in everything. "But what can we do if a situation of this kind become the sad and unfortunate reality? In this case it should even more strongly orient one's interior life to the only Savior and Lord of the world, feeding of the Apostolic Tradition, with its dogmas, its immortal Missal and the Catechism, as well as prayer and penance.

On the other hand, Revelation has never taught that the Vicar of Christ is immune from inflicting on the Church such trials of this sort.   And modernism, reigning for fifty years, it is certainly a fertile ground for them to sprout. But, if that happens - as seems to be happening - even though a sort of bewilderment and vertigo assail the souls of the faithful, we must remember that the Church is the Bride of Christ and it is He who - despite the human failures guides us in His ineffable and often to us, incomprehensible providence. Father Calmel compares the state of our interior life overwhelmed by such a test to the prayer of the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane, when he said to the apostles while the soldiers were advancing: Sinite usque huc (Lk 22,51). "It's as if the Lord said: Scandal can get to this point; but leave it be, and according to my recommendation, watch and pray ... With my consent to drink the chalice, I have merited all grace for you,  while you were asleep and you left me alone; for you in particular I have obtained a grace of supernatural strength, that will be the measure of all your  trials, also of the trials that could come to the Holy Church by the part of the Pope. I've now given you the ability of escaping this vertigo. "

The Christian soul that founds their interior life on the perennial Tradition has nothing to fear, even in what Father Calmel believes the worst of the trials for the Church: the betrayal of the Vicar.

With the optimism of the holy souls, while recognizing the immense tragedy that grips the Bride of Christ, he holds it to be, however, a grace to live in these times of trial, in which the greatest suffering of the children of the Church is precisely that it cannot follow the Pope as they would like. "We are docile children of the Pope, but we refuse to enter into complicity with the papal directives that lead to sin." Cardinal Cajetan does not hesitate to say that "We must resist the Pope who publicly destroys the Church." It is, in these cases, of a kind of "eclipse of the Papacy". This test, however, notes Father Calmel, cannot be "neither entire nor too long" and - above all - "we have the grace to sanctify ourselves" in this eclipse in which the Church is the Bride of Christ, despite everything. As was his habit, to elevate his gaze toward heaven and said, "We have the grace to suffer and endure without making it a tragedy. The Holy Virgin defends us. “

So, what to do?

The true children of the Church, as most wish to again see their Mother clothed in her glorious splendor, beginning with the visible Head, all the more they must put their lives, with the grace of God and preserving the Tradition, in the wake of the Saints. "Then the Lord Jesus will ultimately grant to His flock the shepherd of which he will endeavored to render himself worthy. To the Insufficiencies or the defection of the Head, we must not add our own personal negligence. That the apostolic Tradition will live at least in the hearts of the faithful, even if, at the moment, languishing in the heart and in the decisions of those who are responsible at the level of the Church. Then surely the Lord will have mercy.” The true kind.
[1] On 15 April 2010, Benedict XVI, commenting on this passage of Acts, in his homily said: "St Peter's in front of the supreme religious institution which normally you should obey, but God is above this institution and God gave him another 'order': he must obey God. Obedience to God is freedom, obedience to God gives you the freedom to oppose the institution."