Rorate Caeli

If Pope says black is white, that's it, right?
- a very special young man knew better than that

From our 2012 series on the Life and Thoughts of Cardinal Merry del Val, on the centennial year of the death (dies natalis) of Pope Saint Pius X:

Beside the exceptional and amiable figure of St. Pius X, we have, in marvellous splendor, the figure no less exceptional and extraordinary, of his Secretary of State, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val. Of noble birth, but still more of noble aspirations, as from the first years of his life he had one unique and most noble goal: to be a Priest of God.


Born on the 10th October 1865 in London, to the Spanish Marquis of Irish descent, Rafael Merry del Val, and to the Countess Josephine de Zulueta, English but of Spanish descent, the future Secretary of State received Baptism the following day, and was named Rafael. The prestigious Del Val family, illustrious due to the nobility of their blood no less than for their virtues, could boast that amongst their ancestors there was a martyr of the Church: Little St. Domingo del Val ... . The future Cardinal nourished a very special devotion to him.

Rafael Merry del Val was, therefore, an aristocrat , but far from being fascinated by noble society, he demonstrated even from his infancy the signs of a divine calling. At only eight years of age, when asked by an elderly Jesuit what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied: “I want to be a priest.” And when he was saying goodnight to his parents that evening, he drew out of his sleeve a biscuit and raising it on high, said: “I will do this with the host when I become a priest.” He would also, from time to time during meals, take a glass of water and a biscuit, and raising it a little would exclaim: “This is what I will do when I celebrate the Mass.” Having learned at an early age to serve the Holy Mass, he took delight in preparing little altars and imitating the sacred ceremonies, as well as speaking of these things with various priests who, with admiration, perceived in the young Rafael the divine calling.

One day, whilst out walking with his governess, a funeral cortege was passing by. The little Rafael took off, mingling with the crowd which was following the coffin. When the governess after an anxious search finally found him and asked him why he had done such a thing, he answered candidly: “Mother told me that those who die go to Paradise: and I also want to go to paradise with that deceased person.” The Mother of the future Cardinal recounted also that on another occasion, whist she was explaining to him the meaning of papal infallibility, she decided to test him. Taking a book bound in black in her hand, she asked him: “Rafael, if the Pope said that this book is bound in white, what would you say about that?” The little boy, after a moment’s reflection replied: “Mother, the Pope would not be able to say such nonsense,” showing – by his reply – the acuteness of his most refined intelligence.

We are reposting this because some readers were curious about a recent mention of the matter in a Rorate article, in which a paraphrase of the Ignatian words was quoted: "if the Pope says that black is white then we should believe that it is white."