History Monday #79

Can the Church’s power trump the state’s?

America as a nation celebrates the important idea of Separation of Church and State. Congress is forbidden from establishing a national religion or interfering with any private practice thereof. This radical idea would likely ruffle some important feathers in one of the principal actors in today’s #HistoryMonday.

Pope Boniface VIII.jpg

On this day in 1302, Pope Boniface VIII issues the papal bull known as Unam sanctam. For reference a papal bull is not a bovine that the Pope releases to terrorize opponents. The word bull refers to a clay seal on a letter and is connected to the Latin word ‘bulla’ which means ‘bubble’ since the seals were usually round blobs. Although the Pope sending wild cattle to intimidate opponents might have more effect if not more entertaining.

Anyways, back to Unam sanctam and its historical significance. Pope Boniface VIII was embroiled in a Philip IV, the King of France over monetary obligations to the church or the state. King Philip in 1296 had ordered clergy serving in France to pay taxes at about 50% of their income in response to Boniface’s ambassadors insisting on the importance of following Church law. Boniface issued a papal bull Clericos laicos in response which effectively denied King Philip’s unfair taxes on clergy and any other clergy taxes, such as King Edward I, of England. Government agents including royalty faced excommunication for levying such taxes.

The Catholic Church was fine with collecting their own taxes to pay for Holy Land travels and building projects but saw their own power as superior to the national leaders who were appointed to serve by the Pope. Philip then responded by enacting an embargo to prevent goods being delivered to the Papal States to bring pressure to bear on Boniface.

Unam sanctam is named for a portion its opening line, “We are obliged by the faith to believe and hold—and we do firmly believe and sincerely confess—that there is one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and that outside this Church there is neither salvation nor remission of sins…. In which Church there is ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’” The line in Latin, “est unam Sanctam Catholicam et Apostolicam Ecclesiam” can easily be parsed by using cognates in the English. Boniface makes a further assertion in Unam sanctam that there are two swords to be used by the Church, the spiritual and the temporal. Obviously, the spiritual is the Church contending against false doctrine to preserve the true Gospel while the temporal are the princes, kings, and rulers that the Church permits to enforce non-church matters in consultation with the head of the Church which is the Pope.

fast forward

Obviously, Unam sanctam would have pushback during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther encouraged the Prince of Saxony to refuse the Pope in 1517 after addressing issues with papal authority and misuse of Church funds in his Ninety-five Theses.

Prior to the Reformation, the immediate aftermath of Unam sanctam was felt by Boniface at the hands of King Philip. John of Paris was asked by Philip to refute the bull with his own criticisms. Boniface then excommunicated King Philip.

Following this back and forth, King Philip convened an assembly and alleged several crimes that Boniface was guilty of committing such as heresy, murder of Pope Celestine V, and magic.  Guillaume de Nogaret, an advisor to Philip with an army of mercenaries attacked the papal residence. Once inside, the ruffians apprehended Boniface, but spared his life because they decided episcopicide crossed some line. Sadly, Boniface succumbed to the injuries by King Philip’s forces about a month later.

Boniface and Unam sanctam was seen as problematic not just by King Philip. Dante Alighieri penned an article arguing that both the Pope and the Monarch are only humans who are empowered by God to serve in their capacities. Ultimately, God should decide how to use the swords not two fallible and mortal human beings. Dante also included Boniface in Inferno and doomed Boniface to the eighth level of Hell for simony, the act of selling church offices or roles. King Philip would also encourage Pope Clement V to conduct a posthumous trial of Boniface. The council leading the trial accepted the testimony of three cardinals as to Boniface’s innocence and declared the matter closed.

The fact that King Philip is also known as Philip the Fair should not be lost on anyone for the rich irony of attacking a Pope, likely leading to his death and then trying him for crimes against the Church. Essentially what would be seen now as a playground squabble had serious effects because each actor ratcheted up the tension, with Boniface declaring Philip as having lost salvation while Philip declared the Pope was a corrupt heretic.

While this might get missed in modern times, since we have realized the lunacy of the battle between church and state, the idea of the distinguishing features of the church persist. The Church is one or united because we share one faith, one mission, one hope, and one Lord. We are united in at least two of the sacraments whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. We are also holy because we are to be set apart from the world to accomplish the goodness and purpose of God. We are catholic because we exist as a body of believers universally for all people, at all times, in all places. Lastly, we are apostolic because we follow the authority of the apostles. This authority was then handed on from bishop to bishop.  This tradition was preserved, taught, and handed on by the apostles—an unbroken chain of succession. Similar language is still confessed even today with the Apostles’ Creed, but more especially with the Nicene Creed.

[For what it’s worth, trying to write seriously about this was somewhat of a challenge because I read this with a focus on the more humorous aspects of this story. As I first read Unam sanctam during my continuing education classes, another pastoral colleague and I jokingly referred to the Pope as Boney-face and of course Phil for the King. By applying diminutive nicknames to each person, it helps to process the information and remember it more easily.]

Do you recite the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed at church on a regular basis?

Current Event Friday #28

Today’s #CurrentEventFriday notices something’s rotten in the state of Vatican City.

Friends another week is coming to a close. Plus, another month is ending, and a 3-Day weekend is on the horizon, that’s cause to celebrate. It’s also #CurrentEventFriday and the topic dominating the news is not about who celebrates it’s who is celibate. Yeah, I’m wading into the Catholic Church scandal.

First, let me preface all this to say that I do not bear any ill will towards Catholics or Catholicism. My heart genuinely breaks because of what is coming to light. I know many good Catholic parishioners can imagine what this whole ordeal means to them.

Having said all of that, the scandal that has rocked the church is largely due to the nature of the Catholic Church. While I may differ with them theologically, that’s more or less like dialects and accents of a language. So, I can appreciate those differences, but the polity is what has caused the problem. For what it’s worth, UMC polity is what has made my own denomination face troubles.

At the heart of the problems for the Church of Rome is the degree to which officials not only knew of claims, but actual instances of abuse. Even more disheartening is that some of those officials were guilty parties as well. The worst offender seems to be Bishop Theodore McCarrick, formerly of the Washington, D.C. Archdiocese. Allegations about McCarrick had been known since 2000, and civil settlements had been paid by the Newark Archdiocese to victims for McCarrick’s behavior during his episcopacy in that Archdiocese. Pope Benedict XVI was aware of these allegations and formally sanctioned McCarrick by restricting his movement and ministry. Strangely, Pope Francis is alleged to have lifted the restrictions. Earlier in July as mounting allegations and secular trials were mounting against McCarrick, he resigned from the college of Cardinals. Upon his resignation, Pope Francis suggested McCarrick devote himself to prayer, penance, and seclusion.

Much of the accusations against McCarrick and others are made by the Vatican’s delegate to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Archbishop Vigano released a document last weekend that detailed instances of conspiracy by church officials in regard to abusers. In the document, Vigano calls on Pope Francis to resign as Francis is alleged to have known much of the abuse occurred.

Here’s why all of this is a problem. The Catholic Church has grown to an international bureaucratic organization. We as Americans often bemoan our own governmental system, but the Catholic Church is worldwide than the U.S. Government. Also, with out government system there are provisions to correct problems, the most obvious being elections. Popes and Bishops aren’t elected by parishioners, and there are no term limits on them. I don’t think that democratic elections are the answer though.

I’ll admit, I’m not a Catholic scholar but if it is proven that Pope Francis was aware of the allegations and allowed the Bishops and priests to remain in ministry without discipline, he should resign. It’s not the Reformation, where news of the church’s corruption is unquestioned and slow to be discovered. Pope Francis needs to address this. His response towards reporters about the Vigano report sounded much like Pres. Trump when he told them to do their jobs and stop asking him questions. Also not helping Pope Francis’s cause is a tweet from earlier yesterday that has now been deleted. In the papal tweet, Francis stated, “We Christians are not selling a product. We are communicating a lifestyle.” When you start sounding like morally ambiguous Don Draper from Mad Men, that’s when you know you’ve jumped the shark as a leader of a troubled church.

Also some worthwhile points if Francis resigns, and a new Pope must be chosen:

Sorry, I had to inject some humor into this.

On a more serious note, I think what needs to happen is a second Reformation of the church.  If at all possible, Popes should serve for no more than 10 years. As well, Bishops should serve for no more than eight years in any Archdiocese. Finally, the requirement for only single men as clergy is a misunderstanding of scripture and problematic for the situation the church finds itself in. These single men who are to refrain from sex are often subject to distractions and unhealthy sexual habits. Resolving the requirement to be celibate and single may help the clergy live more fulfilled lives. It also seems ridiculous considering the first recognized pope St. Peter was married. Scripture tells us Jesus healed St. Peter’s mother-in-law. That’s kind of a package deal, you don’t get a mother-in-law without a wife. I know the classic comedic bit here would be to say if only it was the other way around, you get a wife but no mother-in-law. I also think worth adding in clergy requirements for the Catholic church is allowing women to be priests. I know that is huge stretch, but even if the Catholic Church was like Southern Baptists only with more decorative clothing and the Virgin Mary would be an improvement.

I’m also aware that there is just as much sexual misbehavior in Protestant circles, but the bureaucratic entanglements allow much of those cases to come to light and be resolved easier and don’t paint the whole church as corrupt.

In sum, be gracious to your Catholic friends, family, and neighbors. If you’re Catholic, know that the head of the Church is Jesus and his heart breaks with you and He will multiply grace unto you.  For both, remember this Labor Day weekend, that Christ has already done the work of saving the Church in spite of mere mortals debating how to help it function better. Happy Labor Day weekend to all!

Time For This **** Again

I’m on my 12th class but I feel like Sisyphus rolling the ball of wax up the hill.

A new school year is beginning for me again. I spent 5.5 years getting my undergrad and as a UM pastor I have to take 20 classes to maintain an active license. I’m on my 12th class but I feel like Sisyphus.

What’s strange is in every class there’s always pre-work to be turned in before you’ve even had a minute of instruction. This makes for a headache when given an unfamiliar assignment format. I can do the reading comprehension papers based on scanning through assigned readings, but journals and other non-traditional assignments drive me crazy.

Adding to the frustration is the lack of nearby campuses for classes. As a part-time pastor I could travel to Indianapolis for 2 Saturdays and a Friday-Saturday doubleheader but I’m not a fan of that. Currently myself and another pastor travel to Columbus, Ohio. This represents a 4 hour drive. Add that on to the 14 hours of in-class instruction and we kill 2/3 of a weekend. In August we’ll have to attend classes for 10 days. 😒

I understand the value of learning and education, but how much of these classes will change what I do as a pastor? Why do I need fundamental classes about being a pastor when I’ve already been pastoring for 3 years before enrolling in classes? Why can I not complete these classes online and meet with the Committee on Ministry in my district and submit the homework to them?

I know I risk some of supervising pastors seeing this, and I’m sure they’ve heard all the complaints before. Unfortunately for me and other local licensed pastors all the decisions are made by a General Board in the UMC. Any suggestions, complaints, questions are all above my pay grade, so it’s best to just figure out how to make sure you clear the hoops and get through them.

Thanks for listening, pray that the long car ride and classes breeze through this weekend.