Tag Archives: Papacy

Mayer, “The Roman Inquisition”

In January, the University of Pennsylvania Press published The Roman Inquisition: A Papal Bureaucracy and Its Laws in the Age of Galileo, by Augustana College history professor Thomas F. Mayer. The publisher’s description follows:

While the Spanish Inquisition has laid the greatest claim to both scholarly attention and the popular imagination, the Roman Inquisition, established in 1542 and a key instrument of papal authority, was more powerful, important, and long-lived. Founded by Paul III and originally aimed to eradicate Protestant heresy, it followed medieval antecedents but went beyond them by becoming a highly articulated centralized organ directly dependent on the pope. By the late sixteenth century the Roman Inquisition had developed its own distinctive procedures, legal process, and personnel, the congregation of cardinals and a professional staff. Its legal process grew out of the technique of inquisitio formulated by Innocent III in the early thirteenth century, it became the most precocious papal bureaucracy on the road to the first “absolutist” state.

As Thomas F. Mayer demonstrates, the Inquisition underwent constant modification as it expanded. The new institution modeled its case management and other procedures on those of another medieval ancestor, the Roman supreme court, the Rota. With unparalleled attention to archival sources and detail, Mayer portrays a highly articulated corporate bureaucracy with the pope at its head. He profiles the Cardinal Inquisitors, including those who would play a major role in Galileo’s trials, and details their social and geographical origins, their education, economic status, earlier careers in the Church, and networks of patronage. At the point this study ends, circa 1640, Pope Urban VIII had made the Roman Inquisition his personal instrument and dominated it to a degree none of his predecessors had approached.

The Voice of Two-Thirds is the Voice of God

This week, the papal conclave begins in Rome. Many expect it will end this week as well, with the election of Pope Benedict’s successor. But CLR Forum reader John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern and a leading expert on supermajority rules, alerts us to a recent change that may cause the meeting to last longer than expected.

The rules for the conclave are contained in a 1996 decree by Pope John Paul II. As originally written, the decree retained the traditional requirement that a new pope be elected by a vote of two thirds of the conclave–but with a slight alteration. The two-thirds requirement would hold only for the first 33 ballots, or roughly eight days. After that, the vote would be by simple majority. The purpose, obviously, was to break deadlocks and prevent conclaves from dragging on too long.

In 2007, however, Pope Benedict amended the 1996 decree to reinstate the original rule: a two-thirds requirement on all ballots. As a result, the conclave that begins this week will continue until a candidate receives a supermajority. This could result in a longer conclave, but will ensure that a consensus candidate acceptable to all “sides”–traditionalist and non-traditionalist, European and non-European, curial and non-curial–prevails. And, anyway, recent conclaves have avoided deadlocks, notwithstanding the two-thirds requirement.

In Catholic understanding, of course, the Holy Spirit ultimately guides the conclave and achieves the result the church needs. So one might think this tinkering with voting requirements is rather unnecessary. The Coptic Orthodox Church, following biblical practice, names its pope by lot. But the supermajority requirement has its value, even if it might occasionally result in a longer conclave, and the Holy Spirit can work through a supermajority as well as a bare majority. As Pope Pius II (above) declared on his election in 1458, “We would judge ourselves entirely unworthy, did we not know that the voice of two-thirds of the Sacred College is the voice of God, which we may not disobey.”

The Rise of the “Stars and Stripes” Cardinals in Rome

The College of Cardinals began its pre-conclave meetings (the so-called Congregazioni Generali) this week in Rome, with 153 members in attendance. Of them, 115 are under the age of 80, and therefore eligible to participate in the papal election. The question popping up in every Italian newspaper article and commentary is, of course, the same: who will be the new Pope?

While, for obvious reasons, it is impossible to predict the most likely outcome of the cardinals’ decision, it is true that European, and especially Italian, media have devoted particular attention to Cardinal Timothy Dolan and to American cardinals in general. For instance, two days ago the daily Corriere della Sera, the most influential Italian newspaper, had a long interview with the Archbishop of New York . Yesterday, La Repubblica published a long article on the “Stars and Stripes cardinals” and how they are approaching the conclave.

Why are American cardinals receiving so much attention? One obvious, and superficial, reason is that they are much more skilled, as compared to other cardinals, in communicating and establishing relationships with the media. But there is another factor. The United States’ ability to preserve a vocal religious presence in the public sphere has always raised interest and curiosity in Rome, and especially now, in a time when the secularization of Europe is growing at an unprecedented level. It is not to reveal a secret to say that Benedict XVI himself, on many occasions, expressed appreciation for the “American model,” a model in which religious arguments in the public sphere are heard and debated much more than in Europe.

Why did this American model fit better with Benedict XVI’s approach and teachings? According to John L. Allen, Jr., Benedict XVI, contrary to the conventional narrative, tried to shape his teachings on the basis of an “affirmative orthodoxy.” In a conversation with Archbishop Dolan (A People of Hope, Image Books, 2011) Allen defined affirmative “in the sense of being determined to present the building blocks of orthodoxy in a positive key.” The emphasis would therefore be on “what Catholicism embraces and affirms, what it says ‘yes’ to, rather  than what it opposes and condemns.” This affirmative orthodoxy works much better in a social context, like America’s, which welcomes religion in the public sphere and in which religious arguments are heard.

Today, the real challenge for the Catholic Church, especially according to many European cardinals, is religious indifference and the coming of a post-Christian world represented by a new type of man: the homo indifferens. As a result, the American experience, which represents, in many accounts, a hopeful and affirming Catholicism,  is seen as a success story in Rome. This does not mean that in a few days we will have an American Pope. But  I’m sure, like it or not, that the “American model” will matter in discussions on the future of the Church.

Betting on the Conclave: Canon Law

Almost the moment Pope Benedict–now Pope Emeritus Benedict–announced his decision to retire, betting sites and prediction markets started to appear on the internet, offering people a chance to place money on the identity of his successor. There’s Paddy Power in Ireland and, for people of a more academic bent, the Intrade prediction market, which has been pretty accurate with respect to American politics.

Some readers may be wondering what Catholic canon law has to say about placing money on the outcome of a papal election. Apparently, nothing. According to this canon law blog, an earlier prohibition was abrogated in 1918, when the Catholic Church adopted the Pio-Benedictine Code. At the moment, therefore, there is no canon law on the question. So, I guess, nihil obstat. Nonetheless, as the author points out, the Catholic catechism does have advice about gambling, which Catholics should consider. Non-Catholics too, probably. And there’s the Second Commandment.

Papal Resignation: The Canon Law

It just shows you. Even an institution as ancient and traditional as the papacy still retains the ability to shock. Pope Benedict’s announcement today that he will resign for health reasons, effective February 28, seems to have taken everyone, including Vatican insiders, by surprise. It is the first papal resignation since the year 1415.

Canon law on papal resignation is surprisingly – or, come to think of it, unsurprisingly – brief. Canon 332(2) of the current Code of Canon Law provides simply that ” If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.” A leading commentary notes that Canon 332(2) does not specify the person or persons to whom a pope must manifest his resignation. Some scholars argue that the college of cardinals, as the body that elects the pope, is the proper recipient. But that’s not entirely clear; anyway, in Catholic understanding, the pope has authority to determine such matters for himself. Most likely, today’s announcement at a consistory, in which the Pope stressed that he was taking this step voluntarily and in full recognition of its gravity, will suffice. Anyway, the college of cardinals will no doubt have a chance to receive the resignation, if that action is required, before it elects Pope Benedict’s successor, most likely next month.

Mayer, “The Roman Inquisition”

The Roman InquisitionThis month University of Pennsylvania Press published The Roman Inquisition by Thomas F. Mayer (Augustana College). The publisher’s description follows.

 While the Spanish Inquisition has laid the greatest claim to both scholarly attention and the popular imagination, the Roman Inquisition, established in 1542 and a key instrument of papal authority, was more powerful, important, and long-lived. Founded by Paul III and originally aimed to eradicate Protestant heresy, it followed medieval antecedents but went beyond them by becoming a highly articulated centralized organ directly dependent on the pope. By the late sixteenth century the Roman Inquisition had developed its own distinctive procedures, legal process, and personnel, the congregation of cardinals and a professional staff. Its legal process grew out of the technique of inquisitio formulated by Innocent III in the early thirteenth century, it became the most precocious papal bureaucracy on the road to the first “absolutist” state.

 As Thomas F. Mayer demonstrates, the Inquisition underwent constant modification as it expanded. The new institution modeled its case management and other procedures on those of another medieval ancestor, the Roman supreme court, the Rota. With unparalleled attention to archival sources and detail, Mayer portrays a highly articulated corporate bureaucracy with the pope at its head. He profiles the Cardinal Inquisitors, including those who would play a major role in Galileo’s trials, and details their social and geographical origins, their education, economic status, earlier careers in the Church, and networks of patronage. At the point this study ends, circa 1640, Pope Urban VIII had made the Roman Inquisition his personal instrument and dominated it to a degree none of his predecessors had approached.

Jeffery J. Langan, “The French Revolution Confronts Pius VI”

Layout 1This February, St. Augustine Press will publish The French Revolution Confronts Pius VI translated by Jeffery J. Langan (Holy Cross College). The publisher’s description follows.

The writings of Pope Pius VI, head of the Catholic Church during the most destructive period of the French Revolution, were compiled in two volumes by M.N.S. Guillon and published in 1798 and 1800. But during the Revolution, the reign of Napoleon, and the various revolutionary movements of the 19th century, there were extraordinary efforts to destroy writings that critiqued the revolutionary ideology. Many books and treatises, if they survived the revolution or the sacking from Napoleon’s armies. To this day, no public copy of Guillon’s work exists in Paris.

Now, for the first time in English, these works comprising the letters, briefs, and other writings of Pius VI on the French Revolution are available. Volume I treats the first shock of the Revolution and the efforts of the Pope in 1790 and 1791 to oppose the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (which famous revolutionary and shrewd diplomat Talleyrand referred to as “the greatest fault of the National Assembly”). Volume II will be published later, and deals with the aftermath of the Civil Constitution through Pius’s death in exile). Editor and translator Jeffrey Langan presents the materials leading up to and directly connected with these decrees, in which the National Assembly attempted to set up a Catholic Church that would be completely submissive to the demands of the Assembly. Volume I also covers Pius’s efforts to deal with the immediate aftermath of the Constitution after the National Assembly implemented it, including his encyclical, Quod Aliquantum.

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Choosing a New Pope

In Egypt this weekend, the Coptic Orthodox Church will select its 118th pope. The new pope will succeed the late Shenouda III, who led the Coptic Church — a venerable and long-suffering communion, and the largest Christian church in the Middle East today — for forty years. The selection process, which is codified in Egyptian civil law, tracks ancient custom and is quite fascinating.

According to Eastern Christian practice, only monks – that is, celibate priests attached to a monastic brotherhood – may become pope. (In Eastern Christianity, parish priests, but not monks, may marry). Candidates are nominated by clergy and lay leaders; a nominating committee of clergy and lay members vets the candidates and prepares a provisional list. There is a notice and comment period, during which an electoral committee made up of clergy and lay delegates from Coptic dioceses around the world — as well as “current and former Christian government ministers and members of the Egyptian parliament” and “Christian journalists who work for daily newspapers and are registered with the Egyptian Press Association” — considers the names presented. A final list of 5-7 names is agreed on, and then the electoral committee votes. The three candidates who receive the highest number of ballots move to the final round.

As of today, the final list of three candidates is ready. The last step in the selection process will take place this coming Sunday, November 4. And here is where things get really interesting. On Sunday, the names of the three candidates will be placed in a box on the altar of the patriarchal cathedral. Following Liturgy, a blindfolded child will draw one of the names out of the box and show it to the assembled congregation: that candidate will be the new Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. (Just to be sure nothing funny has happened, the other two names in the box will be read out as well).

From a Western perspective, this is an unusual way to select a pope. For one thing, the extensive participation of the laity will strike Catholics as strange and perhaps dangerous. But lay involvement in papal selection really is an ancient practice. Indeed – readers, please correct me if I’m wrong – formal lay participation was the practice in Catholicism until the Middle Ages, when the College of Cardinals was given exclusive right to elect the Pope. (Of course, informal lay participation continued long after that). The ex officio participation of Christian parliamentarians and journalists is harder to explain. Most likely, it reflects the old Ottoman millet system, in which patriarchs were both spiritual and secular leaders, expected to represent their entire communities at the sultan’s court (though Copts did not, as far as I know, constitute a millet in Ottoman times). And what about the final step, the seemingly random choice of a blindfolded child? Is that a rational way to choose the leader of a church? Ah, well. Something has to be left to God.

The Donation of Constantine

Last week, Marc posted about the fantastic exhibit of the Vatican archives currently underway at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. One of the documents on display is Lorenzo Valla’s definitive refutation of the so-called “Donation of Constantine.” Forgotten today, except by historians of law and religion, the Donation played an important role in justifying papal assertions of temporal power in the Middle Ages.

The Donation was a purportedly an imperial decree, signed by the Emperor Constantine, granting the entirety of the Western Roman Empire to Pope Sylvester I and his successors. Constantine supposedly made this gift in gratitude for Sylvester’s actions in miraculously curing him of leprosy and baptizing him in the Christian faith. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Donation was taken as authentic, and it played a major role in justifying papal assertions during the investiture crisis that Harold Berman famously described in Law and Revolution. By the Renaissance, however, scholars within the Church had begun to have doubts. On the basis of textual analysis, Valla, a priest, demonstrated that the Donation was a forgery in the fifteenth century. Protestant reformers made much of the forgery in their arguments against the Catholic Church.

All this is fun for law-and-religion nerds, but, back when people believed it to be true, the Donation was the subject of some powerful art. On the Coelian Hill near the Colosseum, off a very quiet street, stands a medieval church called Santi Quattro Coronati. In the church’s courtyard, a separate entrance leads to the Oratory of St. Sylvester, where — after giving a small donation — you can see a series of medieval frescoes that tell the whole story: Constantine’s illness, his subjects’ despair, his miraculous cure by Pope Sylvester, and the Donation itself (above). In their credulity, the frescoes are really rather charming. It’s definitely worth going out of your way to see them — even if you’re not a law-and-religion nerd, and even if the story is a complete hoax.