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Resistance - Lessons from the Past

Atila Sinke Guimarães
With regard to the present day situation of the Church, our times lend themselves to innumerable historical parallels. In effect, the crisis opened by Vatican Council II is certainly the most serious in History. From top to bottom the Church edifice was revolutionized. It is normal, therefore, for Catholics to ask if there have been analogous precedents to what we are now witnessing, in order to know how to act.

If this is opportune regarding the ecclesiastical crisis, it is imperative with regard to the Papacy. In fact, after the proclamation of papal infallibility, the notion began to spread that all the positions of a Pope are infallible and immutable – a Pope can never err, and whoever thinks such a thing would be committing a crime. The reality, however, is not so simple.

jacob's ladder

Jacob saw angels rising & descending in his dream

The conditions under which papal infallibility is guaranteed are very restricted and rare. For a document of the papal Magisterium to be considered infallible, very precise elements are necessary. Thus, there is a significant margin of error in the actions taken by a Pope. Saying this, I by no means want to encourage any lack of respect for the pontifical authority. I only want to place myself within the actual situation as it was desired by Our Lord and taught by the Church.

The Papacy is, for me, the perfect institution: it is the mainstay of the created universe, the pillar of the temporal order and the summit of the spiritual order. I consider the stair that Jacob saw in his dream, with angels rising and descending on it, as a symbol of the Papacy. It is by means of the Papacy that the earth meets heaven. So much so that one might ask if some future theologian will study whether the actions of a Pope on earth might have juridical repercussions in heaven. The words of Our Lord, “And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven” (Mt 18:18) seem to suggest a certain “heavenly jurisdiction” in the exercise of the Petrine Primacy.

I mention this not to defend a new theological question – the times unfortunately are not propitious for this – but to make public my unrestrained veneration for the Papacy.

Even with the highest esteem for the Primacy, I do not see any problem with facing the following reality. The Pope can err; many Popes have erred in innumerable fields, not excluding doctrinal teachings, and some have even fallen into heresy.

In my last article, I showed the liturgical errors of St. Anicetus and St. Victor I, both Popes, and the resistance of St. Polycarp of Smyrma and St. Irenaeus of Lyons respectively in face of them. I narrated briefly how St. Marcellinus, Pope during the persecution of Diocletian, moved by fear, burned incense to the idols. A brief overview was given of the adhesion of Pope Liberius to Arianism, which was resisted by St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, and St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers.

I also described the position of Pope Zozimus, who in written documents supported Pelagius and ordered those who were combating him to retract their objections, as well as the responses of St. Augustine, St. Aurelius and other African Bishops who showed energetic resistance to that Pontiff. Finally, I referred to the case of Pope Vigilius, who, under the pressure of Emperor Justinian, signed a Monophysitist document.

In this article I will give more examples that seem useful to understand the lesson they contain. The history of events expounded here does not go beyond the 7th century. Perhaps I will have to return to the subject to present the documentation for the cases I have already mentioned, or perhaps to offer yet other cases.

St. Columbanus resisted Pope Boniface IV

1. The case of Pope Vigilius, which the reader already knows, had strong repercussions in the Church of the time. In the West, the pontifical prevarication triggered great indignation, even causing a schism in northern Italy. After the death of Vigilius, his disrepute continued for some time in the Church.

St. Columbanus

St. Columbanus rebuked the Pope in a letter for supporting Nestorianism

In that general climate of confusion following the doctrinal fall of a Pope, one can understand the attitude of the Irish monk St. Columbanus. While in Italy in the city of Babbio, he learned from Agrippinus, Bishop of Cone, that Pope Boniface IV (608-615) was manifesting strong Nestorian tendencies.

Concerned about the scandal this was creating for the See of Peter, St. Columbanus wrote to the Pope. After affirming his humility, the Saint did not hesitate to make an admonition: “Vigilance, vigilance, I beg you, O Pope. Vigilance, I repeat, because it seems Vigilius did not have enough vigilance” (Epistula V). St. Columbanus entreated the Pope to prove his orthodoxy and to assemble a council to clarify the doctrinal confusions of the time. He ended his letter with a reprimand addressed to the Pope.

The heresy of Pope Honorius resisted by St. Sophronius

2. In order to follow the heresy of Pope Honorius (625-638), some background information is necessary. The doctrines of Monoenergism and of Monothelism are two variants of Monophysitism. The author of the heresy, Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople, defended the notion that in Christ there was only one single energy and one single will.

This was countered by the strong and efficient opposition of St. Sophronius, who was afterward Patriarch of Jerusalem. The heresy was also combated by St. Maximus the Confessor and various Popes, as we will see below.

In an attempt to thwart the attacks of St. Sophronius and gain support for the new heresy, Patriarch Sergius wrote to Pope Honorius. The Pope responded with a letter approving it.


Monophysitism and its variants denied the two equal natures - human and divine - in Christ

In the document, Honorius praised the efforts of Sergius and approved his thesis about a single energy. The arguments of those who opposed him, said Honorius, could be reduced to just a grammatical question. It was sufficient, Honorius affirmed, to teach that the same Word Incarnate divinely operates divine things and humanly operates human things, and that in all His action there is only one acting, therefore, only one will.

St. Sophronius was elected Patriarch of Jerusalem, and called a synod to combat the heresy. The final document of the assembly was an anti-Monothelist profession of faith. The Patriarch also wrote a treatise about the first heresies in the Church and how she had always combated them. The central point of his analysis was to demonstrate that the Church had taught that there were two energies in Christ - one human and one divine. This is a natural consequence of the double nature of the Savior. To affirm the contrary is to fall into Monophysitism.

The documents of Sophronius – the conclusion of the synod and the treatise – were sent to Honorius. The Pope reproved the Patriarch, warning him that he should not separate the energies in Christ.

With this standoff between Honorius and Sophronius, Emperor Heraclitus launched edicts about religious unity and the faith, in which he favored the heresy and combated St. Sophronius.

Monothelism was condemned by the successors of Pope Honorius: Pope Severinus (640-640) condemned it, Pope John IV (640-642) in 642, and Pope Theodore I (642-649) excommunicated Pyrrhus, Patriarch of Constantinople, for defending the same error.

Pope St. Martin I (649-655) was imprisoned by the Emperor Constans II, and died a martyr because he would not accept Monothelism. Pope Eugenius I (654-657) also rejected this doctrine. The Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680-681) condemned Monothelism and condemned Pope Honorius as a heretic. The document of condemnation was issued by Pope Saint Agatho (678-681). This condemnation of Honorius as a heretic was reaffirmed by Pope St. Leo II (682-683).

Honorius’ support for Jewish errors resisted by St. Braulius

3. The Council of Toledo of 638 praised King Chintila for a law of interdict that forbade those who professed the Jewish faith from remaining in Spain. The Council determined that in the future every King should swear to maintain this rigorous prescription, under punishment of anathema. This attitude of prevention in relation to the errors of the Jewish religion was a confirmation of a canon of the Council of Toledo of 633, presided over by St. Isidore.

St. Braulius

St. Braulius did not fear to rebuke the Pope for his soft stand on the Jews

Pope Honorius sent an admonition to the Bishops of Spain, expressing his benevolence toward the Jewish errors. In view of this, St. Braulius of Saragosa, disciple and friend of St. Isidore of Seville, reprimanded the Pope immediately after the Council of 638. He stated that he found it incredible that baptized Jews had received permission in Rome to return to their superstitious practices.

St. Braulius sent Honorius an account of the “past and present acts” of the councils regarding the Jewish errors. Directing himself to the Pope, he first manifested his respect toward the “the first and most eminent of the Prelates,” to the “head of our ministry.”

But then he affirmed that he could not believe that the “astuteness of the serpent had been able to leave traces of his passing over the stone of the Apostolic See.”

One of the “dogmas” of Progressivism that unfortunately is held by many ecclesiastics in high places of the Church today is that of not combating the errors of the Jewish religion, which, nonetheless, continues to profess the same principles. It is interesting to see here how the Councils and the Saints have acted so courageously in the past, and how even when a Pope - a heretic Pope - supported the Jewish errors, he received the exemplary resistance of St. Braulius.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Reprinted from We Resist You to the Face,
Los Angeles, TIA, 2000, pp. 163-167
Posted May 10, 2013