Editorial - A Wolf in Wolf's Clothing

VICARS OF CHRIST


The Dark Side of the Papacy
By Peter de Rosa
CORGI BOOKS

In a Note to the reader, the author claims to be a 'friend' of the Catholic Church. A reviewer who shows no signs of having read the book says that the author 'loves' the Church. There is no evidence of this 'friendship' or 'love' in the 676 pages that make up this titillating miscellany of fact, half-truth, innuendo, gossip, slander, lies, historical garbage and rumor that de Rosa has used to support what is a most cynical and vicious attack on the Catholic Church, the Papacy, and Catholic doctrine.

John Milton's Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce was written during the time his young bride of one month Mary Powell, was rethinking her marriage to the Puritan scholar, and just before she left him. The doctrines that this former priest (now married according to the blurb, and living 'in Ireland with his two sons') singles out for special attack are, predictably, the priesthood, contraception, celibacy, divorce and, yes, infallibility.


Lamentable Ignorance

There was a time when we would not consider reviewing works of this kind that have plagued the Church since its inception: written by disaffected former Catholics, full of sensationalism, and special pleading, and clearly aimed at the bottom rung of the credulity ladder.

But the advent of the PC and the seemingly unlimited and lucrative modern market for prurient writing of all kinds, has changed all that; as has the lamentable ignorance often through no fault of their own, of their faith, its history and enemies, of too many Catholics.

Corgi Books (and the author) are undoubtedly minting money from this one-eyed and factually-hobbled horse that started limping in 1988 and is still being backed by guileless punters who don't mind risking their money along with their faith.

Other equally discredited and doped nags from the same Corgi stables are, to name but two, Yallop's In God's Name, and Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln's The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

De Rosa's attack on Catholicism has at least the merit of being open and obvious. The few novelties in it are either in bad taste (the Church refused to allow the naked body of Jesus to be depicted on the cross, lest Catholics discover that Jesus had been circumcised and was a Jew!) or attempts to justify his own position (Humanae Vitae 'showed' priests 'that the Pope was wrong about sex in marriage. What if he was wrong about sexuality altogether? Where did that leave them?')


Fact and Fiction

Nothing in it that is true (and the mixture of fact and fiction is impressive) was 'covered up' by the Catholic Church before de Rosa decided to make his offering on the altar of the gutter press. And many things that de Rosa 'uncovers' are either well-known and discredited gossip and rumors from a by-gone age or unproven assumptions of his own, or blatant untruths or the rantings of a jaundiced mind.

Occasionally the author seems to sense the gulf that he has dug between himself and the Faith he is attempting to destroy but his fervid imagination coupled with the formidable mass of anti-Catholic propaganda dating back almost two thousand years that he has accessed, take over from common sense and reason, and ensure that the final result is tragic and gives the lie to claims of merely playing the 'devil's advocate'.


Truth and Falsehood

The credibility of De Rosa's thesis (for it is a 'case' that he is presenting) may be judged from a sampling of the tasty morsels that he expects his gullible readers to swallow:

The Emperor Constantine did not recognise the primacy of the Pope.

So what? Constantine was a pagan until just before his death; and when he did get baptised on his death bed it was by a bishop who was at least sympathetic to the Arians. Constantine was a soldier not a theologian or a Father of the Church.

The Donation {of Constantine] was a fabrication; probably concocted by a Lateran priest just before Stephen III visited King Pepin.

True: this document was a forgery. Unproven: that it was concocted just before Pope Stephen III visited Pepin in 754. There is no evidence to prove that this was the case. Also the first known time that a Pope appealed to it was in 1054 when St Leo IX wrote to Michael Coerularius. If such a forgery had been concocted by the Holy See, why keep it quiet for three hundred years?

'It was not until Damasus in 382,' writes Henry Chadwick, 'that this Petrine text ('Thou art Peter') began to become important as providing a theological and scriptural foundation on which claims to primacy were based.'

If he is being quoted correctly, and we are given no references to check, Henry Chadwick, no friend to Catholics, should have known better. The text from Matthew 16, 18-20 was certainly used a little after 200 AD by Tertullian after he left the Catholic Church and became a Montanist: 'Remember that the Lord gave the keys to heaven to Peter, and handed them on to the Church' (Scorp. X; see also Praescr. xxii; IV Adv. Marcion xi).

Tertullian actually criticized Pope Callistus for presuming to apply to himself as successor of St Peter a power of binding and loosing that had been given to Peter personally. (De Pudic. Xxii) He would not have raised the matter had the text from Matthew not been understood by the Pope in the traditional Catholic sense.


Expert in Bias

Everything, however, is easy and clear to de Rosa. Two thousand years of complex human history fall away before him as he pokes around his rubbish tip and sees not just what happened, but why. He ridicules Pope after Pope for imaginary and exaggerated faults, but proves himself to be an expert in bias and slander. The dead are his especial victims. He is not above raising a cheap laugh at the expense of St Gregory VII whom he dismisses as 'a midget' and a 'madman'; and of John Lackland for being 'only five feet five inches tall'. Clement XI is 'Chronically insecure'; Pope Paul IV 'hated Jews' and wrote his encyclical Cum Nimis Absurdum 'ceaselessly sipping the black thick-as-molasses wine of his beloved Naples.' Pope Siricius (384-399) is accused of refusing to pronounce against Bishop Bonosius when he fell into heresy 'because, he said, he had no right to do so'. And so it goes on.

Pope Siricius, to take up only his case, according to the sources (see the non-Catholic Oxford Dictionary of the Popes p.36) did, in fact, condemn Bonosius's heretical views about our Lady, but as the Bishop had already been tried in a Provincial Synod, wisely left the matter there. But de Rosa would have us believe that Siricius did not believe in the authority of the Holy See over the universal church. Were that the case, how explain Siricius's sending to Africa in January 386, nine Canons adopted by a Roman Synod held 'beside the relics of the Apostle Peter' which laid down, among other things that no bishop could be consecrated without the knowledge of the Apostolic See of Rome, or by only a single consecrator?


Rich but Poisonous Fare

De Rosa's mastery of the sweeping statement can be seen throughout the work. Many of his swipes are so cheap and nasty as to need no rebuttal, like the following comment about Rome in the time of Pope Gregory VI: 'everyone, from popes to the lowliest doorman was a simoniac: every cleric had one mistress at least; and the churches were falling down' (p.75) De Rosa's sources (unnamed) could teach a lesson or two to the CIA and ASIO!

He dismisses Clement XI because 'like most Pontiffs, (he) assumed that discussion leads not to truth, but to further falsehood'. For 'discussion' read 'paying attention to Peter de Rosa; who, according to the blurb, knows 'what the Church must do to survive'. So finally we have arrived at the heart of the book: an attack on the Papacy and in particular on the teachings of Paul VI and John Paul II on issues that range from celibacy, women priests, divorce and contraception, to abortion.

But such a book, dealing solely with these topics, might well have looked like sour grapes, and would probably not have sold. If the public were to buy his book and (more importantly) his ideas, it would need the usual incentives offered by successful popular writers: sex, violence treachery and murder and mayhem. Especially it would need a hefty dollop of mud slung at the Catholic Church, which the author calls variously the 'Catholic' 'Roman Catholic' and the 'Roman' Church – with an eye on the fundamentalist reader who would be lapping up this rich but poisonous fare.

But if the work is not to be seen for what it transparently is – an attack on the modern Papacy and Catholicism – de Rosa has to demolish the very foundations of the Church. This is where he comes unstuck. He does his work inexpertly, unwisely depending on well-known anti-Catholic polemic that leads him into strange by-ways not usually frequented by sensible writers.

He claims, in addition to the examples given above, that 'In all his writings Eusebius never once spoke of Peter as Bishop of Rome' (p.l9).

This is demonstrably untrue. Interested readers may check Eusebius's Chronicle, under the year 40 where the first Church historian says that 'Peter the Apostle, after first founding the church at Antioch, went to Rome and preached the gospel there for 25 years, and was Bishop of the same city.' Or his Hist. 11,14 and v.8. There are so many references to Peter as Bishop of Rome in Eusebius that we will merely list some of them because it would tire our readers to quote them in their entirety: Hist. III. 2, 4, 21; IV 1, 5; V; prefaces to c.i and xxviii.

'Of the eighty or so heresies in the first six centuries,' we are told by de Rosa, not one refers to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, not one is settled by the Bishop of Rome. . . no one attacks the authority of the Roman Pontiff because no one has heard o It (p.288).


The Primacy of the Roman Pontiff

What rubbish. We have already referred to Tertullian the Montanist's disparaging references to the Pope's authority around 220. He even mocks the Pope, calling him tauntingly 'pontifex maximus, episcopus episcoporum' (Supreme Pontiff, Bishop of Bishops) De Pudic. I; and 'benedictus papa' (Blessed Pope) De Pudic. xiii; and 'apostolicus' (Apostolic) De Pudic. xxi. There would have been no point to this mockery, were the Pope not considered (as indeed Tertullian himself once considered him) to be the successor of Peter the Rock upon which the Church was built, and to whom the keys were given.

De Rosa could well ponder the case of Eutyches, and Pope Leo the Great whose letter to Flavian, Archbishop of Constantinople condemning Eutyches was read out at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and the fact that (in the words of the Protestant author of the 'Oxford Dictionary of Popes') 'in Leo's doctrine the fathers recognised "the voice of Peter".' (p.44)

The Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon in the middle of the fifth century had heard of the authority of the Roman Pontiff, and accepted it. If Peter de Rosa has problems with this, they are not historical in origin.

It would be futile continuing to pile up instances of false or misleading statements in this work. It defies logical refutation because it has been written from feeling not fact.

De Rosa is at his worst when muck-racking. He dwells with relish on what he presents as historical criticism of the morals and fallibility of the Pope down the centuries. He confuses inerrancy, impeccability and infallibility. He digs deep in the rubbish tips of history to present a picture of the Papacy and the Catholic Church that would delight Luther and Calvin and their followers, because it draws heavily on the same suspect sources that fed their own prejudices.

He even repeats hoary old slanders against Charlemagne (no saint, admittedly) who was charged for centuries with beheading 4,500 Saxon prisoners. The decapitation (no mean feat even for a ninth century chieftain) seems to have been the fault of one of the scribes who copied the biography of Charlemagne by Eginhard (770-820) his contemporary, and wrote decollare (behead) instead of delocare (deport).


Impossible to Please

There is no time to respond to de Rosa's titillating treatment of the period from Charlemagne to Gregory VII. He dismisses the Papacy thus: 'For well over a century and a half the whole batch was rotten. They were less disciples of Christ than of Beliel, the Prince of Darkness.'

Nonsense. The Papacy is in a no-win situation with de Rosa. He revels in the alleged submission of the Papacy to the secular power – he has Pope Gregory VII 'begging' the young emperor Henry IV 'for recognition'. The Chronicler, Bonizio simply records that Hildebrand 'notified' the Emperor of his nomination. He pours scorn on the Papacy when it is controlled against its will by emperors, kings and princes, for alleged 'immorality', and then becomes apoplectic at the sight of Popes daring to resist the encroachments of the secular power in order to reassert their spiritual office.

His sarcasm knows no bounds. Gregory VII, he assures us held 'all civil authority in contempt'; he allegedly had 'a whole school of forgers under his very nose, turning out document after document, with the Papal seal of approval, to cater for his every need'.

It is futile to ask which forgers? what documents? what needs? what proof?

De Rosa has not burdened his readers with footnotes. These might interrupt the flow of his bile. They also might show up his fictions and bias.

At the end of the book he mentions certain valuable sources that opened his eyes. But unlike young Luther, what he discovered was not the bible, but 'aspects of papal history completely unknown to me'.

He attributes his ignorance to the 'preference Catholics have for a history of the Papacy that can be read with white gloves on'. Well, de Rosa has settled that once and for all. No white gloves could protect the reader from the noxious matter contained in Vicars of Christ.

De Rosa cites von Döllinger as the inspiration of his work. Döllinger was a complex figure, prominent at the time of Vatican 1. He was excommunicated for his views on the Papacy and infallibility; but for all that, in his old age, would visit Catholic Churches to pray, and would be horrified, I dare say, to find himself in the company of his would-be disciple, de Rosa.

He also drew upon William Edward Hartpole Lecky, author of History of European Morals (1869) – an overtly anti-Catholic work that at least carries footnotes.

De Rosa says of another source, Henry Charles Lea (a Protestant historian who wrote extensively on Confession, the Inquisition and Celibacy 'it would be hard to find in all his massive works a single sectarian opinion'. I suggest that he re-read A History of Auricular Confession and Indulgences in the Latin Church, Philadelphia 1896, vol. I pp.l16-118 where Lea amazingly claims that St Augustine denied the 'power of the keys'; and vol. I p.488 where he (out of ignorance or deceit) claims that 'before the middle of the thirteenth century an infallible Church had never administered a valid absolution to its children'. Lea, for all his learning, could not shake off his anti-Catholicism.

However, de Rosa's real soul-mates in this work are in addition to Lecky and Lea, Angelo Solomon Rappoport, Rafael Sabatini, Leo Taxil, Jimmy Swaggert, Ellen White and Loraine Boettner and other rabid anti-Catholic polemicists whose writings are still republished from time to time.

He has, regrettably, more in common with the notorious ex-priest Pastor Chiniquy than with von Döllinger who shall have the second last word: 'St Irenaeus says: "After Peter and Paul had founded the Roman Church and set it in order, they gave over the episcopate of it to Linus" (iii,3). This makes the regulation of the Roman Church and the appointment of Linus a common act of both Apostles, and since then the Roman bishops have been frequently regarded as successors of both. The Roman Church was viewed as inheriting alike from St Paul his prerogative of Apostle of the Gentiles, and from St Peter his dignity as the foundation of the Church and as possessing the power of the keys. Eusebius says of Linus that he was the first bishop after Peter and of a later bishop, Alexander, that he formed the fifth link in the succession from Peter and Paul; and he almost always reckons the others "from the Apostles" i.e. Peter and Paul. Epiphanius calls Peter and Paul the first bishops of Rome . . . the Roman Church is the Seat of the two Apostles; the power of Rome founded on Peter and Paul; these and similar expressions occur frequently in later writers. 'First Age of the Church, ii, pp.l49-153.

The last word goes to St Cyprian (200-258 AD) a firm believer in the Primacy of Peter, and for all the arguments between himself and various Popes, devoted to the See of Rome. He quotes a saying of the emperor Decius (200-251 AD) to the effect that he would sooner hear of the appointment of a rival to his throne, than of the appointment of a new bishop to the Roman See. Epist. Ad Antonian, Migne iii,774.

De Rosa has addressed his book to the general public which must indeed judge for itself, as he suggests, whether the dirt he has thrown has stuck. But how? If the author can't manage to sort out truth from fiction, how can the untrained reader? Annals suggests that anyone foolish enough to buy this deplorable book should not compound the error by reading it.

– PAUL STENHOUSE, M.S.C.


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From "Annals Australia" June 1994




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