Saturday, August 13, 2016

They're Canonizing Him?

Three modern popes have been raised to the honors of the altar in recent years. These would be Pope St. John Paul II, Pope St. John XXIII, and Blessed Pope Paul VI. If you recall, there was some controversy attached to each of these.

Some (not all or even very many) Catholics of a traditionalist bent objected that these popes were (by their standards) too liberal.   And the super-liberal fringe, although quite happy with the canonization of Pope John, were less pleased about the other two, who in various ways did not march to their progressive drums. Articles and essays streamed through the press and blogosphere, decrying various actions (or failures to act) on the parts of these popes that the authors did not like, among them:

  • calling for the Second Vatican Council
  • allowing the revision of the Roman missal, a.k.a. the Novus Ordo
  • reaffirming the Church's teaching against artificial contraception
  • delaying too long before reaffirming said teaching
  • NOT excommunicating all  priests and teachers who dissented from the teaching on artificial contraception
  • failing to  approve ordination of women
  • failure to see through the deception of Legionairies of Christ founder Marcial Maciel (all true saints are able to read souls, don't ya know?)
I don't think any of the critics questioned the extraordinary holiness of any of these popes, but it seems that their critieria for  papal sainthood or beatitude is someone who  a.was heroically virtuous and b. agreed with the critic on every point about how to lead the Church. 

Which leads me to wonder how third century Christians would have reacted to the saints we commemorate today, St. Pontian, (pope) and St. Hippolytus (anti-pope!). 

You heard me right. While Pontian (and two of his predecssors) reigned, Hippolytus was leader of a rigorist faction that believed the faith was not being adequately defended and maintained in its original purity by current leadership. His followers in the clergy elected him as  a rival pope. Pontian, on the other hand, humbly offered to step down in favor of any legitimately elected successor if that would help resolve the schism. 

This was back in the days when Christianity was still frowned upon by the Roman empire. In the year 235, the Emperor Maximus launched a persecution that swept up both Pontian and Hippolytus and sent them to a gulag on the isle of Sardinia. Pontian and Hippolytus supported each other during their last days on earth, which included torture and hard labor in  salt mines. Hippolytus repented and reconciled with the Church. They died there and were acclaimed as both martyrs and saints. Hippolytus was the first anti-pope, and the only one honored with sainthood. 

Did critics have a field day over these two? Were conservatives appalled that a schismatic like Hippolytus could be canonized? Or perhaps the liberals were: Hippolytus was a rigorist who felt that notorious sinners could never be readmitted to communion--how could a man so lacking in mercy be canonized? Or maybe some felt Pontian was wrong to make overtures to the Hippolytus faction by offering to resign rather than taking a more hardline approach.  Who knows? But it's fun to speculate. 

Anyone  following  the attempts at reconciliation  between the Holy See and the SSPX might offer a prayer to these two on this, their memorial. 

Image result for st pontian and hippolytus free images