“I Shall Keep Inviolate the Discipline and Ritual of the Church”: The Early Mediæval Papal Oath

The recent promulgation of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes by the Most Holy Lord Francis has sparked renewed interest in the question of the limits of papal power, especially as it relates to liturgical tradition.[1]

Any such discussions must take into account the Indiculum Pontificis (“The Pontiff’s Attestation”), an oath that popes seem to have sworn between the 7th and 11th centuries. In it, the pontiff-elect solemnly vows to St. Peter that he shall preserve inviolate the doctrinal and liturgical tradition handed down to him by his predecessors and by the holy œcumenical councils and that he will act as a remora against the introduction of any novelties.

This papal oath is preserved in the Liber Diurnus Pontificum Romanum, a collection of formulæ used by the pontifical chancellery which survives today in three MSS.: Vatican City, Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Misc. Arm. XI.19; Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana I.2 sup.; and the Codex Claramontanus now kept in the Abbey of Egmond-Binnen. A modern edition was published by the Jesuit Jean Garnier in 1680, reprinted in the Patrologia Latina (vol. 105, cols. 21-118). In 1869, Marie Louis Thomas Eugène de Rozière published an improved edition, followed by Theodor E. von Sickel’s critical edition in 1889. Finally, in 1958 Hans Foerster published diplomatic editions of all three MSS. The Indiculum Pontificis appears as formula 83 in the Vatican MS., 59 in the Ambrosian, and 64 in the Codex Claramontanus.  

Sickel concluded that the texts of the Liber Diurnus developed over time and that the MSS. that survive to-day represent its state during the reign of the Most Holy Lord Hadrian I, between the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th centuries. Some have argued, withal, that some of its formulæ date back as early as the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great. Gottfried Buschbell argued in 1896 that it stopped being used after 787, in his 1948 book on the Photian schism Francis Dvornik makes an excellent case for its continued use in the 11th century, when Cardinal Deusdedit wrote a compilation of canon law and included the papal oath therein. It is tempting to connect its fall into desuetude with the expansive views of papal power adopted by St. Gregory VII and his reformist successors. 

What is known is that in 1352 the cardinals forced the Lord Innocent VI to swear an oath, but it is entirely different from the one in the Liber Diurnus and only concerned with tithes and administrative procedures. Sometime in the 14th century, an oath based on the one in the Liber Diurnus was forged with the addition of a statement precluding the possibility of papal abdication, and it was used by the Lord Boniface VIII’s enemies to argue that his predecessor’s abdication had been null and void. 

In the early 15th century, another papal oath was forged, again based on the authentic oath from the Liber Diurnus, and falsely presented as the text sworn by the Lord Boniface VIII at his coronation. The reformist party in the Council of Constance used this forged oath to compose a new oath for popes to swear during their coronation (session 39), but this legislation does not seem to have received papal approval. 

We reproduce below the text of the Indiculum from the Vatican MS. as it appears in Foerster’s edition, together with the first full English translation thereof. 

The Pontiff’s Attestation [of Faith]

In the name of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and so forth, on (such) indiction, (such) month, (such) day. 

I, (name), by the mercy of God deacon, elect and future bishop, by the grace of God, of this Apostolic See, swear to you, blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles—to whom the Lord Jesus Christ, Creator and Redeemer of all, gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to bind and loose in heaven and on earth saying, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven”—and to your Holy Church, which today I have taken up to rule under your protection, that I shall guard with all my strength, even unto giving up the ghost or shedding my blood, the right and true faith which, having been handed down by Christ its author and transmitted by your successors and disciples unto my smallness, I found in your Holy Church; and with your help I shall patiently bear the difficulties of the times; I shall preserve the the mystery of the holy and individual Trinity which is one God, as well as the dispensation according to the flesh of the only-begotten Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the other dogmas of God’s Church, just as they are deposited by the universal councils and constitutions of the apostolic pontiffs and the writings of the most approved doctors of the Church, that is, all that concerns the rightness of your and our orthodox faith handed down by you; I, too, shall guard unaltered even by a tittle the holy and universal councils—of Nicæa, of Constantinople, the first of Ephesus, of Chalcedon, and the second of Constantinople which was celebrated in the time of the prince Justinian of happy memory—and together with them I shall fully and entirely keep with equal honour and veneration the holy sixth council which recently assembled under prince Constantine of happy memory and the apostolic lord Agatho my predecessor, and I shall preach whatsoever they preached and condemn in heart and word whatsoever they condemned; I shall moreover diligently and heartily confirm and safeguard undiminished all the decrees of the apostolic pontiffs my predecessors, and whatever they promulgated and confirmed in synod and individually, and maintain them in unwavering vigor just as my predecessors established them, and condemn with a sentence of equal authority whatever things and persons they condemned and rejected; I shall keep inviolate the discipline and ritual of the Church just as I found and received it handed down by my predecessors, and I shall preserve the Church’s property undiminished and take care it is kept undiminished; I shall neither subtract nor change anything from the tradition my most esteemed predecessors have safeguarded and I have received, nor shall I admit any novelty, but shall fervently keep and venerate with all my strength all that I find handed down as, forsooth, my predecessors’ disciple and follower; but if anything should come about contrary to canonical discipline, I shall correct it, and guard the sacred canons and constitutions of our pontiffs as divine and heavenly mandates, knowing that at the divine Judgment I shall  render a strict account of all that I profess to you whose place I occupy by divine condescension and whose role I fulfill by the aid of your intercession. If I should presume or allow anyone else to presume to do anything that exceeds these, then on that terrible day of God’s judgment be propitius to me in my sincere attempt to guard them and lend your aid, I pray, to me who am set in this corruptible life, that I might appear blameless before the sight of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Judge of all, when he shall come fearfully to judge our sins, that he might make me to stand on the Father’s right hand among his faithful disciples and successors. I have signed this my profession with my own hand, as contained above—put into writing by (name), notary and secretary, at my command—and with a pure mind and devout conscience I have sincerely offered it to you, blessed Peter, apostle and prince of all the apostles, by this bodily oath.

I, the aforestated (name), unworthy deacon and by the grace of God bishop-elect of this apostolic see of the Roman Church, made this my profession, as contained above, presented this bodily oath, and offered it to you, blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, with a pure mind and conscience.

Indiculum Pontificis.

In nomine Domini Dei Saluatoris nostri Iesu Christi et cetera, indictione ill. mense ill. die ill.

Ill. misericordia Dei diaconus et electus futurusque per Dei gratiam huius apostolicae sedis antistis tibi profiteor, beate Petre apostolorum princeps, cui claues regni caelorum ad ligandum atque soluendum in caelo et in terra creator atque redemptor omnium Dominus Iesus Christus tradidit, inquiens: «Quaecumque ligaueris super terram, erunt ligata et in caelo, et quaecumque solueris super terram, erunt soluta et in caelis», sanctaeque tue Ecclesiae quam hodie tuo praesidio regendam suscepi, quod uere fidei rectitudine, Christo auctore tradente, per successores tuos atque discipulos usque ad exiguitatem meam perlatam in tua sancta Ecclesia repperi, totis conatibus meis usque ad animam et sanguinem custodire; temporumque difficultate cum tuo adiutorio tolleranter sufferre; tam de sanctae et indiuidue Trinitatis misterio quae unus est Deus, quamque de dispensatione quae secundum carnem facta est unigeniti Filii Dei Domini nostri Iesu Christi et de ceteris Ecclesiae Dei dogmatibus, sicut uniuersalibus conciliis et constitutis apostolicorum pontificum probatissimorumque doctorum Ecclesiae scriptis sunt commendata, id est queque ad rectitudinem uestrae nostraeque orthodoxe fidei a te traditionem[2]  respiciunt, conseruare; sancta quoque uniuersalia concilia: Nicenum, Constantinopolitanum, Efesenum primum, Calcedonensem et secundum Constantinopolitanum quod Iustiniani piae memoriae principis temporibus celebratum est, usque ad unum apicem inmutilata seruare, et unam cum eis pari honore et ueneratione sanctum sextum concilium quod nuper sub Constantino piae memoriae principe et Agathone apostolico praecessore meo conuenit, medullitus et plenius conseruare, quaeque uero praedicauerunt, praedicare, queque condemnauerunt, ore et corde condemnare; diligentius autem et uiuacius omnia decreta predecessorum apostolicorum nostrorum pontificum, queque uel synodaliter uel specialiter statuerunt et probata sunt, confirmare et indiminute seruare, et sicut ab eis statuta sunt, in sua uigoris stabilitate custodire, quaeque uel quosque condemnauerunt uel abdicauerunt, simili auctoritatis sententia condemnare; disciplinam et ritum Ecclesiae, sicut inueni et a sanctis predecessoribus meis traditum repperi, inlibatum custodire, et indiminutas res Ecclesiae conseruare et ut indiminute custodiantur operam dare; nihil de traditione quae a probatissimis praedecessoribus meis seruatum repperi, diminuere uel mutare aut aliquam nouitatem admittere, sed feruenter, ut uere eorum discipulus et sequipeda, totis meae[3] conatibus quae tradita comperio, conseruare ac uenerare; si qua uero emerserint contra disciplinam canonicam, emendare, sacrosque canones et constituta pontificum nostrorum ut diuina et celestia mandata custodire, utpote tibi redditurum me sciens de omnibus quae profiteor districtam in diuino iudicio rationem, cuius locum diuina dignatione perago et uicem intercessionibus tuis adiutus impleo. Si preter haec aliquod agere presumpsero uel ut presumatur permisero, eris autem mihi in illa terribili die diuina iudicii Dei, propitius haec conanti et diligenter seruare curanti adiutorium quoque ut prebeas obsecro in hac uita corruptibili constituto, ut inreprehensibilis appaream ante conspectum iudicis omnium Domini nostri Iesu Christi, dum tertibiliter de commissis aduenerit iudicare, ut faciat me dextre partis compotem et inter fideles discipulos ac successores esse consortem. Quam professionem meam, ut supra continet, per ill. notarium et scriniarium me mandante conscriptam propria manu subscripsi et tibi, beate Petre apostole et apostolorum omnium princeps, pura mente et conscientia deuota corporali iureiurando sinceriter optuli.

Ego qui supra ill. indignus diaconus et Dei gratia electus huius apostolicae sedis Romane Ecclesiae hanc professionem meam, sicut supra continet, faciens et iusiurandum corporaliter offerens tibi, beate Petre apostolorum princeps, pura mente et conscientia optuli. 

[1] Cf. John Monaco, “Was the Sacred Liturgy made for the pope, or the pope for the Sacred Liturgy?”, Catholic World Report; Martin Mosebach, “Mass and Memory,” First Things; Peter Kwasnewski, “The Pope’s Boundedness to Tradition as Legislative Limit: Replying to Ultramontanist Apologetics” (upcoming)  

[2] The reading of the MS is here corrupt. Sickel suggests traditae for traditionem.

[3] Sickel suggests adding mentis.

REPOST: Mysterium Mysteriorum: How the Ambrosian Rite Survived Charlemagne

The frontispiece for an edition of the Ambrosian Missal published in 1640.

We have previously seen how hardily if unsuccessfully the Castilians of Burgos defended their traditional Mozarabic rite against the efforts of King Alphonse VI, backed by Pope St Gregory VII, to impose the Roman rite. It is particularly interesting that the chronicles report that God’s judgement on the Mozarabic and Roman missals was invoked by subjecting them to a trial by fire, from which the former emerged unscathed whilst the latter burned. As we saw a fortnight ago in M. Henri de Villiers’ article on the Ambrosian rite, a similar event took place in 9th-century Milan, as recounted by Landulf in his Historia Mediolanensis.

Continuing the policy begun by his father Pippin, the Blessed Charlemagne attempted to establish liturgical unity in his kingdoms by imposing the Roman rite throughout, to the detriment of the Gallican and Ambrosian rites. The Gallican rite was indeed suppressed (although several of its elements merged into the Roman rite), but the people of Milan successfully defended their indigenous rite, and it has survived till the present day.

Landulf asserts that the survival of the Ambrosian rite was due to a test the conflicting missals were made to undergo, whence the Ambrosian book emerged with divine approbation. Later writers, such as Durandus, repeat his account.

Landulf’s history was written around 1080, when Milan was racked by the often violent conflict between the reformist pataria, backed by the papacy, and its opponents, who saw themselves as the defenders of the traditions bequeathed to Milan by St Ambrose. Landulf himself was a married priest who claimed clerical marriage was one of these ancient Milanese customs. In terms of the liturgy, the reformist popes who backed the pataria, such as Nicholas II, were also those who most forcefully attempted to impose the Roman rite on all the West, and the anti-patarini obviously became the great advocates of the Ambrosian rite. Since Landulf’s objective in writing his Historia is largely to defend what he considered to be Ambrosian traditions against Roman claims, some have cast doubt upon the veracity of his account of the events described here. Ludovico Antonio Muratori, in his Antiquitates italicæ, accuses Landulf of being prone to writing fables (pronus in fabulas) and specifically questions the story about how the Ambrosian rite survived Charlemagne’s persecution, although he grants it must have some grounds in truth, given Charlemagne’s known efforts to create liturgical uniformity in the Empire. Anton Baumstark suggests the story was circulated by Landulf in response to the efforts by Nicholas II to impose the Roman rite on Milan in 1060.

Nevertheless, as M. de Villiers points out in his article, the fact remains that no records of the Ambrosian rite before the age of Charlemagne survive (except for the remains of a 7th century Ambrosian libellus missarum preserved in a palimpsest from the monastery of St Gall), and Landulf’s account furnishes an explanation thereof which, although dramatic in expression, is not lacking in overall verisimilitude:

ecc81ginhard_vita_caroli_magni_imperatoris-lettrine_v_historiecc81e_charlemagne_assisDURING the first years of Charles’s reign, when he was in Rome surrounded by magnificent and innumerable army of knights of the Empire, and Hadrian sat as pope, an immense synod was held with many bishops from all parts of the globe. During it, when they had discussed many and sundry matters, they unwisely set themselves against the holy rite (
mysterium) of God and the blessed doctor and confessor Ambrose, scarcely or not at all recalling with what reverence and what love the blessed Gregory was once united by affection to the Ambrosian church. And so, as if blinded and demented, and bereft of any judgement, they sought to mar, as it were, and to darken, and, what’s more, to altogether destroy what was illustrious and for a long time stable and hallowed.

Charles, therefore, having informed by a number of bishops, set out throughout the whole Latin land to entirely destroy whatever he might come upon that was different from the Roman use in chant or the divine ministry, and bring it to unity with the Roman rite (mysterium). And so it was done: the Emperor went to Milan and laid waste to Pavia, which he loathed with unquenchable wrath on account of his enemy the Emperor Desiderius, whom the knights of Pavia had manfully defended against Charles with arms and wit. Then all the books marked with the Ambrosian label which he could grab ahold of by purchase or gift or force he either burned or took with him across the mountains as if into exile. But pious men, seeing so many such books, piously preserved them. Yet God, who sees and knows all things, and foreknows to investigate the hidden things of men’s hearts and open up souls and foresees the intentions of all, did not suffer what He had recognized as ordained by the Holy Ghost and drawn up by the bishop Saint Ambrose to the praise and honour of His name to be violated and torn apart by evil men.

pope_adrian_i_illustrationHowever, Eugenius of glorious memory, a bishop over the mountains, a lover and as it were the father of the Ambrosian rite [mysterium] as well as its protector, and Charles’s spiritual father, set out to Rome, and found that the Apostolic Lord Hadrian, who was the first to give the rings and staves to Charles for episcopal investiture, had already been holding council for three days. He investigated all that had been done diligently and in order, for he was a sensible man, judicious in prudence and wisdom, mild of soul, serene of countenance, affable in teaching and words; and, as his dignity demanded, kinder than all, what seemed to him worthy of praise, he duly ratified. In the end, he wrenched out of them as if by force in what way or manner the synod had adjuged the Ambrosian rite (mysterium). When Eugenius heard their account, much frightened and grieved, calling himself a wretch with a tearful voice, with tears flowing from his eyes like water, he said:

“O woe is me, what will I do? The world and its judge have died: the all the world’s teaching, all that hinders the vanities of this life has passed away! The beauty of the entire Church, Latin as well as Greek, is darkened! The good, the just, and the holy are cast away! The column of the Church, the foundation of the faith, the champion of justice, the lover of the word of God is brought low! A brilliant doctor, renowned for his experience in all the arts, has been crushed! A most excellent rite [mysterium mysteriorum] has perished, on which Gregory, as the Lord and Most Reverend Pope, never dared to lay a finger, and from which Gregory, as teacher and doctor, devotedly drew so many wonderful and brilliant flowers and added them to the Roman rite [mysterio], where they remain to this very day.” 

He recovered his spirit and energy, and then, backed by a papal order and the wishes of the majority of the Roman nobility and people, he recalled all the bishops, archbishops, abbots, religious, laymen and clergy who had been at the council to the court of the Supreme Pontiff, though they had departed Rome already three days before. When they had been assembled, the holy bishop Eugenius advocated at length in favor of the Ambrosian rite [mysterio], to which they had given such short shrift. Having heard him out, the foreign clergy recognized that he was an upright man and lover of justice, and began to wonder and feel ashamed. Need I say more? The Apostolic Lord, all the bishops, the whole clergy and the entire Roman people clamoured and insisted that both the Ambrosian book and the book of blessed Gregory should be placed upon the altar of blessed Peter by the religious, clearly sealed with the apostolic signet. Then all the doors of the Church should also be firmly sealed, and a three-day fast proclaimed, during which all from the youngest to the oldest should fast with fervent devotion. Then whichever book they should find open and unsealed by God’s grace they would hold fast to with unshaken devotion; and whichever they found unmoved and sealed they would burn, having been given the clearest possible permission.

And so it was done: after all the bishops and the entire clergy and people of Rome had observed the fast, on the third day, on Tuesday of that week on which the Ambrosians devoutly sing Misericordia Domini plena est terra [The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord] even to this day1, when all had come together for the unseen and unheard of miracle, in the presence of the Apostolic Lord the doors of the church were unsealed and opened of their own accord. When everyone had entered, they found both books as they had left them, sealed and altogether intact. Having seen this, whilst everyone marvelled and was astounded and groaned exceedingly, the books, breaking their ties by themselves, gave forth a great and frightful noise in the hearing of all, and opening themselves up by God’s finger, they were both opened so that one could not find a further page in one part more than the other.

Immediately everyone felt a great joy and burst out in tears. Meanwhile, having seen how both books appeared opened, all cried out as if with one voice, saying: “Let the Gregorian and Ambrosian rites [mysterium] be praised by the universal Church, confirmed and preserved entirely.” For they said, “It is determined that the will of almighty God and blessed Peter the Apostle is that these rites [mysteria] may be praised and steadfastly maintained by all the bishops of the globe.” Although to some these words seemed to be good, to others however they were difficult and very hard. Finally, it was highly commended by the Lord Pope and the other wise and discerning men that the Ambrosian see remain content with that rite [mysterio] alone by which she was ordered and exalted by blessed Ambrose, and that the rest of the globe that resounds with the Latin tongue should strive to keep the Gregorian rite diligently and carefully, to the exclusion of any other.

After all these things were over and done, Eugenius, exulting with great joy, reached Milan as if going to see his own children. In that city, a few days earlier, the Emperor, by order of the council that took place in Rome, wishing to wipe out the Ambrosian rite entirely from the face of the earth, had butchered many clerics in minor and major orders and eliminated all the Ambrosian books, which had been established according to Ambrose with respect to passages of the New and Old Testament as well as to the musical arts. Nothing indeed remained except for a missal, which a certain good and faithful priest had hidden and faithfully preserved for six weeks in the caverns of the mountains. Afterwards, however, with the aid of the most faithful bishop Eugenius, those wise priests and clerics who remembered much of the rite came together and, with God’s help, handed over to posterity what they had once come upon entire.

According to Milanese tradition, the Gaulish bishop St Eugenius (his see is unknown) tarried in Milan after ensuring the survival of the Ambrosian rite and died there. His body was eventually transferred to the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, where it remains to-day. His feast is commemorated in the Ambrosian rite on 30 December. This mediæval statue, now in the basilica’s museum, was originally next to the altar where his remains rest. An 18th century inscription referring to this statue calls St Eugenius rituum Ecclesiæ Mediolanensis mirificus propugnator.

Karuli primi tempore, cum idem apud Romam imperii magnifice et inenarrabili militum exercitu stipatus frueretur, et papa resideret Adrianus, synodus inmensa multis diversarum terrarum episcopis congregatis celebrata est, in qua cum de multis atque diversis tractassent negotiis, indiscrete erga mysterium Dei et beati doctoris et confessoris Ambrosii sese intulerunt, parum aut nichil quantae reverentiae quantique amoris beatus Gregorius olim ecclesiae Ambrosianae per affectum contulisset, reminiscentes; propterea quasi caecati et ementati, et absque ullo iudicio, quod inclytum et per multa tempora firmum atque sancitum, quodammodo decolorare et obnubilare, et plus dicam, omnino delere aggressi sunt.

Edoctus itaque Karolus imperator a quampluribus episcopis, ut per totam linguam proficisceretur Latinam, et quicquid diversum in cantu et ministerio divino inveniret a Romano, totum deleret, et ad unitatem mysterii Romani uniret. Unde factum est, veniens imperator Mediolanum, devastata Papia quam ipse ira inextinguibili ob imperatorem Desiderium suum haemulum oderat, quem milites Papiae contra Carlonis imperium viriliter armis et ingenio tutaverant, omnes libros Ambrosiano titulo sigillatos, quos vel pretio vel dono vel vi habere potuit, alios comburens, alios trans montes quasi in exilio secum detulit. Sed religiosi viri tales et tantos libros videntes, religiose tenuerunt. At Deus qui omnia videt cunctaque cognoscit, et cordium occulta investigare et aperire praenovit animos et intentionem cunctorum praevidens, quod ad laudem et honorem nominis sui per Spiritum sanctum sancto Ambrosio episcopo dictante ordinatum noverat, violari aut a malis dilacerari non passus est.

Proficiscens autem gloriosae memoriae Eugenius transmontanus episcopus, amator et quasi pater Ambrosiani mysterii nec non et protector, pater spiritualis Karlonis, causa concilii Romam, invenit apostolicum Adrianum, qui primus annulos et virgas ad investiendum episcopatus Karloni donavit, iam per tres dies celebrasse concilium. Qui studiose omnia, ut gesta erant, per ordinem inquirens, prout erat vir discretus, conscilio ac sapientia providus, animo placidus, vultu serenus, doctrina et verbis affabilis, atque ut eius dignitas exposcebat, ultra omnes benignus, quod dignum laude esse sibi videbatur, competenter affirmabat: tandem qualiter aut quomodo super mysterium Ambrosianum sese synodus habuisset, quasi vi ab illis extorsit. Quod ubi Eugenius audivit, plurimum expavescens condoluit, et voce lacrimabili miserum se vocans, lacrimis velut aqua ab oculis decurrentibus inquit:

« O miser, quid agam? mundus et eius iudex periit; orbis doctrina, cuncta huius vitae quae vanitates sunt obfuscans, elabitur. Decus totius ecclesiae tam Latinae quam Graecae obnubilatur, bonum, iustum, sanctum eliminatur. Columpna ecclesiae, fundamentum fidei, assertor iusticiae, verbi Dei amator deprimitur. Doctor egregius omnium artium peritia imbutus disternitur, mysterium perit mysteriorum, de quo domnus et reverentissimus papa Gregorius aliquid sinistrum proferre timuit, de quo quanta et quam magna quasi lucidissimos flores beatus magister et doctor Gregorius curiose attrahens Romanoque mysterio interserens usque hodie adiunxit. »

Spiritu demum animoque resumpto, iussu papae et magna nobilium parte Romanorum cum plebis simul voluntate laudante, omnes episcopos, archiepiscopos, abbates, quoscunque religiosos, laicos et clericos, quos concilio interfuisse cognovit, quamvis per tres dies recessissent a Roma, ad curiam summi pontificis revocavit. Quibus congregatis beatus Eugenius episcopus de mysterio Ambrosiano voce benigna, unde incomposite tractaverant, multum conquestus est. Quo audito, extranei clerici cognoscentes virum valde probum iustitiaeque amatorem, partim satis mirari ac verecundari coeperunt. Quid multa? Ab apostolico et universis episcopis et a toto clero ab universoque populo Romano conclamatum et conlaudatum est ut librum Ambrosianum et beati Gregorii librum ambos super beati Petri altare optime sigillatos, videlicet evidentissime apostolico sigillo signatos, viri religiosi supponerent; quin etiam omnibus hostiis ecclesiae apertissime sigillatis, indito ieiunio per tres dies cuncti a minimo usque ad maximum devote ieiunarent; et sic Deo propitio, quemcunque apertum et reseratum invenirent, illum summa cum devotione et indubitanter tenerent; et quemcunque immotum ac sigillatum reperissent, illum evidentissima dispensatione comburerent.

Quod factum est, ieiunio ab episcopis omnibus et universo clero et populo Romano celebrato, in tertia die tertiae feriae illius hebdomadae, in qua Ambrosiani « Misericordia Domini plena est terra » usque hodie devote cantant, in unum universis convenientibus ad invisum et inauditum miraculum, ecclesiae ianuae stante apostolico reseratae et ultro apertae sunt. Quibus introgressis, ambos libros ut dimiserant sigillatos et omnino intactos invenerunt. Quo viso cunctis mirantibus valdeque obstupescentibus nimiumque congemescentibus, libri ligaturas per se rumpentes, sonum magnum atque terribilem audientibus universis, dederunt, et sese digito Dei aperientes, ita ambo aperti sunt, ut aliquis unam illorum foliam non inveniret plus in unam partem quam in alteram.

Itaque ingens gaudium omnes abruptis lacrimis illico invasit. Interea libris ambobus visis, qualiter aperti apparuerunt, omnes quasi una voce proclamabant dicentes: « Gregorianum et Ambrosianum misterium ab universa ecclesia laudetur confirmetur simulque ex toto teneatur. » Dicebant enim: « Ut haec mysteria laudentur firmiterque ab universis totius orbis episcopis teneantur, Dei omnipotentis et beati Petri apostoli cernitur esse voluntas. » At quibusdam hoc verbum videbatur fore bonum, quibusdam vero difficile atque durissimum. Tandem domini papae et aliorum sapientium atque discretorum virorum collaudatum est ut sedes Ambrosiana, in quo mysterio ordinata et a beato Ambrosio exaltata est, illo solo contenta permaneat, nec non cetera pars orbis, quae linguae Latinae vocibus resonare videtur, omnibus aliis praetermissis, Gregorianum studiose et curiose tenere studeat.

His omnibus rebus factis, finitis et terminatis, Eugenius gaudio magno tripudians, quasi ad proprios filios tendens Mediolanum pervenit. De qua urbe paucis antea transactis diebus imperator iussu concilii quo Romae interfuit, omne mysterium Ambrosianum desuper faciem terrae omnino delere desiderans, trucidatis multis clericis minorum et maiorum ordinum, omnes Ambrosianos libros, tam in sententiis novi quam veteris testamenti quam in musica arte secundum Ambrosium descriptos, abrasit. Nichil enim praeter missale remansit, quod quidam bonus atque fidelis sacerdos absconsus in cavernis montium per sex ebdomadas fideliter reservavit. Manualem autem postea astante Eugenio episcop[o] fidelissim[o], sapientes tam sacerdotum quam clericorum, qui multa memoriter tenebant, convenientes in unum, Deo opitulante, ut antea integer fuit invenientes, in posteris tradiderunt.


1. I.e. on the Tuesday following the Second Sunday after Easter.

The Hat and the Head: Juan Manuel de Prada on Traditionis Custodes

The following article, written by the eminent Spanish columnist Juan Manuel de Prada, first appeared on ABC on 18 July 2021. We offer our readers the following translation with the author’s permission. It has been cross-posted on Rorate Caeli.

Chesterton asserted that “the church asks us to take off our hats, not our heads when entering it.” Taking off one’s hat can, however, be an act of mortification when the church lacks a roof or if its roof is leaky, not to mention when shitting pigeons nest therein. But through mortification a Catholic completes the Passion of Christ in his flesh, as St. Paul asked of us. In order to mortify myself, I have humbly endured masses that violently assault my artistic sensibility and devotional preferences: masses with revolting little ditties based on Simon & Garfunkel tunes, masses with empowered laywomen who read the epistles stumbling over every phrase, masses with thick-headed priests who stuff the liturgy with a tacky filling of improvisation till it overflows, masses with sermons that stink of forgettable politicking. And I have endured all these mortifications because I believe that a Catholic should go to mass in his parish, even if the masses he slurps leave him disgusted and sodden with their hideousness. This painful awareness of their hideousness stings even more when I compare them with the awareness of beauty I have felt in the few traditional masses I have participated in. There I have recognized myself as another link in the chain of a living tradition that has inspired the most eminent artists.

For the sake of my faith I have often taken off my hat, putting up with a shower of revolting little ditties, tacky improvisations, empowered laywomen, and forgettable sermons. However, my faith cannot demand that I take off my head, and this, precisely this, is what Bergoglio has just asked of me. Only a few years ago, Benedict XVI explained in a motu proprio that “the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi”. And now Bergoglio affirms in another motu proprio that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite”.

I am a Catholic, but I cannot be irrational. I cannot accept one thing and its opposite; I cannot split my head in half. I cannot obey contradictory instructions, as if I were a corpse or a robot that reacts to electric impulses. The virtue of obedience does not exempt us from the obligation to use our reason correctly, since obedience, as St. Thomas teaches us, is “a reasonable offering ratified by a vow to submit one’s will to another in order to submit it to God for the sake of perfection”. Obedience cannot assent to an absurdity, nor can it submit to contradictory commands just to avoid annoyances or complications.

The God in whom I believe is the Logos, and therefore I cannot be asked to take off my head. Bergoglio’s motu proprio asks me to do just that, and I have no intention of doing it.   

REPOST: The Fight for the Mozarabic Rite Continued: Liturgical Trial by Fire

One of our earlier posts recounted the story told by Roderic, Archbishop of Toledo, about the trial by combat in held in 11th century Spain between the champions of the Roman rite and of the autochthonous Mozarabic rite. The imposition of the Roman rite on Spain was an enterprise pursued by King Alphonse VI, who reconquered Toledo—the ancient capital of the Visigothic kingdom—from the Mohammedans in 1085. As part of his efforts to consolidate his power, he saw fit, like Charlemagne centuries before him, to promote liturgical unity within his kingdom, with the support of Rome and Cluny. The Chronicle of the Cluniac monastery of Sahagún explains:

Alphonse VI, king of Castile, Leon, and Galicia, “Emperor of the Spains”.

After rising to the lofty and magnificent royal estate of his kingdom, in the eleventh year of his reign, he [Alphonse VI], amongst other things he very laudably and piously did, procured that in all Spain the divine office be celebrated according to the use of the Roman Church, seeking the approval of the most honourable lord Gregory the Seventh of the apostolic see. [1]

Alphonse carried out his design of establishing the Roman rite in Spain ruthlessly, despite the setbacks not only of the trial by combat, but also of a trial by fire. The chronicle of Nájera reports:

Thus the aforesaid king Alphonse, after he had taken up the government of the kingdoms, sent emissaries to Rome to Pope Hildebrand, who is called Gregory the Seventh, that he might establish the celebration of the Roman rite in all his kingdom. And so the Pope remembered his cardinal Richard, an abbot from Marseilles, and sent him to Spain. He held a noble and general council in Burgos and ordered that the divine office be done according to the Roman custom in the whole kingdom of the aforesaid king.

In the era 1115, on Palm Sunday [9 April 1077], two knights fought in Burgos, one of king Alphonse for the Roman law and the other a Castilian, namely Lope Martínez de Matanza, for the Toledan law; and the king’s knight was defeated. Moreover, while they were still fighting, a great fire was lit in the middle of the plaza, and two books were thrown therein, one containing the Roman office and the other containing the Toledan office, under this condition: that the office be kept of whichever book might escape the flames unharmed. But since the Toledan [book] made a great leap out of the fire, the king, made wroth, forthwith returned it to the fire with a kick, saying, “The horns of the laws bend before the will of kings”. [2]

We return to Archbishop Roderic’s chronicle, which recalls the trial by fire thus:

Since a great riot broke out after this [the trial by combat] amongst the knights and the people, it was finally resolved that the book of the Toledan office and the book of the Gallican [i.e. Roman] office would be placed in a great bonfire. After the primate, legate, and clergy ordered everyone to fast, and everyone having made a devout prayer, the book of the Gallican office was consumed by the fire; and, while everyone watched and praised God, the book of the Toledan office jumped out of all the flames of fire, remaining altogether unharmed and untouched by the burning of the fire. But since the king was bold and pertinaciously carried out his will, he was not afraid of the miracle, nor was he persuaded to bend to the supplications. Instead, threatening those who resisted with the death penalty and expropriation, he ordered that the Gallican office be observed in all the lands of his kingdom. And then, while everyone wept and was grieved, he coined the proverb, “Laws go whither kings will.”

And thereafter the Gallican office, which had never before been received, was observed in Spain in the psalter as well as in everything else, even though in some monasteries [the Mozarabic use] was kept for some time, and indeed the [Hispanic] translation of the psalter is still to-day recited in many cathedral churches and monasteries.

One cannot help but admire the fortitude and tenacity wherewith against such powerful forces these doughty Castilians defended the liturgy bequeathed to them by their forefathers Sts Isidore and Leander. Would that more of the faithful had shown the same zeal for the liturgy handed down by their forefathers during the calamitous course of the 20th century liturgical “reforms”!

An illustration of the trial by fire found in an edition of the Mozarabic Missal published in 1770 in Mexico (taken from the Liturgical Arts Journal).

[1] El qual, despues que suuio en el alteça e magnifico estado rreal de su rreyno, entre otras cosas muchas que muy loable e rreligiosamente fiço, en el onçeno año de su rreino procuro, suplicando al baron de muy onrrada vida Gregorio setimo en la silla apostolical, que en toda España fuese çelebrado el diuinal ofiçio segun que la iglesia rromana acostumbraba.

[2] Prefatus itaque rex Aldefonsus postquam regnorum suscepit regimina, nuntios Romam misit ad papam Aldebrandum qui cognominatus est Gregorius septimus, ut Romanum ministerium in omni regno suo constitueret celebrandum. Memoratus itaque papa cardinalem suum Ricardum, abbatem Massiliensem in Yspaniam misit; qui apud Burgensem ciuitatem nobile et generale concilium celebrans diuinum officium iuxta Romanam consuetudinem in omni regno predicti regis haberi mandauit.

Era MCXV.a in Dominica de ramis palmarum apud Burgis pugnauerunt duo milites, unus regis Aldefonsi pro lege Romana et alter Castellanus, scilicet Lupus Martinez de Matanza, pro lege Toletana; et uictus est miles regis. Super quo illis adhuc contendentibus, accenso magno igne in platee medio missi sunt in eum duo libri, unus Romanum officium continens alter uero officium continens Toletanum, sub tali conditione: ut cuius modi liber ignem illesus euaderet, eius officium teneretur. Sed cum Toletanus magnum extra ignem saltum dedisset, mox rex iratus illum in ignem pede reiciens dixit: «ad libitum regum fletantur cornua legum». (Until the introduction of the Anno Domini system in the 14th-15th centuries, years were reckoned in Spain as “eras” starting on 38 BC, considered to be the beginning of the Pax Romana in Hispania.)

[3] Cumque super hoc magna sedicio in milicia et populo oriretur, demum placuit ut liber officii Toletani et liber officii Gallicani in magna ignis congerie ponerentur; et indicto omnibus ieiunio a primate, legato et clero et oratione ab omnibus deuote peracta, igne consumitur liber officii Gallicani et prosiliit super omnes flammas incendii, cunctis uidentibus et Deum laudantibus, liber officii Toletani illesus omnino et a combustione incendii alienus. Set cum rex esset magnanimus et sue uoluntatis pertinax executor, nec miraculo territus nec supplicatione suasus uoluit inclinari, set mortis supplicia et direptionem minitans resistentibus precepit ut Gallicanum officium in omnibus regni sui finibus seruaretur. Et tunc cunctis flentibus et dolentibus prouerbium inoleuit: «Quo uolunt reges uadunt leges».

Et ex tunc Gallicanum officium tam in Psalterio quam in aliis, numquam ante susceptum, fuit in Hispaniis obseruatum, licet in aliquibus monasteriis fuerit aliquanto tempore custoditum, et etiam translatio Psalterii in plurimis ecclesiis cathedralibus et monasteriis adhuc hodie recitatur. 

Reflections on the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes of Pope Francis, Christophe Geffroy

Crossposted at Catholic World Report

Incomprehension is the dominant feeling upon reading the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letters to bishops. It is impossible to understand either the justification or the necessity of the text, especially because that the pope has legislated on the basis of an incomplete argument and false information.

(1) Incomplete argument. It is not correct that John Paul II’s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei was only motivated by “the ecclesial intention of restoring the unity of the Church.” Of course, that was a major reason, but there was another Francis left out: “However, it is necessary that all the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended ‘harmony’ which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit” (Ecclesia Dei n. 5a).

(2) False information. Pope Francis claims that John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s generosity was used by trads as a means of opposing the Mass of Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council, thereby emperilling the unity of the Church. He writes: “An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division [….] But I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church’ [….] Ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church.’”

The vocabulary Francis uses here is taken straight from the Society of St. Pius X’s playbook: the “true Church” indeed! No trad faithful to Rome uses that expression! His observation is true enough if limited to the Society of St. Pius X. But applied to the vast majority of the Ecclesia Dei movement, it is false. True, there are cases that correspond to the pope’s accusations, but they are a minority: why deal out a collective punishment for the faults of a few? Wouldn’t it have been enough to crack down on these few? Clearly, we are not looking at the same traditional world as the pope and his advisers, because their picture has no correspondence to reality. They paint it as a homogenous world when the attitude they describe is actually only found within the Society of St. Pius X! Who is advising and informing the pope on these subjects? 

If we base our view on real-world information, we suspect that the pope is responding to the demand of a tiny minority in the Church who have always been fiercely hostile to the extraordinary form.


(3) The pope’s objective…and the dramatic consequences we can expect. “In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962.” In the interest of unity, this motu proprio will bring incomprehension, disarray, and conflict, and in the end will widen divisions instead of reducing them: the opposite of its stated objective! With the stroke of a pen, he overturns 35 years of efforts by John Paul II and Benedict XVI to calm the situation and establish a certain level of imperfect but genuine peace. Even the statement of the French Bishops’ Conference, which is hardly well disposed to the trad world, recognizes that Summorum Pontificum has led globally to a “peaceful situation,” which our investigation has largely confirmed (cf. the article on “traddies” in La Nef n°338, July-August 2021).

It will reignite the liturgy wars, exacerbate traditionalist resistance, and especially lead many to leave for the Society of St. Pius X (which will rejoice to see this motu proprio swell their ranks, confirming what they have warned about ever since 1988, namely that Rome cannot be trusted, a conviction that underlies their refusal of any reconciliation). This is precisely what John Paul II and Benedict XVI were able to avoid with their attentiveness to the trad world. Francis’ new decision risks creating a huge mess.

An important historical and psychological remark: Paul VI was ready to make concessions over the Mass if Mgr Lefebvre had not rejected Vatican II (his famous November 21, 1974, declaration against the “modernist Rome” of the council is what got him into trouble). But John Paul II and Benedict XVI understood that liturgical appeasement was a necessary condition for getting those trads who were most reserved about Vatican II to open up to the council and assimilate. By tightening the vice around the Mass, Francis will end up with a result opposite of the one that has been legitimately sought so far.

4. A double-standard? The tone of the motu proprio and letter is so harsh and severe toward trads that one resist the suspicion that there is a double standard at work: while Francis insists so often on mercy, humility, forgiveness, and is so patient with the German Church which is on the verge of schism, he, our common Father, shows not a trace of love or understanding for those who are only a tiny fraction of his flock! In these texts, trads comes across as a threat, barely tolerated on their “Indian reservation” until they can get back in line. The explicit goal is to make them disappear, without even stopping to wonder if they might have something to offer the Church, in terms of youth, dynamism, vocations, etc. Are there so many convicted, practicing Catholics in the West that it has to be a priority to drastically limit one group of them?

Recent experience has shown that to despise and persecute trads in this way does not help them evolve; on the contrary, it fuels the resistance of hard-liners, they become more rigid: which goes against the sought-for goal of favoring unity.

The French Bishops’ Conference deserves credit for their communiqué of July 17th, which conveys their respect for “trads”: “The bishops wish to express to the faithful who regularly celebrate according to the Missal of John XXIII and to their pastors, their attentiveness and the respect they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful and their determination to continue the mission together in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”

(5) Disrespect for the great work of Benedict XVI. These two texts return without nuance to John Paul II’s and especially Benedict XVI’s efforts at reconciliation in an erroneous analysis of the facts. And they go so far as to annul the essential contribution of the Pope Emeritus when he distinguished two forms, ordinary and extraordinary, of the same Roman Rite. In so doing, the pope suppresses the juridical existence of the ancient extraordinary form in one fell swoop, treating it as if it does not exist. This plunges the Church back into the endless liturgy wars over the juridical status of the Mass of St. Pius V. We are going back to the regime of toleration on terms even more severe than those of 1988, a sort of “merciful parenthesis”, but there is nothing merciful about it! A single decree sets us back more than thirty years.

(6) What can we deduce about Rome’s strategy, reading between the lines? Francis’s two texts show clearly that the pope wants to eradicate the trad world from the Church and to ensure that the Mass of St. Pius V disappears. It prevents the movement from taking shape, forbidding any new groups and setting up obstacles for any diocesan priest who wants to celebrate the old ordo missae. The motu proprio envisions those devoted to the extraordinary form one day using the new missal. The stage is set for a future in which the traditional mass will only be celebrated by the Society of Pius X and its satellites. The pope’s strategy seems to be to push the resistance toward the Society of St. Pius X so that the whole traditional world concentrates there, where they will be isolated and controlled on their little reservation, cut off from Rome and the dioceses, maintaining just enough connection to avoid formal schism. This explains why the pope is not seeking full reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, but has shown great generosity toward them by recognizing the full validity of their marriages and confessions, encouraging people to welcome them into the churches during pilgrimages, etc. It all makes sense, and flies in the face of John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s efforts toward Church unity.

(7) Liturgical exclusivity? This motu proprio is a chance for the institutes who refuse to celebrate the ordinary form—and let’s be clear, they are a minority in the Ecclesia Dei world—to seriously examine the liturgical, theological, and ecclesial basis for this refusal. Since 1988, the popes have invited them not to refuse the celebration of the new Mass in principle. (Although the position of the Ecclesia Dei Commission has fluctuated on this point, resulting in a certain lack of clarity.) This does not detract in any way from the special charism of these institutes to say the old Mass. Benedict XVI was very explicit in his letter to the bishops in 2007. Admittedly, the battle-lines haven’t budged since. If they obey the pope on this sensitive point, won’t these institutes demonstrate by their example that Francis’s analysis is flawed?

(8) Conclusion.

All this is sad, because it’s unjust. It is therefore legitimate to complain, to argue, and to relentlessly demand a reform of this motu proprio or for the most flexible possible application, while respecting the pope’s role and authority. The bishops will have a pivotal role to play. Everything will depend on how they choose to apply this motu proprio. Early reactions have been encouraging: a big thank you to bishops who care for their whole flock. It’s their responsibility to make sure that Rome is more justly apprised of reality on the ground in the traditional world. Recently they have proved unwilling to just roll over: let us hope that most do not fall back into a “resistance” that verges on revolt and open disobedience. Mgr Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X are not the examples to follow. We know where that leads. Suffering for the Church is never easy, but it is always fruitful.

LA NEF, July 17th 2021

Christophe Geffroy is the founder and director of La nef, an independent French monthly that aims to deliver serious intellectual commentary from a Catholic perspective, in total fidelity to the teaching of the Church and in service to the New Evangelization. He is the author of books on liberalism, Islam, and Benedict XVI.