Last week, I invoked the memory of Msgr. John Tracy Ellis, the great Church historian who was my mentor. Whenever Msgr.’s memory comes to my mind, it tends to stay there and this weekend found me seeing contemporary events in the Church through the clarifying lens of history.
Clemens August Droste zu Vischering is not a name with which most American Catholics are familiar but in 1837, newly installed as the Archbishop of Cologne, he caused quite a stir. His photo could have been next to the powerful editorial by America last week on the situation at Notre Dame. The German custom was that, in a mixed marriage, the sons took the religion of the father and the daughters the religion of the mother. Catholic teaching required that all children be raised Catholic but a compromise was worked out. Where no such promise to raise all children as Catholics was present, the priest could be present but could not preside at the wedding.
Of course, in time, this appeared rude and so the priests in attendance were increasingly given a part in the ceremony. The new archbishop insisted that the rules be followed to the letter which provoked the wrath of the already anti-Catholic government. Clemens August and other bishops were arrested. Eventually, Pope Gregory XVI worked out a compromise that required the effective deposition of Clemens August. The lesson: Wisdom is required in applying Church laws, with sensitivity to the ways non-Catholics perceive a situation, or else we risk grave harm to the Church.
At Mass yesterday, the psalm "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," always recalls the conclave of 1914. Pope Pius X, a saintly man who was not always the best judge of character, had permitted his reign to be dominated by the pernicious influence of the Sodalitium Pianum, a group that denounced those considered insufficiently orthodox including the young Angelo Roncalli, who would grow up to be Pope John XXIII. The "Anti-Modernist" Oath was prescribed for all clerics. Long-time servants of the Church, such as Archbishop Giacomo della Chiesa, were exiled: della Chiesa was sacked from the curia and sent to Bologna as Archbishop but was denied the red hat of the cardinal that went, almost automatically, with the assignment for seven years and was only raised to the cardinalate three months before the death of Pius X. At the conclave to elect a successor, della Chiesa was elected Pope. Cardinal Merry del Val, Pius’ Secretary of State, approached the papal throne to make his obedience and the new Pope leaned down and said, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Not missing a beat, Merry del Val continued the psalm, "It is marvelous in our eyes." He was sacked shortly thereafter. Lesson: There have always been divisions within the Church, but She survives them.
There was something else that jumped out at me from Gospel reading of the Good Shepherd that speaks to the Notre Dame situation. "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd." The words are cryptic but suggest that the Church has an obligation to those who are not of the fold, and part of that entails letting them hear the voice of the Church. Boycotting the Notre Dame commencement is not only bad manners, it means that the authoritative voice of the Church, which is the voice of the episcopacy, will not even be heard at the ceremony. The whole mess has spun out of control in ways no one intended but looking to history suggests that stridency does not wear well over time.