It’s interesting that at many of the most critical points of Church history absolutely fanatical men are found right at the center of things. I can’t decide whether a Great Moment is defined as such by the presence of such fanatics, or whether the Great Moment comes about first and simply by its own pivotal nature attracts the fanatics to itself. Whatever the case it’s a very interesting dynamic that can be seen, to speak of two areas of history in which I’m intensely interested, in both the reformation of the 11th century and the reformation of the 16th century.
I’ve spent the better part of today reading the quite thoroughly-researched, immensely scholarly Catholic historian Ludwig von Pastor’s account of the career of Giovanni Pietro Carafa–a major player in the stark, unworkable extremism which the papalist faction of the Church in the 16th century progressively embraced as its very own contribution to the seemingly inexorable schism with the Protestants. Carafa, who became Pope Paul IV in 1555, and thus was directly responsible for the later phases of the sectarian tragedy known as the Council of Trent, was simply a fanatic. There’s just no other way to intelligibly describe the man. Pastor, writing as a dedicated Roman Catholic (in some places, as in his treatment of Luther, quite propagandistically so) lays it all out in graphic, painful detail. With the benefit of the hindsight which the Roman See started to seriously apply to its own history in the latter part of the 19th century, Pastor exposes the absolute recalcitrance of a man who absolutely unworkably felt that it was his Christ-given duty to bring back (really, to expand upon) the glory days of Innocent III, and in so doing to subject the entire world, Church and State, to the absolutely unquestionable fiat will of the Roman pope.
Pastor’s narrative reminds me of many things I’ve read about Gregory VII and his fanatical supporters (particularly Cardinal Humbert). It reminds me also of many things I’ve read about the competing lines of popes from 1378-1418, and about Pius II and Julius III and Leo X. These men were the types of men who were so unswervably convinced of their capital-r Rightness that they were willing to see society burn so long as their rigorist intellectual idealisms about themselves and their glorious authority remained on top of the ashes at the end of the day. Fanatics every one, and ironically (given a popular Catholic apologetics attack on Protestantism) their fanaticisms are all based upon taking only one side of a very complicated problem and magnifying it out of all proportion, creating an entire self-contained, self-referential system out of a half-truth that is myopically proclaimed as the whole.
Later I might post some of what I’ve transcribed from Pastor. But right now I’m a bit overwhelmed by the connections and implications, and I need to sit and think it through and organize it. I hope I can post it, because this is the kind of really substantial stuff that needs to inform Catholic-Protestant discussions about authority today.