A question that may arise from the previous two posts on this subject is why it is so important for Protestants to understand that this pope, Paul IV, was such a fanatical hothead. After all, isn’t what really matters at the end of the day the clear facts of the dogmatic decrees of the Council of Trent, which are extremely condemnatory of positions that are (at least in superficial resemblance) the ones held by the Protestant reformers? What profit can come from trying to grapple with the lives of the people who were involved at Trent, trying to understand the situations with which they were concerned instead of merely taking their “clear” words at “face value”? What value is there in trying to understand their motives and goals?
Much profit in every way, is the answer to these questions. Why?
Like everything else under the sun, theology is never neutral. It is never merely an abstraction, never merely an “idea” bandied about in propositional form inside (functionally) disembodied minds which are purportedly contemplating “pure” truth without any admixture of anything else. The reason why grappling with the persons involved in historical occurrences–especially flashpoint occurrences like the Council of Trent–is important is precisely because of what Pastor noted of Paul IV’s stubborn and excessively high vision of papal power. Recall Pastor’s words on this subject:
The Church, and above all her centre, the Holy See, had for a whole generation suffered unheard-of attacks and great humiliations. Now that he was in possession of the supreme power, Paul IV. meant to reverse this state of affairs, and once more to restore to the Holy See its old position of domination. With his ideas rooted, as were all his views, in the Middle Ages, he saw the ecclesiastical ideal in the century of Innocent III., when the Papal power was at its zenith. Nothing, therefore, was so far opposed to his ideas as the great drifting apart of the spiritual and the temporal which had come to pass in later times; to him, everything should be looked at from the point of view of the Church. He accordingly considered it to be his duty to take up once more the attitude which the Holy See had adopted at that time towards princes and peoples, and again, with all the power of his will, and quite regardless of the consequences to revive it, even in the domain of politics. In his fiery enthusiasm, it quite escaped him that all the rights to which in the course of centuries the Popes had laid claim did not arise from the divine law or from the nature of the primacy, but that many of them, and especially the political ones, were the result of historical development and were human in their origin, and might therefore once more have to be relinquished. No less did it escape the notice of this idealist, who thought only of what ought to be, that the vast changes in the ecclesiastical and political condition of Europe rendered a vindication of such Papal authority over the Christian princes as had existed during the centuries of the Middle Ages an utter impossibility. Untroubled by the falling away of half the world, and regardless of the far-reaching changes which had taken place even in those states which had remained Catholic, Paul IV. lived and worked in those days when the Popes, as fathers and leaders of Christendom, had also exercised a widespread power, even in the sphere of politics. Although there existed no ecclesiastical definition with regard to the power of the Holy See in secular matters, he clung rigidly to all the claims which his predecessors had made under quite different conditions and in quite other circumstances. [Vol. XIV, pp. 75-75; bold face emphasis mine]
It’s important to understand that Paul IV’s position on papal primacy, which, as I noted in the first post of this series was clearly hierocratic, was an attempt to “restore to the Holy See its old position of domination”. Namely, the position of domination which Paul IV thought had existed under Innocent III some three centuries ago. This forces us to look at Innocent III’s position on Church and Empire (no easy task, as critical scholarship has multiple interpretations of his view), and its antecedents in the legal revolution of the 12th century–which brings us directly to the doorstep of the reformation of the 11th century. This in turn forces us to confront the tremendous messiness of the history of the development of the papacy. What does it mean for the authority claims of a Paul IV, for instance, that his hero Innocent III is known to have said on different occasions “I am below God but higher than any man,” and yet “For a crime against the faith I may be deposed by the Church.”? What does it mean for the authority claims of a Paul IV that much of the “history” upon which his authority claims were based was purely fraudulent and much of the “law” it appealed to simply one-sided? Since Paul IV liked Innocent III so much, it is surely interesting that Innocent’s teacher Huggucio of Pisa wrote a great deal about what the Church could do in the case of a scandalous pope, and that among others he suggested that it would indeed be a serious problem if a scandalous pope could not be corrected by the Church since “even idiots and simpletons will believe [his heresy] because he is the pope.”
In this light, I want to suggest that Paul IV’s type of papal primacy position occupied a position on the worst end of the spectrum of papal theorizing. History had seen such fanaticism before in Gregory VII and his supporters, who ran hither and thither fomenting rebellion in the lands of kings who opposed their unrealistic (idealistic) monastic zealotry, which they called a “reformation” but which others called a lawless revolution. Gregory VII’s fanaticism was such that even one of his own most dedicated servants, Peter Damian, called him “my holy Satan”, while one opposing bishop called Gregory “the dangerous man [who] wishes to order bishops about as if they were his bailiffs.” Another accused him of being a “member of the devil, new antichrist” and a “most false and diabolical monk.”
Gregory’s chief attack dog, Cardinal Humbert, who had been intimately involved in fomenting the disastrous schism with the Eastern Church in 1054, demonstrated his own blindness to the actual circumstances of the world in favor of a cold preference for abstractions when he wrote of the “simoniacs” he felt were everywhere in the Church that “unless grace is freely accepted it is not grace….but simonists do not accept freely what they receive….Therefore they do not receive grace…but if they do not receive it they do not have it; if they do not have it they cannot give it.” Tierney likens this abstraction to a proposition out of Euclid, and observes that it didn’t bother Humbert at all that the rigid application of his rule would destroy basic social order throughout half of Europe by destroying the perception of legitimacy of the priests therein [Crisis of Church and State, pg. 34].
For all the fiery rhetoric about the purity of “the Gospel” and merely returning to “ancient Tradition” which the Gregorian revolutinaries put forward, their program completely inverted the Church and led to some drastic instability down the road. Indeed, about three decades after the Gregorian revolution had run its course, Sigebert of Gembloux was found bitterly complaining that “a whirlwind” has come out of Rome–a “harsh vision” of authority and power which literally sends out the armies of the secular power to kill good Christians merely because they refuse to bow to the every whim of the Roman pope.
Paul IV’s position represented the continuation into the middle of the 16th century a theme on which I spent a great deal of time in my thesis on Medieval conciliarism: the theme of the high papalist viewpoint’s centuries’s long consistent advocacy on paper of Gelasian dualism but equally consistent functional collapsing of the Two Powers into a very “monistic” or “unitarian” concept of the papal office. I think it is significant that papal monism lies at the root of most of the serious controversies over authority in Medieval times, and that the popes themselves who were papal monists were nearly always simply unbalanced rigorists who were willing to set the whole world on fire and watch it burn so long as their Grand Authority claims were untouched. Another example of this harshness is Urban VI, whose stormy temper and militant, unyielding zealotry for his own personal prerogatives as the vicarius Christi began a terrible schism the traumas of which were still echoing in men’s minds two centuries later. Urban’s successors–as well as the popes on the other side of the divide–proved equally implacable, frustrating conservative efforts to end the schism for forty years, until at last the only method of resolution remaining was a General Council–a canonically irregular solution, but one to which there was no alternative save the continuation of the schism.
Of course, the General Council (the Council of Constance) which put an end to the intransigence of the fanatic popes was only the second in a series whose influence, like that of the schism itself, would continue for centuries. The remainder of the 15th century was taken up with increasingly bitter disputes about the role of the pope relative to the corporate body of the Church, and contrary rhetoric and claims to law flew back and forth with maddening ferocity. The popes, floundering in a sea of controversy caused by their own refusal to heed any kind of substantial criticism from outside themselves, became further mired in the feudal corruptions of their Petrine claims which had been given form by Gregory VII, until at last, despite the fact that they were utterly worldly secular princes and in no way at all godly pastors of the faithful, they dared to thunder from high that their verdicts, however unlawful and unreasonable, were valid merely because they were theirs, and could be subject to no appeal on earth. Not heeding reasonable calls for conservative reform at the beginning of the 15th century, but issuing merely rhetorical announcements that something should be done in its middle, they were justly judged as unworthy of respect at its end.
If these stories sounds familiar, they should. The same basic dynamic is present throughout the 16th century. From Cajetan’s blunt absolutism at the Fifth Lateran Council to Leo X’s ridiculously blunt-minded Exsurge Domine to Paul IV, the papacy continuously resisted calls for reform which might significantly impact its merely feudal privileges, and in so doing confused merely human arrangements with the divine truth of the Faith once for all delivered. It is no wonder, then, that just prior to the full outbreak of the Protestant movement we find the moderate humanist reformer Erasmus writing the biting satire Julius Excluded from Heaven, which regales one of the worst of the papal hierocrats, Julius II, by having his own predecessor, Peter himself, deny him entrance to heaven. All of this means that I agree with Pastor’s considered judgment that Paul IV was blind to how he was confusing certain purely human laws with divine laws, and thus he was being unnecessarily dogmatic about matters which were truly open to debate, even in the middle of the 16th century warzone. This unnecessary dogmatism most certainly affected the course of discussions at the Council of Trent, as Carafa’s disputes with the moderate Cardinal Reginald Pole show), which simply did not have to take the radical line against the Protestants that it chose to take. It was because of men of absolutely inflexible will and unyielding rigidity such as Paul IV that the 16th century conflict took its all-or-nothing shape and brought about the Wars of Religion and the Enlightenment.
To be fair, of course, there was often enough inflexibility and unyielding rigidity on the Protestant side, but the Protestants did not claim universal leadership of the Church descending directly from Christ and the Apostles, and so they cannot to be held to the same standard of accountability as the men who did so claim. Indeed, given the fanaticism of men like Paul IV, who joined unyielding zealotry with an absolute denial of their responsibility for their actions, it is not surprising to find reformers such as Calvin [Commentaries on Jeremiah, pp. 130-131] citing Jeremiah 23:1-2 against them:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerming the shepherds who are tending my people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord.