Prelude to Disaster: Clericalism

This is the first of a series of posts that will lead into a dark topic.  Readers with gentler sensibilities may want to stop before the culmination post, when it comes.

How a theological debate ended at one Latin Mass church…

“But, Mr. Vigilante, Fr. X supports my view…”

“Then Fr. X is wrong.”

The Vigilante then received stares akin to those one would expect upon uttering blasphemy or a crass insult to a revered parent.  The mere thought that a layman could declare himself right and the beloved pastor wrong was beyond absurd.  It was akin to saying something can “Proceed from a single source” from two distinct points of origin.  It was nonsense.

The idea that a priest or religious is above and beyond the common laity in holiness and calling has no place in the early Church.  The origin of the old saying”The way to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops” is unknown (though widely attributed to St. Anthanasius); but the saying was known well enough to be repeated by the saints John Chrysostom and John Eudes.  There are countless other quotes from the Fathers and Doctors that, if read and understood widely, would nip clericalism in the bud before it even took root.

“I do not think there are many among Bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.”
St. John Chrysostom

“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.”
St. Thomas Aquinas

Image result for medieval art hell bishop

And the Medieval faithful were certainly not clericalist…

So, what happened?  Simple answer: Protestantism, the Counter-Reformation, the French Revolution and its liberal errors, and reactions to it.  As doctrines and aspects of the Church came under attack, they were countered furiously and not always in a way that put them in their proper context.  The protestants say their is no pope in the bible, so let’s interpret “You are Peter” to mean the Church is a pyramid with the pope at the apex.  The presbyterians say we don’t need bishops, so let’s ensure the bishops are addressed as “lords”.  The Anglicans demand complete obedience to the king, so let’s demand complete obedience to the priests and bishops….

And so on.  Eventually, “the church” is perceived by a layman to be the priests, bishops, monks, cardinals, and the pope while the laity are just along for the ride.  Saying “we are the Church” is seen as scandalous and akin to protestantism even though if we are not the Church by our Baptism, then what are we?  What is the Church?  Are we just passengers along for ride?  Is the Church then a corporation made up of the various “employees” of clerics and religious with the pope as the “CEO” with us as the “customers”?  God forbid.

Priests are human.  They are mere human beings tasked with a great responsibility and given a great task to accomplish.  It can be a lonely life.  It can be dreary life.  The duties of parish work are likely trying for even the best of priests, and I have seen more than one young priest fundamentally change due to his first assignment.  Mental breakdowns, the swell of clericalist arrogance, despair, worldly pettiness and obsession with parish politics, these I have all seen (though thankfully I have been spared the worst of the sins priests have committed, which we will get to).   It is uncharitable for us to burden them with affairs they do not to tackle or otherwise to feed their weaknesses in misguided though well-intended acts of loyalty; and do not doubt they have weaknesses like any of us.  Even the just man sins seven times a day, after all.

The most notorious heretics of the Church were from the clergy: Arius, Nestorius, Pope Honorious, Eutychius, Luther, Cramner, Zwingli, and Hans Kung.  We should remember that before we take any priest’s word as gospel truth.


5 thoughts on “Prelude to Disaster: Clericalism

  1. The blockbuster book “The Banished Heart” helped me to fully be rid of this mentality that the priest can say nothing wrong, though it wasn’t too strong a mentality for me to begin with, since even when I was in the new rite, I didn’t take everything the priest said as true: unfortunately hearing a few of them say heterodox and even borderline heretical stuff and being in, at that point, Mahoney-land. It’s funny how we can criticize those priests in the new rite and such for being heterodox, celebrating bad liturgy, etc. and yet suddenly when it comes to Traditional priestly orders, everything a member of that order says is true, no matter what (even if they may contradict each other)!

    Another point: Luther and those other heretics all celebrated the old rite. It’s as if the Tradistanis believe being in the old rite somehow protects you from error; it does not!!


    • From what I understand of Pope Leo II, Honorious did more than remain silent. That said, the council anathemized all the major prelates guilty of heresy. We remember Honorious more because he’s he only Roman Pope to suffer such a penalty, while there is more than one Patriarch of Constantinople to do so.


  2. Oh yeah. He remained silent and counselled silence and something about leaving the clarification of “one will-two wills” to the grammarians. That the prestige of his See add to the gravity of his error!

    Besieged men often lose the bigger picture when the immediate sight is the enemy at the walls.


    • I think we need to look at the context of Monotholetism and the council to understand why Honorious was held in such infamy, even though he was not an instigator of the heresy but was guilty of aiding and abetting it.

      This particular heresy originated at the highest echelons of the Church. Those anathemized at the council include (besides Honorious) at least one each of a Patriarch of Constantinople and a Patriarch of Antioch among many other hierarchs. Now, a Patriarch of Constantinople supporting heresy was not unprecedented (Nestorius) and the same held true for Antioch (the main battleground of the monophysite heresy), but the Pope of Rome going along with a heresy in conjunction with Eastern Patriarchs had never happened. Rome had been seen as the patriarchate the others could count on when problems arose and Honorious was seen to have failed completely (Cue Star Wars… “You were supposed to combat the heretics, not join them!” 😉 ). I believe the council wanted to make an example of Honorious and drive the point home that heresy should always be opposed regardless of the origin and that one’s office does not protect them from error. Indeed, Leo II seems to have been the loudest and most emphatic attacker of Honorious; probably because he wanted to restore faith in the Western Church as the bastion against whatever innovation came out of an imaginative Eastern theologian.


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