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
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.