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The Four Popes: Musings on the Canonization of two Popes and Western Civilization
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-05-03 11:56:27
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On April 27, 2014, in a solemn ceremony in St. Peter’s square the Present Pope Francis, present also the former Pope Benedict XVI, canonized two 20th century popes of the Catholic Church, that is to say, he declared  Pope John XXIII and John Paul II saints of the Church. They are now worthy to be venerated and prayed to in churches and other sacred places all over the world and be considered models and guides to be emulated in the living a fruitful and pious life fulfilling the true destiny of human-kind.


In the first place it is worth noting that four popes were involved in this memorable event: two still on earth representing the pilgrim Church on a journey through time and space, and the other two in heaven, representing, with all the other saints, the Church triumphant beyond time and space. This event must represent a bitter consternation to those who only a year ago, in the very pages of Ovi magazine, were predicting, at the resignation of Benedict XVI, the imminent demise of the Catholic Church with encouragement freely offered before the conclave that the Cardinals “hang their head in shame” and simply shut down the whole affair and declare it over and finished with.

The pretext, as to be expected, for such advice was that of the molestation of children and alter-boys by a minority of priests who somehow was described as the vast majority and even the totality, when in fact they constitute some two per cent of one per cent. I remember commenting on that advocacy declaring that distinctions should be made and we should be more thorough in our research while being firm in our view that those priests should be prosecuted to the full extent of civil and canon law. Zero tolerance for pedophile priests and priests who violate their vows of celibacy has been in fact the policy of the Church for some ten years now but it has failed to mollify those who harbor what I call the last acceptable bias in the modern world: anti-Catholicism. In fact, as I remember they doubled up on the accusation slanderously making me an accomplice who approved of the actions of pedophile priests. As it was to be expected, some contributors joined the chorus. The accusers however have since disappeared and gone to graze on greener pastures of slanderous insinuations.

In any case, such a prediction of the Church’s demise (which has happened repeatedly during its 2000 year history) not only did not come about, but a new Pope was duly selected who took the name Francis and then boldly and joyously carried on in his first year of his pontificate the exhortations of St. Francis of Assisi regarding poverty and the treatment of the poor and downtrodden in the Church. He has affirmed that to be against the poor and declare that God favors the rich and looks down upon the poor as shiftless and lazy is not Catholic and not even Christian doctrine. But of course that has failed to pacify the biased critics, those who think it is ok to paint the Church with a wide-smearing brush making no distinctions and who continue to harbor their hopes of a Church shut-down. I predict that those people will have a long, long waiting.

The fact is that Christianity historically and sociologically speaking, as I have endeavored to explain in the last eight years or so that I have been contributing to Ovi magazine, is integral part of Western Civilization. Even Western non-believers, if they are judicious and knowledgeable of their own culture, would have no problem in admitting as much. It is only the biased and the prejudiced who have a problem which in reality begins with the icon of all anti-Church biased intelligentsia: Voltaire. It goes under the name of pure enlightenment  

A Putin, on the other hand, who has not been much affected by the French Enlightenment, has no problem admitting the civilizing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Russia since the 10th century. That explains his visit to the Pope recently where he piously kissed a Russian icon to the Blessed Mother. This also explains why he is sure (although misguidedly so) that Russia possesses a pure uncorrupted uncontaminated civilization while the West is full of corruption and the contamination of a savage kind of capitalism, running after money and pleasures, and declining as we speak. Here again, painted with such a wide brush and bias one would have to give Putin some credit for his argument. He is telling the West that we are good in paying lip service to faith-based ideals but in reality we are idolaters and materialists worshipping wealth, the Stock Market, savage entrepreneurship and the life of glamour and pleasure.

And that brings us back to Popes St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. The first revolutionized the Church and brought it up to speed so to speak with the modern world by his call for Vatican Council II. The latter forcefully reminded the Western World that to neglect one’s Christian ideals and heritage, even on a purely historical and sociological basis, is equivalent to planning for a very short and dysmal future built on sand. He proffered that advice in a speech given at the European Parliament in Strasburg on October 11, 1988. Those words are perhaps worth repeating: “If the religious and Christian substratum of this continent is marginalized in its role as inspiration of ethical and social efficacy, we would be negating non only the past heritage of Europe but a future worthy of European Man—and by that I mean every European Man, be he a believer or a non-believer.”

Considering that those are the exhortations of a saint, perhaps we should heed them. In any case, let those who have ears, let them hear.”


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Emanuel Paparella2014-05-05 23:28:13
Correction: the work Triumphant is missing at the end; also the word are at the end of the next to the last line ought to be omitted. I apologize for the mistakes.

Gerard Farley2014-05-03 19:24:55
Why no mention of Pope Paul VI, the author of "progressio populorum" and student of the works of Jacques Maritain whom he honored? I have in mind his exhortation in his address before the UN: "jamais plus la guerre" and his words as he went down the main aile of St. Patrick's Cathedral: "Our help is in the name of the Lord" and the choir's response: Who made heaven and earth." (Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit coelum et terram.).

Emanuel Paparella2014-05-04 12:36:53
Thanks for the insightful reminder of Paul VI Gerard. There is little doubt that in the 20th century, beginning with Leo XIII, the Church has been blessed with a plethora of extraordinary popes who have taken the Church to a whole new level vis a vis the modern world, despite the lamentable pedophile scandal within the clergy of the last twenty years or so. Just in my life-time, which begins in mid 20th century I can enumerate a total of seven popes: Piux XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John-Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis. Perhaps the essential pivot is John XXIII who began the so called “aggiornamento” of the Church. I suppose three of those received short shrift in my piece since they were not even mentioned but the larger point was to make readers more aware of the nexus between the Pilgrim Church on a journey and the Church Triumphant of the saints in heaven; two of the popes mentioned in my piece being are still with the Pilgrim Church and two are with the Church

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