St Silverius

Pope and martyr, (entered heaven in on this day in 537)

Dear Cindy,

Have you heard the old Latin phrase, “Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia”?  You should have, but by your latest note, I would guess that you haven’t.  It is no light thing to accuse the Pope of leading the Church away from the true faith; if you set yourself (instead of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him) up as the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy, you are being quite presumptuous, since our Lord himself gave St Peter and the Apostles that charge, and it has been passed on through their successors ever since: “… you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19) And so, through the ages, “Ubi Petrus (where there is Peter), ibi Ecclesia (there is the Church).” Of course, the Pope is not God, and so he will have his failings, but he is God’s chosen instrument to captain the Ark of the New Covenant safely through the perils of history and onto the shores of heaven. Therefore, you are walking on very thin ice when you start to discuss the Pope’s teaching and pastoring the same way you discuss a politician’s.  The devil loves to get us started down that road because it so often leads to our trusting in ourselves more than in God.

You may want to reflect on the case of today’s saint.  Poor Silverius didn’t want to be Pope (he was a puny Roman subdeacon with good connections), but a king in Western Europe thrust him into the Papacy when Pope St Hormiasdas died unexpectedly on a trip to Constantinople.  The Emperor (and most especially his wife, Empress Theodora) were eager to nominate their own monophysite candidate (monophysitism was one of those early heresies that caused such havoc in the first centuries of the Church; it claimed that Christ did not really have a fully human nature, only a divine nature) and King Theodehad acted quickly in order to avoid this.  Theodora responded by sending a letter to the new Pope, asking him to recognize a couple of monophysites as patriarchs (super-bishops) in Constantinople and Antioch (eastern Mediterranean area). Of course, no Pope ever propagated a heresy (Christ has guaranteed that they won’t – not because they are really smart, but because the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church), so Silverius kindly declined, knowing, of course, that the ruthless and ambitious empress would take revenge.  Which she did. Her agents kidnapped and exiled him, installing their own nominee to the Papacy in his stead.

Some of the Emperor’s men (Theodora had done all this behind her husband’s back) tried to reinstate him but to no avail.  Silverius ended up dying either of hunger, mistreatment, or outright murder on the Island of Palmarola near Naples. The thing to note, however, is that Theodora’s monophysite Pope, Vigilius, changed his alignment after occupying the See of Peter (i.e. the papacy); he no longer supported her monophysical machinations and became a staunch defender of orthodoxy.

It will behoove both of us to ask St Silverius to pray that God grants us a deeper faith, so that we see in every Pope not only a man (and some of them are truly exemplary men) but Christ’s chosen Vicar on earth; then we will be less likely to separate ourselves from the only guaranteed channel of grace we have, the Church.  Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.

Love, Uncle Eddy

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