Thursday, December 14, 2017

Did Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Paul disobey the Pope?

"For neither did I receive it of man, nor did I learn it; but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." - Galatians 1:12

Imagine a king who has appointed a governor over one of his territories.  The king commands the people of the territory to obey the governor as they would the king.  

Suppose that a citizen of the territory, "Citizen A", objects to some decision by the governor.  He writes to the governor voicing his objection, but the governor ignores him.  Citizen A then writes to the king.  The king agrees with Citizen A and dispatches a messenger commanding the governor to reverse his decision.  The governor complies, and Citizen A goes on with his life in obedience to the king and his governor.

Would anyone say that Citizen A disobeyed the governor?  Or that the messenger disobeyed the governor?  Of course not.

Now suppose that Citizen B disagrees with a decision of the governor.  He writes to the governor but doesn't hear back.  He then writes to the king but doesn't hear back.  Agitated, Citizen B publicizes his disagreement with the governor.  Suddenly there is a wave of popular support cheering him on.  Citizen B grows bolder and publicly attacks the governor, and even encourages the people to disobey the governor's decision.

Would anyone say that Citizen B has acted loyally to the governor?  To the king?

Saint Paul

"But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" -Galatians 2:14
Philip Schaff, the greatest Protestant scholar of church history, wrote that Saint Paul's rebuke of Saint Peter disproved the papacy.  While Protestants maintain their intellectual integrity and never appeal to the Pope as an authority on a matter, there appear to be a growing number of Catholics who want to have it both ways:  appeal to the Pope when he agrees with them, and rebuke the Pope when he disagrees with them.  Like Schaff, they appeal to Saint Paul's rebuke of Saint Peter in Galatians 2.  After all, even Saint Thomas Aquinas cited this as an example of when a subject may disobey a superior. 

If we consider the example given at the beginning of this article, to whom would Saint Paul best be compared?

Citizen A?  No, Citizen A simply wrote to his king and then remained passive while the king took care of the matter, whereas Paul resisted Peter to his face.

Citizen B?  Again no.  Citizen B did not rebuke the governor to his face, but criticized the governor to the general public and incited disobedience.

The answer is the messenger.  The messenger delivered instructions from the king to his governor.  Likewise, Saint Paul delivered instructions from Jesus Christ to His Vicar.  This is clear from Galatians 1:11-12:
"For I give you to understand, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For neither did I receive it of man, nor did I learn it; but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Saint Paul did not rebuke Saint Peter because Saint Peter had contradicted Saint Paul's interpretation of an Old Testament passage, or Saint Paul's understanding of the Council of Jerusalem.  Saint Paul resisted Saint Peter because Saint Paul had direct revelation from their superior:  Jesus Christ.  Apostle, after all, means messenger.  The other apostles were taught directly by Jesus while He was on Earth.  Saint Paul was taught directly by Jesus while He was in Heaven.  Just as an earthly king can rebuke his governor through a messenger, so our Heavenly King can rebuke His Vicar through a messenger.

Has this happened at any other time in the history of the Church?

Saint Catherine of Siena 

"I tell you, sweet Christ on earth, on behalf of Christ in Heaven, that if you do thus, without any strife or tempest, they will all come, grieving for the wrong they have done, and will put their heads in your bosom." -Saint Catherine to Pope Gregory XI
Saint Catherine of Siena received a mystical vision of Jesus Christ on His throne when she was six years old. She continued to have visions of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout her life. When the people of Florence and the Papal States rose in rebellion against Pope Gregory XI in 1375, Saint Catherine of Siena urged the people to remain loyal to the Pope.

Saint Catherine then wrote a series of letters urging Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy from Avignon to Rome.  In her letters to Pope Gregory XI, Saint Catherine said that she was writing "on behalf of Christ."  Pope Gregory XI complied and returned the papacy to Rome, ending the Avignon Papacy.

In her later years, Saint Catherine of Siena urged the people to remain loyal to Pope Urban VI after many of his cardinals installed anti-pope Clement VII in Avignon.  She wrote, "For divine obedience never prevents us from obedience to the Holy Father: nay, the more perfect the one, the more perfect is the other."

To which person in the example above can Saint Catherine of Siena best be compared?

Citizen A?

Citizen B?

The answer again, of course, is the messenger.  Saint Catherine of Siena received revelation directly from Jesus Christ, just as Saint Paul had.  And just as Saint Paul had, Saint Catherine passed on the message from the King to His Vicar.


When a person today reads a statement by Pope Francis, and the person believes the statement is contrary to their own understanding of Scripture and Tradition, and the person publicly declares that the Pope is wrong, to whom can they best be compared?

Saint Paul?

Saint Catherine of Siena?

Citizen A?

Citizen B?

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