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Things that can't change

When the Second Vatican Council was putting the finishing touches on one of its key documents, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Pope Paul VI proposed that it include a statement that the pope is "accountable to the Lord alone."

The suggestion was referred to the Council's Theological Commission, which, perhaps to Pope Paul's surprise, flatly rejected it: the Roman Pontiff, the Theological Commission noted, "is . . . bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, to the sacraments, to the definitions of earlier Councils, and other obligations too numerous to mention." The pope cannot, in other words, change the deposit of faith, of which he is the custodian, not the master. The pope can't decide that the Church can do without bishops, or that there really are eleven sacraments, or that Arius had it right in denying the divinity of Christ.

St. George, FEAST DAY APRIL 23

Some of the more colorful stories about this patron of England are not substantiated by fact, but that doesn't mean that the legends surrounding St. George have any less power on the imagination. In fact, the most common depiction of the saint, in which he is slaying a dragon, persists, even though it derives from a 12th century Italian fable.

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Pope St. Martin I, FEAST DAY APRIL 13

Because they were resolved more than a thousand years ago, many of the heresies that plagued the early Church are unfamiliar to modern Catholics; often, they had to do with the struggle to understand the true nature of Christ. Arianism, for instance, which taught that Jesus, although the Savior, was not equal to God but merely His highest creation, was one of the most pernicious and took two ecumenical councils, one at Nicea and another at Constantinople, to finally refute.

Another heresy, perhaps less well known, was Monothelitism. This teaching, championed by the Byzantine Emperor himself, maintained that while on earth Jesus, rather than having a human and divine will as well as a human and divine nature, had only one will – a divine one. Although this, too, was finally refuted at an ecumenical council in 680-681, it was not before it was vigorously opposed by a pope, Martin I. Refusing to back down before the Emperor would cost Martin his life, and he thus became the last pontiff to be venerated as a martyr in the Church.

This was in an age when secular rulers – kings and emperors – saw themselves as people who could, and did, make ecclesiastical and theological decisions that should really have fallen within the purview of the Church. When Martin I, for instance, became pope, he did so without the confirmation and consent of the Byzantine Emperor, Constans II. That act alone would have set him on a collision course with royal authority, but when he went one step further and censured the documents that Constans had promulgated containing the heresy of Monothelitism, his fate was virtually sealed.

After trying unsuccessfully to turn the bishops and the faithful against Martin, Constans then decided to have the pope assassinated. This too failed and, enraged by the continued challenge to his authority, the emperor finally had the pope arrested and dragged in chains from Rome to Constantinople. Convicted of treason but narrowly avoiding execution, the elderly Martin none-the-less died in exile in the year 655 from the torture and ill treatment he suffered at the hands of the emperor.

Martin I would be vindicated 25 years later. When the Third Council of Constantinople was convened, the monothelitist heresy was decisively condemned and the teaching that Jesus possessed a perfectly united divine and human nature was upheld. Martin's feast day is celebrated on April 13.


Sources for this article includes:
Mershman, Francis. "Pope St. Martin I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
"Pope Saint Martin I." CatholicSaints.Info. 29 June 2015.
Schreck, Alan. "Catholic Church History from A to Z." Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 2002.

Recognize the power within, the power of one

"What can I do? I am just one person." How many of us have thought that or have even said it out loud?

Perhaps motivated by a sense of humility, that mindset can lead to paralysis and inaction. After all, we live in a world that is inhospitable to our beliefs as Catholics. In contrast, let's examine five specific examples of individuals whose courage and willingness to take a risk made an impact.

The Abbey: By James Martin SJ.


I have always enjoyed Jesuit Father James Martin's books as well as his commentaries on television, so it was surprising that when I picked up his latest work, "The Abbey," I did so with mixed emotions. It's not that I anticipated questioning the overall quality of his thoughts or his writing; rather, I was wondering whether he could successfully navigate the switch in genres. Father Martin, who has produced some very moving commentaries, retreats, reflections and memoirs, has now ventured into the world of novel writing, and I was curious to see if he could pull it off.

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