Sunday, January 31, 2010

Popes, antipopes, and hidden imams

The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam

Muhammad b. al-Hasan al- `Askari is the Twelfth Imam of the "Imamates" or "Twelve-Imam Shi’ites", al-Ithna Ashariyya, who form the second largest denomination in Islam after the Sunnis. He appears to have been born in 256 A.H./869 A.D. Four years later, after the death of his father al- `Askari, the eleventh Imam, he was hidden from the authorities of the `Abbasid caliphs as a precaution. His whereabouts were disclosed only to a very few of his followers. Four of his father's close associates became successive mediators between the Imam and his followers until the year 329/941. This period has been considered by the Imamites as the first or the short occultation (al-Ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam. During it the four Saf’irs directly supervised the underground religious and political activities
of the Imamites.

The last Saf’ir announced on his death-bed in 329/941 that the Twelfth Imam had decided not to appoint another Saf’ir and had entered into total occultation. The Imamites considered this declaration the beginning of the Twelfth Imam's second occultation, which has continued until the present time.

Because of the second occultation the series of Imams stopped at the number twelve. Accordingly the Imamites believe that the Twelfth Imam is al-Qa’im ("he who will rise"), whose rising was promised by the Prophet. For the Prophet is said to have predicted that a descendant of his daughter Fatima would rise with the sword and fill the world with justice and equity. For this reason the Imamites believe that he is still alive, but in a state of occultation until the moment of his rising at an unspecified time in the future.

The Imamate during the life of the last six Imams of the Twelver Imamites (al-Imamiyya al-Ithna ‘ashariyya) was distinguised by the many splits which occurred after the death of each Imam, who was considered by the Imamites as one of the twelve Imams, over the recognition of his successor. In spite of these repeated schisms, after a hard struggle each Imam was able to maintain the obedience of the majority of the followers of the previous Imam.

se the Imamites were distinguished from other Islamic denominatons by the principle of the designation of the Imam by his predecessor they seem to have found themselves in a critical situation after their Imam's death, since he had not designated his successor openly. Therefore the Imamite jurists had recourse to the traditions of the Prophet and his progeny to determine who was to be the Twelfth Imam.

A study of the claims of these factions reveals that there were apparently only five major schisms. However, each of these became further split over the theological and traditional arguments employed to support their claims. At any rate it seems important to set down the major claims of these schisms in order to achieve a clear conception of the Imamites at that time.

The Great Western Schism

In many dioceses, two bishops and two cathedral chapters emerged, with the very validity of the masses offered by the opposing sides coming under theoretical and actual physical attack. Pro-Urban bishops were barred entry to certain Sees and pro-Clement prelates to others. Serious Catholics looked upon the spectacle with an equal mixture of confusion and horror. Archbishop Peter Tenorio of Toledo prayed simply, in the Canon of the Mass, for the man who was truly pope, since he himself could not determine who that might be. Still, at least he continued to offer supplication. In some places, public worship ceased altogether. (Pastor, I, 141-146),

Supporters of Urban included most of the States of the Church, the Emperor, Flanders, England, and Portugal. Clement gained the backing of important sections of the hopelessly splintered Empire, such as Speyer and Mainz, along with Savoy, Scotland, and — after much soul searching and delay — Aragon, Castile, and Navarre. Many French prelates and the University of Paris were terribly troubled by the split. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of France accepted Clement in 1379 after an orchestrated public assembly of the sort perfected by the legalists of Philip the Fair to give that monarch's crimes a broad respectability. The University's coerced public stamp of arrival in 1383 led faculty and students who disagreed with the decision to leave for new centers of higher learning like Heidelberg and Lerida. Many cities and some states, like Naples, really could not make up their minds concerning whom they wished to support, or switched their allegiance due to dynastic changes. The mystic front eventually divided in two along with the rest of Christendom, Catherine of Siena remaining firmly with Urban, Vincent Ferrer and Peter of Luxembourg with Clement.

The Roman line of popes suffered due to its lack of administrative structures. It has a badly documented history. We know that Urban's situation remained forever troubled. He had miserable relations with his twenty-nine newly created Cardinals, some of whom he imprisoned, tortured, and put to death under atrocious conditions. Difficulties with Naples pursued him throughout his reign, while he continued the very abuses that he had so vigorously condemned when they were perpetrated by others. Prignani was followed onto the throne of Peter by a sick, badly cultivated, and impossibly simoniac Boniface IX (Pietro Tomacelli, 2 November 1389 - 1 October, 1404). Boniface was perpetually destitute and lived by dubious expedients, offering enough examples of sales of benefices and plenary indulgences, Jubilee corruption, and outright robbery to give credence to Nicholas de Clémangis' claim, in his book On the Ruin of the Church (1401), that "money was the origin of the Schism and the root of all the confusion." (Ibid., 146) He was succeeded by Innocent VII (Cosimo Megliorati, 17 October, 1404 - 6 November, 1406), and Gregory XII (Angelo Corrario, 30 November, 1406 - 4 July, 1415).

Avignon's line is much better known. It is also simpler to memorize. Clement VII, who died on 16 September, 1394, was followed only by the Aragonese Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna , 28 September, 1394 - either 29 November 1422 or 23 May, 1423). Nevertheless, this one superhumanly wily figure, ordained a priest only after his election, gave the Roman popes more than a run for their money for the prize of greatest irritant to prostrate Christendom.

As the original protagonists of the Schism died, more and more contemporaries began to echo Archbishop Tenorio's fear that there might not be any definitive way to know who the true pope really was. Perplexity was accompanied by an expansion of local and national efforts to ensure self-protection. Aragon had very speedily organized its own Apostolic Camera to collect Church taxes. England soon re-enacted laws to fill the kingdom's bishoprics promulgated during earlier tiffs with the pre-1378 Avignon Papacy. Others then followed suit, with certain rulers beginning to enjoy the benefits of the game so much as to argue that there should be as many popes as there were political jurisdictions. Peter Suchenwirt related popular reactions to the situation in simple poetic form:

"In Rome itself we have a Pope — in Avignon another;
And each one claims to be alone — the true and lawful ruler.
The world is troubled and perplext — twere better we had none;
Than two to rule o'er Christendom — where God would have but one.
He chose St. Peter who his fault — with bitter tears bewailed;
As you may read the story told — upon the sacred page.
Christ gave St. Peter power to bind — and also power to loose;
Now men are binding here and there — Lord loose our bonds we pray!"

But the Schism, so many decades in duration, had not, exactly, ended "by the book", according to crystal-clear existing canonical rules. Just look at the complications involved in the solution to the problem again. How "legal" was the pressure exerted by Sigismund and the other secular powers and university scholars in gaining the desired results? Had it not precisely been the contention of the Church, since the time of the reforms of the eleventh century, that such intervention in the affairs of the Papacy was nefarious? What rendered this particular involvement permissible? What was the legality of the strange addition of national electors to the College of Cardinals in the Constance conclave? And what about the man elected? If Gregory XII really was the legitimate Pope, what did this have to say about the actions of Odo Colonna, one of his renegade cardinals? The future Martin V had, after all, fled Rome, taken part in the Council of Pisa, and helped to elect Alexander V and John XXIII. Why did he not have to do penance for his "schismatic" activity before becoming Supreme Pontiff? But, then again, how could he have humbled himself without rendering the abdication of his former master, Gregory XII, itself ludicrous? And what should one think of Alexander V? The next universally recognized Clement and Benedict took up the numbering that had been used by the Avignon pontiffs of those names (VII and XIII), therefore, historically identifying them as anti-popes. On the other hand, the next Alexander, Rodrigo Borgia, who ought, by right, to have styled himself the fifth of that line, assumed that he was the sixth. Does this mean that he believed Alexander V to have been legitimate? Apparently. If so, then how could the simultaneously reigning Gregory XII have also been the true pope? And why was Alexander's successor, John XXIII, not valid, as Angelo Roncalli appears to have made clear in 1958 by adopting the numbering previously used by Baldassare Cossa?


How appropriately did the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on the occasion of his Suspension a divinis by Paul VI write the following reflection on June 29, 1976:

“That the Conciliar Church is a schismatic Church, because it breaks with the Catholic Church that has always been. It has its new dogmas, its new priesthood, its new institutions, its new worship, all already condemned by the Church in many a document, official and definitive.

Others hold the opinion of St. Robert Bellarmine in De Romano Pontifice (Chapter XXX):

“The fifth opinion (regarding a heretical pope) therefore is true; a pope who is a manifest heretic by that fact (per se) ceases to be pope and head (of the Church), just as he by that fact ceases to be a Christian (sic) and a member of the body of the Church. This is the judgment of all the early Fathers, who teach that manifest heretics immediately lose all jurisdiction.”

1 comment:

  1. Some more material on the antipopes from Eric Svendsen's "Evangelical Answers":

    "Immediately after the papal see moved back to Rome, the Catholic cardinals elected Urban VI to be pope. Because of Urban's tendency to be a dictator, the same cardinals deposed him and elected a second pope (Clement VII). The two popes not only condemned each other but also engaged in warfare against each other. Clement finally settled in Avignon with support from France, Spain, and Scotland, while Urban remained in Rome with support from Italy, Hungary, and England. Urban (whom Catholics would eventually view as the “true” pope) tortured to death those cardinals that resisted him.
    This is merely one instance of many where there have been rival popes, each anathematizing the other. The successors of both Urban and Clement continued into the next century. Finally, the cardinals deposed both rival popes in 1409, and replaced them with Alexander V. Since neither of the other popes (in Avignon and Rome) recognized the new pope, there were now three popes vying for the papal seat. Alexander's successor, John XXIII, was eventually forced to give up his position in 1415 after a council pronounced his papal claim invalid. At the same time one of the other popes, Gregory XII, resigned, again leaving only one pope, Benedict XIII. He was deposed two years later, at which time a new pope, Martin V, was elected.
    The point of all this is that the last pope (Martin V) was not a direct successor of any of the other popes – all were deposed, or they resigned. In fact, if we trace the schism back to its origin, direct succession had been broken for over one-hundred years! Martin V (the pope from which all subsequent popes descended to the present day) was elected illegally, since Benedict XIII was deposed illegally! (this same point, can be made of the election of Alexander V, and the deposition of the successors of Urban VI and Clement VII) The Catholic Catechism explicitly states that this is so: “The college of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff,”...”The college of bishops exercises power over the universal church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council.” But “there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor.”"