THE POPESThe life and the work of the Popes offer wonderful scope for a treatment of this subject.
To write of the Popes is tantamount to showing how they explain and continue the work of the Divine Teacher, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
For the Pope is not a scholar, a diplomat, or some kind of outstanding personality; he is in essence the Vicar of Jesus Christ, and he must be presented as such.
He is the head of the universal Church, which he guides over and above all social contention. As head, he holds sway over the world and over all nations, since all peoples are called to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ in order to receive the
light of truth, to be guided to heaven and to share in the graces of which the Church is the depository.
In brief: the Pope is a model of justice, a teacher of truth, and a minister of grace.
The Pope is a model of justice
Just as Jesus Christ began to teach only after he had first given example "Jesus cœpit facere et docere"1 and said of himself: "Ego sum Via",2 so too the Pope, his Vicar, leads by example while he oversees humanity.
In fact, how many Pope saints there are! No dynasty is as glorious as that of the Popes. Those of the first three centuries were almost all martyrs. They led Christians, by way of example, in the practice of the gospel exhortation: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul: rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."3
Listed among the Popes are great scholars, and the history of every age shows that, in keeping with the law of the Gospel, they civilized peoples, developing their good
qualities and some of their politico-social institutions, which later on produced and perfected Christian civilization.
But, people will say, the Popes were not always equal to their mission. It is true. We should not be astonished: it is manifest proof of human weakness and of God's aid to the Church, in keeping with his promise: "I am with you always, to the close of the age."4 If it were not so, it too, perhaps, would have experienced the outcome of all human institutions. But the Church is divinely instituted, and the Pope who presides over it as the Vicar of Jesus Christ is gifted with infallibility, which extends also to morals. History can testify to how much good the untiring zeal of the Popes has done down the ages in favor of Catholic morals.
This beneficent work of the Pontiffs is not always acknowledged, and such ignorance is the reason, often, why people, and nations especially, show diffidence towards the Pope.
Hence the need to make the holiness of the Popes known and to show the use they made of their power of jurisdiction - full, supreme, ordinary and immediate - over bishops and over the faithful, in the threefold field of doctrine, jurisdiction
and liturgy, in view of the good of society and of people's souls in particular.
The Pope is a teacher of truth
Moreover, as the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Pope continues the mission of Jesus Christ, Teacher of truth: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."5
The Pope does not create new truths, but he guards, defends and spreads the truths taught by Jesus Christ. He puts this mission into practice by way of juridical authority and by way of apostolate. As regards the pagans by sending missionaries and by removing what stands in the way of the acceptance of Catholic doctrine. As regards the faithful by formulating true teaching by means of solemn and ordinary teaching, by his assistance to Teachers and Pastors, by vigilance over studies, writings, and so on.
This mission of the Pontiff needs to be known and esteemed so that everyone will turn to him, as a teacher of truth, and faithfully follow his teachings.
Every age has seen its heretics and heresies. The Popes always opposed them and won. They gave
their life at times in defense of the truth and for the good of people, following the example of the Good Shepherd who said: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."6
Every age saw the Popes give impetus to the spread of the Catholic faith by means of written and oral teaching, and by encouraging and fostering the grandiose work of the missions in thousands of ways.
This work has never ceased, nor will it do so until the time comes when there will be one flock under one shepherd: "et fiet unum ovile et unus pastor."7
Let the apostle writer therefore highlight the work accomplished by the Popes down the ages, as regards the spread of truth, its defense, and its explanation.
The Pope is a minister of grace
Lastly, the Pope continues the mission of Jesus Life, in the field of Catholic worship.
Jesus Christ gained grace for us through the work of the Redemption; the Church communicates this grace to people in virtue of its sacramental power and liturgical power, which,
by divine right is the responsibility of the Pope. He exercises these powers not only over those who belong to the body of the Church, in other words, the faithful, but also over those who belong only to the soul of the Church, over infidels, because sacramental power is ordered to increase and produce grace. Hence it is absolutely supernatural.
This is the greatest power of the Pope, because it is directed at achieving a supernatural goal, the beatific vision. Now if we are to attain our supernatural goal in the next life we need adequate preparation in this one. Such preparation lies not only in the knowledge and love of God and, subsequently, submission to his will, but also in a supernatural gift, sanctifying grace, which is communicated through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in other words, through the sacramental power of Order which is in the Church.
The greatest liturgical power belongs to the Pope.
The apostle's aim should be to let the faithful know about this mission of the Pope - its nature, its history, its necessity and its practice - so that they may share not only in the body, but also in the soul of the Church and enjoy the benefit of sacramental and sacramentary grace to the degree and in the way established by Jesus Christ.
A way to facilitate a systematic treatment of the life and work of the Popes is to portray the mission they have as continuers of the work of the Divine Teacher in this world.
On the basis of this fundamental principle, the apostle sets himself three goals when writing about the Popes:
- to give an account of their exemplary life, their work in favor of Catholic morals and their action in the field of law and justice to guide people on the right way;
- to show how they are guardians, interpreters and propagators of Catholic truth;
- to portray their work in the area of liturgy for the sanctification of people.
If, for example, you have to draft the biography of a Pope, your mind will immediately focus on illustrating his activities - his curriculum vitæ [the course of his life]. Then you move on to the causes of this activity, such influences as the environment, politics, society, religion... Then you examine the hidden strengths that guaranteed the results and facilitated the success of his work. So, if you followed a conspectum historicum [historical perspective] in the first part, you move on, in the second part to examine such systems as the doctrinal, political, and the social (errors, heresies, doctrinal struggles, the development
of [theological] schools, definitions of truth...); in the third part you deal with the interior life, liturgy (prayer), religious deeds, instructions, hagiography, art...
You draft the life of the Pope as a faithful imitator of the Divine Teacher by highlighting his talents and virtues; then his power of jurisdiction as Vicar of Jesus Christ in teaching, in government, in liturgical or ritual law; finally, his sacramental and liturgical service and activity.
In an appendix you may wish to include the new Office and the new Mass of the Popes.
1 Cf. Acts 1:1. * "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach."
2 Jn 14:6. * "I am the Way".
3 Mt 10:28.
4 Mt 28:20.
5 Jn 20:21.
6 Jn 10:11.
7 Jn 10:16. * "So there shall be one flock, one shepherd."