“Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him” – St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the – in the post-Conciliar, modern, non-traditional – Ordinary Form – Novus Ordo Calendar – Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Europe and named by Paul VI as Doctor of the Church. Thus, her life and works reflect something of the Church’s own role as Teacher.  Her head may be venerated in Siena and the rest of her in Rome in the Church Santa Maria sopra Minerva (near the ecclesiastical tailor Gammarelli where we are having vestments made – PLEASE CONTRIBUTE!)

I warmly recommend this volume containing Benedict XVI’s General Audience series on the Doctors of the Church.

Benedict XVI gave a wonderful general audience address about here.  HERE

During my recent exile/sojourn in New York City, and during one of my visits to the Met, I spotted three little paintings depicting moments in the life of this great saint.  These panels, tempera and gold leaf on wood, were part of an altarpiece commissioned after Catherine was canonized in 1460.  They are based on her biography by Bl. Raymond of Capua (+1399), who was Catherine’s spiritual director.  Think about that, Fathers!  There are two more of these panels in another part of the Met, but it was closed off the day I was there.

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This panel shows a common theme for Catherine, her “mystical marriage” with the Lord, as he places a ring on her finger.

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According to Bl. Raymond, Christ appeared to Catherine holding a human heart in his hand. He opened her side and put the heart into her saying, “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever”.  Thus, Catherine experience what St. Paul wrote, “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me.” (Gal 2:20).  She has the mystical-cloud, floating-above-the-rooftops thing going on and, from His gestures, you can tell that the Lord is talking to her.  For her part, she gestures to herself, as if to say, “Unworthy me?”

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Again according to Bl. Raymond:

“For the seven year period prior to her death, Saint Catherine of Siena took no food into her body other than the Eucharist. Her fasting did not affect her energy, however. She maintained a very active life during those seven years. As a matter of fact, most of her great accomplishments occurred during that period. Not only did her fasting not cause her to lose energy, but became a source of extraordinary strength, she becoming stronger in the afternoon, after having received our Lord in His Eucharist.

In Rome there is a chapel where Catherine received Communion in this manner and priests can say Mass there.

NB: Talk about “turning your back to the people!”  I always enjoy these old depictions of Mass.  You can see interesting details, such as vestments, etc.

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So, there is a little touch of Catherine for you today.

I will also call to your minds something she wrote about Popes.

Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom. He who rebels against our Father is condemned to death, for that which we do to him we do to Christ: we honor Christ if we honor the Pope; we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the Pope. I know very well that many defend themselves by boasting: “They are so corrupt, and work all manner of evil!” But God has commanded that, even if the priests, the pastors, and Christ-on-earth were incarnate devils, we be obedient and subject to them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of God, and out of obedience to Him.
— Saint Catherine of Siena in St. Catherine of Siena, SCS, p. 201-202, p. 222.

And, to Florentines, who were rebelling against Pope Gregory XI:

“He who rebels against our Father, Christ on earth, is condemned to death, for that which we do to him, we do to Christ in heaven – we honor Christ if we honor the pope, we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the pope… I tell you that God will and has so commanded that even if the priests and the pastors of the Church and Christ on earth were incarnate devils, it is seemly that we are obedient and subject to them, not for their sake, but for the sake of God, out of obedience to Him, for He wills that we should act thus.
“Know that the son is never in the right against the father, even if the father is ever so evil and unjust, for so great is the good which he has received from the father, that is, life itself, that he can never repay him for it. And we have received the life of grace from the Church, which is so great a benefit, that we can never, by any kind of homage or gratitude, pay the debt we owe.”
From Anne Baldwin’s Catherine of Siena: A Biography. Huntington, IN: OSV Publishing, 1987, pp.95-6

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29 Responses to “Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him” – St. Catherine of Siena

  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom.” I’m sorry. I don’t care who said it. I’m fed up with pious nonsense begin passed off as profound verities. Let this quote from one of my all-time most favorite saints (if you have not read Undset’s bio of her, do so today!) remind us all that great holiness is still possible even for folks who, at least once in their glorious lives, said something stupid.

    [Amen.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. un-ionized says:

    Dr. Peters, I agree, a lot of people have had this kind of thing used against them.

  3. Cosmos says:

    I agree with Dr. Peters. I’m not sure how honoring diabolical clergy honors God.

  4. jameeka says:

    Thank you very much, Father Z. I love the paintings, and Pope Benedict’s Address.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    She’s a saint, we’re not. I’ll go with the saint.

  6. Ave Crux says:

    EXCUSE ME…..but lest we be led astray by a quotation taken out of context in the life of this Great Saint, may all be reminded that it was Saint Catherine of Siena who pursued the Pope in his Avignon exile and cajoled him into his duty by insisting he return from Avignon to Rome.

    She also told him – in WRITING -that it would be better for him to resign his office if he were to be so cowardly as to not assert his Papal authority for the good of the Church.

    This quote does not mean that we do not correct the Holy Father and call him to account for leading the Church into moral chaos.

    It simply means that we do not condemn him for any personal moral or spiritual failings that have nothing to do with failing in his governance of the Church and its necessary good.

    St. Paul in his public correction of St. Peter was a prototype of this filial correction, and Saint Catherine herself acted in the same manner during her lifetime. She was not silent in calling the Pope to account that he might fulfill the duties of his Papal Office.

    [“She also told him – in WRITING -that it would be better for him to resign his office if he were to be so cowardly as to not assert his Papal authority for the good of the Church. This quote does not mean that we do not correct the Holy Father and call him to account for leading the Church into moral chaos.” – Of course, I didn’t say anything to the contrary. Still, it is great that people are jumping in with context and remarks.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  7. Ave Crux says:

    Bravo! But to her credit, let’s put it in context.

  8. anilwang says:

    “Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom.”

    The office of the papacy needs to be respected, but that statement is contrary to the faith. We must never bow down to Satan, no matter the office and to suggest that God would allow Satan could become the Pope is a huge disrespect to the office of the Papacy and a refutated by Matthew 16:18 .

    We have had horrific Popes, heretical Popes, and orthodox Popes that were disastrous to the Church. But in each case, they were respectfully rebuked. St Paul did it with St Peter when his “pastoral” judgment undermined the clear teaching of the Council (of Jerusalem), as did St Catherine of Siena herself. When Pope John XXII repeatedly suggested that the saints do not enjoy the beatific vision and refused to back down, he was strongly resisted by the bishops and laity, until the next Pope, Pope Benedict XII infallibly corrected his error. There are dozens of other examples.

    As Robert Spaemann suggested. Heresy needs to be resisted even if it comes from the Pope and if the current Pope will not budge, we need to pray that as with the case of Pope John XXII, the next Pope has the courage to correct the error once and for all.

  9. kekeak2008 says:

    I agree with Dr. Peters. It seems to be that right now we as the Church are suffering from two major problems: antinomianism and ultramontanism. I’d say the former is the bigger of the two problems, but they are related. Priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes can make mistakes; they can be wrong. We should pray for them and maintain profound respect for them and their office, but not be afraid to correct them or call them out when they do or say something that is contrary to Church teachings or that otherwise causes confusion or scandal. They are sinners too, after all.

  10. Traductora says:

    But what happens when you have a pope who is consciously opposed to the Church and believes he was sent to change it? St. Catherine did not have this situation – she had a difficult situation, but there was basic good faith. And now there is not.

    That said, it won’t be the orthodox who cause the schism, which I’m sure is coming, but the heterodox, who will attempt to evict anybody they believe to be “opposed to Francis.” With all apologies to St Catherine, the Pope actually is not Christ, especially when he thinks he’s replacing Christ with his own version.

    When the Archbishop of Madrid, a mediocre leftist who owes his appointment and everything else to Francis, prohibited the head of the CDF, Cdl. Muller, from presenting his book at the Catholic university in the diocese because he said it was “against the Pope” – to my knowledge it doesn’t even deal with Francis but discusses moral theology – I realized that what will happen is not that the orthodox will rebel, but that they will be kicked out. So it won’t be on our heads.

  11. surritter says:

    I’m not sure what to make of the first sentence. Why juxtapose the terms “modern” and “non-traditional”? The only answer I can come up with is that it’s a sideways jab is the Ordinary Form of Holy Mass.
    So perhaps it should be pointed out that the Extraordinary Form — as some point in the Church’s history — was “modern” and “non-traditional” too.

  12. KateD says:

    Thank you, Father! I agree with Saint Catherine whole heartedly, even as it pertains to priests and bishops: Speak to them when they are WRONG, not about them.

    Also, I’m careful when talking about Jesus’ brides, even when they are on the bus. Won’t Our Lord be better pleased with us when we help his wayward spouses to get back home, than if we hurl insults and dirty looks at them as they wander in places where nice young ladies shouldn’t?

  13. PhilipNeri says:

    My homily on this feast day at Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA. . .

    http://hancaquam.blogspot.com/2016/04/lord-im-tired.html

    Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    Dr. Peters, Cosmos, AveCrux, and anilwang all make good points. Maybe this is an example of a Saint making a reasonable point in an unnecessarily jarring manner.

    We are lucky that Fr. Z didn’t post on Origen’s alleged jarring act…

    [Nah… no need to be that dramatic. I cut that off.]

  15. Iacobus M says:

    “Nah… no need to be that dramatic. I cut that off.”

    Ouch!

  16. Semper Gumby says:

    That was a pun-ishing response Fr. Z.

  17. Filipino Catholic says:

    Fitting that this comes hot on the heels of my anxious quest for someone to “do a Paul” and confront the Successor of Peter. It’s like an implicit warning not to be too heavy-handed in the matter of the Pope — there is after all a fine line between correction and calumny, and between submission and sycophancy.

  18. PostCatholic says:

    I will keep the prescription in mind if I should ever meet Lucifer in the flesh. Or the Pope. I doubt they’re the same being.

  19. Clinton R. says:

    I agree with the sentiments expressed by Traductora. What, I wonder, would St. Catherine say about the post Vatican II era popes? In the last 50 years, The Church has seen the Successors of St. Peter oversee the dismantling and propagation of a novel form of Mass, reject the Papal Tiara, look to the United Nations as the source of peace, praise and ask for St. John the Baptist’s blessing of Islam, abdicate the Petrine throne and contradict Scripture and Church teachings in an encyclical. Not to mention the heavy emphasis the recent popes have put on dialogue and ecumenism at the expense of the Truth. Indeed we should pray for the Pontiff and heed his words when they are in conformity with sound doctrine. However, we must respectfully, though firmly oppose the Pope when he creates confusion with heterodoxy in his actions and writings.

  20. robtbrown says:

    Clinton R,

    Which encyclical contradicted Scripture and Church teachings?

  21. Bosco says:

    St. Paul disputed with St. Peter in Antioch vigorously, openly, to his face, and then memorialised it in Acts 15:2 to make the entire Christian community aware not only of the dispute but also that he had bested St. Peter on the contentious point.

  22. Semper Gumby says:

    Traductora: Good point.

  23. PTK_70 says:

    From the Douay-Rheims…

    And Peter taking him, began to rebuke him, saying: Lord, be it far from thee, this shall not be unto thee. Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me…

    The Lord said this TO PETER…the same Peter that was to become the first bishop of Rome. He didn’t say this in a non-directional manner, as if to the air around them or under his breath.

    Perhaps this exchange between Peter and our Lord will help us make better sense of – or at least come to terms with – St Catherine’s rather arresting assertion.

    There are scarcely a few dozen doctors of the Church. St Catherine is in rarefied company.

  24. Father K says:

    7 years…not even any salt?

  25. Clinton R. says:

    robtbrown, I should have said an apostolic exhortation (Amoris Laetitia) contradicted Scripture and the teachings of the Church. The notorious Chapter 8 specifically, is a hard thing to swallow. It makes it seem that God has placed a burden upon man that he cannot live up to.

  26. Semper Gumby says:

    This is an interesting situation. We have the great St. Catherine of Siena writing on obedience to God. We also have, as PTK_70 rightly pointed out, verses in Holy Scripture, such as Mt. 4:10, commanding distance from Satan. And of course, St. Benedict Medals have the inscription V R S: Vade retro satana.

  27. PTK_70 says:

    St Catherine’s enjoinder is ever so clear:

    I know very well that many defend themselves by boasting: “They are so corrupt, and work all manner of evil!” But God has commanded that, even if the priests, the pastors, and Christ-on-earth [i.e. the pope] were incarnate devils, we be obedient and subject to them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of God…

    How apropos for our own times!

    I don’t see how closeness is a constituent element of obedience or being subject to another.

  28. Semper Gumby says:

    PTK_70: Perhaps, though, distance from evil, not closeness to it, is a duty laid on us by Jesus Christ. Perhaps Holy Scripture, and it’s numerous rejoinders, take priority over this particular statement of St. Catherine of Siena.

    Then again, maybe this settles, just for this particular case, as a preference for the perspective of either St. Catherine or St. Benedict. The Community of the Saints is infinitely interesting. Cheers.

  29. PTK_70 says:

    @Semper Gumby…Since in some quarters silence implies agreement, I feel compelled to respond, if only briefly.

    For my part I do not acknowledge fatal dissidence between the importance of steering clear of the devil on the one hand and St Catherine’s admonition on the other.

    For the sake of the mission and out of respect for the office, insubordination is a non-starter. As a military man, this is how I understand St Catherine.

    It is not for me to say whether this or any other pope is an “incarnate devil.”