Gifts and symbolism

Fr. Blake, the PP of St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton, says: 

In a previous age the idea of an Emperor investing a Pope with the sign of priestly authority would be taken as definite sign of the subjection of the Church to the secular authority.

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  1. JustinM says:

    Hm. Does this perhaps have the savour of someone *choosing* to be offended?

  2. Michael R. says:

    I don’t think Pres. Obama knows enough about Catholicism to intend this gift as an insult.

  3. Aleksander Stepanovich says:

    The Holy Father will probably get an ipod full of Michael Jackson songs, “president” obama will get something either gold or a priceless painting or something along those lines.

  4. Phil Atley says:

    “I don’t think Pres. Obama knows enough about Catholicism to intend this gift as an insult.”

    Agreed, but it’s deliciously ironic. I remember Herr Professor Ordinarius Dr. Gerhard Oestreich reading hour after hour his lectures on medieval constitutional history at the University of Marburg 35 years ago and going on and on about Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa holding the bridle and stirrup of the pope’s horse and the immense medieval debate over whether that meant that the emperor had given a vassal’s service to the pope or not.

    Or was it the pope who had held the emperor’s stirrup and bridle? It’s been a long time!

    And in the elevator a few days later I happened to find myself in the company of Herr Professor’s retinue of Assistenten, one of whom had the kindness to inform me, the unwitting American undergraduate spending a year abroad, that I should really ask Herr Professor’s permission first before I tape recorded his lectures as insurance against my lapses in aural German comprehension. Silly me–I had no intention of doing anything with the tapes except perhaps listening to them that night (I don’t think I had listened to any up to that point and I stopped the recording from that point onward.)

    That’s when I began to realize the difference between the holder of an Ordinary Chair and the dime-a-dozen newly minted junior instructional faculty. And that’s when I realized that a formal lecture course was supposed to involve new, original book-length research from an Ordinarius.

  5. Fr. William says:

    Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa! However, he did not compound it by presenting a picture of all the “Catholics” he is employing in his administration and others who hold positions (many elected) of great influence!

  6. shoofoolatte says:

    Isn’t this all this discussion about the gifts just nit-picking? I mean, this kind of protocol goes on all the time between heads of state. It is a courtesy and a formality. Even when I am invited to someone’s home for dinner, I bring a gift. To over-analyze what the gift is, is the utmost of discourtesy. Aren’t we better than this?

    I wonder what age Fr. Blake is referring to? I am under the impression that in the past Emperors, as a rule, regularly courted favor from the Holy See. What does he mean by, “investing a Pope with the sign of priestly authority”?

  7. robk says:

    To be fair, I actually think he tried to give a good gift. And since he is not an emperor and not commissioning the pope, I think it was a fine gift. It wasn’t just any stole – it is a relic after all.

    Wow. I never thought I would defend something Obama did.

  8. With the type of laws being proposed right now, worship of the secular state is on the doorstep. Overruling true religious freedom is in the works, with removal of conscience clauses and so-called hate crimes for speaking the truth about common errors of the day. So the symbolism fits all too well, unfortunately.

  9. dcs says:

    I don’t think Pres. Obama knows enough about Catholicism to intend this gift as an insult.

    Especially since the stole wasn’t his idea.

  10. GordonBOPS says:

    I think Obama knows EXACTLY what he’s doing…Its not like he just sat around one day and came up with this idea on his own while jogging. Besides,isn’t this what the Lefties strive for? Removing God from the public sphere = subjection to the secular authority.

  11. Phil Atley says:

    Dear Shoofoolatte,

    On the previous thread I too defended our Dear Leader and said I felt sorry for him because he got bad advice from a Catholic gift guru. I really meant that. The fault lies with American Catholic “experts” who pushed aside the presidents’ staffers’ suggestion in favor of a stole because it was more “personal” (the article said “personable” but I doubt that they meant personable rather than personal).

    But you obviously don’t get Fr. Blake’s point. This was once really big stuff, in the Investiture Controversy of the 1000s and 1100s. I know that you, being an up-to-date Catholic (judging from your previous comments on other threads), don’t know all that much about church and state or sacerdotium et regnum relations over the last millennium and a half, but a stole is a symbol of priestly office, and it is just plain ironic that the president of a country in which people once burned down convents and ran candidates for president based on thwarting the evil Papist Fifth Column should present the pope with a stole that once touched the body of a saint (even if the saint was a German-American immigrant).

    It’s not over-analyis. It’s just plain ironic. Nothing more, nothing less. Happenstance. Ironic.

  12. Maureen says:

    Yeah, it’s overanalysis. But that’s what White House protocol guys are supposed to do — over-analyze every possible way a Head of State or other notable might interpret a gift or action.

    I’d give the Pope a lot of books. Rare old books. Since they would end up in the Vatican Library in the course of time, you’d know they wouldn’t go to waste, and he’d like getting them.

    I’m sure the staff at Loome’s could have advised them…. :)

  13. Trey says:

    I’m just happy that The O didn’t give the Holy Father his OWN book! Now THAT would have been laughable…

  14. Most Excellent Sledgehammer says:

    I have to agree that neither Obama nor any of his staff have enough of a clue about Catholicism to intend this as an insult. It’s not an iPod or a set of DVDs that don’t work in a European player, so I don’t think I’ll take offense.

  15. My only observation is that it appears to be a very ordinary looking stole of the post Vat II variety. I don’t think it is silk and tapestry orpheries (I think that pattern is “Coronation) have been done to death e.g. the vestments Timothy Dolan wore for his installation which were unfavourably compared to those worn by the Archbishop of Westminster. I’m sure St. John Neuman wore much better.

    Many writers on this thread say that Obama doesn’t know enough about Catholicism to mean to imply a State takeover of the Church… although some actually think it is (Talk about paranoia run amok).

    But I think that if Obama really knew about Catholicism he would shun the advice of 99% of the priests in the USA in the matter of vestments.

  16. He’s not investing the pope with anything. The pope will not be wearing this stole as a sign of authority.

    If next week, Obama gives King Juan Carlos an ancient sceptre from the Smithsonian, he won’t be investing Juan Carlos with kingly authority either.

  17. Phil Atley says:

    Lawrence, I think Fr. Blake knows that. It doesn’t lessen the irony that the holder of temporal authority gave the holder of spiritual authority an object that does in fact denote spiritual authority. No one is saying that this gift implies conferring authority.

    It’s just ironic that the American president, given our history of anti-Catholicism should be doing this when once upon a time this sort of exchange would have been fraught with immense significance. And that it was not all that long ago that Americans themselves claimed to fear that the pope would try to exercise temporal authority in America. Indeed, vestiges of that were still common in the 1950s. Justice Hugo Black, we are told, devoured everything Paul Blanshard wrote.

    Paul Blanshard or the Know-Nothings of the 1840s would grasp the irony of this immediately.

    Or perhaps they wouldn’t. Perhaps they’d just be horrified that it could take place. But they’d see it as significant, that much I guarantee you.

    But no one in the press or the president’s staff recognized the irony, I’m quite sure.

  18. Liam says:


    You prove the opposite. The US has never been a country where there was a chance of an investiture controversy. This is not Germany, France, England, Spain or, to update this list, China or Vietnam, where the investiture controversy yet lives in some form. The fear of *papal* domination by anti-Catholics in this country did not portend *civil* domination. So the cultural reference doesn’t obtain here.

  19. A. PeterJ says:

    Oh, please. For goodness sake, find something decent and substantial to criticize. The Vatican Treasury is full of vestments given to the Papacy by heads of Catholic countries.
    I wonder what would have happened had Obama given the Pope a stick, or called him \”sir\” as Bush did. This blog would have gone up in smoke.

  20. ssoldie says:

    B.O. has enough progressive catholics around who were most likely the ones to pick out the gift for the Holy Father, and thier knowledge of Catholicism is no better then his.

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