By Chris Jackson
Parts I and II of this series should be read first.
Profiles in Courage
In our own day, when many tell us that the worst sin is not submitting to the will of the Pope, we do well to remember the example of the following three brave Dominicans. Hidden for far too long between the pages of dusty history books, I now intend to do my small part in bringing the heroic actions of these Catholic men to light. I will let Fr. O’Daniel tell their tales in their entirety:
“Among those of the order who were made to feel the anger of John XXII, we shall single out three:
“1. Barnabas of Vercelli, then its Master General, as head and leader of a great host of opponents to the theory of the delay of the full and direct vision of God, had incurred the Pontiff's ill will. Barnabas, after having made a canonical visitation of his order in Spain, and presided over a General Chapter assembled in Victoria, had returned to Avignon, intending to go thence into Italy, possibly for the purpose of continuing his visitation in the provinces of the Italian peninsula. But he received positive orders from the Pope not to enter his native land. Apparently because impeded in the government of his order from Avignon and feeling deeply the fact that he was persona non grata at the Papal Court, he later sought and obtained from John permission to retire to Paris, where he died soon after, January 10, 1332. Though the meekest and most fatherly of men, he was fearless and unbending in his defence of the traditional doctrine.
“2. Durandus of Saint-Porcain, at the time Bishop of Meaux, was one of the first to challenge John’s propositions. Scarcely had the news of the Avignon sermons reached him, when he hotly entered the arena of controversy, writing a treatise on the state of the just souls after death, in which he vigorously attacked the doctrine they advanced. He widely disseminated his work, and sent a copy of it to the French king. Its author was soon in disfavour. Unfortunately for Durandus himself, in the heat of controversy some ill sounding propositions found their way into an otherwise well-reasoned treatise. The reputation of the writer as an independent thinker, it would seem, suggested to the Pontiff the idea of subjecting the book to a searching examination, with a view of finding errors that might discredit it. So it happened. A commission of thirteen masters in theology, all, or most, of whom were favorably disposed to the new view, and among whom were the Franciscan and Dominican whom we have seen pleading the cause of the Pope at Paris, after much acrimonious discussion censured eleven of its propositions as savouring of heresy.
“3. Thomas Walleys, or Walleis, was an Englishman by birth, and a master of the Oxford University, of whose faculty he had long been an honoured and illustrious member. He was a man of deep piety, a profound theologian, and possessed of a courage that amounted to heroism. Having come to Avignon, he became the leader there of the Friars Preachers in their heroic defence of the doctrine that the beatific vision is given to departed souls immediately that they are found worthy. He became the victim of expiation for his order.
“On January 3, 1333, Master Thomas preached in the Dominican church of Avignon to an audience composed of cardinals, bishops, priests, religious of every order, and the faithful. Despite the contrary opinion of some few writers, John XXII, it seems certain, was not present at the preaching of this discourse. Walleys vigorously attacked the Pontiff's opinion, and, in answer to those who had pretended the great Thomas Aquinas favoured that doctrine, he took occasion to show that that saint, canonized by John himself, characterizes it as heretical. That men's souls were wrought to a high pitch on the subject is evident from the aggressive tone running all through the Englishman's discourse. However, if we are correctly to appreciate Thomas' method of speech, we must remember that shortly before other sermons, in which the rancour of heated controversy found a conspicuous part, had been preached in favour of the opposite view. It was a period, too, of direst confusion in affairs both political and religious. The atmosphere was literally palpitant with the scandal and unrest that had been caused by the Avignon sermons. The minds of theologians were stirred and their hearts aflame. The people were as a unit on the side of the defenders of the universal belief of the Church. It was, further, an age of outspoken, blunt language; an age when the faith was defended with all the energetic sincerity of a deep, living credo. A child of his time Thomas Walleys simply defended the teaching of the Church with the plain-spoken, brusque language of the period.
“Walleys' sermon was preached on the third day of January; on the ninth of the same month seven of its propositions were censured by William of Monterotundo, a Minorite Inquisitor, as savouring of heresy; by the fourteenth of February he was confined in a prison of the Inquisition; and in September the same commission of thirteen who examined Durandus's work, condemned seven propositions of Walleye taken from his sermon and a vindication he had hurriedly written while in prison. The English Dominican's name is still to be seen on the inquisitorial account book. He has himself left us an idea of the treatment accorded him as a prisoner. “Neither confinement nor harsh treatment could break his spirit, or cause him to relax one iota in the doctrine he had preached.”
Faithful Catholics in our own time have had to endure various persecutions at the hands of the post-Conciliar Church over the last 50 years for adhering to Tradition and protesting novelty. Nevertheless, we cannot say that we have ever been banished from our homeland, had our writings condemned as “savouring heresy” by a Vatican commission, or were thrown in prison for our efforts. Yet the men mentioned above, as well as many others, gladly endured these punishments for the sake of the Faith.
Can one imagine the scorn these noble men would have received if there had been a Neo-Catholic media in the 1330’s? All three would have been pilloried as heretics and schismatics who have given grave scandal through their public disobedience to the Holy Father. Condescending tomes of pitiable disapproval would have been heaped upon them by the apologists.
The Vatican commission’s “official” condemnation of their Traditional defences as “savouring of heresy” would have been quoted ad nauseam by the Neo-Catholic press. The Register would likely have worked this phrase into all Dominican news stories as it currently works the word “schismatic” into every SSPX news story. One can see the headline now: “Dominican Savorers of Heresy Claim to Defend Catholic Tradition.”
But a funny thing happened in 1333. The faithful did not act as our Neo-Catholic friends would have predicted. The pope’s oppressive actions, far from putting the matter to rest and teaching the stubborn Dominicans a lesson, only angered the faithful even more.
Fr. O’Daniel explains:
“John XXII had shown a far better spirit and much more of the wisdom of the skilled diplomat, had he been more moderate and conceded his opponents the full liberty of discussion he professed to allow to all. His repressive measures were productive of no good; nor was the imprudence of his actions slow in becoming manifest. The imprisonment of Walleys created an impression that was far from being favourable to the Pope. Indignation ran particularly high at the University of Paris and at the Court of Philip VI. In vain did John, writing to the French monarch or his Queen consort try to create the impression that the English Dominican had been imprisoned, not because of his antagonism to the views advocated in the Avignon sermons, but on account of the heresies contained in his own sermons. In order to appease the displeasure aroused by the incarceration of Master Thomas, the Pontiff finally acceded to public opinion so far as to transfer the prisoner to the Papal Palace during the month of October, 1333. There, it is true, Walleys' position was bettered; yet, as he continued to be denied his liberty, the minds of men refused to be calmed.”
These resisters, dear readers, were the epitome of faithful Catholics. They saw the pope commit a grave injustice on a priest who defended Catholic Tradition against the pope’s own novelties and they refused to accept it. Even in the face of condemnations from Papal commissions and the imprisonment of their heroic priest, they refused to yield.
The Final Resistance
Fr. O’Daniel relates what happened next:
“Determined to bring matters to an issue, Philip VI called a meeting of the theological faculty of the University of Paris for the purpose of having them express their opinion on the subject in debate. Accordingly, on December 19, 1333, a commission of twenty-three masters in theology assembled in the royal palace under the presidency of Peter de la Palud, the Dominican patriarch of Jerusalem ; and there in the presence of the Kings of France and Navarre, many bishops, priests, secular and regular, princes, and faithful, they unanimously declared their firm belief in the Catholic teaching, that the souls departed and freed from all stain of sin and debt due to sin enjoy the beatific or full and direct vision of God before the day of judgment. And on the second day of January, 1334, they and six other Masters who did not attend the first meeting, affixed their names to a profession of their faith wherein they declared that: "After the death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the souls of the faithful who have departed this life exempt from all purgatorial purification, or have been liberated therefrom, enjoy a perfect, beatifying, intuitive and immediate vision of the divine essence and the Most Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost."…
“The same day, January 2, 1334, these nine and twenty master theologians forwarded John XXII a letter, expressing in polite and respectful, but clear and firm language the result of their deliberations. While affirming their filial devotion and submission to the Vicar of Christ, they recalled his express declaration that he had spoken, not as Head of the Church, defining a doctrine, but as an individual theologian, exposing a personal view; and that all theologians were permitted to give their minds on the subject. They proclaimed their firm belief in the doctrine to which they affixed their names, declared that, after the example of the apostle, they were ready to give singly a reason of the faith that was in them, and expressed a strong desire that the Pope would deign to give his apostolic sanction to their decision.”
Thus, the Catholic resistance leaders of the 1330’s launched their final and last-ditch effort to change the mind of the pope and to end the crisis that kept the Church in turmoil for four long years. The very fate of the Church lurched in the balance. Events had grown to a fever pitch. Pope John was growing more aggressive in persecuting those who espoused the Traditional doctrine and seemed to be defending and spreading his own doctrine with renewed vigour. Many in the resistance had to wonder if John might be on the verge of trying to use his infallible papal power to settle the issue in his own favour.
The final tactics of the resistance were shrewd. First they used their united numbers and their many distinguished and educated members as their strength. Some of the most accomplished and respected theologians of the Dominicans and other orders put their name to the Profession of Faith. By signing this Profession of Faith, they were publicly declaring that they accepted the Traditional teaching as a matter of Faith. This logically meant that they believed Pope John’s new teaching was against the Faith and in error. Signing the Profession also meant that these erudite men would not budge from Tradition, no matter what actions the Pope took to the contrary. This meant that if Pope John wanted to escalate the conflict and try to solemnly declare his own position correct, he would have had an apparent schism of epic proportions on his hands.
Second, the resistance’s letter ignored Pope John’s actions and held him to the letter of his words. It treated Pope John’s admonitions that he was speaking as a private doctor and not as Pope seriously, even if John himself, by his actions, had not taken his own words seriously. This put Pope John in an awkward position. If he condemned the Traditional doctrine and demanded allegiance to his own, he would have to contradict his words of tolerance and appear as a hypocrite.
Third, after implying the “sticks” that awaited Pope John if he acted rashly, the resistance explicitly pointed out the carrot. They very politely reaffirmed their loyalty to Pope John as the Vicar of Christ and presented the avenue by which he could heal the Church and once again win them as allies. Pope John could save face by reiterating his own previous position that he meant his new doctrine to be subject to the judgment of the Church, and then acting like it by recognizing the voice of Tradition in the Profession of Faith and sanctioning it.
How does the saga end? Stay tuned for Part IV!