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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How Alexander VI helped the Papacy

Sometimes, it takes evil to shed clearer light on the good.  Just as a heresy helps delineate truth, so historically the wickedness of a Pope helped clarify the dogma of the Papacy.  He did this both by (a) demonstrating most clearly the distinction between his office (which was holy) and his person (which was not), and (b) by showing the holiness of his office by attacking it in such a profound and thorough manner.  The Inkling Charles Williams, companion to C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as well as Evelyn Underhill, gave a quotation about Pope Alexander VI worthy of Chesterton in its eloquence, wit, style, and insight,  It is found in his breathtakingly profound and succinct history of the Church, The Descent of the Dove, pp. 156-157.

The magnificent and magical figure of Alexander had once, for those who could accept it, a particular attraction. And only morons were repelled by it from the theory of the Papacy. Romantics who were not morons were drawn to it precisely because of the theory of the Papacy. Wicked bishops and wicked kings were common enough. But that the concentration of wickedness - avarice, pride, murder, incest - should exist in the See; that the infallible Vicar should possess the venom and be in love with his own uneconomical daughter; that the daughter should be throned in the Chair itself over adoring Cardinals, and that the younger of her two brothers should assassinate the elder, and the awful three - the Pontiff and the two children - should win the world into their own skein of lust and cunning… this was the kind of thing that demanded the implicit presence of the whole future Roman development. The incarnation of Antichrist (romantically speaking) must be in the See of Christ. The Scandal of the Church had to be a scandal of the True Church, or it lost half its lurid glory.

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