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pope’s stole makes point


Thanks to regular reader David for pointing to this story.

Well-known conservative Roman Catholic internet presence Fr John Zuhlsdorf (Fr Z) was watching the Televised broadcast of the Pope in Westminster Abbey when he just about sprayed his coffee on the screen when the commentator mentioned the stole the Pope was wearing.

The Pope’s stole was specially made for Pope Leo XIII.

Pope Leo XIII is well known amongst Anglicans and Roman Catholics for Apostolicae Curae – the document that declared Anglican orders null and void.

Like others (here, here, and here), I don’t think the Pope went to his wardrobe and just reached for the first stole to hand or even the one that looked most attractive that day.

Let’s also not forget that the Pope considers himself the successor of St Peter – to whom Westminster Abbey is dedicated. And, of course, Newman was re-ordained (or for RCs ordained for the first time), and allowed himself to be (re)ordained, before Apostolicae Curae was published.

Anybody still think that the Pope’s choice of John Henry Newman’s feast day is not significant?

ps. I have, more than once, been (very strongly) criticised for wearing a stole at an Office. If it’s good enough for the Pope…

Update September 24: I have now had time to look into a comment by Tyrone Beiron below. Newman was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Cardinal Giacomo Filippo Fransoni, the Prefect of Propaganda Fidei, on Trinity Sunday, 30th May 1847. The pope at the time was Pius IX who was pope almost 32 years. Leo XIII began his papacy 20 February 1878. By then Newman was in England as an Oratorian. Tyrone’s claim that Leo ordained Newman is false.

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34 thoughts on “pope’s stole makes point”

  1. Fr. Z’s fans are applauding Benny as “the pope of Christian Unity” … what a load of nonsense! This was a deliberately provocative choice of vesture and of Newman’s feast day – underscoring the differences and making it clear that there is no chance of unity. The pope was rubbing +Cantuar’s nose in the non-unity of the church’s and that lack of possibility of it every happening, imho.

    1. Eric, there are various ways of understanding Christian unity. The Pope made clear in his final speech in UK that his approach is unity-by-absorption, and called his creation of Anglican Ordinariates “prophetic”.

  2. But what point does it make? That Leo’s decision is an unfortunate yoke around every subsequent pope’s neck. So Benedict wears a symbol of the yoke that he would like help casting off?

    Or maybe not!

  3. I think with all that has been said this week, this was no mistake! My prayers increase, as I am most sure theirs do for me as an Anglican, for my Roman Cathlolic sisters and brothers in Christ, and the Bishop of Rome, who is also my brother.

  4. Uncle Ben may may use a hundred thousand words to say it,
    and he may say it very diplomaticly, but his message is always the same… “Obey or Die.” in other words, “Accept my total authority to make your rules, pick your bishops, run your lives, and control your women… or else be condemned to some God-forsaken life in the hereafter.” No wonder the English Protestants protested him.

    1. Thanks for contributions. Can we try to keep them from veering into the ad hominem, please. And can we also please not veer into referring to the Pope too familiarly at least in this post – I think it detracts from rather than enhances the point. I’m also not convinced of the allegorical interpretation of the stole as yoke in this case, as if there is a hermeneutic of discontinuity at work. I suggest that in this context there is a hermeneutic of continuity at work in which the stole is a sign of authority – the same authority in continuity with Leo XIII. Visitors here may not be aware that David and Peter have an ongoing discussion on Peter’s site; the discussion here may appear out of nowhere, but I think needs to be read in the context of their ongoing relationship there. If I am being too sensitive, then I am merely as sensitive as the four sample sites that I link to from this post – amongst a number of other sites reflecting on this – in their praising of the Pope in this.

  5. David |Dah•veed|

    Why Peter do you strain at a gnat to swallow a fly looking for ridiculous alternative explanations for these your conservative, or in the words of Russian Metropolitan Hilarion, Traditionalist brothers and sisters, and yet ready at the drop of a hat to condemn your Anglican brothers and sisters?

    I am of a mind that you are awaiting the opportunity to throw your own bishop under a bus to enjoy the orgasmic ecstasy of a personal union with these folks.

    +Victoria, your excellency, please never turn your back on Father Peter.

  6. I love your blog and your tweets but I honestly think you’re being a bit too sensitive. Even if his choice of stole is a homage to Leo, are you sure it is Leo’s declaration re Anglican orders that he is praising?

  7. Hi Bosco,

    I know you don’t agree and I’m not trying to be provocative here. However, as we Catholics do believe that Benedict XVI is the heir of St Peter who was the first Pope, then unity must therefore be by absorption. Unity any other way would dilute what was passed down by the Apostles and introduce error into the Church.

    There can only be one Body …

  8. It was Leo XIII who ordained and made Newman a priest and cardinal, and that was the connection for B. XVI to don that stole, one of several which is attributed to Leo XIII (another has that pope’s coat of arms on it, as was the one worn on Ash Wednesday). I guess we may have a good time making a point out of these things, but let’s do so with true charity. I do not think for a moment that it was intended to make a point. Surely, there is enough for any Anglican and Roman Catholic to nitpick, whether in the UK or elsewhere. As for the Feast Day for Blessed Newman in the RC calendar, it may change yet to to the date of his death when he is canonised.

    1. Thanks, Tyrone, your interpretation may very well be the correct one, however it is, as I have already stated, not the interpretation of any site that I have seen. The four sites I link to in this post are all RC sites that make the connection to Apostolicae Curae. This is a problem with a sign, it can be misinterpreted – by you or by me. The only way to avoid misunderstanding is for the Pope to have mentioned his stole in his address and state, in your case, “I am wearing this because Leo XIII ordained and made Newman a priest and cardinal”. In fact, there is no mention or allusion to Newman in the Pope’s speech in the abbey, reinforcing the interpretation of all the quoted sites. As for a feast day changing between beatification and canonisation – apparently that has not happened previously (unless you can come up with an example). But then again, choosing changing denominations for a feast day has not happened previously either.

  9. As another Catholic woman, I think it is not below or beyond B16 to have chosen the stole and the date to make a point. If so, then again he erred on the side of absolutism — a certain blinding disordered affection that places him at the mercy of his passions (reverting to Vatican I, it seems to me).

    The man is lost in a reality of his own. Don’t follow him there if that hurts you. Keep your eyes and heart on Christ and wait for the pendulum to swing. At least this is what I do 🙂

  10. “It was Leo XIII who ordained and made Newman a priest and cardinal, and that was the connection for B. XVI to don that stole” Thanks to Tyrone for making this point.

    Doesn’t it show how easy it is for all of us to take offence when we go looking for it?

    If we accept that the Roman Catholic Church presume that unity requires all reformation and later dissenters to come back and submit to (Western) Papal authority, it still wouldn’t achieve unity. There is still the small matter of the rest of the Chrsitian tradition, which was also represented in the services by some familiar faces from various Orthodox denominations.

    My soul was gladdened by seeing these represented in services, not because we have (or even could) fixed everything, but because even in our differences we can show respect, love and forgiveness for the hurts we un/intentionally cause through our own certainties, believing that, “if I hold my place with ontegrity, you hold your place with integrity”.

  11. What an interesting discush! I totally agree with Claire B. Politics and spiritual matters don’t mix very well. It seems like the current Pope is more interested in temporal/political matters. Wait a minute! Aren’t they all? Maybe we should have one sort of temporal/political leader and one spiritual (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the Tibetan Buddhists did that before the Chinese kidnapped one of them) . . . oh never mind! The Church really does reflect the imperfection of our reality, doesn’t it? As opposed to God’s reality which we can’t see for some reason. Has anyone found out why not? Please let me know! Thanks;-)

    1. Thanks for the ongoing discussion and its tenor.

      Richard, on the understanding of the place of the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is notable that in the “restoration of the episcopacy” in 1850 RCs did not “restore” the Archbishop of Canterbury as was done in the Netherlands in Utrecht where there are two Archbishops of Utrecht (one Old Catholic, in full communion with Anglicans, the other RC).

      Peter, you appear to be confusing events – this was not “at Newman’s beatification”. As far as I am aware, there was no reference to Newman at this service. I do not think your suggestion that you personally would find this small-minded therefore this is not what it means convincing. Others see here a leader agile in word and symbolism.

  12. The entire Westminster Abbey service was full of fascinating political gestures. I might have been reading too much into the following, but consider:

    -firstly, and most obviously, the scripture readings: Philippians ch.2 (Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”) followed by Mark ch.10 (“whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all”).

    Now, I am not, of course, suggesting that these verses undermine the papacy – but a hardcore protestant might think so, which makes me wonder if they were chosen to placate the more protestant representatives of the UK churches…

    -indeed, the very presence of representatives of other denominations – presumably there at Rowan’s invitation – was perhaps to say “just because we’ve invited the pope here doesn’t mean we’re all gagging to return to Rome at the expense of abandoning the Methodists/Presbyterians/etc…”

    -the Pope referred to Jesus as “liberator”. I might be wrong, but I have never heard this term used outside of Liberation Theology (which I would imagine is more popular in the UK than it is in the Vatican).

    -Perhaps the reference to Pope Gregory sending St Augustine of Canterbury to evangelise the 6th century Brits had a subtle undertone of “everything you have, you got via Rome: if it wasn’t for us, you’d all still be pagans!” The Abp of Canterbury replies: oh yes, we liked St Gregory, we have no problem with SOME popes…

    -the two men kissing the gospel book supposedly having belonged to St Augustine appeared to symbolise the mutual recognition that B16 is the successor to Gregory just as Rowan is the successor to Augustine. (I am sure the pope would disagree with this, of course, just as Paul VI apparently disagreed with Michael Ramsey trying to make the same point years ago. But the symbolism is there, nevertheless.)

    -Abp of Canterbury’s general description of the papacy was very conciliarist; his closing remarks, hinting that the papacy should be more servantlike, were put as a paraphrase of JP2’s Ut Unum Sint (which I thought was perhaps too unsubtle, even).

    -As the pope was leaving, Huw Edwards on the BBC commented that he looked to have enjoyed himself. Consider: though most (all?) of the music was markedly English (Stanford, Tallis, even Wesley), it was all very much the sort of ‘churchy’ music and ceremony we are often told B16 enjoys – in contrast to the “Shine Jesus Shine” and special Susan Boyle performance that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales arranged for His Holiness.

  13. I like Tyrone’s explanation too. It makes sense to wear the stole connected with Newman’s ordination at Newman’s beatification. Whatever we think of Benedict XVI, his allegiance to the doctrines he is responsible for, and his steadfastness in presenting one and only way way to Christian unity (albeit with appearances of variations for Anglicans who wish to bring their patrimony to Rome), is it really imaginable that this man of luminous intelligence would be so small-minded as to wear such a stole solely for the purpose of rubbing English Anglican noses in the reality of their ‘null and void’ orders?

    I find that hard to imagine, but I acknowledge Bosco’s point that Roman commentators are reading this symbol differently. Might there be a bit of journalistic mileage to be made from promoting the most conflictual interpretation of this symbol?

  14. David |Dah•veed|

    Peter, Newman’s beatification was earlier the same day, another city and a Roman Catholic church building. B16 could wear whatever he wished in his own church.

    1. On Peter’s blog, he has taken from Tyrone’s comment the idea that this is the actual stole Leo XIII wore when he ordained Newman. Newman was ordained a Roman Catholic priest by Cardinal Giacomo Filippo Fransoni, the Prefect of Propaganda Fidei, on Trinity Sunday, 30th May 1847. The pope at the time was Pius IX who was pope almost 32 years. Leo XIII began his papacy 20 February 1878. By then Newman was in England as an Oratorian. Tyrone’s claim that Leo ordained Newman a priest is false.

  15. Re: “…reference to Pope Gregory sending St Augustine of Canterbury to evangelise the 6th century Brits”. I, too, remember hearing (almost) that in the Westminster Abbey service. From the context of Britain that, as implying “first time preaching of the gospel”, is plain, flat, gross wrong. (But I thought the Abbey reference was perhaps just a gnat-strainingly tiny, weeny, smidgen less wrong in that it was at least used the word “England” rather than “Britain”, didn’t it?)

    There had been evangelisation of Britain long, long before that. Patrick, David, Ninian, Columba, etc. The Christian faith had a major stronghold here long, long, before the Rome/Augustine “mission”, as anyone from the Saxon/Celtic west and north and east knows. (And was that later Roman mission really about evangelisation? Wasn’t there at least an element of Rome wanting to apply “persuasion” and “correction” to the already long-existing Christian presence? Just a few years later was the Council of Whitby, when such persuasion was, indeed, enforced. Whitby, then Westminster Abbey? Deja vu?)

    London-centric BBC commentators… yes, I suppose they might, yet again, fall into the extrapolation trap of a “southern fringe of England” story as being representative of the whole of Britain. But +Rowan, himself former Abp of Wales??

    I’ve always considered myself a strong ecumenist. I still am. But in typing this, I realise what a long way we still have to go.

  16. Thanks to this blog, I checked Leo XIII’s encyclicals (58). It turns out that Apostolicae Curae is a ‘papal bull’ …

    In my household, Leo XIII is famous for his 1891 Rerum Novarum on Capital and Work, the first or one of the first of the Catholic Social Teaching… way better, imho, than what has been published in recent years.

  17. Ha ha this is such a great blog and has been followed up everywhere and I have tweeted it also @ruthiegledhill. Have just written splash for The Times about Rowan Williams telling our interviewer Ginny Dougary that he thinks it perfectly ok for bishops to be gay, as long as they are celibate of course. Isn’t it funny, the conversations the Pope and the Archbishop almost certainly didn’t have with each other as they walked up the aisle of Westminster Abbey together last week!

    1. “bls” I am letting your comment through moderation – as the policy says, I would prefer you to use a name. I don’t see what relevance Newman having been made a cardinal has to the Westminster Abbey service? If you put this site as a link on the sidebar of yours, do let me know, so that I am sure to link back.

  18. Hi – me again. I’ve given this article & the comments a lot of thought over the last few weeks. I still think that you are reading something into His Holiness’ wearing of a stole that may well not be there. Presumably Pope Benedict XVI has the same view of Anglican Orders as his predecessors. We know that Leo XIII wrote the encyclical regarding this but do we know that the reason for the Pope’s wearing this was to make some point regarding Anglican orders? No we do not. If we take offence at this gesture, should we? No I think the charitable thing to do would is to be slow to take offence. I’m not suggesting here that people must obey the Pope’s every utterance rather I think it would be wiser to judge the man’s thinking according to his words rather than his wardrobe. There is the possibilty here of falling into what in scriptural terms might be classified as endogesis rather than exegesis.

    1. Thanks Ron, I think the primary endogesis here is that I am taking offence. As is clear, I am essentially reporting a well-known Roman Catholic priest’s interpretation. If you have a different interpretation of “his wardrobe” I am happy for you to place it in a comment here. ps. I think Apostolicae Curae is a Papal bull not an encyclical. But in that I also may be wrong.

  19. Apologies for suggesting you were taking offence when you were not and also for talking bull about encyclicals.
    I think that the well known Catholic priest is mistaken to read too much into the Holy Father’s choice of stole. It might be that he was emphasising Apostolicae Curae but it might not, there could be thousands of different reasons for his choice of stole – I have no personal interpretation. In the absence of any announcement from Pope Benedict should we not err on the side of charity?

  20. “We know that Leo XIII wrote the encyclical regarding this but do we know that the reason for the Pope’s wearing this was to make some point regarding Anglican orders? No we do not. If we take offense at this gesture, should we? No I think the charitable thing to do would is to be slow to take offense.” (From a blogger)

    I think that the unwritten rule as far as “If it might be deemed offensive” should be, as far as State visits is, and this was here that “Err on the side of caution” (On the side of the wearer, right?). (And His Holiness was invited to the United Kingdom by Her Majesty.)

    And this Pope wore Pope Leo’s stole. (And the Pope said to Anglicans: “Your Church and its Priests are Null and Void.”

    Completely rude and inappropriate choice of attire for the Bishop of Rome in England. He was the guest of Her Majesty and in Westminster Abbey of His Grace and should have not worn Leo’s stole.

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