How shall we treat the Pope? (Part 1)

As Christians, we are called to treat all people with charity, with respect for we have the dignity of having been created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) (Ephesians 4:1-4) (4:32). St. Paul also teaches us to value others above (or better) than ourselves (Romans 12:10) (Philippians 2:3). This does not mean, however, that we cannot respectfully rebuke, correct, or admonish certain people with great firmness at certain circumstances. Yes, we can, but always avoiding sin. “Be angry, but do not be willing to sin.” Do not let the sun set over your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Now, certain people deserve a special kind of respect because, besides their due respect as persons, they also have received a particular blessing, office or position from God:

{21:8} and they [consecrated priests] offer the bread of the presence. Therefore, let them be holy, for I also am holy: the Lord, who sanctifies them.

To let ordained priests “be holy” means that they deserve a special kind of respect, not only because of the persons (who deserve respect) but in addition to that because God sanctifies such persons due to their function as ordained priests. The same goes for any person who has been anointed by God at a certain level or charge. This added respect is called reverence. Since the consecrated priests of the O.T. were considered holy, even more so the consecrated priests of the New Covenant!

God has willed a hierarchy in His Church, different positions, one higher than the other:

[1 Corinthians]
{12:28} And indeed, God has established a certain order in the Church: first Apostles, second Prophets, third Teachers, next miracle-workers, and then the grace of healing, of helping others, of governing, of different kinds of languages, and of the interpretation of words.

Notice that those roles have been numbered according to their position “first”, “second”, “third”, then called “next”, “next”. There is no equality among those roles. Therefore, their due reverence increases depending upon the position that God has appointed to each person. The higher the blessing/position, the higher their due respect.

Now, among the “first” group, the Apostles, Peter is “the First”:

{10:2} Now the names of the twelve Apostles are these: the First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, …

Matthew who wrote his Gospel years after Jesus’ Ascension calls Peter “the First” among the twelve Apostles. Notice that Andrew, Peter’s brother (Matthew 4:18), is not called “the Second”, and then the rest in numerical order. This is because only Peter’s has Primary role among the twelve. Luke, who was not among the twelve Apostles but investigated the teachings of the Apostles (Luke 1:1-4), also places Peter first, however the rest of the Apostles are not placed all in the same order as Matthew’s Gospel, except that Luke also places Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, last. Peter was not the first Apostle who joined Jesus. One of the first to follow Jesus was his brother Andrew (John 1:40-41).

Furthermore, after Jesus’ resurrection, the Angel tells Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome to “go and tell His disciples and Peter” to go to Galilee in order to meet Jesus (Mark 16:7). Notice that none of his disciples are named, only Peter. It doesn’t matter to whom among the Apostles in particular the women brought the news, as long as they brought it to Peter. An Angel is a “Messenger” of God. So this message is coming from our Lord to Peter specifically. Here God clearly stands out Peter over the rest of the Apostles by mentioning him only “tell His disciples and Peter”.

Since, as seen above, God is the One who sanctifies the person by giving him a particular role and gifts along with that position, this is the reason why we call the successor of Peter, the main Shepherd of Jesus’ flock, “Holy Father”. “Holy” not because of the particular man’s holiness, but because he has been sanctified in that position by God who is Holy. “Father” because of his role as the Chief Shepherd of Jesus’ Church which is to be a “father” to us (Matt 18:18 in connection with Isaiah 22:21-22).

A person who has been anointed by God deserves this especial respect regardless of the particular person’s holiness.

Only ordained priests have received the power from God to change the substance of the bread into the substance Body of Christ and the substance of the wine into the substance of the Blood of Christ (there exists the true Body and Blood or our Lord under the species of bread and wine, together with His soul and Divinity immediately after the consecration [i]). Ordained priests have also received the power to forgive sins (John 20:22-23), among other gifts. Therefore, they deserve an especial respect due to the function given to them by God. Bishops are in a higher position than priests and the Pope is in the highest position of them all. Consequently, the reverence due to the Vicar of Christ must be the highest among them.

Saint and Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena, received the following messages from God which go along with Catholic Magisterial teaching. From The Dialogue:

“The angel himself has no such dignity, for I have given it to those men whom I have chosen for My ministers, and whom I have appointed as earthly angels in this life.”

“They are My anointed ones, and I call them My Christs, because I have given them the office of administering Me to you, and have placed them like fragrant flowers in the mystical body of the holy Church. The angel himself has no such dignity, for I have given it to those men whom I have chosen for My ministers, and whom I have appointed as earthly angels in this life.”

“…as I told you of Peter, the prince of the Apostles, who received the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. I say the same of these others, who have administered, in the garden of the holy Church, the Light, that is to say, the Body and the Blood of My only-begotten Son, who is Himself the undivided Sun, as has been said, and all the Sacraments of the holy Church, which all give life in virtue of the Blood. Each one, placed in a different rank, has administered, according to his state, the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

“and I have told you of the dignity in which I have placed them, having elected them for My ministers, on account of which dignity and authority I do not wish them to be punished by the hand of seculars on account of any personal defect, for those who punish them offend Me miserably….”.

“But I wish seculars to hold them in due reverence, not for their own sakes, as I have said, but for Mine, by reason of the authority which I have given them. Wherefore this reverence should never diminish in the case of priests whose virtue grows weak, any more than in the case of those virtuous ones of whose goodness I have spoken to you; for all alike have been appointed ministers of the Sun — that is of the Body and Blood of My Son, and of the other Sacraments.”

“but not on that account appoint yourselves their judges, which I forbid, because they are My Christs, and you ought to love and reverence the authority which I have given them.”

“…contrary I have given them to you, and appointed them to be earthly angels and suns, as I have said. It not being My will that they should be in this state, you should pray for them, and not judge them, leaving their judgment to Me.

Lay people are to reverence priests (not even the Angels from Heaven have received the power to consecrate the Eucharist or to forgive sins). Lay people and priests are to reverence the Bishops who are in a superior position. Lay people, priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Patriarchs are to reverence the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff.

“Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man‘ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven‘ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2]” – (Unam Sanctam).

No man on earth has the power to judge the highest spiritual power of all, the Pope. Only God.

“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” – (ibid).

It is an infallible teaching later confirmed by Fifth Lateran Council that every human creature is to be subject to the Pope.  Whether we like the Pope or not we must be subject to him for it is absolutely necessary for our salvation.

“Moreover, when He [Jesus] was about to depart from the world to the Father, He established Peter and His successors as His own representatives on the firmness of a rock. It is necessary to obey them as the book of the Kings testifies, so that whoever does not obey, incurs death. As we read in another place, the person who abandons the teaching of the Roman pontiff cannot be within the Church” – (Fifth Lateran Council).

In the O.T. Saul was chosen by God to be the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:15-17). He was anointed by God (2 Samuel 1:14). This man became very sinful (1 Samuel 15:10-11) (1 Samuel 28:7 ff). Despite that, his successor, king David (a man according to God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14)), punished the person who killed Saul thus treating him like any other man and showing disrespect towards king Saul, the anointed one of God:

[2 Samuel]
{1:14} And David said to him, “Why were you not afraid to put forth your hand, so that you would kill the Christ of the Lord?”
{1:15} And calling one of his servants, David said, “Draw near and rush against him” And he struck him, and he died.
{1:16} And David said to him: “Your blood is upon your own head. For your own mouth has spoken against you, saying: ‘I have killed the Christ of the Lord.’ ”

This teaches us that it is a mortal sin to belittle, show contempt towards the anointed one of God.

We do not need to physically kill a person who has been anointed by God in order to offend God, for we can kill such persons (or any person) spiritually in our hearts and minds with any kind of disrespect or malice towards them (Mathew 5:21-22). The same as committing adultery, a married man does not have to physically lay down with another woman in order to commit adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).

King Saul was not a consecrated priest but an anointed one of God in order to rule a people.

Michal, king David’s own wife, criticized the anointed one of God (her husband king David), and for this reason, she was punished by God, not having any child.

[2 Samuel]
{6:16} And when the ark of the Lord had entered into the city of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looking out through a window, saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord. And she despised him in her heart.

{6:20} And David returned, so that he might bless his own house. And Michal, the daughter of Saul, going out to meet David, said: “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself before the handmaids of his servants, and being unclothed, as if one of the performers were unclothed.”

Notice that, at first glance, how rightful this criticism sounds. This criticism seems as a rightful or sound rebuke of Michal towards her husband king David. Before men, she could have even been praised for giving such rebuke to towards him.

{6:23} And so, there was no child born to Michal, the daughter of Saul, even to the day of her death.

Not so before God. Her grave error was to despise the anointed one of God, in this case, king David. We cannot judge the actions of the anointed one of God for they are our superiors in role.

[Romans 13]
{13:1} Let every soul be subject to higher authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those who have been ordained by God.
{13:2} And so, whoever resists authority, resists what has been ordained by God. And those who resist are acquiring damnation for themselves.

Now, pay attention to the following. In Numbers chapter 12, we read that Aaron and Miriam criticized Moses for what, in the eyes of men, seemed as a rightful criticism.

[Numbers 12]
{12:1} And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, because of his wife, an Ethiopian,
{12:2} and they said: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not also spoken similarly to us?”

Marrying an Ethiopian (a non-Jew (Habakkuk 3:6-7)) was not the traditional Jewish marriage (Genesis 24:2-4) (Exodus 36:15-16) (Tobit 6:10-13) (Ruth 4:1-22). Aaron and Miriam have also received a gift of prophecy from God (Exodus 7:1) (Exodus 15:20).  For this reason, they considered themselves to be at equal standards with Moses and that they were able to criticize him freely. But they were badly mistaken.

{12:6} he (God) said to them: “Listen to my words. If there will be among you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision, or I will speak to him through a dream.
{12:7} But it is not so with my servant Moses, who is the most faithful in all my house.
{12:8} For I speak with him mouth to mouth, and plainly. And not through enigmas and figures does he perceive the Lord. Therefore, why were you not afraid to disparage my servant Moses?”

God has given Moses a particular gift, of being able to converse with Him “mouth to mouth” which is superior to the gifts given to Aaron or Miriam; for this reason our Lord rebukes anyone who disparages the person He sanctifies with a particular higher role, in this case Moses. God said: “why were you not afraid to disparage my servant Moses”. Anyone who dares to disrespect a person known to be chosen by God in a special way does not have fear of the Lord (which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit).

{12:9} And being angry against them, he went away.

Notice that God was angry at Aaron and Miriam and left them. “He went away” means that they were not with the Spirit of God anymore. They have committed a mortal sin for God to leave them. God is not with anyone who disrespects His anointed one. Those types of criticism (belittling, rash judgment and the sort) DO NOT come from the Holy Spirit.

{12:10} Likewise, the cloud which was over the tabernacle withdrew. And behold, Miriam appeared to be white with a leprosy, like snow. And when Aaron had looked upon her, and he had seen the spreading of the leprosy,
{12:11} he said to Moses:I beg you, my lord, not to impose upon us this sin, which we have committed foolishly.

Notice that both Aaron and Miriam committed this sin against God. However, only Miriam got the physical leprosy. It could have been for various reasons for only God sees the hearts of people, but one of the implications was the hierarchy of roles. Aaron was the first high priest chosen by God, so his role was superior to Miriam.  Moses’ role, however, was on top of them all. Aaron could not have leprosy because, as high priest (Psalm 132 [133]), he was appointed to perform rituals which included dealing with holy object, sacrifices, etc. (Numbers 3:3).  If a physical leprosy was shown in his body, that meant the end of his high priesthood. But by witnessing of what happened to his sister, Aaron understood the foolishness of their sin which they have committed, so he repented immediately, called Moses “lord”, indicating Moses’ superiority in role.

{12:13} And Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “O God, I beg you: heal her.”
{12:14} And the Lord answered him: “If her father had spit on her face, should she not have been filled with shame for at least seven days? Let her be separated, outside the camp, for seven days, and after that, she will be called back.”
{12:15} And so Miriam was excluded from the camp for seven days. And the people did not move from that place, until Miriam was called back.

Then Moses interceded for he sister. I’m copelled to bring these Bible passages so that souls realize the gravity of the foolish sin of belittling the appointed one of God in a superior role. God was angry at Aaron and Miriam (12:9), and our Lord compares this grave and shameful sin with deserving a spit (despise) from the father.

“Well, but that was Moses, but can any valid Pope be any better in role than Moses?”. Oh, yes, he is. And I’m not the one coming up with this teaching:

“…our lord Jesus Christ entrusted to us, depart from the tents of these wicked men, particularly since the Christian people is far more numerous than the Jewish people of those days, the church is holier than the synagogue, and the vicar of Christ is superior in authority and status even to Moses.” – (Council of Florence).

Moses was appointed to shepherd the people of Israel (only a determined group of people), but the Pope has been chosen to lead God’s Universal Church, this includes everyone.

Moses had a covenant with a group of people (the Israelites) saying “this is the blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24:8).

Jesus has a Covenant with every person in the world who accepts Him saying “This is My Blood of the New Covenant” (Matthew 26:28) (Hebrews 9:20), and the Pope is the Chief representative of Christ (Matthew 16:18-19) while our Eternal High Priest Lord is present in the Heavenly Holy of Holiest at the Right side of the Father (Acts 2:32-33).

The Council of Florence teaches that the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, is superior in authority and status to Moses because “the Christian people is far more numerous than the Jewish people of those days”. The Catholic Church is holier than the synagogue because She is the manifested Bride of the Messiah who has come with a new and everlasting Covenant.

“He planned to assemble in the holy Church all those who would believe in Christ. Already from the beginning of the world the foreshadowing of the Church took place. It was prepared in a remarkable way throughout the history of the people of Israel and by means of the Old Covenant. In the present era of time the Church was constituted and, by the outpouring of the Spirit, was made manifest” – (Lumen Gentium, Vatican II; n 2).

The assembly of the O.T. was a foreshadow and a preparation for what today is the manifested Catholic Church.

People nowadays think that they are entitled to belittle the Pope or treat him as a high school student because they may have received the gifts of being a good canon lawyer, a good theologian, a good philosopher, good healer, a good Bishop, or even a good Cardinal, etc., and like Aaron and Miriam, they say or think “Has God not also spoken similarly to us?”, “haven’t we received good gifts from God?”. Yet, none of them have received the role and the gifts that have been given only to the person of Peter in his office and his successors. No matter who and how many people support them, no matter how “sound” their explanations may be, not matter how “holy” they may seem. Belittling, rash judging the Pope is a severe sin that will not go unpunished. Such obstinate persons need to repent and do penances for that offense.

St. Paul had it clear that we should not speak evil to the leader of our people:

[Acts of the Apostles 23]
{23:1} Then Paul, gazing intently at the council, said, “Noble brothers, I have spoken with all good conscience before God, even to this present day.”
{23:2} And the high priest, Ananias, instructed those who were standing nearby to strike him on the mouth.
{23:3} Then Paul said to him: “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! For would you sit and judge me according to the law, when, contrary to the law, you order me to be struck?”
{23:4} And those who were standing nearby said, “Are you speaking evil about the high priest of God?”
{23:5} And Paul said: “I did not know, brothers, that he is the high priest. For it is written: ‘You shall not speak evil of the leader of your people.’ ”

Even more so, we shall not speak evil of the visible head of Jesus’ Church, the Pope.  It is God’s will.

Will Continue ……….

Part 2 of this article [here].

-Francisco Figueroa.

[i] Council of Trent; Decree on the Eucharist, Chapter III


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