by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
The present Crisis in the Church, of having two popes, is not new in the Church. There have been more than a dozen such instances in Church history.
While nearly all of them included rivals which were supported by diverse factions of notable size (perhaps that of Benedict IX was not the case in 1046), yet they gave occasion for God to show us the way out of such crises by the example given to us by His Saints during those crises of ages past.
One such saint is Saint Vincent Ferrer. I have to admit, that of all the Saints of the Order of Preachers, he is my favorite, because he is such a stunning example of holiness and was so determined in the teaching of what it means to be holy.
Most Catholics, however, have no idea who he was. So let me tell you something about his life, and then show you how his example should be imitated by all Catholics right now.
So remarkable, many have thought he was a legend
Saint Vincent was born 670 years ago, on January 23, in the height of the Black Death.
The Catholic world was shaken to its core: millions were dying each month. It is estimated that more 100 million died in the entire world, and perhaps as much as 30 million in Europe alone, from the onset of the Plague in 1347 to 1351. It was a virulent strain of the Bubonic plague, which had spread from infected rats in the Gobi Desert to Caravans carrying rare goods to the Genoese trading port on the Black Sea, Kaffa, and thence by Genoese ships to Sicily and Western Europe.
The demographic, sociologic, psychological and economic effects were profound. So many bodies were piling up that people fled their villages, local priests fled their parishes in fear of dying. People took refuge in the wilderness and avoided contact with anyone with a cough. The strain was so virulent that those exposed in the morning were dead before midnight. It was spread by flees on rats but then became pneumonic, that is spread through the air by coughing. It is called the Black Death, because the lymph glands of the body would swell and then turn black, with death ensuing rapidly.
Catholics universally thought it was the end of the world, a fulfillment of the Apocalypse, which spoke of the fallen star Wormwood turning the waters of a third of the world poison. As there was no medical art which could precisely understand the causes, panic spread everywhere. The pope of the time survived only by sequestering himself in his palace at Avignon and having a huge fire set in his private chamber’s fireplace which was kept burning without stop for many months.
Into this horror, was born a Saint through which God would call most of Western Europe back from despair and apostasy, Saint Vincent Ferrer. At an early age he dedicated himself to Jesus Christ, and became a son of Saint Dominic.
Saint Vincent, being an devote practitioner of the ascetical life, quickly passed every spiritual test and was endowed by the Lord with extraordinary gifts of prophesy, foreknowledge, conversion, and miracle working.
On one occasion, being in a port which was suffering famine and starvation, he preached to the people to remain calm and that the Lord would send them ships filled with grain the next day. Sure enough, the next day a fleet loaded with food arrived.
But his fame began with a deadly fever which he contracted at Avignon, while the service of the anti Pope. You see, St. Vincent was a follower of Cardinal Pedro de Luna, who was one of the Cardinals who pledged obedience to the pope at Avignon, even though the Cardinal knew that he was an antipope and lied to Saint Vincent. But I will get to that, later.
It was at Avignon, while the forces of the Charles VI besieged the City to capture the antipope — the King of France was intelligent enough to investigate the controversy between the rival claimants to the papacy, and switch his allegiance back to the Pope at Rome — that Saint Vincent nearly died. But in the midst of his mortal fever, Our Lord appeared to him, along with Saints Dominic and Francis of Assisi, and commissioned him to be the 4th Angel of the Apocalypse: to preach penance everywhere, telling men that if they did not repent God would come and destroy the world. This was in September of 1398 A.D.. A year later, convinced of his divine mission, the Antipope appointed the Saint Missionary a lateri Christi, that is, sent from Christ Himself. The Saint spent the next 20 years in a most extraordinary apostolate which single-handedly saved Christianity in Europe.
He preached from Northern France to Italy and back to Spain. Upon seeing Bernardine of Sienna in Italy, he prophesied that Bernardine would convert Italy back to the faith. The crowds came to hear Saint Vincent were so great he could not preach in Churches, but had to use Piazzas and open fields. And his mission was signed by extraordinary miracles the likes of which have never again been seen in Christendom.
When he preached, his voice has a miraculous power to be heard at great distances. Those who could not enter the towns where he preached, would climb bell towers in near by villages and hear his voice distinctly at the distance of two to three miles!
One day he led the crowds listening to him to storm a Synagogue and immediately began preaching in Hebrew to the Jews. He was so convincing in their own tongue and from their own version of scripture, that he converted the entire congregation to the Catholic Faith and they immediately consecrated the place a Catholic Church!
On another occasion, he led the crowds from the Piazza in which he was preaching, to the Castle above the town, saying that great sin must be stopped. He broke through the gates of the Castle and found the noblemen in the most evil debauchery. He cursed them for their sin and everyone of them turned to stone! A thing witnessed by all the officials of the town to the amazement and terror of everyone. Upon hearing the pleas of the relatives, he commanded that the afflicted return to life, heard their confessions and after giving them his blessing they all dropped dead, but this time, went to eternal life.
His preaching of penance was so persuasive that huge crowds of penitents followed him everywhere, beating themselves with chains and hooks and nails to blood. The sight of these flagellants arriving was the signal that St. Vincent was on his way and this news would empty the fields and villages of the area, for all wanted to hear him preach. In whatever language they could understand, his voice was miraculously heard, even though he always spoke in his own dialect or in Latin.
He is known to have raised from the dead at least 7 persons. On one occasion, in a most extraordinary way. To a fellow Dominican who did not believe his claims to be sent by Christ to preach, he said: Do you doubt that I am one the Angels of the Apocalypse? Bring a dead man here, one who has been dead 4 days and whose body is rotting, and I will prove that I am telling the truth. Whereupon, he commanded the decaying corpse to arise and give testimony. And the man came back to life and his body was instantly restored to perfect health!
I could go on and on about the wonders and virtues of Saint Vincent. But I recommend you find a biography about him and read it. It will change your life and make you want to abandon all and become a devout religious. A thing the Church really needs in great quantity now.
The Great Schism
Despite all the graces and gifts which Saint Vincent had, and despite the great wisdom and learning he possessed from years of studying — for example he memorized the entire Latin version of the Bible and spoke 5 languages: Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French and Langue d’óc — CHRIST WITHHELD from the Saint graces to see who was and who was not the true pope. Our Lord did this, in my opinion, to give us as lesson for our own time.
The Saint was a close friend to Cardinal Pedro de Luna, who was a supporter of the Antipope. The Schism began in 1378, when the previous pope, having been persuaded by Saint Catherine of Sienna to return to Rome, died. And the new Pope Urban VI was elected at Rome. The French Cardinals did not accept the election and immediately elected Clement VII. Cardinal Pedro knew his election was uncanonical, but concealed the facts from Saint Vincent for 38 years! In 1394, Cardinal Pedro was elected to succeed the antipope, and took the name Benedict XIII.
Saint Vincent was so deceived by Cardinal Pedro that he preached to convince the people of the Kingdom of Aragon to give allegiance to the Antipope of Avignon and to break from Rome! So troublesome was this schism to the soul of Saint Vincent that he said to others that it frequently made him ill.
The Great Western Schism had begun on a dispute where the wrong side was making claims on the basis of their allegations of being forced to vote. This kind of claim was really impossible to prove, it rested solely on the testimony of the alleged victims. No one disputed that the antipope was elected second. No one disputed the laws which govern the election.
But though he was a convinced supporter of the antipope of Avignon, Saint Vincent, nevertheless, loved the Church more than his personal friend, the Cardinal, and thus he urged Councils to end the Schism. And here is where his virtue is a lesson for us.
Because in Council of Perpignan, in the Kingdom of Aragon, in January 6, 1416, when the evidence was presented to Saint Vincent by the King of Aragon that Benedict XIII’s claim was not well founded, Benedict’s supporters could give no response and defend his claim against the charges. Saint Vincent had come to the Council a supporter of Benedict. He even preached in his defense. But when no evidence could be brought to defend the claim of the man whom he thought was the pope, St. Vincent immediately switched allegiance, for he recognized, being a master of Logic — a text book on which he had written — that when one side refuses to answer or has no argument, it means that they have no valid claim at all for their position.
In shame and penance for his having supported for so many years the wrong man, he went to France and spent the rest of his life in exile from his native land.
The “Renunciation” of Pope Benedict
The Great Western Schism began when the Cardinals elected Pope Urban VI and immediately upon his enthronement, seeing that he would curb their power, left the city, declared that they had been forced to vote for him, and elected instead Robert of Savoy as Clement VII.
We are in an analogous situation today. The Cardinals, not wanting to endure Pope Benedict XVI any longer, claimed on Feb. 11, 2013 that he had renounced the papacy. But in truth he had only announced his retirement from active ministry. They published false news to the world and through their personal contacts have suborned the entire Episcopate and Catholic Media to believe this lie. That is why they remain silent. They are the criminals of this Great Modern Schism.
Pope Benedict XVI for his part has been ignored and effectively locked up at the Vatican. But the truth of what he did on Feb. 11, 2013 has become known and now all Christendom can do what Saint Vincent did: ask the side which thinks Bergoglio is the pope for their explanation. Ann Barnhardt and hundreds of other Catholics have been doing this: she for four years, nearly, and others longer or less. But still there is no canonical explanation from the other side.
I think you can see how easy the choice is, who the real pope is. Do what Vincent did!
The Great Schism in its causes also sheds light on the principles of how to discern who today is the true pope and who is not. As a legal case the solution of the disputed election of 1378 was a simple one: possession is 9 tenths of the law, that is, the first man elected is always presumed be the legitimate claimant, the second one elected has to prove that the laws were violated in the first election, not just claim that they were. This is especially true with those Cardinals who voted for the first claimant. Their votes are explicit consent to the validity and legality of that act. — Today, the same principal applies: Benedict must be presumed to remain the true pope, until there is a proof in canonical form that his renunciation — not anything he said before or after, or anything he did before or after — is conformable with the terms of Canon 332 §2. No proof has ever been given! So those who sustain Bergoglio is the pope, have no case!
Saint Vincent for all his supernatural gifts, erred for many years, because he put his trust in his favorite Cardinal, who was lying to him. And he never bothered to examine the case calmly according to the principles of the law. — He was not a canon lawyer, and so that failing is understandable in a man who was so humble as to never think evil of others. But it nevertheless was such a grave error in law, that God Himself did not give him the grace to see it by supernatural means. The truth came to him by the testimony of fellow men.
In November, I asked Cardinal Burke through Canon Lenhart for an audience to discuss the Renunciation. In December, I returned and asked again and was promised one in January. January has come and is now ended. Still no audience or response to my Scholastic Question, containing 39 arguments which conclude that Pope Benedict XVI is the true Pope.
In November, I shared that same Question with 700 members of the Clergy of the Diocese of Rome. But I got no canonical argument in response to refute it. In December I distributed 500 copies of the same to the students of theology and canon law in the City, at Pontifical Universities. I got no response in reply.
I say this to give you a personal testimony. I think you should now understand what it means. St. Vincent shows us the way.
POSTSCRIPT: Saint Vincent died at Vannes, France on April 5, 1419. He was canonized by Pope Calixtus III in 1455. He is buried in the Cathedral of Vannes, but you can find relics of his right arm at his Church in New York City, or in the parish Church at Castle Umberto, in the province of Messina, Sicily, where I stop by every time I am in town, to venerate them.
CREDITS: The Featured Image and Image of Saint Vincent is by Giovanni Bellini and is conserved at Venice. It is in the public domain as a work of art older than 200 years.
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