Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

The Waiting Game: The Twenty-First and Eleventh Centuries Compared

Waiting Games, whether they involve wondering when a delayed airplane flight will actually take off, or speculating if a long-desired motu proprio will ever see the light of day, are never a particularly entertaining pastime for normal people. They seem especially unsuited to Eastertide, a season intended for rejoicing in the fulfillment of the divine message rather than writhing in uncertainties and frustrations regarding its earthly misfortunes.

It may well be the case that our undeniably good-willed pope will have ended the current Traditionalist Waiting Game with respect to the liturgy by the time the present article is published---i.e., before Eastertide, 2007 is over. But even if he does so, I still think that we Tridentini who have suffered from so much ambiguity and disappointed hopes over the past forty years, and have continued to cherish the Papacy and Rome through all the heartbreak just the same, ought to explore the many twists and turns that the miserable Waiting Game can take just a wee bit longer. Even in this season of joy.

One interesting means of doing so is by taking a brief glance one thousand years backwards, to the sorrows and hopes of our pro-Roman, pro-papal Catholic ancestors during Eastertide, 1007. They, too, were troubled and unsatisfied participants in a Waiting Game. Their experience reminds us that nothing is easy; that valid aspirations can sometimes take a very long time to fulfill; that the agents fulfilling human hopes can be surprising ones; that the seeming end of one problem may bring many new anxieties and disappointments in its train; that, as the saying goes, if it is man who proposes, one must always remember that God disposes, and that He does so as He sees fit. Such a short historical investigation can help us mightily to put our own woes in a perspective conducive to the spiritual calm that the season---and the Catholic spirit in general---ought always to assure.

Eastertide, 1007 was not a happy time for Rome, the Papacy and their friends. Yes, it is true that many details are lacking to our knowledge of the whole of that particular calendar year. Moreover, Pope John XVIII (1004-1009) may himself have possessed a number of good qualities contributing to the one or two ecclesiastical successes reported during his reign. Nevertheless, Eastertide, 1007 was part of a less than optimum slice of time wracked with plague, renewed Saracen activity and contest over the kingship of Italy between St. Henry II of Germany (1002-1024) and an ambitious nobleman named Arduin of Ivrea. Much more importantly still, at least from our standpoint, Eastertide, 1007 was part of a decade of Roman Church humiliation brought about by papal subservience to the strong arm tactics wielded with depressing effectiveness by the neighborhood Crescentii clan: a local gang inspired by a self-serving, parochial vision of the role of the Papacy in the life of Christendom.

And worse was yet to come. The Crescentii managed to bully one more decent Pope, Sergius IV (1009-1112), into basic helplessness. Yes, they finally lost their grip after 1012, due to several untimely family deaths, an all too brazen attempt to bulldoze their own candidate onto the throne without even the semblance of an election, and the loss of prestige coming from their backing of a couple of unsuccessful antipopes. But their place as masters of the Seven Hills was taken by the Theophylact Family, the Counts of nearby Tusculum. These Tusculani, as they are generally styled, had enjoyed such a domineering position once before, and had sometimes even exercised it with more respectability than their debased competitors. Unfortunately, they were soon to provide one of the worst of the occupants of the papal office, Benedict IX. Probably only twenty years old at his accession, Benedict sat three distinct times on the throne of St. Peter (1032-1044, 1045 and 1047-1048), due not only to political pressures, but to a corruption so great as to permit him literally to sell his own position and then try to steal it back after pocketing the dough. Rome in 1007 might still retain her prestige to good purpose in far-off Christian lands, but her closer inspection by the Easter crowds both of that year and the following decades could not help but make them realize that in many respects she stank zum Himmel.

One man who bewailed how little Rome and the Papacy in Eastertide, 1007 lived up to the hopes placed in them by their friends from abroad was St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny (c. 994-1048). This great monastic reformer, very much active on the international stage, had just recently himself been a witness to and played his role in a grand dream of a Roman imperial revival which had had as one of its major aims the liberation of the Papacy from mundane neighborhood squabbles and the re-dedication of the Holy See to its proper, worldwide spiritual goals. Anyone among the Easter crowds of 1007 who was  interested in first-hand testimony to that extraordinary vision and its exalted hopes would have been obliged to probe someone like St. Odilo to learn of its character. Three of its more central inspirers and agents---the Emperor Otto III (983-1002), Pope Gregory V (996-999) and Pope Sylvester II (999-1003)---had by then all passed on to the other world, while a fourth, Bishop Leo of Vercelli (d. 1026), had his hands full simply trying to survive.

Otto III, half German and half Byzantine, was the key figure in the entire exalted enterprise. King of Germany from the age of three, his premature death at twenty-two cut off his plans for a marriage which might have helped him fend off his constant temptation by sins of the flesh.  It left him heirless as well. Personal problems aside, he possessed both an undeniable piety and a top-notch classical education, both of which gave him the chance to put his superior military training to work on behalf of a broad, meaningful understanding of the nature of Christendom and where it ought to be headed.

It was his visit to Rome in 996, at the age of 16, in answer to the call of Pope John XV (985-996) for help against the Crescentii brood, which turned out to be the greatest formative experience of Otto's life. Accompanied by many of the great Church leaders of the day, most importantly, Gerbert of Aurillac (950-1003)---master scholar, Abbot of Bobbio and sometime Archbishop of Rheims---the King's march looked more like a religious procession than a regal train. At its head was the Holy Lance, presumed to be that of Constantine the Great, containing a nail from the Cross of Christ.

In Italy, the young king met a number of charismatic figures who further confirmed his already strong sense of political-religious mission; men like St. Romualdo (950-1027), founder of Camaldoli, and St. Adalbert of Prague (956-997). The former was a hermit/monk who understood how to translate zeal for sanctity into an effective tool for quieting the social disorder unleashed by the restless counts, vassals and other assorted hoodlums of the day. The latter, adored by Otto as a model of both humility and love for the Church, was destined to end his life a martyr while on mission in the north of Europe.

Finding Pope John XV dead on his arrival, and the Papacy the slave of local factionalism, the King installed his young cousin Bruno on the papal throne as Gregory V. Gregory then presided over Otto's imperial coronation at St. Peter's on May 21, 996, where the overwhelmed King-Emperor was cloaked with a robe and a crown portraying the magnificence of the cosmos, evoking the Old and New Testament, and placing his reign within the context of the Divine Plan and at the service of the greater glory of God.

Otto now understood fully the mission that his passion and education had shaped him to fulfill: he had a responsibility to secure the order of an all too fragile Christendom, and to do so by simultaneously exalting Christ's Church, with her visible center in Rome. As the document through which he appointed his chaplain and enthusiastic supporter Leo as Bishop of Vercelli later indicated, the Emperor's task was one of making certain "that the Church of God remain free and safe; that she prosper throughout our Empire...that the power of the Roman People be extended and the State re-established, so that We might merit from living in this world honorably and thus fly more honorably from the prison of the life...." (Pierre Riche, Les Grandeurs de l'an mille, Bartillat, 1999, p. 289, my free translation).

Returning to Germany, our Emperor-on-Mission was soon to learn that the swamp of Roman politics was deeper than he may originally have guessed. The Crescentii, aided and abetted by an eastern imperial authority in Constantinople irritated by this youthful competitor for Roman glory, quickly exploited Otto's absence from town. They tossed Gregory V out of Rome and placed the young man's former Greek tutor and (disloyal) friend, John Philagathos, on the throne of St. Peter as the Antipope John XVI (997-998).

Otto and his many scholarly, reformer friends now saw that their work of revival required a lot more muscle behind it to make it stick. A new and fully armed procession set forth to Italy at the end of 997, with men like Gerbert of Aurillac, the above-mentioned Leo (soon to be) of Vercelli, the great Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim (960-1022) and St. Odilo of Cluny on hand to emphasize the ultimately spiritual aim of this temporarily clenched, German fist. Rome was reached in 998 and the head of the Crescentii Clan, who held out for three months at the Castel Sant'Angelo, finally captured and decapitated. Antipope John was disgraced, rather brutally punished and imprisoned. Gregory V regained his throne. The re-entry of Pope and Emperor into St. Peter's, and their joint responsibility for rule, reform and the growth of the Roman State and Church were celebrated in a prayer-hymn written by Bishop Leo (Riche, pp. 257-258): 

Refrain: Christ hear our prayers; cast your glance upon your city of Rome; in your goodness renew the Romans, awaken the forces of Rome, permit Rome to revive under the Empire of Otto III. 
I. We salute you, our pope; health to you, very worthy Gregory. Along with the august Otto, your apostle Peter welcomes you; you ascend to something sublime. Humble yourself. 

II. Leaving the house of the Bride {the Church of Rome} you re-enter it as the {spiritual} Bridegroom, and you recover the gifts of your venerable father {the Apostle, Peter}. 

III. You are Peter; you ordain the praises of Peter; you renew the rights of Rome; you restore Rome to Rome, so that Otto may become the glory of the Empire. 

IV. May Otto succeed in all things, may he who took you from Gaul and led you to Rome always prosper; God has made him great and has raised up your arm. 

V. You are the mouth of the churches; you are the master of all in the holy mysteries; you are the bond of the people; you judge the various causes, you free the captive souls. 

VI. Otto, rule yourself; be attentive and vigilant, you who according to the Apostle have charge of the bodies of men; it is for the punishment of sinners that you bear an invincible sword. 

VII. Ancient Antioch venerates you in all things; ancient Alexander runs anxiously towards you; all the Churches of the world are to be found in your furrow.

VIII. Babylon of Iron, Golden Greece fear the great Otto and serve him, their spines bent; he who has liberated the King of Kings {the Pope} commands as Emperor the whole world. 

IX. Rejoice, noble Pope; you honor the first of thrones {the Papacy} with the majesty of your name; you raise up the second {the Empire}....

X. Rejoice, Pope, rejoice Caesar; let the Church exult with happiness, let the joy be great in Rome, let the imperial palace rejoice. Under the power of Caesar, the Pope reforms the age. 

XI. O, you two luminaries throughout the lands, illuminate the churches, put darkness to flight. May the one {the Emperor} prosper by the sword, may the other {the Pope} give resonance to his word. 

XII. Lord Pope, raise to its feet what lay on the ground {the Papacy}; consider the gift of God; God has made you great, and the help of Peter is your support; keep the memory of the bonds and your glory.

Our young missionary, the better to fulfill his responsibilities, both natural and supernatural, decided to take up permanent residence on the Palatine Hill, the home of the old Roman Emperors. There, he began to adopt Byzantine imperial customs, to seek himself a bride from his imperial "colleague", and to preside, together with Pope and Bishops as a "Thirteenth Apostle" at reforming Synods throughout Italy. When another temporary absence from the city led to a revival of the old, parochial, Roman shenanigans, and even perhaps the poisoning of Pope Gregory V, the Emperor's determination to renew the age grew greater still. No fears for apocalypse in the year 1000 for him! (As, in fact, as Riche makes abundantly clear, there were no such fears among Christians in general). Otto named his great scholar friend and fellow visionary, Gerbert, as his cousin's successor. Gerbert took the name of Sylvester II, apparently to emphasize his desire to cooperate loyally with the new Constantine, just as the first Sylvester had worked in tandem with Constantine the Great. An Ottonian document of January, 1001, probably prepared by Leo of Vercelli, once again clearly spelled out the imperial commitment to extricating the Papacy from the sewer of Roman politics, while, interestingly enough, also denouncing the exaggerated papal political ambitions outlined in the fraudulent Pseudo-Donation of Constantine (Riche, pp. 272-273): 
Otto, slave of the Apostles and according to the will of the Saviour God, august Emperor of the Romans. We proclaim Rome capital of the world. We recognize that the Roman Church is the mother of all the churches, but also that the carelessness and incompetence of her pontiffs have for a long time now tarnished the titles of her brightness. In fact, these pontiffs have not only sold and alienated through certain dishonest practices the possessions of St. Peter outside of the city, but---and We do not affirm this without sorrow---the goods that they possessed from our own imperial city. With still greater license, they allowed these goods to pass into common use at the price of gold; they despoiled St. Peter, they despoiled St. Paul and their altars themselves. Instead of restoration they have always sowed confusion. In disdain of pontifical precepts and disdaining the Roman Church herself, certain popes so pushed their arrogance as to confuse the greater part of our Empire with their own apostolic power. Without caring for what they lost through their fault, without preoccupying themselves with that which their personal vanity caused them to waste, they replaced their own squandered goods...by turning towards (exploitation) of foreign ones---that is to say ours and those of our Empire. {Hence} the lies forged by them, by means of which the Cardinal-Deacon John (surnamed Mutilated Fingers) drafted in gilded letters a Privilege which he fallaciously rooted very deep in the past and placed under the name of the great Constantine.  
Otto appears to have been the primary captain of the revived ship of Church and State, a man who took his role as Thirteenth Apostle quite literally. Lest one think that his role was questioned by the great spiritual leaders of the day, St. Odilo's testimony is there to correct him. So enamored of Otto and his work was the reform Abbot that he penned the following poem exulting in the extent of the Emperor's glory, giving no hint of fear of where it might possibly lead: (Riche, p. 303): 
Let the Slav groan and the Hungarian grind his teeth.
Let the Greek be struck with bewilderment.
Let the Saracen be troubled and take flight.
Let the Africans pay tribute and Spain seek aid.
Let Burgundy venerate and cherish the Emperor and Aquitaine run joyously to meet him.
Let all Gaul say: 'Who has heard of such things?'
And the Italian People, arms raised, will cry out: 'By the power of God, this is the only son of Caesar, Otto the Great'. 
By 1002, however, the grand vision of renovatio was finished. In the year 1000, while Otto was away on a magnificent political-religious missionary expedition which took him as far away as present day Poland, and through which he also tightened the bonds linking Hungary with the family of western Christian nations, revolt brewed back in the peninsula. The Emperor returned, only to find the malaise spreading to Rome by the beginning of 1001. Even though soon quelled, the experience of being so easily trapped on the Palatine Hill made it clear that the Eternal City was unsafe for Otto and his imperial-reformer entourage. The poignancy of the disappointment is captured by the speech to his rebellious subjects that Bernward of Hildesheim puts in Otto's mouth on the third day of the siege (Riche, pp. 304-305): 
Listen to the words of your father, pay attention to them, meditate upon them carefully in your hearts. You are no longer my Romans. Because of you I left my fatherland, my family; through love for you I neglected my Saxons, all the Germans, those of my own blood. I have led you into the farthest regions of our Empire, into places where your ancestors, when they submitted the world to their power, never placed their feet. And why have I done this, if not to extend your glory to the ends of the world? I have adopted you as my children, I have preferred you to all others. Because I have raised you up from your fate, because of you, I say, I have aroused jealousy and hatred against myself. And you, in exchange for all this, you have rejected your father; you have caused many of my intimate friends to perish by a cruel death; you have rejected me. But you cannot reject me since I would never allow anyone to remove from my heart those whom I paternally embrace. 
Emperor and Pope fled to Ravenna. There they consulted some of their closest supporters, Odilo of Cluny, Leo of Vercelli and St. Romualdo among them. The latter warned against any attempt to return to Rome as tantamount to an act of  suicide. Otto ignored the great founder of Camaldoli, moved back southwards and reached the very outskirts of the Eternal City...only to die from what was perhaps a recurrence of malarial fever. St. Bruno of Querfurt (970-1009), Apostle to the Prussians and beneficiary of Otto's missionary vision, describes the end for us on 24 January, 1002 (Riche, pp. 307-308): 
At a moment that he did not expect, death fully armed came to find him...The very firm decision that he expressed to convert {from his fleshly falls from grace} in the presence of all of the Great Men of the Empire, the sincere confession that he made of his faults, all that wiped out the sins of his youth...In shedding great tears, which made all those assisting cry as well, he asked for the relics of the saints, among which was a large piece of the life-giving Cross...He received with a fear mixed with joy the body and blood of the Lord. Moreover, from the beginning of that serious illness, he had wanted to receive each day the Holy Eucharist, because it is upon this that eternal life entirely depends. Even at the moment of death, he did not lose any of his faculties and it was with a sweet sigh that, aided by the mercy of the Saviour, in whom he had always hoped, he expired....Those who remained present said that the dying man gave up his soul with so much sweetness that he appeared similar to a sleeping man who was breathing. 
"Cry world, cry Rome, and let the Church lament", Leo of Vercelli sang in a poem capturing the misery of all of Otto's friends. "Let the chants in Rome fall quiet. Let sorrow scream out to the palace, since, through the absence of Caesar, trouble extends across the world" (Riche, p. 308).

The men of Eastertide, 1007 would have known that this announcement of great trouble was no exaggeration. Sylvester II experienced it without delay. Returning to the Eternal City, he saw the Crescentii fortunes immediately rise. The pope had the good luck to die just one year later, 63 years old, still a noble figure, but broken by the Waiting Game---the wait for a revival of the Papacy and Rome. His second and Crescentii-tormented successor, Sergius IV, who knew him well, wrote the following epitaph for his tomb at the Lateran (Riche, p. 310): 

When, at the sound of the trumpet, the Lord shall come, this spot in the world will produce the remains of that Sylvester who is buried here, he whom the very wise Virgin {Wisdom herself} rendered famous in the world at large, and the grandeurs of Rome made the head of that world. Emerging out of France, Gerbert first earned the See of the people of Rheims, the Primal See of that country. Then he earned the governance of the noble Church of Ravenna, and became powerful. At the end of a year, he obtained Rome and changed his name to become the new pastor of the entire world. The Caesar, Otto III, to whom he was always devoted and faithful, loved him much and offered him that See. The one and the other honored their age through their brilliant virtue of wisdom. The entire age rejoiced and all evil was broken by them. Sylvester occupied the Roman See according to the example of the Gate-Keeper of Heaven, and it was the third time that he had been conferred a pastoral charge. One luster after having received the See of Peter he quit the world through death. The world was chilled with horror, peace disappeared, and the triumphant Church shook and forgot its calm.  
Would that the shock had been a short one! But, alas, as noted above, the period of mourning for the failure of Otto's dream was not the end of the tale. There were many Roman and Papal and Catholic woes to come before the situation improved significantly. Believers already used to seeing decent pontiffs reduced to puppets of the local clans had yet to deal with the thrice-disgraced Benedict IX, brutally attacked by St. Peter Damian in the latter's aptly named Liber Gomorrhianus as a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest, and by a future successor, Blessed Victor III, as utterly unspeakable.

We Catholics of Eastertide, 2007 live in a time when the Papacy and the Eternal Rome it represents have also been dragged through the mud and continue to be reviled; a time when they have again been subjected to manipulation by petty, parochial interests. These parochial interests are not precisely those of clans like the Crescentii and Tusculani, even though there are plenty of specific individuals who can be identified as playing their part in the work of papal and Roman enslavement. Rather, today's  parochial interests are those of  the petty vision of naturalist, Enlightenment ideology, dominant in our society for over two hundred years, whose many and varied vocal supporters all insist that men and institutions must bend unceasingly to the spirit of one's time and place. Such bending prevents anyone succumbing to it from soaring above his immediate material surroundings in order to understand the meaning of the universe from the perspective of the eternal Creator and Redeemer God. This guarantees a burial rather than a mere bending---a burial in a materialist mud that grows ever thicker and more debased with the progressive loss of memory of past Catholic intellectual and spiritual illumination and achievement. Until the day of total liberation from such living euthanasia nothing of lasting significance can be accomplished by those who are its victims. The best that the men and institutions who have been buried alive by it can achieve is to offer a lasting testimony to the futility of basing thought and action on anything which is changeable and cheap.

We Catholics of Eastertide, 2007, like St. Odilo one thousand years earlier, can also look back to a time not so very long ago when wondrous things were being done to fight for just the sort of liberation from debasing naturalism which could set the ecclesiastical house in holy order. This was the era which began with Pope Gregory XVI and ended under the reign of the man who, in an uplifted world, would by now long have been known as Blessed Pius XII. In those happy years, the Catholic spirit indeed did soar above the barbed wire enclosure in which Enlightenment naturalism and its parochial supporters wished to imprison it. Papal Rome did then work for the ages, precisely because it was electrified by a love for the Incarnation and the Mystical Body; by an awareness of their impact on political and social life which disdained media hype and the demands of immediate consumer relevance. It was only when a subjection of this soaring vision to the Free Supermarket of Ideas and Consumption took place that our current problems began, and the Waiting Game became our daily companion.

Perhaps, as noted above, our present version of the Waiting Game will have ended by the date this article is published. But even if this proves to be the case---as St. Odilo and other activist Catholics of Eastertide, 1007 who lived well into the miserable decades to come could tell us---that would not mean that we would be done with it forever; that our difficulties would immediately and definitively disappear. The enemy is strong and wily. His temptations are just that---tempting, and powerfully so. A victory on one front could be followed still by defeats on many others. An intelligent and well-intentioned pope might see his will thwarted by ideologues and scoundrels. In sum, there simply is no guarantee of an absolutely certain, stable, Catholic triumph until the end of time.

The unum necessarium for traditionalist Catholics in Eastertide, 2007 is to maintain that permanent spirit of Christian joy and hope which the season ought to encourage. There are certainly good historical reasons for doing so. Some of the disappointed believers in the mission of the Papacy and Rome of Eastertide, 1007 who had waited so long for revival, and thought that they would witness it as a result of the reigns of Otto III, Gregory V and Sylvester II, survived long enough to experience practical earthly proof that broad hopes can eventually overcome enormous obstacles and become realities. They survived to see a long-lasting reform of Head and Members. By 1049, a new King-Emperor, Henry III, had placed an even more vigorous crusading pope, St. Leo IX, on the throne of St. Peter. This pontiff took charge of the movement for Christian revival. The Papacy was extracted from the parochial mud. Christendom was guided to practical fulfillment of an exalted vision of transformation in Christ; one that still continues to exercise its influence in traditional circles today.

But it proved to be a different kind of reform movement which took shape, one that was more conscious of current feudal political realities and highly doubtful of the viability of an imperial revival of the kind envisaged by Otto; one which, while grateful for the aid given to it by the Germano-Roman State, decided that the Church needed more independence than it was ultimately willing to allow her. The Emperor St. Henry II (1002-1024) focused on improving the situation in the north of Europe, knowing that the resources available to him were limited. Clunaic monks found that even some Crescentii-type hoodlum-noblemen could be turned into crusading soldiers for the cause of a holier Church and society. Pope St. Gregory VII (1076-1085) vigorously rejected the subordinate role accepted by Sylvester II. Always committed to the crucial importance of joint Church-State labors for the construction of Christendom, this second wave of the reform movement placed its most profound hopes for Catholic growth and perfection in the struggle for personal sanctity and sense of  responsibility not just of Emperor and Pope, but of everyone without exception. For, in the final analysis, only the liberation of all of us from the tunnel vision of materialism and sin; only the willingness of all of us to see the world from the perspective of the Creator and Redeemer God, can build the society for which the eleventh century victims of the Waiting Game suffered.

When our own Waiting Game comes to a more secure finish---probably after a heap of new and mighty battles---papal Rome will once again take charge of the task of transforming all things in Christ. When it does it, it will call upon its supporters to judge the familiar world around them, whose customs and unquestioned presuppositions reflect two hundred fifty years of Enlightenment debasement, with the same passion for rooting life in the full Catholic Tradition that motivated eleventh century reformers. All of us will then find ourselves expected to make adjustments which might now surprise us. We will discover that many things that we today take for granted as perfectly compatible with Church teaching are terribly and essentially flawed, the American system chief among them. Flaws will be uncovered even in what appeared to us just recently to be a Catholic Golden Age, and these will also have to be addressed and corrected. Will we be up to this task of adjustment? I certainly hope so. But I personally think that the task of stepping back and reassessing the proper path to building Christendom was easier for eleventh century men whose hearts and spirits were already lifted to higher goals by the exalted though flawed vision of an Emperor Otto rather than for twentieth century peoples shaped by the cheap lies of a sloganeering civilization that cannot look farther into the future than the next meaningless election.

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