Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 5 – Double edged damage control

palestinian donkey

Chapter 5 – Double edged damage control

Carpe Diem walked into the room, his clothes inside out and back to front, shoes untied, and wearing a helmet. He rarely sat on the floor with his back against wall, banging his head until he was too dazed to continue in favour of sensory overload, but wearing a helmet was now part of who he was. He offered the last of a box of chocolate to any takers, though passing everyone too quickly and simply giving the whole box on don Hash, who had taken the time to answer his questions. Don Hash was horrified to see that the nails of Carpe Diem’s fingers had been chewed down to their roots.

“The rules are… I can’t believe I’m saying this…” said don Hash, hesitating, thinking of Saint Lawrence and who would burn whom. He thanked Carpe Diem, who then left, flapping his hands as he so often did. “It’s just that Saint Robert Bellarmine’s rules* might have seemed to him to establish in a textual critical manner the words of Scripture in the way dogmatically insisted upon by the Council of Trent, but which, at the same time, surely seemed to him also to have the benefit of appeasing the so-called Reformers. But Trent was not followed and the Protestants couldn’t have cared less about anything Bellarmine did. His double-edged damage control, if accepted by the Church, would have to become a habit, a virtue, a ‘policy’… almost making of itself revealed Truth, manipulating Sacred Scripture as it did. Such a policy fears the authority of the Holy Father, effectively claiming that the only sources of infallibility are the temporary hypotheses of scientific methodology. For him, only science, artificially cut off from the Faith, could be the basis for the Magisterial discernment of what Sacred Scripture is in its extension, its books, sentences, phrases, words and letters. Bellarmine could not think of any other aid to judge whether one ancient manuscript was correct and another not. He ignored the fact that if a Scripture passage was consistently used in the Liturgy, though in Latin, that is how the Church could find the words of the original language manuscripts. But this was the discernment of the Fathers of the Council of Trent: the inspired words in context of the Word sacrificed. If Bellarmine’s double-edged damage control succeeded, there would have been a new inquisition in which burning truth – as that which is inexpedient to ecumenical unity – would be rewarded.”

“Ha! What in Galileo’s heavens are you talking about?” demanded Cardinal Froben with glee.

“Wake up and smell the smoke!” exclaimed Cardinal Fidèle. “Satan’s smouldering fires come to us even in the bella figura of angels of light, of saints like Bellarmine, who are canonized for their holiness, not any clever thoughts they think they might have had. Bellarmine opened the windows to let in what he thought was the fresh air of Scripture not being contradicted by science, but then with the biblical manuscripts he let science trump magisterial intervention.”

“The irony is overwhelming,” Cardinal Elzevir whispered to no one in particular.

“Dear Lord…” said don Hash into the dead silence of the room, staring into the last flames of the fire. He was certain that Bellarmine could not have been more mistaken but was uncertain if the canonized saint ever analysed the first decree of the fourth session of Trent. He asked Christ out loud: “Would I so easily be the one to light the fire, burning your saints at the stake?”

It was Cardinal Fidèle who answered: “I do not know the answer to that, yet, but, in this case, you have seen through the devil’s own work. The Holy See is necessarily the devil’s playpen.”

✵ ✵ ✵

“Then she asked me if I was a virgin,” said Jacinta, who was visiting Mater Ecclesiæ convent for the afternoon, and describing, during the community recreation, an unsolicited interview she had had some years before with a religious sister, who was the outgoing Vicar for Religious for the Diocese of Marécage. “Somehow, she had found out that I was interested in the religious life. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ I asked, suspecting the worst. She said, ‘If you don’t have experience, how can you expect to be married to the Church with religious vows of chastity? You have to get to know one person well in order to know the whole Church. You need to start dating immediately,’ she said, knowing nothing about me at all. ‘Instead,’ I said, ‘one must be nurtured by the fire of the Most Holy Trinity; otherwise, one prostitutes oneself to oneself, destroying others in the process, one after another.’”

✵ ✵ ✵

Don Hash was full of questions, but Cardinal Fidèle slipped the paper from don Hash’s hands, saying, “Explain what Bellarmine wanted to do, Hash.”

Don Hash didn’t know if he was being manipulated into criticizing a saint to the point of burning the truth. It had happened before. Putting his head down, he silently asked the Lord for help, and then, staring into the fire, said aloud, “It seems that Bellarmine treated the Vulgate not as a textual critical measure to be used for the discovery of the original words in the original language manuscripts – as much as this is possible – as Trent had envisioned it, but merely as something ‘precious’, which could be disregarded for little reason.”

“Go on,” said Cardinal Fidèle.

“The Council Fathers of Trent knew that they didn’t have a textually critically established Bible, not for the Latin manuscripts for the Vulgate, nor for the original language manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic,” continued don Hash, who then summarized his favourite topic: “They knew that God would not abandon His Church, and judged that if one could establish the consistency of the usage of the Latin Vulgate in, for instance, the Liturgy, then one could use that more accessible source as a measure for the original language manuscripts, coming up with an exemplar of the inspired Scriptures: lex orandi lex credendi, the law of praying is the law of believing. The Scriptures were written in a lived Tradition of Faith taking its life in the liturgy, the sacrifice of the Word of God Himself.”

Cardinal Francisco began to understand that, now for so many years, the abomination was where it should not be. As the head of the “Inquisition,” he had thrown the pearls of Scripture to the swine over at “Christian Unity.” They also went by the name Catholic, but were trampling the pearls, and turning on the members of the Body of Christ.

Don Hash continued: “Bellarmine was distracted, I suppose, by pastoral problems and administration, becoming embroiled in problems that were extraneous to his expertise. He didn’t have the time to understand the importance of methodology, thinking that it was all a matter of how many manuscripts – though with respect given to those of antiquity – instead of it being a matter of the Vulgate also being of service in the discovery of the textual critical extension of the words of the original language manuscripts. Bellarmine’s was a pseudo-science, for so many of the decisions about which words belonged in Scripture are, in the end, otherwise arbitrary along the lines of Cardinal Froben’s Prinzip der Prinzipienlosigkeit…”

“I’ve got a saint with me,” said Cardinal Froben, smiling contentedly. “Where did you say Bellarmine’s tomb is? I must go on pilgrimage this evening.”

Carpe Diem walked into the room and started pacing from one corner to the other, listening intently, though not understanding anything he heard, looking at no one. But he wanted to repeat something.

Don Hash asked, “Why entrust Revelation to decisions based on, as you said, what is merely ‘traditional’, pastoral, liturgical, apologetic, sociological, organizational, cultural, political, geographical, psychological, intellectual, attitudinal or even economic? Even the Nestle-Aland Greek edition of the New Testament was produced like this. It’s pseudo-science.”

“So, what is to be done with Bellarmine’s work… in practical terms?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.

“When Monsignor Sens arrives, Bellarmine’s work is to be burned,” said don Hash with intensity. “It is better to burn than to be burned. Why should it destroy people’s Faith?”

“I see you are eager to set fire to a saint. ‘Hash’, is Bellarmine not like Saint Lawrence, your patron saint, who was burned to death?” asked Cardinal Fidèle, objecting with false pretense. Don Hash instantly convinced himself that the mention of his new patron saint was simply a coincidence of the events of the day.

“Not in the least,” said don Hash. “I’m certain that Bellarmine was wrong, however great a saint he was. He simply didn’t know what he was doing. It is not Bellarmine himself that I would burn, please God, just his work. I repeat that what he did would do great harm to the Church.”

“So, you wouldn’t burn him?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.

“No, please God,” repeated don Hash.

“What if the Pope commanded you to burn him or be burned yourself?” persisted the Prelate. The other Cardinals thought this was quite humourous, since it all seemed hypothetical. Don Hash did not answer. To don Hash, he said, “The fire is almost out,” handing the paper to him. “Before burning anything substantial, like someone from America, try burning the paper in your hands.”

✵ ✵ ✵

At the same time, not far from Rome, Eliyahu’s commander handed him a plastic bag, saying, “Look at these before the pizza is served.”

Eliyahu dumped dozens of pictures of the commander’s recent wedding onto the table; he and the five other soldiers pored over them. They knew their commander was unorthodox in his methods, but was the best talent scout the Italians had. They expected the unexpected. After some seconds, Eliyahu said, “This one! He’s your brother, the enemy, a traitor. He should die.”

The others were apologetic, but the commander said, “My brother was among the pictures you should have seen tacked on the trees on climb up the sides of the volcano, but with a beard and sunglasses. The lesson is…”

“Never trust anyone,” his trainees said together, expecting Eliyahu to be promoted.

✵ ✵ ✵

Just then, the doorbell rang and Cardinal Fidèle motioned with his eyes for don Hash to open the door of his apartment. Monsignor Sens, who walked in as if he were under a cloud of suspicion, was ushered into the study. Carpe Diem stopped his pacing so that he could stare intently at the new arrival. Cardinal Fidèle said, expectantly, “You’ve gained quite a bit of weight, Sens.”

Monsignor Sens had stopped dead at the entrance to the study. His boss, Cardinal Elzevir, was clearly upset at his presence. “Get over it, Elzevir,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “Invite him in.”

“Sens,” said Cardinal Elzevir with severity. “It seems you have divided loyalties.”

“Oh! Isn’t it wonderful Georg! Maria has returned from the Abbey!” exclaimed Carpe Diem on behalf of Cardinals Elzevir and Fidèle, quoting the envious Baroness in The Sound of Music. Carpe Diem’s interruptions were triggered by his brain’s emotional associations.

Monsignor Sens involuntarily stepped back. “Elzevir!” exclaimed Cardinal Fidèle.
After a moment, the Cardinal Secretary of State calmly said, “Very well… Come forward.”

“Maria has returned!” repeated Carpe Diem, now twirling a piece of string above his eyes.

“Give Sens the paper, Hash,” instructed Cardinal Fidèle.

Monsignor Sens walked to don Hash and took it from him. Before he looked at it, Cardinal Fidèle said, “Throw it on the embers, Sens.” He did, and, after some seconds, it burst into flame.

Monsignor Sens removed his winter coat and gave it to don Hash, who immediately dropped it on the floor in contempt. The top of Monsignor Sens’ cassock was not buttoned, revealing the cause of his sudden weight gain, a large tome of obvious antiquity. He held it out to his superior, the Cardinal Secretary of State, who took it from him with some force. “Stand back, Sens, and clear these things off the coffee-table.”

Cardinal Elzevir then opened the volume upon the table. The other Cardinals leaned over in their seats while Cardinal Elzevir read the ornate title page dedicated to Popes Damasus, Paul III, Sixtus V, Clement VIII and Paul V. He turned the folios one by one.

Following the title page was a list of the same directions which Cardinal Fidèle had just asked Monsignor Sens to burn. The following pages listed the Greek and Latin manuscripts used for his new redaction, only some of which had been consulted through the Vatican’s Apostolic Library. The rest of the volume contained Bellarmine’s own pseudo-revised version of the Vulgate along with the pseudo-revised Greek text on facing pages. Each chapter concluded with textual critical notes as damage control appeasing those worried about the Latin text.

“It could have been the jewel of the Counter-Reformation,” said don Hash, “if he had used Trent’s methodology.”

“Now, Hash,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “turn to John, chapter eight. What do you find there?”
Don Hash had been on the edge of his chair, straining to see the volume on the low table. He immediately went the few paces and went down on his knees. He turned the volume around. It was almost three quarters of a metre wide when opened. He turned to the first pages, and then to the Gospel of John. “It’s what I don’t find there,” replied don Hash. “There’s no mulier adultera. Even Bellarmine had the adulterous woman stoned to death, right out of the text, completely against everything Trent dogmatically indicated. Bellamine should have been burned at the stake…”

“My, my… aren’t you easy to agitate?” taunted Cardinal Fidèle. “Would you burn a canonized saint just so easily? I wonder what you would do with someone who wasn’t canonized, at least because he wasn’t dead… yet. Now, Hash, give the Codex to Sens.” Don Hash did so.

Cardinal Fidèle, with manifest determination, glared at Monsignor Sens and pointed to the hot embers. Monsignor Sens looked to his superior for confirmation, finally realizing something of great magnitude was going down, but Cardinal Elzevir, despite his talk about loyalty, was doing his best to look at the floor. Monsignor Sens looked back to Cardinal Fidèle, who continued to point to the fire. Monsignor Sens no longer hesitated, but just as he was about to lay the heavy volume on the embers, Cardinal Froben yelled, “Stop, Sens! Damn you, Fidèle! What are you doing?” Monsignor Sens hesitated again.
Cardinal Fidèle said, “I think you are right, Froben.”

“You think I’m right? I’m always right!” exclaimed Cardinal Froben.

“Give it to Hash, Sens,” commanded Cardinal Fidèle. “Your good example, however lacking in intelligence, is sufficient for him.” He gave the volume to don Hash, and, grabbing his coat from the floor, asked to be excused. He then ran from the apartment and down into the street, finding solace in the night.

Cardinal Fidèle said, “Typical of the Secretariat of State. It’s too easy. Blind obedience is never a good thing. At least your obedience is not blind, Hash.” He again pointed at the fireplace.

“But I am blind,” replied don Hash, rising from his chair. “I am such a sinner.”

“Damn you, Fidèle! What are you doing?” protested Cardinal Froben, rising from his chair. But before he could be stopped, don Hash placed the historic work on the hot embers and it immediately began to push out clouds of dense, acrid smoke. Cardinal Froben tried to pick it up, but only succeeded in burning his hands. “Damn you! Damn you all!”

“Better to burn others than be burned yourself,” Cardinal Fidèle replied.

“Not others!” insisted don Hash, who remained standing. “I am not burning anyone. I’m only burning what could do great harm to the Church.”

“You haven’t burned anyone yet, Hash. Not to worry… You’re learning,” said Cardinal Fidèle.

Don Hash couldn’t help thinking that he was, in fact, ‘learning’. “Saint Robert Bellarmine was a canonized saint,” he said weakly, “but he was wrong… dead wrong.” Don Hash was ashen, thinking of his question that morning: “Who would I be, the one burned or the one lighting the fire?”

Cardinal Fidèle had an almost imperceptible grin on his face. Cardinal Froben, furious, saw this, and loudly said, “You’re a fool, Fidèle. Do you not know what has just been done?”

“A great push for ecumenism!” exclaimed Cardinal Fidèle, “as you will see.”

“But Bellarmine should be the patron saint of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity!” insisted Cardinal Froben. Just then the tome burst into flames, clearing the smoke from the great hearth.

As they watched, Cardinal Fidèle stated what he thought should be obvious for all of them but which he knew was not: “Bellarmine was ahead of his time in the same way as Humanae Vitae was in these times, and even more dangerous to the unity of the Church than was Paul VI’s encyclical letter for the unity of the Church. You are only now about to learn the rest of the story.” He then said to don Hash, “Sit down.” Don Hash did so. After the Cardinal let some moments pass, punctuating in this way the thoughts of don Hash’s soul, he said, “Not to worry, Hash. You are correct to say that Bellarmine was wrong. In fact, he repented so dramatically that the event was cited in the process for his beatification just after his death.” Cardinal Froben also sat down, overwhelmed, frustrated, exasperated all at the same time.

Don Hash had been watching the parchment folios of the opened codex curl up in flames one after another, but distracted himself from this and looked at Cardinal Fidèle, this time with mixed emotions. He had some hope for vindication on the one hand, but knew he had just been used to burn what he now knew was proof of what Bellarmine repented from. It would have been invaluable in promoting the Truth of the Council of Trent. He felt nauseous and involuntarily started to heave, running from the room. The rest waited for him, letting the sounds of his falling to the floor and retching punctuate their own thoughts. No one said a word until don Hash returned, excusing himself, knowing it was all only beginning.

“Pope Paul V gave Bellarmine authority to convene official congregations of Cardinals to come up with a Greek New Testament with – as you say – some usage of the Vulgate,” explained Cardinal Fidèle. “But when it was ready, Paul V didn’t permit the volume to be published for an unknown reason, perhaps a vision, for, as Bellarmine himself then immediately said, ‘Veramente Iddio governava il Papa, e che era molto meglio quello, che Sua Santità haveva giudicato.’”

“‘Truly God governed the Pope, and it was much better that, than that His Holiness would have judged.’ What an immediate preface to the Thirty Years War!” exclaimed Cardinal Elzevir.

Cardinal Fidèle continued: “That’s the conversation Bellarmine and his secretary, padre Andreas had after concluding their audience with Pope Paul V. Tromp published the story in Biblica when Pius XII published his biblical encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu. The 1940s were turbulent times. We shouldn’t forget that Dolindo Ruotolo was just then being effectively burned at the stake for sending out a letter against those he called modernists, who rejected Trent’s view of the Vulgate.”

“I read Ruotolo’s ‘letter’, Un gravissimo pericolo, hand delivered to Pope Pius XII by Cardinal Ascalesi according to the wishes of Ruotolo himself,” said don Hash.

“But that is not possible,” exclaimed Cardinal Elzevir. “All copies of that letter, A Most Grave Danger, were removed from the archives of chanceries and libraries and burned… burned… all of them.”

“A old Jesuit, upset with Cardinal Froben, gave me a copy. Perhaps I should publish it,” said don Hash.

“A Jesuit? It wasn’t that potter was it?” cried Cardinal Froben. “Burn it!”

“I will attempt to be conciliatory,” said don Hash, trying to remain composed. “The declaration Consta did condemn him for it, but the whole affair is very sad, with ad hominem comments and misrepresentations of him and his “Pericolo” coming from all directions, so much so that there were exaggerations of what he was trying to say about Trent and the Vulgate. But he did fail to clearly, fully present both decrees of Trent’s fourth session. When…”

“Burn that jackass’ letter in our presence!” commanded Cardinal Elzevir. “He called the Holy Office the apocalyptic whore of Babylon. He’s pazzo! Just the kind to get canonized. Damn him!”

“Leave Hash be, Elzevir,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “I pushed for his cause to be opened myself. He deserves it, as a person, like Bellarmine. And, at any rate, Hash will burn more than just some paper.” With that, Cardinal Fidèle gave don Hash the other piece of paper which had been on the little table next to the telephone by his chair since that morning. “What do you see?” he asked.

“At first glance,” reported don Hash, with new strength, “it looks like a treasure map.”**

“Take your time,” said Cardinal Fidèle.

✵ ✵ ✵

Just then, on the far side of the Mediterranean, a phone conversation was just concluding.

“I accept your invitation,” said Shaykh al-Hasan. I’ll soon be landing at the Airport.”

“I’m happy to be of service,” said Archbishop Ahan. “It sounds like historic cooperation. I’m only sorry that it will be disturbing the last days of your vacation before returning to Italy.”

“Do not feel sorry for me,” replied Shaykh al-Hasan. “Feel sorry for yourselves and for your children…. if we do not get what we want.”

“After meeting with the Imam at the University, perhaps we could see the Zoological Gardens or the Nile Aquarium,” offered the Archbishop with his ever conciliatory voice.

“I think I’ve had enough of certain kinds of animals,” said the Ambassador of Arāk. “I long for Kuh-e Karkas, but I will be going straight to Rome after I receive a guarantee.” With this comment, he hung up, leaving even Archbishop Ahan unsettled, which was not easy to do.

✵ ✵ ✵

After two minutes of intense staring at the treasure map and its rules, don Hash said, “Unlike the rules of Bellarmine, these follow Trent.” After a moment he added, “Most people are so dismayed by the fact that the process of recopying the biblical manuscripts by hand down the millennia was not always exact, that they give up on inspiration and even Revelation as such. The person who wrote this analysis, instead, has such a love for the Liturgical Sacrifice of the Word of God, as he calls it, that he understood how it is that the Fathers of the Council of Trent could, as the Magisterium of the Church, appraise God’s historical guidance of the Church in Sacred Tradition, in the very Sacrifice by which Christ draws all to listen to the Word of the Father through, with and in Himself. The Council Fathers knew that it must be that if a text was to be found in the continuously read Latin manuscripts – for instance in the Lectionaries, the Breviary in whatever of its forms… – then it could act as a guide for original language manuscr…”

“I see with your constant repetitions that you’re out to canonise the vernacular, vulgar, common, Latin translation of the Scriptures called the Vulgate, are you?” asked Cardinal Fidèle, interrupting him on behalf of what he was sure was the short attention span of some of the Cardinals.

“The Latin Vulgate is only a tool, however privileged by the Mass,” answered don Hash.

“Therefore?” asked Cardinal Fidèle.

“Therefore,” said don Hash, “only the Magisterium of the Church could and did make such an interpretation of Sacred Tradition in favour of Sacred Scripture. In comparison, what Erasmus did without permission, and even what Cardinal Ximenes did with permission, was insufficient.”

“But there were variants with the Latin manuscripts as well,” said Cardinal Fidèle, taunting.

“It was thought to be a small exercise,” responded don Hash, “to establish what the Church has used until 8 April, 1546… But today, the politically correct Nova Vulgata has interfered.

“Never mind the New Vulgate,” lamented Cardinal Fidèle.

“Instead,” interrupted Cardinal Froben, “the example of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity is to be followed. We need to suppress, I mean, bypass any overly complicated doctrine about ‘Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium,’ I mean ‘Word, Rule of Faith and Witness’… so that we can simply ignore the Latin Vulgate, and concentrate on the New Vulgate, which, for the New Testament, and with brotherly cooperation, makes a fresh translation into Latin from the Lutherans’ textual critical conjecture of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, their Novum Testamentum Graece. That is what we have done. The Pope approved it. It’s an in-your-face reversal of that conservatism which hurts ecumenism. It’s takes the scientific efforts of Erasmus and Luther to a new level, a more human level. God cannot expect more than this. Saint Robert Bellarmine did the same thing. He repented of possible errors, but not of his method. Right?”

“Instead,” interrupted don Hash, surprising even himself, “he did repent of his method, for it was his method which necessitated his errors. What is written, instead, in this analysis of Trent” – holding up the paper just given him – “presents a way to drink from the Word of God. It’s the way to the Holy Grail. If the author of these rules is correct, the implications are truly historic. The whole of the Reformation can be reversed. There is a real chance for unity. The Pope’s approval of the New Vulgate was not as a definitive edition. In calling it new, we know that it simply evades Trent.” As he said these words, his voice faltered.

“Go on, Hash. Don’t stop now,” chided Cardinal Fidèle.

“These rules are written in an almost brutally technical… American… English…” asserted don Hash. “It’s… It’s… Alexámenos.” The whole affair hit him at once, and he thought that he could guess his own fate and that of Father Alexámenos over the next months, looking now with glazed eyes at the flames of Bellamine’s work which were themselves now dying out.

Cardinal Fidèle took the paper from him and gave it to Cardinal de Colines, who merely glanced at it, quickly passing it to Cardinal Froben, who held it with contempt. It was clear he did not want to know what was written there. “It’s an insult to ecumenism,” he said, passing it to Cardinal Francisco, who did not make a judgment. He gave the paper to Cardinal Elzevir; within moments, his face showed how deeply affected he was.

Cardinals de Colines and Froben now regretted that they had not studied the paper more thoroughly. Cardinal Fidèle took the paper.

“It’s like Hash says, Fidèle,” asserted the Secretary of State. “If Bellarmine’s work had been published, it would have done great harm to the Church, but if Alexámenos were to publish, it would be a great good for the Church and the whole world. It would be an occasion for unity.”

“You do not know what you are saying,” said Cardinal Fidèle, himself rising from his chair and holding the paper to the fire, enlivening the flames once again.

✵ ✵ ✵

Père Jacques answered the knock at the door to his suite of rooms in the seminary, already knowing who it was. “Come in, Leo,” he said. It was just after lunch. The whole student body, small as it was, accompanied Leo firstly to the chapel, and then to the Rector’s suite of rooms. Leo entered, but did not close the door. It was the first time Leo had been in these rooms since père Jacques had moved in. He was taken aback. It was like walking into a children’s garden.

“How appropriate for you,” said Leo. “It’s a Kindergarten and the Garden of Gethsemane.”

“I prefer to think about it as the Garden of Eden,” said père Jacques. With that, he stepped up to Leo, took him by both shoulders, and kissed him on both cheeks.

Leo, wide-eyed, still had the presence of mind to ask, “Friend, do you betray me with a kiss?”

“I’m sure I’ve made my point then,” was père Jacques’ response. “Goodbye, Leo.”

While he was headed out the door, Leo noticed père Jacques’ toy voodoo doll, and said, “I notice you have one of the toy voodoo dolls that are sold in some of the shops here, but this one is missing its five needles. If you used them on a real person, you should just confess it to us now. I mean, you still haven’t changed your clothes, and they still have blood spattered on them.”

During this speech, père Jacques became uncontrollably enraged, and shouted, “Get out! Get out now! All of you! Just leave me alone! Leave… me… alone!”

The students were stunned into dead silence. None of them moved. It seemed that they didn’t even breath for a full ten seconds. They realized that they had just seen the demise of their rector and, perhaps, the seminary, now secondary to their concern about whatever it was that had happened the night before.

✵ ✵ ✵

As he held the paper toward the fireplace, Cardinal Fidèle said, “Would you like to do the honours, Froben?” He then added, “Don’t burn yourself again,” as Cardinal Froben, despite his age, jumped up. But just before he could take it from Cardinal Fidèle, Cardinal Elzevir protested.

This gave don Hash time to say, “I’ll accept that it was prudent to purge the Church of Bellarmine’s work – except that it’s proof of what he repented from – but why burn the notes of Alexámenos? His analysis points to the best of the counter-Reformation, to unity, the Holy Grail.”

With that, Cardinal Froben snatched the paper from Cardinal Fidèle’s hands and gave it to don Hash, saying, “I do believe that the honour belongs to you, Hash.” Don Hash took it, but then simply stared into the flames. He thought of Father Alexámenos being ‘removed’. Forgetting all that he ever said about ‘freedom of conscience’, Cardinal Froben said, “Your disobedience betrays your soul, Hash.” With that, Cardinal Froben impatiently snatched the paper from him and tossed it into the fire, where, after some seconds, it exploded into flame. Those seconds seemed, for don Hash, to be packed with half a millennia of unnecessary division. The reality of all the blood and rancour from the Reformation onward now rushed upon him. He felt as devastated as he did empty of heart. The eight million souls slaughtered in the Thirty Years War flashed before him, knowing that their deaths were the lockstep result of the Rebellion against Scripture, against Tradition, against Jesus’ own Church.

Seeing the questions on the face of don Hash, Cardinal Froben said, “Alexámenos is as much a fool as Pope Sixtus V. That Pope, so despised by Bellarmine, didn’t have to be burned at the stake. God took his life.”

“Explain yourself, Froben,” said Cardian Francisco. “One can learn from mistakes. What is it that Sixtus V and this Alexámenos have done that is so wrong that we can’t learn from it?”

“Feel the heat of the flames!” Cardinal Froben replied. “Don’t forget that immediately upon the news of the death of Pope Sixtus V, Bellarmine successfully instigated the Cardinals to have any exemplars of Sixtus’ own revised Vulgate of 1590 collected from around Europe, so that they could burn them as soon as possible. Bellarmine knew that the Sistine Vulgate would have been an utter disgrace to the Church, so full of egregious errors was it, especially…”

“But Sixtus V wrote an eleven page bulla, making an ex cathedra decree,” said don Hash, “which stated that his New Testament fulfilled what Trent dogmatically inferred could be produced,” testing to see how much Cardinal Froben actually knew.

Aeternvs ille cælestium, yes,” said Cardinal Froben, surprising everyone with his erudition, “but your mistake is thinking that Insuper, the second decree of the fourth session of Trent, to which Aeternvs refers, is more than just a disciplinary document, as if it were dogmatic.”

“What about the first full sentence on page seven of Aeternvs ille cælestium?” asked don Hash, still testing. “It refers to the decree Sacrosancta, and if that first decree, also of the fourth session of Trent, isn’t dogmatic, there is no dogma at all in the Church.”

“You’re right,” replied Cardinal Froben, not expecting this, and now feeling under more pressure than he had ever known. He had never been quite so open about what he thought. He cleared his throat and repeated, “You are right. There is no such thing as infallibility. That decree of Sixtus V has convinced me sufficiently of that. Like the fourth session of Trent, it was full of excommunications for those who did not take what he said as an article of Faith declared by the successor of Peter to the universal Church. But he was dead wrong in every way.” He then added condescendingly, “I’m sorry if this scandalises you, Hash.”

“God took the life of Sixtus months before the bulla could come into effect,” said don Hash. “Instead of disproving infallibility, this confirmed the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church.”

“What do you mean, ‘before it could take effect’?” asked Cardinal Froben. “He signed it.”

Intra quattuor menses, eos, qui citra montes sunt, qui vero vltra montes, intra octo menses,”*** stated don Hash. “He dropped dead in six months.”

“Hah! He died more than a year later,” said Cardinal Froben triumphantly. “Obviously, you’ve never read Arcangelo Passionei, who, in 1754, condemned Bellarmine in favour of Æternvs ille cælestium of Sixtus V, despite Numbers 30,11-13 missing from his Vulgate, his Numbers 30,5.”

“May I speak freely?” asked don Hash. Cardinal Froben waved his hands sarcastically.
“Your Eminence,” continued don Hash, “you reveal how much you read and how little you understand. With your friend of mistaken name, whether Prelate or Abbot, you fail to calculate time anno incarnationis Dominicæ, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord. 1590 began on 25 March. The kalends of March, when Sixtus published, was in 1589. It makes a difference.”

It took about three seconds, but then Cardinal Froben suddenly looked deflated, as if he had wasted a lifetime. But then, after another few seconds, his mind working overtime, he said with deadly precision, “What I’m trying to say, Hash, is that even if there is such a thing as infallibility, and even if Sixtus V had the right understanding of Trent, what he attempted to do was too dangerous. God doesn’t want it. God took Sixtus’ life before the decree came into effect, as you say, so that, according to your point of view, the Pope could never be wrong about an ex-Cathedra decision, I guess… and Sixtus would have been wrong… if he had lived. But he didn’t. What I’m saying is that the same is true of Alexámenos, who places himself in mortal danger.”

“Alexámenos is not the successor of Peter!” exclaimed don Hash.

“God doesn’t want what Trent wants, not in this day and age. Full stop,” insisted Cardinal Froben.

“Isn’t it interesting,” interjected Cardinal Fidèle, “that Sixtus V on the one extreme and Bellarmine on the other were both taken out of the way. It’s too easy…”

“So, now that Bellarmine is out of the way, having been burned to death, so to speak,” said don Hash trying to bait out what was truly desired by this all too scripted conversation, “it is now the turn of Sixtus V’s more nuanced disciple, Alexámenos.”

“Correct,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “since Dei Filius of Vatican I and Leo XIII are long gone.”

“Alexámenos is only proposing a method consonant with the eternal truths set forth in Trent,” don Hash shot back. “He goes out of his way to protect the right of the successor of Peter to judge the textual critical extent of the words of Sacred Scripture. It is the Catholic Church…”

“That’s nice,” said Cardinal Fidèle sarcastically, “but that’s not Alexámenos’ problem.”

“Pray, tell,” challenged don Hash.

“It would not be popular to reject the fourth session of Trent in its first, dogmatic decree, nor would this ever be desirable. It was good, for its own time. Many have subjected the decree to centuries of reductionist interpretation, beginning in the sixteenth century itself.”

“Until now,” asserted don Hash. “Alexámenos has answered all difficulties.”

“Almost,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “and almost is dangerous… He’s forgotten prudence. That’s the problem of Alexámenos.”

“But you said…”

“What I said, Hash, was that Alexámenos has no idea about how to go about things. In this last stage of damage control for the Reformation, today, now, centuries later, all of hell has been unleashed. People do not think. Conformist emotions of political correctness coupled with the intoxicating effect of the abuse of power have resulted in a tyrannical policy of damage control. At the risk of sounding like Froben, I say that if Alexámenos’ study were published now, this would preempt an ecumenical solution for centuries to come. Think of the violence because of that disunity, Hash. The strength of political correctness would simply exclude the possibility of any serious study of the fuller Truth of Trent. There would only be more division in the Church and the world. Hash, we would risk more violence. There would be more violence.”

“Like when Jesus was cruci…” don Hash tried started to say.

But he was instantly cut off by Cardinal Froben. “Who the hell is this Alex guy, anyway? There would be a quicker road to unity if only Trent were forgotten by people like him, whoever he is. Who is he, anyway?”

“Truth must sometimes be relegated to its proper time,” added Cardinal Fidèle. “And as for you, Froben, if one has no respect for the truth of the past, you also have no respect for the truth of the present or future. Truth is consistent with itself and is relevant at any and all times. But get this into your head, it is his imprudence in bringing about knowledge of this truth which breeds disunity and violence. Every truth has its time in which to be emphasised, shall we say.”

Don Hash looked at Cardinal Fidèle and said, “What you said about Alexámenos’ study was “great harm to the Church.”

“I’ve just told you, Hash. Damage control rears its ugly head when least expected.”

“The action of damage control is not the same as an infallible statement,” retorted don Hash.

“But, once out of control, damage control is almost as definitive,” replied Cardinal Fidèle.

“With almost being the operative word, Fidèle,” said Cardinal Elzevir. “You seem to go from one side of the argument to the other. I want to know why you’ve rejected the study of Alexámenos, saying that it would do great harm to the Church. I see it differently, as does Hash.”

“Trent had its proper season,” repeated Cardinal Fidèle. “It may come back into fashion. But Alexámenos’ nostalgia for the beauty of that response is, at this moment in history, out of place, anachronistic, inappropriate for the needs of the Church today. There are other ways of doing the same thing. You do not know how much I regret that Alexámenos cannot see this. Not yet.” He was met with blank stares. “If something is ripped out of context, it can be dangerous, no matter how wonderful it was in its own time,” he continued. “At this time, his perspective on Trent would be dangerous to the unity of the Church. It may have its day again, but that is not today. Any push to reverse the ecumenical gains that have been made today must be abandoned.”

“Speak plainly,” demanded Cardinal Elzevir, “What is it that is to be left behind?”

“In one word, clarity. It must, at any cost, be avoided,” replied Cardinal Fidèle. “I know that you know what I mean by leaving clarity in the dust.”

Carpe Diem was sitting on the carpet behind the Cardinals, holding all of the bibles to his ears once again. The bibles were printed by various denominations. He interrupted, asking, “When God speaks, doesn’t He say something? It sounds confused.”

“We can hear God’s clear speech, Carpe Diem,” replied don Hash, “if we use a good bible.” With that, Carpe Diem dumped the bibles on the carpet again and left the room quickly.

“Clarity is not an obstacle to ecumenism. This is all just too incredible,” said don Hash.

“We cannot afford clarity,” insisted Cardinal Froben. “No one wants the truth. Everyone has stoned the adulterous woman right out of Gospel of John. They don’t want to hear they are wrong, that the Pope is right. The Bible Societies even had the blessing and participation of Cardinal…”

“While you, Froben, throw her out of the Gospel,” interrupted Cardinal Fidèle, “you admit that you are wanting to make the Holy See into the Whore of Babylon. It is the Holy Spirit alone who has kept this adulterous woman in Rome’s New Vulgate, for now.

But the relative note and the introduction to the volume seem to infer that, in a following edition, she may be removed.”

Carpe Diem walked into the room, and began walking from corner to corner, again and again, holding an enormous tome this time opened face down on top of his head pressing the two sides to his ears, trying to listen but repeating again and again, “Polycarp, carpe diem! Polycarp, carpe diem!” It was an illuminated biblical codex from the ninth century, given to Cardinal Fidèle by a previous Pontiff. He looked like a bishop being ordained, when a book of the Gospels is held over the candidate’s head in much the same way.

“Perhaps something ought to be done about this Alexámenos. Expedience is the lesser of two evils,” said Cardinal Elzevir, finally expressing his usual and compromised modus operandi.

“Bravo, Elzevir,” confirmed Cardinal Fidèle. “Many Popes praised the efforts in Froben’s office. You must know that even if suppression of the Truth is not the best way, it is the only way that the Holy Spirit has provided for us in these days. Trent may come back in fashion, but not now. We are not up to that standard. This is what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Churches.”

“Your romanità goes far beyond the usual political savoir-faire,” said Cardinal Elzevir.

“Romanità doesn’t have to be Machiavellian, does it?” asked Cardinal Fidèle rhetorically.

Don Hash thought that, faced with choosing the lesser of two evils, there is always a third way, the only way… loving God’s will. “Surely, Alexámenos is not malicious!” he said.

“Naive is the word!” retorted Cardinal Fidèle instantly, annoyed and glaring at don Hash. “I have all the respect in the world for Alexámenos. But we must listen to the signs of the times. Ecumenism of the lowest common denominator is the way to go… only for now, of course, in these, the worst of times. The Holy Spirit knows how to bring good out of evil. It is better that one man die and all that. The Holy Spirit guides ecumenism in this way with Froben.”

“We should have you over at the Council. Bravo, old man!” exclaimed Cardinal Froben.

“Froben,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “I repeat, Trent and the new way of damage control complement each other. Since damage control is, in the end, kept in control, and guided to go in a certain direction by the Holy Spirit, the approach of Trent may have its day again.”

Cardinal Froben just grunted, completely lost.

Cardinal Fidèle continued, “Hash, this way of the lowest common denominator is the way we are all going for varying reasons. It is not an evil, nor is the affirmation of it. It is simply nothing, a method, a means to an end. We must stop the violence to come.”

Cardinal Fidèle continued unabated: “The fulness of the Truth, although not denied, is simply not presented, and this for the sake of unity, until our Lord intervenes and changes hearts. It is for this that we wait, with great anguish. This is my Agony in the Garden. For now, the only way to move forward, I hate to say, is with a defective edition of the Scriptures. The adulterous woman in the Gospel of John must be stoned to death, removed from the Gospel, though only for now.”

“Polycarp, carpe diem!” repeated Carpe Diem incessantly.



* These are the six rules of Saint Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, S.J., regarding textual critical redaction of the ancient manuscripts of Sacred Scripture many decades after the fourth session of the Council of Trent. 

The rules are utterly unscientific and self-serving: check out the words in red. Nota bene: the “regia” is the ancient Greek manuscript he and the commission of Cardinals used as a working document for this project, all at the behest of the Supreme Pontiff. The manuscripts he used from the Vatican’s Apostolic Library are duly noted in the registers. Yet, he had more manuscripts available to him than this.


1. Quando plura manuscripta antiqua convenient cum vulgata latina: mutetur regia.

1. When many ancient manuscripts agree with the Latin Vulgate: the ‘regia’ is to be changed.


2. Quando omnia manuscripta contra vulgata et contra regia inter se conveniunt: mutetur regia, sed in notationibus ratio reddatur.

2. When all manuscripts against the Vulgate and the ‘regia’ themselves agree: the ‘regia’ is to be changed, but the reason is given in the notations.


3. Quando vulgata non refragatur, et maior pars manusciptorum contraria est regiae; mutetur regia, et reddatur ratio in notationibus.

3. When the Vulgate does not oppose, and a major part of the manuscripts are against the ‘regia’, the ‘regia’ is to be changed, and the reason is given in the notations.


4. Quando manuscriptum unum vel plura concordant cum vulgata, id annotetur in variis lectionibus.

4. When one manuscript or many agree with the Vulgate, it is to be noted with the variant readings.


5. Annotationes fiant ad finem uniuscuiusque capitis.

5. Annotations may be made at the end of each of the chapters.


6. Quando clare apparet, aliqua verba esse addita ex alio evangelista, eorum non habetur ratio: ut v. g. Marci 8, Saturati sunt omnes, illud omnes translatum est ex Matth. 15 in graeco.

6. When it appears clear that other words have been added from another Evangelist, they will not be reckoned: so, e.g., Mark 8, Saturati sunt omnes, that omnes was transferred from Matthew 15 in Greek.


**An attentive reading of the two decrees of the fourth session of the Council of Trent will bear out the following distinctions. Usually, (B) is ignored by falsely equating it with (C), that is, with (C) only in view of (D).

trent session 4 treasure map

  1. Of three equivocations, only number ? is valid.
  2. Boxes (A) and (B) are from Sacrosancta, the first decree of the fourth session of the Council of Trent. This is a dogmatic decree.
  3. Boxes (C) and (D) are from Insuper, the second decree of the same session. This is a disciplinary decree which does, nevertheless, have dogmatic content.
  4. (A) refers to that which God has inspired in whatever original language, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc. That which is inspired is canonical. However, this is not to be found all in one manuscript, but, with the passage of the centuries, spread throughout many manuscripts, one phrase here, one there.
  5. (B) refers to words and phrases used in the Latin Vulgate from the beginning until the publication of the decree. The Latin, a mere translation, is not inspired, but because of constant use by the Church, has a text which is more easily known, and can act as a sieve for the original language manuscripts.
  6. (C) has the same content as that found in (B).
  7. (D) does not have the same content as (B) and (C). Permission is given to print the best edition possible (see “potissimum”) to date. This recognizes that the project may be continue for a long time.
  8. What is in (B) is a help to discover what is in (A); it would be advantageous to make good use of (B).
  9. One cannot yet be sure what is in (B), as there are many manuscripts yet to consider.
  10. Translations should be made only after the textual extensions of (A) and (B) have been duly studied.
  11.  Translations should be made from (A), noting that a correct sense of (A) can be found in (B).


*** “Within four months for those on the near side of the mountains [within Italy]; for those truly on the other side of the mountains [beyond Italy], within eight months…” Qui ultra montes is an example of the usage leading to the term ultramontanist, a term relative to where one lives. It is used by those outside of Italy for those who exaggerate in the credence they give to every dictum of the Pope (on the far side of the mountains, the Alps), or even the saints, even if it does not concern faith or morals.


Up next: Chapter 6 – You underestimate nothing


© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers

1 Comment

Filed under Jackass for the Hour

One response to “Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 5 – Double edged damage control

  1. sanfelipe007

    “Good Ciaphus, the council waits for you.”

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