Saturday, October 4, 2014

St. Vincent Ferrer and the Great Western Schism

Call me obsessive-compulsive, but my refusal to write a review of a book I read recently is haunting me. It is a historical study related to the canonization process for St. Vincent Ferrer. With a great deal of method, lots of serious research and an agreeable writing style, the author tries to get to the bottom of just why there was such a push for the canonization of a plague saint, with three miraculous resuscitations of dead people regularly noted in his iconography. Smoller fixates on the account of the return to life of the dismembered and partially cooked baby, which she wants to make a metaphor for the Church's attribution to St. Vincent of a key role in healing the Great Western Schism. The author asks too much of herself and of her sources, given her rationalist, perhaps, but in any case too "enlightened" mindset for approaching the abundant material she has reviewed in the book.

St. Vincent Ferrer was indeed a very popular preacher in his day:

"They testified to the effectiveness of Vincent’s sermons: blasphemy and gambling ceased; those who never had known how could now say the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria and make the sign of the cross. And above all, they recalled Vincent’s asceticism and his kindness." [Smoller, Laura Ackerman (2014-01-21). The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Kindle Locations 292-294). Cornell University Press. Kindle Edition.]

 St. Vincent did not shy away from the scandal of division in the Church which, no doubt, fed or fanned the flames of his apocalyptic preaching, which surely helped put an end to the divisions. I just can't bring myself to invite others to spend time over Smoller's noble effort. It is not hagiography and I don't think it contributes to the historical analysis of the Great Western Schism.

Perhaps what really haunts me is the terrible thought the book planted in my mind about the Church in our own day and time. Could such a division, through the election of one or more anti-popes, come to plague Mother Church in our day and time? There! I've said it out loud and as Smoller does not even touch on such, I have no one to blame but myself! Is it a bad thought that should be confessed? Is it just folly and seriously unthinkable in our great day and age?

In St. Vincent's day, the moving force behind the divisions should probably be placed not only on Satan's wicked head but also on the shoulders of some of Europe's crowned heads. They and their extended families were still the movers and shakers in society in competition or alliance with the great mendicant religious orders, like St. Vincent's Dominicans and the sons of St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast is today. Neither the G7, G8, G9 or G20 heads seem eager for an alliance with the Church today. We come off quite irrelevant, I suspect, in their geopolitical calculations; the minds and hearts of the people are much distracted by consumerism. Nonetheless, I still fear for Christ's seamless garment in our own day and time.

Obviously, the crowned heads are no longer the movers and shakers in the Catholic world; the journalists, bloggers, vaticanista, media folk, however, seem to have usurped their place in weighing heavily on Mother Church and pulling her here and there. As many cool heads as want can say what they will about the next two weeks of synod not having anything to do with questioning faith and teaching on the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the sacredness of life, but the movers and shakers are tugging this way and that on His seamless garment.

We entrust all to the Lord through the intercession of St. Francis, first and foremost the obedient son of the Church, whose profound reverence for the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass kept him a deacon. May those pulling and tugging from outside come to order and bow before the Good Shepherd. May the shepherds find the wisdom and courage to repel the attacks of the ravenous wolves!

St. Michael! St. Francis! St. Vincent!
Heal and defend the Holy Church!

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