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Q. Has there ever been a pope who formally taught heresy?
Q. C., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.C.D.:
The short answer is no.
Anti-Catholic apologists claim that Pope Honorius (625-638) taught heresy and was condemned by the sixth ecumenical council in 681. This claim arises out of a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of the facts. Here are the facts.
Following the teaching of Pope Leo I, the Council of Chalcedon in 451 decreed that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. Large groups in the East rejected this formula, mistakenly believing it denied the unity of Christ’s nature. In the next two centuries, numerous attempts were made to reconcile those groups to the Catholic Church.
In 619, Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, offered a compromise formula. He taught that while Christ did have two complete natures, he had only a single will. This formula, called monothelitism (from the Greek word for “one will”), immediately became the cause of widespread controversy in the East. The popes of the time had no information about this formula and the controversies it had engendered.
In 634, Sergius wrote to Pope Honorius a cleverly worded letter, seeking to enlist the Pope’s support in his cause. Sergius said that he would be willing to withdraw his theory of “one will” in Christ if others would stop insisting on the Chalcedonian formula of two natures in Christ. The Pope should have known that if Christ did not have a human will, he could not have been human, but only divine. Sergius’ doctrine should have been condemned outright, and the Chalcedonian formula reaffirmed.
Instead, through ignorance of the issues and through carelessness, Pope Honorius agreed it would be wise not to debate the issue of one or two wills in Christ. He rightly said there could be no opposition of wills in Christ because Christ always did the will of the Father. And that is all Pope Honorius said in reply to Sergius’ inquiry.
Note these facts. The Pope was not proclaiming a rule of faith; he was only urging silence on the issue. His reply to Sergius was communicated only to a few Eastern bishops. The bishops of the West knew nothing of Pope Honorius’ letter to Sergius.
When the sixth ecumenical council condemned monothelitism and its adherents in 681, they included Pope Honorius among those condemned. Recall now that the decrees of all the ecumenical councils were always submitted to the pope for his approval and promulgation. Conciliar decrees had no effect until the incumbent pope promulgated them, and only in the terms by which he confirmed them.
When the sixth ecumenical council’s decrees were submitted to Pope Leo II, he confirmed them. At the same time he made it clear that Pope Honorius was not condemned for teaching heresy but for failing to condemn the monothelite heresy when it was first brought to his attention.
The anti-Catholic apologists referred to at the beginning also contend that until the 11th century, the oath that Roman pontiffs took before their enthronement included a condemnation of Pope Honorius. What those apologists fail to see, or choose to conceal, is the fact that throughout those four centuries succeeding the incident, popes condemned Pope Honorius not for teaching heresy but for failure to condemn it when it first was brought to his attention.
Again, no pope has ever taught heresy.
Who Was Melchizedek?
Q. Please help me understand: Who exactly was Melchizedek? In Hebrews 7:1-10 it talks of him “with no father, no mother, no genealogy,” and says that Jesus is “a high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:10, 6:20). This has always confused me, and I hope that you can clarify it for me.
I thoroughly enjoy The Catholic Answer and often use many of the materials for my RCIA and CCD classes. I’ve also given the magazines to others for their further enlightenment when they ask me.
T. F., Bushkill, Pa.
A. First, thanks for the kind words about the magazine. Believe me: As the editor, I learn even more through each issue than the readers do!
What a coincidence — or a providence! I was asked this very question just last Sunday in the weekly parish Scripture study I lead. It’s a common question, I think, not only because of the biblical references you cited, but also because this Old Testament figure makes appearances in sacred art and the liturgy.
One of the stories in the Book of Genesis tells us that Abraham (at that time, called Abram) had an encounter Melchizedek on one occasion, just after Abram had won a victory on the battlefield:
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Gen 14:18-20).
That’s everything the Old Testament tells us about Melchizedek. As the writer of Hebrews notes, he’s unlike so many other significant biblical figures — especially kings — because we’re told nothing about his father, mother or other genealogy, nor about how his life ended. He appears and disappears in the story quite rapidly and mysteriously.
One other Old Testament passage refers to him, telling us, not more about him, but rather more about another King who is compared to him. David, the ruler of ancient Israel, prophesies divine words spoken to his lord — whom New Testament writers identify as David’s descendant, Jesus Christ: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Ps 110:4).
As you noted, the writer of Hebrews echoes this prophecy, confirming that it was spoken of Christ. In the seventh chapter of that book, he elaborates on several parallels between Melchizedek and Christ. These demonstrate that Melchizedek is what biblical scholars call a type, or a foreshadowing, of Christ.
(For more about what we mean by a biblical type, see the question for yesterday here.)
Here are the specific features of that foreshadowing:
This last point was especially important because at the time this book was written, some Jewish people challenged the Christian claim that Jesus was appointed by God as a high priest, since Jewish priests had to be born in the tribe of Levi. If Melchizedek, as Scripture taught, was “a priest of God Most High” before the Levitical priesthood had ever even existed, then it was a moot point that Jesus had no Levitical ancestry; He was in fact, as David had prophesied, rather a priestly king in the manner of Melchizedek.
Of course, other ancient Christians found additional parallels between Christ and Melchizedek — most significantly, the fact that for both, the exercise of their priesthood involved “bread and wine” (Gen 14:18).
One final note: Josephus, a Jewish historian contemporary with Christ, along with many others claimed that “Salem” was the same as “Jerusalem.” If that’s the case, the connection between Melchizedek and Christ (and David as well) is even stronger.
What Is a Biblical “Type”?
Q. I’ve been reading Scripture commentaries, and I’ve come across references to “biblical types.” What does that mean?
O.P., via email
A. Here’s one way to define a type in Scripture: It’s a person, thing, action or event in the Scripture that the Holy Spirit presents to us as a foreshadowing of a person, thing, action or event in the future.
A type is thus not merely a literary device or a symbol; it’s a real person, thing, action or event, though it nevertheless serves as what I like to call a “concrete prophecy.” By that, I mean that it points to someone or something to come, not through words, but simply by being what it is. This foreshadowing has been arranged through divine Providence.
Types are perhaps best understood through examples.
Jesus Christ has many types in the Old Testament. For example, Isaac is one, because the attempt of his father (Abraham) to offer him up as a sacrifice foreshadowed God the Father’s sacrifice of His only Son.
Moses is a type of Christ, because He established God’s Old Covenant with His chosen people, just as Christ established the New Covenant with them.
The ancient Passover lamb, sacrificed to save God’s people from death, was a type of Christ, the Lamb of God sacrificed to save His people from eternal death.
David, as a shepherd and king, is a type of Christ.
Jonah’s three days in the dark belly of the whale, and his emergence from a living death there, foreshadowed Christ’s time in the dark tomb and His resurrection from it.
Melchizedek, as a priestly king, is yet another. (More about him tomorrow).
Other kinds of foreshadowing abound.
St. Paul tells us that Abraham’s maidservant Hagar was a type (he calls it an “allegory”) of the Old Covenant; his wife, Sarah, of the New (see Gal 4:21-31).
Noah’s ark, carrying its passengers to safety in a world filled with deadly flood waters, is a type of the Church, which brings Christians to safety through the deadly deluge of sin that fills the world.
The ancient Israelite’s liberation from slavery in Egypt to new life in the Promised Land by passing through the Red Sea is a type of Christian baptism, through which we pass from slavery to sin to new life in God’s kingdom.
The city of Jerusalem is a type both of the Church and of heaven.
Christian marriage is a type of the union between Christ and the Church.
This is a sampling — many more could be noted.
One last note: The person, thing, action or event in the future that is foreshadowed by a type is called its antitype. For example, Christ is the antitype of Isaac.
Papal Visit Schedule?
Q. Where can I find a schedule of the Holy Father’s activities during his (all-too-brief) to the United States?
C.B., via email
A. The Holy Father’s Apostolic Visit to the United States, whose theme is “Christ Our Hope,” begins today. Pope Benedict XVI arrives at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., about 4 p.m. Eastern Time this afternoon. He’ll be met there briefly by President Bush and the First Lady, then transported by car to the Apostolic Nunciature of Washington, where he’ll be staying while he’s in our nation’s capital.
Tomorrow morning the Holy Father will begin his 81st birthday with a private Mass at the chapel of the Nunciature. Then he will be welcomed by several hundred guests (I’ll be among them) assembled on the South Lawn of the White House at 10:30 a.m. in a ceremony hosted by the President and Mrs. Bush. After he addresses that gathering, he’ll meet privately with the President in the Oval Office.
Next comes a whirlwind of events in Washington and then New York, lasting through Sunday night. For details of the schedule, go to the papal visit’s official website here.
For a schedule of EWTN’s live coverage of the events, click here.
For a wealth of information about the visit, including frequently updated reports, a web of prayer for the Holy Father, and much more, go to the OSV website here.
A Valid Marriage?
Q. A couple got married several years ago. One of them was a Catholic. A Protestant minister officiated at the wedding. Recently, the non-Catholic took instruction to become Catholic. He received First Holy Communion and was baptized on Easter Sunday.
Do they have a valid marriage? To my knowledge, the layperson made no mention of the validity of the marriage. What say you?
June Vaughn, Woodbridge, Calif.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Francis Hoffman, JCD:
I think they now have a valid marriage.
If neither party had been married before and both were free to marry, then they are most likely validly married now in the Catholic Church. When the non-Catholic took instruction to become a Catholic, the pastor most likely discovered the putative marriage of the couple was invalid due to lack of canonical form. That was most likely remedied in the course of instruction and conversion into the Catholic Church. That situation is not uncommon, and thankfully, it sounds like a happy ending!
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