Reflection on the Papacy
Emilia Paola Pacelli
The divine power of the 'Mighty Keys'

Petros eni: "Peter is here", says the famous graffiti beside the Apostle's tomb in the Vatican Basilica. Peter, the man of rock, champion of the faith tested by iron and fire in ordeal, the rock firmly established by the almighty hand of God to keep the Keys of wonderful Heavenly Bliss; Peter, visible head and foundation of the Mystical Body, firm root, royal bastion, bond of unity of the Church of Christ against the centrifugal and disruptive forces that have always tried to rend her seamless robe; "blessed" Peter, as he is called by St. Leo the Great, "Chief of the Apostolic band, appointed to the citadel of the Roman empire, so that the light of Truth, which was being displayed for the salvation of all nations, might spread itself more effectively from this same Head per totum mundi corpus".

After 2,000 years, still "Peter is here", in this "holy place", as the divine Poet defines the City, that Rome of the Caesars, baptized in the glorious blood of Peter and Paul, Rome of Christ and spiritual bastion of Christianity, "terra sancta... locus terribilis", as St. Bernard defined it, chosen from all eternity and formed by the Almighty, centre of the universal mission of salvation, definitive See of the Pontifical Chair: Chair of the supreme authority of the Magisterium in the field of faith and morals, which has been the infallible teaching of Jesus Christ in the 2000-year-old uninterrupted series of the Supreme Pontiffs.

Divine origins persist

Ages pass, the Successors of Peter pass, Popes die and pale to insignificance, their voices are muted, but the Pope does not die, and the Chair of Peter, the sacred nature, the sublime purpose, the divine, ineffable power of the "Mighty Keys", remains indefectible, that power that has been transmitted since the first Peter, resplendent and intact from one Pope to another, uniting such different exponents of that magnificent "paradoxical religious dynasty", which for more than 20 centuries has spanned history, leaving in it, with every Pope, the sign of God.

And whatever the face, origin, nature, human semblance the Supreme Pontiff may have, the primacy of Peter will always exist with the special assistance promised by the Redeemer, mysteriously present as invisible Head in his Church: it is always Peter who lives in every one of his Successors, who guides, confirms, governs and teaches in the name of the Divine Founder, with whom he forms one Head, spreading usque ad ultimum terrae, from the highest Chair, the splendour of the only Truth, the radiance of the salvific Faith.

Certainly every Pope has his own historical mission entrusted to him by the Almighty, who from time to time chooses, prepares and sends his Vicar according to the circumstances that the times demand, since in every age sensitivities, the maturation of ecclesial times, the influence or pressure of socio-cultural situations on the Church vary.

Consequently, every Pontificate has its own style, its own tonalities and ways of approach, its own accentuations; and rightly so, from one Pope to another the external form of preaching varies, as does the language and personal contribution that each Pope gives to the "religious dynasty" to which he belongs, at times extending or developing, at times stressing some aspects of the previous Pontificate, but always in continuity with it, according to concrete possibilities and requirements, and the needs of the time.

But the substance is the same since the command of the Divine Founder is unchangeable; and unchangeable is the nucleus of eternity which lives in the barque of Peter, and which every Vicar of Christ, through the vicissitudes of history, must ferry from age to age, guarding it like the most precious of treasures.

And it is that nucleus of eternity — the true Light, the only Truth, the only Hope — that he has the sacred duty to spread in the particular context in which he happens to live, adapting it to his own age, to the historical needs of civilization, to the different, changeable forms of existence, inserting into it the principle of elevation and harmonious unity in Christ of all authentic human values.

Forever guiding in the truth of faith

"The youth of the Church is eternal", Pius XII declared, "because the Church does not grow old, changing her step according to the conditions of the time in her journey to eternity. She remains what she was from her birth, always the same. She does not change in her dogma or in her power: she is impregnable, indestructible, invincible. She is indelible in her foundational document, sealed with the Blood of the Son of God. And yet she moves, and yet she takes on new forms with the age in which she advances, progressing, not changing in her nature".

And adopting what there is that is good and valid in peoples' various cultures — provided she is allowed to work there —, according to the Christian principle whereby the divine must infuse new life and value into what is human, the Church, through the guidance and directives indicated by her visible head, is called to renew the face and sinews of every civilization with which she associates, perfecting it: saving, as it were, the human in a perspective of eternity.

But she has not only the duty, but also the sacred right to proclaim the certainties of the truths that do not pass away; just as, for that matter, every creature on the face of the earth has the right to know them. And without violating the sovereignty of States or interfering in political life, the Church also has the right to give guidelines for ethics and social progress which guarantee the normal development of institutions, namely, guidelines for governing public life as well as private life, albeit only on the natural level.

In fact, far from wanting to dominate or replace the legitimate civil authority, her only burning aim and raison d'κtre is to serve humanity in profound awareness — as John Paul II declared on so many occasions — that there is no more precious service she can render to man, the "way of the Church", than to transmit to him the priceless gift of the Divine Word, which alone can help him to understand himself fully, his own sublime dignity and his own immortal destiny; that can open his heart divinely and infuse in it the heavenly fire of Grace and perfect peace; and that can, finally, offer him those ideas-strength that allow him to build his own civil society, basing it on the sovereign and eternal norms of the Gospel in the harmonious firmness of the Christian synthesis of all positive human values.

So with this demanding vibrant awareness for the supreme good of the sheep entrusted to him by the Master, the Successor of Peter — whether one wants to listen to him or not — must always proclaim, opportune et importune, the great moral and evangelical laws, raising aloud his voice from his Chair as circumstances demand to exhort, admonish, explain, reconcile, denounce, spur to action, take a position when necessary in the most serious issues, speak clearly to the conscience of believers, indicating the way they must follow.

He must stand up as defender of peace, freedom and justice, guardian of the weak and the oppressed against the tyranny of the powerful, avenger of divine and human rights wherever these are violated on earth. And no human power will ever be able to silence the Vicar of Christ, who would fail in the sacred mandate of the Petrine ministry and would be guilty before God if he failed to preach the Gospel and bring to Christ those who are still far from him, if he failed to follow the "way" the Master indicated, precisely, the "way of man", proclaiming before his children and the entire universe the indefectible, fundamental norms, preserving them from any corruption, false interpretation, distortion or error.

Since, as St. John Chrysostom declared, he will have to answer to God not only for his own life but for the salvation of the whole world, and to each of his Vicars for 20 centuries the Supreme Pastor — before the billions of men and women still not in the Church and waiting to "have life" and "have it to the full" — has addressed and will always address to the end of time the severe warning: "Cry aloud, and spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet!".

Thus, the Church, light of the world, salt of the earth, pillar and foundation of truth and grace and "through God's will and Christ's mission guardian of the natural and supernatural order", would deny herself if she forgot or failed to obey the Master's command: "Go out to the streets!", "Proclaim from the rooftops!".

And even if his voice should sound like the voice of "one crying in the wilderness" and his office were as painful for him as a "crown of thorns", yet, notwithstanding the world's incomprehension, contempt and revolt — historia docet —, he must always and at all costs tirelessly announce the sacred deposit of the Catholic Faith without partiality, entirely and passionately, as it came from the mind and heart of the Redeemer, a stumbling block and sign of contradiction; the only voice, at times, against the devastating wave of evil and powers hostile to God's Kingdom, which from time immemorial, in recurrent assaults, have hurled themselves against the Rock of Peter with the illusory intention of deposing him, of breaking his unwavering divine power, or at least of reducing the Vicar of Christ to silence, undermining his authority, depriving his word and that of the Church of any influence in social and political life, eradicating the Christian principle where it has a profound effect and is translated into action: in consciences.

Beacon in times of darkness

On an objective and calm consideration of facts, one cannot fail to see how the Church, through her visible head, is more than ever what she was from the very beginning, particularly in many dark ages, since the times of Linus, Anacletus, Clement, Evaristus...: a lighthouse, a beacon on the hilltop for all peoples, a sure guide in humankind's rough road.

Likewise, one cannot fail to see how the Chair of Peter truly shines forth as the Chair of Peace and Justice, of Truth and Grace, in this time of ours so fraught with threats, shaken by convulsions of hatred and terror, in the "storm of demented truths", in the painful ferment of a humanity in total chaos, on the brink of a precipice with no return and which seems to have lost every valid point of reference, bewildered and hypnotised, as it is, by the — ably handled — phosphorescence of false and deceitful myths and the most varied messages of prophets of nothingness, which all prove to be tragic hoaxes of peoples. A time, moreover, in which a large part of Christendom, in a "silent apostasy", has shown it would rather have shoddy below-cost goods than the matchless gold of Truth.

Certainly, the discourse could perhaps become complicated considering the fact that in some historical circumstances — as Paul VI said — the human weakness of many clerics gave a sad proof by itself.

But when one firmly believes in Jesus Christ, one would not let oneself be scandalized easily by these or similar arguments if one knew in depth the wonderful essence of the Papacy, the doctrine it is inspired by, if one reflected without biases or prejudices of any kind on his real role as the faithful and intrepid guardian of the Word of eternal Life and of the sacred energy of Grace for the faithful and for the whole world.

Also in those past cases, if seen from the perspective of faith and therefore on a metahistorical level — as every Papacy should be considered, whose internal dynamics, Fr. Raimondo Spiazzi explained, is shrouded in mystery and therefore only partly decipherable — one could perceive the presence of reasons which in the light of history escape us.

Besides, if we think carefully of the tremendous assaults that in 2,000 years the Church — and therefore the Papacy — has had to suffer from the very beginning in terms of persecutions, internal and external strife, heresies, schisms, declines, and which she has survived, it is difficult to understand how she could perish, since in those same situations any human institution would have collapsed a long time ago and been forgotten.

But paradoxically, they are precisely those "areas of darkness" that the Lord of Light in his infinite and unfathomable Wisdom allowed on the shining and immaculate face of his Spouse that have helped to reveal, resplendent and crystal-clear, the mysterious, eternal power that pervades her, that lives in her and will live until the end of time, and that constitutes the mystery of her indefectibility, expressed in the divine assurance: "The gates of hell will never prevail against her".

Yes, "Peter is here": the Master of the age-old Faith, the universal witness who, at the head of the Holy Church of God, columna ignis per noctem, column of fire in the night of this life, in the dark, inextricable scheme of human events, is and remains the irremovable Rock we must cling to in the hour of darkness, in the hour of confusion and doubt, in the onslaught of new plagues, the sacred Rock from which the fullness of eternal certainties gush forth and flow into the blood-stained crevices of history.

This our Faith, unshakeable because it is founded on the word of the Glorified Lord; this our Hope, which surpasses time and throws open the doors of Blessed Eternity.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 March 2007, page 6

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