Hexæmeron

During the early stages of my research for this blog, I told Baltasar Fuentes Ramos about the aforementioned episode in Rome in 1923, when poor “Don Battista” was left on the losing side of a geocentrism discussion.  Fuentes found that one interesting, because currently, he said, Pope Paul VI holds the opposite view on the subject: nowadays he would agree with Jerome Fitzgerald (were he alive, that is.  Fitzgerald, who was described as “middle-aged” in 1923, is almost certainly deceased by now).  This got Fuentes to talking about what he knows of the pope’s reading habits and intellectual life, which I was naturally fascinated to hear of.  In one of the first entries on this blog, I published what Fuentes told me about the pope’s lifestyle and diet.  The following, then, is some of what he has come to know about the pope insofar as his views on doctrine, theology, and ecclesiology.

It is helpful, in understanding the progress of Paul VI’s thought, to appreciate that his worldview can be roughly divided into three distinct phases of his life: there is early, middle, and late Pauline.  The first phase dates from 1917 – 1935, where he was neither a liberal modernist nor a stalwart traditionalist; he was essentially a theological moderate.  His attitudes were mostly aligned with one of his dearest mentors during this period, Eugenio Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII (regnum: 1939 – 1958).  The two became friends during their tenure together at the Vatican Secretariat of State.  Much like Pacelli, Montini believed the faith could be reconciled with modern science.  He believed that the Church had been mistaken to condemn Galileo, and he believed that the ascendant theory of evolution might somehow be harmonized with sacred scripture.  He was cautious on this, of course.  He was by no means certain.  He would’ve agreed with Pacelli’s delicate approach to evolution in the 1950 encyclical Humani Generis: that theologians and scientists should carefully and thoughtfully search into how evolution could be reconciled with creation, so long as they preserved the doctrine of the first pair, Adam & Eve.  Although he did not endorse evolution outright with Humani Generis, Pacelli failed to condemn it.  He left it open as a possibility: and this was a lamentable instance of neglect which brought on decades of Catholic unbelief in the true and scriptural account of creation.

The second period of Montini’s thought would be from 1935 – 1972, when he was brought low by a demonic oppression.  A recent headline on gloria.tv proclaimed that antipope Benedict XVI’s “head ‘does not work entirely’ anymore”—and sadly, the same thing could be said of Montini during this terrible stretch of nearly four decades.  (A brief aside: I have been contacted by some secular readers of this blog who find the subject matter intriguing, but they have told me that some of the terminology is confusing or arcane.  It is especially strange, they have told me, to see Francis and Benedict XVI and John Paul II labeled “antipopes” when the whole world knows them as “Pope Francis” or “Pope Benedict.”  It is imperative for this blog, however, that these men be considered antipopes.  For clarity’s sake, then, I have decided to create a Glossary of Terms that I can link to for words or phrases that might be perplexing for those unfamiliar with traditional Catholicism or the theory of Pope Paul VI’s survival.  I will add to it as I make new posts.  The first entry is “antipope.”  I will also try to go back and create links to it from certain words used in my earlier posts).  At any rate, Montini during this time was confined to a mental prison, constantly harassed by demons to an extent where nearly anyone else would probably have gone mad.  I briefly sketched out in an earlier post how “an unspeakable goetic malignancy had taken hold of Montini’s soul and oppressed him.”  Truly, his head did not work entirely.  His outward self was for the most part a charade—he was like a puppet dangling from strings, and he could only but observe the dreadful machinations going on around him; he was impotent to stop them.  The only thing he possessed was the awful awareness that his earlier views had been completely wrong-headed.  There could be no such thing as sitting on the fence and being a moderate.  There could be no compromise between the Church and her enemies, for “what concord hath Christ with Belial?”  When he began to emerge from his accursed state, he asserted himself firmly as a traditionalist: when he issued Humanae Vitae in 1968, and when he declared that “the smoke of Satan has entered the Church” in 1972.  Fuentes once told me: “when this pope finally comes out of hiding and takes up his chair in Rome, the Church is going to have a pope the likes of which no one has seen since St. Leo the Great.   (Pope Leo, of course, is known for his famous standard: “innovate nothing; be content with tradition”).

The third period is his life in exile, from 1972 until the present.  While he was being sheltered by a group of Greek Orthodox monks at a Cretan monastery called Godia Odigitria, he spent much of his time in the library there, an eager autodidact, re-educating himself.  The scales had long since fallen from his eyes: more than anyone else in the world, he had witnessed first-hand the presence of the enemies of the Church inside the Church: in the Vatican itself, from the lowest priests to the highest prelates, seeking to bring the Church to ruination from within.  He knew that the crisis of tradition was older than Vatican II.  It was older, even, than the modernism of the early twentieth century.  It went as far back as St. Robert Bellarmine, Galileo, and Pope Alexander VII in the sixteenth century, and the attempts of later popes to overturn the condemnation trying to cozy up to modern science.  (“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”).  Jerome Fitzgerald had been correct: the Church was right about heliocentrism the first time.  It was nothing but heresy.

The Godia library offered Pope Paul a wealth of patristic works, and he surveyed the Early Church Fathers on the subject of creation:  St.Basil the Great, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Ephrem the Syrian, finding that every last one of these brilliant theologians were what today would be called “creationists.”  The pope was also able to read some of the nineteenth and twentieth century Orthodox commentators on the issue: St. Theophan the Recluse, St. John of Kronstadt, and St. Justin Popovich, all whom argued that the ancient tradition of the creation narrative could not be overruled by the consensus of secular atheists who claimed to be working under the banner of science.  According to Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua, Pope Paul’s research on creation and geocentrism was extensive.  In the 1980s, he claimed, the pope began a correspondence with an Athonite monk known as Elder Paisios, an outspoken critic of evolution.  (My father’s notes indicate that he was trying to get copies of Elder Paisios’ letters from an archivist at Koutloumousiou Monastery on Mount Athos, a monk named Brother Ionáthan, but he does not appear to have succeeded.  His last contact with Brother Ionáthan was in 1994.  His notes indicate that Pope Paul’s letters were transcribed into Greek by a young rassaphore at the Godia monastery, and were signed merely as “Pávlos, a seeker”so they may have been preserved, as the true identity of the writer was not known to Elder Paisios).

paisios-up

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos in an undated photo.  He was declared a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2015. 


The pope and Elder Paisios shared with each other their thoughts on creation and geocentrism and the senses of scripture, and also on how the schism had adversely affected the Church, both East and West.  They found themselves in agreement that it was a tragedy how, in the centuries since 1054, both sides had become infected with the disease of private judgement—a disease which blights all religion, philosophy, and politics, and which leads ultimately to atheism and spiritual death.  In the West, private judgement was heralded most fiercely by Martin Luther at the Reformation, followed by Leibniz and Spinoza during the Enlightenment, and then Voltaire and Jefferson in birthing the twin Revolutions that tossed off monarchy.  In the East, there was no longer a final religious authority to appeal to, and so their ranks became riddled with internal schisms and perpetual disagreements; in some cases there was disagreement over even which councils to accept.  Both Pope Paul and Elder Paisios agreed that man’s fallen nature rendered him wholly unfit for private judgement, and that the only solution for everything that plagued him spiritually was to humbly submit to the ultimate authority.  Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua said, “it was a fruitful exchange of ideas.”

The issue of private judgement is crucial to the current problems with traditional Catholicism.  Most traditional Catholics have painted themselves into a corner by acknowledging Francis as the pope but refusing to obey him.  They rely on their private judgement as to what they will accept; they are their own final authority.  In an especially obscene arrangement, they reject, in all their pride, the exhortation of Pope St. Pius X:

Love the Pope!  And how must the Pope be loved?  Non verbo neque lingua, sed opere et veritate—not in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth (1 John iii, 18).  When one loves a person, one tries to adhere in everything to his thoughts, to fulfill his will, to perform his wishes.  And Our Lord Jesus Christ said of Himself, “si quis diligit me, sermonem meum servabit”—“if any one love me, he will keep my word” (John xiv, 23).  Therefore, in order to demonstrate our love for the Pope, it is necessary to obey him.

Therefore, when we love the Pope, there are no discussions regarding what he orders or demands, or up to what point obedience must go, and in what things he is to be obeyed; when we love the Pope, we do not say that he has not spoken clearly enough, almost as if he were forced to repeat to the ear of each one the will clearly expressed so many times not only in person, but with letters and other public documents; we do not place his orders in doubt, adding the facile pretext of those unwilling to obey—that it is not the Pope who commands, but those who surround him; we do not limit the field in which he might and must exercise his authority; we do not set above the authority of the Pope that of other persons, however learned, who dissent from the Pope, who, even though learned, are not holy, because whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope.

And this is the paradox of traditional Catholicism: it accepts John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis as popes, but it refuses them the obedience which a Catholic is properly expected to give to the pope.  The paradox can only be resolved if these men are in fact not popes in the first place.  (No obedience, after all, need be given to an antipope).

According to Baltasar Fuentes Ramos, Pope Paul VI is a frequent reader of the Eastern Church Fathers.  He told me this: “one of the most miraculous and incredible things about the coming restoration is that Pope Paul VI will finally reunite the schismatic Orthodox churches with Rome.  This will happen after he consecrates Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  The East will be converted and there will be a period of peace, as promised by Our Lady of Fátima.  The ‘peace’ will not only be a period free of war, but it will also be a period of religious peace, where the two original spheres of Christianity, East and West, will once more be in harmony.  And dissent and heresy will be quashed: the errors of evolution and heliocentrism will be solemnly and infallibly condemned.  One of the most richly symbolic aspects of Fátima to keep in mind is that the Miracle of the Sun was an indicator, to everyone with eyes to see, that the sun is the orb which moves.  Not the earth.  The sun moves, and the earth is stationary.   Just as the sun came to a halt in its circuit at the battle of Jericho, to demonstrate the Lord’s power (Joshua, x.13), so the sun danced at Fátima, to demonstrate the order of the heavens.”  Fuentes said that much of the pope’s reading material pertains to Genesis, creation, the cosmos, and Revelation.  He said, “it is a matter of the Alpha and the Omega.  The beginning of time and the end of time are mystically connected.  You cannot understand one without the other.  Soon all things will be fulfilled.”

Hexameron

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Glossary of Terms

Antipope.  “A false claimant of the Holy See in opposition to a pontiff canonically elected. At various times in the history of the Church illegal pretenders to the Papal Chair have arisen, and frequently exercised pontifical functions in defiance of the true occupant.”Catholic Enyclopedia.  This blog refers to Francis and his three predecessors (Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and John Paul I) and the Paul VI impostor (Alessandro Falchi) as antipopes, since the rightful and canonically elected pope is still Paul VI, whose papacy commenced in 1963 and has not yet ended.

Rassaphore.  An early degree in the rankings of Eastern Orthodox monasticism.  A rassaphore is one level above a novice.  “(Slavonic: рясофор), lit. ‘robe-bearer.’  If the novice continues on to become a monk, he is clothed in the first degree of monasticism at a service at which he receives the tonsure.  Although there are no formal vows made at this point, the candidate is normally required to affirm his commitment to persevere in the monastic life.  The abbot will then perform the tonsure, cutting a small amount of hair from four spots on the head, forming a cross.  He is then given the outer cassock (Greek: rasson, exorasson, or mandorrason; Slavonic: riassa), an outer robe with wide sleeves, from which the name of Rassaphore is derived.  He is also given a kamilavkion, a cylindrical brimless hat, which is covered with a veil called an epanokamelavkion.  (These are separate items in the Greek tradition, but in the Russian tradition the two are stitched together and the combination is called a klobuk.)  If he has not previously received it, a leather belt is fastened around his waist.  His habit is usually black, signifying that he is now dead to the world, and he receives a new name.  The vows of the rassaphore are ‘implicit’ rather than ‘explicit.’  Such vows (chastity, poverty, obedience, perseverance, stability) are inferred by the rite traditionally used in the tonsuring.  Some will remain rassaphores permanently without going on to the higher degrees.Orthodox Wiki.

The British Monarchy in Rome, May 1923

We come now to an important episode in the early history of Giovanni Battista Montini.  In January of 1923 he returned to his apartments in Rome to await his appointment to the Vatican Secretariat.  While he waited, he occupied his time with a light regimen of studies at the Pontifical Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics, and with composing some wishy-washy political pieces for the student newspaper he had founded back in Brescia, La Fionda.  This period of limbo lasted for five months: from January until his appointment to the papal nuncio in Warsaw, Poland in June.  On the surface, it may seem an inconsequential stretch of time in the life of the young priest.  But on the contrary: there was a significant incident.  It occurred in early May, when King George V and Queen Mary of England made a state visit to Rome as the guests of Victor Emmanuel III, the penultimate King of Italy.

Archival footage.  (This video has no sound).


The visit lasted for five days and was known as “English Week” by the Italian public, who welcomed the royal couple warmly.  Arriving along with the king and queen was an unofficial contingent of various English Royalists as well as English Catholics, including the papal chamberlain Evan Morgan, the 2nd Viscount Tredegar.  (Any readers unfamiliar with this demented personage are advised to kindly acquaint themselves with the short biography which was posted earlier on the blog).

On Thursday of that week, Father Montini was invited by his physician and friend Roberto Zorza to attend a dinner at the Roman residence of Prince Francesco Massimo, a prominent member of the so-called “Black Nobility”—those among the Italian aristocracy who continued to remain loyal to the Church, and who were appalled by both the fascist and people’s movements.  Father Montini was able to feel vaguely sympathetic to the Black Nobility.  Typical of him, his politics at the time were riddled with uncertainty and fence-sitting.  His brother Lodovico was a staunch opponent of the ascendant fascism of Mussolini’s party, and his father was a supporter of Don Luigi Sturzo’s Italian People’s Party (in Italian, Partito Popolare Italiano, or PPI).  But Montini had been in heady discussions of political theory with his friend Zorza, a monarchist of some conviction.  Montini was never quite converted to the monarchist stance himself, though he was coming to appreciate it: God alone was the source and font of morality, and if the Church was removed from the political equation, then morality would descend into the hands of the populace—and this would mean morality by the consensus of the mob.  One of his essays in La Fionda was critical of a rabble-rousing speech Sturzo had given at a PPI convention in April of that year.  Montini did not mention monarchism as an alternative, but he did wonder whether Sturzo’s uncompromising advocacy of popular sovereignty would be favorable to the Church in an increasingly secularized era.

At the dinner, Montini and Zorza shared a table with several members of the English delegation.  Among them was a dapper twenty-four year old named Hollander Zea, a British national of Peruvian descent who had been disowned by his family at age nineteen after a public conviction for homosexuality.  He was supported financially by a wealthy great-aunt in Peru, and moved with ease among the more dissolute circles of the English aristocracy.  Eventually his path had crossed with Evan Morgan’s, and they became friends until Morgan’s death in 1949.  Zea was not, however, a participant in Morgan’s occult activities.  He was an avowed atheist, and considered the existence of the devil as unlikely as the existence of God, and in his diaries he expresses an ongoing befuddlement with Morgan’s religious pursuits.  In one passage he described attending one of Morgan’s Luciferian rituals in Paris, remarking: “a man of Evan’s intelligence has no excuse for indulging in this nonsense, but I confess I find this sort of lunacy amusing.  Do they really think they will conjure the devil with candles and runes and backwards Latin?  I could barely suppress my laughter when the old woman started shrieking.”  (The “old woman” mentioned in this passage is Myriam MacKellar, since he uses the name “Myriam” interchangeably with “old woman” in many of his entries).  Zea was a prolific diarist, believing his own life to be of the utmost importance, and he chronicled his thoughts and misadventures in great detail.  His journal entry is the only known record of the events at Prince Massimo’s palace that particular Thursday.

EVENING OF 10 MAY

The prince’s mansion.  In a vast dining room, beneath crystal chandeliers, and among tall potted ferns.  We were seated with a middle-aged insurance clerk from Surrey named Jerome Fitzgerald, who was tall, solemn, and horse-faced.  In the course of Fitzgerald’s conversation with Evan it became clear that he was devout in his Catholicism.  At one point he began speaking of the several scapulars he wore underneath his shirt.  We were then joined by a pair of Italians, a young Roman doctor with his hair prematurely graying, surname of Zorzo, and a gentle, big-eared priest from Milan whom Zorzo introduced as Don Battista.  (Montini was from Brescia, obviously, but he had recently finished his canon law studies in Milan, which was probably the cause of Zea’s misunderstanding here.  “Don Battista” was possibly an instance of Zorza making a good-natured reference to Montini’s recent admission to the Academy of Noble Ecclesiastics, as by all accounts he preferred to be called simply “Father Montini.”  And “Zorzo” was obviously misheard.—WJQSM).  The priest’s English was abysmal, whereas Dr Zorzo’s was quite good.  The doctor became a translator for the priest after a most fascinating argument ensued. 

Fitzgerald expressed a desire to attend on Sunday the beatification ceremony of the famous Jesuit Cardinal, Robert Bellarmine.  Fitzgerald said that in his opinion, Bellarmine was the most important figure of the sixteenth century.  The doctor then commented, saying he had been given his Christian name after Bellarmine (“Roberto Bellarmino,” as he put it in his euphonious Italian).  Fitzgerald declared Bellarmine to have been more important to the Catholic Church than Pius V or Leo X or Charles Borromeo, even though a crucial part of Bellarmine’s legacy had been obscured and defamed.  “And what part was this?” asked the priest.

“His defense of the scriptural doctrine of geocentrism,” said Fitzgerald, and suddenly the debate was on.  The priest was visibly taken aback by this, but then he chuckled and shook his head in dismay.  “No, no, no,” he chided, “Bellarmino was wrong on that.  In fact, we must admit the Church was wrong.” 

The whole table was then treated to a history lesson on the Galileo controversy.  I confess to being surprised by Fitzgerald’s position.  I was unaware there were Catholics in existence who still clung to the ridiculous view that the sun revolves around the earth.  But he defended himself with eloquence and erudition.  In fact, I fear he bested the poor young priest.

The priest’s first line of defense was to say that Bellarmine had made a simple mistake in judgement.  He had failed to realize that the geocentric passages in the bible were supposed to be taken figuratively, not literally.  Fitzgerald replied: “but it was not just Cardinal Bellarmine who concluded this.  The Early Church Fathers unanimously believed in and taught a geocentric cosmos.  Were they mistaken also?”

Don Battista said that the Fathers were simply innocent of the science.  They accepted the Ptolemaic model like everyone else did at the time, as the astronomy to prove it incorrect did not yet exist.  Fitzgerald countered: “they were not taking their beliefs from Ptolemy.  They were taking them from Holy Writ.”

The priest softly smiled.  “A common misunderstanding.  I know the passage.  We studied this in seminary.  The Psalmist says, ‘the Earth will not be moved.’  But this only means that the Earth will not be moved from its course.  If you have studied Hebrew, you will recognize that the mowt of the niphal stem in that passage means that nothing will deter the earth on its orbit.  It does not indicate geocentrism.”

“I have not studied Hebrew myself,” Fitzgerald conceded, “but with all due politeness I must defer to the Jewish philosopher Maimonides over your own study of Hebrew.  Surely a learned Jewish scholar is a greater authority on the Hebrew language than a Catholic priest?  Maimonides studied the Hebrew bible extensively, and he contended that the bible described the sun as revolving around the earth.  I will assume that he, an eminent Jew, did not make a bald-faced error in basic Hebrew grammar.  Unless, perhaps, biblical Hebrew is your particular area of expertise?”

Don Battista at this point was beginning to show signs of wearying.  He was no longer chuckling and smiling so much.  His adversary was giving him a harder fight than he expected.  He sighed.  “What we must conclude from the geocentric descriptions in the bible is that God, in speaking to mankind, was speaking to them in terms they would be familiar with.  It appeared to the naked eye as if the sun was rotating around the earth.  No one had telescopes in those days.  So the bible was simply communicating in a manner which the people of the time could understand.”

“But the ancient Hebrews accepted the bible as the holy word of God.  If it is true that the earth revolves around the sun, then why would he confirm his chosen people in a scientific error?  I should also remind you that God’s revelation is for all people in all times.  It is truly timeless!  Why would God, in all his omnipotence, tailor scripture especially to the ancient Hebrews if he knew that it would be found troubling to people in the sixteenth century with telescopes?”  Fitzgerald’s voice was rising.  It was evident that he believed in this very passionately.  “Cardinal Bellarmine’s brilliance was to recognize that all the scientists in the world, with all their telescopes, were nothing other than mere mortal humans with fallible instruments.  The only assurance of truth we have is that which has been revealed from on high.  If inerrant scripture is at odds with human science, then the science must be wrong.  It is a heresy to claim that scripture contains any error.  That is why Galileo and Copernicus were condemned.  Geocentrism was a heresy and remains a heresy still.  Heresy is heresy.  Error can never become orthodoxy!”

The doctor named Zorzo was becoming exasperated in translating between the priest and his interlocutor.  Don Battista tried to keep his response minimal.  “The Holy Office that condemned Galileo was not infallible,” he said.  “When they pronounced geocentrism a heresy, they were unfortunately wrong.”

“It was not just the Holy Office, however,” countered Fitzgerald.  “It was Pope Alexander VII, who solemnly invoked Apostolic Authority in his bull Speculatores Domus Israel when he placed the heliocentric books on the Index and condemned them as heretical.  So think of it.  We have the geocentric descriptions in Holy Writ, the unanimous consensus of the Early Church Fathers, the condemnation of heliocentrism by the Holy Office, and finally the ratification of the Holy Office’s decision by the pope, in a formal decree which is binding on the faithful.  Nothing could be more Catholic, as we have scripture, tradition, and the magisterium, all teaching in unison!  How can anything buttressed by all three pillars of the Catholic Church possibly be overturned?”

At this point everyone at the table felt sorry for the poor priest, who was clearly being trounced.  The doctor translated Fitzgerald’s screed to him softly, robbing it of its thunder.  But the content remained.  The priest speared a scallop in lemon sauce with his fork and moved it around on his plate.  He gave Fitzgerald a kindly look.  “I am afraid we will have to agree to disagree,” he said.

“Very well,” Fitzgerald told him.  “But take caution, Father.  If you accept the notion that the Church can overturn a solemn condemnation, you set a dangerous precedent.  You make it possible for anything and everything to be overturned at some point in the future.”

Whoever Jerome Fitzgerald was, he is lost to history.  A little-known insurance clerk from Surrey: a devout Catholic who followed his Anglican king and queen to Rome, possibly in the hopes that they might somehow convert to Catholicism, and the English throne be rightfully restored to the Church.  One can only surmise about him.  He is not mentioned again in Hollander Zea’s diary.  But he seems to have been something of a prophet (for truly, “anything and everything” was overturned in the future, at Vatican II).  The table was joined next by a pair of late arrivals, an Italian socialite and her son.  The conversation then turned to gossip of no importance.  Zea’s entry has no more relevance to the history of Paul VI until later on that night, when it recounts a conversation between Zea, Morgan, and Myriam MacKellar, while they were sitting on one of the palace verandas drinking white wine after most of the guests had gone home.

Evan’s thoughts turned to the young priest who had discussed the movements of the sun and the earth with the bachelor named Fitzgerald.  He remarked, “I know of a priest who bears an eerie resemblance to that Don Battista at our table,” and Myriam nodded her head in agreement. 

But I wanted to know if Evan believed in geocentrism.  “What about you?” I asked him.  “Do you believe that the earth is the center of the universe?”

“Yes,” he said, “as surely as I believe that hell is located in the center of the earth.  As a matter of fact, this priest I know is the disciple of an exquisite demon who was once anciently worshiped as a Mesopotamian god, and whose cult migrated to India.  Hell is real.  It is populated with devils and the damned.”

I informed him for the hundredth time that I did not believe in any of this.  He said to me, “whether or not you believe it makes no difference.  It is still very real.  Catholic and Satanist eschatology are very much in agreement.  The final stage of history is upon us.  Did you know, Christ has agreed to give the devil one hundred years to see if he can bring utter destruction to the Catholic Church?  It’s quite true.  Pope Leo XIII had a vision of this while he was offering Mass.  It is now as it was in the Book of Job, Hollander, when the devil bragged that he could cause the most devout believer lose his faith.”

At this point the old woman chimed in.  She stopped puffing on her long-stemmed cigarette long enough to say, “there is an intricate numerology surrounding this.  We are working to unravel it.”

“Yes,” Evan agreed.  “And we believe that I myself have a role to play.  Did you know that I was born exactly nine months and nine days after Pope Leo had his vision?  The number nine in Kabbalistic gematria has a profound significance, and two consecutive nines, such as nine months and nine days, are even more auspicious.  Myriam and I have been in contact with many messenger demons, and there is an indication that I have a certain destiny in this scheme.”

I was too tired to listen to any more of their thaumaturgical ramblings.  I dislike Evan whenever he gets in his religious moods, and I have always the old woman irritating from the day I was first introduced to her.  I excused myself from the balcony, left the mansion, and returned to my lodgings, where here I presently sit, writing this.  So ends another day.

In Rome, Germany, Austria, and Brescia (1921 – 1922)

In the same year in which Father Montini began his friendship with his physician, Roberto Zorza, he attended a series of lectures on Canon Law at the Lateran Palace being given by Alfredo Ottaviani, who was then a young priest like Montini, but several years older, and widely considered one of the most promising clerics of the new generation.  He was a prodigy in jurisprudence, philosophy, and ecclesiology.

In many respects, one finds Ottaviani (the scrappy son of a humble baker from Trastevere, one of thirteen children, blind in one eye, and who rose to prominence entirely on the merits of his own uncompromising intellect) preferable to Montini (as there can be little doubt that the influence of Montini’s father—the editor of a Catholic newspaper and a member of the haute bourgeoisie as well as the Italian Parliament—had something to do with the ease of his son’s journey up the steps of the ecclesiastical ladder).  Ottaviani had a talent for ruthless clarity and precision, whereas Montini could be deliberate almost to a fault; his ability to appreciate both sides of an argument sometimes led him to taking wishy-washy and noncommittal stances when a firmer hand was demanded.  Also, Ottaviani was said to have had a caustic wit and a certain waspish charm, while Montini appears to have been somewhat bland (the curse of the moderate).  Ottaviani was overall better-suited to his time and environment.  The Catholic Church in the twentieth century needed principled and doctrinaire leaders, not milquetoast compromisers.  With his smarts and gravitas, Cardinal Ottaviani was considered a front-runner among the papabile in 1958, but the conclave chose the unserious Angelo Roncalli instead, and so the Church got John XXIII, the bringer of jollity.  Such is life.  As St. Vincent of Lerins famously put it: “God gives some Popes, God tolerates some Popes, and God inflicts some Popes.”  And in 1963, it would be Cardinal Ottaviani who placed the tiara on the head of Pope Paul VI at his coronation, and not the other way around.  (It should be remembered, however, as was summarized in this post, that Paul VI was not culpable for the ruin and wreckage caused during his papacy.  As can be inferred from his attendance at Ottaviani’s lectures, he was at the very least not a liberal).

He was being actively recruited, in 1921, for a position in the Vatican Secretariat of State by the foreign ministry sostituto, Monsignor Giuseppe Pizzardo.  This recruitment itself hints at Father Montini’s religiously conservative bona fides, for Pizzardo was a staunch anti-modernist, and the Secretariat was known for attracting the more traditional-mined young curialists of the time, including the aforementioned Ottaviani, as well as Fr. Antonio Bacci, who would be his co-signatory in the Ottaviani intervention in 1969.  But that is to get ahead of things.

ottaviani

Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani (1890 – 1979).  His motto was “Semper Idem”—“Always the Same.”


The following year dawned drearily.  January of 1922 was a frigid and wet one.  Montini caught the flu.  The pope did as well.  Benedict XV took ill from standing too long in the winter rain outside of Saint Martha’s Hospice in the Vatican, where he had celebrated Mass for the nuns there.  He had been waiting on the papal limousine; unfortunately, his driver ran late.  On the seventeenth of January, the pope’s flu had progressed to pneumonia, and he lay down in his bed for the very last time.  He departed this life five days afterwards.  He was sixty-seven years old.  While the body was lying in repose at St. Peter’s, Father Montini went with his doctor, Roberto Zorza, to offer his prayers for the deceased.  It was a truly funereal day: a louring gray sky, a persistent rain, and a square crowded with public mourners, all dressed in black, holding black umbrellas.

View of Body of Pope

The death of a pope: the body of Benedict XV, 1922.


A fortnight later there was a new pope: Achille Ratti, the Archbishop of Milan, who took the name Pius XI.  On the sixth of March, Pius granted a private audience to the students of the Pontifical Academy.  Earlier in this post it was mentioned that Montini enjoyed the benefit of influence: and indeed, on this occasion Pope Pius singled him out for a brief conversation—enquiring after his father, and expressing his admiration for Montini’s mentor in Brescia, Fr. Bevilacqua (at the time, Bevilacqua was well-regarded as a pastoral liturgist).  Father Montini’s path to the nunciature continued on.  In July of that year he toured Austria and Germany as a prospective ambassador, to acquaint himself with the customs, culture, and language.  He discovered he was not a Germanophile, writing in a letter to Roberto Zorza that the culture and the art of the region were “oppressive and incomprehensible.”  The existential gloom of Grünewald crucifixes and Doctor Faustus did not settle well with him; in Tübingen he sat through a philosophy lecture full of the weighty Teutonic concern with aesthetics and perfection; and his attendance at a showing of F.W. Murnau’s expressionist vampire film Nosferatu he deemed “a queasy waste of my time.”  He was confounded by Gothic sensibilities.  (His superiors had diagnosed him correctly: he was a natural bureaucrat, not a writer).  He did report to Zorza, however, that sauerkraut was improving his gastrointestinal troubles; he had been advised to seek out fermented foods for their benefits to gut bacteria.  He went to Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Oberammergau, Mainz, and Bonn.  He stayed for only four months, as the Weimar Republic was at this time experiencing its exponential hyperinflation.  In October of ’22 he was informed by Msgr. Pizzardo that his entry into the Secretariat of State was all but certain; it would be best if he finished his scholarship in Canon Law as soon as possible.  He returned to his parents’ home in Brescia, and from there he commuted to the Milan Seminary to study in an abbreviated program.  His administrators at the Pontifical College in Rome waived some of his requirements.  He was awarded his doctorate in December of that same year.

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A Pict Song

Following his ordination in 1920, the twenty-three-year-old Father Montini was set on a rigorous course of academic study.  He had distinguished himself as a formidable intellect during his time at seminary, and his Bishop, Giacinto Gaggia, felt the mental talents of the promising young cleric would be wasted on pastoral duties.  So he was sent to Rome, where he took up apartments on the Via del Mascherone, in a building dating to the Middle Ages which had once been the barracks of the Teutonic Knights.   He had wanted to study literature, but it was felt by his superiors that his mind would be better suited to Canon Law: he possessed an innate ability to appreciate nuance and weigh ideas carefully; he was a young man with the cautious and deliberate temperament of a seasoned jurist.   He undertook his legal studies at the Lombard Seminary at the Pontifical Colleges, and was allowed to take supplemental courses in the humanities at the Sapienza University of Rome.  He took classes there in history, philosophy, and Italian and Latin literature.  Eventually, however, the course load proved too demanding, and by 1921 he was no longer attending any Sapienza lectures.  His focus was strictly on Canon Law.

He was also bothered in 1921 by a return of the stomach maladies which had troubled him in adolescence.  His family procured the services of a prominent Roman doctor named Andrea Amici, who had once been the personal physician of Pope Pius X.  Amici assigned one of his assistants, Roberto Zorza, to the case of Father Montini.  Zorza was a devout Catholic, and only seven years older than his patient; through a shared interest in politics they became friends.  They politely debated the issues of the day during their appointments, and from time to time they would meet up for a beer.  Zorza was a monarchist; Montini was not.

As it happens, my father interviewed Roberto Zorza’s daughter, Silvia Zorza, in November of 1990.  I will publish some excerpts from that interview later, as it relates to the distinct change that came over Montini after 1935.  Interestingly, Silvia was not surprised by my father’s research into the possibility of Paul VI’s existence.  She herself believed in it, but she advised my father not to make too many waves.  As a cautionary tale, she told him about a nephew of hers, Lorenzo Zorza—an Italian-born priest who had done his graduate studies at Fordham University in New York in the late 1960s, and ended up taking citizenship in the United States.

According to Silvia Zorza, her nephew first became aware of Paul VI’s survival from her father, during a visit to her family’s house in Rome in the mid-1970s.  He found the idea intriguing, but lacked the luxury to pursue it: he returned to his rectory in Somerset, New Jersey, where he was a missionary priest with the Consolata Fathers.  His days and nights there were filled with an endless series of requests for charity from the city’s various transients—the homeless, the mentally ill, and the needy.  Which is not to say Father Zorza minded: truly, this was the good work of the Lord, the joyous toil of the gospels.  He was glad to be following his vocation, yet his schedule was unconducive to research, so he filed the thought of Paul VI’s survival into the back of his mind and pursued it no further.  Time passed.  Then, in the early 1980s, he became an administrator in the Vatican embassy to the United Nations.  He began dividing his time between Somerset and New York and Rome.  He was now working in the corridors of serious power; he was in frequent contact with people in the upper echelons of the Vatican.  In November of 1981, in New York, he was made aware of the secret history of Paul VI for the second time, and on this occasion it came from someone in a position to know: an assistant to a highly-placed cardinal.  At this point, he became convinced.

Unfortunately, it became the cause of much ruin in his life, and this is why Silvia Lorza counseled my father to watch his step.  In the winter of 1982, Father Zorza privately confided to several friends in Rome that the truth about Paul VI should be made publicly known, on the dogmatic grounds that it is “absolutely necessary for the salvation of all human beings that they submit to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VII, Unam Sanctam, 1302).  Since Paul VI was still the pope, he reasoned, it was important that people know this, in order that they may submit themselves to the true pope and not a pretender.  (Surely, invincible ignorance would excuse believers of good will, but nevertheless, vincit veritas: it was important for this fact to come out).  Apparently, however, Fr. Zorza confided in the wrong friends.  One of them must have been a turncoat, because before he returns to the United States, his directors give him two Renaissance paintings, which he is told are from the Vatican’s private collection: a portrait of a lady by Il Bronzino (1503 – 1572), and a painting of John the Baptist by Andrea del Sarto (1486 – 1530).  He is requested to deliver them to an archivist who works for the Archdiocese of New York.  He accepts unquestioningly, as this kind of thing is a matter of course—in the pre-9/11 days, it is not uncommon for diplomats to carry valuables through customs, as shipping them independently is a bureaucratic hassle.  He has them wrapped and securely sheathed; he even registers them with the airline, providing them with an insurance certificate.  The reader will observe that none of this is the behavior of a man trafficking in stolen goods, but two days after he gave the paintings and the insurance paperwork to the diocesan archivist in New York, he was arrested by U.S. customs agents on charges of smuggling stolen artwork.

il bronzini

Il Bronzino: Portait of Laura Battiferri, oil on canvas, c. 1560.  One of two paintings given to Fr. Lorenzo Zorza by Vatican officials to take to New York in 1982; it now hangs in a gallery in Florence.  It was probably just a random coincidence that the subject of the other painting was St. John the Baptist, the namesake of Giovanni Battista Montini.


The paintings, it turned out, did not belong to the Vatican at all, but had been stolen from wealthy Italians.  The “archivist” did not work for the archdiocese either, but was a forger and stolen art dealer for an organized crime syndicate in Yonkers.  Father Zorza intuited the message, loud and clear: he was to keep utter silence on the matter of Pope Paul VI.  He considered telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth since, after all, “fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul” (Matthew x, 28), but the charges were impossible to refute, and the scandal of the matter ensured that he would never be taken seriously.  He reluctantly pled guilty and made sure to name no one in the Vatican.  He was sentenced to only three months’ probation, but his reputation was sufficiently besmirched: the Archdiocese of New York suspended his faculties, the Consolata Fathers dropped him from their rolls, and his position at the U.N. was terminated.  Even with all this notorious disgrace, Silvia Zorza said her nephew was arrested twice more by American authorities over the following few years on charges that always turned out to be fabricated—a continuous series of legal headaches.  “It was like,” she said, “the men at the Vatican kept flicking his ears with their fingers, as if to say, ‘we haven’t forgotten about you.  You be quiet and stay quiet.’  They were taunting him, reminding him of the influence they had.”  Lesson learned.  (I will add, as an aside, that one of the odder aspects of Silvia Zorza’s story is her description of the “men at the Vatican” as “men with big noses who wear eyeliner.”  I’m unsure if this was just a descriptive flourish, since it evokes a caricatured image of an Alan Rickman movie villain, or whether it was a suggestion of something more devious.  It does, however, match an account of certain clandestine goings-on at the Vatican given by Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua in his interviews, in which he spoke of an atmosphere tinged with gender-bending and Luciferianism).

Silvia Zorza is now deceased, but her nephew is still among the living.  An archived 1982 article from the New York Times bears out the fact of his initial arrest: Priest arrested in smuggling of art is suspended from his UN duties; and a Getty images photo from 1987 shows him during a later court case, where he had been set up to be accused of scalping tickets.  But he is now in his seventies and keeps a low profile, occasionally celebrating the Tridentine Mass at Holy Innocents church in New York, but spending the bulk of his year doing missionary work in a rural diocese in Brazil, where he helps to evangelize the pagan natives who live in some of the most remote areas of the Amazon—people who have had almost no contact with Christianity whatsoever.  In the early stages of my attempts to corroborate my father’s research (back when I was considering compiling it in book form), I was able to speak briefly with Father Zorza over the telephone during one of his stays in New York.  For legal reasons, he said, he could neither confirm nor deny his aunt’s version of the events.  But he did not mind if I published it.  I gathered from his tone that was he no longer too concerned with retribution from the Vatican.  Perhaps that has something to do with it now being the age of the internet.   Thirty-five years ago, the Vatican cabal could arrange for a potential truth-teller to be arrested on art theft, in order to silence him before he could even make a peep about a pope.  Nowadays the emperor’s nudity is more easily declared: any number of blogs might be devoted to the subject.  The internet, to be sure, is full of many temptations and spiritual dangers (not the least of which are rampant pornography and atheist propaganda, and one certainly feels sorry for the child growing up in this age—“save yourselves from this perverse generation” indeed).  But for all the internet’s evils, one of its shining positives is that it has empowered the little folk to cut through the clouds of secrecy and to amputate some of the tentacles which formerly extended from the halls of high power.  The situation is a diabolical inversion of what used to be the Catholic paradigm: Rome is now the seat of the Antichrist, and the governments of Europe are all secular, while the monarchists and traditional Catholics languish in obscurity.  But at least we have the internet.  We are like the seemingly inconsequential resisters in the Kipling poem:

Rome never looks where she treads.
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on—that is all,
And we gather behind them in hordes,
And plot to reconquer the Wall,
With only our tongues for our swords.

We are the Little Folk—we!
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you’ll see
How we can drag down the State!
We are the worm in the wood!
We are the rot at the root!
We are the taint in the blood!
We are the thorn in the foot!

Mistletoe killing an oak—
Rats gnawing cables in two—
Moths making holes in a cloak—
How they must love what they do!
Yes—and we Little Folk too,
We are busy as they—
Working our works out of view—
Watch, and you’ll see it some day!

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The Young and Future Pope (1897–1920)

This blog has thus far been following two separate timelines: first, the chronicle supplied by Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua (which I have summarized up to his encounter with the occultist and papal chamberlain Evan Morgan in 1917), and second, that of Baltasar Fuentes Ramos (whose account has been provided up to the point of his meeting with Borges in 1966.  I am attempting to persuade Señor Fuentes to permit me the publication of more chapters from his short story, The Wandering Jew, but he is currently incommunicado.  He has told me he has no interest in reading this blog, so an appeal to him here would probably be futile).  Today, then, will commence a third timeline, much belated but rather essential, concerning the very subject of this blog, Pope Paul VI.

Over the years following his conversations with Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua, my father undertook some research into the life of the current pope.  (For newcomers to this blog, the current pope is Paul VI, and not the Argentine antipope calling himself Francis, who reigns with a liberal fist at Rome).  My father’s notes from this endeavor are sufficient enough to provide a basic biographical sketch of Paul VI covering the period prior to his elevation to the papacy.  Truth be told, this is not a terribly fascinating life to recount.  He was more or less ordinary: a child of his mediocre era, born into a post-Risorgimento Italy, one where the ancient kingdoms and traditional politics had been supplanted by post-Enlightenment ideals, and one where influence of the Catholic Church and the old nobility were beginning to wane.  (My father, always the cinephile, makes a passing reference in his notes to Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film The Leopard, which is about the painful transition in Sicily, from a mannered society of custom and virtue to a new order of egalitarianism and personal liberty.  The title character is an aging aristocrat unable to adjust to the sweeping societal changes: he is a leopard who cannot change his spots).

Giovanni Battista Montini came of age long after this transition.  He studied for the priesthood at a time when Scholastic theology was still being taught in the seminaries, but also when the ideas of modernism were pervasive enough for Pope Pius X to attempt a purge of its cancer from the among the clergy.  He worked in the Roman Curia during a period when the Church was suffering from an existential identity crisis: whether to hide her light under a bushel and conform herself to the world, or to shine as a lone beacon of truth and tradition in a world gone mad.  Before he lost his autonomy in 1935, Montini tended to be a fence-sitter in this crisis, but he usually erred on the side of caution.  It will be shown that he was mostly a moderate.  “Moderate” is almost a pejorative these days, but the man who would be pope was neither lukewarm nor unprincipled in his faith.  He was simply able to see both sides of an issue.  In this sense, he passed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test for true intelligence: “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  Perhaps that sums him up best: ordinary and uninteresting in many respects, but with a keen intellectual curiosity, and a natural enough instinct toward conservatism to keep him prudent.  Lastly, it might even be useful to consider his life in all its normalcy, as a tonic against the collective shrieks of invective and calumny that have been heaped upon him over the years: that he is a modernist heretic, a homosexual, a Freemason, and various other slanders.  None of that is the truth about him.  The truth is quite mundane.

CHILDHOOD

He was born on the 26th of September in 1897 into a family of upper-middle-class means, and was christened Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini.  The father, Giorgio Montini, came from a respected Brescian line of doctors, lawyers, and writers.  He made his living as the editor of a Catholic newspaper, Il Cittadino di Brescia.  The mother, Giuditta Alghisi Montini, hailed from a notable and wealthy family, but her parents had died when she was young.  Her guardian was the mayor of Brescia: a leftist and known Freemason named Giuseppe Bonardi.  (It might be added that the teenaged Guiditta had, blessedly, spent most of her time away from this loathsome person, being schooled by French nuns in a convent in Milan).  It is sometimes alleged that his mother’s family was Jewish, which would be interesting if true, but this appears to have no basis in fact.  The Alghisi of his mother’s line were Catholic aristocrats of some antiquity, and were distantly related to the Renaissance architect Galasso Alghisi.

Throughout his youth, he went by the nickname Battista.  He had an older brother named Lodovico (b. 1896) and younger brother named Francesco (b. 1900).  From their mother, the boys learned French.  They took their primary schooling from the Jesuits at the Collegio Cesare Arici, and played their sports at a boys’ club at the church of Santa Maria della Pace, administered by Oratorians.  Two of the Oratorian priests there became mentors to Lodovico and Battista.  Their names were Fr. Giulio Bevilacqua (no apparent relation to Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua) and Fr. Paolo Caresana.

montini family

Famiglia Montini, circa 1904.  From left: Giorgio, Giovanni Battista, Guiditta, Lodovico, and Francesco.


The household was multi-generational: it included the boys’ paternal grandmother, Francesca Buffali Montini, and a spinster aunt, their father’s sister, Maria.  Both women strove to infuse the children with a love of the Catholic faith, but Battista seems to have preferred adventure tales instead, particularly those with a nautical theme—“danger on the waves,” for some reason, appealed to the child.  His favorite bible stories were Noah’s ark and Jonah in the belly of the whale.  An illustrated compendium of sea monsters was a mainstay on his nightstand; his favorite leviathan was the giant Norse octopus known as the Kraken.  He was an avid reader of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and much later in life, when he visited the United States in 1965, an interviewer asked his opinion on American culture.  He confessed that he was not well-acquainted with it, but added that he owned an Italian translation of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick, which he called “a magnificent story.”  His personal assistant when he was the pope, Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua, remarked that Paul VI frequently used the nautical references to the papacy and the Church, such as “the fisherman’s chair” or “the barque of Peter.”  (It might be presumptuous to read too much into a childhood fascination, but one wonders whether perhaps the boy, amidst his grandmother’s exhortations to piety and his storybook tales of the sea, was drawn subconsciously to the symbolic notion of the Catholic Church as the ark outside of which there is no salvation, being tossed about on the tempestuous ocean of sin, enmity, and worldliness.  That would probably be too Jungian.  In any case, he would one day become the boat’s captain).

In other respects, there was little to suggest his later becoming a priest.  He enjoyed card games, particularly whist, which was the favorite of his brothers as well.   Together they needed only a single friend or a willing adult to make the foursome required to play.  When Battista was nine years old he told his aunt he wanted to become either a sailor or a writer.  When he was eleven, he had eliminated the sailor option out of pragmatism, for lack of knowing how to swim.  Becoming a writer was now his sole ambition; his interests were in poetry and, following after his father, journalism.  His favorite sports were cycling and soccer—although doctors asked him to limit his participation in both of these activities in 1910, which is the year when he began to experience a chronic heart flutter.  Added to this, he also came down with gastrointestinal troubles.  This period would prove a significant turning point.  The once normal and healthy youngster became an invalid.

ADOLESCENCE

Owing to his illnesses, he was pulled out of school for months at a time, and given his education by private tutors.  He also began to stay, for reasons of convalescence, at the bucolic family villa in Verolavecchia, one of the ancestral homes of his mother’s family.  He was typically accompanied by his Aunt Maria during these stays.  For the heart issues, his doctors prescribed rest and relaxation; for the gastric problems, he was put on a diet of strictly cold foods, and advised to snack only on yogurt.  He was allowed to take a walk once a day, which he sometimes took with his tutor, Durante, as well as the villa’s caretaker, an elderly man named Michele, and Michele’s two Irish wolfhounds.

Montini34

Villa Montini, where Battista spent much of his adolescent and teenage years due to illness.  Anyone who knew him from the period of 1910 to 1920 would probably have found it incredulous to think that the sickly boy would one day live to be a hundred and nineteen years old.


During one of his prolonged stays at Verolavecchia, he had a juvenile encounter with romance.  A property adjacent to the Montini residence was being rented in 1910 by a Greek family named Xenakis, from the island of Spetses.  On one of his afternoon walks, Battista (then twelve) met the Xenakis’ fourteen-year-old daughter Nina: she was seated calmly on a gravel path, stacking stones into a small cairn.  On the day they met, he was traveling alone, with only Michele’s dogs for his company.  Whatever conversation he had with Nina Xenakis is lost to history, but for him it must have been a magical encounter.  My father’s notes contain a passage from Durante’s diary.  Durante was twenty-one.  Apparently Nina was smitten with the tutor and not the student.  A pathetic love triangle ensued.  Wrote Durante:

“There is nothing in my life more annoying at this time than the combined lunacy of these two children.  Not even the infernal bird whose screeching wakes me up at night or startles me in the middle of the day.  (I must find out what species of bird this is.  Its call is the shrillest and most startling noise I have ever heard.  Several times I have gone into the woods with Michele’s rifle, ready to stalk and shoot the creature as soon it starts up.  But it never shrieks when I’m out there.  Yet if I go back inside, not ten minutes later it returns to its noisemaking.  I have read and re-read, several times now, Schopenhauer’s great essay On Noise.  Commiserating with the German master through his sublimely cantankerous writing is my only consolation).  The children are even worse than the bird, however.  My student, who harbors aspirations to be a writer, composes overwrought love poems daily, which I am obliged to read and comment on.  The object of his poetical delirium is a bookish Hellene, pudgy yet somewhat cute, with freckles covering the bridge of her nose, and crystal green eyes.  But she is an impossible bore.  She is wholly obsessed with the stone structures built by prehistoric peoples: dolmens, stone circles, and the great megalith on the Salisbury plain in England called Stonehenge.  Her aspiration in life is to be an archaeologist and study these ancient phenomena—but, she tells me, she would be happy to give it all up if I were to make her a marriage proposal.  Unfortunately, she has developed an affection for me.  I find myself on the unwanted receiving end of a schoolgirl crush.  Her Italian is very poor; the family is from some forgettable Greek isle, and the brazenness with which she flirts with me is almost as irritating as the unintelligibility of her speech.  If I stay inside, I am in the company of the besotted boy and his wretched poetry.  He imagines himself a Petrarch, and the dull Greek lass is his Laura.  Yet if I venture outside, it is not long before the barefoot girl in the floral dress conveniently strays onto the villa grounds to make tedious and grammatically terrible conversation.  And always—always—there is the bird.”

FORMATION

He earned highest honors when he took his exams at a state school in 1913, aged sixteen years old.  He would spend the next three years preparing for his maturità classica, being tutored by Durante as well as a friend of his father’s, a retired professor named Labriola.  During this period his health was improving, and he was living more often with his family in Brescia, and also spending time with his Oratorian priest friends, Fathers Bevilacqua and Caresana.  At this point he seems to have begun discerning his call to the priesthood.  An entry in Durante’s diary describes the tension in his reading habits.  Montini was alternating between religious books (such as The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, and Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales) and the works of secular writers, such as the 19th century Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri and the 17th century Dutch philosopher Benedict Spinoza.  Spinoza had been the recommendation of Durante, but Fr. Caresana disapproved of the selection.  “Spinoza was deemed unacceptable by his spiritual director, due to his constant reliance on classical pagans instead of the Church’s great doctors and saints, as well as the fact that his books were on the Index, condemned for containing pantheism, and coming, no less, from an apostate Hebrew.  Even the Jews had disowned him.  So into the trash he went.”  (It is unclear whether Durante was being literal or figurative when he says Spinoza went into the trash.  It doesn’t seem in keeping with the young Montini’s character to throw books into the garbage.  In any event, it would be Pope Paul VI himself, in 1966, who would formally abolish the Index Librorum Prohibitorum—though not, it must be noted, of his own volition.  But more on that later).

His inclinations toward the priesthood did not diminish his desire to become a poet or journalist.  With the outbreak of World War I, his Catholicism became infused with a youthful activism and political bent.   He and a friend, Andrea Trebeschi, founded an independent periodical in 1914 entitled Numero Unico.  Labriola oversaw and guided their efforts; Montini’s father allowed them the use of his newspaper presses for publication, and Fathers Bevilacqua and Caresana contributed short pieces.  In the end, however, the journal received a poor reception and quickly folded.  In 1915, Italy entered the war.  Montini enlisted for military service, but (unsurprisingly) was turned down after failing his medical inspection.  His brother Lodovico joined the 16th Artillery Regiment; Father Bevilacqua became a chaplain to the 5th Alpine Regiment.  A year later, Montini had finalized his decision to become a priest, and in 1916 he formally enrolled at the Brescia Seminary, in a small class of little more than a dozen students, consisting mainly of young men whose physical disabilities rendered them unfit for service in the war, including Claudio Gagne-Bevilacqua with his shortened leg, and Alessandro Falchi with his poor eyesight.  Durante wrote in his diary that when he finally parted with his pupil of nearly nine years, he shook his hand warmly, and told him how impressed he was with his “maturity, intelligence, poise, and good sense.”  Apparently the boy who had once written desperate poetry for Nina Xenakis had grown into a thoughtful and serious young man.

While at seminary, he remained on his doctor’s orders to keep to a special diet and get plenty of rest, so he lived at home rather than on campus.  Father Caresana supplemented his theological studies, and his friend Andrea Trebeschi continued to assist him in his writing endeavors.  Together they would make a second attempt at a Catholic political journal.  This one would prove more successful.  It was called La Fionda (in English, “the Sling”—a reference to David’s weapon against Goliath), and it gained a respectable popularity, particularly among the membership of the Catholic Student Union, FUCI (Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana), and one of its early supporters was Pier Giorgio Frassati, who seems to have been something like the Italian version of Dorothy Day.  Montini articulated his politico-religious vision in La Fionda: that Europe in the midst of the war was a continent on a sure path to self-destruction unless it recovered its Christian roots.  But he stopped well short of advocating for traditionalism; he argued for more of a return to the gospels than to the Church.  His thinking was possibly influenced by Vladimir Solovyov, a Russian Orthodox writer, two of whose books Durante had gifted to Montini upon their parting (“I gave him a pair of books by Solovyov, telling him that if he would not have Spinoza or Schopenhauer, then this Russian mystic was the closest thing Christianity had to offer”).  In any respect, he saw himself and his Fionda colleagues as taking on the establishment.  In a typically tendentious editorial he declared, “no, we will not pay heed to the aging and irrelevant pedagogues, with their doctorate degrees and their empty bluster.  We will instead make a fresh start with the Master, the Rabbi, Jesus Christ.  Yes, a fresh start!—however difficult, and on our own, if needs be.”  This reads like the idealism of the young, but it is fairly representative of Montini, as he had actually settled on a moderate course.  He rejected on one hand the nihilism of the radical left as well as the rising fascism of Mussolini; but neither did he exhort a full-hearted return to the throne-&-altar scheme.  He kept his Catholicism orthodox, but in his politics he was not exactly influenced by Joseph de Maistre or Chateaubriand.  His political thinking during his years in seminary was mostly along the lines of the Sicilian cleric Don Luigi Sturzo, who founded the Italian People’s Party, based on the Catholic economic philosophy contained in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, as well as a firm commitment to social reform.  But it should be noted that in doctrinal matters, no liberalism crept into Montini’s thought.  He wrote an article on the question of a reunion between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox, and he made no ecumenical concessions.  He cited Solovyov as well as St. Maximus the Confessor, and catalogued the many aspects of Orthodoxy which he admired, but in the final analysis he insisted that unfortunately no return of the schismatics to the bosom of Rome could be possible without their contrite capitulation on the filioque or papal infallibility.

Prior to taking his minor orders, he made a pilgrimage with some other students in 1919 to the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino.  He wrote home to his grandmother and aunt: “I find this place an inspiration.  It is the solemn and beating heart of a civilization which we must not allow to disappear.  Rather its ideals must be rekindled, turning men’s minds to the things that are above, and restoring to the nation its Catholic culture, its ancient faith, its ora et labora.”  His conservatism was beginning to shine through.

He took the cassock on the 21st of November of that year, and received the tonsure on November 30th.  He became porter and lector on the 14th of December, and a subdeacon on the 28th of February in 1920.  He completed his studies in the spring of that year.  On Sunday, May 30th, in the church of Santa Maria belle Grazie, he celebrated his first Mass.  He had been ordained a priest the previous day, in a class of only thirteen, due to the war’s depletion of seminarian ranks.  It is probably the only noteworthy aspect of this otherwise mundane biography to mention that Alessandro Falchi was included in the remaining dozen.  Lying prostrate on the floor of the church that Saturday afternoon were two men who would both eventually occupy the fisherman’s chair.  One of them would be the last pope of the twentieth century: the last pope to celebrate the Tridentine Mass in St. Peter’s and the last pope to receive a coronation with the papal tiara.  The other would be the first antipope of the modern era.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

kraken

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At the Botanical Garden in Buenos Aires, January 1966

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man who would one day be “Pope Francis,” got in touch with Baltasar Fuentes Ramos during the summer break between school terms, he informed his former student that he was cordially invited to a second meeting with Borges, the famous writer.  Bergoglio also filled Fuentes in on some events of the previous month.  When Borges had been in Santa Fe for the student writing contest, he and Bergoglio had struck up something of a friendship.  Borges had been considering writing a story about Catholicism for several years, and upon meeting the well-read, intelligent, and free-thinking seminarian, he felt as if he had finally found his consultant.  They had bonded, in particular, over a shared morbid interest in the apostle Judas Iscariot.  Borges had written a provocative story in 1944 called Three Versions of Judas, and Bergoglio had been reading the gnostic scriptures contained in the Nag Hammadi codices: that library of gnostic texts which had been unearthed in Egypt in 1945, and which were still somewhat rare at the time, and difficult to acquire in a good Spanish translation.  Bergoglio was especially interested in the idea that there was a gnostic text known as the “Gospel of Judas,” which had been mentioned by a few Christian writers as one of the most heretical texts of all.  Did it actually exist, or was it just a legend?  Judas, decided the seminarian and the writer, should be the basis for their collaboration.

In order to facilitate his work with Borges, Bergoglio had asked the Jesuits to transfer him back to his home city of Buenos Aires.  They had complied with his request, and he was now going to teach at the Colegio del Salvador there.  He told Fuentes the Jesuits in Buenos Aires were amazingly progressive and ecumenical—“but it’s an atmosphere you would likely despise,” he wrote.  “I was disappointed when you condemned me so harshly for being a modernist.  You should understand that the Church has changed for the better now with the Second Vatican Council.  The future is not to be feared, Baltasar.  Ours is a living faith, not one stuck in the past.  We have to open ourselves to new ideas.  Even St. Thomas Aquinas took many of his principles from the philosopher Aristotle, who was not only a pagan, but someone whom few Europeans at the time had ever heard of.  St. Thomas was not afraid of the strange or the unknown: he knew that Christianity can absorb almost anything.  My own particular interest is in the gnostics of the Early Church.  But I know you will not approve.  Perhaps our friendship has been severed for good over these differences.  Nevertheless, our mutual acquaintance Borges would like to see you.”

The meeting was set to take place in the Botanical Garden, not too far from where Fuentes was staying at his uncle’s rectory.  It was also a favorite haunt of Borges’, who liked the fact that a small colony of stray cats had been allowed to make the gardens their home.  Borges was an inveterate lover of cats, tigers especially, and enjoyed cats for being the miniature cousins of the majestic beasts.  He agreed with Théophile Gautier that “God created the cat so that man might caress the tiger.”  Borges told Fuentes this much when they met at the gardens.  He loved not only the hazy atmosphere of the lush greenery and the fecund smells, but also the feline ambience of the free-roaming cats.

cats

Borges maintained a lifelong fondness for cats, tigers in particular.  “The tiger addressed in my poem / Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols / And scraps picked up at random out of books, / A string of labored tropes that have no life, / And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel / That under sun or stars or changing moon / Goes on in Bengal or Sumatra fulfilling / Its rounds of love and indolence and death.”


On the afternoon of the meeting, Fuentes excused himself from his duties at his uncle’s parish and showed up at the designated meeting spot on Santa Fe Avenue.  He remembers Borges looking dapper in a beige seersucker suit and a dark paisley tie.  Borges’ secretary Jana Filippovna was with him, as was Bergoglio, and there was also a peculiar man named Desmando Ruiz, who Fuentes remembers as a grubby, sinister-looking fellow in a raggedy janitorial jumpsuit, eating salted and habanero-spiced nuts from a paper bag with the words “El Fuego del Diablo” emblazoned on it, with the logo of a grinning little cartoon devil astride a blazing habanero pepper.

Ruiz was introduced to Fuentes as a handyman and plumber whom Bergoglio had worked with in one of his jobs as a teenager before deciding to study for the priesthood.  Fuentes remembers Ruiz as looking every bit like a plumber: “it was easy to imagine him somewhere deep in the dank subterranean bowels of a building, with wrenches and pliers hanging from his belt, tinkering with leaky pipes.  He was lanky, with long sinewy limbs, and he had a pasty, hideous, pock-marked face with the flat, puffy, broken-looking nose of a boxer.  His fingers were calloused and dirty.  But he had a definite intelligence about him.  I can imagine him in a custodian’s closet, lying on a cot and reading philosophy, lazily leeching paid time from his employer.  He was very much enamored with Hegel.  Ruiz believed that everything in the world was progressing toward an ultimate end, that history was a long Hegelian process of ‘becoming,’ at the completion of which would be a true and perfect enlightenment—where all distinctions would be obliterated and all opposites would be resolved.   Ruiz imagined that this would be a Marxist paradise on earth.”

During the time they worked together, Desmando Ruiz had pointed the young Bergoglio in the direction of the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  Ruiz himself had long since ceased to be a practicing Catholic, but he liked that Teilhard was applying Hegelian principles to Catholic thought.  Teilhard had been enraptured with the works of Darwin, and he had attempted to meld Darwin’s evolutionary system with Catholicism.  He held a heretical opinion that mankind was poised near the final stages of a process of God-guided evolution, and that the next phase in human development was that everyone’s consciousness would soon be subsumed into a single mass consciousness—a collective awareness of the elusive istigkeit spoken of in Eckhart’s philosophy.  All human thought would exist in an omnipresent Oneness.  Teilhard called this the Omega Point, and he claimed that the Omega Point itself would be the Second Coming of Christ, the parousia, since every soul would be drawn into and united with the Mind of God.

According to Fuentes, Teilhard de Chardin was Bergoglio’s favorite Catholic writer, and was the inspiration for Bergoglio becoming a Jesuit.  “There are three important aspects of Francis’ vision for the Church,” says Fuentes.  “Two are public, one is private.  The foremost aspect is his liberalism.  The things he stresses the most are the liberation theology and social justice advocacy that emerged from the Latin American atmosphere of the 1960s.  That’s his most public side.  The second aspect of Francis’ ideology is the philosophy of Teilhard.  He believes that the Catholic Church must function as the spiritual side of a one-world government, whereby the whole of humanity can be drawn into the grand project of arriving at the Omega Point.  You can see obvious hints of this in some of his writings and speeches.”

But the third aspect, Fuentes said, “is the most secret aspect, the one which he keeps hidden.  And that aspect is his Gnosticism: a horrible set of gnostic beliefs concerning Judas.  You are a traditional Catholic,” said Fuentes (meaning me, to whom he was writing), “so you would probably say that Vatican II and the decades that followed marked a betrayal of the Church’s traditions and teachings.  But let me tell you something: Francis would agree with you.  He believes this betrayal is very necessary.  He even sees himself as a ‘second Judas,’ betraying Christ at the end of history in preparation for the Second Coming at the Omega Point.  Even if you were to accuse Francis, directly to his face, of being an Antichrist, he would not, deep in his heart, deny it.  Because he believes that the traditional ‘old Christ’ must be negated and overcome, in order to usher in the ecumenical age of a ‘New Christ’ who embraces all people and all cultures in a supremely syncretistic pan-religious version of Catholicism.  This is Francis’ belief.  I learned it that day in the Botanical Garden, as the five of us took our promenade among those tree-draped paths and humid greenhouses, listening to Bergoglio speak of these things with Borges, who was delighted with the weirdness of it all.”

Fuentes continued: “I think Borges saw Francis as a theological madman—and yet this kind of lunacy, of course, was just the sort of thing Borges found fascinating.  But know this: the subtext of every word that Francis utters or writes contains his deeply-held gnostic theology of Judas,” Fuentes told me.  “You can read it between every line.”  Fuentes would eventually become aware of even further details of this demonic Christology, which involves a “sinful Christ” and a “transfigured Judas.”  He pointed me toward an instance where Francis actually dared to weave a small bit of this material into one of his sermons, where he concluded by openly denying the faith of Chalcedon, saying that Christ on the cross “became sin” and was “completely emptied of his divinity.”

(For non-Catholic readers of this blog, it will suffice to know that the Council of Chalcedon solemnly taught that Christ was “like us in all respects but for sin”, meaning He was always sinless—thus at no point did He ever, as Francis suggests, “become sin.”  Chalcedon also taught that Christ was “fully human and fully divine”; not, as Francis preached, that He ever became “emptied of his divinity.”  Francis’ teaching is a gnostic misinterpretation of a passage of scripture, Philippians 2:7. In fact, Pope Pius XII specifically condemned this interpretation in his encyclical Sempiternus Rex Christus: “this is an opinion for which a rashly and falsely understood sentence of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians supplies a basis and a shape. This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, the enemies of the faith imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it. It reduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to empty the bloodless imaginations”).

Eventually their conversation shifted to the Second Vatican Council, which had concluded just the previous month.  Jana Filippovna remarked at how surprised she was at the document which effectively reversed the Catholic Church’s attitude toward Judaism and the Jewish people.  Desmando Ruiz offered how pleased he was to see the undertones of Hegelian and Marxist thought diffused through so many of the decrees.  Borges told a story of having been in Madrid the previous year to give a talk on Edgar Allan Poe; during conversation at a dinner party hosted by a Spanish academic, he caught the whiff of a merry rumor that the current pope had gone to seminary with a classmate who was nearly his own twin, so similar were they in appearance.  (Borges liked the notion of doppelgängers and doubles.  He’d written a story in 1960 called Borges & I about how his own public persona felt like a separate entity, and later, in 1969, he would author a story called The Other, about meeting his younger self on a peculiar park bench: a bench which served as a fulcrum in time—or an intersection between dreaming and reality—joining the elder Borges in Cambridge, Massachusetts with the younger Borges in Geneva, Switzerland).

The mention of doubles and twins swung the conversation back to Gnosticism, where the apostle Thomas is considered the twin of Jesus, and where in the Syriac “Gospel of Thomas,” Thomas and Judas are one and the same person: Judas himself is Jesus’ twin.  At this point, the young Baltasar Fuentes Ramos began to wonder why they had invited a fifteen-year-old student, and a faithful Catholic one, no less, to this heterodox consortium.  He had remained mostly quiet the whole time, still being in awe of Borges.  But it was just then that Borges turned his attention to him.  “There is much to speculate on in these matters,” he sighed, “but only one way to verify.”  The great man turned his half-blind eyes to Fuentes.  “We would have to interrogate someone who was actually present during the ministry of Christ.  And you,” he said, “claim just such a person exists.  Perhaps you will take us to meet him.”

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The Botanical Garden of Buenos Aires. The stray cat population, which according to Baltasar Fuentes Ramos was just a “small colony” in 1966, is now a significant problem, exacerbated by uncaring people who choose to cruelly abandon their cats there.

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El Judío Errante

The following post is a portion of the story by Baltasar Fuentes Ramos called El Judío Errante (English: The Wandering Jew), which appeared in his school’s literary magazine, La Caligrafía, in December of 1965.  This was the story mentioned in a previous post: it was the winner of a writing contest judged by Jorge Luis Borges.  I do not yet have Fuentes’ permission to publish the story in full due to his reservations about the content; however, he has allowed for the publication of the first three chapters.  It is reproduced here in a translation made by Polly Mendowe, who I would like to thank for her diligence.  She appended a note to her translation which I will include as a preface:

“William—As requested, here is the story in English.  Thank you for the generous payment.  It’s a very strange tale.  There was one particular word in the piece which gave me some difficulty, and that was the word escarcho.  The literal translation would be “cockroach,” but the word is used in the context of an insult pertaining to the writer’s glasses, and I am unsure whether a literal rendering would be accurate.  I assume it to be a colloquialism employed by some of the lower classes of Buenos Aires.  “Bug eyes” was the closest thing I could surmise, but since the Spanish word for eyes (ojos) is absent, I’ve chosen to leave it untranslated.—P.M.”

le juif errant

THE WANDERING JEW

1. A few brief facts about myself, who has met the person in the title.

My name is Baltasar Nicolas Fuentes Ramos.  I am fifteen years of age, a loyal son of Argentina, and a devout Roman Catholic.  My family is (in my opinion) a noble one.  We draw our lineage from Spain and the Philippines.  We derive our nobility not from grandiose titles or worldly riches, but rather from our dedicated obeisance to Holy Mother Church.  Truly, our treasure is in heaven.  My family is permeated by the Catholic religion, through and through!  I do not even like using such a phrase as “the Catholic religion”—since, really, there is only one true God, one true Christ, and one true Church, and all other forms of worship and belief are either heretical movements or pagan cults.  There is, therefore, in actuality, only one religion!  There was a pope (whose name, I am ashamed to say, I cannot recall) who once said something to the effect that “only a Catholic is rightfully deserving of the honor of being called a true Christian.”  I am kicking myself (well, not literally) right now because I forget the particular pope and the name of the document.  I believe it was perhaps Pius IX or Pius X.  I have a favorite uncle who is a learned priest.  Normally in a situation like this, I would phone him up and ask him for the citation (he would know it off the top of his head, I’m sure), but I don’t want to disturb him as he prepares for the solemn season of Advent.

Because my family has an abiding love for Christ and His Church, many of my aunts and uncles are priests or religious.  I have several aunts who are nuns (all of them belong to the order of the Poor Clares), and two uncles who are diocesan priests.  There is, unfortunately, one uncle who is the black sheep of our family, and I am loathe to remember this man who has brought such disgrace upon both himself and my entire family by becoming a filthy schismatic, having joined the Greek (so-called “Orthodox”) sect, and who now lives as a monk (or, more accurately, as a long-bearded sadhu) in an abbey on Mt. Athos in Greece, no doubt sitting cross-legged and chanting some idiotic mantra in that Byzantine meditation practice called hesychasm.  He is a smear on my family’s otherwise spotless record of devotion.  He is a horrible traitor to the faith, and I pray often for his conversion, that he may return to the bosom of Rome before he dies, lest he surely suffer the eternal flames of hell.  But I digress.

My favorite uncle is the Very Reverend Monsignor José María Fuentes, rector of the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Recoleta, Buenos Aires.  Every year I spend my summer vacation with him.  For two whole months I get to assist him as an altar server and secretary.  I consider it a sacred privilege to be so closely involved in all the functions of parish life, being at his side as he shepherds his flock.  I always look forward to it.  In fact, I am looking forward to it right now, just thinking about it!


2.  My scuffle with cruel and ignorant hoodlums. How I came to best them, and caught my first glimpse of the person in the title.

It was in January of last year when these events transpired, on either the fourth or fifth day of the old octave of the Epiphany (I can’t remember exactly).  I was in the rectory office, typing a letter for my uncle while he was reclining comfortably at his desk, enjoying a cigar and a glass of colheita port wine.  He was being kind enough to take long sips and puffs during the pauses in his dictation, so that I might keep apace, as my typing skills are quite poor.

In the midst of this pleasant clerical work, the phone rang, and our domestic idyll was quickly ended: my uncle found himself dispatched to the deathbed of a former member of the parish.  This man, whose name was Javier Ambrosio, had once lived in my uncle’s nice neighborhood of Recoleta, but he had fallen on hard times and ended up dwelling on the southeastern outskirts of the city, in the not-so-very-great neighborhood of Barracas.  He remained loyal to my uncle, however.  He abhorred the liberal and progressive movement in the Church (which, unfortunately, is spreading in our time like an epidemic.  Plague of locusts!).  He was especially not fond of his parish priest in Barracas, who felt emboldened by the liturgical experiments being recommended by the current Vatican Council, and was already daring to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the vulgar tongue of Spanish instead of the sacred language of Latin!  On his deathbed, Señor Ambrosio summoned my uncle for his last rites.  He was quite sure his local priest was a filthy modernist heretic.  (Requiescat in pace, Javier Ambrosio, thou good and faithful servant).

The day was hot.  We took an olive green taxi to Barracas.  Señor Ambrosio lived on the fifth floor of a tenement house.  The walk up five flights of stairs was going to be a feat of endurance for my uncle, who is a man of considerable heft and girth.  He knew that he would require refreshment and replenishment once he reached the top.  “Be a good lad,” he instructed me, wiping his brow with his handkerchief, “and run down to the local shop.  Fetch me some mineral water.  And a wedge of Gouda cheese, a roll of pepperoni, and a stick of bread.  Also, a bottle of Jameson.”  He handed me a crumpled wad of bills.

While my uncle climbed the stairs, I went to the nearest corner store and purchased his supplies.  (God bless the kind clerk of that store: he did not trouble me over my buying of whiskey).  As I returned, however, I was accosted by a crowd of young toughs.  I had noticed them loitering on the steps of the building when we first arrived.  They must’ve overheard my uncle’s instructions, because it seems they wanted the whiskey I had in the bag.  But first they wanted to harass me.

“Ai there, little escarcho,” sneered one of them, drawing attention to my eyeglasses.  (I am horribly near-sighted).  They were listening to a transistor radio.  There was an irritating rock n’ roll song playing; the singer kept moaning about a “little red rooster.”  (I swear, I cannot imagine a more brutish and barbaric form of music as rock n’ roll).  One of these hoodlums (short and squat, and broad-shouldered with a scrunched-up face like a bulldog’s) twirled a tennis racket menacingly.

“Who was that priest?” another one asked.  “Was he your father?”  They all laughed in that high, keening sort of hooligan laughter that gives you a fright when you hear it.

Now I am not a person to suffer insults gladly, especially when the insults are directed at members of my own family, and particularly when they are meant to calumniate an obedient officer of the Lord such as my uncle.  I didn’t care if these hoodlums were going to beat me up.  I am the kind of person who will take a beating in defense of the honor of the Church.  I have always admired the incredible fortitude of the martyrs, who sometimes went to their deaths with a smile.  (One of my favorites is St. Lawrence, who mocked his captors even while they roasted him over an open flame.  “Turn me over,” he told them—“I’m done on this side.”)

I gave these goons my bravest reply: “that excellent and holy priest,” I said, “is my uncle.  I pity you for questioning his chastity, as you will surely burn in hell if you don’t repent.  I pray that you will see the sinfulness of your ways.”

More laughter was roared in reply.  One of them said, “what makes you so sure he’s chaste, escarcho?  He clearly doesn’t care about the commandment against gluttony.  I’ve never seen such a fatty!”  Again they laughed.

All I could do was repeat myself.  “I pity you,” I told them a second time.  “I pray that you will come to see the sinfulness of your ways.”

Their ringleader cut to the chase.  “Let’s stop this mucking about,” he said.  “You’ve got a pint of Jameson.  Now give it here.”

I pulled the bottle of whiskey from the bag.  Without a word, I flung it down on the sidewalk where it promptly smashed.  (If my uncle couldn’t have it, neither could they).  Several of them jumped back in surprise, which soon turned to aggravation over having gotten the rolled-up hems of their stylish pants wet.  Their jocular attitude was gone.  Now they were angry.

Their first order of business was to rudely snatch my bag.  Soon they were snacking on my uncle’s victuals.  Next they menaced me.  “Pick any one of us,” said their leader.  “That’ll be the one you fight.  You see?  We’re fair.  One on one.”

“I challenge you instead to a game of chess,” I told him.  One of them chuckled but none of them laughed.  The leader stared me down, wordlessly.  “Very well,” I said.  “If it must be a physical contest, how about squash?”  I gestured to the bulldog-faced thug with the tennis racket.

“You want to play Ronni in squash?” he snorted, and leaned in close to my face.  I could smell the pepperoni he was chewing on his breath.  “Sure.  That works out, escarcho.  That raises the stakes.  If Ronni here wins, you get the whooping of your life.  And if you win, then we’ll just let you go, scot-free.”

Wordlessly, Ronni got up and slipped inside the building and, a minute later, came out carrying a second racket, dressed in a tank top and Bermuda shorts.  It was then I realized this “Ronni” was actually a girl.

The hoodlums led me across the street and down an empty alleyway.  I was pushed along from behind by Ronni, who kept prodding me in the back with her racket.  We crossed an abandoned railway yard, full of disused train cars, sitting on rusty tracks and baking in the sun.  We ducked into another, thinner alley running in between two empty brick factory buildings, hollow and crumbling, with broken windows.  Soon we were in a tight brick maze of alleyways, turning left, then right, then left again, and I was lost beyond all hope.  Decades-old trash littered the gravel beneath our feet.  Graffiti and ugly folk murals covered the walls.

Eventually, we went through an archway and arrived in a broad courtyard abutted on three sides by tall, decrepit fin-de-siècle houses.  A dead tree stood in the center of this courtyard, surrounded by a crumbling stone fountain, drained and dried, full of coarse weeds and dead leaves.

The fourth wall of the courtyard was a high brick wall, the back of a huge factory building.  It was painted with an old advertisement for cigarettes; the paint was peeling and sun-bleached, but the ad could be discerned beneath the aging.  It was hawking an American cigarette brand called Lucky Strike.  It read, “to keep a slender figure, no one can deny,” followed by the logo: “LUCKY STRIKE.” Beneath that was a picture of a lascivious young woman, dressed immodestly in a swimsuit and lying on a beach.  In the corner of the ad was a packet of the cigarettes, along with a motto: “it’s toasted!”

Apparently we were to play our game of squash against this wall.  Ronni tossed me one of the rackets.  The other hoodlums retreated to the steps of the houses to sit down and spectate.  Ronni then removed a tennis ball from her shorts pocket, and took the liberty of serving first.  We had a brief volley which I won.  I then served.

I am underweight, and not exactly strong.  But I have the natural agility of the lithe and light; squash is a game that I excel at.  Tennis also.  I have always loved the racquet sports.  After my first two serves against Ronni (neither of which she was able to return), I realized, to my great relief, that I was probably going to win.  By my fifth consecutive uncontested point, I was sure of it.  Even the impure advertisement didn’t bother me.  In a moment of hubris, I looked at the cigarette motto and decided it applied equally to Ronni.  “Ronni,” I thought to myself, “you’re toasted!”  I may’ve even forgotten myself in that moment, and smiled.  In retrospect, I should not have allowed myself to dominate.  I should’ve deliberately lost points, and kept things close, and made it out to be the life-and-death contest it was supposed to be, so that my captors would think I had eked out my freedom by my sweat and my tears and every last heroic effort in my bones.

I did not, unfortunately, do that.  After my seventh straight easy point, the game was (prematurely) over.  Ronni’s bulldog face turned to me, snarling with rage.  She threw her racket at me with incredible force; it struck me in the nose.  Blood splattered onto my glasses.  I saw stars and went down.  I heard the scuttering sound of many feet, moving swiftly from the steps across the courtyard dirt.  The next thing I knew, a hail of kicks and blows rained down upon my body.  I curled up and prepared to die, praying the Hail Mary silently in my head.

At one point, I opened my eyes.  I had thought the entire gang was beset upon me, but apparently they were just gathered around in a circle as spectators.  Ronni, it seemed, was doing the battering.  I turned my head from her angry face and flurry of fists; it was then that I saw a figure standing under the archway.  It was an old man, I noticed.  A solitary old man: rather tall, vaguely handsome in the distinguished manner of the aged, with long silver hair pulled back behind his ears.  His face was cleanly shaven, and not even very wrinkled, but there was an aura of something unspeakably ancient about him.  It would be difficult to reckon, going by the basic indicators, that he was too many years over seventy.  But at the same time he seemed more elderly than the most wizened and withered person in an old folks’ home.

He was a curious specimen; so engrossed was I with the oddity of his presence that I nearly forgot my pain and my praying.  What also shocked me was the obvious nonchalance with which he watched my beating.  He simply watched.  He betrayed no emotion at all: neither pity for me nor enthusiasm for my punisher.  Unlike the hoodlums, who were cheering Ronni on, the man watched my humiliation with complete neutrality.  I have never seen (nor do I expect I shall ever see again!) a more stoic visage.  As captivated as I was, I was brought back to my pain by a fist smacking my right eye.  Shortly after, I lost consciousness.


3.  In which I meet with the person in the title, and he makes a peculiar claim about himself.

The world was a blur when I woke up: my eyesight is extremely poor without the help of my glasses, and I was missing them.  I got up onto all fours and felt around for them.  Finding them, I was crestfallen: they had been stepped on.  Both lenses were broken, and the frames were hopelessly twisted.  I folded them up as best I could and slipped them into my shirt pocket.  I stood up and dusted myself off.  I could make out a figure sitting on the steps where the hoodlums had perched: it was the tall, silver-haired old man.  He appeared to be calmly eating the remaining half of my uncle’s baguette.

I was incensed at the fact that he had witnessed my beating and done nothing to stop it.  Since he was not making any attempt to converse, I confronted him with my ire.  “Why didn’t you help me?” I asked.

“Help you how?”  His voice was gently accented; he sounded vaguely aristocratic.

“By stopping those kids from attacking me.”

“It was only one of them who was attacking you.  And that was a girl.”  He held out the baguette for my taking.  “Would you like some bread?”

I spat on the ground and refused the bread.  “You’re a disgrace,” I told him frankly.  I proudly straightened out the crucifix which I wear around my neck.  If he was a Christian, I intended to remind him of his deficiency.  “You’re like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan,” I said.

The old man was unfazed.  “The priest and the Levite came upon the traveler after he was beaten,” he said.  “Well, here I am.  You have been beaten—and I’m not just walking on by and leaving you for dead.”

“You’re missing the point.  The point of the story is to help your neighbor.”

“Am I not helping you?  I offered you some bread.  Look, there’s some mineral water here, too.”

“I know there is.  I bought that bread and that water myself.  Give it to me.”

“Of course,” he said, handing it over.

I took a greedy bite from the baguette, and washed it down with a long swig of the water.  Wiping my mouth, I lectured the man again.  “The time to help me was when I was being attacked!  But all you did was watch.”

The man betrayed no shame.  Instead he pointed to my crucifix.  “All He did was watch, too.  Why do you suppose He didn’t smite those kids with a sudden crippling nausea, or strike them with lightning?”

“I don’t care for your tone of impiety,” I said.  “Do you mock Christ?”

“Mock Him?” he asked.  “Certainly not.”  He smiled a wan smile.  “I am the only person alive who has known Him.”  (Normally I would’ve taken such a claim to be the ranting of some Pentecostal heretic speaking about his “personal relationship” with Our Lord, or the babble of some unhinged lunatic.  But there was something about this person which prevented me from concluding that.  He seemed to be claiming it as a straightforward historical fact.)  “Indeed,” he continued, “I may be the only person on earth who adequately fears Him.”

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Ave Maria

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima: the centenary of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary there, and a day on which Francis, to mark the occasion, has canonized two of the child visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta.  I did not watch the ceremonies.  Although I have a deep devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, I must remain doubtful of the validity of these canonizations, as I believe Francis to be an antipope (as well as John Paul II, who beatified them).  Any devotee of Fatima, however, does not need these vile deceivers to well know that those pure and holy children, Jacinta and Francisco, are surely among the saints in heaven.  As for Francis, I will have more to say on him shortly.  But for now, a blessed Saturday to the readers of this blog.

Our Lady of Fatima, ora pro nobis.

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For she is the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness.  She reneweth all things, and through nations conveyeth herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets.  For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of the stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it.”  (Wisdom vii, 26-29)

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Mirroring their souls in the Aleph: Borges y Francisco

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Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986).  “Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram.”


The fifth antipope of the modern era was elected on the thirteenth of March in 2013, a fortnight after the resignation of antipope Benedict XVI.  As everyone surely knows by now, the College of Cardinals chose the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  Upon his elevation, Bergoglio took the regnal name Francis, which he chose in honor of his favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, the thirteenth-century friar beloved for his emphasis on humility and his concern for the poor.  If Francis were actually the pope, he would be the first pope to take the name Francis, the first pope to be a Jesuit, and the first pope from the New World.  But he is not the pope.

There are, however, some lesser-known but intriguing facts to be known about Francis.  Shortly after I commenced my research into the survival of Pope Paul VI, I became embroiled in a correspondence with an interesting and rather eccentric Argentine expatriate by the name of Baltasar Fuentes Ramos, who was living as a wanderer and mendicant in southern Portugal.  He was traveling, he said, with a group of Romani drifters, dwelling in a rusted old trailer and living on rice and beans.  He used various internet cafés for his computing.  Fuentes told me he was happiest when he was living life close to the bone, in total simplicity.  He said he loved the hermits and misfits and mystics of Catholic history, and his favorite saint, he told me, was St. Simeon the Stylite.  (At the time, I did not question this, but in retrospect, I wonder if his nomadic and under-the-radar lifestyle was a deliberate choice for a different reason: in order to safeguard himself and the incendiary knowledge he possessed).  Originally, Fuentes and I were discussing some information he had concerning the whereabouts of Pope Paul VI in Portugal, but almost immediately we diverged onto the subject of Francis.  Fuentes claimed to have been a student of Francis’ in the mid-1960s, when the young Jorge Bergoglio was a Jesuit seminarian teaching a course in creative writing to teenagers at a parochial boys’ school, the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepción, in Santa Fe, Argentina.  Fuentes informed me that Francis is extensively aware of (and somewhat involved in) the history of Pope Paul VI.

Fuentes began by telling me that Bergoglio had been quite a likeable profesor.  Fuentes even became friendly with him.  From a very young age, Fuentes had been an avid lover of literature, and at the colegio he was the most well-read pupil in his grade.  Bergoglio appreciated the boy’s enthusiasm, and sought to nurture his budding talent by engaging him in long discussions during lunch.  They quickly discovered they had a favorite writer in common: the famous Argentine master of short fiction, Jorge Luis Borges.  In the second semester of the class, Francis decided to add three stories by Borges to the course syllabus (these stories were Averroës’ Search, The Writing of the God, and Three Versions of Judas).  As the end of the semester approached, Bergoglio assigned his students to write a “Borgesian” short story of their own.  “You will have noticed,” he told them, “that Borges infuses his fiction with an insatiable curiosity for religion and philosophy.  Try to do this yourselves.  Push at the boundaries of your thought.  Do not be afraid, even,” he said, “to transgress certain mild taboos.”  (During his papacy, of course, Francis himself would be somewhat notorious for violating taboos, at times even appearing to call into question long-held traditional positions of the Catholic Church.  He is, without question, the most outspokenly modernist of all the contemporary antipopes).

After class, Bergoglio told Fuentes that he would soon be in for the surprise of his life.  And truly he was: back in his seminary room at night, Bergoglio had been working on an important composition of his own.  He labored for several evenings over it, scribbling multiple drafts at his desk beneath a large crucifix hung on the wall, giving painstaking care to the wording and style.  He wanted it short, sweet, and impressive, for it was a missive to Borges himself.  Bergoglio whittled his taut little masterpiece down to two terse paragraphs.  The first paragraph functioned as a fan letter (reserved in tone, never fawning), while the second consisted of a polite request for Borges to read his students’ stories, and to select the five best from among them to be anthologized in an issue of the school’s literary magazine.

A week later, Bergoglio had his reply: Borges would do it.  The great author wrote back and confessed to feeling a certain restlessness; the idea appealed to him as a change of pace.  He was also looking for a brief respite from Buenos Aires, and he agreed to not only serve as the judge of the stories, but to personally come to Santa Fe and speak with the students as well.  Bergoglio was overjoyed—his perseverance in writing the letter had paid off abundantly.  If anyone from the distant future had been able to see him in his room, as he knifed open the envelope and read the response from Borges, they probably would’ve recognized the impish smile of “Pope Francis” that dawned on him as he gleaned the good news.

francis

Portrait of the antipope as a young man: Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his twenties.


I was able to find an article on the internet (with a photo, as well, of Francis and Borges) which verified much of Fuentes’ story: World-famous Argentinian writer Borges impressed by Pope Bergoglio’s charisma 50 years ago.   This particular account was given by a classmate of Fuentes’, Rogelio Pfirter, but Fuentes claims Pfirter got some details wrong.  Fuentes remembered the young Pfirter as a hotshot braggart, and was therefore unsurprised at his outrageous boast of having written not only one, but two, of the winning stories.  “How could he have written two?  The rule was one entry per pupil.  Nobody was allowed to submit two stories.  And Pfirter’s story didn’t even win.  The winning entry was mine, and it was called The Wandering Jew.  There were four runners-up, and Pfirter wasn’t one of them.  Secondly, Borges did not take the bus to Santa Fe.  He was a famous writer, not a pleb.  He took the train.  I know this for a fact.  I was with Bergoglio when he met Borges at the station.”

When Borges disembarked from the train at Santa Fe, he was sixty-six years old, and partially blind due to a deteriorative eye condition which had plagued him since youth.  He walked with a cane and was helped onto the platform by his secretary, a graceful, middle-aged, auburn-haired Russian Jewish woman named Jana Filippovna.  Filippovna was a scholar of the Hebrew language and something of a moderate authority on the system of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah.  Borges, for his part, was a lifelong philo-Semite.  (In the 1930s, Argentine nationalists had accused Borges of being a crypto-Jew.  He’d composed a tract in his own defense entitled “I, a Jew.”  Borges denied the charge, being a complete agnostic in matters of religion, but carefully suggested that any Argentinian of Spanish descent, as he was, likely carried traces of the blood of the Sephardic Jews of Spain from before the Alhambra decree).  Jana Filippovna had come into Borges’ employ as a consultant on a planned short story about Kabbalah, tentatively titled The Treasury of Solomon David, about a young Jewish accountant who is a prodigy with numbers, who stumbles upon an obscure connection between the Hebrew alphabet and Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mathematics, and unknowingly manages to solve an ancient puzzle of Kabbalistic numerology.  The story was never published, but Filippovna and Borges had become good friends during their collaboration on it, and afterwards she remained in Argentina as his assistant for a period of roughly a decade, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, which is when they had a falling out.  (The woman who replaced her as Borges’ secretary, Maria Kodama, eventually became his wife).

At the train station, Borges and Filippovna were surprised to find Bergoglio accompanied by a student.  Fuentes was introduced: “this young man is my star pupil,” Bergoglio told them.  “He has a future as a great writer, I assure you.”  Fuentes blushed.  “Shouldn’t the teacher remain impartial on the eve of a writing contest?” asked Jana Filippovna.  “Ah, but I am not judging the stories,” Bergoglio shrugged, and turned to address Borges.  “You are.”

The four of them dined at a restaurant that evening.  Fuentes remembers being impressed at Bergoglio’s ability to keep apace with the intellectual verve of Borges’ conversation.  “Francis sometimes has a tendency to come across as a bumbling stooge,” Fuentes remarked, “with his silly grin and his rambling way of speaking.  But don’t be fooled.  He is a fiercely intelligent man.  His public image is very different from who he is privately.  In front of a crowd or at the head of a classroom, he tends to get anxious and inarticulate.  But if you sit down with him, individually or in a small group, and let him relax and have a maté, he is incredibly astute.  In fact, I suspect that at some point in his life he decided to purposefully exaggerate his goofy persona.  I think he realized he could get away with much more if he appeared outwardly clueless.  I believe he’s sustaining a terrific act: the act of the ‘holy fool.’”

At the end of their dinner, Bergoglio produced from his satchel an accordion folder housing his students’ attempts at Borgesian fiction.  Inside of the folder lay Fuentes’ story, The Wandering Jew, a sprawling tale which was longer than the rest of the entries combined.  Said Fuentes: “there was me—a frail, awkward, dark-haired boy with glasses; an insignificant nobody, sitting at that restaurant table with the one and only Borges.  I was tongue-tied.  I knew my story was good, though.  I was confident about it.  But I had no idea whatsoever how profoundly my life was about to change after that.”  Jana stubbed out a cigarette, and Bergoglio handed her the folder.  She and Borges would read the stories that night, and announce the winners at class the following afternoon.

The next day at school, Borges singled out The Wandering Jew for highest honors.  He sat facing the class, holding his cane, his eyes (sadly vacant) staring off at nothing.  Jana sat next to him.  Bergoglio stood by the classroom windows, twirling a ruler.  Announced Borges: “this one, especially, is a fine tale, containing many instances of lurid religiosity.  At some points it almost seems to flirt with outright sacrilege, and yet it somehow manages to remain extremely pious throughout.  It’s a delicate and well-executed balancing act.  My compliments to the author for dreaming this up.”

In response, Fuentes did something completely unexpected.  He told me: “I don’t know what came over me, but for some reason even Borges’ praise seemed insufficient.  It wasn’t enough for him to merely like my story.  I wanted him to like me.  I wanted to become his friend and his protégé, like I was with Bergoglio.  So I told a lie that even Rogelio Pfirter wouldn’t have told.”  The young author of the story stood up at his desk, with a look of determination in his eyes.  “Begging your pardon, Herr Borges,” he said, employing the Deutsch honorific to address the famous Germanophile, “but it is not a work of fiction.  It is the actual and living truth.”

Borges said nothing in reply.  Jana looked out the window, disinterested.  It was left to Bergoglio to defuse the situation, so he laughed.  It wasn’t too hearty a laugh, or mocking in tone; it was probably intended to provide enough levity to break the tension and encourage the young Fuentes to sit back down.  But instead the boy fixed his gaze of defiance on his teacher, and suddenly turned on his mentor.  “Of course you would find it funny,” he sneered.  “You’re a modernist.  You are an adherent to the robber council called Vatican II.  It’s natural that someone like you would scoff at the truth.  But remember this: the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

Bergoglio frowned.  He knew Fuentes had a favorite uncle who was a monsignor in Buenos Aires—a staunch theological conservative who was an open dissenter to the teachings emerging from the current council, and whose bishop had threatened to defrock him for his relentless criticism of the hierarchy.  For this reason, Bergoglio and his favorite student had always politely avoided discussions of church politics.  Now he became suddenly bashful at Fuentes attacking him for his liberalism.

But Borges seemed to be enjoying himself.  “Perhaps you are trying to be provocative, young man,” he surmised aloud.  Borges himself had been the instigator of several literary hoaxes.  “It is healthy,” he said, “sometimes, to suggest a wild misinterpretation of a story simply for the fun of it.  Of course, by all means be playful with your work, but be careful to be so overly bold as to claim the entire thing as true.  That’s a diversion without any amusement.  It’s as perverse as the most humorless and intractable religious fanatics.  No one ever enjoyed the company of a Puritan or a Jansenist.”

Quod scripsi, scripsi,” said Fuentes.  He sat back down at his desk and crossed his arms.  Borges smiled.  Bergoglio tapped his ruler idly on the windowsill, then sauntered up to the front of the classroom and changed the topic entirely.  “I figured that was the end of it,” Fuentes told me.  “I had hoped that Borges would’ve been intrigued by my claiming the story as true, but instead he’d just shrugged it off.  As it turned out, I was wrong.  Borges was intrigued indeed.  Two months later, during summer vacation, I was surprised to get a phone call from my parents saying my writing teacher was trying to get in touch with me.  This amazed me, as our friendship had deteriorated into nothing after that day I called him a modernist.  I was staying with my uncle in Buenos Aires, which was my usual custom during the school break.  Mama said it was all the better that I happened to be in Buenos Aires, because Bergoglio was there, too.  She told me he was interested to know if I wanted to meet with Borges again—because Borges, apparently, wanted to meet with me.  She told me to expect Bergoglio’s call.  It’s like I told you: writing that story changed my entire life.  I was thrust into the orbit of people whose designs on the world I could not even begin to comprehend.”

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