Quo Vadis?

Where are you going?

A legend has Peter walking along a road outside of Rome, fleeing arrest and certain death, when he comes to a crossroads: where the Appian Way meets the Via Ardeatina.

There he meets our risen Lord.

Quo vadis?” Peter asks, to which Jesus replies:

Romam vado iterum crucifigi.” I am going to Rome to be crucified again.

At that very spot there is now a church (St. Mary in Palmis) familiarly known as Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis. The original Christian structure constructed there to commemorate the meeting (the current church was erected in 1637) was probably built atop an ancient pagan place of worship: one of a myriad of instances of Catholicism’s “syncretic genius” in adapting pagan cults (and converting Gentiles) to the One True Faith.

The end of the story, of course, is the end of Peter. He turns around and heads back towards Vatican Hill. This is the last time he would need to be redirected by Jesus

The Church that began in Jerusalem became Roman, principally because Peter and Paul took the Gospel into what was then the heart of darkness, and because they both died there. But, as in the case of the Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis, Catholicism was not averse to using some pagan forms in order to make itself accessible to conversions – and to take the best of the pagan world in terms of the Church’s emerging structure. Thus does the modern Vatican resemble in some ways the ancient Roman state: the diocese is a Roman administrative instrument, the Catholic Curia is based upon the Roman senate, itself one of many curiae that organized and administered the old empire.

To be sure, Christianity transformed Rome more than Rome affected Christianity, but the adaptability of the Faith to regnant conditions, as the Gospel spread throughout the world (think of current liturgical practices in Africa), has been and remains a key feature of the Church’s success.

This adaptability, however, is not the same thing as compliance, compromise, or concession. The Truth is not changed to suit the prejudices of any given time or place. Or, rather, it should not be so.

We’ve now experienced the full fortnight of the Synod on the Family and have begun to absorb the tenor of possible official (and unofficial) recommendations (and unintended consequences). Robert Royal’s reporting from Rome has been peerless in guiding us, as I’m sure TCT’s readers will acknowledge, proudly. He’s our Vergil.

But now it’s time to talk about schism.

I’m against it, but careful readers of what in Internet-speak are called comboxes, here and at other websites, will have noticed that some Catholic commenters have begun, metaphorically, packing their bags; setting a course towards, if I may be permitted a coinage, contramontanism. Maybe abmontanism is better, but it’s the opposite of ultramontanism, that formerly head-over-heels, pro-papist persuasion that places “strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the pope.” The pope who is bishop of Rome.

We’re hearing now from many who seem to be suggesting they’re ready to abandon the Barque of Peter for . . . well, for what? That’s the question, isn’t it?

Domine, Quo Vadis? by Annibale Carracci (1601)

Quo vadis?

When disciples of Jesus found His teaching too burdensome and headed for the hills, the Lord turned to His apostles and asked if they would also leave. John reports: Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69) That’s one reason why Jesus gave the keys to Peter, and it’s why we have an apostolic succession.

Christine Niles, a TCT contributor and now a producer for ChurchMilitant.TV put it perfectly last week:

We have heard various people say they may leave the Church because of all the confusion emanating from [the Synod in] Rome. It would be a huge victory for Satan to get you to leave the One True Faith, the Church established by Our Lord, outside of which there is no salvation.
Holy Mother Church is suffering – often at the hands of Her own sons. Do not abandon Her in Her hour of need. She needs soldiers who will stay and fight – through prayer, sacrifice: evangelism in word and deed.
“Catholics are born for combat,” said Pope Leo XIII – and never more than now.

Whatever happens when the dust clears and any forthcoming documents have been analyzed and understood – and no matter what the content – I’ll remain a Roman Catholic. With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan (H.M.S. Pinafore):

He is a CATHOLIC man!

For he, himself, has said it
And it’s greatly to his credit
That he is a Catholic man
Chorus: That he is a Catholic man!
For he might have been a Lutheran
A Copt, a Naz, or Wesleyan
Or Episco-pa-lian
Chorus : Or Episco-pa-lian
But in spite of all temptations
To embrace disintegration
He remains a Catholic man,
He remains a Ca-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-tholic man!

Let’s have no rupture, no schism, no apostasy.

This column is premature, of course, especially so in recollection of what followed Vatican II when, without actual Magisterial support, the “spirit” of that meeting began sundering millennia of tradition.

In Brian Moore’s Catholics, a priest-messenger is sent from Rome to an Irish island monastery to demand the monks no longer say the Mass in Latin and to inform them that belief in transubstantiation is no longer licit.

If it comes to that, I reserve the right to reconsider. But for now I’m with Paul (1 COR 1:10):

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Quo vadis?



Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.