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Saepe Sanctam Ecclesiam (1296)
Some Translations #4
This is so boring that I really hesitated to even mail it out to the De Civitate mailing list. However, I have a rigid rule that, when you translate a document into English, you need to post the translation online, so that the document is now available in English. If that’s not your thing, skip it. There’s not even any sex this time.
Saepe Sanctam Ecclesiam is a papal bull published 1 August 1296 by Pope Boniface VIII.
I am deeply not a fan of Boniface VIII. His predecessor, Pope St. Celestine V, was a very holy man who lived in a cave on a mountain as a hermit until a scheming, politically deadlocked cardinalate elected him pope (they didn’t expect him to live long). Celestine tried to decline the office, because he really just wanted to live in his cave and love God, but he was exhorted into taking it for the good of the Church. Celestine was an utter incompetent who really just wanted to go back to his mountain, so his chief advisor helped Celestine figure out how to resign—the first papal resignation in history, and, at the time, a very legally questionable maneuver. Celestine attempted to return to his mountain, but the chief advisor who had helped him resign, now elected Pope Boniface VIII and fearing Celestine as a potential antipope, imprisoned Celestine under harsh conditions, and may have murdered him. (There is, to be sure, no evidence of this, only contemporary allegations from Boniface’s detractors.) In any event, Pope Saint Celestine was dead within the year.
Boniface, although he was one of the great canon lawyers and a highly effective administrator, would go on to get involved in several stupid wars and conflicts, and he notoriously issued probably the most doctrinally troubling papal bull in the history of the Church, 1302’s Unam Sanctam. I am not alone in my disdain for Pope Boniface: Dante placed him in the Eighth Circle of Hell with the simoniacs. (On the other hand, art historians love the guy. Boniface was a tremendous patron of the arts, and many of the most beautiful things in Rome, even today, bear his stamp.)
There are several lessons that might be drawn from this story. Here’s one: although God allows popes to resign, He does not like it, and uses the next papacy to chastise His Church.
I digress. According to the Catholic Church’s understanding, Christ passes the Keys of the Kingdom (Matt 16) to the pope, whoever that may be, and it is the responsibility of the very flawed human beings who make up the conclave to make sure the next pope is a good man worthy of that responsibility. (Occasionally, they succeed.) Despite my personal strong negative feelings toward Pope Boniface VIII, he was nevertheless a valid pope of the Roman Catholic Church, capable of issuing decrees exercising the authority to “bind and loose” that Christ gave Peter and his successors.
One such decree was the papal bull Saepe Sanctam Ecclesiam, issued against one or more lay associations that had become gnostic and heretical.
The bull seems to be aimed at certain communities of Beguines and Beghards. The inestimable Heinrich Denzinger thinks this bull was aimed specifically at the Brethren of the Free Spirit, but I am unconvinced. The heyday of the Free Spirits seems to have been about ten or twenty years later, though they were closely tied up with the Beguines, so maybe I am splitting hairs. Or I’m just wrong. I’m not too fussed about it.
Denzinger’s great work, the Enchiridion Symblorum, is the indispensable tool for reading important old Church documents. He lists Saepe Sanctam Ecclesiam at paragraph 866, and provides a good English translation… but, unfortunately, he quotes only a portion of one paragraph of the bull. For various reasons too convoluted to go into here, I wanted the full document. Fortunately, Denzinger lists his sources, and, thanks to the glories of the Internet Archive, I found the full Latin text of Saepe Sanctam Ecclesiam in a scan of the 1857 compilation Bullarum diplomatum et privilegiorum santorum romanorum pontificum: taurinensis editio, Volume 4. I had to retype most of it because the OCR was pretty iffy, so here is the Latin text (English translation follows):
Saepe Sanctam Ecclcsiam pestis haeretica impugnavit, in eam a suae nativitatis exordio insilivit, eius iuventutem impetiit, nec prosequi desivit senectutem: sed Qui eam supra se, firmam Petrani, firmavit, ac sua dextera excelsa tuetur, in tantum, ut non praevaleant portae inferi contra eam, ipsam usque ad senectam et senium non relinquet; sed fecit et faciet eam de vipereis hostibus triumphare, qui in exercitium dantur fidelibus, ut, eorum expoliti tunctionibus et pressuris, suis coaptandi locis per manum artificis disponantur sacris aedificiis permansuri aeternae vitae praemium consequendo.
Sane nuper ad audientiam nostram pervenit, quod nonnulli in viam Cayn noviter abeuntes, errore Balaam effusi, mercede et contradictione Chore incendio perituri, quasi nubes sine aqua, quae circumferuntur a ventis, infructuosi ut arbores autumnales, sunt errantia sydera, quibus in aeternum tenebrarum procella servatur, et novis adiuventionibus caecitatis aeterni supplicii non contenti conantur in proximos contagionis venena diffundere: ut ad terram tenebrosam et opertam mortis caligine ipsos deducant, ubi sempiternus horror inhabitat. Accepimus namque, quod nonnullae personae se contra sanctam Catholicam Ecclesiam Romanam erigentes, etiam sexus foeminei, dogmatizant, se ligandi et solvendi claves habere, poenitentias audiunt et a peecatis absolvunt, conventiula non solum diurna faciunt, sed nocturna, in quibus de suis pravitatibus conferunt, et de erroribus conveniunt in id ipsum, et predicare praesumunt; tonsura clericali contra ritum Ecclesiae abutentes, Spiritum Sanctum se dare per impositionem manuum mentiuntur, et exhibendam [Denzinger thinks a word is missing here, and I agree: reverentiam? oboedientiam? Could be another word; we are only guessing from context] soli Deo, et non alteri, cuiuscumque fuerit conditionis, dignitatis et status. Efficaciores etiam illas orationes affirmant, quae a nudatis toto corpore offeruntur: mulieres invicem se desponsant; dicunt fidelibus operari manibus non licere: mares nudi huiusmodi sectae damnatae foeminas antecedunt; et in dicta Sancta Ecclesia ligandi atque solvendi fore abnegant potestatem: non solum praemissis, et aliis novis inviis obvoluti, quibus erronee adhaerentes, ipsa sustinent et defendunt, sed et nonnullis erroribus, quos vetustas damnata produxit: inter quos aliqui esse dicuntur apostatae, qui professi fuerant in ordinibus approbatis; qui sagittas pestiferas cordibus simpliciorum infligunt.
Commissi ergo nobis universalis Ecclesiae cura regiminis et apostolicae solium dignitatis nos angunt et pungunt et hortantur instanter, ut talibus, qui inconsutitem Domini tunicam dissuere moliuntur, salubribus remediis obviantes, insaniae tantae malum nostro iniuitu, divina nobis assistente gratia, dissipemus. Quapropter, huiusmodi, sectam tam haereticam, quam insanam de fratrum nostrorum consilio omnino damnanles, damnatanam et haereticam nunciamus, et universis christifidelibus ecclesiasticis vel mundanis cuiuscumque fuerint dinigatis, conditionis, aut status, districte praecipimus, ut mortale huiusmodi virus ubiiciant, et talia nefanda credentibus nullum per se vel per alium publice vel occulte praestent auxilium, consilium vel favorem, et ut non receptent eosdem: Ecclesiarum vero praelatis, et etiam inquisitoribus haereticae pravitatis, authoritate apostlica institutis ubilibet et instituendis imposterum, districtius iniungentes, ut contra tales, sicut contra haereticos, auxiliatores, consiliatores, receptatores et fautores eorum debitum sui officii diligentius exequantur: quos puniri volumus sententiis, poenis et mulctis, illatis ipso iure et inferendis per apostolicas, canonicas, ecclesiasticas et saecularium principum sanctiones: praesertim quondam Friderici olim Romanorum imperatoris, tempore quo idem in devotione Romanae Ecclesiae persistebat, contra haereticos, seu quorumcumque ratione pravitatis haereticae ordinatas.
Datum Anagniae, kalendis augusti, pontificatus nostri anno secundo.
Dat die 1 augusti 1296, pont. anno II.
I depended heavily on ChatGPT to render this translation, but I have checked over each sentence and corrected at least most of its errors. As with many formal documents, much of this letter is throat-clearing, boilerplate, or rhetorical zeal. The meat of this decree, where the sect’s actual errors are enumerated, is in the second half of the second paragraph, from “[S]ome persons, even of the female sex…” to “…also some errors which brought out condemnations in antiquity.” The translation follows:
AlwaysOften, pestilential heresy has assailed the Holy Church, leapt upon her from the moment of her birth, struck her in youth, and doesn’t cease to pursue her into old age: but He Who established upon Himself the constancy of Peter has fortified her and upholds her with His lofty right hand so much that the gates of the damned should not prevail against her; even unto old age and senility, He will not abandon her; but rather, He has made and will make her triumph over her viperous enemies, who are given into service to the faithful so that, purified by their temptations [probably] and trials, they may be arranged in suitable places by the hand of the artisan within sacred buildings, destined to remain and obtain the reward of eternal life.
However, recently, it has come to our attention that some, newly departing into the path of Cain, having vomited up the error of Baal, shall perish in the fire by the recompense and contradiction of Chore (?), like clouds without water, which are blown about by the wind, unfruitful as the trees of autumn: they are errant stars, for whom a gale into eternal darkness is reserved, and, not being content with eternal punishment from their new youthful blindness, they try to spread the poison of contagion to their neighbors, so that they might lead those [neighbors] to a dark land shrouded beneath the fog of death, where eternal horror dwells. We have learned, in fact, that some persons, even some of the female sex, rising up against the holy Catholic Church, are teaching that they have the keys of binding and loosing; they hear confessions and absolve from sins; they hold not only daytime assemblies but also nighttime ones, during which they discuss their own depravities, and harmonize their errors, and presume to preach; abusing the clerical tonsure against the rite of the Church, they lyingly say that they give the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands; and lyingly say that [missing word: reverence? obedience?] is to be furnished to God, and to no other, of whatever condition, dignity, or state. They also affirm that prayers are more efficacious when offered with their whole body naked: women marry each other; they say it is not lawful for the faithful to work with their hands: nude males of this sort surpass [?] the females of this damned sect; and they deny that the power of binding and loosing exists in the said Holy Church: not only do they advance the aforementioned errors, and other new errors they’ve gotten wrapped up in [?], to which they erroneously adhere, but also some errors which brought out condemnations in antiquity. Among these are said to be some apostates, who once professed [vows] in approved orders; who shoot poisonous arrows into the hearts of the simple.
Therefore, entrusted with the care of the universal Church's governance and the throne of apostolic dignity, we are urged, prodded, and strongly encouraged to confront with immediate action those who attempt to tear apart the seamless garment of the Lord. By applying healing remedies, we endeavor to dispel the great madness against our will, with divine grace assisting us. For this reason, we, by the counsel of our brothers, utterly condemn both such a heretical and insane sect, and we declare it condemned and heretical. We strictly command all Christian faithful, both ecclesiastical and secular, of whatever rank, condition, or status, that they eradicate such a deadly virus wherever it is found, and that they offer no support, counsel, or favor either publicly or secretly to those who hold such abominable beliefs. Furthermore, we solemnly instruct the prelates of the Churches and even the inquisitors appointed by apostolic authority, both now and in the future, to diligently carry out their due duty against such individuals as they would against heretics, their helpers, advisers, receivers, and supporters. We desire that they be punished with sentences, penalties, and fines, imposed by the very law and inflicted through apostolic, canonical, ecclesiastical, and secular sanctions: especially as once commanded by Frederick, the former Emperor of the Romans, during the time when he remained devoted to the Roman Church, against heretics or any individuals tainted by heretical depravity.
Given at Anagni, on the Kalends of August, in the second year of our pontificate.
Any errors in the translation or transcription are, of course, my own. If you find any, please do let me know in the comments. I make mistakes, but I like to fix them.
That’s it for tonight!
Forthcoming: I am finishing up my review of Barbenheimer for the paid subscribers, then I will probably touch on the “face” of the pro-life movement either before or after Ohio votes on the nine-month-abortion amendment this fall. I’m almost ready to start writing the next Letter to a Growing Catholic (critiquing the irrational belief that only material entities exist), and, quite frankly, I’ve gotten very, very, very deep on this whole Disqualification Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment thing. I don’t know how that will rear its head here, but I’m sure that it will return.
So, business as usual for De Civ: a little culture, a little abortion, a little theology, a little law, and the occasional dull-as-dust translation of a random document I happened to read.