An interview with Dr. Thomas Madden on the Medieval Catholic Church

Apr 16th, 2014 | By | Category: Podcast

Protestant criticisms of the Catholic Church frequently target the medieval Catholic Church as a prime example of the Church’s problematic relationship with politics and the secular order. These critics often claim that the medieval Church was ruled by a greedy hierarchy bent on increasing its power in Europe and abroad, eager to silence or even eliminate its detractors or opponents, and rocked by internal scandals, corruption, and ultimately confusion. The seeds of the Reformation, so many Protestants believe, were sown during this tumultuous period where attempts at reform, like conciliarism, were destroyed underfoot by power-hungry popes.

ThomasMadden
Dr. Thomas F. Madden

To address these common objections, Called To Communion recently sat down with Thomas F. Madden, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. Dr. Madden has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The History Channel as an author and historical consultant. Dr. Madden’s recent books include Venice: A New History, The Concise History of the Crusades, and Empires of Trust. He has also written and lectured extensively on the ancient and medieval Mediterranean as well as on the history of Christianity and Islam. Dr. Madden is also a practicing Catholic who serves as an adjunct professor at Kenrick Glennon Seminary.

 

Download the mp3 by right-clicking here.

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  1. About two years ago Dr. Madden also gave the following lecture on the Crusades:

    Thomas F. Madden, Ph.D. The Crusades: Then and Now from Augustine Institute on Vimeo.

    Update: Another helpful brief article on this subject is Paul Crawford’s “Four Myths about the Crusades.” At the popular level, Michael Voris made a 30 minute video on the subject, available here. The BBC produced a documentary on the Inquisition here.

  2. Dear Casey and Nick,

    Thank you for arranging this interview with Dr. Madden, and to him for granting it! I look forward to listening to the podcast later today.

    pax,
    Barrett

  3. Yes, thank you. I just downloaded it. Please do more podcasts!

  4. Is Dr. Madden a Catholic?

  5. Hi Pio (#4),

    Indeed he is! In the above introductory paragraphs we wrote,

    “Dr. Madden is also a practicing Catholic who serves as an adjunct professor at Kenrick Glennon Seminary.”

    God bless, Casey

  6. This is a good introduction to the issues discussed, but in my opinion, it is a softball interview, without probing follow-up questions, where a few could have been given. I assume that Dr. Madden would not be around on this board, but I will offer a couple critical observations.

    At 4:01, concerning the Crusades he says, “…because they had fallings out with the Byzantine emperor they ended up keeping the city of Antioch.” He neglects to mention the Fourth Crusade, in which in April 1204, the crusaders sacked Constantinople, a city of fellow Christians. This act arguably entrenched the schism between Eastern and Western Christendom, commonly dated at 1054.

    At 22:50 he states, “In the entire 2000 year history of the Catholic Church, no pope has ever taught error in faith or morals.” He may be finessing the point of “teach(ing) error”, but it is an uncomfortable truth that Pope Honorius I favored monothelitism along with Emperor Heraclius at a synod in Cyprus in 634. Honorius was poshumously anathematized by name along with the Monothelites by the Third Council of Constantinople in 680. This condemnation was subsequently confirmed by Leo II.

  7. Hi George (#6),

    Thanks for the comment and for taking the time to listen to the interview. I agree that some follow-up questions to Dr. Madden would have strengthened this interview. As for your comments,

    At 4:01, concerning the Crusades he says, “…because they had fallings out with the Byzantine emperor they ended up keeping the city of Antioch.” He neglects to mention the Fourth Crusade, in which in April 1204, the crusaders sacked Constantinople, a city of fellow Christians. This act arguably entrenched the schism between Eastern and Western Christendom, commonly dated at 1054.

    I agree that the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by the Venetian-led 4th crusade was disastrous for East-West Christian relations. However, it is important to keep in mind that the crusaders by that time in their journey had already been excommunicated by the Pope for besieging and capturing the Christian city of Zara in modern-day Croatia, at the behest of the Venetians, who claimed the city as their own. The Pope repeatedly warned them not to attack fellow Christians and warned excommunication, but they did it anyway. All the same, I think Dr. Madden’s comment in 4:01 was regarding the First Crusade, so the 4th Crusade, which happened about a hundred years later, was quite a separate issue.

    At 22:50 he states, “In the entire 2000 year history of the Catholic Church, no pope has ever taught error in faith or morals.” He may be finessing the point of “teach(ing) error”, but it is an uncomfortable truth that Pope Honorius I favored monothelitism along with Emperor Heraclius at a synod in Cyprus in 634. Honorius was poshumously anathematized by name along with the Monothelites by the Third Council of Constantinople in 680. This condemnation was subsequently confirmed by Leo II.

    I believe the point that Dr. Madden was seeking to make was that no pope taught error while speaking in his official magisterial authority. in Christ, Casey

  8. Casey (#7),

    Your distinction between the part of the Venetian leaders of the Fourth Crusade, and the communications from the Pope seem to be an attempt to make the sack of Constantinople into rogue activity separate from the intent of the Catholic Church. I would suggest that even if it was an unintended consequence, that still does not give the Pope a free pass, especially when churches in Western Europe were enriched by holy relics plundered from the churches of Constantinople.

    If the siege and capture of Constantinople was led by rogue lay military, they were aided and abetted by the Roman Catholic clergy who preached on the righteousness of the cause of the besieging Crusaders in sermons on the eve of the final assault. Standards of bishops were flying in the forefront of the assault, and priests in full armor were active in the front of the fray. (Papal Supremacy and the Parting of the Ways I, podcast dated Apr 17, 2014 by Fr. John Strickland, http://www.ancientfaith.com)

    A close listen to the portion of the podcast that I cited may suggest that some comments by Dr. Madden referred to one certain crusade, but the general drift of his talk concerns the several crusades together, so I do not think that the sack of Constantinople is “quite a separate issue”. I do not know what treatment he gives this incident in his written works. But in a talk like this, the best tactic is to bring out your weak points, giving them the best possible explanation, denying opponents the opportunity to frame the debate. In this short talk, the sack of Constantinople got ignored.

    Concerning Honorius I, you write,

    “I believe the point that Dr. Madden was seeking to make was that no pope taught error while speaking in his official magisterial authority.”

    Well, that is not what Dr. Madden said. What he says immediately following @22.57 is “There has never been a pope who has had to go back and say, ‘Well, my predecessor was wromg about that.’ The fact that Pope Honorius I drew the attention and condemnation of an Ecumenical Council is not something to be brushed away with the anachronistic technical distinction of “official magisterial authority”.

    @24:44 Dr. Madden refers to “a long-standing tradition in the Catholic Church that popes cannot be judged.” Apparently this tradition did not exist in 680, because that is exactly what the Sixth Ecumenical Council did.

    “And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series Volume XIV, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988 reprint, page 343)

    Pope Honorious I may be the lone outlier among Roman Popes, but his anathematization seems to have fallen down the memory hole of Roman Catholics.

  9. Hi George (#8)

    distinction between the part of the Venetian leaders of the Fourth Crusade, and the communications from the Pope seem to be an attempt to make the sack of Constantinople into rogue activity separate from the intent of the Catholic Church. I would suggest that even if it was an unintended consequence, that still does not give the Pope a free pass, especially when churches in Western Europe were enriched by holy relics plundered from the churches of Constantinople.

    You seem to be claiming that the pope was responsible for individual excommunicated Catholics who plundered Constantinople and brought relics back into Western Europe. He excommunicated the army of the 4th crusade, and he warned them repeatedly not to attack fellow Christians, to include the Byzantines. I think it unfair to make him responsible for the actions of people who were disobeying his express wishes.

    If the siege and capture of Constantinople was led by rogue lay military, they were aided and abetted by the Roman Catholic clergy who preached on the righteousness of the cause of the besieging Crusaders in sermons on the eve of the final assault. Standards of bishops were flying in the forefront of the assault, and priests in full armor were active in the front of the fray. (Papal Supremacy and the Parting of the Ways I, podcast dated Apr 17, 2014 by Fr. John Strickland, http://www.ancientfaith.com)

    It is true that there were Catholic bishops and priests who encouraged the excommunicated crusaders to attack Constantinople. Yet these religious were not acting with permission or encouragement from the pope. The bishops even told the excommunicated crusaders, falsely, that they had absolved them of the excommunication. Yet they did not have the power to do this, and were acting without proper papal authority. I, and the Catholic Church, are certainly am sorrowed that this event occurred in the way that it did, and are remorseful for the actions of both rogue crusaders and rogue clergy. It is a terribly dark spot on the history of East-West Christian relations.

    A close listen to the portion of the podcast that I cited may suggest that some comments by Dr. Madden referred to one certain crusade, but the general drift of his talk concerns the several crusades together, so I do not think that the sack of Constantinople is “quite a separate issue”. I do not know what treatment he gives this incident in his written works. But in a talk like this, the best tactic is to bring out your weak points, giving them the best possible explanation, denying opponents the opportunity to frame the debate. In this short talk, the sack of Constantinople got ignored.

    I agree that ideally a discussion of Constantinople would have strengthened this interview, so feel free to blame me for not including that question in the interview. Rest assured Dr. Madden addresses the 4th Crusade both in his audio lecture series and his New Concise History of the Crusades, so the blame here should not be placed on Dr. Madden – he simply responded to a very specific Protestant objection regarding the Crusades, and was not asked to comment on all the complexities and controversies surrounding them. Plenty of other issues regarding the Crusades also “got ignored” in the sense that he did not exhaustively address every major objection against the Crusades. This would have been a bit outside the scope of a brief 30 minute podcast interview.

    Concerning Honorius I, you write,

    “I believe the point that Dr. Madden was seeking to make was that no pope taught error while speaking in his official magisterial authority.”

    Well, that is not what Dr. Madden said. What he says immediately following @22.57 is “There has never been a pope who has had to go back and say, ‘Well, my predecessor was wromg about that.’ The fact that Pope Honorius I drew the attention and condemnation of an Ecumenical Council is not something to be brushed away with the anachronistic technical distinction of “official magisterial authority”.

    @24:44 Dr. Madden refers to “a long-standing tradition in the Catholic Church that popes cannot be judged.” Apparently this tradition did not exist in 680, because that is exactly what the Sixth Ecumenical Council did.

    “And with these we define that there shall be expelled from the holy Church of God and anathematized Honorius who was some time Pope of Old Rome, because of what we found written by him to Sergius, that in all respects he followed his view and confirmed his impious doctrines.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series Volume XIV, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988 reprint, page 343)

    Pope Honorious I may be the lone outlier among Roman Popes, but his anathematization seems to have fallen down the memory hole of Roman Catholics.

    I probably should have made this point in my first response to you, but Dr. Madden’s comment on the papacy was more of an afterthought to this podcast, which was focused on several specific Protestant objections to the Medeival Catholic Church. I am not capable of representing what Dr. Madden meant by his statement, nor am I familiar with the intricacies of the controversy over Pope Honorius I that you have brought up. This is a bit outside the bounds of a podcast on the Crusades, Inquisition, and Avignon Papacy, so it would be better to stay on those topics. You have however piqued my interest in the subject, so I plan to do some research on Honorius I myself. God bless, Casey

  10. Casey,

    As a guest on this board, My intent was not to take the discussion far afield, and I tried to keep my comments within what was fairly suggested by Dr. Madden’s comments.

    I generally do not find fault with the Roman Catholic Church in regard to the several subjects of the discussion, but my limited reading suggests that there were more geopolitical factors going on in the Crusades than the picture of pious soldiers putting their selves and their treasure at risk for charity’s sake that Dr. Madden painted. He hints at more going on, but the time limits of the recording restricted the discussion.

    Inserting Honorius I into the discussion of the Avignon Papacy might have been a stretch, I thought that his comments on the exalted view of the Papacy deserved a fair poke. Thank you for allowing the exchange.

  11. R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California, recently wrote an article titled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy” that appeared in the July 1, 2014 issue of Tabletalk, and can be read in its entirety on his blog here. In this article he seeks to show that the succession of bishops in Rome from St. Peter to the present is not unbroken, and that therefore the Catholic Church is not an “ancient church,” but only a “medieval church.” (Clark’s own denomination, the United Reformed Churches in North America [URCNA], is about eighteen years old, having formed in 1996 as a break away from the Christian Reformed Church.) Clark focuses his attention on the Avignon papacy, and the Western Schism (1378 – 1417), which Thomas Madden has discussed in the interview available at the top of this page from the 15th to the 26th minute of the podcast. In particular, Clark claims that the existence of antipopes shows that there is discontinuity in the succession of popes.

    As a brief review, an antipope is “a false claimant of the Holy See in opposition to a pontiff canonically elected.” (source) The first antipope was St. Hippolytus who in opposition to the canonically elected Pope St. Callistus in AD 217 “immediately left the communion of the Roman Church and had himself elected antipope by his small band of followers.” (source) Eventually he was reconciled to, and martyred with Pope St. Pontain in AD 235-6 in the mines of Sardinia. St. Hippolytus is the only antipope who became a saint, in his case, through martyrdom for the faith, in union with the Church. The subsequent antipopes are spread throughout Church history, as can be seen in the yellow highlighting in this list of popes. But there have been no antipopes of any notability since the fifteenth century.

    In his article Clark writes the following:

    If we believe the popular myth, we might think that there has been an unbroken succession of popes in Rome since Peter. But according to Roman Catholic scholars, there have been no fewer than forty-six “antipopes” in the history of the papacy, and in the early fifteenth century there were no fewer than three popes ruling simultaneously.

    Clark seems to think that an antipope somehow interrupts the continuity of the succession of popes. However, an antipope is not a figure who occupies a temporal gap between otherwise legitimate popes, but rather a person who exists simultaneously with an actual pope, and claims falsely to be the true pope. So the existence of any number of antipopes does not show or demonstrate any discontinuity or break in the actual succession of popes. Moreover, contrary to Clark’s claim, it was never the case that there were “three popes ruling simultaneously.” The popes in succession from Urban VI, i.e. Boniface IX (1389-1404), Innocent VII (1404-06), Gregory XII (1406-15), were the actual popes during this time period. The other claimants were antipopes, not popes, for the reasons Thomas Madden explains in the podcast.

    Clark also writes:

    Each of the “popes” had excommunicated the others and their followers so that all of Western Christendom at that point was excommunicated.

    An antipope cannot excommunicate anyone from the Church. He can disallow someone from his own schismatic communion, but he cannot excommunicate someone from the Catholic Church, because, not being pope, he has no authority over the Catholic Church. So the true popes (and those persons in communion with them) were never excommunicated from the Church during the Western Schism.

    Clark continues:

    The Avignon crisis is just one of many examples from the history of the medieval church that illustrate the futility of seeking continuity, unity, and stability where they have never existed.

    The Avignon crisis was indeed a time of crisis, turmoil and confusion in the Church. But the Church never lost her unity during that time. She retained each of her four marks (i.e. one, holy, catholic and apostolic). She retained her unity because those who followed antipopes separated themselves from her unity, the same unity she had maintained the previous thirteen centuries. She retained her continuity because there is a continuous, unbroken succession of actual popes from Gregory XI (1370-1378) through Urban VI (1378-89), Boniface IX (1389-1404), Innocent VII (1404-06), and Gregory XII (1406-15), to Martin V, at which time the schism was ended. The stability claimed for the Church is not a stability in which there will be no crises. The history of the Church would immediately refute such a ridiculous claim. Rather, the stability claim is that of indefectibility, which I have discussed in more detail here. And the Western Schism, though a time of trial and contention, was not a case of the Church losing her indefectibility. So although the Avignon crisis is an example of a serious Church crisis involving disputed and contested authority, and significant confusion as a result, it does not show or demonstrate that the Church lost her unity or continuity or stability. On the contrary, it shows the providence and protection of God in preserving that unity, continuity, and stability through this crisis, among many others in the course of her long history.

    Clark continues:

    The historical truth is that the Roman communion is not an ancient church. She is a medieval church who consolidated her theology, piety, and practice during a twenty-year-long council in the sixteenth century (Trent). Her rituals, sacraments, canon law, and papacy are medieval.

    Clark is here not controverting the existence of the Church in Rome even from the first century, which we’ve recently discussed in some detail here. We should not think he is saying here that the Church in Rome did not exist until the medieval era. Rather, what he means is that the medieval era left its mark on the Church. She was not exactly the same at the end of the medieval era as she was going into it a thousand years earlier. That’s true, but it does not mean that the Church of Rome is not ancient. A redwood tree looks very different at full maturity than it does as a seed or sapling. But it is still the same tree. Likewise, the developments that occurred within the Church during the medieval era were an organic unfolding of what she already was. For this reason she is both ancient and medieval.

    Clark continues:

    The unity and stability offered by Roman apologists are illusions—unless mutual and universal excommunication and attempted murder count as unity and stability. Crushing opponents and rewriting history to suit present needs is not unity. It is mythology.

    Of course crushing opponents and rewriting history to suit present needs is not unity. No one claimed that it is, so here Clark goes after a straw man. And for the reasons I’ve just explained, he has not shown that the unity and stability the Catholic Church teaches that she possesses were lost during the Western Schism. He has only asserted this.

    Clark continues:

    The existence of simultaneous popes in Rome, Avignon, and Pisa, each elected by papal electors and some later arbitrarily designated as antipopes, illustrates the problem of the notion of an unbroken Petrine succession. The post-Avignon papacy is an orphan who has no idea who his father was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

    Here Clark misrepresents Church history by claiming that there were three simultaneous popes. In actuality at any given time there was only one pope. The other two claimants were antipopes. The determination that these were antipopes was not done “arbitrarily,” contrary to Clark’s mere assertion. Rather, as Thomas Madden explains above, unless a pope abdicates or dies, then no new pope can be legitimately selected. And Pope Urban VI was canonically elected. So the processes in which the cardinals subsequently engaged in selecting Robert of Geneva (and his successors) and the council of Pisa added a third, were nevertheless illegitimate and void because in each case the existing rightful pope had neither abdicated nor died.

    Clark concludes:

    Our Protestant forebears were deeply skeptical of the papacy as an institution—for good reason. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the papacy is a purely human institution without divine warrant, and that it has a complicated history. Claims to an unbroken succession crash on the rocks of history, especially those great rocks cropping up at Avignon, Pisa, and Rome for a century in the late medieval period.

    How Clark infers from the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI to the papacy being a “purely human institution” is unclear. Prima facie, nothing about the papacy being a divinely established institution or a merely human institution follows from Pope Benedict’s abdication. Yes, the papacy has a complicated history, but that too does not entail anything about its being a merely human institution. Clark writes in closing that the Catholic Church’s claim to having an unbroken succession of popes “crashes on the rocks of history,” referring here to the Western Schism. But as I have explained above, nothing in the Western Schism entails any break in the succession of popes, from St. Peter down to Pope Francis.

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