It’s that time of year again: when we collectively set our clocks back and pretend that it is 2:00am when it is really 3:00am. I’ve written about this collective weirdness in these pages last fall and spring, so here are a few more things that require clarification and expansion.
1. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure disliked each other
When I was training to be a tour guide at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, I had to learn all of the iconography, stained-glass windows, architecture, and religious symbolism, along with some Church history. My mentor pointed out that “St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure are painted back-to-back, facing away from each other because they hated each other so much!” This is a good yarn to spin for tourists, but I’ve never read anything to confirm it. True, the Dominican St. Thomas—the Angelic Doctor—was the great Scholastic, who will always be remembered for his marriage of Aristotle with Christian doctrine, his definitive teaching on the Real Presence and composing the Tantum Ergo. The Franciscan St. Bonaventure—the Seraphic Doctor—was much more the mystical theologian, and much to his chagrin, made a cardinal and general of his order. But given the fact that both these great churchmen were from Italy, both belonged to mendicant orders, and both received their doctorates together at the University of Paris in 1257, I think these claims are misleading.
2. Drinking black coffee or tea doesn't break the Eucharistic fast
We had a priest over for dinner recently. He said he had to take his coffee black (no sugar, no milk) because he had to say Mass. My blank stare spurred him to say that “taking black coffee or tea does not break the fast.” Perhaps this was true prior to the Second Vatican Council, but I can’t imagine stopping by Starbucks en route to Mass for a double espresso so I can stay awake through the homily—and then receive Communion—is kosher, or that it doesn’t break the fast.
3. Purgatory is not a place of punishment
One All Souls’ Day Mass the Vincentian priest claimed during his homily that he had never read any doctrine, dogma, or teaching that Purgatory was a place of “temporary punishment—a short of short-term hell.” It was, according to this same priest, rather, a space to sit and mourn our sins. Apparently this priest had never read the Divine Comedy of Dante where Purgatory is very much a place of punishment. And even if we take Dante out of the equation—though he was the greatest philosophical and theological poet of all time and buried in a Franciscan habit—the “punishment” meted out in purgatory is that we are, literally, between Heaven and Hell, and unable to fully partake of the beatific Vision. If that isn’t a sort of punishment, I don’t know what is.
4. Pope Joan was actually pope
Some legends die hard, and few die harder than that of Pope Joan. Not only was there never a “Pope Joan”, there never was a Joan to be pope. While editing Dr. Christopher M. Bellitto’s book 101 Questions & Answers on Popes and the Papacy (2006) the author and I decided to include a question and answer on “Pope Joan” if only to categorically debunk it through the use of good history and solid research. There was never a “Pope Joan”. Period.
5. Pope John Paul II heard his assassin's confession in prison
We’ve all seen the very moving pictures of Pope St. John Paul II meeting with his would-be assassin in prison. Journalists quickly jumped on these photos to claim that the Pope was “hearing the confession of Mehmet Ali Acga”. Since Acga was not a Catholic, he couldn’t make a confession in the sacramental sense of the word. Whatever he said to the saint-pope could not be construed as the Sacrament of Penance.