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'twas ever thus

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 10, 2006

There is nothing new under the sun.

Reading, with sympathy, Rich Leonardi's lament that various correspondents have informed him that the Chair of Peter has been vacant since 1965 and that the true pope is named Michael, I was put in mind of a letter written to Francis Borgia by Juan de Polanco, secretary to Ignatius Loyola, in July of 1549, while Ignatius was General of the Jesuits and Francis -- inopportunely declared to be the forthcoming pope by a self-anointed prophet loosely connected to the Spiritual Franciscans -- was still in his Spanish dukedom. In the course of his letter, Polanco advises Francis how to disentangle himself from the present embarrassment, and cites similar importunities with which Ignatius was vexed at the time. I like this account of a not-untypical lunatic who turned up on the Jesuits' doorstep:

Not to dwell on these particulars, I will mention only one more person who has come these days to speak to our father [Ignatius] about his affairs and who gives evidence of exceptional spiritual converse. He has journeyed a distance of some two hundred miles, and by his own account has already been elected pope. He insists that, among others, Cardinal Farnese was present in spirit at his election, and believes all that remains is to enter into possession of his papacy. Our father answered him very handsomely, methinks, by reminding him that an election of the pope is held only when the See is vacant, and suggesting that he should learn whether Pope Paul was still living to see whether his election was legitimate.

Not bad, was it? St. Ignatius got himself off the hook in the classical manner by giving the guy a head-fake, plus bus fare to the Dominicans. Pope Paul III was to die the following November, as it happened, but the electors went with a known quantity for his replacement. The reaction of Polanco's aspirant is unrecorded.

There is nothing new under the sun.

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  • Posted by: - Jan. 10, 2006 9:55 PM ET USA

    Yes, if you hear the proclamation that the Chair is vacant many will say "no" and come forward to anoint themselves as the true occupants. In this regard I am reminded of a an angry column that Richard Cohen of the NYT wrote shortly after JPII died and his chosen successor was the present incumbent. Cohen was wrathful because he hadn't been consulted. Really. The hinted reasoning behind this effrontery was that people like he and his kind deserved to certify all important elections.