Holiness of Life in the Clerical State
© Copyright 2007, 2009 T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.)
“The doctrine of faith God revealed…has been entrusted as a divine deposit to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence, also, that understanding of Her sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding…Let it be solely in its own genus, namely on the same dogma, with the same sense and the same understanding,” (The Vatican Council, DZ 1800).
How few today possess any real understanding of the arduous training it takes to become a Catholic priest. This area of study has been neglected and misunderstood for decades. If we wish to know exactly how and why Our Lady’s warning at La Salette concerning priests was fulfilled to the letter in the 1940-50s, we need only read the many encyclicals and Instructions on the priesthood written and approved by the Popes since her appearance there. The Church unceasingly commanded the Ordinaries of those dioceses that contained seminaries to diligently supervise the formation of those studying to be priests and carefully screen those who believed they had a vocation. The last instruction on this head was issued in 1955, but already it was too late to save the priesthood from ruin.
In this Instruction, entitled “Thorough Examination of Candidates For Orders Strongly Emphasized,” B. Cardinal Aloysius Masella notes that many of the disorders addressed in strong words in this Instruction arose during World War II when “the admonitions and precepts of the Instruction referred to above [issued by Pope Pius XI in 1930 — see “Qualifications for the priesthood,” sidebar] either have been completely blotted out of memory or have not been adequately observed by all concerned. The resultant effects [unfit and unworthy priests requesting release from Holy Orders] have flowed here in abundance,” (“Canon Law Digest,” Vol. IV).
The priesthood must be restored only as the Church intended and holy pastors provided to guide the faithful to Heaven and gather the lost sheep. Rather than relax the Church’s previous stringent requirements for holiness and perseverance in priestly duties to achieve this goal, it is essential that in these evil times the Church be more vigilant than ever. St. Thomas Aquinas said it: better a few truly holy priests than several who are indifferent to acquiring a superior sanctity, even if this means raising the standards in admitting men to the priesthood. Pope Pius XI teaches below that holiness in a priest is more important than knowledge. God gives the Church the priests She needs and we must trust Him in this matter. If we have any doubts about this, all we need to do is look at the damage done by lax and liberal clergy pre-1958 and Traditionalist “clergy” over the past 50 years.
Much has been made of the studies required by seminaries as necessary for ordination, and rightly so. But one qualification overriding all else is more necessary than all the rest, and this the Popes have attested to for centuries. That qualification, which must already exist even before a man’s interior call to the priesthood is confirmed by his bishop, is holiness of life. As Can. 124 states: “Clerics must lead an interior and exterior life holier than that of the laity and give these the good example of virtue and good works.” And St. Thomas Aquinas writes: “By Holy Orders a man is deputed to the most dignified ministry, to serve Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. For this a greater interior sanctity is required than even the religious state demands…For the worthy exercise of Holy Orders, ordinary goodness does not suffice; superior virtue is required.” Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey, whose ascetical and dogmatic works were frequently used to train seminarians in this country states: “The Councils and particularly that of Trent; the Supreme Pontiffs and especially Pope Leo XIII and St. Pius X so insist upon the necessity of holiness in the priest that to deny our thesis is to stand in open contradiction to authorities that cannot be gainsaid,” (“The Spiritual Life”). Let us see what the Popes have said on this subject.
Popes speak on the clerical state
Priests must possess a superior holiness — Pope St. Pius X taught at length on the nature and meaning of this holiness during his reign. In the first year of his pontificate, he wrote: “How great must your solicitude be for the formation of the clergy to sanctity!…When the time comes for the promotion of candidates to Holy Orders, never forget the words of Paul to Timothy: Do not impose hands hastily on anyone; ponder deeply on the truth that, in the majority of cases, the faithful will be such as those you admit into the priesthood. Take no count, therefore, of personal considerations; consider only God, the Church and the eternal welfare of souls, lest as the Apostle says you should share in the sins of others,” (“E Supremi Apostolatus,” Oct. 4, 1903).
Five years later this same Pope instructed: “Prospective candidates for the priesthood are not only to be trained in the arts and sciences, but are especially to be developed in the deepest piety from their early years…Men are nothing but the instruments God uses for the salvation of souls; consequently they must be suitable to be used by God…Only one thing serves to unite man to God, only one thing makes him acceptable and not an unworthy instrument of the divine mercy, and that is holiness of life and habits. If this holiness — the supereminent wisdom of Jesus Christ — is lacking in a priest, everything is lacking in him. Because without holiness, a vast store of the finest learning (which We Ourselves are trying so hard to cultivate in priests), also keenness and efficiency in management, while they may occasionally be of some service to the Church or to individual souls, are much more frequently the deplorable cause of harm to the Church and to souls…Woe to the priest who fails to live up to his office and disgraces the name of God Whom he should serve by being holy! …Only holiness will cause us to be that which our priestly vocation demands:…ministers of God who mind only heavenly things and strive with all their might to turn heavenward also the minds of others…Now more than ever there simply must be in the priesthood more than ordinary virtue; virtue that may be a model for others,” (“Haerent Animo,” Aug. 4, 1908).
Quoting Pope Leo XIII, St. Pius X then warns against the dangers of believing “that some of the Christian virtues are not opportune in certain times…[This] could occur only to a mind that had forgotten the words of the Apostle: ‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be made conformable to the image of His Son,’ (Rom. 8:29). The teacher and examplar of every form of holiness is Christ, and to His model all those who wish to attain the regions of the blessed must form themselves. Now He is not changed by the passing ages but is ‘Jesus Christ yesterday, today and the same forever,’ (Heb. 8:8). So to the men of every age these words are directed, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart,’ (Matt. 11:29)…These words of the Apostle are true for every age: ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences,’ (Gal. 5:24).” So let no one state, as the Traditionalists are so fond of doing, that it is impossible for their clerics to live up to this standard of holiness today, or that because of the present crisis God does not expect them to strive for such holiness and do all in their power to achieve it. God never proposes an end unless He also provides the means, even if these means involve great effort and sacrifice and even His direct intervention, as St. Francis de Sales suggests.
To believe otherwise is contrary to Pope St. Pius X’s teaching in his Oath Against Modernism, where he states: “The doctrines of faith are transmitted from the Apostles through the orthodox Fathers, always in the same sense and interpretation, even to us; and so I reject the heretical invention of the evolution of dogmas, passing from one meaning to another, different from that which the Church first had.” Other Popes also had this to say about the holiness necessary to the priesthood: “Learning without virtue is a source of offence and danger rather than of real benefit. It is generally true that those who show overweening pride because of the learning they have acquired lose the faith and blindly rush headlong to a spiritual death. Students, therefore, must take every means to ensure that the virtue of humility, which is necessary indeed for everyone but particularly [is] to be practiced by them, is part of their innermost being…The learning which a man may acquire, however extensive it might be, is nothing compared to the things of which he remains ignorant,” (“Unigenitus Dei Filius,” Pope Pius XI, March 19, 1924).
“It would be a grave error fraught with many dangers should the priest, carried away by false zeal, neglect his own sanctification…In the first place he endangers his own eternal salvation…In the second place he might lose, if not divine grace, certainly that unction of the Holy Ghost which gives such a marvelous force and efficacy to the external apostolate…Our Lord…has been pleased to elect to the priestly state men almost devoid of…learning…But He did this that all might learn, if there be a choice, to prize holiness more than learning; not to place more trust in human than divine means…[Piety] is necessary above all to the right exercise of the priestly ministry. Without piety even the holiest actions and the most sacred rites will be performed in a mechanical and routine fashion; they will certainly be devoid of that unction that gives them spirit and life.” (“Ad Catholici Sacerdoti,” Pope Pius XI, Dec., 1935)
“If, with so much solicitude, We have, in the discharge of Our Apostolic office, recommended solid intellectual training among the clergy, it is easy to understand how much We have at heart the spiritual and moral training of young clerics without which even outstanding knowledge can bring incalculable harm on account of arrogant pride which easily enters the heart. Therefore Mother Church primarily and anxiously wishes that in seminaries solid foundations be laid for the holiness that the minister of God must develop and practice all his life…We insist that clerical students be deeply convinced of the necessity of striving to acquire those ornaments of the soul which are the virtues and, after acquiring them, to preserve them with the desire of increasing them…[However] there is ready danger that the external exercises of piety may not be accompanied by an interior movement of the soul, a thing which can become habitual and even grow worse…outside the seminary…For seminarians the interior life is the most efficacious means of acquiring the priestly virtues, of overcoming difficulties and carrying out salutary resolutions. Those who are responsible for the moral training of seminarians must always aim at making them acquire all the virtues the Church demands in priests,” (“Menti Nostrae,” Pope Pius XII, Sept. 23, 1950).
“People spend a great deal of time in useless discussions of evil and their remedies; often We have thought that one of the most effective remedies would be many holy priests! For history teaches that wherever a holy and zealous priest has arisen and has lived, in his footsteps as if by magic everything has seemed to be rejuvenated, everything comes back to life,” (Pope Pius XII to the Spanish Pontifical College, March 22, 1956).
“Although the humane and natural education of the religious clergy is to be highly esteemed, still first place in the program of formation must be given to supernatural sanctification of the soul. If the words of the Apostle ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification,’ (I Thess. 4:3) apply to all Christians, they bind all the more one who has not only received the priesthood, but has made a public profession of his resolve to pursue evangelical perfection; one whose office has so constituted him an instrument for the sanctification of others that the salvation of souls and the spread of God’s kingdom depend in large measure upon his holiness,” (“Sedes Sapientiae,” Pope Pius XII, May 31, 1956).
“Give the very first place to the formation of the interior spirit, without which all exterior action is futile and must be looked on with suspicion,” (Pope Pius XII, “A Guide to the Lay Apostolate,” 1954).
From the above it is very clear, then, that those becoming seminarians must (a) already have achieved a superior level of holiness;
(b) that this holiness is to be preferred even to the necessary subjects they must learn;
(c) that it is then to be increased and perfected in the seminary and perfected even further following ordination
(d) that it is to be further perfected in the exercise of their priestly ministry. But how is the acquisition of holiness to be measured? How can we in these times determine if holiness has been achieved?
The Church’s method for achieving holiness — “The watchful and experienced superior of a seminary, who knows his students individually and studies the character and inclinations of each of them, will not find it very difficult to discern which of them has a true vocation to the priesthood…The man who wants to be a priest for the noble motive of giving himself to the service of God and the salvation of souls, and at the same time possesses solid piety, proved chastity, and has or is trying to acquire sufficient knowledge, as we have already explained, that man is clearly called to the priestly state…Superiors of seminaries…should, without any regard for human considerations order those who are unsuitable or unworthy to leave the seminary…In deciding these cases, the safer view should always be followed,” (“Ad Catholici Sacerdoti,” Pope Pius XI, Dec., 1935).
“Still another recommendation, we feel, is in place here: that in undertaking and advancing in the spiritual life, you do not trust too much to yourselves, but with docile simplicity seek and accept the help of someone who, with wise moderation, can guide your soul, point out to you the dangers, suggest suitable remedies, and in every internal and external difficulty can guide you in the right way towards an ever greater perfection, according to the example of the saints and the teachings of Christian asceticism. Without these prudent guides for one’s conscience, it is often very difficult to be duly responsive to the impulses of the Holy Ghost and of the grace of God,” (“Menti Nostrae,” Pope Pius XII, Sept. 23, 1950).
“All who have charge in any way of religious must bear in mind that education and formation of this kind must be imparted in an organized and gradated manner, and that every appropriate method should be utilized. This training should embrace the whole man under all the aspects of his vocation, so that he may become truly and completely a man perfect in Jesus Christ…Supernatural means…are not only necessary to the attainment of a religious and clerical perfection crowned with apostolic success; they are altogether basic and of its essence…Nothing should be slighted which will contribute in any way to the perfection of body and mind, cultivation of the natural virtues and the formation of the integral human personality. Thus the supernatural training, whether for the religious life or the priesthood, will be based on the solid foundation of natural integrity and refined personality, (Phil. 4:8).
“Surely men will find the way to Christ more easy and inviting to the extent that they see in the person of the priest ‘the goodness and kindness of God Our Savior’…All this, We know from experience, can only be provided by well chosen men, who are not only outstanding in learning, prudence, understanding of characters, wide experience of men and things and in other human qualities, but who are also filled with the Holy Ghost and who will give the young men a shining example of holiness and of all virtue; for it is well known that in the whole manner of training they are more influenced by virtue and right conduct than by words.” (“Sedes Sapientiae,” Pope Pius XII, May 31, 1956).
Pope Pius XII made it clear that this Constitution is infallible, stating in conclusion, “We determine and decree, after mature deliberation, with clear knowledge and with the fullness of Our Apostolic authority, that these general norms concerning each of the phases of this important subject be observed by all they concern.” Character formation in seminaries, then, is essential. Given this fact, we must pay close attention to the words from this Constitution. In the spiritual formation of seminarians: “…every appropriate method should be utilized… Nothing should be slighted which will contribute in any way to the perfection of body and mind, cultivation of the natural virtues and the formation of the integral human personality…[the development of] natural integrity and refined personality.” Directors of priests and religious must possess an “understanding of characters and a wide experience of men and things.” We literally must take these words as Gospel. And yet we find that the one most consistent practice of the Church used to secure the correct formation of seminarians (and the devout among the faithful) has not only been neglected, but omitted entirely, when Pope Pius XII mandates that all appropriate methods should be used and nothing should be slighted. Isn’t it obvious that a method used by spiritual directors for nearly 2,000 years should be a time-honored method preferred to all others? But because this method was not duly investigated and employed, much progress in the spiritual life and much precious time has been lost, not to mention the fact that many graces have been wasted.
Spiritual formation of seminarians
This method is called the study of the temperaments and as Rev. R. J. Meyers, S. J. teaches: “The masters of the spiritual life tell us that the Examination of Conscience should be directed, in a very special manner, towards the correction of those faults which spring from a defect of character, and the acquisition of those virtues which are best suited to form and build up character. The reason which they give is that whatever is connected with a man’s character affects his inmost self and has, therefore, a direct bearing on his whole life. Whence it follows that the study of character is of paramount importance to every one, as well as for his own sake, as for the sake of those who may be called upon to guide in the way of God…The physical basis of a person’s character is his bodily temperament…A person’s temperament often stands not only for his manner of feeling, but of acting; for his frame of mind and disposition of mind; in brief, for the sum of his native endowments and tendencies…[Temperaments] are very helpful to acquire a knowledge of one’s natural disposition…Natural temperament, with all its weaknesses and imperfections, is a factor that we must necessarily take into account, under pain of the gravest mistakes and disappointments in the spiritual life,” (“Science of the Saints”).
It is the elimination of these vices and the acquisition of these virtues, consistently referred to as of chief importance by the Popes in regard to the formation of seminarians, that is at stake here. Nothing is more essential to the spiritual education of truly sound priests and the success of their ministry — or progress in the spiritual life by the laity — than this holy formation. All authors on the spiritual life agree that the study of the four temperaments, used consistently by the Church in the course of spiritual direction since the early centuries, is an invaluable help to knowing oneself and attaining sanctity. Writers on the temperaments also agree that almost without exception, children take their temperaments from those of their parents. Below can be found the opinions of various writers on the importance of studying one’s temperament.
“One meets people who become nervously disturbed as soon as they hear temperaments mentioned. They are usually oversensitive minds that unconsciously become perturbed when their pet peculiarities are attacked. Others gladly listen to and carry on amiable conversation on the subject of temperament but they anxiously avoid any serious examination of it, by remarking that it is impossible to ascertain anything definite in this ‘happy hunting ground’ of speculation, and that what knowledge there is, is of little consequence in ‘practical’ life. Is not this merely an innate fear of self-knowledge, self-control and self-denial — qualities hard to come by, but sorely needed? The man who will not allow his illusions of an imagined superiority to be disturbed has no desire to get to know his temperament and is indeed incapable of doing so. The difficult study of temperament takes for granted an earnest longing after self-perfection. The man who is not striving to become a better man resists the truth and keeps it out of his way…Many people mean well, but do not know themselves; [they] commit excesses by giving way to their temperament…The majority act instinctively and excuse themselves by saying that it is their nature. They overlook the duty they have to train themselves…The individuality of the person in its best aspects must be preserved and fostered, while its failings must be scoured away. This constitutes genuine asceticism and true wisdom,” (“Nervousness, Temperament and the Soul,” Rev. Joseph Massmann).
“If we lack self-knowledge, it is morally impossible to perfect ourselves. The reason is that we then entertain illusions about our state, and according to our character or our unchanging moods, we fall either into a presumptuous optimism that makes us believe we are already perfect, or into discouragement that causes us to exaggerate our faults. In either case the result is almost identical — inaction, lack of sustained effort, carelessness. Besides, how can we correct faults with which we are not acquainted or of which we have at best but an imperfect knowledge? How undertake the cultivation of virtues, of qualities of which we have but a vague and confused notion? …To guide ourselves in this study we may examine successively our natural and supernatural endowments…A brief study on character will aid us in this study of self…(“The Spiritual Life,” Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey).
In his “Guidance in Spiritual Direction,” Rev. Hugo Doyle notes that general direction can be used only in conjunction with personal direction if it is to be effective. Each temperament must strive to acquire different virtues in different order and fight demons different from those of other temperaments or combinations of temperament. A generic approach to direction ignores the human element and very often causes only confusion. Where today can anyone find either personal or general direction?
“Personality is the pattern of an individual life and that includes a person’s abilities, (his acts regarded from the point of view of their efficiency); dispositions, (…his motives); temperament (traits such as emotion, persistence, impulsiveness) and character, (the way in which his motives are integrated and the manner in which he deals with conflicting demands). Character is a part of personality but is not identical with personality; character and temperament are not synonymous…Character is the sum total of psychological dispositions, modified by education and will power, while temperament is the sum total of those fundamental tendencies which flow from the physiological constitution of an individual…Temperaments provide keys to character study…Most persons are the product of constitution, personality and environment…Through effort and the grace of God we can all do much to perfect our temperaments and develop a well-ordered character… A good spiritual director should apply himself to a careful study of character if he hopes to be an effective help to many souls…The prime duty of the director is to know the soul, to teach it and to help it make effective progress,” (Ibid., Rev. Hugo Doyle).
Tanquerey says of St. Alphonsus that he had so successfully moderated his inherent character type that those who did not know him in his early life could not believe he had ever been other than they saw him. Rev. Hugo Doyle says the same of St. Ignatius and St. Francis de Sales. Rudolph Allers, Ph.D gives examples of cases of undisciplined temperament that were changed almost overnight. “God…wants to establish a personal relationship with each and every one of us. And that relationship is nothing less than a pact of eternal and perfect friendship between each human being and Himself. It means spiritual marriage between Christ the Eternal Word made flesh and every human being. Before that marriage can take place, the soul must attain to the heights of sanctity. From that truth you can deduce that you yourself, whoever you are and no matter how lowly your station in life, you are called to strive for and attain the highest sanctity of the saints. Our Lord offers even now the pact of perfect and eternal friendship with Himself. How foolish it would be, how shameful, to refuse the friendship of the Lord, God Almighty,” (“Heroic Sanctity and Insanity,” Thomas Verner Moore, Carthusian). ”
And from another priest author: “One of the most reliable means of learning to know oneself is the study of the temperaments. For if a man is fully cognizant of his temperament, he can learn easily to direct and control himself. If he is able to discern the temperament of others, he can better understand and help them…It may be difficult in many cases to decide upon the temperament of any particular person; still we should not permit ourselves to be discouraged in the attempt to understand our own temperament and that of those persons with whom we come often into contact, for the advantages of such insights are very great. To know the temperaments of our fellow men helps us to understand them better, treat them more correctly, bear with them more patiently.
“These are evidently advantages for social life which can hardly be appreciated enough…It is of the greatest benefit…to recognize fully one’s own temperament. Only if one knows it can he judge correctly himself, his moods, his peculiarities, his past life…If one knows one’s own temperament, he can work out his own perfection with greater assurance, because finally the whole effort toward self-perfection consists in the perfection of the good and in the combating of the evil dispositions…Man can and must cultivate and perfect the good elements of his temperament and combat and eradicate the evil ones…All of man’s inclinations and peculiarities should be used for the service of the Lord and contribute to His honor and to man’s welfare. Persons of various temperament who live together should learn not to oppose but to support and supplement one another,” (“The Four Temperaments,” Rev. Conrad Hock).
In his “Prophets of the Better Hope,” Rev. William Kerby emphasizes the necessity for priests to know their own temperaments. Kerby writes: “The priest…should be a transformed man. The strength in temperament that leads him toward fault should be subdued by the certain restraints of grace. The weakness in temperament which exposes him to fault and sin should be so overcome by grace as to bring his average of spiritual strength up to priestly ideals. Unless these results are accomplished by the action of grace in the priest’s life, he will yield more to nature than can be pardoned and receive less grace than may be asked…The priest must show forth in his life the transforming power of the spirit of God. The laity show him reverence and obedience because they expect this of him…Temperament in a priest aids or hinders his personal sanctification and affects his ministry profoundly…Temperament is either a help or an obstacle in the priestly life. It is our duty to understand that and to find in this understanding help in the work of our sanctification.”
“Self-knowledge is not the same as the knowledge of man in general…The starting point of a candidate for the priesthood is not merely human nature with its common features but human nature as it is in himself, with all its particular aspects, excesses and deficiencies, aptitudes and difficulties, qualities and shortcomings. These cannot be learned from books; they can be known only by deep reflection, by frequent and thorough self-examination, by a constant attention to one’s actions, words and thoughts, in order to discover not merely what they are in themselves, or how they appear outwardly, but in order to reach their sources, their motives, and the general tendencies form which they spring. This examination is to be directed to good qualities, for they are talents received from God, a strict account of which will be demanded by Him…Attention must also be directed to defects; we must know them in order to remedy and correct them, as far as possible. They impede, or stop completely our progress toward our end. They are weeds which, unless uprooted, continue to grow and gradually smother the good seed…Likes and dislikes, love and hatred, attraction and repugnance, fear, anger, resentment, and a host of other feelings contribute for a large part to mold man’s character. They must not be allowed to become the guides to activity, for of themselves they are blind. They are to be controlled according to the dictates of reason and faith,” (Rev. C. A. Dubray, S.M., “Toward the Priesthood”).
After advising readers not to neglect works of zeal on the pretext that one is not advanced enough spiritually, Dom Chautard has some very sobering comments on what happens to those who neglect the development of the interior life. “No work takes deep root, is really solid and lasting, unless the apostle has created the interior life in souls. Now, he cannot do so unless he is well nurtured on the interior life himself…It is only the really interior man who has enough life to produce other centers of fruitful life. Any lay workers can succeed in getting zealous workers capable of propaganda and influence by comradeship, brotherly spirit or rivalry. Fanaticism or competition, sectarianism or vainglory, interest or ambition are good enough for him as levers. But with what other lever than that of intensive interior life can we create apostles for our Lord, apostles partaking of His gentleness and humility, of His disinterested kindness and His exclusive zeal for the glory of His Father? As long as a work has not been able to get such results, its existence is short-lived. It is almost certain that it shall not survive its founder.”
“Our own character is one of our heaviest crosses, one which cannot be changed from day to day, or left at home when we are on a journey or in public,” (Rev. Mateo Crawley-Bovey).
While it is true that there can be no direction without confession, and that the temperaments are best evaluated and applied by experienced directors, there is no excuse for not adapting this important study to our own circumstances. This is especially true for those who pursue clerical office. Canon laws have been recklessly reconciled and emergency provisions hastily and illicitly constructed to accommodate the present crisis. But this important tool to achieving holiness has not been so much as seriously considered, far less put into practice, when the Popes teach that holiness is more important to the cleric even than doctrinal knowledge. In recent years even the Protestants have revived interest in the four basic temperaments and used them to their benefit. And if those whose duty it is to sanctify the faithful do not embrace this very science of the saints, what hope is there that their charges can ever benefit from their experience? How can the needs of various individuals, all with different defects and in need of specific virtues to counter these defects, ever be satisfactorily met? It is much like a prince who orders his squire to slay certain dragons and seek out certain noble men, without ever indicating where these dragons and noble men are to be found and how they are to be identified.
Knowing the temperaments is not an infallible tool for identifying every aspect of our personalities. But it at least serves as a template to better gain insight into the condition of our souls and the means to improve that condition. It will be said that restoring confession will solve much of the problem. But without the knowledge necessary to conduct spiritual direction and act as a competent judge, won’t more harm be done than good? Will the Sacraments be considered a magic cure-all, much as certain non-Catholics today perceive them, without a true appreciation of the purpose for which they were instituted — an increase of grace and means of spiritual progress in the individual soul? And how will seminarians be instructed in this most important art of direction if so little is known about the use of the temperaments to effect sanctification? If ascetical, mystical and pastoral theology, also psychology all had been studied and absorbed, the evidence of the application of this science of the temperaments would be apparent, but it is not. That such a statement is not a rash judgment and can be made with at least reasonable certitude is evident from what follows.
Being and acting — As the student of Thomism knows, there is a significant gap between the state of being and that of putting what one has learned and believes into action; between potential and actual. Knowing and doing are two different things. Man can know something ever so well but it takes grace and effort to catapult the will from potential to actual. That is why Christ warned His Apostles not to judge by appearances, but by fruits; why we say that actions speak louder than words. Rev. Tanquerey writes: “Psychology demonstrates that an idea deeply impressed tends to elicit a corresponding act. This is the more true when the thought is accompanied by the desire [for perfection], for the latter already constitutes an act of the will which sets our faculties into motion…The more ardent our desires, the more abundant the graces we receive.”
These graces should affect our character, and render us open and honest versus evasive and dishonest; tactful rather than tactless; kind and compassionate in the affairs of others not cold and disinterested; firm not lax; dignified and refined versus rude and uncultivated. If no act proceeds from what is known or learned concerning perfection, the results will be seen in the development of character. The idea itself should be sufficient to result in the act. If no act follows, not only has the seed for the idea of perfection fallen on rocky ground, but also the accompanying desire to achieve the virtues is lacking entirely. If an effort is made but falls short, the idea has taken root but the desire is weak and has not produced sufficient grace either to complete the act or to achieve the desired degree of holiness.
Rev. Leen says in his “Progress Through Mental Prayer”: “Saintliness is an art; it is always the product of adhesion to certain principles and is the application of these principles to the conduct of life…Saint Catherine of Siena in her “Dialogue” [says] more than once that sanctity is the outcome of the actions and reactions that follow relations with ones’ fellow creatures. When these actions and reactions are governed by the principle of divine charity and follow the lines traced by Jesus Christ in His life, then sanctity is attained…A Saint is a moral work of art, a finished product of personally controlled and personally directed actions.”
Rev. Hugo Doyle, in his “Guidance in Spiritual Direction” states that “Through effort and the grace of God we can all do much to perfect our temperaments and develop a well-ordered character.” As noted above, several great saints attained sainthood by totally conquering their inherent temperaments. In his “Prophets of the Better Hope,” Rev. Kerby elaborates upon those qualities required by the priest, especially in the interaction necessary to parish life. Other authors have commented on this as well. So if the faithful are not inspired and attracted to sanctification by their pastor; if they are not ministered to in a profitable manner; if tactlessness, rudeness or indifference predominate; if egoism is plainly evident and tepidity obvious, (tepidity being the failure to take venial sins seriously and a refusal to correct small defects — called by Revs. Montoli and Tobin “spiritual egoism”), then it can be safely assumed that little progress has been made in the necessary self-knowledge.
Unless they bear fruit, then, theological studies of themselves cannot bring about the reformation and conversion of mankind without there first being a pope to direct priestly studies, bishops to head the seminaries and call the candidates, professors and directors to train the seminarians. Living models of the priesthood and episcopacy are necessary to proper priestly formation. Rev. Tanquerey explains this about the clergy as follows: Because the heart of the priest “is intimately united to that of Jesus, there is an emotion, a power of persuasion that moves his hearers. Because by forgetting himself he attracts the Holy Spirit, souls are moved by grace and either converted or sanctified. A lukewarm priest, on the contrary, preaches but with his lips and because he seeks self, beats the air and often is but ‘sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal,’ (I Cor. 13:1). The priest cannot fulfill his duty of giving good example to the faithful unless he concerns himself with his own spiritual progress…Witnesses of his piety, of his kindness, of his poverty, and of his self-denial, the faithful realize that he practices what he preaches, that he is a Saint; they venerate him and are drawn to follow in his footsteps…A mediocre priest may be esteemed as an honest man who works at his craft like any other, yet his ministry will bear little or no fruit.”
Ability to admit mistakes — This virtue is of the utmost importance because it is required by the Church for Ordination. In his work “Priesthood: Conferences on the Rite of Ordination,” Rev. Aloysius Biskupek writes: “The Church demands the absence of certain faults which are likely to harm the sacred ministry and thus, by implication, the presence of the opposite virtues. Canon 1371 enumerates certain classes of candidates, who must be dismissed from the seminary, as not possessing the character required of ministers of the altar. They are: the irritable, the incorrigible, the rebellious and those who have failed against faith and morals. Hence the good character of the candidate implies that he has learned to control his anger, that he accepts correction and amends faults to which his attention has been called, that he is submissive to authority and amenable to the guidance of obedience, that he is a man of faith and a lover of purity…To know one’s faults and not to correct them — for this is implied in the term ‘incorrigible’ — indicates either lack of will power or failure to grasp the import of priestly responsibility. In each of these cases the cause of God will suffer…
“The priest must be a strong character. No other state makes such demands upon will power and manly independence. Not only must he prove himself superior to the weakness of his own nature, but he must be able to endure the weaknesses of others in order to lead them to a higher level of Christian perfection. The candidate who is incorrigible…is too proud too correct his faults. He has been warned that…his conduct is out of harmony with the ideals of the priestly life, yet he did not change. To do so would have been an admission that he was wrong; he would have had to submit to someone else’s will. This he could not bring himself to do…Incorrigibility may be caused by an easy-going, light-minded temper…What will be the end of one who has to handle the most sacred things every day? The people, seeing the irreverence and carelessness of the priest will be scandalized…Surely one who in all probability will bring the curse of God upon himself is not the character wanted for the priesthood.” Concerning those who err in either faith or morals, Biskupek states that they “are to be dismissed summarily from the seminary. The reason is obvious and needs no further comment.”
Here it must be noted that heresy is very much a choice that is dependent on the will, not the intellect. As Rev. Eric MacKenzie says in his “The Delict of Heresy”: “The sin of heresy consists in the direction given the intellect by the will…Each time the intellect recurs to the matter of authoritative teaching, the will intervenes…St. Thomas…has looked upon [the will] as the source of all subsequent evil in intellectual beings that have turned to evil.” Certain temperaments are more prone to obstinacy and illogical adherence to personal opinion than others. These would seem to be at greater risk of falling into heresy if their characters remain undisciplined. Undisciplined personalities of this type, theologians agree, will do all in their power to defend the indefensible and impose their will on others, despite the pain and loss this may cause.
Clerics are bound to possess a holiness of life that far exceeds that of the most devout among their subjects. This holiness must be perceivable even before they enter the seminary. To say otherwise is to contradict everything the Church has taught on this head for centuries. This truth is easily known by the faithful who understand that priests are “other-Christs” whom they expect to behave as such. And it must be said that we are not just talking here only of the priesthood, but of an office the Church intended to be occupied by the priest par excellence — the Roman Pontiff. If a man is unfit to be a priest, he is automatically unfit for the office of the papacy. As demonstrated elsewhere, Canons and 453 clearly state that any appointment or election of one other than a priest (or at the very least a deacon, able to be immediately ordained) to an office involving the care of souls is invalid. Certainly the office of the papacy requires a level of holiness and learning, also practical experience, superior to that even of the above-average priest. This we find in Canon 232. While there are exceptions to these canons for a layman elected Pope, Pope Pius XII clarifies these exceptions in “Six ans se sont”: A layman elected pope can accept the office “only if he is fit for ordination and willing to be ordained.” And that of course applies to a situation where priests or bishops are available to ordain within a reasonable time frame and the layman in question has not denied the faith prior to his acceptance.
Pope Pius XII’s reasons for making the statement in “Six ans se sont” are drawn out by Rev. Raymond Kearney, who tells us that: “The very law of nature demands that power be not entrusted to a person who is not sufficiently competent to make proper use of it…The Church can supply only that power, the disposition of which is entrusted to her; she cannot, therefore, supply what is required by divine or natural law…” (“Principles of Delegated Jurisdiction”). Kearney cites the theologian Sanchez, who states that in the event a baptized male was invalidly elected Pope, the Church COULD supply; he does not say She should or would supply. In fact he says those claiming the Church supplies in such instances: “must prove not merely that it would be good for the Church to supply…, but that [She] actually does so supply.” . Christ’s call to His Apostles was Divine. Canon 147 tells us that not only must the one elected be sufficiently competent, he must also be chosen by the competent ecclesiastical authority.”
The Old Testament requirements for admittance to the Jewish priesthood are sufficiently well known that no one need question whether they arise from the natural law. Christ transmits a special function to the bishop to judge the fitness of priestly candidates just as he transmits the power to hear confessions to the priest. The calling of men to the ministry is something that Christ Himself said and did and is a prerequisite required by both the Divine and natural law for tonsure; for certainly Christ called and tested his Apostles. Rev. Kearney quotes five canonists, including himself, who clearly state the Church will not and cannot supply for something required by the Divine and/or natural law, (fitness).
Those seeking to become priests today must realize that if God wished that there be priests, He would have provided valid and licit bishops in communion with a canonically elected Pope who could call them to the priesthood as our Lord called His Apostles who then called others after Jesus’ example. Without the necessary structure of the divine society Jesus established, the requisite holiness cannot be imparted to seminarians. Nor could priests not rightly called possible be rightly ordained. “If anyone says that…those who have neither been rightly ordained nor sent by ecclesiastical authority, but come from a different source, are the lawful ministers of the Word AND OF THE SACRAMENTS, let him be anathema.” (The Council of Trent, Sess. 23, July 15, 1563; DZ 967, 424). Holiness and licitity are indispensable.