This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June 2 -- Feast of Pope Saint Eugene I

Yeah, I thought Lincoln said that!
In Mark 3:25, we learn that "[a] house divided against itself cannot stand."  In John 14:2, Jesus says, "There are many rooms in my father's house."  I know that a house with many rooms is not inherently divided against itself, but as a metaphor, the many rooms might imply an acceptance of diverse residents.  If so, then the two quotes (admittedly taken out of context) set up the conundrum for most communities of faith.  How does one protect the doctrine from erroneous ideas while still maintaining a tolerant, welcoming, and affirming community?  [The question is rhetorical.  If anyone thinks it has an answer, I would humbly suggest that your answer probably doesn't address the doctrine/inquiry debate for everyone else.]

Hey, Major!  What's this got to do with Pope Saint Eugene I?

I am glad you asked.  Eugene was a Roman priest in the seventh century, a time when the Christians were divided by a debate about the will(s) of Christ.  You'll recall an earlier debate about the nature(s) of Christ: God, Man, or God & Man?  The third view prevailed, and those subscribing to other views were anathematized as heretics.  Having accepted the view that Jesus had two natures, the remaining Christians moved on to debate whether he had one or two wills.  It seems to me like a reasonable compromise to allow some folks to think that he had two natures but one will.  It satisfied the Byzantine Emperor Constans II; all things considered, keeping the emperor happy is a seldom a bad goal.

Emperor Constans II
But the folks in Rome were adamant that dyothelitism was the True Doctrine and monothelitism was just the monophysite heresy revived in another guise.  Pope Martin I called it like he saw it, and for his candor he experienced the early medieval version of extraordinary rendition.  Some covert operators black-bagged the Holy Father and dumped him in Naxos.  From there he was shipped to Constantinople for public badgering and humiliation.  Since he wouldn't recant, he was exiled to Chersonesos Taurica, Ukraine, the end of the earth.

For fourteen months, the Church in Rome was run by the household staff: an archdeacon, an archpriest, and some other useful functionaries.  When it became clear that papa wasn't ever coming home, they eventually broke down and picked Eugene I.  Having grown up on the Aventine -- perhaps Rome's equivalent of the Bronx -- he was expected to have sufficient tact to handle the problem.  [Martin, by the way, got word of his successor's election and, while not thrilled, acknowledged the wisdom of it.]

Aunt Mary's basilica
Following protocol, Eugene sent a legate to Constans II with all proper respect.  The Emperor urged Eugene to enter into communion with Peter, the monothelitist Patriarch of Constantinople.  Peter sent a warm if ambiguously and archaically worded letter to the new Pope.  Eugene probably would have been equally circumspect if the congregation in the basilica of Saint Mary Major (there's an old family joke about our Aunt Mary) had not flipped their lids and demanded that the new Papa be as unequivocal as the previous one.  Eugene replied, expressing his view of the divided will of Jesus as his congregation wished, and promptly re-divided the Church.

The Byzantines were equally livid with his reply; they sent a letter in response telling him to back off or they would roast him as they had roasted Martin. But couldn't take much action since they were busy losing Rhodes and then the Battle of Phoenix to the Muslims.  It's tough to worry about an upstart Pope in Italy with invaders on your shores. 

Eugene might have gotten away with rejecting their heterodoxy, but the Church was once again divided, and a divided house cannot stand.  You might see the "many rooms" quotation as meaning that there's enough space for everyone who accepts the one correct doctrine, but I suspect that it is a little broader.  A loving, accepting God will find ways to embrace his creatures -- he won't split hairs about how many wills he has.  Humans who roast each other over such trivia do the Devil's work by dividing us and feeding our animosity rather than our love. 

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