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Chapter

Leo XIII
20 February 1878 — 20 July 1903

 

Contrary to the traditions of the day, not one of the nineteenth century popes wore a beard, nor, indeed did the eighteenth century popes. The last pope to wear a beard was Innocent XII, who died in 1700. Since that year the Papacy has been led for three centuries by clean shaven men.

Leo entered the priesthood with some reluctance. Not until the age of twenty-seven did he finally make his decision. During his career as a priest he showed himself astute both as politician, intellectual and pastor. He was a man well qualified to foster the healing of the deadly wound. Cardinal Gioacchino Pecci was born on March 2, 1810. He had proven his political skills when appointed papal legate and ruler of the city of Benevento, thirty-five miles northeast of Naples in 1838, only a year after his entry into the priesthood. Three years later he held a similar appointment in Perugia, eighty-five miles north of Rome. At the age of thirty-three he was appointed papal nuncio to Belgium and two years later, in 1845, he was raised to the episcopate as Bishop of Perugia. He was only forty-three years of age when Pius IX gave him his red hat. Rare it is for a pope to spend a quarter of a century as a cardinal before his elevation to the Bishopric of Rome. Leo XIII was sixty-eight years old at his coronation as pope. Not insignificant to his election was his age. Rarely has the Roman Catholic Church favored long pontificates. It is thought that long reigns allow too much influence from one pope. Pius IX, his predecessor, was the longest reigning pope in history—thirty-two years. It was almost inevitable that an older cardinal would be elected with the expectation that his reign would be considerably shorter. However Leo XIII lived to the age of ninety-three, extending his Papal rule to twenty-five years—the second longest in history.

Leo XIII deeply studied the writings of Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic saint. Aquinas and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, were probably the two most influential theologians in the history of the church. Aquinas, who died in his late forties, was a scholar of the thirteenth century, whose teachings were opposed in his lifetime and later but whose theology was endorsed in Leo XIII’s encyclical Æterni patris (1880) and Pius XI’s encyclical Studiorum ducem (1923).

Leo had been consulted by his predecessor in the construction of the widely despised Syllabus of Errors issued in 1864. It is little wonder that in his encyclical, Libertas humana (Human Liberty) (1888) he declared,

Let us examine that liberty in individuals which is so opposed to the virtue of religion, namely, the liberty of worship, as it is called. This is based on the principle that every man is free to profess as he may choose any religion or none. A liberty such as we had described . . . is no liberty, but is a degradation, and the abject submission of the soul to sin. (The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, Benziger, New York, 1903, 3rd edition, pp. 149, 150)

In the same encyclical Leo declared that—

Justice therefore forbids, and reason itself forbids, the state to be godless, or to adopt a line of action which would end in godlessness—namely, to treat the various religions (as they call them) alike, and to bestow on them promiscuously equal rights and privileges. (Ibid., p. 150)

This was strange "justice" indeed! It was a philosophy well shaped to coerce the conscience and compel worship as prophesied in Revelation 13:15—17, and to persecute those who in conscience cannot follow the faulted faith of Rome. Yet it was to this Pontiff that one of his successors, John Paul II, turned for support for his Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini (The day of the Lord) which proposed state support for Sunday sacredness in 1998.

Leo’s study of Thomas Aquinas was to his detriment. He would have been far better employed in the study of the Bible. That he promoted Aquinas’ theological notions in his encyclicals registers the extent to which the errors of this theologian were accepted by Leo. It also underpins the Pope’s denial of religious liberty.

Thomas Aquinas entrenched persecution of dissenters in his tome, Summa Theologica, in which he stated,

With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one on their own side, the other, on the side of the church. On their own side there is the sin, by which they deserve not only to be separated from the church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.

Aquinas’ second part is no less intolerant despite its initial "mercy."

On the part of the church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, and therefore she condemns not at once, but after the first and second admonition, as the Apostle directs. After that, if he is yet stubborn, the church no longer hoping for conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated from the world by death. (Part II of second part, question 11, article 3, volume 2)

This view must be born in mind when we examine the work of John Paul II who, on March 28, 1998, issued his encyclical, Ad tuendam fidem (To Protect the Faith) in which he issued a new canon law condemning dissenters from the Roman Catholic faith to punishment as heretics.

It must be remembered that Aquinas steeped himself in the writings of the Greek pagan philosopher, Aristotle (384 b.c.—322 b.c.). Arabian philosophers, Avicenna and Averrhoës and the Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, had introduced the writings of Aristotle to Europe in the thirteenth century.

Modified Aristotelianism which was the foundation of the monumental Summa Theologica soon won acceptance, and the teaching of Aquinas was set up by Leo XIII as the classical exposition of Catholic doctrine. (Henry Bettensen, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, New York, 1957, p. 199)

It is at the peril of their own soul and the souls of others that men intertwine pagan darkness with Christian faith as if Christ and Satan can be fused.

In view of our chapter entitled "The Seal of God and the Mark of the Beast" it is worthy of our attention that—

Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that the observance of Sunday in the New Law succeeds the observance of the Sabbath in the Old Law, not by virtue of a divine precept, but from the authority of the Church and the custom of Christians. (Sunday in Place of Sabbath, The Sign, August 21, 1941, The [Roman Catholic] Passionist Mission, Union City, New Jersey)

Since Revelation 13:15—17 sets forth future severe persecution for violation of Sunday sacredness, Leo’s resort to the anti-Sabbath, pro-persecution position of the Roman Catholic Church must be born in mind by every sincere student of prophecy. We must be alert to every move to fulfill that which God has foreseen.

Leo XIII’s pontificate requires evaluation in the light of his promotion of the works of Aquinas, for the shadow of Leo is cast long and deep over the Roman Catholic Church of the beginning of the twenty-first century. We note, above, that Aquinas invoked the state, "the secular tribunal," to enforce the death decree against heretics. We record these facts, not in a spirit of Roman Catholic hatred, far be that spirit from any sincere follower of Christ, but plain facts which must be brought to the attention of devout Christians genuinely seeking to understand the times in which we live.

Leo extrapolated Aquinas’ doctrine in his encyclical Libertas humana to declare that—

From what has been said, it follows that it is quite unlawful to demand to defend or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, of speech, of writing, or of worship, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man.

We do not regard these as rights given by nature, but they are rights accorded by our God who never coerces, but in love woos our free will to His cause.

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17)

Despite the alarming positions set forth by Leo, there were those who, ignoring the dark implications of his Thomist theology, accorded him respect. His encyclical Rerum novarum (New Things), issued in 1891, promoted the cause of the working-class and presented Roman Catholicism as a compassionate social force. Yet most non-Catholics who wrote plaudits concerning this encyclical, failed to notice the hook planted in the appetizing bait.

However, John Paul II, extracted from that book in his 1998 Dies Domini when he wrote:

My predecessor, Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum spoke of Sunday rest as a worker’s right which the State must guarantee.

In view of Leo’s adoption and promotion of the theology of Thomas Aquinas this plea for state assistance has serious overtones. Papal apologist, the Jesuit Professor Joseph Brusher, commented that,

He [Leo XIII] saw the need of emphasizing the value of St. Thomas [Aquinas], and he recalled Catholic thinkers to the study of Aquinas. (Popes Through the Ages, p. 512)

As Cornwell concluded,

The revival of the Christian philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas . . . provided the perception of a bastion against modern ideas and a defense of papal authority. (Hitler’s Pope, p. 6)

If the Papal Conclave had hoped for a short rule after the long reign of Pius IX, as stated above they were to be disappointed for, although sixty-eight years of age at his appointment, he lived to ninety-three, a length of papal rule second only to that of his predecessor. In that time the emphasis on Thomist theology was to pervade the thinking of priests in the twentieth century, for Leo—

decreed that St. Thomas’ system was to be regarded as "definitive" in all seminaries and Catholic universities. And where Thomas had neglected to expound on a topic, teachers were urged to teach conclusions that were reconcilable with his thinking. Under the next Papacy of Pius X, neo-Thomism would acquire an orthodoxy tantamount to dogma. (John Cornwell, op.cit., p. 22)

Today many unthinking Protestants have taken up the catch-cry, "Stop preaching doctrine and preach only Christ." But what we believe in doctrine determines our whole attitude to Christ and his faith. The doctrines of Thomism lead to intolerance and persecution. This catch-cry may well serve the purposes of the ecumenical movement in its blind surge toward a unity, based not upon the truths of doctrinal purity, but upon a warm, fuzzy feeling among churches who possess diametrically opposed doctrines: such as the predestination of Presbyterians and the free choice of Methodists. But this catch-cry provides no basis whatsoever for unity based upon the platform of truth. Christ’s prayer for unity is riveted upon truth.

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. . . . And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. (John 17:17, 19)

Let it never be forgotten that Christ is the center of all true doctrine. The Lord of the Sabbath is the central focus of the Sabbath doctrine. The One who is the resurrection and the life is the center of the truth of the resurrection. The One who is our heavenly High Priest is the center of the doctrine of the Advocacy of Christ. The One who is the coming King is the center of the Biblical doctrine of the Second Coming. Every doctrine, validated by Scripture, leads us to Christ. It is He who is the doctrine par excellence.

Thus it is not a matter of wonderment that—

extreme forms of anti-Judaism also erupted among Catholic intellectual clerics during the reign of Leo XIII. (John Cornwell, op.cit., p. 28)

False doctrines bear their fruit. They lead to un-Christlike actions.

Despite Leo’s encyclicals supporting the working class,

Catholic visitors were required to kneel at his feet during audiences and throughout his reign he never spoke so much as a word to menial servants. (Ibid., p. 30)

But in death Leo was not accorded the usual kissing of the feet because of the summer heat; and his coffin suffered the indignity of having to be kicked into place by the undertakers. It is little wonder that Cardinal Sarto, within a few days to be elected Pope Pius X, was aghast as he watched and commented to a fellow cardinal, "See. That’s how Popes end up." (C. Falconi, Popes in the Twentieth Century, London, 1967, p. 2) Such is the transient nature of man’s pride.

Yet Leo’s influence impacted upon his successors. It was his influence which led Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas primas to declare that the Roman Catholic Church—

not only symbolizes the definitive reign of God over the universe, but actuates, if by gradual degrees, the sovereignty of Christ in the world, including men and peoples to its laws of justice and peace.

Thus the Papacy reasserted its authority over all mankind, healing further its wound, as slumbering nations made little protest.

Peter de Rose reported that,

Pope Leo XIII said that politically "it is always urgent, indeed, the chief preoccupation, to think how best to serve the interests of Catholicism." (Vicars of Christ, p. 208)

It was in this area that Leo XIII made some progress later in his reign. In the early part of his pontificate the Vatican’s political stocks were low, as we will document in the following chapter. Throughout Europe her wishes were ignored with apparent impunity and indeed strongly opposed. Yet Leo in the later years of his reign did score some political victories. His efforts to flatter Count Otto von Bismarck into rescinding the discrimination against Roman Catholic liberties in marriage, episcopal appointments and education (Kulturkampf) were successful in 1887. By 1903 the number of diplomatic representatives at the Vatican had risen from eighteen at the commencement of his reign to twenty-seven, a goodly number in view of the fact that throughout his entire pontificate there was no sovereign territory as his base.

Sensing the futility of Roman Catholic agitation for the restoration of the French monarchy, he later guided most of the French faithful to accept the status quo. Strangely, in 1885 Germany and Spain accepted Leo’s arbitration in their dispute over the Caroline Islands in the North Pacific. He obtained a few concessions for Roman Catholics from Czar Nicholas II of Russia and improved relations with Britain by refusing to support the extreme methods adopted by the Irish agrarian reformers. He also was able to assert some influence over Protestant Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands.

But it was in the field of doctrine that the pope left a lasting heritage to his church. The doctrine of neo-Thomism, medieval in its origin and so pagan in its ultimate roots, continues to impress the minds of Catholic prelates. This thinking was well able to prepare the first beast of Revelation 13, at the time when world conditions are favorable, to impose its dictates upon dissenters, in the belief that it is doing the will of God. Anyone reading medieval history can discern the peril of the doctrines which Leo bequeathed to the Roman Catholic Church.

They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. (John 16:2—4)


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