23 August 2021. Flashback: Feast of Ss. Pontian and Hippolytus. 13 August 2021. Cycle A-2021.

The commemoration of the feast of two saintly but doctrinal opponents—Pope Pontian and Antipope Hippolytus—who both ended martyrs and saints of Catholicism could inspire hope in the current conflict between doctrinal opponents—heterodox Pope Francis and orthodox Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Hippolytus, a theologian priest in Rome, was a strong defender of orthodoxy. He censured Pope Zephyrinus (198-217) for his indecisive handling of a heresy on Divine Nature. He deemed the pope incompetent, unworthy to rule the Church of Rome, and as a tool in the hands of the ambitious and intriguing deacon Callistus.

When Deacon Callistus himself succeeded Zephyrinus as pope Hippolytus broke communion with the Church. He had his followers elect him antipope (217-235). His schism lasted through the papacy of Callistus (218-222), Urban (222-230) and Pontius (230-235). Hippolytus was not a formal heretic, but an overzealous disciplinarian.

In 235, the Roman emperor banished both Pope Pontius and the antipope Hippolytus to the mines of Italy’s Sardinia Island. Treated harshly, they died of exhaustion that same year. Pontian resigned so that a successor could be elected in Rome. Hippolytus reconciled with Pope Pontian and the Church before they died as martyrs. The Church canonized both the pope and the anti-pope.

Pope Francis is gradually veering away from the orthodox doctrine of his predecessors. Cardinal Burke is leading the resistance to such move. Cardinal Burke and the resistance suggest that Pope Francis and his allies are either naïve or heretic.

Are we going to see another Saint Pope and a Saint Anti-Pope? While the resource-sapping clergy sexual abuse crisis is pummeling the Church, will the lead protagonists reconcile to fight a common enemy?

At this moment, though, Cardinal Burke is in a Wisconsin hospital fighting for his own life against Covid-19. Both the heterodox wing and the orthodox wing of the Catholic Church are watching… and, I guess, praying for events to turn in their favor.

Lest the world forget, the Church, in her two millennia of history, had survived different swings and schisms: left and right, up and down. “Thou art Peter,” Jesus assured His Church, “and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, DRB).

As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be. VSS

Picture credit: Top, Saints Pontian and Hippolytus from ucatholic.com; bottom, Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke from Newsmax.