Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Holy See

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 2, 2015

Contrary to popular misconception, the Roman Catholic Pope is not the Holy See.  The Pope is the bishop of the diocese which means he is the bishop over the entire universal Church.  The Holy See is also called the See of Saint Peter, the Apostolic See, and the Diocese of Rome.  Supported by the Roman Curia (the Court of Rome), the Pope forms the main governing body of the Roman Catholic Church.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Holy See is a sovereign entity, and yet it is not a nation.  The only reason there are visible national borders is for practical reasons, and those reasons are part of Mussolini’s doing.

But the bottom line is this:  The Holy See is the throne from which the head of the Roman Catholic controls the Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy See embodies all the rules that make the Roman Catholic Church the Roman Catholic Church.

As it was explained to Idiomation, the Holy See — in business terms — is actually the Roman Catholic Church Inc., and the Pope is the CEO of said corporation.  Roman Catholics are more like the business prospects and customers of the corporation, and while Roman Catholics have a stake in what happens with the corporation, they are not de facto shareholders.

The Victoria Advocate reported on July 12, 2000 that the United Nations vote that was taken earlier resulted in a 416 to 1 vote in favor of the Holy See retaining its status as permanent observer (a status it had held since 1964) at the United Nations.  A campaign promoted as “See Change” had been launched to have its status redesignated so it would be treated as a non-governmental organization (NGO).  The article was titled, “House Backs Status Of  Holy See At U.N.

On May 2, 1940 the Montreal Gazette carried a news story from Paris (France) reporting that the Italian government and the Vatican weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on important points as WWII raged on.  Francesco Giunta (21 March 1887 – 8 June 1971), a Fascist and national councillor, went as far as to state in his speech exactly one week earlier at the Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, “The Vatican is the chronic appendicitis of Italy.”  The first paragraph of the story read thusly:

Reports reaching here from competent sources in Rome disclose that tension is mounting between the Italian Government and the Vatican over the Holy See‘s refusal to follow Italy’s lead in adopting a pro-German war attitude.

Less than twenty years earlier, however, news reports out of Berlin (Germany) reflected a different relationship between Germany and the Vatican when it came to addressing the Duisburg railway accident.  In fact, it was reported on July 7, 1923 by the Associated Press, and printed in many newspapers around the world, by way of a semi-official joint statement from German Chancellor Wilhelm Cuno (2 July 1876 – 3 January 1933) and Monsignor Giuseppe Pacelli (2 March 1876 – 9 October 1958) — the Monsignor later became Pope Pius XII — that there was agreement.  The news story reported the following:

Chancellor Cuno declared that it was a question of incidents arising from the excitement of an harassed people who in desperation endeavored to act in self-defense.  The German government was, however, at one with the Holy See in condemning all criminal use of force.

In the October 18, 1839 edition of the Daily Pittsburgh Gazette reprinted an excellent article previously published in the Baltimore American.  The article shared the history of the Ottoman Empire with readers, beginning with the fall of Bagdad in 1055 and ending with the battle where John Sobieski (17 August 1629 – 17 June 1696) repulsed the Turks under the walls of Vienna.  The Holy See was mentioned midway through the history lesson.

In 1571, Cyprus was taken from the Venetians; and now the Christian nations of Europe began to be filled with anxious apprehensions of this formidable power.  The Pope exerted himself to stop the further progress of the infidels who, carrying their religion on the points of their swords, made every place Mahometan which fell under their sway.  A league was formed by the Holy See with the Venitians, and Philip II, of Spain, then the most wealthy sovereign in Europe.

Yes, the article alternated between Venetian and Venitian, and it’s not a typographical error on the part of Idiomation.

The Holy See is from the Latin Sancta Sedes, which means Holy Chair.  Technically speaking, the term for a dioceses where the bishop lives is called a See.

So the Diocese of Chicago (which happens to be one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States) is really the See of Chicago and the cathedral residence is Holy Name Cathedral (formally identified as the Cathedral of the Holy Name).  Holy Name Cathedral is also the parish church of the Archbishop of Chicago.

The Holy See was first understood to be indisputably in Rome when Pope Gelasius I (Pope from 1 March 492 through to 19 November 496) stated, “Est ergo prima Petri apostoli sedes” which translates to say, “Therefore, the first is the seat of the Apostle Peter.”

Later on, Pope Leo III (Pope from 26 December 795 – 12 June 816) further entrenched the understanding that Rome was the Holy See when he wrote, “Nos sedem apostolicam, quae est caput omnium Dei ecclesiarum judicare non audemus” which translates to say, “We dare not judge the Apostolic See, which is the head of all the Churches of God.”

As an interesting side note, Pope Leo III had enemies (many of whom were relatives of Pope Adrian I who was pope from 1 February 772 until his death on 25 December 795) in Rome and Charlemagne (2 April 742 – 28 January 814) — who became Charles I of France — protected Pope Leo III from those enemies.

Idiomation therefore pegs the term Holy See as we understand it to mean to the papacy of Pope Gelasius I, with a further boost to the term thanks to the papacy of Pope Leo III.

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