Scott Hahn on Il Papa’s Decision, and Other Thoughts on the Papacy, Hiding in Plain Sight

The burden of the valley of vision.

These seven words strung together, in a nice, taut sentence, is how the 22nd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah starts off. Isaiah was given the gift of prophecy, and what a double-edged sword that gift must be. Truly, a heavy burden, to be gifted with such visions as God inspired him with and then commanded him to share them with His people.

I’m reminded of them because of something Dr. Scott Hahn shared on his Facebook page this morning upon hearing of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign. Dr. Hahn observed a few clues hiding in plain sight regarding il Papas’ intentions brought to fruition today. He shares the following,

Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed.

He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine’s tomb!

Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V.

Few people, however, noticed at the time.

Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way.

In the year 1294, this man (Fr. Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.

Fascinating! And they sent me back to other “hiding in plain sight” thoughts about the Papacy I learned from a close reading of Chapter 22 of the Book of Isaiah. I liked them so much, I shared them with Dr. Hahn, way back in December 2010.  Below is that post in full.


As readers of this space well know, I’m a convert to Catholicism.

In my particular case, I was raised as a Protestant Christian, similar to how my friend Dom Lou Tseng-Tsiang was, when he was born into a Protestant Christian family in his hometown in China. We two, though separated by both time and distance, became Catholics of our own volition. It’s weird and wonderful at the same time. And like I wrote about once before, very, very contrarian.

It is a burden too, and I don’t even have the “gift” of a prophets vision to fall back on as some sort of compensation for shouldering it either. The truth is, since I’ve become a Catholic, I don’t desire any compensation really. Not, at least, as the world would define it. But I recognize the duty of sharing this burden, though, and to share the Good News of Christ and His Church with others.

When I was struggling to come to terms with the, what seemed at the time radical, idea that the Catholic Church was “for real,” I was amazed that almost all of my questions about the Church were answered by the Bible. I was astounded at this, but I really shouldn’t have been, because everything I “knew” about the Catholic Church was simply hearsay and came from, to put it delicately, less than authoritative sources.

But as Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur wrote once,

Many speak of the Gospel without having any knowledge of it. Many have never read it; and some would even be troubled to explain clearly what it is. Hence it follows that, on the subject of religion and Christianity, people believe just what they have been educated to believe; thus, in our days, as in the time of Luther and of Calvin, we may see thousands of unhappily misguided people who, deluded by false teachers, hate their brethren, and blaspheme the most sacred things, all in the name of the Gospel!

Oh, I had read the Gospel. And truthfully, I really, really, thought that I knew it upside down and sideways too. That I was really an ignoramus never even entered my mind. Like Michael Barber and Mark Shea have written about recently, I thought I could see, when in fact I was still a blind man.

When I was grappling with the idea that I might actually have to become a Catholic (and yeah, I really mean I had to) in order to really, truly follow Christ, I delved deeply into the scriptures. Thankfully many others, and surely I am the least of these, have grappled with the same issues and had done a lot of the heavy lifting for me in this regard. Guys Like Mark Shea and Francis Beckwith, Peter Kreeft,and Scott Hahn. I will be the first to admit that I am not fit to be the water boy for any of these gentleman. And for what I am about to share with you, I have to thank Scott Hahn and the Catholic scholars from the 16th and 17th centuries that he gives credit to as well.

I’m talking about the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 22, the one that begins with the seven word sentence at the beginning of this post. It confirms, not just to my mind, but of much more importance, to the Catholic Church, the weighty significance of Our Lord handing the Apostle Peter the “Keys of the Kingdom” as you can read about right there in chapter 16 of the Gospel of Matthew.

I’m going to provide the words written by Isaiah as translated in the Doauy-Rheims version of the Bible, because of the perfect clarity that they bring to this passage. The bold highlights, and the commentary, are mine. Let’s take a look, starting with verse 15:

Thus saith the Lord God of hosts: Go, get thee in to him that dwelleth in the tabernacle, to Sobna who is over the temple: and thou shalt say to him: What dost thou here, or as if thou wert somebody here? For thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, thou hast hewed out a monument carefully in a high place, a dwelling for thyself in a rock.

I always remember reading “he that has ears, let him hear” and thinking to myself, yes I can make sense of everything I read in the Bible. But I was so out of my depth, it isn’t even funny. Because in this one short, two verse passage, God starts explaining what will happen to His Heir, and I never had a clue. Here we have a temple, a burial place, a high place, and a rock. This is going to be interesting.

Behold the Lord will cause thee to be carried away, as a cock is carried away, and he will lift thee up as a garment.

One sentence that says it all, doesn’t it? Christ will be betrayed or “carried away” and “lifted up”, crucified.   There is even the mention of a rooster, which reminds me of a betrayal. This sounds like what Christ explained to Nicodemus right there in St. John’s gospel.  “Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?” No Lord, because I am the least of all! So Our Lord patiently explains,

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting.

Clarity! Now, back to Isaiah,

He will crown thee with a crown of tribulation, he will toss thee like a ball into a large and spacious country: there shalt thou die, and there shall the chariot of thy glory be, the shame of the house of thy Lord.

Yes Lord, I see! I see a crown of thorns, I see You being sacrificed, and I see Your Resurrection, Your Glory. And Your Ascension, much like how You took Elijah up in a chariot. And Your shameful death to a proud people.

And I will drive thee out from thy station, and depose thee from thy ministry.

Because You are seated at the right hand of the Father, now. But, as the angel asked, should the Apostles just stand around, looking up into the sky? No need, because He has a plan.

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliacim the son of Helcias,

Who is this guy? Who can this possibly represent?

And I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda.

But Lord, this sounds like a transfer of power. Is that what I see? Is this St. Peter, then?

And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.

It is! Are you down on your knees yet, because that is where I went when I read these words. Scales were falling off of my eyes, a blind man was being given the gift of sight!

And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, divers kinds of vessels, every little vessel, from the vessels of cups even to every instrument of music.

“And the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” yes, I remember these words again. But I wonder, will this last forever? No. It cannot. Because at the end of time, this office will no longer be needed. For,

In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall the peg be removed, that was fastened in the sure place: and it shall be broken and shall fall: and that which hung thereon, shall perish, because the Lord hath spoken it.

Hiding in plain site, as always. Thanks be to God.

More on this passage in Isaiah may be found on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf  here and here.

Update: Dr. Hahn writes:

That was a great article. I liked how you followed the Isaiah prophesy through… I had never done that before. And having a picture of the Pope at the end was just what was needed :). Congratulations on your coming home to the Catholic Church, and I’m glad that the Lord has led you this way through honest, humble prayer with Scripture.

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