Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Honorary Canon

In 2007 the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, was installed as the honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This honor was not bestowed upon President Sarkozy due to his personal merits or personal wealth and power, but solely because he is the French head of state. The first French head of state to receive such an honor was Henri IV in 1604. In gratitude for his conversion to Catholicism, Henri IV had made a substantial donation to the Chapter of canons of the basilica. According to 30Days:

...Specifically to manifest his recognition toward the Church of Rome, whose pardon had allowed this reconciliation, Henry IV made a notable donation to the Lateran Chapter in 1604. And one of the clauses of this donation established that the Chapter would celebrate a mass every year on the day of the King’s birthday (13 December) specifically for the prosperity of France.

Now times are changed, there has been no monarchy in France for more than a hundred and fifty years, but the mass of Saint Lucy continues to be celebrated punctually every year....

In those days, in order to thank a person of means for giving a donation to the Church the ecclesiastical authorities, namely the Pope, would bestow an honorary office. Protestants have always thought such customs to be strange and worldly, although it should be obvious that without monetary patronage there would be no great religious art or architecture.

The Kings of France who followed Henry IV were accorded the same honorary office of canon, as have some of the French presidents, including Sarkozy. It is not because of the personal prestige of any of those men, rather it is clear that the Holy See has seen the importance of emphasizing the tie between the Lateran basilica, the Pope's own Church, and the people of France. France has long been called the "Eldest Daughter of the Church," because in 496 she became one of the first countries of Europe to embrace the Faith. The "Eldest Daughter of the Church" is not a title the French people invented about themselves for some form of self-glorification, rather it has been repeatedly bestowed upon them by the popes, to signify a unique vocation. The tradition of making the French head of state an honorary canon of St. John Lateran may seem to some to be an empty gesture in these times of declining faith. It is more than just a gesture, however, for it symbolizes an ancient pact and a tie which, in spite of revolution and apostasy, has never been entirely severed.

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9 comments:

Terry Nelson said...

This is very interesting and perhaps significant regarding the brouhaha over President Obama's scheduled commencement address at Notre Dame. What thinkest thou?

Terry Nelson said...

Thanks Elena - I posted my thoughts on my blog.

jellybean-sky said...

I think the whole of france are hypocritical. "Oh look.. a bit financial crisis.. due to the Americans yet again, BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER. Let's NOT chop off our presidents head. Because it's so much more fashionable to be a Democracy than a Monarchy."

Urgh.

/crazy rant

Sorry.

nowealthbutlife.com said...

I appreciate your perspective. I definitely would not have thought of it this way, but your view is convincing. Sometimes it is difficult to appreciate all of the remaining ties between the Church and various States since it seems as if everything is falling apart.

Alexandra said...

This is wonderful to see. It's good to maintain these traditions into the modern world. They can be a pain(and fickle), but I love France! At least they still have some class.

The Harlequin King said...

I just posted a link to this entry on my blog after coming across yours. Eeeeeexcellent.

elena maria vidal said...

Terry, the only way that the two situations would be comparable would be if there was some long tie between Notre Dame and the U.S Presidency. But since every year a different notable speaks, it is not quite the same as the Vatican making the French head of state an honorary canon at St. John Lateran. The latter is to honor the centuries old connection between the Church and the Eldest Daughter of the Church. It is not honoring Sarkozy in himself.

I think that it is highly inappropriate for an institution which is supposedly dedicated to Catholic education to invite a politician to speak who is pro-choice and give him an honorary degree.

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, everyone.

elena maria vidal said...

I'd also like to say to some of the Lutherans who have linked to this post that I understand how difficult it is for American Protestants to understand Old World customs. Being a member of the Catholic or universal Church means having to think beyond the American way of doing things. This can be hard for some people.