Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. By his chair we mean his throne, which is the only chair in the room when a great king is present. With Pope Francis putting his throne in mothballs, all the prelates down the line seem to be cutting down on pomp. Forgive me for making a short lecture about how we got so uppity.
It started with Arius, a priest in Alexandria who in 320 A.D. was giving sermons that asked people to see Jesus as only a good man, not the Son of God. Father Arius was expelled from Egypt, but Constantius, the son of Emperor Constantine, embraced Arianism, giving Arius a home in Constantinople. As well, Constantius began training young barbarians to become Arian priests. One of them, Ulfilas, a Goth, translated a version of the New Testament into the Gothic Language which could be read by all the barbarian peoples.
By the year 450 S.D. Europe had more Arians than Christians, and the pope had his back to the wall. But then a new tribe from the east, the Franks, invaded the valley of the Rhine; and their king, Chlodwich, married a Catholic girl who made him believe that he could become a second Constantine if he were baptized Catholic. She won out, and in 496 all the nobles among the Franks were baptized on Christmas at Rheims.
The priests and bishops ran into a problem. The Franks, like all feudal peoples, had a simple social framework. People with inheritances had titles, lands and serfs; while those without inheritances slept with the pigs. That left the bishop and priests with the pigs. To remedy that, a ceremony was staged in which each of the bishops and priests, in his Sunday best, came out before the nobles, making a simple statement, “I have an inheritance, my inheritance is the Lord.” With that, the nobles accepted the priests as their equals.
Now, the old German word they used for inheritance was klerk. From that they came to be called “clerics.” And, the nobles began coaching them, saying that since they were on a level with them, they needed to be treated with great respect. They needed to be addressed as Reverend, or Very Reverend, or Most Reverend.
For the Church to survive in Feudal times it had to adapt itself to Feudalism, and its priests needed to carry themselves with great dignity. Now we must adapt to democracy, and we must remember Jesus saying, “Among he Gentiles those in authority lord it over them, but it cannot be that way with you.