Skip to comments.The Fable of “Pope Joan” [Debunks Diane Sawyer on ABC]
Posted on 01/13/2006 6:59:11 PM PST by Salvation
|The Fable of Pope Joan
|One of the television networks recently ran a program about "Pope Joan." The television show was not very clear about whether this story was true or not. Is it?
Diane Sawyer, on December 29, indeed had a "special report" about "Pope Joan," which was broadcast on ABC. Of course, the program was preceded by much commercial hype. The "special report" focused on an interview with Donna Cross who has written a book on this matter. Like The DaVinci Code, her interview wove together bits of historical information with half-truths, fables and other kinds of fiction. Of course, Sawyer also interviewed a supporting former nun, and briefly interviewed credible historians who discredited the story of Pope Joan. In the end, no definitive conclusions were made, which left one wondering, "What was the point?" This author was also left with an upset stomach.
Two last points: The ABC "special report" mentioned a special papal chair (something that looked like a potty chair) used to verify the sex of the new pope; yet the story admitted there was never an "eyewitness" account of this test.
Disclaimer from me, however, since I did not view it.
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Did any of you see this special?
Good advice. Don't wait until Christmas time.
Unfortunately, the legend of Pope Joan will be with us forever. It appeals to those who dream about the ultimate achievement for women: wearing the Papal vestments!
How could it really be proved wrong?
The article mentions that John Hus made use of this fable, and obviously even he wasn't believed. Had there been any real credibility to this myth, it seems that Savonarola and Luther would have also made this claim as they criticized the papacy. The fact that they didn't would seem to indicate that they didn't believe it (and they were both willing to say anything to diminish the authority of the pope).
Pretty popular with the Sapphic folk.
I would say it can be proved wrong by the fact that, according to canon law, the Sacrament of Ordination requires proper Form and Intention among other things. If these requisites are not met there exist canonical "impediments" which render the sacrament null and void. Since the time of St. Peter ordinations to be valid required a MALE as a candidate for ordination. Thus, if in fact a woman was "ordained" this would be be an invalid and utterly meaningless act. Since there can be no female priests there can't be a "Pope Joan". I won't go into all the theology of ordination to holy orders but I have some first-hand personal (and very modern!) experience of this sort of blasphemous action. (and blasphemy according to word etymology means "bull" not sacrilege) Would anyone like to hear about it?
This has been totally debunked by a secular French historian, Alain Boureau, The Myth of Pope Joan, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001; originally published in French). Boureau is mostly concerned with the anthropology/ethnology of how this myth developed and flourished. He simply declares at the outset of the book that "of course" this story never happened, there's not a shred of historical evidence for it.
No historian anywhere believes there's a shred of truth to the story. It isn't even close.
That ABC airs a special when a major US academic publisher has this clear refutation of it in print takes a good bit of chutzpah. That the press has not lampooned ABC for this mendacity is, though not surprising, nonetheless shameful.
Regardless of whether it was invalid or meaningless, we still can't prove that there was or was not, a Pope Joan. Suppose the woman claimed to be a man at the time of ordination? It may be invalid, but who would know?...and no, I would not like to hear about it.
The fact that others knew or didn't know makes utterly no differnce to the fact that, imposter or not, such a being was no more a pope than my cat. Besides, if we waste time trying to test the validity of every Dark Age legend we'd be yapping away til the parousia.
**Good advice. Don't wait until Christmas time.**
LOL! Good advice again!
The truth will win out.
Until then, you might want to peruse this list of popes from the Prophecies of St. Malachy
Some people are staunch believers in this list. At this time I lean that way.
**it seems that Savonarola and Luther would have also made this claim as they criticized the papacy**
Thanks for the info.
Its a bunch of nonsense. Saint Malachy lived in the 12thc; this is a forgery from the 17thc. Don't waste your time with it.
I can't imagine anything here on earth, being the least bit important after we die, but I suppose it's always nice to find out if one was correct or not.
One could put Diane's brain in a thimble and still have room for a quail's egg. ABC,intellectually part of the umma, should just officially join with Al Jazeera and quit the posturing it is a news outfit and not an organ of anti-Liberty propaganda.
Excellent. Thanks for the education. Now, I have a solid argument against this anti-Catholic story.
Strange, how people try to deny biblical stories about Christ, but are excited at the thought of this story about a female pope.
Good grief. Leave it to airhead Diane Sawyer. She probably thinks the DiVinci Code is non fiction as well.
Solid advice that Fr. Saunders should also follow. I have yet to find any historically accurate portrayal of anything Catholic on television, be it on the primary or cable channels.
Turn off the tv! Read a book! Read the Diary of St. Faustina before the media have an opportunity to debunk it, or Raymond Arroyo's historically accurate account of Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN. Both of these riveting books, are guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. These are not fables but true stories of faith and courage - the authentic Catholic variety.
I am doing that right now, and it is well worth the read!
While 99% true, there's an error in your position that if there are only male priests, there could only be a male pope. Being a priest is not a pre-req for being pope.
You must only be a practical, unmarried Catholic man to become the pope. Yes, it's not likely that anyone by a priest - actually a cardinal - would become a pope, but it is still a possibility.
One of the television networks recently ran a program about "Pope Joan." The television show was not very clear about whether this story was true or not. What is the Straight Answer here? A reader in Arlington
Diane Sawyer, on Dec. 29, indeed had a "special report" about "Pope Joan," which was broadcast on ABC. Of course, the program was preceded by much commercial hype. The "special report" focused on an interview with Donna Cross who has written a book on this matter. Like The DaVinci Code, her interview wove together bits of historical information with half-truths, fables and other kinds of fiction. Of course, Sawyer also interviewed a supporting former nun, and briefly interviewed credible historians who discredited the story of Pope Joan. In the end, no definitive conclusions were made, which left one wondering, "What was the point?" This author was also left with an upset stomach.
The fable about Pope Joan surfaces in the writings of Dominican Jean de Mailly in the 13th century. From this work, another Dominican, Etienne de Bourbon (d. 1261), incorporated the fable in his work on the "Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost."
The fable involves a talented and intelligent woman named Johannes Anglicus who wanted to pursue opportunities not available to a woman at the time, but were reserved to men. So, she dressed as a man. Disguised as a man, she traveled to Athens accompanied by her lover and pursued higher learning (again, that which would have been open only to men at the time). She then moved to Rome, where she taught science and gained a favorable reputation in academe. She eventually became a notary in the Papal Curia and then a cardinal. Upon the death of Pope Leo IV, she was elected pope, all the while keeping her disguise as a man. At some point she became pregnant by one of her lovers. (It is hard to imagine her gender remaining secret amidst her lovers and the chatty curia officials.) One day, during a procession from St. Peters Basilica to St. John Lateran, and somewhere between the Colosseum and St. Clements, she gave birth to a son. Needless to say, the procession stopped. After that, the legend has various endings: in one version, she died immediately; in another, she was bound to the horse, dragged about the city, stoned to death and buried; and finally in another, she was deposed and confined to do penance. One variation also asserts that her son became Bishop of Ostia. Please remember that all of the aforesaid is fiction.
Apparently, the fable had such an impact that many believed it to be true (just like the impact of The DaVinci Code). For instance, in the Cathedral of Siena, the busts of the popes line the nave, and her bust was included originally. Whether this was done as a joke or out of ignorance is left for debate. However, Pope Clement VIII, to prevent scandal and preserve truth, had the bust transformed into Pope Zacharias. Also, she was not among the official portraits of the popes that line the walls of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
Later, John Hus, the radical heretic of the 1400s, referred to "Pope Joan" to discredit the whole office of the papacy. He had proposed a more figurehead-type of papacy with the governance of the Church left to majority rule.
Keep in mind that even in the 15th century, scholars like Aeneas Silvius (Epistles) and Platina (Vitae Pontificum), using historical-critical methods, discredited the story as bogus. In the 16th century, scholars like Onofrio Panvinio (Vitae Pontificum), Aventinus (Annales Boiorum), Baronius (Annales) and others corroborated these findings. Even Protestant scholars found the fable untenable: Blondel (Joanna papissa) and Leibniz (Flores sparsae in tumulum Papissae). However, some Protestants, especially in America, have continued to use the fable to discredit the papacy, even though the fable is truly a fable.
The main proofs against the "Pope Joan" fable are as follows: First, "Pope Joan" is not listed in the Liber Pontificalis (the official documented listing of the popes which has chronological veracity). Supposedly, Pope Joan succeeded Pope Leo IV, a very saintly man credited with several miracles, who died on July 17, 855. Immediately Pope Benedict III was elected. There was some controversy because the Byzantine Emperor attempted to have his own excommunicated son, Anastasius, installed as pope. The imperial forces with Anastasius invaded Rome, seized the Lateran palace, and imprisoned Pope Benedict. The faithful of Rome, however, refused to accept Anastasius and rebelled. They freed Pope Benedict who was officially installed on Sept. 29, 855. Interestingly, Pope Benedict was merciful to Anastasius, and eventually made him an abbot. One interesting point is that Pope Benedicts image appears along with the image of the Holy Roman Emperor Lothair on coins minted prior to Sept. 29; this point corroborates that Pope Benedict was recognized from the time of his election as the true pope. Therefore, there is no room for Pope Joan.
A few other sources of the fable place Pope Joan during other Pontificates. However, the extant historical accounts become even more specific and numerous as to events and dates regarding the papacy. Historically, there is no Pope Joan, who supposedly was pope by disguise for over two years.
Second, no mention of a Pope Joan arises until the mid-1200s. Given her dramatic "coming out," there should be historical accounts dating to the alleged time of her pontificate. Obviously, the legend was made up 400 years later.
Third, other possibilities for the source of the fable exist. St. Robert Bellarmine posited that the legend was brought from Constantinople to Rome to discredit the legitimacy of the papacy. Remember that with the decline of Rome and the western side of the old Roman Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople believed he should be the head of the Church, which eventually was one reason for the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1054.
Baronius posits that perhaps the legend arose from the alleged effeminate weakness of Pope John VIII (872-82), although this charge is also disputed.
Two last points: The ABC "special report" mentioned a special papal chair (something that looked like a potty chair) used to verify the sex of the new pope; yet, the story admitted there was never an "eyewitness" account of this test. In reality, the newly elected pope was installed on a marble throne, oftentimes an ancient bath stool which were not uncommon in Rome. Such bath stools had been used for papal events long before any mention of a Pope Joan. Due to the long duration of papal ceremonies, the pope did use such a throne to relieve himself. To suggest otherwise is vulgar let alone erroneous.
Finally, the story mentions Berninis beautiful baldachino over the papal altar of St. Peters and how the bases of the columns have carved a progression of a womans face showing the pains and joys of child birth. The ABC "special report" insinuated that these carvings were of Pope Joan giving birth. Oh please. Bernini was a devout man, who is buried along the altar rail of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. A better explanation is what Jesus said during his farewell discourse to the apostles at the Last Supper: "When a woman is in labor, she is sad that her time has come. When she has borne her child, she no longer remembers her pain for joy that a man has been born into the world. In the same way, you are sad for a time, but I shall see you again; then your hearts will rejoice with a joy no one can take from you" (Jn 16:21-22). Despite our labors and sufferings here and now, we too should rejoice that at each Mass, Christ comes again to us in the gift of the holy Eucharist.
While watching the ABC "special report," I was irritated at the obvious anti-Catholic propaganda. Besides addressing the fable of "Pope Joan," Diane Sawyer and Donna Cross showed their feminist bent. They spoke of the mistreatment of women at the time, including wife beating and the inability to be educated. Diane Sawyer commented that "women were resolutely excluded from circles of power" by the Church, hence the motivation for Pope Joan to disguise herself. Even in the interview, Cross was smirky, with that demeanor, "Look what I uncovered about the mean, patriarchal Catholic Church." Oh will the bigotry never end. Next time, be aware of these ABC "special reports," especially at Christmastime. Change channels and buy some solid books that are historically accurate.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Christendoms Notre Dame Academy in Alexandria.
One thing that makes the existence of Pope Joan very suspect is the lack of privacy during those times. This would have been especially true for a person of rank.
You can always count on Fr. Saunders for accurate information.
In light of the "Pope Joan" story may I also resurrect the legend of the Bixley Boy: the small Elizabeth Tudor (yes, that Elizabeth) had been sent out to the Cotswolds to escape problems; while there she supposedly died of some childhood disease. Panic-stricken, the royal household searched the local countryside for a suitable replacement. No girl could be found, but there did exist a boy of the right age and appearance to pass for the Tudor princess. The upshot is that this boy would have to continue the masquerade for the rest of his life, culminating in the unbelievable acheivement of becoming Queen. Of course, in contrast to Pope Joan, the Bixley Boy seems to have gotten away with ruling England for many years....
Heard this in National Geographic of all things. Anyway, thought this would balance out all the fuss--If a woman came become Pope, can't a man become Queen of England?
I had never heard this story. Thanks for sharing it.
Bixley Boy queen? Hmmmm.
Thanks for reposting the article with another link.
While someone does not have to be a priest can be ELECTED pope, once elected he would not only be ordained a priest but also a bishop. An elected layman only becomes pope upon ordination as bishop. Thus the impossibility of a woman becoming a bishop would disqualify her from being eligible for election.
Whoops! Yours is by Fr. Saunders also...duh! Oh well, at least you have a graphic of the fictional "Popess." :-)
You raise some interesting points but the pope is ipso facto the BISHOP OF ROME and always has been. Since in any catholic understanding of holy orders the lower order(s) is subsumed by the higher - every bishop is also a priest and a deacon; every priest is a deacon - the issue of a valid ordination cannot be avoided. Yes, certain titles are what we might designate as "honorary" (e.g. monsignor, cardinal, pope) but these do not pertain to holy orders per se, e.g., no one is "ordained" cardinal, etc.
While watching the ABC "special report," I was irritated at the obvious anti-Catholic propaganda. Besides addressing the fable of "Pope Joan," Diane Sawyer and Donna Cross showed their feminist bent. They spoke of the mistreatment of women at the time, including wife-beating and the inability to be educated. Diane Sawyer commented that "women were resolutely excluded from circles of power" by the Church, hence the motivation for Pope Joan to disguise herself. Even in the interview, Cross was smirky, with that demeanor, "Look what I uncovered about the mean, patriarchal Catholic Church."
No sir, the bigotry will never end not by MSM, anyway.
You are correct. The bishop has the "fullness" of the priesthood. Regular priests do not, insofar as they cannot ordain and (normally) cannot confirm.
As for laymen being elected pope, that is certainly possible, and has happened a few times in the history of the Church. But the man is consecrated Bishop of Rome first, only then is he actually the pope. Until his consecration as bishop, he is only pope-elect.