In 2018 the Pope cut a deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) which gave the Chinese government the power to make episcopal appointments. While the Vatican can accept or reject the candidates, history shows that papal accords that compromise its authority end badly and this one is ending very badly.
Hildegard detested Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (AD 1122-1190) for his determination to make ecclesial appointments. Not uncharacteristically, she responds by assuming her role as a prophet of the Old Testament type, delivering threats in the first-person voice of God:
“He who Is says: By My own power I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn me. Hear this O king, if you wish to live. Otherwise my sword will pierce you”.†
She was feared in her day.
Hildegard soon learned that Pope Anastasius IV (AD 1153-1154) was negotiating a compromise with Frederick over certain bishop appointments. She quickly redirected her righteous anger to the elderly Pope:
“…Wherefore, O man, you who sit in the Papal throne, you despise God when you embrace evil. For in failing to speak out against the evil of those in your company, you are certainly not rejecting evil. Rather, you are kissing it. And so the whole world is being led away by unstable error”. ††
Hildegard’s warnings went unheeded.
Not satisfied with the compromise, a year later Frederick assembled his armies and marched on Rome determined to seize the papacy. The Emperor may have succeeded were it not for divine intervention: a sudden plague incapacitated his troops.
Not satisfied with Pope Francis’ compromise, in February of 2020 new laws will be enforced that give the Chinese government almost complete control of the Christian religion in that country. Art. 17 states:
“Religious organizations must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, rules to religious personnel and religious citizens, educating religious personnel and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism…”
Once Pope Francis capitulated to the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops, they responded by tearing down 1200 public crosses and demolishing churches. They are now demanding under threat of penalty that Christians incorporate communist ideology in their doctrines of the faith.
If there is any hope, it’s in the numbers: there are somewhere between 67-100 million Christians in China and they are growing dramatically. Most are Protestant, and much of the expansion is in the underground, or “house” churches. Beijing can try to stop it, but will they succeed?
† Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Letter #44, p.78.
†† Baird, Joseph L. and Ehrman, Radd. The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994, p.42.