Bold Mercy: God's Summons to Ecclesial Conversion

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Catholic Theological Society of America


Thomas Mann captured the boldness of mercy in his relatively obscure novel, The Holy Sinner. It tells the story of a young man, Gregor, who was caught up in an entangled web of incestuous relationships representing the sin and guilt into which we are all born. He unwittingly stumbles into an oedipal nightmare by marrying his mother, whom he encounters later in life. Horrified upon learning the truth, he undertakes a life of severe penance, certain that the enormity of his defilement is beyond his own powers to rectify. Meanwhile, the old pope in Rome has died and a conclave has been called. By the power of the Holy Spirit it is vouchsafed to some members of the conclave that the new pope will be found not in Rome, but on a rocky ledge in a faraway land. There Gregor is discovered, and whisked to Rome, where, amidst great celebration, he assumes the chair of Peter. Yet, “scarcely had he . . . laid off the superfluity of his ceremonial garb, when he began to govern Christendom, to feed his flocks and dispense blessings upon the motely necessities of the earth.”1