The Last Permanent Deacon (before Vatican II)

Just for fun. . .

Reginald Pole

Deacon Reginald Pole, who was Cardinal President for the First Session of the Council of Trent

Most people recognize that the diaconate enjoyed a “golden age” which ended in the 4th Century.  The transformation of the diaconate, including the decline of a diaconate permanently exercised began shortly after, although there are the famous exceptions usually given: the English Cardinal Reginald Pole, for example, or Francis of Assisi.  However, the last known “permanent” deacon prior to the Second Vatican Council was probably Italian jurist Teodolfo Mertel (1806-1899).


Deacon Teodolfo Mertel, jurist and Cardinal-Prefect of the Roman Rota

Teodolfo studied in the seminary with the Capuchins, and in 1828, at the age of 22, the brilliant young lawyer received a joint doctorate in both civil and canon law from La Sapienza University in Rome.  By the time he was 25 he was serving as a lawyer for the Roman Curia.  He served in positions of increasing responsibility between 1831 till 1853, when he was assigned as Minister of the Interior and of Grace and Justice.

Although he received first tonsure in 1843 and the minor orders shortly thereafter, he did not proceed further at that time.  At the consistory of 15 March 1858, Mertel was made a Cardinal by Pope Pius IX.  On the same day he was appointed President of the Supreme Council for Internal Affairs of the State, and on the next day, 16 March 1858, the pope ordained him a deacon at Castelgandolfo.   Cardinal Mertel served in several other major assignments and participated in the First Vatican Council (1869-1870).  He continued in various positions, eventually serving as Prefect of the Tribunal of the Signature of Justice from 1877 until his death in 1899.  He participated in the conclave of 1878 which elected Pope Leo XIII; he served as Protodeacon of the Mass of Coronation and placed the triple tiara on the new pope’s head.

A well-known story from his time observed that, when the Prefect wished to go to Mass, he had to take one of his priest-staff members along to say the Mass.

In his later years, due to illness, he returned to his hometown, where he died 11 July 1899, at the age of 93.

We deacons do not need to be made Cardinals.  However, we should always strive to find new and creative ways to serve God and God’s people!

Some Wonderful Resolutions for the New (Internet) Year

The great God-googler, Mike Hayes over at, has put together a wonderful list of New Year’s Resolutions based on the teaching and example of Pope Francis.  Do yourself a treat, if you haven’t already, and go read the whole list here.  So, I hope that Mike won’t mind if I do a riff from his list, with particular emphasis on how we Catholics “live” on the internet these days.  The National Catholic Reporter, for example, as well as many bloggers and others, have decided to disable comments on their websites because the language used in responses crosses the line of courteous, let alone CHRISTIAN, discourse.  With a profound nod to Mike, therefore, I’d like to reflect on his seven resolutions as they might apply to internet courtesy.  My friend and brother deacon, Greg Kandra, did something similar during Advent with an Internet Examination of Conscience; read it here.

But first, a bit of fun.  As I have made clear here and elsewhere, I have a profound admiration for Pope St. John XXIII.  Mike posted a picture of Pope Francis as part of his blog post; is it just me, or is there not a remarkable similarity between Francis and John (in more ways than one)?

Pope Francis or John XXIII pope-john-xxiii-during-ecumenical-council

Here’s Mike’s list of resolutions, based on the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelium gaudium:

Resolution #1: Be Joyful

Joy, as I pointed out in an earlier reflection on the Exhortation, is “the infallible sign of God’s presence” (to quote Teilhard).  If we truly believe the Truth of the Gospel, we should be filled with Joy and gratitude at the very core of our being!  There should be no such thing as a “sourpuss” Christian.  I resolve to reflect such joy in this blog.  I also hope that in the words used and responses to other posts will always be characterized by that joy.  I ask that visitors to this site try to do the same.

Resolution #2: Share Your Joy

The Pope is so right: We must not only BE joyful; we should all share that joy.  We should be the kind of Christian who says, “I’m good; the rest of you are on you are on your own!”  That’s one of the goals of this blog.  I am proud of our great Tradition, and I become quite frustrated at attempts to restrict the Tradition to one or another theo-political point of view!  I resolve to do my best to present the joy of the Gospel from the point of view of the whole of Scripture and Tradition.  This will be guaranteed to arouse the ire of extremists on either side of the spectrum, but so be it.  More about this later in the list.

Resolution #3: Exclude No One and Restore Dignity

The Pope has always stressed, as have his immediate predecessors, that God excludes no one from his love, and the salvation is open to all who come to God.  Perhaps it’s simply our flawed human nature that leads us to want to choose sides, one over and against another.  “We’re right and good; you’re wrong and bad.”  Another way to think about this is the tendency to have an “us versus them” attitude.  Some websites and blogs — even Catholic ones, even Catholic ones hosted by clergy! — seem to thrive on exclusionary language, mocking others who may disagree about things.  I resolve not to do such things here and invite people who may feel I have crossed such a line to draw my attention to it so I can correct it.

ThinkResolution #4: Diet From Devouring

While the Pope’s emphasis in this regard is largely economic, I think there’s a clear application to cyberspace as well.  A famous Catholic priest-author was once said to have “never had an unpublished thought”!  There’s simply no need to respond to every little thing (or big thing, for that matter).  I resolve to post only on things that are of particular interest or concern.  On the other hand, if folks would like to raise certain topics or suggest lines of inquiry, just let me know!  The questions would be “do I want to post on this?” and “Do I need to post on that?”

Resolution #5: Serve, Don’t Rule

OK, as one of my own teachers once opined, “The job of a professor is to profess!”  However, all such opining here is, I resolve, designed to serve the common good.  Ii hope that this blog can be a service for others, not a platform for bloviating.

Resolution #6: Practice Non-Violent Communication

Words matter; they can heal, they can hurt, they can destroy.  I resolve to attempt a level of discourse that reflects healing, peace and harmony.  Again, should readers find the language here offensive, please let me know.

Resolution #7: Combat the Tendency Toward Extremes

Extremism is almost always problematic.  As the old adage has it, “virtus in media stat”: Virtue stands in the middle.  As before, I resolve to avoid extremes and promote balance in all things.  There are so many sites in which extremes are promoted in language and attitude; I hope NOT to be one of them.  It seems to me that culturally we have lost civility and balance in discourse.  When we disagree with someone, there is a tendency to demonize them.  I hope that here we can disagree with courtesy and respect.

Thanks, Mike!

Thank you, Melody!

Before returning to the more serious work reflecting on the Pope’s Apostolic  Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I thought I’d post something just for fun.  But it’s also something of the great joy of serving God’s people as a deacon.

This morning, after our 9:00 AM Mass, a very shy little girl approached me with her grandmother.  With Grandma encouraging her, she handed over the attached sketch.  It is such a wonderful, joyful gift!  She captured the Book of the Gospels, the smiles, everything!  Thank you, Melody!

Melody Art