“Yeah, well, it applies to the Immaculate Conception and this, so end of conversation.” – Pope Pius IX, speaking on the doctrine of infallibility to the College of Cardinals, as they debated what to order for lunch and Pius found himself the lone advocate of fish sticks.
The Immaculate Conception holds that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born without original sin and blessed instead with the sanctifying grace of God. It was formally defined and declared by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, under the doctrine of infallibility, meaning that the Immaculate Conception became a part of the Catholic dogma.
The doctrine of infallibility has often been misunderstood as meaning that the Pope can do or say no wrong, which it certainly does not mean. In an effort to prevent the further propagation of that falsehood, Pope Pius IX had always been very insistent that, as a man and not God, his infallibility was not constant, and often deferred to other leaders in the Church as a demonstration of his humanity.
And so, on the third day of the Apostolic Conference to decide how to best restructure the finances of the Church, after having requested his favorite meal of fish sticks for two consecutive days and having been overwhelmingly outvoted—and you have to keep in mind that fish sticks weren’t all processed and frozen back then, but were made and served on the same day, with fresh fish caught off the Italian coast, and the tartar sauce, by all papal accounts, was without exaggeration divine—Pius IX found that the limits of his earthly patience were being tested.
In an effort to persuade the council, he had opened innocently enough with a half-joking protest: “Okay, guys, it’s not like I’m the only one who ever liked fish sticks—after all, Peter was a fisherman!” But one of the Cardinals rather humorlessly pointed out that no one objected to fish, it’s just that there are other, much better ways to eat it than in stick form, and the discussion quickly returned to antipastos and sauces. Needless to say, the Pope was not only frustrated but a little embarrassed that his joke hadn’t gone over very well, so when it was narrowly decided that they would order linguine instead of penne, he suggested that perhaps a two-thirds vote would be more appropriate than a simple majority, seeing as how nearly half of the Cardinals did not want linguine. This was deemed reasonable, and so after a bit more discussion, in which the Pope waited anxiously for a chance to work in a reference to fish sticks but never really found a good opening, a two thirds vote decided on a compromise of linguine, provided that they got breadsticks instead of rolls.
The Pope became nervous, as he thought that the addition of breadsticks would certainly diminish any enthusiasm for another stick-shaped food, and so he pretended to gag at the idea of breadsticks. Of course, when you eat with the same people day in and day out, they eventually learn your eating habits, and so by this point it was common knowledge that the Pope in fact loved breadsticks, and his rather childish display was awkwardly ignored as one of the Cardinals cautiously ventured into a discussion about how much they should tip. Seeing that his fate was otherwise sealed, the Pope stood up and said, “Ok, you know what, we’re having fish sticks. I’m claiming infallibility on this one, okay? I know you all want linguine, and I get that we’re in Italy and linguine is good here, but you know what? It’s still just pasta. We always have pasta. Even on your birthdays, all you guys want is pasta. It’s unreal.” The Cardinals exchanged uneasy glances, and even tried to question the use of the doctrine of infallibility, but the Pope had backed himself into a corner and could only reassert himself as quoted above.
History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to, although I did say that last week. Tune in next week for an all-new “This Day in Revisionist History”!