A story of Catholic slaps, punches and all-out brawls


If you watched the Oscars last night, you probably saw the moment actor Will Smith took the stage and slapped host Chris Rock in the face.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello.

The slap came after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, who shaved her head after losing hair from an autoimmune disease.

Even if you weren’t watching the awards show, chances are you’ve heard about the moment. It got a lot of attention in the news and on social media, sparking debates over whether Smith was justified and whether the moment was staged or genuine.

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AT The Pillar, we I began to think of famous slaps in Church history.

After all, it’s hard to cross over 2,000 years of history without a memorable slap or two. So we present to you a handful of notable slaps, punches, and fights throughout Church history:

Saint Nicolas, bishop of Myra, attacks Arius the heretic

Probably among the most famous “Catholic slaps” is the story of Saint Nicholas striking the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicaea.

According to the story, the council fathers debated the nature of Christ. Arius held that Christ was fully human, but not God. At one point, the merry old St. Nicholas became so angry at Arius’ stubbornness that he punched him right in the face.

Wall painting from the monastery of Soumela. Photo credit: Marco Prins, CC0_1.0

Although the story is popular, it is probably not true, as early accounts of the incident did not surface until more than 1000 years later.

Yet the tale has an enduring appeal – who doesn’t love the image of Santa Claus throwing fists in defense of the divinity of the Christ Child?

The “confirmation slap”

What is probably less known to many Catholics is that the confirmation rite traditionally included the bishop giving newly confirmed Catholics a light slap on the cheek.

The confirmation slap recalled the laying on of hands of the apostles and reminded the newly confirmed that they must suffer for the faith.

Although not officially part of the rite, the symbolic gesture – which was often more of a gentle slap – persisted in tradition until the Second Vatican Council, after which the rite was revised and mention of the slap was changed. been deleted.

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The Papal Slap: Pope Boniface and Cardinal Colonna

“Cardinal Colonna slapping Boniface VIII”, illustration by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville, 1883. public domain.

After Boniface VIII was elected pope in 1394, he found himself embroiled in a dispute between four brothers of the powerful Colonna family, one of whom was a Roman cardinal.

The brothers were fighting over family property after Cardinal Giacomo Colonna disinherited his siblings.

But when they appealed to the pope, Boniface ordered the cardinal to return certain properties to his brothers and to return several towns outside Rome, including the town of Palestrina, to the control of the papal household.

Cardinal Colonna refused and Boniface removed him from the College of Cardinals. The cardinal accused Pope Boniface of having been invalidly elected. Soon it all became a fight between the papal knights and the Colonna family’s private battalion.

Matters escalated in 1303, when the pope and the king of France disputed over church and state taxes in France and control of church bishops in the country. Eventually, the French King Philip sent an army to attack Pope Boniface. Cardinal Colonna, sensing an opportunity, jumped into the fray alongside the King of France.

As Colonna and the French army demanded that Boniface abdicate from the papacy, Cardinal Colonna slapped the 73-year-old Pope in the face.

After the slap, Boniface was taken captive for three days before his army secured his release.

The pope did not abdicate, but Boniface died of fever a month after the slap heard around the church on October 11, 1303.

The 1988 Notre Dame-Miami Brawl

Our Lady’s University played host to a brawl before a memorable football match between the Fighting Irish and the Miami Hurricanes in October 1988. Both teams were undefeated heading into the highly anticipated game, but things have heated up even before the draw.

the Indy Star explains:

There is only one entrance and one exit from the pitch at the Notre-Dame stadium (it is currently under renovation). While the Irish were still warming up before the match, Canes’ players decided they would cross their lines instead of going around, as visiting teams usually do, returning through the tunnel to in the changing rooms.

The result was around 20 players trading blows at the entrance to the tunnel, a thrilling start to a thrilling game, which Notre Dame won by one point.

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The time a bishop was punched during mass

In January 2019, Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz of Newark was punched while celebrating mass at the local cathedral.

Video footage shows a man entering the sanctuary during mass and punching Cruz in the face before being restrained by a security guard.

The bishop suffered minor injuries, according to local news reports. A 48-year-old man believed to have a history of mental illness was arrested in connection with the incident and later charged with aggravated assault.

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Melee at the Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to be the site of Jesus’ birth, has seen its fair share of fighting over the years. Church ownership is shared between the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic churches.

This arrangement has at times been less than peaceful. In December 2011, Greek and Armenian monks were cleaning the church when an argument broke out whether each group was encroaching on the other’s space. The argument turned physical and the brooms flew. The security forces had to put an end to the fight.

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Two valiant monks

There is a popular – albeit apocryphal – legend that the Rule of St. Benedict contains a passage on welcoming visiting monks which says that if a visitor is “talkative and absent-minded” he should be asked to leave, and if he does not, “let two valiant monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him.”

One imagines that the explanation was a somewhat rowdy affair.

Saint Benedict, by Herman Nieg, 1926. public domain.

Interesting way, Section 70 of the Rule of Saint Benedict warns against striking another monk at will. The statement seems to apply to punishment, but it’s reasonable to assume that Benedict was also trying to avoid monastic fights – and perhaps they had already happened.

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The Archduke and the Pope’s Heckler

In 1988, Pope John Paul II gave a speech to the European Parliament.

Ian Paisley, then leader of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, stood up and interrupted the pope, shouting “I denounce you as the Antichrist” and holding up a poster labeling the pope as the Antichrist. Other members of the legislature threw papers at Paisley and grabbed his poster.

Paisley eventually had to be forcibly removed from the room, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, a devout Catholic, allegedly punched Paisley in the face and helped drag him out of the room.

Editor’s note: This report was updated after we heard about some particularly interesting slaps that weren’t originally included.


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