If you say that the history of the Church is a long succession of scandals, you are telling the truth, though if that is all you say, you are distorting the truth
~ Gerald Vann
To a large degree, the Bible and the church have been lumped together in people’s minds and the frustration that some have felt with the actual “institutions of Christianity” have made them question and throw out the church, the Bible, and even Christianity itself. Many of the criticisms are overblown, but the church does have things to answer for. Here are some examples:
- For centuries the Catholic Church was a secular political power that vied with other governments for control and supremacy. Thus its mission to care for the spiritual needs of people was continually compromised by the political ambitions and concerns of its leadership. It was once called the “Holy Roman Empire” but people joked that this was a complete misnomer—it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
- At times the Vatican engaged in targeted assassination attempts against its political enemies, such as the attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth I of England in the early part of her reign because of fears that she would declare England to be Protestant and suppress Catholics.
- The church has called for wars, for people to “fight for God, and against heresy,” especially during the Crusader period (1095-1270). The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in southern France in the thirteenth century was a sad example of this. However, it must also be understood that during the Crusades, Muslims were the main intended enemy, and Europe in the Middle Ages was rightly fearful of being totally overrun and conquered by Islamic forces. The desire to defend themselves and retake lost territory from their Muslim enemies therefore resonated with virtually everyone.
The Muslims themselves set the pattern for holy war in the years after the death of Mohammed in 632. For the next 400 years they attacked many countries, conquering and then ruling over them. These included Iran (Persia), Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Armenia, Balkan territories, and Spain. Many Christian areas such as Hippo, the home of Augustine in North Africa (in what is now the country of Libya), were wiped out by Islamic forces. The Muslims in Spain attempted an invasion of France in 732 that was repulsed by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours. They also took Sicily in the 820s, and in 846 they attacked Rome and desecrated the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. For centuries the Castillian people of Spain revolted against their Muslim overlords, and finally were victorious in 1492, the year that Columbus set sail for America.
The Crusades were thus an attempt to redress the brutality of the Islamic conquest, and retake territory that had been lost. The Crusades are often used to paint the church and Christianity as evil, especially by extremist Muslims such as Usama Bin Laden and by western-bashing liberals. However, such Muslims are entirely hypocritical on this issue, justifying their own conquest and excusing the killing/subjugation of other peoples by claiming that jihad is commanded by Allah, but when the people who are attacked defend themselves and strike back, it is purely evil. Atrocities were committed by both sides and especially bad was the wholesale slaughter of the civilian population in Jerusalem when the Crusaders finally took the city in 1099. But the atrocities performed by Muslims are rarely, if ever, admitted. For example, the inhabitants of the Templar fortress of Safad were massacred in 1266 after being promised that they would be spared if they surrendered. Even worse was the total massacre of every man, woman, and child when the Muslims retook Antioch in 1268. After the city fell, the gates were ordered shut and every inhabitant of the city was hunted down and slain. It was the worst atrocity performed by either side in the entire Crusader era, and it was committed by Muslims.
- The appointment of popes often resulted in a power struggle with different political factions lining up behind one candidate or another. In the past Cardinals were often appointed on the basis of political favoritism and payoffs, and would sometimes pay large sums in order to obtain their office. In return they would normally be able to collect and keep a portion of the offering from the churches in their area of dominion – like buying a Burger King franchise. Therefore becoming a cardinal or a bishop was sometimes perceived in strictly crass financial terms as being a investment rather than a spiritual responsibility.
- At times the church engaged in nefarious and disreputable fund-raising schemes, such as simony (the sale of spiritual benefits or offices for money), and indulgences (getting oneself or another person out of hell or purgatory in exchange for payment to the church). At times the church even sold indulgences to priests allowing them to keep wives and/or concubines. The accumulation of wealth unfortunately became a goal that led to further corruption and cynicism. Some Protestant churches and televangelists in our day, such as Jim Bakker in the 1970s, have also been guilty of this.
- Some religious leaders and groups have used twisted versions of Christian teachings to claim prophetic gifts and demand absolute obedience from their followers. These include the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the “Moonie” cult; Children of the Way; David Koresh of the Branch Davidians; the People’s Temple, where the messianic leader Jim Jones led his followers to drink cyanide in a mass suicide; and others. While such groups malign the reputation of Christianity, most Christians do not consider them to be Christian at all.
- In many societies women were treated as chattel and second-class citizens, and at times in the past the church has taught or at least encouraged this. In many cases Bible verses were taken out of context in order to justify such treatment. However, this issue is much larger than just the church; how people are treated is governed by the generally prevailing attitudes in each society. The church can certainly influence attitudes, but there are also many other factors at work. It must also be said that throughout its history, the church has generally attempted to elevate the status of women in various cultures, and the progress that women have made in the last century is largely due to Christian influences.The Bible teaches that men and women are of equal worth, but it rejects the notion that they are equivalent or interchangeable. It therefore recognizes the reality that there are fundamental physical and psychological differences between the sexes that have been there from the beginning.
- The church has had many sexual scandals down through the years, from the early popes to the twentieth-century preacher Jimmy Swaggert. The Catholic Church is now struggling with the issue of pedophilia in the ranks of their priests, as well as the bishops who protected them and moved them from one parish to another. Underlying this scandal are other systemic problems—the high percentage of homosexual priests, along with declining number of applicants to the priesthood.
- Some contemporary churches and ministries have promoted what came to be called “the health and wealth gospel” which treated God as a type of spiritual vending machine—if one puts in the correct amount of offerings and good works, one would supposedly get good health and financial benefits automatically provided in a tit-for-tat manner. This is essentially a modern form of indulgences. Christianity is therefore viewed by some as a means of financial gain—a guaranteed investment and annuity program for those who choose to participate.A similar problem is known as “easy believism” or “cheap grace.” It is the notion that all a person has to do is say the correct prayers and believe the right things, and then that person will be all set for eternity. Supposedly once that has happened it does not matter what a person does, and he or she is free to live life in any way that feels good. The Bible does teach that God’s grace is a free gift and cannot be earned (it must be received by faith), but it also teaches that people will be judged on the basis of what they have done and how they have served others. In other words, belief and faith are absolutely necessary as a starting point for a relationship with God, and no one is worthy enough to enter heaven on the basis of one’s own personality or good works. On the other hand, belief and faith are meaningless if they do not reform our character and affect the way that we live. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.”
- Some liberal churches have tried to rewrite the Bible in order to make it gender-neutral, or to modify it in other ways in order to change teachings that they disagree with. Others have dispensed with the Bible altogether and their churches have essentially become clubs.
- On some occasions Biblical teaching has been used as a general excuse for the exploitation of the environment in irresponsible ways, such as the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo in early America, or the clear-cutting of forests. Blame is assigned because the Bible gives mankind dominion over the natural world. But this is a distortion of Biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that human beings are stewards of the world and its resources, and therefore responsible for how we use them. Therefore, destructive and irresponsible uses of the environment are wrong according to the Bible, and developing reasonable policies to provide a healthy environment is appropriate and necessary. However, the Bible rejects the notion fostered by some environmental and religious groups that animals are equal to people, and that eating meat or using animal products is wrong.
The church, like all organizations, is made up of fallible humans who, in some cases, have done many bad things. It demonstrates the reality of Jeremiah 17:9—“The heart is deceitful above all things… who can understand it?” God’s continued presence and blessing is dependent on the lifestyle and behaviors of those who call on His name, and God is not a respecter of persons. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6.
A study of church as well as secular history alerts us to two opposing dangers: 1) the more that power is centralized, the greater capacity there is for corruption, exploitation, and abuse, as in Lord Acton’s dictum, “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is true for all authority, civil as well as ecclesiastical; and 2) when the church is marginalized society suffers because civilization requires morality, and morality requires divine authority.
These conflicting ideas are abundantly illustrated in the history of the Church and most glaringly in the Papacy of Rome. There were a few good leaders down through the centuries since the Papacy began in the aftermath of Constantine’s Edict of Milan in AD 313. But there were only a few points of light in a general sea of darkness. For centuries the Papacy controlled much of northern Italy—a region known as the “Papal States.” Ironically, the best thing to happen to the Vatican was the loss of the Papal States, which were taken by Napoleon in 1815, restored for a few years, and then permanently lost in 1929. The Vatican remained a sovereign state, but was reduced to it current one square mile of territory. It was at this point that the Catholic Church reluctantly returned its spiritual role, and ultimately regained the respect and authority that it had lost.
A study of the popes can be very depressing because of the excesses and almost unbelievable hypocrisy demonstrated by many of the so-called Vicars of Christ. Following is a brief chronology of some of them:
- To be a Christian in the early days of Christianity often meant hardship and persecution, and sometimes death. The Jewish leaders arrested Christians beginning around AD 37 (the apostle Paul, author of many NT writings, had originally been a persecutor of the church), and the secular Roman leaders followed suit. Roman emperors from Nero (AD 54) through Diocletian (AD 305) persecuted Christians with varying degrees of intensity. But the next emperor, Constantine (313—337), completely reversed course and Christianity was eventually made the official religion of the empire under Constantine’s successors. He did this because he saw himself as the great political unifier and desired to use Christianity to unify the entire empire. It is said that the apostle Peter died in Rome, but if so, he came there at the end of his life. Therefore, he was not the first “pope” in the sense that the word is used today. There were church leaders (“bishops”) who led the church in Rome throughout the third century, but at the time Rome was just one church among many. Furthermore, there was no formal hierarchy of churches or leaders, as that would have never have been allowed by the apostles; they were very much aware of the potential problems with centralized and autocratic leadership. Roman society was largely non-Christian, and until the time of Constantine, the church had an uneasy relationship with the government.
- Sylvester I (314—335) presided over the church during the sea change brought about by Constantine’s edicts that Christianity was to be an accepted religion. Wealth in many forms (tax revenues and abatements, land holdings, farms, buildings, silver and gold, and so on) began to flow into the church of Rome.
- Damasus I (366—384) came to power as pope by hiring a group of thugs to forcibly depose his rival Ursinus and throw him out of Rome. He renounced his wife and children when assuming the papacy, but engaged in what became a long-standing tradition with popes—having affairs with ladies. He was known as “the matron’s ear tickler,” and enjoyed entertaining in the Vatican, but strangely, he wrote on the virtues of virginity and indicated that “intercourse was defilement.” St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin producing the Vulgate version (the standard Catholic Bible used for centuries afterward), was Damasus’ secretary of affairs and strongly disapproved of the pope’s romantic activities. In the year 378 the pope was finally charged with the crime of adultery and tried before a synod, but the emperor stepped in to stop the trial. Despite his sexual adventures, Damasus was canonized as a saint after his death.
- Siricius (384—399) the pope after Damasus, swung to the opposite pole on the issue of sexuality (these swings were frequent from pope to pope). He was against sex altogether, and felt that married priests should put away their wives. Even sex in marriage was “immorality.” St. Jerome, who was still involved in church affairs, felt that the pope went too far and he wrote against these policies. For his efforts he was later banished from Rome. Siricius also excommunicated Jovian, a monk who was critical of fasting and celibacy, and who had the audacity to suggest that the Virgin Mary had lost her virginity when she gave birth to Christ. He also condemned the Bishop of Naissus for teaching that Mary had other children after Jesus (which the Bible clearly indicates). The great Christian writer and philosopher St. Augustine of Hippo also lived during this time. His book, The City of God, is still a classic, but on the subject of sex he was completely aligned with Siricius. He wrote in his Soliloquies, “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downward as the caresses of a woman, and that physical intercourse which is part of marriage.” In one of his sermons he warned, “Husbands, love your wives but love them chastely. Insist on the work of the flesh only in such measure as is necessary for the procreation of children. You must descend to it against your will, for it is the punishment of Adam.”
- Innocent I (401—417) was perhaps the first true pope in the sense that he was the first to claim that the see of Rome was superior, and had authority over all of the other churches.
- Leo the Great (440—461) continued and expanded on the superiority of Rome, and repeatedly proclaimed that the apostle Peter, who had been “given the keys to the kingdom,” was the first pope, and therefore all popes in Rome had the authority of Peter. Through his energy and efforts Leo greatly increased the power and influence of the papacy, thereby setting the pattern for its later claims. He was also the first pope to claim the right of torturing and executing heretics.
- Gelasius I (492—496) was the first pope to be designated as the “Vicar of Christ” and wrote that there were two powers in the world—the church and the state (centuries later forming the basis for the eventual discussion of this issue in the U.S. Constitution), but that the church was more important because it was concerned with eternal and not merely temporal matters. Gelasius was known for his personal holiness and sense of justice.
- Anastasius II (496—498) was pope when St. Remigius (St. Remy) baptized Clovis, the greatest of the Merovingian kings. It has been alleged that Remigius, acting on the authority of Anastasius II—or one of the later popes such as Hormisdas—bound the church to the support of the Merovingian dynasty as Stephen II did with the Carolingian rulers several hundred years later. St. Remigius spoke thus to Clovis at the latter’s baptism in 496, “Your posterity shall nobly govern this kingdom, which will give much glory to the Holy Church. It shall inherit the Empire of the Romans. This nation will not cease to prosper so long as it follows the path of truth, but decadence will come upon it with vices and bad customs. For, in truth, it is in this way that all kingdoms and nations have fallen into ruin.”
- Symmachus (498—514) who had a pagan background, was charged with unchastity, adultery, and the misuse of church property, and was called before a synod for trial. The first time he refused to give evidence; the second time he did not appear at all; and the third time he argued that, as pope, no human court could judge him (this was a legal defense that later popes would also use). Because his election had been disputed, another pope also had been given authority (Lawrence) and there were effectively two popes at the time. Symmachus therefore spent much time creating documents to bolster his own case, and to prove that the pope could not be judged by any man. He, too, was canonized after his death.
- Vigilius (537—555) was an ambitious man who came to power by overthrowing the existing pope Silverius who had recently been elected. When the emperor desired that Silverius receive a fair trial, Vigilius stage-managed it and arranged to have the ex-pope shipped off into exile, where he died several months later. But Vigilius had a number of problems of his own: he was later arrested by the emperor over political and doctrinal issues, but after agreeing to recant, he changed his position and waffled several times. This eventually led to his being excommunicated by a church council in Rome, and being placed under house arrest, where soon afterwards he died. The conduct of his papacy brought much public shame on the institution.
- Gregory the Great (590—604) was a man of great piety and energy who became pope after the city of Rome had been repeatedly sacked and plundered. He served as both head of the church as well as the civic leader of Rome, and attempted to shield the city from the ravages of the Lombards, who continued to attack and plunder the city. Gregory was considered to be the greatest pope of the Middle Ages, and was perhaps the greatest ever. He was an energetic leader who brought hope to Rome as well as the church. However, he returned to the policy of celibacy, although the richer bishops could purchase the privilege of keeping their wife or concubine by the payment of an indulgence. Gregory also wrote a number of books on sexual behavior, and especially on the penalties that should be ascribed to various sexual activities and sins. For example, a man must not enter the church after having intercourse with his wife unless he first washed himself, but the sex had to be for procreation only and not for pleasure, otherwise it would be a sin and the man could not enter the church at all. “Unnatural intercourse” in marriage was especially condemned, and coitus interruptus was a worse sin than fornication or adultery. Anything that prevented conception meant that the sex was just for pleasure, and therefore evil. Gregory’s books and his obsession with sex led to a long series of debates and theological discussions through the years over the proper punishment for various sexual practices.
- Zacharias (741—752) and Stephen II (752—757). These popes cut a very significant deal with Charles Martel, who defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732, and his son Pepin III (the Short), the rulers of France. Pepin II (the Fat and Charles’s father) had seized power and defeated the Merovingian king of France, and then in 679 he assassinated Dagobert II, supposedly the last of the Merovingian line. Therefore they had the power of the kingship but not the title, and Pepin II and his son Charles Martel—who never called themselves kings for fear of public reprisal—felt a need to legitimize their rule. Rome, meanwhile, was still troubled by the Lombards, and so during the years of 751—754, the two sides negotiated a deal in which the pope anointed Pepin III, the son of Charles Martel, as the King of France in return for military assistance in eliminating the Lombards. The latter were soundly defeated by 756 and their northern territories in Italy were given to the Papacy.Thus the Papal States were founded, which formed the basis of papal power, and for the next thousand years this territory continually involved the popes in the wars and politics of Italy and Europe. From that point on, the defense and rule of the Papal States became the cornerstone of papal policy and interest. Furthermore, Pope Stephen II declared through a solemn vow that no other ruling family could ever be recognized in France. The Carolingian dynasty was thus established, and Charles (later Charles the Great or Charlemagne), the son of Pepin III, became its greatest king.The grant of the Lombard territory to the church of Rome was strongly protested by the Emperor in Byzantium, but at that time a document appeared supporting the right of the church of Rome to rule over territory and to be the preeminent church in Christendom. It was supposedly written by the emperor Constantine in the fourth century and became known as the Donation of Constantine. However, this document was later shown to be a complete forgery.A quote from Stephen II indicated that he knew of or had seen the Shroud (later known as the Shroud of Turin); “Christ had spread out his entire body on a linen cloth that was white as snow. On this cloth, marvelous as it is to see… the glorious image of the Lord’s face, and the length of his entire and most noble body, has been divinely transferred.”
- Paul I (757—767) and Stephen III (768—772). These popes were political appointees by factions in Rome and were challenged by opposing popes appointed by other factions. The creation of the Papal States in 756 set off a murderous rivalry for control of them, resulting in violence, betrayal, and judicial murder until Charlemagne came to the throne, crushing resistance to the pope’s sovereignty, and confirming papal rule over northern Italy. Most of the popes of the late ninth and tenth centuries were all selected by the warring families of Rome, for whom murder, rape, and theft were the order of the day.
- Boniface VI (896), Stephen VI (896—897), Romanus (897), Theodore II (897), John IX (898—900), Benedict IV (900—903), Leo V (903—904). Most of these popes were appointed through the influence of the Spoleto family who ruled Rome for parts of this period. Agiltruda, the Duchess of Spoleto, was a powerful woman from this family, and she was instrumental in the rise and fall of a number of the above popes. Boniface VI ruled for only fifteen days and then was poisoned by her and replaced by Stephen VI. Stephen, a madman, conducted a most unusual trial: he had the body of Formosus, the pope who had preceded Boniface, exhumed from the grave. The corpse was then dressed in papal vestments and put on trial for crimes against the Spoleto family (Formosus had led an army that had formerly freed Rome from the power of the Spoletos). The corpse was found guilty, several of its fingers were cut off and given to Agiltruda, and it was dragged through the streets of Rome and thrown in the Tiber. But the “cadaver synod,” as it came to be known, caused an uprising against Stephen VI, and he was thrown in prison and strangled. Agiltruda then had Romanus appointed pope but got tired of him after four months and installed Theodore II, only to tire of him soon afterward as well (both Romanus and Theodore died in mysterious circumstances).
- Sergius III (904—911), Anastasias III (911—913), Lando I (913—914), John X (914—928), John XI (931—936). Two women, a mother and daughter combination (Theodora and Marozia) who were mistresses to the popes became very influential in having all of the above popes appointed. When Marozia was fifteen years old she became the mistress of Sergius III, who was forty-five at the time. Their son became Pope John XI, and Marozia’s grandson became Pope John XII. She also had great and great-great grandsons who ascended the papal throne. Anastasius III, Lando I, and John X were all selected through the influence of Theodora. John X was the bastard son of Lando (who was a notorious womanizer) and became Theodora’s lover. After Lando’s death, Theodora used her influence to have John X become pope so that they could continue their affair with greater ease.
- John XII (955—964) was the grandson of Marozia and could reasonably be compared to the Roman emperor Caligula. After his death a series of charges were posthumously filed against him as follows: “He perjured himself, breaking his oath to the Great Emperor. He stole the treasury of the popes and fled to Rome’s enemies, was deposed by the Holy Synod and replaced by Leo VIII. Then the apostate returned to Rome, evicted Leo VIII, cut off the nose, tongue, and two forefingers of the Cardinal-Deacon, flayed the skin of Bishop Otger, cut off the head of Notary Azzo, and beheaded sixty-three of Rome’s clergy and nobility. During the night of 14 May 964, while having illicit and filthy relations with a Roman matron, he was surprised in the act of sin by the matron’s angry husband who, in just wrath, smashed his skull with a hammer and thus liberated his soul into the grasp of Satan.”John XII was sixteen (some say eighteen) when he became pope and he appointed ten year-old boys as bishops for pranks; the people that he appointed as church officials were all morally and spiritually corrupt like himself. He gambled with parishioner’s offerings and used the papal treasury to pay off his gambling debts. He was bisexual and was accused of running a brothel out of St. Peter’s as well as maintaining a harem in the Lateran palace; there were complaints of nuns and female pilgrims to Rome sometimes being abducted and forced to serve as his sex slaves. He was alleged to have committed incest with two of his sisters and one of his father’s concubines, and it is said that whole monasteries spent days and nights praying for his death. When he was called to stand trial for charges against him he excommunicated his accusers and ignored them, telling them that as pope he was above all human justice. He died at age twenty-four at the hands of an angry husband, whose wife he was in the process of using. The papacy of the tenth century is therefore sometimes referred to as the “papal pornocracy” run by the “whores of Rome” (Theodora and Marozia).
- John XIII (965—972) was the son of John XII, and he continued in the same pattern as his father, committing incest with his nieces and the concubines of his father, maintaining the harem that his father had established in the Lateran palace, and living like a sultan. He dined off gold plates and drank from jeweled goblets while being entertained by dancing girls.
- Benedict VI (973—974) was the illegitimate son of a monk, and he made a policy of taking foreign ladies who came to Rome from France, England and Spain, seducing and raping them, and keeping them in Rome as courtesans.
- Boniface VII (984—985) was described as a “horrid monster” by Pope Silvester II, and the synod in Rheims characterized him as “a man who in criminality surpassed all of the rest of mankind.”
- John XVIII (1003), Sergius IV (1009 -1012). John XVIII was born Giovanni Fasanus—which means “cock” in Italian. He was poisoned after a few months in office. Sergius IV was given the nickname “Bucca Porci” meaning “Pig’s Snout.”
- Benedict VIII (1012—1024) came to power by assassinating Sergius IV. The Archbishop of Narbonne accused him of “simony, assassination, usury; of disbelieving the Eucharist and the immortality of the soul; of employing violence to obtain the secrets of the confessional; of living in concubinage with two of his nieces and having children by them; and by using the money received from the sale on indulgences to pay for the Saracens invasion of Sicily.” Bishop Beno accused him of “many vile adulteries and murders,” and an attempt was made to take him to Lyon to face charges, but Benedict resisted this, using the typical papal defenses.
- John XIX (1024—1032). John came to power when the Tuscolani family took over Rome. In 1027 John received a visit from King Cnut (Canute) of England who came to Rome on a pilgrimage, who came because “I heard the from wise men that St. Peter the Apostle has received from the Lord a great power of binding and loosing, and bears the keys of the kingdom of heaven; therefore I deemed it useful to seek his patronage before God.” John XIX was typical the tenth century popes, but for Cnut, the pope was not a leader, a reformer or an example of holy living. Rather, he was simply the guardian of the holy mysteries. This was to change in the next century, but provides insight into how the papacy was viewed in the tenth century.
- Benedict IX (1032—1048) after John XIX died his twelve-year-old son Theophylact was made pope and became Benedict IX. He was one of the worst if not the worst pope ever. It was said of him that “as a child on the chair of St. Peter, he grew up in unrestrained license, and shocked the dull sensibilities of a gross and barbarous age by the scandals of his daily life.” It was also said that the child-pope “manifested a precocity for all kinds of wickedness.” He was bisexual, sodomized animals, ordered murders, and dabbled in witchcraft and Satanism. One observer wrote that “A demon from hell in the disguise of a priest has occupied the chair of Peter,” and St.Peter Damian said, “That wretch, from the beginning of his pontificate to the end of his life, feasted on immorality.” It was also alleged that, “in woods and remote places, he was accustomed to invoke evil spirits, and by necromancy to work woman to his lust.” Like his predecessors, he lived in luxury like a sultan in the Lateran Palace. Meanwhile his brothers ruled the city of Rome as if they owned it, and the result was a crime wave that filled the streets with robbery and murder. A writer named Gregorovius described the situation thusly, “All lawful conditions had ceased… Only an uncertain glimmer falls these days when the Vicar of Christ was a pope more criminal than the Emperor Elagabalus.” Benedict also hosted lavish homosexual orgies in the Lateran palace, and by the time he was twenty-three, his conduct was so appalling that an effort was made to strangle him at the altar during a Mass. This attempt was unsuccessful, but in 1044 he was deposed for a time and Silvester III bribed his way to the papacy. But Sylvester’s moral standards were similar to Benedict’s, and Benedict soon returned and regained his power. Then, in a strange turn of events, he grew tired of the papacy, and planned to marry his cousin, the daughter of Girard de Saxo, who had stipulated that Benedict had to give up the papacy if he wanted her hand. So Benedict sold the papacy to his godfather John Gracian for 1,500 pounds plus Peter’s pence—the tribute from the Church in England—for life. But Benedict’s prospective bride turned him down, and he went back to the Lateran palace and turned it into a brothel in order to generate income. Benedict was finally driven from Rome in 1048 and died in obscurity. Dante and others believed that in Benedict IX, the papacy had reached its lowest ebb, and in his Inferno, Dante consigned Benedict, along with a number of other popes to the lowest circle of hell.
- Leo IX (1049—1054) was, along with other popes of his era, a reformer who sought to redeem the papacy from the sordid depths into which it had sunk. In his short years in office he made whirlwind tours to the capitals of Europe to preach against simony (the sale of church offices for cash), lay investiture (the selection of monks, priests, and bishops by secular rulers in order to control the office and the associated revenues), and clerical marriage. Leo was also able to enforce his policies, and began disciplining bishops and priests, and eliminating the age-old system of payment for church offices. He also gathered around him a group of leaders who were also interested and intent on reform. Leo was also the pope under which the Great Schism took place between the Western church of Rome and the Eastern church of Constantinople. Relations had declined over a long period of time, and in 1054 the Pope and the Patriarch excommunicated each other.Leo desired to have the church return to the policy of celibacy for all priests, most of whom were married. It was reported that during the consecration of priests at that time, they were asked four questions: “Have you sodomized a boy? Have you fornicated with a nun? Have you sodomized any four-legged animal? Have you committed adultery?”
- Gregory VII (1073—1085) was a very short man, possibly a midget, who nevertheless was one of the most energetic and determined of all of the popes. He had a mystically exalted view of his office and his views were proclaimed in a document known as the Dictatus Papae which contained twenty-seven maxims on the pope’s power and authority. These were far-reaching and exceeded anything that had come before, for example: 1) the Pope can be judged by no one, and that no one may be condemned while he had an appeal pending in Rome (this created a field day for the lawyers at the time); 2) the pope is supreme over all bishops, and therefore his legates take precedence over all others, regardless of their rank; 3) all princes and rulers (and everyone else as well) must kiss the pope’s foot; 4) the pope is “inerrant,” he can never be in error about any pronouncement throughout all eternity; 5) a duly ordained pope is automatically made a saint by the merits of St. Peter (very hard to swallow considering the behavior of the tenth century popes); and 6) the pope has the power to depose emperors and can absolve subjects of their allegiance to wicked rulers (the definition of “wicked” was not fully spelled out). The last maxim was especially bold, and Gregory based it on the permission granted by Pope Zacharias and Stephen II to Pepin III to depose the Merovingian kings of France, assassinate Dagobert II, and establish the Carolingian dynasty. In other words, the pope could unilaterally perform actions such as these whenever he felt that it was in the best interest of the papacy and the church.Gregory apparently believed that it was not a good thing for people in general to read the Bible, as this might provoke thought and therefore lead to heresy. He also attempted to impose celibacy, and in 1074 he deposed all married priests. His efforts led to the separation of large numbers of husbands and wives, and the latter often had to turn to prostitution to support themselves; some of the abandoned women committed suicide. However, Gregory had a female adherent in the person of the Countess Mathilda who often accompanied him; it was rumored that he had a long-standing affair with her, and therefore his strictures against marriage were seen as being hypocritical. In 1076 a group of Italian bishops, led by the Bishop of Pavia, excommunicated the pope for separating husbands and wives and consequentially favoring licentiousness in the clergy over honorable marriage. The Council of Brixen in 1080 condemned Gregory for “sowing divorce among legitimate spouses.” He ultimately had a confrontation with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, and though a series of circumstances was able to make Henry do penance to him; Henry stood for three days in the snow dressed only in a hair shirt before Gregory would receive him (Gregory was used to this sort of thing, as he practiced self-flagellation). Henry was resentful at this shabby treatment and later attacked Rome. Gregory managed to cobble together a defense using Norman troops, but once the battle with Henry was over, the Normans sacked Rome. Gregory was blamed for this and forced to flee; he died in exile.
- Urban II (1088—1099) was the pope who was instrumental in promoting and organizing the first crusade. Urban traveled across Europe preaching the crusade and drew a tremendous response. The Muslims had set the pattern for holy war in the years after the death of Mohammed in 632, by conquering Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Armenia, and Spain, and then moving into eastern Europe. The Moors (Spanish Muslims) had overrun Spain and attempted an invasion of France in 732 which was repulsed by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, but they continued to threaten Europe, conquering parts of Hungary and Bulgaria and threatening Constantinople, the seat of the Roman empire, which they later conquered. The Saracens (Muslims from North Africa) overran Sicily in the 820’s and held it for many years. They also took and held parts of southern Italy and in 846 they attacked Rome, desecrating the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul, and stripping them of all of their riches. Therefore the Muslims were passionately hated and despised, and the call of Urban II to liberate Jerusalem from the infidel stirred passions all over Europe. There had also been much movement of peoples over the preceding decades, and wars and skirmishes had become endemic, as local lords in many places fought each other for dominance. Therefore the church in Burgundy and Aquitaine had begun movements known as the Peace of God and the Truce of God in an attempt to halt and moderate the violence of the aristocracy. Urban saw the crusade as a way of creating a long-standing peace and truce by redirecting these military energies against the real enemy, and he proclaimed indulgences (pardon from divine punishment) on all who went to fight from a pure heart. Urban’s slogan for the crusade was Deus vult, (“God wills it”). He also put the property and families of the crusaders under the protection of the church, and exempted them from jurisdiction of the secular courts.Despite the almost universal appeal and enthusiasm for this venture, the first crusade often teetered on the brink of disaster, because there was no central leader to make decisions and enforce discipline. Each crusading group was led by its own lord, but they frequently quarreled and at times almost came to blows. The fact that they were able to fight their way through Turkey and Syria, and succeeded in taking Jerusalem in 1099 was almost a miracle.The curia or papal court of officials was also founded in Urban’s day, as the burden of legal cases multiplied because of the Dictatus Papae of Gregory VII. It had, of course, existed in various forms under previous administrations, but Urban organized and expanded it. The curia was essentially a bureaucracy which grew and took on a life of its own, as bureaucracies are wont to do. It was said that the only saints venerated at Rome were Albinus and Rufus, silver and gold; “Blessed are the wealthy, for theirs is the court of Rome.”The issue of clerical celibacy was more-or-less also settled in Urban’s time. At the Council of Piacenza in 1095, clerics passed a resolution finally outlawing the marriage of priests, and it is said that some of the wives were sold into slavery. Urban then introduced the cullagium which was a sex tax, and allowed a priest to keep a concubine if he paid the requisite annual fee. The next several popes were all hard liners against any form of sexual activity.
- Paschal II (1099—1118) was a former monk intent on reforming the church. In 1111 he made a very unusual offer to Henry V, the emperor at the time. If the state would renounce it claim to appointing bishops, and permit free elections, the church would renounce all of its regalia—land, property, and income derived from the state, and would then live on voluntary ties and offerings (along the lines of how churches in America exist now). However, when these terms were read, the princes and bishops rioted, and refused to even consider the deal. Paschal was thrown in jail until he gave up his proposal.
- Honorius II (1124—1130) was also a would-be reformed who attempted to impose celibacy on the church in England, and sent Cardinal John of Crema as his papal legate to denounce that practice of concubinage among the priests. The Cardinal duly assembled a council in London, and against much opposition, tried to pass a canon threatening the demotion of all clergy in England who would not give up their wives or concubines. Then he celebrated a mass and the assembly dispersed. But the English clergy followed him, and after a suitable period burst into the place where he was staying, only to find the Cardinal nudatus usque ad unguem—naked to his fingernails, in the company of a courtesan in a similar state of dishabille. After raising a toast to the Cardinal, they left him to continue his ministrations. The Cardinal was then sent back to Rome with a letter to tell the Pope to put his own house in order.
- Anacletus II (1130—1138). Anacletus was appointed at the same time as Innocent and they struggled for power. Anacletus had been a cardinal in the vein of John of Crema, and had several children by his own sister. He took his own concubine with him whenever he traveled as a papal legate.
- Innocent II (1130—1143). Innocent was supported and elected as pope through the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, and he repaid the favor by designating the Knights Templar as a papal order in 1130.
- Eugenius III (1145—1153) was the ex-disciple of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who also died in 1153. Many claimed that Bernard was the actual pope and that Eugenius was merely his lackey, because the former made virtually all of the decisions. Bernard had also been heavily involved in promoting the election of Innocent II in 1130.Bernard joined the Cistercian monastic order in 1112 at the age of twenty-two. Only three years later at age twenty-five he was appointed the abbot of a new Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux, but his energies and contacts led him far beyond the monastery. The Knights Templar had been founded in 1118 (some say earlier, 1111-1114) by Hugues de Payen, a nobleman from the court of Champagne, for the purpose of defending pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. They were strongly supported by Bernard, who in 1128 organized a church council at Troyes to honor them and gain papal support (which was given later by Innocent II, no doubt in partial repayment for Bernard’s support), and Bernard himself drew up their charter and the instructions for member of their order based on Cistercian monastic regulations. Significantly, the order was exempted from taxation and all secular control, and was answerable only to the pope. Until the order was wiped out, Troyes was a strategic center for the Templars, and was also the home of Chretien, the most significant author of grail romances and tales of chivalry. There are a number of interesting connections relating Bernard to the Templars, as follows:
- One of the original nine members of the Knights Templar was Andre de Montbard, who although younger in age, was Bernard’s uncle. After the death of Hugues de Payen, the first Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Andre de Montbard became the Grand Master, tightening the familial connections between the Knights, the Cistercians, and Bernard.
- The Count of Champagne (the liege lord of Hugues de Payen and Andre de Montbard) is said to have had a conclave concerning Jerusalem in 1104 in France. He then traveled to the Holy Land and remained there for several years. In 1114 the Count was said to have considered joining the Knights, but decided against it, and then donated the land on which the Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux was built and of which Bernard was made the abbot in the following year at the young age of twenty-five.
- Prior to 1112, the finances of the Cistercian order were very limited, but shortly thereafter the order expanded tremendously, and by the time of Bernard’s death, had over three hundred abbeys, many of which Bernard had personally established.
- Bernard became an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Crusades, and spent much of his time from 1128 onward trying to gain support for sending additional troops and material to Jerusalem for the support of the Crusaders and the Templars. It is therefore possible that some kind of deal was struck whereby financial resources from Jerusalem were send to Clairvaux for the furtherance of he Cistercian order, and in return Bernard essentially became the European mouthpiece for the Templars and the Crusades. However, the Cistercians were a very popular monastic order (it was said of the Cistercians that “they had the only secure path to heaven”), and many people of wealth made large donations to them.
- The Templars venerated Bernard, took his “bridal mysticism” concepts and melded them into their version of chivalry.
- When Pope Eugenius III proclaimed a Second Crusade in 1145 (almost certainly under the urging and direction of Bernard), the latter went all across Europe, preaching and urging people to get involved. He received a large response, but the Second Crusade suffered from the same serious problem that had almost caused the failure of the First Crusade, namely the lack of an overall leader who could command respect and enforce discipline among all of the other leaders and troops. The Second Crusade went in three directions at once, and was an unmitigated fiasco. Bernard was blamed for it and he spent the last years of his life dealing with the criticism that was heaped upon him. His answer was the people of Europe had become too sinful and therefore were not sufficiently worthy of God’s help. Bernard was an interesting, complex, and great man who was at once an ascetic, and lived an austere life (at times), and also a man-of the-world, who was heavily involved with politics and power. His writings reveal that he had a high sense of the holiness of God, and like many of his era, believed that sexual activity corrupted people. His veneration for the Virgin Mary bordered on obsession, and he wrote many sermons on the Song of Solomon, denying that they had any human or erotic content, and indicating how all believers (men and women) needed to become female (a receptive vessel like Mary) and to become the literal bride of Christ. Thus he developed his doctrine of bridal mysticism which has greatly troubled Catholicism since his time (see the commentary on the Song of Solomon). Bernard could also be very arrogant and spiteful, especially when his religious views were challenged. The philosopher and theologian Peter Abelard lived in the same era and conducted his famous romance with his young fourteen-year-old female student Heloise around 1118 (Celestine III, a later pope, was also Abelard’s student at the time). Abelard became enamored with Heloise, and when she became pregnant he disguised her as a nun and brought her to his family where they were secretly married. But the truth leaked out and Heloise’s family had Abelard castrated. He became a monk and she became a nun, but they continued to write long romantic letters to each other, and she burned with passion for him. Their letters and Abelard’s thoughts on theology and sexuality were later published and became very popular. Abelard’s teaching was opposed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who took exception to his application of logic to Biblical interpretation. Abelard believed that the Bible should be approached using reason and logic (which is the approach that is more-or-less universal today), but Bernard believed that the authority of the Scriptures had to be accepted purely by faith, and that only religious authorities had the ability of reliably interpret them and expound on their meaning. Abelard invited Bernard to a debate, but the latter turned the occasion into an inquisition of Abelard, who was discredited and left society to become a monk. Nevertheless, Bernard was in general a man of integrity, and was canonized as a saint soon after his death.
- Alexander III (1159—1181), and Celestine III (1191—1198). Both Alexander and Celestine tried to relax the church policy on marriage and sexuality, but encountered opposition from those who felt that this would place a grave stain on the church.
- Innocent III (1198—1216) had a legal background and was witty, sharp, pious, as well as arrogant. Like Gregory VII he had an exalted view of his own position, and attempted to restore papal power in areas where it had declined, such as in the papal states and in relationships to secular powers. With his background in law he worked to organize and enunciate the beliefs of the church (e.g., the doctrine of Transubstantiation was first defined during this time). Another major theme of his papacy was the suppression of heresy. The swings back and forth between asceticism and sexual repression on the one hand, and freedom and sexual license on the other had created groups who began to “theologize” their desires and to transform existing beliefs in new ways. The Cathars of southern France and Spain were Innocent’s prime target, and illustrate this tension very well. They were Gnostics who believed in dualism (equally powerful “good” and “bad” gods/forces). They had also become disgusted with the worldliness of the Catholic clergy and were ascetics, giving up wealth, meat, and sex because these were from the world, and therefore evil according to Cathar doctrine. It was their apparent devotion and spirituality which made the group appealing to people in contrast to the some of the French clergy who were wealthy and debauched. Innocent first attempted to convert the Cathars, but when they ignored his appeals he finally called for a crusade against them in 1209, which over the next 35 years virtually wiped them out.
- John XXI (1276—1277), Nicolas III (1277—1280), Martin IV (1281—1285). These popes were, in some ways, a return to the tenth century. John XXI was criticized for “moral instability,” Of Martin IV it is said that he took to his embrace his predecessor’s concubine. From this time also comes a story of the Bishop of Liege who was deposed in 1274. He supposedly had seventy concubines, some of whom were nuns, and sixty-five illegitimate children. He had boasted in a public banquet that in twenty-two months he had fathered fourteen children. St. Bonaventure, a close friend of Innocent V, compared Rome to the harlot of the Apocalypse, drunk with the wine of her whoredom. “In Rome,” said Bonaventure, “there is nothing but lust and simony, even in the highest ranks of the church. Rome corrupts the prelates, the prelates corrupt the clergy, and the clergy corrupt the people.”
- Celestine V (1294) and Boniface VIII (1294—1303). Celestine V was a true holy man who desired to reform the church, but he ran into opposition from virtually everyone and soon resigned. He was replaced by Boniface VIII who quickly returned to the old ways. Boniface was a bisexual who kept a mother and her daughter as his mistresses, and went after young boys as well, and claimed that sex with anyone is “no more of a sin than rubbing your hands together.” Boniface was also reported to have said that the Eucharist was “just flour and water,” and some said that he was an atheist. He also promoted his relatives and offered indulgences to anyone who would fight against the Colonnas, the family of his arch-rivals. Eventually he went mad and committed suicide, and his body was later dug up and burned as a heretic. Boniface declared that 1300 was the “year of jubilee” and thousands of pilgrims descended on Rome and enriched the papal coffers. Dante wrote his book The Divine Comedy about the jubilee celebration, and compared the traffic arrangements in Hell to the arrangements made for the movement of pilgrims in Rome. He also assigned Boniface to the lowest circle of hell in his book, Inferno.
- Clement V (1305—1314), Benedict XII (1334—1342), Clement VI (1342—1352). During most of the entire fourteenth century, the papacy moved to Avignon, France because of the power and influence of the French court. This was later known as the “Babylonian Captivity” and was a disaster for the church, as it exposed and made public many anti-papal feelings. Most of the popes during this era were totally worldly, with little or no regard for the true mission of the church. Clement V was most famous for the inquisition of the Knights Templar, which was begun in 1307, and concluded with the burning at the stake of Jacques de Molay, the Templar Grand Master in 1314. However, Clement was merely a pawn in the hands of the Philip IV, the French king, who instigated this and forced Clement to cooperate. As with other inquisitions, captured Knights were tortured and forced to confess to a wide range of fantastic horrors. Clement was also a great entertainer, spending thousands on grand balls and dinners. In order to raise cash he expanded the “incest indulgence,” allowing closer relatives to marry if they paid a fee. He also created an indulgence for divorce. It was said that Jacques de Molay cursed Clement and King Phillip from the flames before burning to death; both the pope and the king died later the same year.Benedict XII was an ex-inquisitor of the Cathar heresy, involved in many incidents of torture and sexual inquest. He was accused of being “a Nero, death to the laity, a viper to the clergy, a liar, and a drunkard.” Petrarch, the Renaissance poet described him as an unfit and drunken helmsman of the church. Petrarch supposedly had a beautiful sister who the pope fancied, and Benedict offered Petrarch the office of cardinal for her. The poet refused, but Benedict bought her from another brother. The popes, in Petrarch’s description, therefore “abhorred lawful wives, but loved unlawful whores.” Others describe Benedict as weak and dissolute, scorned by his licentious court. The poet Alvaro Pelago wrote, “Wolves have become the masters of the church.” Petrarch described the papacy at Avignon as “the shame of mankind, a sink of vice, a sewer where is gathered all of the filth of the world. There God is held in contempt, money alone is worshiped and the laws of God and man are trampled underfoot. Everything that breathes is a lie: the air, the earth, the houses, and especially the bedrooms.” Avignon was, in Petrarch’s words, “The fortress of anguish, the dwelling place of wrath, the school of error, the temple of heresy, once Rome, now the false and guilt-ridden Babylon, the forge of lies, the horrible prison, and the hall of dung.”Clement VI continued the prior policies and was reported to have said, “Before me, no one had any idea how to be pope.” He enjoyed the wealth and his perquisites of office, and got along well with the secular powers around him. He is also reported to have said, “If the King of England wants his ass made a bishop, he only has to ask.” Clement lived in luxury, and was said to have bought forty different type of gold cloth from Syria. He also had many women to attend him, and prostitutes were so plentiful that it is said that Clement began taxing them. A deed of sale has been discovered showing the papal offices buying a brothel, and notes that the purchase was made, “in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Petrarch describes Clement as, “An ecclesiastical Dionysus,” and that Avignon was “swept along in a flood of the most obscene pleasure, and incredible storm of debauch, the most horrid and unprecedented shipwreck of chastity.” In 1348 the Black Death struck Avignon, and three-quarters of the population died, over sixty-two thousand in a period of three months. Clement isolated himself and survived the plague, but people blamed it on him and the sins of the papacy. When he died people celebrated.The Avignon period finally ended in 1417, but not before there were popes in both Rome and Avignon as well as a third pope who had been chosen to replace the others who then refused to step down. All three popes excommunicated each other, making the problems in the church painfully visible to all.
- Nicolas V (1447—1455). After the debacle of the three popes at the end of the Avignon era, a church council had finally settled the situation, had deposed or secured the resignations all three popes, and had elevated Martin V in Rome as the surviving pontiff. From that point on the unilateral power of the pope and his being above the reach of human judgment was curtailed, and the power of the popes over secular rulers was much more limited. In 1440 the scholar Lorenzo Valla proved that the document the Donation of Constantine which many popes had used as the foundation of their secular power was not written in the fourth century, but rather was an eighth century forgery. Meanwhile, when the popes returned to Rome after a century in Avignon they found the papal buildings and facilities in shambles and in great need of reconstruction. Nicolas put all of his energies into encouraging art and rebuilding Rome, and called his new buildings “sermons in stone.” In 1450 he celebrated another jubilee, again bringing many pilgrims to Rome and money into the papal coffers. Despite problems such as the outbreak of plague which lined the routes into Rome with corpses, the jubilee was a huge success.
- Pius II (1456—1464). Before he became pope he was a writer of erotic and pornographic plays and stories, such as his play Chrysis and his novel Lucretia and Euryalus. It was said that he fathered twelve illegitimate children. He also tried to restore marriage to the clergy, because at the time many local people would not accept a curate without a concubine, as they were concerned about having their wives debauched. But the effort to eliminate celibacy was never fully implemented.
- Sixtus IV (1471—1484) his real name was Francesco della Rovere and he was the uncle of pope Julias II who came later. He built many structures in Rome and was the pope who built the Sistine Chapel, and decorated it with paintings demonstrating the power of the papacy which ironically was on the decline. Along with this came a revival of interest in everything from ancient Greece and Rome, and subtle theological shifts were made to show that Christianity was not the enemy of the Greek, Roman and even ancient Egyptian gods, but rather the fulfillment of them. Alexander VI later had a painting commissioned showing the mysteries of Osiris as a type of the saving work of Christ. Sixtus was also heavily involved in political machinations regarding control of the Papal States, started wars against Florence, Ferrara, and Venice, and then continually shifting allegiances between them. He planned the murder of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici during High Mass at the cathedral in Florence, which did not succeed, but the result was a bloody war between Florence and Rome. Sixtus was also very crass in regard to sexuality. He built a brothel in Rome and taxed prostitutes, increased the “mistress” tax on priests who kept them, and it is said that he was bisexual and enjoyed sodomy. He also inaugurated the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, and appointed Tomas de Torquemada to be the grand inquisitor of Spain which resulted in the torture and death of many innocent victims. It was said of Sixtus that he, “embodied the utmost concentration of human wickedness.” Sixtus was even hated in Rome—when he died the papal apartments were ransacked and the chaplain had to borrow a cassock to cover the pope’s corpse.
- Innocent VIII (1484—1492) continued where Sixtus left off. He made peace with Florence using his illegitimate children to create alliances (this idea was greatly expanded during the reign of Alexander VI), and then began hostilities with Naples. He had several concubines and it was said of him—“Eight wicked boys born, and just as many girls, so this man could be entitled to be called Father of Rome.” It was also said of him that, “His Holiness rises from the bed of harlots to bolt and unbolt the gates of purgatory and heaven.” Franceshetto, one of his sons, was said to roam the streets at night breaking into people’s houses and raping any woman that took his fancy. Innocent was also very concerned about heresy. He also urged a crusade against a Christian sect known as the Waldensians, offering indulgences as a reward for killing them. He also wrote the preface for the book Malleus Maleficarum—the Witches’ Hammer, a handbook for searching out and punishing witches, and he gave the authors, two Dominican monks, authority to function as inquisitors. To benefit his patron Lorenzo de’Medici, Innocent made Lorenzo’s fourteen year-old son a cardinal (he would eventually become Pope Leo X).
- Alexander VI (1492—1503) became Pope in 1492, the same year in which Columbus set sail. His actual name was Rodrigo Bogia, and he grew up in Spain. It was said that he committed his first murder at the age of twelve, and had numerous mistresses and illegitimate children in his homeland (one of these became Pope Innocent X). He was a clever and vindictive man who managed to gain control of a large number of benefices, bishoprics and abbeys, which generated a large income, and he later bartered these to win the papal election and for other political gains. When Savonarola, a would-be reformer of the church, criticized him, Alexander had him burned at the stake. As a young man and a cardinal Alexander seemed to have a penchant for scandal, but due to the lax times in which he lived it did not affect his later rise to the papacy. For example, in 1460 where he was the honored guest at a christening party, men were excluded and only women were allowed to attend. This story soon spread far and wide, and in the future, Borgia was more circumspect in his scandals. In 1461 he met the Roman beauty Vannozza Catanei. Borgia was said to have already slept with her mother and sister, but he had a life-long relationship with Vannoazza, and she bore him Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia, and Jofre. To cover up the relationship he had her installed in Venice and arranged for another man to “marry” her. When Innocent VIII died he “bought” the papacy, using much of the property and benefices that he had acquired earlier to buy off the cardinals, who were under no illusion as to what they had done. Cardinal Giovanni de’Medici, the future Leo X, said to another cardinal, “We are now in the clutches of perhaps the most savage wolf the world has ever seen. Either we flee or he will, no doubt, devour us.” Like previous popes, Alexander kept mistresses and concubines and it was said that there were sometimes nude dancing girls in the Vatican during and after Mass. After Vannozza became older, Alexander took another mistress, Giulia Farnese, and made her brother Alessandro a cardinal (he was nicknamed “Cardinal Petticoat,” and later went on to become Pope Paul III). Alexander had Giulia immortalized in a painting where she posed as a bare-breasted Madonna, and she became known as the “Bride of Christ,” and the “Pope’s Whore.” He also appointed his son, Cesare Borgia, as a cardinal, and Cesare was also his military enforcer, maintaining control and suppressing rebellion in the Papal States. Cesare was a clever, ruthless, greedy, and violent man, and there are many illustrative stories about him and his father. Here are several examples:
- Alexander had originally groomed Cesare for a career in the church, and his brother Juan as a military leader. But Cesare murdered Juan in order to take the position for himself. It was also reported that he would stand on the balcony of the Vatican and after a group of criminals were forced into a pen underneath his window, he would shoot them for fun with his sister Lucrezia at his side. It is thought that Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, his famous treatise on power politics, about Cesare Borgia.
- Lucrezia, the pope’s daughter by Vannozza, was reputedly the femme fatale of the Renaissance, and on several occasions the pope used her to secure political alliances. After her first marriage, the pope decided that the alliance that had been engendered with her husband was unnecessary. So he and Cesare arranged for a divorce so that they could marry Lucrezia to someone else to secure another coalition. The divorce was authorized by the pope on the grounds that she was still a virgin, but at the time she was six months pregnant. She bore a son that was first claimed to be that of a lover, then Cesare’s, and later that of the pope himself (Cesare had the supposed lover murdered just in case). Lucrezia went on to be the wife and consort of a third man, after her second husband was strangled to death by Cesare.
- Cesare and his father at one point were discussing how they should reward a mercenary leader of one of their armies who had helped them suppress a rebellion in a particular city. They finally decided to assassinate the man and name the city after him. Dead bodies of men who opposed them, or had offended Alexander or Cesare would periodically be found floating in the Tiber River. The historian Thomas Tomasi wrote, “It would be impossible to enumerate all of the murders, the rapes and the incests, which were every day committed at the court of the pope. Scarcely the life of man could be long enough to register the names of all of the victims murdered, poisoned, or thrown alive into the Tiber.” Machiavelli wrote, “The Italians owe a great debt to the Roman church and its clergy. Through their example we have lost all true religion and have become complete unbelievers. Taken as a rule, the nearer the nation dwells to the Roman Curia, the less religion it has.”
- There is an interesting fictional story in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas in which the pope and Cesare arranged for two of the wealthiest men in Italy to become cardinals and invite them to the Vatican for dinner. Then they poisoned the new cardinals and attempted to seize their entire estates. This may be based on the truth, as Alexander made a law that the estates of cardinals reverted to the papacy after death, and it was reported that would poison cardinals after they had purchased their offices so that he could quickly sell the offices again.
- Cesare was a sexual fiend, having sex with scores of women, and contracting syphilis in the process. It was said that he would sometimes have his women killed after having sex with him.
- The pope died in 1503 at the age of 72. It was said that he was in good health, but died soon after eating dinner, and it is likely that he accidentally drank wine from the wrong glass which had been poisoned. His body swelled up after death, turned black, and quickly began to putrefy and to ooze foul smelling liquids. The body swelled up so large that it would not fit into a coffin, and instead it was rolled up in a carpet. After Alexander’s death Cesare was quickly thrown out of power, and died soon afterward.
- Julius II (1503—1513). His actual name was Giuliano della Rovere, and during his reign he was completely concerned with power, prestige and territory (however, he was also a patron of the arts, and hired Michelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel during his tenure). He had been defeated in the papal election of 1492 by the money and the alliances that the Borgias had made, and some of Cesare Borgia’s military adventures as well as Alexander’s political machinations during his papacy had been directly related to suppressing and dealing with della Rovere. So when the latter became pope as Julius II after the death of Alexander, he was mainly concerned with revenge as well as strengthening his grip on power. He was known as “Il Terrible” because of his extreme militancy, volcanic spirit, and his homosexuality. It was said that he carried a stick with him to hit anyone who annoyed him. He spent most of his life in armor leading the papal armies in fighting, and when Michelangelo made a sculpture of him, Julias said, “What is that under my arm?” “A book, Holiness,” replied Michelangelo. “What do I know about books? Make it a sword instead!” yelled Julias. Erasmus wrote a satirical sketch about him, in which he appears after death before the gates of heaven and asks St. Peter for admittance. Peter didn’t recognize him, so finally Julias held up his papal keys. Peter examined them, shook his head, and said, “Sorry, these don’t fit anywhere in this kingdom.”Martin Luther visited Rome in 1510, and saw for himself the greed and utter corruption of the papacy. His complete disgust with the Vatican, along with the sale of indulgences by papal representatives in Germany, were the main reasons for his criticism and ultimate break with the Catholic Church. He, along with other religious leaders began the movement that was later known as the Protestant Reformation.
- Leo X (1513—1521) had been a cardinal as a child, and although he did not exhibit as many of the excesses of his immediate predecessors, he was known as the “gay pope.” When he was elected it was said that he was suffering from chronic ulcers on his posterior. He loved parties and gave a number of masked balls at which it was said that young boys would emerge from puddings.
- Hadrian VI (1522—1523) was a reformer bent on cleaning up the Vatican. He dismissed many members of the Curia, and caused astonishment by celebrating Mass every day. He also tried to rebuke Luther and exert his authority over the Reformation but at this point it was too late for dialog, and the die had already been cast.
- Paul III (1534—1549) was known as Cardinal “Petticoat” because he had sold his sister to Alexander VI. It was also said that he poisoned his mother and niece to gain the entire family inheritance, and he had several affairs which included incest in his own family. However, the primary aim of his papacy was to advance the Farnese family. The request of Henry VIII, King of England, for an annulment of his marriage had been received, but had been denied, and Henry had responded by going ahead with his own plans. Paul excommunicated Henry, but the latter, after researching the chastity of the clergy in England and finding many examples of priests living with wives, concubines and whores, excommunicated Paul and made the entire church of England Protestant. Paul then went after Lutheran Protestant heretics in Germany and had many of them tortured and killed.
- Julius III (1550—1555) was a strange man who appointed his teenage monkey keeper as a cardinal, and treated him as a son. He also loved onions which he had delivered to the Vatican by the cartload.
- Paul IV (1555—1559) was an ex-inquisitor originally appointed by Paul III. He was very much against heresy in all forms and started a document called the Index of Forbidden Books which listed all books that were banned and could not be published or read. These of course included all of the Protestant works, but ironically it also included a document written by Paul IV himself during the reign of the prior pope. This document delineated the sexual behaviors and practices of the bishops and the Curia in Rome and had been leaked to the Protestants. The index later included the works of Machiavelli and Dante. Paul was suspicious of everyone and was a tyrant during his pontificate. Prior to this time few people were literate and books had to be copied by hand—most of the copyists worked for the church. But with the invention of the printing press it got increasingly hard for the church to control what could be published and disseminated. Also the reformation opened large areas of Europe that were no longer under the sway of Catholicism, and the seamy underbelly of the papacy began to be revealed; the Roman Church became known as “the whore of Babylon.” The Protestant opposition and condemnation of the Catholics led to a reform movement in the Catholic Church called the Counter-Reformation, which was an attempt to redress and atone for its sins. Ironically, one of the leaders of the Counter-Reformation was Francis Borgia, the great-grandson of Pope Alexander VI.
- Pius IV (1559—1565) was petitioned very strongly by the Council of Trent in 1560 to allow clerical marriage in the hope of curbing sexual misdeeds in the clergy. But Pius responded by saying that “celibacy or virginity is better than marriage, and celibates are in a state of perfection. Anyone who says otherwise is a heretic.”
- Gregory XV (1621—1623) and Innocent X (1644—1655). It was during these years that Catholic armies, heavily financed by the papacy, fought Protestant ones and were successful. The Counter-Reformation initially seemed to be victorious, but as time went on, Protestantism became more entrenched in Europe, as the pope no longer had the power to dictate policy to secular leaders, and political considerations became more significant than obedience to the pope. The Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648 ending the Catholic/Protestant conflict known as the Thirty Years War. Innocent fulminated against it because it solidified Protestant positions, but he was ignored.
- Urban VIII (1623—1644) was pope during the Galileo debacle. Galileo was one of the most respected scientists in Italy, but he defended the scientific position of Copernicus who said that the earth goes around the sun rather than the earlier belief that the sun went around the earth, which was considered theologically correct. Therefore Galileo was arrested and forbidden to teach or publish. However, Galileo often did not help his own cause because of his own arrogance.
- Pius VI (1775—1799) was the pontiff during French Revolution. This was an extremely agonizing time for the papacy, because the Vatican and the ancient regime had been tied together in many ways for a thousand years, since the time of Pepin and Charlemagne. The government of France was bankrupt, and the wealthiest people were the bishops, so the government declared that all of the church property now belonged to the state. All of the excesses of the church in France over the centuries were now called to account. Churches and monasteries were ransacked, church leaders were sent to the guillotine, and under the influence of atheistic philosophers such as Voltaire, the government declared that France would be a totally secular state. Pius watched all of the happen in horror, and finally he joined in a league against France which backfired when Napoleon came to power, invaded the Papal States, and took most of the territory away from the Vatican.
- Leo XII (1823—1829) was pope in the aftermath of Napoleon. He was a rather severe man who created a large espionage network to hunt down people involved in public immorality (theaters, etc.) He also condemned Bible societies, and persecuted Jews in Rome.
- Pius IX (1846—1878) declared that popes were “infallible” in matters of faith and morality, and was also the pope to declare in 1854 that the Virgin Mary had been “immaculately conceived,” and was therefore without sin, not only in her birth but also in her life. In support of this Pius also strongly supported the concept of “the perpetual virginity of Mary.” He had the longest reign of any pope in history: thirty-one years. Like Leo XII before him, he opposed Bible societies and was against the freedom of the press. His name in Italian was “Pio Nono,” and therefore he was often lampooned by calling him “Pio no no.” It was during his time that the Papal States were lost and a republic founded in Italy. Subsequent popes were very hostile to the Italian state and tried to influence Catholics to refrain from voting in elections.
- Pius XI (1922—1939) wrote Casti Connubii, redefining Christian marriage and condemning contraception. He wrote that the Catholic Church “must stand erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain.” He and other popes were strongly urged to drop their objections to contraception but did not do so because they would then have to admit that the papacy had been wrong for centuries.In 1932 Pius ordered German Catholics to drop their resistance to Hitler, and shocked Catholics around the world when he backed Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, although he later retreated from his support of Il Duce. He also negotiated a deal with Mussolini in which the church formally gave up control of the Papal States in return for the establishment of Vatican City in Rome as a sovereign territory. The church also received a large sum of money in exchange, which was invested and produced a great increase in papal wealth.
- Pius XII (1939—1958) worked tirelessly for peace and against Hitler after he understood what the motives of the Fuhrer really were. His public policy was neutrality for which he was heavily criticized, but he endeavored to help the victims of the war, especially Jews, and when the Nazis occupied Rome in 1943, Pius opened the Vatican to Jewish refugees, granting them Vatican citizenship and smuggling them to other countries. Israel Zolli, the chief Rabbi of Rome, was so impressed by Pius’ actions that following the war he became a Roman Catholic and even took the Pope’s first name as his own when he was baptized. Hitler once said of Pius, “he is the only human being who has always contradicted me and who has never obeyed me.” Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary in 1942, “It’s a dirty, low thing to do for the Catholic Church to continue its subversive activity in every way possible and now even to extend its propaganda to Protestant children evacuated from the regions threatened by air raids. Next to the Jews these politico-divines are about the most loathsome riffraff that we are still sheltering in the Reich. The time will come after the war for an over-all solution of this problem.”
Regardless of the sins, foibles, and abuses of power of past church leaders, it must also be kept in mind that other rulers at the same times did similar things and much worse. The difference was that leaders of the church, the supposed human representatives of Christ, should have lived up to a much higher standard. Some popes and church leaders, such as Pius XII and Hadrian VI, did set a high standard, and there were many reform movements throughout church history. But sadly most popes demonstrated their own sinfulness in gross displays of hypocrisy.
The concepts of chivalry, as enunciated by Chretien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Mallory, and others had likewise attempted to elevate the conduct of knights and men-at-arms, but like other reform movements these were only partially successful. Some men were deeply moved and became great examples of chivalry, but many disobeyed and/or ignored their own code of ethics.
Whenever we consider historical kingdoms and past political entities it is very hard for us as twenty-first century westerners to be able to place ourselves back in the societies of the past and appreciate the issues and the problems that they had to deal with. This is true for at least three reasons:
- The abundant and diversified economies of the western world of today provide us with goods and services that were unknown in that day, and required much more time and energy to produce (e.g., consider the difference between buying a hamburger at McDonalds with having to slaughter a cow, butcher it, cook it, etc.; it also assumes that you had a cow in the first place).
- Unlike today, the efforts of most people who lived prior to the nineteenth century were focused on sheer survival, with little time for leisure or education. Prior to the invention of the printing press in 1450, relatively few people owned books.
- The political stability present in America and to a lesser extent Western Europe was far from the reality of most people throughout history. This point is especially telling. In America, we have the luxury of being able to criticize and lampoon our political leaders because of the inherent stability of the political systems of our country, and the fact that there are few enemies in the world who could seriously damage us. But this was not so in the past, and people accepted and even expected authoritarian leaders who demanded unquestioning obedience because the peace provided by authoritarian leadership was almost always (rightly or wrongly) thought to better than the chaos of no leadership.
Corruption in the church as well as western secular society was gradually reduced by a series of factors from the late 1200s through the early 1900s that brought about a complete sea-change in the way that political power was exercised in the western world, as follows:
- The Magna Carta (the “Great Charter”) was signed by King John of England in 1215 under duress when London was forcibly entered by English nobles demanding his submission. The charter limited the power of the king and gave his subjects many rights. However, there was extreme distrust between the two sides, and many of the specifics of the charter did not become reality until centuries later.
- The Protestant Reformation became widely popular because of the utter spiritual depravity and apostasy of many popes, especially those of the Renaissance era (Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, and Julius II). Much of the Protestant growth was fueled by the invention of printing press in 1450, which for the first time in history made possible the wide dissemination of written materials.
- The American Declaration of Independence launching America as a separate nation, and the publication of The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (which explained the principles of a market-based economy, and is one of the most significant books ever written), both took place in the year 1776. The cornerstone of America was in its constitution, delineating three branches of government and limiting the power of each branch, and thus insuring that no one person or entity could gain total control. It also required that political leaders be periodically elected by the people, thus creating a democracy (republic) in lieu of the monarchies that existed in Europe. These principles were eventually copied by many other nations.
- The Papacy lost its political power and ultimately all influence over territory when the Papal States were finally surrendered (the current structure was finalized in 1929). This led to the papacy regaining much of its spiritual authority and to some of its finest hours, such as Pius XII’ support of the Jews in World War II.
- The morality and ethics of the society were based on Biblical and Christian concepts, providing a foundation for personal freedom (elimination of slavery, private property rights, etc.), which ultimately led to economic freedom (anyone can start their own business). It is significant that the first book printed after the invention of the printing press was the Bible.
- Freedom of the press allowed books to be produced that could be critical of existing power structures.
- The economic freedom of America and later Europe led to the growth of the middle class, and a larger number of people who were educated, who could afford education for their children, and who had sufficient leisure time to become knowledgeable of and involved in political events. Furthermore, the increasing wealth and the size of the potential customer base led to the growth of news media and organizations who then had a market for their products, and who began investigating and reporting on political corruption and high-handedness, making it increasingly difficult for people in power to get away with misdeeds. This has not, of course, stopped the power elites in America and Europe from attempting to control people and use them for their benefit, but it has required that this work be done in secrecy with expensive media campaigns to hide the facts. Even so the truth is sometimes revealed, and corrupt politicians and business/union leaders are brought to trial.
- The power elites have responded by gaining control of most if not all of the newspaper, television, school textbook, and media-related companies in an attempt to control what people read and think. But the growth of the internet where virtually anyone can publish material and such mediums as talk radio have to some degree blunted the impact of this control.
But even though both chivalry and the church failed in many cases to achieve their moral goals and high standards of behavior from all of its adherents, does not invalidate those standards, or lessen the need for such things. Just because we fail to hit the target does not mean that targets should be dispensed with. However, contemporary western society has, in general, attempted to do just that, and has reached the place where it has rejected the idea that there is and should be a fixed set of standards.
Today’s society has, to a large degree, forgotten the foundations of its freedom and has reached the place where it is attempting to reduce and ultimately eliminate the moral base that was and continues to be an essential part of its fabric. It is now thought that morality is essentially fungible and should be dispensed with (for example, resisting abstinence-based sex education and giving condoms to teenagers with the reasoning, “they are going to do it anyway.”)
This is taking place in many levels of society. It is not our purpose to provide a comprehensive analysis of this topic, but perhaps an example would be helpful: the National Education Association and the teacher’s unions in America have been continually pushing for a concept known as “outcome based education,” in which there are no grades or standards, (grades are said to be damaging to the egos of those who do not fare as well). This is essentially an attempt to socialize education and pull everyone down to the same level, and it provides an excellent insight into why parents are abandoning public schools in droves, and why we need educational vouchers to permit parental choice (these are, of course, strongly resisted by the NEA and the teacher’s unions).
As Allan Bloom, a university professor who has taught and observed several generations of college students, so ably describes in his book The Closing of the American Mind, much of our society (at least government, media, and higher education) have completely accepted the notion that everything is relative, and that there are no fixed absolutes. Following is a sample of his thoughts:
On the relativity of truth:
There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4.
The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight for them, but a moral postulate. The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness… is the great insight of our times. The true believer is the real danger. The study of history and culture teaches us that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecution, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.
On student behavior:
Openness has driven out the deities leaving only a speechless, meaningless country… Students now arrive at the university ignorant or cynical about our political heritage, lacking the wherewithal to either be inspired by it or seriously critical of it.
Young Americans have less and less knowledge of and interest in foreign places. In the past there were many students who actually knew something about and loved England, France, Germany, or Italy… Such students have almost disappeared, replaced at most by those who are interested in the problems of Third World countries and in helping them to modernize. This is not learning from others but condescension and a disguised form of a new imperialism.
On male/female relationships:
In the past it was understood to be the woman’s job to get and hold the man by her charms and wiles because, by nature, nothing else would induce him to give up his freedom in favor of the heavy duties of family. But women no longer wish to do this, and they consider it unfair according to the principles governing us… And no matter what women hope, nothing else can effectively make most men share equally the responsibilities of childbearing and child rearing. The divorce rate is the most striking symptom of this breakdown… Nobody is sure who is to make the advances, whether there is to be a pursuer and a pursued, and what the event is to mean. They have to improvise because roles are banned, and a man pays a high price for misjudging his partner’s attitude.
And here is where the whole business turns nasty. The soul of men—their ambitious, warlike, protective, possessive character—must be dismantled in order to liberate women from their dominion… But this effort must fail because in an age of individualism, persons of either sex cannot be forced to be public-spirited, particularly by those who are becoming less so.
Parents do not have the legal or moral authority that they had in the Old World, and they lack self-confidence as educators. There is nothing left of the reverence toward the father as the symbol of the divine on earth, the unquestioned bearer of authority… The dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief… The delicate fabric of the civilization into which successive generations are woven has unraveled, and children are raised, not educated… People sup together, play together, travel together, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever. Educational TV is the high water mark.
Thus what is advertised as a great opening is actually a great closing. No longer is there a hope that there are great and wise men in other places and times who can reveal truths about life.
Picture a thirteen-year-old boy watching MTV. He enjoys the liberties hard won over the centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism, consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy in the history of mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous and lifelike sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does this progress culminate? In orgiastic rhythms, the joys of killing parents and policemen, winning fame and wealth by imitating drag-queens, and so on. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.
This is a powerful indictment of the forces in our society that are pushing us further toward an amoral relativism and against religion, such as feminism, the entertainment industry, the gay rights movement, public education, the teachers unions, and so on. These influences need to be opposed and redressed so that the foundation of our society, the moral and spiritual values of our people, is not destroyed.
Explaining, teaching and inculcating morality and ethics is one of the key things that the church is, or should be, all about. When we are confronted with the failures of the past, the point is therefore to understand what went wrong and to fix the failures so that we can become more “right” as Bloom indicates above. This of course requires that we engage religion rather that trying to legislate it out of existence, and it must be an informed religion that rejects the errors of the past.
It must also be remembered that the church (meaning individual believers as well as Christian institutions) has been the greatest source of good and of unselfish love in the history of the world. Even during the times of the church’s greatest weakness, evil, and confusion, there were still many who quietly served God without fanfare or recognition, and continue to do so. Many businesses have been launched with the concept of not merely making a profit and providing desirable goods or services, but also enabling their employees to make a good living. Most of the world’s hospitals, and the bulk of charitable work to the poor and the needy, were and are being carried on by the church and organizations related to it. Furthermore, the church has inspired thousands to reform their own lives and to serve others in the name of God. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”
The missionary work of the church has sometimes been criticized on the grounds of prejudice and insensitivity, but missions have likewise been a huge source for good. In the 1850s Hudson Taylor sailed to China and founded the China Inland Mission, and was one of one of the first missionaries to enter the inland provinces. He wore the same clothes and ate the same food as the Chinese people did, in an effort to identify with them. He survived wars, sickness, disease, and lootings, and his first wife and several of his children died in China – all of this he suffered for the sake of Christ and for the Chinese people. But he persevered and by the end of his life there were around 800 missionaries and health care workers, and some 125,000 Chinese Christians. He died in 1905, before the communist takeover of China, and the following years saw the brutal suppression of the church by Mao and the communists, and the imprisonment and execution of many of its leaders. With all of the persecution and oppression, it was thought that the church had ceased to exist, but now that communist power has waned and the society has become more open, it is estimated that there are perhaps 80 million Christians in China. They are Hudson Taylor’s legacy, and the spirit of his work lives on.
Saint Patrick of Ireland is another excellent example. He almost single-handedly brought Christ to Ireland in the fifth century, to a people who were ready to hear what he had to say and responded to it. Celtic Ireland, consisting of many small tribes and inspired by Druidism, was a cruel and hard world of savage drunken conflict and gods that ate people. The Irish were constantly fighting each other, and in battle they would strip themselves naked, daub on blue paint, drink alcohol until they almost passed out, and then run howling and shrieking to kill each other and their enemies. Their religion was one of hidden taboos that once broken would curse a person for life, so the ideal for a man was to die young and in battle. Patrick was able to show them the holy mystery of Christ, the revelation of God that heals and transforms, but without compromising their Irishness, or turning them into something that they were not, and he was the first person in recorded history to oppose slavery and slave trading.
Patrick devoted the last thirty years of his life, from roughly his late forties to his late seventies to his warrior children, that they might “seize the everlasting kingdom” with all of the energy and intensity that they had lately devoted to killing and enslaving one another, and seizing each others’ kingdoms.
Patrick’s gift to the Irish was his Christianity, the first de-Romanized Christianity in human history, a Christianity without the sociopolitical baggage of the Greco-Roman world that completely inculturated itself into the Irish scene.
With the Irish, even with their kings, he succeeded beyond measure. Within his lifetime or soon after his death the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and inter-tribal warfare, decreased.
Following is a portion of a Celtic warrior-poem call the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, a cri de cour of how the kingdom of heaven can be seized and entered. It goes far beyond simply meeting people’s practical needs; it touches the heart and the soul, which is what Christian life and missions are truly all about.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven,
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightening,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and near,
Alone and in multitude.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there will come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise.
I arise today
Through the power of the Creator of Creation.
Billy Graham’s Prayer For America
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.
We know Your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and Set us free. Amen!
 Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners—A Short History of the Papacy, Nigel Cawthorne, Sex Lives of the Popes, and E.R. Chamberlin, The Bad Popes
 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
 Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization