DARK HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE POWER AND THE MONEY
As dispenser of the sacraments, the Church could claim control over the eternal destiny of its believers. Such enormous power brought enormous potential for
abuse, The temptations proved too great for an institution that ultimately came to see divine salvation as something to be bought and sold.
'Those who seek riches fall into ... many foolish and harmful desires!'
Some would say that there's a contradiction at the very core of Catholicism: how can Christ's revolutionary message be embodied in so vast and centralized an institution as the Church? Yet how, comes the counter-question, are Christ's modern-day disciples to reach out to the world at large without considerable organization and infrastructural support? Both questions are good ones, and both have been asked repeatedly over the 2000 years of the Church's history, without ever having been satisfactorily resolved. Catholicism's critics would object that, historically, the Church has been too ready to take the institutional route, accumulating bureaucratic complexity and amassing power and wealth - with all the corruption and complacency these things seem to bring. The Christ who drove the moneychangers from the Temple, they say, would react with fury to a 'Christianity' so firmly founded in the considerations of this world.
That's the world we have to live in, though. What's the point of a counsel of perfection in what is only too patently an imperfect reality? Who can contend with human nature (or Original Sin) without ever making the slightest stumble?
St Helena looks on serenely as the touch of the True Cross resurrects a woman from the dead. Constantine's mother had spent years searching for this prize. Relics such as this were to become big business in a medieval Church which was growing steadily in power and wealth.
TODAY GOD HAS OPENED THE WORLDWIDE DOOR OF THE INTERNET, YOUTUBE, WEBSITES, BLOGS, TO PROCLAIM THE TRUE GOSPEL MESSAGE. MY WEBSITE IS HUGE [TEXT ONLY WHICH ALLOWS IT TO BE HUGE], AND COVERS PRETTY WELL EVERYTHING A TRUE CHRISTIAN NEEDS TO KNOW, OR WANTS TO KNOW, ABOUT THE BIBLE, SALVATION, FUTURE EVENTS, AND THE AGE TO COME - Keith Hunt
Despite its reputation for inflexibility, Catholicism has been too accommodating by half in some respects, it might be suggested. It's also been less dogmatic in its teachings, over time, than is generally assumed. Through much of the first millennium, for example, doctrines in key areas were pretty much a 'work in progress', continually being reassessed and overhauled. Even in what for most believers was the central area: Salvation, what it was and how it was to be achieved. Superficially, it was all straightforward enough: those who had led good lives would go on to eternal bliss; those who were lost in sin would be abandoned to the inferno in perpetuity. But what of those - and this was almost everybody, let's face it - who, while by no means diabolical in sinfulness, were at the same time less than saintly? It was clear and understandable that there could be no place in the presence of Almighty God for imperfection - but did this mean that anyone who'd fallen short in anything was going to have to burn in hell?
Tintoretto's take on Purgatory (1560), a non-scriptural innovation of the early Church with far-reaching implications for the spiritual - and material - economies. Medieval Christianity became a commerce: endless traffic of prayers, deeds and contributions in this life in return for a remission of punishment in the next.
A detail from The Last Judgement(1506-08), by Hieronymus Bosch, not to be confused with his earlier triptych on the same subject. Divine judgment and punishment (or reward) was a very real idea to medieval Christians, and imagined here in the most graphic terms by the artist.
Clement VI was Pope in Avignon at the time of the Black Death (1347-50), but he had arguably introduced another pestilence of his own. His papal bull Unigenitus (1343) had underlined the Church's right to issue (and, implicitly, to sell) indulgences.
A theological question it may have been, but it could hardly have been less empty or academic: every striving mortal faced a final judgment - and almost all did so with trepidation. The more conscientious the Christian, the harder he or she struggled to lead the virtuous life - yet the more aware they were of any falling-short. Surely, scholars started to suggest, there had to be some sort of intermediate state, for those whose lives had essentially been virtuous, even if they had faltered from time to time? By the fifth century, some were already talking of a place of temporary chastisement, in which the soul would be purged or purified by the fire, but from which it would finally be freed to dwell in heaven, for eternity.
A Place for Hope
Pope Gregory the Great had taken up the idea in the sixth century. He argued that prayerful observance or good deeds in this life could bring 'indulgence' - a remission of punishment in purgatory. It was a radical step, and it re-energized Christianity, giving good but less-than-saintly men and women new grounds for hope. Few could hope to attain perfection, but all could strive to do better in their daily lives, to throw themselves into their regimes of prayer and charitable works. The other great thing about the system was that, since people could earn 'indulgence' not just for themselves but for their departed loved ones, it fostered a sense of solidarity between the living and the dead.
A Contractual Arrangement
What had started out as an inspirational idea was soon a fully-articulated system, with set periods of indulgence appointed for particular observances or
Few could hope to attain
perfection but all could strive to
do better in their daily lives to
throw themselves into their regimes
of prayer and charitable works
acts. So many years off for a series of masses; so many for a pilgrimage to Rome or Canterbury; so many for a donation to the poor. In very special circumstances, a 'plenary indulgence' might be granted: if the receiver died in that moment, his or her soul would pass instantaneously to heaven.
The idea of a carefully worked-out sliding scale of remissions strikes us as strangely mechanistic now, maybe, but there was nothing intrinsically wrong or wicked about it, it must be said. Quite clearly, it gave ordinary believers a real spiritual incentive to which they could respond: it was good for them, good for the Church and good for the poor and the sick they were inspired to help. At the same time, though, the system was only too clearly open to abuse: the temptation was always there for the Church to harness it to worldly ends. When Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed a jubilee for 1300, for example, he promised a plenary indulgence to those who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem that year. Two million people heeded his call. The benefit his jubilee did in reinvigorating the wider Church must be set against the suspicion that he was exploiting the (good) faith of his flock and staging a show of strength for his political enemies in Rome. At the same time he could be viewed as promoting his own personality-cult: by all accounts Boniface dressed himself in the traditional garb of the Roman Caesars, insisting that he was an Emperor just as much as he was Pope.
IN THE BOX
A MOVEABLE FEAST
The idea of the 'jubilee' harked back to Biblical times, when the 49th year (the last of seven seven-year cycles) was held to mark the cancelling of debts and the curtailment of terms of slavery. Boniface's reintroduction of the tradition appears to have been more or less entirely opportunistic.
It certainly paid off: pilgrims flocked to Rome and, according to one contemporary observer, were so generous with their donations 'that two clerics stood day and night by the altar of St Peter's, gathering up the coins with rakes'. Although Boniface had announced that these 'new' jubilees were to be once-in-a-century events, his successors couldn't bear to wait that long: a second was held by Clement VI in 1350.
The gaps grew even shorter: another jubilee followed in 1390, after which the gap was changed to 33 years to reflect the span of Jesus' life. Finally, after further adjustment up and down, the term was set at 25 years in 1450, and so it has continued ever since.
Pope Boniface VIII presides over a council of cardinals. He did much to increase the Church's wealth and power. Asserting the primacy of papal authority over that of temporal rulers, he staged an impressive show of strength in the first ever Jubilee (1300).
Salvation for Sale
More problematic was the financial note, which may have been innocent enough to start with but was insidiously - and perhaps completely - corrupting over time. It began with the payment of fees for masses offered up for the souls of the dead. This was another way of gaining them remission, and the token sums paid were a welcome supplement to the incomes of poor parish priests. Gradually the practice spread, however, as the Church came first to rely on the contributions it gained this way and then to start exploiting its' people's piety. The poor were bullied into paying for prayers, the wealthy effectively bribed with offers of an easy afterlife. Soon high prelates and great religious houses were growing rich on the proceeds of what amounted to an indulgence industry.
And an 'industry' it was - so much so that it can be seen as a major branch of the medieval economy. The 'Church Suffering' (as the souls in purgatory were called) can be seen as having formed an economic community with the living. The endowment of monasteries, churches, almshouses, gifts of land: these were gifts bequeathed by the dying to those who followed after. Golden chalices, jewelled reliquaries, stained-glass windows, woodcarvings - all the splendour of the medieval Church was underwritten by the dead. We have this system to thank for Cologne Cathedral, Notre Dame and all the other glories of the Gothic period - but it's some way removed from what most of us would regard as spirituality or religious faith. The Church was altogether unabashed about the relationship between the payment of money and the buying of salvation: in 1245, when England's King Henry III proposed rebuilding Westminster Abbey, he won the approval of Pope Innocent IV. More than this, he won a papal promise that anyone making a
Forgiveness for sale - priests and Church officials at a medieval market sell indulgences. Whilst Protestant propagandists undoubtedly talked up the crassness of the commerce, it can't be claimed that the criticism was in its essentials wrong.
contribution to the project would receive 20 days' indulgence from the sufferings of purgatory.
By the fourteenth century, indulgences were being openly bought and sold. In 1344, Clement VI issued 200 plenary indulgences in England alone, 'earned' entirely by financial endowments to the papacy. Among the various shysters and charlatans mingling with the more pious pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a professional 'Pardoner'. In his saddlebag he carried a sheaf of printed 'pardons ... hot from Rome', ready for signing and distributing to anyone who will pay his price.
Chaucer's Pardoner is also furnished with a grotesque range of 'relics'. These were basically souvenirs of the saints, or of the life of Christ himself. They were a great deal more than keepsakes, though. The whole Canterbury Pilgrimage was a testament to the power such
Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400) painted a
vivid poetic picture of a medieval scene in
which the Church was as much a part of
economic as of religious life. His Canterbury Tales
underlines the importance of pilgrimage as
not just a spiritual but a social and commercial
items were believed to have. Six days after St Thomas Beckett had been savagely struck down by King Henry II's men in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, it was said a blind woman had touched his bloodstained garment and promptly had her sight restored.
Beckett's tomb immediately became a place of pilgrimage: people flocked to Canterbury throughout the Middle Ages; just as they did to the supposed burial sites of Saint James at Compostela, in Galicia, Spain, and of St Andrew in the cathedral of St Andrew's, Scotland. Pilgrimage became big business - and monasteries and churches that housed prestigious tombs raked in huge sums in offerings and mass-fees.
You didn't have to have a whole tomb to have a sacred shrine, however: a 'holy relic' could be as small as a scrap of cloth or a fingernail. Many were held by religious houses, which could become important places of pilgrimage in their own right as a result. Others might be bought by individuals. It was, of course, impossible to have any real certainty as to provenance. Swindlers flourished in these most credulous of times. So, for example, 'in his bag', Chaucer's Pardoner:
IN THE BOX
A SETTLING OF ACCOUNTS
Considering the life of John Baret, a fifteenth-century merchant from Bury St Edmunds, and going through the (astonishingly detailed) provisions of his will, historian Carl Watkins in his book, The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead, shows how systematic - even businesslike - he was in approaching his eternity. In exactly the same spirit as that in which he settled Earthly debts, he approached the obligations he assumed he had to God and to his own immortal soul, allocating money for monuments, and buying masses in advance to ensure the salvation in the life to come. In just this spirit, others gave gifts of land, contributed carvings, stained-glass windows or helped towards the construction of new chapels.
... had a pillow-case,
He claimed was Our Lady's veil;
He said he had a strip of the very sail
Saint Peter had, when he went
Upon the sea - before Christ called him.
He had a latten cross all set with stones,
And in a glass reliquary he had some pig's bones.
But, with these Relics', when he found
Some poor peasant living on the land,
He could make more money in a single day
Than that poor wretch might make in two
Passing off the pig's bones as belonging to some important saint - or even, perhaps, to Christ himself - he would have been able to charge an uncritical customer a small fortune for the privilege of touching or kissing this sacred 'relic'.
Chaucer's Pardoner is of course a satirical creation, but it would be wrong to assume that he was outlandishly exaggerated. Hairs of John the Baptist; foreskins of the infant Christ; vials of the Virgin's milk; her girdle; Mary Magdalen's comb; some of St Peter's beard; an arm of the Apostle James - all these things and countless more were in circulation in medieval Europe's relics-market, in good faith. And it wasn't just the poor and uneducated who kept the commerce going. Especially when especially important relics (fragments of the 'True Cross', for example) could command such astronomical prices. King Louis IX of France (St Louis) spent 40,000 livres building his spectacular gothic Saint Chapelle on the lie de la Cite in Paris - but he'd paid more than three times that amount for the holy relics (including the Crown of Thorns from the Crucifixion) the chapel had been designed to house.
We shouldn't underestimate the hold of faith over the medieval mind. The arrogant Emperor Henry IV bullied Pope Gregory VII shamelessly - but crumpled under threat of excommunication. After a penitential walk in the winter cold to the papal castle at Canossa, he fasted outside for three days, begging for forgiveness.
IN THE BOX
THE INVESTITURE CONTEST
In setting a financial value on religious offices, corruption couldn't help but jeopardize the independence of the Church, for, unsurprisingly, secular rulers wanted their share of the spoils. With money and power alike at stake, the tussle between Popes and Kings was bound to be a long and bitter one, although it reached its height in the 'Investiture Contest' of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The controversy was over who got to 'invest' or appoint a country's bishops and senior clergy, with all that meant in access to income and influence. Kings and princes argued, not unreasonably, that these officials were being appointed to serve the people of their kingdoms; Popes pointed out - again not unreasonably - that they were to be officers of the Church. In 1076, the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, having goaded Pope Gregory VII too far, was excommunicated - expelled from the Church. He had to make the penitential 'Walk to Canossa' to beg the Pope's forgiveness.
The Concordat of Worms (1122) gave monarchs the right to invest the bishops they chose within their kingdoms, on condition that they acknowledged the supreme spiritual authority of the papacy. But a real and enduring peace between Popes and Emperors was to prove elusive.
Once the precedent was established
that a religious office was a prize
all pretense of it being a position to
be earned was quickly lost.
An important church or monastery was a major moneymaking concern: cash donations, large and small, were just the start. Lands bequeathed by the dying might be rented out - or farmed by monks on behalf of the community; and there was income from local taxes and peasants' tithes. Senior positions in the Church were eminently covetable for this reason, and there was brisk competition for the most lucrative 'livings' - for, then as now, some parishes, dioceses or monasteries were much more profitable than others.
The result was a flourishing trade in church offices - this was considered a sin in its own right, that of 'simony', with its own special circle of damnation in Dante's Hell. (It took its name from Simon Magus, or 'Simon the Magician', the Samaritan sorcerer who, in the Acts of the Apostles 8: 9-24, tried to buy the ability to summon up the Holy Ghost - which he imagined to be some sort of magic 'spell' - from Saints John and Peter.) Despite regular denunciations, simony had a way of being self-perpetuating and of spreading itself through the whole Church structure, since, having paid out for their own positions, senior prelates felt the need to take bribes from those seeking situations further down the ladder.
One kind of corruption let in another. Once the precedent was established that a religious office was a gift or prize, all pretense of it being a position to be earned, and then upheld with responsibility, was quickly lost. It was no coincidence that Pope Nicholas III, denounced by Dante as the chief of the simonists, was also guilty of nepotism on an all but heroic scale, making three of his closest relations into cardinals.
The sin of simony - selling Church offices - inverted true religious values, prioritizing material over spiritual gain. Hence the punishment envisaged for the simoniacs in Dante's great poem, the Divine Comedy, in which offenders have to spend eternity upside-down in holes, writhing and flailing in endless fire.
TO BE CONTINUED
AND SO THE OLD BUT WELL FORMED SIN OF "MONEY HUNGRY" MINDED PEOPLE ROSE UP. AND THIS MONEY PROBLEM CAN HIT EVEN THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD; IT HAS DONE INDEED, I'VE SEEN IT IN MY LIFETIME.
ONCE MORE FOR THIS SIN TO MANIFEST ITSELF TO THE POINT OF BUYING A BETTER LIFE HERE AFTER, FOR YOU OR SOME DEAD LOVED ONE, IS TAKING THE SIN TO ITS EXTREME.
IT IS JUST ONE MORE ITEM FOR THE CLEAR OF MIND, TO ADD TO OTHERS, AS TO WHY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH CANNOT POSSIBLY BE THE TRUE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST - Keith Hunt