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THE WONDERFUL BLOSSOMING OF CHRISTIANITY

Brother Lofus gives a brief outline of papal history to help us find the pious times that we should try
to return to

Karol Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II, has often thundered against the dark forces of humanism and
atheism and has spoken of "The urgency of the task of evangelizing, or rather re-evangelizing the
old continent" (from a papal letter in L'Osservatore Romano, Jan '86)_ He marvelled at "the
wonderful blossoming" of Christianity before it was split by (and I quote his choice of words) by
"what goes under the name of the 'Protestant Reformation' ".

He did not elaborate into what age he places the "wonderful blossoming" of Christianity, so let us
search for it by examining the history of the church.

When Christianity was a new sect, an underground cult almost, it was understandably unwelcome
with the established religions. Religions are usually supported by the ruling classes, and vice versa,
and newcomers tend to upset the status quo. Early Christians were laughed at and even persecuted
as trouble makers until emperor Constantine gave them legal protection. He is therefore something
of a hero in Christian lore.

He saw a fiery cross in the sky, with the message "with this, conquer", and Jesus appeared to him in
person to give him instructions.

But let us not forget that this good man Constantine kept an army of 10 000 spies to ferret out
undesirables, and among the people he murdered was his own son who at the age of 17 had become
so popular with the people that his old man couldn't stand it.

In 361 Julian became emperor. Since all his family had been murdered by the Christians he was
leaning towards "paganism"; he was very popular and comparatively tolerant, he even allowed the
Jews back into Jerusalem to rebuild their temple.

In 379 Theodosius re-established Christianity with a vengeance as state religion. Anybody who
performed pagan rites or Christian rites different from those proscribed, risked being put to death.
The property of executed heretics fell to the "proper" Christian Church. This set the pattern for
almost two millenia of persecution.

He instituted something like a Cultural Revolution, with disaffected rabble storming the bastions of
pagan and Jewish learning. Christian mobs went on rampages to stamp out paganism in Egypt;
Alexandria's famous library of 70,000 volumes was destroyed by the Christian mob and Jews were
once more driven out. Among the murdered was the famous and respected philosopher teacher
Hypatia who was stripped naked before the Christians put her to death. Although Christianity was
definitely on the up, one can hardly speak of a "blossoming" in these times.

In 410 the Gothic King Alaric attacked Rome. As a Christian (of sorts) he was devout enough to
protect the churches and church property while his troops pillaged the city for fully 5 days. By the
way, when Alaric died, his tomb was made in the bed of a diverted river, and the entire army of
slaves who worked on this massive task were put to death, lest they'd reveal the locality of the rich
tomb. We may admire the stark majestic splendour of Gothic Christianity, but as it involved such
deeds we can hardly be expected to wish back those times.

In these early centuries the seat of empire and centre of Christianity was of course not Rome, but
the distant Constantinople. Inevitably, differences of opinion developed. These came to a head when
Leo II was on the throne in Constantinople. He decreed that according to the Holy Scriptures it was
not right to worship images; he ordered church pictures destroyed and decorated walls white-
washed. Many Christians were very fond of their expensive pictures and they rebelled. The
Western, Roman branch of the church, refused to comply, and this was the start of the "Iconoclastic
War". People felt so strongly about the matter that they were willing to kill and be killed. When Leo
IV died in 780, he was succeeded by his wife Irene who happened to favour the worshipping of
pictures. As she could not agree with her own son about the whole thing she ordered his eyes put
out. Such measures were not isolated in the pious East; when Basil II, a strong champion of
Christianity and beloved by the clergy, successfully fought the Bulgarians, he had the eyes of his
prisoners of war hacked out - of all 15 000 men. Not the sort of blossoming of Christianity one
would wish for.

Under Pope Gregory most Western Christians, including the "Aryan" churches of the Goths,
consolidated as the "Catholic" Church, with the bishop of Rome pre-eminent. When the Patriarch of
Constantinople demanded to remain recognised as head of Christianity, Rome was slow in agreeing,
and a fleet was sent from Constantinople to bring the Romans back into the fold. This fleet was
wrecked in a storm, and the hitherto inferior bishopry of Rome grew stronger and self-assertive.
Roman bishops assumed temporal powers, as did other bishopries; like kings they amassed territory,
played politics, raised armies and established military affiliations. They ruled over an exploited
peasantry who lived in abject poverty or even slavery. They demanded the help of kings in return
for bestowing upon them divine sanction, or, in effect, provided moral justification for any of their
deeds.

Pepin, King of the Franks, was the first major King to serve the Pope (754) and his son
Charlemagne became famous for enlarging the Christian empire.

He did so by giving the conquered barbarians the choice: become Christians or die. To show he
meant business he put 4,500 captured Saxons to death.

Pope Leo III was so hated that he had to flee Rome into Charlemagne's arms, and the latter put him
back onto the papal seat. A successor, pope Leo IV made the Vatican a military fortress and called it
after himself: the "Leonine City".

The following centuries saw a blossoming of Christian power, militarily and economically. But if
our present pope plans a return to these times, he'd better lay by a supply of condoms; most of the
popes were fornicators and gluttons, many died of syphilis, others of poison administered by their
"friends" and relatives. Many kept mistresses, and on occasions the mistresses ruled. Suspicious
circumstances surrounded many deaths: Benedict XI died after eating from a basket of figs offered
to him by a nun. Pope Alexander VI died when drinking of wine which his son had prepared to kill
one of the cardinals (Cardinal of Corneto). On occasions the succession of Popes was a matter for
violent dispute between rival supporters, and so lucrative was the papacy that arms were taken up to
fight for it. Once there were even three popes, at other times, rival popes ruled from different cities.

A "blossoming"? Hardly.

If the Holy Crusades seem a romantic era today we should recall the immense cruelties perpetrated,
not only by knights engaged in valiant battle; there was wholesale slaughter of innocents. Although
the object of the exercise was to liberate the Holy Land from Non-Christians, the knights did by no
means always fight shoulder to shoulder; their rivalry was often so that they formed alliances with
the saracens to fight rival Christians. In the "Children's Crusades" which began with small children
singing along the road, 15 000 youngsters perished before they reached the 'Holy' Land. Many were
sold into slavery.
The Church takes pride in having controlled scholastic and juridical life in these centuries. But the
monasteries, which were the seats of learning and where monks· laboured over the copies of
manuscripts; stifled all enquiring minds. It was the kind of learning which did not tolerate new
ideas. And extreme means were employed to keep it that way. When scholars started to find out the
true nature of the universe, they were burnt for their troubles.

Justice was administered mainly for the purpose of maintaining the status quo which was beneficial
to papal power.

It was important to maintain the superstition and ignorance of the masses. Then as now it was
desirable to keep them in mortal fear of offending God and risking eternal damnation. Popular
fiction paints churches of the time as sanctuaries, and the clergy as men of peace. Yet it is
impossible to think of any war where the church did not render active encouragement, and the
churches were never places of sanctuary. Enemies and be they women and small children, were
dragged from under the very alters to be killed, for civilised rules did not apply to heretics.

Heretics were pursued mercilessly, nothing could protect them. Not even the solemn promises of
men of God. Jan Huss, the early church reformer, was invited to Constance to talk it over; and
having been given a promise that he would not be harmed, he turned up. His trust into Papal ethics
cost him dearly: he was burnt.

Up to 12 million people were burnt or otherwise tortured to death during the blossoming of the
Church in the Dark Ages. At no other time was the power of the church so supreme, and the
suffering of the people so great.

The fight against heresy became an all-consuming passion and obsession with some churchmen.
Ignatius Loyola, a young Spanish soldier wounded by the French decided to devote his life to
stamping out heresy. As soon as he got better he founded the Society of Jesus, an Order that swore
absolute obedience to the Pope. Members voluntarily abrogated their right to make any judgement
or to maintain their own conscience. They obeyed, unhesitatingly, blindly, uninquiring. The Jesuits
("The Lord's Rednecks") set about to undo the work of the Reformation, not only killing anybody
critical of Holy Rome, but torturing them, believing that the more horrible the torture, the more God
would be pleased with them. This band of criminals was outlawed in many countries and for a time
even by the Pope himself. They later surfaced again to continue their activities in a more cerebral
manner. They are still legal in most countries.

Prior to the Reformation the Church had devised a variety of ingenious schemes to part fools with
their money. The Pope's agents travelled through the land selling "indulgences". For this scheme to
work it was necessary for people to believe in sin and in hell - Catholic education paid off. With
every bit of money one gave to the Pope one could buy a little respite from the flames of hell. The
sale of relics was another thriving business. Virtually hundreds of tons of the true cross were sold,
as well as hundreds of Saint Magdalene's genuine gall stones. All these things worked miracles, and
the belief in this bric-a-brac is encouraged even today, where the shroud of Tourin is still touted as
having covered Jesus.

The reformation took place because the church was so corrupt that it had lost any semblance to
what it claimed to be. "If only the pope knew", people said (even Martin Luther said it), "he would
put a stop to it... "

The pope was of course utterly unresponsive to the demands of reformers. He was on to a good
thing. When the Reformation took place, the church struck back hard, with massacres and a revival
of the notorious inquisition.

The Peace of Augsburg, which ended the Reformation in Germany, allowed Kings and Princes to
chose between Protestantism and Catholicism, unfortunately in included the proviso that once a
Prince had chosen, all his subject had to chose the same. And no other religions were allowed either.

At least there was, for a while, religious peace.

This was broken some sixty years later when Rudolph II succeeded his more tolerant father to the
throne. Rudolph had been brought up in Spain, and when he returned to Germany he decided to do
the right thing and stamp out protestantism, beginning with Bohemia. This started the Thirty Years
War which devastated Central Europe. Each side claimed to have God on their side and believed
that any of their own atrocities was therefore excusable.

The stifling atmosphere of religious dogmatism had never completely extinguished man's curiosity
about the universe. Christopher Columbus had reached the West Indies in 1492, believing he was
circumnavigating a globular earth. Magellan sailed around "the world" in 1519. Although the pope
was ready to divide the globe (by "'The Pope's Line") to share the heathens between the rival
colonising powers, he was not ready to endorse - or even to consider - newly -discovered evidence
about the nature of the world. The bible had the answers, nothing else was needed. Even a hundred
years after Magellan, Galileos's writings were banned as heretical and the astronomer was forced -
by pain of death - to recant.

In 1543 the murderous Inquisitor General Caraffa (Later Pope Paul IV) ordered that no book
whatsoever could be printed without papal permission. He rightly feared the light of reason. Books
produced abroad were dangerous contraband, drawing severe punishment to anyone found reading
them. Even touching them was declared a sin. Such books did not only include all Protestant works,
but even (at the time) any translation of the New Testament, since it was sacrilege to remove it from
the Latin language. The books of Erasmus were banned as well! The list of dangerous books was
enlarged through the centuries until modern times, and included some of the greatest authors. To
become banned by the Pope became a sign of quality.

The "New World" being conquered by Spain and Portugal was seen, firstly, as potential source of
wealth, secondly as souls to be converted to Catholicism.

South America, even now a stronghold of Catholicism, was converted by the force of the sword.
The natives were asked to convert voluntarily, of be put to death. Native kings were executed to
make an example and to show which side God was on. Religion became a tool to keep the masses
superstitious, ignorant and exploitable by the land owners who were the natural patrons of this type
of religion. Similar conditions were created, or attempted, in African colonies, the Philippines and
and Pacific Islands.

The power of the church waned in modern times, but it has not been broken. There has been no war
where the official churches have not participated in some way. German Christians were made to
pray for a German victory and told that God was on their side, while French and English Christians
believed that God was with them. The Catholic Church identified with Franco's fight against the
legal Spanish government, and the Christian parties in Germany supported Hitler. When the Jews
were systematically exterminated the Church did more than stand idly by, they considered it a
welcome bonus to Christianity and God's work. America's war in Vietnam (Cardinal Spellman's
War") enjoyed the wholehearted support of the established Churches, Catholic and Protestant alike,
who saw it as a confrontation between the good Christian West and the evil Atheist East. Active
dissenters, although vocal, were a minority.
The papacy believes in nuclear arms. While speaking, as usual, for a need for peace, it has not
supported disarmament. Far from "turning the other cheek", the Pope says we need nuclear arms as
deterrent (The Pope in a speech to the UN, June 1982: "In current conditions, deterrence...may still
be judged morally acceptable."). The Pope criticises Catholic dissenters who preach non-
cooperation with the nuclear arms race, and who preach freedom for Central America.

The great Catholic statesmen of today can be found in the poorest countries. Ferdinand Marcos and
General Pinochet spring to mind, though both are about to follow Somoza and Franco and all the
other tyrants into discredit.

Catholic countries in the Americas are groaning under the weight of the newly added millions each
year: millions who are born to be landless peasants or jobless city dwellers - and still the Pope calls
for more children. He knows that without such population growth in Catholic countries,
Catholicism would be in the decline. Preaching against family planning in over-crowded countries
is not exactly a blossoming of Christian wisdom.

In years to come it will be seen as a crime equalling those commited in the Middle Ages.

In retrospect there can be only one era where the Christian spirit "blossomed": the early days of
Christianity, when it was a minority religion, without multi-billion assets, without the power of
arms at their beck and call, without a powerful caste of priests. Yes, these are the days the Catholic
church should return to ...

The world would breath a sigh of relief.

Captions of figures that appeared in the original

ALEXANDER VI (Roderigo Borgia): He bought his election at the college ot cardinals and used
his office to advance the schemes of his children Caesar and Lucretia Borgia. Kept a harem at the
Vatican and had nude courtesans dancing tor him at feasts. Invited sultan Bajazet to enter Europe to
fight his rivals. Died in 1503 when his son attempted to poison a cardinal, but the cook had been
bribed and the Holy Father himself fell victim to the scheme.

Traffic in indulgences, a detail from a woodcut by German artist Holbein

GUARDIAN ANGEL (by REX)

There was no mercy for those who did not toe the Catholic line. Uncounted millions were cruelly
murdered in the name of God.

THE AMERICAN RIVER GANGES. Detail from a cartoon by Thomas Nast (1840-1902). Nast
was a life-long campaigner against the intrusion of religion into schools and politics.