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The Historical Genesis of the Vatican's Accumulation of Wealth
Jesus, the founder of Christianity, was the poorest of the poor.
Roman Catholicism, which claims to be His church, is the richest of the rich, the wealthiest institution on earth.
How come, that such an institution, ruling in the name of this same itinerant preacher, whose want was such that he had not even a pillow upon which to rest his head, is now so top-heavy with riches that she can rival - indeed, that she can put to shame - the combined might of the most redoubtable financial trusts, of the most potent industrial super-giants, and of the most prosperous global corporation of the world?
Their denunciations of the wealth, pomp, luxury and worldly habits of abbots, bishops, cardinals and popes can still be heard thundering with unabated clamor at the opening of almost any page of the chequered annals of western history.
When she did not silence them, she ignored them or, at the most, considered them utterances of religious innocents, to be tolerated as long as her revenue was not made to suffer.
This policy was not confined only to come critical or peculiar period of Catholic history. It became a permanent characteristic throughout almost two millennia. This feature, besides causing immense sorrow to the most fervent of her adherents, became the spring of countless disputes, not only with the principalities of this world, whom she challenged with her incessant quest for yet more temporal tributes, but equally with vast sections of Christendom itself.
The landed gentry who supported his policy did so with their eyes well fixed upon the economic benefits to come. The variegated alignment of the German princes with Lutheranism was prompted chiefly by the same basic economic considerations. It was such concrete, although seemingly secondary, factors which in the long run made the Reformation possible.
There was no personal attachment as yet to riches thus used, either on the part of the single Christian individual or for any autonomous Christian nucleus.
The ownership, possession and enjoyment of any wealth was anonymous, impersonal and collective. There was also the help of the poor, of the slaves, of the sick and of the prisoners.
They had come to harmonize the possession of worldly good with the teaching of Christ by conveniently quoting or ignoring sundry passages of the Gospels.
Also, by following the example of the Church, which as a corporate body had begun to accumulate wealth. Its retention was justified by her help of the destitute, and also by the fact that the habit had started by which many, upon their death beds, left estates or money to her.
The Roman Catholic Church thus gradually became the custodian of wealth passed on to her by her sons, acting as its distributor and administrator. Until now there had been no indication of the shape of things to come.
This was soon visible, however, with the historical event of the utmost importance. The emperor Constantine, following concrete political consideration, had decided to align the growing forces of Christianity on his side. A pious legend has it that he put upon the Roman standards a cross, with the words "In this sign conquer!" He won against the rear guard forces of the pagan world.
Constantine recognized Christianity in A.D. 313. Thence forward a new phase was initiated. The Church Triumphant began to vest herself with the raiment of the world. The state became the protector. With this came not only power, but also wealth. Accumulation of the latter was no longer regarded solely for the purpose of helping the poor. It became a visible testimony to her newly found status; a necessity which went with her prestige and mounting strength and power.
Simultaneously with the accelerated growth of prestige, might and wealth, a new factor appeared on the scene amidst the ruins of the classic and the new emerging cultures: the monastic communities. These, the nuclei of which had come to the fore in original obscurity even when the Church was being persecuted, now transformed themselves into vast associations of pious individuals determined to ensure the spiritual riches of heaven by the abandonment of the riches of the earth.
But now, unlike their predecessors the anonymous hermits who sustained themselves solely upon locusts and spring water, their imitators found it increasingly difficult to follow such a strict mode of life.
The legacies of the pious, the presents of parcels of expensive lands, estates and goods from newly converted highly placed pagan individuals, and the thanksgiving of repentant sinners, all contributed within a few centuries to make the monastic families in Europe the custodians of earthly riches and thus the administrators of earthly goods. This Church soon found herself not only on a par with the political and military potentates of this world, but equally a competitor with these amassers of wealth, from her high prelates, consorting with the high officials of the imperial court, to the monastic communities, springing up with ever more frequency in the semi-abandoned hamlets of former Roman colonies.
And, while single heroic individuals preached and observed it, the Church Triumphant, congregating with the principalities of the earth, not only ignored it; she shamelessly stultified its injunctions, until, having become embarrassed by it, she brazenly disregarded it, abandoning both its theory and, even more, its practice.
The Origin of the Church's Temporal Riches
The tradition was established of pilgrimages to places where the saints had lived, had been martyred and had been buried. Monasteries, nunneries, churches, all had their own.
With the possession of the relics of the blessed, with promotion of their legends and accounts of their miracles went not only the spiritual devotions, but also the monetary offerings of the pilgrims. That spelled wealth for those localities where the pious voyagers gathered.
The more popular a shrine or a saint, the more abundant the collection of silver and gold coins.
The process, begun by Pope Pius XII (1939-58), was completed by Pope Paul VI.
In 1968 Paul declared officially that,
How the "identification" had been carried out, on a site where hundreds of thousands of bodies had been buried during many centuries, was not plausibly explained, in view also of the fact that there has never been any definite historical evidence to prove that Peter was ever in Rome.
The Roman Bishops, however, cultivated the myth with undiminished eagerness.
This they did, not as mere upholders of a devout legend, but as the skillful promoters of a growing cult which had concrete and far-reaching objectives, since its magnification brought them immense authority, and with it money. For the belief that the tomb of Peter was in the Eternal City induced thousands of pilgrims, beginning with English and Scottish ones, to go to pray over the Apostle's tomb; a source of tremendous revenue. Today we would call it by the more accurate and prosaic name of tourism.
Pope Gregory, on the other hand (590-604), promised Queen Brunhilda remission of her sins.
Gregory went even further and sent the nobleman Dynamius a cross containing "fillings" from St. Peter's chains, telling him to wear the cross at his throat,
The gift, of course, was not a free one. It cost money and gold. (3)
The Church, far from discouraging such dishonest humbuggery, gave her approval to it: witness for example the notable St. Gregory of Tours, who, in his De Gloria Martyrum, gave a detailed description of the ceremony that had to be performed in order to speak with the Prince of Apostles. (5)
The religious and even political results of this practice upon deeply ignorant nations like the Anglo-Saxons, and upon the Franks who imitated them, can be easily imagined. Secular rulers of the highest rank flocked to Rome. At the beginning of the seventh century, for instance, two Anglo-Saxon princes renounced their thrones and passed the remainder of their lives at the tomb of St. Peter. (6)
King Canute himself could not resist Peter's appeal.
Once in Rome, having paid homage to the pope, he wrote a letter to the nobles of his kingdom, in which he said:
The well-calculated policy of this cult, once widely established, yielded increasingly valuable results for the popes, who were quick to turn the prestige thus gained into a powerful instrument by which to obtain the submission of men of low or high rank, both in the spiritual and in the secular fields.
The accumulation of riches, which had not only begun to the a permanent feature of Roman Catholicism but had started to grow since the times of Constantine, when that Emperor had issued a law concerning the acquisition of land by the Church (A.D.321), by now had reached such a stage that it had become a kind of patrimonium, owned, controlled and administered by the Bishops of Rome.
The possession of property brought with it inevitable deterioration and indeed corruption of the clergy and therefore of the Church herself, since the former, seeing the latter's eagerness for the things of this world, followed her example. The clergy, for instance, began to ask for money in exchange in exchange for their work or made money out of church goods.
He issued sundry decrees which prohibited the charging of fees for the induction of clerics into office, for the investment of a bishop, for the drawing up of documents, and so on. Upon learning of repeated cases in which the clergy were accused of selling church vessels, Gregory began a thorough investigation into the whole question of the Church's wealth.
After having been told of how a priest had sold two silver chalices and two candelabra to a Jew, he issued a series of ordinances which decreed that each Christian community should make a correct inventory of all its sacred vessels, land and property. For the first time the census have precise information of the wealth of the Church.
It showed to a surprised Gregory how his Church owned landed property in Sicily, Gaul, Spain, the Balkan lands, the Near East and even many parts of Africa. These properties included not only lands and farms, but also whole towns.
St. Peter's Patrimony, as it began to be called, owned Syracuse and Palermo, besides numerous rich estates all over Sicily, southern Italy, Apulia, Calabria and even Gallipoli, although in ruins. The estates in Campania and those of Naples and the Isle of Capri were all producing large revenues. All in all, the Roman Church in Gregory's time owned twenty-three estates, whose total area comprised 380 square miles, with an aggregate revenue of over one million dollars a year, a colossal sum at that period.
Gregory justified their retention on the ground that they should be used, as the early Christians had used them, to help the destitute. That he genuinely believed this was proved by the fact that once, having heard how a beggar had died of starvation in Rome, he became so distressed that he shut himself in a cell for three days and nights without food or drink, refusing even to say Mass.
He tried to administer the riches with wisdom, by giving to the poor as much as he received.
The Patrimony of St. Peter had become, not a modest sum of liquid money to be "distributed to the destitute," but the accumulated wealth of a rich religious system determined to become even richer in the years ahead.
While there were still individuals within the Church who believed in poverty, wealth continued to accumulate, and this to such an extent that at one stage she (or rather some of her leaders) had the audacity to make the Blessed Peter himself "write a letter from heaven." Before relating how the Blessed Peter wrote such a celestial missive, it might be useful to cast a glance at the events which preceded, and in fact prompted, the deed.
This had been bad enough. But then, even worse, robbers appeared on the horizon. They sprang from distant Arabia. And the Arabs, to make things worse, also started to despoil St. Peter's Patrimony, claiming that they were doing it in the name of God. They called him Allah.
In addition, they had the bad habit of pinpricking the pope's subjects with their scimitars, telling them, while taking away all their possessions (or rather the possessions of their papal master) that in addition to having changed landlords they had better change also their religion - which the vast majority promptly did.
Within a few decades, St. Peter had been robbed of such immense estates that his former boundless dominion was eventually reduced to central Italy, not far away, relatively speaking, from Rome.
Notwithstanding such a shrinking of their possessions, the worst devils of all, the Lombards of North Italy, set out to rob the Blessed Peter of this last estate as well. This they were about to do when the pope invoked the help of none other than the Prince of the Apostles, the Blessed Peter himself. He asked him to mobilize the most powerful potentate of the times, Pepin, King of the Franks.
Pepin, said the pope, must preserve intact the Church's earthly possessions. Indeed, it might even be of spiritual benefit to him to add some of his own to them.
Simply by writing a letter. Direct from Heaven (sic). To Pepin.
The celestial letter, of course, was first sent to the pope, Stephen, who had plenty of Peter's chains' "fillings". Stephen sent it to the king by special papal envoy. The letter, on the finest vellum, was all written in pure gold.
It read as follows:
Pepin knelt reverently before the Papal Legate, who went on reading the Blessed Peter's missive:
The Papal Envoy showed the letter to the whole court and solemnly vouched for the authenticity of Peter's signature.
Not only that. St. Peter had gone to the length of writing the letter with his very own hand. Something he had never done before.. Or since!
Pepin, King of the Franks, had no alternative. How could he ever refuse the urgent request of the Prince of the Apostles? The turnkey of Heaven?
In the year of our Lord 754, Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, defeated the rapacious Lombards.
Since they had originally wished to rob the lands of Peter, Pepin, besides donating to Stephen what he had just preserved and recovered added to it the Duchy of Rome, the Exarchate and the Pentapolis. All of these added up to a considerable amount of territory encompassing thousands of villages, forts, cities, farms, and estates - henceforward to be owned by the representative of St. Peter on earth, the pope. The success of the heavenly missive spurred its authors to new efforts.
Soon afterwards, in fact, the Roman chancery produced the throne of the Blessed St. Peter as well - the very chair in which St. Peter sat when in Rome, it was asserted; a further inducement to Pepin and his successors to grant the popes their protection, and additional property, if need be.
The inducement was a powerful one, since a king of the Franks, if crowned sitting on the Chair of the Turnkey of Heaven, would be invested with an authority surpassing that of any other temporal ruler, with the exception of the pope.
Pepin, it seems, never heard of Peter's chair, or had not the time, or - what is most probable - died before the scheme was put into full working operation. The chair was never used for its original purpose in his lifetime. His son, the Emperor Charlemagne, when crowned Emperor in the year 800, did not sit in it either. The throne, however, eventually came into its own.
And this so much so that by the following century - during the rule of Charles the Bald (A.D. 875) - it had become one of the most precious relics of Roman Catholicism. Since then it has been venerated as the true chair upon which Peter used to sit, the sacred relic of the Petrine cult for centuries. In 1656 it was put inside an ornate bronze case, on papal command, by the sculptor Bernini.
What could he do with Peter's throne after a thousand years of veneration? Put it back where it had been during a long millennium, in St Peter's Basilica, or put it in the Vatican Museum? (10)
But that was the personal problem of a pope of the twentieth century. Those of the eighth had been concerned only with magnifying the cult of the Blessed Peter, so as to enhance their power, no less than the earthly patrimony of the Church.
In 774 the Donation was confirmed by Pepin's immediate successor, Charlemagne. The Papal States had truly come into existence.
Here the popes reigned as absolute temporal rulers for more than a thousand years, until 1870, when the Italians, having seized Rome with all the adjacent papal territories, declared the Eternal City the capital of the newly formed united Kingdom of Italy.
The Church as the Inheritor of the Former Roman Empire
From then on it enables her to launch upon the promotion of an ever bolder policy directed at the accelerated acquisition of additional lands, additional gold, and the additional status, prestige and power that went with them.
Whereas the letter from Peter had been a forgery by Pope Stephen, the Donation of Constantine was one by Pope Hadrian I.(1)
In it Pepin related, in somewhat extravagant Latin, what had passed between himself and the pope, "the successor of the Turnkey of Heaven, the Blessed Peter". His disclosure was meant as proof that he had donated to the pope, not only Rome and the Papal States already mentioned, but also Istria, Venetia and indeed the whole of Italy. (2)
They set themselves to expand even further their ownership of additional territories. They concluded that the newly born Papal States, although of such considerable size, were too small for the pope, the representatives of the Blessed Peter. These territories had to be extended to match Peter's spiritual imperium. Something incontrovertible by which the popes would be unequivocally granted the ownership of whole kingdoms and empires had, therefore, become a necessity.
Purporting to have been written by the Emperor Constantine himself, it emerged from nowhere. The document with one master stroke put the popes above kings, emperors and nations, made them the legal heirs to the territory of the Roman Empire, which it granted to them, lock stock, and barrel, and gave to St. Peter - or rather to St. Silvester and his successors - all lands to the West and beyond, indeed, all lands of the planet.
The social structure and political framework of the Middle Ages were molded and shaped by its contents. With it the papacy, having made its boldest attempt at world dominion, succeeded in placing itself above the civil authorities of Europe, claiming to be the real possessor of lands ruled by Western potentates, and the supreme arbiter of the political life of all Christendom.
By virtue of the Donation of Constantine, therefore, the Roman Empire became a fief of the papacy, while the Emperors turned into vassals and the popes into suzerains.
Their age old dream, the Roman dominion, became a reality, but a reality in which it was no longer the Vicars of Christ what were subject to the Emperors, but the Emperors who were subject to the Vicars of Christ. The early concrete result of the Donation thus was to give a legal basis to the territorial acquisitions of the popes, granted them by Pepin and Charlemagne.
Whereas Pepin and Charlemagne had established them sovereigns de facto, the Donation of Constantine made them sovereigns de jure - a very important distinction and of paramount importance in the claim for future possessions.
It is very significant that it was after the appearance of the Donation under Pope Hadrian (c774) that the papal chancery ceased to date documents and letters by the regnal years of the Emperors of Constantinople, substituting those of Hadrian's pontificate.
The fact, moreover, that the document first appeared at the Abbey of St. Denis, where Pope Stephen spent the winter of 754, is additional proof that the pope was personally implicated in its fabrication. Indeed, although here again there is no direct evidence, it is supposed that the Donation was forged as early as 753 and was brought by Pope Stephen II to the Court of Pepin in 754, in order to persuade that monarch to endow the popes with their first territorial possessions. Once the Papal States came into being, the document was concealed until it was thought that it could be used with his son, Charlemange, who had succeeded his father. (3)
The great papal dreams of (a) the recognition of the spiritual supremacy of the popes over emperors and (b) the resurrection of the Roman Empire, at long last had come true.
Their seeming purpose was to give a legal basis to the complaints of the clergy in the empire, appealing to Rome against the misdeeds of high prelates or of the civil authorities. Although some of the contents of the Decretals are genuine, a colossal proportion was garbled, forged, distorted or entirely fabricated. This was in order to achieve their real aim: to obtain additional power for the popes by giving to the abbots, bishops, and clergy in general authority over civil jurisdiction in all the provinces, thus establishing a legal basis for evading the orders of the provincial secular rulers.
Even more, they saw to it that the statutes of emperors and kings, no less than the civil law of nations, be undermined, greatly weakened and indeed obliterated by their newly acquired omnipotence.
The Church Claims Ownership of the Western World
From the birth of the Carolingian Empire in the year 800 onwards,
...were assiduously used by the pontiffs to consolidate their power.
This they did, until , with additional forgeries and the arbitrary exercise of spiritual and temporal might, these documents became the formidable foundation stone upon which they were eventually to erect their political and territorial claims, the rock upon which stood the whole papal structures of the Middle Ages.
Thus, for instance, whereas Pope Hadrian I stated that Constantine had "given the dominion in these regions of the West" to the Church of Rome, Aeneas, Bishop of Paris, asserted about the year 868 that as Constantine had declared that two emperors, the one of the realm, the other of the Church, could not rule in one city, he had removed his residence to Constantinople, placing the Roman territory "and a vast number of various provinces" under the rule of the Apostolic See, after conferring regal power on the successors of St. Peter.
That implied the extension of his temporal dominion over the kings and kingdoms of the earth and therefore over their temporal riches. Indeed, Gregory had no qualms in openly asserting temporal supremacy over the whole of the Byzantine Empire, including Africa and Asia. He went even further by declaring that his ultimate goal was simply the establishment of the universal temporal domain of St. Peter.
Hence his continual exertions to take possession of, in addition to Rome and Italy, all the crowns of Europe, many of which he succeeded in placing under his direct vassalage.
Under the pretext of liberating the tomb of Christ, he simply mobilized the entire western world into an irresistible army which, leaving the shores of Europe, plunged into Asia Minor like a tornado, creating the greatest military, political and economic commotion in both continents.
The capture of Jerusalem and the success of the First Crusade gave incalculable prestige to the pontiffs.
While the nations of Europe attributed this victory to manifest supernatural power, the Roman Pontiffs were quick to transform the great martial movements of the Crusades into powerful instruments to be used to expand their spiritual and temporal dominion. This was done by employing them as military and political levers which never ceased to yield territorial and financial advantages throughout the Middle Ages.
Such claims, of course, did not go unchallenged, and they often caused the profoundest political commotion - for instance, the one that broke out in Germany in 1157, when a letter from Pope Hadrian to Frederick Barbarossa spoke of "beneficia" which he had granted to the Emperor, or could still grant, and expressly called the imperial crown itself such a beneficium - i.e. a feud, as it was understood at the imperial court.
Hadrian said, on the strength of the fact that it was he who had placed the crown on the Emperor's head, that the pope was the real owner of Germany.
Provost Gerhoh of Reigersburg, for instance, commenting upon the custom (which, of course, rested for support on the Donation of Constantine) of the emperor were represented as vassals of the popes, concluded that this besides causing the embittered feelings of temporal rulers, went also against the divine order by allowing the popes to claim to be emperors and lords of emperors.
A few years later Gottfried, a German educated in Bamburg, chaplain and secretary to the three Hohenstaufen sovereigns, Conrad, Frederick, and Henry IV, building on what Aeneas, Bishop of Paris, had already said, went a step further than Pope Adrian and included France in the Donation.
In his Pantheon, which he dedicated to Pope Urban III in 1186, he stated that in order to secure greater peace for the Church, Constantine, having withdrawn with all his pomp to Byzantium, besides granting to the popes regal privileges, had given dominion over Rome, Italy and Gaul, with all the riches therein.
With passing of the centuries, the popes, instead of abating their claims, continued to increase them by declaring that, by virtue of the Donation, emperors were emperors simply because they permitted them to be so the sole ruler in spiritual and temporal matters being, in reality, the pontiff himself. Such pretensions were not left to wither in the theoretical field. They were directed to concrete territorial, political, and financial goals which the pontiffs pursued with indefatigable pertinacity.
Pope Innocent II (1198-1216), the most energetic champion of papal supremacy, thundered incessantly to all Europe that he claimed temporal supremacy over all the crowns of Christendom: for, as the successor of St. Peter, he was simultaneously the supreme head of the true religion and the temporal sovereign of the universe. His tireless exertions saw to it that papal rulership was extended over sundry lands and kingdoms.
By the end of his reign, in fact, the Vatican had become the temporal ruler of Naples, of the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, of almost all the States of the Iberian peninsula such as Castile, Leon, Navarre, Aragon and Portugal, of all the Scandinavian lands, of the Kingdom of Hungary, of the Slav State of Bohemia, of Servia, Bosnia, Bulgeria, and Poland. A proud list!
He became also the true de facto and de jure sovereign of England, after having compelled John to make complete submission. During the last years of that king's reign and the first few of Henry III, Innocent governed the island effectively through his legates. That was not enough, however, for Innocent proclaimed himself the temporal ruler of the Christian states founded in Syria by the Crusaders. Indeed, he went even further.
Taking advantage of the Franco-Venetian Crusade of 1202, he planned the annexation of the Byzantine Empire. A Latin Empire came into being in the East, and while the Byzantine became the temporal vassals of the pope, the Greek Orthodox Church was compelled to acknowledge Roman supremacy. Later on, such immense dominion was extended by his successors through the conversion to Roman Catholicism of the pagans of the Baltic.
At this time, as in the past, one country more than any other opposed the irresistible ecclesiastical absorption: the powerful German Empire. But the pope, in spite of many setbacks, never recognized Germany as being outside this formidable papal imperium, on the familiar ground that she was an integral part of the patrimony of St. Peter.
In an encyclical published shortly after the close of the Council of Lyons in 1245, Innocent expressly stated:
After which, in the same encyclical, Innocent fondly dwelt upon the idea that the pope's acceptance of the Constantine Donation was but a visible sign of his sovereign dominion over the whole word, and hence of all the wealth to be found on earth.
Whereupon the popes, without diminishing in any degree whatever the substance of their jurisdiction, established the tribunal of the empire, transferred it to the Germans, and were wont to concede the power of the sword to the emperors at their coronation.
By now, this was as much as to say that this imperial authority had its sole origin in the popes, could be enlarged or narrowed at their good pleasure, and that the pope could call each emperor to account for the use of the power and the riches entrusted to him.
The Dominican, Tolomeo of Lucca, author of the two last books of the work De Regimine Principum, the first two books of which were by Thomas Aquinas, went even further and explained the Donation as a formal abdication of Constantine in favor of Sylvester.
Connection with this other historical circumstances, which were either inventions or misconceptions, he thence drew the conclusion that the power and wealth of all temporal princes derived its strength and efficacy solely from the spiritual power of the popes. There was no halting half way, and immediately afterwards, in the contest of Boniface VIII with Philip of France, the Audutinian monk Aegidius Colonna of Rome, whom the pope had nominated to the archbishopric of Bourges, drew the natural conclusion without the slightest disguise in a work which he dedicated to his patron.
Emperors and kings were compelled very often, not only to acknowledge such claims as true, but to swear that they would defend them with their swords; to cite only one before his coronation. Pope Clement V made this monarch swear that he would protect and uphold all the rights which the emperors, beginning with Constantine, had granted to the Roman Church - without, however, stating what these rights were. (2)
The theory ran as follows:
This theory was supported by most medieval theologians. (3)
It became the firm belief of the popes themselves. In 1245, for instance, Pope Innocent IV expounded this doctrine to none other than the Emperor Frederick, saying that, as it was Christ who had entrusted to Peter and his successors both kingdoms, the heavenly and the earthly, belonged to him, the pope: by which he meant that the spiritual dominion of the papacy had to have its counterpart also in papal dominion over all the lands, territories and riches of the entire world.
The Church Claims Ownership of all Isles and Lands as yet Undiscovered
Following claims with deeds, the popes set about implementing their new, astounding theory by word, diplomacy, cunning, threats, and ruthless action.
While appealing for support, armed with all the mystic and spiritual authority of the Church, they went on stating, asserting, and declaring that their rights were based upon the utmost legality, by virtue of the Donation of Constantine. It was, in fact, a clause in the fabulous Donation (or rather a couple of sentences as interpreted by them) which,. although seeming at first sight insignificant, had the most tragic and far-reaching consequences.
The words, in the last clause of the Donation:
As in the case of their claims for Europe, those for the islands grew with the passing of the years and the increase of fashion and with a comparatively small matter.
When the popes proclaimed their sovereignty over Naples they included the various small islands nearby, on the ground that they were possessions of the Church. Later on, as documented in the chronicles of the Church of St. Maria del Principio, the popes, after having declared that Constantine gave to St. Peter also all the lands in the sea, said that the papal sovereignty covered the island of Sicily as well.
The use of the forged Donation initiated a new and more definite phase, however, when Pope Urban II claimed possession of Corsica in 1091, deducing Constantine's right to give away the island from the strange principle that all islands were legally juris publici, and therefore State domain.
When the popes, after having abstained for one hundred and eighty nine years from ruling Corsica directly, became strong political potentates themselves, they had no hesitation in asking for "their island" back.
In 1077 Pope Gregory VII simply declared that the Corsicans were "ready to return under the supremacy of the Papacy."
From then onwards, by virtue of the Donation of Constantine, the popes loudly claimed to be the feudal lords of all the islands of the ocean, and started to dispose of them according to their will.
Laboring to obtain papal supremacy, they used these rights as a powerful political bargaining power by which to further their political dominion over Europe:
The most famous example of such a bargain in transfer is undoubtedly Ireland.
Ireland had been for some time the prey of internecine wars which were steadily but surely bringing it to total state of quandary. By 1170, in fact, she had already had sixty-one kings.
It so happened that the popes, having decided to bring the Irish, among whom were "many pagan, ungodly and rebellious rulers," under the stern hand of Mother Church, planned a grand strategy thanks to which they would not only impose the discipline of their religious system, but also tie to the papacy more firmly than ever the English kingdom by conferring upon the English monarch the sole right to conquer that island and subjugate its people.
In this way the popes would achieve several goals simultaneously: they would re-impose their authority on Ireland, strengthen their power over the English kingdom, and thus also reinforce their hold upon France and indirectly upon the whole of Europe.
The pope was ready to confer the dominion of Ireland on the English king, upon the condition that the king accepted the doctrine of papal sovereignty, which implied that, as King of England, he was a vassal of the pope. The king, on the other hand, was ready to accept this upon the condition that the papacy would support him in his military and political conquest of he Irish by using the powerful machinery of the Church.
Once the pope and the king were in agreement, Hadrian IV granted to the England king the hereditary lordship of Ireland, sending a letter with a ring as a symbol of investiture, thus conferring on him dominion over the island of Ireland, which "like all Christian islands, undoubtedly belonged of right to St. Peter and the Roman Church".
He also gives with it a confirmation by Alexander II, obtained, he states, by Henry II after his visit to Ireland. John of Salisbury, the intimate friend and confidant of Pope Hadrian, quotes also the Donation of Constantine, on the grounds of this right of St. Peter over all islands. In addition to these two documents, there are three letters from Alexander III, which are similarly known to us only at second hand, being transcribed in what is known as the Black Book of the Exchequer. (2)
In them, the pope expresses his warm approval of Henry's conquest of Ireland, calling his expedition as missionary enterprise, praising him as a champion of the Church and particularly of St. Peter and of his rights, which rights St. Peter passed on to the popes. Especially significant is the fact that the rights claimed by the popes under the Donation of Constantine, over all islands, are here asserted, not so much as justifying the grant of Ireland to Henry, but as entitling the papal see to claim those rights for itself.
Three important conditions were annexed to the gift:
These "conditions" were obtained through papal authority and the king's sword.
When the King Henry seemed to have firmly established himself on Irish soil, the pope strengthened him by mobilizing the Irish Church in his support. Christian O'Conarchy, Bishop of Lismore and Papal Legate, president at the Synod, attended by the Archbishops of Dublin, Cashel and Tuam, their suffragan abbots and other dignitaries. Henry's sovereignty was acknowledged and constitutions made which drew Ireland closer to Rome than ever.
Thus it was one of the ironies of history that Catholic Ireland was sold by the popes themselves to a country destined to become the champion of Protestantism.
But the grant of Ireland had another great repercussion. It provided a precedent to the popes, not only to claim and give away islands and people, but also to give away a new world. For the language of the grant of Hadrian IV and some of his successors developed principles as yet unheard of in Christendom, since Hadrian had declared that Ireland and all the islands belonged to the special jurisdiction of St. Peter. (4)
The New World thus had become the possession of the papacy. It was as simple as that.
Pope Alexander VI, then the reigning pontiff, in fact,
one year only after the discovery of America - that is, in 1493 -
issued a document which is one of the most astounding papal writs of
all times. In it Pope Alexander VI, acting as the sole legal owner
of all islands of the oceans, granted all the lands yet to e
discovered to the King of Spain.
Here are the relevant words of this celebrated decree:
But then, since the rivalry between Spain and Portugal threatened to imperil the situation, in 1494 the Treaty of Tordesillas moved the papal line of demarcation to the meridian 370 leagues west of the Azores.
This brought Brazil into existence.
The pope's will was soon to be infringed by rebellious nations such Protestant England, Holland, and even Catholic countries like France. Yet it was strong enough to transform two-thirds of the New World into the spiritual domain of Rome.
Indeed, in its full extent found admittance even in Russia, for it exists in the Kormezaia Kniga, the Corpus juris Canonici of the Graeco-Slavonic Church, which was translated from the Greek by a Serbian or Bulgarian in the thirteenth or fourteenth century.
Many were those who rebelled against it.
Wetzeld, in a letter to the Emperor Frederick, dated 1152, centuries before the English precursor of Protestantism, Wycliff, had no hesitation in declaring:
The exposure of the falsity of the Donation proceeded until the middle of the fifteenth century, when three men succeeded, more than any others had done, in exploding the myth on historical grounds, proving without doubt that the fact of the Donation, no less than the document, was a fraudulent invention.
They were Reginal Pecock, Bishop of Chichester, Cardinal Cusa, and, above all Lorenzo Valla, who proved that the popes had no right whatever over any land in Europe and had not even the right to possess the States of the Church in Italy or in Rome itself.
Indeed, Piccolomini went further and proposed that after the council had solemnly proclaimed the unauthenticity of the Donation, Frederick should take possession of most of the territories included in it and openly reject all papal claims of supremacy over rulers and nations.
Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini was afterwards Pope Pius II.
A century before him, Dante, who had not hesitated to consign many popes to the hellish flames, uttered his famous lamentation on the Donation:
When The World Was About To End - A.D. 1000
This she did, via the greed of rapacious priests with their misuse of religion, their abuse of the credulity of multitudes, their exercise of fear and their unscrupulous use of promises designed to extract from these people land and valuables for which they had developed the most insatiable appetite since the times of Constantine.
How such a prediction came to the fore and was so widely adopted by the Roman Catholic Institution and, above all, by the European populace, has yet to be assessed. Contributory factors of varied character seem to have given solidity to the belief that the world would come to an end with the closing of the first millennium of Christianity.
The only sections of western society (beside the true Christian believers hiding in the mountains, with copies of Bible manuscripts) which had access to the Scriptures were the monks and certain pockets of the clergy.
They were the only sources for the reading, interpreting and explaining of the prophecies, particularly those concerned with the approaching end of the world. That the credence was a gross by-product of popular ignorance, superstition and fear there is no doubt.
She let the legend grow, helped by many of her clergy and the monastic orders who genuinely believed in its concrete fulfillment.
Thus her policy assumed a most sinister character when finally the credence which for a long time had remained somewhat vague, unreal, and distant, began to appear as a fast-approaching reality to the vast Christian multitudes, as the predicted date came nearer and nearer.
How? By donating them to what they were told was Christ's bride on earth, the Roman Church. And so it came to pass that monasteries, nunneries, abbeys, bishops' palaces and the like bustled with activity.
Believers came and went, not only to confess their sins, to repent and to prepare for the end of the world in purity and poverty, but also to donate and give to the Roman Catholic Institution all they had. They gave her their money, their valuables, their houses, their lands. Many of them became total paupers, since what would it avail them to die as the owners of anything when the world was destroyed?
Whereas, by giving away everything they were gaining merit in the eyes of the Great Judge!
Why such mundane precautions? To prove to the Lord on Judgment Day that Smith in England, Schmidt in Germany, Amundsen in Scandinavia, MacLaren in Scotland and O'Donovan in Ireland had truly got rid of their earthly possessions? Not at all!
To prove with matter-of-fact concreteness that the possessions of all those who had given were, form then on, the possessions of the papacy. For that is precisely what happened.
Those who had given away their property made for the ecclesiastical centers which had accepted their "offerings," only to be told that their money, houses, lands, were no longer theirs.
It had been the most spectacular give-away in history. Since the Church returned nothing, she embarked upon the second millennium with more wealth than ever, the result being that the monasteries, abbeys and bishoprics, with their inmates and incumbents, became richer, fatter and more corrupt than before.
And so it was, that Christianity witnessed the phenomenon of Francis Assisi, whose initial steps to sainthood were the renouncing of even the very clothes he wore, which he returned to his own father; after which, having thus openly signified his total renunciation of worldly goods, he dedicated himself to a life of total poverty by asking the protection of the bishop, stark naked.
The episode was a rebuff to be the Church of his time, since St. Francis, following this symbolic gesture with practical concreteness, founded a new monastic order, that of the Franciscans, and saw to it that the most striking feature of such order was the total renunciation of the riches of this world.
Bernard of Clairvaux appeared to the north, in France. Like Francis, Bernard had renounced all earthly riches as an individual. He enjoined such repudiation upon his new monastic order as well. He not only gave new life to a corrupt and rich western monasticism, he enforced his rule of total poverty outside the monasteries' walls whenever he could.
To do so he did not spare ecclesiastics of low or high rank, thundering against the wealth and opulence of the Church Militant.
He did not hesitate to castigate the Papal Legates themselves.
He even compared any pope who took pride in his office and riches to a monkey "perched high on a tree top", this although the pope of that period had formerly been one of his monks and lived, like him, a most austere life.
The Roman Church turned him into another tool to strengthen herself in matters of this world: that is, in wealth, for she saw in the denunciation of heretics another important source of revenue.
Thus the burning of heretics soon brought with two visible benefits - the elimination of dangerous, devil-inspired people, and the addition of ever-increasing wealth to the Church.
So it came to pass that the fulminations of the popes, for instance, launching anathemas, interdicts or excommunications, in addition to arrest, torture and the death penalty, led also to the expropriation of all the goods, money and property of those who had been denounced.
The authorities, lay or ecclesiastical, were compelled under pain of excommunication,
Pope Innocent III issued specific instructions concerning this. The Corpus Juris, the official law book of the Papacy, gave details:
This papal injunction was carried out everywhere the Roman Catholic Institution ruled.
Thus, for instance following the edict to the authorities of Nimes and Narbonne, in 1228, Blache of Castille ordered that any person who had been excommunicated,
This order became so general that, in a collection of laws known as the Etablissement, it is commanded that royal officers, whenever summoned by the bishops, shall seize both the accused and his property. (4)
When Pope Honorius crowned Emperor Frederic II in 1220, he hurled a solemn excommunication against anyone "infringing the privileges of the Church."
He declared that, among others,
Thanks to such decrees the Church could obtain vast estates and substantial wealth merely by accusing a rich man of heresy.
This practice was not, however, confined to wealthy individuals. As it became more common it degenerated to such an extent that it was turned into the most blatant pretext for collecting money, often in connivance with secular rulers.
To cite only one case: witness the Regent, Blache of Castille, who in 1228, besides, as already mentioned, decreeing the seizure of any heretic's property, ordered that,
The clergy, high and low, then began to practice another money-extracting device.
They forced the faithful when these were beyond reproach and could not be accused of heresy, to purchase escape from excommunication. This yielded tremendous sums to the clergy throughout Christendom. Prelates, cardinals and popes used their position to make money, not only for the Church, but also for themselves.
Bishops became Cyfeiliawg, for instance. The bishop excommunicated his king. When the latter asked for the excommunication to be lifted, the bishop agreed - but at a price. This price? A plate of pure gold the size of the bishop's face. (6)
Indeed, with the passing of time the greed for worldly riches ultimately permeated the whole system to such an extent that the cry of the Diet of Nuremberg, uttered in 1522, expressed the anguish of countless individuals throughout Christendom:
The Verdict of the Diet of Nuremberg was not a gross exaggeration. It was a most accurate assessment of the Roman Church's insatiable thirst for the riches of this world.
Pay to be a Christian - Whether Alive or Dead
From that tenth and eleven centuries, however, the accretion of her riches gathered momentum. That is, it became systematized. Indeed, it became a fixed feature of her administration.
Whereas in the past the money had come from the humble and the poor who donated because of religious motives, from out on words such "donations" became compulsory. It was no longer the humble folk or the Princess who gave her "favors received."
Hence forward they were all made for "favors received." That is, they had to give to the Church by mere fact that they were members, the principle being that the children who were cared for by the mother should give her part of their richness as a compensation for her love. The ternet was not new. Its novelty was that now it became systematized, an integral part and parcel of the Vatican's vast machinery.
The most notorious of these pontiffs, and one of the first creators on Caesaro-Papism, as it was rightly labeled, was Pope Gregory VII , who in 1081 gave orders to his legates in France that every house inhabited by baptized persons in that country should pay an annual tribute of one denarius to the Blessed Peter.
For, said Gregory, a yearly donation to the Blessed Peter (that is, to the pope) was an ancient custom first imposed by the son of Pepin the Short, whom we have already encountered, that is, whom we have already encountered, that is, by the Emperor Charlemagne, who, having overcome the ferocious Saxons, had offered his territories to St. Peter and hence to his successors.
Anyone inhabiting the territories thus donated, therefore, was duty bound to give such contributions, because, explained Pope Gregory VII, using the appropriate feudal juridical terms of the times, he, Gregory, considered France and Saxony as belonging to the Blessed Peter.
As a result, the denarius which every one of the inhabitants gave was nothing less than a fealty contribution to the Roman See - an argument which was eventually to be confirmed and practice by subsequent popes, such as Gregory IX, Innocent III and others; Pope Martin IV, for instance.
Martin interdicted King Pedro of Aragon, after that king claimed his hereditary right to Sicily following Sicily's rising in 1282 against King Charles. Martin , using the papacy's immense spiritual pressure, deprived King Pedro of his Kingdom. Thereupon, what did the pope do?
He presented the whole kingdom to somebody else, namely, to Charles of Valois, but on one important condition :
Pope Sixtus IV very often caused a notice to be nailed to the door of a church.
When the clergy and the faithful went to see what the papal message was, they discovered that unless as certain sum was forthcoming at once that church would be under an "interdict" and furthermore, that its clergy would be under an "interdict" and furthermore, that its clergy would be suspended.
This financial expedient proved abundantly productive with other popes and hierarchs for long periods. (1) Such measures, although frequent, were not, of course, sufficiently methodical to yield a regular and steady income. Hence the creation of regulations, the enforcement of which resulted in a steady flow of riches into St. Peter's coffers.
Some of the most common were the "oblations" or offerings at mass or during certain feast days. These oblations were at first voluntary. With the passing of time, however, they became a kind of unwritten contribution of the clergy, until, in the thirteenth century, they were insisted upon as a right.
This custom eventually became so widespread that the clergy treated the collection of oblations, not only as a duty on the part of their parishioners, but as a right of the clergy, to such an extent that ultimately the oblations were exported from the utmost disregard, indeed, with such cynicism that many Councils attempted to check the Hierarchy's rapacity.
This came about when it was discovered that many priests were putting pressure to bear even in the confessional. In fact, round about 1210, church councils were compelled to inflict penalties on some of their clergy who had gone so far as to refuse to administer the Sacrament to those who had not given their oblation or who were in arrears with their Easter offerings.
The result was not only growing resentment but also of avoidance of payment. Many, so as not to pay the oblations, began to stay from mass.
The clergy retorted by making it to punishable for them to do so. Indeed, they find their own parishioners if the latter frequented churches in other parishes. Fines were enforced on those who omitted confession or communion, at Christmas and Easter, for instance; upon those who neglected church fasts.
The higher clergy also imposed fines, both lay folk and the lower clergy, every act of immorality, as system which became the cause of frequent extortion by unscrupulous high prelates, the immorality of clergymen having thus been turned into a regular and constant source of revenue for those above.
The laws, both ecclesiastical and temporal - which, of course, had been interlinked in such a manner as to make the custom compulsory - were considered to include even the down of his wife's geese, pot herbs in the gardens of laborers, and grass cut by the roadside.
Since the priest said that all their offerings were to God, they took such words literally,
The spirit which prompted the Exeter farmers to act thus was, of course, widespread , particularly in times of scarcity , so that it was common for farmers, laborers and others to think of all kinds of subterfuges to avoid paying.
Many of these subterfuges, complained another hierarch Archbishop Stratford, addressing the Synod of London in 1342,
In addition to giving tithes while they were still alive, the faithful had to give more while they were still alive, the faithful had to give more while they were dying and after they were dead.
Thus a man who had his will written was bound to give tithes in his legacy. "A legatee is bound to give tithes in his legacy, even though it have been already tithed by the testator," as a fourteenth-century manual for parish priests, the Pupilla Oculi, asserted, and since it was realized by the Church that even the most devout of her members might fail at times to give her dues, she made of such an omission nothing less than a mortal sin; after which her clergy invented a yet more profitable device: that of the mortuary.
The mortuary fell with the weight of a millstone upon the estate of every dead Roman Catholic.
The claim consisted of taking over the second best animal from the stock of anyone who had died possessed of not less than three , a claim which was not only regulated but also legalized. It was imposed by Archbishop Winchelsey about 1305 and confirmed by Langham in 1367. As a result the mortuary became a kind of tax, amounting to succession duty of thirty-three percent on the personal property of the defunct Roman Catholic.
It was soon turned into a set custom, acknowledged by both spiritual and temporal authorities in practically every country of Christendom. In this manner the Church began to appropriate one-third of the dead man's personal estate. Many people, like the Exeter farmers, tried to avoid payment. A typical case is that found among the many pleas to the English Parliament in year 1330.
One Thomas le Forter had paid what he claimed to be a just mortuary on the estate of William le Forter; this in his capacity the executor.
The deceased's parson, however, the Abbot of Wenlock, sued him in the episcopal court, claiming a full third of the deceased's property, saying that this was the usual mortuary. Thomas appealed to the king, who decreed that "exactions of this kind.. manifestly redound to the oppression of the realm." He therefore forbade the bishop to side with the abbot.
Parliament intervened and set up a kind of commission, presided over by three abbots, These, invoking a statute of Edward I to the effect that no prohibition could avail to stop proceedings in the episcopal court on a question of tithers or mortuary, compelled their heir to pay in full.
What of prostitutes? Following a modest hesitation and few clerical blushes, the battalion of theological bachelors decided that Holy Mother Church must refuse the prostitutes' contributions to her chaste coffers.
But, they added (and here is the theological gem) so long as they were unrepentant, lest she, the Church, would give the impression that she shared in their sins. Should, however, the prostitutes repent of their sins, or should their sins remain secret to the average burgh or burghers, although the Church knew about them, then, yes, "the tithes may be taken." (2)
In his 43rd Resolution he put the question:
Thanks to this principle, the Church could obtain vast estates or substantial wealth when prosperous individuals were, as happened often, accused of heresy and condemned - sometimes in collusion with the temporal authorities.
Witness, for instance, the case of Philip II (1556-98). Two-thirds of the income of the Inquisition went to him, the rest of the Roman Catholic institution. Further to the Inquisition were the weapons of interdiction and excommunication. These were used with increasing frequency to compel the faithful to pay under practically any pretext.
Thus, for example, church and temporal powers would often used the Inquisition. Witness Regent Blache of Castille, who in 1228 issued an edict addressed to the authorities of Nimes and Narbonne, directing that the excommunicated who remained for a whole year should be forced to seek absolution by the seizure of their property. To quicken the process, a fine of ten livres was exacted on all those excommunicated who had not entered the church within forty days.
For instance, at vintage time the tithers time the tithers forbade, under pain of excommunication, the gathering of gathering of grapes until they could choose the best, so that very often the peasants, owing to frequent delays, saw the ruin of their crops.
To mention one: excommunication hurled by good Pope John against those miscreants who stole.. what? Nothing other than the papal horse on which the pope was traveling through France. Or that other papal bolt against the "knaves" who had pilfered his plate while he was staying at the Abbey of Avigny.
And, said the Pope, to add insult to injury ,
But one of the grossest abuses of excommunication was that perpetrated by bishops and even by hierarchs who began to excommunicate the neighbors of the originally excommunicated person, the result being that when finally the family of the latter was exiled in his whole property confiscated, dozens of others, his neighbors, were placed under the same ban and hence the same penalties that is their properties could be, and as a rule were, in new , and as our role in new and NC same penalties; that is, their properties could be, and as a rule were, confiscated.
The immense wealth thus collected finally reached such proportions that her economic stranglehold upon all and sundry was no less massive than her spiritual dominion, and almost paralyzed whole countries.
During the reign of Francis I (1515-47), for instance, a mere six hundred abbots, bishops and archbishops controlled so much land throughout France that the income they derived from it equaled that of the French state itself. (4)
She had become such a dead weight that the revolt which her practices provoked, after simmering below the surface for hundreds of years, in due course exploded with the violence of an earthquake. It came, disguised in theological garb, when the hammer of a rebel monk, nailing some theses upon a church door, made Rome totter on her foundations for decades, indeed, for centuries to come.
Holy Mass Tourism for Each Generation
What believer could resist such unheard-of and immense spiritual bounty?
Rome, the Holy City.
What had prompted Pope Boniface to create such a precedent so unexpectedly? What arcane revelation had induced him to fling wide open the gates to the treasures of heaven?
The answer is but one: the allure of the
treasures of the earth.
For, truly, devotion to the Blessed Peter, which in the early golden days had made the naive Saxons flock to his tongue in Rome to ask his pardon, had greatly diminished. Coin offerings had dwindled to next to nothing . The sad fact was that, whereas the local hierarchies in many parts of Christendom were becoming fat and rich, the Holy Father in the heart of Rome was becoming increasingly poor. St. Peter's coffer, he was being repeatedly told by his treasurers, were very low; indeed, they were well-nigh empty. Something had better be done to replenish them.
Hearing this, Boniface needed no further providential prompting. He thanked God that he had been told about it just at the beginning of the year 1300. Better late than never.
Being a man of action, he speedily proclaimed the Jubilee on 22nd February, 1300, to the amazement, surprise and the delight of many, particularly in Rome. The good children of the Church, most of whom did not believe that they could emulate the vigorous old man of 107, but realizing that so wholesome a remission of sins was truly the chance of a lifetime, did not hesitate.
They left their villages, cities and countries by the thousands. Europe saw a mass movement the like of which had never before been experienced, and all compressed within a single calendar year. A contemporary, Villani, declared that there were at least 200,000 pilgrims daily in Rome G. Ventura, another contemporary eye-witness , said that crowds were so great that he saw men and women trampled underfoot.
The poet Dante could find no better comparison for the multitudes of the damned in his Inferno than the crowds which congregated in Rome during this Jubilee.
But if the pilgrims went to Rome to gain the total remission of their sins, they had to show their gratitude to the Blessed Peter and Paul, not only with prayers, but also with a more tangible token of their reverence, that is, with money; and this they did. Cardinal Gaietano, nephew of the pope, admitted that his uncle Boniface received more than 30,000 gold florins, offered by pilgrims at the altar of St. Peter alone, and 20,000 at that of St. Paul.
He was in that position to know. In addition we have the description of an eye-witness who took part in the same Jubilee pilgrimage, the historian Ventura.
Ventura has assured us that the tribute received by Pope Boniface on this occasion was "incomputable". Then, to prove that his occasion was not exaggerated, he gives a glorious description. At the altar of St. Paul, he says, where he went to pray himself, there stood, by day and by night, two clerks and "raking in infinite money" - his very words! (1) Pope Boneface's Jubilee had proved a tremendous success.
The Blessed Peter's coffers were replenished, and Rome prospered once more for a while.
Then, to make sure that the pilgrims would come in multitudes as on the first occasion, he offered them a further spiritual inducement. In June 1346 he issued another bull in which he asserted that he had complete control and, indeed, power over the future life. And, proceeding to exact details, he told the prospective pilgrims that he could order the angels of heaven to liberate from purgatory the souls of any of them who might die on the road to Rome.
Traveling was mainly on foot ; horse-riding was only for a few. There were no hotels, hardly any real roads, no food provisions or banks or police; but, on the contrary, robbers all along the way, starvation, sleeping in the open, disease. About the time of this second Jubilee there also appeared the Black Death, which truly decimated the population of Europe.
To realize how hazardous an enterprise it was, suffice it to remember that during the first and second Jubilees, only one out of ten pilgrims returned home alive.
But their piety and their longing for remission of their sins, with the added privilege of liberating a soul from the flames of purgatory, were no less sincere than were these feelings in the fortunate ones who had gone to Rome in person. The pope listened, agreed, in his paternal consideration for the spiritual welfare of those far-away children, he decreed that they, too should partake of the privileges of the indulgences on the Jubilee.
He began with Hugh, King of Cyprus; Edward III and Henry, Duke of Lancaster in England; Queen Isabella of France; Queen Philippa of England and Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. These all responded with regal oblations: that is, with generous, solid payments of gold.
The pope agreed, and he promptly instructed his representatives outside Rome to the exempt the would-be pilgrims from undertaking the journey - provided, of course, that they did not forget to show their gratitude to the Blessed Peter with a little offering.
The Papal Nuncio in Sicily was one of the first to carry out the instructions. He exempted thirty persons from undertaking the pilgrimage, provided they paid what the pilgrimage would have cost them had they actually gone to Rome. And so the practice of collecting from penitents at home sums equivalent to the cost of the pilgrimage was born.
The Jubilee of 1450 was again an immense success. The amount of gold collected from the pilgrims was so huge that Pope Nicholas V struck a coin known "the Jubilee". This coin was of such unusual size going on was of such unusual size a equaled three of the ordinary cold peace and issued at that time by the royal mints of Europe.
In addition to this they were also authorized to compound for "irregularity" - for instance, on a charge of simony - on payment of one-third of the sums acquired by it. In this manner that the Basilica of St.Peter was soon transformed into a veritable market-place where pardons, indulgences, merits, dispensations and suchlike religious privileges were sold, exchanged, resold and marketed over the papal money chests.
This was the last Jubilee before the Reformation.
Indeed, it was the Jubilee which, unnoticed almost by all, had planted the seeds which were eventually to blossom into the portentous trees that were ultimately to make the monolithic structure crack into two mighty halves and bring about the emergence of Protestantism.
Miracles, Portents and Wonder for Sale
Miracles thus became a kind of religious investment yielding a steady, if uneven flow of revenue.
Their profitability depended, not only upon the spectacular nature or uniqueness of the portents, but also upon the advantages gained by those who believed in them, the combination of these ingredients being the cement with which both Church and its faithful could identify themselves in partaking of the visible results of God's generosity.
If the selling of indulgences was a most lucrative method of amassing wealth, the exploitation of the individual and collective gullibility of Roman Catholic people was no less profitable. God's generosity could be dispensed, distributed manifested on numberless occasions by the most diverse means and in the most contrasting and inappropriate situations and circumstances.
We shall content ourselves with reporting some of the most characteristic; this will indicate not only their nature but also how they were tuned into events by which the papacy profited through the collection of yet more revenues.
One day the people of Aspe in France carried out a sudden raid upon their neighbors of Saint-Savin. To prevent them from succeeding, the Abbot of Saint-Savin climbed a tree, said the appropriate prayers, and so paralyzed them that they were all slaughtered without resistance. The pope, informed of the massacre, cast an interdict upon Saint-Savin, with the result that for seven years it was cursed with sterility in its women, cattle and fields.
To gain absolution, Saint-Savin agreed to pay an annual tribute of thirty sous. (1)
In 1451 William Saluces, Bishop of Lausanne, ordered the trial of multitudes of leeches which threatened the fish of Geneva. The leeches were ordered, under pain of excommunication, together in the given spot. The people concerned made abundant offerings to the Church. The ecclesiastical court of Autumn in 1480 excommunicated an army of caterpillars and ordered the priests of the region to repeat the anathema from the pulpit until the caterpillars had been exterminated.
The following year, 1481, and again in 1487, a most irreligious multitude of snails at Macon were duly excommunicated. In 1516 the clergy excommunicated the too numerous grasshoppers at Milliere, in Normandy. In 1587, at Valence, a formal trial was terminated with a sentence of banishment against another multitude of caterpillars. (4)
When such miracles,
excommunications, trials and the like the multiplied by the
thousand, the florins multiplied with even greater rapidity than
swarms of mayflies.
This manner of collecting money, however, although rewarding, did not yet yield as much as when authentic saints were brought into action. Thus, at the command of St.Stanislaw, one Peter, who was dead, rose from his tomb and went into a law court to certify the sale of an estate - after which, of course, the local church was amply rewarded by receiving a portion of such estate. In the thirteenth century St. Anthony was told when in Italy that his father, in Lisbon, had been accused of murder.
An angel transported him from Italy to Lisbon.
Once there, Anthony asked the murdered man:
Thereupon Anthony was taken back by the same angel.
A basilica was built over Anthony's body. Pilgrimages have been going on ever since, to this very day, with stupendous money offerings, mostly from North and Latin America.
The woman having assented, St.Vincent wrote a letter as follows:
The letter flew instantly to heaven, and after a few minutes flew back. Upon it was written:
To satisfy the cynicism of the incredulous, the event was attested to by none other than the pope's chamberlain, who gave copious evidence of this "fact ", as he called it, "in addition to giving the names of fourteen highly placed prelates who vouched for it."
During an inquest held in Avignon, Toulose, Nantes and Nancy, it was revealed that the official list totaled eight hundred.
And he adds, with understandable prudence:
In Salamanca there was a miracle bell, which rang to warn the people of an oncoming miracle.(8)
This happened mostly when the collection and the cathedral had not been too good. And since we are dealing with bells, we might as well recall the case of Pope Alexander IV. When he removed the ban of excommunication, all the bells of the church of Avignonet began to ring of their own accord; not only so, but they went on pealing all night and all day, although they had not been heard for the previous forty years.
This "fact ," was attested to by the declaration of the inhabitants of Avignonet in the year 1923. The "fact" was furthermore included as such in an Acte Notaire, dated January 29, 1676. On what authority? Not only on that of the inhabitants of Avignonet, but indeed on that of the Pope Paul III mentioned the "fact" in a Bull of 1537. (9)
Shrines like that of St.James of Compostella in Spain, for instance, became almost as the tomb of the Blessed Peter in Rome. Pilgrims congregated there from all parts of Europe, and they included princess and kings, who never went empty handed. The poorest folk always left money at the altar. Magnificent gifts of solid gold , silver, precious stones and the like still adorn the place.
Now it must be remembered that the whole of Europe was dotted with shrines, and that pilgrimages were the order of the day for centuries.
This brought a continuous flow of revenue as we have already seen in a previous chapter, with the result that the accumulation of riches continued unabated, ranging from money to land and real estate.
Stock Exchange in Indulgences
The income derived from them was too haphazard and unpredictable, and hence too unreliable. Something of a more consistently dependable nature, therefore had to be denied for the collection of revenues.
This was near at hand; the Pope's power to bind to loose.
Originally an indulgence was far the most innocuous instruments and the spiritual armory of the papacy. Initially it was designed to help the penitent, since there was nothing else than the remission of the penance imposed on confessed sins. The peril of leaving such power in the hands of a notoriously rapacious clergy was too obvious.
So the pope reserved the granting of indulgences to himself. Like many other church institutions the practice of granting indulgences did not come to the face all at once.
At the beginning it was granted with the utmost parsimony, and even then, only during exceptional circumstances. The "real" indulgence began to appear during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, in a very unobtrusive manner, and at this period was truly a tremendous event if a pope granted an indulgence was still a rare event.
Later, they degenerated into "crusades" of all kinds, mostly of a religious-political character.
Pope Urban VI, for instance, ordered England to fight against France had taken the side of Pope Urban's rival, Pope Clement VII. To encourage volunteers, Urban promised indulgences to anyone who would thus take up arms. Pope John XXIII did the same when he announced a crusade against Naples-again , because Naples happened to support John's rival, the Anti-Pope Gregory.
From this to an increasing number of sundry causes the steps quickened. Indulgences were granted with ever increasing facility to places, to people, to saints, to monastic orders, and so on, ad infinitum.
This process occurred not only because individuals, orders and places wanted such privileges to enhance to enhance their spiritual status, but above all because the privilege in most cases resulted in substantial and steady monetary gains. The fiscal possibilities were seeing from the earliest period.
By the later Middle Ages the practice of selling indulgences for money became general, until it was abused.
The small Church of the Portiuncula, where Francis of Assissi had a vision, was enriched with a novel form of indulgence called the toties quoties, which meant that anyone visiting it in August during a special holy day gained one plenary indulgence each time he entered the little church.
The novel indulgence was too good to be restricted to Portiuncula, and in no time Franciscans everywhere wanted a similar privilege, with the result that soon every Franciscan church in every country had its Portiuncula Day.
Other monastic orders, of course, could not resist so good an opportunity, and the Dominicans, the Carmelities and countless others followed suit in due course. Then there was the privileged altar. The pope promised that if a mass was said at a given altar, the soul on behalf of whom the mass had been said would be released instantly from purgatory. Every church was ultimately endowed with such an altar.
The absurdity to
which this went can be gathered by the fact that no less than 9,000
years, plus 9,000 quarantines for every step of the Scala Santa in
Rome, were transferable to souls of the dead.
This was granted by the authority of Pope Pius VII and even of Pope Pius IX. Why such incredible indulgences? Because the Scala Santa is supposed to be the stairway to Pilate's house, which Christ ascended at His trial.
The Stations of the Via Crucis, also in Rome, were so rich in indulgences that, according to an eminent authority on the subject, (1) a Roman Catholic could, within one single year, gain forty-nine plenaries and more than one and a half million years of partials.
An English account appeared round the year 1370 enumerated the widespread indulgences offered by the churches of Rome, the following being but a typical sample:
The indulgences grew in number and power with the passing of time, until finally they became so unlimited that even the most pious began to have doubts about their efficacy.
Gerson suggested that they were thus exaggerated owing to "the avarice" of the pardoners, "that is, the people who were selling them" and declared, incidentally, that as so many dealt with thousands of years they could not have the authority of the popes, since purgatory would end with the end of the world. (3)
On the other hand, another no less devout authority, Lavorio, declared that the indulgences of 15,000 or 20,000 years were proof of the extent of purgatorial suffering which hardened sinners might expect, while Polacchi argued that such indulgences should not seem absurd or incredible when we reflect that a single day in purgatory corresponds to many years of the fiercest bodily anguish during life. (4)
The extravagance of the indulgences continued. In 1513, for instance, Pope Leo X granted to the Servite Chapel of St.Annunciata at Florence that all visiting it on Saturdays should obtain a thousand years and as many quarantines, and double that amount on the feasts of Virgin, Christmas and Friday and Saturday of Holy Week. (5)
The immensity of the riches which brought to the papacy during the centuries is incalculable.
Their use, abuse and misuse should not make us lightly condemn them, as unimportant, nor their absurdity induce us to underestimate the tremendous power they had - or rather, the tremendous power of the cumulative effect of their employment by both the Church and the popes.
For, more often than not, they served their purpose in the mobilizations, control and use of the vast masses of men, armies and nations, none of which might otherwise have been mobilized with such ease and fluidity by successive popes. In the struggles of the papacy with the temporal powers, for instance, which was the dominating fact of medieval history, they played a paramount role.
This they did, not not only by creating renewed zeal, but by putting men, riches and armies at will into the hands of the popes.
For by the mere fact that the popes could proclaim a crusade at will with all the indulgences invariably involved, princes, kings and emperors were made to think twice before opposing the papal path in territorial disputes of political or dynastic matters. Explorations, conversions and domination of known and unknown lands and races were greatly accelerated by the power and use of indulgences.
We quote only one typical case, that of the Teutonic Knights, who were spurred chiefly by indulgences in conquering and thus Christianizing North-East Germany and most of Hungary and finally in erecting an impregnable barrier against the invading Islamic armies of the Turks.
Their trading for money became such a scandal that it turned, as already hinted, into a universal, well-organized abuse, which operated all levels, is chief exponent and proponent being the papacy itself. Papal dynastic and personal greed was at the bottom of such gross profiteering. The corruption of the clergy, ever ready to make money by selling their offices, was a contributory factor.
It was a fateful day for the whole of Roman Catholicism: for on that day the German monk, acting as the spokesman of untold millions of believers, defiantly challenged the practice of selling documents and offering money payments for penance, that is, rejecting indulgences.
The brazen buying and selling of indulgences to make money had become so open as to disgust the most tolerant of Christians. This was being done not only by the pope, who traded them throughout Europe, ostensibly for religious purposes, but equally by lesser dignitaries.
To mention only one among many, the Pope Leo X in 1517 gave permission to the Archbishop of Mainz, to sell indulgences on a grand scale in order to pay his debts, which he had contracted in buying the dignity of archbishop. In Germany this type of trade in indulgences was promoted by the pope's delegate himself, Dominican J. Tetzel, who operated near Wittenberg.
The reaction and counter-reaction of Luther's indignation in due course provoked what finally became a historical inevitability the Reformation.
The Church Claims the Americas
To Pope Alexander VI, like all the popes before him, the spirit and the letter of the Donation had to be observed, maintained and practiced by all and sundry, starting with its chief custodian, the Roman Pontiff.
These rested upon the principles enunciated with such clarity by the most significant words of the Donation, which we have quoted elsewhere, to be found in its last clause, namely:
It was on the strength of such tenets that Pope Hadrian IV in 1155, as we have already seen, gave Ireland to the English king, as,
Pope Boniface VIII declared that "temporal authority is subject to the spiritual," (1) whereas Pope Gregory asserted that "the pope stands to the Emperor as the sun to the moon."
This prompted sundry theological pillars of the Church to state that,
Pope Gregory IX invoked Constantine himself to support such claim.
To clarify this he elucidated the matter.
In virtue of this, Pope Hadrian compelled King John to pay a yearly tribute to him - that is, a tax - in token of the subjection of England and Ireland.
They remained the full-blooded claims of the popes when America was actually found, so much so that when the reigning pontiff heard about the discoveries, he apportioned the New World, on the basis that he, the pope, had the legal right to do, since it was his property and no one else's.
To leave the position in no doubt whatsoever, the Pontiff decreed that all lands and islands, discovered and to be discovered, would be leased to Spain. Not only that; but he told King Ferdinand where the new boundaries would and would be drawn, namely, "towards the West and South, drawing a line from the Pole Antarctic, from the North to the South ".
The English version is from the original (english ed and published by R. Eden in 1577) to be found in Hakluytus Posthumus, printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone, London, in England, and 1625:
This last phrase, "to the intent to bring the inhabitants.. to profess the Catholic Faith," throws the clearest light upon the basic motivation of the whole enterprise.
All other factors, no matter how important, were subsidiary to this.
She believed implicitly and absolutely in the dogmas and mission of the Roman Catholic Church. She was under the thumb of her confessor, a man responsible, no doubt, for many of her decisions, like the one which dismissed Columbus's first to petition, or that which unleashed the horrifying hunting down of heretics, with the resulting burning and torturing, by the Holy Inquisition.
Yet it was in favor of financing his expedition. Here again, therefore, that "intangible" religious factor to which we have already referred played a paramount, even if an imponderable, role in the preliminary exertions which were to lead to the discovery of America.
In any case, supposition or fact, the reality of the matter was that this was taken for granted by the pope himself, who talked and acted on that assumption.
Following his preliminary introduction, Alexander continued thus:
After which the Pope, speaking as a master, lord and owner of what the explorers had already explored and would explore the future, came to the point.
Here are his memorable words:
Thereupon His Holiness once more reasserted his authority, indicating the source of such authority, in order to justify the grant he was making to the King of Spain in virtue of and as a derivation of the same.
Having duly decreed, donated, granted and assigned all the above, Pope Alexander hurled a potential excommunication against anyone who might dare to disregard his decision:
Alexander then indicated the actual demarcation of the explorations and possessions mentioned earlier in this same document, and said:
Finally, he concluded his deed of gift by threatening anybody who might dare "to infringe" his will:
After Catholic Spain there came rival Portugal.
As a result, the following year - that is, in 1494 - the Treaty of Tordesillas moved and the papal lines of demarcation to the meridian 370 leagues with of Azores. This caused yet another visible effect of the papal decision upon the New World: the existence of Brazil. For, by pushing the line so far west, a great portion of the soon-to-be-discovered Brazilian bulge was included in the Portuguese dominion.
In 1500 Alvarez Gabral discovered what later was known as Brazil. The following year, 1501, Corte Real sailed north and landed on Greenland. Joao Martins in 1541 set foot on Alaska.
When the Isthmus of Panama was crossed and the Pacific Ocean discovered, a priest, a member of the expedition, rushed into the waves holding a crucifix and shouting:
The New World had become indeed, by divine and legal right, the absolute property of the popes, from the north to the south, from the eastern to the western coasts.
A New World was added to the old one, already under the triple crown.