From the Old Testament to the New Testament and through to Modernity

There are many mistaken and false beliefs about the history of the Catholic Church in circulation today. Some of these beliefs originate in recent times, some of them go back centuries. The Catholic Church traces Her history over two thousand years to Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and as long as the Church has existed, there have been those willing to spread falsehoods in order to harm the faith, from Nero who blamed Christians for setting fire to Rome to 19th century black propaganda and the persecution of Irish Catholics by British protestants.

By studying the continuity and unfolding of the Catholicism in history, and its wonderful fruits, one can show that something extraordinarily good, with the coherence of truth, has been given to the world, even if the truth itself remains hidden without the eyes of faith.

This section of Saints and Scholars does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the Church, but rather addresses various untruths which are commonly held.

Please click on some of the links below to learn more.

The Historicity of Jesus

One of the first things that non-Christians, fallen away Christians and secular people tend to ask is - how do we know Jesus even existed? The answer is that virtually all scholars of antiquity accept that Jesus was a historical figure.

Besides the records kept by early Christians and those who lived at the same time as Christ, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus was the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Josephus, who was born Yosef ben Matityahu, lived from around 47 AD to 100 AD, and was an aristocrat and military leader in Palestine who served as a commander in Galilee during the first Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66 AD.

He referred to Christ in his history of Judaism "Jewish Antiquities" written in 93 AD. He mentions Jesus twice – once in an odd section about Jesus’s supposed brother James and in another paragraph that some suspect was altered by Christian scribes to present Jesus in a more positive light, Antiquities 18:3:3:

"There was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of surprising works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

There was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.

If anyone in the ancient world had a reason to dislike the Christian faith, it was the Jewish Rabbis. To argue successfully that Jesus never existed but was a creation of early Christians would have been the most effective attack against Christianity, yet all Jewish sources treated Jesus as a fully historical person. The Rabbis instead tried to use the real events of Jesus’ life against him

Roman historians Pliny and Tacitus also wrote about Jesus Christ about twenty years after Josephus’ book. Neither of these were Christians or had any sympathy for Christians - quite the opposite! As such, they had no reason to make up fictions about anyone who didn't exist.

The Annals by Cornelius Tacitus from 115 AD mentioned the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate executing Jesus, alluding to crucifixion, and placed that event within a timeframe that agrees with Christian Gospels.

"Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called “Chrestians” by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind."

Pliny the Younger, who was also Roman governor in Asia Minor, wrote letters to Emperor Trajan around AD 112 describing Christians worshipping Jesus as a God:

"They (Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food, but of an ordinary and innocent kind"

Pliny also condemned their "pig-headed obstinacy".

Some scholars also believe Roman historian Suetonius references Jesus in noting that Emperor Claudius had expelled Jews from Rome who "were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus."

Historian Michael Grant asserts that if conventional standards of historical textual criticism are applied to the New Testament, "we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned."

There is little archaeological evidence for the existence of Jesus, but there is very little archaeological evidence for anyone recorded to have lived in those times. He was not seen by the powerful of Judea or Rome as being important, like an inconspicuous mustard seed which grows into a mighty tree.

The Church and Science, the "Dark Ages"

Catholicism has always been dedicated to the truth and to understanding God's creation, which is part of God's plan for us. The desire to worship God by studying His creation has always been a Christian imperative. Historically, the Catholic Church has been one of the largest if not the largest patron of the sciences in the world. It has been prolific in the foundation and funding of schools, universities, and hospitals, and many clergy have been active in the sciences.

Historians of science such as Pierre Duhem credit medieval Catholic mathematicians and philosophers as the founders of modern science. Duhem found "the mechanics and physics, of which modern times are justifiably proud, to proceed by an uninterrupted series of scarcely perceptible improvements from doctrines professed in the heart of the medieval schools."

Dr Thomas Woods adds, "Historians have marveled at the extent to which intellectual debate in those [medieval Catholic] universities was free and unfettered. The exaltation of human reason and its capabilities, a commitment to rigorous and rational debate, a promotion of intellectual inquiry and scholarly exchange - all sponsored by the Church - provided the framework for the Scientific Revolution."

JL Heilbronn in his book The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, writes that "the ... Catholic Church gave more financial aid and support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions."

Unfortunately in the nineteenth century, religiously and politically motivated protestants and those interested in promoting secularism above all else began a movement called the conflict thesis, which tried to paint the Church as fundamentally opposed to rational discourse and science itself. In this they were only the inheritors of earlier "enlightenment" propagandists such as Voltaire who seemed to believe that all of modernity popped into existence from thin air, with no preceding foundations being laid or incremental progress being made.

But from the beginning the Church made its position on science clear, as taught by one of the most important Fathers of the Church, St Augustine, when he said

"Often, a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances … and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, which people see as ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is laughed at, but rather that people outside the faith believe that we hold such opinions, and thus our teachings are rejected as ignorant and unlearned. If they find a Christian mistaken in a subject that they know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions as based on our teachings, how are they going to believe these teachings in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think these teachings are filled with fallacies about facts which they have learnt from experience and reason.

Reckless and presumptuous expounders of Scripture bring about much harm when they are caught in their mischievous false opinions by those not bound by our sacred texts. And even more so when they then try to defend their rash and obviously untrue statements by quoting a shower of words from Scripture and even recite from memory passages which they think will support their case ‘without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.’ (1 Timothy 1:7)

You say that truth is to be grasped more by faith than by reason ... Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons, since we could not believe if we did not have rational souls."

Saint Augustine also said,

"Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?"

Reason was essential to a correct understanding of the Bible. Yes, the Bible should be taken literally where it makes sense to do so, Augustine would instruct. But where it obviously contradicted our everyday experience, we must search for other meanings. In The City of God (16.7), for example, Augustine discussed Noah’s Ark and wondered how it was that animals were present on distant islands so soon after the great flood.

And this was in the fourth century AD. Reading the works of early Catholics who ventured out among the pagans, one is struck by the tone and style of their writing which is reminiscent of modern scientific papers. They walked without fear of pagan superstition and shone the light of reason upon that which they beheld.

Following the fall of Rome, monasteries and convents remained bastions of scholarship in Western Europe and clergymen were the leading scholars of the age – studying nature, mathematics, and the motion of the stars.

Throughout the Middle Ages, technology progressed quickly and without pause.

Ireland was particularly important in preserving ancient knowledge, earning the title "The Isle of Saints and Scholars". Irish monks even retained knowledge of Greek, lost to most of Europe. Irish missionaries like Colombanus later founded monasteries in continental Europe, which went on to create libraries and become vital centers of scholarship.

The Catholic Church invented Universities

The university, which developed and matured at the height of Catholic Europe, was a new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognise today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations, and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, comes to us directly from the medieval world.

And it is no surprise that the Church should have done so much to foster the nascent university system since, according to historian Lowrie Daly, it was "the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."

In the early Middle Ages, Cathedral schools developed as centers of education, evolving into the medieval universities which were the springboard of many of Western Europe's later achievements. Pope Gregory VII in a papal decree from 1079 regulated Cathedral schools and is credited with providing the structure for independent universities which continue to flourish in Europe today.

During the High Middle Ages, Chartres Cathedral operated the famous and influential Chartres Cathedral School. Among the great early Catholic universities were Bologna University (1088), Paris University (c 1150), Oxford University (1167), Salerno University (1173), University of Vicenza (1204), Cambridge University (1209), Salamanca University (1218-1219), Padua University (1222), Naples University (1224), and Vercelli University (1228).

These institutions of learning were the first of their kind in the world, and were sheltered by the Church from the unwanted influence of secular kings and princes who might have preferred the peasantry to remain uneducated.

A glance at the history of the medieval university also reveals that conflicts between the university and the people or government of the area were not uncommon. Local townsmen were frequently ambivalent in their posture toward university students: on the one hand, the existence of the university was a boon for local merchants and for economic activity in general since the students brought money to spend, but on the other, university students then as now could be irresponsible and unruly.

In this atmosphere, the Church provided special protection to university students by offering them what was known as benefit of clergy. Clergymen in medieval Europe enjoyed a special legal status in that, first, it was an extraordinarily serious crime to lay a hand on them, and second, they had the right to have their cases heard in an ecclesiastical rather than a secular court. University students, as actual or potential clerical candidates, would also enjoy these privileges.

The popes intervened on behalf of the university on numerous occasions, as when Pope Honorius III (1216-27) sided with the scholars at Bologna in 1220 against infringements on their liberties. When the chancellor of Paris insisted on an oath of loyalty to himself personally, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) intervened.

Later, when the Bishop of Paris (also a political appointment) and the chancellor of the university continued to encroach upon the autonomy of the institution, it was Pope Gregory IX who in 1231 issued the bull Parens Scientiarum on behalf of the masters of Paris. In this document the Pope effectively granted the University of Paris the right to self-government, whereby it could make its own rules pertaining to courses and studies.

The Pope also granted the university a separate papal jurisdiction, thus emancipating the institution from the interference of what had been an overbearing diocesan authority. "With this document," writes one scholar, "the university comes of age and appears in legal history as a fully formed intellectual corporation for the advancement and training of scholars." The papacy, writes another, "has to be considered a major force in shaping the autonomy of the Paris guild [i.e., the organized body of scholars at Paris]."

In that same document, the Pope also granted a privilege known as cessatio — the right of the university to suspend its lectures and to go on a general strike. Just cause included such grounds as "refusal of the right to fix ceiling prices for lodgings, an injury or mutilation of a student for which suitable satisfaction had not been given within fifteen days, [or] the unlawful imprisonment of a student."

By supporting the universities in their right to suspend lectures and stating reasons that would constitute adequate justification for so doing, the Pope made an important contribution to the cultivation of the kind of peaceful and settled environment that conduces to scholarship and learning.

It became common for universities to bring their grievances to the Pope in Rome. On several occasions, the pope even intervened to force university authorities to pay professors their salaries; Popes Boniface VIII, Clement V, Clement VI, and Gregory IX all had to take such measures. Little wonder, then, that one historian has declared that the universities" "most consistent and greatest protector was the Pope of Rome. He it was who granted, increased, and protected their privileged status in a world of often conflicting jurisdictions."

All modern universities are derived from these first educational centres, and still retain the same structure that was established by the Church, with degrees, professorships, bachelorships, masters, PhDs and so on.

It is categorically untrue to claim that knowledge of classical texts was only rediscovered during the Renaissance after such knowledge had been preserved by Muslim states. The University of Bologna from the beginning was focused on teaching ancient Roman law, and the main sources used for teaching medicine in medieval universities were Avicenna and Hippocrates among others.

Debates about the influence of Aristotle and Plato were vigorous and well educated, with students being required to know their subjects thoroughly before they began. Classical and Byzantine sources formed the mainstay of university education. Students who wished to pass exams had to defend their ideas before a group of established scholars, which led directly to the doctrinal defence used in universities today.

The protection of the Church was especially important during the Renaissance period when internecine European politics became particularly bloody. Indeed it was the Church who put a stop to clergy who wanted to destroy the beautiful artwork of the period during the Bonfire of the Vanities.

The idea that the Renaissance was some kind of rebellion against the Church is a fiction originally promoted by "enlightenment" thinkers who wanted to distance themselves from the Church to please their secular and protestant sponsors, and as such they had no problem with peddling the idea that protestantism and Islam were favourable to science. That movements such as Young Earthism, Biblical Literalism, anti-Evolutionism and so on all originated and persist in protestant centres of belief alone should demonstrate how fallacious such a notion is.

Using Church Latin as a lingua franca, medieval universities across Western Europe produced a great variety of scholars and natural philosophers, including Robert Grosseteste of the University of Oxford, an early expositor of a systematic method of scientific experimentation, and Saint Albert the Great, a pioneer of biological field research. By the mid-15th century, prior to the Reformation, Catholic Europe had some 50 universities from which emerged many more great thinkers.

Saints Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas - who stated "Truth cannot contradict truth!", meaning that the truth of the universe cannot contradict Scriptural truth and merged Aristotle's philosophy of the mind into Christian thinking - were two more titans of the medieval universities who helped establish the scientific method.

This was expressed even more plainly in the early modern period by Cardinal Bellarmine, who said "the geocentric theory seems more consonant with the plain sense of Scripture, but if the heliocentric theory can be proven, we shall simply have to understand the Scripture another way." Or, as his young friend Cardinal Baronius put it, "the Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."

However the Renaissance did give rise to humanism - both terms coined in the 19th century - which has been burdened with many different meanings by scholars down through the years. In reality it meant people who were interested in classical Greek and Latin literature. There was no association with secularism or soft atheism of any sort. The Renaissance was as much an age of faith as the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately in their desire to recapture the imaginary glories of Greece and Rome, humanists started to reject medieval work and scholarship. No art later than a millennium in the past was acceptable if one wanted to be up to date and modern, and the living language of Latin was spurned in favour of a stilted and poetic style favoured by Cicero that was never actually spoken in conversation by anyone. Around this time the Italian Renaissance figure Petrarch coined the phrase "The Dark Ages", suggesting that Europe had been shrouded in darkness for centuries.

In their zeal for antiquity the humanists began to destroy and discard enormous amounts of valuable medieval scholarship, including medieval logic or dialectic, which had been taken far beyond anything the Greeks had achieved. Such heights would not be reached again until the 19th century.

Medieval commentaries correcting both Aristotle and Plato were cast aside, including the critical understanding that God was not constrained by Aristotle and therefore the world was best understood by experimentation and observation. Thomas Cromwell's cronies boasted about using the works of sublime philosophers like Duns Scotus and William of Ockham as toilet paper.

Of course these works were sophisticated and difficult to understand, even for advanced students, so they would have been quite beyond the understanding of Cromwell and his fellows. Medieval writings were subsequently replaced by the efforts of Luther's partisans, who rejected most classical integrations and study and preferred to focus on basic philosophy and Scripture alone.

Far from advancing science of course, the humanists almost destroyed centuries of scientific advancement, and would have done so if the printing press hadn't preserved many of the manuscripts they had torn apart and used as waste paper, or for book binding. Sometime between 1535 and 1558, Oxford University contrived to lose every single manuscript in its collection and even sold off the bookcases. Merton College, home of the Calculators, threw out three quarters of its ancient library, as many as 900 manuscripts, in the same period.

The old books were almost forgotten by all but a few, like Galileo, who used the knowledge contained within them. Fortunately when the popularity of humanism began to recede, these printed copies of medieval scholarship became the subject of renewed interest from younger generations.

John Buridan's impetus theory was a vital stepping stone towards modern mechanics, as well as showing how a planet that doesn't experience any resistance keeps going forever and why we don't feel the effects of the rotation of our own planet. William Heytesbury described the motion of an object undergoing constant acceleration and Oreseme used a graph to prove his theorem right. Nicholas of Cusa postulated the existence of an infinite universe, other planets, and even alien life. Peter the Pilgrim analysed magnets and studied their effects.

Thomas Bradwardine and the Merton Calculators of Oxford demonstrated that mathematics and natural philosophy, what we today call science, belonged together, and that science could be advanced by this combination. It is difficult to see how Copernicus or Galileo or any modern scientist could have achieved much without these ideas!

And so we have demonstrated that the idea of a "scientific revolution" can hardly be deemed accurate, given the ongoing and progressive scientific and technological advances that were made throughout the medieval and subsequent periods.

Creationism and a Young Earth

The Church has no difficulty with the idea of evolution or the earth being billions of years old, and it never has. St. Augustine’s commentary on Genesis is a prime example. Inspired by his reverence for God’s perfect wisdom, St. Augustine found the idea of separate creative acts on God's part to be problematic, even to explain the origins of living things or human beings.

If God is perfect, his creative act must also be perfect, lacking nothing, requiring no additional divine acts to complete it. Therefore, St. Augustine speculated that God created the universe with everything it needed to be life-producing. For example, he taught that all living things, human beings included, naturally existed in the universe from its first moment, not as actual organisms but as “rationes seminales” — i.e. “seminal reasons” or “seed-like principles” — hidden in “the very fabric, as it were, or texture of the elements . . . [requiring only] the right occasion actually to emerge into being.”  

Although he had no idea of common descent from an original ancestor, or of natural selection and genetic variation, the integrity of nature as the source of life, which Darwin would champion, was already being celebrated by this Father and Doctor of the Church one and a half millennia before him. Following St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas would later teach that “in the first founding of the order of nature we must not look for miracles, but for what is in accordance with nature.”

We have numerous examples of this respect for the integrity of nature in the Middle Ages. In the early 12th century, Adelard of Bath wrote his Quaestiones Naturales, which marks the dawn of medieval science, in the form of a Platonic dialogue between himself and his nephew. His nephew believed that the spontaneous appearance of life in a dish of dried soil was miraculous. At a time when there was a strong devotion to miracles, it would have been easy for Adelard to agree. Instead he drew a firm distinction between the action of the Creator and the natural workings of his creation: “It is the will of the Creator that herbs should sprout from the earth. But the same is not without a reason either.”

When his nephew persisted and pointed out that a natural explanation from the doctrine of the four elements was inadequate, he stuck to his point: “Whatever there is, is from Him and through Him. But the realm of being is not a confused one, nor is it lacking in disposition which, so far as human knowledge can go, should be consulted.” In other words, we should persist in seeking natural explanations and not attribute everything we do not understand to the direct action of God.

Centuries later, once biology had proposed that human beings have an evolutionary origin that connected them to all living things on Earth, the Catholic philosopher Charles De Koninck (1906 – 1965) dismissed creationists who considered such an idea to be an affront to the Creator and to the special dignity of human beings. He made it clear that the temptation to insert miraculous explanations leads not only to bad science but to bad theology as well, because it deforms the natural order of which all created things in the physical universe are a part:

"Creationism, which opens the world directly to God ... implicitly rejects what is essential to the universe: the unity of order ... If man and the ape have ... a common ancestor, how would that detract from human dignity? Why prefer that he came from the mud? ... Is it not a sin ... for man to deny his humble origins? ... Is it not rather his glory to be the goal of these immense efforts of the world [to produce him]?"

Father Gregor Johann Mendel was a biologist, meteorologist, mathematician, Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas' Abbey in Brünn in Moravia. This Catholic priest is today recognised as the founder of the modern science of genetics.

The works of Father Stanley Jaki delve much more deeply into the question of why scientific advancement was stilted in every culture that wasn't shaped by Catholicism, and they are recommended reading. Sections of this article were drawn from James Hannam's "God's Philosophers" which is also highly recommended. Thanks to Catholic Education for substantial sections of this part.

The Church and Medicine

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of health care services in the world It has around 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, and 5,500 hospitals, with 65 percent of them located in developing countries. In 2010, the Church's Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of the world's health care facilities. The Church's involvement in health care has ancient origins.

The Catholic Church invented hospitals

Jesus Christ instructed his followers to heal the sick. The early Christians were noted for tending the sick and infirm, and Christian emphasis on practical charity gave rise to the development of systematic nursing and hospitals. The influential Benedictine rule holds that "the care of the sick is to be placed above and before every other duty, as if indeed Christ were being directly served by waiting on them".

Ancient Greek and Roman medicine developed over centuries, but their religion didn't teach of a duty to tend to the sick. Early Christians from the outset went about tending the sick and infirm. Their priests were often also physicians. St Luke the Evangelist, credited as one of the authors of The New Testament, was a physician. Christian emphasis on practical charity was to give rise to the development of systematic nursing and hospitals after the end of the persecution of the early church.

Pagan religions seldom offered help to the sick if they weren't wealthy or soldiers, but the early Christians were willing to nurse the sick and take food to them. Notably during the smallpox epidemic of AD 165–180 and the measles outbreak of around AD 250 when pagan doctors refused to help, "In nursing the sick and dying, regardless of religion, the Christians won friends and sympathisers", wrote historian Geoffrey Blainey.

Hospitality was considered an obligation of Christian charity and bishops' houses and the valetudinaria of wealthier Christians were used to tend the sick. Deacons were assigned the task of distributing alms, and in Rome by 250 AD the Church had developed an extensive charitable outreach, with wealthy converts supporting the poor. In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea directed that every city having a cathedral should also have a hospital.

It is believed that the first church hospitals were constructed in the East, and only later in the Latin West. An early hospital may have been built at Constantinople during the age of Constantine by St. Zoticus. St. Basil built a famous hospital for the sick, poor and leprous at Cæsarea in Cappadocia which "had the dimensions of a city", and there was no gender-based discrimination either. In the West, Saint Fabiola founded a hospital at Rome around 400.

Saint Jerome wrote that Fabiola, a Roman woman, founded a hospital and "assembled all the sick from the streets and highways" and "personally tended the unhappy and impoverished victims of hunger and disease... washed the pus from sores that others could not even behold".

In the sixth century, the Benedictine Order had every monastery establish an infirmary.

Several early Christian healers are honoured as Saints in the Catholic tradition. Cosmas and Damian, brothers from Cilicia in Asia Minor, supplanted the pagan Asclepius as the patron saints of medicine and were celebrated for their healing powers. Said to have lived in the late Third Century AD and to have performed a miraculous first leg transplant on a patient, and later martyred under the Emperor Diocletian, Cosmos and Damian appear in the heraldry of barber-surgeon companies.

Notable contributors to the medical sciences of those early centuries include Tertullian (born A.D. 160), Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius and the learned St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636). St. Benedict of Nursia (480) emphasised medicine as an aid to the provision of hospitality. The martyr Saint Pantaleon was said to be physician to the Emperor Galerius, who sentenced him to death for his Christianity. Since the Middle Ages, Pantaleon has been considered a patron saint of physicians and midwives.

For the next thousand years, medical knowledge would change very little due to violent wars and invasions, and the virtual collapse of the Roman empire. The legacy of this early period was, in the words of Porter, that "Christianity planted the hospital: the well-endowed establishments of the Levant and the scattered houses of the West shared a common religious ethos of charity."

During the Middle Ages, monasteries and convents were the key medical centres of Europe and Geoffrey Blainey likened the Catholic Church in its activities during the Middle Ages to an early version of a welfare state: "It conducted hospitals for the old and orphanages for the young; hospices for the sick of all ages; places for the lepers; and hostels or inns where pilgrims could buy a cheap bed and meal". It supplied food to the population during famine and distributed food to the poor. This welfare system the church funded through collecting taxes on a large scale and possessing large farmlands and estates.

Cathedral schools evolved into a well integrated network of medieval universities and Catholic scientists (many of them clergymen) made a number of important discoveries which aided the development of modern science and medicine.

Albert the Great (1206–1280) was a pioneer of biological field research and is a saint within the Catholic Church; Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) helped revive knowledge of ancient Greek medicine, Renaissance popes were often patrons of the study of anatomy, and Catholic artists such as Michelangelo advanced knowledge of the field through sketching cadavers.

It was common for monks and clerics to practice medicine and medical students in northern European universities often took minor Holy orders. Medieval hospitals had a strongly Christian ethos and were, in the words of historian of medicine Roy Porter, "religious foundations through and through"; Ecclesiastical regulations were passed to govern medicine, partly to prevent clergymen profiting from medicine.

Other famous physicians and medical researchers of the Middle Ages include the Abbot of Monte Cassino Bertharius, the Abbot of Reichenau Walafrid Strabo, the Abbess St Hildegard of Bingen and the Bishop of Rennes Marbodus of Angers. Monasteries of this era were diligent in the study of medicine, and often too were convents. Hildegard of Bingen, a doctor of the church, is among the most distinguished of Medieval Catholic women scientists. Other than theological works, Hildegard also wrote Physica, a text on the natural sciences, as well as Causae et Curae. Hildegard was well known for her healing powers involving practical application of tinctures, herbs, and precious stones.

Catholic women were also among the first female professors of medicine, as with Trotula of Salerno the 11th century physician and Dorotea Bucca who held a chair of medicine and philosophy at the University of Bologna.

The Benedictine order was noted for setting up hospitals and infirmaries in their monasteries, growing medical herbs and becoming the chief medical care givers of their districts. Through the devastating Bubonic Plague, the Franciscans were notable for tending the sick. The apparent impotence of medical knowledge against the disease prompted critical examination.

Crusader orders established several new traditions of Catholic medical care. The famous Knights Hospitaller arose as a group of individuals associated with an Amalfitan hospital in Jerusalem, which was built to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. Following the capture of the city by Crusaders, the order became a military as well as infirmarian order. The Knights of St John of Jerusalem were later known as the Knights of Malta. The Knights Templar and Teutonic Knights established hospitals around the Mediterranean and through Germanic lands.

Non-military orders of brothers also took up the service of the infirm. By the 15th century, the brothers of the Order of the Holy Spirit were providing care across Europe, and by the sixteenth century the Spanish-founded Order of St John of God had set up about 200 hospitals in the Americas.

In Catholic Spain amidst the early Reconquista, Archbishop Raimund founded an institution for translations, which employed a number of Jewish translators to communicate the works of Arabian medicine. Influenced by the rediscovery of Aristotelian thought, churchmen like the Dominican Albert Magnus and the Franciscan Roger Bacon made significant advances in the observation of nature.

Small hospitals for pilgrims sprung up in the West during the early Middle Ages, but by the latter part of the period had grown more substantial, with hospitals founded for lepers, pilgrims, the sick, aged and poor. Milan, Siena, Paris and Florence had numerous and large hospitals. "Within hospitals walls", wrote Porter, "the Christian ethos was all pervasive". From just 12 beds in 1288, the Sta Maria Nuova in Florence "gradually expanded by 1500 to a medical staff of ten doctors, a pharmacist, and several assistants, including female surgeons", and was boasted of as the "first hospital among Christians".

From the 14th century, the European Renaissance saw a revival of interest in Classical learning in Western Europe, coupled with and fuelled by the spread of new inventions like the printing press. The Fall of Constantinople brought refugee scholars from the Greek East to the West.

In Renaissance Italy, the Popes were often patrons of the study of anatomy and Catholic artists such as Michelangelo advanced knowledge of the field through such studies as sketching cadavers to improve his portraits of the crucifixion. It is often wrongly asserted that the papacy banned dissection during the period, though in fact the directive of Pope Sixtus IV of 1482 to the University of Tübingen said that the Church had no objection to anatomy studies, provided the bodies belonged to an executed criminal, and was given a religious burial once examinations were completed.

Development of modern medicine

The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602 – 1680) first proposed that living beings enter and exist in the blood (a precursor of germ theory). The Augustinian Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) developed theories on genetics for the first time. As Catholicism became a global religion, the Catholic orders and religious and lay people established health care centres around the world.

In the development of ophthalmology, Christoph Scheiner made important advances in relation to refraction of light and the retinal image.

Gregor Mendel, an Austrian scientist and Augustinian friar, began experimenting with peas around 1856. Darwin and Mendel laid the groundwork for all of life sciences in the twentieth century. Darwin saw that all living things are connected, that ultimately they trace their ancestry to a single, common source; Mendel's work provided the mechanism to explain how that could happen.

Women's religious institutes such as the Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of St Francis opened and operated some of the first modern general hospitals. Catholic religious institutes, notably those for women, developed many hospitals throughout Europe and its empires. Ancient orders like the Dominicans and Carmelites have long lived in religious communities that work in ministries such as education and care of the sick.

The Portuguese Saint John of God (d. 1550) founded the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God to care for the sick and afflicted. The order built hospitals across Europe and its growing empires. In 1898, John was declared patron of the dying and of all hospitals by Pope Leo XIII. The Italian Saint Camillus de Lellis, considered a patron saint of nurses, was a reformed gambler and soldier who became a nurse and then director of Romes's Hospital of St. James, the hospital for incurables. In 1584 he founded the Camillians to tend to the plague-stricken.

Irishwoman Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831. Her congregation went on to found schools and hospitals across the globe. Saint Jeanne Jugan founded the Little Sisters of the Poor on the Rule of Saint Augustine to assist the impoverished elderly of the streets of France in the mid-nineteenth century. It too spread around the world.

Old Testament versus New

Critics of the Catholic Church like to point out various rules and instructions in the Old Testament which are no longer used, as well as acts of violence and brutality, as evidence of the Church being hypocritical or unable to follow its own rules. They will sometimes even try to claim that the God followed by Christians is a cruel and merciless deity unworthy of being followed based upon selected passages from the Old Testament.

As such it's a productive exercise to clear up misconceptions by examining the realities of the Old Testament and the relationship it has to the New Testament, and the Church.

The Bible is a collection of stories, poems, historical accounts, songs, prayers and more. To take the Old Testament as a simple instruction manual is a mistake. It prefigures much of Christianity and by its foreshadowing traces the path taken by the Jews from paganism to monotheism, illuminating the missteps along the way as well as the truths revealed.

"The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.

Indeed, “the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men.” “Even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional,” the books of the Old Testament bear witness to the whole divine pedagogy of God’s saving love: these writings “are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way.”

Christians venerate the Old Testament as true Word of God. The Church has always vigorously opposed the idea of rejecting the Old Testament under the pretext that the New has rendered it void (Marcionism)." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 121-123)

Included among "matters imperfect and provisional" are things like divorce, which was allowed in Old Testament times, but is no longer allowed. Other things like Levitical instructions and stoning people to death likewise have been perfected by the New Testament, in that they are no longer needed in their original form.

In Galatians 3:19, Paul asks, “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” What does that mean? Verse 24 clarifies: “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” The Law pointed out our sinfulness and showed our need of a Savior. The purpose of the Law is also revealed in Romans 3:19–20 as producing a consciousness of sin and holding the world “accountable to God.” Paul even goes so far as to say he would not have known what sin was except by the Law (Romans 7:7).

Hebrews 7:18–19 tells us that the old Law was set aside “because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect).” The Law had no way of changing our sinful nature. We needed something better to accomplish that. In fact, Hebrews goes on to say that the Law was “only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never . . . make perfect those who draw near to worship” (Hebrews 10:1).

The question of need is an important one when considering that God's plan was revealed over a long period, and that God didn't force anyone to accept His plan, given that people had and still have free will. He provided teachers and instructions and guided the tribes along the path. But the vision of a wrathful, harsh and intransigent God owes more to myopic protestant sects than it does to an honest reading of Scripture.

The Old Testament is also full of lyrical passages reflecting God’s incredible love. The most striking example, of course, is the Song of Songs. But the prophets and the Psalms are also marked by many such passages, and even when they ask for vengeance, the Psalmists place entirely in God’s hands both timetable and implementation.

This wrathful God idea comes from cherry picking passages where ancient storytellers depicted God as a righteous warrior striking against evil concretely embodied in other tribes, nations and institutions. However when mercy and justice were in conflict, compassion almost always won out. Neither is God always on the side of the Jews - when they turned on him, he turned on them too.

The early Jews did not appear from nowhere with a clear understanding of God's plan. It took time and painful effort to move the primitive tribes from polytheism and occasional diabolism to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. But they were never punished without taking action deserving of punishment beforehand. Under the Old Covenant, a progressively deeper spiritual understanding was forged through long years of reflection on what the Jewish people had rather forcefully experienced. The preparation for monotheism couldn't happen overnight.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that everything recounted in the Old Testament is the will of God. But in each instance we must ask whether the situation involves someone carrying out the express will of God, or his own interpretation of that will, or some completely novel concept of his own. Quite often it is the latter.

It would also be a mistake to think that the Old Testament authors, especially in the earlier sections, imagined God’s will in the same way as we do today. On the contrary, we make a strong distinction between God’s permissive will and His active will. If something happens that is morally evil, we understand that this is because God’s Providence encompasses His permissive will. It includes not only what He would prefer someone to do in each situation, but what He will permit someone to do in the ultimate workings of His Plan. This distinction doesn't really exist in many parts of the Old Testament.

However there are still passages that indicate God had sent someone to attack the Israelites, or sent the Israelites to attack someone else. The questions arising from such sections are explored in the Old Testament itself, in the Book of Job.

"Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further…. I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…. Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." [Job 40:3-42:6]

We are very limited in our understanding of why God acts, we can neither fully understand nor master the great mysteries of Providence. In reality, our insight depends on our humility. We must trust in God, and never more so than when He acts in ways that we cannot understand. And this, perhaps, is one of the most important lessons of the Old Testament.

We know, above all else, that God gave everything to redeem us, because God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16).

Catholic Confession

The Church has observed the “seal of the confessional” — the privacy and secrecy between confessor and penitent — since the time of the Fathers.

The earliest Christian documents suggest that confession was a public event, at least for public sins. When sinners caused scandal, the damage was social, and so the Church prescribed a social remedy. A Christian who publicly renounced the faith, for instance, giving in to pressure or torture during persecution, bore responsibility for the bad example he had set.

Before he was restored to communion, he would demonstrate his repentance by admitting his fault and professing the faith before the congregation.

There are problems with public confession, of course. It was embarrassing, and many people would avoid it for that reason. In the early years of the third century, the African writer Tertullian acknowledged that some Christians “flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day.”

Public confession could also shine an unwelcome spotlight on a sinner’s victims. Think of the sin of adultery. Those who told this sin to the assembly might find themselves shaming not only themselves, but also, inadvertently, the people they had seduced, as well as the spouses they had betrayed.

And so private, secret confession seems to have been an option from the beginning. Origen, a third-century Scripture scholar in Egypt, mentions confession “to a priest,” and the practice is further discussed in the fourth- and fifth-century rules for monks.

Saint Aphrahat, the “Persian Sage,” insisted that confessors must honor every penitent’s trust and confidentiality. Addressing priests, he wrote: “And when [a sinner] has revealed [a sin] to you, do not make it public.”

Confessional secrecy appears also in the Irish penitential books of the seventh and eighth centuries.

The practice is listed, in the 12th century, among customs that have the force of law in the Church: “Let the priest who dares to make known the sins of his penitent be deposed.” This passage is the earliest known to carry a severe punishment for the priest who violates the confessional seal. Whoever breaks this trust should be exiled, the author goes on to say, and made to wander the earth in shame.

In the following century, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) imposed the obligation of annual confession upon all the faithful. In doing so, the council also confirmed the priest’s obligation to secrecy:

“Let the priest absolutely beware that he does not by word or sign or by any manner whatever in any way betray the sinner. … For whoever shall dare to reveal a sin disclosed to him in the tribunal of penance we decree that he shall be not only deposed from the priestly office but that he shall also be sent into the confinement of a monastery to do perpetual penance.”

Those are not light penalties for priests who violate the seal. Why was it treated with such gravity?

Confessional secrecy is the hope and protection of sinners who want to reform. For that reason it has always been essential to the practice of the Catholic faith.

With thanks to Mike Aquilina.


Attitudes towards slavery among early Christian groups were mixed, coming as they did from Judaic roots and in the context of the Roman empire, itself drawing heavily from Greek culture. At this time owning a slave was a bit like owning an ipad today, it was seen as quite normal and even as a status symbol. Slaves were used for everything from menial work to artisan crafts, and their conditions varied from brutal chattel slavery to something resembling cherished family members.

In both ancient Greece and in the Roman empire, a quarter to a third of the total population were slaves, an enormous number, without whose existence and efforts both civilisations would have toppled as a result of the collapse of their economies. As such it was not so simple a matter as inciting slave revolts everywhere! There were very few or no cultures at that time which didn't practise slavery to some degree.

The earliest surviving Christian teachings about slavery are from Paul the Apostle. Paul did not renounce the institution of slavery, but rather taught that Christian slaves ought to serve their masters wholeheartedly. Nothing in the passage referring to slavery affirms slavery as a naturally valid or divinely mandated institution.

Rather, Paul's discussion about the duties of Christian slaves and the responsibilities of Christian masters transforms the institution, even if it fell short of calling for slavery's outright abolition. Aristotle wrote that there could never be friendship between a master and a slave, for a master and a slave have nothing in common: "a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave."

Paul's words are entirely different. He called the slave a "slave of Christ", one who wanted to do "the will of God" and who would receive a "reward" for "whatever good he does". Likewise, the master is responsible to God for how they treated their slaves, who who ultimately God's property rather than the master's own. This was another way of saying that the slave, no less than the master, had been made in God's image.

As such, a slave possessed inestimable worth and great dignity. They were to be treated properly. In such a framework slavery, even though it was still slavery, could never be the same type of institution that was imposed on and by non-Christians. It was this transformation which came from viewing all persons as being made in God's image that ultimately destroyed slavery. Tradition describes Pope Pius I (term c. 158–167) and Pope Callixtus I (term c. 217–222) as being former slaves.

However once Christianity became more firmly entrenched in Roman society, Christian demands for the liberation of slaves became more insistent. In 340 the Synod of Gangra which is in what would be considered Turkey today condemned the Manicheans, urging that slaves should liberate themselves, among other things. The later Council of Chalcedon declared that the canons of the Synod of Gangra were conclusively representative of the wider church.

Saint Augustine described slavery as being against God's intention and resulting from sin.

Theodore of Mopsuestia comments that some Christian ecclesiastics of his day "would write with great authority that a slave who joined us in the faith and hastened to the true religion of his own free will should be freed from slavery. For there are many such people today, who want to be seen to be wary of imposing onerous commands on others."

John Chrysostom described slavery as "the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery ... the fruit of sin, [and] of [human] rebellion against ... our true Father".

By the early 4th century, manumission in the Church, a form of emancipation, was added to Roman law. Slaves could be freed by a ritual in a church, performed by a Christian bishop or priest. It is not known if baptism was required before this ritual. Subsequent laws, as the Novella 142 of Justinian, gave to the bishops the power to free slaves.

Several early figures, while not openly advocating abolition, did make sacrifices to emancipate or free slaves seeing liberation of slaves as a worthy goal. These include Saint Patrick (415-493), Acacius of Amida (400-425), and Ambrose (337 – 397 AD). Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–394) went even further and stated opposition to all slavery as a practice. Later Saint Eligius (588-650) used his vast wealth to purchase British and Saxon slaves in groups of 50 and 100 in order to set them free.

Saint Pelagia is depicted by James the Deacon as having freed her slaves, male and female, "taking their golden torcs off with her own hands". This is described as a highly virtuous and praiseworthy act, an important part of Pelagia's ending her sinful life as a courtesan and embarking on a virtuous Christian life, eventually achieving sainthood.

Other religions felt no such difficulty with retaining slavery however, and Muslim slave markets echoed to the cries of Christians slaves taken in raids or warfare, or submitted as taxes to Muslim leaders. In 1452, as the Ottoman Empire was besieging Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI asked for help from Pope Nicholas V. In retaliation for the depredations of Muslim slavers, Pope Nicholas V instituted the hereditary slavery of captured Muslims and pagans, allowing King Alfonso V of Portugal to "attack, conquer, and subjugate Saracens, pagans and other enemies of Christ wherever they may be found", in the Bull Dum Diversas. However even this dispensation didn't last long.

That this was aimed only at Muslims can be proven by Bulls released shortly before and after this document - In 1435 Pope Eugene IV issued an attack against slavery in the Papal Bull Sicut Dudum that included the excommunication of all those who engaged in the slave trade.

Later In the Bull Sublimus Dei (1537), Pope Paul III forbade the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas called Indians of the West and the South and all other people. Paul characterized slavers as allies of the devil and declared attempts to justify such slavery "null and void."

"...The exalted God loved the human race so much that He created man in such a condition that he was not only a sharer in good as are other creatures, but also that he would be able to reach and see face to face the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good ... Seeing this and envying it, the enemy of the human race, who always opposes all good men so that the race may perish, has thought up a way, unheard of before now, by which he might impede the saving word of God from being preached to the nations.

He (Satan) has stirred up some of his allies who, desiring to satisfy their own avarice, are presuming to assert far and wide that the Indians ... be reduced to our service like brute animals, under the pretext that they are lacking the Catholic faith. And they reduce them to slavery, treating them with afflictions they would scarcely use with brute animals ...

by our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples - even though they are outside the faith - ... should not be deprived of their liberty ... Rather they are to be able to use and enjoy this liberty and this ownership of property freely and licitly, and are not to be reduced to slavery ..."

The introduction of Spanish colonies to the Americas resulted in indentured servitude and even slavery to the indigenous peoples. Some Portuguese and Spanish explorers were quick to enslave the indigenous peoples encountered in the New World. The Papacy was firmly against this practice.

Many Catholic priests worked against slavery, like Peter Claver and Jesuit priests of the Jesuit Reductions in Brazil and Paraguay. Father Bartolomé de las Casas worked to protect Native Americans from slavery, and later Africans. The Haitian Revolution, which ended French colonial slavery in Haiti, was led by the devout Catholic ex-slave Toussaint L'Overture.

In 1810, Mexican Catholic Priest Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who is also the Father of the Mexican nation, declared slavery abolished, but it was not official until the War of Independence finished.

Catholic statements also became increasingly vehement against slavery during this era. In 1741 Pope Benedict XIV condemned slavery generally. In 1815 Pope Pius VII demanded of the Congress of Vienna the suppression of the slave trade. In 1839 Pope Gregory XVI condemned the slave trade in In supremo apostolatus. In the 1850 Bull of Canonization of Peter Claver, one of the most illustrious adversaries of slavery, Pope Pius IX branded the "supreme villainy" (summum nefas) of the slave traders. And in 1888 Pope Leo XIII condemned slavery in In plurimis.

Catholic efforts extended to the Americas. The Catholic leader of the Irish in Ireland, Daniel O'Connell, supported the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and in America. With the black abolitionist Charles Lenox Remond, and the temperance priest Theobold Mathew, he organized a petition with 60,000 signatures urging the Irish of the United States to support abolition. O'Connell also spoke in the United States for abolition.

Apostolic Succession

The chain of Apostolic Succession is unbroken from Saint Peter to Pope Francis.
1. St. Peter (32-67)
2. St. Linus (67-76)
3. St. Anacletus (Cletus) (76-88)
4. St. Clement I (88-97)
5. St. Evaristus (97-105)
6. St. Alexander I (105-115)
7. St. Sixtus I (115-125)
8. St. Telesphorus (125-136)
9. St. Hyginus (136-140)
10. St. Pius I (140-155)
11. St. Anicetus (155-166)
12. St. Soter (166-175)
13. St. Eleutherius (175-189)
14. St. Victor I (189-199)
15. St. Zephyrinus (199-217)
16. St. Callistus I (217-22)
17. St. Urban I (222-30)
18. St. Pontain (230-35)
19. St. Anterus (235-36)
20. St. Fabian (236-50)
21. St. Cornelius (251-53)
22. St. Lucius I (253-54)
23. St. Stephen I (254-257)
24. St. Sixtus II (257-258)
25. St. Dionysius (260-268)
26. St. Felix I (269-274)
27. St. Eutychian (275-283)
28. St. Caius (283-296)
29. St. Marcellinus (296-304)
30. St. Marcellus I (308-309)
31. St. Eusebius (309 or 310)
32. St. Miltiades (311-14)
33. St. Sylvester I (314-35)
34. St. Marcus (336)
35. St. Julius I (337-52)
36. Liberius (352-66)
37. St. Damasus I (366-83)
38. St. Siricius (384-99)
39. St. Anastasius I (399-401)
40. St. Innocent I (401-17)
41. St. Zosimus (417-18)
42. St. Boniface I (418-22)
43. St. Celestine I (422-32)
44. St. Sixtus III (432-40)
45. St. Leo I (the Great) (440-61)
46. St. Hilarius (461-68)
47. St. Simplicius (468-83)
48. St. Felix III (II) (483-92)
49. St. Gelasius I (492-96)
50. Anastasius II (496-98)
51. St. Symmachus (498-514)
52. St. Hormisdas (514-23)
53. St. John I (523-26)
54. St. Felix IV (III) (526-30)
55. Boniface II (530-32)
56. John II (533-35)
57. St. Agapetus I (535-36)
58. St. Silverius (536-37)
59. Vigilius (537-55)
60. Pelagius I (556-61)
61. John III (561-74)
62. Benedict I (575-79)
63. Pelagius II (579-90)
64. St. Gregory I (the Great) (590-604)
65. Sabinian (604-606)
66. Boniface III (607)
67. St. Boniface IV (608-15)
68. St. Deusdedit (Adeodatus I) (615-18)
69. Boniface V (619-25)
70. Honorius I (625-38)
71. Severinus (640)
72. John IV (640-42)
73. Theodore I (642-49)
74. St. Martin I (649-55)
75. St. Eugene I (655-57)
76. St. Vitalian (657-72)
77. Adeodatus (II) (672-76)
78. Donus (676-78)
79. St. Agatho (678-81)
80. St. Leo II (682-83)
81. St. Benedict II (684-85)
82. John V (685-86)
83. Conon (686-87)
84. St. Sergius I (687-701)
85. John VI (701-05)
86. John VII (705-07)
87. Sisinnius (708)
88. Constantine (708-15)
89. St. Gregory II (715-31)
90. St. Gregory III (731-41)
91. St. Zachary (741-52)
92. Stephen II (752)
93. Stephen III (752-57)
94. St. Paul I (757-67)
95. Stephen IV (767-72)
96. Adrian I (772-95)
97. St. Leo III (795-816)
98. Stephen V (816-17)
99. St. Paschal I (817-24)
100. Eugene II (824-27)
101. Valentine (827)
102. Gregory IV (827-44)
103. Sergius II (844-47)
104. St. Leo IV (847-55)
105. Benedict III (855-58)
106. St. Nicholas I (the Great) (858-67)
107. Adrian II (867-72)
108. John VIII (872-82)
109. Marinus I (882-84)
110. St. Adrian III (884-85)
111. Stephen VI (885-91)
112. Formosus (891-96)
113. Boniface VI (896)
114. Stephen VII (896-97)
115. Romanus (897)
116. Theodore II (897)
117. John IX (898-900)
118. Benedict IV (900-03)
119. Leo V (903)
120. Sergius III (904-11)
121. Anastasius III (911-13)
122. Lando (913-14)
123. John X (914-28)
124. Leo VI (928)
125. Stephen VIII (929-31)
126. John XI (931-35)
127. Leo VII (936-39)
128. Stephen IX (939-42)
129. Marinus II (942-46)
130. Agapetus II (946-55)
131. John XII (955-63)
132. Leo VIII (963-64)
133. Benedict V (964)
134. John XIII (965-72)
135. Benedict VI (973-74)
136. Benedict VII (974-83)
137. John XIV (983-84)
138. John XV (985-96)
139. Gregory V (996-99)
140. Sylvester II (999-1003)
141. John XVII (1003)
142. John XVIII (1003-09)
143. Sergius IV (1009-12)
144. Benedict VIII (1012-24)
145. John XIX (1024-32)
146. Benedict IX (1032-45)
147. Sylvester III (1045)
148. Benedict IX (1045)
149. Gregory VI (1045-46)
150. Clement II (1046-47)
151. Benedict IX (1047-48)
152. Damasus II (1048)
153. St. Leo IX (1049-54)
154. Victor II (1055-57)
155. Stephen X (1057-58)
156. Nicholas II (1058-61)
157. Alexander II (1061-73)
158. St. Gregory VII (1073-85)
159. Blessed Victor III (1086-87)
160. Blessed Urban II (1088-99)
161. Paschal II (1099-1118)
162. Gelasius II (1118-19)
163. Callistus II (1119-24)
164. Honorius II (1124-30)
165. Innocent II (1130-43)
166. Celestine II (1143-44)
167. Lucius II (1144-45)
168. Blessed Eugene III (1145-53)
169. Anastasius IV (1153-54)
170. Adrian IV (1154-59)
171. Alexander III (1159-81)
172. Lucius III (1181-85)
173. Urban III (1185-87)
174. Gregory VIII (1187)
175. Clement III (1187-91)
176. Celestine III (1191-98)
177. Innocent III (1198-1216)
178. Honorius III (1216-27)
179. Gregory IX (1227-41)
180. Celestine IV (1241)
181. Innocent IV (1243-54)
182. Alexander IV (1254-61)
183. Urban IV (1261-64)
184. Clement IV (1265-68)
185. Blessed Gregory X (1271-76)
186. Blessed Innocent V (1276)
187. Adrian V (1276)
188. John XXI (1276-77)
189. Nicholas III (1277-80)
190. Martin IV (1281-85)
191. Honorius IV (1285-87)
192. Nicholas IV (1288-92)
193. St. Celestine V (1294)
194. Boniface VIII (1294-1303)
195. Blessed Benedict XI (1303-04)
196. Clement V (1305-14)
197. John XXII (1316-34)
198. Benedict XII (1334-42)
199. Clement VI (1342-52)
200. Innocent VI (1352-62)
201. Blessed Urban V (1362-70)
202. Gregory XI (1370-78)
203. Urban VI (1378-89)
204. Boniface IX (1389-1404)
205. Innocent VII (1404-06)
206. Gregory XII (1406-15)
207. Martin V (1417-31)
208. Eugene IV (1431-47)
209. Nicholas V (1447-55)
210. Callistus III (1455-58)
211. Pius II (1458-64)
212. Paul II (1464-71)
213. Sixtus IV (1471-84)
214. Innocent VIII (1484-92)
215. Alexander VI (1492-1503)
216. Pius III (1503)
217. Julius II (1503-13)
218. Leo X (1513-21)
219. Adrian VI (1522-23)
220. Clement VII (1523-34)
221. Paul III (1534-49)
222. Julius III (1550-55)
223. Marcellus II (1555)
224. Paul IV (1555-59)
225. Pius IV (1559-65)
226. St. Pius V (1566-72)
227. Gregory XIII (1572-85)
228. Sixtus V (1585-90)
229. Urban VII (1590)
230. Gregory XIV (1590-91)
231. Innocent IX (1591)
232. Clement VIII (1592-1605)
233. Leo XI (1605)
234. Paul V (1605-21)
235. Gregory XV (1621-23)
236. Urban VIII (1623-44)
237. Innocent X (1644-55)
238. Alexander VII (1655-67)
239. Clement IX (1667-69)
240. Clement X (1670-76)
241. Blessed Innocent XI (1676-89)
242. Alexander VIII (1689-91)
243. Innocent XII (1691-1700)
244. Clement XI (1700-21)
245. Innocent XIII (1721-24)
246. Benedict XIII (1724-30)
247. Clement XII (1730-40)
248. Benedict XIV (1740-58)
249. Clement XIII (1758-69)
250. Clement XIV (1769-74)
251. Pius VI (1775-99)
252. Pius VII (1800-23)
253. Leo XII (1823-29)
254. Pius VIII (1829-30)
255. Gregory XVI (1831-46)
256. Blessed Pius IX (1846-78)
257. Leo XIII (1878-1903)
258. St. Pius X (1903-14)
259. Benedict XV (1914-22)
260. Pius XI (1922-39)
261. Pius XII (1939-58)
262. St. John XXIII (1958-63)
263. St. Paul VI (1963-78)
264. Blessed John Paul I (1978)
265. St. John Paul II (1978-2005)
266. Benedict XVI (2005-2013)
267. Francis (2013—)

Constantine, the Church and the Roman Empire

Unfortunately to this very day, many protestant sects still claim that the Catholic Church was somehow an invention of Roman Emperor Constantine in 356 AD. Further, they claim that in the process he introduced pagan elements into Christianity, such as transubstantiation, papal authority, the communion of saints, and more.

At this point, they believe, the Church vanished until Martin Luther came along and recreated it in its pure form some twelve hundred years later.

Of course that is not true - Ignatius, the disciple of John, described the Church as "Catholic" in 110 AD before he was martyred in Rome under Emperor Trajan's rule. It was during the journey to Rome in 110 AD that he wrote his famous letters that contain invaluable information about the early Church. This was only a couple of decades after John wrote his Gospel.

Catholic, referring to the Whole Church was a term in common use at the time and Ignatius' writing is the oldest still existing text which contains a specific form of the phrase we still use today as a proper name. That of "ekklesia katholicos," which means "Universal Church". The terms "holen ten ekklesian" which means "The Whole Church" and "ekklesia kathholes" which means "The Church throughout the whole of" were also in use by the Apostles and others in the early Christian community.

Constantine did not invent Catholicism, he simply recognised it and let people legally be Christian. Christians were having "Catholic" Masses long before this "legalisation" of Christianity. Three hundred years before Constantine, Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, honoured Mary, had elaborate ceremonies, prayed for the dead, respected the Church hierarchy, baptised babies, recognized Peter as the Rock, built the Church upon him with successors and followed a rich tradition of Christianity.

That was the Christianity of the early days of Christianity and that is the Catholic Church of today. If you look at the pre-Constantine writings of the early Christian Church, they clearly testify to the very same doctrines the Catholic Church teaches today.

Emperor Constantine, after receiving a vision from heaven that led to a seemingly miraculous military victory when he was outnumbered five to one that secured the Roman Empire for him, became strongly in favour of Catholicism. While he remained a pagan until he lay on his deathbed so that all of the sins of his life might be forgiven, he promoted the Christian cause, founded the city of Constantinople as a pure Christian city, had many beautiful artworks created, and raised many impressive churches.

Constantine's mother convinced him to preserve many historical sites that have, over the ages, enriched the lives of millions of Christians who have journeyed to the Holy Land.

Even those critics of the wealth he poured upon the Church recognise that this had other benefits. Some Christians left more civilised lands for the Scetes desert in Egypt to get away from the trappings of the Roman Empire and to live a more authentic life imitating Christ. They became known as the desert fathers and mothers. People such as St. Anthony of Egypt and St. Syncletica of Alexandria rejected wealth, power, and prestige; gave everything they had to the poor; and protested the compromise with their lifestyle of communal prayer, poverty, and simplicity in the desert.

Their work eventually led to the formation of the monasteries which were so fundamental in ensuring that knowledge and learning persisted after the fall of Rome.

When at last he felt the approach of death Constantine received baptism, declaring to the bishops who had assembled around him that, after the example of Christ, he had desired to receive the saving seal in the Jordan, but that God had ordained otherwise, and he would no longer delay baptism. Laying aside the purple, the emperor, in the white robe of a neophyte, he peacefully received his end.

Constantine did not make Catholicism the official religion of the Roman Empire. In signing the Edict of Milan in 313, often referred to as the Edict of Toleration, he simply made it permissible to be a Christian, officially ending centuries of Christian persecution – which was extremely intense under the previous emperor, Diocletian – and restoring confiscated Christian property as well. Christianity would not become the official state religion of Rome until the Edict of Thessalonica in AD 380 – well after Constantine’s death.

Despite any personal defects we might attribute to Constantine, he performed one of the greatest feats of any man in history. He brought the Church out from under the yoke of oppression and allowed people to preach the gospel from the housetops which is what Christ commanded and prophesied.

Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. I tell you my friends, do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do nothing more.
(Lk 12:3-4)

Mistruths, half truths, fraudulent documents and lies about the reign of Constantine are in abundance, such as the Donation of Constantine. There is irrefutable historical evidence that this was a forged document dating from the eighth or ninth century, with no connection to Constantine whatsoever. No reputable historian would even reference it to Constantine today, but it had much impact in medieval Europe before it was indisputably proven to be a forgery.

Constantine was certainly very interested in the religious doings of his day but he didn't participate in any of the councils nor did he have a vote on their decisions. He didn't adjust the Scriptures nor did he determine any dogma or beliefs of the Church. In fact he leaned towards the Arian heresy, and it is indicative of how little influence he had on the beliefs of the early Church that this heresy was quickly extinguished.

The key Council of Nicaea actually condemned Arianism. This Council gave us some of the most important foundational doctrinal pronouncements about Jesus and the Trinity in the history of Christianity – pronouncements that virtually every Christian, whether Catholic or protestant – holds today.

And so we can see that the supposed "paganisation" of the Catholic Church by Constantine never actually happened.

With humble thanks to several sources.

The "Dark Ages" and the Irish Church

It is a common misperception that the time from the fall of Rome until about the fifteenth century were somehow "dark ages" - that certainly wasn't the case in Ireland at least, which saw its first golden age from the sixth to ninth centuries! This was a time when wandering Irish monks made their definitive mark on the European study of mathematics, astronomy and the sciences.

This was when Ireland gained the title, the Island of Saints and Scholars.

Although Irish monks had mastered and shared their mastery of languages like Latin and Greek as well as ancient philosophy, they also developed extraordinary mathematical skills, partially to help calculate the correct date of Easter. It's true to say that the fall of Rome did result in the loss of much knowledge as migrating barbarian tribes swept across Europe, but Irish Catholics were foremost in keeping the flame of knowledge and scholarship alive. Many historians believe that were it not for the labours of the dedicated men and women of monastic Ireland the great treasures of the Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian scholarship would have perished in the face of pagan hostility or indifference.

The Irish Saint Columbanus was so skilled in mathematics that he saw fit to write an angry letter to Pope Gregory the Great in AD 600, pointing out that Rome's calculations for Easter were wrong, causing all of Europe to celebrate Easter on the wrong day.

Saints Columbanus and Colmcille were the founders of many monasteries in Ireland, such as at Clonmacnoise, what we today know as the UK, and across Europe, institutions which formed the foundations of later hospitals and universities by preserving much of the knowledge of Classical civilisations. They also saved copies of Cicero and Virgil from oblivion and were the first in history to refer to Europe as a single entity. They were taught by Saint Finnian of Clonard, later called Magister in Latin, and in Irish, aite fer nérend lena lind, "the teacher of all Ireland in his day."

Monks from Iona went to evangelise Northumbria and from there to other parts of England. Iona won fame as a major European centre of learning, as well as a school for missionaries. Two of the greatest medieval masterpieces of Celtic art, the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, were produced in St Columba’s monasteries. It is to these early Irish monks that we are also indebted for the diligent chronicling of ancient Irish history, legends and mythology.

While the monks practised severe bodily austerity, eating little and eventually retiring to remote locations to live out their days as hermits after the fashion of the Desert Fathers, they didn't neglect to look after their neighbours and students, passing on knowledge and wisdom, merging the understanding of Classical culture with the local Gaelic culture to produce something new and vibrant. Irish scribes produced manuscripts written in the clear hand known as Insular

Pope Benedict XVI described Columbanus as a “European saint” whose life and example could help re-inspire a disillusioned world. ‘St. Columbanus’ message is centered on a firm call to conversion and detachment from the goods of the earth in view of our eternal heritage… With his spiritual energy, with his faith, with his love for God and for his neighbour, he truly became one of the fathers of Europe: He shows us even today the roots from which our Europe can be reborn”.

Irish Art, Crafts, and "Celtic" Knotwork

The works produced during this period have been described as "the work of angelic, not human, skill" and for good reason. Art, culture, the preservation of manuscripts, literature and stonework all flourished during this period. The Irish economy grew and the population increased while culturally the country flourished as never before.

Besides the amazing high crosses - among the most remarkable of all monuments in the world - and delicate traceries of stonework remaining from the period, the richly ornamented Book of Kells and the opulently coloured Book of Durrow represent two of the high points of the artistic achievement of the time, although who knows how many others have been lost to the predation of invaders and those with little love for Ireland.

Irish metalwork was also noted for its subtlety and skill, and had been going back to the bronze age. Pieces like the Tara Brooch and the Ardagh Chalice are only two of the more impressive works of Irish metalwork surviving today. The Chalice is an elaborate construction of over two hundred and fifty main components decorated with gold filigree, bronze, pewter, multi-coloured enamel and brass fittings; other semi-precious materials used include glass, amber malachite and rock crystal.

And throughout all of these incredible creations weaves the most beautiful of all - so-called "Celtic" knotwork. This first began to appear in Ireland around the start of the seventh century, and it owes little to any preceding pagan tradition. So if you see Viking ships on television shows engraved with elaborate knotwork, you're looking at something derived from the product of Irish Catholic monks in their cells.

Certain spiral motifs had a history going back thousands of years in Ireland, but knotwork was something new. There were other traditions that were similar in ways to Irish knotwork, but none of them anticipate the stunning complexity and imagination that developed after knotwork was created by the Christian Irish. It was the most prevalent Celtic ornamental style from the seventh to the tenth centuries, spreading across Europe during the early Middle Ages.

The magical knotwork of the time was intended to teach and illuminate as well as astound the eye, and it still does so today.

Brigid of Kildare

It has become lamentably common to state, as a matter of fact, that the great Irish foundress St. Brigid of Kildare (d. 525) is a transmogrified Celtic goddess. One need only spend ten minutes searching online for articles about Brigid of Kildare to run across variants of the theory. The alleged pagan origin of St. Brigid’s cult has been repeated so frequently that even otherwise scholarly publications take it to be historically factual.

Readers may then be surprised to learn that not only is the theory contested, but that it is entirely unfounded. The identification of Brigid with an alleged pagan goddess of the same name dates back no further than the Victorian era when historians of that time, eager to find remnants of ancient pagandom beneath every stone, created the theory on evidence so slight that no serious historian today would propose it. The theory was given further prominence by modern neo-pagans anxious to retain devotion to St. Brigid while stripping her of everything distinctively Catholic. This has given rise to all manner of wild associations that can best be described as elaborate religio-historical fanfiction.

The theory that St. Brigid’s cultus was originally pagan rests on six pillars:

(1) The ancient Celts worshiped a fire goddess named Brigit
(2) The existence of a pre-Christian cultic center at Kildare
(3) Identifying the oaks of Kildare as an ancient druidic grove
(4) The perpetual fire of Kildare as a survival of pagan rites to the fire goddess
(5) The correspondence of Brigid’s feast day (February 1) with the Celtic holiday of Imbolc
(6) Alleged similarities between Brigid’s vitae and episodes from Celtic myth.

To understand the ridiculousness of identifying St.  Brigid with a Celtic goddess, we must review the merits of each of these six points.

1. Was there a Celtic fire goddess name Brigit?

One of the most surprising things newcomers to ancient Irish history learn is that the pre-Christian Gaels did not commit anything to writing. The only writing possessed by the ancient Irish was a cumbersome epigraphic script known as ogham which appears solely as carvings on boundary stones. It was not until the coming of Christianity that there was any manuscript tradition in Ireland. Almost all we know of the ancient Celtic mythology—whether of their gods, legends, or rituals—comes to us through the pens of Christian monks writing centuries after Irish paganism had already disappeared. That being the case, where and when do we first hear of a Celtic fire goddess name Bríg or Brigit?

The first appearance of the name in Gaelic literature outside of reference to the saint of Kildare is in the law tracts of the Ulster Cycle, dating from c. 700. A character named Bríg shows up as a kinswoman of the druid Sencha mac Ailella. There is no indication that this Bríg is a goddess at all, and she shares no traits with St. Brigid; she is merely the human wife of the druid Sencha. There is nothing to equate her with Brigid whatsoever.

The next appearance of the name comes from the 10th century Sanas Chormaic (“Cormac’s Glossary”). The Sanas Chormaic, composed around 908 by Cormac of Munster,is a glossary of important persons and terms from early Irish literature. It provides definitions and etymologies of over 1,400 Irish words, many of them obscure or outdated by Cormac’s time. The Sanas Chormaic contains two entries for “Brigit,” one for the saint of Kildare, and the other for what is said to have been a “goddess worshiped by the poets.” The entry goes on to say that this latter Brigit had two sisters of the same name, goddesses of smithcraft and healing respectively. Her name, moreover, was said to be derived from bri-sagit, “fiery arrow.” This entry in the Sanas Chormaic provided the seed of the idea that Brigit was a triple goddess of fire. It is also the sole reference to a Celtic goddess by this name in any old Irish text.

Given that the Sanas Chormaic was composed around 908, we must first note that a goddess named Brigit is not attested until roughly 383 years after the historical Brigid died. Perhaps the Sanas Chormaic reflects beliefs from a much earlier period, but it is just as likely that it represents, not paganism as it existed in the 5th century, but paganism as 10th century Christian authors imagined it may have looked. By Cormac’s time, pagan symbols and early Irish concepts were no longer comprehensible to Christian authors, at least in their original context. There is no proof outside of the Sanas Chormaic that any deity named Brigit ever existed. The goddess may be a purely literary reconstruction, similar to the Anglo-Saxon Eostre, an alleged goddess who is attested only in the writings of the Christian monk Bede and nowhere else. At any rate, it is difficult to see how the cultus of St. Brigid could have developed out of a pagan deity that is not attested until four centuries after her own life.

Furthermore, the associations the Sanas Chormaic attributes to this Brigit—poetry, smithcraft, and healing—bear no resemblance to the historical Brigid. None of her vitae suggest she was a poet or had interest in smithing; she performed many miracles but was not particularly renowned as a healer; most of her miracles concern animals or agricultural matters. Had this goddess Brigit, for example, been an agricultural goddess or a goddess of cows or something similar, we could grant a connection. But, given the lack of similarity between the character of St. Brigid and the description of this goddess in the Sanas Chormaic, by what logic do we assume the latter is derived from the former?

2. Was Kildare a Pre-Christian Cultic Center?

Given that almost nothing is known of the goddess Brigit (if she existed), even less is known about any cultic center at Kildare. The existence of such a pre-Christian cultic center is pure speculation. The fact is no one has excavated beneath the church of Kildare to look for any pre-Christian structures. To date, there is zero evidence, textual or archaeological, that any pagan shrine existed at Kildare. All extant historical evidence affirms the contrary, that the site was uninhabited before Brigid founded her church.

3. Were the “Oaks of Kildare” a Druidic Grove?

The existence of a pre-Christian pagan cult at Kildare is generally inferred from toponymy—the name “Kildare” (Cell-dara) meaning “church of the oak.” As the Celtic druids preferred forest groves for their ritual spaces, it is simply assumed that the “oak” referenced in the name Kildare must refer to an oak grove previously used in pagan worship. Thus, when St. Brigid founded her church “beneath the oak,” she was quite intentionally appropriating a pagan worship site. This theory was another liberty of the Victorian era, whose writers could not resist drawing clear, definitive lines from current institutions back through time to the mists of pagan antiquity.

There is no evidence, written or archaeological, that Kildare was ever the site of a druidic grove. The name “Kildare” likely has a more mundane meaning: Cell-dara, commonly rendered “church of the oak,” could just as easily mean “oaken church,” referring to the building materials. This is hinted at in the late medieval Leabhar Breac, a collection of Hiberno-Latin writings which preserves some earlier Brigittine traditions. In the Leabhar Breac we see Brigid, accompanied by the bishop St. Ibar mac Lugna, cominh to the Plain of Liffey with the intent of founding her church:

    …they came thereafter to the place where Kildare is today. That was the season and the time that Ailill son of Dunlaing, with a hundred horse-loads of peeled rods, chanced to be going through the ground of Kildare. Two girls came from Brigit to ask for some of the rods, and they got a refusal. Forthwith all the horses were struck down under their loads against the ground. Stakes and wattles were taken from them, and they arose not until Ailill son of Dunlaing had offered unto Brigit those one hundred horse-loads; and thereout was built Saint Brigit’s house in Kildare.

Though the text does not say these hundred horse-loads of peeled rods were oak, it is a reasonable inference. Besides relating a miracle story, this portion of the Leabhar Breac is meant to explain what Kildare was built out of and why. Presumably, the construction of the original structure out of a hundred-cart loads of oaken rods was somewhat of a novelty, causing it to be nicknamed Cell-dara, “the oaken church.”

This theory is admittedly speculative, but it has more evidence behind it than the druidic grove hypothesis.

4. Did Kildare Feature a Perpetual Fire Dating to Pagan Times?

It is often stated that medieval Kildare was the site of a perpetual flame. This flame, tended by Brigid’s nuns, dated back to pagan times, and was forbidden for men to approach, being blocked by a magical hedge; men who crossed its sacred precincts were struck dead or afflicted with madness. The theory is that this sacred flame (presumably sacred to the fire goddess Brigit?) was tended by druidic priestess in pagan times. With the coming of Christianity, the site gradually transformed into a Christian center, but preserved the sacred fire. Meanwhile, Brigit the goddess had her identity reworked to become Brigid the saint.

The perpetual flame of Kildare is first mentioned in the Topographia Hiberniae (“Topography of Ireland”) by the Norman archdeacon Gerald of Wales around 1188. The book was written in the wake of the Norman conquest of Ireland and was one of the most influential work on Ireland that circulated during the Middle Ages. The Topographia contains several chapters on Kildare, two of which deal with a perpetual fire. The passages are worth citing in full:

At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigit, many miracles have been wrought worthy of memory. Among these, the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigit, which is reported never to go out. Not that it cannot be extinguished, but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it, adding fuel, with such watchful and diligent care, that from the time of the Virgin, it has continued burning through a long course of years; and although such heaps of wood have been consumed during this long period, there has been no accumulation of ashes.

As in the time of St. Brigit twenty nuns were here engaged in the Lord’s warfare, she herself being the twentieth, after her glorious departure, nineteen have always formed the society, the number having never been increased. Each of them has the care of the fire for a single night in turn, and, on the evening before the twentieth night, the last nun, having heaped wood upon the fire, says, “Brigit, take charge of your own fire; for this night belongs to you.” She then leaves the fire, and in the morning it is found that the fire has not gone out, and that the usual quantity of fuel has been used.

This fire is surrounded by a hedge, made of stakes and brushwood, and forming a circle, within which no male can enter; and if anyone should presume to enter it, which has been sometimes attempted by rash men, he will not escape the divine vengeance. Moreover, it is only lawful for women to blow the fire, fanning it or using bellows only, and not with their breath.

Notice that Gerald does not assert the fire goes back to pagan times, only that it had been burning “from the time of the Virgin.” Thus, the pagan connection is read into Gerald’s account, not deduced from it.

There is no doubt Gerald was writing about an actually existing fire, as other contemporary sources also mention the perpetual flame at Kildare. Documents up until the late 14th century reference the fire; a 1397 roll references a “fyre house” at the church. Even today, visitors to Kildare are shown the foundations of a rectangular structure that is called “the firehouse,” which tour guides identify as the site of Brigid’s perpetual flame.
The “fire house” of Kildare

Nobody knows what this structure was or what it was used for; “firehouse” is simply a popular nickname. It certainly does not date from pre-Christian times; its masonry and appearance suggest it comes rather from the 10th-11th centuries. As to the assertion that an ancient fire was kept burning from the time of Brigid, we shall here defer to Christina Harrington, whose scholarly work Women in the Celtic Church argues strongly against the existence of any such perpetual flame:

[Regarding] the supposed perpetual flame at Kildare, the alleged sign of surviving fire worship or vestal devotion. There is no mention of it in any of the three early Lives of Brigit, namely the Vita I, Cogitosus, or the ninth-century Bethu Brigte. It is hard to imagine that it could be overlooked in all three Lives. It is, in fact, absent from all other Lives, from annals, from the martyrologies and their glosses—all sources, in fact, until Gerald of Wales, a visitor in the twelfth century, almost 700 years after the alleged pagan-Christian transition took place.

If, in fact, this alleged fire ritual was so central to the cultus of Brigid at Kildare, why is it not mentioned anywhere in the 700 years prior to Gerald? We should not naively accept Gerald’s assertion in the absence of any other corroborating evidence. To give an idea of Gerald’s naivete, elsewhere in the same work, Gerald also alleges the existence of a falcon in his day that had been alive since the time of Brigid.

Gerald also wrote with a deep anti-Irish bias. The Topographia was written as a propaganda piece to justify the Norman conquest.  To this end, he sought to portray the Irish as half-Christianized savages still mired in the darkness of paganism. The Topographia contains chapters entitled “How the Irish are very ignorant in the rudiments of faith,” “Of their abominable treachery,” and “Proof of their wickedness.” In Chapter 19, we read that the Irishmen are “indeed a most filthy race, a race sunk in vice, a race more ignorant than all other nations of the first principles of faith.” Gerard frequently resorts to gossip and rumormongering to argue the Irish faith is barely discernible as Christian. His analysis is hardly objective.

But what of the fire that was present in the 12th century and later? What was it? Was it the remains of some vestal pagan ritual? Again, let us return to Harrington, who says:

Gerald did say that only nuns were allowed to tend the fire, and this may have been the case, but Kildare did have monks and clerics on its premises in his day, as in earlier centuries. Nor was the presence of a perpetual fire unique to Kildare: in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries seven others are mentioned in the hagiography, all of them at male monasteries. The inescapable conclusion is that such flames in Ireland were not especially associated with women and appear rather late in the historical record. The reasons for their existence were probably Christo-theological: the luminary imagery of Christian deity was as ubiquitous in Ireland as it was elsewhere in the West. Why they appeared suddenly in the twelfth century is a question not ventured here.

The final nail in the coffin is the fact that there is no evidence the druids had “priestesses” or any female branch. It was an exclusively male order, making it nigh on impossible that the nuns who tended the fire at Kildare were heirs to an order of ancient pagan priestesses.

5. Does Brigid’s Feast Day Correspond to Imbolc?

Brigid’s feast day is February 1, which is the date of the Celtic holy day of Imbolc. The very existence of the feast of Imbolc, however, is questionable. What do we truly know of this holiday?

The earliest reference to Imbolc also comes from the Sanas Chormaic, whose entry merely says, “the time the sheep’s milk comes.” Later in the 10th century, the tale Tochmach Emire says Imbolc is “when the ewes are milked at spring’s beginning.” Beyond this, little is known of Imbolc, neither how it was observed nor what gods—if any—it commemorated. Imbolc appears to have been centered on milking, and Brigid certainly was known for working with dairy animals. But this was a job all women did in ancient Ireland; there is nothing about Imbolc that connects it to Brigid specifically. Furthermore, if Brigid was a fire goddess, shouldn’t she have been commemorated at Beltane, the spring fire festival? Professor Ronald Hutton, in his study of the Celtic seasonal cycle, says of Imbolc:

The festival must be pre-Christian in origin, but there is absolutely no direct testimony as to its early nature, or concerning any rites which might have been employed then. There is, in fact, no sign that any of the medieval Irish writers who referred to it preserved a memory of them, and some evidence that they no longer understood the meaning of the name itself.

The historical Feast of St. Brigid is much better attested than the feast of Imbolc, whatever it was. As with the case of the supposed triple-goddess Brigit, the Imbolc that Brigid’s feast day is supposed to have been derived from is not even attested until centuries after her death. As Dr. Hutton says, it probably does date back to pre-Christian times, but other than its coincidental concurrence with Brigid’s date of death, there is no other connection to the saint.

6. Similarities Between Brigid and Celtic Myth?

Alleged similarities between Brigid and Celtic myth are ubiquitous online, but they are always notably vague. When we search for specific episodes in the life of Brigid that supposedly parallel anything from Celtic myth, we are left empty. This is obviously because nothing at all is known about the goddess Bríg upon whom Brigid is supposedly based.

On the continent, there are inscriptions mentioning a deity Brigantia dating from the late Roman period. Nothing is known about her, however, or if she bears any similarity to the Irish Bríg. Part of the problem is that the old Celtic word breo simply means “high” or “powerful.” Brigantia thus simply means “high one,” “mighty one,” or “powerful one.” This makes discerning the identity of this deity a bit of a muddle; analogous to a situation where archaeologists in the distant future discovered English inscriptions to a being called “God-Almighty” and were uncertain if this phrase was a title or a proper name. Another parallel is ancient Canaan, where the etymology of the god Baal simply means “Lord,” making it uncertain if this was a proper name or title. The morpheme breo and all its variants are extremely common throughout Indo-European languages; there are versions of it in Old German, Iberian, and even Sanskrit. It is as common in these tongues as the root el in Semitic names, which also designates might, power, and divinity.

This has all taken us rather far afield from the main point, which is that so little is known about Bríg or Brigantia that no similarities to St. Brigid can even be posited let alone demonstrated.


Having addressed these six points, we shall conclude this essay by citing Dr. Clare Downham’s assessment of the question in her scholarly tome, Medieval Ireland. After speaking about the foundation of Kildare, she says of Brigid:

There is debate among scholars as to whether she was a real woman or a pagan goddess transmuted into a Christian saint. Nevertheless, evidence for a pre-Christian cult of Brigit in Kildare is lacking, and the earliest hagiography was written less than 150 years after her supposed death: these details favour the view that she was a real person.

This last point is key: the vitae of the historical Brigid—along with her tomb at Kildare and the community she founded—all predate any reference to these pagan elements by centuries. We do not know how old the monk Cogitosus was when he wrote his vita, the oldest history of St. Brigid. If he was elderly at the time, then it is possible he could have spoken with witnesses who personally knew Brigid. Even if he was not, he certainly obtained his information from secondary sources. It is ridiculous to discount the testimony of Cogitosus—who said that he had “extensive tradition” of Brigid’s life at Kildare at his disposal from the living memory of witnesses—in favor of a slipshod theory cobbled together by Victorian speculators out of fragmentary medieval references that post-date St. Brigid by centuries.

The above is taken from an essay by Phillip Campbell in The Life of St. Brigid of Kildare by Cogitosus and Other Selected Writings (Cruachan Hill Press, 2022). With thanks to Unam Sanctum Catholicam.

The Library of Alexandria

Another of the many untrue tales that are told about the early Church is that of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by an unruly Christian mob. This myth first made its appearance in the late eighteenth century, flowing from the pens of protestants and secularists anxious to paint a picture of the Church ushering in the so-called dark ages by destroying the greatest library in all of antiquity, sending hundreds of thousands of volumes and centuries of lore, science, wisdom and culture up in smoke and putting the female guardian of this treasure trove, Hypatia, to the sword for not knowing her place.

The image they were, and still are, trying to fabricate was of a Church which despised science, philosophy, culture and most of all women.

This nonsense was picked up by the society of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and repeated uncritically by many supposedly respectable historians.

In reality of course it never happened. This should not be taken to mean that there is some divergence of learned opinion on the issue, or that the original sources leave us in some doubt as to the nature of the event. It means that nothing of the sort ever occurred.

It's likely that there was some kind of library in Alexandria in the Classical period, built as an adjunct to the royal quarter of Alexandria in the first half of the third century BC. However this library was already a legend by 23 AD when Strabo spoke of it. It may well have been enormous, with collections of scrolls estimated from 40,000 to 700,000, but it seems fairly safe to assume the collection size was dramatically reduced when Julius Caesar burned the library down in 48 BC.

Anything that might have remained would have been destroyed when the museum was razed in 272 AD during Aurelian’s wars of imperial reunification. By the time of the supposed Christian destruction of the library in 391 AD, it certainly did not exist.

There may have been a smaller collection of scrolls contained, at the time, within the Serapeum, a temple dedicated to the Greco-Egyptian god Serapis. This temple was torn down in 391 AD in retaliation for the murder of numerous Christian hostages who had been held inside, although Emperor Theodosius did not order the execution of their murderers since it would detract from the witness of the martyrs.

This took place after several days of riots between the pagans and Christians of the city, which was among the most wildly violent places in the ancient world, and where riots were something of a cherished civic tradition. There are good and reliable records - Christian, pagan and Jewish - of what actually happened on that day, none of which even hint at the loss of any large collection of books or scrolls.

The pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus, describing the Serapeum not long before its demolition, had clearly spoken of its libraries as something no longer in existence. The truth of the matter is that the entire legend was the product of the imagination of Edward Gibbon, who mysteriously misread a single sentence from the Christian historian Orosius, and from it spun out a story that appears nowhere in the entire corpus of ancient historical sources.

Hypatia, who was claimed to have been murdered by Christian mobs for her religion, education, having ideas above her station or whatever slander the mythmakers wanted to promote on that particular day, was by all accounts a brilliant lecturer in Platonic thought, a trained scientist, and the author of a few mathematical commentaries. It wasn't particularly unusual for women to be intellectuals in the Eastern Empire regardless of their religious affiliation, although there is no reason to believe she made any notable contributions to science or mathematics.

In the royal quarter, pagans, Christians, and Jews generally studied together, shared a common intellectual culture, collaborated in scientific endeavor, and attended one another’s lectures. Hypatia had many Christian friends, and they spoke lovingly of her after her death. In the lower city, however, religious allegiance was often no more than a matter of tribal identity, and the various tribes often engaged in bloody battles for little reason other than territory or reputation.

She was both murdered and dismembered by a gang of Christian parabalani, a fraternity originally founded to care for the city’s poor, simply because she inadvertently became involved in a vicious political squabble between the city’s imperial prefect and the city’s patriarch, and some of the gang members of the lower city decided to take matters into their own hands. It was a sordid end for a wonderful scholar, but it had nothing to do with the Church.

With thanks to DB Hart.

The Crusades

In all of history, there have been few events more misrepresented than the medieval Crusades, so here we shall attempt to set the record straight. In summary, it has been falsely taught by many that imperialist Europe savaged, raided and colonised the advanced and peaceful civilisation of Islam with the blessing of the Catholic Church. Mythmakers declare that the Crusades were a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-crazed Popes and waged by religious fanatics. They are depicted as the pinnacle of self-righteousness and intolerance, a dark stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilisation in general.

This is naturally a completely false narrative which only emerged around the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth century, penned by protestants and secularists, and subsequently Muslims who were reacting to the collapse of the Ottoman empire, real European colonialism and the foundation of Israel by drawing imaginary historical parallels. Before this time the Crusades were little more than a historical footnote.

In reality the Crusades resulted from centuries of Islamic provocation, conquest and bloody attempts to colonise Europe, reaching even the borders of France after carving a swathe through the Christian Middle East and North Africa. They landed in Italy, intending to sack Rome, and laid siege to Vienna in Austria. The warriors of Islam had attacked Christians with great vigour from the time immediately after Mohammed's death, usually with great success.

Palestine, Syria, and Egypt - once the most heavily Christian areas in the world - quickly collapsed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered what we today know as Turkey, which had been Christian for a thousand years. The particular events that precipitated the Crusades were attacks by Islam on the last remnants of the Byzantine empire and on pilgrims and shrines, which caused Pope Urban II to issue a plea for assistance. He wrote

"How does a man love according to divine precept his neighbor as himself when, knowing that his Christian brothers in faith and in name are held by the perfidious Muslims in strict confinement and weighed down by the yoke of heaviest servitude, he does not devote himself to the task of freeing them? ...Is it by chance that you do not know that many thousands of Christians are bound in slavery and imprisoned by the Muslims, tortured with innumerable torments?"

Given that the Muslims had conquered and subjugated two thirds of the old Christian world, the last outposts of Christianity had to defend themselves, and this defence took the form of Crusades. The Crusades were led by the heads of the great families of Europe, at tremendous personal cost which bankrupted some, and the Crusader kingdoms were maintained by vast subsidies from Europe. The Byzantine Emperors who were fond of playing both sides off against one another refused to contribute to the defence of the kingdoms, and in fact are reputed to have betrayed their Western allies to the Muslims upon occasion.

The intention of the Crusades was never to convert Islam by the sword, forced conversions are worthless to Christianity. Muslims who lived in Crusader territories were allowed to keep their lives, their property and businesses, and their religion. Crusaders wished first and foremost to engage in a penitent act of charity, which explains their willingness to bankrupt their estates, and secondly to defend Christianity against the ravages of Islam.

Indeed at the time of the first Crusade, Muslims only made up about half the population of the Holy Land, with Christians, Samaritans and Jews making up the rest. Even more Christians arrived after the Crusafe, with many arriving from Muslim-controlled territories like Syria. Many Muslims also converted to Christianity while Muslim elites left to preserve their wealth and status. For the most part after the first Crusade, Muslims were left to continue practising their religion in peace, building mosques and praying in public.

The Crusades were wars and as such were brutal, violent and bloody, often bringing out the worst in people. During this period, cities which refused to surrender were sacked, with civilians slain, molested, and robbed. This was especially true of the many Muslim conquests which had preceded the Crusades, and to a certain extent also held true for Crusader victories, which mostly occurred during the first Crusade. All of the subsequent Crusades in the following centuries were less effective and usually only served to give brief pause to Islam, which had grown more powerful, not less.

In fact, contemporary Muslim chroniclers barely mention the taking of Jerusalem. It was not seen as unprecedented, unusual, especially horrific or particularly dreadful. Jewish records of the time show that many Jews were ransomed after the taking of the city, as were many Muslims, which rather puts an end to any ideas of all non Christians being slaughtered. In fact the Islamic rulers of Jerusalem expelled all of the Christians before the siege even began. Rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of people being killed, the real numbers were more like four or five thousand people, which while still appalling should be seen in the context of the time.

By comparison, the Emir Atsiz ibn Uvaq is said to have slaughtered "the entire population" of Jerusalem in punishment for a rebellion in 1077.

Later in 1268, city of Antioch was sacked by Muslim Baibars, and the Mamluk general ordered the city sealed as his soldiers destroyed everything living within. Afterwards he sent a message boasting of the destruction to the Prince of Antioch:

"The churches themselves were razed from the face of the earth, every house met with disaster, the dead were piled up on the seashore like islands of corpses…You would have seen your knights prostrate beneath the horses’ hooves…your women sold four at a time and bought for a dinar of your own money… your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars…your palace lying unrecognizable"

There were also certain incidents which took place within Europe and which were condemned by the Church, but these were much more closely associated with local prejuidices and sentiment. Around the start of the first Crusade a group of vagabonds led by a German Count travelled down the Rhine, robbing and murdering Jews as they went. Local bishops attempted to get them to stop, to no avail.

Later St. Bernard often preached that the Jews were not to be persecuted

"Ask anyone who knows the Sacred Scriptures what he finds foretold of the Jews in the Psalm. "Not for their destruction do I pray," it says. The Jews are for us the living words of Scripture, for they remind us always of what our Lord suffered.... Under Christian princes they endure a hard captivity, but "they only wait for the time of their deliverance.""

When the Reformation took place and protestantism arose within Europe, Catholics were left alone to fend off Islam, achieving some successes like the Battle of Lepanto. Nonetheless, there was always debate about the virtue of the Crusades within Christianity, as compared to the universal Islamic dedication to holy war as instructed by the Koran.

Islamic teachers and scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) wrote: "Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God's entirely and God's word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought." There are also the words of Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406),  "In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force."

In the end Islam was defeated by the growing economic power and technological advancement of Europe, fuelled by the Church-founded universities and a burgeoning middle class, leaving the former titans of the middle ages, Muslim empires, to be called "the sick old man of Europe".

It should also be mentioned that while many western and Islamic scholars today focus on the Crusades, almost none speak of the Mongol invasions from the other side which almost completely destroyed Islam.

After a caravan of gifts sent by Genghis Khan was robbed and destroyed by Shah Ala ad-Din Mohammad in 1218 AD, the war of the Mongols upon Islam began. Cities were torn down and burned to the ground, Muslims watched as the wooden receptacles that held the copies of the Koran in their great mosques were emptied and then filled with grain to feed the Mongol horses. The books were turned into shoes for Mongol warriors, and the sack of Baghdad depopulated the city for years to come, with well over a hundred thousand slaughtered. It is rumoured that when all the books from the libraries of Baghdad were thrown into the Tigris River, it ran black with ink for days. When the man who had destroyed the original caravan was found, molten silver was poured into his mouth, ears and eyes.

In Samarkand the Mongols killed 1.2 million, in Nishapur an estimated 1.7 million - it took 12 days to count the dead - 70,000 people were killed in Sabzivar and the same number in Nisa. In Herat, Afghanistan, the first siege left 12,000 of the Shah’s forces dead but the townspeople were spared. In June of 1222, after a revolt, the Mongols lay siege again and an estimated 1.6 million were slaughtered, leaving 40 to mourn their country.

The Shah himself fled for years, eventually dying of illness while hiding on a tiny island dressed in rags taken from one of his servants. And the Khan was just getting started.

Mongol armies devastated the agriculture of Persia and Central Asia, which was reliant on the qanat, a system of water management in which the water is brought from a mountain water source and then flows to feed multiple wells using only gravity. Without the qanat, Central Asia and much of Persia reverted to their natural desert state, inhospitable to agriculture. Many areas have not recovered to this day. With Mesopotamia defeated, all that was left of Islamic rule in the Middle East was Syria and Egypt. Syria was quickly overrun and the Mongols next planned to move on to the Mamluks in Egypt. But just when it seemed like Islam was in mortal danger, news arrived that Mongke Khan had died.

And yet for all of these enormities, it seems odd that much of western scholarship tends to concentrate on the Crusades instead.


Whenever a polemicist wishes to attack the Church on the grounds of being opposed to science, often the first and last example they reach for is that of Galileo. Like so much else in Church history, Galileo's story has been completely misrepresented, and some have even gone so far as to anoint him "the father of modern science", based upon further dishonest claims.

The fact is that since Galileo could not prove that the Earth was moving, he entered into a consent decree with Cardinal Bellarmine, the foremost theologian of the age, not to teach the heliocentric theory as a fact without discussion of other theories at the same time.

The Church was adhering more closely to the scientific method than Galileo since it required proof of his claims before allowing them to be taught as fact. Heliocentrism wasn't proven until the stellar aberration was discovered and that the heliocentric theory correctly identified the motions of our solar system in 1838 when Friedrich Bessel determined the parallax of Star 61, finally providing the correct evidence that Galileo had failed to provide and establishing that the Earth moved about the sun.

He was tried for having violated an order from the first incident that prohibited him from publicly expounding heliocentrism at all. In other words: disobedience, not heresy. At the trial, Galileo testified that he had never seen any such blanket prohibition, which was probably true. In 1632 he had released a document called the "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems", in which he penned an offensive character called Simplicius, The Fool, that was obviously a caricature of the Pope. After that, someone presumably tried to gain favour with the Pope by changing the documents Galileo had previously signed.

The 1992 re-examination of the 1616 and 1632 trials determined that they had serious errors of procedure and that their conclusion regarding heresy was unfounded since the Church had never declared a formal doctrine regarding the relationship between the Earth and sun. Bellarmine's commentary, as Galileo's and those of everyone else involved, were personal speculation that was not in support of or supported by actual doctrine.

Despite which, Cardinal Bellarmine did comment that "the geocentric theory seems more consonant with the plain sense of Scripture, but if the heliocentric theory can be proven, we shall simply have to understand the Scripture another way." Or as his young friend Cardinal Baronius put it, "the Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go."

Ultimately, Galileo's book was banned, and he was sentenced to a light regimen of penance and imprisonment. After one day in prison, his punishment was commuted to “villa arrest” for the rest of his life.

The Father of Modern Science?

Galileo was not the first practitioner of the scientific method. If he was, he would have waited for proof of heliocentrism before declaring it to be reality. Furthermore, the general principles of induction based on observation had been discussed in detail by Robert Grosseteste and Bacon in the Middle Ages, who in turn took their cues from Greek philosophy. Empiricism had already been covered in great depth by Roger Bacon.

Even in his own time, others like William Gilbert and Simon Stevin had already received tremendous acclaim for their advances made using the scientific method, long before anyone had ever heard of Galileo. Both Galileo and Kepler were strongly influenced by these works.

Neither did he particularly introduce mathematics to science - from the Greeks onwards every civilisation had applied mathematics to the study of the natural world, with varying degrees of success, particularly by the "Merton Calculators" at Oxford and their successors in Paris in the fourteenth century. He made extensive use of the Mean Speed Theorem which had been developed by the Calculators. Thomas Bradwardine, two hundred and forty one years before the birth of Galileo, wrote:

"Mathematics is the revealer of genuine truth, for it knows every hidden secret and bears the key to every subtlety of letters. Whoever, then, has the effrontery to pursue physics while neglecting mathematics should know  from the start that he will never make his entry through the portals of  wisdom."

So no, Galileo was not the Father of Modern Science, nor was he a martyr of some sort to science or the modern world. He made certain innovations but all of these owe a great debt to the thinkers who came before him. He was, in the final analysis, a very intelligent man whose character contributed greatly to the difficulties he experienced in his life.

The "Reformation"

The Reformation was one of the most complex events in western history. Essentially several individuals broke away from the unity of the Church and formed their own churches, including Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. It's doubtful they intended to create a schism when they set out, but there were many German and other European princelings who were only too happy to support them if it meant they could stop paying taxes and moral obedience to Rome.

For some time beforehand the state had been getting more and more involved in Church affairs, especially after the disastrous papal schism of 1378-1418 which familiarised Western Christians with the idea that war might be made, with all spiritual and material weapons, against one whom many other Christians regarded as the only lawful pope.

The boundaries between Church and state had been blurring for centuries by then but the Church had always held its doctrines and dogmas pure and beyond tampering with. Even if the lesser clergy and normal people were taxed and oppressed by bishop-princes, they nonetheless were well taught. Many Saints emerged from this period and there were numerous positive theological developments within the Church. By the start of the sixteenth century, most understood that there was a need for reform, something which the Fifth Lateran Council of 1517 addressed, unfortunately too little and too late.

The Reformation directly defied many doctrines and created new ones from whole cloth. Against the backdrop of new wealth created by trade, a love of luxury fostered by the humanists, and perhaps most importantly the growing power of the state, the reforms which were being pursued within the Church were not enough to prevent the catastrophic series of events which followed.

It is doubtful that any reforms would have been enough to satisfy those who saw an opportunity to seize more power for themselves.

Luther was warmly welcomed both in humanistic circles and among some theologians and some of the earnest laity due to dissatisfaction with the existing abuses. His own erroneous views and the influence of some of his followers very soon drove Luther into rebellion against Church authority as such and eventually into open apostasy and schism.

Soon his main supporters were found among the humanists, who yearned for the illusory glories of ancient Rome, the immoral clergy, and the lower grades of the landed nobility who felt revolutionary tendencies might better their holdings and position in life. It quickly became evident that he meant to take over and destroy all of the institutions of the Church. Beginning by proclaiming the false doctrine of “justification by faith alone”, he later rejected all supernatural elements, especially the sacraments and the Mass, denied the value of good works, thus condemning monastic vows and Christian asceticism in general, and finally rejected the institution of a genuine hierarchical priesthood (especially the papacy) in the Church.

His doctrine of the Bible as the sole rule of faith, rejecting everything else, established subjectivism in matters of faith. Ironically it also proved to be the source of unending protestant schisms and denominations, much to Luther's frustration. He lost a lot of support over this, but on the other hand won over all the anti-Church elements, including numerous monks and nuns who left the monasteries to break their vows, and many priests who joined his cause with the intention of marrying.

The support of his sovereign, Frederick of Saxony, was of vital importance. Very soon secular princes and municipal magistrates made the Reformation a pretext for arbitrary interference in purely religious affairs, for stealing Church property and disposing of it at their pleasure and for deciding what faith their subjects should accept.

Some followers of Luther went to even greater extremes. The Anabaptists and the “Iconoclasts” revealed the extreme possibilities of the principles advocated by Luther, while in the Peasants’ War the most oppressed elements of German society put into practice the doctrine of the reformer. Showing his true colours, Luther turned on them with tremendously bloodthirsty ferocity when they threatened his wealthy patrons.

Church affairs were now reorganised by the Lutheran princes on the basis of the new teachings, making secular powers the supreme judges in every religious matter.

The Reformed clergy from the beginning had only such rights as the civil authorities were pleased to grant them. As a result the Reformed national churches were completely subject to the civil authorities, and the Reformers, who had entrusted to the nobility the actual enforcement of their teachings, now had no means of escaping this servitude.

Over the course of centuries an immense number of foundations had been made for religious, charitable, and educational institutions, and they had been provided with rich material resources. Churches, monasteries, hospitals, and schools had often great incomes and extensive possessions, which aroused the envy of secular rulers. The Reformation enabled kings and princes to seize this vast Church wealth, since the leaders of the Reformation constantly argued against the centralisation of such riches in the hands of the clergy, and so they did.

The Reformation destroyed the unity of faith and ecclesiastical organisation of the Christian peoples of Europe, cut many millions off from the true Catholic Church, and robbed them of the means to hold true to a supernatural life of merit.

The false fundamental doctrine of justification by faith alone, taught by the Reformers, produced a lamentable shallowness in religious life.

Zeal for good works disappeared, the asceticism which the Church had practiced from her foundation was despised, charitable and ecclesiastical goals were no longer properly cultivated, supernatural interests fell into the background, and naturalistic aspirations, aiming at the purely mundane, became widespread. The denial of the Divinely instituted authority of the Church, both as regards doctrine and ecclesiastical government, opened wide the door to every strangeness, gave rise to the endless division into sects and the never-ending disputes characteristic of protestantism, and led to the eventual atheism which necessarily emerges from the protestant principles.

The Reformation brought no real freedom of belief - on the contrary, a new and more brutal tyranny than ever before developed in matters of conscience, the representatives of the Reformation wielded spiritual and moral authority like a truncheon - at least for those without power or wealth. The most baneful Caesaropapism was fostered, since the Reformation recognised the secular authorities as supreme also in religious matters. From this root grew puritanism, witch hunts and many other dreadful superstitions.

So arose from the very beginning the various protestant “national churches”, which are entirely disconnected from the Christian universalism of the Catholic Church, and depend on the will of the secular ruler. In this way the Reformation was a chief factor in the evolution of royal absolutism, which would have created god-kings like the Pharaohs of old if the tendency had been left unchecked.

Everywhere it went the Reformation was the cause of indescribable suffering among the people. It caused civil wars which lasted decades, with all their fratricidal horrors and devastations, innocents were oppressed and enslaved, countless artistic treasures and priceless manuscripts were destroyed, and between members of the same land, people and even family the seed of mindless discord was sown.

Germany in particular, the original home of the Reformation, was reduced to a state of piteous ruin by the Thirty Years’ War, and the German Empire was thereby dislodged from the leading position which it had for centuries occupied in Europe. Only gradually and due in no part to the Reformation did the social wounds heal, but the religious corrosion still continues despite the earnest religious sentiments which have at all times characterised many individual followers of the Reformation.

Were there reasons for the Reformation? Yes. Were they good enough reasons to justify all of the trouble which followed? Certainly not. The Church was in the process of reforming itself and would have done so, as it had before, entirely without the need for schism and carnage.

With thanks to the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Inquisition

Among those determined to find fault with the Church's historical behaviour, regardless of any foundation in fact, the Inquisition seems to be one of the ripest fruit. As such it became the subject of more scurrilous fabrications and inventive propaganda than any other institution in history. The reality is, as usual, considerably more nuanced.

The main and original of information about the wildly unrealistic excesses of the Inquisition is "A Discovery and Plaine Declaration of Sundry Subtill Practices of the Holy Inquisition of Spain" written in AD 1567 by Antonio del Corro, a Spanish Lutheran who wrote under the pseudonym Reginaldus Gonzalvus Montanus. He claimed to be a victim of the Inquisition himself, which scholars now know to be a lie.

It was written shortly after the protestant defeat at the Battle of Muhlberg at the hands of Ferdinand's grandson, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, doing battle with words because they had been annihilated on the battlefield. Emperor Charles refused to address the lies as he believed that gentlemen fought with weapons on a battlefield and not with ideas safely hidden behind a printing press.

Del Corro maintined that everyone questioned by the Inquisition was innocent, and every Inquisition official was venal and deceitful, both of which are statistically impossible. Most of the subsequent histories of the Inquisition relied entirely on uncritical belief in del Corro's claims, which went largely unchallenged and were leveraged for political purposes as anti-Spanish propaganda.

In fact it was the Inquisition that created rules for the gathering and use of evidence and who created the legal procedures necessary to ensure a fair trial. The Inquisition courts were, by modern standards, hundreds of years more advanced than the secular courts of the time, being models of justice and fairness.

This was well known at the time, and because of this, defendants in secular court proceedings would sometimes blaspheme in court in order to get their cases moved to a Inquisition court. This, because there they were much more likely to receive justice, much less likely to be tortured or abused, and much more likely to be acquitted.

It was the Inquisition courts in Spain and Italy, to name just two places, which prevented the Witch Panics that plagued the protestant lands. They put a stop to that nonsense by finding some notorious persecutors of so-called witches guilty, then handing them over to the secular authorities, who had them executed.

Stories about cruel torture methods used by the Inquisitors and the terrible conditions in which prisoners were kept were completely falsified. The Inquisition actually had the best jails in Spain. The Inquisition never punished or tortured Jews and Muslims as the Church had no authority over non-Christians. Instead, these were people, called conversos, who supposedly converted to Catholicism to avoid being expelled from Spain but did so under false pretenses and were presumably acting as a fifth column in post-Reconquista Spain.

In the entire sixteenth century, the Spanish Inquisition executed only about 50 people - not the hundreds of thousands that are claimed by the “Black Legend.” In all the Inquisitions throughout Europe together, scholars estimate the number of people executed ranged somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000. That averages, at most, about fourteen people per year throughout the entire continent over a period of 350 years, and not the ten million Dan Brown and those who think him a serious historical scholar, have suggested.

Its authority was very limited and never reached to the countryside. The Inquisition was virtually powerless in rural areas. It was secular powers or mob rule that burned supposed witches and heretics away from the cities and towns. Further, even within urban settings, it was always in competition between the Royal Court, other guilds, municipal authorities and others and was thus overshadowed in the cities of Spain. In the countryside, the Inquisitors had no power, no authority and no tools to do their jobs.

The supposed intrigue of the Inquisition, especially that portrayed between the Emperor Carlos V and his son Juan Carlos, is purely fictional and the result of protestant propaganda. The lies were so successful that it inspired Schiller and Verdi to create operas which portrayed enmity between the Emperor and his son. Verdi's Don Carlos portrayed Juan Carlos as a defender of personal freedom, which he never was.

Prosecuting witchcraft was a popular craze in Europe's secular courts at the time. Local governments were particularly intolerant of these offenses. The accused were often burned at the stake. For the Catholic Church, charges of witchcraft were seen as delusions and treated thusly. This Church law came into being in the 7th century. Hard evidence had to be shown for any accusation. Witchcraft and sorcery were rarely capital offenses. The overwhelming number of accusations were dismissed.

The Inquisition's manuals remained highly skeptical of witch accusations except in rare cases when dealing with the Cathars of Southern France, whose heretical teachings included witchcraft and magic. Further, the Cathars were engaged in murderous campaigns against Christians in France, including assassinating papal envoys.

Contrary to popular atheistic gossip, The Discoverie of Witchcraft was not written by the Catholic Church. In fact, it was written by the protestant author Reginald Scot in 1584. Scot believed the prosecution of those accused witches was irrational and un-Christian. Further, he held the Catholic Church responsible. In addition, though it purportedly was written to show magic and demonic influences didn't exist, the author actually claimed to believe in astrology, magic stones and the power inherent in unicorn horns. Within two years of its publication in England, it was put on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books thus, it can’t be said that the Catholic Church supported it. As an aside, two years is light speed considering they didn’t have the internet back then.

The Inquisition rarely relied upon torture to extract information. The supposed “Inquisitorial chamber” and their supposedly gruesome conditions simply never existed. Though propaganda suggests millions of people were imprisoned and tortured, there had only been 7000 cases brought before the Spanish Inquisition in total. Only 2% of the accused experienced any torture. Only 1% experienced torture more than once. It was used far less by the Inquisition than it was in the tribunals of other countries throughout Europe at the time. The stories of protestant torture of Catholics in the Tower of London were by far more gruesome, including that of St. Nicholas Owen.

Jewish conversos who fled Spain often immigrated to Italy where they were treated by far better. If the Catholic Church and its Inquisition was responsible for the horrors attributed to them, why would Jews flee to Italy - the “belly of the beast,” as it were? Obviously the blame for the excesses of the Inquisition rested upon Spanish secular authorities and not religious ones.

It can be rightfully asked if Muslims were the main cause of the Spanish Inquisition, why is it that Jews were targeted also? Because for most of the 800 years of Muslim invasion and oppression in Spain, Jews were integrated into Muslim armies which viciously and indiscriminately killed Christians trying to live peacefully in their own countries.

The last two people to be executed for practicing witchcraft were Anna Göldi (Glarus, Switzerland, in 1782) and Barbara Zdunk (Prussia in 1811.) Both were protestant-ruled countries and therefore had no connection to the Inquisition. In fact, Popes at the time wrote letters begging for local authorities to spare the lives of the accused "witches" but to no avail.

Stories about the other Inquisitions are seldom told. Protestant propaganda unfairly demonized Carlos V but wrote fulsome panegyrics lauding Henry VIII, the lecherous and treacherous king of England, simply because he was a champion of protestantism. Tens of thousands of Catholics were tortured and slaughtered throughout Britain and Ireland because of him and other protestants leaders such as Oliver Cromwell.

In reality, most inquisitors weren't Catholic priests. Many were lawyers trained in secular Spanish schools. The job of inquisitor was considered a stepping stone to other careers.

In addition, all of the complaints about the Inquisition came from protestant sources. If the Inquisition were as evil as it was portrayed, complaints would have arisen from Catholic sources initially. Protestants portrayed the Inquisitors as being debased, immoral barbarians who routinely used horrific tortures and deflowered virgins to satiate their own lusts. They offered no proof. The Inquisition's own records never mentioned such evil.

Champion of the "enlightenment" Voltaire decried the Spanish Inquisition, claiming that it was still killing people in the 18th century but there are no records of this whatsoever. Voltaire was never a friend of the Church and looked forward to its destruction so was eager to spread tales about it.

A document supposedly from the Spanish Inquisition, which has subsequently been proved to be a forgery, alleged that the court ordered the extermination of entire populations - millions of victims - for heresy. In reality, in 16th century Spain, only 40 to 50 people were executed for heresy in the 16th century including the Americas - fewer people died for heresy than in any other country. In comparison, more than 400 people died, mostly Catholics, were killed in protestant England for the same reason.

The Inquisitors were said to roast people's feet, brick them up inside walls, smash their joints with hammers, flay them on wheels, ravish their female victims and the indiscriminately use iron maidens. In reality, they were restrained interrogators - and when compared to secular authorities such as those in protestant countries, they were positively enlightened. Consider the tortures of the infamous Tower of London, especially those used against such Catholic martyrs as

Of course the use of religious courts for political purposes were and are reprehensible, but in the context of the times, English secular authorities would disembowel thieves for stealing sheep. Secular authorities in Germany would blind anyone who returned to the country after being exiled.

With thanks to the NC Register.

Witch Hunts

Some of the grimmest episodes in European and American history were the so-called witch hunts, whose origins and development we will examine here.

The first fact to establish is that witch hunts were not a medieval phenomenon.

While there were a handful of witch trials during the medieval period, they almost never resulted in an execution, and those convicted were more often not executed as witches so much as executed for capital crimes carried out by “witchcraft”, usually poisoning.

Such was the case with Dame Alice Kyteler, or Black Alice, in Ireland, whose succession of husbands died shortly and horribly after changing their wills to benefit herself and her son.

At the Council of Paderborn in 785, the Catholic church issued a decree prohibiting the condemnation of witches. This council was, among others, emblematic of the general understanding of the Church then and now. In addition, burning a “witch” was made punishable by death.

King Coloman the Learned of Hungary outlawed witch hunting because he did not believe witches existed. In 1080, Pope Gregory VII wrote to King Harald of Denmark, forbidding witch burning under the false pretensions of crop failure. The Lombard code of 643 AD states:

"Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female servant as a witch, for it is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds."

This conforms to the teachings of the Canon Episcopi of circa 900 AD, alleged to date from 314 AD, which, stated that witchcraft did not exist and that to teach that it was a reality was, itself, false and heterodox teaching. This was based on canon Episcopi, the name given to a certain passage found in medieval canon law. Other examples include an Irish synod in 800 AD, and a sermon by Agobard of Lyons in 810 AD.

The general desire of the clergy to check fanaticism about witchcraft and necromancy was demonstrated by the decrees of these Councils, in order to prevent people who considered themselves orthodox, zealous and righteous Christians from harming others. It was made clear that "rides of Diana" wherein witches would transform themselves into creatures or ride on broomsticks did not actually exist, that they were deceptions, dreams or phantasms.

It was the belief in the reality of such deceptions which was considered a heresy worthy of excommunication. These rulings specified that the devil is real, creating delusions in the mind, but that the delusions do not have bodily reality.

It was made clear that it was perfectly normal to have nightly visions in which one sees things that are never seen while awake, but that it was a great stupidity to believe that the events experienced in the dream vision have taken place in the body.

It went on to describe those who believed it possible to physically transform themselves into a different kind of creature, was far more wavering (in his faith) than an infidel (procul dubio infidelis; to which was added: "and worse than a pagan", et pagano deterior).

In 1258, Pope Alexander IV prohibited the prosecution of witchcraft. From about 900 to 1400, the Church made it clear that in practical terms, witches didn’t exist and as a result didn’t try people for witchcraft. 

The tremendous rise in witch panics and fear of the occult came about only after the Reformation. They continued well into the so-called “enlightenment” early modern era.

Countries with an active Inquisition were particularly resistant to witch panics. The Spanish, Roman and Portuguese Inquisitions regarded nearly all accusations of witchcraft as false or malicious, and supposed witch finders were more likely to find themselves before an inquisition court than any supposed witch.

Most of Catholic Europe never experienced any witch trials or persecution of witches unlike protestant areas which saw far more witch trials. Germany, where protestantism began, accounted for 40 percent of these persecutions. Switzerland, France, England, and the Netherlands – all countries where Protestantism took deep root – accounted for 35 percent. But only six percent of persecutions took place collectively in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland, all regions that were solidly Catholic.

The origins of the witch panics lay, ironically, in the humanist revival of Classical Roman and Greek culture, both of which, along with secular Germanic law, had harsh prohibitions on the practise of sorcery and witchcraft.

When Martin Luther and his fellows arrived on the scene, they granted themselves full license to interpret Scriptures however they saw fit, and it was not a great leap to treat Old Testament prohibitions on witchcraft as perfectly applicable to their own day.

Not only did Martin Luther encourage the common superstitions of his age, believing in the widespread use of sorcery and black magic, he also perceived the devil to be a tangible force.

"His view of witches was defined by his theology. He saw witches – like gypsies, Turks and Jews, who were usually mentioned in one breath – as accomplices of Satan in his ultimate battle against Christ." (Heinz Schilling, "Reformation und Luthers Hexenbild", in: Luther und die Hexen, exhibition catalogue, Rothenburg 2017, p. 209. Luther's aggressive approach toward witches generally intensified from the late 1530s, often demanding that they should be burned at the stake.

As states and regions broke away from the guidance of the Church, ancient superstitions arose again and medieval prohibitions on witch burning were abandoned.

It’s not accurate to say the hands of the Church were entirely clean of course, but even such involvement as it had was a complex matter. One Pope in particular, Innocent III, issued a Papal Bull in support of Heinrich Kramer’s attempted witch hunts, for which he was expelled from Innsbruck by the bishop, but the Catholic clergy rose up and protested with vigour, saying that it contradicted Scripture. Some scholars view the bull as "clearly political", motivated by jurisdictional disputes between the local German Catholic priests and clerics from the Office of the Inquisition who answered more directly to the pope.

The same Pope subsequently endorsed Kramer’s “Malleus Maleficarum”, the Hammer of Witches, a deeply misogynistic work purporting to examine the practical means and effects of witchcraft, but again the clergy rose up and forced Innocent III to withdraw his support and issue a condemnation. The Vatican then denounced the book as “a worse crime than heresy in its notable animus against women”.

Nonetheless Kramer’s work was received with interest and approval by many protestant reformers and secular courts.

In those Catholic regions where witch hunts did take place, notably Germany and Belgium, it was often the case that the local clergy were also powerful political figures responding to and acting upon the impulses of local beliefs and superstitions. Such individuals were usually only loosely under the control of Rome, if at all.

As the state began to execute people by strangulation and burning for heresy in the wars of religion caused by the Reformation, witchcraft soon became a common accusation in certain areas. Large scale witch hunts developed in Germany, Denmark, England, Scotland, and later in the American colonies. As many as fifty thousand were killed, many within Germany with its Protestant-Catholic patchwork of tiny princedoms and aristocratic holdings.

The first Witchcraft Act in England was passed under Henry VIII in 1542, and made all demonic pacts or summoning of spirits a capital crime. Widespread and brutal persecutions followed under the reign of Elizabeth the first, and continued under her successor James, who personally attended witch-torturing sessions. All of these monarchs were vehemently and violently opposed to Catholicism.

Ironically Elizabeth I kept a court magician, John Dee, who spent much of his time on alchemy, divination, and occultism. It was Dee who advocated the foundation of English colonies in the New World to form a "British Empire", a term he is credited with coining.

Scotland’s witch hunts were particularly savage – from the end of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth century, the time of protestant ascendancy, no less than five intense panics erupted across Scotland, resulting in at least two thousand executions.

While English protestant colonies saw famous witch trials, as in Salem, Catholic Spanish and Portuguese colonies saw none.

This was a phenomenon associated with rejection of the authority of the Church, political unrest, regional superstition and religious division as various new sects attempted to purify their followers of any taint. There was little to no real worshipping of pagan goddesses, and neither were female healers, midwives or herbalists targeted. On the contrary, they were more likely to work side by side with the accusers to help identify witch marks.

In some areas those killed as witches, men and women, were violent criminals, while in others they might have been guilty of petty crimes, indecency, or prostitution resulting from poverty and social exclusion. Often enough, they were guilty of very little.

The "Enlightenment"

The myth of the modern age is a persistent one. In this still-popular narrative, Europe and the world struggled for millennia under the stifling influence of backward domineering religious institutions until suddenly, around the seventeenth and eighteenth century, science and modernity appeared out of nowhere, casting off the shackles of ignorant superstition and striding boldly into the future, the dawn of an "age of reason".

Of course, this is not simply untrue, but a deliberately propagated falsehood developed and popularised by individuals and groups with a deep hatred for Catholicism – and often a religiously motivated hatred.

As has been demonstrated in the preceding sections, the idea of a single “scientific revolution” and tension between Catholicism and reason, between the Church and scientific inquiry, were almost entirely fabrications intended to attack and undermine the Church. Catholicism invented universities and hospitals, nurtured free expression and encouraged the development of our understanding of the natural world.

From the beginning, “God did it” was never regarded as an adequate answer by the Church, and the advancements of each age were built squarely upon the backs of the preceding ages.

It would seem that even enlightenment thinkers were unaware of the degree to which they owed their existence to previous trends and fashions – they built classical monuments adorned with pagan designs after the very fashion of the earlier humanists who had tried to recreate the supposed glories of ancient Rome, all while scorning these same antiquarians.

The events, philosophical conflicts and sweeping changes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are far too broad a topic to broach in this resource, so instead we will examine the purported goals of the “enlightenment” and compare them to what actually happened.

A major impetus of this period was to secularise religion and thereby prevent a recurrence of the wars of the previous century caused by the rise of protestantism. Protestant thought was very useful in this regard since the great flexibility of interpretation granted by sola scriptura led directly not only to eisegesis, that is the personal interpretation of Scripture to serve one’s own ends, but it enormously amplified to state’s ability to use the Bible for things like the justification of slavery and to neuter moral instructions in the service of secular rulers.

Besides which protestant religious belief derived the entirety of its authority from the state, which made it even more useful to secularisers.

The idea of the separation of Church and state was another important trend during this period, along with the lionisation of democracy and the consent of the governed by some factions, pushing back against ideas such as the divine right of kings. This once again demonstrated the complete inadequacy and disconnected nature of enlightenment thought, since the divine right of kings was largely a protestant idea, not Catholic, and in any functioning Catholic majority representative democracy the Church must surely have inordinate power over the state through its moral instruction.

Furthermore, by applying these enlightenment ideals to an extreme degree, the removal of Catholic institutions and their personnel in revolutionary France simply forced religious worship into the private sphere and increased the involvement of the laity, events that would also mark the religious revival that took place in France in the nineteenth century.

Stumbling through a rejection of the many centuries of Christianity which preceded them, enlightenment thinkers came up with the idea of the equality of all men and their corresponding rights – which had been enshrined in Catholic teaching from the beginning. These ideas crystallised around the end of the first millennium when when the Church developed a distinctively Christian legal system, reforming Roman and Germanic law to reflect the equality of souls in God’s sight, building upon natural law and the worth of the individual.

Whether the philosophes of the eighteenth century were simply unaware of Catholic teachings on the equal dignity of all people, and the ways in which this dignity should be respected, or they chose to wilfully disregard them is debatable.

While Adam Smith is lauded as the founder of modern economics, in fact his ideas were very similar to those developed by the Salamanca School centuries beforehand, whose members came to be known collectively as the Late Scholastics. These men, most of whom taught in Spain, were at least as much in favour of the free market as the Scottish tradition came to be much later. Additionally their theoretical foundation was even more solid – they anticipated the theories of value and price of the “marginalists” of late nineteenth century Austria.

Other great strides made by the enlightenment apparently included the idea that women could be as rational as men, with little awareness of the long history of female Catholic intellectuals, philosophers and saints.

Scientific advancement and improvements in engineering continued just as they had during the preceding centuries and throughout the Middle Ages. The vaunted empiricism of the enlightenment period had already been developed to a great degree by the thirteenth century Catholic Franciscan friar Roger Bacon.

He discovered the importance of empirical testing when the results he obtained differed from those which would have been predicted by Aristotle, and from whose scholarship sprang the scientific method. His ideas had been used by many, many scholars long before the enlightenment period.

By this example and many others we can see that tangible scientific and technological progress would certainly have continued unimpeded without the demonisation of the Church and religious sentiment, and indeed might have proceeded with even greater speed if the Church had retained its prominent position.

The world might also have been spared the horrors of scientific racism, human zoos, Marx and his utter disregard for the value of human life, derived and plagiarised from the leaders and Reign of Terror of the French revolution, brutally exploitative imperialism, eugenics, the mass forced sterilisation of “undesirables”, and other long-discredited theories, all of which the Church opposed with vigour.

In terms of social developments, the leaders of the enlightenment were not especially democratic, as they more often looked to absolute monarchs as the key to imposing reforms designed by the intellectuals. Voltaire despised democracy and said the absolute monarch must be enlightened and must act as dictated by reason and justice – in other words, be a "philosopher-king".

Although the Church initially agreed with major enlightenment thinkers and opposed democracy, the later Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum gave political Catholic movements an impulse to develop and to spread the area of their involvement. With this encyclical, the Catholic Church expanded its interest in social, economic, political and cultural issues, and it called for a drastic conversion of Western society in the face of capitalist influences. Following the release of the document, the labour movement which had previously floundered began to flourish in Europe, and later in North America. Mary Harris Jones, also known as "Mother Jones", and the National Catholic Welfare Council were central in the campaign to end child labour in the United States during the early 20th century.

But to return to the enlightenment belief that religion was the root cause of most wars and that Christianity should be marginalised in order to bring a lasting peace to the world, we need only glance at the appalling record of war and carnage the world has experienced post-enlightenment to truly understand the degree to which these self regarding “lights of reason” failed.

The writings of Baron de Montesquieu, an enlightenment thinker of the time, greatly influenced the butcher of the Revolution Robespierre before and during the French Revolution. Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws defined a core principle of a democratic government, virtue, described as "the love of laws and of our country." In Robespierre's speech to the National Convention on 5 February 1794, titled "Virtue and Terror", he regarded virtue as being the "fundamental principle of popular or democratic government." This was, in fact, the same virtue defined by Montesquieu almost 50 years prior.

Three hundred thousand people were arrested and imprisoned during the Terror. Infernal columns were operations led by the French Revolutionary general Louis Marie Turreau in the War in the Vendée. He stated, "My purpose is to burn everything, to leave nothing but what is essential to establish the necessary quarters for exterminating the rebels." It has been estimated that from 16,000 to 40,000 inhabitants of the area were killed during the first quarter of 1794.

Between 1789 and 1802, there were about 1.4 million killed during the French revolution. That number includes those killed during the revolution itself and the Revolutionary Wars.

Official estimates of the death toll during the Reign of Terror come to about 17,000 people officially executed, among them Catholic chemists, physicians, astronomers, mathematicians, biologists, philosophers of the natural sciences and innocent nuns, along with 10,000 people dying in prison or without trial. The Incidence of the Terror during the French Revolution by Donald Greer also indicates there were 25,000 summary executions across France.

These events, along with their accompanying ideological purity spiral, were to presage the various left wing revolutions of the twentieth century, which were enacted according to the teachings of Karl Marx, an eager student of the French revolution.

But the age of enlightenment had only just barely begun. This is a list of some of the wars which took place during and immediately following the enlightenment, fought with increasingly deadly weapons – including breach-loading and then repeating firearms, rifled artillery, the first machine guns, trench warfare, barbed wire, and primitive land- and sea-mines – and with increasing disregard for the individual humanity of combatants or those civilians caught in the crossfire.

The total number killed in wars during and shortly post-enlightenment is difficult to estimate, but they must surely number in the tens of millions, to say nothing of the Atlantic slave trade, which saw five million transported and eight million dead in the eighteenth century. The Seven Years War alone caused over a million deaths.

The vast majority of these wars had little or nothing to do with religion, just like the vast majority of wars before the so-called enlightenment.

We can also see the contempt for religious belief fostered by the enlightenment in the treatment of the mortal remains of those who died in these wars. Within a few years of Napoleon’s defeat, for example, agents of fertiliser manufacturers were scouring battlefields. The bones of men and horses were removed from places such as Austerlitz, Leipzig and Waterloo and shipped, usually to Hull, and on to bone-grinders, many in Doncaster.

In 1822, a correspondent wrote in The Observer: “It is now ascertained beyond a doubt, by actual experiment on an extensive scale, that a dead soldier is a most valuable article of commerce; and, for aught known to the contrary, the good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread.

The true fruit of the enlightenment, the grandchildren of the Reformation.

World War Two

One of the many campaigns to portray the Church in a negative light revolves around the role the Church played in World War 2, specifically regarding its attitude and interactions with the Nazis.

These slanders against Pope Pius XII, the Pope of the time, can be traced to Berlin in February 1963 where a young protestant and left-wing West German writer and playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, composed a play. This was called the Deputy and in it the Pope is depicted as a Nazi collaborator, guilty of moral cowardice and silence in the face of the Nazi onslaught.

The timing of the play was important, released during the 1960s which saw an outpouring of liberal aggression against Catholicism so it can be no surprise that Hochhuth’s attack gained momentum.

Since then he has had many fellow travellers, such as British author John Cornwall’s discredited book, Hitler’s Pope which was published in 1999 and featured on its dust jacket a photograph of the future pope Pius walking past a German soldier in a storm trooper steel helmet. What was not mentioned was that the picture was taken long before Hitler came to power and the soldiers were part of the anti-Nazi Weimar Republic.

Not only was this a fairly transparent attempt to distract from the pivotal role protestantism and in particular the works of Martin Luther had to play in the rise of Nazi Germany, it came as a big surprise to the actual Jewish survivors of World War Two.

In 1945, the World Jewish Congress donated a great deal of money to the Vatican, with Rabbi Herzog of Jerusalem thanking pope Pius “for his lifesaving efforts on behalf of the Jews during the occupation of Italy.” When the pope died in 1958 Golda Meir, then Israeli foreign minister, gave a eulogy at the United Nations praising the man for his work on behalf of the Jewish people.

From the end of World War II until at least five years after his death, Pope Pius enjoyed an enviable reputation amongst Christians and Jews alike. At the end of the war, Pius XII was hailed as "the inspired moral prophet of victory," and "enjoyed near-universal acclaim for aiding European Jews."

Numerous Jewish leaders, including Albert Einstein, Israeli Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Moshe Sharett, as well as Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, expressed their public gratitude to Pius XII, praising him as a "righteous gentile" who had saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Isaac Herzog converted to Catholicism after the war. "The people of Israel," wrote Rabbi Herzog, "will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion, which form the foundation of true civilization, are doing for our unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living proof of Divine Providence in this world."

Albert Einstein, himself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, had the following to say in Time magazine

Being a lover of freedom, when the Nazi revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced.

Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom: but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Only the Catholic Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing the truth.

I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised, I now praise unreservedly.

Dr. Raffael Cantoni, head of the Italian Jewish community's wartime Jewish Assistance Committee, who would subsequently become the President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, similarly expressed his gratitude to the Vatican, stating that “six million of my co-religionists have been murdered by the Nazis, but there could have been many more victims had it not been for the efficacious intervention of Pius XII.

On April 5, 1946, his Union of Italian Jewish Communities, meeting for the first time after the War, sent an official message of thanks to Pope Pius XII:

The delegates of the Congress of the Italian Jewish Communities, held in Rome for the first time after the Liberation, feel that it is imperative to extend reverent homage to Your Holiness, and to express the most profound gratitude that animates all Jews for your fraternal humanity toward them during the years of persecution when their lives were endangered by Nazi-Fascist barbarism. Many times priests suffered imprisonment and were sent to concentration camps, and offered their lives to assist Jews in every way. This demonstration of goodness and charity that still animates the just, has served to lessen the shame and torture and sadness that afflicted millions of human beings.

In his meticulously researched and comprehensive 1967 book, Three Popes and the Jews, the Israeli historian and diplomat Pinchas Lapide, who had served as the Israeli Counsel General in Milan, and had spoken with many Italian Jewish Holocaust survivors who owed their life to Pius, provided the empirical basis for their gratitude, concluding that Pius XII “was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands… The Catholic Church saved more Jewish lives during the war than all other churches, religious institutions and rescue organizations put together.

To this day, the Lapide volume remains the definitive work by a Jewish scholar on the subject.

Hundreds of thousands of Catholic priests, monks, nuns, bishops and lay people risked their lives and sometimes gave them to help Jewish victims. Tragically, their sacrifices have largely been ignored and forgotten, as have the actions of Pope Pius XII.

Any claims that the Church failed to denounce the Nazis are false, as the quotes above indicate. The Church was the loudest and sometimes the only voice speaking against the rise of the Reich, right up until July the 11th, 1942. On this date, the Dutch bishops sent a letter to the Nazis, to be read in all churches.

Ours is a time of great tribulations of which two are foremost: the sad destiny of the Jews and the plight of those deported for forced labor. ... All of us must be aware of the terrible sufferings which both of them have to undergo, due to no guilt of their own. We have learned with deep pain of the new dispositions which impose upon innocent Jewish men, women and children the deportation into foreign lands. ... The incredible suffering which these measures cause to more than 10,000 people is in absolute opposition to the divine precepts of justice and charity. ... Let us pray to God and for the intercession of Mary ... that he may lend his strength to the people of Israel, so severely tried in anguish and persecution

The Nazi response was immediate and savage. They revoked the baptism exception for every Jew in the Netherlands and ordered them rounded up. The Gestapo made a special effort to round up every monk, nun and priest who had a drop of Jewish blood.

Most of their victims were deported to Auschwitz and immediately sent to the gas chambers, among them Saint Edith Stein who was killed at Auschwitz.

As Pinchas Lapide notes: "The saddest and most thought-provoking conclusion is that whilst the Catholic clergy in Holland protested more loudly, expressly and frequently against Jewish persecutions than the religious hierarchy of any other Nazi-occupied country, more Jews, some 110,000 or 79 percent of the total were deported from Holland to death camps." The vast majority of Holland's Jews and the highest percentages of Jews of any Nazi-occupied nation in Western Europe were deported and killed.

"It is clear from Maglione's intervention Papa Pacelli cared about and sought to avert the deportation of the Roman Jews but he did not denounce: a denunciation, the Pope believed, would do nothing to help the Jews. It would only extend Nazi persecution to yet more Catholics. It was the Church as well as the Jews in Germany, Poland and the rest of occupied Europe who would pay the price for any papal gesture.

Pinchas Lapide quotes an Italian Jew who, with the Vatican's help, managed to escape the Nazi deportation of Rome's Jews in October 1943, as stating unequivocally twenty years later: "none of us wanted the Pope to speak out openly. We were all fugitives and we did not want to be pointed out as such. The Gestapo would have only increased and intensified its inquisition, it was much better the Pope kept silent. We all felt the same, and today we still believe that." Bishop Jean Bernard of Luxembourg, an inmate of Dachau from February 1941 to August 1942, notified the Vatican that "whenever protests were made, treatment of prisoners worsened immediately."

According to John Vidmar, "The brutality of the retaliation made an enormous impression on Pius XII." He is reported to have said that his protests would save not a single life, and would probably cost many. Thereafter he avoided open, confrontational denunciations of the Nazis.

Before this, the efforts of the Catholic Church had ensured that support for the Nazi party was lowest in Catholic areas of Germany, as the map below indicates.

In 1930 and 1931 the Catholic bishops of Germany issued warnings against the rising National Socialist Party. The essence of what they said was that the party program placed a Germanic feeling of race above religion.

Cardinal Pacelli, who would become Pope Pius XII, drafted a papal encyclical denouncing Nazi anti Semitism and had it read from every pulpit. This was called Mit brennender Sorge which means "With deep anxiety", on the 10th of March 1937. Written in German, not the usual Latin, it was smuggled into Germany for fear of censorship and was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches.

The encyclical condemned "pantheistic confusion", "neopaganism", "the so-called myth of race and blood", and the idolising of the State. The encyclical states that race is a fundamental value of the human community, which is necessary and honourable but condemns the exaltation of race, or the people, or the state, above their standard value to an idolatrous level. The encyclical declared "that man as a person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect against denial, suppression or neglect."

The effort to produce and distribute over 300,000 copies of the letter was entirely secret, allowing priests across Germany to read the letter without interference. The Gestapo raided the churches the next day to confiscate all the copies they could find, and the presses that had printed the letter were closed.

According to historian Ian Kershaw, an intensification of the general anti-church struggle began around April in response to the encyclical. The regime further constrained the actions of the Church and harassed monks with staged prosecutions for alleged immorality and phony abuse trials.

Though Hitler is not named in the encyclical, the German text does refer to a "Wahnprophet", which some have interpreted as meaning "mad prophet" and as referring to Hitler himself.

The release of Mit brennender Sorge precipitated an intensification of the Nazi persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany. Hitler was infuriated. Twelve printing presses were seized, and hundreds of people sent either to prison or the concentration camps. Every publishing company that had printed it was closed and sealed, diocesan newspapers were proscribed, and limits imposed on the paper available for Church purposes.

In his diary, Goebbels wrote that there were heightened verbal attacks on the clergy from Hitler, and wrote that Hitler had approved the start of trumped up "immorality trials" against clergy and anti-Church propaganda campaign.

The Tablet reported on 24 April 1937:

The case in the Berlin court against three priests and five Catholic laymen is, in public opinion, the Reich's answer to the Pope's Mit brennender Sorge encyclical, as the prisoners have been in concentration camps for over a year. Chaplain Rossaint, of Dusseldorf; is, however, known as a pacifist and an opponent of the National Socialist regime, and it is not denied that he was indiscreet; but he is, moreover, accused of having tried to form a Catholic-Communist front on the plea that he baptized a Jewish Communist. This the accused denies, and his defence has been supported by Communist witnesses.

“The true extent of the Nazi fury at this encyclical was shown by the immediate measures taken in Germany to counter further propagation of the document. Not a word of it was printed in newspapers, and the following day the Secret Police visited the diocesan offices and confiscated every copy they could lay their hands on. All the presses which had printed it were closed and sealed. The bishops' diocesan magazines (Amtsblatter) were proscribed; and paper for church pamphlets or secretarial work was severely restricted. A host of other measures, such as diminishing the State grants to theology students and needy priests (agreed in the Concordat) were introduced. “

According to Carlo Falconi: "The pontifical letter still remains the first great official public document to dare to confront and criticize Nazism, and the Pope's courage astonished the world."

On 11 November 1938, following Kristallnacht, Pius XI joined Western leaders in condemning the pogrom. In response, the Nazis organised mass demonstrations against Catholics and Jews, in Munich.

The Bavarian Gauleiter Adolf Wagner declared before 5,000 protesters: "Every utterance the Pope makes in Rome is an incitement of the Jews throughout the world to agitate against Germany". Cardinal Faulhaber supplied a truck to the rabbi of the Ohel Yaakov synagogue, to rescue sacred objects before the building was torn down on Kristallacht. A Nazi mob attacked his palace, and smashed its windows.

On the 21st of November, in an address to the world's Catholics, the Pope rejected the Nazi claim of racial superiority. He insisted there was only a single human race. Robert Ley, the Nazi Minister of Labour declared the following day in Vienna: "No compassion will be tolerated for the Jews. We deny the Pope's statement there is but one human race. The Jews are parasites."

Catholic leaders including Cardinal Schuster of Milan, Cardinal van Roey in Belgium and Cardinal Verdier in Paris backed the Pope's strong condemnation of Kristallnacht. The Vatican responded to the Kristallnacht by seeking to find places of refuge for Jews. Pius XII instructed local bishops to help all those in need at the outbreak of the war. According to Kershaw, the "detestation of Nazism was overwhelming within the Catholic Church".

After World War Two began, Pius sent a telegraph to Nuncio Archbishop Alfredo Paccini in Warsaw. He directed Archbishop Paccini to begin organizing passage to Palestine for Polish Jews. Pius also directed Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, to begin making “thousands of baptismal certificates for Jews in the hope that such papers would permit passage into the country”.

On October the 16th, the Pope received a message from the German resistance. The resistance wanted Pius to join their cause in undermining the Nazis and to serve as a link between Hitler’s internal and external enemies.

It took only a day for Pius to make his decision, and on October the 17th he accepted the resistance’s invitation. In Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler, Mark Riebling summarizes the role that the Pope would serve in the undeground: “He would engage the German military resistance and encourage a conservative counterrevolution. He would serve as secret foreign agent for the resistance - presenting and guaranteeing its plans to the British. He would partner with the generals not just to stop the war, but to eliminate Nazism by removing Hitler.”

Three days later Pius released his encyclical Summi Pontificatus, meaning The Unity of Human Society, in which he made his rejection of Nazism and his support for the Jews clear.

With a heart torn by the sufferings and afflictions of so many of her sons, but with the courage and the stability that come from the promises of Our Lord, the Spouse of Christ goes to meet the gathering storms,” wrote Pius.

 The world reacted with support. David G. Dalin records in his book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope: Pope Pius XII and His Secret War Against Germany, “Allied aircraft dropped 88,000 copies of the encyclical over parts of Germany in an effort to raise anti-Nazi sentiment.

The allies had found vital support in the Pope, and his encyclical would affect the hearts of important Catholics in Germany.

Pius and the bishops of Germany had also established a courier intelligence service between the bishops of Germany and the Vatican, recruiting German Catholic military leaders, including Claus von Stauffenberg – who was famous for his role in in the failed assassination attempt to kill Hitler known as “Operation Valkyrie” – joined the resistance and sacrificed their lives for the cause of destroying Hitler’s power.

Pius also served as the link between the German resistance and Britain, informing Britain of the plots to overthrow Hitler, leaking information on Hitler’s movements from the inside, and asking for support.

After Pius XII delivered his Christmas message in December, 1942, the German government department responsible for the deportation of the Jews stated: “In a manner never known before, the Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order... Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice to the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.

According to Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the world’s leading historians of the Holocaust, “So outspoken were Pacelli’s criticisms that Hitler’s regime lobbied against him, trying to prevent his becoming the successor to Pius XI. When he did become pope, as Pius XII, in March, 1939, Nazi Germany was the only government not to send a representative to his coronation.

In fact, Hitler spoke publicly of wanting to enter the Vatican and "pack up that whole whoring rabble." It has long been known that at one point Hitler planned to kidnap the Pope and imprison him. And, as several scholars have noted, Pius XII knew that the Nazis had a plan to kidnap him.

In addition to minutes from a meeting on July 26, 1943, in which Hitler openly discussed invading the Vatican, Ernst von Weizsacker, the German Ambassador to the Vatican, has written that he heard of Hitler's plan to kidnap Pius XII, and that he regularly warned the Pope and Vatican officials against provoking Berlin. So, too, the Nazi Ambassador to Italy, Rudolf Rahn, has described the kidnapping plot and attempts by Rahn and other Nazi diplomats to prevent it. Himmler established a special unit to identify and eliminate Catholic influences. The SS decided the German Catholic Church was a serious threat to its hegemony and while it was too strong to be abolished it was partly stripped of its influence, for example by closing its youth clubs and publications.

The Church began a campaign of resistance to the Nazis which saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The individual acts of heroism and courage from Catholics, laity and clergy, throughout the war are far too many to enumerate here, but some of their stories are presented.

The Vatican used its assets to ransom Jews from the Nazis, ran an elaborate escape route. In Rome, 155 convents and monasteries sheltered some 5,000 Jews throughout the German occupation. No less than 3,000 Jews found refuge at one time at the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, and thus, through Pius' personal intervention, escaped deportation to German death camps.

Sixty Jews lived for nine months at the Jesuit Gregorian University, and many were sheltered in the cellar of the Pontifical Bible Institute. Pope Pius himself granted sanctuary within the walls of the Vatican in Rome to hundreds of homeless Jews. Following Pope Pius' direct instructions, individual Italian priests and monks, cardinals and bishops, were instrumental in saving hundreds of Jewish lives.

Rabbi David Dalin points out that because of the presence of the Pope, the Jews of Italy had a far higher survival rate than in most other countries. He proves that in France, Slovakia and Hungary the pope intervened personally, worked tirelessly and used pressure on Church officials and Catholic politicians to save countless Jewish lives.

The Swedish diplomat in Hungary was working with representatives of seven other neutral nations under the guidance of Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta, who was in turn under the direct prompting and control of pope Pius.

More than 40 safe houses were established and 25,000 Jews saved. Such activity was not in any way unusual and when in 1955 Archbishop Giovanni Montini, the future pope Paul VI, was offered an award by Israel for his work during the Holocaust he replied, “All I did was my duty. And besides I only acted upon orders from the Holy Father.

From Istanbul, the future pope Archbishop Roncalli sent immigration certificates to Budapest, which made it possible for many Hungarian Jews to escape to Palestine.

In Polish territories it annexed to Greater Germany, the Nazis set about systematically dismantling the Church, arresting its leaders, exiling its clergymen, closing its churches, monasteries and convents. Many clergymen were murdered. Over 1800 Catholic Polish clergy were murdered in concentration camps, most notably Saint Maximilian Kolbe.

Nazi security chief Reinhard Heydrich soon orchestrated an intensification of restrictions on church activities in Germany. Hitler and his ideologues Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg and Bormann hoped to de-Catholicise Germany in the long term. Clergy were persecuted and sent to concentration camps, religious Orders had their properties seized, some youth were sterilised.

When deportations for the Final Solution commenced, at his Cathedral in Berlin, Fr. Bernhard Lichtenberg offered public prayer and sermonised against the deportations of Jews to the East. He was denounced, and later died en route to Dachau.

Hugh O’Flaherty was an Irish Catholic priest who saved about 4,000 Allied soldiers and Jews in Rome during World War II. O’Flaherty used his status as a priest and his protection by the Vatican to conceal 4,000 escapees – Allied soldiers and Jews – in flats, farms and convents. Despite the Nazis desperately wanting to stop his actions, his protection by the Vatican prevented them officially arresting him. He survived an assassination attempt and, along with the Catholic Church, saved the majority of Jews in Rome.
More of his story can be seen in the movie, The Scarlet and the Black.

Slovakian Jews also found protection in the Church’s efforts, and Dalin estimates that Pius played a role in saving “approximately twenty thousand Slovak Jews.”

In Croatia, Bishop Guiseppe Palatucci and his nephew rescued 5,000 Jews by giving them false identity papers and refuge in Italy. Pius personally sent money to Bishop Palatucci and instructed him to use it to care for the Jewish refugees.

In France Father Pierre-Maria Benoit, a Capuchin priest, lived in a monastery in Marseilles when the Nazis occupied Vichy France in 1942. In the basement of his monastery, Catholics were soon immersed in printing false documents to help Jews escape France.

Dalin writes that Father Benoit used his connections “with border guides, the French underground, and Catholic and Jewish religious organizations” to “provide food, shelter, and new identities for thousands of French Jews secretly smuggled into Spain and Switzerland.”

Though Father Benoit was forced to escape to Rome when the Gestapo discovered his activities, he remained dedicated to his mission and “contacted the Swiss, Romanian, Hungarian and Spanish embassies,” requesting documents for the protection of Jews taking refuge in Italy.

Research by the Priests for the Jews project has accumulated data on over a thousand members of the Polish clergy who provided help to the Jews. One hundred and fifty of them were murdered by the Nazis. In thirty cases it was conclusively proven that death was directly attributable to punishment for saving the Jews.

Hitler despised the Church, and the feeling was very much mutual.

But what of the great atheist left which has busied itself spreading propaganda and falsehoods about the actions of the Church, what role did they play in the events leading up to World War Two and in the war itself?

It can be safely said that Hitler would never have gained power without the help of German communists, and while he did turn on them later, hunting down and destroying ideological enemies – left wing or right wing – was normal behaviour for any hard left government which has ever seized power. In the early 1930s it raised no eyebrows to call someone both a communist and a Nazi. Ernst Thälmann, leader of Germany’s radical left in the last years of the Weimar Republic, thought the centre left was a greater danger than the right and worked hand in hand with Hitler to attack those he viewed as his more serious enemies.

Support for Hitler among leftists was magnified greatly after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed, dividing Europe between Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Stalin determined who was left and who was not, and the global left wing consciousness obeyed his instructions. Communist parties all over the world, especially in America and Britain became anti-interventionist and more peace minded. Criticisms were more often levelled against their own governments than Germany. After all, if Comrade Stalin saw no immediate threat from the Germans and Hitler, why should they?

The British Communist Party "supports the war, believing it to be a just war which should be supported by the whole working class", until a representative was sent from Moscow to explain the new situation – that this was an imperialist war and for communists to turn the war into a socialist revolution. Other left wing pamphlets of the time reported how “Trotskyists” were sabotaging and undermining Britain’s war effort.

But even the “contributions” of the left paled by comparison with the role played by protestant beliefs and historical figures, keeping in mind that much of the remarkable slander aimed at the Church over its actions during World War Two began with a young protestant West German writer and playwright, Rolf Hochhuth.

Please note, there were many protestant preachers and religious who resisted Hitler’s monstrosities and paid for it with their lives, in no way should this information be taken as an indictment of protestants today. Let charity be the first and last virtue.

Based upon his significant antisemitic teachings, the prevailing view among historians is that Luther's anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed enormously to the development of antisemitism in Germany, which in the 1930s and 1940s provided an ideal foundation for the Nazi Party's attacks on Jews. Reinhold Lewin writes that "whoever wrote against the Jews for whatever reason believed he had the right to justify himself by triumphantly referring to Luther."

In 1543 Luther published On the Jews and Their Lies in which he says that the Jews are a "base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth." They are full of the "devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine." The synagogue was a "defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut ..." He argued that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and these "poisonous envenomed worms" should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seemed to advocate their murder, writing "we are at fault in not slaying them".'

According to Michael, just about every anti-Jewish book printed in the Third Reich contained references to and quotations from Luther. Diarmaid MacCulloch argues that Luther's 1543 pamphlet On the Jews and Their Lies was a "blueprint" for the Kristallnacht.

Shortly after the Kristallnacht, Martin Sasse, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia, published a compendium of Martin Luther's writings; Sasse "applauded the burning of the synagogues" and the coincidence of the day, writing in the introduction, "On November 10, 1938, on Luther's birthday, the synagogues are burning in Germany." The German people, he urged, ought to heed these words "of the greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews."

Luther's last sermon was delivered at Eisleben, his place of birth, on 15 February 1546, three days before his death. It was "entirely devoted to the obdurate Jews, whom it was a matter of great urgency to expel from all German territory," according to Léon Poliakov. James Mackinnon writes that it concluded with a "fiery summons to drive the Jews bag and baggage from their midst, unless they desisted from their calumny and their usury and became Christians."

In the course of the Luthertag (Luther Day) festivities, the Nazis emphasized their connection to Luther as being both nationalist revolutionaries and the heirs of the German traditionalist past. An article in the Chemnitzer Tageblatt stated that "[t]he German Volk are united not only in loyalty and love for the Fatherland, but also once more in the old German beliefs of Luther, Lutherglauben; a new epoch of strong, conscious religious life has dawned in Germany."

Richard Steigmann-Gall writes in his 2003 book The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945:

The leadership of the Protestant League espoused a similar view. Fahrenhorst, who was on the planning committee of the Luthertag, called Luther "the first German spiritual Führer" who spoke to all Germans regardless of clan or confession. In a letter to Hitler, Fahrenhorst reminded him that his "Old Fighters" were mostly Protestants and he also wrote that it was precisely in the Protestant regions of our Fatherland" in which Nazism found its greatest strength.

Promising that the celebration of Luther's birthday would not turn into a confessional affair, Fahrenhorst invited Hitler to become the official patron of the Luthertag. In subsequent correspondences, Fahrenhorst repeatedly voiced the notion that reverence for Luther could somehow cross confessional boundaries: "Luther is truly not only the founder of a Christian confession; much more, his ideas had a fruitful impact on all Christianity in Germany."

Precisely because of Luther's political as well as religious significance, the Luthertag would serve as a confession both "to church and Volk."

Luther's sentiments were widely echoed in the Germany of the 1930s, particularly within the Nazi party. Hitler's Education Minister, Bernhard Rust, was quoted by the Völkischer Beobachter as saying that: "Since Martin Luther closed his eyes, no such son of our people has appeared again. It has been decided that we shall be the first to witness his reappearance... I think the time is past when one may not say the names of Hitler and Luther in the same breath. They belong together; they are of the same old stamp [Schrot und Korn]".

With thanks for sections of this article to Catholic Education and the NCR.

The Latin Mass

While it might seem an odd inclusion in the list of controversial subjects, the Mass, or the Liturgy, is the highest rite and defining central act of worship in Catholicism, so a brief discussion of recent developments may be of interest to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Essentially, the Catholic Mass had for the most part been established by the second century AD, as noted in Justin Martyr's "First Apology" and although numerous variations developed down through the centuries, it remained in essence largely unchanged up until 1968.

"...the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book, which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatise de Sacramentis and allusions to it in the 4th century.

So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our inquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours…" - Adrian Fortescue on his book on the Roman Mass, 1912.

Other rites, such as the Byzantine Mass, which were established and emerged from the first Masses have retained their original character and to this day closely resemble the Traditional Latin Mass.

The controversy which has emerged is whether or not the newest forms of the Mass, known as the Novus Ordo or New Order Mass are in continuity with all of the preceding forms of the Mass, or whether they constitute a novelty grave enough to warrant a closer look.

To begin with let there be no doubt – the Novus Ordo Mass is valid, as is every Mass spoken by a consecrated priest, as long as the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ, is spoken correctly and to the letter.

However this doesn’t negate the other parts of the Mass, or the rubrics, which should be undertaken with solemnity and reverence.

While different variations of the Mass were held throughout the medieval period, they tended to fall in line with regional norms, not with whatever the priest thought best on that particular day. This carried on until the Reformation, when the Council of Trent codified liturgical norms, elevating the Latin Rite Mass, originally settled in the 6th century, to the Mass of the entire Catholic Church in the West.

This was called the Tridentine Mass, and it was to be said only in Latin. It was also stipulated that secular music was forbidden in the Mass. Pope Pius V confirmed the council's decision with the encyclical "Quo Primum."

The council also banned the use of any Catholic liturgical rites other than the Latin Rite, with the exception of long-established regional norms such as the Ambrosian rite, which still exists today. This was done to suppress novelties, in particular protestant novelties.

Moving on to 1962, elements within the Church which had been pushing for change of some kind took their cue from the great wave of changes taking place in the western world, mostly prompted by and originating in technological developments such as cheap mass personal transport and white goods. Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, which was also known as Vatican II, to investigate which changes could or should be made.

For the most part this was a pastoral council, but some of the most fundamental and far reaching changes it made were to the Mass, the centrepiece and crown jewel of Catholicism. A great deal has been written about the council so it is beyond the scope of this section to go into the proceedings in any kind of depth, but the key document was called "Sacrosanctum Concilium."

Two sections of this document are of particular relevance to the controversy. While Latin remained the language for all western rite Masses, section C granted permission for the Mass to be translated for use in vernacular languages under certain circumstances. Section D opened the door for officially approved "experimentation" with Mass, namely the incorporation of local music and customs into the liturgy, while Gregorian chant was deemed preferable.

By 1965 in circumstances that merit closer inspection by the interested reader, the Tridentine Mass or Mass of the Ages was more or less packed away and discontinued.

The existing Ordinary Form of the Mass with which most Catholics are familiar is not a translation of the Tridentine Mass, and neither does it contain many of the features of the Latin Mass. The new Mass was surprising to many, although it was greeted with joy by some who felt they finally had a creative outlet to experiment with, and that is what they did, in what became known as “the Spirit of Vatican II”.

"...a mere 13% (165) of the 1,273 prayers of the usus antiquior [4] found their way unchanged into the reformed Missal of Paul VI. Another 24.1% (307) were edited in some way before their inclusion. A further 16.2% (206) were centonised with other prayers - effectively combining parts of multiple prayers together into a new oration. Fully 52.6% (669) of the prayers in the traditional Roman Rite have been excised from the modern liturgy..." source

Other unique concepts introduced at this time were the priest facing towards the congregation like a spokesman and Communion wafers after transubstantiation into the Body of Christ being received on the hand instead of the tongue, where previously the Body of Christ was treated with such reverence that a server would walk beside the priest with a metal plate in case any should fall.

There were immediate arguments over the new Mass, with Italian Cardinal Annibale Bugnini, who some have called the architect of the new Mass, making clear his general desire to change Catholic practices and others, such as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, making clear their strong preference for an adherence to tradition.

While Bugnini did not, in fact, say he wished to make the Mass more protestant, there are some who feel that was the end result. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society of St. Pius X or SSPX to continue the Traditional Rite in defiance of Rome.

The SSPX quickly entered into an “irregular relationship” with Rome, making their celebrations not quite invalid but quite illicit, and continued to offer the Tridentine Mass in defiance of their superiors. The relationship between Rome and the SPPX has been mended of late however and they are on good terms again.

Issues began to appear immediately as a wave of liturgical abuses emerged among the newly empowered celebrants. The order of the Mass was changed by some and the liturgy was altered, an iconoclastic sentiment emerged and formerly ornate and beautiful churches were stripped of statues, art and decoration. New churches being built often held more in common with the brutalist school of architecture than anything to do with their predecessors.

Pierre Lemaire claimed Catholic churches became "as bare as Protestant houses of worship." Lemaire also noted a marked decrease in reverence for the sacrament of confession. Catholics were no longer confessing their sins but still receiving communion, which in itself is a serious sin. This and other issues caused many to wonder whether the Church was mostly trying to conform to the 1960s.

Ironically although many still trying to “progress” the Church claim that traditionalists deny the validity of the Novus Ordo Mass, in fact as many as three quarters of Catholics who attend the “normal” Mass don’t believe in transubstantiation, and therefore don’t believe in the validity of the Mass they attend! This also highlights the serious decline in catechisation, or religious education, which followed Vatican II.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the papal document "Summorum Pontificium." This encyclical declared the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo to be equals and allowed parishes to celebrate the Latin Mass if enough parishioners requested it. This also opened the door for groups like the FSSP and the ICKSP to celebrate Latin Masses outside the normal diocesan structure.

While meaning well and certainly the source of many positive fruits, it was too much for the Novus Ordo devotees and too little for the Latin Mass supporters. Nonetheless the Church proceeded and interest grew in the Latin Mass, in particular among younger people who yearned for a more mystical encounter with their faith.

After Pope Benedict retired, a very unusual step for a Pope, Pope Francis became the new pontiff. For several years he appeared to be content with the status quo, even updating the list of Saints for the Tridentine Mass, but then he released a document called "Traditionis Custodes".

This encyclical did two principal things. It established the Novus Ordo Mass as the "unique expression" of the Roman Rite, and it also granted local bishops the right to restrict the use of the old Mass as they see fit. The CNA notes that their devotees cannot use parish churches for their Masses. The readings must be approved vernacular translations, and every Latin Mass group must be vetted for ties to groups critical of Vatican II.

The reasons for this action are unclear – some have accused traditionalists of using the Latin Mass to sow disunity in the Church, and the response has been mixed. Some such as the Cardinal of Chicago have exulted in using the new restrictions, while most others have preferred a more moderate approach.

It is of course unknown how things will develop, but the simple reality is this – Latin Mass devotees tend to be very regular churchgoers with a keen interest in their faith, while the great majority of other Catholics know tend to know little about what is actually happening in Mass, and in fact usually don’t attend, which somewhat undermines the concept of greater participation. Younger people also seem more drawn to the Latin Mass.

By their fruit shall they be known.

The wisdom of divine rule appears not in the perfection but in the improvement of the world... History is the true demonstration of Religion.

- Lord Acton

"Civilization - and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe - has not in itself the power of survival.  It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance… That is the first discovery, that Christianity is essential to civilization and that it is in greater need of combative strength than it has been for centuries."

- Evelyn Waugh

Explore Saints and Scholars

The so-called Dark Ages were a period of profound enlightenment in both the material and intellectual spheres, which when combined with Christian doctrines of moral equality, created a whole new world based on political, economic, and personal freedom.

- Professor Rodney Stark


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