How Does an Excommunicated Catholic Have the Sanction Lifted? (Part I)
Q: What does an excommunicated Catholic need to do, to return to full communion with the Catholic Church? –Lauren A: In a number of different articles on this site, we’ve discussed some of the reasons why a Catholic can be … Continue reading → The post How Does an Excommunicated Catholic Have the Sanction Lifted? (Part I) appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Can a Priest Ever Reveal What is Said in Confession? (Part II)
Q1: I would like to put before you a question with regards to revealing of confessional substance under the permission granted by the penitent.  My question is “Whether by the penitent’s permission, a priest may reveal to another a sin … Continue reading → The post Can a Priest Ever Reveal What is Said in Confession? (Part II) appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
The Great Myths 7: “Hitler’s Pope”?
In God is Not Great the New Atheist writer Christopher Hitchens describes how March 2 1939 saw “the death of an anti-Nazi pope and the accession of a pro-Nazi one”. The claim that Pius XII was friendly with, or at least passively acquiescent to, the Nazi regime is an unquestioned dictum in New Atheist circles. This is despite the fact the claim Pius XII was “Hitler’s Pope” is a total distortion of history. Hitchens and “Hitler’s Pope” Christopher Hitchens was a provocateur and a polemicist rather than a careful and balanced journalist and, as such, he never let small things like nuance, counter-arguments or objectivity get in the way of his invective. Whether the point he was making was solid (e.g. condemning Hitler) or dubious (e.g. justifying the US invasion of Iraq), he drove it with steely determination. This meant that if he found a source that fitted his agenda, he drew on it heavily and reinforced its points with his characteristically trenchant and unapologetic rhetoric. Subtlety and balance were not his fortes. So it is not surprising that when Hitchens turns to the topic of the relations between the Catholic Church and the Third Reich in his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens depends heavily – in fact, almost entirely – on John Cornwell’s 1999 work Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. After damning the Church with faint praise for denouncing the Nazis’ “hideous eugenic culling from a very early date” (p. 285), Hitchens says that this is about where the Church’s condemnation stopped: To decide to do nothing is itself a policy and decision, and it is unfortunately easy to record and explain the church’s alignment in terms of a realpolitik that sought, not the defeat of Nazism, but an accommodation with it.(p. 285) These are strong words and bold claims, but Hitchens goes on: The very first diplomatic accord undertaken by Hitler’s government was consummated on July 8, 1933, a few months after the seizure of power, and took the form of a treaty with the Vatican. In return for unchallenged control of the education of Catholic children in Germany, the dropping of Nazi propaganda against the abuses inflicted in Catholic schools and orphanages and the concession of other privileges to the church, the Holy See instructed the Catholic Centre Party to disband, and brusquely ordered Catholics to abstain from any political activity on any subject the regime chose to define as off-limits. …. The twenty-three million Catholics living in the Third Reich …. had been gutted and gelded as a political force. Their own Holy Father had in effect told them to render everything unto the worst Caesar in human history.(p. 286) Hitchens is referring to the 1933 Reichskonkordat which he, like Cornwell, depicts as a cynically Faustian bargain whereby the Vatican cosied up to the Third Reich to get some convenient concessions in return for easing Hitler’s seizure of total power. He notes a “parallel moral collapse of the German Protestants”, but goes on: None of the Protestant churches , however, went as far as the Catholic hierarchy in ordering an annual celebration for Hitler’s birthday on April 20. On this auspicious date, on papal instructions, the cardinal of Berlin regularly transmitted “warmest congratulations to the führer in the name of the bishops and dioceses of Germany”, these plaudits to be accompanied by “the fervent prayers which the Catholics of Germany are sending to heaven on their altars.” The order was obeyed and faithfully carried out.(pp. 286-7) Here Hitchens introduces the villain of his story. He notes that the ailing Pope Pius XI “had always harboured profound misgivings about the Hitler system”, but says the ageing pope was “continually outpointed, throughout the 1930s, by his secretary of state, Eugenio Pacelli”, who succeed him as Pope Pius XII in March 1939. He depicts the scheming Pacelli as stymieing his predecessor’s anti-Nazi efforts and then quotes (Cornwell’s version of) the letter the new pope sent to Berlin four days after his election: “To the illustrious, Herr Adolf Hitler, Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich! Here at the beginning of our pontificate we wish to assure you that we remain devoted to the spiritual welfare of the German people entrusted to your leadership. For them we implore God the Almighty to grant them that true felicity which springs from religion.We recall with great pleasure the many years we spent in Germany as Apostolic Nuncio, when we did all in our power to establish harmonious relations between Church and State. Now that the responsibilities of our pastoral function have increased our opportunities, how much more ardently do we pray to reach that goal. May the prosperity of the German people and their progress in every domain come, with God’s help, to fruition!”(pp. 287-88) Hitchens declares this to be an “evil and fatuous message” and evidence that it marked “the death of an anti-Nazi pope and the accession of a pro-Nazi one”. The story he tells is clear and unequivocal: any chance that the Catholic Church could have stood against Hitler was wrecked by the scheming “pro-Nazi” Pope Pius XII who traded the German people, the peace of Europe and the fate of multitudes for a deal of convenience with the worst tyrant in history, while sending warm wishes to Hitler and cheering his birthday as millions died. Of course, Hitler and the Nazis are, justifiably, seen as a touchstone of pure evil and so, inevitably, have become a rhetorical stick with which to hit opponents in debate. Comparisons with or links to the Nazis have become such a cliche in debates that “Godwin’s Law” has been an internet adage since 1990 and everyone from Pope Benedict XVI (an anti-Nazi who was forced to join the Hitler Youth as a teenager) to Barack Obama (a “socialist” and, therefore, a Nazi, apparently) have been linked to the Nazis. Christian apologists regularly characterise the Nazi regime as “atheistic”, despite the fact Hitler often spoke of his belief in God, closed down atheist organisations and said atheism was “a return to the state of the animal”. So atheist activists counter this by not only noting the Nazi regime was not atheistic, but linking it as closely as possible to Christianity. Hitler, we are informed, was “a Catholic in good standing until he died”. Various quotes from Hitler’s speeches and his book Mein Kampf are listed as evidence he was a Catholic, certainly a Christian and a great fan of the church. The German Wehrmacht, we are told, marched to war proudly wearing belt buckles inscribed with the Christian motto “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) : And not only were the Nazis allegedly enthusiastic Christians, but we are assured the Catholic Church were enthusiastic Nazis. Just look at these bishops alongside Joseph Goebbels in 1935: Or these priests giving the Nazi salute at a youth congress: Or Papal Nuncio Cardinal Cesare Orsenigo at a Nazi rally: Or Pope Pius XII himself being honoured by Nazis in 1939 (a photo used on the cover of many editions of Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope): With evidence like this, how can anyone doubt Hitchens’ appraisal that Pius XII was Hitler’s friend and ally and the Catholic Church was complicit in or at least passive in the face of the atrocities of the Nazis? Nazi cartoon depicting Germany’s enemies – The Jew, the Communist and the ‘political priest”. The Long Shadow of the ‘Kulturkampf’ The reality is that the history of relations between the Catholic Church and the German state, both before and during the Third Reich, was actually one of hostility, suspicion and fear. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund) was formed at the Council of Vienna in 1815. This linked 39 German-speaking states into a kind of economic and political union, but its largest and most powerful members were the bitter Hapsburg and Hohenzollern rivals Austria and Prussia and it was doomed to some kind of failure as a result. For the next 50 years those striving to form a true German state out of the Confederation’s patchwork argued over whether they would settle for the so-called Kleindeutsch solution, which excluded Austria, or the Großdeutsch alternative, which included it. Prussia’s Otto von Bismarck slowly increased his state’s power within the Confederation and after victory in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, he declared a new, united German Reich with the Prussian king Wilhelm as Kaiser. The new state excluded Austria, was ruled by a Hohenzollern monarch and was dominated by the Prussians. All this had profound implications for the relations between the new state and the Catholic Church. Prussia and the dominant northern German states were substantially Protestant and Bismarck was a devout Lutheran and vehemently anti-Catholic. And in the 1870s plenty of people felt they had something to fear in a newly aggressive and triumphalist Catholicism. As part of his reaction to the rise of rationalism, modernism and liberalism, the highly conservative Pope Pius IX called the First Vatican Council (1868-70), which enshrined a number of new dogmas, culminating in the declaration of Papal Infallibility in 1870. The idea that the Pope was infallible when making formal ex cathedra pronouncements on faith and morals was not new, but many of the assembled bishops opposed a formal dogmatic assertion of it on both doctrinal and political grounds. The Austrian and German bishops, in particular, argued it would be seen as a political threat and provoke a backlash by non-Catholic powers. And this is precisely what happened in the new German state. Almost immediately, Bismarck and other German politicians took action to limit Catholic interference in politics. In 1871 the “Pulpit Law” was passed, banning political statements in sermons. In 1872 the Schools Supervision Act banned clergy from all schools and the Jesuit Order, seen as agents of Papal political subversion, was expelled from Germany. Resistance by Catholic clergy saw the Expiration Law in 1874, which mandated exile for clergy who defied the authorities. Ultimately, however, the Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church in Germany failed. Far from damping down Catholic engagement in politics, the repression stirred up opposition, particularly in the Catholic south and west of Germany, and saw the rise of the Centre Party. German bishops who had previously been fairly nationalist in outlook reacted by becoming increasingly ultramontane and Bismarck drove senior clergy who had been sceptical of Pius IX’s policies into his arms. More alarmingly, secularists seized on arguments and laws against Catholic activity in politics, education and the public sphere and began applying them to all religions, to the dismay of Bismarck’s Protestant base. The Chancellor wound back the Kulturkampf and by the late 1870s the more moderate Pope Leo XIII had negotiated away most of the German legal restrictions. Despite this, the Vatican remained highly wary of the German state and German Catholics, especially in the Catholic majority regions of Bavaria, Baden and Alsace-Lorainne, did not quickly forget how the Prussian-dominated federal government had treated their church in the 1870s. To both, the period that followed felt more like a truce than a peace. With Germany’s defeat in the First World War the Centre Party, which was still substantially Catholic, held a prominent position in the governments of the Weimar Republic, maintaining coalitions with the more left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) and German Democratic Party (DDP). This was not entirely pleasing to the Vatican, with Pope Pius XI regarding the SPD and DDP as dangerously socialist. Despite this, this “Weimar Coalition” prevented any dominance of the German Reichstag by either the Communist Party (KDP) on the far left or radical nationalists on the far right. From 1925 the latter included and were eventually dominated by the Nazi Party. After the failure of his abortive coup in November 1923 and on his release from prison in April the following year, Hitler sought to win power legitimately, via the ballot box, and began a ten year campaign to win a majority in the Reichstag. The Future Pope and the Future Führer Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was in an unique position to assess the Nazis, since from 1917 to 1920 he was Papal Nuncio to the highly Catholic state of Bavaria and from 1920 to 1929 he moved to Berlin to be Nuncio to Germany generally. This means he was in Bavaria to witness the rise of the Nazi Party there and then in the German capital to see the beginnings of Hitler’s rise to power. Pacelli came from a family which had served the Holy See in some capacity for several generations. His grandfather, Marcantonio Pacelli, had been minister of finance for Pope Gregory XVI, deputy minister of interior under Pope Pius IX from 1851 to 1870 and founder of the Vatican Observatory. Both his father Fillipo and his brother Francesco had been lawyers with the Congregation of the Sacred Rota – the Catholic Church’s highest appellate court. He was a highly intelligent young man, who excelled academically and reportedly had a photographic memory. He was also highly strung, solitary and nervous, with a notoriously weak stomach and a speech impediment, though he strove to overcome some of his natural reticence by taking up public speaking, acting and playing the violin in recitals. He was ordained in 1899 and, somewhat reluctantly, accepted a post in the Vatican’s State Secretariat under the newly elevated Pope Leo XIII in 1901, thus turning from his desire to be a simple parish priest and beginning a 57 year career in the Vatican. The young Father Pacelli’s mentor was Monsignor Pietro Gasparri, undersecretary at the Secretariat’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs. Gasparri told Pacelli that the Department’s role was the “necessity of defending the Church from the onslaughts of secularism and liberalism throughout Europe” and the young priest was groomed to be a Papal diplomat to this end. In 1904 he completed his doctorate with a thesis on the relationship between canon law and Papal concordats with secular states – a subject which would shape many of his later policies. Pacelli rose through the ranks as his mentor Gasparri did, becoming an undersecretary in the Vatican Secretariat in 1914, and his skill as a diplomat saw him appointed Papal Nuncio to the highly Catholic German state of Bavaria in 1917, based in Munich. This means Pacelli was in a box seat to see the effects of Germany’s defeat in World War I in the political hotbed of Bavaria – the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles, the declaration of the Free State of Bavaria, the Communist Uprising of April 1919 and the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic and then its violent repression by the Germany Army and right-wing Freikorps militias the following month. Adolf Hitler had returned to Bavaria at the end of the War, but his lack of prospects for employment meant he stayed in the Army. He was picked by one of his officers to act as an intelligence agent and infiltrate and report on a new, small, right wing nationalist group called the German Worker’s Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or DAP). The Party’s Chairman, Anton Drexler, took a shine to Hitler and in 1920 Hitler was discharged from the Army and began working for the Party full-time. It had since changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP) – the Nazis. The Nazi Party was tiny, generally uninfluential and just one of a plethora of similar radical groups at both extremes of German politics in this period. Despite this, perhaps because of his proximity to its geographical base, Pacelli was quick to note the danger the new party’s ideology could pose. As early as 1921, the Nuncio noted in a newspaper interview: The Bavarian people are peace-loving. But, just as they were seduced during the revolution by alien elements – above all, Russians – into the extremes of Bolshevism, so now other non-Bavarian elements of entirely opposite persuasion have likewise thought to make Bavaria their base of operations.(Bayerischer Kurier, Oct 1, 1921) This was a none-too-subtle reference to Hitler’s Austrian origins and the nascent radical threat posed by the Nazis and made when most people paid them little attention. Pacelli was not alone among high ranking Catholic prelates who recognised the threat of the Nazis early on. Other German bishops warned about the “paganism”, racism and anti-Christian nature of the Nazi ideology as early as 1920. An Army chaplain, Father Rupert Mayer had initially supported Hitler, but changed his mind as he realised the nature of the Nazis and in 1923 gave a speech to a conservative audience entitled “Can a Catholic be a National Socialist?”. The crowd howled him down when it became clear his answer was “no”. Pacelli also noted the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, writing to Pope that the “followers of Hitler and Ludendorff ” were persecuting Catholics in part because of their condemnation of attacks on Jews. On November 14 1923, days after the failure of Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch”, he reported that the house of Cardinal Archbishop Michael von Faulhaber of Munich had been surrounded by Nazis chanting “Down with the Cardinal!” over his condemnation of Nazi anti-Semitism a week earlier. In May the following year Pacelli wrote in a draft report that “Nazism is probably the most dangerous heresy of our time”. Three days later another of his reports to Rome states: The heresy of Nazism puts state and race above everything, above true religion above the truth and above justice.(Archivo Segreto Vaticano, Arch. Nunz. Monaco365,Fasc.7, Pos. XIV, Bavaria, p. 75) These are clearly not the words of a man who can be described as “pro-Nazi. Hitler and Christianity Hitler’s mother was a devout Catholic and so he was baptised into the faith as a baby. The young Hitler, however, did not share his mother’s piety and was only confirmed as a Catholic at the age of 15 very reluctantly and at her insistence. According to several reports, he ceased attending Mass once he left home at 18 and seems to have abandoned all practice of the Catholic faith around this stage. The evidence regarding his adult beliefs is complex, but it does not support the idea that he was a Christian, let alone a Catholic. Nor does it support the idea that he was an atheist, despite the claims of some Christians. Hitler made repeated, unambiguous references to his belief in God or what he called “Divine Providence” and did so both in his public speeches and writings but also in his private conversations. He also actively rejected atheism, which he associated with Bolshevism and socialism generally and which he declared to be “a return to the state of the animal”. But unlike several leading Nazis, particularly Party ideologue Albert Rosenberg, Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach and SS head Heinrich Himmler, Hitler had little interest in the occult or Germanic neo-paganism. He said that moribund beliefs died out for good reason and ridiculed those “who brandish scholarly imitations of old German tin swords, and wear a dressed bearskin with bull’s horns over their heads”. His views on Jesus are best described as “eccentric”, as he seems to have regarded him as an Aryan warrior battling the forces of “Jewishness”. In 1922 he declared: My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognised these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison.(Speech delivered at Munich 12 April 1922) Here Hitler depicts Jesus not only as a “fighter” but as an anti-Semite and it is telling that the gospel episode he cites is the only one where Jesus is depicted as engaging in an act of violence. Of course, many have noted his words “my feeling as a Christian” both here and in other speeches as well as in his manifesto, Mein Kampf, as evidence that he did regard himself as a Christian. However, this and similar statements need to be understood in context. As already mentioned, in November 1923 the Nazis tried to seize power by force, staging a coup by seizing key Bavarian politicians in a Munich beer hall and declaring Hitler head of a new government. This putsch quickly collapsed and Hitler and other leading Nazis were jailed. Hitler decided that armed revolution was not the path to power and used his imprisonment to write Mein Kampf, laying out his vision of a new greater Germany. On his release in 1924 Hitler then undertook a decade long campaign to win power via the ballot box. One of his problems was the fact that Germany was substantially Christian – 64% Protestant and 32% Catholic – and much of Hitler’s ideology was counter to fundamental Christian ideas. So he did his best to present himself as friendly to Christianity in general, mainly condemning “political priests” and any form of Christianity that was not sufficiently “nationalist” and stridently “German”. In Mein Kampf Hitler characterised Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular as an impediment to “Pan-Germanism” and noted that in the Kulturkampf of the previous century “the Catholic clergy was infringing on German rights”. He wrote: Thus the Church did not seem to feel with the German people, but to side unjustly with the enemy. The root of the whole evil lay … in the fact that the directing body of the Catholic Church was not in Germany, and for that very reason alone it was hostile to the interests of our nationality. He depicted a future where Catholicism would be tolerated if subordinated to a predominant German nationalism and did nothing to impede a fiercely nationalistic politics. At the same time, he recognised that Bismarck’s overt persecution of Catholicism had backfired and seems to have been keen not to repeat this mistake. This is why in the period from 1924 to his seizure of power in 1933 he was careful not to offend Christian sensibilities and made carefully-worded public declarations that presented his ideology as broadly compatible with a suitably patriotic and German Christianity. Analysis of these public statements on Christianity shows that they appear mainly prior to 1933 and become far more vague and increasingly sparse once Hitler had secured power. It should be noted that New Atheist polemicists who quote the 1922 speech where Hitler refers to his “feeling as a Christian” always truncate it to leave out what came before that statement: I would like to appeal here to a greater man than I: [Bavarian Prime Minister] Count Lerchenfeld. He said in the last Landtag that his feeling ‘as a man and Christian’ prevented him from being an anti-Semite. I say: my feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter … So Hitler is not offering some unprompted avowal of faith, but is trying to counter and undermine a rejection of anti-Semitism that was based on Christianity. This is patent rhetoric, served up for public consumption by a wily politician who was a known liar. In private Hitler was far more open in his views and made statements like: Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. According to his followers’ paraphrases, he stated “Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature” and declared “the best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death”. As early as 1920 the Nazi Party declared acceptance of what it called “Positive Christianity”, which was a strange hybrid of some Christian ideals and Nazi nationalist ideas. This is generally seen as largely a political ploy to undermine the opposition of both the Catholic hierarchy and the anti-Nazi Protestant “Confessing Church”, though it was broadly compatible with Hitler’s odd ideas about Jesus as an Aryan anti-Semite and allowed some Nazis, like Goebbels, to juggle their Christian beliefs with their political ideology. Overall, the evidence indicates that Hitler was a manipulative politician who could pay careful lip-service to Christian ideas where and when it suited him. He was clearly a theist, but claims he was a Christian do not stack up and depend mainly on pre-1933 public statements and writings and some isolated later statements (e.g. his reported 1941 declaration to General Gerhard Engel that “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so”) which are either rhetorical or flatly duplicitous. Hitler was not a pagan and was not an atheist. But he was not a Christian and was definitely not a Catholic. Pacelli, as Papal Secretary of State, at the signing of the Reichskonkordat, July 1933 The 1933 Reichskonkordat Thus the idea that Pacelli was “pro-Nazi” or that the Catholic Church was somehow inclined toward the Nazis is absurd. Similarly, the idea that Hitler was a Catholic or favourable toward the Church is equally ridiculous. So why did both sides sign a treaty – a “Concordat” – in 1933? Contrary to Hitchens’ portrayal of the 1933 Concordat as a friendly deal, concordats were generally negotiated between the Vatican and a sovereign state when relations had been distinctly unfriendly and where the Papacy was trying to secure a legal and diplomatic basis for protection of the Church in that state – particularly freedom of worship, the right to maintain Catholic schools and the maintenance of Catholic associations and youth groups. Around the same time as the Reichskonkordat, Pius XI was also (unsuccessfully) pursuing a concordat with the Soviet Union and for precisely the same reason: an attempt to get some legal basis for Catholic activity in the face of a highly hostile regime. Pius XI, like his immediate predecessors, had been vigorous in the pursuit of concordats, since they saw them as a way of maintaining the Church in the face of a period of rapid political and social change. As already noted, Pacelli had been educated and trained in a Vatican diplomatic corps that saw concordats as their primary instruments of political influence. Pacelli had written his doctoral thesis on their application and his mentor Gasparri had been a major driver behind various concordats secured under Benedict XV. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he centralised government in a way that made concordats Pacelli had secured with various German states either void or ineffective and, fearing a new and much worse Kulturkampf under the openly anti-Catholic Nazis, Pius XI saw a concordat with the new Reich as the German Church’s best option for protection. Pacelli had returned to Rome in 1929 and taken up the role of Secretary of State and, given he had first hand knowledge of the Nazis and shared the Pope’s faith in concordats, it is not surprising that he was an enthusiastic supporter of this option. Of course, Pacelli was not so naive as to think a concordat with the Third Reich would somehow make relations instantly harmonious. He was under no illusions that the Nazis would not violate the agreement and commented to the French ambassador to the Vatican, Francois Charles-Roux, “If we did not have [the Concordat], we would not have a foundation on which to base our protests”. He also commented wryly to a British diplomat that he was sure the Nazis “would probably not violate all of the articles of the concordat at the same time”. On Hitler’s side, a concordat would eliminate a vocal anti-Nazi force in German politics. German bishops and other clergy had been open in their opposition to Nazi ideology and critical of its racism, its worship of the State and its violent tactics in the street. “Political priests” had been the bugbear of the Prussians during the Kulturkampf and they, along with Jewish bankers and Soviet agitators, were standard bogeymen in Nazi propaganda. An agreement with the Vatican that granted concessions on education and youth groups in return for silencing official anti-Nazi political statements from Catholic pulpits would be a boon for Hitler early in his consolidation of power. Hitler was well aware that both Pius XI and his Secretary of State Pacelli were inclined toward a concordat, but wanted to avoid a drawn out negotiation process and to secure a quick diplomatic and political coup. So while he largely restrained the more vehement anti-Catholic factions in his party, he allowed enough repression of the German Church to put serious pressure on Rome. He sent the Catholic politician, former Centre Party deputy and now Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen to negotiate the concordat on April 7, 1933, but in the three weeks prior to this the Nazis shut down nine Catholic publications, searched sixteen Catholic youth clubs and arrested 92 priests as a demonstration of what would follow if the Vatican did not come to an agreement. British Ambassador to the Vatican, Ivone Kirkpatrick, later described how he saw the position of the Vatican at this point: A pistol …. had been pointed at [the pope’s] head. The German Government had offered him concessions – concessions, it must be admitted, wider than any previous German Government would have agreed to – and he had to choose between an agreement on their lines and the virtual elimination of the Catholic Church in the Reich. Not only that, but he was given no more than one week to make up his mind. If the German Government violated the Concordat – and they were certain to do that – the Vatican would at least have a treaty on which to base a protest.”(Dispatch to London, August 19, 1933) The agreement was able to be negotiated fairly quickly largely because Von Papen brought with him the draft Concordat that Pacelli and others had previously tried, unsuccessfully, to settle with the former Weimar Republic. It was largely these terms that they presented as a “take it or leave it” proposition. Pacelli was also heavily influenced by key German prelates, especially Cardinals Michael von Faulhaber of Munich and Adolf Bertram of Breslau, who he had become close to in his years in Germany. Both not only warned of the real danger of something much worse than the Kulturkampf, but also feared, in the face of rising enthusiastic support for Hitler even among patriotic German Catholics, open conflict with the Nazis would force German Catholics to choose between their country and their church. They warned urgently against forcing that choice, fearing, in the climate of political fervour of the time, that it would lead to a major rupture in the German Church or even a large scale schism. So far from being a cosy deal between friends, as it is sometimes portrayed by many atheist polemicists, the Reichskonkordat came about in the context of fear, hostility, suspicion and overt oppression. The legalism and diplomatic doctrines that dominated the Vatican of Pius XI and his Secretary of State meant they had a faith in the strength of concordats that proved highly naive. And Hitler played on both this faith and on their fear of what he could unleash against the German Church to manoeuvre the Vatican into a settlement that proved far more useful to him than to it. Pacelli’s perception that the Nazis would violate the treaty proved absolutely correct, but his belief that a Concordat would provide a robust platform for effective protest did not. He did not foresee how quickly or how totally Hitler would consolidate his power or the strength and brazen ruthlessness of a modern totalitarian regime. In the first three years of the Reichskonkordat – 1933 to 1936 – the Vatican filed more than 50 protests against Nazi violation of the agreement including several against its treatment of minorities, including the Jews – the first of these was over the Nazis’ anti-Jewish boycotts of 1933. But these protests had little to no effect. The Nazis took increasingly overt suppressive action against politically active Catholics, critical priests and Catholic institutions in Germany and the Vatican’s protests were almost completely ignored. By 1938 the SS newspaper Das Schwarze Korps was arguing the whole Concordat was an irrelevant and redundant anachronism and should be abandoned, noting that it was the Church that had violated it via a stream of pastoral letters, sermons, pamphlets and condemnations of the Third Reich. In the end Hitler did not bother to revoke it, given that it was effectively a dead letter. By 1940 the American correspondent in Berlin, William Shirer, was referring to it in the past tense. The claim that the Concordat was “the very first diplomatic accord undertaken by Hitler’s government” – made with great emphasis by Hitchens and repeated by other New Atheists – is factually incorrect. To begin with, Hitchens gets the date of the signing of the Concordat wrong: it was signed on July 20, not July 8 as he claims. And it was far from “the very first” treaty the Nazis signed with foreign powers or groups. Hitler had signed a trade and friendship pact with the Soviet Union on May 5 and an an Anglo-German trade agreement on the same day. Indeed, a month before the Concordat was ratified the Nazis signed the Haavara Agreement with the Zionist Federation of Germany – these agreements were clearly not signs of friendship, just consolidation of power. Once again, Hitchens does not let small things like facts and accuracy get in the way of his distorted polemics. While the Concordat was clearly not some cosy deal, Hitchens depicts it as a vile pact with the Devil, claiming that in return for eliminating the Centre Party and silencing all Catholic political opposition to the Reich, Pius XI and Pacelli traded Church privileges for Hitler’s unhindered rise to total power. This is slightly closer to the truth, though still a massive oversimplification and largely wrong. “Zentrum” and the Popes The German Centre Party (Deutsche Zentrumspartei or simply Zentrum) had been a major force in German politics since the 1870s, when it had been the major opposition to Von Bismarck and his Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church. While it broadened its base in the early twentieth century, the Centre Party remained predominantly Catholic and in the turmoil of the early Weimar years it presented itself as the reasonable and moderate protector of stability in the face of increasing radicalism and violence from both the extreme left and radical right. As a result, it formed part of a succession of coalition governments throughout the years of the Weimar Republic and could be seen as holding something of a balance of power. This also meant that as the Great Depression took hold in 1929 and spiralled into the German financial crisis of 1931, the Centre Party shared the blame for the sudden economic hardship in the eyes of many German voters. While the Centre Party had the protection of the Catholic Church’s rights as a central part of its policy platform, both the expansion of its voter base and political expediency meant it usually allied itself with the left-wing Social Democratic Party and German Democratic Party. These alliances did not sit well with all. More right wing members of the Centre Party, led by Franz von Papen, disliked coalition with people they saw as socialists and little better than the Communist Party. Eugenio Pacelli and his successor as Papal Nuncio to Berlin, Cardinal Cesare Orsegnio, also regarded deals with the SPD and DPP with distaste. So when the German election of 1930 saw huge increases in votes and Reichstag seats for both the Communist Party and the Nazis, the Centre Party was riven by a debate about which side of the political spectrum it would swing toward. Despite Catholic apologists tending to pretend the future Pius XII was an implacable enemy of the Nazis in all circumstances, the Secretary of State Pacelli was clearly more inclined to some kind of deal between the Centre Party and the Nazis as Germany lurched from one political crisis to the next. This is outlined in what is probably the closest thing we have so far to an even-handed and objective biography of Pius XII – Robert A. Ventresca’s Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII (2013). As Ventresca notes: Prelates such as Pacelli and [Cardinal] Faulhaber …. were steeped in a political theology that expressed no particular preference for any one form of government. If anything, by virtue of their clerical training and personal histories, they were more likely to prefer traditional authoritarian systems over liberal democratic forms of governance(p.72) So while Pacelli and the German bishops continued to regard the Nazis as opponents and to openly condemn their ideology as “pagan”, inhumane, racist and statist, by 1930 there was some thought in the Vatican about how the Nazis, however distasteful, may be the lesser of two evils. This view was not shared, however, by Heinrich Brüning, the moderate Centre Party leader who became German Chancellor in 1930. Due to continuing political division in the Reichstag, Brüning governed not via a coalition but by presidential decree, but this unstable form of government relied on the ongoing support from his Centre Party and the leftist SDP. Brüning knew that both Papal Nuncio Orsenigo and his Bavarian counterpart Cardinal Alberto Vassallo di Torregrossa were pushing Pacelli toward the idea of an accommodation with the Nazis. They argued this would require substantial concessions by Hitler, including renouncing much of his ideological platform, respecting the Weimar Constitution, recognising the Christian basis of any coalition government formed with the Centre Party and, most importantly, recognition and expansion of all agreements with the Vatican. Hitler was never likely to agree to any of this, but Brüning was alarmed enough by the prospect to travel to Rome in August 1931 to argue against it with Pacelli in a meeting he later recalled as “cordial but tense” (Ventresca, p. 74). It was clear to Brüning that it was Pacelli’s focus on the idea of a concordat with Germany to protect the Church there that overrode all other considerations, even Pacelli’s intense dislike of Hitler and rejection of the Nazis’ ideology. Like many others in this period, Pacelli seems to have seen Hitler as someone that could be controlled and contained by the right combination of alliances and legal mechanisms and, like them, he was proven wrong. In the end no Centre Party-Nazi coalition came about. Hindenburg won the 1932 presidential election against Hitler, but he moved substantially to the right to do so and Brüning resigned as Chancellor on May 30 as a result. The Centre Party’s most right wing leader, Franz von Papen, took his place and when the Party moderates withdrew their support, von Papen resigned from the Party and called yet another election in July 1932 and, after more chaos, another one again in November 1932. Elements in the Centre Party continued discussions of a coalition with the right, including the Nazis, but in the end manoeuvring by van Papen and the right-wing German National People’s Party (DNVP) leader Alfred Hugenberg saw Hitler elevated to the Chancellorship in January 1933. The Centre Party campaigned hard against the Nazis in (yet another) election in March 1933 but the right wing coalition of the Nazis and the DNVP won 52% of the vote, breaking the Centre’s hold on the balance of power. Hitler introduced his Enabling Act of 1933 in bid to vest himself with legislative powers and rule without the Reichstag. The Centre Party split on the issue. The conservative Party chairman – the Catholic priest Ludwig Kaas – urged agreement with the Act, claiming Hitler had agreed to guarantee Catholic freedoms and to uphold established concordats with Rome (something Hitler was careful not to put in writing). Kaas carried the majority and Brüning, with great reluctance, ordered his faction to maintain party discipline and vote “yes”. The Enabling Act was passed on 23 March, 1933 and effectively established Hitler as a dictator. The Enabling Act meant the fairly rapid demise of the Centre Party. By a combination of force, intimidation and false promises, Hitler either banned opposition parties or browbeat them into dissolving themselves for the national good. The Centre Party resisted the pressure for the longest but – with the Reichstag neutralised and the Nazis in firm control – it dissolved itself on July 5 1933. Catholic apologists are as eager to distance this dissolution from the signing of the Reichskoncordat with the Vatican as polemicists like Hitchens are keen to claim one was the result of the other. Defenders of Pacelli like Ronald J. Rychlak emphasise that, far from engineering the demise of the Centre Party, Pacelli was surprised and disappointed at its sudden collapse. Rychlak says the Centre Party had “embarrassed the Holy See by supporting the Enabling Act” and notes “indeed some members had considered forming a coalition with the Nazis in 1932”, which ignores the fact that such a coalition had been under serious consideration with Pacelli’s cautious support as early as 1930. In Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2010), Rychlak quotes Pacelli’s reaction on reading of the dissolution in the newspaper: “Too bad that it happened at this moment. Of course, the party couldn’t have held out much longer. But if it only had put off its dissolution at least until after the conclusion of the concordat, the simple fact of its existence would have been useful in the negotiations.”(p. 72) Again, for Pacelli and his fellow legalists, it was the Concordat that was important above all. Hitchens’ claim that “the Holy See instructed the Catholic Centre Party to disband” is nonsense – there was no such instruction. There is also no evidence that the dissolution of the Centre Party was a condition of the Concordat in its negotiation and, considering it happened before the negotiations had even concluded, the idea that it was a consequence of the Concordat also makes no sense. But the apologists are being disingenuous when they try to maintain the Concordat and the end of the Centre Party are somehow unrelated. Hitler’s vague promises of compromises with the Church and hints at a concordat convinced von Papen, who swung the Centre’s fateful vote. And it is no coincidence that von Papen left for Rome to begin the Concordat negotiations within days of the Enabling Act being passed. Hitchens’ account is a caricature of what happened, but the apologists are also distort history by pretending the two things had nothing to do with each other. The real historical story is, as usual, has more complexity than rigid polemics can contain. The Church and the Reich from 1933 As already noted, the reality of the Reichskonkordat did not live up to Pacelli’s already very low expectations. On 2 August 1934, President Hindenburg died and Hitler merged the powers of the President and Chancellor, making himself Führer und Reichskanzler and dictator of a one party state. Secure in power, the Nazis were happy to violate the Concordat and largely ignore the Vatican’s protests. Attacks on Catholics and Catholic institutions were initially sporadic, but increased in number and intensity as the 1930s went on. Senior clergy were generally spared, but outspoken priests and Catholic leaders were harassed, arrested, imprisoned and occasionally killed. The “Night of the Long Knives” purge which began on June 30 1934 not only saw Hitler remove rivals from his own party, but was also an opportunity to eliminate a range of enemies. The head of Catholic Action, Erich Klausener, von Papen’s former speech writer and advisor, Edgar Jung, and the national director of the Catholic Youth Sports Association, Adalbert Probst, were all shot by the SS in the purge. Tipped off by friends that his life was in danger, former Centre Party leader Heinrich Brüning fled Germany days earlier. Fritz Gerlich, the vehemently anti-Nazi editor of a Munich Catholic weekly newspaper, had already been sent to Dachau in 1933 and was also shot in the purge. By the later 1930s the persecution of Catholic leaders in Nazi Germany became a common element in foreign press reports. Cardinal Faulhaber was shot at and Cardinal Innitzer and Bishop Sproll of Rottenburg had their homes broken into and ransacked. Outspoken priests were arrested, usually on charges of “immorality”, and sent to concentration camps in such numbers that by 1940 Dachau had a dedicated “Priests’ Block” that held 441 German Catholic priests, of whom 94 died there. Catholic schools were harassed for not teaching anti-Semitic ideology and hundreds were forcibly closed while Catholic presses were routinely shut down. In March 1941 Goebbels closed down all remaining Catholic newspapers, citing a wartime “paper shortage”. Contrary to Hitchens’ claim, the Concordat did not “[order] Catholics to abstain from any political activity on any subject the regime chose to define as off-limits”. It had no force against Catholic laity at all and while it agreed to keep clergy out of political parties (which had all be suppressed or dissolved by the end of 1933 anyway) and forbade political preaching, what exactly was “political” was left undefined. This is why many priests continued to preach against the immorality of many aspects of Nazi ideology, especially its racism, militarism and its eugenic policies. This was part of Pius XI and, later, Pius XII’s policy. They believed that the Concordat would give at least some level of protection to German Catholics so long as they limited their protests to matters of doctrine and morality rather than politics. But it was a fine line. As the extremism of the Nazis increased, the Vatican’s policy of formal neutrality and outward acceptance of the Nazi state as a political reality while trying to criticise it on moral grounds became increasingly difficult to sustain. Open conflict was inevitable. This is the context in which we see bishops giving Nazi salutes and attending Nazi rallies in the photos above. Catholic prelates, especially in the early to mid 1930s, were instructed to accept the Nazi regime as the legitimate German government. So clergy did give the Nazi salute at official ceremonies, as did other dignitaries and public servants, whether they were Party members and supporters or not. The two bishops pictured with Goebbels above were Bishop Franz Rudolf Bornewasser of Trier and Bishop Ludwig Sebastian of Speyer. Far from being Nazi supporters, both were outspoken critics of the regime. Bishop Bornewasser condemned Nazi policies both publicly and in private protests to Hitler himself and accounts of the physical attacks on him by Nazi thugs were later used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials. Bishop Sebastian’s defence of clergy arrested by the Nazis prompted attacks on him in the Nazi press, which in turn provoked such outrage from the Catholic population of Speyer that the local Nazi Gauleiter, Joseph Bürckel, (also seen in the photo with Goebbels) ordered a Nazi rally in the city for the day of a planned mass protest by Catholics. He bussed in thousands of Nazi Party members and stormtroopers to take over the streets and prevent any demonstration in support of the bishop. Anti-Catholic polemicists who use the photo of the two bishops to illustrate any supposed Catholic support of the Nazis are, as usual, twisting history. Of course, there were some Catholic clergy and many more Catholic laity who did support the Nazis. The end of the political chaos and economic collapse of the early 1930s, the seemingly miraculous revival of the German economy, the annexation of formerly lost territory and, eventually, the victories in the period from 1939-41 meant many German Catholics were swept up in the nationalist fervour of the earlier years of Hitler’s regime. But most Catholics remained either wary of the Nazis or openly opposed to them. And the German Resistance, which was active even in the heady early years of the regime, had a Catholic backbone. There were some enthusiastic pro-Nazi clergy, but their numbers were tiny. Kevin P. Spicer’s analysis in his book Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism concludes that of around 42,000 priests in Germany and Austria, only 138 or 0.5% were Nazis. Others, including some leading prelates, were not supporters but were sufficiently nationalist to find the policy of outward political neutrality more comfortable than most. Cardinal Adolf Bertram, who had influenced the Vatican’s positions on the Concordat and the Centre Party, was clearly one of these. It was he who ordered the annual birthday good wishes to Hitler that so outraged Hitchens. What Hitchens does not bother to note is that it had also outraged many of Bertram’s fellow senior clergy at the time. Bishop Konrad von Preysing was so vehemently opposed to the gesture that he wrote angrily to Bertram about the “fundamental divergence of our views over the church-political situation”, and had to be talked out of resigning his see by the Pope. But the Vatican could not avoid a public confrontation between Bertram and von Preysing at the German Catholic Bishops Conference the following year, where von Preysing attacked Bertram’s approach so vehemently in his opening address that Bertram dissolved the Conference to prevent any further public conflict. Hitchens, of course, holds up Bertram’s actions and says nothing about von Preysing, who went on to openly attack the Nazis and work covertly with the German Resistance. Polemics usually consist of telling only part of the story – objective historical analysis does not work like that. This is why much of the supposed “evidence” of church support for the Nazis is patent misrepresentation. For example, German soldiers did indeed have the motto “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us) on their belt buckles. But they had carried this motto for about 60 years before the Nazis ever existed. It had been a heraldic motto in Prussia for centuries and so became the motto of the unified Germany’s Imperial standard in 1871 and had been inscribed on German helmets in the First World War. Nazi belt buckles, on the other hand, had no religious slogans. Those of the Waffen SS carried their motto “Meine Ehre heißt Treue” (My Honour is Loyalty) while those of the Hitler Youth read “Blut und Ehre” (Blood and Loyalty). And the photo of Pius XII supposedly being honoured by Nazi guards, which was used on the covers of most editions of Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope, was actually taken in 1927 when the then Papal Nuncio Pacelli was visiting President von Hindenburg. The “Nazi guards” are actually soldiers of the democratic Weimar Republic, though the covers of Cornwell’s book artfully retouch the photo to highlight Pacelli and blur the soldiers to make it easier to mistake them for SS guards. The distortion here is quite literal. Mit Brenneder Sorge By 1937 the violations of the Concordat, the ongoing persecution of German Catholics and the increasingly repressive and violent expression of Nazi ideology in the Third Reich meant Pius XI felt a clear statement against Nazism needed to be made. He and Pacelli met with leading German prelates on 21 December 1936 and the encyclical the Pope envisaged was drafted over five days in January 1937 by Pacelli and the more vigorously anti-Nazi Cardinal Faulhaber and Bishop Preysing, but also the more accommodationist Cardinal Bertram. With the ailing Pope too ill to be closely involved, the encyclical was very much Pacelli’s document: Pius XI noted after the encyclical was issued that “Not one line leaves this office that [Pacelli] does not recognise”. Faulhaber had written the first draft of the document, but it was Pacelli who added what Robert A. Ventresca describes as its “most forceful and consequential paragraph”: “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, a particular form of State, or the repositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the worldly community… whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God.” The encyclical was entitled Mit Brenneder Sorge (“With burning concern”) and was pointedly issued in German rather than the more usual Latin. In a remarkable operation, it was smuggled into Germany and 300,000 copies were secretly printed or made by hand using typewriters. It was then read from pulpits all over German on Palm Sunday to large Easter congregations to maximise its impact. The Nazis were furious. All copies of the encyclical that could be found were seized and the presses that printed it were shut down. Hitler ordered another round up of “political priests” and a crackdown on “immorality” in Catholic institutions and hundreds were sent to concentration camps. While part of the encyclical had condemned oppression of Catholics and the violations of the Concordat, it was the broader condemnation of the Nazi “myth of race and blood” and the racism of Nazi ideology that caused Hitler’s fury at the encyclical and earned praise from other world powers who were increasingly uneasy at the rise of Nazi Germany. Catholic apologists tend to hold up Mit Brenneder Sorge as the boldest and most unequivocal statement possible and, correctly, note Pacelli’s key role in its drafting and issue. Detractors point out it did not explicitly name Hitler or Nazism, couched its criticisms in general terms and maintains the anti-Semitic language of deicide in one reference (“Jesus received his human nature from a people who crucified him”). The latter reflected the Catholic doctrine of the time – the concept of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus was already being vigorously argued against but would not be officially overturned until 1965. But the lack of an explicit mention of Nazism and Hitler contrasts with the anti-Communist encyclical, Divini Redemptoris, which was issued just nine days after Mit Brenneder Sorge . That letter openly condemned “the violent, deceptive tactics of bolshevistic and atheistic Communism”. Of course, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind who and what Mit Brenneder Sorge was condemning – the Nazis in particular got the point – but it did contain guarded language and careful assurances that the Church, for example, did not intend to prevent young Germans from establishing “a true ethnical community in a noble love of freedom and loyalty to their country”. Here we can see the hand of Pacelli, attempting to tread the fine diplomatic line between condemnation and a desire to temper Nazi excesses. “Is this,” Ventresca asks, “a pointed assault on the Nazi’s totalitarian aim to control every aspect of society” or “the expression of a naive belief that Nazism might yet be tamed?” It could be argued to be something of both. Pacelli did not give any ground in his April 1937 response to a formal Nazi complaint about the encyclical issued by the German ambassador to the Vatican, Diego von Bergen. He denied the claim the encyclical was a political document and maintained it was purely doctrinal – the lack of explicit references to the regime was largely so he could make this argument. But when the Kristallnacht pogrom ushered in yet more persecution of Jews in Germany in November 1938, Pacelli resisted calls such as those by Cardinal Arthur Hinsley for a statement of condemnation by the increasingly ill Pius XI. Three prominent cardinals, Italian, French and Belgian, were instructed to issue strong condemnations of Nazi racial theory, with Cardinal Pierre Verdier of Paris referring to “thousands of people” who recently “were tracked down like wild beasts [and] stripped of their possessions” all in the name of “racial rights”. But Pacelli’s response was to deliver a sermon in Rome’s Church of San Giacomo to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the canonisation of Saint Vincent de Paul in which he likened the travails of the saint to the lamentations of the exiled Israelites in Babylon. Noting this rather oblique and rarefied reaction, Ventresca notes: As a spiritual exercise this had much to recommend it. But it was a decidedly tepid political response to the escalating excesses of the Hitler state …. Pacelli was still struggling, seemingly in vain, to find an effective political response to increasing Nazi radicalism. But with the death of Pius XI on February 10, 1939, Pacelli’s need to find a political response to Hitler became more pressing still. The New Pope and the Reich Pacelli was elected pope on March 2 1939 and took his predecessor’s name as Pius XII. He had been the preferred candidate for most western powers, who saw him as the best person to help defend democracy in Europe. The Nazis generally regarded him with hostility, seeing him as instrumental in the “anti-German trend” in diplomatic relations with the Reich. So, not surprisingly, his election was not greeted with joy by the Nazi press or the German newspapers generally, with the Berlin Morgenpost declaring “[He] has always been opposed to Nazism and practically determined the policies of the Vatican under his predecessor”. Pius XII soon embarked on a policy that he felt best suited the interests of the Catholic Church in Germany and the Church generally – outward neutrality, avoidance of purely “political” issues and a focus on defending the rights of the German Church and speaking out on matters of doctrine and morals only. The letter he sent Hitler after his accession that so outraged Hitchens was not, in fact, an “evil and fatuous message” as Hitchens characterises it. It used very similar language to the letters he sent to other world leaders at the same time. Read in the context of the new pope’s almost two decades of observation of and engagement with the Nazis (and shorn of the exclamation marks added by Cornwell and retained for rhetorical effect by Hitchens), it is quite clearly a diplomatically-coded warning that the previous policies would be retained, with warm references to “the German people“, but none at all for the Hitler regime. Hitler got the point – he was the only world leader who received a letter from the new pope and did not reply. Germany was also the only nation to not send a representative to the new pope’s coronation. Many leading Catholic prelates and intellectuals were not happy with the pope’s determined policy of remaining above politics, especially when confronted with the Italian Fascist invasion of Albania in April 1939 and the clear intentions of Germany toward Poland as the year went on. But Pius resisted pressure to take a side in the political crises of that year, arguing in his first address to the College of Cardinals on June 2 that the Church needed to warn of the “incalculable material, spiritual and moral consequences” of war, but could only do so without becoming entangled in disputes among states. He had cardinals and nuncios work behind the scenes to urge the relevant parties to avoid a war and, on August 24, made a pastoral appeal for peace, but he steadfastly refused to make any partisan statement or condemnation of particular sides as aggressors. The Second World War broke out a week later with the German invasion of Poland. The patterns of Pius’ policy did not change in the first years of the war. Statements were made and condemnations of war in general and violent excesses and persecutions of civilians in particular were issued, but always couched in the lofty language of moral condemnation and spiritual guidance, with no explicit references to who the perpetrators were. Given that the perpetrators were, in Poland, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, there was no doubt who the condemnations were aimed at, but diplomacy and neutrality remained paramount. So Pius’ first encyclical, Summi Pontificalis (October 20, 1939) seemed to many to be a ringing condemnation of the Nazis, including the point that in the Church “there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision” – a quotation of Colossians 3:11 and a clear reference to Nazi racial policy and the persecution of Polish Jews that was already underway. But the reserved and intellectual Pius clearly thought these careful words had far more unequivocal impact than they did. That said, the Nazis were predictably outraged at the encyclical, while the British and French air forces dropped 88,000 copies of it, translated into German, over western Germany. As the war raged and reports of Nazi atrocities became more numerous and alarming, it was increasingly difficult for Pius to maintain a clear line between “moral condemnation” and “political statement”. By December 1942 the Vatican’s well-informed intelligence networks were making it clear that the Nazis were engaging in wholesale and increasingly systematic murder of Jews in the Reich. An Italian Army chaplain, Father Pirro Scavissi, travelled with the Axis forces in occupied central Europe and relayed what he witnessed directly to the pope. He also met with Pius on two occasions while on leave in Rome and reported how the pope “cried like a child and prayed like a saint” when the Nazi atrocities against Jews and others in Poland were described to him in detail. Not surprisingly, vehement critics of the policy of outward, lofty neutrality, such as Bishop von Preysing, pressed for a more overt condemnation of the Nazis. This came in the pope’s Christmas Address of 1942, delivered via Vatican Radio and widely disseminated in written form throughout occupied Europe. Most of the 45 minute address was a general dissertation on human rights, but it made a clear condemnation of totalitarianism: [T]here are those various theories which, differing among themselves, and deriving from opposite ideologies, agree in considering the State, or a group which represents it, as an absolute and supreme entity, exempt from control and from criticism even when its theoretical and practical postulates result in and offend by, their open denial of essential tenets of the human Christian conscience. And at its end Pius addressed his hopes for a renewal of fundamental principles in a post-war world and stated: Mankind owes [this] to the hundreds of thousands of persons who, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, have been consigned to death or to a slow decline. As oblique as this is, it was (for Pius) a highly pointed reference to Nazi racial theory and the atrocities it was driving. And it was quickly perceived as such. The Nazis certainly got the message. The central office of Himmler’s RHSA security arm did not mince words: The Pope has repudiated the National-Socialist New European Order …. He is virtually accusing the German people of injustice toward the Jews and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals. The speech was covered widely in the press around the world and commented on favourably, with the New York Times editorial for December 25 1942 declaring the pope a “lonely voice crying out of the silence of a continent”. Later Pius commented to Harold Tittmann, the US ambassador to the Vatican, that, in the words of a British diplomat’s report, “he considered his recent broadcast to be clear and comprehensive in its condemnation of the heartrending treatment of Poles, Jews, hostages etc. And to have satisfied all recent demands that he should speak out.” Others were less satisfied. Bishop von Preysing, yet again, did not think the reference to the victimisation of the Jews was specific enough. Harold Tittmann also pressed the pope to go further, but he did note to his government that “the reference to the persecution of the Jews and mass deportations is unmistakable”. The problem for the Americans and the other Allies was that Pius’ typically abstract approach made it hard for them to give his message the propaganda spin they wanted – which was, at least in part, precisely its intention. This was not simply a continuation of the policy of outward neutrality and an appearance of staying above “politics” – it was also a recognition of a deeply political reality. As Pius noted to Tittmann, a more explicit reference to precisely which totalitarian regimes he was condemning and a more detailed exposition of their atrocities would require an equal condemnation of the Soviet Union and, the pope observed carefully, this “might not be wholly pleasing to the Allies”. So the Christmas Address of 1942 remained the most explicit and pointed condemnation of the Nazis that Pius made in public, even though his many and quite vehement private condemnations are well documented. The apologists highlight the latter, while the detractors wave them away and condemn Pius XII for his qualified and carefully-worded public pronouncements. But the story that has been, until recently, largely ignored is what the pope was doing behind the scenes and under the cover of his carefully diplomatic facade. The Pope’s “Secret War” New Atheist luminary Sam Harris is, as I have detailed before, spectacularly bad at history. Like many of the scientists who make up the ranks of the leading New Atheist polemicists, he seems to think you “do” history by finding support for what you want to think in a book and then presenting what that book says. So when he turned to the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Nazis in his The End of Faith (2004), he found condemnation of the Church in Daniel Goldhagen’s controversial and much-criticised book Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1996) and so, in his usual lazy fashion, did not bother to look much further. But in 2015 Harris actually managed to read another book on the subject and, I suppose to his credit, he substantially changed his mind. The book was Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling, a writer who specialises in the history of espionage. Harris was so impressed with Riebling’s book that he interviewed him on his blog in a piece entitled “Re-thinking ‘Hitler’s Pope’“. In the interview Harris did all he could to still criticise and condemn Pius XII and the Catholic Church as much as possible, but he was forced to admit “I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve been too hard on the Vatican for its conduct during the war.” Riebling’s excellent book highlights and details an element of Pius XII and the Catholic Church’s role in the Second World War which is usually only mentioned in passing or relegated to footnotes: namely, the persistent covert assistance given to the Allies and to the German Resistance to actively work toward the fall of the Third Reich and the overthrow or, if possible, assassination of Adolf Hitler. That Pius was inclined to assist the Allies covertly has been noted many times in the past, though it is rarely emphasised and is usually ignored or dismissed by his detractors. As Riebling details, the Vatican had what was effectively the oldest intelligence network in Europe – thousands of clergy with lines of covert communication back to Rome that had been in operation for centuries. It was via this network and its connections to disaffected anti-Nazi officers in the Wehrmacht and, in particular, the Abwehr – the German Army’s espionage arm – that Pius learned of the Nazis’ intention to invade Holland, Luxembourg and Belgium in May 1940. Pius ordered that a coded radio warning be sent to the nuncios in Belgium and Holland so they could warn the Allies. The warning was passed on to London a week before the invasion, but Western forces failed to capitalise on the information. Similarly, the Vatican’s German links allowed Ludwig Kaas – the former Centre Party politician who had negotiated the Reichskonkordat and was now in exile in the Vatican – to warn the Allies of the impending invasion of Norway in April 1940. Again, the Allies did not respond or act on the warning. But Pius’ covert actions against the Nazis went much further. As Riebling details, a clique of anti-Nazi officers within the Abwehr, led by the intelligence unit’s chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and his chief of staff Hans Oster, began to plot against Hitler soon after the invasion of Poland in 1939. Canaris needed a way of communicating with the Allies to gain assistance and to win concessions for Germany once the Nazis were overthrown. The plotters decided to use the Vatican as their go-between and enlisted a Catholic Abwehr reservist, Josef Müller, as their key conduit to Rome. Müller – a large, gregarious, beer-drinking, charmer nicknamed “Ochsensepp” (Joey the Ox) – emerges as the main hero of Riebling’s story. He was a man who in 1934 faced down an SS interrogation led by Himmler himself and was released because the SS leader admired his courage, faith and principles. Müller already knew Pius from his time as Nuncio in Munich and used a variety of covers to relay messages between the Resistance leaders and the Vatican, liaising directly with the pope’s private secretary, Robert Leiber. Lieber and Kaas then passed on relevant intelligence to the British Government via their ambassador to the Holy See, Francis d’Arcy Osborne. But the pope’s involvement with the Resistance went much further than acting as a conduit. Via Müller and a network of German Jesuits, Pius was directly involved in no less than three plots to kill Hitler. The first faded out in 1939-40 when the German officers involved lost their nerve. The second failed when explosives in Hitler’s plane failed to go off in 1943. And the third was the von Stauffenberg plot, where a bomb wounded Hitler but failed to kill him in 1944. But as early as 1939 Pius had made the decision not only to help the Resistance overthrow the Nazis, but also decided that Hitler met the theological justifications for actual tyrannicide – he decided to assist the German Resistance even if they acted to assassinate Hitler. Some of his aides, including his secretary and adviser Robert Lieber, were shocked but Lieber’s own notes from the time record that when asked what kind of government the German plotters should work toward, Pius answered emphatically “Any government without Hitler”. So much for “Hitler’s Pope”. The Lessons of History It should be clear by now that virtually every element of Hitchens’ characterisation of relations between Pius XII and the Nazis is factually wrong or a grotesque misrepresentation of history. When exposed to even the slightest criticial analysis, his claim that Pius was “pro-Nazi” is utterly absurd. The Reichskonkordat was not “very first diplomatic accord undertaken by Hitler’s government”. It was not some friendly deal and it did not secure protection for the Catholic Church in Germany. It did not order the silence of German Catholics. And there was no papal instruction for the Centre Party to dissolve. Every point Hitchens makes is wrong. As usual, the real history is complex, but it bears almost no resemblance to the bizarre caricature found in the works of leading New Atheists or the hysterical ranting of many online atheist polemics. Overall, despite a few collaborators and enthusiasts, the Catholic Church’s response to the Nazis was one of opposition, up to and including active or covert resistance. The historical “Pius Wars” are likely to continue, with both his defenders and detractors likely to find grist for their respective mills in the documents from his wartime pontificate that the Vatican has recently announced it will release. Apologists overstate his public condemnation of and opposition to the Nazi regime, but overall their case is stronger than that of the detractors, who are guilty of selective evidence, speculation and misrepresentation. John Cornwell, whose publication of Hitler’s Pope in 1999 brought the criticism of Pius XII more fully into the public arena and who was effectively the key source of Hitchens’ distorted polemics, has since backtracked on many of his arguments. Debate will certainly continue on whether Pius’ policy of outward neutrality while engaging in covert action was the best course. Certainly many of the German Jesuits who worked against the Nazis did not feel so, given they were later instrumental in shaping the bolder and more outspoken policies seen in the papacy of John XXIII and his successors, which formed the modern Papacy of today; one that is far more vocal on matters that Pius would have considered too “political”. As Riebling has pointed out in interviews, Eugenio Pacelli was born on the eve of Custer’s last stand and died on the eve of the launch of Sputnik. He was a man who bridged two very different worlds. Debate also continues on the other key issue of Pius XII’s record – his response (or lack thereof) to the persecution of the Jews and to the Holocaust. That will be the subject of a future article here. But while Pius was not an outspoken saint who stood alone against tyranny in the dark days of World War Two, as Catholic apologists would have us believe, the idea that he was some kind of quisling is absurd. And the claim that he was “pro-Nazi” or “Hitler’s Pope” is total and complete garbage. Further Reading Gerard Noel, Pius XII: The Hound of Hitler (Continuum, 2008) Mark Riebling, Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler (Basic Books, 2015) Ronald J. Rychlak, Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Genesis Press, 2000) Klaus Scholder, A Requiem for Hitler and Other New Perspectives on the German Church Struggle (Trinity Press, 1989) Robert A. Ventresca, Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII (Harvard, 2013) The post The Great Myths 7: “Hitler’s Pope”? appeared first on History for Atheists.
Are Catholics Supposed to Avoid Contact With Excommunicated Persons?
Q1: A friend of mine who was raised evangelical, but has recently decided to join the Church, asked me about the Church’s rules (or potential lack thereof) regarding social interaction with excommunicated people. He was raised in a church which, … Continue reading → The post Are Catholics Supposed to Avoid Contact With Excommunicated Persons? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Can a Child Be Baptized Catholic, If One Parent Strenuously Objects?
Q: My ex-wife and I met, married in, and agreed to raise our children in the Mormon faith.  About three years ago she decided to leave me and returned to the Catholic Church after 25 years in the Mormon Church.  … Continue reading → The post Can a Child Be Baptized Catholic, If One Parent Strenuously Objects? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Which Tribunal Has Authority to Annul My Marriage?
Q: I am Catholic and I was married to a Catholic for 20 years. She divorced me and I never expected to marry again.  But then I met a woman who had also recently divorced. We decided to get married. … Continue reading → The post Which Tribunal Has Authority to Annul My Marriage? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
If I Become a Catholic, What Happens to My Marriage?
Q1: Can I be received into the Catholic Church if I was not married by a Catholic priest? –Rachel Q2: I was divorced from a Catholic in 2012. Our marriage was not in a Catholic Church nor administered by the … Continue reading → The post If I Become a Catholic, What Happens to My Marriage? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
When Can Parish Buildings be Rented Out for Secular Use?
Q: Our parish church is located in a two-story building. The church where we have Mass is on the first floor and there is classroom space on the second floor. The bishop has decided to lease the classroom space to a public … Continue reading → The post When Can Parish Buildings be Rented Out for Secular Use? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
How Should Catholics View the Pope?
Attacks against the Pope and the Papacy have been something that the Catholic Church has lived with since Peter was first appointed to the position by our Lord Himself. Today we see attacks on the Pope and his authority from three very different sources. An initial Clarification Some attacks against the Pope and the Papacy […] The post How Should Catholics View the Pope? appeared first on About Catholics.
What’s the Difference Between a Cathedral Rector and a Parish Priest?
Q: Greetings, who is in charge of a Cathedral Parish? The Bishop or the Priest? Our priest (he is listed as the “Rector”) states it is his parish, but I feel obligated to obey what our Bishop states to be … Continue reading → The post What’s the Difference Between a Cathedral Rector and a Parish Priest? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
What’s the Difference Between a Nun and a Consecrated Virgin?
Q1: What’s the difference between a nun and a consecrated virgin?  I assumed the two terms were synonymous, until I read recently about a new Vatican document on the topic of consecrated virgins, and it sounds like they are something … Continue reading → The post What’s the Difference Between a Nun and a Consecrated Virgin? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures
When discussing the historicity of Jesus and debating the claims of Jesus Mythicists I often come across people who take the view that there may be at least some historical basis for Jesus, but there was no single historical person. They claim he was an amalgam of many different figures from the time, not one man. These people rarely back this idea up with evidence-based argument, but when they do, it does not stand up to critical scrutiny. The “Amalgam Jesus” idea is something of a half-way position between accepting that the Christian figure is based on later stories told about a historical man and the full Jesus Mythicism of fringe theorists like Doherty, Carrier and Price. It accepts, albeit grudgingly, that there is probably some historical point of origin for the later Jesus stories, but keeps this at a wary distance from any single figure. The following examples from various Reddit discussions are fairly typical: Actually… King Arthur, like Beowulf, is likely based on a real person. So, [Jesus is] more mythical than that. More like the myth of Lao Tzu: likely an amalgam of similar figures from the same period of time.“Strong Atheist” on “The Last Supper Never Happened” – /r/atheism He is most likely an amalgamation of various Jewish messianic figures from the period with various different stories and legends of different people attributed to him. Most of the stories are probably embellished in some form, while others are outright fabrications. “DarkAlman” on “Atheists, how do you perceive Jesus as a historical phenomenon?” – /r/AskReddit Some say he never existed, but I think it’s the opposite- there were several. I believe Jesus is probably a composite figure of multiple preachers around that time period, and the stories were blended together in the 1st and 2nd centuries. “BlueWhaleKing” on “So was Jesus real or not?” – /r/exmormon Curiously, when the people who make this claim that this is “most likely” or “more likely” than a single historical Jesus are asked what evidence they are basing this assessment on, they generally either just repeat their assertion or fall totally silent. Historical analysis is, after all, an assessment of what is most likely to have happened, based on a structured analysis of relevant evidence. But in almost 20 years of asking those making this “Amalgam Jesus” claim to detail their analysis I have almost always been given … nothing. This stance seems, in most cases, to not be a real position based on analysis of evidence at all, but little more than a comforting hunch. It does not require the effort and the baroque contortions of full scale Jesus Mythicism, but it also keeps any kind of close historical basis for anything claimed by Christianity at a safe distance. So it feels about right, even if its proponents cannot actually back it up with any kind of detail. Like most forms of Mythicism, semi-Mythicism and “Jesus agnosticism”, it is based more on emotion than reason. But recently I have encountered someone who does at least try to make a case for something like the “Amalgam Jesus” idea. It is not very coherent and is based on a crazed mix of accurate information, total misconceptions, unwarranted leaps of logic and totally wrongheaded conclusions, but at least this person tries. L. Aron Nelson a.k.a “Aron Ra” The Merry Meanderings of “Aron Ra” Atheist activist, podcaster and vodcaster L. Aron Nelson subscribes to the idea that “a real man chooses his own name”, and has decided to dub himself “Aron Ra“. His former podcast “The Ra Men Podcast” seems to be defunct, but his YouTube channel and “Reason Advocates”, a blog he writes with his wife Lilandra, are still highly active. A lot of the material on both are devoted to battling Creationism and the politics of the Christian Right in the US, which are certainly worthy endeavours and he does seem to know his stuff on scientific matters. But when it comes to history, his ideas are rather eclectic and bear all the hallmarks of someone who has educated himself on the subject, without much idea of what is scholarly and credible and what is not. In November 2015 he wrote a blog post on the historicity of Jesus called “Jesus Never Existed”. To anyone who has studied the subject or who has even studied history at all, it is a very odd piece. It begins by noting an article about the amateur “researcher” and aerospace engineer, Michael Paulkovich, who seems to think it significant that he can list 126 ancient writers who he thinks “should” have mentioned Jesus, despite this list being made almost completely of writers who made no mention of Jewish affairs at all, including a work on gynaecology and a letter about a stolen pig (see Jesus Mythicism 3: “No Contemporary References to Jesus” for the many problems with this line of argument). Aron Ra seems impressed with this and also declares that Josephus’ “only mention of Jesus is now known to have been a forgery or redaction inserted later by someone else”. This means that it seems, at least when he wrote this piece, he was unaware that there are two references to Jesus in Josephus – Antiquities XVIII.63-4 and XX.200 – and it is only the first of these that is has clearly been tampered with by later scribes. He also seems to be under the impression that this is something only realised “now”, when it has been recognised for a couple of centuries. Finally, he thinks the idea that the Antiquities XVIII.63-4 is a wholesale interpolation is “known”, when that is just one possible position on the passage, with the majority of Josephus scholars actually accepting that it is partially authentic, though with some later Christian additions. So from the first paragraph of this article we are clearly not dealing with someone who has a firm grasp of the material. Other details in his article give the same impression, such as an anachronistic reference to “1st century [AD] Israel” or to his former belief that a historical Jesus had lived in “Judea”, when Jesus is depicted as a Galilean, not a Judean. Things get worse when he provides some links to support the claim “Jesus never existed”. The first is to an eyesore of a 1990s-style website called which bolsters its claims with quotes from Edward Gibbon (1776), someone called Rev. Robert Taylor (1829) and one of the original Mythicist crackpots, Kersey Graves (1875). This cutting edge material largely makes the arguments that contemporaries “should” have mentioned a historical Jesus or that there were people who denied the existence of Jesus as historical even in early Christianity. The latter idea is based on a total misunderstanding of Docetism, misreading its references to Jesus not “coming in the flesh” as saying he did not have an earthly and historical existence at all. The fact that Aron Ra cannot see the flaws here, or detect that his source is referring to outdated ideas and amateur loons tells us something about his grasp of this subject. It does not get any better when he links to the notoriously bad 2014 Alternet article by psychologist Valerie Tarico “5 Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed”. This is the one that cites such “scholars” as the amateur nobody Dave Fitzgerald (who Aron Ra even calls a “historian”), the inevitable Bob Price and, of course, the ubiquitous unemployed PhD grad Richard Carrier, though it is mostly a reworking of the tired arguments used by Fitzgerald in his self-published booklets. Aron Ra dismisses Bart Ehrman’s critiques of Mythicism, claiming “[Ehrman] essentially argued that ‘everyone knows Jesus existed'”, which is not what Ehrman argues at all and indicates that Aron Ra has not read Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? (2012), let alone seen the 2016 debate on the subject where even Mythicists had to admit Ehrman wiped the floor with the hapless Mythicist, Bob Price. So it is not surprising that when Aron Ra tells us what made him change his mind on the historicity of Jesus, he cites Fitzgerald, Price and Carrier, as well as community college biology teacher and anti-theist activist Frank Zindler and incompetent New Age kook Dorothy “Acharya S” Murdock. In other words, the usual tired handful of amateurs, nobodies, contrarians and, in Murdock’s case, out and out loons. Yet Aron Ra finds them impressive and persuasive, apparently. But at the end of his article Aron Ra gives some hints that he does accept there may be some kernels of history or half-remembered history at the core of the Jesus stories and suggests that Jesus was an amalgam of several other figures and stories: Josephus mentioned three real people with strong similarities to Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus brother of James son of Damneus, and a third character on a cross. Josephus saw three people he knew being crucified, and he used his clout with the Romans to have them cut down. Two of them died; one lived.  Although none of these characters could be taken as the kernel of truth to that tale, they might have lent to the motivation to historicize that tale; to claim accounts that it had actually happened here in the real world and very recently. In an addendum to the article he goes on to argue “having a history of deeds that were adapted from multiple sources, or pertaining to multiple heroes … means not having one person anyone can identify as the source of those stories”. He argues: We’ve got two different birth dates in different centuries for a kid who grew up in multiple towns in two different countries. How much of this might have been gleaned from Jesus of Damneus [sic] who’s brother was James? How much of this came from some other actual figure? And how do we discern it from all the other sources, some of which weren’t based on any actual living person at all? And finally concludes: So we really have no idea how many borrowed legends Christianity was really based on. But all of the stories we still have were apparently adapted from tales originally told about someone else. So it seems his position is substantially an “Amalgam Jesus” version of Mythicism, though he at least gestures towards some evidence he thinks supports this idea. A coin of Magnus Maximus Actual Amalgam Figures Of course, there is nothing inherently incoherent or implausible about a legendary figure being an amalgam of other earlier legends and historical memories. After all, we have several examples where this seems to be precisely what happened. The earliest narrative account of King Arthur is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) and contains several episodes that were to feature in most later cycles of Arthurian legend. This includes the sequence where a Roman called Lucius demands Arthur’s fealty, sparking a war where Arthur invades Gaul, defeats Lucius and becomes emperor in Rome. This story of Arthur was to form the climax of the later medieval Arthurian cycles, with Mordred taking advantage of Arthur’s absence to marry Guinevere and seize the throne of Britain, bringing about Arthur’s final battle and death. Except the story of a ruler who leads a British army into Gaul to defeat an imperial rival can be found in an earlier source about another figure. The eleventh century collection of Welsh tales, the Mabinogion, or Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi include in some versions a tale called “Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig” (The Dream of Macsen Wledig). In it, Macsen Wledig, the emperor of Rome, has a dream of a beautiful maiden and on waking sends his followers to find her. They find her in Britain and Macsen travels there to marry her. While he is away, a usurper seizes the emperorship and so with an army raised in Britain, Macsen regains the throne and grants the Britons land in Gaul as a reward for their loyalty, thus founding Brittany. The Macsen Wledig story in turn is based on something that actually happened historically. In 383 AD the Roman commander in Britain, Magnus Maximus, declared himself emperor, usurping the throne against the emperor Gratian. He led his army over the English Channel into Gaul, defeated and killed Gratian in a battle at Lyon and was then made “Augustus” of parts of the Western Empire in the negotiations with Theodosius I that followed. Maximus’ ambitions did not end there and a second attempt at seizing the whole of the Western Empire in 387 failed and Maximus eventually surrendered to the armies of Valentinian II. The later Macsen and Arthur stories are clearly confused and romanticised versions of these historical events, but there seems to have been a folk memory of a hero who left Britain with a British-raised army and who defeated an emperor in battle and took the emperorship of Rome. This means that this element of the Arthur legends, at least, is based on earlier figures (Macsen and Maximus) and so “Arthur” is at least in part an amalgam of earlier figures. Mythicists often like to point to “John Frum” – the central figure of the cargo cult on Tanna in Vanuatu – as an example of a supposedly historical figure who was purely mythical; claiming this is analogous to the claims about Jesus. But “John Frum” actually seems to be an amalgam of mythic and historical figures. Exactly when this figure first emerged is unclear, but he seems to have been associated with the cult of the god Keraperamun; a local deity associated with Mount Tukosmera, the island’s highest mountain. In 1940 a man called Manehivi allegedly used the alias “John Frum”, dressed in a European-style coat and promised “cargo” or European goods and abundance to those who rejected the church missions and money, drank kava and engaged in traditional religious dances. Local administrators arrested Manehivi and tried to expose him as a fraud, but the stories of “John Frum” spread, taking on a mix of native traditional ideas, pseudo Christian apocalypticism and reactions to the arrival of American soldiers and their vast stores of materiel due to fighting against the Japanese in the area. Other people claiming to be “John Frum” or his sons appeared in later years and the cult continues on the island to this day. “John Frum” seems to be a clear amalgam of the god Keraperamun, various colonial and missionary Europeans called “John” (who had introduced themselves as “John from …”, thus perhaps the name “John Frum”), the several “John Frum” claimants like Manehivi and another man called Neloiag and the thousands of American “Johns” in the 300,000 troops stationed on the island in the Second World War with their abundance of “cargo” and seemingly magical technology. Leaving aside the question of how much we can interpret “John Frum” as a being understood as a historical figure at all, he does seem to have been an amalgam of various white people, traditional religious beings and rumours about the claimants and pretenders like Manehivi and Neloiag. But do we find similar indications that Jesus was just such an amalgam? More Confusion from Aron Ra Not long after the fairly brief post noting his belief in an Amalgam Jesus referred to earlier, Aron Ra decided to elaborate on this point in a video he uploaded to YouTube: In it he notes, correctly, that at least some figures are amalgams of historical and legendary persons and uses the example of King Arthur, as I have above. He then restates his belief that Jesus was just such a figure: If you found a guy named Jesus who had a brother named James who also met Paul – assuming that Paul was talking about a real person – then maybe that guy was either Jesus of Damneus [sic], someone who we think is different than the guy we’re looking for, or that guy was not even aware of the mountain of nonsense that has been heaped upon his name he wouldn’t even recognise himself as the Jesus we’re looking for because some of those stories had nothing to do with him (2:44-3:06) The last part of this statement assumes that “the guy we are looking for” is the Jesus of Christian belief and that if we are talking about a Jesus who was not and did not do the things claimed of him by Christians he is somehow not “really” Jesus. Of course, a historical Jesus can be considered the point of origin of that “mountain of nonsense” that was associated with him, so can be considered “really” Jesus to anyone but the most fundamentalist of literalists. But the claim that “maybe” Jesus was “Jesus of Damneus” is very odd. To begin with, there is no “Jesus of Damneus” anywhere in the historical record, but he seems to be referring to “Jesus son of Damneus” who is mentioned in Josephus Antiquities XX.200 – the man who succeeds Hanan ben Hanan as high priest. How this could be the brother of the James who Paul mentions meeting in Galatians 1 and 2 is not clear and makes no sense at all. Paul says that this James is “the brother of the Lord”, so how can this brother be the Jesus who, decades later, became high priest? The “Lord” here is clearly the person Paul calls “Jesus Christ” and who he regards as having been crucified before Paul joined the Jesus sect (see 1 Cor 1:23, 2:2, 2:8, 2 Cor 13:4), so the idea that this is a reference to someone who became high priest in 62 AD and so would have been very much alive when Paul was writing in the 50s AD and when Paul had met his brother James in the 30s AD is obviously total nonsense. Aron Ra’s incoherent argument here seems to be based on the equally muddled Mythicist argument that the “Jesus who was called Messiah” mentioned earlier in the Antiquities XX.200 passage and the “Jesus son of Damneus” mentioned later are the same person and so the former is not a reference to Jesus of Nazareth at all. But that argument does not work for multiple reasons, which I have detailed in a previous article in this series (see Jesus Mythicism 2: “James the Brother of the Lord”). Aron goes on to note, correctly, that elements attach themselves to figures in stories told about them in the ancient world, but concludes from this somehow that there was no original historical figure of Jesus for these later elements to accrue to. He justifies this by saying: No-one goes looking for the truth at the heart of the tales of Prometheus, Dionysus or Hercules because we’re all pretty sure that that’s just people making up stories based on nothing but imagination and that could be true of Jesus too but and that is what others have suggested but that’s not exactly what I’m suggesting I think Jesus was more in line with Noah, in that you’ve got all these fanciful exaggerations but they’re not all one guy and they’re not all real either.(5:29-5:50) The problem here is that there is a major difference between the Noah stories (or the Prometheus, Dionysus or Hercules stories for that matter) and the Jesus stories. The first mentions of Noah we have date to the fifth century BC and refer to a patriarch who lived in some remote and probably legendary prehistory. Whereas our first mentions of Jesus, in the Pauline letters, date to the 50s AD – just 20 years after he was supposed to have lived. These include references to people who Paul knew personally who had known Jesus, including Jesus’ brother James and other siblings and his friends Peter and John. We are clearly not dealing with a situation analogous to the Noah stories at all and the idea that this amalgam could arise so rapidly or that Paul could somehow think he had met friends and relatives of a person who never existed in the first place makes absolutely no sense. But then Aron gets even more wildly confused: In the very early years of Christianity you already have factions arguing over whether Jesus was a real person. The Ebionites or Nazarenes were a renunciant sect who held that Jesus was a purely human prophet but they did not accept Paul’s account of it which is important here, then you have the Docetics who say that Jesus was a fully divine being who merely appeared to be human as an illusion. so Jesus is not a physical person and therefore can’t really die unless it happens in the celestial realm which is what Richard carrier suggests. Then you have the Gnostics who are even older than Christianity and they cast Jesus as an emissary between man and God however they did not believe that Jesus died for our sins and that’s a significant difference – then you’ve got the Coptic version which again is early enough that it could be contemporary with the Gospel of John their account includes the Gospel of Thomas in which Jesus said that if God wanted men to be circumcised then men wouldn’t be born with foreskins (6:07-7:03) There are so many errors of fact and confusions in these statements that is hard to know where to begin. But the key problem is that the existence of these various later forms of Christianity simply do not support his initial claim that any early Christian factions were “arguing over whether Jesus was a real person”. Whatever it was the Ebionites believed, they clearly believed in a human and historical Jesus. Those who we refer to by the theological term “Docetist”, which actually included many Gnostics, did not believe he was a human – they thought he only had the illusion of humanity – but they did believe he was recently historical. Despite the ubiquitous Richard Carrier’s convoluted fantasies, we do not have any texts that depict Jesus dying anywhere except on earth or any evidence that anyone thought he died “in the celestial realm”. And the other variants Aron mentions also all accepted a historical and earthly Jesus, even if they could not agree on how human and/or divine he was. So none of this helps Aron on his key point at all – no-one denied that Jesus had had an earthly and historical existence and all seemed to agree it had been recent and agreed on most of the key elements and players in his story, with a few small variations. Turning to the canonical gospels, Aron emphasises the differences between them and concludes, correctly, that at least some of the stories they tell had to have arisen later, otherwise we would not have variants in the parallel stories they tell. But he then leaps from this to the conclusion that this means it is likely none of them are historical at all and that there is no way to determine if any of them are. He uses the well-known conflicts in the infancy narratives in gMatt and gLuke as his main example: We’ve got two different birth dates in different centuries for a kid who grew up in multiple towns in two different countries. Christopher Hitchens says that this indicates a historic origin where someone was trying to fudge the data to make their actual person fit all the myths and fulfil their prophecies. But at the same time it implies two different realities at least and that fact refutes the first assumption how much of this came from some other actual figure and how do we discern it from the other sources, some of which weren’t based on any living person at all? I mean, come on. We know that certain elements of Jesus life were adapted from earlier tales like the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ …. how much if any of this story actually pertain to any confused and delusional first century faith healer and cult leader who really lived?(9:39-10:33) Here Aron is referring to an argument Hitchens made that the contradictions in the infancy narratives indicate a historical person who is being shoehorned into the idea that he was the Messiah, despite the fact that he does not really fit. But it seems Aron has not understood Hitchens’ argument, which he articulated in a speech July 2008 (see video here, with the relevant portion beginning at 2:46). Hitchens clearly tells us how we can “discern” that these fabricated elements and borrowed stories are being pressed into service to get around an awkward problem with a historical Jesus. We can do so by looking at the one element in the two gospel stories of his birth which does not fit the narrative of Jesus as Messiah: his origin in Nazareth. The whole point of Hitchens’ argument is that this element sticks out because it does not support what the gospels are trying to claim. The Messiah is meant to be from Bethlehem, but Jesus is from Nazareth. So both gospel writers create elaborate stories that “explain” how someone from Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem after all. The problem is that both stories are riddled with historical problems and they also contradict each other. So the only key point on which they do not contradict each other is the only point that does not fit their argument – the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth. This means the convoluted, fanciful and contradictory stories have been constructed precisely to deal with this problematic element. Which in turn means this element is most likely historical and so could not simply be brushed aside. It had to be contained and “explained”, because it was an awkward fact that would not go away. Hitchens got a lot of history wrong, but he got this argument dead right. Aron Ra’s Other Jesuses I appears that Aron Ra has not adjusted his position much since his 2015 blog and video. In a recent interaction I had with him on Twitter, he continued to push the “Amalgam Jesus” idea: I think Jesus is a composite of multiple real and multiple mythical characters that were both accidentally and deliberately confused into one story. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) January 17, 2019 When asked what evidence he had to support this idea he replied: Part of the evidence that Jesus is a composite character is that Christians often point to different historical Jesusi , that we know were really someone else, yet they say that’s their guy. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) January 17, 2019 When questioned on how “we know they were really someone else” he responded: Josephas talked about 19 Jesuses, including Jesus ben Ananias and Jesus of Damneus, who has been claimed by some Christians; 20 if you include his unnamed friend who died on the cross. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) February 7, 2019 This is all pretty abbreviated, but such is the nature of Twitter. It does seem to line up with some of the references in his original 2015 blog, which claimed: Josephus mentioned three real people with strong similarities to Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus brother of James son of Damneus, and a third character on a cross. Josephus saw three people he knew being crucified, and he used his clout with the Romans to have them cut down. The claim that a “Jesus brother of James son of Damneus” is part of the alleged amalgam is based on a misinterpretation of Antiquities XX.200 and does not make sense for the reasons already outlined earlier. The second “other Jesus”, Jesus ben Ananias or ben Ananus, is a person mentioned in Josephus, Jewish War, VI.300-310, which is worth quoting in full: But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city.However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him.Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” And just as he added at the last, “Woe, woe to myself also!” there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost. Here at least we have someone called Jesus who is obviously not Jesus of Nazareth and his story has at least some parallels with elements in the Jesus stories. The argument that these parallels indicate derivation and that the story of Jesus was in part based on that of ben Ananus is articulated in detail by the inevitable Richard Carrier (PhD), whose discussion of this includes a helpful table: 1Both are named Jesus2Both come to Jerusalem during a major religious festival.Mk 14.2= JW 6.3013Both entered the temple area to rant against the temple.Mk 11.15-17= JW 6.3014During which both quote the same chapter of Jeremiah.Jer. 7-11 in Mk;Jer. 7.34 in JW5Both then preach daily in the temple.Mk 14.49= JW 6.3066Both declared ‘woe’ unto Judea or the Jews.Mk 13.17 = JW6.304, 306, 3097Both predict the temple will be destroyed.Mk 13.2= JW 6.300, 3098Both are for this reason arrested by the Jews.Mk 14.43= 6.3029Both are accused of speaking against the temple.Mk 14.58= JW 6.30210Neither makes any defense of himself against the chargesMk 14.60= JW 6.30211Both are beaten by the JewsMk 14.65= JW 6.30212Then both are taken to the Roman governor.Pilate inMk 15.1= Albinus inJW 6.30213Both are interrogated by the Roman governor.Mk 15.2-4= JW 6.30514During which both are asked to identify themselves.Mk 15. 2= JW 6.30515And yet again neither says anything in his defense.Mk 15 3-5= JW 6.30516Both are then beaten by the Romans.Mk 15.15= JW 6.30417In both cases the Roman governor decides he should release him.18….but doesn’t (Mark)….but does (JW)Mk 15 6-15 vs.JW 6.30519Both are finally killed by the Romans (in Mark, by execution; in the JW, by artillery).Mk 15.34= JW 6.308-30920Both utter a lament for themselves immediately before they die.Mk 15.34= JW 6.30921Both die with a loud cry.Mk 15.37= JW 6.309(From Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, 2014, pp. 429-430) As with most of Carrier’s arguments, this looks impressive until it is subjected to critical scrutiny and then the whole thing can be shown to be hopelessly flimsy. Once we eliminate several of these supposed parallels as not being very parallel at all and then rule out the elements which are easily explained by these being two similar episodes occurring in the same historical context, the list actually becomes rather unimpressive. To begin with, both figures being named Jesus (1) is not much of a parallel given how common that name was. Tal Ilan’s Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Palestine 330 BCE – 200 CE (2002) details and analyses the names of Jews we know of in this period, from Josephus, Philo, Roman sources, the NT, the DSS, ossuaries and inscriptions. He finds that “Jesus” or “Yeshua” was the sixth most common name for Jewish men, after “Simon”/”Simeon”, “Joseph”/”Joses”, “Lazarus”/”Eleazar”, “Judas” and “John”. So Aron is right about Josephus mentioning about 20 people called “Jesus”, but this is about as significant as noting a modern writer mentioning a number of people called “Dave”. Both coming to Jerusalem for a festival and “ranting” against the Temple in the Temple compound (2 and 3) also make sense given the context. The major festivals attracted many pilgrims from outside Jerusalem, particularly the three major festivals of Passover (the one we find in the Jesus story) and Tabernacles (as in the ben Ananus story). Preaching against the corruption of the Temple was a common theme among religious critics and eschatological prophets alike and, given that it had been destroyed once as a supposed sign of God’s wrath against sin and corruption, predicting its fall also seems to have been a common theme. Carrier does not bother to highlight that the two Jesuses are depicted as coming to two different festivals, because that would weaken the parallel. Nor does he bother to note that ben Ananus is not depicted entering or preaching in the Temple at all (3 and 5), but rather preaches “in all the lanes of the city”. And he does this for years on end, where Jesus’ preaching against the Temple is depicted as one episode on one day. The claim that “[b]oth quote the same chapter of Jeremiah” (4), however, is not strong at all. Carrier says ben Ananus refers to Jeremiah 7:34: “I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.” This does seem to be an oblique source of the part of the reported sermon of ben Ananus that refers to “a voice against the bridegroom and the bride”, but this theme of an end coming to the happiness of the (proverbially happy) bridegroom and bride is a topos found in several places in Jeremiah – see also Jeremiah 16.9, 25.10 and 33.11 for example. So to select just one of these – Jeremiah 7:34 – and then find some link to the Marcan reference to a different part of that chapter of Jeremiah (7:11, quoted directly by Jesus in Mark 11:17) while ignoring the other three uses of the topos is a typical example of Carrier shaping the evidence to fit his thesis. That both Jesus and ben Ananus would refer to Jeremiah (or at least be depicted as doing so) makes sense simply because Jeremiah was the model for Jewish prophets preaching about reform of or corruption in the Temple. Jeremiah himself is depicted as doing so and being beaten for it (Jeremiah 20:1-2). Elements 5,6,7,8 and 9 above are, therefore, all highly likely actions by and consequences for any first century prophet taking up this Jeremiah-inspired role. Element 10 is a minor point of agreement, though also not unlikely for a defiant preacher confronted by the very officials he has been condemning for corruption (similarly Element 15, when confronted by the foreign power they see as the source of the corruption). Likewise for Elements 11-15, given that we are looking at two similar incidents in a similar context and the reactions by the same two sets of authorities. Element 11 is dubious, given that it is only in Luke 22:63-4 that Jesus is beaten by Jews. Element 17 and 18 – “in both cases the Roman governor decides he should release [them]” and “….but doesn’t (Mark)….but does (JW)” – is a little tricksy, given that Albinus does release ben Ananus but Pilate actually does not. So why Element 18 is listed as a point of parallel when it is exactly the opposite is not clear. The same can be said for 19 – “both are finally killed by the Romans” – given that Jesus is executed while ben Ananus is collateral damage from an artillery stone, which is hardly the same. Finally 20 and 21 refer to the same thing and reporting someone’s last words when recounting their death is a fairly standard dramatic element in any such narrative. This means that out of the rather padded list of supposed parallels, just perhaps one – Element 10, repeated in Element 15 – can be said to be close, and even that is understandable from the circumstances in both cases. These two cases do not give a strong indication that Jesus was somehow based on ben Ananus. On the contrary, they give a solid basis for the idea that both Jesuses were men of their time who did similar things for similar reasons in the same social and cultural context and and so met with a similar, though hardly identical, reaction. Even if we were to accept that the parallels here are stronger and more numerous than they are, parallels do not mean derivation. A far stronger set of parallels can be found in the notorious urban legend of the supposedly eerie parallels between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, but any future fringe theorist who concluded that, therefore, JFK’s story was derived from that of Lincoln would be laughably wrong. This is why professional scholars are always highly wary of arguments of derivation based on parallels. The danger is that if you go looking for parallels, you will find them. It is always more likely that any parallels that are not artefacts of the process can be better explained as consequences of similar people doing things in similar contexts rather than derivation of one story from the other. But if Aron Ra’s argument based on Jesus ben Ananus is weak, his third and final one is far weaker. His tweet above refers to Josephus’ “unnamed friend who died on the cross”, which seems to be a garbled reference to an anecdote in Josephus’ Life (420-21). Having surrendered to the Romans after his role in the failed Jewish defence of Galilee. Josephus spent some time as a captive but won the good graces of the Roman commander Titus and his father, the new emperor Vespasian, and so was freed. In the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem Josephus tells us he had the opportunity to plead for the freedom of a number of Jewish captives. He then relates this story: [W]hen I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealis, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp, as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered. When I questioned Aron about how this is somehow evidence that any of the story of Jesus was based on this brief snippet, he replied: Compare Luke’s account of Joseph of Arimathea with Joseph bar Matthias’ account of the crucifixion of his three friends. — Aron Ra (@Aron_Ra) February 7, 2019 This comparison is easily done, as there is not much to compare: ElementJosephusLukeJewish petioner named JosephYesYesRoman rulerYes (Titus)Yes (Pilate)Three people crucifiedNo (“many captives”)Yes (Jesus and two “lestai”)The three are friends of the petitionerYesNo (just Jesus)The three are dead alreadyNoYesThey are taken down to be savedYesNo (they are dead)All three are taken down by the petitionerYesNo (just Jesus)Two die and one survivesYesNo (Jesus rises miraculously)So of the nine elements that make up these two short anecdotes, only the first two can be said to be parallel. This is definitely not enough on which to hang any credible claim of derivation. For the first, I have already noted that forms of “Joseph”/’Yosep” was another very common Jewish name in this period – in fact, it is the second most common name after “Simon” and so is even more common than “Jesus”. So that parallel is real, but insignificant. Which leaves us with just one element – a Jew petitioning for someone/some people to be removed from a cross/crosses – that is significantly parallel at all. But given that everything else in the two stories is different, the claim the Jesus story is somehow derived from this one is fanciful in the extreme. The fact that the “Amalgam Jesus” idea is based on this kind of weak reasoning shows that it is a weak claim. Of course the Jesus stories accrued elements and details in the period between the historical Jesus’ time and the writing of the various gospels – we would be surprised if they did not do this, given the cultural context and the claims being made about him. This does not mean these stories arose wholesale out of an amalgamation of such elements and nothing in them indicates that this is what happened. On the contrary, awkward elements in them – e.g. his origin in the wrong town, his baptism and forgiveness by his supposed subordinate John the Baptist and his humiliating execution – all indicate that at least some of the stories were historical. And it is very hard to reconcile other elements in the accounts with the idea that Jesus is some misty, legendary amalgam figure like Noah, Moses or King Arthur. Mark 15:21, for example, tells how Simon of Cyrene helped carry Jesus’ cross and identifies him for the gospel’s audience as “the father of Alexander and Rufus”. Unless this Alexander and Rufus are meant to be highly famous people, it seems they are people specifically known to the intended audience of the gospel and so probably members of the Jesus sect. It is hard to square that with Jesus being some distant, legendary cipher. It is even harder to reconcile this with Paul meeting his brother (Galatians 1:19), interacting with his friends Peter and John (Galatians 2:9) knowing his other siblings at least by repute (1Corinthians 9:3-6 ). The “Amalgam Jesus” idea boils down to little more than hand waving. It is a vague and grudging admission that there may be some historical kernels in the story, but a rather muddle-headed attempt to keep this from becoming an acceptance that there was most likely a historical Jesus. As such, it is not so much a coherent argument and more of an emotional defence mechanism. Much like most Jesus Mythicism. The post Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures appeared first on History for Atheists.
Does a Convert Become a Latin or an Eastern Catholic?
Q: I have a question about the church membership of an adult convert to Catholicism. My grandparents were Greek Melchite Catholics. Their son, my father, drifted away from Catholicism, married a protestant woman, and began attending protestant services. I was … Continue reading → The post Does a Convert Become a Latin or an Eastern Catholic? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Catholics and Graven Images
It is no secret that Catholics make use of statues in their worship. Many churches have statues of Mary and other saints, and every church should have a crucifix somewhere near the altar. However, doesn’t this violate the Second Commandment? This commandment states: You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of […] The post Catholics and Graven Images appeared first on About Catholics.
What Makes a Baptism Catholic?
Q1: What makes a Catholic baptism Catholic? I’m a lay Roman Catholic who just started working as a hospital chaplain, which means I may be called upon to administer emergency baptisms in some cases.  If I baptize, for example, an … Continue reading → The post What Makes a Baptism Catholic? appeared first on Canon Law Made Easy.
Medieval Maps and Monsters
If Bob Seidensticker, New Atheist author of the Cross Examined blog, knows anything about the Middle Ages, he knows they were bad. According to Seidensticker, this was a period in which “Christianity was in charge” and learning and reason suffered as a result. So when Seidensticker looked at the medieval Hereford Map, he did not like what he saw. In a blog post entitled “When Christianity Was in Charge, This Is What We Got”, Seidensticker made it very clear how disgusted he was with those stupid medieval Christians who created the Hereford Map. For people like Seidensticker, history is divided into “good” and “bad” periods. The “good” ones are where we seem to find elements that we moderns like or approve of, like science, reason, developing technology, exploration, intellectual curiosity, increasing knowledge etc. The “bad” ones are where, apparently, we find less of these elements, but more things like religion, superstition, ignorance, insularity, dogma and things taken on faith. Therefore the Middle Ages have to, by this simple Whiggish formulation, fall into the “bad” category. And the Hereford Map or, more correctly, mappa mundi, is thus a product of one of the “bad” periods and so also a bad thing. The Hereford mappa mundi is not strictly a map, in the modern sense of the world. It is more of a geographical diagram, encoding a range of information in visual and textual form. It is drawn mainly in black ink, with red and gold highlights and uses green or blue for seas and rivers. The entire work is on one large piece of vellum, 158 cms high and 133 cms wide, making it over five feet at its widest point and therefore made of a whole skin of a large calf. Unusually for any medieval map, it carries an inscription that mentions its maker: Let all who have this history, Or shall hear or read or see it, Pray to Jesus in His Divinity, To have pity on Richard of Haldingham and Lafford, Who has made and planned it, To whom joy in heaven be granted “Richard of Haldingham and Lafford” is most likely Richard de Bello, prebend of Lafford in Lincoln Cathedral in around the year 1283, who later became an official of the Bishop of Hereford, and in 1305 was appointed prebend of Norton in Hereford Cathedral. This means the mappa was most likely created in Lincoln by a team of scholars, scribes and illuminators under Richard’s direction, and then found its way to Hereford after his appointment there. It would then have been bequeathed to Hereford Cathedral on his death c. 1326. Note that on the mappa Lincoln is shown as large and important like London, but Hereford is much less prominent. Like most medieval maps, it places Jerusalem symbolically at its centre and is oriented with the east at the top and the north to the left side; meaning Britain is squeezed into the edge of its bottom left quadrant. Despite its diagrammatic style, even a modern viewer can find their way around the mappa once they work out its orientation. But this is a tool for instruction rather than a chart for navigation, so as well as listing 420 cities and towns and marking over 100 rivers, it depicts Biblical events and locations, various animals and plants, historical people and scenes from Classical mythology (a large-scale image of the mappa can be explored in detail here). For most people, even those without any great interest in medieval culture, the Hereford mappa is at least a fascinating artefact – unique in its size and remarkable for its wealth of detailed information and illustrations. But for Seidensticker it is “bizarre”, but also an occasion for a sermon on science and religion. A medieval illumination of a headless Blemmyes. Snarks and Grumpkins Seidensticker acknowledges that a medieval mappa mundi was often not like a modern map: This is not the kind of map we’re used to. There is little attempt at accurate geography. This map wouldn’t serve an explorer or navigator, and its creators didn’t pretend that it would. Using the theme of a world map, medieval cartographers embellished maps like this one to make them into something of an encyclopedia.  He claims the problem here was that “science was in its infancy” and so the information this diagrammatic encyclopedia preserves is, to us, “bizarre”. This is entirely true, but because of his anti-religious biases, Seidensticker puts the blame for this on medieval Christianity. Firstly, he emphasises the silliness of many of the elements in the mappa by comparing it to the surrealism of Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, where Alice reads the nonsensical pseudo-heroic poem “Jabberwocky” and then has some of its terms explained to her by the pedantic but equally nonsensical Humpty Dumpty. Seidensticker sneers: Assuming our interest is the real world rather than Wonderland, the zoology we’re taught by the Mappa Mundi might as well have come from Humpty Dumpty. He then gives us some examples of the ridiculous races and beasts we find on the mappa: hopping Sciapods, with their single huge foot that they also use to shield themselves from the tropical sun, the warlike but headless Blemmyes with their faces in their chests, the dog-headed but otherwise human Cynocephali, and the cave-dwelling Troglodites. All about as “scientific” as the borogroves or mome raths of “Jabberwocky”, to be sure. Then there are mythic beasts like griffins and salamanders and the bonnacon, with its explosive diarrhea. But it gets worse: Even actual animals are misunderstood. The map reports, “The Lynx sees through walls and urinates a black stone.” Our poor benighted ancestors cannot get the most fundamental things straight. So Jerusalem is placed at the geographical centre of the world, the locations of Biblical events are portrayed and myth and history are hopelessly muddled: We see Jason’s Golden Fleece and the Labyrinth where Theseus killed the Minotaur, but we also see the camp of Alexander the Great. What on earth were these people thinking? Well, according to Seidensticker, the problem was that they were not thinking. And this was because of the stranglehold Christianity had on their poor befuddled minds: Christianity has been given a chance at understanding reality, and this is what it gave us. When Christianity was in charge, the world was populated by mystical creatures, we had little besides superstition to explain the caprices of nature, and natural disasters were signs of God’s anger. Of course, some of Seidensticker’s readers might pause there and ask exactly what the mystical creatures have to do with Christianity. The Biblical events and places found on the map clearly do derive from Christian holy writ, obviously, but where is the connection between Blemmyes and Christianity? If the Cynocephali and the salamander are not from the Bible, where did the makers of the mappa get their bizarre and unscientific information from? Medieval illumination of monstrous races. The Authority of Ancient Authorities The answer is that they got their information from the scientific works of the Greeks and Romans. All of the races and beasts on the Hereford mappa that Seidensticker finds so ludicrous can be found in the pages of the largest and most comprehensive scientific work available in the Middle Ages – the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder. Gaius Plinius Secundus (23–79 AD) had a military and then political career, before famously dying while trying to observe the eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. He wrote a number of books, ranging from one on the use of missile weapons by cavalry to a 20 book history of the Roman wars in Germania, which sadly does not survive. But he is best remembered for the Naturalis Historia: a massive 37 book encyclopaedia summarising a wide range of Greek and Roman authors on astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, agriculture, horticulture and much more. Pliny himself tells us that no-one before him had undertaken such a comprehensive catalogue of ancient knowledge of the physical world, and his work remains one of the most substantial surviving ancient texts and a remarkable source of information about ancient proto-science that draws on over 400 earliest sources, most of which are now lost. It was even more invaluable in the Middle Ages, given that it was one of the most extensive repositories of the wisdom of the ancients to survive the wreckage of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The evidence of surviving medieval manuscripts of the Naturalis shows what a vital source it was to a culture that was forced to scavenge in a few surviving works for lost information from the “authorities” of a bygone age. Pliny drew on other, earlier works and cited and quoted them extensively. A careful medieval scholar would also have found elements of the information he gives in other surviving ancient works – something that would have bolstered the authority of Pliny still further. And much of the other information in the Naturalis certainly seemed to be based on sound reasoning and observation. So Naturalis II.21 gives the reader a carefully reasoned calculation of the size of the observable cosmos, out to the sphere of fixed stars. Similarly, Naturalis II.10 gives a logical explanation for how and why eclipses of the sun and moon occur when they do, drawing on observations and citing “the sagacity of Hipparchus” as an authority on the matter. So, given both the great creedence given to all ancient writers by their medieval descendants and this extensive, rational and authoritative material making up the bulk of the book, a medieval scholar would have little reason to question Pliny when he turns to the issue of the various forms races take in far off lands to the east. Here is Pliny on the Sciapods, for example: He speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodæ, because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet. (Naturalis VII.2 ) Pliny is equally categorical about the Blemmyes: The Blemmyæ are said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts.  (Naturalis, V.8) And the dog-headed Cynocepahli: On many of the mountains again, there is a tribe of men who have the heads of dogs, and clothe themselves with the skins of wild beasts. Instead of speaking, they bark; and, furnished with claws, they live by hunting and catching birds. According to the story, as given by Ctesias, the number of these people is more than a hundred and twenty thousand.(Naturalis VII.2 ) Pliny also mentions the Troglodites several times (e.g. Naturalis V.8 and, again, VII.2), though the Herefod mappa‘s details that they are “very swift; they live in caves, eat snakes and catch wild animals by jumping on them” comes from, another ancient authority: The Garamantes hunt the Ethiopian hole-men, or troglodytes, in four-horse chariots, for these troglodytes are exceedingly swift of foot—more so than any people of whom we have any information. They eat snakes and lizards and other reptiles and speak a language like no other, but squeak like bats.(Herodotus, Histories, IV.183) The mythic creatures that Seidensticker finds so silly can also be found in Pliny. Here is his bonnacon: In Pæonia, it is said, there is a wild animal known as the bonasus;4 it has the mane of the horse, but is, in other respects, like the bull, with horns, however, so much bent inwards upon each other, as to be of no use for the purposes of combat. It has therefore to depend upon its flight, and, while in the act of flying, it sends forth its excrements, sometimes to a distance of even three jugera; the contact of which burns those who pursue the animal, just like a kind of fire.(Naturalis VIII.16) And if our early fourteenth century medieval reader found that hard to believe, he could also have found the bonnacon described in Pliny’s source, Aristotle’s History of Animals (B. ix. c. 45), available in the Latin translation from its Arabic version by Michael Scot in the early thirteenth century. The remarkable quality of lynx urine also come from Pliny: The urine of the lynx, in the countries3 where that animal is produced, either becomes crystallized, or else hardens into a precious stone, resembling the carbuncle, and which shines like tire. This is called lyncurium; and hence it is, that many persons believe that this is the way in which amber is produced. The lynx, being well aware of this property, envies us the possession of its urine, and therefore buries it in the earth; by this, however, it becomes solid all the sooner.(Naturalis VIII.57) So our fourteenth century reader of Pliny, like the creator of the Hereford mappa, would actually have little reason to question what Pliny was telling him. Not only were these references to marvellous races and beasts in a book alongside highly rational and observation-based informaton about astronomy and natural phenomena, much of which our reader could check for themselves, but Pliny also liberally cited other, even more ancient authorities, including several in the passages in question. Further, if our reader was well-studied (note that the Hereford mappa‘s designer, Richard de Bello, would have had access to Lincoln Cathedral’s famously extensive medieval library), he could read much the same information in other ancient sources, including such esteemed authorities as Herodotus, Aristotle and Solinus. In other words, the things on the mappa that Seidensticker finds so ludicrous and unscientific and blames on the ignorance of the Church come directly from the best information available at the time – that of the enitirely non-Christian and supposedly rational Greeks and Romans. To a medieval scholar, these ancient authorities were to be held in high esteem and treated as almost as high an authority as the Bible. But they did not go unquestioned and, as the Middle Ages proceeded, some of what Pliny and others said came to be corrected by direct observation. Medieval travellers. Medieval Exploration The Greeks had contact with the far east in the Hellenic Era, thanks to the conquests of Alexander, and a Greco-Bactrian Kingdom in what is now northern Afghanistan survived into the early first century AD. On the whole, however, ancient Greek and Roman information about India and China was second or third hand – resulting in the rather garbled information we find in Pliny and other ancient sources, whereby Indian people carrying parasols become Sciapods shielding themselves from the sun with their giant single feet etc. The Romans were a market for luxury goods like silk from China but this came mostly via a series of intermediaries. The Romans did trade directly with India by sea once they had conquered Egypt and opened a maritime route via the Red Sea, and the Roman Empire was a good market for spices, exotic animals and luxury goods like coral. There are several references to Indian embassies to the Roman emperors, but none of embassies or exploration in the other direction. Overall, the ancients were not overly curious about the “barbarian” lands far to the east. This situation changed in the later medieval period, when the Mongol Empire united or at least connected large swathes of central Asia and China, opening up a much more direct route east from medieval European enclaves on the Black Sea all the way to Beijing and beyond. The result was a medieval age of overland exploration that was the precursor to the later maritime exploration that led to the Early Modern expansion of Europe into new lands. J.R.S Phillips’ The Medieval Expansion of Europe details the remarkable period between 1000 and 1500 which saw a far greater curiosity about the world beyond Europe by medieval explorers. Traders, missionaries and diplomats ventured to China, re-opened the sea routes to India and began to explore the coasts of Africa. Papal emissaries sent to the courts of the Mongol khans failed in their mission to convert the Mongol leaders, but they made enough converts that by 1305 – around the time the Hereford mappa was created – the Franciscan John of Montecorvino was able to write back to the Pope to report the conversion of 5000 people, the building of a church in Beijing with a bell tower and three bells and the translation of the New Testament and Psalms into Mongolian. In 1307 Pope Clement V recognised his achievements by making him the first Catholic Archbishop of Beijing and sending him six more Franciscans who had been consecrated as bishops (though only three survived the hazardous journey east). Religious zeal was one motivation for these perilous journeys, but riches were another. Medieval Europe had a huge appetite for eastern luxury goods and central European silver mines opened up in the medieval period meant the westerners had the cash to trade for them. Goods such as silk and, especially, spices were easily transportable and – despite the immense distances and dangers the journeys entailed – gave an extremely high return on investment. So medieval Europeans increasingly chose to cut out the middle men and trade directly with the Mongols, China and the Indies. The most famous of these medieval trading explorers was Marco Polo, but he was far from the first. He had been preceeded by his father and his uncle, the Venetian brothers Niccolo and Maffeo. Genoese merchants established themselves at Tabriz in what is now northern Iran and traded across the Caspian Sea and in 1291 the papal emissary John of Montecorvino was accompanied by an Italian merchant, Peter of Lucalongo, whose interests seem to have been less than religious. Trade with and travel to the far east appears to have been a family tradition for many of these merchants. In 1264 Pietro Vilioni made his will in Tabriz. Seventy-eight years later, in 1342, Catherine Vilioni – a likely relative of Pietro – was buried in Yangzhou alongside her father Domenico Vilioni and her brother Antonio was also buried nearby two years later. So here we seem to see perhaps three generations of Italians who had been trading in the far east for almost a century and evidence of a European community in eastern China well established enough to have unmarried women with them. Medieval Europeans went further afield still. Another Franciscan missionary, the Italian Ordoric of Pordenone, was accompanied by an Irish friar James of Hibernia on an epic journey in around 1320. They travelled first to Iran and then by sea to India and Sri Lanka and then via Sumatra, Java and Borneo before sailing on north to China. In 1292 Marco Polo and his father and uncle had made much the same journey in reverse, accompanying a Mongol princess to Iran via Java, Sumatra and Sri Lanka. Accounts of these journeys were both informed by and conflated with ancient information about these eastern lands found in writers like Solinus, Pliny and Herodotus. As a result, Marco Polo’s book on his journeys is as full of references to fabulous beasts and races as they are to direct observations of genuine eastern marvels like paper money and burning oil fields. But these medieval travellers were far from credulous and were happy to correct the ancients when they saw they were wrong. John of Marignolli was another Papal emissary to the Mongol khans who, in 1348, returned to Europe on the sea route via Java. Here he noted that he had clearly passed below the equator and concluded that the ancient Greek and Roman writers had been wrong when they had declared the equator too hot for habitation and said the tropical zone around it was therefore impassable. More relevantly, he was equally sceptical and dismissive about the monstrous races described by Pliny and other learned ancients: The truth is that no such people do exist as nations, though there may be an individual monster here and there. Nor is there any people at all such as has been invented, who have but one foot which they use to shade themselves withal. But as all the Indians commonly go naked, they are in the habit of carrying a thing like a little tent-roof on a cane handle, which they open out at will as a protection against sun or rain. This they call a chatyr; I brought one to Florence with me. And this it is which the poets have converted into a foot. So here we have a medieval churchman, a Papal emissary no less, contradicting Greek and Roman writers via direct observation and bringing home evidence that they had been wrong. So much for the wicked credulity of the medieval Church. No Greek or Roman writer that I can find expresses anything but unquestioning belief in the monstrous races, but John of Marignolli was not alone in doing so among the medieval explorers. Yet another Francisan missionary to the khans, William of Rubruck, was sent on a mission to the Great Khan by Kind Louis IX of France in 1248. He travelled via Constantinople and the Crimea first to the court of Batu Khan on the Volga and then on to the court of the Great Khan Möngke at Karakorum. Rubruck was a good observer and a sceptical inquirer and was careful to ask questions and to not take ancient lore or local folktales as fact. While in Karakorum he asked about the monstrous races found in Pliny and later ancient writers: [I] made inquiries about the monsters or human monstrosities of which Isidore and Solinus speak. They told me they had never seen such things, which makes me wonder very much if there is any truth in the story. The 1305 letter to the Pope by John of Montecorvino mentioned above also contains an account of his travels in India and includes a further expression of scepticism about the ancients’ claims of monsters and strange races: As regards men of a marvellous kind, to wit, men of a different make to the rest of us, and as regards animals of a like description, and as regards a Terrestial Paradise, much have I asked and sought, but nothing have I been able to discover. So while Seidensticker, in his wilful and self-imposed ignorance of the medieval period, portrays the monsters and beasts of the Hereford mappa as, somehow, the result of Christian stupidity and credulousness, we can see they actually derive from the non-Christian and supposedly far more rational Greeks and Romans. While those Greeks and Romans repeated their stories without much sign of scepticism, it was the travels of the rather more curious medieval explorers that began to call these creatures into question. And far from it being the Church that somehow restricted any questioning of belief in these creatures, it was medieval churchmen who fact-checked Pliny and the ancients as far as they could and, as a result, concluded the ancients were often wrong. So who were the credulous believers who lived unquestioning in a “world was populated by Sciapods, Blemmyes, and bonnacons” here? Not the medievals. Yet again, ideologically-driven ignorance by another New Atheist has resulted in pseudo historical garbage delivered with all the vast assurance of the smugly clueless. Portolan chart of Italy Medieval Maps and Charts Of course, it is not just the monsters and mythic beasts that attract Seidensticker’s modern scorn – there is also the matter of the mappa‘s silly cartography. He writes: As with all mappae mundi, this one puts Jerusalem in the center. It locates places of important biblical events such as the Tower of Babel, the Garden of Eden, the route of the Exodus, and Sodom and Gomorrah. And goes on to note, as already quoted, that on the mappa “mythology and history are mixed without distinction”. All this is more evidence, for him, that these ridiculous elements are also thanks, somehow, to Christianity being “in charge”. But this is a document that is serving more than one purpose. Close analysis of the mappa shows that the monstrous races and beasts depicted tend to be at the extremes or the more remote regions of the inhabited world. So the Sciapods are in the far east, the Blemmyes and Troglodites are in furthest Africa and the only strange race depicted in Europe are the dog-headed Cynocephali, depicted in the far off Arctic. Scott D. Westrem notes this is in keeping with ancient and medieval conceptions of how geography affects physiology: As one approached the edges of the earth’s landmass and encountered increasing cold and aridity or heat and moisture, one inevitably came across people who looked or behaved in extreme ways. The idea is discussed especially in geographies written during the 1200s, such as Thomas of Cantimpré’s Liber de natura rerum (1237/1240). (Scott D. Westram, “Making a Mappamundi: The Hereford Map”, Terrae Incognitae: The Journal of the Society for the History of Discoveries, 34, 2002,) The nearer parts of Asia and Africa, by contrast, are the ones that tend to depict Biblical and ancient historical themes in the mappa‘s scheme. And Europe is largely devoted to geographical detail, with far more cities, rivers and ports depicted and with much greater accuracy, for obvious reasons. That Jerusalem is depicted in the centre of the inhabited world is is obviously symbolic and theological, though not completely nonsensical. All maps are projections of a globe onto a plane (and Richard de Bello and his team definitely understood the world to be a globe – see The Great Myths 1: The Medieval Flat Earth). This means any map maker has to choose a point for the “centre” of their projection. Modern maps, of course, have the equator as their latitudinal axis, but which continent tends to be put in the centre of the longitudinal axis depends on where the map is made. Seidensticker, as an American, is probably used to maps centred on the Americas. British and European maps tend to have Europe and Africa at their centre. And as an Australian I have grown up with Australia at the centre of maps and as a child found that British and American maps looked slightly odd as a result. Then, as now, it was all a matter of perspective. The ancient and Biblical elements are clearly meant to be instructive, not purely geographical. Obviously the mappa‘s makers did not believe there still was a labyrinth on Crete or that the Tower of Babel still stood – these were depicted to illustrate history. Richard de Bello’s dedicatory inscription even refers to the mappa as “this history”; on at least one level the diagram is supposed to depict time as well as space. As for “mythology and history [being] mixed without distinction”, for the mappa‘s makers and for their various ancient and medieval sources, there was no such distinction. For Pliny and Solinus as well as Isiodore and Orosius, Jason was as historical as Alexander and Theseus as real as Augustus, all of whom can be found on the Hereford mappa. Seidensticker is imposing anachronistic ideas on pre-modern conceptions of time and history. But symbolism, history and bestiaries aside, what about the mappa‘s geography? Seidensticker says “this map wouldn’t serve an explorer or navigator”, but it was not designed to. After all, a wall map a metre and half tall and almost as wide would not be very practical for either. As a diagrammatic map, it was more schematic than truly cartographic. So someone looking at it on the wall in Hereford would not be able to plan a trip from London to Paris with it, at least not with much accuracy. But they would know what sequence of major ports and towns they would pass through and where the Seine was in relation to the Loire. This means that Seidensticker’s scorn for the mappa‘s cartography is something like someone in the future looking the famous schematic map of London’s tube system and concluding twenty-first century people did not know the real geography of London. As it happened, in the centuries before and after the creation of the Hereford mappa, medieval people had in fact learned how to create navigational charts of remarkable accuracy. Exactly when they began to do this is unclear, but from the thirteenth century onwards a new kind of map called a portolan chart began to appear. These were naviational charts for sailors, so their geography of inland areas ranges from sketchy to completely blank. But the remarkable thing about them is the detail and accuracy of their depictions of coastlines and ports. A portolan chart worked by depicting “windrose lines” radiating from compass roses at various points on the chart, representing “lines of bearing” according to the sixteen points of the Mariner’s compass. Used with the pilots’ notes in an accompanying periplus manuscript, listing ports and coastal fatures and the sailing distance between them, a navigator could use the chart and his compass to navigate with a high degree of accuracy. A mid-fourteenth century portolan chart. These charts seem to have evolved out of practical navigational lore in the Mediterranean and so only work across smaller stretches of water, given that their projection is flat and so does not take into account the curvature of the earth. But within those limits their accuracy is so startling that at least one researcher, Dutch geodetic scientist Roelof Nicolai, has come to the conclusion that they are simply “too accurate to be medieval” and posits that they are based on lost ancient projections similar to that of Gerardus Mercator in the sixteenth century. Actual historians of cartography, however, reject Nicolai’s hypothesis and can find plenty of evidence that the portolans did indeed develop in the Middle Ages. Mathematical analysis by John Hessler, curator at the Library of Congress, has shown how medieval navigators created these charts using the (to them) relatively new Mariner’s compass, demonstrating that small but consistent errors in portolan charts can be traced to the fact medieval chart makers did not correct for the difference between magnetic north and true north. Portolan charts proved so useful that, as medieval explorers began to venture beyond the Mediterranean, discovered the Azores and the Canaries and then explored the west coast of Africa and beyond, they created portolan charts of these new regions as well. It was only with the discovery of the Americas and the beginning of ocean voyaging that the limits of these charts forced cartographers to find new ways to project geographical information in a way that could be used by navigators and Mercator’s Projection solved this problem for open ocean travel. Even then, portolan charts and variants on them continued to be used for sailing in the Caribbean and East Indies for centuries. Because they worked. So while the Hereford mappa looks primitive and inaccurate when judged as a navigational map, this is because it is not one. It is something else. And far from representing the poverty of medieval cartography, it existed alongside navigational charts of remarkable sophistication. Medieval T-O maps like the Hereford example are projected onto a circle for symbolic reasons, but about 250 years before its time the Anglo-Saxon Cotton Map shows people were capable of a rectangular projection that did not distort the geography the way a T-O mappa does. A century later the Moroccan geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi worked with European scholars at the court of Roger II of Sicily to produce the Tabula Rogeriana, which is even more accurate. By the time the Catalan Atlas was produced in the mid fourteenth cenury, medieval cartographers were combining portolan charts with a depiction of the whole known world and the symbolic and historical details found on the mappae. Scott Westram notes that the guide book the makers of mappae like the Hereford example drew on, the twelfth century Expositio mappe mundi, was most likely written by Roger of Howden, a Yorkshire cleric who accompanied Richard I on the Third Crusade. Roger was also the author of two important medieval navigational guides, De viis maris and Liber nautarum, which means the mappae were not as divorced from navigation and practical geography as many scholars have presumed. Westram concludes wryly that “thus the only thing really monstrous about the Hereford Map, perhaps, is the way it and its making have been misunderstood and expected to conform to modern taste”. And Seidensticker is definitely guilty of trying to get the Hereford mappa to conform to his taste and finding it distasteful when it did not. Because of his ignorance of history generally and medieval history in particular, he has come to conclusions about the mappa driven almost entirely by his prejudices rather any detailed understanding. He assumes, wrongly, that its monsters and mythic beasts are somehow a product of the ignorance imposed by the medieval Church, when in fact they are drawn almost totally from ancient non-Christian sources like Pliny and Solinus. He thinks the Church stifled real scientific inquiry, when it was in fact the ancients who accepted these mythic details unquestioningly and, by contrast, it was far-travelling medieval churchmen who used reason, evidence and observation to question them. And he thinks the Hereford mappa shows medieval geography and cartography was hopelessly primitive, when in fact it existed alongside an increasingly sophisticated tradition that was eventually to lead to modern cartography. The main ignorance and irrationality on display here is not that of Richard de Bello and his fellow medieval clergy, but a profoundly and wilfully ignorant New Atheist bigot, who scorns things he simply does not understand out of irrational prejudice. We atheists need to stop doing that. Further Reading P.D.A. Harvey, Mappa Mundi: The Hereford World Map (British Library Studies in Medieval Culture) (Toronto, 1996) John Larner, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World (Yale, 1999) J.R.S Phillips, The Medieval Expansion of Europe (Oxford, 1988) Scott D. Westram, “Making a Mappamundi: The Hereford Map”, Terrae Incognitae: The Journal of the Society for the History of Discoveries, 34, 2002 Westram’s article and two other useful analyses of the Hereford mappa, its context and its production, can also be found online here. The post Medieval Maps and Monsters appeared first on History for Atheists.
Are the Spells in the Harry Potter Books Real?
Answer by Fr. Charles Grondin