The Bishop of Rome 



New Testament Fathers Know Best
Upon this Rock Heretic Popes
Popes in Hell Beatific Vision
Renaissance Popes Anders Behring Breivik


New Testament

In the New Testament, the offices of 'bishop' and 'presbyter' (priest) are not distinguished; they are one and the same:



  • “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,. . .Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
  • (Acts 2o:17-28).




This crowd of "elders" (presbyteros) were also "bishops" (episkopos). Paul called the "elders" (verse 17), and then tells them the Holy Ghost has made them "overseers." This one office had not yet bifurcated into two.

Fathers Know Best

During the century after any of the apostles were living, the two offices of 'bishop' and 'presbyter' diverged into a hierarchy. Instead of the many house-churches at Rome that Paul addressed in his letter to Romans, there came to be one bishop in a city, presiding over many elders. Several authors nevertheless still read the Bible evidence with clear eyes:



  • “‘For a bishop, since he is God's steward, must be blameless.’ [Titus 1:7]
  • “A presbyter and a bishop are the same; and before the urging of the devil gave rise to factionalism in religion, so much so that it was being said among the people, ‘I am of Paul, I of Apollo, I of Cephas,’ the churches were governed by a joint council of the presbyters. After it was seen that each, when he was baptized, thought that he now belonged to the one baptizing and not to Christ, it was decreed throughout the world that one chosen from among the presbyters should be placed over the others, and the total care of the church should pertain to him. Thus were the seeds of schisms destroyed. If it be supposed that it is merely our opinion and without scriptural support that bishop and presbyter are one, the latter term speaking of age while the former is the name given to an office, examine again the words the Apostle addressed to the Philippians:  ‘Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi with the bishops and the deacons, grace to you, and peace,’ etc. Now Philippi is but one city in Macedonia, and certainly in one city there could not have been numerous bishops. It is simply that at that time the same persons were called either bishops or presbyters.”
  • (Jerome, Commentaries on the Epistle to Titus, 1.5, quoted p. 194, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, William A. Jurgens).




In one light the development of the 'monarchical bishop' seems perfectly natural; as the church grew, it made sense for the organizational chart to spread out into a hierarchy; many organizations are run that way. It was not obvious the church was surrendering its liberty in this process, because bishops were still elected by the assembly, just as they were at the outset, for a very long time:




But when ultimately this development would issue in the totalitarian medieval church, where the people's vote counted for nothing, it must be clear that a wrong turn was made somewhere. They say that those who will not learn from history are destined to repeat it. This progression: from democracy to totalitarianism,— is exactly what the secular Roman state underwent. From a self-governing republic with considerable elements of democratic self-rule, Rome became a police state governed by one, often unbalanced, and always unaccountable, man, the last free man. In spite of inheriting a better patrimony, the church did just as the state had done. It began as a democracy and ended with a subservient people stripped of all their inherited rights. To the medieval mind, it was self-evident that one-man rule was best. . .because that's the prescription for unity! This is why it's best to leave these offices just as the apostles left them, not 'reformed,' not 'improved' for purposes of efficiency, not slid half-way down the slippery slope that leads to tyranny.


Bible Testimony Paul and Timothy
Quench Not Elections
Cyprian Synagogue
Ecclesia The Theory
Bad Government French Revolution



The future Leo IX, trudging toward Rome, went against the grain and insisted upon a popular election:

"The small band of pilgrims on their way to Rome in 1048 was headed by Bruno, to whom the emperor had offered the papacy, and who had preferred to enter the city as a pilgrim. If, once there, the people and the clergy elected him he would accept. But to take the office of pope from the hands of the emperor was dangerously close to simony — or, as Hildebrand had told Bruno, it would mean going to Rome 'not as an apostle, but as an apostate.'" (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, p. 333).

Would that this noble ideal had continued! Unfortunately the reforming party of the day did not want to return to apostolic purity, but rather to put across innovations like clerical celibacy. They wanted the secular power to keep its hands off the church, or rather they wanted to see the church triumph over the secular power, but their times had cast a veil over their eyes. They could not see that democracy was a good in itself. Society had changed: everyone in the eleventh century was woven into the social fabric, suspended by threads of authority that ran down from above, and so they remade the church into this social image. But unfortunately, feudalism is not a uniquely virtuous form of social organization; it is just something that happened when civilization collapsed. They 'reformed' the church into a feudal institution, imposing a form of social organization of which the apostles had never even heard.

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Upon this Rock

What exactly is the scripture connection between Peter the apostle and the bishop of Rome? To Roman Catholics, the answer is obvious:



  • “Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
  • (Matthew 16:17-19).


The Scapegoat, William Holman Hunt


Roman Catholics believe this verse is spoken, not only to Peter the apostle who has gone to his reward, but to their bishop, whoever he may happen to be at the time. What does the verse mean? Some commentators link this 'rock' verse with all the verses identifying Jesus Himself as the Rock of Israel, but sometimes a rock is just a rock, and lesser beings like Abraham are likened in the Bible to 'rocks': "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you..." (Isaiah 51:1-2).

Not only Peter, but all the other apostles as well, are foundation stones of the church:

"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22).

"Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Revelation 21:14).

To go by Biblical qualifications for the office, apostleship could not be a continuing office once the eye-witness generation passed from the scene: "...'Let another take his office.’ 'Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.'" (Acts 1:20-21). So unless the bishop of Rome has personally encountered the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and been commissioned to preach like Paul, he cannot be an apostle; he did not witness the resurrection.

The imagery envisions a large and glorious edifice in the process of construction, each believer a living stone:

"Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:4-6).

A masonry building rises course by course, the later stones being piled atop the earlier. The builders do not jack the structure up, pry out an existing foundation stone, and insert a late-comer like the bishop of Rome! The eye-witness generation gave their testimony and departed to be with the Lord; their place in the structure's foundation is secure and immovable. Besides, some stones are not sound for building:

"She said to me, 'Lo! do you not see opposite to you a great tower, built upon the waters, of splendid square stones?' For the tower was built square by those six young men who had come with her. But myriads of men were carrying stones to it, some dragging them from the depths, others removing them from the land, and they handed them to these six young men. They were taking them and building; and those of the stones that were dragged out of the depths, they placed in the building just as they were: for they were polished and fitted exactly into the other stones, and became so united one with another that the lines of juncture could not be perceived. And in this way the building of the tower looked as if it were made out of one stone. Those stones, however, which were taken from the earth suffered a different fate; for the young men rejected some of them, some they fitted into the building, and some they cut down, and cast far away from the tower. Many other stones, however, lay around the tower, and the young men did not use them in building; for some of them were rough, others had cracks in them, others had been made too short, and others were white and round, but did not fit into the building of the tower. Moreover, I saw other stones thrown far away from the tower, and falling into the public road; yet they did not remain on the road, but were rolled into a pathless place."
(Shepherd of Hermas, Book First, Vision Third, Chapter 2).

If you study the history of the papacy, you'll stumble across many of these cracked and worthless stones. The normal course of constructing a masonry building is to build it up line upon line. The foundation once laid is not removed; the building goes only one way, up. The apostolic doctrine is not subject to improvement or renovation. So while you can still get to be a 'pillar' in this building of lively stones: "Him that overcometh wil I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name." (Revelation 3:12),— you can't get built into the foundation any more. It's already been laid.

God ultimately approves or disapproves of the living stones built into His temple:

"When all were departed, I said unto the shepherd; Sir, why is not the building of the tower finished? Because it cannot, said he, be finished until its Lord comes, and approves of the building; that if he shall find any stones in it that are not good they may be changed; for this tower is built according to his will." (Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude IX, Section 42, Wake, William (2012-05-17). Forbidden books of the original New Testament (p. 427). Kindle Edition.)

Fractured stones like Rodrigo Borja will never take their place in the building at all, much less as the foundation stone.

In addressing Peter, Jesus is addressing the church. Far from being unique to Peter, much less to the bishop of Rome or wherever, the same keys are given to the church as a whole in Matthew 18:18: "Truly I tell you, whatever you [plural] bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:18). This is the traditional understanding of the 'keys:' "But you say, the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism." (Jerome, Against Jovinian, Book 1, Chapter 26).

I've never been to a church service where only one lonesome soul showed up and sat down in the pew, though once only the pastor and I showed up. If only one guy showed up for church, he might feel like he was being blamed for an awful lot, nor could the pastor plausibly say 'I wasn't talking about you.' In Matthew 16:18 there's only one guy who shows up for church, because Peter's the first to make the Christian confession that Jesus Christ is the son of God. The promise made to him, of the 'keys,' is actually a promise to the whole assembly, as Matthew 18:18 shows. At the time, Peter was the whole assembly!

Likewise, Peter perceives himself, not as sole shepherd, but as one of many shepherds: "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God..." (1 Peter 5:1-3).

If Matthew 16:17 had been intended as a grant of personal primacy to Peter — or, rather, to the bishop of Rome or wherever — that point certainly whizzed right by the other disciples. They were still left wondering who was the greatest: "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matthew 18:1), the answer being, of course, 'Peter' (not!). The disciples argued about which of them was greatest, "Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, 'What were you arguing about on the way?' But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest." (Mark 9:33-34). How is it that they did not know about the primacy of Peter?

Peter's primacy is itself problematical, given that James the Lord's brother has the last word in the apostolic conference of Acts 15. How the primacy leaps from Peter to the bishop of Rome is even more perplexing. Tradition records that Peter, like Paul, was martyred at Rome. By what logic do his Roman murderers wipe the blood off their guilty hands and inherit everything belonging to the man? By the same logic, the mayor of Dallas must now be the President of the United States, because John F. Kennedy, then President, was murdered in that town.

There's no historical evidence that Peter ever considered himself the bishop of Rome, though he may have appointed one or another of the early bishops: "Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first, ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus’ death, the second, ordained by me Peter." (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Book 7, Section 4, XLVI). A list which offers, accurately, the consuls' names for the year 55 A.D. suggests the best date for Linus' entry into this office (George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, Lecture III, p. 68). Therefore, Peter was still alive when Linus took office as a bishop in Rome. Was Peter still infallible, or Linus?

In their efforts to prove their bishop's legitimacy as successor to the apostles, Roman Catholics eagerly present early lists of the Roman bishops. These lists might be more impressive if they specified the same names! Some start with Linus, others with Clement. But because the institution of the monarchical bishop had not yet arisen, it's not impossible for these two bishops to have been serving at the same time. Paul addressed his letter to Romans to a collection of house churches. The office of 'bishop' was not yet differentiated from that of 'presbyter;' there were no doubt many bishops in Rome, any one of whom would make a fine candidate for a list of the undivided and unconfused succession.

Peter, along with the other apostles, appointed bishops and elders in many places, not in one only: "So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." (Acts 14:23). Paul reports Peter's presence at Antioch: "Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed..." (Galatians 2:11). Tradition reports him active, along with Paul, at Corinth: "And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: 'You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time.'" (Eusebius, Church History, Book 2, Chapter 25). Indirect confirmation that Peter was at Corinth comes from Paul's report of the factionalized Corinthian church, where one faction identified itself as his: "Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.'" (1 Corinthians 1:12).  Since Corinth enjoyed the same dignity Rome boasted, of having been visited by both the apostles Peter and Paul, why is not Corinth, or Antioch, the seat of Peter's 'successor'?

Scripturally it does not seem possible Peter ever intended the bishop of Rome to be his 'successor.' He calls Rome "Babylon": "She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son." (1 Peter 5:13). In Bible parlance, 'Babylon' means 'toast': "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; the people will labor in vain, and the nations, because of the fire; and they shall be weary.'" (Jeremiah 51:58). For Peter, believing Rome to be Babylon, to nominate an officer of that place as his 'successor' would be about like naming the captain of the Titanic as executor of your estate — if you knew the Titanic was going down!

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Did the early church writers believe that Peter was the chief of the apostles, and that he passed on that office to whoever happened to be bishop at Rome? John Chrysostom explained that Paul was a great apostle than Peter: "Who is the one who is better than all men? Who other than that tentmaker, that teacher of the entire world. . .If he will receive a crown greater than the other apostles (and no one of the apostles was his equal, but he was greater than they), it is clear that he will enjoy the loftiest honor and privilege." (John Chrysostom, Homily VIII, The Father of the Church, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, pp. 220-221).




Heretic Popes

In 1870 the bishop of Rome acclaimed himself "infallible" when speaking ex cathedra on questions of faith and morals. This bold coup left many wondering if the heretic bishops of Rome of bygone days had been infallible as well:

Callistus I -- according to Hippolytus (known to Roman Catholics as Saint Hippolytus), Pope Callistus I was, not only a modalist heretic, but himself the crafter of that version of modalism promoted in the present day by the new religious movement known as 'Oneness' Pentecostalism:

"For that which is seen, which is man, he [Callistus] considers to be the Son; whereas the Spirit, which was contained in the Son, to be the Father." (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book 9, Chapter 7).
"Callistus corroborated the heresy of these Noetians, but we have already carefully explained the details of his life.  And Callistus himself produced likewise a heresy, and derived its starting-points from these Noetians, - namely, so far as he acknowledges that there is one Father and God, viz., the Creator of the universe, and that this (God) is spoken of, and called by the name of Son...And he is disposed (to maintain), that He who was seen in the flesh and was crucified is Son, but that the Father it is who dwells in Him.  Callistus thus at one time branches off into the opinion of Noetus, but at another into that of Theodotus, and holds no sure doctrine." (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book 10, Chapter 23).

When these facts are drawn to their attention, Catholics point out that Pope Callistus excommunicated Sabellius, so he cannot be suspected of Sabellius' heresy. This is correct; he taught a very different heresy from that taught by Sabellius, who did not identify 'the Son' as 'the flesh,' but spoke of a 'monad' dilating into a 'dyad,' etc. They are also prone to impugn Hippolytus' motives, character and integrity, in a manner unbecoming to people who call Hippolytus a 'saint.'

Modern Roman Catholics are under the impression their church played a constructive role in the early church's debates over the Trinity. How different is the reality! After Pope Callistus had plunged the matter into confusion by his false teaching, a Pentecostal lay-man with a Bible in his hand rose to confute his errors. When he wrote his treatise on the Trinity, 'Against Praxeas,' Tertullian was not in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. Catholics, some of the time, freely admit this author was not one of them: notice how blithely Karl Keating dismisses Tertullian's testimony against the Roman Catholic view of Mary's perpetual virginity: ". . .but Jerome showed this was no support at all, since Tertullian was a heretic (a Montanist). . ." (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, p. 287)

Catholics impose a set of categories on Tertullian's life which assume their own church to be a fixed, rather than a moving, point, like those train passengers who think the platform is moving. From the first, Tertullian spoke only favorably about the Montanist prophets; so long as Victor was Pope, he could be friends both with the Montanists and with Rome. Once that was no longer possible, he followed his conscience. Tertullian contributed helpful and clarifying phrases like 'Trinity' and 'of one substance,' later incorporated into the Nicene Creed.

In this most crucial doctrinal matter, the Roman church was obliged to out-source the work to the Pentecostals. No doubt the Montanist emphasis on the Holy Spirit was helpful to Tertullian; while the modalists at Rome were still arguing about the Father and the Son, for all the world like the benighted converts in Acts who complained, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost" (Acts 19:2), the Montanist Tertullian realized God was Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It's a good thing there were Pentecostals in those days, so that Rome could look outside for sound, Bible-based teaching to correct her errors. How did Rome define the doctrine of the Trinity? By sub-contracting it out to the Pentecostals.

Liberius I -- Liberius was at first a partisan of the Nicene faith, and bravely submitted to exile from Rome in defense of the orthodox faith. He was recalled by the Arian emperor Constantius in circumstances that suggest he compromised that faith. Here is how church historian Sozomen tells it:

"Not long after these events, the emperor returned to Sirmium from Rome; on receiving a deputation from the Western bishops, he recalled Liberius from Beroea.Constantius urged him, in the presence of the deputies of the Eastern bishops, and of the other priests who were at the camp, to confess that the Son is not of the same substance as the Father. He was instigated to this measure by Basil, Eustathius, and Eusebius, who possessed great influence over him. They had formed a compilation, in one document, of the decrees against Paul of Samosata, and Photinus, bishop of Sirmium; to which they subjoined a formulary of faith drawn up at Antioch at the consecration of the church, as if certain persons had, under the pretext of the term 'consubstantial,' attempted to establish a heresy of their own. Liberius, Athanasius, Alexander, Severianus, and Crescens, a priest of Africa, were induced to assent to this document, as were likewise Ursacius, Germanius, bishop of Sirmium, Valens, bishop of Mursa, and as many of the Eastern bishops as were present. They partially approved of a confession of faith drawn up by Liberius, in which he declared that those who affirm that the Son is notlike unto the Father in substance and in all other respects, are excommunicated. For when Eudoxius and his partisans at Antioch, who favored the heresy of Aetius, received the letter of Hosius, they circulated the report that Liberius had renounced the term 'consubstantial,' and had admitted that the Son is dissimilar from the Father. After these enactments had been made by the Western bishops, the emperor permitted Liberius to return to Rome." (Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book 4, Chapter 15).

The confession "drawn up" by Liberius described the Son as "like unto" the Father. Recall, the formula preferred by Arians is 'homoiousion' versus 'homoousion,' of similar substance.

Honorius I -- Honorius' heresy is an obscure one called 'monothelitism.' A concession to monophysitism, this teaching held that Jesus Christ had only a divine will and not a human will. Opponents argued that the human will was above all corrupted and depraved by sin, and what was not assumed was not healed. If Jesus' human nature did not include the faculty of will, He would not have assumed true humanity but only a semblance of humanity.

"His [Honorius'] pontificate, however, would be dominated by the controversy of Monophysitism, the heresy that proposed that Christ had only one nature instead of the usually accepted two, human and divine. Honorius became embroiled in the controversy over the heresy when he chose to respond to a letter on the nature of Christ sent by Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople. The pope quoted the Council of Chalcedon (451), which was strictly orthodox, but he also used the unfortunate term 'one-will' in Christ. This caused severe controversy in both the Eastern and Western Churches and Honorius was subsequently anathematized by the Council of Constantinople (680-681) and was actually condemned by his successors - Pope Leo II upheld the condemnation by the council in 682." (The Pope Encyclopedia, Matthew Bunson, p. 173). So whatever view one takes of 'monothelitism,' either Honorius was fallible, or the successor popes who condemned him as a heretic were.

"Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople proposed that, while there are indeed two natures in Christ, there is only one will. Although Sergius's position is not altogether clear, it seems that he meant that in Christ the divine will took the place of the human will. In any case, this was how he was interpreted, and thus the objections raised against his view were similar to those raised earlier against Apollinaris: a man without a human will is not fully human. Sergius's position, which came to be known as Monothelism — from the Greek monos ('one'), and thelema ('will') — gained the support of Pope Honorius, and long debates ensued. . .Finally, the Sixth Ecumenical Council, gathered at Constantinople in 680-681, condemned Monothelism, and declared Pope Honorius to have been a heretic." (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, pp. 304-305).

Marcellinus - Marcellinus is not a heretic, but an apostate: "It is highly possible that Marcellinus was guilty of apostasy, handing over copies of the Scriptures to the Roman authorities and perhaps even giving incense to the gods." (The Pope Encyclopedia, Matthew Bunson, pp. 232-233).

The Catholic concept of apostolic succession involved the hand-off of apostolic doctrine from one pontiff to the next, but this plainly did not happen. There were heretics, even apostates, and there were gaps: "The Pontificate of Marcellus is separated from that of his predecessor Marcellinus by an interregnum due to the persecution of Diocletian, and its date was probably 306-309 A.D." (George Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century, p. 201). Is it not apparent that no weight can be placed upon a chain with broken links?


Dante's Interview with Pope Nicholas III in Hell, Gustave Dore


Popes in Hell

Pope Boniface VIII When Dante Alighieri wrote his great medieval poem 'The Inferno,' he situated several contemporary popes in hell, including Pope Celestine V and Pope Nicholas III, visited below; Pope Anastasius II also appears, and soon expected is the arrival in those nether places of Pope Boniface VIII and Pope Clement V. What are all those popes doing there? For Nicholas III, the answer is simony, sale for money of church office. So long as bishops were elected by the clergy and laity of the place, the office could not be purchased outright; but once all power was concentrated in the upper reaches of a self-perpetuating hierarchy, the opportunity arose and the practice soon became very common. People bought these offices on speculation, expecting to recoup their investment by collecting the revenues:

"Oh Simon Magus! Oh ye his wretched followers, who, rapacious, do prostitute for gold and silver the things of God that ought to be the brides of righteousness, now it behoves for you the trumpet sound, since ye are in the third pit!"
[. . .]
"Thereafter, sighing and with tearful voice, he said to me, "Then what dost thou require of me? If to know who I am concerneth thee so much that thou hast crossed the bank therefor, know that I was vested with the Great Mantle; and verily I was a son of the She-Bear, so eager to advance the cubs, that up there I put wealth, and here myself, into the purse. Beneath my head are stretched the others that preceded me in simony, flattened through the fissures of the rock. There below shall I likewise sink, when he shall come whom I believed thou wert, then when I put to thee the sudden question; but already the time is longer that I have cooked my feet, and that I have been thus upside down, than he will stay planted with red feet; for after him will come, of uglier deed, from westward, a shepherd without law, such as must cover him and me again.
[. . .]
"I know not if here I was too audacious that I only answered him in this strain, 'Pray now tell me how much treasure our Lord desired of Saint Peter before he placed the keys in his keeping? Surely he required nothing save "Follow me." Nor did Peter or the others require of Matthias gold or silver, when he was chosen to the place which the guilty soul had lost. Therefore stay thou, for thou art rightly punished, and guard well the ill-gotten money that against Charles made thee to be bold. And were it not that reverence for the Supreme Keys that thou heldest in the glad life still forbiddeth me, I would use words still more grave; for your avarice saddens the world, trampling down the good and exalting the bad. Of you shepherds the Evangelist was aware, when she that sitteth upon the waters was seen by him to fornicate with kings: that woman that was born with the seven heads, and from the ten horns had evidence, so long as virtue pleased her spouse. Ye have made you a god of gold and silver: and what difference is there between you and the idolater save that he worships one and ye a hundred? Ah Constantine! of how much ill was mother, not thy conversion, but that dowry which the first rich Father received from thee!'" (Dante Alighieri, Dante's Inferno, Canto XIX).

Obviously this work of imaginative fiction does not have the status of a documentary, but Dante's comments about serving "a god of gold and silver" do seem to hit the target.

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Beatific Vision

During the term in office of Pope John XXII there raged a controversy over the Beatific Vision: not whether the saints will see God, this is clearly promised in scripture: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2). . . .but when and under what circumstances. Does this happen upon the death of the individual saint, or once the heavenly Jerusalem descends? It should be apparent, the entire Roman Catholic system of intercession by the saints is in vain if these deceased persons are not even now in the presence of God, as was realized at the time. John XXII was one of those who deferred the beatific vision until after the resurrection:

"Having thus silenced his opponents, John proceeded to declare his opinions publicly. In the Advent of 1331 he preached several sermons in which he asserted that the saints in heaven will not have distinct vision of the Divine Essence before the Resurrection of the body and the Day of Judgment, until which time they will only see the humanity of Christ. 'I know,' he said, 'that some persons murmur because we hold this opinion, but I cannot do otherwise.'" (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Book III, Chapter VIII, Kindle location 35446).

Sharper minds were sufficiently alert to realize that the whole Catholic system of veneration of the saints falls to the ground if this is so:

"Philippe took the boldest and most aggressive position. He wrote to John that to deny the Beatific Vision was not only to destroy belief in the intercession of the Virgin and saints, but to invalidate all the pardons and indulgences granted by the Church, and so firmly was he convinced of its truth that he would take steps to burn all who denied it, including the pope himself." (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Book III, Chapter VIII, Kindle location 35471).

To understand what the problem is, look at the extreme case of 'soul sleep,' defended in the present day by the Seventh Day Adventists. If the righteous dead have at the present time no conscious awareness, then who is 'at home' to hear the petitions of the faithful?:




Talking to people who are asleep is a waste of time. While the extreme position of 'soul sleep' cannot be defended against the Bible, it should be apparent what the difficulty is; if it is not a present reality that deceased persons of unusual sanctity are in the very presence of God, then what is the point of soliciting their intercession? John in the end caved:

"The secrets of that awful death-bed have never been revealed, but after he passed away on the 5th, a bull was promulgated over his name in which he professed his belief as to the Divine Vision, and, if he had in that or anything else held opinions in conflict with those of the Church, he revoked all that he might have said or done, and submitted himself to its judgment. Humiliating as was this, Michele da Cesena pronounced it insufficient, as he made no formal confession of error and recantation, whence it was to be inferred that he died a contumacious heretic." (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Book III, Chapter VIII, Kindle location 35483).

What is striking about this entire controversy is that no one in that day seems to have had any conception of papal infallibility. While John plainly intended to teach as doctrine his deferral of the beatific vision and even sicced the Inquisition on his opponents, he was allowed to withdraw this doctrine without his pontificate being declared invalid.

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Renaissance Popes

The institution of the papacy reached its nadir during the Renaissance, when brutal and altogether worldly men mismanaged the church's affairs for their own gain. Catholics usually concede these men were not of exemplary character, but point to servants of God like David, a murderer and an adulterer. Their understanding of the papacy requires the Holy Spirit to inspire the pope; how else will he speak infallibly, as he does, they say, on very rare occasions, with such a complex set of qualifiers as to resist identification of those occasions? David, however, repented. It is unbearable arrogance for men to elect the most wicked man they can find, and then demand that the Holy Spirit must fill this unclean vessel, willing or not. As if God had no choice but to do as man dictates!: "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." (1 Corinthians 12:11).

The early church was governed democratically, but by the Renaissance that system had been 'reformed' out of existence. Oddly enough, the Roman religious institutions seem to have undergone a gravitational pull from their pagan past. The pagan priestly colleges had for the most part been self-governing, self-perpetuating corporations: "Once more to refer to myself, you remember how apparently popular was the law proposed by Gaius Licinius Crassus 'about the election to the College of Priests' in the consulship of Quintus Maximus, Scipio's brother, and Lucius Mancinus. For the power of filling up their own vacancies on the part of the colleges was by this proposal to be transferred to the people." (Cicero, On Friendship, Chapter 25). This proposal was at that time defeated. The Christian clergy gradually reverted to form, becoming like the Roman pagan clergy, a self-contained body which filled its own vacancies; the people were frozen out. They 'reformed' the election of the bishop of Rome, from its original conformity with the general rule of the church, of popular election by the clergy and laity of the place, to an arbitrary choice by a newly-formed oligarchy, the 'College of Cardinals.' I guess we should be grateful it wasn't made hereditary. Celibacy might seem to be a bar, but by Renaissance standards, only nominally so.

Is there precedent in the Bible that men are filled by the Holy Spirit ex officio, as Catholics claim for their pope? Can no wickedness of the office-holder scandalize and exasperate the Holy Spirit to the point of departure? Look at the case of Saul the king, who was gifted, then deserted, because of disobedience:

"But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him." (1 Samuel 16:14).
"And Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him, and was departed from Saul." (1 Samuel 18:12).


  • “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
  • (1 Samuel 15:22-23).




David, repentant, prayed that the Holy Spirit not depart from him:

"Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit." (Psalm 51:11-12).

This is something to be prayed for with tears, not demanded as if man could give orders to God. The men who served as bishop of Rome during the Renaissance were the bottom of the barrel, they were the dregs of humanity, the worst that could be found upon diligent search. There is no reason to believe they repented of their murders, their debauchery, their greed. Studying the life histories of these men may serve as the reductio ad absurdum of the papal system. If believing in the Roman system requires that these men must have been intimates of God, then the Roman system is patently false.




How might we know whether the Spirit dwells in our heart? Scripture suggests an answer:



  • “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
  • (1 John 3:24).




By John's standard, perhaps a righteous, God-fearing believer might have reason to suppose the Holy Spirit dwells in him. After all this gift is not poured out only on prophets and savants but on servants and hand-maids:

"And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:27-29).

But why would an unrepentant serial killer share the same confidence? What is the affinity between human wickedness and God's spirit? What is to keep the Spirit from fleeing a foul, profaned temple? We know what is the fruit of the Spirit: "For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. . ." (Ephesians 5:9). The fruit is visible evidence of the life within: "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." (Matthew 7:17). Without presumption or self-righteousness, but understanding that God can not be expected to abide in filthy, sin-stained hovels, let's examine the life stories of the Renaissance popes.

Italy during this period was politically divided into feuding principalities. Intrigue, shifting alliances, hostage-taking, incessant and pointless wars were the result, into which the Renaissance popes gleefully joined. This unending fratricidal warfare brought no benefit to the church and certainly none to war-wracked Italy. Whether a bishop of the church should expend church resources in making war to promote the position of his family is a question which hardly needs examination. Commanding armies is not a bishop's job, even if the grounds for war were something loftier than personal and family ambition.

The enticing prospect of raking in church revenues to line their own pockets and the pockets of their extended family led to the common practice of purchasing church offices, including the papacy, for money. These princes of the church felt a family obligation to provide for numerous poor relations, often including illegitimate children. What more suitable occupation for these unpromising and dissolute young 'uns than a cardinal's hat? The prevalence of these corrupt practices led to church office being restricted to a narrow fraternity: those who could scramble to the top and stay alive in the vipers' pit which Rome had become:


Renaissance Popes
Sixtus IV Innocent VIII
Alexander VI Julius II
Leo X


Sixtus IV, Francesco della Rovere

Sixtus IV saw the church as a full-employment bureau for his family members:

"Upon taking office, he shocked public opinion by appointing as Cardinals two of his eleven nephews, Pietro and Girolamo Riario, both in their twenties, who rapidly became notorious for mad and spendthrift behavior. Before he had finished, Sixtus had conferred the red hat on three more nephews and a grandnephew. . ." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 62).

Stuffing the college of cardinals with his relations was an investment in his family's future financial health. Sixtus' misbehavior in office included possible incitement to murder:



  • “If admirable in his cultural concerns, he exhibited the worst qualities of the Renaissance prince in his feuds and machinations, conducting wars on Venice and Ferrara and an inveterate campaign to reduce the Colonna family, the dominant nobles of Rome. The most scandalous of his dealings was involvement in and possible instigation of the Pazzi plot to murder the Medici brothers. Allied to the Pazzi by complex family interests, he approved of or even shared in the conspiracy, or so it was widely charged and believed owing to the extremity of his reaction when the plot failed by half. In a rage at the violence of the Medicis' revenge upon the Pazzi, which had included the hanging of an Archbishop in violation of clerical immunity, he excommunicated Lorenzo de' Medici and all of Florence.”
  • (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 63).



The reader will recall that Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker did not get into trouble for murdering people, but for offering more hotel room stays as incentives than they would have been able to make good on. Sixtus IV is remembered for murderous enmity and intrigue, nepotism and the wild parties thrown by his nephews. He improved the revenues by taxing the local growth industry:

"Sixtus IV. taxed and thereby legalized houses of prostitution for the increase of the revenues of the curia. The 6,800 public prostitutes in Rome in 1490, if we accept Infessura’s figures, were an enormous number in proportion to the population." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Sixth Period, Chapter VIII, §67, The Revival of Paganism).

Innocent VIII, Giovanni Battista Cibo

This worthy was remarkable for his devotion to his illegitimate son. He was more than willing to squander church resources, just so long as this young man was happy:



  • “As Pope, Innocent was distinguished chiefly by his extraordinary indulgence of his worthless son Franceschetto, the first time the son of a pope had been publicly recognized. . .Riches for Franceschetto, who was both greedy and dissolute, given to roaming the streets at night with bad companions for lewd purposes, absorbed Innocent's primary attention. In 1486, he succeeded in arranging his son's marriage to a daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici and celebrated it in the Vatican with a wedding party so elaborate that he was obliged, owing to chronic shortage of funds, to mortgage the papal tiara and treasures to pay for it.”
  • (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 67).


The old problem of the sale of church office to the highest bidder was prevalent during Innocent's term of office.

"While the Pope indulged himself, his more business-minded Vice-Chancellor created numerous new offices for apostolic officials for which the aspirants were required to pay — evidence that they looked forward to remunerative returns. . .A bureau was established for the sale of favors and pardons at inflated prices, of which 150 ducats of each transaction went to the Pope and what was left over to his son." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 67).

God has never tolerated shepherds who feed themselves with the fodder meant for the flock:

"As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out." (Ezekiel 34:8-11).

Amidst all the greed and money-grubbing came the perplexing sojourn of the Grand Turk to Rome, a disgruntled claimant to the Sultan's throne: "The Grand Turk's arrival in Rome in 1489 was met with royal honors, sumptuous gifts, the Pope's white palfrey for his mount and escort by Franceschetto to the Vatican." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 73). Was this personage a hostage, or a co-conspirator? Innocent evidently imagined supporting this man's aspirations to the Sultanate would benefit his family's interests, lending grist to the mills of the conspiracy theorists and prophecy interpreters of the day. Apparently there was money involved, whether also treason to Christendom is open to dispute. As per usual for the period, money changed hands: that is all that can be said with certainty.

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Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia

This serial killer may well be the worst Pope ever, and that is saying a lot. He purchased the office outright, and boasted openly of the amounts involved. "A chronicler affirms that the people used to say: 'Alexander is ready to sell the keys, the altars, and even Christ himself. He is within his rights, since he bought them.'" (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, p. 444). Like other popes of this period, he looted church funds to feather the nest of his brood of illegitimate children, totalling seven by some counts or eight by others:



  • “As a young Cardinal, he had fathered a son and two daughters of unrecorded mothers and subsequently, when in his forties, three more sons and a daughter, born to his acknowledged mistress, Vanozza de Cataneis, who reputedly succeeded her mother in that role. All were his acknowledged family. He was able to acquire for the eldest son, Pedro Luis, the dukedom of Gandia in Spain and betrothal to a cousin of King Ferdinand. When Pedro died young, his title, lands and fiancee passed to his stepbrother Juan, his father's favorite, destined for a death of the kind that was to make the Borgia family a byword. Cesare and Lucrezia, the two famous Borgias who helped to make it so, were children of Vanozza, together with Juan and another brother, Jofre. The paternity of an eighth child named Giovanni, born during the Borgia Papacy, seems to have been uncertain even within the family. Two successive papal Bulls legitimized him first as the son of Cesare and then of the Pope himself, while public opinion considered him a bastard child of Lucrezia.”
  • (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, pp. 76-77).




One must fervently hope Alexander was not sitting on his chair when he delivered these two mutually contradictory papal bulls expressing an opinion on the paternity of this child, lest the noble doctrine of papal infallibility be compromised by his inability to make up his mind. Of course DNA testing was not available in his day; but then as now, some people found it possible to conduct their lives in such a manner that questions of this sort were not insoluble or indeed did not arise. Cesare and Lucrezia were two apples who did not fall far from the tree; they were a viper's brood, lustfully engaging in the family business of poisoning, assassination, double-crossing and trouble-making. The political disunion of Italy, for which the popes were prime culprits, invited foreign aggression and led to nothing but trouble and suffering for the helpless inhabitants of that nation.

Certainly they set a bad example: "Pope Alexander VI, a member of the Borgia family (perhaps chiefly remembered for its lethal dinner parties), managed to bribe his way to victory in the election to the papacy in 1492 despite the awkwardness of having several mistresses and at least seven known illegitimate children. Niccolo Machiavelli, the great theorist of naked power, put the immorality of his age down to the appalling example set by the papacy." (Alister McGrath, Christianity's Dangerous Idea, pp. 21-22).

During Alexander's reign, the preacher Girolamo Savonarola rose up to condemn the debased church as a house of ill-fame, "a prostitute who sits upon the throne of Solomon and signals to the passers-by. Whoever can pay enters and does what he wishes, but he who wishes for good is thrown out. Thus, O prostituted Church, you have unveiled your abuse before the eyes of the entire world and your poisoned breath rises to the heavens." (quoted p. 83, Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly). No believer in papal infallibility, he asserted that a pope might err: “The pope,” he said, “may command me to do something that contravenes the law of Christian love or the Gospel. But, if he did so command, I would say to him, thou art no shepherd. Not the Roman Church, but thou errest.” (Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church, Sixth Period, Chapter IX, §76, Girolamo Savonarola). Savonarola, condemned by the pope, condemned right back:

"In them [the letters], he solemnly declared that Alexander was no pope. For, aside from purchasing his office and from his daily sale of benefices, his manifest vices proved him to be no Christian." (Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church, Sixth Period, Chapter IX, §76, Girolamo Savonarola).

Indeed, he even condemned Alexander VI as an atheist: "Alexander VI. was not pope and was not eligible to the papacy, not only by reason of the simony through which he had bought the tiara, and the wickedness which, when exposed, would excite universal execration, but also because he was not a Christian, and not even a believer in God. All this Savonarola offered to prove by evidence and by miracles which God would execute to convince the most skeptical." (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition, Book III, Chapter IV, Kindle location 29013). But who do you suppose had the last word:


Girolamo Savonarola Burned at the Stake




Savonarola, who championed Bible-based expository preaching, was such a powerful preacher that even the gay artist Michelangelo trembled for his eternal destiny at his sermons. In most doctrinal areas he was a follower of Thomas Aquinas, scarcely a controversial stance in that day; yet the popes could tolerate no dissent. He was burned at the stake. That these tiara'ed dictators had no respect for human rights should come as no surprise; what tyrant has ever respected free speech? Anyone who criticized their excesses and fell within their power was at risk for his life:

"A Venetian supposed to have circulated a slanderous pamphlet about the Pope and his son was murdered and thrown into the Tiber. 'Every night,' reported the helpless Venetian Ambassador, 'four or five murdered men are discovered, bishops, prelates and others, so that all Rome trembles for fear of being murdered by the Duke.' [Cesare]." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, pp. 87-88).

Cesare may have been guilty of fratricide. The days of the Italian Renaissance were halcyon days for unsolved crimes, inasmuch as those in power did not always desire resolution; but even family members suspected him:

"In the year of Lucrezia's remarriage, the Pope's eldest surviving son, Juan, Duke of Gandia, was found floating one morning in the Tiber, his corpse pierced by nine stab wounds. Although he had numerous enemies, owing to the large slices of papal property bestowed upon him by his father, no assassin was identified. The longer the mystery and whispers lasted, the more suspicion came to rest on Cesare based on a supposed desire to supplant his brother in the paternal largesse or, alternatively, as the outcome of an incestuous triangle with brother and sister." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 85.)

The modern-day popularity of 'swimming the Tiber' is a mystery, given the piles of bodies accumulated there since olden times. Perhaps those tempted to make the swim should get a prophylactic shot of penicillin in advance, just in case.

Lastly, this fun-loving family must be granted its place in the annals of pornography. Their pioneering 'Ballet of the Chestnuts' blazed the trail for our exotic dancing industry.

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Julius II, Giuliano della Rovere

The papacy was a family affair in this period; Julius II was Sixtus IV's nephew. Allegedly he had survived an assassination attempt, by poison, at the hands of his predecessor (The Sistine Secrets, Blech & Doliner, p. 105). He is remembered as 'The Warrior Pope.' The incessant warfare of this period was not forced upon the popes, who were themselves the worst offenders in disturbing the peace of Italy. War is by no means considered an unvarnished good by the Bible, nor even by the early church. Basil questioned whether a soldier should not defer communion inasmuch as he had shed blood: "Our Fathers did not reckon killings in war as murders, but granted pardon, as it seems to me, to those who were fighting in defense of virtue and piety. Perhaps, however, they should be advised that, since their hands are not clean, they should abstain from Communion for a period of three years." (Basil the Great, The First Canonical Letter, 188:13, quoted p. 7, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, William A Jurgens). How this advice would apply to a sitting pope is unclear:




In his enthusiasm for arms, Julius went so far as to ride with his troops into battle:

"When in the normal course of Italian politics Ferrara, a papal fief, changed sides, Julius in his rage at the rebellion and the dilatory progress of his punitive forces, again took physical command at the front. In helmet and mail, the white-bearded Pope, lately risen from an illness so near death that arrangements for a conclave had been made, conducted a snow-bound siege through the rigors of a severe winter. Making his quarters in a peasant's hut, he was continually on horseback, directing deployment and batteries, riding among the troops, scolding or encouraging and personally leading them through a breach in the fortress." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 94).

The Papal States were never large enough to form the nucleus of an Italian nation-state. They were however sufficiently large that these endless small wars to maintain them put many young men in their graves. Where does the Bible suggest leading troops into battle is a job for a bishop? An accurate diagnosis comes from an unexpected quarter:

"Here they make helmets and swords from chalices
And by the handful sell the blood of Christ;
His cross and thorns are made into lances and shields;
Yet even so Christ's patience still rains down."
(Michelangelo, quoted p. 125, The Sistine Secrets, Blech and Doliner).

Julius was not averse to reform: he called the Fifth Lateran Council, which would ultimately put forth such proposals for reform as the prohibition of preaching from the book of Revelation:

"Henceforth preachers were forbidden to prophesy or predict the coming of Anti-Christ or the end of the world." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 101).

Evidently all those sermons about the woman riding the beast had drawn blood. Like other popes in this sequence, Julius' sexual orientation was subject to rumor: ". . .to which Venetian satirists retorted with accusations that he [Pope Julius] was a homosexual, a pedophile, and a drunkard." (Ross King, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Kindle location 2000). Perhaps people wondered why he had fathered only one illegitimate child, a daughter named Felice.

He seems to have had a touch of megalomania, willing to accept such flattery from his sycophants as this:

"In December 1507 he [Egidio da Viterbo] had preached a sermon in St. Peter's explicating the vision in which the prophet Isaiah, following the death of Uzziah, saw 'the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.' Egidio believed the prophet had not properly expressed himself. 'He meant to say,' he informed the congregation, 'I saw Julius II, the Pope, both succeeding the dead Uzziah and seated on the throne of religious increase.'" (Ross King, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Kindle location 2076).

He patterned his triumphal return to Rome after Christ's triumphal entry, "The pope did not see himself merely as the new Julius Caesar. His return to Rome had been carefully timed to coincide with Palm Sunday, the commemoration of the time enthusiastic crowds tossed palm leaves into Christ's path as he entered Jerusalem on the back of an ass. To make sure no one missed the point, Julius was preceded through the streets by a horse-drawn chariot from which ten youths dressed in angel costumes waved palm fronds at him. The reverse of the Julius Caesar coin bore the text for Palm Sunday: 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,' the words shouted by the ecstatic crowds as Christ entered Jerusalem." (Ross King, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, Kindle location 2029).

Leo X, Giovanni de' Medici

This is the pope who tangled with Martin Luther. A patron of the arts, this Medici pope was painted by Raphael:


Pope Leo X, by Raphael


Leo continued with business as usual, including the customary transgressions of simony and nepotism: "To keep up with his expenditures, his chancery created over 2000 saleable offices during his Papacy, including an order of 400 papal Knights of St. Peter, who paid 1000 ducats each for the title and privileges plus an annual interest of ten percent on the purchase price." (Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 105.) But even more revenue was needed to finance Leo's ambitious building plans to ornament Rome. To come up with the money Johann Tetzel undertook his travels around Germany selling indulgences. This religious absurdity incensed Martin Luther, whose vocal protest set the whole corrupt system to tottering.

Like other popes in this sequence, including Sixtus IV, this Medici pope was accused of sodomy. It is difficult to weigh accusations about the private conduct of long-deceased persons. Of course no secret video-tapes are ever going to surface. The accusations first arose from within these popes' own circles, not from outside, but are they credible?

The Italian Renaissance spat in contempt on existing artistic forms, labelling them 'Gothic,' i.e., barbaric. In truth some of the nervous energy of line that enliven the great cathedrals of Northern Europe might indeed reflect pre-existing artistic preferences amongst the northern European peoples. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire had two faces: on the one hand, the barbarian incursions which threw Rome down were wars for national liberation. Nevertheless the fall of Rome was not without cost, in that the resultant lack of order and splintering of political authority reduced living standards and literacy levels, at least for a time, and promoted reversion to indigenous artistic tastes. In time, certainly by the high middle ages, the Northern Europeans proved themselves capable of building a civilization, not only of destroying one. No one today looks at the twentieth century continent of Africa throwing off European colonialism as a calamity, even though progress onward and upward since then has not always been in a straight line. But an intellectual movement took root during this period which preferred to see the liberation of the Northern barbarians as an unprecedented calamity for civilization, for which the only remedy was reimposition of classical norms. (Oddly enough, during Michelangelo's lifetime they dug up the Laocoon which was as restless and serpentine as if it had been designed by Celts.)

The leading lights of the Italian Renaissance saw nothing positive or worthwhile in the 'Goths,' the barbarian peoples of Northern Europe, nor in their descendants' contributions to art and culture. They preferred the order and simplicity of classicism. Many were willing to throw out the baby with the bath-water and discard Christianity itself in favor of paganism, as if Christianity were an invention of the middle ages! Certainly the Christian faith had undergone a process of acculturation during the middle ages and had incorporated into itself much foreign material, for which the obvious solution was to purge the foreign material, not discard the pearl of great price.

The restored paganism of the Italian Renaissance was a happy paganism. The Renaissance pagan wannabe's were not terrified of their gods as were the ancients, because they believed them to be pleasing poetic fictions. The fruits of this restored paganism were strange indeed, and continued to distort European art and expression for generations. Readers who are old enough will recall when John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' was assigned reading in the public schools. This was a full-fledged effort to import a pagan pantheon into Christianity, the pagan gods being re-baptized as 'fallen angels.' Did the Israelite prophets' denunciation of paganism leave room for such syncretism? This Italian generation had a high tolerance for 'cognitive dissonance,' because they were neither this nor that, they were not really pagans nor were they really Christians. When make-believe paganism came into vogue in the garden of the Medici's, along with it came paganism's attendant vices. But how common really were those vices?

"It is needful that the Signoria make a law against that terrible vice of sodomy, for which Florence is infamous throughout Italy. It may be that this infamy arises because you talk and gossip so much about this vice, which perhaps does not exist so much in fact as it is spoken of." (Girolamo Savonarola, Sermon on Haggai, Sermon XIII, 1494).

Savonarola, tragically, recommended capital punishment for private conduct not affecting the well-being of the state. But perhaps his point is well-taken that the prevalence of this vice was exaggerated. When faced with inflammatory accusations founded upon palace gossip, such as those reported by Suetonius in his Twelve Caesars, one is left wondering, 'Could it be that people who are capable of these enormities are capable also of making things up?' With the popes discussed on this page, there is no 'smoking gun' or outside train of evidence such as convicts the later Pope Julius III, whose elevation of a street urchin to high church office requires explanation. Certainly Leo travelled in Medici circles where this vice was common; his family gathered around itself poets, artists and scholars of the most 'advanced' (i.e., neo-pagan) tendency, some of whom were demonstrably of this persuasion, as was Michelangelo who wrote love poetry, still extant, to a young man. In an era when the papacy was sold to the highest bidder, no vice was a bar to that office. Nevertheless, the possibility still exists that these insider accusations were malicious gossip and no more.

Certainly neither Leo nor the others lived in such a way as to discredit gossip. This was a very debased period in the history of church governance, when worldly and ambitious men used the highest office for their own purposes. But who invented this office, so readily taken over by wicked men who ruled as despots? Surveying the history raises the question, what reason is there to think that this office was ever wanted, desired, or protected by God? The history of the papacy is an all-too-human story, a story of the triumph of autocracy over democracy, and not a story of the mighty acts of God.

Anders Behring Breivik

The papal system received an unexpected and no doubt unwelcome endorsement from Norwegian child-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who claims that two popes set it up so that persons like himself automatically go to heaven when they die:

"Pope Urban II and Pope Innocent III granted indulgence to all future Crusaders.

"The PCCTS, Knights Templars are Destroyers of Marxism and Defenders of Christendom. We are Crusaders, martyrs of the Church, selfless defenders of the weak and the blind. We our not only automatically granted access to heaven in light of our selfless acts; our good deeds and final sacrifice will be added to the divine storehouse of merit and will therefore help other less virtuous individuals." (Anders Behring Breivik, 2083 Manifesto, p. 1346).

It is difficult to evaluate Mr. Breivik's 'theology,' inasmuch as he quotes with apparent agreement Mohammed ibn Abdallah's insight that war is deceit:

"So at least publicly, you should condemn the 8th front. The brave men and women in the 8th front won’t be offended. They are professionals and would probably do the same, for tactical reasons. War is deceit after all, as Muhammad stated more than 1400 years ago." (2083 Manifesto, p. 1261).


According to the newspapers, Pope John Paul II offered an 'apology' for the Crusades some years ago, though in language which was less than ringing or unambiguous. If indeed the mechanics of the Crusades still remain enshrined in canon law, this requires revision.

Mr. Breivik's own beliefs are somewhat difficult to decode, given that he says things like,

"If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical thing to do. I guess I will find out... If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the Church in the past." (2083 Manifesto, p. 1345).

How many believers, Catholic or Protestant, say things like "If there is a God"? Inasmuch as Mr. Breivik openly admits to the practice of deceit (shouldn't a successful liar say, 'I never lie'?), and inasmuch as he describes the cross as a useful unifying symbol around which Europeans can regroup, perhaps his religion should be taken with a grain of salt. Or perhaps he became lost in a labyrinth of human creation where the gospel as preached by the apostles can never be found or recovered. He is a praying man:

"I prayed for the first time in a very long time today. I explained to God that unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic alliance and the certain Islamic takeover of Europe to completely annihilate European Christendom within the next hundred years he must ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail." (Anders Behring Breivik, 2083 Manifesto, p. 1459).

Instead of explaining things to God during his infrequent prayers, he should have been listening for God's loud NO.