Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Bad Popes

Recently on a discussion board, someone asked about the book, The Bad Popes. I read this book about five years ago (or maybe longer- I don't remember), and I then wrote this review. I rarely argue against Roman Catholicism by trying to dig up facts about how awful or sinful a particular pope may have been. I choose not argue this way, because the argument against Rome is about Biblical doctrine, not about the personal lives of Popes (or contrarily about the personal lives of Luther or Calvin).

I picked up The Bad Popes by E.R. Chamberlin for two reasons: First, it was cheap. Barnes and Noble had a stack of them for $7.95. Secondly, I was at Barnes and Noble for the specific purpose of buying the pro-Roman Catholic work, Surprised By Truth (Edited by Patrick Madrid, Perhaps at some point I will post my thoughts on this book). Ah, nothing like a little balance to even out one’s thoughts.

The author of The Bad Popes seems to have fairness in mind also: he relied on both Roman Catholic historians as well as Protestant in order to document the history of the papacy (see p.290). When the facts are hearsay, he says so. When the sources may be tainted, he says so. Chamberlin, an English writer, wrote the book in 1969. The book gives historical accounts of (primarily) seven popes from the “critical periods in the 600 years leading into the Reformation” (inside flap). After reading this book, I can see how the Reformation was the eruption of hundreds of years of Papal abuse.

What struck me immediately about the book was its attention to history and its lack of theology. This is not a book of Bible verses pointing to perceived doctrinal Roman Catholic errors. There are no discussions of whether the concept of the papacy is Biblical. There is no discussion about the papacy fulfilling end times prophecy. There is no mention of ex-cathedra statements. There is little or no mention of any comments a Pope has made on the Bible or sacred tradition. The book is history: fascinating at times, while dull at other points. Facts and names fill every page. Had I known that each page would be littered with multiple names, I would have kept notes early on to recall who is who. It’s also easy to get lost in the myriad of battles between the major powers of the day. Having a map of Italy would help, since many of the histories of individual towns and who controlled them takes up major space in this book. If you are looking for a “Let’s bash the papacy” book, this one is not pop-cheap-easy anti-catholic rhetoric. You will have to read, and read carefully.

Primarily, I was struck by the awesome political power of the papacy during this period. War after war, and a vast political machine, while authentic religion takes a secondary role. It sounded like CNN reporting world news at times. The author documents political conflicts between the papacy and just about everybody, and the conflicts were not over things like transubstantiation or free will. Rather, the conflicts over commerce and country: territories and rulers take center stage.

I hesitate to offer a few examples from the book of papal abuse that I found most distressing. Some of these examples I posted on a Roman Catholic discussion board while working through the book, and things did not go well. I am not Roman Catholic, nor do I believe in the papacy. I think the primary battle should be fought in the Scriptures themselves. However, I can only note the tremendous benefit I have had from reading about my Reformed forefathers. They were indeed not perfect, and some did atrocious things also. I have learned that my faith must be in Christ and his gospel, not in Zwingli or Calvin. The difference then, is my Reformed forefathers were not said to be the infallible-God-ordained-head-of-the-church. I have heard one prominent Roman Catholic apologist say “folks- Catholics are responsible for every word the pope utters" (The "folks" part should make it clear who I mean). The abuses of political subterfuge, simony, nepotism, and Papal wars are too numerous and complex to put forth here. Therefore, skim through a few of these minor facts that E.R. Chamberlin offers in passing while documenting the bigger picture. If they bother you, do some research and lets talk about it. I am by no means an expert, you may be. If so, I would be thankful to learn truth from you.

Pope Stephen VII put the corpse of the previous Pope (Formosus) on trial after he had been dead for eight months. Formosus was dragged from the tomb, dressed again in sacerdotal robes, and given council. Stephen VII condemned him, and the three fingers of benediction on the right hand were hacked off Formosus. The late pope was then dragged through the palace, and hurled into the Tiber by a yelling mob.

Stephen VII himself was later strangled. Following this, within 12 months four popes met their demise as political factions struggled to control the papacy.

The Popes from 926-1046 were from the House of Theophylact. Chamberlin documents the legend of Pope Joan, and discounts it as myth. But like some myths, elements of the fiction have been drawn from historical accounts. The women from the House of Theophylact had a grip on the papacy, as it placed there own nominees in papal power. One paved the way for her lover to take the papacy, Pope John X.

Pope John XII is referred to as a Christian Caligula, with charges that he turned the Lateran into a brothel. He and “his gang violated female pilgrims in the very basilica of St. Peter; …offerings of the humble laid upon the alter were snatched up as casual booty”(p.43). Some bishops who dared to take part in a trial condemning John’s abuses came under the rage of this pope. “One had his tongue torn out, his nose and fingers cut off; another scourged; the hand of a third was hacked off”(p.60). John XII is rumored to have been killed by an angry husband who caught the Holy Father in the act, but Chamberlin is cautious to say that perhaps this was perhaps gossip of the day with no verification.

Pope Benedict IX sold the papacy for 1,500 pounds of gold to Giovanni Gratiano. Rumor has it, he wished to cease being pope to marry. The reason he is said to have sold it, is because Benedict, while willing to cease being Pope, was not willing to give up a luxurious lifestyle.

Perhaps the saddest tale of all is the story of Peter of Morone, who became Pope Celestine. He was a “holy man who hung his cowl upon a sunbeam, whose hours of devotions were marked by the tolling of a supernatural bell”(p.79). He lived in a cave high up on Monte Morone. Chamberlin calls him a “simple good man”(83). Celestine, once Pope, longed to be a recluse monk again. He abdicated, and then Boniface VIII stepped in. Boniface feared the followers that Celestine had, so he decided to have the ex-pope arrested and brought back to Rome. Bonfice eventually did capture him, condemned all that Celestine had done as Pope, and imprisoned him for the remainder of his life.

Bonifice VIII was known for simony and nepotism. Bonfice though, countered these charges by holding that, “a pope could not, by definition, commit simony, for he was the church and the church was he and all that it possessed was at his ordering” (p.94). Also known for “witty” speech, Boniface is recorded as saying something like, “Sexual immorality? Why- there is no more going to bed with women and boys than in rubbing one hand against the other” (p.111). He is also to have said, “”A man has as much hope of survival after death as that roast fowl on the dining table there” (p.111), this remark made on a fast day. Chamberlin implies that perhaps Boniface was kidding, yet those writing his every word made sure to include these statements. Boniface is also known for the bull Unam Sanctum which “made explicit what had been implicit: It is necessary for salvation that all human creatures shall be subject to the Roman Pontiff”(p.119).

John XXII was a banker. “He destroyed the little friars who had arisen with their terrible heresy that Christ and his disciples had been poor men, that the amassing of wealth was contrary to his teaching” (p.131).

Clement VI was “a happy, splendid priest with a vast taste for the table, considerable culture, and an indiscreet love of women” (p.132). He “made no secret of his liking for feminine company” (p.132). One contemporary said of him that, “…when he was an archbishop he did not keep away from women but lived in the manner of young nobles, nor did he as pope try to control himself. Noble ladies had the same access to his chambers as did prelates and among others, the Countess of Turenne was so intimate with him that, in large part, he distributed his favors through her” (p. 133).

Urban VI was known as a man with a bad temper. The cardinals at the time thought of him as a madman. To an adviser who doubted his powers to excommunicate one for the mildest misdemeanor he yelled, “I can do anything, anything!” (p. 143). He was said to have physically attacked the cardinal of Limoges in consistory, whereupon many of the cardinals drifted away from Rome. Eventually, a few of the cardinals began devising a plan to remove him from the papacy. Urban was alerted, and had those cardinals “put to the question,” which involved old cardinal Sangro “hoisted to the ceiling three times by the strappado and each time was dropped heavily to the floor” (p.153). Urban, unable to hear Sangro’s screams, directed the examiners to improve their questioning by torturing the old man more severely.

Pope Alexander VI's first mistress bore him four children, and he strove to have those children in power and to also become pope. He was fourty years senior his second mistress.

Pope Leo X offered a profound statement, “How very profitable this fable of Christ has been to us through the ages” (p.223) after an advisor quoted from the gospels.

These are but a few examples from the book. After reading The Bad Popes, it was no wonder that the Reformation occurred. One could spend the whole year reading books on Luther’s life or the sixteenth century, and miss the centuries of corruption that provoked the Reformation.

20 comments:

Peter said...

James writes:
___________________________________
The difference then, is my Reformed forefathers were not said to be the infallible-God-ordained-head-of-the-church. I have heard one prominent Roman Catholic apologist say “folks- Catholics are responsible for every word the pope utters"
___________________________________

James, there is a big difference between personal impeccability and the Catholic Church's understanding of infallibility.

I would also like to know who said that a Catholic is responsible for every word the pope utters.

Peter

Gavin said...

Hm, I had seen that book at Borders, although didn't buy it. I had heard of some of these though, my favorite is Pope Alexandar VI - read up on his "Banquet of Chestnuts" - wild stuff! I guess he was just the predecessor of all that "XXXChurch" stuff?

FM483 said...

I am amazed at how technologically advanced our society is and yet detect little or no progress in the spiritual realm. My experiences tell me that a person is a loyal Roman Catholic, Mormon, or anything, primarily because he was born into such a family - not because he has read the Scriptures and studied the history of Christianity and compared alternative belief systems. The shallowness of the average person's understanding of their faith is simply mind boggling. A person can be an accomplished musician, a brilliant scientist, or successful in business, and yet their theological knowledge is close to zero. I understand that we are to have childlike faith, but as we mature it seems that our intellectual curiosity for an adult understanding should increase as well? At any rate, in my opinion the primary reason one remains in a perticular belief system,like Roman Catholicism, is ignorance of Scripture and history, and a misguided sense of loyalty to family. I recall Christ responding to people by asking "Who are my brothers and sisters"? Christ made the point that those who listened to his Word and kept it are his real family - not those of blood relation. I also recall the words of Christ that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword - to pit mother against daughter,....Who a person says Christ is is still the Chief Cornerstone against which all men stumble.


Frank Marron

Peter said...

___________________________________
My experiences tell me that a person is a loyal Roman Catholic, Mormon, or anything, primarily because he was born into such a family - not because he has read the Scriptures and studied the history of Christianity and compared alternative belief systems.
___________________________________

Frank, would you please define what you mean by loyal Roman Catholic?

Peter

Peter said...

Also Frank, I was wondering if by your words "or anything" you mean Lutherans and Calvinists as well.

By the way, I submitted some thoughts for criticism under the comments section after Ray's St Jerome piece. In the same thread I made a comment about something you typed- I was hoping you would clarify for me how you fit the notion of personal accountability with the belief that humans do not have free will. I am under the impression that Calvinists do not believe that humans have free will. Understand that I do not know much about Calvinist doctrine. If you are not a Calvinist, sorry for the sidetrack and pay the question no further notice.

Peter

FM483 said...

I originally wrote::
My experiences tell me that a person is a loyal Roman Catholic, Mormon, or anything, primarily because he was born into such a family - not because he has read the Scriptures and studied the history of Christianity and compared alternative belief systems.

Peter wrote:
Frank, would you please define what you mean by loyal Roman Catholic?

My Response:
As my brief bio on this website stated, I was born and raised in a loving Roman Catholic family. Out of a large family, I am the only one who is not a practicing Roman Catholic, the reason being that it is inconsistent with Holy Scripture. My sisters remain loyal RCs by regularly attending Mass and participating in the activities of their respective RC churches, through rosaries, prayers for the dead, prayers to dead saints, and a variety of other unbiblical practices eliminated by the 16th century Reformers. The sacrifice of the Mass was and remains most troubling to Lutherans(of which I am) and many other Reformed believers, since it belittles the one and only acceptable sacrifice to God: the cross of Christ. My sisters know I love them deeply and yet they persist in believing and practicing heresy, primarily because they are “loyal” to the “faith of their fathers”, which includes adoration for the Eucharist and respect and obedience to the pope. The attitude of serious RCs is that non-RCs are “departed brethren” for whom they steadfastly pray will see the errors of their ways and return to the one true faith and sheepfold. In my opinion, this is simply mind boggling and blind loyalty. I have written extensively about my faith,some of which has been publised on this website, and yet my sisters choose to remain resistant to the Word of God, obviously preferring the beliefs of fallible men. Does this answer your question?

Peter also wrote:

By the way, I submitted some thoughts for criticism under the comments section after Ray's St Jerome piece. In the same thread I made a comment about something you typed- I was hoping you would clarify for me how you fit the notion of personal accountability with the belief that humans do not have free will. I am under the impression that Calvinists do not believe that humans have free will. Understand that I do not know much about Calvinist doctrine. If you are not a Calvinist, sorry for the sidetrack and pay the question no further notice.

My Response:
I am a communicant member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod(LCMS). I am not a Calvinist, although there are areas of agreement on doctrine, such as the belief in the total spiritual depravity of natural man. As for “free will”, my review of Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” published on this website shows that the Scriptures maintain natural man does not have free will in spiritual matters, being born in bondage to sin, death, and Satan. However, in temporal matters man does have free will – he can select his career, wife, etc… However, in the spiritual domain natural man is absolutely hopeless and cannot see let alone enter the Kingdom of God. This requires regeneration by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. I would encourage you to review my treatise on Luther’s debate with Erasmus in Bondage of the Will, still on this website. Martin Luther saw the concept of the will of man as the chief point of the entire Reformation, not the selling of Indulgences and other matters posted in his 95 Theses. Many Protestant churches still believe natural man has free will in the spiritual domain, as reflected in their Arminian and Pelagian theology, both unscriptural heresies.Consider Billy Graham and his appeal to “make a decision for Christ”. The Scriptures state that to ask an unbeliever to “make a decision for Christ” is like asking a dead man to get up out of his coffin! The Scriptures liken faith in Christ to life from the DEAD, as in the case of Lazarus. At any rate, the same ancient heresies confronted by the early Church are with us today in modern America. Decision Theology is perhaps the worst because it overlooks the depravity of natural man and substitutes Roman Catholic-like activities as a replacement for solid Word of God teaching/preaching in conjunction with the Visible Word, the Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper. Most false beliefs in America began only 200 years ago through false teachers such as Charles Finney and the Englishman Darby who introduced the heresy of millenialism..

Hope this helps! Frank Marron

Peter said...

Thanks for respondng Frank.

Churchmouse said...

Frank,

That was well said :-) Keep 'em coming, I'll keep readin' 'em.

Peace,
Ray

Peter said...

Quote from Frank:
_________________________________
The attitude of serious RCs is that non-RCs are “departed brethren” for whom they steadfastly pray will see the errors of their ways and return to the one true faith and sheepfold.
___________________________________

That would be my attitude too.
Christ prayed for unity and St Paul urged it as well.



Quote from Frank:
___________________________________
and yet my sisters choose to remain resistant to the Word of God, obviously preferring the beliefs of fallible men.
___________________________________

Frank, I submit that your sisters, like me, are simply "resistant" to your fallible interpretation of the Word of God.

Peter

Churchmouse said...

Hi Peter,

You said:

Frank, I submit that your sisters, like me, are simply "resistant" to your fallible interpretation of the Word of God.

This assumes that your's is infallible. Isn't this begging the question?

Peace,
Ray

Peter said...

Indeed it does, Ray! :)

FM483 said...

Peter wrote:
That would be my attitude too.
Christ prayed for unity and St Paul urged it as well.

My Response:
It is the responsibility of every believer and Church body to attempt to reconcile differences and achieve unity of faith. This is to be done by speaking the truth in love. Unfortunately, there is no clear promise from Christ in His Word that this will ever be possible until the Last Day. We are all sinners and until the Old Adam is removed there will always be a lack of absolute unity of faith. From my understanding there is as much unity as can be expected between the various Christian sects: all orthodox believers confess the Trinity and the atonement of Christ for the sins of the world. Most differences revolve around secondary issues that are largely cultural in nature. Hence, Christians should strive for unity in confession of faith, but also be realistic because the true Church of Christ is hidden from eyesight, to be revealed on the Last Day(Col 3:4). There was disharmony even when the Apostles walked the earth! Check out the New Testament if you don't understand this fact.Read Acts and the letters of Paul to see all thye admonishments and criticisms for believers in Paul's writings. Most letters in the New Testament were about how Christians should get along with each other. Only Peter's epistle is concentrated on advice for dealing with a hostile world. There are many obstacles to the ability for various sects to agree. Most sects do not have clear confessions of faith, such as is available in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran Confessions. Anyone wishing to understand how an orthodox Lutheran believes and understands the doctrines of Holy Scripture need only read this book. Many other sects have little or no clearly stated doctrines and therefore it is almost impossible to dialogue meaningfully.

Peter also wrote:
Frank, I submit that your sisters, like me, are simply "resistant" to your fallible interpretation of the Word of God.

My Response:
This is a free country and hence anyone is free to disagree with anyone else. However, the point I was making is that my beliefs as both verbally stated and written, always quote the Word of God for the basis. Take my writings as examples, some of which are published on this website. Each topic has a Scripturally sound basis for the treatise. Of course, my position is consistent with my Lutheran Confessions, a further testament to the fact that they are not merely my personal opinions, but that of the Church. You see, I believe it was Christ who said that a prophet is never accepted in his own hometown, as Jesus was rejected as the son of Joseph from Nazareth. Could anything good come from Nazareth? That same experience is the reason my RC sisters do not take me seriously! This is simply fallen human nature. Rather than check out whatever I say based upon the Word of God, as did the Bereans in Acts chapter 17, my sisters merely discount their “dear” brother. As Jesus said, His brothers and sisters were not those who were biologically related to Him, but rather were those who listened to Him, thought about His words, and believed. Hence, my sisters should not believe anything I write or say merely because it is I who say these things, but rather they should check everything out with the bible.This they do not do. They should work out their salvation with fear and trembling, because they would realize that what I am saying is Scripturally correct. However, this type of thinking can be dangerous as changes in one’s beliefs will naturally occur as they become conformed to the Word of God rather than the words of fallible men.

The exchange between Ray and Peter regarding Peter’s “begging the question” merits consideration. If my sisters, or for that matter Peter, cannot understand what I am saying and see the correlation with Holy Scripture, then all is lost: it is impossible for any communication to occur. If the words of Scripture and my exegesis of them are difficult to understand, how are the words and thoughts of fallible humans? I mentioned Martin Luther facing similar adsurdities in the Bondage of the Will, where Luther made a similar observation: if the papists claim Scripture is unclear, how are the words of fallible men more clear? This is absurd thinking. Hence, the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church, referred to as magesterium, requires even more interpretation and analysis than Holy Scripture! Everytime the pope speaks, it requires volumes of analysis and interpretaion! I understand this matter pretty well, receiving many RC periodicals which analyze in depth the pronouncements and dogmas of the RCC. Just read the Catechism of the RCC if you do not understand what I am saying. Compare that Catechism with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and tell me which is clearer and easier to understand? At any rate, one must be precise in their objections in order to communicate effectively Peter.Any specific points?

peter said...

Frank:

thanks for your respnse, i will getback to you when time permits and give a final response. Yesterday I typed from work which i do not like to do as i often feel that I am stealing time from my employer (internat access problems at home). Even now I am not at my usual place of work and have borrowed this computer. And, to top things off, i do not have internet or telephone access at home right now. My servece provider tells me they can have a technician out within 48hrs. If I can getto this computer again over my lunch break I will type my final words to you and rray
Peter

Patrick said...

James,

Pope Leo X offered a profound statement, “How very profitable this fable of Christ has been to us through the ages” (p.223) after an advisor quoted from the gospels.

This is is actually a legend. The statement comes from a satirical work of fiction by 16th century Protestant John Bale: its genesis doesn't even pretend to be historical.

James Swan said...

"I would also like to know who said that a Catholic is responsible for every word the pope utters."

Peter- If I recall, it was Tim Staples in debate with James White. I wrote this about 5 or 6 years ago, but if I recall, it was in the debate these men had on sola scriptura some years ago, though i may be mistaken.

Patrick,

Someone over on the CARM boards noted the same thing about the legend. I will definately check it out. Thanks for the information and link.

Regards,
James Swan

FM483 said...

These posts and comments regarding the “Bad Popes” are all interesting. Whether a certain reference about a certain pope in history was accurate or not, I eagerly await to read what James Swan’s research on the matter uncovers. From the Lutheran perspective, the entire papacy is unscriptural with a long history of abuse. More Christians should read the short treatise “The Power And Primacy Of The Pope”. This was a critical treatise authored by the Reformer Philip Melanchthon in 1537 and included in the official Lutheran Confessions, the Book of Concord. I would encourage every Christian to read this short treatise which clearly delineates the theological problems and abuses of the papacy. This paper is as current today as it was when written in 1537. Although the current pope does not have as much influence in affairs of state today, all the other claims of the papacy remain the same and are an affront to the Church of Jesus Christ. This treatise is available at the following location:

http://www.lcms.org/graphics/assets/media/LCMS/treatise.pdf

Hope this is helpful to the readers!

Frank Marron

James Swan said...

These posts and comments regarding the “Bad Popes” are all interesting. Whether a certain reference about a certain pope in history was accurate or not, I eagerly await to read what James Swan’s research on the matter uncovers.

Well- it was over 5 years ago when I wrote this review of the "bad popes." I must say, over these past 5 years i've grown to appreciate ad fontes research with vigor. If in fact Chamberlin erred, It would be good to point out, and i'm obligated to point it out. i will revise the review, and note that I posted bogus information, if that is in fact what it was.

I've been so caught up in the wacky world of Art Sippo that I haven't had a chance to go find my copy of the Bad Popes, and also to review the link Patrick posted.

I love stuff like Patrick posted. Authors do make mistakes. In fact, i'm thankful when Catholics drop by over here and provide info like this.

James Swan said...

I checked my copy of the Bad Popes. Chamberlin used Bale- the information from the link Patrick provided was interesting.

Chamberlin infers that Leo was joking when he made the statement in question- so the error of miscitation is my fault. I should have noted Leo statement was a jest according to Chamberlin.

In regards to the historicity of the actual citation and Patrick's link, I really don't know anything about Bale. I would be inclined to research his work myself, rather than take the link's word for it that he was unreliable. Overall, the author of the link does the same stuff i do, and is to be commended.

But,that being said, using this quote when it only come from an anti-papal source is not a good idea. In other words, Bale could be accurate, but if his is the only reference to the quote, given his anti-papal sentiment, I would be inclined not to use it.

Peter said...

Ray and Frank, although my PC is up and running I must bow out of this discussion for personal reasons. Although there are some comments that I had intended to give regarding the content of your last responses to me, at this time I am not in a position to continue the dialogue.

God bless you and your families.

Peter

Churchmouse said...

Hi Peter,

Sorry that I hadn't realized you posted.

It's understandable. I'll be praying for you as you seek to know Christ further. God bless and...

Peace,
Ray