Sunday, December 23, 2007

Selling Indulgences?

Did you read the New York Time's article last week on papal indulgences, Vatican, Religion, and the coming Christmas holy-holidays?

Well! They reined in their talons when Pope John Paul II was afflicted with Parkinson’s syndrome. Now all the gloves are off for the brilliant German Pope Benedict XVI, he of firm theological roots, a dazzling mind and the disarming smile. Please be informed. There is high-grade steel underneath his good manners.

I am talking about Catholic bashing – yet again. The New York Times wrote that the Pope is bringing back indulgences. Schlemiels, they never went away. As with so many things involving the Church in Rome and its 1.5 billion believers, many things need to be explained to the bashers. It is common decency to do this with the ignorant. Ignorance after all is the worst of all crimes. When the august New York Times writes something on the Catholic Church, one can only assume that there is something manipulative or slightly malevolent about it.
What are indulgences? Indulgences are spiritual gifts to the faithful granted by the Pope. For example a pilgrimage from Aachen to Santiago de Compostela in Spain if so decreed by the Pope could earn the faithful and note that I am using the word faithful purposefully, less days of suffering or waiting in that Nether world known as Purgatory.

No money is supposed to go into the coffers of the Vatican for any pilgrimage or for that matter any visit to a shrine or grotto sacred to one who believes. The Pope or any priest or nun cannot sell Indulgences.

In its two thousand year plus history, the Church in Rome has survived everything – including the most venal, corrupt, murderous, debauched, and ruthless Popes. Forty-two anti-Popes have reigned. Several Barbarian Kings sacked and burnt Rome to the ground.

Attila the Hun met Pope Leo the Great. Behind him stood his vast Magyar army. Historians called them hordes. Deception. They were disciplined, austere and determined. We can speculate all we want. Christian and Jewish scholars claim a vast amount of money (gold) and gems caused Attila to turn back.

Let me get this right. Pope Leo the Great, a much loved, respected and trusted Pope in his own time BRIBED Attila? Are we to believe that a great Leader who let’s just say, lacked subtlety and refinement, loaded to the kazoo with gold, silver and gems, turned on his heels because he was offered more of the stuff? Could it just be that the Pope’s sanctity and spirituality touched Attila?

The Church has also survived plunder by its own Catholic Kings and Emperors. The mercenary armies of Charles von Hapsburg – Emperor Charles V sacked, slaughtered and raped for months in the 16th century. They had orders to kill the Pope. Only the deaths of 80% of his Swiss Guards who fended off the attacks from the Quirinale Palace to Castel Sant’Angelo saved him. Day in, day out the horror continued. A plague brought on by the piles of corpses rotting in the Tiber caused the Army to abandon the city. By then, many of them were infected and spread the disease throughout Italy, France and Germany.

The sale of indulgences nearly destroyed the Church. It angered a fiery incorruptible and politically savvy Augustinian monk in Wittenberg. His name was Martin Luther. He attacked the Pope and his representative, the Monsignor Johann Tetzel. Pope Leo had decreed that after Confession and Communion an indulgence of forgiveness would be granted to the faithful. They could then donate money for the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther rightly pointed out that one could not read into the hearts and minds of those going to confession and communion. For those sacraments to be valid, the people had to have the firm resolve not to commit the sins they had confessed and make amendments. The amends according to the Pope would be the donations. That set Luther on a path of theological revolution He wrote 95 accusations - theses and nailed affixed on the door of the Church of Wittenberg. He refused to retract the 95 accusations and called for a public debate. At the Diet of Worms, (a Diet is a general assembly) Luther ignited the Reformation and forever changed the face of Europe, if not the world.
“So be it. I must do what my conscience tells me.”

The Church fought back the Reformation with its Counter Reformation spearheaded by a new order of religious men - The Society of Jesus – the Jesuits. They succeeded. Never again were indulgences, spiritual favors or blessings requested in exchange for money.

Allow me to mention some of the traditions, which my Orthodox Jewish friends practice during this period. Naturally, don’t expect the New York Times to even remotely mention this. The rabbis receive ‘’Daven” that’s beaucoup loot, in order for them to pray to He Who Has No Name to perform miracles. The rabbis also hand out a blessing “Braha” to individuals. The bigger the lolly, the greater the blessing.

My non-believing Jewish friends celebrate Christmas and Chanukah or Hanukah. I have tried to enlighten them by explaining that Christmas is about Pax-Peace. Hanukkah is about celebrating a massacre.

Personally, I see nothing wrong if an individual has the means and wishes to give money during the Christmas holidays to the Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Temple, and Meeting room of their choice.

Martin Luther remained highly suspicious of the Jews and wrote nearly a thousand pages of tomes, essays, treatises and critiques about them. In a nutshell he told the German people and all who would read his works. "They hate us. They want to kill us. We must therefore kill them before they wipe all of us Christians out.”

That is a sententious statement. Luther was a lucid thinker. He was not given to blood lusts or feuds. His opinion was that the Jews rejection of Jesus rendered them dupes, witting or unwitting of dark forces, which waded and swam in blood. So, we have come full circle to Chanukah. In the Catholic Bible it is Apocryphal. I think the same goes for the King James Bible.

Luther’s translation of the Latin Vulgate into German is without doubt one of the greatest works ever done in the beautiful German language. He also composed some of the most exquisitely sublime Christmas carols, in the so-called Hoch Deutsch. He portrays the Maccabees, the family who posed as descendants of King David and slaughtered every man, woman and child who belonged to the Syrian Seleucids (a pro-Greek ethnic group) as con men and criminals. That is the Happy Chanukah we hear so much about.

I for one am tired of all the Catholic bashing. I am in all in favor of informed criticism – but please take the time to know what you are writing about.

As for Christian traditions, I don't know about you – but I would much rather tell all my friends and family Merry Christmas then encourage them to go "kill the bastards."

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