Posts Tagged “saints”

Our Lady of Fátima and the Children - Igreja de São Domingos - LisbonIt’s the hundredth anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s famous appearance at Fátima, Portugal. Pope Francis celebrated it by going on a pilgrimage there, and as the Jesuit America magazine reports, he canonized two of the children who saw the apparition (WebCite cached article):

History was made at the shrine of Fatima at 10:30 a.m. on May 13 when Pope Francis declared that Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta are saints. Francisco and Jacinta are the first child saints who are not martyrs in the history of the church.

Francisco, Jacinta and their cousin Lucia are buried here side by side in the basilica. Before Mass, Francis prayed in silence at the tombs of the three shepherd children. When Jacinta’s body was exhumed before being brought here, 15 years after her death, it was found to be totally uncorrupted. Because of this, the local bishop asked Lucia, by then a contemplative nun, to write the memoirs of Jacinta and Francisco, detailing the extraordinary events that have so powerfully impacted the lives of believers ever since [cached].

The Fátima sighting, of course, was not just a single event: it was six of them. Today is the anniversary of the first of these appearances; the last was 5 months later in October of 1917. The now-famous “three secrets” were delivered during the third of the six appearances, in July.

These secrets — mainly, the third — are the subject of more than a little conspiratorial thinking. The third was withheld, and put in writing in the early 1940s by the surviving witness (at that time), Lúcia dos Santos (who had become a nun), sealed in an envelope by her. It was not to be opened until 1960, for some reason; Pope John XXIII read it at that time, but decided not to disclose it. John Paul II finally revealed the “third secret” in 2000, and the Church decided then that it had referred to the assassination attempt against him in 1981. It’s been published, and is even available on the Vatican’s Web site (cached).

The Church’s interpretation of the “third secret” is rather deficient, by any standard. Its vision of a bishop in white being killed by soldiers does not, in any way, reflect the shooting of John Paul II. This, plus the sketchy way the “third secret” was treated, fostered conspiracy theories. Many of these theories assume the Vatican’s published version of the “third secret” is either incomplete or fraudulent, and the actual “third secret” is being withheld for nefarious reasons (which they’ve spun out of thin air, having nothing else to base them on).

There’s just one problem with all of this: Sister Lúcia was alive in 2000, and published commentaries on the “secrets” as late as 2001, and died in 2005. She never contradicted the Vatican’s released version of the “third secret.” (This is why Lúcia wasn’t sainted along with her two friends today; they died long ago due to the Spanish flu pandemic and qualified for canonization already; Lúcia’s sainthood cause has yet to run its course.)

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Missionaries of Charity Mother HouseThe canonization of Mother Teresa has been brewing since her death in the late 1990s. The Pope at the time, John Paul II, had been a serious fan of hers, and greased the skids so as to speed up her sainthood — something that usually takes decades, if not centuries. He arranged for her beatification (the first step in the process) in 2003, and many in the Vatican have worked hard since then to get her sainted. As the Religion News Service reports, she is now “Saint Teresa of Calcutta” (WebCite cached article):

Mother Teresa, the tiny nun who devoted her life to the poor, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican as he celebrated her “daring and courage” and described her as a role model for all in his year of mercy.

At least 120,000 people crowded a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of the acclaimed nun who may have worked in the slums of Kolkata but was a force to be reckoned with by political and religious leaders around the world.

Mother Teresa’s reputation for charity goes beyond just the Catholic Church, largely thanks to her having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. But the reality of her work doesn’t support this reputation. She’s been accused of not having actually helped all the ailing in her “hospital,” due to her devotion to the idea that it’s actually good for people to suffer (good for them, and for humanity as a whole).

Among her critics was the late British journalist Christopher Hitchens, who hosted a documentary and wrote a book explaining that her charitable reputation was undeserved. You can watch that documentary, Hell’s Angel, right here:

But for many fans of Mother Teresa, particularly devout Catholics, wouldn’t accept anything Hitchens had to say about her; after all, he was one of those horrific “New Atheists” and isn’t to be listened to. But she had other critics, including Dr Aroup Chatterjee, who’d worked for her clinic for a time (cached), and a team of Canadian academics, whose review of her work concluded she was “anything but a saint” (cached). None of those folks has any anti-Catholic or anti-religious axe to grind. So their criticisms should get some attention … even if they weren’t enough to prevent her canonization.

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Pope Francis recognized two of his most famous papal predecessors in a ceremony St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt’s been coming for months now. In office only just over a year, Pope Francis … with his retired direct predecessor Benedict XVI on hand … today canonized two of the most famous popes of the twentieth century, if not of all time: John XXIII and John Paul II. The New York Times reports on this canonization rite and some of its ramifications (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis made history on Sunday, elevating to sainthood John XXIII and John Paul II, two of his most famous papal predecessors, in a ceremony bearing themes of hope and reconciliation for the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.…

Francis, who made the decision to hold the joint canonization, portrayed the two former popes as “men of courage” who shared a place in history.…

Never before had two popes been canonized at the same time, and the pairing attracted large, joyous crowds tramping through Rome, with many people waving flags or banners. Francis declared the two men saints shortly after the Mass began, a pronouncement greeted with rising applause from the square and followed by the presentation of relics linked to the two new saints.…

Notable among the cardinals and political leaders seated near the outdoor altar was Benedict XVI, the former pope who has remained largely out of the public eye since his historic resignation last year. His decision to step down led to the papal election of Francis.

As the Times explains, the Vatican has been veering away from the (rather obvious) appearances evoked by this unprecedented event:

In the days before the ceremony, however, Vatican officials had sought to dispel the political subtext of the event — that the two former popes are icons to different constituencies within the church, and that by canonizing them together, Francis was making a political statement as well as a religious one.

John XXIII is a hero to many liberal Catholics for his Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, which sought to open the church to the modern era. John Paul II is a hero to many conservative Catholics — not only for his anti-Communist heroism and personal charisma, but also because of his resistance to liberalizing elements of the church.

By pairing their canonizations, Francis sought to de-emphasize their differences, many analysts said, in the service of trying to reconcile divisions within the church and finding consensus as he prepared for the meetings, known as synods, centered on the theme of family.

I for one do not, for a single moment, buy into the idea that this couldn’t have been a way for Francis to appeal simultaneously to both the liberal/reformist and conservative/reactionary factions of his Church. Both factions were sure to be pleased by the elevation to sainthood of each of their most recognizable recent leaders. There’s just no way around it; the Vatican’s efforts to insist differently, are simply not credible.

A lot of ink has been spilt … and bits transmitted … concerning the unusual speed of John Paul’s canonization and the lack of two miracles to support John’s. For instance, Religion News Service asks why their canonizations were so speedy (cached):

Yet despite the vast popularity of the two popes, there is intense debate about whether these canonizations are nothing more than an elaborate public relations exercise — and whether they should be taking place at all.

John Paul II will hold the record for the fastest saint to be canonized in the history of the Catholic Church [sic]. John XXIII is even more controversial since Pope Francis approved his canonization with evidence of only one miracle — instead of the two normally required.

“It’s controversial among the saint makers at the Vatican, who consider themselves sticklers when it comes to the miracle requirement,” said longtime Vatican watcher John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries.”

The article is incorrect when it says John Paul was canonized sooner after his death than any other saint (which is why I put a “sic” after that sentence above). Both St Anthony of Padua and St Peter of Verona, for example, were canonized much more quickly … each less than a year after their deaths, around 20 years apart during the 13th century. Despite this error, it’s true John Paul’s canonization is the quickest to have occurred in modern times. Moreover, consider as a comparison the protracted elevation of the Martyrs of Otranto: Killed in 1480, they were beatified just under 3 centuries later in 1771, and finally canonized almost 250 years after that, in 2013. Overall, their canonization took over 5 centuries to happen. The just-over-9-year span between John Paul’s death and canonization is a drop in the bucket, when viewed alongside that.

The Vatican and Church officials have, so far, defended these actions (i.e. John Paul’s quick elevation and John’s elevation without a second miracle) as proper within the boundaries of canon law and Church rules. For all I know, they may be correct about that. However, these moves are definitely unusual for a Church that’s known for not moving very fast on anything and for being fiercely legalistic about everything it does. To say otherwise is fucking laughable.

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via the NY Times.

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Pope John Paul II at Madame Tussaud's in New YorkThe canonization of Pope John Paul II has zoomed along at record speed. He was formally beatified in 2011, a mere — and record-setting — six years after his death. It’s a campaign begun by his successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Just this past summer, a second miracle attributed to him was approved by the current Pope Francis; at that point, John Paul’s canonization was virtually a “done deal.” As CBS News reports, he will be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2014, along with the reformer Pope John XXIII (WebCite cached article):

Two of the most-loved leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, will be raised to sainthood together in a joint canonization ceremony — the first such ceremony in the church’s history.

At a consistory in the Vatican, Pope Francis announced Monday that the joint canonization will be held on April 27, the day on which the Catholics celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, marking the feast day of Divine Mercy.

Not only have the rules been bent in order to speed up John Paul II’s canonization, so too have they been bent in favor of John XXIII:

Normally two miracles are required for someone to become a saint, but in a rare (though not unprecedented) break with the rules for canonization, Pope Francis waived the requirement of a second miracle for John XXIII. This means that the man who led the church from 1958 to 1963 and convened the Second Vatican Council, will be declared a saint despite having had only one official miracle attributed to his intercession.

The plan to canonize John Paul on Divine Mercy Sunday is no coincidence. This solemnity is based on the “visions” and writings of John Paul’s fellow Pole St Faustina. John Paul canonized her in 2000, and at the same time put her Divine Mercy solemnity on the Catholic calendar, the Sunday after Easter. Moreover, as it turns out, John Paul died on Divine Mercy Eve (i.e. April 2, 2005).

At any rate, that Pope Francis wants to canonize both these men on the very same day … one in exceptionally-little time (an unprecedented 9 years after his death), the other in exceptional fashion (without the required second miracle), suggests he’s sending a very intentional message. Vatican-watchers interpret it as Francis’ affirmation of the two tracks that Catholicism followed during the latter half of the 20th century: a reform effort, championed and personified by John XXIII, who’d convened II Vatican; and a reactionary effort, championed and personified by John Paul II, a fierce ecclesiastical conservative.

While this sounds reasonable on the surface, I’m forced to ask what the point of that would be? Is he trying to say he supports both enacting reforms and rolling them back? How does that make any sense? I can’t figure out what the hell the new Pope is doing.

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John Paul II Monument in Borkowo Ko?cielneThe Vatican has been eager to get the late Pope John Paul II canonized as soon as possible. That process is amazingly protracted and cumbersome. It can take decades or even centuries for people to be sainted. For instance, the Catholic Church took almost 300 years just to beatify the Martyrs of Otranto, and over 500 years to make them saints. Yet, this same wizened and supposedly-deliberate group, as the CNN Belief Blog reports, is on the cusp of granting the same honor to their late associate: (WebCite cached article):

The Catholic Church is on the verge of declaring late Pope John Paul II a saint, a Vatican source familiar with the process told CNN on Tuesday.

The committee that considers candidates for sainthood voted Tuesday to credit the late pope with a second miracle, the source said, asking not to be named discussing internal Vatican deliberations.…

The Polish-born pope was fast-tracked to beatification when he died in 2005 [cached], and became “the blessed” John Paul II barely six years after his death — the fastest beatification in centuries.

“For an institution that typically thinks in centuries, this is remarkably quick,” said CNN Vatican analyst John Allen.

In fact, the phrase “record-breaking speed” leaps to mind, and not without reason, as CNN explains:

The record for the fastest canonization is [sic] modern times is St. Jose-Maria Escriva, the Spanish-born founder of Opus Dei, a Catholic order of laypeople and saints dedicated to finding God in daily life. Escriva was made a saint 27 years after his death.

John Paul could shatter that record.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out that Pope John Paul II had built up something of a “cult of personality” during is reign, and many of the hierarchs now in charge of the R.C. Church had been appointed by him, or had put them into position to move up into the hierarchy. They appear now to be clamoring to repay his favors posthumously.

It would be nice if they could instead find a way to devote more of their attention and energy to something other than a dead man. Figuring out how to deal constructively and candidly with the worldwide clerical child-abuse scandal that’s wracked their institution for more than a decade, would be one of those things.

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The Christian Martyrs Last PrayerFor a very long time I’ve been saying that Christians’ claims of historical persecution are overblown. Many of them think the Romans routinely and pervasively persecuted their religion throughout the first three centuries of its existence. And today, they view the loss of their religion’s once-mighty influence over occidental culture as a kind of persecution. They don’t realize that their beliefs about Roman Imperial persecution are vastly overstated, even though most scholars — beginning with Edward Gibbon, author of the seminal The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — acknowledge it was exaggerated. Their belief that, during Roman times, their religion hovered at the very edge of extinction at any moment and that being associated with Christianity in any way was an automatic instant death sentence, continues to be prevalent, in spite of the fact that it’s not true at all.

This Easter morning, the CNN Belief Blog posted an article about authors who’ve examined the record of Rome’s persecution of Christianity and found it wanting (WebCite cached article):

Millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. But the story of how the church rose to prominence after Jesus’ death is being turned upside down.

According to a belief passed down through the centuries, the church grew because of Roman persecution. The blood of Christian martyrs such as Perpetua became “the seed of the church,” said third-century church leader Tertullian. It’s the Hollywood version of Christianity reflected in epic biblical films such as “Ben-Hur” and “The Robe.” Vicious Romans relentlessly targeted early Christians, so the story goes, but the faith of people like Perpetua proved so inspiring that Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and eventually the largest religion in the world.

But that script is getting a rewrite. The first Christians were never systematically persecuted by the Romans, and most martyrdom stories — with the exception of a handful such as Perpetua’s — were exaggerated and invented, several scholars and historians say. It wasn’t just how the early Christians died that inspired so many people in the ancient world; it was how they lived.

“You had much better odds of winning the lottery than you would have becoming a martyr,” says Joyce E. Salisbury, author of “The Blood of Martyrs: Unintended Consequences of Ancient Violence.”

“The odds were pretty slim. More people read about martyrs than ever saw one.”

It’s absolutely true that some Christians were persecuted in Roman times. It’s also true that there were some periods of extensive, systematic persecution. No rational person who’s seen the historical evidence can deny either of these facts. That said, the persecution that did take place was sporadic, and far less common than is now widely believed. Systematic persecutions took place only under two emperors, Decius and Diocletian. Each of these persecutions lasted at most for two years. The Christian legend that Emperor Septimus Severus also ordered a systematic persecution of Christians is not supported by any evidence.

Christians’ obsession with martyrs has historically created a lot of problems. For example, in classical times, immediately after tolerance for their religion was declared by Emperor Constantine in 313, a hyperpious reverence for martyrs led to the catastrophic fracture of the Church in northern Africa, the Donatist schism.

Even worse, modern Christians have carried this false legend into their own lives, and believe themselves to be persecuted, even now:

The debate over exactly how many Christians were persecuted and martyred may seem irrelevant centuries later. A scholarly consensus has indeed emerged that Roman persecution of Christians was sporadic, and that at least some Christian martyrdom stories are theological tall tales.

But a new book by Candida Moss, a New Testament professor at the University of Notre Dame, is bringing that message to the masses.

Moss says ancient stories of church persecution have created a contemporary cult of bogus Christian martyrs. She says too many American Christians are acting like they’re members of a persecuted minority, being thrown to the lions by people who simply disagree with them.

She cited former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney claimed last year that President Barack Obama was waging a “war against religion,” and Santorum said the gay community “had gone out on a jihad” against him. Other Christians invoke images of persecution when someone disagrees with them on controversial issues such as abortion or birth control, says Moss, whose “The Myth of Persecution” was recently released.

Too many Christians conflate mere disagreement with persecution … despite the fact that they’re not the same thing. Not even close!

Again, I do not deny that some Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire, nor do I deny that some Christians are being persecuted in other parts of the world. What I am saying is that Christians in the U.S. and the rest of the occidental world, are not being persecuted, and that for them to continue believing they are, is delusional thinking. It’s time for them to grow the fuck up, dial back the sniveling and the sanctimonious bellyaching, accept that their religion no longer rules the world with an iron fist, and stop accusing non-Christians of things they haven’t done.

P.S. I can see it now: Cue the Christians’ fury and outrage that CNN insolently published this article “dissing” their religion, on Easter morning, of all days. Why, it’s intolerable that the evil secularists at CNN and in the mass media are trying to wipe out their poor, put-upon faith, this way, on their holiest day! If only these Christians could see how such reasoning merely provides more evidence of this religiously-propagated psychopathology … !

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St Cyril of AlexandriaWhen one considers the abuses of the Christian church, one invariably thinks of things like the Inquisitions or the Crusades. While these are still valid examples of what can go wrong with Christianity when people get carried away with it, they have unfortunately become too cliché to get people’s attention any more. When you say the words “Inquisition” or “Crusades,” Christians stop listening. They’re not interested in hearing anything about these, and will not accept that they’re an object lesson on their religion.

This means other examples of Christianity’s moral failures are needed. While Christians won’t necessarily like to hear these, either, they’re different enough from the clichés to at least get them to listen for a little while before they turn their ears off. I intend to bring up some of these in a series of posts I’ll facetiously call “Great Christians” or “Great Moments in Christianity.”

Early Christians — especially during the period of the great Christological controversies of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries — were a truly contentious bunch. Among the most vicious of the contenders was Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. He was responsible for many events in Christian history; he proved the most influential Christian prince of his time, in spite of his vicious and unethical tactics. He is, to this day, revered as a saint by all Christian churches — even though he was no “saint” at all.

His Machiavellian nature was, perhaps, no more evident than during the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. It took place at the height of the Nestorian controversy. The disagreement involved the princes of the eastern Church: Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople, whose teachings were the focus of concern, and Cyril, who led opposition to him. Nestorius had requested the council, and Emperor Theodosius II had selected Ephesus (along the western coast of modern-day Turkey) to host it, because of that city’s accessibility. Fortuitously for Cyril, two factors played in his favor: First, the host city’s bishop, Memnon, happened to support him; and Ephesus happened to be the city in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, was supposed to have died, making her dear to Christians there. They used this against Nestorius, who had taught that Mary should not be called by the traditional epithet θεοτοκος (theotokos) meaning “Mother of God,” but rather as χριστοκος (christokos) meaning “Mother of Christ.” Cyril and Memnon appealed to the Marian sentiments of the Council’s host city, claiming that Nestorius was somehow “dissing” Mary, and the population appears to have latched onto that.

Now, Cyril and his company of Egyptian bishops arrived by ship, since he had the money to pay to travel by ship, whereas the supporters of Nestorius — the most important of which was John, patriarch of Antioch — traveled over land. Naturally, then, this meant that Ephesus was full of Cyrilline partisans long before the Nestorian prelates could arrive. Cyril and Memnon convened the council before their opponents could arrive in any numbers, and the few Nestorians who were already there, were driven out of the Council chambers. This one-sided council, quite naturally, passed judgement on Nestorius and condemned him. Shortly after, John arrived, and immediately convoked his own council, denouncing Cyril and Memnon.

The result was several weeks of alternating and opposing councils being convened, with rival denunciations, and even some brawling among ecclesiasts, and pitched battles taking place in the streets. The Emperor, hearing about events in Ephesus remotely (he remained in Constantinople) and only days after the fact, was forced to send deputies there to keep order, but the deputies ended up becoming embroiled in the conflict rather than trying to ameliorate it. While he had initially supported Nestorius — the man he had chosen as archbishop of the Imperial seat — Theodosius was eventually overcome by local influences, especially the monks of the Constantinople region who tended toward Cyril’s position. Cyril also had bribed various courtiers, who murmured against Nestorius in the Emperor’s ear. Eventually Theodosius rethought his support for Nestorius.

Between the locals in Ephesus who hated him, and the waning support of the Emperor, after three months of conflicting councils and intractable arguing, Nestorius agreed to leave Ephesus and also retire as archbishop of Constantinople, so long as his own protege replaced him in that see. The emperor and prelates agreed to this arrangement, and he departed, residing in his home region near Antioch.

The Council met hastily, now with no contention. Cyril’s theology was approved and Nestorius’s condemned. But this hadn’t happened because the two theologies had been explored and debated, and Cyril’s had proven itself correct; it was only because Nestorius had, essentially, surrendered the Council.

Nestorius had walked away from the Council in good faith, but within a couple of years, the machinations of Cyril overcame him. His chief ally John of Antioch had given up on him, due to the threats and bullying of Cyril and his own allies; Nestorius’ chosen successor in Constantinople had given up his theology for the same reason; and his erstwhile patron Theodosius had banished him to an outlying monastery in Egypt. Christendom utterly abandoned Nestorius, in spite of all promises that had been made to him. Cyril acquired the absolute victory he’d worked so hard for (and presumably had spent a lot of money to achieve).

The destruction of Nestorius was not Cyril’s only victory, however. Using the monks of the Alexandria environs as his personal army of stormtroopers, during his career, Cyril ordered the destruction of synagogues and the expuslion of Jews from the city; he destroyed various heretics within his see; and he ordered a number of murders, the most famous of which was that of Hypatia, then the most prominent pagan academician of Alexandria — monks attacked her in a mob and literally rent her to pieces. The funds he had used to get himself quickly to Ephesus, and to bribe Imperial courtiers, likely had come to him via the routing of his foes and his monks’ plundering.

The escapades of Cyril of Alexandria are retold famously by Edward Gibbon in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volume 2, chapter 47). That Cyril of Alexandria is viewed as a saint is a shame, however, it’s not likely any church will condemn him, since his victory over Nestorius eventually contributed to the Trinity doctrine, which is so precious to most (but not all) Christians. To admit any flaw in Cyril could, conceivably, be construed as “anti-Trinitarian,” and most Christians simply will never permit that.

The lesson here is that right and wrong in Christianity are determined by one’s theology. Having the “right” theology, means everything one does is morally “right”; even if — in actual terms — one’s behavior was anything but “morally ‘right’.”

Of course, it’s quite illogical to refuse to admit wrongdoing on someone’s part merely because of which belief-package s/he espoused; but this illogic appears not to matter much to anyone.

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