Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

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Frederic II (1194-1250), the Wonder of the World.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

It may be thought characteristic of our time that while one of the leading Christian writers of the thirteenth century called the great Rationalist prince "the Wonder of the World," and even distinguished Church writers of the last century recognized his towering genius, we now pay little attention to him. In many respects he is one of the most significant figures of the Middle Ages. Son of a Norman princess and a German prince, and reared in the Arab-Norman kingdom of Sicily, he represents, and in large part he effected, the grafting of a higher culture upon the mediaeval barbarity of Europe. In the year of his birth, his father, the German Emperor, extinguished, with all the savagery that still characterized German princes, the line of Norman kings whose equal savagery had been transmuted into a high civilization in two generations by contact with the Sicilian Arabs whom they conquered. The Pope of the time, and probably the greatest of the Popes in point of power and religious conviction, Innocent III, instead of furthering the promise of this blend of Teutonic strength and Arab culture, unscrupulously promoted, in the interest of the Church, the fierce wars of rival claimants of the imperial crown, which belonged to his ward, the infant Frederic, and played upon the anaemic piety of the widow to get power over Sicily and the boy. Thus Frederic's precocious mind opened upon a world of Papal treachery. He was almost robbed of his heritage, and the Pope compelled him at the age of fourteen to wed a most uncongenial Spanish princess of twenty-one. In contrast to this, his Arab tutors taught him a gracious philosophy of life and a love of art and science, while the Oriental atmosphere of the palaces helped to give him an admirably balanced ideal of beauty and strength. If we add that Innocent III was succeeded by Popes who had all his sourness and arrogance without his greatness, we see that the lines of Frederic's life were predetermined.
      He was, after a vigorous campaign to establish his legitimate rule in Germany and Italy, distracted all his life from his great aim of restoring civilization to Europe and securing the development of science by struggles with three successive Popes for whom no historian has now a word of excuse or admiration. Innocent IV, who, says Dr. Holland, "surpassed all his predecessors in the ferocity and unscrupulousness of his attacks on the Emperor," used the new friars to inflame the people against him everywhere. Gregory IX was vulgar and almost apoplectic in his invective, and, against the rules laid down sternly by the Popes themselves, he called for a Crusade against Frederic's kingdom while he was absent on Crusade - because Frederic got from the Sultan all that was wanted by friendly negotiation. To their repeated anathemas Frederic replied with an astonishing letter to his fellow-kings urging them to rebel against the miserable Papacy. In spite of this life-long distraction, he, by linking the crown of Italy with that of Norman-Arab Sicily - he wore seven crowns - greatly promoted the development which was soon to flower in the Italian Renaissance, and found a home for science in the cities of North Italy. He was the most accomplished man of his age, and so openly sceptical that it was widely believed that he wrote the anonymous work The Three Impostors (Moses, Christ, and Mohammed). One must lack the historical sense to overlook his great work for culture and humanity and dilate censoriously upon his elegant palaces and still more elegant harems. As to his being the first monarch to penalize heresy, though he did not enact the death penalty which the Popes wanted, this was wrested from him by the Popes when the struggle compelled him to make concessions. We have no evidence that he applied his law. It was Matthew of Paris, one of the most accomplished Christian writers of the time, who at his death wrote that "the greatest of earthly princes, the Wonder of the World" (Stupor Mundi), had passed away. The reigning Pope disgusted Christendom by a letter to the world in such terms as "Let the heavens and the earth break into joy." Freeman (Historical Essays, "Frederic II" describes him as "the most gifted of the sons of men, by nature more than the peer of Alexander, of Constantine, or of Charlemagne: in mere genius, in mere accomplishments, the greatest prince who ever wore a crown." Frederic's chief modern biographer, Allshorn, affects to dispute this, but later admits that "in genius he has had no superior among the princes of the world," and he had "a singularly enlightened conception of the arts of government." His conception was that of the sceptical Caliphs of the Arab civilization . Allshorn's Stupor Mundi (1912) is the best modern study, but not adequate to the great theme.


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