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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Papacy, The.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

The Roman Catholic institution of a monarchic rule of the Church by Popes. In Latin, as in English, a word for "father" was taken from the easy labial muttering (pa-pa) of the infant, and in the early Church this was applied to the superintendents, or "overseers" (episcopi, or bishops), of each small community who were presumably selected from the older men. As long as all bishops were Popes (Papae), as they still are in the East, there was no Papacy (Papatus, correctly rendered in English, "Popery"); but the disuse of Greek (which was the official language of the Roman Church during the first two or three centuries) and the growing arrogation of supreme power by the Bishop of Rome restricted the title to him in the West and established the institution of the Papacy. In a famous sentence Hobbes (Leviathan, Ch. 47) describes it as "the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire sitting crowned upon the grave thereof." The description, though often regarded as flippant by historians who have not made a critical study of Papal history, is nearer to the truth than Hobbes knew. Since the Papacy does not mean the rule of the Roman diocese by its bishops, but the rule of the entire Catholic Church - it emphatically insists on its right to rule even the Greek and Oriental Churches - it did not exist until after the fall of Rome, and its establishment was in the highest degree facilitated by the general ignorance and demoralization which followed the collapse of the Empire. This is the first point of importance in connection with the nature and history of the Papacy, and the evidence is misrepresented by Catholic apologists with the kind of audacity which one is compelled to regard as untruthfulness. We have then to inquire how, between 400 and 1300, the Popes constructed a power which is unique in the history of religion, and to examine the character of the men who exercised this power and claimed so close a relation to God that they bore the title of "His Holiness," the nature and range of their influence on civilization, and the means by which a power based upon admitted forgeries and false historical statements is maintained, and to what extent it is maintained, in the modern world.
      (1) In the most pretentious and most authoritative presentment of the Catholic position, the Catholic Encyclopaedia, the important article on the Popes is written by the English Jesuit, Fr. Joyce, and he summarizes the first four centuries in these words: "History bears complete testimony that from the earliest times the Roman Church has ever claimed the supreme leadership, and that that leadership has been freely acknowledged by the universal Church." Under pressure, the Jesuit, and the hierarchy which sponsors the Encyclopaedia, might plead the vagueness of the word "leadership" (instead of power), but the character of the statement may be judged from the fact that from the time when Rome, in the last decade of the second century, first asserted its authority over other Churches until the fall of the Empire, the claim was in every single case repudiated, generally with scorn, and no section of the Eastern half of the "Universal Church" ever admitted it. In Catholic theory the claim is based upon the alleged founding of the Roman bishopric by Peter. Under that title it will be shown that Peter, assuming him to have been an historical character, never reached Rome. The tradition was fabricated in Rome in the second half of the second century. At the end of the first century the Roman community had, as it states in its Letter to the Corinthians, a bishop and deacons. That the bishop was named Clement, and that he wrote the letter, is a later tradition; but the letter is a democratic admonition from one small community to another, and not in any sense a Papal document. The Roman Church remained (outside the city) very obscure and unimportant until the time of Pope Victor (189-98), who claimed a right to dictate to the Churches of Asia Minor. By this time the curious pun about Peter and the rock had been successfully interpolated in Matthew (xvi, 18), and the Bishop of Rome, Victor, had the new and peculiar distinction of being a friend of the most important person in the imperial palace, the Emperor's very wanton mistress, Marcia. The Asiatic bishops rejected the claim and "bitterly reproached Victor," Bishop Eusebius tells us. [See Victor.] Tertullian, in Africa, apparently refers to this when in his treatise On Chastity (c. 1) he refers, with heavy irony, to the Pope as claiming to be "the Supreme Pontiff, that is to say the Bishop of Bishops." It was not until more than fifty years later that the Popes - Cornelius (251-3), Stephen (254-7) - ventured to reassert the claim. They tried to dictate to the bishops of the African province, which was then next in importance to the Roman. Here the attitude of the apologist is amazing. He quotes Cyprian, the head of the African Church and the most saintly bishop of that age, as one who recognized Papal supremacy because, before the quarrel began, he spoke of the Roman as "the principal Church" and "the source of sacerdotal unity": an expression of its importance as being in the imperial city and as the centre from which Africa had been Christianized. But, while every Catholic writer on the subject quotes this and represents it as a recognition of the Papal claim, none of them tell how, when the Popes made their claim, Cyprian repudiated it with anger and scorn in his letters (especially LIV, LXVII, and LXXII). In the last of these he writes in the name of the eighty African bishops, and says in plain and very ironical Latin: "None of us regards himself as the Bishop of Bishops or seeks by tyrannical threats to compel his colleagues to obey him." Pope Julius, in 340, attempted to give orders to the Eastern bishops, and their reply, says the ecclesiastical historian Sozomen, was "full of irony and not devoid of serious threats" (Ecclesiastical History, III, 8). Pope Damasus repeated the attempt in 382, and the reply was equally disdainful (Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, V, 9). That was the last word of the Greek Church on the matter, and the Popes had to be content to assert themselves in the West. Every Catholic writer quotes Augustine as admitting the claim and closing a controversy with the words "Rome has spoken." These writers must know that what Augustine actually said was that the case was closed because the African and the Roman Churches had jointly reached the same conclusion, and that Augustine and his African bishops repudiated the Pope's claim of authority as scornfully as Cyprian and the Greeks had done
      (Labbé, Collectio Conciliorum, 419 and 424). Finally, Pope Leo I, in 445, the African Church being now in ruins under the Vandals, tried to assert the claim in the one comparatively free western province outside Italy, southern Gaul, and its great leader, Hilary, replied to him, the Pope says (Letters, X, 3), in "language which no layman even should dare to use and no priest to hear." Leo got the last miserable representative of the Emperors to declare that the Pope had this authority, but the Empire fell, and there was no prelate left outside Rome of sufficient strength or ability to resist. Until Western Christendom was shattered, in the fifth century, every single Papal assertion of supremacy was heatedly repudiated and rebuked.
      (2) Gaul now passed under the Frank barbarians, Spain under the Visigoths, and Africa under the Vandals, while the Greek Church finally turned away from Rome. The population of Europe was reduced to less than a tenth of what it had been, the school-system was totally destroyed, and the Popes ruled a field of ruins. Hence the profound historical truth of the saying of Hobbes. In such a situation, with a beggared and densely ignorant people looking to distant Rome, which few now visited, as the "See of Peter" and the source of bogus relics and spurious lives of the martyrs, every strong, able, or covetous Pope began to seek an enlargement of his authority. Leo I, under whom the forgery of Canons of earlier Councils began, and Innocent I were such men, but there was little opportunity until the time of Gregory I (590-604), who was, though the most saintly man who had yet worn the tiara, content to make the Papacy the richest owner of land and slaves in Europe. [See Gregory I.] The Lombards annexed a very large part of the Papal estates, and by a series of forgeries which would have been possible only in an age of the densest ignorance [see Donation of Constantine and Papal States], the Popes of the eighth century got them restored and enormously enlarged by the Franks. The "temporal power" (the possessions) of the Papacy here reached its greatest extent, and its further history is one of incessant and bloody conflict. In the ninth century Pope Nicholas I tried to use a similar collection of forgeries, the Forged Decretals, to augment the spiritual or ecclesiastical power of the Papacy, and from the great French prelate, Archbishop Hincmar, met a scornful resistance such as the early claims had met. But the age was one of deepening gloom and barbaric violence, and the death of Nicholas, in 867, was followed by ghastly outrages in Rome which inaugurated the Rule of the whores and a century and a half, with a few short intervals of comparative decency, of unparalleled corruption. Thirty Popes occupied the sodden "throne of Peter" in a single century, and the theory of a leadership of the world was forgotten. In the end a body of reformed monks persuaded the Roman (German) Emperors to intervene - with the vices of the Emperors themselves they did not interfere - and one of these, Hildebrand, became Gregory VII , and gave the Papal theory of power almost its greatest expansion. The Pope was the absolute ruler of the world, in secular as well as religious matters. But Gregory's reckless use of armies, armed mobs, and forged documents provoked a reaction and a contempt of Papal anathemas. The Romans themselves drove him into exile, and the chief authority on the period, Gregorovius, describes how, three years later, his successor, Urban II, "seated in the deserted Lateran surrounded by rude partisans and no less rude bishops, gazing on the ruins of churches and streets - memories of Gregory VII - and on a city silent as death, squalid, and inhabited by a tattered, murderous, and miserable population, presents a gloomy picture of the decadence of the Papacy" (History of the City of Rome, IV, 277). Europe was now rising - the Dark Age was over - but the city of the Popes continued to present a spectacle of barbaric violence and corruption, until the greatest of the Popes, Innocent III (1198-1216) acceded. He completed Hildebrand's scheme of supreme power; but by what means he attained it and how he used it are told in the article on him. We do not doubt that men like Gregory and Innocent fabricated this power, however unscrupulous the means they employed, in the belief that an omnipotent Pope would make the world virtuous; but the historians who accuse us of overlooking this themselves forget two crucial facts. First, in the belief of such Popes the first virtue to secure was rigid orthodoxy and submission, since it was not sound social conduct in this world, but salvation in the next that they sought for men; so they inevitably destroyed freedom, consecrated violence, and tried to arrest or pervert the new intellectual development. Secondly, the vast new power created was no more used to promote virtue by the successors of Innocent than it had been by the successors of Gregory. The thirteenth century , which Innocent inaugurated, is one of the loosest (sexually) in history, and it reeked with cruelty and injustice, especially in Italy. Its Papal history ended in the extraordinary scandal of the pontificate of Boniface VIII (1294-1303), and this was followed by the depravity of the Papal Court at Avignon (1309-77), the disgusting Popes of the Great Schism (1378-1414), under whom even the best Catholic historian, Pastor, says, "the prevailing immorality exceeded anything that had been witnessed since the tenth century" (History of the Popes, I, 97), and the Popes of the Renaissance (1450-1650), when, considering the new enlightenment of Europe, the Papacy sank to a lower depth than ever and, except during a few short periods, remained in its corruption longer than ever. [See articles on each of these phases.]
      (3) The phrases "Holy See" and "His Holiness," which Catholic pressure or intrigue now compels even the daily papers to use, represent a third aspect of what one is tempted to call the great imposture of Catholic literature on the Papacy. The faithful, who are graciously permitted to know that there were "few bad Popes," are reconciled to this on the singular ground that the Church never claimed "impeccability" for its Popes. It is one of the peculiar growths of the semi-Fascist atmosphere of the Church, with its prohibition to read critics under pain of eternal damnation, that a Catholic regards each Pope as "the Vicar of Christ," elected by the Holy Ghost and in intimate relation with the Deity, yet considers the inclusion in the series of a number of corrupt men as a matter of no consequence. This can be effected only by representing the vicious Popes as very rare occurrences in a unique succession of wise and saintly men. In point of historical fact no other religion of which we have adequate knowledge - Brahmanism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, or Islam - presents such a spectacle of corruption in its higher spiritual authorities and their elections to office as does the history of the Popes. No one questions that many of them were able men, or, on the Catholic standard, holy men, but Catholic accounts of them are monstrous. They give the title of "martyr" to nearly every Pope to the year 310, while even Catholic historians like Duchesne admit that at the most only two out of thirty were martyrs. They give the distinction of "Saint" to every Pope except one to the year 530, whereas four-fifths of them are obscure men of unknown character, and the only three whose character is clear to the year 440 - Victor, Callistus, and Damasus - were very far from saintly. Of ninety Popes, to the year 870, the great majority are of unknown character, and a number of the remainder, who do "stand out" in history - not the official Pontifical Book, which makes martyrs with such fluency and canonizes recognizable bad characters - are there on account of their vices or crimes (Symmachus, Vigilius, Pelagius, Stephen II, Stephen IV, and Paschal I). Then came the Rule of the Whores and the Iron Age, nearly two centuries of chronic and incredible degradation of the Papal Court, during which the vilest types of men [see John XI; John XII; John XIV; etc.] became "Vicars of Christ." For other" monsters of vice," as the contemporary documents call them, see Avignon; Boniface VIII; John XXIII; and Renaissance. But these are only the particularly vicious types. We may sum up the biography of the Popes (and the "holiness" of the Papacy) by saying that, of the 260 Popes one-fourth are of unknown character and half the remainder had grave defects of character. At least thirty were sexually loose men (in half a dozen cases paederasts) and a dozen are credibly charged with murder and mutilation. If moreover, we judge them from the Catholic point of view, more than one half of the 200 Popes, from the year 300 to 1650, were notoriously guilty of vices that are held to be worse than sexual irregularities: simony, nepotism, and protecting the corruption of the Papal Court and the clergy.
      (4) The Catholic historian Hayward says, among other painful admissions about this period, that by 1650 "the Papacy began to abandon the guidance of the world" and "its prestige had sunk so low that nobody took any notice" of it (History of the Popes, Engl. trans., 1931). This, it should be noticed, was after the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation are supposed to have purified it and strengthened it.
      In the article on the Counter-Reformation we explain that its dozen years of puritanism, and short-sighted neglect of greater evils, really left the Papal Court still very corrupt, and it was the scorn of Europe, with the exception of the pontificate of the genial Benedict XIV, until the French Revolution, the disdainful treatment of it by Napoleon, and the occupation of Italy by the French stirred it, like an aged lady, into a flutter of futile agitation. During the fifty years of grim reaction which followed the fall of Napoleon, it supported the vilest measures of the Catholic monarchs [see Democracy] and felt that it could safely return to the old corruption. Two loose but able cardinal Secretaries of State managed the Church for Popes of questionable character, and the period closed with the futilities of Pius IX. Under Leo XIII , and largely on account of his blunders, the Papacy lost tens of millions of its subjects, but one of the developments of the new scientific civilization gave it a fresh hope. The scientific conquest of the death-rate led to a rapid increase of population, and, while more advanced countries met this by industrial progress and the control of the birth-rate, the Church forbade any such control, under the usual "pain of hell," in impoverished Catholic countries, and from these (Ireland, Italy, and Poland particularly) tens of millions of Catholics were drafted into the British Empire and the United States. This caused an illusion of growth in the richest and best-educated countries in the world, and gave the Popes, for the first time since the Reformation, a large power of political bargaining and a new prestige. What vast and continued losses this new situation concealed will be shown under Statistics; and an article on the Roman Catholic Church will describe the methods (business organizations, intrigue, censorship, untruthful literature, etc.) by which the Popes retain so many adherents even in advanced countries, and how the present Pope, reverting to the most fanatical traditions of the institution, sought alliance with corrupt forces of reaction to crush the spreading rebellion in Catholic countries, dupe the democracies, and curry favour with what he expected to be the triumphant new autocracies. Apart from two small Catholic works translated from the French and German (Hayward's History of the Popes, 1931, and Seppelt and Loeffler's Short History of the Popes, 1932), which have the defects of their kind, the only general history available is McCabe's History of the Popes (1939, with full contemporary and modern authorities). Most works on the Papacy cover only sections of the vast field. Milman's History of Latin Christianity (4th ed., 9 vols., 1867) is still of value for the early period, Mgr. Duchesne's History of the Christian Church (Engl. trans., 3 vols., 1904-29) is the work of a liberal Catholic scholar. The Catholic work of Mgr. Mann, covering the earlier period (Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages, 13 vols., 1902-15), is richly documented, but equally rich in illustrations of the vices of the modern apologist. Prof. Ludwig Pastor's History of the Popes from the End of the Middle Ages (Engl. trans., 14 vols., 1891-1924) is a learned and conscientious study of the Papacy during the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation, written by a Catholic under the illusion that Leo XIII meant what he said when he threw open the Vatican Secret Archives to scholars - after, as Pastor admits, abstracting the choicest records - and urged Catholic historians to tell the truth. L. von Ranke's works on the same period (The Popes of Rome, Engl. trans., 2 vols., 1846-7, etc.) are invaluable for documents (largely not translated), and Gregorovius's History of the City of Rome (Engl. trans., 8 vols., 1900-9) is of great value and candour for the whole mediaeval period. Bishop Creighton's History of the Papacy from the Great Schism to the Sack of Rome (6 vols., 1897) is weakened by suppressions of ugly facts; Barry's Papal Monarchy (1902) is a superficial Catholic effort posing as impartial; and E. Binrey's Decline and Fall of the Mediaeval Papacy (1934) recalls Gibbon only by its title.


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