Category Archives: Church history

Some Innocent Popes

Innocent IV / ztopics.com

Innocent IV / ztopics.com

From the twelfth century to the eighteenth century several Popes called Innocent stand out: they are:-

Innocent III (Lotario dei Conti di Signi). He was Pope from 1198 to 1216, and as he was born in 1160 this shows he became papal at the early age of thirty-eight. Historians agree that his pontificate was a high point of the temporal and spiritual supremacy of the Roman see (the Vatican). He was certainly powerful, being able to judge between rival emperors in Germany; at one point he actually deposed one – Otto IV.

   This Innocent excommunicated the awful King John of England, who had refused to recognise the Pope’s appointment of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. He also set up the Fourth Lateran Council in the year 1215. Continue reading

The English Pope

Pope Adrian at a crowning ceremony / telegraph.co.uk

Pope Adrian at a crowning ceremony / telegraph.co.uk

Strictly speaking, our title should be ‘The only English Pope’, since that is the case. There were several other leaders of the Roman Catholic church called Adrian, and this was the Fourth. He was Nicholas Breakspear, an attractive surname, and he was born in 1100. He started his career in the Church as an altar boy, and moved on to become a ‘lay brother’ but not in England. A ‘lay brother’ is a helper in the Mass, perhaps a sacristan, not yet ordained. This was in the monastery of Saint Rufus, near Avignon in France.

   It does not seem certain when he was ordained, but we do know that he was elected Abbot at St. Rufus at the age of thirty-seven, which indicates an iron will and unshakeable faith in himself, given his period in history. He was perhaps too strict a discplinarian for the other monks, because they chose to report him for his zeal in applying punishment, and he had to go to the Vatican to explain himself and his methods to the Pope there – Eugenius III. If his fellow monks had imagined Breakspear would anger the Pope, they were wrong. Not only did he explain his case, clearing away any possibility of reprobation, but he managed to acquire the esteem of Eugenio III: instead of reproving him he was made Cardinal Bishop of Albano at the age of only forty-six. Continue reading

The Freemasons

Masons hard at work / lessons-from-history.com

Masons hard at work / lessons-from-history.com

Even today, in predominantly Roman Catholic countries the word Mason, or Francmason or Masonería is taboo in polite society. Spanish people assure you that Masons are only one step better than the Devil, that they have been behind every evil conspiracy, that their presence among politicians spells disaster etc. But in protestant countries Masonry is as acceptable as Methodism, and in England, for example, the Masons finance and manage charitable organisations of the best kind, such as the Royal Masonic Hospitals, schools and universities.

   The origins of Freemasonry are mysterious; some kind of continuity exists between guilds of stonemasons, responsible for the building of most of the vast cathedrals to be found everywhere in Europe, and the Masonic lodges of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The process, and the order, continues to the present day, though not so openly in Catholic countries. Continue reading

Conversos (the converted)

 

Religious poet Fray Luis de León

Religious poet Fray Luis de León

Jews in the Spain of the Middle Ages, though never popular, were permitted to convert from Judaism to Christianity; rigorous tests conducted by priests followed equally stern training. The ‘converts’ were called Conversos to define the essential difference between someone born and baptized Christian and a ‘convert’. In addition, they were sometimes called ‘New Christians’ to distinguish them from Old or Non-Semitic Christians. In popular speech they were often called Marranos which is vulgar Spanish for pigs. The correct term is Cerdo, but this word is also used by the Spanish to describe any male they happen to deprecate, probably with reason. Continue reading

The Inquisition

Popular conception of question time in the Spanish Inquisition / newsbiscuit.com

Popular conception of question time in the Spanish Inquisition / newsbiscuit.com

This was a Catholic tribunal founded on a temporary basis in France and Germany. Its purpose was to seek out heresy, prosecute and punish it. In the thirteenth and later centuries how you decided to worship God in Europe was not optional. Heretics were severely punished, often capitally, by burning alive. The latter is probably the most painful way to die, but the Church believed that only by burning could the non-conformist devil in a person be driven out and destroyed.

   The country of Spain, and later its empire, is chiefly associated by historical novelists with the Inquisition, also known as the ‘Holy Office’ or Santo Oficio. A medieval inquisition was set up in the kingdom of Aragon, with headquarters in Tarragona, but this was superceded in the late fifteenth century by the newly invented Castilian or Spanish Inquisition, founded by a papal bull by Sixtus VI in 1478. The branch was devoted first and foremost to investigating how converted Jews and Muslims were behaving now that they were Christian. The Spanish Jews and Muslims of Castilla had been forced to embrace Christianity in the stern form of Catholic Faith in 1492 and 1502 respectively. Continue reading

The Bard in the Bible

William Tyndale's statue: he was strangled and burned at the stake, but not in England, for heresy

William Tyndale’s statue: he was strangled and burned at the stake, but not in England, for heresy

The Bard in the Bible. Here is a mystery for Shakespeare fans and inquisitive youngsters who know what the King James Version of the Bible is. Most of the translation work commissioned by James I of England and VI of Scotland was done by William Tyndale. The English language in the King James is perhaps the finest in all English literature – including the works of Shakespeare. Tyndale’s name has never been as well-known as that of the Bard, but they were near contemporaries, and Tyndale may have been responsible for the following homage, if homage it is . . . Continue reading

The Wittelsbach Dynasty

Hohenschwangau - one of the Wittelsbach homes / es-wikipedia.org

Hohenschwangau – one of the Wittelsbach homes / es-wikipedia.org

The Wittelsbach Dynasty. This once-regal Bavarian family can trace their ancestry, like so many other grand families back to the Emperor Charlemagne, but more direct ancestry can be found in the family Scheyern, which ruled a diminutive but autonomous territory around their castle at Pfaffenhofen. When Europe was in chaos (around 1180) through crusades and intercenine wars the Emperor Barbarossa made the head of the Scheyern family Count Otto the new Duke of Bavaria. The Wittelsbachs are unique in Europe because they never gained territory or power through wars. Continue reading

Thomas Cromwell: different opinions

This early sixteenth century politician has had a mostly stinking press since his execution at the order of his master Henry VIII. In the 1960s BBC TV serial The Six Wives of Henry VIII Cromwell is played masterfully by Wolfe Morris as a wicked and unscrupulous schemer, of sinister mien, probably troubled by evil spirits. In the splendid film written by Robert Bolt called A Man for all Seasons the part of Cromwell is acted, again with consummate mastery, by Leo McKern. Continue reading

The talented Mr. Rich

Not only did Henry VIII spend (and mostly waste) the vast fortunes accumulated by his father the first Tudor, in his youthful desire to be the king of kings in Europe; he also wasted the experience and talent of his best courtiers and advisers. They were men of varied skills, educated in a time when many could not read, ambitious yes, cruel and unjust yes, but they lived and died in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, when men’s lives could easily expire, as Shakespeare says, before the flowers in their caps. Henry VIII killed Thomas More, The Earl of Surrey, Edmund Dudley, Bishop Fisher, Thomas Cromwell and Cardinal Wolsey, though the last-named died of natural causes on his way to execution.

One such able-minded and gifted courtier who survived the tyrant king was a young man, son of a wealthy London draper, some twenty years younger than Thomas More. He was Richard Rich; the very talented Mr. Rich. His family were neighbours of the Mores, and the future saint knew Richard from his babyhood: he had no illusions about him. Continue reading

The Tudors

I do not refer to the hideous filmed television series of the same name, designed more as pornography for sexually deprived viewers than students of England’s history. I refer to a family of minor Welsh gentry, smallholders in the North of that sad country, one of whose male members managed to marry a French girl, the widow of a Plantagenet king.

The King, Henry V, died young after winning the crucial battle against the French at Agincourt. He had defeated and routed the Dauphin, whose father Charles VI gave the victor his daughter Catherine of Valois in marriage. When she was widowed, this Catherine fell in with one Owen Tudor – and married him. He had his head cut off in 1461 but not before siring  Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. He in turn took as his second wife Margaret Beaufort. This is where the trouble started. Continue reading