Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h02/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Tag Archives | Christianity

Borgia: The Election of Pope Alexander VI in 1492

Italian Peninsula in 1492 (via Wikipedia)

Italian Peninsula in 1492 (via Wikipedia)

A week or so later, a group of cardinals will enter a secret conclave to elect the next head of the Catholic church. TV cameras will be focused on a chimney in the Vatican and the world will be forced to watch the color of smoke that appears. This time, the election is interesting because of the way Pope Benedict departed from the office and also due to the controversies such as the child sex abuse, mismanagement at the Vatican bank, the leaking of secret church documents. As the cardinals are Googling each other and meeting in private apartments and restaurant backrooms,  while scandals and intrigue heat up, people are petitioning for the removal of certain cardinals from the conclave.

In 1492 CE, there was an interesting papal election; this was the time of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli. It was the year in which Christopher Columbus set off on his voyage to discover Asia and it was during this newly elected pope’s time that Vasco da Gama reached Calicut. The French-German TV series Borgia had two episodes devoted to what exactly happened inside the Sistine Chapel and the fictional depiction showed that the whole process had no sanctity and simply was a medieval version of The House of Cards played in the name of a religion. Deals were made, money was transferred, forged documents were presented and even army was summoned, all while the cardinals were holed up in a chapel after taking an oath not to communicate with the external world.

The person who desperately wanted to become the pope was Roberto Borgia (pronounced Borja), the same person who sent  Madonna Damiata to investigate a murder in The Malice of Fortune. Though he was not a favorite, he was sure with that the right amount of cunning he could pull it off. During this period, when the worst insult consisted of accusing one of being a Muslim or Jew, there was no unified Italy, but it was divided into a number of warring city-states, kingdoms and duchies and the election of the pope consisted of finding the balance between those battles. Besides the local politics, the relation between Portugal, Spain and France added more spice in the election.

As Borgia enters the conclave, under an oath not to have any contact with the outside world, he he sure of six votes, but needs fourteen to win. But once the doors are closed, the cardinals start bickering over a new oath the pope elected should take. Since the church is rotten to the core  and members could buy positions in the Curia, they want to limit that practice. But some members oppose; they don’t want  the Vicar of Christ to take man made oaths, but instead want the oath to be non-binding. Once that is resolved, Borgia approaches the Portuguese cardinal and uses his Spanish origins to bargain. Since they both are the non-Italians in the group, he proposes that they unite.

After the first round of voting, Borgia receives just the six votes he expected. He tries to convince a cardinal who received one vote (his own) to support him, but he calls Borgia a whore. The next day, a letter in which Pope Pius rebuked Borgia for attending an orgy, surfaces. As all attention turns to him, Borgia turns the table on his accuser. The accuser had supported Borgia in his two previous attempts to become pope and on those two occasions, he did not bring up the letter. Hence this had to be a forgery. While it calms the proceedings, it reduces his supporters by one.

The next day another letter surfaces which alleges that the King of France had paid 200,000 ducats to one of the cardinals to buy off the election. It also accuses that the forged letter against Borgia was created using French money. Accusations go back with cries of “liar” and “hypocrite”. A young cardinal, who is on his first conclave, wonders why letters are being smuggled in against all rules. The vote count following all this reduces Borgia’s count to four and it looks as if he is on his way out.

Borgia starts negotiating directly with potential supporters. When he promises money, one of them retorts that his opponent as promised double the amount and if they go back and forth of money, all money in Rome would be insufficient for the counter offers. Then Borgia offers him the position of Vice-Chancellor, a position he currently holds in addition to the coins. By the third day, the cardinals are offered only one whole meal a day and all of them who are used to a lavish lifestyle cannot take it. Borgia uses this opportunity to smuggle in a great meal. He also promises an abbey for one cardinal, a church for another and a harbor for the third. He even promises to banish his nephews and niece (actually his children) so that they do not become competitors to the cardinals. A cardinal from Florence was worried about the power of the Medici and Borgia promises him that if he became pope he would crush that family. In the next round of voting, his count increases to ten.

One of the losing cardinals sends a message to the king of Naples to bring his army to Rome, hoping that  force would help clear the indecision. As a battle gets underway outside the, the cardinals decide that they will not suspend the conclave till the pope is chosen. The cardinal who summoned the army apologizes for his mistake and asks his supporters to vote for Borgia’s opponent as he thinks Borgia is not a Catholic, but a Spanish Jew who converted. But by the next vote, Borgia’s tally increases to 12 and his opponent to 13. The one who gets 14 wins and it becomes critical for Borgia to get there by any means for else he will have to flee to Spain.

In the final act, he negotiates directly with his competitor. He claims that he is a Roman and is concerned about reforming the church than about the politics between Milan, Naples and Florence. When that does not work, he offers the office of the Vice Chancellor. As bribery and flattery fails, Borgia takes the final weapon in his arsenal; he produces a document which alleges that the opponent’s family has Muslim blood in it. This accusation, Borgia threatens, is sufficient to put him out of business forever. The opponent succumbs and accepts the position of Vice Chancellor and the deal is closed. The next day when the votes are counted, Borgia gets 14 votes and he yells, “I am the Vicar of Christ!”

The politics of 2013 is definitely not going to involve calling armies or passing silver coins, but the Vatican thinks the leaks of certain reports have been done to influence the election of the pope. In 1492 election, theological views were never discussed, but for the coming election, it is expected that a conservative pope will be elected because Benedict has filled the positions with people who align with his conservatism. This means that the Church’s position on homosexuality and birth control will not change. What is same from 1492 is this:  even though the growth of the church has been outside Europe in the past century, the electoral college is Eurocentric. We will not know what exactly happens inside the conclave, but one can follow certain blogs and get a sense of the events.

Comments { 0 }

Mrs. Yeshua

(via Wikipedia)

(via Wikipedia)

Recently Karen King of Harvard Divinity School made public a a fourth century papyrus which contains the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …’ ” followed by “she will be able to be my disciple.” This has triggered a debate on if this means Jesus was really married, on if the papyrus is fake and what not.

The provenance of the papyrus is mysterious. It came from an anonymous collector who acquired it in the 60s from Communist East Germany. The fragment itself is quite small

The fragment is some four centimeters tall and eight centimeters wide. Its rough edges suggest that it had been cut out of a larger manuscript; some dealers, keener on profit than preservation, will dice up texts for maximum return. The presence of writing on both sides convinced the scholars that it was part of a codex—or book—rather than a scroll. [The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus]

There is one argument which goes that this is a fake because the writing seem to be similar to the ones in The Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic gospel discovered in Nag Hammadi. There is also another argument that even though the papyrus itself could be old, the ink may not be. Harvard University journal itself says that the research is unverified.

That said, the appearance of the papyrus has produced lots of back and forth which gives us a glimpse of the Jesus movement in the early periods. For example, the wife of Jesus theory is not something new, but something which has existed in other texts as well.

But let’s keep in mind that we actually already have a text that mentions Jesus’ wife. It is the Gospel of Philip. We already know that there were some early Christians, in particular the Valentinian Gnostics, who taught that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ consort or wife. They wrote about it in the Gospel of Philip.

The new gospel fragment supports this Valentinian picture. If it turns out to be an authentic gospel fragment from antiquity, it likely came from a page of yet another Valentinian gospel that contained sayings of Jesus. Valentinian Christians were very prolific and they preserved an entire sayings tradition of counter-memories that supported their creative metaphysical outlook and Gnostic spirituality [Did Jesus have a wife?]

Smithsonian has a long backstory of the papyrus. From that:

Though King makes no claims for the value of the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” as, well, a marriage certificate, she says it “puts into greater question the assumption that Jesus wasn’t married, which has equally no evidence,” she told me. It casts doubt “on the whole Catholic claim of a celibate priesthood based on Jesus’ celibacy. They always say, ‘This is the tradition, this is the tradition.’ Now we see that this alternative tradition has been silenced.”

“What this shows,” she continued, “is that there were early Christians for whom that was simply not the case, who could understand indeed that sexual union in marriage could be an imitation of God’s creativity and generativity and it could be spiritually proper and appropriate.”

In her paper, King speculates that the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” may have been tossed on the garbage heap not because the papyrus was worn or damaged, but “because the ideas it contained flowed so strongly against the ascetic currents of the tides in which Christian practices and understandings of marriage and sexual intercourse were surging.”[The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus]

(Credits: Image via Wikipedia)

Comments { 0 }

The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World

Isabella was not being magnanimous by partially financing Columbus’ first voyage. She had no other option. The wars against the Moors had bankrupt the empire and they had to find new lands to plunder. In the movie, Isabella comes across as this wise motherly figure which she was not. One important event, which happened few months before Columbus’ voyage and not shown in the movie is Isabella’s expulsion of Jews from Spain by the Alhambra Decree and the forced conversion of the Muslims of Granada.[1492: Conquest of Paradise]

By torturing and expelling people of other faiths, Isabella was simply acting on the guidelines set by Pope Gregory, who had sanctioned the Inquisition as a valid form of religious conversion technique. Now a new book God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World looks at the various Inquisitions that happened in history. Fresh Air had an interview with the author.

In the 13th century, after seeing that people were believing what they liked and not what was being preached, the Pope decided to act. Recognizing that this disobedience had political significance as well, Dominicans were asked to go out and use what Dick Cheney would have called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, first on Cathars who lived in the South of France.

The use of torture was approved by the Pope in 1252 CE and the torturers believed that they were saving souls. Funeral pyres were lit and the heretics were asked to confess. If they did not comply, they were burned. If they confessed, they were still burned, because the soul would still go to heaven. If you have suffered through the first fifteen minutes of Season of the Witch, you can see how this works

Manuals were written and it compares with the modern army manuals. As people were tortured, their responses were recorded verbatim. And that was just the first Inquisition. By the time of the second Inquisition started by Isabella and Ferdinand, the victims included Jews and Muslims. Elaborate public spectacles were planned; diplomatic core and nobility were invited in the 15th century version of the Taliban football stadium.

The interview ends by talking about the third Inquisition which was conducted against the Protestants. By then the printing was common and book banning, burning and censhorship was added to the list. I have not read the book yet, but in the interview there was no mention of the Goan Inquisition (see Guardian of the Dawn).

Comments { 0 }

Who owns the Heritage Sites?

Bethlehem in 1890 (via Wikipedia)

As new nations form, an important issue is that of the heritage sites. This is especially important in Israel-Palestine area where everyone except people of Indic religions seem to have a stake.

“In any political arrangement, one side will have control of equities of the other,” Seidemann emphasised. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only a conflict of territory but of identity and narratives, with archaeology and cultural heritage the physical embodiments of the narratives. Addressing these issues is critical for the stability of Israelis and Palestinians.” [Israel and Palestine: who owns what?]

As the vote for Palestinian statehood is coming up in September, there is lot of activity in the ground in West Bank.

Israeli officials have argued that heritage sites with Jewish historical connection must remain under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that position last year, after Unesco ruled that, despite being venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, heritage sites in Bethlehem and Hebron are Palestinian (The Art Newspaper, December 2010, p25). He denounced the decision as “absurd”, calling it “an attempt to disconnect the nation of Israel from its heritage.”

Palestinians counter that location, not religious identification, determines sovereignty of a site. “Palestinians are proud to host a diversity of cultural heritage which is also important to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is Palestinian policy to respect and apply international laws concerning cultural property and heritage using a professional approach to preserve and protect the sites based on geographic location,” said Gabriel Fahel, the legal adviser on archaeology to the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit (which closed last month). He also charged Israel with violating international treaties it has signed by excavating in the West Bank and removing Palestinian cultural property.[Israel and Palestine: who owns what?]

Since none of these groups give up easily, this is going to be an interesting debate.

Comments { 0 }

Post-Rapture News

(via Wikipedia)

On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles made his famous War of the Worlds broadcast. Since it was presented as a series of news bulletins, listeners thought that an actual alien invasion was in progress. People panicked. According to Annie Jacobsen, author of the new book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, this panic was observed with amusement by Stalin and Hitler.

Ms. JACOBSEN: When the Orson Welles radio broadcast “The War of the Worlds” aired in 1938, people on the East Coast actually took actions based on their belief that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were attacking. And this fascinated the American military – I source all this in my book – and led to a lot of behind-the-scenes thinking about what it meant that American citizens could be so moved by something that was fictional – that was science fiction. And across the pond, Hitler also paid attention to “The War of the Worlds.” He referenced it in a speech. And according to my source, Stalin also paid attention to “The War of the Worlds” and was fascinated by American susceptibility toward science fiction. And so his plan, according to my source, was to create panic in the United States with this belief that a UFO had landed with aliens inside of it.[Transcript: Area 51 ‘Uncensored’: Was It UFOs Or The USSR?]

Replace Science Fiction with religion and things are no different in 2011. Some nut job in Oakland, CA announced that today would be the end of the world and there are thousands who are taking it seriously. A biblical event 19th century invention known as rapture, when Jesus Christ returns to take his saints and leave us bloggers and idolators to live peacefully on earth, was to happen, but apparently did not. But in United States –

Thousands of people around the country have spent the last few days taking to the streets and saying final goodbyes before Saturday, Judgment Day, when they expect to be absorbed into heaven in a process known as the rapture. Nonbelievers, they hold, will be left behind to perish along with the world over the next five months. With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.[Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending]

So who started this hoax, which is the top news on Google right now?

Ms. Douglas and other believers subscribe to the prophecy of Harold Camping, a civil engineer turned self-taught biblical scholar whose doomsday scenario — broadcast on his Family Radio network — predicts a May 21, 2011, Judgment Day. On that day, arrived at through a series of Bible-based calculations that assume the world will end exactly 7,000 years after Noah’s flood, believers are to be transported up to heaven as a worldwide earthquake strikes. Nonbelievers will endure five months of plagues, quakes, wars, famine and general torment before the planet’s total destruction in October[Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending]

Even Oprah was using the term in her final speech

Oprah gave her “ugly-cry” face and said “I’ve never experienced anything like this and I say once again thank you for taking me to a place that’s beyond joyous. I’m going to have to process it and look at it on tape to see what actually happened here. It feels like the rapture, so thank you all for that!”[Everybody Was at the Final Taping of Oprah]

Is this the first time such rapture craziness has happened? No, apparently rapture was supposed to happen in 1831, 1844, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, and now finally 2011. Now lets say for some reason, like for example, I don’t know, there is no movie called Return of Jesus Christ, rapture does not happen today, it can happen in 2060. The 2060 date cannot be absolutely, postively wrong because it was calculated by none other than Sir Isaac Newton based on the book of Daniel.

Comments { 1 }