4.2. The anti-papal apocalypticism and the foreshadowing of the Reformation


The medieval apocalypticism was fueled, on the one hand, by the Islamic menace, which threatened the body of Christianity, and, on the other hand, by the church decadence, which threatened its soul. The corruption of the institution of God appears in the eyes of the observers as an eloquent symptom of the universal disorder. From the sin of simony, the intemperance of the clergy for wealth to the perversion of the scriptures according to earthly interests – the moral filth present within the institution of God was believed to attract dreadful divine punishments. In the 7th century Beatus of Liébana said that “he [Nero] is Antichrist himself, who now rules subtly in the church through false priests, but then he will devastate the church openly.”263 Likewise, Rodulphus Glaber, the chronicler of the year 1000, noticed the loose morals of the clergy and associated them with the apostasy:

For, indeed, every time the piety of the bishops is missing and the abbots lack the rigor in applying the rules, immediately the discipline fails in monasteries and, after their example, the entire people is alienated from God. It is not then the entire mankind turned back, by its own will, to the ancient chaos and thrown into the abyss of perdition?264

In 1170 the nun Hildegard of Bingen, surnamed the “Sibyl of the Rhine,” had gloomy epiphanies regarding the evolution of the church. She described the church as a very beautiful woman – the bride of Christ – but due to the fault of the priests she was dirty, ragged, and with a body full of wounds and signs of violence.265

The problem was that in the 11th century the Western Church became much too powerful, rich and corrupt. After Constantine legalized the Christian religion in the 4th century, countless pagan elements have been inserted within Christianity through the process of conversion. Thus began a slow and unstoppable process of alteration, manifested through losing the war against the icons, excessive institutionalization and ritualism. This process accelerated in the West after the coronation of Charlemagne, when the Bishopric of Rome assumed a political role and became the center of Western Christianity (through the “Donation of Charlemagne”).266 Two centuries later the situation was as dark as possible. In 1032, after a long list of wretched popes, the papal chair was occupied by Benedict IX. This murderous and bisexual pope practiced witchcraft, necromancy, bestiality and Satanism, his orgies in the Lateran Palace becoming legendary. Pope Victor III (born Desiderius, abbot of Monte Cassino) says about Benedict that “his life as a pope so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.”267 Assassinations, orgies, embezzlements, simony, executions and blasphemies – anything that the human mind can conceive in terms of wickedness, the popes have done it.268

Corruption inevitably influenced religious dogmas, which were modified or interpreted according to political and personal benefits. This aspect deepened the religious differences between the Bishopric of Rome and the Patriarchate of Constantinople up to the point a rupture became inevitable. In fact, the schism between the East and the West took place due to political reasons rather than religious ones.

At the end of the 4th century a legend was born, which said that Pope Sylvester I cured Constantine the Great of leprosy. As a sign of gratitude, Constantine baptized and began the building of a church in the Lateran Palace. Four hundred years later Donatio Constantini (the “Donation of Constantine”) appeared – a fantastic and absurd document in which Constantine gives the power over the city of Rome and all the western regions of the Roman Empire to Pope Sylvester I and his successors. The alleged “donation” was meant to be a gift from the emperor to the pope because he cured him miraculously of leprosy, converted him to the Christian religion and baptized him. The text conferred to Sylvester and his successors the decisional power over territories in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace and Africa, Rome, Italy and the entire Western Roman Empire, while Constantine kept the imperial authority in the Eastern Roman Empire from Constantinople.269 The anointing of Charlemagne as emperor by the Papacy indirectly confirmed the authenticity of the text.

Emperor Otto III considered that Donatio Constantini was a forgery.270 The same position was adopted by the Byzantines. In the middle of the 11th century Pope Leo IX sent a letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Caerularius, in which he cited a large portion of Donatio Constantini. Leo claimed in the letter not only that the text was authentic, but that it also represented the support for the dual power of the Holy See in Rome, which leads both an earthly empire and a heavenly one. In other words, the pope communicated to the patriarch that only the apostolic successor of Peter possesses the primacy and is the rightful ruler of the entire Christianity, and thus Rome is hierarchically and theologically superior to Constantinople. Caerularius rejected the claims of the Papacy, which led to the Great Schism of 1054.271 Western clergy (Latin) came under the political and religious authority of the Bishopric of Rome and formed the Catholic Church (Latin: Ecclesiae Catholicus – the “Universal Church”). In turn, Eastern clergy (Greek) formed national churches, but they were all generically called the “Orthodox Church” (Romanized Greek: Ekklesia Orthosdoxa – the “Church of the True Faith”). Attempts at reconciliation between the two branches of Christianity were made until the 14th century but without results.

Based on Donatio Constantini the popes continued to issue bulls through which they legitimized their implication in political affairs. In 1302, when the king of France contested the political authority of the pope, Boniface VIII issued Unam sanctam, the most extreme assertion of papal supremacy ever made.272 This bull expressed the necessity to be part of the Catholic Church in order to receive eternal salvation, the position of the pope as the supreme leader of the entire Christianity, the superiority of the spiritual order in comparison to the material order and that no one can call to account the pope except God: ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)

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