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14.1 The Borgias – Wealth, Power, Influence, and the Highest Position in the Roman Catholic Church

“Sex…Power…Murder…Amen” is how the series, The Borgias, opens.

The reason that it is relevant here in the website on original Christianity and the developments since is that it sets the stage for the Reformation.  By most accounts, the dealings of the Borgias, some of whom were popes, were not abnormal to the times.  They may have been the most excessive, but they were very much just carrying on the tradition of Rome and the papacy in the times building up to the Reformation.

Showtime has been airing its extravagant historical timepiece starring Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia who became Pope Alexander VI.  It has a number of actors that I think are well suited to the pomp and power roles that dominate this series.  Colm Feore, Simon McBurney, Steven Burkoff, and Derek Jacobi are some of the recognizable faces (to me at least) playing these power figures.  I think it is very well acted.

The show is full of intrigue, sex, murder, deceit, corruption, and political maneuverings in Rome and Europe.  The sexual aspects of the show are over the top.  There are depictions of sex between the pope and multiple partners as well as allusions to homosexuality, pederasty, bestiality, incest etc.  Poison as a weapon has been a theme, at least in the few shows I watched, but there is also a lot of bloody swordplay, nasty daggers, and the like.

Of course the setting is world class Roman luxury, one palace after another being the home to these Christian leaders who somehow have also sworn a vow of poverty.  I see a complete sense of opposites in the whole convoluted working of the time as we see top church leaders who have sworn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience gorging themselves in luxury, abandoning themselves in sexual wantonness, and living the deception of trying to look like obedient servants while constantly maneuvering for their own advancement and political conquest.

And there is the enigmatic element of these corrupt men at times appearing to have a conscience, sometimes even appearing to do the right thing.

Of course, this is a show that has basis in fact.  Rodrigo, Casare, Lucretia, the Cardinals, etc were actual people.  Supposedly, while a lot of the details are conjectured from what is known about how these people lived, the major facts are accurate, i.e., Borgia allegedly bought the papacy, made moves based on political expediency, had lovers, children, and so forth.

I say allegedly because the Catholic Church’s view of the rise by Borgia to Pope Alexander VI is a milder version.  They present some challenges, but they do not deny that he bought the papacy, indicating a large level of greed and corruption present in the papacy.  At the very least, they admit corruption in the election to the papacy of Alexander IV on account of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza’s desire for a better position:

“That he obtained the papacy through simony was the general belief (Pastor, loc. cit.) and is not improbable (Raynaldus, Ann. eccl. ad an. 1492, n. 26), though it would be difficult to prove it juridically, at any rate, as the law then stood the election was valid. There is no irresistible evidence that Borgia paid anyone a ducat for his vote; Infessura’s tale of mule-loads of silver has long since been discredited. Pastor’s indictment, on closer inspection, needs some revision, for he states (III, 277) that eight of the twenty-three electors, viz. della Rovere, Piccolomini, Medici, Caraffa, Costa, Basso, Zeno, and Cibò, held out to the end against Borgia. If that were true, Borgia could not have secured a two-thirds majority. All we can affirm with certainty is that the determining factor of this election was the accession to Borgia of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza’s vote and influence, it is almost equally certain that Sforza’s course was dictated not by silver, but by the desire to be the future Pontiff’s chief adviser.”[i]

The drama in the show is soap opera-ish on an epic scale and seems to center around details in the affairs of these people beyond the scope of written history.  All in all it is a re-enactment where literary license is taken to reconstruct dialogues, meetings, trysts and the like between the many characters.

That the show depicts a carnal, corrupt, and even evil Christianity is the tragedy.  In fact, the show does not seem content to merely depict the sins in the Borgia’s lives, it relishes in them. It glorifies each deadly plot, each sexual affair, each political conquest.  True Christianity is nowhere to be found.

Sadly, there is little evidence to refute that the Borgias were the harshest example of a Catholic Church fallen away from original Christianity (with its emphasis on genuine spirituality) to an organization that embraced world power and all the evils involved.

[i] http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01289a.htm

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

May 24th, 2011 Posted by | Movements | no comments

The Real Meaning of Easter

In 00.3 The History of Easter we looked at how Easter got its name from the Germanic goddess Eostre, whose springtime festival was popular.  Evidently, Eostre liked rabbits and thus the Easter bunny tradition began.  Eggs are symbolic of new life which is what happens in spring and Easter eggs are also part of this pagan tradition. That rabbits can lay eggs is a little crazy, but that is part of the tradition.

A number of people object to the pagan aspects of Easter; the name, the Easter bunny, the eggs, and so forth.  They say that when eat Easter eggs you are participating in pagan traditions.  Paul wrote specifically about this kind of thing in first Corinthians chapter 10. Let’s start with the context:

Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

The context is idolatry and eating foods sacrificed to idols.  We can see from these verses that in Corinth you could go somewhere and be offered food that was sacrificed to an idol (demon). You could also buy these foods. Paul is very clear that the sacrifice that we participate in is memorialized in the communion service, and the bread and wine of that ritual are the only foods that we should be partaking of when it comes to something that is sacrificed to a supernatural power.

But Paul has a lot more to say on this topic:

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

First he says that all things are lawful. That’s a very interesting perspective. Because Paul is saying that it is not unlawful for Christians to eat these foods. But the second thing that he says is that not all things are expedient, they don’t edify.  And if they don’t edify we shouldn’t be partaking in them. So he sets a guideline that we should consider our neighbors in partaking of foods that may have been offered idols.

There are a lot of examples of things that are lawful but not expedient.  For example, let’s take smoking cigarettes. Cigarettes are legally sold in every state of the union in the United States. At the same time, public service messages are continually broadcast, and health warnings are printed on each package because smoking cigarettes is an unhealthy practice; it’s just not a good thing to do.  Smoking is lawful, but not expedient.

A more dramatic example is that prostitution houses are legal in some places in Nevada. However, prostitution is clearly a sin in biblical terms. Even secular counselors advise that using prostitutes shows real problems with intimacy and attachment.  Prostitution is lawful, but not expedient.

An example more closely aligned to our context is chocolate.  Chocolate is delicious, and some advertise that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health benefits.  But, chocolate has theobromine, a caffeine like substance.  It also is high in fat and sugar.  Eating a little chocolate may be fine, but eating very much or late at night is lawful, but not expedient.

Let’s look at what Paul writes next:

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.  (1 Corinthians 10:25-33)

Paul says that if you buy some food that may have been offered idols, the first thing is to not even ask. Just eat it. But if somebody says that the food has been offered to idols, don’t eat it to set the example for the other person.  Do it for the glory of God, so that people may receive the Lord.

So what does this have to do with Easter eggs, Easter bunnies and so forth. Well, some say that if you eat Easter treats you are eating foods dedicated to the German goddess Easter. I’m going to suggest to you that it might be wise in that situation to not participate in any treats, at least around those people.  But, for the most part where Easter is celebrated and people die eggs and put out jelly beans and chocolate bunnies and such (remember there are chocolate crosses also), these foods are not being offered to the goddess Eostre,  they are being put out to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore they are not being sacrificed to a goddess even though the tradition was borrowed from a pagan tradition.

As a grandfather, I went through some of these issues with my kids, and now I see it with my grandchildren. As there are a zillion children participating in Easter egg hunts, and eating Easter eggs and so forth it is pretty daunting to try to explain to your children that even though there are other Christian kids doing this, it is pagan and that you shouldn’t do it. I’m going to say to you that there is no problem giving kids the chance to hunt for Easter eggs and eat a few jellybeans and chocolate bunnies and such because those foods are put out in celebration of the resurrection of our Lord.

The Resurrection Is the Real Meaning of Easter to Christians

The day that Christians call Easter is a day commemorated to celebrating the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, in payment of our sins, giving us the opportunity for eternal life with him, and that he is going to come back, and that we will join him, and be with them for all eternity!

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; (John 11:25)

Easter is part of a Christian’s worship, and more specifically it is part of the witness of Jesus’ resurrection.  Being a witness of Jesus’ resurrection is the primary mission of being a disciple of Christ:

beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:22)

The resurrection was the main point that the apostles and disciples preached in original, primitive Christianity:

And as they spake unto the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, being sore troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (Acts 4:1-2)

It can be argued that the great power that came to primitive, original Christianity came because they focused their preaching on the resurrection:

And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. (Acts 4:33)

The resurrection is the core message of Christianity, it is the first test of orthodoxy:

men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already, and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:18 ASV)

Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be abolished is death. For, He put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him. And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all.  (1 Corinthians 15:12-28 ASV)

In the above verses death is called the last enemy.  Overcoming death is a focal point of Christian ministry:

except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day. (Acts 24:21 ASV)

Jesus Broke the Death Barrier

The greatness of Christianity is the resurrection.  Its not the others haven’t been raised from the dead previously; Lazarus and others were raised.  But they still died eventually.  Jesus rose from the dead never to rise again.  Jesus is the firstborn from the dead.   He is the first man to break the death barrier forever:

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)

So here we have death, this awful thing where life just ceases.  We feel the loss of our loved ones when they die. We experience sadness, grief, and mourning.  We know that unless the Lord comes for us in our lifetime we will have to face death.  Even if we get raised from the dead in this life we still face that death.

But Jesus has paved a new path giving us a new life that is eternal where we never have to face death again.  It is life eternal with the Lord, with an incorruptible body without pain.  How awesome!

That’s what we celebrate on Easter: victory over death.

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

May 2nd, 2011 Posted by | Movements | no comments

00.3 The History of Easter

Antenicene References to Easter are Actually to Passover

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.   (Acts 12:4 KJV)

There is a reference in the Bible to the word Easter, in the King James Version, as shown above.  However, the word is mistranslated. It is the Greek word Pascha, meaning Passover.  The practice of calling Passover Easter, in translation, is seen in the writings of Melito, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Caesarea, Polycrates, Tertullian, Origen, Dionysius of Alexandria, and Anatolius.  It can also be seen in the Apostolic Constitutions.

Here are some examples, remember that in each case the term “Easter” is really the Greek word “Pascha” which really means Passover.  Notice that in each case the reference talks about some controversy concerning the practice of celebrating Pascha.  Remember that one of the first doctrines of original Christianity was that the law was fulfilled. That meant that observances of the law no longer had to be practiced, i.e., circumcision, all of the numerous laws in the Law, etc.  However we see from the earliest days of history that the Passover was an event that Christians recognized. That is the point of acts 12:4 above, and references by such noted early church fathers as Polycarp:

When the Blessed Polycarp was visiting in Rome at the time of and the status,… They were at once well inclined toward each other, not willing that any quarrel should arise between them upon this matter [the observance of Easter].  Fran a fetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the observance [of his Easter customs]  inasmuch as these things had always been observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant.[i]

From the above citation we see that the practice of observing the Passover had been continued from the time of John up until Polycarp in the second century. But there was dispute over what day Passover should have been continued to be observed. There was a dispute over whether the day should be the 14th of Nissan, (which technically is the day before the Jewish practice of Passover), or the Sunday following the 14th because the Lord rose on the first day of the week. [ii] The argument had a geographic component.  The believers in Asia Minor held that it was important to follow the tradition from Judaism of always honoring the date, i.e. 14th, whereas the Roman thinking was that the day, Sunday, being the day the Lord rose was the important element.[iii]

It is also obvious that different practices like fasting and kneeling in worship had begun to be part of the ritual for Christians during this time of Passover:

We consider fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord state to be unlawful. We rejoice in that same privilege also from Easter to Pentecost.[iv]

Christians developed the practice of observing certain days, and Passover was one of them. Origen writes what the meaning of Passover was to Christians. It was that Jesus is the eternal Passover lamb, so that by his sacrifice God’s wrath passes over us:

We ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days. For example, there is… Easter… He who considers that “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,” and that is his duty to keep the feast by eating of the flesh of the word, never ceases to keep the Paschal feast. For pascha means “passover.”  So he is ever striving in all his thoughts, words, and deeds to pass over from the things of this life to God.[v]

Just like some practice a period of Lent today with fasting it was the practice then to fast before Easter. However, as seen below, it was not known when it was proper exactly to end the fast:

You have sent to me, most faithful and accomplishes son, in order to inquire what is the proper care for bringing the fast to close on the date of Easter. You say that there are some of the brethren who hold that it should be done at cock crowing. However, others say that it should end atnightfall… It will be cordially acknowledged by all those who have been humbling their souls with fasting should immediately begin their festive joy and gladness at the same hour as the resurrection… However no precise account seems to be offered in Scripture as to the hour at which He rose.[vi]

The apostolic constitutions made some clear declarations. One was that it was proper to observe Passover.  Secondly it set a definitive time as to when the fast should end; at the cock crowing:

It is your duty, brethren… to observe the days of Easter exactly.… No longer be concerned about keeping the feast with the Jews, for we now have no communion with them. In fact, they have been led astray in regard to the calculation itself.… You should not, through ignorance, celebrate Easter twice in the same year, or celebrate this day of the resurrection of our Lord on any day other than a Sunday.

Break your fast when it is daybreak of the first day of the week, which is the Lord’s Day. From the evening until the cock-crows, keep awake; assemble together in the church; watch and pray; entreat God. When you sit up all night, read the law, the prophets, and the Psalms – until cock-crowing. Baptize your catechumens and read the gospel with fear and trembling. And speak to the people such things as will assist their salvation.… And from that point on, [ i.e., cock crowing], leave off your fasting and rejoice! Keep a festival, for Jesus Christ, the pledge of our resurrection, is risen from the dead![vii]

From these references we see that from the days of original, primitive Christianity there were both fasting and celebratory practices of Passover.  The Apostolic Constitutions dictated that the time of fasting was to end on the morning of the resurrection Sunday, specifically at the cock crowing, from which time the celebration of the resurrection was to occur. The Apostolic Constitutions, however, were never recognized as legitimately being directives handed down from the Apostles.  Nevertheless, they give us valuable insight as documents into the thinking of the fourth century, as that is when they are estimated to be written.  As such they reflect practices and beliefs of 4th century Christianity.

The above citations do not tell how intense the dispute actually was. There was a dispute about the year 167 as to what day Jesus actually died, some holding the 14th of Nisan while others held the 15th. In the year 190 there were synods held in Rome, Palestine and other places that decided in favor of the Roman practice.[viii]

In the year 224 Hippolytus worked out a calculation of the days of Easter for the years 222 to 233 according to a cycle of 16 years . In the year 256 Fermilian of Cappadocia stated that the Roman dating of Easter was wrong, accusing the Roman leadership of not honoring the now long held tradition.  In 260 Dionysius worked out another system and in 277, another Alexandrian, devised another system.  At the council of Nicea Constantine believed that the Easter controversy was second only to the Aryan controversy in importance.  Constantine, of course, followed Western practice, and Easter Sunday became the practice of Christendom.  The controversy was sufficient to have split the church[ix]

The Change to the Name “Easter”

In the above discussion we see that early Christianity celebrated Passover, and elevated the importance of the resurrection in choosing Sunday as the day of celebration.  However, none of the above discusses how the name changed from Passover to Easter.

As Christianity became the national religion for the Roman Empire longstanding traditional pagan festivals were eventually replaced by Christian ones.  Both Christmas and Easter are examples of this practice, although Easter appears to be an Anglo-Saxon practice.  According to ChristianityToday.com, the source of the practice is uncertain, but the best source is Bede the Venerable, who wrote in the late 7th century:

“[Bede] says Easter’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, associated with spring and fertility, and celebrated around the vernal equinox. So there you go. As Christmas was moved to coincide with (and supplant) the pagan celebration of winter, Easter was likely moved to coincide and replace the pagan celebration of spring.

And while we’re at it, the Easter Bunny comes from these pagan rites of spring as well, but more from pagan Germany than pagan Britain. Eighteenth-century German settlers brought “Oschter Haws” (never knew he had a name, did you?) to America, where Pennsylvania Dutch settlers prepared nests for him in the garden or barn. On Easter Eve, the rabbit laid his colored eggs in the nests in payment. In Germany, old Oschter lays red eggs on Maundy Thursday. If anyone knows why children in an agrarian society would believe a rabbit lays eggs, please tell us or a historian near you. We’re all dying to know.”[x]

So, that’s how it became called Easter instead of Passover. In the replacing of the Pagan Easter Festival, some of the pagan activities (with their pagan symbolism) crept in. Thus we see Easter bunnies, eggs and so forth.

[i] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, David W. Bercot, Editor, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 7th Printing, March 2008, p. 223, reference to Irenaeus, 1.569
[ii] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, p.500
[iii] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 60-61
[iv] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, p.223, Tertullian, 3.94
[v] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, p.223, Origen, 4.647
[vi] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, p.223, Dionysius of Alexandria, 6.94
[vii] A DICTIONARY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS, p.224, Apostolic Constitutions, 7.447
[viii] A HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Williston Walker, Scribners, New York, 1959, p. 60-61
[ix] THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY, W.H.C. Frend, Fortress House, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 242-243
[x] Christianitytoday.com, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2004/why.html

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

April 24th, 2011 Posted by | Movements | no comments