The Vatican Billions
by Avro Manhattan - Chick Publications
The Origin of the Church's Temporal Riches
It was at this stage that another no less spectacular factor, predestined to have profound repercussions upon the development of Roman Catholicism during its first millennium, appeared on the scene.
The tradition was established of pilgrimages to places where the saints had lived, had been martyred and had been buried. Monasteries, nunneries, churches, all had their own. With the possession of the relics of the blessed, with promotion of their legends and accounts of their miracles went not only the spiritual devotions, but also the monetary offerings of the pilgrims. That spelled wealth for those localities where the pious voyagers gathered. The more popular a shrine or a saint, the more abundant the collection of silver and gold coins.
The most fabulous was undoubtedly that promoted by the cult of the Blessed Peter, the Turnkey of Heaven. The cult demanded a journey to Rome, where Peter's tomb lay.
Peter had been crucified there, it was asserted with no more plausible data than a pious tradition, for the Bishops of Rome had no more evidence then than have the pontiffs of the twentieth century. The latter have attempted to substantiate it with doubtful archaeological finds. The process, begun by Pope Pius XII (1939-58), was completed by Pope Paul VI. In 1968 Paul declared officially that "a few fragments of human bones found under the Basilica of St. Peter are the authentic mortal remains of the Apostle". (1)
How the "identification" had been carried out, on a site where hundreds of thousands of bodies had been buried during many centuries, was not plausibly explained, in view also of the fact that there has never been any definite historical evidence to prove that Peter was ever in Rome. The Roman Bishops, however, cultivated the myth with undiminished eagerness. This they did, not as mere upholders of a devout legend, but as the skillful promoters of a growing cult which had concrete and far-reaching objectives, since its magnification brought them immense authority, and with it money. For the belief that the tomb of Peter was in the Eternal City induced thousands of pilgrims, beginning with English and Scottish ones, to go to pray over the Apostle's tomb; a source of tremendous revenue. Today we would call it by the more accurate and prosaic name of tourism.
The successors of Peter promoted pilgrimages to his "tomb" in Rome very early, although from the start they showed a special predilection for the richest and most powerful personages of the times - that is, for individuals who could give them costly presents, land and power.
To quote only one typical case, Pope Leo tells us how the Emperor Valentinian III and his family regularly performed their devotions at the tomb of St. Peter, "such practice yielding a useful respect for the Apostle's successors" to whom they offered costly presents and the tenure of lands.
Pope Gregory, on the other hand (590-604), promised Queen Brunhilda remission of her sins. "The most blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles.. will cause thee to appear pure of all stain before the judge everlasting" (2) as long as she granted him, Gregory, what he asked of her, that, money, real estates, and investitures which yielded abundant revenues to the Church: a practice which became a tradition during the oncoming centuries.
Gregory went even further and sent the nobleman Dynamius a cross containing "fillings" from St. Peter's chains, telling him to wear the cross at his throat "which is like as if he were wearing the chains of St. Peter himself.," and adding "these chains, which have lain across and around the neck of the most Blessed Apostle Peter, shall unloose thee for ever from thy sins". The gift, of course, was not a free one. It cost money and gold. (3)
Not content with this, Gregory began to send out "the keys of St. Peter, wherein are found the precious filings and which by the same token also remit sins" - provided the recipients paid in cash or with costly presents. (4)
Once it became known that the relics of St. Peter, when combined with the spiritual power of his successors, could remit sins, it was natural that most of the Christians throughout Christiandom longed to go to the tomb and thus partake of Peter's and the pope's spiritual treasures. The latter invariably involved earthly treasures of money, silver and gold, or deeds of real estate. And that is how the pilgrimage to Rome, called the Pardon of St. Peter, was initiated - curiously enough, mostly by Anglo-Saxons.
In addition to encouraging the belief that Peter's tomb was in Rome and that his successors had "filings" from St. Peter's chains, the popes encouraged the belief that by coming to the Eternal City the pilgrims could address the Blessed Peter in person. The Church, far from discouraging such dishonest humbuggery, gave her approval to it: witness for example the notable St. Gregory of Tours, who, in his De Gloria Martyrum, gave a detailed description of the ceremony that had to be performed in order to speak with the Prince of Apostles. (5)
The pilgrims had to kneel upon the tomb of St. Peter, the opening to which was covered by a trap door. Then, raising the door, he had to insert his head into the hole, after which, still remaining in that posture, he had to reveal in a loud voice the object of his visit to the saint. Offerings of money were thrown in. Then veneration and obeisance were to be offered to St. Peter's successor, the pope.
The religious and even political results of this practice upon deeply ignorant nations like the Anglo-Saxons, and upon the Franks who imitated them, can be easily imagined. Secular rulers of the highest rank flocked to Rome. At the beginning of the seventh century, for instance, two Anglo-Saxon princes renounced their thrones and passed the remainder of their lives at the tomb of St. Peter. (6) King Canute himself could not resist Peter's appeal. Once in Rome, having paid homage to the pope, he wrote a letter to the nobles of his kingdom, in which he said: "I inform you that I come to Rome to pray for the redemption of my sins.. I have done this because wise men have taught me that the Apostle St. Peter received of the Lord great power to bind and to loose, that he is the turnkey of the kingdom of heaven.. That is why I thought it most useful to obtain this special patronage before God." (7)
The well-calculated policy of this cult, once widely established, yielded increasingly valuable results for the popes, who were quick to turn the prestige thus gained into a powerful instrument by which to obtain the submission of men of low or high rank, both in the spiritual and in the secular fields.
The accumulation of riches, which had not only begun to the a permanent feature of Roman Catholicism but had started to grow since the times of Constantine, when that Emperor had issued a law concerning the acquisition of land by the Church (A.D.321), by now had reached such a stage that it had become a kind of partrimonium, owned, controlled and administered by the Bishops of Rome.
The possession of property brought with it inevitable deterioration and indeed corruption of the clergy and therefore of the Church herself, since the former, seeing the latter's eagerness for the things of this world, followed her example. The clergy, for instance, began to ask for money in exchange in exchange for their work or made money out of church goods.
Thus, under the pontificate of Gregory, clerics accepted valuables in exchange for burial places. Gregory forbade the practice, "never permitting that anyone should have to pay for money for a grave." He issued sundry decrees which prohibited the charging of fees for the induction of clerics into office, for the investment of a bishop, for the drawing up of documents, and so on.
Upon learning of repeated cases in which the clergy were accused of selling church vessels, Gregory began a thorough investigation into the whole question of the Church's wealth. After having been told of how a priest had sold two silver chalices and two candelabra to a Jew, he issued a series of ordinances which decreed that each Christian community should make a correct inventory of all its sacred vessels, land and property. For the first time the census have precise information of the wealth of the Church. It showed to a surprised Gregory how his Church owned landed property in Sicily, Gaul, Spain, the Balkan lands, the Near East and even many parts of Africa.
These properties included not only lands and farms, but also whole towns. St. Peter's Patrimony, as it began to be called, owned Syracuse and Palermo, besides numerous rich estates all over Sicily, southern Italy, Apulia, Calabria and even Gallipoli, although in ruins. The estates in Campania and those of Naples and the Isle of Capri were all producing large revenues.
All in all, the Roman Church in Gregory's time owned twenty-three estates, whose total area comprised 380 square miles, with an aggregate revenue of over one million dollars a year, a colossal sum at that period.
Gregory himself lived a life of austerity. He was a strong believer in the "ancient rule of the Fathers"' that is, in evangelical poverty. When confronted by all this wealth, he called himself "the poor man's treasurer," and tried to live up to the role. He was the first pope to call himself Servus Servorum Dei, Servant of the Servants of God.
Yet, while in agreement with the fathers of the early church, such as Origen, Tertullian and Cyprian, that material possessions were not a good thing, the fact remained that Gregory was ruling a religious system which owned vast properties, real estates and riches of all kinds. Gregory justified their retention on the ground that they should be used, as the early Christians had used them, to help the destitute. That he genuinely believed this was proved by the fact that once, having heard how a beggar had died of starvation in Rome, he became so distressed that he shut himself in a cell for three days and nights without food or drink, refusing even to say Mass. He tried to administer the riches with wisdom, by giving to the poor as much as he received.
But the tide of corruption and of the progressive amassment of worldly wealth continued unabated. Indeed, it gathered momentum, notwithstanding Gregory's uncompromising efforts to stem it by every means at his disposal, such as his demands for precise details of how the money had been spent, the scrutiny of bookkeeping and his stern prohibition of "hidden balances of the Greek sort."
It came to pass then that, only 300 years after Constantine, Roman Catholicism had already turned herself into one of the largest land owners of the West. The Patrimony of St. Peter had become, not a modest sum of liquid money to be "distributed to the destitute," but the accumulated wealth of a rich religious system determined to become even richer in the years ahead.
While there were still individuals within the Church who believed in poverty, wealth continued to accumulate, and this to such an extent that at one stage she (or rather some of her leaders) had the audacity to make the Blessed Peter himself "write a letter from heaven."
Before relating how the Blessed Peter wrote such a celestial missive, it might be useful to cast a glance at the events which preceded, and in fact prompted, the deed.
After Pope Gregory's death, the process of adding more riches to the already vast accumulation went on unabated for another hundred years or so. Then, to the horror of the popes, the tide suddenly turned.
In the eighth century, when the papacy had so much that it did not even know how much, the semi-converted Slavs started to despoil St. Peter's Patrimony. This had been bad enough. But then, even worse, robbers appeared on the horizon. They sprang from distant Arabia. And the Arabs, to make things worse, also started to despoil St. Peter's Patrimony, claiming that they were doing it in the name of God. They called Him Allah. In addition, they had the bad habit of pinpricking the pope's subjects with their scimitars, telling them, while taking away all their possessions (or rather the possessions of their papal master) that in addition to having changed landlords they had better change also their religion - which the vast majority promptly did.
In this manner, whole papal dominions were lost. These included Dalmatia, Istria, Spain, the South of France, and the whole of North Africa. To all this, Providence, or rather human greed, added insult to injury when the successors of Constantine, the most Christian emperor of Constantinople, followed suit and deprived Peter's Patrimony of its vast estates in Sicily, Sardinia, Calabria and Corsica. Within a few decades, St. Peter had been robbed of such immense estates that his former boundless dominion was eventually reduced to central Italy, not far away, relatively speaking, from Rome.
Notwithstanding such a shrinking of their possessions, the worst devils of all, the Lombards of North Italy, set out to rob the Blessed Peter of this last estate as well. This they were about to do when the pope invoked the help of none other than the Prince of the Apostles, the Blessed Peter himself. He asked him to mobilize the most powerful potentate of the times, Pepin, King of the Franks. Pepin, said the pope, must preserve intact the Church's earthly possessions. Indeed, it might even be of spiritual benefit to him to add some of his own to them.
The Blessed Peter complied! How? Simply by writing a letter. Direct from Heaven. To Pepin. The celestial letter, of course, was first sent to the pope, Stephen, who had plenty of Peter's chains' "fillings". Stephen sent it to the king by special papal envoy.
The letter, on the finest vellum, was all written in pure gold. It read as follows:
Peter, elected Apostle by Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. I, Peter, summoned to the apostolate by Christ, Son of the Living God, has received from the Divine Might the mission of enlightening the whole world...
Pepin knelt reverently before the Papal Legate, who went on reading the Blessed Peter's missive:
Wherefore, all those who, having heard my preaching, put it into practice, must believe absolutely that by God's order their sins are cleansed in this world and they shall enter stainless into everlasting life Come ye to the aid of the Roman people, which has been entrusted to me by God. And I, on the day of Judgment, shall prepare for you a splendid dwelling place in the Kingdom of God.
Signed, Peter, Prince of the Apostles. (8)
The Papal Envoy showed the letter to the whole court and solemnly vouched for the authenticity of Peter's signature. Not only that. St. Peter had gone to the length of writing the letter with his very own hand. Something he had never done before.. Or since!
How had the letter ever reached the earth? asked Pepin. The Blessed Peter in person had come down from Heaven and given the letter to his successor, the pope of Rome, explained the Papal Envoy. Thereupon he showed the king how St. Peter had addressed the celestial letter:
Peter, elected Apostle by Jesus Christ, to our favorite Son, the King Pepin, to his whole army, to all the bishops, abbesses, monks, and to the whole people. (9)
Pepin, King of the Franks, had no alternative. How could he ever refuse the urgent request of the Prince of the Apostles? The turnkey of Heaven?
The devout Fleury, in his famous Historia Ecclesiastica, book 43, 17, cannot contain his indignation at the Blessed Peter's celestial letter, which he bluntly declared to have been nothing else than "an unexampled artifice." Artifice or not, whether written by Stephen himself or by some of his advisors, the fact remained that the letter of the Blessed Peter had the desired effect. In the year of our Lord 754, Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, defeated the rapacious Lombards. Since they had originally wished to rob the lands of Peter, Pepin, besides donating to Stephen what he had just preserved and recovered added to it the Duchy of Rome, the Exarchate and the Pentapolis. All of these added up to a considerable amount of territory encompassing thousands of villages, forts, cities, farms, and estates - henceforward to be owned by the representative of St. Peter on earth, the pope.
The success of the heavenly missive spurred its authors to new efforts. Soon afterwards, in fact, the Roman chancery produced the throne of the Blessed St. Peter as well - the very chair in which St. Peter sat when in Rome, it was asserted; a further inducement to Pepin and his successors to grant the popes their protection, and additional property, if need be. The inducement was a powerful one, since a king of the Franks, if crowned sitting on the Chair of the Turnkey of Heaven, would be invested with an authority surpassing that of any other temporal ruler, with the exception of the pope.
Pepin, it seems, never heard of Peter's chair, or had not the time, or - what is most probable - died before the scheme was put into full working operation. The chair was never used for its original purpose in his lifetime. His son, the Emperor Charlemagne, when crowned Emperor in the year 800, did not sit in it either. The throne, however, eventually came into its own. And this so much so that by the following century - during the rule of Charles the Bald (A.D. 875) - it had become one of the most precious relics of Roman Catholicism. Since then it has been venerated as the true chair upon which Peter used to sit, the sacred relic of the Petrine cult for centuries. In 1656 it was put inside an ornate bronze case, on papal command, by the sculptor Bernini.
Some years ago, however, its authenticity was questioned by certain Catholic authorities. Having been put under intense study by a commission of scholars and scientists, following strict carbon 14 and other radiological tests, it was discovered that the chair belonged approximately to the time of Charles the Bald - i.e. around A.D. 875 - and not to the first century A.D.
Pope Paul VI was thus, in the winter of 1969-70, put into another serious quandary. What could he do with Peter's throne after a thousand years of veneration? Put it back where it had been during a long millennium, in St Peter's Basilica, or put it in the Vatican Museum? (10) But that was the personal problem of a pope of the twentieth century. Those of the eighth had been concerned only with magnifying the cult of the Blessed Peter, so as to enhance their power, no less than the earthly patrimony of the Church.
And so it came to pass that, thanks mostly to the cult of the Blessed Peter, Roman Catholicism, which had collected such vast amounts of temporal wealth prior to Pepin, now crowned her earthly possessions with additional territorial dominions. These, which had originally formed the first nucleus of the papal possessions, theoretically were given legal status by Pepin in A.D. 754. They became a concrete and accepted reality in 756. In 774 the Donation was confirmed by Pepin's immediate successor, Charlemagne. The Papal States had truly come into existence. Here the popes reigned as absolute temporal rulers for more than a thousand years, until 1870, when the Italians, having seized Rome with all the adjacent papal territories, declared the Eternal City the capital of the newly formed united Kingdom of Italy.
He who has the Gold, controls the Soul