|The Religion of Romeby C. H. Spurgeon
From the January 1873 Sword and Trowel
E WELCOME the publication of a volume entitled “The Religion of Rome.” It consists of letters published in a Roman Journal, which have been translated from the Italian, by Mr. William Howitt. In these times, when liberality is the only popular virtue, and zeal for truth the cardinal sin, it is worth much to let the public know assuredly that Popery is not the angel of light it professes to be. “Distance lends enchantment to the view;” but, to the rightminded, to see Romanism is to abhor it. It is a system which is as dangerous to human society, as it is hostile to true religion. We would by no means abridge the civil rights of a Catholic, or a Mormonite, but whether in any community the confessional or polygamy ought to be endured is not a question with us. The system of confession to priests is the sum of all villanies. Murphy1 was martyred for speaking the truth about the confessional, and in his person the liberty of public speech received a serious blow. The day will come in which that man’s name and fate will be looked upon in a different light, and many will regret that he was given over as a victim to Romish bigotry, when they feel that bigotry burdening themselves. We have seen with our own eyes2that which would make the blood of any decent man boil within him. In the confessional boxes in Germany and Italy, anybody may see for himself, exhibited in the compartment allotted to the priest, a list of the sins concerning which the confessor is to enquire; these include crimes which we will not pollute our paper by mentioning; he must be a hardened profligate who would dare allude to them in the presence of a young girl. Not in the pages of a folio reserved for studious eyes did we read the degrading memoranda of which we speak, but in the confessional itself, where every passer-by may see them if he will. True, the document is in Latin; but, unfortunately, such words as abortio, sodomia, and the like, need no translation. But we dare not trust our hand to write more,—the superstition of Rome is the worst of all the evils which have befallen our race; may the Lord arise, and sweep it down to the hell from whence it arose.
Mr. Howitt has seen Old Giant Pope at home, and marked for himself the monster’s baleful influence, even in times when advancing light tends to mitigate the evils of his reign. To his testimony we can add our own corroborating witness, and so, we believe, can every sojourner in Italy. He says—“Well may the people of Italy rejoice over the fall of this incubus of the ages! If anyone would satisfy himself of what Popery is at its centre; what it does where it has had its fullest sway, let him make a little tour, as we have lately done, into the mountains in the vicinity of Rome, and see in a country extremely beautiful by nature, what is the condition of an extremely industrious population. In the rock towns of the Alban, Sabine, and Volscian hills, you find a swarming throng of men, women, and children, asses, pigs, and hens, all grovelling in inconceivable filth, squalor, and poverty. Filth in the streets, in the houses, everywhere; fleas, fever, and smallpox, and the densest ignorance darkening minds of singular natural cleverness. A people brilliant in intellect, totally uneducated, and steeped in the grossest superstition.
“These dens of dirt, disease, and, till lately, of brigandage, are the evidences of a thousand years of priestly government! They, and the country around them, are chiefly the property of the great princely and ducal families which sprang out of the papal nepotism of Rome, and have by successive popes, their founders, been loaded with the wealth of the nation. The pope-originated aristocratic families live in Rome, in their great palaces, amidst every luxury and splendour, surrounded by the finest works of art, and leave their tenants and dependents without any attention from them. Some steward or middleman screws the last soldo from them for rent; and when crops fail, as they did last year from drought, lifts not a finger to alleviate their misery.
“And the Papal Government, too—a government pretendedly based on the direct ordination of Him who went about doing good—what has it done for them? Nothing but debauch their minds with idle ceremonies and unscriptural dogmas, lying legends, priests, monks, and beggary! The whole land is a land of beggars, made so by inculcated notions of a spurious charity. Every countrywoman, many men, and every child, boy or girl, are literally beggars—beggars importunate, unappeasable, irrepressible! What a condition of mind for a naturally noble and capable people to be reduced to by—a religion!
“And is this the religion which so many of our educated countrymen and countrywomen, and still more signally the clergy, are so anxious to give us in exchange for the freedom and intelligence of Protestantism? What a stupid blunder, to say the least of it!”
The letters which are translated for us in this volume, touch upon a wide range of subjects, and are written with great vigour and vivacity. It is a remarkable sign of the times that they should have appeared in a daily paper in the Eternal City itself. Here is a paragraph upon “Kissing the foot of the Pope”:—
“Why does the pope cause his foot, or rather his slipper, to be kissed? When did this custom begin? We will give our readers a brief answer to these queries.
“Theophilus Rainaldo and the Bollandist fathers, as well as other Roman Catholic authors, tell us a gallant story of Pope St. Leo I., called the Great, which, if it were true, might show the origin of the practice. They say that a young and very handsome devotee was admitted on Easter day, to kiss the hand of Pope St. Leo after the mass. The pope felt himself very much excited by this kiss, and remembering the words of the Saviour, ‘If thy hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee’ (Matt. v. 30), he at once cut off his hand. But as he was unable to perform mass with only one hand, the people were in a great rage. The pope therefore prayed to God to restore his hand, and God complied: his hand was again united to the stump. And to avoid such dilemmas in future, Leo ordered that thereafter no one should kiss his hand, but only his foot. A very little common sense is sufficient to make us understand that such was not the origin of this custom.
“The first who invented this degrading act of kissing feet was that monster in human form, the Emperor Caligula. He, in his quality of Pontifex Maximus, ordered the people to kiss his foot. The other emperors refused such an act of base slavery. But Heliogabalus, as emperor and Pontifex Maximus, again introduced it. After that impious wretch, Heliogabalus, the custom fell into disuse; but the Christian emperors retaining some of the wicked fables given to the pagan emperors, permitted the kissing of the foot as a compliment on the presentation of petitions. We may cite a few instances. The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon say that Fazius, Bishop of Tyre, in his petition to the emperor, said, ‘I supplicate, prostrate, at your immaculate divine feet.’ Bassianus, Bishop of Ephesus, says, ‘I prostrate myself at your feet.’ Eunomius, Bishop of Nicomedia, says, ‘I prostrate myself before the footsteps of your power.’ The Abbot Saba, says, ‘I have come to adore the footsteps of your piety.’ Procopius, in his ‘History of Mysteries,’ says that the Emperor Justinian, at the instigation of the proud Theodora, his wife, was the first amongst the Christian Emperors who ordered prostrations before himself and his wife, and the kissing of their feet.
“The ecclesiastics, the bishops, and, finally, the popes, were not exempt from paying this homage to the emperors. The prelates of Syria held this language to the Emperor Justinian:—’The pope of holy memory, and the archbishop of ancient Rome, has come to your pious conversation, and has been honoured by your holy feet.’ Pope Gregory I., writing to Theodorus, the physician of the Emperor Maritius, in the year A.D. 593, said, ‘My tongue cannot sufficiently express the great benefits that I received from God Almighty, and from our great emperor, for which I can only love him and kiss his feet.’ In the year A.D. 681, Pope Agathon, sending his legates to the sixth council, writes to the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus:—’As prostrate in your presence, and embracing your feet, I implore you,’ etc. In the seventh century, therefore, not only did the popes not have their feet kissed, but they themselves were obliged to kiss those of the emperor. Becoming sovereigns of Rome, they soon began to adopt the same custom. Pope Eugenius II., who died in 827, was the first who made it the law to kiss the papal foot. From that time it was necessary to kneel before the popes. Gregory VII. ordered all princes to submit to this practice.
“From what we have said, it is clear that the origin of feet kissing was entirely pagan and idolatrous. That this system is in total contradiction to the precepts of the Gospel would be a waste of words to assert. Jesus Christ was so far from desiring people to kiss his feet, that he set himself on one occasion to wash the feet of his disciples. These are the words of the Gospel: ‘He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel and girded himself. After that he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.’
“This act of Jesus Christ is in perfect keeping (John xiii. 4, 5) with all his precepts, with his inculcations of modesty, equality, humility, and with his condemnation of those who set themselves above others. Who would have said that a day would come in which those claiming to be his vicars should cause people to kiss their feet? How thoroughly has Catholicism borrowed from Paganism its idolatries? And with all this, with this so flagrant a violation of the religion of Christ, a herd of people go and press their lips on the slipper of the pope, as was done formerly to the Roman emperors, the pontifices maximi, that is to say, the priests of Jove. The comparison is sufficiently eloquent.”
Very terrible is the chapter upon Excommunications and the Holy Office of the Inquisition: it is indeed sickening. The story of Rome’s bloody persecutions of all who differed from her, when told in the mildest manner, is yet a thing to chill the blood and make the flesh creep. Blessed be God she has such horrors no longer in her power; but if she had her fangs untrimmed as of old, it would not be long before her victims would be aware of it. We will give but a brief extract, referring to times of comparatively modern date.
“The times changed, and being no longer able to burn the heretics and the excommunicated publicly, the holy office found means of putting them to death without the shedding of blood and for the glory of God, by means of walling-up and ovens.
“The walling-up was of two kinds, the propria, and impropria, or complete and incomplete. By the first they punished dogmatists, by the second, the professors of witchcraft and sorcery. To punish the former they made a niche in a wall, where standing upright on his feet, they placed the condemned, binding him well to the wall with cords and chains, so that he could not move in the least. They then began to build from the feet to the knees, and every day they raised the wall a course, at the same time giving the prisoner to eat and to drink. When he died, and God knows with what agonies, the wall was built up. But dead or alive, it was closed in such a manner that no one could see where the niche had been and that a body remained there.
“The incomplete walling-up, or enclosure, was made by sitting the condemned in a pit bound hand and foot, so that his head only was above ground. The pit was then filled up with quicklime, and moisture from the body soon acting on it, converted it into fire, and the miserable wretch was burnt alive with the most frightful torture.
“As knowledge and civilization increased, and the people began to see through the impostures of the priests, they feared lest, spite of their secrecy, such atrocities might creep abroad amongst the corrupt sons of the age, and in order to retain the knowledge of these holy proceedings amongst a few, they dismissed the building-up, and adopted a plan more anticipative of the pains of hell, and this was by burning the condemned without flame, and withoutshedding of blood. They invented ovens, or furnaces, which being made red-hot, they lowered the condemned into them, bound hand and foot, and immediately closed over them the mouth of the furnace. This barbarous punishment was substituted for the burning pile, and in 1849, these furnaces at Rome were laid open to public view in the dungeons of the holy Roman Inquisition, near the great church of the Vatican, still containing the calcined bones.”
The manufacture of relics would be a deeply interesting subject if some one behind the scenes would write upon it; and we need not despair of that desideratum, for many of the works of darkness have of late, by accident or otherwise, been brought to light. The following extracts will show that even in the depths of roguery which surround relic-making, there is yet a lower depth, and even counterfeits are counterfeited:—
“A sudden and terrible blow has fallen on the popedom in the discovery of a most extensive manufacture and sale of false relics by the priest officials of the papal court. Before, however, stating the particulars of the illicit traffic in relics, it will be as well to take a view of what is the regular practice at the Vatican in regard to relics. It is well known that for ages the papacy has carried on a trade in relics, and that they abound in all parts of the world amongst Catholics, who put the most profound faith in them, and believe them possessed of wonderful supernatural power. These have all issued from the manufactory of the Vatican under authority of the successive popes, and many of them have been expressly blest by them. Notwithstanding that on this system they have two heads of St. Peter in Rome, as many as four, five, six, seven bodies of the same saint in different places, and as much wood of the true cross as would build a navy, these things do not in the least shake the faith of devotees. The priests say, that there being such things only makes the miracle the greater. The Vatican has for ages had a distinct department for the production and dissemination of relics, at the head of which is placed the Pope’s vicar. This vicar appoints a superintendent of relics, a Jesuit by-the-way, who pronounces to what saint the body about to be cut up into relics belongs, and these are prepared in the Vatican itself.
“In the Roman daily paper, La Capitale, on the 6th of April, 1871, there appeared an announcement of the discovery in the papal archives of a judicial trial or investigation into a charge of an extensive manufacture of false relics by the official priests of the Lipsanotica, or relic department of the Vatican. The documents of this inquiry had by some means fallen into the hands of the Italians, since their forcible entry into Rome on the 20th September, 1870.
“The publication of so astounding a fact was immediately declared by the papal journals to be a totally groundless and atrocious calumny. But unfortunately for this denial, immediately appeared one Guiseppe Colangeli, who had been the porter of the Lipsanotica at the time of this lucrative traffic, and had been charged, not only as an accomplice, but as one of the greatest offenders. He had been imprisoned on this charge in St. Angelo, condemned, and, as we shall see, as suddenly liberated and dismissed. He now came out, with a long and circumstantial letter in his own defence in the Capitale, thus putting the truth of this official process and of these records of it beyond all doubt. From the documents which have been published, and are on sale in Rome, and from Colangeli’s letter, we arrive at the facts, of which we proceed to give a brief résumé.
“Besides Colangeli, two other laymen were accused as concerned in this unholy but most lucrative trade—Vincenzo Campodonico, chapletmaker, and Guiseppe Campodonico, maker of shrines for the false relics. Amongst the priests implicated were, the Rev. Dr. Guiseppe Gaggi, Jesuit and official of the Lipsanotica; Brother Benoit, also a Jesuit priest; the Abbot Spirito Rembert, a minorist priest; Norberto Constantine, and the Rev. Dr. Archangelo Scognamiglio, the custodian of the Lipsanotica, Bembo Nare, Don Antonio Anselmi, and Don Guiseppe Milani, priestly officers in the Lipsanotica, who, having access to the seals of the cardinal vicar, the head of the relic department, freely used them for authenticating these forged relics.
“It appears that so far back as 1828 this trade was going on, and at that time Agostino Campodonico, the father of the present Campodonicos, was largely concerned in it. At the trial before the cardinal-vicar of the pope, Guiseppe Campodonico was known to be in the habit of making little shrines, or calendars, for the false relics, and that Vincenzo Campodonico supplied these with pieces of bones of sheep and hares, or of human bones, old and carious, taken from the catacombs, but such as were probably those of pagans, certainly not of saints and martyrs whose names they affixed to them. These bits of bones were fixed into little images of wax, professed to be the likenesses of the saints they had belonged to, and were secured to the backs of the shrines by threads of silk, and then by seals, purporting to be the seals of the papal office, and to bear the signature of the custodian of the Lipsanotica. Giuseppe Colangeli, the porter of the Lipsanotica, was represented to be the medium by which these lots of trumpery were conveyed to the Lipsanotica, and the necessary authentications of the custodian obtained, after which he carried them back to the Campodonicos, who dealt in them.
“Enormous sums were given by English noblemen, and others, English ladies and gentlemen, by wealthy Spaniards, and Spanish ladies, by rich and religious Belgian dupes, and, in fact, the false relics were sent all over the Catholic world, and sold in the different monasteries and convents. Brother Benoit, the Jesuit, was a great agent in this traffic, and all parties were reaping a rich harvest from it. The custodian of the Lipsanotica, Dr. Archangelo Scognamiglio, defended himself by saying that Colangeli, being employed by him, in consequence of the large sale of genuine relics, that is, such relics as the Vatican calls genuine, to write out the authentications for his signature, wrote out twice as many as ordered, and appropriated half to his own use in this nefarious trade. To this shallow pretence, Colangeli, in his published letter, properly replied, that, had this been the case, the custodian would at once have noticed the extra number, and he assured the public that the custodian, with his assistants, Anselmi and Milani, were as deep in the business as any of the set.
“The Jesuits play a prominent part in these transactions, as they do in most Catholic affairs. Father Gaggi, we are told, put the authenticating seal to the false relics, some of which were in shrines, and others in settings of gold or silver. Brother Benoit was the great wholesale dealer in them, and during the trial, with their usual cunning, the Jesuits took care that he could not be found. It was confidently believed that he was secreted in the head-quarters of the Jesuits at Lyons. No means whatever were taken by the pope, or his court, to make known the existence of this legion of forged relics, so that, so far as they were concerned, the thousands and tens of thousands of dupes might go on for ever worshipping the bones of sheep and hares, and carrying them to the sick in the hope of their being healed by them.
“The exposure of this most scandalous manufacture of and traffic in the bones of sheep, hares, and old pagans, within the precincts of the Vatican, and by the spiritual officers of the pope himself, has produced a profound sensation throughout Christendom, and has invalidated the whole of the pretended holy relics in existence. The report of this trial, and the letter of Colangeli, are printed in a small book, and sold for two francs, little more than eighteen pence, and have been translated into German and other languages.3 In combination with the shock given to the popedom by the resistance to the dogma of infallibility, this exposure has gone far to shake the great papal imposture to its deepest foundations. What a religion must that be, which trading on the ignorance and superstition which it has itself created in such vile fetich wares as these, makes its impostures so gross and palpable, that its very priests, seeing all its impudent greed, themselves extend the base delusion on their own account.”
Another subject may also interest the reader. At the further end of St. Peter’s, one may see what is said to be the chair of Peter. It is raised above a majestic altar, composed of fine marbles, and is supported by four gigantic figures. Angels hover all around, and above it is a field of transparent glass, coloured to represent light, and so to typify the presence of the Holy Spirit. Is this the chair of Peter or no? Common sense is quite able to give the answer, and her verdict is abundantly sustained by rumour and fact. The whole story of this blessed chair lies in a nut shell; here it is:—
“Lady Morgan, in her work on Italy, in the fourth volume, relates a story about the famous chair of St. Peter, which is venerated in Rome with so much solemnity, which account we now give in her own words:—’The sacrilegious curiosity of the French, in their occupation of Rome, in the beginning of this century, overcame all obstacles, and would see the chair of St. Peter. They took off the precious case of gilt bronze, and laid open the relic. Through the dust they saw the traces of antiquity, and some figures cut in the wood, which resembled letters. The chair, being taken out and exposed to the light, after clearing away the cobwebs and dust, they made an exact copy of the inscription, which proved to be the well-known Mahometan confession of faith, ‘There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet.’ It is supposed that this chair was one of a number of relics brought by the Crusaders from the East in times of ignorance.'”
We have no desire to insist on the truth of the statement of Lady Morgan, which would make this out to be the chair of some devout Mahometan, instead of being that of St. Peter; but we do not think the reply made by the theologians to the English traveller was either serious or conclusive. The most telling reply is that which the theologians of Rome gave to demonstrate the impossibility of this chair having belonged to a Turk—namely, that the Turks do not use chairs. But the Roman theologians, if they knew the history and customs of the East, would know that the Orientals, though they do not use chairs in their houses, at least commonly, yet they use them in their mosques to preach from. Al Jannati, a famous Arab writer, relates that Mahomet caused a chair to be made by one Nakum, a Greek workman, to preach from; and says that upon this chair both Mahomet and all the Califs, his successors, preached; and, in imitation of this, there is in every mosque a chair to preach from. What wonder, then, if the chair of which Lady Morgan speaks should be one of these chairs taken by the Crusaders from some mosque? And this the more, that the sacred motto of the Mahometans is only found on sacred objects. For the rest, the testimony of Lady Morgan begets at least a doubt; therefore, let the Roman priests expose to view this famous chair without its covering of bronze, and then it will be seen whether Lady Morgan has erred, or has spoken the truth.
The identity of this chair has been placed in doubt—or, rather, denied by the learned and pious Father Tillemont, the Benedictine, who says—“It is pretended that the episcopal chair of St. Peter is preserved in Rome, and Baronius says that it is of wood; but people who saw in 1666 that which was about to be solemnly placed in the church of St. Peter, asserted that it was of ivory, and that the sculpture upon it was antique, and of the third or fourth century, and that it represented the twelve labours of Hercules. How happens it, then, that Baronius and Tillemont are not in accordance? How can possibly be found on the same chair the twelve labours of Hercules and a profession of the Mahometan faith? These two things certainly cannot exist together, and especially in a chair of St. Peter. This is probably the truth of the matter. In the time of Cardinal Baronius, the chair was really one of the old curule chairs of ivory, and had upon it sculptured the twelve labours of Hercules. Cardinal Baronius caused Clement VIII. to observe that, if it was important to have in Rome the chair of St. Peter, it was still more important that the Protestants and the incredulous should not find in this an evident argument for the denial of its antiquity. A curule chair, with the labours of Hercules sculptured on it, was a thing incredible as a chair of St. Peter. The pope was convinced of this, and caused the chair to be changed, without any publicity, the public not being able to observe this change, since the chair was in a case of gilt copper. Into this case was put an old chair of wood, in the Gothic style, and this is the chair of wood of which Baronius speaks.
“Sixty years later, Alexander VII. caused the famous altar of the cathedral to be erected, as described above; but when they were about to put the chair into the present case, it was remarked that the Gothic style did not exist in the time of St. Peter. Then they rejected the chair selected by Baronius, and wished to restore the former one; but here the labours of Hercules presented an equal obstacle. The warehouse of relics was then visited, and there they found an ancient chair brought from the East, by the Crusaders, and this was it which was put into the new case, and which is the one spoken of by Lady Morgan. So then the grand proof of the Roman clergy of St. Peter having been in Rome, is a chair from a Mahometan mosque!
“Here we are reminded of the trial about the false relics! If they falsify even chairs, can you then believe in their bones? What reason had Pope Ganganelli, who suppressed the Jesuits, to exclaim, ‘If one put faith in all the relics that they exhibit in all countries, one must many times be persuaded that a saint had ten heads and ten arms!’ It was a pope who said this—that is, an infallible person—and not we only.”
Essence of lies, and quintessence of blasphemy, as the religion of Rome is, it nevertheless fascinates a certain order of Protestants, of whom we fear it may be truly said that “they have received a strong delusion to believe a lie, that they may be damned.” Seeing that it is so, it becomes all who would preserve their fellow-immortals from destruction to be plain and earnest in their warnings. Not in a party-spirit, but for truth’s sake, our Protestantism must protest perpetually. Dignitaries of the papal confederacy are just now very prominent in benevolent movements, and we may be sure that they have ends to serve other than those which strike the public eye. A priest lives only for his church; he may profess to have other objects, but this is a mere blind. Our ancient enemies have small belief in our common sense if they imagine that we shall ever be able to trust them, after having so often beheld the depths of Jesuitical cunning and duplicity. The sooner we let certain Archbishops and Cardinals know that we are aware of their designs, and will in nothing co-operate with them, the better for us and our country. Of course, we shall be howled at as bigots, but we can afford to smile at that cry, when it comes from the church which invented the Inquisition. “No peace with Rome” is the motto of reason as well as of religion.
C. H. S.
1. William Murphy, an anti-Catholic apologist and lecturer of the Victorian era, who was beaten into a coma by a pro-Catholic mob while giving a lecture in Cumberland in April 1871. Murphy died 13 months later, without ever regaining consciousness.
2. See Chapter 74 of the Autobiography for a more complete description of the confessional booth to which Spurgeon refers here.
3. Processo delle reliquie false. Rome, via de cessarini 76, Prezzo 2 lire.