Christian Deceptions: Invent, Amend, Discard


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    Man is a pliable animal, a being who gets accustomed to everything.
    Fëdor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), The House of the Dead


    We have seen how material from the Bible has been manipulated in the past, but many Christian teachings and practices are not mentioned in either the Old or the New Testaments. The Church has traditionally justified these teachings and practices as God-given, absolute, binding and immutable. In this section we assess how well this claim stands up against the alternative theory that the Church has adopted, amended and discarded practices as a matter of convenience.

    We have already seen that some of the most important doctrines date from the third or fourth centuries — for example the doctrines of the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Harrowing of Hell, Original Sin, and Mary's perpetual virginity. Some doctrines were hammered out only in the Middle Ages — for example transubstantiation and the sacraments. And many of these were abandoned by Protestants, whose own doctrines were fluid for centuries. Some teachings have been recognised as dogma by the Roman Church only in recent times. Examples are the Immaculate Conception (1854), papal infallibility (1870), and the bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven (1950). The lack of a firm historical basis is often reflected in the disparate views of different modern Churches.

    Churches even disagree over the number of grades of the Christian ministry ("Major Orders" or "Holy Orders"): Eastern Churches 3, traditional Western Churches 2, some Methodists 1, other nonconformists 0. Some doctrines have never been fully defined. For example the Atonement, grace, and whether or not the human soul and the spirit are identical or separate. Nevertheless, it must be said that the Eastern Churches have changed their views much less frequently than the Western ones over the last millennium, and this section therefore concentrates on the Western Churches. The following are examples of other teachings and practices that have changed, or are still in the process of changing.


    The Status of the Bible As we have already seen, the Western Church regarded its own Latin translation of the Bible as divinely inspired and infallible, despite its known errors. In early times vernacular translations were also used, often to help missionary activity, but as doctrines diverged more and more from the biblical texts, it became expedient to permit translations of only selected parts (for example the psalms). After the reign of John VIII (pope 872-882) the use of local languages was banned so that all Church business, including services, was to be conducted in Latin , the language approved by God. The Vulgate was the only permitted version of the Bible, and only clerics were permitted to read it. Western Church Councils forbade the laity from possessing bibles, especially vernacular versions. Reading the Bible for a layman was contrary to the faith, and thus an invitation to the Inquisition of the day. Following the Reformation all this changed: it became acceptable for anyone to read the Bible, and more accurate translations were made into English, French, German and many other languages. Today, translations can be made into any language and even into dialects: there is one in Yorkshire dialect and another in the dialect of Harlem in New York. Inexplicably, the Catholic Church no longer seeks the death sentence for the translators or even seeks to condemn them at all.

    Following the Church Fathers, the Church taught that the Bible was written by God and was therefore infallible *. The Roman Church confirmed at the Council of Trent that God was the true author of the Bible (Session 4) , and so did Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus of 1893. According to Leo, every part of the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and this precluded all possibility of error, since God must be incapable of teaching error. Until recent times a number of translations were held by various Churches, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, to be the divine word of God. Each Church claimed that its version was free from error and that it was to be interpreted literally.

    Under pressure from scholars, historians and scientists, this position became untenable during the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One by one, the mainstream Churches were obliged to abandon their positions. Now only edenists, or fundamentalists as they have come to be known, hold to the traditional teachings. Others talk about the divine inspiration of the human authors, but the stark fact is that the mainstream Churches have all shifted their ground. They no longer interpret the Bible literally, just as they no longer burn lay people alive for reading it for themselves.


    Hell Belief in eternal hellfire was taught by Jesus and was once universal among Christians. Those who denied the reality of hellfire, or doubted whether it was eternal, were heretics. As the infallible Second Council of Constantinople put it in 553 "Whosoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end .... let him be anathema". The only questions concerned matters such as the range of punishments available there, and whether the damned shed real tears.

    For centuries children and peasants were terrorised by the promise of eternal damnation. Theologians assured them that they would be crushed in giant wine presses, torn to pieces by wild animals, fed with the gall of dragons, burned for eternity, tortured by demons, and so on.

    As Cardinal Newman pointed out, belief in Hell was central to Christian theology, it was "the critical doctrine — you can"t get rid of it — it is the very characteristic of Christianity". The existence of God was held to prove the reality of eternal hellfire, so denial of eternal hellfire amounted to denial of God. The reality of Hell was simply not open to question. Well into the twentieth century children were encouraged to read works such as that of Father Furniss, a Roman Catholic priest known as the "children's apostle". He, like his contemporaries, had no doubt about the reality of eternal damnation. Here he is describing a boy in Hell:

    His eyes are burning like two burning coals. Two long flames come out of his ears…Sometimes he opens his mouth, and breath of blazing fire rolls out of it. But listen! There is a sound just like that of a kettle boiling. Is it really a kettle which is boiling? No; then what is it? Hear what it is. The blood is boiling in the scalding veins of that boy. The brain is boiling and bubbling in his head. The marrow is boiling in his bones! *

    And again

    The little child is in the red-hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out; see how it turns and twists itself about in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor.... God was very good to this little child. Very likely God saw it would get worse and worse and never repent, and so it would have been punished more severely in Hell. So God in his mercy called it out of the world in early childhood

    This booklet is full of descriptions like this - you can read the whole thing here. It was not the product of a maverick. It represented mainstream Roman Catholic thought and sold over 4,000,000 copies. Here is the text of the approbation on the inside cover:

    I have carefully read over this Little Volume for Children and have found nothing whatever in it contrary to the doctrines of Holy Faith; but, on the contrary, a great deal to charm, instruct, and edify our youthful classes, for whose benefit it has been written.
    William Meagher, Vicar General, Dublin, 14 th December, 1855


    The horrors of Hell were taught to countless generations as the literal truth, Roman Catholic, Protestant and nonconformist alike. Images like the one shown on the left could by seen in almost evey church and were explained as genuine factual representations of Hell, where demons literally fed sinners into the fiery mouth of Hell (bottom right). Now belief in Hell seems to be no longer necessary. Certainly the Church of England does not require it. The Privy Council decided many years ago that belief in it is optional*. Theologians have now started to redefine Hell. In fact, according to the Church of England's Doctrine Commission, traditional teachings of hellfire and eternal torment are "appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster and left searing scars on many"*.

    Dante's vision of hell (Inferno) was based on the Church's accounts of the physical reality of hell

    According to recent theories Hell is not a place at all. It is, as the heretic Origen suggested, a condition of being distant from God. Alternatively, if it does exist it is probably empty! This solution attempts to reconcile the traditional doctrine of the reality of Hell with the requirement for a modern, caring, God. It is a classic example of the way in which teachings change when doctrine starts to become unteachable because of widespread disbelief. The Church cannot bring itself to agree explicitly with the atheist Lucretius (c.96-55 BC) and admit that "There is no murky pit of Hell awaiting anyone"*, but that is really what churchmen have come around to after 2,000 years.


    Purgatory and Indulgences The idea of Purgatory has no foundation in scripture*. It has never been well defined, especially in the Eastern Churches. The Western Church developed the doctrine and confirmed it at the Council of Trent. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, Purgatory was a place where the dead atoned for their venial (pardonable) sins, though they were sometimes permitted to return to the world of the living, where they appeared as ghosts. An individual's suffering in Purgatory could be reduced by the actions of the living. The theory underlying it is that the Pope had the power to redistribute the merit of the saints in Heaven to those less worthy. It was once common practice in the Roman Church to sell or exchange this merit in the form of indulgences. In practice it was a sort of contract: a simple Christian would pay money or perform some service in exchange for a piece of paper letting his or her soul off some of the punishment due to it after death. Pope Boniface XI is said to have instituted an indulgence, Boniface's Cup, for those who drank a toast to his health after grace.

    It was common practice for the building of cathedrals to be financed by the sale of indulgences, and this practice became a scandal in the Middle Ages. Professional fund-raisers (Pardoners) were employed on commission to sell indulgences, much like travelling salesmen. These indulgences (or pardons) from the Pope were hot property to Chaucer's Pardoner:

    His walet, biforn him in his lappe,
    Bretful of pardoun, comen from Rome al hoot*

    Indulgences were also used to benefit the Papacy financially in other ways. For example one condition inserted into indulgences after 1462 was that they were invalid for anyone importing Turkish alum (as the Pope was trying to establish a monopoly within Christendom for his own newly discover alum deposits at Tolfa)*

    An Indulgence, dated 1515, offered by Albert, Archbishop of Mainz, on the authority of Pope Leo X

    Matters came to a head in the sixteenth century when a Dominican called Johann Tetzel (c.1465-1519) undertook a sales tour of Germany, hawking indulgences. Proceeds were to be used partially to pay for the building of St Peter's in Rome and partly to discharge debts incurred by the Archbishop of Mainz. As soon as a coin rang in the bottom of Tetzel's coffer so soon was a soul released for Heaven, or so he said. Better still, Tetzel sold the right to sin in the future. It was this sales tour that so outraged Martin Luther, lighting the touch-paper of the Reformation.

    Protestants reject the doctrine of Purgatory, holding that the dead proceed immediately to Heaven or Hell. The Church of England is scathing about it. The 22nd of the 39 Articles of Religion for example says:

    The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory .... is a fond [i.e. foolish] thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

    The Roman Church has also backed off recently. For centuries it had set tariffs for certain virtuous actions. Specific pilgrimages, relics, prayers or gifts to the Church bought specific reductions in one's sentence. It was possible to read off the reduction of suffering against specified acts: so many days for a certain prayer, so many days for a certain pilgrimage, so many days for joining a crusade, so many days for acquiring a holy relic, and so on. Pope Leo X calculated that a pious German who collected over 17,000 holy relics had saved himself 694,779,550.5 days in Purgatory. More recently, in 1991, one considerate believer organised a campaign to induce 200,000 people to say a certain prayer five times a day for a year. He pointed out that St Gertrude the Great had been told by Our Lord nearly 700 years ago that this prayer would release 1000 souls from Purgatory. It was thus believed that 365,000,000,000 souls could be released each year. The challenge was to empty Purgatory altogether.

    Popes before the third millennium taught that purgatory really existed, and looked like this

    After many centuries of acceptability the authorities are now embarrassed by this sort of thought, and tariffs have generally been abolished. The sale of indulgences is now universally regarded as corrupt and inimical to Christianity. No longer is it possible to tick off the days of one's sentence in Purgatory as one collects holy relics.

    Indulgences - Still part of Catholic doctrine in a modified form



    Clerical Dress The earliest priests wore the same clothes as everyone else. Then they took to wearing white, imitating the garb of priests of pagan religions. Later their dress became more and more colourful and distinctive. In 428 Pope Celestine I censured bishops in southern Gaul for wearing distinctive costumes. Bishops and other clergymen found a way to circumvent such prohibitions. They did not adopt new costumes; they simply continued to wear old ones after they had fallen out of fashion. Nearly all modern clerical vestments are remnants of antique upper class secular Roman dress. The traditional Eucharistic vestments of amice, alb, girdle, maniple, stole, and chasuble are all secular clothing of the second century. Cassocks were ordinary everyday clothes up to the sixth century. Much later, they came to be colour-coded to show ecclesiastical rank: currently black for priests, purple for bishops, red for cardinals, white for popes.

    A small sample of specialised clerical dress


    Another small sample of specialised clerical dress

    During the Reformation, Protestants rejected the wearing of distinctive costume and made it illegal for clergymen to wear the chasuble, alb, tunicle, biretta, girdle and stole. English clergy were required to wear a simple surplice, though even this offended Puritans. Over the years, various gorgeous vestments have crept back into the Anglican Church, but are clearly unlawful.

    Rev. A.H. Mackonochie, Vicar of S. Alban’s, Holborn (left) An Anglo-Catholic who spent 17 years in the English ecclesiastical courts defending his High Church practices, and the Rev. Arthur Tooth (right) imprisoned in 1877 for ‘Ritualist’ practices.

    Decisions of the Privy Council have confirmed that it is even illegal for an Anglican bishop to wear a mitre and carry a pastoral staff*. Nevertheless, they are now standard equipment.

    In 1889, Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln was tried for tolerating six ritualistic practices. In his "Lincoln Judgment", the Archbishop of Canterbury found against him on two counts. He required him to conduct the manual acts during the prayer of consecration in the service of Holy Communion in such a way that the people could see them. A decade later, after Frederick Temple succeeded Benson (1883-1896) as Archbishop of Canterbury, he and the Archbishop of York prosecuted two priests for using incense and candles, Later, many of King's liturgical practices became commonplace, including making the sign of the cross during the absolution and blessing, and mixture of elements during the service, for which the criticisms had been upheld as an innovation.

    Bishop Edward King at the start of his trial for ritualist practices,12 Febuary, 1889
    Lambeth MS4825]

    Others also rejected special vestments, and for the same reason as the Anglicans had done, but all this did was to reset the clock. Protestant pastors still wear sixteenth century black outfits with white ruffs. The Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland wears clothing that was fashionable in late eighteenth century Scotland.

    An archbishop of Canterbury wearing an unlawful gold mitre, in the company of a pope in 2010



    Women Priests In the earliest days of the Church women played a full role: "…there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). There were helpers in Jesus Christ such as Priscilla (Romans 16:3), whose designation was indicative of official authority, but who are never given a formal title in translations. Again, Phebe had been a Christian teacher. Had she been a man she would probably have been regarded as a bishop on the strength of Romans 16:2, but because she was a woman she became a mere deaconess (Jerusalem Bible) or servant of the church (Authorised Version). Similarly, at some time in the Middle Ages, a person with a woman's name, Junia (Romans 16:7), acquired a man's name, Junias (Jerusalem Bible), though earlier authorities unanimously regarded her as a woman*. She had been counted among the apostles, but the Church did not want to know about female apostles, so her name and her gender were changed.

    When a system of Holy Orders and a hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons were established, deaconesses were accepted into Holy Orders. There were no fewer than 40 of them on the staff of the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople in the year 612. In time the hierarchy decided that it could do without them. Deaconesses disappeared in the Western Church in the fifth century and in the Eastern Church in the twelfth century. Women were excluded from lesser functions as well. They were prevented from serving at the altar and even debarred from church choirs. For centuries it would have been heretical to claim that women could be priests or deaconesses.

    In recent times women have once again demanded, and have gradually been granted, a greater role in Church affairs. Girls have been accepted into Church choirs and given minor official roles. The office of deaconess was restored, although initially without Holy Orders. The first Protestant deaconess was appointed in 1836, the first Anglican one in 1861, and the first Methodist one in 1888.

    The position is similar with regard to the ordination of women as priests. Not long ago the mainstream Churches universally held that women could not be ordained, indeed such an idea was plainly heretical. But public opinion shifted during the twentieth century. Anglican, Lutheran and other Protestant Churches changed their minds and now ordain women priests. Some have consecrated women bishops. As soon as the volte-face was complete in 1991, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that "The idea that only a male can represent Christ at the altar is a most serious heresy"*. Yesterday's heresy was today's orthodoxy, and yesterday's orthodoxy was today's heresy.

    As popular opinion continues to change, more Churches may follow. In North America and parts of Europe there is already significant pressure within the Roman Catholic Church. At the time of writing it is still likely to be many years before the pressure becomes strong enough for women priests to be accepted in all denominations*. Whether or not there are more changes to come, there have already been enough to compromise any claim to constancy.


    Marriage Christian teachings on marriage have changed continually since the time of Jesus. In its early years the Church simply followed Roman law, which was based on the maxim consent constitutes matrimony. If a couple declared to each other that they were married, then they were married. They did not require witnesses, or a priest to officiate. Such marriages were described as "clandestine" but there was never any question about their validity.

    Marriage was essentially a civil contract, sponsalia, which in medieval England generally took place at the church porch (in facie ecclesiæ). Chaucer's wife of Bath makes reference to this practice in her Prologue (l.6) when she says "Five husbands have I had at the church door". There was no great religious significance to this; the local church was simply the social centre of the village and the natural meeting place for people to negotiate various kinds of personal business and conclude contracts. The couple would simply plight their troth with a ring outside the church, after which they might or might not enter the church for a nuptial Mass. Often the priest's role was confined to blessing the marriage bed. There was an ecclesiastical counterpart of marriage, called matrimony, but this was optional. Sponsalia created a legal bond, even before consummation.

    The Western Church started to secure control of marriage ceremonies at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 , but it was not until 1563, at the Council of Trent, that an obligatory form for matrimony was introduced. Suddenly, a priest and two witnesses were indispensable conditions of a valid marriage *. The Council of Trent also declared matrimony to be a sacrament. It had not previously been a sacrament but now it was. Later, Anglicans decided that matrimony was not a sacrament after all, as Article 25 of the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church confirms. In Protestant countries civil marriages continued to be recognised. Courts would uphold sponsalia in preference to holy matrimony, if for example one party subsequently married someone else in Church *. In England these civil marriages were valid up until Lord Hardwicke's Act in 1753. In Scotland they continued until 1940 *. They live on in the popular imagination as “common law” marriages.

    The whole topic of marriage is a confusion of changing views and regulations. For centuries the Church argued with itself about whether marriage was a contract authenticated by a ceremony, or whether sexual intercourse was required to consummate it. At different times the Western Church reached different conclusions, although in the end it was decided that sexual intercourse was required. In 1982 a priest refused to marry a man suffering from muscular dystrophy and his visually impaired fiancée until they could prove that they were able to have children *.

    Traditional Christian marriages were arranged marriages. There was no concept of love involved, and no mention of it in the traditional marriage service. As in Moslem and other traditional cultures, marriages were often contracted for dynastic or business reasons, or just to control assets. She passed from being the property of her father or guardian, to being the property of her new husband (which is why the marriage sevice still includes the officiating priest asking "who gives this woman ...". Church law was explicit about this:

    Only those who have authority over a woman, and from whose custody she is sought as wife, can make a lawful marriage.
    (Decretum gratiani, Case 30, q V, C1)

    For most of Christian history the normal form of marriage was arranged marriage, and children could legally marry at 7, 12 or 14, though there was no lower limit for senior nobility where marriage was required "for the sake of peace" - ie for diplomatic and dynastic reasons.

    At one time cannon law permitted bigamy. (In the following legal case the term "render the debt" means to have sexual intercourse):

    One who is weak may lawfully marry another, if his sick wife cannot render the debt to him on account of her infirmity.
    You have asked what a woman's yoke-mate should do, if she is weakened by sickness and cannot render the debt to him? He would best remain as he is and practice abstinence, but, because that is very difficult, one who cannot control himself may marry instead. But let him continue to support the woman disabled by illness and not cast her off as for a detestable fault.
    (Decretum gratiani, Case 32, q VII, C18, citing Pope Gregory III to Bishop Boniface, [in Letter iv])

    And the same exemption permitting bigamy was made for wives with impotent ["frigid"] husbands:

    ...[Pope] Gregory writes to John, bishop of Ravenna:
    A woman can lawfully marry another because her husband's frigidity prevented him from knowing her. You have asked about those joined in matrimony who could not have intercourse. Can he or she take another? About such, it is written [Lombard Laws, I, ix], ``If a man and a woman are joined together, and afterwards the woman says the man could not have intercourse with her, and a just trial proves this to be true, let her take another. But if he takes another, let them be separated.''
    (Decretum gratiani, Case 33, q I, C1)

    Another area of confusion is the marriage of Christians and members of other faiths. As soon as it could do so, the Church had prohibited marriage between Christians and Jews, making such a marriage a capital offence. In medieval times the penalty was relaxed to forceable divorce:

    Unless a Jew adheres to the Faith, let him be separated from his believing wife.
    The bishop of the city should warn Jews who take Christian women in marriage that they must become Christians if they intend to live with them. If they refuse after being warned, let them be separated, because an unbeliever cannot stay united to one who converts to the Christian Faith.
    (Decretum gratiani, Case 28, q I, C10, citing the Fourth Council of Toledo, [c. 62])

    For centuries the marriage of a Christian to one of another faith was treated as a crime. Similar feelings were expressed after the Reformation about marriages between Roman Catholics and Protestants (or between members of any two sects opposed to each other). Now mixed marriages are not such a great tragedy, and Churches no longer insist on capital punishment for those who "marry out". Some Churches now even recognise same-sex marriages.

    More on changing Christian ideas on Sex Within Marriage
    More on changing Christian ideas on Rape
    More on changing Christian ideas on the Treatment of Women
    More on changing Christian ideas on Contraception
    More on changing Christian ideas on Abortion
    More on changing Christian ideas on Divorce
    More on changing Christian ideas on Family Values
    More on changing Christian ideas on Children, child marriage, children's rights and child abuse,



    The Sacraments Different denominations recognise different numbers of sacraments. To cite just a few examples — Salvation Army Nil, Church of England 2, Roman Catholics 7. Eastern Churches have mysteries instead of sacraments and their number has varied between 2 and 10, and is still not fixed *. That there are seven sacraments was first suggested in the twelfth century *. There was still disagreement as to what they were. Some held an oath to be a sacrament, others the Incarnation, others holy scripture.

    The list of seven now accepted by the Roman Church (baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, Holy Orders, matrimony, and anointing of the sick or last rites) was first recorded by Peter Lombard in the second half of the twelfth century, and received papal sanction in 1439 *. The Eastern Churches accepted the list at a Council of Constantinople in 1642 but in practice disagree on a number of points. Protestant Churches rejected the list as lacking biblical authority. The Church of England accepts only two sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist, although there is some ambiguity on the matter in the wording of Article 25 of the 39 Articles.

    The Eucharist, Communion, or Mass has proved particularly problematic. We have already seen the difficulties associated with the doctrine of transubstantiation, but there is more. When Jesus invited his followers to remember him as they ate bread or drank, he seems to have envisaged them doing so at ordinary meals, as in their own homes. The Church was soon turning these meals of remembrance into rituals, and insisting that priests conduct them. The ancient Church provided both bread and wine at the Mass, apparently as part of a full meal. The full meal seems to have disappeared during the first few centuries, leaving just the bread and wine.

    After a further 1,000 years, by the thirteenth century, the Roman Church took to reserving the wine for priests only. This practice had no biblical authority and was rejected by the Eastern Churches and later by Protestant Churches. Offering wine to the laity contributed to the appeal of Protestantism and so to its popularity. In an attempt to stop the slide into Protestantism in the sixteenth century, Pope Pius IV authorised the Communion of both kinds (i.e. both bread and wine) to the Roman Catholic laity in Germany, Austria and other regions. Once the Protestant threat had passed, the faithful were soon back to bread only. To Christians it is a matter of the greatest importance whether or not they should be permitted to share fully in the Lord's Supper, and yet the Roman Church changed its mind for political rather than doctrinal reasons. In recent times there has been a widespread recognition that there is no real reason for denying the wine, and since the Second Vatican Council it has become common for both bread and wine to be given to communicants in the Roman Church.

    Other sacraments have been just as variable. For many centuries only a bishop could give absolution. Confession (penance) took place only once, just before death. Then it could be made after any grave sin, then once a year* (on Shrove Tuesday), then once a week. Now confession can be made more or less at will. Baptism originally required immersion in cold running water. Total submersion in warm water or still water was permitted only if cold or running water was not available*. For the Eastern Churches and for Western Baptists immersion is still required. Other Western Churches offended the orthodox by abandoning the practice of total submersion. At one time total submersion was required not merely once, but three times, and in the earliest times the practice was for candidates to be baptised in the nude. St Augustine was baptised naked by St Ambrose as late as 387. Again, baptism was once routinely preceded by an exorcism. At the Church door the priest would blow in the child's face and instruct the "unclean spirit" to leave it. During the baptism the North Door of the Church was (and sometimes still is) left open to allow the Devil or the unclean spirit to leave the building. The formal exorcism however was dropped from the second Edwardian Prayer Book of 1552.

    Sacraments have varied enormously over the centuries, which tends to suggest that they are merely human constructs. This suggestion is supported by the differences between the practices of different denominations today.


    Church Festivals. There is no evidence that the early Church celebrated any of the festivals that are now such an integral part of the religion. Important observances such as Pentecost, Ascension Day, Lent, Holy Week and Christmas were unknown before the fourth century. They are all accretions that have acquired a patina of antiquity in the course of centuries. Once a date was fixed for Christmas it was possible to create a number of other annual festivals. For example the Annunciation must have taken place nine months before Christmas Day (25 th March); the Feast of the Circumcision seven days after Christmas Day (1 st January), and Epiphany, when the magi were supposed to have arrived, a few days later* (6 th January). The only festival that is likely to date back much earlier than the fourth century is Easter.

    The Churches of Asia Minor preserved the oldest method of calculating Easter. They simply used the date of the Passover, the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan. Alexandrian Christians chose to hold their celebrations on the Sunday immediately after the Passover. No one seems to have minded about this innovation. The Alexandrian Church was autocephalous and entitled to decide such matters for itself. Around AD 160 an annual Easter festival was adopted at Rome, and the Alexandrian practice was adopted there. Within 30 years the Bishop of Rome was claiming that everyone should adopt this method of reckoning Easter. Since the date of the festival was arbitrary, and the Bishop of Rome was the Patriarch of the West, many in the West did so, though others did not. The Celtic Church was less than enthusiastic, but eventually decided to fall into line with the rest of the Western Church at the Council of Whitby in 664. Those in Asia who kept to the old ways — Quartodecimans as they were nicknamed — came to be regarded as heretics. If the date of Easter seems a minor matter it is well to remember that people have been executed in the past as heretics for disputing it.


    Burials. Since early times Churches have taught that dead Christians will be bodily resurrected on the Day of Judgement. In anticipation of this, Christians have traditionally striven to ensure that their bodies are buried in one piece. They have apparently wanted to make God's job that much easier when the great day arrives. Some Christians still retain amputated limbs and surgically removed internal organs, and even extracted teeth, so that they can be buried along with the rest of their bodies, to be reassembled later by God. So too, eunuchs were buried with their severed genitals in the hopeful expectation of a bodily reunion. All good Christians were encouraged to keep their bodies as intact as possible for burial, in anticipation of their bodily resurrection. Criminals on the other hand could not expect Christian society to help them in this respect and thus were publicly gibbeted or dissected. As late as 1752 a British Act of Parliament stated that "in no case whatsoever the Body of any Murderer shall be suffered to be buried"*. So too heretics were traditionally burned, and their ashes scattered into a river.

    Good Christians had to be buried, preferably in sacred ground, along with their fellow good Christians. In the Middle Ages the requirement about burial became inconvenient. In times of plague the requirement to bury bodies ensured that virtually everyone came into contact with a deadly disease. A theological excuse was therefore found to change the rules, and cremation suddenly became an acceptable alternative, in direct contradiction to previous ideas. Many survivors were convinced that their dead relatives had missed the chance of eventual resurrection. When the plague had passed, burial became obligatory again.

    It was not until 1884 that cremation was permanently permitted in England, against the wishes of bishops of the Church of England. The Roman Church has permitted cremation only since 1965. It still earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained, and seems to imagine that people might be cremated for "anti-Christian motives"*. Greek Orthodox Christians, like Muslims and Orthodox Jews, still prohibit cremation.

    The Church once found it enormously important to ensure that certain sinners were not buried in consecrated ground. The motivation seems to have been to make God's job of separating the sheep from the goats on the Day of Judgement a little easier. Mothers and babies who died in childbirth were sometimes denied a Christian burial because of the sin associated with conception. Such practices would cause outrage now, and so have been completely abandoned and almost totally forgotten.


    Suicides Many martyrs of the early Church were really suicides, since they sought and welcomed their own deaths. (Whole sects were wiped out because of this). Later, suicide was discouraged and came to be regarded as a mortal sin. Up until 1824, suicides in England were buried on a highway (often a crossroads) with a stake through the body (usually through the heart). Since 1882, the Anglican practice has been merely to deny to suicides a Christian burial service*, unless the suicide was found to have taken his or her own life while of unsound mind. Such conventions could always be ignored when they did not suit. Thus, in 1988 a host of Anglican bishops and priests officiated at the funeral service of the Rev. Gareth Bennett, an Oxford don who had committed suicide after being revealed as the author of an anonymous attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury. The same flexibility is evident in the Catholic Church. In 1981 Catholic priests found no doctrinal difficulties in offering communion, absolution, final unction, and funeral masses to ten convicted prisoners who starved themselves to death in jail in Northern Ireland. These prisoners were explicitly committing suicide as a form of protest because they did not like being treated as common criminals, regarding themselves as political prisoners and therefore entitled to privileges such as not having to wear standard prison clothes. Again, when Fr Sean Fortune committed suicide in 2003, having been accused of multiple sex crimes against children over many years, his bishop, the Bishop of Ferns, Dr. Brendan Comiskey, found no difficulty in delivering the main homily at the funeral*. Immutable rules proved sufficiently elastic to accommodate changing mores and personal preferences of the Church hierarchy.

    A few of the many Anglican bishops and clergymen at the funeral of the Rev Garreth Bennet,
    who committed suicide on 7 December 1987 in the wake of internal Anglican Church squabbles.



    Diet Jesus and his disciples followed the traditional Jewish dietary laws. The following foods, amongst others, were prohibited: pig, camel, hare, shellfish, ostrich, various owls, cormorants, pelicans, storks, herons, hoopoes, bats, and most arthropods except locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers. Also banned are weasels, mice, geckos, chameleons and other lizards*. These rules were soon abandoned by gentile Christians, and in time were replaced by entirely different rules about eating, set out in detail by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica ( II. 147).

    For many centuries Roman Catholics were not permitted to eat meat on certain days. To do so invited a visit from the Inquisition. Roman Catholics generally ate fish on Fridays. Rather disingenuously, a number of animals were classified as fish. The barnacle goose, for example, was regarded as fish on the erroneous grounds that it developed from a goose barnacle. Beaver's tail was regarded as fish for no better reason that it was hairless, and beavers spend time in water. When Christianity arived in South America, large indigenous rodents prized for their meat, capybaras, were also classified as fish because they spend much of their lives in water.

    A Medieval beaver (Lat Castorem) with a distinctly fish-like tail
    from Platearius, Livre des simples médecines, ca 1480.
    Paris, Biblioteque Nationale, Département des manuscrits, Français 12322, folio 188

    Pope Pius XII did away with the need for such deceptions in 1953 when he announced that Roman Catholics could eat meat on Fridays after all. Fast days in the Roman Church were reduced from well over 100 to a mere two (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). Fast days were mentioned in the 1969 canons of the Church of England, but no one seems to know what is required for their observance.

    Fasting practices later become popular again in the Catholic Church, so eccentric definiions of "fish" have re-emerged. Venezuelans were eating capybaras again by the Lent of 2005 on the grounds that the Catholic Church still considered them as fish*.

    The letter below sent in 2010 looks like a spoof but is not. The diocese subsequently confirmed that the Church regards all reptiles and amphibians as fish / seafood.

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops posted a message on its website entitled 'Lent and Lenten Practices' in support of Archbishop Aymond's statement.

    "Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs - all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat… Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted,"*.

    No mention was made of mammals such as marine mamals or of beavers or cabybaras that live part of their lives in water, but Catholics are expressely free to eat alligators, turtles, snakes, lizards, and tortoises during Lent..

    How can the rules be so uncertain and changeable if fasting is so important to God? And why did he not give a more accurate idea of what constituted a fish. Why is it so easy to eat animal flesh without breaking Church rules if the purpose as set out by Aquinas is to prevent the eating of animal flesh. And if fasting is not after all important to God, why were people tried and executed for failing to follow arbitrary temporary rules? And why are they not executed now?



    Baptising Bells. Since ancient times bells had been considered powerful, and the Church needed to justify the superior power of its own church bells. It would not do to have Church bells seen as possessing merely the same potency as bells on farms and in private houses. The answer was to bless or even baptise Church bells to give them additional power. Orthodox and Catholic, and later Anglican, churches baptised their church bells. In the Catholic Church they were generally baptised by bishops, which was presumably thought to increase their power even further. For centuries the Church talked openly about baptising bells and Church records referred explicitly to the baptism of bells, for the very good reason that the ceremony was clearly a baptism ceremony, modelled on the human baptism ceremony. The bells were first exorcised (as babies were at their baptism), washed with holy water, anointed with the holy oil of the sick (externally) and chrism (internally) and given a name. In some places, they even had a godfather. at the ceremony, the bishop prayed to God as follows:

    At their sound let all evil spirits be driven afar; let thunder and lightning, hail and storm be banished; let the power of Thy hand put down the evil powers of the air, causing them to tremble at the sound of these bells, and to flee at the sight of the holy cross engraved thereon.

    Often the name of the bell was engraved on it, along with the cross - just as a new Christian was given a name and signed with a cross at his or her baptism.

    Crowland Abbey. Preparing for the broadcast of Church bells in 1925Bells were still regarded as particularly holy into the twentieth century. Many Anglicans considered them so holy that it would, for example, amount to sacrilege to broadcast the sound of them. When the BBC first tried to broadcast the ringing of Church bells from Crowland Abbey on 1st November 1925, some Christians considered the idea blasphemous, trying to have the broadcast stopped. When their arguments failed they tried to sabotage the broadcast*. The sound equipment had to route the signal through telephone wires to the BBC's radio transmitter. Christian believers cut the wires between Whittlesea and Thorney, despite a large presence of police officers and soldiers. As it happened the BBC engineer had not routed the transmission through the most obvious route, so the wrong wires were cut, and the transmission went ahead as planned. Further, successful, attempts to sabotage BBC transmissions of ringing bells occurred in 1926.

    Today this is all something of an embarrassment. Even any admission on the part of the Church that bells were ever baptised is carefully avoided. The baptism ceremony is represented as a simple blessing, just as a sword might be blessed. At the time of writing it is easy to find Catholic websites representing the whole idea of baptising Church bells as an "anti-Catholic" invention, propagated by Protestants. The idea of bells affecting natural phenomena is also seriously underplayed, as we see.

    Christians have recently taken to denying that "baptisms" of inanimate objects ever took place, a position difficult with what the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912 has to say under "Baptism" - even though it omits to mention the "Christening" part of the ceremony. The baptism of ships incidentally has morphed into a secular naming ceremony, the holy water replaced by Champaign.

    Baptism of bells: This name has been given to the blessing of bells, at least in France, since the eleventh century. It is derived from the washing of the bell with holy water by the bishop, before he anoints it with the oil of the infirm without and with chrism within. A fuming censer is then placed under it. The bishop prays that these sacramentals of the Church may, at the sound of the bell, put the demons to flight, protect from storms, and call the faithful to prayer.

    Baptism of ships. At least since the time of the Crusades, rituals have contained a blessing for ships. The priest begs God to bless the vessel and protect those who sail in it, as He did the ark of Noah, and Peter, when the Apostle was sinking in the sea. The ship is then sprinkled with holy water.


    Natural Phenomena For many centuries the Churches taught that God was responsible for natural phenomena. He caused earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions. In the seventeenth century, and later, many thought it heresy to deny God's personal involvement in such phenomena, since they were known to be signs of divine disapproval against a sinful world. God controlled the weather too. It was for this reason that Christians opposed the innovation of fitting lightning rods to church buildings: if God wanted to burn down his own churches, it was no business of ours to stop him. The Bible says God "sends forth lightnings... He covers His hands with the lightning. And commands it to strike the mark. Its noise declares His presence? Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, And His lightning to the ends of the earth... Whether for correction, or for His world, Or for loving kindness, He causes it to happen." [Job 36:27-33 & 37:1-13 & 38:35].

    Thunder storms and lightning bolts were directed by God to "discipline his servants and teach us important lessons," or with God's permission they were directed by Satan, "the Prince of the Power of the Air", and his demons. Such explanations were confirmed by leading Christian authorities over many centuries. According to the Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas, "It is a dogma of Faith that demons can produce winds, storms, and rains of fire [ie lightning] from heaven." Pope Gregory XIII advocated "exorcising the demons" who "stir up the clouds." Martin Luther stated that the winds themselves are only good or evil spirits, and that a stone thrown into a certain pond in his native region would cause a dreadful storm because devils kept prisoners there. He was in no doubt at all about the role of demons: "The air all about us is filled with demons". "Some [demons] are also in the thick black clouds, which cause hail, lightning and thunder, and poison the air, the pastures and earth". "The winds are nothing else but good or bad spirits. Hark! how the Devil is puffing and blowing...".

    This statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is frequently damaged by lightning

    Consecrating church bells and ringing them during a thunderstorm was held to provide divine protection. This was most explicit in the ceremony of baptising a bell, where the bishop prayed to God “at their sound let all evil spirits be driven afar; let thunder and lightning, hail and storm be banished; let the power of Thy hand put down the evil powers of the air, causing them to tremble at the sound of these bells, and to flee at the sight of the holy cross engraved thereon". Other Churches believed much the same thing - that consecrated Church bells would scare away storm demons - despite the fact that church bell towers, being the tallest buildings around, were often struck and countless bell ringers were killed every year.

    In the American colonies the eighteenth century "arch heretic" Benjamin Franklin carried out daring scientific experiments with a kite in a storm, and as a result invented the lightning rod in 1752. Many buildings were soon protected by lightning rods, but not church buildings, because lightning rods were designed to thwart God's will, and God will not be thwarted. An earthquake in 1755 was widely ascribed to Franklin's lightning rods. The Rev. Thomas Prince, pastor of the Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts, published a sermon on the subject blaming Franklin's iron rods: "in Boston are more erected than anywhere else in New England, and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! There is no getting out of the mighty hand of God." But the statistics piled up throughout Christendom. In three decades some 400 church towers in Germany alone were damaged by lightning and 120 bell ringers were killed. The numbers in France were similar. In one church a bolt of lightning struck the tower, melted the bell, electrocuted the priest, and destroyed a painting of Jesus. Everyone knew that this sort of thing happened all the time, while saloon bars, gambling dens and brothels next door escaped without a scratch. It became ever more difficult to reconcile God's behaviour with his supposed morality. Then, in 1769 lightning struck the Church of San Nazaro, in Brescia, near Venice in Italy. This strike ignited 200,000 pounds of gunpowder which had been stored in the church and caused an explosion that killed one sixth of the city - some 3,000 people. Despite the evidence of churches being struck disproportionately often, it seems that particularly devout believers had still imagined churches to be safe places to store gun powder. Brescia was a turning point. After the disaster Franklin's 'heretical rods' shot up on churches throughout Christendom and Church opposition was quietly dropped, along with all memory of those earlier authoritative Catholic and Protestant declarations about divine agency.

    Certain forms of insurance including life insurance had been prohibitted to Christians for centuries for similar reasons - to insure oneself or one's family was in effect to bet against God. It was far better for a man's family to starve to death after his early demise, than to thwart God's will by insuring against this eventuality. A few Christians, some Jews and many Moslems still avoid insurance for exactly this reason.

    Celestial phenomena such as comets and eclipses were known to be divine warnings, a belief that was still common, even among educated classes, when a comet was observed in 1677. It was also necessary to believe that (with God's permission) witches and demons were active in disturbing the weather. Church bells were routinely rung to frighten off the demons that caused storms. To deny the existence of witches or demons was an attack on Christianity itself and was treated first as heretical and later as atheistic.

    Some Catholics evidently still believe that angels cluster around church bells.
    This illustration comes from a Catholic website

    Churchmen verified for many centuries the idea that God actively managed events on Earth and in the skies. Today such ideas are generally regarded as primitive (although insurance companies still refer to natural disasters as "Acts of God"). Having spent so long controlling every aspect of all natural phenomena, God is now relegated to the role of disinterested observer. The 180° shift has taken place without the least visible trace of embarrassment.


    Excommunication In earlier centuries whole communities were excommunicated. Pope Adrian IV excommunicated Rome in 1155, and Pope Innocent III excommunicated (or interdicted) the whole of England in 1208. To carry out such an excommunication now would be seen as absurd. Again, prayers of cursing were once quite acceptable. Curses and anathemas were distributed liberally. They were laid upon those who disregarded the decrees of Church Councils, or read the contents of papal letters, those who failed to pay their tithes, those who stole, those who committed murder, and indeed all enemies of the Church. Now they are watered down to anodyne services of commination. Can it really be that those excommunicated in the past for failing to pay tithes will burn in Hell for eternity, while those who fail to pay them now will not?

    The Cursing Stone in Carlisle

    In 1525, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Gavin Dunbar issued a curse to a group of robbers and highwaymen who operated along the English-Scottish border. This is the text of it, full of the sort of Christian charity typical of the traditional religion:

    "I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their legs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds; their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock; their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their ploughs, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare. May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them. May the fire and the sword that stopped Adam from the gates of Paradise, stop them from the glory of Heaven, until they forebear, and make amends. May the evil that fell upon cursed Cain, when he slew his brother Abel, needlessly, fall on them for the needless slaughter that they commit daily. May the malediction that fell upon all the world, man and beast, and all that ever took life, when all were drowned by the flood of Noah, except Noah and his ark, fall upon them and drown them, man and beast, and make this realm free of them, for their wicked sins. May the thunder and lightning which rained down upon Sodom and Gomorra and all the lands surrounding them, and burned them for their vile sins, rain down upon them and burn them for their open sins. May the evil and confusion that fell on the Gigantis for their oppression and pride in building the Tower of Babylon, confound them and all their works, for their open callous disregard and oppression. May all the plagues that fell upon Pharaoh and his people of Egypt, their lands, crops and cattle, fall upon them, their equipment, their places, their lands, their crops and livestock. May the waters of the Tweed and other waters which they use, drown them, as the Red Sea drowned King Pharaoh and the people of Egypt, preserving God’s people of Israel. May the earth open, split and cleave, and swallow them straight to hell, as it swallowed cursed Dathan and Abiron, who disobeyed Moses and the command of God. May the wild fire that reduced Thore and his followers to two-hundred-fifty in number, and others from 14,000 to 7,000 at anys, usurping against Moses and Aaron, servants of God, suddenly burn and consume them daily, for opposing the commands of God and Holy Church. May the malediction that suddenly fell upon fair Absalom, riding through the wood against his father, King David, when the branches of a tree knocked him from his horse and hanged him by the hair, fall upon these untrue Scotsmen and hang them the same way, that all the world may see. May the malediction that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar’s lieutenant, Holofernes, making war and savagery upon true Christian men; the malediction that fell upon Judas, Pilate, Herod, and the Jews that crucified Our Lord; and all the plagues and troubles that fell on the city of Jerusalem therefore, and upon Simon Magus for his treachery, bloody Nero, Ditius Magcensius, Olibrius, Julianus Apostita and the rest of the cruel tyrants who slew and murdered Christ’s holy servants, fall upon them for their cruel tyranny and murder of Christian people. And may all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began, for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, fall on them for their openly evil ways, senseless slaughter and shedding of innocent blood. I sever and part them from the Church of God, and deliver them immediately to the devil of hell, as the Apostle Paul delivered Corinth. I bar the entrance of all places they come to, for divine service and ministration of the sacraments of holy church, except the sacrament of infant baptism, only; and I forbid all churchmen to hear their confession or to absolve them of their sins, until they are first humbled by this curse. I forbid all Christian men or women to have any company with them, eating, drinking, speaking, praying, lying, going, standing, or in any other deed-doing, under the pain of deadly sin. I discharge all bonds, acts, contracts, oaths, made to them by any persons, out of loyalty, kindness, or personal duty, so long as they sustain this cursing, by which no man will be bound to them, and this will be binding on all men. I take from them, and cast down all the good deeds that ever they did, or shall do, until they rise from this cursing. I declare them excluded from all matins, masses, evening prayers, funerals or other prayers, on book or bead; of all pilgrimages and alms deeds done, or to be done in holy church or be Christian people, while this curse is in effect. And, finally, I condemn them perpetually to the deep pit of hell, there to remain with Lucifer and all his fellows, and their bodies to the gallows of Burrow moor, first to be hanged, then ripped and torn by dogs, swine, and other wild beasts, abominable to all the world. And their candle goes from your sight, as may their souls go from the face of God, and their good reputation from the world, until they forebear their open sins, aforesaid, and rise from this terrible cursing and make satisfaction and penance.

    In 2001, as part of Carlisle’s millennium celebrations local artist Gordon Young carved 383 words of the curse into a 7.5 ton granite boulder. It is on display in Tullie House Museum's Millennium Gallery. The floor features the names of the families against whom the curse was directed. The national press has reported priests and other local Christians who want the stone removed, believing its curse to be responsible for a series of local disasters from foot and mouth disease to flooding.



    Church Architecture and Furniture Jesus' early followers worshipped in the Jewish Temple and attended synagogues, as Jesus had done. Gentile Christians met in ordinary houses. The first Christian buildings to adopt a distinctive architectural style seem to have first appeared in the fourth century. In an attempt to return to ancient simplicity, various sects have rejected the use of church buildings. George Fox dismissively called them steeple houses, and Quakers still prefer their own meeting houses to steeple houses. One of the fastest growing sects towards the end of the twentieth century was the house church movement, which holds its meetings in ordinary houses, just as Christians did for the first few centuries.

    The use of candles, and other Church props, also dates from the fourth century or later times. Incense was used in many religions to mask the smell of burned sacrifices. Its use was severely prohibited in the early Church, but like many pagan practices it was popular. By the fifth century it was being used in Christian places of worship. Because it had been banned in the early Church, its use at services of the Church of England and other Protestant Churches was made unlawful at the Reformation. Altars, also inherited from religions that practised sacrifice, were employed in Christian Churches because masses were sacrificial in nature. This idea too was rejected at the Reformation. Stone altars were physically destroyed, and replaced by wooden Communion tables. Other traditional Church furniture, such as pulpits, appears to have been introduced only in the Middle Ages. Confessional boxes were introduced later and pews later still. Pews are still rarely found in Orthodox churches, and congregations are expected to stand throughout the service, as they did previously in Western churches.

    Churches routinely ignore the canons of ecumenical councils, which are believed to be divinely inspired and thus infallible. Canon XX of the First Ecumenical Council, for example, forbids people from kneeling on Sundays or on any of the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, yet this canon is disregarded by the Western Church and increasingly disregarded in the East. Ideas as to the acceptability of Church music have also changed from time to time. In early times singing was always unaccompanied, as it still is in traditional Eastern Churches. Western Churches have varied their practices many times. At one time harps were favoured (there were supposed to be harps in Heaven, but the rest of the orchestra was condemned to Hell). At other times all manner of instruments have been permitted, but in recent centuries they all gave way to organs. Many in the West came to imagine that organs in Churches dated from biblical times. When guitars and other instruments were introduced in the 1960s, many Christians complained that almost 2000 years of tradition were being overturned.

    Conventions as to who may enter churches have also changed. People are no longer allowed to set up shop in churches, as they did in medieval times, and dogs no longer roam freely inside the naves as they once did. Changing moral concepts are highlighted by the bouncers at St Peter's in Rome, who refuse admission to women with bare arms, despite the fact that inside are numerous nude female statues, including a famous one of a papal mistress (now fitted with a discreet metal corset).


    Few, if any, practices have been consistently upheld since apostolic times, just as few, if any, doctrines have been consistently taught since those times. There would be nothing remarkable about an ordinary organisation changing its teachings and practices to suit current conditions. In the case of the Christian Church, however, such changes are remarkable because they undermine the Churches' claims to represent a perfect, infallible and unchanging God here in an otherwise imperfect, flawed and ever-changing world.

    It is difficult to believe that Churches were right to execute thousands of people in the past for their opinions, while they make no effort now to punish people with identical opinions — and have even adopted some of those opinions themselves.



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    § That it was necessary to keep the body of the deceased together did not stand up to intellectual enquiry. What about the righteous whose bodies were dismembered and scattered by their enemies? Would God be unable to reassemble them? Educated people were happy to have their hearts and other pieces of their bodies removed after death, to be buried separately.

    §. Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Omnes Haereses, II, xxviii, 1, St Jerome, C. Ruff 2,27, Praef in Paral, St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica 1,1,10. For further confirmation see Stone, Outlines of Christian Dogma, p 310.

    §. Father John Furniss, The Sight of Hell, 1855. Extracts quoted are from XXVII The Fourth Dungeon and XXVIII The Fifth Dungeon. The Catholic Encyclopaedia notes that “He was a wonderful story-teller, seldom moving to laughter but often to tears. He spent his spare time writing books for children which, though written with the utmost simplicity of language, are models of good English. It also says that he sold over four million booklets in English speaking countries alone.

    §. It may seem curious that the Privy Council could decide matters of doctrine, but the Church of England is an established Church, and Parliament is its ultimate authority. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was the ultimate court of appeal for cases heard in the Ecclesiastical Courts. In this case the decision was reached around the turn of the nineteenth century, against the will of both English archbishops.

    §. Quoted from the report of the Doctrine Commission of the Church of England, The Mystery of Salvation by The Independent, 11 th January 1996.

    §. Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, Bk. 3a.

    §. The best evidence for Purgatory that has been adduced are Jesus" statement that a certain sin will be forgiven "neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Matthew 12:32). See also 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 regarding an apparent offering made in remission of sin.

    §. Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400), The Canterbury Tales "General Prologue", l. 686.

    §. Strathern, The Medici, p 136.

    §. Whitehead, Church Law, see "Mitre" and "Pastoral Staff".

    §. St John Chrysostom in the fourth century, for example, seems to have no doubt that Junia was a woman. "How enlightened and capable a woman she must have been to be deemed worthy of the title apostle" (In Epistolam ad Ramanos homilia, 31, 12).

    §. Dr Carey was quoted in an interview for the March 1991 edition of the Reader's Digest. Cited in an editorial in The Independent newspaper 28 th February 1991.

    §. Ironically the Roman Church can claim one of the first female priests in recent times, since a man in Holy Orders underwent a sex change operation in the mid-1980s. Since the Church holds that a priest remains a priest for ever it is clear that it already has at least one female priest, although it has not been too vocal in its boasting. "Beyond the Aisle", The Economist, p 57, 3 rd October 1987.

    §. There were, however, exceptions — until the publication of Ne Temere in 1908 when the requirement was extended to everyone.

    §. That sponsalia was recognised in preference to later matrimony was established by Buntings Case (Bunting v Lepingwell) in 1585. See J. H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, p 256.

    §. Restrictions were introduced for Scottish marriages in 1856, but the services of a clergyman were not required until 1940.

    §. Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 rd December 1982, cited by Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, pp 224-5. Actually the question should not have been whether the couple could have had children, but whether the man was able to sustain an erection (since 1977 the Roman Church has held that an impotent man cannot marry, even if he is able to father children).

    §. Ware, The Orthodox Church, p 282. Seven mysteries are currently recognised primarily for "convenience in teaching".

    §. Gregory of Bergamo, On the Reality of the Body of Christ, 14.

    §. Outlines of Christian Doctrine, pp 151 and 318.

    §. Fourth Lateran Council, canon 21. The name Shrove Tuesday reveals its nature: it was the day on which the faithful were shriven.

    §. Didache 2:7.

    §. The fourth century Western festival of Epiphany seems to have been adopted from the Eastern Churches, which had celebrated Jesus" baptism since the third century.

    §. 26 Geo. II, c.37, cited by Potter, Hanging in Judgement, p 8.

    §. The Roman Catholic code of canon law, canons 1176.3 and 1184.1.2.

    §. 45 and 56 Vict. c 19, (Internments (Felo de se) Act, 1882) {CL p 315}.

    §. Bishop Comiskey later resigned when it was revealed that he had known of Father Fortune's crimes as early as 1984 but had failed to remove him from parish work in rural Wexford, where he had regular contact with young boys.

    §. This list is taken from the Soncino Chumash. The Authorised Version of the Bible (Leviticus 11) has a different list including rabbits, beetles, tortoises, ferrets, snails and moles because of mistranslations. Modern translations such as the NIV frankly admit in a footnote that the precise identification of some animals is uncertain.

    §. Ellsworth, Brian. "In Days Before Easter, Venezuelans Tuck Into Rodent-Related Delicacy". New York Sun. March 24, 2005

    §., retrieved 14 March 2016.

    §. This incident was commemorated by the Lincoln Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers., retrieved 28 March 2014. The website notes that "Many people thought it sacrilege to transmit the sound of church bells."




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