Christian Deceptions 3: Fabricating Records


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    An honest man's the noblest work of God.
    An honest God's the noblest work of man.
    Alexander Pope (1688-1744), An Essay on Man
    Samuel Butler (1835-1902), Further Extracts


    Even by carefully selecting appropriate texts and destroying inconvenient ones, it was still not possible to create a comprehensive body of writing to support Christian orthodoxy. The answer was to fabricate suitable material, which was not difficult for an organisation that exercised a strict monopoly over reading and writing. These texts could then be miraculously discovered. This technique has a venerable history, even a among the Jews. For example the book of Deuteronomy had been discovered hidden in the Temple at Jerusalem by King Josiah. This discovery confirmed the King's views during a major doctrinal controversy. It is not now generally regarded as being as miraculous as his supporters thought

    As we have already seen, the early Christians were accused of continuously tampering with their gospels, and the surviving early texts that we have confirm that they did. No two early manuscripts are identical, and scribes felt free to "improve" the text by deleting, moving or amending chunks of it, or by adding their own. Sects accused each other of tampering, and with good cause. Was Jesus an ordinary man, or was he God incarnate? The gospels could be altered to suit the editor's own views. As one early sect said of another "…they laid hands unblushingly on the Holy Scriptures, claiming to have corrected them"*. It is probably true that not all of the Christians who tampered in this way regarded themselves as dishonest. Perhaps some of them really did think that they were "correcting" the texts, because it was so obvious to them that the texts should have said what they themselves believed.

    Throughout the Christian era scholars have known that the scriptures were extensively tampered with. Here for example is Father Jean Meslier (1664-1729), a French Catholic priest who was also an atheist (sic), discussing this point around the year 1700:

    It is no use saying that the Gospel stories have always been regarded as holy and sacred, and that they have been faithfully preserved without any tampering. It was common practice among the writers who copied these stories to add, delete or alter the text as seemed good to them. The Christians themselves cannot deny this; for St. Jerome said explicitly in many places in his Prologues that the text had been corrupted and falsified, having already been through the hands of many people who added and cut out what they pleased; with the result, as he said, that there were as many different readings as there were different texts*.

    Some unlikely documents were put into circulation, such as correspondence between Jesus and King Abgar V of Edessa*. In some versions Jesus promised that the city of Edessa would enjoy freedom from conquest. There were bogus records of Jesus" trial, and several forged versions of a letter supposedly sent by Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius concerning the crucifixion. There was also a host of forged letters from the apostles, from the various Marys, and from other gospel characters. Testimonial letters appeared, purportedly from those miraculously healed by Jesus, for example from a blind man whose sight had been restored.

    In the sixth century someone, probably a Monophysite Christian, fabricated theological writings that purported to have been written by Dionysius the Areopagite, who is mentioned in Acts 17:34. These writings were accepted as genuine and had a great influence on both Eastern and Western Churches. They were for many centuries the best "proof" of Mary's bodily Assumption into Heaven. Another key document justifying the same doctrine is the Cogitis me, a document purportedly written by St Jerome but almost certainly fabricated by Paschasius Radbert, a ninth century Abbot of Corbie (near Soissons in modern France)*. Claims made by this forgery are still repeated during masses in the Roman Church*.

    Letters appeared from St Paul to Aristotle. Paul also supposedly wrote six letters to Seneca, and received eight back. All were Christian forgeries.

    Historiated (ie Illuminated) initial and beginning of text of the bogus correspondence between St Paul and Seneca. Forger monks imagined ancient letters to have been illuminated just like their own documents.
    (Sp Coll MS Hunter 231 (U.3.4), a 14th century manuscript.)

    A second century Christian acting "out of love of Paul" forged a book, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, purporting to describe his activities*. Paul himself had been aware of the danger of forgery. He warned his readers against teachings contained in some letter purporting to be from him and made a point of writing the final passages of his letters in his own hand to prove their authenticity (2 Thessalonians 3:17). The Apostolic Constitutions are another fabrication. They purport to be written in the name of Jesus" apostles and warn about books falsely claiming to be written in the name of Jesus" apostles. A document called 3 Corinthians is another known forgery, a fabrication by the same priest who forged the Acts of Paul and Thecla. Yet another "orthodox" forgery was the Epistula apostolorum, supposedly written by the eleven disciples remaining after Judas's betrayal.

    Bogus lists of bishops were produced to bolster the fiction of apostolic succession for important bishoprics. Bogus accounts of martyrdoms were circulated to bolster the fictions that Christians had been badly persecuted and that they had reacted with great bravery. Given the poor state of Christian scholarship many impositions succeeded for a long time. A popular and influential work concerning the Virgin Mary claimed that she was elected Queen of the Temple Virgins as a young girl, and that bishops came to venerate her*. Apparently it did not occur to the author or his readers that there could not have been any bishops at that time. Letters from Mary Magdalene to Lazarus discovered as late as the nineteenth century fooled many Church scholars, despite the fact that they were written in French. A work falsely ascribed to Albertus Magnus (c.1193-1280), who became St Albert, was regarded with such awe on account of its supposed authorship that no one noticed until 1952 that it contradicted his known views*.

    Many of these forgeries should have been easy to detect, even those not written in French. They included anachronisms and other simple mistakes. For example, early Jewish Christians were known as Ebionites from the Hebrew term meaning the poor, but Tertullian assumed that they were named after a man called Ebion. Soon, Christians were quoting from the writings of the odious Ebion, in order to refute his followers*. Letters were exchanged between people who were not contemporaries, or else discussed people who were not yet born, or mentioned cities that were not yet founded. There were letters too from characters such as Prester John, a fictitious Christian ruler in the distant Orient. Since standards of Church scholarship were not high, almost any imposture was likely to succeed.

    Book of Hours of Catherine of Clèves, fifteenth century.
    Medieval people seem to have no idea that things had ever been different to how they were then. Invented medieval stories were often given away by anachronisms. Similarly biblical scenes were depicted in ways that now seem humourous. Here, among numerous anachronisms, the infant Jesus learns to walk with the help of a Medieval stroller

    Not only were new works fabricated, genuine ones were doctored. Passages were inserted into non-Christian works in order to suggest that even non-Christians were impressed by Jesus or by Christianity. A sympathetic reference to Jesus was for example inserted into the writings of the historian Josephus*. Writings of other Church Fathers were doctored to suit current tastes. When Irenaeus of Lyons's tract against heresies was translated into Latin in the early fifth century, the opportunity was taken to omit those parts that by then had themselves come to smack of heresy. When Rufinus of Aquileia translated Origen's On First Principles he openly admitted that he had altered the text to make it conform to current orthodox thought. Origen himself had held that it was acceptable to lie to less intelligent Christians, as long as it bolstered belief. Generally it seems that many Christians felt free to manipulate facts in favour of what they perceived as divine truth. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth (c.170), protested that other Christians were changing and forging his letters, just as they had tampered with the scriptures*:

    When my fellow Christians invited me to write letters to them I did so. These the devil's apostles have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding others. For them the woe is reserved. Small wonder then if some of them have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord Himself, when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts.

    Cyprian, a Bishop of Carthage (c.250) also revealed that Christians had been forging letters in his name*. As one authority has pointed out, in the 200 years from around AD 400, false letters were added to the collections of almost every early Christian letter writer*. In fact it is impossible to be sure that any single surviving Christian document was written by its purported author and is free from amendment.

    Christians practised all manner of fabrication. They even tampered with written records of oracles. Seven volumes of Apolline oracles were edited by a Christian hand around the beginning of the sixth century, and a further four bogus volumes were added to produce the collection called On True Belief. They also fabricated verses of the Sibylline Oracles, complete with chunks of gospel history supposedly seen in visions by sibyls long before New Testament times. By the Middle Ages, 12 of the old pagan sibyls were agreed to have predicted the coming of Christ, and indeed the whole Christian story. The fiction of the sibyls" prescience is still upheld in the Roman Catholic Missal:

    Dies irae, dies illa
    Solvet saeclum in favilla
    Teste David cum Sibylla*

    That day, the day of wrath
    Will turn the universe to ashes
    As David foretells, and the Sibyl too


    Frauds continued throughout the Middle Ages. A forged Appeal of the Eastern Emperor for help in saving the Holy Land was circulated in a successful attempt to whip up enthusiasm for the First Crusade. Material concerning controversial opinions was particularly vulnerable. Thus for example the whole edifice of the Immaculate Conception is built on forgeries and documents wrongly attributed to prestigious authors. According to taste one could follow (pseudo)Jerome or (pseudo)Augustine, or any one of numberless other documents by pseudo-authors. At least one of the sermons of St Bonaventure (d. 1274) — the one dealing with Mary's Assumption — is spurious*.

    Sometimes the fraud was false attribution. The works of unknown authors were passed off as the work of more prestigious figures. The work of the little known Saxon Eadmer was passed off as that of his more prestigious master, Anselm. Often the fraud was much greater and more obvious. As we have seen, claims to Church authority were bolstered by a series of major forgeries including the Symmachan Forgeries, the Donation of Constantine, and the False (Pseudo-Isidorian) Decretals. The papal chancery poured out a stream of forgeries for many centuries, and schools of forgers flourished under a long series of popes. One notable culprit was Pope Gregory VII, who in the eleventh century used old and new forgeries to justify his every whim. Under his direction, pliant clerics amended ancient documents, changing their meaning, sometimes to make them say the opposite of what they had originally said. Churchmen created new documents purporting to be old ones and bolstered all manner of papal claims. A huge fabricated superstructure of falsehood was raised, buttressed by earlier forgeries and founded on yet earlier ones.

    To any scholars who looked into the matter it would have been clear that many of these authoritative Church documents were crude forgeries. Instead, they were cited in infallible papal bulls by men in personal daily contact with God and incorporated into the Concordia discordantium canonum, more popularly known as the Decretum gratiani. This Decretum was an authoritative code of canon law compiled in the middle of the twelfth century by a Benedictine monk called Gratian, who compiled bogus documents in addition to genuine ones. It was through this document that torture was formally justified by the Church as a way of obtaining confessions. Much later theology was based on the Decretum, including the work of Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica in turn forms the basis for modern Roman Catholic doctrine. Thus, the authority for this doctrine is compromised, if not completely invalidated.

    Pope Gregory I used the False Decretals to justify his expanding claims to temporal power. From the fifteenth century, at least, these decretals were widely known to be fake, and yet the Church insisted that they were not*. The Italian humanist and educator Lorenzo Valla demonstrated conclusively that the Donation of Constantine was also a forgery, as was the famous letter from Jesus to King Abgar — and so too letters from St Paul to Seneca and many other important documents that had been regarded as genuine for centuries. Valla's scholarship was impeccable, but the Church continued to maintain that the forgeries were genuine. It took more than 300 years for the Roman Church to accept, in a roundabout way, that it had been wrong. Some Roman Catholic writers still seem to be unaware that the Donation of Constantine is known to be a forgery, repeating its claim that a Roman Emperor ceded his temporal authority to the Church.

    Nothing was too sacred to be tampered with. The creeds were amended to make them conform to the requirements of the Western Church, to the anger and bewilderment of the Eastern Churches. The records of ecumenical councils were tampered with too, when it suited. Thus records of the Council of Nicæa were doctored to confirm the primacy of the Roman Church. Whenever Eastern scholars brought out a copy of an ancient text to prove a point, Rome would attempt to refute it with a forgery. For centuries the Orthodox Church knew Rome as the home of forgeries. The role of women in the early Church was also something of a problem in later times when the priesthood became a male monopoly. Inconvenient evidence about the role (or even the existence) of women in the early Church was suppressed, so that it became possible to justify women's exclusion from the priesthood by reference to the (fictitious) practices of the early Church. At least partly on the strength of other forged documents women were prevented from serving at the altar in any capacity*.

    Most people were illiterate in the Middle Ages, but Church art could be used to sustain convenient fictions. Art confirmed thetheologians" favourite theories, papering over the fact that these theories had no biblical support. For example, the four evangelists (the purported writers of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) were shown taking dictation from the Holy Ghost, sometimes with an angel guiding their hands. This suggested that the gospels were divinely inspired and authoritative, simultaneously avoiding the uncomfortable facts that they were inconsistent and that their writers had never even met the historical Jesus, nor as far as we know each other. When the Bible mentions a messenger (Greek angelos), the word was often translated as angel. With no effort at all a human messenger was converted into a semi-divine one. In the Bible they had no wings and were likely to be mistaken for ordinary people, but in art they could sprout wings and fly, which looked much more impressive.

    Queen Anne of Brittany praying with Sainte Anne, Sainte Ursule et Sainte Hélène.
    In art it is impossible to tell who is real, who is dead, and who is imaginary.

    It was always safer to show fictions in the form of pictures. St Jerome wearing a cardinal's hat suggested that cardinals had existed since early times, which they had not. Joseph was conventionally shown as an extremely old man, which seemed to confirm the story, otherwise unsupported, that he had never engaged in sexual intercourse with Mary. A pope baptising the Emperor Constantine invited all manner of false conclusions : that a pope had existed at that time, that popes were in a position to baptise emperors, that emperors were subordinate to popes, and so on. In fact Constantine was hardly aware of the Bishop of Rome and was known to have been baptised on his deathbed by a heretic. The Donation of Constantine was also a popular subject in Christian art, ostensibly confirming the fiction that Constantine had handed over his temporal power to Pope Sylvester.

    St-Silvester, the Pope, Baptises the Emperor Constantine, detail of a painting by Jacopo Vignali.
    The painting contains many deliberate errors. Silvester was not known as "pope".
    He did not wear a tripple crown. He did not baptise Constantine.

    The Pope's triple crown served many purposes. On St Peter's head it confirmed that the papacy dated from apostolic times. On Christ's head it confirmed the Pope as Christ's vicar on Earth. On Aaron's head it confirmed the continuity of the Christian priesthood from Old Testament times. Such pictures smoothed over all manner of difficulties and confirmed a wide variety of fictions concerning priests and popes.

    Saint Peter wearing the papal tiara with a trple crown, suggesting an apostolic succession of popes
    from Peter himself. In fact the triple crown was invented over a millennium after Peter's death.

    Statue of Saint Peter in Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome

    Christ wearing a papal tiara, further bolstering the apparent significance of the tripple crown

    Van Eyck, detail from the The Ghent Altarpiece, painted 1432.

    God the Father shown wearing the papal tiara with a trple crown,
    suggesting a quasi-divine status for the popes

    This example is from a painting of the Annunciation dated 1562 by an artist of the Bruge school
    purchased by the National Gallery of Ireland in 1951 (NGI 1223)

    God wearing a triple crown
    Melchior Broederlam, The Annunciation 1393-99 (detail), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, France


    God wearing a triple crown - stained glass window in a Languedoc Church

    In the gospels the Virgin Mary is a peripheral character, worthy of little respect, and spoken to rather sharply by her own eldest son. But as her cult grew, this could easily be ignored. In art she became more imposing, more important, more queenly, more divine. She started wearing heavenly crowns and acquired a halo. In time, her status was raised above that of angels. In early medieval art Mary had knelt in front of Gabriel when he appeared to her. In later art, when Mary had developed a more important role, Gabriel knelt in front of her.

    Mary Kneeling before Gabriel, depicted in the first half of the fifteenth century, before the Cult of Mary became popular and when Gabriel had a higher status than Mary.

    Fra Angelico. Annunciation. c. 1441. Fresco, 176 x 148. Museo di San Marco,
    Cell 3, Florence, Italy
    Vol II, Fig 9. Gabriel Kneeling before Mary,
    depicted in the second half of the fifteenth century,
    after the Cult of Mary became popular
    and Mary gained a higher status than Gabriel.

    Sandro Botticelli, 1489-1490, Annunciation,
    Tempera on panel 150 156 cm
    Uffizi, Florence

    Events in the Old Testament were frequently paired with those of the New, with details added to reinforce the supposed prefiguration of the New Testament by the Old. For example Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac was shown as prefiguring God's sacrifice of his son Jesus. Isaac was shown carrying the wood to make an altar on which he is to die, just as Jesus was shown carrying the wooden cross on which he is to die. By painting similar pictures flimsy parallels were converted into accurate predictions.

    For the select few who were allowed to learn to read and write in the Middle Ages, the most popular books were accounts of the lives of Christian saints and especially their miraculous powers. These stories purported to be straight historical accounts and were known as legends. The word legend (from the Latin legere. to read) did not then imply that the accounts were fictitious. Rather, the sheer improbability of these accounts resulted in the word acquiring its present suggestion of untruth. Reading works like the Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voragine, it is easy to see why even the most credulous should regard them as works of fiction. They were patently made-up stories designed to impress. No one now defends them as factual accounts, but they were originally presented as literal accounts, invested with ecclesiastical authority. The author, a Dominican, became an archbishop, and is now regarded as a saint by his follow Dominicans. Many of the saints whose lives were detailed had never existed at all; others had been pagan gods. Some had existed but were represented as participating in events that seemed impressive at the time but appear preposterous now.

    Saint Theophilus the Penitent or Theophilus of Adana (died ca. 538) was the archdeacon of Adana, Cilicia in the sixth century Church. according to Eutychianus of Adana an "eye witness", he made a deal with the Devil to gain an ecclesiastical position.
    Here Saint Theophilus renounces his deal with the Devil (detail of a painting by Michael Pacher.)


    DominicHistories were invented retrospectively to explain all manner of things. For example, after the use of rosaries had been adopted, it became expedient to rationalise their origin. According to Dominican historians, Christian rosaries derive from a chaplet of beads "Our Lady's Crown of Roses" given to St Dominic (1170-1221) by the Virgin Mary in a vision. In fact Alain de la Roche in the fifteenth century was the first to connect rosaries with St Dominic, and as a prominent Roman Catholic authority concedes, he "based his revelations on the imaginary testimony of writers that never existed"*. He was far from being an isolated or exceptional case. Rosaries, incidentally, were copied from Muslims, who had picked them up from Buddhists and Hindus.

    In pre-Christian times educated people had seen the need for objective histories. Thucydides (c.460-c.401 BC) had aimed at a rational and impartial account of history. The gods play no active role in his work. His writing is detachment, critical, and free of platitudes and moral judgments. Many of his principles are considered best practice in history writing today. Cicero (106-43 BC) said that a historian should not write what is false, nor conceal what is true, nor entertain the least suspicion of favouritism or prejudice. Christianity adopted exactly the opposite view. The Church abandoned impartial history in favour of propaganda. Christian chroniclers saw no need for objective truth because their version of the truth was the only truth. Since they enjoyed an enforced monopoly over reading and writing, we have only their side of the story: we hear of virtuous bishops and holy emperors overcoming all obstacles with the visible assistance of God. We hear less about frauds, failures, crimes and disagreements. Histories were fabricated to suit the Church. Chronicles are consistently partisan and otherwise unreliable, and it is possible to get near the truth only when there is another side of the story. The history of the Crusades, for example, is as well known as it is because of rival chroniclers whose partisan works (though often tampered with) can be compared to each other and to Byzantine, Muslim and other records.

    In almost all areas, the truth according to impartial modern historians is less flattering than the traditional accounts taught in schools. In the traditional versions, Christians were on the right side. Deliberate distortions continue. Modern histories of the Church often give the impression that the Churches supported the abolition of capital punishment, penal reform, democracy, human rights and a host of freedoms, when in fact they opposed all of these things. The American Civil War has become a war in which Christianity vanquished a number of un-Christian practices like slavery and established wholesome traditional Christian ideas like liberty, equality and democracy. The truth is exactly the opposite, since it was the South that was supporting the traditional Christian practice of slavery, and the North pursuing the secular principles of the founders of the Constitution. Texts are still being tampered with to make the facts fit the fictions. For example Lincoln's address at Gettysburg made no mention of God, yet when it is cited now the words "under God" are often added after the words "this nation".

    If we had to rely on Church historians we would hear that Christians were almost solid in their opposition to Nazism, which as we shall see later is far from the truth. Almost no textbook will give estimates of the numbers of people killed by Christian Churches or at Christian Churches" behest: pagans, Jews, Muslims, Cathars, supposed witches, heretics, schismatics, rationalists, disabled children, or any other group. Many books confirm the fiction that various reforms were carried out by Christians in the face of fierce opposition from unspecified quarters. Few mention that reform was in almost all cases driven through by popular opinion, led by people outside mainstream Christianity. Key names such as those of Thomas Paine, George Holyoake and Annie Besant are simply omitted from school history books. Other names are omitted too, such as those of the numerous professors who lost their Chairs for accepting scientific facts or for bringing biblical analysis to public attention.

    Recent history is adjusted to put the Churches on what is now regarded as the right side. Thus hardly any child leaves school knowing that the Nazi treatment of the Jews was copied point for point from traditional Christian techniques, even from Church statutes. Neither will they have any clue that there had been many Nazi priests and bishops during World War II, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. No criticism of the Church will have been heard. However well established the truth, it simply will not appear in popular books. No school child learns that the Christian Church consistently supported slavery and torture, corporal and capital punishment, and mass killings, or that it opposed almost all social reform. One could visit 1,000 church bookshops without ever finding a single book that betrayed a hint of any of this.

    Trial records disappear. Original accounts of visions disappear. Books disappear. Paintings disappear. Recods of clerical crimes disappear. Photographs disappear or are re-touched. Churches have become so accustomed to manipulating records that they sometimes forget that in the age of the internet it is not as easy as it once was. A photograph of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I posted on his website in April 2012 showed him wearing a watch worth at least $30,000. He had previously denied owning such a watch, and the photograph (below left) was quickly replaced by an edited version with the watch covered up (below right). Patriarch Kirill then insisted in an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn such a watch, and that any photographs showing him wearing it must have been doctored to add the watch (anticipating the danger of of anyone having copied the incriminating photograph before it was doctored). But His Holiness had not realised that his photo-editor had failed to remove the reflection of the Patriarch's watch on the shiny table. When this was pointed out, a Church spokeman admitted that the photograph had been doctored through a "technical mistake" - decling to coment on the fact that His Holiness, champion of public morality, had been caught out in the most blatent deception.

    A Breguet watch on the left wrist of Patriarch Kirill I, left, vanished in a doctored photo (right)
    but its reflection on the table remained.

    Evidence continues to be massaged in many ways as tastes change. One can visit cities such as Rome, Madrid, Avignon, and Toledo and enjoy guided tours of religious buildings without hearing the least hint that they housed ecclesiastical torture chambers. These torture chambers were seen by numerous reliable witnesses (like the prison reformer John Howard ) up to the nineteenth century, but now they have apparently vanished. Perhaps they have been destroyed; perhaps they are merely no longer open to visitors. Little by little, all evidence of the uncomfortable past is being eliminated. Coats of arms have been sanitised, to make them more religious and less bellicose. Coronets, swords and crests have been removed from clerical arms. Similarly, hymnals are updated to reflect current tastes. Politically incorrect hymns or verses of hymns have disappeared without trace. In England alone, many hundreds of millions of hymnals were printed with hymns condoning the oppression of women, the acceptance of poverty and the acceptability of racist ideas, yet it is now difficult to find one even in a second-hand bookshop. At the time of writing traditionalist Christians are complaining about the trend for Christmas Carols to be sanitised by removing terms with a feudal and male resonance like Lord and King. It is already difficult to find copies of traditional prayer books containing old services, for example for the expulsion of lepers, formal cursings, and the special Anglican anti-Roman Catholic service for 5 th November. How many people have ever seen the text of a service of excommunication, once so popular?

    There is also great selectivity in what children and television watchers are told about the beliefs of well-known people. Every Sunday the public media feature television cooks, footballers, singers, and popular entertainers who all avow their deep Christian faith. Unsympathetic philosophers and scientists, and even liberal theologians, are almost never given similar opportunities to express their ideas. The beliefs of well-known people are suppressed and frequently distorted. Few children ever learn that writers such as Shelley, George Eliot, Mark Twain and H. G. Wells were non-believers, nor that intellectual giants like Darwin, Freud, Einstein and Russell all became atheists*. Neither are they told that Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Pétain and Mussolini were all Christian believers, most of them benefiting from particularly devout families*. Again, reformers like Lord Shaftesbury, Florence Nightingale, and William Wilberforce are falsely portrayed as orthodox Christians, while the most dedicated true reformers, who were non-Christians, such as Thomas Paine, John Stewart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, are almost totally ignored in school history books. It is arguable that the Christian Churches have carried out one of the most successful whitewash jobs in history.






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    The Donation of Constantine (c.750-800)

    The most famous forgery in history was for centuries the basis of papal claims. It was probably forged shortly after the middle of the eighth century to assist Pope Stephen II in his negotiations with the Frankish Mayor of the Palace, Pepin the Short. The Pope anointed Pepin as king in 754, enabling, his Carolingian family to supplant the old Merovingian royal line, and to become the rulers of the Franks in law as well as in fact. In return, Pepin promised to give to the Pope lands in Italy which the Lombards had taken from Byzantium. The promise was fulfilled in 756. The forgery made it possible to interpret Pepin's grant as a restoration.

    One of the key lines "And we ordain and decree that [the pope] shall have the supremacy as well over the four chief seats Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in the whole world" was also the biggest giveaway: at the time of the claimed date of the document, Constantinople had not yet been founded.

    The text below comes Ffrom Zeumer's edition, published in Berlin in 1888, v. Brunner-Zeumer: "Die Constantinische Schenkungsurkunde") translated in Ernest F. Henderson, Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages, (London: George Bell, 1910), pp. 319-329

    In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity, the Father, namely, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine in Christ Jesus, the Lord I God our Saviour, one of that same holy Trinity,-faithful merciful, supreme, beneficent, Alamannic, Gothic, Sarmatic, Germanic, Britannic, Hunic, pious, fortunate, victor and triumpher, always august: to the most holy and blessed father of fathers Sylvester, bishop of the city of and to all his successors the pontiffs, who are about to sit upon Rome and pope, the chair of St. Peter until the end of time - also to all the most reverend and of God beloved catholic bishops, subjected by this our imperial decree throughout the whole world to this same holy, Roman church, who have been established now and in all previous times-grace, peace, charitv, rejoicing, long-suffering, mercv, be with you all from God the Father almighty and from Jesus Christ his Son and from the Holy Ghost. Our most gracious serenity desires, in clear discourse, through the page of this our imperial decree, to bring to the knowledge of all the people in the whole world what things our Saviour and Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the most High Father, has most wonderfully seen fit to bring about through his holy apostles Peter and Paul and by the intervention of our father Sylvester, the highest pontiff and the universal pope. First, indeed, putting forth, with the inmost confession of our heart, for the purpose of instructing the mind of all of you, our creed which we have learned from the aforesaid most blessed father and our confessor, Svlvester the universal pontiff; and then at length announcing the mercy of God which has been poured upon us.

    For we wish you to know,, as we have signified through our former imperial decree, that we have gone away, from the worship of idols, from mute and deaf images made by hand, from devilish contrivances and from all the pomps of Satan; and have arrived at the pure faith of the Christians, which is the true light and everlasting life. Believing, according to what he-that same one, our revered supreme father and teacher, the pontiff Sylvester - has taught us, in God the Father, the almighty maker of Heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord God, through whom all things are created; and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and vivifier of the whole creature. We confess these, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in such way that, in the perfect Trinity, there shall also be a fulness of divinity and a unity of power. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and these three are one in Jesus Christ.

    There are therefore three forms but one power. For God, wise in all previous time, gave forth from himself the word through which all future ages were to be born; and when, by that sole word of His wisdom, He formed the whole creation from nothing, He was with it, arranging all things in His mysterious secret place.

    Therefore, the virtues of the Heavens and all the material part of the earth having been perfected, by the wise nod of His wisdom first creating man of the clay of the earth in His own image and likeness, He placed him in a paradise of delight. Him the ancient serpent and envious enemy, the devil, through the most bitter taste of the forbidden tree, made an exile from these joys; and, be being expelled, did not cease in many ways to cast his poisonous darts; in order that, turning the human race from the way of truth to the worship of idols, he might persuade it, namely to worship the creature and not the creator; so that, through them (the idols), he might cause those whom he might be able to entrap in his snares to be burned with him in eternal punishment. But our Lord, pitying His creature, sending ahead His holy prophets, announcing through them the light of the future life-the coming,' that is, of His Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ-sent that same only begotten Son and Word of wisdom: He descending from Heaven on account of our salvation, being born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary,-the word was made flesh and d welt among us. He did not cease to be what He had been, but began to be what He had not been, perfect God and perfect man: as God, performing miracles; as man, sustaining human sufferings. We so learned Him to be very man and very God by the preaching of our father Sylvester, the supreme pontiff, that we can in no wise doubt that He was very, God and very man. And, having chosen twelve apostles, He shone with miracles before them and an innumerable multitude of people. We confess that this same Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the law and the prophets; that He suffered, was crucified, on the third day arose from the dead according to the Scriptures; was received into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. Whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. For this is our orthodox creed, placed before us by our most blessed father Sylvester, the supreme pontiff. We exhort, therefore, all people, and all the different nations, to hold, cherish and preach this faith; and, in the name of the Holy Trinity, to obtain the grace of baptism; and, with devaout heart, to adore the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns through infinite ages; whom Sylvester our father, the universal pontiff, preaches. For He himself, our Lord God, having pit on me a sinner, sent His holy apostles to visit us, and caused the light of his splendour to shine upon us. And do ye rejoice that I, having been withdrawn from the shadow, have come to the true light and to the knowledge of truth. For, at a time when a mighty and filthy leprosy had invaded all the flesh of my, body, and the care was administered of many physicians who came together, nor by that of any one of them did I achieve health: there came hither the priests of the Capitol, saving to me that a font should be made on the Capitol, and that I should fill this with the blood of innocent infants; and that, if I bathed in it while it was warm, I might be cleansed. And very many innocent infants having been brought together according to their words, when the sacrilegious priests of the pagans wished them to be slaughtered and the font to be filled with their blood: Our Serenity perceiving the tears of the mothers, I straightway abhorred the deed. And, pitying them, I ordered their own sons to be restored to them; and, giving them vehicles and gifts, sent them off rejoicing to their own. That day having passed therefore-the silence of night having come upon us-when the time of sleep had arrived, the apostles St. Peter and Paul appear, saying to me: "Since thou hast placed a term to thy vices, and hast abhorred the pouring forth of innocent blood, we are sent by, Christ the Lord our God, to give to thee a plan for recovering thy health. Hear, therefore, our warning, and do what we indicate to thee. Sylvester - the bishop of the city of Rome - on Mount Serapte, fleeing they persecutions, cherishes the darkness with his clergy in the caverns of the rocks. This one, when thou shalt have led him to thyself, will himself show thee a pool of piety; in which, when he shall have dipped thee for the third time, all that strength of the leprosy will desert thee. And, when this shall have been done, make this return to thy Saviour, that by thy order through the whole world the churches may be restored. Purify thyself, moreover, in this way, that, leaving all the superstition of idols, thou do adore and cherish the living and true God -- who is alone and true -- and that thou attain to the doing of His will.

    Rising, therefore, from sleep, straightway I did according to that which I bad been advised to do by, the holy apostles; and, having summoned that excellent and benignant father and our enlightener - Svlvester the universal pope-I told him all the words that had been taught me by the holy apostles; and asked him who where those gods Peter and Paul. But he said that they where not really called gods, but apostles of our Saviour the Lord God Jesus Christ. And again we began to ask that same most blessed pope whether he had some express image of those apostles; so that, from their likeness, we might learn that they were those whom revelation bad shown to us. Then that same venerable father ordered the images of those same apostles to be shown by his deacon. And, when I had looked at them, and recognized, represented in those images, the countenances of those whom I had seen in my dream: with a great noise, before all my satraps [there were no such Roman officials. Satrap is a Persian title], I confessed that they were those whom I had seen in my dream.

    Hereupon that same most blessed Sylvester our father, bishop of the city of Rome, imposed upon us a time of penance-within our Lateran palace, in the chapel, in a hair garment,-so that I might obtain pardon from our Lord God Jesus Christ our Saviour by vigils, fasts, and tears and prayers, for all things that had been impiously done and unjustly ordered by me. Then through the imposition of the hands of the clergy, I came to the bishop himself; and there, renouncing the pomps of Satan and his works, and all idols made by hands, of my own will before all the people I confessed: that I believed in God the Father almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary. And, the font having been blessed, the wave of salvation purified me there with a triple immersion. For there 1, being placed at the bottom of the font, saw with my own eyes a band from Heaven touching me; whence rising, clean, know that I was cleansed from all the squalor of leprosy. And, I being raised from the venerable font-putting on white raiment, be administered to me the sign of the seven-fold holy Spirit, the unction of the holy oil; and he traced the sign of the holy cross on my brow, saying: God seals thee with the seal of His faith in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, to signalize thy faith. All the clergy replied: "Amen." The bishop added, "peace be with thee."

    And so, on the first day after receiving the mystery of the holy baptism, and after the cure of my body from the squalor of the leprosy, I recognized that there was no other God save the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; whom the most blessed Sylvester the pope doth preach; a trinity in one, a unity in three. For all the gods of the nations, whom I have worshipped up to this time, are proved to be demons; works made by the hand of men; inasmuch as that same venerable father told to us most clearly how much power in Heaven and on earth He, our Saviour, conferred on his apostle St. Peter, when finding him faithful after questioning him He said: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock (petrani) shall I build My Church, and the gates of bell shall not prevail against it." Give heed ye powerful, and incline the ear of .your hearts to that which the good Lord and Master added to His disciple, saying: and I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in Heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in Heaven." This is very wonderful and glorious, to bind and loose on earth and to have it bound and loosed in Heaven.

    And when, the blessed Sylvester preaching them, I perceived these things, and learned that by the kindness of St. Peter himself I had been entirely restored to health: I together with all our satraps and the whole senate and the nobles and all the Roman people, who are subject to the glory of our rule -considered it advisable that, as on earth he (Peter) is seen to have been constituted vicar of the Son of God, so the pontiffs, who are the representatives of that same chief of the apostles, should obtain from us and our empire the power of a supremacy greater than the earthly clemency of our imperial serenity is seen to have had conceded to it,-we choosing that same prince of the apostles, or his vicars, to be our constant intercessors with God. And, to the extent of our earthly imperial power, we decree that his holy Roman church shall be honoured with veneration; and that, more than our empire and earthly throne, the most sacred seat of St. Peter shall be gloriously exalted; we giving to it the imperial power, and dignity of glory, and vigour and honour.

    And we ordain and decree that he shall have the supremacy as well over the four chief seats Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in the -whole world. And he who for the time being shall be pontiff of that holy Roman church shall be more exalted than, and chief over, all the priests of the whole world; and, according to his judgment, everything which is to be provided for the service of God or the stability of the faith of the Christians is to be administered. It is indeed just, that there the holy law should have the seat of its rule where the founder of holy laws, our Saviour, told St. Peter to take the chair of the apostleship; where also, sustaining the cross, he blissfully took the cup of death and appeared as imitator of his Lord and Master; and that there the people should bend their necks at the confession of Christ's name, where their teacher, St. Paul the apostle, extending his neck for Christ, was crowned with martyrdom. There, until the end, let them seek a teacher, where the holy body of the teacher lies; and there, prone and humiliated, let them perform I the service of the heavenly king, God our Saviour Jesus Christ, where the proud were accustomed to serve under the rule of an earthly king.

    Meanwhile we wish all the people, of all the races and nations throughout the whole world, to know: that we have constructed within our Lateran palace, to the same Saviour our Lord God Jesus Christ, a church with a baptistry from the foundations. And know that we have carried on our own shoulders from its foundations, twelve baskets weighted with earth, according to the number of the holy apostles. Which holy church we command to be spoken of, cherished, venerated and preached of, as the head and summit of all the churches in the whole world-as we have commanded through our other imperial decrees. We have also constructed the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul, chiefs of the apostles, which we have enriched with gold and silver; where also, placing their most sacred bodies with great honour, we have constructed their caskets of electrum, against which no force of the elements prevails. And we have placed a cross of purest gold and precious gems on each of their caskets, and fastened them with golden keys. And on these churches for the endowing of divine services we have conferred estates, and have enriched them with different objects; and, through our sacred imperial decrees, we have granted them our gift of land in the East as well as in the West; and even on the northern and southern coast;-namely in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, Africa and Italy and the various islands: under this condition indeed, that all shall be administered by the hand of our most blessed father the pontiff Sylvester and his successors.

    For let all the people and the nations of the races in the whole world rejoice with us; we exhorting all of you to give unbounded thanks, together with us, to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For He is God in Heaven above and on earth below, who, visiting us through His holy apostles, made us worthy to receive the holy sacrament of baptism and health of body. In return for which, to those same holy apostles, my masters, St. Peter and St. Paul; and, through them, also to St. Sylvester, our father,-the chief pontiff and universal pope of the city of Rome,-and to all the pontiffs his successors, who until the end of the world shall be about to sit in the seat of St. Peter: we concede and, by this present, do confer, our imperial Lateran palace, which is preferred to, and ranks above, all the palaces in the whole world; then a diadem, that is, the crown of our head, and at the same time the tiara; and, also, the shoulder band,-that is, the collar that usually surrounds our imperial neck; and also the purple mantle, and crimson tunic, and all the imperial raiment; and the same rank as those presiding over the imperial cavalry; conferring also the imperial sceptres, and, at the same time, the spears and standards; also the banners and different imperial ornaments, and all the advantage of our high imperial position, and the glory of our power.

    And we decree, as to those most reverend men, the clergy who serve, in different orders, that same holy Roman church, that they shall have the same advantage, distinction, power and excellence by the glory of which our most illustrious senate is adorned; that is, that they shall be made patricians and consuls,-we commanding that they shall also be decorated with the other imperial dignities. And even as the imperial soldiery, so, we decree, shall the clergy of the holy Roman church be adorned. And I even as the imperial power is adorned by different offices-by the distinction, that is, of chamberlains, and door keepers, and all the guards,-so we wish the holy Roman church to be adorned. And, in order that the pontifical glory may shine forth more fully, we decree this also: that the clergy of this same holy Roman church may use saddle cloths of linen of the whitest colour; namely that their horses may be adorned and so be ridden, and that, as our senate uses shoes with goats' hair, so they may be distinguished by gleaming linen; in order that, as the celestial beings, so the terrestrial may be adorned to the glory of God. Above all things, moreover, we give permission to that same most holy one our father Sylvester, bishop of the city of Rome and pope, and to all the most blessed pontiffs who shall come after him and succeed him in all future times-for the honour and glory of Jesus Christ our Lord,-to receive into that great Catholic and apostolic church of God, even into the number of the monastic clergy, any one from our senate, who, in free choice, of his own accord, may wish to become- a cleric; no one at all presuming thereby to act in a haughty manner.

    We also decreed this, that this same venerable one our father Sylvester, the supreme pontiff, and all the pontiffs his successors, might use and bear upon their heads-to the Praise of God and for the honour of St. Peter-the diadem; that is, the crown which we have granted him from our own head, of purest gold and precious gems. But he, the most holy pope, did not at all allow that crown of gold to be used over the clerical crown which he wears to the glory of St. Peter; but we placed upon his most holy head, with our own hands, a tiara of gleaming splendour representing the glorious resurrection of our Lord. And, holding the bridle of his horse, out of reverence for St. Peter we performed for him the duty of groom; decreeing that all the pontiffs his successors, and they alone, may use that tiara in processions.

    In imitation of our own power, in order that for that cause the supreme pontificate may not deteriorate, but may rather be adorned with power and glory even more than is the dignity of an earthly rule: behold we-giving over to the oft-mentioned most blessed pontiff, our father Sylvester the universal pope, as well our palace, as has been said, as also the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts and cities of Italy or of the western regions; and relinquishing them, by our inviolable gift, to the power and sway of himself or the pontiffs his successors-do decree, by this our godlike charter and imperial constitution, that it shall be so arranged; and do concede that they (the palaces, provinces etc.) shall lawfully remain with the holy Roman church.

    Wherefore we have perceived it to be fitting that our empire and the power of our kingdom should be transferred and changed to the regions of the East; and that, in the province of Byzantium, in a most fitting place, a city should be built in our name; and that our empire should there be established. For, where the supremacy of priests and the bead of the Christian religion has been established by a heavenly ruler, it is not just that there an earthly ruler should have jurisdiction.

    We decree, moreover, that all these things which, through this our imperial charter and through other godlike commands, we have established and confirmed, shall remain uninjured and unshaken until the end of the world. Wherefore, before the living God, who commanded us to reign, and in the face of his terrible judgment, we conjure, through this our imperial decree, all the emperors our successors, and all our nobles, the satraps also and the most glorious senate, and all the people in the ,A-hole world now and in all times previously subject to our rule: that no one of them, in any way allow himself to oppose or disregard, or in any way seize, these things which, by our imperial sanction, have been conceded to the holy Roman church and to all its pontiffs. If anyone, moreover,-which we do not believe - prove a scorner or despiser in this matter, he shall be subject and bound over to eternal damnation; and shall feel that the holy chiefs of the apostles of God, Peter and Paul, will be opposed to him in the present and in the future life. And, being burned in the nethermost hell, he shall perish with the devil and all the impious.

    The page, moreover, of this our imperial decree, we, confirming it with our own hands, did place above the venerable body of St. Peter chief of the apostles; and there, promising to that same apostle of God that we would preserve inviolably all its provisions, and would leave in our commands to all the emperors our successors to preserve them, we did hand it over, to be enduringly and happily possessed, to our most blessed father Sylvester the supreme pontiff and universal pope, and, through him, to all the pontiffs his successors -God our Lord and our Saviour Jesus Christ consenting.

    And the imperial subscription: May the Divinity preserve you for many years, oh most holy and blessed fathers.

    Given at Rome on the third day before the Kalends of April, our master the august Flavius Constantine, for the fourth time, and Galligano, most illustrious men, being consuls.






    § The Sibylline Oracles are a collection of twelve books of prophecies supposedly made by sibyls —women regarded as prophets or oracles by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

    § Constantine was at least half-pagan throughout his life, unusually superstitious, and responsible for the deaths of his own eldest son and of one of his brothers-in-law, and for the deaths of many others, even after his supposed conversion. He had his second wife boiled alive in her bath. The account of his conversion was dubious, and the most reliable version tampered with, but this could not be known by anyone familiar only with the conventional depictions of the event.

    § Most versions available on the internet refer to "this nation under God", yet the Hay and Nicolay versions kept by the Library of Congress refer simply to "this nation" and make no reference to God anywhere in the text.

    §. Eusebius, The History of the Church, 5:28. The particular passage quoted is by a member of the divine-Jesus faction against the human-Jesus faction.

    §. Jean Meslier, Mon Testament, extracts published by Voltaire, Extrait du Testament de J. Meslier, 1762 (Ch 1, 2) and cited in translation by Knight, Humanist Anthology, p 24.

    §. Quoted by Eusebius, The History of the Church, 1:13. The text of the correspondence cited differs from the surviving Syriac text.

    §. Graef, Mary, vol. 1, pp 176-8.

    §. "Mary is "the Virgin who alone has destroyed all the wickedness of the heresies", a saying which, carrying the authority of St Jerome, is still recited in the Tract of the Roman Mass of the Common of the Blessed Virgin in Lent and in certain Offices" — Graef, Mary, vol. 1, p 178.

    §. Tertullian, De baptismo, 17 reveals that the Acts of Paul were forged by a priest.

    §. Vita Beatae Virginis Mariae et Salvatoris Rhythmica, pp 881ff.

    §. The work in question is the Mariale Super Misses Est. See Graef, Mary, vol. 1, pp 266-271.

    §. Both Tertullian and Hippolytus thought that the sect was named after a man called Ebion. (Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 33, Hippolytus, Philosophumena; (or the Refutation of all Heresies) ...7.35.i.)

    §. Different texts of Josephus disagree significantly on passages that mention Jesus or his brother James. For example the passage quoted in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History 23 (also known to Origen) is not in surviving known manuscripts. See also the note in Feldman's translation of Josephus Antiquities XVIII:iii.3 (pp 63-64).

    §. Eusebius, The History of the Church, 4:23:12.

    §. Cyprian, Epistles, 9.2.

    §. R. M. Grant, Journal of Theological Studies (1962) vol. 13.

    §. Order of Mass for the Dead, "Sequentia" (often called Dies Irae), 1.1.

    §. St Bonaventure, Commentary on the Sentences, Sermon 6. See Graef, Mary, vol. 1, pp 281 and 288ff.

    §. For example Nicholas of Cusa and John Torquemada both knew them to be forgeries in the fifteenth century, so did Renaissance scholars, including Erasmus.

    §. The Second Pseudo-Isidorian Decretal, a blatant forgery, criticised the practice of allowing women to touch sacred vessels or linen. It was cited as papal authority for centuries.

    §. H. Thurston, Catholic Encyclopedia, under "rosary".

    §. Although it was well known that Einstein had abandoned his faith at the age of 12, for many years religious apologists claimed that Einstein must have believed in God (because he sometimes used the word God — as in “I don"t believe that God plays dice”). The apologists" claim was destroyed by the discovery in 2008 of a hand-written letter, written in German by Einstein to the philosopher Eric Gutkind in 1954 just a year before his death in which he described all religions as “childish superstitions”. God is represented as a product of human weakness and the Bible as ‘pretty childish’.

    More at:


    §. There have been a number of attempts to portray Hitler as not being a Roman Catholic or even Christian. (The topic is hotly contested by editors of Wikipedia). For a thorough treatment of the extensive evidence that he remained a Catholic throughout his adult life (including his own writings, speeches, use of biblical quotations, use of Church precedents, reports from friends, Nazi artefacts, photographs, etc) see Stalin remained an Orthodox believer even as his regime discouraged religious belief. His original vocation had been as a priest and he had studied at the Tiflis (now Tblisi) Theological Seminary.


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