“preaching about the devil is a great business,” declares jesus christ
in the history of Christianity.
Fresco of Giovanni da Modena
RACHEL Emisoras Latinas continues its transmission from a spot beside the ancient walls of Jerusalem, and we welcome again our special guest, Jesus Christ.
JESUS Peace be with you, Rachel.
RACHEL You have spoken to us about hell and demons, and you have categorically denied their existence.
JESUS That’s right.
RACHEL Nevertheless, countless preachers have taught those things in countless sermons, and they keep on preaching that way.
JESUS It seems they believe more in the devil than in God, because they speak more about the devil than about God.
RACHEL In your last interview you were telling us that the devil has been a good business for some people. What did you mean by that exactly?
JESUS Well, by means of the devil they sow fear in people. And by means of fear they reap riches.
RACHEL But some people think that that fear serves to make people behave themselves.
JESUS No, fear serves only to make slaves of people.
RACHEL But wouldn’t a little fear be a good thing? Maybe not hell, but … purgatory?
JESUS What’s that about purgatory, Rachel?
RACHEL Purgatory, the place where they purify us with fire so that we enter clean into heaven. That is in the Bible, isn’t it?
JESUS The Pharisees I knew invented a whole slew of purifications with water, but purification with fire is something they didn’t think of. As far as I know, the scriptures don’t say a work about that thing you’re calling purgatory.
RACHEL And do you have anything to say about it?
JESUS Yes. God isn’t cruel and doesn’t put any of his children into a furnace. Behind those flames, I already told you, there has to be some profitable business.
RACHEL Well, let’s ask Richard Dawkins, who’s a specialist in gods and devils. Can you hear me okay, Dr. Dawkins?
DAWKINS Perfectly, Rachel Perez. Let me explain to you that purgatory was created by the church in the 13th century. Since they already had hell as a place of eternal torments, they invented purgatory to be an antechamber for transitory torments. The souls of the dead had to pass through there in order to enter into heaven.
RACHEL And how did they get out of there?
DAWKINS By paying.
RACHEL What do you mean, by paying?
DAWKINS So that the souls’ stay in purgatory wouldn’t be so long or so painful, the Popes began to sell “amnesties”, that is, special dispensations of 100 days, or 500 days, or a thousand days. You could buy them and reduce the pains you suffered in purgatory.
RACHEL You mean the famous indulgences?
DAWKINS The very famous indulgences. A lucrative business indeed.
JESUS Didn’t I tell you, Rachel?
DAWKINS Later on they began to sell them in advance. If you had big sins, you paid more and you could free yourself even from hell. If your sins weren’t so great, you paid less and you were discounted days or months in purgatory. That way you speeded up your entry into heaven.
RACHEL Like someone who buys tickets for a football game.
DAWKINS Exactly. Three hundred years later, Pope Leo X organized the business even better and put a price on each sin. Any crime could be pardoned by paying something to the Vatican. Any crime child rape, incest, murder, even killing your own mother. There was no sin that couldn’t be pardoned in exchange for money.
RACHEL Then the returns for the Vatican must have been enormous, right?
DAWKINS Incalculable. The fortune they collected helped to build St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican palaces, which dazzle the tourists that visit them nowadays. But the buying and selling of indulgences was the straw of corruption that broke the camel’s back. That was what spurred Martin Luther to raise his voice, and out of his protests the Protestant churches were born. That was the reason why the church became divided.
RACHEL Many thanks for that information, Dr Richard Dawkins. What do you think of all this, Jesus?
JESUS What he describes is an abomination. To tell you the truth, Rachel, those merchants I drove out of the temple with whips were apprentices compared to these latter-day idolaters of the god Money.
RACHEL What more is there to say? From Jerusalem this is Rachel Perez reporting for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
The invention of purgatory
The Second Council of Lyon (1274) proclaimed the dogma of purgatory when it declared that all who died in God’s grace with true repentance for their sins, but without having made satisfaction for them with the true fruits of penance, are purified after death by the pains of purgatory.
The word “purgatory” means “place for purifying”; it does not appear in any book of the Bible. That same Council also proclaimed the validity of prayers offered as payment to “free” souls from purgatory. The Council of Florence (1439) consolidated these principles, and the Council of Trent (1545-63) reaffirmed the doctrine of purgatory, thus countering the ideas of Luther, who at that time was leading the Protestant Reformation and preaching that such a doctrine negated the efficacy of Christ’s death. Luther not only mounted theological opposition to the doctrine of purgatory, but also denounced the Vatican’s juicy business of selling “indulgences” in the form of documents signed by the Pope, which served to “rescue” from purgatory the souls that were being consumed by its flames.
The indulgence business
In 1517 the German Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, was traveling around Germany encouraging people to buy indulgences. The money he collected from the sale of these documents sealed by the Pope was destined to finance the construction of the ostentatious Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, which until that time had been an ordinary church like so many others.
Tetzel’s preaching, which terrified simple people with visions of the flames of hell and purgatory, infuriated the Augustinian friar and prestigious theologian, Martin Luther (1483-1546), who had previously visited Rome and been horrified at the way the trafficking in indulgences was carried on. He realized that God’s “pardon” was being turned into a business and that as a result the need for true repentance was being neglected. When Tetzel was due to visit Wittenberg, Luther nailed on the door of the church a list of 95 propositions which demonstrated the falsity of the doctrine of purgatory and rejected the power of indulgences. Luther’s defiance and his quite justified rebellion were the spark that started the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Some of the 95 propositions are as follows:
It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when priests apply the canonical penalties to the dead in purgatory. When canonical penalties were changed and made to apply to purgatory, surely it would seem that tares were sown while the bishops were asleep.
There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory as soon as the money clinks in the bottom of the coffer. It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the coffer avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends on the will of God.
Christians should be taught that anyone who sees a needy person and passes him by, even though he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope´s pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.
Christians should be taught that the pope would be willing, as he ought if necessity should arise, to sell the church of St. Peter, and to give his own money also to many of those from whom the pardon-merchants conjure money.
Since the pope´s income today is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?
Three years later Pope Leo X emitted a bull in which he condemned 41 of Luther’s 95 theses as containing errors of heresy, scandal and falsehood; he claimed they were offensive to pious ears, bewildering for simple souls, and opposed to Catholic truth. The Pope claimed that the theses were the work of “a drunk German who will change his mind when he sobers up.” But Luther did not change his mind. The Pope ordered Luther’s writings to be burned in Rome, and in response Luther burned the papal bull in Wittenberg. A year later Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther. The movie “Luther” (2003), directed by Eric Till, recounts in suggestive and didactic fashion the history and the struggles of this reformer.
How much does it cost to pardon each sin?
“Taxa Camarae” is the name of a document promulgated by Pope Leo X in 1517, at the same time that Tetzel was preaching about purgatory in order to sell indulgences, and also at the same time that Luther was expressing his Christian rage at such an unholy business.
The “Taxa Camarae” includes a list of how much needed to be paid to the Pope to obtain pardon for the different types of sin. The list presented 35 cases of sins and the amount of money that was needed to wipe them out. In his book Basic Lies of the Catholic Church, the Spanish researcher Pepe Rodriguez translates for us this incredible, monstrous document. Here are some of the sins listed and the charges for them to be remitted:
The cleric who commits a carnal sin, whether with nuns or with his cousins, nieces or godchildren, or with any other woman, will be absolved by the payment of 67 pounds, 12 shillings.
If the cleric, besides the sin of fornication, should ask to be absolved of the sin against nature or the sin of bestiality, he should pay 219 pounds, 15 shillings; but if he only committed the sin against nature with boys or with beasts and not with a woman, he should pay 131 pounds, 15 shillings.
For every sin of lust committed by a lay person, the absolution will cost 27 pounds, 1 shilling; for incest 4 pounds will be added on in conscience.
The husband who maltreats his wife will pay to the chancery treasury 3 pounds, 4 shillings; if he kills her, he will pay 17 pounds, 15 shillings; and if he kills her to marry another, he will pay another 32 pounds, 9 shillings.
The absolution for the simple murder of a lay person is fixed at 15 pounds, 4 shillings, 3 pence. If the murderer has killed two or more persons on the same day, he will pay the same as if he has murdered only one. For the murder of a brother, a sister, a mother or a father, 17 pounds, 5 shillings will be paid.
Anyone who drowns his child will pay 17 pounds, 15 shillings; he will pay 2 pounds more for killing an unknown child; and if the mother and the father kill the child by mutual consent, they will pay 27 pounds, 1 shilling, for absolution.
The heretic who is converted will pay 269 pounds for his absolution. The child of a heretic burned or hanged or executed in some other way cannot be rehabilitated except by payment of 218 pounds, 16 shillings, 9 pence.
The trafficking of indulgences: origins of the Protestant Reformation
The 95 propositions of Luther, written in Latin, were quickly translated into German and were copied and published in many places. In two weeks they had spread through all of Germany, and in two months through all of Europe. This was one of the first times in history that the printing press, invented hardly a half-century before, played an important role in propagating an idea and mobilizing people. After intense debates about the contents of his propositions, Luther finally denied the Pope’s authority in the church.
Just as nowadays there is much talk about the “trafficking of influence”, as one of the many expressions of corruption in the institutions of government and public service, so the “trafficking of indulgences”, the source of enormous corruption in the church for centuries, was what made Martin Luther confront the Pope and the Church of Rome and by his righteous Christian rebellion bring to birth the Protestant Reformation.
Purgatory and indulgences are still going strong
Even today the Catholic Church defends the doctrine of purgatory and therefore continues promoting indulgences as an effective tool for escaping its punishments. Now, however, the indulgences are not obtained with money but by practicing devotions. The Church has established two types of indulgences, plenary and partial. Plenary indulgences “cleanse” a person from all traces of the sins he has committed and leave him ready to enter directly into heaven after death, without passing through purgatory.
People must fulfill a variety of conditions to obtain a plenary indulgence, including the following: adoring a consecrated host for half an hour, praying five successive mysteries of the rosary in a church or together with the family, reading or listening to any biblical text for half an hour, receiving a papal blessing by radio or television, attending a first communion ceremony, etc.
Partial indulgences pardon only a part of the pains of purgatory, in proportion to the importance of the devotion practiced. They are obtained by such acts as making the sign of the cross, praying for the Pope, wearing a crucifix, a medal or a scapular, depriving oneself of some delight, etc. The new Catholic Catechism states: Every Catholic can gain both partial and plenary indulgences for himself, or apply them by way of intercession for the benefit of the dead.
Richard Dawkins is an outstanding scientist and an extraordinary exponent of science. He is also called “the most famous atheist in the world”. Since 1995 he has held the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the author of several books, the most basic and best known of which is The Selfish Gene. In his book The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006), Dawkins offers harsh criticism of several Catholic doctrines, including purgatory. For that reason he participates in the program.
Dawkins’s book states that the Catholic Encyclopedia offers “proofs” for the existence of purgatory and presents indisputable evidence for its existence with the following circular argument: If dead people went straight to heaven or hell according to the sins they committed on earth, there would be no sense in praying for them. … And we do pray for them, don’t we? Therefore, purgatory must exist, because otherwise our prayers would make no sense!