Up through church history there often emerge different reformers and persons with different interpretations of Christianity than the official orthodoxy of the Catholic Church. These individuals or sects have usually been dealt with swiftly and defined as heretics and persecuted merciless by the Church.
As the official church became fatter and ever more wealthy and powerful, many sincere believers saw that the Church removed itself accordingly from Jesus’ original teachings. Alas, theological theory is one thing, theological reality something completely different. The difference between the non-materialistic ideals of Jesus and the enormous wealth and land possessions of the Christian Church, between the princely luxurious standard of living for the clergy, and the poverty and social despair of the commoners, was striking.
The Church brutal and merciless handling of the heretics can hardly be called “turning the other cheek” either.
Many of the brightest minds of the church have up through the centuries wasted years of their lives trying to interpret away the scripture to an ever changing reality. This is what we call Theology. Among the topics discussed among the “learned” clergy in absolute seriousness were:
Did Pontius Pilate actually use soap when he washed his hands?
Did Jesus wear clothes during the ascension?
And where did the clothes go, or did he emerge before the disciples nude after the resurrection?
Can God create mountains without valleys?
How was the Virgin Mary made pregnant? Through the ears, or possibly through her side?
Can God restore a woman’s virginity?
Can God bark as a dog?
Does God sit down or stand?
Have all angels a high pitch soprano voice, or are there any basses amongst them?
What is the temperature of Hell?
If a mouse happen to drink from the baptizing water, is it considered as baptized?
Could Jesus still have fulfilled his Savior mission, if he had been a pumpkin? (Johanson 1989).
During the reign of pope Innocents 3, the mightiest pope in history, also the fourth Lateran council were held, and several of different dogmas were discussed. Among these, the council decided that the state was obliged to punish heretics. They also elaborated and decided on the doctrine of the transubstantiation, that the bread and wine of the communion, actually becomes the flesh and blood of Jesus. It is not symbolically as many believes; it is to be read literally. This discussing cannibalistic magic (A.Øverland) are still performed in Christian Churches all over the world for those who find the appetite for it.
The Death penalty for reading the Bible
The ever increasing gap between the official Church teachings and its decadent luxurious lifestyle has been the reason for many of the demands for reforms and forming of “heretical” directions within Christianity. That’s also why the church for centuries made it illegal for commoners to read the Bible for themselves. Both the church councils in Terragona in 1234 and Toulouse in 1299 declared a regular ban against reading the Bible. In Würtzburg in the 16th century, peasants risked beheading if caught reading the Bible. First in 1836 the pope allowed Catholics to read the holy Book translated into the local language, but then only when approved by the roman inquisition.
The reason for denying people to read the Bible was an ever lingering fear among the clergy of someone misinterpreting the holy book. Fearing that the congregation should discover the humongous discrepancies between the decadent and filthy rich papal Church, and the poverty ideals of Jesus. God forbid! The official Bible existed only in Latin, up until the reformation, and few other than the clergy and literates amongst the social elite who could understand any of its content anyway. But if the Holy Bible was considered as dangerous for the uneducated commoners, what then with more secular literature?
Today the Catholic Church still have its infamous “index”, - the list over books good Catholics is not allowed to read.
The Bible was made accessible for common people when Martin Luther, as one of the first, translated the New Testament into German in 1522, and the Old Testament in 1534. Soon after there came other translations into other languages, and these translations were rapidly spread with the help of Johann Gutenberg's invention (ca 1450), the printing press.
Martin Luther (1482/83-1546).
Martin Luther worked as a professor at a fairly obscure university in the city of Wittenberg in Germany. He was one of the many who doubted the theology of the Catholic Church. For Luther, the selling and granting indulgences, was a major point of contention for him. According to Luther’s interpretation of St. Paul, the salvation lies in the faith itself. The trading of relics and indulgence letters, he saw as blatant fraud and abuse, committed in the name of God. In his time, the trading with relics and indulgence had reached huge dimensions.
Some aficionados in this trade were bigger players than others. For example, the archbishop of Mainz had his own personal and hugely lucrative collection of relics. His collection had no less than 9000 holy relics. Amongst these were the earthly remains of numerous pious saints, even a bone of the patriarch Isaak himself, a jar containing manna from the exodus from Egypt, and even a twig of the burning bush.(!). In the chapel of the castle of Wittenberg, where Luther himself worked, they kept in 1510 no less than 5500 relics.
Luther’s new ideas that one didn’t have to buy indulgence for ones sins or pay tithe to the church to secure your salvation soon became popular among the commoners. His writings made a huge impact and his ideas were widely spread thanks to Gutenberg’s new invention. Soon most of northern Germany was lost for the Catholic Church. The Church immense land properties were confiscated and the many German regional princes helped themselves greedily of ecclesial land properties. This availability of huge areas of church property was one of the reasons why the German princes supported Luther’s Reformation. The German emperor Karl (Charles) 5, however, was a stout Catholic, and Germany found itself involved in a bloody religious war. Karl also ruled over northern Italy, something the Italians and the Pope were not exactly happy with. Even though Karl was a catholic, he was also having serious quarrels with the Pope.
In 1527 the German emperor’s soldiers marched into Italy. Many of the soldiers were fanatical Protestants, and fueled by hateful anti-Catholic propaganda, and without being paid for months. These crazed protestant hordes invaded Rome in the first week of May. They overran the city, killed, raped and pillaged it. They thrashed catholic priests until and pillaged the Vatican for gold and treasures. They wrote graffiti on the walls of the Popes private quarters, and used the spacious Vatican library as a stable for their horses. The pope managed to flee to the San Angelo castle outside of Rome, where he was besieged by angry German soldiers. The soldiers shouted insults and threats against him, and even threatened to eat him.
The Council of Trento
This council was gathered with one common goal to stop the spreading of the reformation. Thanks to the Reformation the Catholic Church lost much of its influence over the faithful, in particular in Northern Europe. At the same time, however, new virginal mission fields opened up in the new world that was discovered at this time. Not few indigenous people both in the new and old world have felt the Christian mission mania on their bodies. Convert or die!