Religious toleration in the West, beginning with the Edict of Milan
and some grievous Christian lapses

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Religious toleration (Constantine)
Religious Toleration within Christendom

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Cardinal Cerejeira, patriarch of Lisbon, said in a remarkable address delivered on November 18, 1941:
"It was Christianity which introduced into the world that separation between the temporal and the spiritual, upon which rests the foundation of all Christian civilization. Here is the fountainhead of liberty of conscience." {quoted by Jacques Maritain. Man and the State.}

In the beginning Christians seemed disposed to toleration. Saint Paul had said regarding the change from the Jewish Sabbath to the Gentile Sunday, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."

Tertullian had pointed out that the natural law authorizes man to follow the law of individual conscience in the practice of religion, since the acceptance of religion is a matter of free will, not compulsion. [Ad scapulam, II]

Marsillius of Padua argued for the separation of church and state as the clear antidote to almost all the strife and bloodshed produced (in the name of religon). His book was Defensor Pacis (Defender of the Peace)

Contemprorary Catholic scholar-journalist James Carroll acknowledges the footprints of blood that all too often have followed Papal pursuit of power since Constantine, but reminds us that there were always saintly Catholics speaking out against the abuses and cruelties of persecution. Even popes like Gregory I and Pope John XXIII were known as champions of uncoerced concience.

Constantine began with benign intent
Aufziehen der Inquisition
War against heresy, witches, and Jews -- Aufziehen der Inquisition
Cette peinture est d' Inquisition: Definition - Encyclopedic Dictionary
Corporal Discipline Was an Essential Part of Religious Persuasion
The Church's Historical Links to Torture and Physical Abuse

Constantine (in his letter to Licinius, preceding his Edict of Milan) prayed:

"I hasten, O God, to put my shoulder to the work of restoring thy most holy house, which profane and impious princes have marred by their violence. But I desire that my people should live at peace and in concord, and that for the common good of the world and the advantage of mankind. Let the followers of error enjoy the same peace and security with those who believe: this very restoration of common privileges will be powerful to lead them towards the road of truth. Let no one molest his neighbor. What the soul of each man counsels him, that let him do. Only let men of sound judgment be assured that those alone will live a life of holiness and purity whom thou callest to find rest in thy holy laws. But for the others, who keep apart from us, let them, if they please, retain the temples of falsehood. We have the resplendent house of thy truth given us as our inheritance. But this we pray for them also, that they may come to share the gladness of a common belief. . . . Let all men henceforth enjoy the privilege placed within our reach, i. e., the blessing of peace; and let us keep our consciences far from what might hinder it. Whatever truth a man has received and been persuaded of, let him not smite his neighbor with it. Rather, whatever he has himself seen and understood, let him help his neighbor with it, if that is possible; if it is not, let him desist from the attempt. For it is one thing to voluntarily undertake to wrestle for immortality; it is another to constrain others to it by fear. These are my words, and I have enlarged on this more than my forbearance would have prompted, because I was unwilling that my trust in the true faith should remain secret and hidden.
Alas, no sooner had Constantine won for Christianity the imperial power than he began to use that power to promote, then to FORCE, unity and peace within his realm. With his successors, even more, the temptations of power began to corrupt them. As Christians, having known persecution and oppression in their beginnings, it was not long till they fell prey to the temptations to persecute and oppress dissent (themselves). Having been a weak and despised minority, now Christians themselves began to demand conformity, and began to oppress minorities within their jurisdiction.

Even dissent within Christendom was quashed without mercy. Pope Innocent III declared the English Magna Carta of 1215 null and void.

Marsilius of Padua, in the fourteenth century, was a trail blazer in the battle for human liberty. He argued for separation of church and state, pleading that the Church had no business interfering in politics. In defensor pacis, Marsilius sought to prove the independence of the secular government from the Papal domination. He denied the prerogatives alleged to have been usurped by the sovereign pontiffs. Marsilius' views were regarded as heretical.

Marsilius denied that that the Pope's coercive power had any basis of legitimacy, despite the papal-claimed 'plenitude' or 'fullness' of power. Marsilius cited the swaggering claims of unam sanctum. They assumed 'universal coercive jurisdiction over the whole world under [the] all-embracing title 'plenitude of power'... limited by no human law'

It was as if Marsilius was telling the popes: stick to the spiritual, and leave politics to the secular realm of the lay folk. Christ's kingdom is not of this world, but often its divine judgments are left till the indefinite future (the next world?). The Church was ordained by Christ not for dominion and imperial force, but for an unseen warfare -- its worldly office was as a servant, a minister. Not as a ruler and lord. A mother changes diapers and wipes noses. The church must follow the example of the humble Gallilean whose Name it professes to adore. Defensor pacis

Birth Control Controversy

"Rome has spoken," runs an ancient proverb of the Roman Catholic Church. "The case is closed."

In 1930 Pope Pius XI declared (Casti Connubii) :

"Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, ... in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, ... proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin. "
So Pope Pius XI explicitly said that married people should have sex with the full expectation that children could result each time. To do anything else is a grave sin. more

In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitæ which ordered Catholics not to use birth control (artificial). The only acceptable way to prevent conception was abstinence. Just say NO. Sex itself, presumably, was immoral. Women better be having babies. Sexual pleasure for its own sake was hedonistic, sinful, and evil. The pagans of yore, after all, adored Woman, worshipped their fertility Goddesses, and thought the deity was Female. On top of that, they "approached" their gods using sexual rites and joy (song, dance, indulgence). We Christians, so much more righteous than those primordial heathen, better deny our sexuality and sublimate our natural urges. "The woman shall be saved in childbearing."

Humanae Vitæ seemed to be an emphatic Catholic reaffirmation of the battleground being fought with women over the woman's body, and woman's sexuality. The Garden of Eden scenario put the blame on Woman, and Humanae Vitæ merely applied the perspective with zealously righteous ferocity. Jack Holland describes the response: "In the West, many if not most Catholics ignored the ban. For them, however painful, the decision of whether to conceive or not was rarely a life-or-death issue. Unfortunately, for women in the poorest parts of the world, it often is. There, the right to choose wether or not to conceive was vitally linked to a woman's prospect for freeing herself and her family from pverty. It is in this context that the inherent and deeply rooted misogyny of the Church has taken its greatest toll on the lives of womn. [Misogyny: the world's oldest prejudice.]

Pope John Paul II continued to conservative direction of the Church and (in effect) slowed or reversed the liberalizing overtures of Vatican II. In 1981 the pope issued his Familiaris consortio, toughening even further the ban on contraception, and coming down hard on almost all sex between husband and wife, except when the motives are pure (and the intent is to produce a child). In fact, as Jack Holland notes, "Pope John Paul II spent a considerable part of his pontificate propagandizing on behalf of the doctrine that tells poor and illiterate women that to use a condom is the moral equivalent of murder and that each time they use contraceptives they render Christ's sacrifice on the cross 'in vain.' He said: '[No personal or social circumstances have ever been able, or will be able, to rectify the moral wrong of the contraceptive act.' Underlying this attitude is the assumption that when it comes to having a baby, a woman's consent is not necessary and that once made pregnant, accidentally or not, her own will is rendered irrelevant.

In 1997, the papal ban on birth control was reinforced further, emphasizing: "The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception." [Vademecum for Confessors] Bishop Charles Francis Buddy lays it all out in plain language easy enough for laymen to understand. "The use of contraceptions, in themselves intrinsically evil and calculated to frustrate the laws of nature, is absolutely forbidden. Moreover, contraceptive devices often result in septic poisoning and death. This is nature's protest against interference with natural law." [p391. For them also]

Why is Christianity so anti-woman? Much of Christian history seems decidedly sexist, if not at times misogynistic. Is woman-hating a flaw of monotheism, as Reichian commentator James DeMeo's "Saharasia" alleges?

Or maybe our Biblical heritage is simply prudish, and "in denial" about the entire realm of human sexuality, reproduction, and desire. Al Lowen tends to suggest this very thing. See the body matters

Elizabeth Gould Davis charts the church's sorry record of oppressing women, destroying her creativity, denying her education, in fact justifying her victimization (and often sexual abuse) at the hands of men in authority, even the church. Davis points the finger at the Bible itself, and its Hebrew origins. The Jews are surely culprits in this regard, with their patriarchal biases "from God."

On the other hand, Riane Eisler finds much redeeming good in the biblical tradition, and is especially inspired by the figure of the historical Jesus Christ, who seems in many ways to be a true feminist. Eisler has coined the concept of gylanic balance. Jesus seemed almost to have his male side and his female side in a kind of equipoise, a wholesome dynamic balance. In contrast to so much of the sad history of Christendom, which was indeed woman-hating and "androcratic," should we not aim for the gylanic completeness of these exemplars (like Jesus). More Riane Eisler

Our Holy Mother Church is a masculine "mother"
Germaine Tillion thinks that the bias of the Catholic Church historically and today ... comes from the fact that it is heavily dominated by the Mediterranean (Italian) mindset. "In 1962, for example, at the great universal assembly known as Vatican II, no abbess was admitted to deliberate with the 2,200 Conciliar Fathers. 'Women may not be priests,' the Church says. Yet even at the time when popes used to raise laymen or young children to the rank of cardinal, none of them ever considered conferring the purple upon a woman: the very idea is absurd! The solemn positions adopted by all those celibate men with respect to birth-control gave added confirmation of the very Italian [Mediterranean] archaism of the Catholic apparatus."
[Republic of Cousins: Women's Oppression in Mediterranean Society. Originally published as Le herem et les cousins.]

Now in 2010, just when Christians think the clergy sex scandal could get no worse. It gets worse. Lisa Miller, the respected religion editor of Newsweek, writes: "The cause of the Catholic clergy's sex-abuse scandal is no mystery: insular groups of men often do bad things." Newsweek made the whole issue (with related articles) the cover story for its April 3, 2010 edition: What Would Mary Do? Ms. Miller does not spare the Church, labelling the Catholic leadership "history's oldest and most elite all-male club."

The problem -- bluntly put -- is that the bishops and cardinals who manage the institutional church live behind guarded walls in a pre-Enlightenment world. Within their enclave, they remain largely untouched by the democratic revolutions in France and America. On questions of morality, they hold the group -- in this case, the church -- above the individual and regard modernity as a threat.
Everything that the Americanist heresy stands for -- pluralism, openness, democratic confidence in the people, and the individual's right to choose -- runs counter to the core Catholic values of hierarchy, order, and moral absolutism. The Christian ideal of God OVER man runs counter to the democratic vision of free choice and (for that matter) journalistic candor and integrity. The Church does not take kindly to whistle-blowers. Rocking the boat is heresy and insubordination.

What the Church sees as pristine purity or holiness (uncontaminated by involvement with women), Lisa Miller suggests is actually a lost opportunity. She conjectures that far from being "contaminated" by sinful woman, the Church is missing out by exchewing the common sense offered by the "earthy, primal messiness of families and children."

In the U.S., 60 percent of Sunday massgoers are women; thus most of the contributions to the collection plate -- $6 billion a year -- are made by women. And yet the presence of women anywhere within the institutional power structure is virtually nil.
Kerry Robinson is the head of the National Leadership Roundtable, a group of American businesspeople who hope to bring corporate best practices to the Church. She says, "It matters how the church is seen. Right now, it's seen as sins and crimes committed by men, covered up by men, and sustained by men. To overcome that, the church has to absolutely include more women."
In a world where the whole really matters more than individual parts, a rigid -- sometimes brilliant, sometimes mean-spirited -- morality reins. This elevation of the church above all things explains how an institution dedicated to serving the sick and the poor might also refuse condoms to those at risk for AIDS. It explains how an organization committed to families could deny birth-control pills to mothers. And it explains, sadly, how a bishop faced with a pedophile in a parish might decide not to call the cops.
Ms. Miller has hope for the Church. "To break the old habits of insularity and groupthink, the embrace of modernity that started with Vatican II must begin anew. 'I want to throw open the windows of the church so that we can see out and the people can see in,' said Pope John XXIII of that effort. The first, and perhaps easiest, place to start is with women."

Well behaved women seldom make history. No, but sometimes when they speak out, the find themselves in hot water. Or taken out to the woodshed. Eileen McCafferty DiFranco lobbied a bit too irreverently, and found herself excommunicated from the Church she hoped to amend for the better. She and her fellow women, finding themselves repeatedly passed over, ignored, cold-shouldered and silenced, finally sought less "well behaved" means to make themselves heard. The protested. And now have been kicked out of the Catholic Church (which is tantamount, officially, to damnation).

Yet they claim that notwithstanding their excommunication, they are "loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit's call to change an unjust law that discriminates against women." [See womenpriests]

Jesus never said only men can be priests

Defending the Church against its critics, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese points out that Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, both Catholic feminist theologians, have joined the attack on the purported oppression, patriarchalism, and male dominance that have deeply compromised Christianity.

On October 7, 1984, ninety-seven leading Catholic scholars, religous and social activists published a "Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion" in the New York Times. It pointed out that the papal and hierarchical denunciation of abortion as "morally wrong in all instances" is not the sole legitimate Catholic position and that there is a diversity of belief among Catholics which deserves "candid and respectful discussion." It opposed "the kind of legislation that curtails the legitimate exercise of freedom of religion or discriminates against poor women." Many of the signers have felt reprisals, including dismissal from jobs and harassment. In the New York Times of March 2, 1986, a "Declaration of Solidarity," signed by hundreds of Catholics, protested these reprisals as violations to free speech. [in Adrienne Rich. Of Woman Born. P271]

Defenders of Male Dominance Praise Civilizing Results

Robert Bork, American conservative commentator (once nominated to the Supreme Court, and rejected) claims
Radical feminism is the most destructive and fanatical movement to come down to us from the Sixties. This is a revolutionary, not a reformist, movement, and it is meeting with considerable success. Totalitarian in spirit, it is deeply antagonistic to traditional Western culture and proposes the complete restructuring of society, morality, and human nature.
Long before the current "civil war" over the respective gender roles, Sigmund Freud wrote from a decidedly Enlightenment perspective and came up with his own brand of (secularist) misogyny. It was the Victorian Era, and Freud clung to the sexist male-dominant perspective of the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer. Freud admitted he did not understand women. Though sex is a primary motive and force within the human subconscious, Freud was utterly mystified by woman (and her own sexuality). What's more, he never seems to have asked her. Women envy man's penis, Freud decreed. Christianity has produced prudery and self-delusion, he seems to say. [See Freud's blind spot]

Interestingly, some researchers have recently suggested that Christianity, in departing from Judaic antecedents, actually lost some of the more wholesome (if more earthy) attitudes that the tribal and patriarchal Hebrews could have offered. At any rate, a dose of common sense could often help balance out the fanatacism that puritanism all too often succumbs to. [See Doug Morgan]

The Catholic feminist scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza thinks that Christendom's historic repression of minorities (Jews) and its theological hatred of women are thoroughly intertwined. Using the feminine as a theological scapegoat (or whipping boy) almost inevitably coincides with the oppression and often slaughter of minorities -- especially Jews. [See Jerome, Women, Jews, and Sex-Phobia]

Why Catholics Are Right

(as Michael Coren says)

Self-honesty shines (sure beats trading brickbats)

RECOMMENDED READING: Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History -- by James Carroll

Christianity's legacy of antisemitism is undeniable. Christianity's legacy of suppression of dissent and unorthodox ideas is also undeniable. What is interesting, however, are the ways in which both of these legacies are related and dependent upon each other. Ranging over the entire history of Christianity and the Catholic Church, James Carroll describes how power has been preserved through the suppression of both internal (unorthodox) and external (Jewish) dissent.
See Review in Catholic League

Support the Embattled Nuns

Mulieris dignitatem (1988)


Believing Christians should look upon themselves as such a creative minority and ... espouse once again the best of its heritage, thereby being at the service of

humankind at large.

Christendom's historic prudery (and woman hate)

So you think the contemporary Catholic Church is in need of greater openness, or even its own "perestroika" -- especially after the conservative resurgence has put the brakes on Vatican II just as certainly as the Tridentine reactionaries put an end to the early dawn of Catholic humanism. Many voices have hoped for a brighter day for the Christian organism. By the same token, is not reform and perestroika and "transparency" badly needed in America's corporate world as well? The sorts of "Luthers" the times send us ... may not be the kind we would like to have. They may be too 'pushy' or strident. They may, contrariwise, be too meek or circumspect. When the Communists of Poland finally faced the solidarity of the masses, Poland had its own "Glorious Revolution" as dramatic as the one England had in 1688. But those "bloodless" risings are rare and uncertain. Usually, change is incremental. (Or two steps forward,one step back.)

America's John F. Kennedy said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." [Speech at White House. 1962]

As the eloquent Catholic spokesman James Carroll exhorts us, "Don't give up on the Church!"

Eingedi: where one finds TRUE diversity in unity (cf Ezekiel 47: 9-10)

libera me, domine
libera me domine
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Mother Teresa

Also see
James Carroll. The Sword of Constantine : The Church and the Jews -- A History. Personal Home Page
Charles Freeman. The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. When the lights went out in Europe

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