As part of my work on a study called ‘A Letter to the Pope’ (on Marxism and Roman Catholic social teaching), I keep an occasional eye on what the bishop of Rome says from time to time. The latest, as most will know by know, is of course the recent small admission that the use of condoms may be allowed as an initial step to prevent HIV/AIDS. Momentous, a stunning breakthrough, an extraordinary turnaround – these and more are the superlatives being heaped on the decision. Now, let’s put this in perspective: not only does allow a small role role for condoms in certain cases, but it is about as stunning and progressive as the admission that Galileo got it right on heliocentrism – an admission made on 31 October 1992, almost five centuries later.
Perhaps it goes back to that extraordinary character, Gregory VII (1073–85), who launched a 5oo year run of far-reaching papal power. There is an stunning statement from one of Gregory’s letters that express as no other document can the assertion of papal power:
The pope can be judged by no one;
The Roman church has never erred and never will err till the end of time;
The Roman church was founded by Christ alone;
The pope alone can depose and restore bishops;
He alone can make new laws, set up new bishoprics, and divide old ones;
He alone can translate bishops;
He alone can call general councils and authorize canon law;
He alone can revise his own judgments;
He alone can use the imperial insignia;
He can depose emperors;
He can absolve subjects from their allegiance;
All princes should kiss his feet;
His legates, even though in inferior orders, have precedence over all bishops;
An appeal to the papal court inhibits judgments by all inferior courts;
A duly ordained pope is undoubtedly made a saint by the merits of St Peter.
Even if papal power has waned somewhat, this legacy does make it a little difficult to say, ‘I have really fucked up and and fallen short of the glory of God’.
No Potatoes, No popery
Apparently, this was an election slogan from the mid-eighteenth century from England. Mind you, to have the rational capacity to vote in elections, one needed property and wealth to do so. But why potatoes? Given the associations with Ireland and their point of origin – South America – the introduction of potatoes to England was regarded as a devious popish plot. But damn it, why can’t we have election slogans like that today? No Lettuce, No Liberals, I say.
In 1736, Erik Pontopiddan wrote in his Fejekost (Sweeping Broom) concerning superstition, old hags and the pope:
papism as an unholy cuckoo-mother has sat on these rotten eggs of heathenism.
Why don’t people write like that today? (Hat tip to Christina)