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Molly'sBlog: A Devilishly Smart Pope

A DEVILISHLY SMART POPE

One of the books I’m reading now is John D. Barrow’s ‘The Book of Nothing’. The subject is  a look at the concept of ‘nothing’, the void, emptiness, zero, the vacuum and so on. There’s actually quite a bit to say about nothing, and book ranges from a history of the mathematical sign for zero, through the ‘philosophic concept’ of nothingness, to the idea of the vacuum in physics, its explanation by the ‘ether’ and the eventual overthrow of that concept. Temperatures (absolute zero) and the place of the vacuum in quantum mechanics, relativity and cosmology come on stage, and the book ends with a return to the philosophic concept itself. Yes, quite complex, and I’ve barely gotten to chapter 2. Nice to have a roadmap to a blank space. I’ll be reviewing the book when done.

But one of the matters that did come up was the story of Pope Sylvester II, one of the few admirable holders of the keys of Peter in the Middle Ages. This is a story appealing enough to shove its way to the front of the ‘Molly Line’. Sylvester II was born Gerbert de Aurillac (945 – 1003). He reigned as Pope from 999 to 1003. Yes the Pope in the Chair during the turn of the millennium. The world didn’t end, and Gerbert/Sylvester was definitely one of the more capable Popes of the age. A lot of his accomplishments were political and hardly bear mention here. Defending the property of the Church. Playing off one ruler against another though he was usually in alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor of the time.  The politics of Italy at the time were particularly chaotic, and once both he and the Emperor had to flee Rome during one of the revolts. He even tried to reform the Church’s organization and reduce abuses such as simony, concubinage and nepotism. This was an Herculean task, and even with the assistance of St. Jude (the patron saint of the impossible) the Church remained just about as corrupt as always. He did, however, succeed in significantly increasing the Church’s title holdings. Maybe this goal was in direct contradiction to the idea of making the Church into a more ‘Holy’ outfit. He also played a major role in the Christianization of Eastern Europe, appointing Metropolitans for both Poland and Hungary, and in the later case naming that country as a ‘Kingdom’. Thus the Crown of Hungary became dependent on the Papacy.

His political accomplishments were minor compared to his intellectual contributions to European culture. He had early on spend considerable time as an envoy to the far more civilized Muslim states of southern Spain, and he turned his natural curiosity to good effect there, absorbing much of the culture of Andalucía. When he returned to France he was appointed head of education for the Archdiocese of Rheims, and from there he significantly elevated the clerical level of education throughout the French Kingdom.

 When his patron died he was considered the natural successor, but the Capetan monarchy had other ideas, and a relative of the King was appointed in his stead even though Gerbert was a supporter of Hugh Capet whose reign marked the end of the Carolingian dynasty. Barrow has this matter somewhat confused as he lists this Episcopal position without mentioning that Gerbert’s appointment was overthrown. Consistent with the political level of the time the King’s appointee was later removed because of suspicion of treason to his sponsor. Gerbert who initially was himself accused of treason to the House of Capet was reappointed, but this was challenged and his appointment declared invalid. When he did finally become Pope he pretty well washed his hands of the matter by declaring his competitor as the legitimate Archbishop. Barrow also confuses another appointment of his, as Archbishop of Ravenna, supposing him to be the ‘Abbot’ of Ravenna. All this is quite forgivable as the politics of the time, clerical and lay, were by their very nature confusing.

Gerbert was lauded for his scholarly contributions in a number of fields. He became the tutor of both Emperors Otto II and his son Otto III, and, as mentioned above, he was elevated to the Papacy with the support of the latter. Gerbert was a true polymath. He was the accepted authority in the liberal arts in his day and a major influence on theology. He was also something of an engineer, designing a hydraulic organ that didn’t require air to continually be pumped in as it played. He is also credited with advances in the art of clock making due to one which he designed for the Cathedral of Magdeburg. Even this is confused. Some sources such as the ‘Catholic Encyclopedia’ say that he was the inventor of the pendulum clock. Others say that his clock was mechanical but weight driven rather than using a pendulum. Still others say that his clock was actually simply a sundial. It was, however, in the field of science and mathematics that he made his greatest contributions.

Gerbert was credited with a number of innovations. He introduced the abacus to Europe, and also the use of the Arabic/Indian number/decimal system. Both were necessary foundations for the later rise of commercial enterprises in the Renaissance. Hard to do proper accounting with Roman numerals. Not that they were always appreciated. In 1299 the decimal system was outlawed in Florence supposedly because it was more vulnerable to fraud. The worry about this matter delayed the adoption of decimal numbers in northern Europe until the sixteenth century. For Gerbert, however, they were a Godsend, and he was the foremost expert on mathematics, geometry and astronomy of his day. Much of this was based on what he had learned in southern Spain even though he was creative enough in his own right.

He is credited with the reintroduction of the ‘armillary sphere’ to western Europe. This is a 3D model of the heavens, and fitted with viewing tubes it was an early prototype of the telescope. It should be noted that such a sphere would imply that the Earth itself was a sphere. Not that the idea of a flat Earth was universal in Medieval times, but it was common enough even though the use of spheres such as this proliferated.

Barrow’s book corrected a misconception of my own, one that I had held for more than a few years. I knew that Sylvester II was a remarkably educated and knowledgeable man well ahead of his time. I also knew that one of the medieval Popes had been dug up from his grave and the corpse put on trail. I’d always assumed that the uncommunicative defendant was Sylvester. During his lifetime and after his death rumours circulated that he was in league with the Devil, that he had even constructed a bronze head that would answer questions posed to it. Sort of an early robot I guess. I assumed that this was the reason for the exhumation. Wrong I was. The corpse was that of one Pope Formosus, and the charges were much more mundane. After the guilty verdict was pronounced the hapless cadaver was chopped to pieces, burnt and the ashes thrown into the Tiber. That will teach him.

The accusations of witchcraft would certainly be a likely medieval explanation for Sylvester’s brilliance, but no – he stayed in the ground. Not that he rested easily though. The legends of his life followed him into the grave, and typically they are also confused. One legend says that when a Pope is due to die that Sylvester’s bones rattle in the tomb. Another says that the walls of the crypt weep on the sad occasion. I guess there’s no reason they can’t both be right.

. . . → Read More: Molly’sBlog: A Devilishly Smart Pope

bastard.logic: RIP Father Raymond Gravel, Progressive Catholic Priest

Sad news via CBC News:

“Father Raymond Gravel, a well-known Catholic priest, an advocate for Quebec sovereignty and a social activist, has died.

[…]

“He served one term as the Bloc Québécois MP for Repentigny, before he was ordered by church authorities to choose between his priesthood or politics and returned to the pulpit.

. . . → Read More: bastard.logic: RIP Father Raymond Gravel, Progressive Catholic Priest

The Ranting Canadian: The sins of the Argentinian church (article in The Guardian)

The sins of the Argentinian church (article in The Guardian):

The last pope was a member of the Hitler Youth. The new one acted like a fascist collaborator in his adulthood. Fancy Francis, aka Jorge Bergoglio, was not a progressive-minded liberation theologist like Oscar Romero.

Apparently the CONclave members have no problem with Bergoglio’s shameful . . . → Read More: The Ranting Canadian: The sins of the Argentinian church (article in The Guardian)

The Ranting Canadian: Thank gawd, finally a new cult leader was appointed in Italy by…

Thank gawd, finally a new cult leader was appointed in Italy by an elite cabal during a secret backroom ritual. This one is from Argentina. I guess that country deserves it, considering they just lost the recent vote on the status of the Falkland Islands.

Yay, does this mean the end of the Olympic-style . . . → Read More: The Ranting Canadian: Thank gawd, finally a new cult leader was appointed in Italy by…

The Disaffected Lib: Sex Could Solve Roman Catholicism’s Biggest Problems

The debate is open again as to whether Roman Catholic priests should have to be celibate.

Britain’s top Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien says the next Pope should re-open the issue of ecclesiastical celibacy.

Britain’s most senior Catholic has suggested Catholic priests should be able to marry and have children, saying the demand for celibacy . . . → Read More: The Disaffected Lib: Sex Could Solve Roman Catholicism’s Biggest Problems

Trashy's World: The danger of religion…

…the harm that Stone Age thinking has done and continues to do. Here is a great article penned by Neil MacDonald, who discusses a new book (Lawrence Wright’s investigative book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief),that looks at Scientology and the power that it can wield in American society. And while granted . . . → Read More: Trashy’s World: The danger of religion…

gay persons of character: Vatican ups its homophobic rhetoric

I am so sick of Pope Benedict XVI poking his papal nose into the bedrooms of people across the globe to encourage bigotry against LGBT human beings. As Pinknews reports:

“The Vatican appears to be continuing to launch a new wave of efforts to [strengthen] its opposition to LGBT rights, particularly equal marriage, using newspapers and radio broadcasts to describe it as ”intrinsically disordered”, and to compare it to polygamy and polyandry.”

While I am certain that gay human beings will never get the approval of the Pope, I can only hope that the number of  his followers eventually dwindles as people come to their senses and understand that the Vatican of today is a manipulative, corrupt, abusive, and power-hungry institution that hunts the gullible for its survival. . . . → Read More: gay persons of character: Vatican ups its homophobic rhetoric

gay persons of character: Vatican ups its homophobic rhetoric

I am so sick of Pope Benedict XVI poking his papal nose into the bedrooms of people across the globe to encourage bigotry against LGBT human beings. As Pinknews reports:

“The Vatican appears to be continuing to launch a new wave of efforts to [strengthen] its opposition to LGBT rights, particularly equal marriage, using newspapers . . . → Read More: gay persons of character: Vatican ups its homophobic rhetoric

mark a rayner | scribblings, squibs & sundry monkey joys: Schism opens way for creation of SinoPope

mark a rayner | scribblings, squibs & sundry monkey joys: Avignon releases RoboPope schematics

AVIGNON (The Skwib) — Earlier today the Avignon Papacy held a news conference to confirm the existence of RoboPope, going so far as to release schematics of the first fully functional cyber-Pontiff. “Many question the existence of RoboPope,” Bishop of … Continue reading →

. . . → Read More: mark a rayner | scribblings, squibs & sundry monkey joys: Avignon releases RoboPope schematics

gay persons of character: Catholic Priests, not Obama Administration, assaulting Catholics

As American Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, continues to decry the Obama administration for its so-called assault on the Catholic Church, the fact of the matter is that Catholic priests, not the secular left, are the ones as… . . . → Read More: gay persons of character: Catholic Priests, not Obama Administration, assaulting Catholics

gay persons of character: Catholic Priests, not Obama Administration, assaulting Catholics

As American Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, continues to decry the Obama administration for its so-called assault on the Catholic Church, the fact of the matter is that Catholic priests, not the secular left, are the ones assaulting (literally) Catholics in America. For the facts, check out the Database of Publicly Accused Priests in the United States to . . . → Read More: gay persons of character: Catholic Priests, not Obama Administration, assaulting Catholics

gay persons of color: Catholic Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire backs marriage equality

Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire vowed Wednesday to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage. Gregoire, who is Catholic, had for a long time publicly opposed marriage equality, but has now come around on the issue. From The Seattle Times: “I have been on my own journey. I will admit that. It has been a battle . . . → Read More: gay persons of color: Catholic Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire backs marriage equality

Molly'sBlog: Molly’sBlog 2011-12-31 15:59:00

RELIGION:

PAPAL SINS:

Amazingly enough I finished reading two books on a single day. There are two more rather technical books that I am still reading, but probably few would be interested in them. The first book I finished was the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. I’ve already mentioned . . . → Read More: Molly’sBlog: Molly’sBlog 2011-12-31 15:59:00

gay persons of color: Thousands of children sexually abused at Dutch Roman Catholic institutions

A report, known as the Deetman Inquiry, has confirmed that “between 10,000 and 20,000” children were abused at Catholic institutions in the Netherlands over the past 65 years. This is the latest in a series of investigations and reports coming from North America and Europe which have documented widespread and systematic child sexual abuse . . . → Read More: gay persons of color: Thousands of children sexually abused at Dutch Roman Catholic institutions

gay persons of color: Over 20,000 pages of Roman Catholic sexual abuse evidence delivered to ICC

Several boxes containing over 20,000 pages of evidence were delivered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Tuesday in The Hague in a move to begin an investigation of Pope Benedict XVI (pictured above) and three cardinals – Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio… . . . → Read More: gay persons of color: Over 20,000 pages of Roman Catholic sexual abuse evidence delivered to ICC

gay persons of color: At least 100 priests reported involved in same-sex blackmail scheme

The hypocrisy of the Catholic church never ceases to end or to amaze. The Italian weekly, Panorama, reported Friday that police have arrested two gay men in connection with blackmailing “at least 100 gay priests across Italy.” At the home of Diego Ma… . . . → Read More: gay persons of color: At least 100 priests reported involved in same-sex blackmail scheme