Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Cult of Pope Worship

We spent a few days in Rome last month and took in the obligatory tour of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City to see the Michelangelo ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and the murals by Raphael in the Stanze di Raffaello - book in advance on line for speedy entry; the queues are frightening.

Apart from very obviously being a vast, highly organised money-making industry, the thing that struck us most was how central the figure of the Pope is to everything. Every stall (there is one every few yards) selling tourist tat and over-priced strings of coloured beads to the 'faithful' carried a huge assortment of pictures of smiling Popes in various forms of fancy dress, sometimes with humorously phallic headwear, making pious magic gestures with two fingers, or just grinning beatifically.

Most of them were of the current Pope (how quickly they must have got those to the printers and out onto the stalls in such quantities); quite a lot were of his predecessor, Benedict XVI trying hard not to look like a leering paedophile who can't believe he's gotten away with it, and a few were of the Polish Pope, John Paul II. Conspicuous by their absence were photos of John Paul I whose mistaken election is reputed to have been corrected just 33 days later when he was found dead, allegedly by a nun who was visiting his chamber early in the morning.

Outside in St Peters Square, almost the entire area is divided up with crowd-control barriers for the vast numbers of Catholics who descend on the Vatican whenever a planned papal manifestation is announced. A couple we met in our hotel were telling us excitedly how they had queued (no seats are provided) for hours in the shade-free square in temperatures approaching 35-40 degrees and had been 'rewarded' with a brief glimpse of 'His Holiness'. One could only sympathise. Nuns in various costumes, looking for all the world like devout Muslim women in a hijab, only dressed in white, blue or brown, with every hair, ankle and neck well covered lest they arouse uncontrollable passions in men, twitter excitedly like groupies outside the stage door of the latest boy-band, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope - even the hem of a disappearing white cassock or the wave of a hand from a window will induce raptures.

Some even believe the image of John Paul II will cure terminal illness.

What we both noticed particularly was how the proverbial visitor from outer-space would see Catholicism as Pope worship, with the Pope as a living god in just the same way that the Japanese Emperor was to pre-WWII Japanese and the way the Emperor was in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It looks for all the world as though the pre-Christian official Pontifex Maximus, or high priest of all the gods, had been transformed into the Christian Bishop of Rome.

Emperor Augustus 27 BCE - 14 CE,
Pontifex Maximus. The first Pope.
And this, of course, is precisely what did happen. The first Emperor to declare himself both Pontifex Maximus and a god was Augustus. As Pontifex Maximus he was uniquely placed to declare his elevation to the post of God-King to be the revealed will of God.

This explains why the Catholic Church is still rigidly hierarchical with the cult leader being the source of all clerical powers, the source of all religious dogma and the inerrant, infallible mouthpiece of God. To a devout Catholic, the Pope and God are as one. The Pope speaks the mind of God and announces His will. And with theological matters such as the existence of Limbo, and the qualifications for entry into Heaven, the Pope hands down policy to God.

Catholicism is the cult of Pope worship. The Pope is not the heir to an invented 'St Peter', but the heir to Augustus, the Roman God Emperor who died in 14 CE and whose title and role was passed down to the Christianised ruling god-king, the Pope, Papa or Holy Father.

If you want to see the last Roman god, Pontifex Maximus, a relic of a bygone age and the invention of a degenerate ruling class, go and stand for hours in the Roman sun - and remember to take plenty of money with you.

And women! Cover yourself up. God hates having to oggle at your bodies!

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  1. I remember on a trip to london which coincided with the last visit to the uk of the previous pope, seeing hundreds of children gathered from various catholic schools from around the country, many carrying banners with messages of devotion to the holy father or papa. A depressing sight it was, due to mummy or daddies belief system being imposed on them these kids had no choice but to give praise to"his holiness".
    But then I suppose this is the game plan of religion, indoctrination and numbers of followers and we win and beat those pesky non-believes.

  2. Brilliantly written Rosa, Im in Liverpool and still have vivid memories of ~JP 2's visit in 1982. My catholic friends, (of who I have none left now) were in a state of excitement that perplexed me. Some old man in a costume was coming to wave at them from an armour plated vehicle and then attend a religious service where 'the most deserving' would get to hear him. I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about.
    Subsequently the scandals engulfing the catholic church, and the attempt by its heirarchy to suppress, deny and generally manoeuvre out of any responsibility for them has left me sickened. It seems you can fool quite a lot of the people quite a lot of the time!

  3. This is a very interesting post. I didnt know the whole pope story even though it has always struck me as cult/idol worship.

  4. Went to Italy in 2011 but bad timing (Easter) meant there were no rooms available in Rome and Florence so we decided to go with a coach tour who had rooms pre-booked. Part of the deal meant we were deposited at the Vatican on Easter Sunday. St Peter's was packed with 150,000 Polish catholics who were there for the beatification of John Paul 2. Benedict was giving a blessing to the crowd and I wondered if I could reject it as I didn't want to be inadvertently blessed. Spoke to a few people about this and the consensus was that as long as I was out of earshot the blessing would not affect me.

    This got me wondering about the efficacy of blessings. Could one be blessed without one's knowledge or consent? If one could see the pope delivering the blessing but not hear it did it count as a blessing? If St Peter's was ground zero for the blessing how far away would one need to be to ensure safety, 300 metres? 500 metres? If a member of the flock specifically wanted to receive the blessing but were at the back of a very large crowd would the blessing effect weaken before it got to them?

    My musings filled in part of that warm Sunday afternoon but I was forced to conclude that the blessing had no effect whatsoever.

    On the subject of the female pope, catholic author Peter Stanford investigated this in his book The She-Pope and concluded that there was sufficient evidence to suggest the story was true.

    Tried to comment using my wordpress ID but it didn't work so I had to choose anonymous.

    1. And, if the blessing has diminished to zero when the volume reaches the limit of human hearing, does this mean it's strength obeys the inverse square law? Does someone just inside that event horizon derive a small benefit from the blessing whilst those close by get a much larger dose?

      Or does it never reach zero but continue on out into the Universe at large, getting ever closer to zero but never actually ever reaching it?

      Do we need to actually see the blesser at all or is the blessing carried purely by sound?

      So many questions and so few answers. :-)


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