On St. Peter's basilica in Rome, you can read the six-foot high letters of Christ's words to Peter, defending the apostolic succession between Apostle and Pope. Regardless, nothing in those words from chapter 16 of Matthew, even assuming there lived a Jesus Christ who said them, speaks to an apostolic succession. Moreover, the legends surrounding Peter's later life and death placing him in Rome in 64 CE to die by the hands of Nero, stories accepted as truth by such thinkers as Origen and Augustine, are hagiographic romantic fiction. In fact, what is historically reliable is that neither Peter nor Paul could have established a church in Rome for the simple reason that there was already an active Jewish-Christian movement in the city before either of them got there. Neither could they have laid the foundation for apostolic succession because no succession of bishops began in Rome for another century.
Modern scholars have identified the First Epistle of Peter, the letter attempting to underline continuity in authority between Peter and the church elders, as a forgery. The deception, however, doesn't end there. In need of a sense of continuity between the Roman Church and Peter, Irenaeus of Lyons forged a symbolic list of twelve Roman bishops that held office between Peter and the incumbent Eleutherius. Hardly caring that he might arouse suspicions, Irenaeus neatly invents twelve bishops to parallel the twelve Apostles; he does not even bother himself to come up with a name for each bishop, calling the sixth simply "Sixtus."
"Wherever we turn," wrote Eamon Duffy, an expert on the papacy and a devout Catholic, "the solid outlines of the Petrine succession at Rome seem to blur and dissolve...There is, therefore, nothing directly approaching a papal theory in the pages of the New Testament."
But any document, whether it is the Constitution, the First Epistle of Peter, or the Bible, that bestows authority on itself is circular authority without any foundation. The fiction of Catholic authority is merely an ideal example of the fiction of all authority, and we are obliged to apply the lessons from studying this fiction to the fictions we live by.
It is popular to say that the only source of legitimate authority is the people, made up of individuals that knowingly and willingly distance their authority to a common center. But even that authority is a fiction, a convention people temporarily agree upon when they believe it suits their ends. The US Constitution is not a forgery, but it does not grant authority of itself to any office or individual. It is simply a social contract requiring all parties to agree to the terms, including the terms for annulling the contract by any means. And it might as well be a forgery when it is glorified in name but the spirit of the terms is not met.
Authority, when all is said and done, is a game of make-believe to which most people agree, and some don't. When unfair laws and tax codes, poor education and ignorance fueled by mass media, conditioned fear of the consequences of taking personal responsibility for the power the individual is distancing, and guns force the agreement, then the agreement is already null and void and the rising of an opposing centralizing figure is essential.
The real connection between Peter and the Church can be found in that even as Peter repeatedly denied association with Jesus Christ, so too has the Church repudiated the ethical system credited to the Jesus character.
Shakespeare wrote, "Truth is truth to the end of reckoning." Well, as scholars began to research the writings of the church more closely, they began to see that an immense lie had been perpetrated -- perhaps the greatest fraud the world has ever known â€“ by an early corporation, mafia outfit, and fascist regime all rolled into one. In 754 and 756 CE, King Pepin, allied with the aristocratic politician Pope Stephen II, marched into Italy, defeated the Lombards, and handed over the gained territory to the Pope, thus creating a papal state that would endure for over one thousand years. In response to the protest that Pepin had no authority to do such a thing, the colossal forgery known as the Donation of Constantine miraculously appeared. In it, Constantine gave to the Pope, supposedly centuries earlier, not only Rome but also all of Italy and the Western regions.
Then, around 850 CE, an elaborate deception known as the False Decretals appeared in France to be used as a weapon against lay rulers. These Decretals contained forged letters from earlier popes, spurious papal writings from the early fourth to the early eighth century, and the previously mentioned Donation of Constantine. Their purpose was to establish the Pope as the source of power in the Church. In other words, where the authority of the bishops was infringed upon by lay rule, the Pope's authority was likewise unlawfully interfered with.
The False Decretals became one of the chief sources of power for later medieval popes despite their obvious inconsistencies. The persecutions of medieval Europe clearly show that the clergy were more concerned for their wealth in this world than the salvation of the laity in the next. Through the suppression of humanity's most valuable resources, knowledge and truth, the Church leaders exemplified themselves to be the lowest types of cowards and criminals. It wasn't until the Renaissance and the real ending of the Dark Ages that scholars began to see through the huge deception that fooled the Western world for centuries.
Hardly being of divine decree, the papacy was not even a good human invention. Catholics call the Pope the "Holy See," but history shows that the popes have distinguished themselves as distinctively unholy. The so-called "saintly" ones did nothing of which any kind-hearted person is capable. Read any detailed and unbiased history of the popes and you will find that they were greedy, politically motivated, lustful, gluttonous, faithless, murderous, and in sum very poor examples of the Jesus character or decent human beings. The ecclesiastical authority fought against nearly every liberty won for humanity, when it should have been the other way around. Magna Carta for instance, the first democratic charter in Europe, was denounced by the Papacy as a "diabolical document."
Authority without checks from a legitimate social contract will invariably nurture boundless greed for wealth and power. Goethe (1749-1832) writes, "Capacious is the Church's belly;/Whole nations it has swallowed down,/Yet no dyspepsia 'neath its gown;/The Church alone, in jewels drest,/Your 'tainted wealth' can quite digest."
Like the Emperor in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Andersen, Papal authority existed so long as it was not investigated and carefully analyzed. It still exists today in the minds of the ignorant millions who do not wish to look at the farce head-on. But it was not so much in forgeries that the fraud was found. The lies are merely symptomatic of corruption and misuse of power unlawfully centralized in the elite. Few dared dispute the divine authority claimed by the Church though its power was felt in every department of life; to fight the Church was to basically agree to allow one's reputation, and perhaps body, to be ripped apart by lies and slander.
The preservation of a centralized faith or a government through the maintenance of ignorance is illustrative of the character of that power and those who thus secure its claims of authenticity. Ecclesiastical pressures reduced the human intellect to a stagnating organ, suffocating for century after century the hopes for progress and happiness; few more monstrous impositions that degraded the human spirit are exposed in the annals of history. It is similarly hard to find in history a more demonic and sinister pair, spawned from the blood-drenched den of the papal church, than the Jesuits and the Inquisitors. The more the papal machinery slinked away, loosening its grasp on the throat of humanity, the less it suffered faith-based ignorance, poverty, superstition, repression, and fear.
But the church, as an institution that centralized power using religious belief to accumulate power, can now be found in other competing corporate and political institutions. The history detailed above is not merely the history of the Roman Church, but of religious and authoritarian tyranny in general. Wherever and whenever ecclesiastical power dominated one could unfailingly find degeneracy, corruption, and brutality as a matter of course. But the domination of any centralized authority comes with the same price. The current Bush Administration is a prime example of a modern corporate/political entity with cultic overtones that, in seeking greater centralized power, allied itself with intellectual and moral degeneracy, corruption, and brutality.
A misconception perpetrated by the religiously oriented as proof of the existence of God is that since humanity clearly has a "religious instinct," an instinct for belief in and worship of a higher Deity, God must in some manner be real and so religious striving is warranted. Translation: since humankind has shirked its responsibility to ask the fundamental questions concerning its existence and instead opted to blindly guess about life, allowing itself to be motivated by fear, to safely seek a community of believers and the lazy supplication to an imaginary higher power, and to be misled by the organizations of priesthood, religion is justified. In other words, the defenders of religion praise this process of blundering in darkness as a divinely hard-wired instinct, employing it as a proof for the justification of organized religion, though at every turn humanity betrays itself by adopting self-destructive and divisive beliefs, misleads itself in the name of faith in respect to science as opposed to being "guided" to the right conclusion, and shows itself to utilize reptilian instinct and no reason. And never mind that the God in question is conveniently monotheistic, perfectly fitting in with hierarchy and fascism. They might as well come out and say that since human beings live according to the dictates of the R-complex, resulting religious strata of authority with its pinnacle in heaven, our crocodile god must be real.
"If we could only see, in one view," wrote Thomas Huxley, "the torrents of hypocrisy and cruelty, the lies, the slaughter, the violations of every obligation of humanity, which have flowed from this source along the course of the history of Christian nations, our worst imaginations of Hell would pale beside the vision." These words, when read by someone living under the yoke of centralized authority, will probably sound like a description of that authority. Of course, we rarely get to see the violations in one view, and certainly not in real time, since authority in cahoots with the media keeps them out of sight.
In Dostoevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor," a partial view is provided. God descends to humanity in fifteenth century Seville during the decadence of the Inquisition. Dostoevsky portrays the Church as an authoritarian institution that rejected Jesus Christ's own repudiation of the Devil's three temptations. In turn, it provides a weak and stupid humanity the three things it craves most: bread, or mundane fulfillment, instead of the freedom to choose spiritual fulfillment; miracles, as opposed to genuine faith in ethics; and temporal authority, which usurps the need for spiritual guidance toward self-reliance. The Church, in a codependent love for humanity, rejects the freedom Christ portrayed and, unlike Christ, seizes Rome and the sword of Caesar proclaiming itself the sole ruler of the earth.
"Man," the Grand Inquisitor explains to God, "seeks to worship what is established beyond dispute, so indisputably that all men would agree at once to worship it. For these pitiful creatures are concerned not only to find what one or the other can worship, but to find something that all would believe in and worship; what is essential is that all may be together in it. This craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they've slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, 'Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!"
These "pitiful" true believers seeking the bolstering of community to assuage the pain of social and spiritual vulnerability can be found today in places ranging from political conventions to ecstatic revivals, churches and temples of every denomination to retreat centers. The image worshipped is different, but at bottom it's the same thing: our own selves. True believers distance their power to a fictional authority and defend that authority with their lives â€“ both in actual war and in unquestioningly living by the dictates of that authority. They do not hold their authorities accountable lest it uncovers their own lack of responsibility, promotes feelings of being duped, or demands self-analysis. They never reject the authority itself though, as we've seen recently in the recent Republican rejection of Bush, they may defend it by rejecting the latest office holder.
Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor argues, with a candid sincerity that we won't find among candidates in a presidential debate, that he is giving to humanity the lamb-like happiness of its nature which, though at the cost of being blindly led, nevertheless lifts from humanity the hardship caused by the responsibility of integrity and freedom. The Grand Inquisitor warns that God cannot add one iota to what has been supposedly revealed in the past, that all authority has been given to the Pope, and that such authority still rests in the Pope's hands leaving no room nor reason for God's return.
The spirit of freedom at the heart of temporary and willingly acknowledged authority-conventions devolves into oppression when the social contract is broken without redress. But the breaking of the social contract or the lack of redress is not an accident. The horror staring us in the face is that they are quite calculated on both sides. At last, as Dostoevsky put it, we can corrupt our lives and everything around us because it is done with the permission of an authority we ourselves have propped up to fool us -- a savior authority that both reflects humanity and makes humanity in its likeness, taking upon itself the burden of apathetic irresponsibility of the multitudes if only people no longer need to feel it. At long last, we have the authority we've always craved, one that frees us from the terrible burden of self-determination. As Heidegger put it, the dread has already happened.
In ways Jefferson might never have imagined, the social contract of the Constitution has been broken, and has been voided. Even as the Inquisition crucified the nobler teachings of Jesus, who can doubt that a revolutionary like Jefferson would be lambasted today by the "inquisition" of the mainstream media? Change is possible, but it may be too slow coming if we rely on it solely from institutions of power. In so many ways, in fact, working within the system is itself a form of denial and a means to free our conscience from the sense of failing to commit our dutiful redress of government crimes, both domestic and international.
Sooner or later, the suicidal luxury of propping up fictional authority to lie to us about our responsibilities will be utterly unaffordable. Whether it's because of the bees and other pollinators dying off, rising transportation costs and scarcity of resources, or ecological devastation coupled with overpopulation and a refugee crisis, things won't simply "work out" anymore, and they won't for more and more people. Just ask the Iraqis, among millions others.
But what if Iraq, and the decades prior to it of Middle-East war games, is just the beginning of our resource wars? Will we reject these fictional authorities at once, or will it get to the point where we snap out of this delusion only when the authority we've charged with deluding us no longer has access to a working media infrastructure?
We seem to have our burdens plus the responsibilities of past generations left unmet. Maybe the dread has already happened, but maybe extreme circumstances can be a springboard to extreme courage and self-sacrifice. Writing this, I become well aware that it begins with me. And it begins with you.