Erasmus’ Pope Julius barred from Heaven – extracts from my translation

Pope Julius barred from Heaven

pages 123-124:

Julius:  Why don’t you make an end of this nonsense, and open the doors? – unless you prefer to have them smashed in.  Let’s make it simple.  You see the sort of company I’ve got at my command?

Peter:  I certainly see a very practised troop of brigands.  But I must tell you, you’ll need different weapons to storm these gates.

Julius:  Enough of words now, I say!  Unless you obey smartly, I’ll hurl my thunderbolt of excommunication at you – yes, at you; I’ve used it plenty of times to terrorise the greatest kings, whole kingdoms too.  You see the ball of lead, prepared in advance for this very purpose? 

Peter:  What devilish lightning strike, what thunderclap, what leaden balls, are you on about, may I ask?  Bombastic talk!  We never heard anything of this kind from Christ.

Julius:  You’ll find out what I mean, if you don’t do as I say. 

Peter:  There may have been some you once terrorised with that fire and smoke, but it won’t serve in this place.  Here you have to deal in realities.  The weapons that win this stronghold are good deeds, not evil words.  But I’ve a question for you.  Are you threatening me with your thunderbolt of excommunication?  What right have you?  Tell me.

Julius:  An excellent right.  You’ve lost your status now, you’re no different from any common priest; indeed, you’re not even a priest, because you’re unable to consecrate.

Peter:  Because I’m dead, I suppose?

Julius:  Of course.

Peter:  But by that reasoning you’ve got nothing over me – you’re just as dead.

Julius:  Wrong: for as long as the cardinals are arguing over the choice of a new pope, the papal administration is still mine.

Spirit:  Would you believe it – he’s still dreaming dreams of life!

Julius:  Come on now, open up, I say.

Peter:  I say: unless you can tell me your qualifications, you’ll get nowhere.

Julius:  What qualifications?

Peter:  I’ll explain.  Did you excel in Christian teaching?

Julius:  Certainly not; there wasn’t time; I was busy with all those wars.  There are more than enough friars, though, if that’s of any relevance.

Peter:   Then did you win many for Christ by the saintliness of your conduct?

Spirit:  He won as many as he could for hell.

Peter:  Were you famous for miracles?

Julius:  Out-of-date talk!

Peter:  Did you pray constantly and singleheartedly?

Julius:  What nonsense the fellow’s yapping.

Peter:  Did you mortify your body with fasts and vigils?

Spirit:  Give over, please; this is pointless.  Don’t waste effort on the man.

Peter:  I’m not aware of any other qualities of an outstanding pope.  If he has any that are more apostle-like, then he’d better speak up for himself.

pages 155-158:

Peter:  Madman!  All I’ve been hearing up to now is not of a church leader, but a worldly one, and not so much a worldly leader as a pagan one – no, one more vicious than any pagan.  You boast of your superlative competence at breaking treaties, at fomenting wars, at inciting massacres.  This is the competence of Satan, not the pope.  The man who makes himself Christ’s deputy should model himself as closely as possible on Christ.  In him is the highest power, but joined with the highest goodness; in him is the highest wisdom, but a wisdom of the utmost simplicity.  In you I see a caricature of power coupled with the highest malice and the highest stupidity.  What if the devil, prince of hell, were to desire to appoint his own deputy?  Whom better could he recruit than your double?  Tell me where you’ve acted like an apostle.

Julius:  What could be more apostolic than augmenting the Church of Christ? 

Peter:  Well, if the Church is the people of Christ, bound tightly together by Christ’s spirit, you seem to me to have wrecked the Church: you’ve goaded the whole world into the most horrendous wars, so that you can escape the punishment for your evil and pernicious existence. 

Julius:  What we mean by ‘Church’ is sacred buildings, clergy, and above all the papal court in Rome – I, first and foremost, as the Church’s head.

Peter:  But Christ appointed us servants; he made himself the head – or has a second head now sprouted?  But in what respects has the Church been ‘augmented’?

Julius:  Now you’re coming to the point, so I’ll tell you.  Once the Church was starved and poverty-stricken; now it’s blossoming with embellishments of every kind.

Peter:  What embellishments?  Zeal for the faith?

Julius:  You’re talking nonsense again.

Peter:  Christian teaching?

Julius:  Give over.

Peter:  Renunciation of the world?

Julius:  Let me speak.  I mean real embellishments; those are just words.

Peter:  What, then?

Julius:  Palaces fit for kings, the finest horses and mules, as many servants as you could want, superbly drilled troops, well-turned-out retinues …

Spirit:  the shapeliest prostitutes, the most obliging procurers …

Julius:  … the most precious metals, the richest fabrics, plentiful endowments.  Compared with the wealth and pomp of the pope of Rome any monarch appears mean and destitute; anyone, however pretentious, owns himself outdone; anyone, however lavish, condemns his own parsimony; anyone, however affluent, any banker even, envies our wealth.  These, I tell you, are the embellishments that I have both conserved and augmented.

Peter:  But do tell me: who was it that corrupted and burdened the Church in the first place with these embellishments of yours, when Christ wanted her to be both utterly pure and utterly unencumbered?

Julius:  What’s that got to do with it?  Really, the essential thing is this: we hold it, we control it, we enjoy it.  Actually, they say that someone called Constantine transferred all the magnificent trappings of his imperial rank to pope Sylvester of Rome – his medals, horses, chariots, helmet, sword-belt, general’s cloak, bodyguard, swords, golden crowns (the purest gold too), armies, artillery, cities, dominions.

Peter:  And do reliable records of this munificence survive?

Julius:  None beyond a single footnote in a lawbook.

Peter:  Perhaps it’s a myth.

Julius:  That is actually my personal opinion.  After all, what sane man would give up such a splendid empire even to a Father-in-God?  But it’s an extremely gratifying thing to believe; and when meddlers try to discredit the story we bind them to absolute silence.

Peter:  Anyhow, I’m still hearing of nothing but worldliness.

Julius:  Perhaps you’re still dreaming of that Church of old in which you played the pallid pope among a few starving bishops, exposed to penury, exhaustion, perils and a thousand discomforts.  Now time has transformed everything for the better.  The papacy’s something entirely different today.  You were pope in name and title alone.  If only you could now see all the sacred edifices, built with the wealth of kings; all the priests in their thousands worldwide (most of them extremely well off); all the bishops, rivalling monarchs in the vastness of their riches and their arsenals; all the magnificent palaces of the clergy.  Best of all, if you could only now see in Rome all the purple-robed cardinals, pressed round with battalions of attendants; all the horses, more than fit for kings; all the mules decked with satin, gold and jewels, some shod with gold and silver too.  If you could only catch a glimpse of the Supreme Pontiff carried high in a golden throne on the shoulders of his guards, receiving homage on every side at a movement of his hand; if you could only hear the blasting of cannons, the baying of trumpets, the blaring of bugles; if you could only see the thunder-flashes of the artillery, the crowds clapping and cheering, the whole scene lit with flaming torches, and the greatest rulers vying to kiss the holy feet.   …  If you’d seen and heard all this, what then would you say?

Peter:  That I was beholding a tyrant worse than worldly, an enemy of Christ, a plague on the Church.


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