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Chapter 32

Gregory XVI
2 February 1831 — 9 June 1846


In adopting the name Gregory XVI, Bartolomeo Alberto Capellari followed a long line of popes which stretched back to Pope Gregory I, often referred to as Gregory the Great, who ascended the Papal throne 1,241 years earlier in 590. Indeed no name has been adopted by more popes, the name John excepted.

Yet the initial pope holding that title was among the first to invoke the appellation, "antichrist" against a contending bishop. The Bishops of Rome, not surprisingly, yielded to Emperor Justinian’s edict settling the long-standing dispute between the Bishops of Rome and Constant-inople as to who could claim to be the supreme pontiff. Justinian declared that right to be vested in the Bishop of Rome in 533, five years before the Pope could benefit from this designation. However this imperial decision did not alter the ambitious hearts of successive Bishops of Constantinople.

No doubt Gregory I observed this fact when he spent six years as ambassador to the court of Constantinople as Pope Pelagius II’s diplomat. Endeavoring to end the competition once and for all, Gregory futilely declared a truth, the full significance of which he no doubt failed to recognize. While not mentioning John, Bishop of Constantinople by name, Gregory’s declaration stated,

I say confidently, therefore, that whosoever calls himself universal bishop, or even desires in his pride to be called such, is the forerunner of Antichrist. (Samuel Cassels, Christ and Antichrist, Presbyterian Board of Publication, Philadelphia, 1846, p. 12)

A great proponent of the false Biblical conclusions of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Gregory I devoutly believed the unscriptural doctrine of original sin. Augustine taught that sexual intercourse between a husband and wife was sin.

Gregory was not blind to the problems this raised. For example, parents were cleansed from original sin in baptism [in Gregory’s thinking]. How could they hand on original sin to their babies? He answers: Though holy themselves, they handed on corrupt nature through sex, desire galvanized by lust. Babies are born as the damned lust of their redeemed parents. From the first, they are the offspring of Gehenna or Hell; they are justly children of wrath because they are sinners. If they die unbaptized, they are condemned to everlasting torments for the guilt of their birth alone. Existence is itself a state of sin, to be born is to qualify for eternal punishment. (Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ, p. 452)

De Rosa (op.cit., p. 461) quotes author Lecky’s assessment of this doctrine which popularized the unscriptural baptism of infants in order to ensure that, should they die in infancy, they would not receive eternal torture. Infant baptism was a concept accepted into the Roman Catholic dogma, not from Scripture, but from European pagans. While yet unconverted these pagans brought their pagan concepts with them when they united with Christians in the fourth century following the "conversion" of Emperor Constantine. (Russell and Colin Standish, The Mystery of Death, Hartland Publications, Virginia, 1996)

Lecky’s assessment of Pope Gregory’s concept stated:

That a little child who lives but a few minutes after birth and dies before it has been sprinkled with the sacred water is in such a sense responsible for its ancestor having six thousand years before eaten a forbidden fruit, that it may with perfect justice be resuscitated and cast into an abyss of eternal fire in expiation of this ancestral crime, that an all-righteous and merciful Creator, in the full exercise of these attributes, deliberately calls into existence sentient beings on whom He had from eternity irrevocably destined to endure such unspeakable, unmitigated torture, are propositions which are at once extravagantly absurd and so ineffably atrocious that their adoption might well leave men to doubt the universality of moral perceptions. Such teaching is in fact, simply demonism, and demonism in its most extreme form. (Ibid.)

Whether Gregory XVI ever contemplated the first of his lineage’s view in this matter is not recorded. Just as important a question for consideration by this last holder of the title, Pope Gregory XVI, would have been Gregory I’s claim that any accepting the title of universal bishop was a forerunner of antichrist.

It is little wonder that later the Roman Catholic Church invented Limbo as an undefined, but lesser punishment for deceased unbaptized infants. This was first set forth by the Council of Lyons in 1274 but had initially been enunciated by the revered theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274). Even as late as the Council of Trent (1545—1563) the Dominicans maintained "the severer view that the Limbus Infantum [Limbo] was a dark subterranean chamber, while the Franciscans placed it in a region of light above the earth." (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1963 edition, vol. 14, p. 129) These were priests possessed of inventive imaginations.

In adopting the name Gregory, this nineteenth century pope certainly carried some fearful tradition with the name.

Born in Belluno September 8, 1765, the future Gregory XVI accepted a Chair of Science and Philosophy in 1787 before transferring to Rome in 1805. His principles were set out in 1799, at the time of Pius VI’s imprisonment, in a book entitled The Triumph of the Holy See and the Church against the Attacks of Innovators. This was an august title when the state of the Papacy at the time is considered. It was either a work of prescience or an act of sheer bravado. In this book Capellari promoted the concept of Papal infallibility and the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See together with Papal right.

In a striking manner Gregory XVI prepared the way for his successor, Pius IX, to declare two long-held views as official Roman Catholic dogma —the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854) and Papal Infallibility (1870), for Gregory had strongly promoted both concepts. Gregory fervently opposed the concept of religious liberty, which Pius IX was to entrench in his Syllabus of Errors (1864).

Gregory XVI had denounced freedom of conscience and the press and he expressed his opposition to the separation of church and state in his Encyclical, Mirari vos, issued August 15, 1832.

In 1805 Capellari had received appointment as Abbot of the St. Gregorio al Celio Monastery. Perhaps it is that appointment from which he took his regal name of Gregory. When the French took over in 1808, Capellari retired to Padua to teach in a monastery. In 1814 he returned to Rome. He was promoted to Vicar-General of the monastic Camaldolese order in 1823.

Capellari was given the cardinal’s hat in 1825, when he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The edicts of this post he carried into his pontificate as he promoted the spread of Roman Catholicism on other continents. As Gregory XVI he made the suggestion, novel for his times, that a native clergy, perhaps even a native episcopy should be developed. But this view was not forwarded in his lifetime. Nevertheless it was a concept which was to bear rich fruit in the future.

Gregory was a reactionary in policy and thus provided fertile soil for rebellion within the Papal States. Eventually he was compelled to rely upon Austria to quell the insurrection, and in the process he seriously depleted the Vatican coffers in paying for the foreign military stationed in the Papal States for seven years. France, not to be outdone by her rival, seized Ancona during this period. So reactionary was the pope that he refused to permit the construction of a railway through his territory and even when a reactionary state like Austria demanded administrative, judicial and constitutional changes in the Papal States, Gregory steadfastly refused to meet their demands. He did not recognize that his grandiose defense of Papal temporal sovereignty in 1799 and his later continual intransigence in refusing much-needed reform in the Papacy’s territories, were at odds.

The clock of the Holy See’s temporal authority was ticking on toward a day, inevitable in its date with destiny, when that which Gregory asserted as the Vatican’s right would be wrested from its dominion, perhaps for ever, save for a pittance of 108.7 acres (about 44 hectares) compared with its territory of 16,000.8 square miles at the time of Gregory’s accession to the papal throne. Thus, even after the 1929 restoration of temporal power, the Vatican’s territory was reduced to such an extent that it had failed to regain approximately 99.999 percent of the territory Gregory thought it wise to rule autocratically.

Gregory had been elected in an atmosphere once more of political intrigue. Cardinal Giustiniani had been the favorite but the Spaniards vetoed him. Gregory had the support both of the Zelanti and, more importantly, the Austrian strongman, Prince Klemens Metternich, who desired an absolutist pontiff who would resist what Metternich described as the "political madness of the age." Such political intrigue paid deference not to spiritual qualities, but rather to base political motives. In such an atmosphere could the Roman Catholic Church realistically expect a pontiff to be elected whose mind and heart were filled with the Holy Spirit and whose goals were focused upon the spiritual and the pure faith of Scripture?

As with each of his nineteenth century predecessors, Gregory, rather than uplifting the pure Word of God based upon uncorrupted manuscripts, chose to lambaste the diligent efforts, particularly in the English-speaking world, to spread the Bible worldwide and to translate it into all the major languages of the earth. In his 1844 encyclical issued on May 8 entitled Inter praecipuas machinationes, Gregory denounced the London Bible Society. Such an encyclical well served a set of dogmata based upon human reasoning, but it provided no basis for the edification of the faithful.

When he died in 1846, Gregory had certainly brought concepts such as the theory of Papal infallibility to the forefront of the Papal agenda. Within a quarter of a century of his death this concept would be elevated to official dogma required to be believed by all adherents, placing Papal edicts when pronounced ex cathedra as unchallengeable, as if the infallible will of God had been revealed. Such dogma, when accepted, was certainly designed to act as a vice-like grip upon the minds and consciences of clergy and laity alike.

Yet by his unyielding and unenlightened civil policies within the states over which he ruled, Gregory further enhanced the desire for liberation from the clerical yoke which lay heavily upon the citizens’ natural rights and liberties. In the same year that Pius IX was to proclaim Papal Infallibility, thus strengthening control over Roman Catholic faith and practice, the Papal States were wrested from Papal sovereignty with few tears shed except by the clerical administrators who had profited much at the expense of the citizenry.


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