St. Peter's Basilica

More than an academic question: At year 500, what is the legacy of Protestantism?

More than an academic question: At year 500, what is the legacy of Protestantism?

The Religion Guy raised the above question and answers it with a few thoughts upon the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

This vast, ongoing split in Christianity involved theology and spirituality, but as a journalist The Guy [disclosure: a lay Protestant] will emphasize culture. The uproar originated on October 31, 1517 (All Saints’ Eve), when Martin Luther issued his “95 Theses.” Matters evolved from there into a sweeping assault on the papacy and the Catholic Church.

Historians debate whether the tempestuous Wittenberg professor actually posted this protest on the legendary door of the town church or simply distributed it. Whatever, Luther sent a copy to the Germans’ most powerful churchman, Archbishop Albrecht, who fatefully referred it to the Vatican for scrutiny.

The “Theses” decried lavish sales of “indulgences” from the church’s “treasury of merits” to lessen punishments due for sins of the living and of the dead in Purgatory. Rid of corrupt money-raising, indulgences still operate in 2017 (per “Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1471 – 1479).

The indulgence money was supposed to fund construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But Albrecht skimmed off half the proceeds to repay a loan of 23,000 ducats he used to purchase leadership of Germany’s most lucrative diocese -- at age 23!  When Luther faced Catholic derision for violating his monk’s vows and marrying, he told Albrecht to end his unwed sexual partnership!

In other words, late medieval Catholicism had some problems. Nonetheless, was this split necessary?

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Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

If you know anything about the history of sacred architecture, you know there is nothing strange about believers being buried inside church sanctuaries.

In fact, there is an ancient tradition of celebrating the Mass on altars built directly on or over the tombs of saints (see the New Advent online Catholic Encyclopedia). In Eastern Orthodoxy, altars and sanctuaries still contain relics of the saints, usually fragments of bones. Consider this 2014 column I wrote about efforts to rebuild St. Nicholas Orthodox parish at Ground Zero in New York City.

Some people find these traditions creepy. But the whole idea was to link heaven and earth, for believers in this life to worship with the saints of old.

Perhaps this is rather advanced material, in terms of church history. Still, I assumed that some journalists (maybe even at the New York Times copy desk) would know that the altar of the most famous church on Planet Earth -- St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican -- is build directly over catacombs containing the tomb of St. Peter and other popes. Don't these people read Dan Brown novels?

I bring this up because of a strange passage in a recent Times science piece that ran with this double-decker headline:

The Mummies’ Medical Secrets? They’re Perfectly Preserved
Mummified bodies in a crypt in Lithuania are teaching scientists about health and disease among people who lived long ago.

As it turns out, the crypt in question is located underneath an altar in a Catholic church in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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