Still praying for the souls of the Fuggers

There were the Robber Barons, the 1%, and those the Democrats demonize as “the rich.”  But they are Salvation Army bell ringers compared to Jakob Fugger, the 16th century money man who was one of the founders of the banking system and a prime mover in many of the royal schemes, shady investments, and bribery conspiracies in the late-Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

It was the Fuggers who lent the money used by the Archbishop of Mainz to bribe the Pope into appointing him to various church offices, with the three-way agreement that the loan would be paid back through the sale of indulgences in Germany.  A venture that led a certain monk to post 95 theses.

The Fugger fortune is long gone, but Jakob set up an endowment to provide housing for poor people, on the condition that they would pray each day for his soul’s release from Purgatory.  This is still going on!  The cost of the rent has not gone up for 500 years and comes to just $1.23 per month.  And the beneficiaries are still praying for him, which suggests that he must still be in Purgatory after 500 years. [Read more…]

Santa Claus, Confessor

St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra back in the 4th century.  He has become one of the most popular saints among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the patron saint of sailors, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, to name just a few.  He also mutated into the emblem of Christmas, Santa Claus.  (Say “Saint Nicholas” real fast.)

But what is the connection between the bishop of Myra and Christmas?  Stories about the saint supplying poor women’s dowries by putting money in stockings drying by the fire give us an explanation of the custom of hanging stockings for Santa to fill, but they don’t have a connection to Christmas, as such.

I think the connection is that the bishop was reportedly a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and authored the Nicene Creed.  A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for World Magazine about the role that St. Nicholas reportedly played at the Council of Nicaea, including slapping the heretic Arius who insisted that Jesus Christ was merely human and not divine.

The St. Nicholas Center has posted that column on its website, along with other supporting material and everything else you might like to know about St. Nicholas, including a forensic reconstruction of what he looked like. I also need to report that the St. Nicholas center has also posted the song parodies written by you Cranach commenters when we discussed my World column here.  Those songs, playing on the image of Santa Claus slapping heretics, were quite creative and funny.

After the jump is a fuller account of St. Nicholas at Nicaea, which I will then discuss in terms of our need to recast Santa Claus as a Confessor of the church. [Read more…]

Another explanation for the Bethlehem star

Bible scholar Colin R. Nicholl argues that the Star of Bethlehem was really a comet, a moving celestial object that was considered a type of star in ancient astronomy. [Read more…]

Top 10 news stories of 2015

The Associated Press released the results of its poll of journalists on the top 10 stories of 2015.  Number 1:  ISIS.  Number 2: Gay marriage ruling by Supreme Court.  See the complete list after the jump.

Would you change the order of any of these stories, based on their long term significance?  What were some other big stories of the year that might deserve to be on that list? [Read more…]

C.S. Lewis, secret agent?

The discovery of a recording of a lecture by C. S. Lewis has connected him to the British Secret Service during World War II. [Read more…]

The strongman syndrome

Russian president Vladimir Putin has been praising Donald Trump, who has been returning the favor.   When it was brought up that Putin has a habit of killing his critics, Trump said that our country also does a lot of killing.  (See details after the jump.)

It isn’t just that the two have a mutual admiration society going.  David Ignatius says that Trump is America’s Putin.

I think what we are seeing is the strongman syndrome.  Democracies, by their nature, make for weak central governments and so have trouble “getting things done.”   So when things get bad, at some point, the very people who constitute the democracy, turn to a “strongman” to solve their problems, even though he will also do away with their rights.

This happened with the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic.  It happened when the French revolution turned to Napoleon and when the Russian revolution turned to Stalin.  It happened again after the fall of Communism, when the Russian people turned away from the messy democracy they had been trying in favor of the authoritarian Putin.  It happens regularly in Latin America.  Isn’t this what is happening in this country with the popularity of Donald Trump? [Read more…]