Michelangelo as secret Lutheran?

Anthony Sacramone reports on a strain of research that is linking Michelangelo to the “Spirituali,” a group of proto-Lutherans in the Roman church who believed in justification by faith:

While studying Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses, part of the Tomb of Julius II, [Antonio] Forcellino began to notice certain “anomalies” that gave him pause. Further research, especially in the Vatican archives, led him to the relationship between Michelangelo and Cardinal Reginald Pole, Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, and Vittoria Colonna, a noblewoman.

What these folks had in common was a desire to reform the Catholic Church from within. In fact, Pole’s views on justification, like Gaspar Contarini’s, bears a striking resemblance to Luther’s, although not identical to it.

Forcellino believes a tortured and conflicted Michaelangelo began to ask that question that seemed to be in the 16th-century air: “What must I do to be saved?”  ”Grace cannot be purchased,” Michelangelo wrote to Colonna in light of the indulgences controversy, and, influenced by the Spirituali and their Christocentric discussions of reform and renewal, the work of il Maestro began to focus increasingly on Christ and a direct relationship with God, rather than on the insitutional church, its clergy, and its sacraments.

By 1547, Pole, then a papal governor in northern Italy, was at the center of a network of reformed-minded clergy, laity, and artists. They were educated, wealthy, and sympathetic to many of the same concerns as the Protestants, although they themselves were not Protestants.

Pole was seen as a man who could bridge the divide between Rome and the Reformers. Michelangelo, a member of this network, began to produce images “that mirror these ideas,” says one scholar in the Secrets documentary.

But the Spirituali began making the authorities nervous, and Cardinal Caraffa, a nobleman from Naples, became Pope Paul III’s top heresy hunter, Inquisitor General for Rome. He despised anything that smacked of Lutheranism, and to him the Spirituali were secret Lutherans.

And that included, believe it or not, Michelangelo. Caraffa denounced the master painter’s Second Coming of Christ, not only because of the rampant nudity, but also because it focused too much on man and his relation to Christ, not the church.

This group was soon persecuted out of existence. But not before the Pope named Cardinal Pole, an Englishman, as his hoped-for successor to the papacy! He was not elected, but think what might have been.

The Treaty of Tripoli

According to historian Susan Jacoby, when President Obama told a group of Muslims that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” he was alluding to the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, which brought an end to the conflict with the Barbary coast pirates. Passed by the Senate without controversy and signed by President John Adams, the treaty makes this statement:

“As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion–as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims)–and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religions opinions shall over produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Fishers of Men

Archeologists have compared bones from a Roman catacomb that was used for the burial of Christians to bones from other catacombs. The finding? The early Christians ate a lot of freshwater fish, whereas most Romans didn’t.

Comparing the catacomb results with those from other sites in Italy and in the western Mediterranean, the higher nitrogen and lower carbon figures indicate the consumption of freshwater fish. The contribution of such fish to the diet of the early Christians in Rome ranges from 18 to 43 per cent, averaging at around 30 per cent. . . .

“While distancing themselves from Jewish food taboos and generally avoiding meat derived from pagan sacrifices, the early Christians are normally hypothesised to have eaten the same food as their non-Christian Roman contemporaries,” the team says. “Within the larger context of what is currently known about Roman dietary habits, the inclusion of freshwater fish therefore comes as unexpected and raises questions about the social origins of Christianity as well.”

“When Romans ate fish at all, they are normally believed to have consumed sea fish. Freshwater fish has not been considered as an essential ingredient in the classical Roman diet.” In AD301, the Emperor Diocletian’s Edict on Prices tried to fix the cost of freshwater fish at around a half to a third of its marine equivalent, so that even the poor could eat it. Roman fish probably came from the Tiber, and would have been a free or cheap source of protein.

On this basis, Rutgers and his colleagues conclude “that at least the small selection of early Christians analysed were all simple folk, suggesting that the inclusion of freshwater fish is indicative of a relative lack of wealth rather than of religiously motivated ascetic behaviour”.

It sounds like the early Christians caught their own fish. Can we draw any other conclusions from this odd fact?

Cavemen were pro-life

Anthony Sacramone at Strange Herring reports that a skull was discovered of a caveman child that had significant deformities, indicating that the child was profoundly handicapped. And yet the child lived until he was five years old. That means that his parents gave him extensive care, proving that these allegedly primitive life forms had compassion and love for their children. That’s interesting but hardly surprising for those of us who believe in universal human values. But the best part of the post is Mr. Sacramone’s headline: New Evidence Suggests that Cavemen Were More Compassionate Than Average Ivy League Ethics Professor.

His point is that “primitive” humans struggling for survival had love and compassion for their children; Ivy League Ethics Professors such as Princeton’s Peter Singer favor euthanasia of the handicapped, as well as, of course, abortion for unwanted children.

Discourse on Voluntary Servitude

We posted about how Alexis de Toqueville was prescient about issues we are facing today. Blogger Clarendon points us back even further, to Etienne de la Boetie who wrote Discourse on Voluntary Servitude way back in 1548. Here he refers to ancient Rome, but the principle about government largesse applies in all times:

Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them.

The discourse considers “how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him.” Here is another gem:

This method tyrants use of stultifying their subjects [by debasing them] cannot be more clearly observed than in what Cyrus[30] did with the Lydians after he had taken Sardis, their chief city, and had at his mercy the captured Croesus, their fabulously rich king. When news was brought to him that the people of Sardis had rebelled, it would have been easy for him to reduce them by force; but being unwilling either to sack such a fine city or to maintain an army there to police it, he thought of an unusual expedient for reducing it. He established in it brothels, taverns, and public games, and issued the proclamation that the inhabitants were to enjoy them. He found this type of garrison so effective that he never again had to draw the sword against the Lydians.

It’s all worth reading.

Putting Valentine back in Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine, whose commemoration day is celebrated tomorrow without reference to him, was honored as a noted martyr, having been put to death in the Roman persecutions for his Christian faith. From Aardvark Alley:

Some ancient accounts record a physician and priest living in Rome during the rule of the Emperor Claudius II. This Valentine become one of the noted martyrs of the third century. It seems that his main “crime” was joining couples in marriage. Specifically, Valentine married Roman soldiers. Evidently, Claudius thought that single men made better soldiers while Valentine and the Church resisted the immorality of less-permanent relationships.

The commemoration of his death, thought to have occurred during the year 270, became part of the calendar of remembrance in the early Western Church. Tradition suggests that on the day of his execution for his Christian faith, he left a note of encouragement for a child of his jailer. The note was written on an irregularly-shaped piece of paper which suggested the shape of a heart. This greeting became a pattern for millions of written expressions of love and caring that now are the highlight of Valentine’s Day in many nations.

In the liturgical calendar, there are special Bible readings and a collect–a prayer of the church–for his day:


Psalm 95:1-7a
Ezekiel 18:1-9
1 Peter 4:12-19
John 2:1-11


Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of Your love in the heart of Your holy martyr Valentine, grant to us, Your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Love and martyrdom! Those go together like roses and chocolate! Any ideas how this holiday could be re-Christianized?