Humanist Saints Of Old

Humanist Saints Of Old March 11, 2020

A A huge monument sat at the center of St. Peter’s Square, replacing the ancient obelisk.  Deeply etched around the top of the memorial were the following words:

As  Perpetrators  We  Mourn  Our  Victims

Beneath these words were the names of the known casualties of Christian violence—those killed or maimed in body or in spirit by the ferocity of Christian certainty: the heretics, the pagans, the heathen, the infidels, the witches, the savages, the unbelievers, the servants of Satan.

These were those who never felt the touch of human decency from the pitiless piety of holy madmen.  These were those whose tongues were cut out, whose heads were dashed, whose limbs were burned by wax and fire; those who agonized upon strappado and rack; those who suffered libels and lies.

Names that were readable included Bishop Pricillian, Geoffrey Valle, Domenico Scandella, Christine Boffgen, Pietro Pompanazzi, Lucilio Vanini, Munzmeister Lippold, Noel Journet, Francius Cuperus, Aluise Capuano, Girolamo Cardano, Pierre Charron, Pomponino Rustico, Johann Pfefferkorn, Giordano Bruno, Charles Blout, Thomas Aikenhead, Michael Servetus, and many, many more.

And beneath these names were symbols signifying thousands of the nameless victims of theistic violence.

And finally, beneath all else were symbols for the unknown children, spouses and loved ones of those killed or targeted, for these lives too had been devastated.

All  these  were  the  New  Humanist  Saints.

A silent crowd pressed into St. Peter’s Square, among whom were leaders and followers of all Christian denominations.  In the window above the basilica the Pope intoned the solemn litany and began:

‘We do penance for the murder of Bishop Pricillian.’

The people beat their chests and replied, ‘We are heartily sorry.’

‘We do penance for the murder of Geoffrey Valle.

‘We are heartily sorry.’

‘We do penance for the murder of Domenico Scandella.’

‘We are heartily sorry.’

We do penance for the murder of Christine Boffgen.’

‘We are heartily sorry.’

‘We do penance for the murder of Pietro Pompanazzi.’

‘We are heartily sorry.’

‘We do penance for the murder of Lucilio Vanini.’

‘We are heartily sorry.’

‘We do penance for the murder of Munzmeister Lippold.’

‘We are heartily sorry.’

We do penance for the murder of Noel Journet.

‘We are heartily sorry.’

And so on—of the known names. And then to the unknown:

‘We do penance for the unknown killed in Christ’s name.’

‘We are heartily sorry.’

And this was repeated over and over and over again.  After this litany, which lasted forty days and forty nights, the Pope addressed the Christian world with these words:

‘Brothers and sisters:  Laced among the lofty admonitions to love in our sacred scriptures lie passages that recommend intolerance and even violence toward those who do not think or act like us.  It is a credit to the decency of most Christians—in each generation of Christianity—that they have not acted on these passages.  In this sense, we can say that most Christians are better than their religion.  Human goodness is stronger than any creed.

Unfortunately a minority of Christians (in every age of Christianity)—let us call them the rare and the deviant—allowed such passages to fuel religious ferocity.  To restrain this indecent minority in our own day, and forevermore, we ask that the decent majority of Christians make explicit what they accept tacitly; namely, that parts of our sacred scriptures are not sacred, are not revelatory, and are indeed sub-ethical and immoral by present-day standards.  If we Christians admit this and our leaders preach it, then perhaps religious violence will cease.

And now, our penance.

Our atonement for the Centuries of Violence will be a Century of Silence.  Churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) will be draped in black, their lights dimmed. Devotees may enter the sanctuaries, but no speech is to be uttered.  No words of liturgy.  No services.  No whispered prayers.  No hymns.  There will be no published works.  No theology.  No encyclicals.  Not a word from the Churches for one hundred years.  Bittul ha-tamid.  All this in penance for the murder and the honor of the martyred New Saints.  For all those who live in this Century of Silence, consider yourselves fortunate to contribute to the atonement.’

And all the people in all the denominations, and all the leaders of all the denominations, sobbed, beat their chests and bowed in agreement with the penance.

Then the Pope awoke from the dream.  Sitting upright, the Pope gasped in shocked certainty and quoted Saint Jerome’s Vulgate translation of 1 John 3:15:

‘Omnis  qui  odit  fratrem  suum  homicida  est.’

Everyone  who  hates  his  brother  is  a  murderer.


Featured image ‘Vatican Obelisk’ by Matthew Lazzarini via Flickr



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