In a curious recent book, entitled 'Why He's A Saint', by a Monsignor Slavomir Oder, it is revealed that the late Pope John Paul II (now being considered for "sainthood") whipped himself with a belt regularly, even while on vacation. He also slept on the floor "as an act of penance". In the book, Mgsr. Oder defends the pontiff's self-mortification - which he argued helped remind him of Christ's suffering on the cross.
But might there be a darker reason afoot? Especially when many of the faithful have since asked how this could be countenanced given the Catholic teaching that the human body is a "gift from God"? If a gift, why the need to whip it?
Well, to quote St. Augustine (Adam & Eve and the Serpent, by Elaine Pagels, p. 110-111 ), the "flesh or body is as a lower servant to the mind"..which "wars against the law of mind and includes the whole of one's natural being". It is this "rebellion in the flesh, a spontaneous uprising..." which must be brought back into submission to the mind in the same way a wild horse must be brought into submission to its master.
Where did this horse manure come from?
Consider first the fact that many of the early Church Fathers, including Augustine, Origen, Tertullian et al, were Manichaeans. The ancient philosophy of Manicheanism divided the world into realms of light and darkness, flesh and spirit. The flesh was renounced as the medium employed by Satan and his legions to corrupt humans, and defy the laws of a would-be deity.
Indeed, as Pagels notes (p. 109), Augustine argued:
"That the semen itself is 'already shackled by the bond of death' and transmits the damage incurred by sin. Hence, Augustine concludes, every human being ever conceived through semen already is born contaminated with sin"
Of course, this nonsensical, unscientific twaddle (which is as derelict as some pastors I know) could have been taken straight out of the pamphlets of Mani, the founder of Manicheanism. It also reinforces the self-mortification meme that arose from the time of the early Fathers - to bring their bodies back in submission (via regular flagellation) to the "light" and mind.
Of course, since human sexual intercourse is a biological-physical act- requiring flesh for completion- it followed that it had to fall under the Manichaeans’ blacklisted behavior. Females figured into this, and came to be regarded as 'vessels of the Devil' - since it was within their wombs that the devilish flesh sprouted.
Well into the Middle Ages this view persisted, manifesting in the belief (often echoed by Fathers such as Aquinas) that sins such as adultery required much more severe punishment of the female than of the male. The female was believed closer by far in her carnality, to the demonic hordes. Indeed, the demise of male virtue as well as mental power, could be traced to becoming ensnared in female wiles. For this reason, Aquinas often admonished females that they be lashed to try to cure their fleshly demands, lest they wreak havoc on their husbands' minds.
St. Augustine, originally a Manichean, retained much of this mindset even after converting to Christianity in 387 CE. Not surprisingly, the inevitable flesh/pleasure = demonic connotations were interjected into his various teachings including his 'letters'. (For more on this, see the excellent monograph: Eunuchs For the Kingdom of Heaven by Ute Ranke-Heinemann, Doubleday, 1990).
Augustine's Manichean teachings (after his conversion to Christianity) held that any sexual pleasure whatsoever was diabolical in origin. However, it could be countenanced IF a baby was the end product. Otherwise, the offending parties were trafficking with demons. (He cites at one point, for "proof", the demon Asmodeus, who slew seven men in 7 beds with seven women, but not when they were sitting at a table.)
Augustine's harsh and sterile dogmas also probably spurred the Church Father Origen (of Adamantius) to cut off his own sexual organs - because he was unable to control them. Since each 'stimulus' enabled a particular demon to gain a foothold, it was better to get rid of them entirely.
Now, IF Pope Paul II harbored such Manichean tendencies (and as a former Catholic I've known few that didn't - because of the way human sexuality is disdained by Catholic teachings, even implicitly) then it follows that his practice of flogging himself merely imitates all the centuries old habits of earlier Church members who used flagellation to bring the "flesh" under control.
If there is any basis for "sainthood" at all, it certainly doesn't inhere with John Paul II - whose anti-birth control practices and teachings (e.g. in Veritatis Splendor- and which included outlawing condoms to help control AIDS) paved the way for immensely more human degradation and suffering - from over-population and HIV-infections, especially in sub-Sahara Africa. Much more the honor deserves going to Albino Luciani - who served as Pope Paul I for about 33 days before being assassinated with tea toploaded with digitalis (see David Yallop's book, In God's Name).
Most likely, as with JFK, his proposed actions and policies veered too close to those ensconced in the seats of power - and they wouldn't tolerate interference. This included more close scrutiny of the operations of the Vatican Bank, and Paul Marcinkus ("God's Banker"), as well as connections to Licio Gelli and others such as Roberto Calvi (P2 member and 'executioner', found hanging under Blackfriar's Bridge, London, June 17, 1982. )
Pope Paul I had also intended to be the first pope to rescind the Vatican's backward policy and teaching against artficial birth control. He understood how it was splintering the Church and causing endless recrimination and strife. (Many otherwise decent Catholics left the Church rather than to have to live in permanent states of "mortal sin" and endless confession cycles)
Canonize a saint? Sure! Just do it for the right former pontiff - who intended to finally get the Church square with its true responsibilities and mission.
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