Brought to book 0

Documents from the secret archives of the Vatican have been published in a book by a Belgian publisher, VdH Books.

Some are of great interest.

From the Telegraph:

The book documents the Roman Catholic Church’s often hostile dealings with the world of science and the arts, including documents from the heresy trial against Galileo and correspondence exchanged with Erasmus, Voltaire and Mozart. …

Voltaire? Whatever did he say and to what pope?

One document shows the Mongols pursuing world conquest in the manner of Islam, to which they were soon afterwards to convert –

In a letter dated 1246 from Grand Khan Guyuk to Pope Innocent IV, Genghis Khan’s grandson demands that the pontiff travel to central Asia in person – with all of his “kings” in tow – to “pay service and homage to us” as an act of “submission”, threatening that otherwise “you shall be our enemy”.

Of course popes had their fingers in many a foreign pie –

Another formal letter in the archive highlights the papacy’s political role. In 1863 Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, wrote to Pope Pius IX claiming that the civil war raging across America was entirely due to “Northern aggression. We desire no evil to our enemies, nor do we covet any of their possessions; but are only struggling to the end that they shall cease to devastate our land and inflict useless and cruel slaughter upon our people.”

They were not punctilious about paying their debts –

Other letters in the archive are more personal. In a 1550 note, Michelangelo demands payment from the papacy which was three months late, and complains that a papal conclave had interrupted his work on the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

Some of the paper evidence is hard to square with what actually happened –

A yellowed parchment covered in neat black script reveals details of the 14th century trials of the Knights Templar on suspicion of heresy, after which members of the warrior-monk order were pardoned by Pope Clement V.

Pardoned by a pope they may have been, but the last of their Grand Masters was burnt to death in Paris by King Philip the Fair in 1314 in a not unusual display of Christian love and forgiveness.

Some of the documents are already well-known, including a parchment letter written by English peers to Pope Clement VII in 1530, calling for Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon to be annulled. An entreaty written to Rome by another British monarch, but in very different circumstances, is also reproduced in exquisite detail. In 1586 Mary, Queen of Scots, wrote from Fotheringay in Northants to Pope Sixtus V, a few months before she was beheaded for plotting against her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, pledging her eternal allegiance to Rome.

Some need to be read in full –

The documents include letters written to Hitler by Pope Pius XI in 1934 and one received by his controversial successor, Pius XII, from Japan’s Emperor Hirohito.

What, we wonder, has persuaded the Vatican to reveal some of its secrets? And what is it still hiding that would illuminate its own history? Are there documents that would shame it even more than it has openly shamed itself? Hardly seems possible!