The Catholic Church traces its lineage all the way back to the first leader of the church after Jesus Christ was crucified, Saint Peter. In the 2000 years since, the church has grown from a dozen hardcore followers to a flock of over 1.5 billion people. Times have changed over the past 2 millennium and with time came an evolution of ecumenical thought. These are the top 10 lost traditions phased out of the modern day Catholic doctrine.
10. Priest Suicide
Heaven is a great place. As a matter of fact, it was such a great place compared to the squalor and despair of the old world, priests often committed suicide to be with the Lord in the afterlife. It wasn’t until the 4th Century A.D. that St. Augustine condemned the practice, not so much due to theology, but due to the fact that Christians were offing themselves in such large numbers. For a thousand years after, suicide was discouraged because if there were no priests, there would be no one to lead the congregation. By the 13th Century, St. Thomas Aquinas had fortified the church’s stance against suicide based on the theological argument that taking one’s own life was a sin against God. Civil and criminal laws followed outlining suicide as a crime in multiple Christian nations.
Why don’t you males out there have your foreskin? Well, due to religious beliefs, that is the conventional wisdom. In reality the Catholic Church doesn’t really care either way. Way back in the year 50 A.D., the Council of Jerusalem rejected circumcision as a requirement for Gentile converts to Christianity. Actually, the topic of circumcision was one of the first subjects that differentiated Jews and early Christians in the 1st Century A.D. In the New Testament there are contradictory statements regarding circumcision, and some Catholic scholars consider male circumcision an act of mutilation. If that’s the case, then why does no one today reject circumcision? Well many Catholics still refer back to the tenants of Mosaic Law back in the Old Testament, despite that being the wrong interpretation of the situation because New Testament tenants are supposed to supersede the tenants of the Old Testament. If Paul wrote to the Corinthians “circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” 1 Cor 7:19, why is there so much confusion over circumcision’s importance? Today circumcision is mostly performed for health reasons.
8. Latin Mass
When you worship the Lord today, no matter what your Christian denomination, it is assumed that you do so in your own language. Makes sense, but that hasn’t always been the case. Between 1570 and 1962, nearly 400 years, most Catholics around the world celebrated mass in Latin. Today Latin is still the official language in Vatican City, and the business of the church is done in Latin, but the Vatican II Council allowed masses to be more accessible to the scripture by making the language vernacular.
Despite the common sense of worshipping in your native tongue, the Latin Mass is making a bit of a comeback in conservative Catholic parishes.
Today an indulgence is an extra-sacramental remission of the temporal punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven, which remission is granted by the Church. That’s nice. But during the more, well, corrupt, days of the church, indulgences were monetary purchases of salvation. The practice of using indulgences can be traced back to the 6th Century, but they had been so abused that the topic was one of the pillars of reform written about in Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in 1517. No matter how you feel about the church currently, no church leaders are brazen enough in the age of the internet to promise the congregation eternal life in exchange for cash.
6. Multiple Popes
History has turned losing popes into Antipopes. But during the era in which they existed, there was no such thing as an Antipope. Between the years 200 and 1450, regional factions and political differences generated multiple popes dozens of times, each time vying for the head of the church. One of the most deplorable stories of papal succession is when Pope Benedict VI was imprisoned and murdered by the followers of Boniface VII. Boniface VII plundered the treasury at the Vatican Basilica and went into exile for a decade as Benedict VII quietly ruled over the church. Returning to Rome 10 years later, Boniface VII overpowered John XIV, literally, and forced him into the dungeons, where he later died. Being indirectly responsible for the deaths of two popes, Boniface’s reign was short as he was killed in the year 985, “due in all probability to violence, the body of Boniface was exposed to the insults of the populace, dragged through the streets of the city, and finally, naked and covered in wounds, flung under the statue of Marcus Aurelius.” History labeled Boniface VII an Antipope after his death.
Every once and a while, groups splinter from the Catholic Church and install their leader as a “Pope.” After the problems generated in the first millennium, the Catholic Church established a system to quell such situations. Today those groups are labeled schismatics and are quickly and automatically excommunicated. The current situation of a living pope and a retired pope peacefully coinciding can be historically described as an anomaly.
In 1929, the Lateran Treaty officially positioned the Vatican City as neutral in international relations. On and off for a thousand years prior, the head of the Catholic Church didn’t declare war on other nations, but declared “Crusades” against other nations, forcing conversions of the infidels at the end of a sword. The First Crusade was ordered by Pope Urban II in the year 1095, not to be confused with the Crusade of 1101, directed by Urban II’s successor Pope Paschal II… Not to be confused with the Second Crusade, ordered in the year 1145 by Pope Eugene III… Not to be confused with the Third Crusade, engineered by Pope Gregory VIII.
4. Married Priests
Peter, the first leader of the Church, was a married man. The first written regulation regarding married priests was the Council of Elvira in the year 306. Not forbidding marriage, mind you, but declaring that priests and other elders of the church are to “abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children.” (Insert your no sex during marriage joke here.) A hundred years later, the Council of Carthage decreed no “conjugal relations” of any type were allowed. Decrees, canons, announcements, councils, all continued to try to curb the sexual appetite of the priests until the First Lateran Council of 1123, finally stating once and for all that “we forbid priests, deacons, subdeacons, and monks to have concubines or enter into the contract of marriage.” A thousand years later, the clergy still struggles with the question of marriage, for every couple of years a high profile case of a clergyman with a secret family hits the media. One of the most recent examples was the 2012 resignation of Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Gabino Zavala, resigning after the existence of a secret wife and 2 children was discovered.
3. Dead (Unbaptized) Babies go to Hell
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI decreed that unbaptized babies most probably go to heaven, “reflecting a growing awareness of God’s mercy,” which is almost certainly the polar opposite of the church’s teachings for nearly the 1,500 years prior. For during the 5th Century, St. Augustine concluded that “infants who die without baptism are consigned to hell.” Relenting a bit during the 13th Century, church leaders decreed that unbaptized infants were in limbo, deprived of the vision of God, yet did not suffer because they were unaware of what they were deprived of.
Which begs the question: Is 2007 the year that God swooped down from heaven and rose up all the dead unbaptized babies from hell? Or limbo? Or wherever?
With all of the strife and instability of the Middle Ages, even the Popes were scrutinized for their leadership. In a clever idea spawned from Pope Gregory VII in the year 1075, the Dictatus Papae declared that nobody could judge a Pope except for God (amongst other things, including Princes should kiss the Pope’s feet). By introducing the concept of Papal Infallibility, which was cemented dogmatically by the First Vatican Council, a Pope is preserved from the possibility of error.
Without becoming too blasphemous, doesn’t infallibility open up a whole new can of worms, like does the Pope become infallible at coronation? At birth? When he becomes a priest? And secondly, when a Pope apologizes for mistakes of earlier Papal administrations, how can you apologize for mistakes that technically didn’t exist because the previous administration was infallible? And currently, are you still infallible in retirement? And, and, oh forget it, my head hurts.
1. Joseph as the Father
The concept of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ did not originate with Peter. Instead it took about 50 to a hundred years to figure out that Mary was a virgin. The virgin birth of Jesus is even referenced in the Qur’an, but there are no references of the virgin birth in the Bible until the Gospels of Luke and of Matthew, whose dates of composition are speculated by scholars to be between the years 60 to a 100 A.D. and 70 and 110 A.D., respectively. By the end of the second century, Catholic Doctrine universally accepted the virgin birth. What happened over that century? The church weeded out Gnostic groups such as the Ebionites that didn’t believe in the virgin birth and other tenants of today’s Catholic faith.
Not only was Mary a virgin, but by the 3rd Century the church had come up with Mary was a perpetual virgin. In the past couple of hundred years, some Protestant sects have countered that Mary and Joseph actually had a minimum of 7 children, but that only Jesus was of virginal origins.