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     3 History as Christian Forgery        




As far back as 1700, discerning Germans—whose nation had in­vented the printing press—be­gan to say, "er lügt wie gedruckt"   (he lies as though it were printed). What they especially had in mind were people who through the news­pa­pers were massaging the truth. All over the world such skep­ticism, far from abating, now encom­passes all the po­pu­lar media. Above all, the word of rulers and politicians is suspect.

       Not so well known is that those who seriously research the events and ideas of former generations have had the same problem and been com­pelled to extend this attitude back into the past. According to Barbara Tuch­man "any historian with even the most ele­ment­ary train­ing knows enough to approach his source on the watch for con­ceal­ment, distortion, or the outright lie."1 And in 1944 Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart, a British mili­tary writer both respected and contro­versial, was even more pointed: "No­thing can deceive like a docu­ment." It lies as though it were printed! His starting point was not only the memoirs but the of­fi­­cial archives of World War I. He found that generals and others in high office edited the past with a view to how the future would re­gard them. Documents were altered retro­spective­ly, destroyed, or even replaced with out­right forgeries.2                 

       Such distortions have a long, dis­hon­orable history. They first ap­pear in ancient writings about gene­rals, kings, and emperors, of which the following two examples can be instructive.

       Ramses II (1279-1213 BC) of the nineteenth dynasty during Egypt's New Kingdom is often called Ramses the Great, as he also wished to por­tray himself by erecting hun­­dreds of huge, megalo­maniac monu­­­ments throughout Egypt and Nubia. He loved to brag about his achieve­­­­­­ments "with grandiose scenes of his victories." He fought against the Hittites for seventeen years. Their greatest bat­tle was at Kadesh on the Orontes in 1299 BC, which Ramses also cele­brated as a great victory.3 But this is an unsubtle lie engraved in stone. The bat­tle of Kadesh against King Muwatallis was no better than a draw. Ramses could not defeat the Hittites, who fought him to a standstill. "The actual result was a truce be­tween the two na­tions."4

              Half a millennium later, King Senna­cherib (705—681 BC) came to occupy the center stage of Middle Eastern history. After a tempo­-


70 The Use and Abuse of Prophecy


rary weakening of Assyria, he rebuilt Nineveh and made it his capi­tal. He became a mighty and seemingly irresistible monarch, crushing many rebellions against his empire. On a clay prism that ar­chae­ologists have re­covered he tells how his cam­paign against Judah and its neighbors was a total success. He mentions cap­turing no fewer than forty-five of its fortified cities as well as laying siege to its capi­tal. About this, he boast­fully states that he made Hezekiah "a pri­soner in Jeru­salem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage." This is all cor­ro­­borated by the paral­lel biblical records. Sennacherib omits to state, however, his failure to capture the city;5 he was compelled to leave without ac­com­­­plishing this design. Instead, he had to content himself by ac­cepting "a heavy indemnity (c.f. II Kings 18-19),"6 But this was most uncha­racteristic. Why would a pre­­da­tory Assyrian king accept a part of the city's treasure if he could have had all of it? Actually he was driven off by a lethal pestilence that the Bible mentions (2 Kings 19:35-36) but which he passes over in silence.

                  C.W. Ceram, surveying all the campaigns of this megalomaniac em­peror, de­clares: "His chro­nicling of these deeds is exag­gerated, and freely in­vented in point of numbers. Indeed, the re­cords of Sen­na­che­rib bring to mind the typically modern picture of a dicta­tor shouting vast lies at vast audiences, civilian or military, confident in the know­ledge that they will be swallowed whole."7 That is, until twenty-six hun­­dred years later archaeologists patiently dug up and recon­structed the truth.


                  Then there is the Aeneid, Virgil's magnificent cock-and-bull story about the origins of the Romans, who he said were descended from the Tro­­jans. Aeneas, his hero, was even the son of Venus, a goddess! Well, the ancestors of the people who settled in Latium, where Rome developed on its seven moun­tains by the Tiber, pos­sibly were immi­grants, but from the Bal­kans8—not from north­eastern Asia Minor near the Helles­pont, where Troy used to stand so many centuries before. Just a little thinking suf­fices to disprove this myth. Apart from the bit about the Roman gods, we only need to reflect on a single, cru­cial fact: the people of Troy and its surroundings would have spoken Mycenaean Greek, not Latin, as the Ro­mans did. 

                  The Aeneid is marvelous poetry and a splendid literary fiction, one of the best in the world; but it also grossly dis­torts the history of the Romans, whose most significant antecedents were much more lo­cal: the Etruscans and their contemporaries, the Greeks. The latter had settled on or just off the Italian peninsula a few centuries before. In this matter, Virgil's great epic is downright po­li­tical propa­­ganda, sing­ing the praises of Augustus, the first em­peror, a sly dictator (really just an up­start, Julius Caesar's adop­tive son), for 


History as Christian Forgery 71


whom the poet was help­­ing to invent an illus­trious past. For this, as well as his other works, he was well re­warded in suita­bly material ways.

                  Owing to the example and prestige of Virgil's Aeneid, this myth sent down many echoes through the centuries. In the Middle Ages and beyond, it enabled other European peoples also to lie to them­selves about their origins, warping the Western Euro­pean mind by stuff­ing it with sto­ries about illustrious forebears. 

                  "For some thousand years there persisted a literary—even a patri­otic—tradition that the dis­persed heroes of Troy had founded certain Western nations, notably the British and the French. In about the middle of the 7th century a Frankish chronologer, Fredegarius, re­lated how a party of the Trojans, after the destruction of their city, settled between the Rhine, the Danube, and the sea, under their king, Francio. This is the first known reference to the Trojan origin of the Franks, but a long succession of chroniclers, genealogists, and pane­gyrists echoed it. The myth was still persistent enough in the 16th century to inspire . . . Ronsard's national epic La Fran­ciade (1572)"9

                  Across the English Channel, "in Britain a similar tradition had been early formulated (before the 9th century) that Brutus, the great-grandson of the hero Aeneas, legendary founder of the Ro­mans, was the founder of the British people. . . . This tradition was followed by Wace of Jersey in his Roman de Brut (1155), and it persisted until the time of Shakespeare."10 According to this myth, the British are a spe­cies of Romans!

                  More striking still was a masterpiece in Portuguese, Os Lusí­adas, 1572 ("The Lusiads") by Luís de Camões. This is "the greatest of all Re­­­nais­­s­ance epics after the pattern of the Roman poet Virgil."11 The name of the book means "the sons of Lusus, companions of Bacchus and mythical first settlers in Portugal."12 So the people of that coun­try sup­posedly also had no ordinary ances­tors!  

                  Historically, of course, those tales about European nations some­how being Romans and descendants of fugitives from Asia Minor or thereabouts are non­sense, pure and simple, as was their pro­to­type, which Virgil wrote. So why should we trouble the reader with it? It so hap­pens that his fa­bri­cation has a bear­ing on the under­­standing of pro­phecy as it re­lates to the Ro­mans themselves. What the Bible pre­dicted about them can only be properly under­stood in the light of their real history as they inter­related with and were profoundly shaped by other people living in Italy and Sicily before the Chris­tian era, especially the Greeks.

                  Unfortunately it is not only pagans and unbelievers that have tampered with truth, ad­justing the historical record to flatter them 


72 The Use and Abuse of Prophecy

or suit their purposes. Many who profess to serve the Lord, espe­cially clerics, have also done so, on numerous occasions. Liddell 

Hart takes a very jaundiced view of them: "I have found in dealing with men of fine character that if they are devout and orthodox Christians one cannot depend on their word as well as if they are not. The good man who is a good churchman is apt to subordinate truth to what he thinks will prove good."13

                  This, we think, is too harsh—though it is a sad testimony to the impression that Christians sometimes make on unbelievers. It also over­­looks the role of other religions and ideologies, in fact every para­­­digm by which people live, including agnosticism and atheism. Yet it is true that men of the cloth have often distorted facts or badly mis­i­nter­preted them, and there­fore much of church history is sus­pect. 

                  Most notorious has been a for­gery known as the Dona­­tion of Con­stantine, which the papacy used for seven cen­­turies to validate its claims to Western Euro­pean domi­nion in both church and state. Christians who doubted its authenticity were burned at the stake, for instance at Stras­bourg in 1478, and yet Renais­sance scho­lars con­vincingly exposed its falsity, which Cath­olicism today ack­now­­ledges.

                  To it were added the False Decretals, other­­wise known as the De­cre­tals of Pseudo-Isidore. This ninth-century collection of Cath­olic ecclesi­astical laws seems to have originated somewhere in France.14 Pur­porting to contain "the decrees of councils and decre­tals of popes (written replies on questions of ecclesiastical discipline) of the first seven centuries," it also clever­ly blended ge­nuine material with bla­tant for­geries. It included the Donation. 

                  All this fraud was to bolster the power of the medieval church and protect it from governmental in­ter­ference. First brought to light at the Council of Soissons in 853, "the False Decretals was also used extensively during the reform of Pope Gregory VII in the 11th cen­tury." It was only in the seventeenth century that David Blondel, a Protestant the­o­­logian, convincingly refuted these do­cu­ments.15 Ne­ver­theless, this ma­­te­­­rial entered into the foundation on which medieval papal power was erected and the effects have never been eliminated from the Catholic mind.

                  More of this will be said in our final chapter.


                  Of course, not all people are deliberate liars or prone to drastic distor­tions. An eminent exception, mentioned by Sir Alec Guinness, was the fa­mous French humanist Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), a man "who could always see the two sides of a coin."16 Another, in the early Christian period, was Augustine of Hippo. He clashed with Jerome, an almost equally venerated Catholic worthy, for at­tempt­­ing to explain away the Apostle Pe­ter's denial of the gospel at An­tioch


History as Christian Forgery 73

through his cowardly anti-Gentile behavior, as well as the fact that Paul repri­manded him in pub­lic.

                  The record of this episode obviously undermined the idea of Peter's being pope, elevated above all criticism by his apostolic col­leagues, and therefore in­fallible. So Jerome sug­gested that the two men were play-acting. He said "'Peter's feigned observance of Jew­ish law (which was offensive to gentile believers) was countered by Paul's feigned rebuke, so that both camps would be kept safe—those favor­ing circumcision would follow Peter, and those resisting it would praise the liberty preached by Paul.' This is what Jerome calls 'profit­able dissemblance' (utilis si­mu­latio), by which 'one dissem­bles for a time, in order to work out one's own and others' salva­tion.'"17 What an interesting euphemism for lying!

                  But Augustine, "though he recognized a special office in the Pope, was not surprised by the notion that Popes could err, just as Peter had at Antioch."18 That is, he did not believe in papal infallibility. And he hated lying, which boded ill for this relationship with his fellow Catholic, who could be most un­­pleasant toward people he disliked. As Wills expresses it, "Au­gus­tine did not know, when he first ad­dressed Jerome in his distant Bethlehem monastery, that he was seeking the truth from one of history's great liars. Je­rome's bio­grapher, J.N.D. Kelly, has shown how his subject lied whenever it served his purpose to do so."19


                  Much more harmful, however, than Jerome's small-time twisting of truth had been the large-scale falsification perpetrated by Euse­bius (AD 265-340), the church historian. 

                  He was born in Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine, where he also studied at the institute created by Ori­gen after leaving Alex­andria. This was "the most fa­mous centre of Christian philo­so­phy."20 Here Eu­se­bius studied under Pam­philus, the "most learned" pupil and successor of Origen.21 He imbibed an "intense ad­mi­ra­tion" for the Alexan­drian founder of that school, wrote vo­lu­minously, and colla­­bo­rated with Pamphilus in writing a defense of their Mas­ter.22

                  Eusebius' greatest work is his His­tory of the Church from Christ to Constantine. Its ten books cover the period "from the birth of Christ down to 323, the date of the victory of Constantine over Lici­nius being taken as the end of the period of persecution."23It be­came, for the medieval period,24 the basic document for histo­ries about early Christianity and kept on influencing all subse­quent writers.25 Even in our day, most Westerners still think of the original 

church as it was depicted by that ancient bishop and his successors.


74 The Use and Abuse of Prophecy


                  Owing to his pivotal role for so many centuries after him, we would therefore have liked to see in Eusebius the qualities that mark 

the best his­torians, who com­bine—as George M. Trevelyan ex­presses it—a "knowledge of the evi­dence with 'the larg­est intellect, the warm­­est human sympathy and the highest ima­gi­native powers.'"26

                  Unfortunately the goal that Eusebius set himself was not to give a balanced account of ancient Christianity as a whole. His history is both incom­plete and very partial to the imperial church co-founded by Con­stan­tine and the bishops of the fourth century. It has also been strongly colored by the author's personal attitude toward that emperor. Gibbon noticed this bias over two hundred years ago:

                  "The gravest of the ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, in­di­­rectly confesses that he has related whatever might redound to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could tend to the dis­grace, of religion. Such an acknowledgment will naturally ex­cite a suspicion that a writer who has so openly violated one of the fun­da­mental laws of history has not paid a very strict regard to the observance of the other; and the suspicion will derive addi­tional credit from the character of Eusebius, which was less tinc­tured with credulity, and practised in the arts of court, than that of al­most any of his con­temporaries."27

                  This is especially noticeable in his Praise of Cons­tantine. Accord­ing to Michael Grant, the historian-bishop falsified the empe­ror into "a mere sanctimonious devotee." His version of the man's character and events is often erroneous, contradictory, or factually untrue, with "dis­honest suppressions."28 Andrew Louth characterizes such pro­ductions as "works of flattery.29

                  Paul John­son demurs a little by saying that "Eusebius was in many ways a conscientious historian, and he had access to multi­tudes of sources which have since disappeared." Nevertheless, he had to admit that the His­tory of the Church from Christ to Con­stantine was "a reconstruction for ideological pur­poses." Eusebius really represented only "the wing of the Church which had cap­tured the main cen­tres of power and esta­blished a firm tradition of mo­narch­i­cal bishops, and had recently allied itself with the Ro­man state." Moreover, he sought to show retrospectively that in orga­niza­tion and faith this is what mainstream Christianity had al­ways been about.30 Above all, he focused on Constantine's new Hel­lenic state with its capital on the Bosporus. In matters of religion, Euse­bius seems to have been the emperor's chief adviser, and at the Council of Nicaea even sat on his right hand.31 

                                    But entire and prolific branches of Christianity lay outside or on the periphery of  the Roman Empire. These the espicopal historio­-grapher largely ignored, so that huge com­mu­­nities of believers in Britain, Ireland, Ethiopia, Syria, Georgia, Armenia, Meso­pota­mia, 


History as Christian Forgery 75


In­dia, and Central Asia, received scant or no coverage in his writ­ings.

                  Louis Nizer, a celebrated American courtroom lawyer, once pointed out that "the truth is necessarily the reconstruction of the past." This, however, results only from responsible "fac­tual resur­rec­­tion,"32 at the hands of some­one equipped with the necessary fo­­ren­­­sic skills and a passion for truth. But through stra­­­tegic omis­sions, slant­ing, and improper em­phasis it is easily poss­­ible to lie with facts. What results from such a reconstruction, or rather mis­con­struction, of the past is not truth but falsehood. 

                  Another problem with Eusebius is that at times he in­ter­mingles his­tory with pagan myth­ology. According to Jean Seznec, he explains in his Ecclesiastical History that the Baby­lonian god Baal was in reality the first king of the Assyrians, and that he lived at the time of the war between the Giants and the Titans (PG, XIX 132-133). In this he was probably in­fluenced by Clement of Alexandria, who had from the pagan writer Euhemerus accepted the idea that originally the gods were simply deified human beings. It was at any rate Euse­bius "who be­queathed to the Middle Ages, through St. Jerome, the proto­-type of those crude historical synchronizations which grouped all the events and characters of human history, from the birth of Abra­­ham down to the Christian era (including the gods them­selves), into a few essential periods."33 

                  The religion to which Eusebius belonged was not the same thing as the Chris­tianity of Jesus or the apostles, but in some ways a brand-new structure, resulting from its accom­modation with the empire. An indication of this is the fact that a Roman bishop's area of control is still known as a diocese; this was one of the imperial sub­­­­divisions introduced by the pagan emperor Diocle­tian, who pre­­­­­-ceded Con­stantine. In many ways the church became "a mir­ror-image . . . the Doppelgänger of the empire."34

                  Eusebius has been guilty of a double misrepresentation. Not only did doctrinal deviations put a great distance between what the im­pe­rial church believed and what Jesus had taught, but state­craft cor­rupted Christianity. Writing to Peter Carr on 10 August, 1787, Tho­mas Jef­fer­son, that clear-headed student of the past and Gibbon's contemporary, puts it in a nutshell: "But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish reli­gion, before his principles were departed from by those who pro­fessed to be his spe­cial servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their op­press­ors in Church and State."35 This is a concept Jefferson kept close to his heart.

                  The scope of Eusebius' history was also unacceptably limited. "He knew next to nothing about the Western Church,"36according to 


76 The Use and Abuse of Prophecy


the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And Andrew Louth says he also knew "next to nothing about Syriac Chris­ti­anity."37              

                  If so, in the latter case the ignorance was of his own choosing. He was pro­bably born in Pales­tine or Syria and, accord­ing to Froom, "knew Syriac as well as Greek, and was liberally edu­ca­ted in An­tioch and Caesarea."38 A scholarly fourth-century bishop from that area could hardly have been unacquainted with what so many people in his general area believed. The silence of Eusebius was deli­berate. The reason for this is that Syrian and Mesopota­mian Christianity re­pre­­sented a stark alternative to the im­­pe­rial religion that he sup­ported; for in his day it was not a small, ob­scure community, but a large and flourishing branch of the church. 

                  Amazingly, even today, a truly large number of westerners still know virtually nothing about those Christians in Asia. Once, when I referred to the Church of the East in a telephone conver­sation with a re­spected Protestant theologian, whom it is unnecessary to name, he con­fessed that he was totally ignorant of its very exis­tence. Such is the fruitage of Eusebius' History of the Church from Christ to Con­stan­tine.

                  This omission constitutes a major defect of that work, for anci­ently the Syrian and Meso­pota­mian church played a pivotal role in extending God's king­dom and for a long time upholding His law together with other truths neglected in the West.

                  Eusebius' problem was not an inability to read what the Semitic Christians of Western Asia had written; he was sim­ply al­ler­­gic to Syrian theology. In his eyes, its major deficiency was no doubt that it ac­cepted the Bible's teaching in a straightforward, most­ly lite­ral sense, while he preferred the fanciful allegorizing method de­rived from Origen and his prede­ces­sors.

                  The Syrians opposed this and other Alexandrian tendencies from their school at An­tioch, under Lucian (c. AD 250-312), a great theo­logian. Accord­ing to Benjamin G. Wilkinson, he was also the real edi­tor of the New Testa­ment, adopted by the Greek Church and even­­­tu­ally used by Tyn­dale and his successors to produce the Au­thorized Version of the Bible.39 Lu­ci­an died just a year before Eu­se­­bius began to write his magnum opus.

                  Because of their theology, he excluded the Syrians from his His­tory, which was produced in the fol­low­ing way: "Euse­­bius' method was to collect his authorities, go through them carefully, select such passages as suited his general plan, and then by means of copious quo­tations combine them into one narrative. His own con­tribution is often quite small . . ."40 To include the believers of western Asia would not have been in harmony with either his me­thod or his mindset.


History as Christian Forgery 77

                  Contrary to what we may be led to assume from Eusebius, Chris­­tianity did not originate as a highly organized hierarchical body, nor was it united in every respect. 

                  Quite soon after Christ's ascension, internal differences arose, with clashes over doctrine and practice. For instance, the apostle Paul experienced many problems with an influential Judaizing fac­tion, which opposed and troubled him throughout his career. As already men­tioned, on one occasion he even had to reprimand his col­league, the all too fallible Peter (allegedly "the first pope"), for compromising with these people (Gal. 2:11-14).

                  Paul's arrest in the temple precincts, near the end of his minis­try, also resulted from this Judaizing strain. He had gone to that danger­ous place because the church leaders at Jerusa­lem wanted him to take part in a very Jewish purification ritual (Acts 21:20-27). Com­pro­mising with Judaism seems to have been a weakness of many Palestinian believers, including some apostles, until the Romans de­stroyed the temple in AD 70.

                  Johnson explains the early diversity of Christianity rather strong­­ly. He says it "began in con­fusion, controversy and schism and so it continued. A domi­nant Or­thodox Church, with a recog­niz­­able eccle­siastical structure, emerged only very gradually."41

                  In some ways, early Christianity soon resembled nothing so much as the contending sects of modern Protestantism, although the issues dividing the early believers arose from other cir­cum­stances. This, though perhaps startling to some, is not surprising; for when people insist on deciding and thinking for themselves, they often differ. 

                  By the fourth century, European Christianity had divided into se­ve­ral branches. In the Balkans and the Levant, the Ortho­dox Church—with imperial assistance—held power, though this was far from absolute. In the West, to a large extent, Catholicism pre­vailed, though not everywhere. The Celtic believers in the British Isles were holding up a shining torch of truth at variance with what Rome main­tained, and so was a remnant around and in the Alps of what today are northwestern Italy and eastern France.

                  Absolute ecclesiastical unity can only come through compulsion. But even the mighty Roman Empire under Constantine and his suc­-cessors could obviously not apply it to terri­tories that it was unable firm­ly to control.

                  Down through the centuries and to the present day, many ques­tion marks have been placed behind Eusebius' name. For all that he supported the emperor, his very orthodoxy seems to have been sus­pect. At first, he was inclined to sympathy for the great heresy of his time, although he "did not wholeheartedly support either Arius or Alexander" and was even "pro­vi­sionally excommuni­cated" during a 


78 The Use and Abuse of Prophecy


strong­ly anti-Arian synod held at Antioch in about Janu­ary 325. At Nicaea, however, he explained himself and toed the dogmatic line as required of him. Years later, "the seventh ecu­me­nical council (787)," held at the same place, "condemned him, finding him double-minded and unstable in all his ways."42

                  Nevertheless, for many, "his ecclesiastical history is the chief pri­mary source for the history of the church up to 324."43 On what shaky foundations some people have been erecting their edifice of so-called truth! Fortunately we are no longer limited to what Euse­bius wrote.


                  In subsequent ages, too, the history of the Christian church has been falsified. The destruction of records is an especially favorite stra­­tagem employed by the enemies of truth, as we have already noted in relation to the Ger­manic Church.

                  According to Henri Pirenne, the great Belgian scholar: "Ulfila [who translated the Bible into Gothic] had no suc­­cessor. We have not a single text or charter in the Germanic language. The liturgy in the Churches was sung or recited in the Ger­manic tongue, yet no trace of it remains."44 There would obviously also have been other theological works in Gothic. What happened to them? They were all deliberately destroyed, so that we have to de­pend on the writings of their ene­­mies to establish what they be­lieved. 

                  According to their slan­derers, they were "Arians," which—as our previous book has shown—they were not. Elsewhere, also according to Pirenne, "By the end of the 6th century Arianism had everywhere disap­peared."45 Yes, but why and how? The Germanic Church, still accused of Arian­ism, was forcibly ex­ter­­minated, through warfare. Its real sin was its refusal to submit to the pope. Therefore, as foretold in Dan. 7, it was uprooted. 

                  Nobody fully knows the history of that dark time and the subse­quent Middle Ages. It has been systematically edited by the Adver­sary of all truth, in work­ing through his human—and ecclesi­astical—agents. This enemy can, moreover, after every hundred years or so, also rely on death and the sheer ac­cu­mulation of events to blur the me­­mory of the world; and then he recycles his lies. But constantly the Most High responds by raising up other people to refute them, again and again.


                  At this point, a serious question faces us: Are all church histori­ans crooked, because of their ecclesiastical bias? It is not quite as bad as that. Examples of honest researchers can be found in all de­no­­­­mi­na­­tions. Present-day examples are three Catholics, Paul John­­son, whom we often refer to, John Cornwell, who wrote Hitler's Pope: 


History as Christian Forgery 79


The Secret History of Pius XII (1999)and Garry Wills, who scan­dalized many with his Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (2000).  

                  Wills points back to Lord Acton, a great his­torian in the nine­teenth century and another member of the Roman Church. Con-cerning him, Wills remarks: "Most people are fa­mi­liar with Acton's famous axiom, 'Power tends to corrupt, and ab­so­­­lute power corrupts abso­lutely' (Acton 2.383). Fewer people re­mem­ber that he was speak­­­­­ing of papal absolutism—more speci­fic­ally, he was condemn­ing a fellow historian's book on Renais­sance Popes for letting them lite­ral­ly get away with murder."46

                  The young Acton studied under a thorough German historian at Munich, Johann J. I. von Döllinger. Both opposed Pope Pius IX's maneuvers to have himself declared infallible at Vatican I  (1870). Through pains­taking research, von Döllinger was able to de­mon­­­strate how forgeries, backed by violence and sheer effrontery, be­came a major basis for power—especially of a tem­­poral na­ture—wielded by the pon­tiffs who sought to dominate West­ern Europe, par­ticularly the Papal State in Italy. 

                  Starting from the premise that the papacy began with "the pri­macy of Peter," von Döllinger shows "How the papacy lost its early inno­­­cence, degenerating into an absolute power." This "is the long and disreputable story of forgeries and fabrications, of which the Donation of Constantine in the eighth century and the Isidorian Decretals in the ninth were only the more flagrant examples. Usurp­ing the rights of the episcopacy and of the general councils, the pa-pacy was finally driven to the principles and methods of the Inqui­sition to enforce it spurious claims, and to the theory of infallibility to elevate it beyond all human control."47

                  Acton supported his teacher in rejecting the outcome of Vatican I, for Pius IX had rigged the proceedings. For instance, he saw to it that the ar­chives were sealed to prevent any bishop from consult­ing them, largely ex­cluded participants who he knew in advance would op­pose his desire, ensured that everybody spoke Latin (though a majo­rity was unable to do so or understand its Italian pronun­cia­tion), and smo­thered dissent through a decree "that any dis­cussion could be cut off by mere motion on the part of ten bishops, and that any decrees of the Council could pass by a mere majority, though other Councils had aimed at consensus."48

                  Both von Döllinger and Acton indignantly rejected the new doc­trine of infal­libility. The German scholar was excom­mu­nicated,49 while his Eng­lish pupil—who did not want to leave the Roman Church of his ancestors—suffered initial harassment from Arch­bishop Man­ning but finally found himself spared. The Vatican, hav­-ing just lost the Papal State to a newly united Italy, was loath to act against a Catholic lord with high aris­­to­cratic con­nec­tions in Britain, 


80 The Use and Abuse of Prophecy


where he also had a reputation as "the most erudite man of his times."50

                  In the twentieth century, as both Cornwell and Wills have re­vealed, the doctrine of papal infallibility has enmeshed the papacy as well as Europe in many and serious difficulties. How right Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was when he wrote,


                                         O what a tangled web we weave, 

                                         When first we practice to deceive!51


                  Perverted history is a serious problem for prophetic interpreters, who must constantly be on guard against it; it lies as though it were printed—espe­cially, alas, if clerics have been involved. If the Bible's pre­­dictions are to be measured against past events as well as current world affairs, the re­cord should obviously be scrutinized and pre­sented with all the honesty at our command.