“Ignorant Papists”

Pope_Leo_XII[Catherine the Great] decided to have herself and her family and her court inoculated. Inoculation was the great scientific advance…In France and other Catholic countries it was actually forbidden as being contrary to the Will of God. So says Professor Tony Lentin of the Open University at (15.00) here.

I find this quote attributed to Pope Leo XII: Whoever allows himself to be vaccinated ceases to be a child of God. Smallpox is a judgement from God : thus vaccination is an affront to Heaven. Could not God smite some other way? Had strokes and heart attacks increased as vaccination spread, we could use this as evidence of God!

Seeking evidence, I went to Wikipedia. Vaccine Controversies does not finger the Pope, but ascribes similar sentiments to “some Christian opponents“. The article Vaccination and religion has the hallmarks of vituperative editing: Anti-vaccination proponents were most common in Protestant countries, someone has crowed. As I write, it says Quakers opposed vaccination: we were in Pope_Pius_VIIIour Evangelical phase, but I think that unlikely.

Quodlibeta‘s article gives a wealth of detail, and the peroration Leo XII’s alleged ban of vaccination is a whiggish myth which has been repeated and promulgated slavishly ever since…No doubt in cyberspace it will continue amongst those who will swallow any myth as long as it is anti-catholic or anti-religious.

That is the problem. The story has started as anti-Catholic, and is now anti-Christian, showing how we opposed science to the detriment of believers and their victims. The classic such story is geocentrism.

Still in Wikipedia, where the battle rages between those who would maximise or minimise the church’s foolish perfidy, I read that all books refuting geocentrism were banned by the Catholic church until 1757, and Galileo’s Dialogue was prohibited until 1835. Gregory_XVIPope John Paul II claimed not to contend with science: the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world, the understanding of which is the competence of human experience and reasoning. Theology is about the human relationship with God, though psychological research impinges on even that.

Seeking a happily partisan view, I went to RationalWiki. It gives little detail on the slow progress of the Roman church, but quotes four verses of the Bible apparently affirming geocentrism, and a link: “Looking for outright lies? CreationWiki has a page on Geocentrism”. Oh, OK. The Encyclopedia of Creation Science points out Einstein’s relativity theory asserts that the frame of reference for observing motion is arbitrary– so you can say the Earth stands still if you want- but Mainstream creationists agree that the the Earth is in motion around the Sun.

The message I wanted to leave you with is that when partisans debate such details, there is more heat than light, and what is needed is a patient examination of the history of ideas, and levels of belief. What I end with is both RationalWiki (Thank God it attacks Creationists, rather than all Christians!) and CreationWiki saying moderately sensible things on Geocentrism; and a University professor peddling an anti-Papist myth.

Also on Catholics in history: a Jewish academic works to rehabilitate the reputation of wartime bishop Aloysius Stepinac.

25 thoughts on ““Ignorant Papists”

    • Welcome, Francis, and thank you for commenting. Some of this might interest you.

      There are 30,000 editors on the English wikipedia, making more than five edits a month. That does not include me. Others make fewer edits. On controversial subjects, with the rule of citing secondary sources as authority, it seems reliable as any authority, and the idea of it- group not individual wisdom- makes it potentially far better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Clare, I actually think wiki has improved. If I want to do some serious research I will chase down other sources, but for a quick soundbite, because that’s all anyone has time for these days ? then I will use wiki. It’s good enough unless I want to write something serious. eg when I wrote about a conspiracy theory for the Polish prime minister getting killed in a ‘plane crash off gib, I checked out a lot of sources. Quick fix, wiki serves as well as anything else.


        • Oh, come on, Francis. Thirty thousand people, that is enough for the badly motivated people to be balanced out by well-motivated people. Wikipedia appeals to some with bees in their bonnets, but its rules militate against that. It is constructive and creative.


          • Most persons who are serious about truth in history do not rely upon the commingling of opinion, facts and potentially invalid sources on Wikipedia. It’s a good place to go to get a bearing, but one should not cite Wikipedia as a valid source unless all of its secondary and tertiary sources have been validated or a person validly qualified and proven reliable is documenting the history. Just because a source is cited does not make the information valid – not really.


            • How do you define someone who is “serious about truth in history”? I have a certificate in history normally taken by children in Scotland aged 17. I have the wealth of the internet to check, but no access to a University library, nor really time to research. It is the same with my eclectic interests in astronomy, politics, whatever. I keep a few reference books, including the New Jerome Biblical Commentary and Burchfield’s edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

              So it becomes a question not of knowledge, but of trust. Even that the Battle of Bannockburn happened in 1314 is a matter of trust, though many reliable people and books have told me of it; so even for those who make a professional study, when talking of their particular period, it is a matter of trust.

              A student should not cite Wikipedia as a source, but might read it to get an overview. Many editors are professionally qualified or have a particular interest; and biases one way tend to get balanced out. That English wikipedia is anglophone-centric has encouraged some committed editors to produce information on other topics. You can’t be 100% certain, but can you be 100% certain who your mother is? Yet it seems reasonable to trust, and without trust the world stops. If an editor does not use secondary sources, he gets called out. If he persists, he is excluded.


      • What makes an editor qualified and trusted?

        CF: Initially, ordinary human decency and the trust to which a human being is entitled; then reputation.

        What is there to insure the entries are not biased or that all pertinent and relevant information necessary for the full truth are fairly presented in a balanced way?

        CF: The vast number of editors, holding a variety of positions.

        What mechanism is there for eliciting trust from users?

        C: Openness about the structures, governance and procedures.


    • The point is that it didn’t. Some vaccination-sceptics happened to be religious, and some mockers of Christianity said it would be against vaccination, like the myth of Victorians covering up piano legs to avoid Naughty Thoughts.


  1. These popes may pontificate, but they don’t look very happy, do they?! Of course you didn’t choose pictures that were deliberately unflattering, but – what a miserable looking lot. :-)))


    • They are portraits, so are official. I just took the ones on the wikipedia pages for that pope and his successors. I like the way they sit in darkness, and the worldweary look of the third, sprawled in his throne. With such responsibility and such (false?) expectations, I too would be miserable.


  2. I’m so disappointed! That quote was excellent. I agree with roughseasinthemed, I use wikipedia to get a general picture but check for other sources before I believe it or use information from there. For the Catholic Church, I try to use the Vatican site directly or another official Catholic page. There’s enough horrific nonsense on official pages anyway.

    Actually, are you sure it’s false? It seems to turn up in a few respectable publications. I don’t have access to them to check the original sources, but I doubt so many academics would pedal a myth e.g. Facing death : an interdisciplinary approach / edited by Paul Badham and Paul Ballard Cardiff : University of Wales Press, 1996.

    And here it is freely admitted on a Catholic website:


  3. The thing that I’ve learned about wikipedia is to steer away from statements which purport to state facts but then when it comes to source for verification or validation you get “Source needed”! Yeah, right! And as for religion and its teachings I see it as a basket of offerings and you take some and reject others, hence, the ever reducing numbers of churchgoers.


    • Wikipedia has to be treated with some suspicion, but that is very different from blanket rejection. And the sources it cites, because of its rules about what is a “reliable” source, are worth considering for further fact checking if you need it.


      • I use wikipedia, however I do always check the sources and must say wikipedia has some very good articles and in some I have noticed certain politically biased presentations. And I think wikipedia is improving as far as I can assess. You’re right regarding reliability of sources – not all are reliable so I go even further and search for other sources if it need be


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