The 19th-century religious scholar and esteemed poet Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–90) will on Sunday be declared a saint by Pope Francis. A dedicated educator and charitable individual, the “holiness of his life” and his “extraordinary purity of character” were hailed by the likes of William Gladstone. But, as historian Emma J Wells reveals, not all saints in history were altogether saintly…
St Augustine, or Augustine of Hippo as he is better known, is perhaps the most famous saint with a sinful past, which is rather surprising since his own mother (St Monica) was a devout Christian. He is remembered for stating: “God, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
Born at Tagaste, North Africa in AD 354, Augustine was perhaps the greatest Christian ancient philosopher. Raised a devout Christian, he rejected his upbringing to live a life of hedonism, entertainment, and worldly ambition. The playboy had not one, but two mistresses, and an illegitimate son whom he abandoned at the prospect of marrying an heiress. He ran around for decades before having a change of heart, ditching his mistresses and spending the rest of his life celibate as a priest who related his story in a volume titled Confessions, while teaching and spreading the Christian message.
Augustine’s theology would become one of the main pillars on which the Church of the next 1,000 years was founded.
St Angela of Foligno
St Angela of Foligno was recently declared a saint through the procedure of equivocal canonisation by Pope Francis in 2013, but while some saints show signs of holiness from an early age, Angela was somewhat different.
Born in around 1248 to a leading Italian family, she became immersed in the quest for wealth and social position, even though she was a wife of high social standing and mother to several children. More interested in this life of distraction than caring for her family, around aged 40 she experienced a conversion and realised the apparent emptiness of her existence. In 1285 she called upon St Francis, who appeared to her in a vision, and asked his advice on making a competent general Confession (a confessing of all sins of one’s past life, or of an extended period, instead of just those sins committed since a previous confession).
Seeking God’s help in the sacrament of penance, her Franciscan confessor helped Angela to seek His pardon for her previous actions and suggested dedicating herself to prayer and the works of charity. Sadly, just three years later, her mother, husband and children all perished in quick succession (some suggest this was at Angela’s cruel hand – so that she would be free of homemaking to follow God’s path). She therefore sold all her worldly possessions and, in 1291, enrolled in the Third Order of St Francis, a secular Franciscan order, and founded a women’s religious group to serve the poor.
Most Christians know St Dismas by a rather telling name: “The Good Thief”– he was allegedly one of the two thieves who ended up flanking Christ’s side at His crucifixion. It is said that Dismas actually had a run-in with the Holy Family [Jesus, Mary and Joseph] when Jesus was only an infant. Together with an accomplice, heheld up Mary and Joseph as they were fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s soldiers. Apparently Dismas is said to have been moved to compassion by the Holy Family and bribed his companion with 40 drachmas to let them pass safely without harm.
The Infant Jesus predicted that the thieves would be crucified with him in Jerusalem and that Dismas would then accompany him to Paradise. When crucified with Jesus, he asked Christ: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) Therefore, when Dismas acknowledged his sinfulness, Jesus forgave him and promised that he would be in paradise that very day.
Of course, this story cannot be substantiated and is often considered myth.
Perhaps the most controversial historical saint, few among his contemporaries could have predicted that this Archbishop of Canterbury and adviser to King Henry II was destined for sainthood.
The son of a prosperous London merchant, Becket’s talents were noticed by Henry II, who made him his chancellor and the two became close friends. When the current archbishop, Theobald, died in 1161, Henry appointed Becket to the post (just over a year later), assuming his friend would be easily manipulated. He wasn’t – and the pair’s friendship soon fractured when it became clear that Becket was on the side of the church in disagreements with the crown. In 1164, after realising the extent of Henry’s displeasure, Becket fled into exile in France and remained there until 1170. Upon his return, he excommunicated bishops who had diplomatically supported Henry in his pursuit to dislodge clerical privilege. This infuriated the king, leading to the disaster that ensued on 29 December 1170.
Four knights, believing Henry wanted Becket eliminated, murdered the archbishop, splattering his blood and brains across the northwest transept floor of Canterbury Cathedral and making him an instant martyr. From England and France, people flocked to his shrine, while a cult, associated with the curative power of Becket’s blood, began at Canterbury.
The first recorded miraculous cure occurred in January 1171, with a proliferation recorded thereafter. Canterbury became one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Europe, and his murder one of the most infamous events of the Middle Ages. Becket was canonised not even three years after his death, by Pope Alexander III on Ash Wednesday (21 February) 1173 at Segni, Italy.
Junípero Serra – a Spanish colonist who built a network of Catholic missions in modern-day California (formerly a province of New Spain), thereby bringing Catholicism in the 18th century – was canonised a saint by Pope Francis in 2015. Serra founded the first nine Catholic settlements from San Diego to San Francisco in the 1770s and 1780s, with the hope of herding native people onto farms and baptising them.
While Pope Francis described him as a priest who protected “the dignity of native communities” from abusers as he developed Catholicism in the New World, others suggest his baptised community were forced to remain in the settlements under terrible conditions such as overcrowding and the rapid spread of disease. The natives were also coerced into working on the settlements, and those who tried to escape were subjected to beatings. Serra, writing in 1780, even admitted supporting corporal punishment because other saints had endorsed it. His holy appointment therefore sparked great outrage, largely because many believed Serra unworthy as he was connected to a system that decimated the population of Native Americans in the colonial era.
Few facts are known about St Colmcille, one of Ireland’s three patron saints. Colmcille – meaning “dove of the Church” in Gaelic; Columb (in Irish) or Columba (in Latin) – was born at Gartan in what is now County Donegal in c521 AD. At the age of 30 he entered the priesthood at Clonard Abbey, in modern Co. Meath. When his prince cousin, Fiachra mac Ciaráin, offered him land at Derry, he set about founding his own monastery, which allowed him to travel throughout Northern Ireland teaching about Christianity, and establishing a further 30 monasteries in a decade.
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Nevertheless, Colmcille was no angel – and his zealous character and preaching rankled many people. In AD 563 he was even accused of starting a war between two Irish tribes, while a number of clerics threatened to excommunicate him. Instead, Colmcille was sentenced never to see Ireland again. Exiled to Scotland with 12 companions, in AD 563 Colmcille left Ireland and settled with the Gaels of Dál Riata [a Gaelic kingdom comprising parts of Western Scotland], where he was granted the tiny west coast island of Iona to found his monastery and spend most of his remaining years.
Iona grew into one of the most influential centres of religious and cultural life in the Western world. And we can’t forget that in AD 565, Colmcille is also said to have encountered the Loch Ness Monster – apparently the first ever reference to the mythical beast.
Mary of Egypt
Mary of Egypt, or Maria Aegyptiaca, was born in the northeast African country in AD 344. At the age of 12 she left home, settling in Alexandria. She was said to be adept at using her body to gain what she wanted – some claim she was a harlot or prostitute, though others say she never accepted money for her “services” – but either way, her life represents dramatic sin followed by holy asceticism. One day, after observing a large group of pilgrims en route to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, she decided to join, with every intention of using her seduction skills to secure her way from Alexandria to Jerusalem by “corrupting” young men among the pilgrimage group.
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Soon after her arrival, however, Mary abandoned her life of sin and became a model of repentance. This followed a chance encounter with the Virgin Mary, whom she heard telling her: “Cross the Jordan and you will find rest.” Traversing the east bank of the River Jordan, Mary spent the remaining 47 years of her solitary life praying and fasting in the desert – surviving mostly off herbs, according to the 7th-century patriarch, Saint Sophronius – where she could be close to God.
She was found by a monk from a nearby monastery named Zosima, who prayed, listened, and gave her Holy Communion shortly before her death. Zosima buried her, reportedly with the help of a lion that assisted in digging the grave with its paws.
Emma J Wells is an ecclesiastical and architectural historian specialising in the late medieval/early modern English parish church/cathedral and the cult of saints. She is also a broadcaster and the author of numerous books including Pilgrim Routes of the British Isles (Robert Hale, 2016).
THOUGH OF HISTORICAL VALUE, THESE PHOTOGRAPHS PORTRAY A BUDDHIST MONK SELF-IMMOLATING, AND ARE QUITE EXPLICIT. PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS ARTICLE IF THESE PHOTOGRAPHS WILL HAVE AN ADVERSE AFFECT ON YOU!
In 1963, a Vietnamese monk committed self-immolation in front of hundreds of people. While his primary motivation was protest, the full reasoning behind his final act shed unexpected light on a deeply conflicted nation.
In the midst of the Vietnam War, South Vietnam was corrupted by religious intolerance. Although Buddhists comprised about 80% of the population, Ngo Dinh Diem, the newly-declared President of South Vietnam, was a Catholic who had decisively stripped the religious freedoms of Buddhists. This group was not allowed to fly their religious flags and were openly discriminated against by Catholics. Even though there were far fewer Catholics, they often held higher positions of power.
The spring of 1963 saw numerous Buddhist protests, many of which were met with fierce resistance from the police and government. These clashes led to many fatalities – including those of children.
This tension peaked on June 11, 1963, when an older monk named Thich Quang Duc performed a ritualistic ending to his own life in the middle of a busy Saigon intersection. He sat in the traditional lotus position as other monks poured gasoline over his head. After Duc uttered a Buddhist prayer, one of his colleagues lit a match and dropped it into his lap, engulfing him in flames.
The crowd that gathered was stunned by his act of martyrdom, and it was even captured by several Western journalists and photographers. The photos of the burning monk became an indelible image of the 1960s, and his final act of protest was a tipping point for the fight for religious tolerance in Vietnam.
The Monks Demanded Acceptance
President Diem’s discrimination of the Buddhist population pushed hundreds of monks to protest for change. In May of 1963, they presented the government with five demands, including proposed laws against religious discrimination and the freedom to fly whichever religious flags they chose.
The government had promised the monks a response, but Diem essentially ignored their requests. This silence from their government ultimately pushed the monks to much more drastic action to fight for their convictions.
A Journalist Captured Duc’s Utter Composure
Duc prepared himself for his fiery demise with a steady, calm demeanor. David Halberstam, a journalist for the New York Times, was present for Duc’s immolation and wrote about the dramatic act:
“I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think… As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”
As for Duc himself, he left his final words in a letter:
“Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.”
Duc’s Heart Did Not Burn
After Duc’s self-immolation was complete, the other monks placed robes over his body and carried him away in a makeshift wooden coffin. He was later re-cremated for a proper burial, but mysteriously, his heart did not burn and remained intact.
Duc’s heart was placed on display in a glass container in the Xa Loi Pagoda and was seen as a sacred relic representing compassion.
JFK Addressed The Moment’s Deep Emotional Impact
Once photographer Malcolm Browne sent his “monk on fire” photos to the Associated Press, they reached US newspapers within 16 hours. The Western reaction to the images was decidedly shocked, and President Kennedy was quoted as saying, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Browne was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the photograph.
The photos, in addition to the news of religious discrimination in Vietnam, supposedly led Kennedy to reexamine America’s policies and presence in the country, ultimately culminating in the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Other Monks Followed Suit
Although Duc’s immolation is known as a pivotal moment in Vietnam’s fight for religious equality, his sacrifice did not instantaneously affect President Diem’s policies. Several other monks followed in Duc’s footsteps in the proceeding weeks, amid continued protests by the Buddhist community.
In November of 1963, members of the South Vietnamese military assassinated Diem and his brother during a coup, ending his Catholic reign over South Vietnam.
For the unenlightened, Buddhism can certainly come across as a mysterious, even confusing, religion. After all, there is no singular deity watching over. No strict commandments to govern with. And no “great book” to live by. So, what is it exactly? And how does Buddhism uniquely define itself in comparison with other religions around the world?
The answer is simple: Buddhism extends beyond the ideas of organized religion, and instead presents itself more as a philosophy of life, focusing on morality, tolerance for others, and wisdom. While others seek to contain (and, in some cases, even control) their members through scripture, followers of Buddhism are taught that individuality and finding one’s own self is the core of their practice. That through a journey of self-discovery, they will gain knowledge not only about themselves – but also about their inner spirit.
With over 2,500 years and 300 million followers behind it, Buddhism certainly has a colorful history, one which is shared all around the world. Below are some of the most interesting facts that have arisen from this unique practice.
That Big Guy Is Not “the” Buddha
You may be familiar with the sight of a rather large bald man, perched cross-legged, and adorned entirely in gold, and perhaps first wonder if this is also what Donald Trump sees when he closes his eyes. But second, you may recognize this as a statue of Buddha himself.
Well, you’d be wrong on one-and-a-half counts.
Turns out, the most recognizable symbol (at least, in Western cultures) of Buddhism is not actually of Buddha, but rather Budai, a zen monk who lived in China during the 900s.
A practicer of Buddhism, Budai was considered such an eccentric and good-spirited figure of the religion that he eventually became its most recognizable face. It was said that Budai always wore a smile, and was so charismatic that he was actually followed by children wherever he went. Because of this, his spirit represented all of which Buddhism strives for, and, as a result, we know his face to be that of one truly enlightened.
Siddhartha Guatama Was the “Real” Buddha
The real Buddha, however, was a twenty-nine year-old man named Siddhartha Gautama of Lumbini. Born into wealth, Gautama eventually realized that none of his fortune satisfied him, and he took to studying various religions and meditation practices around the world, before eventually becoming “enlightened,” and ultimately founding Buddhism.
Perhaps ironically, the name “Siddhartha” is Sanskrit for “He Who Achieves His Goal,” a concept which underlines the core intent of Buddhism.
There Is No Divine Creator
Just imagine no one looking over your shoulder, checking for sins. No one whispering in your ear to do the right thing. Not having to answer to anyone on a Sunday morning.
Such is the way with Buddhism, where there is no “divine creator” lording above. True, there is the concept of the human spirit that dwells within, but the idea is more in sync with our consciousness, rather than with an entity that will eventually make its way up to heaven and join one of many hypothetical “big guys upstairs.”
Instead, Buddhism focuses on the journey of oneself to our own enlightenment rather than seeking the approval of a higher power.
Women Can Never Achieve True “Buddhahood”
When Buddhism first began, some of the Buddha’s teachings about women were very controversial. Not because he taught that women should be subservient to their husbands (as was the case with most early religions), but that husbands should also respect their wives.
Furthermore, while women were certainly not excluded from the religion (and were actively encouraged to participate), there came some caveats, with the worst of all being perhaps the entire point of Buddhism in the first place:
Despite her dedication to the religion, a woman can never achieve true “Buddhahood.”
Sex Is Sometimes a Complicated Subject
For a religion that encourages the exploration of one’s self, sex (both with a partner and without) surprisingly comes with some very serious rules.
First of all, if you’re a Buddhist monk or nun (referred to as Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis, respectively), you better keep that inner temple to yourself because any act, including masturbation, prevents one from achieving supreme enlightenment.
For the rest of practicing Buddhists, the rules aren’t quite as strict – though most of them are certainly frowned upon. Particularly because the Buddha perceived the craving for sex as a form of suffering. To that end, if one is consumed by the their sexual urges, they too will not be able to reach enlightenment.
Not All Buddhists Are Focused on Reincarnation
Among some of the more common misconceptions about Buddhism, are that all Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Such is not the case, as the belief in life after death is not focused on as much as one would believe. Instead, the focus lands mostly on one’s purpose in this life in order to become enlightened.
Furthermore, there is a common belief that Buddhism originated as a Pagan religion, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason being, because Buddhists don’t worship a god in the first place. Thus, Paganism, which is the worship of any god besides the Christian one, is an entirely different practice.
Alcohol, Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Chives, and Scallions Are a No-no
Like sex, the desire to over-indulge in certain foods is seen as a form of craving, which is, ostensibly, a form of suffering.
But there are also specific guidelines to follow if one wished to truly follow the path. Among them, followers cannot enjoy alcohol. While many who “over-indulge” in occasionally shot-gunning beers or knocking back tequila shots would argue they’re at their most enlightened when hammered, in Buddhism, it is seen as a form of “intoxicant,” which, again, keeps one from being truly spiritually enlightened.
Also, say goodbye to Indian food, as onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and scallions are considered too strong of odors in Buddhist cuisine. The reason? Because their odors are thought to be so pungent, that they incite anger and passion – both of which fall under the umbrella of suffering in Buddhism.
There is also a common misconception about all Buddhist being vegetarian, but this is not the case. In fact, many Buddhist dishes feature meat. The rule behind this, however, is that Buddhist are not allowed to “kill any sentient being.” That is, they are not allowed to kill the animal and eat it themselves, but procuring meat from elsewhere is perfectly fine.
There Are Four Noble Truths
While the core of Buddhism is the journey to self-discovery and enlightenment, there are a few important items to understand along the way. Described as the “essence” of Buddhism, these are theFour Noble Truths:
The Truth of Suffering
The Truth of the Cause of Suffering
The Truth of the End of Suffering
And, finally, The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering
Together, these represent the path to self-liberation. A way to understand the plight of all humanity, and that there are certain undeniable events in life that are out of our control – but there is always a way through them. And by understanding and accepting them, we are on our way to true enlightenmen
There Are Two Different Types of Buddhism
Spiritual beliefs can sometimes cause a divide among followers. It’s why there are countless iterations of Christianity around the world. Some of whom believe in the spiritual teachings of Christ’s love, others who think it somehow it pleases him to march along funeral processions holding up hateful and often-misspelled picket signs.
Clearly, the spectrum reaches far and wide as to what being a “good Christian” means.
Thankfully with Buddhism, there are only two different practices: on one hand, there is the Theravada (“School of the Elders”), and the Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”).
Theravada is perhaps the most common type of Buddhist practice, with the end goal of all individuals to reach a state of nirvana, which sees the inner spirit break the cycle of death and rebirth, and ultimately move on.
In the case of Mahayana, an individual strives to achieve “Buddhahood” (supreme enlightenment), in which he or she remains in the cycle of rebirth with the intent of helping others become enlightened as well.
In either following, the end goal of both types of Buddhism are to attain the highest level of spiritual connectedness. That is, once you peak, it’s time to either move on (Theravada) or pay it forward (Mahayana).
A Full Moon Day Is Sacred
Every religion has their one uber-holiday of the year. For some it’s Christmas. Others Dwali. Some people give thanks on that magical day of the year when the McRib finally makes its triumphant return.
Although Buddhism isn’t exactly a religion in the traditional sense, it’s not without its own special day to celebrate the spiritual journey that so many others are on.
That day is called “Uposatha”, a day for the “cleansing of the defiled mind,” which falls in accordance of the four lunar phases, starting with the full moon.
On Uposatha, Buddhist followers intensify their practice, reflecting on their goals to deepen their commitment to themselves and to others.
There Is a Buddhism-Themed Amusement Park
Located just outside Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam is the one and only Buddhist theme park — the Suoi Tien Cultural Amusement Park.
Featuring roller coasters, rides, an artificial beach and water park, Suoi Tien offers a glimpse of the true happiness and sense of contentment one could only achieve by, well, practicing Buddhism until they reach spiritual nirvana, I suppose.
Swathed in bright neon colors, the park is said be akin to “Disneyland on acid,” which will certainly help to explain why you’ll encounter men and women dressed up as unicorns, dragons, and Budai himself as they roam around the park grounds.
But the idea of a Buddhist theme park begs the question: if one has already achieved spiritual happiness prior to buying a ticket, does that make a roller-coaster ride less fun?
Viharas Are Sacred Places
Also known as Buddhist monasteries, viharas were originally created to help in housing monks who would often only stay in temporary shelters. These early forms were little more than rock-cut caves, carved along trade routes, and which allowed passing monks to reside in and practice their faith safely.
As time went on however, viharas evolved into much more than just a place for wandering monks to stay, but instead became temples themselves, ones which saw the monks recruiting students who wished to learn more about Buddhism.
While the process of constructing viharas has certainly improved, the architects behind them today still retain the aesthetics of those once carved into the rock of caves.
The Famous Tooth of Buddha
According to Sri Lankan legend, when the Buddha himself died and was eventually cremated in 543 BCE, he left behind a small souvenir for his followers: his left canine tooth.
It was said that whomever came into possession of the tooth had the right to rule the country. Thus, it was fought over many times, but ultimately ended up in the town of Kandy, Sri Lanka, where has been held in reverence on display for over four hundred years.
The Fig Tree Holds a Special Meaning
Specifically, the ficus religiosa, a type of fig tree that grows only in southwest China. It earned its divine name for a very specific reason: it was under this type of fig tree that Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) first achieved his spiritual enlightenment. Ever since, it has been regarded as sacred, and is a celebrated symbol in Buddhism.
There Are Many Different Ways People Practice Buddhism
Like many religions, Buddhists can choose to practice puja – the act of worship – either at home, via a personal shrine, or in a public temple.
If at home, Buddhists create small areas dedicated to connecting with their faith. These shrines typically feature a statue of Buddha himself, as well as various candles, flowers, and incense burners.
Although the practice is a solitary one, Buddhists are never to worship at their shrine with their feet facing the Buddha. Such an act is considered disrespectful.
If worshipping outside of the home, Buddhist will visit temples called Pagodas, which are vaulting, tower-like structures, or Stupas, which are wider, circular buildings.
Gelugpa is best known in the West as the school of Tibetan Buddhism associated with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the 17th century, the Gelug (also spelled Geluk) school became the most powerful institution in Tibet, and it remained so until China took control of Tibet in the 1950s.
The story of Gelugpa begins with Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), a man from Amdo Province who began studying with a local Sakya lama at a very young age. At 16 he traveled to central Tibet, where the most renowned teachers and monasteries were located, to further his education.
Tsongkhapa did not study in any one place. He stayed in Kagyu monasteries learning Tibetan medicine, the practices of Mahamudra and the tantra yoga of Atisha. He studied philosophy in Sakya monasteries. He sought independent teachers with fresh ideas. He was particularly interested in the Madhyamika teachings of Nagarjuna.
In time, Tsongkhapa combined these teachings into a new approach to Buddhism. He explained his approach in two major works, Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path and Great Exposition of the Secret Mantra. Other of his teachings were collected in several volumes, 18 in all.
Through most of his adult life, Tsongkhapa traveled around Tibet, often living in camps with dozens of students. By the time Tsongkhapa had reached his 50s, the rugged lifestyle had taken a toll on his health. His admirers built him a new monastery on a mountain near Lhasa. The monastery was named “Ganden,” which means “joyful.” Tsongkhapa lived there only briefly before he died, however.
The Founding of Gelugpa
At the time of his death, Tsongkhapa and his students were considered to be part of the Sakya school. Then his disciples stepped up and built a new school of Tibetan Buddhism on Tsongkhapa’s teachings. They called the school “Gelug,” which means “the virtuous tradition.” Here are some of Tsongkhapa’s most prominent disciples:
Gyaltsab (1364-1431) is thought to have been first the abbot of Gendun after Tsongkhapa died. This made him the first Ganden Tripa, or throne-holder of Gendun. To this day the Ganden Tripa is the actual, official head of the Gelug school, not the Dalai Lama.
Jamchen Chojey (1355-1435) founded the great Sera monastery of Lhasa.
Khedrub (1385-1438) is credited with defending and promoting Tsongkhapa’s teachings throughout Tibet. He also began the tradition of high lamas of Gelug wearing yellow hats, to distinguish them from Sakya lamas, who wore red hats.
Gendun Drupa (1391-1474) founded the great monasteries of Drepung and Tashillhunpo, and during his life, he was among the most respected scholars in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama
A few years after Gendun Drupa died, a young boy of central Tibet was recognized as his tulku, or rebirth. Eventually, this boy, Gendun Gyatso (1475-1542) would serve as abbot of Drepung, Tashillhunpo, and Sera.
Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) was recognized as the rebirth of Gendun Gyatso. This tulku became the spiritual adviser to a Mongol leader named Altan Khan. Altan Khan gave Gendun Gyatso the title “Dalai Lama,” meaning “ocean of wisdom.” Sonam Gyatso is considered to be the third Dalai Lama; his predecessors Gendun Drupa and Gendun Gyatso were named first and second Dalai Lama, posthumously.
These first Dalai Lamas had no political authority. It was Lobsang Gyatso, the “Great Fifth” Dalai Lama (1617-1682), who forged a fortuitous alliance with another Mongol leader, Gushi Khan, who conquered Tibet. Gushi Khan made Lobsang Gyatso the political and spiritual leader of the entire Tibetan people.
Under the Great Fifth a large part of another school of Tibetan Buddhism, Jonang, was absorbed into Gelugpa. The Jonang influence added Kalachakra teachings to Gelugpa. The Great Fifth also initiated the building of Potala Palace in Lhasa, which became the seat of both spiritual and political authority in Tibet.
Today many people think the Dalai Lamas held absolute power in Tibet as “god-kings,” but that is inaccurate. The Dalai Lamas who came after the Great Fifth was, for one reason or another, mostly figureheads who held little real power. For long stretches of time, various regents and military leaders were actually in charge.
Not until the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso (1876-1933), would another Dalai Lama function as a real head of government, and even he had limited authority to enact all the reforms he wished to bring to Tibet.
The current Dalai Lama is the 14th, His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso (born 1935). He was still an adolescent when China invaded Tibet in 1950. His Holiness has been exiled from Tibet since 1959. Recently he relinquished all political power over the Tibetan people in exile, in favor of a democratic, elected government.
The Panchen Lama
The second highest lama in Gelugpa is the Panchen Lama. The title Panchen Lama, meaning “great scholar,” was bestowed by the Fifth Dalai Lama on a tulku who was fourth in a lineage of rebirths, and so he became the 4th Panchen Lama.
The current Panchen Lama is the 11th. However, His Holiness Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (born 1989) and his family were taken into Chinese custody shortly after his recognition was made public in 1995. The Panchen Lama and his family have not been seen since. A pretender appointed by Beijing, Gyaltsen Norbu, has served as Panchen Lama in his place.
The original Ganden monastery, Gelugpa’s spiritual home, was destroyed by Chinese troops during the 1959 Lhasa uprising. During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard came to finish whatever was left. Even the mummified body of Tsongkhapa was ordered burned, although a monk was able to recover a skull and some ashes. The Chinese government is rebuilding the monastery.
Meanwhile, exiled lamas re-established Ganden in Karnataka, India, and this monastery is now Gelugpa’s spiritual home. The current Ganden Tripa, the 102nd, is Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu. (Ganden Tripas are not tulkus but are appointed to the position as adults.) The training of new generations of Gelugpa monks and nuns continues.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has lived in Dharamsala, India since he left Tibet in 1959. He has dedicated his life to teaching and to gain greater autonomy for Tibetans still under Chinese rule.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/the-gelug-school-of-tibetan-buddhism-449627.
A Roman Catholic priest has given a unique insight into day-to-day life at a remote and little-known rehabilitation home used by the church to treat alcoholic, gay and paedophiliac clergymen.
The priest was sent to the residential treatment centre in Gloucestershire after his bishop found out that he was a practising homosexual. Writing anonymously in today’s Independent, he gives a detailed account of his week-long assessment at Our Lady of Victory – a place he describes as being like “an open prison” – situated high on a Cotswold hill in Brownshill, near Stroud.
The church is guarded about life inside the centre. It is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious congregation of men dedicated to ministering to priests and brothers with “personal difficulties”. Anyone who is “sent to Stroud”, as Catholic circles put it, for longer than the initial assessment must sign a confidentiality contract.
Our Lady of Victory purports to offer “therapy in a spiritual context”. But according to Father Kieran Conroy, director of the Catholic Media Office, the approach is more “therapist’s boot camp” than “therapist’s couch”. Fr Conroy said he understood the treatment to be “quite confrontational”. “They do face you with your own shortcomings and there’s no question of denial, at all. It’s a process of knocking down and building up again, which I think some people find difficult to deal with because they are particularly vulnerable.”
The Servants of the Paraclete was founded in 1947 by Father Gerald Fitzgerald, a priest from the Archdiocese of Boston, in the United States. It has about 30 priests at Stroud, and there is a waiting list. Our Lady of Victory hit the headlines in 1993 when Fr Sean Seddon, a 38-year-old Roman Catholic priest, was sent there to try to forget about his six- year romance with a teacher. On learning that his lover had lost their baby, he committed suicide by throwing himself under a railway station near the retreat.
Fr Conroy believes the majority of residents at Stroud are alcoholics on the Chemical Dependency Programme, based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. “In the case of child abuse it would be assessment rather than treatment,” he added, “because most people realise that paedophilia is not a condition they can treat successfully.”
He said Stroud is not an alternative to the courts. Some of the priests undergoing treatment for child abuse have served prison sentences. At the end of the treatment, staff at Stroud assess the paedophiliac priest’s risk of reoffending, according to Father Conroy. “If they choose to remain in the priesthood – and presumably they will, otherwise they wouldn’t have spent six months or two years there – the church has to decide where the safest place for that person to work is. If he is high risk they must ensure that he is in a job that has little or zero risk of contact with children.”
To residents living near the centre, it is simply a “drying out clinic for boozy brethren”. But the priest recalls a “sense of listlessness” among inmates, “as if, realising the game was up, all the fight, all the desire for independence had gone.” He believes the “glassiness in their eyes” betrays “some form of brainwashing”. “How,” he asks, “is paedophilia `cured’ or any other form of addiction, sexual or otherwise?”
Former Questa priest named in new rape and abuse lawsuit
Two men who were parishioners of Questa’s St. Anthony Church in the late 1960s have named a former priest as a sexual abuser in a lawsuit filed last week, marking another instance of alleged abuse by clergy associated with the beleaguered Catholic Church in New Mexico.
The lawsuit alleges Leo Courcy sexually abused the two boys on an overnight stay at the church rectory in the summer of 1969. One boy was raped and the other molested, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday (May 16) in the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque.
The lawsuit was filed against the Servants of the Paraclete, a largely inactive religious order that was founded in New Mexico in the 1940s, and its private foundation.
Aside from the sexual abuse allegations, the lawsuit also lays blame on the higher-ups of the Servants of the Paraclete for negligently putting known abusers into positions of power in underserved parishes across rural New Mexico.
The Servants ran a facility in Jemez Springs that became known as a dumping ground for sexually abusive priests from other dioceses. The religious order would assign priests to ministerial work as part of a “graduated program of rehabilitation,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that “only four days after Fr. Courcy arrived at the Servants’ Jemez Springs facilities for a second bout of treatment [for sexually abusing a minor, the director of the facility] made and finalized arrangements to send Fr. Courcy to a supply ministry assignment at St. Anthony Parish in Questa.”
In 2017, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe released a list of more than 70 priests, brothers and other members of religious orders who were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors; the list included Courcy. Courcy was also named as an abuser in a lawsuit filed in September 2017 that alleges he abused another altar boy from the same year.
The lawsuit also claims the Servants did not keep a list of parish assignments for sexually abusive priests, or that it intentionally destroyed such documents when a wave of lawsuits were filed against it and the archdiocese in the 1990s.
The men who allege Courcy abused them aren’t named in the lawsuit, which refers to them as John Doe 127 and John Doe 143. The documents do not indicate if they are still residents of Questa.
The Servants and its foundation had not filed responses to the lawsuit as of press time. According to the archdiocese, Courcy is still living.
Unlike most lawsuits alleging abuse by priests and religious in New Mexico, this one was filed only against the Servant and not the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings that is changing how sexual abuse lawsuits are getting filed in the state.
After decades of lawsuits and millions of dollars in settlements with sexual abuse victims, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in December 2018. Under federal Bankruptcy Code, the debtor – in this case, the archdiocese – comes up with a plan to pay its debts while continuing to operate.
Because of the bankruptcy, any new claims against the archdiocese must be dealt with as part of those proceedings, which have a June 17 cutoff, or “bar date.”
But according to attorney Levi Monagle, who is representing the John Does in the suit filed Thursday, the bankruptcy deadline does not “prevent the filing of lawsuits against other religious organizations like the Servants of the Paraclete, the Sons of the Holy Family, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Basilians, the Congregation of Blessed Sacrament Fathers or any other religious orders who were doing business in our state, and whose agents participated in raping children or protecting the rapists.”
The Servants of the Paraclete complex in Jemez Springs, N.M., in 1993 (Jeffrey D. Scott)
As early as the mid-1950s, decades before the clergy sexual-abuse crisis broke publicly across the U.S. Catholic landscape, the founder of a religious order that dealt regularly with priest sex abusers was so convinced of their inability to change that he searched for an island to purchase with the intent of using it as a place to isolate such offenders, according to documents recently obtained by NCR.
Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paracletes, an order established in 1947 to deal with problem priests, wrote regularly to bishops in the United States and to Vatican officials, including the pope, of his opinion that many sexual abusers in the priesthood should be laicized immediately.
Fitzgerald was a prolific correspondent who wrote regularly of his frustration with and disdain for priests “who have seduced or attempted to seduce little boys or girls.” His views are contained in letters and other correspondence that had previously been under court seal and were made available to NCR by a California law firm in February.
Read copies of letters Fitzgerald exchanged with U.S. bishops and one pope.
Listen to Tom Roberts discuss this story on the April 1 edition of “Here & Now,” a National Public Radio news program from WBUR in Boston. (Scroll down the page to just before the photo of the waxy monkey frogs.)
Fitzgerald’s convictions appear to significantly contradict the claims of contemporary bishops that the hierarchy was unaware until recent years of the danger in shuffling priests from one parish to another and in concealing the priests’ problems from those they served.
It is clear, too, in letters between Fitzgerald and a range of bishops, among bishops themselves, and between Fitzgerald and the Vatican, that the hierarchy was aware of the problem and its implications well before the problem surfaced as a national story in the mid-1980s.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles archdiocese, reacting in February to a federal investigation into his handling of the crisis, said: “We have said repeatedly that … our understanding of this problem and the way it’s dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn’t realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved.”
Indeed, some psychology experts seemed to hold the position that priest offenders could be returned to ministry. Even the Paracletes, as the order developed and grew, employed experts who said that certain men could be returned to ministry under stringent conditions and with strict supervision.
The order itself ultimately was so inundated with lawsuits regarding priests who molested children while or after being treated at its facility in Jemez Springs, N.M., that it closed the facility in 1995.
Whatever discussion occurred during the 1970s and 1980s over proper treatment, however, for nearly two decades Fitzgerald spoke a rather consistent conviction about the dim prospects for returning sex abusers to ministry. Fitzgerald seemed to know almost from the start the danger such priests posed. He was adamant in his conviction that priests who sexually abused children (often the language of that era was more circumspect in naming the problem) should not be returned to ministry.
In a 1957 letter to an unnamed archbishop, Fitzgerald said, “These men, Your Excellency, are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary layization [sic].” The letter, addressed to “Most dear Cofounder,” was apparently to Archbishop Edwin V. Byrne of Santa Fe, N.M., who was considered a cofounder of the Paraclete facility at Jemez Springs and a good friend of Fitzgerald.
Later in the same letter, in language that revealed deep passion, he wrote: “It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat — but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle Master said it were better they had not been born — this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not?”
The documents were sealed at the request of the church in an earlier civil case involving Fr. Rudolph Kos of Dallas. Eleven plaintiffs won awards in the case in which Kos was accused of molesting minors over a 12-year period. He had been treated at the Paraclete facility in New Mexico. The documents were unsealed in 2007 by a court order obtained by the Beverly Hills law firm of Kiesel, Boucher & Larson, according to Anthony DeMarco, an attorney with the firm that has handled hundreds of cases for alleged victims of sexual abuse in the Los Angeles archdiocese and elsewhere.
According to Helen Zukin, another member of the firm, the documents have been used in some cases to dispute the church claim that it knew nothing about the behavior of sex abusers or the warning signs of abuse prior to the 1980s.
In a September 1952 letter to the then- bishop of Reno, Nev., Fitzgerald wrote: “I myself would be inclined to favor laicization for any priest, upon objective evidence, for tampering with the virtue of the young, my argument being, from this point onward the charity to the Mystical Body should take precedence over charity to the individual and when a man has so far fallen away from the purpose of the priesthood the very best that should be offered him is his Mass in the seclusion of a monastery. Moreover, in practice, real conversions will be found to be extremely rare. … Hence, leaving them on duty or wandering from diocese to diocese is contributing to scandal or at least to the approximate danger of scandal.” The advice was ignored and the priest was allowed to continue in ministry, and was ultimately accused of abusing numerous children, for which the church paid out huge sums in court awards.
While Fitzgerald told anyone who would listen of the futility of returning sexually abusive priests to ministry, that conviction became less absolute as the order, today headquartered in St. Louis, grew and the scope of its work became more complex. Fitzgerald, by most accounts, was deeply motivated by a sense of obligation to care for priests who were in trouble. Originally a priest of the Boston archdiocese for 12 years, he became a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1934, and started the Servants of the Paraclete in 1947. His concern at the time was primarily for priests struggling with alcoholism. As his new order matured and its ministry became known, bishops began referring priests with other maladies, particularly those who had been sexually abusive of children. The order for years was the primary source for care of priests in the United States with alcohol and sexual problems.
At times, Fitzgerald appears to have resisted taking in priests who had sexually abused youngsters. In his 1957 letter he requested concurrence from the cofounder archbishop “of what I consider a very vital decision on our part — that for the sake of preventing scandal that might endanger the good name of Via Coeli [the name of the New Mexico facility] we will not offer hospitality to men who have seduced or attempted to seduce” children. “Experience has taught us these men are too dangerous to the children of the parish and neighborhood for us to be justified in receiving them here.”
In September 1957 the bishop of Manchester, N.H., Matthew F. Brady, sought Fitzgerald’s advice regarding “a problem priest,” John T. Sullivan, who seemed sincerely repentant and whose difficulty “is not drink but a series of scandal-causing escapades with young girls. There is no section of the diocese in which he is not known and no pastor seems willing to accept him,” Brady wrote. The “escapades” involved molestation of young girls. In at least one instance, he procured an abortion for a teenager he had impregnated. In another case, he fathered a child and provided support to the mother until she later married. The charges of molesting girls would follow him the rest of his life.
“The solution of his problem seems to be a fresh start in some diocese where he is not known. It occurred to me that you might know of some bishop who would be willing to give him that opportunity,” Brady wrote in his original letter.
Fitzgerald responded that in his judgment the “repentance and amendment” in such cases “is superficial and, if not formally at least subconsciously, is motivated by a desire to be again in a position where they can continue their wonted activity. A new diocese means only green pastures.”
Fitzgerald added that the Paracletes had “adopted a definite policy not to recommend to bishops men of this character, even presuming the sincerity of their conversion. We feel that the protection of our glorious priesthood will demand, in time, the establishment of a uniform code of discipline and of penalties.”
He acknowledged the degree of deference with which Catholic clergy were treated even by civil authorities. “We are amazed to find how often a man who would be behind bars if he were not a priest is entrusted with the cura animarum [the care of souls],” he wrote.
Sullivan apparently had already been pulled from active ministry. In October 1957, less than a month after contacting Fitzgerald, Brady wrote a response to the bishop of Burlington, Vt., among the first of more than a dozen bishops approached by Sullivan for the next five years, warning against accepting him.
Brady then wrote a letter that he sent out time after time to bishops inquiring about Sullivan after he had requested acceptance for ministry. “My conscience will not allow me to recommend him to any bishop and I feel that every inquiring bishop should know some of the circumstances that range from parenthood, through violation of the Mann Act, attempted suicide, and abortion.
“Father Fitzgerald of Via Coeli would accept him only as a permanent guest to help save his soul but with no hope of recommending him to a bishop.”
According to a 2003 Washington Post story, Sullivan, who had bounced around from diocese to diocese for nearly 30 years, “was stripped of his faculties to serve as a priest after he kissed a 13-year-old girl in Laconia, N.H., in 1983, when he was 66. He died in 1999, never having faced a criminal charge.” After his death the church paid out more than a half-million dollars in awards to Sullivan’s victims, including three in Grand Rapids, Mich., and one in Amarillo, Texas, two dioceses that did not heed the warnings of the bishops in New Hampshire. The victims said they were abused when they were between 7 and 12 years old.
In April 1962, Fitzgerald wrote a five-page response to a query from the Vatican’s Congregation of the Holy Office about “the tremendous problem presented by the priest who through lack of priestly self-discipline has become a problem to Mother Church.” One of his recommendations was for “a more distinct teaching in the last years of the seminary of the heavy penalty involved in tampering with the innocence (or even non-innocence) of little ones.”
Regarding priests who have “fallen into repeated sins … and most especially the abuse of children, we feel strongly that such unfortunate priests should be given the alternative of a retired life within the protection of monastery walls or complete laicization.”
In August of the following year, he met with newly elected Pope Paul VI to inform him about his work and problems he perceived in the priesthood. His follow-up letter contained this assessment: “Personally I am not sanguine of the return of priests to active duty who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young. However, the needs of the church must be taken into consideration and an activation of priests who have seemingly recovered in this field may be considered but is only recommended where careful guidance and supervision is possible. Where there is indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicization.”
But by 1963, Fitzgerald’s powerful hold on the direction of the order was weakening. According to a 1993 affidavit by Fr. Joseph McNamara, who succeeded Fitzgerald as Servant General, the appointment of a new archbishop, James Davis, began a new era of the relationship between the order, which was a “congregation of diocesan right,” and the archdiocese. Davis and Fitzgerald apparently clashed over a number of issues. Davis was far more concerned than his predecessor about the business aspects of the Santa Fe facility and demanded greater accountability. He also demanded greater involvement of medical and psychological professionals, while “Fr. Gerald [Fitzgerald] distrusted lay programs, psychologists and psychiatrists,” favoring a more spiritual approach, according to McNamara.
McNamara said Fitzgerald was eventually forced from leadership by a combination of factors, not least of which was a growing disagreement with the bishop and other members of the order over the direction of the Paracletes. After 1965, said McNamara, Fitzgerald “never again resided at Via Coeli Monastery, nor did he ever regain the power he had once had.”
Nor did he get his island. In 1965 Fitzgerald had put a $5,000 deposit on an island in Barbados, near Carriacou, in the Caribbean that had a total purchase price of $50,000. But the new bishop apparently wanted nothing to do with owning an island, and Fitzgerald, who died in 1969, was forced to sell his long-sought means for isolating priest sex offenders.
When asked for comment, a spokesman for the Paraceltes referred NCR to historic accounts previoulsy written about the order.
Early Alarm for Church on Abusers in the Clergy
The founder of a Roman Catholic religious order that ran retreat centers for troubled priests warned American bishops in forceful letters dating back to 1952 that pedophiles should be removed from the priesthood because they could not be cured.
The Rev. Gerald M. C. Fitzgerald, founder of the order, Servants of the Paraclete, delivered the same advice in person to Vatican officials in Rome in 1962 and to Pope Paul VI a year later, according to the letters, which were unsealed by a judge in the course of litigation against the church.
The documents contradict the most consistent defense given by bishops about the sexual abuse scandal: that they were unaware until recently that offenders could not be rehabilitated and returned to the ministry.
Father Fitzgerald, who died in 1969, even made a $5,000 down payment on a Caribbean island where he planned to build an isolated retreat to sequester priests who were sexual predators. His letters show he was driven by a desire to save the church from scandal, and to save laypeople from being victimized. He wrote to dozens of bishops, saying that he had learned through experience that most of the abusers were unrepentant, manipulative and dangerous. He called them “vipers.”
“We are amazed,” Father Fitzgerald wrote to a bishop in 1957, “to find how often a man who would be behind bars if he were not a priest is entrusted with the cura animarum,” meaning, the care of souls.
His collected letters and his story were reported this week by The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly. Father Fitzgerald’s papers were unsealed by a judge in New Mexico in 2007 and are now becoming public in litigation, although some letters were public before now, said Helen Zukin, a lawyer with Kiesel, Boucher & Larson, a firm in Los Angeles. The letters were authenticated in depositions with Father Fitzgerald’s successors.
The scandals, which began in the 1980’s and reached a peak in 2002, revealed that for decades bishops had taken priests with histories of sexual abuse and reassigned them to parishes and schools where they abused new victims.
It was not until 2002 that the American bishops, meeting in Dallas, wrote a charter requiring bishops to remove from ministry priests with credible accusations against them.
Asked why Father Fitzgerald’s advice went largely unheeded for 50 years, Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., chairman of the United States Bishops Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, said in a telephone interview that in the first case, cases of sexually abusive priests were considered to be rare.
Second, Bishop Cupich said of Father Fitzgerald, “His views, by and large, were considered bizarre with regard to not treating people medically, but only spiritually, and also segregating a whole population with sexual problems on a deserted island.”
And finally, he said, “There was mounting evidence in the world of psychology that indicated that when medical treatment is given, these people can, in fact, go back to ministry.” This is a view, he said, that the bishops came to regret.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he could not comment because he did not have enough information.
Responding to Bishop Cupich’s comment about Father Fitzgerald, Ms. Zukin, who represents abuse victims, said: “If the bishops thought he was such a bizarre crackpot, they would have shut him down. In fact, they referred their priests to him and sent him financial contributions.”
She also said the psychiatrists who worked at the Servants of the Paraclete’s centers said in legal depositions that they had rarely recommended returning sexually abusive priests to ministry, and only if the priests were under strict supervision in settings where they were not working with children.
From the 1940’s through the 1960’s, bishops and superiors of religious orders sent their problem priests to Father Fitzgerald to be healed. He founded the Servants of the Paraclete in 1947 (“paraclete” means “Holy Spirit”), and set up a retreat house in Jemez Springs, N.M.
He took in priests who were struggling with alcoholism, drug abuse or pedophilia, or who had broken their vows of celibacy, whether with men or women. He called them “guests.” His prescription was prayer and spiritual devotion to the sacraments, which experts say was the church’s prevailing approach at that time.
At one point, he resolved not to accept pedophiles at his center, saying in a letter to the archbishop of New Mexico in 1957, “These men, Your Excellency, are devils, and the wrath of God is upon them, and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary layization.”
Laicization or removing a priest from the priesthood was what Father Fitzgerald recommended for many abusive priests to bishops and Pope Paul VI.
But that step was rarely taken, said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a whistle-blower who often serves as an expert witness in cases against the church, “because the priesthood was considered to be so sacred that taking it away from a man was something you simply did not do.”
The Paracletes did not return calls for an interview.
After Father Fitzgerald died, his order grew and established retreat centers around the country and overseas, which became regular way stations for priests with sexual disorders.
His successors added psychiatry and medical treatment to the prayer regimen. They sent priests back into ministry, at the request of bishops. The Paracletes later became the target of lawsuits, and had to close most of their centers.
They came to a peaceful retreat in the mountains of New Mexico, bearing emotional troubles and sexual secrets.
Some had sinned with women; some, with men. Others were depressed or angry or anxious. One monk came for treatment of a foot fetish that drove him to steal socks. A priest from Africa arrived after it was discovered that he had several wives and many children.
But hundreds of the clergymen were sent to the treatment program in Jemez Springs because they had molested minors.
The public debate over the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse by its clergy members has focused on men like John J. Geoghan of Boston, calculating predators who appear beyond the reach of treatment.
But the history of the program at Jemez Springs, which in its 19 years of operation treated more than 500 priests and monks for sexual problems, suggests a more complex view.
In interviews, psychologists and psychiatrists who worked there said few of the clergymen fitted the image often presented in the news media.
For one thing, they said, the vast majority were not pedophiles: most had molested adolescents, not young children. In most cases, the clergymen’s transgressions were driven by confusion, fear, immaturity or impulse, not by cold calculation, the therapists said. Some of the clergymen had themselves been abused as adolescents. Many seemed to know little about human sexuality, and most initially tried to deny or rationalize their experiences, insisting that they had done nothing wrong or that their victims had benefited.
In some cases, said Dr. Robert Goodkind, a psychologist who worked at Jemez Springs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the priests seemed oblivious that the boys they were abusing were minors. In psychotherapy, he said, they would talk as if they themselves were junior high school students, describing how they ”fell in love” or how they felt ”burned” when the boys did not return their affections.
”There was just a real absence of the perspective that this is a 30-year-old man talking about 15-year-old boy,” Dr. Goodkind said.
And while some clergymen — no one knows exactly how many — abused minors again after leaving the program, the therapists said, follow-ups indicated that many more did not. Rather, the men altered their behavior and rebuilt lives either inside the church or out.
The program at Jemez Springs, run by a small Roman Catholic congregation known as the Servants of the Paraclete, represented one of the the church’s earliest, most innovative and ultimately most controversial efforts to deal with sexual abuse among its clergy.
It was started in 1976 by two Paraclete priests, who sought to bring psychotherapy, education in human sexuality, medication and other modern tools to bear on sexual issues in the priesthood. By directly addressing sexuality, the program laid down a path later followed by other treatment centers for priests, like the St. Luke Institute in Maryland and the Institute of Living in Hartford. Experts at those centers said their experience of working with sexual abusers closely paralleled that of the staff at Jemez Springs.
By the mid-1980’s, when the case of a Louisiana priest, the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, brought the problem to public view, the Paracletes had already treated hundreds of clergymen who had molested minors, said Dr. Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatric consultant to the program from 1976 to 1995.
But the church ended the treatment effort in 1995, when the Paracletes became mired in lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests who had been at Jemez Springs in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, before any systematic treatment program existed there. In those earlier days, priests’ sexual problems were addressed primarily through prayer, and some clergymen molested minors while visiting parishes to say Mass. The site, still owned by the Paracletes, now serves as a retreat center and retirement home for clergymen.
The abusers who came to Jemez Springs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the former staff members said, were highly educated and socially skilled and they had more in common with university professors and social workers than incarcerated sex offenders. Few showed sociopathic tendencies, the staff members said, and the extent of their misconduct and the motivations underlying their actions varied greatly.
Still, the therapists said, every priest and monk who came to the program struggled with the challenges posed by their vows of chastity and celibacy.
Dr. Feierman said that in many cases, the clergymen lived double lives, on the one hand repressing ”sinful” thoughts and on the other, acting out sexually.
”They thought they were sinning if they entertained an impure thought,” he said, ”but at the same time they were having sex with boys.”
Priests and monks who came to Jemez Springs for treatment of depression or other emotional ills often found that their distress covered over conflicts about sexuality, Dr. Goodkind said.
”A lot of times people had been dealing with a secret inside them that they thought was quite horrible, and they had been keeping this secret for 10, 15 or 25 years,” the psychologist said. ”And after a while they just got terribly depressed and were not functional any more.”
But for all the sexual problems they saw, the therapists said they only rarely encountered pedophilia, an exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
Dr. Sarah Brennan, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, said that she treated hundreds of priests and monks in the 10 years she worked at Jemez Springs but that only one was a pedophile. Dr. Feierman, who studied 238 clergymen who were treated for sexual problems at Jemez Springs from 1982 to 1991, said that only a handful had molested young children or teenage girls; more than half, he said, had abused boys 12 to 17. Though his study was accepted in 1991 for publication in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a scientific journal, it never appeared in print. The new director of the treatment program, the Rev. Peter Lechner, asked him to withdraw the manuscript, Dr. Feierman said.
He added that he now kept the paper in a safe deposit box and did not have permission from Father Lechner to discuss the study’s findings in more detail. Reached in St. Louis, where he is now the Paraclete congregation’s leader, Father Lechner confirmed that he had not wanted the report published but said it was because the study was based on the clergymen’s confidential records.
The age of the priests’ victims corresponds to the findings of other studies and to the observations of experts who have treated priests in other settings. It is significant, scientists said, because adults who become sexually involved with adolescents are considered more amenable to treatment than pedophiles. ”There’s a lot better prognosis,” said Dr. Eli Coleman, director of the program in human sexuality University of Minnesota’s Center for Sexual Health. ”It’s much easier to help someone who is attracted to postpubescent children to adapt to attractions to adults.”
Dr. Feirman said that in his view, many of the clergymen who abused older children were fixated on teenagers and were not attracted to adults, male or female. Other former staff members said that the priests they worked with were immature and confused about their sexuality, and their problem was bad judgment and a lack of impulse control rather than sexual fixation. Some priests were trying to ignore or suppress their attraction to adult men and ended up in furtive relationships with teenage boys.
Those relationships often began as fatherly bonds with altar boys or other adolescents who came to the rectory. In some cases, the boys had lost their fathers, and their mothers encouraged them to spend time with the priests and to regard them as role models.
Very few abusive clergymen, Dr. Feierman said, ”just had sexual relationships with the kids.”
”They would pick kids that were needy and needed things both emotionally and financially,” he said. ”They would take them on vacations, buy them clothes, buy them bicycles.”
But in a typical progression, the relationships moved gradually into touching and groping, and in some cases sexual penetration.
Dr. Fred S. Berlin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, said complex relationships were typical between the victims of sexual abuse and their abusers.
”This is not the fox in the chicken coop,” Dr. Berlin said. ”These are often situations in which the adult has genuine affection for the child, and sadly, because they begin to feel tempted in a way that most of us don’t, they give in to temptation.”
Dr. Leslie Lothstein, the director of psychology at the Institute of Living in Hartford, confirmed that, like the men treated at Jemez Springs, most of the priests who came to Hartford after sexually abusing minors had molested older boys.
But Dr. Lothstein said that although some of the men were gay, many others were not. Some were older priests, he said, who, having entered seminary as teenagers, ”were sexually undernourished, didn’t date and never really defined their sexuality.”
Having sex with boys, he said, seemed safer to those priests than having sex with women. Other men were replaying their experience as the victims of abuse by abusing others.
”They’re a very heterogenous group,” Dr. Lothstein said.
It was the realization that clergymen often had difficulty sorting out sexual issues that led two young priests, the Rev. Michael Foley and the Rev. William Perri, to found the Paracletes’ treatment program in 1976.
”We tried to create a forum, both in the spiritual and psychological realm, not where they were acting out the sexuality but where they were talking about it,” Father Foley said.
The priests borrowed the techniques being used by sexual disorder clinics in secular settings, including focused psychotherapy, education in human sexuality, relapse prevention and, for some men, the drug Depo Provera, which reduces sexual drive.
Priests who had molested minors, Dr. Goodkind said, were sent back with the stipulation that they not be returned to unsupervised ministry with minors. They were told to remain in therapy, and follow-up visits were made by the program’s staff.
But ultimately, the decision about what happened to the men after they left Jemez Springs was made by bishops and religious superiors.
No one can say with certainty how many of the men at Jemez Springs committed offenses after leaving the program. Dr. Feierman said he knew of only 2 men who were later arrested for sexual abuse and perhaps 5 to 10 more who had been caught in suspicious circumstances. For example, he said, one priest was later seen sitting in a hot tub in his apartment complex with two teenage boys.
Father Lechner, who became director of the treatment program in 1989, said he conducted an informal study in 1992 of 89 men treated at Jemez Springs. Only one had relapsed, he said.
Still, by the early 1990’s, the number of clergymen arriving at Jemez Springs had begun to dwindle, as lawsuits over priests who had sexually abused minors made headlines in New Mexico and other states.
”The whole program became associated with ‘priest pedophiles,’ ” Father Lechner said. ”We felt that was unfair to the men who were coming there to deal with other issues like depression or anxiety.”
For his part, Father Foley, who founded the program, said he still believed in its mission.
”I believe that a lot can be resolved and healed,” he said.
Still, he worries.
”I run through the papers before I go to work in the morning,” Father Foley said, ”and hope and pray that I’m not going to recognize a name.”
The origins of the Bible are still cloaked in mystery. When was it written? Who wrote it? And how reliable is it as an historical record? BBC History Revealed magazine charts the evolution of arguably the most influential book of all time
In 2007, Time magazine asserted that the Bible “has done more to shape literature, history, entertainment and culture than any book ever written”.
It’s a bold claim, but one that’s hard to refute. What other book resides on bedside tables in countless hotel rooms across the globe? What other book has bequeathed the world such instantly recognisable catchphrases as “an eye for an eye”, “thou shalt not kill” and “eat, drink and be merry”?
Factor in the number of copies that have been sold down the centuries – somewhere in the region of five billion to date, swollen by a further 100 million every year given away for free – and there’s no denying that the Bible’s influence on Western civilisation has been monumental.
But if the Bible’s standing as a cultural behemoth is beyond doubt, its history is anything but. For centuries, some of the world’s greatest thinkers have puzzled over the origins and evolution of this remarkable document. Who wrote it? When? And why?
These are the thorniest of questions, made all the more tangled by the Bible’s great age, and the fact that some, or all of it, has become a sacred text for members of two of the world’s great religions – Judaism and Christianity – numbering more than two billion people.
Where does the Bible originate?
Archaeology and the study of written sources have shed light on the history of both halves of the Bible: the Old Testament, the story of the Jews’ highs and lows in the millennium or so before the birth of Jesus; and the New Testament, which documents the life and teachings of Jesus. These findings may be incomplete and they may be highly contested, but they have helped historians paint a picture of how the Bible came to life.
Perhaps the best place to start the story is in Sun-baked northern Egypt, for it was here that the Bible and archaeology may, just may, first collide.
For centuries, the Old Testament has been widely interpreted as a story of disaster and rescue – of the Israelites falling from grace before picking themselves up, dusting themselves down and finding redemption. Nowhere is this theme more evident than in Exodus, the dramatic second book of the Old Testament, which chronicles the Israelites’ escape from captivity in Egypt to the promised land.
But has archaeology unearthed one of the sites of the Israelites’ captivity?
That’s the question that some historians have been asking themselves since the 1960s, when the Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak identified the location of the ancient city of Pi-Ramesses at the site of the modern town of Qantir in Egypt’s Nile Delta. Pi-Ramesses was the great capital built by Ramesses II, one of Egypt’s most formidable pharaohs and the biblical tormentor of the Israelites. It’s been argued that Pi-Ramesses was the biblical city of Ramesses, and that the city was built, as Exodus claims, by Jewish slaves.
It’s an intriguing theory, and one that certainly has its doubters. But if it were true, it would place the enslaved Israelites in the Nile Delta in the decades after 1279 BC, when Ramesses II became king. So what happened next?
The Bible is in little doubt. It tells us that Moses led the Israelites out of their captivity in Egypt (whose population had been laid low by ten plagues inflicted on them by God) before Joshua spearheaded a brilliant invasion of Canaan, the promised land. The historical sources, however, are far less forthcoming. As John Barton, former professor of the interpretation of holy scriptures at the University of Oxford, puts it: “There is no evidence of a great invasion by the Israelites under Joshua; the population doesn’t seem to have changed much in that period as far as we can tell by archaeological surveys.”
In fact, the best corroborating evidence for the Bible’s claim that the Israelites surged into Canaan is Merneptah’s Stele.
What is Merneptah’s Stele?
Like all good autocrats, Merneptah, pharaoh of Egypt, loved to brag about his achievements. And when he led his armies on a successful war of conquest at the end of the 13th century BC, he wanted the world, and successive generations, to know all about it.
The medium on which the pharaoh chose to trumpet his martial prowess was a three-metre-high lump of carved granite, now known as the Merneptah Stele. The stele, which was discovered at the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes in 1896, contains 28 lines of text, mostly detailing the Egyptians’ victory over the Libyans and their allies. But it is the final three lines of the inscription that has arguably excited most interest among historians.
“Israel has been shorn,” it declares. “Its seed no longer exists.” These few words constitute the first known written reference to the Israelites. It’s an inauspicious start, one that boasts of this people’s near destruction at the hands of one of the ancient world’s superpowers in their homeland of Canaan. But the Israelites would survive.
And the story they would go on to tell about themselves and their relationship with their God would arguably eclipse any of Merneptah’s achievements. It would spawn what is surely the most influential book of all time: the Bible.
Merneptah’s Stele may describe more Jewish pain at the hands of their perennial Egyptian persecutors, but it at least suggests that they may have been in Canaan during Merneptah’s reign (1213–1203 BC).
If the early history of the Israelites is uncertain, so is the evolution of the book that would tell their story.
Who wrote the Bible?
Until the 17th century, received opinion had it that the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – were the work of one author: Moses. That theory has since been seriously challenged.
Scholars now believe that the stories that would become the Bible were disseminated by word of mouth across the centuries, in the form of oral tales and poetry – perhaps as a means of forging a collective identity among the tribes of Israel. Eventually, these stories were collated and written down. The question is by whom, and when?
A clue may lie in a limestone boulder discovered embedded in a stone wall in the town of Tel Zayit, 35 miles southwest of Jerusalem, in 2005. The boulder, now known as the Zayit Stone, contains what many historians believe to be the earliest full Hebrew alphabet ever discovered, dating to around 1000 BC. “What was found was not a random scratching of two or three letters, it was the full alphabet,” Kyle McCarter of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland has said of the stone. “Everything about it says this is the ancestor of the Hebrew script.”
The Zayit Stone does not in itself tell us when the Bible was written and collated, but it gives us our first glimpse of the language that produced it. And, by tracking the stylistic development of that language down the centuries, and cross-referencing it with biblical text, historians have been able to rule out the single-author hypotheses, concluding instead that it was written by waves of scribes during the first millennium BC.
Ask the expert: John Barton
John Barton is a former professor of holy scriptures at the University of Oxford and the author ofA History of the Bible: The Books and Its Faiths.
Q: Just how reliable is the Old Testament as an historical document?
A: Some parts, such as the early chapters of Genesis, are myth or legend, rather than history. But parts of Samuel, Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah describe events broadly known also from Assyrian or Persian sources. For example, Jehu, king of Israel in the ninth century BC, appears on an Assyrian monument, the Black Obelisk, doing obeisance to the Assyrian king. From about the eighth century BC onwards, the Old Testament contains some real historiography, even though it may not all be accurate.
Q: Does it matter if it’s not historically accurate? Are we guilty of placing too much emphasis on this question?
A: I think we are. Much of the Old Testament is about seeing God at work in human history rather than in accurately recording the detail, and sometimes we exaggerate the importance of historical accuracy. The Old Testament is not a work of fiction, but nor is it a modern piece of history-writing.
Q: How much does archaeology support the historicity of the Old Testament?
A To a limited extent. It gives us a context within which the Old Testament makes sense, but it doesn’t confirm a lot of the details. It mustn’t be forgotten that archaeology has also yielded vast numbers of documents from the ancient near-east, such as Assyrian and Babylonian annals, which illuminate the Old Testament world.
Q: How much do we know about the scribes who wrote the Old Testament?
A: The scribes are never described in detail in the Old Testament itself, but analogies with Egypt and Mesopotamia make it clear that there must have been a scribal class, probably attached as civil servants to the temple in Jerusalem or the royal court. After the exile of the Jewish people in Bablylon in the sixth century BC, scribes gradually turned into religious teachers, as we find them in the New Testament.
Q: When was the Old Testament assembled into the book it is today?
A: Probably during the first century BC, though parts of it were certainly regarded as holy scripture much earlier than that. But the collection is a work of early Judaism. It should be remembered that for a long time it was a collection of individual scrolls, not a single book between two covers.
Q: Did the Old Testament anticipate the figure of Jesus Christ?
A: There are prophecies of a coming Messiah – which means ‘anointed one’ – occasionally in the Old Testament, and Christians claimed them as foretelling Jesus. But messianic hopes were not widespread or massively important in first-century Judaism and are even less central to the Old Testament itself. Christians discovered texts they saw as messianic prophecies – for example, in Isaiah 7 – though other Jews did not read them that way.
Q: Why did the New Testament gain so much traction in the first centuries AD?
A: The New Testament was accepted because it was part of the package of the Christian message, which was massively successful in the early centuries. The message, which was that all humankind was accepted through Jesus by the God worshipped by the Jews, proved a winner.
Who was King David?
The first wave of scribes may, it’s been suggested, have started work during the reign of King David (c1000 BC). Whether that’s true or not, David is a monumental figure in the biblical story – the slayer of Goliath, the conqueror of Jerusalem. David is also a hugely important figure in the quest to establish links between the Bible and historical fact, for he appears to be the earliest biblical figure to be confirmed by archaeology.
“I killed [the] king of the house of David.” So boasts the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone dating from 870–750 BC and discovered in northern Israel in the 1990s. Like the Merneptah Stele before it, it documents a warlord’s victory over the Israelites (the man doing the gloating was probably the local ruler Hazael of Aram-Damascus). But it at least indicates that David was a historical figure.
The Tel Dan Stele also suggests that,no matter how capable their rulers, the people of Israel continued to be menaced by powerful, belligerent neighbours. And, in 586 BC, one of those neighbours, the Babylonians, would inflict on the Jews one of the most devastating defeats in their history: ransacking the sacred city of Jerusalem, butchering its residents, and dragging many more back to Babylonia.
For the people of Israel, the fall of Jerusalem was a searing experience. It created, in the words of Eric M Meyers, a biblical scholar at Duke University in North Carolina, “one of the most significant theological crises in the history of the Jewish people”. And, according to many scholars, that crisis may have had a transformative impact on the writing of the Bible.
The Old Testament is far more than a formulaic story of a nation’s evolution, it’s also a chronicle of that nation’s relationship with its God. Did the sack of Jerusalem in 586 BC convince a new wave of Jewish thinkers that they hadn’t been keeping their side of the bargain? Did it spur them into revisiting all previous editions of the Jewish scriptures in order to sharpen the emphasis on the agreement or ‘covenant’ between the people and their one God?
Whether this theory holds or not, there’s little doubt that by the time they returned from their Babylonian exile, the Bible occupied a unique place in the consciousness of the Jewish people. However, it would be centuries before the book would be revered as a secret text for non-Jews. And the reason for that transformation from national to international significance was, of course, the figure of Jesus Christ. It’s the so-called New Testament, the account of Jesus’s life and teachings, that turned the Hebrew Bible into a civilisationshaping, global icon.
Who was Jesus? Did he really exist?
Most scholars agree that Jesus, a first-century religious leader and preacher, existed historically. He was born in c4 BC and died – reportedly crucified on the orders of the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate – in cAD 30–33. Then, for around 40 years, news of his teachings was spread by word of mouth until, from around AD 70, four written accounts of his life emerged that changed everything.
The gospels, or ‘good news’, of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are critically important to the Christian faith. It is their descriptions of the life of Jesus Christ that have made him arguably the most influential figure in human history.
“We can’t be sure when the gospels were written,” says Barton, “and we know little about the authors. But the guess is that Mark came first, in the 70s, followed by Matthew and Luke in the 80s and 90s, and John in the 90s or early in the second century.
“In general, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the same story with variations, and hence are called the ‘synoptic’ gospels, whereas John has a very different style, as well as telling a markedly different version of the story of Jesus. Matthew and Luke seem to be attempts to improve on Mark, by adding more stories and sayings from sources now lost. John is a different conceptualisation of the story of Jesus, portraying a more obviously divine figure.”
Though the variations in the four gospels may have proved a source of frustration to those trying to paint a definitive picture of Jesus’s life and teachings, they offer a fascinating insight into the challenges facing the early Christian church as it spread around the Mediterranean world in the first and second centuries AD.
Mark, it’s been argued, wrote for a community deeply affected by the failure of a Jewish revolt against the Roman empire in the AD 60s, while Luke wrote for a predominately Gentile (non-Jewish) audience eager to demonstrate that Christian beliefs could flourish within the Roman empire. Both John and Matthew hint at the growing tensions between Jewish Christians and the Jewish religious authorities.
As a Jew, Jesus would have been well-versed in the Hebrew Bible and, according to the gospels, saw himself as the realisation of ancient Jewish prophecies. “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law, or the prophets,” Matthew reports him saying. “I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfil.” But for all that, by the time the gospels were written, schisms between Judaism and nascent Christianity were clearly emerging.
How did Christianity spread around the world?
The Epistles, or letters, written by Paul the Apostle to churches dotted across the Mediterranean world – which are our best source for the initial spread of Christianity – confirm that Christianity started in Jerusalem, but spread rapidly to Syria and then to the rest of the Mediterranean world, and was mostly accepted by non-Jews, says John Barton, former professor of the interpretation of holy scriptures at the University of Oxford.
“The epistles [which make up 13 books of the New Testament] are our earliest evidence for Christianity,” says Barton. “The first date from the AD 50s, just two decades after the death of Jesus.”
As Paul’s letters to churches such as the one in the Greek city of Thessalonica reveal, the first Christian communities were often persecuted for their beliefs.
And it’s such persecution, particularly at the hands of the Romans, that may have inspired the last book of the New Testament, Revelations. With its dark descriptions of a seven-headed beast and allusions to an imminent apocalypse, Revelations is now widely believed to be a foretelling of the grisly fate that the author believed awaited the Roman oppressors of Christianity.
Despite that oppression, by the fourth century Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Mediterranean world, with the New Testament widely revered as a sacred text inspired by God. “It was around this time,” says Barton, “that the 27 books of the New Testament were copied into single books as though they formed a single work.” One example is the Codex Sinaiticus, now in the British Library. “The first person to list exactly the books we now have as the New Testament is the fourth-century bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, but it’s clear that he was only reporting what was already widely accepted.”
By the end of the early fifth century, a series of councils across the Christian world had effectively rubber-stamped the New Testament that we know today: the Bible’s journey to being the most influential book in human history was well and truly under way.
Versions of the Bible
Different editions of the Bible have appeared over the centuries, aiming to further popularise the stories and teachings within. Here are three of the most notable versions…
King James Bible
On 24 March 1603, King James VI of Scotland was also crowned King James I of England and Ireland. His reign would usher in a new royal dynasty (the Stuarts) and a new era of colonialism (most especially in North America). But arguably every bit as significant was his decision, in 1611, to introduce a new Bible.
The ‘King James Version’ (KJV) wasn’t the first to be printed in English – Henry VIII had authorised the ‘Great Bible’ in 1539 and the Bishops’ Bible had been printed during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1568 – but, in terms of impact, the KJV would dwarf its successors.
Shortly after his coronation, James was told that existing translations of the Bible were “corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original”. What his scholars produced was a book designed to be read out aloud in church – fast-paced, easy to understand, a masterclass in storytelling.
No other version would challenge its dominance in the English-speaking world until the mid-20th century. According tob historian Adam Nicolson, the King James Bible’s “particular combination of majesty and freedom, of clarity and richness, was for centuries held, particularly by the Victorians, to be the defining terms of our national identity”.
The Gutenberg Bible
In 1454, in the Rhineland town of Mainz, three friends – inventor Johannes Gutenberg, printer Peter Schöffer and financier Johann Furst – pooled resources and brainpower to come up with what the British Library describes as “probably the most famous Bible in the world”.
The Gutenberg Bible, as the three friends’ creation would come to be known, signalled a step-change in printing techniques. Whereas earlier Bibles were produced by printing presses that employed woodblock technology, the press that churned out the Gutenberg Bible used moveable metal type, allowing more flexible, efficient and cheap printing.
Gutenberg’s Bible also had massive cultural and theological ramifications. Faster, cheaper printing meant more books and more readers – and that brought with it greater criticism, interpretation, debate and, ultimately, revolution. In short, the Gutenberg Bible was a significant step on the road to the Protestant Reformation and ultimately the Enlightenment.
In the words of Professor Justin Champion of Royal Holloway, University of London: “The printed Bible in the hands of the public posed a fundamental challenge to papal dominion. Once released from Latin into the vernacular, the word of God became a weapon.”
Dead Sea Scrolls
Sometime between November 1946 and February 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a cave at Wadi Qumran, near the Dead Sea. When he heard something crack he headed inside to investigate. What he found has been described by the Smithsonian Institute as “the most important religious texts in the Western world”.
What the shepherd had chanced upon were the Dead Sea Scrolls, more than 800 documents of animal skin and papyrus, stored in clay jars for safe keeping. Among the texts are fragments of every book of the Old Testament, except the Book of Esher, along with a collection of previously unknown hymns and a copy of the Ten Commandments.
But what really makes the scrolls special is their age. They were written between around 200 BC and the middle decades of the first century AD, which means they predate by at least eight centuries the oldest previously known Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
Were the scrolls left in the caves by a Jewish community living near the Dead Sea or, perhaps, by Jews fleeing Roman troops in the first century AD? We may never know for sure.
Buddhism first reached Tibet in the 7th century. By the 8th-century teachers such as Padmasambhava were traveling to Tibet to teach the dharma. In time Tibetans developed their own perspectives and approaches to the Buddhist path.
The list below is of the major distinctive traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. This is only a brief glimpse of rich traditions that have branched into many sub-schools and lineages.
Nyingmapa is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism. It claims as its founder Padmasambhava, also called Guru Rinpoche, “Beloved Master,” which places its beginning in the late 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with building Samye, the first monastery in Tibet, in about 779 CE.
Along with tantric practices, Nyingmapa emphasizes revealed teachings attributed to Padmasambhava plus the “great perfection” or Dzogchen doctrines.
The Kagyu school emerged from the teachings of Marpa “The Translator” (1012-1099) and his student, Milarepa. Milarepa’s student Gampopa is the main founder of Kagyu. Kagyu is best known for its system of meditation and practice called Mahamudra.
The head of the Kagyu school is called the Karmapa. The current head is the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who was born in 1985 in the Lhathok region of Tibet.
In 1073, Khon Konchok Gyelpo (1034-l102) built Sakya Monastery in southern Tibet. His son and successor, Sakya Kunga Nyingpo, founded the Sakya sect. Sakya teachers converted the Mongol leaders Godan Khan and Kublai Khan to Buddhism. Over time, Sakyapa expanded to two subsects called the Ngor lineage and the Tsar lineage. Sakya, Ngor and Tsar constitute the three schools (Sa-Ngor-Tsar-gsum) of the Sakyapa tradition.
The central teaching and practice of Sakyapa is called Lamdrey (Lam-‘bras), or “the Path and Its Fruit.” The headquarters of the Sakya sect today are at Rajpur in Uttar Pradesh, India. The current head is the Sakya Trizin, Ngakwang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo.
The Gelugpa or Gelukpa school, sometimes called the “yellow hat” sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was founded by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), one of Tibet’s greatest scholars. The first Gelug monastery, Ganden, was built by Tsongkhapa in 1409.
The Dalai Lamas, who have been spiritual leaders of the Tibetan people since the 17th century, come from the Gelug school. The nominal head of Gelugpa is the Ganden Tripa, an appointed official. The current Ganden Tripa is Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu.
The Gelug school places great emphasis on monastic discipline and sound scholarship.
Jonangpa was founded in the late 13th century by a monk named Kunpang Tukje Tsondru. Jonangpa is distinguished chiefly by kalachakra, its approach to tantra yoga.
In the 17th-century the 5th Dalai Lama forcibly converted the Jonangs into his school, Gelug. Jonangpa was thought to be extinct as an independent school. However, in time it was learned that a few Jonang monasteries had maintained independence from Gelug.
Jonangpa is now officially recognized as an independent tradition once again.
When Buddhism arrived in Tibet it competed with indigenous traditions for the loyalty of Tibetans. These indigenous traditions combined elements of animism and shamanism. Some of the shaman priests of Tibet were called “bon,” and in time “Bon” became the name of the non-Buddhist religious traditions that lingered in Tibetan culture.
In time elements of Bon were absorbed into Buddhism. At the same time, Bon traditions absorbed elements of Buddhism, until Bonpo seemed more Buddhist than not. Many adherents of Bon consider their tradition to be separate from Buddhism. However, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has recognized Bonpo as a school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The standard answer to the question “What is a Buddha?” is, “A Buddha is someone who has realized the enlightenment that ends the cycle of birth and death and which brings liberation from suffering.”
Buddha is a Sanskrit word that means “awakened one.” He or she is awakened to the true nature of reality, which is a short definition of what English-speaking Buddhists call “enlightenment.”
A Buddha is also someone who has been liberated from Samsara, the cycle of birth and death. He or she is not reborn, in other words. For this reason, anyone who advertises himself as a “reincarnated Buddha” is confused, to say the least.
However, the question “What is a Buddha?” could be answered many other ways.
Buddhas in Theravada Buddhism
There are two major schools of Buddhism, most often called Theravada and Mahayana. For purposes of this discussion, Tibetan and other schools of Vajrayana Buddhism are included in “Mahayana.” Theravada is the dominant school in southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia) and Mahayana is the dominant school in the rest of Asia.
According to Theravada Buddhists, there is only one Buddha per age of the earth, and ages of the earth last a very long time.
The Buddha of the current age is the Buddha, the man who lived about 25 centuries ago and whose teachings are the foundation of Buddhism. He is sometimes called Gautama Buddha or (more often in Mahayana) Shakyamuni Buddha. We also often refer to him as ‘the historical Buddha.’
Early Buddhist scriptures also record names of the Buddhas of earlier ages. The Buddha of the next, future age is Maitreya.
Note that the Theravadins are not saying that only one person per age may be enlightened. Enlightened women and men who are not Buddhas are called arhats or arahants. The significant difference that makes a Buddha a Buddha is that a Buddha is the one who has discovered the dharma teachings and made them available in that age.
Buddhas in Mahayana Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhists also recognize Shakyamuni, Maitreya, and the Buddhas of previous ages. Yet they don’t limit themselves to one Buddha per age. There could be infinite numbers of Buddhas. Indeed, according to the Mahayana teaching of Buddha Nature, “Buddha” is the fundamental nature of all beings. In a sense, all beings are Buddha.
Mahayana art and scriptures are populated by a number of particular Buddhas who represent various aspects of enlightenment or who carry out particular functions of enlightenment. However, it’s a mistake to consider these Buddhas as god-like beings separate from ourselves.
To complicate matters further, the Mahayana doctrine of the Trikaya says that each Buddha has three bodies. The three bodies are called dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. Very simply, dharmakaya is the body of absolute truth, sambhogakaya is the body that experiences the bliss of enlightenment, and nirmanakaya is the body that manifests in the world.
In Mahayana literature, there is an elaborate schema of transcendent (dharmakaya and sambhogakaya) and earthly (nirmanakaya) Buddhas who correspond to each other and represent different aspects of the teachings. You will stumble upon them in the Mahayana sutras and other writings, so it’s good to be aware of who they are.
Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light and the principal Buddha of the Pure Land school.
Bhaiṣajyaguru, the Medicine Buddha, who represents the power of healing.
Vairocana, the universal or primordial Buddha.
Oh, and about the fat, laughing Buddha — he emerged from Chinese folklore in the 10th century. He is called Pu-tai or Budai in China and Hotei in Japan. It is said that he is an incarnation of the future Buddha, Maitreya.
All Buddhas Are One
The most important thing to understand about the Trikaya is that the countless Buddhas are, ultimately, one Buddha, and the three bodies are also our own body. A person who has intimately experienced the three bodies and realized the truth of these teachings is called a Buddha.
O’Brien, Barbara. “What Is a Buddha? Who Was the Buddha?” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/whats-a-buddha-450195.