Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Vatican City: Selling Grace
05/19/2005 - James WhiteIt was bought and paid for by the most gross selling of the grace of God in the form of the blasphemous doctrine of indulgences. Maybe that is why I could not even begin to think it was grand, or glorious, or even attractive: it stinks of the deadness of man's religion and worse, the perversion of the gospel of grace. As far as man's structures goes, to call it ornate is to engage in vast understatement. It contains art treasures beyond estimation: here is but one, the famous work of Michaelangelo, situated to your right as soon as you enter the edifice. But St. Peter's is cold, hard, unfeeling, dead. The ornately decorated crypts mock the dead bones within them: these great pontiffs, many of whom lived lives of power and luxury and wealth, took none of it with them. And while their crypts are meant to point to their great power and works, today they are visited primarily by a gawking public without a clue as to who they were, what they did, or why, and in fact, could completely care less.
Some are almost mocked by the artwork meant to honor them. This picture is very dark mainly because what it is of is very dark: this was a recent Pope (I don't recall the name---all the Roman numerals and Pauls etc. started to run together, but I'm sure someone will write to let me know), but I noted to our guide that if someone made a ghoulish statue like that of me I'd come back from the dead to anathematize them. It is just horrible. It truly looks like a skeleton in papal garments. But maybe it says more than it was meant to say.
In any case, the crypts found in the main structure itself are massive, and ornate. This one is one of the largest. The light was not sufficient for me to read the inscription, so this particular fellow is safe. I could not help but be amused, however, for right after I took this picture, out of the crypt zipped a motorized go-cart type thing, carrying some kind of boxes. It just seemed rather less than glorifying to the fellow who was being so greatly honored. His crypt has become a passageway for moving "stuff" around this huge mausoleum. No matter what else one says, the idea that any of the apostles would have ever wanted such wealth wasted upon their bones is beyond all question absurd. And though poor Peter is prominently noted around the structure, one thing is for sure: he cannot be blamed for anything done in his name by later generations of power-hungry men who have created such a religion as Rome's. I managed just this somewhat less than sharp image of the alleged resting place of Peter's bones in St. Peter's. I could not help but smile as I scanned around the structure at the citation of all the key Petrine passages, in gold (!) around the top of the walls, passages such as Matthew 16, Luke 22:32, etc., knowing how easily and forcefully the misuse of such passages can be refuted, and has been refuted, time and time again. I stood in the midst of the enemy camp and could not help but realize that everything I was seeing hangs in mid-air, all of its foundations having been washed away. I thought of all of the forged historical documents that had given rise to this place and the system it represents as well, and wondered at how it continues to stand despite floating without foundation. Someday the fiction will cease, in God's time.
Of course, one of the longest lines I stood in was the one visiting the underground crypts, specifically, that of John Paul II. No one really cared much about the rest of them---and in a hundred years, this one will not stop anyone for long, either. But for now, it remain a huge attraction. Give him credit: it's not overly ornate, and in comparison to the gaudy, self-aggrandizing ones in the main structure, it speaks far better than most.
After we left St. Peter's our host took us back around a corner away from the crowds and pointed out this building, quietly situated behind the main area. Why point out this building? Because it houses the records of the Inquisition. Inside that building are the records documenting Rome's murder of countless simple believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I could not help but comment that if Rome is Christ's Church, why not throw open all her secret archives and libraries and let everything see the light of day? Because we all know what would happen. Instead, just to the right of this picture stood one of the Swiss guards. Rome is not ready to be honest with her own history.
As I walked about this, the center of Roman power and history, I could not help but shake my head at the emptiness it represents. I thought of the formerly Reformed evangelicals in my own country who find it exhilarating to "play footsie" with Rome and to pay homage to this empty shell of external religion. How can this cold marble structure filled with dead men's bones be attractive to anyone? I honestly do not know. Connection with history? What history? The history of man's constant unwillingness to submit to the supremacy of grace and to deny to God His freedom in salvation? I guess so. How much more vital, how much more meaningful, is the true connection to history, that of the work of the living God in glorifying Himself down through the ages in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the building of His Church---a living body, vital, filled with the Spirit, not with the arrogance and pomp of Rome.