The Primitive Church had promised that the true life waited after the earthly, and the true life was heavenly in the Kingdom of Heaven. They turned away from this world because, according to the Bible, Jesus had called for modesty and spirituality:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And he had warned that the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven would be violent, but that the faithful would be redeemed:
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my names sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The ancestors of the Primitive Church decided that the Bible, which consisted of a series of detached manuscripts, should be rounded with Johns Book of Revelation, which stated:
And he seized the dragon, that ancient snake, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended.
Christianity was based on eschatology, the doctrine of the last days. The understanding of history was linear: from Creation over Last Judgment to the Salvation by God in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus therefore ended his missionary command with the words: And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
In the medieval Christianity, earthly life did not have its goal and value in itself, but, according to the Danish church historian Hal Koch, sought in all its forms to prepare and raise up for the heavenly.
Last Judgment applied to both the individual who, after his death, had to be responsible for his actions – punishment could consist in extralong burning time in the Purgatory and reward in a shorter time – but also for all mankind who went to the end of time in the place called Armageddon.
With the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, men must live in him, Paul had promised.
When the Catholic Majesties of Spain conquered the last Moorish kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, many believed that they would then conquer the whole world, defeat Antichrist and begin the Empire of Millennium. If one died during the battle for Christ, ones future was assured as a martyr.
Such notions had for centuries led many to set out on crusades, but it had become more difficult to mobilize for new crusades.
Instead of risking life on the battlefield, the upper class preferred to pay for church construction and decoration in order to secure access to the Kingdom of Heaven. The poor could not afford that; if you could scrape money together you could buy a piece of paper promising indulgence and shorten the time in the purgatory.
Doing good deeds to shorten the time of the purgatory had begun after the Council in Nicaea in the year 325, when bishops had been mandated to forgive sins, and in the following centuries it was made acceptable to pay for pardon. The payment system became increasingly necessary, because the popes often lacked money to build churches or wage wars.
The bishops ability to forgive sins and the individuals ability to buy indulgence implied that salvation no longer was due to God alone, not only was due to that one had been baptized, as it had been believed in the Primitive Church, but also mans own deeds or money.
The church became rich, and in 1463 Pope Pius II recognized:
They say we live in luxury, that we hoard up money, that we are slaves of ambitions, that we ride well-fed mules and distinguished horses, that we wear suits with wide borders, that we walk through the city with distended cheeks under the red hat and dressed in wide robes, that we breed hunting dogs, that we spend money on actors and parasites, while we give nothing to the defense of religion. And it is not entirely wrong: There are many among the cardinals and other celebrities who behave like this. To be honest, there is too much luxury and splendor in Our Curia.
Criticism also grew at the bottom of the churchs hierarchy: the Augustinian monk Martin Luther claimed his 95 critical theses in 1517 and later followed 30 years of religious war in Europe. Protestantism as such meant nothing to the early conquests of America, but the Catholic Churchs fear of Protestant criticism did.
Some Franciscan monks aimed at the ‘new world’ to find the beginning of a new Christianity. Expectations for a fast mission were boosted by the fact that the people these Europeans first encountered in America allegedly did not worship gods. But when they discovered that the Indians would not submit to Christianity, they did no longer question a violent conquest. On the contrary, they compared the conquistador Hernán Cortés with Moses: he had opened the gate to the new Christianity and to the new church for the missionaries. The Conquista and the subsequent epidemics were presented as the necessary cleansing and punishment.
In his last manuscript, the ‘Indian-friendly’ Franciscan monk Sahagún in 1585 wrote about Mexico:
It has been determined that our Lord God purposely kept secret this hidden portion of the world until these times, and that by His divine commandment has seen fit to reveal it to the Roman Catholic Church, not with the objective that its inhabitants be destroyed and oppressed; but rather that they be brought out of the darkness of idolatry in which they have lived, and be brought into the Catholic Church and instructed in the Christian religion, in order to reach the kingdom of Heaven by dying in the Faith of true Christians.
For this very great and very important enterprise, our Lord God considered it proper that the most valiant Captain, don Hernando Cortés, open the way and demolish the wall with which this heathenness was surrounded and immured. In his presence and by his means our Lord God performed many miracles in the conquest of this land, where the door was opened so that preachers of the Holy Gospel might enter to preach the Catholic Faith to this very miserable people, who for so many years were subject to the servitude of so innumerable idolatrous rites.
Cortés was by the Franciscan monk elevated to the Christian liberator who had led the Indians out of the bond of paganism.
The earliest Christians had turned away from this world and had promised that true life was waiting after the earthly. They had been persecuted because they had rejected the state, but Christianity had become so widespread in the Roman Empire, so Emperor Constantine himself went over to Christianity; allegedly it should have happened after the power struggle in the supreme leadership, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, where he should have seen a cross flag in the sky. After this, the Christians could exploit the Roman state power to propagate Christianity, yes Christianity became the new state religion in the Roman Empire.
Christians could quote Jesus for: Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods. Some theologians interpreted that one should pay the emperor and then ignore him; others believed that the emperor was installed by God, so that people should both obey the emperor AND God. Loyalty depended on who had the earthly power, and they could quote:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
In the 15th century explorers could claim to follow Jesus missionary commandment. While the people of the Church could warn poor people not to collect treasures on earth and encourage them to collect treasures in heaven, bishops and church leaders could receive rich gifts on behalf of the church. And at the same time, popes, kings and emperors fought, who should decide over whom, who had the highest authority. Most people were not given any authority at all.
The rich, the bold and the curious who sailed for their gold dreams – and to propagate Christianity, of course! – could be pleased with the words of the Bible:
For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
It promised well to those who would go for gold. After receiving and taking large quantities of gold, Cortés accused the Aztecs of having stored gold in Lake Texcoco. And Pizarro was unsatisfied with the gold he had been given and taken, after which he accused Incas of concealing gold on the bottom of Lake Titicaca.
Not a word that Paul had written:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.
(pp. 430-434 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors
Published by Selskabet for smukkere Byfornyelse