The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the first day of November as All Saints' Day, partly because there are far more saints in the Vatican's official records than there are individual feast days in the year, but mostly because of the need to counter-program against all those pagans out there. The night before, after all, is Samhain, the Celtic Feast of the Dead, and it has long been the Church's practice to absorb customs from other groups and present them suitably filtered as its own, a notion adopted in recent years by, among others, William Jefferson Clinton.

As the beatification process for the much-mourned Mother Teresa gets under way, perhaps we should be grateful, just this once, for coverage by the mass media. If nothing else, there are millions, perhaps billions of people, who were witness to her good works. Not all the saints on the calendar can claim this much corroboration; in recent years, the Church has admitted that some of them have scarcely any evidence of ever having existed, which prompted some wag to produce a talisman against misfortune bearing the name of "Mr. Christopher".

Then again, it's always nice to see the Vatican getting a grasp, however tenuous, on reality. Aristarchus had figured out by about 275 BCE that the earth revolved around the sun, a notion that did not sit well with early Christians, or, for that matter, with some much later ones. Copernicus published his own findings in 1543, which the Church duly placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum with the usual warning to sinners who might read this sort of blasphemy. Galileo showed up in 1632 with experimental evidence, and was promptly arrested, threatened with torture, and forced to recant. This sort of thing went on routinely for centuries, and while Catholicism has brightened up recently the Index, mostly ignored in its latter years, was put out of its misery by Paul VI in 1966, and even Galileo is now officially off the hook there is no shortage of Christian denominations with no clue and no apparent ability or desire to obtain one. You'll spot them easily: they're the ones who insist that Mother Teresa, being one of those awful Catholics, is spending the remainder of eternity in hell. One hopes that God does have a sense of humor after all.

The Vent

1 November 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill