I have always had a passion for history. I studied it at A level alongside Chemistry and Pure Maths, an unusual combo, and read it at Uni. I still try to keep abreast of recent developments in thinking and my mental taste buds tingled when I heard that Radio 4’s “In Our Time” was going to be discussing the Borgias. You don’t need a degree in history to have heard of the Borgias; they are a byword for depravity.
You may be familiar with some of the story. A family whose gene pool concentrated all that is bad. First, there is the ultimate femme fatale, Lucretia, a skilled poisoner and sexual predator who had carnal knowledge of both her father, who happened to be the pope, and her brother. These two men, Pope Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia, stand out in the annals of history for their political corruption, sexual appetites and bloodlust!
This Spanish family has been a veritable gold mine to TV writers, movie producers and authors of a certain genre of fiction. They can all ply their trade; maintaining a veneer of education while liberally sprinkling erotica and gore.
As always, the In Our Time team painted a word portrait of their subject. Placing the family in their historical context and examining the actual evidence available. It transpires that the Borgia myth is exactly that, a myth. There is no evidence of incest or of Lucretia being a lethal pharmacologist. Indeed she is very much a victim. Throughout history women from “good” families have been a bargaining chip in the world of diplomacy or family ambition. Sadly that mentality survives today in some cultures. Once Lucretia was able to escape the world of political intrigue she wanted nothing more than to settle down to happy domesticity and family life. More girl next door than Morticia Addams!
Cesare lived up to his stereotype a bit more. He was not a man that would laugh off an insult being much more likely to resort to swordplay. However, judged by the soldiers of his day he doesn’t stand out as bloodthirsty and, as he was the patron of a certain Leonardo Da Vinci, he obviously had a softer side.
Pope Alexander VI will probably not be put forward by the Church of Rome for canonisation any time soon; a most unsuitable man to be a successor to St Peter. However, he wasn’t the first Pope to try and establish a dynasty and he won’t be the last to take the role of statesman more seriously than his role as Vicar of Christ.
So the Borgias turn out to be a bit tame really; you probably wouldn’t want them as neighbours but they are just another dysfunctional family.
So why am I talking about them? I heard the In Our Time broadcast at about the same time I was digesting the news that synod had voted not to allow women bishops and it seemed to me that a myth was about to start about Christ’s family as it did about the Borgia family. We can already read in the newspapers that the Church is out of touch, is misogynist, antediluvian, dysfunctional, please add any adjective you have heard!
The fact is that a small minority of the CofE’s synod rejected women bishops. Remember the CofE is not the Church; it is but one denomination within it. Regardless, the CofE would be planning the ordination of women bishops today but for the curious alliance of two groups; first, the Anglo Catholics and, secondly, the Conservative Evangelicals.
Most Anglo Catholics I have met are a curious phenomenon. By doctrinal inclination they would be Roman Catholics but they like the legitimacy of having a woman in their bed. In their bed mark you; not in their profession. The conservative evangelicals are persuaded, in my view, by an interpretation of scripture that does not stand up to the rigour of intellectual interpretation. Check the credentials of members of each house who voted for women bishops if you doubt me.
The debacle of synod has damaged the church enormously; not just for the reasons I have suggested above.
By opening the body of Christ, for that is what the church is supposed to be, to ridicule the Church’s ability to be seen as a relevant voice is diminished. On issues such as abortion, the environment, the nature of marriage, UK poverty, the abuse of capitalism and all the other issues that the body of Christ should be concerned with the church now has a tarnished image. One of those issues, championed by Christ, is respect for women. Read about the woman caught in adultery, or the conversation Christ had with the Samaritan woman by the well. Our Lord was an early champion of women’s rights; we, as a church and as a men’s group should do no less.
At Strive many of us have signed up to CVM’s CodeLife. It does what it says on the tin – gives us a code for life! One of the codes is that we will treat all men and women as brothers and sisters. We will not discriminate. For more info on the code have a look here http://codelife.org/code.html
I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t be downcast by the events at synod. Christ’s church has had bigger challenges and if Melvyn Bragg can rehabilitate the Borgias I’m pretty sure that honest Christians will win the day!