H. Paul Jeffers
Dark Mysteries of the Vatican
Copyright © 2010 H. Paul Jeffers
To Jennifer and Mark Nisbit
For there is nothing hid, which shall not be made manifest: neither was it made secret, but that it may come abroad.
– Jesus Christ (Matthew 4:22)
Introduction: Keys to the Kingdom
Almost from the moment Jesus Christ changed the fisherman Simon’s name to Peter and gave him the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, the religion that was built in Christ’s name began keeping secrets out of necessity. Deemed by the Roman emperors to be dangerous, Christians literally went underground by gathering to worship in catacombs and caves. They came up with secret hand signals, symbols, and other signs of recognition and means of communication to avoid detection and persecution. From its outset, Christianity was a religion of secrets.
After three centuries of suppression, the outlaw status of followers of Christ ended when the Emperor Constantine converted to the religion after literally seeing the light. While on the way to battle his most powerful rival, Maxentius, at the Tiber River in A.D. 312, “he reported seeing the cross of Christ superimposed on the sun with the words ‘In hoc signo vinces’ (In this sign you shall conquer).” He ordered his men to put crosses on their shields and won the battle. “The very next year, he met with Emperor Licinius, ruler of the Roman Empire’s eastern provinces, to sign the Edict of Milan, giving equal rights to all religious groups within the Roman Empire. He returned property seized from Christians, built a large number of churches, donated land,” sent his mother to Jerusalem to find the place where Christ was crucified and build a church on the spot, and ordered the bishops of the religion to convene in the “first Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 to deal with false teaching within the church.” Results of this conclave were a formal list of Christian beliefs (the Nicaean Creed) and approval of texts for inclusion in the Holy Bible.
In this process of “canonization,” by which excluded texts were deemed to be heretical, the bishops who met at Nicaea claimed an absolute authority to decide what knowledge could be disseminated and what should be kept secret that the Roman Catholic Church continues to assert. When Constantine constructed the Basilica of St. Peter on Vatican Hill in the heart of Rome as the throne of Peter’s successors, it became the Holy See.
The current location of St. Peter’s Basilica is the site of the Circus of Nero in the first century. After Constantine officially recognized Christianity, he started construction (in 324) of a great basilica on the spot where tradition placed the crucifixion and burial of St. Peter. In the mid-fifteenth century, it was decided to rebuild the old basilica. Pope Nicholas V asked architect Bernardo Rossellino to start adding to the old church. Construction on the present building began under Pope Julius II in 1596 and was finished in 1615 under Pope Paul V. Surrounding structures that constitute Vatican City include buildings that house the Vatican Secret Archives.
As “defender of the faith” for more than sixteen centuries and the repository of the suppressed knowledge of centuries, the Vatican has become the focus of people who weave countless legends, myths, and tales of mysterious doings, sinister secrets, and dark criminal conspiracies concocted within its walls. Contributing to suspicions surrounding the Vatican is an aura of mystery that has surrounded the Roman Catholic Church for centuries, including use of Latin in ceremonies, secrecy in the selection of popes, symbolic robes and headpieces, rituals of worship, belief in miracles and apparitions of saints, and the Church’s historic claim that in matters of faith the pope was infallible. All this left non-Catholics feeling that the Church was rooted in secrecy.