Catholic Answers

Search Articles


Navigation

Search Scans
Scans by volume
Random Article
Login - advanced access

Collections

1,001 Saints
List of Popes
Art Gallery
Map Room
RSS Feeds RSS

Curricula

Apologetics
Art
Catechetics
Christology
Church Hierarchy
Church History - to 1517 A.D.
Education
Ethics
Hagiography - saints
Homiletics - sermons
Mariology - on Mary
Patrology
Philosophy
Religious Orders
Sacred Scripture
Science

Front Matter — Vol I

Title Page
Copyright & Imprimatur
To the Knights of Columbus
Preface
Contributors
Tables of Abbreviations

Site Status

Articles:11,552
Images:42,348
Links:183,872
Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
prev: Imposition of Hands Imposition of Hands Improperia next: Improperia

Impostors

Treatment of a number of objectionable characters not of sufficient importance to claim separate treatment

High Resolution Scan ———————————

Login or register to access high resolution scans and other advanced features.

Registration is Free!

Errata* for Impostors:
———————————

Login or register to access the errata and other advanced features.

Registration is Free!


————
* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Impostors. —Under this heading we may notice a certain number of objectionable characters who, while not of sufficient importance to claim separate treatment, have at various epochs so far achieved notoriety or caused disturbance in the Church by their mendacity or their moral turpitude, that they cannot be entirely passed over in such a work as the present. That there would be hypocrites who would take advantage of a profession of piety to mask their own evil designs had been clearly foretold by Christ in the Gospels. "Beware of false prophets," He had said, "who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt., vii, 15), and again "there will rise up false Christs and false prophets and they shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce (if it were possible) even the elect" (Mark, xiii, 22). The same note is heard in the other books of the New Testament; for example: "Many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I John, iv, 1); "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be among you lying teachers" (II Pet., ii, 1), and the early fulfilment of these predictions is attested by the language of the "Didache" (cc. xi and xvi), and by Justin Martyr (about A.D. 150) who observes: "Our Lord said that many false prophets and false Christs would appear in His name and would deceive many; and so it has come about. For many have taught godless, blasphemous and unholy doctrines forging them in His name" (Dial., c. lxxxii). Putting aside, as lying beyond our province, the succession of pseudo-Messiahs among the Jews, men like John of Gischala and Simon Bar-Giora, who played so terrible a part in the story of the siege of Jerusalem, we may recognize in the Simon Magus of whom we read in Acts viii, 5-24, the first notorious impostor of Christian church history. He offered St. Peter money that he might have power to impart to others the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the Acts do not tell us very much more about him than that he had previously practiced sorcery and bewitched the people of Samaria. But Justin Martyr and other early writers inform us that he afterwards went to Rome, worked miracles there by the power of demons, and received Divine honors both in Rome and in his own country. Though much extravagant legend afterwards gathered round the name of this Simon, and in particular the story of a supposed contest in Rome between him and St. Peter, when Simon attempting to fly was brought to earth by the Apostle's word, breaking his leg in his fall, it seems nevertheless probable that there must be some foundation in fact for the account given by Justin and accepted by Eusebius. The historical Simon Magus no doubt founded some sort of religion as a counterfeit of Christianity in which he claimed to play a part analogous to that of Christ.

With the heresies of the second and third centuries, as with those of later ages, a large number of impostors were unquestionably associated. The Gnostic Marcus is declared to have combined the most extravagant teaching of formulae, by which the initiated would after death leave their bodies in this world, their souls with the Demiurge, and "ascend in their spirits at the pleroma", with the lowest kind of juggling tricks, pretending, for example, to show the contents of a glass chalice miraculously changed in color after consecration (Irenaeus, "Contra Haereses", I, xiiixxi). Similarly it is at least very doubtful whether the frenzied prophesying of the two women, Priscilla and Maximilla, who left their husbands to scour the country of Phrygia with the heretic Montanus, are not to be regarded as conscious impostures. Their orthodox opponents strenuously maintained that all the leaders of the sect were possessed by the devil and ought to be compelled to submit to exorcism. Neither were such extravagances confined to the East, although they most abounded there. St. Gregory of Tours tells us of a half crazy fanatic at the end of the sixth century who declared himself to be Christ and who traveled in the neighborhood of Arles in company with a woman whom he called Mary. He was declared to work miracles of healing and crowds of people believed in him and paid him Divine honor. In the end he moved about with a following of more than three thousand persons until he was killed in offering violence to an envoy of Bishop Aurelius. The woman named Mary under torture made a disclosure of all his frauds, but many of the populace still believed in them, and a number of other adventurers accompanied by hysterical prophetesses seem to have flourished in Gaul at the same epoch (Greg. Turon., "Hist.", X, 25). Still more famous were the impostors Adelbert and Clement, who opposed the authority of St. Boniface in Germany about the year 744. Adelbert, who was a Gaul, claimed to have been honored with supernatural favors from his birth. He drew the people away from the churches, gave them pieces of his nails and hair as relics, and told them that it was unnecessary for them to confess their sins to him because he already read their hearts. Clement, a Scotsman, rejected the canons of the Church about marriage and other disciplinary questions and maintained that Jesus Christ, in his descent into Hell, had set free all the souls confined there, even the lost and the unbaptized. The question of these heretical bishops was referred to Rome and discussed by Pope Zachary in a council held there in 745, at which there was read aloud a miraculous letter from Jesus Christ which Adelbert pretended had fallen from heaven and had been picked up by the Archangel Michael. In the end the council pronounced sentence of deposition and excommunication against the two accused (cf. Hefele, "Conciliengeschichte",—§—§363-367; Hauck, "Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands", I, 554 seq.).

Throughout the Middle Ages we meet with many examples of such half crazy fanatics, and our imperfect information does not usually allow us to pronounce in what measure insanity or conscious fraud was responsible for their pretensions. Such cases are wont more particularly to be multiplied at times of national calamity or religious excitement. The epoch of the year 1000, owing to some vague expectation (an expectation, however, which has been much exaggerated), of the coming of the day of judgment (cf. Apoc. xx, 7) marked such a crisis, and Raoul Glaber (Migne, P.L., CXLII, 643-644) tells us in particular of two ecclesiastical agitators, one named Leotardus, at Chalons, and the other Wilgardus, at Ravenna, who at that time caused great disturbance. Leotardus pretended to have had extraordinary revelations and preached some sort of socialistic doctrine preventing the people from paying tithes. When his followers eventually deserted him he drowned himself in a well. Wilgardus appears to have been a literary fanatic who believed that he had been commanded by Virgil, Horace, and Juvenal in a vision to correct the dogmatic teaching of the Church. He had many followers and formed for a while a sort of schism until he was condemned by papal authority. Of all the deluded persons, however, whose sanity must always remain in doubt, the Anabaptist John of Leyden (John Bokelzoon), who became tyrant of Munster at a much later period (1533), is the most remarkable. He believed himself endowed with supernatural powers and gifts, but preferred to act as the public executioner of his own sentences, hacking his victims to pieces with his own hands. The period of the great Schism of the West was also an epoch when many fanatical or designing persons reaped a rich harvest out of the credulity of the populace. A Greek, known as Paulus Tigrinus, pretending to be Patriarch of Constantinople, after a successful career of fraud in Cyprus and elsewhere, came to Rome, where he was detected and imprisoned by Urban VI. At the election of Boniface IX he was released and took refuge with the Duke of Savoy, whom he imposed upon with the same pretense of being the true Patriarch of Constantinople. By this prince he was sent with a dozen horses to Avignon and received as patriarch by the antipope, Clement VII. Thence he eventually made his escape, carrying with him many rich presents which he had received from the deluded Clement. Another famous impostor of this period was a Franciscan friar, one James of Julich, who performed all the functions of a bishop without ever having received episcopal consecration. He was at first admitted as a bishop auxiliary by Florentius, Bishop of Utrecht. Great scandal and disturbance were caused when the truth was discovered, on account of the large numbers of persons whom he had (of course invalidly) ordained priests. He was solemnly degraded, in 1392, by a commission of seven bishops and on being handed over to the secular arm was sentenced to be boiled alive, but this sentence was mitigated in execution. Nothing, however, could more clearly illustrate the extent to which a period of civil war encourages visionaries and religious impostors than the history of France's sainted heroine, Joan of Arc. In fact the principal obstacle to the recognition of her own inspiration has been found in the circumstance that several other visionaries, of whom Catherine of La Rochelle was the most noted, claimed similar Divine missions at about the same period. The facts have been exaggerated for their own purposes by such writers as Vallet de Viriville (Charles VII, II, 129) and Anatole France (Jeanne d'Arc, II, 96); but there certainly were a number of such impostors, both male and female; and in particular five years after the Maid was burnt at the stake another woman impersonated her, was received at Orleans as the true Joan of Arc, and found influential supporters in that character for more than three years.

Other cases of imposture in the fifteenth century were undoubtedly fostered by the Wycliffite and Hussite heresies. If Sir John Oldcastle, the Wycliffite martyr, really believed, as is asserted on good contemporary authority, that he would rise again three days after his death, he was clearly the victim of delusions, but the details associated with the veneration of the ashes of Richard Wyche, burned in 1440 (Gairdner, "Lollardy", I,171), imply some admixture of deliberate fraud. In Germany the social revolt so largely encouraged by Hussite doctrines was turned to account by more than one adventurer. Johann Bohm, who in 1476 gathered round him a crowd of peasants, numbering sometimes as many as 30,000, at Niklashausen in Franconia, seems to have been the tool of Hussites more astute than himself. He professed to have had revelations from the Blessed Virgin, and declared war upon all recognition of priestly authority, upon the payment of tithes, and in fact upon all property. He was eventually captured by the Bishop of Wurzburg and burnt (Janssen, "Gesch. d. deutschen Volkes", II, 401). Somewhat similar in its partially social aims was the rebellion on English soil of Jack Cade, who professed to be a descendant of the Earls of Mortimer. How far these pretensions and a certain mountebank element in his character gained him his influence over his followers it is difficult to decide. After London had for a day or two been in the hands of the rebels, the revolt was put down, and Cade eventually slain (1450). Two other impostures of somewhat later date—those of Lambert Simnel (1487), who pretended to be the son of the murdered Duke of Clarence, and Perkin Warbeck (1497), who announced himself as Richard Duke of York, the younger of the two princes believed to have been smothered in the Tower—are famous in English history, but neither of them had any religious character. For the same reason we need not touch here upon sundry other noted impersonations of characters of royal dignity, e.g. the Alexis Comnenus who appeared in the twelfth century as the rival of Isaac Comnenus II; the Baldwin who appeared in Flanders in 1225 after the death of the true Baldwin in the East; the adventurer who impersonated Frederic II and who when seized and tortured by the Emperor Rudolph in 1284 confessed the fraud, not to speak of several others. Two similar pretenders to royalty, however, are of more consequence, and the impersonation, if impersonation it was, is buried in deeper mystery. When King Sebastian of Portugalin 1578 fought his last desperate battle against the Moors upon African soil, there was some conflict of evidence regarding the manner of his death, and though what purported to be his dead body was brought back and interred in Portugal, rumors persistently circulated that he had escaped and was still alive. Influenced by the fact that Philip II of Spain now claimed and occupied the throne of the sister kingdom, a whole series of pretenders appeared, each averring that he was in truth the Sebastian whom men believed to have perished. The first three of these claimants were vulgar rogues, but the fourth played his part with extraordinary firmness and consummate ability. He obtained recognition from a number of people who had known Sebastian well, and though the Spanish Viceroy of Naples seized him and sent him to the galleys, he seems to have been treated by the Spanish authorities with a curious degree of consideration. Even now it cannot be affirmed with absolute certainty that his story was a false one, though nearly all historians pronounce against him.

Still more doubtful is the case of "the false Demetrius". The true Demetrius, the son of Tsar Ivan, the Terrible, was murdered in 1592. Muscovy after Ivan's death fell into terrible anarchy, and not long afterwards there appeared in Poland a young man who declared that he was Demetrius who had escaped the massacre, and that he now meant to press his claim to the throne of the Tsars. Sigismund, King of Poland, lent him his support. He made himself master of Moscow and was generally received with enthusiasm, although he made no secret of the fact that during his residence in Poland he had adopted the Roman Faith. Probably the merits of the historical controversy as to his identity have never been quite fairly judged, because all have agreed in describing him as a tool of the Jesuits, and have, consequently, taken it for granted that the whole claim was a political coup devised by them to draw Russia over to the Roman obedience. It has, however, been clearly shown how doubtful is the assumption that Demetrius was really an impostor. (See Pierling, "Rome et Demetrius", Paris, 1878; and "La Russie et le Saint-Siege" of the same author.) Of the other royal pretenders, and notably of the six various adventurers who came forward in the character of the Dauphin Louis, the son of Louis XVI, there is no need to say anything. Neither need we linger over such fantastic personages as Paracelsus (Philip Bombast von Hohenheim, 1493-1541), who, despite his parade of cabbalistic formulae and his pretense of Divine inspiration, was really for his age a scientific genius, or Nostradamus (1503-1566), the Parisian astrologer and prophet, who also practiced as a physician, or Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo, 1743-1795), who died in the dungeons of the Castle of Sant' Angelo after an almost unprecedented career of fraud, in which a sort of freemasonry, called "Egyptian Masonry", invented by him in England, played a notable part. Such English astrologers on the other hand as John Dee (1527-1608), whose life has recently been written by C. F. Smith (1909), William Lily (1602-1681), and John Gadbury (1627-1704), seem to have been sincere believers in their own strange science, and that curious character, Valentine Greatrakes (1629-1683), was not a mere charlatan but undoubtedly possessed some natural gift of healing. More to our purpose are a number of feigned or deluded ecstaticas who often traded upon the popular credulity in countries like Spain that were ready to welcome the miraculous. Amongst the most famous of these was Magdalena de la Cruz (1487-1560), a Franciscan nun of Cordova, who for many years was honored as a saint. She was believed to have the stigmata and to take no other food than the Holy Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament was said to fly to her tongue from the hand of the priest who was giving Holy Communion, and it seemed at such moments that she was raised from the ground. The same miraculous levitation took place during her ecstasies at which time also she was radiant with supernatural light. So universal was the popular veneration, that ladies of the highest rank, when about to be confined, sent to her the cradles or garments prepared for the expected child, that she might bless them. This was done by the Empress Isabel, in 1527, before the birth of Philip II. On the other hand St. Ignatius Loyola had always regarded her with suspicion. Falling dangerously ill in 1543, Magdalena confessed to a long career of hypocrisy, ascribing most of the marvels to the action of demons by which she was possessed, but maintaining their reality. She was sentenced by the Inquisition, in an auto-da fe at Cordova, in 1546, to perpetual imprisonment in a convent of her order, and there she is believed to have ended her days most piously amid marks of the sincerest repentance (see Gorres, "Mystik", V, 168-174; Lea, "Chapters from Relig. Hist. of Spain", 330-335). A large number of similar cases have been discussed in considerable detail by Lea both in his "Chapters" just cited, and also in the fourth volume of his "History of the Inquisition of Spain", but Lea, though indefatigable as a compiler, is not to be relied on in the conclusions and inferences he draws.

One Italian impostor at this period, who achieved a European reputation, was Joseph Francis Borro or Borri (1627-1695). In consequence of some crime committed in his dissolute youth, he had taken sanctuary in a church at Rome. There he pretended to be converted, and to have received from God a mission as a reformer. He had revelations about the Trinity, and declared that God had appointed him to be Generalissimo of an army, which in the name of the pope was to exterminate all heretics. He also maintained that the Blessed Virgin was divinely and miraculously conceived, that she was, consequently, of the same nature as her Son and present with Him in the Blessed Eucharist. Borro was arrested by the Inquisition and sentenced in 1661, but he managed to escape and traveled in many parts of Europe. He seems to have lent himself entirely to a career of vulgar fraud, and amongst his other victims he obtained considerable sums of money from Queen Christina of Sweden (this was before her reception into the Catholic Church), upon the pretext of making researches to discover the philosopher's stone. Eventually he gravitated back to Rome, was there arrested, and died in prison in 1695 (see Cantu, "Eretici d'Italia", III, 330). It is also hardly to be doubted that in consequence of the witch-finding mania which prevailed in both the Protestant and Catholic countries of Europe, during the last half of the sixteenth and the greater part of the seventeenth century, as well as the exaggerated belief in demoniacal possession current during the same period, the minds of many weak, vicious, or designing persons were fascinated by the supposed possibilities of intercourse with the devil in a more or less visible shape. How much credit is to be attached to the confessions undoubtedly made by many of those accused of sorcery, it seems impossible to decide. Neither is it easy to arrive at the real facts in such criminal indictments as that of the priest Louis Gauffridi, burnt for his satanical practices and his immoral relations with the "convulsionnaires" in the Ursuline convent of the Sainte-Baume, near Aachen, in 1611, that of the pretended ecstatica, Madeleine Bavent, who upon similar charges was put to death with her confessor at Louviers, in 1647, or that of Urbain Grandier, the necromancer priest, supposed to have cast a spell over the possessed nuns of Loudun in the time of Cardinal Richelieu. These and similar stories, which have been exploited again and again in such prurient and anti-religious works as Michelet's "La Sorciere", from an historical point of view still remain shrouded in an almost impenetrable obscurity. On the other hand few will now venture to identify themselves with that unquestioning acceptance of all kinds of satanic and demoniacal phenomena which is to be found in the fourth and fifth volumes of Gorres's "Mystik". The dangers of excessive credulity of this kind have been too lamentably brought home to our own generation by the outrageous impostures of "Leo Taxil" to be readily forgotten. At present the tendency of historians is to detect deliberate fraud, not so much perhaps in the sorcerers themselves, as in the pretended intuitions of such "witch-finders" as Matthew Hopkins, who in the years 1645-1646 tortured hundreds of miserable victims in East Anglia, under the pretext of finding witch-marks, a procedure which generally ended in their condemnation and death. It is pitiable that the most devout Nonconformist leaders, men like Baxter and Calamy, regarded Hopkins as the inspired agent of Heaven in this work.

Towards the close of the seventeenth century, the discovery of the supposed Popish Plot occasioned an epidemic of malicious impostures in England. The persecution of Catholics for more than a hundred years previously had let loose a tribe of spies who, passing from side to side, as fear or interest suggested, scrupled at no form of trickery. In a man like the priest-hunter, Richard Topcliffe (1532-1604), who cruelly tortured Father Southwell, the martyr, in his own house, the note of brutality prevailed, but that of treachery and fraud was not absent. With Gilbert Gifford (d. 1590), the government agent who betrayed Mary Queen of Scots to her doom, the case was reversed. Not only he, but Robert Bruce (d. 1602), the Scottish spy and swindler, John Cecil (d. 1626), the agent of Burleigh and afterwards the associate of the "Appellant" priests, and several others were pitiable rogues prepared at all times to sell themselves to the highest bidder. A little later we have another example of the same type in James Wadsworth (1604-1656), the son of a fervent convert of the same name, who had become in his later years a priest and Jesuit. James Wadsworth the younger lived upon the money which he earned by his treacherously acquired knowledge of English Catholics and their secrets. What-ever may be said of James La Cloche, a supposed natural son of Charles II and for a while a Jesuit scholastic, whose story has recently attracted attention (see Barnes, "The Man of the Mask" and the review, by Andrew Lang, in "The Athenaeum", December 26, 1908), it seems clear that La Cloche and his double were both swindlers, though not of the treacherous order. However, the comparative respite accorded to Catholics by the accession of Charles II was also accompanied by a great recrudescence of anti-papal feeling. Two unprincipled scoundrels, Israel Tongue (who, though less clearly culpable than his confederate, cannot have acted in good faith) and Titus Oates, a young man whose record was already infamous, concocted a scheme to exploit the anti-popery ferment. Oates, to worm himself into the secrets of the Catholics, pretended conversion and offered himself to the Jesuits. He was sent to Valladolid on trial but was soon expelled. Professing repentance he was allowed another trial at St-Omer, but expelled a second time. Coming to Tongue in London, the two, in August, 1678, evolved the details of a wildly extravagant plot which the pope and the Jesuits were supposed to have brought to the verge of execution. All the preposterous details were greedily swallowed by the English populace, and in the panic which ensued some thirty-five victims, Catholics of position, Jesuits, and others, had their lives sworn away by the grossest perjury. Oates, whom his modern biographer (Seccombe, "Twelve Bad Men", 154) describes as "the bloodiest villain since the world began", found a host of abettors and imitators, amongst whom Thomas Dangerfield, an adventurer who also personated the Duke of Monmouth and claimed miraculous gifts of healing, with Stephen Dugdale, William Bedloe, Edward Turberville, and Robert Bolron, were the most conspicuous. Oates soon after became discredited, and in 1685, under James II, he was convicted of perjury and punished by floggings of unexampled severity, but under William and Mary his sentence was reversed, and in spite of fresh malpractices he received a large pension from the Government, which he drew until his death in 1705. With Oates in his later years was associated William Fuller (1670-1717), seemingly the inventor of the "warming-pan story" (concerning the birth of James, the Old Pretender) and concocter of fictitious Jacobite plots. He published letters of Mary of Modena but was convicted and pilloried.

Another swindler who tried to make money out of the fabrication of pretended Jacobite plots was Robert Young. He succeeded for a while, during that age of intrigue and mistrust, in imposing upon the popular credulity, but he was in the end detected. He was afterwards convicted of coining and executed (1700). Robert Ware the forger, the author of "Foxes and Firebrands", who has of late years been so thoroughly exposed by Father Bridgett, traded upon the same prejudices. His more public career began contemporaneously with that of Oates in 1678, and by sheltering himself behind the high reputation of his dead father, Sir James Ware, amongst whose manuscripts he pretended to discover all kinds of compromising papers, he obtained currency for his forgeries, remaining almost undetected until modern times. Many foul aspersions upon the character of individual popes, Jesuits, and other Catholics, and also upon some Puritans, which have found their way into the pages of respectable historians, are due to the fabrications of "this literary skunk", as Fr. Bridgett not unjustifiably calls him (see Bridgett, "Blunders and Forgeries", pp. 209-296). Some other vindictive and unprincipled scoundrels whose impostures for the most part took a literary form may also be mentioned here, though without any hope of exhausting the list. Fore-most among them comes the Abbe Zahorowski, a Jesuit expelled from his order in which as a young scholastic he had been guilty of certain mean and discreditable tricks. In revenge for his expulsion he contrived to write and publish the notorious "Monita Secreta", which, as a code of secret instructions issued by authority, pretended to lay bare the shameless and Machiavellian policy followed by the Society of Jesus. That the "Monita Secreta" are a forgery is now universally admitted even by opponents, and since the publication of the memoirs of Father Wielewicki (Scriptores rerum Polonicarum, vols. VII, X, XIV) no doubt remains that Zahorowski was the author (see Duhr, "Jesuitenfabeln" No. 5; Brou, "Les Jesuites de la Legende", I, 281). Hardly less dear to the no-popery champion than the "Monita Secreta" is the fictitious "Hungarian Confession" or "Fluchformular". It is a profession of faith supposed to have been exacted of converts to the Church in Hungary (c. 1676), by which among other things they were required to declare that the pope ought to receive Divine honors, and that the Blessed Virgin ought to be held higher than Christ himself. The forgery seems to have been traced to the door of George Lath, an Evangelical minister, sent to the galleys for political intrigues against the Government in Hungary, who first published it in a work called "Captivitas Papistica". Whether it was his own fabrication is not, however, certain. He may possibly have adopted, seriously and in good faith, some satirical composition in circulation at the time (see Duhr, "Jesuitenfabeln", No. 7, and S. F. Smith in "The Month", July-August, 1896).

Such satirical compositions have often been taken seriously. An example is the "Letter of the Three Bishops", which, though written by an apostate of infamous character, Peter Paul Vergerius (1554), and professing to be a letter of advice given by three bishops to the pope to help to strengthen the power of the papacy, is obviously a skit rather than a forgery. But his letter has been quoted as authentic by hundreds of Protestant controversialists from Crashaw downwards (see Lewis "The Letter of the Three Bishops"). Of the same type is an indulgence supposed to have been granted by Tetzel to remit sin unrepented of, a document really derived from a burlesque Latin drama (see "The Month", July, 1905, p. 96); but forgery of the most flagrant type was often used, as, for example, by the ex-Capuchin Father Norbert Parisot, later called Platel, who in the time of Benedict XIV wrote a book of memoirs on the Jesuit missions, professing to incorporate authentic documents, for the most part fabricated by himself. He afterwards left his order, went to Holland and to Portugal, and is suspected to have fabricated the religious effusions which were made the pretext for burning Father Walafrida as a heretic in 1761 (see Brou, "Les Jesuites de la Legende", II, 82).

In the encouragement of the crowd of impostors who flourished at the beginning of the eighteenth century many leading members of the Anglican episcopate, notably Archbishop Tenison, Bishops Compton of London and White Kennett of Peterborough, were conspicuous. A whole tribe of Huguenots and French "proselytes" (i.e. seceders from Catholicism) were welcomed in England with open arms; but the frauds and immoralities of these men, many of which were brought to light in the recriminations of the famous "Bangor Controversy" (a name derived from Hoadly, Bishop of Bangor, the patron of de la Pilloniere, an ex-Jesuit who played a principal part in the fray), would suffice to fill a volume. It seems plain that such converts to Protestantism as Malard, Rouire, and Fournier, despite the eminence of their ecclesiastical patrons, were thorough going scoundrels (see Thurston, "Weeds from the Pope's Garden", in "The Month", February, 1897). For example, the last named, obtaining Bishop Hoadly's signature on a scrap of paper, wrote over it a promissory note for £8000 and sued the bishop for the money. When the claim was resisted, Fournier, an ex-priest, impudently declared that the bishop when in his cups had signed the note and given it to him in payment of a debt. But even at this stage, Fournier, strong in his denunciations of popery, found supporters against the bishop. The same was conspicuously the case with the ex-Jesuit, Archibald Bower, who published in 1743 a most scurrilous "History of the Popes" and mendaciously calumniated his former co-religionists. He was ardently taken up by eminent Protestant ecclesiastics and statesmen, but his insincerity in the end became so patent that he was exposed and denounced by the Anglican, John Douglas, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury (see Pollen in "The Month", September, 1908). More nearly corresponding to the ordinary type of impostor was the famous Psalmanazar (1679-1763), a Frenchman, educated in childhood by the Dominicans, who coming to England pretended to be a pagan from Formosa, and professed himself a convert to Anglicanism, winning favor by abusing the Jesuits. He was warmly encouraged by Bishop Compton, to whom he presented a Catechism in "Formosan", a purely fictitious language. Afterwards he fell into poverty and disrepute, confessed the fraud, and is said to have been sincerely repentant, being visited by Dr. Johnson in his last days. His accomplice and mentor Innes, an Anglican clergyman, before the cheat was detected was rewarded by being made chaplain-general of the English forces in Portugal.

Passing over a certain number of religious enthusiasts who may in various degrees have been self-convinced and who range from the crazy hallucinations of Joanna Southcott (d. 1814), who believed she was to bring forth the Messiah, or of Richard Brothers, the divinely crowned descendant of King David and ruler of the world (c. 1792), to the miracle-working claims of Anna Lee (d. 1784), the foundress of the American Shakers, we will pause only to say a word of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the first apostle of Mormonism. It cannot be doubted that this man, who after a dissolute youth professed to have visions of a golden book, consisting of metal plates inscribed with strange characters, which he dug for and found, was a deliberate impostor. Smith pretended to decipher and translate these mystic writings, after which the "Book of Mormon" was taken back to heaven by an angel. The translation was printed, but a flood of revelations was still vouchsafed to the seer. Followers, who adopted the name of "The Latter Day Saints", gathered round him, and after some rather brutal treatment in Missouri provoked by their polygamy and other doctrines, the sect finally settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. In this State Joseph Smith and Hyrum his brother were lynched on June 27, 1844, amid circumstances of great barbarity. A revulsion of feeling followed, and Brigham Young, Smith's successor, achieved a corresponding success when he transferred the headquarters of the sect to Utah (see Lynn, "Story of the Mormons"; and Nelson, "Scientific aspects of Mormonism"). An English analogue of Mormonism was afforded by the Agapemonists from 1848 onward, who under their founder, H. S. Prince, combined a fantastic belief in a reincarnation of the Deity in Prince and his successors with the grossest laxity of morals. But leaving out of account the class of criminal impersonations for motives of gain (like that of Arthur Orton in the celebrated Tichborne case, where the pretender, we may note, seriously damaged his case by his ignorance of the life and Catholic practice of the Jesuit College of Stonyhurst in which Roger Tichborne was brought up), anti-Catholic prejudice is still responsible for a large proportion of modern impostures. Famous among these are the supposed revelations of Maria Monk, who professed to have been a nun for some years in the convent of the Hotel-Dieu, at Montreal, and who published in 1835 a wild and often self-contradictory story of the murders and immoralities supposed to be committed there by priests and nuns. Though this narrative was fully refuted from the very first by unimpeachable Protestant testimony, which proved that during the period of Maria Monk's alleged residence in the convent she was leading the life of a prostitute in the city, and though this disproof has been in a hundred ways confirmed by later evidence, the "Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk" is a book still sold and circulated by various Protestant societies. Maria Monk died (1849) in prison, where she had been confined as a common pickpocket (see "The True History of Maria Monk", Catholic Truth Soc. pamphlet, Lond., 1895).

Not less famous is the case of Dr. Achilli, an ex-Dominican and anti-popery lecturer, whose long career of debauchery, first as a Catholic and then as a pretended convert to Protestantism, Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Newman exposed in 1852. In the libel action which Achilli was forced to bring, a verdict was given against Newman on certain counts, but almost the whole Protestant press of the country described the trial as a gross miscarriage of justice. Achilli's credit was in consequence completely destroyed. In the case of many of these purveyors of "awful revelations" on both sides of the Atlantic, the previous record of the lecturer is of the most scandalous kind. The men calling themselves "ex-monk Widdows" and "James Ruthven", as well as the "escaped nun", Edith O'Gorman, may also be specially mentioned in this connection. Hardly more creditable is the history of Pastor Chiniquy (1809-1899), who for many years denounced in highly prurient books and pamphlets, notably that called "The Priest, the Woman and the Confessional", the alleged abuses of the Catholic Church. It is admitted that he had been twice suspended by two different bishops before he seceded from the Church, and there is no room to doubt that these suspensions were motived by grave moral lapses of which the bishops in question had full and convincing information, though, as often happens in such cases, the girls he had seduced could not be persuaded to face the exposure involved by substantiating the charge publicly upon oath. Certain it is that, while in his early books after leaving the Church he makes no charge against the moral character of the Catholic clergy but rather on the contrary attributes his change of faith to doctrinal considerations, in his later works, notably his "Fifty years in the Church of Rome" (1885), he represents himself as forced to relinquish Catholicism by the appalling scandals he had witnessed (see S. F. Smith's "Pastor Chiniquy", Catholic Truth Soc. pamphlet, Lond., 1908). But by that time he knew what the Protestant public demanded, while all who could effectively confute his statements were dead.

Of a different type is the most notorious imposture of modern times, that of "Leo Taxil" and "Diana Vaughan". Leo Taxil, whose true name was G. Jogand-Pages, had long been known as one of the most blasphemous and obscene of the anti-clerical writers in France. He had been repeatedly sentenced to fines and imprisonment for the filthy and libellous works he published. For example, on account of his atrocious book "Les Amours de Pie IX" he was sentenced to pay 60 000 francs at the suit of the pope's nephew. He had also founded the "Anti-Clerical", a journal which fanatically attacked all revelation and religion. In 1885 it was announced that Leo Taxil had been converted, and he soon proceeded to publish a series of pretended exposures of the practices of Freemasonry, and particularly of the "Satanisme" or Devil-worship with which he declared it was intimately bound up. Amongst other attractions he introduced a certain "Diana Vaughan", the heroine of "Palladism", who was destined to be the spouse of the demon Asmodeus, but clung to virtue, and was constantly visited by angels and devils. Various other writers, Bataille, Margiotta, Hacks, etc., exploited the same ideas and became in a measure Taxil's confederates. In 1896-1897 the imposture was finally shown up and Taxil cynically admitted that Diana Vaughan was only the name of his typist. [See Portalie, "La Fin d'une mystification", Paris, 1897, and H. Gruber (H. Gerber), "Leo Taxils Palladismus Roman", and other works, 1897-8.] Of Dr. Dowie, who professed to represent a second coming on earth of the prophet Elias, and of his followers the "Zionists", of the Christian Scientists, of the late Madame Blavatsky and A. P. Sinnett, the prophets of Esoteric Buddhism, of Mrs. Annie Besant and the believers in reincarnation, there is no need to say more here than that the existence of such cults proves conclusively that the age of credulity is not yet over.

HERBERT THURSTON


discuss this article | send to a friend

Discussion on 'Impostors'











prev: Imposition of Hands Imposition of Hands Improperia next: Improperia

Report translation problem

*Description: Copy and paste the phrase with the problem or describe how the trascription can be fixed.
  * denotes required field
Severity:

Featured

Art Gallery
Art Gallery

Catholic Q & A


Popular Subjects
Top 20 Questions

Ask A Faith Question

Quotable Catholics RSS

"In order to restore in the world the reign of Jesus Christ, nothing is as necessary as the holiness of the clergy."
-- Pope Pius X, writing on May 5, 1904 (from the article "Ecclesiastical Seminary")

Donations

Latest OCE Discussion



Your usage constitutes agreement with User License :: Permissions :: Copyright © 2014, Catholic Answers.
Site last updated Aug 12, 2013