*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 17th of October 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
So yesterday, the 16th, we talked about pope JP2 on what is known as Pope JP2day in Poland remembering the inauguration of Karol Wojtyla as Pope in October of 1978. It was a big deal, in part, because the previous Pope, John Paul I had died just 33 days into his run in the office of the Papacy. And we told the story of the second John Paul, but as luck would have it… guess what? It was on this, the 17th of October in 1912 that Albino Luciani was born. Whose that? The man who would become Pope John Paul I. Let’s run with the coincidence.
On our show for JP2, we noted how long his pontificate lasted and thus he holds records for any number of things, partly on account of being in the office for 33 years. But the story is the opposite for Pope John Paul I whose brief pontificate gives us very few things to talk about… except that he died somewhat mysteriously (maybe?) and thus, the conspiracy theories abound. Let’s give the quick bio to JP1 and then look at the most popular conspiracy surrounding his death.
Albino Luciani was born in 1912 in Italy. He grew up in relative poverty, the son of a bricklayer. He was ordained a priest in 1935. He received a doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and worked as a seminary director and teacher. But he was first and foremost a pastor before he was an academic. In 1949 he published “Catechism in Crumbs” a book teaching Catholic doctrine to the uneducated. In 1976 he received some flak from his more academic brethren for his publication of “To the Illustrious Ones”. This was a collection of letters to 40 real and fictional characters designed to teach a short lesson on the relevancy of Christianity in culture. The letters are addressed to Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Pinocchio, Petrarch, and Jesus to name a few.
A few things of note:
He was the first Pope to take a double name as well as the ordinal number. John and Paul were his successors, but unlike Pope Francis (who is also the first of his name) John Paul added “I” to his Papal name.
He refused to be crowned with the Papal tiara. This was in line with his predecessor who suggested the tiara be sold and the proceeds given to the poor. This, along with his approval of the progressive council of Vatican II, made him enemies with Catholic Traditionalists. Some feared he would be a reforming Pope who might expose some of the shady dealings the church had with certain Italian institutions and people (please remember the papacy was for 400 years- until John Paul II- an inter-Italian affair).
So when died suddenly at night in late September of 1978 and there was a discrepancy between versions of the stories… well, you can imagine the conspiracies. It was suggested that he died with a list of high-ranking Catholics who were also illegal Freemasons, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to the Illuminati from there. It was suggested that he was going to liberalize the church and make exceptions for birth control.
Pope John Paul I died of a heart attack and was discovered the next morning by a nun. But unlike with Jesus, it seems that a woman coming with the news wasn’t good enough. And so the story was changed that he was found dead by his male colleagues but upright in bed, with a slight smile on his face with the “Imitation of Christ” in his hands.
This is standard “how did the person die?” Hagiography. But the tabloid Italian press had little training in such traditions and soon a conspiracy with no basis would sprout and morph. In God’s Name, a 1984 book developing a conspiracy theory would sell over 6 million copies. The Vatican called it "Fanciful and absurd”.
An untimely death and its clumsy handling make the story of Pope John Paul I all the more intriguing, but the story is likely a lot more pedestrian. He died 33 days into his pontificate in 1978. Born on this day in 1912 he was 65 years old.
The last word for today comes from Hebrews, the 7th chapter:
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of October 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man a little bit fanciful and not at all absurd, he is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who doesn’t care about your conspiracy theories unless it has to do with collusion amongst professional sports owners. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.