This unusual bronze medal, minted during the papacy of Pope Paul III, is known as a Satirical Medal. The obverse shows the pope wearing the papal tiara. When turned 180 degrees, however he is revealed as the devil. On the reverse is a cardinal with a wide-brimmed hat. When similarly rotated, he becomes a buffoon with a fool’s cap and bells.
The pope and cardinal are ridiculed by association with the devil and a buffoon, respectively. The inscriptions, in Latin, further underscore the satirical nature of the medal. They read: “The perverse Church has the face of the devil” and “Fools are sometimes wise“.
Satirical medals, especially those featuring double heads, were used as tools of propaganda and were widely circulated in the context of the 16th-century wars of religion. Indeed, several variations on this theme are known, many of which have survived to the present.
This is, truly, one of the most unusual additions to the Papal Artifacts’ Collection, and it adds another dimension to the papacy, a living history.
A Satirical Medal Minted During the 16th Century Wars of Religion
Other Artifacts Connected to Pope Paul III
Two Martyrs Serve as Models for Modern Times
At least 67 martyrs’ feast days are celebrated on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar. Two of them, celebrated on the same day this month, are particularly important to learn about in the unfortunate atmosphere in which we find ourselves.
On June 22, we celebrate the feast days of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More. One a bishop and the other a layman, both were martyred because they would not support government policies that were inherently against the Catholic Church.
St. John Fisher was a bishop with a brilliant career as priest from the University of Cambridge. At the age of 35, he became a bishop and an outspoken critic of King Henry VIII’s unlawful marriage to Anne Boleyn. Refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the king against the pope, he was beheaded. Pope Paul III had named Fisher a cardinal one month before the holy bishop was executed.
St. Thomas More was chancellor to King Henry VIII and opposed the same unlawful marriage. He resigned after three years of service to Henry, refusing to recognize the king’s claim of spiritual supremacy. More, too, was beheaded for not supporting his government’s anti-Catholic actions.
Both saints faced extermination rather than compromise their fidelity and loyalty to their Catholic religion.
Today, I am afraid that Catholics are faced with a similar hostile atmosphere in the United States. Not long ago, the Obama administration lost a Supreme Court decision in which it had argued against the “ministerial exception,” allowing churches to define their own ministers, in a case involving a Lutheran school. The Supreme Court unanimously sided with the church and against the administration.
We are all familiar with the administration’s Department of Health and Human Services trying to force the Catholic Church to provide and pay for insurance that would cover sterilization, contraception and abortifacients, all practices diametrically opposed by the church. And while the administration is dispensing the Amish community in the country from the entire health care reform, it is refusing to exempt the Catholic Church from this one small part of the law, not even required by the text of the law passed by both houses of Congress but reflecting a policy imposed at the discretion of the administration.
Now the president has voiced his strong support for gay “marriages,” and some in his administration are calling gay “marriage” a civil right, using terminology that suggests the Creator endowed them with this right. Using language such as “civil rights,” we can see where this is headed. If the administration has no problem forcing the Catholic Church to do things against its teaching when it comes to sterilization, contraception and abortifacients, it will not be long before the government forces the church to officiate gay marriages since it is a “civil rights” issue. I have little doubt that we are not far from this action if this administration continues on its present course. There is little doubt that those who want to be faithful to the Catholic Church, whether clergy or lay people, will face difficult times if things do not change. As Catholic citizens of the United States, we have not only the right but also the responsibility to make our voices heard, and to actively work toward changing the course our country seems to be taking.
Recently, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said, “I will die in my bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr.” And yet as frightening as these times seem to be, one thing we need to recognize is that the Catholic Church has never had a single generation that wasn’t persecuted.
It is important to note that Christ said this would happen, and nowhere in the New Testament does the early church pray not to have persecution. Rather, they pray for the strength and the faith to endure it well. After the apostles Peter and John had been arrested for preaching the truth about Jesus Christ, they were released. Returning to the community, they prayed, saying: “Now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak with your word with all boldness” (Acts 4:29).
When St. John Fisher was in prison awaiting his fate, some friends visited him and pleaded with him to recant and save his life. He told his friends that later in the week he would challenge them with a question, and if they could answer it satisfactorily then he would change his position. After a week of trying to figure out what question he would ask, they returned, and he posed this to them: “What merit is it were one to gain the world if he were to lose his soul in the process?” The friends went away sad, and Fisher went to the guillotine. While Thomas More was standing at the guillotine, he asked for the prayers of the people and said that he was dying for the Catholic Church and that he was “the king’s good servant — but God’s first.”
St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher are role models for us as we wade through the waters of these uncertain times. It is unfortunate that history seems to repeat itself so often. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, pray for us.
More Information about Henry VIII & Pope Paul III
Henry VIII is Excommunicated
On December 17, 1538, Pope Paul III announced that Henry VIII had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
“Bull against Hen. VIII., renewing the execution of the bull of 30 Aug. 1535, which had been suspended in hope of his amendment, as he has since gone to still further excesses, having dug up and burned the bones of St, Thomas of Canterbury and scattered the ashes to the winds, (after calling the saint to judgment, condemning him as contumacious, and proclaiming him a traitor), and spoiled his shrine. He has also spoiled St. Augustine’s monastery in the same city, driven out the monks and put in deer in their place. Publication of this bull may be made in Dieppe or Boulogne in Fiance, or in St. Andrew’s or Coldstream (? “in oppido Calistrensi”), St. Andrew’s dioc., in Scotland, or in Tuam or Ardfert in Ireland, if preferred, instead of the places named in the former bull Rome, Paul III.”1
Henry VIII had already upset the Pope and the Catholic Church by:-
- Annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn
- Declaring himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England
- Persecuting those who opposed the Acts of Supremacy and Succession
- Dissolving the monasteries
- His handling of the Pilgrimage of Grace
But the final straw was Henry’s attack on religious shrines in England, shrines that contained religious relics and that were visited by many pilgrims. One such shrine was that of St Thomas Becket (Thomas à Becket) in the Trinity Chapel of Catherbury Cathedral, which was seen as one of Europe’s holiest shrines and was therefore a popular destination for pilgrims from all over Europe. In a meeting of the King’s Council on the 24th April 1538 a “Process against St Thomas of Canterbury” was decided:-
“Sentence to the effect that Thomas, formerly archbishop of Canterbury, having been cited, and no one having appeared for him, judgment is given that in his life time he disturbed the realm, and his crimes were the cause of his death, although the people hold him for a martyr. He is therefore never to be named martyr in future, his bones are to be token up and publicly burnt and the treasures of his shrine confiscated to the King. This edict to be published in London, Canterbury, and elsewhere. London, 11 June, 1538.
This sentence pronounced, the King commanded it to be put into execution 11 Aug. The gold and silver of the shrine (says Pollini) filled 26 waggons. On the 19th (St. Bernard’s duy), the sacrilege was completed and the sacred relics publicly burnt and the ashes scattered.”2
One treasure which was purloined by the King from the shrine was the Regale of France, a great ruby which was donated by King Louis VII, and Henry VIII had this made into a thumb ring for himself3.
Such desecration of a place which many pilgrims, and the Catholic Church as a whole, saw as holy could not go unpunished and it was this final act which made Pope Paul III issue the Bull of Excommunication.