Talismans, Amulets and Such

Sometime around the year 1177, a 12-years-old English kid named Simon Stock decided to become a hermit and took up residence in the hollow of a big tree. Apparently, the solitary life did not suit him and he became an itinerant preacher. Eventually, he joined the Carmelite Order, which had only recently made its way to England. In the year 1247, he was elected the sixth general of the order. Under his leadership, the order grew and spread across Europe. Though growing, the order was greatly oppressed due to changes in its way of doing things.

Things were getting so bad that the monks prayed to their patroness, the Catholic edition of the Virgin Mary, for help. The myth claims that she appeared to Simon and, according to one Guilelmos de Sanvico, told him to be brave and go to the Pope for help. He did that and on January 13, 1252, Pope Innocent IV issued a Bull to protect the order from further molestation.

Later Carmelite writers provided details of Simon's encounter with Mary. Sometime around 1430, Johannes Grossi wrote, in his Viridarium, that when Mary appeared to Simon, she was holding the scapular of the Carmelite order. She handed the scapular, a sleeveless outer garment that hangs from the shoulders and sometimes has a cowl, to Simon, saying:

"Hoc erit tibi et cunctis Carmelitis privilegium, in hoc habitu moriens salvabitur" (This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved).

Mary promised not only to save those who wear the scapular from the fires of Hell, assuming they meet all her conditions for such mercy, she also said she would shorten their stay in Purgatory if they were to die while still owing some temporal debt of punishment. We learned of this Sabbatine Privilege in an apocryphal Bull, Sacratissimo uti culmine attributed to Pope John XXII. John claimed that the Mother of God had appeared to him and asked that he, as Christ's representative on earth, ratify the indulgences which He had already granted in heaven (a plenary indulgence for the members of the Carmelite Order and a partial indulgence, remitting the third part of the temporal punishment due to their sins, for the members of the confraternity). Mary added that she herself would make her way to Purgatory on the Sabbath after their deaths to liberate those who were in Purgatory and conduct them to Heaven. She also provided a list of conditions the members of the confraternity must have fulfilled in order to qualify for this Sabbatine Privilege. In this bull, John quoted Mary as having told him, referring to those who wore the Carmelite scapular:

"I, the Mother of grace, shall descend on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting."

Some of the 16th century popes ratified John's Bull but in that wonderfully confusing way Rome has, their ratifications did not declare either the wording or the contents of Sacratissimo uti culmine to be authentic and genuine.

Pope Benedict XV granted 500 days indulgence for devoutly kissing one's scapular.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI said, " ...Ever hold in great esteem the practices and exercises of the devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin which have been recommended for centuries by the magisterium of the Church. And among them we judge well to recall especially the Marian rosary and the religious use of the Scapular of Mt. Carmel."

The summary of indulgences of the Carmelite Order of 31 July, 1907 (Acta S. Sedis, XL, 753 sqq.), approved by the Congregations of Indulgences, makes no mention of the Bull of John XXII, of the indulgences granted by Him or of the Sabbatine privilege of the Carmelites. The summary approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 4 July, 1908 has this to say about the Sabbatine Privilege:

The privilege of Pope John XXII, commonly [vulgo] known as the Sabbatine, which was approved and confirmed by Clement VII ("Ex clementi", 12 August 1530), St. Pius V ("Superna dispositione", 18 Feb., 1566), Gregory XIII (Ut laudes, 18 Sept., 1577), and others, and also by the Holy Roman General Inquisition under Paul V on 20 January, 1613, in a Decree to the following effect:

It is permitted to the Carmelite Fathers to preach that the Christian people may piously believe in the help which the souls of brothers and members, who have departed this life in charity, have worn in life the scapular, have ever observed chastity, have recited the Little Hours [of the Blessed Virgin], or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days), may derive after death -- especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin -- through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.--Joseph Hilgers, The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Sabbatine Privilege," Robert Appleton Company (1912) w/Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur, © 2007 by Kevin Knight.

This promise or guarantee from the Virgin Mary is pretty powerful stuff, when viewed in the light of Roman Catholic soteriology, which provides no real assurance that any Roman Catholic believer will have eternal life in the presence of the Lord. Sure, the RCC teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism removes the stain of sin, including original sin, from the soul of the person being baptized ("Exultate Deo," Pope Eugene IV). However, it does not cover nor afford forgiveness for sins the newly baptized person will commit later in his life. Though the "little sins," what Rome calls venial or daily sins, do not result in the loss of grace, those bigger sins we commit do. This loss of grace means, according to Romish doctrine, that the Catholic believer who dies with unforgiven mortal sin on his soul not only will not go to Heaven, but he will never get there, for the fires of Purgatory will not be able to cleanse his soul of what St. Thomas calls "macula peccati" (St. Thomas, I-II, Q. lxxxvi). Since no Catholic can be certain he will die in a state of grace, or with a priest or someone near to hand to give him the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, no Catholic can be assured of spending eternity with the Lord. In this sense, Roman Catholicism is a religion which offers faint hope.

The RCC position is clearly expressed in the Athanasian Creed: "They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire." This position is repeated and clarified in the Decree of Union in the Council of Florence: "the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments."

Those Catholics who fall out of grace due to mortal sin may suffer temporal punishment and certainly will suffer eternal punishment if they are not in a state of grace when they die. This eternal punishment comes in two forms, both of which afflict the unredeemed Catholic.

One of these punishments is called poena damni, or the pain of loss. What it amounts to is the eternal separation from God. They are denied every grace and every impulse for good. They cannot be moved to repentance. Imagine what it must be like to know that Almighty God forever will be your enemy.

The second punishment is known as poena sensus, or the pain of sense. This has to do with the very real pain resulting from the eternal fires of Gehenna, which burn but do not consume.

That is why the monks of the Carmelite Order feel so privileged. After all, they hold the high honor of being privileged to pass out those little brown scapulars which hold the Virgin Mary's guarantee that all who are wearing it when they die will be spared the fires of Hell.

It was a medieval custom for monks to give their habit or scapular to their benefactors so that the recipients might enjoy the benefits and privileges the wearing of such accorded. The Carmelites followed that custom, thereby conferring the special promise of the Virgin Mary. There are accounts of some high English dignitaries wearing the scapular secretly under their regular clothing. The scapular was bulky, and likely a bit uncomfortable for use as a nightshirt or under regular clothes. By the 16th century, the monks began passing out a smaller scapular to laymen.

Over time, the Brown Scapular of the Carmelites changed in shape and size.

"Scapular -- two small squares of cloth joined by strings so that they can be worn over the shoulders, one to the back and one to the front; indulgences are attached to the wearing of a scapular."--The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Official Confraternity Edition, (c) 1969-1962 Catholic Book Publishing Co. p. 250

A more recent Catholic source informs that the Brown Scapular of the Carmelites is a Sacramental.

1667 "Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy."

1668 "Sacramentals are instituted for the sanctification of certain ministries of the Church, certain states of life, a great variety of circumstances in Christian life, and the use of many things helpful to man. In accordance with bishops' pastoral decisions, they can also respond to the needs, culture, and special history of the Christian people of a particular region or time. They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism). "

1670 "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. "For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God."

1677 "Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life."--Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions another useful attribute of sacramentals:

"One of the most remarkable effects of sacramentals is the virtue to drive away evil spirits whose mysterious and baleful operations affect sometimes the physical activity of man. To combat this occult power the Church has recourse to exorcism and sacramentals. Another effect is the delivery of the soul from sin and the penalties therefor...."

There seems to be some confusion over the ability of sacramentals to "deliver the soul from sin and the penalties therefore…." When she appeared to Simon Stock, the Virgin Mary promised that those who die while wearing that scapular will be saved. This assurance of escaping eternal damnation appears at odds with the Catholic Encyclopedia's explanation of the ability of sacramentals to deliver the soul from sin and the penalties due for sin:

"....This means remission of venial sins, for the sacraments alone, with perfect contrition, possess the efficacy to remit mortal sins and to release from the penalties attached to them.

In order to be eligible for the benefits attributed to wearing the brown scapular, one must be affiliated with the Carmelite Family. A Catholic priest may enroll folks into the Scapular Confraternity.

That little brown scapular seems pretty powerful, given the promise of Mary that those who die wearing it will be saved. Catholics assign a lot of authority to Mary, so I reckon in their vision she has the power to make and redeem such guarantees. Catholics who wear the sacramental surely must believe she does. Don't you have to wonder if all who have placed their trust in these bits of brown cloth are aware of the conditions Mary added to the wearing of scapular, according to John XII? Don't you have to wonder if they are aware that only God can forgive sin and grant eternal life and that once given, God's salvation is never withdrawn?

Believers have the Lord's assurance that all those saved by grace through faith are at peace with God and eternally saved. Nothing can change that. Nothing at all.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.--Ephesians 2:8-9

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.--John 5:24

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:--Romans 5:1

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God [be] for us, who [can be] against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? [It is] God that justifieth. Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.--Romans 8:28-39

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;" (Hebrews 3:14)

I have no doubt the RCC warns Catholic faithful that the scapular is not a magical charm, a guarantee of salvation or an excuse for not meeting the requirements of Christian living. Perhaps it tells them the scapular is a sign to all that the wearer has determined to follow Jesus and Mary and plans to live a prayerful, penitent and chaste life, with the enhanced expectation of meeting God Almighty in eternity, through Mary's intercession and protection.

It may be worth noting here that the Roman church has a history of adapting and incorporating rites, practices and myths of pagan religions. In so doing, it does not eliminate the pagan ways, it merely paints them over with a thin veneer of pseudo Christianity. For peoples accustomed to wearing talismans and amulets, a little shoulder harness with pictures of the Virgin and Jesus on it might appear to be a powerful source of protection in a hostile world. Is the Carmelite scapular much different from the Mexican horseshoe amulet? This little goodie is a small package, about two inches square, containing objects glued to a piece of red paper. These amulets contain a tiny horseshoe wrapped in thread, some herbs, a few symbolic objects, sequins and glitter, and pictures of Catholic saints -- usually St. Martin Caballero and the Virgin of Guadalupe. They are intended to attract good fortune and ward off evil.

It may be a stretch to suggest some Catholics use the brown scapular as a talisman or amulet, but it certainly takes no effort to see that the RCC has made an idol of this bit of cloth and that those who wear it, pray to it and kiss it are practicing idolatry. The worship of idols is strictly forbidden by God.

Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I [am] the LORD your God.--Leviticus 19:4

Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up [any] image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I [am] the LORD your God.--Leviticus 26:1

Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.--1 Corinthians 10:14

Why would anyone who considers himself a Christian trust in a little bit of cloth and string to save him from eternal torment in Hellfire? I believe it is the result of Rome's jealous denial of the right to interpret the Word of God to any but but the Magisterium. Catholic faithful are only permitted to understand Scripture as Rome interprets it to them. Given that the Magisterium has not gotten around to providing interpretations for much of the Bible, that results in many, if not most Catholic laymen having no understanding of Scripture other than what Rome trickles down to them.

Rome teaches that outside the Church there is no salvation. The popes go even farther. They have declared that salvation requires submission to the Pope In his Bull, Unam Sanctum, issued in 1302, Pope Boniface VIII declared:

"We, moreover, proclaim, declare and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human being to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

Liberal Catholics argue that Boniface was referring to Catholics only and that the current ecumenical movement initiated with Vatican II is in no way affected by this old Bull. On the other hand, conservative Catholics have pointed to Unam Sanctum for support for their claim there is no salvation outside the RCC. Hmmm. Being in subjection to the Roman Pontiff is a requirement for salvation. Kinda flies in the face of Scripture, doesn't it?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.--John 14:6

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.--Galatians 3:26

Those who wear the brown scapular are trusting in Mary to save them from eternal burning in the fires of Hell. I suppose they believe she will go before the Father and plead their case. Yet Scripture clearly tells us that Christ alone is our Mediator before the Father:

For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;--1Timothy 2:5

In Acts 4:12, we are told that Christ has the only name in which salvation is found. There is no salvation in Mary nor in the scapular she presented to Simon Stokes nor in her promises, regardless of whether she made those promise in a vision and had it confirmed by a pope or two.

Has God provided us with a guidebook disclosing His program for salvation and an operator's manual for Christian living? Of course He has. We call it the Bible. In the Old Testament we read how the Jews struggled to find salvation through obedience to the Law and failed. In the New Testament, we see the prophecies concerning Messiah fulfilled and the Covenant of Grace enacted. Everything we need to know of God, all the essential information necessary for salvation and Christian living are revealed in the Bible. And NOWHERE is there mention of salvation through wearing a scapular. If we truly might escape hellfire and damnation by wearing such a device and fulfilling a few ritual prayer requirements, why would God not make this known until the year 1251? Was He toying with His creation?

In her appearance to Simon Stock, Mary gave her promise that all who die wearing this thing of cloth and string will be spared the fires of Hell. In other words, those who always wear the scapular are assured of salvation. Almighty God had something different to say on this matter:

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, [even] our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, [even] Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.--1 John 5:1-13

In what should the Christian trust? Visions that come in the night and make impossible promises which are in conflict with God's Word? Confusing tales told by popes which appear and disappear from the public eye? The self-serving interpretations of the Roman Magisterium? Or God Almighty, as He revealed Himself in the Holy Bible?

There can be but one source of undeniable, inerrant and unchanging truth: The Word of God. Open your Bible and see what He Who created all things has to say about your salvation.

"For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I [am] the LORD; and [there is] none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye [that are] escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god [that] cannot save. Tell ye, and bring [them] near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? [who] hath told it from that time? [have] not I the LORD? and [there is] no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; [there is] none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I [am] God, and [there is] none else."--Isaiah 45:18-22

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