The Holy Stairs, Martin Luther & Indulgences

Dushan was waiting in a café for Chioma so that they could go to Archbasilica of Saint John in Laterano and also to see the famous Scala Sancta, known as the Holy Stairs believed to be part of Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem and are the same ones Jesus climbed before being tried by the Roman governor and sentenced to crucifixion. The Stairs were supposedly brought to Rome by Saint Helena in the fourth century. And they reputed to be stained with drops of Jesus’ blood.

Dushan couldn’t wait to see them. He had been reading the Gospels and discussing them with Chioma. He was currently halfway through Mark’s Gospel. He looked forward to reading the other two, especially John’s. After reading Pontius Pilate: A Novel, he was anxious to read the New Testament, beginning with the Gospels. He was curious to see the statues of Jesus and Pilate which were at the base of the Holy Stairs.

Chioma was at the Vatican doing her interview of Barbara Jatta, the first-ever female director of the Vatican Museums. She was very excited about it and had been looking forward to it all week. Last night over dinner, they had talked about it. “As director of the museums, Ms. Jatta will be responsible for the 54 galleries with artworks by from Vincent van Gogh to ancient Romans and Egyptians. And the Sistine Chapel with its frescoes by Michelangelo and the place where of the Papal conclave where the selection of new popes by the College of Cardinals takes place. We’ll be doing the interview in her office but it would be nice if she could show me the Papal conclave, at least and other places not open to the public.”

“Hopefully, she will. Has she worked at the Vatican before her current position?”

“Yes. She has been working since 1996 and has risen from prints department head to vice-director. She’s an art historian and graphics expert with degrees in literature, archive administration and art history. It’s thanks to Pope Francis that she’s now Director of the Vatican’s Museums. He has has appointed more women to high-profile positions than before in the Vatican. He has challenged the traditional male-dominated institution’s norms by appointing many women in positions of responsibility despite debate within the Vatican. Clearly, he is all for gender equality–at least in terms of business. There’s still the question of women serving as clergy in the Catholic Church. Currently, they are unable to and that excludes them from having the most powerful positions in the Vatican. I don’t know if that would ever change but I’m hopeful that it will.”

“I agree that the Church should allow women to be members of the clergy. There are more Orthodox Jewish women around the world who are being ordained even though there is still some controversy over female rabbis in most Orthodox circles. Not all of them become Rabbis, instead, many of them serve as guides to Jewish law, as professionally trained rabbis’ wives and as congregational scholars.”

“That’s great. In Biblical times, there were female judges and prophets. In the Adventist Church there are female pastors and both the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church now allow women to be bishops and to hold other top leadership positions.” 

“Are you going to address the issue of women serving as clergy in your interview?”

“Yes, I will.”

Chioma and he talked more about the interview and then, changed the subject. He smiled now as he recalled what happened between them when they returned to their hotel suite. After they both got ready for bed, he walked stark naked into the room, fully aroused. She was wearing a very sheer nightgown which he quickly disposed of along with her French cut bikini underwear.

He pushed her down onto the bed and lying on top of her, he kissed her hungrily. Winding her arms around his neck, she kissed him back. For several minutes, they exchanged passionate kisses then, he broke it off to cover her neck and body with kisses. After taking each nipple inside his mouth, making her moan and grip his hair, he pressed kisses down her stomach and parting her legs, he buried his flushed face between them, using his tongue to pleasure her. She convulsed against him.

Breathing harshly, he raised himself up so that he was kneeling. “Turn over and get on your hands and knees,” he urged her thickly.

She turned over and got on her knees with her hands flat on the bed. Gripping her by the hips, he positioned her so that he could easily enter her from behind. He closed his eyes when he felt himself inside her warmth and began to move his hips in fast and deep thrusts, eliciting loud moans from both of them. The lovemaking lasted for a while and then, she came seconds before he did. After he withdrew, he collapsed on to his back while she lay flat on her stomach. Both were breathing very heavily.

“I’m ovulating,” she told him. “That means I could easily get pregnant.”

He rolled on to his side and caressed her smooth back. “I love the idea of our child growing inside you,” he murmured huskily.

She turned her head towards him and smiled. “I love the idea too.”

“I hope our first child will be a girl and beautiful like you.”

“What are you smiling about?”

Dushan turned his head and saw Chioma standing there, watching him. “I was thinking about you,” he said.

She went up to him and they hugged and kissed. “Really? What were you thinking about me?”

“I was thinking about you on your hands and knees, giving yourself to me.”

“Hmm. I was thinking about it too when I was on my way to the Vatican.”

“How was your interview?”

“It went very well. It lasted for about an hour. Afterwards, she took me on a tour of some of the museums.”

“How long did it take you to get to the Vatican?”

“From Piazza Navona, it took about 19 minutes by bus. Coming back, I walked and it took about 22 minutes.”

“How do we get to Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano?”

“We’ll walk to the Trevi Fountain and catch the bus there. It takes about 22 minutes to get to Scala Sancta.”

“Sounds good. Let’s go.” He reached for her hand and they left the café.

“Oh, by the way, Lydia emailed me with another assignment. It’s right here in Rome.”

He glanced at her. “Really? What’s the assignment?”

“I’m to do a piece on Talitha Kum, a network of nuns who have devoted their lives to the victims and the survivors of trafficking. I will be interviewing nuns and the women they have helped. I’m to go to Talitha Kum office tomorrow morning.”

“Where is it located?”

“It’s at Piazza di Ponte Sant’ Angelo. I will take me 18 minutes to walk from the Spanish Steps. Another alternative is to take the bus from the Trevi Fountain which takes about 15 minutes. I was thinking that we can walk to Piazza di Ponte Sant’Angelo to Castel Sant’ Angelo which is about a 3 minute walk to Piazza di Ponte Sant’ Angelo.”

“And after you’re finished with Talitha Kum, we’ll tour the Castel Sant’Angelo.”

“Yes.”

They took the bus to Scala Sancta. They visited the Archbasilica of Saint John first. “I read online that the basilica was founded during the fourth century in honor of St. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist and that it is the Cathedral of Rome and the most important of the four major basilicas. It is known as St John Lateran Archbasilica because it’s considered the mother church of the Roman Catholic faithful,” Dushan said to Chioma as they approached it. In the early part of the fourth century, the Laterani family were stripped of their land as one of their members was accused of conspiring against the Emperor. It was given to the Bishop of Rome in order to build the first Roman basilica. This basilica is also where  all popes were enthroned up until 1870. And it’s where the Pope celebrates Holy Thursday Mass. The basilica was ”

They went inside. The two-story portico on the Basilica’s main façade which was constructed during the eighteenth century was where the Pope blessed the congregation on Holy Thursday. On the top part of the façade they could see statues of the Apostles and Jesus which dated from the eighteenth century. The bronze central doors were previously used at the Roman Senate House (the Curia Julia) within the Roman Forum. It was a beautiful basilica with its colossal statues, mosaics and frescoes from the ceiling to the ground and impressive columns.

After leaving the basilica, they went to the Scala Sancta which was nearby. Chioma explained, “Martin Luther on his visit to Rome visited Scala Sancta also known as Pilate’s Staircase. He was climbing the staircase when a voice suddenly seemed to say to him, ‘The just shall live by faith'” He sprang to his feet and rushed out of the place in shame and horror. His eyes were opened that day to the truth that salvation is by faith in the merits of Christ and not by works.”

Dushan watched as the people, young, old and in between, men and women climbed the stairs on their knees. There was a sign outlining the Indulgences which may be received. There were two of them: Plenary Indulgence which was on all Fridays of Lent and once more each year on an occasion of one’s choice; Partial Indulgence which was on all other days of the year, as long as one is sincerely repentant of one’s sins. “Why do they did it?” he asked.

“In the book, The Great Controversy, it said that it was because an indulgence had been promised to them by the pope.”

“What is an indulgence?”

“In the Catholic Church, an indulgence is the remission of punishment caused by sin. This punishment can be earthly suffering or time in Purgatory. A partial indulgence removes part of one’s suffering, while a plenary indulgence removes all of one’s suffering.”

“Isn’t that contrary to what is in the Bible?”

“Yes, it is. The Bible teaches that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. All the prophets witness that through Jesus’ name whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins. The apostle Peter, whom Catholics believe to be the first pope, told people on the day of Pentecost to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther strongly opposed the selling of indulgences. He believed in the salvation of man by faith alone. In his time, papal indulgences were being sold not only for the living but also for the dead. It was said that as soon as the money in the coffin rings, ‘the soul from purgatory springs to heaven.'”

“Why do they do it?” Dushan asked. “Why do they climb the stairs on the knees?”

“The Scala Sancta may only be ascended on the knees.  As these people go up, they are pray and meditate on Christ’s passion. Climbing the Holy Stairs on one’s knees is a devotion much favored by the pilgrims and the faithful. Several popes have performed the devotion and the Roman Catholic Church has granted indulgences for it.”

“What I’m seeing makes me very uncomfortable,” Dushan said.

“When Martin Luther climbed the steps on his knees in 1510, he repeated the Our Father on each step. It was said, by doing this work one could ‘redeem a soul from purgatory.‘ But when Luther arrived at the top he could not help wondering if that was true. And Charles after visiting the Scala Sancta in 1845, wrote: ‘I never, in my life, saw anything at once so ridiculous and so unpleasant as this sight.‘ He described the scene of pilgrims ascending the staircase on their knees as a ‘dangerous reliance on outward observances’“.

“I agree with him although I wouldn’t go as far as calling what they’re doing ridiculous.”

“To me the whole indulgences is the church’s way of saying that what Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t enough. They believe in salvation plus works but that’s not what the Bible teaches. Salvation is by grace through faith. I pray that these people will come to the same conclusion as Martin Luther did, that the salvation is by faith, not by works and that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was complete.”

The Scala Sancta led to the Sancta Sanctorum, or “Holiest of Holy Places”, the first private chapel of the Popes. Dushan and Chioma couldn’t visit the chapel because the only way to get there was to climb the 28 marble stairs on their knees. Walking up the stairs wasn’t permitted. They left and went to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch. Afterwards, they went to The Museum of the Liberation of Rome which was located in an apartment building close to the basilica of St. John Lateran. It recorded the period of the German occupation of Rome which spanned from September 1943 – June 1944 in the World War II and its liberation. The building which currently the museum was used by the SS to torture members of the Italian Resistance in the first half of 1944.

The museum occupied three floors. It recorded the torture that took place on the site and detailed the persecution of Rome’s Jews with copies of newspaper reports and posters imposing bans and anti-Jewish orders.  On the second floor and in the second apartment, the one exhibition room recorded the arrest by the SS of 1259 Jewish citizens from the Roman Ghetto in October 1943.

“I would like us to visit the Roman Ghetto,” Dushan said as they were leaving the museum.

Chioma reached for his hand. “All right,” she said.

Holding hands, they walked to where they would catch the bus to the Trevi Fountain and from there, walk to their hotel.

Sources: Wikipedia; Angelus News; Smithsonian Magazine; The Conversation; Civitatis Rome; Oregon Live; Study.com; ABC News; Got Questions; Trip Advisor; Geographical Cure; Wikipedia

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