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It is commonly claimed that Pope Gregory IX said the annual Holy Fire miracle in Jerusalem is a fake.

This backed up by the Holy Fire Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, the reference for that claim leads to an article that no longer exists, but we can look it up through a web archive.

The article from The Tablet, "the international Catholic weekly", says:

After Pope Gregory IX denounced the Holy Fire as a fraud and barred Franciscans from having anything to do with it, the Franciscans' Holy Land chronicles became peppered with scathing accounts of the ceremony. A fifteenth-century Franciscan, Fra Francesco Suriano, detailed the unruly emotionalism he witnessed before observing: 'The said fire, however, does not descend in truth (and in the opinion of us friars), although all the nations save us friars feign this falsehood to be true.'

Did Pope Gregory IX ever claim the Holy Fire is fake? Is The Tablet a reputable source for this claim, and if not, what other reputable sources are available?

Related Question: Does a miracle of spontaneous "holy fire" occur in a Jerusalem church every year?

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    To prevent confusion amongst answerers: We already have a question about whether the Holy Fire miracle is a hoax. This question is whether a particular person ever denounced it. – Oddthinking Apr 11 '15 at 23:46
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    Side Note: Pope Gregory called the fire a fraud, not a hoax. The difference: A hoax is deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. Fraud is a deliberate deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain. – George Chalhoub Apr 12 '15 at 7:32
  • I don't see him calling it a "fraud" nor a "hoax". – ChrisW Apr 12 '15 at 15:09
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    @ChrisW, what do you call it then? According to your answer and the claims, it is a fraud. – George Chalhoub Apr 12 '15 at 15:35
  • @GeorgeChalhoub. He presumably said it in Latin, not in English. – fdb Mar 9 '17 at 23:18
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Following George's research I found the reference in Volume 2 of the Registres de Grégoire Ix

Example URL

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My transcription of that:

Eidem -- intellecto "quod canonici sepulchri Jerosolimitani, ignem in idem sepulchrum de celo in vigilia in Pasche descendere et Redemptorem nostrum Dominum Jhesum Christum inibi incarceratum fuisse dicentes, locum conflicti carceris sub certo pretio, non sine ignominia divini nominis, venalem exponunt" -- mandat quatenus tales praesumptiones de cetero prohibeat.

My translation of that:

Also -- to the understanding that "because the canons of the sepulchre of Jerusalem, [the fire] [in that sepulchre] [from the sky] [during the vigil of Passover] [to descend] [and] [the saying] [our Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ] [in it was imprisoned], [a place] [of conflict] [of the prison] [for a fixed price], not without disgrace to the divine name, they expose for sale" -- [either 'the mandate' or 'he requires'] [to that extent] [such presumptions] [henceforth] [he prohibits].

In summary, taking a literal reading of what he wrote, his complaint seems to be not that the fire is a hoax (i.e. a false miracle): but rather it's that the practice involved selling something, which brings ignominy on God's name. It's not solidly clear to me what's being sold, but I think what's being sold is the place i.e. standing-room in the sepulchre for witnesses.


Consider for example this quote from the WIkipedia entry about Gregory IX:

Gregory was a supporter of the mendicant orders which he saw an excellent means for counteracting by voluntary poverty the love of luxury and splendour which was possessing many ecclesiastics. He was a friend of Saint Dominic as well as Clare of Assisi.


Does he call it a fraud or a hoax?

Maybe not: I don't see his saying that. I can only see that he says that what's prohibited are the praesumptiones (or in English "presumptions").

A definition of the post-classical meaning of that word is,

Boldness, confidence, assurance, audacity, presumption

Or this definition which says that by the 5th century the word means "témérité" (i.e. impertinence, audacity, cheek).

That's similar to the second of Google's definitions of the English word,

presumption

  1. an idea that is taken to be true on the basis of probability.
  2. behaviour perceived as arrogant, disrespectful, and transgressing the limits of what is permitted or appropriate.

IMO he doesn't seem to be saying that the belief is wrong, but rather that the behaviour (of selling places) is disrespectful and/or ignominious and therefore should be prohibited.

I think it clearly says that it's prohibited because of the canons' selling.

  • "but rather it's that the practice involved selling something" this is defintion of fraud! – George Chalhoub Apr 12 '15 at 15:55
  • Fraud: wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. – George Chalhoub Apr 12 '15 at 15:59
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    @georgechalhoub Even if it were a real miracle (not a deception), or even if they were clearly and openly using a non-miraculous source of fire (also not a deception), the act of selling something would be reprehensible: not because it's fraudulent but because it's impious. You may think it's a lie or deception but the topic is what the pope said, and I don't see anywhere were he calls it a deception. – ChrisW Apr 12 '15 at 16:26
  • I think you should leave the translation as-is, and not give an interpretation of it because it seems that people will interpret it differently. – George Chalhoub Apr 13 '15 at 2:10
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    Sounds to me like a statement that people should keep capitalism out of religion. – PointlessSpike Apr 13 '15 at 7:55
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Claim: In 1238, Pope Gregory IX denounced the Holy Fire as a fraud.

Truth or hoax?

Lets follow claims, starting with Wikipedia. All links can be found at the bottom of the answer.

Wikipedia:

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Wikipedia referenced The Tablet:

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The Tablet linked Victoria Clark's book:

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Victoria Clark's book let me to Frank Hill Perrycoste's book:

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Frank Hill Perrycoste's book led me to Gavin I. Langmuir's book:

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Gavin I. Langmuir's book let me to Nicholas Vincent's book:

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Nicholas Vincent's book referenced letters of Pope Gregory IX:

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Continued in Chris's answer


Wikipedia: available directly here. The Tablet: available through WayBack Machine here. The Far-Farers: A Journey from Viking Iceland to Crusader Jerusalem by Victoria Clark: available through Amazon here. The Holy Blood: King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic By Nicholas Vincent partially available through Google Books. Toward a Definition of Antisemitism By Gavin I. Langmuir available by Google Books: On the Influence of Religion Upon Truthfulness: Being Two Chapters from an ... By Frank Hill Perrycoste

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