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Moments in Time Make mine fish

By Gary Macy

Most Catholics would agree that rules for some church laws such as fasting and abstinence have become more lenient in the 20th century. Few realize how tough some of the early laws were. When Charlemagne conquered the Saxons he not only demanded conversion, but in the laws written for them in 785, he thundered, “If anyone in contempt of the Christian faith should spurn the Holy Lenten fast and eat meat, let him die.” Same goes for cremation: “If anyone follows pagan rites and causes a man’s body to be consumed by fire, and reduces his bones to ashes, let him pay with his life.” Freedom of religion was not an option: “If there is anyone of the Saxon people lurking among them unbaptized, and if he scorns to come to baptism and wished to absent himself and stay a pagan, let him die.” Tough stuff! Fortunately, there was an escape clause: “However, if anyone committed these capital crimes and has gone undetected, and goes of his own accord to a priest and is willing to make his confession and undergo a penance, he shall be excused the death penalty on the priest’s testimony.” Now here’s one way to revive an interest in the sacrament of penance (although there might be a problem with the privacy of the confessional).!

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego. His e-mail address is macy@pwa.acusd.edu

National Catholic Reporter, March 30, 2001