Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry

By Michael P. Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The Brown Scapular:
Ticket to Heaven

A scapular consists of two small rectangular pieces of cloth held together by two strings. It is worn over the shoulders so that one of the rectangles falls over the wearer's chest and the other over the wearer's back. Over the centuries the Church has associated seventeen different scapulars with various indulgences. Although nearly half are associated with the Virgin Mary under one of her many titles, there are also scapulars associated with Christ and with particular saints; see Table 8. The oldest scapular, however, and the one that has proved the most popular of all with lay Catholics, is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

What is particularly striking about the Brown Scapular is that it has long been associated with a belief that will strike many people, including many Catholics, as scandalous. Simply put, this belief is that the simple fact of wearing the Brown Scapular at the moment of death is a sure guarantee of achieving Salvation. The Brown Scapular, in other words, is literally a ticket to Heaven and a sure means of avoiding the pain of Hell. Many readers, I suspect, will see in the Brown Scapular one of the last of the many abuses relating to relics, indulgences, and so on that so infuriated Reformation-era critics of the Church, including both hostile critics like Luther and more friendly critics like Erasmus. All the more surprising then that the historical evidence (as we shall see) suggests that the Brown Scapular did not come into widespread use among lay Catholics until after the Reformation had begun.

Two questions need to be answered: what accounts for the great popularity of the Brown Scapular, and why should this devotion have arisen in precisely that historical period when the Church, under the influence of the Counter‐ Reformation, was purging itself of a great many popular devotions that seemed, like devotion to the Brown Scapular itself, to verge on the magical?


THE SCAPULAR TRADITION
AT FACE VALUE

In devotional accounts (see for instance Haffert 1942, Pacquin 1949, Connors

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