Archive for the 'Christianity' Category

Eastern Christianity and sacred space

January 19 2014

Transcript of a good piece by William Dalrymple, BBC Radio 4, December 20 2013. There’s also a podcast (BBC A Point of View series).

“There used to be widespread sharing of sacred space. I have seen Syrian Christians coming to sacrifice sheep at the Muslim [Sufi] shrine of Nebi Uri. While at the nearby Christian convent of Seidnaya, I found the congregation in the church consisted not principally of Christians but instead of heavily bearded Muslim men and their shrouded wives. As the priest circled the altar with his thurible, the men prayed as if in the middle of Friday prayers at a great mosque. Their women, some dressed in full black chador, mouthed prayers from the shadows of the narthex. A few, closely watching the Christian women, went up to the icons and kissed them. They had come, so they told me, to Our Lady of Seidnaya, to ask her for children. Now that precious multi-ethnic and multi-religious patchwork is in danger of being destroyed forever.”

My links. (Is Nebi Uri near Seidnaya?) Similar patchworks have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, in the Balkans.

In India, sacred space is still sometimes shared. I have been with a young Hindu in Chennai who took me into the San Thome Basilica and said a prayer there. He said he went into mosques too. This isn’t rare in India.

Some Palestinian Christians give their children names like Omar. Old post [and see comment below]. It would be nice if European Christians did, too, but it might sound rather pretentious and Beckhamish.

I love Malaysia, but it contains some peculiarly small-minded Muslims. Last October, a court there ruled that non-Muslims would be prohibited from using the word Allah, even though Christians and Hindus had been using it for centuries to refer to their gods.

One should speak of christianities, not Christianity:

Ottoman people and Orthodox churches (old post).

Reluctant churchmen in late antiquity

December 23 2013

Three historic figures, who each gave a decisive turn to the development of the Catholic Church in the West, were recruits from the secular Roman imperial public service.

The section called Civil Services in which this appears mentions, but doesn’t discuss, the survival of a Roman civil service in Italy and Gaul under the barbarians. He had earlier discussed the survival of Roman law.

Ambrose.

Ambrosius (vivebat circa A.D. 340-97) was the son of a civil servant who had reached the peak of his profession by attaining the office of praetorian prefect in the Gauls; and the future Saint Ambrose was following in his father’s steps as a young and promising governor of the two North Italian provinces of Liguria and Aemilia when in A.D. 374, to his astonishment and consternation, he was dragged out of the rut of an assured official career and was hustled into the episcopal see of Milan by a popular impetus that did not wait to ask his leave.

Cassiodorus.

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (vivebat circa A.D. 490-585) [sic] spent his working life on the thankless – and, as his [lay] colleague Boethius’s fate proved, perilous – task of administering a Roman Italy in the service of a barbarian war-lord [Theodoric, who had Boethius executed in 524]. It was only after his retirement from secular public life that Cassiodorus found a creative use for a literary archaism that had been an impediment to his draftsmanship as a Minister of State. In his latter days he turned a rural property of his in the toe of Italy – the Vivarium, in the district of Squillace [Calabria] – into a monastic settlement that was the complement of Saint Benedict’s foundation at Monte Cassino. Saint Benedict’s school of monks broken-in, by the love of God, to hard physical labour in the fields could not have done all that it did do for a nascent Western Society if it had not been wedded, at the start, to a Cassiodoran school that was inspired by the same motive to perform the mentally laborious task of copying the Classics and the Fathers.

Gregory.

As for Gregory the Great (vivebat circa A.D. 540-604), he abandoned the secular public service, after serving as Praefectus Urbi, in order to follow Cassiodorus’s example by making a monastery out of his ancestral palace in Rome, and he was thereby led, against his expectation and desire, into becoming one of the makers of the Papacy.

Two country gentlemen.

After citing the names of these three great luminaries, we may single out, among the lesser lights, two country gentlemen, Gaius Sollius Modestus Apollinaris Sidonius of Auvergne (vivebat A.D. 430-83) and Synesius of Cyrene [Libya] (vivebat A.D. 370-415), who were both drawn out of a life of innocent but uncreative literary dilettantism when their local countryside was engulfed in the oecumenical catastrophe of their age. Both of them responded nobly to this personal challenge by taking on their shoulders the burdens, anxieties, and perils of local leadership; and each found that he could best perform an arduous duty, that he would not shirk, by allowing himself to be made bishop of his local community.

Five careers.

Diverse as the origins and histories of these five personalities were, they had four things in common. For all of them except, perhaps, Cassiodorus, their ecclesiastical career went against the grain. Ambrose was aghast at being made a bishop, while Synesius and Sidonius half-whimsically acquiesced in a role which evidently struck them as being, to say the least, incongruous. Gregory was as reluctant to be made seventh deacon [one of the seven deacons of Rome], apocrisiarius [papal ambassador to Constantinople], and pope, and even to become abbot of his own monastery, as he had been eager to enrol himself as an ordinary monk. The second common feature in these five ecclesiastical careers was that all these ci-devant lay notables were constrained, willy-nilly, to employ their secular administrative gifts and experience in the Church’s service. In the third place, they found a scope for the use of this mundane faculty in the ecclesiastical field which they had not found in secular life. And, finally, they eclipsed their own performance as ecclesiastical administrators by their prowess on the spiritual plane. Thus, when the break-up of the universal state for whose administrative service they had been educated had deprived these Roman honestiores of the possibility of following secular public careers, they responded to this formidable challenge by entering the service of the Christian Church and devoting all their powers to assisting in the creation of a new order of society.

Was Ambrose’s appointment to Milan connected with the “break-up” of the Empire? It happened under Valentinian I.

Cassiodorus and Gregory lived during the upheaval caused by the reconquest of Italy from the Goths by Justinian, the epidemics and famine that followed, an abortive invasion by the Franks and then the arrival of the Lombards, leaving Byzantium with a foothold mainly in the south (535-68).

Cassiodorus retired to his monastery after Justinian had retaken the south.

Gregory was Prefect of Rome under the Lombards. Was he deprived of the possibility of following a secular public career? Did Gregory follow the rule of St Benedict?

Sidonius and Synesius had both held secular office. Sidonius lived through the invasion of Arian Visigothic Gaul by pagan Franks.

Synesius must, in Ptolemais, have been affected by the disruption caused by the Visigoths’ sack of Rome, but the Vandals did not arrive in Africa until after his death. Was he ever a country gentleman?

The Church’s history is full of stories of reluctance. Basil Hume received the news of his appointment to the archbishopric of Westminster during dinner at Ampleforth in 1976 and remarked later “I must confess I did not enjoy the rest of the meal”.

A tap on the shoulder in a monastery is different from a tap during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang or a Baath Party plenum in Baghdad.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Pure Land

November 29 2013

One feature of capital importance [...] is common to the Civitas Dei as conceived of by Saint Augustine and to the Paradise of Amida [post before last] as conceived of by, for example, Ryōyo Shogei (vivebat A.D. 1314-1420), a Japanese Mahayanian Father who was the Seventh Patriarch of the Jōdo Sect [Jōdo-shū] and who taught that Amida is omnipresent and his Paradise is simply absolute reality – “if we can change our point of view and see things as they really are, we can be in the Pure Land here and now” (Eliot, op. cit., p. 385). [...]

The reference is to

Eliot, Sir Charles: Japanese Buddhism (London 1935, Arnold) [...].

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

The pitchfork and the flute

November 23 2013

It was Human Nature that Horace had in mind when he wrote that Nature will always keep on coming back at you, even if you drive her out with a pitchfork; [footnote: “Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.” – Horace, Epistulae I, x, 24.] and, in the Subconscious Psyche’s repertory of “primordial images”, this Nature that is Man’s inseparable and intractable companion is expressively portrayed as a bull. This creature, far stronger physically than Man, which Man has precariously subjugated by the exercise of his Intellect and his Will, is an apt symbol for those subconscious principalities and powers in the Psyche which are so much more difficult for the Intellect and the Will to cope with than any veritably non-human living creature is.

Two antithetical alternative policies for coping with this psychic bull are commended in two significant myths. In the Mithraic myth a hero slays the monster and staggers forward with his victim’s inseparable carcase weighing on his shoulders. In the Zen Mahayanian Buddhist myth a boy-herdsman makes friends with the great ox and comes home riding on the monster’s back to the music of the rider’s flute. The boy’s deft diplomacy is a more effective way of dealing with Man’s problem than the hero’s crude resort to force; for the force which sometimes recoils upon its user, even when Non-Human Nature is its target, is a wholly inappropriate instrument for dealing with the psychic bull.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

A rival civilization of the proletariat

November 21 2013

Greek civilization [...] was eventually supplanted by a rival civilization of the proletariat – the Christian Church.

From chapter called History contributed by Toynbee to RW Livingstone, editor, The Legacy of Greece, Essays by Gilbert Murray, W. R. Inge, J. Burnet, Sir T. L. Heath, D’Arcy W. Thompson, Charles Singer, R. W. Livingstone, A. Toynbee, A. E. Zimmern, Percy Gardner, Sir Reginald Blomfield, OUP (Oxford at the Clarendon Press), 1921

The horror of the Hannibalic war

November 20 2013

The Hannibalic war in Italy was, very probably, the most terrible war that there has ever been, not excepting the recent war in Europe. The horror of that war haunted later generations, and its mere memory made oblivion seem a desirable release from an intolerable world.

Nil igitur mors est adnos neque pertinet hilum,
quandoquidem natura animi mortalis habetur.
et velut anteacto nil tempore sensimus aegri,
ad confligendum venientibus undique Poenis,
omnia cum belli trepido concussa tumultu
horrida contremuere sub altis aetheris oris,
in dubioque fuere utrorum ad regna cadendum
omnibus humanis esset terraque marique,
sic, ubi non erimus, cum corporis atque animai
discidium fuerit quibus e sumus uniter apti,
scilicet haud nobis quicquam, qui non erimus tum,
accidere omnino poterit sensumque movere,
non si terra mari miscebitur et mare caelo.

That is a passage of Lucretius (iii. 830-842) which follows upon an elaborate argument to prove that death destroys personality and that the soul is not immortal. Here is an attempt at a translation:

“So death is nothing to us and matters nothing to us, since we have proved that the soul is not immortal. And as in time past we felt no ill, when the Phoenicians were pouring in to battle on every front, when the world rocked with the shock and tumult of war and shivered from centre to firmament, when all mankind on sea and land must fall under the victor’s empire and victory was in doubt – so, when we have ceased to be, when body and soul, whose union is our being, have been parted, then nothing can touch us – we shall not be – and nothing can make us feel, no, not if earth is confounded with sea and sea with heaven.”

Lucretius wrote that about a hundred and fifty years after Hannibal evacuated Italy, but the horror is still vivid in his mind, and his poetry arouses it in our minds as we listen. The writer will never forget how those lines kept running in his head during the spring of 1918.

But the victors suffered with the vanquished in the common ruin of civilization. The whole Mediterranean world, and the devastated area in Italy most of all, was shaken by the economic and social revolutions which the Roman wars brought in their train. The proletariat was oppressed to such a degree that the unity of society was permanently destroyed and Greek civilization, after being threatened with a violent extinction by Bolshevik outbreaks – the slave wars in Sicily, the insurrection of Aristonikos and the massacres of Mithradates in Anatolia, the outbreaks of Spartakos and Catilina in Italy – was eventually supplanted by a rival civilization of the proletariat – the Christian Church.

From synoikismos to dissolution (old post).

From chapter called History contributed by Toynbee to RW Livingstone, editor, The Legacy of Greece, Essays by Gilbert Murray, W. R. Inge, J. Burnet, Sir T. L. Heath, D’Arcy W. Thompson, Charles Singer, R. W. Livingstone, A. Toynbee, A. E. Zimmern, Percy Gardner, Sir Reginald Blomfield, OUP (Oxford at the Clarendon Press), 1921

Five prophets

August 21 2013

Jonah

Isaiah

Elijah

Miriam

Samuel

Five portraits from the Holy Land. Clive Lawton, narrator, writer. Mark Savage, producer. BBC Radio 4, August 12-16.

Saul, David and Jonathan (old post).

A Ciceronian and no Christian

August 8 2013

Jerome [dreamed] that he was hailed before the heavenly tribunal of Christ; was convicted by his divine judge of being still a Ciceronian and no Christian; and was reprieved only thanks to the intercession of the consistory and in consideration of an oath which he swore by Christ’s name, binding himself never to read any profane literature any more: “si legero, te negavi” [“If I read, I reject you”] (Hieronymus [Jerome]: Epistulae, No. xxii ad Eustochium, chap. 30).

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Paradise

July 14 2013

The Greek word παράδεισος [paradeisos], [...] is the transliteration of a Persian word signifying a stretch of savannah – a mixture of grassland and woodland abounding in game – which was artificially preserved in its virgin state in order to enable the dominant minority in an agrarian and urban society to enjoy, as a sport, the primitive occupation of hunting.

… a kind of royal park.

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

Loyola’s withdrawal and return

July 12 2013

Ignatius Loyola [...] was born into Catholic Christendom in an age when the medieval standing of the Roman Church as the master-institution of the Western World had been challenged, and when its very existence as well as its supremacy had been placed in jeopardy, by the renaissance of Paganism in Italy and the eruption of Protestantism in Transalpine Europe. In this religious and social crisis Loyola, born a Spanish nobleman, was brought up in the Spanish nobility’s conventional atmosphere and served in the Spanish Army till his twenty-seventh year, [footnote] when he was badly wounded in a siege of Pamplona by the French.

This was during the Spanish conquest of Iberian Navarre. The northern part of the Pyreneean kingdom remained independent, but joined France in personal union in 1589, when Henry III of Navarre inherited the French throne as Henry IV of France, the first Bourbon. In 1620 it was merged into the Kingdom of France.

The wound necessitated an operation from which the patient almost died; but he was just able to recover; and during his convalescence he underwent a religious conversion. In the year following these events, which had all taken place in A.D. 1521, Loyola dedicated himself to fight thenceforward as a soldier for God; but he did not rush straight into action in this new form of warfare. He spent the next twelve years in retreat: on pilgrimage, in asceticism, in study, and in meditation. It was only after this long withdrawal that he returned to the World at last in order to establish the Society of Jesus. The Society did not begin to take shape till the year 1534; it did not receive recognition from the Pope until 1540; and Loyola himself was not elected to be its first General until 1541. In Loyola’s career, the motif of Withdrawal-and-Return is conspicuously manifest.

Footnote:

We have Loyola’s own authority for the statement that he was twenty-six years old at the time of his conversion; and since the conversion evidently took place immediately after he received his wound at the siege of Pamplona – i.e. in A.D. 1521 – it follows that he was born in A.D. 1495. (See Sedgwick, H. D.: Ignatius Loyola (London 1923, Macmillan), pp. 392-3.)

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Mystery religions

July 9 2013

Mystery religions – cults reserved to initiates – formed one of three types of Greco-Roman religion, the others being the imperial cult or ethnic religion particular to a nation or state, and the philosophic religions such as Neoplatonism. Mysteries supplemented rather than competed with civil religion. One could observe the rites of a state cult, be an initiate in one or several mysteries, and at the same time follow a philosophical school. In contrast to the compulsory public rituals of civil religion, initiation to a mystery was optional. The same gods could be worshipped inside and outside a mystery. Was Mithras mystery-only?

The Roman establishment objected to Christianity not on grounds of its tenets or practices, but because, unlike adherents of the mystery religions with which it was competing, Christians considered their faith as precluding their participation in the imperial cult.

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Of the Eleusinian MysteriesDionysian Mysteries, Samothracian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries, the first three may have been influenced by Thracian or Phrygian cults, but lasted, with whatever gaps in the Dark Age or at other stages, from the Mycenaean period until the end of paganism.

The Eleusinian Mysteries were annual initiation ceremonies held at Eleusis in Attica for the cults of Demeter and Persephone (Proserpina). Of all the ancient mysteries, they were held to be the ones of greatest importance.

The Dionysian (Bacchic) Mysteries were not connected with a particular place.

The mysteries on Samothrace in the northern Aegean predate Greek colonisation in the seventh century BC. The pantheon there included the Cabeiri and a Great Mother who is often identified with Demeter. Both may have originally been Phrygian. Samothrace formed a Macedonian national sanctuary during the Hellenistic period and remained an important site under Rome.

The Greek Orphic Mysteries (Orpheus) go back at least to the fifth century BC. When did they die out?

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Some of the gods that the Romans adopted from other cultures came to be worshipped in mysteries – the Phrygian Cybele, the Thracian/Phrygian Sabazius, the Egyptian Isis, the Zoroastrian Persian Mithras. So did Adonis, who is related to the Mesopotamian Tammuz and the Egyptian Osiris.

The originally Phrygian cult of Cybele reached mainland Greece in the sixth century BC and, as a cult of Magna Mater, was officially adopted during the Second Punic War and again by Augustus.

The Phrygian cult of Attis, the consort of Cybele, reached the Greek world in the fourth century BC, if not earlier, and Rome in the first century CE.

The Phrygian cult of Sabazius entered the classical Greek world at an early stage and survived into the Roman Empire.

The ancient pharaonic gods Isis and her consort Osiris joined the Greek pantheon when Egypt was hellenised. The cult of Isis spread through the Roman Empire during the formative centuries of Christianity.

The Persian cult of Mithras entered the Roman world in the first century and was popular in the army. Wikipedia, citing Clauss, M., The Roman Cult of Mithras: “Soldiers were strongly represented amongst Mithraists; and also merchants, customs officials and minor bureaucrats. Few, if any, initiates came from leading aristocratic or senatorial families until the pagan revival of the mid 4th century [Julian]; but there were always considerable numbers of freedmen and slaves.”

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Were Serapis and Sol Invictus ever worshipped as mysteries by initiates? Serapis was a god invented by Ptolemy I as a means of unifying the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm. Ptolemy failed in his objective, but Serapis grew in popularity throughout the Roman period and often replaced Osiris as the consort of Isis in temples outside Egypt.

The cult of Sol Invictus from Aurelian to Constantine and beyond was perhaps a revival of the emperor Elagabalus’s cult of the Syrian sun-god from whom he took his name. What were the “oriental” and what were the “indigenous” elements in the Sol Invictus cult?

The great hollow

July 5 2013

“The Graeco-Roman world had descended into the great hollow which is roughly called the Middle Ages, extending from the fifth to the fifteenth century, a hollow in which many great, beautiful, and heroic things were done and created, but in which knowledge, as we understand it, and as Aristotle understood it, had no place. The revival of learning and the Renaissance are memorable as the first sturdy breasting by Humanity of the hither slope of the great hollow which lies between us and the Ancient World. The modern man, reformed and regenerated by knowledge, looks across it and recognises on the opposite ridge, in the far-shining cities and stately porticoes, in the art, politics and science of Antiquity, many more ties of kinship and sympathy than in the mighty concave between, wherein dwell his Christian ancestry, in the dim light of scholasticism and theology.” – J. C. Morison: The Service of Man: an Essay towards the Religion of the Future (London 1887, Kegan Paul, Trench), pp. 177-8.

Morison, as one might guess from the title of his book, was an English positivist.

Quoted in

W. P. Ker in his The Dark Ages (Edinburgh 1904, Blackwood) [...].

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Gothic mouth

June 28 2013

What a Gothic mouth Susanna Pasolini, the mother of Pier Paolo Pasolini, has in The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964).

I am using the word Gothic, but the examples I can think of are really Renaissance: in Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the Crucifixion in Grünewald’s Isenheim altar. Aren’t these derived from late Gothic images of suffering? Something else is at the back of my mind.

And what a marvellous actor she is.

Pasolini is said to have chosen Matthew over the other evangelists because “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental”. Bach also preferred Matthew to Mark and Luke.

The music in this clip is Mozart’s astonishing – and underrated because of the word Masonic – Masonic Funeral Music, a precursor of his Requiem. Pasolini had quoted it already in the scene of Christ’s baptism.

I posted the film in full here and mentioned Pasolini here.

Jewish revolts, Christian non-violence

June 21 2013

In striking contrast to the series of Jewish insurrections against first Seleucid and then Roman rule during the three hundred years running from 166 B.C. to A.D. 135, the Christians never once rose in armed revolt against their Roman persecutors during the approximately equal period of time that elapsed between the beginning of Jesus’ mission and the conclusion of peace and alliance between the Roman Imperial Government and the Church in A.D. 313.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Papal encyclicals

June 16 2013

Online. From Honorius III’s Solet annuere (1226, his approval of the Rule of Francis of Assisi) to Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate (2009).

The malleus presbyterorum

June 7 2013

If the formidable authority conferred on the priests by their custody of tradition is to be challenged, the challenge can be delivered only by the word of God Himself as revealed in His prophet’s message; for, if that message is once recognized to be authentic, it must override the rulings of priests who are not God’s spokesmen but merely His ministers; and, though the winged words of God’s living human spokesman will be likely to have both a greater virtue and a greater effect than any written testament, dumb scripture has one decisive posthumous advantage over the living voice. Scripture can attain a longevity which, at second hand, will multiply a hundredfold the brief life-span of the prophet whose message this frozen echo perpetuates. Holy Writ that purports to enshrine prophetic revelation is thus a malleus presbyterorum that is a literal godsend to rebels against sacerdotal authority. The followers of the Prophets of Israel and Judah and of Zarathustra made effective use of this weapon against the priests of their day; the Scribes and Pharisees used it against the Sadducees; the Protestant Reformers used it against the Papal Church.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Christian missions in China

May 28 2013

Four waves:

Nestorian Christianity had reached China by 635 (Tang dynasty). See the Nestorian Stele, set up in 781 at Chang’an. Nestorian Christianity thrived in China for two hundred years, then faced persecution from Emperor Wuzong of Tang (reigned 840-46), and by the beginning of the tenth century had nearly disappeared.

Missions to the Mongols: Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (Franciscan) and Ascelin of Lombardia (Dominican) 1245, André de Longjumeau (Dominican) 1249, William of Rubruck (Franciscan) 1253. The Mongol Yuan (1271-1368) brought their teachings, and Nestorianism, into China. Several Mongol tribes had been converted by Nestorian missionaries in the seventh century.

The Franciscans began sustained missionary work in 1289. Old post: Foreigners in Cathay. All the Christian missions disappeared in the turmoil which followed the fall of the Mongols and the accession of the Ming (1368).

The Jesuits, including Matteo Ricci, arrived in 1582. Old posts: The Jesuits in ChinaCold heaven. Russian Orthodoxy was introduced in 1715. In 1721, the Kangxi Emperor banned Christian missions in China.

The next wave came in the nineteenth century. A Protestant mission, led by a Scot, arrived in 1807.

Chinese convulsions

May 27 2013

[A] rhythm of trance-like somnolence alternating with outbursts of fanatical xenophobia can be discerned in the epilogue to the history of the Far Eastern Civilization in China. The tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture in the Mongols who had forced upon China an alien universal state evoked a reaction in which the Mongols were evicted and their dominion over China was replaced by the indigenous universal state of the Ming. Even the Manchu barbarians, who stepped into a political vacuum created by the Ming’s collapse and whose taint of Far Eastern Christian culture was less noticeable than their receptivity in adopting the Chinese way of life, aroused a popular opposition which, in Southern China at any rate, never ceased to maintain itself underground and broke out into the open again at last in the T’aip’ing insurrection of A.D. 1852-64. [Footnote: Since the T’aip’ing movement was to some extent stimulated by Western Protestantism, its suppression by the Imperial Government was also in some sense an anti-alien movement, like the contemporary suppression of the Muslim insurrections in Kansu and Yunnan [and like the Nien Rebellion]. But the Imperial Government did not get the upper hand over the Western-stimulated T’aip’ing until it had itself enlisted Western military leadership and organization by placing its own forces under the command of General Gordon [...].] The infiltration of the Early Modern Western Civilization, in its Catholic Christian form, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of the Christian Era provoked the proscription of Catholicism in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The blasting open of the sea-gates of China for Western trade by military force between A.D. 1839 and A.D. 1861 provoked the retort in kind of the anti-Western “Boxer” Rising of A.D. 1900; and the Manchu Dynasty was overthrown in A.D. 1911 in retribution for the double crime of being ineradicably alien itself and at the same time showing itself incompetent to keep the now far more formidable alien force of Western penetration at bay. [Footnote: The “Boxer” Rising was anti-Manchu mainly for the reason that the decrepit Manchu regime of the day was only ineffectively anti-Western. From the T’aip’ing insurrection onwards, all Chinese revolts that were directly anti-Manchu were also indirectly anti-Western. We are reminded of the anti-Western impetus of the Wahhābī reaction against the Ottoman Empire of Sultan Selim III and the Mahdist reaction against the Egypt of Khedive Ismāʿil [...].]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Essence and accidents

May 26 2013

How, in an Oikoumenê that was being united on a literally world-wide range within a Western framework, were Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus to make further progress in disengaging the essence of Religion from the accidents? The only way open to these fellow seekers after spiritual light was the hard road of spiritual travail along which their predecessors, with God’s help, had arrived at the degree of religious enlightenment represented by the living higher religions at the stage in which they found themselves at this crucial moment in Mankind’s history. By comparison with the stage embodied in Primitive Paganism, the state of relative enlightenment to which the adherents of the higher religions had attained by a date midway through the twentieth century of the Christian Era manifestly represented a marvellous spiritual advance; yet, marvellous though it might be, they had now become aware that they could no longer go on living parasitically on God’s past mercies to their forefathers and on their own forefathers’ past spiritual endeavours to win a fuller vision of God, and a closer communion with Him, for themselves and for their children. They knew that they could no longer rest on their predecessors’ spiritual labours because, in their generation, they were being racked by a conflict between heart and head which they could not leave unresolved with impunity, and which could be resolved only by a fresh spiritual move forward.

As the pilgrims girded themselves to take the hard road again, they might draw some encouragement from divers past successes of Mankind in discarding veils which had served as windows in their time. In default of fuller light, there had been a glimmer of spiritual enlightenment in the faint translucency of Man’s vision of God through the animal creation. In the demonic physical energies of untamed wild beasts Man had caught a glimpse of a divine power surpassing Man’s own strength; in the hunter’s game and in the shepherd’s flock he had caught a glimpse of God’s beneficence as the giver and sustainer of life; and a primitive worship of God in animal form had lived on to play a leading role in the religion of the Egyptiac Civilization. Yet, in the World as it was in A.D. 1952, this dim “theriomorphic” vision of God, though still a living reality for unsophisticated souls at the lower levels of Hinduism, was on the whole on the wane. In the Christian consciousness the lamb, the dove, and the fish stood, not for literal likenesses of God, but for poetic images of His ineffable nature – just as the rock on which the Church was built according to the Roman Catholic Christian belief was not a literal stone like the stone that had once embodied the Emesan divinity Elagabalus or the stone that still supported the wall of a Meccan Kaʿbah.

There were, however, some relics of past stages of enlightenment which might not prove so easy to purge away. The Muslims, who had resolutely rejected all visual representations of God in the physical likeness of living creatures, including “the human form divine” [Blake, The Divine Image], had not yet summoned up the resolution to break with that older and cruder phase of idolatry which had been embedded in Islam by the founder Muhammad himself – against the grain of his own prophetic mission – when he had given his sanction to the adoration of the Black Stone as part of a compromise with the vested interests of an ancien régime at Mecca. [Would Muslims say “revere” rather than “adore”?] Even the puritanical Wahhābī reformers, who had twice entered Mecca as conquerors pledged to purge Islam of idolatrous accretions, had left the Black Stone untouched both in A.D. 1804 and in A.D. 1924. To Christian minds the Muslims’ reluctance to part with the Black Stone seemed a quaint anachronism in glaring contradiction with the abhorrence of idolatry and devotion to monotheism that were the twin beacon-lights of Islam; and, conversely, Muslim minds found stumbling-blocks in the idolatry and the polytheism which, as they saw it, were still being practised by Christians, as well as by Buddhists and Hindus. In Muslim eyes the Christians’ persistent idolatry betrayed itself in the visual representation of God in the forms of a man, a bird, and an animal, and their persistent polytheism in their doctrine of the Trinity and their cults of the saints, while in a Protestant Christian’s eyes the sacrament of the pagan mysteries survived in the Catholic “Sacrifice of the Mass”, and the worship of the Great Mother had been withdrawn from Ishtar, Astarte, Isis, Cybele, and Inanna only to be paid, by Catholic devotees, to the same Mother of God under the name of Mary. [Footnote: [...] Catholic Christians, of course, did not admit the Protestant allegation that their adoration of Mary amounted to the worship of a goddess. According to the Catholic Christian doctrine, Mary was one of God’s creatures, and the qualities that Catholics adored in her were gifts to her from her Creator.]

[...]

This was the challenge that confronted the followers of the historic higher religions in a world in which they had suddenly been brought to close quarters with one another and with a Modern Western Science owing to the rapid spread of a secularized Western Civilization over the whole habitable and traversable surface of the planet. In the year A.D. 1952 the living generation of Mankind did not yet know how they were going to negotiate this next stage of their present “climbers’ pitch”; still less did they know whether they would succeed in scaling it; but they could see that they stood no chance of succeeding unless they could settle their latter-day conflict between Heart and Head, and that therefore a sincere and earnest attempt to recapture a lost spiritual harmony was an indispensable prelude to grappling with the formidable precipice that towered above them.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Barbarism and religion

May 18 2013

“I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion [...].”

___

Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol VII, Ch 71, Prospect of the Ruins of Rome in the Fifteenth Century – Four Causes of Decay and Destruction – Example of the Coliseum – Renovation of the City – Conclusion of the Whole Work, Strahan & Cadell, 1789. From Henry G Bohn, publisher, 1855.

The faithful remnant

May 10 2013

The wholeheartedness of the conversion of at least a nucleus of the converts to Roman Catholic Christianity in Japan was attested by the survival of a “faithful remnant” underground for 231 years (A.D. 1637-1868) during which the penalty for detection was death.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Jerome’s dream

May 3 2013

The difficulty of persuading a sophisticated audience to give a hearing to an outlandish gospel would be great [...] in any case; and the apostles to “the high-brows” would have deprived themselves in advance of all prospect of success if they had gone out of their way to antagonize their shy spiritual quarry at the outset by wantonly making the form of their creed as rébarbatif as the substance of it could hardly fail to seem to an aesthetically sensitive Hellenically-cultivated mind (“si quando … prophetam legere coepissem, sermo horrebat incultus” [“whenever [...] I began to read the prophets, their language seemed to me uncouth”] – Saint Jerome, Ep. xxii ad Eustochium, chap. 30). These diplomatic considerations, however, were not the Fathers’ only motive, and indeed not even their strongest one, for resorting to the use of a cultural instrument which their church had officially condemned as frivolous at its best and, at its worst, pernicious. The evangelists of a cultivated pagan society were moved to address this audience in its own idiom chiefly because these evangelists themselves were mostly converts from these very pagan circles. Their conversion to an alien proletarian religion had not availed to break the spell of a pagan cultural heritage that was their birthright; and, when they used their pagan literary equipment for a religious missionary purpose, they were acting, not on calculation in cold blood, but spontaneously, con amore.

The abiding value of a pagan culture for Christian converts from a cultivated pagan milieu was demonstrated by the severity of the blow which Julian succeeded in dealing to the Christian community in the Hellenic World of his day by his shrewdly malicious stroke of making a professing Christian ineligible, ex officio religionis, for holding a teacher’s official licence [...]. The Christian victims of this sly manoeuvre in a “cold” religious war were so hard hit by their exclusion from a pagan field of cultural activity, and were at the same time so well versed in a literature which was the common heirloom of both parties, that, according to the story (as told by Gibbon, Edward: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap, xxiii, following Sozomen), Christian men of letters “had recourse to the expedient of composing books for their own schools. Within a few months Apollinaris produced his Christian imitations of Homer (a sacred history in twenty-four books), Pindar, Euripides, and Menander; and Sozomen is satisfied that they equalled, or excelled, the originals”.

Julian’s stroke was a shrewd one because the Christians’ unwillingness to dispense with a pagan cultural instrument not only laid them open to a public exposure as hypocrites but also secretly vexed their own consciences and continued to vex them even when Julian was no longer there to taunt them with their inconsistency. At a time when Julian was dead and his Hellenic paganism was moribund, a Saint Jerome suffered the same inward spiritual discomfort from a tension between a Christianity to which he had dedicated himself and a pagan cultural heritage which he had failed to pluck out and cast from him (“bibliothecâ … carere non poteram” [“I was not able to be without the [...] library”] – Saint Jerome, ibid.) as a Father Maffeus [sixteenth-century Italian Jesuit humanist] was to suffer, in his day, from a corresponding tension between a Humanism to which he had dedicated himself and a Christianity from which he had found himself unable to break loose. Jerome’s psychological conflict came to the surface of his consciousness in the celebrated dream in which he fancied that he was hailed before the heavenly tribunal of Christ; was convicted by his divine judge of being still a Ciceronian and no Christian; and was reprieved only thanks to the intercession of the consistory and in consideration of an oath which he swore by Christ’s name, binding himself never to read any profane literature any more: “si legero, te negavi” [“If I read, I reject you”] (Hieronymus [Jerome]: Epistulae, No. xxii ad Eustochium, chap. 30). Paganism had to become not merely moribund but extinct before the Christian heirs of a pagan Hellenic culture could play their part as Hellenism’s literary executors with an easy conscience.

[...]

Subbing point: last Jerome citation is presented inconsistently.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The Eagle of Meaux

May 2 2013

The Augustinian version of a Judaic view of history was taken for granted by Western Christian thinkers throughout the first millennium (circa A.D. 675-1675) of the Western Civilization’s life and was reformulated – to incorporate the additions made to Western knowledge since the fifteenth century of the Christian Era by an Italian renaissance of Hellenism and an Iberian conquest of the Ocean – in a Discours sur l’Histoire Universelle published in A.D. 1681 by Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (vivebat A.D. 1627-1704). The Eagle of Meaux’s majestic variation on a traditional Judaic theme was, however, the last serious Western performance of this spiritual masterpiece; for, while Bossuet was in the act of writing his classic discourse, a spiritual revolution was taking place around him in his world. Within the brief span of the last few decades of the seventeenth century of the Christian Era, a Western World that was exorcizing a stalking ghost of Hellenism was at the same time liquidating its own ancestral Judaic Weltanschauung.

Apropos the stalking ghost, we have earlier (referring to literary culture perhaps too much in isolation):

The Humanists’ revival of the art of writing quantitative Latin and Greek verse in a correct Hellenic style was followed, not by an eclipse of a native Western literature that was flying its own proper colours unabashed, but by a fresh outburst of it in a blaze which effectively took the shine out of the Humanists’ frigid academic exercises.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Two Maghrebis

May 1 2013

A belief that the whole life of the Universe was governed by “the Law of God” was the qiblah of a Judaic Weltanschauung that was the common heritage of the Orthodox Christian, the Western Christian, the Arabic Muslim, and the Iranic Muslim societies; and a theocentric philosophy of history derived from the intuitions or inspirations of the Prophets of Israel and Judah and the Iranian Prophet Zarathustra was bequeathed to Western Christendom in Saint Augustine’s De Civitate Dei and to the Arab Muslim World in Ibn Khaldūn’s Prolegomena to his History of the Berbers – two works of spiritual genius which unmistakably reflect one single common outlook and whose mutual affinity can only be accounted for by their indebtedness to a common source, since Ibn Khaldūn was as ignorant of his Christian predecessor and fellow Maghribī’s theodicy as Augustine was of Muqaddamāt that did not see the light till more than nine hundred years after the Christian North African Father’s death.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Huguenots and Nonconformists

April 12 2013

The evils of religious fanaticism in a seventeenth-century Western Christendom were, naturally, felt the most sharply and detested the most heartily by the people who suffered from them the most severely. These were the religious refugees (especially the Huguenot refugees from France after the revocation in A.D. 1685 of the Edict of Nantes) and the religious minorities which were allowed to remain in their homes at the price of political and social penalization (e.g. the Nonconformists in England after A.D. 1662). The penalty of political disfranchisement forcibly prevented the English Nonconformists from putting any of their treasure into the worship of an idolized parochial state, and so constrained them to put into Economics, Technology, and Science all of their treasure that did not go into their Free Churches. Thus it was no accident that the father of the eighteenth-century Western anti-religious philosophical Enlightenment should have been a seventeenth-century French Huguenot refugee in Holland, Pierre Bayle, or that the pioneers of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution in England should have been the eighteenth-century English Nonconformists.

Which may be true, but needs more examples.

1598-1685. The Edict of Nantes, issued on April 13 1598, by Henry IV, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (Huguenots) substantial rights. It was revoked by Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715) in 1685 in the Edict of Fontainebleau.

1685-1787. The stringency of policies outlawing Protestants was relaxed under Louis XV (reigned 1715-74) and was opposed by the Catholic (quasi-Calvinist) Jansenists. Prominent thinkers, including Turgot, argued in favour of religious tolerance. On November 7 1787, Louis XVI (reigned 1774-92) signed the Edict of Versailles, the pre-revolutionary Edict of Tolerance, which was registered in the parlement. This gave followers of all faiths – Calvinist Huguenots, Lutherans, Jews – civil and legal recognition and the right to form congregations. The Edict of Nantes had referred only to Protestants (including Lutherans?). Had any other edict governed Jews? Full religious freedom came with enactment of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. Once Revolutionary armies got to other European countries, they followed a consistent policy of emancipating persecuted or discriminated religious communities (Catholic in some countries, Protestant in others, Jews in virtually all).

1662-1828. The 1662 measure against Nonconformists (non-Anglican Protestants) was the Act of Uniformity. (Puritans and Presbyterians who violated the 1549, 1552 and 1559 Acts of Uniformity may retrospectively be considered Nonconformists.) The term “dissenter” came into use particularly after the Act of Toleration of 1689, which exempted Nonconformists who had taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy from penalties for non-attendance at services of the Church of England. In England, Nonconformists were restricted from many spheres of public life until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828. The Roman Catholic Relief Act followed in 1829. What was the position of substantially-Nonconformist Wales under each of these measures?

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956 (footnote)

Non-European popes

March 14 2013

According to Max Fisher, The Washington Post, as corrected in their comments, with their places of birth:

1) Saint Peter: Bethsaida, modern-day Israel or Syria (33-64)

2) Pope Saint Evaristus: Bethlehem, modern-day West Bank (97-105)

3) Pope Saint Anicetus: Emesa (today known as Homs), Syria (155-66)

4) Pope Saint Victor I: Leptis Magna, modern-day Libya (189-99)

5) Pope Saint Miltiades: somewhere in North Africa (311-14)

6) Pope Saint Gelasius I: perhaps North Africa, in any case Berber (492-96)

7) Pope Theodore I: Jerusalem, modern-day Israel and West Bank (642-49)

8) Pope John V: Antioch, then Syria but today part of Turkey (685-86)

9) Pope Sisinnius: Syria (708)

10) Pope Constantine: Syria (708-15)

11) Pope Gregory III: Syria (731-41)

Now number 12, born Argentina, but ethnically Italian. Link.

Some of the Levantine popes must have been at least partly Greek. Sergius I was a Syrian (687-701) from Byzantine Palermo. Were there other Syrians born in Europe?

There have been French, German, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish popes. And one Dutch, one English and one Polish pope. Most of the Greeks were not born in Greece.

The last non-Italian before John Paul II (1978-2005) was Adrian VI: Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht (1522-23).

The most recent Italian has been John Paul I (1978).

Conclave

March 13 2013

Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory VII, in fighting the brigand-nobles of the former Ducatus Romanus, embarked on a worldly and political course which ended, in his war with the Holy Roman Empire, with a betrayal of the Church’s spiritual purposes.

The inward moral character of his acts [was at first] difficult indeed to divine. At his last hour, forty years after, the answer to the riddle was already less obscure; for in A.D. 1085, when he was dying as a Pope in exile at Salerno, the more venerable city that was his see lay prostrate under the weight of an overwhelming calamity which her bishop’s policy had brought upon her only the year before. In 1085 Rome had just been looted and burnt by the Normans – more ferocious brigands than any native Roman breed – whom the Pope had called in to assist him in a military struggle which had gradually spread from the steps of Saint Peter’s altar, where it had started forty years before, until it had engulfed the whole of Western Christendom.

The climax of the physical conflict between Hildebrand and Henry IV gave a foretaste of the deadlier and more devastating struggle which was to be fought out à outrance between Innocent IV and Frederick II; and by the time when we come to the pontificate of Innocent IV our doubts will be at an end. Sinibaldo Fieschi bears witness against Ildebrando Aldobrandeschi that, in choosing the alternative of meeting force by force, Hildebrand was setting the Hildebrandine Church upon a course which was to end in the victory of his adversaries the World, the Flesh, and the Devil over the City of God which he was seeking to bring down to Earth.

No Politick admitteth nor did ever admit
the teacher [Christ] into confidence: nay ev’n the Church,
with hierarchy in conclave compassing to install
Saint Peter in Caesar’s chair, and thereby win for men
the promises for which they had loved and worship’d Christ,
relax’d his heavenly code to stretch her temporal rule.

[Footnote: Bridges, Robert: The Testament of Beauty (Oxford 1929, Clarendon Press), Book IV, ll. 259-64.]

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Edict of Milan

March 12 2013

1,700 years ago: February 313. The edict, if there was a formal one, followed the conversion of Constantine (Battle of the Milvian Bridge) in 312. It would be followed at the end of the century, after the interlude of Julian, by the proscription of paganism: Edict of Thessalonica, February 380, under Theodosius I.

So perhaps the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Scola, will be pope in 2013. The other Italian “front-runner”, Cardinal Ravasi, is less likely. Cardinal Ouellet, a Canadian, is possible and knows Latin America. But, as a friend of mind points out, Canadians are too normal. Cardinal Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, who looks like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, would be a natural successor to Benedict XVI. An American pope, in the shape of Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, or anyone else, is somehow unthinkable. One hears so much secular piety from Americans, and religion from lay Americans, that it would be too much.

Aren’t the other non-Europeans – Cardinal Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo; Cardinal Sandri, an Argentinian; Cardinal Turkson, a Ghanaian; Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila; Cardinal Braz de Aviz, the other Brazilian – less likely than the Europeans and Canadian? But if anyone from this group, perhaps the Ghanaian is the most likely.

The words “Extra omnes” remind one of the days of I’m All Right, Jack.

The other symmetry with 313 would be to have an African pope, Cardinal Turkson, since the pope when the Edict of Milan was proclaimed was “African”: Pope Miltiades. The other two Africans have been Victor I (late second century) and Gelasius I (late fifth).

The Holy Mountain

March 10 2013

According to the Athonite tradition, Mary was sailing, accompanied by St John the Evangelist, from Jaffa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus, when her ship was blown off-course, forcing her to stop there. From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and was out of bounds to all other women.

Monks have been in the Athos peninsula since the fourth century, possibly since the third. After the Islamic conquest of Egypt, many monks fled there from the Egyptian desert.

Athos has had self-governing privileges since the reign of Basil I, the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, at the end of the ninth century. Its links with Russia are almost as old as Russian Christianity (Christianisation of Kiev late 980s). It remained under Turkish control until the First Balkan War (1912), when the Turks were forced out by the Greek Navy. It was assigned to Greece at the Treaty of London, May 30 1913.

The twenty monasteries in their order in the Athonite hierarchy:

  1. Great Lavra (Μεγίστη Λαύρα, Megísti Lávra)
  2. Vatopedi (ΒατοπέδιΒατοπαίδι)
  3. Iviron (Ιβήρωνივერთა მონასტერი, Iverta Monasteri), built by Georgians
  4. Helandariou (Χιλανδαρίου, Chilandariou, Хиландар), Serbian Orthodox
  5. Dionysiou (Διονυσίου)
  6. Koutloumousiou (Κουτλουμούσι)
  7. Pantokratoros (Παντοκράτορος, Pantokratoros)
  8. Xiropotamou (Ξηροποτάμου)
  9. Zografou (Ζωγράφου, Зограф), Bulgarian Orthodox
  10. Dochiariou (Δοχειαρίου)
  11. Karakalou (Καρακάλλου)
  12. Filotheou (Φιλοθέου)
  13. Simonos Petras (Σίμωνος Πέτρα, Σιμωνόπετρα)
  14. Agiou Pavlou (Αγίου Παύλου, Agiou Pavlou, Saint Paul’s)
  15. Stavronikita (Σταυρονικήτα)
  16. Xenophontos (Ξενοφώντος)
  17. Osiou Grigoriou (Οσίου Γρηγορίου, Venerable Gregory)
  18. Esphigmenou (Εσφιγμένου)
  19. Agiou Panteleimonos (Αγίου Παντελεήμονος, Saint Pantelemon, Пантелеймонов,  Ρωσικόν, Rossikon), Russian Orthodox
  20. Konstamonitou (Κωνσταμονίτου)

Do most or all of these monasteries follow the Order of St Basil?

There are also twelve sketes, communities of Christian hermits following a monastic rule, allowing a blend of hermetic and communal life.

I don’t think one should sneer at the casket containing the Marian belt in the last post even when it is carried by a corrupt abbot. The important thing is the notion of the holy, not the doubtful belt.

Chalcidice

The three fingers of the Chalcidicean peninsula in the modern Greek region of Central Macedonia; the autonomous area of Mount Athos is part of the peninsula, but not of the region; click to enlarge

Constantine and Ashoka

December 4 2012

Constantine’s motive for becoming a convert to Christianity was ethically much inferior to Ashoka’s motive for becoming a convert to Buddhism. Ashoka’s motive had been repentance for his crime of having waged an aggressive war, and he had never gone to war again. Constantine’s motive was gratitude for his victories in three successive civil wars.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Ugolino and Elias

November 4 2012

When his first adherent, Bernard of Quintavalle, asked Francis to allow him to join Francis in leading a life of poverty, Francis rejoiced, because he believed that the Christlike way was the right way for human beings to live. But Francis had also espoused humility. He had no thought of criticizing the Papacy, even implicitly, or of starting an anti-Papal movement or of becoming the Minister General of a new religious order. To follow Christ was the aim to which Francis was totally dedicated. However, this might not have saved Francis from sharing the Cathars’ and the Waldensians’ fate, for his espousal of poverty was a practical criticism of the Papacy which was the more damaging for having been inadvertent. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) and his great-nephew and second successor Cardinal Ugolino (Pope Gregory IX, 1227-41) [and the intervening Pope Honorius III] recognized that Francis’s single-minded imitation of Christ had put the Curia in a quandary. They were painfully aware of the swelling chorus of satirical voices that was assailing the Curia from all quarters of Christendom. They decided to enlist St. Francis instead of blasting him. This decision did credit to their intelligence, though the motive was not disinterested.

St. Francis himself would have been saved acute spiritual agony if he had been martyred at his first encounter with the Curia, instead of living to receive the stigmata and also to see the Franciscan Order take a shape, in Cardinal Ugolino’s and Brother Elias’s hands, that was no longer in tune with Francis’s own conception of the Christlike way of life. However, Francis espoused suffering, both spiritual and physical, as well as poverty and humility, and, if Ugolino and Elias had not cut him to the heart by their worldly-wise interventions, the Franciscan spirit might not have outlived St. Francis himself, whereas it is still alive today, nearly three-quarters of a millennium after the date of his death, constricted, but not stultified, by its institutional container, the Order of Friars Minor.

Institutionalization is the price of durability. This is one of the blemishes of the social facet of human life, but the institutionalization of something that has great spiritual value for posterity is a lesser evil than the total loss of the volatile spiritual treasure. St. Francis did not recognize this hard truth. Ugolino and Elias understood it and took the responsibility for acting in the light of it. They salvaged an alloy of Francis’s treasure at the price of bringing odium on themselves.

St. Francis’s Castilian contemporary St. Dominic (Domingo de Guzman, 1170-1221), the founder of the Order of Friars Preachers, had an easier passage. He made the same commitment to poverty; the two saints were both combating greed. But St. Dominic’s spirit could be reconciled to institutionalization more readily than St. Francis’s. The rising cities of Western Christendom were enriched spiritually by Franciscan as well as by Dominican houses, libraries, and lecture-rooms, though, for St. Francis, masonry and books were anathema, because he saw in them perilous impediments to the leading of a Christian life. Brother Elias never forfeited St. Francis’s confidence; yet assuredly St. Francis would have been excruciated if he could have foreseen Brother Elias’s virtuosity as a fund-raiser for building a church at Assisi in St. Francis’s honour. The beauty of the architecture and of Giotto’s paintings would not have reconciled St. Francis to this outrage against the poverty and the humility with which he had been in love.

Giotto di Bondone, Confirmation of the Rule of St Francis by Innocent III, Basilica of St Francis, Assisi

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The first native American saint

October 19 2012

Kateri of the Mohawks. [Catholic saint: see Robert Greaves’s comment.]

Syriac vs Hellenic

October 13 2012

In the Oriental provinces of the Roman Empire the fifth century saw the Nestorian and Monophysite mass-movements against the “Melchite” adherents of the Imperial Catholic Church. These movements, however, were endeavours, not so much to free the Church from the domination of the Temporal Power, as to free the still submerged portion of the Syriac World from the Hellenic ascendancy to which it had been subject since the days of Alexander the Great. [...]

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Thou shalt not

September 20 2012

I asked a Thai in Dubai whether he enjoyed living there. His answer, “Can not, can not”, reminded me of Blake.

Vicar of Christ

September 18 2012

A Pope whose predecessors had been content to style themselves “Vicar of Peter” assumed the style of “Vicar of Christ”. [Footnote: “Soon after he ascended the Papal Throne, Innocent III began to use the phrase ‘Vicar of Christ’ in connexion with his office. It had not been used before his time; and the implication that the successors of Peter were not his deputies, but received their commission, as he did, immediately from Christ, is significant of the conviction upon which the policy of Innocent was founded. ... The assertions of Innocent III went far to establish the Papacy in the possession of semi-divine honours.” – Thompson, A. H., in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol vi (Cambridge 1929, University Press), p. 644. [...] ] This was an ominous departure from the humility of a Gregory the Great, who had taken the title of Servus Servorum Dei when his colleague John the Faster at Constantinople had proclaimed himself “Oecumenical” Patriarch. In the year of Innocent’s death John’s “Oecumenical” successor was a refugee at Nicaea from a Patriarchal See that was under the heel of Innocent’s truant crusaders.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

In the temple of Jupiter

September 16 2012

“The barefooted fryars … singing Vespers in the Temple of Jupiter” [...]. [Footnote: The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon, edited by Murray, J. (London 1896, Murray), p. 302 [...].]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

A crowned ghost

September 16 2012

“If a man consider the originall of this great Ecclesiasticall Dominion, he will easily perceive that the Papacy is no other than the Ghost of the deceased Romane Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof; for so did the Papacy start up on a Sudden out of the Ruines of that Heathen Power.” [Footnote: Hobbes, Th.: Leviathan, Part IV, chap. 47.]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Modern straits

September 8 2012

In [the modern] post-Christian Odyssey there was more than one passage to be negotiated and more than one kind of ordeal to be faced.

The two spiritual dilemmas, the “straits” Toynbee told us we needed to negotiate in 1952 – he imagines Greek sailors negotiating the straits of Messina and of Gibraltar – can be restated in modern terms, with some realignment of metaphors.

Following in Odysseus’ wake, these Phocaean seafarers would have first to negotiate the straits between Sicily and Italy without approaching either an Italian shore where they would be pounced upon by the monster Scylla or a Sicilian shore where they would be engulfed by the whirlpool Charybdis [...].

[But] if they were to reach the boundless waters of a globe-encompassing Ocean, these voyagers must put to sea again [and] make for the Straits of Gibraltar between the Pillars of Hercules, where this pair of menacing mountains, towering above the African and the European shore and threatening, from either flank, to fall upon any ship audacious enough to run the gauntlet without their leave [...].

In the interpretation of this parable in terms of the Western Civilization’s prospects, the finding of a passage between Scylla and Charybdis signified the negotiation of the Western World’s immediate problem of finding some way of avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification. Mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era the Western Society was in imminent danger of destroying itself by failing to stop making War now that a demonic drive had been put into War by the progress of a Western physical science; and it was in hardly less imminent danger of stultifying itself by seeking asylum from War and Class-Conflict in Circe’s pig-sty. [...]

“Avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification” is the nuclear and ecological strait.

And how can people become richer without losing some of their humanity? Scylla threatens to pounce on you for romanticising poverty. Charybdis wants to suck you into a global Dubai.

In this spiritual ordeal the forbidding Pillars of Hercules were a pair of rival authoritarian and dogmatic faiths, both of which alike were offering to the storm-tossed voyager an everlasting Nirvāna in their stony bosoms and were threatening him with the eternal punishment that had been inflicted on the Flying Dutchman if he were to be so impious and so fool-hardy as to reject their offer and sail on past them out into the blue. From the one shore this ultimatum was being delivered to Western souls by a Christian heresy in which the stone of Communism had been substituted for the bread [footnote: Matt. vii. 9; Luke xi. 11.] of the Gospel, and from the other shore by a Christian Orthodoxy in which the body of Christ, [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 27; Eph. iv. 12.] who had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, [footnote: John x. 10.] had been petrified into a pillar of salt [footnote: Gen. xix. 26.] by a backward-looking ecclesiastical tradition. To dare the passage between these two frowning Pillars of Hercules was a venture that might daunt even a mariner whose moral had been fortified by a previous success in making his way safely between Scylla and Charybdis.

The new Pillars of Hercules are, on one side, convinced post-communist atheists and, on the other, religious men of “passionate intensity”.

When I was in my twenties, most of my contemporaries professed “agnosticism” when asked about religion. They lacked “all conviction”. Today, their nominally if that Christian equivalents in the UK – partly because of the recent example of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, partly because encouraged by Dawkinses and Goldacres – are confident enough to profess outright atheism.

Plus ultra!

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Plus ultra!

September 7 2012

In A.D. 1952 [...] the feat that had to be performed by Western navigators on the face of the waters of History was to pilot their vessel, without disaster, through perilous straits in the hope of making their way into more open waters beyond; and in this post-Christian Odyssey there was more than one passage to be negotiated and more than one kind of ordeal to be faced.

To paraphrase and anticipate, sailing between Scylla and Charybdis: abjuring war without sinking into consumerism.

Sailing between the Pillars of Hercules: negotiating a spiritual passage between a Christian heresy, Communism, on one shore and a backward-looking Christian orthodoxy on the other.

In terms of our Mediterranean maritime simile, we may compare the social and spiritual enterprise to which these Western adventurers were committed in the twentieth century of the Christian Era with the navigational task confronting Hellenic mariners in the sixth century B.C. who had bidden farewell to their Ionian homeland and had set sail westward rather than submit to the alien dominion of un-Hellenic-minded Achaemenidae. Following in Odysseus’ wake, these Phocaean seafarers would have first to negotiate the straits between Sicily and Italy without approaching either an Italian shore where they would be pounced upon by the monster Scylla or a Sicilian shore where they would be engulfed by the whirlpool Charybdis; but, if, by managing to steer their course along the narrow fairway through this first danger-zone, they should succeed in making the friendly port of Marseilles, they would not there find themselves at rest in the haven where they would be; [footnote: Ps. cvii. 30.] for their bold and skilful negotiation of the Straits of Messina would merely have carried them from the inner basin into the outer basin of the Mediterranean, without having liberated them from the imprisoning shores of their landlocked native sea.

I’m not sure why the open waters of the Atlantic would have been a haven for them. Nor did the Persians reach the outer basin. But the speculation is half-fanciful. Rather than submit to Persian rule, the Phocaeans, or some of them, had abandoned Ionia. Where did they sail to, in fact? Some, perhaps, to Chios, some to Phocaean colonies on Corsica and elsewhere. Massalia or Massilia, Marseille (Marseilles, the English sometimes call it), was an existing Phocaean colony: it was an independent Greek city from 600 BC until Caesar conquered it in 49 BC. Some became the founders of Elea, or Velia, in Campania. Some eventually returned to Phocaea.

What were the actual political dangers of Scylla and Charybdis? The straits were controlled by Greeks (Messenians, at least on the Calabrian side), not Carthaginians.

If they were to reach the boundless waters of a globe-encompassing Ocean, these voyagers must put to sea again from the sheltering harbour of their mother country’s daughter city in order to make for the Straits of Gibraltar between the Pillars of Hercules, where this pair of menacing mountains, towering above the African and the European shore and threatening, from either flank, to fall upon any ship audacious enough to run the gauntlet without their leave, were visible embodiments of Imperial Carthage’s decree that no Hellenic vessel was ever to sail on through this golden gate leading out from the landlocked waters into the main.

Since Carthage controlled both sides of the straits, such a decree would not be surprising, but what source tells us that it was made? Were the Carthaginians in part protecting access to Madeira, the Canaries, Cape Verde, the Azores? Some of these islands must have lain behind the tradition of the Hesperides, which Hercules had visited.

A Phoenician fleet had circumnavigated Africa by about 600 BC in the other direction. Herodotus describes how the Pharaoh Necho II sent out an expedition manned by Phoenician sailors. They sailed out of the Red Sea, rounded the Cape, and headed north to the Mediterranean. They paused on the African coast in two successive years to sow and harvest grain, and reached Egypt in the course of the third year.

A Carthaginian, Hanno, probably early in the 5th century BC, sailed to the Bight of Bonny, probably as far as Sherbro Island off Sierra Leone or Cape Palmas off Liberia. An account of his periplus was engraved in Punic on a bronze tablet set up in the temple of Baal at Carthage. It was translated into Greek. The translation survives, and is the only piece of Carthaginian literature we have. His account was used by Ptolemy and remained the standard guide for seafarers until the Portuguese explorations of the 15th century.

We have fragmentary evidence that a certain Euthymenes of Massalia sailed down the west coast of Africa as far as a river which was infested with crocodiles and whose waters were driven back by strong sea breezes. He thought that this river was the Nile. It may have been the Senegal River. We are not sure what century Euthymenes lived in, but there is a statue of him on the façade of the Marseille bourse.

Pytheas sailed from Massalia past the Pillars of Hercules to northern Europe, including Britain, c 325 BC. (The odd thing is that Queen Elizabeth II has never visited Greece.)

Polybius passed them after Carthage had been destroyed. Pliny the Elder tells us that he sailed down the west coast of Africa c 146 BC in ships lent to him by the destroyer, Scipio Aemilianus. He may have seen Mount Kakulima in Guinea.

So the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and presumably Persians were aware that Africa was surrounded by sea except where it was connected to Asia. Bartolomeu Dias sailed round the Cape in 1488. Vasco da Gama sailed round most of Africa in 1497-98 on his way to India.

And here woe betide the Hellenic mariner who allowed himself [if he wanted to reach his haven] to be intimidated by his adversary’s veto into following the Theban Pindar’s poor-spirited advice to his Agrigentine patron Thêrôn.

“And now Thêrôn’s achievements have carried him to the limit: they have brought him to the Pillars of Hercules on his long voyage from home; and what lies beyond this terminus is out of bounds (ἂβατον) for all men, wise or witless. I will not pursue this venture. I should deserve to lose my senses if I did this senseless thing!” [Footnote: Pindar: Odes in Honour of Victors in the Olympic Games, Ode iii, ll. 43-45.]

Theron had reached a metaphorical Pillars of Hercules by his unsurpassable excellence in the Olympic chariot race in 476 BC.

Ne plus ultra! These were the very words that a forbidding Carthaginian statesmanship had been intending to extort from defeatist Hellenic lips; and, so long as this self-imposed Hellenic psychological inhibition held, no Hellenic explorer would ever sail on to test the truth of a later poet’s intuition that the untried passage of the Ocean would prove to be the avenue to a New World. [Footnote: Seneca: Medea, ll. 364-79 [...].] More than two thousand years were to pass before Columbus’s victorious defiance of the veto once imposed by a jealous Carthage was to be commemorated, in the device of “the dollar sign”, by the first sovereign on whose globe-encircling dominions the Sun could never set. On coins minted for Charles V out of American bullion, the antistrophic words Plus ultra! were triumphantly inscribed on a scroll displayed behind the minatory pair of pillars; and the moral was one which a twentieth-century Odysseus ought to take to heart if this series of episodes in the history of the art of navigation was an apt parable of the spiritual voyage on which his sails were set.

According to a Renaissance tradition, the pillars had been inscribed with the words Ne plus ultra as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further. There is no version of the phrase in Greek.

Luigi Marliano, doctor and advisor to the young King of Spain, proposed Plus Oultre for his motto as an encouragement to ignore the ancient warnings, take risks. (The OED can find no example of the phrase Ne plus ultra from before 1637, but that means in English sources.)

Plus ultra is on the present Spanish coat of arms as an inscription on a banner linking two pillars. Its history between Charles V and now includes use thus on the Spanish dollar (current in the Spanish Empire 1497-19th century; the main currency within Spain was the real). The Spanish dollar was contemporary with the German Thaler and was the basis of the American dollar.

The wrapped pillars do not appear on US dollars, but may be the origin of the US dollar sign.

Future post: global histories of anna, cent, centime, crown, cruzado, cruzeiro, denarius, dinar, dollar, drachma, escudo, florin, franc, Groschen, guinea, gulden, Kreuzer, krone, lira, livre, Mark, penny, peseta, peso, pfennig, piastre, pound, real, rial, ruble, rupee, Schilling, shekel, shilling, solidus, sovereign, talent, Thaler, zloty.

In the interpretation of this parable in terms of the Western Civilization’s prospects, the finding of a passage between Scylla and Charybdis signified the negotiation of the Western World’s immediate problem of finding some way of avoiding self-destruction without falling into self-stultification. Mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era the Western Society was in imminent danger of destroying itself by failing to stop making War now that a demonic drive had been put into War by the progress of a Western physical science; and it was in hardly less imminent danger of stultifying itself by seeking asylum from War and Class-Conflict in Circe’s pig-sty. If post-Christian Western souls did succeed in threading their way between these two immediate perils, they would owe their happy issue out of this affliction to an inspiration to take Religion as the mark on which they were once more to set their course; but an impulse to return to Religion would not in itself suffice to bring the Western pilgrims’ ships out of inland waters into open sea; for the call of Religion was being uttered in diverse tongues; [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 28.] and the questions to which the agnostic Western pioneer in search of a Christian oracle would have, at his own peril, to find an answer for himself, were:

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? … Have all the gifts of healing? … Do all interpret?” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 29-30.]

In this spiritual ordeal the forbidding Pillars of Hercules were a pair of rival authoritarian and dogmatic faiths, both of which alike were offering to the storm-tossed voyager an everlasting Nirvāna in their stony bosoms and were threatening him with the eternal punishment that had been inflicted on the Flying Dutchman if he were to be so impious and so fool-hardy as to reject their offer and sail on past them out into the blue. From the one shore this ultimatum was being delivered to Western souls by a Christian heresy in which the stone of Communism had been substituted for the bread [footnote: Matt. vii. 9; Luke xi. 11.] of the Gospel, and from the other shore by a Christian Orthodoxy in which the body of Christ, [footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 27; Eph. iv. 12.] who had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, [footnote: John x. 10.] had been petrified into a pillar of salt [footnote: Gen. xix. 26.] by a backward-looking ecclesiastical tradition. To dare the passage between these two frowning Pillars of Hercules was a venture that might daunt even a mariner whose moral had been fortified by a previous success in making his way safely between Scylla and Charybdis. But, if, at this supremely critical point in his voyage, the pilgrim were to feel his heart failing, he might recover his courage and initiative by taking his oracle from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians:

“Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” [Footnote: 1 Cor. xii. 31.]

OED defines petrify as “turn (an organic body) into a stony concretion by gradually replacing its original substance with a calcareous, siliceous, or other mineral deposit”, which I suppose makes “petrify into a pillar of salt” not quite a mixed metaphor.

If a contrite humility was the first of the Christian virtues that were necessary for the Western pilgrim’s salvation, an indomitable endurance was the second. What was required of him at this hour was to hold on his course and to trust in God’s grace; and, if he prayed God to grant him a pilot for the perilous passage, he would find the bodhisattva [in the Mahayana, an enlightened being who has voluntarily delayed his entry into Nirvana in order to help his suffering fellow-beings] psychopompus [conductor of souls through the underworld] whom he was seeking in a Francesco Bernardone of Assisi, who was the most god-like soul that had been born into the Western World so far. A disciple of Saint Francis who followed faithfully enough in the saint’s footsteps to participate in the saint’s gift of receiving Christ’s stigmata would know, with the knowledge that comes only through suffering, that his sacrifice had been accepted by the Lord. [Footnote: Gen. iv. 3-7.] Asperges me hyssopo et mundabor. [Footnote: Ps. l. 9, in the Vulgate Latin text, Ps. li. 7, in the English Authorized Version.]

Seville Town Hall (Ayuntamiento), reign of Charles V

A footnote after “minatory pair of pillars” advises us to

See Raymond, Wayte: The Silver Dollars of North and South America (New York 1939, Wayte Raymond, Inc.) for photographs of dollars coined for the Spanish Crown, over a series of reigns ranging from Charles V’s (regnabat A.D. 1516-56) to the break-up of the Spanish Empire of the Indies in the nineteenth century of the Christian Era, which display the pair of pillars with the motto Plus ultra. On 46 of the 67 specimens (not counting “necessity coins” [small mintings of little value]) of “pillar type” coins here reproduced, including the earliest in the series, Charles V’s coin from Santo Domingo (p. 18, No. 1), the two words are inscribed on a single scroll linking the pillars (and passing behind an heraldic shield inserted between the pillars on coins of this type minted for the Bourbons). On fifteen specimens, each of the two pillars is wreathed in a separate scroll of its own, with “Plus” inscribed on the left-hand scroll and “Ultra” on the right-hand scroll. On six specimens, including Philip II’s dollar minted in Peru (reproduced in Supplement, p. 3, No. A 1), the motto is inscribed behind or above the pillars without being mounted on a scroll.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Ecclesia

July 26 2012

The Christian Church is indebted for its very name to the technical term employed, in the city-state of Athens, to denote the general assembly of the citizen-body when it was meeting to transact political, as distinct from judicial, business; but, in thus borrowing the word ecclesia (ἐκκλησία), the Church gave it a dual meaning which was no part of the original Attic usage but was the reflection of a new political order, in which Athens and all other surviving city-states of a disintegrating Hellenic World had been incorporated into the Roman Empire without losing their identities as units of local government and life on the municipal level. In Christian usage, ecclesia came to mean both a local Christian community [footnote: When the “outdoor” Hellenic Civilization gave place to the “indoor” Orthodox and Western Christian civilizations, the word ecclesia, in its local meaning, came to be applied, not only to the local Christian community, but to the parochial building in which it assembled for congregational worship.] and the church universal.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Clergy

July 26 2012

The “clergy” took its name from a Greek word (κλῆρος) [klēros] whose general meaning of “lot” had been specialized in a juridical sense to mean an allotted share of an inherited estate, and in a political sense to mean an allotted share of a conquered territory. This political usage, which had been borrowed from Spartan conquerors in the Peloponnese by Athenian conquerors in the Archipelago and Macedonian conquerors in Egypt and South-Western Asia, had given the word a rather unfortunate connotation by the time when the Christian Church began to work out its ecclesiastical organization. The Church adopted the word, nevertheless, to mean the portion of the Christian community that God had allotted to Himself to serve Him as His professional priesthood.

A footnote here quotes

Lightfoot, Bishop J. B., in his edition of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 7th ed. (London 1882, Macmillan)

on

“the sequence of meanings by which the word κλῆρος arrived at this peculiar sense: (i) the lot by which the office was assigned [as in Acts i. 26]; (ii) the office thus assigned by lot [as in Acts i. 17]; (iii) the body of persons holding the office” [...].

The square brackets referring to Acts are Toynbee summarising Lightfoot.

Acts i. 26 is about the election of the apostle Matthias. He was chosen, as it happens, by lot. Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ and then (according to the Gospel of Matthew) committed suicide in guilt before Christ’s resurrection. Between the ascension of Christ and the day of Pentecost, the remaining apostles elected a new twelfth apostle by casting lots, a traditional Jewish way of determining the will of God.

Acts i. 17 uses the word when it says that Judas had been part of the apostles’ ministry (he was not chosen by lot).

Lightfoot’s point is that “the sense ‘clerical appointment or office’ chronologically precedes the sense ‘clergy’”. Since, as he admits, the election of Matthias by lot is unique, to have both (i) and (ii) in the “sequence of meanings” seems unnecessary. And did Judas and Matthias have “offices”?

[These usages] cannot be traced back to the Old Testament; for, though, according to Num. xviii. 20, God is the κληρονομία [kléronomia] of Aaron, and, according to Deut. xviii. 2, He is the κλῆρος of the Levites, “the Jewish priesthood is never described conversely as the special ‘clerus’ of Jehovah, while on the other hand the metaphor thus inverted is more than once applied to the whole Israelite people” (Lightfoot, op. cit. [...]).

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Scripture

July 25 2012

The Christian Church’s sacred book – taken over from the Jews and eventually augmented by the addition of an exclusively Christian “New Testament” to supplement and retrospectively reinterpret “the Old Testament” of Jewish origin – was presented by the Church as its credentials in the belief that this was the authentic Word of God Himself. In so far as the Bible was not referred to as “the Books” (τα βιβλία) [ta biblia] par excellence, it was designated by a term long since current in the vocabulary of the Roman inland revenue. In the fiscal terminology of a post-Hannibalic Roman Commonwealth the word scriptura signified the tax payable for the right to graze cattle on the public lands in the devastated areas in the South of Italy, because an entry in the official register, certifying that a would-be grazier had duly paid his tax, was the warrant that authorized him to make use of the public pasturelands. The Greek equivalent of the Latin scriptura was (γραφή) [graphē], and in a latter-day Kingdom of Greece at the time of writing there was a district in the Southern Pindus, between the plains of Thessaly and the west coast, which was still known as the Agrapha [unwritten] because the agents of an Ottoman inland revenue – and an East Roman inland revenue in an earlier age – had never succeeded even in inscribing in their registers, not to speak of actually collecting, the taxes due from the wild highlanders in this mountain fastness.

The Pindus range is in northwestern Greece and southern Albania.

Spring in Agrafa

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954