Archive for the 'Christianity' Category

Jews and Muslims in Christendom

June 2 2015

Though the status [of Jews] was not recognized de jure in the canon law of the Christian Church, it was no more possible for Christianity than it was for Islam to cut the ground of its own moral claims to theological validity from under its own feet by proscribing another higher religion which was not only older than it was, but was its forerunner according to its own contention. [Footnote: The historical relation of Christianity to Judaism explains why the Christian Church never extended its tacit toleration of Judaism to an Islam which was in one aspect a post-Christian reversion to Judaism from Christianity. In the Christian view the tolerance morally due to a truly though imperfectly inspired pre-Christian approximation towards Christianity could not properly be extended to a perverse backsliding from the Christian summit of religious attainment.]

Christians did not treat Jews better than Muslims. They had higher regard for Jewish theology, but where Jews had no civil rights, religious toleration had no meaning.

Islam’s traditional respect for the older religions is disappearing in some quarters.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954

Malankara Orthodox

May 25 2015

Random eastern Christian.

Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, or Indian Orthodox Church: Oriental Orthodox, West Syrian rite. Not part of the “Greek” Orthodox family. Based in Kottayam, Kerala. Language Malayalam.

Here, Quarbana or Eucharist celebrated by HG Paulose Mar Pachomios, Metropolitan, at St Stephen’s, Kattanam, Kerala. Note the curtain and the furious censer-swinging. The men and women are segregated. No religious person should wear a beard any more. I sympathise a bit with the children.

For my rough guide to eastern Christianities, go here and (for India) here.

Wikipedia pages written by Indians often seem over-engaged and not to see the wood for the trees. The one for this church is an example.

The Melkite Church

May 24 2015

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church uses the Byzantine rite (tradition of Saints John Chrysostom and Basil). The liturgical language is Arabic (and sometimes Greek). Here (no embedding) is a chant performed at the start of Holy Communion, sung in the Saint Paul Basilica, the Melkite cathedral in the Lebanese mountain village of Harissa. You’ll hear the word Allah.

Melkite comes from the Syriac word malkoyo (ܡܠܟܝܐ in the Syriac alphabet‎) and the Arabic malakī (ملكي)‎, meaning royal, and by extension, imperial (ie Byzantine).

Nearby is the Marian shrine Notre Dame du Liban, visited by all Christian denominations. Christians, Druze and Muslims all have a devotion to Mary.

For my rough guide to eastern Christianities, go here and here. I will do a further post on liturgies.

Here, courtesy of KTO, the French-language television channel of the Archbishop of Paris, is Benedict XVI at Harissa in September 2012; he reads an apostolic exhortationEcclesia in Medio Oriente, in French (it came out of his 2010 Special Synod on the Middle East), and signs it:

He also met the Syriac Maronite Patriarchate, Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, Syro-Catholic Patriarchate (Syriac Catholic) and others. Maronites, Armenians and Syrians are the three Catholic churches headquartered in Lebanon.

The catacombs and the hills

May 18 2015

When the rising religion of the internal proletariat of the Hellenic World in its universal state was persecuted by the dominant minority, the Roman Imperial authorities were able to suppress the public practice of Christianity, but they failed to suppress Christianity itself: they merely drove it underground. The prohibition of Christian worship on the surface of pagan Rome stimulated the Christians to create for themselves a new Christian Rome in the Catacombs below the surface of the Campagna; and the City of the Catacombs eventually triumphed over the City of the Seven Hills. The Church rose again from the bowels of the earth in order to raise in the City of the Vatican a dome which towers at this day above the Capitol; and the early Latin peasant, who responded to the challenge of his physical environment by breaking in the intractable surface of the Campagna with his plough, was emulated by the latter-day Christian denizen of the Roman slums, who responded to the challenge from his human environment by visiting the Campagna in the secrecy of the night-watches in order to carve a labyrinthine subterranean world of his own out of the solid tufa. The monument of the Latin peasant’s feat is the Roman Empire; the monument of the Christian proletarian’s feat is the Roman Catholic Church.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

Religious diehards

May 13 2015

[The] “die-hard” spirit had asserted itself in the course of the nineteenth century of the Christian Era. In the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church it had found expression in the decrees of the Vatican Council of A.D. 1869-70 and in the anathema pronounced against Modernism in A.D. 1907; in the domain of the Protestant Churches of North America it had entrenched itself in “the Bible Belt”; and this reaction had not been confined to […] the Western World; for by this time the wave of Westernization was sweeping over the whole face of the planet, and Western Science – which was both the force behind the wave and the rider on its crest – was impinging upon all branches of all the higher religions. Under this ubiquitous pressure the “Zealot” mood was manifesting itself in Orthodox as well as in Western Christendom, and it was simultaneously on the war-path in the Islamic World, where the first stirrings of a Westernizing movement under the stimulus of the disastrous ending of the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 had provoked, in retort, the militantly archaistic movements of Wahhabism, Idrisism, Sanusism, and Mahdism in the fastnesses of the Arabian and North African deserts.

Diehards (old post).

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Gargano and Compostela

April 29 2015

… and the heart of Robert the Bruce

In taking up arms under the impulse of this homesickness for their pristine holy land, the Crusaders not only made for Christendom’s oldest and most sacred pilgrimage-resort as their ultimate objective; they also set themselves intermediate goals to draw their flagging feet forward along the intervening stages of their long war-path by throwing out, en route, new pilgrimage-resorts in advanced posts just beyond an expanding Western Christendom’s previous borders. Norman pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Michael the Archangel on Monte Gargano, in the Apulian dominions of the East Roman Empire, were reconnaissances that became preludes to a Norman conquest of the bridgeheads of Orthodox Christendom and Dār-al-Islām in Southern Italy and Sicily, and French pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint James the Apostle at Compostela, in a Galician no-man’s-land between a Western Christian fastness in Asturia and the former domain of a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate, provided successive new drafts of military manpower for the progressive conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the joint efforts of Cispyrenean and Transpyrenean Frankish aggressors.

The perilous exposure of the shrine at Compostela on the fringe of a Medieval Western Christendom’s dār-al-harb [he uses a different style from the other Dār] had the same effect in spurring the Crusaders into making superhuman exertions as the desperate deed of a Scottish knight who, on an Andalusian battlefield where he had broken his pilgrimage in order to fight under a Castilian banner, turned the fortunes of a day which had been going against the Franks by flinging into the midst of the all-but-victorious Muslims a silver casket containing Robert the Bruce’s heart, and rushing forward after it to conquer or die for the sake of rescuing a treasure, entrusted to his safekeeping, which he had thus deliberately thrown into jeopardy as a last resort for calling out his own supreme reserves of vigour and valour. [Footnote: The tale is told by the writer’s mother, Edith Toynbee, in True Stories from Scottish History (London 1896, Griffith Farran Browne), pp. 90-91.] This incident was an omen; for the mission which the Bruce on his death-bed had charged his companion in arms, James Douglas, to fulfil had been to carry his heart to Jerusalem in order to bury it there in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the attainment of this Palestinian objective was sacrificed for the sake of a Frankish victory on Andalusian ground which was won by Douglas at the cost of the martial pilgrim’s own life; and this personal story repeated itself on an oecumenical scale. While the last of the Crusaders’ bridgeheads on the coast of Syria was lost within less than two hundred years of the Frankish invaders’ first descent upon Palestine [Jerusalem 1099 to Acre 1291], their conquests in the Iberian Peninsula, Southern Italy, and Sicily under the auspices of the far-flung shrines at Compostela and Gargano were the two abiding gains of territory that were made by Western Christendom in the Crusades at Dār-al-Islām’s and Orthodox Christendom’s expense.

Douglas died at the siege of Teba. His body and the casket containing the embalmed heart were found on the field. They were both conveyed back to Scotland by Sir William Keith of Galston. Bruce had been buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Douglas’s remains were interred at St Bride’s church in Douglas, Lanarkshire; Bruce’s heart in Melrose Abbey.

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 19.32.15

Sir James Douglas Taking Bruce’s Heart to the Holy Land Is Diverted to Fight the Moors near Granada, what Victorian source?

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Church of the Cross

February 19 2015

Not even firebombing obliterates a city. Tokyo is still Tokyo. A European city can’t be rebuilt so easily, but Dresden is impressive, with something momentous about it, seen from the Elbe. Bells of the Church of the Cross:

Old town:

There are no bells in Islam, but church bells are part of western music.

Cage and Stockhausen must have known that. Unsurprisingly, some of the most beautiful are in Germany. Is allowing the sound of church bells but not the call to prayer in a European city discrimination against Islam? If something affects (is heard by) a whole population, don’t the preferences of the majority rule, when in other cases minority rights would rule? Sounds are all-pervasive, sights are not.

Peter Partner

February 16 2015

Guardian obituary. “Historian of medieval Rome and the Middle East who attacked the simplistic contrasts drawn between the west and Islam.”

I haven’t read him, but enjoyed his opponent Walter Ullmann’s drily formidable The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages, A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power in my sixth form.

Martin Gilbert

February 6 2015

Chronicler, factory.

Obits a week after Churchill and Holocaust anniversaries:

Telegraph

Independent

Guardian.

Main Churchill volumes (comment in old post).

Career ended February 2013 with cerebral haemorrhage.

2002 interview by Allan Gregg about the Jews in the 20th century:

Hellenism abandoned

January 12 2015

In the field of architecture the attractiveness of the new Byzantine style in the eyes of a Justinian and an Anthemius was probably due to the very fact that this Byzantine style presented the greatest contrast to the Hellenic style that was well conceivable. The Hellenic architecture was a structure of straight lines and flat surfaces meeting at right-angles; the Byzantine architecture was a structure of curves and cupolas. The Hellenic temple looked outwards towards an assembly in the open air; the Byzantine church looked inwards towards a congregation in the interior. The Haghia Sophia was the monumental protest of a generation which could no longer find inspiration in the Parthenon or in any of those things for which the Parthenon stood. In building an Haghia Sophia instead of a Parthenon, Anthemius was doing, in essence, what a Synesius or a Sidonius Apollinaris was doing when he became a bishop instead of remaining just a cultivated country gentleman, or an Augustine when he became a bishop instead of remaining just a professor of rhetoric, or an Ambrose or a Gregory the Great when he became a bishop instead of remaining just an Imperial official. In each of these cases a creative personality was breaking his way out of his hereditary social framework, in which his creative powers had been baulked, and was setting himself into a new framework in which these powers were offered an outlet.

Reluctant churchmen in late antiquity (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

William Dalrymple

December 31 2014

One of Dalrymple’s heroes is Leigh Fermor. WD’s a fine historian, but not PLF’s literary equal. Books:

In Xanadu (1989), following the path taken by Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the site of Shangdu, Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, the summer seat of Kublai Khan. Posts here: Xanadu and JeholThe Silk Road and Summer capitals, summer palaces.

City of Djinns (1994), about Delhi, where he lives.

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), about eastern Christianity. Posts here: Indian churches, Christians and Yazidi, and work back from links in latter.

The Age of Kali (1998), about trouble in modern India. Kali Yuga is the fourth age in Hindu cosmology.

Editor, Lonely Planet Sacred India (1999).

White Mughals (2002), about a love affair in early-nineteenth-century Hyderabad between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and a Muslim noblewoman, Khair-un-Nissa Begum.

Begums, Thugs and White Mughals – The Journals of Fanny Parkes (2002), an edition of the travel journals of Fanny Parkes, who travelled in India from 1822 to ’46 and wrote Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque.

The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 (2006).

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009).

Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan (2012), about the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-42.

Editor, with Yuthika Sharma, Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857 (2012). After Aurangzeb.

TV, radio, journalism.

___

Links to podcasts this year in the BBC Radio 4 Point of View series, with my comments:

A Lenten reflection, April 4. About the discovery, by a British hunting party in 1819, of the painted caves at Ajanta, in the western Ghats in central Maharashtra. “Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, […] the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world.” The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks, but show the sensual life of the court in which the Buddha grew up, not the austerities of the religious life. They were probably painted in the 2nd century BC, with a later group from the 5th century CE. There was no conflict between the sacred and the sensual in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, says Dalrymple; he does not dwell on Hindu traditions of mortifying the flesh.

Later: Buddhist, Jain and Hindu carvings and fragments of paintings in caves at Ellora in Maharashtra. Buddhist and Hindu carvings in caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour. Erotic Jain and Hindu carvings at temples in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.

The puritanical break in India, he suggests, came not with Islam, but with the British, with effects still felt today in a false reinterpretation of their history by Hindus. Africans and Muslims are doing the same thing with theirs. What is rejected as unMuslim and unAfrican is often nineteenth-century unWestern.

The locus classicus in modern Western art of wild eroticism united with religious sensibility is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Its original inspiration wasn’t Indian, but its title is a composite of two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which, apparently, roughly mean “love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death”. (How odd that Bernstein, who conducted the Boston premiere, never returned to it or recorded it.)

A tale of two elections, April 11. About the 2014 elections in India and Afghanistan.

Travel-writing giants, April 18. About Peter Matthieson, who had just died, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Last year in the same series, we had Islamo-Christian heritage, December 20 2013, about the old sharing of sacred space in Egpyt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, India by Christians, Muslims and Jews. I quoted from it here.

Islam did not tolerate Christianity: it showed great tenderness towards it. Dalrymple quotes examples from Akbar’s abortive capital at Fatehpur Sikri. Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the Gospels. Many apocryphal sayings of Jesus were and are current in Islam.

Contested sites and the failure to share: Jerusalem and Ayodhya, the Temple Mount and Ram Janmabhoomi. Though the Israeli occupiers of the Temple Mount do enforce a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at its Umayyad structures, a ban which some orthodox Zionists would like to defy and nearly all Muslims demand.

Dalrymple on Akbar and Christianity, New Statesman, December 19 2005. Post here mentioning Akbar’s attempt to start a new syncretic religion, the Dīn IIāhī.

The crucible of the Mahayana

December 28 2014

I  Alexander

Gautama Buddha and the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, both lived in a period of wars between local states in northern India in the 6th century BC. Gautama was born in what is now Nepal, Mahavira in Bihar.

What was the extent of Buddhism’s early influence in the Afghan or other domains of Achaemenid Persia?

In 326 BC Alexander the Great crossed the Indus (which the Persians had never done) and then the Jhelum or Hydaspes, the most western of the five rivers of the Punjab. At the Hydaspes Alexander defeated King Porus of Pauravas, an ancient country that soon afterwards fell to the Mauryans.

Another ruler, King Ambhi of Taxila, surrendered his city, already a Buddhist centre.

Alexander’s troops refused to advance further than the Beas, a tributary of the Sutlej, the easternmost of the five rivers.

II  Chandragupta

A Buddhist great power, the Mauryan Empire, emerged in India as the Achaemenid Empire fell.

After Alexander’s death in 323, Chandragupta Maurya (ruled 322-298) conquered Alexander’s briefly-held east-of-Indus satrapies with the help of a largely Persian army. Bactria, between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus, and Transoxiana, remained Greek. Both had belonged to the Achaemenids.

Chandragupta’s capital: Pataliputra (Patna).

III  Seleucus

Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander, established his authority as far as Bactria and the Indus and in 305 BC he fought Chandragupta. Seleucus appears to have fared poorly, ceding large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta: Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan), the Paropamisadae (Hindu Kush), but not Bactria or Transoxiana. Post here on the Paropamisadae.

Chandragupta then sold Seleucus 500 war-elephants (who used them to fight Antigonus I) and married Seleucus’s daughter to formalise an alliance. Seleucus sent an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta’s court. Relations continued between their successors.

Chandragupta was Jain. His successor Bindusara belonged to the Ajivika sect.

IV  Ashoka

Bindusara’s successor, Ashoka (reigned 269-32), embraced Buddhism and became a proselytiser of the traditional Theravada Pali canon.

His edicts, carved on pillars and rocks in various places in his empire, in the Kharoshti, Greek, Aramaic (Achaemenid) and Brahmi scripts, record the missions which he sent to Greeks and others.

V  Greek Bactrians

Meanwhile, the Seleucids were losing control of Bactria. It became the centre of an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom c 256 BC, which extended into Transoxiana.

Capitals: Bactra (Balkh), Alexandria-on-the-Oxus (possibly Ai-Khanoum).

After the Brahmanical Sunga dynasty overthrew the Mauryans in 185 BC, the Greco-Bactrians invaded and conquered northwestern India with an army led by Demetrius.

VI  Indo-Greeks

The resulting Indo-Greek Kingdom lasted until AD 10 and was opposed in the east for its first century by the Sunga. Buddhism prospered, and it has been suggested that the Greek invasion of India was intended to protect the Buddhist faith from the persecutions of the Sunga.

Capitals: Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus (Kapisa or Bagram, Hindu Kush, north of Kabul), Sirkap (Taxila, Punjab), Sagala (Sialkot, Punjab), Pushkalavati (Charsadda, NWFP).

King Menander (reigned c 160-130 BC) became a student and patron of Buddhism. Were any Greco-Bactrian or Indo-Greek kings before him personally sympathetic to Buddhism?

VII  Greeks and Buddhism

The philosophers Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus are said to have accompanied Alexander. During the eighteen months they were in India, they were able to interact with Indian ascetics, described as Gymnosophists, naked philosophers.

At Sirkap, Buddhist stupas stand side-by-side with Hindu and Greek temples, suggesting religious tolerance and syncretism.

Early Mahayana theories of reality and knowledge may be related to Greek philosophical schools of thought.

The Milinda Panha is a Buddhist discourse in the platonic style, held between Menander and the Buddhist sage Nagasena.

The Mahavamsa records that during Menander’s reign, a Greek Buddhist abbot named Mahadharmaraksita led 30,000 monks from Alexandria (possibly in-the-Caucasus) to Sri Lanka for the dedication of a stupa.

There are Buddhist inscriptions by Greeks in India, such as that of the provincial governor Theodorus, describing in the Kharoshti script (and Pali language?) how he enshrined relics of the Buddha.

Coins of Menander and some of his successors show Buddhist symbols.

Buddhist tradition recognises Menander as one of the benefactors of the faith, together with Ashoka and Kanishka (below).

The first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are often considered a result of Greco-Buddhist interaction. The earliest Buddhist art was aniconic: the Buddha was only represented through his symbols (an empty throne, the Bodhi tree, his footprints, the Dharma wheel, the triratna).

It was natural for the Greeks also to create a single common divinity by combining the image of a Greek God-King (Apollo, or possibly the deified founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, Demetrius) with the attributes of the Buddha.

Stylistic elements in these representations point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures, the stylised curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the Apollo of the Belvedere (c 335 BC), the measured quality of the faces.

During the following centuries, this anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha evolved to incorporate more Indian and Asian elements.

Several Buddhist deities may have been influenced by Greek gods. There are links between Greco-Persian and Buddhist cosmology.

The Buddha was known to the Church fathers. Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria in Egypt, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel. The presence of Buddhists in Alexandria at this time is important, since it was to be an intellectual centre of Christianity.

VIII  Successors of the Indo-Greeks

Greek rule in Bactria was extinguished c 125 BC by southward-migrating Sakas or Scythians and Yuezhi, both Indo-European speaking. The Yuezhi are later called Kushan.

At the beginning of the first century, the Yuezhi invaded the northern parts of Pakistan and India and founded the Kushan Empire, a contemporary of the Roman Empire.

The Kushan rulers (30-375) displaced the Indo-Greek kings, but their culture was Greek-influenced. They used the Greek script to write their Indo-European language. Their absorption of Greek historical and mythological culture is suggested by Kushan sculptures representing Dionysiac scenes and even the story of the Trojan horse and it is likely that Greek communities remained in India under Kushan rule. Capitals: Purushpura (Peshawar, main capital), Bagram, Taxila, Mathura.

The Greek-influenced Indo-European-speaking successors of the Indo-Greeks:

Indo-Scythian/Saka kingdoms, 110 BC-400 (final extinction)

Indo-Parthian Kingdom, 12 BC-before 100

Yuezhi/Kushan Empire, 30-375

Indo-Sasanians, 3rd century-410

Ephthalite or White Hun Empire, 5th-7th century; they belonged to the Central Asian Xionite hordes and were enemies of the Gupta and of the Sasanians

The Ephthalites controlled present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and territories to the north and are probably the ancestors of modern Pashtuns. Their power was broken by the Sasanians (Khosrau I) in and after 557 and by the Turkic steppe-dwellers.

The full religious mix before Islam has to take account of Buddhism, Greek paganism, Hinduism, Jainism, Manichaeism, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism. Even Judaism and Nestorianism.

IX  The Mahayana

The Kushan king Kanishka was famous for his religious syncretism and honoured Zoroastrian, Greek and Brahmanic deities as well as the Buddha. He convened the Fourth Buddhist Council c AD 100 in Kashmir. His reign sees the earliest representations of the Buddha on a coin (c AD 120), and in a Hellenistic style. Kanishka also had the earliest Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Mahayana Buddhist texts translated into the literary language of Sanskrit.

The sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism are written in Pali, a Prakrit or vernacular which is closely related to Sanskrit and to the language the Buddha spoke. The sacred texts of the Mahayana were translated from Sanskrit into local languages.

Buddhism expanded into East Asia soon after this. The Kushan monk Lokaksema visited the Han Chinese court at Luoyang in AD 178, and worked there for ten years to make the first known translations of Mahayana texts into Chinese. This was also the great age of Gandharan art (area around Taxila, northern Pakistan): subjects Buddhist, motifs Hellenistic. (Gandhara was originally the name of an ancient Vedic kingdom.)

Buddhism probably reached China from the Kushan Empire in the first century CE: from north India via the Punjab, Gandhara, the Hindu Kush, Bactria, Transoxiana/Sogdiana, and the Fergana valley (Kokand, Anijan). Then across the Tien Shan and into the Tarim basin (Kashgar, Khotan, Turfan). In other words, by linking to the Silk Road. A minority view is that it came to China by sea, entering by the Yellow and Huai rivers.

It entered by land via a region which had been partly hellenised. The interaction of Greek culture with Buddhism may have helped to determine the forms which Buddhism took in China. The Mahayana was eventually adopted in China, Siberia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Mahayana goes beyond (or does it retreat from?) the ideal of the release from suffering, and the Nirvaṇa of the arhats, to elevate the Buddha to a God-like status and to create a pantheon of quasi-divine bodhisattvas devoting themselves to the salvation of their fellow human beings.

X  Decline of Buddhism

The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century with the invasions of the anti-Buddhist Ephthalite or White Huns and later the expansion of Islam. In the Ephthalite empire Buddhism and Hinduism were still widespread, over a layer of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.

In India proper, the decline of Buddhism is usually attributed to a steady Brahmanical reaction, which gathered pace late in the Gupta era. Invasions by Ephthalites and later by Muslims must have hastened it.

Has the Greek influence been exaggerated by western historians? Have they shown undue interest in it because it is easier for them to understand than complicated autochthonous Buddhist movements and schools?

XI  Arrival of Islam

The Arabs completed their conquest of Persia in 651. In Persia and up to the Indus, the Caliphs’ power was gradually lost to local rulers, mainly Sunni, who distantly acknowledged the Caliphate until the fall of Baghdad.

In 661-71 the Arab armies conquered Bactria (by now called Tokharistan), which had passed from the Greeks to the Scythians, Yuezhi (Kushans), Sasanians, Ephthalite Huns and Sasanians again (or had the post-Ephthalite settlement there been Turkish rather than Persian?). 

Transoxiana, where the post-Ephthalite settlement had been Turkish, followed in 706-15; here they suffered a setback, but in 739-41 they conquered Transoxiana definitively.

This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

The Arabs conquered, further

Baluchistan after Persia

Sindh and the Indus valley in 711 (Muhammad bin Qasim); capital: Mansura; Sindh later came under local dynasties (Habbari, then Soomro)

Southern Punjab from a base in Sindh, occupying Multan in 712.

They failed to occupy the Kandahar-Ghazni-Kabul route to the Khyber Pass. Two small Hindu states in southern Afghanistan, mentioned below, stubbornly defended the approach to the Hindu Kush.

Their foothold even in the Punjab was precarious. A number of Hindu powers resisted them there. The area was eventually controlled by the Turkic Mamluk Ghaznavids and Persian Ghorids.

They tried to invade India, but were defeated by a coalition of post-Gupta Rajput dynasties in 738.

At the Talas River in 751 the newly-installed Abbasids came head to head with the Tang Chinese. If the Chinese had won the battle, they might have captured the Oxus-Jaxartes basin and reclaimed it from Islam or Zoroastrianism for Buddhism. But they lost, and their influence this far west subsided. They did not return to the Tarim basin until the Qing or Manchu; not even the Yuan governed it.

Before the Islamic conquest, Afghanistan was a religious mixture of Zoroastrianism, paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism (near Kabul) and others. There is no reliable information on when Hinduism began in Afghanistan, but the territory south of the Hindu Kush was probably culturally connected with the Indus Valley civilisation in ancient times.

Herat province, near Persia, was Islamised early on, but the Arabs dealt with a number of post-Sasanian, post-Ephthalite rulers who resisted them. South of the Hindu Kush were the Hindu Zunbil and Buddhist (later Hindu) Kabul Shahi dynasties.

We don’t know how much of the Afghan population accepted Islam immediately, but the Shahi rulers remained non-Muslim until they lost Kabul in 870 to the Persianate (old post) Saffarid Muslims of Sistan, capital: Zaranj. Later, the Persian Samanids (old post) from Bukhara in Transoxiana extended their Islamic influence into Afghanistan. Muslims and non-Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the arrival of Ghaznavids from Ghazni in the late 10th century.

The Persian Samanids (819-999) presided over a revival of Persian civilisation in Samarkand and later Bukhara. They sponsored the first complete translation of the Quran into Persian.

The Persian Saffarids ruled in Persia and Afghanistan from 891 to 1003. Capital: Zaranj in Sistan, Persia/Afghanistan. They were eventually reduced to vassals of the Samanids.

By the 11th century, the entire population of Afghanistan was Muslim, except in Kafiristan, or Nuristan, in the east, whose inhabitants continued to practise an ancient form of Hinduism until Nuristan was conquered by the Emirate of Afghanistan in 1895.

The Turkic Ghaznavids controlled large parts of Persia, much of Transoxania, and the northern parts of India from 977 to 1186. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, Lahore in Pakistan. Their most famous ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni (reigned 998-1002), invaded and plundered India east of the Indus seventeen times. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, then Lahore.

They and the Muslim rulers in India mentioned in the rest of this note were mostly Sunni.

The Tajik Ghorids (before 879-1215), originally central Afghanistan pagan, Sunni from 1011, were later the first Muslim power in Delhi and further east as far as Bengal: Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic plain in 1194, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, Delhi. Ghorid capitals: Firozkoh, Herat, Ghazni, those three now in Afghanistan, Lahore as winter capital.

In 1206 a former slave of Muhammad established the Sultanate of Delhi. His Mamluk (slave) dynasty was the first there. The Sultanate ended with the accession of the Timurid Babur, the first Mughal, in 1526. When the Mughals first arrived in India, they spoke a Turkic language. In adopting Persian, they inherited the language of the Perso-Turkic Delhi Sultanate.

Genghis Khan invaded Transoxiana and Bactria in 1219-20. Before his death in 1227, he assigned the lands of western central Asia to his second son Chagatai, and this region became known as the Chagatai Khanate. In 1369 Timur, of the Barlas tribe, became the effective ruler while continuing the ceremonial authority of Chagatai Khan’s dynasty, and made Samarkand the capital of his empire (1370-1507).

The first independent Islamic Kingdom in South India was the Bahmanid Sultanate (1347-1527). It broke up into five states known as the Deccan Sultanates.

The Arab conquests brought the demise of Buddhism in eastern Persia and greater Afghanistan, but in some places in Afghanistan, such as Bamiyan (Bamiyan province) and Hadda (site near Jalalabad), it survived until the 8th or 9th century. The Taliban dynamited two monumental Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley (6th and 7th centuries) in March 2001.

XII  Old posts:

Persian capitals before Islam

Transoxiana and Bactria

Indic and Hindu

Buddhism and Persia

Persia, 651-present

Toynbee and Ikeda 3

The Old World’s eastern roundabout

The Silk Road

NWFP, 1901-2010

Category:

Maps of Central Asia

Near Jalalabad

Picture credit: AfghaniDan; near Jalalabad

Silk Road

Picture credit: Luciana Di Floriano; Silk Road, probably Tien Shan mountains

National Museum, Saudi Arabia

December 6 2014

This is worth visiting. Architecture good (Raymond Moriyama), museology good. And I like dioramas. There are historical films too, and what must be the only cinema in the Kingdom outside a royal palace.

A visit reminds you, who are conscious of hotel lobbies and shopping malls, that Arabs of the subcontinent used to live in a vast, beautiful and varied landscape. They have lost the macrocosm and are imprisoned in a microcosm. The night sky is gone, too. Perhaps some tours can bring you back to them. Driving from Riyad to Bahrain, as I have done, does not. Plastic bags blow over the desert, which looks as beautiful as one of their ubiquitous dusty spaces between buildings with empty PET bottles rolling around them.

Out of that macrocosm the Arabs wrested, to paraphrase Toynbee, their conception of the unity and omnipotence of God. That seems a small affair, too, now, as reflected in the Islam we usually see, though the call to prayer can remind you of it.

Apart from the museum, there isn’t much to do in Riyad. You can go to a Friday morning public beheading by the sword in Deira Square if you really want to. It is easy to meet locals, which is not the case in some of the smaller Gulf states. They are often charming.

Don’t ignore the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall just because it sounds boring: there are wonderful photographs of 20th-century Arabia.

Other Gulf museums: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. Dubai Museum. The Louvre and the Guggenheim on Abu Dhabi’s Museeninsel, Saadiyat Island, have yet to open.

When did the Arabs ride into history? According to the museum, in 853 BC at the Battle of Qarqar, in which Assyria, conquering Syria, fought Aram-Damascus and Israel. A camel cavalry under King Gindibu fought on the side of Damascus.

After some cosmic and anthropological material (Man and the Universe), the museum has a section on the Old Testament of Arab history which, if it ended at the Hijra, lasted 1475 years, a few years longer than the New Testament has lasted so far.

It places the kingdoms, towns and religions of that period in a regional context. The rest of this is based on notes (nothing more) made during two visits, with some fact checking.

Tarout Island. Off the Eastern Province in the Gulf. A very early settlement.

Dilmun. The early civilisation of Bahrain.

Qurayyah. Location of the earliest Midianite pottery, 13th century BC. Cities of Midian: northeast edge of the subcontinent near the Gulf of Aqaba and northern Hejaz.

Tayma. Same area. In 2010, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of a rock near the oasis bearing an inscription of Ramesses III (early 12th century BC): the first confirmed discovery of a hieroglyphic inscription on Saudi Arabian soil. Tayma must have been on a land route between the Arabia and the Nile valley. The earliest mention of it is in Assyrian inscriptions of the 8th century BC. From the 1st century CE (earlier?), it had a significant Jewish population.

Gerrha. Persian Gulf coast. To the Greeks, East Arabia (present al-Hasa province), or its capital city, was known as Gerrha, a corruption of the Arabic Hagar (present Hofuf). Hagar/Gerrha was destroyed by the Ismaili Shiite Qarmatians, rebels against the Abbasid Caliphate, at the end of the 9th century CE.

Al-ʿUla, southwest of Tayma on the incense road from Yemen to Damascus. The Dedanite kingdom flourished in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Nabonidus, king of Babylon, conquered Tayma, Dedan and Yathrib, the old Medina, in 552 BC or later. The next few hundred years, until around 100 BC, were the time of the Kingdom of Lihyan. Then Nabataean Arab frontiersmen controlled the region, until at least AD 106, when Trajan conquered their capital Petra. They made Madaʿin Saleh or Hegra, 22 km to the north of Al-ʿUla, their second capital. In 2008 Madaʿin Saleh became Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site.

Thaj. Northwest. Perhaps Seleucid-era.

Qaryat al-Faw. Between Mecca and Yemen, but further inland than Mecca, at a pass overlooking the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter. Capital of the Kindah Kingdom from the 1st century BC to the 4th century CE.

Ruwafa. Nabatean.

Dumat Al-Jandal. Nabatean, with a pre- and post-Nabatean history.

Ain Jawan. Pre-Islamic necropolis in eastern Arabia.

Al-Uyoon, eastern Arabia.

Najran. Oasis near Yemeni border. Now mainly Ismaili Shiite. On the incense route. Conquered c 685 BC by the Sabean King Karibʿil Watar I of Yemen. Najran was under Yemeni – Minaean or Sabean – rule at different times during the next centuries and remained part of Yemen. Aelius Gallus, Roman prefect of Egypt, led an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Arabia Felix and won a battle near Najran in 25 BC. He used it as a base from which to attack the Sabaean capital at Maʿrib. When the Ḥimyarites conquered the Sabeans in AD 280 they probably also took control of Najran. The north Arabian Lakhmids attacked Najran in 328. There was a Christian community from the 5th century CE under the influence of Axum. Under the Caliph Umar, the Christian community of Najran was deported to Mesopotamia, on the ground that no non-Muslims were to live in the Arabian peninsula. Najran had a pre-Islamic Jewish community as well, historically affiliated with the Yemenite Banim Chorath. Saudi Arabia conquered Najran in 1934. Two hundred Jews fled from persecution to Aden in September and October 1949. They were later airlifted to Israel.

Khaybar. Oasis 153 km north of Medina (Yathrib). Before the rise of Islam, a fortress town inhabited by Jewish tribes. It fell to Muslim forces in 629. Soon afterwards Umar expelled the Jews.

Lakhmids. Arab power on the frontier of Iraq, c AD 300 until their conquest by the Sasanids of Persia in 602.

Ghassanids. Similar client state of the East Roman Empire. Both were swept away by the Muslim invaders in the 7th century.

Jerash, Asir.

Al-Qullays, a pre-Islamic pilgrimage site.

The first mention of Jews in the area of modern-day Saudi Arabia dates, by some accounts, to the time of the First Temple. Immigration to the peninsula began in earnest in the 2nd century CE, and by the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in the Hejaz, mostly in and around Medina. They were expelled in the early days of Islam.

On pre-Islamic Mecca and Medina, see this old post.

And see:

Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities

Museum site.

Wikipedia:

Ancient towns in Saudi Arabia

Judaism in Arabia

Christianity in Arabia.

___

The rest (upstairs) deals with the Prophet; the wars of Islam; Caliphs, Mamluks, Turks; calligraphy; the Haj; the unification by King Abdulaziz. In the middle of the 18th century, Wahhabi reformers brought a strict version of Islam to the Nejd, which had sunk into irreligion – and it was the Nejd under the Saud family which unified the peninsula, or most of it, between the wars.

There had been two Saudi states before that. The First Saudi State or Emirate of Diriyah lasted from 1744 to 1818. The Ottomans, who had controlled the Holy Cities since 1517 (through the Hashemite sharifs of Mecca), felt threatened. In the winter of 1818 Diriyah fell after a siege (of which the museum makes much) to Ibrahim Pasha, the son of their Egyptian viceroy.

The Second Saudi State or Emirate of Nejd, founded by Turki, lasted from 1818 to 1891. It was brought to an end by the Rashidis of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar, the arch-enemies of the House of Saud.

___

Since the domestication of the Arabian camel, nearly 2,000 years before Muhammad’s day, Arabia had been traversible, and ideas and institutions had been seeping into the peninsula from the Fertile Crescent that adjoins it on the north. The effect of this infiltration had been cumulative, and, by Muhammad’s time, the accumulated charge of spiritual force in Arabia was ready to explode.

The horse was used in Arabia from about the same time. Elephants were brought into the peninsula by the invading Axumites in the 6th century. The Year of the Elephant (Wikipedia).

Old posts here:

Seepage into Arabia

Roads to Mecca (including the grotesque part about the Makkah Hilton in a comment)

Tales from the India Office.

Regions of Arabia

Historical regions of Arabia, early 20th century

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Justin Martyr

November 8 2014

“You cannot fail to see that our having our heads cut off or being crucified or being thrown to the beasts or into bondage or to the flames or being subjected to all the other forms of torture does not make us abandon our profession of faith. On the contrary, the more of these martyrdoms that there are, the more we increase in numbers through the excess of conversions over martyrdoms.” – Justin: Dialogus, chap. 110 (Migne, J.-P.: Patrologia Graeca, vol. vi, col. 729).

At least the Christian martyrs were not murderers.

Candida Moss’s persecution-denying tract is The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, Harper Collins, 2013. It may have some value, but it seems to be based in part on a false distinction between those executed really for political reasons, because they were traitors, and those executed because of their religion.

Wikipedia on persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

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

Religion in Africa

November 6 2014

… A rough geography

What is sub-Saharan Africa? According to the UN, everything except Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt – and Sudan, too, though it is south of all these. But the statistics of UN institutions do normally count Sudan as sub-Saharan.

So Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad are considered sub-Saharan. If you add Sudan, they form another chain from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. They contain most of the Sahel.

All these countries are Muslim (or Moslem, as we used to say), but two of them, Egypt and Chad, have substantial Christian minorities.

Further south, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Djibouti, Somalia are Muslim. Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso are predominantly Muslim, but have substantial Christian minorities of various denominations.

More evenly balanced are Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Nigeria. Guinea-Bissau is half-Muslim, 10% Christian and the rest animist or traditional – but when we talk about traditional, we are sometimes including localised versions of Islam and Christianity, and when people declare as Muslims or Christians, they may still bring in elements of a local religion: figures or estimates for one country are not necessarily comparable with figures for another. Côte d’Ivoire is half-Muslim, half-Christian, apart from a small traditional element. Togo is 30% Christian, 20% Muslim, with the rest traditional. Benin is 43% Christian, 25% Muslim. Nigeria is roughly half-Muslim, half-Christian, with the Muslims in the north.

Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, both Congos, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland have large Christian majorities. (Malawi, in this group, has the largest Islamic minority. [Postscript: See comment below.])

Eritrea, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique have smaller Christian majorities. Eritrea has a large Islamic minority. South Sudan has a large traditional minority and a small Islamic one. Ethiopia and Tanzania have large Islamic minorities. Mozambique has a smaller Islamic minority, but still only a small Christian majority, according to official figures, with many undeclared. (Madagascar is half-Christian, with the rest mainly traditional; there is a small Islamic minority.)

Most African Islam is Sunni, but there are Shiite communities in Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria and Ismaili Shia communities, established by immigrants from South Asia, in East and Central Africa and in South Africa. Cairo, of course, though the population is overwhelmingly Sunni, was an Ismaili Shiite foundation.

The dominant churches in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia are Oriental Orthodox. The Christians in Chad are Catholic and Protestant.

Christians outnumber Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa (including Sudan?) by two to one. Under half are Catholic. Many are renewalists (Pentecostals and Charismatics), Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Broken lights 2

November 2 2014

The spiritual weapons, plucked from an Hellenic charnel house, with which Modern Western Man had brought to the ground the Hildebrandine Respublica Christiana had been as destructive as the material weapons with which Cromwell’s soldiers had once shattered the west window of Winchester Cathedral.

“When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains.” [Footnote: Mark xiii. 14; cp. Matt. xxiv. 15-16.]

Nevertheless, there is a bow in the cloud. [Footnote: Gen. ix. 12-17.] At Winchester, on the morrow of the Puritan iconoclast’s deed, it must have looked as if a mighty work of Medieval Christian art had been utterly destroyed; and in truth it had been damaged beyond all possibility of reinstatement in its inimitable medieval pattern. Yet the broken and scattered fragments were pieced together again, by the piety of a later generation, in a labour of love that – sheer disorder though it might have suggested to the eye of the original artificer – was in truth a new pattern, [footnote: See Bergson’s exposition of the relativity of the concept of disorder in […] L’Evolution Créatrice, 24th ed. (Paris 1921, Alcan), pp. 239-55 […].] fraught with unpremeditated beauty and letting in unforeseen light in the sight of eyes open to the self-revelation of a God who makes all things new. [Footnote: Rev. xxi. 5.] A boy once watched, spell-bound, while this miracle of creation conjured out of destruction was being lit up by the level radiance of a setting summer sun; and a man could catch a glimpse of the spiritual meaning of this visual allegory as he recalled it in his mind’s eye in after-life, in the light of his generation’s experience of a forty years’ wandering in the wilderness. If the same sunlight could thus shine again through the same glass in a new pattern offering a fresh vision, might not the eternal and unchanging incorporeal light of the Beatific Vision again illuminate men’s souls in a society that had been broken and remade by the sufferings of a Time of Troubles?

Winchester west window

Flickr credit: Steven Vacher

Flickr: “A composition of 64 images, combined in Photoshop. The cathedral’s huge west window is made up of fragments of medieval glass put together randomly, in a manner something like pique assiette mosaic work. The original panes were deliberately destroyed by Cromwell’s forces following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Soon after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the broken glass was gathered up and used again.”

Was this done with any windows destroyed by bombs in the Second World War?

St Mary the Virgin, Isleworth

Religio lignarii (not the piece’s name): St Joseph the carpenter, St Mary the Virgin, Isleworth, north chapel east window, single light, by Thomas Derrick (my grandfather), 1954, made by Lowndes & Drury; St Mary designed by HS Goodhart Rendel and built 1952-54; he had used TD in other churches

Flickr credit: Peter Moore (do not reuse).

A lost art.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The hubris of Innocent III

November 2 2014

This shepherd of souls who was unduly soft and credulous in accepting at their face value the specious protestations of princes, showed himself unduly cold and cautious when he had to appraise the sainthood that shone like the Sun through Francis’ countenance; and here it is difficult to draw the line between obtuseness and ὕβρις. Was Innocent unaware of Francis’ greatness or indifferent to it? Did his aloofness from the deepest spiritual movement of his age reflect the pre-occupation of a man of affairs or the superciliousness of an aristocrat? Even if we give Innocent the benefit of the doubt and acquit him, as Francis himself would have hastened to acquit him, of ὕβρις on Francis’ account, at any rate we must count it for righteousness to Innocent’s great-nephew Ugolino de’ Conti that the future Pope Gregory IX was more sensitive than his relative and predecessor to Francis’ sainthood, though he too was an aristocrat and a man of the world. And there is another count against Innocent III on which the charge of ὕβρις cannot be rebutted. A Pope whose predecessors had been content to style themselves “Vicar of Peter” assumed the style of “Vicar of Christ”. 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. The omen was unfavourable to the successors of the first Roman “Vicar of Christ”. “Woe unto when all men shall speak well of you” [footnote: Luke vi. 26.] is Innocent’s epitaph.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

Antitypes of cosmic dawns

September 29 2014

The joy of dawn is the emotional charge in some of the most famous scenes in Western history – the Latin Christian warriors’ shout of “Deus le volt” in response to Pope Urban II’s preaching of the First Crusade, the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi seen through Giotto’s and through Saint Thomas of Celano’s eyes, the landfalls of the Pinta [footnote: Though the first member of Columbus’s first expedition to sight land was a sailor on board the Pinta, this vessel’s name had not won equal renown with the Santa Maria, which was the Admiral’s flagship.] and the Mayflower, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the taking of the Tennis Court Oath – and the poetry in some, at least, of these historic events has been uttered in lines that speak more eloquently than volumes. The poetry in the American Revolutionary War has been distilled by Emerson into one quatrain:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the World.

[Footnote: Emerson: Concord Hymn, stanza 1.]

The poetry in the French Revolution has been distilled by Wordsworth into two lines:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.

[Footnote: Wordsworth: The Prelude, Book XI, ll. 108-9, incorporating The French Revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement.]

It is no wonder that, in these rejoicings at a dawn, the historians should have had to let the poets be their spokesmen; for the joy awakened by the dawn of a new era of History is the Soul’s response to an epiphany that is something more than a merely temporal event. The dawns that awaken such joy as this are irruptions into Time out of Eternity. What has happened on these historic occasions likewise happens at the birth of every child:

“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but, as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the World.”

[Footnote: John xvi. 21.]

In a mother’s joy the Soul hails an incarnation; and, since “alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis”, [footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 12104-5.] the dawns of mundane eras that have this poetry in them are antitypes of cosmic dawns in which a Divine Light breaks into This World. A radiance which shines in upon us through Botticelli’s picture, in the National Gallery in London, of the birth in the stable at Bethlehem is likewise manifest in the enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, in the descent of the Dove at the baptism in Jordan, in the transfiguration on the mountain, in the vision on the road to Damascus, and in the imprinting of the stigmata in the wilderness; and, as Milton’s voice strikes up in a Franciscan ode on the morning of Christ’s nativity, Gibbon’s voice dies away.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Eastern churches

August 17 2014

What are the differences between the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, Assyrian Church of the East, Greek Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, and Jacobite Syrian Christian Church? What two churches are Chaldaean?

Recent posts: Christians and Yazidi and Indian churches.

Indian churches

August 10 2014

There is no direct contemporary evidence for St Thomas the Apostle coming to Kerala, but such a trip would have been possible for a Roman Jew in the first century. Jews lived in India then. The earliest text connecting him to India is the Acts of Thomas, one of the New Testament Apocrypha, written in Edessa early in the third century.

The word Malankara in the name of several south Indian churches derives from the name of the island of Maliankara near Muziris, where Thomas first landed.

According to tradition, he established Seven Churches, the Ezharapallikal: Cranganore (Malayalam: കൊടുങ്ങല്ലൂര്‍), Paravur (Kottakavu) (കോട്ടക്കാവ്), Palayoor (പാലയൂര്‍), Kokkamangalam (കൊക്കമംഗലം), Niranam (നിരണം), Chayal (Nilackal) (നിലക്കല്‍), Kollam (Quilon) (കൊല്ലം).

Thomas of Cana, a Syrian, arrived in Kerala in the fourth century or later. The subgroup of Thomas Christians known as the Southists trace their lineage to him and his followers. The Northists claim descent from Thomas the Apostle’s converts.

Settlers and missionaries from Persia, members of the Church of the East (East Syrian rite), or Nestorian Church (last post), which was centred in the Sasanian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, started to establish themselves in Kerala.

Nestorianism, which insists on the dual nature of Christ, had been condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Many of Nestorius’s supporters moved to Sasanid Persia, from where they spread into Central Asia and China.

Circa 650 Patriarch Ishoyahb III solidified the Church of the East’s jurisdiction over the Thomas Christians. In the late eighth century Patriarch Timothy I organised the community as the Ecclesiastical Province of India, one of the Nestorian church’s illustrious Provinces of the Exterior.

After this point the Province of India was headed by a metropolitan bishop provided by Persia, the Metropolitan-Bishop of the Seat of St Thomas and the Whole Christian Church of India. His metropolitan see was probably in Cranganore, or (perhaps nominally) in Mylapore, the original burial site of St Thomas, before his body was moved to Edessa. Under him were bishops, and a native Archdeacon, who had authority over the clergy and who wielded a great amount of secular power.

For a time the archidiaconate was hereditary in the Pakalomattam family, who claimed a connection with Thomas the Apostle. In the broader Church of the East, each bishop was attended by an archdeacon, but in India, there was only ever one archdeacon, even when the province had several bishops serving it.

The blame for the destruction of the Nestorian communities east of Iraq has often been thrown upon the Turco-Mongol leader Timur, whose campaigns during the 1390s spread havoc in Persia and Central Asia. But in many parts of Central Asia Christianity had died out decades before Timur’s campaigns. The evidence from Central Asia, including a large number of dated graves, indicates that the crisis for the Church of the East occurred in the 1340s rather than the 1390s.

In China, the last references to Nestorian and Latin Christians date from the 1350s. It is likely that all foreign Christians were expelled from China soon after the revolution of 1368, which replaced the Mongol Yuan dynasty with the xenophobic Ming.

India was cut off from the Church’s new heartland in northern Mesopotamia. Nestorian Christianity was now mainly confined to the triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia. There were small Nestorian communities further west, notably in Jerusalem and Cyprus, but the Malabar Christians of India represented the only significant survival of the once-thriving exterior provinces of the Church of the East.

By the late fifteenth century India had had no metropolitan for several generations, and the authority traditionally associated with him had been vested in the Archdeacon.

In 1491 the Archdeacon sent envoys to the Patriarch of the Church of the East, as well as to the Oriental Orthodox Coptic Pope of Alexandria and the Syriac Oriental Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, requesting a new bishop for India.

The Patriarch of the Church of the East Shemʿon IV Basidi responded by consecrating two bishops and dispatching them to India. These bishops helped to reestablish fraternal ties with the patriarchate, but the years of separation had changed the structure of the Indian church. The Archdeacon was firmly established as the real power in the Malankara community.

When the Portuguese arrived in 1498, the Thomas Christians were in a difficult position. Though prosperous owing to their large stake in the spice trade and protected by a formidable militia, the small community had come under pressure from the forces of the powerful rajas of Calicut, Cochin and various smaller kingdoms. When the Vasco da Gama arrived on the Malabar coast, the leaders of the St Thomas community proffered a formal alliance to their fellow Christians. The Portuguese, keen to implant themselves in the spice trade and to expand Latin Christianity, jumped at the opportunity.

Facilitating the objective, the Padroado Real: the treaties and decrees in which the Pope conferred authority in ecclesiastical matters on the Portuguese secular authorities in territories they conquered. The Portuguese organised themselves in Goa, established a church hierarchy, and set themselves to bringing the native Christians into conformity with Latin church customs and subjecting them to the authority of the Archbishop of Goa.

After the death of Metropolitan Mar Jacob in 1552, the Portuguese became more aggressive in their efforts to subjugate the Thomas Christians. Protests on the part of the natives were frustrated by events in the Church of the East’s Mesopotamian heartland, which left them devoid of consistent leadership. In 1552, a schism there resulted in there being two rival patriarchates, one of which entered into communion with the Catholic Church (was that the Chaldean Catholic Church?) and the other of which remained independent. At different times both patriarchs sent bishops to India, but the Portuguese were able to outmanœuvre the newcomers or convert them to Latin rite Catholicism outright. In 1575 the Padroado declared that neither patriarch could appoint prelates to the community without Portuguese consent, thereby cutting the Thomas Christians off from their own hierarchy.

In 1599 the last Metropolitan, Abraham, died. The Archbishop of Goa, Aleixo de Menezes, secured the submission of the young Archdeacon George, the highest remaining representative of the native church hierarchy. Menezes convened the Synod of Diamper, which instituted a number of structural and liturgical reforms to the Indian church. The parishes were brought directly under the Archbishop’s authority, certain “superstitious” customs were anathematised, and the indigenous liturgy, the East Syrian Malabar rite, was purged of elements unacceptable by the Latin standards. Though the Thomas Christians were now formally part of the Catholic Church, the conduct of the Portuguese over the next decades fuelled resentment in parts of the community, ultimately leading to open resistance.

Matters came to a head in 1641 with the appointments of Francis Garcia as Archbishop of Kodungalloor (pro-Portuguese) and of Archdeacon Thomas, the nephew and successor of Archdeacon George. In 1652, the situation was further complicated by the arrival in India of a mysterious figure named Ahatallah.

Ahatallah arrived in Mylapore in 1652, claiming to be the rightful Patriarch of Antioch who had been sent by the pope to serve as Patriarch of the Whole of India and of China. He appears to have been a Syriac Orthodox (Oriental Orthodox) Bishop of Damascus who was converted to Catholicism and travelled to Rome in 1632. He then returned to Syria in order to bring the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Hidayat Allah into communion with Rome. He had not accomplished this by the time Hidayat Allah died in 1639, after which point Ahatallah began claiming he was Hidayat Allah’s rightful successor. In 1646 he was in Egypt at the court of the Coptic Pope Mark VI, who dispatched him to India in 1652, evidently in response to a request for aid from Archdeacon Thomas. Reckoning him an impostor, the Portuguese arrested him, but allowed him to meet members of the St Thomas Christian clergy, whom he impressed. The Portuguese put him on a ship bound for Cochin and Goa. Archdeacon Thomas led a militia to Cochin demanding to meet him. The Portuguese refused, asserting that he was a dangerous invader and that his ship had already sailed on to Goa.

Ahatallah was never heard from again in India, and rumours spread that Archbishop Garcia had had him drowned in Cochin harbour before he reached Goa, or burned at the stake. In reality, it appears that Ahatallah did reach Goa, was sent on to Europe and died in Paris before reaching Rome, where his case was to be heard. In any event, Garcia’s dismissiveness towards the Thomas Christians’ appeals only embittered the community further.

The dismissal of Ahatallah was the last straw for the Thomas Christians, and in 1653 Thomas and representatives of the community met at the Church of Our Lady in Mattancherry. In a ceremony in the churchyard, before a crucifix and lighted candles, they swore an oath that they would never obey Garcia or the Portuguese or Jesuit missionaries again, and that they accepted only the Archdeacon as their shepherd. The Malankara Church and all its successor churches regard this declaration, known as the Coonan Cross Oath (Malayalam: Koonan Kurishu Satyam), as the moment when their church regained its independence.

In the same year, in Alangad, Archdeacon Thomas was ordained, by the laying on of hands of twelve priests, as the first known indigenous Metropolitan of Kerala, under the name Mar Thoma I. Pope Alexander VII sent a Syrian bishop, Joseph Sebastiani, at the head of a Carmelite delegation, to convince a majority of the Thomas Christians that the consecration of the Archdeacon as metropolitan was illegitimate. Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar was consecrated as bishop for the East Syrian rite Catholics with the title The Metropolitan and the Gate of all India, denoting a quasi-patriarchal status with all-India jurisdiction, in communion with Rome.

This led to the first permanent split in the St Thomas Christian community. Thereafter, the faction affiliated with the Catholic Church was designated the Pazhayakuttukar or Old Party, while the branch affiliated with Mar Thoma was called the Puthankuttukar or New Party. These appellations were controversial, as both groups considered themselves the heirs to the St Thomas tradition, and saw the other as heretical.

Initially the terms Malankara Christians or Malankara Nasranis were applied to all Thomas Christians, but following the split the term was usually restricted to the faction loyal to Mar Thoma, distinguishing them from the Syrian Catholic faction.

Out of 116 churches, the Catholics claimed eighty-four and the Archdeacon Mar Thoma I thirty-two. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro-Malabar (East Syrian rite) Catholic Church descended. The thirty-two churches and their congregations were the body from which the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and its offshoots have descended.

An Oriental Orthodox affiliation now replaced the old Nestorian one. In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India and the Thomas Christians under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma party claiming the spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introducing the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast.

Jacobites or Syrian Jacobites is a reference to the Syriac Orthodox Church’s connections with a sixth-century bishop of Edessa, Jacob Baradaeus.

Over the next centuries this relationship strengthened, and the Malankara Church adopted a variant of the West Syrian rite known as the Malankara rite (as distinct from the previous East Syrian usage) and entered into full communion with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. These affiliations seem to have been more matters of liturgy and hierarchy than Christology.

In 1912 a dispute over authority between supporters of the Metropolitan and supporters of the Patriarch divided the Malankara church, with the former group becoming the essentially independent Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church or Indian Orthodox Church under an autonomous Catholicos of the East, and the latter maintaining ties with the Patriarch as the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church.

Other groups that split from the main body of the Malankara Jacobite church:

The Thozhiyur Sabha, or Malabar Independent Syrian Church (1772). Independent. West Syrian rite.

The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (1835). Follows a variant of the West Syrian tradition.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (1930). Re-entered into communion with the Catholic Church as an Eastern Catholic Church following the West Syrian liturgy. It and the larger Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (East Syrian rite) are among the 22 Eastern Catholic churches mentioned in the last post.

The St Thomas Evangelical Church of India (1961). Derives from a schism in the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church.

The Nestorian connection survives in the Chaldean Syrian Church, an Indian archbishopric in the Nestorian Assyrian Church of the East (last post).

Kanjirappally Bishop Mathew Arackal and Prasant Palakkappillil

Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop Mar Mathew Arackal, Bishop of Kanjirappally Eparchy, holding the Mar Thoma Cross, which symbolises the heritage of St Thomas Christians even for Catholics, and other priests, at the tomb of the beatified Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly, St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church, Konthuruthy, via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, I was taken into the San Thome Basilica in Chennai by a Hindu friend who crossed himself as he entered. India has been notoriously slow at adopting positions on anything in international diplomacy, which is perhaps a legacy of its standing in the Non-Aligned Movement. If it is seeking a global role now, it should be as the most complex partially-successful multicultural society on earth.

Anyone who has read the last two posts and followed their few links should now be able to answer the trivia questions:

What are the differences between the

Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
Assyrian Church of the East
Greek Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and
Jacobite Syrian Christian Church?

and

What two churches are Chaldaean?

Christians and Yazidi

August 9 2014

As night falls in Iraq, let’s summarise Christianity there and eastern Christianity generally.

The autocephalous Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox) churches (Greece, Russia, etc) accept the formulation on the nature of Christ promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon (451). They mainly use two liturgies in the Byzantine rite: those of St John Chrysostom and of St Basil the Great (Basil of Caesarea). The main liturgical languages are Greek and Church Slavonic.

The Oriental Orthodox (Miaphysite) churches reject the Chalcedonian formulation. They are in full communion with each other, but not with the Orthodox churches. They include the dominant Christian churches in Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Oriental Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Armenia and in the ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

There are 23 Eastern Catholic churches: autonomous, self-governing particular churches in communion with Rome which use non-Latin rites. Are they all technically “uniate”? Is that word universally applied? Together with the Latin Church, they make up the entire Catholic Church.

The ones in the near and middle east, ie the ones not mainly established in Europe, the Horn of Africa or India, are, in no particular order, the Armenian Catholic Church (Armenian rite in Armenian; based in Lebanon), Greek Byzantine Catholic Church (Byzantine rite in Koine and modern Greek; based in Greece), Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine rite in Arabic and sometimes Greek; based in Syria), Syriac Maronite Church (West Syrian rite in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic; based in Lebanon), Chaldean Catholic Church (East Syrian rite in Syriac; based in Iraq), Syriac Catholic Church (West Syrian rite in Syriac; based in Lebanon) and Coptic Catholic Church (Alexandrian rite in Coptic and Arabic; based in Egypt). All have diasporas. There are other rites.

The Nestorian (aka East Syrian) church survives in the Church of the East.

Iraqi Christians are divided into:

Oriental Orthodox, or the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (West Syrian rite)

Catholics, the Chaldean Catholic Church (East Syrian rite) and Syriac Catholic Church (West Syrian rite)

Nestorians, or the Assyrian Church of the East (from which the Ancient Church of the East is a split dating from 1968) (East Syrian rite).

I mentioned the Yazidi of Iraq here and here. Their religion blends elements of Mithraism, pre-Islamic Mesopotamian religious traditions, Christianity and Islam. Toynbee commits a common howler (in Turkey, A Past and a Future) by saying that they worship Satan, a myth that is perpetuated by their persecutors in the Islamic State.

I will do a separate post on Indian churches (next).

Old posts:

S Rozhdestvom! (lists the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches)

Ottoman people and Orthodox churches (lists the Oriental Orthodox churches)

The East-West Schism.

Why is Jerusalem holy?

August 3 2014

A city can […] become holy through having been the scene of a transcendent spiritual experience, whether authentic or legendary. For instance, Jerusalem is a holy city for Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad believed that this was the place where, on “the Night of Power”, he had ascended into Heaven and re-descended to Earth. The most tragic of all possible events in a prophet’s life is martyrdom, and the holiness of the scene of a martyrdom is enhanced if the martyr has been buried in the same place. The crucifixion and burial of Jesus in Jerusalem are the two events in Jesus’s history that have made Jerusalem a holy city for Christians.

[…]

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Muslims today? Because it was a holy city for the Prophet Muhammad; and it was holy for him because of its long-established holiness for Christians and Jews – “the People of the Book” who enjoyed religious prestige in Muhammad’s eyes in virtue of their having been previous recipients of divine revelation. This is why Muhammad originally instructed his followers to face towards Jerusalem when they were saying their prayers, and it is also why, in his mind, Jerusalem was the place from which he ascended to Heaven and to which he re-descended on “the Night of Power”.

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Christians today? Because it was a holy city for Jesus. It was holy for him because he was an orthodox Jew, and he was observing the Jewish Law, as this stood in his day, when he went from his native Galilee to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there in the year in which he was crucified and was buried outside Jerusalem’s city-wall.

Why is Jerusalem a holy city for Jews? Because King Josiah of Judah (circa 640-610 B.C.) [meaning reigned] centralized in Jerusalem all acts of worship in his kingdom and put all other places of worship there out of commission.

Moses and Joshua conquered Canaan, the Promised Land. The Hebrews were often subject to the coastal Philistines and were ruled by Judges until c 1000 B.C.

The prophet Samuel, florebat from c 1050 BC, was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. His judgeship was dominated by war with the Philistines, who captured Moses’ Ark of the Covenant. In his old age he agreed, at divine request, to the establishment of a king; he thus anointed Saul and remained chief prophet during Saul’s reign. In this role he also anointed David, a shepherd, who was from the Jewish tribe of Judah.

Saul was succeeded by David and then by Solomon. After the expansionist reign of Solomon (c 970-928 BC), the kingdom broke up into two states: Israel in the north, established by Jeroboam, with its capital at Shechem, then Tirzah, then Samaria, and Judah in the south, under the house of David, with its capital at Jerusalem. Josiah was of the house of David.

When the “eternal” Davidic dynasty failed after four centuries, it formed the basis for the Jewish belief in the Messiah.

Why did Josiah carry out this act of cultural synoecism (to use an Hellenic term of constitutional art)? Because Jerusalem was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judah in Josiah’s day. Why was Jerusalem the capital of Judah? Because, at an early date in the tenth century B.C., David [of the united Israelite kingdom] had conquered and annexed the Canaanite city-state of Jerusalem and had made this city the capital of his kingdom, which included not only Judah but Israel. After the irruption of the Israelites and Judahites into Palestine circa 1200 B.C., this Canaanite city-state had maintained its independence for about two hundred years in between the Israelite invaders to the north of it and the Judahite invaders to the south.

The Judahites were one of the twelve tribes of the Israelites: he must be referring to the split that led to the formation of the two states. How did each of the twelve tribes align themselves in this?

It will be seen that the holiness of Jerusalem is paradoxical. It was the last piece of Canaanite territory to be acquired by the Judahite worshippers of Yahweh, yet it became the only place in Judah where the worship of Yahweh was allowed, and it acquired this cultural monopoly because, after its annexation to Judah, it had been made the capital of the Judahite state.

The two kingdoms were later conquered by expanding Mesopotamian states, Israel by Assyria (c 720 BC) and Judah by Babylonia (586 BC). The Babylonians destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem and held the Jews captive in Babylon.

Why is modern Israel called Israel, not Judah (House of David), when Jerusalem gained so much more prestige than Samaria?

[…]

The history of the City of Jerusalem since the liquidation of the Kingdom of Judah has been as kaleidoscopic as the history of Rome since the disintegration of the Roman Empire. When, in 538 B.C., the Babylonian Empire was liquidated in its turn by the Persians, Jerusalem became a non-sovereign temple-state [the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity and the temple was rebuilt], and it retained this status under the successive Persian, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid regimes till the second quarter of the second century B.C. A Hellenizing party among the Judaean Jews then attempted to transform the Jerusalem temple-state into a city-state on the Hellenic pattern. This led to a domestic Judaean Jewish conflict between Hellenizers and conservatives, and to a consequent collision between conservative Jewish religious and political nationalists and the Seleucid Imperial Government. The break-up of the Seleucid Empire enabled the [anti-Greek] Hasmonaean leaders of the Jewish nationalist movement to turn the Jerusalem temple-state into a Palestinian Jewish miniature empire of the kind that Pope Martin V and his successors carved out in Central Italy in and after the fifteenth century of the Christian Era. The Hasmonaean Empire was cut back to the dimensions of its nucleus, the Jerusalem temple-state, by the intervention of the Roman war-lord Pompey in 63 B.C. The sequel was a head-on collision between the Palestinian Jewish community and the Roman Empire; the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70; the foundation, on the vacant site, of a Graeco-Roman city, Aelia Capitolina; and the eviction of the Jews from all parts of Palestine except Galilee.

Pompey conquered Palestine in 63 BC, but the state survived until 37 BC with a loss of autonomy. From 37 BC to AD 92 the Roman province of Judaea (Judea) was ruled by puppet kings of the Romans, the Herodian Dynasty, a Jewish dynasty from Idumea.

When the Jews revolted in AD 66, the Romans destroyed the Temple (AD 70). The foundation of Aelia Capitolina led to another revolt between AD 132 and 135, led by Bar Kokhba, which was also suppressed. Jericho and Bethlehem were destroyed, and the Jews were barred from most of Palestine.

At the moment of writing, in October 1969, a new Jerusalem, outside Aelia Capitolina’s western wall, was the capital of the post-Second-World-War state of Israel, while the Old City which contains the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holy places was a piece of Jordanian territory under the Israelis’ military occupation. Since 1929 it has looked as if the relations between the Vatican City, the rest of the City of Rome, and the Italian national state have become stabilized; but in 1969 the future of the two parts of the City of Jerusalem was still unpredictable.

Jerusalem

The Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem, territory which Israel re-occupied in 1967; it is the site where any Third Temple would be built

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

I have referred to a US edition.

Roland Hill and Lord Acton

July 24 2014

Hill, Acton cover

Portrait by Franz Seraph von Lenbach, c 1879

Roland Hill

Portrait by Peter Rauter

Roland Hill, the modern biographer of Lord Acton, died on June 21. He was a family friend: I have improved his Wikipedia entry. The only obituary I can find is in The Tablet, but it is rather meanly (for an article published today) hidden behind a subscriber paywall.

His main two books were Lord Acton, Yale University Press, 2000 and A Time Out of Joint: A Journey from Nazi Germany to Post-War Britain, IB Tauris & Co, 2007. On June 12 2000, I attended a lunch at Carlton House Terrace, presided over by Owen Chadwick, for the launch of the first. In 2003, I read a draft of the second in typescript.

Hill, a German Jew, had arrived in England as a refugee, after some continental peregrinations, in July 1939. He came to know the editor of The Tablet, Douglas Woodruff. Later, in 1952, he joined The Tablet’s staff as an assistant. I forget how long he stayed. My father was Woodruff’s deputy. Woodruff was married to Acton’s granddaughter Marie Immaculée Antoinette, Mia Woodruff.

Hill wrote his only piece for History Today in the year he joined The Tablet (History Today’s second year): it was on Acton (HT, August 1952). Paul Lay, the editor, has kindly given me permission to republish it.

The text is from HT’s not always reliable online archive. I have corrected it, made some interpolations in square brackets and added links.

The piece opens with a slip. Acton’s grandfather, Sir John Acton, was the admiral, not the general. The general was his brother Joseph. They were both in the service of Ferdinand I. In 1799 John secured a dispensation from Pius VI to marry his brother’s thirteen-year old daughter, Mary Anne. The older of his two sons was Lord Acton’s father.

___

“A Liberal, a Catholic and a great Historian who yet never composed a great work of history – these are some of the aspects in which Roland Hill considers Lord Acton’s career.”

“No great liberal historian has had a family background less liberal or more unacademic than Acton. It was love of power and money that brought advancement to his grandfather, General Acton [no, see note above!], in the service of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. His father, Sir Richard [or Ferdinand], was a Tory squire, and his mother a member of an old Rhineland family, the Dalbergs, who had safely passed from Napoleonic orbits into the conservative and dynastic society that ruled most of Europe after the Congress of Vienna. John Acton himself was born at Naples in 1834, in Bourbon days. [He was an only child.] At the age of three, when his father died, he first came to live in England, at Aldenham [Aldenham Park or Hall, Shropshire, the family seat]. His young mother [Marie Louise Pelline de Dalberg] married again, and the friendly though remote influence of his stepfather, Lord Leveson, afterwards Earl of Granville and Foreign Secretary, gave the historian his earliest acquaintance with Whig traditions. Perhaps he owed more at this stage, however, to the benevolent concern of his uncle, Monsignor, and later Cardinal, Acton, that he should receive an English education.

“He was sent to school at Oscott, then under the presidency of Bishop Wiseman. [His father’s Catholicism had not prevented him from going to Westminster School.] ‘I am very happy here,’ he wrote to his mother, ‘and perfectly reconciled to the thought of stopping here seven more years.’ He was popular and intelligent, but not very industrious. At the age of sixteen, after a short stay at a private school in Edinburgh, he went to Munich in 1850 to complete his education in the household of Stiftspropst (Canon) Ignaz Doellinger [should be von Doellinger]; since he was a Catholic he could not be accepted either at Cambridge or Oxford. Another reason for the choice of Munich was that the Dalbergs had property nearby, at Tegernsee [which is a town as well as a lake]; there also was the house of Acton’s cousins, the Arco-Valleys, one of whom [Countess Marie Anna Ludomilla Euphrosina von Arco auf Valley, daughter of Count Maximilian von Arco auf Valley] he later married. [So Acton’s grandfather married an Acton. His father married a Dalberg. Acton married an Arco. Acton’s son married a Lyon. His grandson married a Strutt, whom I remember.]

“Doellinger’s influence was the most important in Acton’s life. When his pupil arrived, the Professor was fifty-one; he was a Privat-gelehrter, not formally connected with the University, though he occasionally lectured at it. As Stiftspropst, he was in close contact with the court of Maximilian II of Bavaria and as member of the Landtag he had attended the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848. His reputation as a Church historian was high; in episcopal circles he was very much respected and generally regarded as one of the leaders of the German Ultramontanists. The classical tradition of German literature and the Romantic revival had combined to form his mind, and the young Acton was impressed by his long quotations from Goethe, Schiller, Byron and Scott. In politics he was no Liberal; his sympathies were with the Wittelsbach dynasty and with Austria, and he held that ministers should be responsible to the Crown and not to Parliament. Though he possessed great conversational gifts, which the historian von Sybel compared to Bismarck’s, he never made the least effort to display his learning. Some of his pupils felt that he was only half-human, because he lacked Gemüt (feeling), but in spite of his ugly appearance, Acton liked him immensely. ‘His forehead is not particularly large,’ the boy wrote home, ‘and a somewhat malevolent grin seems constantly to reside about his wide, low mouth … I am inclined to think that he owes more to his character and industry than to his innate genius … He appears to have in some degree the imperfection of neglecting what he has begun.’ The pupil was to share that failing.

“Acton’s years in Munich saw the end of the Romantic age and the beginnings of Realism. The humanist traditions of the German Universities, then leading Europe in historical and philological studies, were being imperceptibly displaced by relativism and scepticism; technological developments and nationalist feelings were moving towards the triumphs they were to enjoy in the latter half of the century. Humanitarian ideals gave unexpected birth [thirty years later] to the Nietzschean superman; confidence in human reason was superseded by belief in the primacy of the will; hero-worship by the cult of the masses. Kant, Rousseau, French revolutionary ideas and the drama of the rebellious Dr. Faustus worked spiritual and intellectual disintegration. The Universities of Berlin, Goettingen and Heidelberg were the centres of the new age; and at first the tranquil and traditional world of Munich was undisturbed. But the arrival at the University – on the King’s invitation – of great scholars like Bluntschli, Siebold and von Sybel foreshadowed changes even here. The Bavarians resented the influx of the ‘northern lights,’ as they called them, for they were Protestants or non-practising Catholics. Von Sybel’s and Ranke’s influence, nevertheless, was providing the historical [historiographical] basis for the future victory of the Gotha or Prussian party. [Northern lights refers to Sybel and Ranke. Did Ranke actually work in Munich?]

“It was not contemporary trends, however, but the study of the past that Acton followed in Dr. Doellinger’s house. Bacon, Burke, Newman, Leo, Bourdaloue and Möhler [the text says Möller] were his early masters. Doellinger introduced him to the study of the Middle Ages, and the prevailing idea was to expose the Protestant falsifications of history – Macaulay was not among the Professor’s favourites. The ferment of German ideas left Acton unconcerned: ‘It is not German ways of thinking that I go there to seek,’ he wrote to his stepfather in 1854, ‘but in pursuit of my chosen branches of learning I must go to German sources, and the longer I stay in Germany the better I shall know them and know how to discriminate them.’ And he added: ‘If they [German books] have an almost universal characteristic, it is the absence of artistic management, a defect no one can acquire by studying them. The only effect they have produced on a class of persons in other countries is to make them infidels, like Carlyle.’ He was attracted neither by infidelity nor by Carlyle.

“With the Professor he visited Italy and France, meeting Minghetti, Tocqueville, Dupanloup and Montalembert. After eight years he returned in 1858 to the secluded world of Aldenham. He was twenty-four and in search of a platform; in the following year, he seemed to find one when he became editor of The Rambler, and was elected to Parliament, with Cardinal Wiseman’s blessing, for the Irish borough of Carlow [MP 1859-65]. It was Acton’s purpose in The Rambler, later replaced by the Home and Foreign Review, and in his contributions to the Chronicle and the North British Review, to teach English Catholics what he had learned in Munich – the practice of scientific enquiry in the disinterested love of truth. In England the Catholic body had only recently emerged from long isolation. More than ten years had passed since Newman’s conversion; there had been an influx of educated Anglican converts, and the Restoration of the Hierarchy had given new life to the Church. But in the world of learning, in which Acton was chiefly interested, changes were slow to come. As a cosmopolitan, he noted the provincialism, the atmosphere of authority and respectability, and the prevalence of dusty volumes, among which Lingard’s History of England held a lonely place of eminence; and he missed the sensibility to the arts, the respect for science and the open mind which were his inheritance from Munich. His fellow-Catholics, he complained, were under the delusion that their truths had only to be communicated, not to be discovered, and that their knowledge needed no increase except in the number of those who participated in it. His object was to emancipate the English Catholic mind, and to teach it the lessons, political and otherwise, which Catholics in Europe were beginning to learn: that ‘democracy is no friend of religion,’ and he would point to the example of France, Switzerland and the United States; ‘that despotism either oppresses or corrupts it,’ and there was the instance of Naples; ‘that representative institutions might be the protection of the Church in Protestant States, like Prussia, but in Catholic States, like Austria, only too frequently her scourge.’

“From political, not religious, systems came the real danger for the Church. Perfect liberty, it was his constant theme, required a scrupulous distinction between dogma and opinion; a true principle must be held more sacred than the most precious interest. He advocated the doctrine, unpopular with many ecclesiastics, that in science as in politics there was an authority distinct from that of the Church. ‘In each sphere,’ he wrote, ‘we are bound to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but only Caesar’s. There can be no conflict of duties or of allegiance between them, except inasmuch as one of them abandons its true purpose: the realization of right in the civil order, and the discovery of truth in the intellectual.’ And there was all the optimism of his age in the demand ‘that science should be true to its own method, and the State to its own principle, and beyond this the interests of religion require no protection.’

“But the English Catholic body were not prepared for the sudden appearance in their midst of this extraordinarily gifted young man. Cardinal Wiseman and his successor, Manning, were deeply suspicious of Acton’s, and Newman’s, efforts on behalf of the spiritual rights, privileges and duties of the laity. The Rambler and the Home and Foreign Review were in continual conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. Newman’s essay On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine was censured in Rome. Richard Simpson, a brilliant convert, and Acton’s friend and co-editor [on the Review], called down the wrath of authority by, as Newman put it, ‘his provoking habit of peashooting at any dignitary who looked out of the window as he passed along the road.’ The eminent lay professor of theology at Old Hall, W. G. Ward, whom Simpson had told ‘Come for a walk with me, and I will make your hair stand on end,’ could not but be confirmed in his aversion from ‘clever devils and Liberals,’ products, as it were, of intellectual pride.

“‘I agree with no one and no one agrees with me,’ wrote Acton later. This was certainly true of his position inside the Catholic community. In 1864 his six years of editorial activity came to an end. He had obtained the collaboration of the best European scholars for the two reviews, and probably no English periodicals have ever shown so wide a cosmopolitan interest and such a deep knowledge of European affairs. Of the Home and Foreign Review Mathew Arnold could say, at a time of many other distinguished reviews, that ‘in no organ of criticism in this country was there such knowledge, so much play of mind.’ Acton’s own written contributions were massive. In one issue of the quarterly ‘H&F’ alone ninety-four notices of books appeared, of which he had written thirty-four as well as contributing two long articles. But he felt that his objects were not being realized. In the last number of the ‘H&F’ he took leave of his readers with these words: ‘I will sacrifice the existence of the Review to the defence of its principles, in order that I may combine the obedience that is due to legitimate ecclesiastical authority with an equally conscientious maintenance of the rightful and necessary liberty of thought … To those whom, not being Catholics, this Review has induced to think less hardly of the Church, or, being Catholics, has bound more strongly to her, I would say that the principles it has upheld, of the harmony between religious and secular knowledge, will not die with it, but will find their destined advocates, and triumph in their appointed time.”

“It was as an editor that Acton came into close contact with John Henry Newman. But the young historian, fresh from Munich, and the older, delicate, sensitive man from Oriel never became real friends. Acton must have seemed very much a bull in a china shop, and though they were at one in their dislike of the narrow authoritarianism of some of the bishops and leading converts, in most other respects they differed widely. At first, Newman supported Acton’s and Simpson’s work in their reviews, but he was easily discouraged by the opposition they encountered. ‘Our part is obedience,’ he wrote to Acton, ‘if we are but patient, all will come right. The logic of facts will be the best and most thorough teacher.’ But patience was not one of Acton’s virtues. And there were deeper intellectual differences between them. ‘Everything is for him a personal matter,’ Acton wrote to his Professor in 1864, ‘and he is unable to understand the idea of objectivity in science.’ Newman had a particular devotion to St. Pius V and to St. Charles Borromeo. Acton saw in the one ‘the Pope who held that it was sound Catholic doctrine that anyone may stab a heretic condemned by Rome, and in the other an advocate of the murder of Protestants.’ For such men there was no place in his heaven. Newman remained for him ‘the finest intellect in England whose arguments are a school of infidelity.’ They drifted apart, Newman into the past, and Acton into his long and intimate friendship with Gladstone.

“Historians have treated their relationship as if the admiration was all on Acton’s side. He did, indeed, think of Gladstone as the embodiment of all the statesmanlike qualities in which he felt himself lacking, but though Gladstone seemed to him to combine ‘the virtues of Chatham, Fox, Pitt, Canning and Peel’ without their drawbacks, his admiration was by no means uncritical. His influence over the older man grew with the years. Gladstone himself, shortly before his death, remarked that in the last ten years he had trusted Acton more than any other man. One channel of his influence was through correspondence with [his daughter] Mary Gladstone: ‘It is a way of conveying some things which I cannot say right off,’ Acton wrote to his own daughter. The formation in 1892 of Gladstone’s fourth administration owed much to his efforts in persuading Lord Rosebery to follow the old Liberal leader once more. It was Acton who induced Gladstone to adopt the Home Rule policy, yet he declined all possibility of office, on the grounds that friendship alone gave him no claim for rewards. He had received his peerage in 1869, and remained the trusted counsellor behind the scenes. It was his task to try to bring the remote Gladstone into closer touch with the world of affairs. Familiar with continental politics as few other Englishmen were, Acton could point to the difference between English and continental Liberals ‘who regard the State and the popular will as the seat of all power.’ Together they travelled to Monte Cassino, stayed at the Acton villa in Cannes [La Madeleine], and went to see Doellinger at Tegernsee. Acton, too, had a large hand in rewriting and correcting the First Romanes Lecture delivered by Gladstone at Oxford. ‘Politics are more like religion for me,’ he once wrote. That was the basis of his sympathy with Gladstone. Both believed in a system of politics which combined Christianity with respect for the authority of political principle – ‘and by political principle I do not mean principles in politics.’ Toryism, in Acton’s definition, ‘is to be entangled in interests, traditions, necessities, difficulties, expedients, to manage as best one may, without creating artificial obstacles in the shape of dogma, or superfluous barriers of general principle.’ It was to the moral and religious content of Gladstonian Liberalism that he was drawn. To be a Liberal meant to him simply that one put liberty first, and it did not so much matter whether one was also a reformer or a free thinker, an intelligent Conservative or a radical democrat.

“Acton was confronted by the greatest trial in his life when in 1869 the summons to the Vatican Council was issued. He had never believed in Gallicanism, or shown the slightest sympathy for its Austrian equivalent, Josephism, but he was opposed to the false conception of history underlying the current Ultramontane attitude, according to which rights and principles were scarcely recognized, except as subordinate to the arbitrary will of the Papacy. This feeling also provided the ground for his mistrust of the dogma of Papal Infallibility. His reasons were ethical and historical, not theological. ‘Rome taught for four centuries and more,’ he wrote, ‘that no Catholic could be saved who denied that heretics ought to be put to death.’ And it was his fear, as it was Newman’s, that the extreme Ultramontanists might prevail at Rome and include in the proposed dogma the temporal power and all the pronouncements of the Popes to the Church as a whole, and in particular, confer a retrospective infallibility on a number of decrees and Bulls, chiefly about the deposing power, the Inquisition and other practices or ideas which had never been established under penalty of excommunication. Anxiously he watched the proceedings of the Council from Rome, sending daily reports to Doellinger, and was in close contact with the gradually shrinking numbers of the opposition and the Inopportunists [party opposed to the dogma of infallibility]. As in the end defined, however, the dogma did not fulfil the desire of the Infallibilists by increasing the powers of the Pope, but rather set limits on it. Acton accepted the decree, and Newman’s defence of it, admitting that he thought better of the ‘Post-July’ than of the ‘Pre-July’ Church; the very use of these words perhaps showed, however, that, unlike Newman, he was unable to look beyond the political implications of the new dogma. The threatened excommunication never came; he satisfied his own Bishop [Bishop James Brown of Shrewsbury], if not Manning, that he had not contradicted the decree, and he defended the dogma against Gladstone in his Letters to the Times. ‘Communion with the Catholic Church,’ he wrote, ‘is to me dearer than life itself,’ and to his old teacher who had not submitted to the dogma: ‘I have arrived at the conclusion that you have less hopes for the Church than I, or at least that the hopelessness is more certain for you than for me. I will not say that you are wrong. Dans le doute je m’abstiens de désespérer.’ [Embellishment of a proverb?] But he discouraged Doellinger from giving his name to the Munich Movement, which was the beginning of the Old Catholic Church – a name, he wrote, which the leaders of the Movement would merely exploit.

“In 1879 Newman’s patience was rewarded by the red hat. Equally late recognition came to Lord Acton in 1895, but from a different quarter: on Seeley’s death he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. It was a unique appointment for one who had never been to a University and who had not written a single book, though he had collected 40,000, and had the reputation of being one of the most learned men in Europe. His great conception of history, which he outlined in his Inaugural Lecture, was based on the gradual emancipation of the conscience; Mommsen had written history to glorify power; Macaulay to illustrate the politics of his time; Ranke to relate what happened; for others history was merely a matter of documentary evidence; but for Acton modern history was primarily the history of ideas, and the Universal History which he planned for inclusion in the Cambridge Modern History, but did not complete, was placed on that elevated field beyond the technicalities and meaningless surface of events, where the historian should be above prejudice, party, religion and nationality. In his work, as in the History of Liberty for which he amassed his library but which was never accomplished – and perhaps could not be by a single author – he aimed at perfection; that, indeed, was his greatest failing, if failing it is. He was for ever trying to read everything that could be read on a given subject, making notes and filling cardboard boxes with the thoughts of other men. Dr. Doellinger foretold that ‘if Acton does not write a book by the time he is forty, he will never write one.’ Yet he had written a great deal, and his essays and book reviews are masterworks of compression. His powers were perhaps wasted in a full social life, in his duties as Lord in Waiting, in an immense correspondence, and in political missions which he undertook for Gladstone. Among his hitherto unpublished letters to Dr. Doellinger and to his daughter, those to Mary Acton show a warm humanity of which there was otherwise little evidence in his marriage. He could rightly say on being asked to write his own life: ‘My autobiography is in my letters to my girls.’

“A gifted but not an easy writer, he possessed a combination of qualities rare in great historians: an intimate knowledge of sources, a sharpness of considered judgment, subtlety, irony and a wealth of allusion. In his careful choice of words, in his portrayals of every facet of a subject, he could be compared to the sculptor rather than to the painter. Many of his judgments have the impact of brilliance. He defined liberty as ‘the freedom to do not what we like but what we ought.’ He said that the Roman Empire perished for the lack of a Land Bill. Of Peter the Great: ‘He raised the condition of the country with great rapidity, he did not raise it above his own level.’ And prophetically of Prussia and Russia: ‘That is the tremendous power, supported by millions of bayonets which grew up at Petersburg and was developed, by much abler minds, chiefly at Berlin; and it is the greatest danger that remains to be encountered by the Anglo-Saxon race.’ His condemnation could be scathing; so of one historian: ‘His lectures are indeed not unhistorical, for he has borrowed quite discriminately from Tocqueville.’ And of another: ‘Ideas if they occur to him he rejects like temptations to sin.’ His answer to Creighton’s views on the Popes of the fifteenth century has become famous: ‘I cannot accept your judgment that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’

“In his moral judgments, he became increasingly severe, but at the end of his life he solemnly adjured his son to take care always to make allowance for human weakness. His severity was perhaps pardonable, living as he did in the midst of a moral relativism in which there was a glaring need to uphold the supremacy of conscience. His isolation seemed to be complete when he found that Doellinger, from whom he had learned the principles of toleration, regarded persecution as an evil rather than as a crime. The sanctity of human life seemed to him the only independent principle on which historical judgment could be based. Whoever violated that without just cause ‘I would hang higher than Haman.’ On those who knew him, his personality and striking appearance, with the high forehead and black beard, made an unforgettable impression. He had that most un-English of traits, a passion for ideas. Hearing him speak, Lord Bryce wrote: ‘It was as if the whole landscape of history had been suddenly lit up by a burst of sunlight.’ In the fifty years which have passed since Lord Acton’s death at Tegernsee in June 1902, freedom has suffered many deaths, and a revaluation of his thought is more than ever worth while. Alone in his day he recognized the destructive element in the triumphant principle of nationality and advocated a community of autonomous nations, a Federal system, as the most effective means of checking the tendency of autocracies, and of democracies, to centralized, concentrated and unlimited power.”

___

Through Mia Woodruff, Roland came under the spell of the Actons, as did I, in a younger generation. His biography begins with an Author’s Note:

“The Hon. Marie Immaculée Antoinette (Mia) Woodruff was the eldest of seven daughters and two sons of the second Lord Acton. Although she never met her grandfather, the first Lord Acton, she was devoted to his memory and ideals and familiar with the painful struggle of his life. With her husband, Douglas Woodruff, who died in 1978, she temporarily had the care of the extensive family papers, which they made readily available to scholars once the family seat, Aldenham Hall, was sold [1947]. Ultimately the papers found a permanent home at the Cambridge University Library.

“Like her husband, who for thirty-one years was the editor of the British Catholic weekly the Tablet, Mia Woodruff was a leading figure in the Catholic world of her generation. She was a veritable grande dame, a woman of great spirit, trenchant wit, and deep religious devotion who cared for others in numerous voluntary organizations, particularly for refugees of all races and creeds before, during, and after World War II. It was a fitting gesture, when she was buried next to her husband in the little Anglican churchyard of Lyford, Oxfordshire, that the tin hat she had worn as an air-raid warden in wartime London should have been placed in her grave. She died, aged eighty-nine, on 5 March [no, 5 April!] 1994, not long after she prepared these words.

‘I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1902, and I was born in 1905. What I do know about him is what my Aunt Mamy told me. She was his favourite child [Marie Elizabeth Anna Dalberg-Acton], and he wrote the most wonderful letters to her as well as telling her many fine tales about himself. I think of him as a lonely young man spending much of his time at St. Martin’s, the holiday home of the Arcos in Upper Austria, in the company of his future bride and his very beloved future mother-in-law [Anna Margareta Maria Juliana Pelina Maresclachi], who was a great influence on his life. I imagine him at Aldenham in the vast library he built himself – which has since, alas, been demolished – surrounded by his thousands of books, now at the Cambridge University Library. I think of him at Tegernsee in Bavaria, where the Arcos had a lovely villa, and where we used to stay as young children, my brother and I. It was a most beautiful chalet with balconies all round, covered with verbena and wisteria, and the garden leading right down to the lakeside, where we used to fish. My grandfather spent the last days of his life there and is buried at Tegernsee. My grandmother and her two daughters remained there until the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and then moved to Switzerland, where my aunts both died, Annie [Annie Mary Catherine Dalberg-Acton] in 1917, Simmy [Jeanne Marie Dalberg-Acton] in 1919. [Mamy survived until 1951.] After that their mama [Acton’s widow] came to live with us at Aldenham for the rest of her life, and there she died on 2 April 1923. There is a plaque in the church at Bridgnorth to the memory of my grandfather and various members of the Acton family. He was MP for Bridgnorth at one time [1865-66], and he helped in the building of St. John’s parish church.

‘I feel my grandfather lived by his conscience, which enabled him to fight his battle against Papal Infallibility in 1870 as well as practise a very simple private religion. I hope that from him I have inherited a great love for history and keen interest in the affairs of the Church. I hope that Roland Hill’s sympathetic biography will interpret my grandfather’s enigmatic personality for his readers and enhance his memory. He must have been a very fine man. May he rest in peace.

Marcham Priory, Oxon’”

___

The second “I hope” in the last paragraph was characteristic. She was not going to commit herself to more than “sympathetic” before she had seen the book, which she did not live to do.

Hill’s book was important and the result of many years of work. It was generally well-reviewed, but not universally. There were some who felt that Acton had, once again, eluded us.

“A veritable grande dame”, indeed. Mia Woodruff seemed an embodiment or projection of the Catholic aristocratic history of Europe. She was very grand and had grand faults. She was also content, in her charitable work and in attending to her friends, to be a low-ranking Christian soldier. She had a deadpan and mordant wit.

Roland should have made tapes. It’s a matter of regret to me that I was too immature or too busy to interview her properly. Her world is gone: “a thing never known again”.

Acton family tree.

NPG x85090; Hon. Marie ImmaculÈe Antoinette Woodruff (nÈe Lyon-Dalberg-Acton) by Bassano

Portrait by Bassano Ltd, January 29 1944, National Portrait Gallery

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