CAT | history
In the Spectator a review by Sean McGlynn of a new book intended to show that there was more to the Middle Ages than mud and blood:
For those who imagine the medieval period along the lines of Monty Python and the Holy Grail — knights, castles, fair maidens, filthy peasants and buckets of blood and gore (you know, all the fun stuff) — Johannes Fried’s version may come as something of an aesthetic shock. His interests lie in the more rarefied world of theologians, lawyers and philosophers. So while the kings and emperors of the Middle Ages are afforded largely thumbnail sketches, it is the likes of Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, William of Ockham and Peter Abelard that attract Fried’s closest attention in his study of the ‘cultural evolution’ of the Middle Ages.
Fried also, refreshingly, touches on less well-known cases, as in his treatment of female mystics, such as Christine de St Trond from the early 13th century, who would whirl herself into unconsciousness ‘like a dervish’ in a state of self-induced ecstasy. Her trance-like states carried her ‘quite literally to new heights, as she would clamber into the rafters of churches and climb towers and trees, flirting with death’. Her dedication went way beyond the self-punishing rituals of the flagellants…. Christine ‘tried to replicate the torments of sinners in Hell by putting herself in ovens, plunging into boiling water, having herself lashed to mill wheels and hanged on gallows, and lying in open graves’.
If there is a border between mysticism and madness it is lightly guarded.
More about Christine the Astonishing (in German, Christina die Wunderbare seems a better translation) here. Hallucinations are involved. Although she was never canonized or even beatified, Wikipedia notes that “prayers are traditionally said to [Christine] to seek her intercession for millers, those suffering from mental illness and mental health workers”.
Writing in the Guardian, Nick Cohen on self-censorship:
Unless we find the courage to overcome fear, the self-censorship will spread, and not only in the media.
Colleagues who wanted historians at a London museum to talk about the long history of depictions of Muhammad in Islamic art last week were met with panicking press officers trying to shut them up. Historian Tom Holland, who received death threats after he challenged the creation myths of Islam, said: “I cannot think of any other area of history where debate is so nervous.” He hopes that historians will continue to say that the Koran was a manmade creation, but doubts that journalists will be keen to take their work to the public.
This is not a small capitulation. In the 19th century, the textual criticism of German scholars revealed that the supposed word of God in the Bible was a mess of competing stories. It did as much damage to Christianity and Judaism as Darwinism. Anyone hoping to repeat the exercise by taking apart the Koran and the hadiths today will be restrained by the fear that they will end up as dead as satirists who try to do the same with anti-clerical humour.
When the Welsh poet Edward Thomas (1898-1917), who had signed up for the British Army in 1915, was asked what he would be fighting for, he stopped, picked up a pinch of earth and crumbled it between finger and thumb before letting it fall. He then replied, “Literally, for this”.
In ‘Adlestrop’ he describes an unscheduled stop that he had made at a small train station in Gloucestershire in the course of a train journey on June 24, 1914, a little more than a month before the war began.
Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Thomas was killed at Arras in April 1917.
Prague, Sept. 15 (ČTK) — Rostislav Kotrč, a priest of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, will run for the Communists (KSČM) in the local elections in the autumn, daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.
Kotrč, 40, at first wanted to join the KSČM, but now he only runs as an independent for the party as No. 2 on its list of candidates, MfD writes. Kotrč has been working in the Hussite church since 1999 and is the general vicar of the Christian Police Association.
“He wanted to join our party, but we agreed that it would be more sensible, also due to his relationship to the church, to only stay as a sympathizer,” a local Communist from the Hradec Králové eegion, east Bohemia, where he runs, told the paper.
Kotrč said he could not see any problem with him being both a priest and a candidate representing the Communists, MfD writes. “I know this is incomprehensible to many people,” he is quoted as saying.
“I think this is due to the constant media propaganda and bad understanding of the historical and theological context,” Kotrč said.
“My orientation is leftist and social. When looking into the Bible, and Acts of the Apostles in particular, which describe the origins of Christianity, one can read that people shared their property according to their needs,” he added.
“This is the basic principle of communism. Unfortunately, God was lost from the philosophy, which caused its deformation,” Kotrč said….
Sure, that was it.
For some reason Thomas Müntzer comes to mind.
Thomas Müntzer (ca. 1489 – 27 May 1525) was an early Reformation-era German theologian, who became a rebel leader during the Peasants’ War. He thought that the questioning of authority promoted by the Lutheran Reformation should be applied to the economic sphere….
Müntzer spent late 1524 in Nuremberg, but in mid-February 1525 was able to return to Mühlhausen. The following month, the citizenry voted out the old council and a new “Eternal League of God” was formed, composed of a cross-section of the male population and some former councillors. Müntzer and Pfeiffer succeeded in taking over the Mühlhausen town council and set up a communistic experiment in its place. Müntzer wrote to the citizens of Allstedt calling them to “join the uprising”: “Be there only three of you, but if you put your hope in the name of God—fear not a hundred thousand…. Forward, forward, forward! It is high time. Let not kind words of these Esaus arouse you to mercy. Look not upon the sufferings of the godless! They will entreat you touchingly, begging you like children. Let not mercy seize your soul, as God commanded to Moses; He has revealed to us the same…. Forward, forward, while the iron is hot. Let your swords be ever warm with blood!”
God certainly seems “present” in his philosophy. Communism is communism, with God or without.
Writing in the Catholic Herald, a priest, Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, compares Kim Jong-Un with Henry VIII, the king who (according to paper’s headline-writers “founded the Church of England”: nope, it was Elizabeth I who did that, but no matter):
…The court of Mr. Kim might well be riven by deadly infighting. Indeed, it would be surprising were it not. If Mrs. Kim has persuaded her husband to get rid of Ms Hyon, this was no more than what went on in another court. Anne Boleyn constantly nagged Henry VIII to have Katharine of Aragon and her daughter the Lady Mary executed; she was also keen to see Cardinal Wolsey go to the block; as it turned out, he resisted her nagging at least with regard to the Queen and the Princess, and in the end had Anne executed, about which she could hardly complain.
There are other parallels with the Tudors. Mr. Kim seems to favour novel methods of execution. Ms Hyon was machine gunned; Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword rather than the axe, even though, as the historian Alison Weir has pointed out in her excellent The Lady in the Tower, a sword may in fact be much more painful. But Mr. Kim goes further than Henry VII ever did. He had one general, according to the Telegraph, executed by mortar round, which is highly original.
The idea of guilt by association is also reminiscent of Tudor times. When Anne Boleyn fell, her uncle the Duke of Norfolk was keen to show his disapproval of his niece, and presided at her trial and voted for her death. When he second niece to marry the King, Katharine Howard, fell, his protestations were even more voluble, especially as several members of the Howard family spent some time in the Tower, thanks to guilt by association. Katharine Howard’s brothers rode through the City of London in their best clothes in a bid to disassociate themselves from the wretched girl’s misfortune; it was a move that worked.
Just as both of Henry’s wives, and indeed his other victims, may have been condemned on trumped up charges, so it seems that Ms Hyon and her colleagues were condemned to death for incoherent indeed contradictory offences: for making pornographic videos of themselves and for the possession of Bibles. The pornography charge sounds as convincing as Anne Boleyn’s alleged witchcraft.
We may well condemn what happens in North Korea, but this sort of thing is to be expected in places where there is no rule of law beyond the will of the presiding autocrat, who is anything but benign…
It’s a silly comparison. Henry the Liberator was a savage man in a savage era, but regardless of his motives, he established the principle that Englishmen should be governed by English laws, a principle that—more or less—endured until Britain joined what became the EU.
The relevant fact about the history of the British Isles and above all of England is its separateness in a political sense from the history of continental Europe…When Henry VIII declared that ‘this realm of England is an empire (imperium) of itself’, he was making not a new claim but a very old one; but he was making it at a very significant point of time. He meant—as Edward I had meant, when he said the same over two hundred years before—that there is an imperium on the continent, but that England is another imperium outside its orbit and is endowed with the plenitude of its own sovereignty. The moment at which Henry VIII repeated this assertion was that of what is misleadingly called ‘the reformation’—misleadingly, because it was, and is, essentially a political and not a religious event…
The whole subsequent history of Britain and the political character of the British people have taken their colour and trace their unique quality from that moment and that assertion. It was the final decision that no authority, no law, no court outside the realm would be recognized within the realm. When Cardinal Wolsey fell, the last attempt had failed to bring or keep the English nation within the ambit of any external jurisdiction or political power: since then no law has been for England outside England, and no taxation has been levied in England by or for an authority outside England—or not at least until the proposition that Britain should accede to the Common Market [the future EU].
And childish, ahistorical comparisons with a psychotic North Korean playboy will not change that fact.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
The Economist reports:
On July 5 the mufti of Trabzon gathered with other citizens for the first Friday prayers of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, not at a mosque but at an ancient Byzantine church. The gathering was a symbolic re-enactment of the conquest in 1462 of this ancient Greek Black Sea port by Mehmet II, the Ottoman sultan who had wrested Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1453. He marked his victory by converting the Haghia Sophia cathedral of today’s Istanbul into a mosque.
Haghia Sophia’s sister of the same name in Trabzon is less grand. Yet with its dazzling frescoes and magnificent setting overlooking the sea, the 13th-century building is regarded as one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. As with other Christian monuments, the Haghia Sophia in Trabzon has become a symbol in the battle between secularists and Islamists. It was converted into a mosque around the 16th century and, after other incarnations, became a museum in 1964. But the Islamists won the last round in 2012 when a local court accepted the claim by the General Directorate of the Pious Foundations, the government body responsible for Turkey’s historic mosques, that the Haghia Sophia belonged to the foundation of Mehmet II and was being “illegally occupied” by the culture ministry.
The decision provoked surprising anger in a city notorious for its ultra-nationalist views. “It’s about erasing the Christian past, reviving Ottomanism,” says a local historian. “There are enough mosques in Trabzon, half of them empty, what was the need?” chimes in Zeki Bakar, a neighbourhood councillor. A lawsuit has been brought to undo the conversion.
Even so, the mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) government carried out the conversion in time for Ramadan. A red carpet now obscures exquisite floor mosaics. Shutters and tents beneath the central dome shield Muslim worshippers from “sinful” paintings of the Holy Trinity. Shiny steel taps with plastic stools for ablutions clutter a once-verdant garden filled with ancient sculptures….
The Financial Times reports:
It was, as these things go, something of a flop. The Magna Carta was a document hammered out between King John and a group of feisty barons in the summer of 1215 that set out an agreement between them on the subjects of England’s taxation, feudal rights and justice. It was the culmination of a sticky period for both parties, and must have been greeted with some eyebrow-raising on that evening’s edition of Newsnight. The most striking part of the charter allowed, for the first time, for the powers of the king to be limited by a written document. Observers hoped that it heralded a new era of collaboration between the monarch and his subjects.
But the dawn was false. The Magna Carta was valid for just 10 weeks. The only reason the king had agreed to the terms of the charter was to play for time. He then appealed to Rome to declare the document null and void. By the end of the summer, a papal bull from Pope Innocent III granted him his wish….
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia (1782):
“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Barbara Ward (1914-81), a former foreign editor of the Economist and much more besides, plays an important part in Rupert Darwall’s The Age of Global Warming, a new book that is, among other things, a fascinating intellectual and political history of the evolution of the climate change movement.
Ward believed in a form of mid-century command-and-control that was reinforced by her take on the Christian ethic (she was a fairly devout Roman Catholic). This passage in Darwall’s book caught my attention:
She lobbied the Second Vatican Council on Third World Development. In 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, with Ward as one of its members. The encyclical, Populorum Progressio, ‘The Development of the Peoples’, with its criticism of ‘unbridled liberalism’, its call for ‘concerted planning’ and the creation of a ‘World Fund’ are all evidence of Ward’s imprint.
Interesting to see that the Vatican was moaning on about ‘unbridled liberalism’ at a time when it existed, well, nowhere. It’s a handy reminder that Benedict XVI’s disingenuous attacks on ‘financial capitalism’ and similar-sounding comments from the likable sort-of-Peronist who has succeeded him, represent just the latest manifestations of a long strand in Roman Catholic thinking.