CAT | history
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.
On the whole, patriotic priests are preferable to those preaching the old baloney about the universal brotherhood of man, an impossible, unnatural aspiration that, by definition, can only (if it is to mean anything) be coercive.
It is however better if that patriotism is clear-eyed. healthy, and not too heavily worn.
I’m not convinced that that has been the case with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine prelate who has now become Pope Francis. Even if we disregard the rights (hard to discern) and wrongs (monumental) of the Argentine case for its unprovoked attack on the Falkland Islands in 1982, Bergoglio’s language is, well, judge for yourself.
Pope Francis’s election may cause controversy in Britain over comments he made at a Mass last year for Argentine veterans of the Falklands War to mark 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict. He reportedly said at the time: “We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the country who went out to defend their mother country, to reclaim that which is theirs and was usurped from them.”
Addressing relatives of fallen veterans before a visit to the Argentine military cemetery in Darwin in the Falklands in 2009, he said: “Go and kiss this land which is ours, and seems to us far away.”
He said they would not go alone, adding: “There are angels who will accompany you, who are sons, husbands and fathers of yours, who fell there, in an almost religious movement, of kissing with their blood the native soil.”
Or this, via Harry’s Place:
“Let’s pray to God that these years – despite the efforts of many to de-Malvinise history and reality – have served to silently mature the conscience of many Argentinians far and wide in this country, in a more authentic love for the Homeland, in a spirit of justice, through anonymous sacrifice, that they should be the hidden but fruitful sap which will make us live in freedom, in all the possible ways within this anxious life.”
Back in 2002 the (British Roman Catholic) Tablet provided its take on the religious dimension of the Argentine assault on the Falklands:
….Around this twentieth anniversary much has and will no doubt continue to be written. For those of us who lived the conflict at close quarters, perhaps one of the most interesting and under-reported aspects of it was the extent to which God and the Virgin Mary were used to justify the war, and to bring it to an end.
The military regime which decided to invade the islands did so in the knowledge that it counted on a powerful body of opinion within the Argentine Church to give it its blessing. The attitude of the Argentine Episcopal Conference to the regime that came to power in the 1976 coup had been equivocal. Pastoral letters had held back from public condemnation of human rights violations, and suggested that the ?common good? could be served by dealing with the moral and social disintegration that had characterised the previous civilian government of Isabelita Peron.
Only a minority of bishops, priests and nuns condemned the thousands of disappeared, and the complicity of those who pandered to national Catholicism. Those who survived the repression, like Bishop Jaime de Nevares of Neuquin, Bishop Miguel Hesayne of Viedma, and Bishop Jorge Novak of Quilmes, distanced themselves from the nationalistic fervour which surrounded the “reconquest of Las Malvinas?”.
They remained, however, in a minority. From the outset of the Falklands War, the partnership between Church and State gave the Argentine soldiers and their generals a sense of a moral crusade, and the junta the certainty of political cohesion. History was revisited and revised to provide justification for the equation between Argentine sovereignty and holy conversion.
Memories were revived of the first Spanish missionaries to the Falkland Islands, the priests portrayed as picture-book saints laying the sacramental rock on the heathen land. The subsequent British colonialism was reduced to a caricature of spiritual emptiness when, in fact, both the Anglican and Catholic faiths had retained an enduring presence on the islands. The mixing of nationalistic and religious mythology was prevalent in the first crucial hours of the Falklands conflict. On the eve of the invasion, Argentine commanders agreed that the military operation to take Las Malvinas, initially planned under the codename Azul, should be renamed Rosario, in honour of the Virgin of Rosario. According to Argentine cultural tradition, the Virgin had brought her graces to the population of Buenos Aires in the early nineteenth century before an invasion by British troops was successfully repulsed. She has been venerated passionately ever since.
On 7 April, the new Argentine military governor of Las Malvinas, General Mario Men?ndez, was sworn in during a ceremony at which Archbishop Desiderio Elso Collino, the chaplain general of the armed forces, officiated. “The gaucho Virgin is Mother of all men, but is in a very special way the Mother of all Argentines, and has come to take possession of this land, which is also her land”, stated Collino.For the rest of the war a succession of military chaplains ensured that the crusading spirit of the Argentine troops was kept alive in language reminiscent of the speeches delivered to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. In the fight against the English “heathen” no Argentine churchman was more fanatical than Fr Jorge Piccinalli….
How this all ties into Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ is, of course, something that will be worth discussing on another occasion.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, here’s Katherine Mangu-Ward with an entertaining review of a new biography of Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic:
While today’s GOP is associated with public displays of faith, the Republican party of Ingersoll’s day was more likely to be the home of freethinkers, such as the churchless Abraham Lincoln. The American public wasn’t ready for overt atheism in elected or appointed office, but Ingersoll’s talent on the stump made his endorsement valuable. Jacoby persuasively argues that Ingersoll fits into the classical liberal tradition, a thread that remains visible, if controversial, in the fabric of the modern Republican party…
His speeches were studded with jokes that played to American sensibilities: While explaining Charles Darwin’s still-controversial theory of evolution, he speculated how tough it would be for blood-proud European aristocrats to learn they were descended from “the duke Orang Outang, or the princess Chimpanzee.” Far from finding the prospect of a godless universe depressing, Ingersoll considered the theory of evolution a desirable replacement for the story of the Fall.
“I would rather belong to that race that commenced a skull-less vertebrate and produced Shakespeare, a race that has before it an infinite future, with an angel of progress leaning from the far horizon, beckoning men forward, upward, and onward forever—I had rather belong to such a race . . . than to have sprung from a perfect pair upon which the Lord has lost money every moment from that day to this.”
Read the whole thing.
As much as I may grumble about the Economist’s snooty and irritating Davos/Brussels liberalism, it still remains an invaluable resource, not least its Christmas issue. This year’s included a haunting, terrifically written piece on the 19th Century war that nearly destroyed Paraguay (trust me on this: as a tale of folly and horror, it’s difficult to match), and then this tale:
A century ago next year, one of the most extraordinary events in the modern history of Christianity took place there. In the summer of 1913 the Aegean was penetrated not by pleasure-craft, but by the navy of the Russian tsar. A gunboat and later two transporters, complete with a party of marines, sailed up to a giant monastic house. A Russian archbishop tried negotiating with a bitterly divided community. When that failed, the troops opened up with a water-cannon, directed at the cells of monks on the losing side in a theological argument. Eventually, hundreds of bedraggled monks, defeated but defiant, were bundled onto ships. Opinion differs on whether anybody was killed, but the monks were certainly treated brutally: over the next two weeks, more than 800 of them were dragged away and transported to Odessa, where about 40 were jailed and most of them were stripped of their robes and sent on their way.
The story is fascinating in its own right, but then there are passages like this:
In the 14th century, as Byzantium dissolved into civil and theological war and the Ottoman conquest loomed, yet another dispute over the boundaries between Earth and Heaven raged, both on Athos and in the imperial court. The terms of the argument sound obscure to most modern ears. When Jesus Christ appeared on a mountain bathed in light, were the rays that emanated from his body created or divine? But behind the question was that recurring dilemma in monotheism. How, if at all, can the all-powerful, transcendent Creator and the created world come into contact with one another, and what does that imply for human destiny? The view that prevailed was a subtle one. God was both an inaccessible “essence” and an infinite variety of “energies” that could be experienced on earth. Humans could both perceive the light emanating from their Lord and become re-transmitters of that light themselves—and all this could happen during their earthly lives. Ilarion’s treatise sparked yet another version of this debate.
It’s on reading about controversies like that I realize yet again that I am just never going to get theology.
No great loss, I suspect.
Via Der Spiegel International:
Until into the 1990s, doctors and nuns in Spain allegedly stole newborn babies and sold them to couples hoping to adopt. The vast scope of this lucrative baby-snatching network is only now coming to light as courts heed victims’ calls for investigations and possible trials….
After the victory of the rebels under General Francisco Franco over the Republicans, the organized theft of babies became a political tool, a way of depriving leftists of their offspring. In 1941, Franco enacted a law that made it permissible to erase evidence of the ancestry of such children by changing their last names.
Most of these stolen children were entrusted to the care of Catholics loyal to the regime. The aim behind this was to rid an entire people of the “Marxist gene,” at least according to the theories of Antonio Vallejo-Nájera, the national psychiatrist of Francoist Spain, that were widespread at the time.
This specter of a Spanish national Catholicism even survived Franco’s death in 1975. Nuns, especially members of the Hijas de la Caridad, or Daughters of Charity, whose training was more religious than intellectual, worked in the maternity wards of hospitals and in baby nurseries. They blindly obeyed their mothers superior and priests who, in turn, decided who deserved a child and who didn’t. As a result, what were generally young or unmarried women became victims of baby theft. After all, the reasoning went, according to the Church’s teachings, these mothers were living “in sin.”
But even rising prosperity and Spain’s transformation into a democratic constitutional state apparently did not protect young mothers from this religious mafia of baby thieves. What may have begun as an act of misguided altruism appears to have grown into a business, in which adoptive parents allegedly paid up to a million pesetas, or the equivalent of about €20,000 ($25,000), for a child. Indeed, in a society that essentially considered it the legal right of married couples to have children, there was great demand for babies…
A deeply disturbing story, to say the very least.
Much as I am not a fan of the public nuisance better known as Karen Armstrong, the opening two paragraphs of a review she has written for the FT today caught my eye:
Over the course of his long, distinguished career, Geza Vermes, the first professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford university, has made a major contribution to our understanding of the historical Jesus. In Christian Beginnings, as in his groundbreaking work Jesus the Jew (1973), he shows that Jesus would have been a recognisable and familiar figure to his contemporaries. A healer, exorcist and compelling preacher, he was the latest in a line of charismatic prophets who existed for centuries alongside the established priestly tradition and offered an alternative form of Judaism, based on vision, ecstasy and miraculous healing, and frequently in conflict with the Israelite ruling class.
In this book, however, Vermes takes the story further, showing how the human figure of Jesus became increasingly other-worldly until, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, he was declared fully divine. Vermes points out quite correctly that in much of the New Testament, Jesus is perceived as “a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders and signs” (Acts 2.22), a typical definition of a charismatic prophet. In Judaism, the title “Son of God” was simply a human being who enjoyed special intimacy with God and had been given a divine task: kings, prophets and priests – and the entire people of Israel – were all called “sons of God” in this sense…