A while back, I posted twice (here and here) about Philip Jenkins’ ongoing series about the near-disappearance of the ancient British church. In what appears to have been his last column in the series, he also noted the importance of monasticism in preserving Christianity in the north and west, and the importance of its absence in the loss of the faith amid the problems racking Britain at the time.
Jenkins wrote two columns about the historical St. Patrick that are worth reading. Patrick’s Confession can be found here. A book with both of the documents that Jenkins refers to — the Confession and Patrick’s Letter to Coroticus — can be found here.
Although I don’t know that J.R.R. Tolkien read Notker the Stammerer’s Deeds of Charles, I know that he was influenced by medieval literature. In Notker’s second book, there is a passage about the Charlemagne’s assault on the rebellious Lombard lord Desiderius that seemed like something one would read in Lord of the Rings:
Now it happened that some years before one of the first nobles, called Otker, had incurred the wrath of the most terrible emperor, and had fled for refuge to Desiderius. When the near approach of the dreaded Charles was known, these two went up into a very high tower, from which they could see anyone approaching at a very great distance. When therefore the baggage-waggons appeared, which moved more swiftly than those used by Darius or Julius, Desiderius said to Otker: “Is Charles in that vast army?” And Otker answered: “Not yet.” Then when he saw the vast force of the nations gathered together from all parts of his empire, he said with confidence to Otker: “Surely Charles moves in pride among those forces.” But Otker answered: “Not yet, not yet.” Then Desiderius fell into great alarm and said, “What shall we do if a yet great [sic] force comes with him?” And Otker said, “You will see what he is like when he comes. What will happen to us I cannot say.” And, behold, while they were thus talking, there came in sight Charles’s personal attendants, who never rested from their labours; and Desiderius saw them and cried in amazement, “There is Charles.” And Otker answered: “Not yet, not yet.” Then they saw the bishops and the abbots and the clerks of his chapel with their attendants. When he saw them he hated the light and longed for death, and sobbed and stammered, “Let us of down to hide ourselves in the earth from the face of an enemy so terrible.” And Otker answered trembling, of once, in happier days, he had had through and constant knowledge of the policy and preparations of the unconquerable Charles: “When you see an iron harvest bristling in the fields; and the Po and the Ticino pouring against the walls of the city like the waves of the sea, gleaming black with glint of iron, then know that Charles is at hand.” Hardly were these words finished when there came from the west a black cloud, which turned the bright day to horrid gloom. But as the emperor drew nearer the gleam of the arms turned the darkness into day, a day darker than any night to that beleaguered garrison. Then could be seen the iron Charles, helmeted with an iron helmet, his hands clad in iron gauntlets, his iron breast and broad shoulders protected with an iron breastplate: an iron spear was raised on high in his left hand; his right always rested on his unconquered iron falchion. The thighs, which with most men are uncovered that they may the more easily ride on horseback, were in his case clad with plates of iron: I need make no special mention of his greaves, for the greaves of all the army were of iron. His shield was all of iron: his charger was iron coloured and iron-hearted. All who went before him, all who marched by his side, all who followed after him and the whole equipment o the army imitated him as closely as possible. The fields and open places were filled with iron; the rays of the sun were thrown back by the gleam of iron; a people harder than iron paid universal honour to the hardness of iron. The horror of the dungeon seemed less than the bright gleam of iron. ”Oh the iron! Woe for the iron!” was the confused cry that rose from the citizens. The strong walls shook at the sight of the iron; the resolution of young and old fell before the iron. Now when the truthful Otker saw in one swift glance all this which I, with stammering tongue and the voice of a child, have been clumsily explaining with rambling words, he said to Desiderius: “There is the Charles that you so much desired to see”: and when he had said this he fell to the ground half dead.
From Book II, Chapter 17. Passage quoted from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook (with page numbers in brackets taken out).
There are also echoes of 1 Kings 19. I don’t know if it was intentional but it really jumped out at me:
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
(1 Kings 19:9-18 ESV)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Chronicles of Charlemagne’s life by his courtier Einhard and a monk named Notker the Stammerer are presented in this book. Both presented Charlemagne as a fearsome warrior and a man of great Christian piety. Classical and Biblical references peppered both texts, especially Notker’s. Notker made parallels with King David’s life multiple times. You can also see, especially in Notker’s first book, the leadership that Charlemagne had over the church in his domains and the seeds of the Investiture Controversy that later pitted popes against emperors in what would come to be called the Holy Roman Empire.
I assigned the book for my Western Civ to 1648 class, and we had some good discussions over the past week. I enjoyed reading it as well, and want to read more about Charlemagne since my knowledge of him is pretty general.
If I recall correctly, I’ve seen or heard both Peter Leithart and Doug Wilson argue that Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness after his baptism reflects his status as a new Israel that succeeds, not fails. I don’t know that I had heard this correlated with Jesus as the new Adam as well. David Mathis writes about this on the Desiring God blog, taking his cue from Mark 1:12-13 (“The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals . . . .” - Mathis’ emphasis). He wonders why Mark mentions the wild animals, and connects it back to Adam in the Garden of Eden:
The point Mark seems to be hinting at is that Jesus is a new kind of Adam, the new and ultimate Man. Instead of a beautiful garden, the ultimate Man faces his temptations in the wilderness, a wilderness created by Adam’s sin. And instead of kindly presiding over tame animals, the ultimate Man is surrounded by wild animals. This sinful world into which Jesus enters to accomplish his mission is less like a pristine garden and more like Jurassic Park.
Unlike Adam, the surroundings into which Jesus is put to live out human perfection are marred by sin’s corruption. Unlike Adam, Jesus faces a wild land and wild animals. While Adam was setup [sic] for success, Jesus must go against the grain.
But despite the conditions for our new Man being more difficult than they were for the first Man, Jesus succeeds, for our sake, in passing the test — in the wild land and among the wild animals. The new Adam does not succumb to the Enemy’s tempting, but stays his course to die sacrificially for the sin that entered in under the first Adam.
Mathis connects this to Psalm 91, from which Jesus quotes verses 11 and 12 in Matthew 4′s telling of the event. Psalm 91:13 then reads “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”
This reminded me of an early medieval depiction of Christ as a warlord that I show in my ancient and medieval Western Civ course to illustrate how the post-Roman societies depicted Christ in their own terms. I had not noticed the note on Wikipedia before, but it says that the illustration is from Psalm 91:13.
Writing at the Chronicles Magazine blog, Aaron Wolf writes that J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea of Middle Earth came from a poem in Anglo-Saxon(the earliest form of English) by Cynewulf called either “Christ” or “The Ascension.” Wolf provides a translation by Charles Kennedy:
Hail Day-Star! Brightest angel sent to man *throughout the earth* [in Middle Earth], and Thou steadfast splendour of the sun, bright above stars! Ever Thou dost illumine with Thy light the time of every season. As Thou, begotten God of God, Son of the True Father, without beginning abodest ever in the splendour of heaven, so now for need Thy handiwork bessecheth boldly that Thou send the bright sun unto us; that Thou come and shed Thy light on those who long ere this, compassed about with mist and in the darkness, clothed in sin, sit here in the long night, and must needs endure the dark shadow of Death.
The reference to Christ as the “brightest angel” is a bit jarring at first, but you can see that any potential confusion is clarified in the middle of the poem: “begotten God of God, Son of the True Father, without beginning abodest ever in the splendour of heaven.” Perhaps Cynewulf was using “angel” in the sense of “messenger.”
Hat tip: Joel via Google Reader
Hunter now turns to history to show how his explanations of cultural change can explain important changes: the Christianization of Rome, the Christianization of the European barbarians, the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th centuries, the Reformation, religious revivals like the Great Awakening, the abolition movement in Britain, the Enlightenment, the European socialist movement, and secular and modern culture in the West. Here is how he sums up the dynamics of change, even with the different relationships of the necessary elements of cultural change:
At every point of challenge and change, we find a rich source of patronage that provided resources for intellectuals and educators who, in the context of dense networks, imagine, theorize, and propagate an alternative culture. Often enough, alongside these elites are artists, poets, musicians, and the like who symbolize, narrate, and popularize this vision. New institutions are created that give form to that culture, enact it, and, in so doing, give tangible expression to it. Together, these overlapping networks of leaders and resources form a vibrant cultural economy that gives articulation, in multiple forms, and critical mass to the ideals and practices and goods of the alternative culture in ways that both defy yet still resonate with the existing social environment. (77-78)
Change can only occur when the leaders and networks of this alternative culture “challenge, penetrate, and redefine the status structure at the center of cultural life” either from the center of the culture or from a position outside the center. Political power is most effective when it “creates space” for the development of the alternative culture rather than when it “imposes a cultural agenda” (78).
As a history teacher, I really enjoyed this chapter as it gave a cultural interpretation of the events that I have listed above. I’m not going to go into depth on his explanations, but I’m going to include a short summary of some of the developments that he talks about:
The Christianization of Rome: While Christianity began very much in the cultural periphery of the Roman Empire, the ties of urban commerce and the Greek language aided the early church, as did the well-educated and well-born church fathers. Other wealthy Christians could also provide funds. Christians eventually began to produce culture that could not only defend itself but to be taken seriously as an alternative vision of its own and incorporated the Roman concept of education that trained the elite to be leaders (in the case of the church, bishops) but also declared themselves to be ‘lovers of the poor’ ” (55). Bishops became important leaders in the religious and legal lives of their cities.
The Christianization of European tribes: Monasteries cooperated with the new leaders of Europe to Christianize Europe and build on a Roman-Christian-Germanic culture on which laid the foundation of the Middle Ages.
The Carolingian Renaissance: Charlemagne and Frankish nobles cooperated with clergy (especially Alcuin, the leader of Charlemagne’s educational efforts) to improve scholarship and education in Charlemagne’s empire.
The Reformation: Following on the humanist revival of scholarship in the Renaissance, well-educated scholars like Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon, and Beza benefitted from the printing press, the wealth of cities, networks of scholars and merchants, and the protection of nobles as they enacted their reforms.
Great Awakening and British abolition: Well-known heroes like George Whitefield and William Wilberforce were part of networks of colleagues and supporters. Whitefield benefitted from the publishing industry and the transatlantic economy, as well as his and fellow leaders’ elite educations. Wilberforce’s England was a place where the Enlightenment language of freedom also supported the idea of abolition, in cooperation with the Whigs.
The Enlightenment: An parallel patronage network of salons, royal academies, and other societies produced a movement unconnected by patronage to the various churches but rather connected formally or informally to the governments of Europe. His summary of the change is too good not to quote:
At the time that John Locke died and Rousseau was born in the early years of the eighteenth century, it was unimaginable that Christendom would ever be diminished. Yet in less than a century, traditional Christian authority had either been overturned (as in France) or had been forever weakened. In this we see a cultural transformation of world historical significance. To see this only, or primarily, as an evolution in the history of ideas fails to grasp the nature and character of the change that took place. Rather the Enlightenment was a revolution generated by an alternative network of leaders, providing an alternative base of resources, oriented toward the development of an alternative cultural vision (a new anthropology, epistemology, ethics, sociality, and politics), established in part through alternative institutions, all operating at the elite centers of cultural formation. (75)
As I said, this chapter was really good and gave strong evidence for his theory of cultural transformation. At the same time, it would be interesting to read critiques as well, especially by historians who study these periods. It’s natural for his model to look airtight when he provides the narrative. But like I said, it was good.
One important point that he raises is patronage. All cultural products have to have some kind of patronage. In our economy, the most obvious patron is the consumer, which dictates to some extent the cultural products that are produced. But a deeper study of elite patronage in our culture would also be interesting. Wealthy benefactors are still around, universities allow for scholars to engage in research that produces books that few non-academics will ever read, and there are other examples of patronage outside of the market as well. It seems like understanding patronage is one key aspect in understanding culture.
Filed under: 18th and 19th Centuries, 18th Century, Early Church, Medieval Church, Modern Europe, Modern World, Post-Constantine Church, Reformation and Early Modern Europe | Tagged: abolition movement, Charlemagne, Christ and culture, early Christianity, Enlightenment, George Whitefield, James Davison Hunter, Middle Ages, Reformation | 2 Comments »
Mark Galli sets the record straight on the saying famously attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Galli doesn’t believe that St. Francis said it and reminds us that he was known for his preaching as well as his voluntary poverty. In fact, preaching is what the friars of the Middle Ages were supposed to do.
Here is Galli’s description of Francis’ preaching:
He began preaching early in his ministry, first in the Assisi church of Saint George, in which he had gone to school as a child, and later in the cathedral of Saint Rufinus. He usually preached on Sundays, spending Saturday evenings devoted to prayer and meditation reflecting on what he would say to the people the next day.
He soon took up itinerant ministry, sometimes preaching in up to five villages a day, often outdoors. In the country, Francis often spoke from a bale of straw or a granary doorway. In town, he would climb on a box or up steps in a public building. He preached to serfs and their families as well as to the landholders, to merchants, women, clerks, and priests—any who gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher from Assisi.
He apparently was a bit of a showman. He imitated the troubadours, employing poetry and word pictures to drive the message home. When he described the Nativity, listeners felt as if Mary was giving birth before their eyes; in rehearsing the crucifixion, the crowd (as did Francis) would shed tears.
Contrary to his current meek and mild image, Francis’s preaching was known for both his kindness and severity. One moment, he was friendly and cheerful—prancing about as if he were playing a fiddle on a stick, or breaking out in song in praise to God and his creation. Another moment, he would turn fierce: “He denounced evil whenever he found it,” wrote one early biographer, “and made no effort to palliate it; from him a life of sin met with outspoken rebuke, not support. He spoke with equal candor to great and small.”
Another early biography talked about how his preaching was received: “His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement.”As a result, he quickly gained followers, and it wasn’t long before he told his most devoted adherents to preach as well. In the fall of 1208, he sent the brothers out two by two to distant reaches. What did he tell them to say? In an early guide written during this period, Francis instructed his brothers to tell their listeners to “do penance, performing worthy fruits of penance, because we shall soon die … . Blessed are those who die in penance for they shall be in the kingdom of heaven. Woe to those who do not die in penance, for they shall be children of the devil whose works they do and they shall go into everlasting fire.”
This last quote raises questions about the content of Francis’ preaching. He was clearly a product of his age and his church. It’s hard to tell sometimes if “penance” for Francis meant something more akin to biblical repentance, or to the medieval version of “works righteousness” that the Reformers eventually and rightly condemned.
The point is this: Francis was a preacher. And the type of preacher who would alarm us today. “Hell, fire, brimstone” would not be an inaccurate description of his style.
I just used this famous (mis)quotation a couple weeks ago. Guess I won’t be doing that anymore.
Hat tip: Justin Taylor