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March 2011

More on the KJV

A nice summary of the development of the King James.  I like this paragraph:

When a representative committee drawn from all six companies met to approve the final text of the King James Version (KJV), they had original texts and earlier English translations in front of them but no proposed copy of the KJV. Instead, the text of the KJV was read to them. They heard it as parishioners would hear it in their parish churches.

And this:

But it was a translation of ancient religious documents made by a committee of all unlikely authors as part of a government project of all unlikely sponsors.

Tools for Thinking

David Brooks comments on a recent symposium that discussed some concepts which should be more widely known and used.  A very interesting column, and one I concur with.  As a philosopher, I know that some of these concepts do need a broader following.  I can think of a bunch of others as well -- e. g., I wish more people knew the basics of Foucaultian archaeology of ideas.

The Reformation: The Difference Between Liberty and Toleration

After the eloquent, poignant ending to Part II -- the Rene Descartes presentation -- there is a "coda" about the British legacy.  This is a fitting chapter because the British were not actively engaged in the Thirty Years War but had their own series of civil wars (he emphasizes the plural).  They also developed a middle way in between Protestantism and Catholicism.  And the result of their civil wars was a colonization of North America with lasting impact on world history.

 MacCulloch clearly admires Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes and their efforts to restore some catholic devotional and worship elements to the Church of England.  He writes that the cathedral tradition survived, uniquely for Protestantism, because of the great love of choral music.

The presentation of King James I is of a rather honourable, reasonable monarch.  On his homosexuality: "English noblemen resented the consequences of the King's homosexual affections, which as in the case of Henri III of France threatened to divert the normal sources of advancement and wealth at Court into the hands of male favourites who were not generally from the established political elite."

James is described as "a glutton for listening to sermons."

On Archbishop Laud's homosexuality: "He was also a lonely little man, confiding his erotic dreams about the Duke of Buckingham and others to his private diary.  Laud's homosexual leanings showed none of the extrovert cheerfulness of King James."

 I don't feel as if I've ever had an adequate grasp of the English civil war.  And I still don't.  I guess I'm going to have to read a history specifically about it.

During the wars and interregnum, Protestant denominations formed outside the established church, which was also unique to Protestantism.

Cromwell invited the Jews back to England in order to evangelize them, which was necessary, in his view for the end of time to occur.

 The church re-established after the war was more exclusive in doctrine than the church had been prior to.

Interesting, MacCulloch presents William III as the last successful military invasion of England.  Generally I've heard the view that you have to go all the way back to the Norman invasion.

He describes colonial Massachusetts as "possibly the most literate society then existing in the world."

I liked this distinction: "Toleration is a grudging concession granted by one body from a position of strength; liberty provides a situation in which all religious groups are competing on an equal basis."  America really contributed the latter.  Tell that to the right wing zealots in state legislatures.


The Reformation: Defenestration, Apocalypticism, and Divine Love

In the contest for hearts and minds in Germany, the Roman Catholic Church made great use of revaluing shrines and sacred places.  New glass technology made it easier to display relics, which continues to show how technology can affect something like religion.  The revaluing of the shrines was used to elicit anger against the Protestants for having mistreated the dead.

He continues the interesting history of the Transylvanian church.

A Puritan strain in the Transylvanian church elicited worry from the clerical establishment becuase it "would make religion an elitist matter, despising the bulk of Christians."  Good point.

The homosexuality of King Henri III of France is discussed and how it impacted his public personae and attempts to conciliate various sides.  Well-written section on the collapse of the Valois dynasty.

Francois de Sales and his associates attracted me.  A quote of his "We must hold it a sure truth that men do more for love and charity than under severity and rigour."  His attempts at reform "sprang from an urge to open up everyone to an intense personal experience of divine love." 

Reminders of my seminars on logic and metaphysics in the discusion of Molina and possible worlds.  This sets up Jansenism, which was one of those movements I knew very little about, so glad to know more about it.  Basically, it was the Catholic Protestant reform, emphasizing Bible reading, predestination, and an Augustinian view of sin, will, and grace.

MacCulloch posits that apocalypticism was a major component of the lead-up to the Thirty Year's War, particularly as various Protestants and their monarchs were looking for a King David to complete the work begun by Luther (the Moses figure).  He writes that the failures of various monarchs to fulfill the role resulted in a lessening of the aura of monarchy.

A great name for a religious scandal -- the "defenestration of Prague."  The Hussites cast some Habsburg representatives out the window onto a compost heap on May 23, 1618.  It was one of the episodes leading up to the war. 

The Utraquist Hussites are the only major European church to pass completely out of existence -- destroyed in the war.

In an interesting conclusion to Part II and the chapter on the Thirty Year's War, MacCulloch concludes with Rene Descartes and his critical, skeptical examination of certainty.

The Reformation: Catacombs, Triumphalist Architecture, Martyrs, Homoeroticism, and More

The Counter-Reformation was helped in re-shaping devotion through the discovery of the catacombs in Rome.  The Church now had strong evidence of being the ancient church, against the Protestant calls that they were returning to ancient forms.  In this period Roman Catholic architecture and art became triumphalist, partly to demonstrate the clear difference with the iconoclastic Protestants.  Though much later in time, I think about the prominence of Sacre Couer, the cathedral in St. Paul (and its proximity to the State Capitol), and even the cathedral here in Omaha.

A negative note in Italy was how much was side-lined.  Not only were there no vernacular Bibles for the laity (that wasn't true in other Catholic lands) but "much was marginalized which was not Protestant and represented the best of Italy's past culture: among the works that the Church ordered Italians not to read were Boccaccio's Decameron, the poetry of Petrarch and Ariosto, the writings of Castiglione on conduct and Machiavelli on politics."  MacCulloch contends that the Italian Counter-Reformation ended the Italian Renaissance.

 Archbishop Carlo Borromeo's  personal emblem was the "humilitas" crowned.

Borromeo's emphasis on self-discipline involved "an emaciated joylessness."

"Tridentine regulation in the style of Carlo Borromeo would always be a paradise for the authoritarian or the small-minded."

The carnivalesque parades and dramas of the Jesuits sound really interesting.  He says that their exhibitionism prefigured British and American revivalism.

Philip II -- still creepy.

Interesting musical tradition in Spain, the villancico, a carol, "full of humour, and featured characters on the picturesque margins of society such as gypsies, negresses or confidence tricksters, temporarily made unthreatening and comic in the service of God."

 MacCulloch contends that the Spanish Inquistion was actually less bloodthirsty that most of the other state in Europe.  England may have executed more people for religious purposes.

He also contends that Spain declined during the 17th century because so much money was being spent on the cult of the dead.

Beautiful sections on Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.  On the latter's homoeroticism: "This is possible for Juan because he sees the self as not an exclusive, bounded individual: the relationship of the bride is the relationship of all the creation of a good and loving God to its creator."  I do like that MacCulloch doesn't gloss over the homosexuality of some of the major characters in the story but treats it openly and fairly (the discussions of King James and Archbishop William Laud are great examples).

 In his good section on the Jesuit global mission, he makes an important point about the Japanese persecution of Christians, "The Japanese persecution is a standing argument against the old idea that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

The Reformation: Diaries, Executions, and 'The Fraction'

Part II of Diarmaid MacCulloch's The Reformation deals with the period from 1570-1619 as the divisions in Europe hardened and led to war.  I've already written about the first chapter of this section -- the aftermath of the Council of Trent, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and more.

In the rest of Part II he covers separately the Protestant north, the Catholic south, and the contested center before moving on to the Thirty Year's War.  I'm five chapters behind in my bloggins, but I'm not sure I'll take each one individually.  So, let's just start and see where this heads.  I'll try to point out the parts that interested me most, and not simply survey the historical details.

As the first generation of reformers had passed some time ago the divisions among the Protestants began to hardened.  Different groups vied for control of the legacy of Martin Luther -- there must always be conservatives and liberals.  One of those folk, Matthias Flacius Illyricus believed that in the Fall humanity's actual substance had changed and we became kinsfolk of the Devil!

Here is a theological dispute I was not aware of:

The Reformed laid great stress on a small moment of liturgical action that had safe biblical precedent in the narratives of Christ's institution of his Supper: the 'Fraction', when the minister solemnly broke the bread.  They regarded this as a symbol of Christ's benefits shared throughout the community.  Lutherans found this offensive, because of their conviction that Christ was corporeally present in the bread by the doctrine of ubiquity: they regarded a minister making the Fraction as carrying out a renewed human assault on Christ's body.

Wow!  I make the Fraction (though I've never realized the name) and do interpret its symbolism according to the above.  To think that in my practice of communion I may have been alienating those from a Lutheran tradition (though none have ever mentioned it) is surprising to me.

MacCulloch concludes that after all the internal Lutheran wrangling that the result of the 1580 Book of Concord was a church that looked roughly like the late medieval church in the north had always looked.  Well.

Various rulers and locales that had tried to maintain a more pluralistic or middle road through all the reforms were now finding it more difficult not to stake a position in one of the various camps that had developed.

Another result of this period was that whenever a ruler now tried to change the religion in his/her territory, force was required.  Which is a sign that the various religious devotions had become significant to the populace.  One can sense the emergence of individual liberty in all this.

One state that remained pluralistic through all this period was Poland-Lithuania, which at one point had thirty-four different religous sects, a startling number.  Given how much Poland is now viewed as a Catholic heartland, this surprised me.  But MacCulloch states that the organization and "resorvoir of traditional religious practice" benefited the Roman Catholics in the face of such pluralism among the reformed sects.  A single organized reformed church might have fared better.

Found a theological forefather in the Utrecht pastor Hubert Duifhuis who "gave full Church membership to anyone who applied without enquiring into their doctrines, and communion was open to all who chose to come to his church."  Yay!  But the conservative Calvinism of the Dutch would eventually overwhelm most of the more open and liberal groups (as is seen in the Arminian controversy, a fascinating section on it, the best I've ever read).

One historian has decribed the Netherlands in this period as "a multiplication of intolerances and fanaticisms."

Scottish reformers originally banned Christmas.

Unlike other reformations, Scotland didn't get a vernacular Bible (in Gaelic) until 1801.

Queen Elizabeth would interrupt sermons that annoyed her.

MacCulloch presents the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, as parliamentary pressure on Elizabeth.  He does not agonize over it but clearly defends it because Mary was guilty.  The result was important because it was an "ideological assertion of Reformation against dynastic legitimacy" and "monarchy was too important a matter to be left to monarchs."

Interesting note:

The funeral of the great Protestant warrior-poet, the Earl of Leicester's nephew Sir Philip Sidney, who died heroically on 5 November 1586 in the Netherlands fighting the Spaniards, may have been deliberately delayed until February 1587 in order to provide a ceremonial counterpoint to Mary's death and show what a true and godly martyr was like -- the Sidney funeral was held eight days after the execution, and made a great popular impression.

Part of what is interesting in his treatment of the execution is how little time he spends on it.

 Modern diary writing emerged as a Puritan practice around 1600: "these were journals intended to examine oneself for proofs of genuine election by God."  Well, we've come a long way since then to the contemporary blog and twitter.