Thursday, October 30, 2003

Impossible Something

I've been a bit of a hermit lately anyway, and probably not very sociable. Aside from work, the only person I hang out with is my pal Anders.
I've eased up on the religious fervour, too. It's too complicated to go into, but I'll just say that I doubt very much if Christians have a monopoly on Eternal Salvation. I just follow the voices in my head, so to speak, and now they're telling me to play Animal Crossing every day.
Yes, a monk's habit! Maybe not so appropriate anymore, however. Where do you buy those things anyway? You know, when I would go and visit Steve and Antoinette - get off at Punchbowl station and walk to their place at Greenacre, I'd walk past this monastery. I'd always stare hard at it, all around and see if I could see any of those monks, but I never did.
A weird thing happened tonight - this cute Asian girl from next door asked me to help her out because she had locked herself out. I had to cross over to her balcony from my balcony - putting myself in danger one storey above the ground. Then I had to open her window to unlock the door but I needed a milk crate to stand on, so I asked her to get one from my kitchen, where I keep empty bottles - she kept saying she couldn't find it, so I had to get back across the balcony and get it, then get back over to her balcony. It was crazy, man. She said "Oh! My place is messy!" I felt like saying "Don't worry about that my dear, just pray that I don't fall and break my damn neck!" So, I got in and unlocked her place and it was a happy ending. She's moving out, she told me. Well, I thought, there she goes... In this kind of circumstance I have a fantasy where she says "Please stay for a coffee! I like you a lot!" or some equally impossible something, but that never happens. That's just my fantasy.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Monopoly of Faith

As I wrote about in a recent post (see *First Millenium Popes* below, October 7), the popes around the end of the first millenium were miserably corrupt. Fat cats in purple robes studded with blinding arrays of priceless gems, rolling around shag pile rugs with the finest foods oozing from their piggish jaws, in ecstasies of gluttony. They told the masses that it was only through them and their secret knowledge and intimacy with God that the common *bogmen* had any chance of entering the pearly gates of Heaven. Their immensely bloated bulks moved laboriously through the masses, demanding money from the sick and near-death, the extreme poor, that they may purchase their way into paradise; a sure escape from this miserable earthly existence.
It was in these times, around 1378, that a man named John Wycliffe challenged the popes and the Church’s authority with the simple, but explosive, assertion that no bishop, no clergyman and no pope had the power to save a man’s soul, or to grant the keys to Heaven. The Church – these popes and their hierarchy – had the monopoly on Salvation and it was only through them that one could be saved. The Bible was only known in Latin, and only the fat cats of the Church knew Latin and thus had a monopoly on the Word of God, and indeed Christ’s Word. Wycliffe wanted to translate the Bible into English so that the common man could read it, and this posed the greatest threat to the fat cats of the Church because this would essentially strip the power from them: “The Church had no desire to share the secrets of its trade. Its monopoly of faith was bolstered by its near monopoly of Latin. The common people were dependent on the clergy to interpret the gospel for them, and the Church feared that an English version would reduce its prestige and open its dogmas to question.” ...
“Wycliffe died of a stroke at Lutterworth on New Year’s Eve, 1384, some eight years before the translation of the Vulgate into the English dialect of the Midlands was completed. Although it was largely the work of his followers, he was its inspiration, and its rendering from dusty Latin into vivid prose gave the English their first direct contact with the word of God in their own language” ...
“The impact of the translated Scripture was strong and immediate. It was said that a man would give a cartload of hay for a few handwritten pages of St Paul, and the Church took vigorous steps to suppress both the English Bible and Wycliffe’s following.” ...
"Fresh translations, and the use of any made “in the times of John Wyclif or since”, were forbidden in 1407. Wycliffe’s translation made the Scriptures the “property of the masses,” noted Knighton, a leading observer of the day, and the Bible was now “more open to the laity, and even to women who were able to read, than formerly it had been even to the scholarly and most learned of the clergy.” Knighton did not find this admirable. To him it meant that “the Gospel pearl is thrown before swine and trodden underfoot . . . and become a joke, and this precious gem of the clergy has been turned into the sport of the laity. . . “

[quotes from *The Faith: A History of Christianity* by Brian Moynahan (Pimlico, 2003)]

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Stations of the Cross

I've heard this term *Stations of the Cross* now and again, that it was something Catholics did, and I'd wonder what it meant. Well, tonight while reading about St Francis of Assisi (the Franciscans made popular the Stations of the Cross) I finally found out what it means:
"Pilgrims in Jerusalem had long followed Christ's final journey from Pilate's house to Calvary, pausing to pray at the site, or Station, of each incident of the Passion. The Franciscans devised a devotion based on pictures or carvings of the incidents, which, arranged on the walls of churches, enabled congregations to reflect and pray at each Station. This has been followed during Lent and Passiontide from medieval times, although the final choice of fourteen Stations was not made until the nineteenth century. They are: Christ's condemnation to death; his weighing down with the cross; his first fall; his meeting with his mother; the bearing of the cross by Simon of Cyrene; the mopping of Christ's face by Veronica; his second fall; his meeting with the women of Jerusalem; his third fall; the stripping of his garments; the nailing to the cross; his death on the cross; the taking down of his body from the cross; and the laying of his body in the tomb."
- from *The Faith: A History of Christianity* by Brian Moynahan

Natural Born Inquisitor
That was interesting to me, but this chapter is even more fascinating because it illustrates both the compassion and cruelty that can exist in *people of faith*.
St Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzman both created an order of friars in the early 1200s (the Franciscans and the Dominicans). They both believed in absolute poverty. Their friars walked in the world begging for alms rather than remain cloistered in the contemplative tranquility of a monastery. "Neither man spared himself; they died within five years of each other, and both were swiftly canonised". However these two men were polar opposites; Francis was compassionate and devoted his life to helping lepers (who at that time were utterly shunned and outcast); Dominic was the cruel hunter and torturer of heretics; a "natural born inquisitor".

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Papal Depravity

Tonight I've been reading about the madness and degeneracy of a series of popes around the end of the first millenium. This was a period of papal depravity and fear of the apocalypse, and these popes came from leading Roman families; a completely corrupt system where one is made pope through his father's bribery, and another abdicates in favour of his godfather in return for a large cash sum and inflated pension. Anyway, here's an example:
"Stephen VI, elected in 896, was insane. He dug up the corpse of his predecessor Formosus, dressed it in full pontificals, placed it on the Lateran throne, and personally interrogated it at the so-called Cadaveric Synod. Stephen charged Formosus with fraud in being elected pope while still holding another bishopric; a teenage deacon, chattering with fear, replied on behalf of the deceased. The corpse was duly found guilty. Stripped of all but a hair shirt, the two fingers with which it had administered apostolic blessings lopped off, it was flung into the Tiber. The body was recovered from the river by admirers and quietly reburied. Stephen was deposed by a Roman mob and strangled in prison in 897. There were six popes in the next eight years. The last of them, Sergius III, having murdered his immediate predecessor, had the unfortunate Formosus exhumed again. This time the corpse was beheaded and three more fingers were removed. Fishermen caught it in their nets, and it was finally laid to rest in St Peter's."
+++ The Faith: A History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan (Pimlico 2003)