Tuesday, August 23, 2005

rood and doom


Last night, I read the introduction and made about halfway through the first chapter on the Old Church. I was excited how he laid out the book -- that this was about ideas, about a people whose God included the name Word and who took words quite seriously, that this won't be a mere recitation of facts and Names (with a Capital N). The Reformation is the faultline in western Christianity, and we're going to climb all over it, baby.

A few quick points.

1) Rood and Doom -- In the pre-Reformation Church, art at the altar embodied the crucified Christ (Grunewald's Altar Painting, Isenheim) and the Last Judgment (Michelangelo's Altar Painting, Sistine Chapel) -- both of these paintings underscore these concepts. Certainly a contemporary connection to Gibson's The Passion and the Left Behind books. Not the risen Christ, but the suffering Christ. Not the "store up your treasures in heaven" Gospel, but the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" Gospel.

2) Salvation was always in play. One's mortal soul was always in danger. Getting out of Purgatory was serious business, particularly in the North (where Luther and his ideas later did well). There is a fascination with the dead similar to Mormonism in praying for the dead person's release from purgatory, leading to a commercial system to provide prayers after one's death.

3) We watch. I've heard before that the laity rarely took communion directly -- once a year or so, and then only taking the bread. He says that it was the power of the Mass that gave power to the Pope and the Church to control Christians across cultural and national boundaries.

4) Latin and bureaucracy -- a great language to categorize and sort and codify rules, but also a universal tool to promote a counter message by religious revolutionaries that cut through the language barrier (A great mistake that I never studied Latin).

I read some comments recently while looking into one of the blogs devoted to the current Anglican culture war. Yes, I think we will recognize some of the spirit of this age in reviewing the Reformation.

Did the reformation limit us? Sure. It codified certain distinct doctrinal emphases that could have co-existed perhaps, certainly it helped harden approaches. Four hundred years later, some of these distinctions have worn down.

But it also had a multiplying effect. The release from tradition, from consensus has had consequences. Definitions of purity (on the protestant side) created an almost continual amoeba like division -- you're wrong on doctrine x,y, z so I will join others in a new group that has the correct understanding of x,y, and z. And so we see continual division for four hundred years by groups rejecting its original groups. I'm told that it drives Missouri Synod Lutherans crazy that Wisconsin Synod Lutherans reject them.

The Reformation also gave western Europeans the means to criticize, to question the most essential truths of the day. That is the pandora's box, isn't it.

About that "light reading"... the hardback version is heavy.

Your friend in Indianapolis,



M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) said...

I just got back from England, too (visiting family) and am facing the same weather shock you felt when you returned to hot and muggy Indiana to face your garden. My sister and her family (devout Catholics, I'm lapsed) visited Italy, Germany, and France for four weeks and her three oldest children stayed to attend World Youth Day. (You can visit their blog "Pilgrim Age" here, http://pilgrim-age.blogspot.com/).

As a result of reading about their experiences and their reactions to the Pope, I've thought a lot lately about faith and reason. I am disturbed by the Pope's call for a war on secularism because I see it as an invitation to replace each person's equal treatment under the law to a religious test. So few people in this country seem to understand the desire for freedom from religious persecution of our founders, rooted in the Reformation and the English Civil War. As long as they form part of the religious majority, they don't see any problem with persecution of the minority.

So I'm enjoying very much your discussion of this book. However, I'm not sure that I understand what you meant by "The Reformation also gave western Europeans the means to criticize, to question the most essential truths of the day. That is the pandora's box, isn't it." I'd argue that the current movement to shut the door to reasonable discussion, to any question or dissent, is what will unleash evil on the world. I'm in no hurry to return to pre-Reformation days.

Don said...

First -- welcome back. Sounds like you had a great trip. This is truly the sad time of the year to be a gardener. Hopefully, cool temps, softer, more moist soil, and less mesquitoes are around the corner.

Second, I written a too long replay. I'll put in as a post. I am glad you are joining in the discussion.