Saturday, June 30, 2012

Healer or Devil's dealer?

There are activities and parts of human life which are associated with the devil (the irony is that usually these are the things that make us human), small vices like gluttony, or activities like art, music, culture, curiosity for knowledge, in other words the small things that make life worth living. This considered the comment that a true poet is of the devil's party. But medicine and doctors are usually not on that list od lovelly vices but according to Titian they are.
According to Titian daemons use medicine to deceive us and veil the true origin of illness. They [daemons] make people become ill, and when the doctor starts working on the patient the daemons leave his body. Thus making people believe that the doctors magic is responsible for the cure. In other words the best doctor is the closest to daemons.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Evil is like holes in cheese

If there is anything I will forever remember and take away from JBR's epic work is the brilliant analogy that Good and Bad is like Swiss cheese. This is one of the most colourful and imaginative explanations of evil through via negativa - evil as the absence of good.
"Christian theologians would argue that evil is non being, literally nothing, no thing, a mere lack of goodness. Evil exists in the cosmos like holes in a Swiss cheese: the holes are there but they are there only as non cheese and have no existence apart from cheese As one cannot eat a cheese and discard the holes into a box, one cannot remove good and put evil into another category. Evil is merely the absence of good." (JBR, The Devil 1977:205)

If the analogy is transferred on to God and Devil it sounds something like this:
 God is the slab of Swiss cheese, the holes are the absence of God within God and are the Devil.
This really sums up the problem of the devil, evil and dualism in Christianity. By asserting that God is wholly Good there must be an explanation for evil - hence the Devil appears, so the evil is separate from God, yet everything comes from god and thus evil(Devil) should be from God - like Swiss cheese and its holes.

Cheesus - God of cheese



Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The origins of the Devil or the grave of monotheism

Blabbering inspired by 'The Devil' by Jeffrey Burton Russell:
From movie 'Legend'
If I think about the devil the first things that come to mind are contemporary movies, literature (Inferno, Faust, Master and Margarita, Paradise Lost) and Medieval Art. If I am asked for his origins I would have to stop for a second before saying New Testament and then think hard if there is a devil or a devil like figure in the Old Testament to remember Satan in the Book of Job. As for ancient polytheistic faiths, they usually have rulers of the underworld but such divinities were not The Devil per se. But then so isn’t Satan in Job, if anything he resembles God’s pub buddy with whom God makes a drunken bet. Its far later that we come to the sinister Devil, and the devil found in contemporary popular culture has close to nothing to do with the Bible. So how does the devil come in to being?  

In short and liberally paraphrasing J.B. Russell’s (JBR) argument: we created him because we could not come to terms with god being Good and Evil at the same time (from my point of view this is a testimony to human egoism and self-righteousness, after all we created god in our image or he created us in his, either way if God is Good and Evil it makes humans Good and Evil, and for some reasons we find it hard to come to terms with the darker side of our nature).

JBR argues that the Devil is a personification of Evil then traces how evil became personified. It’s a fascinating story how polytheistic faiths and Judaism at its earliest stages could deal with the idea that god is good and bad in Isaiah 45:7 God proclaims that he created both Good and Evil:

I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things.

Yet as a religion developed there raised a need to explain evil and usually part of the explanation was differentiating it from God. It happened in the early Near Eastern religions, it happened in Egypt, and Greece, and Judaism. Reading thought JBR’s account is like watching trees lose their leaves in autumn. It happens so gradually that you don’t notice until one day you wake up and the trees stand in the nude.
Dualistic thinking comes gradually; slowly grey is divided in to white and black, a human into flesh and spirit. First God is both: good and bad, then there is an angel/god/semi-god/god’s minion who does his dirty work (for some reason I always think of Matt Damon in Dogma) and before you know it you have two opposing powers.
What I personally find interesting is how Christianity allows the devil to exist, because it is in the Devil that it finds its end. When the Devil was created a grave was dug up for every monotheistic faith. If the Christian God is wholly Good and the Devil is wholly Bad it puts God and the Devil as different sides of the same coin meaning that it ceases to be monotheistic and becomes dualistic. It is not only one God but God and Devil and this is the end of monotheism.
And now I cannot wait to get my hands on theological works to see elaborate arguments filled with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ that try to keep Christianity monotheistic while proclaiming the reality of the Devil. Any suggestions where to start?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Super Epic Cathedral Trip day 4 (last day)

The schedule for the last day was simple: Ely then London, unfortunately Cambridge and Canterbury had to be taken of the list of attractions for the simple reason of time and distance. We needed to be in London by 4 at the latest to give the car back, but we wanted to make it to Euston (the car drop off stop) by 1-3.
We were very lucky with the opening hours at Ely the cathedral was open from 7 till 8 or 9. We wanted to be there at the earliest possible time, yet with the journey taking around 2 hours it was decided that we do not torture ourselves by raising at 5am but rather sleep until 6am to arrive to Ely at around 8am.

The road to Ely was cold, miserable, and foggy, with white noise coming from the radio (again) but none of that really bothered me as I was finally going to see the great octagonal tower over the crossing of the cathedral.

The Cathedral was seen from a far distance, even before we entered Ely we could make out the silhouette of the cathedral through the fog, towering over the city. Of course the details came in to view only when we were right next to it.
I have to say that the exterior resembled a mixture of Lincoln and York. With niches and carvings similar to those in Lincoln

And gargoyles here and there like in York

On the road to Ely in one of the guide books I read that the furnishing of the cathedral is simple. It was a lie, unless by furnishing they called actual furniture because very few cathedrals have interiors as lavish as Ely Cathedral.

This column is reminescent of thouse at Durham
Though the painted wooden ceiling of the main nave is a 19th century addition the cathedral does boast some impressive 13-15 century vaulting.

the thing in the middle is dangling down like a drop

Now looking back at my notes on Ely made when I was there I came across this:
"Has the charm of Durham, the grace of York, and the size of Lincoln" in other words it is the perfect hybrid.
It also turns out that rising early is beneficial as the cathedral starts taking entry fee at 9-10 which we did not have to pay. After spending a couple of hours in the cathedral hunger overcame curiosity and it was time for breakfast which we ended up sharing with the ducks.

Ely was the last stop and from there it was a hop and a skip to London and an hour in traffic in London.
Looking back on the trip it was one of the best things I ever did. No matter how much you read about cathedrals, how thorough is your research you have to see them. An hour in the Cathedral is more informative than days of reading. For example Durham turned out to be stubbier than I thought, York far bigger than imagined, the octagonal tower in Ely shorter and wider than expected.
I also realized just how hard it is to write about a cathedral. They are overwhelming, you do not know from where to approach it and to sift through the layers of history and additions is a mission impossible.
Well one trip is done but there are still plenty of cathedrals to see in Britain!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Super Epic Cathedral Trip day 3 part 2

From York it was a tedious journey to Lincoln the road took around 3 hours with nothing but fields and occasional villages, though we had the beautiful scenery to look at the radio spluttered out only white noise and occasionally dubstep which to be frank I cannot tell apart. But it was a small price to pay to see Lincoln.

Lincoln can be seen from far away mostly because of its massive size, yet after just seeing York it looked fairly small, but then everything will look small after York.
 Already at the entrance we encountered some great 12th century carvings, my favorite was the Adam and Eve image.

Adam and Eve shown in the process of eating the forbidden fruit. Notice how the snakes are used to cover their genitalia.  

Inside it gets only better. The vaulting are diverse and a pleasure to examine.
Panorama view of the cathedral: center - East End, right- South transept, left - North transept, far right and left - Western part of the nave. (notice how different are the patterns on the ceilings)

The crossing
A nifty plan that shows how everything fits together. 
I have to admit that the church had fewer hidden weird carvings than York yet it did have some cool patterned decorations similar to those in Durham. Like the flowered screen behind me on the picture below.

Having said that you do get interesting bits and pieces. Like the small head bellow which I found interesting because of the veiled mouth rather than veiled eyes which was more typical.

And of course the Lincoln Imp (mentioned in the previous post) was a joy to the eye.

I also found the contemporary addition to St Hugh's shrine interesting. The contemporary metal work is shaped like a swan in the memory of St Hugh's swan. A swan imprinted on St Hugh and became his loyal companion and bodyguard as he would not allow anyone too close to his master. Apparently St Hugh's assistant hated the viscous animal. 

I was also looking forward to seeing the shrine to Little Hugh (never to be mistaken with St Hugh) which is a testament to medieval anti-Judaic feelings which were especially extreme on the east coast of England. Little Hugh belongs to the medieval boy martyr cults. The story goes that in the middle of the 13th century (keep in mind that Jews were expelled from Britain in 1290) a boy named Hugh disappeared and his body was found a few months later. The local Jews were blamed and some confessed under torture (most people would confess to anything under torture). After this some 90 Jews were murdered. A cult appeared centered around little Hugh and thought he was often labeled a Saint he was never actually canonized by the church.
    Today the shrine is just two slabs of marble yet before it was lavishly decorated.

Also a gem of the cathedral are the 15th century misericords which I did not get to see as they were closed of. And after hearing a story from our tour guide about how one curious lady broke one to pieces I decided not to even ask to see them.

It was sad to leave Lincoln yet the schedule was tight. the trip from Lincoln to Norwich was over three hours long. We were leaving Lincoln around 3-4 and we had to make it to Norwich before 7, we were lucky that the Cathedral was holding an evening service and only because of that staying open for the tourists as well.

Norwich was the smaller of the Cathedrals visited that day with its main attraction being the fan vaulting of the nave.

Also it was interesting to find out that the copper baptism font (at the bottom of the above picture) was used at a Norwich chocolate factory (how they used it I had no idea). It was at the font that our tour had to finish and we joined the congregation for the evening service. Which was a much welcome break after a day of travelling and over excitement. It was also the first time in two days that I heard music rather than white sound.
By the time we left the Cathedral it was 8 and thus too late to travel on to Ely so the night was spent in Norwich and the plan for next day was Ely and then London ( Cambridge and Canterbury had to be cut from the program).