Posted by: ken98 | March 8, 2010

Worship of Body Parts and Dead Men Do Tell Tales

Day 178 – Ken here (M)(3-8-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.27, pp.90-100)(pages read: 1190)

Lots of good reading material here today… Beautiful, but cloudy day outside – and a little text to get through here. Feeling a little better, but tired – but hey – at least the old neurons are still firing – reading 18th century prose about 5th century history in the early 21st. All in all, not a bad deal…

We end chapter 28 with a long and interesting Gibbon thesis: that the worship of dead bodies (Christian martyrs and saints) represented ultimately, the triumph of Paganism and Polytheism over Christianity (the conquered conquer the conqueror – an old story). This is, of course, straight from the polemics of the Reformation – the strong reaction against the worship of saints – but it is an interesting take on the rise of saint worship and the strange stories of how saints became “powerful” in the 300’s even among such famously literate and educated men as Augustine (and his relations of the miracles performed by the pieces of the body of St. Stephen in North Africa).

Chapter 29 begins the long and sordid tale of decline. Two very young emperors take over for Theodosius – his sons Arcadius (19 years old) and Honorius (only 11). How long can a poverty-stricken, besieged-by-barbarians, divided empire last under two teenagers, who will be ruled by necessity by regents and bureaucrats? Answer: about a year or two. Its January 17, 395, the Western empire is about to dissolve in a year – well five, ten years tops (by 401, Italy, defended by the barbarian Stilicho, will be threatened by the barbarian Alaric – Rome will be besieged in earnest in 407).

so onto Gibbon…

The Story
 
Worship of Dead Bodies – Martyr-mania in the 300’s

  • Reaction of Pagans to worship of pieces of martyrs bodies (ex, Eunapius) – worship of dead bodies goes against every conceivable prejudice of the pagan mind – dead bodies were dirty and un-clean in the most fundamental spiritual sense. Besides, often these martyrs were the convicted criminals of a legal Roman trial and as such seemed even more crude to educated men like Libanius – worshiping filthy dead remains of criminals – like cutting off the fried hands of an electrocuted death row inmate and placing them on the altar of a church
  • Gibbon gives various examples (Samuel the Judge, St.Andrew, St.Luke, etc) where the remains were “discovered” centuries, if not millenia after their death – and leaves it (mostly) to the imagination of his readers to determine the authenticity of the “found” human remains
  • Gibbon gives various examples of miracles and the miraculous associated with found body parts – see below for details – ex. St. Stephen
  •  
    Gibbon on What does Martyr-Worship Mean? Revival of Polytheism

  • Gibbon proclaims the time-honored thesis (of the Protestants) that worship of saints is a form of polytheism – that this new hierarchy of spiritual “power” inserted between God and man (the saints) represents the victory of worship of many gods over the worship of the One God. This point was actually NOT LOST on the early Muslim invaders of Christian Roman lands later on in the Arabic Invasions of the 600’s
  • Gibbons calls it the “delegated power of their subordinate ministry” – what better phrase to describe lesser Gods? The trinity is difficult enough to dis-entangle (getting 3 gods out of 1), once you’ve accepted that, its easier to get at thousands of new “god-lets” interceding before God on your behalf for very specific causes/areas of expertise
  •  
    Chapter 29 – Final Division of Roman Empire – Arcadius, Honorius – Sons of Theodosius Take Over at 19 and 11 years old – DISASTER for EMPIRE

  • Arcadius (EAST 19 years old) and Honorius (WEST 11 years old) (sons of Theodosius, inheriting the empire on Theod. natural and untimely death, mark the beginning of the final total division of the empire into East and West
  • Gibbon briefly gives an account of their respective characters – but how much is there to say about 2 teenagers?
  • Besides, we only have 5 years before all hell breaks loose in the West – it is a time of vultures and picking over the Roman corpse, not a time of renewal and expansion – Rome is exhausted and hollow and doomed to fall before the inheritors of Europe – the barbarian kingdoms that will become in a few millenia Modern Europe
  •  
    The Corruption of the Empire – The Blood-stained Career of the Minister Rufinus

  • This is a time of regents and corrupt high bureaucrats – Rufinus is given as an example of a man who looks out for his own career withing the increasingly Byzantine, inner-centered bureaucracy at the expense of the empire as a whole.
  •  

     
    Gibbon on Monks Again – Beasts not Even Men
    &nbps;
    Gibbon is helpless not to comment on monasteries and monks

    Here he summarizes Eunapius talking about the worship of martyrs, and describing the communities of monks who promote the worship of martyr’s remains:

    They relate in solemn and pathetic strains; that the temples were converted into sepulchres, and that the holy places, which had been adorned by the statues of the gods, were basely polluted by the relics of Christian martyrs. “The monks” (a race of filthy animals, to whom; Eunapius is tempted to refuse the name of men) “are the authors of the new worship, which, in. the place of those deities who are conceived by the understanding, has substituted the meanest and most contemptible slaves. The heads, salted and pickled, of those infamous malefactors, who for the multitude of their crimes have suffered a just and ignominious death; their bodies, still marked by the impression of the lash and the scars of those tortures which were inflicted by the sentence of the magistrate; such” (continues Eunapius) “are the gods which the earth produces in our days; such are the martyrs, the supreme arbitrators of our prayers and petitions to the Deity, whose tombs are now consecrated as the objects of the veneration of the people.

    (DEF II, v.3, p.90)

     
     
     

    Icon of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr.  Stephen's remains were uncovered near Jerusalem by a village priest 400 years after his death, guided by a dream the priest had.  Pieces of the uncovered remains made their way to North Africa, where they became an integral proof of the power of Christianity, miracles performed by the pieces of Stephen in North Africa were included in St. Augustine's City of God.  Kind of makes you think, doesnt it

    Icon of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr. Stephen's remains were uncovered near Jerusalem by a village priest 400 years after his death, guided by a dream the priest had. Pieces of the uncovered remains made their way to North Africa, where they became an integral proof of the power of Christianity, miracles performed by the pieces of Stephen in North Africa were included in St. Augustine's City of God. Kind of makes you think, doesnt it


     
     
    Gibbon’s Theses – Against Worship of Dead Men and Saints
     
     
    The Strange Story of how the remains of Saint Stephen were Discovered
     
    Augustine (Saint Augustine of Hippo) had great faith in the miracles performed by the remains of Saint Stephen that made their way from an obscure burial site about 20 miles from Jerusalem to Libya. Sometimes, I think its better NOT TO KNOW the particulars of how these things came to be sometimes, because it all seems miraculously IMPROBABLE. The bones of Samuel are found by the promptings of a dream to a lowly priest (Lucian) who digs up the bodies, finding them all after 400 years neatly arranged in an obscure field near his residence. During exhumation and afterwards, continuous miracles take place, authenticating Lucian’s dream. These miracles affirm Augustine’s faith later. It kind of degrades my experience now of Augustine’s City of God – how can you take it as seriously when you see the partial basis of his faith? – the basis for his logical conclusions? the connections his reasoning require to be convinced of a truth? I suppose it doesn’t entirely discount it, but it certainly makes it less valid to me at least.

    This from Gibbon:

    First the footnote:

    Note 077
    Lucian composed in Greek his original narrative, which has been translated by Avitus, and published by Baronius (Annal. Eccles. A.D. 415 No. 7-16). The Benedictine editors of St. Augustin have given (at the end of the work De Civitate Dei) two several copies, with many various readings. It is the character of falsehood to be loose and inconsistent. The most incredible parts of the legend are smoothed and softened by Tillemont (Mem. Eccles. tom. ii. p. 9, etc.).

    Now the text of Gibbon describing the Finding Of Stephen

    But the progress of superstition would have been much less rapid and victorious if the faith of the people had not been assisted by the seasonable aid of visions and miracles to ascertain the authenticity and virtue of the most suspicious relics.

    In the reign of the younger Theodosius, Lucian,(77) a presbyter of Jerusalem, and the ecclesiastical minister of the village of Caphargamala, about twenty miles from the city, related a very singular dream, which, to remove his doubts, had been repeated on three successive Saturdays. A venerable figure stood before him, in the silence of the night, with a long beard, a white robe, and a gold rod; announced himself by the name of Gamaliel; and revealed to the astonished presbyter, that his own corpse, with the bodies of his son Abibas, his friend Nicodemus, and the illustrious Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, were secretly buried in the adjacent field. He added, with some impatience, that it was time to release himself and his companions from their obscure prison; that their appearance would be salutary to a distressed world; and that they had made choice of Lucian to inform the bishop of Jerusalem of their situation and their wishes.

    The doubts and difficulties which still retarded this important discovery were successively removed by new visions; and the ground was opened by the bishop in the presence of an innumerable multitude; The coffins of Gamaliel, of his son, and of his friend, were found in regular order; but when the fourth coffin, which contained the remains of Stephen, was shown to the light, the earth trembled, and an odour such as that of Paradise was smelt, which instantly cured the various diseases of seventy-three of the assistants.

    The companions of Stephen were left in their peaceful residence of Caphargamala; but the relics of the first martyr were transported, in solemn procession, to a church constructed in their honour on Mount Sion; and the minute particles of those relics, a drop of blood, or the scrapings of a bone, were acknowledged, in almost every province of the Roman world, to possess a divine and miraculous virtue.

    The grave and learned Augustin, whose understanding scarcely admits the excuse of credulity, has attested the innumerable prodigies which were performed in Africa by the relics of St. Stephen; and this marvellous narrative is inserted in the elaborate work of the City of God, which the bishop of Hippo designed as a solid and immortal proof of the truth of Christianity. Augustin solemnly declares that he has selected those miracles only which were publicly certified by the persons who were either the objects, or the spectators, of the power of the martyr. Many prodigies were omitted or forgotten; and Hippo had been less favourably treated than the other cities of the province. And yet the bishop enumerates above seventy miracles, of which three were resurrections from the dead, in the space of two years, and within the limits of his own diocese

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.28, pp.92-93, fn.77)

    French Baroque painting of Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne (1600's).  Augustine relied on the miracles performed by the remains of St. Stephen in N. Africa to bolster his faith, however the circumstances of the finding of the relics (inserted into Augustine's own very famous book Civitatis Dei (City of God) makes the entire exercise somewhat doubtful

    French Baroque painting of Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne (1600's). Augustine relied on the miracles performed by the remains of St. Stephen in N. Africa to bolster his faith, however the circumstances of the finding of the relics (inserted into Augustine's own very famous book Civitatis Dei (City of God) makes the entire exercise somewhat doubtful

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    Stained Glass Window of Saint Martin of Tours and the Beggar, Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, England.  Martin, a saint himself, once discovered a fake saint being worshiped through conversations with a dead man

    Stained Glass Window of Saint Martin of Tours and the Beggar, Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, England. Martin, a saint himself, once discovered a fake saint being worshiped through conversations with a dead man

    Last Word…

     
    The Different Standards of Evidence in History – Confessions of a man already Dead Holds up in “Court”

    The use of dead bodies as a source of spiritual power and their worship brings up (naturally) the fundamental issue of legitimacy: are these really the remains of a saint/martyr or are they fakes? The evidence in the 300’s could be just as miraculous as the miracles themselves – even when the miraculous evidence points out that the remains being worshiped are FAKES! St. Martin of Tours was investigating the miracles of a possible spurious saint – and found out they WERE fake – by the admission of a dead man, who miraculously spoke (from the mouth of his corpse) and explained the truth.

    This from Gibbon:

    The satisfactory experience that the relics of saints were more valuable than gold or precious stones stimulated the clergy to multiply the treasures of the church. Without much regard for truth or probability, they invented names for skeletons, and actions for names. The fame of the apostles, and of the holy men who had imitated their virtues, was darkened by religious fiction.

    To the invincible band of genuine and primitive martyrs they added myriads of imaginary heroes, who had never existed, except in the fancy of crafty or credulous legendaries; and there is reason to suspect that Tours might not be the only diocese in which the bones of a malefactor were adored instead of those of a saint.(76)

    A superstitious practice, which tended to increase the temptations of fraud and credulity, insensibly extinguished the light of history and of reason in the Christian world.

    and this from the footnote:

    Note 076
    Martin of Tours (see his Life, c. 8, by Sulpicius Severus) extorted this confession from the mouth of the dead man. The error is allowed to be natural; the discovery is supposed to be miraculous. Which of the two was likely to happen most frequently?

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.28, fn.76)

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