Posted by: ken98 | May 7, 2010

Pious Claptrap, Political Posturing, and Silly History

Day 238 – Ken here (F)(5-7-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.37 pp.430-440)(pages read: 1530)

We’re continuing chapter 37 with more on the conversion of the barbarian nations, the methods of conversion, the moral effects of the conversion, and a long discussion of the African Church under the Vandals (who were Arian). Actually, there is hardly any meat, no bone, and all fat today. Almost the entire 10 pages speak more to Gibbon’s experience of the culture of the British Protestant Enlightenment than to any ancient history. So this will be a short day.

Gibbon always goes schizophrenic when he discusses Christianity. So I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. I just don’t like being taken for a fool. I’m sure Gibbon wouldn’t have appreciated it either.

The Story
 
Conversion of the Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, etc
 
  • Per Gibbon:
  • They converted.
  • (1) Apparently it was because Christianity is, naturally, a better, more advanced religion to practice than the barbarian’s native paganism
  • (2) Apparently, the morals of the barbarian nations improved dramatically after conversion
  • (3) Apparently, Christianity succeeded because it is the True Religion and Christ is the Redeemer, naturally reasoning to the contrary must be flawed, since it is self-evident that Christianity HAD to succeed
  • (4) Christianity certainly showed as a superior religion in the scrupulously moral behavior of the Late Roman Empire with regards to barbarians, and even its own people. The Later Roman Empire was a golden age of meekness, gentleness, compassion, charity, love, kindness, and honesty compared to the old “pagan” empire – so naturally the barbarians were drawn to it
  • Gibbon gives examples of how to compel barbarians by argument to be saved, baptised, and come to the True Faith
  • I have to say – Gibbon it at his silliest when he is the most worshipful. None of his arguments make sense, esp. knowing the Gibbon you have just been reading for the last 1400 pages and having read his own descriptions of the empire’s recent behavior
  •  

    The African Arians
     
  • Unfortunately, (again per Gibbon) the barbarians were passionately converted to Christianity before the true light of Catholicism had been allowed to triumph (in the 300’s – when the empire itself was legally Arian, per the emperors) and so the tribes that ultimately conquered the West at first, all of them embraced the imperial form of Christianity – Arianism – which only later became a “heresy”
  • The Arians in Africa persecuted the Catholics (the Arians were the minority)
  • Gibbon is aghast at this – but why? its all so silly again – Gibbon hates Catholics – in fact the next 2 pages (in the 10 pages we read tomorrow) is a very frontal attack on the very honesty of the entire Catholic Church. But Gibbon takes 4 pages to document the long persecution by the Vandals of the Catholic (Imperial) Church in Africa.
  • Of course, what Gibbon is neglecting to mention is that the Catholics were even MORE severe than the Arians in persecuting non-Catholics given half a chance (literally). The Donatists – who hated the Arians AND the Catholics were even worse. Organized Churches of Christians at this time were know for ANYTHING BUT live and let live policies – they ALL persecuted each other ruthlessly and remoselessly in most un-Christ-like fashions – AND GIBBON KNOWS IT – this is political posturing
  •  

    What is Gibbon’s Game?
     
  • Gibbon got in a great deal of trouble in the late 1770’s for his strong anti-Christian stance, esp. in the first published volume – I think he’s basically wimped out, and every time he does a chapter on Christianity now, he has to insert a section of pious, illogical nonsense to allow him to quote himself in the future as having been more Christian than the Church of England. In this I do not slight him – I think it a sound plan – it just makes for VERY CONFUSING READING and SILLY HISTORY
  •  
     
     

    Renaissance etching of Arius - shown as the Priest (Presbyter) Arius.  Arius caused a lot of trouble for the Catholics - the biggest problem was being considered correct (and the Catholics considered heretics) for a hundred years in the 300's  - unfortunately at a time when the German barbarian nations were being converted to the correct form of Imperial Christianity (Arianism).  Later, when Arius was considered a heretic, it was embarrassing to tell the newly-converted Germans that the empire had made a mistake, and they needed to convert again

    Renaissance etching of Arius - shown as the Priest (Presbyter) Arius. Arius caused a lot of trouble for the Catholics - the biggest problem was being considered correct (and the Catholics considered heretics) for a hundred years in the 300's - unfortunately at a time when the German barbarian nations were being converted to the correct form of Imperial Christianity (Arianism). Later, when Arius was considered a heretic, it was embarrassing to tell the newly-converted Germans that the empire had made a mistake, and they needed to convert again

    Last Word…
    Pious Claptrap
     

    Gibbon is capable of being a rebel, and a rogue (like Sarah Palin), but unlike Sarah, Gibbon actually knows what he is talking about and so when you hear him spouting the party line of a conservative Christian political element, you have to wonder – why did he sell out? Why is he contradicting himself and blatantly pandering to people he wouldn’t even want to hold a conversation with? – anyone who has even read 20 pages of Gibbon will understand this sentiment – Gibbon wastes no love on fools.

    Yet, in this 10 page section, he manages to insult the intelligence of the reader over and over again. Why? Probably (I believe) as a defense – he is amassing a considerable pile of sweet, sticky, Christian reactionary prose, so that in the future, when attacked for being too liberal, he can throw back some of these choice, know-nothing, meaningless phrases of self-important pious claptrap and silence his detractors with some of their own rhetoric – written by Gibbon himself, printed in this his 3rd volume, for all to see.

    As an example, this per Gibbon (I’m not entirely convinced he believes even a word of it):

    Effects of their conversion

    Christianity, which opened the gates of Heaven to the barbarians, introduced an important change in their moral and political condition. They received, at the same time, the use of letters, so essential to a religion whose doctrines are contained in a sacred book, and while they studied the divine truth, their minds were insensibly enlarged by the distant view of history, of nature, of the arts, and of society. The version of the Sciptures into their native tongue which had facilitated their conversion, must excite, among their clergy, some curiosity to read he original text, to understand the sacred liturgy of the church, and to examine, in the writings of the fathers, the chain of ecclesiastical tradition. These spiritual gifts were preserved in the Greek and Latin languages, which concealed the inestimable monuments of ancient learning. The immortal productions of Virgil, Cicero, and Livy, which were accessible to the Christian barbarians, maintained a silent intercourse between the reign of Augustus and the times of Clovis and Charlemagne.

    The emulation of mankind was encouraged by the remembrance of a more perfect state; and the flame of science was secretly kept alive, to warm and enlighten the mature age of the Western world. In the most corrupt state of Christianity the barbarians might learn justice from the law, and mercy from the gospel; and if the knowledge of their duty was insufficient to guide their actions or to regulate their passions, they were sometimes restrained by conscience, and frequently punished by remorse.

    But the direct authority of religion was less effectual than the holy communion, which united them with their Christian brethren in spiritual friendship. The influence of these sentiments contributed to secure their fidelity in the service or the alliance of the Romans, to alleviate the horrors of war, to moderate the insolence of conquest, and to preserve, in the downfall of the empire, a permanent respect for the name and institutions of Rome.

    In the days of Paganism the priests of Gaul and Germany reigned over the people, and controlled the jurisdiction of the magistrates; and the zealous proselytes transferred an equal, or more ample, measure of devout obedience to the pontiffs of the Christian faith. The sacred character of the bishops was supported by their temporal possessions; they obtained an honourable seat in the legislative assemblies of soldiers and freemen; and it was their interest, as well as their duty, to mollify by peaceful counsels the fierce spirit of the barbarians. The perpetual correspondence of the Latin clergy, the frequent pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem, and the growing authority of the popes, cemented the union of the Christian republic, and gradually produced the similar manners and common jurisprudence which have distinguished from the rest of mankind the independent, and even hostile, nations of modern Europe.

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.37, p.

    Anglican Church at Basseterre, St Kitts Isle.  This is the kind of cultural image (an Anglican Church with palm trees on a tropical isle) that was at the heart of late 18th century British Christian prejudices and policies - and what Gibbon was so frantically praising: the SUCCESSFUL TRANSPLANT of British cultural and religious values over the entire globe.  His passion makes sense, although I think it has little to do with spirituality, and EVEN LESS to do with Late Roman History

    Anglican Church at Basseterre, St Kitts Isle. This is the kind of cultural image (an Anglican Church with palm trees on a tropical isle) that was at the heart of late 18th century British Christian prejudices and policies - and what Gibbon was so frantically praising: the SUCCESSFUL TRANSPLANT of British cultural and religious values over the entire globe. His passion makes sense, although I think it has little to do with spirituality, and EVEN LESS to do with Late Roman History

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