The late antique use of “Christianitas”

The word “Christianitas” became important during the Dark Ages.   Charlemagne inherited the kingdom of the Franks, and he sought to do something about the pointless barbarian kingdoms atop the decaying ruins of the Western Roman Empire.  Out of these he forged a vision of a new world, and one that his contemporaries could understand and relate to.  He connected the German idea of the High King with the idea of a Roman empire.  He made use of the only surviving Roman institution, the church.   All these forces for stability he connected together.  His kingdom did not survive him; but his vision did.  Instead of the steady decline and splintering that had preceded him, he left a world with an idea: the idea of Christendom.

The word “Christianitas” comes to mean “Christendom” at this time, in the Carolingian period.  It still retained its meaning of “Christianity”.  But as such it is important as a vehicle for stability within the medieval period and indeed beyond, into our own day.[1]

But this usage is not that found in antiquity.  It belongs to a future unimaginable to a civilised Roman, even as late as St Augustine.  The Roman collapse was unimaginable – until it happened.  So the word is used to mean “Christianity” in late antiquity.

There is in fact a monograph on the subject: Tim Geelhaar, Christianitas: Eine Wortgeschichte von der Spätantike bis zum Mittelalter, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.  This is in German, which probably means that nobody in the English- or French-speaking world has read it!  In fact the author might be wise to publish a related journal article in each language in order to raise the profile of the study.  It’s also inaccessible to me, being offline.  The English language summary of the book is interesting:

The word “christianitas” arose as an abbreviation for the medieval idea of united Christendom, which entered the historical narratives concerning Christianity, the Papacy and emperorship, the crusades and Europe. In fact, in late Antiquity and the Carolingian period “christianitas” stood for many different concepts. In this volume Tim Geelhaar disconnects the term and the idea behind it and determines the situations in which it came to be used, how it was reprogrammed and politicized. He demonstrates the historical semantics behind “christianitas” as well as the plurality of Christianized, Latinized Europe.

Fortunately the Google Books preview is generous, and so it is possible to read some of the key pages.   Page 53 for instance shows tables of authors who use the word in late antiquity.  Page 414 gives more detail on each.

Here are Dr Geelhaar’s two tables from p.53:

The authors are divided into 4 sections, as Dr G. is interested in exploring the different ways in which the word is used in late antiquity.  But note the table header: this is authors from 360-490 AD.

The first two references listed are two obscure works by pseudo-Cyprian: the Epistula ad Turasium, chapter 4 (PL 30, 278C-282A, esp. 279D), and the De singularitate clericorum, c. 7 (CSEL 3.3, p.180; PL 4, 835B-870A, esp. 841C-842A).  Dr Geelhaar tentatively assigns them to ca. 360 AD.

The Clavis Patrum Latinorum (CPL 62 and 64) lists them both as spurious, and suggests that nothing can really be known for certain about the date or author of either.  De singularitate clericorum has been attributed to an obscure Donatist writer named Macrobius, but the CPL point out that there is nothing Donatist about it, and Rufinus tells us that the Novatianists found it necessary to put forward their works under the name of Cyprian, towards the end of the 4th century.

The first real usage appears in Marius Victorinus, ca. 363, in his commentaries on Ephesians, 3:19, 4:5-6, 5:2 (CSEL 83.2, p.53 f., 58, 75 – not in the PL) and Galatians 3:10 (CSEL 83.2, p.130) and Phillipians 2:5 (p.184).  This is followed by the first of the passages in the Theodosian Code, that we looked at in my last post.

Unfortunately the text of the commentaries by Marius Victorinus was not printed until 1828, by Angelo Mai in his Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, vol 3, part 2, and the manuscripts that he used were very lacunose.  Migne of course just reprinted Mai.  The first critical text is that of Locher in the Teubner series in 1972, which is unreliable.  The reliable text is that of the CSEL, and this is not online.  I believe a German translation exists of all three commentaries; and likewise an Italian one.  But I was unable to find any English or French translation other than Cooper’s 2005 translation of the commentary on Galatians.[2]

We shall therefore have to content ourselves with only one passage, using the text given by Dr. G (p.415-6) from the commentary on Galatian 3:10, and Dr Cooper’s translation of it (p.292):[3]

3, 10. Quicumque enim ex operibus legis sunt, sub maledictione sunt. Vehementer igitur adiunxit non modo non benedici eos qui ex operibus sunt, sed etiam eos esse sub maledictione qui ex operibus legis sunt. Quod autem dixit ex operibus legis, intellegamus esse etiam opera christianitatis, maxime ilia quae saepe apostolus mandat atque ei mandatum est, pauperum memores simus et cetera quae in hoc apostolo ad vivendum praecepta retinentur, quae que opera ab apostolo omni Christiano inplenda mandatur.

For all who live based on works of the Law are under a curse (3: 10). Forcefully, then, he has added that not only are those who live based on works not blessed, but also that those who live based on the works of the Law are under a curse. Now, as he said based on works of the Law, let us understand that there are also works which belong to Christianity, especially those works which the apostle frequently commands (and also what has been commanded to him: let us be mindful of the poor) and the additional precepts for living which are included in this apostle’s writings. Each one of these works is commanded by the apostle to be fulfilled by every Christian.

Interesting stuff.

  1. [1]There is a considerable literature about all of this.  Inevitably the topic is political today.  Some references may be found in John Tolan, “Constructing Christendom”, in: J. Hudson &c, “The Making of Europe”: Essays in Honour of Robert Bartlett, Brill, 2016, p.277-298.  Google Books preview here.
  2. [2]These details from S.A.Cooper’s translation of the commentary on Galatians, p.5.
  3. [3]Stephen Andrew Cooper, Marius Victorinus’ Commentary on Galatians, Oxford University Press, 2005.

More on “Christianitas” in the Codex Theodosianus

Yesterday we saw that the earliest reference for “Christianitas” = Christianity (rather than the earlier Christanismus) was in the Theodosian Law Code (Codex Theodosianus) of 450 AD:

Christĭānĭtas, ātis, f. Christus.
I. Christianity, = Christianismus, Cod. Th. 16, 7, 7; 12, 1, 112.—
II. Meton.the Christian clergy, Cod. Th. 12, 1, 123.

I thought that I would look up these passages.

Those unfamiliar with the book should know that it is a compilation of rescripts, letters written by emperors of the dynasty of Constantine and afterwards.  Book 16 is dedicated to theological matters, and the tone of it is extremely aggressive.

Impp. theodosius et valentinianus aa. basso praefecto praetorio. post alia: apostatarum sacrilegum nomen singulorum vox continuae accusationis incesset et nullis finita temporibus huiuscemodi criminis arceatur indago. 1. Quibus quamvis praeterita interdicta sufficiant, tamen etiam illud iteramus, ne quam, postquam a fide deviaverint, testandi aut donandi quippiam habeant facultatem, sed nec venditionis specie facere legi fraudem sinantur totumque ab intestato christianitatem sectantibus propinquis potissimum deferatur. 2. In tantum autem contra huiusmodi sacrilegia perpetuari volumus actionem, ut universis ab intestato venientibus etiam post mortem peccantis absolutam vocem insimulationis congruae non negemus. nec illud patiemur obstare, si nihil in contestatione profano dicatur vivente perductum. 3. Sed ne huius interpretatio criminis latius incerto vagetur errore, eos praesentibus insectamur oraculis, qui nomen christianitatis induti sacrificia vel fecerint vel facienda mandaverint, quorum etiam post mortem comprobata perfidia hac ratione plectenda est, ut donationibus testamentisque rescissis ii, quibus hoc defert legitima successio, huiusmodi personarum hereditate potiantur. dat. vii id. april. ravennae theodosio xii et valentiniano ii aa. conss.

7. Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian Augustuses to Bassus, Praetorian Prefect.

(After other matters.) The voice of unremitting accusation shall assail the sacrilegious name of each and every apostate, and the investigation of such a crime shall not be prevented by any time limitations. 1. Although previous interdicts suffice for such persons, We repeat, nevertheless, the well known provision that after they have deviated from the faith, they shall have no power to make a testament or gift, nor shall they be permitted to defraud the law by the pretense of a sale, and on intestacy all their property shall be bestowed on near kinsmen, preferably on those who are adherents of Christianity. 2. It is Our will, moreover, that the right of action against such sacrilege shall be perpetuated to such an extent that to all persons who come to an inheritance on intestacy We shall not deny the unrestricted right of due accusation, even after the death of the sinner, nor shall We allow the action to be obstructed if it is said that nothing was adduced in attestation during the lifetime of the profane person.

But in order that the aforesaid crime may not be interpreted too broadly through the error of uncertainty, by Our present divine response. We pursue those persons who have made sacrifices or who have commanded them to be made, after they had assumed the name of Christianity.  The proved perfidy of such persons, even after death, shall be punished as follows: their gifts and testaments shall be rescinded, and their inheritances shall be obtained by those heirs upon whom this right is conferred by statutory succession.

Given on the seventh day before the ides of April at Ravenna in the year of the twelfth consulship of Theodosius Augustus and the second consulship of Valentinian Augustus. (April 7, 426)

Charming stuff.  Now from book 12, title 1, 112.  This is one of a bunch of rescripts jointly from the emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius.

Idem aaa. florentio praefecto augustali. in consequenda archierosyne ille sit potior, qui patriae plura praestiterit nec tamen a templorum cultu observatione christianitatis abscesserit. quippe indecorum est, immo ut verius dicamus, illicitum ad eorum curam templa et templorum sollemnia pertinere, quorum conscientiam vera ratio divinae religionis imbuerit et quos ipsos decebat tale munus, etiamsi non prohiberentur, effugere. emissa xvi kal. iul. constantinopoli honorio n. p. et evodio conss.

The same Augustuses to Florentius, Augustal Prefect. In obtaining the office of chief civil priest,[archierosyna] that person shall be considered preferable who has performed the most services for his municipality, and who has not, however, withdrawn from the cult of the temples by his observance of Christianity. Indeed it is unseemly, and further, that We may speak more truly, it is illicit, for the temples and the customary rites of the temples to belong to the care of those persons whose conscience is imbued with the true doctrine of divine religion, and who ought properly to flee such compulsory public service, even if they were not prohibited by law from performing it.

Issued on the sixteenth day before the kalends of July at Constantinople in the year of the consulship of Emperor Designate Honorius and of Evodius. (June 16, 386)

In 386 paganism was still the state religion.  Here the edict prohibits Christians from filling the office of chief priest.

12.1.123, from Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius, (July 28, 391) is about the efforts of local men to avoid being ruined by imperial taxes on those who became members of the city council.

Idem aaa. ad tatianum praefectum praetorio. dudum super his, qui relicta curia vel senatoriam dignitatem adepti sunt vel christianitatis obtentu curialium se consortio separarunt, evidens sanctionum nostrarum processit auctoritas, ut, si eorum personas vel honor vel religio defenderet, quod ex curiali substantia vel ipsi retinerent vel in alios transtulissent, obnoxium publicis descriptionibus haberetur.  1. Evidens etiam praecepto nostro tempus expressum est, ex quo consulatu, si qui de curialibus ad ecclesiam confugissent, omni scirent patrimonio curiae esse cedendum.  …

The same Augustuses to Tatianus, Praetorian Prefect.  The evident authority of Our sanctions has previously been issued in regard to those persons who have deserted the municipal councils and have either acquired the rank of Senator or by the plea of Christianity, have separated themselves from the association of decurions, to the effect that, if such persons were protected either by rank or by religion, the property from their holdings as decurions which they either retain themselves or which they transfer to others should be held obligated to public assessment.  1. A definite time limit was also defined by Our regulation, stating from what consulship they shall know that they must cede all their patrimony to the municipal council, if they should flee from the decurionate to the Church.  …

All well and good, and very official, of course.

But a kind correspondent has pointed out that the TLL contains other, potentially earlier, uses of the word, notably in ps.Cyprian.  I will discuss these next.

More on the earliest use of the word “Christianity”

I can’t believe that I forgot to hit the “Publish” button last night on yesterday’s post

Yesterday I was asking when the word “Christianity” appears in our sources.  In Greek it is Χριστιανισμός, and it appears in Ignatius of Antioch; then in Origen; and then in post-Nicene sources.  It’s not a widely-used word in surviving ante-Nicene literature, plainly. 

But today I wondered what the Latin word might be.  I thought perhaps “Christianitas”, with Romanitas in mind.  But a little searching around gave me:

Christĭānismus , i, m., = Χριστιανισμός,
I.ChristianityTert. adv. Marc. 4, 33; Aug. Civ. Dei, 19, 23, 1; Hier. in Gal. 6, 4.

Christĭānĭtas , ātis, f. Christus.
I. Christianity, = Christianismus, Cod. Th. 16, 7, 7; 12, 1, 112.—
II. Meton.the Christian clergy, Cod. Th. 12, 1, 123.

These are both from Lewis and Short, via PerseusGaffiot gave me much the same.

So the rather Germanic-sounding Christianismus is our word, originating with Tertullian – who else? – in Adversus Marcionem book 4, chapter 33, verse 8:

[8] Quasi non et nos limite in quendam agnoscamus Ioannem constitutum inter vetera et nova, ad quem desineret Iudaismus et a quo inciperet Christianismus, non tamen ut ab alia virtute facta sit sedatio legis et prophetarum, et initiatio evangelii in quo est dei regnum, Christus ipse.

As though we too did not know that John has been set as a sort of dividing-line between old things and new, a line at which Judaism should cease and Christianity should begin—not however that by the action of any alien power there came about this cessation of the law and the prophets, and the inception of that gospel in which is the kingdom of God, Christ himself.

I don’t have access as far as I know to any search tool for Latin texts like the TLG, but it does indeed make sense that Tertullian would originate the term, as the first of the Latin fathers.  Equally it makes sense that the Latin term should be the Greek term, transliterated.

But the mention of “Judaismus” is interesting.  Ignatius also uses “Christianity” as a foil for “Judaism” (Ἰουδαϊσμὸς).  Possibly the term “Christianity” exists solely because of the existence of “Judaism”, and the fact that Christians were not included in it?

I wondered how frequently Ἰουδαϊσμὸς or Ἰουδαϊσμὸν, etc was used, so I did a search.  Here again it was Ignatius, Origen, then post-Nicene writers!  Although in this case it also appears in the fragments of Porphyry’s Against the Christians.  This is surprising really.

A google search reveals that it also appears in 2 Maccabees, so perhaps my lack of results is a reflection of the search tool available to me.

What is the earliest use of the word “Christianity”?

When did the word “Christianity” actually come into use?  The Greek is Χριστιανισμός.

A certain amount of searching online brought me to an Italian article,[1] from which I learned that the first person to use the word is none other than Ignatius of Antioch.  There are 4 references, in Ignatius’ letters to the Magnesians 10,1 and 3;  Romans 3,3;  and Philadelphians 6,1.

Let’s see what he says!  The Greek is from the TLG, the translation is Lake’s Loeb, the links are to the ANF.  Note that the ANF translation online for each chapter gives first the original (“short”) text, and then the “long” text as interpolated in the 4th century by the Apollinarist heretics.  We’re quoting here the original.

Magnesians c. 10:

Ἄτοπόν ἐστιν, Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν λαλεῖν καὶ ἰουδαΐζειν. Ὁ γὰρ Χριστιανισμὸς οὐκ εἰς Ἰουδαϊσμὸν ἐπίστευσεν, ἀλλ’ Ἰουδαϊσμὸς εἰς Χριστιανισμόν, εἰς ὃν πᾶσα γλῶσσα πιστεύσασα εἰς θεὸν συνήχθη.

3. It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not base its faith on Judaism, but Judaism on Christianity, and every tongue believing on God was brought together in it.

Romans c.3:

Ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριςτὸς ἐν πατρὶ ὢν μᾶλλον φαίνεται. Οὐ πεισμονῆς τὸ ἔργον, ἀλλὰ μεγέθους ἐστὶν ὁ Χριστιανισμός, ὅταν μισῆται ὑπὸ κόσμου.

3. Nothing visible is good, for our God, Jesus Christ, being now in the Father, is the more plainly visible. Christianity is not the work of persuasiveness, but of greatness, when it is hated by the world.

Philadelphians 6:  (Strangely the ANF renders “Christianity” as “Christian doctrine”)

[Unable to locate the Greek!]

1. But if anyone interpret Judaism to you do not listen to him; for it is better to hear Christianity from the circumcised than Judaism from the uncircumcised. But both of them, unless they speak of Jesus Christ, are to me tombstones and sepulchres of the dead, on whom only the names of men are written.

The word Χριστιανισμ** appears in Ignatius, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen before the council of Nicaea, and then entirely in post-Nicene writers.

  1. [1]Enrico Norelli, “Χριστιανισμός e Χριστιανός in Ignazio di Antiochia e la cronologia delle sue lettere”, in M. B. Durante Mangoni ; D. Garribba ; M. Vitelli (ed.), Gesù e la storia. Percorsi sulle origini del cristianesimo, Trapani, Il Pozzo di Giacobbe , 2015, 171-189.  Online here.  Note that the Greek is given in a non-unicode font in the article.

If death did not exist, would Stalin still rule in Russia?

I was reflecting on the career of Josef Stalin, the brutal bandit from the Caucasus, who rose to become Soviet dictator, and enslaved, first a huge nation, and then half of Europe.  He had total power.  The only thing that he could not control was death.  One day death came for him, and his empire crumbled soon after.

But what if he had had the choice, about whether to die or not?  We can be sure that he would have chosen to live.  Would Stalin still be ruling his empire from the Kremlin, even today?  It would be a brave man who would bet against it.

From time to time men arise, and impose their wills upon their fellow men.  A movement, an ideology, a class, a society.  We might like to think that the well-meaning will prevail; but it is not necessarily so.

We do not need to invoke the shade of Stalin, even.  If any of those scientists who are investigating age should ever find a “cure” for death, we may be sure that it will not be available equally.  An undying elite will arise, comprised of the wealthy and powerful, looking down, we may be sure, on all the “deplorables”.  Such men tend to despise those not like themselves.  History does not suggest that such a gilded elite will be a good thing.

However all men die, and so every tyranny has a limit.  We can escape from every monster, given time.

In Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno, a retelling of Dante, the fact that the damned cannot die, but can continue to suffer, is exploited by the devils as a way to impose sufferings impossible on earth.  But in reality men die, and thereby they can escape from their suffering, which is mostly caused by their fellow men.

In Genesis we learn that death was the penalty for the sin of Adam.  But if we look at it like this, then, like most things that God does, it was a mercy.  No undying tyrants shall reign forever.  No man shall suffer beyond a certain point.

In Greek myth, Tithonus was granted immortality, but not eternal youth.  In consequence he soon became incredibly old and withered, and was finally transformed into the cricket.  In a world where men can live forever, they must likewise receive eternal youth; but also sinlessness, for otherwise they will certainly become tyrants.  I fear that curing sin may be rather beyond the powers of our scientists, however.

We live in a  broken world, and all sorts of awful things happen within it.  But some of those things may be benefits, if we did but consider the alternatives.  In a world where all men are sinners, then we truly need some of these things.  Let us be grateful for death.

Preaching with cartoons?

This week I saw on Twitter that a certain Jack Chick had died.  I was rather astonished at the outpouring of jeering, bile and vitriol in response!  In fact I had never heard of the man until a few years ago, when I heard some atheist cursing him. But apparently he was well-known in the USA as a writer of evangelistic tracts in cartoon form.

The tracts themselves are simple but rather compelling, and the message of the gospel of Christ is certainly preached very directly.  I don’t think that I have ever seen any; but they can be found on his website.

An article on Taki’s Magazine here gave a review of his work.  It also listed two of his tracts as particularly typical.

The Last Generation was written in 1992, and reads somewhat presciently now.

This was your life is a typical tract.

The first example of his artwork is one that I saw online on Instagram, in condensed form:

screenshot_2016-06-26-09-31-39-1

It’s all a useful reminder to focus on Christ.

We all spend our lives busy, earning a living, and pursuing our hobbies.  But unless we have given our lives to Christ, in the end, it’s just like ploughing the sand.  The graveyards are full of people who knew that they were irreplaceable.  Everything screws up in the end.  But … there is a way out, if we meet Christ.

Did Antinous pull Zeus from Olympus? Did Hadrian pave the way for Christ?

The emperor Hadrian made the curious decision to deify his deceased favourite, Antinous, and to build temples and a city in his memory.

It’s worth reflecting a little Hadrian’s absurd-seeming action of deifying his bum-boy.  It’s too easy to dismiss this action as merely the product of grief.  To do so makes  a good story, but politicians are very capable of exploiting grief.  Men like Hadrian, who have obtained supreme power by virtue of their own ability, do nothing without a reason.

Let’s be realistic.  Is it really possible that Hadrian himself  supposed that a boy, whom he picked up while on tour, and whose pleas and tears and cries of pain he ignored for his pleasure, was any sort of deity whatsoever?  Can anyone else in Rome have thought so either?  Surely every ordinary Roman must have smirked or scowled at the very thought, precisely as they would have laughed at the emperor deifying a mistress. It’s either a joke or an impiety.  So … why did the wise, intelligent emperor – and Hadrian was both these things – do this?

If we leave aside the picture of an oriental despot enacting his whims – for Hadrian’s rule was not that absolute – then we have to ask what practical effect the measure had.  The most obvious effect is that it subordinates the gods to the emperor.  A god is nothing, if Antinous is a god.  What matters is the emperor.  Indeed we already see this attitude in Martial’s flattery of Domitian.  There can be no sensible criticism of an emperor as impious, if piety is whatever the emperor says it is.  I wonder, in fact, whether this action is related to some kind of now lost criticism of Hadrian as impious for not spending more of his time in Rome?

If the gods are the creatures of the emperor, then this is a measurable step towards despotism, towards the late empire.  It’s impossible to imagine Augustus doing this.

We must also ask what the effect was, on Roman social capital. The effect, obviously, is to degrade Roman self-image.  Romanitas and pietas and virtus are all diminished by the act of deifying Antinous.

Finally we have to ask what the effect in the long term was.  If a god is just a man – even a vile one – whom a ruler has marked out for distinction, then what becomes of Olympian Zeus and his band of allies?  Are they too just men, “deified” by men of the past?  It must be a natural inference that they are.  So … are there any real gods at all?  And, if there are, mustn’t they be something quite other than the regular pagan pantheon, which is populated at the whim of a man?  Something like the Sun, which no ruler can affect?  Something like the God of the Hebrews, who is universal?

It’s impossible to say.  It is a strange act by a clever man.  Maybe it really did lay open the way for the Christians.

An almost forgotten anti-Christian jibe by Golding, misquoting Richard Sisson, “Answering Christianity’s most puzzling questions”

I’m purging my shelves at the moment, and I came across a volume which I bought only because of an online argument.  I can’t help feeling that I dealt with this online long ago, but if so I cannot find it.  So let me document here what was claimed, and the facts, and then I can clear another half-inch of shelf!

Here‘s an example of the claim:

Now let’s turn to a reference on page 18 and 19 of The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by Dennis McKinsey (quoting from Schmuel Golding’s Biblical Polemics Newsletter): …

Golding adds–“In other words, men, rather than a god, composed the Bible. Many Christians, especially Protestants, have great difficulty with any assertion to the effect that men are responsible for the Bible coming into existence. On page 8 Answering Christianity’s Most Puzzling Questions, Vol. one, apologist Richard Sisson states (On page 19)–“In fact, after the death of Jesus a whole flood of books that claimed to be inspired appeared. Disputes over which ones were true were so intense that the debate continued for centuries. Finally, in the fourth century a group of church leaders called a council and took a vote. The 66 books that comprised our cherished Bible were declared to be Scripture by a vote of 568 to 563”. (Unquote)

The same quote used to appear sometimes online, in various places, but has thankfully been forgotten.  But did this “Sisson” really say this?

Well, I acquired a copy of Sisson’s book, and I now upload a few pages containing the relevant section:

To save us all time, here’s the actual passage:

“THE BIBLE IS SUSPICIOUS IN ITS ORIGINS”

Many charge that it took our contentious church fathers 350 years to agree on which books belong in the Scriptures. The Bible was written over many centuries. Every time a new book was written there were new questions. In fact, after the death of Jesus a whole flood of books that claimed to be inspired appeared. This argument claims that the dispute over which ones were true was so intense that the debate continued for centuries. Finally, in the fourth century a group of church leaders called a great council and took a vote. The sixty-six books that comprise our cherished Bible were declared to be Scripture by a vote of 568 to 563.

It is amazing to see how many people believe that argument. Actually, what really happened was not like that at all. …

In other words, as sometimes happens in hate literature, a convenient quote has been taken out of context.  The statement by Sisson is made in order to disagree with it.  His book, in fact, is a mass of “difficulties”, with his response, grouped into sections.

Such frauds were more common when the internet was young, and “argument by (offline) book” was a favourite ploy.  I see it less today, partly because more material is online, and mainly because the forums in which such arguments took place have vanished.

But in case this canard ever appears again, well … I’ve documented it here.

Did the Catholic church oppose street lights? Some notes on the Papal States in the 1830s

A couple of days ago, I happened to see a brand new anti-Catholic slur online on Instagram. Here’s the item:
pope_gregory_slur_large

It’s not spread that far as yet, but claims to be from Cracked.com – a US humour site.

The poster makes three claims:

The Catholic Church opposed street lights.

In 1831, Pope Gregory XVI even banned gas lighting in papal states.

The church argued that God very clearly established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law.

Well that’s pretty plain.  The Catholic Church under Gregory XVI made it offical teaching that street lights were evil, and that even (note the emphasis) gas lighting was banned in “papal states” (by which most people will understand “Catholic countries”).

It’s obvious that this poster is intended to defame, to injure and to bring contempt on the Roman Catholic Church.  But it is interesting to find that the words in the poster are very recent indeed.  In fact I can only find a single near-match anywhere.  This is in a 2015 publication by Bruce H. Joffe, “My Name Is Heretic: Reforming the Church, from Guts to Glory”.[1]  The author appears in fact to be a homosexual activist.[2] The Cracked.com poster is clearly derived (with a couple of word changes) from this.

The claim that “The church argued that God very clearly established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law” does not appear elsewhere, and in the absence of evidence and reference we may hypothesise that Joffe simply invented it.

The poster also gives a reference, to Desmond Bowen.[3]  But when we search for street lighting, we find only a single result:

Papal ceremonies assumed unprecedented magnificence, and audiences were conducted with more than royal protocol. The building programme of Leo XII was continued, more ancient churches and monuments were restored, new palaces were built, and the Vatican was further enriched with valuable collections of art. At the same time the people of Rome were denied street lighting, and the pope refused to allow the coming of the railway to the city. Gregory XVI was a thoroughgoing reactionary, but his policies were implemented only because of the presence of French and Austrian as well as papal troops.

The Google books preview indicates no other reference to street lighting in the book.

With every historical claim, our first step must be to discover whether the claim is in fact true, as stated.  If it is true, we must next discover whether it is a fair representation of the facts, or a distortion.

Our first source of information is none other than the great Charles Dickens, in Bentley’s Miscellany, vol. 24, 1848, p.305, where he is reviewing a book about Italy by a certain James Whiteside, of whom more in a minute.

The effete but jealous despotism of the ancient system [of Papal government before Pope Pius IX] is well illustrated by the following anecdote.

“I became acquainted with a young, handsome, fashionable Count, who mixed largely in English society in Rome. During an evening’s conversation he remarked, he had never beheld the sea, and had a great desire to do so. I observed that was very easy, the sea was but a few miles distant, and if he preferred a sea-port, Civita Vecchia was not very far off. The Count  laughed. ‘I made an effort to accomplish it, but failed,’ he then said. ‘ You English who travel over the world do not know our system. I applied lately for a passport to visit the coast; they inquired in the office my age, and with whom I lived; I said with my mother. A certificate from my mother was demanded, verifying the truth of my statement. I brought it; the passport was still refused. I was asked who was my parish priest; having answered, a certificate from him was required, as to the propriety of my being allowed to leave Rome. I got the priest’s certificate ; they then told me in the office I was very persevering, that really they saw no necessity nor reason for my roaming about the country just then, and that it was better for me to remain at home with my mother.’ He then muttered. ‘The priests, the priests, what a government is theirs !’”

This passage sufficiently explains Pope Gregory’s hostility to railroads, but the cause of his hostility to gas-lights is less generally known, and must not be suppressed. When the chairman of a company formed for lighting Rome with gas, waited on the Pope to obtain the required permission, Gregory indignantly asked how he presumed to desire a thing so utterly subversive of religion! The astonished speculator humbly stated that he could not see the most remote connection between religion and carburetted hydrogen. “Yes, but there is, sir,” shouted the Pope, “my pious subjects are in the habit of vowing candles to be burned before the shrines of saints, the glimmering candles would soon be rendered ridiculous by the contrast of the glaring gas-lights, and thus a custom so essential to everlasting salvation would fall into general contempt, if not total disuse.” No reply could be made to this edifying argument. Silenced, if not convinced, the speculator withdrew; the votive candles still flicker, though not so numerously as heretofore, and they just render visible the dirt and darkness to which Rome is consigned at night.

We need not spend too long on this anecdote, which Dickens – no friend of the church – tells us that he heard from a failed salesman.  The aged and suspicious Pope doubtless had seen a series of such salesmen, and might well have said something sarcastic and irrefutable to get rid of a particularly irksome commercial gentleman.  But sadly the veracity of salesmen cannot always be relied on, even when the sale succeeds.

Much more interesting is Whiteside’s anecdote about the Roman prince denied a passport.  This gives an interesting picture of the Papal administration in the period – positively third-world.  It’s the sort of story that might come out of Egypt today, or some African slum state, where ordinary people are knotted up in pointless and destructive bureaucracy.  In this case no doubt the official really just wanted a bribe.

This gives us our first clues about this story.  We are not, in fact, dealing with “the Catholic Church”.  We are dealing with a now long-vanished petty Italian princedom, the Papal States, and its wretched and backward administration.

This is promptly confirmed when we consult Whiteside’s volume.[4]  Unlike Dickens, who knew without saying why the Papal government had banned railways, Whiteside actually does know:

Political fears deterred the government from sanctioning railways. When Gregory understood his loving subjects of Bologna might visit him in Rome en masse, he would not hear of the innovation. I remember the remark of a man of business on the subject: “Il Papa non ama le strode ferrate.” No reasons were given for the refusal to adopt the improvement, except that his Holiness hated railways.  Gregory reasoned as did an inveterate Tory of my acquaintance, who condemned railways because they were a vile Whig invention. Any improvements in agriculture which could be effected by agricultural societies were interdicted, all such noxious institutions repressed.

In fact if we read Whiteside’s pages, we see the familiar picture of a weak government, of the kind found everywhere in Africa today, suspicious of everything and willing to ban anything unless they see pecuniary advantage in it.

Around the same time, an Irishman named Mahoney published, under the pen-name of Don Jeremy Savonarola (!), a series of letters that he wrote from Italy.[5] These throw considerable light on attitudes in Rome at the time, not only among the government.

On p.24 Mahony describes the fate of an English sculptor who sought to warm his studio in Rome with a coal-fired stove:

But concerning the development of steam-power in this capital, and the prospect for its utterly idle people of the varied branches of industry to be created through that magic medium, I can hold out none but the faintest hopes. A straw thrown up may serve for an anemometer. One of our sculptors took a fancy to import from Liverpool an Arnott stove to warm his spacious studio this winter, and laid in his stock of Sabine coal with comfortable forethought; great was his glee at the genial glow it diffused through his workshop: but short are the moments of perfect enjoyment: in a few days a general outcry arose among the neighbours: the nasal organ at Rome, guide-books describe as peculiarly sensitive : a mob of women clamoured at the gate: they were all “suffocated by the horrid carbon fossile.” Phthisis is fearfully dreaded here: with uproarious lungs they denounced him as a promoter of pulmonary disease. Police came, remonstrance was useless. The artist’s lares were ruthlessly invaded, and his “household gods shivered around him.” The Arnott Altar of Vesta now lies prostrate in his lumber yard, quenched for ever!

On p.55 the subject of gas lighting appears:

There is much of quiet amusement not untinged with a dash of melancholy supplied perpetually to strangers here by the efforts of government to arrest the progress of those modem improvements which must obviously ultimately be adopted even in Rome. The mirth which borders on sadness is stated by metaphysicians to have peculiar fascinations… Some such feelings were apt to creep o’er the mind, in reading last week the newest edict of the local authorities affixed on the walls for the guidance of all shopkeepers and others; this hatti-sheriff, which it is impossible not duly to respect, denounces the modern innovation of gas light, made of our old acquaintance, the previously denounced “carbon fossile” and all private gasworks of this nature are suppressed. Hereby many an industrious and enterprising establishment has its pipe put out all of a sudden, while those which are suffered to remain are subjected to a thousand vexatory restrictions and domiciliary visits from officials, who, as usual, must be bribed to report favourably. They are further told that their private gas generators will be all confiscated at some indetermined period when it shall please the wisdom of authority to establish government gas works: a period far remote, to be sure, but sufficiently indefinite effectively to discourage the outlay of private capitalists on their private comforts or accommodation. Milan, Florence, Leghorn, Venice, Turin, and Naples are gas-lit long since.

This really makes things clear.  There is no Papal opposition to gas as such, because government gasworks are proposed.  The concerns are about air-quality, and the proliferation of smog in the city from all these private burners and get-rich-quick companies.  These are not illegitimate concerns, as anyone who has experienced the aroma from a neighbour’s barbeque on a swelteringly hot day can testify.

Later, on p.171, we learn that the new Pope, Pius IX, dismissed the city prefect, Marini, “an implacable foe” of “every amelioration”.

The letters, in fact, are well worth the reading, for the picture which they give of a  minor Italian state, on the cusp of modern improvements in the early 19th century.  Clearly the government – the Pope, if you like – did ban gas lighting, and railways, and all sorts of other modern improvements, from the papal state.  This policy was reversed by Pius IX, this successor.  But there is no theological question here – only politics.

It would be really interesting to see the text of the Edicts in question, actually.  But I could only find one online, which was for setting up a Chamber of Commerce, here.

Papal Rome is a country which is now far away in time and space.  We forget it ever existed – but it did.  It was a country which had its own laws, its own army, and its own political factions.  Like every Italian statelet it was perpetually concerned about foreign nations, and the threat of the Austrian army, or the French army.  It is, therefore, quite a mistake to treat the political initiatives of the government of that state as if they were theological directives by a modern Pope.

Let’s return to where we started.  The poster is very misleading indeed, therefore.

The first claim is mainly false.  The Catholic Church did NOT oppose street lighting.  The elderly ruler of the papal states in 1830s opposed gas lighting as projected by a foreign company, probably reflecting the ignorance and squalid suspicions of his people and worries about air quality.  His successor ruled differently.

The second claim is mainly true, but it is entirely misleading because the reader will think of Pope Gregory as like Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XV.  That Pope was not a modern Pope, issuing statements of faith and morals, but the autocratic ruler of a third-world state with a low-grade and corrupt administration, obstructing progress out of fear and obscurantism.

The third claim appears to be utterly unevidenced before 2015.

Thus are legends started; and, with luck, that one ends here.

All the same, I hope that you have enjoyed our visit to Papal Rome.  There are indeed guidebooks online in English for visitors, which might well repay the curious reader.  It may have been a backward place, but it had the charm that Rome has always had, whatever the faults of its rulers.

UPDATE: Please see the comments for further information from Italian on all this matter, and even an order by the prefect Marini, from March 1846, in the last months of the pontificate of Gregory XVI, laying down safety regulations for gas lighting.

  1. [1]ISBN 978-1-5144-2756-9.  Preview here: “[Jesus] healed (worked) on the Sabbath and ate food consecrated to God, demonstrating the importance and power of the Spirit over the letter of the law. Back in 1831, Pope Gregory XVI opposed street lamps and banned gas lighting in Papal States. The church argued that God very clearly had established the delineation between night and day, and putting lights up after sundown flew in the face of God’s law. Still, we search the scriptures for words that would cause God to curse instead of bless us. And vice-versa. But, when did we decide to forget about God’s grace? The Church has lost much of the idealism and faith upon which it was formed and is based, replacing them instead with creeds and beliefs.” The argument is a standard among campaigners for vice.  It is to be observed that such campaigners act without mercy to those who dare express any disagreement, once they have obtained power themselves.
  2. [2]So I learn from the Google search result from  Bruce H. Joffe, A Hint of Homosexuality?: ‘Gay’ and Homoerotic Imagery In American Print Advertising, 2007: “Author royalties from this book will benefit the Commercial Closet Association, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization working to influence the world of advertising to understand, respect and include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender…”
  3. [3]Desmond Bowen, Paul Cardinal Cullen and the Shaping of Modern Irish Catholicism, Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1983.  Preview here.
  4. [4]James Whiteside, “Italy in the nineteenth century”, (1848) vol 2, p.288.
  5. [5]I owe my knowledge of this to Katarina Gephardt, The Idea of Europe in British Travel Narratives, 1789-1914, Routledge, 2016, p.112.

Choosing what we read: a spiritual warfare?

It’s a dark, dull, rainy day today; and I am steadfastly refusing to notice.  Because I don’t want to let the rain influence my mood.  So far, it’s working!

We all do the same, I know.  But why limit it to the weather?

Yesterday I saw, on an American Christian site, Reviewing School Book Lists, Part Four: Reading is Spiritual Warfare, which begins with the following words:

A child. Curled up in a couch. Nestled in an old oak tree with a book. What could be more bucolic? In a church I visit frequently (which doubles during the week as a school), a picture on the wall shows a prepubescent boy—no more than 6th grade, if that—holding The Hunger Games.  He grips the book, looks up into our eyes, and smiles as if he is eating a strawberry sundae.  Would you like to hear what he might have just read?  Here’s one sentence from the first few chapters: “He falls to his knees and halves the brief remainder of his life by yanking out the arrow and drowning in his own blood.” (p.33) Not too bucolic, is it?

Every time I see that picture, I have to fight feelings of anger. And NOT because the kid is reading a possibly age-inappropriate story.  No, what makes me frustrated is that the picture illustrates a gaping disconnect between our perception of reading and its reality.

This young man is not merely having a fantastic, mind-expanding adventure as the brochure-like picture implies. With a book like The Hunger Games, he is involved in grave spiritual warfare.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he shouldn’t read the book. It certainly doesn’t mean the book should be banned by the government. But if reading generally is spiritual warfare, it changes everything. What we allow our kids to read and when. How they read, and the kinds of support they should receive. In short, it changes the most fundamental ways Christians ought to relate to books.

Nor is this limited to Christians, nor is it really about children, vulnerable as the latter may indeed be.  The article goes on to discuss various issues, probably of limited relevance here; but it caused me to think about the question: what do I want to read?

That I have just ordered the Loeb Petronius is relevant here.  I want no porn in my head.  Indeed I have taken pains to purchase the original 1913 edition, in the belief that the nastier elements should be bowdlerised in it.  What I want is the portrait of ancient life.

We all know that what people read influences their outlook, and the sort of people they become.  Of course this was widely denied in the 60’s and 70’s, as a pretext for removing the censorship of obscene books; but those who led those campaigns are now quite happily erecting a censorship of political opinions far more intrusive than anything the old Lord Chamberlain’s office used to do.  I think we can believe their actions, rather than their words.   Everyone knows that books and reading change minds.

What do we allow inside our heads?  What effect does it have?  Does it make us happier?  Healthier?  And, if not, can we get it out again, or will the images be seared into memories for life?

The answers to this will vary for each of us, Christian or not.  All of us remember the books of our childhood, even if we didn’t know what they were at the time.  Many in later life try to track down those books which left images in their minds, and I confess that I have done the same.  We know, even if we don’t acknowledge it, that what we read affects us greatly.

So what should we read?  Reading anything and everything that interests us is perhaps something that most people reading this site do.  But should we limit it in certain directions?

At the moment at bedtime I am reading Paupers and Pig Killers: the diary of William Holland, a Somerset Parson, 1799-1818.[1]  This I read because it consists of short entries, and is rather soothing really.  That isn’t likely to affect my mood or outlook greatly in any direction; although his consistent hostility to “Methodists” does highlight the poor reputation that the “Ranters” or Primitive Methodists had in the period, which is something that I had not known.

No book will leave us unmoved, you see, if we love it and read it repeatedly.

I shall leave out of my life books dedicated to cruelty and obscenity.  Indeed I have become stricter on this, in the last couple of years.  I do not wish to experience either, nor to enjoy the depiction of it as entertainment, nor to become dead to it if I happen to witness such evils.  I prefer my faculties to remain acute and unmarred.  I wish to remain capable of appreciating ordinary things, and milder sensations.  So do we all, in our saner moments.

But it’s not just what we avoid.  What do we choose?

The proponents of the English classics would step forward at this moment and recommend a course of reading.  (I do not, of course, refer to whatever rubbish has been advanced since 1970, but to the real classics).

There is merit in this.  To learn how the best writers expressed things, to learn to enjoy what the best of men enjoyed… these are good things.

Yet even here we may divide.  Dickens may be a classic, but the portraits of Victorian misery do nothing to cheer my heart.  I avoid them for that reason.  Jane Austen is more to my liking.  Walter Scott is something I can handle in small doses.

What should we read?  With that, I am reminded of Philippians 4:8 (ESV):

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.[2]

I’m not sure whether that takes us to anything specific; but it’s a great starting rule.

  1. [1]Ed. Jack Ayres, Alan Sutton publishing, 1995.
  2. [2]I was rather cross to discover, when I looked up the exact text, several “translations” of the bible which rendered this “brothers and sisters”.  Shame on those who can’t tell the difference between translation and interpretation!