Friday, July 01, 2011

real christianity is still illegal in 2011

Guardian | An understanding of the medieval cult of martyrs' relics can help open our minds to the otherness of beliefs in today's world. Shortly after I entered my convent in 1962, the entire community processed to the altar one Sunday evening to kiss a reliquary that, I was told, contained a fragment of Jesus's swaddling clothes. In those early days I was ready to swallow anything but I balked at this. It seemed as preposterous as the claim of Chaucer's Pardoner that his pillowcase was a piece of the Virgin Mary's veil.

For similar reasons, I suspect, some may feel that the new exhibition at the British Museum, Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe, is not for them. In recent years the museum has performed the immensely important task of helping the public to appreciate cultures, such as Babylonia, Shia Iran and Afghanistan, that play a critical role in contemporary politics; next year, there will be a major exhibition on the Hajj. But unless we come to terms with our own past, we cannot hope to understand the beliefs and enthusiasms of others.

Far from being an unfortunate eruption of popular religion, historians such as Peter Brown have taught us that the cult of relics was in fact a serious attempt to explore the full dimensions of our humanity; surprisingly, it has much to teach us today. A ritualised journey to a holy place, where pilgrims encounter the divine, has been an important practice in nearly all religious traditions. The Hajj exhibition will show how crucial the pilgrimage to Mecca has been to Muslim spirituality, and Treasures of Heaven explores the development of Christian pilgrimage.

Because Christians were persecuted by the Roman imperial authorities for nearly 300 years, they were unable to build their own cult centres. But by the time Christianity was legalised in 312, they had begun to locate the divine in other human beings, a controversial idea that inspired intense debates about the divinity of Jesus. If a mere man could embody the sacred, what were the implications for the rest of us? "God became human," replied Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, "so that humans can become divine." Nobody had revealed this divine dimension of humanity more clearly than the martyrs, who were revered as "other Christs" because they had followed Jesus to their death. Their tombs became the new Christian holy places.


nanakwame said...

One of the best bio I read was the last one on St Francis of Assissi - He never was a priest and was against the Pope. He became a Saint only after half the world spoke so highly of him. He began what was a group of pious community service (giving up wealth) and teachers which he included women. He also open discussion with the Islamic world, being a European. The Catholic Church co-opted and imho taught the Bourgeois how to do the same on the State level, espcially in the Americas. If the history of Christianity was taught as you  presented, boy

CNu said...

That it could be taught any other way at all, is the most astonishing thing I've ever learned.  Can you imagine what it's like to have all your routine daily interactions filtered through the lens of truth vs. the received authority - which authority conceals it's true nature in plain sight?!?!?!?!,+satellite+of+st+peter.jpg

Big Don said...

The *Truth*

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