Monthly Archives: August 2017

On St. Bartholomew – and “his” Massacre

“One morning [at] the Louvre,” with Catherine de’ Medici – in black – who authored the massacre

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August 24 was the Feast day for St.  Bartholomew, also known as Bartholomew the Apostle. Unfortunately, he is perhaps best known for the massacre on his feast day in 1572:

The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre … in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations and a wave of Catholic mob violence, directed against the Huguenots…  Though by no means unique, it “was the worst of the century’s religious massacres.”  Throughout Europe, it “printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion.”

This particular massacre occurred during “the French Wars of Religion.”  (Those wars lasted some 40 years – beginning in 1562 – and resulted in the deaths of some 3,000,000 people.)  A more modern illustration of such “mob violence” is shown above left.

And on a personal note:  My French ancestors – who came to America to get the hell away from such religious “conservatives” – were Huguenots.  (“French Calvinist Protestants.”) 

But before talking more about this one massacre, here’s some information on the saint at issue.

See for example the article CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Bartholomew.  (Note the irony.)  It said the name “Bartholomaios” means “son of Talmai” (or Tholmai), but that little else is known about him.  “Many scholars, however, identify him with Nathaniel.”

See for example, John 1:45-51:  “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about…  Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'”

And so our August 24 “St. Bart” is generally identified as the famous Nathanael who Jesus saw – in the first chapter of the John’s Gospel – sitting under the fig tree.

For more see Bartholomew the Apostle – Wikipedia.  It noted a number of traditions about this saint, including that he went on missionary journeys to India, or in the alternative to “EthiopiaMesopotamiaParthia, and and Lycaonia.”  But the best known tradition is this:

He is said to have been martyred in Albanopolis in Armenia.  According to one account, he was beheaded, but a more popular tradition holds that he was flayed alive and crucified, head downward.  He is said to have converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity.  Astyages, Polymius’ brother, consequently ordered Bartholomew’s execution.

Which may mean that if you want to convert one king to Christianity – or some other powerful leader of a country – you probably want to convert all his brothers as well.

For the Bible readings for the day, see St. Bartholomew, Apostle.  And there’s a painting at the bottom of the main text – by Michelangelo of Saint Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin.”

Which brings us back to the St. Bartholomew’s massacre.  As Wikipedia noted, in the years since 1572 the massacre “has inevitably aroused a great deal of controversy.”  (Adding that “Modern historians are still divided over the responsibility of the royal family,” including Catherine de’ Medici, seen in black in the painting at the top of the page.)

But perhaps the best answer came from Pope John Paul II.  In August of 1997, and while in Paris,* he issued a statement on the Massacre:

On the eve of Aug. 24, we cannot forget the sad massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day… Christians did things which the Gospel condemns.  I am convinced that only forgiveness, offered and received, leads little by little to a fruitful dialogue…  Belonging to different religious traditions must not constitute today a source of opposition and tension.  On the contrary, our common love for Christ impels us to seek tirelessly the path of full unity.

And speaking of “fruitful dialogue,” the Pope’s comments in 1997 pretty much mirror what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:1-8 – the New Testament reading for Sunday, August 27:

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.  We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…

In other words, maybe it’s about damn time that we started celebrating our differences.  As opposed to flaying each other alive.  (Metaphorically or otherwise…)

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“Saint Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin…”

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The upper image is courtesy of St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “‘One morning at the gates of the Louvre,’ 19th-century painting by Édouard Debat-Ponsan.  Catherine de’ Medici is in black.  The scene from Dubois (above) re-imagined.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by reference detailed in this “notes” section.  Thus as to the “modern illustration of mob violence,” the image is courtesy of the mob violence or “riot” link in the first indented paragraph.  The caption:  “Law enforcement teams deployed to control riots often wear body armor and shields, and may use tear gas.”

The Jesus-and-fig-tree image is courtesy of Jesus, Philip, Nathanael and the Fig  

Re:  Pope John Paul II’s 1997 statement.  He issued it on August 23, the eve of St. Bartholomew’s Day, in the city where the massacre took place.  Note also the poignant painting by “Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais,” who…

…managed to create a sentimental moment in the massacre in his painting A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew’s Day (1852), which depicts a Catholic woman attempting to convince her Huguenot lover to wear the white scarf badge of the Catholics and protect himself.  The man, true to his beliefs, gently refuses her.

Googling the phrase “celebrate our differences” got me some 115,000,000 results.

Re:  Being “flayed alive.”  Wikipedia noted that the practice, “known colloquially as skinning, was a method of slow and painful execution in which skin is removed from the body.  Generally, an attempt is made to keep the removed portion of skin intact.”  The article added this:

Dermatologist Ernst G. Jung notes that the typical causes of death due to flaying are shock, critical loss of blood or other body fluidshypothermia, or infections, and that the actual death is estimated to occur from a few hours up to a few days after the flaying.  Hypothermia is possible, as skin is essential for maintaining a person’s body temperature, as it provides a person’s natural insulation.

The lower image is courtesy of Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “Saint Bartholomew displaying his flayed skin in Michelangelo‘s ‘The Last Judgment.'”

Perverting “Fundamental” – ism…

Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, 1865

Jacob wrestling with the angel” – or with God – something a Fundamentalist would never do…

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Last Sunday, August 6, was the Feast day for The Transfiguration of Jesus.  And Tuesday, August 15, is the Feast of St Mary, the Virgin.  But first, a word about “perverting Fundamentalism.”

In the religious sense, Fundamentalism indicates “unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs.”  Or in the alternative, it indicates a faith “characterized by a markedly strict literalism.”

But the main theme of this blog is that such “markedly strict literalism” results in a closed mind.  And a whole set of Christians who are only cheating themselves.   And a set of Christians who are driving away potential converts “in droves.”

I’ve referred to such close-minded literalists as boot-camp Christians, or as “Comfort Zone Christians.”  Yet another descriptive term could be “half-way Christians.”  As in, Christians who go only half way in building up their spiritual “mansion.”  They put in a foundation, as in “an underlying base or support; especially:  the whole masonry substructure of a building.”

Which makes this a good time to note that the word “fundamental” comes from the late Middle English – Medieval Latin – term fundāmentālis , meaning of or “belonging to a foundation.”

But then these Christians don’t build anything on top of that foundation.  That results – spiritually speaking – in something like the image at right:  A “foundation,” with noting built on top of it.  Or put this way:

The theory or theme here is that people who read the Bible in a strict, narrow or “fundamental” way are only cheating themselves.

(See About the Blog.)  The result is that they have “perverted” the original sense of the word “fundamental;”  they have altered that term “from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.”  Instead of laying a foundation, and then building a spiritual house on top of it, they’re happy living on just the foundation itself.

 And they end up living a barren, “spirit-less” life, contrary to John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  (Not to mention, 2d Corinthians 3:6:  “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”)  Not only that, these too-iiteral fundamentalists end up – spiritually speaking – sleeping, eating and living only on a cold, concrete foundation, and thus effectively in a hole in the ground.  That’s the metaphor for the day anyway…

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On a more positive note:  Last Sunday, August 6, was the Feast day for The Transfiguration of Jesus,  For more on that see On the Transfiguration of Jesus – 2016, and/or The Transfiguration – The Greatest Miracle in the World.  One key point is that it’s arguably the “greatest miracle in the world” because – unlike the other miracles of Jesus – this one happened to Him.   All the other miracles involved Jesus doing things for other people.

But the key point there is that the Transfiguration “stands as an allegory of the transformative nature” of the faith of the Bible.  That is, the allegory of undergoing a “marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.”

But you can’t do that if you read the Bible too literally.

And finally, Tuesday, August 15, is the Feast of St Mary, the Virgin.   For more on her see On St. Mary, Mother, and/or St. Mary the Virgin, and/or Mary, mother of Jesus – Wikipedia.

The key point there is that this Mary had to undergo quite a transformation herself…

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Sassoferrato - Jungfrun i bön.jpg

“The Virgin Mary in prayer” – by Sassoferrato – circa 1650.

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The upper image is courtesy of Alexander Louis Leloir, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.  I’ve used the image in previous posts, including On arguing with God and On “originalism.”

The image to the left of the first main paragraph is courtesy of a 2012 post by Peter Enns, the “American biblical scholartheologian, and writer…  Outside of his academic work Enns is a contributor to HuffPost and Patheos,” and is “best known for his book Inspiration and Incarnation, which challenged conservative/mainstream Evangelical methods of biblical interpretation.”  The post is titled Why I Don’t Give up on Fundamentalists (including the not nice ones), and includes these thoughts:   1) “Fundamentalists are human beings and therefore are of infinite worth,”  2)  “Fundamentalists are my brothers and sisters in the faith,” and  3)  “Some fundamentalists are on a journey out of fundamentalism, even if they do not yet know it, and they need a place to land.”

The “‘foundation,’ without anything built on top of it” image is courtesy of Construction of the administrative building  

Re:  Spiritual “mansion.”  See John 14:2, translated in the King James Bible:  “In my Father’s house are many mansions:  if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

The lower image is courtesy of the Marian perspectives link at Mary, mother of Jesus – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “The Virgin in Prayer, by Sassoferrato, c. 1650.”  (Or in the alternative:  “Jungfrun i bön(1640-1650). National GalleryLondon.”)   Also, for a thorough analysis of how the term has evolved over the years, see What Is “Fundamentalism” and Who Is a “Fundamentalist?”

On Mary of Magdala and James the Greater, Saints

Tizian 009.jpg

A “Penitent Magdalene,” by Titian (1565)…

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And speaking of getting back on track,* we just had two major feast days.   Last July 22 – a Saturday – was the feast day for Mary Magdalene.  And last Tuesday, July 25, was the Feast Day for James, son of Zebedee.  He was also known as “St. James the Greater.”

Mary of Magdala was “the Apostle to the Apostles.”  (As noted in last year’s post.)  Which she did “despite a sordid past and a really lousy reputation.” But there’s some thought that – in being tagged as a prostitute – she got mixed up with the “sinner who anoints Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50.”  (“Mary” was a common name back then.)

Then there’s another thought:  That her lousy reputation was due to “jealous males trying to  sully her reputation.”  Put simply, she showed a heck of lot more courage than all the male Apostles did after Jesus’ crucifixion.

That is, while they cowered behind closed doors, she braved the danger and went out to become “the first person to see the empty tomb of Jesus, and one of the first – if not the first – to see the risen Jesus.”  That’s one reason that St. Augustine referred to her as the “Apostle to the Apostles.”  But it could also explain other efforts to trash her reputation:

Mary of Magdala is perhaps the most maligned and misunderstood figure in early Christianity…  Since the fourth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute and public sinner…   Paintings, some little more than pious pornography, reinforce the mistaken belief that sexuality, especially female sexuality, is shameful, sinful, and worthy of repentance.  Yet the actual biblical account of Mary of Magdala paints a far different portrait than that of the bare-breasted reformed harlot of Renaissance art.

Guido Reni - Saint James the Greater - Google Art Project.jpgOn a more positive note, July 25 was the Feast Day for James, son of Zebedee.  He’s one of several “James” in the New Testament. (“Mary” and “James” were both common names in  New Testament times.)  But this James is also called “St. James the Greater.”  (That post included the image at left, of St. James.)

And incidentally, this St. James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.

See for example, the September 2016 post On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts.  The “sluts” in question were mentioned by Robert Louis Stevenson in his ground-breaking 1879 work Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.  (It was considered a “pioneering classic of outdoor literature,” and the inspiration for John Steinbeck‘s 1962 nonfiction work, Travels with Charley.)

The point being that I’ve gone on a few pilgrimages in my time, and am fixing to go on another one this September:  Hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  And in the  Sluts post, I noted that in the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to “the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude:”

The post also said a pilgrimage can be  “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.  Which occurred after last year’s hike on the Chilkoot Trail:

For my part, I certainly felt “chastened” after we got back to Skagway from the Chilkoot Trail.(Although the 10-of-12 beers that my nephew and I shared – of the two six-packs I bought – helped a lot too.)  And I had a blister-on-a-blister that got infected – that didn’t fully heal until three weeks after the hike – to further heighten the feeling of getting “chastened.”

Which brings us back to St. James the Greater, who is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.

In the picture below, St. James is seen accoutred as a pilgrim, complete with the accessories “needed for a task or journey.”  That is, he is shown wearing a pilgrim’s hat and with a walking stick in the background.  And here’s part of the prayer to St. James:  “O Glorious Saint James … Obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending struggles of this life.”

To which we all might add a hearty Amen, “So be it!

Especially as to those blisters-on-blisters that get infected.  (The two-six-pack cure:  Optional.)

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 St. James the Greater, dressed and accoutred as the quintessential Pilgrim

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The Penitent Magdalene is a 1565 oil painting by Titian of saint Mary Magdalene, now in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.  Unlike his 1533 version of the same subject, Titian has covered Mary’s nudity and introduced a vase, an open book and a skull as a memento mori.  Its coloring is more mature than the earlier work, using colors harmoni[z]ing with character.  In the background the sky is bathed in the rays of the setting sun, with a dark rock contrasting with the brightly lit figure of Mary.

That is, Titian did a “racier” version in 1533.  See Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533) – Wikipedia.

Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to “getting back on track,” that refers to getting back to the business of Bible-related posts, after “Comfort Zone Christians,” and The “Bizarro Rick Santorum.”

The Bible readings for the two feast days can be seen at Mary Magdalene, and St James, respectively.

The image to the right of the paragraph including “shown at right in a modern interpretation” was originally courtesy of “FutureChurch.”  A re-check of the link on July 30, 2017, showed that it included information on Mary Magdalene, but no longer included the “modern” image.  

The lower image is courtesy of James, son of Zebedee – Wikipedia, with the full caption, “Saint James the Elder by Rembrandt[.]  He is depicted clothed as a pilgrim;  note the scallop shell on his shoulder and his staff and pilgrim’s hat beside him.”