Saturday, 27 October 2012

Antisemitism revisited

One other detail which has stayed with me from this conference, from a paper by Rebecca Peterson on how the Lutheran theologian Philip Melanchthon wrote about the Jews. Melanchthon was (in this as in many things) much more moderate and softly-spoken than Luther himself. But apparently, when he wanted to say something positive about the children of Abraham, he tended to call them Hebrews or Israelites; when he wanted to criticise them, even if he was talking about the same time period, they became Jews. The implication is that there really were good and admirable Jews: but they'd all been dead for more than two thousand years.

None of which makes Melanchthon implicit in genocide. But it does make him implicit in something.

Sixteenth Century Studies at Cincinnati - II

Another day, another batch of papers. Two I'd flag up today, in addition to various others which were as good as I knew they'd be. Paula McQuade of De Paul University did a great piece on catechisms written by mothers for their children, using a wonderfully rich Northamptonshire manuscript that no-one has ever come across before, and painting a delightful picture of how tender and intimate this business could be.

But (in a day which has been dominated by literary stuff) the one which most struck me was Hannibal Hamlin's piece on how George Herbert's poetry drew on Robert Southwell's. That may not sound too exciting, but stay with me. He was talking about Herbert's 'Love (III)', the final poem in his sequence 'The Temple':

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
         If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
         Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
         I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
         Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
         Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
         My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
         So I did sit and eat.
Which I knew and loved before. But what Hannibal proved, to my satisfaction, is that this poem contains conscious and deliberate echoes of Southwell's poem St Peter's Complaint, which was very well known in the period. Which left me thinking that Herbert wants to allow us to read his poem as being spoken by St Peter; and not by the despairing Peter who has just denied Christ, like in Southwell's poem, but by the Peter who cannot dare believe that the risen Christ is forgiving him and is asking him to sit and have breakfast on the beach. And now that you have that in your mind, can you read Herbert's poem the same way?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Sixteenth Century Studies at Cincinnati

A half-time report on this always amiable conference. In amongst seeing old friends and eating a lot of seafood, I have also made it to a few papers. Megan Hickerson and Margo Todd gave excellent papers on, respectively, how the fact that Henry VIII was fat has affected the way we've understood him, and on the genuine popularity of the comprehensive moral policing that sixteenth-century Perth enjoyed.

But the fun of these conferences is hearing people you've never heard of speaking on subjects you never thought of. I'd pick out two so far as especially good:

Yesterday, I heard Rosemary Lee, a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, speaking about the Carmelite missionaries in Persia in the early 1620s; and in particular about their housekeeper, a woman whom they nicknamed 'Teresa'. 'Persian Teresa' apparently converted to Catholicism or something which she understood to be Catholicism - and not because the missionaries tried to convert her, but of her own initiative, since they were clearly surprised. And then she took it on herself to become a wandering preacher, until the surprised friars realised what was going on and reined her in. But she was a preacher in an apparently traditional Shi'a Muslim mode; this combination of homegrown Catholicism and Persian Shi'ism seems to have been very much her own concoction. It's a great story and she presented it very engagingly: it should make a terrific article.

And today, I heard Bruno Feitler of the Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo in Brazil talking about the Inquisition in Goa, the Portuguese colony in India, in the late sixteenth century. I've always told students that the Inquisition only had jurisdiction over baptised Christians, but I now discover that's not exactly true. Even in Portugal, it occasionally claimed the right to try Jews who were pretending to have converted but had in fact never been baptised. In Goa, the Inquisition was initially felt to be a hindrance to missionary work (since baptism meant subjecting yourself to it). But then it discovered an ingenious workaround. It claimed the right to try non-Christians who were luring Christians into error; which meant, in practice, sentencing these people to death and then pardoning them on condition that they converted and were baptised. This trick was by 1580 producing so many converts that the Jesuits queried the practice - but the king of Portugal backed them up. By the early 17th century the Goan Inquisition was using this wholesale, even on indigenous peoples who hadn't threatened converts' religion at all. And it worked ... who says persecution doesn't pay?

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Auckland Castle

I spent much of yesterday at Auckland Castle, as part of the advisory panel to the massive redevelopment planned there, which will eventually include big exhibitions on the history of the Church in the region, and also on the history of religion in Britain from the earliest days to the present. All very exciting, and some of the fun tech-y possibilities for the use of smartphone apps in the museum context which Dee Dyas from York's Centre for Christianity and Culture was showing us were really impressive.

But the star of the day was obviously the building itself. I'd been there before, chiefly to photograph this item for my forthcoming book:

It's a memorial painting for Bishop James Pilkington, the first Protestant bishop of Durham and arguably the most Puritan bishop ever in the Church of England; and it's also the most realistic contemporary image of a Protestant family at prayer which I know of.
But there's lots more there, naturally, and we got shown to all the nooks and crannies normally hidden - including whole sections desperately in need of some love, attention and money. Highlights included the memorial in the chapel to Bishop Richard Trevor (1752-71), known cruelly in his own time as 'The Beauty of Holiness' - and while the sculptor clearly tried to improve on the original, you can still see why:

Rather more specially, this lectern-box which, like so much else, dates from Bishop Cosin's time, in the 1660s. It's in the bishops' private chapel which isn't normally open to the public:

More of this kind of stuff will eventually come out into the light of day as the Castle is progressively opened up over the next five or more years. The hope is not only that it'll be a superb exhibition; but also that it'll bring an economic boost to Bishop Auckland, which has yet to be seriously touched by the economic regeneration that some other parts of the North-East have seen.


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Protestant transubstantiation

Busy week, so not much posting. Just time for a bonkers theological idea of the week. Apparently the Lutheran theologian Flacius Illyricus, at a debate in 1560, argued that the Fall was a kind of transubstantiation, in which the Aristotelian substance of humanity was totally altered from God’s image into Satan’s at the fall, despite preserving the outward image of God only damaged in the visible person. So while it might appear outwardly that humanity is capable of good as well as evil, this is an illusion: behind and beyond all verifiable evidence is a brute fact, namely that we are totally depraved.
            Or to put it another way: a certain kind of Protestant needs to believe in human corruption so badly that they will reconstruct the whole of reality, if necessary, to assert it.