Archive for the ‘David’ Tag

The Genuine Jerusalem and ‘the trump of God’: Part One – The House of David.   Leave a comment

024

‘Fake History’ versus Religious Literacy:

‘Fake News’ has apparently now found a supplement in ‘Fake History’ for the Trump administration in the United States of America. At the beginning of Advent 2017, in a move mainly concerned with pleasing the religious right in America rather than appeasing Israel, the ‘peacock’ President unilaterally declared Jerusalem as the (exclusive) capital of Israel and promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to the city. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this action in terms of an ultimate two-state solution in Palestine, the justification that it is based on three thousand years of history is, quite simply, in error, whether one looks at the historical, archaeological or biblical evidence. It is more connected with literal and heretical interpretations of the Book of Revelation among extreme evangelicals than with the records contained in the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles, viewed in the context of other contemporary sources. It is also based on a view which is at best misguided and at worst purely ignorant of the nature of the territories and kingdoms of Israel and Judah in ancient times, in relation to their neighbours, as well as with regard to the role of Jerusalem in ancient times. We live in a time when a decline in religious and historical literacy has allowed a literal fundamentalism to become predominant in church and politics, at least in the USA. A leading American evangelical, Gary M. Burge, has recently expressed his frustration at the failure of his fellows to grasp and articulate the true message of the Old Testament about the true mission of the peoples of Israel:

Numerous evangelicals like me are less enamored of the recent romance between the church and Republican politics, and worry about moving the U.S. embassy. For us, peacemaking and the pursuit of justice are very high virtues. We view the ethical teachings of the scriptures as primary, and recognize that when biblical Israelites failed in their moral pursuits, they were sorely criticized by the Hebrew prophets and became subject to ejection from the Holy Land. … We need people like them now to remind the White House that in the Middle East, even symbolic gestures can have very real, dangerous consequences. But we also need evangelicals to do this. Trump listens to his evangelical advisers—and they are the ones who can lead him back to the Hebrew prophets, where a different point of view can be found.

In this series of ‘postings’, I have chosen to return to the basic sources which I used as a student of Biblical Studies and Church History and informed my early career in teaching History and Religious Education. In doing so, I want to demonstrate how important it is to understand the parallel development of the ancient history of Palestine and Israel with the evolution of an oral and literary tradition of first Jewish and later Christian eschatology, concerned to provide the persecuted faithful with a sustained vision of divine power. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the two are connected in the figure and person of the Messiah breaking through into human reality. This time of year, Advent, Hannukah and Christmas are redolent of these themes.

The Empire of David and Solomon:

013

The history of Jerusalem as a Hebrew or ‘Israelite’ capital begins with David’s capture of it from the Philistines, following his establishment of his united, independent rule over the whole of the territory of the ten tribes (II Samuel 5. 17-25). The Philistine empire had been swept away overnight by a man who, unlike the current American President, had won his way to power through his sheer intellectual ability. After the battle of Mount Gilboa (c. 1,000 BC), in which both King Saul, the first Hebrew king, and his son Jonathan were both killed (1 Sam. 31), it had seemed that the Israelite kingdom was at an end and that Philistine power was unchallenged. David’s first steps towards national leadership were taken under Philistine auspices. They thought that they had every reason to trust him, and no doubt approved on his first action, which was to advance on Hebron, the chief city of Judah (II Sam. 2.2-4). They underestimated his status as a ‘national hero’ to the Judaeans, who needed no show of force to choose him as their king. However, to the Philistines, this ‘kingship’ was a title without substance: as far as they were concerned, he was governing Judea as a vassal state on their behalf.

David spent his next few years consolidating his territorial position. He accepted the invitation of the local elders to become king of the north and east (II Sam. 5.1-3). Although his defeat of the Philistines was decisive, he did not annex their home territory: he left them still independent but unable to harm him (II Sam. 8.1). Instead, he went on to conquer the neighbouring states of Moab, Edom and Ammon, and the Aramaean kingdoms of Zobah and Damascus (II Sam. 8; 10. 15-19; 12. 26-31), in such short order that the more distant states of Hamath and Tyre quickly established friendly relations with the new power which had appeared in Palestine. As a result, during his lifetime, no foreign power attacked the Israelite territories. Apart from his capture of Jerusalem, we are not told what happened to the city-states of Canaan. Some had been conquered by the Philistines, others remained independent. Only later in the biblical narrative are they referred to as ‘cities in Israel’. We may assume that they capitulated to David, as it was unlikely that he would have tolerated independent enclaves within his home territory when setting out on foreign campaigns.

003

Therefore, by the mid-tenth century BC, a ‘country’ which, only a few years previously, had consisted of a few loosely-organised tribes under foreign domination had now become an Israelite empire, stretching from the border between Egypt and Gaza to the Euphrates. Its creator, David, was to rule it for almost forty years, until 961 B.C. Internally, David took some shrewd steps to consolidate his position. Although his capture of Jerusalem probably took place later than is suggested in the biblical account (II Sam. 5. 6-9), he then transferred his capital there from Hebron. He thus not only secured an extremely strong, fortified city as the centre of his government but also forestalled tribal jealousies. Had he continued to rule from Hebron, the northern tribes might have seen him as a Judaean upstart; but Jerusalem had no tribal connections at all, so he was able to project himself as an impartial king of ‘all Israel’.

Even more successful was David’s transfer to Jerusalem of the ark of the Covenant. This was a sacred object, once the rallying point of the tribal league, which had been captured by the Philistines. It still had the power to command the old loyalties to the priesthood which had existed before Saul became king, and by placing it in his new capital, David made another shrewd move to strengthen loyalty to himself and to allay any suspicions that more conservative factions might have had that he intended to sweep away old traditions and institutions in establishing a new type of monarchy based on the pagan model of the imperial rulers in the region. By this action, he proved both his piety as an Israelite of old and his concern to give the old tribal league a permanent centre where the traditional worship of the God of Israel would be carried on as before.

He was greatly assisted in these policies by what must have seemed to his subjects and contemporaries as miraculous success in everything he did. No-one, it was believed, could have been so successful without at least a measure of divine favour. This is the constant narrative theme of the Hebrew scriptures about him, becoming almost a ‘theological dogma’ in II Sam. 7 where God is represented as confirming David’s position as the divinely appointed and anointed leader through whom God’s will for his people was achieved. There is no reason to doubt that David himself believed this, and saw himself as the servant of the God of Israel. At the same time, however, he was well aware that his was a composite, multi-ethnic kingdom, comprising Canaanites as well as Israelites. The cooperation of the latter was not only essential for the safety of the state, but also of great potential benefit to it. They were the heirs of centuries of civilised urban living and superior to the Israelites both in warfare and in the arts of peace. Unassimilated, they constituted a serious existential threat; assimilated, they provided David with much-needed administrative and military expertise. In return for their loyalty, David seems to have recognised their autonomy over their own local administration, also allowing them the freedom to practise their own religious traditions.

Thus in his religious policy, David steered a careful middle course. At Jerusalem, the worship of the God of Israel centred upon the ark was modified by elements borrowed from the pre-Israelite Canaanite cult. In this way, Canaanites who worshipped in the city did not feel that the Hebrew worship was entirely alien, imposed on them by a foreign conqueror. A similar policy was adopted in the former Canaanite cities, and the worship of their gods, thus tolerated, continued to flourish throughout the period of the monarchy. David was no religious fanatic, though believing himself to be under the favour and protection of the God of Israel. In fact, this ‘multi-cultural’ approach contributed considerably to his success as a ruler by divine right.

David’s systematic monarchy was very different from the chaotic rule of Saul. As a powerful political state, Israel rapidly developed institutions which were entirely new to the Israelites, in many respects modelled on those of its neighbours. The business of efficient government required a professional civil service which David recruited from both Israelite and Canaanite sources, also employing skilled scribes from other countries which had greater experience in administration, especially from Egypt. This central government at Jerusalem provided the king with advice on political problems in the ‘wisdom’ tradition of the Near East. It also administered justice under the king as chief judge, collected taxes and dues, organised a state labour force, kept administrative records and dealt with foreign affairs, maintaining diplomatic correspondence with foreign powers and negotiating international treaties.

These ‘wise men’ were also known as ‘scribes’, belonging to an educated class which was international in character and identifiable throughout the ancient Near and Middle East. It comprised statesmen and administrators as well as men of letters, and it exerted great influence on the affairs of Judah from the time of David to the fall of the Judaean state. They were products of a higher education whose aim was to inculcate a religious mental discipline and to provide hard-headed and clear-thinking men to fill important diplomatic and administrative offices in the state. The title of ‘scribe’ was given to such high officials in Egypt as well as to their counterparts in Babylonia and Assyria. The title ‘scribe’ or ‘secretary’ does not simply mean that the person is a skilled writer, nor does it show that the office he holds is one which calls for linguistic dexterity. It implies that without these skills a man did not possess the essential qualifications for office, and is a reminder that the mastery of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sumerian cuneiform scripts required intellectual concentration of a high order. In II Sam. 8. 16-18 and 20. 23-25 there are official lists of the leading members of David’s establishment, ecclesiastical, civil and military. Of the two political officials named, Seraiah is ‘the secretary’ of state, and Jehoshaphat is ‘the recorder’. Both are of the highest rank in the government.  Solomon’s principal officials are called ‘statesmen’, and a hereditary principle is seen to apply in both civil and ecclesiastical spheres. The office of secretary of state, occupied by Seraiah under David, appears to be held jointly by his two sons (I Kings 4. 1-6). Solomon’s list is longer than that of David’s reign, reflecting the more complicated organisation of Solomon’s state. Azariah, son of Nathan, is said to have control of ‘the officials’, probably the twelve appointed by Solomon over all Israel, each of whom was responsible for the provisioning of the royal household for one month of the year.

002

The degree of centralised control which was exercised by Solomon brought into being a cadre of officials who had close associations with Jerusalem and the court and to whom administration and diplomacy were trusted. They were a class specially educated from an early age for the responsibility of high office, and it may be that a school for ‘scribes’ was founded by Solomon in Jerusalem in order to meet the demand for high service in his state. These ‘statesmen’ were at the centre of government and foreign affairs in Israel and Judah from the time of David to the end of the monarchy. They had all the prestige and reputation as weighty counsellors to the king. Diplomacy and administration became a profession in Judah and were in the hands of a class of men who understood the internationally accepted protocol and had their own standards of efficiency, conscientiousness and integrity.

These administrative developments had far-reaching consequences. In particular, they facilitated greater social distinctions than Israelite society had ever known before. The Canaanite cities were already accustomed to a highly stratified social structure, but this was the first time that the freeborn Israelites had experienced rule by a wealthy, urban ruling class whose interests were far from identical from their own. In the reigns of David and Solomon, Jerusalem became a wealthy, cosmopolitan city in which this ruling class enjoyed a standard of living beyond anything which could have been dreamed of by the Hebrew peasantry and craftworkers. Apart from the fact that they were now free from foreign oppression and slavery, the ordinary Israelite population still consisted mainly of farmers who hardly felt the benefits of Israel’s new ‘imperial’ status.

Supreme above the new upper class stood the king. Whatever the divine sanctions by which he claimed to rule, and however much he might rely on the loyalty of the ordinary Israelite, one of the main sources of his power was his professional army, which owed him a purely personal loyalty. It was this army which had first enabled David to capture Jerusalem, but many of its members were foreigners who had no reason for loyalty to Israel or its deity (II Sam. 8. 18; 11; 15. 18-22; 20. 7, 23). It was these ‘servants of David’ who, during Absalom’s rebellion, defeated the rebels, known as ‘the men of Israel’ and restored David to the throne (II Sam. 18. 7). Having secured his position through this mercenary army, David was able to play the part of an oriental monarch, gathering around him a court which imitated the splendour of foreign courts and tending to become more isolated from the common people (II Sam. 15. 3 f.) He was too shrewd, however, to allow this tendency to go too far. He knew that ultimately he could not retain his throne without the loyalty and affection of his people, and also that too great a departure from social and religious traditions of the Israel of old would put his throne in danger. It is unlikely that this Israelite monarchy, at this or any other time during its short existence, succumbed to the temptation of claiming for itself that semi-divine character which was characteristic of other monarchies of the time. We have to distinguish between some of the high-flown language in the Psalms and the Second Book of Samuel and the actual political realities faced by David. He was certainly regarded, like Saul, as ‘the Lord’s anointed’, the man who had brought salvation to his people, but there were too many men at his court who knew the facts of his rise to power for any further extravagant notions about his office to gain wide credence.

David did, however, firmly adopt one aspect of the monarchical concept which hardly accorded with the Israelite ideas of charismatic leaders, chosen personally by God: the principle of a hereditary monarchy. Saul had also intended that his son Jonathan should succeed him, but under David, the principle seems to have been taken for granted, and it was given a religious sanction in the divine promise given to him in II Sam. 7.  However, neither David’s own position nor the future of his family was really secure. The power and prosperity of the Israelite state made it vulnerable to usurpers, and such men found no lack of grievances which could be turned to their advantage. There were many who had remained loyal to Saul and his family and continued to regard David as a traitor and a murderer, and there were others who had come to disapprove of his arrogant and sinful actions such as his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. In the north, there were those who resented being ruled by a Judaean, and there were still others who felt that the old religious and social traditions were being overthrown. Following the rebellion led by his own son, Absalom, a man called Sheba, of Saul’s tribe of Benjamin, also rose in rebellion (II Sam. 15-20). Although that rebellion was similarly crushed, the feelings of discontent remained.

The situation in the latter part of the reign was complicated by uncertainty about the succession to the throne. David had a number of wives, several of whom had borne him sons. In the hereditary monarchies of the ancient Near East, there was no rule of ‘primogeniture’, that the eldest son must succeed. The king had the right to choose his own heir, and it was obviously desirable that this should be done in good time. After the death of Absalom, there remained Adonijah and Solomon, half-brothers, as obvious candidates. The rivalry between the brothers led to a dangerous feud among the leading men of the state. But Adonijah made a false move, and paid for it with his life, dragging down with him some of the most important personalities of the reign which was now ending. Solomon was king, but he began his reign with a bloodbath (I Kings 2). In spite of splendid outward appearances, not least the construction of the Temple, the reign (961-922 B.C.) was a period of stagnation and the beginnings of Israel’s decline. This came as no surprise to contemporaries for whom even the reign of another David (which Solomon was not) could probably not have held together the heterogeneous empire for a second generation.

In economic terms, matters continued to progress relatively well. Although the agricultural resources and reserves of Israel were by no means great, it was well placed in other respects. The overlordship of the Canaanite plain had given David control of the only land route linking Egypt in the south with Mesopotamia in the east and Asia Minor in the north. Solomon ensured his control over it by extensive fortifications of the key cities  (I Kings 4. 26; 9. 15-19; 10. 26), deriving considerable wealth from it through tolls, taxes and external trade. He also established, through the alliance with Tyre, a lucrative maritime trade, building his own sea-port on the Red Sea. He also mined copper in Edom and refined it for export. Besides the trade with Egypt and Tyre, trade was also established with South Arabia (I Kings 10. 2,13). These activities brought considerable profit to Israel, but Solomon succumbed to a fatal folie de grandeur by attempting to imitate the splendours of Egypt and Mesopotamia, erecting buildings of great magnificence. Since Israel itself possessed neither the materials nor the skilled labour, he had to import these from Tyre, and as a consequence found himself in financial difficulties (I Kings 9. 10-14). At the same time, he alienated popular support not only by over-burdening his people with an extravagant court (I Kings 4. 7-19, 22f.) but also by extending the forced labour scheme which David had begun to such an extent that it seriously impaired agricultural efficiency (I Kings 5. 13-18).

The Israelite empire began to break up. Judah remained loyal to the king, and the Canaanite cities gave no trouble; but Edom and Damascus revolted, re-establishing their independence and becoming dangerous enemies (I Kings 11. 14-25); and the northern tribes of Israel produced their own leader, Jeroboam, who, when his first uprising failed, retired to Egypt where he was given protection and bided his time (I Kings 11. 26-40).

001

Solomon’s most enduring achievement was the building of the temple at Jerusalem, but he could not have realised at the time the significance this would have in later times. The building was merely the corollary of David’s bringing of the ark to Jerusalem. Solomon provided a magnificent shrine for it, but in doing so he employed Phoenician architects and craftsmen to design and build it, thereby ensuring an increase in the Canaanite element of Israel’s worship. Solomon is praised in several biblical passages for his wisdom, but only one of these refers to his statesmanship in doing so. He may have been wise in other respects, but statesmanship was not one of these. Therefore, the early promise of political greatness for Israel went unfulfilled. It had undertaken fundamental changes during the reigns of David and Solomon, changes which would not be reversed. The Hebrews had been brought into the world of international politics and culture. The striking literary examples of this are to be found in the ‘succession narratives’ in which the characters and events at David’s court are described in vivid detail (II Sam. 9-20; I Kings 1; 2) Much of the advances in literary craftsmanship are due to the influence of Egypt and the Canaanite cities, but it is no mere imitation; its authors applied the newly-acquired techniques and insights to their own historical traditions, in which the new confident, national spirit inspired by the heroic achievements of David had given them a new sense of pride.

We not only have the narrative texts of the Books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles and the interpretative sources of the prophets on which to base our knowledge of the rise and fall of the Israelite empire, but a vast quantity of written sources dealing with the international setting of the history of Israel has been discovered. Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian records provide a very full account of the histories of those empires, including their relationships with the Israelite kingdoms. In a few instances, they contain independent accounts of events described in the biblical narrative. From Palestine itself we also have two texts, written in Hebrew; the Siloam Inscription, written by Hezekiah’s engineers inside a water tunnel (cf. II Kings 20. 20) and the Lachish Letters, a correspondence between Judaean army officers during the campaign which ended with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. The excavation of Samaria, the Israelite capital built by Omri, also brought to light the Samaria Ivories, part of the decoration of Ahab’s palace (I Kings 22. 39).

014

Who was Martin Luther and why did he ‘rebel’ against the Pope in 1517-18?   Leave a comment

The Eve of the Reformation:

003

Traditionally, the Protestant Reformation began on the eve of All Souls’ Day, 31 October 1517. On that day Martin Luther (1483-1536), professor of biblical studies at the newly founded University of Wittenberg in Germany, announced a disputation on indulgences. He stated his argument in Ninety-Five Theses. Though they were heavily academic in both form and content, and were moderate in tone, news of them spread rapidly throughout Germany as soon as they were translated into German and printed. But the 95 Theses were not by any means intended as a call to radical reformation. They were not even a proposal for reform of an abuse of the Church’s power, but were propositions put forward by an earnest university professor for a discussion of the theology of indulgences, the selling of ‘pardons’ by clergy and bankers’ agents in order to collect money for the upkeep and building of churches.

The dealings in indulgences (‘the holy trade’ as it was openly known), had grown into a scandal. To begin with, reformers did not oppose indulgences in their true and original sense – as the merciful release of a penitent sinner from a penance previously imposed by a priest. What they opposed were the additions and perversions which they saw as harmful to the salvation of men, and which infected the everyday practice of the Church. Medieval people had a real dread of the period of punishment in purgatory which was portrayed in great detail in the decorations within their churches. They had no great fear of hell, believing that, if they died forgiven and blessed by their priest, they were guaranteed access through heaven’s gates, the keys to which were held by the pope, as St Peter’s successor. But they feared purgatory’s pains; for the church taught that before they reached heaven they had to be cleansed of every son committed in mortal life. Once penance was made a sacrament, the ordinary person believed that an indulgence assured the shortening of the punishments to be endured after death in purgatory. The relics of the Castle Church in Wittenberg were reckoned to earn a remission of 1,902,202 years and 270 days!

Luther’s Early Life:

More books have been written about Luther, the great German Reformer, than about any other figure in history, except for Jesus Christ. Like the latter, not much is known about the first thirty years or so of his life. He was born at Eisleben and studied law at the University of Leipzig. In 1505 he joined the Augustinian Hermits in Erfurt, after taking a dramatic vow in a thunderstorm, and was ordained in 1507. After studying theology he was sent by his order to the University of Wittenberg to teach moral theology and the Bible. In 1511 he visited Rome on business for his order, and in the same year became a doctor of theology and professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg.

When. as a monk, Luther diagnosed the disease of Christian Europe to be the same as his own spiritual disease, he broke through to the gospel. In his monastery Luther had been searching for God’s pardon and peace. He faithfully obeyed his order, and observed punctiliously the spiritual techniques. Yet he found himself no nearer to God. He began to see that the way of the monk was merely a long discipline of religious duty and effort. Mysticism was an attempt to climb up to heaven. Academic theology was little more than speculation about God, his nature and his character.

Luther found one basic error in all these techniques of finding God. Ultimately they trusted in man’s own ability to get him to God, or at least take him near enough for God to accept him. Luther realised that it was not a matter of God being far from man, and man having to strive to reach him. The reverse was true. Man, created and sinful, was distant from God; God in Christ had come all the way to find him. This was no new truth, but simply the old gospel of grace, which had been overlaid. Luther’s discovery did not represent a break with traditional doctrines. The reformers held, within the Roman Church at first, all the orthodox doctrines stated in the general creeds of the early church, but they also understood these doctrines in the particular context of salvation in Christ alone. From Luther’s rediscovery of the direct and personal relationship between Christ and the believer came the three great principles of the Reformation; the primacy of the Bible as God’s word of authority, justification of the sinner by grace alone, and the belief in the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

002

Luther’s views became widely known when he posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg. He attacked the teaching behind the sale of indulgences and the church’s material preoccupations. But he also contrasted the treasures the treasures of the church with its true wealth, the gospel. Indulgences served not merely to dispense the merits of the saints but also to raise revenues. Roland Bainton, in his seminal work, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950), referred to them as the bingo of the sixteenth century. The practice had grown out of the crusades, as they were first conferred on those who sacrificed or risked their lives in fighting against the Ottoman Turks and were then extended to those who, unable to go to the Holy Land, made contributions to the enterprise. The device proved so lucrative that it was speedily extended to cover the construction of churches, monasteries, and hospitals. The gothic cathedrals were funded by these means, and even secular projects were financed in this way, including a bridge across the Elbe built by Frederick the Wise. However, indulgences had not degenerated into sheer mercenariness by Luther’s time. Conscientious preachers sought to evoke a sense of sin in the purchaser, and only those genuinely convicted would buy. Nevertheless, for many others, as for Luther, the indulgence traffic was a scandal, with one preacher characterising the requisites of the church as three-fold: contrition, confession and contribution.

001

The Indulgence Sale of 1516-17

The cartoon above, by Holbein, makes the point that the handing over of the indulgence letter was so timed as to anticipate the dropping of the money into the coffer. This can be seen in the chamber on the right in which the Pope, Leo X, is enthroned. He is handing a letter of indulgence to a kneeling Dominican friar. In the church stalls on either side are seated a number of church dignitaries. On the right one of them lays his hand upon the head of a kneeling youth and with a stick points to a large iron-bound chest for the contributions, into which a woman is dropping her ‘mite’.  At the table on the left various Dominicans are preparing and dispensing indulgences. One of them repulses a beggar who has nothing to give in exchange, while another is carefully checking the money and withholding the indulgences until the full amount has been received. In contrast, Holbein depicts, on the left, the true repentance of David, Manasseh, and a notorious sinner, who address themselves only to God.

005

The indulgences dispensed at Wittenberg served to support the Castle Church and the university. Luther’s attack therefore struck at the revenue of his own institution. The first blow was certainly not the rebellion of an exploited German against the expropriating greed of the Italian papacy. He was simply a simple priest responsible for the souls of his parishioners and therefore felt a keen sense of duty to warn them against the spiritual pitfalls of buying indulgences. As he put it, good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works. He was determined to preach this, whatever the consequences for the Castle Church and the university. 

In 1517 Luther!s attention was drawn to another instance of the indulgence traffic, this time arising out of the pretensions of the house of Hohenzollern to control both the ecclesiastical and civil life of Germany. Every bishop controlled vast revenues, and some bishops were also princes. Albert of Brandenburg, a Hohenzollern, held the sees of Halberstadt and Magdeburg, and aspired to the archbishopric of Mainz, which would make him the primate of Germany. Albert was confident that money would speak, because the Pope needed it so badly. The pontiff was Leo X, of the House of Medici, whose chief pre-eminence lay in his ability to squander the resources of the Holy See on carnivals, war, gambling and hunting. The Catholic historian Ludwig von Pastor declared that the ascent of this man in an hour of crisis to the chair of St. Peter, a man who scarcely so much as understood the obligations of his high office, was one of the most severe trials to which God ever subjected his Church. Leo was particularly in need of funds to complete a project commenced by his predecessor, the building of the new St. Peter’s. Pope Julius II had begun the work, but though the piers were laid, work had stopped before Julius died and Leo took over.

The negotiations between Albert and the Pope were conducted through the mediation of the German banking-house of Fugger, which exercised monopoly on papal finances in Germany. When the Church needed funds in advance of revenues, she borrowed at usurious rates from the Fuggers, and indulgences were then sold in order to repay the debts, the bankers themselves supervising their collection. They informed Albert that the Pope demanded twelve thousand ducats for the twelve apostles. Albert offered seven for the seven deadly sins, and they compromised on ten, presumably for the Ten Commandments! Albert had to pay the money first, in order to secure his appointment as Archbishop of Mainz, and he borrowed the amount from the Fuggers. To enable Albert to reimburse himself, the Pope granted him the privilege of dispensing an indulgence in his territories for a period of eight years. One half of the returns was to go to the repayment of the Fuggers, and the other half to the Pope.

The indulgences were not offered in Luther’s parish, since the Church could not introduce one without the approval of the civil authorities, and Frederick the Wise would not grant permission in his lands because Wittenberg already had it own indulgences, for All Saints, so the vendors could not enter electoral Saxony, although Luther’s parishioners could go over the border and return with ‘concessions’ which would tempt others to do the same. Subscribers would enjoy a plenary and perfect remission of all sins, as well as restitution to the state of innocence they had enjoyed in baptism and relief from all the pains of purgatory. For those securing indulgences on behalf of the dead, the stages of contrition and confession could be by-passed. Preaching stations, marked by the Cross (see below) were set up so that all might contribute according to their capacity to pay. There was a set fee for each level in the feudal hierarchy, and soon so much money was going into the coffer of the vendor that new coins had to be minted on the spot.

004 (2)

Those without even a single florin to give were allowed to contribute through prayer and fasting, so it is incorrect to suggest that the very poor were stripped of all coinage. The proclamation of the indulgence was entrusted to the Dominican Tetzel, an experienced vendor. When he approached a town, he was met by the civic dignitaries, who then entered with him in solemn procession. A cross bearing the papal arms preceded him, and the pope’s bull of indulgence was borne aloft on a gold-embroidered velvet cushion. The cross was solemnly planted in the market place, and a lengthy sermon began, in which the children of departed were implored to open their ears to their parent’s pleading from purgatory:

We bore you, nourished you, brought you up, left you our fortunes, and you are so cruel that now you are not willing for so little to set us free. Will you let us lie here in flames? Will you delay our promised glory.

The assembled were then reminded that for just a quarter of a florin they could secure the instant release of their beloved dead from the ‘flames’ and the transition of their souls into the ‘fatherland of paradise’. Tetzel used a familiar rhyming couplet to bring this home to even the most uneducated among them:

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, 

The soul from purgatory springs.

Luther’s returning parishioners even reported Tetzel to have said that the papal indulgences could absolve a man who had violated the Mother of God, and that the cross emblazoned with the papal arms set up by the vendors was equal to the cross of Christ. The cartoon (below), published by one of Luther’s followers sometime later, shows the cross in the centre empty of all save the nail holes and the crown of thorns. More prominent beside it stood the papal arms above the preacher, and the Medici balls above the vendor, hawking his wares in the foreground.

004

The Ninety-Five Theses:

So, on the eve of All Souls, 1517, when Frederick the Wise would offer his indulgences, Luther decided to speak out by posting, in accordance with the current practice, a printed placard in Latin on the door of the Castle Church. It consisted of ninety-five theses, or propositions, intended for academic dispute and debate. He directed his attack solely against Tetzel’s reputed sermon, not against Albert of Brandenburg’s transaction. Pope Sixtus IV had set a precedent on promising the immediate release of souls from purgatory, so Tetzel’s jingle did not represent a departure from accepted teaching within the Church, resting on papal authority.  However, Luther’s Theses differed from the normal use of propositions for debate in tone rather than content, crafted as they were in anger. The ninety-five ‘affirmations’ are crisp, bold and unqualified. In the discussions which followed, he explained his meaning more fully. There were three main points: an objection to the avowed object of the expenditure, the basilica of St Peter’s in Rome; a denial of the pope’s powers over purgatory, and a pastoral concern for the welfare of the individual sinner.

The attack focused first on the ostensible intent to spend the money in order to shelter the bones of St Peter and St Paul beneath a universal shrine for all Christendom. We Germans cannot attend St Peters, he wrote, suggesting that the pope would do better to appoint one good pastor and give the money to the poor folk who are being fleeced by the hawkers of indulgences. Certainly, he argued, it should never be built our parochial churches be despoiled. This went down well with the Germans, who had been suffering a sense of grievance for some time against what they saw as the corrupt practices of the Italian curia, whilst overlooking those of the German confederates. Luther himself accepted this distortion by ignoring the fact that much of the money collected by Albert was going into the coffers of the Fuggers, rather than to Rome. However, Luther was not concerned so much with the details of the financial transaction as with undermining the whole practice, even if not a single gulden was to leave Wittenberg.

His second point denied the power of the pope over purgatory for the remission of either sin or penalty for sin. The absolution of sin, in his view, was something that could only be given to the contrite sinner in the sacrament of penance:

Papal indulgences do not remove guilt. Beware of those who say that indulgences effect reconciliation with God. The power of the keys cannot make attrition into contrition. He who is contrite has plenary remission of guilt and penalty without indulgences. The pope can remove only those penalties which he himself has imposed on earth, for Christ did not say, “whatsoever I have bound in heaven you may loose on earth.”

006

Luther argued that the penalties of purgatory could not be reduced by the pope because they had been imposed by God, and the pope did not have at his disposal a treasury of credits available for transfer. Thus far, Luther’s attack could in no sense be regarded as heretical or original. Even though Albert’s actions rested on papal bulls, there had as yet been no definitive pronouncement, and many contemporary theologians would have endorsed Luther’s claims. It was his doctrine on salvation which represented a departure from traditional Catholic teaching:

Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security. Christians should be taught that he who gives to the poor is better than he who receives a pardon. He who spends his money for indulgences instead of relieving want receives not the indulgences of the pope but the indignation of God… Love covers a multitude of sins and is better than all the pardons of Jerusalem and Rome… Christians should be encouraged to bear the cross. He who is baptised into Christ must be as a sheep to the slaughter. The merits of Christ are vastly more potent when they bring crosses than when they bring remissions.

The Road to Augsburg and back:

Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses ranged in scope all the way from the complaints of aggrieved Germans to the cries of a wrestler in the night watches. One portion demanded financial relief, the other called for the crucifixion of the self. The masses could grasp the first. Only a few elect spirits would ever comprehend fully the importance of the second. Yet it was in the second that the power lay to create a popular revolution. Complaints of financial extortion had been voiced for more than a century to no great effect. Men were stirred to deeds only by one who regarded indulgences not only as corrupt, but as blasphemy against the holiness and mercy of God.

Neither did Luther intend to start a popular revolution. He took no steps to spread his theses among the people. He was merely inviting scholars to dispute with him, but others surreptitiously translated the theses into German and gave them to the printing presses. They soon became the talk of Germany. Luther had meant them for those most concerned with the indulgence controversy in his part of the country, divided as it was into many ‘independent’ territories and cities within the Empire.  He had sent a copy to Albert of Mainz, along with the following letter:

Father in Christ and Most Illustrious Prince, forgive me that I, the scum of the earth, should dare to approach Your Sublimity.  The Lord Jesus is my witness that I am well aware of my insignificance and my unworthiness. I make so bold because of the office and fidelity which I owe to Your Paternity. May Your Highness look upon this speck of dust and hear my plea for clemency from you and from the pope.

These words, so many of them beginning with obsequious capitals, were hardly those of a revolutionary. Luther then reported what he had heard about Tetzel’s preaching that through indulgences men are promised remission not only of penalty but also of guilt. Nevertheless, rather than simply reading the theses and replying, as Luther requested, Albert chose to forward them to Rome. Pope Leo is credited with making two comments, neither of which can be claimed as authentic, but both of which can be claimed to be revealing in what they tell us as legends. The first was, Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober, and the second was, Friar Martin is a brilliant chap. The whole row is due to the envy of the monks. If Luther was not a drunken German, he was certainly an irate one, who might be amenable if mollified. If the pope had issued his bull of a year later, clearly defining the doctrine of indulgences and correcting the most glaring abuses, Luther might have given way. During the four years in which his case was pending, his letters reveal no great preoccupation with the dispute. Instead, he continued to be fully engrossed in his duties in the university and his parish.

Yet the pope preferred to snuff out the opposition by appointing a new general of the Augustinians who would quench a monk of his order, Martin Luther by name, and thus smother the fire before it should become a conflagration. In December 1517 the Archbishop of Mainz complained to Rome about Luther. Luther felt constrained to declare himself more fully to the general public, since his Ninety-Five Theses had, by the spring of 1518, been published throughout the German states and read in German, though he had intended them only for fellow scholars. The many bald assertions called for further explanation and clarification. However, his summaries of sermons, The Resolutions Concerning the Ninety-Five Theses also contained some new points. In particular, he had made the discovery that the biblical text from the Latin Vulgate, used to support the sacrament of penance, was a mis-translation.  The Latin for Matthew 4:17 read as “do penance”, but from the Greek New Testament of Erasmus, Luther had learned that the original phrase meant simply “be penitent”. The literal sense of the verb “to repent” was “to change one’s mind”. That was all that was necessary for the sinner to be granted forgiveness by God.

In his dedication of the Resolutions, written to his mentor Staupitz, Luther described how, fortified with this passage, I venture to say that they are wrong who make more of the act in Latin than of the change of heart in Greek. This became what he called his glowing discovery. What he had discovered was something far more radical than his objections to indulgences, though arising from them and from his doctrine of salvation. He had discovered that one of the chief sacraments of the Church did not have any basis in scripture. From this point on, it was on the scriptures that he based his challenges to the Church’s practices.  He also questioned whether the Roman Church was above the Greek Church in authority. This was to claim that the primacy of the Roman Church was simply a historical development, or even an accident of history, rather than a result of divine ordination reaching back to the founding of the universal Church. The pope responded by banning Luther who, in turn, preached on the ban declaring that excommunication and reconciliation affect only the fellowship of the earth and not the grace of God. These alleged statements were printed by opponents and shown at the imperial diet to the papal legates, who were rumoured to have sent them to Rome. Luther was informed that, this time, the damage was inestimable. He wrote out and printed what he could remember of his sermon, but this only served to underline his rejection of the pope’s authority to sever spiritual communion. Quoting Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he stated that no creature can separate the believer from the love of Christ.

The printed sermon was not off the press until the end of August. In the meantime, the pope turned away from Luther’s own order, the Augustinians, and towards the Dominicans, to produce a reply to Luther’s reported statements. They asserted that the Roman Church was one and the same with the universal Church in terms of its authority.  The leadership of Church might consist of cardinals, but ultimate authority lay in the pope. Just as the universal Church could not err on matters of faith and morals, nor could the Roman Church, either in its true councils nor in the pope when he was speaking in his official capacity. Whoever did not accept the doctrine of the Roman Church and its pontiff as the infallible rule of faith from which sacred Scripture derived its strength and authority was a heretic, so that anyone who declared that, in matters of indulgences, the Roman Church could not do what it decided to do, was also a heretic. The Dominicans proceeded to refute Luther’s errors, describing him in the colourful colloquialisms of the time, as a leper with a brain of brass and a nose of iron. Luther retorted in kind:

I am sorry now that I despised Tetzel. Ridiculous as he was, he was more acute than you. You cite no Scripture. You give no reasons. Like an insidious devil you pervert the Scriptures. You say that the Church consists virtually in the pope. What abominations will you not have to regard as the deeds of the Church?… You call me a leper because I mingle truth with error. I am glad you admit there is some truth. You make the pope into an emperor in power and violence. The Emperor Maximilian and the Germans will not tolerate this.

The radicalism of this tract lay not in its invective, however, but in its affirmation that the pope and a council of cardinals might err, and that final authority lay in Scripture. Yet again, prior to the appearance of his declaration, the pope had already taken precipitate action. On the seventh of August, Luther received a citation to appear at Rome to answer charges of heresy and ‘contumacy’ (insubordination). He was given sixty in which to make his appearance. The following day Luther wrote to the elector to remind him of the previous assurance that the case would not be taken to Rome. This began a tortuous series of negotiations culminating in Luther’s hearing before the Diet of Worms in April 1521. The main significance of that event was that an assembly of the German nation came to function as a court of the Catholic Church. The four years leading up to this were merely a prelude to the main act of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther’s plea to the elector was transmitted via Frederick’s court chaplain, George Spalatin. Frederick opened negotiations with Cardinal Cajetan, the papal legate, to give Luther a personal hearing in connection with the forthcoming meeting of the imperial diet at Augsburg. The hearing was to be private, and not before the diet, but would at least be on German soil. Cajetan was a high papalist of integrity and erudition. He could scarcely tolerate Luther’s recent tracts, and was less inclined to moderation because the Emperor had been incensed by the excerpts from the reputed Sermon on the Ban and had himself taken the initiative on the fifth of August in writing to the pope to set a stop to the most perilous attack of Martin Luther on indulgences lest not only the people but even the princes be seduced. With the emperor, the pope and the cardinal against him Luther had only a slender hope of escaping the fate of Jan Hus, being burnt at the stake.

He began his physical journey to Augsburg with grave misgiving. He was in grave danger, far greater than three years later when he went to Worms as the champion of the German nation. In 1518 he was only an Augustinian eremite accused of heresy. He saw the stake ahead and told himself, Now I must die; What a disgrace I shall be to my parents! On the road he contracted an intestinal infection and almost fainted. Even more disconcerting was the recurring doubt as to whether the taunt of his critics might after all be right, Are you alone wise and all the ages in error? Luther’s friends had advised him not to enter Augsburg without a guarantee of safe-conduct, and Frederick eventually obtained one from Emperor Maximillian. Cajetan, on being told of this, was incensed, declaring If you don’t trust me, why do you ask my opinion, and if you do why is a safe-conduct necessary? But there was indeed a severe threat to Luther’s life, as the correspondence between cardinals, the pope and the elector Frederick show. The two letters, both written on the seventh of October 1518, reveal that the papal authorities were determined that Luther should be placed in the hands and under the jurisdiction of the Holy See. Cajetan’s instructions were also quite clear in this regard. He was limited to inquiry into Luther’s teaching, and was not permitted to enter into discussion with him.

007

Three interviews took place – on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the twelfth to the fourteenth of October. Staupitz was among those present. On the first day Cajetan informed him that he must recant. Luther answered that he had not made the arduous journey to Augsburg to do what he could have done in Wittenberg. Instead, he asked to be instructed as to his errors. When the cardinal answered that the chief of these was his denial of the Church’s treasury of merit, the doctrine of 1343 that Christ’s sacrifice acquired a treasure which, through the power of the keys, had been placed at the disposal of Peter and his successors in order to release the faithful from temporal penalties. Luther’s reply was both rude and irrelevant, but Cajetan realised that he was in danger of going beyond his instructions in debating the whole concept of the treasury of the surplus merits of Christ and the saints. Luther was trapped because he must either recant or give an acceptable interpretation to the bull of 1343. Since he had already refused to recant, he requested to be able to submit a statement in writing, adding that they had wrangled quite enough. Cajetan retorted, My son, I did not wrangle with you. I am ready to reconcile you with the Roman Church. But since reconciliation was only possible through recantation, Luther protested that he ought not to be condemned unheard and unrefuted:

I am not conscious of going against Scripture, the fathers, the decretals, or right reason. I may be in error. I will submit to the judgement of the universities of Basel, Freiburg, Louvain and, if need be, of Paris.

Again, these were undiplomatic words, aimed at challenging the cardinal’s jurisdiction. Luther then shifted ground on the content of the ‘charge’ by rejecting the authority of the pope who had formulated the decretal, or bull:

I am not so audacious that for the sake of a single obscure and ambiguous decretal of a human pope I would recede from so many and such clear testimonies of divine Scripture. For, as one of the canon lawyers has said, ‘in a matter of faith not only is a council above a pope but any one of the faithful, if armed with better authority and reason’.

The cardinal reminded Luther that Scripture itself had to be interpreted, and that the pope had to act as interpreter. In so doing, he was above a council and everything else in the Church. Luther retorted that his Holiness abuses Scripture and that he denied that the pope was above Scripture. At this, Cajetan flared up and bellowed at Luther that he should leave and never return unless he was willing to recant. Luther wrote home that the cardinal was no more fitted to handle the case than an ass was suited to play on a harp. Before long, the cartoonists took up this theme (see below), picturing the pope himself in this pose. Cajetan soon cooled off and had dinner with Staupitz, over which he urged him to induce Luther to recant. Staupitz answered that he had often tried to moderate Luther, but that he was not equal to him in ability and command of Scripture. As the pope’s representative, it was up to the cardinal to press the case. Staupitz then released Luther from his vow of obedience to the order. He may have wished to relieve the Augustinians of the responsibility for their friar, or he may have wished to release the restraints on him, but Luther himself felt that he had been disowned. He later joked that he was excommunicated three times, first by Staupitz, secondly by the pope and thirdly by the emperor.

002

Luther fled the town when summoned to Rome. He complained that the citation to Rome  would submit him to the Dominicans and that Rome would not be a safe place even with a safe-conduct. Even Pope Leo had recently been the object of a poisonous conspiracy. In any case, as a mendicant, Luther had no funds for the journey. He wrote:

I feel that I have not justice because I teach nothing save what is in the Scripture. Therefore I appeal from Leo badly informed to Leo better informed.

Rumour then reached Luther that the cardinal was empowered to arrest him. The gates of the city were being guarded. With the help of friendly citizens, Luther escaped by night, fleeing in such haste that he had to ride horseback in his cowl without breeches, spurs, stirrups or a sword. He arrived in Nürnberg where he was shown the pope’s instructions to Cajetan. On the thirtieth of October, almost a full year after posting the Ninety-Five Theses, Luther was back in the sanctuary of Wittenberg.

001

What was the significance of Luther’s Protest?

Luther saw that the trade in indulgences was wholly unwarranted by Scripture, reason or tradition. It encouraged a man in his sin, and tended to turn his mind away from Christ and from God’s forgiveness. It was on this point that Luther’s theology contrasted sharply with that of the church. The pope claimed authority ‘to shut the gates of hell and open the door to paradise’. An obscure monk challenged that authority. His contemporaries knew at once that Luther had touched the exposed nerve of both the hierarchy of the church and the everyday practice of Christianity. Christian Europe was never the same again, but in 1518 there was nothing to indicate that it was about to undergo a revolutionary change in both its religious and secular institutions and life. The only prediction that many were making on All Souls’ Eve in 1518 was that Martin Luther would soon be burnt at the stake. This was also the friar’s own prediction.

Luther’s discovery about the meaning of penitence led him to the belief that the believer came into a direct relationship and union with Christ, as the one, only and all-sufficient source of grace. His grace is available to the penitent believer by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Word of God. This eventually did away with the need for the Virgin as mediator, the clergy as priests and the departed saints as intercessors. In fact, the reformers were never innovators, as the papacy was so often to allege, but renovators. What they removed were the medieval innovations of Rome, in favour of the teachings of the Bible and the doctrines of the early Christian theologians.

 

… And All That (cont.): The Mysterious Magyar Origins of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland: II   1 comment

In my third posting commemorating the anniversaries of the two eleventh-century conquests of England, the Danish one of 1016 and the Norman one of 1066, I continue to explore the continental connections between the two events, stretching as far as southern Hungary. This reminds us that, above all, they were part of a complex set of dynastic, religious and political relationships which brought both the ‘English’ and the ‘Scottish’ into the mainstream of the cultural life of western European Christendom.

The Agatha Mystery Solved?

001

Although from a pagan branch of the House of Árpád (his father had led a pagan rebellion against István (above) in about 1037-8, which had led to Andrew’s exile),  Andrew I, ‘the Catholic’ (1046-60) had converted and, as his nomenclature suggests, become a devout Christian. István’s successor, Peter Orseolo (1038-41 and 1044-6), son of his sister and the Doge of Venice, had traded Hungary’s independence for the German Emperor’s help in restoring him to the throne. The feudal lords had turned to Andrew and his brothers, exiled in Poland, to re-establish order. The brothers first encountered a pagan rebellion of great force, which even claimed the life of Hungary’s primate, Bishop Gellért. On becoming king in 1046, Andrew I did not want to put the clock back, but suppressed the pagan rebels and restored István’s state. His younger brother, Béla, then defeated the German invaders.  It therefore seems unlikely that Agatha, soon to become bride to Edward the Exile, son of Eadmund Ironside, would have remained at the Hungarian court during this period if she had been a German princess.

010

Nevertheless, Agatha was related, through her mother Gisella, to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, who was also István’s brother-in-law, and her close connection with the powerful family would have been a good recommendation for her children when travelling across western Europe. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also states that Edward, who returned to England in 1057, had been brought up to ‘manhood’ in Ungerland. The monk, Florence of Worcester, compiled his Chronicon ex Chronicis from other contemporary sources, including the writings of the Venerable Bede and Bishop Asser, relating events up to 1117 (he died in 1118). It is more than probable that everything he recorded regarding the Princes of Wessex came from the Worcester chronicles of Ealdred, Bishop of Worcester until 1060, when Ealdred became Archbishop of York. It was impossible for Agatha to have been the Emperor’s daughter, since Henry II, although married, remained celibate and had no children. Later in his Chronicon, Florence related Bishop Ealdred’s ambassadorial mission to Cologne to obtain the return of the Anglo-Saxon Prince and his family. He then wrote of Edward’s return to England in 1057 and his death in London. The translation of the Latin phrase filiam germani imperatoris Henrici is the daughter of the Emperor Henry’s brother-in-law, identifying Agatha as the daughter of István and Gisella, the Princess of Bavaria, whose retinue of knights and priests helped István to establish Hungary as a strong, Christian state and to defend it against pagan rebels and his power-hungry relatives, the Pechenegs, before his death in 1038.

Thus, the evidence points to Agatha, Edward’s wife and the mother of Margaret of Wessex and Scotland, being the daughter of King István and the niece of the German Emperor, István’s brother-in-law. The sources which recount her descent from Agatha’s descent from the King of Hungary, originate in Normandy and Northumbria. The records are by Ordericus Vitalis, Gaimar and Ailred. It was in the interest of none of these to emphasise the German connection to such an extent as to obscure her Hungarian descent. Ordericus Vitalis was born in England in 1075 and was educated at a monastery in Normandy from the age of ten. He wrote his great historical work, Historia Eccleasiastica between 1124 and 1142. In this, two of the three children of Edward and Agatha, Queen Margaret of Scotland and Edgar, are frequently mentioned. Margaret’s husband, King Malcolm (Canmore), was at war with William of Normandy, also fighting for the cause of his brother-in-law Edgar. We can read of Scottish-Northumbrian events already mentioned in Ordericus Vitalis’ Historia. In connection with the deaths of Malcolm and Margaret he also recorded the parentage of the Queen of Scots. Vitalis confirmed the marriage of Edward to the daughter of the King of Hungary, filia regis Hunorum, and claimed that Edward ruled over the Hungarians. Indeed, it has been suggested that István’s preferred successor was Edward, not Peter Orseolo.

Little is written of the period in Hungarian history between the death of István and the accession of Andrew I, but it is entirely possible that Edward, as the husband of the King’s daughter, himself raised in Hungary from a child and therefore Hungarian-speaking, might have had a key role to play in the governance of the country as a young man. Indeed, there is a suggestion that, following Imre’s untimely death, István transferred the hereditary rights to the throne to his son-in-law. However, the accepted view is that Stephen designated his nephew, the son of his sister from her marriage to the Doge of Venice, Peter Orseolo, as his successor, summoning him to court and preparing him to rule. The order of hereditary succession and the potential insecurity of the Hungarian Crown could have served as a pretext for the Emperor, Henry III, to interfere in Hungary’s internal affairs, in the question of the succession. Territorial associations, extant to the present, also suggest that István may have presented certain lands to Edward on the Saxon Prince’s marriage to his daughter, or thereafter, which formed the basis of the rumour that the exiled Prince exercised power over Hungarian tenants. This is probably what the English records refer to when they suggest that Edward ‘ruled over the Hungarians’.

Peter ascended to the throne in 1038, but internal opposition considered him to be too much in the power of foreign lords, and ejected him in 1041, making his ‘palatine’ Samuel Aba, István’s brother-in-law, the new king. In 1044, Samuel Aba also had to fight internal rebellion, murdering fifty lords in order to retain the throne. Peter then returned at the head of an army provided by Henry III, the Holy Roman Emperor. Samuel fell in one of the battles for the throne, possibly by the hand of a treacherous assassin in his own ranks. Peter was then restored to the throne, but in the autumn of 1046 he was again forced to flee when Andrew, one of the sons of Vazul, or Vászoly, of the House of Árpád, claimed the throne and had him captured and blinded.  This was not a new form of punishment, and was probably an act of vengeance by Andrew for István’s even more gruesome punishment of his father following his pagan-inspired uprising against the Christian king in the fortieth, and last, year of his reign. The three brothers had fled to Poland  after this and when Andrew returned to become king, he entrusted a third of the country to his younger brother, Béla. In the same year that the Wessex family returned to England, 1057, Andrew had his infant son Solomon crowned king and betrothed to a princess of the Holy Roman Emperor a year later, thus securing the succession of the Árpád dynasty.

013

014

It is interesting to note that certain English forms and ceremonies were observed at Salomon’s coronation. When Edward returned to England, certain envoys came to fetch him, and it may be that the Hungarians heard about the English coronation ceremonies from them. At the Várkony Scene, Andrew challenged his brother Béla to lay claim to the crown and choose the sword in single combat against him. Prince Béla then chose to go into exile in Poland once again,  this time returning to Hungary yet at the head of his own army, with which he defeated and dethroned his brother, who died soon after, in 1060, and was buried at Tihány Abbey near Lake Balaton.

Béla I (1060-63) was then succeeded by Solomon (1063-74), who died childless, so Béla’s sons sat on the throne thereafter, Ladislas I (1077-1095) becoming the next great ruler, matching István’s saintliness, though not his length of reign. In retrospect, given these turmoils, the Wessex family may not have regretted leaving Hungary when they did, even though this meant returning to England already caught up in dynastic and political disputes. Geoffrey Gaimar of Lincolnshire wrote a chronicle in Old French, betraying his Norman origin, in about 1140. He wrote this in rhyme on the request of Custance, the wife of Ralph Fitzgilbert, founder of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. In this abbey, through the Abbot Ailred, more was known of Queen Margaret of Scotland than in any other monastery.

Gaimar had much to say about the Scottish Royal family, but he also recounts the fate of the Anglo-Saxon princes. In his poetic work the two princes are sent abroad on the advice of Eadmund Ironside’s widowed Queen. The two boys are entrusted to a Danish warrior named Walgar, who takes them to Denmark, where they remain for twelve years before being taken by Walgar to Hungary. They travel for five days through Russia until they reach the city of Gardimbre, where they are met by the Hungarian king and his wife. Walgar is known to the king and queen and he places the two boys in their care. They are aware that the princes are heirs to the English throne, receiving them affectionately and educating them at their court. Edward, the elder, marries the king’s daughter and the king promises his realm to him. The daughter of Edward and his wife is Margaret, the precious pearl who becomes the wife of King Malcolm of the Scots. Gaimar also tells us that King Edward the Confessor, while still living in Normandy, came to Hungary to aid his nephews, rightful heirs to the Hungarian throne, against the people of ‘Velacase’. If this episode, not mentioned elsewhere, has any historical basis, then it would be the only proof that the Anglo-Saxon princes living at the Hungarian court maintained any connection with their English relatives during this time. Although we cannot attribute any historical authenticity to these poetic tales, they do correspond with the chronicles in naming Agatha as the daughter of the King of Hungary and in stating that the Anglo-Saxon prince was, at one time considered heir to the throne of Hungary.

Aildred, the Abbot of Rievaulx, who spent many years at the Court of King David of Scotland, the youngest of Margaret’s six sons, reported some things he heard from David himself. In particular, the king told him of his father, Malcolm. In a letter in his work Genalogia Regum Anglorum, Aildred addressed Prince Henry, later Plantagenet King Henry II of England, encouraging him to be worthy of his great relative. King David, whose last hours and death he recounted. On his death-bed, David asked for his mother’s black cross. This cross is not described in detail, but it could have originally belonged to Gisella, given to Agatha in about 1045, when István’s queen left Hungary after his death, to return to Bavaria, where she lived out her life as a nun and died in about 1060. It is gold, but set with dark stones. According to Aildred’s testimony, the royal family considered Margaret to be descended from English and Hungarian kings. This record helps to confirm Agatha as the daughter of István and Gisella, and Margaret as their granddaughter.

In addition, the Hungarian nobles who accompanied Agatha to England in 1057 must also have played an important role at the Scottish Court. The Drummond family, for instance, is descended in direct line from a Hungarian noble named Georgius, who accompanied Princess Agatha and her three children to Britain. He is said to have saved Agatha and her children when they were in peril of shipwreck at sea, in the ship which was to have taken the Royal Wessex family back to Hungary, probably via Hamburg. The storm drove their ship towards the coast of Scotland, then a lot further north. When Malcolm subsequently met and married Margaret, Georgius received, at Margaret’s instigation, a large estate from King Malcolm. He was probably a natural son of Andrew I of Hungary, known by name to the Hungarian chroniclers. The descendants of Drummond and other Hungarian nobles must certainly have enjoyed some standing at King David’s court, and the court must have known something of Agatha’s Hungarian parentage. Boece, a sixteenth century chronicler, mentions five Magyar-Scottish families – the Giffurds, Maules, Morthiuks, Fethikrans and Creichtouns, all of whom had originated in Hungary and received donations of money and land to help them settle in Scotland. A further great Scots family descended from the Hungarians settlers of that time were the Leslies, who were to play a major role in the Scottish Reformation and the civil wars of the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century, the historian Stephen Horváth called attention to the ancient Hungarian families of Scotland. The well-informed English and Scottish sources all tell the same story of Agatha and her children, though each in a different setting, and therefore with a different purpose or bias. It is doubtful if these noble families would have remained and settled in Scotland had Margaret herself not been of Hungarian, as well as Saxon, Royal blood.

Agatha was certainly related to the German Emperor, Henry II, through her mother, Gisella, the Emperor’s niece, but there can be little doubt that she was István’s daughter.  Writing in the middle of the last century, Sándor Fest also commented on the unusual name of Margaret’s youngest son, David, and suggested that he may have been named after her Hungarian relative, the second legitimate son of Andrew I. This David was a little boy of only three or four when Margaret left Hungary with her parents in 1057, aged twelve.  As a close relative, she must have known him well at Andrew’s court in Hungary. It is logical to suppose that her childhood memories induced her to give a name that was unusual in Scotland at that time to her youngest son, whom she would not then have expected to subsequently become King of Scotland.

edinburgh_castle_edinburgh_-_geograph-org-uk_-_505293

To summarise from these accounts, the Princes of Wessex had been accompanied on their journey into exile by the Dane, Walgar, who was already acquainted with István and Gisella. Their renown as gracious monarchs of a young Christian country helps to explain why Hungary was chosen, and not another country. Only Gaimar’s chronicle mentions the journey through Russia (and Ukraine) as lasting five days. The other sources have nothing to say on the route taken. The German chronicler alone refers to Russia as their place of exile, but the Worcester version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contradicts this, stating clearly that Prince Edward grew up in Hungary and this is supported by the chronicle of Florence of Worcester. The contradiction here can be explained by the length of sojourn that the princes enjoyed en route through Russia to Kiev and perhaps by their time spent in Zemplén County, where they may have enjoyed the care and protection of the daughter of Yaroslav, Grand Duke of Kiev and future wife of Andrew I, until the reached their youth, when Eadmund died and Edward moved to István’s Court. Edward then married Agatha, daughter of István and Gisella, probably some time shortly after the death of Stephen’s son Imre in 1031. In 1057, during the reign of Andrew I (1046-60), Edward returned to England with Agatha and their three children, Margaret, Christine and Edgar in order to become the heir of Edward the Confessor. However, the plan of the ‘English party’ at the Confessor’s court went awry when Edward died soon after his return to London. After the Battle of Hastings, when their cause seemed lost, the widowed Agatha wanted to return to Hungary with her children. If she had been a German princess, she would surely have wanted to flee to the German Emperor for protection.

037

So, the last descendant of Alfred the Great and legal heir to the English throne found refuge from Canute’s outstretched murdering hand, first of all in eastern Hungary and then at the courts of King István and King Andrew I in the stormy early and middle decades of the eleventh century. It was on arriving at István’s court that he met and married the King’s daughter, Agatha, some time in the 1030s. The couple were given lands in Baranya County, referred to in a document from the reign of Andrew II which mentions ‘British Land’ (1205-35). Here, in Mecseknádasd, their firstborn child, who became Margaret of Scotland, was born in about 1045. There are also shrines and churches dedicated to Saint ‘Margit’ in the area. Edgar, their son and legitimate heir to the English throne, was born in 1051. Margaret died shortly after her husband, Malcolm III (Canmore) of Scotland, in 1093 and Edgar, having finally given up his claim to the English throne, died in 1126. All of Margaret’s six sons became kings of Scotland, ending with David I, and her daughter married the Norman king, Henry, son of William I, thus giving legitimacy to their dynastic rule over the English. 

Source:

.001

Shovuos (Pentecost – Jewish Festival)   2 comments

Even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days. (Leviticus 23: 16) Judaism‘s  festival of weeks comes seven weeks, or fifty days (‘Pentecost’) after the Passover Festival. This festival was originally celebrated as the gathering of the barley harvest, seven weeks after the harvesting of the wheat crop. It was, therefore, the a thanksgiving festival and was first observed after the Hebrews had settled in Palestine as a farming community. It gained greater importance as the festival of ‘the Torah’, the Hebrew Law given by God on Mount Sinai to Moses. According to the Bible story, the Hebrews entered the Sinai desert in the third month of their exodus from Egypt. Much later, in the nineteenth century, the festival acquired even greater significance when it was recognised as the day of confirmation, on which thirteen year-olds were confirmed in the faith through a special ceremony. Previously, only boys were allowed to go through this ‘Bar Mitzvah’, but now both boys and girls are confirmed at this age. The festival also has a Christian significance, for it was at Pentecost that Jesus’ disciples suddenly found the courage to go out and tell the whole world about their belief, so that the festival became ‘Whitsun’ in the Christian calendar, a popular day for baptisms and confirmations, with the weekend popular for white weddings!  I was baptised on Whit Sunday, forty years ago, fifteen years after being born at a Nottinghamshire Baptist manse on a Whit Monday! Shovuos is a summer festival and Jewish homes are decorated in green, while the food is largely composed of dairy dishes. A popular dish is ‘blintzes’, which is cheese rolled in dough. In Jewish schools children are taught the story of Ruth, which reminds them of their agricultural heritage and also turns their thoughts to David and Bethlehem, his home town. The story begins in a time of hardship and famine, when a farmer named Elimelech, together with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, decided to move to another country, Moab, to find better pastures there. Sadly, Emilelech died, leaving the two boys to look after their mother. In time, the boys married, the elder to a Moabite woman, Ruth. Naomi found happiness with her two daughters-in-law and her sons, and they prospered for a decade. Then, tragically, the two sons were killed in an accident and Naomi, now very lonely, decided to return to Bethlehem. Ruth asked to go with her, with the words:

Cover of
Cover of The Story of Ruth

Wherever you go, I will go, Wherever you live, I will live. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. (Ruth 1:16)

English: House of the People is a multi-purpos...
English: House of the People is a multi-purpose hall. Here, Bar Mitzvah boy called to the Torah עברית: בית העם הוא אולם רב תכליתי. כאן, נער בר מצוה עולה לתורה. באולם קיימת הפרדה בין הגברים לנשים., Original Image Name:בר מצוה בבית העם, Location:בית העם במושב צופית (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They went back to Bethlehem together, to find the situation very different to how it had been a decade previously. The famine was over and the harvests were good. However, the two women remained poor and at the barley harvest time Ruth went into the fields to ‘glean’ among the sheaves left by the reapers. The owner, Boaz, saw her, fell in love with her, and gave her six measures of barley to take home to her mother-in-law. They were married and their son, Obed, was Jesse’s father, who was father to David, hence the significance of the story to Christians, since Jesus was David’s descendant, born in his home town of Bethlehem. However, although the Christian festival of Whitsun is a popular time for baptisms and confirmations, like ‘Bar Mitzvah’ celebrations, the basis of the festival is the New Testament story of what happened to the apostles on the morning after the seventh sabbath.

Mazel tov hats at a bat mitzvah
Mazel tov hats at a bat mitzvah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ‘Bar Mitzvah’ (boys) and ‘Bat Mitzvah‘ (girls) ceremonies mark the occasion when the young Jew reaches religious and legal maturity. There are celebrations both in the synagogue and at home. The young boy is taught to read the Torah scroll, and a great extended family party follows. The young person gives a speech in which s/he expresses their thanks to their parents for all their love and concern in bringing them up.

Is it Peace? Eisteddfodau and St David’s Day   1 comment

006

Wales celebrates its national saint’s day in 2013 in a mood of growing national self-confidence. Hyfrydol! ‘Wonderful!’ as they say in Wales.   Not only is its Rugby team playing well again, having defeated France and Italy on their travels in a bid to retain the Six Nations’ Championship they won so magnificently last year, but last weekend saw Swansea City AFC triumph in the League Cup at Wembley, in their centenary year, and Cardiff City AFC beat my team, the Wolves, to go eight points clear at the top of the Championship (the old division one).  The fact that a third of the rugby team were born in England, with its captain hailing from King’s Lynn, and that Wolverhampton Wanderers AFC have more Welsh international players in their first team than Cardiff or Swansea, plus a Welsh team coach, hardly seems to matter. Neither should it, though it would have done in the past.  There’s a renewed confidence about Wales which doesn’t simply come from returning exiles or ancient into modern Iberian connections. The Welsh Rugby team used to do better when the coal industry was booming, but there’s hardly any industry left to boom in the south Wales valleys, and, whenever the British economy catches a cold, Wales gets influenza. When England gets flu, Wales gets pneumonia, and the current general economic malaise is no exception to this pattern. However, in recent years, Wales has developed a strong government of its own, controlling its Health and Education services, able to follow its own policies in response to the needs of its people, independently from the Westminster Parliament.

All this seemed light years away when I left Wales three decades ago, having studied for two degrees in both North and South, representing its students as the Chair of UCMC (the National Union of Students, Wales) and training as a teacher in the West Wales (notice the capitals). During my eight years as a student there, I learnt Welsh, climbed all its mountains over 3,000 feet and a few more besides, lived in three of its fine cities, visited many of its valleys, watched its sporting successes, socialised in many of its pubs and worshipped in some of its chapels! Oh, and I managed to do a fair bit of discussing, debating, researching and writing. In fact, I’m still writing about the country and its people today, albeit from a safe distance!

004

005

001

Flag of Saint David

St David, Dewi Sant, was the only one of the four patron saints of the four countries of the British Isles to be born in the country he represents, although it was then part of a much larger post-Roman British territory, stretching from Cornwall to Strathclyde. The rugged and picturesque Pembrokeshire Coast hosts many small chapels dedicated to the Celtic saints whose Christianity predated the arrival of the Papal envoy in Canterbury to covert the pagan Saxons. I once camped by the chapel dedicated to Non, David’s mother, looking out to Ireland and the Atlantic. David was born near here in the time of the legendary Arthur, the early sixth century, a time when the Welsh still controlled much of the west and north of Britain, including modern-day Scotland, the north, midlands and south-western counties of England and, of course, Wales itself.

Saint David's Cathedral

Saint David’s Cathedral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, by the mid-eighth century, these three ‘British’ heartlands of the ‘Cymru‘ or ‘Compatriots’ had become separated by the Anglo-Saxon settlers, to whom they had become known as the ‘Welleas’, the ‘foreigners’ in their own land. Little is known of David himself, except that he became Primate, or Archbishop of the Church in Wales, then independent from Rome, and that he established a monastery in what is now called St David’s, still no more than a village in population, but now the smallest city in Britain, due to the Cathedral which stands there today, dedicated to the patron saint, and a place of pilgrimage since the Norman Conquest of England and south Wales in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Stained glass window in Jesus College Chapel, ...

The other surviving stories about David, and there are many of them in the Welsh tradition, are, as they say, the stuff of legend. Wells and mountains were said to spring up at his feet and he miraculously cured the blind, the lame and the sick. According to one of these legends, St David’s spirit was taken up to heaven by a host of angels amid great singing to his glory and honour, on 1st March 589. According to the history of the next 1500 years, his people have never stopped singing since, nor could anyone or anything stop them. A poem in Hungarian, written by János Arany in the mid-nineteenth century, Walesi Bárdok (‘The Bards of Wales) draws inspiration from this determination to maintain independence from the invading Normans, whose Edward I built the castles which surround the country.

Many visitors to the National Eisteddfod never...

Many visitors to the National Eisteddfod never go into the Pavillion (background), being able to view the competitions on the big screen (foreground). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides Rugby, which the Welsh did not invent but turned into an art and craft, the other great ‘Cymric’ institution is the ‘Eisteddfod‘ or ‘Settlement’. It is a purely Welsh invention, and not as old as it seems, with its processions of white-robed druids. It dates from the Romantic Revival of the late eighteenth century and the Royal National Eisteddfod is an annual occasion when musicians, poets, artists and craftsmen gather during the first week in August on a site announced a year and a day before. The Archdruid of the Gorsedd of Bards presides over the chairing and crowning of the bard, which can only take place if the assembly answers his question A oes heddwch? ‘Is it Peace?’ in the affirmative by repeating the word ‘Heddwch’. The language of the National Eisteddfod is Welsh, and besides the main competitions there are many ‘side-shows’ from folk concerts to political gatherings, both of which I attended as a student in Wales, also speaking, in my faltering Welsh, to a meeting of Welsh students in 1979.

English: Cofio/remembering Waldo Williams The ...

English: Cofio/remembering Waldo Williams The upright bluestone on Rhos Fach near Mynachlogddu was erected in memory of the great Welsh Nationalist, poet, pacifist, and Quaker who lived and taught in the area. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldo_Williams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I arrived in Wales in 1975, an ‘eisteddfod’ was not a new concept to me. In fact, I had already taken part in one in Birmingham, winning singing, recitation and drama competitions. It was also known as a ‘Festival of Arts’ and the competitions were in English, but the nature of the event was based on earlier events held by Welsh exiles in the city for more than a hundred years, mostly connected with the Welsh chapels. In the 1960s the ranks of these exiles had been swelled by Welsh teachers who formed at least half of those who taught me, whether at school or Sunday school. They twice helped my father, a Baptist pastor in the city from 1965 to 1979, to put on a very broad festival of competitions between the Baptist chapels in the west of the city. So, when I was asked to compete as a Welsh learner in the Inter-College Eisteddfod, involving students from all the universities and colleges in Wales, I was happy to do so. I learnt ‘Cofio’ (‘Remembering’) by Waldo Williams, and remember it to this day, though I still don’t know the exact meaning of all the words. Unfortunately, I got flu just before the event was to be staged that year, 1976, in Aberystwyth, and was unable to compete since I had lost my voice. However, I did take part in local ‘Noson Lawen’, ‘Happy Nights’, and ‘Gymanfa Ganu’, Community Singing.

Photograph of Valle Crucis Abbey, Denbighshire...

Photograph of Valle Crucis Abbey, Denbighshire, Wales – detail of tracery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the time I left Wales in 1983, I was so in love with these events that I took a group of Lancashire kids from the school where I held my first teaching post, to the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, where we sang ‘I like to go a-wandering’ in Valle Crucis Abbey and watched Hungarian folk-dancing by the picturesque River Dee. We also visited Welsh and Norman castles on either side of Offa’s Dyke, acting out sheep-raids in both directions!

I have yet to find a daffodil blooming here in Hungary on 1st March, but am sure that there are already magnificent displays of them below the castle walls around Wales, as well as beneath the city walls in Canterbury, where I sojourned last in Britain.

Blwyddin Dydd Gwl Dewi! A Joyous St David’s Day, wherever and however you celebrate it!

Heddwch i chwi gyd! Peace be with you all!


002

003

Nine Lessons and Carols (in three languages)   1 comment

Nine Lessons and Carols (A Personal Selection):

Processional Carol: Once in Royal David’s City

1&2. Readings from Genesis: Curses and Blessings on Mankind.

First Lesson: Genesis 3, vv8-19:

‘And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told you that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this thou hast done? And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and from among every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put emnity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’

Carols: Adam Lay Ybounden,  Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Second Lesson: Genesis 22, vv15-18:

‘And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.’

Advent (Bidding) Prayer – The Antiphons for Emmanuel

O wisdom of the Most High that spannest the universe, mightily and sweetly ordering all things; come and teach us the way of understanding. O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gavest the law on Sinai; come and deliver us with an outstretched arm. O root of Jesse, who standest for an ensign to the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths, whom nations shall intreat; come and deliver us, tarry not. O key of David and sceptre of the house of Israel, who openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth; come and release the souls of men from their prison house. O dayspring, splendour of the eternal light, and sun of righteousness; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. O king of all nations, whom they long for, the corner-stone that bindest all in one; come and save men whom thou formedst from the clay. O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver, the Saviour whom we look for; come and save us, O Lord, our God. AMEN.

Carols: O Come, O Come, Immanuel; Hark the Herald Angels Sing

3&4.  Isaiah fortells the coming of the Christ-child.

Third Lesson: Isaiah 9, vv2, 6-7:

‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The might God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.’

Fourth Lesson: Isaiah 11, vv1-3a, 4a, 6-9:

‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD; and shall make him quick of understanding in the fear of the LORD:..But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:..The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.’

From the Authorised (‘King James’) Version.

Carols: There is no Rose of Such Virtue, Candlelight Carol

Sans Day Carol (trad., Cornish, arr. Rutter):

This Carol was named after the Cornish saint St Day, whose church in the parish of Gwennap was where much of it was written down. St Day was a Breton saint whose cult was widespread in Celtic Cornwall. It was preserved by the vicar who wrote it down in an English version after hearing it sung by an old man. A Cornish version, ‘Ma gron war’n gelinen’, was published later, adding the fourth verse to the English version:

“Now the holly bears a berry, as blood it is red,

Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:

“And Mary bore Jesus Christ, our Saviour for to be,

And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly..”

5. The Birth of Jesus Announced

The Fifth lesson, Luke 1 vv 26-38:

‘In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”

Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do.”

“I am the Lord’s servant” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said”. And the angel left her.

Mary’s song (in Hungarian, by Mihály Babits):

“Üdvözlégy óh Szűzek Szűze,

aki megváltónkat szülte!

Te vagy ama Tenger-Tűze,

csalhatatlan csillaga:

Az élet tengere ringat;

ne engedd törni hajónkat!

Kérd érettünk Megváltónkat:

imádj Istent, Mária!…

Jézus, óh szent méh magzatja,

légy a világ áradatja

közt menekvés szabad útja,

égi révbe vezető:

tartsd a kormányt, vidd a gályát,

csillapítsd a hab dagályát,

adj kegyedben könnyü pályát!

Vár az édes kikötő…

Carols: The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy; Mary had a Baby

6. Sixth Lesson: Luke (Luc) 2, vv1, 3-7 (in Welsh):

Genedigaeth Iesu:

‘Yn y dyddiau hynny aeth gorchymyn allan oddi wrth Cesar Awgwatus i gofrestru’r holl Ymerodaeth…Fe aeth pawb felly i’w cofrestru, pob un i’w dref ei hun. Oherwydd ei fod yn perthyn i dí a theulu Dafydd, aeth Joseff i fyny o dref Nasareth yng Ngalilea i Jwdea, i dref Dafydd, a elwir Bethlehem, i ymgofrestru ynghyd á Mair ei ddyweddi; ac yr oedd hi1n feichiog. Pan oeddent yno, cyflawnwyd yr amser iddi esgor, ac esgorodd ar ei mab cyntafanedig; a rhwymodd ef mewn dillad baban a’i osod mewn preseb, am nad oedd lle iddynt yn y gwesty.”

A Carol in Welsh: Tua Bethlehem Dref; Suo Gán

7. Seventh Lesson: Luke (Lukács Evangéliuma) 2, vv8-16 (in Hungarian): 

The visit of the shepherds:

‘Pasztorok tanyáztak azon a vidéken a szabad ég alatt, és őrködtek éjsaka a nyájuk mellett. És az Úr angyala megjelent nekik, körülragyogta őket az Úr dicsőseége, és nagy fegelem vett erőt rajtuk. Az angyal pedig ezt monta nekik:

“Ne féljetek, mert ime, hirdetek nagy örömet, amely az egész nép öröme lesZ: Üdvözitő született ma nektek, aki az Úr Krisztus, a Dávid városában. A jel pedig ez lesz számotokra: találtok egy kisgyermeket, aki bepólyálva fekszik a jászollban.”

És hirtelen mennyei seregek sokasága jelent meg az angyallal, akik dicsérték az Istent, és ezt mondták:

“Dicsőség a magassában Istennek, és a földön békesség, és az emberekhez jóakarat.”

Miután elmentek tőlük az angyalok a mennybe, a pásztorok igy szóltak egymáshoz:

“Menjünk el egészen Betlehemig, és nézzük meg: hogyan is történt mindaz, amiről üzent nekünk az Úr.”

Elmentek tehát sietve, és megtalátak Máriát, Józsefet és a jászolban fekvő kisgyermeket.’

Carols in Hungarian: Pastorok, Pasztorok; Áldott Éj (Soha nem volt még..)

8. Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2, vv1-12: Visitors from the East

Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2, vv1-12:

‘Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east, and we have come to worhip him. When King Herod heard about this, he was upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?” “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea” they replied, “For this is what the prophet wrote:

‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,

you are by no means the least of

the leading cities of Judah;

for from you will come a leader

who will guide my people Israel.’ “

‘So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him.”

‘And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and presented them to him. Then they returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.”

Carols: Out of the Orient Crystal Skies:

‘Out of the Orient Crystal Skies, a blazing star did shine, showing the place where poorly lies, a blessed babe divine, born of a maid of royal blood, who Mary hight by name, a sacred rose which once did bud, by grace of heavenly flame’. It goes on to describe how the star guided the ‘three kings’ to the ‘silly poor manger’ and how the shepherds ‘came singing all even in a rout, ‘Falan-tiding-dido!’.

I don’t have a recording of ‘Falan-Tiding’ sung to Tyrolean tune, ‘Ihr Hirten, stehet alle auf’ of about 1610. The contemporary five-part madrigal setting by Richard Zgdova is frequently sung by madrigal choirs in the US, and I have found an early English tune by William Byr

The Coventry Carol (trad., English): 

This is probably the oldest carol in English, dating from at least the time Chaucer was writing his ‘Canterbury Tales’. When the Pope banned drama from church services in the thirteenth century, the Guilds gradually developed pageants, or mystery plays for performance in the market places outside, and the Coventry plays ran from 1400 to 1450, and have been more recently revived on the new Cathedral steps. This tradition led to the writing of religious songs in the venacular, gradually substituting folk-song and dance-tunes for the liturgical Latin music sung inside. The text of the carol was first printed in 1534, but the plays were witnessed by Margaret, Henry VI’s Queen, in 1456, by Richard III in 1484 and Henry VII in 1492. The Carol was for the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, probably performed on Holy Innocents’ Day, hence the contrast between the lullaby and Herod’s massacre of the children in the second verse, followed by the departure for Egypt in the third. The tune dates from 1591, in its recorded form, but the Smith’s play was still being performed in 1584, so it is probably much older if not original.

9. The Ninth Lesson: Jn 1 vv 1-4: The Gospel is Proclaimed.

Carols: In The Bleak Midwinter; O Little Town of Bethlehem

Benediction

Recessional Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles).

Posted December 24, 2012 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , , , , ,

Cool to be kind!   Leave a comment

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

2 Samuel 9: David and Mephibosheth

Oliver Cromwell, by Samuel Cooper (died 1672)....

‘Cruel to be kind’ was an expression I used to hear a lot as a child. Not so much in my own home, the manse, but certainly at school and occasionally at church. It was sometimes accompanied by the first part of the proverb, ‘spare the rod…(and spoil the child.’) It used to puzzle me then, and it puzzles me even more now. I think it was Martin Luther King who wrote that the ends never justify the means, but the means are always inherent in the ends. Oliver Cromwell’s ‘cruel necessity’, the execution of Charles Stuart, ‘that man of blood’, found guilty of tyranny and war crimes against his own people was, for others, a brutal act of regicide, making the Stuart King a martyr for his divine right to rule. There was nothing ‘necessary’ about it, but, of necessity, it led to a brutal dictatorship which only ended with the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and the reaffirmation of its ‘divine right’ to rule.

Rowan Atkinson as Lord Edmund Blackadder

In British society, the idea that stoicism can only be taught through suffering has, thankfully been replaced, but the idea which has replaced it also seems to have its limitations. Whereas generosity characterised much of British behaviour in the war-time generation, more recently it has seemed that the prevailing wisdom is that it isn’t  ‘cool to be kind.’ The most popular situation comedies of recent years have used ‘dark humour’ if not ‘black comedy’ to portray the long-suffering character of the British in sit-coms.  To be successful over five series, the character of Edmund Blackadder needed a ‘butt’ to kick sideways in the mis-shapen turnip-nosed  Baldrick, who was never given a Christian name except for ‘Sodoff’, because that was what the other children in the playground told him to do! Tony Robinson’s character became the perfect ‘foil’ for the hapless Blackadder, with Baldrick taking on all the blame for Rowan Atkinson‘s woes. The only time that Blackadder speaks to Baldrick without a barbed remark is at the end of the last series when they all face the ultimate cruelty of going ‘over the top’ into the barbed wire together. ‘Cool to be cruel’ often seems to be the basis of a lot of British humour, both on screen and of, so that we are encouraged to laugh at latter-day clown figures, rather than with them, or through their suffering.

Even Christians in Britain, though generous in deed towards the poor and the sick, often seem to find it difficult to affirm each other in Church. Non-Christians have sometimes misinterpreted  what may be traditional ‘reserve’ for coldness, even cruelty. Occasionally, preachers seem to regard it more important to make fun of themselves, or to gently mock others, rather than to express a kind word to their congregations. Perhaps they worry that they might be seen as courting popularity rather than confronting truths. But it concerns me greatly when I read in the social media that Christians are seen as going  to Church because we think we’re better than others and that we then carry on behaving badly towards others at work or more broadly in our six-day lives.

One such social media site is called ’Random Acts of Kindness’, giving suggestions and examples as to how we might improve the atmosphere around us by helping others. The site asks, ‘what acts have you encountered recently?’ When I read this, often nothing springs very readily to mind. Even more difficult to bring to mind are specific acts of kindness I might have performed for others, whether pre-medidated or spontaneous. The latter are generally more prevalent, which is perhaps as things should be, but I wonder if, sometmes, I don’t actually block the flow of God’s kindness into my life by not being more pro-active in identifying need in others.

The anger of Saul with David.

The anger of Saul with David. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early chapters of 2 Samuel give us an interesting comparison and contrast in their pen-portraits of Saul and David as early Kings of Israel and Judah. Saul allows jealousy, envy and bitterness to block the flow of kindness, twice tries to kill David. Jonathan, Saul’s eldest by his only wife (1 Sam 14:49-50), comes to David’s rescue, out of friendship and loyalty…and also perhaps because he realises that his father is mentally ill and will destroy himself by destroying David.

2 Samuel is a ’history’ book about David; 1 Sam is about the transition to monarchy under Saul, picking up from ’Judges’ in which the continual attacks on the Hebrews from surrounding tribes make the people ask for king (as a necessity, NOT as an ideal form of government, you’ll notice). David is a shepherd boy, youngest of eight sons of Jesse, a skilled musician and composer. The second book begins in civil war after Saul’s death in battle and ends with the rivalry of David’s sons over the succession. David establishes Jerusalem as capital, Solomon succeeds him (1 Kings) and builds the Temple; the kingdom is then split in two under Rehoboam, King of Israel (the ten tribes in North) and Judah (the two in south). This is ‘His’ story told from special point of view – God’s plan at work in the Jewish nation. It is therefore highly selective and deliberately biased, as much history is. However, this is NOT legend or mythology, nor is it  propaganda – its reliabity is testified to contemporary documents and archaeology, in addition to older wrtings, records, and genealogies. Looking forward, Jesus is seen as David’s descendant, the ‘Messiah’ (Hebrew), ‘Christ’ (Greek), or ’anointed one.’ Just as a king or queen is anointed. It’s no ‘fluke’ that the oldest crown jewel in Britain, is also one of the smallest – the anointing spoon, with which the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch as s/he turns to the High Altar. The Coronation anthem, Handel’s ‘ Zadok the Priest’ reminds us of  2 Samuel 8:17, in which the High Priest appointed by Solomon helps to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem (1 Ki 2:26-35).

"Death of King Saul", 1848 by Elie M...

“Death of King Saul”, 1848 by Elie Marcuse (Germany and France, 1817-1902) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the beginning of 2 Samuel, David returns to Ziklag following his victory over the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe who lived in the desert south of Judah. They had been at continual war with the Israelites from the time of the exodus. A survivor of Saul’s defeat at the Battle at Mount Gilboa by the Philistines arrives with the news of the death of the king and his three sons, including Jonathan. He is an Amalekite, and therefore tells lies in saying that he agreed to Saul’s request to kill him before the Philistines captured him (in fact, Saul fell on his own sword),  thinking David would be pleased. However,  since  he has killed ’the Lord’s anointed’, David has him killed. He then writes an elegy for Saul and Jonathan which includes the following verse:

’How the mighty have fallen in battle! Jonathan lies slain on your heights. I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.’ 

When Saul’s remaining son is murdered, David has his murderers killed. He is then made king, first by the tribes of Judah and then by the whole of Israel. He makes a ’contract’ or ’covenant’ with them, and is anointed king at the age of thirty, reigning for forty years in all. He begins with a series of victories over the Philistines. Then the Ark of the Covenant is brought to Jerusalem.

What kind of king is Jesus compared with his ancestor? His entry to Jerusalem is not on warhorse, with soldiers, but on a donkey, with children and pilgrims. Power struggles among the leaders of Israel had allowed Rome to take control in 63 B.C., and rulers like Herod ‘the Great’ were anything but that, for they were approved and appointed by Rome. They were not seen as ’anointed’ by God and weren’t popular with the people. They therefore used methods of terror to keep control, and savagely put down any support for alternative authorities, such as prophets and ’messiahs’. 

By contrast, in his relationship with Jonathan, David shows great faithfulness, giving his commitment to Jonathan’s descendants, something unusual for a king to do, upholding another king’s dynasty, which was normally seen as a threat and banished (at the very least).

But David determined to end the feuding as well as keep his promise never to ’cut off his kindness’ from Jonathan’s family. (1 Sam 20, vv 15, 42). He also makes the same promise to Saul, on oath, even after Saul tries to kill him (1 Sam 24: 20-22). Even after Saul loses God’s favour, David treats him with respect and even spares his life (’from evildoers come evil deeds’). David only takes lives ’in cold blood’ where justice is served, despite brutality of the times.

Did David keep his promise?

Read 2 Samuel 9:

David asked, ’Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, ’Are you Ziba?’

’Your servant,’ he replied.

The king asked, ’Is there no-one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’

Ziba answered the king, ’There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.’

’Where is he?’, the king asked.

Ziba answered, ’He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel, in Lo Debar.’

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.

David said, ’Mephibosheth!’

’Your servant,’ he replied.

’Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ’for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’

Mephishobeth bowed down and said, ’What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’

Then the King summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, ’I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephishobeth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.’ (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

Then Ziba said to the king, ’Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.’ So Mephishobeth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Mephishobeth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephishobeth. And Mephishobeth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.

(New International Version)

 1. What characteristics of David stand out?

He shows respect for Saul and Jonathan, behaving honourably, wanting to show God’s ’exceptional kindness’, or ’grace’, towards them. It includes forgiveness.

 2. What steps did David have to take to find Mephibosheth?

Ziba, Saul’s servant  was sent to find Mephishobeth in Lo Debar. Wherever this was, it was a considerable distance from Judah.

3. What reasons might David have had for not being kind to Mephibosheth?

His disability – because he was dropped by his nurse, (2 Sam 4). Also because his  his uncle, Ish-Bosheth, had been made king over large part of Israel, while David was king of Judah only for first 7 years, so there had been a bitter civil war between the House of Saul and the House of David. It wasn’t just that Saul had tried to kill him, but that many ’brothers’ had died in the War.  David’s actions remind me of how Henry Tudor united the Houses of York and Lancaster through marriage and the symbol of the Tudor Rose, combining the red rose of Lancashire with the white rose of Yorkshire, whilst at the same time dealing harshly with ‘pretenders’ to the throne.

 4. What was David’s kindness based on?

On his love for Jonathan, on his promise made to him;  on his forgiveness for House of Saul and on his promise to Saul.

 5. In what specific, practical ways did David show kindness to Mephibosheth?

The way he greeted him, as Jonathan’s son, with enthusiasm, though they had never met; the granting of Saul’s land, the settling of Ziba’s family to farm the land; the protection of him at the Royal Court in Jerusalem (as a disabled person he was unable to defend himself and his lands directly, but his position at court enables him to have a son and therefore continue the House of Saul.)

6. What thoughts or feelings do you think Mephibosheth had when called before David?

As last surviving member, he probably feared for his life, especially after having fled before uncle’s murder by men at his own court, even though David had executed the men responsible, which he may not have known.

7. What would he have felt as he heard the words contained in verse 7?

Mightily relieved? Reconciled, recognised, restored and reaffirmed.  No longer a refugee. Justified by the Restitution of his family.

 

A Hymn/ Psalm:

 Praise my Soul

The King of Heaven

To his feet

My tribute bring

Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

Who like me his praise would sing.

The Challenge:

Think of those who have been especially kind to you.  How have you been blessed by their kindness?

How can you repay their kindnesses? How can you affirm and encourage them?

What is an affirmation? How can we make one?

It’s not simply a general, positive statement, but a promise to do something specific for someone.

Christians have been showered with blessings from the King. Can you count your blessings while you may? There are two great songs, one British and the other a Salvation Army chorus, popular in the USA, which charge us with doing just this:

Count Your Blessings (#1; British):

 

Count your blessings one by one,

When dawn appears and day has just begun.

They will light your heart with happiness,

Make each hour bright

And bring you gladness.

 

 Count your blessings one by one,

When twilight falls and toil of day is done,

And in sweet dreams they’ll come again to you,

If you will count your blessings

Each day through.

 

Count your blessings while you may,

For we are here but little time to stay.

All around are hearts sincere and true,

Lovely things abound just waiting for you.

 

Count your blessings while you may,

For big or small, whichever come your way.

For then you’ll find this world a place of love,

If you will count your blessings from above.

 

Count Your Blessings #2 (American):

Chorus:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

Count your many blessings, see what God  has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you, what the Lord has done.

 

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you, what the Lord has done.

 

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?

Count your every blessing and each doubt will fly,

And you will be singing as the days go by.

 

When you look at others, with their lands and gold,

Think that Christ has promised you his wealth untold.

Count  your many blessings; wealth can never buy

Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

 

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be disheartened, God is over all.

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you till your journey’s end.

 

So, Remember….

Don’t lose sleep,

Counting sheep;

When you’re stressing out,

Count your blessings out!

And don’t forget to bless others….


%d bloggers like this: