A Modest Proposal: The Kingdom of Nicea
Or the Return of Roman Glory

In one of the early crusades, the western nations at the urging of (if memory serves) the Venetian rulers sacked Byzantium and established the rule over Constantinople for a century or more. The Roman empire was stunned and shaken. However it did not vanish. The remnants of the Roman state formed a nation called the Kingdom of Nicea which jockeyed, struggled, and eventually retook and return to their former capital in Constantinople. That state, weakened as it was, remained for a few more centuries before falling to the Ottoman Turk in 1453. Today from various sources, we hear more of Coptic Christians being persecuted in Egypt. Christians in many/most of the Middle East do not fare so well. In the 1940s Israel was established by foreign powers. That state has not done so poorly and in fact is one of the major powers in the region and one of the wealthiest, the wealthiest if one sets aside the oil rent income.

When India/Pakistan separated in order to defuse internicene tension between Islamic and Hindu elements within India. While India and Pakistan are not exactly friendly toward each other today, the constant violent struggle for power within the state is no longer present.

The suggestion then, is to start suggesting and working toward the peaceful establishment of yet another Mid-eastern state. A haven for the semitic Christian population. Call it, if you will, the second Kingdom first Republic of Nicea (for it is unlikely that it’s form of government would be a monarchy).

This argument, taken somewhat unseriously by myself has been taken up more seriously in this book, which I have not read … but note in passing nevertheless

Let There Be Peas On Earth

And let there be broccoli too.

In the hunting for a clue category, at Levellers Mr Westmoreland-White writes:

However, there is zero justification for Christians to be willing to kill other human beings (persons made in God’s image; persons for whom Christ died) “in defence of their country” or anything else. To kill is to betray the gospel.

and in a comment:

To say that, however, is not to say that Christians involved in, say, WWII were not trying to do the best they could with what seemed to them to be limited options. Most of them never heard of Christian pacifism, never mind organized nonviolent direct action.

Or in might be better said, to suppose that “Christian pacifism” or “organized nonviolent direct action” would have mollified Hitler and stopped the Nazi war machine is errant nonsense. Now in the 9th century,  Constantinople was besieged by the Rus and her army was afield resisting Islamic armies. They believed that their rescue was owed to the robe of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) affecting a miracle to save them. Somehow I doubt a pious miracle is the solution Mr Westmorland-White depends on to replace the armed resistance against Nazi aggression. Actually, the problem is, I very much doubt there is any reasonable pacifistic non-violent suggestions on offer for how Nazi and Hitler might have been confronted or that he will suggest one. Continue reading →

Happy Easter To All

To all you in the Western tradition. In the East, on Pascha/Easter the homily has been the same for over 1500 years. St. John Chrysostom preached this one Pascha morn and it was decided it couldn’t be improved upon. This is what he preached:

If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him how receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.
For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.

A Thing Not Commonly Known

In the sense of it was a thing I didn’t know. 😀

St. Gregory the Illuminator was the saint singled out for to be recalled at Great Vespers Saturday night. St. Gregory brought the Christian faith to the Armenian people making Armenia the first Christian nation, as it predated Constantine. From Wiki:

The cause of Christianity was now secured; king and princes and people vied with each other in obedience to Gregory’s instruction. As a result, in 301, Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion. Convents, churches and schools were established. In 302, Gregory received consecration as Patriarch of Armenia from Leontius of Caesarea. In 318 Gregory appointed his son Aristaces to be his successor. About 331 he withdrew to a cave and lived as a hermit on Mt. Sebuh in the province of Daranalia in Upper Armenia, and there he died a few years later unattended and unobserved. When it was discovered he was dead his corpse was removed to the village of Thodanum or Tharotan. The remains of the saint were scattered far and near in the reign of Zeno. His head is believed to be now in Italy, his right hand at Echmiadzin, Armenia, and his left at the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon.

In discussions it today after church, it was remarked that it is a (mis)conception in some protestant circles that the Church was established by Emperor Constantine by his legalization of Christianity and convening the council of Nicea. St. Gregory becomes something of an embarrassment to this notion it seems.

Early Byzantium: Some Thoughts

Regular readers of this blog are aware that I’ve been delving into readings on the history of the Byzantine Empire. The original reason was that in discussions in these days on “theocracy”, which almost universally tag this with a negative connotation, examples are drawn from religious and political conflict in more recent English and Western European history. However the Byzantine Empire might well both be regarded as quite theocratic and it lasted for 1400 years. It seems like, by rights, it should serve as the primary example of theocracy. Why then is it ignored by those who would hold to negative connotations for theocracy.

However, in this essay, I’m not going to deal yet with attempt to pass some judgement on the church/state experiment that the Byzantine rule represents. Charles Freeman in The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason posits the thesis that Christianity had definite negative effects on reason. This is a thesis that is not exactly new, the Roman Emporer (pagan and intellectual), Julian the Apostate in the 4th century claimed much the same thing. It is, I think, largely wrong … for my reasons, check “below the fold”. Continue reading →

Western Eyes

Jason Kuznicki of Positive Liberty quotes (himself) writing:

Until the Enlightenment, wherever an official tolerance existed, it was almost always a particular and revocable license to practice one specific minority religion, and to do so only under highly restrictive conditions. In a sense, these were merely truces in the fighting, often agreed to simply because it was impossible to eradicate the religious minority. These early and frankly misnamed “tolerances” were in no sense predicated on the notion that an individual has a moral obligation to seek the truth for himself, unconstrained by the civil authority.
This last is what we now expect, and until the late seventeenth century, nothing even close to it could be found in Europe.

The great reformers — Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox — all urged fire and the sword. The thinkers of the Enlightenment — Locke, Voltaire, Jefferson, Hume — agreed that on these terms religion was at best a sham and at worst a profound cruelty. We owe religious tolerance not to the Reformation, but to a humane and cosmopolitan reaction against the Reformation.

The notion that religious toleration began and is owed to the Enlightenment … well our current notions of the same might have come from those sources (where they got it is another matter). Recently, I’ve been studying the Byzantine/Eastern history some for reasons not exactly related to toleration. But while religious toleration wasn’t by any means a common or constant feature of the Byantine Empire it did arise in the texts I’ve been reading more than once or twice. Below the fold, I examine some of those instances and remark on what that might say in the light of the remarks above. Continue reading →

History and Repetition

At The Debate Link, David Schraub points to the intellectual gifts of Mr Thompson as compared to Mr Obama as an indicator of fitness for office:

I want to laugh at the Fred Thompson campaign. I really should be able to. Thompson is, by all accounts, lazy and an intellectual light-weight. And his supporters, more often than not, also seem to be lazy and intellectual light-weights. It’s would be a funny combination. ….

[…]

…. They are that the Columbia/Harvard educated, first Black President of the Harvard law Review, described by Lawrence Tribe as one of the two brightest students he’s every taught, is not intelligent, and that the bring-down-the-house “Audacity of Hope” orator is not a good public speaker.

Examine for a moment the world leaders, concentrate on the Executive positions in the Roman and later Byzantine empires. Some were very intelligent. Some were actually very academic and scholarly in their outlook. Then review the shorter list of those whom you might term “great”. There is little overlap.

Of the religious leaders in the diverse Christian communities, academically speaking, I’d estimate that the Anglican and Catholic have the most academically qualified, and perhaps “intelligent” of the lot with Rowan Williams and former Bishop Ratzinger now Pope Benedict. One might also take a look at bookishness of Bishop as compared to their effectiveness. Remember as well, leading a Church is not quiet the hard knock political game as is politics.

Historically speaking it seems, from an “empirical” standpoint, intellectual achievement, intelligence, and academic excellence are not primary or even necessary qualifications for Executive excellence.

Closing Minds and Scientific Enquiry

A week or so ago, Clark posted a comment, which I promoted to a post on this book, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. I now have a copy. The thesis of this book is that Christianity had a major role in the ending of the philosphical and scientific enquiry established by the Greek civilization. I’m somewhat dubious of this claim, so I thought I’d put down some of my thoughts on this matter before embarking on reading (and later posting here) my thoughts on this book.

The first question that needs to be considered, in the light of the amazing advances of science in the last few hundred years, is what spurred that on?

Perhaps the most important factor in the rise of technological and scientific advancment is moveable type (and now the electronic analogue). It was cheap and available books that allowed knowledge gained by one man in one place to be shared and archived with and for a very wide audience. A second major factor was that as a society becomes more wealthy and therefore complex education becomes a necessity. And when a society becomes largely literate those with talents and apptitudes, like a Mozart in music or Gauss in maths can find their niche and do great things.

The second question is, what happened in late antiquity that held back advances in science and rational enquiry? In the Western portions of the Roman Empire (which by the by never engaged in and absorbed the Greek habits of mind), economic catastrophe of unparalled levels made rational and scientific enquiry impossible. The British Isles were thrown back virtually to bronze age society, and the rest of Western Europe fell to levels approximating the late Iron age (for further notes on this see The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization another sourcebook is Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800). Surplus and communications and some degree of leisure are required for contemplation of more than the next meal or the guys on the other side of the wall carrying those pointy sticks. The East fared better than the West, but did as well have a lot of political difficulties to deal with, i.e., Islam and those pointy sticks again (or the Bulgars) and so on. One has to ask the question of whether and how long the educational (literacy) remained in the East and did the surpluses and leisure remain intact allowing the time for such enquiry.

We shall see how those notions fit with those of Mr Freeman.