Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.

Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

21 April 2016

21 April. The Founding of the City.

Huh?  What city?

Well, when you use the definite article ("the") with "city" you know it can only mean one thing, Rome. Marcus Terentius Varro (no relation, though Roman naming practice would indicate there is!), who lived from 116 to 27 BC, right at the time the Roman Republic was transitioning to the Roman Empire, calculated what in the modern calendar we now date as 21 April 753 BC as the date of the founding of Rome.  Varro was an incredible scholar, one of the most remarkable anytime anywhere, and wrote extensively on pretty much everything, though only one work survives complete and only a few survive in fragments.

His one surviving complete work is Rerum Rusticarum Libri Tres, meaning On Things Agricultural in Three Books.  (See "rustic" in there?)  Among many other duties, he owned a large farm near Reate (modern Rieti, in central Italy), which was a central point in the Roman road linking Rome to the Adriatic Sea on the other side of what is now Italy.  That road was called the Via Salaria, meaning Salt Road, a major trade route beginning with the pre-Roman Sabines gathering salt from the River Tiber, which was a huge factor in the founding of Rome, hence Varro's connexion to it. 

Roman improvements to the Via Salaria survive to this day in rural areas where the destruction after the Fall of Rome by the Germanic barbarians wasn't so severe.  The Via Salaria had a role in the introduction of Christianity to Rome, which is covered in the "22 February. The Confession of St Peter.  On Chairs Too" post on this blog, so you can read about that there.

But I can't let Varro go without mentioning that this incredible genius, for example, with no technology to detail it, by sheer observation and deduction therefrom, anticipated modern epidemiology and microbiology by noticing the disease coming from hanging around swamps and marches, warning against it and positing the existence of organisms not visible to the eye that enter the body and cause the disease. His Disciplinarum libri IX (Disciplines in Nine Books), though itself now lost, we know from other ancient sources was the model for the encyclopaedia as we know it, and the basis from which that pillar of education, the Seven Liberal Arts, treated elsewhere on this blog, derives.  Helluva guy.  We use stuff that comes from him every day and hardly know of him.  Rome, always Rome.

We use stuff every day that comes from Rome and hardly know of that either.  Rome itself went through three distinct stages, namely kingdom, republic and empire, from 753 BC to 476 AD.  That's 1,229 years!  And though the western part of the Empire containing Rome itself fell in 476, the eastern part of the Empire continued until 1453.  That's another 997 years for a total of 2226 years!  And, what took itself as a reconstitution of the Roman Empire lasted until 1806.  That's another 353 years, for a total of 2579 years!  Over two and one half millennia!!

At its founding Rome was a kingdom.  This was from 753 to 509 BC, 244 years; there were seven kings.  Kingship was elected by a senate, not hereditary, but, the king was absolute in all areas; he was chief lawgiver, chief executive, chief judge, chief priest.  Then the kingdom was abolished for a system of elected executive officials, laws made not by direct popular vote but by elected representatives, a separation of powers, and a constitution.  Sound familiar?  This was from 509 to 27 BC, 482 years. 

Eventually though, the success of the Republic was also its downfall.  Conflict between the Patricians, descendants of the founding fathers ("patres", hence "patrician") and their families from the Kingdom, and the Plebeians, everyone outside that class ("plebs", Latin for "common people") grew worse. The "Conflict of the Orders", though it saw the Plebeians attain the political rights originally held by the Patricians only, also saw the emergence of an unofficial aristocracy of plebeians who did well financially with the successes of the Republic, so the general situation of most people did not change, and increasingly though they had political rights they were not inclined to use them, but rather looked to a strong executive who would give them stuff as the answer.  Thus did a provision for a dictator, originally meant as a provision for a limited time to get through a period of crisis, become a dictator for life in Julius Caesar and eventually a reversion to a supreme ruler, an emperor, in his adopted son, Octavian, in 27 BC, though the institutions of the Republic, most notably the Senate, still existed.  Outwardly a republic, but really a dictatorial empire.  Maybe that sounds familiar too.

The Roman Empire lasted from 27 BC to 476 AD, 503 years.  Sort of.  By 476, there was one Roman Empire, but it was divided into two parts, eastern and western.  This was done by Diocletian, the son of a slave who became emperor, in 285 to solve the enormous instability in the empire that arose in the third century (which is called, oddly enough, the Crisis of the Third Century).  The western part, which includes the city itself, collapsed in 476.  The eastern part did not.  That's the "sort of". 

The eastern part was later called the Byzantine Empire since it was Greek speaking, but they themselves used no such term, and saw themselves as the Roman Empire, period; they continued Roman traditions and considered themselves Romans.  They briefly tried to maintain order in the fallen West but did not succeed, and found a much greater threat in the rise of Islam, which having already conquered most of what we now call the Middle East, had their sights on Constantinople, the capital.  Islamic conquest was stopped in the eighth century, but later this reversed with the Battle of Manzikert in modern Turkey in 1071, resulting in steady decline to the point where the Roman Empire called upon the Roman Empire for help in 1095.

Huh?  Howzat, were there two Roman Empires?  Well yeah, sort of.  Oh great, another sort of.  Well, history is full of them, and they have a lot to do with how our present is.  Here's what happened.  Rome's problems weren't only the internal social ones mentioned above.  Externally, there was the threat from the Germanic barbarians beyond Roman borders, which resulted in two sacks of Rome, one in 410 by the Visigoths commanded by Alaric, the other in 455 by the Vandals under Genseric.  Finally, Odoacer, the Scirian leader, deposed the last western Roman emperor, Romulus (what an irony, same name as Rome's legendary founder after whom the city was named) on 4 September 476.  And the Senate went along with it!  Even so he professed to be under the eastern emperor, Zeno, but he wasn't impressed and sent the Ostrogoth king Theodoric to conquer him, which he did.  Theodoric invited Odoacer to a reconciliation banquet, at which he killed him on 15 March 493, then set about restoring the lost glory of Rome.  And that's the real story of Dietrich von Bern.  (Lutherans, if you're not laughing, check your Large Catechism for God's sake.)

What's not to be missed here is that, though Rome as a political reality was gone, and though none of these guys were Romans, and, though these non-Romans were the destroyers of Rome as a political entity, and, though they were Arians, a version of Christianity opposed to the one the empire had defined, they nonetheless appealed to either or both of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire and the cultural legacy of the western part and the Empire as a whole for legitimacy! 

The reconstituting of western Rome proceeded further with Charles Martel (Karl Martell, Carolus Martellus), King of the Franks.  Franks?  More Germanic types, known to the Romans before things fell apart, the only Germanic group that was not Arian, many had served in the Roman army all the way back to Julius Caesar.  Legends with written documents from as early as the seventh century attribute their origin to the losing forces of King Priam at Troy, the same origin as Virgil, on commission from Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, in the Aeneid attributed to, guess who, the Romans!

External to the south was the rise of Islam; the Umayyad Caliphate had conquered its way across northern Africa and up the Iberian peninsula into what is now the middle of France.  This was halted and its reversal begun on 10 October 732 at the Battle of Tours (aka Poitiers), when Charles, leading united forces against a vastly superior force, in one of the most stunning military achievements ever, so soundly defeated the forces of the Caliphate that he got his nickname The Hammer (martellus in Latin) and set the stage for the reconstruction of some sort of unified order in Europe.  This came to fruition in Charles' grandson, also named Charles, who further consolidated his rule in the lands of the old western Empire, and on 25 December (yes, Christmas Day) 800 AD was crowned Emperor of the Romans, Imperator Augustus, by the last surviving authority of imperial Rome, the bishop of Rome, at the time Leo III, at St Peter's Basilica (not the one there now, the one built by Constantine that was there before) in Rome.  For such accomplishments, the first unified ruler in Europe in over three hundred years, he is called Pater Europae, the Father of Europe, and also Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus, Charlemagne.

Oh OK, you're talking about the Holy Roman Empire, right?  Well, sort of.  Great, another sort of.  Well, history is ... like we said above.  The "Holy Roman Empire" didn't see itself as the Holy Roman Empire.  That term didn't even arise until the thirteenth century, by which time the "Holy Roman Empire" had been around some four hundred years. 

From the start, in 800, it was simply the Roman Empire, period, reconstituted, a translatio imperii, transfer of rule in Latin, from ancient Rome with the same legitimacy.  But the eastern part of the Roman Empire thought it was still the Roman Empire, and didn't think much of these former "barbarians" thinking they had reinstituted the Roman Empire, not just the western half but the whole thing.  At the time the eastern claimant to being the Roman Empire was ruled by Irene, as regent for her son who was too young to assume rule.  For a time she thought of marrying Charlemagne, who was eligible at the time, but the idea never came to anything.  So there's the "sort of", two entities each considering itself the Roman Empire.  The Roman Empire (the eastern half that survived) called upon the Roman Empire (the western half revived) in 1095 for help against Islamic conquest.  Thus began what are called the Crusades (though they weren't called that until well after the last one).

Interesting to note that the appeal was not from one Roman Emperor to the other.  It was from Alexios I, Roman Emperor as in the one in the east, but not to the "other" Roman emperor Henry IV, the "holy" Roman emperor at the time; rather, the appeal was to the bishop of Rome, that last surviving authority of the Rome that fell, which at the time was Pope Urban II.

The Roman Empire as in the so-called Byzantine Empire, fell to Islamic conquest on 29 May 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, who claimed both the sultanate (secular) and caliphate (religious).  The Roman Empire as in the so-called Holy Roman Empire would last from 25 December 800 to 6 August 1806, following defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz.  That's just over a millennium!

So there's your total of over two and one-half millennia, i.e. (hey that stands for id est, that is, in Latin, we're using Roman stuff all the time) over 2,500 years, of political entities derived from and based on Rome.  OK that's impressive but it's over, right?  Wrong.  Enter the "Third Rome".

There's a third Rome?  Yeah, sort of.  Great, another sort of,  Well, history is ... getting the idea?  When Sultan of Islam Mehmed II successfully led the conquest of Constantinople (he was only 21 at the time btw!), he proclaimed himself Caesar of Rome, Qayser-i Rum, since the western empire was long gone and he had possession of the capital of the eastern, Constantinople the new Rome (as in city).  And, it was supported by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the state church in the eastern empire, with Mehmed installing the Christian Patriarch and the Patriarch crowning the Islamic emperor. Even what would have been the heirs of the last "Byzantine" Emperor, Constantine XI (his deceased brother's sons, since he left no heir), served Mehmed and attained high office in that service.  Mehmed was intent on there being a third Rome, the first being pagan, the second Christian and the third Islamic. 

He had his sights set on conquering the west including the city of Rome but died before carrying it out, and though the title wasn't used much after him the concept was, and the Ottoman Empire lasted until 1 November 1922, not even a century ago at this writing, when having been on the losing side of World War I and having lost much Middle Eastern territory to the winning side, a revolution led by Mustafa Kemal (aka Ataturk) abolished the sultanate threw out the Osmans, literally, the last sultan, Mehmed VI, leaving the country on 17 November that year.  The man who would be Sultan of Islam if it still existed, Bayezid Osman, is 91 as of 2016, the first to be born outside of Turkey and after the end of the Empire, lives in the United States and even served in the US Army.  After some hesitation, the caliphate was abolished by Turkey on 3 March 1924.  Turkey remains much in the news these days, as do efforts to re-establish a caliphate.  BTW "Islam" in all this is Sunni Islam, not to be confused with Shiite Islam, which has entirely different ideas about succession of authority in Islam.

Also following the fall of Constantinople and the end of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire, some Eastern Orthodox, the state church of that empire, took refuge in Russia, which was also Orthodox since St Vladimir, aka Vladimir the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev, in 988, and the idea spread that Moscow, itself and as the main city of the land, was the new, third Rome.  This took a big uptick when Ivan III, Grand Prince of Moscow (no Tsars yet), married the niece of Constantine XI, the last eastern Roman emperor.  Thing is, succession by line of descent is a later idea, and was not the established norm for Rome.  The claim rests more really on the continuance of the Orthodox Christian faith of the "Byzantine" Empire.  Ivan began to use the title Tsar, which is the expression in Russian of, guess what, Caesar.  Sometimes it's written Czar, in which the derivation is even clearer.  This became the formal title of Russian emperors, lasting until 1917 with Nicholas II, overthrown and executed by the Communists.  Though it's not the only case of it, it's significant in this case that the double eagle symbol of the "Byzantine" Roman Empire (Rome itself used a single eagle) was adopted in the coat of arms of the Russian Empire, continued in the coat of arms of the short-lived Russian Republic, and discontinued with the aberration of Russian history that was the Soviet Union.

Hey wait a minute, ain't Kiev in Ukraine?  Yes, but sort of.  Ukraine is actually The Ukraine, why, because the word "Ukraine" means "borderland".  Borderland of what?  The Russias, that's what.  Why the plural, ain't it just Russia?  Sort of.  The word "Russia" comes from Rus', and describes a people and the broad area in which they lived, not a country per se.  Hence, the Kievan Rus'.  That's why the czars were called Czar of all the Russias -- all the present lands of the Rus'.  The Ukraine is The Borderland of that.  Western European countries have been trying to bring it under their sphere of influence for centuries, a fact not lost on the current president of Russia.

Speaking of which, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was formed.  Take a look at the coat of arms adopted by the Russian Federation in 1993.  Know what's at the top?  The double-headed eagle, the basics going right back to Ivan III.  Moscow, the Third Rome.

Not to mention, Moscow is built on seven hills, just like Constantinople before it and Rome before it.  Wild, huh?

The concept of a third Rome was prominent in the formation of modern Italy as a unified state from the many historic small states on the peninsula.  This was to be a third Rome, as in, the first one of emperors, the second one of popes, and a third one of the people, as the name of the movement expresses, Resorgimento, cognate with our resurgence, a rebirth or revival, which also included dominance of the Mediterranean area.  The first big step was the establishment of a unified kingdom of Italy on 17 March 1861when Victor Emmanuel, of the House of Savoy and King of Sardinia, became King of Italy, as the Kingdom of Sardinia, which controlled much of the Italian peninsula, became the Kingdom of Italy and the capital ended up in Rome.  This movement changed, not in essentials but in intensity, with the king's appointment of Benito Mussolini as prime minister in 1922.  With this the stage was set for the cataclysm we now call World War II.

Fascism.  Now the word is mostly used as a pejorative, to put down anyone advocating government action with which you don't agree.  But it arises right here.  Fascism is a modern term; it originates with Mussolini's 1932 essay "The Doctrine of Fascism".  (He actually only wrote part of it but it all appeared under his name.)  What we now call World War I was in its time called The War To End All Wars.  It didn't, but it ended much else, on a scale unprecedented in human history.  Fascism addresses that situation.  The term has been associated with the right wing of the political spectrum since World War II, but actually Fascism opposes all wings of the political spectrum, right and left, as relics of the past inadequate to the new modern situation.  It views the right as backward and the left as destructive, and cares nothing for how it is classified since it sees all those classifications as variable.  The future it believes belongs to authority, which alone can manage human life, therefore, no human value exists or develops outside of or apart from the state since the state alone can comprehensively nurture all aspects of human life.

This would indeed be the Resurgence, a strong unified nation out of a broken set of pieces after the war, with the strength and unity coming from strong government, a re-surgence of the Roman Empire.  The Fascists gained control in several localities and eventually did the famous March on Rome, so powerful that in 1922 the king thought it better to appoint the Fascist leader prime minister than risk the bloodshed that would follow if he didn't.  This in turn inspired a young man, also a WWI veteran, north of the Alps in his desire to effect a strong united Germany following the defeat and loss of the German Empire.  Adolf Hitler directly modelled his first attempt to take power in Germany after Benito Mussolini, the next year, 1923.  That attempt failed, but eventually he succeeded.  Since for a strong unified nation there can be only one political party since there is only one movement that is right, the leader of that party once in office is the official leader of the state.  Mussolini's designation in 1922 as The Leader, Il Duce in Italian, from the Latin dux, meaning leader, was the direct model for Hitler's designation in 1934 of himself as The Leader, der Führer in German.  The model being Julius Caesar, who precipitated the evolution of Rome from a republic to an empire, and Octavian, aka Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.

The term "fascism" comes from, guess what, a Roman thing, the fasces lictoriae.  OK OK I'll translate.  Fasces means bundles.  Lictoriae means of the lictors.  Great, what's that?  Fasces is plural, the singular is fascis, bundle.  Bundle of what?  Rods, usually birch, bound by a red leather strip, with an axe in the middle with its blade sticking out, a symbol of the authority of any level of Roman magistrate; lictors are the guys who carry them before the magistrate.  These were used throughout the entire history of Rome, from the Kingdom on.

Oh wow so WWII is the legacy of Rome in modern times?  That's a hell of a thing to ascribe to something you seem to think is good, there, Past Elder.  Yeah it would be, if that were what I am doing.  I'm not.  These guys forgot something about the fasces, and it expresses what they forgot, or more accurately overlooked, about Rome.  Which is, within the Pomerium, the axe is removed from the fasces.  What does this mean?  (Lutherans should ask this of everything.)   Pomerium is a Latin contraction of post moerium, meaning, behind the wall; it's the original area of Rome as ploughed out and demarcated by Romulus on, guess when, 21 April.

It means that in the heart of the city, the axe, a sign of ultimate power even over life and death, therefore a sign of absolute authority, was not allowed.  The idea being, power has its limits, and at the core of things, power rests with the people through their elected representatives, not a Leader.  That's what a republic is, literally, res publica, "a public thing" in Latin.  This principle is what is the essence of Rome.  It was well served by its sixth king, Servius Tullius, who besides preserving the nation militarily also extended power to all classes, which had as its outcome his assassination in 535 BC by his own daughter, Tullia, and son-in-law Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.  When the latter became the seventh king, outrage at this tragic crime (that's what it was called, tragicum scelus) led to not only his ouster as king but ouster of the kingdom itself as unRoman.  The Republic was established and the office of king abolished and split between two officials, called consules, so power never was totally held by any one man.  No Leader.

It didn't last.  So what happened.  The Republic did allow for a dictator -- from the Latin for "to speak", one whose word becomes law -- to be appointed, for a limited time to address a specific crisis.  Oh well there's the problem, then, huh?  Well, sort of, again.  This actually worked quite well for some time, and when the guy who changed it, Julius Caesar, came along, it hadn't been used for 120 years, and then was given a new form, with no time limit.  Sulla, the guy who last had it, kept it for about a year, then retired.  Which set the stage for Gaius Julius Caesar to bring back the regular dictatorship, then have it extended to one year, then renewed annually, and finally being named dictator perpetuo, dictator in perpetuity.  Which shortly morphed into an emperor, the first being Julius Caesar's adopted son, known as Caesar Augustus, and of course with that, though many of the institutions of the Republic continued, the Republic was no more, an empire took its place, with an absolute leader at the head.  So Rome devolved into an essentially unRoman entity, and it is that entity which generally comes to mind when one says "Rome".

The legacy, that which influenced and was incorporated into later times, of the Roman Empire is immense.  Our language, both its vocabulary and how it is written, our calendar, units of measure, basics of law, technology spanning many fields, such as medicine, architecture, civic planning, agriculture, weaponry and engineering, to name a few.  And of course, science and philosophy, as Rome absorbed ancient Greece and other cultures, bearing new fruit and passing them on to us.  Most of that, however, happened before the Empire.  And that's the key.  Rome itself, or more accurately, many within Rome itself, knew this was happening even as it happened. 

About 125 years after the Roman Republic ended on 16 January 27 BC when the Senate proclaimed Octavian with the new title Caesar Augustus, Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis) decried this change in his Satire X around 100 AD, about 30 years after Nero's death, in the famous phrase "panem et circenses", bread and circuses.  The Romans had traded the dignity and freedoms of the Roman Republic for the Empire, based on who would give them stuff ("food and entertainment") for free, i.e., paid for with someone else's money via the government.  Bread and circuses, meaning food and entertainment.  It's from this that the country in The Hunger Games is called Panem; circuses comes from the circles within which public entertainment was staged.  No surprise that later in the same Satire Juvenal says rather than the wrong, or wrongly exaggerated, desires expected from one's own efforts or appropriated from the efforts of others, such as power and wealth, one should desire mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.  And no surprise he warns in another Satire (VI, to be exact) of the dangers of a government so powerful.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?  -- who guards the guards themselves, or, who watches the watchers?

And that's the great question.  Power.  Power by whom over whom and for what purpose.  In a word, society, Latin again, societas, how do we form and organise our associations, literally, with each other.

Plato thought the guardians will be their own guardians against abuse and corruption by what is called the "noble lie" in politics and the "pious fiction" in religion.  That is, a myth of a religious or political (or both) nature told by an elite that doesn't actually believe it but uses it for the purpose of establishing or maintaining the greater good.  Yeah well, sounds good but doesn't work out that way.  So what is the greater good, and how is that established or maintained?  The only constant among Man's various answers to that is an elite in power, so we're right back to power by whom over whom and for what purpose.  Societas, how, why, and for what purpose do we associate ourselves?

After the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government had been worked out in the closed proceedings.  He replied: A republic -- if you can keep it.  All the essential features of a republic come from Rome.  A constitution (Rome's was not written like ours, it used precedent, and that is still a feature in our legal system), regular elections, term limits, quorums to do business, veto, impeachment, filibuster, the "power of the purse", separation of powers so that power does not concentrate in one office or office holder -- all of this comes to us from Rome.

The Roman Republic, that is.  Rome blew it.  It traded the Republic for an Empire.  While that Empire contributed much to life as we know it now, most of that comes from the Republic, and some of it, particularly when it comes to authority, does not, but both the good and the bad influences everything.  Another third Rome is not a country, but a culture.  Again:  Our languages, both its vocabulary and how it is written, our calendar, units of measure, basics of law, technology spanning many fields, such as medicine, architecture, civic planning, agriculture, weaponry and engineering, to name a few, and of course, science and philosophy.

Will we keep it?  Will it be mens sana in corpore sano or panem et circenses, a sound mind in a sound body or bread (food) and circuses (entertainment)?  Will we get carried away by exaggerated desires for the fruits of our labours and/or fruits appropriated from the labour of others, and turn to a guardian who will deliver them to us?  What has been passed to us from and through Rome is an astounding heritage that has yielded an even more astounding harvest of knowledge, with more to come.

Senatus populusque romanus.  SPQR.  Sums it all up.  Well, if you know what it means it does, so in case you don't, here it is -- it's Latin for The Roman Senate and People.  It's the classic inscription put on coins, and public documents and buildings.  "People" in this usage means government as a whole; the people, as represented in their assemblies.  A free and sovereign people, the root of authority.  This came into use, as one might expect, after the Kingdom with the Republic.  And it continued after the Republic into the Empire, but no longer meant what it said, and was discontinued after Constantine.  The outer form was there but the inner content was not, the assemblies really being a rubber stamp for the will of the emperor, as the embodiment of the people and therefore of their will.  That's the trade.  Sound minds and bodies of free and sovereign people traded for food and entertainment provided by an authoritarian guardian.

Outwardly a republic but really a dictatorial empire.  Let's not do that.  Learn from Rome, the eternal city.

21 April 2769 ab urbe condita, from the city having been founded.

04 April 2016

Problem Pregnancy? The Annunciation, 25 March 2016.

Note - for 2016, published 4 April, following the octave of Easter.

It's the feast of the Annunciation. OK, so what was announced? The story is related in the Gospel according to St Luke, 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel (which means "God is my hero" in  Hebrew) announced to a Jewish girl named Miriam (better known in English as Mary) that God wanted to cause her to become pregnant with the promised Messiah, and that she should name him Joshua (which means in Hebrew "God rescues", which is better known in English as Jesus, from the Latin for the Greek for the Hebrew).

Of course, if God is causing the pregnancy, God is not the parent but the father. The complication is, Mary is engaged to a man named Joseph who presumably will be taking care of causing her pregnancies, and in their culture, engagement pretty much was marriage, just the time between the promise of marriage and holding the wedding ceremony.  So, if she said yes but Joseph did not believe "It's OK God did it", which is not something a guy is inclined to believe, he would be within his rights under the Law of Moses to have her put to death. Mary knew that. How's that for a problem pregnancy?

While it's fine to get all into the miracle of a pregnancy cause by divine intervention rather than human intercourse, it might be well to spend a little more time on this -- Mary faced a real hard decision on this pregnancy, like the risk of death, it was not at all convenient for her, but, she trusted God and said yes.

Luke also records that Yes, in the famous Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, which has become a central part of the Divine Office about which this blog recently posted, associated with Vespers or evening prayer in the Western church and Matins (which if you mistake the Catholic Church for the catholic church no longer exists) in the Eastern church.

Well now, how about that, the Messiah comes from a troubled pregnancy!  Maybe we can put that in the context of troubled pregnancies as well as of the Messiah; there is only one Messiah, but we have a lot of troubled pregnancies. Far from being something shunned or ignored, Christianity and the Christian Church started with one!

And how about this, notice that the date on which the Annunciation, which would then be the date of Jesus' conception, is celebrated exactly nine months, the period of human gestation, before 25 December, the celebration of Jesus' birth. OK, nine months, I got it -- but, there's more to it than that.

Our current way of numbering years comes from a guy named Dionysus Exiguus, which means Dennis the Short.  He introduced his calendar reform in 525 A.D.  His main goal wasn't to work out calendar details, but to fix a date for the observance of Easter, since when to celebrate it was disputed.  In the course of that, he assigned the beginning of the new year to the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March.  Why?  Because years would be dated from the time of grace, which began when Jesus' life began, In the Year of Our Lord, or anno domini (A.D.) in Latin, and since life begins with conception rather than birth, years would be counted as before or after his conception, not after his birth.

Pretty big what is now called "pro-life" statement there.  This pro-life statement is not an accident but quite intentional.  From ancient Rome the practice had been to number years from 1 January, the day the new consules took office.  So this was a change.  It became prevalent with Charlemagne, who used it as the system throughout his empire, the basis of post-Roman Europe.  The beginning of Jesus' earthly life on this date of his conception was such a big deal that it was New Years' Day, the beginning of the new year, until relatively recently, in Mother England as late as 1752.

In the calendar used now throughout the world, years are still numbered with reference to Jesus' life, but the world has erased much of the reference.  First was the move of New Years Day back to 1 January, which happened when the Gregorian (so called from Pope Gregory the Great who authorized it) calendar replaced the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar used in Dennis' time. You can read more about that in this blog's New Years post, but of interest here is that this is the origin too of "April Fools".  As the Gregorian calendar took hold across Europe, starting in 1582, not only did the start date for the year change but the "drift" of the Julian calendar was fixed, so that those who held on to 25 March as New Years Day also found 25 March in the old Julian calendar now fell in April in the new Gregorian calendar, thus making them "April Fools", with pranks being played on them.

Isn't that hilarious?  Hey, wanna know what hilarious is, where it even comes from?  Like everything else worth anything it's from or through the Romans, this time the Hilaria, from the adjective hilaris meaning "cheerful", a big feast of public games and merriment in honour of Cybele, the mother of the gods, especially masquerades where you could poke fun at anything, to celebrate, guess what, the arrival of better weather and more daylight and the departure of Winter, on guess when, the eighth day before the Kalends of April, which is the first day after the vernal equinox, which makes it, guess what -- 25 March!  

The second erasure has been in recent decades, since the Gregorian calendar is in use now throughout the world in lands with a Christian history or not, calling the A.D. years the Common Era or C.E., and the B.C. years (Before Christ) Before the Common Era or B.C.E. Well, what's "common" about it, there was people around before and after Christ, but it removes the mention of him even though it's still dated from him.

Although the Western church calendar does contain provisions for moving the Annunciation should it fall in Easter, which is possible, the Eastern church moves it under no circumstances whatever, so important is the celebration of the beginning of Jesus' life, and it would be celebrated as well as, for example, Good Friday. How's that for a statement that life begins at conception?

In Mother England the Feast of the Annunciation is also known as Lady Day, the lady being Mary.  This has some echoes even in the secular world. It is the first of the four quarter days, marking the quarters of the year, when rent was due and servants were hired, and Lady Day as the first Quarter Day is also when landowners' contracts with farm workers began. 25 March in the old Julian calendar became 6 April in the new Gregorian calendar, and 6 April to this day begins the tax year in the UK.

To be complete, the Quarter Days align roughly with the solstices and equinoxes, and they are Lady Day, 25 March, Midsummer Day, 24 June, Michaelmas, 29 September, and Christmas, 25 December.

So Happy Lady Day!  But back to problem pregnancies, especially to those ladies in troubled pregnancies with tough times ahead if you go through with it. God gets it, he chose to come into the world that way. His mother gets it too. So does his church. We're all with you, and welcome you to be with us.