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.

27 February 2017

Readin', Writin', and Absolute Multitude. Academics 2017. 25 Feb

What's up with that? Don't I mean 'Rithmetic?

Festschrift on the Anniversary of the University of Iowa, 25 February 1847.
Or, Back To School -- Oy!

When it's almost back-to-school time, along with all the sales in the  stores, there's also all the usual stuff "for sale" too about the value of education. Trouble is, there's about as much of that stuff, as many ideas of what is an education, not to mention of what is its value, as there are kinds of pens, notebooks and clothes in the stores.

So let's start with the good old liberal arts education. We'll look at:

I. How and Where It Started
II. What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are
III. The Modern University
IV. How It Fell Apart
V. Where We Are Now
VI. Where We Could Be
and a little concluding note you might enjoy.

I. How and Where It Started.

These days, you may or may not hear that the ideas of liberal arts education, like those of democracy, originated in Greek antiquity.  What you really don't hear these days is that those ideas were not at all what we mean by them now.  In those societies, democracy didn't mean everyone participates, it meant that to participate in democracy, and to have an education adequate to do that, one must not be burdened by having to work; that was done by a slave class. Leisure, not work, is the basis of culture and society; "liberal" comes from the Latin for free, which translated the Greek for not what we think of now, but learning appropriate to the free and non-working class, not the slave class.

"Academy", "academic" and like words come from the school Plato founded in a sacred grove dedicated to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, called the Akademia. Hekademia originally, actually. It lasted from about 387 BC to 83 BC. Its most famous graduate is a guy named Aristotle.

The Academy was refounded on Platonic philosophy in 410 AD and lasted until closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian I in 529. Well, Eastern Roman Emperor, but the Western Empire was gone, having collapsed in 476. Justinian was out to stamp out anything in the Empire but the state religion, the Catholic Church, defined and established by the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius and the Western Gratian and Valentinian II in the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380. Which he pretty much did, the Second Council of  Constantinople in 553 saying nothing happens in the church without the emperor. For which reason the 529 closing of the refounded Academy is often called the End of Antiquity.

The scholars of The Academy sought haven in the Persian Sassanid  Empire, then when the Persian and Byzantine empires made peace in 532, some of the scholars removed to Harran in what is now southeast Turkey. After the Sassanids lost to the Arabs, by then Islamic, in 651, Harran became the first great centre of Islamic learning as the knowledge of classical antiquity was translated from Greek to Syriac to Arabic.  Meanwhile Europe, where all this stuff came from, was a complete mess. So knowledge that began in Europe was forced out and wouldn't make its way back for a few hundred years.  Helluva guy that Justinian, huh. The Eastern Orthodox think he's a saint, which I suppose makes sense for what's left of his old state church, but unfortunately so do some of us Lutherans.

So The Academy. Its best graduate Aristotle in turn founded the Lyceum in Athens in 335 BC, right beside the temple of Apollo of Light, Apollo Lykeios, hence the name. The Romans trashed it in 86 BC, and at an unknown point thereafter it ceased to be. Its location was rediscovered in 1996, just east of modern downtown Athens. The word Lyceum survives in modern European languages for roughly what we call high school in the US.

Here's how these ideas passed from the end of the ancient world with the fall of the Western Roman Empire to later times in the West. First was a guy named Martianus Capella, who sometime after Alaric, King of the Visigoths (Germanic types), trashed Rome in 410 wrote a book called De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem Artibus liberalibus libri novem, which means "On the Wedding of Philology and Mercury, and the Seven Liberal Arts, in Nine Books". The first two books are an allegorical love story about how Mercury, the pursuit of learning, actually learns by way of Philology, communicated information, and the remaining seven are textbooks in each of the seven arts we will detail below. The books were largely based on existing ancient works, and the whole thing was pretty much an encyclopaedia of its time, but later, when the knowledge in that system began to show itself lacking, the whole thing started to appear lacking, and scholars now routinely diss him, when what is needed then as now is separating the system itself from its content at any given time.

Which is pretty much what the rest of this post is trying to establish.

Second was a guy named Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, who lived shortly thereafter. His best known work is On the Consolation of Philosophy (De consolatione philosophiae), written while awaiting execution by the Arian Western Roman Emperor Theodoric for supposed treason with the Catholic Eastern Roman Emperor Justin. Boethius translated a bunch of ancient Greek works into Latin. In his rather free translation of Nicomachus' book on arithmetic he also set out the liberal arts, giving them the trivium and quadrivium names. In his On Music set out the three-fold division of music we shall detail below. His books remained standard authorities in universities for hundreds of years, and the Consolation is one of the most influential books ever written. While not part of the church's general calendar, in some places he is commemorated as a saint, St Severinus, with feast day 23 October.

You might hear that the liberal arts were originally seven, the first three being grammar, rhetoric and logic, also known as dialectic, a three-part way known in Latin and consequently to the West as the Trivium (from which our word trivial comes, trivial matters originally being not minor details but what you learn in order to get on to the heavy lifting of reality itself), and the last four being arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, the four-part way called the Quadrivium.

Nice to know, but doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though it looks like it does, which is most of the problem understanding this stuff.

II. What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are.

Here is the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts.

The Three Part Way, the Trivium.
1. Grammar.
2. Rhetoric.
3. Logic (dialectic).

The Four Part Way, the Quadrivium.
4. Arithmetic. (Absolute Multitude)
5. Music. (Related Multitude)
6. Geometry. (Stationary Magnitude)
7. Astronomy. (Mobile Magnitude)

Again nice to know, but again doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though again it looks like it does.The Trivium was not grammar, rhetoric and logic exactly as we mean them now, nor even something learned for its own sake. Rather, it was learning the tools by which one learns anything at all, just as a tradesman learns the tools of his trade before learning how to use them in the trade itself. Basically, Grammar was the study of how thought is written down in symbols (language), Rhetoric was the study of how thought is communicated from one person to another, and Logic was the study of how to think to reach supportable conclusions. Thus a person will be able to write down or speak his own thoughts rather than just let them rattle around in his head (Grammar), evaluate whether the written or spoken thoughts of others are well written down or written to hide or disguise things (Rhetoric), and evaluate his and others thoughts as to whether the content is supportable or based on unsupportable assertions and/or hidden assumptions which are deceptive (Logic).

Here's what the names of the liberal arts in the Quadrivium mean. Once you learned how to study anything at all, the stuff to be studied was divided into two big categories, things that are what they are as combinations of units, and things that are what they are as units that divide into further units. The former were called Multitudes, and further divided into those that are not applied to anything but abstract, which was called Arithmetic, and those that are applied to something, and that is called Music. The latter were called Magnitudes, and further divided into those that do not move, called Geometry, and those that do, called Astronomy.

Arithmetic then simply meant the study of number in the abstract, not applied to anything, just how numbers can be combined and used -- what is generally called math to-day. Music was using numbers to understand a phenomenon, and was further grouped into three areas: musica mundana, using number to quantify and understand the world outside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day physics, chemistry, and the like; musica humana, using number to quantify and understand the world inside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day biochenistry, psychology and the like; and finally and at the lowest level, musica instrumentalis, using number to understand the tones and combinations of tones produced by the instruments that produce them, including the human voice, which is what we generally now only mean by music -- except, it includes only the understanding part, the actual making of this kind of music being simply a skill and not included for its own sake but left to the uneducated. Ironic: from a skill left to the uneducated, these days, being able to strum a few chords on a guitar and belt out a few words seems to immediately confer that status of prophet, revelator,  visionary, and authority on whatever one belts out about.

Education had nothing whatever to do with earning a living. When the idea began, work did not ennoble, it debased.  Work was done by a class that, precisely because it had to work, could not possibly have time to learn what one needed to know to participate in democracy or high positions. Later, trades, something that is learned for the purpose of making a living, were learned in guilds, not universities, with the interesting twist that the guilds formed first, and universities began by borowing their ideas of how to organise from them! So show a little respect to the repairman that shows up next time you need one.

So, it's a system, first for learning how to learn, then for classifying what is to be learned, in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilites of democracy and high office.

III. The Modern University.

In the original universities, a person who had completed a course of   studies in the Seven Liberal Arts, and passed final examinations by his masters (teachers), was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts.

What does this mean? Not what you would think based on the ordinary current meanings of these words -- the same problem again. "Arts" does not mean painting or sculpture or whatever, but the Seven Liberal Arts. "Bachelor" does not mean an unmarried male, but comes from the Latin baccalaureus, and originally referred to the lowest class of knight, a squire, or apprentice, to a knight, or a knight in the service of another knight. The word itself seems to have come from baccalaris, a man employed on a dairy farm. Bacca was a variant of late Latin vacca, which still survives in Spanish as vaca -- cow. The progress is similar to that of learning a trade in a guild.

A Bachelor could then go on to further study, and then participating in and moderating disputations (disputationes). These were highly formalised debates on the truth of specific propositions, usually based on arguments from appropriate authorities, called argumentum ad verecundiam.  These are inappropiate to syllogistic logic, in which the syllogism is true or false based on its on its correct process and not who does it.  But they are common in informal logic, where, since no-one can be an expert on everything one relies on those who supposedly are experts on this or that thing.  This is the origin of the ad hominum (against the man), which is not name-calling, but refuting a statement on the basis that the authority cited is no authority at all. On such further study and activity, a person would be awarded the degree Master of Arts, the Arts being the Seven Liberal Arts, and "master" deriving from the Latin magister, which looks like master but actually means teacher; one may now teach the Arts.

Luther's so-called "95 Theses" were an invitation to exactly such a Disputation.

A degree was simply a step, in Latin gradus, to becoming a teacher or master, hence the term "graduate", a progression again similar to the trade guilds and still seen in the apprentice, journeyman and master structure of qualification in the trades. Since the masters were teachers, they were also called doctors, from the Latin for "to teach". Over time, since the three higher fields of study were Law, Medicine and Philosophy, masters who went into these fields earned a final doctor degree in them, and the doctoral degree in these higher faculties came to be regarded higher than the master teachers/doctors, eventually becoming the present Bachelor, Master, Doctor hierarchy, with later fields coming under the division of philosophy along with philosophy itself.

The story of the modern universities begins with the schools attached to monasteries, generally Benedictine, real monking monks, not just monked over, preserving some light against the darkness of the times, which times are known as the Dark Ages. Karl der Grosse, known to some as Charlemagne, who forged the first more or less unified state in Europe since the Roman Empire, was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 at St Peter's Basilica (the old one; the current one is on the same site) to re-establish a Western entity against the still standing Eastern Roman Empire, and thus is considered the Father of Europe. Among his many accomplishments, he encouraged education. With the reforms of Pope St Gregory (died 12 March 604) for learning to include more than liturgy but also theology and  canon law, bishops began to establish schools in their cathedral parishes to teach things beyond the monastery schools. Then, with demand far in excess of supply, plus the original town and gown tensions between students and townspeople, which were not pretty with rape and murder not uncommon and often protected by clerical immunity, schools gravitated to big cities.

The word university comes from the Latin phrase "universitas magistrorum et scholarium" which described and denoted these institutions, associations of students and teachers chartered by civil and/or ecclesiastical powers that be in their cities, with degrees granted by the institution itself, at bachelor, master and doctor levels rather than licences or certificates from individual teachers as before, which adapted from the trade guilds the advancement stages of apprentice, journeyman and master onto a model drawn from the madrasahs of the Islamic world. (Notice how all this stuff, from Plato's Academy to the modern university, begins with schools attached to houses of worship? Hmm.)

The first of the modern degree-granting universities, growing out of  existing centres of higher education, was established in Bologna (1088), followed by Paris (1160), Oxford (1167) and Cambridge (1209). The final step was recognition by papal bull of a university's autonomy from the city, the church, and each other, meaning non-interference from the state and/or the church (this is what "academic freedom" means) and also that a graduate from one could teach anywhere jus ubique docendi, with no further examination.

In Bologna, the students ran things, hiring the teachers; in Paris, the church hired and paid the teachers who ran things, and in Oxford, the crown did. These differences had major consequences.  All four are still around, but in different ways.  Bologna was not a comfortable place for teachers and fell into decline; Paris became the leading university and really the great granddaddy of the modern university but was abolished as such in the French Revolution centuries later though parts survive with historical ties; government sponsorship of Oxford and the later Cambridge (1209) allowed them to survive the replacement of the church with the state Church of England.

A student entered the university at about age 15, and after a six year curriculum in the Liberal Arts, usually with an emphasis on logic, if they passed they graduated a Bachelor of Arts. Courses were not by subject so much as by the authoritative book studied, often from Aristotle, the Bible, or the Thoughts (often called the Sentences, from the Latin title Quattuor libri sententiarum, or Four Books of Thoughts, still reflected in the idea that a "sentence" should express a complete thought) of Peter the Lombard, who taught in the cathedral school at Paris. Having graduated from the Faculty of the (Seven Liberal) Arts one could go into the world, or continue in one of the three other, further, fields of Law, Medicine or Theology, which would take another 12 years or so.

IV. How It Fell Apart.

So what's the point of all this -- I'm into old stuff that isn't the way it is any more and think you should be too? No, and hell no. For as much "old stuff" as I post on this blog, I wouldn't consider any of it worth a ginger snap if it didn't do two things for us now: make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing how we got here, and make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing what was the idea of where we were supposed to be going in the first place.

Here's what happened. New knowledge did not replace invalidated knowledge in the system as it should have, but was confused with the system itself and brought the system down, and thus we have the start of our fragmented knowledge and view of learning to-day. This began when difficulties in reconciling Aristotle with Christian doctrine became more and more apparent, and the bishops of Paris issued a series of formal Condemnations, most notably those of 1277 by bishop Etienne Tempier, which had the effect of allowing scientific investigation to proceed without reference to Aristotle the  great authority.

Beautifully ironic, especially in view of the nonsense peddled in so many contemporary universities, that scientific freedom from existing authorities in investigation resulted not in spite of the church and its doctrine but from bishops responding to the inherent problems in expressing doctrine in terms of the prevailing science of the time.

Which was great for science, also great for Aristotle since he never thought he wrote the last word on everything, but, it also had the effect of making everything previously held now seem possibly wrong or soon to be found out to be wrong.

A new direction in thought arose, best summed up in the maxim of the English Franciscan William of Occam, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or no more things should be thought to exist than necessary. This was a lex parsimoniae or law of parsimony that brought about a new way of thinking that was skeptical to agnostic.  This new way consciously saw itself as a new way and called itself such, the via moderna or modern way, as opposed to the trivium and quadrivium which became by default the via antinqua or old way. This turned up in every field, in music (as we use the term now) it was called the Ars nova, a term first used by the theorist Phillippe de Vitry in a book by the same name of in 1322.

Music that was not monophonic chant but polyphonic, with secular themes being placed over a base of a piece of chant, music in duple time rather than triple reflecting the perfection of the Trinity, music written this way for religious purposes -- such things were utterly revolutionary, and part of the shift in the times that was happening from the arts to theology itself. What a modern irony that some to-day will perform the motets of Machaut, the greatest of ars nova composers, and be thought to be real fuddy duddys, but Machaut himself in his day was thought of as an affront to everything right and proper for worship!

It was into this world turned upside down and inside out that Martin Luther, having graduated from schools that focussed on the trivium, enrolled at 17 in University of Erfurt in the first year of the 16th century, 1501, graduated with a Master degree in 1505, and went on to the Law school following his father's wishes and the usual pattern. He soon dropped out. Questioning everything, positing as little as possible, and so on was all fine, but at what point did it yield reliable results, also known as answers, which is particularly upsetting regarding the claims of Christian doctrine which have some pretty extreme claims of salvation and damnation.

There being no answers, he sought one in what was available, the rigours of the actions of monastic life, to the extent that his superior, Johann von Staupitz, Vicar General of the Augustinian Order in Germany, had him continue an academic career in theology to take his mind off his own salvation, and also spoke to him about the Means of Grace and salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, which, though Staupitz was no Lutheran and lamented the breaking of visible church unity, got him put on Rome's Index of Forbidden Books!

V. Where We Are Now.

Seems long ago and far away, but it is into exactly this same world turned upside down and inside out than we are born now, just with better means of communication. Each age along the way seems to think it has started a new age, a new way, a modern way, an Age of Aquarius, an Enlightenment, or whatever, all just simply repeating the confusion of the via moderna with better technology. Likewise our supposedly enlightened modern world, where graduates can't count back change in their minimum wage jobs, or reliably point on the map to where the people came from toward which they have been taught warm inclusive fuzzies, or hear a news report with an ear to whether or not it contains unexamined assumptions from which supposed conclusions are drawn.

Of the four original universities, three are still around right now, namely Cambridge, Oxford and Bologna.  The fourth, Paris, was abolished by the French Revolution, but a number of institutions with historical links to it survive. More remarkably than that, all of these are routinely ranked as among the very best universities in the world.  Cambridge and Oxford always rank in a superclass by anybody's rankings, always in anybody's top ten.  The other superclass members btw are Harvard, MIT, Stanford and U California-Berkeley.  Harvard has roots in Cambridge and is named for its original benefactor, John Harvard, a Cambridge alumnus.  Bologna regularly places in the #150-300 range.

In fact, there are even older continuously existing institutions which exist now as modern universities but were not founded that way.  Al-Azhar University, in Cairo, much in the news in recent years, was founded as a Shia madrasah by the Fatimid dynasty in 975, became Sunni under the Ayyubid daynasty (the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides taught there in the 12th century) and became a university in 1961 under President Nasser of Egypt.  Arguably the oldest degree-granting institution in the world is the University of al-Qarawiyyin (sometimes given as al-Karaouine) in Morocco, founded as a Sunni madrasah by Fatima (yes, a woman) al-Fihri in 859, when Europe was largely a bloody mess barely held to-gether educationally by the grand and glorious hard-working and uproarious Benedictines, but became a university in 1963 following the independence of the Kingdom of Morocco in 1956 (from France, but hey the Romans ruled it for about 400 years, under the name Mauretania, not the same as the modern Mauritania).

And, topping it all off, Nanjing University was founded in China in 258 by the emperor Sun Xiu (Jing of Wu) as a school for the Confucian Six Arts (man am I tempted to go on about those in comparison/contrast to the Seven Liberal Arts!), and after a TON of bumps along the way became a university in the 20th century, and you know what, STILL hangs in there ranked among the top universities in the world by all major rankings!

"All major rankings" means the QS World University Rankings (QS), the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (THE), both British, and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) from Shanghai, with US News & World Report lately jumping in with a revised QS ranking.

Recent decades have seen an astounding increase in the ability of thoughts and information to be communicated, starting with mass printing some time ago but exploding first with the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and other forms of digital media; and at the same time have seen an alarming decrease in the apparent ability of people to form, communicate and evaluate thoughts and information. Where the ability to smarten up exists to an unprecedented extent, the fact of dumbing down is seen everywhere.

Amid an unprecedented ability to communicate information, people seem to have less information and less ability to critically evaluate information than ever. And this largely not because people are any more smart or stupid than before, but because educators themselves have nearly totally lost sight of this, that the magnificent increase in the media of communication does not invalidate but in fact makes more needed than ever the basic tools for forming, setting forth, and understanding what is communicated.

This general dumbing down of society is not new, it was noticed decades ago, but it has assumed warp speed as the very means of communication develop at warp speed too. One of the earliest, and still best, more applicable to-day to the means that did not exist when it was written than ever, is an essay called "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy L Sayers in 1947. She was best known for her detective novels, a genre generally considered "low brow", and that such a magnificent and magnificently educated mind as hers should equally well write best selling detective novels exemplfies what this is all about.

Her essay is online now. You can read it here.

Another, and more recent, modern exposition of these tools of learning is by Sister Miriam Joseph of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, called, guess what, "The Trivium". Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002. Available through Amazon easily.

VI. Conclusion. Where We Could Be.

So, again, the Liberal Arts are a system for first learning how to learn, the Trivium, then for classifying what is to be learned in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilities of democracy and high office, the Quadrivium. This is not at all about going back to the "Music of the spheres", in which the mathematical ratios in tones and in the orbits of the sun and planets around the earth were though to be the same, or about reading Aristotle, learning Latin, and things like that -- though there's good reason to read Aristotle and learn Latin -- or about going back to earlier social structures. What happened was, as some of the knowledge taught within the system was later found to be either incomplete or just false, like what orbits around what, the system itself, and more importantly the overall unity of things which it expressed, also came into question.

In religion, the point of the Lutheran Reformation was not to create a new church or even split the one there was, but to bring back to front and centre the Means of Grace through which salvation is communicated and the message of salvation through the blood of Christ itself -- to paraphrase Luther, making the most clear things about the church what had become the most obscure amid the Roman confusion. The direction in which the later more general Reformation went, which began even in Luther's lifetime, was as opposed by Luther and Lutherans as the errors of Rome.

In education, perhaps another reformation is needed, not a religious but an educational one.  One where besides what one learns to earn whatever living one earns and has whatever career one has, that in order for society to function, ESPECIALLY in one where all and not just some classes participate, there is a skillset and a basic body of knowledge needed by all, where the tools of learning are actually taught (there's the trivium), where a person is then taught how to handle abstact operations, operations applied to things as they add up, how complicated things break down and how that is applied to things (there's the quadrivium). That would be education, the basics for participating in our society, open to all now, rather than the latest theories of what is "enlightened" this week, which are handed down as so modern, but amount to no more than secular articles of faith handed down "ex cathedra" from an authority which, when it takes itself to be such, violates the very parsimony and science it thinks it passes on, as it neither guarantess a correct conclusion nor prevents a false one and may not even be applicable to a particular field, and, if applied to all fields as a universal principle, violates its very definition!

Oh Yeah, an Addendum.

There was this second cousin of Martianus Capella, with a variant spelling of the last name, Antonius Cappella, who wrote thousands of pieces of music, in a wide array of styles but all vocal, that are still performed to this day. You can spot them easily. They are all identified by the way he signed his name, A Cappella.

OK, I'm just jacking around now. A cappella actually means "from the chapel" and was used to designate purely vocal Renaissance polyphony generally for the church from the later Baroque concertato style which featured alternating vocal and instrumental parts in a piece of music. Oddly enough, we now know those "vocal" motets were often doubled on instruments, but the first modern "musicologists" didn't know that, so singing "a cappella" has come to mean pretty much any music that is singing only, no instruments.

Except for a small school of hard cores, in a city named for its big reeds, Acapulco de Juarez in Mexico, who wouldn't use the reeds for instruments, so the style is also called singing Acapulco. OK I'm jacking around there too.

But for real, I'm happy to say my alma mater, the University of Iowa, from which I got my MA and PhD degrees, ranks #121 in the USNWR rankings, 175 in THE, 269 in QS, and in the 151-200 band in ARWU.  Not too shabby for a relative newcomer only organised 25 February 1847 in what had just become a state only 59 days before! It is also listed among the "Public Ivies", a list of 30 public US institutions considered to offer an educational level comparable to the "Ivy League" schools. And I'm also happy to say that Luther thought the plays of Terence, after whom I was named IRL, were excellent for children's learning.

And what's an "alma mater"? Hoo boy. It's Latin for "nourishing mother". In the Roman Empire it meant the Mother Goddess, Venus, the Roman version of Aphrodite, who was called Venus genetrix, Mother Venus. In the Roman Church this became adapted to Mary, Jesus' mother, as Mater dei genitrix. As an academic reference it has been used since the 1600s and comes from the phrase "alma mater studiorum", which means nourishing mother of studies. It's from this that we get the Latin term "alumnus" (male) or "alumna" (female), plural "alumni", meaning "one(s) who is/are nourished", as in educated.

In 2000 it was adopted as the motto of, guess who, the oldest modern university, the University of Bologna, right on the heels of the 1999 signing of the Bologna Declaration signed there by the ministers of education of 29 European countries, which while aiming at a greater standardisation of European higher education, seems to do so from the standpoint of corporations and the World Trade Organisation (WTO)-- cutting costs, getting a job. getting competitive -- read, winning against or at least getting your slice of the pie with other players -- etc.


Textual Note: This post is a complete revision of my original similarly titled one, incorporating additional material from 2009 and new material in 2010, then revised here and there in 2011 and 2013 - 2016.

20 February 2017

22 February. The Confession of St Peter. On Chairs Too.

Huh?  Didn't we have The Confession of St Peter on 18 January?

Well, yes we did, but it's a really bad idea.  The current LCMS listing in Feasts and Festivals for 18 January as the Confession of St Peter rightly celebrates that the Rock is the Confession, not Peter and not an office.  But, the feast is not and never has been of the confession but of the chair of St Peter in Rome, a completely different idea to be explored in this post, and the correct emphasis on a confession rather than a chair is not well served by revisionism.  Here's why 22 February is a much better choice for the confession.

On Chairs.

OK, what's up with "chair" and "confession".  First, chair.  The Latin original word is cathedra.  Hey, that's close to "cathedral".  Yes it is, because a cathedral is a church where the cathedra (chair) of the local presiding overseer is located.

OK, what's a presiding overseer?  In many church bodies these overseers are called "bishops".  The German cognate (English being a Germanic language basically) is Bischoff.  That comes through earlier forms as a vernacular use of a late Latin corruption, "biscopus", of the Latin word episcopus, which transliterates the same word in Greek and means an overseer or supervisor.  Originally it referred to civic officers with responsibility for watching over something.  The NT used the word to refer to those with similar responsibility for Christian communities.

So the cathedra (chair) is where the episcopus (overseer) sits for formal proceedings, and is a sign and symbol of his authority as overseer.  Thus a bishop's chair is the seat, literally and figuratively, of his authority.  Every bishop has a formal chair (cathedra) in a chair-church (cathedral).  So, a church called "cathedral" that is not the location of a bishop's chair is no cathedral at all but just using the name because it sounds impressive.

There's another word for chair in Latin, and that is sedes, from the verb "to sit".  We get the English word "sedentary" from that, and also the word "see", meaning the place or area of authority of the sitter on the chair.  So the area of a bishop's jurisdiction is called his "see", that to which his authority from his "chair" extends.

You may have heard the phrase "ex cathedra", which means "from the chair".  This is associated with the bishop of Rome, whose nickname is "pope".  That word derives from "papa" as the spiritual father of the flock entrusted to his care.  The term is applied to several bishops actually, but most famously to the bishop of Rome.  This is where all this confession and chair stuff gets confused.

On Peter.

The Catholic Church, which is the entity defined by, and made the state religion of, the Roman Empire with the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, and not to be confused with the catholic church of the creeds, holds that in Matthew 16:18-19 Christ establishes Peter and his successors as the ones with visible earthly headship of the church.  Mark 3:16 and 9:2, Luke 22:32 and 24:34, John 21:15-17 and I Corinthians 15:5 are also cited in this regard.  Here is the Matthew passage in the English Standard Version:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

The ESV footnote to verse 18 explains the word-play here:  "The Greek words for Peter and rock sound similar".  More exactly, "Peter" comes from the Latin Petrus, which transliterates the Greek Petros, which makes a proper name of petros, which means a stone or rock.  "Peter" was not at the time a personal name in Greek; that came later in veneration of Peter, who was the first so named.  But, the Greek word in the next part is not petros, but petra.  This is why the footnote says they sound similar and does not say they are the same word.

So petros, petra, what's the difference?  Well, petros means a stone or rock; petra means a rock formation like a ridge or cliff or ledge, AND, a stone that is used in building.  And that's where the controversy begins.  What's the rock formation, or building stone -- Peter, because he was first to confess, and because he was the first one to whom it was revealed that Jesus is the Anointed One (Christ) of God, or is it the confession itself?

After Jesus' death (and resurrection) Peter eventually left Jerusalem and went to Antioch, a major city at the time, in what is now the southern tip of Turkey just off the Mediterranean Sea.  After leading the church there, he went to Rome itself to lead the church there, and was executed under Emperor Nero.  All the pious biographical summaries tell you that.  There was a lot more going on though, and when you know what that is, it makes a difference.  Here's what's usually left out.

Nero didn't have Peter executed only because he was a bad guy who hated Christians.  Peter was executed by Emperor Nero in 64 AD following the great fire that destroyed most of Rome.  There's a reason for that.  Nero had become emperor in 54 and was coming up on his ten year anniversary in power (called dies imperii) when the fire broke out.  Most Romans thought Nero had the fire started himself, to clear land on the Palatine Hill to have a big gold house built for himself, but Nero blamed the despised Christians (we're a couple three hundred years away from the Empire adopting Christianity) and accordingly executed lots of them, including Peter and Paul, who was there too. 

And he did build that gold house!  It's called the Gold House, well ok, Domus Aurea, and it was spectacular.  But like Nero himself, it came to a bad end.  Nero's excesses were too much for even the Romans, who never did anything on a small scale, and a damnatio memoriae (damnation of memory) was issued in which physical signs of his existence were destroyed or altered.  WRT the Domus Aurea, just 40 years after it was built, it was filled with earth and built over: the Baths of Titus, Vespasian's Flavian Amphitheatre (which you may know as the Colosseum), the Baths of Trajan and Hadrian's Temple of Venus and Rome were all built on the grounds. 

Somewhere in the 15th Century a guy fell through a cleft into something and found himself right in the middle of all these frescoes in the place, which on the one hand had a profound effect on later Renaissance art but on the other brought exposure to moisture leading to decay.  The visible ruins are still there but keep falling apart.  It closed due to safety problems in 2005, reopened in 2007, closed again in 2008, then a huge dining room with a rotating ceiling like the sky (powered by slaves) was found in 2009 but more stuff collapsed in 2010. 

One enduring irony is that Nero was the first to put mosaics on ceilings instead of floors, which when discovered in the Renaissance became a feature of church decoration.  Another enduring irony: many lower class Romans liked Nero, because he spent tons of money on food and entertainment on them despite the economic effect, and after his suicide in 68 AD a popular legend arose that someday he would return (Nero Redivivus) and give stuff away again.  At least three fake "Neros" tried to assume power that way.  The legend persisted for centuries; Augustine mentions it as current in his City of God in 422 AD. 

This effect is exactly the sort of thing Juvenal (Latin:  Decimus Junius Juvenalis) decried in his Satire X around 100 AD, about 30 years after Nero's death, in the famous phrase "panem et circenses", bread and circuses.  It's from this that the country in The Hunger Games is called Panem.  Circus, as meant now, derives from but is not what it meant then.  Circus was more than a Barnum and Bailey sort of a thing, but it was the greatest show on earth at the time.  The word circus derives from circle.  The "circle" is the performing area, not actually circular but oblong.  Huge spectacles were staged in them, even recreated naval battles, for public entertainment.  So, translating Juvenal's phrase for meaning, it's food and entertainment. 

This was also about 125 years after the end of the Roman Republic on 16 January 27 B.C. when the Senate proclaimed Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, as the new title Augustus.  The root word means one who increases, and is thus venerable or majestic; it's where we get our adjective "august".  Also the name of the Roman sixth month, which was renamed after him.  His full title was Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. 

Huh?  OK, means "commander Caesar son of the deified one".  "The deified one" was Julius Caesar.  The Senate had declared him a god on 1 January 42 B.C, after his death by assassination on 15 March 44 B.C. the first such action by the Senate.  "Son" is because he was the adopted son of Julius Caesar.  "Commander" (imperator) was a title given victorious Roman generals, but it became a title for ruling; it's where we get our words emperor, imperative, imperial etc.  Though many features of the Republic continued, real power was not in them.  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. 

Gee, isn't it great politicians no longer campaign for office based on what they'll have the government give you free, that is, paid for with money the government takes from someone else? (Cough.)

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?

Holy crap, watchers -- didn't we talk about watchers at the start, maybe all this stuff is going to tie to-gether and not be just Past Elder poking around in old stuff!  Maybe it'll come full (wait for it) circle!

Oddly enough, the phrase in Juvenal is in the context of those watching over the marital fidelity of women -- those who watch may be corrupted themselves, so who watches them?  Maybe they keep quiet about things, being paid off; maybe they themselves are the corrupters so of course they keep quiet.  It's not known for sure if the lines are from Juvenal or were later interpolated, and it really doesn't matter since the context is clear, and, beyond the specific matter of marital fidelity, is used to express a problem known all the way back to Plato's Republic, namely, what prevents the abuse of power, what prevents power from being abused even when originally exercised for good?

Plato's answer was, 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.

On Chairs of Peter.

18 January is actually one of two feasts of chairs of St Peter.  22 February is the other one and it's older.  The Calendar of Philocalus, done in 354 and starting with 311, lists it but not the January one.  The Martyrologium Hieronymianum, from the 800s, lists both but, in what appears to be a later interpolation, assigns the February one to Antioch, where Peter first had a chair before he went to Rome.  Both were celebrated in or around Rome with actual chairs.

22 February was celebrated in Rome.  St Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia (Magnus Felix Ennodius, died 17 July 522), in his "Libellus pro Synodo" describes in some detail the use of the chair Peter used by the Bishop of Rome, popularly called "Pope" and held to be the successor of Peter, when conferring Confirmation on recently baptised converts on 22 February.

18 January was celebrated on the Via Salaria.  What's a Via Salaria?  The name means Salt Way (as in road).  The path of the road predates the road itself and even Rome itself, starting as a trade route for the pre-Roman Sabines looking for salt at the mouth of the Tiber.  This was a key element in what emerged as Roman, as the Sabines, some sooner, some later in the Republic, blended with the locals.  Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome and successor to Romulus the legendary founder of Rome (and from whom it is named) was a Sabine.  In rural areas parts of the road, and ruins of several bridges along it, are still there!

On the Via Salaria is the Catacomb of Priscilla.  The site was originally a quarry.  Early sources describe this as where Peter baptised (ubi Petrus baptizabat).  It became a cemetery for Christians, its remote location suiting what were then outcasts.  Who's Priscilla?  A common Latin name, here that of a woman from the gens Acilia married to the consul Acilius, who after she became Christian was ordered executed by Emperor Domitian, the 11th Roman emperor, assassinated 18 September 96 A.D.  The site continued to be burial grounds for some time, including popes, and, containing much artwork to adorn it, including the first known paintings of Mary, from the early 200s.  In one of them she's breastfeeding infant Jesus btw.

Around 600 Pope Gregory the Great, who commissioned work on the calendar we use now, also commissioned an Abbot Johannes to gather oils from lamps that burned at the burial sites of early Christian martyrs, and the list of them at the cathedral at Monza says one of them has oil from the chair "ubi prius sedit sanctus Petrus", from the chair where St Peter first sat, and the Martyrologium Hieronymianum says the same of the site, "qua primo Rome petrus apostolus sedit".

So both these feasts were all about with Peter and his chair, both literally and as a sign of his authority.  Tertullian, writing in about 200 in "De praescriptione baereticorum", says to visit the churches founded by the Apostles in many of which their chairs are still there, and mentions Rome specifically.  OK I translated:  it's Percurre ecclesias apostolicas, apud quas ipsæ adhuc cathedræ apostolorum suis locis præsident. Si Italiæ adjaces habes Romam.  About 50 years later, after Pope Fabian died, St Cyprian describes the situation as both the authority and chair itself of Peter being vacant:  Cum locus Fabiani, id est locus Petri et gradus cathedrae sacerdotalis vacaret.

So yeah, it's all about chairs and authority, not confession.  So where are these chairs now?  That's where the fun starts.  The one at the Via Salaria is gone.  The Goths trashed Rome in 410, and on the way there trashed everything leading to Rome, and the Via Salaria was one of the routes there.  Which was also the case when Germanic types similarly trashed Rome in the 500s and 600s.  Somewhere in there, that chair took the gas.

The other chair is said to be enclosed in a reliquary (place where relics are held) designed to encompass it by the great artist Bernini and finished in 1653.  It's in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.  Is the chair inside the reliquary the actual chair St Peter used?  Well there is a beat up wooden chair in there, that is clearly not just a regular chair but a carrying chair used by a person in authority.  It was taken out and photographed in 1867.

Story is, this is the chair used by Peter himself.  It was preserved in a church built on the site of the home of the couple Paul mentions as co-workers in his letters (epistles), Priscilla and Aquila.  Holy crap, lots of Priscillas!  Well it was a common name.  It's the diminutive form of Prisca.  Christian services were held in their home, including baptisms, with Peter.  She was Roman, Jewish in background, converted to Christianity, was tortured and executed under Emperor Claudius, the fourth emperor and the one before Nero, who was his grand nephew and adopted son and who along with the Senate ordered him considered a god after his death.  Nearly all sources contemporary with him say his death was by poisoning from his current wife, but may have been a consequence of the many symptoms contemporaries also noted, often thought to have been polio but more recently cerebral palsy.  This is the Claudius of the famous Robert Graves books.

There is a church on the site of their home, called Santa Prisca.  Supposedly her remains are in the church.  The site, whether it was or was not their home, was indeed the site of a temple to Mithras, whose cult was popular in Rome, and the temple was built about 200 A.D. on the site of Emperor Trajan's town house built about 95 A.D.  The Mithraeum was not excavated until the 1950s.  There was indeed a Christian place of worship alongside it.  Story is, with Christianity now OK, Pope Damasus moved a chair believed to be the chair of St Peter from that location to Rome.

OK who's Damasus?  You can read more about him in other posts on this blog, here we'll only say he was "pope" at the time the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, which said that in the Empire's clemency and moderation all nations which it rules should hold to the faith brought to Rome by Peter and faithfully conserved in Damasus and that only those who do may be called Catholic Christians and those who don't shall not even be called churches but heretics and are subject to such consequences as God and/or the Empire shall choose to inflict.

Noble lie, pious fiction?  In any case, a magnificent reliquary for what was held to be the chair of St Peter was designed and built by the great sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  When a Barberini family member became Pope Urban VIII in 1623, Bernini was put in charge of architecture for the new basilica  -  you know, the one being subsidised in part by the sale of indulgences to which this loudmouth German friar loudly objected -- to replace the old St Peter's Emperor Constantine (aka the Great) had built.  Much of how the Vatican looks now is the result, including the reliquary for the chair.

In its own time the renovation of the Vatican was controversial.  Among other things, the new stuff was in part built by raiding material from the ruins of the real Roman stuff, so much so that a saying was common -- quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini, what the barbarians didn't do the Barberinis did.

In one part of the reliquary is an image of Charles the Bald (Karolus Caluus).  Whozat?  A "Roman" emperor, from the later "Roman" Empire whose resurrection was begun by Charlemagne in 800.  Charles the Bald was Charlemagne's grandson.  He ruled as Charles II as Holy Roman Emperor from 875 to 877 when he died at age 54.  He wasn't bald btw.  No contemporary references describe him that way, nor as particularly hairy either so it wasn't an ironic name.  The reference was to this:  all the land available was already promised by his dad (Louis the Pious, Charles the Great's son) to his older brothers so he was "bald", but through civil wars and treaties he ended up emperor.

Know why that image is there?  Because the chair that's in there is not the chair used by St Peter at all, but one given as a gift by Emperor Charles II (the "bald") to Pope John VIII in 875!  Well, old Charles was known to cozy up to bishops as a hedge against the corruption of secular rulers, and who better than the successor to St Peter the rock on whom the church is built and all.

Are You KIDDING Me?  Oh Yeah, Confession.

What?  After ALL this chairs stuff and the authority based off it, the one's been gone for hundreds of years and the other, the only actual chair around, well, the original is gone too and something else has been there since 875 as if it were the original!?!?! 

Is Past Elder just bashing Rome again?  Well,  the Vatican even says the chair in there is a gift from Charles the Bald right on its site!   And in a huge ornate church, the new St Peter's Basilica, to replace the old one built by Emperor Constantine the Great, the whole renovation project financed in part by the sale of indulgences, and that as Rome's part of the take for Albrecht von Brandenburg being allowed to sell them to pay off the huge loans he took from the Fuggers, the pre-eminent money and power brokers of the time, who took over from the Medicis, to pay his way into being made the Elector and Archbishop of Mainz (the electors elected the Holt Roman Emperor)!

Noble lies, pious fictions and who's watching the watchers all over the place!  Just the sort of thing that got that loudmouth German friar loudmouthing (that's Martin Luther, in case you missed it).  This Catholic Church is not at all the catholic church of the creed it professes, and a reformation was needed.

You can read much more about that on other posts on this blog, but in the context of this post, why, in view of the scandalous to bogus history of the whole chair thing, would the church reformed preserve either of these feasts, both of them bound up from the start with the authority of the "bishop" of Rome?

Because underneath the crap is the confession, you are the Christ, the son of the living God.  This is the petra, the foundation stone, on which Christ's church is built, and, just as with the first guy Simon, who got renamed after it, "flesh and blood"  does not reveal this to a person, but the Father who is in heaven.  IOW, faith is the work of the Holy Spirit and not human effort of thought or action; or as we say, sola fide, by faith alone, sola gratia, by grace alone, sola Scripture, by scripture alone.

Accordingly Loehe, so influential in the formation of our synod, left St Peter's Chair at Rome on 18 January and St Peter's Chair at Antioch on 22 February, without attempting a "correction" and unrevised from what it had been for a millennium.  The text stands on its own, and as so often, the "Lutheran" difference with Rome being not so much in what we do but in how and why we do it.

Or one could do what THE Lutheran Hymnal (1941) did, which is, list neither.

But get this.  Pope John the Destroyer, aka John XXIII, removed the Chair of Peter at Rome feast on 18 January altogether in 1960, and also demoted the 22 February Antioch one. These changes survive in the hunk of dung 1962 Roman Missal, which is now the "extraordinary form" of the Roman liturgy, as bogus a sham of the Roman liturgy up to the 1960s as the "ordinary form" the novus ordo is after it.  Speaking of which, the novus ordo of Vatican II did  away with the feast, and combined it with the feast of St Peter's Chair at Antioch on 22 February.

So Rome, having missed the point about the confession altogether, eliminates the feast in one of its calendars and combines it with a similar feast in which it similarly misses the point in its other calendar!  How typically RCC.  But what of us?  In our current worship book, which in so many ways adopts and adapts the novus ordo for Lutheran use, much like the co-wo crowd also tries to adapt and adopt another non-Lutheran form and give it a Lutheran substance, we list the 18 January one Rome dropped, but as the "confession" not the chair, though the only reason the feast exists at all was about the chair, and we don't even list the 22 February one they kept.

You know what?  There's real good reason to keep the 22 February one, but as usual, not exactly what the RCC thinks it is.  You know where that 22 February date came from and why it's the date for the older and original of these two chair-feasts?  Here's why, it's because tradition has it that 22 February is -- ready for this -- the day on which Peter, what, sat on a chair of authority somewhere?  No, the date he made the confession!

Do we know 22 February was the day Simon spoke his confession of faith and got renamed Peter?  No.  Is it in the Bible?  No.  Does that mean drop it?  No.  Why not?  Because again, we Lutherans aren't a "If it ain't in the Bible we ain't doing it" bunch, but "If it contradicts the Bible we ain't doing it" bunch.  Peter's confession is in the Bible.  The day it happened is human legend, yes, but, that the commemoration of it was on 22 February is demonstrable.

What a magnificent irony, that he who was born in the reign of one the government declared the son of a god is actually the Son of God!  And unlike Nero, will return, not to distribute food and entertainment from the government, not just to restore the freedom and dignity of the Roman Republic or any other government, not just to attain a sound mind in a sound body, not just to establish a "people of God" or even a church as "body of Christ", but to complete the dignity of children and heirs of God in eternal life with Him!

The entire effort and meaning of the Lutheran Reformation, as distinct from "the Reformation", is not to form a new church but to reform the only church there is, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, from the accretions laid on and over it, both historically and presently, by the Catholic Church created by the Roman Empire.  And there is no more telling example of those accretions, making what should be the most obvious things about the church the most obscure, than the obscuration of the confession of Peter by all this pious nonsense about his chairs and authority.

And no better way to do it by celebrating the confession on the day when it was actually part of the celebration, actually in there all along amid all the accretions of which we are now free.

Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.  Revealed first to Simon, but then to each and every one in exactly the same way, this confession that is the founding stone of the church, not by "flesh and blood", human effort to attain it, but by God the Father in heaven.  Sola gratia sola fide sola scriptura.  By grace alone, by faith alone, by Scripture alone.

13 February 2017

"Precious Lord". A Love Story, For St Valentine's, 14 Feb 2017.


Back in 1932, I was a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago's south side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn't want to go; Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child, but a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie goodbye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was "Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.'"

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn't want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.

But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.

But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Madam Malone's Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.

Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I'd never heard or played before, and the words into my head -- they just seemed to fall into place:

'Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on, to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.'

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.

-Rev Thomas A Dorsey (1 July 1899 - 23 January 1993)
published in Guideposts in 1987

10 February 2017

What's A Gesimatide? 12 Feb 2017.

The Change From Christmas Season To Easter Season.

There's been some joyous events these last few weeks -- the birth of Jesus, his naming and circumcision, the first Gentiles to find him, and his baptism. On various dates and combinations, from place to place through the ages, the Christian Church has offered its members celebrations of these things in its church year.

But a change is coming, one already present amid the joy. We know as we celebrate his birth that he was born for us so he could die for us. We know as his blood was spilt in circumcision, putting him under the Law, his blood would be spilt on the Cross, to redeem us from under the Law. We saw that the Gentiles who found him had to return by a different way, as the way of all who find him is different afterward. And after his baptism, Jesus will spend forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, wherein he will be tempted to make himself into the various false Messiahs into which Man so ofter makes him anyway. We will soon imitate those forty days for our own devotion with the season of Lent, on the way to the Cross, without which Easter is but another metaphor or myth for springtime rejuvenation.

A change is coming.

So the church provides a transitional time between the first and second of its three great seasons, as the joyous events, from preparing for his birth to his baptism (Advent-Christmas-Circumcision-Naming-Manifestation-Baptism), now turn to the literally deadly serious reason why they happened, sin and our redemption from sin. Just like with the Christmas-related preparation season of Advent, this has taken various forms in various places and times but always within the same general pattern, and the universal practice of the Christian Church since ancient times (well, until 1960s Rome messed with it, but we'll get to that) has been to provide a transition from the beginnings of Jesus' earthly life to the end of it.

It's not just more Lent on top of Lent.  Nor is it pre-Lent.  That describes when it happens, but not what it is.  It's a transition, and for us Lutherans especially helpful in that its focus is what we call the "solas" -- by grace alone, by Scripture alone, by faith alone.  This time is called Gesimatide from the end of the Latin names for its three Sundays.  "The Gesimas" for short.  It's also called Shrovetide, from its last day, Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent starts (why "shrove" in a later post).  That's also the last day to pig out, so its secular form is called Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French.

Yet, while the world's gross parody and perversion of this season, Carnival, continues unabated, the church these days often either chucks liturgy altogether or adopts a contemporary version that omits this longstanding transition.  Huh?  Let's take a look.

The Transition In The West And In The East.

The Western and the Eastern Churches calculate Easter, and thus the forty days before it, differently, but the overall pattern is the same, as is a transitional period between the Christmas season just past and the preparation for Easter.  In the Eastern Church this transitional period is framed by five Sundays, after the last of which Great Lent begins on Clean Monday; in the Western Church it is three Sundays, after the last of which Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Either way, it is there.

The Christmas related stuff and the Easter related stuff have an interesting timing since they are reckoned differently.  Christmas has a 40 days of purpose, shall we say, from Jesus' birth to a feast called Candlemas commemorating his mother's purification in the mikveh and his presentation in the Temple as prescribed in the Law of Moses. Those 40 days are fixed, reckoned forward from Christmas, from 25 December through 2 February. Candlemas is the last feast dated with respect to Christmas.  But Lent, the next 40 days of purpose, is not fixed, because it is reckoned backward from that to which they lead, Easter, which is not a fixed date either and reckoned differently in the West and in the East. In the West, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, will never be earlier than 4 February, so that always works out even if by just two days after Candlemas.

But, the transitional period, Gesimatide, can overlap with the concluding Epiphany part of the Christmas season. For the West, adding roughly three weeks to forty days is approximately seventy days, and even with the earliest possible Easter will fall no earlier than 18 January, so Gesimatide will still always fit between the end of the Christmas cycle itself on 14 January, when the octave of the Epiphany and the Gospel portion relating the baptism of Jesus is read, and whenever Easter falls, early or late, in any given year.

What The Names Literally Mean.

Septuagesima is simply another word for seventieth, that's all. The modern English word is derived from Middle English, in turn from Old French, in turn from the actual Late Latin word septuagesima meaning seventieth. The septua- part is the same prefix for seven or  multiples by ten of seven seen in other English words -- septet, an ensemble of seven; septuagenarian, someone in his 70s; the Septuagint, the translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures by seventy scholars.  The -gesima part is the Latin -tieth suffix.

OK seventieth what?  Day, that's what.  So, Septuagesima is 70 Days, Sexagesima is 60 Days, Quinqagesima is 50 Days. Simple.

OK, so seventieth day of what, or from what?  Easter, that's what.  Except it's not exactly seventy days.  Don't freak, there's a reason behind all this, and it's simple too.  Like everything else about Christianity, it all stems from Easter.

Gesimatide is a transition to what we call Lent, but at first in English the word Lent just meant Spring, and what we now call Lent was called Quadragesima, meaning forty days, the duration of Lent in the West, and it's also the name of the first Sunday in Lent. This still survives in other languages. For example in Spanish the word for Lent is Cuaresma. Quadragesima (Lent) is forty days from Easter -- the Western Church does not include Sundays in the count, since every Sunday is a "little Easter".  The Sundays in the Gesima season leading up to Lent just follow that pattern.

There's various theories as to why.  One says that the "seventy" was to represent the Babylonian Captivity (of the Jews, not the church).  It was actually Amularius of Metz (in modern NE France not too far from Trier!), a liturgist who died about 850, who said it in one of his books.  Another theory says the names were to give the Sundays an easily recognisable numerical order by tens.  Another theory says it came from a way to fudge on the Lenten fast but still have a fast -- if you exclude Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays in Lent from fasting but add them on earlier you get seventy days.  Personally, I'd bet on that theory -- probably some Benedictines scamming a way to fast but not make it so burdensome.  "Pastoral reasons" is the current Roman phrase for such efforts.

In any case it doesn't really matter which theory is correct, the important thing is, the Gesima season is not a numerical count but derives, name and all, from Lent, fka Quadragesima.  Simple.

Septuagesima Itself.

With the Seventieth Day, or Septuagesima, the change is apparent on various levels. The white vestments of Christmastime joy give way to purple or violet of repentance.  The joyful exclamation Alleluia and other joyful expressions like the Te Deum and the Gloria (there ain't no This Is The Feast) are not used.  The readings, especially if one follows the hours of prayer, the Divine Office, begin their way through the sorry history of Man, from his creation then fall then going forward, which the Holy Saturday liturgy will recapitulate.

On Septuagesima itself, the Gospel reading is Matthew 20:1-16, the  story of the workers in the vineyard, wherein we see Man the same as ever from the start in Eden, trying to impose his ideas of what is right on to God's, this time arguing over whether the same wage is fair for those who worked all day, those hired at the last, and everyone in between, as if we deserved anything from God and it were not his to give and not ours to presume or demand anyway. So we argue with God and each other over the denarius rather than taking it in gratitude from him who owed us nothing! Kind of the whole problem in a nutshell.

The Eastern Church uses the following on its five Sundays in the Pre Lenten Season: 1) the story of Zacchaeus, 2) the Publican and the Pharisee, 3) the Prodigal Son, 4) the Last Judgement, and 5) the Sunday of Forgiveness.

The World Has Its Own Transition Too.

The world, which has ever had its early Spring celebrations, has in many lands timed them on Lent too.  But this worldly pre-Lent attains a nature as opposite from its Christian meaning as the worldly gift buying and partying season before Christmas has become from Advent. At the beginning of Lent, fasting in some form is observed, usually involving abstaining from meat, and the most likely origin of the the name for the worldly pre-Lent, Carnival, is a farewell to meat (flesh), from the Latin root carne- for meat or flesh (as in carnivore) and vale, good-bye (as in valedictory). In most but not all places, Septuagesima is also the start of Carnival season, which ends on the Tuesday just before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, often known by its French name, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.  So, as the church prepares for the penitential season of Lent the world enjoys the flesh, in all senses of the word.

But now in the Western Church, if one follows the lead of the Great Whore, Rome, as unfortunately many have, this transitional pre-Lenten period has been abolished altogether! And not only is this important transition dropped, the period of time it formerly took is simply counted as Ordinary Time. That would be bad enough if ordinary here meant what ordinary ordinarily means. Ordinary here means the literal meaning of ordinary, which is, something that has no particular name or identity but is simply numbered. So in the Vatican II novus ordo this significant time of transition from the Christmas cycle to the Easter cycle simply ceases to exist, in numbered anonymity, in the face of nearly two millennia of Christian observance in varying forms, and the continuing observance of those who do not follow suit. Well, when you're the Whore of Babylon, you do stuff like that, maybe even have to do stuff like that. Not a lead for the church of Christ to follow.  In adaptations of the novus ordo, such as ours, the season disappears as a numbered Sunday after Epiphany.

The world, though, is securely attached to its pre-Lenten traditions.  Carnival season endures, Rome and those following its lead ashcan the Gesimas.  Who knows? Maybe the next Roman council can get Ash Wednesday moved to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, for "pastoral reasons" of course, like they jacked around the date of Epiphany, or move it to the Monday after and call it reclaiming our ancient Greek roots. Cuaresma. No word yet on whether Rome can get languages like Spanish to quit calling Lent after a pattern it has abolished.

The Eastern Church still has its Pre Lenten Season.

The Start Of The Church's Transition East And West.

In the Western Church, the earliest Septuagesima can fall is 18 January and the latest 22 February. Join the Christian Church, East or West, in this transition, whatever your church or church body may have chosen to do, as we turn to the preparation for Lent, the observance of that for which he whose birth we recently celebrated came to die and then rise again, and the Easter and Pentecost joy to follow in anticipation of the eternal joy of heaven!

We start with learning from the workers in the vineyard not to haggle over the denarius but understand whose it is and that it is a gift, or, from the call of Jesus to Zacchaeus, who collected taxes for the foreign oppressors, that he doesn't have to climb a tree to see him, that he is coming to his very house -- which btw produced more grumbling about what is right and just -- after which Zacchaeus repented and made restitution to his brethren. The Son of Man has indeed come to seek and save the lost -- don't worry about being seeker-sensitive, HE is the seeker -- whether that be those who cast aside their own people for power or those who are idle because they are not hired, as we all seek first our own gain by nature and are all "unemployable" before the justice of God, who instead shows us mercy in Christ Whom He has sent.

The Plan Of The Western Transition, Gesimatide.

Here are the readings for the three Sundays of Gesimatide. This is particularly of value for us Lutherans, because the readings for each of the three Sundays of Gesimatide correspond with what came to be called the three "solas" in the Lutheran Reformation!

Septuagesima Sunday, "70 Days". By Grace Alone. (12 February 2017)

Psalm 18:5,6,7. Verse Psalm 18:2,3.
O Lord, we beseech Thee favourably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by The goodness, for the glory of Thy name, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Saviour, who liveth etc.
1 Cor 9:24 - 10:5.
Matthew 20:1-16. The Workers in the Vinyard. Sola gratia, by grace alone.

Sexagesima Sunday, "60 Days". By Scripture Alone. (19 February 2017)

Psalm 44:23-26. Verse Psalm 44:2.
O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
2 Cor 11:19 - 12.9
Luke 8:4-15. The Sower and the Seed. Sola scriptura, by scripture alone.

Quinquagesima Sunday, "50 Days". By Faith Alone. (26 February 2017)

Psalm 31:3,4. Verse Psalm 31:1.
O Lord, we beseech Thee, mercifully hear our prayers and, having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
1 Cor 13:1-13.
Luke 18:31-43. Healing the Blind Man. Sola fide, by faith alone.

[Textual note: many thanks to Matthew Carver, translator of Walther's Hymnal, published by CPH, for earlier comments on etymology.  I have tried to incorporate those improvements in the current  version.  Any remaining need for improvement is due to me.]

03 February 2017

The Transfiguration of Jesus, 05 February 2017.

There are many miracles recorded in the New Testament, but this one is different in that it is the only of those miracles which happens to Jesus himself.

The Gospel accounts of this event are Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. 2 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:14 may also refer to this event.

There is much to be learned from this miracle. For one thing, it gave the Apostles, and now us as we read Scripture, something of a preview of the glorified and complete life in heaven. For another, it shows Jesus as the Messiah, he to whom the Law, represented by Moses, and the Prophets, represented by Elijah, point.

Those two things tell us much about Jesus, but there is something about us we can learn too. What was the Apostles' reaction to this event? They wanted to stay there, and devote themselves to basking in this event. But they were told not to, that there was work ahead in Jerusalem, and not only that, they were told to not even speak of it until after the Resurrection which they did not yet even understand.

Are we not also like that? We want to preserve sublime moments in this life and create conditions to produce them, either in literal monasteries or in monasteries of the mind, and thus isolate and exempt ourselves from, even protect against, what we are in fact called to do in the rest of life. And are we not also told that we cannot remain in these mountain-top experiences but must now go into the Jerusalem of our own lives where there is much to be done, some of it endured? And though we live after the Resurrection, do we not also not fully understand what lies ahead in our own lives?

Jesus both calls us to these sublime moments, and also calls us to go forth from them.

There's more, which relates to all three points and drives them further home. In Lutheran observance, the commemoration of this event is located within the church year where it falls in the progression of the life of Jesus. Which puts it right between observance of his life leading up to his saving work (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and his Baptism) and the Gesimatide preparation for Lent, Lent itself, the Holy Week commemoration of his suffering and death, and Easter his resurrection.

But in the Roman rite and Eastern Orthodoxy, it is celebrated on 6 August. This was always one of several dates on which it was celebrated. But, on 6 August 1456 the news reached Rome that the Kingdom of Hungary had broken the Siege of Belgrade by the Ottoman Empire, saving the rest of Europe from further Islamic conquest.  The siege had been broken on 22 July. In honour of hearing the news, Pope Callixtus III made the Transfiguration a feast to be celebrated in the Roman rite on 6 August. In Eastern Orthodoxy it is the 11th of the Twelve Great Feasts, and also the middle of the Three Feasts of the Saviour in August.

We of course are not bound by that, and there is good reason to locate it where we have, in the order of events in the life of Jesus, since the point of the church year for the life of the church is to celebrate and know the life of Jesus. There are though a couple of interesting co-incidences (?) about the 6 August thing.

One co-incidence (?) is, centuries later, on 6 August 1945, another type of transfiguration would happen. About 70,000 people died instantly and tens of thousands died later from the effects of the transfiguration, so to speak, of the first use of atomic weapons, in Hiroshima, Japan.  Thus the date of the news of one key military victory becomes the date of another. Point is, even if either or both of these victories are seen as a turning point for the right side, Jesus calls us to another type of bodily transfiguration altogether, one not brought about by breaking a siege or nuclear radiation, and not a turning point in worldly events, but the final triumph of God over the sin and its wages of spiritual death brought into his Creation by us.

The other coincidence (?) is, 6 August 1991 was the start of the World Wide Web, a service available to the public on the Internet, which allows us to go down into "Jerusalem", where there is much to be done, even endured, in ways previously not possible. Now, for example, it would not be two weeks or so before news reached you that defences had held and you are not about to be overrun, now you would see it as it happens.  For another, one can go to the top sidebar element on this blog and donate to our beloved synod's efforts to bring relief to people in the aftermath of disasters both in the U.S. and around the world.

Some things to ponder about transfiguration and going down into Jerusalem, whether we celebrate the Transfiguration in the traditional Lutheran way on the last Sunday before Gesimatide, or on 6 August, or some other day, or not at all.

Or even if one is subjected to a wannabe Protestant version of the miserable revisionist Roman Catholic Vatican II novus ordo, whose contemporary worship calendar and lectionary has the worst of both worlds --  it does away with Gesimatide altogether like good wannabes (a post on what is Gesimatide and why you don't want to do away with it is coming shortly here) but retains something of the traditional Lutheran placement by relocating the Transfiguration as the last Sunday of an elongated Epiphany Season on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

See you in "Jerusalem".

01 February 2017

Candlemas (2 February) 2017. A 40 Days of Purpose.

What's a Candlemas, and why should I bother with it or care to know about it? Here's what and why.

The Law Of Moses Observed.

In the Law of Moses, when a woman gives birth to a boy, she is ritually unclean for seven days, then in the "blood of purification" for another thirty three days, total of forty days, at which time she goes to the mikveh for a ritual bath of purification.  Great, what's a mikveh?  We'll get to that.  Also, the Law of Moses requires a first-born male, not first born to the father necessarily, but the one who opened his mother's womb, to be presented in the Temple to be redeemed.

Huh?  Redeemed from what?  Hey, this is Jesus and he's the redeemer so really, redeemed from what?  And purified from what?  And anyway, isn't this religion about Jesus, not Mary?  OK, here's the deal.

First, what's a mikveh? The word, also given as mikvah, means collection.  Collection of what?  Water, that's what, but not just any water, but water from a natural source, such as rain, or better yet "living water" from a spring or well, which must be naturally transported, not pumped or carried. Total immersion in the water of a mikveh -- anyone thinking Baptism? -- is considered so important, restoring ritual purity after ritually impure things have happened, such as childbirth, that a Jewish community must provide a mikveh even before it builds a place of worship (synagogue).

Next, before we get to redeemed from what, what is to be redeemed anyway?  One hears the word a lot but what does it literally mean?  To buy back, that's what, to pay something to get something else.  Just like redeeming a coupon.  You turn in the coupon to get what it promises.  Under the Law of Moses, the first born, or bekhor in Hebrew, is required to be dedicated to the service of the Lord.  Originally this was to be the priesthood, but after the Golden Calf episode, that was given to the sons of Aaron, the cohens (yes, the name Cohen and variations thereof derives from that), but nonetheless the requirement for redemption remained.  This is called the pidyon haben, and is a sum of five silver coins to be paid to the Cohen, though the Law provides other options for poor families, which Luke records is the option Joseph and Mary took.

Of course Jesus did not need to be redeemed.  For himself.  But he wasn't sent here for himself.  He didn't need to be baptized either, or circumcised, but he was.  He was here for us, and to be put under the Law so he could fulfill the Law for us, all needed to be fulfilled, just like he told John the Baptist.  And that's the enormous significance here.  Without these key events in fulfilling the Law, he wouldn't have fulfilled the Law, which in part required an action by his mother, and that's why we celebrate them -- it's part of what makes Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah.

So, to observe and fulfill the Mosaic Law, Mary was purified in a ritual bath in a mikveh, after which her first-born Son was presented in the Temple to dedicate him to God. In the Western Church, since the birth of Jesus has been set on 25 December for its celebration, the celebration of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple is fixed forty days later as required by the Law, 2 February. Easter, however, does not have a fixed date, thus Holy Week, and the preparation for it, Lent, and the transition to it, Gesimatide, are reckoned backward from Easter's date in any given year. That is why in some years, like 2013, 2015 and 2016, Candlemas may happen after the transition to Lent, Gesimatide, is underway. Or like in 2012 when it happened only three days before Gesimatide began with Septuagesima on 5 February.  In 2017 Gesimatide begins 12 February.

In the Eastern Church, as we saw in an earlier post that Epiphany, 6 January, at least until 1960s Rome got a hold of it, originally contained all the events of the early life of Jesus including his birth.  And, 25 December in the Gregorian calendar of the West, now in civil use in most of the world, falls on 7 January in the Julian calendar still in liturgical use in the East, so, the 40th day after it falls on Gregorian 15 February in the East, and is called The Meeting of the Lord.

Either way, either part of the church, either calendar, forty days after Jesus' birth celebration.

The Gospel Fulfillment Of The Law.

The Gospel account of it is Luke 2:22-40, the Gospel reading for the day. Part of it relates Simeon the Elder, who had been promised that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. When Mary brought Jesus for the meeting, Simeon saw him and recognised him as the Messiah, saying what is now called the Canticle of Simeon, or, from its first words in Latin, nunc dimittis:
Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
This reference to light gave rise to the custom of blessing on this day the candles for use in the church during the year, which in turn has given the day yet another name, Candelemas, or mass of the candles. Some observances include a procession with candles to the church.

Simeon's nunc dimittis has also become a feature of the Office of Compline, the completing church office of prayer for the day. In the Lutheran Common Service, that most wonderful version of the Western liturgy, in its current edition known as Divine Service Setting III in Lutheran Service Book, the nunc dimittis is also sung after Communion. A practice which continues even in our Vatican II wannabe services of late, though of course with the Vatican II-esque option of doing something else instead.   Post Vatican II Rome downplays the candles and Mary stuff for the Simeon thing. Simeon did no such thing. He got it about the purpose of Mary and light to the people.

The Prophecy of Simeon.

Simeon said something else too, and it should not be forgotten. The joy of the Messiah cannot be separated from the reason why he came, which isn't all that pretty. Saviours are great, as long as it's not about being saved from sin. Jesus would run into this again, to put it mildly, and Satan would even tempt him about it during another forty days the church is about to celebrate in imitation of his forty days in the desert, Lent. Simeon said:

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against -- yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also (this to Mary) -- that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

The cross, the crucifixion, the payment for redemption from sin, is present here too, as the central event in the life of Jesus, the life of Man, and the life of each man. Bishop Sheen once remarked that the crucifix is the autobiography of every Christian.

Ain't It Just A Christianised Groundhog Day Or Other Pagan Stuff?

As with Christmas, Candlemas is sometimes taken as simply a Christian version of pre-existing observances. Well there are pre-existing observances.  2 February is the date of Imbolc, a Celtic observance of the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It was associated with the goddess Brigit, where sacred fires were maintained by 19 consecrated women in Kildare -- sort of an Irish Vesta -- some of whose legends seem to have been passed to the Christian St Brigit. And Brigit, through mingling of Irish and African slaves in the New World, may be the source of Maman Brigitte in Voodoo. Imbolc was also a time of weather forecasting, with Spring coming on, when snakes or badgers or other animals were watched to see if they would come out of their Winter hibernation, indicating a short Winter, or not, indicating a longer one.  See something familiar in that?

Howere, as with superficial similarities with pre-Christian Winter solstice observances, the content of fulfilling the Mosaic Law by the newborn Messiah is rather different than simultaneous pagan observances, including the references to light. But, as to watching animals for a clue to the length of the remaining cold weather -- hello, Groundhog Day, which is also, guess what, 2 February!

And then there's the Roman Lupercalia, the Wolf Feast, honouring the she-wolf who raised Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, celebrated this time of year too. In it, the Luperci, the priests of the wolf (lupus in Latin) sacrificed, well, originally people, but then two male goats and a dog, whose blood was put on the foreheads of other Luperci, then there was a feast, then the Luperci cut thongs from the animal skins -- called februa, from which comes our month name February! -- and put on the rest, running around town, with women coming forward to be lashed by the thongs to insure both fertility and easy childbirth.

Hey, this lasted well into Christian Rome and beyond, and some think Pope Gelasius in the 490s -- after the sack of Rome by the Visigoth under Alaric in 410 and by the Vandals under Geiseric (aka Genseric or Gaiseric) in 455 and the deposing of the last Roman Emperor in the West, Romulus Augustus, by the Arian Germanic-Italian King Odoacer on 4 September 476 -- used Candlemas to replace and remove Lupercalia.

The feast is among the oldest in Christian observance.  Sermons for it survive from as early as the 300s.  It took on wider celebration starting with a plague.  Yeah, a plague.  In 541 an outbreak of the bubonic plague devastated the Byzantine Empire (the old Eastern Roman Empire, the only one left by then).  It came from rodents with the fleas carrying the disease aboard merchant ships from Egypt, from which Constantinople bought lots of grain and other goods, and the spread of those goods spread the bubonic plague too and wiped out about half the population to which it spread all over the Empire.  This was during the reign of Justinian, who got it too, but he recovered under such treatment as they had at the time, which was, eat a good diet, get plenty of rest, and go somewhere where it hadn't spread to avoid the bad air they thought carried it.  In 541 Justinian ordered fasting and prayer at this time that the plague be lifted.  The plague did lift, but, plagues lift anyway, and the mortality rate for untreated bubonic plague is about 50% anyway, so hey.  But Justinian ordered the observances to continue in thanksgiving.  This outbreak is the first one clearly documented in history, and is now named after him, the Plague of Justinian.

BTW, the world-wide custom of saying "Bless you" or "Health" or "Gesundheit" (which is "health" in German) or some such thing when someone sneezes comes from the plague, since for most of human history sneezing might be an indication you won't be around in a few days.  These days, antibiotics, streptomycin in particular, are effective against bubonic plague and I'd recommend that as well as the good wishes.  While we're at it, what is "bubonic" anyway?  Comes from the Greek word for groin -- the swelling from infected lymph nodes turns up in the groin, among other places, but that one really gets your attention so the whole thing got named after it.

The first-born thing has been the source of other pious bullroar too.  In imitation of it, first born sons were often "encouraged" to be priests, resulting in all kinds of not-so-suited "priests" and monks.  On the brighter side, the assumed survival of childbirth by women is a fairly recent phenomenon, thanks to modern  medicine, but for centuries recovery from childbirth was celebrated as the "churching of women", and still is in some places.  There is no purification per se, but the Biblical thing was the model for it, a blessing and celebration of the woman's health and ability to return to usual activities.

So What's A Candlemas? This.

So what do we have here? Later, Christianed-over versions of universal themes, or, universal themes that derive from natural knowledge of God, and therefore have something to them, but could never even have guessed the Law and Gospel in the revealed word of God in Scripture.

Well, as we saw with Christmas and will see with Easter, both. You got your choice. Yeah, there is 2 February as modern and presumably more civilised and less superstitious observances that Winter will end sooner or later and nice weather come back -- Groundhog Day, which also has the advantage that you're way less likely to have the cops called on your Groundhog Day party than if you try to have a Lupercalia.

And, there's 2 February as something to which these things have only the crudest of inklings in the fallen heart of Man -- The Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary.

Collect for Candlemas, to collect our thoughts for the day. (From The Lutheran Hymnal)

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly beseech Thy majesty that, as Thine only-begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto Thee with pure and clean hearts; by the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.