Saturday, March 26, 2022

Renaissance Popes III: Nicholaus V

 Birth Name: Tommaso Parentucelli

Lived: 1397-1455

Regnal Name: Nicholas V, taking the name in honor of his mentor, Bl. Niccolo Albergati.

Regnal Life: 1447-1455

Tomasso Parentucelli, apparently born in Saranza, showed himself to be a bright young man, and therefore went to Bologna, where the prestigious university was located. There he studied philosophy and theology, serving as a tutor to various noble families (an occupation that served him well later, since it made him a familiar name to much of the nobility in the region). He caught the attention of the Bishop of Bologna. This man, Blessed Niccolo Albergati, has been reluctantly thrust into the episcopacy, where he devoted himself heavily to improving education in his diocese; he had also become an important confidant of Martin V and later Eugene IV. Albergati, seeing the intellectual promise of the young man, sent him all over Europe on various missions. Parentucelli began his lifelong passion as a book collector on these missions. Later, when Albergati was called to the papal court as Cardinal, Parentucelli went with him. He was extraordinarily useful at the Council of Florence, since one of his interests was collecting editions of the texts of Church Fathers. When Albergati died, Parentucelli was made Bishop of Bologna in his place. Pope Eugene sent him on diplomatic missions, and he was the one who negotiated the concordat with the German princes to repudiate the remnant of the Council of Basel that still insisted on meeting at Basel, and because of his success he was made Cardinal.

Eugene, of course, died not long afterward, and in March of 1447, Parentucelli was elected pope in his place, taking the name Nicholas in honor of the saintly patron who had done so much for him in Bologna. He immediately took peace and reconciliation as the fundamental theme of his pontificate and, an infinitely more diplomatic man than the blunt Eugene, he began to heal many of the diplomatic and political divisions that had harmed Europe and that imperiled the Papal States. He was very successful at this, and for most of his administration as ruler of the Papal States, things were very peaceful. The finances of the Holy See, Rome, and the Papal States generally began to stabilize. In addition, he was contacted by the man who had been elected pope by the remnant of the Council of Basel, now sitting at Lausanne, Felix V, and they worked out a deal in 1449. Felix as the pope recognized by the supporters of the Council of Basel-Lausanne formally confirmed all of the acts of Nicholas, then resigned his office and submitted to Nicholas; the Council of Basel-Lausanne, finally accepting the inevitable, elected Nicholas to the 'empty' papal office; and Nicholas confirmed the acts of Felix V, including the offices he had distributed. The schism caused by the conciliarists was completely healed.

But the pontificate of Nicholas V is most famous for being the first great flowering of the Roman Renaissance. He was an enthusiast for, as he put it, 'books and buildings'. Almost as soon as he was in office he began patronage of artists, building up a library, and restoring the buildings in Rome and throughout the Papal States; the peace, which helped reinvigorate the papal treasury, made it possible to do this consistently. In addition, he held a great Jubilee in 1450 with extensive art-related celebrations. The Jubilee events were cut short by another wave of plague sweeping through the area, but even so, the celebrations brought a massive surge of revenue for that year, which gave Nicholas even more room to pursue his love of books and good architecture; smaller handicrafts like clothworking and jewelsmithing also flourished in the eight years of his administration. The walls of Rome were rebuilt; the Aqua Virgo, the last surviving Roman aqueduct, was restored so that it now reliably delivered water to what is today the Trevi Fountain. The Ponte Sant'Angelo, which had collapsed in a tragic accident in 1450, was rebuilt, and many of the basilicas of Rome were restored. He sent people all over in order to collect books, literally hundreds of them, and his collection is one of the cores of the Vatican Library. It was in his day that the primary residence of the post shifted from the Lateran Palace to the Vatican Palace, which he massively expanded.

He was heavily criticized for just how much he spent on buildings, although he had plenty of supporters, as well. There was certainly a great measure of personal interest involved, but it was not all just a matter of a man pursuing his hobbies. War and revolution and age had led to a very extensive dilapidation, endless deferred maintenance that, not having the perpetual problems Eugene had, he was able to begin to work through. And he saw all of this as well as a part of evangelization, and it is this perhaps as much as his example that is his major contribution to the Renaissance. It was his view that the glories of the gospel should be made visible for all to see. The splendor of God deserved more reverence than any majesty of kings, and this should be not just said but shown, by ensuring that the temples of God were not less splendid than the palaces of kings, and that Rome, as the capital of Christendom, was impressive precisely as such. Nicholas's idea would be reiterated again and again through the Roman Renaissance, and much of the artistic patronage of the Renaissance popes, sometimes at great expense even when budgets were tight, can be explained by this sense of visual evangelism and a feeling that it was intolerable for God to be given less visual respect than that given to princes.

Eugene's victories over the conciliarists gave Nicholas a relatively free hand with regard to reform of the Church. The concordat with the German princes had required the calling of a further reform council, but it never materialized because France and Germany got into an irresolvable argument over where it should occur. It is very possible that Nicholas encouraged the dispute; he is known elsewhere to have used diplomatic channels to set the various powers against each other when it suited him. It is also probably the case that people were not very enthusiastic and were at this point mostly just proposing general councils as a matter of abstract principle; the Council of Basel-Lausanne and the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence had vividly reminded people of what they usually kept forgetting, which is that general councils are extremely expensive in terms of both time and money. Unbound by having to work through years of another council, Nicholas actually accomplished a great deal on the reform front, and it probably helped that he was able diplomatically to get the great powers to agree to allow a loosening of some of the restrictions that had been in place since the Council of Constance, giving him a greater degree of flexibility and a somewhat greater income with which to work. Nicholas chose talented and active men, people like St. John of Capistrano and Bl. Nicholas of Cusa, and sent them all over Europe, investigating complaints, fixing problems, improvising and negotiating solutions.

His papal reign was not wholly idyllic, however; attempts at insurrection and revolution began to pick up toward the end, at the instigation of people who wanted Rome to be a republic on the model of Florence. At the early stages, he attempted to handle these matters in an irenic manner, consistently with his emphasis on peace and reconciliation. He gave Rome and much of the Papal States a greater measure of self-governance, but it was never enough to satisfy the discontented. Things might have grown very bad, except that Nicholas, partly due to his building projects, was relatively popular among the common people, and the revolutionary attempts inevitably started to fizzle when they grew beyond a certain size. Martin V and Eugene IV had tried, with little success, to navigate the growing tensions between the Spanish and the Portuguese; Eugene tried to maintain a kind of neutrality between them, but his bluntness had led the Portuguese to be mostly offended, and to smooth things over with them, Nicholas was forced to make some compromises and give them fairly extensive concessions, one consequence of which was a massive expansion of the Portuguese slave trade, which both Martin for political reasons and Eugene for moral reasons had tried to impede. Nicholas tried to drum up support for the Eastern Empire against the Ottoman Turks, but it was too little, too late, and Constantinople fell in 1453. To literary men like Nicholas and his circle it was a great tragedy; as his close friend, Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolimini, commented, it was like the second death of Homer and Plato. Nicholas did what he could to accommodate refugees and tried to stir up a crusade against the Turks, but he could never make it work. The event left him in a state of depression for much of the rest of his tenure, and his problems with the republicans led him to feel intensely alone. As Tomasso of Saranza, he said, he had seen more friends in a day than he saw in a year as pope.

If we were to imagine an idealized version of a Renaissance pope, he would look much like Nicholas V: an intelligent and literary intellectual, an enthusiastic patron of art and architecture, moderate and restrained in his day-to-day life but willing to spend lavishly on things that were beautiful and would last, a builder of public works and library collections. An unimpressive-looking man, although apparently with an impressive voice, he gained the admiration of many by his erudition, his affability, his tolerance, and his willingness to negotiate a mutually beneficial compromise. He was accused of putting more emphasis on buildings and literary texts than on doctrine or helping the poor, and it's not difficult to argue that he did, although he also thought (sometimes definitely rightly) that his patronage was a way of contributing both to doctrine and to the life of the poor. And while he must be given credit for his diplomatic skills, much of what he accomplished was likely due to the good fortune of succeeding Eugene and beginning his administration in the pause between the Council of Florence and the Fall of Constantinople. Made possible in great measure by historical accident, it was not sustainable. The first flowering of the Roman Renaissance was a beautiful one, and we still benefit from it today, but even by the end of the all-too-brief eight years of Nicholas's papal tenure, the storm clouds were gathering. Tensions were rising among the powers of Europe. Restlessness and insurrection were spreading among the people of all the European nations. And, no longer sheltered by the crumbling Byzantine wall, the people of Europe when they looked Eastward could see the Ottoman Empire beginning to rise against them.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Renaissance Popes II: Eugenius IV

 Birth Name: Gabriele Condulmer

Lived: 1383-1447

Regnal Name: Eugene IV

Regnal Life: 1431-1447

Gabriele Condulmer was born to a very wealthy merchant family, but one day, he and his cousin, Antonio Correr, met a preaching canon regular named Bartolomeo of Rome, and they decided to follow a life of prayer rather than trade and eventually started a little religious community, modeled on a new approach to devotional life, known as the devotio moderna, which involved coming together in very flexible communities that shared a very strict ascetic life of prayer. Their little community grew, and they were eventually donated a former monastery on the Venetian isle of St. George in Alga, from which they got the name Canons Regular of St. George in Alga. It became a model on which other communities were founded, and has a few saints associated with it, perhaps most notably St. Lawrence Giustiani, who was good friends with both Condulmer and Correr and eventually became Patriarch of Venice.

Condulmer might well have spent his whole life there -- and at the end of his life is said to have wished he had -- but Gabriele Condulmer and Antonio Correr both had an uncle, named Angelo Correr, who was elected pope of Rome, and took the name Pope Gregory XII, the very same one who resolved the Western Schism. Gregory was in dire need of men he could trust and fell back on what was the standard solution and that stayed the standard throughout the Renaissance and beyond: you rely on family. He made both Condulmer and Correr Cardinals, and thus Gabriele Condulmer found himself in a life of ecclesiastical politics. There have been many men who were more unsuitable for such a life, but there have been few more unlikely. Condulmer, for all his austerity and devotion and prayer had a few temperamental flaws; he fully recognized them and tried to compensate for them, but they were always there. He was naturally obstinate, hot-tempered, and tactlessly blunt. He did, however, have a certain charm, and it probably didn't hurt that he was generally regarded as a reasonably good-looking man, and people will tolerate a bit more from a charming man with striking looks. Nonetheless, his temper and bluntness will end up causing him problems his entire career. Handling problems diplomatically just did not come naturally to him.

He continued service under Martin V, who seems to have regarded him well, and after Martin's death, he was easily elected Pope, taking the name Eugene IV. It probably helped that he was related to Gregory XII and had worked so well with Martin V; he was someone who could be trusted to continue the reform of the Church. And he could. And therein lay many of his problems; a tactless man in charge of reforming things is bound to make enemies. Almost immediately, Eugene ran into problems with this. In order to achieve much of what he had achieved, Martin V had had to repeatedly rely on his very wealthy, very politically family. When Eugene became pope, he found that the Colonna family was, first, very used to having their requests heeded, and second, very used to being rewarded for their services for the Church, and they fully expected this to continue. Eugene and the Colonnas did not get along, and this was not a very good thing for Eugene, because the Colonna connections throughout Roman territory were indeed impressive, and they were capable of making infinite amounts of mischief  for the pope.

In the meantime, Eugene had to deal with yet another problem. Martin V, following the conciliar plan for reform, had summoned a council in Basel, in accordance with the directions of the Council of Siena. He appointed a legate for it, Giuliano Cesarini, and then died. Thus the council called by Martin was opened under Eugene, and the representative for Eugene at the council was not a man he himself would have chosen. Cesarini became presiding figure of the council because he was Martin's choice. And we see as well a problem with the Constance plan of councils at defined intervals, namely, that events don't happen at regular intervals, and so holding a general council every set number of years without regard for what else happens to be going on, is just asking for conflicts. The Council of Basel will be plagued by such unexpected events. When the council opened, attendance was not great, and there were stories about conflicts between locals and attendees at the council, so Eugene concluded that it was best to close the council and have another one meet in a different place (Bologna) in about a year and a half, when the timing would be a little better. Unfortunately, he did this abruptly and without sounding out those participating in the council, with the result that he was seen as trying to block reform. The bishops at the council, including Cesarini, refused to accept Eugene's bull dissolving the council; they passed a decree stating the superiority of a general council to a pope, and summoned Eugene to the council to answer for himself. Needless to say, Eugene refused to be summoned to stand trial for doing something that he was entirely reasonable under the circumstances. Unfortunately for Eugene, the council had a slightly stronger political hand. The new Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, had always been a very strong supporter of the conciliarists (he had been a major player behind the Council of Constance years before), and he pressured Eugene into a compromise: Eugene would retract his bull dissolving the council and acknowledge the council as an ecumenical council, but since a general council has to be called by the pope, he would not have to accept any decrees passed during the time he wasn't acknowledging it (like the decree that general councils are superior to the pope). So the Council of Basel was undissolved and acknowledged as ecumenical in 1433.

Not an auspicious beginning, either for the council or for the pope. But it will get worse. Eugene might have actually fought this whole move further, but the Papal States were at the time being invaded by troops associated with the duchy of Milan (due to his tactless affirmation of support for Florence and Venice against Milan), and Rome and the area around it were in a state of insurrection inspired by the Colonna family, so he couldn't actually afford to alienate the Holy Roman Emperor as well. The next year, in fact, Eugene had to flee Rome in disguise, rowing down the Tiber in a boat; he was recognized despite his disguise and the Romans threw rocks at him from both sides until he finally made it down to a Florentine ship. For the next several years, Eugene was in exile in Florence, and his hands were full working with the Florentines and the Venetians to reestablish control over the Papal States, which he eventually did, finally pushing Milan back out of the Papal States and breaking the Colonna powerbase.

This left the Council of Basel as a secondary concern for Eugene. Fortunately for the pope, they had their hands full too, trying to put out the fires that had resulted from the wars against the Hussites that had resulted from attempting to implement the reforms of the Council of Constance given that the Council had handed Hus over to be burned at the stake. In 1437, it established a compromise with the Hussites, allowing Hussite priests to give communion under both elements, and acknowledged that, notwithstanding how the Council of Constance's actions toward Hus had been interpreted, it was not heretical to do so. 

However, struggle between the council and the pope would begin again, and it all had to do with the East. The Council of Siena had deferred any discussion of reunion with the East, but the East was in a desperate situation due to the encroachment of the Ottoman Turks. The Roman Emperor in the East and the Patriarchs of the major sees wanted at least to talk to improve relations, and the Emperor contacted both the council and Eugene. The council insisted that any such meeting should be in a place like Savoy or Avignon -- some place out of the control of the pope. The Easterners thought that this was absurd; why would they go so far out of their way, when it would be infinitely easier to cross the Adriatic to coastal Italy? It's not like they had nothing to do back home; they were willing to commit a fair degree of time to productive discussion, if necessary, but they did not want to spend huge amounts of time in mere travel while problems were piling up back home. Eugene, on the other hand, offered to meet with them in Ferrara, a vastly superior offer from the standpoint of the East. Further, Eastern responses to the Council of Basel were generally polite but non-committal. They, of course, did not see the council as an ecumenical council, for the obvious reason that they weren't involved in it; to them, it was just a Western synod. And what they were interested in was reunion between East and West, which for them meant, primarily, reunion of Rome with the Eastern patriarchal sees. So it made sense to them to be dealing with the pope. They did not really understand a lot of what was behind the council's offer because the council was trying to impose conditions on the East-West discussion that did not involve the patriarchal see of Rome, and thus none of these conditions made sense to them. They accepted the Pope's offer to have a council at Ferrara.

This is going to be quite important. The failure of the Council of Siena to set the East-West discussion on conciliarist terms, which it probably could have done, led to a rather remarkable situation. None of the Easterners were papalists; they had a certain respect for Rome as a historically important patriarchal see, but none of them could be accused of thinking that the pope was the primary authority in the Church. But in the Western struggle between conciliarists and papalists, all of the authority of the Eastern sees ended up on the side of the pope, and arguably did so entirely due to the failure of conciliarists to see the big picture.

The result was that Eugene had a unique opportunity. The Council of Basel had kept insisting on its being an ecumenical council. Well, Eugene could make it more ecumenical. The Eastern acceptance of its offer gave him a plausible reason for doing something he probably could not have otherwise done: move the council. In addition, Sigismund had recently died, so Eugene would not have to worry about the same pressures as in his previous attempt to dissolve the council. Eugene issued a bull that dissolved the council at Basel and reconstituted it at Ferrara in 1438.

The council at Basel split. Some, seeing that, whatever one might think of the pope, it would be absurd not to meet with the Eastern patriarchs, went to Ferrara. Others stubbornly stayed. The Council of Basel-Ferrara issued a decree nullifying any further acts of the council at Basel. Those who stayed at Basel, in the meantime, issued a decree deposing and excommunicating Eugene and then elected a new pope. So we're back to the practice of councils trying to fix situations by multiplying the number of popes. They picked Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy, who took the name Felix V. Despite later rumors of an obsession with money, Felix was in general a quite admirable person, but the election of Felix was another tactical mistake by the council at Basel. Europe had already been through the Western Schism, and just recently solved the problem; nobody had any desire to go through it again. The result was that most of Europe largely just ignored Felix V and pretended that he didn't exist. The conciliarists had handed Eugene another victory, although it probably did not seem so at the time. 

The Council of Basel-Ferrara ran into almost immediate difficulties. The papal treasury was rather depleted, and Eugene had serious difficulties in paying for the Eastern delegates. In addition, Ferrara was suddenly under threat from the plague. So Eugene was able to work out a deal with Florence to move the council there, where the delegates would be safer, and in exchange for hosting such a prestigious council, Florence would pay the expenses of the Eastern delegates. The Eastern delegates were not happy at all at having to move, but they could understand that there were reasons for doing it, and so the council was moved and became the Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence, or as we often just call it, the Council of Florence.

It's tempting, looking back, to think that the Council of Florence was a failure, because we know that the reunifications worked out by the Council ultimately did not hold. This is misleading. The Council of Florence was a major success -- and Eugene's managing of it was yet another victory for the papalist side. The Eastern delegates agreed to reunification, with only St. Mark Eugenikos holding out. That had not happened in a very long time, and was a success in itself. Further, while the following of Mark eventually won out, they were not equally influential everywhere, and it took time for them to work even where they had the numbers. Better relations between East and West began almost at once. There was an extended period of years in which large parts of the East were, without any question, united to the West. And while it's easy to focus on the concessions that the East had to make, and ultimately refused to make, in the Council of Florence, the West made a number of major concessions to Eastern concerns that they might never have made otherwise. What Florence did not do was save Constantinople. The Turks conquered the Eastern Empire; and the Turks, savvy players, did everything in their power to break anything that looked like it might lead to reunion of East and West. Florence successfully created a reunion of East and West, one that was not perfect, and whose actual effect varied greatly depending on where you were, but the reunion was, alas, mostly doomed. There are, however, still communities in the Catholic Church whose roots trace back to the brief period of reunion after Florence. And the Latin West began receiving the massive influx of Greek ideas, which became an outright flood after Constantinople's fall and the westward flight of refugees, that we so completely associate with the Renaissance. The Council of Florence may not have been enough for the East. But it was an enriching grace for the West.

In 1443, having finally restored the Papal States and quelled all Roman unrest, Eugene returned to Rome. He dealt the final blow to the remnant at Basel by negotiating a concordat with the German princes in which, in exchange for generous concessions, they would fully, formally, and explicitly reject Basel's Pope Felix. He did not live to see it finalized, dying in 1447, but it was a devastating blow.  The council at Basel would eventually be driven out of Basel and end up in Lausanne, and in 1448, Felix having resigned, they finally gave up and dissolved their now-ignored council.

Eugene's victory over the conciliarists at Basel would come with a significant cost. His concessions to the princes had to be quite generous, which means that Rome lost a large amount of income from Europe more widely. This would accelerate the dependence, started by the reforms of the Council of the Constance, of the popes on the income of the Papal States. Faced with a large to-do list of reforms, the reforming popes of the Renaissance Papacy would be forced to rely even more heavily on their status as temporal rulers to accomplish anything major. On the other hand, the remaining course of the Renaissance Papacy shows that, for all the many mistakes and failures of the Renaissance popes, they were often able to accomplish much more, and much more effectively, than they would have with the conciliarists dictating terms, in part because the conciliarist plans were all plans on paper that were then treated as inflexible standards. All the popes would have Eugene's problem that realities would not fit plans that were made, but because of Pope Eugene IV, they would have less of a problem in modifying the plans so that they did fit. This is not to say that the conciliarists were gone. Conciliarism will outlast the Renaissance. But Eugene's victories -- which ironically were almost all own-goals by the conciliarists themselves, although Eugene should be given credit for seizing on the opportunities they provided -- would give the popes a flexibility they would not otherwise have.

If we designate a pope to be the Greatest Pope of the Renaissance Papacy, I think that we have to give that title to Eugene, if only as a courtesy. Other Renaissance popes will accomplish impressive things. But the Council of Florence even on its own makes Eugene's tenure significant. And despite his obstinacy, his tactlessness, his temper, he was in many ways an extremely admirable man, and very much not what you would expect from his being a Renaissance pope. He never lived a life of luxury; he held himself to the rules of a canon regular all his life. He was not self-aggrandizing, nor did he seek to aggrandize his own family, which is practically a miracle in the fifteenth century. He did significant work in reforming the church, much of it reasonably successful. Most Renaissance popes one could never imagine being beatified, but if the Church decided to beatify one, Eugene would be the obvious candidate. And he is one of the popes who, dealt a terrible hand, nonetheless played it very well. 

Root of All Feasts

 Today is the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord.

The Virgin
by William Wordsworth

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!


GRM Inv. J-3174

[Vladimir Borovikovsky, The Annunciation]

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Renaissance Popes I: Martinus V

 Birth Name: Oddone (often Otto) Colonna

Lived: 1369-1431

Regnal Name: Martin V. By one of those quirks of naming that arises in a two-thousand-year-old succession, this makes him the third Martin, Martin IV having been the second Martin, due to a confusion in which people thought that Popes Marianus I and Marianus II were named Martin.

Regnal Life: 1417-1431

Oddone Colonna was born near Rome, in Genazanno, to one of the most influential families in the area. He studied at the University of Pavia and then began to work for the Curia under Pope Urban VI and was created Cardinal-Deacon of San Giorgio in Velabro by Pope Innocent VII. When the Western Schism happened, he was one of the many who advocated the resolution of the dispute by council. He participated in the Council of Pisa, which a number of cardinals formed on the ground that Pope Gregory XII had broken a promise not to create more cardinals, and became a major supporter of the first Pisan antipope, Alexander V (Peter Philarges). Alexander only lived about another year, and was replaced by Baldassare Cossa, who became John XXIII; rumors at the time were that Cardinal Cossa poisoned Alexander V to get the position. Alexander did die suddenly while staying with Cossa, but there is no evidence of this. Nonetheless, John XXIII became Pisan Pope under suspicion, and needed to shore up his support; the Colonna family, as one of the major Italian families supporting the Pisan Papacy, was a big contributor to this. The favors that John XXIII lavished on Oddone Colonna and his family brought them to the attention of Rome as significant players, and Oddone Colonna was formally excommunicated by Pope Gregory XII of Rome.

When John XXIII called the Council of Constance, Colonna went with him, and remained one of his major supporters throughout the Council. When John fled the council, Colonna went with him, helping him to escape to Schaffhausen by boat. When John was captured and dragged back to the council, Colonna returned as well, and was a witness in John's trial, continuing to participate in the council even after John was imprisoned. The council (eventually) worked out a plan for papal election, and made an agreement among themselves that the elected pope would work with the council on general reform. Thus Oddone Colonna was elected pope, taking the name Martin V, reunifying the Roman and Pisan papacies. He reaffirmed the decisions of the council, but his support would always have a tone of ambiguity; in response to one question about whether he supported this or that thing that had been done, he replied that he supported everything the council had done in a conciliar way, and nothing that had not been done by the council in a conciliar way. This support-with-ambiguity characterizes Martin's entire papal tenure; he perpetually attempts to comply with everything the council did, and that included, since he was one of the Pisan cardinals, what had been done before Gregory XII's recognition of the council. He was a supporter of conciliarism in general. But there's always an aspect to his implementation of conciliar reforms in which you know he will try to comply, but he will not be much bothered by any failures as long as they are not his own. This ambiguity was a good instinct; the entire previous generation and the interpretation of everything it had done was still in a great deal of confusion.

Reintegrating Rome and Pisa was not a straightforward process. Martin could count on funds from the Medici Bank, since the Medici were major supporters of the Pisan papacy, and Florence welcomed him with open arms. The French kept trying to get him to move back to Avignon; the Italians kept wanting him to return to Rome. But return to Rome was something that required caution. Rome had its own politics, its own bureaucracy, and not everyone in the Roman curia or the city could necessarily be assumed to be happy to work with a former supporter of the Pisan papacy. Further, everything was in complete and utter disarray. The Papal States were in bad shape, Rome was in shambles, because resources had been slight (all papal revenues divided for a while among three different contenders) and had usually had to be diverted to one emergency after another. He had to draw on his family connections to seize Rome by force, since the local barons were not inclined to submit. He also took steps to reorganize how the Papal States were run. Recognizing that the major resistance was to interference, he put layers between the papacy and the actual administration of the Papal States, assigning a Cardinal to look after them as a whole and putting forward policies that encouraged local self-governance. Negotiations with Queen Joan of Naples led to further recognition and the restoration of lost territory.

There were also a few things that needed to be done on the Pisan side. When John XXIII was ransomed out of prison by the Medici, he went to Florence, where he submitted to Martin. Martin accepted his submission and appointed him Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum (or Frascati, as it has also been called).

And, of course, there were the reforms of the Council of Constance, which Martin tried to implement. One that would have long-lasting repercussions was Constance's sharp reduction of the purely ecclesiastical income of the papacy. One of the unintended consequences -- perhaps one of the more serious unintended consequences in the extremely long list of unintended consequences arising from that council's reforms -- was the increasing importance of secular income to the functioning of the papacy. Finally getting to the long-deferred maintenance of churches in Rome was expensive. Finally setting the Papal States back in order was expensive. Recombining the curias (not just the Roman and the Pisan, but due to French support of the Council of Constance, a large portion of the Avignon Curia as well) massively expanded the bureaucracy, which was expensive, and required Martin slowly to winnow it down, which was expensive (since just firing people left and right is a good way to make enemies). Maintaining diplomatic connections, and engaging in all the diplomatic negotiations necessary for reunifying and consolidating the reunification, was expensive. And implementation of the long reforms demanded by the Council of Constance was, as you may guess, expensive. What is more, implementing the conciliar condemnation of the Hussites essentially forced everyone to go war against Bohemia, which was expensive, and not just in money, since Martin V had to organize a crusade against the Hussites to implement that reform. Yes, the Council of Constance, trying to stamp out minor irregularities in communion practices, created the conditions for a large-scale holy war in Europe. This is a very good example of the kind of thing that the Renaissance Papacy had to deal with in order to implement ecclesiastical reforms on the conciliarist model.

It's easy to demand reform, but the recurring problem is that no one actually wants to pay for it; everyone wants reform without any inconvenience, but reform that minimizes inconveniences is always expensive. With spiritual income sharply restrained by the reforms themselves, secular income had to make up the gaps. Ecclesiastical reforms had created a situation in which the expansion of the importance of the temporal power of the papacy, and the rise of popes acting like secular rulers, was inevitable, because it was the only way popes could meet the demands for Church reform and not go bankrupt. Nor was it purely a matter of money. The reforms were expensive diplomatically, as well, since everything required negotiations. Successful diplomatic negotiations always come with a political cost that has to be paid, which requires having things that you can put on the table that will interest people, and even when it is not monetary at all, that means you have to collect and spend political favors, which you can only do by secular horse-trading, which in turn you can only do on a large scale if you are an active player in the international political games. Ecclesiastical reform required much more papal attention devoted to politics, and by massively expanding the number of favors the popes had to trade to get things done, it also massively expanded the say of the major governments of Europe in the workings of the papacy.

Of course, the crown-jewel reform of the Council of Constance was the institution of regular general councils. The council directed that another general council be opened in Pavia five years after the close of the Council of Constance. This was in retrospect an absurd demand given everything else that Pope Martin V had on his plate with the reunification, but he duly opened a general council in Pavia in 1423. It had a very inauspicious beginning, since it had barely begun to start to organize itself when the plague broke out in Pavia. The few bishops who had arrived by that point hastily arranged to transfer the council to Siena. Thus began the Council of Siena, the almost-maybe-but-maybe-not-quite-ecumenical council, which you've probably never heard of, because nobody knows what to do with it. It was opened at the direction of an ecumenical council to be an ecumenical council, but faced the inevitable problem that arises when you call a meeting too soon after a previous meeting: everybody suddenly had other things to do. Nobody really wanted to go, and attendance was not great, consisting mostly of bishops from nearby sees, at least the ones that didn't have to travel through plague-infested territory. The council promulgated four decrees. One reiterated the condemnation of Wycliffe and of Jan Hus and the Hussites, one reiterated that Benedict XIII, the holdout from the Avignon papacy, was not pope; and one especially helpful decree ordered that people should avoid heresy -- not any particular heresy, just heresy in general. The most interesting and important one had to do with negotiations with the Eastern churches. Almost as soon as Martin V had become pope, he had been approached by Eastern bishops and the Emperor in the East to negotiate better relations, as the state of the East against Ottoman advance was reaching the point of extreme emergency. The Council of Siena therefore had to address this very important matter, so it did. It issued a decree postponing negotiations with the East until a later time. Then having performed the age-old respectable meeting-work of repeating the previous meeting and putting off anything new until the next meeting, the Council of Siena directed that the next general council be held at Basel, and abruptly closed. 

It's a peculiar happening, in fact. A few needed reforms were brought up, but nothing was ever done about them; the French delegation wanted to continue the synod to enact reforms, but they couldn't drum up enough support. Perhaps the issue was broader political context. Siena was firmly under papal control and conflicts of jurisdiction between the papal authorities and the council on various minor matters kept causing problems; that would explain why Basel was chosen for the next location, since it was not under papal control and there's not really any other obvious reason why it would be chosen. In any case, it was a bad omen for the future of this supremely conciliar approach to reform. And while the two things that Siena definitely accomplished -- choosing the next location for the council and deferring negotiation with the East to the next council -- seemed very minor, in fact they contained the seeds of the greatest defeat that the conciliar movement of reform would have. This would only become clear later, but Siena showed both that the conciliar movement possibly could not deliver what it promised and unbeknownst to anyone at the time, set up a situation that would guarantee that all hope of ecclesiastical reform resided with the pope.

Pope Martin V arranged for the next council, the Council of Basel, to open in February of 1431, but died right before the council started. And thus ended the administration of the first Renaissance pope. It was an immensely busy period. At the end of it, things were still in disarray and disrepair, and not many problems had been solved at all, but a great deal had been done. Church reform had required a massive expansion of papal politics, a massive expansion of papal expenses, and multiple wars, including for various reasons no less than three different crusades (against the Hussites, against the Turks, against slave traders in Africa). And reform had barely even started.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Renaissance Popes: Introduction

 I've been watching and reading a number of things on the Renaissance, and the Renaissance papacy in particular, and thought that I would do a series on the Renaissance popes, that notorious and scandalous bunch, both to brush up on them and to discuss them a bit.  I think one finds that while they lived in a fairly corrupt time, and they were none of them very saintly, they were actually generally good at doing their job, at fulfilling the requirements of the office itself; in this, they contrast with post-Renaissance popes who, with very few exceptions, tend to be nice people and occasionally even saints but are often not very good at doing what popes are supposed to do. In some cases, as well, like that of Alexander VI, the most notorious of all (and one of my favorite popes), the scandalous stories are often exaggerated, due to the fact that their commitment to their office led to making a lot of enemies. In any case, my definition of 'Renaissance popes' will be the same as Wikipedia's, roughly from the Council of Constance (opened 1414) to the Council of Trent (ended 1563).

The popes that are covered are:

Martin V (1417-1431)
Eugene IV (1431-1447)
Nicholas V (1447-1455)
Callixtus III (1455-1458)
Pius II (1458-1464)
Paul II (1464-1471)
Sixtus IV (1471-1484)
Innocent VIII (1484-1492)
Alexander VI (1492-1503)
Pius III (1503)
Julius II (1503-1513)
Leo X (1513-1521)
Adrian VI (1522-1533)
Clement VII (1533-1534)
Paul III (1534-1549)
Julius III (1550-1555)
Marcellus II (1555)
Paul IV (1555-1559)
Pius IV (1559-1565)

To understand the popes in this period, one needs to understand the problems that they inherited, namely, the after-effects of the Western Schism and the Council of Constance.

I. The Western Schism

Beginning in 1309, the papacy was located not in Rome but in Avignon, France. The Avignon Papacy is in many ways the start of the modern papacy, both its strengths and its problems. Many of the things that are associated with papal governance and the Curia were invented by the Avignon Papacy, which was run by men who had a genius for centralizing, for bureaucracy, and for playing political games. But it was also a dependent position; the popes were in Avignon largely so that the French king could keep an eye on them, and people who weren't French felt this to be a little intolerable. And, of course, people were not particularly happy that the Bishop of Rome did not reside in Rome. Gregory XI began the process for returning to Rome in 1377, announced his plans publicly the next year, and then, to the great misfortune of everyone in the Western world, died shortly thereafter. The people of Rome rather violently insisted on the new pope being Roman and Gregory XI's plans being finalized. This turned out not to be quite possible, so the cardinals electing the pope compromised and elected Bartolomeo Prignano, who was at least Italian, and who had a good reputation as an administrator. He took the regnal name, Urban VI. Unfortunately, Urban VI was a reforming kind of pope, and I say 'unfortunately' because he made everybody's lives completely miserable over it. He was the worst kind of bully, the kind who is absolutely certain of his own righteousness and very quick to accuse everyone else of wickedness. So the cardinals decided they would give themselves a do-over and elected Robert of Geneva to the papacy; Robert took the name Clement VII, and being supported by the French, he would take over Avignon. Thus began the Western Schism, when the cardinals elected both the pope and the antipope.

The schism would split Europe, and the papal 'obedience' to which you belonged depended on where in Europe you lived. And it just kept going; each pope appointed his own College of Cardinals, who then would elect a successor. Everybody on both sides recognized that it was intolerable to have two popes. Everybody wanted it to stop. But it just kept going. People inevitably began to flail about to find some solution, any solution, and in this context arose a tempting, tempting solution: conciliarism. Normally to solve a big dispute you'd go to a pope; but which person was the pope was the problem here. How do you decide a dispute over who is pope? You have to go to a higher authority. What higher authority could there be than pope? An ecumenical council. Surely an ecumenical council will save us all. It seems such a sensible answer. But as with so many seemingly sensible answers to problems, there was a viper in the grass.

The thing of it is, and Christians learned this the hard way, a council solves nothing unless everyone agrees to meet together and then to accept its solution. This was not easily obtained. And in fact the appeal to councils made the problem worse. A council was called in Pisa in 1409, deposed both the Roman and the Avignon popes, and appointed their own pope. The geniuses took a situation with two popes and tried to fix it by making another pope. Surely a third pope would solve the problem! The second Pisan pope John XXIII  called yet another council, the Council of Constance, in 1414, to try yet again to solve the problem by council. The world lucked out. Pope Gregory XII of Rome was very serious about reunifying the Church, and he endorsed the Council of Constance. The Council would work out a compromise:

(1) All the popes should resign. Resigning would not be taken to imply that the pope's claim was not legitimate; nobody had to renounce anything or even agree about who was right.
(2) The Council would elect a single pope.

Gregory XII accepted this, and resigned. John XXIII was more reluctant, but he was facing independent problems of his own, and he resigned and then later formally submitted to make them go away. That left only the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, as a holdout. The Council elected Martin V to replace Gregory and John. An improvement -- we're now back to two popes instead of three. Benedict XIII stubbornly refused to resign, but now the tide of opinion turned, and he steadily lost support until he ended up holed up with just a few supporter in Peniscola Castle in Tortosa, in Spain (the last kingdom to recognize his claim). The papal obedience formerly of Avignon and now of Aragon schismed after his death; three of the four cardinals still supporting Benedict XIII elected Gil Sanchez Munoz y Carbon, who became Clement VIII. The fourth, Jean Carrier, claimed that the election was done in an illegal way and elected Bernard Garnier, who became Pope Benedict XIV. Cardinal Carrier and Benedict XIV (Garnier) carried on alone until the death of the latter; Carrier then conveniently elected himself pope, and confusingly also called himself Benedict XIV. Benedict XIV (Carrier), however, was captured by Clement VIII, and died in prison for the crime of impersonating a pope. But the problem seems to have made Clement VIII recognize that he was not really in a tenable position, and when the Spanish king asked him to recognize Martin V, he knew that it was pointless to hold out. He agreed, abdicated in 1429, and had his cardinals elect Martin V as pope; he went to Rome and made a penitential submission to Martin, who made him Bishop of Mallorca, an office he filled with honor until his death. At last the world had one pope again.

II. The Council of Constance

The Council of Constance is a key component of the end of the Western Schism. So, one might think, a council solved the problem after all. Well, not really. If you think about it, what actually solved the problem was that Pope Gregory XII was so devoted to the cause of reunifying the Church that he was willing to accept as legitimate a council called by an illegitimate pope and gave up an office to which he had every right. His willingness to do so gave everybody a face-saving excuse to recognize his successor as the pope, regardless of which pope they had supported originally. It gave John XXIII an incentive to resign, by letting him do so under conditions that would look nobler than the end of his papacy probably would have otherwise been. And it made Benedict XIII look immensely petty and selfish in his refusal to do so. Even Benedict XIII's strongest supporters, like St. Vincent Ferrer, began asking themselves what was wrong with this man who kept deliberately refusing to do what Gregory XII had shown could be done for the good of the Church. Pope Gregory XII ended the Western Schism -- not quite singlehandedly, but he was the hero who made it possible at all.

The Council Fathers, however, did not see it this way at all. They saw themselves as solving the problems of the Church, and, worse, in beginning the resolution of the Western Schism saw themselves as successful at it, and they saddled the Church with schemes that sounded good on paper but were absolutely unworkable and resulted in the Church dealing with problems of authority that only began to be solved in the nineteenth century with the First Vatican Council, but have not yet wholly been solved today. It is perhaps not entirely respectful to designate any ecumenical council as 'The Worst Ecumenical Council', but if any council is The Worst Ecumenical Council, the Council of Constance is it.

The council was weird from the beginning. It was called by the Pisan antipope John XXIII, at the urging of King Sigismund of the Romans and Hungary. Called by an antipope is not an auspicious beginning, and John XXIII was in a particularly weak position as the third pope in a field that was already overcrowded with two. John wanted to have it in Italy; Sigismund wanted to have it in Germany. It was held in Germany. When the council was opened in 1414, Sigismund showed up, and it was really his show, not John's. One result was that the council was arranged very oddly. Instead of a system of one bishop, one vote, the bishops voted in national blocs, on the model of some universities. Once they accepted this informally, there were always only a few votes -- the English vote, the French vote, the Italian vote, the German vote (which included most of central and eastern Europe), and, when they eventually showed up, the Spanish vote. There were always more Italian bishops than English bishops at the council, but they counted the same, despite the fact that no council had ever organized itself like that before. As if to highlight that John was not really presiding over this council, he ended up fleeing, disguised as a postman. This infuriated Sigismund; when Sigismund discovered that John had fled to Frederick IV, Sigismund declared Frederick an outlaw, with the result that the entire region of Austria was subject to tumultuous wars for years to come. John was eventually dragged back to the council, which put him on trial and convicted him for everything that would stick. He was thrown in prison.

In the Fifth Session, in April 1415 the council promulgated the decree, Haec sancta synodus, which is as conciliarist as its opening words and title makes it sound. It decreed that the council had authority directly from Christ and that everybody had to obey it.

However, Gregory XII's representatives only arrived at the Council that summer. They reached the Council and read his encyclical convoking the council. That is to say, another of the council's features is that it has two different beginnings, one in 1414 by the antipope John XXIII and another in 1415 by Pope Gregory XII. For this reason, Haec santa synodus is not today regarded as an authoritative pronouncement of an ecumenical council, because it was promulgated by the council before Gregory XII convoked the council. Nonetheless, it would cause confusion for some time. Gregory XII's representatives also noted that they were empowered to resign the papal throne on the pope's behalf, and asked whether the council wanted it immediately or later. The council accepted it then, and made Gregory XII Cardinal Bishop of Porto and Santa Ruffina. All well and good, but then the council refused to go on to elect a pope. After all, a pope would get in the way of reform. They waited two years to name Gregory XII's successor, while they promulgated whatever changes they wanted.

There are other features of the council that are notable. They condemned the doctrines of John Wyclif. They summoned John Hus to the council, offering him safe passage in a misleading way that made it sound like he would not be punished as long as he attended and accepted the decision of the council. He came and they put him on trial for heresy, found him guilty, and turned him over to a secular court to decide his sentence. He was burned at the stake. Jerome of Prague, one of Jan Hus's supporters, came to the council to help his friend. He was arrested, and after a long, drawn out farce of a trial, he was convicted of heresy and turned over to a secular court to decide his sentence. He was also burned at the stake. The council no doubt thought of itself as cleaning up the problems of the church. Instead, it made enemies of the Hussites. And although nobody knew it at the time, a point had been turned that would eventually lead to the Protestant Reformation.

They also passed a decree that in the future there should be frequent general councils, the first to be held five years after the Council of Constance, the second seven years after that, and then every ten years after that. The full issues with this will be discussed in discussing Pope Martin V, but suffice it to say here that working out the issues that follow from an ecumenical council typically takes a hundred years or more; the notion that you can have an ecumenical council every ten years is delusional, just utterly insane. And, of course, you have to remember that a council of this sort takes years to organize and lasts for years. This was very deliberate; what the Council of Constance wanted to do was completely restructure the Church so that it would be governed by a sort of parliament with power directly from God. What should have been foreseen is that such a scheme would mean that bishops would constantly have to leave their sees to go to yet another council, where they would stay for years; it doesn't even make sense, but it was all part of the intoxication of conciliarism at the time, the excitement over this magical panacea that would solve any and every problem in the Church. And the council gave a long list of things that were to be reformed.

Finally, in 1417, a new pope was elected, Otto Colonna, who became Martin V. The council finished up by doing some administrative work in organizing dioceses for Lithuania. The council was dissolved in April 1418. But the problems created were not dissolved, and the would continue to haunt the Renaissance Papacy. The men who would try to solve them would not be saintly men. They would not always succeed. But they were suprisingly ingenious in what they came up with to try. The Council of Constance instituted an Age of Reform, and the Renaissance Papacy is a period of the Church in which the popes were above all things concerned with reforming the Church. But the thing about reform is that, however nice the idea may be, implementing it is sometimes a messy and destructive affair. It is not a paradox that the Age of Reform was an Age of Scandal; the one was the remarkably direct result of trying to implement the other.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Loose Jottings Toward a Philosophy of Religions

* I call it 'philosophy of religions' rather than 'philosophy of religion' to distinguish it from the many things that get lumped together under the latter label. 'Religions' or 'a religion' gives us something distinct from 'religion' qua system or attitude or virtue, even though obviously there will be relations between the two.

* One always runs into the difficulty of defining religion, but part of the reason for the difficulty of this is that religion is inherently an orientation to something other than itself, and people regularly run into problems trying to define 'a religion' independently of that to which a given religion is oriented. One can think of an analogy here, as if one tried to define 'thought' without taking into account the fact that thought has objects, and, indeed, extremely different and widely variable objects; this becomes perplexing because intentionality is the very heart of what thought is, so trying to abstract from it gets us strange results. Likewise, we should simply avoid trying to define everything religious as if it were all univocally so; we should instead pick something particular and discuss it.

* It is more useful, then, to go around a different way and consider the structure of the orientation as an orientation. A crude, intuitive starting point can be the idea of liminality from anthropology. Van Gennep in studying rites and rituals, particularly rites of passage, saw them as having a threefold structure: preliminal, liminal, postliminal. The pre- and post- make sense of rites of passage, which involve a transition, but they presuppose a this-side-of-the-threshold and a that-side-of-the-threshold first. The essential idea is that human beings experience human life as involving fundamental borders -- again, this is a crude, intuitive place to begin, but every given religion has, as a genus, orientation across a fundamental border of human life. The 'across' is important. Everyone recognizes life-borders; but for the general kind of orientation that a religion has to be, the life-border has to be a crossable threshold. And in particular, a religion, as an orientation across a life-border, is a particular kind of orientation to a power across the border, to which either we can cross, or which can cross to our side. For instance, human beings recognize death as a limit. Merely recognizing death as a limit does not get one to a religion. Recognizing it as a crossable limit (there is something beyond death) gets closer, and taking there to be a power across the border of some kind is much closer, and organizing one's life in part around the power across the border of death is the sort of thing I here call 'a religion'. The primary qualification of all this crude groundwork is that it generally seems more convenient not to call 'a religion' every particular cross-liminal orientation to a power beyond the threshold of human life, since virtually all people (perhaps indeed all) have a tangle of such orientations, and it seems reasonable to say that 'a religion' is a given kind of orientation-tangle.

* This is, incidentally, why 'grave goods' are significant for the history of religion. It is impossible to make sense of a consistent custom of placing goods in graves without taking there to be some actual point to doing so. Graves indicate a recognition of death as a life-border; grave goods seem only to have a point if they are taken to cross that life-border as a threshold, even if only symbolically; while we have no direct information that far back, the simplest hypothesis is recognizing that the dead across the border have some kind of agency and power, even if only on their side; and the practice is orienting our life to that power. Death is not the only life-border, by any means, but it is the first for which we have definite evidence that it was probably taken as a crossable threshold with an other-side significant for this-side, even though we don't have any direct evidence for how people thirteen thousand years ago conceived the crossability, or the other side, or the significance.

* All this is, again, crude, but it puts us into position to make a more fundamental move. Rather than talk directly about such powers, which is the temptation, we should talk about the kinds of attributions under which something is classified as a beyond-threshold power. This has several advantages, one of which is that it gives us much more flexibility than other approaches, because it takes into account that human beings relate different kinds of attributions in different ways, and mix them up in various ways.

* So what are the kinds of attributions that we find? There are at least three, and probably only three. First, we can attribute a distinct personal or quasi-personal power on the basis of a local causal inference. Call these tutelar attributions. Second, we can attribute an abstract power on the basis of a global or general causal inference. Call these preternatural attributions. Third, we can attribute an ultimate power on the basis of a global or general causal inference. Call these deity attributions. And, as noted, these can be mixed. For instance, if we stick with death as our example of a threshold, the power across the way may be attributed as

tutelar, like Hades or Osiris, distinct 'caretakers' for matters concerned with the other side of the death-threshold;
preternatural, like Death as a powerful abstract entity;
tutelar-preternatural, like the Angel of Death or Grim Reaper as a personation of abstract Death;
deity-preternatural, like Death worshipped as an ultimate divinity in a death cult;
deity-tutelar, like ultimate Judge of the dead;

and so forth. It's important to keep in mind that we are talking attributions, not things; the same thing may have multiple different attributions. Thus, to take a very different example, Christians use all different kinds of attributions to talk about God. 'God' usually indicates a deity attribution (unsurprisingly), that is an ultimacy of power; but God is also referred to as 'Heaven' or as 'Deity' or 'Divinity', which is a preternatural attribution; and God is referred to by attributions indicating provident caretaking, like 'Father', and such attributions are tutelar attributions.

* A good example of why it is useful to think in terms of attributions can be seen in terms of tutelar attributions. Tutelar attributions largely arise because we think of the world socially; we are very able to relate to things to the extent we see them as intelligent powers, or at least like such. Thus it can be argued that we take personality (in at least a broad, loose sense) to be the default; we take things to be at least candidates for at least quasi-personal agency, until we have reason to think they are not. Thus we find, throughout the world, people applying tutelar attributions to natural things. But if we look at many of these, there is not necessarily any sharpness to the attribution; people apply the attribution -- the tree has a numen, a hidden (cross-threshold) quasi-personal agency, and who knows it has related to everything else. You could have people who hold that all trees have the same numen, or that each tree has a distinct numen; you could have people who hold that the numen of a tree is very different from the numen of a river, and people who don't. You can have one thing (like a river) with multiple tutelar attributions for various different reasons, or you could take the attributions each to be identifying something separate. The primary driver for separating tutelar attributions is difficulty in seeing how they are related (cf. Greer's argument for polytheism); arguments from evil perhaps also play a role, by suggesting that certain tutelar attributions cannot be combined. But nothing about tutelar attributions as such prevents people from uniting them together, either, and people have done so throughout history. Think of the interpretatio graeca and the interpretatio romana. 'Sulis' and 'Minerva' are distinct tutelar attributions; but nothing prevents combination into 'Sulis Minerva', if you can find some commonality. This is why we have the peculiarity in almost every polytheism that apparently distinct gods are sometimes also apparently conflated. Plutarch has a work in which a character argues that the God of the Jews must be Dionysus, because their primary holy day is the Sabbath, which obviously indicates a feast of Sabazios, who is Dionysus or Zeus, just depending. This is excellent reasoning for someone who primarily thinks in terms of tutelar attributions. For Jews, who subordinate tutelar attributions to the deity attribution of the Ineffable Name, which they mostly only allow to be united to tutelar attributions connected to their history (God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), it inevitably sounds like gibberish; the Lord who is One is equated with a god who is also another god or two. This is because the function of tutelar attributions is very different from the function of a deity attribution; the former indicate caretakings, the latter an ultimacy. But caretakings can flow in and out of each other.

* Preternatural attributions arise from abstraction; abstracting, we posit an abstract entity with a reality of its own. This may be separate from any tutelar appellation -- the Forms are not gods, but more divine than the gods -- but they may also be combinable, since it's fairly natural for us to personify abstractions, and indeed, personifying abstractions involves combining with tutelar attributions. Thus we get the goddess Virtue, which is a preternatural attribution that has begun to be combined with specific tutelar attributions (e.g., the power that has patronage of this temple). The reverse can happen as well. We can start with a tutelar attribution and allegorize it into abstraction, as Lucretius does with Venus.

* Deity attributions are a puzzle. They are much more rare, and while they do get associated with tutelar and preternatural attributions, it's very hard to see how deity attributions arise psychologically. The Lockean account takes us to get to God as an ultimate attribution by removing limits from our own mind; but this just seems to give us a tutelar attribution. The same happens with accounts that try to use a primary tutelar attribution. More plausible are cases where we start with the preternatural abstraction of Divinity, but it's still unclear how we get beyond this. Many accounts of religion really require the assumption that there are only tutelar or preternatural divine titles; but the Ineffable Name, for instance, or 'God' as it is usually used by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs, is neither. There seem three possible paths: the Cartesian path (the capacity for deity attributions is always innate), the traditionary path (the capacity for deity attributions is taught, ultimately from something for which it is innate), and we-know-not-how.

* A pecularity -- but it is an advantage -- of the attribution approach is that one can attribute without belief. The obvious example of this is Santa Claus, who is characterized as a power across a life-border under tutelar attributions. Super-liminal powers are attributed to him, and we reorganize our lives around him. Atheists who try to lump together gods and Santa Claus are not wholly wrong; they both involve tutelar attributions. But attributions can be in different modes. We can attribute in a proper mode, as with the devout or as with the superstitious. This involves real belief. We can attribute in a mode of disenchantment. The Hopi believe the kachinas existed, maybe still do, but young Hopi have to learn eventually that the things that they call kachinas in feasts and the like are not, because the real kachinas are gone, who knows where, and we don't know what happened to them. There are many agnostics likewise who still use tutelar attributions, just in disenchantment rather than proper mode. The attributions stand, but we use them specifically as being not what we thought. We can attribute in an as-if mode, playing along, as with the Renaissance literary use of Greek and Roman mythology, swearing to Jove and the like. And we can attribute in a fictional mode, either as symbolically representing something known under other attributions in other modes (Aslan) or as purely fictional. The tutelar attributions of Santa Claus are attributed (by adults) in disenchantment, as-if, and fictional modes. It would be a mistake, though, to assume that the tutelar attributions of gods in whom one believes are always in proper mode; religious believers of all types often use every mode of attribution of their divinities, depending on context, and in fact, in many religions, it can be very difficult sometimes to tell which is being used because all the modes are used so promiscuously. Greek polytheism is a good example; it was not a belief-based religion, so there was no penalty for not prioritizing the proper mode if you didn't want to do so, and the Ancient Greek religion was practiced in part by literally making up and acting out stories about the gods known by tradition. Most of what we know about the Greek gods is from fictional stories about local ritual traditions, which we know were sometimes believed to be at least plausible but sometimes not believed at all, and, allowing for cultural differences, the same is true of many other polytheisms. Divine Caesar received his tutelar attributions, and you practiced part of the Roman religion by merely attributing them (whatever the mode) in relevant ritual and ceremony; the Christians got into trouble because they refused to do so even in as-if mode. Similarly, all agnostics and atheists still use tutelar and preternatural attributions at least occasionally; they just stop using the proper mode. When discussing things with religious believers, they often use disenchantment or as-if modes; they may still use religious attributions as symbols or in fictional stories. They personify abstractions like everyone else; they allegorize concretes like everyone else; they interact with their world as if there were persons on the other side like everyone else. The attributions can still stand even if you don't believe them. This is why there is sometimes still a clear distinction between a 'Catholic atheist' and a 'Muslim atheist'; they still carry around them, although unbelieved, a religion, a tangle of cross-liminal attributions of power.

Vying with Nature

 Now nature, in order to put us into the right way of coming at real knowledge, has not only implanted in our minds an eager desire or thirst after knowledge, but likewise a strong disposition to emulate all the works of nature that fall more immediately under our cognisance, and in a manner to vie with nature in productions of our own. This disposition to emulate nature, as it adds considerable force to our desire of knowledge, so it serves to assist us in acquiring it; for it necessarily leads and prompts us to copy what is done by nature, and thus makes us attend very closely to the object or phenomenon we would imitate, and try experiments about it; by which means alone, it is obvious, any real knowledge can be acquired. But not only is the knowledge of nature owing to this imitative principle in our minds, together with our desire of knowledge; but hence likewise proceed all the imitative arts, Poetry, Painting, Statuary, &c. Whatever we see performed by nature, we are emulous and restless to perform something like it, and so to rival nature.

George Turnbull, The Principles of Moral Philosophy (1740), p. 45.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The 'Jesus in America' Survey

 A really interesting Ipsos study commissioned by the Episcopalians. (ht) You always have to have a certain grain of salt in looking at these kinds of surveys. You get things like 5% of Christians not saying that Jesus is an important spiritual figure, and one wonders what kind of person identifies as Christian while just not thinking Jesus very important, or the 11% of Christians who aren't willing to say that Jesus existed. Any number of things might be behind that. 

One of the interesting things is the views of Christians by non-Christians, in which the primary characteristics attributed to Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, unforgiving, and disrespectful, which I find notable because these are quite clearly retorsive -- these are terms that are as negative as they are only because they are made so by Christianity. In fact, the first three -- hypocritical, judgmental, self-righteous -- are all terms that only exist in English as negative evaluations because of Christianity. ('Hypocrite' in our sense was a term invented by Jesus, or possibly by early Christians translating into Greek what he said, if he was speaking in Aramaic, and strictures that made the words 'judgmental' and 'self-righteous' negative are based on His teaching.) Which, fair enough. I can absolutely guarantee you that you will find plenty of Christians who are all of these things, and many who are all at once. In fact, even putting them all together is very mild criticism; I can guarantee that most of us are even worse than any of these things sometimes and that some of us are worse than all of these things most of the time. We have murderers and thieves and rapists, hatemongers and underminers and treacherous backstabbers, and, indeed, for just about any sin on any list, we've got it. When Jesus accused the Pharisees of being hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous, it was part of his point that they were so close to being what they should be and they ruined it by undermining all of their promise. I can guarantee you that many of us are not even close to being what we should be.

But it's also the case that, while hypocrisy and so forth are very serious things if you are trying to live according to the holy gospel, as accusations they generally fall flat. Jesus could get away with accusing people of these things, but He was Jesus. Unlike, say, murder, everyone already has tendencies to these things, to such an extent that all of these criticisms have sometimes taken on an aspect of self-parody. "You are all judgmental," he said in a judging tone. "Exactly right," she agreed with a pious folding of hands. "And self-righteous," he said, with a firm conviction of his own rightness. But at the end of the day, if these are your criticisms of Christians, you've largely just accused them of the sin of being human. Which is also fair enough. The Church would be angelic heaven if it weren't for its human beings. Much less like a Church, though.

One of the things that the Episcopalians were apparently interested in doing, at least from news reports about it that I read somewhere, was to see if non-Christians made any distinction among different kinds of Christians, and they seem to have discovered that they don't. It doesn't much matter whether you are an Episcopalian enthusiastic for rainbow flags, inclusion, and being officially non-judgmental about everything or a fundamentalist Baptist opposed to all of these things; for the most part, non-Christians just lump us all together. Which is perhaps a reminder, or at least I'm inclined to see it as such, that our real task is just to focus on being Christian, not to bend over backwards trying to convince non-Christians that really we are very, very unhypocritical, un-self-righteous, non-judgmental people. If you succeed at being Christian and they still criticize you, what of it? We're called to preach the gospel, not win a popularity contest.

So Strong Is Love

Third Sunday in Lent 
by Samuel John Stone

Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us. -- EPHES. V. 2. 

Thou shalt subdue the pride of life by Love.
 Love is the light that, ever round thee springing,
 Shall show thee thy poor self: so closer clinging
 To Him who loved thee, all His Heaven above
 Shall open to thine eye, the Holy Dove
 About thee hover, and His Angels, winging
 Melodious flight, encompass thee with singing
 So sweet thine heart will be too blest to rove.
 So strong is Love: and only Love is strong
 To stay thy feet upon the pinnacle.
 Light of reproof and winning power of song
 Are of the nearness of Emmanuel.
 Only with JESUS, only at His side,
 Loving, beloved, canst thou conquer Pride.