Freedom and bound: a personal relationship with God


Carla, Man and Narrator meet each other in the Nieuwe Café near the Nieuw Kerk in Amsterdam.

“Personal relationships with Gods are of all time after in the distant past mankind and the Gods have received a place in each other’s lives. These relationships are not always easy and obvious; Gods and people regularly disappointed each other or let each other down.

The relationships between people and Gods varies – as all kinds of relationships – depending on the characters, circumstances and requirements between: absent and negligence, superficial and practical, purposeful and calculated, internalized and comprehensive, to intense and unbearable.

In the course of time human societies became larger, more complex and layered whereby also stratification in the concept of God has increased. Although the Supreme Gods play an aloof overarching role in the kingdoms or empires, the household gods or the pagan gods [1] still play the lead role in daily life of local communities. Many local farming communities have remained pagan in the eyes of the official churches [2].

Within the Catholic world, the local Saints have taken the position of the former local pagan gods. With its usual pragmatism the Catholic Church has assimilated local rituals and incorporated in its general habits, the church offers a large vessel which provides – under its terms and imposed limits – a place for church saints and local customs with their own rites [3].
For ordinary local people the Catholic God was – just as Jesus – an unattainable creature who, like distant rulers and armies just caused misfortune. The local clergy and rulers – each in their own way – should keep the Catholic God pleased. On passing through through South Limburg, I have heard a local alderman cry out in despair: “God in the Hague!!” upon a new Dutch rule. Pastoral letters from the Pope in Rome and the Bishop of the diocese are welcome if the content meets the local customs, but if the content does not fit then the local use continues – just a little less public or slightly customised –; the elderly know that over time all would once change in their own rhythm.

Especially women – and men occasionally after confession or during a church service – ask the Virgin Mary for help and consolation usually by praying the rosary: Mary was always more important and more helpful than the unattainable God [4].

Maagd Maria
[5]
The local saints exist in the material world: they are tangible, they are in the church and are carried in the processions: the local holy statue is the saint. As a result, parishioners are so upset when an old weathered statue is restored or replaced with new one from the factory. In the famous churches the statues of the saints attract two groups of visitors: parishioners and pilgrims who communicate with a real person / a better (or higher) being, and tourists who look at an example of religious art.

The personal relationship between the local saints and parishioners is mutual. The parishioners take care and venerate the saints, but sometimes the statue of the saint should also be flattered and bullied just as a lazy local administrator. When the local saint does not answer the prayers, the image can also be punished; there are examples of throwing in the river of statues or punishment like facing the wall of the statue [6].

The rulers maintain a reciprocal relationship with their gods; they receive advice, support and assistance in their activities, they keep the gods alive by expressing due honor to express and they explain the habits of the Gods – to mutual benefit – to their citizens.

Sometimes the relationship between the ruler and the gods becomes upsets. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes – king of the Persian Empire between 485 – 465 BC – punished the sea goddess of the Hellespont by flogging her waves with three hundred lashes and branding her with red hot irons after a storm had destroyed the cables which supported the boat bridge of about 1300 meters across the Hellespont [7].

Xerxes golven[8]

This morning we have very briefly seen how the Christian church has become the official state church of the Roman Empire practiced under Constantine the Great after the Edict of Milan in 313 AC. This evolution is based on at least two developments. The first development is the revolution of monotheism, as developed in Judaism more than 1,000 years earlier [9], and as adopted by Emperor Aurelius in 275 AC. in the form of the invincible Sun God ( Deus Sol Invictus ) taken from Syria after his victory in the East [10] . The monotheism of the Sun God was not absolute, whereby this faith was very convenient for Emperor Aurelius to adopt without hurting individual sensitivities of people. With all Roman citizens convened around this obvious national God, the second development took place: with the general acceptance of this obvious monotheistic God it was possible that the representative of the Sun God on earth was surrounded obvious supra-powerful features. This bond between the Sun God and his representative on earth was shown throughout the empire in images of both on coins, which represented “(barter) objects in the middle” that were guaranteed by the Sun-god and his earthly representative. The impact of this second development, we still have in our daily life with the name of the “Lord’s Day”: Sunday [11].

Munt zonnegod
[12]
At 324 AC Constantine the Great became ruler of the Roman Empire after he had defeated Licinius – ruler of the eastern part of the empire until then. Herewith Constantine created “One God , One Empire , One Emperor”. How Constantine had made the transition from the Sun God to the Christian God can no longer accurately be traced. With this gradual introduction, the administrative organization of the Roman Empire and the church organization were adapted to each other in the course of time. Within administrative units of the empire, a bishop was appointed as the head of the Church’s unit: “One God , One province, one representative of God”. By this development in parts of Europe, the ecclesiastical provinces still reflect the former provinces of the Roman Empire. According to the history books this development took place relatively smoothly , but in practice often an iron fist was applied whereby many battles and internal strife over the secular and ecclesiastical power have been fought [13].

The Old Testament often shows an angry – and sometimes rancorous – God when his people have let him down again and again or his people has been unfaithful to the covenant. After the emergence of the “One God, One Empire, One ruler” directly connected with “One God, One Church, One regional representative”, the conservation of the ruler / representative and church / empire require all attention, so the position of a monotheistic God as Supreme God was no longer an issue. Religious disputes aimed at on one hand the extent to which the monotheistic Roman Father God was Almighty and the positions of the universe of heavenly entities – Christ, The Holy Spirit, Mary, the saints and angels, etc. – with and around God, and on other hand the relationship between humanity and the world with God, his universe, the origin and end of it. Shall we enter the New Church?”, says Narrator.

Carla, Narrator and Man enter the Church. They stand at the pulpit.

“Wonderful introduction. On seeing this pulpit, I have to interrupt you, because this pulpit reminds me of the tent of Alexander the Great after his death in which he still ensured order and unity from his throne.

preekstoel Nieuwe Kerk[14]
Briefly: Alexander the Great left after his death in 323 BC a vast empire that reached over the whole civilized world from Greece, Egypt, just beyond the Indus River in the east. During his life, Alexander the Great – with his immense charisma, his policy of divide and rule, his reward for loyalty and his ruthless revenge on unfaithful – was the sole binding factor with an almost divine status [15]. Without a clearly appointed successor after his untimely death, a ruthless power struggle soon began between (alleged) pretenders and supporters. Within a short time most of Alexander’s direct pretenders – women and children – were murdered; also women took part in the mutual slaughter of each other and each other’s children.

The actual battle for his succession was conducted within Alexander’s small circle of confidants – who alternately had assumed the role of general, comrades and executors – and various local rulers, whom Alexander the Great had left as guardians of parts of his empire during his triumph.

One of Alexander’s confidants was his secretary Eumenes – an outsider and foreigner of Greek origin – who had played an increasingly important role during the succession in which he had primarily fulfilled the role as protector of the mother and only surviving son of Alexander. In this struggle Eumenes had proved an outstanding military strategist and tactician, and he won most battles, but otherwise he missed all the good and bad qualities of Alexander in charisma and revenge, while he had also remained a stranger to the Macedonians. At the moment he had to make a unity between different factions within the army, including the headstrong and self-confident Silver Shields – the never defeated elite troops that Alexander had inherited from his father Philip II and who had given him many victories in his triumph; many were already over 60 years old – Eumenes had decided to bring the ghost of Alexander back to life. He told the commanders of the troops who were entrusted to him that Alexander had appeared to him in a dream and had given him the order to let all commanders appear before Alexander’s throne in a tent for deliberation. The commanders had accepted this proposal. Eumenes had ordered to cast the throne from gold of the royal treasury and he placed on it Alexander’s scepter and diadem in a tent. All commanders had brought honours to the empty throne by burning incense to him – the Ghost of Alexander on the throne. Eumenes had promised that as long as they met as council before the throne and accepted orders from him , then Alexander would be present and guide them in their decisions. After Eumenes and the commanders had accepted this way of decision-making, the mutual tension was significantly decreased. Obviously Eumenes had the most input during the deliberation [16]. Almost Eumenes had managed to secure the throne for the family of Alexander, but in the decisive final battle the opponent had conquered the baggage train with women and possessions of the Silver Shields. A faction of the Silver Shields had finally chosen for their belongings and they had delivered Eumenes with a list to his opponent. First, the opponent did not dare to kill Eumenes out of respect, but later he gave this command. The Invincible Silver Shields were dissolved, the commander was killed and the individual infantrymen received in remote areas impossible tasks that they usually did not survive. All this time the Ghost on the throne had led them in this turbulent period in taking decisions and had led them to victories when they remained faithful to the decisions [17].

Upon seeing this pulpit, I notice the similarity with the tent of Alexander and a Ghost on the throne”, says Carla.

“Fascinating addition. Shall we continue with this topic this evening”, says Narrator.
“That is good”, says Man.

[1] “Pagan Gods” is derived from Gods of the pagus or pays. Pagus means in Latijn: village
[2] Trouillez, Pierre, Bevrijd en gebonden – De Kerk van Constantijn (4e en 5e eeuw n. Chr.). Leuven: Davidsfonds, 2006, p. 50
[3] See e.g.: Robb, Graham, The discovery of France. London: Picador, 2007, Chapter 7: Fairies, Virgins, Gods and Priests.
[4] See also: Robb, Graham, The discovery of France. London: Picador, 2007, Chapter 7: Fairies, Virgins, Gods and Priests and Histoire de la Vie privée. Tome 3: De la Renaissance aux Lumière. Red. Ariès, Philippe & Duby, George. Chapter 1 (p. 85 from the Dutch version)
[5] Source image: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosaire
[6] Source: Robb, Graham, The discovery of France. London: Picador, 2007, p. 133 – 134
[7] See: Herodotus 7.35 en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerxes’_Pontoon_Bridges
[8] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Xerxes_lash_sea.JPG
[9] See amongst others: Potok, Chaim, Omzwervingen, ‘s-Gravenhage: BZZTôH 1999 and Schama, Simon, De geschiedenis van de Joden – Deel 1: De woorden vinden 1000 v.C. – 1492. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Atlas Contact, 2013
[10] See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus
[11] See also: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zondag and Trouillez, Pierre, Bevrijd en gebonden – De Kerk van Constantijn (4e en 5e eeuw n. Chr.). Leuven: Davidsfonds, 2006, p. 30
[12] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_Invictus
[13] See also: MacCulloch, Diarmond, Christianity – The first three thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010, Part II “One Church, One Faith, One Lord?”and Trouillez, Pierre, Bevrijd en gebonden – De Kerk van Constantijn (4e en 5e eeuw n. Chr.). Leuven: Davidsfonds, 2006, Chapters II and III
[14] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nieuwe_Kerk_(Amsterdam)
[15] See also: Lane Fox, Robin, Alexander de Grote, Amsterdam: Uitgeverij de Arbeiderspers, 2005
[16] Source: Romm, James, Ghost on the Thone – The death of Alexander the Great and the war for crown and empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. p. 220-221, 235
[17] See: Romm, James, Ghost on the Thone – The death of Alexander the Great and the war for crown and empire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Chapter 10

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s