Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Gothic Cathedrals: Medieval Monuments to Dark Magic

Jay Dyer has given this definition of a golem:

 . . . Goldberg’s machines are evident as an embodiment of the Golem principle, the notion from Jewish mysticism that a machine man can be created using kabbalistic magic to do the manual labor of its creator.  As a purely determined cause and effect instrument, the Goldberg Machine, like the Golem, does only what it is programmed to.  


What is interesting about this description is that it is very much akin to the medieval Gothic cathedral in both its essential points:

First, in that the Gothic cathedral is a machine man;
And second, in that it is ‘programmed’ with a certain intent.

As to the first point, Fr Steven Allen refers to Christopher Dawson’s remarks on Gothic architecture to this effect:

With the new Gothic architecture of the post-Schism West, the flying buttress and pointed arch, the church building goes from being a thing at rest to being a machine, something in continuous dynamic tension, in activity, from tradition to dialectic (Fr Steven Allen, paraphrasing Chr. Dawson, 43:38 and following, https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-12, 12 Feb. 2018; thanks to C for this link).

But this machine, like the golem, is also made in the image of man.  Christos Yannaras writes in The Freedom of Morality,

Correspondingly, the technique of Gothic architecture is based on a structure of small chiseled stones of uniform shape. The stones form columns, and the columns are divided into ribbed composite piers, with the same number of ribs as those in the vaulting which receives them.14 The arrangement of the columns and the division of the ribs create an absolutely fixed “skeleton plan” which neutralizes the weight of the material by balancing the thrusts of the walls. Here again, the thesis is reinforced by systematic refutation of the antithesis, “the supports prevail over the weights placed on them,” and the weight of the material is neutralized by the rationalistically arranged static balance.

This technique conceals “a profoundly analytic spirit, relentlessly dominating the construction. This spirit considers the forces, analyzes them into diagrams of statics and petrifies them in space,”15 forming a unity which is not organic but mechanical, a monolithic framework. “Our sense of stability is satisfied but amazed, because the parts are no longer connected organically but mechanically: they look like a human frame naked of flesh.”16

Source:  http://jbburnett.com/resources/yannaras/yannaras_freedom12-art.pdf, p. 9 of PDF, downloaded 4 Feb. 2018 (thanks to C for this link)

The homunculus has also been compared to the golem of Jewish folklore. Though the specifics outlining the creation of the golem and homunculus are very different, the concepts both metaphorically relate man to the divine, in his construction of life in his own image.

Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homunculus, opened 13 Feb. 2018

As to the second point, for what purpose was the Gothic cathedral-golem created?  To crush the ghost of true Christianity, Orthodox Christianity, out of the souls of Europeans.  Again from Mr Yannaras:

“Gothic art,” observes Choisy,20 “operates with antitheses, contrasting with the plains the elevation of its perpendicular lines and enormous spires.” What we have here is not simply an aesthetic or proportional contrast, however, but an anthropocentric tendency, a demand for the earthly to be elevated to the transcendent. The union of created and uncreated is not here regarded as a personal event, as the transformation of man, the world and history in the person of God the Word incarnate. It is an encounter between two natures, with human nature clothed in the dignity and transcendent majesty of the divine nature— which is exactly what happens with papal primacy and infallibility, and with the totalitarian centralization of the Roman Catholic Church. “The vaulted construction of a Gothic church desires, and tends, to give the impression of a monolithic framework”21— it is the image that the Roman Catholic West has of the Church. Approaching the divine presupposes in this context a comparison between human smallness and the grandeur of divine authority an authority tangibly expressed by its monolithic, unified and majestic organization and its administrative structure. The Church is not the world in the dimension of the Kingdom, the harmonization of the inner principles of created things with the affirmation of human freedom in Christ’s assumption of worldly flesh; but it is the visible, concrete potentiality for the individual to submit to divine authority. This is why in a Gothic church the material is not “saved,” it is not “made word” and it is not “transfigured”: it is subdued by a superior force. To use specialized terminology once again: “The supports prevail over the weight placed on them… the vaulting with its supple formation clearly shows that it concentrates there all the action in the forces, and compels matter to rise up to the heights.”22 This compulsion of matter in Gothic architecture represents a technology which leads straight to contemporarytechnocracy.23

Source:  Freedom of Morality, pgs. 10-1

“It was nevertheless the art of the Gothic cathedrals which, in the whole of Christendom, then became the instrument— perhaps the most effective one— of Catholic repression”: Duby, L’Europe des Cathidrales, p. 72. Direct experience alone can justify and verify these conclusions. In the cathedrals of Cologne, Milan or Ulm, and other European cities, anyone with experience of the theology and art of the Eastern Church can see the justification for the “rebellion” of the Reformation and for the various ways in which man revolts against this transcendent authority which is expressed with such genius in architecture: it is an authority which humiliates and degrades human personhood and even ultimately destroys it. Revolt is inevitable against such a God, who consents to encounter man on a scale of such crushing difference in size.

Source:  Ibid., p. 10, note 19

Do these ideas about Gothic architecture seem doubtful?  There is no smoking gun, but remember the time we are talking about:  In the Middle Ages, many dark arts that had gone underground during the Orthodox age of Western Europe were re-emerging.  Monks and Popes were openly pursuing knowledge of alchemy, the Zodiac, and such like:

 . . . Albertus Magnus, a Dominican monk, is known to have written works such as the Book of Minerals where he observed and commented on the operations and theories of alchemical authorities like Hermes and Democritus and unnamed alchemists of his time. Albertus critically compared these to the writings of Aristotle and Avicenna, where they concerned the transmutation of metals. From the time shortly after his death through to the 15th century, more than 28 alchemical tracts were misattributed to him, a common practice giving rise to his reputation as an accomplished alchemist.[49] Likewise, alchemical texts have been attributed to Albert's student Thomas Aquinas.

Roger Bacon, a Franciscan monk who wrote on a wide variety of topics including optics, comparative linguistics, and medicine, composed his Great Work (Latin: Opus Majus) for Pope Clement IV as part of a project towards rebuilding the medieval university curriculum to include the new learning of his time.  . . .


It is not too much of a stretch, therefore, that the idea of a golem-cathedral was operating at some level in the souls of the architects of those days.

However this may be, the South must now be brought in for a bit of a scolding for being so devoted to Gothic architecture, for not seeing the falsehoods that gave it birth.  Her leading men poured out praise for it.  Frederick Porcher called it an expression of the genius of Northern European art (‘Modern Art’, 1852, All Clever Men, Who Make Their Way, U of Ark. Press, 1982, p. 315).

James Johnston Pettigrew wrote gushingly about Seville Cathedral (the Gothic element aside, there are some good ideas expressed below):

Upon entering the magnificent Seville Cathedral, for instance, Pettigrew observes that:

“….A faint gleam of light, struggling through the painted windows of the dome, fell upon the lofty crucifix, and seemed to point to the life of purity beyond. At such a time, one cannot but feel that there is an ethereal spirit within, a spark of the Divine essence, which would fain cast off its prison house of mortality and flee to the Eternal existence that gave it birth. This edifice is one of few creations of man that realizes expectation. Morning, noon, and night, none can enter without acknowledging that he stands on holy ground. The accessories, the trembling swell of the organs, the sweet odor of incense, the beautiful works of art, which elsewhere distract the attention, here combine in universality of grandeur to establish that harmony of the soul so conducive to devotion; and if the excellence of the architecture consist in the accomplishment of the rational purpose assigned, to this must the palm be awarded. Political economists may reason that such an expenditure in unproductive stone withdraws from the general circulation a sensible capital; the severe reformer may preach against the adoration of saints and images; but their remonstrance will fall pointless upon the heart. There are occasions when humanity rises above the earthly rules of logic; and acknowledges obedience only to those hidden laws which govern the divine portion of our nature, and whose sequence is beyond the reach of human intellect.” [Notes, pp. 186-187]


Some of this is understandable.  There is quite a bit of natural beauty in these cathedrals that appeals to the carnal senses, the imagination, and the emotions.  But precisely because it does act so strongly to inflame them, it misses the mark of true Christian art, which Christos Yannaras beworded briefly above and Fr Steven describes in even more detail in his lecture linked above.

However, now that these Gothic cathedrals are being used mostly as museums for Chinese tourists (to use Fr Andrew Phillips’s saying), Western Europe has a chance to leave behind the distortions of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and return to its original Christian faith, that of the Holy Orthodox Church.

A golem.  Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem, 13 Feb. 2018

The outside of a golem-cathedral:
Reims Cathedral.  Picture from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_architecture, 14 Feb. 2018

The inside of a golem-cathedral:

Seville Cathedral.  Pictures from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seville_Cathedral, 20 Feb. 2018

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Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Light Amidst the Darkness

Father Seraphim is once again scheduling pilgrimages to the holy places of the Celtic lands.  If you are interested, this site has the details:


A pilgrimage is not about escapism.  It is about an intimate encounter with the wholeness (holiness) of men and women who have been healed of every fallen, disordered passion, and bringing a small bit of their wholeness back with us into our everyday lives - something our broken world desperately needs right now.

Below are a few more thoughts on the Orthodox Celts from Fr Ambrose that may be of interest to folks living in our times of confusion, despair, uprootedness, madness, etc.:

 . . . “Although the climate and situation of Britain were very different from the hot deserts of Egypt, there were principles-simplicity, prayer, fasting, spiritual warfare, wisdom, and evangelism-that were easy to translate to the communities of these isles." (Michael Mitton, The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints) But this means that entering into the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical world of a Celtic Christian monk is difficult-not impossible, but difficult.

First we must realize that the Celts had no concept of privacy or individuality such as we have today. Families did not live in separate rooms, but all together; no one thought about the idea of "compartmentalizing space" and only hermits and anchorites felt a calling to be alone in spiritual solitude with God, although monks had separate cells, just as monastics did in the Egyptian Thebaid. The idea that people are separate individuals from the group was not only unheard-of, but would have been considered dangerous, even heretical. Self-absorption, "moods," and being temperamental-all of these things would have been considered abnormal and sinful. It wasn't until the 13th and 14th centuries that people in the West started keeping journals or diaries, and there were no memoirs-also signs of individuality and privacy, of singling oneself out from the family, group, or community-nor were there actual real-life portraits of individuals, until the 14th century. (The art of realistic portraiture developed in response to the medieval idea of romance-for an accurate portrait was a substitute for an absent husband or wife.)

Furthermore, "'the dominant institution of Celtic Christianity was neither the parish church nor the cathedral, but the monastery, which sometimes began as a solitary hermit's cell and often grew to become a combination of commune, retreat house, mission station...school [and, in general] a source not just of spiritual energy but also of hospitality, learning, and cultural enlightenment." (Ian Bradley, quoted in Mitten, Ibid.) It was only much later that people began to be gathered into separate parishes, and even later before bishops had dioceses that were based on geographical lines rather than just being the shepherd of a given tribe or group, "being bishops of a community, rather than ruling areas of land. The idea of 'ruling a diocese' was quite foreign to the Celtic way of thinking." (Ibid.)

If you think about what all of this means in terms of how we today view ourselves, the world in which we live, and the values that we have today, you can see how difficult it's going to be for us to enter into the world of the Celts. Today we are quite obsessive about such things as privacy and individuality, of "being our own selves" and "getting in touch with the inner man" and other such self-centered nonsense. But the Celtic Christian understood, just as did and do Eastern Christians, that man is saved in community; if he goes to hell, he goes alone.

So the orientation of those Christian Celts to God and the other world was very different than the orientation of our modern world, no matter how devout or pious we may be, and this makes the distance between us and the world of Celtic monasticism far greater than just the span of the centuries. A renowned scholar, Sir Samuel Dill, writing generally about Christians in the West at this same period of time, said: "The dim religious life of the early Middle Ages is severed from the modern mind by so wide a gulf, by such a revolution of beliefs that the most cultivated sympathy can only hope to revive in faint imagination ....[for it was] a world of...fervent belief which no modern man can ever fully enter into....It is intensely interesting, even fascinating...[but] between us and the early Middle Ages there is a gulf which the most supple and agile imagination can hardly hope to pass. He who has pondered most deeply over the popular faith of that time will feel most deeply how impossible it is to pierce its secret." (Quoted in "Vita Patrum", Fr. Seraphim Rose)

But is it really "impossible"? To enter their world-the world of Celtic Christianity, which is the same as Celtic monasticism--we must find a way to see things as they did-not as we do today-; to hear, taste, touch, pray, and think as they did. And this is what I mean by the word "spirituality"-a whole world-view. We must examine them in the full context of their actual world-which was a world of Faith, and not just any Faith, but the Christian Faith of Christians in both the Eastern and Western halves of Christendom in the first thousand years after Christ. Spirituality is living, dogmatic, theology. This is the only way we can begin to understand how Celtic Monasticism can be a model of sanctity for us living today, more than a millennium after their world ceased to be. Remember, I said it would be difficult to enter their world; difficult, but not impossible... When we speak of someone or something being a "model," what do we mean? In this instance-speaking about Celtic monasticism as a "model"-we mean something that is a standard of excellence to be imitated. But here I'm not speaking of copying external things about Celtic monasteries-such as architecture, style of chant, monastic habit, etc., which are, after all cultural "accidents." I'm speaking of something inward, of an inner state of being and awareness. It's only in this sense that Celtic monasticism can be, for those who wish it, a "model of sanctity."

But what do I mean by "sanctity"? We must be careful not to slip into some kind of vague, New Age warm "fuzzies" which are more gnostic than Christian and have more to do with being a "nice" person than encountering the Living God in this life. By sanctity I mean what the Church herself means: holiness—which is nothing more or less than imitation of Christ in the virtues, and striving to die to oneself through humility, so as to be more and more alive to Christ, successfully cutting off one's own will in order to have, only the will of Christ, as St. Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians (2:20): "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me... " So, holiness means dying to oneself and especially to one's passions, more and more, so as draw closer and closer to the Lord God Himself, through Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and risen. In addition, Celtic Christians had the concept of "hallowing" or "hallowed"-an old fashioned term that today has survived only in the unfortunate pagan holiday called "Halloween" (from "All Hallows Eve"-which began as the vigil for the Western Feast of All Souls Day and later took on vile pagan overtones). To early British Christians, something or someone that was "hallowed" was "set apart" from others and sanctified for service to God. Thus, a priest's ordination or a monastic's tonsuring was his "hallowing."

And so, thus it was that those blessed and hallowed monastics of Celtic lands modeled forth certain principles that we can still see, study, understand, and imitate today.

 . . .




Pictures from same page as Fr Ambrose’s essay, 16 Feb. 2018

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Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!