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


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

Anathema to the Union!

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