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Archive for January 12th, 2015

 

It has not been widely reported that the French satirical magazine, “Charlie Hebdo” has also published offensive cartoons about Christianity.  One in particular is lurid and can be found here.  This is their equivalency for the cartoons about Mohammed.  They are against all and any religion.  We should be shocked but the difference is that Christians did not surround Hebdo offices and  killed the writers. As Anthony Sacramone  wrote in his acute observations about this satirical magazine:

There is no right not to be offended, a lesson many in the United States have yet to learn. But there is a right to be offended,  nevertheless,  whether by ideas that do not reflect back to you a precious self-conception or by sloppy or creepy satire. But ideas you find wanting should be countered with better ideas, and sloppy or creepy satire, especially sloppy or creepy satire, should be met with better and more pointed satire. Not with violence, not with threats of violence, and not with threats to one’s livelihood.

 My goal, though, in this article is not to  reiterate the many keen observations about this sad event, and build upon them, but it is historical on nature.

In looking at the Hebdo anti-Christian cartoon the other evening,  I remembered another cartoon, actually a graffito.  This 3rd century graffito was found in the ruins of a soldiers’ room in a building used for training  imperial guards, on the Palatine Hill, in Rome.  It shows a man in front of a crucified man with the head of jackass and the inscription reads:  “Alexamenos worships his god”.

This graffito clearly indicates the historical veracity of Christ’s crucifixion, and continuing from the Lord’s Cross and Resurrection, His crucifixion was central for Christians, as the Apostle Paul wrote a 2 centuries  before this cartoon:  “We preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1: 23).  Alexamenos had heard this Gospel and came to faith by the work of the Holy Spirit and he was mocked for worshiping this crucified god.   I find this graffito as crude and offensive as the Charlie Hebdo cartoon which  depicts the God who is love, as perverted love. Obviously, the graffito’s  artist is mocking Alexamenos’ faith for laughs, as is part of the intent of the French 21st century cartoonist.  

I came across a research paper on this graffito and it will be the basis of this historical article which is worth the read in its entirety:  The Palatine Graffito: A Mimic Interpretation” by L. L. Welborn (Fordham University,  Macquarie University”  All the quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from this paper.

First:  In the second century, the Roman Empire was severely persecuting Christians.  It is known that there were many Roman soldiers who were Christians.  In a persecution of this magnitude, a Roman Christian soldier would have been one of the first to be singled out and mocked…maybe more.  Alexamenos was probably such a soldier and a Christian.  

Secondly,it was also quite common to denigrate people by comparing them to a jackass. especially, “… the ass-man was a theme featured in ancient mimes.” This is still prevalent today as in the slur, You’re nothing but a jackass.

Thirdly, extant plays and writings of that time have the theme mocking Christians and their practices and belief, even the  crucifixion of Christ or of crucifixion in general for its comedic possibilities, especially in mime theater.

“…“the Christian” became the newest type of the mimic fool upon the popular stage. Gregory of Nazianzus complains: “The Christians now serve as a theater-act, not before angels and men, as Paul did, but before the lowest level of the populace.”26 Christian baptism was a favorite subject of ridicule in the mime, as we learn from the Martyrdom of Porphyrius.”  (Note:  Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the Church Fathers)

“The soldier who sketched the Palatine graffito had probably seen such mimes, and had seen Christians, if not Christ himself, upon a stage-cross”

In one such play a known actor  Genesius, a mime, a pagan,  confessed his faith in Jesus Christ  in a play mocking the Christian faith!  He was eventually horribly tortured and killed.

 The  depiction of crucifixion upon the stage was not specific to the persecution of Christianity in that time period of the Empire. Rather, the crucifixion was a well-established subject of the mime. Evidently, in one such popular  1st century play, Laureolus, about the crucifixion of a runaway slave who becomes the leader of a band of thieves, acted on stage, the Jewish historian Josephus reports,

““a great quantity of artificial blood flowed down from the one crucified.”

In one production of this play,

” Suetonius notes that the performance was immediately followed by a humorous afterpiece in which “several mimic fools so vied with one another in giving evidence of their proficiency at dying that the stage swam in blood.”

Again, this was done for laughs.  Wellborn then has some interesting speculations about the reason for such gallows humor.  And he concluded that the graffito’s artist and Alexamenos’ fellow soldier, was doing this as well for laughs: a crucified god, indeed!

Prof. Wellborn concludes his paper and I quote it, almost in full, because it is cogent and powerful in the discussion about the mocking of the Christian faith in our day as we see in Charlie Hebdo and around the world (emphases my own):

The crucifixion of an unfortunate fool, one who was socially inferior or physically defective, was a welcome reminder of what it was like to be a fully human part of society, and thus invulnerable to such cruel punishment. For such persons as our imperial guard, the representation of the crucifixion of a misfit in an artistic medium, such as a graffito or the mime, must have been especially pleasurable…

Our conclusion with respect to the Palatine graffito may take the form of an argument a minori ad maius (note: “from the lesser to the greater): if the crucifixion of a slave or a poor man provoked humor, for the reasons given above, then how much more the faith in a crucified god. That one who had suffered the death of a slave and had experienced the extreme limit of human misery, an ass-man, should be worshipped as a god—this was surely the purest folly! That a piece of human trash, one of those whom life had demolished, should be hailed as “god”—was the most laughable scenario imaginable.

Thus, in the Palatine graffito, the central mystery of the Christian faith is parodied as a scene from the mime, in which the crucified god of the Christians is mocked as a grotesque, much-slapped ass.

Then Professor Wellborn asks an important question:

And what of that central mystery—the message about the cross—and its appeal to Alexamenos? On the principle that an effective parody must always preserve the thing parodied, may we venture to ask why Alexamenos worships a crucified figure with an ass’s head as his god? In the mime, and in other literature written from “the grotesque perspective,” we discover that the fate of the fool is the source of a “laughter of liberation”…The fool in the mime is ugly, deformed, and beaten. Yet, for the common people who delighted in the mime, the fool was a locus of value and meaning.  This psycho-social dynamic explains the extraordinary popularity of the Laureolus mime (Note:  the 1st century mime, I talked about above) , in which a runaway slave was crucified on stage.

Alexamenos’ faith in a crucified god builds upon this dynamic and supersedes it. In the message that the Son of God had died the contemptible death of a fool, a little man like Alexamenos heard that he had been “chosen” by God. Paul explained the mysterious “calling” of the crucified God two centuries before Alexamenos believed:

“Consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that not many of you were wise in a human sense, not many powerful, not many well-born; but God chose the foolish of the world,…and God chose the weak of the world,… and God chose the low-born of the world and the despised, mere nothings” (1 Cor. 1:26-28).

Or, to put it the other way around, the message that a piece of human garbage, a half-man and half-ass, one of those whom life had demolished, and who had touched bottom, has been vindicated by God and is now “the Lord of glory”—this message was a power capable of rescuing those who trusted in it from despair over the nothingness of their lives. So that, even if they live in the shadow of the cross and die a bit every day, and even if the cross should be their tomb, as it was  of their fathers and grandfathers, even there life would have value and meaning, because the One who died in this contemptible way was the Son of God.”

He still is the Son of God.  Alexamenos knew by faith that Jesus is Lord.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit and so it was for Alexamenos to hang in there.  I think the Hebdo cartoon above  depicts that it is laughable for a god to so  love that His love is poured out through His beloved Son for us all for a people as contemptible as Alexamenos, the graffito artist, you and me. 

In a Roman age as our own, when love is so perverted, a cartoonist makes fun of that love by the only love he knows, perverted love, though he would defend that perverted ‘love’ and its expression,  anal intercourse as a secular sacred right.

In an article in the 1/10-1/11, 2015 Weekend Wall Street Journal, “The Mocking Tradition Behind Charlie Hebdo”,  the writer, Dr. Weber, professor of French at Barnard College,  points out that in France the mocking of Christianity beginning with the philosophes, such as Voltaire, has a long pedigree.  She thinks that this 500 years of French anti-clericalism, anti-Catholicism and anti-religion of any of sort (especially Judaism), the desired result has been,

“…Catholicism has finally become “banalized” (that is, lost its status as a taboo subject), in a neologism coined by Charb himself (note: the murdered editor of CharlieHebdo) in 2012. He went on to say, “We have to keep at until Islam is as banalized as Catholicism.”  

In other words, it’s open season on any religion, but Charb got it wrong. “Banal” means  “lacking force or originality; trite; common place”. For a faith that is trite and unoriginal he sure kept going after  Catholicism and Christianity.  As a Christian and a pastor, let Charb’s followers continue on. It’s been going on since a soldier scraped into a stone wall a crude drawing mocking Alexamenos’ faith.   The faith has lasted and so will the mocking.  Did not our Lord say that His Church built upon the Rock will last and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?  Did He not say we would be maligned, persecuted, and even martyred?  As Lutheran Satire put it (probably by Pr. Hans Fiene):  

“When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.”

I wonder what Alexamenos did when he may have found out who did the graffito…he probably did not burn out his home, killing his family,  nor kill his fellow soldier.  Not even hit him because Jesus said to turn the other cheek.  I would guess he prayed for his fellow soldier because Jesus said pray for your enemies, and He did so from the Cross that would be mocked…right there at the foot of His Cross, see St. Matthew 27:  39ff.

A Facebook friend, Dave Carlin, pointed out that in the Roman Catholic Church in the ’50s, they would end every Mass with a prayer for the conversion of Russia.  Maybe we should be so praying for the conversion of Islamic nations, for the neo-pagan European nations…and our own.

 

1. Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy Word, that heavenly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.

2. In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Thy holy Word and Sacrament.

3. Lord Jesus, help, Thy Church uphold,
For we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold.
Oh, prosper well Thy Word of grace
And spread its truth in every place!

4. Oh, keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
The guile and rage of Satan stay!
Oh, may Thy mercy never cease!
Give concord, patience, courage, peace.

5. O God, how sin’s dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
And falsehood’s spirit wide has spread,
And error boldly rears its head.

6. The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain
Who o’er Thy Church with might would reign
And always set forth something new,
Devised to change Thy doctrine true.

7. And since the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, to us afford
Thy help and strength and constancy.
With all our heart we trust in Thee.

8. A trusty weapon is Thy Word,
Thy Church’s buckler, shield and sword.
Oh, let us in its power confide
That we may seek no other guide!

9. Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And when our journey endeth here,
Receive us into glory there.

“Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide”
by Nikolaus Selnecker, 1532-1592
Translated by composite

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #292

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The Epistle reading for the upcoming Sunday (Epiphany 2, 1/18/15, Year B) is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 in which the Apostle Paul addressed the Church in Corinth regarding their sexual immorality by pointing out that their bodies are a Temple of the Holy Ghost.

Below is a quote from Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” which I think is a great illustration of the Epistle reading.   The quote is from the beginning of the story in which a mother and her daughter go to pick-up  two younger female cousins from their convent school, Mount St. Scholastica.. The girls are into boys and clothes and are quite silly.  On the car ride, in the back seat, the two cousins  keep on giggling as they keep on calling each other, “Temple One” and “Temple Two”.  When the daughter and her cousins are conversing about someone else, the Mother has finally had enough with this silliness coming from the back seat:         

                 “…she said, “That’ll be about enough out of you,” and changed the subject. She asked them why they called each other Temple One and Temple Two and this sent them off into gales of giggles. Finally they managed to explain. Sister Perpetua, the oldest nun at the Sisters of Mercy in Mayville, had given them a lecture on what to do if a young man should—here they laughed so hard they were not able to go on without going back to the beginning—on what to do if a young man should—they put their heads in their laps—on what to do if —they finally managed to shout it out—if he should “behave in an ungentlemanly manner with them in the back of an automobile.” Sister Perpetua said they were to say, “Stop sir! I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost!” and that would put an end to it. The child sat up off the floor with a blank face. She didn’t see anything so funny in this. What was really funny was the idea of Mr. Cheatam or Alonzo Myers beauing them around. That killed her.

            Her mother didn’t laugh at what they had said. “I think you girls are pretty silly,” she said. “After all, that’s what you are—Temples of the Holy Ghost.”

           The two of them looked up at her, politely concealing their giggles, but with astonished faces as if they were beginning to realize that she was made of the same stuff as Sister Perpetua.  Miss Kirby preserved her set expression and the child thought, it’s all over her head anyhow. I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost, she said to herself, and was pleased with the phrase. It made her feel as if somebody had given her a present.”

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