This dramatic difference is illustrated by the attempt to convert Radbod, King of the Frisians. Intrigued by this religious force that had apparently swept through every land, he was curious as to what it had to say of his own ancestors. Told rather blithely that the unbaptized were in Hell, he immediately dismissed the missionary priest, declaring he would rather spend eternity in Hell with his ancestors than in Heaven with his enemies. To absorb peoples apparently immune to the siren-call of universal brotherhood, the Church employed two other tools: physical violence and religious syncretism.
Zealous authorities had employed both in the Roman Empire, but on nothing approaching the scale they would in Northern Europe. Because the communities of the North were stronger and more confident, the conversion process was far more violent than it had been in the Mediterranean, although the peacefulness of its spread in the Empire has been exaggerated. The beheading of 4, Saxon nobles by Charlemagne in was far from exceptional: witness, for instance, the career of St.
Olaf, whose tortures his Christian biographers quite readily detail.
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Recently, historians such as Robert Ferguson have even suggested that the entire period of Viking raids began as an asymmetric resistance to the violent conversion efforts undertaken by Charlemagne. Even the adoption of Christianity by Iceland, long presented by historical apologists as the poster-child for peaceful conversion, took place under the threat of armed invasion by the King of Norway, who also held several prominent Icelanders hostage during the negotiations at the Althing.
In the Mediterranean, men like St. Augustine had engaged in intellectual combat with intellectuals who adopted a fashionable skepticism toward the old Gods.
We find this curious exchange with a heathen woman:. As if to prove the point, during one duel in his blood-soaked mission, Thangbrand used a cross to kill a man. Thus, in Scandinavia, the official conversion paralleled the emergence of centralized kingdoms and the erosion of local liberties. But while violence might win obedience, it could not win belief. To accomplish the latter, missionaries turned to syncretism. While the Church had employed this, too, in the Roman Empire, such as adopting the vestments and titles of the old pagan Pontifex Maximus , the need was much greater in the North, where people maintained strong ties to their ancestral ways.
So, for instance, the Irish were given St. Brigid, with the same feast-day and associations as their Goddess by that name. Pope Gregory urged St. Augustine of Canterbury to let the Anglo-Saxons keep their sacred groves and feasts and merely repurpose them, while the more zealous St. These examples of syncretism are easy to spot, but more often the process was subtle. By a similar process, the missionaries combined the Hebrew word for the ultimate destination of the wicked, Gehenna , with the Norse word for the pleasant meadows where the dead are reunited with their ancestors, Helja.
After centuries of association, Gehenna was dropped, and Hell alone sufficed to induce shudders in the descendants of those who had happily looked forward to such a destination. The most ambitious effort of syncretism was an entire reconfiguration of the Gospels for the Germanic mindset, in a form that would have perplexed — and mortified — St.
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The author of the ninth-century Saxon gospel known as the Heliand undertook much more than a translation, as difficult as that task has proven for missionaries. In his harmonization of the four Gospels into a single narrative, he presented Christ as an Odinic wizard-chieftain, with the apostles as his war-band. Consider the episode of St. Peter cutting off the ear of the Roman soldier arresting Jesus. Then Simon Peter, the mighty, the noble swordsman flew into a rage; his mind was in such turmoil that he could not speak a single word.
His heart became intensely bitter because they wanted to tie up his Lord there. So he strode over angrily, that very daring thane, to stand in front of his Commander, right in front of his Lord. No doubting in his mind, no fearful hesitation in his chest, he drew his blade and struck straight ahead at the first man of the enemy with all the strength in his hands, so that Malchus was cut and wounded on the right side by the sword! Blood gushed out, pouring from the wound!
The men stood back — they were afraid of the slash of the sword.
get link There is little to no valorization of victimhood in the Heliand , and the Beatitudes are reworked as praises of warrior endurance. Sin, fate, and even generosity are all revised to fit a Germanic hero such as Christ is made out to be problems which the sympathetic Jesuit who translated it into modern English is at great pains to square with orthodoxy.
The author of the Heliand even seems to imply that the twelve members of the apostolic war-band might not even be Jewish, and hail instead from a northern people. Notably absent from the Heliand gospel, moreover , are two famous parables that would not have sat well with a Germanic audience. The events described in the story of the Prodigal Son would have been unthinkable to a society in which kinship was paramount. The absence of the Good Samaritan parable is even more suggestive, since in the original, Christ uses it to introduce a universal moral obligation to treat strangers and foreigners as one would kin.
Such an idea was foreign to the free peoples of the North, and one that Aristotle rejected as well. And here we come to the nub of the problem. The Mediterranean audience for the Gospels and missionary work of St. Paul had been subjected to a political unification across ethnic and racial lines. Long before its decline, the Roman Empire displayed ample signs of declining civic engagement and social trust, qualities Harvard Professor Robert Putnam has statistically linked to diversity. Political universalism was thus reinforced by religious universalism, and Christianity proved more determined and well-equipped to insist upon that universalism than any of the pagan emperors had.
Thus, either individualistic hedonism, or some variety of universalism, seemed the only choices to a people who had lost all of the intermediate institutions that tribe and kin provide.
The free peoples of Northern Europe, in contrast, maintained all of the strong links Aristotle identified as natural to our condition. As a result, they rejected individualistic hedonism quite readily and had no concept of universalism or of out-group obligations.
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The sagas instead teem with people who have clear obligations framed by ties of kinship and friendship. That would require centuries of patient indoctrination. Through syncretism and outright omission, Christianity was presented as — and ultimately became — something less foreign and less threatening to the peoples of the North. A faith that was Semitic in origin won only by becoming partially Europeanized, as James Russell describes in The Germanization of Medieval Christianity. The Greek language has an admirable way of expressing this phenomenon: in addition to the active and passive voices of verbs, it also has a middle voice, in which the agent is both acting and acted upon.
It is as if such people are trying to work their way back to something more familiar and more intuitive without sacrificing orthodoxy. Yet beyond the trappings of old-school Europeanized Christianity lies a core message that, of necessity, consigns ethnic identity, ancestral traditions, and ultimately this life itself to irrelevance in the face of our ultimate unity with God.
It took centuries of relentless indoctrination to get the peoples of Northern Europe to extend the in-group boundaries outward to embrace, first, all those who said the words and bent the knee before the cross, and eventually all of humanity, whose encompassing by the true Faith is a Christ-given goal. But at the moment of its greatest success, with European missionaries dispatched to the remotest corners of Africa and Asia, Christianity found itself assailed by the very universalism that had provided its appeal in the first centuries.
The same weapons it had wielded to discredit the pre-Christian myths and folkways were now turned against it by the advocates of a universalism that had no need for something as quaint as deity. If, today, the notion of God seems less and less of a possibility to the rootless inhabitants of our soulless cities, it is partly because Christian universalism paved the way by making our tribal identities, ancient customs, and cherished myths ultimately irrelevant.
The wandering of peoples, then and now. Today, with that thousand-year resistance behind us, we can see how the triumph of universalism, set in motion by a very different sort of savior in the fourth century BC, has gradually left us without a folk, without a polis , and without the means to even comprehend how fully life was once lived. All that remains, it seems, is to double down on Christian universalism, throw oneself instead into a substitute universalism such as Marxism, or chuck it all for an unabashed individualism.
Yet as the past century-and-a-half shows, ethnic identity has a habit of returning with a vengeance. Those who rediscover such myths, folkways, and traditions as have come down to us often find that these things strike a chord within them. Ultimately, however, a folkish way of life must have a folk community, and not the virtual communities that exist only on social media. We must have a polis again, in all that the Greeks understood by that term: small, self-governing communities bound by common language, ethnicity, customs, and religious traditions.
Such a thing, far from being utopian, would spring from our nature, life as it was lived across thousands of generations. What is artificial is our divorce from the land, our crowding into cities to live alongside strangers for the purpose of endless consumption, and our insistence on universalism even when we ourselves — those of European descent — lose the most by it. In the long view, all this is fairly recent, and in the North, quite recent indeed. That should give us confidence, for though the line is frayed, it is far from broken.
Aristotle, The Politics , trans. The Heliand: The Saxon Gospel , trans. Russell, James C. A refugee from academia, he lives in exile somewhere in the Midwest. Jews are now and always have been the most xenophobic of all people, an in-grouping of highly, tribal-centered people. Samaritans of the first century were Jews who had similar religious customs to Temple Jews, including the blood sacrifice that they still practice to this day.
Second Temple priests rejected and shunned the Samaritans because they refused to recognize the Temple and its priesthood or pay its demands for sacrificial tithing. This parable calls for a cessation of internecine conflict and a brotherhood among all JEWS. Nothing in this story is directed towards non-Jews. The story of the Gadarine swine is another story about a Jew who had been ostracized by the Temple priests.
Note that the possessed man lived in a tomb with swine herds, the two most unclean things of all according to Temple law.