{    Cnytr   }

{Thursday, May 12, 2005  }

.:{Muthos}:.



Christ as a conquering Roman hero ("you shall trample the young lion and the dragon") and beardless like Apollo: Archepiscopal chapel, Ravenna

I was going to write this in response to this post at AMDG, but it got too long.

This is in response to someone's comment in the St. Louis paper:

Those pagan Catholics

[blahblahblah, snip] ... to the person that [
sic; speaking of a person the pronoun should be who ~L] said "go back in history," if you do you'll learn that most of the Catholic church's doctrines are based on paganism.

I think they'd need to define "dogma" [note: I catch my own error later] more than pagan -- I'd venture to say about 85% of the time people have no idea what they're talking about when they say "dogma". *I* don't know what I'm talking about when I say dogma, but randomly I've pulled this off the newadvent.org Catholic Encyclopedia (which is not a Catholic Dictionary -- I think there should be one of those):

Revealed truths become formally dogmas when defined or proposed by the Church

In that case, let's take the first thing that comes to mind -- the Divinity of Christ. (Here I am thinking of the Councils)

Now, this is far from perfectl...

There are many dying-god or son-of-god myths all over various pagan mythologies: this seems to be a common motif. There is Osiris, Hercules (who is not resurrected), Balder, Mithras, and I'm sure a few others but those are the only ones I can pull off the top of my head. Only Mithras comes anything close to Christ (shedding his blood on behalf of his believers).

But the point of the Incarnation is that it is fundamentally and wholly Redemptive of all parts of man (talking now about Reality and not significatio), and myth (muthos) is an integral part of man and man's understanding of himself and of history and of the supernatural. And so likewise when man was redeemed, so was myth.

Saying that "most of the Catholic church's" -- oh he says "doctrine", oops, but that works too -- "doctrines are based on paganism" isn't all that bad, if understood properly (which I'm sure this person wasn't); and pagan, I take it, in the true sense of the word and not in the wiccan nature-worship of the day.

The myths were not, as CS Lewis once said to Tolkien, "lies breathed through silver". More like (though Tolkien didn't explain it in quite so scholastic terms) imperfect participations in the divine truth of salvation history.

St. Thomas Aquinas says the primary (but not by a long shot the only) sense of scripture is the literal. If we take this seriously, then we take it that there was an Abel ... Isaac actually carried the wood up the mountain where he was to be led to his own slaughter. These were real men, says Aquinas, and they also signified Christ. They are a more perfect participation in the divine truth of salvation history on one level, but not mere abstract literary figures. We are accustomed to thinking of Christ as their fulfiller and redeemer -- obviously they point to the truth of Christ and of the redeption.

Likewise, muthos can (and often does) point to a profound Truth in their significationes; in this case, it is the Truth of Christ the Son of God's suffering and death.

I've been meaning to write more on this ... perhaps as time frees up (I should be studying for my last final tomorrow morning -- oremus pro invicem!) I can expand on this, especially the glaring question of "what exactly is muthos?" as it is most definitely not a dismissive/pejorative term ("oh that's just a myth"), and it is not necessarily false: in fact I'd say most of the time myth is mostly true. But this still wants definition before I assert its truth. However I am going to cop out and save that for another post.

In the meantime, if you can stand some virulently athiest/anti-Christian/anti-organized religion cheap unscholastic potshots, a picture essay "From Apollo to Jesus Christ" is interesting in comparing the different depictions of Christ worldwide; however instead of giving you a direct link to the page, I give you the Google search for "Christ Apollo".

Just ignore the words and look at the pictures.

(I can't believe I just said that.)
posted by Lauren, 1:29 AM

11 Comments:

Hey Lauren,

Just wanted to write that I enjoy your blog immensely, despite the cracks on Franciscans:)

The font color for your links seems a little dark...any particular reason?
commented by Anonymous Cole, 8:40 AM  
One of what might be called the "natural marks" of the Church -- the things that make Catholicism "work" from a natural perspective, apart from questions of supernatural truth -- is the way it draws together muthos and logos. Lose the balance one way and you get muddleheaded syncretism, lose it the other way and you get brittle fundamentalism.
commented by Blogger Tom, 9:16 AM  
Is that mosaic from one of the Arian churches in Ravenna?
commented by Blogger Un Séminariste, 9:42 AM  
The late Fr. Hardon published a Pocket Catholic Dictionary that is really good and is something I would highly recommend.

http://www.catholiccompany.com/product_detail.cfm?ID=506
commented by Blogger Jeff Miller, 1:21 PM  
Hmm... trampling the lion... Did CS Lewis know about this? Aslan is a pagan symbol!!!

Do you know how "son of God" worked in paganism? I'm not quite sure myself, but I interpret it through geneaology: Heracles, for instance, is only half-god(literally, a demi-god), so any of his kids by a mortal woman would only be 1/4 divine.

The doctrine of the hypostatic union would check some of the "pagan analogy" people, not that it'll stop short the more fervent cantmongers.

Had God so wished for His Son to father a child, it's sound theology to say that that child would be pure human, and not a part of the Trinity.
commented by Blogger Kevin Jones, 4:55 PM  
Hi Lauren! I wanted to email you but couldn't find your email address. I love your blog and we seem to have a little in common.
I am a Catholic. I love Irish history, have relatives living in Ireland (Drogheda), work at West Point, and love Father Ted. (Have all the DVDs)
:o)
commented by Blogger Colleen, 7:26 PM  
More like imperfect participations in the divine truth of salvation history.

Hence Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel. (Or the Dies Irae, "Teste David, cum Sibylla"). Spoils of Egypt, etc. etc.
commented by Anonymous Juan, 10:00 PM  
Bryan -- on the contrary, it is, according to this site, one of the only orthodox chapels built in the reign of Theodoric the Ostergoth.
commented by Blogger Lauren, 1:02 AM  
Kevin--

Seeing as it took three church councils and a couple hundred years for the church fathers to work out the notion of hypostatic union (the important terms were largely drawn from traditional Greek philosophy, but it made people uneasy because a) these terms weren't found explicitly in scripture and b) they were a little unsure of some of the implications), I think I can safely say there wasn't ever really a concept of it before. Something as complex as hypostatic union goes beyond the reach of muthos, and this, as Tom points out is informed by logos; this constitutes chapter 10 of the book I intend to write on the subject someday.

Yes, the notion of being "son of god" in pagan mythologies -- or at least Greek mythology as I understand it -- is more of an hereditary issue. However, I believe children of demi-gods aren't reckoned as partial gods but more of "I'm descended from the line of Zeus and so therefore I rock" or "I am descended from the line of Poseidon and therefore I am the head of the line of kinds ruling this small island" or something. Everybody had a claim on some god at some point -- there's the famous thing of the Julio-Claudian empire inventing their familial link to the goddess Venus. They took that and ran with it for purposes of propaganda.

The meaning of the god-man in the context of the individual myths (as opposed to the whole muthos-tradition/entity/whatever it is) is something to which I have not yet devoted a whole lot of thought. If you mean the mechanics of how a god-man came about in mythology, it's usually simply that there was a Really Pretty Girl and a god said "aoooogah" and the rest is history. [G] There are some incidents where the god-mortal affair goes horribly wrong: for example, Zeus and Semele. However, the redemption of mythos declare's that's not the end of it -- Bernard of Clairvaux got right what the myth of Zeus and Semele got wrong. On its own, Z&S seems a really base yet tragic affair with slightly horrific results, but the love affair between God and the soul in the Song of Songs, beautifully commented on by St. Bernard, turns (unconsciously, unintentionally: this in now way factors into Bernard's thought at ALL) Z&S on its head: keeping the same idea/structure, the myth redeemed points to the soul's desire for and spousal union with God, and the offspring it bears.
commented by Blogger Lauren, 1:29 AM  
Wow, please ignore the multiplicity of typos due to lack of sleep and the fact that I should be working on a 12-page paper of a completely different topic.

Juan -- Sort of.
commented by Blogger Lauren, 1:36 AM  
Tag, you're it! Another "baton" being passed on. Not sure if you had gotten a tag yet, so if you feel up to it, have a go. Details over at my site.
commented by Anonymous Cole, 8:44 PM  

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