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"The Myth of Medieval Paganism" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2020 10:35 p.m. PST

"hey don't look very Christian—those strange faces made of leaves, and those women displaying cartoonishly enlarged genitals on the walls of medieval churches. Most people who have explored the medieval architecture of Western Europe have heard a tour guide explain that a particular carving or decorative feature is a pagan image obtruding itself subversively in a Christian sacred space. It is common for historical films, dramas, and novels set in the medieval period to feature pagan characters, often living at the edge of society, who conceal ancestral beliefs from a domineering Christian Church. The idea that something called "paganism" existed in medieval society as a mode of conscious resistance to Christianity has proved seductive, despite having no factual basis whatsoever. How did the myth of the pagan Middle Ages arise, and why does it exert such a hold on our imaginations?

The myth dates back centuries, with beginnings in the Middle Ages themselves, when the charge of paganism proved useful in theological controversies. The idea that sects of sorcerers worshiped the devil and offered sacrifices to him emerged in the writings of fourteenth-century demonologists. This legend allowed individuals accused of sorcery and witchcraft to be tried for apostasy, since they were said to have switched from worship of God to worship of the devil. In the sixteenth century, Protestant critics of the Catholic Church made heavy use of the accusation that Catholicism was a form of paganism, since it permitted practices such as veneration of saints and relics. For post-Reformation Protestants, the Middle Ages were pagan because they were Catholic…"
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Amicalement
Armand

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Aug 2020 6:57 a.m. PST

Paganism as an ALTERNATIVE to Christianity certainly existed but this is a typically biased review of evidence by a believer who probably doesn't even accept that alternatives are possible.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2020 9:26 a.m. PST

I don't believe that "paganism" is a myth.

I can see where some might question various practices of others, including the selling of "indulgences", etc..

Dn Jackson01 Aug 2020 11:27 a.m. PST

Gildas, do you have anything to back that statement up? The author is positing that what we see as paganism in medieval Europe is variations in Christianity that have fallen by the wayside over the centuries. I found the article quite interesting.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2020 11:38 a.m. PST

Happy you enjoyed it my friend!. (smile)

Amicalement
Armand

Pan Marek02 Aug 2020 8:46 a.m. PST

From Wikipedia:
First Things (FT) is an ecumenical and conservative religious journal aimed at "advanc[ing] a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society".[1]

Read the article with the knowledge of where its coming from.

martinwilliams02 Aug 2020 11:59 p.m. PST

I don't think it is all that questionable a source. I have used articles from it before on the Crusades from eminent experts like Riley-Smith and Madden.

The claims made in the article are pretty modest, generally more of the 'there is little/no evidence for older, popular and convenient interpretations' type. I also find that claims that things are more complex than many realise (like in this article) are generally a pretty safe bet

Do you gents have a specific problem with something he says? I always worry when criticisms amount to '…well he would say that..'(ie attacking the person/publication rather than the argument/evidence)

Martin

Dn Jackson03 Aug 2020 1:51 a.m. PST

Pan, it's a sad fact of life that these days you have to consider the source in just about everything you read. I too found it interesting for the same reasons martin gives.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Aug 2020 6:25 a.m. PST

Paganism is a mocking name the Romans gave to the beliefs of the Pagani or country dwellers. Snobbish ideas of the higher intellectual status of urban populations compared to those living in rural areas have been common throughout history. The name originates in pre-Christian times but the attitudes to the rural population persisted.

The earlier part of the article would make a great deal more sense structurally if the discussion of what paganism actually was had been put first. This, however, would have made it clear that, despite some ramblings about the 'invention' of medieval paganism by more modern historians the author really means 'non-christian' when he use the term 'pagan'.

The thought that it was possible for other belief structures and ritual traditions to hold an important place in parallel with or preference to Christianity was not acceptable to the literati of the later medieval period. It seems that the situation hasn't changed much today.

The Last Conformist04 Aug 2020 12:15 p.m. PST

About halfway down, he writes "Many pagans remained in Europe in the early medieval period from a.d. 476 (the year of the fall of the Western Roman Empire), when the Christianization of the continent was not far advanced." So it seems to me he accepts that medieval paganism was a real thing and that the title is a stupid attention-grabber.

ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa04 Aug 2020 2:22 p.m. PST

I blame over enthusiastic 19thC folklorists – and low half way down the article! Who it has to said saddled us with a few more dubious historical ideas. This is well trodden ground. And as always the picture is more complicated – plenty of evidence of complaints from both higher churchmen and parishioners about theologically clueless or deviant priests and equally plenty of priests complaining about about the beliefs of their parishioners. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!

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