The “Rite of Spring” as Praeparatio Evangelica

When I first heard Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring I failed to be impressed.  I knew something of what I thought Stravinsky tried to accomplish, to make something “primal,” but felt that the orchestra may not have been the best tool for that purpose. Besides, I tended to hear jumbled nonsense.  Years later I thought again about the piece and admired it a bit more (but not that much more) when I perhaps gained greater understanding of what Stravinsky might have intended in relation to the end of the Victorian era (something I speculate on in this post).

When The Bad Plus, a jazz-rock piano trio and probably my favorite musical group, decided to play the piece I raised an eyebrow.  True, they had covered other 20th century classical pieces to great effect, but I didn’t really like the “Rite of Spring” all that much.  It didn’t seem like a piece open to reinterpretation or rearranging, and if they did not do this I feared that they would simply play the score rote with a drum beat over top.  Add to that, what ultimate spiritual significance could the piece have?  If Stravinsky hearkens back to a pagan past, could it be considered a historical reflection?  Or if he meant to contemporize the concept, to what extent could I “buy in” with a pagan message?

Thinking about this I recalled a story of G.K. Chesterton in his “Father Brown” stories (I cannot remember which one) where one of the characters has a spiritual transformation by witnessing a person devote themselves to an umbrella (I think) on a ship lost at sea.  He realized that such a person, though crazy, had more spiritual insight about God than his own vague vanilla theism, for the crazy man at least understood the nature of devotion and sacrifice.

The law clearly serves as a preparation for the gospel (Gal. 3:24), but we can wonder to what extent certain elements of pagan religion had their roots in anything beyond the revelation of creation (Rom 1:21).  The Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Norse all have myths about a dying and rising god.  Nearly all pagan religions involved notions of propitiation.  Perhaps this is one reason why Gentiles can directly bypass Judaism and go straight to Christ.  They too had a tutor.  Some early church fathers, notably, Eusebius, wrote about how paganism could be a praeparatio evangelica — a fancy word for “preparation for the gospel.”

Stravinsky’s own walk of faith had its ups and downs.  Raised in the church, he walked away from the faith in his later teens, returning to Christianity for good only in his early 40’s.  He wrote the “Rite” during his sojourning period.  But during this period he apparently did not slip into vaguely religious cant.  With the “Rite” he stayed connected to the crucial truths about death and life. Perhaps the “Rite” served as his own praeparatio evangelica

On Paul’s missionary journeys we generally see three classes of people: 1) “Ensconced” Jews, 2) “God-fearers,” or Gentiles who had converted to some kind of Judaism, and 3) Standard pagans. The “God-fearers” responded the best of these three, but the pagans responded better than the lifelong Jews.  No doubt many reasons exist for this, but one simply might have been complacency.  Perhaps living far away from the temple might have distanced them from the notion of sacrifice, of the need for life to come from death.  For all its faults the pagans still believed enough to offer sacrifices, and perhaps this opened them up to the truth of the gospel.*

So, back to the Bad Plus.

This is a great recording.  The fact that we have just two instrumentalists, and one of them a bassist, gives the music a more spare and earthy feel.  Dave King’s drumming roots the music far more to the ground than and orchestra could.  For me, this is a recording of the “Rite” that makes the music make sense and gives it the power Stravinsky no doubt intended, and for me at least, never achieved.  Here below is an excerpt of the last movement (Bad Plus fans will note their own personal exclamation point in the form of the end of their own song “Physical Cities”).  Normally I hate it when people say, “You have to listen to the whole album to get the full effect.”  In this case I think it true, but this gives one a good entry point.

Having experienced the prelude, we can now experience an “A.D.” reality, with a conductor who marvelously looks like he might have just arrived from a sacrificial dance (try pausing it right at .06 to see some wild hair).  A Merry Christmas to all . . .

*In his essay, “Christianity and Civilization,” historian Arnold Toynbee makes this very point.  I include a portion of it here . . .

. . . In this Catholic form of the Church, I see two fundamental institutions, the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Hierarchy, which are indissolubly welded together by the fact that the priest, by definition, is the person with the power to perform the rite. If, in speaking of the Mass, one may speak, without offence, with the tongues of the historian and the anthropologist, then, using this language, one may describe the Sacrifice of the Mass as the mature form of a most ancient religious rite of which the rudiments can be traced back to the worship of the fertility of the Earth and her fruits by the earliest tillers of the soil. (I am speaking here merely of the mundane origin of the rite.) as for the hierarchy of the Church in its traditional form, this, as one knows, is modelled on a more recent and less awe-inspiring yet nevertheless most potent institution, the imperial civil service of the Roman Empire. The Church in its traditional form thus stands forth armed with the spear of the Mass, the shield of the Hierarchy, and the helmet of the Papacy; and perhaps the subconscious purpose –or the divine intention, if you prefer that language– of this heavy panoply of institutions in which the Church has clad herself is the very practical one of outlasting the toughest of the secular institutions of this world, including all the civilizations. If we survey all the institutions of which we have knowledge in the present and in the past, I think that the institutions created, or adopted and adapted, by Christianity are the toughest and the most enduring of any that we know and are therefore the most likely to last –and outlast all the rest. The history of Protestantism would seem to indicate that the Protestant act of casting off this armour four hundred years ago was premature; but that would not necessarily mean that this step would always be a mistake; and , however that may be, the institutional element in the traditional Catholic form of the Church Militant on Earth, even if it proves to be an invaluable and indispensable means of survival, is all the same a mundane feature which makes the Church Militant’s life different from that of the Kingdom of Heaven, in which they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are as the angels of God, and in which each individual soul catches the spirit of God from direct communion with Him –‘like light caught from a leaping flame,’ as Plato puts it in his Seventh Letter. Thus, even if the Church had won a fully world-wide allegiance and had entered into the inheritance of the last of the civilizations and of all the other higher religions, the Church on Earth would not be a perfect embodiment here on Earth of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church on Earth would still have sin and sorrow to contend with as well as to profit by as a means of grace on the principle of ?Ueae iUeio, and she would still have to wear for a long time to come a panoply of institutions to give her the massive social solidity that she needs in the mundane struggle for survival, but this at the inevitable price of spirituality weighing her down, On this showing, the victorious Church Militant on Earth will be a province of the Kingdom of God, but a province in which the citizens of the heavenly commonwealth have to live and breathe and labour in an atmosphere that is not their native element.

The position in which the Church would then find herself is well conveyed in Plato’s conceit, in the Phaedo, of the true surface of the Earth. We live, Plato suggests, in a large but local hollow, and what we take to be the air is really a sediment of fog. If one day we could make our way to the upper levels of the surface of the Earth, we should there breathe the pure ether and should see the light of the Sun and stars direct; and then we should realize how dim and blurred had been our vision down in the hollow, where we see the heavenly bodies, through the murky atmosphere in which we breathe, as imperfectly as the fishes see them through the water in which they swim. This Platonic conceit is a good simile for the life of the Church Militant on Earth; but the truth cannot be put better than it has been by Saint Augustine.

“It is written of Cain that he founded a commonwealth; but Abel –true to the type of the pilgrim and sojourner that he was– did not do the like. For the Commonwealth of the Saints is not of this world, though it does give birth to citizens here in whose persons it performs its pilgrimage until the time of its kingdom shall come–the time when it will gather them all together.”

This brings me in conclusion to the last of the topics on which I am going to touch, that of the relation between Christianity and progress.

If it is true, as I think it is, that the Church on Earth will never be a perfect embodiment of the Kingdom of Heaven, in what sense can we say the words of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven’? Have we been right, after all, in coming to the conclusion that –in contrast to the cyclic movement of the rises and falls of civilizations– the history of religion on Earth is a movement in a single continuous upward line? What are the matters in which there has been, in historical times, a continuous religious advance? And have we any reason to think that this advance will continue without end? Even if the species of societies called civilizations does give way to a historically younger and perhaps spiritually higher species embodied in a single world-wide and enduring representative in the shape of the Christian Church, may there not come a time when the tug of war between Christianity and original sin will settle down to a static balance of spiritual forces?

Let me put forward one or two considerations in reply to these questions.

In the first place, religious progress means spiritual progress, and spirit means personality. Therefore religious progress must take place in the spiritual lives of personalities –it must show itself in their rising to a spiritually higher state and achieving a spiritually finer activity.

Now, in assuming that this individual progress is what spiritual progress means, are we after all admitting Frazer’s thesis that the higher religions are essentially and incurably anti-social? Does a shift of human interests and energy from trying to create the values aimed at in the civilizations to trying to create the values aimed at in the higher religions mean that the values for which the civilizations stand are bound to suffer? Are spiritual and social values antithetical and inimical to each other? Is it true that the fabric of civilization is undermined if the salvation of the individual soul is taken as being the supreme aim of life?

Frazer answers these questions in the affirmative. If his answer were right it would mean that human life was a tragedy without a catharsis. But I personally believe that Frazer’s answer is not right, because I think it is based on a fundamental misconception of what the nature of souls or personalities is. Personalities are inconceivable except as agents of spiritual activity; and the only conceivable scope for spiritual activity lies in relations between spirit and spirit. It is because spirit implies spiritual relations that Christian theology has completed the Jewish doctrine of the Unity of God with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is the theological way of expressing the revelation that God is a spirit; the doctrine of the Redemption is the theological way of expressing the revelation that God is Love. If man has been created in the likeness of God, and if the tue end of man is to make this likeness ever more and more like, then Aristotle’s saying that ‘man is social animal’ applies to man’s highest potentiality and aim –that of trying to get into ever closer communion with God. Seeking God is itself a social act. And if God’s love has gone into action in this world in the Redemption of mankind by Christ, then man’s efforts to make itself liker to God must include efforts to follow Christ’s example in sacrificing himself for the redemption of his fellow men. Seeking and following God in this way, that is God’s way, is the only true way for a human soul on Earth to seek salvation. The antithesis between trying to save one’s own soul by seeking and following God and trying to do one’s duty to one’s neighbour is therefore wholly false. The two activities are indissoluble. The human soul that is truly seeking to save itself is as fully social a being as the ant-like Spartan or the bee-like Communist. Only, the Christian soul on Earth is a member of a very different society from Sparta or Leviathan. He is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and therefore his paramount and all-embracing aim is to attain the highest degree of communion with, and likeness to, God Himself; his relations with his fellow men are consequences of, and corollaries to, his relations with God; and his way of loving his neighbour as himself will be to try to help his neighbour to win what he is seeking for himself –that is, to come into closer communion with God and to become more godlike.

If this is a soul’s recognized aim for itself and for its fellow souls in the Christian Church Militant on Earth, then it is obvious that under a Christian dispensation God’s will will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven to an immeasurably greater degree than in a secular mundane society. It is also evident that, in the Church Militant on Earth, the good social aims of the mundane societies will incidentally be achieved very much more successfully than they ever have been or can be achieved in a mundane society which aims at these objects direct, and at nothing higher. In other words, the spiritual progress of individual souls in this life will in fact bring with it much more social progress than could be attained in any other way. It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at that goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it. This is the meaning of the fable in the Old Testament of Solomon’s Choice and of the saying in the New Testament about losing one’s life and saving it.

Therefore, while the replacement of the mundane civilizations by the world-wide and enduring reign of the Church Militant on Earth would certainly produce what to-day would seem a miraculous improvement in those mundane social conditions which the civilizations have been seeking to improve during the last six thousand years, the aim, and test, of progress under a truly Christian dispensation on Earth would not lie in the field of mundane social life; the field would be the spiritual life of individual souls in their passages through this earthly life from birth into this world to death out of it.

But if spiritual progress in time in this world means progress achieved by individual human souls during their passages through this world to the other world, in what sense can there be any spiritual progress over a time-span far longer than that of individual lives on Earth, and running into thousands of years, such as that of the historical development of the higher religions from the rise of Tammuz-worship and the generation of Abraham to the Christian era?

I have already confessed my own adherence to the traditional Christian view that there is no reason to expect any change in unredeemed human nature while human life on Earth goes on. Till this Earth ceases to be physically habitable by man, we may expect that the endowments of individual human beings with original sin and with natural goodness will be about the same, on the average, as they always have been as far as our knowledge goes. the most primitive societies known to us in the life or by report provide examples of as great natural goodness as, and no lesser wickedness than, the highest civilizations or religious societies that have yet come into existence. There has been no perceptible variation in the average sample of human nature in the past; there is no ground, in the evidence afforded by History, to expect any great variation in the future either for better or for worse.

The matter in which there might be spiritual progress in time on a time-span extending over many successive generations of life on Earth is not the unregenerate nature of man, but the opportunity open to souls, by way of the learning that comes through suffering, for getting into closer communion with God, and becoming less unlike Him, during their passage through this world.

What Christ, with the Prophets before Him and the Saints after Him, has bequeathed to the Church, and what the Church, by virtue of having been fashioned into an incomparably effective institution, succeeds in accumulating, preserving, and communicating to successive generations of Christians, is a growing fund of illumination and of grace-meaning by ‘illumination’ the discovery of revelation or revealed discovery of the true nature of God and the true end of man here and hereafter, and by ‘grace,’ the will or inspiration or inspired will to aim at getting into Him. In this matter of increasing spiritual opportunity for souls in their passages through life on Earth, there is assuredly an inexhaustible possibility of progress in this world.

Is the spiritual opportunity given by Christianity, or by one or other of the higher religions that have been forerunners of Christianity and have partially anticipated Christianity’s gifts of illumination and grace to men on Earth, an indispensable condition for salvation –meaning by ‘salvation’ the spiritual effect on a soul of feeling after God and finding Him in its passage through life on Earth?

If this were so, then the innumerable generations of men who never had the chance of receiving the illumination and grace conveyed by Christianity and the other higher religions would have been born and have died without a chance of the salvation which is the true end of man and the true purpose of life on Earth. This might be conceivable, though still repugnant, if we believed that the true purpose of life on Earth was not the preparation of souls for another life, but the establishment of the best possible human society in this world, which in the Christian belief is not the true purpose, though it is an almost certain by-product of a pursuit of the true purpose. If progress is taken as being the social of Leviathan and not the spiritual progress of individual souls, then it would perhaps be conceivable that, for the gain and glory of the body social, innumerable earlier generations should have been doomed to live a lower social life in order that a higher social life might eventually be lived by successors who had entered into their labours. This would be conceivable on the hypothesis that individual human souls existed for the sake of society, and not for their own sakes or for God’s.But this belief is not only repugnant but is also inconceivable when we are dealing with the history of religion, where the progress of individual souls through this world towards God, and not the progress of society in this world, is the end on which the supreme value is set. We cannot believe that the historically incontestable fact that illumination and grace have been imparted to men on Earth in successive installments, beginning quite recently in the history of the human race on Earth, and even then coming gradually in the course of generations, can have entailed the consequence that the vast majority of souls born into the world up to date, who have had no share in this spiritual opportunity, have, as a result, been spiritually lost. We must believe that the possibilities, provided by God, of learning through suffering in this world have always afforded a sufficient means of salvation to every soul that has made the best of the spiritual opportunity offered to it here, however small that opportunity may have been.

But, if men on Earth have not had to wait for the advent of the higher religions, culminating in Christianity, in order to qualify, in their life on Earth, for eventually attaining, after death, the state of eternal felicity in the other world, then what difference has the advent on Earth of the higher religions, and of Christianity itself, really made? The difference, I should say, is this, that, under the Christian dispensation, a soul which does make the best of its spiritual opportunities will, in qualifying for salvation, be advancing farther towards communion with God and towards likeness to God under the conditions of life on Earth, before death, than has been possible for souls that have not been illuminated, during their pilgrimage on Earth, by the light of the higher religions. A pagan soul, no less than a Christian soul, has ultimate salvation with its reach; but a soul which has been offered, and has opened itself to, the illumination and the grace that Christianity conveys, will, while still in this world, of the narrower opportunity here open to it. The Christian soul can attain, while still on Earth, a greater measure of man’s greatest good than can be attained by any pagan soul in this earthly stage of its existence.

Thus the historical progress of religion in this world, as represented by the rise of the higher religions and by their culmination in Christianity, may, and almost certainly will, bring with it, incidentally, an immeasurable improvement in the conditions of human social life on Earth; but its direct effect and its deliberate aim and its true test is the opportunity which it brings to individual souls for spiritual progress in this world during the passage from birth to death. It is this individual spiritual progress in this world for which we pray when we say ‘Thy will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven.’ It is for the salvation that is open to all men of good will –pagan as well as Christian, primitive as well as civilized– who make the most of their spiritual opportunities on Earth, however narrow these opportunities may be, that we pray when we say ‘Thy Kingdom come.’

“Social Theories of the Middle Ages”

There is the idea touted by some that “a thing can be known only by its opposite.” Perhaps this idea has more cache in today’s parlance due to the rise of eastern philosophies in the west. However attractive the idea sounds on the most important questions it doesn’t hold up.  The Devil does indeed need God, but God has no need of the Devil.  Adam and Eve had every chance of knowing God perfectly before the presence of sin — of course sin prevents us from knowing God as we ought.

Still, on lesser questions the aphorism has its usefulness, including in History.  We rarely can see the nose on our face, and so it’s hard to understand one’s own society just by looking at one’s own society.  Instead we need perspective, and history can provide this.  Of course we should not look at history merely as a vehicle for understanding our own time.  Rather we can say that good history both opens up new worlds to us and sheds light on our own.  Such is the accomplishment of Bede Jarrett’s Social Theories of the Middle Ages.  His chosen title fails to inspire, and at times his writing follows his title and gets bogged down and technical.  But all in all Jarrett succeeds in his stated aim of fairly portraying a world strangely familiar to us and yet not so familiar.

Jarrett divides his examination by category, and so we have chapters on Law, Education, Women, and son on.  Right away in his first chapter on “Law” we see differences between us and them. Before thinking about particular laws the medievals thought in terms of their proper “ends” or to use the Greek term, the “telos” of a particular law.  No law made sense unless put in a larger theological context.  In order to know this context we need to know not just our ends as human beings in general, but also our origins.  So any medieval theory of law must first start by talking about creation, natural law, sin, and so on.  Then they move on to questions about salvation, and the role of law as an aid to that process.  Having done this, now we can move on to actual laws.  So while the medievals often focused on the big picture, they had a rigid categorical exactness about their thinking.

This had two seemingly different kinds of consequences.  One is that specific laws might matter much less than the theory behind the laws, and so law itself disappears in the shuffle.  We see this in one medieval Welsh code of “law” where a woman could be remitted for a particular offense if she paid a fine of “a penny as wide as her behind.”  In other words, we need not worry about law at all.  On the other hand, medieval thinkers consistently mentioned that law “must adhere to the bones of the people” — it had to fit a time and context (again we see the medieval exactitude at work) to have real validity.

I said these attitudes presented only a seeming difference.  What held them together, I think, is that for them laws had validity only because of our temporal earthly existence.  When “History” serves its purpose we shall have no need of law at all.  To understand the place of law one must first understand the temporary nature of the state itself.  One then, can play with law, either to fit a particular occasion, or in the case of the Welsh, for our particular amusement.  It is this sense of distance from law the medievals had that differentiates our society and theirs.  Anyone who has been ticketed in a “Mandatory Headlight Use Area” though the sun shines brightly, or been caught in a speed trap on a road with a speed limit well below the road’s design, has felt the absolute nature of law in the modern west.  We treat the law thusly because we do not do as the medievals did — we have no “higher end ” in view, only the power of the consent of governed at our disposal.

But I should not give the impression that Jarrett romanticizes the Middle Ages, though I think he certainly is fond of them.  He wades into the controversy surrounding how to translate the Latin word “servus,” and has no qualms about rendering it as a “slave.”  He denies that slavery disappeared during the middle ages (though it did decrease significantly from Roman times) because a certain class of people had no legal freedoms.  In this he departs from the fiery Regine Pernoud, who called it the height of ignominious irresponsibility to render “servus,” as “slave.”*  The strict categorical methodology they used spilled over into their society at large at times to an unhealthy degree.

The modern perspective on such a social arrangement might incline towards tolerance — some might excuse it as a necessary stage to better things down the road (much as some might excuse the condition of the urban lower-class at the beginning of the industrial era).  They might be less willing to excuse the medieval view of women, at least at first glance.  Here Jarrett urges caution, for most often those that wrote were monks, because they had the best educations.  And monastic writing about women would have its own particular concerns apart from the larger community.  One gets a more robust picture of medieval women in the Canterbury Tales, for example.  Jarrett points out that,

  • Women who entered convents could receive a very similar kind of education as men.  That the education of men and women would be equal in any sense might have been a historical first.
  • “Their intelligence is more keen and more quick than that of a man.”  So said Franco Sanchetti, with general agreement from others.
  • Women had some opportunity to make a vital contribution to Christian culture at large, witness Christiana de Pisan.
  • Women had an honored place as nuturers and civilizers of men.
  • No era that perhaps came close to idolizing the Blessed Virgin Mary could be said to truly denigrate women.

But Jarrett also points out that women often got blamed for the Fall of mankind in general.  And many saw women as quicker to do evil than men — Sanchetti, quoted above, admired feminine intelligence but thought they used this intelligence to work more evil than men.

As Jarrett often does, he turns to Aquinas to help provide balance between these two seeming poles.  “The image of God in man in its principal signification — namely, the intellectual nature — is found both in man and in woman . . . .  But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman, as God is the beginning and end of all things.  So when the Apostle had said that man is the image and glory of God but woman is the glory of man (I Cor. 11:7), he adds this reason, ‘for man is not of woman, but woman of man; and man was not created for women, but women for men.'”  Again in Aquinas, as we see so often, the “telos” of things guided their thinking.

We moderns cringe at this, but the best medievals would not have seen secondary status (if we wish to call it that) as denigrating.  We tend to measure worth in accomplishments or opportunities to live as we wish.  The medievals found glory in living out one’s assigned role in the grand cosmic dance that led to salvation.  So St. Francis (a man who understood chivalry perfectly) in his glorious “Canticle of the Sun” (see below) exults in the feminine aspects of creation because the feminine exults in meekness, which leads to humility.  And without humility no one can receive salvation.  From the medieval perspective (here I speculate) Jesus does not say, “The poor will always be with you,” because of the inevitability of sin, or the intractable problems of just political and economic systems.  Rather, some must play the role of “poverty” so that others will have the chance of exercising charity, and thereby become more like God.

This leads to what might most interest our economically minded/obsessed age, the medieval attitude towards money and property (there is an extended chapter on the medieval attitude towards war as well, but that gets covered in large measure here for any who have interest).  We experience confusion in the modern world about such things because we have no proper sense of the “telos” of money.  Jesus gives us many warnings about money’s destructive power, and yet we need money to live.  Money therefore has a proper place in the scheme of things, but money must be subordinated to its proper “end.”  So we should have enough to provide for our family.  We should seek also to have enough to practice charity.  Such is the proper, though temporary “end” of money.  Some would probably argue that a few might have a lot more money than this, but why?  To better reflect the image of God to creation, in this case, that of munificence or “kingly joy.”  By custom, though not law, the wealthy were expected to royally “fete” the poor under their charge on the most prominent of feast days (indeed, the mingling of rich and poor would have been much more common then than now).^

Property ownership as well came with this same tension.  Since God truly owned all things, in what sense could we own anything?  Medieval concepts of ownership absented themselves from our modern absolute legal concepts.  Rather, medievals “had use” of certain things, and then only on a contingent basis.  So the king had power provided he upheld his oath.  Nobles could receive grants of land from the king provided they served him faithfully.  None owned anything absolutely. The right to use something depended on whether or not you used it faithfully, according to the telos of the thing used.  Jarrett points out that absolute concepts of ownership came to the modern west with a revival of classical ideas in the Renaissance.  For the Romans, Rome was the telos of all things, so Roman ownership of property or people could be absolute. They had nothing beyond themselves from which they could take their pulse.  Aesthetically too, the contingent complexities of the medievals created stained glass.  The clear simplicities of the Renaissance smashed many of these windows and replaced them with clear panes just as the clear, classical concepts of Roman law began to replace the complex labyrinth that was the medieval synthesis.

In the early 20th century a group of thinkers led by men like G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc attempted to revive medieval economic concepts for the modern world.  They failed to make much headway, and most of their admirers attribute this failure to a lack of a defined system or program adapted for the modern world.  I have a different idea as to their lack of success.

Many might admire medieval views on property and wealth, but they arose within a defined context.  Specifically, the medieval focus on contextualizing everything in light of its place in the scheme of salvation gave them a framework in which to place wealth and property.  We have rejected the context of medieval views on things, and without that context, we have no agreed upon telos for money and property as the medievals had.  Our society values maximizing freedom and opportunity for the individual, and so the more wealth, the more opportunities to extend the self into places yet unknown.  Again, the medievals valued stability much more than change, innovation, and the need for “forward momentum.”  Without the medieval theological and psychological context, medieval ideas about economics would be dead on arrival.  We often wish to have our cake and eat it as well, but societies can not be put together in such a hodge-podge fashion.  We must choose the telos we pursue.

Dave

*Solving this riddle depends largely on how one defines slave.  Medieval peasants at the very bottom of the social ladder were slaves in the sense that they had very very few freedoms they could exercise on their own.  Unlike the slaves of most other cultures, however, even those at the very bottom had certain engrained legal protections in law and from the Church.  Also medieval “slaves” were almost entirely bound to the soil, which meant certain periods of long hours, and certain extended periods of relative inactivity.  And they also would have been exempt from work on numerous medieval feast and saint days in the Church calendar.

^In his The Court Society, Norbert Elias mentions a few aristocratic Spanish families who bankrupted themselves by projects, gifts, and feasts for those in their charge, and gained glory thereby.  Their family had in a sense, fulfilled its place in society by demonstrating such largesse.

— Regarding the “Canticle of the Sun” . . .

I agree with those that regard St. Thomas and St. Francis as the best fulfillment of medieval society.  St. Thomas’ massive Summa Theologica stands as perhaps the greatest extended theological treatise in the history of the Church.  But St. Francis probably had a greater degree of sanctity.  And in one fell swoop of poetic insight, St. Francis both perfectly expressed the medieval vision and revealed timeless truths.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.