Be Kind: Everyone Is Fighting a Great Battle

A few years back, I ran into a blog called Fencing Bear at Prayer. It was written by a medievalist who liked Mary, so of course I was interested. But the farther back I got into her blog, the more I got the impression that she liked Mary in a neopagan way. So I posted some argumentative stuff about it in the comments and on here somewhere, and went on.

Well, I was wrong about her. So I hope the lady didn’t take my comments to heart.

She was doing the conversion thing and was very new to starting it, so I should have been a lot gentler. And more, she was just at the beginning of fighting a great Internet battle.

Milo Yiannopoulos took an interest in this lady and helped her in her conversion to Catholicism. Yup, the original Peck’s Bad Boy had an eye for the slightly puzzled-looking lost sheep… and I didn’t. That is a prodigious failure on my part.

Yiannopoulos has written a big fat essay, fully researched and linked, about the online mobbing that has been suffered by this kindly lady professor for the last three years, from members of her own field, and why medieval studies is being attacked as a discipline. He calls it “Middle Rages: Why the Battle for Medieval Studies Matters to America,” and it is worth reading the whole thing.

And then, one of the mob leaders threatened to sue the university where the professor works… over the article that had nothing to do with the university… and before the article even came out.

OTOH, the essay also exposes the way a lot of nasty people on the Internet are happy to speak with forked tongue — writing gentle prose to one group of “friends” on the same day they are whipping up hatemobs against their “friends” in another closed group. No wonder such people like to employ sock puppets; it’s just an extension of their usual methods.

In other news, the Fencing Bear at Prayer has a second book out. Mary and the Art of Prayer, by Rachel Fulton Brown is a tad bit pricey, but where else are you going to get this kind of research and all these great sources? It takes the subject of prayer seriously, instead of treating it as some mysterious obscure practice done only in the dark of the moon in lemur holes, by aliens with five heads. But it is also a history of ideas book, which I love. Prayer has its tides that go in and out, and this is a book about older ways to think about prayer.

And it’s about Mary, who is a great person to get to know. Why do Catholics insist on praying with her and chatting to her? It’s hard for us to explain, because it’s like fish doing dissertations on water. Rachel Fulton Brown is the new fish on the reef, so she can still talk about it instead of just breathing it!

Mostly, though, we need to pray for Rachel Fulton Brown, aka Fencing Bear at Prayer. Because she is still fighting a great battle.

O Blessed Virgin Mary,
Queen to angels and men,
Hypermachos Strategos (Great General) of the hosts of Heaven,
please continue to pray for your fencer and her champions.
O beautiful as an army set for battle,
send your subject St. Michael to give them aid and counsel!

O Queen of poets and prophets,
As you spoke your mind freely to your Son and to angels,
teach us to speak boldly and with honesty —
even if it makes us seem foolish before the world,
and even if the world hates us for it —
for we are body parts of your Son, and cannot expect better than He got.
Help us learn to make suffering a path to heaven; and help us not despair.

We ask this in Christ Our Lord, Amen.

* I still think some of the modern academics that Fulton Brown was using as sources are whacked out beyond wacky. But the main ones are useful-wacky, and worth picking through and yelling at. I later saw a lot of super-orthodox folks referencing the same whackdoodles, and some of them trained under the same people! Theology and Bible studies can get pretty offbeat.

Also, it’s well-known that a prof can make really good points and really stupid points in the same book or article, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the same thing happening in theology history books. And to be fair, 90% of all new experiments and theories are bound to turn out to be wrong, if you are actually investigating anything new.

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Marian Shrines for Cyclists

Mary has a long relationship with athletes needing help, and many sports have favorite Marian shrines. Cyclists have Our Lady of Ghisallo, sometimes called Our Lady of the Bicycle, or Our Lady of Cyclists. It’s an old roadside shrine which stands along the route of the Giro di Lombardia. The small chapel was built by a medieval man who was saved from bandits by Mary’s protection.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s image is a painting of Mary, with Christ as a baby or toddler seated on her knee; He blesses the onlooker while she bends toward him, nursing him. But there’s a common variation on prayer cards where Mary is not nursing Him, but lifting toddler Jesus onto a bicycle seat! Medals of Our Lady of Ghisallo or the “Madonna del Ghisallo” are pretty common, too.

Our Lady of Ghisallo’s patronage of cyclists was made official by Pope Pius XII in 1949. The relevant feasts are October 13 and November 2 (because a lot of people go there to pray for dead cyclists’ souls).

A post about the place with a nice picture, from a cycling blog. Did you know that Cadel Evans donated his Tour de France yellow jersey to the chapel? No, me neither.

Here’s a bigger article about the place, with some amazing pictures.

There’s also a Museum of Cycling on the grounds, basically to handle all the donations and ex votos that overflow from the chapel. Here’s a news story about it. And another.

Other bicycle shrines include Notre-Dame des Cyclistes in Labastide-d’Armagnac, in the Aquitaine in France; and Nuestra Señora de Dorleta in Leintz Gatzaga, Spain. (Also spelled Lentz and Leniz.)

Notre-Dame des Cyclistes is an old Templar chapel. Pretty cool. It was approved as the French national shrine for cyclists by Pope John XXIII, in 1959.

This blog article talks about Spanish cyclists’ devotion to Our Lady of the Assumption of Dorleta, as well as the shrine itself.

The post also includes a more generic Spanish devotional statue, Our Lady of Sports (Nuesta Señora de Deporte), aka the Virgin of Athletes (La Virgen de los Deportistas) which features Toddler Jesus standing on an Olympic podium, and Mary with a gold medal around her neck. I have to say, it makes me smile and cry.

“Do you not know that everyone runs in the race? Indeed, they all run, but one wins the prize. So run so that you can get it.

“And everyone who strives to win, stops doing anything else — and they do it for a crown that withers, but we for an incorruptible one!

“So I run, but not as one without a finish line, and I box, but not like one pounding the air. I drill my body, and bring it under control.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

“Forgetting what lies behind, and leaning forward toward what is before me, I head for the finish line, for the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)

“And therefore, having so great a cloud of witnesses around us, let us lay aside every burden and throw off every sin prone to entangle us; and with endurance, let us run the race set before us.” (Hebr. 12:1)

The post also includes a prayer to Our Lady of Sports. Here’s part of it:

“Our Lady and Mother,
we place in your hands all the efforts made by all the world’s athletes,
so that we can win a ‘crown that withers.’

May our physical efforts be a part of our search for higher virtues,
that forge character and give dignity and meaning to our lives.

As disciples of Our Teacher, Jesus Christ,
life itself is a competition,
and a striving for goodness and holiness.

Intercede before Him for all of us.
May all our work, sacrifice, and worry
culminate for us and for our families
in being filled to the brim with His love, His joy, and His peace.

Amen.”

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The Tour de France Visits Lourdes

As sometimes happens, the Tour de France started a Pyrenees stage in Lourdes yesterday.

Stage 19 is pretty late in the Tour, so plenty of athletes had already gotten bunged up. And so, it’s not surprising to learn that many athletes, staff, and fans sought help from God, visited the shrine, and drank the water, or applied it to their injuries; and even the less devout seem to have visited the Grotto for quiet reflection. Just for a morning moment, the Tour became a pilgrimage.

But did the sports media spend any time reporting this? Not much.

Here’s a site with some nice behind-the-scenes pictures of the pre-race shrine action. “Beardy” is a photographer specializing in cycling.

The race rider shown lighting candles is Andrea Pasqualon, from the team Wanty-Groupe Gobert. He’s Italian.

Marco Marcato of Italy, who rides for the UAE team, speaking to a nun, and bringing his bike along to the Grotto.

Here’s a video uploaded by the folks from the shrine! Nice view of the river behind the reporter. It shows a blessing of normal laypeople’s bicycles, among other matters of interest. It’s a behind-the-scenes view of mixing logistics, crowd control, and a holy shrine.

The most famous connection between Lourdes and cycling came back when Gino Bartali, a pugnacious but pious bike racer from Italy, brought flowers to the Grotto. He was a Third Order Carmelite who was buried in the habit; and he rode races with a dozen medals on his bike, while dedicating all his wins to St. Therese. There were even rumors that a little girl had once seen an angel giving his bike a push!

Mussolini hated him for refusing to go along with Fascism. He helped a family of Jews escape the Nazis by hiding them in his own apartment for years! He also served as a courier for the Florence part of the Catholic network for hiding Jews, delivering forged documents all around the countryside while riding his bike. (The excuse was that he was training! Perfectly normal! The documents were hidden inside his bike frame.) After the war, he refused to talk about his heroic work. But it was remembered; and Yad Vashem now names him as one of the Righteous among the Nations.

So when Gino Bartali pedaled toward Lourdes in Stage 8 of the Tour de France back in 1948, it’s not surprising that his devotion led him to win the stage and then visit the Grotto in thanks. He prayed for safety, not victory; and although he did win several stages (including ones run through rainstorms and snowstorms!), he didn’t win the Tour. Still pretty good for an “old man,” who’d spent the best years of his career racing death instead of other bikes.

May light eternal shine upon him!

So yep, Lourdes and the Tour de France are old friends, even if the media may not be.

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St. John Chrysostom: Feminist

I didn’t find much online about the Fathers’ opinion of 1 Corinthians 11, so I went looking and found some interesting stuff.

In defending St. Paul’s statement about “the head of Christ is God” not being Arian or Adoptionist or anything derogatory to the divinity of Christ, St. John Chrysostom actually shows his feminist side! Woot!

From “Homily 26 on First Corinthians”, Section 3.

“Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words [“the head of Christ is God”] they contrive against the Son.

But they stumble against themselves. For if “the man be the head of the woman,” and the head be of the same substance with the body, and “the head of Christ is God,” the Son is of the same substance with the Father.

“Nay,” say they, “it is not His being of another substance which we intend to show from hence, but that He is under subjection.”

What then are we to say to this?

In the first place, when anything lowly is said of Him, conjoined as He is with the Flesh, there is no disparagement of the Godhead in what is said, the Economy admitting the expression.

However, tell me how you intend to prove this from the passage?

“Why, as the man governs the wife,” says he, “so also the Father, Christ.”

Therefore, as Christ governs the man, so likewise the Father governs the Son. “For the head of every man,” we read, “is Christ.”

And who could ever admit this? For if the superiority of the Son compared with us, be the measure of the Father’s compared with the Son, consider to what meanness you will bring Him. So we must not try all things by like measure in respect of ourselves and of God, though the language used concerning them be similar; but we must assign to God a certain appropriate excellency, and so great as belongs to God.

For should they not grant this, many absurdities will follow. Such as this: “the head of Christ is God:” and, “Christ is the head of the man, and he of the woman.” Therefore if we choose to take the term, “head,” in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this?

But do you understand the term “head” differently in the case of the man and the woman, from what thou dost in the case of Christ?

Therefore, in the case of the Father and the Son, we must understand it differently also.

“How understand it differently?” says the objector.

According to the occasion. For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master.

For what if the wife be under subjection to her husband? It is as a wife — as free, as equal in honor.

And the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God, it was as God.

For as the obedience of the Son to the Father is greater than we find in men towards the authors of their being, so also His liberty is greater. Since it will not of course be said that the circumstances of the Son’s relation to the Father are greater and more intimate than among men, and of the Father’s to the Son, less.

For if we admire the Son — that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him — we ought to admire the Father also, that He begot such a son — not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counsellor is no slave. But again, when you hear of a counsellor, do not understand it as though the Father were in need, but that the Son has the same honor with Him that begot Him. Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars.”

Heh. Anyway, the rest of his comments are a bit less feminist… but still, a lot more feminist than some people online!

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“Because of the Angels”

I have been learning Ancient Greek by way of Professor Mueller’s Greek 101 on The Great Courses, so of course I am rummaging around in Greek texts of the Bible. I was also looking at an interesting 1994 article by Fr. Thompson about St. Hildegarde of Bingen’s ideas about sex and the priesthood.

He notes St. Hildegarde’s “misquote,” or rather, her deliberately partial quote, of 1 Corinthians 11:9. Rather than St. Paul’s “….the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man,” she quotes it as “The man was… created for sake of the woman, and the woman for the sake of the man.” This is a pretty common thing for medieval authors to do. They know the quote, and they know that the reader knows the quote. But they like to show that an opposite version of the quote is also true!

So anyway, this led me to look at 1 Corinthians 11 with fresh eyes.

Okay, so the rule that St. Paul is teaching is that is that Christian men at Mass (unlike Jewish men at synagogues or the Temple, or so one is told — but see below) do not cover their heads at prayer, because Christ (Who is God) did not cover His head at prayer. But Christian women (like Jewish men and women) do cover their heads at prayer.

St. Paul was Jewish first. What did he learn about the creation of woman?

Woman was created to be the man’s ‘ezer, his helper and rescuer, much as the Lord is the helper of Israel.

Similarly, God has a glory around Him (shekinah in Hebrew, doxa in Greek). Sometimes the glory is displayed, but mostly it was concealed from the people, inside the Temple’s Holy of Holies. The glory concealed God, but also revealed His Presence.

So when Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:15 that a woman’s hair is her glory and given to her as a covering, he’s comparing women and hair to God and His glory cloud.

So yeah, not exactly a disrespectful attitude.

Finally, the whole situation with wearing a covering or not is referred to as being “because of the angels.” But earlier, in 1 Corinthians 6:3, St. Paul asked the Corinthians, if they didn’t already know that Christians were going to be judging angels? So obviously, it doesn’t have anything to do with angels being the boss of Christian women…

So what is really going on?

1 Corinthians is a letter with a lot of stuff about discipline and manners. But it is couched in a context of eternal dignity for all Christians. So the whole letter is addressed to the Corinthians in the Church. Paul says they have been sanctified (hegiasmenois) and called to be holy/saints (kletois hagiois). He says they have been enriched by all the Word and by all knowledge (en panti logou, kai en pase gnosei), and that in their community, they do not lack even one spiritual gift.

But all the same, stuff is going wrong? Why?

St. Paul blames a lack of love among the members of the Church. Then he goes through all the bad stuff they’ve been doing, from lawsuits among themselves and sexual sins, all the way down to a general lack of orderliness. He answers some questions, in case they just haven’t been putting the pieces together; then he wades back into the disorder problems.

And that’s where we find the hairy comments about heads and hair.

First off, Paul points out that all the spiritual gifts and knowledge only belong to the Corinthians in Christ Jesus —

“Who for us has become wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30)

Now the interesting bit is that the same Greek word for “became” shows up in the Septuagint/Gospel version of one of the famous quotes about Jesus — the lyrical bit from Psalms, about how the stone which the builders rejected has become (egenesthe) the head (kephalen) of the corner. So St. Paul is thinking about Christ as our head, from the very beginning of the letter.

(There may also be a horrible continuing pun about Greek Kephas from Aramaic Kepha, Peter the rock, versus Greek kephalos, head.)

Obviously St. Paul has a thing about Christ and Temple theology, so it’s not surprising that it shows up again in 1 Cor. 3:9-17.

“For we are God’s coworkers. Y’all are God’s field –

“Y’all are God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation. And another is building upon it; but each one must be careful how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there — namely, Jesus Christ…

“Do y’all not know that y’all are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in y’all?

“If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For the Temple of God, which y’all are, is holy.”

He goes on to point out even more about Christian dignity as baptized children and members of God Himself:

“So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to y’all: whether Paul or Apollo or Kephas, the world or life or death, or the present or the future. They all belong to y’all; and y’all belong to Christ, and Christ to God.

“So let a human being count us as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Cor. 3:22-23, 1 Cor. 4:1)

Paul goes on to point out that he’s trying to act like a trustworthy steward, and that God is the only real judge of his work; even Paul can’t judge himself on that point. Then he points out that if he and Apollos are nervous about God’s judgment, it’s a bit much for the Corinthians to be so confident that they’re heading for heaven. And it is at this point that the angels show up for the first time in the letter.

“For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death. For we have become a spectacle [theatron egenethemen] to the world [tou kosmou], both to angels and to humans [kai angelois kai anthropois].” (1 Cor. 4:9)

I really like the way this is put. Christ has become the head of the corner, and Christian apostles have become a gladiator theater show!

Paul then talks about all the trouble and disrespect that the apostles face in their mission. He describes them as being treated like gunk scraped off a plate (peripsema) and like throwaway scum (perikatharma). He compares himself and other apostles to the prosperous and popular Corinthian Christians, and urges the Corinthians to imitate his own hardy attitude and loving behavior.

He points out that he is not just sending Timothy to be a reminder of the teachings, but that he will be coming himself. Anybody who is a big talker will then have to prove that he has as much of God’s power as Paul can wield. Do they want a loving Paul, or a punishing smitey Paul?

This brings him to the next topic: a supposedly Christian man who is sleeping with his own stepmother. Ew! Even the pagans don’t do that! Maybe only God can judge someone’s stewardship… but in this case, Christians not only can judge, but must judge their own.

“The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. Although absent in body but present in spirit, I for my part have already pronounced judgment, as if present, on the one who has committed this deed… Is it not your business to judge insiders?… Purge the evil person from your midst.” (1 Cor. 5:2-3, 12)

After this comes all the talk about lawsuits. Disputes should be settled within the Church, if at all possible; and it should be possible.

“How can anyone among y’all, with a case against another, dare to bring it for judgment to the unjust, instead of to the saints?

“Do y’all not know that the saints [hoi hagioi] will judge the world [ton kosmon]? If the world is going to be judged by y’all, how are y’all unqualified for the most minor cases?

“Do y’all not know that we will judge angels? Then how much more, the things of this life?” (1 Cor. 6:1-3)

Angels as underlings again.

Anyway, St. Paul advises two things — that people put up with injustice rather than drag things outside the Church, but also that the Church get its act together and quit letting the members do bad things. People were supposed to change their ways after being baptized and becoming part of Christ. Just as people sleeping with prostitutes make themselves one with the prostitute, Christians shouldn’t be trying to drag Christ’s Body into their own sins. The body of a Christian is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul moves along to talk about marriage. Of course, for those who can handle it (like Paul) —

“It is a beautiful thing for a man not to touch a woman.” (1 Cor. 7:1)

[In Greek, “kalos” means good, beautiful, noble, clean, etc.]

But otherwise, marriage is a good thing.

And this is where it gets interesting!

“But on account of immoral sexual behavior,” [dia de tas porneias] “each man may have his own wife, and each woman may have her own husband. Let the husband do his duty to the wife, and the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority [exousiazei] over her own body [tou idiou somatos]; but rather, the husband does. Yet neither does the husband have authority over his body; but rather, the wife does.” (1 Cor. 7:2-4)

O ho ho! Shades of Yentl! And yup, the phrase is put exactly the same way for either husband or wife. (Everybody tells me that Paul is soooooo sexist.)

Paul goes on:

“Do not deprive one another — unless perhaps by mutual consent, so that y’all might be at leisure for prayer for a time. But then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control.

“However, I say this as a concession, not as a command. For I wish all human beings could be as I am.

“But each person has his own gift from God — one this, another that.

“And so I say to the unmarried people and to the widows, that it is beautiful for them to remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7:5-9)

And now it gets interesting again.

“But to those who have married, I send this message [parangellou] — I, not the Lord.

“A wife is not to be separated from a husband.

“But if she has been separated from him, let her remain unmarried, or let her be reconciled with her husband.

“And let a husband not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor.

Paul then says that if a Christian has an unbelieving spouse who wants to stay married, they should stay married; the unbelieving spouse will be sanctified in his union with the believer, and their children will be holy/saints/members of the Church. If the unbeliever doesn’t want to be married, the believer can let them go. In general, everybody should live as they already do (barring sin).

“Concerning virgins, I have no command from the Lord. But I give my personal advice from experience, as one who is trustworthy from having received the Lord’s mercy.” (1 Cor. 7:25)

Again, his advice is to stay as you are; but if a person wants to marry, that’s fine too. This will cause some suffering in the present life.

But ideally, all Christians should live as if the world were about to end, because it is an ephemeral place and Christians are immortal. Christians should set aside anxiety and live for God.

This leads to a discussion of eating food offered to idols. Basically, it’s a bad idea because it gives the wrong idea, and thus leads people astray. Paul talks about how he doesn’t use all his rights as an apostle; other Christians should be thinking of helping others, too. He advises everyone to “run so as to win,” exercising and training themselves with discipline in every possible way. Do not be overconfident in Christ’s mercy. Avoid idolatry and think of the good of others around you.

Again he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. In fact, he tells them to be “mimetai,” mime actors! (“Hypocritai” are the talking actors with masks or makeup.) In Greek society, the students of a philosopher or trademaster were expected to try to imitate him in every way; so were the students of a rabbi in Jewish society.

So finally we get to the stuff about headcovering.

As St. Paul says in a paraphrase of Genesis 2, the woman was literally created out of the man, not the man out of the woman. So man is literally the head of humanity and woman is literally the human rib; whereas the head man of all men is Christ, the new Adam; and Christ’s head is God. This much is clear reasoning.

The tricky bit is that, since Christian men are the image and glory of God, their heads should be exposed; but that since Christian women are Christian men’s doxa or shekinah, their heads should be hidden. Possibly this is talking about how humans are fallible and should be modest before God. In this idea, God’s glory should be exposed and revealed to the world, and should not be covered before God because it is of God. Probably I am missing something Jewish about this.

OTOH, Paul then says that the woman ought to have “authority” (exousian) “on the head” (epi tes kephales). I am not clear why the obvious meaning (going by the earlier passage in 1 Corinthians) is not taken — that the wife does still have authority over the body of her husband, even though he is her head. Possibly this is because it’s a feminine “kephales.”

But in that case, wouldn’t it be saying that the woman has authority over her own head, even if she should be wearing a headcovering and isn’t? Wouldn’t that fit Paul’s argument style better? (And indeed, this is one interpretation — they have more authority than non-Christian women, and need to exercise it so they’ll be ready for judging the world.)

The stumbling block seems to be Paul’s interjection, “because of the angels/messengers” [dia tous angelous]

Traditionally the saying is associated with the idea that bad angels liked the looks of the daughters of men, including their hair. But that doesn’t seem to have been a factor in the Adam and Eve story, in early Jewish tradition. If anything, Eve was a figure of authority in Eden, and Satan resented the fact that such a newbie, made out of meat instead of spirit, was being given such power by God.

All the angels (or messengers) mentioned in 1 Corinthians, up to this point, are good angels. So what is the deal? Is “authority on the head” a symbol of Christian humans being able to judge angels? A sign of dignity, scholarship, and power, or a sign of awe before the Lord?

(long aside follows)

Before the Diaspora, it was not required that Jewish men ever cover their heads, although it was considered pious to do so during prayer, at synagogues, or in the Temple. Temple Judaism did tend to regard covering the head or face as an expression of awe before God or of penance. OTOH, grief or reckless behavior could require one to bare the head and expose the hair. Headcoverings for male scholars were a sign of dignity and learning. Covering the heads of boys was thought to make them more serious. But it may in fact have become customary for Jewish men to cover their heads always, and particularly at prayer, as a contradiction of Christian custom.

As with most of the ancient world, Temple Judaism only wanted married women to cover their heads outside the home, basically as a sign that they were taken. It was only gradually that unmarried Jewish women began to cover their hair; it would not have been the custom in the time of Jesus or Paul. Pagan Greek and Roman married women covered their hair.

After the loss of the Temple, custom got meaner; it was permissible for a man to divorce his wife if her hair was ever seen outside, and showing female hair was said to be the same as showing female genitalia. Similarly, the idea that married Jewish women should shave their heads and keep their hair covered forever, even from their husbands inside their bedrooms, was a late medieval or early modern idea, apparently born of an excessive sense of “keeping a fence around the Law.”

Obviously none of this, er, devotional creativity (ahem) has anything to do with Christian women or the strictures of St. Paul. Similarly, Christian women should dismiss the moral reasoning behind Muslim headcoverings. We should not be anywhere on the same page with the heretical Quran. (And yes, I shouldn’t have to say something as obvious as that.)

(long aside ends)

Amusingly, there is at least one Christian group today that believes that only women wearing headcoverings have the authority to exorcise demons. Others associate it with angels covering their faces before God. (Actually, I only know about angels throwing themselves down before God, and seraphim covering up God from human sight.)

Anyway, Paul quickly moves on from the headcovering issue, unlike the rest of us!

“However, in the Lord, woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman. For just as the the woman came out of the man, so the man exists because of the woman. But everything comes from God.

“Judge for yourselves whether it is proper for a woman to pray to God while unveiled.” (1 Cor. 11:11-13)

Then the next knotty problem: long-haired men in the congregation.

“But on the other hand, doesn’t Nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor [atimia] to him?” (1 Cor. 11:14)

Men or boys having long hair was a sign of effeminate sexiness among the pagan men who liked catamites. Some Jewish men grew their hair long, which was… um… misunderstood.

In ancient ancient Athens, atimia was a legal term for losing the powers of citizenship. You weren’t exiled, but you couldn’t vote or act as a juror, and you couldn’t defend yourself by suing anyone else. So having atimia growing on your head is pretty much the opposite of having exousian over your head.

This is the point of the argument where Paul says that long hair is the shekinah glory (“doxa“) of women.

“However, if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for long hair was given to her instead of a warm cloak.” (1 Cor. 11:15)

Presumably “was given” is a reference to Eve in Eden. A peribolaion was often a man’s traveling cloak. Some suggest that it is referring here to chest hair, heh… Probably not, but it’s a fun idea.

Paul ends his comments with:

“So if anyone is inclined to be argumentative — we have no other practice, and neither do any of God’s churches.” (1 Cor. 11:16)

This got a lot longer than I planned on! Let me know if you actually read this wall of text!

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St. Ammonius and the Unwed Pregnant Girl

One time, they brought an unwed pregnant girl to Father Amun and his monks in the desert, and they said, “Give her a penance.”

But he blessed her womb with the Sign of the Cross, and ordered that pieces of cloth be given to her, to serve as a shroud in case the mother or her baby died.

And they asked, “What are you doing? Put a penance on her!”

But Father Amun said, “But my brothers, you see that she is in danger of death. What can I do?”

Amun felt unworthy to judge others. He was merciful and full of goodness toward people.

— Adapted from Anthony Alcock’s translation of the Syrian “Apothegmata of Amun.”

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Our Lady of Knock Documentary: Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village

There’s an interesting Irish documentary on Amazon Prime right now: “Strange Occurrences in an Irish Village.” (The name comes from one of the early newspaper articles about the Knock apparition.)

The 2016 documentary focuses on the modern history of Knock, and how the locals are trying to help renew the pilgrimages and the Irish love for the Catholic Church. Unfortunately a lot of Irish-Americans are more interested than a lot of Irish!

Anyway, there’s a great bit at the beginning where Knock villagers read from the original depositions made by their ancestors. I didn’t realize that the apparition was first heralded by the following words:

“When did the deacon put up those new statues?”

“I didn’t know we were getting statues.”

(Of course, they weren’t statues; they were mysterious images of saints that appeared strangely solid, but could not be felt with the hand.)

The documentary does get into a lot of the history later on, and you get to see a lot of the actual local sites and landscape. County Mayo is cool.

Knock’s story tends to be retold in a syrupy way, so I really like a more matter-of-fact retelling that doesn’t minimize the miracle. I also like the locals who are featured; they are the salt of the earth. You also learn that even in these softer days, there are young Irishmen who like to make a barefoot pilgrimage to Knock.

I also didn’t realize that at least one of the witnesses, Mary O’Connell Byrne, was found to be incorrupt in her coffin when they added a family member to her grave.

The annoying bit is that they have some goofy music moments when people are being serious and solemn. But overall it’s a very beautiful documentary, and you learn a lot about how hard people work together to keep up a nice shrine for God.

(And yes, of course there’s a bit where they talk to two nuns, and one of them is faithful and conservative but painted as obsessed, but the other gets into women’s ordination. Sigh.)

It looks like Knock isn’t all that crowded for most of the year, which is kind of a shame for them; but is probably nice for you if you go there.

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