Month: October 2011

Tiny Christian Relic Found in Israel

From Fox News:

A tiny, exquisitely made box found on an excavated street in Jerusalem is a token of Christian faith from 1,400 years ago, Israeli archaeologists said Sunday.

The box, carved from the bone of a cow, horse or camel, decorated with a cross on the lid and measuring only 0.8 inches by 0.6 inches, was likely carried by a Christian believer around the end of the 6th century A.D, according to Yana Tchekhanovets of the Antiquities Authority, one of the directors of the dig where the box was found.

When the lid is removed, the remains of two portraits are still visible in paint and gold leaf. The figures, a man and a woman, are probably Christian saints and possibly Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

The box was found in an excavation outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in the remains of a Byzantine-era thoroughfare, she said. Uncovered two years ago, it was treated by preservation experts and extensively researched before it was unveiled at an archaeological conference last week.

The box is important in part because it offers the first archaeological evidence that the use of icons in the Byzantine period was not limited to church ceremonies, she said.

Part of a similar box was found three decades ago in Jordan, but this is the only well-preserved example to be found so far, she said. Similar icons are still carried today by some Christian believers, especially from the eastern Orthodox churches.

The relic was found in the City of David excavation, a Jerusalem dig named for the biblical monarch believed to have ruled a Jewish kingdom from the site.

The politically sensitive dig is located in what is today the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as their capital.

The relationship between the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Unfortunately, the popular imagination tends to view the Renaissance as a “rebirth” of knowledge and the arts after a “Dark Age” of barbarism and ignorance; this common view, however, as with most popular imaginings, is about as far from the truth as one can get. On the contrary, the Renaissance was not a break with the Middle Ages, but was the culmination and, finally, the apex of the great Medieval synthesis of the Judaic with the Greco-Roman within the context of Christianity.

It is well known by now that the Italian Humanists differed from their Scholastic rivals less in essential doctrines than in stylistic predilections, forms of presentation, and classical mentors. Medieval Catholic thought had long made its peace with Greek logic and psychology, and the view that there was any hostility between medieval thinkers and the pagan classics (Christianly interpreted, of course) is a figment of some modern imaginations. To a certain extent Humanism was Scholasticism without the complexities and subtleties; hence the main interest of the Humanists was in simplification and purification of “barbarisms.” Similarly the elaborate care with which the Scholastics, in particular Thomas Aquinas, had reconciled Aristotelian classical philosophy with Catholic doctrine had its influence in the fact that the Humanists, for the most part, simply took it for granted that there was no conflict between Catholicism and the classics; that the latter were pagan in form but Christian in content; that the Greek mythology and pantheon might legitimately be employed as a vehicle for expressing thoughts about Christian holy persons and saints. Furthermore, on the crucial moral question of the capacities and potentialities of man, the Humanist notions of man as a microcosm and theories of ethical freedom rested on the same metaphysical foundations as the orthodox views of man’s place in the scale of being and his capacity for continuous regeneration; Scholastic emphasis on free will and its rationalistic-moral approach to psychology were matched by both Stoic and Neo-Platonic schools of Humanist thought.

Charles Edward Trinkaus, Jr., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, pp. 148-9

Book Review: From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life – Jacques Barzun

Barzun’s swan-song, which consists of 800+ pages of historical information, interesting quotes, anecdotes, insights, and reflections, is the literary equivalent of sitting at the feet of a great master and venerable elder. The wide swath of knowledge encompassed in this book, including such varied aspects of Western culture as ballet, opera, Dadaism, mystery crime novels, and hippies, and the balanced bird’s eye view and authoritative approach taken to each is indicative of the long life (now over 100 years) of a penetrating and curious mind.

Barzun’s style throughout the book is nearly conversational as he discusses the various topics, people, and ideas we encounter along the way. He takes us down side trails that connect seemingly disparate elements of culture, such as Bach and the rise of National Socialism or street gangs and Andy Warhol, bringing together facts that are normally compartmentalized, separated, and sorted, and giving us, throughout, his own knowledgeable assessment. And, in the end, he offers us his thoughts on the current state of Western Civilization, what we have become and what he believes will become of us.

For all of this, I think any attentive disciple (that is, reader) cannot help but whisper “thank you” as he closes the book, even after a second or third read of it, and to wish, hope, and pray, no matter the odds against, that Barzun could have another 100 years.