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“A great library contains the diary of the human race”*…

 

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In 48 BCE, embroiled in a campaign against his rival Pompey, Julius Caesar laid siege to the Egyptian city of Alexandria…

The Roman ruler laid siege to the city and decided there was only one way to break the stalemate and maintain military control of the harbor — he lit his docked fleet on fire.

The ensuing blaze quickly spread through the city as fires were wont to do in the days of wooden ships and nonexistent fire departments. The flames soon reached the beloved Library of Alexandria. It is believed that nearly 10 percent of the building went up in flames that day, although the specifics of what was burned and the extent of the damage are unknown.

It was the first time the library — a grand church of universal knowledge and scholarship the likes of which the world had never seen — was attacked. It wouldn’t be the last… [source]

But what if things had unfolded differently?

Julius Caesar’s Egyptian excursion almost ended in catastrophe. Battles broke out in Alexandria, and from the burning ships, the flames moved to the structure of the great, famous library. Already a good 200 years old, it contained the entirety of ancient knowledge and culture. It’s frightening just to think what dark ages would have fallen on the Earth if we had lost this invaluable collection of books.

We owe the rescue of this treasure to Julius Caesar himself. It was he, seeing that the building with tens of thousands of books was threatened, who ordered the Roman soldiers to halt their attack, and threw himself into the battle against the flames. While putting out the fire he was severely burned, losing his left thumb. It was then that he said the famous words: “When books are burning, it’s time to lay down the sword.” Ever since that moment, the divine Julius has been sculpted and painted without his left thumb. And the Roman salute – the left hand raised, with the thumb hidden – gained popularity as a sign of people who are educated and hungry for wisdom….

In this engaging alternative history, the literature preserved in the library, notably Greek writings about steam power, are enough to kick-start an industrial revolution in ancient Rome.  Roman steamships cross the Atlantic and discover America.  The great historic event of 1492 was the first Moon landing.  Contemplate it in its entirety: “Empire of the Alexandrinas: An alternative literary history.”  [Via The Browser]

For more on the actual history of Alexandria’s amazing library, see “The Library of Alexandria Is Long-Gone – And All Around Us.”

* George Mercer Dawson

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As we explore the road not taken, we might recall that it was on this date in 1520 that Martin Luther burned his copy of the papal bull Exsurge Domine outside Wittenberg’s Elster Gate.  The Bull had been published the prior June, in response to Luther’s teachings (which, of course, opposed the views of the Church).  It censured forty one propositions extracted from Luther’s Ninety-five Theses and subsequent writings, and threatened him with excommunication unless he recanted.  Luther refused and responded instead by composing polemical tracts lashing out at the papacy– and by publicly torching a copy of the bull.  As a result, Luther was indeed excommunicated in 1521.

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Title page of the first printed edition of Exsurge Domine

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“The real novelty of our own time is not the prominence of the religious Right but the silence of the religious Left”*…

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“The Word of Life” mural, otherwise known as the “Touchdown Jesus,” at the Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame University

 

Catholics make up a disproportionate share of the intelligentsia of the religious Right in the United States. Although they constitute only a fifth of the US population (and white Catholics make up less than 12 per cent of the US population), they maintain a high profile among conservative think tanks, universities and professional organisations. On the US Supreme Court, four out of five Republican-appointed justices are Catholic, despite evangelicals making up a substantial portion of Republican Party support.

To understand Catholic overrepresentation on the US Supreme Court, and how Catholics in some sense became the brains of American conservatism, we must look to the history of Catholic education in the US…

When evangelicals mobilised politically in the 1970s and declared a ‘culture war’ against the menace of secularism, they put aside their longstanding anti-Catholicism and reached out to Catholic conservatives. Catholics proved to be perfect partners. Unlike evangelicals, conservative Catholics could draw on research universities, law schools, medical schools, business schools and other intellectual-producing institutions in the fight against secularism. Evangelicals’ suspicion of higher education since at least the days of the 1925 Scopes trial over teaching evolution meant that they had built few institutions of higher learning. Their bible colleges and seminaries were meant to create believers and converts, not intellectuals.  Evangelical law schools and PhD programmes remain extremely rare in the US. Ironically, a tradition so devoted to spreading literacy saw too much learning as a potential danger…

Catholic intellectual life in the US is not solely conservative, and Catholic conservatism sometimes cuts across the Left-Right divide in the US (on immigration and the death penalty, for example). But it remains the case that Catholic intellectuals are overrepresented in the US conservative movement. By virtue of their 19th-century separationist anxieties and their investment in institutions of higher learning, Catholics have become the brains of the religious Right in the US…

How the Catholic Church became the intellectual engine of the religious Right: “Evangelicals bring the votes, Catholics bring the brains.”

* Alec Ryrie, Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World

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As we ruminate on religion, we might recall that it was on this date 1512 that Martin Luther joined the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg… where, five years later, he wrote his famous Ninety-five Thesesand launched the Protestant Reformation.

Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_Monk source

 

“No Man is wise at all Times, or is without his blind Side”*…

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Martin Luther, circa 1532; Hans Holbein the Younger: Portrait of Erasmus, 1523

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, the leading figure of the Northern Renaissance, is widely considered the greatest of early humanists. Five hundred years ago, he faced a populist uprising led by a powerful provocateur, Martin Luther, that resulted in divisions no less explosive than those we see in America and Europe today.

Between 1500 and 1515, Erasmus produced a small library of tracts, textbooks, essays, and dialogues that together offered a blueprint for a new Europe. The old Europe had been dominated by the Roman Church. It emphasized hierarchy, authority, tradition, and the performance of rituals like confession and taking communion. But a new order was emerging, marked by spreading literacy, expanding trade, growing cities, the birth of printing, and the rise of a new middle class intent on becoming not only prosperous but learned, too.

Erasmus became the most articulate spokesman for this class…

Around the same time that the Erasmians were celebrating the dawn of a new enlightened era, a very different movement was gathering in support of Martin Luther. An Augustinian friar then in his early thirties, Luther had developed his own, unique gospel, founded on the principle of faith. Man, he thought, can win divine grace not through doing good works, as the Latin Church taught, but through belief in Christ. No matter how sincerely one confessed, no matter how many alms one gave, without faith in the Savior, he reasoned, no one can be saved. When Luther made this “discovery,” in around 1515, he felt that he had become “altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”…

Initially, Luther admired Erasmus and his efforts to reform the Church, but over time Luther’s inflammatory language and his stress on faith instead of good works led to a painful separation. The flashpoint was the debate over whether man has free will. In dueling tracts, Erasmus suggested that he does, while Luther vehemently objected; after that, the two men considered each other mortal enemies.

Beyond that immediate matter of dispute, however, their conflict represented the clash of two contrasting world views—those of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Erasmus was an internationalist who sought to establish a borderless Christian union; Luther was a nationalist who appealed to the patriotism of the German people. Where Erasmus wrote exclusively in Latin, Luther often used the vernacular, the better to reach the common man. Erasmus wanted to educate a learned caste; Luther, to evangelize the masses. For years, they waged a battle of ideas, with each seeking to win over Europe to his side, but Erasmus’s reformist and universalist creed could not match Luther’s more emotional and nationalistic one; even some of Erasmus’s closest disciples eventually defected to Luther’s camp. Erasmus became an increasingly marginal figure, scorned by both Catholics, for being too critical of the Church, and Lutherans, for being too timid. In a turbulent and polarized age, he was the archetypal reasonable liberal…

As Mark Twain is reputed to have observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”– the Renaissance vs. the Reformation: “Luther vs. Erasmus: When Populism First Eclipsed the Liberal Elite.”

* Desiderius Erasmus, The Alchymyst, in Colloquies of Erasmus, Volume I

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As we celebrate critical thinking, we might recall that it was on this date in 380 that the three Emperors of the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Thessalonica, ordering all subjects of the Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and of Alexandria, making Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and effectively creating “Christendom.”   It ended a period of religious tolerance that had been formalized in 313 when the emperor Constantine I, together with his eastern counterpart Licinius, had issued the Edict of Milan, which granted religious toleration and freedom for persecuted Christians.

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“Beer is made by men, wine by God”*…

 

On this day 500 years ago, an obscure Saxon monk launched a protest movement against the Catholic Church that would transform Europe. Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation changed not just the way Europeans lived, fought, worshipped, worked and created art but also how they ate and drank. For among the things it impacted was a drink beloved throughout the world and especially in Luther’s native Germany: beer…

How the protest that Luther launched 500 years ago revamped not only how Europe worshipped but also how it drank, as he and his followers promoted hops in beer as an act of rebellion against the Catholic Church: “The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too.”

* Martin Luther

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As we tap the keg, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that the Ames Brothers recorded “More Beer,” released the following year as the b-side of “You, You, You Are The One” (and on the 10″ LP Hoop-De-Doo).

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Written by LW

November 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The more energy you put into trying to control your ideas and what you think about, the more your ideas end up controlling you”*…

 

‘Pope-Donkey’

Martin Luther’s theological battle with Catholicism and his verbal war against the Pope pioneered an attack technique that we would recognize as trolling.  Luther’s grotesque caricatures of the Pope were certainly in keeping with the sixteenth century polemics that were vulgar, slanderous, and coarse. But importantly, Luther’s attacks were facilitated by a new technology — printing with movable type:

In 1523 [Martin] Luther and [his ally Philip] Melanchthon collaborated on an illustrated anti-Roman pamphlet based on the alleged appearance of two monstrosities. One, dubbed the ‘pope-­donkey,’ was washed up on the banks of the Tiber river in Rome, and the other, called the ‘monk-calf,’ was born only a few miles from Wittenberg. The pope-donkey was pictured in front of the papal castle at Rome. It was a standing figure with a donkey’s head, a skin of fish scales, female breasts, a hoof and claw for feet, and the end of an elephant’s trunk for its right hand. The head of a dragon protruded from its rear. Luther deemed it a sign of God’s wrath against the papacy and warned that more omens would appear. Relying on a medieval treatise on the Antichrist, Melanchthon offered a similar reading in which, for example, the head protruding from the donkey’s rear signified the decline and demise of the papacy. …

Why would Luther and Melanchthon point such ugly fingers at the papacy and monasticism? First of all, because niceness was not a virtue in their day; and second, because, by 1523, they had been the butt of similar satire from their opponents. However, they also had more profound reasons, which went to the heart of the reformation. Luther was convinced that laity were being hoodwinked by the medieval church. … For Luther the pope-donkey and the monk­-calf symbolized the futility of trusting in a religious authority that sanc­tioned the pursuit of perfection as the right way to heaven. On the contrary, claimed Luther, a less demanding and more merciful Christianity would liberate people from anxiety about reaching heaven and redirect their concern toward others in place of themselves. Beginning in 1518, an astounding number of people agreed with Luther, left behind the religion of their ancestors, and rallied to his side.

“Rome, however, did not buckle, and what ensued from 1520 to 1525 was a war of words and images on a scale never previously imagined. The war was made possible by a new, cheaper, and faster technology — printing with movable type. Luther’s facility with words, combined with the artistic skill of Lucas Cranach and his journeymen in Wittenberg, fed a burgeoning printing industry that gave Luther a distinct advantage in the competition to sway religious opinion. In those five years, around sixty Catholic writers produced more than 200 pamphlets and books against Luther and other Protestant authors. Many of these were theological essays of good quality, but they were written in Latin and thus inaccessible for most laypeople. In contrast, Luther wrote in a lively German style that explained clearly and directly the changes he wanted to make and the theological basis for them. It was not a fair fight. Protestant pamphlets outnumbered Catholic publi­cations five to one; Luther alone published twice as many as all his Catholic opponents combined…

An excerpt from Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, by Scott H. Hendrix; via Delancey Place.

* Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

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As we refrain from feeding the trolls, we might that this date in 1582 was one of ten that simply didn’t happen in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland.  Those countries had introduced the Gregorian calendar.  While this was “October 10” in the rest of the world, those four countries, adopting Pope Gregory XIII’s innovation, skipped ten days– so that there, the date shifted from October 4 to October 15.  With the shift, the calendar was aligned with the equinoxes, and the lunar cycles used to establish the celebration of Easter.  Britain and its colonies resisted this Popish change, and used the Julian calendar for another century and a half, until September 2, 1752.

From a work published in 1582, the year of the calendar reform; days 5 to 14 October are omitted.

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Written by LW

October 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

Finding the way…

 

Almost 30 years ago a Japanese custodian sat in front of a large A1 size sheet of white paper, whipped out a pen and started drawing the beginnings of diabolically complex maze, each twist and turn springing spontaneously from his brain onto the paper without aid of a computer. The hobby would consume him as he drew in his spare time until its completion nearly 7 years later when the final labyrinth was rolled up and almost forgotten. Twitter user @Kya7y was recently going through some of her father’s old things (he’s still a custodian at a public university) when she happened upon the maze and snapped a few photos to share on Twitter…

Read the full story at Colossal; see more photos at Spoon & Tamago.

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As we get in touch with our inner Perseus, we might recall that it was on this date in 1535 that 12 Anabaptist men and women ran nude through the streets of Amsterdam, shouting “truth is naked”; in the event, they roused more anger than contemplation, much less fear.  They were detained by authorities, tried, and put to death.

A quote from Martin Luther, reformer and inspiration to Anabaptists. The rest of the passage: “There is, on earth, among all dangers, no more dangerous thing than a richly endowed and adroit reason. Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed.”

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Written by LW

February 10, 2013 at 1:01 am

It’s never too early…

… to start thinking about those Holiday gifts.  In a search for inspiration, your correspondent has returned to the site of a prior post to peruse “Xmas Advertisements of the 1930s“…

More nifty gift ideas at Vintage Ad Browser’s  “Xmas Advertisements of the 1930s“…

As pause in our trick-or-treat preparations to make a list and check it twice, we might recall that it was on this date in 1517– All Hallows (All Saints) Eve– that Martin Luther, a priest and scholar in Wittenberg, Germany, upset by what he saw as the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church (especially the papal practice of taking payments– “indulgences”– for the forgiveness of sins), posted his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church.  Thus began the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther (source)

 

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