- May you live in interesting times.
- May you come to the attention of the authorities.
- May you find what you are looking for.
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
— Karl Marx
A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.
— Czesław Miłosz
Born a pagan, Edwin (585-633) became a Christian saint, the father of two saints, and the great-uncle and grandfather of two more saints.
The political life of early medieval Britain was brutal, resembling in many ways A Game of Thrones, though with, perhaps, slightly less sex and no dragons. A number of minor, pagan Anglo-Saxon kingdoms continually struggled against each other, against native Christian enclaves and against raiders from Ireland and Caledonia. These statelets rose and fell, occasionally producing a ruler who was strong enough to dominate his neighbours for a time and earn the title of Bretwalda or High King. One of these was a northern prince named Edwin of Northumbria.
Edwin appeared at a time when Christian missions were penetrating these pagan Germanic territories from the north, where Irish-trained monks brought a Celtic Christianity and from the south, where missionaries had been sent from Catholic Rome. In 627, under the influence of Catholic bishop Paulinus, Edwin agreed to convert from his pagan upbringing. Bede’s history tells us that the king and his nobles debated the opportunity of becoming Christians, with the speech of one of his men being decisive:
The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison with that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter amid your officers and ministers, with a good fire in the midst whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door and immediately out another, whilst he is within is safe from the wintry but after a short space of fair weather he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he has emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.
Edwin’s conversion and his domination of northern England aroused enemies, particularly the very able and aggressive Penda, the pagan king of Mercia. In 633 Penda defeated Edwin, killing him and his two sons. His Christian wife and Paulinus fled south and the Christian project in northern England suffered a temporary set-back.
He who gets married will be happy for a day, he who butchers a pig will be happy for a year.
The abbot and thirty monks couldn’t force a donkey to drink.
Three things are needed to get rich: a little, a lot, a nothing: little money, much ability, no conscience.
If water were any good, it wouldn’t be used to water cucumbers.
If you want to live to an old age, you need to start early.
For good health never wash your head, wash your hands often and your feet rarely.
Don’t choose a woman or cloth by candlelight.
– Sicilian proverbs
- You’re correct, but the goat is mine.
- He who sleeps cannot catch fish.
- He who leaves and then returns, had a good trip.
- A closed mouth catches neither flies nor food.
- If you own two houses, it is raining in one of them.
- Company drags a man to the scaffold.
- He who lives fast goes straight to his death.
- Hunger drives the wolf from its den.
- Theory dominates practice.
- If a caged bird isn’t singing for love, it’s singing in a rage.
- An open path never seems long.
- A fine rain still soaks you to the bone, but no one takes it seriously.
- What can a cat do if its master is crazy.
- Words have no bones, but can break bones.
- A thin cat and a fat woman are the shame of a household.
— Corsican proverbs
• In late Victorian times, proper ladies refused to use the word “leg,” so as to avoid mentioning the delicate subject of stilts.
• Pertinax was the first Roman emperor to hop on one foot for more than three hours straight.
• Most Nativity scenes displayed at Christmas are risibly inaccurate, because they leave out the obstetrician.
• All other Russian names that begin with the letter Ч are transliterated with a Ch in English, but Tchaikovsky’s name is transliterated with a Tch. The anomaly is due to the acrimony of Tchaikovsky’s enemies in the English-speaking music press, who wished to make sure that Tchaikovsky’s name would always appear last in alphabetical lists of Russian composers.
— Dr. Boli’s Encyclopedia of Misinformation
INFORMATION, we like to tell ourselves, is our most valuable commodity. Yet a cursory glance at the world today will show us that our deeds give the lie to our words. For our purposes we may define “information” as true knowledge of the state of things, and it is clear that we actively despise such knowledge. Has any nation ever gone to war, any hotly contested election been won, any grave question of public policy ever been decided on the basis of information? Certainly not.
No, when we face our most important decisions, the choices that will change our lives forever, MISINFORMATION is what we demand. We reward the purveyors of misinformation with high office and public honor; we punish the bringers of information with scorn and derision, and frequently prison or torture.
— Dr. Boli
We expect saints to perform miracles. These days, proof of a miraculous cure or two is one of the ways the Catholic Church decides that an individual has exhibited saintly prowess. We do not routinely expect, however, that saints go about lugging their severed heads, but hagiographies abound in cephalophores (head-carriers) and today we celebrate the first of them: St Denis.
St Denis seems to have been sent from Italy to evangelize Roman-occupied Gaul in the third century. He converted so many in the region of what is now Paris that the authorities were alerted to his presence and he, with two companions, was beheaded on the city’s highest point, Montmartre. This execution does not seem to have deterred Denis from picking up his severed sense organ cluster and walking six miles to his burial site, with the detached head preaching a sermon of repentance all the way.
Other cephalophoric saints include Nicasius of Rheims who was reading a psalm when he was decapitated — his head finished reciting the verse he was on — and St Gemolo who, after his execution, picked up his head mounted a horse and rode off to meet his uncle. St Paul’s head was separated from his body by a sword but, nevertheless, was reputed to have cried out “Jesus Christus” fifty times.
Denis is not to be confused (though he was for centuries) with Dionysius the Areopagite who was converted by Paul in Athens. And of the latter’s imposter, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, we shall remain silent.
- A gentle word opens an iron gate.
- God promises a safe landing but not a calm passage.
- If you call a single wolf, you invite the pack.
- If you can kiss the mistress, never kiss the maid.
- If you let everyone walk over you, you become a carpet.
- If you wish to drown, do not torture yourself with shallow water.
- When the sea turned into honey, the poor man lost his spoon.
- Even the madman runs away from the drunk.
— Bulgarian proverbs
- If you meet a Bulgarian in the street, beat him. He will know why.
— Russian proverb
451 The Council of Chalcedon begins
Nothing troubled Christianity in the years after its legality like the debates over the nature of Christ. The Arian/Athansasian dispute had centred on whether Christ was an inferior creation of God or whether He was a coequal partner with the Father and Holy Spirit in the Trinity. The 325 Council of Nicaea and centuries of politics would decide in favour of the latter position.
Next up to trouble Christendom was the question of how many natures Christ possessed and how they were related. Clearly Jesus had been born a human but he was also the Son of God: how could god and man coexist in a single entity? Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople proposed an answer that seemed to some to denigrate the deity of Christ, while the Christians of the Levant and Egypt preferred a formula where the divine nature seemed to eclipse the human. Church councils at Ephesus in 431 and 449 had not solved the problem and the Emperor Marcian was anxious that the controversy not weaken the unity of the empire. Thus a council was summoned to Chalcedon in Asia Minor and proceedings began in October 451.
The result was the Chalcedonian definition of the Incarnation: two natures, which come together into one person and one hypostasis [individual existence].
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
As a way of ensuring unity, the Council of Chalcedon was a dreadful failure. The church leaders of Syria and Egypt refused to accept this definition and stuck to the position known as Monophysitism or miaphysitism wherein the singleness of Christ’s nature is emphasized. These eastern churches, which in two centuries would fall under Muslim rule, would grow apart from Chalcedonian Christianity and remain separate to this day.