Quote of the Week

"The palest ink is better than the best memory." - Chinese proverb.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thoughts on the Cadfael Chronicles and Faith

There is a lot to think about in reviewing The Holy Thief. While my previously posted review of the book was sincere, I had many reactions to the book some of them theological and historical reflections and some merely practical.

1. The religion of Medieval Roman Catholicism was very confused. If what is depicted in the Cadfael Chronicles is near authentic, then the Middle Ages were indeed dark. Prayer to dead saints? The Bible mostly ignored but for divination? These are not new observations but when one is placed in the daily events of that world it is mind-blowing. If for no other reason read the novel, and imagine living with that worldview day in and day out. Without a doubt, the Reformation was necessary and long over due.

2. This is what most modern skeptics equate all religion to: devotion to superstition. If, when one is reading the skeptics or talking to one, realize that there perception of us is not that different from our reaction to the devotees in the Cadfael Chronicles.

3. Sin is not eliminated by removing one's self from the world. No, worldliness is already in the heart. This is a very interesting point of the Cadfael Chronicles, and I think a theme deliberately placed by Peters. These holy brothers are not very holy and while separated to the spiritual, normally they are not very spiritual. In fact, they are often quite carnal in pursuing what they deem to be spiritual.

4. The whole episode of applying sortes biblicae is deeply intriguing. For one, I don't think this method is totally gone from the Church, in fact I think Christians of all sorts probably apply this type of thing in personal decision making. Honestly, I have on a few occasions been deeply comforted by randomly leafing through Scripture in a manner similar to this though I wasn't using it to make a decision. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. However, Scripture was not given to us for this purpose. Scripture is to be read in its entirety and in context, interpreted and applied carefully. We are to be guided not by superstitious divinations creatively forced to apply to our situation, but by the truths of all of Scripture.

5. In spite of all that may be perceived as negative in the medieval mindset and showcased in this book, one foundation of that worldview seems to me to be bedrock for any Christian worldview: that God is ultimately in charge of all things, persons, and events, and is the source of all authority. I know that the doctrine of God's sovereignty can be abused and misused but it is something that we have profoundly lost, for that is something that most Christians think little on and consider controversial.

6. Reading literature, by that I mean fiction, short stories or full-length novels, is a good practice for the Christian. It raises issues that provoke thought and it gives much more time for reflection than does television and movies. Though one should not read only fiction, one should not feel guilty for reading much of it and enjoying it. Good literature should have a solid place in the reading of the Christian.

7. Reading of all kinds is sheer joy and good for the mind!

Review: The Holy Thief - The 19th Chronicle of Brother Cadfael

Cadfael is a sleuthing monk, a Holmes of the Bendectine Order, but more than a brother also a herbalist, man of medicine, and a former soldier and Crusader. This was my first reading trip through 12th century Shrewsbury Abbey and it was great fun.

In this chronicle, Cadfael tackles a theft and a murder alongside his friend Hugh Beringar, the reeve of the shire. The theft of the celebrated relic of Shrewsbury leads to a fascinating thread through the tapestry of local politics, authorities , and medieval Catholicism-very devout but deeply confused. This is a world of powerful and rigid authorities both sacred and secular, of saints and relics, of place and position-a world far from the modern or "post-modern". I'm no historian of the Middle Ages but this seems like a worthy immersion into the medieval mindset.

Most interesting is the tangled process of determining the will of a dead saint concerning the saint's own relic. The culmination of the process is application of sortes biblicae, the use of the Bible for divination. This is performed by the seeker taking a copy of the Gospels in hand and letting it open randomly and placing a finger somewhere on the open pages. The portion by the placed finger is read aloud and then applied to the decision at hand. This is truly foreign territory but one must remember that this was an age when most truly believed every event to be the evidence of the will of God.

Furthermore, it's just a good tale! Imagine murder and mayhem among monks! Sin among those totally dedicated and separated to holiness. The many different characters-the monks, peasants, sheriffs, lords, and troubadors-and the interplay between them are well drawn. If you need exhilarating racing action this is not for you, but if you enjoy a good story woven together then pick it up and spend a few afternoons in its pages, it won't disappoint.