Handle with reverence

Handle with reverence

Thomas O’Loughlin

I suspect many Christians have been taken aback by Cardinal Sarah’s judgment that communion in the hand is the most recent engagement between the good angels, and Lucifer and his demons (Tablet, 23 February). As to the Cardinal’s evidence for this battle within the cosmic struggle, I shall not comment; but as to his liturgical judgment that a particular ritual form, receiving on the tongue while kneeling, ‘is much more suited to the sacrament itself,’ some comments can be made.

Exactly when receiving on the tongue became common is by no means clear – the evidence is incidental – but it is certainly a result of the move to unleavened ‘altar bread’ which spread in the west in the ninth and tenth centuries. We know this because one can only receive on the tongue if one has a flat, disc-shaped wafer that can be slotted into the mouth or which will adhere and balance on an out-stretched tongue. Why the west gradually moved to unleavened bread has been a matter of controversy, but it was an innovation. Later claims of continuity with antiquity are simply false, it was confined to western Europe and a significant factor in the rift with the Greek churches, and was accompanied by another development: people stopped going to communion.

Actually eating at the Eucharistic Feast became so uncommon that in 1215 it had to be insisted on, with a threat of sin and punishment, that every Catholic went at least once a year. What became known as the ‘Easter Duty’ effectively became a maximum – and it would only be in the twentieth century that ‘frequent communion’ again became common. So while it is easy to reminisce about ‘reverence’ in earlier times, we should recognize that it was a reverence so tied up with fear ‘lest one condemn oneself’ (1 Cor 11:29-30) that it vitiated our whole vision of our gathering as one of joyful thanks to the Father for what he has done for us in Christ.

Reverence is not a cowering fear, but a true acknowledgement of what we are about. We have been gathered as disciples at the Table of the Lord, a table which recalls the past of Jesus at his Last Supper, anticipates the heavenly Banquet, and is now a table of encounter with the Lord in eating and drinking as the community of love.

We are sharing disciples and in our sharing is the encounter with the Lord. We are not there as ‘takers’ or ‘receivers’ – our inherited language plays us false and far from promoting reverence can all too easily lead to a pious consumerism. That latter notion is promoted by the use of pre-cut individual wafers, suitable for the tongue, but which miss the central image of all our scriptural accounts of the Eucharist. There the emphasis is on a single loaf which is broken and shared. ‘Jesus took a loaf, and having blessed [the Father], he broke it … and said “take, eat” …’ (Mt 26:26).
For Paul this sharing, which presumes each participant using their hands to eat – as is the normal human way, is the key. It was the lack of sharing in Corinth that gave rise to severe rebuke, and this reflection: ‘because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf’ (1 Cor 10:17). We have only to look at the large paten pictured in the hands of Justinian in the Ravenna mosaics to see that this was the key theme in the patristic period. Likewise, the Derrynaflan Paten (bigger than a dinner plate) in Dublin, with room for a loaf broken into over 70 pieces, shows what it was like in practice. Once one has a broken leavened loaf, irregular cube-like morsels, one has to use one’s own hand, and while we have sermons about those broken loaves, we have no hint of fear of irreverence. Rather there is the encouragement that if you have dipped your hand in that dish, you would not betray the Lord (cf. Mt 26:23).

Defending an action that emerged from defective practice / perception also raises more profound issues. Does it reflect viewing the sacraments as sacral commodities rather than particular manifestations of the primordial sacraments of the creation and the Christ?

The Christ is present in many ways and many places, it is not a case of ‘presence’ / ‘absence.’ If the Eucharist is ‘the centre and summit’ of the Christian life, then must it not involve continuities with the rest of our lives? In every sharing of food we are invited, as disciples, to be thankful – Eucharist has deep roots – and to see our meals as an instance of being Christian.

In handling all food, sharing and eating, we are already in the domain of reverence – and this attitude reaches its summit when we handle shares of the common loaf and the shared cup. If we think of the priest as standing and distributing, and the communicant as kneeling and receiving in the manner of a fed infant, are we not slipping into a binary vision of liturgy: the priest is active, the agent, the adult, and the laity are passive, receivers, children? But we have the dignity of being equal before God, given a place at his table. And, for Paul, anything indicating inequality at that table divides Christ’s body.


Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology in the University of Nottingham, and author of The Eucharist: Origins and Contemporary Understandings (London 2015). He is currently president of the Catholic Theological Association.

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  1. Many thanks, Tom. What a fine and timely commentary on the rationale for receiving the Eucharist on the hand. Please send us further gems of historical theology, especially on the background to current liturgical practices.

    I don’t doubt you’re right; but I would like if you can cite a written source about where and why the move to unleavened altar bread “spread in the west in the ninth and tenth centuries”. Also, some written source to show that the move to unleavened bread was a contentions issue between the Western and Eastern churches, prior to the schism?

  2. Wilfrid Harrington, O.P. says:

    Thank you, Tom, for this scholarly response to a ‘foolish statement’. It has been my privilege to edit, in Scripture in Church, several of your splendid articles on Eucharist and eucharistic practice.

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    “Reverence is not a cowering fear, but a true acknowledgement of what we are about. We have been gathered as disciples at the Table of the Lord, a table which recalls the past of Jesus at his Last Supper, anticipates the heavenly Banquet, and is now a table of encounter with the Lord in eating and drinking as the community of love”

    To acknowledge what we are about requires us to show our vulnerability but to do this we have to confront our perceived shame before each other and our Father in heaven and we can only do this when we embrace humility. We see this vulnerability (Humility) in Jesus as he washes the disciples’ feet before His Father in heaven
    The fear of shame separates us from truly ‘sharing’ with each other and God when we struggle for worldly worthiness and this can take many forms. To show vulnerability takes courage The root of the word courage is cor – Courage originally meant

    ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’

    To truly connect with others we need to show /tell our vulnerability, for when we do so it confers authenticity, a place from where we can truly share the communal meal.

    The true Divine Mercy image one of broken man permits all to approach His table wearing the wedding garment of humility.

    ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart’

    In truth to each other before our Father in heaven and in so doing creates unity of purpose.
    The gist of my post was taken from the presentation in the link below
    Where Shame researcher Brene Brown says ‘that vulnerability is the birthplace of truth, joy and happiness”
    It could be said that the accepted light of Truth, embellishes itself within us, welling up with joy into eternal life (Happiness)


    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #3 Thanks so much for that link to Brene Brown on ‘Vulnerability’, Kevin. So much is true there, and it is so fitting that you should speak of this coming up to Easter. Soon we recapitulate Jesus’s acceptance of his own vulnerability – and his rejection of the option of ‘tooling up’ for that rivalrous conflict with Pilate and Herod that his situation seemed to demand and justify.

    Could you agree that his story can also teach us how to deal with our own vulnerabilities, especially the fear of shame – and that in fact it does do that when we ourselves have been shamed – without us necessarily bringing that to full awareness?

    Constantine, scion of a Roman military family, obviously could not go the same route three centuries after Jesus. The essence of rivalry is to want exactly what your rival wants – ascendancy – and Constantine was in rivalry with Maxentius. The shame of capitulation was unthinkable. Constantine’s victory at the Milvian bridge in 312 was later painted by the school of Raphael, and the painting hangs in the Vatican Museum today – with the Christian cross prominently atop Constantine’s battle standards.

    Probably anachronistic, that painting announces our church’s unfortunate acceptance of the claim that followed the battle – that Constantine had seen Jesus’s cross in the sky before the battle, alongside the instruction ‘In hoc signo vinces’ – ‘In this sign you will conquer’.

    So ‘Christendom’ rose, triumphed – but also disgraced itself, and fell. Towards the end of that arc it was fear of social shame that led in Ireland to the ostracisation of unfortunate women and the denial to Catholic families of transparency in the handling of clerical sex abuse – and most recently the shaming of the clerical church.

    Yet, as you say, compassion and mercy are now again evidenced by the same cross – and restoration of soul will follow. The vulnerabilities of the clerical system are still on display as we watch, but the Irish church will also in time be a ‘sign of Jonah’ – though vastly changed.

    The change must include eventually a historical revision of Constantine’s triumph, specifically rejecting the proposition that Christ could ever have sanctioned the rivalrous violence he would not use to save himself.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    I think the Cross as an emblem of struggle and conquest is a bit like “jihad” in Islam. It has been a very intoxicating and galvanizing idea, but one that went astray into militarism.

    Sermon rough draft for next Sunday:

    1. Today Jesus raises before our eyes the sign of the Cross.

    What is the Cross a sign of?

    Well, it’s a sign of many kinds of physical suffering—the weakness of the body, the many pains it can experience, the various forms of abuse to which it can be subjected. It is a sign of this not only for the individual Jesus, or for me, the individual who gazes on the Cross. Rather the Cross represents the sufferings of all human beings, the whole mass of human suffering. It calls forth our identification with that suffering, with all who suffer, and our compassionate empathy with them/

    The Cross also confronts us with death, something we never like to think about. Not the death of one many only, and not the death of the individual contemplating the Cross, but the death of all,

    The Cross is the sign of social oppression. Jesus dies as someone unjustly condemned, as someone who is marginalized, who is a failure, a loser. He dies naked and poor and deserted by friends, so that all the homeless and impoverished and lonely people in the world can recognize their condition in his.

    The Cross confronts us with sin. As we look on this victim we recognize our own guilt. Deeper than all the pains of life and of death, deeper than all the forms of injustice and oppression that lie heavy upon the planet, lies an estrangement from truth and goodness, an estrangement from God. The Cross shows us how far we have lost our way. “All we like sheep have gone astray, and turned every one to our own way, but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

    The Cross is a sign of condemnation. Jesus is condemned by sinners, but his death is a condemnation of the sinful world. “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree” (Galatians 3:13, echoing Deuteronomy 21:23).

    2. All of this might seem gloomy and depressing. Yet the Church hails the Cross with joy. “Ave crux, spes unica” — “hail O Cross, only hope.” It treats the Cross as a sign not of sorrow but of joy, not of shame but of glory, not of death but of life, not of sin but of forgiveness, not of condemnation but of redemption. Just as a snakebite is sometimes cured by injecting snake venom, healing poison by poison, Jesus takes on all the snakebites that poison human history and expels the poison by his own sacrificial death.

    The paradox of Christmas — the Lord of Heaven as a helpless infant — is surpassed by the paradox of the Cross. God is manifest in beautiful things at Christmas, but on Calvary he is manifest in weakness and brokenness and ugliness and shame.

    1 Corinthians 23-28: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, how not many of you are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God choset he weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and God chose the base things of the world, and things that are despised, the things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are.”

    The Cross speaks for itself, and it speaks powerfully, far beyond what our calculating minds can grasp. It is a great mystery that enfolds us and sinks its roots deep into our hearts. As Christians we live in the shadow of the Cross, a gracious, protecting, healing shadow. The great joy of Lent is the opportunity it gives us to meet the Cross again, to contemplate it, and to let is shape our lives more deeply.

    3. The Cross is the most powerful sign ever raised up before the human mind. The Emperor Constantine recognized this when a vision told him: “In this sign you shall conquer.” We may deplore the use of the Cross as a military emblem, in the Crusades for example, just as we deplore the use of Muslim jihad for purposes of violence. Yet just as jihad also has a good spiritual meaning, so the use of the Cross as a powerful weapon of spiritual conquest is not in itself a bad tradition. Many hymns call on us to be soldiers of the Cross, the most famous being the “Vexilla Regis” of St Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers in the sixth century.

    Vexilla regis prodeunt,
    fulget crucis mysterium,
    quo carne carnis conditor
    suspensus est patibulo.

    The banners of the King go out,
    the mystery of the Cross shines forth,
    where the Creator of flesh, in the flesh,
    hangs from the cross-bar.

    The Cross calls us to bestir ourselves for a good and noble fight, it gives us energy for battle.

  6. Sean O’Conaill says:

    #5 “The Cross is the most powerful sign ever raised up before the human mind. The Emperor Constantine recognized this when a vision told him: ‘In this sign you shall conquer.’”

    Agreeing completely with the first sentence, (and marvelling at what came before) I must seriously question the second. My sources tell me, first, that Constantine had earlier claimed to have seen a vision of the God Apollo – a standard manoeuvre for an aspiring Roman general with political ambition – and, second, that he never read the Gospels but was impressed by the growing social and political influence of the church’s leadership and so wanted its support.

    It cannot be an article of Catholic faith that Constantine’s vision was genuine, for, if it was, the ‘jihadist’ understanding of ‘conquering under the cross’ that Constantine clearly had is also sanctioned by the church. It was at precisely this point that the early Christian rejection of military service ended, and Christian jihadism began.

    This is a critically important question, Joe. I know that in the Orthodox church Constantine is held to be a saint – but my understanding is that Catholicism has always been more hesitant. Constantine is generally believed to have murdered members of his own family – AFTER this claimed vision – so there are problems with holding it to have been genuine rather than politically motivated.

    As you know already I hold that the state is always compromised by the covetousness and violence of its originators, and that the Kingdom of God is signally different in that regard. It behoves the church therefore to be extremely wary of too close a relationship with the state lest the call to non-violence that is also implicit in the Cross be compromised. Do your sources truly insist that Constantine’s vision was genuine, and was this ever an article of Catholic faith?

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Sean, the “In hoc signo” story was never an article of faith, surely, but it certainly stirred us all as children. It’s been multiply deconstructed, and Evelyn Waugh (“Helena”) gives the lowdown on Constantine’s behaviour at home. But in a sense the story has a life of its own beyond the actual historical facts and the Eusebian propaganda.

    St Bernard’s preaching of the second crusade was so inspiring that he had to give his own robes away to meet the demand for cloth crosses, the crusaders’ badge. Similarly, all sorts of Muslim jihadist movements that we might deplore as benighted can also have a great spiritual vitality for their adherents. Can we recognize this at the same time as we recognize the horrendous errors following in its wake?

  8. Kevin Walters says:

    Sean O’Conaill @4 thank you for your comment

    “Could you agree that his story can also teach us how to deal with our own vulnerabilities, especially the fear of shame?

    To put into context your post Sean, I have condensed it into the ongoing battle between good and evil and the relevance of shame in that battle, with this adage ‘tell the truth and shame the devil’ as it points is in the right direction.

    Yes Sean, Jesus does show us how to deal with our own vulnerability as in “do not resist the evil doer” and in trust is true to His own essence, Truth, which is the essence of Love, and in gentleness, permits the evil in man to abuse and humiliate Him, then viciously murder him in a most shameful manner. He is lifted up by mankind for mankind’s redemption, we see a reflection of the evil within ourselves (own actions) as He submits to the Will of our Father in bearing witness to the Truth (their own essence) and in doing so, teaches us to do the same.

    But shame, guilt, and embarrassment are not easily delineated on the physical plane as they pertain to individual values (Self-worth/Image) and the fear of not possessing them, in trying to possess them we lose what we are struggling to pertain to, as fear is the driver and divider that separates us from forming a true relationship with God and our fellow man.

    The liberating healing power of Jesus Christ for me is manifest firstly in been our Exemplar in obedience to His and our Father Word (Will). Which we can only copy, by fully embracing in Trust our own vulnerability before Him and in doing so, set about destroying our own shame/self-image,

    “and that in fact it does do that when we ourselves have been shamed – without us necessarily bringing that to full awareness”

    Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

    For me these words relate to our ongoing ‘awareness’ of our own judgment, under the bright lamp of Truth, and if embraced honestly will transform the shamefulness of our hearts, as in, we see but then we realise we do not see, then again we see/understand, this ongoing process/awareness cannot be digested in the mind alone as the light of the our intellect is a dry light, for fluidity (Spiritual growth) it has to harmonise within our vulnerable hearts, and this can only come about by embracing our own vulnerability in Trust and humility before our Fathers inviolate Word (Will).
    And in doing so, we will eventual accept ourselves and then each other in wholeheartedness, while we are led along the path/Way of spiritual enlightenment, the ongoing transformation of the human heart, a moist heart, a gentle tearful one, one of compassion, where it is not possible to judge another individual harshly, for to do so would be to judge/condemn one’s self.

    Rather in our humility we would want for all our brothers and sisters no matter what their state of being, that which we have been given ourselves His known gift of Divine Mercy, which can only be known/accepted in a humble heart before Him, ‘Praise the Lord!

    “Learn from me I am meek and lowly of heart” and you shall find rest to your souls.

    Or put another way, Learn from My vulnerability while you are been emptied of self and you shall find joy in your soul/heart.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  9. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #7 I am bewildered by your insouciance over this, Joe. It is as though for you a ‘preaching’ that inspires religious violence must have the same validity as an inspiration to forbearance and the rejection of violence (e.g. Matt 5) – if, as at Vézelay, the cross is multiplied to become the symbol of that religious violence.

    How is it possible to read of the contagious and totally futile violence of the 2nd Crusade – which seems to have included an episode of the most violent anti-Semitism – without seriously questioning the validity and source of Bernard of Clairvaux’s ‘inspiration’ for that particular sermon at Vézelay in 1146?

    I cannot yet find any detail on the content of that sermon, but if it in any way borrowed from Pope Urban II’s dramatic appeal for the first Crusade in 1095 it may have included rhetorical questions such as the following: “Can anyone tolerate that we do not even share equally with the Moslems the inhabited Earth?”

    There the appeal to ‘emulation’ – rivalrous covetousness is obvious.
    Are you arguing that once the cross is invoked we must respect the cause behind that invocation as valid? Can you not agree that the ‘power’ of the cross as a symbol becomes compromised – and its meaning seriously ambiguous ¬ if we agree that it can as validly be invoked for war as for peace?

  10. Joe O'Leary says:

    Note that Bernard was a severe critic of violence against Jews.: http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/primary-texts-from-the-history-of-the-relationship/258-bernard-of-clairvaux

    Everyone know that the Second Crusade was a debacle, but the wave of enthusiasm for it was not without genuine religious merit. Indeed the pious Catholic image of the Crusades that prevailed until a few decades ago was not without religious merit.

    The case is a bit like 1916 — many revisionists might say that the insurrection of 1916 was a mistake, causing unnecessary bloodshed in Dublin and sowing the seeds of future sectarianism and terrorism; but that does not prevent them from recognizing the sincerity, nobility, and heroism of its protagonists.

  11. Kevin Walters says:

    Joe O’Leary @ 10

    The bottom line is, could you possibly imagine seeing Jesus going into battle with a sword, to further His cause, in teaching us the Will of His Father and our Father in heaven.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  12. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #10 – Sincerity, Nobility and Heroism were equally visible in, for example, the sacrifice of the 1,000 Greeks at Thermopylae in 480 BCE – but the ‘religion’ there was not Christianity.

    As Kevin affirms (#11), Christian nobility, sacrifice and heroism were defined and differentiated clearly by Christ. Christianity, and the cross, have been compromised by the Crusades, and Irish Catholicism has been compromised in its ecumenical dimension by the failure of our Irish church leadership ever even to question Pearse’s equation of violent Irish revolution with the Crucifixion.

    It is altogether clear that Jesus had at least as much justification for leading a Jewish insurrection against Rome as Pearse had for the 1916 insurrection – and that Jesus rejected that option. True Christian sacrifice could not have led to those Jewish deaths following Bernard’s preaching: that was clearly a pagan hangover – as was 1916.

    Is there no available source on what Bernard actually said at Vézelay in 1146?

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    It’s rather fundamentalistic to ask “could you possibly imagine Jesus” doing anything.

    St Luke presents John the Baptist as preaching to soldiers and making no criticism of their profession.

    Medieval Christian soldiers may have thought they were raising their profession to a higher, more spiritual level, by putting it under the aegis of the Cross. That was certainly a staple of Christian romanticism for centuries, down to G. K, Chesterton. (An example is Tasso’s epic, “Jerusalem Liberated”).

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    It seems that the sermon on the Second Crusade in 1146 (given at the behest of his former fellow-monk Eugenius III) is not extant! Perhaps Joseph François Michaud invented the following speech (in his History of the Crusades, 1811-1840): http://www.bartleby.com/268/7/4.html

    St Bernard was a fan of the Knights Templar, who combined religious and military life. They originated in the First Crusade. Bernard salutes them in this text of 1129:

    http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/bernardclairvaux.shtml; or as it appears in Migne’s Patrology vol 182: http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/02m/1090-1153,_Bernardus_Claraevallensis_Abbas,_De_Laude_Novae_Militiae_Ad_Milites_Templi_Liber,_MLT.pdf

    From Wiki: “For all his overmastering zeal, Bernard was by nature neither a bigot nor a persecutor. As in the First Crusade, the preaching inadvertently led to attacks on Jews; a fanatical French monk named Rudolf was apparently inspiring massacres of Jews in the Rhineland, Cologne, Mainz, Worms and Speyer, with Rudolf claiming Jews were not contributing financially to the rescue of the Holy Land. Bernard, the Archbishop of Cologne and the Archbishop of Mainz were vehemently opposed to these attacks, and so Bernard traveled from Flanders to Germany to deal with the problem and quiet the mobs. Bernard then found Rudolf in Mainz and was able to silence him, returning him to his monastery.”

  15. Joe O'Leary says:

    One third of the pages in the first printed edition of St Bernard’s works (Basel, 1552) are spurious, so Michaud may have been quoted some spurious work attributed to Bernard?

  16. Eddie Finnegan says:

    As Pope Francis does his weekly perusal of the ACP website his faith in his constant mantra must be rudely shaken. “Time is greater than space” may indeed make sense even for an octogenarian within Casa S Marta’s allegedly cramped quarters, but his Sunday afternoon attempt to make sense of our tangled thicket of never-ending threads must convince him, too, of the greater truth of that other dictum: “Ars declinationis longa, vita brevis”.

    Still reeling from 66 comments on himself and Bishop Barros and 89 on those mixed messages on WMOF throughout February, he got a real kick the other day from watching Cardinal Farrell’s breathless pursuit of that monstrous regiment of women led by the Holy Spirit in and out through the Bernini Collonade down to the Jesuits on Borgo S Spirito corner. But ‘Handle with reverence’ has him very confused again – not so much the OP as the comments. Just as Cardinal Farrell manages to chase the Holy Ghost out of the Vatican to the Holy See’s fringes, Francis sees his old sparring partner El Diablo being totally put to flight by Cardinal Sarah, not just from San Pietro along Borgo Pio but right up north along the Tiber to the Milvian Bridge. Francis is going to miss his reliable old partner (El Diablo, not Cardinal Sarah) but by now they’re out of sight so the Pope tries to settle down again to get a handle on those ‘handle-with-reverence’ comments.

    It’s not easy going and, like a lot of us, Francis struggles to see how Ted talks, 1st & 2nd Crusades, Easter 1916, pages of mediaeval Latin from Bernardus solo nomine Claraevallensis Abbas (on which and whom Francis is a little rusty), GKC & Waugh etc have much to do with Eucharistic theologies of hand or tongue or Cardinal Sarah’s nostalgia for the Guinean Catholicism of his childhood and junior seminary days, no doubt profoundly influenced by decades of missionary oversight by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of Dakar and pan-francophone Africa. At least that’s what Francis had thought this ‘handle with reverence’ might be about, so he’s a bit miffed that both Sarah and El Diablo have escaped unscathed.

    Part of the papal confusion stems from his perception that one in every three ACP contributors seems to have the same name, rendering threads sometimes impenetrable. He knows that, while time in some places may be greater than space, the site Editor/Moderator has recently made a second valiant attempt in five years to ration virtual space. Francis has therefore asked that the following 15 contributors to this thread write to him before Easter with preferably brief explanations as to why he should not suspend them ‘a foro et mensa’ for excessive use of scarce space-time:
    Kevin, Sean, Joe, Sean, Joe, Kevin, Sean, Joe, Kevin, Sean, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe .

  17. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #16 Thanks for these references, Joe. I note that the criticism cited of the second crusade did not condemn crusading as such, but only various actors in it.

    I note also that Bernard is described by his defender as having been silent on the question of a Crusade until stirred by the pope and the king of France.

    As Islam was undoubtedly expansionist and a threat to Europe even in southern France in the eight century there is an obvious line of defence of the crusades as essentially defensive of Europe and of genuine European interests in Palestine. However, that Catholic indulgences could be offered for what turned into a horrific massacre in Jerusalem in 1099 is surely still scandalous and heart-wrenching.

    We two will differ on whether the history of the Middle Ages might have been different if Augustine and other Christian luminaries had not ‘drunk the Constantinian Kool-Aid’ of divine sanction for military conquest under the sign of the cross, but the questions posed by Matthew 5 would inevitably have surfaced sometime, as would the issue of church-state relations in the case of a ruler becoming at least nominally Christian. We cannot erase the past.

    But Eddie, at #18, if you cannot see the value of a discussion coming up to Easter of how the deliberate vulnerability of Jesus converts the heart, while Christian violence on the other hand still repels and alienates, tough. It is by images such as Michelangelo’s Pietà that Christian art and sensibility attract, while the same artist’s painting of Jesus as all-in-wrestler in the Sistine chapel leaves one baffled.

    Last word on this from me. I am convinced that Jesus’s mission and self-sacrifice are a divine effort to make us think even harder about the contagion of violence than we are wont to do: and to resist the use of it whenever possible – even at cost to ourselves. The Kingdom of God is not compatible with aggressiveness.

  18. Joe O'Leary says:

    I hear that Caroline Bynum recounts that some Jews were so grateful to St Bernard for stopping pogroms that they names their children after him!

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