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Deleted Scene from Wolf Hall

22 Nov

I admit–I haven’t only been doing historical research this semester.  I’ve also been doing historical fiction research, as in, reading Hilary Mantel’s fantastic novel for the second time.  I’ve condensed it into this 63-second video here:

Of course, the bizarrely obsessive Thomas Cromwell fan has absolutely nothing to do with me…


The Protestant Reformation Comics have moved

9 Aug

… to Narricide, my other blog.  You know, the one with all those research papers, historical marginalia, and other academic odds and ends.  Sorry about the confusion!  So if you’re looking for Henry VIII and Thomas More playing chess, or Thomas Cromwell singing to the pope, you can find them here: Go to Junker George, Narricide’s completely historically-accurate comic of biblical proportions.

Or if you’re looking for something specific:

#1 Dissolution of the Monasteries

#2 The Holy Eucharist

#3 Devious Thomas Cromwell

#4 Teresa of Ávila writes The Interior Castle

#5 Henry VIII and Thomas More Play Chess

#6 Debunking Superstitions

#7 King Lear’s First Mistake

#8 Tudor Truth or Dare

#9 Commie Professor

#10 Anne of Cleves gets her picture taken

Save your stamps and don’t bother with the hate mail– I know I’m going to Hell.


Isabela Morales

Mexico’s Holy War: Faith, Prejudice, and the Press in 1926

17 May

This is David Uribe Velasco, a native of Buenavista de Cuellar, a small town in southern Mexico.

A month ago marked the 83rd anniversary of his death, and next month, it will have been a decade since his elevation to sainthood by Pope John Paul II, because on April 12, 1927, Father Velasco—a Catholic priest—after putting his affairs in order (he repaid the 50 pesos owed to a fellow cleric; he bequeathed his typewriter and vestments to a friend)—and after blessing his captors in the sign of cross and the name of the Virgin of Guadalupe, he was taken outside, forced to his knees by Federal soldiers, and shot in the back of the head.

In May 2000, he was canonized as San David, a martyr, and one of 250,000 Mexicans killed in the conflict known today as la Cristiada, or the Mexican Cristero War—a rebellion unique in modern history as a popular uprising that took the international community completely by surprise.

Lasting from summer 1926 to spring 1929, the Cristero rebellion represented a popular reaction to the contemporary Mexican administration’s increasing restrictions on religious speech and practice in the country—a country with a Catholic population upwards of 90%.

The very name of the war bears witness to the deep-set piety of the rebel soldiers, christened Cristeros by opponents ridiculing their battle cry:  “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” or “Long Live Christ the King!”

However, in the months leading up to the initial outbreak of violence the depth of Catholic devotional sentiment in the Mexican population was completely underestimated by the American press, which saw the seething controversy to the south as a strictly institutional conflict—not the rebellion of individual cristeros, but a “Church War.”

The flashpoint for mobilization was July 31, 1926—when the Catholic Episcopal hierarchy of Mexico ordered, as protest against clerical persecution, the indefinite suspension of worship services throughout the country—and the federal government obliged by attempting to take possession of church buildings.

Lay Catholics resisted.

Crowds of hundreds, most of them women, spontaneously mobilized to defend the churches—even as police brigades brought fire hoses and mounted federal soldiers to disperse the congregations.  One Mexico City newspaper summed the day up in a single headline—“Los Fieles [the faithful] Will Not Abandon Their Churches.”

“Devout Mexican Catholics worshipping without their priests.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

Even so, the fight was initially expected to be a rout.

For perspective—At the time, the Mexican government under President Plutarco Elías Calles had a federal army of nearly 80,000 professional soldiers.  The rebel movement, on the other hand, was unorganized until 1927—and comprised mostly untrained, and practically unarmed, rural Catholic peasants of the Bajío region, Central and Southern Mexico, which remains even today the bastion of Catholic conservatism in the country.  To the contrary—by the end of the war the Cristeros numbered 50,000.  And an auxiliary brigade of  women, engaged in smuggling weapons and provisions into combat zones for the soldiers, totaled 25,000.

Popular sentiment was enraged—and the uprising reflected the crystallization and shattering of widespread anxiety that had been growing throughout 1926.

A memoirist from San Julián, a small town in Jalisco, one of the centers of the rebellion, recalled the pervading climate of fear and apprehension that entered her community with the New Year:

“The enemies of the Holy Church began to spread their poison everywhere… black stormclouds began to rise in the blue sky—Everyone was afraid.”

But this anxiety of the faithful was ignored.  Commentators abroad, particularly in the United States, viewed and reported the conflict through the lens of domestic problems and paradigms: an ideological clash of Church and State.

“It is a struggle of darkness against light. So President Calles describes the Catholic Church’s resistance to his decrees.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

On one side, the child of the 1910 Mexican Revolution: he Liberal, secular administration of President Calles—determined to suppress religious speech, end religious education, restrict the influence and very number of Catholic clerics in Mexico, and nationalize Church property—in the name of secularization.

On the other the child of the Spanish Conquest: the centuries-old Mexican Catholic Episcopacy under Archbishop José Mora y del Río, equally determined to preserve the Church’s economic privileges and institutional autonomy.

“The issue is in God’s hands, Says José Mora y del Río, Archbishop of Mexico, leader in the Catholic resistance to the Calles decrees.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

Church and State—no third party in existence.  But this was the perspective of an American press embroiled in its own ideological collision:

Just the year before, the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” over evolution in the education system had made headlines in the United States as a war of secularism or fundamentalism, science or faith, progress or regression, educated urbanites versus rural ignorance.  These were the antitheses occupying American minds in 1926—and reporter H.L. Mencken summed up the public attitude in two words: the rural-based, deeply religious segment of the American population comprised: “yokels and morons.”

This domestic situation provided American commentators with a template for the dissatisfied Mexican laity: rural, ignorant, superstitious, racially inferior—and thus incapable of exercising any significant political influence.

Essentially, the United States media projected its own anxieties onto Mexico, and ignored those of the Mexican Catholic.

One incident in particular encapsulates the American perspective:

When Mora y del Rio and the Episcopacy announced that worship would be suspended at the end of July, the Mexican faithful flocked in thousands to churches to receive what many believed might be the final sacraments of their lives.  The Archbishop himself was said to have baptized, confirmed, and married over 3,000 individuals in one day alone.

“Part of the throng that crowded into the Mexico City cathedral just days before the Government took it over.” New York Literary Digest, August 1926

But while the Mexican press reported apocalyptic panic—in San Julián, the faithful prayed in the streets for God’s pity and mercy—TIME magazine treated the incident as entertainment:

“… barefoot, blanketed Indian runners; toothless Mexican gaffers, perhaps pagans all their lives, hobbled in frenzied haste to receive a precious sprinkling of holy water… in this baptismal race.”

Said correspondent was also thoughtful enough to add a footnote explaining to his readers that the people of Mexico were only nominally Catholic, their religion really a pantheon of primitive deities smeared with a veneer of saints and idols.

Even New York City’s premier Catholic periodical, the Commonweal, espoused strikingly similar racial and religious bigotry:

“the plain truth about Mexico… is that a native Indian population is not the same thing as a Caucasian civilization fostered by centuries of Christian discipline.”

The national academic journal Current History exhibited a comparable bias in its July 1926 issue—intended to be a symposium on opinion about the religious situation in Mexico.

The contributing parties—supporters the Mexican Government, American Catholics, and American Protestants (although, notably no representative of Mexican Catholicism went to print)—all, essentially, agreed on one central issue: the degeneracy of the masses in Mexico.  The only question that remained was which institution—Church or State—was responsible for developing a program for the “uplift” of the Indian and Indo-Latino population:

“Physical welfare is a fact; spiritual consolations are the resources of a theory.”

—a comment that typifies the 1920s, and even modern, elitist ‘progressive’ trivialization of Mexican Catholic piety.

The Mexican press, on the other hand, did not see the growing religious crisis as an issue of progress; rather, it was about freedom of conscience.  This is probably my favorite quote to come from a reel of microfilm.  From the Mexico City paper Excélsior:

“We imitate the United States in its defects, in its sports, in its diversions, in its food, in its clothing, in its affectionate ‘spooning’… but in its indisputable virtues, we don’t care much to imitate them.”

Still, the American press remained convinced that religion was not a primary driving force in human behavior—first came social and economic factors.  And thus, the religious crisis in Mexico could not be any sort of popular war, let alone a “holy war,” but rather had to represent a power struggle between institutions.  Thus when the Mexican Episcopacy called for an indefinite suspension of religious services beginning July 31st—a virtual interdict—American papers such as the Catholic Commonweal assumed the inert, helpless Mexican laity would bear their cross and pray.

But popular anxiety had been steadily growing since Mexico rang in the New Year 1926 and the faithful of San Julián saw “dark clouds” on the horizon.  As early as February, a columnist for the Mexico City paper El Universal predicted what the American press could not imagine: violence.

In an article titled “Spiritual peace is indispensable,” a columnist warned against the Calles administration attacking the “essence of the religion”—the sacraments.

Current History writers, such as the Methodist bishop James Cannon, undervalued this deeply-rooted devotion.  According to Cannon, Catholic ritual was superstitious ceremony alone—and only served to retard social and economic progress for the Mexican peasant:

“The mass in the morning, the rosary in the evening, confession, communion, extreme unction, the benediction of the grace within a Church cemetery, and responsories for the departed, kept the people well under the control of the church even after they were dead…”

But that is a viewpoint unique to the primarily Protestant United States.

Protestantism, unlike its Catholic rival, developed from a theology of faith and scripture alone.  The Catholic Church, contrarily, held tradition on par with these as a source of religious authority: the sacraments were thus not empty ritual to believers, but a conduit of God’s grace and the path to salvation—the essence of religion El Universal mentioned.

And when this was targeted on July 31, 1926—churches seized, worship suspended, and sacraments ended throughout the country—all the assurances of the American press that there would be no reaction meant nothing to the Mexican Catholics who felt their very identity at risk.  From El Universal, six months before the July 31st uprising:

“The truth is that the people never commit suicide.  They might change, transform, and even disappear; but they never change their essential nature—an integral part of native religion.  It is the Mexican people, instinctively, who understand the danger.  For them it is a question of to be or not to be… and it costs everything to want to be!”

Until an accord was reached in June of 1929 between the Mexican Episcopacy and the Calles administration, it did cost everything for faithful Mexican Catholics like Father Velasco.

And in the end, the Mexico City paper was right—the Mexican people knew early on what the international community, blinded by racial prejudice and a disastrous underestimation of the depth of religious devotion in Mexico, never saw coming: the tragedy and the violence of la Cristiada.

This very condensed version of a research paper on the Cristero rebellion was given as an oral presentation at the University’s Third Annual Undergraduate Research Competition in April 2010; it won first place in the social sciences division.  My sources can be found in the bibliography of the original paper.

Gender and Power in Classical Japan (part 3 of 3)

11 May

In the Ritsuryo Codes, “admonitions to filial and wifely subordination remained the officially sanctioned family and social virtues” (Rozman 121), ideals which were spread throughout the upper echelons of society in state-sponsored schools intended to mirror similar Chinese educational structures.

While Chinese bureaucracy and administration had been based on a merit system since the Qin dynasty—a system of state-wide examinations on the Chinese classics providing entrance into ministerial positions for promising students of all social ranks—the new Japanese schools continued to be dominated by the aristocracy.  In Japan, “the hereditary principle proved stronger than claims of merit” (Rozman 118).

For this reason, strict adherence to Confucian social and domestic patterns did not extend very far below the ranks of the Nara nobility.  Though the Ritsuryo Codes legally subordinated wives to husbands, in practice, marriage among commoners in this period still preserved the matriarchal shape of early Japanese society.

In non-aristocratic families, marriage was often “uxorilocal,” or “based on the wife’s residence and on visits to the woman” (Rozman 121), as opposed to the Chinese patriarchal model where even the wives and children of commoners would traditionally live in the home of the husband or husband’s father.

The loss of female authority after Koken Tenno’s reign, then, is less a referendum on the widespread diffusion of Confucian ideas of gender distinction throughout Japanese society in its entirety than it is a catalyst for the resurgence of the already established hierarchical mindset among the Japanese aristocracy.

The 3rd century Account of the Three Kingdoms reflects this by describing, along with the relative common occurrence of female rulers, the “class distinctions among the people, and some men are vassals of others… when lowly men meet men of importance on the road, they stop and withdraw to the roadside… in conveying messages to them they either squat or kneel” (Murphey 208).

Early social stratification is also reflected in the archeological record: the same mound tombs which held haniwa figures of female shamans also serve as an index of wealth and prestige—ornate mounds with greater quantities of offerings indicate that the entombed was one of the “men of importance,” signs of an elite nobility which predates the original clans’ unification into a state.

This first state of the Yamato, after all, is believed to have begun as a “consolidation of various uji groups… clans ruled by hereditary chiefs and worshipping the clan’s ancestor” (Murphey 210).  The much later failure of the national education system to include lower classes, and the consequent inability of Confucian gender roles to percolate through the general populace, can be seen as a consequence of the dominance of this historical, even pre-historical, hereditary elite.

By justifying the marginalization of female rulers in terms of filial piety and domestic harmony, Confucianism allowed the aristocracy to reassert itself.

As an example, the traditional Japanese “affinal strategy” barred princesses or other female members of the royal family from marrying a man outside of the royal kin (Piggot 65).

Powerful aristocratic families would be more inclined to back princes as heirs to the throne, as they, unlike royal women, were permitted to marry daughters of influential officials—by championing a philosophy which limited the pool of contenders for the throne, elite families increased their chances of making a beneficial alliance with the royal family by means of their own daughters.

Finally, the instability of Koken Tenno’s two reigns “led court leaders to the conclusion that female succession resulted in problems for court” (Piggot 65)—and a volatile court meant insecurity among the Japanese elite in regard to their own positions and influence.

Ultimately, the decline of female authority hinged not on mass popular acceptance of Confucianism, but on the strength of a deeply rooted hierarchical system which, unlike the equally long-standing traditions of matriarchy and gender complementarity, could coexist with the compelling Chinese model.

Murphey, Rhoads. East Asia: A New History. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007. Print.

Piggot, Joan R. The Last Classical Female Sovereign: Koken Shotoku Tenno. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, Print.

Rozman, Gilbert. The East Asian Region: Confucian Heritage and its Modern Adaptation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991. Print.

“Selections from the Analects.” Confucius and the Analects. Print.

Gender and Power in Classical Japan (part 2 of 3)

11 May

Both a tradition of matriarchy and the principle of divine reign, then, are indigenous institutions native to Japan prior to any considerable Chinese contact—both conventions, therefore, were challenged by the extension of Confucian ideals and values throughout Japan during the Nara period.  This collision of native and foreign traditions reached a climax during the two reigns of Koken Tenno, “the last classical female sovereign” (Pigott 47) of Japan.

Throughout her time in power, Koken, previously Princess Abe, used the native Japanese notion of descent from the Sun Line to assert her right to rule when faced with opposition from members of the Japanese elite.

At the ceremony marking Koken’s ascension and her father Shomu’s retirement, both used language intended to emphasize this principle of divine kingship: “such is my will as a numinous being,” Koken declares, “let all attend to my command” (Pigott 55).

In addition to recalling the Sun Line myth, Koken also employed Buddhist religious values to justify her reign and counter the secular influence of Confucian ideals and standards—styling herself a “bodhisattva ruler,” Koken proceeded to, for the first time in Japanese history, integrate Buddhist clerical leaders into the official royal administration, “establishing parallel hierarchies of Buddhist prelates and secular ministers to advise her” (Pigott 62).  These Buddhist elite in the imperial bureaucracy provided a counterbalance to the secular ministerial elite, who formed the core of Confucian devotees in Japan.

Koken Tenno’s self-conscious establishment of herself as a religious ruler—during her second reign, after all, she had already shaved her head and taken vows as a Buddhist nun—echoes the model of China’s Empress Wu of the mid-7th century.

“While she patronized Confucian scholarship”—as did Koken, who in 757 CE ordered that provincial leaders be supplied with copies of the Classic on Filial Piety—Wu Zhao was also “all too aware that the Confucian establishment was antifeminist” (Murphey 83).

Though she was overthrown by a coup in the early 8th century, her attempt to use Buddhism to legitimize the unprecedented royal authority of the first and only female Chinese emperor provided an example for Koken Tenno on the use of religious imagery to combat the secular Confucian values of patriarchy.  Wu Zhao, like Koken would do later, framed herself as a “living bodhisattva,” avidly playing the part by “conducting vegetarian feasts, sponsoring Buddhist translation projects, constructing Buddhist temples, and inviting famous Buddhist monks to lecture” (Murphey 83).

Confucian gender roles proved no less patriarchal in Japan than in Empress Wu’s China—while the reign of Koken Tenno falls into what is called the Nara period due to the Japanese capital being located at the city of Nara, this time during the 7th and 8th centuries is also called, in reference to the strict new Confucian legal code adopted at the time, the “ritsuryo period” (Rozman 117).

The Ritsuryo Codes, a legal system directly established on the Chinese model, emphasized the importance of patterning both public and family life after Confucian ideals of hierarchy, particularly the five cardinal relationships: “ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, elder and younger brother, and friends” (Rozman 123).

This rigid hierarchical system undermined the gender complementarity of traditional Sun Line mythology.  In contrast to Koken’s father Shomu’s belief in a “gender-paired rulership”—Shomu saying “Should daughters go unrewarded?  It is fitting that both serve together” (Pigott 54)—the ascending Confucian idea of filial duty saw men and women as opposites, not complements.

This is an except from a paper written for a University of Alabama Asian Civ course.  My sources will be included at the end of part 3.  This is a subtle reminder to please cite your own sources if using any of the info here– “subtle” being defined as obnoxiously obvious.

Gender and Power in Classical Japan (part 1 of 3)

11 May

Though the Nara period of the 8th century saw the adoption of Confucian values and ideals into Japanese society, and in particular their application to gender roles and the status of women, the cultural link between China and the “land of Wa” (Murphey 208) had already been forged a century before.

While trade has, in most parts of the world and periods of history, been an effective, if mainly passive and gradual, means of cross-cultural contact, Prince Shotoku of the Yamato court set the precedent for active seeking after cultural exchange; in the early 7th century, Shotoku sent the first large-scale, official embassies to China from Japan, “determined to tap the riches of Chinese civilization at their source and to bring back to Japan everything they could learn or transplant” (Murphey 213).

In these centrally-planned delegations, traders were generally replaced by emissaries who could best bring back cultural, rather than material, commodities: students, scholars, artists, and monks, among others.  But while these delegations early on established a pattern for vibrant cultural exchange, the Sinification of Japanese institutions, seen most clearly during the Nara period, resulted in an abandonment of indigenous matriarchal traditions for new legal codes and societal values which eroded female authority.

One of the earliest accounts of Japanese culture and governance comes from the Chinese—this Account of the Three Kingdoms, believed to have been written about 290 CE, describes Japanese society as a collection of “clans… some ruled by kings and some by queens” (Murphey 208).

At this early period of decentralized clans, therefore, a patriarchal system had yet to achieve cultural hegemony.

Women, the Chinese record indicates, also played a significant role in important divinatory and ritualistic matters.  According to the Account of the Three Kingdoms, one prominent local leader was “an unmarried queen who as a kind of high priestess ruled over several ‘kingdoms,’ or clans, and was considered important enough to have one of the largest tombs and mounds erected for her on her death” (Murphey 208).

These tombs, along with the relatively crude clay haniwa figurines found in and around them, are believed to date to as far back as the 3rd century CE—the presence of haniwa pottery depicting female shamans indicates that the Chinese account of a priestess-queen was not an anomaly, but instead reveals matriarchy as a relatively common pattern in early Japanese society.

Early legends and mythology, too, highlight the significance of women in Japanese religious tradition, at least before the introduction of Buddhism and the later Confucianism.

Though rulers used the Chinese honorific of “emperor” even at the first formation of a Japanese state from the previously independent clans, these leaders nonetheless rejected the predominantly secular basis of Chinese government and established instead a principle of divine kingship.  While Chinese emperors legitimized their reigns by claiming to rule by the “Mandate of Heaven,” tianming, this was an essentially political, not religious, term—in Confucius and the Analects, tianming is also translated as “what is ordained by Heaven” (Analects 2:4).

Contrarily, Japanese emperors claimed direct descent from heaven, not simply the wisdom to act in accordance with its wishes.  Legitimacy for Japanese rulers was based on descent from the Sun Line, those who “allegedly descended directly from the sun goddess Amaterasu… the titular deity of Japan” (Murphey 206).  Significantly, this mythical founder of the Japanese royal line is a woman.

This is an except from a paper written for a University of Alabama Asian Civ course.  My sources will be included at the end of part 3.  This is a subtle reminder to please cite your own sources if using any of the info here– “subtle” being defined as obnoxiously obvious.

Popish Protestants in Tudor England

10 May

Even before the king’s “Great Matter” took center stage, Henry VII had a number of extramarital affairs, with both Catherine and the court looking the other way.  In the case of Anne Boleyn, however, Henry did not simply desire a new mistress: to make the succession secure he needed a son, which meant a young queen strong enough to bear children.  To achieve this goal, Henry needed a divorce, irrespective of his lust or Anne’s royal aspirations.

So though in his heart a true son of the Church, King Henry VIII’s personal attachment to Catholicism could not override his political motives: to support Protestant reform efforts in a pragmatic attempt preserve the stability of the realm after his death with a male heir.

Ironically, however, this very attempt to secure a legitimate male successor through a nominal change in theology opened the door to true radicals whose espousal of Protestant doctrine would reflect not just political expediency, but social reform that would serve to destabilize the social order Henry VIII valued.

But contradictions in scripture provided support for both Henry and Catherine—while a passage in Deuteronomy promoted the practice of levirate marriage, a man taking his brother’s widow as his own wife, two passages in Leviticus denounced it.  Most compelling to Henry, Leviticus 20:21 stated that if a man marries his brother’s widow, “he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness” and, as a result, “they shall be childless.”

Because of these contradictions, a special papal dispensation had been required for Henry and Catherine to marry in the first place, as she had been the wife of Henry’s late older brother Arthur.

This very dispensation demonstrates the Vatican’s willingness to consider dynastic and political necessities in its interpretation of scripture, and so Henry’s desire for an annulment would not have been unreasonable—if he had not based his argument in the idea that the Pope had not had the right to issue the dispensation to begin with.

The king’s insistence on this argument Henry’s rejection of the concept dual loyalty to both a temporal power (the king) and a spiritual power (the Pope)—a break reflected in the Act in Restraint of Appeals and the Act of Supremacy in 1533 and 1534

Building on the precedent of the 14th century Statutes of Praemunire, which addressed the issue of “numerous persons being taken out of the kingdom to response in cases of which the cognizance pertains to the court of our lord the king,” the Act in Restraint of Appeals established the king of England as the highest justice to which an Englishman (or woman, like Queen Catherine) could appeal.  Henry was accorded by “Almighty God with plenary, whole and entire power, preeminence, authority, prerogative and jurisdiction.”

The subsequent Act of Supremacy institutionalized what the Act in Restraint of Appeals had made true in practice: that “the King’s Majesty… is the supreme head of the Church of England.”

Yet even after this radical break from Rome, however, Henry VIII still saw himself as a devoted Catholic, the “defensor fidei” his renunciation of Martin Luther’s ideas had made him.  Henry demonstrated near-orthodoxy in most areas of religious doctrine, simply replacing the Pope with himself.

His adherence to Catholic doctrine is reflected in the 1539 Act Abolishing Diversity in Opinions, also known as the “Six Articles.” While Protestants rejected all but two sacraments (communion and baptism), this document upeld all seven, along with transubstantiation, communion under both species for priests and not laypeople, the doctrine of purgatory, and the vows of chastity made by monks or nuns—even after the dissolution of their monasteries.

The document, in fact, parallels his defense of the sacraments in response to Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church—Henry’s “Assertion of the 7 Sacraments” was the treatise that earned him the title “Defender of the Faith.”

Though a seeming contradiction, both Henry’s rejection of the Pope and support of otherwise “popish” practices ramify from his central motivation: to preserve the stability of the realm by upholding the “Great Chain of Being,” best maintained by the rigid hierarchical structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church.

When the young Edward VI succeeded his father, however, his Council of Regents found that Protestant doctrine carried with it inherently destabilizing ideas.  The king could not simply be substituted for the Pope, because Protestants did not see the clergy as possessing special access to either truth or the path to salvation.

Catholic priests were the sole interpreters of a Latin Bible, but (like the Lollards before them) Protestants supported vernacular Bibles and preached a “priesthood of believers.

Catholics believed that one received God’s grace necessary to salvation through the sacraments, but Protestants rejected all but two sacraments and preached that one was saved through faith alone, or solefideanism, for which sacraments were not necessary.

Depicting this shift visually, the elevated altar of the priest is replaced with a simple table in the illustration of John Foxe’s book of Protestant martyrs, Acts and Monuments: the altar is labeled “The Common Table.”

These doctrinal positions undermined the authority of the religious hierarchy by emphasizing the essential spiritual equality of all believers, and were used as partial justification for Kett’s Rebellion in 1549.

Henry VIII’s disastrous economic policies of debasement of the currency and reckless spending on unsuccessful wars continued into Edward VI’s minority reign, leading to a century of high inflation and skyrocketing prices.  The 16th century, the Tudor century, marked a time of rapidly deteriorating living conditions—what a common laborer could get for his salary during this time dropped to pre-plague levels.

(The Black Plague took a tragic toll on human life in Europe, but for the survivors—life was good.  A radically reduced labor force meant that peasants could demand higher wages, lower rents—with landowners having no other choice but to cave.  Essentially, the Plague, not any royal fiat, killed serfdom.  By Henry’s time, however, these benefits had mostly eroded.)

These economic troubles led to social unrest in the mid 1500s and catalyzed Kett’s Rebellion, but were justified by an egalitarian Protestant doctrine similar to the rhetoric of John Ball, whose demagoguery used Lollard ideas of equality to preach “killing the great lords of the realm, then slaying the lawyers, justices and jurors,” and so on.

Edward VI’s deep Protestant piety had been shaped by the Regency council that educated him, and so when faced with this rebellion, Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was a true radical who not only repealed Henry’s anti-Protestant legislation but went so far as to sympathize with the social application of Protestant religious doctrine.

Though he ultimately lost power for hesitating to suppress the uprising, Somerset illustrates how Henry VIII’s political pragmatism inadvertently undermined his own personal social conservatism.

Los Fieles: Faith, Anxiety, and Prejudice in the Press during Mexico’s Cristero Rebellion

8 May

While doing preliminary research on the general topic of the Mexican Cristero War, skimming Jean Meyers’s The Cristero Rebellion, I found this observation: “There remained one unknown factor of which nobody spoke, and which nobody appeared to remember, which everybody underestimated at least—the attitude of the Christian people.  In the course of the summer of 1926 it was the people who, little by little, came to the forefront of events, while behind the scenes the government and the bishops continued their negotiations” (47).

With this in mind, I analyze dpublic discourse surrounding the conflict between Church and State in Mexico during the summer of 1926 (prelude to the Cristero War).  My goal was to examine how popular anxiety crystallized into spontaneous, bottom-up mobilization at the time of, in particular, the Mexican Episcopacy’s closure and the federal government’s takeover of churches on the traumatic “nightmare of 31 July”—the significance being to gain a better understanding of the attitude and agency of the Christian/Catholic laypeople in what was seen in early 1926 as a primarily institutional conflict.

I took an undergraduate research seminar on Modern Latin American History.  The final product: a paper on the 1926-1929 Cristero Rebellion in Mexico.  I’ve included the paper as a PDF file here, since it’s length and abundance of footnotes makes a series of blog posts prohibitive.

The finished paper can be found at the link below, or at the Research paper (see links bar above the Scattering header)

And– this is original primary source research, and my beloved child, so please do be careful with citations:

Los Fieles: Faith, Anxiety, and Prejudice in the Press During Mexico’s “Religious Crisis,” February-July 1926

PDF document

Primary Sources:

Mexico City newspapers El Universal and El Excélsior; Guadalajara newspaper El Informador; New York Commonweal and Literary Digest; academic journalCurrent History.  In most cases, February, July, and August 1926 issues were used.

Trial by Combat: God, Feudalism, and the Crusades (part 2 of 2)

8 May

The belief that God will necessarily lead the righteous to conquest reflects the superstitious mentality of feudal judicial practices, only now on a much wider scale.

Where trial by ordeal or combat once applied the principle to feuds or disagreements between individuals, the crusades incorporated this feudal institution into the realm of international politics.  But emphasis on more admirable values of feudalism than superstition also crossed over into the “crusading mentality” to fuse with religious sentiment­—in particular, the importance of personal loyalty to one’s lord.

For instance, loyalty to God’s cause is demonstrated by devotion to Charlemagne, characterized through the epic as a pious king who receives visions from God and is guarded by St. Gabriel.

Moreover, the swords of both Roland and Charlemagne symbolize more concretely the connection between feudal service and religion; while Roland’s Durendal contains relics from various saints and the Virgin Mary, Charlemagne’s Jouise holds the point of “the lance with which our Lord was wounded on the cross” (108), providing a direct connection between Christ the heavenly king and Charles the earthly emperor.

But this synthesis of religious ardor and feudal values ultimately creates a conflict of interest within the vassal-crusader.  While combining the fervor of supposed divine sanction with a belief in infallibility makes Charlemagne’s army a formidable force– described by the enemy as “fierce” men with “no thought of failing” (129)—Roland’s interpretation of war as holy encourages zeal over caution.

Roland’s courage and pride, bolstered and supported by certainty of moral rightness, approaches recklessness when he refuses to blow his horn for help.  In this way, religious zeal comes into conflict with the traditional qualities of a good vassal—prudence, common sense, and cooperation.

In the Song of Roland, this war of values finds symbolic expression in the inadvertent battle between Roland and a blinded Oliver—Roland, described as “brave,” represents the crusader, valiant to the point of recklessness and proud nearly to the point of sin; Oliver, “wise” (64), reflects the caution and discretion of the feudal vassal.

Rejecting the established Benedictine standards of piety, which held secluded monks and nuns as the holy men and women who ensured God’s blessings on earth, crusading warriors instead emphasized the active life, dashing headlong into the world to “administer His judgment” (136) themselves.

Filled with confidence in both their rightness and the divine support of God in their mission, these crusaders—as depicted in the Song of Roland—carried feudal values with them, in the head and hilt, into an atmosphere of religious fervor.

But ironically, while feudal standards and superstitions help to create the “crusading mentality” of moral certainty and certain victory, it is this same fusion which, by contributing to the pride and reckless confidence of the crusader, ultimately leads to the rejection of a number of core feudal values in the Song of Roland.  Though “Roland never loved a coward, nor arrogant man” (97), the title warrior demonstrates that—in an arena of religious zeal—avoiding the one may create the other.

A/N: After re-reading this paper (written about a year and a half ago for a University of Alabama history course), I had another couple ideas about The Song of Roland—in light of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation course I took from the same professor this semester—

The idea of God’s sovereignty and divine will in the crusading mentality makes for an interesting example of the Catholic theology early Protestant reformers so vehemently opposed.  Traditional Catholic theology of justification holds that divine will cooperates with human will in a person achieving salvation; Protestants, on the other hand, hold that justification and receipt of grace is a strictly passive process (human works are worthless).

In Roland, the message is absolutely orthodox: faith in God’s will makes the crusaders certain of their moral superiority—but also of a very temporal victory.  The knights, after all, are the ones who initiate battle, in the belief that they are the ones carrying out God’s work.  Thus, cooperation between heaven and earth.  How lovely.

Just thought that was interesting; it’s a pretty good example, too, of the original justification for indulgences (something else the Protestants abhorred).  Indulgences were original created as an incentive for potential crusaders, or rather, an assuagement of their fear—otherwise, why would a man fight without being able to receive Extreme Unction and confess before he died (die with a mortal sin on you, and it’s straight to hell, buddy).  The theology behind the practice paralleled the crusading spirit itself: You do this for God, and he’ll reward you.  Again, cooperation.

And please remember to cite your sources, if you don’t want to end up in the eternal torment of the Saracens (because, naturally, they’re all going to hell, the heathens):

The Song of Roland. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Trial by Combat: God, Feudalism, and the Crusades (part 1 of 2)

8 May

Though modern conceptions of religion in the Middle Ages focus almost exclusively on the violent fervor of the crusades, early in the sixth century St. Benedict’s rule for a disciplined monastic life set a starkly different lifestyle—seclusion and self-denial—as the standard for religious zeal.

Fleeing the temptations and indulgences of worldly society for a quiet existence of poverty, chastity, and obedience, medieval monks and nuns devoted their lives to prayer and charitable works—popularly thought, in doing so, to guarantee God’s blessings for the laity.

But transitioning from a culture in which cloistered clergy pray for the kingdom of God into one where warriors attempt to actively bring it about themselves required the emergence of a fundamentally different mindset.  The Song of Roland communicates this new “crusading mentality” as a radical redefinition of piety, which, by incorporating feudal values and superstitions, overthrows the traditional ideal of withdrawal and asceticism.

No individual more clearly illustrates this transition than the Archbishop Turpin, who expresses only contempt for the secluded life.

Stating that “in battle [a knight] should be strong and fierce, or else he is not worth four pence” and “ought rather be a monk in one of those monasteries praying all day long for our sins” (89), Turpin fuses religious service with the values of feudal warfare—valor and strength.

Throughout the epic, warfare and religious devotion continue to be inextricably tied in the person of Turpin, who not only demonstrates a commitment to the active life by being the first man to start the battle with King Marsile’s army, but by buoying up his own fellow men with the promise of heaven, a testimony to the origins of indulgence theology—“in one thing I can act as guarantor: Holy paradise is open to you.  You will take your seat amongst the Innocents” (77).  Equating death in battle against the Muslims with martyrdom, Turpin—in line with beliefs of the time—reveals the characteristic trait of medieval crusaders: absolute faith in a divinely-guided mission.

Throughout the Song of Roland, recurring imagery juxtaposing antitheses—good versus evil, right versus wrong—highlights this moral certainty of Charlemagne’s men, who consistently employ a strictly black and white evaluation of their work and enemies.

While Charlemagne fights for “the fair land of France,” the very country of Marsile’s warriors is described as “accursed,” outrageously depicted as a blackened desert where “some say that devils live” (60).  The Muslims also bear similarly impossible physical deformities, such as spines “as bristly as pigs” (131) or “skins as hard as iron” (132) – further stressing their hard-hearted rejection of Christianity and estrangement from the side of ‘right.’

Furthermore, the pagans engage in battle assailed by doubts, Marsile lamenting that “these gods of ours have abandoned the fight… they have allowed our men to be slain” (115) when Charlemagne’s rearguard refuses to be daunted by the superior numbers of the Muslims.

Roland, on the other hand, rallies his troops for the seemingly-impossible fight against the Saracens with unshakable assertions of the rightness of their cause.  He declares that “the pagans are wrong and the Christians are right” (61); he defends Charlemagne’s reputation against Marsile’s nephew with the words that “we are right, but these wretches are wrong” (67); and he avenges Duke Samson’s death with the cry that “On your side is both pride and wrong” (79).

Holding their enemy as impotent because the Muslim faith—wrongfully described throughout the poem as polytheistic—“is not worth a penny” (135), Roland suggests that fighting on the side of Christianity gives the Franks more than certain moral superiority: certain victory.

Rather than support notions of individualism and the primacy of human effort over divine, the crusading emphasis on and confidence in actively correcting the evils of the world reflects the complete opposite idea: successful action can be taken only because of God’s sovereignty.

The first stanza of the Song of Roland, for example, introduces King Marsile not only as a man “who does not love God,” but one who, for that rejection of Christianity, “cannot prevent disaster from overtaking him” (29).  Though mistaken and superficial depictions of Marsile and his men serve in part to dehumanize the Muslim enemy, the defining quality of their evil stems from their pagan faith.

In fact, while physical deformities are attributed to some of the Saracens, a number of Muslim leaders are described as either a “worthy baron” (129), a “good knight” (59), or even “very handsome… fierce and fair” (57)—the only caveat being that they are not Christians.

And as paganism creates, in the eyes of the crusaders, an insurmountable barrier to eternal salvation, so does it also make victory in battle impossible—even before the fight begins, the Muslims “all are doomed to die” (63).

Works cited at the end of part 2.