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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  April 2005

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION April 2005

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Subject:

Re: papal funeral minutiae/Greek & Latin

From:

Dennis Martin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 11 Apr 2005 12:19:59 -0500

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

This is very helpful and I agree with all of it.  I would add one caveat--Christianity was revealed in Aramaic/Hebrew.  It entered the wider Jewish-Christian world in Greek because many but not all Jews were hellenized and it certainly entered the wider gentile world in Greek.  But the first preaching and by some theories even the first writing of the kerygma about Jesus of Nazareth was done in Hebrew/Aramaic.  That doesn't take away at all from the importance of Greek as outlined below.  It does, however remind us of the challenge that Christianity faced: to translate its originally Hebraic/Semiticreligious sensiblities and even doctrines into the Graeco-Roman culture and languages.  A century ago all scholars took for granted that in that process, Christianity itself was "Hellenized."  One of the biggest scholarly stories of the last 50 years, both in historical studies and theological studies is a growing recognition that, even while the words and concepts were translated into above all Greek (but secondarily into Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Slavonic, Germanic etc.), far from a Hellenization of Christian religion, the original Jewish-Semitic core of the faith was retained, and that that's what the centuries-long struggle that culminated at Niceae and Chalcedon involved.  Arianism, Gnosticism, Marcionism etc. all represented ways of talking about Jesus of Nazareth that made more sense to cultivated Graeco-Roman philosophies than did the original Jewish Creator-God Redeemer Son of Man message.  If an easy Hellenization had been acceptable, 400 years of debate would not have been necessary.  So even under the Greek language and formulas of Nicae and Chalcedon lies an Aramaic/Semitic substance that Christians held on to when it would have been so easy to abandon it.

That at least, seems to me to be the thrust of much of the last decades' work on Trinitarian theology and Christology and of the cultural context in whnich those debates took place.

it is useful for medievalists to recall this because, for instance with _The Heliand_ some interpreters see a similar syncretistic "Germanization" of Christianity taking place, along the lines of the classic 19thc German (Harnack) "hellenization" thesis.  I'm not so convinced---to me the remarkable thing about the 9thc Heliand is how it refuses to abandon things that must have been hard for warrior Saxons to swallow--the Sermon on the Mount, loving enemies, crucified Warrior Chieftan etc.

But these are all niggling additions to a most valuable survey of the role of the Greek language in early Christianity.

Dennis Martin

>>> [log in to unmask] 4/11/2005 11:16 AM >>>
medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

After reading Dennis Martin's remarks on the use of Greek for part of
the papal mass, I wrote a friend, John Williams, professor emeritus
of religious studies at the College of William and Mary and frequent
participant in Islamic/Christian dialogue for his take on the
question.  I send his reply below since it may be as useful for
others as it was for me.

Susan Kerr

"There was a reason why Greek at the funeral of the "Ecumenical Patriarch"
was profoundly appropriate, even beyond the good reason advanced by Dennis
Martin.

"Christianity was revealed in Greek.  It was preached in Greek. It was
liturgized in Greek, all over the Mediterranean world.  It is recently even
questioned whether Jesus knew only Aramaic: Nazareth was almost the suburb
of a Greek speaking city, Sepphoris, built by the Herods and uncovered only
in recent times.  Greeks and Semites lived in symbiosis in this area, and
surely learned something of each other's languages.  Greek, not Latin, was
the language of the Roman empire everywhere but in North Africa, Gaul, and
other but not all parts of western Europe.  Paul and Peter travelled in the
Mediterranean world preaching in Greek.  The Christian scriptures were read
in Greek.  It was the only liturgical language in Rome for over a century,
and the Latin vernacular began to be used in some churches only well into
the 2cd C.  As late as Gregory the Great (590-604),whose liturgy is well
documented, Greek was a strong component of the Roman mass.  As the first
missionary pope, he probably expanded the use of Latin in the West,
especially in Britain.  Our vestige from those Hellenophone times in the
Roman liturgy is the Kyrie eleison.  There was once much more Greek, but by
the 7th C knowledge of Greek, and even of decent Latin, was breaking down.
Church authorities had to have a "universal" tongue, and during the 7th C,
Greek was no longer the best candidate: Dark Ages.

"Elsewhere in the Patriarchates, it was the same story.  There is a big Greek
component in the Coptic liturgy, the Syriac liturgy, and originally in the
Armenian liturgy. In Jerusalem, Antioch, and the cities of the Near East,
Greek liturgies prevailed.  The vernacular began to be used only in
villages, and quite late.  It wasn't until the 3rd C. in many areas that
people thought it necessary to begin translating protions of the New
Testament into native languages (it began a bit earlier in North Africa,
where Greek had never had a very strong foothold).

"So you see, Christianity really started out with a Greek revelation, and a
Greek preaching.  The Latin Church in the middle ages hated to remember
that, I think, but elsewhere in the Christian world, the memory was strong.
Altogether fitting and proper for the papal funeral to include a Greek
component.  No other Eastern language, or Slavic, could claim such priority.

"(Parenthetically, our big Latin parish here was so impressed by the Greek
part of the liturgy, which took place at the incensing of the coffin, that
the pastor had our Fr Ron and Deacon come to do the same at the parish
funeral liturgy for the pope.) I did not see it, but am told it was done by
the Greek Catholic patriarch of Antioch--Patriarch Grigorios, I believe he
prefers to be called. By right, he take precedence over the other eastern
patriarchs if pushing comes to shoving.

"If al-Jazeera was broadcasting the funeral, be quite sure that plenty of
Arabs saw it and heard. I hope the prayers were translated, but I don't
know."

John Williams of Williamsburg, VA, writing Susan Kerr on 4/10/2005
quoted with permission

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