vendredi 24 août 2012

Was St. Jerome Calling Genesis a Myth, and if so in what sense?

1) Was St. Jerome Calling Genesis a Myth, and if so in what sense?, 2) And Mark Shea bungled Mythical with Allegorical ... *sigh* ... 3) History or Myth ... how do YOU describe a "story which really happened" but has "mythical" coherence and greatness?

I think many who hold a mainly metaphorical view of Genesis' I-III or even up to Flood and Tower of Babel make a kind of reasoning based on bad philology, but once the misunderstanding of what the ancients said is taken for granted, a very correct reasoning. One can put it like this: if St Jerome descibed Genesis as "told in the manner of a myth" (as we shall see, he did not, it is a garbled quote), this does not automatically mean, but is falsely taken as meaning it was told as something Plato (and therefore of course everyone else, right?) would regard it as a mistake to take literally.

Here is the reasoning, as far as it is put in nearly correct syllogistic form:

  • Myths should not be taken as literally true. [see Plato]
  • Now, first chapters of Genesis are told after the manner of Myth. [see St Jerome]
  • Therefore they should not be taken as literally true.

Here is already one big step aside from correct reasoning, which alone is enough to make it a Quaternio Terminorum: "a myth" and "something told after the manner of a myth" are not the same. Myths may be retold after other manners, like as realistic novels with many details or as heroic epics with grand details (check LOTR and Theogonia for examples), and anything heroic and historic or for that matter scientific may be told in either of these forms as long as there is a question of things allowing narration at all. Writing a story about atoms and electrons making and unmaking chemical compounds might take some talent, but even that could be done, possibly. Not without ironic effect, possibly. Or, if the result is wine, or a cheese, a majestic one. So the manner of telling a story tells us nothing of whether it is untrue or true. CSL who has in public contributed to this misunderstaning should, as a more than once author of stories, and good ones too, know better than that. I supposed he felt it was his position as a layman to obey authorities like "Bishop" Charles Gore - who had no real apostolic succession, but CSL thought he had, even though JRRT could have told him otherwise. And as Gore was - unlike "Bishop" John Robinson - not playing that same game about the Gospels, CSL did not find him too modernist.

I came across a curious example of this when I was young. I had already read lots of Märchen - in Swedish Sagor - when I was young. Like "Die Schönsten Märchen vom Fliegen" with things like the charming Russian story of the Flying Ship, or the Swedish collection "Bland Tomtar och Troll" among others one which included a Japanese story about a teenager who got a mantle of invisibility from a tengu (not quite as bas as a ring of invisibility with a story before Gollum, but bad enough, though he survived) or an Arabic story about a Prince who destroyed a country and then had to live in its ruins - and came to serve and love the Princess of the country he had ravaged. When I bought or had mother buy "Sagen aus Österreich" I was prepared for something like it, not paying at first attention to difference between Märchen and Sagen. Didn't German Sagen sound like Swedish Sagor? Well, the Sagen were told after the same manner or even simpler. But when I read about Richard Lionheart getting caught passing through Austria by the Squire of the Duke Leopold of Austria whom he had insulted in the Third Crusade, or again about the captive Lionheart in the castle Dürnstein, I knew Sagen must mean something with some kind of claim to historical facthood. Indeed some of them were so short and simple they had more likelihood to be news stories that were talked about centuries afterwards than made up stories, they were that pointless as stories. And no, Sagen does not mean Sagor, it means Sägner. Sagen/Sägner means popular legend. It is Märchen/Sagor which means fairy tales. But some of the Sagen/Sägner were about the supernatural beings too. It cannot be denied there is exposed in Ljungby in Sweden (earlier Denmark, I think, and yes, it is Scania) a horn and a "pipe" (Swedish "pipa" means both pipe and whistle, I thought it was a pipe until I looked at the picture and read the article, and saw it was really a whistle), which are claimed to have been taken from a tribe of trolls who danced under a nearby stone slab raised as a dolmen each Christmas, and as revenge the trolls burned down the castle more than once. Were builders incompetent about rebuilding things that had already burnt in more firesecure ways? Had the nobles of that castle human enemies they dared not name, for shame? No, I think there were trolls around there. And I think there were Heinzelmännchen in Cologne as well, though they left that city for we known not where, so it is no use getting back there to look for hobbits or smurfs or however you would describe their size and habits (there is nothing about either blue skin or furry feet though in that legend).

There is more to it. Even if quote had not been garbled and even if St Jerome had meant to call Genesis I-III a Myth, this nowise means he felt the same about Myths as Plato did. Of course, the Olympic part of Pagan gods and goddesses was unacceptable to take literally for a Christian, but many Christians might for very long, up to after the Renaissance, have taken most other aspects of Pagan Mythology as true in a literal sense, though garbled when it was clearly about same major events but included conflicting detail as compared with Holy Bible. Plato was not to Ancient Philosophy of Mythology what Pythagoras' Theorem was to Mathematics. His opinion of Myth is only one of them, the popular long remained that they were literally true, and with reservation for the Theological aspects of it, there was no major reason why a Christian should not have agreed with that. He had not been to compulsory school directed by Educational Departments of Modern Governments whose Parlamentarian support felt intellectually indebted to the probable content (maybe not even actual content, have not checked yet) of Encyclopédie des Arts et Métiers by writers like Diderot and d'Alembert, so he was not indoctrinated.

But the worst part of above syllogism is that St Jerome did not exactly say "told after the manner of a myth". Look up the two quotes behind the authorities.

Although Plato famously condemned poetic myth when discussing the education of the young in the Republic, primarily on the grounds that there was a danger that the young and uneducated might take the stories of Gods and heroes literally, nevertheless he constantly refers to myths of all kinds throughout his writings. [from wiki of word Myth]

Yup, Plato seems correct enough, unless that wiki is garbled today (might find out by looking another day or another language or rereading Plato, for instance, but it is likely enough to be correct).

Plato's argument was, gods are blessed and do not err, therefore they have no motive for evil, and do not do it. Now Apollo and Jove are gods, therefore the latter never lusted after Io and the former never tricked Orestes and Oedipous into parricide. But would St Jerome agree with this assessment of Jove and Apollo? No way. And he did believe St Paul had dealt roughly with pythic or sibyllic spirits as with unclean spirits, and he did believe (at least after hearing the bishops on the matter, he too heard his bishops, and those were better than XX. C Anglican divines of that title) that young Tobias had had to defend his wife and himself by fasting against a demon lusting after her. Would St Jerome also disbelieve these stories? C. S. Lewis - here we are at the quote, which I ofund within a text I also quote, I have no direct assess online to his Reflections on the Psalms - thought so:

Lewis directly addresses these questions in chapter XI of his book Reflections on the Psalms. He begins by dispelling the mis-perception that he believes ”that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical scientific truth.” On the contrary, says Lewis, “[This] I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation ‘after the manner of a popular poet’ (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction.” Lewis is doing two things here: First, he is staking out his own position as a critically informed interpreter of Scripture, and, second, pointing out precedents for his approach in the grand Christian tradition, namely Saint Jerome and John Calvin.

[CSL's emphasis underscored, in original italics, mine own in bold]

To us Catholics, John Calvin is a dreadfully bad authority, since he is a Heretic and even - seeing he started as Catholic and gained followers after his apostasy - a Heresiarch. He also had a dreadfully bad motive. Catholics acknowledge St Francis as sent from God, and acknowledge miracles, like preaching to birds (in presence of men not so eager to listen themselves no doubt,but finding it funny that man preached to birds, as if they would care) and when he blessed the birds they felw away after the manner of a cross. And so on and so forth for lots of other people sent by God. Commonly known as saints. So Catholics charged Calvin: if you are sent by God, do a miracle. Not as the Pharisees with Jesus just after he had already done one, but they were asking for Calvin's first miracle which never came. So Calvin made up the theory that all miracles from God ceased to happen at death of last apostle - and all miracles afterwards are diabolic snares or human inventions. That was Calvin's rationale for denying the marvellous, and when it came to doubting the historicity of Job, he might have been betted on by Jewish or Judaising acquaintances. But St Jerome is good enough for us as authority. However, we now know C S L contributed to confuse actual quote about "after manner of a popular poet" with "as we now should say mythically". I googled the words: after the manner of a popular poet St Jerome. I first got lots of C S Lewis quotes and then the following two quotes:

Second, moral, which is in honesty of manners. ... This five-fold beauty had Saint Jerome in himself. ... in divine Scriptures, which he drew covetously, and after shed it out abundantly. ... And from then forthon he became good, and read divine books with as great study as ever he had read the books of poetry and of paynims [Legenda Aurea on St Jerome, preview from google search, and himself on St Paul the First Hermit with a Centaur in the following:]Said he, "I believe in my God: some time or other He will shew me the fellow-servant whom He promised me." He said no more. All at once he beholds a creature of mingled shape, half horse half man, called by the poets Hippocentaur. At the sight of this he arms himself by making on his forehead the sign of salvation, and then exclaims, "Holloa! Where in these parts is a servant of God living?" The monster after gnashing out some kind of outlandish utterance, in words broken rather than spoken through his bristling lips, at length finds a friendly mode of communication, and extending his right hand points out the way desired. Then with swift flight he crosses the spreading plain and vanishes from the sight of his wondering companion. But whether the devil took this shape to terrify him, or whether it be that the desert which is known to abound in monstrous animals engenders that kind of creature also, we cannot decide.

St Jerome was an avid reader of Epics before he converted. When he himself tells the story of a hermit he admires, he is positive that the Devil exists and open to Centaurs possibly also existing. What does that tell you of he probability he considered the first chapters of Genesis as a Märchen with a moral rather than as a Sage?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Bibl. Marguérite Audoux
Feast of St Bartholomew and
11th anniversary of my
Geocentric conviction
(I was creationist far earlier)

1 commentaire:

  1. I may have been wrong about how St Jerome after becoming seriously Christian viewed Pagan Poets.

    But on the other hand, CSL might have been wrong in attributing the words to him.

    C. S. Lewis and St. Jerome
    The background of a recurring misattribution
    by Arend Smilde