Sunday, October 14, 2012

the centralising influence

Create a vacuum, thought the churchmen apparently, as they were writing the documents that appeared in Hillgarth's book -- draw attention to a contradiction -- a crack will be created there, the universe no longer naturally bound together in that area of the pagan mind -- who created the universe if our gods had to be born? wonders the hypothetical German confronted by Boniface's honest craftiness -- the new idea will ooze in, this new root will sprout, we will be both question and answer, and A manager, said a casino security sergeant to me recently, never asks a question he doesn't know the answer to, but the new Germanic parishioners were not au fait with Latin, they were not sympathetic, they were not Mediterranean though the missionaries were Mediterranean, the instructions had to be changed for them; some tried to graft the new system of worship onto old practices and have sons inherit their fathers' churches -- no, no, said the central church, this is not how it is done -- grinding their teeth in prose -- and Hillgarth picks his excerpts to make you see the rules gradually growing, you can detect the churchmen becoming more law-bound, less ecstatic, less excited, less direct, differently bossy, no longer assuming that they are confronted by a unity; it appears that the unity must be created now consciously, with instructions, not trusted but built.

(Geoffrey Hill, speaking at Oxford University on the meaning of the word eccentricity, said that the original orbit of any revolutionary social movement is eccentric or asymmetrical until "the centralising influence of bureaucrats takes charge" -- then symmetry asserts itself -- the Egyptian uprising in 2011 was his example. (Eccentrique to the ends of his master or state, May 8th, 2011))

Hillgarth works his way chronologically through the centuries. In the beginning, when he is taking examples from the 300s AD, he has passages that address multitudes, Victricious of Rouen telling the crowd they're all loved and valuable, they, the virgins, the widows, the soldiers, the boys, the monks, are all adorable, all able to adore, "let us exert ourselves and put forth sighs from the deepest veins of our bodies" (translated by the Rev. Fr. Jacobus Mulders, S.J.), and then there are epitaphs trimmed into stone for a public audience, "Here there rests at peace the servant of Christ, the Honourable Lady Guntelda ..." (translated by E. Diehl); but by the 6- and 700s at the end of the book there are private letters describing covert plans, the addresses now start with lists of formal church-titles, a phrase like "beloved brother" appears to have become standardised, Bishop Daniel sends his secret guidelines to Boniface, certain ideas are forbidden, decisions are laid down, a wall of laws is being set up to compete or collaborate with the secular kingships; the church starts to make decisions about marriages, charity, land distribution, and clothing. "Each woman, when she communicates, shall have her veil ..." decided the authors of the document known as A Diocesan Council: Auxerre, 561- 605 (translated by C. de Clercq), and a monk may not wear a stole or a ring.

Thus you've gone from mystics to bureaucrats or from external rhetoric to internal canniness, or from largeness to minuteness like Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans, which in some ways really is "a history of every one" as it promises, mimicking this movement of forces, the accumulation of increments; everything is reconfiguring, the religion becoming a device with humans responding to its grip, the orderly mind that the churchmen prescribe for the tribesmen is also the order they have found for themselves in this industrial revolution of the brain.

All of this insinuates itself into the religious community over the course of four hundred years, 350 - 750, according to the book's title, human beings calibrating or being calibrated in this way, which is mirrored in secular ways as well at the current time, too, on the internet, the freewheeling messy days gone, gone the days when a personal website was an animated .gif of a road sign and three pictures of your favourite fairies against a field of purple though everyone visited you nonetheless, lame as you were; now there is more to assimilate and less to experience; perhaps this would have been Hillgarth's perception too, if he had lived to see it -- the book published in 1969 -- I think he has to be dead -- once he was the "Assistant Professor of History, Harvard University," according to the front of the book -- tidied away like autumn leaves by now, mouldering with oak and elm and the other trees around which druids in Europe once (according to the documents he arranged into a book) bound their fillets -- a fillet in this case meaning, a band of cloth.


  1. You should become a book reviewer and get paid for it... or at least get your books for free. You do very well at it.

    1. There must be some sort of mechanism that book reviewers go through before they become book reviewers but I'm never sure what it is. Do they answer a job ad? Do they meet someone at a cocktail party who happens to know someone who knows someone? Do they sacrifice a goat? It's a bewitching mystery. They just seem to appear there magically in print, winning Pulitzer prizes and having opinions on Tolstoy, and, more wonderful than both, receiving money.