Articles > Mystery
Dark Ages: The Quest for Truth
Flying to the US through London Gatwick, there always was this book store. Prominently presented on a stack of newly released books, "The Second Messiah (1997)" by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas featured an astonishing cover illustration based on the Turin Shroud, and I got it - together with another one about the apostle "Paul (1997)" by A.N.Wilson as a more historical looking compensation. As it turned out, both books were rather progressive. The one suggested based on a 1988 radio carbon test that the Turin shroud originated from the 14th century and was used for the tortured Jacques de Molay, the last Templar Grand Master, who must have been crucified against a door frame with one hand up and the other to the side, which the sometimes diagonal blood stream on the cloth would support. A chemical reaction of acid in his sweat together with bleach on the linen cloth was responsible for the picture to form. The other book more or less said that Christianity was about a misunderstanding of Jesus' original intentions and an interpretation and invention by Paul, lacking detail knowledge of the rites of Jewish sects like the Essenes, such as their initiation rite relating to Lazarus' resurrection.
What was more obvious than checking these theses against serious books meant to introduce Theology students into the Old and New Testament, speaking of original authors and later add-ons, when it felt odd that Moses at the end of Deuteronomy could have described his own death. The books were "Introduction into the Old Testament (Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 1994)" by Franz Josef Stendebach and "Introduction into the New Testament (Einleitung in das Neue Testament, 1978)" by Franz Joseph Schierse. Kevin Orlin Johnson's "Why Do Catholics Do That? (1994)" has among others helped discussing differences between the Catholic Bible and later Protestant translations, namely the King James version, where whole books like Tobit and Maccabees were removed from the Old Testament to get rid of theological reference in connection with Redemption and Purgatory as found in the Septuagint as Greek Original. And it reveals the Number's Game, standing for Greek and Hebrew number-letter equivalences among others leading to the often quoted Revelation 13:18 introducing the Number of the Beast ("Hell and fire was spawned to be released" - Iron Maiden in my ears now!), while 666 is in fact only St. John's reference to the cruel Roman Emperor Nero, the Greek name written out in Hebrew letters that were added up ("nrwn qsr" equaling 50+200+6+50+100+60+200=666). The early Christian Latinists probably knew about this reference when accordingly translating the number into 616, standing for the shorter Latin version of Neros name in Hebrew letters ("nrw qsr").
Going back to Barcelona is always going back to Sagrada Familia. Just sitting down to relax in front of the unfinished Cathedral of the Holy Family may bring up memories of my first visit to the construction site in the year 2000 together with two good colleagues. While the cornerstone had been laid as early as 1882, the expected finish of this monument of Christian belief is around 2025. Being asked about his masterwork that he would never see completed, the architect Antoni Gaudi is quoted saying: "My Master is in no hurry!" A good motto for our fast moving times. A motivation to lean back and accomplish something, lasting even when we are gone.
Code. One day coming back from work, in the subway I had read "The Bible Code (1997)" by Michael Drosnin, suggesting that names or messages had been hidden in the original Hebrew text just like in a crossword puzzle - usually revealing themselves through computer analysis in detail only AFTER things had happened. However Jitzhak Rabin's name had been found in advance crossing "murderer," "war" and "5756," Hebrew chronology for the year 1995, but the warning was too general and proved ineffective. And now there was this person, from Jehovah's Witnesses or another sect, observing that I was interested in pseudo spiritual literature and following me in the subway just to invite me to their service. An invitation I returned - to a catholic mass instead, for being convinced that fallen Christians should return to their original belief they had had as a child rather than trying out dubious alternatives. Another thing was sitting at one table with fathers of other children attending the same Parish Kindergarten at a spring festival and suddenly finding them arguing what a good idea it had been to leave Church and end their formal relationship with this organization in order not to pay membership fee any more. I could just look at them in surprise for we were then sitting in the Church's back yard right after service. And yet another thing was once during an evaluation talk in response to a question about roles in life mentioning that it is important to provide a good example in the company, in the family and as a Christian. The next minute I found myself confronted with the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church.
Historical examples mentioned in such context usually include Crusades and Holy Inquisition. "Force them to enter" or in the King James Version translated "Compel them to come in" was the over-interpreted Bible verse from Luke 14:23, serving as a wrong theological base for Christianization by force. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." (2 Timothy, 2:19) was on the other hand used as an excuse for unholy torture and homicide, inquisition and witch hunt, installed in 1484 as part of the Witches' Bull by Pope Innocent VIII and finally coming to an end in protestant Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. In 1095 Pope Urban II would enthusiastically shout "Deus lo vult" or "God wants it," a battle cry to free the Holy Land from Saracen occupation. The crusaders were reported literally wading through the blood of slaughtered Muslims, but in the end lost the land to the invading superiority. It took centuries before Pope John Paul II would beg for forgiveness in front of the public as part of proclaiming a Day of Pardon, on May 12, 2000. Taking responsibility for the actions of others you never had a chance to influence is an outstanding thing. We all know how hard it can be to admit errors ourselves, but how much harder must this have been for the head of such an idealistic community, an authority that may in exceptional cases ex cathedra even proclaim matters of infallibility. It is so easy not to declare yourself, modern not to support a certain belief and by that avoid its history, having to explain its downsides, at the same time disregarding that also the growing group without denomination has failed just as its representatives may have done good in the past. In the Inter-War Years local atheists demanded their cremation after death to ultimately manifest their credo that everything is over. Which some did out of deepest, honest conviction, others due to profound aversion against the political Catholicism in the days of the first Austrian Republic. In the end there are many ways to the same God and a peaceful way is certainly favourable, respectful of different approaches, while still remembering the reason for our own. Making it better is what we are asked to do, and allow others to show how to best achieve that with or without support by the same or another religion.
The Franciscan Church. A house of God, well hidden in a maze of buildings in the very center of Vienna. Humble in appearance from the outside, you might be amazed by the interior. At one point of time it had a copy of the Turin Shroud on display, which when inverted forms a face, gives away the image of the crucified wrapped inside a long time ago. Dispute will probably never end whether it is for real or just fake like above animation, based on an astonishing book cover.
Superstition. Going out one Sunday afternoon to a book store that is open on weekends, one line on a back cover caught my attention: "When people believe less and less in god, they do not believe nothing, but just about everything!" Many years ago I had been already reading a German pocket book about witch hunt, back then though not quite satisfied with the piece of literature losing itself too much into local detail. "Witch Obsession and Superstition - Then and now (Hexenwahn und Aberglaube - Damals und heute, 2007)" by Clemens Hutter seemed a good choice for another try on the topic, for wrapping up medieval history and combining it with contemporary examples. It would cover a broad spectrum, reaching from historic persecution to various forms of superstition that are still around in these modern times. I would remember it, when we were debating in the office, who should move downstairs to make space for temporary visitors. A colleague screamed that the room was cursed for its previous two occupants had been released. As I was not superstitious, I would agree to moving in there for a few weeks. Only a month earlier or so, a former classmate had revealed his gift to me, an unusual sensitiveness to bad vibrations, which made him feel bad in case something terrible had happened in a room. I immediately felt reminded of the confession "I can see dead people" from the movie "The Sixth Sense." As part of the same conversation, another one mentioned the ritual of smoking out evil spirits from rooms by using pieces of smoldering coal, a ritual which appeared to be still in use on the country side and might have a parallel in the catholic pratice of swinging incense burners to spread holy smoke.
Anyway, transcendent occurrences happen regularly at the climax of a mass, when in remembrance of the Last Support the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. As a result of limited knowledge of foreign languages though, the old Latin formula of the transubstantiation "Hoc est enim corpus meum (short: Hoc est corpus - This is my body)" was corrupted into "hocus-pocus," which became the ultimate magic word. The sad part pretty much began with the Thirty Years' War (1618-48). Starting up as a religious conflict between the newly founded Protestants and established Catholics, it must have sharpened the senses of the common people for religious intolerance and prejudgement. Turning into a revolt of German Princes, aided by France and Sweden, against the Habsburg Emperor with his power bases in Austria and Spain, as a result of the heavy battles the population was reduced by up to one third in some areas. As whole landscapes were devastated, the seed of superstition feel on the fertile soil of famine and poverty. Even begging proved more effectual, when combined with the threat of evil spells. Demons were held responsible for unfavourable weather and resulting bad harvest. Exorcism was common practice against unknown and suspicious diseases like epilepsy. Sharp tongues were fast in spreading rumours and malicious agitation, while denunciation sprouted out of the envy of the have-nots.
Usually, the Inquisition was controlled by Dominican monks, whose crimes against humanity gained them the ominous nickname "Domini canes" - track hounds of the Lord! Originally established to initiate a cleansing process within a corrupt clergy, selling indulgences and accumulating wealth as well as privileges, as a reaction on public incitement it changed focus. It would rather convict people of witchcraft and heresy, return verdicts based on false testimony and pure guesses, while refining the techniques of torturing any confession from suspects in times before conviction through fingerprints and DNA analysis was at service. The generally low education level played further into the hands of the prosecutors. So the illiterate Jeanne d'Arc, French national heroine during the Hundred Year's War (1337-1453) against England, signed a full confession, while believing she'd just commit herself not to wear men's pants any more. That was long ago though. However, under the umbrella of new spirituality modern superstition flourishes as never before. Still high in the market are the daily horoscope in the newspaper, the 100 Years Calendar for weather forecast, the Lunar Calendar for timing of day-to-day activities with the moon phases, the hiring of energy-sensitive people armed with a divining rod or a pendulum as well as the consultation of miracle healers as an alternative to orthodox medicine. Inspirational teachings find a new audience, bookstores offer everything from Apocryptic Gospels, Talmud, Kama-Sutra to Handbook of Witchcraft, varieties of ancient wisdom, the longer believed forgotten the better. Gnosticism, Nordic cults and so called nature religions celebrate an unimagined revival. Modern people, successful and otherwise making sound sense, prove receptive to everything from pre-Christian knowledge to post-religious agnosticism, you name it! Often though you get the impression deep inside they are still searching, maybe not even knowing what they are looking for and definitely not where to find it. In the meantime, the image of the village witch, an elderly, widowed outcast of society living at the edge of town, lives on in the Grimm brother's fairytale "Hansel and Gretel," not only at the time of year around the re-imported pagan rite of Halloween.
One year around Easter walking through the Franciscan Church in the Vienna city center with my family, a copy of the Turin shroud surprised and astonished me and I tried to recite some information about it from my memory to my son. Unfortunately I had not been among the 2 million visitors that had seen the real artefact in public display in the Holy Year 2000 in Turin. A couple months after getting a mail circular describing the Turn shroud as real after all and something like the 5th gospel, I got this cheap copy of "Turin Shroud - In whose Image? (Die Jesus Fälschung, 1996)" by Lynn Picknet and Clive Prince. Assuming it part of the medieval industry branch of relic production, it states that only a genius like Leonardo da Vinci could have been behind a falsification of that quality and suggested the use of an early photographic technique based on a "camera obscura," while Leonardo had copied an image of no other than his own face on top of an unknown tortured body. The camera name probably says it all about the theory itself. In the end it is important to keep in mind that the authenticity of relicts like to Turin shroud or the Holy Lance, the latter as displayed in the Viennese treasury, the Schatzkammer in Hofburg castle, are irrelevant for the belief itself, the personal persuasion in the Christian faith. And I have enjoyed gathering information from several perspectives over the years, different opinions supporting or contradicting each other. A controversial library may help to form an opinion on your own on the history of certain mysteries and the possible intention behind incidents including some of those sensational disclosures that cross our path sometimes by chance. And they better cross our path to put our focus on certain items of importance, such as where we come from, what is the reason for our cultural background, and where do we go based on that knowledge in our quest for the true Grail, inner contentment.
"I'm not superstitious, I have no doubt
That there's a reason, how things turn out."
(Superstitious, Europe, 1988)