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Archive for August, 2014

“The beloved village priest, that staple figure of Romantic fiction, was a very rare breed [in 18th-century rural France]. In most people’s minds, the man in black was supposed to be useful, like a doctor, a snake-catcher or a witch. He should be willing to write inaccurate letters of recommendation, to read the newspaper, and to explain government decrees. He should also be able to pull strings in the spirit world, influence the weather and cure people and animals of rabies. […] Naturally, this put the priest in a tricky position. If he refused to ring the bells to prevent a hailstorm, he was useless. If he rang the bells and it hailed anyway, he was inept.”

“Jesus Christ was a relatively minor figure [in 19th-century eastern Brittany, relative to the Virgin Mary and the Devil]. In the not-so-distant past, he had walked the land dispensing practical advice. He was known to have been a beggar, which explained his resourcefulness and cunning. In pseudo-Gospel stories–told as though they were local events–Jesus would try to beat some sense into his muddle-headed sidekick, Saint Peter: ‘You fool! You never blab about an animal’s faults at the fair before selling it and getting your hands on the money!'”

–Graham Robb, The Discovery of France : A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War (New York : W. W. Norton, 2007), pgs. 127, 131.

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“The Pseudo-Dionysius’s works were a triumph of the Neoplatonist imagination. In an age of science like our own, they seem wildly fanciful. The lists of seraphim, cherubim, thrones, powers, and the other grades of angelic beings seem like an elaborate fantasy game. However, in an age of faith like the early Middle Ages, with monastic imaginations starved for new stimuli, they were a stunning revelation.

–Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light : Plato versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (New York : Random House, 2013), pgs. 213-214.

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