Ship of Fools: Augustinerklosterkirche (Church of St Augustine’s Monastery), Erfurt, Germany


imageShip of Fools: Augustinerklosterkirche (Church of St Augustine’s Monastery), Erfurt, Germany

Gold, frankincense and – myth?

Read the full Mystery Worshipper report here


Comments

  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Wonderful! Thank you. If only we could stay with the myth.
  • O come now - that needs unpacking! Do tell us why you think that should be...

    Isn't the Gospel account of the Visit of the Magi something of a myth, anyway? It certainly has the dream-like quality of (say) a Graham Greene short story, and the same goes (IMHO) for Eliot's 'A cold coming we had of it'.

    Linky:
    poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/the-journey-of-the-magi/

  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    The editor streamlined my report, which is always a good idea. However, in the original German, the reader did not actually say the word "myth", but literally "Mytthe", a word which looks like myth but does not exist in the German language.
    Regarding the question as to whether or not the story of the Magi is a myth: there are books which address this question. One ist written by an Austrian astronomer, Ferrari d'Occhieppo, another by a German Jesuit scholar, Gerhard Kroll. The authors try to partially reconstruct the story of the Magi by going into great detail regarding the original Greek of Matthew, Babylonian clay tablets, astronomical calculations and other relevant historical documents. It is, of course, not possible to determine exactly what the star of Bethlehem was, and the gospel of Matthew is not historical documentation, but these scholars do make clear that it would be an oversimplification to interpret Matthew 2: 1 - 11 as purely legendary. I think that the Matthew account of the magi is one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible. It has features which make it absolutely unique.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited January 13
    Yes, indeed it does, and thank you @Portola for the clarification regarding 'Mytthe'.
  • I wondered indeed if perhaps the Reading had been done in English rather than German as the word for myth is, of course Mythos,w ith its plural Mythen. When I read Luther's translation of St Matthew it says' Gold,Weihrauch und Myrrhen' and I wondered also if that was possibly what the reader pronounced as 'Mythen'
    ps I love the German word for incense 'consecrated smoke'
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    O come now - that needs unpacking! Do tell us why you think that should be...

    Isn't the Gospel account of the Visit of the Magi something of a myth, anyway? It certainly has the dream-like quality of (say) a Graham Greene short story, and the same goes (IMHO) for Eliot's 'A cold coming we had of it'.

    Linky:
    poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/the-journey-of-the-magi/

    Don't tell them that at Cologne cathedral!
    They think they have the three heads in a gold box above the altar!
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    To Forthview: Thank you for mentioning Luther's translation. It could be that you got hold of an earlier version of the Luther Bible. The Luther translation has been revised several times to bring it up to date. In the present revision, completed in 2017, it reads "Gold, Weihrauch und Myrrhe". As I mentioned in the report, the person reading this text saw two "t"s instead of two "r"s, which produced the word "Mytthe". "Consecrated smoke" is indeed the literal translation of Weihrauch. Perhaps the out-dated expression "Holy Smoke!" is derived from this term.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Right, Bishop's Finger; thanks for asking:
    Our current English meaning of 'myth' (as lie) completely distorts the point of myths. A myth is a story that has a symbolic as well as a literal meaning. In religious language (and I include all religions) the symbolic meaning is the important bit. The story is just a prop to hang the symbols on. The aim is to point beyond the literal to the otherworld. Because we all have such difficulty in describing the otherworld, myths get interpreted literally, with tragic and violent results.
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    So what kind of a place is this church? Is it a monastery still?
  • Urganda wrote: »
    Right, Bishop's Finger; thanks for asking:
    Our current English meaning of 'myth' (as lie) completely distorts the point of myths. A myth is a story that has a symbolic as well as a literal meaning. In religious language (and I include all religions) the symbolic meaning is the important bit. The story is just a prop to hang the symbols on. The aim is to point beyond the literal to the otherworld. Because we all have such difficulty in describing the otherworld, myths get interpreted literally, with tragic and violent results.

    Thank you!

    That's a helpful explanation, and I see what you mean...

  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited January 14
    Urganda wrote: »
    Right, Bishop's Finger; thanks for asking:
    Our current English meaning of 'myth' (as lie) completely distorts the point of myths. A myth is a story that has a symbolic as well as a literal meaning. In religious language (and I include all religions) the symbolic meaning is the important bit. The story is just a prop to hang the symbols on. The aim is to point beyond the literal to the otherworld. Because we all have such difficulty in describing the otherworld, myths get interpreted literally, with tragic and violent results.
    This; very much this. Use of "myth" to mean "lie" or "falsehood" is definitely one of my pet peeves. One of the best descriptions I have heard is that a myth is a story that is true; whether it is also factual is irrelevant.

  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    Like a certain collection of sacred texts that we know . . . ? :wink:
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Tricky. Of course we want truth as opposed to falsehood. I don't go along with the idea of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. The point is the story is only there to be seen through. It's a different world that myths are trying to reveal.
  • Yes,I understand that 'myth' is a story which represents a truth which sometimes cannot be expressed in a literal and factual way.

    The Augustinerkloster is where Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and it became like many other religious buildings after the Reformation a place of Lutheran worship. It is especially important to Lutherans because of its direct connections with Martin Luther.
    Like the Lutherans in Scandinavia ,the Lutheran 'evangelische' church did not destroy the previous system nor undertake significant iconoclastic activities in the churches. Luther valued the sacrament of penance and Lutheran churches had confessionals until at least the late 1600s/early 1700s when more Calvinistic influences came to the fore.
    The monastery, as well as having its chapel, is a place for conferences and meetings.

    Perhaps for alan29 I could mention that Erfurt also has a Catholic cathedral (where Martin Luther was ordained as a Catholic priest) Although the cathedral was reputed to be founded by St Boniface ( and of course probably was) the area came for many centuries under the influence of the Electoral Prince Bishop of Mainz and because of this certain areas remained Catholic at the time of the Reformation -one of the few areas in the former German Democratic Republic with a significant number of Catholics. The Stiftskirche St Marien (Collegiate church) where Luther was ordained was promoted once again to the rank of cathedral shortly after the reunification of Germany and the restructuring of the areas of Catholic Administration

    For Portola the Lutheran Testament which I referred to was published in the 1880s.
    The language is a bit like that of the King James version of the N.T. in English. For myself I much prefer more modern versions in everyday language.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    @Nick Tamen - the use of 'myth' to mean untrue is one of my pet peeves too, and a really unhelpful impoverishment of the language.
  • Alan29 wrote: »
    So what kind of a place is this church? Is it a monastery still?

    As it's now Lutheran, I suspect not (though AIUI there are elements of monasticism within certain Lutheran churches today).

  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    How the Augustine monastery in Erfurt is used today can be seen by clicking this link (which is identical to the link offered in "More Church Info":
    https://www.augustinerkloster.de/en/church-monastery-erfurt/
    The information is in English.
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Portola wrote: »
    How the Augustine monastery in Erfurt is used today can be seen by clicking this link (which is identical to the link offered in "More Church Info":
    https://www.augustinerkloster.de/en/church-monastery-erfurt/
    The information is in English.

    thanks
  • The name 'Augustinerkloster' (Augustinian monastery) reminds us that church buildings often retain earlier names ,even if the monastic community have either voluntarily abandoned them or have been forcibly ejected. Lots of English people will know that Selby Abbey and Tewksbury Abbey are not working abbeys but rather English parish churches.
    Westminster Abbey likewise is not a working monastery but rather a 'Royal Peculiar'
    More bizarre, however, is an 'abbey' like the fictional Downton Abbey or indeed Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. And yet I would never have thought anything about this if some Belgian visitors had not asked me last summer 'where is the abbey in Downton Abbey ?
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    Let's get back to the word "myth" which has been discussed in these comments.
    „Myth“ in connection with Matthew’s account of the Magi was introduced by accident, as it never occurred in the service at the Augustine church, and it should never be used as a description of events in the gospels. “Myth” can indeed convey truth – there is a lot of truth and insight in Greek mythology – but mythology hovers in timelessness; it is not rooted in events which happened at specific places and at specified times.

    When I mentioned above that Matthew is not “historical documentation”, what I meant to say is that it was not the intention of the gospel writers to merely document events, but to interpret them. The gospels are a unique form of literature: they are based upon historical events and eye witness accounts which are interpreted within the framework of Jesus’ life and teaching.

    Historical-critical research attempts to differentiate between events in the gospels which can be scientifically verified and those which cannot. This research has been an invaluable tool in understanding Biblical texts. However, this tool can also be unnerving to “ordinary” people when it is presented in the media. At one time Biblical scholarship claimed that it could not be proved that Jesus actually existed. Now, scholarship has determined that the existence of Jesus has been verified. When journalists report about these types of discussions the general public gets the impression that the Bible consists more or less of legends, fictional stories and exaggerations.

    In the Matthew account of the Magi there are many features which cannot be empirically verified; but does this necessarily mean that they never happened? Scientific research cannot validate the Incarnation or the Resurrection, but does that mean that these events are fictional? If God’s creative activity gets reduced to that which the human mind can verify, then “God” indeed becomes a myth, divorced from the history and geography of our planet. A myth cannot sustain us during the challenges of life and death.

    I think that the best way to approach the story of the magi is to ask:
    Is it possible that the “magoi”(an old Persian term for priestly astronomers) were actually led to Jerusalem by their interpretation of an astronomical phenomenon which appeared in the “anatole” (an ancient astronomical term with signifies heliacal rising, the appearance of a star when it briefly becomes visible above the eastern horizon at dawn just before sunrise)?
    - This star was so inconspicuous that Herod had to ask them when it first appeared, which also determined the age of the children whom he would kill.
    Is it possible that they were led in an inexplicable way to the birthplace of a Jewish child whom they worshiped by prostrating themselves before him? -
    The historicity of this story cannot be proved, but to categorically deny that it happened is to deny that God is immeasurable. Can we worship a God who is no larger than what historic-critical scholarship allows him to be?

    It is absolutely unique in the Bible that heathens (non-Jewish people) come to Jerusalem to worship a Jewish child - not because of God’s initiative, but because of a mixture of exact observation of the night sky and what we would today call astrology. The story of the Wise Men represents the globalization of the Christmas event, so that it encompasses people you would never meet in a church.

  • @Portola said
    'The story of the Wise Men represents the globalization of the Christmas event, so that it encompasses people you would never meet in a church.'

    In a nutshell. QED.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Good on yer, Portola.
    You say a myth cannot sustain us during the challenges of life and death.
    Why not?
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    Thank you, Bishops Finger, for your encouraging comment, and thank you, Urganda, for asking for clarification as to why myth cannot sustain us. Your helpful question requires a rather detailed answer.

    As I see it, myth is inadequate to sustain us in crisis, because it cannot bridge the gap between God and humanity. Only God can overcome the alienation (sin) which separates us from him. Since we have to live and die on this planet, it is crucial that God himself entered into our everyday life. The Biblical history of Israel reveals a God who engages in the history of mankind and involves Himself in what happens globally. With the Incarnation he goes one step further, showing his unconditional love by entering into our realm, being “born of a woman”, assuming our flesh and blood, our vulnerability and mortality. By being Emmanuel, “God with us”, he sanctifies all aspects of life and death by his holy presence. Whatever happens to us we can be assured that God knows from personal experience what we are going through and can transform them. By means of incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection he has embraced us, will never let go of us, and will make all things good. This is the gospel, as I understand it: the “good news”, which the gospels narrate.

    What separates the gospel from myth is that the gospel is rooted in geography, history and eye-witness accounts. For example, the gospels name the witnesses who verified that Jesus really died, how and where he died, where he was buried and at what times and places he was seen and heard three days after his death. The 22 people who verified the resurrection have not left behind any forensic evidence, but they do illustrate the character of Biblical faith, namely that it is grounded in events which have a social-historical context, which occurred in places that can be visited and which were witnessed by people who really lived and can be named.

    Christian faith is not required to believe that every event in the gospels happened exactly as described. There will always be ambiguity as to what actually occurred. However, we are invited to believe that truthful eye-witness accounts are the foundation of the gospels. When gospel writers tell the story of Jesus, interpretation of the events is incorporated into the narrative. A gospel text is a complex, multidimensional and subtle construction, with precise terminology.

    The word “myth”, as a characterization of the gospels, is a vast underestimation of what a gospel text represents. This word detaches the God revealed in Jesus from real life as we know it. If Christian faith were founded on myth, it would be impotent.

    Elvis sightings after his death are myth; Jesus sightings after his death, as recorded in the gospels, are what give my life infinite meaning and promise.




  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Thanks for taking so much time and trouble.
    I suspect that you too may have an idea that myth means lie. I'm saying a myth is a story that points to God. (You can't just describe God) If a myth works, it evokes that 'incarnation' that to you needs historical backing. When we start arguing about whether something happened historically we are in a different area.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Not so much a lie, but a fictional tale. It can point to God, I suppose, but that seems beyond its day-to-day usage.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    That's where we differ. I would say it IS its day-to-day usage, which has got blurred recently because we no longer see in terms of symbols.
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    Thank you, Urganda, for your feedback. I am grateful that we are having this discussion.

    I am not sure if we mean the same thing when we use the word “myth”. As has been pointed out in several comments above: “myth”, rightly or wrongly, is in popular opinion the equivalent of fiction or lie, which is why I prefer to avoid this word.

    Also it is imprecise. The gospel writers do sometimes describe events which should not necessarily be taken at face value and which are sometimes referred to as “myths”. More appropriate, I think, would be words such as apocalyptic imagery, Biblical symbolism or Scriptural metaphor, even if they are not immediately understandable.

    There is such a thing as Christian mythology, which appears in apocryphal gospels. The gospel of James, which offers legendary perspectives of the birth of Jesus in a cave, or the gospel of Nicodemus, which describes the harrowing of hell by the risen Christ, are both invaluable because they provide powerful images which have had an impact on Christian art, especially in Eastern Orthodox icons.

    I think that this type of myth can indeed illustrate Christian faith in a helpful and truthful way. But these apocryphal gospels lack apostolic authority and did not become part of the New Testament, perhaps because their mythology and their Gnosticism were not grounded in eye-witness testimony, which is the foundation of the 4 gospels.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    Discussion of "myth" should probably be taken to Purgatory. Let's keep this board dedicated to comments on the substance of the report. Thanks.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    I too am grateful to be having this discussion. I could say 'enjoying this argument'. To me there is no difference, but to you there may be. We need to define our terms: 'Myth' and 'Gospel' for a start. Do you know the Gospel of Thomas, which has no story but is just a collection of logia, some that appear in the Gospels, others that don't?
    Does a Gospel have to tell a story? I think a myth does.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    As requested, let's move this to Purgatory, please. Thanks.

    Amanda B. Reckondwyth
    Lead Editor, Mystery Worship
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    OK Miss Amanda. Your word is law.
    Am I just allowed to say our last 2 posts must have arrived together? I hadn't seen yours when I sent mine.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    I sent mine after yours -- possibly by mere seconds.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    OK. If Portola wants to continue in Purgatory, I am happy to join in.
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    When I first saw the comment about Purgatory I thought that the editor was talking about the Roman-Catholic Purgatory. A day later I realized that there is a Ship of Fools Forum called Purgatory. However, I think I have said everything which I want to say about myth and would be agreeable to closing this theme.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Agreed. Thanks for the discussion.
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