This book is the Wimmer Lecture No. 3, given in 1949. This book, partially because of its very short length, works very well as an overview or even inThis book is the Wimmer Lecture No. 3, given in 1949. This book, partially because of its very short length, works very well as an overview or even introduction to the philosophy of Saint Anselm. Specifically, Anselm was concerned with the connection between faith and reason. Interestingly, Anselm saw the two as working together, not separately. He felt that without first believing, he would never understand; but he also believed that, since humans are rational, nonbelievers could be reached through reason and logic. Moreover, he was always seeking the "Truth," which for him, was something more than fact. Anselm says, "If one does what he ought to do, he expresses truth." Phelan's lecture is a fine introduction to these concepts, but it really left me wishing to read more. Phelan touches on different philosophies from Anselm's time and after (being as existance and not essence), and he also briefly contrasts the truth of man (veritas hominis) with the truth of existance (veritas existendi). Each of these concepts could be a lecture by itself, and I would have liked to see them examined in slightly greater depth. Still, Phelan only had a short amount of time to deliver his lecture, and he does quite a lot with so little....more
I found this book to be distasteful and disrespectful. In order to explain why, I am going to draw from a TV show that deals with a similar concept.
InI found this book to be distasteful and disrespectful. In order to explain why, I am going to draw from a TV show that deals with a similar concept.
In one episode of M*A*S*H, Col. Potter says that he had chosen to get married on Groundhog's day so that he would never forget his anniversary. This is a sort of cute idea, and two special days -- one a holiday and the other a day of personal significance -- would coincide. Potter and his wife would celebrate both things on the same day, and it is possible that the festivities might blend together in his mind and in the minds of his friends and close family. For example, the phrase "six more weeks of winter" might remind him to buy a gift; "anniversary" might call to mind furry little rodents.
However, these two different occasions are not, could not possibly be, one and the same. His daughter is married, for instance, and it would be ridiculous to suggest that she checked the whether, glanced at a rat, and called it a wedding. Just because two events coincide does not mean that they are interchangeable, and that is the central flaw of this book.
Most people today recognize that the day we celebrate as Christmas coincides with (or, at least, comes within a few days of) many ancient pagan festivals. This does not mean that Christmas IS a pagan festival, although book claims that it is; specifically, it claims that Christmas is a version of Saturnalia [an ancient Roman festival]. Count writes, "The habit of Saturnalia was too strong to be left behind. At first the Church forbade it, but in vain. When a river meets a boulder which will not be moved, the river flows around it. If the Saturnalia would not be forbidden, let it be tamed. The Church Fathers now sought to point the festival toward the Christian Sun of Righteousness." Ouch.
He also claims that Christmas celebrations today are a watered-down version of the Babylonian and Persian annual tradition of human sacrifice, called Sacaea. I am not kidding. He writes, "One and the same basic idea . . . has . . . caught up with itself wearing another guise." Yes, this tradition occurred close to the same time of year. And sure, when different events happen at the same time, some ways of celebrating may be shared. This might be what happened with Saturnalia, with some minor traditions such as lighting candles being shared. On the other hand, this was before electricity -- didn't everyone use candles anyway? And Sacaea? Human sacrifice?!?
Count's evidence for these brash claims are sketchy at best. He says that the inspiration for "Santa Claus" is only partly St. Nicholas, and that Santa is really a blend between the Christian saint and the Norse god Odin. He supports this claim, in part, by saying that Odin's symbol was a boar. Then he quotes the Christmas tune known as "The Boar's Head Carol." Okay, so Christians ate boar. Among other things. Big deal! I eat bacon--does that mean that I worship Odin's great-aunt Edna? No! And this carol was one of many that focuses on festivities rather than religious doctrine. There are Christmas songs about decorating, building snowmen, shopping for gifts, and eating figgy pudding. Wait! Maybe I should write a book revealing how snowmen are actually a testament to the marble statues of ancient Greece, and we're all really just honoring Athena and Aphrodite without realizing it! Or maybe it's just a snowman . . . .
I feel really bad for slamming this book, as the author clearly has done a great deal of research, and there are several chapters that are nice to read. He also includes the words to some early Christmas carols, and they were a pleasure to read. However, he could have tracked some Christmas traditions without pushing his own agenda so forcefully and tactlessly. And he did, in places. For example, some people believed that evergreen plants brought the life of summer into the winter. Count writes, "Box, bay, ivy, holly, yew, larch, juniper, pine, spruce, fir--all are shields against the witches and demons [of winter]." That's interesting. That's history. Why couldn't the rest of the book be like that....more