Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Estranged Notions: St. Christopher, ET, and the Middle Ages

Yesterday's post:

St. Christopher, ET, and the Middle Ages

This is a Flynn post from 2009, which, fascinatingly, appears to be substantially copied from the Quodlibeta blog post (not actually by Hannam but one of his co-bloggers) linked in the text.

EDIT: here's a marked-up comparison to show the similarity:

In theA 9th century a churchman called Rimbert – who later became the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen – was planning to leave on a missionary journey to the northern reaches of Scandinavia. The idea of converting Scandinavia to Christianity had been enthusiastically pursued by the Emperor Louis the Pious and Archbishop Ebbo of Rheims in the 820s. In preparation To prepare for thehis journey Rimberthe wrote to Ratramnus, a monk of Corbie in Picardy, asking for information regarding the dog-heads, whom he thought he might encounter. Ratramnus had been sentAccording to a dossier Rimbert had put together which informed him that, the dog-heads lived in villages, practisedpracticed agriculture, and domesticated animals. In response Ratramnus wrote his Epistola de Cynocephalis a work which would answeraddressing the question of whether the dog-heads were "worthy of evangelism." The issue hinged on whether the mysterious creatures could be considered rational. (You may recall that in Eifelheim, Dietrich has a similar conversation with his old teacher Willi, a canon of Freiburg. If you don't recall this, that means you have not read the book, and you should rectify this error immediately and without hesitation.) Ratramnus begins by describing theirthe Dog-Heads' manner of speaking:

"...the form of their heads and their canine barking shows that they are similar not to humans but to animals. In fact, the heads of humans are on top and round in order for them to see the heavens, while those of dogs are long and drawn out in a snout so that they can look at the ground. And humans speak, while dogs bark."

And yet, "despite their appearance," Rimbert's the information Rimbert had supplied clearly indicated they weredepicts them as capable of domesticating animals. : "‘I do not see’ wrote Ratramnus, ‘how this could be so if they had an animal and not a rational soul’: since the living things of the earth were subjected to men by heaven, as we know from having read Genesis. But it has never been heard or believed that animals of one kind can by themselves take care of other animals, especially those of a domestic kind, keep them, compel them to submit to their rule, and follow regular routines."

Ratramnus pointed to the way in which the dog-heads ‘keep the rules of society’ and recognisedrecognized the rule of law. ‘There cannot be any law, which common descent has not decreed. But such cannot be established or kept without the discipline of morality’. Unlike Ctesias’s dog-heads, Rimbert’s report stated that they covered their genitalia. Ratramnus interpreted this as a sign of decency and these and others attributes convinced him they were human; in any case, St Christopher had once been one and converted. Hence, Ratramnus concluded that the dog-heads were degenerated descendants of Adam, although the Church generally classed them with beasts. They may even receive baptism by being rained upon. Here Ratramnus was following in the footsteps of Augustine of Hippo, who had written that if the monstrous races do exist, they were created according to God’s will and, if they are human and descended from Adam, they must be capable of salvation. This would extend the Churches missionary obligation to the farthest flung parts of the earth and make ‘monstrous missionising’ a necessary fulfilment of Christ’s charge.