Friday, September 26, 2008

Perfect Forms and Ancient Relics


Is there any connection between ancient relics in early Christian churches (i.e. Mary's robe) and the pursuit of perfect forms?

49 comments:

Mr. Plainview said...

I think to a certain extent the church authorities were just full of themselves. On the other hand, I think it could be said these relics were used to set an example. For example--"This relic came from a worthy Christian. You should live glorious to God as well." In a sense, weren't the church authorities presenting these relics as perfect forms?
It obviously made some impression if pilgrims came from miles around just to pass through the ambulatories and see these things.

El Paco said...

If you disagree with me, please forgive me, but I think that the collection of relics is just stupid. I don't think there's any connection to perfect form; just complete ignorance and lack of logic on behalf of millions of people. And I know that at least one person is going to say something like, "how can millions of people lack logic? Maybe you're just wrong" - but haven't we seen something like this before? I'm pretty sure re-electing George W. Bush was a complete mental lapse on behalf of anyone who voted for him

El Paco said...

By the way - that picture is awesome

michelle scandurro said...

I agree with your fondness for logic, el paco. In fact, I felt sort of bad for my sarcastic tone when we talked about relics in class.

But do you have any "lucky" objects? Do you ever knock on wood? Avoid walking under ladders? Our culture is full of nonsensical superstitions.

Also, this whole relic thing was in the context of faith, which never pretends to be logical.

And (finally), many modern people don't believe in the theology behind Christmas but celebrate it anyway; it's become cultural & not necessarily the product of any belief.

The said...
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Mr. Plainview said...

I agree with both of you, actually. I just thought this might be something to talk about. I used to have a lucky blue flashlight I would carry with me once in a while. It was very small, mind you, and could fit in my pocket.

tmichals said...

I used to have a bobble-head Happy Feet penguin from Burger King that I used to carry around with me for comfort. He even has his own little egg carrying case and his name is Lovelace. I'm not really sure if this has to do with what we're talking about but I just wanted to share that. Although he's plastic, he's really beautiful in my opinion.

Dean Elazab said...

Taylor thanks for opening up to us on your happy feet... on that note i am torn between andrew and michelle.
Andrew is right about the nature of the relics. These objects were used to lure people to certain churches and to maybe get some money out of pilgrims. These objects were sold by relic dealers who lied about the origins, but they did serve a purpose.
Which comes to michelle's point. These objects might have been known as fakes by the dealers and the church ministry, but they were a symbol of hope for the pilgrims. These objects showed the pilgrims glimpses of greatness. For example, the thumb of saint john could inspire a pilgrim to re-evaluate his life to becoming as religious and the glorious appendage before him.

Dean Elazab said...

so i was reading fast and realized that is was mrs. scandurro and not michelle, sorry for the first name in formalities :D

El Paco said...

What I'm saying is that they shouldn't have been a symbol of hope. People were just mindlessly doing whatever the Church told them to do. Well maybe it wasn't "mindless," because the Church sort of killed people who disagreed.

joel derby said...

I mean Andrew, this wasn't just the church forcing people to go look at these relics. They went to experience something bigger than themselves, they wanted to feel the power of gos and be amazed by the richness and splendor of the church. When the uneducated classses made pilgrimages they entered into a world unlike any they could ever experience otherwise. It's not fair to claim the church forced them to do this. The church was probably the thing that kept them going when they were oppressed by their lords. the belief in a world like those of the churches were all they could look forward to in death.

Religious people do not claim to always be the most logical or intelligent people, but religion gives people a sense of hope and belonging in the world, you can not judge someone for wanting to experience a part of that.

El Paco said...

Joel - the last part of what you said is fair enough, but I never said that the Churches forced people to go see the relics. I just said that the people believed whatever the Church told them to believe because if they disagreed, they'd be punished - and what the Church was telling them to believe was that the "relics" were holy or sacred

joel derby said...

That's true, but the church didn't seek out people who believed different things, though they did punish those who broadcasted their disbelief and tried to change others, but at the time period that we're dealing with, I don't think there was as much revolt as in the late middle ages when the church became more tyrannical and oppresive.

Caroline said...

I think there is a definite connection to church relics and their representation of the perfect forms. Although the collection of relics may be stupid, I think the church's intention was to motivate others to strive for perfect and to awe them with the "relics".

stephen gieger said...

I think that there is a substantial connection between church relics and the Greek pursuit of the ideal form. Although the early Christians wish to portray an ideal form it is not in the same sense as the Greeks. Early Christians portray Jesus and other biblical figures as ideal because they are the representations of biblical virtue that should be aspired to.

JP said...

I think the "perfect form" in Greek culture is, essentially, the polar opposite of the symbolism and meaning expressed in Christian art in the middle ages.

The "perfect form" to the Greeks is man - an athletic, sculpted man in his highest condition. In contrast, Christian art sees the form of man as inherently imperfect, inferior, and in some ways evil. To Christian artists of the middle ages, the "perfect form" is the soul at one with Christ, free from this material plane, and completely free from the physical and worldly "perfect form" of the Greeks.

stephen gieger said...

The similarities of the ideal form in Greek and christian culture is not as much in its aesthetic appeal but rather the general concept of an ideal form. An athlete obviously contrasts with the image of christ, however, they are both forms through which one aspires to in order to become closer with one's relationship with God or the Gods. The Greeks competed in physical activity to become closer with their gods, who took on the ideal human form, while the Christians seek to imitate the virtuous and idealized characteristics of Jesus through their own actions.

El Paco said...

So you're saying that claiming a random piece of wood is the cross on which Jesus was crucified represents the perfect form? I'm confused.

JP said...

Nah, I can see what Steven is saying. You could argue that while Greek art depicts the chiseled physical human body as the "perfect form," Christian art in the middle ages depicts Christ, or unity of the human soul with Christ, as the "perfect form." I guess you could say that's where stuff like WWJD?? comes from - striving to become more like Jesus, the Christian ideal of perfection.

What I was saying was that the physical is the opposite of the spiritual, and thus the two "perfect forms" are essentially polar opposites. But they can still both be thought of as a type of "perfect form," if you want to think of them that way.

Also, you're a jerk. Don't bring other people's ideas down, jerk.

El Paco said...

Ok...you've repeated what I said in another thread about the Christianization of the perfect form, but you still fail to explain how a relic represents the perfect form. Jesus is the perfect form, not the arm of a saint.

stephen gieger said...

A relic does not represent the perfect form but rather lends support to the idea that christ should be followed and emulated. The image of christ and his pursuits represents the perfect form, but remnants of saints repesent a virtuous effort to follow the teachings of christ. That explains the removal of naturalism from christian art, because Christ rather than individuals are to be exemplified. The saints are praised for their devotion towards christ.

joel derby said...

Stephen makes a good point, Te relics were not themselves the perfect form, rather what they represented was the perfect form. They exemplified the journey towards a perfectly clean soul, and the pilgrimages to see the relics would also help purify the soul of the pilgrim, so they served a dual purpose.

El Paco said...

Stephen - I agree with everything you said, but I still don't see how relics have anything to do with the perfect form. I mean, sure, they have something to do with Christianity, and Christ is the perfect form in Christianity, but Churches involve Christianity, too. Does that mean that churches also represent the perfect form? If so, what about grass, since Jesus once walked on grass?

El Paco said...

No, grass can't represent the perfect form; it already represents Ireland.

Mr. Plainview said...

I don't think churches represent the perfect form. I can see how one might argue relics represent a perfect form in some way, but aren't churches just a place to recognize these relics and worship the perfect form? Does that make sense? In other words, is the church really representing the perfect form or is it simply a place for people to gather? I'm not agreeing with this; I'm just being argumentative.

stephen gieger said...

I don't know who plainview is but I agree with his differential between relics and churches. Although early Christian churches were shaped like a cross, they were merely a place for many to assemble and praise Christ who represented the perfect form. The architecture of an early church was designed to draw one's attention to an alter that represented a means of praising the perfect form. Greek architecture was simply the ideal form in open space.

tmichals said...

Like Joel and mr. plainview said, relics gave the pilgrims a way to feel close to saints and to God and they clearly had a deeper affect on them than any of us could imagine. And the fact that relics still exist in cultures where people are not penalized for believing otherwise proves that people hold faith in them for reasons other than being forced to. Sure, the relics may not have been genuine all the time but at least they provided something for pilgrims to have faith in. Like Joe said... at least (did yall know that was two words? because I didn't.) they had something to believe in and to give them hope. Is that really such a bad thing after all?

tmichals said...

and how do yall get pictures by your names? I WANT ONE!

El Paco said...

Alright I'm going to make this point one last time, and if you all still don't understand what I'm saying, then I give up. There's no connection between relics and the perfect form - we can agree to disagree about the spiritual value of relics, but there's no way that there's a connection between the supposed arm of a saint and ideals of Jesus. By the way, I was being sarcastic about the Church thing.

joel derby said...

Ya I know and we don't appreciate the attitude Wise, and I still disagree with you. The arm of a Saint itself is not the perfect form, but what that body part represents. It represents the ability of humans to reach the perfect form of a pure soul and mind. So yes relics represented humans who had reached the perfect form of a pure soul.

El Paco said...

"Ya I know and we don't appreciate the attitude Wise"
What's that phrase? I think it goes something like "the pot calling the kettle black?"

Dean Elazab said...

OK OK OK calm down you two. if you want to fight take it out in taps, not on the blog. innocent people are here and they dont need to see this.

but back to the topic. andrew is right, the way we used the term "perfect form" in Greek times does not apply to the relics. the relics deserve another term so they dont get confused. Relics are for inspiration to be more devout and a sign that we can all do better.

Ehren said...

To me the relics just seem like a way of luring people in and spreading publicity for a particular church. I think that it is odd that some churches would decorate a relic so much to the point where it was unidentifiable, such as coating something in gold or putting it in ornate boxes. If they really had the toenail from Mary's left baby toe wouldn't they want to clearly display it for everyone to see and exalt?

stephen gieger said...

I think that Ehren brings up a good point about the decoration of the supposed relics of the middle ages. The saints were celebrated for their devotion to the life of christ in that they gave up all wordly possesions in order to show their devotion to the beliefs of God. I think these relics were decorated in gold because gold was representative of high esteem and honor but not in the Greek sense. High esteem of the middle ages came from one's ability to conform with the teachings of christ.

El Paco said...

THANK YOU EHREN AND DEAN.


Stephen, I see your point, but honestly, I think that the relics were covered in gold to hide the fact that they were completely fake.

Mr. Plainview said...

Mkay. I've been studying for EU history and I'm tired, so I hope this makes sense. Stick with me here. What if by decorating certain relics with gold and treasures church authorities were trying to embellish a certain sense of the perfect form? However, in doing so they actually turned the relics into worldly possessions. You see? The relics were no longer representations of the perfect form, but material treasures once they were covered in gold.

Mr. Plainview said...

believe me, el paco, im not arguing with you. im just blabbering. it is sensible and carefully planned blabbering, mind you.

ndepass said...

i think the relics were kind of a superstition thing like mrs. scandurro said and people may have known they were fake but went along with it any way. it was just part of their church ritual. i do not think the relics relate to perfect form though, but i think they are just a way to get visitors to a particular church. I gues for some reason i just dont believe in the relics....

stephen gieger said...

I think Nick makes a good point about using relics,especially those decorated with gold, to attract pilgirms to different churches throughout Chrisendom. The church encouraged these pilgrims to visit these religious sites throughout Europe to gain a greater appreciation for the symbolism of the church, and it was also a great way of receiving revenue, which eventually made it the wealthiest "corporation" in the world.

Mr. Plainview said...

I like the corporation metaphor. In this case I think the relics would be advertisements, the churches would be shopping centers...and those living "glorious to God" would be customers.

bballinsupasta said...

i think that the relics represent the perfect form in that they are parts of perfect forms (saints) or possessions of perfect forms (mary's veil). pilgrims would see the relics in order to prove to themselves that the perfect forms existed.

Manal said...

So,I agree with all of thoes who said earlier that the relics represented the ability for one to pursue the perfect form and feel a connection with Jesus or others who were deemed better than the average human. The relics to me seem as a reminder that achieving transcendence and in the process the perfect form defined by religion were in fact possible and actually a neccessity to achieve. By making pilgrims, people were able to see the relics and recall that their real duty was to be a good Christian and go to heaven.

Manal said...

Oh, I just thought of something. I don't know if its relevant but...
My grandmother knows this lady that claims to have in her possession a very special rock. I laughed when i heard this, however she (the lady) says she got it when she went to Mecca for the pilgrimage. On that trip, she also made stops to places that the Prophet might have visited and found this rock. I asked her, what made her think this rock was just because it was from a place that the Prophet visited a very long time ago. I mean, then all the rocks could be special too, right. To her though this rock was unique because she found it.So, she has the rock in her house in a designated place and doesn't let anyone touch it. to her, and some other old ladies, the rock reminds them about their duties and past sins and the need for redemption. They don't claim it to have supernatural powers or anyhting, just as a way to remain connected with the spiritual aspects of life.
Yeah, my grandmother knows alot of strange people.

JP said...

What exactly is a "relic" as we're talking about here?

Because if you consider, say, a cross to be a relic... and a cross is a representation of Jesus and the culmination of his life... and Jesus is the Christian perfect form... then you would have to say that there are some specific relics, such as crosses, that act as representations of the perfect form.

As for Moses' left earlobe, relating that to the perfect form could be a stretch. But I'm pretty sure random saints' body parts aren't the only things considered "relics" here.

JP said...

And really, don't get too emotionally involved in the discussion here. It's completely silly to get defensive or angry over the discussion of how two somewhat nebulous concepts such as Christian relics and the "perfect form" are related. If you're like me, then you've probably never even thought about those two things at once until you had to for this class.

Doesn't matter who's "right" or "wrong," if you can even make such distinctions. We're all here just trying to get our blog cred, yo.

Aaron Nussdorf said...

relics provide a scence of reality for the believers. the idea of faith contradicts logic, so thinking that jesus or someone touched or used something gives a scence of truth and concreteness the supernatural. it may provide comfort to a doubter.
also if someone important held or used the object, people may think that it can channel god's power, help, and/or grace

ndepass said...

even though i believe that the relics were a superstitious thing and wasnt entirely real. I think that they are a neat thing to believe in. They really attracted people and i think it is more of what they represent, than what they actually are. It is more about the spiritual aspect than the nose or limb or hair or whatever. If one feels that a relic brings them closer to God and they feel better than they have a purpose. I guess i have mixed feelings on the relics.

Anja said...

Great work.

Margaret said...

I like Aaron's comment. For a pilgrim to actually experience seeing a relic strengthened his/her faith. It was plated in gold because it enhances the effect. If it's all shiny and glorious, it looks holy. Like the statue of Athena for the Greeks at the Parthenon. Though, I do believe it was also done in reverence and worship of the object.

During the middle ages, in general I don't think displaying relics was a noble practice. People have always wanted money for as long as money's been around. Didn't local friars sell indulgences? And what about the Church and simony? Members of the Church have been known to be quite greedy but lots of people are. So, it's not surprising that some created fakes for money.

I think pilgrims still marked these occasions as life-changing experiences. To glimpse the supposed divine would be very spiritually moving. It may have reestablished one's sense of worth by making it seem possible to reach the divine as well, but in those times, it was all about the suppression of self-worth. I would say that it didn't represent the pursuit of perfect forms. In the middle ages, you couldn't. It was unattainable. Humans were inherently evil and unworthy. Pilgrims were merely spectators.

Whatever the case, some did it for the money, some did it for the faith, but everyone got something out of it.