Friday, November 9, 2012

The Medieval Mindset

I'm going to give the gentle reader a spoiler now; if you don't want to read something about real religion, with unmitigated, inconsiderate theological content, then stop reading now.  You're not going to see any other D&D blogs tackling this very real and very intrinsic part of medieval culture, and you probably don't want to ... so run.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the medieval mindset is to be found in a specific prayer ... and most people do not even consider how or why it applies to every act or element of the medieval dweller's life.  That prayer is the Lord's Prayer.  It was one of the most accessible parts of the liturgy to the common man, so much so that Martin Luther made it central to his presentation of Catholic teachings during the Reformation.

Here is the Lord's Prayer as I learned it growing up in the Lutheran Church:

Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On Earth, as it is in heaven,
And give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory,
forever and ever.
Amen.

Try to remember that while you are reading the words, these were the most important words to be found on the lips of every medieval European figure you've ever read about; they are intrinsic to the souls, the lives, the upbringings, the sense of right and wrong, the very foundations of every single one of those persons, whether good or evil, right or wrong, decent or indecent.  You may think Charlemagne is interesting, but he believed the above phrases as you believe in America; he depended upon the truth of these phrases as you depend on your cellphone provider to make your phone ring.  These words were absolutely incontravertible - and the medieval mindset, if you can conceive, depended on that fact.

For the above, there are hundreds of specific versions, with a word changed here or there, or made more modern, or more accessible or some such ... but I know these specific words because I had to say them something like ten thousand times as I grew up, amid hundreds of other people, or alone in front of them, for moments like confirmation.

To be confirmed in the Lutheran Church in the 1970s, you passed three years of Bible study, which I then followed with a whole lot more theological study because I like to know the reasons for things.  One of the things you study is the Luther's Catechism, which include commentaries he wrote on both the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed, which we don't need to go into here (and which I also learned by heart).  These commentaries you go through with your minister line-by-line, until he (1970s) is certain you understand them.

I have no idea what Lutherans go through now.  I am not a member of any Lutheran Church.  Training didn't take.  What we went through then was grueling.

I'm going to print the full 'First Petition' from Martin Luther on the Lord's Prayer, which addresses the line, Hallowed be thy name.  I don't expect the reader to read it; but you need to feel the full effect of this as it comes hurtling at a 14-year-old child.  I'll put it in green so you can skip over it more easily.

I'm sorry I can't print it in the original German; I wouldn't understand it in German, for I didn't learn it in German.

"This is, indeed, somewhat obscure, and not expressed in good German, for in our mother-tongue we would say: Heavenly Father, help that by all means Thy name may be holy. But what is it to pray that His name may be holy? Is it not holy already? Answer: Yes, it is always holy in its nature, but in our use it is not holy. For God's name was given us when we became Christians and were baptized, so that we are called children of God and have the Sacraments by which He so incorporates us in Himself that everything which is God's must serve for our use.


Here now the great need exists for which we ought to be most concerned, that this name have its proper honor, be esteemed holy and sublime as the greatest treasure and sanctuary that we have; and that as godly children we pray that the name of God, which is already holy in heaven, may also be and remain holy with us upon earth and in all the world.

But how does it become holy among us? Answer, as plainly as it can be said: When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian. For since in this prayer we call God our Father, it is our duty always to deport and demean ourselves as godly children, that He may not receive shame, but honor and praise from us.

Now the name of God is profaned by us either in words or in works. (For whatever we do upon the earth must be either words or works, speech or act.) In the first place, then, it is profaned when men preach, teach, and speak in the name of God what is false and misleading, so that His name must serve to adorn and to find a market for falsehood. That is, indeed, the greatest profanation and dishonor of the divine name. Furthermore, also when men, by swearing, cursing, conjuring, etc., grossly abuse the holy name as a cloak for their shame. In the second place also by an openly wicked life and works, when those who are called Christians and the people of God are adulterers, drunkards, misers, envious, and slanderers. Here again must the name of God come to shame and be profaned because of us. For just as it is a shame and disgrace to a natural father to have a bad perverse child that opposes him in words and deeds, so that on its account he suffers contempt and reproach, so also it brings dishonor upon God if we who are called by His name and have all manner of goods from Him teach, speak, and live in any other manner except as godly and heavenly children, so that people say of us that we must be not God's, but the devil's children.

Thus you see that in this petition we pray just for that which God demands in the Second Commandment; namely, that His name be not taken in vain to swear, curse, lie, deceive, etc., but be usefully employed to the praise and honor of God. For whoever employs the name of God for any sort of wrong profanes and desecrates this holy name, as aforetime a church was considered desecrated when a murder or any other crime had been committed in it, or when a pyx or relic was desecrated, as being holy in themselves, yet become unholy in use. Thus this point is easy and clear if only the language is understood, that to hallow is the same as in our idiom to praise, magnify, and honor both in word and deed.

Here, now, learn how great need there is of such prayer. For because we see how full the world is of sects and false teachers, who all wear the holy name as a cover and sham for their doctrines of devils, we ought by all means to pray without ceasing, and to cry and call upon God against all such as preach and believe falsely and whatever opposes and persecutes our Gospel and pure doctrine, and would suppress it, as bishops, tyrants, enthusiasts, etc. Likewise also for ourselves who have the Word of God, but are not thankful for it, nor live as we ought according to the same. If now you pray for this with your heart, you can be sure that it pleases God; for He will not hear anything more dear to Him than that His honor and praise is exalted above everything else, and His Word is taught in its purity and is esteemed precious and dear."

Luther was not fucking around, and neither was the Church I grew up in.  We were expected to know this, defend this and ultimately apply this to our daily lives.  I never met a Lutheran who did, ministers included, but nevertheless.

This period predated D&D for me, as I was confirmed the May before I started playing D&D that September (1979).  But look at all that great D&D shit in the content ... profanes and murders desecrating churches, pyxes and relics, the world is full of sects and false teachers, aldulterers, drunkards, misers, slanderers ... sounds like a Saturday night at the game.

But what is Luther saying to his congregation?  Yes, right, God is great ... but hey, look around you.  Everything around you is full of enormous piles of shit.  Wow, you live in a really crap world, and you haven't got a chance because these fuckers will put you down if they get a chance!

(Would have liked to have explained it that way when I was fourteen, when answering questions at the front of a church, but my father was bigger than me in those days).

So yeah - appreciate the good thing you've got; get down on your fucking knees, you poor suffering hopeless bastard, 'cause it ain't all bad, you've got one chance in this freak-ass suck-hole world, and its here in this house of the lord.  Be grateful.  And if you are, he will smile on you and save your cheap ass.

This is the whole Lord's Prayer, when you look at it straight.  It isn't just that God is a great thing, it's your responsibility not to be that shit you see around you.  Forgive others their trespasses.  Don't fall for the bullshit and the quick fix.  Keep your eye focused up, where the good things are.

People have a tendency to think in this age that those people in the medieval world must have been miserable.  Look at the shit they lived in.  Look at the lack of medicine or luxuries.  Look at the horrors of disease and pestilence and death.  "Shit," we think.  "Shit I couldn't live in a place like that five minutes without screaming."

But you don't understand.  Those people in that age and in that time, with that mindset, believed those words above ... and they repeated them with the fervor of belief.  And whatever the horrorshow we perceive that may have been around them, they were looking UP.  They were looking at the better world that waited for them ... the world we'll never look at, because we're cynical and because we know it's a lie.  They did not know.  It was not a lie for them.  It was the real deal, and they wouldn't believe you that it was false if you shouted in their face with a bullhorn.  They wouldn't believe you if you cut the flesh in pieces from their backs.  The world was not everything to them.

I wrote yesterday about how to play a cleric.  What I said was, do this and the people of the world will follow you unto the next world.  Just reassure them that what they have is not all there is.

3 comments:

Arduin said...

I like these posts, hearing more about ancient cultures and mindsets and the shit we take for granted, etc.

I know this monotheism is what is prevalent in your world, but for those who still cling to the polytheist assumptions of the game, how does the mindset differ?

I recall you mentioning in an ages buried post that the polytheist's life was not often spent with religion (paraphrasing, and probably poorly), would it be possible to elaborate on that at all?

What are the differences between the Druid, calling on old pagan gods, and the Cleric, calling on a more "recent" faith? How do they influence their followers and domains?

Keith S said...

Raised Lutheran, same as you (and a contemporary, it seems.) Similar experience. I've played a cleric, or varient thereof, more than once. As you say, there's some interesting ground to explore in RPGs around faith and medieval mindsets.

The typical fantasy game setting is quite different from medieval Europe (as Arduin notes above), yet we often play a Eurocentric game. As Western gamers do we need to do more exploration of other cultures (especially polytheistic ones?)

The creed as core statement of faith is a cool bit of flavor. For world-builders and cleric-players you could write your own, and have a good foundation from which to RP characters.

Alexis said...

Arduin, having not been raised in an intense polytheistic life, I really couldn't say. Perhaps a Hindi online would like to tackle that.