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Monday, December 06, 2010

The AP Is Bewitched

Got this humdinger of an e-mail from Dawn Eden today and I just had to share it.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you think of AP college courses, don't it?

Here's the PDF of the AP chapter
Here's the PDF of the AP student notes on the chapter

Dawn tells us:
"A high-school textbook used for the AP (Advanced Placement) European History exam equates the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance with "high magic" and says that, to combat witchcraft in the 13th century, "the Church declared its magic to be the only true magic."
The Western Heritage Since 1300 (10th Edition, AP Edition, is published by Pearson Education Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall) is written by Donald Kagan of Yale University, Stephen Ozment of Harvard University, and Frank M. Turner of Yale Unversity.
Attached as a PDF file are the relevant portions of the textbook, which were given to me by a teacher at a Catholic high school that uses the textbook. The teacher, who does not teach history, learned about it from a student who asked her if its account of "Church magic" was true.
Also attached, as a Word file, is an actual AP European History study sheet featuring material from the book. The study sheet is available as a download from . The download link is .
Sample quote from the book's Chapter 14, p. 438, under the section title "Influence of the Clergy":
Had ordinary people not believed that "gifted persons" could help or harm by magical means, and had they not been willing to accuse them, the hunts would never have occured; however, the contribution of Christian theologians was equally great. When the church expanded into areas where its power and influence were small, it encountered semipagan cultures rich in folkloric beliefs that predated Christianity. There, it clashed with the cunning men and women, who were respected spiritual authorities in their local communities, the folk equivalents of Christian priests. The Christian clergy also practiced high magic. They could transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (the sacrament of the Eucharist) and eternal penalties for sin into temporal ones (the sacrament of Penance or Confession). The also claimed the power to cast out demons who possessed the faithful.
In the late thirteenth century, the Church declared its magic to be the only true magic. Since such powers were not innate to humans, the theologians reasoned, they must come either from God or from the devil. Those from God were properly exercised within and by the church. Any who practiced magic outside and against the church did so on behalf of the devil.
And a sample quote from the attached study sheet:

    1. Influence of the Clergy

    - When the church expanded into rural areas, it: ____________________________

    - There the church clashed with the “cunning folk” who were respected in their communities

    - The Christian clergy also performed “magic” by turning bread: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    - In the 13th century, the church declared its magic to be the only true magic

    - The church argued that: ______________________________________________

    - Therefore, magic either: ______________________________________________

    - Those powers from God were good and were practiced w/in the church

    - Those who practiced magic outside the church: ___________________________

    - Attacking these so-called witches was a way for the church to extend its spiritual control

    - The princes of the day who wanted: ____________________________________

    - Witch trials became a way for the church and princes to realize their power goals

N.B. One of the book's co-authors, Frank M. Turner, who died last month, also wrote a book on Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman that, according to its publisher, "portrays Newman as a disruptive and confused schismatic conducting a radical religious experiment" and "demonstrates that Newman’s passage to Rome largely resulted from family quarrels, thwarted university ambitions, the inability to control his followers, and his desire to live in a community of celibate males."

When I got this missive from Dawn, I just started laughing.
Oddly enough, as we were reviewing for next week's final exam, I was just reminding my college class again this evening the difference between liturgy and magic.

You see, while both involve ritual, the rituals have entirely different purposes.

In order to do magic, you have to be an animist or polytheist.
Magic only works if you believe in lots of gods, none of them too smart, all of them venal, self-serving or at least relatively inscrutable. That is, you have to believe gods are like government employees or college professors, only a lot more powerful.

Animists and polytheists tend to believe all kinds of things have spirits with varying degrees of strange or unknown power - trees, animals, rivers, rocks. According to this way of thinking, all these quasi-persons can intentionally harm us.

The point of magic is to greet these other "persons" in a (generally) kindly fashion, and then use the rituals of magic to either ingratiate ourselves to them or get some level of control over them. Magic is intended to change the gods so that they won't be of a mind to hurt us or won't be able to hurt us.

But liturgy, such as was practiced by the Jews in the Temple, and still is practiced by Catholics and Orthodox (and to a lesser extent, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, etc.), liturgy is quite a different kettle of fish.

In liturgy, the point of the ritual is to change the believer who participates in it.

In liturgy, we who believe mean to submit ourselves to the omnipotent, unchanging, all-powerful God. In liturgy, we lie prostrate before God. We allow God to act upon us, to change us, to change who we are, so that we are brought to understand what the Good truly is. We ask God to change us so that we want the good that God intends for us. Liturgy is meant to bring us into conformance to God.

Far from asking the gods to stop hurting us, in liturgy we ask God to forgive us for, and teach us how to stop, crucifying Him. In liturgy, God allows us to participate in the repair of the rift we have made between us, we get a chance to help clean up the mess we made.

So, while magic and liturgy are both rituals, they have precisely opposite purposes.
In magic, we attempt to make the gods docile to us.
In liturgy, God helps us become docile to Him.

You would think college professors would know the difference between controlling a class and being controlled by a class.

Now, I would like to explain these concepts to the gentlemen who wrote these texts, but I don't think I can. The Spirit is willing, but their flesh is too weak.

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