Then Why Aren’t There Slovaks Everywhere?

Thanks be to Project Gutenberg, I’m reading this charming little guide to Austria (really, the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire from Aš to Braşov, which isn’t just the cute little Austria we now know all snuggly in mitteleuropa) — Austria; Containing a Description of the Manners, Customs, Character and Costumes of the People of That Empire by one Frederick Schoberl, published in 1828. It’s a charming little book, filled with the certainties of the educated Englishman (or Anglicized German, as Schoberl likely is), for whom the Magyar and the Wend are as much foreign and exotic people — and separate “races” of human beings — as were the Zulu, the Bengali and the Mongol.

Case in point, this little bit from his brief overview chapter early in the book. On Slovaks, which he spells (following, I think, the Polish, but I’m probably mistaken there) “Slowack,” which sounds like the kind of thing that might happen at a baseball game on a particularly hot afternoon. He is praising either their fecundity, or their pushiness, or quite possibly both. And it makes me wonder — why aren’t there more Slovaks?

The Slowacks, the relics of the Moravian monarchy, which comprehended Moravia and the north-western part of Hungary, are nearly confined to those two countries. There are nevertheless some of them in Bohemia. To those people particularly applies the observation of Schwartner, who remarks, that of all the inhabitants of Hungary the Slowacks multiply fastest. Wherever they settle, the Germans and Magyares gradually disappear. Thus in the 14th century the mountainous part of the county of Gömör was entirely inhabited by Germans, whereas at present the population consists exclusively of Slowacks.

I suspect many Slovaks wonder this as well (and probably dispute Schoberl’s and Schwartner’s assertion, given how persistent German settlement was and what a problem that would be in the 20th century). But Schoberl didn’t live in that world. He lived in that era between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Revolutions of 1848, of which I know little about save that lots of educated Englishmen and women traveled the continent, staying and studying in Germany and Italy and elsewhere, and then wrote a ghastly number of books about it all. Schoberl might not have even lived to see 1848. I don’t know.

The Schwartner in question might be this man, Marton Schwartner, a Magyar academic from the 18th century. No, I do not read Magyar, and the Google translation of the Magyar is a mess. He was a teacher, a protestant, wrote some books (including one excellent statistical volume on the Kingdom of Hungary) and left his personal library of some 12,000 volumes to a high school somewhere. Probably in Magyarország. Or quite possibly Slovakia.

Sorry, “Slowackia.” You’re out!

The Purpose of History

Payton writes about history in his chapter on the Rennaisance. He says as succinctly as I can find the purpose of telling history:

People have been writing history for as far back as we know. From the earliest records of civilization, people have kept track of events that had taken place, listing and commenting on them. For a long time that record-keeping was oral, but eventually those records began to be written down and handed on from one generation to the next. These early accounts are often called annals (since they recorded what happened from year to year) or chronicles (if they took a broader scope). These could be bare lists of one thing after another, or they could be crafted to tell a story about a particular group, city-state, people or leader, often emphasizing the great thing done by them.

Any such narrative was intended to drive home a point. The narrator was not particularly concerned to “get the facts straight,” and he would have been nonplussed by a call to try and be unbiased in considering the data. Chronicles passed on what needed to be remembered and should be believed; their purpose was to entertain and instruct. Through them people could remember what they should remember, learn what they needed to know and see how to live. (p. 54-55, italics in original)

History is a story that tell the meaning — the story of who we are as a people (or who I am as a person). It may or may not be more than tangentially connected to what actually happened. Unfortunately, mythic histories tend to be acted out in a way that wants to bend reality to the meaning and supposed purposes of history. That is especially a problem with the powerful, or the self-destructive. I may (or may not) write more about that later.

Things We Don’t Do In Church Anymore

Courtesy of Benjamin Kaplan, from Divided by Faith, who writes:

Churches were also practical structures. Not just places of worship, they were communal property with myriad uses.

Which, citing a study of churches in post-Reformation England, included:

In 1612 at Woburn, the curate baited a bear in church; 25 years later, also in Bedfordshire, there were cockfightings on three successive Shrove Tuesdays in Knottingly church, round the communion table. The minister and churchwardens were also present.

And for the poor pastor who needed some extra to make ends meet:

Gendulphus van Schagen, the impoverished pastor of Laar, a Flemish village, grew vegetables and raised hens, pigs, and doves in his churchyard. Parishioners complained to the archbishop only after his doves hit them with droppings during services and his hens laid eggs on the church’s altars.

Bear baiting and cockfighting! Around the altar! Now there’s a project for an enterprising pastoral intern!

Oink Oink

Okay, so I’m reading (as part of an independent study project this summer, on account of I wasn’t able to get into a Clinical Pastoral Education program — if you don’t know, don’t ask) the Library of Christian Classics, starting with the first volume, the Early Christian Fathers. Most of the writings are from the very early second century A.D. through the middle, and cover some writings that were, for a time, part of the Christian canon in some places (the First Letter of Clement, the Didache, for example).

There’s not great doctrine here yet, since Christians are still working on the words to articulate the concept of Trinity and how Jesus really gets to be both fully God and fully human at the same time (though that is fervently believed, just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are as well), and most of the writings are fairly simple (to simplistic, such as the Martyrdom of Polycarp). I’ve run across a few good quotes, but none as good as what I just read in the Apology of Justin.

It’s the longest piece in this collection, but it isn’t a very sophisticated piece. He spends a lot of time blaming pagan religion on demons who, overhearing what God said to Moses or what Moses said and did for Israel, repeated those tales as lies to gentiles in order to foster unbelief. There’s a really good description of a Eucharist service, but mostly he spends his time trying to “prove” the merits of Christianity, which was as much a waste of time than as it is now.

This is one way he tries to do that. In paragraph 64 (p. 285 in my edition), Justin writes:

“In imitation of the Spirit of God, spoken of as borne over the water, they spoke of Kore, daughter of Zeus. With similar malice they spoke of Athena as a daughter of Zeus, but not as a result of intercourse — since they knew that God designed the creation of the world by the Word, the spoke of Athena as the first Concept. This we consider very ridiculous, to offer the female form as the image of an intellectual concept.“[italics mine — CHF].

I dunno, I rather think female forms are very intellectual and very conceptual. Certainly they are worth conceiving of.

And I’ll shut up about the subject now.