Nabilah Binte Rosli
Professor Katherine Hindley
HL4015 Advanced Medieval Literature
22 March 2018
Christianity as the Superior Religion in The Passion of St. Bartholomew the Apostle and The Early Medieval ‘Medicus’, the Saint - and the Enchanter
Paganism, as defined by Owen Davies in his book, Paganism: A Very Short Introduction, is a notion “created by the early Christian Church. It was a label that Christians applied to others, … As such, throughout history it was generally used in a derogatory sense.” The boundaries are made clear between the Christians and the non-believers of Christianity, with the latter being categorised under the group “paganism”. Anyone who believes in religions and practices other than Christianity are thus swept under this category, and looked down upon.
Both Christianity and paganism practice magic, prayers, and rituals to aid in the healing or resurrection of sickly victims. In Christianity, a figure appointed by God, a saint for example, carry out the healing and resurrection of sickly victims. This figure not only serve as God’s messenger, but through God’s power surging through him, is able to provide healing and power to his victims, seen as miracles. However, paganism, despite performing the same practices, are looked down upon. Rituals and magic used by pagan figures are usually coined as acts of dark magic, with negative connotations such as harmful and devilish attached to them. These pagan figures are not viewed as righteous and superior, such as the figures appointed by the Christian God, and are instead viewed as the devil’s workers.
This is evident in both Ælfric of Eynsham’s The Passion of St. Bartholomew the Apostle and Valerie J. Flint’s The Early Medieval ‘Medicus’, the Saint - and the Enchanter. Ashtaroth, a devil that exists in a temple idol in the third India, inflicts disease into the people and only cures them once they submit to him. The healing he provides and he himself is portrayed in a demeaning light in the text, because he is not existent from a Christian God. It is revealed later in the text that God himself states that he inflicts diseases on his people, and withholds the cure until they have proven themselves worthy of it and submit to him, paralleling what Ashtaroth did to the people of the third India. In Flint’s The Early Medieval ‘Medicus’, the Saint - and the Enchanter, Flint informs the readers on saints and enchanters, and narrates that these two figures perform the same healing practices and magic. However, the saints are elevated to a superior status, whereas the enchanters are heavily associated with dark magic.
In both texts, the figures derived from Christianity are seen as superior, and their actions, despite paralleling those of the pagan figures, are deemed righteous and miraculous. The question then arises - how is Christianity more superior, even though their practices are the same?
This essay aims to tackle this question, through the use of historical context of both Christianity and paganism, and through the deconstruction of the two texts mentioned in this abstract.
Owen Davies’ Paganism: A Very Short Introduction
This book really sparked my interest, and made me question how did Christianity elevate itself to its current superior status, while paganism is viewed as derogatory and associated with the works of the Devil. I am not done with the reading of this book, but I plan to dive deeper into this text, and other historical texts that would aid me in fleshing out this essay.
Davies, Owen. Paganism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.