Christianity is almost invariably studied as an historical development out of Hebrew and Greek origins. If we were to follow this method, we would have to approach Christian Mythology through preliminary chapters on Babylonian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Assyrian, Persian, Graeco/Roman, Celtic, and Teutonic Mythology. But this kind of historical perspec/ tive was not the world/view of the Patristic and Scholastic ages, during which the Christian Myth came to full flower. I wish to describe the myth more or less as it would have appeared to a man living in the golden age of its power, say, the end of the thirteenth century.
For such a man, the centre of history was the appearance of Christ, and all history was read in terms of Christ. That is to say, the Old Testament was read backwards, and regarded as a prefiguring of the Incarnation and the Church. The story of the Creation and the Fall of Man was read and understood in terms, not of primitive Hebrew mythology, but of the highly developed dogma of the Holy Trinity and of the Angelology and Cosmology of St. Dionysius pseudo/Areopagite, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas.1 Anyone who has visited the great mediaeval cathedrals of Europe or studied the pages of the illuminated manuscripts will have noticed an entire absence of historical realism in the mediaeval mind. The patriarchs and prophets as well as the figures of the New Testament wear the clothes and live in the dwellings character/ istic of Western Europe between 900 and 1400. Incidents from the Old and New Testaments are juxtaposed according to the theory of'types", wherein the Tree of Knowledge stands opposite the Tree of the Cross, the Exodus opposite the Resurrection, the assumptions of Enoch and Elijah opposite the Ascension, and so forth. All this goes to show that the primary interest of the mediaeval mind was not so much the
history as the symbolism of the Christian story. The Feasts of the Church in which the faithful relived the events of this story were not mere historical commemorations, but rather ways of participating in the rhythm, the very actuality, of the divine life. Of this life the historical events were the earthly manifestations, the doing of the will of God on earth as it is— per omnia saecula saeculorum—through all the ages of ages in heaven.
A similar shift of perspective must apply to the ordering and interpretation of the sources of the Christian Myth. A modern Protestant would base everything on the Bible, but for a Catholic the primary source of Christian revelation is "Christ/ in/the/Church", or rather the Holy Spirit himself informing and inspiring the living Body of Christ. This gives rise to the Catholic principle lex orandi lex credendi—the law of worship is the law of belief. Lex orandi, the law of worship, is not mere liturgical rule; it is the state of the Church in worship, which is to say, in the very act of union with God here and now. Thus the Church, in this authoritative position, promulgates, first, the Liturgy. This includes primarily the Mass and the Six other Sacraments, all of which are held to have been instituted by Christ himself and thus to embody the earliest and most basic law of the Christian life. Second in order come the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and the Apocrypha, considered to have been written or approved by the Church in such a way that the authority of scripture derives from the Church, and not vice vena. Third in order come the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds, being the Church's official summary of the essential points taught in both scripture and tradition. Fourth in order comes another part of the Liturgy, the Divine Office, contained in the Breviary and consisting of the day/to/day worship of the Church outside the Mass itself—composed of the Psalms with their seasonal antiphons, the official hymns of the Church, and various lections from the scriptures and the writings of the Fathers.
These sources, with the special perspective involved in their hierarchical arrangement, give the basic structure of the Christian Myth, and as the bare branches of a tree are filled in with innumerable leaves and flowers, this structure is enfoliated with the vast wealth of symbolism in art and ceremonial, of legend, hagiography, and tradition, to make—as a veritable Tree of Life—one of the most complete and beautiful myths of all time.
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