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David's Mental Meanderings
9 March 2003

Hereford is not a highlight in any tourist guide to the UK. This is not without good reason. There's not much here.

Hereford only boasts one national treasure. Until a few weeks ago, neither Mrs Holford nor I had seen it. This is not without good reason. It normally costs £4.50, or £16.00 for a family ticket, to see it. However, they are currently running a special deal for local residents at £1.

Hereford Cathedral is home to the Mappa Mundi, which is Latin for "Map of the World". This is not just any map of the world. It is the oldest existing map of the world, dating from the early 14th century. It was drawn on a single sheet of calf skin measuring 64" by 52".

The Mappa Mundi is extraordinarily accurate, yet it bears very little resemblance to any modern atlas or photos from outer space. This is because the Mappa Mundi is not as much about geography as it is about world view.

The geographic part of the map is a 52" circle. The extra 12 inches at the top depicts Christ on His throne, with the righteous entering into eternal life on His right hand and the unrighteous headed for damnation on His left. Around the edges of the circle at 90° increments where you might expect to see something like N, E, S, and W depicting the points of the compass, instead are the letters M, O, R, and S, or "mors", Latin for death. Wherever you go in the world, you cannot escape death. And after death, you cannot escape the Judgement.

At the centre of the map is Jerusalem. This is not a statement of pro-Semitism. Above Jerusalem is Christ on the Cross. The artist/cartographer, Richard of Haldingham, again is making a theological statement. Jerusalem is the centre of the universe because it is the location of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. Christ is above the world and Christ is at the centre of the world.

This, we are told, is how the medieval man saw the world. Whenever we see "medieval" we are made to think that this is practically synonym for inferior or uninformed. We have been made to believe, by the brainwashing from every voice of our culture, that the more information we possess about the minutiae of the physical world, the more superior we are. As the author of Ecclesiastes realised, "of the making of books there is no end."

Where once theology was the Queen of the Sciences, science is now ruled over by the trinity of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Biology is the font of this new godhead, for the driving force of science is to understand life.

Go as far from biology and from this planet as possible and astronomers are looking for two things: understanding from the greater cosmos of how and when life began on earth and whether other life exists elsewhere. Or looking at the most lifeless things here, rocks, and what is the goal of geology? To know when and how the earth was formed, in order to know when and how life began.

The hope is to discover the key to eternal life. If we can just unlock all the doors to the knowledge of disease and genetics, we can live forever. If we can clone ourselves, we can perpetuate ourselves forever. All this and no moral responsibility. No repressive God telling us what we can and can't do. Man is made for eternal life, but by attempting to save his life he loses it.

Environmentalism is one of the expressions of this new theology of this religion of life. Worship is inherent in the being of man. As St Paul noted in his letter to the church in Rome, when man refuses to worship the Creator, he will worship the creature.

In a speech about a Christian view of the environment, the Orthodox writer and iconographer Aidan Hart summed it up:

...[A] godless approach to science is like the Prodigal son's departure from home. The profane scientist takes his inheritance - the cosmos with all its riches - and turns his back on its giver, who is his heavenly Father. For a time he can take pleasure in studying the universe's beauty and order, but after a while he runs out of funds and is left eating husks - that is, he is left empty inside, dissipated, unsatisfied with a cerebral knowledge which does not feed an inexplicable inner longing. And he is left with the enigma of a profession based on the assumption of order in the universe, while rejecting the only possible source of such order - a divine Creator. His rationalism is a form of vivisection: it kills the life he is trying to understand.

Perhaps our secular culture's great emphasis on acquiring scientific knowledge is inordinate. It thinks that a greater quantity of knowledge will satisfy it, and does not realise that it is the quality of this knowledge which is lacking. It is opaque knowledge. A secular culture receives the gift of creation but forgets to read the card which expresses the divine Giver's love.

Medieval religion is seen as superstitious, because aspects of it seem to have no relationship to the "reality" of the physical world. Historians of the Middle Ages often note how people believed the world was full of demons and other such fanciful things. The problem is now the modern world is full of improvable theories based upon false presuppositions, the first of which is that there is no reality beyond the physical world.

There is no reason to believe that the world is any less filled with demons than is was in the Middle Ages or the New Testament period. In fact, it would appear that the opposite is the case. You need only observe some of the "anti-social" behaviour in Britain to see that that the Gadarene tomb-dweller was only an eccentric man by comparison.
I use demons as an example because recently, the very modern Church of Scotland has reconvened its Deliverance group to explore methods of exorcism and develop guidelines for the unisex clergy dealing with people who believe they are suffering from demonic possession. This provoked Scottish Association of Mental Health spokesman Richard Norris to comment, "To talk about devil possession conjures up some quite disturbing and medieval images about mental health which will not be welcome to many."
Mr Norris has missed the point that the Church of Scotland is not looking to medieval images, it is looking to the objective truth of the unseen world as revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures. Medieval man just had a less difficult time taking God at His Word. The Church of Scotland has had a difficult time doing this of late, so things must be serious for them to look into issues of demonic possession.
The unenlightened Middle Ages in Europe are invariably depicted as cruel and barbaric. And sometimes it was a rough time and place to live and die. I am currently reading a history of 15th Century England and have learned things about Henry V's actions in France that are at odds with my vision of him inspired by William Shakespeare and Kenneth Branagh. However, when you realise that the 20th Century saw more barbaric behaviour than any other in history, Henry V's cruelty is almost kindness. The Middle Ages are hardly horrific when compared to Hiter's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Idi Amin's Uganda, and the genocides of Armenia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, just to name a few examples.

The medieval Richard of Haldingham and his map of the world have everything correct and in perspective. Even if genetic engineering extends the average life span to 969 years, and wars and genocide are eliminated, death comes in the end and after that the Judgement.

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