Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On the gods, their agents, and their doings, part one

From Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar: Life of a Colossus (2006):
Among many other things, the Flamen Dialis [Priest of Jupiter] was not allowed to take an oath, to pass more than three nights away from the city, or to see a corpse, an army on campaign, or anyone working on a festival day. In addition he could not ride a horse, have a knot anywhere within his house or even in his clothing, and could not be presented with a table without food since he was never to appear to be in want. Furthermore, he could only be shaved or have his hair cut by a slave using a bronze knife—surely another indication of antiquity—and the cut hair, along with other things such as nail clippings, had to be buried in a secret place. The flamen wore a special hat called the apex, which appears to have been made from fur, had a point on top and flaps over the ears. These restrictions made a normal senatorial career impossible.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," collected in Twice-Told Tales (1837)
Mr. Hooper had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: he strove to win his people heavenward, by mild persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither, by the thunders of the Word. The sermon which he now delivered, was marked by the same characteristics of style and manner, as the general series of his pulpit oratory. But there was something, either in the sentiment of the discourse itself, or in the imagination of the auditors, which made it greatly the most powerful effort that they had ever heard from their pastor's lips. It was tinged, rather more darkly than usual, with the gentle gloom of Mr. Hooper's temperament. The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them. A subtle power was breathed into his words. Each member of the congregation, the most innocent girl, and the man of hardened breast, felt as if the preacher had crept upon them, behind his awful veil, and discovered their hoarded iniquity of deed or thought. Many spread their clasped hands on their bosoms. There was nothing terrible in what Mr. Hooper said; at least, no violence; and yet, with every tremor of his melancholy voice, the hearers quaked. An unsought pathos came hand in hand with awe. So sensible were the audience of some unwonted attribute in their minister, that they longed for a breath of wind to blow aside the veil, almost believing that a stranger's visage would be discovered, though the form, gesture, and voice were those of Mr. Hooper.

From James Boswell’s London Journal, 5 December 1762:
I then went to St. George’s Church, where I heard a good sermon on the prophets testifying of Jesus Christ. I was upon honour much disposed to be a Christian. Yet I was rather cold in my devotions. The Duchess of Grafton attracted my eyes rather too much.

From David Riggs’s The World of Christopher Marlowe (2004)
[In 1558,] after five years of Roman Catholicism, at a time when existing members of the clergy were ravaged by disease and religious upheaval, suitable candidates for the incoming Protestant ministry proved hard to come by. Matthew Parker, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, hastily ordained a multitude of priests, including the tailor William Sweeting, who were unqualified for their new vocation. Church authorities discovered that the impoverished Reverend Sweeting was incapable of preaching even one sermon a year, yet this fact did not deter them from adding a nearby parish church to his ministry.

From J. F. Powers’s “A Losing Game,” collected in The Complete Stories of J. F. Powers (2000)
Father Fabre, coming from the bathroom, stopped and knocked at the pastor’s door—something about the door had said, Why not? No sound came from the room, but the pastor had a ghostly step and there he was, opening the door an inch, giving his new curate a glimpse of the green eyeshade he wore and of the chaos in which he dwelt. Father Fabre saw the radio in the unmade bed, the correspondence, the pamphlets, the folding money, and all the rest of it—what the bishop, on an official visitation, barging into the room and then hurriedly backing out, had passed off to the attending clergy as “a little unfinished business.”

“Yes? Yes?”

“How about that table you promised me?”

The pastor just looked at him.

“The one for my room, remember? Something to put my typewriter on.”

“See what I can do.”

The pastor had said that before. Father Fabre said, “I’m using the radiator now.”

The pastor nodded, apparently granting him permission to continue using it.

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