memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

An all-seeing God (1)

The idea behind the following little tale I shamelessly borrow from one of my heroes – Roald Dahl.

Once upon a time there lived in Austro-Hungary towards the end of the 19th century a family of five – father, mother and three children.

They lived in a country village near the German frontier, where the father worked as a customs official. The family was staying at an inn, the Gasthof Zum Pommer, with its pretty orchard of apple trees at the back. While the father went to work every day at the frontier post, the three children attended the local village school and the mother, who was very pious, busied herself around the village with good works and worshipped daily at Mass in the church.


One day the mother found herself to be expecting another child.

In those days Society and the Catholic Church in general, and her authoritian husband in particular, all conspired against her to produce babies – a task to which she was neither physically nor temperamentally suited. She was a thin nervous woman and her previous two pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She decided to visit her friend the priest at the church and confide her fears and doubts to him. She explained about her abusive husband and trembled lest the birth should be problematic.

–          Put your trust in God, my daughter and let us kneel down and pray for the safety of your unborn child.

So she and the priest knelt in the church and prayed fervently and she derived spiritual comfort therefrom. Before she left the priest blessed her and urged her to say a novena of her rosary each day.

(To be continued)

Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Sailing to Byzantium (1).

The Gospel According To Matthew

 The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo) is an Italian film directed in 1964 by Pier Paulo Pasolini.

It is a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ, from the Nativity through to the Resurrection.

I remember how struck I was was on first seeing this film about forty or so years ago. At the same time I was seeing such films as François Truffauld’s L’Enfant Sauvage and Werner Herzog’s Aguirre The Wrath of God.

Raised on a diet of Hollywood pap these films opened my eyes to the European Cinema.

The dialogue of the film is mostly taken directly from the Gospel of Matthew, as Pasolini felt that images could never reach the poetic heights of the text.

He reportedly chose Matthew’s Gospel over the others because he had decided that “John was too mystical, Mark too vulgar, and Luke too sentimental.”

Pier Paulo Pasolini was an atheist, homosexual and Marxist.

When commentators evinced surprise that an non-believer like him could make a film with such a religious theme he replied that anyone who thought he was an non-believer knew him better than he did himself.

The film, shot in black and white, is set in a stark bleak desert landscape. Using amateur actors Pasolini stages a series of set speeches from Matthew’s gospel.



The film is devoid of the customary sanctimonious sentimentality of the genre.

Jesus is a stern Marxist Christ who endures his sufferings with a stoical formality.

The score of the film, consisting mainly of sacred music by J. S. Bach (Mass in B minor and parts of the St. Matthew Passion) and the Gloria from the Congolese Missa Luba is unforgettable and indeed for most of my life since, whenever I have listened to the St. Matthew Passion I have thought of that film.

A serious and profound film, I would suggest it merits another viewing.

All a stitch-up?



Here is picture from the British Library called Christ in Majesty from the Stavelot Bible.

Mosan School, AD 1097.

I love this picture. Monks painted this exquisite page patiently in the fervour of their belief in the glory of God. I have always admired and revered sacred as well as profane art, be it the early medieval illuminations of the monks or the Plain-Chant echoing distantly from the college chapel of my school-days or the time when I was introduced (at the age of eleven) to Chartres Cathedral by my father who remarked that it was astonishing that the architects, engineers, stone-masons and glass-stainers who designed, built and decorated what was arguably the pinnacle of Western Art were anonymous.

Neither the great masters of the Italian Renaissance nor the Popes who commissioned their works were particularly devout – the formers’ genius was too broad to encompass such narrow doctrine and the venality, greed and lust-for-power of the latter too great. But The Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are marvellous creations, are they not?





But might it not be that instead of being the product of Divine Intervention they are the result of human creativity reaching upwards to the sublime.

In other words instead of God creating us in his own image we are creating God in our image.

I read or heard somewhere that the catholic children who still learn in the catechism (which is a simplistic paring down of an already rather narrow doctrine) learn that if a baby dies before being baptized then he/she is technically denied access to the Kingdom of Heaven; his/her soul is technically transferred to a sort of limbo-créche. One is immediately transferred to a vision of a vast grey vault containing countless little grey cradles silently waiting until … until what … until when? In Zeno-like terms (reductio ad absurdum) the proposition breaks down completely.

How could the interpreters of the Divine Architect get it so wrong?

How could He/She/It make such a hash of it?

Or is He/She/It is just winding us up?

Is this all a cosmic stitch-up?


Mathematicians (and who are we to argue with such purity) propose that in the limitless universe the presence of a planet identical to our world is a certainty.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?



When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

William Blake


Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Another grim passage in the history of Christianity was the sacking of Constantinople, the rich centre of the Eastern Byzantine Empire by the Western armies in 1204 after a two-year siege during the 4th Crusade.


The Crusaders mainly composed of Frankish and Venetian troops, looted, terrorized and vandalized Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient and medieval Roman and Greek works were either stolen or destroyed.

The famous bronze horses from the Hippodrome were sent back to adorn the facade of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where they still remain.


As well as being stolen, works of immeasurable value were destroyed merely for their material value. One of the most precious works to suffer such a fate was a large bronze statue of Hercules, created by the legendary Lysippos, court sculptor of no lesser than Alexander the Great. Like so many other priceless artworks made of bronze, the statue was melted down for its content by the Crusaders whose greed blinded them.

The Library of Constantinople was destroyed.

Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the Crusaders systematically violated the city’s holy sanctuaries, destroying or stealing all they could lay hands on.

Nothing was spared. The civilian population of Constantinople were subject to the Crusaders’ ruthless lust for spoils and glory.

Thousands of them were killed in cold blood.

Women, even nuns, were raped by the Crusader army, which also sacked churches, monasteries and convents. The very altars of these churches were smashed and torn to pieces for their gold and marble by the warriors who had sworn to fight in service of Christendom without question.

This was the final nail in the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

We can therefore build up a profile of the western Crusader knights.

They were cruel sociopaths whose value for human life was zero, whose belief-system was completely twisted and warped and whose lust and greed knew no limit. They were narrow-minded xenophobes with minimal aesthetic appreciation for Eastern art.

They were the profane destroyers of Temples and places of worship.

Thus was the sacking of the holy city of Byzantium.



No need for temples

This is my simple religion.

There is no need for temples;

No need for complicated philosophy.

Our own brain, our own heart is our temple;

The philosophy is kindness.

Dalai Lama



Blame the apple

From Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (a copy of which I spotted on Marlon Brando’s bedside table at the end of Apocalypse Now) to Thomas Kennelly’s Blood Red, Sister Rose to that genial culture-for-the-masses concoction, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code the culture of misogyny in the Roman church runs clear like a glowing toxic beacon.

From the time when God, as an afterthought, fashioned for Adam (out of one his ribs) a female companion, there has been nothing but trouble.

He told her specifically to steer clear of the apple tree.

But did she listen?

Did she hell!

She only went and listened to the Devil, didn’t she?

She only went and listened to that snake

The subtlest beast in all the field, innit?

Go on, take a bite

It’s delicious!

You know you want to, really

So the woman bit

Into the juicy red apple

(It’s yer Original sin, innit?)

And dragged her man down with her

Typical! Nothing but trouble,

 Trouble, trouble

We blame it on the apple.

It’s the apple’s fault!


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