Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

The “uncharitable” Khludov Psalter

July 30th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

"Khludov Psalter" (folio 67r), 9th century, Moscow Museum

Detail from "Khludov Psalter" folio 67r

Cleansing Fire gets criticism for being uncharitable because it’s, well, critical. I’d like to call your attention to a page from the Khludov Psalter that pulled no punches when it came to criticizing the heretical polices of Church officials in the 9th century. 

This illuminated psalter is one of only three Byzantine ones to have survived from the 9th century and is said to have been created “clandestinely” (read anonymously) by those opposed to the official iconoclastic polices -the destruction and banning of images in churches- of the imperial and Church authorities in Constantinople. It includes some illuminations in the margins that are critical of the iconoclasts. On some pages little arrows connect certain verses with parts of the illustrations in order to specify analogies. On this particular page the illuminator illustrated the line “They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink” with a picture of a soldier offering Christ vinegar on a sponge attached to a pole. But, in the bottom margin of the page he has depicted the last iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian, whitewashing over an icon of Christ with a similar sponge on a pole as the one used by the soldier. The analogy is clear between iconoclasts who whitewashed paintings and mosaics, and the soldiers who tormented Christ. The hair style the artist has given the patriarch on this page and the others in the psalter consists of straight hair sticking out in all directions. Such a hairdo was considered rediculous by sophisticated Byzantines.
I suppose this psalter was something like the Cleansing Fire of its day created by the self-appointed guardians of orthodoxy.


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4 Responses to “The “uncharitable” Khludov Psalter”

  1. Gen says:

    Wonderful! Though I am curious, Bernie, how you gained access to my grade-school notebooks.

  2. Nerina says:

    As always, a fascinating post by Bernie.

  3. Dr. K says:

    So long as one’s intentions are good, and not just personal, I think criticism can go a long way toward helping people.

  4. Bernie says:

    I don’t think there has ever been a time when the Church was free of disagreements and argument, often erupting into violent acts. The period of this psalter is a good example. Fist fights could erupt in the markets of some Eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire over disagreements between shoppers as to how the Son was related to the Father. More than one patriarch, bishop, priest or monk had his eyes put out or tongue cut out by the clerical opposition. There are stories of the laity taking matters into their own hands as well, pulling a bishop out of his palace and cutting off his head!

    Certain bishops should be thankful they didn’t live back then. Things were a whole lot more personal.

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