Friday, April 27, 2012

"He sees to the salvation of your hen"

Having posted recently about sacred pagan chickens, I was delighted to run across a fowl reference in a post-pagan Christian setting.  It appears in Ramsay MacMullen's Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, in the midst of a discussion of the tendency of Christians in the period to address their prayers to saints and martyrs, rather than to God himself.  The good professor sees this as a continuation of the practice of common people in the pagan world to seek relief from deities less august than the major Olympians, who were too distant and unmindful of the smaller folk:
For, by their own act [conversion to Christianity], they [common folk] found themselves without gods.  A strange way to put it.  Surely they understood that the one Omnipotence was enough.  But no, the answer was overwhelmingly no.  This was because the concerns of little people were little, and they were therefore not accustomed to apply to Jupiter or Zeus for succor; nor to Jahweh, after conversion. Like the great Lex, they thought, great gods care nothing de minimis; great gods were lords and masters, not the fathers they hoped to appeal to . . ..  Conversion and the repudiation of their old patrons and rescuers among the divine ranks had left an emptiness, a loneliness in times of trouble, not comfortably to be filled by the Power preached from urban pulpits.
Fighting against this, Church fathers such as Augustine sought to reassure the members of their flock that God was both infinite and mindful of their most mundane cares (emphasis added):
We find Augustine again and again contesting his congregation's doubts whether God should be bothered about affairs of everyday life.  "There are those who say God is good, great, the top, beyond our perception, incorruptible, who will give us eternal life and that incorruptibility which he has promised in the resurrection, while temporal matters and matters of this world belong to daemones," to superhuman beings of a lower order . . ..  Yet, Augustine insists, God heals both man and beast, yes, even your flocks and herds..  "Let us reduce it to the very least things; he sees to the salvation of your hen."
We then meet Saint Germanus of Auxerre (c. 378 - c. 448), "who almost met Augustine's challenge, ministering not to a hen but to a rooster which had somehow lost its cock-a-doodle-doo."

The photo of the beautiful fresco of Saint Germanus healing the roosters is from this site.

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