Of Honor and Leviticus
Just got out of Early and Medieval Church history class not too long ago. Dr. Fairbairn pointed out the convergence of several manifestations of the ideal of ‘honor’ or rectitudo, the recognition of the right ordering of things. This is what medievals considered the ‘rightness’ of God, angels, humanity, creation in their orders, in their place, in their callings, and the honor of each for what and where they are. This medieval cosmology, if I remember right, is a central theme in Lewis’ The Discarded Image, and it is often referred to in British Literature classes as the Elizabethan World’s ‘Great Chain of Being’. Dr. Fairbairn pointed out that Urban II preached the First Crusade on the basis of God’s honor, and this was a theme well known to the populous in terms of chivalry, keeping the code of the Christian knight, the honor of the Arthurian ideal. He also pointed out that this was also behind Anselm’s work on the Atonement that saw the Fall of humanity as a distortion of the harmonious rightness of God’s original order which ultimately was damage to God’s own honor. The substitionary Atonement was God’s own means of rescuing humanity for his own honor and glory, setting the order of the universe to rights.
With that on the back burner, I’m studying for my Old Testament exam which is tomorrow on the Torah. It occurs to me that this is largely the same argument that Mary Douglas has presented in Purity and Danger concerning the distinctions of clean and unclean in the Israelite purity codes. She argues that there is a fundamental idea of ‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness’ that defines the cleanliness of animals, an essential rightness or wrongness in certain species that identifies them as clean or unclean based on their anatomies, eating habits, or other idiosyncrasies.
If this is a fair parallel, we may have a sort of Hebraic or ancient world cosmology at work in the High Middle Ages giving credence to such monumental episodes as the crusades and Atonement theology.