Friday, March 23, 2018

Germanic Christianity

This one is going to be complicated, enlightening, troubling, controversial, valuable….
From the author’s Wikipedia page:
[Russell’s book] examines the encounter of the Germanic peoples with Christian conversion efforts. Russell argues that a Christian missionary policy of temporary accommodation of pre-Christian beliefs and customs inadvertently contributed to a Germanization of Christianity. He contends that since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a conscious effort in the Roman Catholic Church to "shed its predominantly Western, European image". However, Russell notes, "the popularity of Catholic traditionalist movements among persons of European descent suggests that the Germanic elements within Christianity have not lost their appeal".
Why is this topic of interest to me?  As you know, I point to the period of the European Middle Ages and the decentralized law and society of the time as perhaps the closest and longest lasting example of something approaching a libertarian society that I have found.  Fundamental characteristics of the society include its Christianity.
Yet Christianity existed elsewhere and during the same time; however, I do not find that Christian society elsewhere progressed in a similar manner – decentralized governance, decentralized law.
So, why is this topic of interest to me?  I guess I want to understand the “why.”  And it seems reasonable that the “why” could be found in the cultural traditions of the Germanic tribes that were joined to the Christian religion as brought by the missionaries.
Russell examines the period beginning with the entrance of the Visigoths into the Eastern Roman Empire in 376 until the death of St. Boniface in 754.  His inquiry is divided into two parts: in Part I he develops a model of religious interaction between folk-religious societies and universal religions; in Part II, this model is applied to the specific case at hand – the “folk-religious” Germanic tribes meeting “universal” Christianity. 
For now, just a brief introduction: the religions of folk-centered societies are “world-accepting”; religions such as Christianity are “world-rejecting.” World-accepting societies value this life: kin, agriculture, military; world-rejecting religions offer hope in the afterlife, with little concern about this life.
When the missionaries first went north into the regions populated by the tribes, they emphasized aspects of Christianity that would resonate with the tribes, and deemphasized aspects that would be rejected.  After a few hundred years, the Germanic Christianity poured south over the Alps and theologically conquered Rome.
Germanic Christianity emphasized the drama of the Incarnation, the Passion and the lives of the saints; it deemphasized the doctrine of Salvation and the End Times.  Germanic influence can be found in chivalry, feudalism, the ideology behind the Crusades and the cult of relics – none of which can be found in, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. 
For Christianity to be accepted by the Germanic tribes, it had to be presented and interpreted in a heroic manner.  Perhaps the best known example is that of St. Boniface and Thor’s Oak:
…the saint attempted, in the place called Gaesmere, while the servants of God stood by his side, to fell a certain oak of extraordinary size, which is called, by an old name of the pagans, the Oak of Jupiter.
St. Boniface succeeded in shattering the tree:
At this sight the pagans who before had cursed now, on the contrary, believed, and blessed the Lord, and put away their former reviling.
St. Boniface offered a powerful God, a warrior more powerful than Thor (Donar, in Old High German), the god of Thunder.
As noted, this will be complicated, enlightening, troubling, controversial, and valuable.  But for now, this is enough – I think I have covered each of these already.


  1. Dear BM,
    You should really read Belloc's "Europe and the Faith" for a take on Germanic, Roman, and christian (Catholic) influence on European culture. One nugget, as we all know Alaric was the Visigoth "who sacked Rome in 410, which marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire." (from Wikipedia). But did you know he was a general in the Roman imperial army! That is to say, the sacking of Rome by Alaric was similar to a long line of Roman armies involved in civil wars to capture power, not a foreign invasion.

    ps The book is available for free here:

  2. >>For now, just a brief introduction: the religions of folk-centered societies are “world-accepting”; religions such as Christianity are “world-rejecting.” World-accepting societies value this life: kin, agriculture, military; world-rejecting religions offer hope in the afterlife, with little concern about this life.<<

    ... and yet, Christ seemed to be very concerned with the quality of mortal life. Certainly, the many miracles he performed, turning water into wine, shewing mercy to offenders, healing the sick, and feeding thousands of his hearers bespeak of a great desire to alleviate suffering and improve the human condition.

    Perhaps this "ignore this life" stuff is just propaganda pushed by sociopaths who what to take advantage of people. This "austerity for thee and not for me" philosophy allows the totalitarian to impose all sorts of depravity and toil on the masses while accumulating the spoils in his "god given" position of authority. And, as history and the scriptures show us, those in power have often used religion to bolster their authority.

    It could be that, because this idea of "godlike austerity" was left out of their teaching, Germanic converts weren't made to feel sinful for enjoying what they had nor did they feel the need to sacrifice their goods to some "higher authority". And, as libertarians should understand, the market works best when people feel secure in their persons and possessions.

    1. The author, Russell, cautions that inherently, in such a study, generalizations will be made.

      Yet it is certain that there is a strain of protestant Christianity that acts precisely this way: we are not of this world; we await salvation, rapture, the afterlife; all else is irrelevant.

      I think it can also be said of the earliest Christians, who anticipated Christ's return even during their lifetime. How this belief might have modified in the early centuries I cannot say, as I don't know.

      Let's see where Russell leads, but I think I know enough to see that the Germanic importance on this life, on family, etc., influenced what came to be known as the Catholic tradition away from such a sentiment.

    2. “World-accepting societies value this life: kin, agriculture, military; world-rejecting religions offer hope in the afterlife, with little concern about this life.”

      Almost right…Christianity, rightly taught, DOES value these things (kin, agriculture, military), in so much as they are necessary for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Much of God’s Law given to Israel, in fact, established and regulated these very societal fundamentals. They are important, and we ARE to be concerned with them! Christians, however, are not to place their HOPE in these things. And that distinction is where many Christians are led off into the weeds.

      The fundamental difference between the societies is that Christianity acknowledges the *actual existence* of the two worlds; the other religions do not. Or, if they do, they greatly misunderstand the nature of this reality.

      Namely: that the two worlds are contemporaneous and coexistent. They overlap, yet are not joined.

      Christ himself was Truth and Light. But he came only to give it to his followers—for now. (“My sheep hear my voice”). He exclusively came to redeem HIS sheep. They follow him because he IS their Shepherd. Part and parcel to being “world-rejecting” is the exclusivity of the Gospel of the Kingdom. The World is cleanly divided between the “Righteous and the Wicked” (Jesus said he came to bring a “sword”—not to unite, but to DIVIDE; Matt 10). The ultimate separation was to take place at the end of the age. Many of Christ’s parables in fact expound upon that (the Separation of the Sheep and the Goat nations, the Wheat and the Tares, etc.).

      Most of Christendom is—and has been—confused about this central tenet of their religion since almost immediately after the Apostles died off (as Paul predicted in the 20th chapter of Acts) . They know not who they are, where they came from nor where they are going. They are only vaguely aware of the “Two Worlds” and they confound which one they inhabit as well as the synchronicity of the time and place of each, as I mentioned earlier.

      In short, “Universal” Christianity is a defective and corrupted form of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, at best. At worst, it is a poor counterfeit; a deception which God Himself has administered unto them as a punishment for their rebellion (Isaiah 66:4).

      Great topic. I hope you continue to explore it.

    3. Is there a gospel of Jesus Christ?

    4. Is there a gospel apart from Jesus Christ? Or are you asking about if there is a literal "Gospel of Jesus Christ" like there is a "Gospel according to Matthew". If so, no.....and yet, in a sense all four Gospels are. It's all about Jesus.


  3. Could there be more to the Germanic and related peoples' acceptance of the gospel (per Hebrews 8:8-9) than is presented here in this article?

    See free online book "The Mystery of the Gentiles: Who Are They and Where Are they Now?" at

    Clue: Not all (most in fact) of today's Jews are Israelites and not all gentiles (goyim and/or ethne) are non-Israelites.

  4. "St. Boniface offered a powerful God, a warrior more powerful than Thor (Donar, in Old High German), the god of Thunder." What no Thor's Hammer? Mjölnir, no? Oh wait... Mjölnir? Hans Schweitzer ring a bell?

    Great article Bionic.

  5. I am looking forward to more posts on this topic. Recently I found myself arguing that "surely, the tribes in europe must have changed christianity as much as christianity changed the tribes". This was in response to a question why/if christianity was causal in the enlightenment.