Sunday, 5 November 2017

Incense ?

From "The Pilot", 1969, comes this, an interesting historical ramble.

Some Church Customs Explained
By S.G. Thicknesse

Incense ?

For at least four hundred years after Christ, Christians had to fight against incense. Until the pagan gods were dead and disassociated for certain from Christ in the minds of converts, incense had been impossible, because it had belonged in the discarded mysteries.

Some people may be betrayed to their past above all by their sense of smell.

Associations with the mysteries of Tammuz (whom Milton calls Thamuz, and the Greeks called Adonis), may have been particularly feared by the Christians. Incense had long ago spread from his worship in Lebanon through Cyprus to Greece, and thence to many parts of the Roman Empire.

Classical writers believed that the frankincense originated in Syria and Phoenicia. In fact it came from the sacred trees of the fabulous Punt, which has some- times been identified in the lands of the Hadramaut or of Somaliland, where the resinous trees still grow.

From here the caravan routes ran overland through the countries of the Edomites and of the Amorites, leaving a trail of cities like Petra, Philadelphia ('Amman), and Damascus. The first meeting place of frankincense with the cult of Tammuz was probably southern Babylonia, where he seems anciently to have been a king.

The originals of the dirges which the prophet Ezekiel, to his dismay, heard the Hebrew women wailing at the north gate of the temple are likely to have been Babylonian hymns to Tammuz. Their echoes could well have confused Christian converts centuries later.

Arise then, go, hero, the road of `No-Return'.
Alas, hero! son-my faithful lord; .. .
Alas, hero! thou who art my heavenly light; .. .
Alas, hero! brother, mother, heavenly vine.
He goeth, he goeth, to the bosom of the earth-
He will cause abundance for the land of the dead.
For his lamentation, for the day of his fall,
In an unpropitious month of his year.
To the road of the peoples' end
At the call of the lord.

Tammuz, the lord of the seasons, almost the god of spring, of the sun, of resurrection, of germination and growth, was the beloved of Istar, whom the Greeks called Aphrodite, and the Romans Venus.

According to Phoenician legends Tammuz was killed in his youth as he hunted the wild boar, and Istar went crying for him to the house of the dead. Because the world could not do without them, they were finally allowed to return to earth together for part of every year.

To-day the associations between Christ and Tammuz are curious: for example, the fact that a scarlet pimpernel is called `Adonis', and, in Arabic, both `the blood of the Messiah' and `the flower of Tammuz'. In the first Christian centuries such confusions were deadly, and incense could have been a medium for them. It came to be enough in times of Roman persecution for a Christian to throw a little incense on an altar to admit that he had reverted to paganism.

It was, perhaps, for similar reasons of association, as well as because of the general temper of Puritanism, that incense was banished from Anglican worship after the Reformation. Its growing use at Masses, in the blessing of relics, and at shrines, seemed to the Reformers to have become idolatrous.

It was a great change from the eighth century, when a Roman Ordo had first allowed incense in a procession, to the last two centuries when incense was being used in the central ritual of the Mass itself. The Reformers did not see it as the fulfilment of Malachi's prophecy, `In every place incense shall be offered in my name', nor as St. John's `smoke of the incense which came up with the prayers of the saints' (Rev. viii).

After the Reformation, therefore, and until the Ritualists of the nineteenth century successfully revived the use of incense in a certain number of English churches, censers virtually vanished from liturgical use. A number of those of which there are record had in any case belonged to monastic houses, and had been sold, looted, or hidden at the Dissolution.

The fourteenth century censer and incense boat belonging to Ramsey Abbey were found three hundred years after the house had been dissolved, at the draining of Whittelsea Mere. Only unusually did any continue in the old use, as, apparently, at Ely Cathedral until the end of the eighteenth century, or in the private chapels of men like Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, or of Archbishop Laud.

Otherwise incense was occasionally used before such crowded ceremonies as a Royal coronation, for the utilitarian purpose of sweetening the atmosphere. The fastidious Queen Elizabeth insisted on its use before any service at which she was expected. But on the whole the English preferred bad smells, the risk of infection, and dry-rot in the beams, to an odour which may still have reminded them of other things besides sanctity.

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