The blood of Christ, the subject of inexhaustible meditation for the believer, is visible in a detail of this Crucifixion by Fra Angelico in which a monk appears contemplating the bloodied feet of his Lord. In the detail of this painting, which is located in the Florentine Convent of St. Mark, it can also be seen how such blood flows from the cross to the truncated tree.
A guilt-tripped man at the feet of the crucified rabbi is the archetypal antithesis of the proud Aryan Berserker of other times: to whom the morbid fascination of Judeo-Christians seemed unhealthy, bizarre and even inexplicable. In ‘The Saxon Savior: Converting Northern Europe’ Ash Donaldson said:
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The Saxon savior
The author of the ninth-century Saxon gospel known as the Heliand undertook much more than a translation, as difficult as that task has proven for missionaries. In his harmonization of the four Gospels into a single narrative, he presented Christ as an Odinic wizard-chieftain, with the apostles as his war-band. Consider the episode of St. Peter cutting off the ear of the Roman soldier arresting Jesus. While it takes up only two verses in John (the other Gospels do not even mention that it was Peter), in the Heliand, Christ’s foremost “swordsman” flies into a berserker rage:
Then Simon Peter, the mighty, the noble swordsman flew into a rage; his mind was in such turmoil that he could not speak a single word. His heart became intensely bitter because they wanted to tie up his Lord there. So he strode over angrily, that very daring thane, to stand in front of his Commander, right in front of his Lord. No doubting in his mind, no fearful hesitation in his chest, he drew his blade and struck straight ahead at the first man of the enemy with all the strength in his hands, so that Malchus was cut and wounded on the right side by the sword! Blood gushed out, pouring from the wound! The cheek of the enemy’s first man had been cut open. The men stood back—they were afraid of the slash of the sword.
Similarly, the author of the Heliand knew that the episode of Joseph and the pregnant Mary searching in vain for a place to stay for the night would be incomprehensible to the Germanic peoples, whose valuation of hospitality is clear from the Hávamál. So when the parents of Jesus arrive at the “hill-fort” of their clan, they are tended to by horse-guards, not shepherds, the former being suitable representatives of the warrior class, while the infant Jesus is placed among jewels.
There is more at work here than cultural transplantation, or even such ambitious modifications as moving the Last Supper to a mead hall or having Satan don a Germanic cap of invisibility to deceive Pilate’s wife. There is little to no valorization of victimhood in the Heliand, and the Beatitudes are reworked as praises of warrior endurance.
Sin, fate, and even generosity are all revised to fit a Germanic hero such as Christ is made out to be (problems which the sympathetic Jesuit who translated it into modern English is at great pains to square with orthodoxy). The author of the Heliand even seems to imply that the twelve members of the apostolic war-band might not even be Jewish, and hail instead from a northern people.
Notably absent from the Heliand gospel, moreover, are two famous parables that would not have sat well with a Germanic audience. The events described in the story of the Prodigal Son would have been unthinkable to a society in which kinship was paramount. The absence of the Good Samaritan parable is even more suggestive, since in the original, Christ uses it to introduce a universal moral obligation to treat strangers and foreigners as one would kin. Such an idea was foreign to the free peoples of the North, and one that Aristotle rejected as well.
And here we come to the nub of the problem. The Mediterranean audience for the Gospels and missionary work of St. Paul had been subjected to a political unification across ethnic and racial lines. [emphasis by Ed.]
Long before its decline, the Roman Empire displayed ample signs of declining civic engagement and social trust, qualities Harvard Professor Robert Putnam has statistically linked to diversity. What kept everyone’s Fagin-like concern for “number one” from pulling the whole thing apart was both the iron fist of Rome and the emperors’ insistence on public worship of the state.
Political universalism was thus reinforced by religious universalism, and Christianity proved more determined and well-equipped to insist upon that universalism than any of the pagan emperors had. Thus, either individualistic hedonism, or some variety of universalism, seemed the only choices to a people who had lost all of the intermediate institutions that tribe and kin provide.
The free peoples of Northern Europe, in contrast, maintained all of the strong links Aristotle identified as natural to our condition. As a result, they rejected individualistic hedonism quite readily and had no concept of universalism or of out-group obligations.
The sagas instead teem with people who have clear obligations framed by ties of kinship and friendship. Had the author of the Heliand presented the parable of the Good Samaritan, his Saxon audience would have incredulously asked, “Where were this man’s kinfolk?” Having no notion that mere physical proximity implied extra-tribal duties—an idea originating in the ethnic melting pot of Mediterranean cities—they would have difficulties extending that concept universally, as the parable seeks to do. That would require centuries of patient indoctrination.
Through syncretism and outright omission, Christianity was presented as—and ultimately became—something less foreign and less threatening to the peoples of the North. A faith that was Semitic in origin won only by becoming partially Europeanized, as James Russell describes in The Germanization of Medieval Christianity. (The Greek language has an admirable way of expressing this phenomenon: in addition to the active and passive voices of verbs, it also has a middle voice, in which the agent is both acting and acted upon.)
Yet today, the Völkerwanderung of Third World peoples is a reminder that this syncretism has gone on throughout the world, giving us such bizarre phenomena as the wildly popular cult of Santa Muerte, reviving the worship of the Aztec queen of the underworld trussed up as a skeletal Catholic saint.
Many tradition-minded people seem to be calling for a revival of Victorian “muscular Christianity,” yet the muscles have always been provided by the pre-Christian elements in this amalgamation, which tends to downplay the very things that the Heliand left out altogether. It is as if such people are trying to work their way back to something more familiar and more intuitive without sacrificing orthodoxy. Yet beyond the trappings of old-school Europeanized Christianity lies a core message that, of necessity, consigns ethnic identity, ancestral traditions, and ultimately this life itself to irrelevance in the face of our ultimate unity with God.