Tag Archives: apocalypse

More Merciful Than God

15 Feb

Before Dante’s Inferno (why don’t we care about the Paradiso, anyway? Heavens never seduce as well as hells), there was the Apocalypse of Paul. If you want Saw-series torture porn, Paul’s angel-guided tour has it all: men and women hung by their eyebrows, pierced in the gut by iron rods, knee-deep in fiery rivers, eaten by worms, barefoot in ice with their hands cut off, buried in stinky pits, and having worms wriggle out of their mouths and noses. Lots of pits, lots of worms, and lots of fire and ice.

But before we make our descent, a political strategy to preserve God’s blameless image unfolds. The stars, the sun, the ocean, and the earth repeatedly ask God to bring his judgment upon us mortals for the usual crimes, “the impieties and fornications and homicides.” They’re even willing to take retribution into their own hands, or waves, as the sea offers to “arise and cover every wood and orchard and the whole world, until [it] blot[s] out all the sons of men.” God repeatedly answers each larger-than-life figure with his “patience” for repentance: “my patience bears with them until they be converted and repent.”  Such repeated pleas for judgment by these cosmic witnesses, preceding the punishment of souls, frames God in the text as more patient than celestial and earthly bodies. The stars want you to burn for your crimes, but God is patient, my dears, God is patient.

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Fire-breathing Mary

21 Dec

In the Questions of Bartholomew, Bartholomew and his fellow apostles ask Jesus profound questions, like “how many souls leave the world every day?” “what’s the worst sin?” and “can we see the abyss?” Although they often tremble while asking, they still want answers. Vacillating between encouragement and admonishment (oh, Christ: always a tease), the resurrected Jesus offers terrifying responses to their inquiries. He shows them the blinding abyss, makes Bartholomew stand on Satan’s neck, and shares with them many secrets of the cosmos. Throughout all of this, the apostles frequently fall to the ground in terror, covering their faces.

One of the most striking incidents in this text comes not from Jesus, however, but from his mother. At the apostles’ repeated request, Mary begins to speak of how “he who is hardly contained by the seven heavens was pleased to be contained” in her womb (II.12). She explains that three years before her pregnancy, she spoke with God, who fed her reappearing (!) bread and wine while disguised as an angel.

More astonishing than the story itself, however, is the circumstance of its telling. She assigns four apostles each a part of her body, so they can all hold her down while she speaks.

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