St Bartholomew and Baalshamin

Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra
Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra

Time was when the legends surrounding the death of the Apostle Bartholomew seemed remote and unapproachable. Who but a barbarian would flay the skin from anyone? Such cruel and unusual torments belonged to a distant age or were the creation of an over-heated imagination. Sadly, we know better now. The enormities of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries show us that the dark side of human nature does not change. The napalm that stripped the skin from Vietnamese civilians, the brutalities of IS and Boko Haram, what are they but contemporary instances of that same deadly impulse to destroy?

The desire to inflict pain takes many forms. The destruction of the temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra may not have resulted in the death of anyone*, but to destroy the artefacts of the past, to destroy the cultural heritage of the Greco-Roman world, is to inflict a grievous wound on Western civilization. That, presumably, was the intention. But there may be something the perpetrators have failed to consider. Just as the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church, so attempts to destroy Western civilization may actually invigorate it. There surely has to come a turning-point when we in the West will stop wringing our hands or lamenting what is done and make clear where we stand. How we do that, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t believe a military ‘solution’ is any solution at all. Just as St Bartholomew did not resist his captors but ultimately triumphed over them, we need to decide what we truly value and follow the logic of our decision. Something worth thinking about, I suggest.

*Please see this post for 22 August.

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Scepticism

‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ asked Nathanael, who is usually identified with today’s saint, Bartholomew. We all have our ‘Nathanael moments’, when we are profoundly doubtful or sceptical, but probably few of us are worthy of the Lord’s subsequent commendation, ‘incapable of deceit.’ It is so often the experience of deceit in ourself or in others that makes us sceptical in the first place.

It is worth thinking about this for a moment. We can’t do anything about other people, but we can take stock of our own attitudes. To try to live honestly, with integrity, may mean a great deal of pain and suffering, but it will also give us that clarity of vision without which we have no choice but to be sceptical, even pessimistic. I know which I would rather choose, don’t you?

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