Word of the Day: Pisteology

This one is borrowed directly from the Oxford English Dictionary, which today informs us that Pisteology is ‘A theory or science of faith’. From the few citations given by the dictionary, it seems a) that it didn’t really catch on (one to try and rectify!), and b) that it implicitly refers to Christianity.

Since the OED dates first use to 1880, it’s not a term which the early modern men and women we study would have recognised. Still, it chimes interestingly with a question that’s dogging my own research: what is the difference between the study of religion and the study of belief? Is it possible to excavate (especially at such a historical distance) the operations and experience of faith as well as its articulation and performance? And what is the connection between pisteology and piscatology (fishing)?

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Fishy Tales part III: Fishing for Souls

This fantastic oil painting by the Dutch artist Adriaen van de Venne was produced in 1614. Van de Venne was inspired by the story from Matthew 4:19 in which Jesus passes two fishermen, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew, at work and tells them ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ In the painting Protestant clergymen compete with Catholic priests to haul souls from the river – their respective congregations fill the opposing banks, clearly depicting the competing sides in the European Reformation. ‘Fishing for Souls’ is on display in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Fishy Tales, Part II: 20th Century Performance Art and a 17th Century Messiah

Portrait of Sabbatai Zevi

Sabbatai Zevi was a charismatic seventeenth-century Jewish mystic and scholar who attracted a huge following when he revealed himself as the Messiah. Although Zevi had been declaring himself the son of God for seventeen years, ever since he was twenty-one, it was only in 1665, when Nathan of Gaza confirmed Zevi’s status, that, in the words of David J. Halperin, ‘the Messianic movement headed by Sabbatai and his “prophet” Nathan swept the Jewish Diaspora like a brushfire. From London to Poland, from Hamburg to Yemen, Jews believed in perfect faith that Sabbatai Zevi was the promised Redeemer, about to lead them back to the Holy Land and rebuild the Temple’. Continue reading

Fishy tales, part I

Woodcut image of a fish, 1569

On March 21st, 1587, a Jesuit priest called Thomas Pilchard (aka Pylcher) was executed in Dorchester, in Dorset. Contemporary letters and memoirs recount a series of remarkable occurences: the rope around Pilchard’s neck broke as he was hanging (a mark, for Catholics, of divine intervention), and instead of being hung, he was stabbed and then disembowelled by the hangman. Despite the groans and cries of the crowd, Pilchard remained calm and collected, and assisted in the process of pulling out his own bowels. A fellow Jesuit, William Warford, noted that all of those involved in the execution soon came to a horrible end, some after having been visited by a figure who looked like the dead Pilchard. Continue reading