Monday, September 5, 2011

Christmas with the Demythologizers

     My late spiritual mentor, Dr Alan Cole once lent me a book of humorous verse by the Rev. E. L. Mascall, entitled, Pi in the High, The Faith Press, London (1959). I have already shared one of its poems in my previous post. This one is the second half of "Christmas with the Demythologizers", which was inspired by the book, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, by Rudolf Bultmann, Ernest Lohmeyer, Julius Schniewind, Friedrich Schumann, and Helmut Thielicke, with an appreciation by Austin Farrer (S.P.C.K., 1955).
     To appreciate it, you must understand the background. The "demythologizers" were a group of German theologians who wished to remove from Christianity what they considered "myths" - which they defined rather broadly. "Kerygma", the Greek word for preaching or proclamation, was what they considered to be the essential message left after the "myths" were removed. Du und ich is German for "Thou and I". The footnote regarding "many ancient authorities" will create no confusion with readers of modern Bible translations; it is used to alert the reader to variant readings of the text. 
     So, here it is:
Christmas with the Demythologizers. II.
Air: Good King Wenceslas

Dr. Bultmann ventured forth
    Boldly from his study,
When the wind was in the north
    And the roads were muddy.
All his thoughts were in a maze;
    This was not surprising.
He had spent some weary days

"Hither, pupil, strain thy sight
    If thou canst, descrying
Yonder folk who shove and fight -
    What can they be buying?"
"Sir, 'tis cards with scraps of verse,
    Pictured with a fable:
Shepherds and astrologers
    Kneeling in a stable."

"Bring my writings, if you please,
    In the last editions.
Du und ich we'll stifle these
    Outworn superstitions."
Sage and pupil forth they go,
    Braving every stigma,
Shedding myths like billy-o, 1
    Clinging to kerygma.

"Sir, my thoughts begin to stray
    And my faith grows bleaker.
Since I threw my myths away
    My kerygma's weaker."
"Think on Heidegger, my lad,
    That pellucid Teuton;
Then you won't feel half so bad
    When they talk of Newton."

Existentially he thought,
    As his master hinted.
All the learned works he bought
    Which the sage had printed.
Therefore, folk, when science sends
    Doubts and fears depressing,
Demythologize your friends -
    Then you'll win their blessing.

1.  Many ancient authorities read, flakes of snow.