The Ball and the Cross/Stephen of Hungary
O.K., so maybe you know my affinity for G.K. Chesterton, and picked up on the title of one of my favorite books by the “Apostle of Common Sence”. The Ball and the Cross is a fiction that plays out a debate. The story starts as a bit of classic fantasy just like you would expect from the 1920’s, but then shifts to the main characters which are a Roman Catholic and an atheist, who having vowed to kill each other in a dual, end up hashing through the arguments, debates and perspectives until they develop a mutual respect for each other and become friends. The clash of the ancient faith and enlightenment skepticism are often offset by other world-views and philosophies which the main characters encounter in their attempts to begin their dual.
The naming of the book has to do with an old christian symbol knows as the Globus Cruciger, which translates as cross bearing orb, or in Chestertonian, a ball and a cross.
It was while looking into the history of St. Stephen of Hungary that in noticed the Confessor King was holding one of these objects, in an icon as well as a statue. The globus cruciger is often seen in the hands of leaders from the middle ages and on. It represents the world, (the globe) and the authority of Christ (the cross). As early as the 5th century this symbol can be found in religious art or writing, and later on would top off church buildings. It is also noteworthy that the world is a globe and not some flat slab or disc; another proof to debunk the flat earth myth.
St. Stephens feast day is August 16th, in the current roman calender, and he lived from 1001- 1038 AD. He is one of several Confessor Kings, or Kings that confessed Christ and are considered Saints, and like some of the other Confessor Kings, he was a warrior as well as a contemplative. A sort of King Arthur to Hungary, he would bring the country out of the turmoil of rebellion from pagan princes and turned Hungary into a christian nation.
Some may find it strange the idea of a confessor king. Too often the cry of church and state is applied to the medieval church which really misses the point. In fact too often the church and state did not see eye to eye. Emperors were excommunicated and popes were imprisoned. The tension which existed between the Church and State flies in the face of claims of modern critics who use such church/state stereotypes to push their own idiology/state agendas today. There was a balance then between the civil government and the church, and while the two often did find the time to work together, they also protected their own authorities from control by the other. Much of this would change after the reformation, though to some extent existed in the Eastern Roman Empire, as kings, and Caesars would also take on the responsibilities not only of the empire or state but also of the church, and it is here that the blending of church and state become apparent. Even in cases where the church and state overlapped, it should be understood within the time; after all christianity was the common belief and world view of the middle ages.
Stephen, like the other confessor kings were men who walked in both worlds. Like the ball and the cross, they are symbols on a personal level of the world and the cross, of people who are living in the world but not of it but caught up into a unity of ideas. Like any person of faith be they pauper or king, Stephen walks in two worlds, he is a king who lived his faith, he holds authority over his domain, and yet found his own world the domain of the King of Kings.