WHY THE FAITH OF THE SEVEN MATTERS For those of you that have yet to read A Feast for Crows (SHAME ON YOU), the High Septon or as some call him the “High Sparrow” is a yet to be seen character that is going to play a crucial role in season 5. Thanks to the great images provided to us by thewatchersonthewall.com, we have had some glimpses of His Holiness and have confirmation of his appearance in season 5. Now without spoiling too much, let’s talk about why this man is going to be so important.
The Faith of the Seven, or the “New Gods” is the most common religion in Westeros and is practiced all over except for the North and the Iron Islands. The Faith, as it is commonly known, draws heavily on the number seven and there are 7 gods: The Warrior, The Maiden, The Smith, The Crone, The Father, The Mother and The Stranger.Although each has a distinct purpose they are each a representation of a single deity. The Faith is often compared to Catholicism as it too has several aspects of a single God along with an organization (Pope/College of Cardinals) that is similar to the the High Septon and Most Devout. The organization of the faith is also very similar to that of the Catholic church in the middle ages where members of the clergy held positions in government and were often the individuals that created laws and imposed punishment on offenders; much like the High Septon in Westeros.
This parallels reality. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, there emerged no single powerful secular government in Western Europe, but there was a central ecclesiastical power in Rome, the Catholic Church. In this power vacuum, the Church rose to become the dominant power. As the Church expanded beginning in the 10th century, and as secular kingdoms gained power at the same time, there naturally arose the conditions for a power struggle between Church and Kingdom over ultimate authority.
In essence, the earliest vision of Christendom was a vision of a Christian theocracy, a government founded upon and upholding Christian values, whose institutions are spread through and over with Christian doctrine. In this period, members of the Christian clergy wield political authority. The specific relationship between the political leaders and the clergy varied but, in theory, the national and political divisions were at times subsumed under the leadership of the Catholic Church as an institution. This model of church-state relations was accepted by various Church leaders and political leaders in European history.
During the Middle Ages it was customary to classify the population of Christendom into laboratores (workers), bellatores (soldiers), and oratores (clergy). The last group, though small in number, monopolized the instruments and opportunities of culture, and ruled with almost unlimited sway half of the most powerful continent on the globe. The clergy, like Plato’s guardians, were placed in authority “by their talents” as shown in ecclesiastical studies and administration, by their “disposition to a life of meditation and simplicity,” and … by the influence of their relatives with the powers of state and church, in which we see similarities to maesters, who commonly hold great sway as well as family connections. Maester Aemon, anyone?
In the latter half of the period in which they ruled [800 AD onwards], the clergy were completely freed from family cares. Celibacy was part of the psychological structure of the power of the clergy; for on the one hand they were unimpeded by the narrowing egoism of the family, and on the other their apparent superiority to the call of the flesh added to the awe and overall mystique in which lay sinners held them.
There can also be parallels drawn between the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and the seven gods of the Faith. GRRM has stated that the Faith is based on the Roman Catholic Church on numerous occasions although he “is a lapsed Catholic…[and] would find me an atheist or agnostic. I find religion and spirituality fascinating.” He has also said that the use of religion in ASOIAF is one of the things that sets his series apart from Tolkein’s in that “nobody is worshiping anything in Rings.” The hierarchy of the Catholic Church looks like this.
2. The Church which includes the people of God
3. Deacons serve God and the people of God
4. Priests serve God, the people of God, and the deacons
5. Bishops serve God, the local Church the People of God, the deacons, and the priests
6. The Pope serves God and the entire Church as well as the bishops, priests, deacons and people.
The Contemplative Brothers. They are humble men which work and live in communities very much like monastaries such as the Quiet Isle. They often take a vow of silence.
Begging Brothers. These men are clad in brown robes and beg (obv) and bestow blessings upon those they encounter on the road.
The Faith Militant which includes 2 orders: The Warrior’s Sons who are knights who have renounced their lands, gold and possessions to fight for the Seven. They swore their swords to His High Holiness like Lancel Lannister. The Poor Fellows wander the realm and escort pilgrims between septs and are more humble than the Warrior’s Sons
The Silent Sisters. These women serve the Stranger and have taken a vow of silence. They are often called the “Wives of the Stranger” and prepare the bodies of the dead for burial.
Septas and Septons. The men are often devoted to one particular aspect of the Seven such as the Smith and the septas often act as governesses to nobility such as Septa Mordane.
The Most Devout is a council of septas and septons that are of the most importance.
The High Septon. This is the equivalent of the Pope. This is the most important person in the Faith of the Seven
Another extremely important fact to consider is the Divine Right of Kings, key to the series as the King of Westeros is always anointed and coronated. While it was held that monarchs ruled through the Mandate of Heaven or God, at times this right was called into question, as to who exactly wielded greater authority – the monarch or the Pope.
The Investiture Controversy was the most significant conflict between Church and state in medieval Europe. In the 11th and 12th centuries, a series of popes challenged the authority of European monarchies. The issue was whether the pope or the monarch would name (invest) powerful local church officials such as bishops of cities and abbots of monasteries. The conflict ended in 1122, when Emperor Henry V and Pope Calixtus II agreed on the Concordat of Worms. It differentiated between the royal and spiritual powers and gave the emperors a limited role in selecting bishops. After 50 years of civil war, the outcome was mostly a victory for the pope and his claim that he was God’s chief representative in the world.
The age of the investiture controversy may rightly be regarded as the turning-point in medieval civilization. It was the fulfillment of the early Middle Ages because in it the acceptance of the Christian religion by the Germanic peoples reached its final and decisive stage. The greater part of the religious and political system of the high Middle Ages emerged out of the events and ideas of the investiture controversy.
Now that we have discussed (very briefly) about the Faith, let’s talk about these “sparrows” and why we should care about them. If we think back to previous books, there have been 2 previous High Septons seen in ASOIAF: The “Fat One” that was killed during the riots in Kings Landing and his replacement, who was chosen by Tyrion Lannister but was later killed. This leads us to the third High Septon or the High Sparrow. The sparrows were a direct result of the War of the Five Kings. During the war, septs were looted and the holy people within were often raped, tortured or killed. Due to these unspeakable crimes, holy men and women brought the bones of those murdered to King’s Landing to show the king and ask for protection. They were the poorest of the members of the Faith and came to be known as sparrows as the sparrow is the most common bird. The High Septon was amongst these holy men and women and was elected to the office of High Septon by fellow sparrows. This was not to Cersei Lannister’s liking as she could not bribe or threaten him into submission as the previous men before him. Furthermore, the High Sparrow has refused to bless the reign of Tommen and has subsequently filled Cersei with much indignation.
Nobody knows the true identity of the High Septon as holy septons relinquish their names upon election to office, but there are many theories. But the reason why he and the Faith writ large are so integral to the upcoming season and overall culmination of the books, is because of their extreme influence over the monarchy and their high standing among the people of the land.
Of course this may all be ruined in season 5 when psychotic bookburners D&D decide to make the High Septon a magical wish-granting fruit bat that only speaks in riddles. But there is still hope! Perhaps the High Septon will be the one character that is unsullied by the small minds of evil men, but then again when have D&D ever really cared about remaining loyal to the book?!?!?!? No one understaaands!!!