The History of the Christian Church

By Pastor Lance Ralston

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Art Bowie
 Aug 19, 2018
If your desire is to get an overview of the development of the Christian Church, this is for you. The episodes are not long and great to listen to while traveling.

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Providing Insight into the history of the Christian Church

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Special Announcement to CS Subscribers
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This is a special announcement for subscribers to the audio podcast > Communio Sanctorum – History of the Christian Church.CS has been rolled over into my new online teaching presence which you can find at > Into His Image.us. The entire Church History series is being re-done in video, on the YouTube channel of the same name > IntoHisImage.I’ll keep the CS website & Facebook page up for a while, but will eventually take them down since all the necessary information and much more will be available at the new site.So head on over to the new website at IntoHisImage.us and the FB page at facebook.com/IntoHisImage.usThere’s also a Telegram channel. Just search for IntoHisImage (this link)Besides History of the Christian Church, you’ll find many other resources for Leadership and Bible study as I’m posting there the regular teaching I do at the church here I serve as pastor.I want to close out this short announcement with a word of the deepest gratitude for the many subscribers to CS over the years. It’s been a while since I posted fresh material, so many one-time subscribers disconnected. But others stayed – waiting for more. Your loyalty means a lot. I hope you’ll find the new offerings at IntoHisImage.us more than you hoped for.
Feb 28, 2022
The Change Part 10
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This is the 10th episode in our series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we consider the impact the Faith has had on science.This subject is near & dear to me because when I first went to college in the mid-70’s, I was studying to be a geologist. I’d always been fascinated by science and loved to collect rocks, so decided geology would be my field. I took many classes on the trajectory of one day working in the field as a geological engineer.I was only a nominal believer in those days and when I first entered college saw no incompatibility between evolution and Christianity. It seemed obvious to my then uninformed mind that God had created everything, then used evolution as the way to push things along. I now realize my ideas were what has come to be known as theistic evolution.One of my professors, who was herself an agnostic, was also a fastidious scientist. What I mean is, she hadn’t imbibed the ideology of scientism with its uncritical loyalty to evolution. Though she admitted a loose belief in it, it was only, she said, because no other theory came any closer to explaining the evidence. She rejected the idea of divine creation, but had a hard time buying in to the evolutionary explanation for life. Her reason was that the theory didn’t square with the evidence. She caught significant grief for this position from the other professors who were lock-step loyal to Darwin. In a conversation with another student in class one day, she acknowledged that while she didn’t personally believe it, in terms of origins, there could be a supreme being who was creator of the physical universe and that if there was, such a being would likely be the Author of Life. She went further and admitted that there was no evidence she was aware of that made that possibility untenable. It’s just that as a scientist, she had no evidence for such a being’s existence so had to remain an agnostic.For me, the point was, here was a true scientist who admitted there were deep scientific problems with the theory of evolution. She fiercely argued against raising the theory of evolution to a scientific certainty. It angered her when evolution was used as a presumptive ground for science.It took a few years, but I eventually came around to her view, then went further and today, based on the evidence, consider evolution a preposterous position.I give all that background because of the intensity of debate today, kicked up by what are called the New Atheists. Evolutionists all, they set science in opposition to all religious faith. In doing so, they set reason on the side of science, and then say that leaves un-reason or irrationality in the side of faith. This is false proposition but one that has effectively come to dominate the public discussion. The new Atheists make it seem as though every scientist worth the title is an atheists while there are no educated or genuinely worthy intellects in the Faith camp. That also is a grievous misdirection since some of the world’s greatest minds & most prolific scientists either believe in God, the Bible, or at least acknowledge the likelihood of a divine being.A little history reveals that modern science owes its very existence to men & women of faith. The renowned philosopher of science, Alfred North Whitehead, said “Faith in the possibility of science, [coming before] the development of modern scientific theory, is[derived from] medieval theology."' Lynn White, historian of medieval science, wrote, "The [medieval] monk was an intellectual ancestor of the scientist." The German physicist Ernst Mach remarked, "Every unbiased mind must admit that the age in which the chief development of the science of mechanics took place was an age of predominantly theological cast."Crediting Christianity with the arrival of science may sound surprising to many. But why is that? The answer goes back to Andrew Dickson White, who in 1896 published A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Ever since then, along with the growth of secularism, college & university professors have accepted White's argument that Christianity is an enemy of science. It unthinkable to many that Christianity could have fostered the arrival of science.There are differences between Christianity and pagan religion. One is that Christianity, with its heritage in Judaism, has always insisted that there’s only one God, Who is a rational being. Without this presupposition, there would be no science. The origin of science, said Alfred North Whitehead, required Christianity's “insistence on the rationality of God."If God is a rational being, then human beings, who are made in His image, also employ rational processes to study and investigate the world in which they live. That idea moved Christian philosophers to link rationality with the empirical, inductive method. Robert Grosseteste was one of these philosophers who in the 13th C went further and began to apply this idea practically. A Franciscan bishop and the first chancellor of Oxford University, he was the first to propose the inductive, experimental method, an approach to knowledge that was advocated by his student Roger Bacon, another Franciscan monk, who asserted that “All things must be verified by experience.” Bacon was a devout believer in the truthfulness of Scripture, and being empirically minded, he saw the Bible in the light of sound reason and as verifiable by experience. Another natural philosopher & Franciscan monk, was William of Occam in the 14th C. Like Bacon, Occam said knowledge needed to be derived inductively.300 years later another Bacon, first name  Francis this time, gave further momentum to the inductive method by recording his experimental results. He’s been called "the creator of scientific induction."' In the context of rationality, he stressed careful observation of phenomena and collecting information systematically in order to understand nature's secrets. His scientific interests did not deter him from devoting time to theology. He wrote treatises on the Psalms and prayer.By introducing the inductive empirical method guided by rational procedures, Roger Bacon, William Occam, and Francis Bacon departed from the ancient Greek perspective of Aristotle. Aristotelianism had a stranglehold on the world for 1500 years. It held that knowledge was only acquired thru the deductive processes of the mind; the inductive method, which required manual activity, was taboo. Remember  as we saw in  a previous episode, physical activity was only for slaves, not for thinkers & freemen. Complete confidence in the deductive method was the only way for the Aristotelian to arrive at knowledge. This view was held by Christian monks, natural philosophers, and theologians until the arrival of Grosseteste, the Bacons & Occam. Even after these empirically-minded thinkers introduced their ideas, a majority of the scholastic world continued to adhere to Aristotle's approach.Another major presupposition of Christianity is that God, who created the world, is separate and distinct from it. Greek philosophy saw the gods and nature as intertwined. For example, the planets were thought to have an inner intelligence that caused them to move. This pantheistic view of planetary movement was first challenged in the 14th C by Jean Buridan, a Christian philosopher at the University of Paris.The Biblical & Christian perspective, which sees God and nature as distinctively separate entities, makes science possible. As has been said, Science could never have come into being among the animists of Asia or Africa because they would never have experimented on the natural world, since everything—stones, trees, animals & everything, contains the spirits of gods & ancestors.Men like Grosseteste, Buridan, the Bacons, Occam, and Nicholas of Oresme, and later Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, saw themselves as merely trying to understand the world God had created and over which He told mankind in Gen 1:28 to have "dominion". This paradigm shift is another example of Christianity's wholesome impact on the world.Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also to the conclusion that the universe is governed by rationally discoverable laws. This assumption is vitally important to scientific research, because in a pagan world, with gods engaged in jealous, irrational behavior, any systematic investigation of such a world was futile. Only in Christian thought, with the existence of a single God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, Who functions in an orderly and predictable manner, is it possible for science to exist and operate.From the 13th to the 18th C  every major scientist  explained his motivations in religious terms. But if you examined a science textbook for the local public school you’d never know. Virtually all references to the Christian beliefs of early scientists are omitted. This is unfortunate because these convictions often played a dominant role in their work.One early cutting-edge concept was "Occam's razor", named in honor of William of Occam. This idea had a tremendous influence on the development of modern science. Simply put, it’s the scientific principle that says what can be done or explained with the fewest assumptions should be used. This means that a scientist needs to ‘shave off’ all excess assumptions. The idea first arose with Peter of Spain but Occam finessed it into usable form. Modern scientists use this principle in theorizing and explaining research findings.As was common with virtually all medieval natural philosophy, Occam didn’t confine himself just to scientific matters. He also wrote 2 theological treatises, 1 dealing with the Lord's Supper and the other with the body of Christ. Both works had a positive influence on Martin Luther.Most people think of Leonardo da Vinci as a great artist and painter, but he was also a scientific genius. He analyzed and theorized in the areas of botany, optics, physics, hydraulics, and aeronautics, but his greatest benefit to science lies in the study of human physiology. By dissecting cadavers, which he often did at night because such activity was forbidden, he produced meticulous drawings of human anatomy. His drawings and comments, when collected in one massive volume, present a complete course of anatomical study. This was a major breakthrough because before this time and for some time after, physicians had little knowledge of the human body. They were dependent on the writings of the Greek physician Galen whose propositions on human physiology were in large measure drawn from animals like dogs and monkeys. Leonardo's anatomical observations led him to question the belief that air passed from the lungs to the heart. He used a pump to test this hypothesis and found it was impossible to force air into the heart from the lungs.Lest anyone think Leonardo's scientific theories and drawings of the human anatomy were divorced from his religious convictions, it’s well to recall his other activities. His paintings—The Baptism of Christ, The Last Supper, and The Resurrection of Christ—are enduring reminders of his Christian beliefs.The anatomical work of Leonardo was not forgotten. The man who followed in his footsteps was Andreas Vesalius, who lived from 1514 to 64. At 22, he began teaching at the University of Padua. In 1543 he published his famous work, Fabric of the Human Body. The book mentions over 200 errors in Galen's physiology. The errors were found as a result of his dissecting cadavers he obtained illegally.When Vesalius exposed Galen’s errors, he received no praise or commendation. His contemporaries, like his former teacher Sylvius, still wedded to Greek medicine, called him a "madman." Others saw him as "a clever, dangerous free-thinker of medicine." There’s little doubt of his faith in God. On one occasion he said, "We are driven to wonder at the handiwork of the Almighty." He was never condemned as a heretic, as some anti-church critics have implied, for at the time of his death he had an offer waiting for him to teach at the University of Padua, where he first began his career. Today he’s known as the father of human anatomy.Where would the study of genetics be today had the world not been blessed with the birth of the Augustinian monk Gregor Johann Mendel? As often stated in science textbooks, it was his working on cross-pollinating garden peas that led to the concept of genes and the discovery of his 3 laws: the law of segregation, the law of independent assortment, and the law of dominance. Mendel spent most of his adult life in the monastery at Bruno, Moravia. Though Mendel is used by secularists to explain genetics & evolution, he rejected Darwin’s theory.4 names loom large in the textbooks of astronomy: Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, & Galileo. The undeniable fact is, these men were devout Christians. Their faith influenced their scientific work, though this fact is conspicuously omitted in most science texts.Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun, Poland, in 1473. While still a child, his father died, and he was sent to his mother's brother, a Catholic priest, who reared him. He earned a doctor's degree and was trained as a physician. His uncle had him study theology, which resulted in his becoming a canon at Frauenburg Cathedral in East Prussia. History knows him best for having introduced the heliocentric theory that says the Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around. During the Middle Ages it was suggested the Earth might be in motion, but nobody had worked out the details. Copernicus did, and therein lies his greatness.Copernicus received a printed copy of his masterwork Concerning the Revolutions of the Celestial Bodies on his deathbed in 1543. He’d hesitated to publish his work earlier, not because he feared the charge of heresy, as has often been asserted without any documentation, but because he wanted to avoid the ridicule of other scientists, who were strongly tied to Aristotle and Ptolemy. It was Copernicus’ Christian friends, especially Georg Rheticus and Andreas Osiander, 2 Lutherans, who persuaded him to publish.Although Copernicus remained a moderately loyal son of the Roman Catholic Church, it was his Lutheran friends that made his publication possible. That information is surprising to many people, including university students, because most only hear that Christian theologians condemned Copernicus's work. For instance, critics like to cite Luther, who supposedly called Copernicus a fool. John W. Montgomery has shown this frequently cited remark lacks support.When Tycho Brahe died in 1601, Johannes Kepler succeeded him in Prague under an imperial appointment by Emperor Rudolph II. Kepler, who’d studied for 3 years to become a Lutheran pastor, turned to astronomy after he was assigned to teach mathematics in Graz, Austria, in 1594. Unlike Brahe, who never accepted the heliocentric theory, Kepler did. In fact Kepler, not Copernicus, deserves the real credit for the helio-centric theory. Copernicus thought the sun was the center of the universe. Kepler realized & proved the sun was merely the center of our solar system.Kepler's mathematical calculations proved wrong the old Aristotelian theory that said the planets orbited in perfect circles, an assumption Copernicus continued to hold. This led Kepler to hypothesize and empirically verify that planets had elliptical paths around the sun.Kepler was the first to define weight as the mutual attraction between 2 bodies, an insight Isaac Newton used later in formulating the law of gravity. Kepler was the first to explain that tides were caused by the moon.Many of Kepler's achievements came while enduring great personal suffering. Some of his hardships were a direct result of his Lutheran convictions, which cost him his position in Graz, where the Catholic Archduke of Hapsburg expelled him in 1598. Another time he was fined for burying his 2nd child according to Lutheran funeral rites. His salary was often in arrears, even in Prague, where he had an imperial appointment. He lost his position there in 1612 when his benefactor the Emperor was forced to abdicate. He was plagued with digestive problems, gall bladder ailments, skin rashes, piles, and sores on his feet that healed badly because of his hemophilia. Childhood smallpox left him with defective eyesight and crippled hands. Even death was no stranger to him. His first wife died, as well as several of his children. A number of times he was forced to move from one city to another, sometimes even from one country to another. Often he had no money to support his family because those who contracted him failed to pay.Whether in fame or pain, Kepler’s faith remained unshaken. In his first publication he showed his Christian conviction at the book's conclusion where he gave all honor and praise to God. Stressed and overworked as he often was, he would sometimes fall asleep without having said his evening prayers. When this happened, it bothered him so much that the first thing he’d do next morning was to repent. Moments before he died, an attending Lutheran pastor asked him where he placed his faith. Calmly, he replied, "Solely and alone in the work of our redeemer Jesus Christ." Those were the final words of the man who earlier in his life had written that he only tried "thinking God's thoughts after him." He was still in that mindset when, four months before he died, he penned his own epitaph: “I used to measure the heavens, Now I must measure the earth. Though sky-bound was my spirit, My earthly body rests here."We’ll end this podcast with a brief review of the 17th C, scientist Galileo. Like Kepler, a contemporary of his, Galileo searched and described the heavenly bodies. He was the first to use the telescope to study the skies, although he didn’t invent it. That credit goes to Johann Lippershey, who first revealed his invention in 1608 at a fair in Frankfurt. With the telescope, Galileo discovered that the moon's surface had valleys and mountains, that the moon had no light of its own but merely reflected it from the sun, that the Milky Way was composed of millions of stars, that Jupiter had 4 bright satellites, and that the sun had spots. Galileo also determined, contrary to Aristotelian belief, that heavy objects did not fall faster than light ones.Unfortunately, Galileo's observations were not well received by his Roman Catholic superiors, who considered Aristotle's view—not that of the Bible—as the final word of truth. Even letting Pope Paul V look through the telescope at his discoveries did not help his cause. His masterpiece, A Dialogue on the Two Principal Systems of the World, resulted in a summons before the Inquisition, where he was compelled to deny his belief in the Copernican theory and sentenced to an indefinite prison term. For some reason the sentence was never carried out. In fact, 4 years later he published Dialogues on the Two New Sciences. This work helped Isaac Newton formulate his 3 laws of motion.Galileo was less pro-Copernican than Kepler, with whom he often disagreed. He largely ignored Kepler's discoveries because he was still interested in keeping the Ptolemaic theory alive. He also criticized Kepler's idea of the moon affecting tides.The mystery is - If he was less pro-Copernican than Kepler—why did he get into trouble with the theologians who placed his books on the Index of forbidden books? The answer was because he was Roman Catholic, while Kepler was Lutheran.When modern critics condemn the Church & Christianity for its resistance to the Copernican theory, it must be noted and underscored that it was not the entire church that did so. Both Lutherans & Calvinists supported the Copernican theory.And it needs to be stated clearly that the reason the Roman Church proscribed Galileo’s work was precisely because they adhered to the scientific ideas of the day which were dominated by the Aristotelianism. Their opposition to Galileo wasn’t out of a strict adherence to the Bible – but to the current scientific thought. I say it again - It was errant science, or what we might call scientism that opposed Galileo. This is the mistake the Church can make today – when it allows itself to adopt the politically correct line of contemporary thought; the majority opinion – what the so-called experts hold to – today; but history has shown, is exchanged for something else tomorrow.Listen: History proves that while scientific theories come and go, God’s Word prevails.And that brings us to the end of The Change series. Next week we’ll return to our narrative timeline of church history.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 9
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This is the 9th episode in our series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we take a look at the influence the Faith had on property rights & individual freedom.I begin by saying I know what follows, some will take great exception to. While some of what follows will sound like politicizing, I will attempt to steer clear of that. There is an undeniable political component to this topic but I’m not politicking here. I’m simply trying to show how a Christian Worldview, that is, one that is Biblically consistent, does tend to promote a certain kind of economic system. And that system flows from what the Bible says about property rights.Some listeners might wonder why CS, a church history podcast, as left off its narrative timeline to engage in this series we’re calling “The Change.” Well, really, it still is history. I’m attempting to show HOW the Christian Worldview has impacted WORLD history and how people live and think today. That’s when history becomes relevant, more than just academic fodder – when we understand how the past influences today.In our last episode we took a look at Christianity’s impact on labor & economics. It shouldn’t take long to realize that 12 minutes isn’t long enough to deal with THAT massive subject. A 12 hour podcast would just scratch the surface of the Faith’s impact on economic theory & practice. A 12 month graduate course might make a bare beginning on the subject. Today, we’ll delve a little deeper, realizing that we’re really only dabbling in the shallows of a vast subject.A person’s labor and finances have little dignity when he/she lacks the freedom and right to own property. Both are rooted in 2 of the Ten Commandments; Exodus 20:15, 17 =“You shall not steal” and  “You shall not covet”Both these commandments assume the indi­vidual has the right and freedom to acquire, retain, and sell his/her property at their own discretion.Private property rights are vital to people's freedom. The 2 cannot be separated. Yet this most basic truth is not well recognized today. It’s rarely taught in public schools which seem bent on promoting socialism, which we’ll see in a moment is contrary to Scripture. Promoters of socialism often decry private prop­erty rights, arguing that “human rights” are more important. This sophistry is deceptive and lacks historical support, because where there are no private property rights there are also virtually no human or civil rights. What rights did the people under Communism have in the former Soviet Union, where the state owned everything? Except for a few personal incidentals, private property rights didn’t existent. Not having the right to private property was closely linked to not having the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press. Similarly, what human rights do the people have today in Cuba or China, where property rights are also non­existent?The American Founding Fathers, who were strongly influenced by bib­lical Christian values, knew that individual economic, political, and social freedom was intrinsically linked to private property rights. Even while still subjects of the British king, they made it clear property rights and liberty were inseparable. Arthur Lee of Virginia said, “The right of property is the guardian of every other right, and to deprive a people of this, is in fact to deprive them of their liberty.” That’s why when the Constitution was written, its formulators included private property rights in the Article I, Section 8. The 3rd Amendment gives citizens the right to grant or deny housing on their property to soldiers. And the 4th Amendment protects the property of citizens from unlawful search and seizure.But ever since the appearance of Karl Marx's economic and political philosophy known as Communism, private property has been politically attacked. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, written in 1848 says, “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”Immediately after the October Revolution of 1917, Lenin, the first Communist leader of Russia, took the words of the Manifesto seriously when he secretly ordered the destruction of all legal documents showing property ownership, making it impossible for former owners to prove title.Following the founding of the Communist party, numerous politicians, writers, & even a few theologians, have argued that socialism, a term synonymous with Communism in the Manifesto, is the most compatible economic and political philosophy with Christian values.For instance, during the Great Depression, Jerome Davis said Christianity, like socialism, holds human values as higher than property values. While that’s true, it’s also misleading. It suggests property values are the same as property rights. They aren’t. Davis argued that human values are God-given, while property rights are merely human constructs.But nowhere in the Old or New Testament are property rights ever disparaged. On the contrary, the Commandment “You shall not steal” underscores such rights.In his parables and other teachings, Jesus often referred to property and material goods, but He never condemned anyone for possessing them. He only condemned people's over-attachment to possessions because that interfered with loving God and others. The parable of the Rich Young ruler in Matthew 19 well illustrates this. In another parable a chapter later, Jesus has the owner of a vineyard say to one of this hired hands, “Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” It would seem some socialists today would answer, “No you don’t! We’ll tell you what to do with that money.”The book of Acts records Ananias as judged severely by God, not for withholding his property, but for lying to God. The possession of private property was assumed by Peter asking him, “Didn't it belong to you before it was sold?”Even though Christianity doesn’t espouse a specific economic ideology, it would be wrong to conclude that any & every economic theory is compatible with Christianity. Despite that, many look favorably upon social­ism, which is an ideology that is in several regards contrary to Biblical doctrine.A less discriminating student of scripture might assume that because early Christians sold their possessions and “had all things in common, & gave to each as anyone had need” or because they were expected to be their brother's keeper, that socialistic governments are a reflec­tion of Christianity. Such thinking makes at least 3 mistakes.First, it fails to recall that not all of the early Christians sold their possessions. Mary, the mother of Mark, retained her house and received at least implied commendation for doing so as that’s where the church met. Simon, a tanner in Caesarea, retained his house where he hosted Peter in Acts 10.Second, they fail to note that the supposed socialism some of the early Christians practiced was totally voluntary. Whatever they shared in common was out of love for that individual, not because it was forced upon them by government coercion. As we noted in a previous podcast, behavior that’s forced, no matter how noble its objective, is no longer Christian. This point is all too often overlooked today, even by many well-meaning but confused Christians.Third, while Christ wanted all to follow him, He also let them have the free­dom to reject him, a precedent that God already established at the time of creation when he gave Adam and Eve the gift of a free will. Christ healed 10 lepers, but only 1 returned to thank him. He’d not denied the 9 the freedom to reject him. Another time He said that He wanted to gather Jerusalem's people to himself spiritually, like a hen gathers her chicks, but they were unwilling. He wept over Jerusalem's spiritual stubbornness, but compulsion was not his MO.Just as God does not want people to be coerced in spiritual matters, so too He does not want them to be coerced in earthly matters, such as in their economic activities. There’s not a single reference in either the Old or New Testaments in which God denies economic freedom to people, as do fascism, socialism, and it’s Siamese twin, Communism. The parables of Jesus that touch on economic issues are always couched in the context of freedom. Consider his parable of the talents, which relates the case of 1 man having received 5 talents; another 2; and a third, 1 (Matthew 25:15-30). The implication is quite clear: each was free to invest or not; there was no compulsion.If we fail to understand that the involuntary, coercive nature of social­ism and its state programs is utterly incompatible with the economic practices some early Christians engaged in when they voluntarily had all things in common, we may think that socialism is a good way to practice Christianity. In 1848 this unfortunate thinking led F. D. Maurice to coin the term Christian socialism. Something done involuntarily or as a result of compulsion is no longer Christian. Christian socialism is an oxymoron. As the Austrian economist F. A. Hayek argued, socialism fails to tell people that its promises of freedom from economic care and want can only happen “by relieving the individual at the same time of the necessity and of the power of choice.” The prescient author Dostoyevsky expressed the incompatibility of socialism and Christianity by having Miusov, in The Brothers Karamazov, say, “The socialist who is a Christian is more to be dreaded than a socialist who is an atheist.”Ever since the atheist and communist Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in the mid-19th C, the economic system of capitalism has been both misunderstood and castigated, partly because of Marx's definition of labor. He wrongly saw labor as an antithesis to capital, when in reality capital is just labor transformed. Marx’s definition has dominated the discussion, even though it’s based on a false premise. Another misunderstanding relates to capitalism itself. Although Marx didn’t use the term, it became a despised concept to his sympathizers who used it in their pro-socialist, and so necessarily anti-capitalistic propaganda. Capitalism is negatively portrayed in the mass media. Ironically, even many news anchors, celebrities, & university professors who are paid millions of dollars annually—a capitalist salary—cast aspersions on capitalism, biting the hand that feeds them.In reality, capitalism is only a synonym for free enterprise & free markets. If these terms were consistently used instead of the word “capitalism,” socialists would have a more difficult time getting people to see capitalism as evil. This would be especially true in societies that have a strong tradition of freedom, such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain. People would ask: How can this economic system be evil if it’s the product of political and economic freedom and has never been found to exist without such freedom?A definition of capitalism by Pope John Paul II is relevant. In 1996, he asked rhetorically whether the eastern European countries, where Commu­nism failed, should opt for capitalism. Said the Pope, "If by 'capitalism' is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative.” The Pope’s definition of capitalism underscores that it’s a synonym for free enterprise.This is not to be understood to mean that Capitalism is the official Christian economic ideology. It’s merely that capitalism is a mate­rial by-product of the Mosaic law. Capitalism is a by-prod­uct of Christianity's value of freedom applied to economic life and activities.  The economic freedom of capitalism can be & IS sometimes abused and misused. It’s also the only thing anti-capitalists like communists & socialists attribute to capitalism. Karl Marx believed that the abuses in cap­italism would inevitably destroy it. As an atheist, he couldn’t envision the humanitarian spirit of Christianity internalized by thousands of leaders in the West would correct economic abuse. So the free market has not only has survived, it’s given to a greater proportion of the world’s people more prosperity and freedom than any other economic system in history. As Milton Friedman has shown, in countries where the free market is not permitted to operate, the gap between the rich and poor is the widest.It can be argued further that a free market economy as it practiced in America, is of all economic systems the most moral in that it does not coerce or compel individuals to make economic transactions. It permits individuals or companies to act voluntarily. Individuals need not buy or sell their products unless they so desire. Furthermore, individuals are not compelled to produce a product against their will as is the norm in socialist, or so-called “planned” economies.Finally, given the positive relationship between economic freedom and a nation's prosperity, the following question needs to be asked: Is it merely accidental that the greatest amount of freedom and the accompanying eco­nomic prosperity happen to exist in countries where Christianity has had, and continues to have, a dominant presence and influence? The evidence shows rather decisively that Christianity tends to create a capitalistic mode of life whenever siege conditions do not prevail.On a deeper level, and maybe this gets more to the heart of the issue, is the question of the profit motive. Is the desire for profit inherently sinful, and if it is, should it be regulated by civil law and an economic system that makes profit something to be shunned?In both the Old & New Testaments, the Bible says a worker is worthy of his/her wages. To pay those wages, the employer has to make a profit, or she/ he has nothing to pay the worker with.In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus gave legitimacy to the profit motive. The crisis of the parable revolves around what each of the 3 servants did with what was given to them. The 2 who made a profits were commended while the one who had no interest in increasing what he’d received was condemned.The idea that the profit motive is evil doesn’t come from the Bible or Christian theology. It was Karl Marx, the atheistic Communist, who said profit, which he called surplus value, was the result of labor not returned to the laborers. So, profit was cast as exploitation of workers. The Soviet Encyclopedia projects this belief when it states, “Under capitalism, the category of profit is a converted form of surplus value, the embodiment of unpaid labor of wage workers, which is appropriated without compensation by the capitalist."Contempt for the profit motive is common fare for some intellectuals who harbor socialistic ideas. They impugn profit by identifying abuses in the world of banking, industry and commerce. To be sure, profits can and have been abused—horribly. But if this is to be used as condemnation of free enterprise, then socialism has to be held to the same standard. When it is, it fares worse than the free market.What’s important to note is that it’s the Christian ethic that ensures the abuses inherent in profit are kept at bay. The Apostle Paul warns that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The NT repeatedly warns of greed & avarice, and their cousin, Envy.Let’s take a look at a case study that well illustrates all this.After the disaster at Roanoke Island and the mystery of the Lost Colony, the next English settlers in America landed in 1607 and called their set­tlement Jamestown. After a rough start that saw the colony nearly destroyed, Captain John Smith arrived & made moves to make it successful. The colonists were economically organized as a socialist community, requiring all the settlers to give all products of their labor to "the common store." Individuals had no private property and no economic freedom. This system quickly turned disastrous, bringing famine and starvation. An early his­torian wrote, “It was a premium for idleness, and just suited the drones, who promptly decided that it was unnecessary to work themselves, since others would work for them."' Smith's threats that if a person didn’t work, he wouldn’t eat did little to improve the economic malaise. So, begin­ning in 1611, Governor Thomas Dale ended the common store, and 4 years later had the London Company deed 50 acres to each colonist if he would clear the trees and farm it. The injec­tion of private property and economic freedom brought about a dramatic change in Jamestown. The colonists immediately went to work and prospered. The new economic system demonstrated that socialism does not work.A similar situation happened among the Pilgrims at Plymouth. When they landed on the shores of Cape Cod in 1620 and set up their Colony, like Jamestown, they tried to equate Christianity with socialism. Their common store system failed as well. The colony experienced economic disaster.  So in 1623 William Bradford, the colony's governor, like Governor Dale in Jamestown, assigned all able-bodied persons a portion of land as their own. Before long the slothful and unproductive turned from laggards into will­ing, productive workers. Men who previously had “feigned sickness were now eager to get into the fields. Even the women went out to work eagerly.... They now took their children with them and happily engaged in labor for their own family. The result was that the following harvest was a tremendous, bountiful harvest, and abundant thanksgiving was celebrated in America." With the common store, the Pilgrims had had little incentive to produce com­modities other than those needed for their immediate sustenance.The new system, based on economic freedom, revealed for the second time that when people own their own property, they become energetic rather than lethargic and dependent on others. Socialism could only work if human beings were sinless & always sought the best for their neighbor. That person, however, does not exist. As both the Old and New Testaments teach, man is a fallen, sinful creature who does not seek his neighbor's wel­fare.As stated earlier, while Christianity doesn’t advocate a specific economic ideology, its support of human freedom and private property rights provides fertile ground for the free enterprise economic system. Contrary to a socialist mentality that advocates a redistribution of wealth, Christianity encourages productivity and thrift, which often results in an individual’s wealth.While Christianity isn’t opposed to individuals becoming wealthy, it doesn’t promote wealth as an end in itself. Christians have always been expected to use their acquired wealth to God's glory and to the welfare of their neighbor, as Martin Luther and John Calvin often made clear.Closely related to the dignity of labor and economic freedom is Christianity's concept of time. The British historian Paul Johnson contends that one of Christianity's great strengths lies in its concept of time. Unlike the Greeks, who saw time as cyclical, Christianity, with its background in Judaism, has always seen time as linear.  Life and events proceed from one historical point to another. Groundhog Day is a fun movie, but it’s fiction.Christianity's linear concept of time led to the invention of mechanical clocks in the Middle Ages. In his fascinating books The Discoverers & The Creators, venerable American histo­rian Daniel Boorstin says that for centuries “Man allowed his time to be parsed by the changing cycles of daylight, [and thereby remaining] a slave of the sun.” This changed when Christian monks needed to know the times for their appointed prayers, giving rise to Europe's first mechanical clocks. The appointed periods of prayer in the monasteries became known as "canonical hours."Referring to his second coming , Jesus said, "Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” This linear concept of time had the effect of Christians seeing time as limited and having an end point. Although Christ's warning referred to his sudden return and the need for Christians to be pre­pared, Paul Johnson says this awareness caused Christians "a sense of anxiety about time, which made men dissatisfied by progress but for the same reason determined to pursue it.” This time-related anxiousness motivated Christians to make the most of their time, economically and religiously.By giving dignity to labor and accenting the spirit of individual free­dom, Christianity produced profound economic effects. Johnson says that “Christianity was one of the principal dynamic forces in the agricultural rev­olution on which the prosperity of Western Europe ultimately rested, and it was the haunting sense of time and its anxiety to accomplish, its urge to move and arrive, which gave men in the West the will to indus­trialize and create our modern material structure. . . Christianity provided the moral code, the drill and the discipline-as well as the desti­nation-which enabled the unwieldy army of progress to lumber into the future.” 
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 8
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This is the 8th episode in our series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we take a look at the influence the Faith has had on labor and work.Historians of the traditional school laud Greco-Roman civilization for what it bequeathed the modern world in politics & philosophy.  But in the classical world poly-phi was done by the elite; the wealthy & powerful 1% who had the leisure time to engage exclusively in intellectual pursuits. What gets glossed over in this era is the low regard paid manual labor & those classes of society that did it. You could make a good case that it was the tension between the tiny elite, patrician class & the lower masses of plebeians that was the deciding factor in shaping Roman history.Both Greeks & Romans thought manual labor fit only for slaves & the lower classes who had to work because they couldn’t afford slaves. The wealthy shunned work or any kind. Plutarch reported that Plato was infuriated at 2 fellow philosophers because they constructed a machine to help solve problems of geometry. Such a device ought to have been made by a slave or artisan—not by thinkers & freemen. But that wasn’t the end or extent  of Plato’s outrage. He was also incensed that a machine had been constructed to make geometry practical; it corrupted the excellence of geometry as a thought-experiment! In Plato, at least, and his thinking here likely expresses the rest of the Athenian elite – there was utter disdain with & for the everyday world of the common man.The ancient mathematician Archimedes was embarrassed by having constructed devices that aided his studies in geometry. The 1st C BC Roman philosopher Cicero said no gentleman ought to lower himself to engage in daily labor to provide for his needs. He said, “Vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labor…and all mechanics are engaged in vulgar trades.” Seneca, who lists the honorable activities for freemen, never mentions manual labor.In Athens in the 1st C AD, 1/3rd of the freemen did nothing more than sit in the city’s political assembly hall and discuss issues of State while slaves performed the work that made the State run. There were 5 times as many slaves in Athens as citizens.So, if the elite 1% weren’t working, what were they doing? They were seeking pleasure purchased by the wealth earned by the lower classes they despised. It was into this anti-work cultural environment the early Christians entered the Greco-Roman world.The value assigned simple work by Christians stemmed from 3 sources.First – they had Jesus as their example.He grew up in the home of a craftsman. Tradition says Joseph was a carpenter but the NT word tecknon refers to a skilled construction worker. Remember that though Joseph & Mary were from Bethlehem in the S just a few miles from Jerusalem, they lived up N in Nazareth when Jesus was born. That’s where He was raised. Joseph lived in Nazareth because in that day, that’s where the work was. Herod was building a new capital for Galilee in the city of Sepphoris, a short hike from Nazareth, which in that day was little more than a work camp for Jewish laborers working on Herod’s project. Tour the ruins of Sepphoris today and you come to the conclusion, Joseph probably did more work as a mason than as a carpenter. And following custom, Jesus would have learned his father’s trade & spent many hours in the quarries & on-site shaping stones. He plied this trade till he was 30.Second – The early Christians had another excellent role model in the Apostle Paul who from his Hebrew heritage had learned a trade, even though his real career was as a rabbi. Paul repeatedly used his tent-making as the means of supporting his ministry. So much so, that phrase has come over into our vernacular.Third – Early Christians were well aware of Paul’s admonition in 2 Thess. 3:10 that “If a man won’t work, he shall not eat.”This embrace of work as noble not only set Christians apart from the Greco-Roman culture, it enabled them to prosper. Their strong work ethic bore fruit. But their increasing prosperity brought them under the eye of Roman officials wary of the power wealth inevitably secured. Though Christians used their wealth to better the lives of others, the Romans couldn’t help but assume they were constructing a secret society that would eventually challenge their control. This became one more reason to be suspicious & to persecute Christians – because of their success in business.Another effect the Christian view of work had on Greco-Roman culture was the way it undermined slavery. If work is noble & industry is a virtue, then slaves possess dignity because they do nearly ALL the work. It was easy for freemen to overlook the suffering of slaves when they were regarded as nothing more than living tools, as Greeks called them. Assigning them dignity was dangerous, because ate away at the conscience of freemen. If a salve is a man or woman, not just a tool—it’s not right for them to be subjected to such treatment. A man can own a thing; but can he own another man? // It was the introduction of Christianity that began the long, slow road toward abolition.In AD 375, church leaders compiled a list of policies regarding what constituted Christian practice. Called The Apostolic Constitutions, they were 8 treatises on discipline, worship, & doctrine, intended to serve as a manual of guidance for clergy & to a lesser extent, for the laity. In no uncertain terms, based on what Paul wrote the Thess., the Constitutions stated – “The Lord our God hates the slothful.”The monasteries of the early Middle Ages were organized around Christianity's high regard for work. Benedictine monks of the 6th C. considered labor an integral & spiri­tual part of their discipline that did much to increase the prestige of labor and the self-respect of the laborer. All the monastic orders honored work as they tilled the soil, tended herds, milked cows, & crafted artifacts.Work was also considered an antidote to the sin of laziness. Basil of Caesarea in the 4th C said, “Idleness is a great evil; work preserves us from evil thoughts.” This is where the phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” originated. In the 12th C St. Bernard taught; “The handmaid of Christ ought always to pray, read, & work, lest the spirit of uncleanness should lead astray the slothful mind. The [willful] delights of the flesh are overcome by labor.” So strong was the Christian concern in the Middle Ages regarding the willful avoidance of work, the Church counted sloth as one of the 7 Deadly Sins.The high value Christianity assigned manual labor was further bolstered during the Reformation. Martin Luther saw work not only as pleasing to the Lord but as a means by which His glory could be expanded. Work was a calling to serve God. The Latin word was voca­tio comes over into English as vocation; a divine call to the service of God, in whatever form that took. Up to that time, it was believed the only calling God gave was into the clergy. The idea that He also called farmers & merchants and the rest of the occupations of society was new & novel & revolutionized people’s view of a career. There was no low-status or high-status work, good work or bad work. It made no difference what kind work the Christian did so long as he/she performed it to the glory of God. Work was not an end in itself but something someone did in everyday life to the glory of God and to the service of mankind. It was thru work, especially the work of Christians, that God maintained and preserved the world and the people in it. Thus, all legitimate work was noble and God-pleasing. Work became a Christian duty.And while the curse of the Fall had turned work into toil, the work itself was still noble because even BEFORE the Fall, God had commanded Adam to tend the Garden. He had work to do before sin made that work hard.All of this conspired to produce the Protestant Work Ethic which found a society wide application in the Puritan settlements of Massachusetts & helped launch American prosperity.When in Luke 10:7 Jesus said "the worker deserves his wages”, He par­aphrased Deut 25:4, an OT norm first spoken by Moses when he com­manded the Israelites: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Just as the ox treading out the grain needs to be rewarded for his work, so too, laborers are worthy of the reward of their wages. These biblical references made it mandatory workers be paid for their efforts. It also underscored once more in the eyes of Christians that work was honorable.It’s simply assumed by workers today that they deserve a wage or salary for services performed. This hasn’t always been so. In pagan societies of the ancient world right up thru the era of the early church, the norm was for societies to have the majority of their residents work as slaves. These slaves, who performed all manual labor, received little other than a meager subsistence allowance. And that was only given so that they’d be able to keep working, not as a reward for their toil. People today ought to appreciate that the current practice of compensating workers & the belief it’s unjust to deprive them of fair compensation, would not be in place were it not for Christianity establishing the norm that "a worker deserves his wages.”If employers who identified themselves as Christian, had faithfully heeded the biblical admonition to pay their workers as they deserved, labor unions might never have needed to come into existence. And unions, some of them being so rabidly anti-Christian in their policies, ought to consider this: The influence of the biblical admonition that the laborer is worthy of his hire lies behind today's institutionalized practice of unions nego­tiating contracts for their members. If it didn’t come from this biblical norm, from where did it come? It certainly wasn’t present in the Greco-Roman era, where slaves performed nearly all manual labor.Christianity's 2000 year influence is more deeply ingrained and pervasive in Western economic val­ues and practices than is realized.Before Christians brought dignity to work and labor, there wasn’t much of a middle class in the Greek or Roman society. People were either rich or poor, & the poor were commonly slaves. The Christian emphasis on everyone being required to work and work being honorable had the effect of producing a class between the wealthy & the poor. People like the Christians, who didn’t just live for “bread & games” to use Cicero's expression. Christians couldn’t fail to prosper. So the economic phenomenon of a middle class arose, now present in Western societies but unknown before the advent of Christianity.The presence of a middle class in Western societies has rightly been credited w/greatly reducing the extent of poverty & its inevitable by-product, disease. It’s also been a potent factor in fostering and main­taining political and economic freedom.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 7
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This episode is another in our series considering the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we take a look at the influence the Faith had on Education.The roots of the Christian posture toward education lies in Jesus’ command to His disciples just before He ascended to heaven. He told them as they went, to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to keep all that He had commanded.The modern Evangelical church has taken the word & idea of discipleship & turned it into something rather different from what those original disciples understood it to mean. A 1st C disciple from the region of Galilee where the original disciples were from & where Jesus spent most of His life & did most of His ministry, was someone who’d been selected by a rabbi to follow him and become a devoted learner. A disciple was, in the most intense sense of the word – a scholar whose field of study was the life & teaching of his rabbi. His goal was to be just like that rabbi, and he spent 15 years of his life following his rabbi, 24/7/365¼ so that he could be just like his rabbi.He began following at 15 and ended at 30. If he proved himself a worthy student & his rabbi sensed he too was called, he became a rabbi at the age of 30. The Gospels tell us Jesus was about 30 when He began his public ministry. He was following in this pattern for rabbis & disciples in place in 1st C Galilee.If a disciple wasn’t quite cut out to be a rabbi, which required a demonstrated divine authority from God, then a disciple returned to his village to become the Torah-teacher in the local synagogue school where all Jewish boys & girls went from the age of 6-10. There they trained these youngsters to memorize the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. Check it out: They didn’t just memorize the names of the 5 books of Moses; they memorized all that was written in them. Genesis thru Deuteronomy, word for word.Those boys who excelled at memorization in this 1st phase of education went on to phase 2 in which the Torah teacher taught them the rest of the Tanach, as well as the commentary on it by Israel’s most famous rabbis. It was the cream of the crop from this phase that became candidates to train under a rabbi as a disciple.The point is this: When Jesus told His disciples they were to go & do with others what He’d done with them – make disciples, they understood what “teaching them to keep all Jesus had commanded” meant = a rigorous course of education that aimed not just at knowledge but at life-change.The disciples took Jesus’ command seriously. Acts 5 tells us after the Feast of Pentecost, the disciple snow turned Apostles never stopped teaching. As Acts chronicles the Apostle Paul’s ministry, we see his emphasis on teaching. Paul was a teaching machine! He used every opportunity to inform people of the truth then call them to the implications of that truth.In giving the qualifications for the church leaders called “elders,” which in the NT is synonymous with the words “bishop” & “pastor,” Paul says they must be able to teach. Immediately following the time of the Apostles, the 2nd generation of Christian leaders took up the mantle of leadership & set out to cull the essence of what Christians believe. They devised what’s known as the Didache, meaning – the Teaching / Instruction. This was written sometime between 80-110 AD.In the early 2nd C, Bishop/Pastor Ignatius of Antioch urged all churches to instruct children in the Scriptures and to teach them a trade. This was a direct carry-over from Judaism which placed tremendous emphasis on literacy, on God’s Word & on knowing a skilled trade.As we saw in a long-ago episode of CS, while baptism in the NT was something believers were urged to do as soon as they came to faith as a public profession of faith, as the decades passed, baptism was delayed until after new believers could be catechized – that is, taught the catechism, which was a question & answer format in which they were taught the doctrines of the faith. These were no lightweight questions. It was some pretty deep theology. They weren’t baptized till they’d taken all the lessons & that meant 2 to 3 yrs before they were dunked.These catechumen, as they were called, were at first taught in the homes of other church members. But eventually there were to many so special schools were built. In these schools, the emphasis was on literacy, where people could learn to read & write so that they could read the Scriptures & other classical works. Justin Martyr built one of these schools in Rome & another in Ephesus. They began popping up all over and earned a reputation as a home of great scholarship. The School in Alexandria, Egypt was regarded around the Empire as a great center of learning & scholarship. Another school in Caesarea on the coast of Israel was another. It was out of these schools that the towering intellects of men like Origen, Clement, & Athanasius arose.While the main course of study in these schools was Theology & the Bible, they included other disciplines as well. Mathematics, medicine, philosophy, grammar, and what passed for science. These centers of learning went far to remove the stigma critics of the Faith had attached to it in its early days – that is was a despicable religion fit only for the poor, uneducated & slaves. The Church was led by some of the brightest minds of the day who were more than capable at not only defending the Faith but dismantling the majority paganism. Many of the early apologists used the best of Greek philosophy to argue for the superiority of the Christian worldview. It infuriated pagan apologists that their own heroes from the past seemed to lend their weight to the Christian Gospel.To be sure, Christians weren’t the first to set up schools. In Corinth, the Book of Acts tells us, there were pagan schools when Paul arrived. They were doing a brisk business. Where the Christian schools defied convention was in their willingness to educate both sexes in the same setting. Romans taught only boys, and only from wealthy families at that. Christians taught men, women, & children, regardless of how many coppers they could pass the teacher.In the 5th C, Augustine said that most Christian women were better educated than pagan philosophers.As education became more and more of a mark of being a Christian, their schools expanded and the course of study grew more comprehensive. Students were taught the Trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic as core subjects, & the Quadrivium of arithmetic, music, geometry & astronomy as support studies.The Church’s goal in this education was to make sure it’s members were well-educated, especially it’s clergy. They needed to be educated so they could love God with all their mind and serve Him with all their strength.. In the 8th C, Charlemagne made sure his children were educated well & brought the famous English scholar Alcuin to tutor them as well as other children of the nobility. Hundreds of years later, King Alfred of England made sure his sons & daughters were taught to read & write in their native tongue & Latin, the scholarly language of the day. In the 1330’s a Florentine writer reported there were about 10 thousand children in Florence’s schoolsWhile the Church educated both sexes equally for the first several Centuries, as the Middle Ages approached and the cathedral schools grew, the emphasis on education shifted to men being trained for the clergy. Women were moved to convents & nunneries where they learned basic literacy & the arts.But the passage of time saw the emphasis on women’s education wane in favor of men & boys. There wasn’t so much an official position taken by the Church that opposed the education of women & girls. It was more the result of social apathy. In the 15th C 2 church leaders, Leonardo Bruni & Battista Guarinao, called attention to the appalling lack of emphasis on education for women & urged reform.Those reforms were at least partially successful as the number of women scholars that appeared in Europe over the next decades and Cs was remarkable. Women such as . . .Lioba  //  Hrotsvitha  //  Hildegard  //  Brigitta  //  Catherine of Siena & Christine de Pizan.Students of Medieval history often have the mental image of the cloistered halls of monasteries where monks sit hunched over slanted tables laboriously copying ancient texts on parchment with quill & ink. What they ought to add to that is the cloistered halls of convents where nuns sit doing precisely the same thing. It was in these scriptoriums that Scripture & the ancient classics were copied; their treasure saved & passed on to posterity.This emphasis on teaching both sexes dates back to Jesus’ own willingness to teach women. While there were no women numbered among the 12 Apostles, they certainly were counted among the larger number of unofficial disciples who followed Jesus. And that was something that was simply UNHEARD of among 1st C Jews! Rabbis did not allow women to come into contact with them. They did not accept them as disciples. Girls from age 6 to 10 were taught alongside boys in the Torah schools attached to the synagogue, but at 10 they went home to learn at their mother’s side how to be a wife & mother. Part of the scandal that simmered around Jesus was His acceptance of women as part of the small crowd that accompanied Him where-ever He went. He taught them alongside the men in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught them in Lazarus’ home in Bethany. The famous story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women in John 4 is stunning in its description of how utterly unexpected it was. She even said, “How is it that you talk to me – a Samaritan & A WOMAN?!?!?”The famous historian Will Durant comments on the uniqueness of Christianity in the Greco-Roman environment it grew up it – that it broke with convention by being a religion for everyone –ethnicity, sex & social standing had nothing to do with its appeal or outreach. All were welcome & welcome equally.The movement toward universal education came during the Reformation in the 16th C. Martin Luther’s appeal for reform, embodied in the 95 theses he tacked to the church door at Wittenberg, were necessitated by the appalling decline in education that had taken place over the previous centuries in Europe. The Church had become corrupted so that many of its leaders were lazy & shirked the call to scholarship. Instead of the clergy being the best educated, many couldn’t even read or write. As Marin Luther visited the churches of Saxony, he was dismayed by the number of nearly illiterate priests & monks. So he embarked on a campaign of education. In 1529 he wrote the Small Catechism which taught the basics of the Faith. Things began to turn around.Luther said that people needed to understand both “the Word of Scripture and the nature of the world in which the Word took root.” He urged for a state school system in which elementary students would be taught the basics of grammar, reading, writing, then for secondary education would learn Latin so they could read the classics to broaden their worldview. He criticized parents who failed to make sure their children were schooled.One of Luther’s most significant breaks with the religious schools of previous generations was his belief that not only were schools needed to train clergy, just as important a function was to train those doing non-religious or what we call, secular work. Luther believed clergy ought to be called by God, not just educated by man. Those not called to church work were called, just as much by God into secular work – so they needed just as strong an education. It was this sense of divine calling or vocation that framed what came to be known as the Protestant Work Ethic.John Calvin, the reformer whose ideas shaped the City of Geneva, established a school system there.As the Reformation spread across Europe, the idea of universal education met with some resistance from the lower classes; for 2 reasons.1) What little education that had remained until that time was done by the Church which they considered corrupt. So, book-learning was suspected as being something that would corrupt the young; turning them into agents for the Pope.2) The educated tended to be people in the upper social classes, so seen as lazy by the working class.For that reason, in many rural settings, the movement toward universal education was slow to catch on. Luther & other Reformers knew that a healthy church was built by literacy & so urged civil magistrates to make the education of the young compulsory. In Many places in Germany they complied. And soon, public schools supported by taxes were growing across the land.So it’s sad to see how the modern public school system has become so hostile toward Christianity. It owes its very existence to the Faith.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 6
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This is episode 6 in a series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we continue our look at the impact The Faith had on the world’s view of Charity & Compassion, specifically in the founding of hospitals & health care.In an earlier episode we noted how so many of what are called liberal ideals of modern society had their roots in the Christian transformation of culture, specifically in Western Civilization. Those ideas flowed from the Faith’s high view of the sanctity of human life, which was a radical departure from the pagan view of man and the strict classism that dominated the ancient world. The dilemma today is that secular liberalism wants to keep the advantages and rights Christianity brought w/o the moral and spiritual core that empowered them. Christianity’s exalted view of man is based on its higher & prior exalted view of God. Gut society of that view of God and its view of man is destined to decline. Which is precisely what we’re seeing in modern Western societies today. As one philosopher posed the question: “Can man be good without God?” The answer is; “Not for long.” As my pastor said years ago, “Is it any wonder that when schools tell children they are nothing but the chance result of random chemical reactions and descended from apes, they then begin to act by the law of the jungle while they live in Los Angeles, or London?Those who assume modern charity and compassion, whether it be government welfare or voluntary assistance, developed on its own without the energizing influence of Christianity are misinformed. People need to understand that “civilization” isn’t some kind of mystical force that happens on its own. It’s not the product of social evolution where man keeps getting better & better. Christianity WAS the premier civilizing influence that shaped the modern world and gave Western civilization the benefits that have meant advancement.The German historian C. Schmidt, a century ago said to disregard Christianity’s influence in civilizing the ancient world is “blind to the history of nations, and to the history of the Human heart. Both proclaim loudly that charity cannot be the product of egoism, nor a humility of pride; that without the intervention of God no new spirit could have regenerated individuals in the world.”Carlton Hayes wrote, “From the wellsprings of Christian compassion our Western civilization has drawn its inspiration, and its sense of duty, for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, looking after the homeless, clothing the naked, tending the sick, and visiting the prisoner.”Who built hospitals? Who founded rescue missions in decaying inner cities? Orphanages? Soup kitchens? Who founded charitable societies, taught literacy, worked tirelessly to end slavery, campaigned for equal rights, ended child labor? Christians! Men & women who understood the sanctity of human life & the urgency of guarding human dignity - that’s who.It’s been interesting watching the assault the New Atheists have leveled on religion in general and Christianity in particular. They say the Faith is standing in the way of human progress. Yet virtually every support that makes it even possible for them to say that was provided by Christians living out their Faith. Where, pray tell, are the atheist rescue mission and orphanages. Where are the atheist founded & funded hospitals?Jesus was concerned for people’s bodies as well as their souls. In commending the faithfulness of the disciples in Matthew 25, Jesus lauded their feeding & clothing the needy. The Gospels tell us as part of His ministry Jesus went all over Israel healing illness & disease. The blind, deaf, palsied, lame and even the socially outcast lepers were all healed by Him. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry seemed to pulse between these 2 poles – teaching & healing. Frequently the text tells us He was moved with compassion as he looked on the crowds coming to Him. Since the goal of a disciple is to be just like his rabbi, when Jesus sent His boys out on their own ministry exercise, they went forth teaching & healing. When they returned they were stoked about the miracles they’d seen God work thru them.Later, when the Apostles went out to continue Jesus’ mission of preaching the Gospel, they carried on the wholisitc task of expanding the Kingdom of God by both preaching & healing. This personal, literal, physical touch was a far cry from the cult of Gnosticism that a century later would reduce the Gospel to an esoteric message utterly divorced from the physical.The Greco-Roman world the early Christians lived in was void of care for the sick & dying. Oh sure, there were doctors, there were even healing centers. But these were exclusively for the service of the rich & powerful. Dionysus, a Christian pastor of the 3rd C described the behavior of the people of Alexandria in a plague in 250 AD. He said they “thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends. They cast the afflicted out onto the public roads half dead, and left them unburied. The sick were treated with utter contempt when they died.” But the Christians, he reported, came to the aid of the sick and dying. They ignored the danger to themselves. He wrote –“Very many of our brethren, while in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness, did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully... drawing upon themselves their neighbors' diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them.”As I noted in a recent episode, the Emperor Julian, who wanted to roll back the ground Christianity had made in the Empire, & reinstall paganism, lamented that pagans could not come close to the charity & compassion exhibited by even the humblest of Jesus’ followers. In truth, Romans considered helping the sick as a sign of weakness. They thought it manly to resist the inner urge to pity. When Christians stayed to help the sick during plague, it unmasked the Roman idea as weak while showing compassion was courageous.Christians of the 1st thru 4th Cs rejected the callous & inhumane cul­ture of the Greco-Roman world. They considered everyone as having an eternal & potentially-redeemable soul. It pleased God to tend to anyone, regardless of social status. Because eternal life awaited those who believed in Christ, life on earth wasn’t the ultimate value. If someone died while caring for the sick, a far better life lay ahead. And if a sick person came to faith in Christ because of the charity shown them, another soul was gained for heaven. That kind of thought & behavior was foreign to paganism.Few of those early Christians who risked their lives to tend the ill had their names recorded for posterity. Few, but not none. One name that is known is Benignus of Dijon, a 2nd C Christian martyred in Epagny because he “nursed, supported, & protected a number of deformed & crippled children that had been saved from death after failed abortions and exposures.” Rescuing frail, unwanted children was an insult to the Romans. It violated their cultural norms. Remember the words of Seneca, the 1st C Roman philosopher: "We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.”Because of the pagan low-regard for human life and their de-valuing of the sick by not caring for them, there were no hospitals for the treatment or care of the general populace. A careful student of history may object & query, “What about the nearly 300 temples to Aesculapius, the god of healing? Weren’t those ancient hospitals?”The answer is, Not really. Sick people went there but not to be tended by a doctor or receive treatment. They went there to ask the deity for healing and that he’d reveal to them what treatment might help. But no medicine was applied there. There were other places where doctors could be asked for assistance. But while people might be told what treatment to seek, they weren’t nursed at the temple of Aesculapius. The few places were the ill could convalesce were limited only to the recovery of people deemed worthy because of some benefit they provided society or their master. So there were treatment centers for wounded gladiators and soldiers. But there was NOTHING for the treatment & recovery of the lower classes; simply nothing.In India of the 3rd C BC, King Asoka commanded that hospitals be constructed. But it’s not known who or what they were for. Because while the command was given, it was never carried out. When Europeans arrived in the 18th C, there were no hospitals in the land.Simply stated, charity hospitals for the poor & needy did not exist prior to Christianity introducing them.During the first 3 centuries, when Christians were the object of frequent and severe persecution, the most they could do was care for the sick where they found them or in extreme cases, take them into their homes. After Constantine removed the ban on the Faith in the early 4th C, Christians were able to direct more attention toward caring for the sick and dying. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 bishops were directed to set up hospices in every city with a major church.Many of the early Christian hospitals were not what people understand by them today. While their most important function was to nurse and heal the sick, they also provided shelter for the poor and lodging for Christian pilgrims. These hospitals, known as xenodochia were prompted by Christ's command to care for the physically sick and by the early apostolic teaching that Christians be hospitable to strangers and travelers.The first real hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea of Cappadocia about AD 369. It was part of a large complex that included houses for physi­cians and nurses, workshops, and schools.  The rehabilitation buildings and workshops gave those with no occupa­tional skills opportunity to learn a trade while recovering. The compound’s comprehensive nature reveals additional humanitarian awareness. It’s difficult to argue this awareness had nothing to do with the spirit of Christ alive in St. Basil, the good bishop of Caesarea.After St. Basil's hospital was built in the East and another in Edessa in 375, Fabiola, a wealthy widow and associate of Jerome, built the first hospital in the West in Rome in about 390. According to Jerome, Fabiola donated all of her con­siderable wealth to construct it. She then brought in the sick from the streets. They later built another such hospital in the port of Ostia 50 miles from Rome.Since this isn’t a podcast on the history of hospitals, I’ll drop the chronicle there. Suffice it to say more were built & staffed throughout the Empire & world, where ever Christianity gained a foothold.While the Age of Discovery was more often than not a purely commercial enterprise, whenever new realms were opened, Christian missionaries followed and established bases to bring physical relief as well as spiritual light.The 1st mental institutions were built & ran by Christians. Their later devolution into the hands of secular psychologists saw some of the most bizarre & inhuman treatments of the mentally infirm.It’s important to note that nursing as a profession had its origin completely in the Christian impetus to help the sick & infirm and provide dignity for the dying. Florence Nightingale is world renowned in her care for the sick and wounded. At great personal peril & cost, she ministered to the physically needed – all in the compassion of Christ & for God’s glory.In 1864, Jean Henri Dunant along with 4 others started the International Red Cross. While Dunant was a sometimes fierce critic of the organized church, he was driven by Christ’s example and call to take care of the physical needs of the poor, weak, sick and needy.This brief review of hospitals & health care is enlightening in terms of what it says about the current health care system & debate. Modern society has come to view healthcare as virtually a RIGHT. Many believe it’s the government’s duty to provide healthcare as a basic privilege of citizenship. That’s a far cry from the Greco-Roman roots many of those people say they want to return to. It was Christianity, especially the Faith that developed during the Middle Ages to infiltrate & season Western civilization, that bequeathed to the modern world it’s exalted view of medical care – all based on the sanctity of human life, which rests on the foundation of a conviction man is created in God’s image.One additional remark: As I record this episode, the United States, where I live, is engaged in a rather acrimonious debate over Radical Islam and terrorism. A mass shooting in San Bernardino took place just days ago a couple hours from where I live. The Syrian Refugee dilemma is in the news daily. President Obama held a national speech from the Oval Office of the White house to address these issues. He labored to make a distinction between Radical Jihadists and the larger religion of Islam.Many of the listeners to CS are aware Islam has a long and checkered past. In the history of medicine, it has been a handful of Muslim physicians who’ve advanced the medical arts and bequeathed practices that shaped the origins of modern medicine. By digging a little deeper, we discover these Muslim doctors learned a good part of their practices from earlier Christian schools in the East at places like Edessa & Gundashpur. Those schools were conquered by Muslim invaders and their works were translated in Arabic.As we end this episode, I want to say thanks to the many new subscribers to CS, for referring others to the podcast, and to all those who’ve popped by the Facebook page to give us a like.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 5
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This episode continues our series examining the impact Christianity had on history & culture. Today we consider how the Faith impacted the world’s view of Charity & Compassion.Early Christians quickly gained a reputation for their concern for the poor & disenfranchised. Unlike paganism with its acceptance of fate & the Greco-Roman enforcement of social classes, the Gospel viewed all human beings as created in God’s image & of equal value. Having its roots firmly in Judaism, Christianity considered justice to include a healthy dose of mercy & compassion. The Law of Moses regulated the treatment of slaves so they retained their dignity. It required the corners of fields be left unharvested so the poor could glean. And it required an annual tithe to be set aside specially for the poor & needy. All of this was unheard of in the pagan world.Building on this base of Jewish charity was the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 who said that taking care of the hungry, the sick & prisoners was a kindness shown to none other than Himself.The parable of the Good Samaritan was one of the favorites of the Faith & shaped the Church’s mindset toward the needy.In the mid 3rd C, Tertullian in North Africa records that Christians had a common fund to which they voluntarily contributed. No strong-arm fundraising was needed; believers were glad to add coins to the box whenever they could. This fund supported widows, the disabled, orphans, the sick & prisoners jailed for their faith. It was also on occasion used to bury the poor & to purchase a slave’s freedom.All of this stands in marked contrast with the Greco-Roman attitude toward the poor. They practiced what was known as liberalitas. This was assistance a wealthy benefactor showed to a someone in need, with an eye to their repaying the favor someday, somehow. In Roman society, the upper classes rose in status by having lots & lots of clients who supported you. They shouted your name when cued to do so at some public event. The louder your name was shouted, the more supporters you had & so the more prestige you garnered. So a wealthy Roman would help someone who was needy only if that person could go on to add his voice to his support base. It wasn’t genuine charity; it was buying support. I’ll help you today, if you shout my name tomorrow real loud and get all your family & friends to do the same. The motive was selfish.Charity just for the sake of helping someone in need was officially considered by both the Greeks & Romans as being weak & counter-productive. Someone who’d fallen onto hard times & couldn’t rescue himself was pathetic, not worthy of concern. And who knows; their poverty or illness might be the work of the gods, punishment for some foul sin. So don’t alleviate their suffering or you might incur the wrath of the fickle deities who controlled the fate of mere mortals.I just said that charity wasn’t officially allowed in pagan society for these reasons. But history tells us while Paganism didn’t practice it, some pagans occasionally did. Almost all cases we know of where people reached out to help others in need was when some catastrophe like an earthquake struck of fire swept a city. Then the suffering was so widespread & in everyone’s face people couldn’t avoid helping in some way. But generally, in day to day life, all giving to the needy had a self-serving end.Christians didn’t practice the selfish liberalitas of the Romans. They practiced caritas – compassionate caring. There was no thought of what one was going to get out of such care. It was done simply because the person receiving the help needed it. The motive was to glorify God.Believers were moved by the words of 1 John 4:10–11 – “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”They remembered what Paul had written in Philippians 2:4 – “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”In the 5th C, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, sold the treasures & ornaments of the church to provide relief for starving people and in the 10th C, the bishop of Winchester sold all the gold & silver vessels of the cathedral to relieve the poor during a harsh famine. He justified his actions saying, “There is no reason the temple of God should abound in riches when the living temples of the Holy Spirit starve.” Historian Christopher Dawson recorded that nearly every local church had an official list of widows & the needy they supported and the sums given by those with means was substantial.Christians didn’t just keep their charity to themselves; they met the needs of those outside the church as well. Both the Didache & the 2nd C letter called the Shepherd of Hermas called believers to meet the needs of all those who had genuine need. Providing such charity turned into risky business. By the 3rd C Christians had gained a reputation for their selfless love and this attracted even more to them. So 2 Emperors forbade prisoners from receiving outside help – which was a death sentence since their food came from what family & friends provided. Though it was against the law, Christians continued taking care of prisoners. Thankfully, few jailors enforced the Emperors’ edicts since they didn’t want their prisoners dying.The charity of the early Christians flowed from the wider sense of compassion Jesus had consistently demonstrated throughout His life. The Gospels regularly comment on how Jesus was moved with compassion and reached out to take care of poor & needy souls. Since being a disciple meant being just like their Rabbi, the Christians sought to install compassion as one of their key virtues.Yet as with charity, in paganism, compassion was not esteemed. The formative Greek thinker Plato said that a poor man, & especially a slave, who was no longer able to work because of sickness or age ought to be left to die. The famous Greek physician Aesculapius refused treatment to patients he deemed not worthy of surviving. The Roman philosopher Plautus said, “You do a beggar bad service by giving him food and drink; you lose what you give and prolong his life for more misery.”In the 5th C BC, the Greek historian Thucydides [thoo-sid-a-dees] reported when a massive plague struck Athens during the Peloponnesian War, unaffected Athenians fled, leaving the sick behind to tend themselves. In the mid-4th C AD, the Emperor Julian the Apostate, who, as his name implies, hated Christians, couldn’t help but give them grudging respect that they alone stayed to tend the sick when a plague struck the Empire. He wrote, “The impious Galileans (his word for Christians, whom he called impious because they refused to worship the pagan gods) These impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours. It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance.”Of course, we need only look back a few episodes to be reminded of the shocking lack of compassion Roman society had when we consider the popularity of the gladiatorial games. Compassion runs thin when life is cheap.The compassion & charity of Christians stood out all the more when it was seen against the backdrop of a brutal Roman culture. Jesus had said, “Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” Christians sought to demonstrate that love in the streets & byways of the Empire. And it had a profound effect in drawing people to faith in Christ.The story of Pachomius is just one of many examples.  Pachomius was a pagan soldier in Emperor Constantine's army. He watched while Christians brought food to his fellow soldiers afflicted with famine & disease & was profoundly moved.  When he learned they were motivated by a religion called Christianity he became curious to understand a doctrine that inspired them to such love & generosity. So he began to study the faith and was soon a convert. Something similar to that was duplicated tens of thousands of times all across the Empire.Pachomius and others were moved by the compassionate acts of the Christians because Greco-Roman culture just didn’t see the hungry, sick, and dying as worthy of assis­tance. The worth of a human being was determined by external & acci­dental circumstances in proportion to the position one held in the community or state. A human being only had value as a citizen, but very few people qualified as citizens. So the sick, poor, & lower classes like slaves, artisans, & other manual workers for whom the Christians had compassion, weren’t citizens in the eyes of freemen. Non-citizens were defined as having no purpose and so not worthy to be helped when their lives were in jeopardy. In their dire condition they received no food or physical protection.So it’s understandable why Christianity spread most rapidly in the early centuries among, can you guess who? Yeah – the poor & needy, among slaves & the disenfranchised. That’s why it came under the scrutiny of officials & scorn of the elite. Now, to be sure, there were both highly placed believers as well as some of the ancient world’s most intelligent & erudite. But generally, officials feared that Christianity would rally the lower classes to rebel while the unbelieving elite shunned it as a religion for the pathetic.They were wrong then. They’re wrong still. In truth, today’s liberalism is but a secularized version of Christian charity & compassion. But without the God who declares life sacred, liberalism’s commitment to compassion will be traded in for paganism’s utilitarianism. A process already well under way.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 4
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This episode continues our series examining the impact Christianity had on history & culture. Today we take a look at how the Faith impacted the world’s view of women.Contemporary secular feminism came about because of the Christian Gospel’s elevation of women. As with so many other privileges and liberties, as well as the prosperity many in the Western world enjoy; they find their origin in a Biblical view of the world and Mankind’s place in it. But as secularism gained traction in the 20th C and God was increasingly pushed from the public square, privilege became entitlement, liberty devolved to license, and greed turned prosperity into massive debt. All because the moral base that made them possible was forfeited in favor of the fiction told by secularism.Radical feminism is a grand case in point. Feminists would never have been able to mount their attack on what they deem the subjugation of women were it not for the Christian elevation of women in the first place. They never would have had the platform to make demands were it not for the Biblical worldview Christianity ensconced in Western civilization.In Gal. 3:28 the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 5 where he defines the roles of husband & wife in marriage, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as they do themselves. Peter tells husbands to treat a wife tenderly & with great care as he would a delicate & precious vase. This seems like common sense, but ONLY because what Paul & Peter instruct has shaped our view of marriage and a husband’s duty to his wife. We don’t realize what an utterly radical assignment that was to men living in the 1st C.At that time, Jewish men placed far less honor on women. One of the prayers some Jewish men prayed went, “Lord, I thank You I was not born a Gentile, a woman, or a dog.”  In the Greek and Roman world, wives were esteemed as little better than servants. A wife was a social convention by which a man raised legitimate heirs for the family name and fortune. But when it came to affection and pleasure, many men kept mistresses or visited temple prostitutes. Generally speaking, a wife had little honor in her husband's esteem and had little claim on his attention or affections.[1]When Paul told husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church in Ephesians 5, he elevated the wife to a place she’d not had before.In 1 Peter 3:7 we read— “Husbands, dwell with your wife with understanding, giving honor to her, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”When Peter told a Christian husband to honor his wife as he would a precious and delicate vase, this was nothing less than radical social revolution. The idea that a man would take the time to understand his wife was new and novel. And it was precisely for values like this Christians were accused by their critics of upsetting the social order and turning the world upside down. [2]Imagine that! Because Christian men loved and served their wives, they were hated and persecuted. Why? Because they were monkeying with a system that had been in place for hundreds of years. Who knows what chaos might ensue if men started honoring their wives!Now, I know what some feminists would say at this point because I’ve already heard it; “What about Peter & Paul’s instruction that a wife is to submit to her husband? See?! They’re just misogynist keepers of the tradition of a male-dominated society.”Not exactly. In fact, not even close. Just as both Peter & Paul defied all cultural sensitivities of their day by calling men to love their wives sacrificially, & seek daily to understand and honor them, what they said to women in their roles as wives was JUST as revolutionary. Let me explain . . .In Ephesians 5:22-24 the Apostle Paul says a wife's submission to her husband is patterned after her submission to Christ. In v24, he says she’s to submit “in everything,” meaning it’s more than mere outward compliance. It goes deeper than just a tight-lipped surrender.All of us need to understand that submission deals more with the posture of our hearts than with our actions. Before Paul moves to the roles of wives & husbands in Eph. 5, he speaks of the principle of mutual submission all believers are to hold. He then goes on to describe how men are to submit to those God has placed in authority over them at work and in the government. [3]A lot of people think submission merely means giving in outwardly while inwardly they harbor resentment and defiance toward the one they’re supposedly submitting to. Their attitude is, “Okay, I’ll do what you say—but I still think you're a jerk.”In order to understand what Paul meant when he wrote that a wife is to submit “in everything”, let’s think about the cultural setting in which Paul wrote this.In the Greco-Roman world of the 1st C, it was universally accepted that wives submitted to their husbands. Men were the undisputed rulers of their homes.  Paul wrote this letter to the Church in the city of Ephesus governed by the Roman Law known as paterfamilias. This law gave the male head of household absolute authority over his wife, children and servants.  He could beat and even put them to death if he wished, and the law was loath to interfere.[4]So why would Paul call wives to something that was already so much an accepted part of life? Telling a wife to submit to her husband was like telling her to breathe. It was that obviousness that would move them to look closer and realize what he was really saying.The clue to what he means is in the grammar. The verb ‘submit’ is in the middle voice. Paul says a wife is to "place herself in submission." What he calls for isn’t merely a resigned outward compliance because of force.  He calls for a heart attitude of godly deference. The wife is to submit to her husband on the inside as well as on the outside.Please don’t miss this because it’s the key to understanding the mind-blowing revolution Paul brought. He’s saying to the women of his day, “You've been yielding outwardly because you had no choice. You have no power in society so you have to comply with your husband's wishes. But now God gives you this voluntary choice, this act of will rather than legal requirement & forced compliance. You can submit from your heart too.”This is what he means by “in everything” in verse 24.  “Submit in everything: in your actions, in your heart, in your speech, even you body language.”Rather than seeing Paul as some kind of male chauvinist seeking to cruelly subjugate women, realize he was giving them a power they’d never known before. It was the power to choose for themselves. He was making decision-makers of those who had been forbidden to make real decisions before.While this truth may have been obscured for modern readers of the Bible, it it was certainly not lost to the men & women of the 1st C who when they installed these things in their homes found a new level of life , meaning, purpose & joy they’d never known before. And it was the beauty & excellence of their lifestyle that was so attractive to their unbelieving peers & saw them come into the faith by the hundreds, then thousands. Even though persecution by hostile authorities was still a regular occurrence.Simply put – search the annals of the Greeks & Romans and you will find nothing that comes close to this marital ethic, or any other culture of the ancient world. Honest secular historians admit that the arrival of Jesus was THE turning point in the history of women and that the Gospel marked a sea change in women’s status in society.[1] John MacArthur, Jr., Different by Design, (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994) 53[2] Acts 17:6[3] Ephesians 6 & Romans 13[4] Paterfamilias • Originally called by the Latin title of paterfamilias, the father evolved into the patron of Roman Republican and early Imperial society. The father of the Roman family had the power over everyone and everything in the home. He could sell his wife or children into slavery and order their deaths at will. [© 1999-2002 Bible History Online (http://www.bible-history.com)]
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 3
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This episode is part 3 in a series examining  the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we go even further in our examination of the sanctity of life that’s been the focus of the previous 2 episodes, but today, we look at it specifically in Christianity’s regard for the Sanctity of Sex.As we begin, I want to pause to say that what we’re going to look at today may offend the sensibilities of some of our more secular &/or liberally-minded listeners. The redefinition of gender that’s become a hot topic of late has split the church, as well as the wider culture. It’s not my intent here to develop a theology of gender, merely to give an accurate, albeit summary, review of sexual ethics in Church history. So summary are the following comments they border on being simplistic, and for that I apologize.This would be a good time to remind CS subscribers & anyone listening to this that I am what can be called a conservative, Evangelical pastor of a non-denominational church whose primary focus of ministry is the verse by verse expository teaching and preaching of the Bible. I believe in the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture & seek to cultivate a thoroughly Biblical Worldview. Part of that worldview is to not only cleave to Truth as revealed in the Bible, but to exemplify the character of Christ in my words & actions. We was, as John says in the first chapter of his Gospel, FULL of Truth & Grace. The legacy of the Gospel is that we also are to be filled by that fullness. So while I must, for sake of conscience, speak the truth, I must do so in love. Therefore I apologize for the times past in CS episodes when my joviality has been unkind; when for the sake of a couple yucks, I’ve demeaned others. That is definitely NOT consistent with the character of Jesus, who died to remove shame.With that said, what follows could be found offensive to some because it upholds a Biblical morality in regard to sexual ethics & gender distinctions. I DO NOT apologize for that because it’s not I who’s offending – It’s God’s Word, as historically understood and applied by the Church.And now, let’s get to it . . .Wherever the Bible was read & studied, human beings were understood as being created in the image of God & as the creation account in Genesis makes clear, that meant they were made male & female. The first man & woman were placed in an idyllic setting, were naked & because they were innocent, they were without shame. God Himself officiated at their Garden wedding, then announced that the goal of their union was to become one flesh. You don’t have to be a genius to realize it was God’s original plan for human beings to enjoy a rich & rewarding sex life all within the marriage relationship, & that marriage alone is the proper place for the act of sex.Just as the Christian who arrived in Rome found a low regard for human life, they also encountered a shocking moral depravity in regard to sex. Immorality was everywhere, an integral part of pagan culture. The Apostle Paul wrote of the Greco-Roman debauchery in Romans 1 when he said –24 God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served what was created rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.We know what social conditions were like at the time the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire because of contemporary writers who described it. Juvenal, Ovid and others recorded that sexual activity between men & women was promiscuous & depraved. The famous historian Edward Gibbon, whose epic tome The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire is considered THE standard work on the subject, said that the breakdown in sexuality morality began after the Punic Wars in 146 BC. By the 2nd C, normal sexual intercourse & marital fidelity had all but disappeared. It wasn’t just that adultery & fornication were common, people engaged in all kinds of bizarre sexual practices. What’s more, they were brazen about it; graffiti & iconic images of their bizzarity appeared on columns, walls, & household items like oil lamps, bowls, cups & vases.It’s interesting that in the early years of the Republic, the Romans considered the Greeks who’d been the dominant civilization just before them to be morally corrupt. The Greeks exercised in the nude & practiced all forms of sexual license. The Romans shunned public nudity & considered much of what the Greeks had done morally shameful. But as power & wealth flowed into Rome from their many conquests, they increasingly aped the older Greek practices. By the 2nd C AD, they were doing more & worse than the Greeks had even thought.Things were so bad at the turn of the Millennium from the 1st C BC to AD, that Augustus enacted a set of laws aimed at curbing people’s addiction to illicit sex. The law had little effect, as to be expected when the only person to be punished for committing adultery was the woman. It was a terrible combination when people were on one hand, obsessed with sex & on the other, despised marriage. Marriage was at a low point because most were arranged; social arrangements that aimed at one thing, securing one’s place in a society where standing was EVERYTHING. So men and women married with not an ounce of love or affection for each other. Couple that with no expectation of sexual fidelity on the part of either the husband or wife & it was a formula for massive infidelity. In certain segments of Roman society, women were as debauched as the men. Some women pursued sexual liaisons with every notable public figure they could; gladiators, politicians, actors, & comedians. The Roman satirist Juvenal wrote about these liaisons. The Church Father Tertullian wrote a treatise on proper conduct by Christians living in the debauched Empire. In a treatise called “Concerning Shows” he warned believers away from the theater because the plays enacted there were ribald & blatant live pornography. Ovid wrote that normal heterosexual sex had turned into a brutal sadomasochism; THAT was the new normal.As the debauchery evolved from decade to decade, it grew progressively worse, as sexual sin always does. Since slaves were mere property, both men & women began to use their young slaves as sex objects. Then homosexuality became increasingly accepted, with older men making the object of their desire, younger & younger men & boys. Incest, a strict taboo for generations, was never openly accepted as normal, but it was quietly accepted for those who opted for it. Several Emperors led the way.It was into this sexual maelstrom Christians came with a radically different sexual ethic. Only sex between a husband & wife was acceptable before God. Hebrews 13:4 made it clear – “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”For Christians, sex btwn a husband & wife was an expression of mutual love & intimacy. It wasn’t purely selfish gratification. In truth, the Apostle Paul made a mind-blowing statement when in 1 Cor. 7 he said that a husband & wife OWED each other sexual satisfaction. To a culture that legally treated women as the property of their husbands – that was astounding. For most in the Greco-Roman world, a wife was merely a social convention by which one raised legitimate heirs for the estate & family name. But for pleasure & fun, you had an affair or many. And since a wife didn’t expect her husband to be faithful or really even to check up on her, she also had lovers. So what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church was nothing short of astounding! And if you know anything about Corinth, then you know that’s saying something. As bad as things were all over the Empire, Corinth was considered by most as being really bad! Imagine the casino owners, showgirls & sex workers of Las Vegas saying, “Yeah, Corinth is a really morally nasty place” and you get an idea of how bad it really was.Yet there was a church there, and Paul told the Christians they were to take all that sexual energy & focus it into the husband-wife relationship where it belonged. He even warned them about thinking that abstaining from sex somehow pleased God or made them more spiritual. A husband owed his wife sexual satisfaction, & vice versa. The only time they could abstain was during a short time to devote themselves to fasting. But when the fast was over, they were to get to it again. è I’m not making that up, read 1 Cor. 7 yourself, it’s all right there.While most skeptics scoffed at the Christian commitment to sexual purity, a few commended them. Galen, a Greek physician of the 2nd C thought the Christian commitment to fidelity in marriage set them apart as noble. The fruit of healthy, loved filled marriages that shaped happy families began to have a dramatic impact on their neighbors. People thought Christians odd for their commitment to fidelity, but they couldn’t argue with the obvious love & devotion Christian couples had for each other.  They began to reason – “Sex is fun, but what my soul craves is love. I want pleasure, but what I NEED is significance, and it’s only a committed relationship that’s going to scratch that itch.”Unrestrained sex began to be regarded as NOT inevitable. People COULD in fact reign in their passions & lust. Look! The Christians are doing it by the thousands! And surprise, surprise, they are waaaay happier than the pagans.As the Christian ethic regarding sex gained traction, they told how Jesus had warned about lust in the Sermon on the Mount. He said if a man looks longingly & lustfully on a woman other than his wife, he’s committed adultery in his heart. It wasn’t just an overt act of sex that was prohibited. Christian sexual morality went further! It was about total marital fidelity to one’s spouse that included the thought life. Unbelievers began to realize Christianity wasn’t just moralism. It wasn’t prudish asceticism. It enjoyed physical pleasure, but in the boundaries God designed it for. It was an ethic that enhanced & enriched life, while the immorality they’d given themselves to before was degrading & life-quenching.Biblical Sexual morality allows life to flourish while sin diminishes the quality of life.One of the ways we can see the influence of Christianity in honoring marriage is in the beauty & solemnity of the wedding ceremony. In Greco-Roman culture it was a small affair without much to-do. And marriage had fallen to such a low state by the turn of the Millennium most weddings were more farce that ceremony. Christians changed that. Specifically, Christian women changed that. They took to heart Jesus’ elevation of women & embraced their calling as redeemed daughters of God. As wives & mothers they gladly took hold of their calling to raise godly children and saw the wedding ceremony as the commencement of that. They demanded the ceremony be reverent & solemn.  Their commitment worked slowly to effect a sea-change in the way all society viewed marriage & weddings. Christian women took a courageous & heroic stand. The pagan Libanius couldn’t help but express his admiration when he said, “What women these Christians have!”Along with the wanton & debauched heterosexual immorality of Greco-Roman society was its acceptance of homosexuality. And not the plain 2 adults of the same-sex variety. Pederasty or pedophilia was common, where an adult man had sex with a boy btwn the age of 12 & 16. In fact, pederasty was the usual form of homosexuality.  Several Roman writers comment on this.Pederasty declined & ultimately failed in its grip on Roman society for the same reason heterosexual immorality declined; because of the sanctifying influence of Christianity. Christians didn’t stage campaigns calling homosexuality wrong any more than they did for adultery & fornication. They simple showed a more excellent way that won the argument by the superiority of their lifestyle.That being the case, in the modern return of the rise of sexual immorality, homosexuality, the turn toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, the popularity of the 50 Shades literary porn for soccer moms, and the plague of internet porn, w/the commensurate explosion of child-pornography & sex crimes against children, reason moves us to conclude it’s the failure of Christians to demonstrate to their culture the superiority of the Christian sexual & marriage ethic. We don’t need campaigns against same-sex marriage. We need Christian husbands & wives to love & serve each other, working for each other’s delight & raising happy, healthy families! Hard to do when the divorce rate among those calling themselves Christians is little better than the wider culture. Impossible when a church guy cheats on his wife or a church gal steps out on her husband.Earlier I said the moral excellence of early Christians commended them to many of their non-Christian peers. While that’s true, it’s certainly not the whole story. The sexual purity of Christians moved others to hate them & accuse them of trying to subvert society. Why, those dangerous Jesus followers were fiddling with centuries of tradition. Keep that up & the gods will be ticked. Who knows what wrath might be brewing, ready to fall on everyone’s head for allowing the Christians to get away with their narrow sexual rules. And what’s this silliness about loving my wife! You Christians are hazardous social revolutionaries. Honestly, in some places of the Empire, it was arguments like this that led to persecutions, and Christians were put to death: è For loving their wives & staying sexually faithful to them.Well, here we are, 1800 years later & the wheel’s turned once more. The Christian sexual ethic that won out because it was proven to be vastly superior to the pagan ethic, the Christian honoring of the sanctity of marriage & sex that transformed society for the better for nearly 200 years, is being rapidly swept away in a re-embrace of humanistic paganism. The failure isn’t the Gospel’s. Nor is it the overwhelming power of immorality & sin.The age grows dark when the light goes dim.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 2
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This episode is part 2 of our series considering the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we dig a little deeper into how the Faith impacted the world’s view of the sanctity of life.In our last podcast, we talked about the ancient world’s widespread practice of infanticide & how Christianity affected a fundamental shift in the way people evaluated life. This elevation of the value of human life came from Christianity’s roots in Biblical Judaism with its revelation that human beings are created in God’s image, then taken further by the Incarnation; that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The cross reveals how highly God values people. Therefore, God’s people must value them as well. So while the pagan world thought little of exposing unwanted infants to the elements & wild beasts, Christians rescued & adopted them, raising them as their own. It was an early & inventive church growth program.Another way the Christian view of the sanctity of life affected the Roman world was its impact è on the arena.The Roman writer Ausonius reported that gladiatorial games began in Rome about 264 BC. By the time Christians arrived there, the Romans had watched many thousands of gladiators fight to the death with one other & beasts. Because the whole thing was meant to be a show, more often than not, the battles weren’t quick affairs. They were long, drawn out torments where as soon as one combatant gained a significant advantage on his opponent, he took his time finishing him off to titillate the blood-lust of the spectators. Death by many cuts. As one historian wrote, the 300 year long popularity of the Gladiatorial games “illustrates the pitiless spirit and carelessness of human life lurking behind the pomp, glitter, and cultural pretensions of the great imperial age.”Like infanticide, the games underscore Rome’s low regard for human life.Gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war, or condemned criminals, all regarded as expendable. Rome’s seeming unstoppable war-machine meant a constant influx of new slaves & prisoners. The games provided a way to reduce the supply to the slave market to keep their price up & keep the legions who sold them supplied with income. So speaking purely pragmatically, the games were a slick arrangement. It helped regulate the slave industry & provided entertainment for the populace. If one poor soul had to die to keep a thousand happy, it was deemed worth it. Social commentators in ancient Rome remarked on how the State kept the ever-ready-to-riot masses pacified by providing free bread & games; giving rise to the phrase – Bread & Circuses.Though over time a handful of gladiator achieved celebrity status, the main bulk of them were considered by society to be loathsome & doomed, assigned by Fate to a pitiless lot. Only a handful of freemen ever willingly became gladiators and if they did it was for money & fame. They enjoyed the applause of the crowd & were willing to imperil their lives to gain it. There were a few women gladiators.Before being allowed to fight in the arena, gladiators were trained. BTW, that word arena comes from the place where gladiatorial contests were waged. Harena is Latin for “sand” and refers to the floor of the theater which was covered w/a fine sand to absorb the blood. The whole aim of the games were to entertain so gladiators were taught the rudiments of combat so they could make a good showing & increase the tension of the spectators. A good deal of gambling took place in the stands as people bet on their hoped-for champion. Because the games were a major event, the famous, rich & powerful were nearly always in attendance, including senators, emperors, pagan priests & vestal virgins.The games weren’t held just in Rome. Amphitheaters for games were erected in most major cities of the empire. >> I want to pause briefly and make a clarification. In modern usage, the word amphitheater is often used to describe a venue that’s a half circle; like the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. But the prefix amphi means round, a full circle. For the Greeks & Romans, an amphitheater was a full circle, like the Colosseum in Rome. A half circle, is just a theater. Amphitheaters were used for the gladiatorial games while theaters were used primarily for political gatherings, speeches, & plays.Back to the gladiators: In Rome, as combatants entered the arena, they’d file before the emperor’s box, salute & shout, “We who are about to die salute you.” They would then fight either man to man or in small teams. Occasionally masses of men would re-enact famous battles from Roman history. But most of the time it was 2 men battling each other to the death. When it became clear one was the victor & his opponent was close to death, the winner would look to the stands for the audience’s verdict. If the loser had fought well, they might mark their desire that he be allowed to live by extending their arms & giving a thumbs up. Most times, the crowd wanted to see the match finished by slaying the loser, so they gave thumbs down, the women just as much a part of this as men. All eyes then turned to the emperor whose decision decided the loser’s fate. He nearly always went with the crowd’s majority.Occasionally gladiators fought wild animals that often got the better of their human opponents. During the early 2nd C, the Emperor Trajan celebrated his conquest of the region of Dacia by hosting games lasting 4 months. Ten thousand gladiators participated & 10,000 animals were killed. Half the gladiators died in the arena while many other died later of their wounds. When Titus inaugurated the Colosseum in Rome in 80 AD, 5,000 animals were killed in a single day, along with hundreds of gladiators.While the average Roman throughout the empire enjoyed the games, Christians were appalled by them. But don’t forget, MOST of those early Christians were first, game-loving pagans. A radical transformation took place when they converted. What had once been entertainment became abhorrent as they realized the foolishness of their previous ways. For Christians, the games were gambling with men’s lives. They were a shocking violation of the Command, “You shall not murder.”So, Christians refused to attend the games. It wasn’t so much a boycott as it was a simple decision to not attend an event so fundamentally a grotesque violation of their deeply held conviction.  What used to be entertainment became a deplorable & degrading vice.Pagan critics of the Faith noticed the Christian absence at the games & complained; calling Christians anti-social! One critic accused, “You do not go to our shows; you take no part in our processions . . . you shrink in horror from our sacred games.” Interesting that the games were called sacred by this pagan critic. He saw participation in what the majority did civilly as a kind of civil religion everyone needed to be a willing part of or they presented a threat & danger to society. As we consider that attitude of the ancient Roman Empire toward Christianity, it speaks volumes to us today about how Christians are once again marginalized for our moral stand on same-sex marriage & intellectual position on theism & creation.Church leaders called upon their members to not attend the games or other pagan celebrations where debauchery was on display. In AD 220 Tertullian wrote a book called “Concerning Shows” & devoted an entire chapter admonishing Christians to not attend the games.Evidence of the profound impact Christianity has had on history & the valuation of human life is that today, as we read this chapter of the history of the Roman Empire, we shudder at the barbarity & butchery of the gladiatorial games. It’s appalling imagining people in the stands screaming for blood, cheering as a gladius is drawn slowly across the neck of some poor hapless slave.Christianity’s high regard for all human life eventually moved Christian emperors to ban the games. Historians agree – it was the growth of the Faith & the persuasion of the Gospel that affected a fundamental shift in the way people regarded life. People grew uneasy with the idea that they were entertained by cruelty & murder. The emperors Theodosius & his son Honorius brought an official end to the games in the late 4th C after 7 centuries of brutality and untold thousands slaughtered for no more reason that entertainment.Someone might ask if the modern penchant for violence in movies & TV, with all the blood & gore isn’t a return to the moral bankruptcy of the Roman games. There’s an important difference – in movies & TV, everyone knows it’s contrived – no one is actually hurt. In fact, stunt crews go to great lengths to ensure they aren’t; whereas in the ancient games, the victor was cheered & encouraged by the crowds to finish it by brutally killing his opponent. Even in modern boxing matches, the referee stops the match when one of the contestants is in danger of real harm.Where this seems to be changing though is in the realm of MMA where combatants aim at doing real harm to their opponent and injury is common. As the sport grows & more fighters enter the octagon, the crowd’s thirst for the spectacular keeps growing apace. We can only hope they don’t ever get to the point where they stand, extend their arm and give a thumbs down on a loser who’s tapped out.Christianity had a positive impact on other Romans laws as soon as the Emperor became a Christian. In 315 Constantine banned the practice of branding the faces of criminals condemned to serve in the mines or as gladiators.  He did so because man was created in the image of God and the face is a special & unique way of identifying individuals. He eventually banned all branding of slaves. He also required people arrested for a crime be given a speedy trial, since holding them implied guilt by holding them against their will. Coming to see the cross as a most cruel form of execution, crucifixion was also outlawed.Constantine’s son Constantius followed in his father’s reforming ways. He segregated male & female prisoners, to which we say, “Duh!” But know this, until the mid-4th C, male & female prisoners were incarcerated together. And yes, you can imagine what that meant for the poor women. It reveals what low regard Greco-Roman culture had for women who weren’t under the manus, that is - the controlling hand of a husband. Such women were considered fair game for the unwelcomed attention of men. The elevation of women found in the Bible brought social transformation where ever the Faith spread.We’ve already considered the long historical debate over the legitimacy of Constantine’s conversion. Was it real or feigned because he could see which way the religio-political winds among Rome’s legions were blowing? His reforming of these deep-seated Roman customs regarding the sanctity of life do suggest he really understood the implications of the Gospel & had some kind of a moral revolution himself. A guy who merely used Christianity when it was convenient wouldn’t call for the radical reformation of centuries old traditions knowing the social unrest it would cause unless he was convinced it was the right thing to do.Another way the Christian view of the sanctity of life shines through in transforming the ancient world is in the end it brought to human sacrifice, a fairly common practice in paganism. Child sacrifices were common rituals for Canaanite worshipers of Baal. Before Patrick arrived in Ireland, the Druids sacrificed both adults & infants. As late the 13th & 14th Centuries, the yet unreached Prussians & Lithuanians practice human sacrifice. In the New World, the Aztecs & Mayans both sacrificed many thousands of victims in blood orgies. The Aztecs would even subdue a neighboring tribe just to produce victims to sacrifice, leaving pools of blood at the base of their pyramids.But where ever the Gospel went & people were converted to faith in Christ, human sacrifice came to an end.Finally, where ever the Gospel reached, people’s views of suicide changed. The philosophy of Stoicism which held a powerful sway over the mindset of the Roman Empire, put little value on human life, including one’s own. The ancient Romans had gone all in on the idea of quality of life. The only lives that bore any quality were those of the rich, powerful & privileged. The lower classes were taught to accept the fact that Fate had passed them by & the best they could aspire to was to make the lives of the blessed a little better before giving up their pathetic little lives. Suicide was considered a viable option when life was just too much to endure.Some Greeks & Romans even considered suicide a glorious end. The person who took their own life in their own time, their own way was the master of their own fate – not leaving death to claim them at its whim. Many notable Romans took their own lives, including Cato, Seneca, Petronius & some of the Emperors. Suicide was lauded as brave, a noble thing to do if it meant avoiding shame.It’s sad therefore to see the modern resurrection of the old arguments for suicide, that it’s noble if it means being the master of your own destiny, avoiding shame, or is a rebuttal to the supposed lack of quality of a person’s life. Christians joyously announce that in fact we AREN’T the masters of our fate, God is. Shame is dealt with at the cross, & the issue isn’t quality of life – it’s sanctity of life. Quality is subjective, with one person’s abyssmalation being another’s glory, & vice versa. Abyssmalation isn’t even a word – but it gets the point across.Christianity regards suicide as self-murder, a most obvious violation of the sanctity of life. It’s also, in nearly all cases, a profound loss of faith in God; concluding that one’s life is beyond God’s ability to rescue, restore & redeem.Interestingly, while suicide came to be generally regarded as incompatible with Faith in God, it wasn’t until the Council of Elvira in 305 that it was formally condemned. And even then it wasn’t suicide as an act of desperation that was in view by the ban placed on it. What prompted the Council’s ban was the fact some Christians were too eager to be martyred. Remember that the couple decades just before Constantine became emperor were times of great & bloody persecution for Christians. Martyrs had achieved heroic status. What had been meant as a way to encourage Christians to stay faithful went overboard & became a kind of perverse delight in being martyred. So there were dozens who could easily have survived just by exercising some simple wisdom. But they nearly dared their tormentors to kill them, thinking that by doing so they were being heroic and would earn more points with God. Really, it was an ancient form of suicide by cop – in this case, suicide by executioner = Martyrdom. The Council of Elvira called a halt to it in 305.Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Gregory of Nazianus & Eusebius all condemned suicide. But the most vociferously opposed to it was Augustine in the 5th C. You may remember he wrote against the Donatists in North Africa. The Donatists believed there was no forgiveness of sins after baptism, so some had gone to extreme measures & agreed to a mass suicide right after being dunked.Augustine reasoned suicide violated the command “You shall not murder.” He pointed out that in the Bible, none of the Heroes of the Faith took their own lives and when Elijah asked God to slay him, God refused.As the years passed, the Roman church added more prescriptions to suicide in the hope no one would even think about it for the way it would consign the soul to eternal darkness. Public attitude toward suicide eventually changed to such a degree that it went from being considered noble to cowardly. Instead of using it to escape shame, it became a means to it.In our next episode, we’ll consider Christianity’s impact on sexual morality.
Jan 01, 1970
The Change Part 1
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We're changing gears a bit to begin a series of podcasts considering the impact Christianity has had on the world. We’ll unpack how the Faith has left its imprint on society. The Title of this episode is The Change - Part 1: The Sanctity of Life.Knowing my fascination with history and especially the history of Rome, a few years ago, someone recommended I watch a mini-series that aired on a cable network. While it was dramatic historical fiction, the producers did a good job of presenting the customs & values of 1st C BC Roman culture. While the series was suspenseful & entertaining, it was difficult to watch because of the brutality that was commonplace. And it wasn't put in merely for the sake of titillation or to make the shows more provocative. It was an accurate depiction of the time. More than once, I found myself near tears, broken over just how lost the world was. Several times I said out loud, "They needed Jesus!"Exactly! THAT was the very era Jesus was born into & the culture the Gospel spread in. How desperately the Roman Empire needed the life-affirming message the Early Church preached & lived.There's an old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” When the early Christians came to Rome, we can be thankful they DIDN'T do what the Romans did. On the contrary, slowly but surely, with fits & starts, they eventually transformed the Greco-Roman world from rank paganism to a more or less Biblical worldview. Nowhere was that seen more clearly than in the change that was made to the sanctity of human life.During the early days of the Roman republic, the high value put on the family unit formed a moral base that lent a certain weight to the value of the individual. But as the idea of the State grew during the late republic, then blossomed in the Empire, people were evaluated in terms of what they could contribute to the State. That meant people on the bottom of the social scale had little to no value. The poor, women, and slaves became chattel; property to be used. Life became cheap. And the pagan gods bequeathed no real moral virtue into the Roman world. They were understood to be whimsical & selfish at the best of times, cruel in the worst.The Christian value of the sanctity or specialness of human beings was based in the Jewish view of man as created in God's image. There was a healthy Jewish population in the City of Rome itself & scattered throughout other major cities of the Empire. Early on, the unique Jewish view of man had infiltrated the Roman world where ever Jews were to be found. So different was this view of man from the paganized Greco-Roman worldview that many of the more enlightened Greeks & Romans had begun attending Jewish synagogues. If they stayed, they became known as God-fearers; Gentiles who believed in the God of the Bible, but hadn't become full converts to Judaism by being circumcised, baptized, & keeping kosher. They occupied a section in many synagogues, sitting by themselves to hear the teaching of Scripture. The book of Acts tells us some of Paul's most fruitful work was in this God-Fearer section of the synagogue.The Jewish idea of men & women being created in God's image took on new potency when the Gospel was preached, for it told of God becoming man. And becoming a man so He could go to the cross to ransom lost men & women; translating them from a destiny in hell to the glory of heaven. All this spoke of God's view of the value of human beings. If He would endure the passion & cross, it meant life was of inestimable value. Rather than life being cheap, it was to be honored and protected at all costs, regardless of its station or quality.One way the early Christian demonstrated this was the church's opposition to the widespread practice of infanticide. It was common to expose unwanted children soon after birth, either by drowning or leaving them on exposed where the elements or wild beasts would finish them. They were left to die for physical deformities, for being of the wrong sex, or simply because the parents couldn't afford another mouth to feed.Abandoning unwanted infants was quite common in the Greco-Roman world. In fact, the founding myth of Rome begins with 2 infant boys being tossed into the Tiber River. Romulus & Remus both survived to be suckled by a she-wolf, then raised by an elderly shepherd. It was their later struggle that founded the city of Rome, named for one of the brothers - Romulus.So in the city of Rome itself, parents would regularly leave unwanted children at the base of the Columna Lactaria. In later times, Roman parents would abandon their infants there to show grief over some national calamity, like the death of a beloved emperor. To put that in modern terms, imagine someone dropping off their 2 week old infant at a memorial for 9/11 - and just walking away; thinking that somehow shows solidarity with everyone’s shock & grief. Yet that's what many Romans did with their newborns when calamity struck.Greeks also practiced infanticide by abandoning infants. They did so because it was woven into their mythology. The well-known Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex revolves around Oedipus who at only 3 days was abandoned by his father King Laius of Thebes. Ion, founder of Ionia was abandoned as an infant by his mother. Poseidon, Aesculapius, & Hephaistos were all abandoned infants. Even Paris who started the Trojan War was abandoned as a child. In Sparta, every newborn was brought before the elders for inspection. If the child was deemed weak in any way, it was abandoned.As shocking, is realizing in all the literature come to us from that time, nowhere is there a shred of evidence infanticide was wrong, or even questioned.Infanticide wasn't practiced just among the Greeks & Romans; other ancient societies practiced it as well. Plutarch said the Carthaginians had made infant sacrifice a regular occurrence. When building a new house or wall, they mixed the blood of an infant with the mortar, thinking it made the wall stronger. If a wealthy family had no new-born to offer, they’d buy one off a poor mother. Though we don't have a record of what was on the 12 Tablets that formed the basis of Roman Law & civilization, we know a good deal of what was in them from the quotes of later Romans. Cicero says it was part of Roman law to expose deformed infants. In the 1st C AD, Seneca, remarks in passing, without batting the proverbial eye, that deformed infants were routinely drowned. Infanticide was so common in the later Greek era that in the 2nd C BC, Polybius blamed a population decline on it. Because infanticide was so common, large families among both Greeks & Romans was rare. An inscription found at Delphi reveals that in a 2nd C sample of 600 families, only 1% had more than 1 daughter! Infanticide was practiced in India, China, Japan, Africa, the rainforests of Brazil, among the Inuit, & among the native North & Central  Americans.Early Christians balked not at calling infanticide, murder. To them, infants were creatures of God who bore His image no less than their mature counterparts. They'd heard of Jesus' attention to little children in Matthew 19. That passage is interesting because the disciples thought the children approaching Jesus weren't worthy of His august attention. In their attitude toward the little ones, contrary as it was to Jesus' own perspective, we catch of glimpse of how the Greco-Roman culture had influenced them. The pre-Roman Jewish culture put a huge emphasis on children. They were regarded as a great blessing from God. Children were God's promise of a future! Yet in the disciples' shooing the children away from Jesus, we see how the Greco-Roman devaluing of life had infected them.We ought to reflect on how the modern abortion debate may have affected our valuation of human life. The parallels to the current population decline among ethnic Europeans ought to be obvious & a sign of how the Judeo-Christian worldview has been gutted from Western civilization.The Didache, the standard catechism used by the Church in the 1st C tells Christians, "You shall not commit infanticide." It’s condemned in the Epistle of Barnabas, written about 130. In AD 222, the 1-time slave turned bishop of Rome, Callistus expressed his dismay at the widespread practice of exposing unwanted infants.It was this & the very vocal Christian opposition to it that helped fuel the persecution the early church faced in so many places around the Empire. The Romans placed great stock in tradition and looked with suspicion on anyone who sought to change it. The Christians were doing just that with their radical ideas about how to treat the unwanted.While Christians opposed infanticide, they were unable to do anything about it as a social policy while they were an outlawed group. It wasn't until the Edict of Milan in AD 313 that they were able to even speak to official policy. Then, only 60 years later Emperor Valentinian, at the urging of Basil of Caesarea, outlawed the wicked practice of infanticide.But while they waited for the laws to change, early Christians didn't sit on their hands. They regularly went out to the hillsides where children were left exposed and took them into their homes, raising them as their own children. In Rome, Bishop Callistus organized people to roam the streets in the late evening, looking for abandoned children. He then placed them in the homes of parents wanting them. As far as we know, this was the first organized adoption agency, even though it was done on the sly. The famous martyr Polycarp's protégé, Benignus of Dijon, recused & nurtured abandoned little ones, ministering to the needs of children who'd been deformed because of botched abortions. Afra of Augsburg, a notorious prostitute before her conversion to Christ, began a ministry to the abandoned children of prisoners, thieves, smugglers, pirates, runaway slaves, and all sorts of ne'er-do' wells.No one should get the impression from this that following Valentinian's outlawing of infanticide & child-abandonment, there was an immediate, overnight end to the practice. Far from it. People in Europe & the Eastern Empire continued to off their off spring in large numbers. And Christians continued to adopt them. But as the influence of the Christian worldview spread, there was a deep & fundamental shift that took place in the way people viewed human life; all of it from cradle to grave. And where that respect for life settled in, infanticide evaporated. It got to the point where a single abandoned infant became a shocking event the news of which spread like wild-fire. And when desperation moved some young mother to abandon her child, where did she leave it? Not on a hillside to let it die. No. She left it on the doorstep of the local church because she knew her child would be taken care of.So it ought to be with the deepest kind of grief that we hear now about newborns being left in dumpsters & gas station restrooms. It seems we've regressed, not progressed; devolved, not evolved. Society has at any rate. And to think - there are people who actually rejoice that the Christian worldview has been cut loose from modern society.We have abortion, which is really just an earlier form of infanticide. Partial birth abortion isn't even that! If a woman doesn't make the appointment to rid herself of the unwanted before it's born, no problem; when in Rome, do as the Romans do.What's next? Gladiatorial combat? Oops - too late. // Slavery? Again, too late. It's already here.We’ll be taking a look at many more ways the Christian Faith has impacted culture & civilization in the weeks to come.
Jan 01, 1970
111-Looking Back to Look Ahead
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Although it surely would have grieved him had he lived to see it, Martin Luther’s legacy in the years after his death a Century of war. This war didn’t only pit Catholics against Protestants. Various factions among the Protestants warred with each other. If the Reformers hoped to purify the Church of both theological error and political corruption, they may have succeeded in the first endeavor but failed miserably in the second. Those who want to use religion for personal ends don’t care what face the mask bears, so long as it gets the job done. Some of the more devastating wars included the French wars of religion, the Dutch revolt against Philip II of Spain, the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada, the 30 Years War in Germany, and the Puritan revolution in England.The 17th C was a time of theological and political entrenchment. European Christendom was now divided into four groups: Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and the Anabaptists. The first three became officially associated with regions and their governments, while Anabaptists, after their disastrous failure at Munster, learned their lesson and sought to live out their faith independently of entanglements with civil authority. During the 17th C, Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed developed impenetrable confessional bulwarks against one another.As we saw in a previous episode, Catholic orthodoxy achieved its definitive shape with the Council of Trent in the mid-16th C. The Jesuits played a major role at Trent, especially in answering the challenge presented by Luther’s view on justification and grace. The Council affirmed the importance of the sacraments and the Roman church’s theological position on the Eucharist. At Trent, the Jesuits affirmed the importance Thomism, that is, the work of Thomas Aquinas, in setting doctrine. The triumph of Thomism at Trent set the future trajectory of Catholic theology.In the last episode, we looked at the rise of Protestant Scholasticism in post-reformation Europe. While Protestant orthodoxy is concerned with correct theological content, Protestant Scholasticism had more to do with methodology.From the mid-16th thru 17th C, Protestant orthodoxy clarified, codified, and defended the work of the early Reformers. Then, after the careers of the next generation of Reformers, it’s convenient to identify three phases orthodoxy moved through. Early orthodoxy runs from the mid-16th to mid-17th C. It was a time when Lutheran and Reformed groups developed their Confessions.  High orthodoxy goes from the mid- to late 17th C. This was a time of conflict when the Confessions hammered out earlier were used as a litmus test of faith and formed battlelines to fight over. Late orthodoxy covers the 18th C, when the people of Europe began to ask why, if Protestant confessions were true, rather than leading to the Peace the Gospel promised, they lead instead to war, death, and widespread misery.In truth, people had been asking that question for a lot longer than that; ever since the Church and State became pals back in the 4th C. But it wasn’t till the 18th they felt the freedom to voice their concerns publicly without the certainty they’d be set on by the authorities.As Protestants and Catholics identified their differing theological positions, they became increasingly mindful of their methodology in refining their Confessions. Each appealed to the intellectual high ground, claiming a superior method for defining terms and reasoning. This was the age when there was a return by Christian theologians to Aristotelian logic.Once the Council of Trent concluded and the Roman Church fixed its position, the opportunity for theological dialogue between Protestants and Catholics came to a firm end. After that it was simply up to the various major groups to fine tune their Confessions, then fire salvos at any and everyone who differed. It was the Era of Polemics; of diatribes and discourses disparaging those who dared to disagree.In a previous episode we dealt with the career of Jacob Hermanzoon; AKA Jacobus Arminius. Arminius rejected the Calvinism promulgated by Calvin’s protégé Theodore Beza. Arminius’ followers developed what they called the Remonstrance, a five-part summary of what they understood Arminius’ positions to be on key issues of Reformed Theology. A theological and, wouldn’t you just know it, political controversy ensued that was addressed at the Synod of Dort. The Synod declared Arminius a heretic, the Remonstrance in error, and the five-petals of the Calvinist Tulip were framed in response to the five-points of the Remonstrance. A few Arminianist leaders were either executed or jailed while some two-hundred pastors were removed and replaced with Dort-aligned ministers. Despite this, the Arminianist-position endured and continued to hold sway over the conscience of many.A couple decades after the Synod of Dort, another controversy surfaced among Reformed churches in France. It centered on the work of the brilliant theologian Moses Amyraut, professor at the then famous School of Samur. Amyraut took issue with one of the articles of the Canons of Dort, the doctrine of limited atonement. He argued for unlimited atonement, believing that Christ’s atonement was sufficient for all humanity, but efficient only for the elect. His view is sometimes known as “Hypothetical Universalism” far more commonly as four-point Calvinism.In A Short Treatise on Predestination published in 1634, Amyraut proposed that God fore-ordained a universal salvation through the sacrifice of Christ for all but that salvation wouldn’t be effectual unless appropriated by personal faith.Amyraut’s modification of Calvinism came to be labeled as Amyraldism and led to recurring charges of heresy. Amyraut was exonerated, yet opposition endured in many churches of France, Holland, and Switzerland.Sadly, after Luther’s death, the movement that bore his name fell into disarray and in-fighting. Lutherans broke into 2 main camps. Those who claimed to stay strictly loyal to Martin, and those who followed his cheif assistant, Philip Melancthon. They remained at something of a theological stalemate until the Formula of Concord in 1577, the definitive statement of Lutheran orthodoxy. Much of the destruction of the Thirty-Years War took place on German soil. Agriculture collapsed, famine spread, and universities closed. By the end the war, there were at least 8 million fewer people in Germany.The Peace of Westphalia made room for Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists, depending on the religious leaning of the ruler. Weary of bloodshed, the three communions withdrew behind polemic-firewalls. Instead of firing cannonballs at each other, they lobbed theological word-bombs.Pietism was a kind of war-weary reaction to the new scholasticism the theology of Lutheranism settled into. Pietists viewed what was happening in the retrenchment in Lutheran theology as a “deadening orthodoxy” that stole the life out of faith. Pietism didn’t set out to establish a new church. It simply sought a renewal that would turn dead orthodoxy in a living faith. Pietism saw itself as an Ecclesiola in Ecclesia, that is, “a little church within the larger church.”It seems Pietism has been loaded with a lot of emotional baggage and negative connotation of late. Critics today regard Pietists as aiming to privatize their faith, to withdraw from the public square and divorce faith from the wider world. To use Jesus’ term, they see pietism as an attempt to hide you light under a basket, to put the city, not just in a valley, but in a cave. While some Pietists did privatize faith, that wasn’t the goal of Pietism.It was a movement that simply sought to keep piety, the practice of godliness, as a vital and integral part of daily life. It was understood that godliness wasn’t the result of rules and regulations but of a genuine relationship with God. Pietism was a reaction to the dead orthodoxy of the State-approved Lutheranism of the early 17th C.This is not to say scholastic theologians were all lifeless profs. Some of them produced moving hymns and stirring devotional writings. But, if we’re honest, we’d have to say the practical faith of a large portion of Protestant scholastics had indeed become moribund.Philipp Jakob Spener is known as the “Father of German Pietism.” Born at Rappoltsweiler in 1635, Spener was raised by his godmother and her chaplain, Joachim Stoll who became Spener’s mentor. Stoll introduced him to writings of the English Puritans.Spener went on to study theology at Strasbourg, where his main professor was Johann Dannhauer, a leading Lutheran theologian of 17th C. Dannhauer deeply inspired the young Spener.When he entered his first pastorate in Frankfurt in 1666, Spener was convinced of the necessity of a reformation within Lutheranism. His sermons emphasized the necessity for a lively faith and holiness in daily life. His most significant innovation was the establishment in 1670 of what today we’d call small groups. These were gatherings of about a dozen church members in homes to discuss sermons, devotional reading, and mutual edification.In 1675, Spener was asked to write a preface for a collection of sermons by Johann Arndt. The result was the famous Pia Desideria (= Pious Wishes), which became an introduction to German Pietism.While this is a bit more detailed than our usual fare here on CS, I thought it might be interesting to hear the main points Spener made in the Pious Wishes.He enumerates 6 things as important for the Church to embrace. . .1) He called for “a more extensive use of the Word of God.” To that end, Spener advocated small groups to encourage greater study of the Bible.(2) He urged a renewed focus on the role of the laity in Christian ministry.(3) He placed an emphasis on the connection between doctrine and living.(4) He counseled restraint and charity in theological disputes.(5) He urged reform in the education of ministers. They ought to be trained in piety and devotion as well as academics.(6) He said preaching ought to edify and be understandable by common folk, rather than sermons being technical discourses only an educated few could understand.Spener’s Pious Wishes won him many followers, but aroused strong opposition among Lutheran theologians and not a few fellow pastors. Despite criticism, the movement grew rapidly.Pietism had the good fortune of seeing Spener succeeded by August Francke. Francke was born in Lübeck and graduated from the University of Leipzig, where he excelled in biblical languages. While a student in 1687, he experienced a dramatic and emotionally charged conversion, which he described as the “great change.” Francke’s conversion became something of a model for Pietism. In order for conversion to be considered legitumate, it needed to be preceded by a profound conviction of sin that’s a datable event to which one can point for confirmation.Returning to Leipzig, Francke led a revival in the college that spilled over into the town. It provoked conflict, and Francke was expelled from the city. At this point the term “Pietist” was first coined by a detractor, Joachim Feller, professor of rhetoric at the university. A Pietist, Feller asserted, was “someone who studies God’s Word and, in his own opinion, also leads a holy life.”By this time, Francke had become closely associated with Spener. It was due to Spener’s influence Francke was appointed to the chair of Greek and Oriental languages at the new University of Halle. Francke emerged as the natural successor to Spener. From his position at Halle he exercised enormous influence in preparing a generation of Pietist pastors and missionaries all over the world. Under his guidance, the university showed what Pietism could mean when put into practice. In rapid succession, Francke opened a school for poor children, an orphanage, a home for indigent widows, an institute for the training of teachers, a medical clinic, a home for street beggars, a publishing house for Christian literature, and the famous Paedagogium, a preparatory school for upper-class students.For 36 years his energetic endeavors established Halle as the center of German Pietism. Together, Spener and Francke created a true Ecclesiola in ecclesia.Spener and Francke inspired other groups of Pietism. Count Nikolas von Zinzendorf, was Spener’s godson and Francke’s pupil. Zinzendorf organized refugees from Moravia on his estate and later shepherded them in reviving the Bohemian Unity of the Brethren.The Moravians carried their concern for personal piety literally around the world. This was of huge significance for English Christianity when John Wesley found himself in their company during his voyage to Georgia in 1735. What he witnessed in their behavior and heard in their faith after returning to England led to his own spiritual awakening.
Jan 01, 1970
112-Those English
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In this episode, we’ll take a look at English Puritanism.In Episode 96, English Candles, we considered the arrival of the Reformation in England and the career of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of the Anglican Church. When Catholic Queen Mary ascended the throne, she persecuted Protestants. But when Elizabeth became queen, a new day dawned for the Reformation there.Queen Elizabeth followed a median course between religious conservatives who sought to retain as much of the ancient practices and beliefs as possible, and Reformers who believed the entire life and structure of the church ought to adjust to what they saw as a Biblical norm. During Elizabeth’s reign, that delicate balance was maintained though tensions surfaced repeatedly. Her strength and decisiveness managed to restrained both sides, barely.Elizabeth left no heir when she died in 1603. But she’d made arrangements for the succession to pass to James, son of Mary Stuart, already serving as king of Scotland. The transition was fairly smooth, bringing the House of Stuart to reign over England. James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He didn’t find ruling his expanded realm an easy matter. The English regarded him a foreigner. His plan to unite both kingdoms earned him determined opponents on both sides.Elizabeth’s reforms of England’s economic policies were bearing fruit, especially among the growing merchant class, who resented the James’ royalist policies favoring the nobility. But James’s greatest troubles were with Reformers who wanted to see the English church purged of all Romanish influences. They regarded James as standing in the way. His native Scotland had moved further along that Reformation Road under the work of John Knox. English Calvinists felt the time was ripe for similar changes in their land.These Reformers didn’t comprise a single group, nor did they agree on all matters. So it’s difficult describing them in general terms. One of the most influential groups was given the name Puritans because they insisted on the need to purify the Church. They opposed many of the traditional aspects of worship the Church of England retained; things like the use of the Cross as a symbol, priestly garments, and the celebration of communion on an altar. They differed over whether there even ought to be an altar; wasn’t a simple table good enough? And if a table, should it be placed so as not to give anyone the idea it WAS an altar. Things like this led to bitter disputes They may have left behind the Scholastic argument of how many angels can dance ion the head of a pin, but they argued over now less inconsequential issues as how much lace their ought to be in a collar.Puritans insisted on the need for a sober life, guided by the commands of Scripture, and abstinence from luxury and ostentatious displays of wealth. Since a great deal of the worship of the Church of England appeared to them as needlessly elaborate, this caused further objection to such worship. Many insisted on the need to keep the Lord’s Day sacred, devoting it exclusively to religious exercises and charity. They also rejected the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the use of written prayers in general, declaring such led to insincerity, so that even the Lord’s Prayer, rather than a set of words to be repeated, was to be used as a model for prayer. They weren’t opposed to the use of alcohol, for most of them drank moderately, but they were quite critical of drunkenness. They were also critical of all they considered licentious; like the theater, because immorality was often depicted and because of the inherent duplicity required for acting. They considered it a kind of lying because someone pretended to be someone else.This tone of super-critical Puritanism would much later move HL Mencken to describe Puritanism as, “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time.”A precise definition of Puritanism has been a matter much debate, due in part to its multifaceted influence in not only religious and theological matters but in its impact on England’s politics and society.Some of the difficulty in defining Puritanism comes from its caricatures that began in the 16th C. As with so many of the labels that have been attributed to movements in Church History, the word “Puritan” was originally a slam applied by critics. They considered Puritans to be peevish, censorious, conceited hypocrites. That reputation, once applied, stuck to them all the way to our day.In truth, there was a surprising diversity among Puritans. They shared a common theological confession, while differing on how the Church ought to be organized. Some Puritans thought the existing Anglican hierarchy of bishops was fine while others wanted to restructure the Church along more Presbyterian lines. Still others embraced a congregational form of church government. Some advocated separation from the established church, while others remained. Some were royalist, others revolutionary, even to the point of regicide. While Puritans differed in worship styles and expressions of piety, they ALL wanted the English Church to more closely resemble the Reformed churches on the Continent.Many Puritans were opposed to bishops. They argued that the highly-structured church hierarchy of the Church of England was a late invention, not found in the Bible. They said the Church ought to look to Scripture as its constitution not only for doctrine, but also in its organization and governance. Moderate Puritans responded that the Bible didn’t actually give a prescription for a specific form of Church government. What it had were principles that could be applied in different ways. Others insisted that the New Testament Church was ruled by elders called “presbyters.” Then others claimed each congregation ought to be independent. They were creatively dubbed “Independents.”Baptists rose mostly among this last group. One of their early leaders was John Smyth, an Anglican priest who decided the Church of England had not reformed far enough. He established an independent, and at that time, illegal, congregation. As it grew, Smyth and his followers fled to Amsterdam. There he continued his study of the Bible, and came to the point of refusing to use translations of the Bible in worship, for only the original text had absolute authority. At church, he would read Scripture in Hebrew or Greek, and translate the text as he preached. Partly through his study of Scripture, and partly through contact with Mennonites—whose pacifism and refusal to take oaths, he adopted—e eventually becoming convinced infant baptism was wrong. He then re-baptized himself with a bucket and ladle and proceeded to baptized his followers.The move of Smyth and his flock to Holland was financed by a wealthy lawyer named Thomas Helwys, who eventually broke with the ever-reforming Smyth. The breaking point of contention was over the taking of vows.  Smyth rejected any form of vow while, as a lawyer, Helwys considered them a necessary convention safeguarding social order. Helwys and his followers returned to England, where in 1611 they founded the first Baptist Church in England.Eventually, to really no one’s surprise, a disagreement arose among English Baptists over theological issues similar to those that had risen between Calvinists and Arminianists. Those who favored the Arminian-flavored path were called General Baptists while Calvinist-leaning Baptists were referred to as Particular Baptists.The balance Elizabeth maintained in the Church of England began to wobble under James. While its theology was moderately Calvinist, its worship and governance followed the older Roman order. Puritans feared a movement was under way to return to what they called “Romanism.”They didn’t trust the new king, whose mother was none other than the Catholic Mary Stuart, AKA Mary, Queen of Scots, who’d been executed by Elizabeth on the charge of treason in plotting to assassinate Elizabeth and take her throne. James didn’t, in fact, favor Catholicism though Puritans assumed he would and hoped to gain concessions. They were repeatedly disappointed. James’ goal was the same kind of absolutist monarchy then in place in France. In Scotland, his Presbyterian subjects hadn’t allowed him to reign as he wished. He thought his chances for absolutism were better in the South. To that end he strengthened the bishops of the English Church as a prop to his own power. He declared, “Without bishops, there is no king,” meaning monarchy is better supported by a hierarchical church structure.James’ religious policy was similar to Elizabeth’s. The Anabaptists were persecuted because James was offended by their egalitarianism that threatened to up-end the highly stratified English society. For goodness sake; we can’t have peasants thinking they’re as important as nobles. What a catastrophe if humble commoners mixed with blue bloods. So, the Anabaptists with their calling everyone “brother” and “sister” had to be repressed. They were; brutally. And Catholics, who thought James would be their guy, were regarded by him as agents of the Pope, who everyone knew wanted to get rid of James. James said if the pope acknowledged his right to rule and condemned regicide, which a few of the more extreme Catholics pushed for, James would tolerate the presence of Catholics in his realm. Presbyterians, whom the king had come to hate in Scotland, were barely tolerated in England. James did grant them minor concessions, but only to keep them from making trouble.Tension between Anglican bishops and Puritans grew to a boil during James’s reign. In 1604, Richard Bancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, had a series of canons approved offensive to Puritans. One affirmed that episcopal hierarchy was an institution of divine origin, and that without it there could be no true church. This ostracized the many Protestant churches in Europe that had no bishops. Puritans saw it as provoking a showdown between themselves and the Church of England. Some assumed it was all preparation by the Church of England to reunite with Rome.James called Parliament to sit for the approval of new taxes to complete some of England’s projects. The House of Commons included many Puritans who joined others in an appeal to the king against Bancroft’s canons. James convened a committee at Hampton Court to consider the canons, over which he presided. When one of the Puritans made reference to the church being governed by a “presbytery,” James announced there would be no closer connection between the monarchy and a presbytery than there COULD be between God and the Devil. All attempts at compromise failed. The only result of meeting was that a new translation of the Bible was approved.  It appeared in 1611 and is known today as the KJV. Produced at a high-point in the development of the English language, along with the Book of Common Prayer—the King James Bible became a classic that profoundly influenced later English literature.But, this marks the beginning of a growing hostility between the House of Commons and the bishops of the Church of England.Late in 1605, what’s known as the Gunpowder Plot was discovered. A repressive law against Catholics was issued the previous year on the pretext they were loyal to the pope rather than the king. The real purpose of the law was to collect funds. Authorities used it to impose heavy fines and confiscate property. Catholics came to the conclusion the solution was to be rid of the king. A property was rented whose cellars extended below the room where Parliament met. Several wine barrels were filled with gunpowder and set under the room. The plan was to detonate them as the king opened Parliament. This would rid England of James and many Puritans leaders. But the plot was discovered; the conspirators executed. This unleashed a wave of anti-catholic sentiment in England that saw many arrested and imprisoned. James used the whole affair a way to lay heavy fines on Catholics and confiscate more property.After those first years of his reign, James tried to rule without Parliament. But English law stipulated it alone could approve new taxes. So in 1614, when his finances were desperate, James relented and again convened Parliament. New elections brought in a House of Commons even more stubborn than the previous. So James dissolved it and again tried to rule without it. He turned to the few tariffs he could levy without Parliament’s approval. He borrowed from bishops and nobility.Then the Thirty Years’ War broke out. Frederick, King of Bohemia, was James’s son-in-law. But James offered no support. English Protestants named James a traitor and coward. Je replied that he WANTED to help, but that the Puritans held the purse and war is expensive! Finally, in 1621, James re-convened Parliament, hoping the House of Commons would agree to new taxes with the proviso that some, at least, of the revenue would support German Protestants in the war. But it was discovered James planned to marry his son and the heir to England’s throne to a Spanish princess, a Catholic Hapsburg! Such an alliance was regarded by the Puritans as an abomination. So, James once again dissolved the House of Commons and arrested several of its leaders. The marriage plans were abandoned for other reasons, and in 1624 James once again called a meeting of Parliament, only to dissolve it anew without obtaining the funds he required. Shortly thereafter, he died, and was succeeded by his son Charles, who’d been a good student of his father’s routine with Parliament.English Puritans welcomed Charles I to his throne with less enthusiasm than they had his father. Charles said that kings are “little gods on Earth.” Puritans knew this didn’t bode well for their future relations. Nor did it help that Charles immediately married a Roman Catholic princess, Henrietta-Marie de Bourbon, raising the specter of a Catholic heir to the English throne.The relationship between the Crown and the mostly Puritan Parliament went from bad to worse. Puritan antagonism toward the King rose in 1633 when the King appointed William Laud as archbishop of Canterbury. Laud embarked on a policy of High Anglicanism with a strong sacramentalism and a theological slant toward Arminianism that tweaked the Calvinist Puritans.In what proved his undoing, Charles tried to impose on the Scottish Church the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in 1637, which one Scot called the “vomit of Romish superstition.” When a marketplace grocer named Jenny Geddes heard the dean of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh read from the new prayer book, she stood up and threw her stool at him, yelling, “Devil cause you colic in your stomach, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?”Yep – them Scots! Peaceful lot they are. Which, I get to say, because I am one.Jenny’s reaction was a foretaste of a brewing rebellion. Riots broke out in Edinburgh, and in early 1638, the Scottish formalized their opposition to King Charles innovation by establishing the National Covenant. Many signed it in their own blood, making it clear they’d die before submitting to Laud’s Anglicanism. Charles led two military campaigns, known as the Bishops’ Wars (1639–40), in an effort to quell the Scottish rebellion. Both were turned back.The Scottish army then occupied northern England and threatened to march south. In November, 1640 King Charles HAD to once again convene Parliament. Never had there been a body more hostile to the monarch. They immediately passed a law forbidding him to dissolve it without its consent. This came to be known as the “Long Parliament,” since it stayed in session for 20 years.Archbishop Laud was charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London.The conflict between King and Parliament reached a boiling point. Charles was convinced Puritan members of Parliament had committed treason by conspiring with the Scots to invade England. Charles, accompanied by 400 soldiers, burst into the House of Commons in January 1642, planning to arrest them. But the men had been warned and fled. This attack on Parliament by armed troops was an egregious violation of British rights. Charles realized his error and a few days later, fearing now for his own safety, fled London.We pick it up at this point in our next Episode.
Jan 01, 1970
113-Yep, Those English
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This is the second episode in which we look at English Puritanism.We left off last time with King Charles I fleeing London after breaking into The House of Commons to arrest the Puritan members of Parliament he accused of treason. The men had been warned and had fled. What Charles had hoped would be a dramatic show of his defense of the realm against dangerous elements, ended up being an egregious violation of British rights. So in fear for his own life, he packed up his family and headed out of town.Back in London, John Pym, a leader of Parliament, ruled as a kind of king without a crown. The House of Commons proposed a law excluding the royalist faction of bishops in the House of Lords from Parliament. Other members of the House of Lords surprisingly agreed, so the clergy were expelled. This commenced a process that would eventually disbar anyone from Parliament who disagreed with the Puritans. The body took on an ever-increasing bent toward the radical. Feeling their oats, Parliament then ordered a militia be recruited. The king decided the time had come to respond with decisive action. He gathered loyal troops and prepared for battle against Parliament’s militia. Civil War had come to England.Both sides began by building forces. Charles’ support came from the nobility, while Parliament found it among those who’d suffered most in recent royal shenanigans. Parliament’s army came from the lower classes, to which were added some from the emerging merchant middle-class, as well as a handful of those nobles who’d not been in favor at Court. The king’s strength was the cavalry, which of course was traditionally the noble’s military specialty. The Parliamentary forces strength was in their infantry amd navy, which controlled trade.At the outset of the war, there were only minor skirmishes. Parliament sought help from the Scots, while Charles sought it from Irish Catholics. In its efforts to attract the Scots, Parliament enacted a series of measures leaning toward Presbyterianism. English Puritans didn’t agree with the Presbyterian plan for church government, but they certainly didn’t like the episcopacy of the Church of England’s royalist bishops. English Puritans ended up adopting the Presbyterian model, not only because it irked those Bishops, but because it made more Biblical sense at the time, and because confiscation of bishops’ property meant Parliament could fund the war without creating new taxes.Parliament also convened a groups of theologians to advise it on religious matters. The Westminster Assembly included 121 ministers, 30 laymen and 8 Scottish representatives. Being that the Scots had the strongest army in Great Britain, though they numbered only 5% of the total participants in the assembly, their influence was decisive. The Westminster Confession which they produced became one of the fundamental documents of Calvinist orthodoxy. Although some of the Assembly’s members were Independents who followed a congregational-form of government, and others still leaned toward an episcopacy, the Assembly settled on a Presbyterian church government, and urged Parliament to adopt it for the Church of England. In 1644, Parliament joined the Scots in a Solemn League and Covenant that committed them to Presbyterianism. The following year the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, was executed on the order of Parliament.As Parliament built up its army, Oliver Cromwell came to the fore. A relatively wealthy man, he descended from one of Henry VIII’s advisors. Oliver was a devoted Puritan, convinced that every decision, both personal and political, ought to be based on the will of God as revealed in Scripture.  Though he was often slow in coming to a decision, once set upon a course, he was determined to follow it through to its conclusion, believing it to be, in fact, God’s Will. Respected by fellow Puritans, until the Civil War he was simply known as a member of the House of Commons. But when he was convinced armed conflict was inevitable, Cromwell returned home where he recruited a cavalry corps. He knew cavalry was the king’s main weapon, and that Parliament would need their own. His zeal was contagious, and his small force accomplished great deeds. They charged into battle singing psalms, convinced they were engaged in a holy cause. That attitude spread to the rest of the Parliament’s army which crushed the royal army at the Battle of Naseby.That was the beginning of the end for the king. The rebels captured his camp, where they found proof he’d been asking foreign Catholic troops to invade England. Charles then tried to negotiate with the Scots, hoping to win them with promises. But the Scots took him prisoner and turned him over to Parliament. Having won the war, Parliament adopted a series of Puritan measures, including setting the precedent that Sunday was to be reserved for solemn religious observances rather than the frivolous pastimes increasingly being adopted by the English nobility and emerging middle-class.The Puritans, who’ had to unite due to war, now returned to what they best at, arguing among themselves. Most of Parliament supported a Presbyterian form of church govt, which made for a national church without bishops. But the Independents who made up the majority of the army leaned toward congregationalism. They feared a Presbyterian church would begin to limit their ability to pursue their faith the way their conscience demanded. Tension grew between Parliament and the army.In 1646, Parliament unsuccessfully tried to dissolve the army. Radical groups gained ground. A wave of apocalyptic fervor swept England, moving many to demand a transformation of the social order thru justice and equality. Parliament and the leaders of the Army began to square off with each other.Then è The king escaped. He opened negotiations with the Scots, the army, and Parliament, making contradictory promises to all three. Somehow he managed to gain support from the Scots by promising to install Presbyterianism in England. When the Scots invaded, the Puritan army defeated them, captured Charles I, and began a purge of those factions in Parliament they deemed inconsistent with the reforms they envisioned. Forty-five MPs were arrested. What remained was labeled by its enemies the Rump Parliament because all that was left was the posterior of a real parliament.The Rump Parliament began proceedings against Charles, accused of high treason and of having thrust England into a bloody civil war. The fourteen lords who appeared for the meeting of the House of Lords refused to agree to the proceedings. But the House of Commons carried on, and Charles, who refused to defend himself on the grounds his judges had no legal standing, was beheaded at the end of Jan, 1649.Now, I’m sure someone’s likely thinking, “Is this Communio Sanctorum or Revolutions?” Yeah, this doesn’t sound much like CHURCH history. It’s more English History. So what’s up? Well, it’s important we realize the roll Puritanism and Presbyterianism played in this period of English history. The Reformation had a huge impact on the course of events in the British Isles.Fearing the loss of their independence from England, the Scots quickly acknowledged Charles’ son Charles II, as their sovereign. And in the South, England descended into chaos among several factions all vying for powerThat’s when Cromwell took the reins. He commandeered the Rump Parliament, stamped out a rebellion in Ireland and the royalists in Scotland. Charles II fled to the Continent.When Parliament moved to pass a law perpetuating its power, Cromwell expelled the few remaining representatives, and locked the building.  Seemingly against his will, Cromwell had become master of the nation. He tried to return some form of representative government, but eventually took the title Lord Protector. He was supposed to rule with the help of a Parliament that would include representatives from England, Scotland, and Ireland. In reality, the new Parliament was mostly English, and Cromwell was the real government.He set out to reform both church and state. Given the time, his policies were fairly tolerant. Although he was an Independent, he tried to develop a religious system with room for Presbyterians, Baptists, and even advocates of episcopacy. As a Puritan, he tried to reform English society through legislation. These laws were aimed at keeping the Lord’s Day devoted to sacred rites, ending horse races, cockfights, the theater, and so on. His economic policies favored the middle-class at the expense of the nobility. Among both the very wealthy and the very poor, opposition to his rule, which is called the Protectorate, grew.Cromwell retained control while he lived. But his dream of a stable republic failed. Like the monarchs before him, he was unable to get along with Parliament—though his supporters kept his opponents from taking their seats. Since the Protectorate was clearly temporary, Cromwell was offered the crown, but refused it, hoping to create a republic. In 1658, shortly before his death, in a move that seems politically schizophrenic, Cromwell named his son as his successor. But Richard was most definitely not his father. He resigned his post.Parliament then recalled Charles II to England’s throne. This brought about a reaction against the Puritans. Although Charles at first sought to find a place for Presbyterians within the Church of England, the new Parliament opposed it, preferring a return to the bishops’ episcopacy. The Book of Common Prayer was reinstalled after being out of favor for several years, and dissenters were banned. But such laws weren’t able to curb the several movements that had emerged during the previous unrest. They continued outside the law until, late in that 17th C, toleration was decreed.In Scotland, the consequences of the restoration were more severe. With the episcopacy reinstalled in England, the staunch Presbyterianism of the North was challenged anew. Scotland erupted in riot. Archbishop James Sharp, prime prelate of Scotland, was murdered. This brought English intervention in support of Scottish royalists. The Presbyterians were drowned in blood.On his deathbed, Charles II declared himself a Catholic, confirming the suspicions of many that he’d been an agent of Rome all along and thus all the blood of Puritans and Presbyterians.  His brother and successor, James II, moved to restore Roman Catholicism as the official religion of his kingdom. In England, he sought to gain the support of dissidents by decreeing religious tolerance. But the anti-Catholic sentiments among the dissidents ran so strong they preferred no tolerance to the risk of a return to Rome. Conditions in Scotland were worse, for James II placed Catholics in positions of power, and decreed death for any who attended unapproved worship.After three years under James II, the English rebelled and invited William, Prince of Orange, along with his wife Mary, James’s daughter, to take the throne. William landed in 1688, and James fled to France. In Scotland, his supporters held on for a few months, but by the next year, William and Mary were in possession of the Scottish crown as well. Their religious policy was tolerant. In England, tolerance was granted to any who subscribed to the thirty-nine Articles of 1562, and swore loyalty to the King and Queen. Those who refused, were granted tolerance as long as they didn’t conspire against the crown. In Scotland, Presbyterianism became the official religion of State, the Westminster Confession its doctrinal norm.But even after the Restoration, the Puritan ideal lingered and greatly influenced British ethics. Its two great literary figures, John Bunyan and John Milton, along with Shakespeare, long endured among the most read of English authors. Bunyan’s most famous work, known by its abbreviated title Pilgrim’s Progress, became a hugely popular, and the subject of much meditation and discussion for generations. Milton’s Paradise Lost determined the way in which the majority of the English-speaking world read and interpreted the Bible.
Jan 01, 1970
The First Centuries Part 05 / Irenaeus
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The First Centuries – Part 5 // Irenæus The historical record is pretty clear that the Apostle John spent his last years in Western Asia Minor, with the City of Ephesus acting as his headquarters. It seems that during his time there, he poured himself into a cadre of capable men who went on to provide outstanding leadership for the church in the midst of difficult trials. Men like Polycarp of Smyrna, Papias & Apolinarius of Hierapolis, & Melito of Sardis. These and others were mentioned by Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus in a letter to Victor, a bishop at Rome in about AD 190.These students of John are considered to be the last of what’s called The Apostolic Age. The greatest of them was Irenæus. Though he wasn’t a direct student of the Apostle, he was influenced by Polycarp, & is considered by many as one of the premier and first Church Fathers.Not much is known of Irenæus’ origins. From what we can piece together from his writings, he was most likely born and raised in Smyrna around AD 120. He was instructed by Smyrna’s lead pastor, Polycarp, a student of John. He says he was also directly influenced by other pupils of the Apostles, though he doesn’t name them. Polycarp had the biggest impact on him, as evidenced by his comment, “What I heard from him, I didn’t write on parchment, but on my heart. By God’s grace, I bring it constantly to mind.” It’s possible Irenæus accompanied Polycarp when he traveled to Rome and engaged Bishop Anicetus in the Easter controversy we talked about last episode.At some point while still a young man, Irenæus went to Southern Gaul as a missionary. He settled at Lugdunum where he became an elder in the church there. Lugdunum eventually became the town of Lyon, France. In 177, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the church in Lugdunum was hammered by fierce persecution. But Irenæus had been sent on a mission to Rome to deal with the Montanist controversy. While away, the church’s elderly pastor Pothinus, was martyred. By the time he returned in 178 the persecution had spent itself and he was appointed as the new pastor.Irenæus worked tirelessly to mend the holes persecution had punched in the church in Southern Gaul. In both teaching and writing, he provided resources other church leaders could use in faithfully discharging their pastoral duties, as well as refuting the various and sundry errors challenging the new Faith. During his term as the pastor of the church at Lyon, he was able to see a majority of the population of the City converted to Christ. Dozens of missionaries were sent out to plant churches across Gaul.Then, about 190, Irenæus simply disappears with no clear account of his death. A 5th C tradition says he died a martyr in 202 in the persecution under Septimus Severus. The problem with that is that several church fathers like Eusebius, Hippolytus, & Tertullian uncharacteristically fail to mention Irenæus’ martyrdom. Because martyrs achieved hero status, if Irenæus had been martyred, the Church would have marked it. SO most likely, he died of natural causes. However he died, he was buried under the altar St. John’s in Lyons.Irenæus’ influence far surpassed the importance of his location. The bishopric of Lyon was not considered an important seat. But Irenæus’ impact on the Faith was outsized to his position. His keen intellect united a Greek education with astute philosophical analysis, and a sharp understanding of the Scriptures to produce a remarkable defense of The Gospel. That was badly needed at the time due to the inroads being forged by a new threat – Gnosticism, which we spent time describing in Season 1.Irenæus’ articulation of the Faith brought about a unanimity that united the East & Western branches of the Church that had been diverging. They’d end up reverting to that divergence later, but Irenæus managed to bring about a temporary peace through his clear defense of the faith against the Gnostics.Irenæus admits he had a difficult time mastering the Celtic dialect spoken by the people where he served but his capacity in Greek, in which he composed his writings, was both elegant & eloquent without running to the merely flowery. His content shows he was familiar with the classics by authors like Homer, Hesiod, & Sophocles as well as philosophers like Pythagoras & Plato.He shows a like familiarity with earlier Christian writers such as Clement, Justin Martyr, & Tatian. But Irenæus is really only 1 generation away from Jesus and the original Apostles due to a couple long life-times; that of John, and then his pupil, Polycarp. We find their influence in Irenæus’ remark impugning the appeal of Gnosticism, “The true way to God, is through love. Better to know nothing but the crucified Christ, than fall into the impiety of overly curious inquires & silly nuances.” Reading Irenæus’ work on the core doctrines of the Faith reveal his wholehearted embrace of Pauline theology of the NT. Where Irenæus goes beyond John & Paul was in his handling of ecclesiology; that is, matters of the Church. Irenæus wrote on things like the proper handling of the sacraments, and how authority in the church ought to be passed on. A close reading of the 2nd C church fathers reveals that this issue was of major concern to them. It makes sense it would. Jesus had commissioned the Apostles to carry on His mission and to lay the foundation of the Faith & Church. The Apostles had done that, but in the 2nd C, the men the Apostles had raised up were themselves aging out. Church leaders were burdened with the question of how to properly pass on the Faith once for all delivered to the saints, to those who came next. What was the plan?We’ll come back to that later . . .Irenæus was a staunch advocate of what we’ll call Biblical theology, as opposed to a theology derived from philosophical musing, propped up by random Bible verses. He’s the first of the church fathers to make liberal use of BOTH the Old & New Testaments in his writings. He uses all four Gospels and nearly all the letters of the NT in the development of his theology.His goal in it all was to establish unity among believers. He was so zealous for it because of the rising popularity of Gnosticism, a new religious fascination attractive an increasing number of Christians.Historians have come to understand that like many emergent faiths, Gnosticism was itself fractured into different flavors. The brand Irenæus dealt with was the one most popular in his region; Valentinian Gnosticism, or, Valentinianism.While several writings are attributed to Irenæus, by far his most important and famous was Against Heresies, his refutation of Gnosticism. Written sometime btwn 177 & 190, it’s 5 volumes is considered by most to be the premier theological work of the ante-Nicene era. It’s also the main source of knowledge for historians on Gnosticism and Christian doctrine in the Apostolic Age. It was composed in response to a request by a friend wanting a brief on how to deal with the errors of both Valentinus & Marcion. Both had taught in Rome 30 yrs earlier.  Their ideas then spread to France.The 1st of the 5 volumes is a dissection of what Valentinianism taught, and more generally how it differed from other sects of Gnosticism. It shows that Irenæus had a remarkable grasp of a belief system he utterly & categorically rejected.The 2nd book reviewed the internal inconsistencies and contradictions of Gnosticism.The last 3 volumes give a systematic refutation of Gnosticism from Scripture & tradition which Irenæus makes clear at that time were one and the same. He shows that the Gospel which was at first only oral, was subsequently committed to writing, then was faithfully taught in churches through a succession of pastors & elders. So, Irenæus says, The Apostolic Faith & tradition is embodied in Scripture, and in the right interpretation of those scriptures by pastors (AKA as bishops). And the Church ought to have confidence in those pastors’ interpretations of God’s Word because they’ve attained their office through a demonstrated succession. Of course, the succession Irenæus referred to was manifestly evident by virtue of the fact he wrote in the last quarter of the 2nd C & was himself, as we’ve seen, just a generation removed from the Apostle John.Irenæus set all this over against the contradictory opinions of heretics who fundamentally deviated from this well-established Faith & simply could not be included in the catholic, that is universally agreed on, faith carved out by Scripture and its orthodox interpretation by a properly sanctioned teaching office.The 5th and final volume of Against Heresies includes Irenæus’ exposition of pre-millennial eschatology; that is, the study of Last things, or in modern parlance – the End Times. No doubt he does so because it stood in stark contrast with the muddled teaching of the Gnostics on this subject. It might be noted that Irenæus’ pre-millennialism wasn’t unique. He stood squarely with the other writers of the Apostolic & post-apostolic age.Irenæus’ view of the inspiration of Scripture is early anticipation of what came to be called Verbal plenary inspiration. That is, both the writings and authors of Scripture were inspired, so that what God wanted expressed was, without turning the writers into automatons. God expressed His will through the varying personalities of the original authors. He even accounts for the variations in Paul’s style across his epistles to his, at times, rapid-fire dictation & the agency of the Holy Spirit’s urging at different times and in different situations.Irenæus’ emphasis on both Scripture and the apostolic tradition of its interpretation has been seen as a boon to the idea of establishing an official teaching magisterium in the Church. Added to that is his remarks that the church at Rome held a special place in providing leadership for the Church as a whole. He based this on Rome being the location of the martyrdom of both Peter & Paul. While Irenæus acknowledges they did not START the church there, he reasoned they most certainly were regarded as its leaders when they were there. And there was a tradition that Peter appointed the next bishop, one Linus, to lead the Church when he was executed. While it’s true Irenæus did indeed suggest Rome ought to take the lead, he said it was the CHURCH there that ought to do so; not its bishop. The point may seem minor, but it’s important to note that Irenaeus himself resisted positions taken by the Bishop at Rome. In our last episode, we noted his chronicle of Polycarp’s & Anicetus’ disagreement over when to celebrated Easter. Anicetus’ successor was Bishop Victor, who took a hardline approach with the Quartodecamins and wanted to forcefully punish them. While as the bishop of the church in Lyon, Irenaeus was ready to follow the policy of the Church at Rome, he objected to Victor’s heavy-handedness and reminded him of his predecessor’s more fair-minded policy.So while Irenaeus does indeed urge a role of first-place for the Church at Rome, we can’t go so far as to say he establishes the principle of the primacy of the bishop of Rome. He’s not an apologist for papal primacy.Nor does he advocate apostolic succession as it’s come to be defined today. What Irenaeus does say is that the Scriptures have to be interpreted rightly; meaning, they have to align with that which the Apostles consistently taught, and that the people who were to be trusted to that end were those linked back to the Apostles because they’d HEARD them explain themselves.He argued this because the Gnostics claimed a secret oral tradition given them from Jesus himself. Irenaeus maintained that the pastors & elders of the Church were well-known and linked to the Apostles and had always maintained the same message that wasn’t secret at all. Therefore, it was those pastors who provided the only safe interpretation of Scripture.For Irenaeus, apostolic authority was only valid so long as it actually squared with apostolic teaching, which itself was codified in the Gospels and epistles of the NT – along with what the direct students of the Apostles said they’d taught. Irenæus didn’t concoct a formula for the passing of apostolic authority from one generation to the next in perpetuity.Irenaeus became a treasured authority for men like Hippolytus and Tertullian who drew freely from him. He also became a major source for establishing the canon of the NT. He regarded the entire OT as God’s Word as well as most of the books our NT while excluding a large number of Gnostic pretenders. There’s some evidence that before Irenaeus, believers lined up under different Gospels as their preferred accounts of the Life of Jesus. The Churches of Asia Minor preferred the Gospel of John while Matthew was the most popular overall. Irenaeus made a convincing case that all 4 Gospels were God’s Word. That made him the earliest witness to the canonicity of M,M,L & J. This stood over against the accepted writings of a heretic named Marcion who only accepted portions of Luke’s Gospel.Irenaeus cited passages of the NT about a thousand times, from 21 of the 27 books, including Revelation. Inferences to the other books can be found as well.Irenaeus provides a perfect bridge from the Apostles to the next phase of Church History presided over by the Fathers, of which he’s considered among the first.
Jan 01, 1970
87-Luther’s List
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This episode of CS is titled, Martin’s List.In the summer of 1520, a document bearing an impressive seal circulated throughout Germany in search of a remote figure. It began, “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause. A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.”The document was what’s called a papal bull—named after that impressive seal, or bulla bearing the Pope’s insignia.  It took 3 months to reach the wild boar it referred to, a German monk named Martin Luther who’d created quite a stir in Germany. But well before it arrived in Wittenberg where Luther taught, he knew its contents. 41 of the things he’d been announcing were condemned as à “heretical, scandalous, false, and offensive to pious ears; seducing simple minds and repugnant to Catholic truth.” The papal bull called on Luther to repent and publicly repudiate his errors or face dreadful consequences.Luther received his copy on the 10th of October. At the end of his 60-day grace period in which he was supposed to surrrender, he led a crowd of eager students outside Wittenberg and burned copies of the Canon Law and works of several medieval theologians. Included in the paper that fed the flames was a copy of the bull condemning him. That was his answer. He said, “They’ve burned my books. So I burn theirs.” That fire outside Wittenberg in December of 1520 was a fitting symbol of the defiance toward the Roman Church raging throughout Germany.Born in 1483 at Eisleben in Saxony to a miner, Luther attended school at Magdeburg under the Brethren of the Common Life. He then went to university at Erfurt where he learned Greek, graduating w/an MA in 1505. His plan was to become a lawyer, but the story goes that one day he was caught in a thunderstorm; a bolt of lightning knocked him to the ground. Terrified, he cried out to the patron saint of miners: “St. Anne, save me! And I’ll become a monk.” To his parents’ dismay, Luther kept the vow. 2 weeks later he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt where he became a dedicated brother. Some years later he said about his being a monk, “I kept the rule so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by sheer monkery, it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.” Luther pushed his body to health–cracking rigors of austerity. He sometimes engaged in a total fast; no food OR water, for 3 days and slept without a blanket in winter.In the Erfurt monastery he did further theological study and was made a priest in 1507. When he transferred to Wittenberg in 1508, he began teaching moral theology, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and the Scriptures. A visit to Rome on Augustinian business in 1510 opened Luther’s eyes to the corruption so prevalent among the higher clergy there. When he returned to Wittenberg in 1512 he earned his Doctorate in Theology and was appointed to the Chair of Biblical studies which he occupied for the rest of his life.But throughout this time, Luther was consumed by guilt and the sense his sinfulness. While the majesty and glory of God inspired most, it tormented Luther because he saw himself as a wretched sinner, alienated from an unapproachably holy God.While performing his first Mass, Luther later reported, “I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, ‘Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, à and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God?’” No amount of penance nor counsel from his peers could still Luther’s conviction he was a miserable, doomed sinner. Although his confessor counseled him to love God, Luther one day burst out, “Love God? I do not love Him - I hate him!”Luther found the love he sought in studying the Word of God. Assigned to the chair of biblical studies at the recently opened Wittenberg University, he became fascinated with the words of Christ from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  Luther found an odd solace in the idea that that Christ was forsaken. Luther was a sinner. Christ wasn’t. The answer had to lie in Christ’s identification with sinful humans. Luther began to ponder the possibility that Jesus endured estrangement from God for us.A new and revolutionary picture of God began to develop in Luther’s restless soul. Finally, in 1515, while pondering Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Luther came upon the words of Ch1v17 “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”This was the key that turned the lock and opened the door to everything else that would follow. He said, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”Luther saw it clearly now. Man is saved only by his faith in the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. The cross alone removes sin and save from the grasp of the devil. Luther had come to his famous doctrine of justification by faith alone. He saw how sharply it clashed with the Roman church’s doctrine of justification by faith and good works—the demonstration of faith through virtuous acts, acceptance of church dogma, and participation in the sacraments.The implications of Luther’s discovery were enormous. If salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, the intercession of priests was unnecessary. Faith formed and nurtured by the Word of God, written and preached, requires neither monks, masses, nor prayers to the saints. The mediation of a Church magisterium crumbles.At first, Luther had no idea where his spiritual discovery would lead. It took a flagrant abuse of church finances to move him to the center of rebellion in Germany, and into a revolutionary position regarding papal authority.The sale of indulgences, introduced during the Crusades, remained a major source of church income, especially that destined for Rome. The theology behind indulgences is rather complex and a subject we could spend considerable time on, but the upshot is this:  Jesus and the saints have done far more good than they need for themselves and have lived lives that produce an excess of righteousness others can draw upon. The Church hierarchy, specifically the Pope and his agents, are able to open what’s called the “Treasury of Merit” all this excess goodness has gone in to, and assign it to less worthy individuals. So, in exchange for a meritorious work—like, making a pilgrimage, going on a Crusade, or making a financial contribution—the Church offered the sinner exemption from acts of penance.All too often, the peddlers of indulgences made them seem a sort of magic—as though a contribution automatically earned the one seeking it a reward, regardless of the condition of their soul. Sorrow for sin was conveniently overlooked. And some even implied you could buy permission to sin before committing it. All this deeply troubled Luther.So, armed with his new understanding of faith, he began to criticize the theology of indulgences in his sermons. He ramped things up in 1517 when the Dominican John Tetzel was preaching throughout Germany on behalf of a Vatican fund–raising campaign to complete the construction of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. In exchange for a contribution, Tetzel boasted, he would provide donors with an indulgence that would even apply beyond the grave and free souls from purgatory. Tetzel was a clever sloganeer who understood the power of marketing. He came up with the catchy ditty - “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.”To Luther, Tetzel’s preaching was more than bad theology, it bordered on blasphemy. Irked by Tetzel’s fleecing of the common people and provoked by his studies in Scripture, Luther drew up 95 propositions for theological debate and on October 31st of 1517, following university custom, posted them on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg, the place people put public notices. Among other things, Luther’s list argued that indulgences can’t remove guilt, do not apply to purgatory, and are harmful because they create a false sense of security. Little did anyone know that the spark had just been lit that fired the Reformation.Within a short time, Tetzel’s fellow Dominicans in Germany denounced Luther to Rome as guilty of preaching dangerous doctrines. A Vatican theologian issued a series of counter-theses to Luther’s list, claiming that anyone who criticized indulgences was guilty of heresy.At first, Luther was willing to accept a final verdict from Rome. But he quickly shifted to the position that his critics show him in Scripture that he was wrong. As his appeal to the Bible grew, he began to question the doctrine of purgatory. During an 8–day debate in 1519 with Church theologian John Eck at Leipzig, Luther said, “A council may sometimes err. Neither the Church nor the Pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from Scripture.”Luther had moved from his first conviction—that salvation was by faith in Christ alone to a second. Scripture, not popes or councils, is the standard for Christian faith and behavior.John Eck didn’t miss Luther’s spiritual resemblance to Jan Hus. After the Leipzig debate, he asked Rome to declare Luther a heretic. Luther put his case before the German people by publishing a series of pamphlets. In his Address to the Nobility of the German Nation, Martin called on the princes to correct abuses within the Church, to strip bishops and abbots of their wealth and worldly power, and to create a national, German Church.In his work titled, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church Luther spoke not to the Papal Schism of a century and a half before but how the doctrine of justification by faith had reformed, get this, his doctrine of the Church. He argued that Rome’s sacramental system held Christians “captive.” He attacked the papacy for depriving individual Christians of their freedom to approach God directly by faith, without the mediation of priests. He said that in order for a sacrament to be valid, it had to be instituted by Christ and exclusively Christian. By these tests Luther could find no justification for five of the Roman Catholic sacraments. He retained only Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and placed even these within a community of believing Christians, rather than in the hands of an exclusive priesthood.All this had sweeping ramifications for the Church.  It brushed aside the traditional view of the church as a sacred hierarchy headed by the pope and returned to the early Christian view of a community of Christian believers in which all believers are priests called to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.In his 3rd pamphlet published in 1520, The Freedom of a Christian Man, Luther set forth in a conciliatory but firm voice his views on Christian behavior and salvation. This work is probably the best introduction to his central ideas. He wrote. “Good works do not make a man good, but a good man does good works.”On the eve of his excommunication from the Roman Church, Luther removed the necessity of monasticism by stressing that the essence of Christian living lies in serving God in one’s calling whether secular or religious. All useful callings, he said, are equally sacred in God’s eyes.In June of 1520, Pope Leo X issued his bull condemning Luther, giving him 60 days to turn from his heretical course. The bonfire at Wittenberg made clear Luther’s intent, so his excommunication followed. In January of 1521 the pope declared him a heretic.The problem now fell into the hands of the young emperor, Charles V, who was under oath to defend the Church and remove heresy from the empire. Remember that all Church hierarchy can do is examine those suspected of heresy and declare them innocent or guilty. Punishment was not the duty of priests or monks. That was for the civil magistrate to carry out. So when Luther was declared a dangerous heretic and booted from the Church, it fell to the Emperor to carry out his execution. He summoned Luther to the imperial assembly at Worms, called a Diet, to give an account of his writings. Charles V understood how highly charged the political situation around Luther was since he’d become the hero for a good part of the German nobility Charles desperately needed in his contest with France and the Turks. The emperor wanted to make sure Luther was a verifiable heretic and not just someone Rome wanted to be rid of.While the exact record of the Diet at Worm s is a little cloudy, it seems one day, as Luther was shown a table full of books purported to be his, wherein his radical ideas were expressed, when asked if they were indeed his, and if he stood by all that he had written in them, he hesitated and showed some uncertainty. Whether his hesitation was due to his concern that maybe there were books there he’d NOT authored, or that some of his earlier writings may not have been as accurate in reflection of his present views – or that with the Emperor watching him he was being faced with a potentially life-ending challenge – we don’t know. In any case he was allowed to retire for the day where he reflected on what he was really being challenged by and emerged to stand before the assembly on the morrow were he once again insisted that only Biblical authority would sway him. In a famous and oft quoted line he stated, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”Bold. Courageous. But Charles V was not impressed. He declared Luther an outlaw. He pronounced, “This devil in the habit of a monk has brought together ancient errors into one stinking puddle, and has invented new ones.” Luther had 21 days for safe passage to Saxony before the sentence fell. It never came. Luther was saved from arrest and death by Duke Frederick the Wise, the prince of Saxony whose domains included Wittenberg. The Duke gave Luther sanctuary at his lonely Wartburg Castle. Disguised as a minor nobleman, and given the alias Junker George, Luther stayed for a year. He used the time to translate the New Testament into German, an important first step toward reshaping public and private worship in Germany.
Jan 01, 1970
88-Luther’s Struggle
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This episode of CS is titled, Luther’s Struggle.As we saw last time, Luther’s situation after appearing before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms didn’t look hopeful. The majority of officials there decided to apply the papal bull excommunicating Luther and removing his protection. Some of the nobles knew they could incur the Pope’s favor by taking matters into their own hands and assassinating the troublesome priest. But the German prince Frederick the Wise, one of the Emperor’s most important supporters, arranged to air-quotes à “kidnap" Luther on his way back to Wittenberg. He secreted Luther to his castle at Wartburg under an assumed identity. Now in hiding, Luther used the time to translate the NT from Greek into a superbly simple German Bible.  He finished it in the Fall of 1522 and followed it up with an OT translation from Hebrew. This took longer and wasn’t finished till 1534. The completed Bible proved to be no less a force in the German-speaking world than the King James Version was later to be in the English sphere, and it’s considered one of Luther’s most valuable contributions.The revolt against Rome sparked by Luther’s list tacked to the castle church door at Wittenberg began to spread.  In town after town, priests and town councils removed statues from churches and abandoned the Mass. More priests and monks stepped forward, adding their voice to the call for reform, many more radical than Luther. More importantly, an increasing number of civil officials decided to back Luther in defiance of the Emperor and Pope.By 1522, it was clear to Luther he could safety return to Wittenberg and put into practice the reforms he was convinced the Church needed to install. What he did there became the model for a good part of Germany. He abolished the office of bishop because he couldn’t find it in Scripture. Local churches needed pastors who were servants, not a religious royalty.During his time at the Wartburg, Luther gave much thought to the issue of celibacy. He wrote a tract called On Monastic Vows where he expounded on the idea that a sequestered life wasn’t really Biblical.  When he returned to Wittenberg, he dissolved the monasteries and ended clerical celibacy. The resources of the monasteries were used to relieve the poor, and marriages between former celibates became the order of the day. Erasmus noted that the tragedy of the break with Rome looked like it would finish as a comedy; with everyone married and living happily ever after.Luther himself took a wife in 1525, the former nun, Katherine von Bora. The story goes she was an eminently practical woman but not all that attractive. When her fellow sisters got married, she was left single and approached Luther, saying it was his fault she was now alone and without support. She suggested it was his duty to remedy her situation. When he asked how he as supposed to do that, she replied marrying her was his best option. So he did.A new image of full-time ministry appeared in western Christianity—the married pastor living like any other man with his own family. Luther later wrote, “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.” By all accounts, while Martin and Katherine’s marriage began as a purely pragmatic arrangement, the love between them grew into a rich joy. Luther was deeply affectionate to his wife, who often was instrumental in keeping Luther’s frequent dark moods from overwhelming him. They had six children.Martin and Katherine lived in what had been the Augustinian convent. Their house was nearly always full of guests who enjoyed sitting at their table. Some of his students the Luthers had in for meals took down their conversation, now published in a work called Table Talk.Luther understood if Reform was to take root and grow, it had to be fueled by the study of the Bible. Studying Scripture required the ability to read it and to reason logically. So he placed a great emphasis on education and urged parents to send their children to school. To assist in the education of youth, he composed a Large Catechism in 1528, then a more popular Small Catechism a year later. In the Small Catechism, Luther gave a simple exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the two sacraments. He offered forms for confession, morning and evening prayers, and grace at meals.Keep in mind Luther hadn’t begun in 1517 with a fully developed theological position and a plan to Reform the Roman church or break away and start a separate religious franchise.  That was nowhere on the horizon. When he tacked his list on Wittenberg’s church door, it was simply a reflection of his desire that church officials begin examining both long-held traditions and more recent innovations by holding them up to the light of Scripture. As things progressed, Luther realized he had to follow his own advice.Many Protestants have heard of Luther’s 95 Theses but they’ve not read them. It’s surprising to see what he calls for people to examine there. Turns out, there’s little in Luther’s List that ended up in the core doctrines of the Reformation. But once Luther embraced the principle of reviewing everything in the light of God’s Word, a far more complete doctrinal picture began to take shape. He saw his way clear in the matter of justification by grace thru faith. When he applied this to the issue of indulgences is when he popped up on Rome’s radar. His emerging understanding of the priesthood of all believers was a threat Rome couldn’t ignore because it threatened their religious hegemony. Soon, everything was being scrutinized in the light of Scripture.Luther translated the Latin liturgy into German. People began receiving Communion in both bread and wine. The emphasis in church services switched from the celebration of the Mass to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.In 1524, Germany got a taste of how far reaching Luther’s call for reforms could reach. His insistence that church and society follow the commands of Scripture led to an uprising of the peasants against the nobility.  The people applied the concept of the freedom of the Christian to the economic and social spheres. Long kept under the domineering thumb of the nobility, the peasants revolted against their feudal lords. They demanded an end to medieval serfdom, unless it could be justified from the Bible, and relief from the excessive services demanded of them which kept them in virtual slavery.At the beginning of their protest, Luther agreed with the peasants and recognized the justice of their complaints. What he stridently warned against was the use of violence to enforce their will on a recalcitrant nobility. When violence did break out, he lashed out against the peasants. Since the printing press was already a major part of his work, he employed it again and wrote a pamphlet titled, Against the Thievish and Murderous Hordes of Peasants.  In it, Luther called on the princes to “knock down, strangle, stab … and think nothing so venomous, pernicious, or Satanic as an insurgent.”In 1525, the nobles crushed the revolt at a cost of some 100,000 lives. The survivors now called Luther a false prophet. Many of them returned to Catholicism or turned to more radical forms of the Reformation.Luther’s conservative political and economic views devolved from his belief that the equality of all men before God applied to spiritual rather than secular matters. Though these views alienated the common people, they proved a boon to Luther’s influence with the German princes, many of whom became Lutheran in part because Luther’s views allowed them to control the Church in their territories, thereby strengthening their power and wealth.In 1530, a conference of Reformation leaders convened in Augsburg to draw up a common Statement of Faith. The leadership of the movement had already begun to move beyond Luther. He was still an outlaw and unable to attend. So the task of presenting Luther’s ideas fell to his colleague, a young professor of Greek at Wittenberg, Philip Melanchthon. The young scholar drafted the Augsburg Confession signed by Lutheran princes and theologians. And though a growing movement of the German nobility now threw their weight behind the Reform, Emperor Charles V, who depended on their support, was no more inclined to join the movement than he’d been a Worms.After 1530, Charles made clear his intention to crush the growing heresy. The Lutheran princes banded together in 1531 in the Schmalkald League, and between 1546 and 55 there was scattered, on-and-off-again civil war. The combatants reached a compromise in the Peace of Augsburg, which allowed each prince to decide the religion of his subjects, with the only acceptable options being Lutheran or Catholic, and ordered all Catholic bishops to give up their property if they turned Lutheran.The effects of this treaty were profound. Lutheranism became a State religion in large portions of the Empire. It spread north to Scandinavia. Religious opinions became the private property of princes, and individuals had to believe what their prince chose.Luther remained engaged in unending debate with the Roman Church. And it wasn’t long before he found himself embroiled in disagreements with other reformers. Outspoken and combative, he often collided with equally fierce opponents. These controversies took on a bitter edge that saw Luther hurling vicious epithets at his opponents. The insults he’d once used for the Pope were turned on fellow Reformers. All this greatly hampered reform.For example, Luther became entangled in a controversy with the humanist scholar and reformer Erasmus. The two had much in common, sharing concerns for scholarship, for opening up the Scriptures, and for doctrinal and practical reform. Still, they differed sharply in character and theological approach. Under pressure to declare himself either for Luther or against him, Erasmus turned to the important issue of the freedom of the will and published a work titled, Diatribe on Free Will in 1524. To this Luther made a scornfully sharp reply a year later in his Bondage of the Will. This work is a powerful statement of the Augustinian position that in matters of righteousness and salvation human will has no power to act apart from God’s enabling grace. Erasmus replied to Luther’s reply, but Luther ignored it. Erasmus then aligned himself with opponents of the Reformation, although still urging reform and maintaining friendly relations with other reformers.The Lutherans themselves experienced a split over how to understand Communion. Like a bulldog, Luther clung to the words of Jesus "This is my body" as supporting his belief that Jesus was present in the elements. When the Southern Germans and Swiss broke away saying that the elements were meant ot be understood as symbolic, Luther published a couple of scathing responses in 1526 and 7. There’s a coarseness to his style in the second of these that may indicate Luther had no desire to win his opponents, only to insult them.Since this is a history and not theology podcast, I’m not going to go into all the nuances of the Eucharistic debate that ensued between the Lutherans and other Reformers. Suffice it to say, it became one of the major issues of controversy between them.Luther ran into other difficulties, too.He hoped at first that the renewing of the Gospel would open the way for the conversion of the Jews. When that didn’t pan out, he made virulent attacks on them, planting a deep stain on his record. Philip of Hesse, a champion of the Reformation, became an embarrassment to Luther when he gave assent to Philip’s bigamous marriage in 1540. The development of armed religious alliances in the empire worried Luther, for while he accepted the divine authorization of princes and valued their help in practical reformation, he struggled hard for the principle that the Gospel does not need to be advanced or defended by military power. He was spared the conflict that came so soon after his death.Even his sympathetic biographers have found it hard to justify some of Luther’s actions in his declining years. By the time of his death in 1546, says biographer Roland Bainton, Luther was “an irascible old man, petulant, peevish, unrestrained, and at times positively coarse.” As chance would have it, his schedule brought him to Eisleben, the town of his birth, where he died on Feb. 18, 1546.Fortunately, the personal defects of an aging rebel don’t in any way detract from the greatness of Luther’s achievements, which transformed not only Christianity but Western civilization. He took four basic concerns and offered vital new answers.To the question - How is a person saved, Luther replied: not by works but by faith alone.To the question - Where does religious authority lie, he answered: not in the visible institution called the Roman church but in the Word of God found in the Bible.To the question—What is the church?—he responded: the whole community of Christian believers, since all are priests before God.And last, to the question—What is the center of the Christian life?—he replied: serving God in any useful calling, whether ordained or not.
Jan 01, 1970
89-Luthers’ Legacy
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This episode of CS is titled Luther’s Legacy.Long time subscribers to CS know that while the podcast isn’t bias free, I do strive to treat subjects fairly. However, being a pastor of a non-denominational, evangelical Christian church in SoCal, I do have my views and opinions on the material we cover. When I share those opinions, I try to mark them as such. So >> Warning; Blatant opinion now ensues …We live in the Era of the Instant. People expect to have things quickly and relatively easily. Technology has produced an array of labor-saving devices that reduce once arduous tasks to effortless, “push a button and voila” procedures. Sadly, many assume such instantifying applies to the acquisition of knowledge as well. The internet enhances this expectation with ready access to on-line information, not just thru a desktop computer, but via smartphones where ever we are.And of course, if it’s on the interwebs, it must be true.But knowledge and understanding are different things. Knowing a fact doesn’t equal understanding a concept, truth or principle. And many people now want their history in condensed form. They don’t really care to understand so much as to “get an A on the quiz” or, be able to answer trivia game questions. They can answer multiple choice but wouldn’t have a clue how to write an essay.I say all this as we fill in some of our gaps on Martin Luther for two reasons.First – The very nature of this podcast, short snippets on Church history, can easily foster a cavalier attitude toward our subject. So I need to make a MASSIVE qualifier and say that if all someone listens to is CS, they must never, ever assume they know Church History. My entire aim is to give those who listen reference points, a broad sweep of history with just enough detail to spark your embarking on your own journey of studying this fascinating subject. Pick one era, maybe just 1st C, and one region, then study everything you can find about it. Become an expert on that one span of history. Press in past the dates and people and places, seeking to truly understand. Then use that to expand your study either backward or forward in time.Second – When we think of someone like Martin Luther, we tend to make him an index for a certain idea or movement. “Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation.” The problem with this is that we then tend to assume Luther was born with the intent of breaking away from the Roman church, as our last 2 episodes have shown was not at all the case. The evolution of Luther’s thoughts was an amazing microcosm of what was happening in at least hundreds, and probably thousands of people at that time. He just happened to be positioned as the lightening rod of change.In this episode, I want to fill in some of the gaps the previous couple episodes left because of our time-limited routine here on CS. What follows is a bit of a hodge-podge meant to provide a little more context for understanding Luther and how he came to the ideas he articulated and millions ended up embracing.Martin Luther ranks as one of the most influential figures of the last thousand years. While Marco Polo and Columbus opened new lands, Shakespeare and Michelangelo produced some of the most sublime art, and Napoleon and Stalin changed the political face of their times, Luther triggered a change in the human spirit that’s reached billions all around the world. The ideas announced in his sermons and written in books have affected virtually every realm and sphere of human activity, from politics to art, work to leisure. Truth be told, Luther’s main body of work was a conscious part of the early American character and continued to play a central role until recently. It was Luther who played wet-nurse to the Modern world’s emergence from Medievalism. We can neither credit nor blame Luther for the whole of what eventually became Protestantism, but as one who played a critical role in the emergence of a new movement and a new way of life for millions of people, the influence of his actions and beliefs on the past 500 years is beyond calculating. The modern world can barely be understood without Luther and the Reformation he sparked.Once Martin Luther was ordained a priest and settled into his ministry at Erfurt, his    superiors in the Augustinian order decided he should continue with his theological studies. Having gained a Master of Arts, he was qualified to lecture on philosophy. But he knew he needed more study to qualify as a lecturer on the Bible.The first step toward that end was to lecture on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, a standard theology textbook of the Middle Ages, which collected extracts from Scripture and the early church Fathers, arranged under topical headings to enhance discussion of theological issues. Under the guidance of Johann Nathin, a Professor of Theology and a senior member of Luther’s order, Luther set to work studying texts such as Gabriel Biel’s Dogmatics, a commentary on Lombard’s Sentences. Luther devoured Lombard’s theology.Meanwhile, Johann von Staupitz had been involved with the German Prince and Elector, Frederick the Wise, in establishing a new university in a small town called Wittenberg, 100 miles NW of Erfurt. In the Winter of 1508–9, he invited Luther to move and teach there. Staupitz was himself Lecturer in Biblical Studies in Wittenberg, so the idea was for Luther to help with the teaching of Aristotle’s Ethics. At the same time, he would work towards his doctorate, the ultimate qualification to teach theology in the church and university. After a single term, he was recalled to Erfurt for a further two years to fill a gap in the teaching program, but eventually returned to Wittenberg in 1512. Luther was placed in charge of  teaching younger Augustinian friars in the order’s house in town. He received his doctorate in mid-October and enrolled as a full teaching member of the university.These years also saw the growth of Luther’s profile within the Augustinian Order. In 1510, he was sent with a fellow friar to Rome to try to sort out a complex internal matter connected with the order. They assumed his training as a lawyer positioned him as perfect for the job. The trip proved unsuccessful, but it was Luther’s only trip outside Germany.The Modern and mostly uninformed view of the Middle Ages is that it was a time when the people of Europe assumed they knew everything, and that the everything they knew was colossally wrong. But we Moderns NOW know è WE know everything. Ha!It does not take much investigation to realize this image of medieval thought is far from true. Erfurt, like most German universities of the time, was a place of wide theological variety. For several centuries, theology in the universities of Europe had been dominated by The Scholastics.By the time Luther came on the scene, there were three main types of Scholastic theology in operation. The first two, following the teaching of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus were by then known as the ‘old way’ or Realists. Alongside this was emerging a new kind of theology, called the ‘modern way’, o r Nominalists.One central question medieval theologians often pondered concerned the parts played by God and humans in salvation. The question of how we can come into a right relationship with God or, as the theologians called it, the doctrine of justification, was a hot topic. Contrary to what we might think, no one in late-medieval theological circles believed that a person could earn salvation purely by their own efforts. All agreed that God’s grace was necessary for salvation. The point at issue was how much and what kind of help was needed, and what part people played in the process. The Church’s teaching on this question was far from clear, and a number of different positions were held, not least among the Nominalist faction.One group took their cue from the great 5th C Bishop of Hippo, St Augustine.  When it came to the doctrine of justification, they held that humanity was helpless. Only God himself, by his sovereign mercy, could intervene and save people. Another group of Nominalists, the group that had an early influence on Luther, such as William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel, thought there was something which could be done to initiate the process of salvation.When Luther read Biel’s textbook, he was persuaded by the idea that God has entered into a covenant, or pact, with humanity. If the sinner did what lay within him, then God would not deny him grace. Within the framework of this agreement or covenant, sinners were capable of making a small moral effort on their own, without the help of God’s grace. This initial effort was required before God would respond. This might involve feeling a genuine sorrow for sin, or generating a sense of love for God. In response to this, God would give a supply (‘infusion’ was the technical term) of His grace to help fan this spark into a flame. But this initial gift of grace was not enough to access salvation on its own. The Christian then had to cooperate with God’s grace and, by the exercise of good works done with God’s help, perfect this contrition for sin and love for God, so that salvation could truly be attained.At the same time one group of Nominalists was scratching this out, another movement with its origins a Century earlier scorned all these movements within scholastic thought. The Renaissance, which had begun in Northern Italy, spread into Germany. It captured the allegiance of many younger scholars, with its exciting promise of returning to the sources of classical Greece and Rome as a model for literature, art, architecture, law and rhetoric.‘Humanism,’ as this program was known, isn’t to be confused with modern humanism, that is, secular humanism, which is atheistic. While it did have a high view of human dignity, the 16th C version was religious in character, something most colleges and universities today neglect to mention. Renaissance humanism, or the study of the humanities wasn’t so much a set of ideas or philosophical opinions, as a yearning for all things classical. The great motivating desire was to acquire eloquence and skill with words and language. So, everything was devoted towards a new kind of education, which involved making the study of classical texts possible—as these were thought the best models of eloquence available. These texts could be Greek literature, Roman law, classical poetry or early Christian theology. So, the humanists promoted the study of Greek and Hebrew, alongside Latin, the language of all scholarly work in the Middle Ages, so that these texts could be read in the original, avoiding what they felt was the misleading filter of medieval translations.Humanists took particular exception to the methods and products of scholastic theology, of every stripe, Nominalist or Realist. They felt that the scholastic method encouraged the asking and answering of a series of irrelevant questions. They also objected to the method of using medieval commentaries, rather than the original texts themselves. For the humanist, lengthy medieval interpretations simply got in the way of the brilliance of the original authors. Humanists wanted a direct encounter with the original text of classical authors, the Bible and the Fathers, rather than have all that muddied by an extra layer of explanations made by lesser, more recent scholars, writing in crude and verbose medieval Latin.So, using the recent invention of the printing press, humanists reproduced of a whole series of ancient Christian texts, which made a new kind of scholarship possible. Three works in particular were important.First, in 1503, Erasmus published the Enchiridion or Handbook of the Christian Soldier. It laid out a program of reform for the Church.Second, in 1506, an 11-volume edition of the Works of Augustine appeared. For the first time in centuries, it was possible to read the greatest authority in Western theology in full, in context, and without the help of medieval commentators.Third, and most important was Erasmus’s greatest achievement, his Greek New Testament published in 1516. Although this edition was not as reliable as it might have been since Erasmus had a limited number of texts to work from—it became the first-ever printed edition of the Greek text, so that, for the first time, theologians all over Europe had the chance to compare the standard Latin Bible text with the original. A number of disturbing things emerged. For example, medieval theologians were unanimous in seeing marriage as a full sacrament of the church, alongside holy communion and baptism, on the basis of Jerome’s translation of Ephesians 5:32, which referred to it as a sacrament. When Erasmus’s edition appeared, it became clear that the original Greek word really meant ‘mystery’. The scriptural basis for regarding marriage as equal in value to baptism and Communion was shaken. So, the work of Erasmus and the other humanists played a major part in loosening the hold of the church’s authority in the minds of many educated laypeople.While they didn’t engage in outright warfare, scholasticism and humanism jostled in the lecture halls and universities across Germany in the early years of the 16th C. Erfurt where Luther was, was no exception. The two schools of thought were both present in the university, although relationships between them were, on the whole, fairly amiable. Luther was known for his knowledge of classical writers. He likely attended lectures by humanist teachers.This was the theological landscape at the time Luther’s mind was being formed. Taught theology by nominalists, Luther believed as long as he did his best, God would give him grace to help him to become better. Humanist texts allowed him to study the great authorities of the Bible and the Fathers with fresh eyes. From 1509–10, he studied Augustine’s works and Lombard’s Sentences, and some of the notes he made in the margins of these works have survived to this day. They show him to be a not particularly original adherent of the theology of the Modern Way. He’d followed his teachers well, and there was little sign at this stage of departure from them.Luther was often plagued by bouts of depression. He wondered whether God really did hold good intentions towards him, sensing rather the stern stare of Christ as judge, demanding from him an impossible level of purity. He wondered whether these feelings were evidence he wasn’t chosen at all, but that he was among those destined to be damned to eternal suffering.On the shelves of the library of the Augustinian friary in Erfurt were copies of several works by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was something of a hero to monks like Luther, having developed a rich spiritual theology in the 12th C, and lots of advice on the spiritual life. Luther read these and heard them read over meals. He noticed Bernard’s close attention to Scripture, and a piety which kept returning to the sufferings and humility of Jesus. Bernard advised his readers to meditate on the cross of Christ, especially when anxious or depressed. One of the virtues gained from such meditation was humility, a virtue greatly valued by God. Bernard said humility’s abiding image was the crucified Christ, and how God used the experience of suffering, even seasons of doubt, to bring humility to the human soul. à This was a tonic to the oft-tormented Luther.This emphasis on the Scriptures and pondering the cross, passed on by earlier scholars like Bernard and Augustine plowed and planted the field of Luther’s mind for the fruit it would later produce in the central doctrine of the Reformation – Justification by Faith Alone.A recent biographer called Martin Luther “A catastrophe in the history of Western civilization.” If we look only at the religious wars which were part of the Reformation, that verdict seems fair. But if we widen the criteria of our evaluation to Luther’s role in calling the church to a simpler, more just and communal vision, in puncturing the conceited abuse of power and hierarchical oppression of a moribund institution which nearly all admit was grotesquely corrupt, not to mention the inspiration which his theology has been to countless people over the centuries since, that judgment isn’t fair.Luther was a man of immense personal courage, fierce intelligence, and furious stubbornness. A mind steeped in the theology of his time, an ability to see quickly to the heart of an issue, and an eloquence that enabled him to express his ideas with clarity, was a powerful mixture. He inspired deep loyalty, even ardent love on the part of his supporters. He had a capacity to enjoy life in a huge way. He could be both tender and sharp, and his absence left an irreplaceable gap. As Melanchthon put it at Luther’s funeral, now they were ‘entirely poor, wretched, forsaken, orphans who had lost a dear noble man as our father’. At the same time, Luther was a man with deep flaws, who made enemies as quickly as friends, and whose brilliant language could be used to hurt as much as to heal.As we end this episode, I wanted to share something I found that I thought was really good in regards to Luther’s Enduring Legacy. It has to do with his doctrine of Justification by Faith. These thoughts are sparked by Graham Tomlin’s Luther and His World.Our Postmodern culture isn’t concerned with the same questions that dominated the 16th C. People today don’t agonize, as Luther did, over where to find a gracious God. Modern men and women aren’t in the least bit concerned about the demands of a whole series of religious rules. But they do experience the constant demand to live up to standards of beauty set by the glamour industry; to levels of achievement set by business targets, or to standards of talent set by entertainment and sports. How to understand the self is a persistent and difficult problem modern psychotherapy aims to ameliorate.While Luther obviously worked before the development psychology, his doctrine of justification by faith has something to say to modern man. It says that human worth lies not in any ability or quality we possess, but in the simple fact that we are loved by our Creator.At the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Luther claimed: “Sinners are attractive because they are loved, not loved because they are attractive.” He used to say that our value lies not inside us, but outside us; in Christ himself. The righteousness of the Christian, in which he/she stands before God, is not their own righteousness, but is Christ’s own righteousness, received by faith. They can know their true value is found not in any good quality in themselves, nor any good actions they’ve performed, but in the fact they’re loved by God. Luther’s location of value entirely ‘outside ourselves’, in God’s love manifested in Christ, safeguards a sense that our worth is unshakeable. Whether in work or unemployed, able-bodied or disabled; red or yellow, black or white we’re ALL precious in God’s sight. Even if we experience doubt over our worth through despair at our own capabilities, virtue or reputation, this sense of ultimate value cannot be taken away and can become the foundation of a secure and steady self-image because it’s received rather than achieved.But there’s more and this is where the doctrine of justification by faith can touch and heal our shattered world. The doctrine reverses the way in which we tend to evaluate other people. If a person’s value lies in a quality or feature which they possess, such as a particular skill or ability or ethnicity, it can make distinctions between people. Some people are more valuable and some are less; and we’re back to Apartheid, slavery, and the Holocaust. If, however, as justification by faith insists, a person’s true value lies not in anything they possess but in something ‘outside themselves’; that they are loved by God—then we can’t make such distinctions. Each person has dignity and value, and deserves equal treatment, regardless of age, skills, social utility or earning capacity.The Biblical Doctrine of Justification by Faith utterly upends Critical Theory which carves people into groups and sets worth solely by their identity IN that group. For the Biblical truth of Salvation by Grace through Faith resets human identity in only two groups; the lost and saved = Both of which are loved eternally by God, a love made manifest in the Cross of Christ.There is, however, at the same time a sobering honesty about Luther’s doctrine of justification. He insists that the first step to wisdom, to a rock-solid, immovable sense of self-worth, is to take a good look into the depths of one’s own soul. It means to face up honestly to the self-centeredness, lack of love for one’s neighbor, cowardice and indifference towards those who are suffering that lurks there. This is no easy doctrine which glosses over the reality of sin and evil in the human heart, the capacity to inflict pain and injustice which lies in everyone. For Luther, God has to help us to look into this abyss before we can go any further. This is far from that pleasant middle-class religion which assumes that everyone is good and nice, and which refuses to look beneath the surface. Luther’s God insists on facing up to the dark secrets inside, the selfish motivations and hidden desires.But this is only preliminary. Some forms of religion have implied that this is the sum of religion—making us feel bad about ourselves. Luther insists this is merely a necessary first step—a means to an end, but not an end in itself. God breaks up the fragile foundations of a sense of self-worth based in our own virtues, in order to establish a much firmer rock upon which to build. Luther would have been wary of psychological techniques which try to build self-worth by positive thinking and self-talk.Justification by faith is a reminder to Christians that they approach God not on the basis of who they are, but on the basis of who Christ is. Self-worth, value and forgiveness are gifts, not rights. It’s nothing to do with achieving an elusive goal of becoming the idealized person they might like to be in their most hopeful moments. It is a reminder that it is only when they stop trying to be someone else, and start being honest about who they really are, that they can begin to receive God’s acceptance of them à In Christ.It doesn’t get any more Biblical than that!
Jan 01, 1970
66-God’s Ox
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This Episode is titled “God’s Ox.”I begin with a thanks to those who’ve given a review of CS on the iTunes store where many subscribe to the podcast. While iTunes is just one outlet for the podcast world, it turns out to be THE MAJOR venue for rating and promoting podcasts.Look, what we’re doing here is ultra-amateur. CS is a labor of love and makes no claim at being a scholarly review of history. I share these episodes in the hope others can tag along and learn alongside me. I make no claim that this is exhaustive. On the contrary; it’s a cursory account meant to give a brief overview of Church history; a kind of verbal fly-over; with occasional moments when we linger over something interesting. I aim to give listeners a basic sense of when events occurred in relation to each other; who some of the main actors and actresses were with the part they played. And as I’ve said before, the episodes are intentionally short to make it easy to listen in the brief snatches as people are working out, doing chores, going for a walk, driving to work. What’s a kick is to hear about all the ways people HAVE connected to CS. Several have queued up a bunch of episodes and listened as they drive across country or fly overseas.I was at a conference a while back, talking quietly to some friends when a guy sitting in the row in front of me turned around and said, “Are you Lance? Do you have the podcast, Communio Sanctorum?” He recognized my voice. We had a great time getting to know each other better. Another time while on a tour of Israel, I met a guy in the dining room of one of our hotels who’s a fan of the podcast. What a kcick that was.Anyway – I appreciate it when people leave comments on the FB page or send an email. But best of all is to rate the podcast and write a quick review on iTunes, then tells your friends to give us a listen.Now, back to the Scholastics.Though fueled by the work of Abelard and Anselm, Scholasticism reached its zenith when the Greek philosopher Aristotle was re-discovered by scholars in Europe. The Crusades made contact with Muslim scholars who debated Aristotle’s philosophy. Their thoughts returned with the Crusaders and were passed on to the theological schools located in the mendicant orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans. These were the groups the Church had invested with the study of theology.  During the mid-13th C, there was something of an Aristotelian revival in these schools. It’s interesting that at the dawn of the 13th C, the reading of Aristotle was banned! After all, he was a pagan Greek. What could Christians learn from him? But, as any college knows, there’s one way to make sure something gets read. Ban it, place a prohibition on it. So a couple decades later, portions of Aristotle were allowed to be read. By mid-Century, he was required reading and both he and his mentor Plato and his teacher Socrates were unofficially baptized and made over into pre-Christian saints.It makes sense that Aristotle’s philosophy would be resurrected when we remember the goal of the Scholastics was to apply reason to faith; to seek to understand with the rational mind what the spirit already believed. It was Aristotle who’d developed the rules of formal logic.During the Middle Ages in Europe, all learning took place under the watchful eye of the Church. Theology reigned supreme among the sciences. Philosophers like Aristotle, the Muslim Averroes [ah-ver-O –ee], and Jewish Maimonides were studied alongside the Bible. Scholars were especially fascinated by Aristotle. He seemed to have explained the entire universe, not by using Scripture but by his powers of observation and reason.For some ultra-conservatives, this emphasis on reason threatened to undermine traditional belief. Christians had come to think that knowledge could come only through God’s revelation, that only those to whom God chose to reveal truth could understand the universe. How could this be squared with the knowledge taught by these newly re-discovered philosophies?The pinnacle of Scholastic theology arrived with Thomas Aquinas. His work forever shaped the direction of Catholicism. His influence was so profound he was given the title “Dr. Angelicus – the Angelic Doctor.” His magnum opus was Summa Theologica in which he said philosophical reasoning and faith were perfect complements: Reason leads to faith.He was born in Italy to Count Lundulf of Aquino and his wife Theodora. It became clear at a young age that Thomas would be a physically large child. At 5 he was sent to a school at the nearby monastery of Monte Cassino that Benedict had started 700 yrs before. At 14, Thomas went to the University of Naples, where his Dominican teacher so impressed him Thomas decided he too would join the new, study-oriented Dominican order.His family fiercely opposed this, hoping he’d become a wealthy abbot or archbishop rather than take the mendicant’s vow of poverty. Thomas’s brothers kidnapped and confined him for over a year. His family tempted him with a prostitute and an offer to buy him the archbishopric of Naples. Thomas would have none of it. He went to Paris, medieval Europe’s HQ of theological study. There it was that he came under the spell of the scholar Albert the Great.When Thomas began his studies, no one would suspect the future that lay before him. He was colossally obese, much of his size due to suffering from edema, AKA dropsy. He had one huge eye that dwarfed the other and gave his face a distorted aspect many found disconcerting. Socially, he was anything but the dynamic, charismatic figure some might assume; you know – something to make up for his awkward physical appearance.  Aquinas was introspective and silent most of the time. When he did speak, what he said often had nothing to do with the conversation at hand. In college his classmates called him “the dumb ox,” a title that seemed apropos for both appearance and behavior.What people didn’t realize till later was the incredibly keen mind behind the unassuming exterior, and the brilliant way he was able to marshal his thoughts into persuasive language others could understand. Remember that the goal of the Scholastics was to provide a rational understanding to what Christians believe. Aquinas gave critical support to such doctrines as the attributes of God, the Resurrection, and ex-nihilo creation; creation out of nothing. While these are things most Christians hold to, Aquinas also provided support for distinctly Roman beliefs; such as the veneration of Mary, purgatory, the role of human merit in salvation, and the seven sacraments by which God conveys grace through the Roman clergy. He also gave much support to Transubstantiation, the idea that the Communion elements are turned into the actual, literal body and blood of Christ in the Mass.His theological and philosophical thoughts consumed him. According to one account, he was dining with King Louis IX of France. While others engaged in conversation, Thomas stared off into space, lost in thought. Forgetting or not caring where he was, he slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “Ah! There’s an argument that will destroy the Manicheans!” -- a heretical group from ages before.At the beginning of his Summa Theologica, Thomas distinguished between philosophy and theology, between reason and revelation. Contrary to what some had claimed, true theology and philosophy don’t contradict each other. They are each avenues of knowledge ordained by God.Following Aristotle’s lead, Thomas proposed that reason is based on what our senses tell us—what we can see, feel, hear, smell, and touch. Revelation is based on more. While reason can lead us to belief in God—something that other theologians like Anselm had already said—only revelation can show us God as He really is, the God of the Bible. Philosophy makes clear the existence of God. But only theology based on Revelation tells us what the God Who exists is like.Thomas accepted Aristotle’s principle that every effect has a cause, every cause a prior cause, and so on back to the First Cause. He declared creation traces back to a divine First Cause, the Creator. However, the full knowledge of God—the Trinity, for example—comes only through revelation. From this knowledge we discover man’s origin and destiny.Aquinas went on: Man is a sinner in need of special grace from God. Jesus Christ by his sacrifice has secured the reconciliation of man and God. All who receive the benefits of Christ’s work are justified, but the key, as in traditional Catholic teaching, lies in the way the benefits of Christ’s work are applied. Christ won grace; but the Church imparts it. Aquinas taught that Christians need the constant infusion of “cooperating grace,” whereby the Christian virtues are stimulated in the soul. Assisted by this cooperating grace a Christian can do works that please God and gain special merit in God’s sight.This grace, said Aquinas, comes to men only through the divinely appointed sacraments placed in the keeping of the Church; that is the visible, organized Roman Church, led by the Pope. So convinced was Aquinas of the divine authority of the papacy he insisted that submission to the pope was necessary for salvation.Following an earlier Scholastic, Peter of Lombard, Aquinas held to seven sacraments as a means by which the Church imparts grace to people. He said since sin remains a problem for the baptized believer, God provided penance, a sacrament that made for spiritual healing.With some caution, Thomas also accepted the practice of indulgences that had gained acceptance during the Crusades. Aquinas taught that thanks to the work of Christ and the meritorious deeds of the saints, the Church had access to a “treasury of merit”—a kind of great spiritual reservoir of excess goodness. Priests were able to draw from this reservoir to aid Christians who had insufficient merit of their own. We’ll take a closer look at indulgences later when we get to the Reformation.Aquinas said the wicked pass into hell while the faithful who’ve wisely used the means of grace pass immediately to heaven. But the bulk of Christians who’d followed Christ inadequately, had to suffer purification in purgatory before ascending to the joys of heaven. Thankfully, these souls are not beyond the help of the Church on Earth, Aquinas reasoned. Prayers to the saints and special masses could relieve the pains of souls in purgatory.Now, there was nothing new in all this. It’d been said many times before. But Thomas set the traditional teachings of the Church in a cosmic framework.Thomas’s writings, and there were more than what was contained in the Summa, were attacked before he was in his grave. In 1277, the archbishop of Paris tried to have Thomas condemned, but the Roman clergy put a stop to it. Though Thomas was canonized in 1325, it took another 200 years before his teaching was hailed as pre-eminent and a major rebuttal to Protestantism. His writings played a prominent role in the Counter-Reformation’s Council of Trent.In 1879, a papal bull endorsed Aquinas’s theology, today known as Thomism, as an authentic expression of doctrine and said it should be studied by all students of theology. Both Protestant and Catholic scholars study his work deeply.Thomas himself would probably not be pleased. Toward the end of his life, he had a vision that forced him to drop his pen. Though he’d experienced such visions for years, this was different. His secretary begged him to pick up his pen and continue, but Aquinas replied, “I cannot. Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw.” His Summa Theologica, one of the most influential writings in Church history was left unfinished when he died three months later.
Jan 01, 1970
01-It Begins
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This 1st episode of CS is titled, “It Begins.”The best place to start is at the beginning. But with Church History, where is that? Where do we begin?Most MODERN Christians would probably start with Jesus. That seems pretty straight-forward.But where would the FIRST Christians have begun?They were Jews, and considered what they believed as a purified form of Judaism; a faith Moses would have approved of. They believed Jesus was Messiah, the long hoped for & oft prophesied Savior Who came to restore the faith God revealed to Abraham 2000 years before.So à Where would Peter, Andrew, John, James, or Thomas have begun telling the story?The Apostle John begins his story of Jesus at creation with the words “In the beginning …” We’ll come up in time considerably and start with the man known as Jesus of Nazareth engaged in His public ministry; traveling through Northern Israel with a dozen disciples.At that time, the 1st Century of what modern historians like to called the Common Era, Israel was an uneasy part of the Roman Empire. Unlike some provinces that counted being part of Rome a privilege, Israel loathed their Roman occupiers. Most Jews resisted more than just political domination by a foreign power; they also despise the Greek culture the Romans brought with them.All this stirred the pot of popular expectation among Jews for the arrival of the Messiah who they anticipated would be primarily a political figure. Scripture foretold He’d replace corruption with paradise; the wicked would be punished, the righteous rewarded, and Israel exalted among the nations. Messiah would restore David's throne and rule over the affairs of Earth.Some prophets spoke of a war between good and evil that would resolve in the Messiah's victory. This flavored the anticipation of many. They cast Rome as the chief adversary Messiah would crush.By the 1st Century, different groups had developed around their belief in what was the right way to prepare for this political Messiah.The Pharisees devoted themselves to the Law of Moses and religious tradition.The Essenes took a segregationist approach, pursuing holiness by moving to isolated communes to await Messiah's arrival.Zealots advocated armed resistance against Rome as well as those Jews who collaborated with the hated enemy. Zealots drew their inspiration from the successful Maccabean Revolt against the Syrian Greeks a couple hundred years before.A 4th group were the Sadducees who took a more pragmatic approach to the Roman presence & accommodated themselves to the Greco-Roman culture they were convinced would eventually become the status quo. Sadducees were a minority but held most of the positions of political and religious leadership in Jerusalem.The last and by far largest group among the Jews of 1st Century is rarely mentioned; the Common People. They were neither Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene nor Zealot.  They were just à Jews; everyday people in covenant with God but preoccupied with fields, flocks, trades, markets, family, & well—Life; the daily grind. They held opinions regarding politics and religion but were too busy surviving to join one of the groups who claimed superiority to the others. It was these commoners who were most attracted to Jesus. They were drawn to Him because He did a masterful job of refusing to be co-opted by the elites.Jesus came in the traditional mode of a Rabbi, but was anything but traditional. Like other rabbis, He had disciples who followed Him, but His teaching stood in contrast to theirs. His words carried authority that challenged the thick, hard shell of tradition that had become encrusted round their religion.  Listening to Jesus wasn't like listening to a commentary on Torah, which so many other teachers DID sound like. Listening to Jesus was like listening to Moses himself, explaining what the law was meant to be and do. Then—Jesus did something that really made people pay attention; He validated His teaching by performing miracles. And not a few. He did many!It was a tough assignment to carve a path through Jewish society that didn't intersect with the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots or Sadducees, but Jesus negotiated it perfectly. Both His life and teaching powerfully demonstrated genuine Judaism and revealed the shabby counterfeit of the religious pretenders. At first they tried to co-opt Him and turn his rising popularity to their agenda. When He refused to make common cause with them, they turned on Him.Jesus furthermore resisted the efforts of the common people to make him King. Their hope that He was Messiah swelled to the call that He claim Israel’s throne. They wanted a political leader. But that was not Jesus’ mission & He resisted their attempts to install Him as monarch.Jesus’ consistent message was the true nature of the Kingdom of God. Contemporary Judaism saw that Kingdom as primarily political, military, & economic. A realm in which …
  • Israel would rule instead of Rome.
  • Messiah would reign in place of Caesar.
  • Judaism would replace paganism.
  • And the sandal finally would be on the other foot.
Jesus’ message was a much different take on the Kingdom. It wasn't about politics or economics. It was about the heart, the inner life. Jesus repeatedly emphasized that to be in covenant with God meant to be in an intimate relationship with Him, not as some distant, disinterested deity, but as a loving Father.Jesus’ popularity with commoners created jealousy on the part of the leaders. His unblemished example of a warm & endearing godliness revealed the pathetic shabbiness of the merely religious. When He cleared the Temple of the fraudulent marketplace the leaders used as a source of income, they decided it was time to get rid of Him. They convinced themselves they were only protecting the nation from Rome's wrath against the insurrection they claimed Jesus was sure to lead. They arrested Him, ran Him through a sham-trial, then turned him over to the Romans for execution, saying He encouraged rebellion; a charge Rome took quite-seriously. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, knew he was being played by the Jewish leaders but when they threatened to complain to Rome, already being on thin ice with the Emperor, he relented & turned Jesus over for scourging & crucifixion.As they turned away from Jesus’ cross late Friday afternoon, they thought, “Good riddance! At least we won't have to worry about Him anymore.”Yeah, good luck with that.Ch. 1 of Bruce Shelley's excellent book Church History In Plain Language begins with this line, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.”Anyone who’s decided to investigate the History of the Christian Church has probably wondered at the astounding success of the Faith in light of its central event & the belief that flows from it.An interview with the disciples the day after the crucifixion would in no way give anyone the idea Christianity would one day spread to the ends of the world & number in the billions.The transformation that took place among Jesus’ followers after His resurrection is convincing proof of His rising from the tomb. The disappointment that marked Jesus’ followers  immediately after His execution is understandable. What isn’t, is their amazing resurgence to carry on His mission. The only rational explanation for their continuation & the growth of the Jesus movement was the resurrection.By the 1st Century, Judaism had infiltrated much of the Roman Empire and had a small number of converts from among Gentiles in many cities. But these “God-fearers”, as they were called, were a tiny number considering how long Judaism had existed. The Jews had never embarked on a campaign to spread their faith. Gentile converts to Judaism were almost accidental and accommodated in the synagogue reluctantly. Yet within a century after the Resurrection, Christianity had spread across the Empire. The miraculous growth of the Church stands as eloquent testimony to its miraculous origin.And now for a little background on the CS podcast.What you’re hearing is a 3rd version of Season 1 of Communio Sanctorum. The number of subscribers has grown tremendously; with many saying they’ve listened to the episodes multiple times. Version 2 contained some material that was time-sensitive; news about podcast awards, a Reformation tour, and such. Things that are no longer applicable. I thought it best to redo the series omitting all that. The CS website is also being updated and a Spanish version is being produced. It seemed an apropos time to re-record Season 1 with a refresh of the content.I got turned on to the genius of podcasts a few years ago. Being a history nut, I went looking for my favorite subject – Rome – and found Mike Duncan’s brilliant podcast series the History of Rome. Now hooked, I next devoured Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Emperors & Norman Centuries.Then I went in search of a similar format podcast on Church history. I was looking for short episodes, easily listened to while working out, going for a run, or working in the yard. All I could find at that time were long lectures, most given in a college or seminary. And while the content was solid, they weren’t all that interesting. What I was looking for were episodes of between 15 & 20 minutes that would break Church history up into easily digested sessions.Not finding it, I decided to do it.So let me be clear. I’m not an historian, not even close. I love history & am a student of it. An historian is someone with access to, and does research on primary level materials. An historian is someone who gains familiarity with the past because she/he has interacted in some way with those who MADE history; if not them directly, then with the records and artifacts they left behind. All I can do is take the work of real historians, cull it, repackage it, then put it out there for whoever wants to engage it.The study of history is by nature filled with dates and names à and that’s where many would-be students find their eyes rolling toward the back of their head in utter boredom.While dates & names can’t be avoided, this podcast aims at providing a narrative of church history to help contemporary Christians connect to their roots. To use a well-worn cliché, we really do stand on the shoulders of giants. What we’ll see is that those giants themselves stand on previous generations who loom large because of the lives they lived and what they accomplished. Hopefully, by discerning our place within that massive edifice we call the Church, we can faithfully provide firm shoulders for the next generation to stand on. à That isn’t an unfit analogy when you consider both Paul’s & Peter’s allusion to the church being a building made of living stones.I just said CS is aimed primarily at contemporary Christians. A bit surprising to me is the number of non-Christians who’ve enjoyed the podcast. Many interested in history and wanting to fill out a gap in their knowledge on church history have expressed their appreciation.As we end this 1st episode, let me give a quick review on HOW I’ll be presenting this History of Christianity & the Church.There are many ways to study history and many theories for interpreting the past.One way to recount History is to divide it into Pre-Modern, Modern & Post-Modern.While defining these categories could devolve into a podcast in itself, let me summarize.In Pre-modern times, history was propaganda. It was recorded to promote some agenda, usually of the ruler who commissioned it. You may have heard the saying that it’s the winners who write history. That’s pretty much the way the recording of Pre-modern history was. Records that painted an alternative view of the officially sanctioned story were rounded up & destroyed. Divergent monuments were torn down and scrolls burned to erase the evidence of a substitute view of the way things went down.In the Modern telling of history, a more scientific approach is applied to recording and interpreting events. The winners still dominate the main tale, but the voices of the defeated and despised are also considered. While the Modern scientific approach to history is more accurate than the pre-modern version, it’s not entirely free from bias in that the Modern Historian still has to speak of events from his or her cultural perspective. And the selection of what facts to report or neglect is a form of editorial bias.The Post-modern approach to history is a largely cynical method based on the idea that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the mouth of the teller & pen of the writer. The problem in describing Post-modernism is that it’s a philosophy still under construction and resists definition. Some Post-modernists would say Post-modernism is an amorphous paradigm. The moment you define it, you’ve said more what it’s not than what it is. The Post-modern view of history is that nearly all accepted history from both the pre-Modern and Modern eras is suspect precisely because it’s accepted. There’s a visceral and knee-jerk rejection of authority in Post-modernism and nothing is deemed so authoritarian as tradition. As a consequence, post-modern views of history tend to be avant-garde and fringe theories one reads alongside a more traditional view.Our approach here will be from a Modern perspective. And while it’s impossible to be entirely free of bias, I will try to provide an unfiltered review of the history of Christianity & the Church.A Bibliography of the books & sources I use in researching is available on the Sanctorum.us website.Oh – & here’s something I found fascinating. People left comments on the iTunes portal page labeling me with all kinds of different religious affiliations. Some were convinced I was a Roman Catholic, others that I was Eastern Orthodox, some that I was a 5 pt Calvinist, a few that I was a raving Arminianist. While the majority of comments gave the podcast high marks, there was some confusion over where I line up theologically. No matter how much I try to “Dragnet” it & report just the facts, Ma’am – It’s inevitable that my doctrinal bias is going to color the material. When I do move from reportage to opinion or analysis, I’ll do my best to mark it off as my opinion.If you’re curious who I am & what my theological position is – you can find that on the Sanctorum.us website. Go to the “Lance’s Bio” page.Many thanks to Lemuel Dees, a long time subscriber and voice over artist for providing the CS intro and outro and to Dade Ronan at Win at Web for massive help in setting up the new website.Thanks as well to Roberto Aguayo for translating the episodes into Spanish and to John Parra for the intro and outro of the Spanish edition of CS.There’s a final announcement I need to share as we close. To date, CS has been a labor of love I was able to accommodate fairly easily financially. As the podcast has grown, requiring a LOT more bandwidth, the costs for hosting the audio files has risen dramatically and outstripped my ability to sustain. So though I was loath to do so, I’ve had to add a donation feature to the CS page. CS is free, but over the years several have asked if they could make a donation. I didn’t have a way to do that, till now. So, hey, if you wanna’ – now you have way to do so. ‘Nuff said.
Jan 01, 1970
02-Transitions
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This episode of CS is titled – “Transitions”We ended the previous episode with Jesus on the cross just outside the walls of Jerusalem late Friday afternoon. The Jewish leaders & Romans thought that was the last of the enigmatic trouble-maker from Galilee. For that matter, His followers thought that was the end as well.If that HAD BEEN the end of Jesus’ story, how might history have labeled Him?Modern skeptics who consider the resurrection a mythic post-script, added by Jesus’ later followers, cast Jesus as a religious & social reformer; one whose goal was to turn the stiff formalism of 1st Century Judaism into a more personal & intimate faith in God. These skeptics recast the miracles attributed to Jesus as myths meant to explain the effect of His charismatic personality on others. They contend Jesus didn’t really turn a few fish & loaves into fish sandwiches for thousands; He merely used the generosity of a young boy to provoke the crowd to share with one another. He didn’t really walk on water, He merely came along the shore in a low lying mist. And He didn’t really rise from the dead; His example of love for God and others merely inspired the disciples to follow His example. His MEMORY endured, not His literal person; says the skeptic.So, WAS Jesus merely a reformer? Was His mission just to return Judaism to something Moses would have given a hearty thumbs-up to?While Moses would indeed endorse Jesus, He wasn’t merely one of the many prophets God sent to call people back to Himself. Moses would approve of Jesus because all Moses did pointed to & prepared the way for Jesus. Jesus was the original Former, not a RE--former; He was, the “I AM” Who spoke to Moses from the burning bush & commissioned him to lead Israel out of bondage, into the Promised Land.This becomes clear when we consider the words of Jesus at that last meal He shared with His disciples. When He took the cup to inaugurate the rite of Communion, He said something remarkable. “This is the NEW COVENANT in my blood which is shed for you.” Those young men sitting round that table could not mistake what Jesus meant, for it was something that had been burned into them since childhood. Jesus made claim to the cherished promise of the Prophet Jeremiah who in ch. 31 said,“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”Jesus laid claim to that promise, saying He was its fulfillment & what He was about to do in going to the cross would activate the New Covenant. Jesus didn’t come just to reform Judaism or refresh the covenant Moses mediated with Israel. He came to consummate that covenant and initiate a new, based not on the performance of the Mosaic Law, but on abiding faith in Him.Of course, if Jesus had remained in the tomb, He’d be nothing but a miniscule footnote to the history of the 1st Century, if that! à Just one more in a long parade of Jewish trouble-makers who had a little flurry of popularity among some malcontents. Nothing of consequence would have followed.But His resurrection changed everything. It turned His timid band of followers into men of unquenchable vision & voracious determination. Only the resurrection can account for the dramatic change that took place in those who’d followed Jesus.In writing to the Corinthians some years later, the Apostle Paul said that in His post-resurrection appearances, Jesus was seen by some 500 at one time—not just the original handful of disciples. It was this critical mass of witness that made sure the news of His resurrection wasn’t suppressed by the authorities. And it was the surety Jesus had been dead, then made alive that compelled His followers to remain faithful, even in the face of martyrdom.So, after a brief stint back in their home region of Galilee, the disciples permanently relocated to Jerusalem. It was reasonable that the center of their movement be at the heart of the Jewish world.Though Jesus said His followers would one day come from all over the world, those first believers had a difficult time seeing the Church as anything other than fundamentally Jewish. They met as a large group in the temple courtyard where they listened to the disciples teach on the life & words of Jesus. Because it was the way education was practiced in the 1st C, it didn't take long until a standard, stock story developed. This oral tradition formed the core of what was used by Matthew, Mark, & to a certain degree by Luke, when they wrote their Gospels. John already knew of those accounts & chose instead to write a story of Jesus that filled in some of the details not included in the official oral tradition.After the large group had listened to the teaching by the apostles, they broke into smaller groups to gather in homes where they shared a meal, prayed, & discussed what they’d just learned.There was little organization to this early movement of Jesus’ followers as they felt their way forward. Despite that lack of organization their faith blossomed & their community became marked by a remarkable love, attractive to others. Their numbers grew.They went by different labels. Some called them Nazarenes, meaning followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Others disparagingly called them "Christians" linking them to Jesus & His humiliating death on a Roman cross. They called themselves simply "People of the Way."The church grew in relative peace for a few years till their numbers became too large for the Jewish ruling Council, the Sanhedrin, to ignore any longer. As the apostles taught about Jesus, they realized a good part of what the Jews had been told their Scriptures meant was wrong. Some of the more bold believers began voicing their criticisms of contemporary Judaism. They ran afoul of the authorities & persecution began. When Stephen, a young Christian leader was executed for blasphemy, it sent a shock wave through Jerusalem. It was now clear Jesus' followers were under an official ban.While the 1st generation leaders, called “the apostles,” stayed in Jerusalem to tend to the needs of the Church, younger leaders moved to Samaria & Syria where they founded new communities. Churches sprang up in Damascus, Antioch, Egypt & other locales.These new communities, while still primarily Jewish in composition, were made up of Jews more acclimated to the Greco-Roman culture of the Mediterranean world than those in Jerusalem. When word reached the mother church in Jerusalem that new fellowships were springing up in other places, the apostles sent delegates to these new communities to establish a connection. One of the representatives they sent out was an elder named Barnabas. He visited the church in the Syrian capital of Antioch, 3rd largest city of the Roman Empire, with a population of a half-million. The church there was something new; a mixture of Jewish & Gentile believers. It was at Antioch the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.”The readiness of Jewish believers at Antioch to welcome Gentiles into their fold shifted the focus of missionary activity from Jerusalem to Antioch. It was at Antioch that one man rose to leadership who would, next to Jesus, have the greatest impact on Christianity - Saul of Tarsus, or as he’s more commonly known, Paul.Paul's hometown was the Roman city of Tarsus, capital of Cilicia in what is today South Central Turkey, 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. The famous Roman General Pompey the Great had made Tarsus the center of Roman government in the area, granting its residents the treasured Roman citizenship. Tarsus was also a center of Greco-Roman culture. Paul was born to Jewish parents there, making him a unique mixture of Roman, Greek & Jewish. This all conspired to make him an effective instrument for spreading of the Gospel.After his early education in Tarsus, Paul moved to finish his training in Jerusalem under the great Jewish scholar Gamaliel. He became a member of the ultra-strict sect known as the Pharisees. Paul finished his training just as the followers of Jesus ran afoul of the authorities in Jerusalem. Whether Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin or merely their agent, it was he who presided at the execution of Stephen, lending those doing the deed their authority. Paul then embarked on a campaign to harass the Christians in the environs of Jerusalem. When the church there was effectively driven underground, he received official permission to carry his campaign of harassment to Damascus where rumors said Christians were thriving.But when Paul finally entered Damascus it was a very different man from the one who’d set out from Jerusalem a few days before. In a vision of the risen Christ, Paul realized Jesus was indeed the Messiah & the Gospel he’d been trying to stamp out wasn't a dangerous heresy; it was the Truth of God.When he returned to Jerusalem, the leaders of the Church were wary of him. After all, this was the guy who’d just ravaged them. But when it became clear he was a genuine believer, the apostles embraced him.Well à sort of.In reading the book of Acts & a couple of Paul's letters, we’re left with the impression while the core leadership at Jerusalem accepted Paul's conversion as legitimate, they preferred he find another church to attend. That church turned out to be Antioch where Paul partnered with Barnabas who became one of the leaders there.This would be a good place to talk a bit about the different perspectives on the nature of the Christian life that developed between Jerusalem & Antioch. Let’s call it the difference between 1st & 2nd Generation Christianity.1st Generation Christianity was thoroughly Jewish in orientation and centered in Jerusalem.2nd Generation Christianity was still officially headquartered at Jerusalem with the apostles as the authority. But the focus of activity shifted to urban centers outside Israel. An increasing number of Gentiles were now being won to the faith. As cultural Jews, 1st Gen believers continued to cast their faith in Jewish forms.They kept kosher, observed the Sabbath, circumcised their sons; that’s a Jewish, & not at all Gentile, sort of thing.2nd Gen believers counted the ritual aspects of the Mosaic law as having been meant to point to Jesus & consummated by Him. They felt there was now no need to engage in or observe such rituals any longer. A kosher diet, keeping the Sabbath, & circumcision weren't considered essential practices in following Jesus.What made things messy is that there was a protracted period of tension as 1st Generation Christians contended with 2nd Geners over the expected lifestyle of Jesus' followers.Even though Acts 15 sees the leadership of the church in Jerusalem deciding the matter in favor of the 2nd Generation position, diehard 1st Gen advocates continued to promote the idea that if believers wanted to have a God-approved lifestyle they had to adhere to the Mosaic law; whether Jew or Gentile. These "Judaizers," as they were called, proved to be one of the Apostle Paul's biggest trials. They dogged his steps, infiltrating churches he’d planted after he left, claiming they were there to complete what Paul had only begun. They sought to turn Paul's converts to Jesus à to Moses. Some of Paul's letters are eloquent & at times scathing rebuttals to the problems introduced by the Judaizers.The debate between 1st & 2nd Generation believers didn't end with the early church. It endures to this day. Modern-day Judaizers known as legalists insist on a set of behavioral guidelines as necessary to demonstrate genuine faith. Whether it be dress, diet, or devotion; a certain level of giving, service, or submission--rules are set up that prescribe the “acceptable” lifestyle. Such legalists see the preaching of grace as dangerous; a license to excuse sin.But the grace described in the New Testament is no license to sin. For Paul & those 2nd Generation Christians who carried the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world, if someone genuinely believed in Christ, they’d been born again & WOULD demonstrate a new life commensurate with the life & teaching of Christ.The person who truly loves God can do as he/she chooses because he/she chooses to love God.That wraps up this episode. As we close, if you subscribe to CS via a podcast portal like iTunes or Podbean, head over to sanctorum.us to check out the CS site.
Jan 01, 1970
03-Strategic
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This week’s episode is titled "Strategic."We ended the last episode with a look at the different perspectives of 1st & 2nd Generation Christians. The debate centered on what role the Jewish law held for Jesus’ followers. Culturally-immersed 1st Generation Jewish believers tended to cleave to the law, while the more Greco-Roman acculturated 2nd & later generations adhered to the Gospel as articulated by the Apostle Paul.Keep in mind that Paul's arrival at the Gospel of Grace through Faith wasn't an easy journey. He began as a strict Pharisee, fanatically loyal to Moses & Jewish tradition. It was Paul who presided at the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. And Stephen was put to death precisely because he dared to say that the new covenant Jesus inaugurated superseded the old covenant installed by Moses & represented by the Temple & priesthood in Jerusalem which were now effectively obsolete in God’s plan. This drove the Jewish ruling council into a literal rage that led to Stephen’s death.Paul well understood the arguments of the Judaizing legalists who advocated adherence to custom. He understood them because he’d once held them. But he came to realize faith in Christ alone bestowed the righteousness God requires. Salvation was not the product of human work; it was a gift God bestows, a gift received by faith.Amped by this realization of salvation by grace through faith, Paul was compelled to take the Gospel were ever he could. The book of Acts describes 3 journeys he took to spread the Faith & plant churches.On his 1st journey he and his friend Barnabas went to the island of Cyprus & the urban centers of the mainland north of there, a province called "Galatia" in modern-day Turkey.On his 2nd adventure Paul went back over the fledgling fellowships begun on the previous journey, then travelled to the West coast of Asia Minor. Taking ship, he sailed across the Aegean Sea and landed in Macedonia. The Gospel had arrived in Europe, possibly for the first time.Then Paul swung south into Greece where he visited Athens & other key Greek cities. Returning to his home base at Antioch in Syria, he didn't stay long before once again setting out on a 3rd mission with the aim of planting churches in strategic locations.Paul had a plan. He didn’t just go wherever the winds of fancy drove him. He was strategic, recognizing the need to plant congregations in influential cities. He knew if healthy churches could be set up in the urban centers of the Empire they’d act as jumping off points for mission work to their surrounding provinces. The strategy worked & Christianity spread rapidly.We’re not unaware of the religious and philosophical environment the early Christians lived in. Outside Israel, much of the Roman Empire was a spiritual hodgepodge. The Greek & Roman pantheon was ubiquitous, with most commoners paying homage to the gods, not out of any genuine piety or devotion so much as out of a sense of civic duty. “Respect the gods or pay the price" was the attitude of the common people. Everyone had a duty to throw the gods their proverbial bone now and then, lest they get angry & withhold the rain-or-send floods. No one wanted to be the cause of disaster, so most went through the forms to pacify the gods & keep them off the collective back. But heartfelt devotion to the gods was rare.Living alongside this kind of generalized respect for the gods was a much less common, but far more devoted adherence by some to the philosophies of a handful of Greek sages. Guys like Epicurus & Zeno. The concern of such philosophies was how to have the best life. Though their ideas often contradicted the demands of the gods, many who held to Epicureanism, Stoicism or one of the other philosophies saw no tension between their beliefs & religious practices.But by the 1st Century, many across the Romans world had grown disillusioned with the old gods & old ways. Desiring something new, mystery cults from Egypt & the Far East took root. Though the official stance of Rome was to oppose these cults, there was something enticing in what was considered forbidden. Secret knowledge, imparted only to an elite stimulated curiosity. The cults of Isis & Mithras grew.One message that appealed to some pagans throughout the empire was Judaism with its radical proposition there was only One, all-powerful, all-knowing God. The Jews had taken their Faith out of the merely religious realm & developed a comprehensive and coherent philosophy with it. It convinced many Gentiles who began attending Jewish synagogues located all over the empire. Not willing to fully convert to Judaism with its kosher requirements & circumcision, these "God fearers" as they were called, believed in the God of Israel & renounced the pagan deities of their neighbors.When the Apostle Paul visited a new city he typically went first to the local Jewish synagogue where he systematically showed Jews & God-fearing Gentiles that Jesus of Nazareth was the long hoped-for Messiah and that faith in Him brought salvation. While a few Jews believed, it was from among the God-fearing Greeks Paul had his greatest response. When unbelieving Jews rejected & opposed him, he left their synagogue, taking the new converts with him and starting a church.On Paul's 3rd journey he spent about 3 years in the city of Ephesus in Western Asia Minor. His work there was probably the most fruitful of his career.When he returned to Jerusalem after this 3rd church planting foray, he was arrested by the authorities & carted off to the Roman administrative capital of Caesarea on the coast. He spent the next couple years in prison as a political pawn between Jewish & Roman officials. To end the stalemate, Paul appealed his case to Caesar, which as a Roman citizen he had the right to do. A tumultuous sea journey saw him finally deposited in Rome where the book of Acts ends with him under house arrest, awaiting trial.There’s some question as to whether Paul stayed in Rome until his execution by Nero or if he was released and later re-arrested & executed. There’s good reason to believe the initial charges against Paul were dropped, he was released, visited the churches he’d planted earlier, then came back to Rome where he was arrested in Nero’s round up of Christians after the great fire that destroyed a large part of the City. Paul was then executed in AD 64.Let's end this episode with a look back at Jerusalem & the church there.Even though the 1st Generation believers adhered to the Mosaic law, the opposition of the Jewish authorities to the followers of Jesus grew until it broke out in official persecution.About AD 41 John's brother James was murdered at the order of Herod Agrippa, the Roman-installed ruler who was forever trying to curry the favor of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Herod knew the Council wanted to crush the new movement of Christians and thought to gain their good-will by getting rid of James. When he saw the favorable reaction of the Sanhedrin, he had Peter arrested as well. But before Peter could be executed, a miraculous prison-break set him free. Peter then left for an extended missionary journey through Syria, Asia Minor, Greece & eventually Rome where, along with Paul, he was also swept up in Nero’s purge.What comes as a bit of a surprise is to find in the NT that the church at Jerusalem was led by Jesus's brother James rather than one of the original Apostles. That the church leadership was assumed by James gives us a clue that the church was originally cast in the form of the Jewish synagogue, where leadership was usually passed to a relative.In AD 62, James was bludgeoned to death at the command of the high priest who was furious the Church kept growing despite the increased persecution coming against it. James’ death left the Jerusalem church leaderless & discouraged.During the mid-60’s, things in Israel became increasingly sketchy as tension between Jews and Romans grew. The completion of the Temple in 64 turned thousands of workers into an unruly & discontent mob. One inept decision after another by the Romans sparked a major revolt in 66. Though the Jews were able to pull off several astounding early victories over the Romans, the Emperor’s response was a brutal war of annihilation that crushed all opposition over the next several years.From the Jewish perspective, AD 70 was the year Christianity and Judaism officially broke. At the outset of the Jewish revolt, the Christians of Jerusalem were warned in a vision to flee the city. They did. But their fellow Jews considered this an act of high treason. Shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, Jewish leaders used the Christians’ flight from Jerusalem as the basis to ban them from all synagogue services. Any Jew who wanted to remain faithful to his religion could no longer follow Christ. The break was now complete.As the Church became increasingly composed of Gentiles with little to no background in the Jewish roots of Christianity, this break would devolve into an antagonism that became hostile and violent. That historic hostility remains a blot on the Church to this day – and in the mind of many Jews, sadly hinders the message of the Gospel.
Jan 01, 1970
04-Martyrs
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This 4th Episode is titled, “Martyrs.”Modern marketing tactics first produced, and now feed contemporary culture's obsession for “the latest thing.”  The slogan & label "New & Improved" is a frequent feature in packaging.The opposite was the case in 1st Century Rome. That Eternal City, and really most of the ancient world, was suspicious of anything new and novel, especially when it came to ideas. They had tremendous respect for tradition, believing what was true had already been discovered and needed to be preserved. Innovation was grudgingly accepted, but only in so far as it did not substantially alter tradition.The religion of the Greeks and Romans was sacrosanct precisely because it was ancient. Judaism, with its fierce devotion to only one God was incompatible with the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods, but it was tolerated by the Romans precisely because it was ancient.Also, while Jews were fiercely loyal to their religion & became violent when attempts were made to convert them to paganism, they were not, as a rule, engaged in making converts of others. Judaism is not, by nature, a proselytizing faith.Christianity's early struggle with Rome began in earnest when Judaism officially denounced the Christians and banish them as a movement within Judaism. This took place shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Until that time, followers of Jesus were considered as a kind of reform movement within Judaism. But toward the end of the 1st Century, Rome realized the Jews had divorced themselves from the Christians. Christianity was something new; a religious novelty; so, under suspicion.And whereas Judaism tended not to proselytize, Christians couldn't help winning others to their Faith. This brought Christianity into close scrutiny by the authorities. The more they investigated, the more concerned they grew. Like the Jews, Christians believed in one God. But their God had become a man. Christians had no idols, practiced no sacrifices, & built no temples. These were yet more religious innovations that fired suspicion. The Christians seem to be so reductionist in their practice they were suspected of being, get this à Atheists.As we saw in the previous episode, the paganism practiced by most people of the Empire in the 1st & 2nd Centuries wasn't so much a heart-felt devotion to the gods as it was a sense of civic duty. “Respect the gods by visiting their temples with the proper offerings, or, suffer their wrath.” à Well, every new convert to the Christians meant one less pagan throwing their appeasing bones to the watchful & increasingly upset gods. People began to worry the growing neglect of the gods would lead to trouble. And indeed, whenever a drought, flood, fire, or some other catastrophe ensued it was inevitably blamed on "Those atheists = the Christians."“Christians to the lions,” became a frequent solution to the ills of the world.The concern of the pagans was ill-attributed, but well-founded. Not because their gods were angry, but because in some places so many had become Christians the pagan temples were nearly empty.  Acts 19 tells us this happened in Ephesus and a letter from the Governor of Bithynia in the early 2nd Century repeats the concern. This led to a growing call for punishment of the Christians. A few would be rounded up and put to death to prove to the gods the earnestness of the pagans to appease them.Other factors that encouraged hostility towards believers was their secrecy. A description of Christians by Pliny, the Roman governor of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan in AD 111 is enlightening. Pliny had already executed some Christians based on little more than their scandalous reputation. He’d given them an opportunity to recant but when they refused, Pliny saw this rebuff of his mercy as a provocative stubbornness worthy of punishment. But after a flurry of executions, Pliny had 2nd thoughts: Was the mere reputation of Christians dangerous enough to warrant their arrest and trial? So he wrote his friend, the Emperor Trajan, asking for advice.  Here’s a quote from Pliny's letter. After describing some ex-Christians who recanted their faith, Pliny gives their report on what their practice had been when they were still Christians."They affirmed the whole of their guilt was that they were in the habit of meeting on a fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a God, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to commit any wicked deeds; no fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it. After which it was their custom to separate, then reassembled later to partake of food — but food of an ordinary an innocent kind.”A little later in the letter Pliny adds that to verify this report he secured through the torture of 2 slaves that this was an accurate description of Christian meetings and that nothing more needed to be added. Pliny called Christianity a “depraved and excessive superstition.”Emperor Trajan replied to Pliny’s request for guidance on how he wanted the growing Christian-crisis in Bithynia handled. Trajan replied . . .“You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out. If they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”Though seemingly harmless to us, it was Pliny’s reference to the Christians “meeting before dawn” that proved a problem. While it looks to us a commendable reference to their diligence & earnestness, it was highly suspicious to Romans. As a rule, meetings during the dark hours were forbidden. Day was the time for meetings. To meet at night was suspect. No good could come of it. You met at night because you had something to hide.So why DID Christians meet before daylight if it raised suspicions?The answer lies in the composition of their Fellowship; that is, who attended. For the most part, they were commoners and the poor who had jobs they had to begin early. The only time available to meet was before the workday began.These early meetings of the church were only open to Christians. Secrecy tends to breed gossip. It didn’t take long till wild rumors were going round about the abominable things the Christians must be doing. Their communal meal, called the Agape or Love-Feast, was recast by gossip as a wild and debauched orgy. Communion was said to be ritual cannibalism. But the real shocker was that when Christians met, social distinctions like rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, were subsumed under an appalling equality. Many critics of Christianity saw this as a dangerous subversion of the natural order. Christians were cast as radical revolutionaries out to turn the entire world upside down.For a society that lived in constant fear of a slave uprising, anything seen as encouraging slaves to think independently was deemed perilous. Don’t forget that for the Romans, the 3 Servile Wars, the last & most perilous led by the famous Spartacus, were still potent in the collective memory, though it had ended over a century before.Another source of trouble for Christians was their Jewish origin. Even though Judaism worked hard to distance itself from the followers of Christ, in the mind of the average Roman, the Church was a Jewish thing. In many places, Jews were the main accusers of Christians to the authorities. But this failed to dislodge Christians from their Jewish roots. The bloody and troubling Jewish Wars of the 1st & 2nd Centuries created great hostility between Romans and Jews, which spilled over onto Christians.During the 2nd & 3rd Centuries, believers were arrested and executed on no worse crime than being accused of being a Christian. Hauled before a judge, they were given the opportunity to recant. They could do so by invoking the names of some pagan deities, offering a sacrifice to the image of the Emperor, and cursing Christ. If they refused this threefold evidence of being a pagan, they were led off to execution.One story is illustrative. In the mid-2nd Century during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, a woman became a Christian. Marital problems led to her divorce. Resenting her, the ex-husband accused her of being a Christian. She was arrested, along with her pastor, for being a co-conspirator with her in causing the changes that caused the divorce. The pastor's name was Ptolemaeus.The jailer was cruel & tried to force Ptolemaeus to turn from his faith. Ptolemaeus resisted and the day of his trial arrived. The judge, Urbicus, put it straight to him, “Are you a Christian?” Ptolemaeus admitted he was. Urbicus pronounced him guilty and Roman justice being swift, he was led off to immediate execution.As he was being led away, a spectator, Lucius by name, rose to speak. He challenged Urbicus’ decision. Lucius asked, "Why did you pass such a sentence? Was this man convicted of a crime? Is he an adulterer, a murderer, a robber? All he did was confess that he was a Christian!"The judge replied, "It seems you are also a Christian."Lucius answered, "Yes, I am.”Urbicus had the guards seize & haul him off to be executed along with Ptolemaeus.At this, a 3rd man rose, issuing a similar challenge. When Urbicus asked if he was also a believer the man admitted both his faith and disbelief that death could ensue for no more reason than identifying w/a name. But the point is this: Urbicus believed he was well with in his authority to execute all 3 of these men for no more reason than that they claimed to be Christians.This story, duplicated thousands of times throughout the Empire during the 2nd & 3rd Centuries drives home the fact that Christianity was poorly understood by the pagan world.There’s no sure way to know how many believers were put to death during the first 3 centuries. Rome didn't follow a consistent policy of persecution. Some emperors were lenient while others practiced virulent opposition. Ten of the emperors enforced an official policy of oppression & persecution; from Nero in AD 64, to the worst under Diocletian & Galerius in the opening years of the 4th Century. And even though some emperors enforced opposition to Christianity, their policies were rarely empire-wide. It was up to the provincial governors to implement the rule; many simply ignored it, seeing it as bad policy.Though estimating the number of martyrs is difficult, we can set it somewhere between 1 & 3 million over a period of about 250 years.Despite the threat of death, the Church continued to grow. As one oft-quoted church father put it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” While the authorities remained ignorant of what Christians believed, many of the common people discovered what it was from conversation with them à and found it attractive. More than attractive, it was convincing, compelling, persuasive. They also came to faith, knowing that doing so might lead to the ultimate test.As the years went by and Christians were made the object of public shame by using them for entertainment in the gladiatorial games, more & more began seeing their neighbors and friends on the sand, waiting to be ripped apart by wild beasts. It became personal. And pagans who knew the martyrs to be level-headed, reasonable people of solid moral standing began to question the policy of Rome to hunt such people down.Slowly but surely a sea change began to swing public opinion away from persecution. By the dawn of the 4th Century, sympathy had eased the hatred of Christians whose resolute faith in the face of prolonged suffering had recast many as heroic.Shifting back in time now to the late 1st Century, let’s take a look at 3 Church leaders who followed immediately after the Apostles; Clement of Rome, Ignatius, & Polycarp. These 3 come from a group of Church leaders known as the Apostolic Fathers.Toward the end of the 1st Century, the passing of the original Apostles created a problem: Who would now lead the Church? Christians understood Jesus as the true head of the Church; but His lead was expressed through His direct disciples & those who’d been witnesses to His resurrection. Though recurring persecution was a consistent theme, the Church continued to grow. Who would guide it after the Apostles? A group now known as “the Church Fathers” provided that crucial next phase of leadership.Though Jesus warned His followers against giving any man the role of being a spiritual authority in contest with God, the label “father” was given to elders & leaders as a term of endearment & affection.  The Apostolic Fathers weren’t Apostles; they were just, you know = apostol—ic. Or may I make up a word and say they were apostol—ish. This came of their being the followers & students of the original Apostles who enjoyed a close relationship with them.The writings of the Fathers reveals a remarkable devotion to the Jewish Scriptures of the Tanach; what Christian now refer to as the OT.  Reflecting the influence of the original Apostles, the Fathers understood Christianity, not so much as a new religion but as the fulfillment of the Faith of the Jewish Patriarchs & Prophets.  They took this as a given; so there’s little attempt to define new doctrine in their writing. Their purpose was more to provide edification, correction, and comfort. We could say their work was devotional in flavor. It was pastoral, seeking to bolster the hope, faith & practical holiness of those they addressed.The Apostolic Fathers served at a time when the Church was growing dramatically & provided a radical alternative to the tired paganism that still dominated, but was slowly losing its grip on the Roman World. Their writings often honored martyrdom, occasionally elevated celibacy & laid great emphasis on baptism which the Early Church used as the singular mark of identifying as a follower as Jesus.The first Apostolic Father we’ll look at is Clement of Rome.Clement was born about ad 30 & served as the pastor of the church at Rome the last 9 years of his life, dying in the year 100. Paul mentions a Clement in Phil 4:3 and there’s a good chance this is the same man. Though he’s listed in the official records of the Church at Rome as the 2nd or 3rd Pope, that early in Church history there simply was no Pope, just the pastor of the church there.Clement is best known for the letter he sent the Corinthian church, dealing with some of the same problems the Apostle Paul spoke to in his correspondence with them. The Corinthian church was fractured into warring camps Clement tried to reconcile by reminding them of the priority of love, along with the call to patience & humility. What’s notable about Clement’s letter is the strong emphasis he placed on the need for Christians to honor & comply with their spiritual leaders as a way to maintain unity.Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians is the earliest piece of Christian literature outside the NT. For that reason, it’s of great importance to scholars as it gives us an idea of the mindset of Christian leaders and their view of the emerging faith.Clement quotes the OT often. He also makes numerous allusions to the writings of Paul, revealing how influential and well-accepted Paul’s letters were even at this early date. In his insistence that believers honor their spiritual leaders, he bases his appeal on a line of reasoning, the subtext of which, points to a widely accepted spiritual principle. It was this à Pastors & Church leaders had received their authority from the Apostles, who’d received their authority from Christ.  Much later, the Church at Rome would greatly expand on that idea of succession. But nothing in Clement’s letter gives substance to the idea that the church at Rome had jurisdictional power over other churches or over the Faith in general.The next Father is Ignatius, considered a giant among the Apostolic Fathers because of his martyrdom. Though the pastor of the church at Antioch in Syria, he was arrested & taken to Rome. During the journey, Ignatius passed through several cities where he was allowed to address the believers. In about AD 110 he wrote letters to 6 of these in which he stressed unity & how to combat heresy. The heresy Ignatius spoke of was an early form of Gnosticism. The remedy for dealing with heresy, & the surest support for unity, Ignatius said, was the presence of a strong pastor who could provide spiritual leadership.It’s a fairly reliable tradition that Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John & was affirmed in ministry by him. Ignatius was martyred in Rome, in the Colosseum by being fed to the beasts, during the reign of Trajan, in AD 108.What makes Ignatius’ writings important is his emphasis on the role of a single elder-pastor as the one to lead a local church.  While there are hints at this in the NT, there’s also a picture of multiple-elders who jointly share leadership.  It’s more by inference drawn from Paul & Timothy’s ministry that one may see the emergence of a lead elder who becomes what we might call the senior pastor. Ignatius’ letters spell this out and make a strong case for it.  He called the elders & deacons to follow the lead of that one among them God had set His anointing on to lead the church.The 3rd Apostolic Father we’ll look at sounds like a plastic fish.Polycarp’s story is fascinating. He also was a student of the Apostle John who became the lead-pastor at Smyrna, one of the cities to receive one of the 7 letters dictated by Jesus in Revelation. Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippian church about ad 110 that’s filled with quotations from the OT & references to several other books that would later be included in the NT canon. Polycarp’s reliance on these books as describing the norms & beliefs of Christians indicates the early acceptance of those books that would later be made a part of the Bible. His use of them helped later Christians decide which books ought to be a part of the NT.Polycarp was arrested & put to death in AD 155. The manner of his death was so exemplary he was honored for generations as an example of martyrdom. When officials came to arrest him, he welcomed them into the house, asked if they’d like something to eat, and while they enjoyed a meal, went into another room where he composed himself thru prayer. When he rejoined the officers, his kind treatment shamed them in the task they’d been assigned.One of the many remarkable things about Polycarp was his advanced age. At 86, he was quite old for those days. At his execution, the magistrate pleaded with him, based on his age, to recant & save himself.  Earlier I said that recanting Christians had to go thru a 3-step process to prove their sincerity. At Polycarp’s trial, the official tried to make it easier for him & told him to simply say, “Away with the atheists!” meaning Christians, who because they believed in only 1 God, were considered god-less compared to the pagans who worshipped dozens of deities.  But Polycarp knew the official’s intent & pointed at the crowd that had gathered to watch him burn saying, “Away with the atheists.”When the magistrate pressed, pleading with Polycarp to recant his faith, Polycarp replied, “80 & 6 years I have served Him & never once did He wrong me. How then can I blaspheme my King Who saved me? Come, bring what you will.”The official couldn’t believe his offer of leniency was being rejected & grew stern. He warned, “Bless Caesar!" Polycarp replied, “Since you vainly strive to make me bless Caesar, pretending you don’t know my real character, hear me clearly - I am a Christian!  If you desire to learn of the Christian faith, assign me a day, and you shall hear.”Now enraged, the proconsul threatened, “I have wild beasts; and will expose you to them, unless you repent.”  Polycarp replied, “Bring them on."The magistrate fumed, "Since you despise the wild beasts, unless you repent I will tame you with fire." Polycarp said, “You threaten me with a fire which burns for an hour, and is soon extinguished; but the fire of the future judgment, and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly, that -- you are ignorant of. But why do you delay? Come, do what you please.”At that, the wood that had been heaped around him was set ablaze.The story of Polycarp’s martyrdom became a popular tale Christians shared for the next few centuries as countless more faced the prospect of dying for the Faith. Truth be told, a perverse veneration of martyrdom took root in the Church that saw not a few aspire to being put to death. When martyrs were elevated as heroes, it wasn’t long before some aspired to the station of hero and considered martyrdom a price worth paying. Sadly, they weren’t dying for Christ, so much as their own reputation & fame.
Jan 01, 1970
05-Writings
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This episode is titled “Writings.”The history of the Christian Faith & Church inevitably has to deal with the importance of Books. From its earliest days the Faith has been intimately linked to the Scriptures. At first, Scripture was the Hebrew Bible or what is known today as the Old Testament. But other writings were added to the Church’s Bible as the years passed.The question of what writings to include in the Bible was one of the major topics of discussion during the first 4 centuries. But the question of what ought to be included or excluded is not nearly the contentious debate skeptics claim. With rare exception, church leaders generally agreed what texts comprised Scripture. Their reluctance to make an official pronouncement was because humility prohibited them claiming the authority to do so. Still, by the 4th Century, Church leaders recognized time was running out on those who were in a position to make the needed determination.Following the age of the martyrs, the next period of Church history was marked by theological challenge. It was crucial local congregations have a standard to go by, an authoritative body of doctrine by which to evaluate what was being taught. That authority was the Bible.Christians started with those Scriptures the Jews already revered as God’s Word, the Tanach, or as Christians referred to it, the OT. To this base of 39 books, believers added another set of writings they called the New Testament. Together, these 2 Testaments comprise what's called the “Canon of Scripture.”Canon means a measuring rod, as in a ruler. The Canon of Scripture is the standard for measuring if something is straight, if it aligns with truth. The Bible was esteemed Truth because it was regarded as God's inspired & inerrant Word.And that's what proved such a daunting challenge to Church leaders as they considered what to include in the NT Canon. Who were they to decide what was inspired by the Holy Spirit & ought to be regarded as the standard by which to evaluate all else? Still, the task was necessary so they developed a criteria by which to decide what ought to be included in the Canon. Their reasoning went like this . . .First was the OT canon of Jewish Scriptures. Then Jesus came as the Word of God made flesh. Though Jesus wrote no books, His life and words were written on the hearts and minds of the Apostles, whose teaching in both oral & written form was accepted as authoritative.Early evidence makes it clear that letters from the Apostles were circulated & read in the churches, being accepted as laying down the norms of Christian belief and practice. A ravenous hunger for stories of Jesus moved the Apostles to develop a standard oral tradition that we see today forming the core of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, & to a certain degree, Luke.But how do we get to the 27 books that form today's NT canon? What criteria did Church leaders use when they finally identified those books?1St - A candidate writing for inclusion had to have a self-identifying quality about it as having been inspired by God. It had to possess a certain power to affect the lives of readers toward God.2nd - A candidate writing had to have a long reputation among the churches for having been used in worship to the edification of believers.3rd - A writing had to have a close connection to an Apostle. If not written by the Apostle himself, was the author a close associate of an Apostle & did it bear the mark of the Apostle’s influence?For example . . .Luke wasn’t an apostle but his Gospel and the Book of Acts are included in the NT because he was a close associate of the Apostle Paul and had interviewed the other Apostles in researching Jesus’ story.Mark wasn’t an apostle, but received his information about Jesus from the Apostle Peter. He was also a companion of Paul’s; sort of. But that’s another story.On the other side of the issue, in the late 1st Century, Clement, the 2nd or 3rd pastor at Rome, wrote a letter to the church at Corinth. That letter was read often at Corinth in the years that followed and proved of great benefit. But because Clement wasn't deemed to have an Apostolic connection, his letter wasn't included in the NT canon. There wasn't even much debate if it should be. It didn’t pass the test, so it wasn’t included.Because the test of Apostolic origin was crucial to canonical books, the Church leaders of the late 2nd Century realized time was running out on reliable witnesses who could confirm a writing’s Apostolic authority. The pressure was on to put their imprimatur of acceptance on those works connected to the Apostles.Since we’re speaking about the writings that made it INTO the NT, let me mention a couple of influential works that didn’t but were nevertheless crucial in shaping the early understanding of the Faith.One of the most important extra-Biblical writings of the early church was the Didache.  We don’t know when it was written but it was in use as a manual for church life by the 1st decade of the 2nd C. The Didache gives instructions for how to conduct services, worship, baptisms, Communion, and what was turning into a growing problem, how to exercise church discipline. The Didache also had instructions for how to discern heresy. The last section contains instructions for how to live in light of the Lord’s return – which lends tremendous weight to the idea of imminency.Pardon me for a little personal comment here but it’s hard to resist.But even before I make that comment, I need to comment – on my comments. And I need to – because I got a great email from a faithful subscriber who told me he’s recommend the podcast to a lot of friends & acquaintances. A few of them told him they enjoyed the podcast, until my particular bias came out. Then, I guess they stopped listening. And he was bummed, because he likes the podcast and puts up with my occasional personal commentary, because well, he mostly agrees with it, but also because the rest of the podcast steers a pretty unbiased course through the subject matter.We had a nice little email dialog and I shared WHY I DO make occasional comments. I realized while writing him that I ought to share that here. He thought it was a good idea. So here goes . . .I share infrequent remarks & personal opinion for 2 reasons . . .1) You get to know me a little better. With my favorite podcasts, after I’ve listened for a while, I find myself wanting to know more about the author. So when they share little tid-bits about themselves, it’s fun & makes the whole experience more relational. I don’t want to hear a whole podcast about their cat, but hearing they have one makes the author more real, rather than just a formless voice.2) It’s good for us to hear the opinions of those we differ with, in their own voice, rather than told what they said or believe by those of our own persuasion. The followers of Jesus ought to be aimed at relational maturity, & that means accepting there’s a big world out there filled with people who don’t all agree with us. Learning to respect them and let them speak, without feeling like I’ve betrayed some kind of loyalty to God is crucial. I can listen w/o agreeing. In fact, I need to, because often times, by listening, I realize what others TOLD me they believed, ISN’T! And even if it is; persuading them isn’t going to be furthered by shutting them off & turning away because I don’t agree.If you’ve gone to the sanctorum.us website, you probably know I’m a pastor of an Evangelical non-denominational church called CC in Southern CA. So my comments will be what can generally be called a conservative, Protestant position. If you’re interested in more detail, you can visit our church website, which you can track down by going to the sanctorum.us website. When I do make one of those comments, I’ll try to remember to preface it with a disclaimer, a notice, so you can make whatever mental adjustment you need to. I would just ask that you hear me out. You don’t have to agree. I don’t expect everyone will. But please don’t toss the rest of the podcast for the sake of what I really do think is an important part of making this podcast better by being more personal.So, with all that preface – now to it. We were talking about how the last section of the Didache is instructions for how to live in light of the Lord’s return – which lends tremendous weight to the idea of imminency.I’m rather tired of hearing that “No one believed in a pre-tribulation rapture until Margaret MacDonald & John Darby made it up in the 1830’s.” The vast majority of people who say that do so because they heard someone else say it. They haven’t done any historical work to see if it’s true. It isn’t. And even it if WAS – it makes as much sense as saying Sola Scriptura & Sola Fide were made up by Martin Luther & John Calvin in the 16th C. That’s absurd! Does the neglect of a Biblical reality for hundreds of years make it any less true? All John Darby did was restore much needed attention to a neglected belief of the Apostles & Early Church. A belief amply supported by the sense of urgency found in the Didache.Okay, end of commentary; back to the history . . .Another writing early Christians used to amplify their faith was called The Shepherd of Hermas. This work from the late 1st to mid-2nd C was written by Hermas, a former slave who says an angel appeared to him in the form of a shepherd & dictated the contents of the book.It contains 5 visions, 12 commands & 10 parables. It’s highly allegorical and addresses problems that divided the Church, calling the faithful to repent.The Shepherd was so influential that a handful of the Early Church Fathers thought it ought to be included in the NT. But its failure, like Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, to hold a clear Apostolic connection precluded its inclusion.Another event, a highly unfortunate situation, forced the hand of the Church leaders in moving to complete the canon.A heretic named Marcion [Mar-key-own] set up a counterfeit church that paralleled the Apostolic Faith. But he proposed 2 gods; A wrathful, angry, violent God of the Jews & OT, and a loving, kind, benevolent Father-God of the NT & Christians. Marcion rejected the OT and those NT books he considered too Jewish; books like Matthew, Mark, Acts, Hebrews, 1 & 2 Timothy, & Titus. Marcion’s Bible was a highly-edited Gospel of Luke & a handful of Paul's letters.Though the Church excommunicated Marcion in AD 144, his rejection of all things Jewish carried a certain resonance with some Gentile believers persecuted by Jews. Marcion formed his counterfeit church from their ranks. It was the heretical Marcion’s pre-emptive move of identifying which books were Scripture that forced Church leaders’ hand to provide an official list of genuine Christian Scripture.The OT was retained & reaffirmed as God's Word, & for the most part the books we recognize as the NT Canon today. I say, “for the most part” because there were a few books that continued to be debated until the Council of Carthage closed the Canon in 397 with the 27 books of our NT. If this sounds like a late date to complete the Canon, know that the list the Council settled on had been in circulation for many years prior to the official statement at Carthage.A couple of decades after the heresy of Marcion, another challenge to orthodoxy arose. Around 160, 2 women and a man joined forces in Phrygia, a region of central Turkey. They formed a new movement based on what they claimed was the prophetic voice of God. Maximilla, Prisca, & Montanus led what we could call an early hyper-Pentecostalism that split the church.The Montanists’ central message was the soon return of Christ & the need for believers to get ready. They were to do so by a strict asceticism that included much fasting, eating only dry foods, (I guess moist food was sinful because it was too easy to chew) and the requirement to abstain from sex, even including marital sex. Montanists were encouraged to relish persecution; holding it to be a badge of genuine faith and loyalty to God.The Montanists presented such a challenge that Church leaders convened some of the Church’s first councils, known as “synods”, to decide how to respond to its growing popularity. It was decided that the excesses of the New Prophets were too extreme and they were excommunicated, though the specific reasons for doing so have been lost to us. All we know is that an official split occurred between the Montanists and the Apostolic Church. The split was so clear, when Christians and Montanists were both executed in the same arena, they died for the same God but tried to avoid being eaten by the same animals, lest their remains mingle in the belly of the beasts.Yeah, I know! It’s amazing how far Christians will go to carve themselves up into different groups. It’s nothing new. It’s been going on since their earliest days.If you live in an urban or suburban community, you likely drive around town and see several church buildings with different signs & labels. Christianity is a religion composed of not dozens à but hundreds of sects. And while services may be similar in many of those local churches, the can also differ widely in style, culture, values, & doctrine. For instance, some are sedate & composed, putting more emphasis on rationality and the centrality of the sermon or the practice of a liturgy. Others allow and may even encourage a more emotional encounter with God, so music & worship take a more active place in the service. I’m generalizing widely here. My point is that both churches may be packed with people attending because while they’re culture is on opposite ends of the spectrum, each appeals to a certain group of people. It isn’t that one is right & the other is wrong. They may both be either. The point is – people are different, so there are places for them to go to be brought closer to God.In studying the Montanists, I wonder if there isn’t a bit of this dynamic that happened with their success in certain places. You see, their leader, Montanus, before coming to faith in Christ was a priest either of Apollo or Cybele. The worship of both gods was marked by their priests & priestesses being given to ecstatic trances & urges. Whether these altered states of consciousness were induced by hallucinogenic drugs, extreme meditative rituals, or outright demonic activity – the person in ecstasy would enter a trance where  the eyes would roll up into the head, their bodies would go rigid, their voice would alter, & they’d make solemn pronouncements as though by the voice of a god.This was Montanus’ background. There’s a question about the genuineness of his conversion. Did he really come to faith or like some of the other aberrant groups at this time, did he see the rising popularity of Christianity and simply adopt some of its terms and forms while carrying on under his old practices? Did he just rebrand his demonically-induced ecstasies?That’s what some historians conclude. Some of what Montanus, along with Prisca & Maximilla went on to prophecy was goofy. But some of the charges leveled against Montanus reflected his practices BEFORE his conversion. It was his critics who accused him of making his post-conversion prophetic announcements in the old Cybelline trance-like state. Others said that he did NOT operate that way after coming to faith; that he renounced his pagan past. But that he, like his supporters, was someone who yearned for a more emotionally engaged & experiential faith & that the work of the Holy Spirit, so prominent in the earliest church, must not be forfeited. It was in danger of that very thing as the Faith had to contend with hostile government officials and an emerging mix of aberrant groups. All the energy by the church’s brightest leaders seemed to be going into the cerebral, the doctrinal, the apologetic – and this emphasis on the mind was numbing the heart of the Faith. The Montanists wanted to see the Holy Spirit active & present in the Church’s midst. Sadly, their claims to being the ESPECIALLY anointed led to excesses, and a discrediting of their movement – just as has happened in more recent times with the wild pronouncements & false prophecies of some of the hyper-charismatics.The decision to excommunicate the Montanists was anything but unanimous among Church leaders. Many believed that while the New Prophets had indeed gone too far in their excessive emphasis on asceticism, their renewal of the use of spiritual gifts was a return to the primitive version of Christianity practiced by the Apostles & described in the Book of Acts. The early Church father Tertullian, pastor of Carthage, began as a Montanist.What brought the Montanists into the greatest disrepute was the failure of some of their prophecies about impending events. This and their ultra-strict legalism earned them the label of being highly aberrant, if not heretical.Though it was right for Church leaders of the late 2nd Century to censure the Montanists for their excesses, they may have gone too far in labeling them “heretics.” Because the Montanists put such emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, rejecting Montanism tended to put a damper on the exercise of spiritual gifts. An unfortunate turn at a time when Christians needed every bit of help they could get.In our next episode, we’ll consider what was probably the greatest doctrinal challenge to the Early Church; the heresy known as Gnosticism. This is an important subject because while Gnosticism was eventually defeated by orthodoxy and went into a long hiatus, it’s seen a revival in recent years due to the combined influence of modern novelists and some recent discoveries of their literature which critics of Christianity have latched on to in an attempt to muddy the waters on what original believers really believed. 
Jan 01, 1970
06-BOGO
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This week's episode is titled “Buy One, Get One Free.”In the last episode we touched briefly at a heretic named Marcion. He was one of the first to introduce a false teaching that would evolve into a major challenge to the emerging Christian Faith; that errant movement was known as Gnosticism.Marcion was the son of the pastor of the church in Pontus, on the Southern coast of the Black Sea. He was a ship-owner sailing passengers & shipping cargo throughout the Empire. Around AD 140, Marcion’s father disfellowshipped him from the congregation. This was the result either of Marcion’s seduction of a young woman, his increasingly heretical ideas, or both. Whatever the reason, he relocated to Rome where he was unknown & his reputation was untarnished. When he made a large contribution to the church at Rome, it greased the wheels of his acceptance as a member in good standing.But Marcion soon began espousing ideas that diverged from what the elders taught. In his previous travels, Marcion had been influenced by a teacher named Cerdo, an early advocate of what today is known as Gnosticism.Now, let me be clear, Gnosticism was more a religious trend than a united movement with a settled set of doctrines. While Gnostics held a common set of core beliefs, they interpreted them widely. This makes describing Gnosticism difficult. Generally, we can say it was a mash-up of à
  • Greek philosophy,
  • Eastern mystery cults, and
  • Christian terminology.
From Greek philosophy, Gnostics borrowed the idea that all physical matter was inherently an unalterably evil, while the spiritual realm was equally, inherently & unalterably good. From esoteric & occult Eastern mystery sects they took the idea there was a secret body of knowledge that when understood granted enlightenment. This enlightenment was the Gnostic equivalent of salvation because it liberated one’s consciousness from mere physical existence into a kind of permanent spirituality.Gnosticism took its name from this idea of “salvation thru enlightenment.” The Greek word ‘gnosis’ means ‘knowledge.’Because the Christian movement was growing rapidly, Gnostics adopted Christian forms & terms as a sneaky marketing ploy, hoping to pawn off their ideas as an elite form of Christianity. The ploy worked & Gnosticism took root in several congregations just as winds of false teaching do in every generation.Marcion was one of the first to introduce Gnostic elements in his highly-edited form of Christianity. Drawing from Cerdo, he proposed 2 different gods; an angry, vengeful OT deity, & a warm, fuzzy father-figure of the NT. Toting the Gnostic line, Marcion said the physical body was evil & promoted a rigorous asceticism that denied all physical pleasure. Marcion’s followers took communion by drinking water because wine was too tasty. They went so far as to say even marital sex was taboo.Marcion claimed Jesus was not born of Mary. He said Jesus appeared at Capernaum in AD 29 as a grown man. Note that = Jesus only appeared. Marcion said Jesus didn't have a literal body. He couldn't since being physical, the body was evil. Jesus only appeared, or seemed to have a body; in truth, he was more phantom than tangible.This is called Docetism; one of the earliest forms of Gnosticism. Docetism comes from the word meaning to seem. Marcion said the death & resurrection of Christ weren't literal; they couldn't be since Jesus wasn't corporeal. They were just a phantom demonstration of God's love and sacrifice. Though the church at Rome quickly became hip to Marcion’s theological shenanigans & declared his ideas heretical in 144, they gained some traction and Marcion set up a counterfeit church in both Italy & in Asia Minor where the Eastern mystery cults were popular.  Marcionite fellowships reached as far as Arabia & Egypt & were still operating well into the 4th Century.Marcion’s was only one of several streams of Gnosticism that developed during the 2nd & 3rd Centuries to challenge Christian orthodoxy. The main feature of all the Gnostics was their sharp dualism, splitting up the physical & spiritual into utterly divergent realms. They believed the spiritual realm contained a hierarchy of spiritual beings who were layered upward toward a transcendent & ultimate spirit. This transcendent god had given rise to a lower deity, which had done likewise, & so on over thousands of spiritual emanations until there was a spirit distant enough from the origin to be so low as to be able to create the physical universe. Some Gnostics like Cerdo & Marcion, said this lowly creator spirit was the Jewish God of the OT.Gnostics believed that sparks of divinity, little portions of pure spirit were locked inside some, but not all, humans. Those who had them, they said, would become Gnostics. Another clever marketing ploy; after all, who doesn’t want to think they have a little spark of something special? So, they were tempted to go Gnostic to prove they did. The next step was to pay one of the Gnostic teachers the requisite fee to learn the Gnosis, that is, the secret knowledge, so they could have their divine spark fanned into full flame.Voilà = Enlightenment!It was an ancient version of, “The first lesson is free, but if you want to go deeper, well, that’s going to cost you. Oh, & by the way, if you’re smart, you WILL join us – because that’s what smart holders of the divine spark do. You want to be one of the special one’s don’t you? Well, sign up, pay the fee & you’re in! Oh and BTW – if you sign up today, it’s half off.”Okay, I obviously made that last part up, but once you realize what the Gnostic teachers were all about, you wouldn’t’ really be surprised if they did have ancient versions of all the modern sales gimmicks. Family & group plans, Buy One; Get One Free, No Shipping.For the Gnostics, Enlightenment equaled Salvation. It was the realization they weren’t mere humans devoid of the divine spark, so little better than animals. They were earth-bound spirits destined to re-emerge with the divine hierarchy, that series of emanations from the supreme, transcendent God. Gnosticism was a stepped progression of spiritual growth whereby members increased their rank by paying their Gnostic guides more & more to learn increasingly powerful gnosis. If this sounds similar to a modern religious group that calls itself by a similar name = Something like, uhhh à Knowledgeology = Well there really is nothing new under the sun.Gnosticism presented a challenge to the Church for a couple of reasons.First = Gnostics used many of the same terms Christians used. This confused novices and those not properly taught. It’s something pseudo-christian cults do to this day. They use orthodox vocabulary but pour different meanings into the words.Second = It’s human nature to be attracted to that which is secret, hidden & mysterious; and that’s what the Gnostics were all about.Third = The Gnostics believed they were superior to others. This appealed to ever-present pride. The Bible teaches that humans were created in the image of God & originally destined for glory. There’s a latent sense of a call to glory that lingers in the soul. Greatness beckons us all. Gnostics said this was the divine spark & only they could activate it.Fourth = Human nature assumes something as important as salvation has to be costly. There’s no such thing as a free-lunch. The Christian Gospel says while salvation is by God’s grace & free to us, it’s supremely costly to God because it cost the Life of Christ. But many miss this & think grace is utterly free.  The Gospel’s message of salvation by grace seemed thin & weak to those convinced there had to be work involved, compared to the Gnostic campaign of "Pay to Play."What comes as a surprise is to realize the first real doctrinal challenge to Christianity was not over Jesus’ deity. It was over His humanity. Today, most controversy is over Jesus being God. It’s easy to see Him as a man. What’s more difficult is to understand how the human and divine come together in the Incarnation, so this becomes one of the main points of contention with non-Christian and the cults. The Docetism of Marcion and other Gnostics maintained Jesus's divinity but denied his humanity.And let me just give a bit of a teaser for some of our later episodes when we get to the 4th & 5th Centuries. Turns out the battles that went on in the church over how to understand the dual nature of Christ became a bloody & contentious period of Church history. One of the Church Councils is nick-named the Gangster Synod because the church leaders who attended it beat each other up over this issue. è Fun times!Back to Gnosticism . . .Other branches of the Gnostics taught Jesus & Christ were 2 separate entities. Jesus was just a man with a human mother & father while Christ was a spirit that descended on the man Jesus at his baptism, ministered thru him for 3 yrs, then departed in the Garden of Gethsemane. So the man that died on the cross was just a spent shell; his death accomplished nothing in terms of salvation. These Gnostics claimed that the Christ-spirit or Christ-consciousness continued to inhabit their leaders & could come upon anyone who showed sufficient enlightenment.Like Marcion with his abbreviated list of approved books we considered in the previous episode, the Gnostics edited portions of the NT that spoke of Christ's physicality. They couldn’t have Him writing in the dust of the ground or eating after the resurrection because, well, spirits don’t do those kinds of things. They also had to insert episodes into the Jesus-story that gave an opening for their aberrant theology. The recent spate of alternative Gospels that have made the news are for the most part Gnostic Scriptures known to the early church but rejected for their spurious origin and dubious Gnostic purpose. They weren't included in the NT canon because they didn't meet the strenuous criteria used to validate accepted writings.As I mentioned, there were several branches or streams of Gnosticism. They differed in all sorts of ways. One of the major divisions was on how to deal with their core-belief in the inherent evil of all matter. One group believed the proper way to respond was by a strict asceticism that avoided physical pleasure. They ate only the most bland foods , drank tasteless beverages, wore uncomfortable clothes, abstained from sex & avoided any stimulation of the senses deemed pleasurable.The other tendency was a 180° reversal of asceticism. These Gnostics immersed themselves in physical pleasure. They said asceticism was pointless because whether it was pleasurable or not, contact with the world was unalterably evil – so it didn’t matter! If it was all evil, might was well enjoy it! These Gnostics made it their aim to so immerse themselves in pleasure, and this often meant indulging in the grossest kinds of immorality, that they’d experience enlightenment anyway, and this would prove that their consciousness was divorced from the body. These Gnostics said their divine spark was like a pearl that could not be stained by the muck of the world. Of course, this was quite appealing to people who wanted to continue in sin and believe they were going to heaven when they died.Spread between these extremes, were other branches of Gnostic thought & teaching.Until the 19th Century most of what we know about the Gnostics came from Christian leaders like Irenaeus & Origen who refuted their ideas.Here’s what the Early Church Father, Irenaeus, wrote about the Gnostics in his preface to his work; “Against Heresies.”These men falsify the oracles of God, and prove themselves evil interpreters of the good word of revelation. They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of superior knowledge, from Him who rounded and adorned the universe; as if they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal, than God who created the heaven and the earth, and all things therein. By means of specious words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions . . . and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.As I said, until recently, pretty much all historians knew of ancient Gnosticism was what it’s opponents said about it. Then, several decades ago, ancient Gnostic manuscripts began to surface. The more notable of these are the Codex Askewianus, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Wisdom of Jesus, & the Acts of Peter. In 1946, a collection of Gnostic manuscripts was discovered near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. They were dated to the late 4th Century.Simon Magus, mentioned in Acts 8, was labeled by early Christians as the originator of Gnosticism and may indeed have had a hand in blending Greek philosophy, Eastern mysteries, & Christian lingo into a home-spun spiritualism. After Simon, another Gnostic teacher named Menander followed up on & elaborated on Simon’s work. Saturninus brought Gnosticism to Antioch in Syria where a thriving Christian community already existed.Cerinthus spread Gnosticism in Asia Minor & as we've seen Cerdo & Marcion brought Gnostic ideas to Rome.Where Gnosticism thrived was in the North African city of Alexandria, the Roman Empire’s 2nd largest & a highly-influential city. Alexandria was a center of culture & learning & Gnosticism's presence there greatly advanced its reach.The arid conditions of North Africa facilitated the preservation of documents, so some of our most ancient manuscripts of the NT come from that region. Some conservative scholars believe these manuscripts bear evidence of Gnostic tampering in that they tend to exclude portions of the Gospels that reference Jesus’ corporeal existence, as well as those parts of the NT epistles which speak of the life of Faith affecting the physical world.But the net result of Gnosticism on the Church was the clarification of what Christians believe about the humanity and deity of Christ & the nature of faith. Gnostic challenges moved Church leaders to identify which books were Scripture as well as what makes for  essential doctrine. Though the cause of orthodoxy was advanced by confronting Gnosticism, Gnostic ideas became entrenched in some churches and by the early 4th Century, when Christianity was finally removed from under the heel of Imperial persecution, Church leaders were split over some of the ideas Gnosticism had inserted.But that’s a matter for a latter episode.
Jan 01, 1970
07-The Spreading Tree
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This episode is titled, “The Spreading Tree “Tertullian, pastor of the church of Carthage in North Africa, addressed unbelievers at the beginning of the 3rd C, saying à“We are but of yesterday, and yet we already fill your cities, islands, camps, your palace, senate and forum; we have left to you only your temples.”That introduces our theme for this episode; the expansion of the Faith in the early centuries.Writing in the middle of the 2nd C, Justin Martyr said,“There is no people, Greek or barbarian, or of any other race, by whatsoever appellation or manners they may be distinguished, however ignorant of arts or agriculture, whether they dwell in tents or wander about in covered wagons—among whom prayers and thanksgivings are not offered in the name of the crucified Jesus to the Father and Creator of all things.”Comments by other Early Church leaders like Irenæus, Arnobius, & Origen lead us to conclude that by the end of the 3rd C the name of Christ was known, revered, & persecuted in many provinces & cities of the Roman Empire. In one of his edicts, the Emperor Maximian says that “almost all” had abandoned the worship of the old gods for the new sect called Christianity.In the absence of hard numbers, tallying the number of Jesus’ followers can’t be precise, but a reasonable assumption of the faithful stands about 10 to 12% of the total population at the beginning of the 4th C. In some places, the number was much higher as local movements saw the Gospel take firmer root. According to Chrysostom, the Christian population of the city of Antioch at the end of the 4th C. was half the whole.While 10% of the entire Empire may not seem that impressive a number, keep in mind that 10% shared a spiritual unity that made them appear a far larger group when set over against the highly-fragmented 90% of the pagan world.Looking back to Asia where the whole thing started, the Apostles had spread the new faith over Israel, Syria, & Asia Minor. According to Pliny the Younger, at the dawn of just the 2nd C, the pagan temples in Asia Minor were almost completely neglected & animal sacrifices hardly performed because so many pagan had converted to the new faith.In a first step of what would prove to be a major outreach to the East, during the 2nd C Christianity took root in the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia along with several regions in Persia. In the 3rd C., it reached North into Armenia & South into Arabia.There’s an enduring legend that the apostles Thomas & Bartholomew carried the Gospel to India. For sure, a Christian teacher named Pantaeus of Alexandria went there about 190. By the 4th C, vibrant national churches were growing in the subcontinent.It was the moving of the seat of power from Rome to Constantinople in the early 4th C that helped ensure the migration of the Faith eastward. It also meant that all the important early Church Councils were held in or around Constantinople.  The great doctrinal controversies over the Trinity & Nature of Christ were carried out mostly in Asia Minor, Syria, & Egypt.Speaking of Egypt, Christianity in Africa gained a firm foothold first there, during the time of the Apostles. The city of Alexandria was a world center of learning & culture. It’s libraries & schools drew from all over the world and many Jews called it home. It was in Alexandria that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, 200 yrs before Jesus. This Greek Bible, called the Septuagint, opened the seemingly opaque ideas of the Jews to Gentiles seekers after truth for the first time. It was in Alexandria that the religion of Moses was set alongside the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. It was there the Jewish philosopher Philo sought to harmonize Greek & Jewish thought. Many of his ideas were picked up by later Christian apologists in defending the faith against Roman misconceptions.Ancient tradition says it was Mark who laid the foundation of the church in Alexandria, which became one of the 5 most important & influential churches of the first Centuries. A theological school flourished in Alexandria from the 2nd C in which the great church fathers Clement & Origen taught. From Alexandria, the Gospel spread South into Nubia (modern Sudan) & Ethiopia. At a council of Alexandria in 235, 20 African bishops attended from all over the Nile basin.During the 4th C, in a subject we’ll treat more fully in a later episode, Egypt coughed up the Arian heresy, then quickly answered it with Athanasian orthodoxy. Egypt was the birthplace of monasticism as practiced by its earliest advocates, Antony & Pachomius. Monasticism then spread across the rest of the Christian world. But that’s yet another subject for a couple later episodes.Christianity spread from Egypt across the rest of North Africa quickly. It helped that there were numerous Roman outposts reached by 3 or 4 days sailing from Italy. The faith spread rapidly over the fertile fields & burning sands of Mauritania & Numidia, taking root in Carthage. In 258 a synod of 87 bishops met there & just 50 yrs later the Donatists held a council of 270 bishops.It may be of interest to some listeners that the oldest Latin translation of the Bible, called the “Itala” & was the basis of Jerome’s “Vulgate”, was produced in Africa for Africans, not in Rome for Romans, because the Christians there used Greek. Latin theology also wasn’t born in Rome, but in Carthage. Tertullian was its father. Latin theology then grew in North Africa to find its zenith in the world of Augustine of Hippo, another North African city. The influence of Augustine simply cannot be overstated, as we’ll see.After reaching Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia, and a narrow band of North Africa, the Expansion of the Faith stalled. Whether or not it would have renewed its reach further South becomes moot in light of the Conquest of Islam in the 7th & 8th Cs.Tracking the expansion of the Faith into Europe, we pick up the report of the early church historian Eusebius who said by the middle of the 3rd C the Church at Rome had a bishop, 46 elders, 7 deacons with 7 assistants, 42 acolytes which we can think of as “interns,”  50 readers, exorcists, & ushers; & 1500 widows & poor who were under its care. From these numbers we guesstimate the actual membership of the Church at about 50,000 or 1/20th of the City’s population. The strength of Christianity in Rome is confirmed by the enormous extent of the catacombs where Christians were buried.From Rome, the church spread to all the cities of Italy. The first Roman synod we know of was held in the mid-2nd C and had 12 bishops in attendance. A century later there were 60.An official persecution of the followers of Christ in Gaul in 177 shows the church had to already be there and large enough as to raise the concern of the authorities. The faith arrived in Gaul, not from Rome, but from Asia Minor. We know that because Irenæus, the bishop of Lyons, was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna & Irenaeus reported in to his peers in Asia Minor rather than to Rome. It wasn’t till the middle of the 3rd C that Rome sent missionaries to Gaul. One of them was Dionysius who founded the first church at Paris, then died a martyr at Montmartre to become the patron saint of France.Spain was most likely reached with the Faith in the 2nd C. The Council of Elvira in 306 saw 19 bishops assemble to catch up and discuss the work of their various provinces. The apostle Paul once formed the plan of a missionary journey to Spain, and according to Clement of Rome he did preach there.Irenæus reported that the Gospel had been preached to the Germans and several other Northern tribes but he likely meant just those portions of Northern Europe that had been brought under Roman control.Although it’s a bit of a mystery why the North African Tertullian would know, he said the Faith had taken root in Britain by the end of the 2nd C. As we’ll see in a later episode, the Celtic church existed in England, Ireland, & Scotland, quite independent of Rome, long before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons by the Roman missionary Augustine. In fact, that early Celtic church sent missionaries to Germany, France, & the Low Countries well before the Italian outreach. In the mid-8th C, the Venerable Bede reported that about the year 167 the British king Lucius asked the bishop of Rome to send missionaries. Then, at the Council of Arles in 314, British bishops from York, London & Colchester, were in attendance.This would be a good place to talk about the Expansion of the Faith into the East but that’s a huge, important, and all too often overlooked part of the History of the Church, so we’ll save it for later.  Suffice it for now – as many students of history know, the Roman Empire got stalled in the East, first by the Parthians, then later by their successors, the Sassanids.The Sassanids gladly applied the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And that meant from the late 2nd thru 3rd C, as Christians were being persecuted in the Roman Empire, they were welcomed to the East by the Sassanids. The church sprang up and grew rapidly all over Mesopotamia & Persia in what today we know as Iran. Some of the greatest cultural achievements of the Faith during the 3rd C were in this Persian church. But when Constantine embraced Christianity and the Church moved into the position of political favor in the Roman west, you may guess what that meant for the Church in the regions controlled by the Sassanids. Still, this eastern church had developed its own unique culture, and instead of moving back west to join the church of the Byzantine-Roman world, persecution pushed it even further east, all the way to China.Let’s finish out this episode with a look at Justin Martyr who we began with a quote from.Justin was born in the ancient city of Shechem in the very center of Israel. But by the time he was born in AD 100, it was a Roman city called Flavia Neapolis = New Flavianberg. Raised by pagan parents, he sought life’s meaning in the major philosophies of his day. But his pursuit of truth resulted in nothing more than a series of bitter disappointments.Justin was too sharp to swallow the shallow reasoning & logical inconsistencies of pagan thought. Whether it was religion or philosophy, his keen intellect cut through the silliness that was the hallmark of the pagan worldview.His first teacher was a Stoic who “knew nothing of God and did not even think knowledge of him to be necessary.” After that Justin followed an itinerant philosopher, who was more interested in collecting his fee than the pursuit of truth. Next up was a Pythagorean, but his course in music, astronomy, and geometry was too slow for Justin’s voracious mind. Finally, he applied himself to Platonism which was more intellectually demanding, but proved once again to hold too many inconsistencies.Then, at about the age of 30, after a long conversation with an elderly gentleman, Justin’s life was transformed. He said, “A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do.”Justin was determined to reconcile faith & reason. His work took him first to Ephesus in AD 132 where he held a debate with a Jew named Trypho about the correct way to interpret Scripture. The book which came out of this debate is aptly titled, The Dialogue with Trypho & teaches 3 main points:1) The Old Covenant has passed away to make place for the New;2) The Logos is the God of the Old Testament; AND à3) Believers in Christ constitute a New Israel; that is, the new covenant people of God.Justin then moved to Rome, founded a school, and wrote 2 bold Apologias = formal defenses of the Faith, intended to be read by pagan officials persecuting Christians. Think of an Apologia like a legal brief.Justin’s First Apology published in 155 was addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius. It was an attempt to explain the Faith, which as we saw in an earlier episode was so badly misunderstood by unbelieves of that time.  Justin showed how Christianity was not a threat to the State and should be treated as a legal religion.He reasoned with the Emperor that Christians are his “best helpers and allies in securing good order, convinced as we are that no wicked man … can be hidden from God, and that everyone goes to eternal punishment or salvation in accordance with the character of his actions.” He made an eloquent case for why Christianity was superior to paganism, that Christ fulfilled prophecy, and that paganism was in reality a poor imitation of true religion.Justin’s First Apology has become an important record for students of history in that he gave a detailed description of early Christian worship to prove to unbelievers the Faith wasn’t some kind of subversive movement. The most famous passage is this:On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.Justin’s Second Apology was written soon after Marcus Aurelius became emperor in 161. In these writings, Justin showed that the Christian faith alone as genuinely rational. He said the Logos; which was an important philosophical concept of the time, became incarnate to teach humanity truth and to redeem people from spiritual deception. Since Marcus Aurelius was a true philosopher Emperor, Justin sought to appeal to his love of truth with this Second Apology.But the Emperor was more enamored of Greek thought than the new-fangled innovations of the Christians. 4 yrs after penning the Second Apology, Justin and his disciples were arrested. The prefect asked him to denounce his faith by making a sacrifice to the gods. Justin replied, “No one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false.” It was an easy answer for Justin because he’d spent his adult life discerning the true from the false.He was taken out and beheaded. Since he gave his life for “true philosophy,” Justin was surnamed Martyr.
Jan 01, 1970
08-Not Really An Apology
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This episode is titled, “Not Really an Apology.”Anyone who embarks on a study of church history and starts at the beginning will soon run in to a pile of church leaders known as the Church Fathers. They’re often divided into the Ante-Nicean and Post-Nicean Fathers; meaning the church leaders who lived ante-before the First great Ecumenical Church Council of Nicea in AD 315, and those who lived during & after it.; thus the prefix – post.The Fathers can further be broken up into 3 groups, based on the primary focus of their writings. Those 3 groups are the Apostolic Fathers, the Apologists and the Theologians.While there’s some overlap time-wise, we can say that generally the period of the Apostolic Fathers was from the end of the 1st to mid-2nd C. As we saw in a previous episode, the Apostolic Fathers weren’t Apostles; they were followers & students of the Apostles & had a close relationship with them.Then from the mid-2nd C thru the end of the 3rd is the time of the Apologists. They’re called this because their work focused on defending the Faith against attacks both from without & within.Following the Apologists were the Theologians who provided leadership of the Church from the beginning of the 4th thru the 6th C.  Their work hammered out precisely what it was Christians believed regarding some of the more complex aspects of the Faith.In the previous episode we considered the Apologist Justin Martyr who wrote 2 important defenses of the Faith and addressed them to 2 Roman Emperors, Antoninus Pious and Marcus Aurelius.Now we look at another important Apologist, Irenaeus.But before we dive into his story, let me be clear for those unfamiliar with the term ‘Apologist.’The modern English word “apology” means to say you’re sorry for having made an error. It’s an acceptance of blame and a way to restore good will. That’s not what the Apologists gave. They had nothing to be sorry for. The word comes from the Greek word Apologia – which was a formal defense of one’s position. It’s a legal word. An apologia is something an attorney would prepare going into court. It was an attempt to prove something by use of evidence and reason. That’s why today Apologetics is the term used for defending the Faith. The tradition of Apologetics goes all the way back to the earliest days of Church History when the Christian Faith was emerging into a hostile pagan world.The Apologists were those Early Church Fathers, usually pastors of local churches, who wrote up formal works to be given to Roman officials like the Emperor or a provincial governor, explaining why persecution was an inappropriate reaction to the followers of Jesus.One of the premier Apologists who was also one of the earliest Theologians, was Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, in France. His career was spent battling the dangerous threat of Gnosticism.Born in Asia Minor, probably the city of Smyrna about 135, he was influenced by the Apostolic Father & student of the Apostle John, Polycarp. Irenaeus was deeply affected by his mentor, saying he wrote down what he learned from him, not on paper but on his heart.After attending school in Rome, Irenaeus went out as a missionary to Southern Gaul. He served as an elder in a couple churches that witnessed the heavy persecution born by the believers there during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.It was during this time that the Montanist controversy broke. We talked about them in a previous episode. Here’s where we find out it was an issue many churches weighed in on. One faction thought the Montanists ought to be declared heretical and banned. Others found their theology aberrant but didn’t qualify as heresy. They thought the Montanists ought to be reined in, not kicked out.The churches of Southern Gaul were of this second persuasion and in AD 178 sent Irenaeus to Rome to voice their opinion. When Irenaeus returned to Lyon, he learned its Bishop had been martyred. He was selected to fill his place.From then till his death in 14 yrs later, Irenaeus stayed a busy man. He was a prolific writer and tireless pastor & missionary.Irenæus proved to be a great asset for the Church in the later 2nd C and provided a solid foundation for the Church of the next 2 centuries. While he struggles w/the native language of Gaul, he was a master of Greek. He was adept at using Greek culture, language and thought forms in the defense of the Faith and helped lay a philosophical & theological foundation later church leaders drew on.And don’t forget, Irenaeus’ connection back to Christ was close, though he lived toward the end of the 2nd C. His teacher was the long-lived Polycarp, who’d been the disciple of the aged John – direct disciple of Jesus!This helps us put his emphasis on apostolic succession in perspective. This became a key concept in his writing. Irenaeus didn’t argue for some kind of dynastic principle in Church leadership so much as the idea that the Faith itself; its doctrines, tenets, values & mission where drawn from the original Apostles, passed on to their followers, then passed on to the next generation, and so forth. Church leaders obtain authority only to the degree they were loyal to the foundation the Apostles laid. Their authority was derived directly from their adherence to what was already given, it did not originate with them or merely with the office they held.Okay è Personal Comment Alert: What follows is my personal commentary.Church leaders today would do well to remember this when they’re pressed to compromise with the World on moral & spiritual issues. The authority of pastors and church leaders comes from one place – God. It does not adhere to some office in the Church. A title means nothing, no matter how big the hat or fancy the label. God gives authority to fulfill HIS calling and mission for that person. When they step outside that role, they possess no real authority. The authority of the minister is derived and directly proportional to their loyalty to the Apostolic message & Mission.That’s what Irenaeus was saying in his writings. And while there was an extension of this principle into the realm of church leadership, Irenaeus didn’t advocate some kind of spiritual dynastic principle whereby Church leadership & hierarchy was bequeathed by one leader to the next.Irenæus was a fierce opponent of error & schism, and the most orthodox of the ante-Nicene fathers. It may be of interest to some listeners that Irenaeus, along with the Church Father, Papias and most of his contemporaries, were pre-millennarian in their eschatological views. Those views were later abandoned by the Church as too Jewish in origin. While laboring hard for the spread & defense of the Faith on Earth, Irenaeus was à “gazing up into heaven,” like the original disciples, anxiously waiting for the return of the Lord and the establishment of his kingdom.Irenæus was the first of the Church Fathers to make full use of the NT. While the Gnostics he spent much of his time refuting wanted to carve up the Bible, whittling it down to just a handful of texts, Irenaeus referred to all 4 Gospels and nearly all the epistles as Scripture.Though he had great zeal for essential doctrine, Irenæus was tolerant toward differences over non-essentials. He urged the bishop of Rome to lighten up in his demands about how & when people could celebrate the Resurrection.2 major works of Irenaeus have survived. Against Heresies & The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.Against Heresies was written about 185, while he was bishop of Lyon. It’s aimed at the error of Gnosticism we’ve already considered. Against Heresies has 5 parts.Book 1 is an historical sketch of various Gnostic sects alongside a statement of Christian faith.Book 2 is a philosophical critique of Gnosticism.Book 3 is a Scriptural critique of it, while …Book 4 answers Gnosticism from the words of Christ Himself.It wraps up with Book 5; a vindication of the resurrection against Gnostic arguments denying it.In a quote from early in the work, Irenaeus says, “Error is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.”Irenaeus has been called “Father of Church Dogmatics” because he sought to formulate the principles of Christian theology and provide an exposition of the church’s beliefs. That was especially clear in his other writing, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.  There he laid down the premise that the Christian faith finds its revelation & authority in the Scriptures. He refers to both the Old & New Testaments to prove this and as I said earlier, quotes from all but 4 of the NT books.Irenaeus is an important figure for the development of Christian theology because in his battle with Gnosticism, he lays down the principle of recapitulation, that is, that Jesus Christ is the core & essence of all true theology. He’s both Creator & Redeemer. What was lost in Adam is regained in Christ. What he says about Jesus, as drawn from the Scriptures, would be used later by the Theologians when they had their discussion & debates over the nature of Christ.Besides these 2 works we know were authored by Irenaeus, there are several other fragments and some works attributed to him by people like Eusebius. We’ll skip reviewing all those except one that deserves mention. In the Epistle to Florinus, Irenaeus writes to a friend who’d at one time served with him in ministry. In fact, they’d both grown up in the Faith, side by side at the feet of Polycarp. Florinus became an elder at the Church in Rome, but was deposed when he embraced Gnosticism. Irenæus reminded him touchingly of their friendship & past. You can hear the ache in Irenaeus’ words that someone who’d been so close and so clear on the things of God, could throw it all aside for such silliness as the error of the Gnostics. Irenaeus dissects that error so skillfully, it’s difficult to imagine anyone could read the letter and not return to the faith of his youth. But we don’t know what came of Florinus.As we end this episode, let me once again encourage you to stop by both the sanctorum.us website and the CS FB page to leave a comment. Be sure to tell us where you live so we can get an idea of where the CS family is.If you enjoy the podcast, why not recommend it to your friends. Turns out that’s by far how most people find out about CS – word of mouth.
Jan 01, 1970
09-Striving to Give an Answer
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This episode is titled, “Striving to Give an Answer”In his first epistle, the Apostle Peter urged Jesus’ followers to always be ready to give a defense, an apologia, of their faith to anyone who asked. That word meaning an articulate, reasoned position. It was used of the arguments lawyers carried into court to argue their case. Peter added that the Christian must share his/her defense of the Faith, not in a combative or argumentative tone, but with meekness & respect.If there was any Church Father who sought to embody that command, it was Origen of Alexandria.Origen was what some might term a “religious fanatic” who gave up his job, slept on the floor, ate no meat, drank no wine, fasted twice a week, owned no shoes, & according to one account castrated himself for the faith. He was also the most prolific scholar of his age, penning hundreds of manuscripts. He was a 1st rate philosopher, & profound student of Scripture.So outstanding in resisting all the forces that came against him, Origen was nick-named “Adamantius” = man of steel. If that sounds familiar, Adamantine is the metal that makes up Wolverine’s skeleton in the X-Men series. But no! Origen was not a 3rd C Wolverine. à Let’s not get carried away.A child prodigy, Origen was born near Alexandria in Egypt about AD 185. The oldest of 7 children, he grew up in a Christian home learning the Bible & the meaning of commitment. In 202 his father, Leonidas, was beheaded for the faith in one of those regular rounds of persecution at the hands of hostile Roman officials during the reign of Septimius Severus. The grief stricken 17 year old Origen wanted to join his father as a martyr but his mother prevented him from leaving the house by hiding his clothes.So; I guess he was willing to DIE in public but not go out naked in it. Sounds like your typical 17 yr old to me.Origen quickly realized he had more to offer than martyrdom & went to work to support his family. He started a grammar school, copied texts, & instructed new believers in the basics of the faith. While engaged in all this, he himself studied under the pagan philosopher Ammonius Saccas in order to better defend his faith against the arguments of hostile pagans.As persecution went on, Origen boldly visited the imprisoned, attended their trials, & comforted the condemned.  His fame spread & the number of his students increased rapidly. The Bishop of Alexandria at this time was Demetrius, with whom Origen had a hot & cold relationship. There were brief seasons of good will broken by longer periods of antagonism between the two. Origen was by far the sharper intellect & it seems Demetrius was jealous. He demanded Origen limit himself to teaching students issues of doctrine alone. He was not allowed to preach.Around AD 211-12, during the reign of the Caracalla, Origen visited Rome. The moral looseness he witnessed on the part of Church officials disturbed him. You see, Origen was a confirmed ascetic; committed to self-discipline & an austere lifestyle that shunned anything hinting of a weakening of moral virtue. So on his return to Alexandria he resumed his teaching with a zeal increased by his determination to not follow the example he saw in the capital.His school had by this time outgrown the strength of a single instructor & administrator. The students clamored for more instruction, & graduates wanted materials to help them study the Bible. Origen brought on others and increasingly devoted himself to the study of the Bible and producing high quality resources. He learned Hebrew so he could get at the text of the OT more efficiently. It was at this time, about 212, that Origen became friends with a wealthy man named Ambrose of Alexandria. Ambrose was a Gnostic whom Origen persuaded to leave his errant views and become a Christian.Their friendship continued for years, & in appreciation for Origen’s friendship & concern for his soul, Ambrose provided several secretaries to help transcribe Origen’s copious writings. A large number of Origen’s works were dedicated to this friend, Ambrose.In 214, Origen visited Arabia & the Holy Land. The following year, a popular uprising at Alexandria caused the Emperor Caracalla to allow his soldiers to loot the city. The schools were closed & all foreigners expelled. This meant Ambrose had to leave so Origen went with him. They took refuge in Caesarea on the coast of Israel. Though he wasn’t an ordained priest, the bishops of both Jerusalem & Caesarea asked Origen to carry on a temporary preaching ministry in the local churches.While this was in line with the practice of the churches in Israel, it was NOT allowed by the Church in Alexandria. When Origen returned there in 216, Bishop Demetrius was furious & tried to limit Origen’s on-going work.Of his activity over the next decade little is known. He likely engaged mostly in writing & the instruction of new believers.Origen understood the threat being posed by Gnosticism. He also knew when Gnosticism finally disappeared, another error would rise to replace it. The only way to deal with the sure coming waves of heretical challenge was to provide tools for believers to use to study & understand the Bible. To that end he produced the Hexapla, an early form of what we know today as a Parallel Bible. The Hexapla had the original Hebrew text of the OT, a Greek, transliteration & several other Grk translations. All arranged in 6 parallel columns. One of these Greek translations he found in a jar in the city of Jericho. This was a massive undertaking and required 28 years to complete. The Hexapla obviously became an important part of the development of the NT canon & helped shape scriptural translation. Unfortunately it was lost. It was so massive modern scholars doubt anyone ever copied it entirely. We know of its existence because portions of it exist, and it’s referenced in several comments by contemporary Christians.Origen might rightly be called the 1st Bible scholar who analyzed the Scriptures on 3 levels: the literal, the moral, and the allegorical. As Origen himself put it, “For just as man consists of body, soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture.” In truth, Origen preferred the allegorical because it allowed for more spiritual interpretations. There were many passages he considered impossible to understand literally.Origen’s method of allegorical interpretation became the standard for Bible study of later church ages, and would end up leading people pretty far astray.Origen’s main work, was De Principiis = On First Principles. It was the first systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. He created a distinctly Christian philosophy by synthesizing Greek techniques of analysis with Biblical texts. Add to these the 2 massive works of the Hexapla & De Principiis, his homilies & commentaries, and it’s clear how he kept 7 secretaries busy and caused the later church father Jerome to say in frustrated admiration, “Has anyone read everything Origen wrote?”While what we’ve looked at so far makes Origen out to be a pretty solid guy, he wasn’t without warts.  In fact, one of the later Church Councils will go so far as to label Origen a heretic.But hang on; as we’ll see, those councils weren’t always the most unbiased and righteous courts of discernment. Far from it!It was Origen’s interpretation of Scripture that got him into hot water. He advocated the idea that the real meaning of a text wasn’t its straight-forward, literal reading but that Scripture had an allegorical meaning & THAT was the primary purpose of the text. Finding the allegorical key was the main point, Origen and his followers, claimed.While there is certainly some deep allegory to some of Scripture, the vast majority of the Biblical text ought to be understood literally. But those who followed Origen took his idea of allegory too far and made allegory the main interpretive method for all of Scripture. This methodology of Bible study held sway for hundreds of years & ended up countering the very thing Origen had set out to do – make the Bible accessible to all believers. For in the allegorical method of interpretation, only those educated in the often esoteric symbols of the Allegoricalists can rightly interpret & understand the Word of God.Another thing that Origen did which had a negative effect on the Church was his fanatical dedication to self-denial. Origen was so anxious to present himself to God as holy he engaged in practices that were surely aberrant. It was this fastidious devotion to asceticism that encouraged the monastic movement of later times. He denied himself sleep, engaged in extreme fasting, & went barefoot.There’s one aspect of Origen’s asceticism that bears recounting because modern students of church history often hear only a partial story. A fuller report is warranted as it illustrates how more knowledge on a subject often sheds a very different light on the how & why of things the ancients did.So – Origen’s great zeal for holiness moved him when he was young & immature to castrate himself.Yes, you heard me correctly; he castrated – HIMSELF! è Ouch!!!!!!!His motive was to avoid any potential for scandal because of his instruction of women. Now this is interesting, because though Origen later developed an allegorical method of interpretation, when he was younger he took Matthew 19:12 pretty literally when it said; “There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”The early church historian Eusebius says Origen’s self-castration was “proof of an inexperienced and youthful heart but also of faith and self-control.”It seems Origen later thought better of his youthful act. In his Commentary on Matthew he condemned those who took 19:12 literally, and said such an action was an "outrage." Based on this, modern skeptics contend the report of Origen’s self-castration is false. But Origen goes on in his writings to speak of the physical problems resulting from castration in a way that suggests personal experience.This isn’t all that got Origen into trouble with later church leaders. While some of his writings were surely hypothetical, Origen taught the pre-existence of the soul; that a person’s spirit existed before conception, & that all spirits had fallen into sin before birth.  Furthermore, he said these sinful spirits were then enslaved in bodies in proportion to the grievousness of the sins they committed. So some were made demons, some men, & some angels. He also believed all spirits could be saved, even satan.But what got Origen into the biggest trouble doctrinally was his description of the Trinity. He said it was a hierarchy where Father, Son, and Spirit were NOT equal. Though he attacked Gnostic beliefs, like them, he rejected the goodness of material creation.Three centuries after his death, the Council of Constantinople pronounced Origen a heretic. But try to file that little factoid away for later because we’re going to spend quite a bit of time on this topic of the church debates over the Trinity & the nature of Christ in upcoming episodes. The 4th & 5th Cs were dominated by these debates & while the issue is largely settled for us today, we really ought to have a better appreciation for the agony the church endured for 200 years as church elders tried to figure all this out.The question is: Did Origen REALLY mean Father, Son & Spirit weren’t equal, thus making him a genuine heretic? Of by referring to them as a hierarchy, was he speaking of their submission to each other in the relational matrix of the Trinity?Ah—there’s the rub. In order to answer that, we need to know what Origen and later writers meant by the WORDS they used to describe what they believed. And that’s not always an easy task – especially when someone like Origen was oblivious to the arguments and debates that would rage 2 & 300 years later.Many scholars now contend Origen was merely trying to frame the Faith in the ideas of his day. But after the Council of Constantinople his works were suppressed; many of them being rounded up and burned, making modern evaluation difficult.Origen’s Against Celsus is one of the finest defenses of Christianity produced in the early church. Answering the charge that Christians, by refusing military service, failed the test of good citizenship, he wrote, “We who by our prayers destroy all demons which stir up wars, violate oaths, and disturb the peace are of more help to the emperors than those who seem to be doing the fighting.”The authorities weren’t convinced. In AD 250 the Emperor Decius had Origen imprisoned and tortured. He was deliberately kept alive in hope he’d renounce his faith. But Decius died first and Origen was set free. His health broken, he died shortly after his release.
Jan 01, 1970
10-Hammering Out the Details
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This week’s episode is titled “Hammering out the Details. ”That group of guys known as the Early Church Fathers for the most part were pastors. They were leaders of churches who had a pastoral concern for both the Faith & their people.The later 1st through 3rd Cs saw the Church expand around the Mediterranean basin, in a few places up into central Europe, across North Africa, across the Middle East and into Mesopotamia and the Persian East. While believers contended with periodic outbursts of persecution in Roman controlled territory, the great threat was that presented by aberrant sects that kept rising up aiming to hijack the Faith.It’s understandable why this was such a problem in these early centuries. Christian theology was still being hammered out. In fact, it was the threat posed by aberrant groups that forced church leaders to formalize precisely what it was Christians believed. Just as today, some new wind of doctrine blows thru the church and most Christians have little idea what’s wrong with it; they just sense something is. It doesn’t sound or feel right, but they couldn’t say precisely what it is. It takes some astute pastor, Bible student, or theologian to show HOW said doctrine is contrary to Scripture. Then everyone’s clued in and has an idea of why & how that aberration or heresy is off.Multiply that process by many years & lots more of those winds of doctrine, and you can see how a large & detailed body of Christian theology developed. Most times, church leaders turn to the Bible to compare the new idea to what’s already known to be God’s Word & Will. But sometimes what’s needed is some new words – or at least to make sure we know what the words we’re using when we explain something mean! And we need to make sure we all mean the same thing by those words. We see how important this is today when dealing with the cults. Two people can say they’re Christians, and both believe in & follow Jesus. But while one person’s “Jesus” is the eternal Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin Jewish teenager named Mary, the other person’s “Jesus” is really just a manifestation of the archangel Michael, or à the human son of a god named Elohim who used to be a man on another planet a long time ago who ascended into being a god with a heavenly harem by which he produces spirits looking for human bodies. Believe it or not, that is what a couple prominent pseudo-Christian cults believe today.My point is è we need to make sure we pour the same meaning into the words we use, especially when we’re talking theology, because what we believe about God is the most important thing about us.We’ll see how complex & what a major deal this all was when we get to the debates about the trinity & the nature of Jesus in the 4th & 5th Cs. For now, realize that even earlier, during the latter 1st thru 3rd Cs, it was usually pastors who did most of the theological work as they dealt with the challenge of goofy teachings about God & Jesus confronting the people they led.Let’s take a brief look at some of the major doctrinal challenges & groups that challenged the early church.We already considered the threat of Gnosticism. We spent a whole episode on that topic because it was a huge challenge that a few letters of the NT addressed.We considered the challenge Marcion presented, with his virulent anti-semitism & attempt to separate the God of the OT from the God of the New.We took a brief look at Montanus and his, what we might call, early Charismatic Movement. Ws saw that while there were indeed some aberrant elements in Monantism, they did not rise to the level of heresy the Early Church ended up labeling them with.A group we’ve not looked at yet was a kind of anti-Marcionist sect called the Ebionites. They emerged toward the end of the 1st Century & continued into the 4th.  Their beliefs smack of the error the Apostle Paul deals with in his Galatian Epistle.Ebionites said Jesus wasn’t the Eternal Son of God; he was just a successor to Moses whose mission was to enforce a strict legalism.  They claimed Jesus was just a Jew who kept the law perfectly. And because He did, at his baptism, the Spirit of God descended on him, empowering him to be a prophet. This sounds a lot like one of the many Gnostic sects.Ebionites were ascetics who avoided any & all forms of pleasure, assuming if it was pleasurable, it had to be wrong.  They practiced poverty, ultra forms of self-denial, & elaborate religious rituals. They abhorred the Gospel of Grace. Their name, “Ebionites” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “Poor Ones.” They likely took this name to honor their founder, Ebion, who spurned his given-name in favor of the title “Poor One.”What little we know about the Ebionites comes to us from the accounts of their opponents. The first Christian to write about them was Irenaeus who mentions them in his work, Against Heresies. Origen also mentions them, his account matching that of Irenaeus.They rejected the NT in favor of a scroll known as “The Gospel According to the Hebrews.” Keeping the Jewish flavor of their origins, they met in synagogues. As would be imagined, they considered the Apostle Paul with his emphasis on salvation by grace through faith to be a dangerous heretic. To Ebionites, Jesus wasn’t the Savior; Moses was because he gave the Law. Jesus was nothing but a Solomon-like figure who proved people COULD obey the law.When the Romans Titus laid siege to Jerusalem, the Ebionites join forces with the Gnostics. And a close reading of Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives a hint that it was this Gnostic-Ebionism that was troubling the church there.Another group that presented a challenge to the Early church were the Manichaeists. I’m not going to go into a lot of depth here. Suffice it to say Manichaeism was a rather bizarre cousin to Gnosticism. Like the Gnostics, they were dualist; meaning they considered the spiritual realm to be unalterably good while the material world was hopelessly corrupt.Their founder was the 3rd C mystic Mani. He proposed two opposing forces, light & darkness, forever locked in eternal combat. Salvation was defined as the victorious struggle of the Children of Light overcoming the darkness by a life of self-denial and celibacy. If some of this sounds a lot like the Zoroastrianism of Persia – Give yourself a gold star; you figured out where it came from!Mani was a Parthian who’d grown up in a home that was nominally Christian. He was loath to give up the ancient Zoroastrianism of his peers and homeland, so he decided to mix the two. And once he’d begun, he decided to go ahead and add a dash of Buddhism, some Hinduism, & a sprinkle of Judaism. Mani’s religion was an ancient version of Baha’i – you know, just snag whatever seems most appealing from a handful of major religions, toss it all in a bowl, mix thoroughly, cook at 350 for 20 minutes, let cool, and serve with a cup of Koolaid.But it’s not hard to understand WHY Manichaeism would appeal to so many people at that time. The Romans had brought dozens of different people under one political & economic system. Since religion was a crucial part of most people’s lives in that day, the diversity of faiths was a potential stress point that could lead to conflict. A religion that seemed to appeal to everyone because it contained a little bit of them all seemed a good move.Let’s turn now to take a look at another key Church Leader; Clement of Alexandria.Titus Flavius Clement was born in Athens to pagan parents. He became a Christian by studying philosophy. He settled in Alexandria in Egypt & attended a school there because he was impressed by the director’s interpretation of Scripture. When that director retired in AD 190, Clement succeeded him as head of the school, the same Origen would later take over.Now, I hope you find this as interesting as I did. This school, while run by Christians & dedicated to Christ, was anything BUT a narrow-minded academy aimed at spitting out mind-numbed followers. The school reflected the cultural mixture of Alexandria. It welcomed Christians, pagans, and Jews who wanted the best education the time could field. The Christian directors of the school believed that the Christian faith, given a fair hearing, would prevail over other ideas. So among others, the non-Christian philosopher, Ammonius Saccas taught there. Among his students were both Origen and Plotinus, founder of Neoplatonism.During his years as a teacher in Alexandria, Clement wrote most of his works. He followed the example of Philo, an Alexandrian Jewish scholar who’d used Greek philosophy to interpret the Old Testament. Clement adopted Philo’s allegorical method of interpreting Scripture, often quoting him at length.Now, I need to pause & define a term I’ve used a lot, not just in this episode but in several previous = Pagan. Today, in popular usage the word ‘pagan’ is fraught with a shipload of negative baggage. If you call someone a “pagan” it’s an insult; you’re saying they’re godless & immoral.That’s NOT what I mean here when I refer to someone as a pagan. I mean it as it’s come to be used by a growing number of alternative religious groups today. Pagans are those who’ve returned to a worldview that sees the forces of nature as worthy of worship. Witches & Wicca are pagan and draw their inspiration from the ancient world that believed in a plethora of gods & goddesses who controlled the forces of nature and exerted dominion over only certain regions. By pagan, I mean it in this technical sense; the worshippers of the Greek & Roman gods. People who believed the myths & legends of the Greco-Roman civilization.I pause to define “pagan” because Clement wrote specifically to them, seeking to reason with them about why they ought to put their faith in Christ. In his Exhortation to the Gentiles he used the same arguments employed by the Apologists, but with more sophistication.  By cherry-picking quotes, he showed an ascending revelation upward through poets, philosophers, the Cybeline oracle, & Hebrew prophets to the highest revelation; Christ.Clement’s major work was titled Miscellanies. As the title suggests, Clement said that the seeker has to go through a “patchwork” of ideas to get to the truth, like winnowing wheat through a sieve. He called philosophy a “schoolmaster” to bring the Greek-thinker to Christ. He believed God used philosophy to lead pre-Christian Gentiles to a knowledge of the truth of Christ. Although the teaching of Christ was complete in itself, philosophy served Clement as a kind of “wall for the vineyard” to defend the truth of Christianity.What’s of interest to us about Clement of Alexandria is the impact he had on Origen. It was his ready use of philosophy and allegorical style of interpreting Scripture that had a far-reaching consequence in the Early & Medieval Church.Clement fled Alexandria during persecution under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus in 202 and died in Asia Minor.Next up is Tertullian.Tertullian was born in Carthage, North Africa, about AD 160. While his pre-christian life is sketchy, it seems he was a scholarly lawyer who was won to Christ in his 30’s.Tertullian is reckoned one of the more important church fathers because he wrote a long list of apologetic and theological works in both Latin & Greek.  His Apologeticus was addressed to the Roman governor of Carthage. It refuted the charges leveled against Christians, demonstrated the loyalty of Christians to the empire, and showed that persecution of Christians was foolish because they multiplied when persecuted.Tertullian is rare among the Church Fathers in that he wasn’t a pastor as most were. He did teach at Carthage, but he remained a layman who devoted himself to writing works aimed at presenting the reasonableness of the Faith, both to believers and outsiders.Tertullian became concerned over the way holiness was being neglected in the Church. When his appeals to church leaders fell on deaf ears, he decided to join the growing Montanist movement. You’ll remember it was their aberrant views about asceticism that got them into trouble with the Church. Well, their moral discipline appealed to Tertullian. In his mind, if it was a choice of staying in a spiritually lethargic & morally compromised but doctrinally-right church or joining a Spirit-filled, morally excellent group that held some questionable practices, he’d rather be part of the later and use his influence to bring them in line. His influence had been rejected by the apostolic church at Carthage so he jumped ship. Tertullian remained doctrinally orthodox until his death. His followers rejoined the church at Carthage several decades later.Soon after conversion, Tertullian began a massive output of Christian writings occupying his last 25 years. A good part of these manuscripts, 31 Latin works, have survived to our time. These can be divided into 3 groups: Apologetics, Doctrine & Ethics.In his apologetic works, Tertullian answered the charges against Christians made by their enemies. He refutes accusations of, get this à infanticide and incest.Some of Christianity’s most time-honored sayings are quotes from Tertullian, such as . . .
  • Christians are made, not born.
  • See, they say, how these Christians love one another, for the pagans are animated by mutual hatred; how the Christians are ready even to die for one another, for the pagans themselves will sooner put to death.
  • We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.
  • Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.
  • Truth does not blush.
  • Out of the frying pan into the fire.
  • He who flees will fight again.
  • It is certainly no part of religion to compel religion.
  • We worship unity in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the person nor dividing the substance
It’s in Tertullian that the phrases, “If God will,” “God bless,” & “God grant” make their first appearance in writing.Tertullian helped provide a theological position others would later draw on in the looming debates that occupied the Church for generations. It was Tertullian’s treatment of the Trinity as being 3 persons in 1 substance; the divine and human natures of Christ; the subjection of man to original sin; and Christ’s virgin birth and bodily resurrection that helped later generations articulate a cogent position on these difficult subjects.Both Athanasius & Augustine, as well as a whole host of later church fathers, look back to Tertullian for a clue how to proceed. Tertullian appears to be the first one to use the Latin trinitas as a descriptor for the doctrine of God as 3 person in 1 Substance.The what, when, & where of Tertullian’s death is unknown. Jerome says he lived to a great age, but we have no record of him after 225 in Carthage, making him 65 at the time of his graduation to glory.
Jan 01, 1970
11-What Shall We Call Them
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This Episode is titled, “What Shall We Call Them?”The survival of the Christian church in the 2nd & 3rd Cs is surely a testimony to the favor of God. Any objective consideration of the challenges faced by the Christian community during this time has to wonder at the tenacity of the followers of Christ. This was a 200 yr period when they faced constant challenges from heretics & false teachers, as well as intense external pressure in the form of persecution.It was also a time in which Christian theology was still being developed & local churches improvised how they were led. Let’s take a closer look at how the leadership of the Church developed during this crucial time of formation.Little is given in the NT by way of a design for church government. What we find is a description of the character of those who serve as elders and deacons. But precisely what these offices were to do isn’t spelled out. We can only infer their duties from the word used to describe them. Since the term ‘elder’ is synonymous with ‘pastor’ in the NT, the elders were to lead, feed & protect the flock of God. Deacons, as their title suggests, performed a ministry of practical service in attending to the physical needs of the fellowship.In Acts, we see the Apostle Paul ensuring the churches he started had some form of pastoral leadership when he left. From his letters, we glean there were 2 classes of church leaders; itinerant & resident. One group, comprised of Apostles, Evangelists & Prophets moved from place to place, while Pastors & Deacons serviced a single congregation or tended a limited region were several smaller fellowships met.Ignatius of Antioch gives an important insight into the maturing of church leadership that took place at the beginning of the 2nd C. In order to make sure each congregation was well served by its leaders, Ignatius argued for a single, pastor-elder to lead the church, assisted closely by a group of fellow-elders & deacons.  Though the word ‘bishop’ simply means ‘overseer’ & is synonymous with the elder & pastor, the lead-elder was given the title of “bishop.” Ignatius urged churches to adopt this model of leadership.This form of church government facilitated communication within & between churches. With a bishop in each congregation, there was now one person to ensure communication with other congregations & their bishop. Having a bishop helped ensure a consistent policy in the distribution to the poor & produced a consistent voice in dealing with the challenge of false teachers.It was a few decades until Ignatius’ Bishop-Elders-Deacons form of church government was broadly established, but it eventually became the model most congregations adopted.  Yet even when churches embraced it, they implemented it differently. For instance, in Asia & Africa, each local congregation had its own bishop. In Western Europe, a bishop of a church in a large city often exercised oversight in the smaller churches of surrounding towns & villages by appointing their elders & pastors.By the late 2nd C, the undisputed leader in church affairs was the bishop. It was the challenge of Gnosticism that greatly encouraged this. Here’s why . . .The Gnostics claimed an unbroken succession of specially enlightened teachers all the way back to Jesus. They claimed Jesus entrusted a secret message to the Apostles, who in turn passed it on to others & of course, the Gnostics were the latest in that succession of enlightenment, who for the right price would impart that secret knowledge to the next generation of Gnostics leaders.In countering Gnosticism, the Church emphasized the public, rather than secret, character of the Gospel as openly taught by Jesus & His Apostles. They stressed that the tradition of the Apostles had not gone underground but that those leading the churches of the 2nd C could trace their connection to Jesus thru the Apostles by a visible line of communication & affirmation.  Crucial to this argument was the role of those churches that had been established by the original Apostles & their close associates, the Apostolic Fathers. In the 2nd C, the list of those who’d served as the lead-elders wasn’t something lost to the mists of time. People knew who’d been the pastors at Corinth & Ephesus, in Rome & Smyrna, and other keys churches.In the mid-2nd C, an historian named Hegesippus made a trip from Israel to Rome, interviewing bishops all along the route. Now—check this out because it’s super-important. Hegesippus discovered the bishops all shared the same message and viewed the Faith in the same way. They also went about their task of leading the church in the same general manner.  He wrote, “In every succession and city, what the law and the prophets and the Lord preached is faithfully followed.” Hegesippus even drew up lists of bishops, showing their succession in unbroken lines going back to the Apostles.Not long after Hegesippus, Irenaeus in Western Europe & Tertullian in North Africa filled out the succession picture for the bishops in their regions.The point is this – By the dawn of the 3rd C, each local congregation, in the larger cities at least, had a lead-elder who functioned as what today we’d call a senior pastor, but known in that time as a bishop. This bishop was assisted by a close group of fellow elders who oversaw the spiritual needs of the congregation, while their physical needs were met by a group of deacons.The development of this form of church government was in all likelihood encouraged by the model of the Jewish synagogue, as well as the nature of group dynamics. Whenever a group of people meet, it’s inevitable one will rise to take the lead. Even among leaders, one of them will tend to be invested with the role of taking the lead so the work of the group is more efficient. As one elder in a church was invested with this lead-role, the other elders & the church as a whole recognized the advantage of having one man who was called by God to lead them. When the threat of false teaching, such as Gnosticism, presented a challenge to the Faith, it further advanced the role of the bishop, who met with other bishops to develop a united response to the new threat.These gatherings of bishops to address issues of interest & concern to the Faith became a crucial part of the history of the Church. Known as Councils & Synods, they will see the major issues of the day brought forward for consideration and debate.I want to pause at this point & recognize that the emergence of the role of bishops in leading the Church is a point of major controversy; not that bishops did in fact become the de-facto leaders of the church, but what that development MEANS. Some claim the rule & role of bishops was the plan & will of God. Others see it as a tragic departure from what Christ intended for His followers. Still others would say that it wasn’t the development of this form of church government that was the problem; what became a problem was the quality & character of the men who became bishops.Without question, what commended the faith to outsiders during the 1st thru 2nd Cs was the quality of the lives of believers. As we’ve considered in previous episodes, the rumors circulated about what Christians believed & practiced in secret were absurd, just crazy talk. Those who actually knew Christians put little stock in the rumors because of the exemplary morality they lived by. Christians understood the power of the Holy Spirit, not so much as something that manifested itself in spiritual gifts but as a moral energy that produced the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is precisely what the Apostle Paul told believers to look for as the evidence of the Spirit’s work.The Early Church Fathers continued this emphasis. So much so that members who continued in sin were first rebuked, then removed from fellowship.  But it wasn’t just Christians themselves who claimed a call to moral excellence. Outsiders gave testimony to the exemplary ethics and practice of Jesus’ people. In writing to the Emperor Trajan, Pliny, governor of a Roman province said that in his examination of Christians & their practices he was unable to find anything immoral; in all respects they were model citizens, except that they were part of an illegal sect. Justin Martyr says it was the moral attractiveness of the followers of Christ that moved him to consider their doctrine.But something changed at the dawn of the 3rd C. The morality of the Church began to dim, not universally, but in certain places. This brings us back to the role of Baptism in both the ministry of the Church & in the individual lives of believers.The Book of Acts presents water baptism in much the same way that some churches use an altar call today. It was a way for people coming to faith in Christ to make a public confession of their Faith. The Church used baptism as a way to give individuals a way to mark their inclusion in the Sacred Community = Communio Sanctorum. But over the next 200 yrs, that understanding of baptism morphed into a much more spiritually significant event. Baptism was thought to cancel all sins committed UP TO that moment. Following baptism, it was believed certain sins required special penance to be discharged, & if those sins were severe enough, they were beyond forgiveness.  There were 3 sins that were considered especially heinous; apostasy, murder, & sexual immorality. These sins might be forgivable by God, but the Church could not restore the guilty to fellowship.  Violators were excommunicated & denied access to Communion, which like Baptism had taken on more importance than as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. The elements of the Lord’s Supper were seen as spiritual food that nourished the grace by which believers maintained their salvation. So, to be cut off from Communion meant being in jeopardy of exclusion from those who attained heaven. Ignatius referred to the bread & wine as “the medicine of immortality & the antidote of death.”The issues of bishops & baptism came together during the 1st half of the 3rd C. This was a time of relative peace for the Church when persecution at the hands of Roman officials cooled somewhat. In several places, Christians were not only tolerated, they gained favor. This favor resulted in a loosening & lowering of the moral expectations believers held toward each other. Sins that had before incurred rebuke were left unaddressed while those which had led to dis-fellowship were forgiven.One of the first to grant reconciliation to repentant sinners was Callistus, bishop at Rome from 217 to 222. He restored repentant adulterers. Callistus likened the church to Noah’s ark, in which was contained both the clean & unclean. It was a school where sinners learned to be saints, a hospital where the sick could recover.But then Callistus went further. He defended his position by claiming that à as the bishop at Rome he was heir to the authority of the Apostle Peter who’d received from Jesus the keys of authority to define Church b elief & practice, not just at Rome, but the ENTIRE Church. Those keys, Callistus said, included the power to either loose or bind the guilt of individuals. This was the first time such authority was claimed by a bishop of Rome.When Tertullian, a leading bishop of North Africa heard this pronouncement by Callistus he was appalled and said, specifically regarding the issue of what to do with people who’d been excommunicated, “We do not forgive apostates.  Shall we forgive adulterers?” Tertullian’s objection had traction with the previous generation but was no longer in favor among the churches of Europe. While Tertullian voiced the majority view of North Africa where he worked, the bishops & churches north of the Mediterranean agreed with Callistus. Their reasoning went further; If adulterers could be reconciled to fellowship, why not apostates? And so we see the scene set for the Novatianist  & Donatist Controversies of the 3rd C we’ll considered in our next episode.As we end this one, let me be clear. While Ignatius of Antioch was the earliest voice we have who advocated that local churches be led by a single elder-pastor, who we can think of as a senior pastor, but was given the title of bishop – Ignatius NEVER hinted at the idea that the ENTIRE Church ought to have a single Bishop.It wasn’t until Callistus in the early 3rd C. that someone floated the idea that the bishop of Rome was not just the lead pastor of the capital, but of the Church everywhere. The bishops of the Roman church might indeed be dynamic leaders as befitting a church of thousands, but this idea of being the spiritual heir of Peter’s authority was something new.Now, I know this is going to fire up some, but let me use an illustration to show HOW Callistus’ claim was received by the other bishops of the time. Imagine today that the pastor of one of the older & larger churches of your city, county, or province sent out a letter or email to the all other churches in the region, saying that BECAUSE his church was older & larger, he was now THEIR LEADER; they ought to obey him and defer to his decisions. How would that be received? Probably not so well.Well – that’s how most bishops responded to Callistus’ claim. It was a combination of factors and differing opinions between a handful of lead churches in their respective regions that would see Rome & its bishop take on a larger role than just one of many churches. But that also, is the subject for a later episode.
Jan 01, 1970
12-The Lapsed Dance
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This episode of CS is provocatively titled “The Lapsed Dance.”In the 4th episode titled “Martyrs”, we examined the persecution Christians faced at the hands of the Roman authorities. We noted that persecution, while at times fierce, wasn’t one, long campaign of terror that lasted for a couple centuries. It tended to be spasmodic & regional, based on the whim of the current emperor, enforced in spotty fashion by governors who either agreed or disagreed with the official policy from far-away Rome. There were a couple seasons of Empire-wide persecution in the 3rd C that proved to be the most intense.Following Trajan’s more even-handed attempt to deal with the problem of the Christians in the early 2nd C, 2 Emperors followed a more rigorous campaign of persecution & pressed its application to the borders of the Empire. In the mid to late 3rd C, Decius & Diocletian considered Christianity a dangerous threat. Their reasons for opposing the Faith were several but looming large was the concern Christianity would weaken the Army, desperately needed to protect the borders being harassed by barbarians. Also, die-hard pagans claimed the old gods who’d overseen Rome’s rise to greatness were angry so many of their worshippers had turned to the new Faith. They warned disaster loomed; the only way to stay it was to appease the wrath of the gods by slaking it with Christian blood.To this end, some Emperors renewed an old practice: Emperor worship. While the details of this practice varied from time to time & place to place, the basic routine went like this . . .Once every so many years, the residents of a city had to appear in the public square, where they ascended a raised platform, picked up a pinch of incense, dropped it on some hot coals and announced, “Caesar is Lord.” The exact words of the oath varied depending on who was sitting on the throne. But the point was to honor the reigning Roman Emperor as a deity, minor as that deity might be in the pagan pantheon. While pagans who already recognized a plethora of gods had no problem adding one more to the list, Christians owned a fierce repulsion to confessing anyone other than Jesus Christ as Lord. They simply couldn’t do it. As the pagan left the dais after going through this little rite, he was handed a libelli – a certificate proving his loyalty. He kept that certificate as proof of loyalty, producing it whenever an authority asked him to show his compliance with Rome’s decree. In this manner, the Christians were marked out; they had no libelli.Now, as can be imagined, this challenge led to some memorable martyrdoms, especially in North Africa where Christianity flourished. It also led to one of the biggest controversies the Church had yet faced.Some Christians, under the threat of death, capitulated to the pressure, burned the incense & spoke fealty to Caesar. They took the libelli and went about their business. Once the Emperor Decius was gone and persecution eased, these capitulators repented their weakness and applied for readmission to the Church. The challenge for church leaders was = What was to be done with these “lapsed” members, as they were called?Some advocated their re-admission to the felloowship pending a review of their specific case by the local elders. Others, led by a church leader named Novatian, argued vehemently for their exclusion. For Novatian and his supporters, there was no room for any kind of negotiation. The lapsed were to be barred from fellowship. The controversy between the Novatianists and the majority of churches which by that time had made the church at Rome their unofficial headquarters became so great, it seemed there was only one way to solve it. The Novatianists were declared heretical by the majority and put outside the Communion of Saints.The Novatianist controversy flared up again following the last great persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. This time it went by the name of Donatism.During the Diocletian persecution, in order to avoid becoming martyrs, some Church leaders had not only submitted to Caesar worship, they’d surrendered sacred texts to imperial authorities, and, shamefully ratted out other believers. Such lapsed leaders were called “traditores” meaning, those who surrender. One of these traditores was Caecilian, also known as Cyprian. Cyprian hadn’t capitulated and worshipped Caesar, but he did go into hiding when the edict reached Carthage where he was bishop. His critics said he was no better than those who lapsed by this desertion of his post. When the persecution lifted, he wanted to returned to his position. The Church at Carthage was the lead church of all North Africa, a region with a large population of Christians. The Novatianist-leanings of the previous generation were most strong there and were renewed at this time, sparked by the re-installation of Cyprian. Those who refused to accept him, selected their own leader in an elder named Majorinus, whom they made a rival bishop to Cyprian. Majorinus died shortly after being consecrated. He was replaced by Donatus Magnus who advocated the same path of rejecting traditores from church leadership.The Donatist Controversy is important because what was at stake was the Christian concept of forgiveness and reconciliation. Was the act of saying “Caesar is Lord” while burning incense to an image of the Emperor an act of idolatry that marked one as apostate? And was such a coerced act something from which there was no repentance?Some said the betrayal by lapsed believers was a renouncing of Christ that condemned them to hell. Others said while some believers became martyrs and their faith was exemplary, those who gave in to the threat of death could not be held responsible and could be re-admitted to the fold, if they showed proper repentance. But such returned believers could not serve in any capacity of leadership in the church. Some held a view of reconciliation so far-reaching, they said even pastors who lapsed could be restored to their positions.What emerged during this debate was the importance of baptism.In the Books of Acts, baptism appears to have been used by the Apostles as the means by which believers identified their faith in Christ and their participation in the Community of Faith. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter called for new converts to be baptized immediately. Philip led the Ethiopian eunuch in immediate baptism.  Baptism at the moment of conversion seems to be the NT pattern & the practice of the Apostolic Church.But at some point, church leaders began delaying baptism, calling for converts to have a time of learning before being officially welcomed into the church. The reason for this delay is uncertain, but may have come as a result of seeing that some supposed converts didn’t follow through on their commitment. They fell away after a short time. By delaying baptism and preceding it with a period of instruction, it gave the convert a time to prove the genuineness of their conversion.While conversion was a work of the Spirit in the human heart, baptism was seen as the way someone made a public profession of faith and ushered them into the Community of Christ. So baptism became a kind of definitive line in the sand. It was thought that if someone renounced Christ AFTER being baptized, they were an apostate to whom repentance was now impossible.And as might be suspected, different regions understood all this this differently. Some held that to go apostate meant that person had forfeited salvation and was destined for hell. Other’s held that a seeming-apostate was able to repent & return to grace, but their renouncing of the Lord meant their being forever excluded from fellowship. So, they could be saved, but were barred from attending church & taking Communion.Another position said if someone did repent of what had earlier appeared to be a renouncing of Christ, it was evidence they hadn’t really gone apostate because if they had they wouldn’t repent. Therefore, repentance and the demonstration of a desire to return to God’s grace were evidence of salvation and for that reason the repentant ought to be readmitted to fellowship.So à the timing of baptism became a major issue once persecution broke out in a threat of martyrdom.  Baptism was delayed even longer than it had been because of the line it was thought to have crossed.  If a Christian caved during persecution and took a libelli before they’d been baptized, returning to fellowship would be easier. But if he/she lapsed after baptism then returning was more difficult, especially among groups like the Novatians & Donatists.As we’ll see later, this issue of the timing of baptism extended beyond the time of Imperial persecutions. When the Church began to invest certain sins with greater moral weight and consequence, many delayed baptism lest they commit a major sin after baptism and so incur  greater judgment.For now, let’s return to the Donatist Controversy.  Donatus and his followers held the view that pastors and elders who’d lapsed during the Diocletian persecutions were forever barred from leading the Church. Maybe they could be restored to fellowship but being a leader in the Church was out of the question. The majority view was that lapsed leaders could indeed be restored. As you might imagine, the debate was fierce. Many towns were divided between Donatist and non-Donatist congregations. The Donatists were particularly strong in North Africa while the Church at Rome led the non-Donatists who prevailed in Europe.The Controversy raged for a hundred years & became one of the more contentious issues the Church had to deal with during the 3rd & 4th Cs.What made the Donatist Controversy such a particularly heated topic was the great admiration believers held for the martyrs who’d maintained their faith & confession of Christ even at the cost of their lives. The question was, how could they be held in such high regard when those who lapsed could be so easily restored to fellowship?  Were in fact the martyrs foolish to cast away their lives when a little negotiation & capitulation could have saved them?No, martyrdom was a baptism by blood considered the utmost glory a believer could attain to. A careful record of the martyrs was kept; the days of their martyrdom celebrated each year. And with each celebration, their stories grew. Their failings were edited out and their reputation embellished until they took on a decidedly “other-worldly” quality. The martyrs were quickly morphing into “saints” – Early Christian super-heroes.The idea began to develop in North Africa where there had been so many notable martyrdoms, that their exceptional courage achieved a kind of special grace from God that could be turned to other purposes; like, What? Well, how about we use it to forgive the sins of others?  Sins like those who’d lapsed. Yeah, that’s it. The righteousness of the martyrs who’d died rather than recant was so great, it made a reserve of grace those who’d avoided martyrdom could draw from! How convenient.Some bishops thought this a grand idea. Others opposed it, but wanting to find some means by which the lapsed could be returned to fellowship, they devised various means and forms of penance, by which repentant lapsi could demonstrate the sincerity of their desire to return to the fold.Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage mentioned before, devised a system to allow the lapsed to be reconciled to the Church. He said that simple repentance was enough for those who’d sacrificed to the Emperor after severe torture. But those who’d caved at the mere suggestion of pain had to submit to a penance of punishments. His plan won widespread approval and the Church created a system of penance based on the severity of the guilt of the lapsed. Bishops met with repentant lapsi & prescribed their penance like spiritual doctors dispensing medicine. If and when the penitent successfully jumped thru the prescribed hoops, he/she was allowed to return to fellowship and most importantly, to partake of the Lord’s Table.While this system of penance was proposed and installed in various places, other regions rejected it as contrary to the character of grace found in the NT. And while it went into general disuse when official persecution ended in the 4th C, the doctrinal foundation was laid for the later system of penance and the Treasury of Merit that would be practiced under the title of Indulgences.But all that is for a much later episode . . .Many thanks to those who’ve subscribed to CS and told others about the podcast.If you haven’t done so yet, drop by the FB page and let us know where you live.  The CS family stretches literally around the  world.If you use iTunes as your podcast portal, please think about writing a review. That’s THE most important way to get the word out about the podcast.While CS is free, we have had to include a donate feature as the costs of hosting the site have gone up.Lastly, I’m quite stoked to announce CS is now appearing in Spanish.You can fain all the information you want  to follow up on all this at the website – sanctorum.us.
Jan 01, 1970
13-How Close
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This episode of is titled, “How Close?”One of the things modern Christians want to know is how close their church is to the primitive church of the 1st & 2nd Cs. Congregations and entire movements claim their particular expression of the Faith is closest to the original. So, what were early church services like? Where did they meet and what did they do?Until the end of the 2nd C, Christians met for services in private homes, deserted buildings, caves, near graves of martyrs, & in catacombs. Catacombs were a common feature of many cities of the Empire. Besides their primary use as burial places, they were frequent hiding places for refugees, smugglers, and groups that wanted to meet away from the watchful eye of authorities. Rome’s catacombs were a massive subterranean tunnel system.Jesus’ Followers used these places to meet because during these first centuries they were mostly drawn from the poorer classes of society & couldn’t afford a unique place devoted solely to worship. Their meetings were often banned, requiring they meet in secret. Another reason they tended to meet in locations away from the busy streets was because of the prevalence of lewd graffiti, ubiquitous in Roman cities. Graffiti isn’t a recent phenomenon; it has a long & storied history. Much of the graffiti encountered in Rome’s streets was political cartoons & commentary. But it was also bawdy and offensive to the sensitive morality of many Christians. So they looked for places outside the city to meet where pornography wasn’t scrawled on nearby walls.One of the points made by the Church Fathers knowns as the Apologists, who answered the attacks of pagan critics was that Christians had neither temples nor altars because their religion was fundamentally spiritual and needed no place for ritual. Their critics jumped on this lack of religious place as evidence of the silliness of the Faith. After all, if God was worthy of worship, they reasoned, wouldn’t He require a building? Origin replied eloquently to this attack by saying Christians were living statues of the Holy Spirit – and that each human being was immensely more glorious than any temple made of mere stone. In a significant remark from Justin Martyr to a Roman governor, he wrote that “Christians assemble wherever it’s convenient, because their God is not like the gods of the heathen, enclosed in space, but is invisibly present everywhere.”The homes early Christian met in had to have been large enough to accommodate a congregation. Based on what we now know about Roman architecture, such a home had a dining hall providing the best place to assemble. In the center of the long wall an elevated chair was set where the leader of the service led the assembled. Near him was a simple table upon which the elements of the Lord’s Supper were set. If they met in catacombs, a similar arrangement was made.The Early Church Father Tertullian was one of the first to speak of “going to church;” using the word “church” for the place where a congregation met. Clement of Alexandria who lived about the same time, makes reference in his writings to how the word “church” meant both the people & the place they met.About AD 230, the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus granted the followers of Jesus the right to have a building in Rome dedicated exclusively to worship. What’s interesting about this is that the loudest hew & cry against the church using its own building came from the tavern-keepers. The church was going to be located in a place rife with taverns and it meant some of them would have to be relocated to build the church. They also didn’t like the moral influence a church would bring.This Imperial permission to build a church greatly encouraged other cities around the Empire to allow the fast-growing Christian sect to build more facilities dedicated exclusively to holding services. The persecutions of Decius & Diocletian at the end of the 3rd  & beginning of the 4th C put a hold on such construction, and saw many of the buildings that had been built either torn down or converted to pagan use. Diocletian began his persecution in 303 by tearing down the huge church in his capital at Nicomedia. Yet by the beginning of the 4th C, Rome had some 40 churches!While we know the building of churches took place in the last half of the 3rd C, we have little idea of what they looked like. That changes with the acceptance of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine. It’s reasonable to assume the earlier churches were in some way similar to the basilicas Constantine built for both civil & religious use.They were rectangular with a proportion of 3 by 4. A semi-circular niche lay at the narrow end opposite the main door. The niche was the place where the elevated seat was set for the lead pastor, AKA the bishop. Ranging down the aisles of the main hall was a colonnade where people gathered in smaller groups, or if the central floor of the nave was full, they could spill into during the service.Christians met to hold their weekly service on Sunday, which they called “The Lord’s Day” because it’s the day of the week Jesus rose. The first Christians were Jews, who zealously observed the Sabbath on Saturday, but also gathered on Sunday, the first day of the week, so a work-day, early in the morning before work began. As the Church grew in the Gentile world, the church gathered only on Sunday. This is confirmed by ample evidence in the writings of Ignatius, Justin Martyr & the Didache.Those first Gentile Believers didn’t celebrate Sunday as a kind of Christian Sabbath, ceasing from work as they did later. That would have been impossible for the slaves of heathen masters who made up a large proportion of the Church in the early decades. It wasn’t until the time of Constantine that engaging in labor on The Lord’s Day was frowned on.  What also was put under the ban was theatrical entertainments. Greek & Roman theaters were more often than not, places of grotesque lewdness, not fitting for the moral sensitivity of believers.In light of the often contentious debates marking modern believers, it’s instructive that the Church Fathers never saw the Christian observance of Sunday as a continuation of the Jewish Sabbath. Sunday wasn’t regarded as a Christian version of obeying the 4th Commandment’s call to “Keep the Sabbath Day.” The Fathers DO however recognize as implicit in the teaching of Scripture the call to regular worship, and that meant specifying a day each week for gathering to worship. Ignatius, who we’ve already seen as one of the most important of the Church Fathers, specifically contrasts the Jewish Sabbath with the Christian Sunday – saying that the prior is replaced by the later. But he makes pains to point out that making Sunday the Lord’s Day is not a fulfillment of the 4th Commandment. Rather, Ignatius sees the 4th Commandment as fulfilled in the perpetual rest believers have in the death & resurrection of ChristThese weren’t the only days of the week Christians practiced specific actions as evidence of their faith. While Sunday celebrated the resurrection, Wednesdays & Fridays commemorated Jesus’ suffering & death. This was memorialized by partial fasts, till 3 PM.When Christians gathered on Sunday, there were certain things they did that constituted a service. This order of service evolved over time but became a fairly uniform practice by the 4th C throughout the churches. In the earliest years, a portion of the OT Scripture was read and someone with skill at public speaking would explain & apply the passage. Several short such passages & homilies could be given, depending on how may skilled speakers there were. It didn’t take long before one of the elders was recognized as the God-ordained teacher & leader of the congregation and was designated as their pastor-bishop.Soon the documents of the NT & writings of the Apostolic Fathers were also read & studied.With the emergence of the bishop as the leader of a local church, the sermon became one of the primary elements in the service. We have the record of an ancient sermon delivered by an anonymous pastor around AD 140. It’s not very good, but the way he closes the message is interesting for the simple reason that it doesn’t sound all that different from what tens of thousands of pastors say in their churches every week to this day! It ends thus …“To the only God invisible, the Father of Truth, who sent forth unto us the Savior & Prince of immortality, through whom also He made manifest unto us the truth and the heavenly life, to Him be the glory forever & ever. Amen.”Prayer was a major part of church services. Since many of the letters of the Apostolic Fathers include their prayers, we get a sense of what prayers were like in the churches of this time. What’s remarkable about them is how filled with Scripture they are. Their prayers were based on the revelation of God in the Bible and are appeals to His promises. They prayed for the suffering, the needy, travelers, prisoners; they pleaded with God to save the lost, confessed their sins, and asked for the preservation of their unity. Also notable is the emphasis on praying for the Emperor, for governors and all those in authority in the civil realm. These prayers weren’t anathemas, that is - calls for divine displeasure to fall in fiery bolts on pagan heads. They were prayers for blessing, peace, wisdom and courage.When they prayed, they stood, with hands stretched out toward heaven.The Church also sang – a lot! Their songbook was the Psalms. Besides the Psalter, they developed hymns; songs expressing Christian belief & theology. The man or woman who finds rote memorization difficult will often easily pick up a song & be able to sing several verses from memory. Singing was a way to both worship & learn theology.For a period of about 350 years, from the mid-2nd C to the close of the 5th, some churches divided their service into 2 parts. The first was open to all & was aimed at educating candidates for baptism. There was singing, prayer & a sermon. Then those who had NOT been baptized were dismissed and the doors were closed. Those members who’d been baptized would then engage in more prayer, singing, and finally, the celebration of Communion. Participation at the Lord’s Table was prohibited to the unbaptized.Dividing the service into 2 parts was a minority view refuted by some Church Fathers. Justin Martyr, in his first defense of the Faith to the Emperor marks no distinction for those who could celebrate Communion. The growing hierarchical spirit that took root in the Church from the mid-2nd C on & advanced so strongly by Ignatius, seems to also have encouraged the dualism that developed in the Church; a dualism that divided the congregation between candidates & the elect; with baptism being the dividing line.Another factor that encouraged the development of a second, closed & secretive part of the service was the challenge presented by the Gnostics. The second part of the service, closed as it was to initiates, began to be used in some churches as a time for instruction in what came to be considered deeper spiritual lessons. The Gnostics had their “secret knowledge” which proved so appealing to many. So, some churches developed their own brand of esoteric knowledge – things that were thought to be appropriate only for those who’d been baptized & could regularly partake of Communion.  Those who advocated this secretive aspect of church life defended it by quoting Matthew 7 where Jesus warned His followers against giving what was holy to the dogs & casting pearls before swine. They claimed it’s what the Apostles meant when they wrote of the distinction of “milk for babes” but “meat for those of full-age” & the difference between those who were “carnal” & the “spiritual.”Some historians hold that one reason for the secretive nature of some aspect of church meetings was the simple & practical need for modesty. Primitive baptism was full-immersion. Since Christians often went directly from a service to work, they had to remove their clothing to be baptized. This meant the need for privacy with men & women being separated.By the 6th C, the challenge of Gnosticism was past & the church was no longer being persecuted. With the pressure off, baptism, while still important, was endowed with less significance than it had possessed during the era of persecution when the problem of the lapsed framed so much debate.  For all these reasons, the division of the service into 2 parts diminished until by the end of the 6th C the vast majority of churches had just one service, though unbaptized members were told not to partake of the Lord’s Table.Communion was the central event of each service. In that time, the Lord’s Table was called, “The Eucharist” a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. This was the climax & conclusion of the church service. I quote from Justin Martyr’s description; …After the prayers we greet one another with a brotherly kiss. Then bread & a cup with water & wine are handed to the bishop of the brethren. He receives them, and offers praise, glory, and thanks to the Father of all, through the name of the Son and the Holy Spirit, for these His gifts. When he has ended the prayers and thanksgiving, the whole congregation responds; ‘Amen.’ … Upon this the deacons, as we call them, give to each of those present some of the blessed bread, and of the wine mingled with water, and carry it to the absent in their dwellings.Communion was celebrated at least weekly. There’s evidence in some places it was celebrated daily as Christians gathered early in the morning to pray, sing a song or 2, take communion then disperse. They based this practice of daily communion on that part of the Lord’s Prayer which said, “Give us this day, our daily bread.”In the earliest days of the church, they met on Sunday evening to share a common meal called the Agape, the Love Feast. The last part of the meal, which we’d call the dessert, was the Lord’s Table. For them, it wasn’t a dessert of sweets so much as a spiritual sweetness in communing with the Lord and one another. A kiss of fellowship was a part of this. Men would kiss other men on the cheek as would the women to one another. This kiss was a dear & holy mark of the celebration of their spiritual unity & familial relationship.It also became the ground for abuse as wine was a part of the common meal & some drank a little more than they ought. Loosened inhibitions moved some to a less than holy application of the kiss when the pattern of male to male moved to male to female “fellowship.” The Apostle Paul addresses the abuse of the Agape in writing to the Corinthians & in other letters reminds the churched to keep the kiss HOLY!The bread used for Communion was regular bread. The wine was mixed with water. The deacons handed each person a piece & they all drank from a common cup. When they ate, they stood. When the service was finished, the deacons took the elements to the homes of shut-ins & those in prison. Many of the Christians of North Africa took some of the communion bread home with them and used it for a private daily communion.As we end this episode, I wanted to express my appreciation to all who’ve reviewed the podcast on iTunes.For those who haven’t yet, I invite you to head to the Facebook page to give the podcast a “Like” and leave a comment on where you live. You can find it at CS – History of the Christian Church.
Jan 01, 1970
14-Keeping a Record
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This week’s episode is titled, “Keeping a Record”The first 3 Cs of Church History are at times a difficult puzzle to sort out because no coherent historical narrative was being kept.Luke’s account in the Books of Acts recounts a time span of about 30 yrs & roughly narrates the spread of the Faith from Jerusalem to Rome. The next narrative doesn’t come till the writings of the Christian historian Eusebius in the 4th C.  What we have for a period of over 200 yrs are the writings of the Fathers whose letters give little more than a thumbnail sketch of what was happening. We have to infer & assume a lot by picking up what facts we can about what was happening. As we’ve seen, the work of the Church Fathers focused mainly on providing pastoral & apologetic support.  Gaining an historical framework for this period comes from merging secular accounts of history with the commentary of the Fathers. But with the work of Eusebius at the opening of the 4th C, the narrative becomes significantly clearer.Eusebius began compiling his magnum opus of Church History in the 290’s. Titled Ecclesiastical History, it’s an attempt to provide a narrative of the Communion of the Saints from the Apostles to his time.Eusebius was born & raised in Caesarea on the coast of Israel. He was a student of the Christian leader Pamphilas, who was himself a student of the great Apologist Origen. Eusebius became the bishop at Caesarea in 313. He played a major role in the Council of Nicaea in 325, which we’ll take a closer look at in a future episode.Eusebius is a key figure in the study of Church History because his Ecclesiastical History is the first work after Luke’s to attempt an historical narrative of the Faith. He’s also an important figure because of his close association with the Emperor Constantine.I want to quote the opening of Eusebius’ narrative because it gives us a sense of the monumental nature of his work.  He knew he was attempting to reconstruct a narrative of the Church from scant resources.In Chapter 1, which he titled, “The Plan of the Work” he writes –It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy apostles, as well as of the times which have elapsed from the days of our Savior to our own; and to relate the many important events which are said to have occurred in the history of the Church; and to mention those who have governed and presided over the Church in the most prominent parishes, and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word either orally or in writing.It is my purpose also to give the names and number and times of those who through love of innovation have run into the greatest errors, and, proclaiming themselves discoverers of knowledge falsely so-called, have like fierce wolves unmercifully devastated the flock of Christ. …But at the outset I must crave for my work the indulgence of the wise, for I confess that it is beyond my power to produce a perfect and complete history, and since I am the first to enter upon the subject, I am attempting to traverse as it were a lonely and untrodden path. I pray that I may have God as my guide and the power of the Lord as my aid, since I am unable to find even the bare footsteps of those who have traveled the way before me, except in brief fragments, in which some in one way, others in another, have transmitted to us particular accounts of the times in which they lived. From afar they raise their voices like torches, and they cry out, as from some lofty and conspicuous watch-tower, admonishing us where to walk and how to direct the course of our work steadily and safely.Having gathered therefore from the matters mentioned here and there by them whatever we consider important for the present work, and having plucked like flowers from a meadow the appropriate passages from ancient writers, we shall endeavor to embody the whole in an historical narrative. …This work seems to me of especial importance because I know of no ecclesiastical writer who has devoted himself to this subject; and I hope that it will appear most useful to those who are fond of historical research.Eusebius was unaware of any previous attempt to provide an historical narrative of the development of the Faith from the late 1st C to his time in the early 4th, a period of a little over 200 yrs. From a modern perspective, Eusebius’ account might be considered suspect, relying as it does on tradition & at best fragmentary evidence. What must be remembered is the importance of that oral tradition and the accuracy of such transmission over long periods of time. Because the ancient world didn’t possess cheap and plentiful means of recording information, it was dependent on oral tradition & rote memorization.  With the advent of the printing press and more economic media, the priority of the oral tradition declined. Eusebius had both written and oral source material to draw from. His work can be considered dependable, while subject to question when it leaned toward the ancient penchant for using history as propaganda.As we return to the narrative timeline of Church history we need to pick up the story with the reign of the Diocletian who presided over the last & in many ways worst round of persecution under the Roman emperors.Though Christians remember Diocletian for that, he was in truth one of the most effective of the Roman Emperors. By the time he came to the throne, the Roman Empire was a sprawling & unwieldy beast of a realm to rule. The City of Rome was an old & decayed relic of its former glory. So Diocletian moved his headquarters eastward to Nicomedia in Asia Minor, modern Turkey.  Instead of trying to exert control over the entire empire himself & solely, Diocletian appointed Maximian as co-emperor to rule the western half of the Empire from Rome while he ruled the East.One of the persistent problems that led to so much unrest in the recent decades was the question of succession; who would rule after the current emperor? To forestall that turmoil, Diocletian appointed dual successors for both himself & Maximian.  Flavius Constantius became Maximian’s successor while Diocletian took on Galerius. This established what’s known as the Tetrarchy.While Diocletian had no warm & fuzzy feelings for the followers of Christ, it was really his successor Galerius that urged him to launch a campaign of persecution. Galerius was a military commander who thought Christians made poor soldiers. He knew their loyalty was supremely to their God and thought they made for unreliable troops. Galerius was also a committed pagan who believed in the Roman deities. He attributed any setback for the Army & any of the regular natural disasters that shook the realm, to their displeasure that so many of Rome’s subjects were turning to the new god on the block. So it was really at Galerius’ urging Diocletian approved the severe measures taken against Christians and their churches.  When Diocletian retired to his villa to raise cabbages & turned the eastern half of the Empire over to Galerius, persecution increased.Eventually, Constantius replaced Maximian in the West, just as Galerius had assumed the mantle in the East. And Diocletian’s tetrarchy began to unravel. Galerius decided he wanted to be sole ruler and abducted Constantius’ son, Constantine who’d been named successor to his father in the West. When Constantius fell ill, Galerius granted Constantine permission to visit him.Constantius died, & Constantine demanded Galerius recognize him as his co-emperor. No doubt Galerius would have launched a military campaign against Constantine’s bid for rule of the West, but Galerius himself was stricken with a deadly illness. On his deathbed, Galerius admitted his policy of persecution of Christians hadn’t worked and rescinded his policy of oppression.In the West, Constantine’s claim to his father’s throne was contested by Maximian’s son, Maxentius. The showdown between them is known as the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Maxentius didn’t want Constantine marching his troops into Rome so he tore down the Milvian Bridge after marching his troops across it to meet Constantine. Just in case the battle went against Maxentius, he had a temporary bridge built of a string of boats across the river.At this point, the story gets confused because there’s been so many who’ve written about what happened and the reports are varied. On the day before the battle, Constantine prayed, most likely to the sun-god. As he did, he looked toward the sun & saw a cross. Then, either he saw the words or heard them spoken, “By this sign, Conquer.” That night while he slept, Jesus appeared to him in a dream, telling him to have his soldiers place a Christian symbol on their shields. The next morning, chalk was quickly passed round & the soldiers put what’s called the Chiron on their shields. Chi & Rho are the first 2 letters of the Greek word Christos, Christ. In English it looks like a P on top of an X.When the 2 forces met, Constantine’s veterans bested Maxentius’ less experienced troops, who retreated to their makeshift bridge. While crossing, Maxentius fell into the water & drowned. Constantine then marched victoriously into Rome.A year later, he and his new co-emperor Licinius issued what’s known as the Edict of Milan, which decreed an end to all religious persecution, not just of Christians, but all faiths. For Constantine, Jesus was now his divine patron & the cross, an emblem of shame & derision for generations, became instead—a kind of charm. Instead of being a symbol of Rome’s brutality in executing its enemies, the cross became a symbol of Imperial power.Bishops began to be called priests as they gained parity with their peers in pagan temples. These Christian priests were shown special favors by Constantine. It didn’t take long for the pagan priests to realize which way the winds of political favor were blowing. Many converted.Now à there’s been much debate over the legitimacy of Constantine’s conversion. Was he genuinely born again or was he just a savvy politician who recognized a trend he could co-opt and turn to his favor? People will disagree on this and my meager offering is unlikely to convince anyone. But I think Constantine was probably a genuine Christian. He certainly did some things after his conversion that are difficult to reconcile with a sincere faith, but we have to remember the moral base he grew up in as the son of a Caesar & as a general of Roman legions was very different from the Biblical morality that’s shaped Western civilization.  Also, Constantine’s actions which are so decidedly non-Christian, like murdering those who threatened his power, may have been rationalized not as personal acts so much as attempts to secure the peace & safety of the empire. I know that’s a stretch, but when analyzing history, we need to be careful about judging people when we don’t have at our disposal all the facts they did.If we could sit down with Constantine and say, “You shouldn’t have executed that guy.” He could very well say something like, “Yes, as a Christian, I shouldn’t have. You’re right. But I didn’t execute him out of personal anger or suspicion or mere selfishness. It really bothers me that I had to off him; but I discovered he was plotting to usurp my throne and it would have thrown the empire into years of civil war & chaos.” To which we’d reply,  “Well Constance, you need to trust God more. He’ll protect you. He put you on the throne, He can keep you there.” And Constantine might reply, “Yeah, I considered that & I agree. But it’s a tough call. You see, in terms of my personal life, I trust God. But when it comes to my role as Emperor, I need to make tough choices others who don’t wield the power I do will understand.”Let’s not forget that Constantine, while being a competent general & astute politician, was at best a novice believer.I share this little made-up discussion because it points up something we’re going to encounter again & again in our review of the history of the Church. We look on past ages, on what they believed and the things they did, with an attitude of moral superiority because we wouldn’t do the terrible things they did, or we assume would do some things they failed to. We need to be cautious with this attitude for the simple reason that when we take the time to listen to the voices of the past and let them explain themselves, we often come to a new appreciation for the difficulty of their lives & choices. We may not agree with them, but we at least realize in their own minds & hearts, they thought they were doing what was best.You make up your own mind about the genuineness of Constantine’s faith, but let me encourage you to spend a little time looking up what Eusebius wrote about him and some of the tough decisions Constantine had to make during his reign.Some of the things regarded as incompatible with a genuine conversion is that he retained his title of Pontifex Maximus as the head of the state religious cult. He conceived & hatched political plots to remove enemies. He murdered those deemed a threat to his power.On the other hand, from 312 on, his favor of Christianity was quite public. He granted the same privileges to bishops, pagan priests enjoyed. He banned crucifixion & ended the punishment of criminals by using them in gladiatorial games. He made Sunday a holiday. His personal charity built several large churches. And his private life demonstrated a pretty consistent genuine faith. His children were brought up in the Church & he practiced marital fidelity, at least, as far as we know. That of course, was certainly NOT the case with previous Emperors or even the wider Roman nobility.Critics like to point to Constantine’s delay of baptism to shortly before his death as evidence of a lack of faith. I suggest that it ought to be read exactly the opposite. Remember what we learned about baptism a few episodes back. In that time, it was believed after baptism, there were certain sins that couldn’t be forgiven. So people delayed baptism to as close to death as possible, leaving little chance for commission of such a sin to occur. Following his baptism, Constantine never again donned the imperial purple of his office but instead wore only his white baptismal robes. That sounds like he was concerned to enter Heaven, not a casual disregard of it.Chief among Constantine’s concerns upon taking control of the Empire was unity. It was unity & strength that had moved Diocletian to establish the tetrarchy. Decades of civil war as one powerful general after another seized control and beat down his challengers had desperately weakened & impoverished the realm. Now that Constantine ruled, he hoped the Church would help bring a new era of unity based on a vital & dynamic faith. It didn’t take long before he realized the very thing he hoped would bring unity was itself fractured.When the Church was battered & beaten by imperial persecution, it was forced to be one. But when that pressure was removed, the theological cracks that had been developing for a while became immediately evident. Chief among them was the Donatist Controversy we recently considered. In 314 the Donatists appealed to Constantine to settle the issue on who could ordain elders.Think about what a momentous change this was! The church appealed to the civil authority to rule on a spiritual affair! By doing so, the Church asked for imperial sponsorship.At this point we need a robot to wave its arms manically & cry “Danger! Will Robinson, Danger!”Constantine knew this was not a decision he was capable of making on his own so he gathered some church leaders in Arles in the S of France to decide the issue. The Donatist bishops were outnumbered by the non-Donatists – so you know where this is going. They decided against the Donatists.Instead of accepting the decision, the Donatists called the leaders who opposed them corrupt and labeled the Emperor their lackey.  The Church split between the Donatist churches of North Africa and the rest who now looked to Constantine as their leader.As tensions rose, the Emperor sent troops to Carthage in 317 to enforce the installation of a pro-government bishop opposed by the Donatists. For the first but far from last time, Christians persecuted Christians. Opponents of Constantine were exiled from Carthage. After 4 years, he realized his strong arm tactics weren’t working and withdrew his troops.We’ll pick it up and this point next time.
Jan 01, 1970
15-Contra Munda
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This week’s episode is titled, “Contra Munda”In our last episode we noted how the Emperor Constantine hoped Christianity would be a unifying influence in the far-flung & troubled Roman Empire. But as soon as he & his co-emperor Licinius passed the Edict of Milan granting religious tolerance to all the Empire’s subject, the doctrinal & theological debates that had been in place for years began to surface.When the Church was being hammered by persecution prior to Constantine, Christians had a more imminent threat to deal with. But now that persecution was lifted, secondary issues moved to the foreground.As we saw at the conclusion of the last episode, the Donatists of North Africa asked the Emperor to mediate their dispute with their non-Donatist adversaries. At the Council at Arles, the Donatists lost the debate over whether or not lapsed church leaders could be reinstalled. When they refused to capitulate, Constantine sent troops to Carthage, the lead church in N Africa, to enforce his will. For the first time, the power of the State was used to enforce Church policy on other Christians.An interesting aside from the Council of Arles was the presence of 3 bishops from Britain. This gives us an idea how far the Gospel had penetrated by the beginning of the 4th C.But the Donatist Controversy wasn’t the only or near the largest debate that would engulf the Church at that time. The biggest doctrinal challenge facing the Church was how to understand the person of Jesus Christ. A pastor of a church near Alexandria, Egypt named Arius became the champion for a position which said Jesus was human but not God.As we embark on this chapter in Church History, let me begin by saying it was in these early years, as church leaders wrestled with the identity of Christ and His relation to man & God, that the theological groundwork was laid for what we hold today as Orthodoxy. It took many years & several Councils before the Church Fathers worked out the right wording that captures the essence of what we now call orthodox doctrine. Getting there was no easy trip. The journey was fraught with great trouble, distress, and at times, bloodshed. It began with a debate over the nature of Christ; was He God, man, or both? If both, how are we to understand Him; did He have 2 natures or 1 hybrid nature that merged the 2? And if Jesus is God, then how do we describe God as one, yet being both Father & Son? Oh – and don’t forget the Holy Spirit? How are we going to describe all this without saying something about God that’s untrue?I warn you that as we carry all this into the 5th & 6th Cs, especially the discussions over how to understand the nature of Christ, we’re going to see some church leaders acting in a decidedly non-Christian manner. One of the Church Councils called to settle this matter ended up in a bloody riot! So hang on because we have some fun stuff ahead.For now, realize what we’re looking at in this era of our review is a big deal and will frame the course of Church life over the next nearly 300 years.How do I explain the debate as it emerged in the challenge Arius presented?Well, because of their pagan background, many people didn’t believe God experienced emotions as humans experience them. Yet it’s clear from the Gospels Jesus did experience such emotions. Therefore, logic seemed to dictate Jesus could not have been divine, because if He was, then God experienced human emotions. Arius’ solution was that Jesus was God’s first & greatest creation. Denying that Jesus was eternal, he said, “Once, the Son did not exist.” Arius wanted to get his ideas into the public mind quickly so he set his doctrine to catchy little tunes & soon, many were singing his songs.Arius’ position was popular among the common people who found the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation & the Trinity difficult. How could there be 1 God eternally manifest as 3 persons? Arius’ description of Jesus as a kind of divine hero beneath the 1 God fit more easily into their pagan background so they adopted his theology. While Arius’ teaching spread rapidly among his pagan neighbors, those with a keener awareness of the Bible opposed his aberrant views. They composed their own chorus that today is known as the Gloria Patri – “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, so Arius’ spiritual overseer, led the opposition to Arius and called together a group of Church leaders in 320. They reviewed Arius’ theology and declared it heretical.  When Arius refused to back down, they excommunicated him. Arius then went to the Empire’s Eastern capital at Nicomedia & asked for the support of his friend, the bishop of the church there, a guy named Eusebius.  Not the church historian Eusebius who lived at the same time.The 2 most influential churches of the East were set in opposition to each other, Nicomedia, the political headquarters & Alexandria, the intellectual center. Because Arius had Eusebius’ backing he felt emboldened to return to Alexandria. When he did, there was rioting in the streets. But then, if you know anything about ancient Alexandria, rioting was a favored past-time. They rioted like we go to a ball game; it was public sport.As the Arian Controversy spread, Emperor Constantine realized if he didn’t take action, instead of the Church providing much needed unity for the Empire, it would become one of the major sources of turmoil & unrest. In 325 he called Church leaders far & wide to attend a special council at the city of Nicea in modern Turkey, at his expense. Some 300 bishops managed to make it, enough to make the Council of Nicea a remarkable representation of the whole church.  Many of those who attended bore the scars & marks of the Diocletian persecution. When they met, they found a throne set for the Emperor in the midst of the hall. He sat arrayed in richly jeweled robes befitting more an Eastern monarch than an Emperor of Rome.Constantine assumed the Arian Controversy was merely a sematic debate; a petty brueha over words & that a meeting of the minds of Christians leaders was all that was needed to settle the dispute. Yeah, let’s just get every together in one place and talk it out man to man, face to face. Surely they’ll reach a compromise, right?  à So, he commenced the council with a little pep talk about the importance of their task, then turned it over to them. The depth of his naivete was quickly revealed.The account of the finding of the Council reveals that while the doctrinal issue raised by Arius was quickly resolved, it was how Arius was handled by Bishop Alexander that became the main point of debate.Arianism was declared heretical. The Council affirmed both the deity & humanity of Jesus as the Son of God. Constantine urged his friend, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, the famous historian, to put forward his creed, his statement of faith as something the entire council could endorse as their united statement. But the Council didn’t find Eusebius sufficiently clear on his belief in the deity of Jesus and went instead with a creed offered by the Bishop of the Spanish city of Cordova, a man named Hosius, another favorite of the Emperor’s. Still, the Council dithered, & Constantine, with an empire to run, grew impatient & pressed the bishops to endorse what today we know as the Nicean Creed, the accepted standard of Roman & Eastern Churches.I quote the Nicean Creed in full …We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, …Then comes the lines the Council wrote to specifically deal with the Arian error –True God of True God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father (remember that phrase; it’ll be important later) by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe in only one holy, universal and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.Only 2 of the 300 bishops present refused to sign the Creed. Along with Arius, they were exiled. Constantine assumed the Arian Controversy had been dealt with, so the Church would settle down and help him unite the realm. To mark the dawn of a new & glorious day of Church & State cooperation, Constantine held a huge banquet before the bishops headed home.What a sight, these men bearing the scars of the previous emperor’s persecution, now the emperor’s celebrated guests, eating at his sumptuous table, reclining on his own couch! Guarded by his bodyguard. One man, missing an eye put out by Diocletian, was given special honor; Constantine even kissed the eyeless cheek!But in the years that followed, some of those bishops were banished from their posts when they took umbrage at this or that imperial decision. A hierarchy grew up around Constantine, self-appointed advisors to the Emperor on the state of the Church. If they didn’t like a certain fellow, they accused him of some offense, and the newly anointed enemy was exiled with his replacement being someone more amenable to the accuser. And just as often as a bishop ran afoul of Imperial favor & was banished, just that quick he could be called back when Constantine replaced one set of advisors with another. The role of Church leader became a kind of musical chairs. In today, out tomorrow, back the day after, but keep your bags packed at all times.An example of this is the career of Athanasius.Athanasius was a young advisor to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria who led the opposition to Arius. Athanasius was a short & dark-skinned deacon his enemies referred to as the Black Dwarf.  As a young man, he spent hours with his heroes, the monks in the wilderness outside Alexandria. The word monk means “alone” & they took their name from the isolation they pursued. Athanasius took it on himself to make sure they had food & supplies as they devoted themselves to God by literally fleeing the world.Athanasius had a keen mind & lived a highly-disciplined life. Even at a young age his brilliance was respected and when Alexander made the trip to Nicaea for the famous Council, he took Athanasius with him. Not long after returning from Nicaea, Alexander fell ill & asked Athanasius to replace him. But Athanasius wanted to serve, not lead. So he fled to his desert friends, the monks. They convinced him of his calling to lead the Church & he returned to Alexandrian as Bishop. He was 33.Constantine was loath to undo the findings of the Council of Nicaea, but he also knew the Arian position was still popular among many f the common folk. He thought it best that Arius be allowed to return to Alexandria as a member of the Church. Thinking that now that Alexander, the man who’d led the opposition was out of the way, Athanasius would knuckle under to Imperial authority and consent to Arius’ return. He couldn’t have been more wrong.Athanasius locked horns with the Emperor & refused to budge, even when Constantine threatened to banish him.  They battled for 5 yrs when finally the Emperor had enough & found Athanasius guilty of treason. In the 40 yrs Athanasius was bishop, he was banished & recalled 5 times as the winds of fortune & imperial favor shifted in the palace. At one point, he was so thoroughly out of political good will every one of his supporters deserted him.  It was during this period he wrote & spoke of his devotion & unwavering loyalty to Jesus as the King above all earthly kings, saying that nothing could weaken his resolve to love & serve God, even if it meant, “Athanasius contra munda” = Athanasius against the world.Remember just a moment ago when reading the Nicaean Creed, I mentioned to note the phrase that Jesus was of one substance with the Father. Not long after the Nicaean Council, a group of Church leaders decided to soften the Nicaean position & bring it a little toward the Arian view. They said Jesus wasn’t the SAME substance as the Father but was a SIMILAR substance. In Greek, it’s the difference of one letter’ between homo-ousios – same substance & the new terminology they advocated – homoi-ousios – similar substance.As we’d expect, Athanasius led the classic Nicean interpretation of homo-ousios against the Quasi-Arians and their statement of homoi-ousios. While this may seem an insignificant difference to many of us, it proved to be of monumental importance. If the door was opened in even a small way to begin thinking of Jesus as somehow different in essence from the Father, it wouldn’t be long before His deity would be jettisoned entirely. Then we wouldn’t be following the Jesus of the Bible; the real Jesus of history. Athanasius’ lonely & steadfast determination to hold fast to what the Bible said about God, rather than go along with the politically-minded doctrine-massagers of his day is one of the most important & heroic moments, not just in Church history, but in all history. This was one of those moments when it seems truth hung by a thread; a thread only as think as the letter “i”.We end this episode with this . . .One of Constantine’s most important contributions to history was the relocation of his capital to Byzantium from the decayed husk of the once great but now worn-out & tired city of Rome. Byzantium was located at the geographical crossroads for the ancient world and it’s a wonder no one had recognized its strategic brilliance before this.  It sits a the narrow neck of the Bosporus, linking E & W & controls the flow of maritime trade between the Black & Mediterranean Seas. Located not far from Diocletian’s Eastern capital at Nicomedia it meant an easy relocation of the capital. Constantine decided to turn the hundreds year old village into a bright shining new center of civilization and made a good start on the project before his death in 337. Because it was the Eastern capital, it also became a major center & headquarters of the Church, which would eventually vie with Rome for bragging rights over which church ruled the Christian world.At Constantine’s death it was as if a message was sent to the frontiers it was time for Rome’s enemies to push her borders backwards.  In Central Asia, the Huns pressed westward on the Goths, who in turn pressed in on Rome’s Eastern Frontier. Another group known as the Visigoths eventually made it all the way to Rome in 410 & sacked the city. Their leader was Alaric, who’d been influenced by Arianism.Over the next years, other Easterners made their way across Europe, bringing more ruin. Each successive wave was like another slap to the face of once great Rome which by that time was little more than a punch-drunk & washed up has-been. The Franks, Alans, Vandals & Ostrogoths all took a turn knocking the Romans about.The Vandals, who began their campaign of terror & pillage in the steppes of Asia, crossed the Rhine, plowed a deep furrow S into Spain, took ship to cross the Straits of Gibraltar & landed in N Africa where they heard fabulous wealth awaited. Furious that the riches they dreamed of weren’t there, they went on a rampage of destruction that’s bequeathed their name “Vandal” to later generations as meaning someone out to wreck wanton & pointless ruination.One of the cities they laid siege to in N Africa was Hippo, where a Bishop named Augustine served as pastor. Augustine became one of the most important theologians of church history. He died during the siege by the Vandals. When they finally conquered & destroyed the city, the Vandals so respected Augustine they took pains to preserve his church & the extensive library he’d accumulated.Augustine of Hippo is a towering influence in church history and one that we’ll return to in a future episode.
Jan 01, 1970
16-The Daggers Come Out
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This week’s episode is “The Daggers Come Out.”The Council of Nicaea dealt with more than just the Arian controversy over how to understand the nature of Christ. The 300 bishops who gathered in Nicaea also issued a score of rulings on issues of church life that had been subjects of discussion for years. Chief among these was setting the date for the annual celebration of the resurrection of Christ. They also set various rules for organizing the Church & the ministry of deacons and priests.As the Church grew with more congregations being formed, the need for some organization became apparent. So for administrative purposes, the church-world was divided into provinces with centers at Rome in the West & in the East, four headquarters; Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem & Constantinople. It may seem odd to us today that only 1 church was the Western center while the East had 4. Why so many? The answer is that it was in the E the Church had its greatest extent & growth.The bishops at these 5 churches were given oversight of their surrounding regions. This stoked a major rivalry between Alexandria & Antioch, the Empire’s 2nd & 3rd largest cities after Rome. These 2 cities vied with each other for leadership of the entire East. That rivalry became more complex when the church at Constantinople, the new eastern capital of the Empire, was added to the mix. The contest between them at first took place mostly in the realm of theological debates but later became sinister when ecclesiastical position equaled power and wealth.But, the amazing unanimity of the bishops at the Council of Nicaea seemed to presage the dawn of an era of peace and tranquility for the Church and Empire. It was not to be. While the bishops agreed on the word “homo-ousias” to describe Jesus being one substance with the Father, many bishops, possibly even most, left Nicaea feeling the Emperor Constantine's pressure coerced them into taking a position they weren’t happy with. After Nicea, many of them regretted knuckling under & grew resentful of his pressure to settle the issue.I don't want to get too technical here, but that's precisely what this all was; a highly technical issue of the parsing of words, trying to find an accurate expression of their belief about the humanity and deity of Christ. It isn't that the bishops didn't believe Jesus was anything less than God. It's just that the word used in the Nicene Creed, ‘homo-ousias,’ didn't capture what they thought the truth of Jesus deity was. Many of the bishops were uncomfortable with that word because the Gnostics had used it to describe their beliefs about Jesus a few decades before.So not long after the Nicean Council, many of those who’d signed the Creed backed away from it. Several alternate creeds were offered, some close to the Nicene version and others at great distance from it. None of them repeated the word ‘homo-ousias.’It was in the East that the greatest theological turmoil ensued. After Constantine, several of the Emperors were decidedly hostile to the Nicene position. A few were openly friendly with the Arianism Nicaea was supposed to have buried.As we saw last time, though Alexandria was a lead church in the East, its Bishop Athanasius was the sole standard-bearer for the Nicene Creed in the East. Though Constantine had sponsored and endorsed Nicaea and enforced its terms by the use of civil authority, his desire to bring unity to the Empire and Church moved him to press bishops to re-install Arius and his followers; not as leaders, but simply as church members. When Athanasius and other Nicene-keeping bishops refused, Constantine punished them with banishment. Then, after a season, he changed his mind and allowed them to return. But when those same church leaders again proved too principled for Constantine's taste in some other ruling he wanted adopted, he’d banished them once again. Constantine’s successors followed his lead.For reasons relating more to politics than doctrinal concerns, the half-century after the Council of Nicaea, saw the Eastern church effectively taken over by Arians. The Pro-Arian Bishop of Nicomedia, Eusebius (not the famous church historian) was allowed to return to his post after a 2-year exile. He immediately set about to undo Nicea. He persuaded Constantine to reverse Arius’ exile and when the heretic appeared before the Emperor, he confessed a statement of faith that appeared to line up with the orthodoxy of Nicaea, but was in fact only a clever piece of verbal gymnastics that fooled the Emperor. Athanasius wasn't fooled and refused to affirm Arius as a member in good standing. So Eusebius and his supporters plotted to get rid of him. A council of Eastern bishops was called in 335 at Tyre as they were on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Constantine had just had built. At Tyre, the bishops condemned Athanasius as guilty of conduct unbecoming a Bishop. Which is tragically comical, because Athanasius was about as pious as one could get. What Eusebius and his cronies meant was that a bishop ought to agree with them, “because well, just because. Stop being contentious or we’ll charge you with conduct unbecoming a bishop!” Athanasius recognized the ambush and went to the Emperor to plead his case. Eusebius followed and warned Constantine he'd heard Athanasius had threatened to call a strike of the Alexandrian dock-workers who loaded grain into the barges that fed both Constantinople and Rome. Without Egypt's harvest, the cities would go hungry & vicious riots would ensue. Eusebius's charge was ridiculous but he knew the Emperor couldn’t risk it being true. Constantine was forced to banish Athanasius to Trier (TREE-yer) in Germania.If you’re a subscriber to CS, you know we sometimes breeze over years, even decades of church history with only a brief summary.  Other times we slow down & go in depth. The reason for this is because there are moments, seasons, even eras when events occur, trends develop, movements are birthed that have a major impact on the course of following years. We’ve slowed down to focus on the post-Nicaean years because they’re illustrative of how ruinous the infiltration of political power has been to the Church. Only 20 years passed after Constantine’s conversion and the Edict of Milan, and already church leaders are using their authority, not as spiritual guides to bless those God entrusted to their charge but to accumulate more power & influence in the political & civil realm. A man like Athanasius, whose sole concern was to glorify God & faithfully discharge his role as a pastor, proved no match for a conniving political operator like Eusebius who used his office as Bishop to bend the Emperor’s ear & secure civil authority to enforce his will. While the once-persecuted Church rejoiced that the Emperor was finally one of them, they couldn’t foresee that his merging of church and state would bring about a whole new set of problems that would turn their leaders into power-hungry competitors.  While many bishops resisted the lure of political power & stayed true to their spiritual task, many others were seduced and plunged into the great game of ecclesiastical politics. The machinations of the contest between Eusebius & Athanasius would likely not have occurred during the persecutions of the previous decades. But when civil authority was lent church leaders, the doctrinal daggers came out and theology became a ruse behind which to plot how to gain political advantage.The historian Eusebius, not the villain who attacked Athanasius, but the one who wrote the first Church History chronicle, helped blur the lines between church and state. After charting the church’s course from the Apostles to Constantine in his book Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius presented Constantine as much more than just a ruler kindly disposed toward the Faith. Oh no – Eusebius sketched Constantine as much more than that. He was God's agent; ordained by God to provide leadership for both the Church & Empire.Eusebius said that just as the Church was a manifestation of the Kingdom of God on Earth, set to rule in spiritual affairs, so the Empire under Constantine was a manifestation of the Kingdom on Earth to rule in civil affairs. God would use both to accomplish his redemptive plan. And just as God ruled in Heaven, Constantine ruled on Earth. He’s not a god, as some of the earlier emperors had claimed, but he is, Eusebius reasoned, God's unique agent to administer His Kingdom on earth.These ideas of monarchy and kingship Eusebius promoted about the Emperor played well in the East where monarchs had long been esteemed as semi-divine. But Rome's historic aversion to kings, its allergic reaction to monarchy, meant Eusebius's promotion of Constantine didn't go over as well in the West. This is another factor that added to Constantine's tendency to stay in the East. Eusebius's promotion of Constantine as the leader of both Church & State set the scene for the emergence of one man to whom the Church would look for leadership. If not the Emperor, then another dynamic church leader; a bishop of the bishops.When Constantine died in 337, the empire was split between his 3 sons, who each lined up behind a pro- or anti-Nicean stance. Eventually one of them, the Pro-Arian Constantius, aserted sole authority. But immediately after Constantine’s death, many church leaders were allowed to return to their homes from exile, including Athanasius. His enemy, the pro-Arian Eusebius moved from Nicomedia to the capital at Constantinople where he convinced Constantius to once more banish him. Athanasius knew Eusebius was moved by sheer political will and went à to Rome to plead his case.In 340 Council of Western Bishops was convened that reversed Athanasius's excommunication and reaffirmed the doctrinal position of the Nicene Creed. This was a gauntlet hurled to the ground before the Eastern churches who were by now leaning decidedly toward Arianism. They counted the Emperor as a chief defender & advocate. The Eastern bishops asked a crucial question; one that becomes central in the decades that followed. It was this: What gave Rome the right to overrule their decisions? After all, Athanasius was Bishop of Alexandria, an eastern city. He was their problem, not Rome's. So how did the West think it could meddle in Eastern affairs? And besides, “Do you guys in Rome really want to mess with the Emperor? He is after all, our guy.”The following year, 341, the Eastern bishops called their own council in Antioch to counter Rome’s. Interestingly, when they sat down to establish an official position on Arianism, they realized it couldn't be supported and repudiated it instead. Discussions revealed they weren't pro-Arian so much as uncomfortable with the way the deity of Christ had been put at Nicaea. It's like the members of a family each thinking, "Fish. I haven’t had fish for a while. I should have some fish." But then when they all talk about where they want to go for dinner on Saturday night, they agree what they really want is prime rib. Eusebius was clearly pro-Arian & had the Emperor’s ear. But when the other Eastern bishops gathered, they realized they didn’t really want his fishy-Arianism. What they wanted was the prime-rib The Nicean Creed had sought to serve but ended up dishing burger. So the 341 Council of Antioch repudiated Arianism. But they were going to have none of Rome’s meddling in their affairs & refused to reverse Athanasius’ exile. Ultimately, the Council of Antioch failed in that they were unable to offer a creedal statement that improved on or fixed the problems they had with the Nicene Creed. Their efforts ended up only adding to the confusion on what Christians believed about Jesus.At the prompting of his brother Constans, Constantius called for a Council of both Eastern & Western bishops at Sardica (SAR–dee-ka) in modern Bulgaria just a year after Antioch. This Council accomplished nothing but to further divide East from West. Though a temporary calm ensued, the fracture between the 2 halves of the Empire revealed at Sardica only became more pronounced in the decades that followed. It was never healed.Athanasius returned to Alexandria yet again, only to be banished a few years later when Constantius took control of the Western Empire from his brother. Constantius then allowed his Arian friends to dictate policy in the West as they’d been in the East. Nicene bishops were replaced by Arians. Athanasius was again condemned and banished. You have to feel for this poor guy who just wanted to take care of his flock, but could not sit idly by & watch corrupt men make war on the Truth for political gain.As Constantius’ reign entered its last years, he forced a couple more councils to adopt the Arian-backed word ‘homoi-ousias’ to describe Jesus as being of similar substance with the Father rather than the Nicean formulation of ‘homo-ousias’ – ONE & the same substance as the Father. And again, as at Nicea, this terminology was rammed down the Bishops’ throats. As happened after Nicaea, they went away from the councils resentful of being pressed to accept a doctrine they couldn’t support. The effect was the exact opposite of what Constantius & his Arian priest Eusebius wanted. The bishops retreated to the Nicean Creed. “Homo-ousias might not be precisely how they’d describe Jesus’ deity, but it was better than the newly required “homoi-ousias” and would have to suffice until someone could come up with a better way to state it.That better formulation of the deity of Christ came from the 3 bishops who took up the Nicean standard after Athanasius died. We’ll take them up next time.As we close it out, I want to thank those who’ve recommended the podcast to others.It’s great seeing all those who go to the Facebook page, give CS a “like” and leave a comment about where they live.Because of the growth of the podcast and the bandwidth required to host it, we’ve needed to add a DONATE feature. What used to be a labor of love that I was more than happy to fund has become a labor of love that now needs your assistance. So, if you can, please go to sanctorum.us and follow the link to donate. Any amount is a help. Thanks.
Jan 01, 1970
17-What a Difference a Century Makes
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This 17th episode is titled “What a Difference a Century Makes.”During the mid-4th Century, the history of the Church walked apace with the history of the Roman Empire. With the death of Constantine the Great, the rule of the Empire divided among his 3 sons, Constantine II, Constans, & Constantius. In the power-hungry maneuverings that followed, they did their upbringing in a Christian education little honor. They quickly removed any challenge by their father’s relatives, then set to work on one another. 3 years after their father’s death they went to war in a struggle for sole supremacy. Constantine II was slain by Constans, who was in turn murdered by a Gallic commander of the Imperial guard named Magnentius. After the defeat and suicide of Magnentius, Constantius became sole Emperor & reigned till his death in 361.Constantius departed from his father Constantine’s wise policy of religious toleration. Constantius was greatly influenced by the Arian bishop of Constantinople Eusebius who inspired him to use the authority of his office to enforce the Arian-brand of Christianity not only on the pagans of the Empire but also on those Christians who followed the Nicene Orthodoxy. Paganism was violently suppressed. Temples were pillaged and destroyed with the loot taken from them given either to the Church or Constantius’ supporters. As Christians had earlier been subject to arrest & execution, so now were pagans. Not unexpectedly, large numbers of former pagans came over to Christianity; their conversion feigned. A similar persecution was applied towards Nicaean Christians. They were punished with confiscation and banishment.Constantius meddled in most of the Church’s affairs, which during his reign was fraught with doctrinal controversy. He called a multitude of councils; in Gaul, Italy, Illyricum, & Asia. He fancied himself an accomplished theologian and enjoyed being called Bishop of bishops.Constantius justified his violent suppression of paganism by likening it to God’s command to Israel to wipe out the idol-worshipping Canaanites. But intelligent church leaders like Athanasius argued instead for toleration.  Athanasius wrote,Satan, because there is no truth in him, breaks in with ax and sword. But the Savior is gentle, and forces no one to whom He comes, but knocks on and speaks to the soul: ‘Open to me, my sister?’ If we open to Him He enters but if we will not, He departs. For the truth is not preached by sword and dungeon, by the might of an army, but by persuasion and exhortation. How can there be persuasion where the fear of the Emperor is uppermost? How exhortation, where the contradictory has to expect banishment and death?The ever-swinging pendulum of history foretells that the forced-upon faith of Constantius will provoke a pagan reaction. That reaction came immediately after Constantius during the reign of his cousin, Julian the Apostate. Julian had only avoided the earlier purge of his family because he was too young to pose a threat. But the young grow up.  Julian received a Christian education and was trained for a position in church leadership. But he harbored and nurtured a secret hatred for the religion of the court, a religion under which his family was all but exterminated. He studied the banned texts of Eastern mystics & Greek philosophers; all the more thrilling because they were forbidden. Julian became so immersed in paganism, he was made the leader of a secret order devoted to keeping the ancient religion alive.Despite his hostility toward Christianity, Julian recognized the Faith was too deeply entrenched in the Empire to turn back the sundial to a time when Christians were persona non grata. He decided instead to simply pry loose the influence they’d established in the civil realm. He appointed non-Christians to important posts & reclaimed some of the old pagan temples that had been turned into churches back to their original use.Julian enacted a policy of religious tolerance. Everyone was free to practice whatever faith they wanted. Make no mistake, Julian wanted to eliminate Christianity. He felt the best way to accomplish that, wasn’t by attacking it outright. After all, 200 years of persecution had already shown that wasn’t effective. Rather, Julian figured all the various sects of Christianity would end up going to war with one another and the movement would die the death of a thousand cuts, all self-inflicted. His plan didn’t work out, of course, but it was an astute observation of how factious the followers of Christ can be.When Julian was killed in 363 in an ill-advised war against the Sassanids, the pagan revival he’d hoped for fizzled. The reasons for its demise were many. Because Paganism is an amalgam of various often contradictory beliefs and worldviews it lacked the cohesion needed to stare down Christianity. And compared to the virtuous morality and ethical priorities of Christianity, paganism paled.Julian’s hoped-for elimination of Christianity by allowing its various sects to operate side by side never materialized. On the contrary, major advances were made toward a mutual understanding of the doctrinal debates that divided them. The old Athanasius was still around and as an elder statesman for the Church he’d mellowed, making him a rallying point for different groups. He called a gathering of church leaders in Alexandria in 362, right in the middle of Julian’s reign, to recognize the Creed of Nicea as the Church’s official creedal statement. His resolution passed.But trouble was brewing in the important city of Antioch. While the Western churches under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome remained steadfast in their loyalty to the Nicean Creed, the Eastern Empire leaned toward Arianism. Antioch in Syria was a key Eastern city split between adherents of Nicea & Arianism. The official church, that is, the one recognized by the Emperor in Constantinople had an Arian bishop. The Nicean Christians were led by Bishop Paulinus in a separate fellowship. But in 360, a new bishop rose to lead the Arian church at Antioch – and he was a devoted Nicean named Meletius! This occurred right at a time when more & more Eastern bishops were coming out in favor of the Nicene Creed. These Eastern bishops supported Meletius and the New Niceans of Antioch. We might think this would see a merger of the old-Niceans under Paulinus with the new, and à we’d assume wrongly. Rome & the Western church considered Paulinus the rightful bishop of Antioch & remained suspicious of Meletius & the new-Niceans. Efforts on their part to negotiate with & be accepted by the Western church were rebuffed. This served to increase the divide between East & West that had already been brewing for the last few decades.A new center of spiritual weight developed at this time in Cappadocia in central-eastern Asia Minor. It formed around the careers of 3 able church leaders, Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. Their work answered the lingering concerns that hovered around the words the Nicaean Council had chosen to describe Jesus as being of the same substance as the Father. These 3 Cappadocian Fathers were able to convince their Eastern brothers that the Nicean Creed was the best formulation they were likely to produce and to accept that Jesus was of the same substance as the Father, and so God, not a similar substance and so something other than or less than God, as the Arians held it. They pressed in on terms that made it clear there was only one God but 3 persons who individually are, and together comprise that one God; The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They said the 3 operated inseparably, none ever acting independently of the others. Every divine action begins from the Father, proceeds thru the Son, and is completed in the Holy Spirit.In 381 at the Council of Constantinople, the Eastern Church demonstrated its acceptance of the Cappadocian Fathers’ theology by affirming their adherence to the Nicean Creed. This effectively marked the end of Arianism within the Empire. And unlike the previous 3 ecumenical councils, the Council of Constantinople was not followed by years of bitter strife. What the council failed to do was resolve the split in the church at Antioch. The West continued to support the Old-Niceans while the East supported the New. It was clear to all tension was building between the old seat of Imperial power & the new capital; between Rome & Constantinople.  Which church & bishop would be the recognized leader of the whole? Antioch became the site where that contest was lived out thru their surrogates, Paulinus & Meletius.The Council of Constantinople attempted to deal with this contest by developing a system for how the churches would be led. The rulings of the Council, and all the church councils held during these years are called Canon Law, which established policy by which the Church would operate. One of the rulings of the Council of Constantinople established what was known as dioceses. A diocese was a group of provinces that became a region over which a bishop presided. The rule was that one diocese could not interfere in the workings of another. Each was to be autonomous.Though Jovian followed Julian as emperor in 363 his reign was short. He followed a policy of religious toleration, as did Valentinian I who succeeded him. Valentinian recognized the Empire was too vast for one man to rule & appointed his younger brother Valens to rule the East. Valens was less tolerant than his brother & attacked both paganism & the Nicean Christians. But Valens was the last Arian to rule in either East or West. All subsequent emperors were Orthodox; that is, they followed the Nicean Creed.When Valentinian died in 375, rule of the Western Empire fell to his son Gratian. When Valens died, Gratian chose an experienced soldier named Theodosius to rule the East.Gratian & Theodosius presided over the final demise of paganism. Both men strongly supported the Orthodox faith, and at the urging of Bishop Ambrose of Milan, they enacted policies that brought an end to pagan-worship. Of course, individuals scattered throughout the Empire continued to secretly offer sacrifices to idols & went through the superstitious rituals of the past, but as a social institution with temples & a priesthood, paganism was eradicated. Under the reign of Theodosius, Christianity was made the official religion of the Empire.We’ll end this episode with a look at how the church at Rome emerged during the 4th & 5th Centuries to become the lead church in the Empire.In theory all the bishops of the Empire’s many churches were equal. In reality, from the time of the Apostolic Fathers, some gained greater prominence because their churches were in more important cities. During the 2nd & early 3rd Centuries Alexandria, Antioch, Rome & Carthage were the places of the greatest spiritual gravity; their senior pastors recognized as leaders, not just of their churches but of The Church. The Council of Nicaea in 325 recognized Alexandria as the lead church for all North Africa, Antioch in the East & Rome as preeminent in the West.Constantinople, the new Eastern political capital, was added to that list in 381 by the Council of Constantinople.  As one of its rulings in canon law, the Council declared Constantinople 2nd only to Rome in terms of primacy in deciding church matters.We might assume the Bishop of Rome would gladly accept this finding of the Council, being that it acknowledged the Roman “see” (that is, a bishop’s realm of authority) as primary. He didn’t! He objected because the Council’s ruling implied the position of a Church and its Bishop depended on the status of their city in the Empire. In other words, it was the nearness to the center of political power that weighed most. The Bishop of Rome maintained that the preeminence of Rome wasn’t dependent on political proximity but on historical precedent. He said the decree of a Synod or Council didn’t convey primacy. The Roman Bishop claimed Rome was primary because God had made it so.  At a Council in Rome a year after the Council of Constantinople, the Roman Bishop Damasus said Rome's primacy rested on the Apostle Peter’s founding of the Roman church. Ever since the mid-3rd C, Roman Christians had used Matthew 16, Luke 22 & John 21 to claim their church possessed a unique authority over other churches & bishops. This Petrine Theory as it’s come to be known was generally accepted by the end of the 6th C. It claimed Peter had been given primacy over his fellow apostles, and his superior position had been passed on from him to his successors, the bishops of Rome, by apostolic succession.In truth, there was already a substantial church community in Rome when Peter arrived in Rome and was martyred. The Christians honored Peter as they did all their martyrs by making his grave a popular gathering place. Eventually, it became a shrine. Then, when persecution ended, the shrine became a church. The leader of that church became associated with Peter whose grave was its central feature.When Constantine came to power, he ordered a basilica built on the site on Vatican Hill. To mark that a new day of favor toward the Church had come, Constantine gave the Lateran Palace where the Roman Empress had lived to the Bishop of Rome as his residence. But the story that arose later which puts Emperor Constantine on his face before Sylvester, the Bishop of Rome, pleading forgiveness in sackcloth & ashes & handing over to him the rule of Italy & Rome, is a fiction.Until Bishop Damasus in the mid-4th C, the Roman bishops were competent leaders of the church but tended toward weakness when dealing with the Emperors, who often sought to dominate the Faith. A dramatic change occurred at the end of the 4th C, when under Ambrose of Milan, the Church dictated to the Emperor.Bishop Damasus, a contemporary of Ambrose, installed the Primacy of Peter as a central part of Church doctrine. He claimed the Roman church was started by Peter, who’d passed on his authority to the next bishop, who’d, in turn, handed it to his successor and that each Bishop of Rome was a recipient of Peter’s apostolic authority. Since Peter was the leader of the Apostles that meant the Roman church was the lead church and the Bishop the leader, not just of Rome but of all Christendom. Damasus was the first to address other bishops as ‘sons’ rather than ‘brothers.’Historical events during the 4th & 5th Centuries enhanced the power of the Bishop of Rome. When Constantine moved the political capital to Constantinople in 330, it left the Roman Bishop as the strongest individual in Rome for long stretches of time. People in the west looked to him for temporal as well as spiritual leadership when a crisis arose. Constantinople & the Emperor were hundreds of miles & weeks away; the Roman bishop was near; so people turned to him to exercise authority in meeting political as well as spiritual crises. In 410 when Alaric and the Visigoths sacked Rome, Bishop Innocent I used clever diplomacy to save the city from the torch. When the Western Empire finally fell in 476, the people of Italy looked to the Roman Bishop for civil as well as religious leadership.Great leaders like Cyprian, Tertullian, & Augustine were outstanding men of the Western church who counted themselves as being under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome. The Western Empire had also managed to stay free of the heretical challenges that had wracked the East, most notably, the brouhaha with Arius and his followers. This doctrinal solidarity was due in large part to the steadfast leadership of Rome’s Bishops.Another factor that contributed to Rome’s rise to dominance was the decline of the other great centers. Jerusalem lost its place due to the Bar Kochba rebellion of the 2nd C. Alexandria & Antioch were overrun by the Muslims in the 6th & 7th Centuries; leaving Constantinople & Rome as the centers of power.In an Imperial edict in AD 445, the Emperor Valentinian III recognized the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome in spiritual affairs. What he enacted became Canon law for all.Another great boon to the influence & prestige of the Roman Bishop was the missionary work of monks loyal to Rome. Clovis & Augustine planted churches in northern France & Britain, all owing allegiance to Rome.But above all, the Roman church was led by several able bishops during this time; men who overlooked no opportunity to enhance & extend their power.Leo I was bishop at Rome from 440 to 461 & by far the ablest occupant of the Bishop’s seat until Gregory I, 150 years later. His skill earned him the title “Leo the Great.”We’re not sure when Rome’s bishops began to be called “pope”, a title which for years had been used by the bishop of Alexandria. But Leo was the first to refer consistently to himself as pope – from Latin, a child’s affectionate term for papa. In 452, Leo persuaded Attila the Hun to let the city of Rome alone. Then 3 years later when the Vandals came to sack the city, Leo convinced them to limit their loot-fest to 2-weeks. The Vandal Leader Gaiseric kept his word, and the Romans forever after esteemed Leo as the one who saved their city from destruction.Pope Leo insisted all church courts & the rulings of all bishops had to be submitted to him for final decision. This is what Valentinians III’s edict of 445 granted and he was determined to apply it.Pope Gelasius I, who ruled from 492 to 496, said that God gave sacred power to the Pope and royal power to the King. But because the Pope had to account to God for the King at the judgment, the sacred power of the Pope was more important than royal power. So, civil rulers should submit to the Pope. While the emperors didn’t all automatically knuckle under to popes, most did resign a large part of authority & political influence to the Roman Bishops.
Jan 01, 1970
18-Hermits
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This week’s episode is titled “Hermits.”A few episodes back when I introduced Athanasius, I mentioned the religious hermits he visited in the wilderness near Alexandria in Egypt, bringing them food. As a young man, Athanasius honored these men who'd forsaken the ease of city life to pursue an undistracted but difficult life of devotion to God.Who were these hermits, and what moved them to such a radical departure from the lifestyle modeled by Jesus and the Apostles?While the theology of monks & monasteries evolved over many generations, its earliest foundation rested on the example of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ who was something of an ascetic. His normal haunt was the Judean wilderness where it intersected the Jordan River. He wore a less than a fashion-conscious wardrobe and ate a strict organic diet grudgingly provided by the wilderness.The earliest hermits put great weight in Jesus's counsel to the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, giving it all to the poor, & following the Lord. They embraced the New Testament’s frequent idiom that the flesh is in a battle with the spirit & vice versa. They concluded flesh & spirit are irreconcilable. Hermits literally renounced the world by leaving the cultured life of the city to live in a primitive setting in the wilderness. This lifestyle of deprivation and discomfort was regarded as the truest route to unhindered communion with God by the hermits and a growing number of their admirers.The first time we see a written expression of this emerging mindset is in the Shepherd of Hermas about AD 140. This early Christian document defines a higher & lower route believers can take in their devotion to God. Faith, hope, & love are the lower route required of all Christians. But for those who aspire to closer intimacy with God, self-denial is required. This denial of the self took many forms with celibacy & renouncing marriage one of the more radical, yet popular.The practice of penance became common with believers moved to dramatic acts of charity and bravery in order to prove their devotion to God. When persecution was a frequent threat, Christians used penance as a way to compensate for moments of weakness & fear. And of course, the martyrs were luminous heroes even some pagans admired! But with the repeal of persecution, the Church needed new heroes & found them in the hermits who engaged in extreme acts of self-denial.The earliest monks were hermits; individuals who took refuge in the desert, hinting at where they got their start; in Egypt, where the desert is plentiful outside the fertile strip of land along the Nile. The word or hermit comes from the Greek word for desert.About AD 250, a 20-year-old named Anthony took Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler to sell his possessions & follow him -- literally. Anthony sold everything & went to live in an abandoned tomb. Legends quickly grew up about his battles with temptation that took visible form in attacks by demons, seductive women, & wild beasts. Anthony emerged from each battle with a greater sense of devotion to God that inspired others to follow his ascetic example. Soon, hundreds made their way to the wilderness to pursue a life of rigid self-denial. Anthony was Athanasius’ favorite. Since Anthony lived to be over a hundred, he was alive when the future bishop of Alexandria was taking supplies to the desert monks. Athanasius wrote a biography of Anthony, which became widely popular. This book, more than any other factor helped boost the esteem & appeal of the hermetic life.Monasticism grew apace with the new-found imperial favor under Constantine and his successors. It's not difficult understanding why the number of ascetics jumped & monasticism became popular at the same time the Church & State were buddying up. Being a Christian was no longer dangerous, so the sincerity of many new members declined. When people realized belonging to a church was a social & political plus, the sincerity factor dipped even further. Genuine believers noted the sagging quality of faith among so many of the church’s fair-weather friends & chose responded by embracing a more rigorous path. The models of that era were the monks; those standout Christian heroes who’d attained an honor similar to that given the martyrs of the previous era-and hey! I don't have to get my head chopped off. Cool.So the monks of this time weren't so much fleeing the world as they were protesting a worldly church.Part and parcel of the hermetic life was an isolated individualism that stands in contrast to the communal life modeled by Jesus and the Apostles and urged in the New Testament. You don’t have much of a Body of Christ when it’s just one guy in a cave. Hermits found refuge in the wilderness an easy way to avoid the temptations of the external world but what of the far more dangerous inner temptations of the soul = things like pride & envy?The temptation to pride is obvious. After all, it was easy for the desert ascetics who'd taken the supposed “higher path” to consider themselves better than others. But how could envy be a problem when they lived alone? Well, they lived alone but they had plenty of visitors. Pilgrims made their way out to meet them and catch a few moments with those considered living saints. As these pilgrims made the rounds of several hermits, they reported to each hermit the extreme acts of penance and piety of the others. Not wanting to be outdone in a show of devotion, hermits endeavored to outdo each other. They went on extreme fasts, ate bizarre foods, lived in trees, on tops of pillars, & refused to bathe. As their acts became more bizarre, their fame grew & soon thousands flocked to see them. One hermit named Simon Stylites was so put out by the crowds who came to see him, he erected a pillar he lived on the top of for 30 years. People sent up food via a rope & basket.As with any extreme, it didn't take long before a calmer and more reasoned way challenged the decidedly non-biblical ultra-individualism of the desert hermits. About AD 320, someone remembered Genesis 2:18 à People shouldn’t be alone. Hey, maybe these hermits we’ve made into living saints aren’t really hitting the mark after all.An ex-soldier named the Pachomius formed the first monastery. It was a place where Christians could pursue devotion to God in a communal setting. Instead of each monk deciding for himself how to live and what to do, drawing on his experience as a soldier, Pachomius set rules for the community. All members wore the same uniform, engaged in similar manual labor, and kept the same schedule.While Pachomius’ monastery was the first we know of for men, women already had their own version of communal life. This had been necessary since women were not allowed to be hermits. Their isolation would've made them a tempting target for criminals and brutes. Nonnus is the feminine form of the word monk so the women who pursued the communal life were called nuns; their cloistered commune was a convent.The monastic movement spread north out of Egypt into Syria, then West into Asia Minor which at that time was the most spiritually dynamic region of the Faith. Once monasteries took root in Asia Minor they spread rapidly across Europe.When Athanasius died in the Spring of 373, 3 bishops from Cappadocia in Asia Minor picked up and continued to carry the standard of loyalty to the Nicaean Creed. Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa. These 3 greatly promoted the monastic movement. Basil was especially important as he authored the Rule of Discipline that framed monastic life for generations after and does to this day in the Eastern Orthodox Church.Throughout the 4th & 5th Centuries, monasticism gained popularity and infiltrated every level of society. The communal life of the monks re-infused the Church with a sense of purpose and a return to the piety that had marked the Church’s early years. Martyrdom was replaced by a whole-hearted devotion to God thru renouncing a career of worldly success in favor of one lived in the imitation of Christ. In order to obtain this ideal within the context of communal life, monks took vows of obedience, poverty, & chastity. These were attempts to limit the battle-line of temptation and sin by renouncing possessions, self-will, & the sexual urge. Monasteries helped put an end to the problems common to the earlier hermits: idleness & eccentricity. They became centers of social renewal & scholarship. By the 6th Century, most church leaders were monks.One of the most notable monks from this period was Jerome, who lived from about 340 to 420. He began as a hermit in the Syrian wilderness. Despite best intentions, Jerome was plagued by sexual temptation. The only relief he could find was when his mind was preoccupied by an overwhelming intellectual challenge. Someone suggested he learn Hebrew which proved to be an effective prescription against temptation. Once he’d mastered Hebrew, he traveled to Rome where he became the tutor of one of a leading bishops and met a couple brilliant women who under his training became as skilled as he in teaching the Bible.When Jerome fell out with some other monks at Rome, he moved to a monastery at Bethlehem where he spent the next 22 years translating the Old & New Testaments into Latin.At first Jerome's translation was criticized because he used the street-language of his day rather than the more refined classical Latin of antiquity. People considered his Bible vulgar but it didn't take long before opinions changed & the Latin Vulgate was widely and wildly popular. The Roman Catholic Church used the Latin Vulgate as their official Bible until recent time.The man who had the most significant impact on monastic life was Benedict of Nursia not far from of Rome. Benedict was educated in the capital but when he was exposed to the extreme asceticism of the hermits, cut short his schooling in favor of a solitary life in a cave 80 miles south. He spent 3 years studying the Scriptures when local monks came for a visit. Impressed with his learning, they asked if he’d be their abbot, a monastery’s leader. He agreed, but when the discipline he required proved too rigorous, they tried to poison him. He fled. Benedict took little more with him than a wisdom born of failure. Instead of chalking up his ouster from the monastery as a sign he wasn't cut out to lead, he refined his ideas on how to conduct community and began a new monastery at Monte Cassino south of Rome in 529. When Benedict died 13 years later he left behind a pattern for monastic life that became the standard for hundreds of monasteries and helped safeguard European civilization during the intellectual declension of the Middle Ages; something we’ll return in a later episode.It was at and for the Monte Cassino monastery Benedict wrote his famous "Rule." The Rule was a brilliant merging of pragmatism and psychology. Benedict had learned how to administrate a commune of believers to enforce necessary discipline without being harsh. He began by taking the basic monastic forms already in place, then installed a system of discipline that weeded out the lazy and insincere. He knew the only way to accomplish the aims of a monastery was by maintaining authority and discipline, but the required obedience had to be such that an ordinary person could give. Benedict failed in his earlier attempt because he’d expected the monks to follow his own level of discipline, which he realized was greater than all but a few could emulate.Benedict's Rule established the role of the monastery’s abbot as sole-authority to whom the monks owed unwavering and unquestioned obedience. But this authority couldn’t be arbitrary, so he made the selection of the abbot a choice for the monks themselves. His rule for the abbot was that any major decision must be made after consulting the monks for guidance. He warned that going against their counsel was both unwise and unsafe. He cautioned abbots against an unchecked exercise of power.In a move that seems prescient, Benedict advocated each monastery become a world unto itself. Work of both a manual & mental nature was seen as crucial to monastic life and central to devotion to God. So each monastery became a self-supporting community, dependent on the outside world for little. What this meant was that as the Roman Empire dissolved, the scholarship of the ancient world was preserved in the Benedictine monasteries where it was read, studied, & copied for generations. They became the storehouses for the knowledge that would reemerge in the Reformation & Renaissance, lifting Europe out of the Middle Ages.As we end this episode, here are some lines from the Rule of St. Benedict.
  • The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.
  • Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times. At others, in devout reading.
  • The sleepy like to make excuses.
  • The abbot ought ever to bear in mind what he is and what he is called; he ought to know that to whom more is entrusted, from him more is exacted.
  • He should know that whoever undertakes the government of souls must prepare himself to account for them.
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Jan 01, 1970
19-Jerome
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This episode is titled, “Jerome.”By his mid-30’s, Jerome was probably the greatest Christian scholar of his time. He’s one of the greatest figures in the history of Bible translation, spending 3 decades producing a Latin version that would be the standard for a thousand years. But Jerome was no bookish egghead. He longed for the hermetic life we considered in the previous episode & often exhibited a sour disposition that showered his opponents with biting sarcasm and brutal invective.His given name was Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius and was born in 345 to wealthy Christian parents either in Aquileia in NE Italy or across the Adriatic in Dalmatia.At about 15, Jerome and a friend went to Rome to study Rhetoric & Philosophy. He engaged with abandon many of the immoral escapades of his fellow students, then followed up these debaucheries with intense self-loathing. To appease his conscience, he visited the graves & tombs of the martyrs and saints in Rome’s extensive catacombs. Jerome later said the darkness & terror he found there seemed an appropriate warning for the hell he knew his soul was destined for.This tender conscience is interesting in light of his initial skepticism about Christianity. That skepticism began to thaw when he realized what he was experiencing was the conviction of the Holy Spirit. His mind could not hold out against his heart and he was eventually converted. At  19, he was baptized.He then moved to Trier in Gaul where he took up theological studies & began making copies of commentaries & doctrinal works for wealthy patrons.Jerome then returned to Aquileia, where he settled in to the church community and made many friends.Several of these accompanied him when he set out in 373 on a journey thru Thrace and Asia Minor to northern Syria. At Antioch, 2 of his companions died and he became seriously ill. During this illnesses, he had a vision that led him to lay aside his studies in the classics and devote himself to God. He plunged into a deep study of the Bible, under the guidance of a church leader at Antioch named Apollinaris. This Apollinaris was later labeled a heretic for his unorthodox views on Christ. He was one of several at this time trying to work out how to understand and express the nature of Jesus; was He God, Man or both? And if both, how are we to understand these two natures operating within the One, Jesus?  Apollinaris said Jesus had a human body & soul, but that his mind was divine. This view, creatively called Apollinarianism, was declared heretical at the Council of Constantinople in 381, though the church had pretty well dispensed with it as a viable view of Christ back in 362 at a Synod in Alexandria, presided over by our friend Athanasius.While in Antioch & as a fallout of his illness & the loss of his friends, Jerome was seized with a desire to live an ascetic life as a hermit. He retreated to the wilderness southwest of Antioch, already well-populated by fellow-hermits. Jerome spent his isolation in more study and writing. He began learning Hebrew under the tutelage of a converted Jew; and kept in correspondence with the Jewish Christians of Antioch. He obtained a copy of the Gospels in Hebrew, fragments of which are preserved in his notes. Jerome translated parts of this into Greek.Returning to Antioch in 379, he was ordained by Paulinus, whom you’ll remember was the bishop of the Nicaean congregation there. This is the Bishop & church supported by Rome when the Arian church in Antioch was taken over a new also-Nicaean Bishop named Meletius. Instead of the 2 churches merging because the cause of their division was now removed, they became the political frontlines in the battle for supremacy between Rome & Constantinople.Recognizing Jerome’s skill as a scholar, Bishop Paulinus rushed to ordain Jerome as a priest, but the monk would only accept it on the condition he’d never have to carry out priestly functions. Instead, Jerome plunged himself into his studies, especially in Scripture. He attended lectures, examined parchments, and interviewed teachers and theologians.He went to Constantinople to pursue a study of the Scriptures under Gregory of Nazianzus. He spent 2 years there, then was asked by Paulinus back in Antioch to accompany him to Rome so the whole issue over who the rightful bishop in Antioch was. Paulinus knew Jerome would make a mighty addition to his side. Indeed he did, and Pope Damasus I was so impressed with Jerome, he persuaded him to stay in Rome. For the next 3 years, Jerome became something of a celebrity at Rome. He took a prominent place in most of the pope’s councils. At one point his influence over the pope was so great he had the audacity to say, “Damasus is my mouth.”He began a revision of the Latin Bible based on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. He also updated the Book of Psalms that prior to that time had been based on the Septuagint; a Greek translation of Hebrew.In Rome, he was surrounded by a circle of well-born and well-educated women, including some from the noblest patrician families. They were moved by Jerome’s asceticism & began to emulate his example of worldly forbearance. This did NOT endear him to the rather secular clergy in Rome who enjoyed the attention of such lovely, rich and available women. But Jerome’s messing with their fun didn’t end there. He offended their pleasure-loving ways with his sharp tongue and blunt criticism. As one historian puts it, “He detested most of the Romans and did not apologize for detesting them.” He mocked the clerics’ lack of charity, their ignorance & overweening vanity. The men of the time were inordinately fond of beards, so Jerome mused, “If there is any holiness in a beard, nobody is holier than a goat!”Soon after the death of his patron, Pope Damasus in December 384, Jerome was forced to leave Rome after an inquiry brought up allegations he’d had an improper relationship with a wealthy widow named Paula.This wasn’t the only charge against him. More serious was the death of one of the young women who’d sought to follow his ascetic lifestyle, due to poor health caused by the rigors he demanded she follow. Everyone could see how her health declined for the 4 months she followed Jerome’s lead. Most Romans were outraged for his causing the premature death of such a lively & lovely young woman, and at his insistence her mother ought not mourn her daughter’s death. When he criticized her grief as excessive, the Romans said he was heartless.So in August 385, he left Rome for good and returned to Antioch, accompanied by his brother and several friends, followed a little later by the widow Paula & her daughter. The pilgrims, joined by Bishop Paulinus of Antioch, visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee, then went to Egypt, home to the great heroes of the ascetic life.Late in the Summer of 388 he returned to Israel. A wealthy student of Jerome’s founded a monastery in Bethlehem for him to administer. This monastery included 3 cloisters for women and a hostel for pilgrims.It was there he spent his last 34 years.  He finished his greatest contribution, begun in 382 at Pope Damasus’s instruction: A translation of the Bible into Latin.The problem wasn’t that there wasn’t a Latin Bible; the problem was that there were so many! They varied widely in accuracy. Damasus had said, “If we’re to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it’s for our opponents to tell us which, for there are almost as many forms as there are copies. If, on the other hand, we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many, why not go back to the original Greek and correct the mistakes introduced by inaccurate translators, and the blundering alterations of confident but ignorant critics, and, further, all that has been inserted or changed by copyists more asleep than awake?”At first, Jerome worked from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. But then he established a precedent for later translators: the Old Testament would have to be translated from the original Hebrew. In his quest for accuracy, he learned Hebrew & consulted Jewish rabbis and scholars.One of the biggest differences he saw between the Septuagint and the original Hebrew was that the Jews did not include the books now known as the Apocrypha in their canon of Holy Scripture. Though he felt obligated to include them, Jerome made it clear while they might be considered “church-books” they were not inspired, canonical books.After 23 years, Jerome completed his translation, which Christians used for more than 1,000 years, and in 1546 the Council of Trent declared it the only authentic Latin text of the Scriptures.What marked this Bible as unique was Jerome’s use of the everyday, street Latin of the times, rather than the more archaic classical Latin of the scholars. Academics & clergy decried it as vulgar, but it became hugely popular. The Latin Vulgate, as it was called, became the main Bible of the Roman church for the next millennium.Jerome’s work was so widely revered that until the Reformation, scholars worked from the Vulgate. It would be another thousand years till translators worked directly from the Greek manuscripts of the NT. The Vulgate ensured that Latin, rather than Greek, would be the Western church’s language, resulting centuries later in a liturgy & Bible lay people couldn’t understand—precisely the opposite of Jerome’s original intention. It’s also why many scientific names & terms are drawn from Latin, rather than Greek which was the language of the scholars until the appearance of the Vulgate.The Latin Bible wasn’t the only thing Jerome worked on while in Bethlehem. He also produced several commentaries, a catalogue of Christian authors, and a response to the challenge of the Pelagians, an aberrant teaching we’ll take a look at in a future episode. To this period also belonged most of Jerome’s polemics, his denunciations of works and people Jerome deemed dangerous. He produced a tract on the threat of some of Origen’s errors. He denounced Bishop John of Jerusalem and others, including some one-time friends.Some of Jerome’s writings contained provocative views on moral issues. When I say provocative, I’m being generous; they were aberrant at best and at points verged on heretical. All this came of his extreme asceticism. While the monasticism he embraced allowed him to produce a huge volume of work, his feverish advocacy of strict discipline was nothing less than legalistic extremism. He insisted on abstinence from a normal diet, employment, & even marital sex. His positions were so extreme in this regard, even other ascetics called him radical.As far as we know, none of Jerome’s works were lost to the centuries. There are a few medieval manuscripts that mark his work in translating the Bible. Various 16th C collections are the earliest extant copies of his writings. Through the years, Jerome has been a favorite subject for artists, especially Italian Renaissance painters.He died at Bethlehem at the end of September of 420.
Jan 01, 1970
20-Golden Tongue
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The title of this episode it “Golden Tongue”His preaching was so good, they called him the Golden-mouthed.John Chrysostom was raised by a widowed mother in the city of Antioch. During the mid-4th C, Antioch was a major city of the Eastern Roman Empire & a major center of Christian thought & life. Coming from a wealthy family, John’s young mother decided to remain a widow & devoted herself to her son’s education. She hired a tutor named Libanius, close friend of the Emperor Julian the Apostate. Libanius instilled in John a love of the Greek classics & a passion for rhetoric that laid the foundation for his later life.He began a career as a lawyer but when he heard the Gospel, became a believer & was baptized in 368. His zeal drove him to that time’s most regarded example of what it meant to follow Jesus – he became a monk. But the deprivations of the ascetic life ruined his health. In 380, he left his cave to rejoin life in his hometown of Antioch. Six years later the bishop there ordained John a priest and he began a remarkable preaching career.During this time, he penned On the Priesthood, a justification for his delay in entering the priesthood but also a mature look at the perils and possibilities of ministry. He wrote, “I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise. And if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help being pained and distraught at losing it.”It was in Antioch Chrysostom’s preaching began to be noticed, especially after what has been called the “Affair of the Statues.”In the Spring of 388, a rebellion erupted in Antioch over the announcement of increased taxes. By way of protest, statues of the emperor and his family were desecrated. Imperial officials responded by punishing city leaders, going so far as killing some. Archbishop Flavian rushed some 800 miles to the capital in Constantinople, to beg the emperor for clemency.In the bishop’s absence, John preached to the terrified city: “Improve yourselves now truly, not as when during one of the numerous earthquakes or in famine or drought or in similar visitations you leave off your sinning for 3 or 4 days and then begin the old life again.” When Flavian returned 8 wks later with the good news of the emperor’s pardon, John’s reputation soared.From then on, he was in demand as a preacher. He preached through many books of the Bible, though he had his favorites. “I like all the saints,” he said, “but St. Paul the most of all—that vessel of election, the trumpet of heaven.” In his sermons, he denounced abortion, prostitution, gluttony, the theater, and swearing. About the love of horseracing, he complained, “My sermons are applauded merely from custom, then everyone runs off to the races again and gives much more applause to the jockeys, showing indeed unrestrained passion for them! There they put their heads together with great attention, and say with mutual rivalry, ‘This horse did not run well, this one stumbled,’ and one holds to this jockey and another to that. No one thinks any more of my sermons, nor of the holy and awesome mysteries that are accomplished here.”His large bald-head, deeply set eyes, and sunken cheeks reminded people of Elisha the prophet. Though his sermons, lasting between 30 minutes & 2 hours, were well-attended, he sometimes became discouraged: “My work is like that of a man trying to clean a piece of ground into which a muddy stream constantly flows.”Preaching and teaching had always been central to a priest’s work, but under John, it took on new significance. His messages were markedly different from the allegorical mish-mash common at that time. John’s sermons were straight-forward, literal interpretations & applications of Scripture. Over 600 of his messages have come down to us so we get a feel for the power of his eloquence, which earned him the nick-name “Chrysostom = Golden-mouthed.” Though he was slight of build, the quality of his voice was remarkable. He could be heard clearly by large crowds.In early 398, John was seized by soldiers and transported to the capital, where he was forcibly consecrated as the bishop of Constantinople. His kidnapping was arranged by a government official who wanted to adorn the church in the capital with the best orator in Christianity. Rather than rebelling against the injustice, John accepted it as God’s providence.But rather than soften his words for his new & more prestigious audience, including many from the imperial household & court, John continued the same themes he’d preached in Antioch. He decried abuses of wealth and power. His own lifestyle became a scandal because he refused the decadence the wealthy & influential were given over to. He instead lived an ascetic life, used his considerable household budget to care for the poor, and built hospitals.He continued preaching against the great public sins. In a sermon against the theater, he said, “Long after the theater is closed and everyone is gone away, those images (and here he meant the nudity of the actors & actresses] still float before your soul, their words, their conduct, their glances, their walk, their positions, their excitation, their unchaste limbs.… And there within you sin kindles the Babylonian furnace in which the peace of your home, the purity of your heart, the happiness of your marriage will be burnt up!”Assisting John in this public challenge to Imperial excess was a popular & wealthy woman named Olympias. Olympias was widowed after only 2 years of marriage to one of the wealthiest men in the Empire. Coming from a wealthy family herself, at only 25 years of age, she was one of the world’s richest people. Thinking a woman would not know how to handle all that money & the power it brought, & that surely it would end up being used by his enemies against him, the Emperor Arcadius ordered her to remarry his cousin. She refused! She decided instead to use her wealth to help the poor & needy of Constantinople. She founded a convent that housed 200 women devoted to taking care of the sick and poor. She started an orphanage & hospital.Olympias & John struck up a deep but not romantic friendship & encouraged each other greatly as they took a lonely & dangerous stand opposing Imperial abuse of power. John’s resistance to the Empress Eudoxia’s excess upset her so much she persuaded her husband to have John banished in 403. Rioting by the people saw his immediate recall. What provoked John was Eudoxia’s claim to be a Christian, yet insistence on doing things unworthy of a follower of Christ. As the Empress, she set the standard for the rest of the royal court to follow. When she had a silver statue of herself erected near the church, John made plain his resistance. This moved her to once again demand his exile. When news got out, rioters burned several buildings. John’s enemies blamed the riot on Olympias so she was also sent into exile.Some historians assign John a horrendous lack of tact in dealing with the rich & powerful of Constantinople; especially the Emperor & his wife. We could call it a lack of tact, or simply an unflinching courage to speak the truth to power; to leaders who claimed to be followers of Christ but whose lifestyle showed little evidence of it.John Chrysostom was a man at a crossroads. He was uniquely gifted as a preacher & teacher dear to the common people. He was bishop of the Roman Empire’s most politically influential city, so his potential to influence policy was immense. He was a major church leader at a moment in history when Church & State were joined at the hip and many church leaders were beginning to flex their political muscles. But in doing so, they forfeited their spiritual authority. They didn’t just avail themselves of civil access, they donned the trappings of worldly power in dress, diet, & domicile.John vehemently resisted this worldly corruption of the clergy. He understood that the Church’s duty is to stand as a prophetic witness TO the world, TO the civil realm, not to become its partner. While the common people loved him for this, his clerical peers & the wealthy of Constantinople were offended by him.In an earlier episode, we noted how the Early Church developed around 4 centers; Jerusalem, Antioch, Carthage & Rome. By the 4th C, Jerusalem & Carthage had lost importance but Alexandria & Constantinople filled their place. A long rivalry developed between Antioch & Alexandria that lasted for a few centuries. There were numerous reasons for it, but mostly it had to do with prestige of position; that is, which church could boast the most beloved & influential leaders.Antioch was the home church of Barnabas & Paul. It had been instrumental in the early growth of the Church as it sent out missionaries North, West & East. Many of the churches in the East owed their existence to Antioch’s faithfulness in planting new works. But Alexandria had been the center of classical scholarship for generations. Who hasn’t heard of the famous Library of Alexandria? The schools there were world-renowned. Such church luminaries as Clement, Athanasius, & Origen all hailed from Alexandria.Central to the rivalry between the 2 churches was their different methods of interpreting Scripture. You’ll remember Origen had developed a highly allegorical method of studying and teaching the Bible. The church at Alexandria adopted this methodology & followed it for generations. Antioch, on the other hand, tended to read & understand the Bible more literally. The rivalry between Antioch & Alexandria became so bitter that at points it broke out in bloodshed, as we’ll see later.For now, just know that the archbishop of Alexandria, one Theophilus, was jealous of John’s call from Antioch to be the Bishop of the Capital. When he heard John was making a lot of enemies among the rich & powerful there, he called a council nearby and, making up charges of heresy, had John deposed. John was sent into exile by Empress Eudoxia and Emperor Arcadius.As he was being transported across the plains of Asia Minor in the heat of summer, his health began to fail. On the eastern shore of the Black Sea, at the edges of the empire, his body gave out and he died.34 years later, after John’s enemies were dead, his relics were brought back in triumph to the capital. Emperor Theodosius II, son of Arcadius and Eudoxia, publicly asked forgiveness for the sins of his parents.John was later given the title of “Doctor of the Church” because of the value of his writings. Along with Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius, he’s considered one of the greatest of the early Eastern church fathers.
Jan 01, 1970
21-The New Center
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This episode is titled – “The New Center.”Spread over 3 pages in Vol. 3 of his monumental work History of the Christian Church, author Philip Schaff makes a compelling argument for why it was inevitable Christianity would eventually emerge from the Roman catacombs to join the State in governing the hearts & lives of the people of the Empire. And while it was inevitable, Schaff describes how the merger resulted in the corruption of the Church. He wrote, “The Christianizing of the State amounted in great measure to the paganizing and secularizing of the Church.”We've already seen how the Church at Rome emerged to become a headquarters of Western Christianity. We need to spend a little more time here as this period of church history is crucial for understanding the eventual rift that occurred between East and West and what emerged in Europe after this, not only for the Church but for the nations that arose there.The idea of the rule of the entire Church by the Roman Pope was a slow and halting process. The title “Pope / Papa” wasn’t important to the emergence of the Bishop of Rome as the leader of the Church. It was a term of affection used by many Christians for their pastor and was used in a more formal sense in Alexandria decades before it was used of the Roman Bishop. It wasn't until the 6th C that the word “Pope” was reserved exclusively for Rome's Bishop, long after he'd already claimed primacy as Peter’s successor.It's important as well we make a distinction between the honor the Roman church held and the overarching authority its bishop later claimed. There’s ample evidence of the respect accorded Rome's Christian community.
  • Rome was, after all, the capital of the Empire.
  • The church there was the largest and richest. By the mid-3rd C, it claimed some 30,000 members, served by 150 priests, supporting 1500 widows & the poor.
  • It had a long record of remaining orthodox and generous.
For these reasons, it was regarded as the lead church of the Western Empire. Though there’s no solid historical evidence to support it, Christians of the 2nd thru 4th Cs believed Peter and Paul founded the church at Rome. It was thought each bishop of Rome handed his authority and office to his successor so that the current Pope, whoever that was, was sitting in the Apostolic seat of Peter.We can see why this would be important to the Church when the Gnostics were a threat to the faith. They claimed to possess special secret knowledge & traditions that had been passed on by Jesus to the apostles, then to them. In contrast to this fiction, Rome could actually name their bishops all the way back to the original apostles. This list was memorized by young believers like state capitals are memorized by students today.While the church at Rome was regarded with great respect by most believers, this honor didn't always extend to its bishop. There’s much evidence of church fathers, like Irenaeus & Cyprian who disagreed vehemently with positions taken by the bishop of Rome. Until Constantine, there’s no evidence the church at large took direction from Rome's lead pastor.It's important at this point to speak about the changes that took place in the structure of the churches during the 3rd & 4th Cs. This change came about for 2 reasons: Councils & Arch-bishops.The first development that led to an alteration in the way churches developed was Church Councils. As the Church grew & individual congregations developed in more places, leaders of the Church recognized the need to coordinate their efforts & teaching. The emergence of heretics prompted elders and pastors to gather to discuss how to address the challenge of false teaching. These gatherings were at first informal and irregular, called at random by provincial leaders. In the 3rd C they began meeting annually in more formal Councils to share news and establish policy that would be observed in each church. These provincial councils proved so helpful, in the 4th C several provinces started sending their bishops to larger regional councils.When Constantine became Emperor and the churches faced major obstacles, the call was sent out for all bishops to meet. The first such General or Ecumenical Council was held in 314 at Arles (are-L) although only the Western church leaders were called. The first true all-Church Council was held at Nicaea not far from Constantinople in 325 and dealt with the threat of Arianism. The findings of these General Councils became the rule for the churches.The 2nd development that helped shape the Church was the emergence of archbishops. During the provincial and regional councils, all bishops were supposed to be equals. But in practice, some of the older bishops and those who lead larger, older, and more respected churches were held in higher regard. Also, as the Church grew it tended to locate first in urban centers, then reached out to the surrounding rural countryside where smaller churches sprang up, usually led by pastors sent out by the pastor of the nearest urban center. It was natural these rural pastors looked to their sending-church as their spiritual home and their sending-pastor as their spiritual leader. In other words, rural bishops looked to urban bishops as an arch-bishop. He might, in turn, look to some other bishop of an even larger city closer to Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, or Constantinople as his spiritual overseer. So, while all bishops were theoretically equal, practically they related to one another in a more hierarchal way, a hierarchy based on the size and prominence of the church and city where the bishop served.You can see where this is going, can't you? à Put church councils attended by archbishops together with a Church suddenly given access to Imperial favor and it's a proverbial Pandora's box of political scheming.The move of the Empire's political capital from Rome to Constantinople in 330 shifted the center of political gravity 900 miles East. Because location and proximity to political power had become increasingly important, suddenly, Constantinople was added to the list of Christian centers. And the bishop of Constantinople became another major player.When Theodosius became Emperor in 379 and made Christianity the official state religion, Church politics moved to a whole new level. Hundreds of people feigned conversion and entered the church merely to gain political advantage. As we tracked in an earlier episode, in May 381, Emperor Theodosius convened a general Counsel in Constantinople but only called the Eastern bishops to attend. Bishop Damasus of Rome wasn't invited. Theodosius wanted to close the book on Arianism so he convened the Council to endorse & ratify the Nicene Creed. The Eastern bishops decided to use the Council to raise their political coin by also ruling that the Bishop of Constantinople was second only to the Bishop of Rome in terms of authority. They based this on the premise Constantinople was the “New Rome.”Damasus recognize this for what it was, a political power play. He and the other Western bishops responded in their own Council held a year later that Rome's prominence wasn't due to its proximity to the capital but its historic connection to Peter and Paul. It was from this Council at Rome in 382 that the Church first claimed the "primacy of the Roman church" based on Jesus's supposed remark that He would build his church on Peter.It was obvious by the end of the 4th C that East and West were headed in different directions.The Eastern Church with its center at Constantinople became increasingly tied to Imperial power. In the West, things were dramatically different. Imperial power and presence were dissolving. The Church wasn’t only untying from political structures, as those structures themselves dissolved, the Church was increasingly looked to by the common people to provide governance.After Damasus, the Roman Bishop most responsible for the emergence of the papal office was Leo the Great. Leo was a nobleman and politician who was made Bishop of Rome when Sextus III died in AD 440. Leo’s 21-year term as Pope saw some of Rome's most tumultuous years. He drew on themes already in place to support his primacy over the entire Church.Okay. It’s at this point I need to say we’re going to deviate from our usual course & toss out some things that may upset our Roman Catholic friends. But this is a period of Church History that speaks specifically to the issue of the primacy of the papacy. Trust me, when we get to later church history, we’ll have lots of tough stuff to look at regarding Protestants.Leo's claim to primacy and that the Roman Pope was THE spiritual successor to Peter as leader of the church, based as it was largely on Matthew 16 where Jesus told Peter He’d build his Church on the rock, seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ clear teaching that in the Church the great are not to ape the world's patterns of power and rule. The great are to serve. As Bruce Shelley notes in his marvelous Church History in Plain Language, the primacy of Peter as leader of the church is difficult to glean from Matthew 16 when just a few verses later Jesus rebukes Peter, calling him "Satan." Peter denied the Lord at his trial and even after the filling of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2, the Apostle Paul rebuked him for being a poor example.Another reason to question the primacy of Peter and the apostolic succession of the Popes is to ask, where in the Bible does Jesus commission Peter to a role as bishop of Rome? While Peter certainly went to Rome, there's nothing to suggest he was ever the head of the church there. He was martyred and buried, but that's a far cry from his ever being a bishop of the Roman fellowship.From a simple historical perspective, until the time of Damasus & Leo, while Rome’s bishop was certainly regarded as A major leader, he wasn’t considered THE Leader of the entire Church. The evidence makes it clear both Damasus & Leo were astute enough to see that with Christianity’s Imperial acceptance power would aggregate in fewer & fewer locations. Those locations were Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, & Rome. Rome was the only City in the West, the other 3 were in the East. And with the political center now being in the East, Rome knew it faced the very real threat of becoming irrelevant, as the Church at Jerusalem already had. So the Bishops of Rome played their trump card; they were the one church to whom the names Peter & Paul had some historical connection.In our next episode, we’ll see how Leo the Great helped fix Rome as the center of the Faith.
Jan 01, 1970
22-Leo
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This Episode is simply titled “Leo”While there’d been several bishops of the church at Rome who’d been capable leaders and under their guidance had established Rome as the premier church, if not the whole Christian world, at least in the western portion of the now declining Roman Empire, it can be fairly said that for most of the earlier bishops the person was eclipsed by the office. Bishops Callistus, Stephen, Damasus, & Innocent I all added significant authority to the Roman See. But it was Leo the Great who saw the Bishop of Rome become what we might call the first real Pope. It was with Leo I that the idea of the Papacy became real.While previous bishops at Rome had certainly been theologically astute, as befitted their office, Leo can be classed as a first-rate theologian, arguably the greatest theologian of any who came before in that office and for a century & a half after. He battled the Manichæan, Priscillianist, & Pelagian heresies, and won enduring fame for helping to finish codifying the orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ.Leo’s early life is shrouded in mystery. The chief source of information about him comes from his letters & they don’t commence till AD 442 when he was already an adult. Leo was mostly likely a Roman who became a deacon, then a legate under Bishops Celestine I & Sixtus III. A legate is a special messenger, sent by a bishop, to carry messages to civil rulers. Think à Church ambassador to the king. Leo was so astute in his task as a representative for the Church, Emperor Valentinian III sent him on a special mission to settle a dispute in Gaul between a couple feuding generals. This was at a time of great turmoil in the north due to the barbarian threat. While Leo was on this peace-making mission, Bishop Sixtus died and Leo was chosen to take his seat. He served for the next 21 years.Leo describes his feelings at the assumption of his office in a sermon;“Lord, I have heard your voice calling me, and I was afraid: I considered the work which was enjoined on me, and I trembled. For what proportion is there between the burden assigned to me and my weakness, this elevation and my nothingness? What is more to be feared than exaltation without merit, the exercise of the most holy functions being entrusted to one who is buried in sin? Oh, you have laid upon me this heavy burden, bear it with me, I beseech you be you my guide and my support.”Leo’s papacy faced 2 immense problems.First:  The emergence of heresies threatened the integrity of the Church; and àSecond: The political disintegration of the Western Roman Empire.Leo offered 3 tactics in dealing with these difficulties à1)    Actions to provide essential church doctrine with a clear, orthodox position;2)    Efforts to unify church government under a sovereign papacy; and3)   Attempts at peace by negotiating with the Empire’s enemies.On the doctrinal front, Leo theologically refuted the era’s main heresies & utilized imperial criminal prosecution & banishment to get rid of unrepentant heretics. Leo’s finest achievement was probably the formation and acceptance of an orthodox Christological dogma.Though Arianism was in retreat, the 5th C battled with what’s called Eutychianism. We’re going to get into this in more depth in a soon coming episode so for now let me just say that Eutychianism was one of the 4th & 5th Cs’ attempts to understand the nature of Jesus. Was He God, Man or both? And if both, how do the 2 nature relate to each other? Eutychianism said Jesus had 2 natures, human & divine, but that the divine had completely dominated the human, like a drop of vinegar is overwhelmed by the sea. Later it will come to be known by a label you may have heard = Monophysitism.Leo’s manner of dealing with this aberrant teaching was brilliant. Rather than rely on suppression, he brought it’s main advocate, Eutychus, to Rome for lengthy discussions and, after painstaking research & deliberation, issued a carefully written letter, the famous Tome of Leo. It set forth a clear exposition of Christ’s 2 natures in 1 person & became the basis in 451 for the Council of Chalcedon’s enduring formulation of Christological doctrine.This alone would mark Leo as worthy of the honorific “Great” but he did more, much more. He rescued the city of Rome from destruction, not once, but twice! When Attila & his Huns, known as the “Scourge of God,” destroyed the Italian city of Aquileia in 452 & everyone knew Rome was next on the barbarian’s hit list, Leo, with a couple companions, travelled north, entered the hostile camp, and persuaded Attila to leave off sacking the City. Think of it; a bishop’s simple word accomplished what the waning might of the once mighty Rome could not, convince the barbarian hordes to go home.Then, 3 yrs later when the Vandal king Genseric was poised to do what Attila had been deflected from, Leo was able to obtained a promise the Vandals would relieve the city of its wealth but not burn it or slay its people. The sacking lasted for 2 wks – but when the looters finally left, the city still stood and its citizenry, though badly shaken were still alive; and eternally grateful for Leo’s intervention.He died in 461, and was buried in the Church of St. Peter.The literary works of Leo consist of nearly a hundred sermons and over 170 letters. His collection of sermons is the first we have from a Roman bishop. He declared preaching to be his sacred duty. His sermons were short and simple.Leo was a man of extraordinary activity. He took a leading part in all the affairs of the Church. While his private life is unknown, there’s not a hint of anything that would give us cause to think he was anything other than pure in both motive & morals. His zeal, time & strength were all devoted to the interests of the Faith. If Leo saw the Faith primarily through the lens of the life & outreach of the Church at Rome, we ought to attribute that to his conviction Rome was meant by God to be THE Home Base for the Church; its headquarters.As Church historian Philip Schaff said, Leo was animated by an unwavering conviction God had committed to him, as the successor of Peter, the care of the whole Church. He anticipated all the dogmatic arguments by which the power of the papacy was later established. Leo made the case that the rock on which the Church is built, mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 16, meant Peter and his confession of faith, that set the cornerstone for THE Faith. Leo claimed that while Christ himself is in the highest sense the Rock and Foundation of the Church, His authority was transferred primarily to Peter. To Peter specifically, Christ entrusted the apostolic keys of the Kingdom. Also, Jesus’ prayer that Peter be strengthened so he might strengthen others established Peter’s role as leader among the Apostles. Jesus’ post-resurrection affirmation of Peter’s call, “Feed my sheep,” makes Peter the pastor and prince of the Church Entire, through whom Christ exercises His universal dominion on Earth.But Leo went further, He said Peter’s primacy wasn’t limited to the apostolic age; it endured in those subsequent bishops of Rome to whom Peter passed the authority Jesus endowed him with. Leo asserted only Rome could serve as the center of the Church because it was both a political & religious center. Sure, Constantinople was political headquarters but it lacked Rome’s spiritual ancestry. Alexandria & Antioch were religious, but not political centers. Only Rome provided a sufficient political and spiritual weight to be the center of the Earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God.While Leo made much of Rome’s place as premier among the churches, he himself remained humble. This personal humility was offset by his determination others would honor his office as though he were indeed a modern Peter. Each year a special celebration was called to commemorate his ascension to Peter’s seat. He took such confusing titles as, “Servant of the servants of God,” “vicar of Christ,” and even “God upon earth.”As an aside, if you’ve read my bio on the sanctorum.us site, you know I’m a non-denominational, Evangelical, follower of Jesus. As I’ve shared in a previous podcast, it’s been interesting reading reviews by listeners that I’m obviously è Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed, Pentecostal, & a few other flavors of the faith. I guess people mistake what my personal view is because I’m trying, albeit haltingly, to treat the material in as fair & unbiased a fashion as possible. So, I suspect here’s what’s happening in a lot of listeners minds right now after sharing Leo the Great’s apologetic for the primacy of Peter; they’re wondering if I’ve gone RC!Let me respond to that by sharing this . . .While Leo did make a good case for the Bishop at Rome being the spiritual successor to Peter, what about the fact that Peter himself passes over his primacy in silence. In his NT letters he expressly warned against hierarchical assumptions while Leo used every opportunity to affirm his authority. In Antioch, when Peter played the role of hypocrite, he meekly submitted to the junior apostle Paul’s rebuke. Leo, on the other hand, declared any resistance to his authority as an impious pride and sure way to hell. Under Leo, obedience to the pope was a condition to salvation. He claimed anyone not in harmony with Rome’s See as the head of the body, from which all gifts of grace descended, was in fact not IN The Church, and so had no part in grace or the Body of Chrsit.Schaff wrote,This is the fearful but legitimate logic of the papal principle, which confines the kingdom of God to the narrow lines of a particular organization, and makes the universal spiritual reign of Christ dependent on a temporal form and a human organ.Another important point: Crucial to the idea that the Bishop of Rome was & is the spiritual heir to Peter’s apostolic authority is the assumption Peter founded & led the Church at Rome. There’s simply not a shred of evidence for that. Sure, Peter went to Rome, but besides being buried there, there’s no evidence he ever functioned as the leader of fellowship there. The assumption that he must have been because he was an Apostle would be like assuming if Billy Graham visited your city and attended your church for a few weeks, he was THE pastor – and later pastors could then claim they operated in the authority & ministry of Billy Graham.In carrying his idea of the Papacy into effect, Leo displayed a cunning diplomacy & consistency that characterized some of the popes of the Middle Ages. Certainly, the circumstances of the times were in his favor. This was the era of the fall of the Western Empire. The East was being torn apart by doctrinal controversies we’ll look at in a later episode. Africa was over-run by barbarians. The West was without political leadership, and there were no strong church leaders of the flavor of an Athanasius or Jerome to lead.Leo took advantage of the Arian Vandals rampaging across North African, giving rise to the word that memorializes their career – Vandal, to write the bishops there in the tone of an over-shepherd. They eagerly submitted to his authority in AD 443. He banished the last of the heretical Manichæans & Pelagians from Italy. Then in 444 Leo looked Eastward & began affirming Bishops to key posts, increasingly encroaching on territory that had been under the purview of Constantinople, Alexandria & Antioch. But Leo reserved to himself a right of appeal by lower bishops in important cases; things which ought to be decided by the pope according to divine revelation.We’ll learn a little more about Pope Leo I, called Leo the Great in future episodes as he played a key role in the Church life of the 5th C.As we end this episode, I want to again invite you to stop by the sanctorum.us website for more info about the podcast, and to visit the Facebook page to give us a like. Do a search for Communio Sanctorum – History of the Christian Church. Leave a comment and tell us where you live. It’s been fun seeing all the places our subscribers hail from.Till next time . . .
Jan 01, 1970
23-Who Do You Say He Is?
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This episode is titled “Who Do You Say He Is?”We begin this episode by reading from the Chalcedonian Creed of AD 451, the portion devoted to the orthodox view of Christ.We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.Compare that to the simple words of the Apostles Creed quoted by many Christians from memory 300 years before.I believe in . . . Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.Quite a difference. What caused the Church to draw such exacting language regarding who Jesus was between the early 2nd & mid 5th Cs? That’s the subject of this and the next episode. Along the way, we’ll see of interesting developments in the Church and learn of some colorful characters.In the 16th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we read of a time near Caesarea Philippi in Galilee when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people think I am?” After hearing what the popular talk was, Jesus asked them “Who do YOU say I am?” That set the stage for Peter to confess his faith in Jesus as Messiah.We might think Jesus’ affirmation of Peter’s reply would put an end to the controversy. It was only the beginning. That controversy raged over the next 500 yrs as Church leaders wrestled with HOW to understand Jesus.We’ve already touched on this subject in previous episodes. I’ve mentioned we’d return to deal with it specifically in a future episode. This is it; and here’s why we need to slow down a bit and take our time reviewing the history of the controversy over how to understand Who Jesus was. We need to camp here for a bit because this issue consumed a good amount of the Church’s intellectual energy during the 4th & 5th Cs.Today, we accept the orthodox view of the Trinity & the Nature of Jesus as God and Man readily; not realizing the agony the Early Church Fathers endured while they labored over precisely HOW to put into just the right words what Christians believe. One theologian said Theology is the fine art of making distinctions. Nowhere is that more clear than here; in our examination of how orthodox theologians described a Christ.The first great Ecumenical Council was held at Nicaea in 325 at the urging of the Emperor Constantine. Some 300 bishops representing the entire Christian world attended to hammer out their response to Arianism; the idea that Jesus was human, but not divine. As the Council dragged on, Constantine, itching to get back to the business of running the Empire, pressed the bishops to adopt a Statement that affirmed Jesus was both God & man.  But many of the bishops left Nicaea discontented with the wording of the Nicaean Creed. They felt it was imprecise. It failed to capture the full truth of Who Jesus is. This lack of support for the Nicaean Creed opened the doors for many of the later controversies that would wrack the Church. The Council of Chalcedon 125 yrs later tightened up the language on Nicaea but didn’t fundamentally alter the Creed. Let’s take a look at the time between Nicaea & Chalcedon . . .Sometimes, in an attempt to bring clarity to a complex situation, we over-simplify. I run the risk of doing that here. But for the sake of brevity, I beg the listeners’ indulgence as I chart the path from 325 to 451.Following Nicaea, with the affirmation that Jesus is both God & Man, the Church had to first harmonize that with the Biblical reality there’s ONE God, not Two. And wait, someone asked, what about the Holy Spirit; doesn’t the Bible says He’s also God? The classic, orthodox statement of the Trinity, that God is 1 in substance or essence, but 3 in persons wasn’t something everyone immediately agreed to. It wasn’t like at the Council of Nicaea they took a vote and agreed Jesus is both deity & humanity. Then someone raised their hand & said, “Isn’t there just one God?”Yes. à Well, how do we describe God now? They waited in silence for 14 seconds, then someone said, “How about this: We’ll say God is one in substance & 3 in person.” They all smiled & nodded, slapped that guy on the back and said, “Good one. There it is; the Trinity! Our work here is done. Let’s go for pizza. I get shotgun.”No; it took a while to get the wording right. What made it difficult is that they were working in 2 languages, Greek & Latin. A formulation that seemed to work in Greek was hard to bring over into Latin, and vice versa.It took the work of the Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great of Caesarea, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their close friend Gregory of Nazianzus who worked out the wording that satisfied most of the bishops and framed the classic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. The Council of Constantinople was called in 381 to make this Trinitarian formulation official. This was just a year after Emperor Theodosius I declared Christianity the official State religion.So, with that piece of important theological business out of the way, they moved on to the next topic. And this is where it gets messy.If Jesus is both God & Man – how are we to understand that? Does He have 2 natures, or does 1 of the natures trump the other? Or is there a 3rd way: Did the human & divine natures fuse into a new, hybrid nature? And if Jesus IS a hybrid, do Christians get to drive in the chariot-pool lane?Lots of different camps put forward their scheme and fought hard to see their doctrinal formulation become the official position of the Church.The Council of Ephesus in 431 came out with a position that elevated 1 nature, while the Council at Chalcedon 20 years later altered that by affirming Jesus’s 2 natures.It became obvious to church leaders after the Council at Constantinople that the turmoil they saved in solving the problem of the Trinity was just added to the Christological problem that rose next.To understand how this issue was settled, we need to take a look at the rivalry that grew between 2 churches; a rivalry sparked in large part by Christianity being liberated from persecution and elevated to the darling of the State. Those 2 churches were Alexandria & Antioch.The debate over how to understand the Person & Natures of Jesus was staged in the Eastern Empire. The West wasn’t as involved because Rome simply did not see as much challenge on its belief in the dual nature of Christ. So while it wasn’t the scene of so much theological turmoil, it did play an important part in how the controversy was settled.Political rivalry between Alexandria and Antioch had been going on for some time. Being in the East, both churches vied with each other to provide Bishops to Constantinople, the New Rome & political center of the Eastern Empire. Getting one of their Bishops promoted to the capital meant bragging rights and could result in additional power & prestige for the Alexandrian or Antiochan sees. Two bishops from Antioch that were drafted by Constantinople were John Chrysostom, who we’ve already looked at, and Nestorius, who we will.In addition to their ecclesiastical jealousy, was the very different cultural and theological traditions in play at Antioch and Alexandria. The church at Antioch had a closer tie to the Jewish roots in Jerusalem. It had a stronger tradition of rational inquiry. It was at Antioch that church leaders had dug deeply in the OT to find many of the great types that pointed to Jesus. They studied Scripture through the lens of literal interpretation, rejoicing that God became Man in the Person of Jesus.The Church at Alexandria was different. It grew up under the influence of philosophical Judaism as seen in Philo and passed on to scholars like Clement & Origen. The Alexandrians had a tradition of contemplative piety, as we might expect from a church near the Egyptian desert where the hermits got their start and had been such stand-out heroes of the Faith for generations.  In interpreting Scripture, the Church at Alexandria developed and was devoted to the allegorical method. This saw the truest meaning of Scripture to be the spiritual realities hidden in its literal, historical words.While the leaders at Antioch saw Jesus as God come as man, at Alexandria they agreed Jesus was a man, but His divine nature utterly overwhelmed the human so that He effective had only 1 operative nature; the divine.The differences between Antioch and Alexandria had already surfaced in their different approaches in refuting the error of Arianism. That they never reconciled them set the stage for all the acrimony to ensue over the debate on Jesus. The Arians made much of the NT passages that seemed to suggest Jesus’ subordination to God the Father. They liked to quote John 14: 28, where Jesus said, “the Father is greater than I,” & Matt 24: 36, “No one knows . . . not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In reply to the Arians, the theologians at Alexandria argued such passages were properly applied to the Son of God in his incarnation. The theologians of Antioch took a different route, referring such passages not to Jesus divinity, but to his humanity.  That may seem like splitting semantic hairs; I say poh-tay-toe; You say poh–tah-toe – but our friends in Antioch and Alexandria thought it a big deal and major difference. Really, both approaches provided a defense of the Nicene theology, a refutation of Arianism, and a framework for interpreting the Gospels.This is where I need to simplify lest we get into the minutiae of theologians with too much parchment, ink and time. In summary, the Alexandrian approach recognized Jesus as God but tended to diminish His humanity. The Antiochan approach readily embraced Jesus’ humanity but had a hard time explaining how His human and divine natures related to each other.Let me try to make this more practical; maybe something you’ve grappled with. Have you ever pondered how Jesus could be tempted in all points as we are, as it says in Heb 4:15, yet as God, it was impossible for Him to sin? Sometimes you’ll hear it put this way; Was Jesus REALLY tempted, since as God, He COULDN’T sin? As a man, he had the potential to sin. But as God, He couldn’t. So was His experience of humanity genuine? If you can relate to the quandary those questions pose, you get an idea of the challenge the Antiochans faced.The difference between Antioch and Alexandria on how to understand Jesus was why Arianism & the Nicene Creed kept coming up in the Christological controversies dominating the 4th & 5th Centuries. Each side thought the other was selling out to Arianism.The battle between the 2 churches came to a head in the 5th C in the war that took place between 2 men; Bishop Cyril of Alexandria and Bishop Nestorius of Antioch who became Bishop of Constantinople.But that’s the subject for our next episode.
Jan 01, 1970
24-Can’t We All Just Get Along?
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The title of this episode is, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”In our last episode, we began our look at how the Church of the 4th & 5th Cs attempted to describe the Incarnation. Once the Council of Nicaea affirmed Jesus’ deity, along with His humanity, Church leaders were left with the task of finding just the right words to describe WHO Jesus was. If He was both God & Man as The Nicaean Creed said, how did these two natures relate to one another?We looked at how the churches at Alexandria & Antioch differed in their approaches to understanding & teaching the Bible. Though Alexandria was recognized as a center of scholarship, the church at Antioch kept producing church leaders who were drafted to fill the role of lead bishop at Constantinople, the political center of the Eastern Empire. While Rome was the undisputed lead church in the West, Alexandria, Antioch & Constantinople vied with each other over who would take the lead in the East. But the real contest was between Alexandria in Egypt & Antioch in Syria.The contest between the two cities & their churches became clear during the time of John Chrysostom from Antioch & Theophilus, lead bishop at Alexandria. Because of John’s reputation as a premier preacher, he was drafted to become Bishop at Constantinople. But John’s criticisms of the decadence of the wealthy, along with his refusal to tone down his chastisement of the Empress, caused him to fall out of favor. I guess you can be a great preacher, just so long as you don’t turn your skill against people in power. Theophilus was jealous of Chrysostom’s promotion from Antioch to the capital and used the political disfavor growing against him to call a synod at which John was disposed from office as Patriarch of Constantinople.That was like Round 1 of the sparring match between Alexandria and Antioch. Round 2 and the deciding round came next in the contest between 2 men; Cyril & Nestorius.Cyril was Theophilus’ nephew & attended his uncle at the Synod of the Oak at which Chrysostom was condemned. Cyril learned his lessons well and applied them with even greater ferocity in taking down his opponent, Nestorius.Before we move on with these 2, I need to back-track some & bore the bejeebers out of you for a bit.Warning: Long, hard to pronounce, utterly forgettable word Alert.Remember è The big theological issue at the forefront of everyone’s mind during this time was how to understand Jesus.Okay, we got it: àThe Nicaean Creed’s been accepted as basic Christian doctrine.The Cappadocian Fathers have given us the right formula for understanding the Trinity.There’s 1 God in 3 persons; Father, Son & Holy Spirit.Now, on to the next thing: Jesus is God and Man. How does that work? Is He 2 persons or 1? Does He have 1 nature or 2? And if 2, how do those natures relate to one another?A couple ideas were floated to resolve the issue but came up short; Apollinarianism and Eutychianism.Apollinaris of Laodicea lived in the 4th C.  A defender of the Nicene Creed, he said in Jesus the divine Logos replaced His human soul. Jesus had a human body in which dwelled a divine spirit. Our longtime friend Athanasius led the synod of Alexandria in 362 to condemn this view but didn’t specifically name Apollinaris. 20 Yrs later, the Council of Constantinople did just that. Gregory of Nazianzus supplied the decisive argument against Apollinarianism saying, “What was not assumed was not healed” meaning, for the entire of body, soul, and spirit of a person to be saved, Jesus Christ must have taken on a complete human nature.Eutyches was a, how to describe him; elderly-elder, a senior leader, an aged-monk in Constantinople who advocated one nature for Jesus. Eutychianism said that while in the Incarnation Jesus was both God & man, His divine nature totally overwhelmed his human nature, like a drop of vinegar is lost in the sea.Those who maintained the dual-nature of Jesus as wholly God and wholly Man are called dyophysites.  Those advocating a single-nature are called Monophysites.What happened between Cyril & Nestorius is this . . .Nestorius was an elder and head of a monastery in Antioch when the emperor Theodosius II chose him to be Bishop of Constantinople in 428.Now, what I’m about to say some will find hard to swallow, but while Nestorius’s name became associated with one of the major heresies to split the church, the error he’s accused of he most likely wasn’t guilty of. What Nestorius was guilty of was being a jerk. His story is typical for several of the men who were picked to lead the church at Constantinople during the 4th through 7th Cs; effective preachers but lousy administrators & seriously lacking in people skills. Look, if you’re going to be pegged to lead the Church at the Political center of the Empire, you better be a savvy political operator, as well as a man of moral & ethical excellence. A heavy dose of tact ought to have been a pre-requisite. But guys kept getting selected who came to the Capital on a campaign to clean house. And many of them seem to have thought subtlety was the devil’s tool.As soon as Nestorius arrived in Constantinople, he started a harsh campaign against heretics, meaning anyone with whom he disagreed. It wouldn’t take long before his enemies accused him of the very thing he accused others of. But in their case, their accusations were born of jealousy.Where they deiced to take offense was when Nestorius balked at the use of the word Theotokos. The word means God-bearer, and was used by the church at Alexandria for the mother of Jesus. While the Alexandrians said they rejected Apollinarianism, they, in fact, emphasized the divine nature of Jesus, saying it overwhelmed His human nature. The Alexandrian bishop, Cyril, was once again jealous of the Antiochan Nestorius’ selection as bishop for the Capital. As his uncle Theophilus had taken advantage of Chrysostom’s disfavor to get him deposed, Cyril laid plans for removing the tactless & increasingly unpopular Nestorius. The battle over the word Theotokos became the flashpoint of controversy, the crack Cyril needed to pry Nestorius from his position.To supporters of the Alexandrian theology, Theotokos seemed entirely appropriate for Mary. They said she DID bear God when Jesus took flesh in her womb. And to deny it was to deny the deity of Christ!Nestorius and his many supporters were concerned the title “Theotokos” made Mary a goddess. Nestorius maintained that Mary was the mother of the man Who was united with the divine Logos, and nothing should be said that might imply she was the “Mother à of God.” Nestorius preferred the title Christokos; Mary was the Christ-bearer. But he lacked a vocabulary and the theological sophistication to relate the divine and human natures of Jesus in a convincing way.Cyril, on the other hand, argued convincingly for his position from the Scriptures. In 429, Cyril defended the term Theotokos. His key text was John 1: 14, “The Word became flesh.” I’d love to launch into a detailed description of the nuanced debate between Cyril and Nestorius over the nature of Christ but it would leave most, including myself, no more clued in than we are now.Suffice it to say, Nestorius maintained the dual-nature-in-the-one-person of Christ while Cyril stuck to the traditional Alexandrian line and said while Jesus was technically 2 natures, human & divine, the divine overwhelmed the human so that He effectively operated as God in a physical body.Where this came down to a heated debate was over the question of whether or not Jesus really suffered in His passion. Nestorius said that the MAN Jesus suffered but not His divine nature, while Cyril said the divine nature did indeed suffer.When the Roman Bishop Celestine learned of the dispute between Cyril and Nestorius, he selected a churchman named John Cassian to respond to Nestorius. He did so in his work titled On the Incarnation in 430. Cassian sided with Cyril but wanted to bring Nestorius back into harmony. Setting aside Cassian’s hope to bring Nestorius into his conception of orthodoxy, Celestine entered a union with Cyril against Nestorius and the church at Antioch he’d come from. A synod at Rome in 430 condemned Nestorius, and Celestine asked Cyril to conduct proceedings against him.Cyril condemned Nestorius at a Synod in Alexandria and sent him a notice with a cover letter listing 12 anathemas against Nestorius and anyone else who disagreed with the Alexandrian position. For example à “If anyone does not confess Emmanuel to be very God, and does not acknowledge the Holy Virgin to be Theotokos, for she brought forth after the flesh the Word of God become flesh, let him be anathema.”Receiving the letter from Cyril, Nestorius humbly resigned and left for a quiet retirement at Leisure Village in Illyrium. à Uh, not quite. True to form, Nestorius ignored the Synod’s verdict.Emperor Theodosius II called a general council to meet at Ephesus in 431. This Council is sometimes called the Robber’s Synod because it turned into a bloody romp by Cyril’s supporters. As the bishops gathered in Ephesus, it quickly became evident the Council was far more concerned with politics than theology. This wasn’t going to be a sedate debate over texts, words & grammar. It was going to be a physical contest. Let’s settle doctrinal disputes with clubs instead of books.Cyril and his posse of club-wielding Egyptian monks, and I use the word posse purposefully, had the support of the Ephesian bishop, Memnon, along with the majority of the bishops from Asia. The council began on June 22, 431, with 153 bishops present. 40 more later gave their assent to the findings. Cyril presided. Nestorius was ordered to attend but knew it was a rigged affair and refused to show. He was deposed and excommunicated. Ephesus rejoiced.On June 26, John, bishop of Antioch, along with the Syrian bishops, all of whom had been delayed, finally arrived. John held a rival council consisting of 43 bishops and the Emperor’s representative. They declared Cyril & Memnon deposed. Further sessions of rival councils added to the number of excommunications.A report reached Theodosius II, and representatives of both sides pled their case. Theodosius’s first instinct was to confirm the depositions of Cyril, Memnon, & Nestorius. Be done with the lot of them. But a lavish gift from Cyril persuaded the Emperor to dissolve the Council and send Nestorius into exile. A new bishop for Constantinople was consecrated. Cyril returned in triumph to Alexandria.From a historical perspective, it’s what happened AFTER the Council of Ephesus that was far more important. John of Antioch sent a representative to Alexandria with a compromise creed. This asserted the duality of natures, in contrast to Cyril’s formulation, but accepted the Theotokos, in contrast to Nestorius. This compromise anticipated decisions to be reached at the next general church Council at Chalcedon.Cyril agreed to the creed and a reunion of the churches took place in 433. Since then, historians have asked if Cyril was being a statesman in agreeing to the compromise or did he just cynically accept it because he’d achieved his real purpose; getting rid of Nestorius. Either way, the real loser was Nestorius. Theodosius had his books burned, and many who agreed with Nestorius’s theology dropped their support.Those who represented his theological emphases continued to carry on their work in eastern Syria, becoming what History calls the Church of the East, a movement of the Gospel we’ll soon see that reached all the way to the Pacific Ocean.While in exile, Nestorius wrote a book that set forth the story of his life and defended his position. Modern reviews of Nestorius find him to be more of a schismatic in temperament than a heretic. He denied the heresy of which he was accused, that the human Jesus and the divine Christ were 2 different persons.20 yrs after the Council of Ephesus, which many regarded as a grave mistake, another was called at Chalcedon. Nestorius’ teaching was declared heretical and he was officially deposed. Though already in exile, he was now banished by an act of the Church rather than Emperor. In one of those odd facts of history, though what Nestorius taught about Christ was declaimed, it turned out to be the position adopted by the Creed that came out of the Council of Chalcedon. When word reached Nestorius in exile of the Council’s finding he said they’d only ratified what he’d always believed & taught.There’s much to learn from this story of conflict and resolution.First, many of the doctrines we take for granted as being part and parcel of the orthodox Christian faith, came about through great struggle and debate of some of the most brilliant minds history’s known. Sometimes, those ideas were popular and ruled because they were expedient. But mere politics can’t sustain a false idea. There are always faithful men and women who love truth because it’s true, not because it will gain them power, influence or advantage. They may suffer at the hands of the corrupt for a season, but they always prevail in the end.We ought to be thankful, not only to God for giving us the truth in His Word and the Spirit to understand it, but also to the people who at great cost were willing to hazard themselves to make sure Truth prevailed over error.Second, Too often, people look back on the “Early Church” and assume it was a wonderful time of sweet harmony. Life was simple, everyone agreed and no one ever argued. Hardly!Good grief. Have they read the Bible? The disciples were forever arguing over who was greatest. Paul & Barnabas had a falling out over John Mark. Paul had to get in Peter’s face when he played the hypocrite.Yes, for sure, in Acts we read about a brief period of time when the love of the fellowship was so outstanding it shook the people of Jerusalem to the core and resulted in many coming to faith. But that was only a brief moment that soon passed.God wants His people to be in unity. True unity, under the truth of the Gospel, is an incredibly powerful proof of our Faith. But the idea that the Early Church was a Golden Age of Unity is a fiction. Philip Jenkins’ book on the battle over the Christology of the 4th & 5th Cs. is titled Jesus Wars.The Church as a whole would be better served today in its pursuit of unity if each local congregation focused its primary efforts on loving and serving one another through the power of the Spirit. It’s inevitable if they excelled at that, they’d begin looking at all churches and believers in the same way, and unity would be real rather than a program with a start & end date or a campaign based on personalities and hype.Hey - come to think of it, that’s what DID bring about that short glorious moment of blissful harmony in Jerusalem among the followers of Jesus – they loved and served one another in the power of the Spirit.
Jan 01, 1970
25-And In the East Part 1
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This episode of Communio Santorum is titled, “And In the East – Part 1.”The 5th C Church Father Jerome wrote, “[Jesus] was present in all places with Thomas in India, with Peter in Rome, with Paul in Illyria, with Titus in Crete, with Andrew in Greece, with each apostle . . . in his own separate region.”So far we’ve been following the track of most western studies of history, both secular & religious, by concentrating on what took place in the West & Roman Empire. Even though we’ve delved briefly into the Eastern Roman Empire, as Lars Brownworth aptly reminds us in his outstanding podcast, 12 Byzantine Emperors, even after the West fell in the 5th Century, the Eastern Empire continued to think of & call itself Roman. It’s later historians who refer to it as the Byzantine Empire.Recently we’ve seen the focus of attention shift to the East with the Christological controversies of the 4th & 5th Cs. In this episode, we’ll stay in the East and follow the track of the expansion of the Faith as it moved Eastward. This is an amazing chapter often neglected in traditional treatments of church history. It’s well captured by Philip Jenkins in his book, The Lost History of Christianity.We start all the way back at the beginning with the apostle Thomas.  He’s linked by pretty solid tradition to the spread of Christianity into the East. In the quote we started with from the early 5th C Church Father Jerome, we learn that the Apostle Thomas carried the Gospel East all the way to India.In the early 4th C, Eusebius also attributed the expansion of the faith in India to Thomas. Though these traditions do face some dispute, there are still so-called ‘Thomas Christians’ in the southern Indian state of Kerala today. They use an Aramaic form of worship that had to have been transported there very early. A tomb & shrine in honor of Thomas at Mylapore is built of bricks used by a Roman trading colony but was abandoned after ad 50. There’s abundant evidence of several Roman trading colonies along the coast of India, with hundreds of 1st C coins & ample evidence of Jewish communities. Jews were known to be a significant part of Roman trade ventures. Their communities were prime stopping places for the efforts of Christian missionaries as they followed the Apostle Paul’s model as described in the Book of Acts.A song commemorating Thomas’ role in bringing the faith to India, wasn’t committed to writing till 1601 but was said to have been passed on in Kerala for 50 generations. Many trading vessels sailed to India in the 1st C when the secret of the monsoon winds was finally discovered, so it’s quite possible Thomas did indeed make the journey.  Once the monsoons were finally figured out, over 100 trade ships a year crossed from the Red Sea to India.Jesus told the disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. While they were slow to catch on to the need to leave Jerusalem, persecution eventually convinced them to get moving. It’s not hard to imagine Thomas considering a voyage to India as a way to literally fulfill the command of Christ. India would have seemed the end of the Earth.Thomas’s work in India began in the northwest region of the country. A 4th C work called The Acts of Thomas says that he led a ruler there named Gundafor to faith. That story was rejected by most scholars & critics until an inscription was discovered in 1890 along with some coins which verify the 20-year reign in the 1st C of a King Gundafor.After planting the church in the North, Thomas traveled by ship to the Malabar Coast in the South. He planted several churches, mainly along the Periyar River.  He preached to all classes of people and had about 17,000 converts from all Indian castes. Stone crosses were erected at the places where churches were founded, and they became centers for pilgrimages. Thomas was careful to appoint local leadership for the churches he founded.He then traveled overland to the Southeast Indian coast & the area around Madras. Another local king and many of his subjects were converted. But the Brahmins, highest of the Indian castes, were concerned the Gospel would undermine a cultural system that was to their advantage, so they convinced the king at Mylapore, to arrest & interrogate him. Thomas was sentenced to death & executed in AD 72. The church in that area then came under persecution and many Christians fled for refuge to Kerala.A hundred years later, according to both Eusebius & Jerome, a theologian from the great school at Alexandria named Pantaenus, traveled to India to “preach Christ to the Brahmins.”[1]Serving to confirm Thomas’ work in India is the writing of Bar-Daisan. At the opening of the 3rd Century, he spoke of entire tribes following Jesus in North India who claimed to have been converted by Thomas.  They had numerous books and relics to prove it. By AD 226 there were bishops of the Church in the East in northwest India, Afghanistan & Baluchistan, with thousands of laymen and clergy engaging in missionary activity. Such a well-established Christian community means the presence of the Faith there for the previous several decades at the least.The first church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, to whom we owe so much of our information about the early Church, attributed to Thomas the spread of the Gospel to the East. As those familiar with the history of the Roman Empire know, the Romans faced continuous grief in the East by one Persian group after another. Their contest with the Parthians & Sassanids is a thing of legend. The buffer zone between the Romans & Persians was called Osrhoene with its capital city of Edessa, located at the border of what today is northern Syria & eastern Turkey. According to Eusebius, Thomas received a request from Abgar, king of Edessa, for healing & responded by sending Thaddaeus, one of the disciples mentioned in Luke 10.[2] Thus, the Gospel took root there. There was a sizeable Jewish community in Edessa from which the Gospel made several converts. Word got back to Israel of the Church community growing in the city & when persecution broke out in the Roman Empire, many refugees made their way East to settle in a place that welcomed them.Edessa became a center of the Syrian-speaking church which began sending missionaries East into Mesopotamia, North into Persia, Central Asia, then even further eastward. The missionary Mari managed to plant a church in the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, which became a center of missionary outreach in its own right.By the late 2nd C, Christianity had spread throughout Media, Persia, Parthia, and Bactria. The 2 dozen bishops who oversaw the region carried out their ministry more as itinerant missionaries than by staying in a single city and church. They were what we refer to as tent-makers; earning their way as merchants & craftsmen as they shared the Faith where ever they went.By AD 280 the churches of Mesopotamia & Persia adopted the title of “Catholic” to acknowledge their unity with the Western church during the last days of persecution by the Roman Emperors. In 424 the Mesopotamian church held a council at the city of Ctesiphon where they elected their first lead bishop to have jurisdiction over the whole Church of the East, including India & Ceylon, known today as Sri Lanka. Ctesiphon was an important point on the East-West trade routes which extended to India, China, Java, & Japan.The shift of ecclesiastical authority was away from Edessa, which in 216 became a tributary of Rome. The establishment of an independent patriarchate contributed to a more favorable attitude by the Persians, who no longer had to fear an alliance with the hated Romans.To the west of Persia was the ancient kingdom of Armenia, which had been a political football between the Persians & Romans for generations. Both the Persians & Romans used Armenia as a place to try out new diplomatic maneuvers with each other. The poor Armenians just wanted to be left alone, but that was not to be, given their location between the two empires. Armenia has the historical distinction of being the first state to embrace Christianity as a national religion, even before the conversion of Constantine the Great in the early 4th C.The one who brought the Gospel to Armenia was a member of the royal family named Gregory, called “the Illuminator.” While still a boy, Gregory’s family was exiled from Armenia to Cappadocia when his father was thought to have been part of a plot to assassinate the King. As a grown man who’d become a Christian, Gregory returned to Armenia where he shared the Faith with King Tiridates who ruled at the dawn of the 4th C. Tiridates was converted & Gregory’s son succeeded him as bishop of the new Armenian church. This son attended the Council of Nicea in 325. Armenian Christianity has remained a distinctive and important brand of the Faith, with 5 million still professing allegiance to the Armenian Church.[3]Though persecution came to an official end in the Roman Empire with Constantine’s Edict of Toleration in 313, it BEGAN for the church in Persia in 340. The primary cause for persecution was political. When Rome became Christian, its old enemy turned anti-Christian. Up to that point, the situation had been reversed. For the first 300 hundred years, it was in the West Christians were persecuted & Persia was a refuge. The Parthians were religiously tolerant while their less tolerant Sassanid successors were too busy fighting Rome to waste time or effort on the Christians among them.But in 315 a letter from Constantine to his Persian counterpart Shapur II  triggered the beginnings of an ominous change in the Persian attitude toward Christians. Constantine believed he was writing to help his fellow believers in Persia but succeeded only in exposing them. He wrote to the young Persian ruler: “I rejoice to hear that the fairest provinces of Persia are adorned with Christians. Since you are so powerful and pious, I commend them to your care, and leave them in your protection.”The schemes & intrigues that had flowed for generations between Rome & the Persians were so intense this letter moved Shapur to become suspicious the Christians were a kind of 5th column, working from inside the Empire to bring the Sassanids down. Any doubts were dispelled 20 years later when Constantine gathered his forces in the East for war. Eusebius says Roman bishops accompanied the army into battle. To make matters worse, in Persia, one of their own preachers predicted Rome would defeat the Sassanids.Little wonder then, when persecution began shortly after, the first accusation brought against Christians was that they aided the enemy. Shapur ordered a double taxation on Christians & held their bishop responsible for collecting it. Shapur knew Christians tended to be poor since so many had come from the West fleeing persecution, so the bishop would be hard-pressed to come up w/the money. But Bishop Simon refused to be intimidated. He declared the tax unjust and said, “I’m no tax collector! I’m a shepherd of the Lord's flock.” Shapur counter-declared the church was in rebellion & the killings began.A 2nd decree ordered the destruction of churches and the execution of clergy who refused to participate in the official Sassanid-sponsored sun-worship. Bishop Simon was seized & brought before Shapur. Offered a huge bribe to capitulate, he refused. The Persians promised if he alone would renounce Christ, the rest of the Christian community wouldn’t be harmed, but that if he refused he’d be condemning all Christians to destruction. When the Christians heard of this, they rose up, protesting en masse that this was shameful. So Bishop Simon & a large number of the clergy were executed.For the next 20 years, Christians were hunted down from one end of Persia to the other. At times it was a general massacre. But more often it was organized elimination of the church’s leaders.Another form of suppression was the search for that part of the Christian community that was most vulnerable to persecution; Persians who’d converted from Zoroastrianism. The faith spread first among non-Persians in the population, especially Jews & Syrians. But by the beginning of the 4th C, Persians in increasing numbers were attracted to the Christian faith. For such converts, church membership often meant the loss of everything - family, property rights, even life.The martyrdom of Bishop Simon and the years of persecution that followed gutted the Persian church of its leadership & organization. As soon as the Christians of Ctesiphon elected a new bishop, he was seized & killed. Adding to the anti-Roman motivation of the government's role in the persecutions was a deep undercurrent of Zoroastrian fanaticism that came as a result of the conversion of so many of their number to Christianity; it was a shocking example of religious envy.Shortly before Shapur II’s death in 379, persecution slackened. It had lasted for 40 years and only ended with his death. When at last the suffering ceased, it’s estimated close to 200,000 Persian Christians had been put to death.[1] Yates, T. (2004). The expansion of Christianity. Lion Histories Series (28–29). Oxford, England: Lion Publishing.[2] Yates, T. (2004). The expansion of Christianity. Lion Histories Series (24). Oxford, England: Lion Publishing.[3] Yates, T. (2004). The expansion of Christianity. Lion Histories Series (25). Oxford, England: Lion Publishing.
Jan 01, 1970
26-And In the East Part 2
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This episode of Communio Santorum is titled, “And In the East – Part 2.”In our last episode, we took a brief look at the Apostle Thomas’ mission to India. Then we considered the spread of the faith into Persia. Further study of the Church in the East has to return to the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th C where Bishop Nestorius was condemned as a heretic.As we’ve seen, the debate about the deity of Christ central to the Council of Nicea in 325, declared Jesus was of the same substance as the Father. It took another hundred years before the deity-denying error of Arianism was finally quashed. But even among orthodox & catholic, Nicean-holding believers, the question was over how to understand the nature of Christ. He’s God – got it! But he’s also human. How are we to understand His dual-nature. It was at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that issue was finally decided. And the Church of the East was deemed to hold a position that was unorthodox.The debate was sophisticated & complex, and not a small part decided more by politics than by concern for theological purity. The loser in the debate was Bishops Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople. To make a complex issue simple, those who emphasized the unity of the 2 natures came to be called the Monophysites = meaning a single nature. They regarded Nestorius as a heretic because he emphasized the 2 natures as distinct; even to the point of saying Nestorius claimed Jesus was 2 PERSONS. That’s NOT what Nestorius said, but it’s what his opponents managed to get all but his closest supporters to believe he said. In fact, when the Council finally issued their creedal statement, Nestorius claimed they only articulated what he’d always taught. Even though the Council of Chalcedon declared Nestorianism heretical, the Church of the East continued to hold on to their view in the dual nature of Christ, in opposition to what they considered the aberrant view of monophysitism.By the dawn of the 6th C, there were 3 main branches of the Christian church:The Church of the West, which looked to Rome & Constantinople for leadership.The Church of Africa, with its great center at Alexandria & an emerging center in Ethiopia;And the Church of the East, with its center in Persia.As we saw last episode, the Church of the East was launched from Edessa at the border between Northern Syria & Eastern Turkey. The theological school there transferred to Nisibis in Eastern Turkey in 471. It was led by the brilliant theologian Narsai. This school had a thousand students who went out from there to lead the churches of the East. Several missionary endeavors were also launched from Nisibis – just as Iona was a sending base for Celtic Christianity in the far northwest. The Eastern Church mounted successful missions among the nomadic people of the Middle East & Central Asia between the mid-5th thru 7th Cs. These included church-planting efforts among the Huns. Abraham of Kaskar who lived during the 6th C did much to plant monastic communities throughout the East.During the first 1200 years, the Church of the East grew both geographically & numerically far more than in the West. The primary reason for this is because in the East, missionary work was largely a movement of the laity. As Europe moved into the Middle Ages with its strict feudal system, travel ground to a standstill, while in the East, trade & commerce grew. This resulted in the movement of increasing numbers of people who carried the Faith with them.Another reason the Church in the East grew was persecution. As we saw last time, before Constantine, the persecutions of the Roman Empire pushed large numbers of believers East. Then, when the Sassanids began the Great Persecution of Christians in Persia, that pushed large numbers of the Faithful south & further East. Following the persecution that came under Shapur II, another far more severe round of persecution broke out in the mid-5th C that saw 10 bishops and 153,000 Christians massacred within a few days.When we think of Arabia, many immediately think of Islam. But Christianity had taken root in the peninsula long before Muhammad came on the scene. In fact, a bishop from Qatar was present at the Council of Nicea in 325!  The Arabian Queen Mawwiyya, whose forces defeated the Romans in 373, insisted on receiving an orthodox bishop before she would make peace. There was mission-outreach to the south-eastern region of Arabia, in what is today Yemen before the birth of Muhammad by both Nestorian & Monophysite missionaries. By the opening of the 6th C, there were dozens of churches all along the Arabian shore of the Persian Gulf.The rise of Islam in the 7th C was to have far-reaching consequences for the Church in the East. The Persian capital at Ctesiphon fell to the Arabs in 637. Since the Church there had become a kind of Rome to the Church of the East, the impact was massive. Muslims were sometimes tolerant of religious minorities but only as communities of the disenfranchised known as dhimmi. They became ghettoes stripped of their vitality. At the same time, the Church of the East was being shredded by Muslim conquests, it was taking one of its biggest steps forward by reaching into China in the mid 7th C.While the Church of the West grew mostly by the work of trained clergy & the missionary monks of Celtic Christianity, in the East, as often as not, it was Christian merchants & craftsmen who advanced the Faith. The Church of the East placed great emphasis on education and literacy. It was generally understood being a follower of Jesus meant an education that included reading, writing & theology. An educated laity meant an abundance of workers capable of spreading the faith – & spread it they did!  Christians often found employment among less advanced people, serving in government offices, & as teachers & secretaries. They helped solve the problem of illiteracy by inventing simplified alphabets based on the Syriac language which framed their own literature & theology.While that was at first a boon, in the end, it proved a hindrance. Those early missionaries failed to understand the principle of contextualization; that the Gospel is super-cultural; it transcends things like language & traditions. Those early missionaries who pressed rapidly into the East assumed that their Syrian-version of the Faith was the ONLY version & tried to convert those they met to that. As a consequence, while a few did accept the faith & learned Syrian-Aramaic, a few generations later, the old religions & languages reasserted themselves and Christianity was either swept away or so assimilated into the culture that it wasn’t really Biblical Christianity any longer.The golden age of early missions in Central Asia was from the end of the 4th C to the latter part of the 9th. Then both Islam & Buddhism came onto the scene.Northeast of Persia, the Church had an early & extensive spread around the Oxus River. By the early 4th C the cities of Merv, Herat & Samarkand had bishops.Once the Faith was established in this region, it spread quickly further east into the basin of the Tarim River, then into the area north of the Tien Shan Mountains & Tibet. It spread along this path because that was the premier caravan route. With so many Christians engaged in trade, it was natural the Gospel was soon planted in the caravan centers.In the 11th C the Faith began to spread among the nomadic peoples of the central Asian regions. These Christians were mostly from the Tartars & Mongol tribes of Keraits, Onguts, Uyghurs, Naimans, and Merkits.It’s not clear exactly when Christianity reached Tibet, but it most likely arrived there by the 6th C. The territory of the ancient Tibetans stretched farther west & north than the present-day nation, & they had extensive contact with the nomadic tribes of Central Asia. A vibrant church existed in Tibet by the 8th C. The patriarch of the Assyrian Church in Mesopotamia, Timothy I, wrote from Baghdad in 782 that the Christian community in Tibet was one of the largest groups under his oversight. He appointed a Tibetan patriarch to oversee the many churches there. The center of the Tibetan church was located at Lhasa and the Church thrived there until the late 13th C when Buddhism swept through the region.An inscription carved into a large boulder at the entrance to the pass at Tangtse, once part of Tibet but now in India, has 3 crosses with some writing indicating the presence of the Christian Faith. The pass was one of the main ancient trade routes between Lhasa and Bactria. The crosses are stylistically from the Church of the East, and one of the words appears to be “Jesus.” Another inscription reads, “In the year 210 came Nosfarn from Samarkand as an emissary to the Khan of Tibet.” That might not seem like a reference to Christianity until you take a closer look at the date. 210! That only makes sense in reference to measuring time since the birth of Christ, which was already a practice in the Church.The aforementioned Timothy I became Patriarch of the Assyrian church about 780. His church was located in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Seleucia, the larger twin to the Persian capital of Ctesiphon. He was 52 & well past the average life expectancy for people of the time. Timothy lived into his 90’s, dying in 823. During his long life, he devoted himself to spiritual conquest as energetically as Alexander the Great had to the military kind.  While Alexander built an earthly empire, Timothy sought to expand the Kingdom of God.At every point, Timothy’s career smashes everything we think we know about the history of Christianity at that time. He alters ideas about the geographical spread of the Faith, its relationship with political power, its cultural influence, & its interaction with other religions. In terms of his prestige & the geographical extent of his authority, Timothy was the most significant Christian leader of his day; far more influential than the pope in Rome or the patriarch in Constantinople. A quarter of the world’s Christians looked to him as both a spiritual & political head.No responsible historian of Christianity would leave out Europe. Omitting Asia from the record is just as unthinkable. We can’t understand Christian history without Asia or Asian history without Christianity. The Church of the East cared little for European developments. Timothy I knew about his European contemporary Charlemagne. The Frankish ruler exchanged diplomatic missions with the Muslim Caliphate, a development of which the leader of the Church in the East would have been apprised.  Timothy also knew Rome had its own leader called the Pope. He was certainly aware of the tension between the Pope & the Patriarch of Constantinople over who was the de-facto leader of the Christian world. Timothy probably thought their squabble silly. Wasn’t it obvious that the Church of the East was heir to the primitive church? If Rome drew its authority from Peter, Mesopotamia looked to Christ himself. After all, Jesus was a descendant of that ancient Mesopotamian Abraham. And wasn’t Mesopotamia the original source of culture & civilization, not to mention the location of the Garden of Eden? It was the East, rather than the West, that first embraced the Gospel. The natural home of Christianity was in Mesopotamia & Points East. According to the geographical wisdom of the time, Seleucia stood at the center of the world’s routes of trade & communication, equally placed between the civilizations that looked respectively to the West & the East.All over the lands of modern-day Iraq & Iran believers built huge & enduring churches. Because of its setting close to the Roman frontier, but far enough beyond to avoid interference—Mesopotamia retained a powerful Christian culture that lasted through the 13th C. Throughout the European Middle Ages the Mesopotamian church was as much a cultural & spiritual Christian headquarters as France or Germany or even that outstanding missionary base of Ireland.Several Mesopotamian cities like Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, & Tikrit were thriving centers of Christianity for centuries after the arrival of Islam. In 800 AD, these churches & the schools attached to them were repositories of the classical scholarship of the Greeks, Romans & Persians that Western Europe would not access for another 400 years!Simply put, there was no “Dark Age” in the Church of the East. From Timothy I’s perspective, the culture & scholarship of the ancient world was never lost. More importantly, the Church of the East countenanced no break between the primitive church that rose in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts and themselves.Consider this: We can easily contrast the Latin-speaking, feudal world of the European Middle Ages with the ancient Middle-Eastern church rooted in a Greek & Aramaic speaking culture. The Medieval Church of Europe saw itself as pretty far removed from the Early Church. Both in language & thought forms, they were culturally distinct & distant.  But in Timothy I’s time, that is, the early 9th C, the Church of the East still spoke Greek & Aramaic. Its members shared the same basic Middle Eastern culture & would continue to do so for centuries. As late as the 13th, they still called themselves “Nazarenes,” a title the first Christians used. They called Jesus “Yeshua.” Clergy were given the title “rabban” meaning teacher or master, related to the Hebrew – “rabbi.”Eastern theologians used the same literary style as the authors of the Jewish Talmud rather than the theological works of Western Europe. As Philip Jenkins says, if we ever wanted to speculate on what the early church might have looked like if it had developed while avoiding its alliance with Roman state power, we have but to look East.Repeatedly, we find Patriarch Timothy I referring to the fact that the Churches of the East used texts that were lost to & forgotten in the West. Because of their close proximity to the setting of so much Jewish and early Christian history, Eastern scholars had abundant access to ancient scriptures & texts. One hint of what was available comes from one of Timothy’s letters.Written in 800, Timothy answered the questions of a Jew in the process of converting to Christianity. This Jew told the Patriarch of the recent finding of a large hoard of ancient manuscripts, both biblical & apocryphal, in a cave near Jericho. The documents had been acquired by Jerusalem’s Jewish community. Without much doubt, this was an early find of what later came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Thank God, this early find didn’t move treasure hunters to ransack the other caves of the area! In any case, as now, scholars were thrilled at the discovery. Timothy responded with all the appropriate questions. He wanted to know what light the find might shed on some passages of Scripture he was curious about. He was eager to discover how the newfound texts compared with the known Hebrew versions of the OT. How did they compare with the Greek Septuagint? Timothy was delighted to hear back that the passages he was concerned about did indeed exist in the ancient manuscripts.Timothy’s questions are impressive when we compare them to what Western Latin scholars would have made of such a find. They had no idea of the issues Timothy raised. They could not even have read the language of the ancient manuscripts. Only a handful of Western scholars would even have known how to hold the manuscripts: for instance—which way was up and how do you read them, from left to right or vice-versa?The Church of the East Timothy I led was devoted to both scholarship & missionary activity. While the Latin Church saw the Atlantic Ocean as a wall blocking expansion to the West, the Church of the East saw Asia as a vast region waiting to be evangelized.The Eastern Church was divided into regions known as Metropolitans. A Metropolitan was like an archbishop, under whom were several bishops, to whom a number of priests & their churches reported. To give you an idea of how vast the church of the East was – Timothy had nineteen metropolitans & eighty-five bishops reporting to him. In the West, England had two archbishops. During Timothy’s tenure as Patriarch, five new metropolitan sees were created near Tehran, in Syria, Turkestan, Armenia, & one on the Caspian Sea. Arabia had at least four bishops & Timothy ordained a new one in Yemen.Timothy I was to the Church of the East what Gregory I had been to the Western Church in terms of missionary zeal. He commissioned monks to carry the faith from the Caspian Sea all the way to China. He reported the conversion of the great Turkish king, called the khagan, who ruled most of central Asia.In our next episode, we’ll take a look at the Gospel's reach into the Far East.I want to invite you once again to visit us on Facebook – just do a search for The History of the Christian Church, give the page a “like” and leave a comment about where you live.I also want to thank those subscribers who’ve left a review on iTunes for the podcast. Your comments have been so generous & kind. Thanks much to all. More than anything, it’s those reviews on iTunes that help get the word out about the podcast.And last, as I engage this revision of Season 1 of CS, new subscribers will hear the revision, but then may get to episodes from the prior version that haven’t been done yet. So, you may hear an occasional remark that CS doesn’t take donations. We didn’t originally and didn’t need to because I was able to absorb the costs personally. As the podcast has grown, I can’t do that anymore and am now taking donations. Seriously, anything helps. So, if you want to donate, go to the sanctorum.us site and use the secure donate feature. Thanks.
Jan 01, 1970
27-Orthodoxy, with an Eastern Flavor
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This Episode of CS is titled, “Orthodoxy, with an Eastern Flavor.”We need to begin this episode by defining the term “Orthodoxy.”It comes from Greek. Orthos means “straight” & idiomatically means that which is right or true. Doxa is from the verb dokein = to think; doxa is one’s opinion or belief.As it’s most often used, orthodoxy means adherence to accepted norms. In reference to Christianity, it means conforming to the creeds of the early Church; those statements of faith issued by the church councils we’ve looked at in recent podcasts and we have a series on in Season 2.In opposition to orthodoxy is what’s called heterodoxy; other-teaching. Heterodoxy deviates from the Faith defined by the Creeds. Specific instances of heterodoxy, that is - deviant doctrines are called heresy; with those who hold them known as heretics. When heresy causes a group of people to remove themselves from the Communion of Saints so they can form their own distinct community, it’s called a Schism.But there’s another, very different way the word Orthodox is used in Christianity. It’s the name of one of the 4 great branches of the Church; Roman Catholic, Protestant, & Eastern Orthodox. The fourth is that branch of the Faith we’ve been looking at for the last couple episodes – The Nestorian Church, AKA The Church of the East.In the West, we’re familiar with Roman Catholicism & Protestantism. We’re less aware of Eastern Orthodoxy and most people haven’t even heard of the Nestorian Church. Ignorance of Eastern Orthodoxy is tragic considering the Byzantine Empire which was home to the Orthodox Church continued to embody the values & traditions of the Roman Empire until the mid-15th C, a full millennium after the Fall of Rome in AD 476.It’ll be many episodes of CS before we get to the year 1054 when the Great Schism took place between the Eastern & Western churches. But I think it helpful to understand how Eastern Orthodoxy differs from Roman Catholicism so we can stay a little closer to the narrative timeline of how the Church developed in upcoming episodes.One of the ways we can better understand the Eastern Orthodox Church is to quickly summarize the history of Roman Catholicism in Europe during the Middle Ages as a contrast.In the West, the Church, led by the Pope with cardinals & bishops, oversaw the spiritual & religious aspects of European culture. The affiliation between church & state that began with Constantine the Great & continued for the next century & a half was at best a tense arrangement. Sometimes the Pope & Emperor were close; at other times they were at odds & competed for power. Overall, it was an uneasy marriage of the secular & religious. During the Middle Ages, the Church exerted tremendous influence in the secular sphere, & civil rulers either sought to ally themselves with the church, or to break the Church’s grip on power. Realizing how firm that grip was, some civil rulers even sought to infiltrate the ranks of the church to install their own bishops & popes. The Church played the same game & kept spies in many of Europe’s courts. These agents reported to Rome & sought to influence political decisions.The situation was dramatically different in the East where the church & state worked in harmony.  Though foreign to the Western Mind, & especially the Modern Western Mind which considers a great barrier between Church & State, in the ancient Byzantine Empire, Church & State were partners in governance.  They weren’t equivalent, but they worked together to shape policies & provide leadership that allowed the Eastern Empire to not only resist the forces that saw the West collapse, but to maintain the Empire until the 15th C  when it was finally over-run by the Ottoman Turks.In our attempt to understand Eastern Orthodoxy, we’ll look to the description Marshall Shelly provides in his excellent book, Church History in Plain Language.The prime starting point for understanding Orthodoxy isn’t to examine its basic doctrines but rather its use of holy images called icons. Icons are highly stylized portrayals of one or more saints, set against a golden background and a halo around the head. Icons are crucial in understanding Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodox believers enter their church and go first to a wall covered with icons called the iconostasis. This wall separates the sanctuary from the nave. The worshipper kisses the icons before taking his/her place in the congregation. A visitor to an Orthodox home will find an icon in the east corner of the main room. If the guest is him/herself Orthodox, they’ll greet the icon by crossing themselves & bowing. Only then will they greet the host.To the Orthodox, icons are much more than man-made images. They’re manifestations of a divine ideal. They’re considered a window into heaven. In the same way grace is thought to be imparted through the Roman Catholic Mass, grace is thought to flow from heaven to earth thru icons. Protestants can better understand the importance of icons to the Orthodox by considering how important The Bible is to them.  As Scripture is the written revelation of God’s will & truth, so icons are considered as visual representations of truth that have as much if not more to impart by way of revelation to believers. In fact, icons aren’t painted, they are said to be “written,” conveying the idea that they fulfill the same role as Scripture. The Bible is the Scripture in words; icons are scripture in images.As I said, an icon is a highly stylized portrayal of saints or Bible scenes on panels, usually made of wood, most often cypress which has been prepped with cloth & gesso. The background is gold leaf, depicting the glory of the divine realm the image is thought to come from, with bright tempura paint making the figures & decoration. When dry, the panel is covered in varnish. Some ancient icons are amazing pieces of art. Icon artists consider the writing of icons as a spiritual act & prepare by fasting & prayer, after having completed laborious technical training.Strictly speaking, Eastern Orthodox theology says icons are not objects of devotion themselves. They’re thought to be windows into the spiritual realm by which the divine is able to infiltrate & effect the physical.  Though that’s the official doctrinal position on icons, they are kissed & venerated at the beginning & at various points during a service.  Icons aren’t worshipped, they’re venerated; meaning while they aren’t given the worship due God alone, they are esteemed as a medium by which grace is bestowed on worshippers. While this is the technical explanation for the use of icons, watching how worshipers use them and listening to how highly they’re regarded, I’m hard-pressed to see how in a practical sense, there’s any difference between veneration & worship. To many objective observers, the use of icons seems a clear violation of the Second Commandment prohibiting the use of images in the worship of God.Scholars debate when Eastern Christians began to use icons. Some say their use began in the late 6th or 7th C. Before icons became popular, relics played an important part of church life. Body parts of saints as well as items connected to Biblical stories were thought to possess spiritual power.Caution: I know opine à All of this was superstitious silliness, but it framed the thinking of many. Since there were only so many holy relics to go around and each church made claim to one to draw worshippers in, icons began to be used as surrogates for relics. If you can’t have a piece of the cross, maybe a golden painting of Mary holding the baby Jesus would do the trick. If you can’t have Stephen’s index finger, how about his icon? Miraculous stories hovering round relics & icons were legion, each claiming some special connection to God & saints. Relics were said to bring healing. Icons were said to weep tears or bleed. The fragrant scent of incense was said to attend many of the greatest icons. The tales go on & on.The question in all these claims is; where do we find the use of such things in Scripture? By way of reminder, Evangelical Christians determine what defines Biblical as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy by this set of questions –1) Did Jesus teach or model in in the Gospels? 2) Did the Early Church practice it in the book of Acts? 3) Do the NT epistles comment on or regulate it as normative for faith & practice?Using this 3-fold filter, the use of relics & icons isn’t orthodox.The Eastern Orthodox church refers to itself as the Church of the 7 Councils. It claims a superior form of the Christian Faith because it draws its doctrine from what it says are the main Church Councils that defined normal Christian belief. The last Council, Nicaea II in AD 787, came about as a response to the Iconoclast Controversy which we’ll talk about later. The point here is that Nicaea II declared the veneration of icons to be good & proper. What we’re to glean from this is that claiming to be a church that adheres to the creeds of the 7 Councils doesn’t mean much if those councils were just gatherings of men. It isn’t their Creeds that are important & that define the Faith; It’s Scripture alone that has that role. Creedal statements are only so good in as much as they are proper interpretations of the Word of God. But they are not themselves, that Word.Another important distinction between the Eastern & Western Church is how they view the object of salvation.Western Christians tend to understand the relationship between God & man in legal terms. Man is obliged to meet the demands of a just God. Sin, sacrifice, & salvation are all aspects of divine justice. Salvation is cast primarily in terms of justification.In Roman Catholicism, when a believer sins, a priest determines what payment or penance he owes to God. If he’s unable to provide enough penance for some especially heinous sin, then purgatory in the afterlife provides a place where his soul can be expiated.In Protestantism, penance & purgatory are set aside for the Biblical doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ whose work at the cross atones for all sin, for all time. Justification by grace through faith is a keystone of evangelical theology. But here still, the issue is legal & forensic.This legal emphasis is continued in Roman Catholicism’s view of the papacy. According to Rome, Christ commissioned & authorized Peter & his successors, the popes. That legal authority is seen in the symbols of the papacy – a set of keys.Eastern Orthodoxy presents a contrast to this legal emphasis in Roman Catholicism & Protestantism. The core of Orthodox theology is the incarnation of God & how it effects the restoration & re-creation of fallen man. In Orthodoxy, sin isn’t so much a violation of God’s law as it is a denigration of God’s image. Salvation is less an issue of making sinners just before a holy God as it is a restoration of God’s image in them.In Western Christianity, Jesus is seen primarily as the substitutionary sacrifice Who atones for sin & reconciles sinners to God. There’s a great burden of guilt due to the penalty of sin God’s righteous justice must be paid for. His law has been broken; it must be set right. Jesus sets it right by the cross, His resurrection vindicating & validating His sacrifice as sufficient. This is why the crucifix is such a prominent feature in Roman Catholicism & the Cross is central to classic Protestant preaching.In Eastern Christianity, Christ is God incarnate & on mission to restore the image of God in man. And when I say ‘image,’ think “icon”.  This is not to say that in Orthodoxy there’s no mention of justification or that in Romanism there’s no suggestion of restoration. There is. It’s more about where the emphasis lies.In Orthodoxy, the church is far less the formal institution that developed in the West. It’s conceived more as the mystical body of Christ continually renewed by the Holy Spirit. This seems a rather odd claim to Protestants who’ve visited an Eastern Orthodox church, which is filled with images & a formal liturgy that’s quite formal. Compared to the spare architecture & decoration of Protestant churches, Orthodoxy does appear formal, but that formalism doesn’t extend to the hierarchy of the church. There’s no pope in the Eastern Orthodox church. Each of the major branches of Orthodoxy has its own patriarch, but there’s no one over-arching head bishop who oversees the Orthodox Church, as the Pope rules in Rome. The Eastern Church sees itself as a community where men & women are restored to the likeness of God.So, we might ask: When did this fundamental difference between doctrinal emphases begin? That’s difficult to say for certain because the theology grew through a slow, steady progression. But we could say the differences emerged when the Gospel arrived in Corinth, then Rome in the 1st Century. Corinth was Greek; Rome Latin. The Greeks were more philosophical by nature & the Gospel appealed to their ancient quest to perfect man. The Latin Romans were fascinated by all things legal. They were a race of lawyers. A brief look at the history of Rome’s rulers reveals the importance the law played. Whoever could manipulate the courts & Senate ruled.A good way for us to get a handle on the difference between Eastern & Western Christianity as it exists today is this – many Western Christians look back at Constantine’s uniting Church & State as a negative development. At the time, it seemed a blessed relief to a church hammered by 2 centuries of persecution, but looking forward form that ancient place, knowing what’s coming, we lament the corruption that’s in store for the church. So historians of Western Christianity speak of the enslavement of the church by the state.For Eastern Christians, Constantine is regarded as a hero & saint. Orthodoxy considers his reign as the climax of the Roman Empire. According to this view, Rome evolved into a religious monarchy with the emperor as the connecting link between God & the world.  The civil authority of the State was the earthly reflection of divine law while the Church was the religious reflection of Heaven on Earth. In Orthodoxy, the emperor was the place where the civil & religious authorities united. While the church & state were different entities, they weren’t seen as separate spheres. They worked together to govern all of human society.Constantine’s imprint on Eastern Orthodoxy is undeniable. He considered the empire the “bearer” or litter that carried the Church. As Emperor, his role was to lead both church & state. Recognizing the need to mark this new moment in history, Constantine moved his capital to what was called – “New Rome” or what the people called Constantine’s City – Constantinople.  He built the splendid Church of the Holy Apostles to shift the center of Church life to the East. To indicate the importance of the Emperor as God’s agent, in the midst of the 12 symbolic tombs of the apostles in the Church of the Holy Apostles, Constantine built a 13th for himself, making it clear he considered himself foundational to the faith & an equal to the Apostles.This helps us understand why Constantine was so zealous to find a solution to the trouble the heresy of Arianism caused. As Shelly says, Constantine was superstitiously anxious that God would hold him personally responsible for the divisions and quarrels among Christians. If Christianity lacked cohesion and unity, how could it be a proper religion for the empire? So Constantine and the emperors who followed him made every effort to secure agreement about the Christian faith.  Constantine thus adopted the practice already in use by Christians to settle differences on a local basis. He called ALL the leaders of the church to meet & agree upon proper belief & practice. This policy became an integral part of the Eastern Christian tradition. From the first Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325, to the 7th in 787, also held in Nicaea, Emperors called the councils & imperial power presided over them.  That’s why to this day the Eastern Orthodox Church refers to itself as the “The Church of the Seven Councils.”These councils produced the creeds which embody orthodoxy.  That orthodoxy was then enforced in society by the civil authorities. Faith ceased to be a purely spiritual or church matter; it took on a political dimension.[1]While the Byzantine Empire had several notable rulers, the most significant after Constantine was Justinian the Great who ruled from 527-65. Constantine maintained a distinction between being a Christian & the Emperor. Justinian merged the 2 to become a Christian emperor. And this reveals one of the fundamental differences between East & West.In the East, the head of the State & the head of the Church were fused into 1 office.In the West, while there were times when a pope wielded tremendous political power, it was in a covert manner. Civil rulers were also at times given great influence in church affairs but typically sought to use that influence behind the scenes. Church & state were kept in separate spheres in the West. In the East, they merged.Justinian thought himself God’s agent & the executor of his will. The empire was God’s instrument in the world. It bent its knee to Jesus, then rose to enforce its vision & version of Jesus’ will on the Earth.This union of church & state continued on in the years that followed. Even under Communism, the Russian Orthodox Church, a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy, continued to operate through State license.It was under Justinian that the unique Byzantine merger of Roman law with Christian faith & Greek philosophy took place, all of it flavored by a dash of Orientalism. This is seen most clearly in Byzantine art. Whereas the West had gone in for the realism of the Greek Classical Age, the Byzantines submerged the physical world of human experience under the supernal & transcendent realm of the spiritual. Nothing revealed that more than the Church of Holy Wisdom, known today as the Hagia Sophia. Justinian’s church was a remodel of an earlier church constructed by Constantine. Justinian gave the order it was to be the grandest building on the face of the Earth. Constructed in record time, it was indeed an amazing feat. When it was consecrated in 538, Justinian exclaimed he’d outdone Solomon. The dome, the largest to date, was thought to hang by a golden chain from heaven. It was so immense & high above the ground some thought it was a piece of the sky. The mosaics that made up the floor of the church dazzled the eye.Years later when emissaries from the king of Ukraine visited Constantinople on a quest to find a suitable new religion for the Ukrainians, they were overwhelmed by the Hagia Sophia. It may well have been their report back to their monarch that moved him to choose Christianity as the new state religion. The emissaries said when they stood in the Hagia Sophia, they didn’t know if they were in heaven or on earth.It’s important to mention here the Byzantines rarely if ever identified themselves as such; they were Romans. Constantinople was New Rome but they were not part of a new Empire called Byzantine. That’s a label applied by much-later historians. They were Romans and part of the Roman Empire. The Western half of the Empire may have fallen to barbarian invaders, but the Empire lived on in the East & would do so for another thousand years.[1] Shelley, B. L. (1995). Church history in plain language (Updated 2nd ed.) (141–145). Dallas, Tex.: Word Pub.
Jan 01, 1970
28-Justinian Sayin’
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This week’s episode of Communion Sanctorum is titled – “Justinian Sayin’”During the 5th C, while the Western Roman Empire was falling to the Goths, the Eastern Empire centered at Constantinople looked like it would carry on for centuries. Though it identified itself as Roman, historians refer to the Eastern region as the Byzantine Empire & Era. It gets that title from Byzantium, the city’s name before Constantine made it his new capital.During the 5th C, the entire empire, both East & West went into decline. But in the 6th  Century, the Emperor Justinian I lead a major revival of Roman civilization. Reigning for nearly 40 years, Justinian not only brought about a re-flowering of culture in the East, he attempted to reassert control over those lands in the West that had fallen to barbarian control.A diverse picture of Justinian the Great has emerged. For years the standard way to see him was as an intelligent, ambitious, energetic, gregarious leader plagued by an unhealthy dose of vanity. Dare I say it? Why not: He wanted to make Rome Great Again. While that’s been the traditional way of understanding Justinian, more recently, that image has been edited slightly by giving his wife and queen Theodora, a more prominent role in fueling his ambition. Whatever else we might say about this husband and wife team, they were certainly devout in their faith.Justinian's reign was bolstered by the careers of several capable generals who were able to translate his desire to retake the West into reality. The most famous of these generals was Belisarius, a military genius on par with Hannibal, Caesar, & Alexander. During Justinian's reign, portions of Italy, North Africa & Spain were reconquered & put under Byzantine rule.The Western emperors in Rome's long history tended to be more austere in the demonstrations of their authority by keeping their wardrobe simple & the customs related to their rule modest, as befitted the idea of the Augustus as Princeps = meaning 1st  Citizen. Eastern emperors went the other way & eschewed humility in favor of an Oriental, or what we might call “Persian” model of majesty. It began with Constantine who broke with the long-held western tradition of Imperial modesty & arrayed himself as a glorious Eastern Monarch. Following Constantine, Eastern emperors wore elaborate robes, crowns, & festooned their courts with ostentatious symbols of wealth & power.  Encouraged by Theodora, Justinian advanced this movement and made his court a grand showcase. When people appeared before the Emperor, they had to prostrate themselves, as though bowing before a god. The pomp and ceremony of Justinian’s court were quickly duplicated by the church at Constantinople because of the close tie between church & state in the East.It was this ambition for glory that moved Justinian to embark on a massive building campaign. He commissioned the construction of entire towns, roads, bridges, baths, palaces, & a host of churches & monasteries. His enduring legacy was the Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Cathedral of St. Sophia, the main church of Constantinople. The Hagia Sofia was the epitome of a new style of architecture centered on the dome, the largest to be built to that time.  Visitors to the church would stand for hours in awe staring up at the dome, incredulous that such a span could be built by man. Though the rich interior façade of the church has been gutted by years of conflict, the basic structure stands to this day as one of Istanbul’s premier attractions.Justinian was no mean theologian in his own right. As Emperor he wanted to unite the Church under one creed and worked hard to resolve the major dispute of the day; the divide between the Orthodox faith as expressed in the Council of Chalcedon & the Monophysites.By way of review; the Monophysites followed the teachings of Cyril of Alexandria who'd contended with Nestorius over the nature of Christ. Nestorius emphasized the human nature of Jesus, while Cyril emphasized Jesus’ deity. The followers of both took their doctrines too far so that the Nestorians who went East into Persia tended to diminish the deity of Christ, while the Cyrillians who went south into Egypt, elevated Jesus’ deity at the expense of his humanity. They put such an emphasis on his deity they became Monophysites; meaning 1 nature-ites.Justinian tried to reconcile the Orthodox faith centered at Constantinople with the Monophysites based in Egypt by finessing the words used to describe the faith. Even though the Council of Chalcedon had officially ended the dispute, there was still a rift between the Church at Constantinople and that in Egypt.Justinian tried to clarify how to understand the natures of Jesus as God & Human. Did He have 1 nature or 2? And if 2. How did those 2 natures co-exist in the Son of God? Were they separate & distinct or merged into something new? If they were distinct, was one superior to the other? This was the crux of the debate the Council of Chalcedon had struggled with and which both Cyril & Nestorius contended over.Justinian had partial success in getting moderate Monophysites to agree with his theology. He was helped by the work of a monk named Leo of Byzantium. Leo proposed that in Christ, his 2 natures were so co-mingled & united so that they formed one nature, he identified as the Logos.In 544 Emperor Justinian issued an edict condemning some pro-Nestorian writings. Many Western bishops thought the edict a scandalous refutation of the Chalcedonian Creed. They assumed Justinian had come out as a Monophysite. Pope Vigilius condemned the edict and broke off fellowship with the Patriarch of Constantinople because he supported the Emperor’s edict. Shortly thereafter, when Pope Vigilius visited Constantinople, he did an abrupt about-face, adding his own censure to the condemned pro-Nestorian writings. Then in 550, after several bishops criticized this reversal, Vigilius did another & said the writings weren’t prohibited after all.Nothing like being a stalwart pillar of an unwavering stand. Vigilius was consistent; he consistently wavered when under pressure.All of this created so much controversy that in 553 Justinian called the 5th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople. Though it was supposed to be a counsel of the whole church, Pope Vigilius refused to attend. At Justinian's demand, the Council affirmed his original edict of 544, further condemning anyone who supported the pro-Nestorian writings. The Emperor banished Vigilius for his refusal to attend, saying he would be reinstated only on condition of his accepting the Council's decision.Guess what Vigilius did. Yep. He relented and endorsed the Council's finding. So the result was that the Chalcedonian Creed was reinterpreted along far more Monophysite lines. Jesus’ deity was elevated to the foreground while his humanity was relegated to a distant backwater. This became the official position of the Eastern Orthodox Church.But Justinian's desire to bring unity wasn't achieved. The Western bishops refused to recognize the Council of Constantinople's interpretation of the Chalcedon Creed.  And while the new spin on Jesus’ nature was embraced in the East, the hard-core Monophysites of Egypt stood their ground. They’d come to hold their theology with a fierce regional loyalty. To accept Justinian's formulation was deemed a compromise they saw not only as heretical but as unpatriotic. They vehemently refused to come under the control of Constantinople.What Justinian was unable to do by theological compromise and diplomacy, he attempted, by force. After all, as they say, a War is just diplomacy by other means. And as Justinian might say, “What good is it being King if you can’t bash heads whenever you want?”The Emperor also sought to eradicate the last vestiges of paganism throughout the Empire. He commanded both civil officials & church leaders to seek out all pagan cultic practices and pre-Christian Greek philosophy and bring an immediate end to them. He closed the schools of Athens, the last institutions teaching Greek philosophy. He allowed the Jews to continue their faith but sought to regulate their practices. He decreed the death penalty for Manichaeans and other heretics like the Montanists. When his harsh policies stirred up rebellion, he was ruthless in putting it down.Toward the end of his reign, his wife Theodora’s Monophysite beliefs influenced him to move further in that direction. He sought to recast the 5th Council's findings into a new form that would gain greater Monophysite support. This new view has been given the tongue-twisting label of Aph-thar-to-docetism.According to this view, even Jesus' physical body was divine so that from conception to death, it didn’t change. This means Jesus didn’t suffer or know the desires & passions of mortals.When he tried to impose this doctrine on the Church, the vast majority of bishops refused to comply. So Justinian made plans to enforce compliance but died before the campaign could begin, much to the relief of said bishops.Justinian took an active hand in ordering the Church in more than just theology. He passed laws dealing with various aspects of church life. He appointed bishops, assigned abbots to monasteries, ordained priests, managed church lands and oversaw the conduct of the clergy. He forbade the practice of simony; the sale of church offices. Being a church official could be quite lucrative, so the practice of simony was frequently a problem.The Emperor also forbade the clergy from attending chariot races and the theater. This seems harsh if we think of these as mere sporting and cultural events. They weren't. Both events were more often than not scenes of moral debauchery where ribald behavior was common. One did not attend a race for polite or dignified company. The races were à  well, racy. And the theater was a place where perversions were enacted onstage. That Justinian forbade clergy from attending these events means had been common for them to do so.He authorized bishops to function in a quasi-civil fashion by having them oversee public works and enforcing laws against vice. In some places, bishops served as governors.It was under Justinian that the church became an instrument of the state. That process had begun under Constantine but it wasn't until the 6th C under Justinian that it reached its zenith.Christianity continued to extend its influence along the borders of the Empire. With the re-conquest of North Africa, the Arianism that had taken root there was eradicated. The Faith moved up the Nile into what today we know as Sudan. The Berbers of North Africa were also converted. In Europe, Barbarian tribes along the Danube were reached.The divide between Monophysites & Orthodox Justinian had tried to heal continued to plague the church into the 7th C when a new thread emerged; Islam.Emperor after emperor knew a fragmented church meant a weakened society which would be easy prey to the new invaders. So they worked feverishly to bring about theological unity.Let’s see – how do we bring the Orthodox & Monophysites together?Sergius, the Patriarch of Constantinople had an idea. Based on what were thought to be the writings of one of the early church fathers named Dionysis, Sergius thought he found support for a new idea that could reconcile the two sides. He said that while Jesus was both divine & human, He worked by only one energy. This sounded great to the Monophysites of Egypt and for a time it looked like there would be unity.  But other bishops cried foul, so Sergius quickly shifted ground and said, “Okay, forget the one energy deal and how about this; Christ was both divine & human but possessed only one will which was a merging of the 2 natures.” Pope Honorius put his stamp of approval on this view & now with the agreement of the 2 most influential churches, it looked like a theological slam-dunk. So in 638, Emperor Heraclius passed an edict expressing Sergius’ views and forbidding further debate.The Emperor passed an edict – so that settles it right? >> Not quite.When Pope Honorius died, the next pope announced Jesus had two wills. Oh, & furthermore – that was the real position of Honorius – he’d just been misunderstood by Patriarch Sergius. Each Pope thereafter affirmed Jesus’ divine & human wills as distinct though in harmony with each other. This view held sway in the West as opposed to Sergius’ view which became the position of the East.When in 648 the issue threatened to once again tear the church & Empire in 2, Emperor Constans II declared all debate about 1 or 2 wills or energies, off-limits. But wouldn’t you know it – when word of the ban reached Rome a year later, Pope Martin I called a synod to discuss the issue; decided Jesus had 2 wills and denounced the patriarch of Constantinople. The bishops also said, “How dare the Emperor tell us what we can and can’t talk about!”Constans II decided to show the Pope how he dared and had him arrested & hauled to the capital where he was condemned, tortured, and banished. Martin died in exile.Then a funny thing happened. Not funny really – tragic more like. North Africa, that region of the Empire that had been so fastidiously devoted to Monophytism was conquered by Islam. And suddenly the debate lost its main voice. So Constantine IV, called a 6th Ecumenical council, again in Constantinople in 680. This council officially declared the idea of one energy & one will in Christ heretical. Jesus had 2 wills; one divine, the other human. The Council claimed its views were in accord with a similar council held in Rome a year before under the auspices of Pope Agatho.Most Church historians consider the 6th Council to be the last at which the nature of Jesus was the primary theological consideration. To be sure, the Nestorians continued to spread Eastward as they made their way to China and there were still pockets of monophytism in Egypt, but in both the Eastern & Western regions of the Empire, Orthodoxy or what is often called Catholic Christianity now held sway.
Jan 01, 1970
29-Syncretism
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This episode of CS is titled, “Syncretism.”Recent episodes have chronicled the growing rift between the Eastern church centered at Constantinople and the Western-based in Rome. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 Eastern bishops elevated the Bishop of Constantinople to near equal status and authority with the Bishop of Rome, giving the Church 2 heads. It was increasingly obvious politics played a greater role in church affairs than the quest for doctrinal purity or faithfulness to the Gospel–mandate. East & West were moving in opposite directions.Since Constantinople as the “New Rome” was the political center of the empire the Eastern church grew increasingly linked to Imperial power. In the year 380, on Feb. 27th in his Edict of Thessalonica, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official state religion and banned paganism. Since the Church had no authority or power to enforce compliance to the Faith or to punish unconverted pagans, Imperial power was lent to enforce the Emperor’s will.This forced-conversion of vast multitudes of pagans saw an influx of new church members whose commitment to the Gospel was doubtful. Priests were now in the uncomfortable position of having to lead people they knew were at best, only nominally-committed.Since the Christianity of the 4th C had moved away from its roots in Judaism with its knee-jerk hostility to idolatry, a growing number of priests, who’d themselves been idol-worshiping pagans before conversion, though it might facilitate the assimilation of new converts to the Faith if concessions were made to the old forms. Why not take age-old traditions and direct them toward new ends? The veneration of angels, saints, relics, pictures, and statues was an attempt to bring ex-pagans into a more familiar form of worship and accommodate their religious sensitivities. Of this process, Philip Schaff writes, “The Christianizing of the State amounted in great measure to a paganizing and secularizing of the church. The world overcame the Church, as much as the Church overcame the world, and the temporal gain of Christianity was in many respects canceled by its spiritual loss. The mass of the Roman Empire was baptized only with water, not with the Spirit and fire of the Gospel, and it smuggled heathen manors and practices into the sanctuary under a new name.” [1]It’s a risky venture attributing motive to those removed from us by such a long distance in time, but I suspect for many church leaders the assimilation of pagan forms into the liturgy of the Church was seen as a necessary concession to the large numbers of barbarians now required to convert. The hope was that as these new, nominal church members learned the Gospel, the truth would set them free from their superstitions and the Church could return to a pure and orthodox liturgy. No doubt the reasoning went something like à God had become man to reach sinful men. Why could not the Church become, to use Paul’s words "all things to all people in order to win the more?"The problem is, if that was the rationalization for adopting pagan forms of worship, it didn't work. The Church didn't temporarily materialize its liturgy to accommodate nominal members; it institutionalized those pagan forms, making them into new traditions, some of which continue to this day.Another unfortunate development during this time was the distance that developed between the clergy and laity. For the first 3 Cs, lead pastors or bishops as they were called, were honored as God-ordained leaders by their congregations, but they weren't regarded as special. The elevation of bishops and priests into a special class developed slowly during the 4th & 5th Cs.  By the dawn of the 6th they were regarded as being unique; part of a distinct category. The reason for this elevation differed in the East and West. In the East, Church & State were joined in a religio-political union. Because of the close of affinity between priest and politician, clergy adopted the lavish trappings Eastern officials affected. Constantine began this trend when he moved his capital to Constantinople.  He adorned himself as a traditional opulent Eastern monarch rather than an austere Western Emperor.For the first 2 Cs, Western clergy wore clothing similar to their congregations. But as the monastic movement began providing more priests for the church, the monk’s habit became more prominent. This continued for some time among the priesthood, but as the political structure of the Western Empire fell apart and church leaders were increasingly looked to, to provide civil governance, some bishops adopted garments that marked them as civil rulers, flavoring their robes with religious symbols. But the message was clear à Church and State had merged in the office of Bishop.At General Councils, when Western bishops observed the sumptuous regalia of their Eastern peers, they aspired to wear similarly elegant gear and began to don the Eastern fashions. All this only served to further distance the clergy from the laity.Another carry-over from paganism was the observance of special days. Constantine set Sunday as the official day of Christian worship. In the mid-4th C, Christmas became a regular practice, taking over the pagan December festival of Saturnalia. Epiphany celebrated either, in the West the visit of the Magi, or in the East, Jesus' baptism.The annual commemoration of notable martyrs became Saint’s days.More rituals were added to the Church calendar. The only 2 sacraments in the New Testament call Christians to practice Baptism & Communion. By the end of the 6th C, 5 more were added.The development of the doctrine of original sin encouraged the practice of infant baptism. The emergence of Communion as the centerpiece of worship saw a deepening of its meaning from a commemoration of Jesus’ death to a re-enactment of.The Church father Cyprian taught that the priest acted in Christ's place at Communion and that he offered a true and full sacrifice to God. Pope Gregory I emphasized the sacrificial nature of Communion. By the dawn of the 7th C, Sacerdotalism was well on its way.Sacerdotalism is the belief that grace is literally & actually bestowed on worshipers through the mediating influence of an ordained priest, officiating the sacraments. Think of it this way à The Bible says we are saved by grace through faith. The official position of the Church was that by the faith of the officiating priest, working in harmony w/the worshipper, the sacraments were vehicles by which grace was bestowed & salvation was renewed. è Spiritual vitamins to keep one healthy.All this led to a further separation of clergy and laity. Later it became the means by which Church leaders manipulated civil officials. When clergy have the power to bestow grace via sacraments, they can threaten a ruler to comply or risk the torment of hell.The veneration of saints grew out of a long tradition that held the martyrs in the highest regard. It’s not difficult to see how those who’d died during persecution were esteemed as heroes and examples all could aspire to.  The anniversary of their martyrdom was made a day of commemoration, eventually morphing into Saint’s Days. Since pagans were in the habit of lauding their heroes by marking them with special celebrations, attributing them with special powers, Saint’s Days were substituted for these celebrations, and the saints were accorded special-access to God. What had been prayers by Christians at the tomb of martyrs for the peaceful repose of the martyr’s soul, turned into prayers TO the saints for their intercession with God and requests of the saints to assist them in their special area of expertise. Going on a journey? Ask St. Cristofer for protection. Starting a new business venture? Ask St. Bartholomew for prosperity.  On and on it went.The veneration of saints was endorsed by the 2nd Council of Nicaea in the 8th C. Churches and chapels were built over saint’s graves and became destinations for pilgrims. Festivals associated with their death were placed on the calendar, and legends of miracles associated with them developed rapidly. Traffic in relics, including parts of a saint’s body—teeth, hair, and bones, became so great a prob­lem, an Imperial order stopped it in 381. These relics became the focal point of the many cathedrals built across Europe and were ultimately the goal of the millions of pilgrimages people embarked on during the Middle Ages. Think of a cathedral as merely a large ornate box that held some saint’s shin-bone and you get the idea.The use of images and pictures in worship expanded rapidly as increasing numbers of barbarians came into the church. Images gave substance to the invisible reality of deity for these superstitious worshipers. Pictures also had a decorative function in beautifying churches. The Church Fathers tried to make a distinction between reverence of images and worship, but it’s doubtful this distinc­tion prevented peasants from conflating an image with the thing it was meant to represent.Government aid after Constantine led to ex­tensive church building.  These imperial churches followed the basilica architecture Romans developed for their public buildings.Constan­tine's mother, Helena, visited Israel in her later years and was thought to have discerned both by the Spirit’s leading and local reports, the location of several Biblical events, leading to the construction of churches right over where those events were supposed to have occurred.The earliest singing in the church was conducted by a leader to whom the people gave response in song. Antiphonal singing, in which 2 choirs sing alternately, developed in the East at Antioch. Ambrose intro­duced the practice of antiphonal sing­ing in Milan, from which it spread throughout the Western church.The veneration of Mary was also pretty well in place by the close of the 6th C, though the Roman Church didn’t officially adopt the doctrines of her immaculate conception and miraculous assumption until 1854 and 1950.A misinterpretation of Scripture, coupled to the many miracles attributed to Mary by apocryphal works, led to growing respect for her as unique in redemptive history. Several of the Church fathers, influenced by the preference for virginity among the monastics, assumed the perpetual virginity of Mary. That heavyweight of theology, Augustine, claimed Mary never sinned. And since it was assumed a son held a special affection for his mother, Mary was appealed to, to intercede with Jesus. After all, what son can refuse his mama?We’ll end this episode there; with the mention of Augustine because he’s a towering figure in Church History we’ll need to look at soon. Just before Augustine, we need to look at  another person I just mentioned, Ambrose. We’ll do that next time as we move the story along and prepare to sit down with Augustine of Hippo.[1] Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church.  Vol III, Pg. 93
Jan 01, 1970
30-Ambrose
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The title of this episode is simply à “Ambrose.” And once we learn a little about him, we’ll see that title is enough.For Ambrose was one of the most interesting figures in Church History, a hinge around which the course of the Faith swung.Born in 340, Ambrose was the second son of Ambrosius, the imperial governor of Gaul and part of an ancient Roman family that included the famous Marcus Aurelius. Not long after Aurelius, and his disastrous son and heir Commodus, the family became Christians who provided not a few notable martyrs. Ambrose was born at Trier, the imperial capital of Gaul. While still a child, Ambrose’s father died, and he was taken to Rome to be raised. His childhood was spent in the company of many members of the Christian clergy, men of sincere faith with a solid grasp on the theological challenges the Church of that day wrestled with; things you’re familiar with because we’ve spent the last several episodes dealing with them; that is, the Christological controversies that swirled first around Arius, then the blood-feud between Cyril & Nestorius.Now would be a good time for me to toss in some place-markers so we can get a sense of what was going on as Ambrose grew up. Donatus is the bishop of Carthage. The Cappadocian Fathers, Basil, and the 2 Gregory’s are hammering out the proper verbiage to understand the Trinity. Athanasius has his long run as THE chief defender or Biblical orthodoxy. When Ambrose was 16, the famous Desert Father Anthony of Egypt died. The Goths ran rampant over Northern Europe, causing great consternation in the Roman Empire. When Ambrose was 38 the Goths defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople in a loss so thorough, the Emperor Valens was killed.During Ambrose’s lifetime, Pope Damasus will rule the Church at Rome. Jerome will move to Bethlehem and complete the Vulgate. John Chrysostom will serve as Patriarch at Constantinople.Clearly, a lot with major import was going on during Ambrose’s lifetime.When he turned 30, Ambrose, based in the capital at Milan, became governor of all NW’n Italy. He was charged with the responsibility to officiate church disputes.  This was at a time when Nicaean & Arian believers were at war with each other; a war not fought with literal weapons but with words. Ambrose was no friend to the Arians, but he was so fair-minded and well-regarded, both sides supported him in his role as governor. When the Arian bishop of Milan died, Ambrose attended the meeting to elect his replacement, hoping his presence would forestall violence. To his surprise, both sides shouted their wish that he be the replacement.Ambrose didn’t want it. He was doing quite well as a political leader. Following the practice of many at that time, he hadn’t even been baptized yet. But the people wrote to Emperor Valentinian, asking for his approval of their selection. Ambrose was placed under arrest until he agreed to serve a Milan’s new bishop.Now, if the Arians had hoped to gain favor by supporting Ambrose as bishop, they were destined to disappointment. Their new bishop helped define what the word ‘orthodox’ meant. He soon took the Arians to task & refused to surrender a building for them to meet in. He wrote several works against them that went on to prove instrumental in ultimately bringing an end to Arianism.Trained in rhetoric and law, and having studied Greek, Ambrose became known for his knowledge of Greek scholars, both Christian and pagan. In addition to Philo, Origen, and Basil of Caesarea, he quoted the Neo-platonist Plotinus in his sermons. He was widely regarded as an excellent preacher.In many of his messages, Ambrose expounded upon the virtues of asceticism. He was so persuasive that noble families sometimes forbade their daughters to attend his services, fearing they’d trade their marriageable status withy its potential for a bride price, for the life of nun.One piece of his pastoral advice became a maxim for the clergy: “When you are at Rome, live in the Roman style; when you are elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.”Ambrose also introduced congregational singing, and was accused of “bewitching” Milan by introducing Eastern melodies into the hymns he wrote. Because of his influence, hymn-singing became an important part of Western liturgy.While Ambrose was a fierce opponent of heresy, as seen in his stand against Arianism, his opposition to religious issues didn’t morph over into how people were treated civilly. Arians & pagans were still citizens who possessed rights as citizens. As human beings, they were still objects of God’s love and desire for salvation. Respect needed to be shown them, even while opposing them theologically. That was a rare perspective for the time; inordinately rare. And it earned Ambrose tremendous respect from all quarters.While the people of Ambrose’s time credited his writings and worship innovations as the most notable feature of his life & ministry, history attributes two other momentous events to his impact on the Church.First is in the realm of church-state relations. Second would be his influence on a young pagan who visited his church and became a follower of Jesus. His name was Augustine.Let’s consider first, Ambrose’s impact of church-state relations.His relationship with Emperor Theodosius, who finalized a long-running political trend of folding the Roman Empire into a Christian state, was a dramatic shift from the first 200 years of Church history that saw an on & off persecution.An example of the change from paganism to Christianity occurred in 390, when local officials imprisoned a charioteer of Thessalonica for homosexual behavior. The public rebelled against this action because the charioteer was a major celebrity, a sports hero & crowd favorite. Riots broke out w/a loud cry for his release. Not a few of the rioters and innocent bystanders were killed, including the governor. The mob took over the prison and the prisoner was freed.The Emperor was enraged by the melee. He was determined to exact revenge against the people of Thessalonica for such a flagrant disregard for the law and the disrespect he felt at having his hand-picked governor so casually relieved of life. So he slyly announced another chariot race. When the crowds showed up & settled into their seats, the gates were locked, the people inside—massacred. Over the following 3 hours, 7,000 were put to the sword.Ambrose was stunned! Once he recovered from his shock, he sat down and composed a letter to Theodosius, demanding the Emperor repent. As chief ruler, Theodosius wasn’t inclined to follow some far-off bishop’s counsel. Ambrose was merely a clergyman in Milan, Italy; Theodosius was the mighty ruler headquartered in the East at Constantinople.But Theodosius didn’t stay in Constantinople. Wouldn’t you just know it? Imperial business took him, guess where! Yep – Milan. As a Christian Emperor of a now Christian Empire, Theodosius went to church, and expected Pastor Ambrose to serve him Communion. Ambrose refused! His letter calling for the Emperor to repent had gone unheeded. Who did this guy think he was that he could just waltz into the church in Milan and line up for Communion as though everything was hunky-dory? The nerve of the guy!Ambrose repeated the condition: Unless the emperor repent of his gross abuse of power, & do so publicly, no Communion would pass his lips! Either Ambrose was gutsy or had a death wish! An Emperor who’d ordered the execution of thousands probably wouldn’t think much of offing a lone, obstinate bishop. But Ambrose demonstrated he would not compromise his calling to save his life and Theodosius realized his best course was to do as instructed and repented by setting aside his royal garments & emblems of State, wearing humble sackcloth, & a face streaked w/ash as a sign of penance.Ambrose never intended this humiliation of the Emperor as a way to elevate himself or other church officials. It was simply something he believed Theodosius, who claimed to be a Christian, was required to do as a sign of sincere contrition before God. Ambrose would have been appalled at how later bishops used their office & power to administer the sacraments as a way to manipulate civil rulers, and by doing so, use civil power to accomplish church ends. Or we should say, their own ends hidden ‘neath a thin veneer of religion.Though Ambrose could not have foreseen the consequences of this episode with the Emperor, it introduced the medieval concept of a Christian emperor as the compliant “son of the church serving under orders from Christ.” Over the next millennium, secular and religious rulers vied with each other over who was sovereign in the different spheres of life.Though we might expect Emperor Theodosius to leave Milan with an axe to grind as it related to Ambrose, legend says he was so impressed with Ambrose’s courage & quality of Christian witness he said, “I know no bishop worthy of the name, except Ambrose” When the emperor died, it was in Ambrose’s arms. Of Theodosius’ death Ambrose said, “I confess I loved him, and felt the sorrow of his death in the abyss of my heart.”Two years later, Ambrose himself fell ill. The worries the entire Italian countryside felt were expressed by one writer as; “When Ambrose dies, we shall see the ruin of Italy.” On the Eve of Easter in 397, Milan’s beloved bishop breathed his last.Only one name is more associated with Ambrose than Theodosius’. And that leads us to the second impact of his ministry, the one historians reckon as most important. That one name is the student who outshined this teacher: Augustine. But that’s the subject of our next few episode . . .
Jan 01, 1970
31-Augustine Part 1
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This episode of CS is titled “Augustine – Part 1.”Late have I loved You, O Beauty so ancient yet so new; Late have I loved you. You were within while I was without. I sought You out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. These things kept me far from You; even though they’d not even be unless You made them. You called and cried aloud, and opened my deafness. You gleamed and shined, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrant odors and I drew breath, and now I pant for You. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.Wrote Augustine of Hippo in his classic Confessions.We turn now to the life and work of a man of singular importance in the history of the Church due to his impact on theology. I’ll be blunt to say what it seems many, maybe most, are careful to avoid when it comes to Augustine. While the vast majority of historians laud him, a much smaller group are less enthused with him, as I hope becomes clear as we review the man and his impact.Augustine is the climax of patristic thought, at least in the Latin world. By “patristics,”  I mean the theology of the Church Fathers. If you’ve ever had a chance to look through collections of books on theology or church history, you’ve likely seen a massive set of tomes called the Ante & Post Nicene Fathers. That simply means the Church Fathers that came before the Council of Nicaea and those who came after and helped lay the doctrinal foundation of the Church. Augustine was THE dominant influence on the Medieval European; so much so, He’s referred to as the Architect of the Middle Ages. Augustine continues to be a major influence among Roman Catholics for his theology of the church and sacraments, and for Protestants in regard to his theology of grace & salvation.Augustine’s back-story is well-known because there’s plenty of source material to draw from. Some say we know more about Augustine than any other figure of the ancient world because—not only do we have a record of his daily activities from one of his students; Possidius, Bishop of Calama; we also have a highly detailed record of Augustine’s inner life from his classic work, Confessions. We also have a work titled Retractions where Augustine chronicles his intellectual development as he lists 95 of his works, explains why they were written, and the changes he made to them over time.Let me begin his story by laying the background of Augustine’s world . . .The end of the persecution of the first 2 centuries was a great relief to the church. No doubt the reported conversion of Emperor Constantine seemed a dream come true. The apostle Paul told the followers of Christ to pray for the king and all those in authority. So the report of the Emperor’s conversion was a cause of great rejoicing. It was likely only a handful of the wise who sensed a call to caution in what this new relationship between church and state would mean and the perils it might bring.During the 4th Century, churches grew more rapidly than ever. But not all those who joined did so with pure motives. With persecution behind them, some joined the Church to hedge their bets and add one more deity to their list. Others joined thinking it would advance their social status, now that being a Christian could earn them points with officials. Some sincere Christians witnessed the moral and spiritual dumbing down of the faith and fled to the wilderness to pursue an ascetic lifestyle as a hermit or into a monastery as a monk. But most Christians remained in their cities and towns to witness the growing affiliation between the church and earthly institutions. The invisible, universal or catholic church began increasingly to be associated with earthly forms and social structures.I need to pause here and make sure everyone understands that the word Catholic simply means UNIVERSAL. Historically, this is the Age of Catholic Christianity – not ROMAN Catholic Christianity. Historians refer to this time and the Eastern Orthodox Church as Catholic, to differentiate it from the several aberrant and heretical groups that had split off.  Groups like the Arians, Manichaeans, Gnostics, and Apollinarians, and half a dozen other hard to pronounce sects. But toward the end of the 4th Century, the Institutional replaced the Communal aspects of the Faith. The Gospel was supplanted by dogma and rituals in many churches.Jesus made it clear following Him meant a call to serve, not be served. Christians are servants. They serve God by serving one another and the world. During the first 3 centuries when the church was battered, the call to serve was valued as a priority. The heroes of the faith served by offering themselves in the ultimate sense-with their lives. But when the Church rose out of the catacombs to enter positions of social influence and power during the 4th Century, being a servant lost priority. Church leaders, who’d led by serving for 300 years, began to position themselves to be served. Servant-leaders became leaders of servants.This change escalated with the disintegration of the Western Empire during the 4th & 5th Centuries. As foreigners pressed in from the North and East, and civil authorities fled from the frontiers, people look more and more to the bishops and church leaders to provide guidance and governance.We’ve already seen how the Church and Bishop at Rome emerged as not only a religious leader but a political leader as well. The fall and sack of Rome by the Vandals in 410 rocked the Empire, leaving people profoundly shaken. One man emerged at this time to help deal with their confusion and anxiety over the future.Augustine was born in 354 in Tagaste, a small commercial city in North Africa. His father Patricius was a pagan and member of the local ruling class. His mother Monica was a committed Christian. Though far from wealthy, Augustine's parents were determined he should have the best education possible. After attending primary school in Tagaste he went to Carthage for secondary education. It was there, at the age of 17, he took on a mistress with whom he lived for 13 years & by whom he had a son named Adeodatus. While this seems scandalous, realize it was not all that uncommon for young men of the upper classes to have such an arrangement. Augustine seems to have had a genuine love for this woman, even though he fails to give us her name. It’s certain he did love their son. And even though Augustine loved his girlfriend. He later wrote throughout these years he was continually hammered by sexual temptation and often despaired of overcoming it.Augustine pursued studies in philosophy in general; picking no specific school as the focus of his attention. When he was 19 he read the now lost Hortensius by the Roman orator Cicero & was convinced he should make the pursuit of truth his life's aim. But this noble quest battled with what he now felt was a degrading desire toward immorality. For moral assistance to resist the downward pull, he defaulted to the faith of his mother’s home and turned to the Bible. But being a lover of classical Latin, the translations he read seemed crude and unsophisticated and held no appeal.What did appeal to Augustine was the Manichaeans with whom we’ve already treated.  By way of review, Mani was a teacher in Persia in the mid-3rd Century who mashed a Gnostic-flavored religion together with ancient Persian ideas as embodied in Zoroastrianism. Augustine was an intellectual, the kind of person Manichaeanism appealed to. They disdained faith, saying they were the intellectual gate-keepers of reason and logic. They explained the world in terms of darkness and light. Light and Spirit were good, darkness and the physical; evil. The key to overcoming sin was an early form of the campaign used on public school campuses in the US years ago regarding drugs: “Just say no!” Augustine was told if he just employed total abstinence from physical pleasure he’d do well. He was a Manichaean for 9 yrs until he saw its logical inconsistencies and left.His record of this time reveals that while he remained within their ranks, he had problems all along. Assuming he just needed to learn more to clear up the problems, the more he studied, the more problems popped up. When he voiced his concerns, other Manichaeans told him if he could just hear the teaching of Faustus, all his concerns would dissolve. Faustus was supposed to be the consummate Manichaean who had all the answers.Well, Faustus eventually arrived and Augustine listened in the expectation that everything he’d been doubting would evaporate like dew in the morning sun. That’s not what happened. On the contrary. Augustine said while Faustus was eloquent of speech, his words were like a fancy plate holding rotten meat. He sounded good, but his speech was empty.Augustine spent time with Faustus, trying to work through his difficulties but the more he heard, the more he realized the man was clueless. So much for Manichaeanism being the gate-keeper of reason.At the age of 20, Augustine began teaching. His friends recognized his intellectual genius and encouraged him to move to Rome. In 382, closing in on 30, he and his mother moved to the Capital where he began teaching.As often happens when someone’s religious or philosophical house is blown over like a stack of cards, Augustine’s disappointment with Manichaeanism led to a period of disenchantment & skepticism. Remember; he’d given himself to the pursuit of truth and had assumed for several years Mani had found it. Now he knew he hadn’t. Once bitten, twice shy works for philosophy as well as romance.Augustine was rescued from his growing skepticism by Neo-Platonism and the work of Plotinus who fanned to flame his smoldering spark of longing for truth.In 384, Augustine was hired as a professor of rhetoric at the University of Milan where his now widowed mother Monica and some friends joined him.More out of professional courtesy as a professor of rhetoric than anything else, Augustine went to hear Milan’s bishop Ambrose preach. Augustine was surprised at Ambrose’s eloquence. It’s not like this was his first time in church. He’d attended the churches of North Africa while growing up there. But he’d never heard anyone speak like this. Ambrose showed Augustine that the Christian faith, far from being crude and unsophisticated, was both eloquent & intelligent.An elder named Simplicianus made Augustine his personal project. He gave Augustine a copy of a commentary on Paul by Marius Victorinus, who’d converted from Neo-Platonism to Christianity 30 years before. Being a Neo-Platonist himself, Augustine went through something of an intellectual conversion, if not a spiritual transformation.Augustine's future was bright. He had a prestigious job, committed friends, wealth, influence and he was still young and healthy. But inwardly he was miserable. His mother Monica suggested what he needed was a normal family. Of course, she was against his long-time but illicit affair with his girlfriend, the mother of his son. She’d followed him on all his various moves; to Tagaste from Carthage to Rome, then Milan. Monica told Augustine his girlfriend was keeping him from finding a suitable wife, someone more fit for his social standing. Though Augustine loved her, his mother’s constant urging to put her away eventually moved him to locate his inner unrest with his mistress. So he ended their relationship. He then proposed to a young woman of wealth and society. Problem is, she was too young to marry so a far-off date was set. Augustine couldn’t master his lust, and only a short time after breaking up with his mistress, he found another. From Augustine’s own account of his struggle in the Confessions, we might describe his problem as a sexual addiction. His inner battle between the higher call of virtue and the lower pull toward vice threatened to tear him apart in a mental breakdown.It was then, as he devoured material in his quest for truth that he heard of Christian hermits like Anthony of Egypt who'd mastered their fleshly desires. Their example shamed Augustine. Until then he'd considered Christians as intellectually inferior -- yet they were able to accomplish a victory over sin he'd been powerless to attain. He began to wonder if maybe Christianity possessed a power he'd missed.Conversion became for Augustine, as it was for so many at this time, not so much an issue of faith as action. He was persuaded of the intellectual strength of Christianity; he just did not want to give up his sin, though he knew he should.One day in 386, while walking in the garden of his house, his soul seething in confusion and moral anguish, he carried a Bible hoping to draw guidance from it. But he could make no sense of it. He dropped it on a bench and paced back and forth; his mind in torment. From somewhere nearby, he heard a child's voice calling out the line of what must have been a game though Augustine did not know it. The voice said, “Tolle lege (tawlee Leggy) = Take up and read.” He reached down and picked up the Bible he’d just dropped. The page fell open to Romans 13 where his eyes fell on words perfectly suited to his current mindset. He read àLet us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.Augustine later wrote, “As I read those words, instantly it was as if the light of peace poured into my heart and all the shades of doubt departed." The following Easter, Augustine and his son Adeodatus were baptized by Bishop Ambrose. A few months later Augustine returned to North Africa. On the way, his mother Monica died and not long after he returned to Tagaste, his son also passed. Augustine lost interest in living and longed to leave the world he once longed for.His friends rallied round and gave him a purpose to carry on. They formed a monastic community, out of which would come the famous Augustinian Order and Rule.While Augustine would likely have been content to live out his life in the monastery, the North African church desperately needed a leader with his gifts. In 391 the church at Hippo ordained him as 1 of their priests. He did the preaching because their bishop was Greek and could speak neither Latin nor the local Punic. He became co-bishop 4 years later, then a year after that, sole bishop at Hippo. He served in that capacity for the next 33 years.He kept up the monastic life throughout his tenure as Bishop at Hippo. His was an extremely busy career; divided between study, writing and general oversight of church affairs.We’ll pick it up at this point in our next episode as we consider some of his more important writings. Then we’ll get into Augustine’s career as a theologian.
Jan 01, 1970
32-Augustine Part 2
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This episode of CS is titled “Augustine – Part 2.”Augustine wrote a work called Retractions in which he lists the many books and treatises he’d penned. Each work is given a summary and additional notes are added charting the development of his thought over time.He wrote some 113 books & treatises, close to 250 letters, some of which are treatises themselves, and 500 sermons.Here’s a rundown on some of them …The best introduction to Augustine’s thoughts is his Enchiridion – also known as On Faith, Hope, & Love.  The section on faith is an exposition of the Apostle’s Creed. Hope is captured in the Lord’s Prayer, while Love is the summary of the Commandments.On Christian Teaching is Augustine’s theology of Scripture; what it teaches, how it ought to be understood, and a practical theology on how to share it. It’s here he developed the foundational principle of the analogy of faith. It establishes the rule that no teaching which is contrary to the general tenor and story of the Scriptures can be developed from any particular passage. The history of heresy and pseudo-Christian cults makes clear most of them violate this basic rule of hermeneutics.On Catechizing the Uninstructed gives both a long and short form for how to deal with inquirers.Augustine’s On the Good of Marriage affirms the benefits of marriage as bringing children into the world, protecting fidelity, and serves as a picture of Christ and the Church. Although, keeping with the sensibilities of the time, it made clear the superior position of celibacy.Shortly after arriving back home in Tagaste, around 389, Augustine wrote what is probably his most famous work – Confessions. The word meant more then than it typically does today. Yes, it bears his confession of sin, but Augustine also meant the word as his profession of faith and a declaration of the goodness of God. Com­pleted by 401, it lays bare his soul. He describes his life before conversion, the events leading to his conver­sion, and his path back to North Africa. The Confessions of St. Augustine is counted as one of the greatest autobiographical works of all time. It contains the oft-quoted “You have made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee" in the first paragraph. Scholars & students of ancient literature are moved by Augustine’s remarkably candid and perceptive analysis of his struggle with sin. At one point he shares the struggle he had with lust this way. He cried out to the heavens, “Give me chas­tity and holy desire; Only—not yet.”After the Confessions, Augustine’s most important work, and one he labored on for 14 years is The City of God. This is arguably the climax of Christian Latin apologetics and became the blueprint for the Middle Ages.It began as a response to the Sack of Rome by the Goths in 410. Though Rome was no longer the capital of the Empire, it remained the enduring symbol of it. Pagans loudly protested Rome was sacked because the old gods were furious they’d been forsaken; thrown over for this new deity out of the Middle East name Jesus.Augustine began the work as a reply to this damning charge. It grew into a comprehensive philosophy of history; an eloquent apologetic for what would come to be known as the Providential View of History.Augustine posited 2 cities; One of the world, the other of Heaven. These 2 cities are the result of 2 kinds of love; the love of self and the love of God. It begins with a negative and apologetic part that attacks paganism and its claims against the Faith. The next section is positive and describes Augustine’s philosophy of history. He describes the origin, progress and terminus of both cities. When I say “city” think society, for that is what Augustine meant.Such a description as this, and most others may make it appear Augustine posits the 2 cities as ever distinct. That’s not the case; rather, they are, at least as they are manifest in the world, always confused and mixed; yet ever at odds.In earlier works, Augustine laid out a pattern for history as progressing from . . .
  • Before the Law,
  • Under Law,
  • Under Grace,
  • & In Peace.
These corresponded to the individual believer’s spiritual path as well. Augustine also charted 7 periods of history based on the Creation-week. Five of them fell under the Old Testament, one in the new, and the 7th was the Millennium, which in this earlier work he described as coming after Jesus’ Return.But in The City of God, Augustine’s idea of history was Amillennial. He cast the 1000 years of Rev 20 as symbolic either of the Church age or the ultimate summation of history. THAT view replaced the prior, literal millennial eschatology that had been the position of the Church to that time. The Amillennial position became the dominant view in Western Christianity thru the Middle Ages and beyond.The City of God is so noble in its treatment of theology and philosophy it’s endured as a classic statement of Christians’ views on a wide range of topics. Augustine treats with such subjects as rape, abortion, and suicide.Many historians consider Augustine the most important and influential Christian thinker from the Apostle Paul to the Reformers Luther and Calvin who both drew heavily from his work.When he became Bishop at Hippo, the Donatists still thrived in North Africa, in some places forming the majority. Augustine supported the Roman position against them.By way of review, the Donatists argued for a pure church, one led by bishops who’d not caved to persecution, recanted their faith, or surrendered Scriptures to be burned, then, when persecution passed, were allowed to return to their post. Rome said such lapsed bishops and priests could be restored. The Donatists said they could NOT and that any service they performed was invalid. The Donatists were deeply upset that the Bishop at Rome welcomed these lapsed priests back into their positions as leaders.Augustine argued against the Donatists, saying that according to Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, the Church was a mixed multitude; holding both the lost and saved.Now: I have to admit I’m at a loss to see how that justified allowing apostates to regain leadership positions in the church.Let’s cast that in light of a far sometimes problem today. Should a pastor who commits adultery, and is caught in it, not from which he repents before being caught; should he be allowed back into his role as a pastor just because he breaks up with his mistress?For Augustine, the issue wasn’t so much that these lapsed priests and bishops were allowed back into their roles; it was the question of whether or not their religious service held any efficacy for those they were served by; things like Communion and baptism.Augustine differed with the Donatists on the validity of these baptisms and communion served by lapsed priests. Donatists claimed an apostate had lost authority to administer these rites. Augustine said the moral and spiritual standing of a priest wasn't important, only that he be aware he bestowed God's grace on others by baptizing and serving communion.While no doubt many of us would agree that it isn’t the moral excellence of the officiating minister that determines the value of communion and baptism, what surely some of our listeners will find difficult is the idea that a special grace is communicated BY a priest, through these rituals.You see, this brings us right up to a much later controversy that will surface during the Reformation. Do the sacraments convey grace or are they meant to be memorials that point to a historical event we renew our faith by? Notice I did NOT say, they are MERELY memorials, for that goes too far and misrepresents the position of the radical Reformers, But that is a subject for a much later episode.Augustine's argument at this point laid the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine that an ordained priest becomes the channel of grace to church members. Next stop on that train is Sacramentalism and Sacerdotalism.Augustine’s support of the Roman church and Bishop in the Donatist controversy included the use of force to suppress rivals and coerce them to accept church policy. In another example of his misuse of Scripture, he quoted Luke 14:23, wherein the parable of the banquet the host said: “Compel them to come in.” Augustine used this to justify forcing opponents to comply. This again seems an odd application of a passage that’s self-explanatory. For the servants of the host didn’t go out into streets and beat people; driving them with whips into the banquet.Now: I recognize the historic weight and significance assigned to Augustine of Hippo. He was a towering intellect who made a major contribution to Christian theology. There’s no denying that. But there’s much in his work that seems to some, and I am one, that is inconsistent, even contradictory. For instance, a moment ago I mentioned Augustine developed the hermeneutical principle of the Analogy of Faith, a rule he shatters by justifying the use of force to compel adherence to church policy by using Luke 14:23.Following his refutation of Donatism, Augustine turned his impressive intellectual attention to the teaching of a British monk named Pelagius. Pelagianism was a Christianized form of Greek stoicism. Pelagius said humans aren’t sinners by nature; that they’re free moral agents who become sinners by sinning and that it was possible to live without sin apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Pelagius believed Jesus's death atoned for sins but that humans possessed the power in themselves to live holy lives. Augustine's own experience with sin proved Pelagius wrong and he argued forcefully against his ideas. Augustine said the entire human race was in Adam so that when he fell, all fell with him and sin passed to everyone. Sinners, Augustine argued, are not only saved by God's grace, but they’re also kept by it and can only live God-honoring lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. He taught that God chooses only some to be saved and bestows this saving grace through the church by baptism and communion.This is another example of Augustine's confusing theology. He said only those who joined the visible church receive grace, then turned around and said salvation is a private matter between God and the individual. It was the former idea that laid the Roman Church’s claim to being the sole agent of bestowing grace, and the later teaching that formed the Protestant Reformation's view of salvation. One has to wonder what Augustine thought the unmerited favor of grace was if joining a church, being baptized and taking communion acquired it.He helped develop the doctrine of pur­gatory and so emphasized the value of baptism and communion as means of bestowing grace that the false doctrines of baptismal regeneration and sacramentalism were logical outcomes of his views.As Augustine neared his final days, the Vandals who’d sacked Rome, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and swept East to lay siege to Hippo. Two months into the siege Augustine died & a year later when the city finally fell, the Vandals entered to find everyone either dying or dead from hunger. Though they destroyed most of the city, out of respect for the renowned Augustine, they left his church intact.
Jan 01, 1970
33-Monks
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This episode of CS is titled – Monks.We took a look at the hermits in Episode 18 and delved into the beginnings of the monastic movement that swept the Church. The hermits were those who left the city to live an ultra-ascetic life of isolation; literally fleeing from the world. Others who longed for the ascetic life could not abide the lack of fellowship and so retreated from the world to live in sequestered communes called monasteries & nunneries.The men were called monks and the women; the feminine form of the same word – nonnus, or nuns. In recent episodes, we’ve seen that the ascetic lifestyle of both hermits & monks was considered the ideal expression of devotion to God during the 4th & 5th Centuries. We’re going to spend more time looking at monastery-life now because it proves central to the development of the faith during the Middle Ages, particularly in Western Europe but also in the East.Let’s review from Episode 18 the roots of monasticism . . .Leisure time to converse about philosophy with friends was highly prized in the ancient world. It was fashionable for public figures to express a yearning for such intellectual leisure, or “otium” as they called it; but of course, they were much too busy serving their fellow man. It became hip to adopt the attitude, “I’m so busy with my duties, I don’t get much ‘Me-time’.”Occasionally, as the famous Roman orator & Senator Cicero portrayed it, they scored such time for philosophical reflection by retiring to write on themes such as duty, friendship & old age. That towering intellect & theologian Augustine of Hippo had the same wish as a young man, & when he became a Christian in 386, left his professorship in oratory to devote his life to contemplation & writing. He retreated with a group of friends, his son & his mother, to a home on Lake Como, to discuss, then write about The Happy Life, Order & other such subjects, in which both classical philosophy and Christianity shared an interest. When he returned to his hometown of Tagaste in North Africa, he set up a community in which he & his friends could lead a monastic life, apart from the world, studying scripture & praying. Augustine’s contemporary, Jerome; translator of the Latin Vulgate, felt the same tug. He too made an attempt to live apart from the world.The Christian version of this yearning for a life of philosophical retirement had an important difference from the pagan version. While reading & meditation remained central, the call to do it in concert w/others who set themselves apart from the world was added.For the monks and nuns who sought such a communal life, the crucial thing was the call to a way of life which would make it possible to ‘go apart’ & spend time w/God in prayer and worship.Prayer was the Opus Dei, the ‘work of God’.As it was originally conceived, to become a monk or nun was an attempt to obey to the full the commandment to love God with all one is & has. In the Middle Ages, it was also understood as a fulfillment of the command to love one’s neighbor, for monks & nuns were supposed to be primarily praying for the world. They really did believe they were performing an important task on behalf of lost souls. So among the members of a monastery, there were those who prayed, those who ruled, and those who worked. The most important to society were those who prayed. Ideally, while monks & nuns might have different duties based on their station & assignment, they all engaged in both work & prayer.But a difference developed between the monastic movements of East & West.In the East, the Desert Fathers set the pattern. They were hermits who adopted extreme forms of asceticism, and came to be regarded as powerhouses of spiritual influence; authorities who could assist ordinary people w/their problems. The Stylites, for example, lived on platforms on high poles; an object of reverence to those who came to ask their spiritual advice. Others, shut off from the world in caves or huts, denied themselves contact with the temptations of the world, especially women. There was in this an obvious preoccupation with the dangers of the flesh, which was partly a legacy of the Greek dualists’ conviction that matter was inherently evil.I want to pause here & make a personal, pastoral observation. So warning! – Blatant opinion follows.You can’t read the New Testament without seeing a clear call to holiness. But that holiness is a work of God’s grace as the Holy Spirit empowers the believer to live a life pleasing to God. New Testament holiness is a joyous privilege, not a heavy burden & duty. It enhances life, never diminishes it.This is what Jesus modeled so well, and why genuine seekers after God were drawn to Him. He was attractive! He didn’t just do holiness, He WAS Holy. Yet no one had more life. Where He went, dead things came to life!As Jesus’ followers, we’re supposed to be holy in the same way. But if we’re honest, for many, holiness is conceived of as a dry, boring, life-sucking burden of moral perfection.Real holiness isn’t religious rule-keeping. It isn’t a list of moral proscriptions; a set of “Don’t’s! Or I will smite thee w/Divine Wrath & cast thy wretched soul into the eternal flames.”New Testament holiness is a mark of Real Life, the one Jesus rose again to give us. It’s Jesus living in & thru us. The holy life is a FLOURISHING life.The Desert Fathers & hermits who followed their example were heavily influenced by the dualist Greek worldview that all matter was evil & only the spirit was good. Holiness meant an attempt to avoid any shred of physical pleasure while retreating into the life of the mind. This thinking was a major force influencing the monastic movement as it moved both East & West. But in the East, the monks were hermits who pursued their lifestyles in isolation while in the West, they tended to pursue them in concert & communal life.As we go on we’ll see that some monastic leaders realized casting holiness as a negative denial of the flesh rather than a positive embracing of the love & truth of Christ was an error they sought to reform.Indeed, one of the premier teachings of Jesus adopted by monks & applied literally was  Matt. 19:21, “Sell your possession, give to the poor.” Jesus & the Twelve Apostles were cast as ideal monks.The early Church also faced the challenge of several aberrant groups who espoused a rigorous asceticism & used it as a badge of moral superiority. So some Christians thought a way to refute their error was by showing them up when it came to austere devotion.Even those believers who rejected the error of dualism justified asceticism by saying they renounced what was merely good in favor of what was best; a higher spiritual mode of living.Understood this way, the monasticism began as a protest movement in the Early Church. Church leaders like Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea & even Augustine co-opted & domesticated the monastic impulse, bringing it into the standard Church world.In the East, while monks might live in a group, they didn’t seek for community. They didn’t converse & work together in a common cause. They simply shared cells next to one another. Each followed his own schedule. Their only contact was that they ate & prayed together. This tradition continues to this day on Mount Athos in northern Greece, where monks live in solitude & prayer in cells high on the cliffs. Food is lowered to them in baskets.Monastic communities and those seeking to be monks or nuns exploded in popularity in the 4th Century. This popularity was born out of a protest on the part of many at the growing secularization they witnessed in the institutional church. The persecution everyone was so ready to be over not long before was now looked back upon almost nostalgically. Sure the Church was hammered, but at least following Jesus meant something and the seriousness with which people pursued spiritual things was palpable. Now it seemed every third person called themselves a Christian without much concern to be like Jesus. The monastic life was a way to recover what had been lost from the glory days of the persecuted but pure Church.One of the first set of rules for monastic communities was developed by someone with whom we’re already familiar, Basil the Great, leader of the Cappadocian Fathers who hammered out the orthodox understanding of the Nicene Creed. Basil was born into one of the most remarkable families in Christian history. His grandmother, father, mother, sister, & two younger brothers, were all venerated as saints. Wow – imagine being the black sheep in that family! All you had to do to qualify for that dubious title was fail to make your bed.Besides taking the lead with his brother Gregory of Nyssa and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus in hammering out the exact terminology that would be used to define the Orthodox position on the Trinity, Basil was an early advocate & organizer of monastic life. Taking a cue from his sister Macrina, who’d founded a monastery on some of the family’s property at Annessi, Basil visited the ascetics of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, then founded his own monastery, also at Annessi around 358. For the monks there he drew up a rule for their lives called Asceticon; sometimes referred to as the Longer & Shorter Rules. It consisted of 55 major regulations & 313 lesser guidelines. While each monastery during this time followed its own order, more and more began adopting Basil’s template.The first rule to present a rival to Basil’s was the Rule of Augustine.In our last couple episodes on Augustine, we saw that when he returned to Tagaste, he and his friends formed a community committed to serving God. At the bishop of the church at Hippo, Augustine founded a monastery, turning the episcopal digs into a monastic community specifically for priests. It became a spiritual nursery that produced many African bishops.These priest-monks were a corporate reflection of Augustine’s ideal of the whole Church: a witness to the future kingdom of God. The Rule associated with Augustine, and the monastic orders of monks and nuns that bear his name, emphasize “Living in freedom under grace.” They sought for their monastery to be a microcosm of the City of God, longing for mystical union with Him, but firmly rooted in the love and service of others, both within the community and the world.There’s no mention of Augustine’s Rule, in his own literary work called Retractions or Possidius’s Catalogue, but there’s evidence of a monastic rule attributed to Augustine a century after his death. Benedict of Nursia, who we’ll get to next, knew of & was influenced by it, as were several other founders of religious orders. There are existing monastic communities today that still hearken back to the Augustinian Rule as the core of their order’s life.A crucial development in Western monasticism took place in the 6th Century when Benedict of Nursia withdrew w/a group of friends to try to live the ascetic life. This prompted him to give serious thought to the way in which the ‘religious life’ should be organized. Benedict arranged for groups of 12 monks to live together in small communities. Then he moved to Monte Cassino where, in 529, he set up the monastery which was to become the headquarters of the Benedictine Order. The rule of life he drew up there was a synthesis of elements in existing rules for monastic life. From this point on, the Rule of St Benedict set the standard for living the religious life until the 12th Century.The Rule of St Benedict achieved a balance between body & soul. It aimed at moderation & order. It said those who went apart from the world to live lives dedicated to God should not subject themselves to extreme asceticism. They should live in poverty & chastity, & in obedience to their abbot, but they should not feel the need to brutalize their flesh w/things like scourges & hair-shirts. They should eat moderately but not starve themselves. They should balance their time in a regular & orderly way between manual work, reading & prayer—which as their real work for God. There were to be 7 regular acts of worship in the day, known as ‘hours’, attended by the entire community. In Benedict’s vision, the monastic yoke was to be sweet; the burden light. The monastery was a ‘school’ of the Lord’s service, in which the baptized soul made progress in the Christian life.A common feature of monastic life in the West was that it was largely reserved for the upper classes. Serfs didn’t have the freedom to become monks. The houses of monks & nuns were the recipients of noble & royal patronage, because a noble assumed by supporting such a holy endeavor, he was earning points w/God.  Remember as well that while the first-born son stood to inherit everything, later sons were a potential cause of unrest if they decided to contest the elder brother’s birthright. So these ‘spare’ children of noble birth were often given to monastic communes by their families. They were then charged with carrying the religious duty for the entire family. They were a spiritual surrogate whose task was to produce a surplus of godliness the rest of the family could draw on. Rich and powerful families gave monasteries lands, for the good of the souls of their members. Rulers and soldiers were too busy to attend to their spiritual lives as they should, so ‘professionals’ were drawn from their family to help by doing it on their behalf.A consequence of this was that, in the later Middle Ages, the abbot or abbess was usually a nobleman or woman. She was often chosen because of being the highest in birth in the monastery or convent and not because of any natural powers of leadership or outstanding spirituality. Chaucer’s cruel 14th Century caricature of a prioress depicts a woman who would have been much more at home in a country house playing w/her dogs.This noble patronage of monastic communities was both a source of their economic success & their eventual moral & spiritual decay. Monastic houses that became rich & were filled with those who’d not chosen to enter the religious life, but had been put there by parents, usually became decadent. The Cluniac reforms of the 10th Century were a consequence of the recognition there needed to be a tightening up of things if the Benedictine order was not to be utterly lost. In the commune at Cluny and the houses which imitated it, standards were high, although here, too, there was a danger of distortion of the original Benedictine vision. Cluniac houses had extra rules and a degree of rigidity which compromised the original simplicity of the Benedictine plan.At the end of the 11th Century, several developments radically altered the range of choice for those in the West who wanted to enter a monastery. The first was a change of fashion, which encouraged married couples of mature years to decide to end their days in monastic life. A knight who’d fought his wars might make an agreement with his wife that they would go off into separate religious houses.But these mature adults weren’t the only ones entering monasteries. It became fashionable for younger people to head off to a monastery where education was top-rank. Then monasteries began to specialize in various pursuits. It was a time of experimentation.Out of this period of experiment came one immensely important new order, the Cistercians. They used the Benedictine rule but had a different set of priorities. The first was a determination to protect themselves from the dangers which could come from growing too rich.You might ask, “Hold on Lance, how could people who’ve taken a vow of poverty get rich?”There’s the rub. Yes, monks & nuns vowed poverty.  But their lifestyle included diligence in work. And some brilliant minds had joined the monasteries, so they’d devised some ingenious methods for going about their work in a more productive manner, enhancing yields for crops & the invention of new products. Being deft businessmen, they worked good deals and maximized profits, which went into the monastery’s account. But individual monks did not profit thereby. The funds were used to expand the monastery’s resources & facilities. This led to even higher profits. Which were then used in plushing up the monastery even more. The cells got nicer, the food better, the grounds more sumptuous, the library more expansive.  The monks got new habits. Outwardly, things were the same, they owned nothing personally, but in fact, their monastic world was upgraded significantly.The Cistercians responded to this by building houses in remote places & keeping them as simple, bare lodgings. They also made a place for people from the lower classes who had vocations but wanted to give themselves more completely to God. These were called “lay brothers.”The startling early success of the Cistercians was due to Bernard of Clairvaux. When he decided to enter a newly founded Cistercian monastery, he took with him a group of his friends & relatives. Because of his oratory skill & praise for the Cistercian model, recruitment proceed so rapidly many more houses had to be founded in quick succession. He was made abbot of one of them at Clairvaux, from which he draws his name. He went on to become a leading figure in the monastic world & European politics. He spoke so movingly he was useful as a diplomatic emissary, as well as a preacher.We’ll hear more about him in a later episode.Other monastic experiments weren’t so successful. The willingness to try new forms of the life gave a platform for some short-lived endeavors by the eccentric. There are always those who think their idea is THE way it ought to be. Either because they lack common sense or have no skill at recruiting others, they fall apart. So many pushed on the boundaries of monastic life that one writer thought it would be helpful to review the available modes in the 12th Century. His work covered all the possibilities of monastic & priestly life.The 12th Century saw the creation of new monastic orders. In Paris, the Victorines produced leading academic figures & teachers. The Premonstratensians were a group of Western monks who took on the monumental task of healing the rift between the Eastern & Western churches. The problem was, there was no corresponding monastic group IN the East.But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves as we try to keep to a closer narrative timeline.In future episodes, we’ll revisit the monks & monasteries of the Eastern & Western Church because it was often from their ranks the movers of church history were drawn.
Jan 01, 1970
34-The Great Recession
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This episode is titled – The Great Recession.I usually leave house-keeping comments for CS to the end of each episode but wanted to begin this by saying thanks to all who subscribe, listen regularly, and have turned others on to the podcast.Website stats tell us we have a lot of visitors & subscribers. Far more than you faithful ones who’ve checked in on the Facebook page & hit the “like” button. Can I ask those of you who haven’t yet to do so?Then, if you’re one of the many who accesses the podcast via iTunes, you probably know how difficult it can be to find what you’re looking for there. Millions use iTunes as their podcast portal yet the search feature is clunky. So tracking down what you want can be a challenge. What helps people find content on iTunes is reviews. So, if you’re an iTunes user and like CS, you could be a great asset by writing a brief review for the podcast. Thanks ahead of time.Okay, enough shameless self-promotion . . .Christianity more than proved its vitality by enduring waves of persecution prior to Constantine the Great. When persecution was withdrawn & the Faith climbed out of the catacombs to become the darling of the State, the question was whether it would survive the corruption political power inevitably brings. While many thousands of pagans professed faith because it was the politically expedient thing to do, some sincere believers marked the moral corruption that took place in the church & forsook society to practice a purer faith in monasteries, as we saw in our last episode.The institutional Church, on the other hand, organized itself in a manner that resembled the old Roman Imperial system. When the Empire crumbled under the weight of its own corruption, that fall accelerated by barbarian invasions, the question was, would Christianity fall with it?The story of Christianity in the West is a remarkable tale of survival. So often in history, when a culture is swept away, so is its religion. Christianity has proven an exception. As often as not it endured when the culture changed. Such was the case in Europe and the events that followed the Fall of Rome at the end of the 5th Century.When the Gospel first came to those urban centers which were the cultural heart of the Roman Empire in the late 1st & early 2nd Centuries, it was regarded as a Jewish reform movement. Its first converts were Jews scattered around the Empire and those Gentiles who’d attached themselves to the Jewish synagogues. But once these God-fearing Gentiles came to faith, they evangelized their Gentile friends. Following Paul’s example in speaking to the philosophers on Mars Hill, these Gentile Christians recast the Gospel in Greco-Roman terms, using ideas & values familiar to the pagan mind.When I say “pagan” don’t think of it as the insult it is in our modern vernacular; someone void of moral virtue. By pagan, I mean those who practiced the religion of the Greeks & Romans with its pantheon of gods. In that sense, Plato & Aristotle were pagans. Zeno, the philosopher who developed Stoicism, was a pagan. These were all men who developed the philosophical framework that shaped the worldview of Greco-Roman culture & society. They asked some penetrating questions that provided the intellectual backdrop of the 1st & 2nd Centuries. Gentile Christians picked up these questions & used them to say they’d found their answers in Christ. Many other pagans found these arguments convincing & were won to faith. Some of the Early Church Fathers even appealed to the ancient philosophers in the formal letters they wrote to the Emperors on why persecution of Christians was bad policy. They argued for a promotion of the Faith as a boon to the health of culture, not a harm to it. Their defense of the Faith was couched in terms the Emperors were familiar with because they shared the same philosophical language.My point here is that Christianity made an appeal to the Greco-Roman worldview it was growing in the midst of. So, what would happen when that society fell?Also, the Church’s organizational structure increasingly came to resemble the Imperial structure. What would happen when that was dismantled? Would the Faith survive? Had Christianity grown too close to the culture?The answer is à Yes & no. The Empire’s demise did pose a set-back to the Church. But we might ask if maybe that was good. The institutional Church had in many ways deviated from its purpose & calling. Not a few bishops were far more concerned for their political power than for their role as spiritual shepherds. In many minds, spiritual & earthly power had merged into the same thing.Rome’s fall allowed the Faith to break away from the political attachments that had corrupted it for a century & a half.  But there’s little doubt that from the 6th through 9th Centuries, Christianity suffered a kind of spiritual declension. Over that 400 years, the total number of people who claimed be Christians dropped, fresh movements of renewal declined, & moral & spiritual vigor flagged.  While there were exceptions, overall, Christianity lost ground, giving this period of time in Church history the title, as Kenneth Scott Latourette calls it, the Great Recession.Following the timeline of Church history at this point becomes difficult because so much was going on in various places. So for the balance of this episode, I want to give a quick sketch of both the many reversals & few advances Christianity saw from the 6th thru 9th Centuries.When the Goths, Visigoths, & Ostrogoths moved in to pick clean the bones of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century, something remarkable happened. While they helped themselves to the wealth of the Empire, they also adopted some of the Roman customs they admired. But nothing was so surprising as their embrace of Christianity. In truth, these barbarians were already what we’d have to describe as nominally Christian. Their invasion of & settling into Roman lands greatly furthered their identification with the Faith.Remember that in the ancient world, war was more than just an attempt to take land & plunder; it was a contest of faiths. The ancients believed armed conflict was a kind of spiritual tug of war. The mightiest god gave his or her people victory. This is why when one people defeated another, the loser’s religion was often wiped out.But the Germanic barbarians tended to embrace Christianity rather than destroy it. There was something different in the message of Christ from their ancient folk faiths that drew and converted them. So when they took down the Roman Imperial structure, they left the churches intact. Bishops continued to exercise oversight in their flocks.Unlike other religions, Christianity was super-cultural. It wasn’t just the faith of one group; it potentially embraced all. Even those who rejected the Gospel recognized it wasn’t merely the spirituality of a specific ethnic group. Its message transcended culture to encompass all humanity.That was the situation on the north & northeastern borders of the Empire. The situation in the south was very different.  In the 7th Century, Islam swept out of Arabia to conquer the Middle East & North Africa. The Muslims managed to get a foothold in Spain before the armies of Charles Martel stopped them pushing any further North in 732. Where Islam conquered, it replaced native religions. Enclaves of determined Jews & Christians eked out an existence but by & large, the Crescent replaced the Cross throughout the Middle East & North Africa.While there’s no specific date or event that marked the onset of the Great Recession, we’ll set the year 500 as the starting point.  Here’s why …In 476 the last Roman Emperor was deposed by the Goth leader Odoacer. This marks the end of the Western Roman Empire. The capital then shifted undisputedly to Constantinople in the East.20 years later, in 496, the Frank king Clovis was baptized. This marked a new era in which Germanic rulers became the standard-bearers of the Faith instead of Romans.Then in 529, the Eastern Emperor Justinian closed the Schools of Athens. These academies were the last official symbols of Greco-Roman paganism. Justinian ordered them closed to signal the final triumph of Christianity over paganism.In that same year, 529, Benedict built his monastery on Monte Cassino as we saw in our last episode. The Benedictine Rule was to have a huge impact on the course of the Faith in the West.While Christianity seemed to stumble in many of the places where it had been installed 3 & 400 years before, it continued its relentless spread into new territory. It was during the early 6th Century that the Faith went up the Nile into Sudan. In the latter part of that century, Pope Gregory sent missionaries to Britain and in the early 7th Century the Gospel reached China.But the 7th Century was when the Arab conquests began. In less than 20 years after Mohammed’s death, Islam had raised its banner over, Israel, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, & Egypt. Before the end of the Century they’d conquered all North Africa, including the capital at Carthage and by 715 had taken Spain.If you’ve been listening from the earliest episodes, you know that these lands the Arabs conquered had a rich Christian history, especially in North Africa. Alexandria & Carthage were home to some of the most prominent Christian leaders & theologians – Athanasius & Arius, Alexander, Cyril, & Augustine, to name a few.At the same time, the Arabs were spreading Islam across Christian lands, up in the Balkan peninsula & Greece, pagan Slavs moved in. In 680, Asians called Bulgars crossed the Danube River & set up a kingdom in what had been the Eastern frontier of the Empire.Between these losses to the Arabs in the South & the Slavs & Bulgars in the East, about half the total land area that had been Christian territory was lost.The 8th Century saw large numbers of German tribes come to Faith. But the 9th & 10th Centuries were marked by repeated invasions of pagans from the distant north. These  Scandinavians raided the shores of northern Europe, Britain, and all the way to Russia. They delighted in looting the many defenseless churches & monasteries they included in their conquests.These Scandinavian raids helped shatter the fragile unity the Carolingians had pulled together in Europe. As society broke apart into minor political regions, the quality of spirituality in the churches declined.  Discipline in the monasteries grew lax. Bishops focused more on secular than spiritual matters. The clergy grew corrupt. The Roman Papacy became a political football.The Eastern church of the 8th & 9th Centuries was rent by a theological controversy over the use of images. In the 9th Century, Muslims conquered Sicily & Crete, & established a beachhead in southern Italy.In China of the mid 9th Century, Christianity experienced a wave of fierce persecution. This was due to the Faith having been too closely identified with the previous dynasty.As we come to the dawn of the 10th Century, there were several positive signs the Faith was growing again in the regions where it had declined. Churches were planted among the Slavs & Bulgars. The Faith extended its reach into Russia & there are indications the Church in India grew during this time.One sign of a positive spiritual turn took place in Eastern France in a place called Cluny. In 910, Duke William of Aquitania founded a monastery on the Rule of St. Benedict. The abbots selected to lead it were men of tremendous character & piety. They were determined to correct the lax moral attitudes that had become all too common in monastery life.The Clunaic reforms not only reinvigorated monastic life, they established a new hierarchy for monasteries. Prior to Cluny, monasteries were connected to & in a sense answerable to local bishops & nobility. Cluny and the monasteries that came from it were directly answerable to the Pope.  This became an important element of church life when during the 11th Century, the popes tried to un-tie the Church from secular powers.While the monastic life may seem strange & at the same time stereo-typical of the romanticized view of Medieval life we have today, monasteries acted as repositories of the wisdom & learning of previous generations. As wave after wave of invaders washed over Europe, and society was shattered into a thousand bits, monasteries remained cultural lighthouses.
Jan 01, 1970
35-Overview 1
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This episode of CS the first of a couple summary reviews we’ll do. My plan is to continue on as we have, pausing occasionally to in one episode catch us up in broad strokes on what we’ve covered so far.My hope is to avoid the whole, “Can’t see the forest for the trees” thing. For those listeners where English is a second language, that phrase is an idiom that means the loss of perspective behind too many details.Though I want to give a clean straight narrative for our story of the Church, we can’t help but bounce around ab it between times & places. It’s just the nature of trying to examine all of church history, instead of its course in one location. Still, I hope to build a basic sense of historical flow. To that end, stopping every so often to step back and provide a quick summary of the material we’ve covered so far seems appropriate.Overviews won’t have nearly the detail as a regular episode, but they will have a lot more names & dates since it’s a culling & gleaning of what the last so many episodes have covered.Okay, here we go with our first Overview . . .While the Christian Faith began as an inordinately tiny sect within 1st Century Judaism, it grew rapidly, first among Jews, then among Gentiles. This growth can be attributed to two main causes. First, was the generally lethargic spiritual condition of the ancient world, most especially in those regions dominated by the Roman Empire. Several factors conspired to make people ripe for the message the Gospel proclaimed. Second, was the spiritual dynamic provided by early followers of Jesus. They demonstrated an exceptional lifestyle that attracted others. Even while Rome followed an official policy of opposition to the Faith, the number of its adherent grew.Early Christianity is divided by historians into 2 periods: the Apostolic & Post-Apostolic.The Apostolic lasts from the mid-1st Century to the early 2nd when the last of the Apostolic Fathers died. The Apostolic Fathers are counted not only as the original disciples of Jesus and their peers but their direct followers; men like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch & Polycarp.The Post-Apostolic period stretches from the early 2nd Century to the beginning of the 4th. During this time the leadership of the church moved from direct dependence on the Apostolic Fathers to local church leaders, known as pastors. As the decades passed, these local lead pastors morphed into bishops who oversaw a growing episcopal structure.This period was marked by episodic & regional persecution of Christians in Roman lands. It wasn’t until the mid to late 3rd Century that persecution became a widespread policy. It ended with the arrival of Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan in 313. Names associated with this time are Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen.Besides persecution, the main challenge the Post-Apostolic church faced was presented by heresy.Early Christians heeded the New Testament’s repeated call for maintaining correct belief and refuting false teaching. The Faith wasn’t just the philosophical ramblings of a sun-burnt sage. It was rooted in historical events both ancient & recent. When aberrant teachers attempted to hijack core & cardinal doctrines, bishops gathered to study what their Scriptures said and arrive at a consensus. In this way, they refuted the challenge of such groups & teaching as Docetism and its later evolution, Gnosticism.  They rebuffed Marcionism, the Ebionites, Manachaeists & the aberrant teaching of Montanus. The greatest threat rose from a Bishop named Arius who denied Jesus’ deity.  Though Arianism was officially quashed at the First of the Great or what are called Ecumenical Councils held at Nicaea in 325, it continued to be espoused in many regions for the next century and a half. The Council of Nicaea established the orthodox Christian position today known as Trinitarianism, which holds that God is one in essence while three in persons. While 300 bishops signed the Nicaean Creed, many of them went away from the Council unsettled about the terminology used in the Creed to define the correct view of God. The task of sharpening the terms & arriving at the proper description of the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity was left to the Cappadocian Fathers some time later.The Post-Apostolic period is also when the Church Fathers realized the need to provide a definitive list of books that comprised the Bible. The work of several councils finally closed the Canon during this time.The Post-Apostolic Period was followed by what’s often called Catholic Christianity; not to be confused with ROMAN Catholic. The term ‘catholic’ means universal and stands in contrast to the many often subtle doctrinal challenges that arose following the Council of Nicaea. This period, stretching from the beginning of the 4th Century to the end of the 5th saw 7 major Church Councils that all met to address some new or renewed challenge to orthodoxy, specifically as it related to the theological can of worms the First Council at Nicaea opened, and maybe we should say, sought to close. You see, once the Church settled on the Trinity as the right way to understand God, the main questions were;1) How do the persons of the Godhead relate to one another?2) How are we to understand the person of Jesus? How do we reconcile Him as both God & Man?This second issue ended up in sometimes bloody brawls as advocates of different positions used the debate to secure political favor & religious prestige.During this period of Catholic Christianity, 4 cities rose as the gravitational centers of the Christian world; Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, & the new capital of the Empire, Constantinople. Alexandria, Antioch & Constantinople were all in the East while Rome was alone in the West. The main contest for prestige & power was between Alexandria & Antioch which used 2 different ways of interpreting Scripture and understanding the Person & Nature of Christ. Alexandria had a long reputation as a center of scholarship but Antioch continually produced excellent preachers. Since the Church at Constantinople, being near the royal palace, was the premier church in terms of securing imperial favor, whoever was the bishop there tended to secure favor for his side of the debate. It infuriated many of the bishops at Alexandria that Antioch kept providing new leaders for the Church at Constantinople. The supreme example of all this is the verbal and at times physical brawl that took place between Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius from Antioch, who became Bishop at Constantinople.It was during this time as well that the Church at Rome emerged to become, not just the lead church in the West, but over the entire Empire. One of the reasons for this is the generally excellent leadership the Roman Bishops provided. When the Eastern churches were wracked by debate, Rome often played a mediating influence or lent a perspective that resolved the issue.What encouraged Rome’s emergence as the lead church in the Faith was the claim of some Roman Bishops that they were spiritual heirs to Peter’s spiritual hegemony. That claim was not without considerable push-back by many, but it eventually proved persuasive so that Rome was given tacit, if not outright honor as the lead church.Again, it was during this era the Ecumenical Councils were convened. They were concerned largely with settling the Christological disputes tearing apart the Church. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 & First Council of Constantinople in 381 condemned Arianism. The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorianism and affirmed Mary as the Theotokos; that is the "Mother of God."The Council of Chalcedon just 20 years later affirmed that Christ had two natures; He was fully God and fully man, yet was one person. It specifically condemned Monophysitism, the belief that Jesus’ divine nature overwhelmed his human nature. Following Chalcedon, several groups broke with the orthodox, or what we would call from this time, Catholic position; again, not Roman Catholic. The term simply means what was the accepted position of the Church & churches of the Roman World. The churches of Egypt, headquartered at Alexandria tended to be Monophysite while the churches that moved into the East followed a distorted view of Nestorius’ & began to adopt the idea that Jesus was not only of two natures, He was two persons in a single body. As we’ve seen in previous episodes, it’s unlikely Nestorius himself believed that, though his opponents claimed he did, and his later followers do seem to have moved in that direction.One of the most significant events of this period occurred in late February of 380. Emperor Theodosius I signed the Edict of Thessalonica which made Catholic, Trinitarian Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Prior to this the Emperors Constantius II & Valens favored Arian flavors of the Faith. Theodosius I declared the Trinitarianism of the Nicene Creed as the perennial position of the Empire. While there were going to be all kinds of problems associated with making Christianity the State religion, what ensured it would really go awry was that Theodosius went further and in effect outlawed unbelief; any belief but Catholic Christianity was deemed heretical. Heretics weren’t just put out of the Church, they were put out of life!It didn’t take long for the Church to avail itself of the Imperial organizational structure, adopting similar geographical borders. They even kept the old imperial name – Diocese. Bishops oversaw the various dioceses. The bishop’s home was known as a seat, or see.Back-tracking a bit, when Christians were being persecuted during the 2 and 3rd Centuries in the West, many of them fled for refuge to the East and the Sassanid Empire, the long-time enemy of Rome. Though the Sassanids were Zoroastrians, they welcomed the Christians because, you know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.When Rome became a Christian State, the Sassanids feared the Christians would become a kind of religious Fifth Column and began persecuting them. The once vibrant Persian church was decimated and many of these Eastern Christians fled even further East, becoming what is today referred to as the Church of the East.As we’ve seen in recent episodes, Monasticism became a standard feature of Christianity during the time of Catholic Christianity and carried on for centuries after in the Middle Ages.While there are dozens of names associated with this time, we’ll limit our list to a few as we wrap up this episode.There are the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa and their friend, Gregory of Nazianzus.There’s the Popes Damasus I & Leo the Great.We’ve mentioned Cyril of Alexandria & his nemesis, the defrocked & banished Nestorius.There’s the astoundingly gifted Bishop of Milan, Ambrose and his student who eventually outshined his teacher – Augustine.This is the time of Jerome & the Golden-tongued Chrysostom.It’s the time Attila the Hun and Alaric whose Goths sacked Rome.It’s the age of the Vandals who are such brutes they give their name to bad behavior.This is also the time of an interesting character whose life has become a thing of legend – Patrick of Ireland. We’ll take a look at him soon.The Era of Catholic Christianity ends in the late 5th Century with the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. This is of course an arbitrary line we draw, especially when we consider that the Eastern Empire saw itself as the continuation of the Empire for another thousand years.But most historians see the Fall of the Western Roman Empire as a momentous event that leveled a blow to the European mindset it took centuries to recover from. Thus, the period between the Roman Empire and the Modern Era is called the Middle Ages. And while it’s been fashionable for a long time in the popular idea of history to see the Middle Ages as Dark and a long stretch when nothing of much consequence happened, the more astute student knows the Middle Ages were a time of amazing development.
Jan 01, 1970
36-Did Those Feet?
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This episode is titled – “Did Those Feet?” Why it bears that title is this . . .Have you ever heard the anthem “Jerusalem”, whose lyrics come from a poem by William Blake? The song was performed by the 1970’s progressive rock band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer on their album, Brain Salad Surgery.The opening lines are . . .And did those feet in ancient time -- Walk upon England’s mountains green?And was the holy Lamb of God -- On England’s pleasant pastures seen?A mysterious riddle for those not aware of the ancient legends surrounding Britain’s entrance upon the Christian faith.For centuries England prided itself that the church there was founded by Jesus himself. This tale was invoked in British disputes with France over preeminence & in late Protestant claims that Rome had nothing to do with the English church. It’s unclear how much the mystic, artist, and poet William Blake believed the tale, but his question remains famous.In the Council of Basel in 1434, the Council decreed, “The churches of France and Spain must yield in points of antiquity and precedence to that of Britain, as the latter church was founded by Joseph of Arimathea immediately after the passion of Christ.”Uh, huh?!!?Okay, so à We all know this is supposed to be a history podcast, not a wild, flight of fancy, let’s repeated every crazy thing people have believed, podcast. So, why am I sharing this? It’s illustrative of how many, maybe even most, of the churches of the ancient world laid claim to a special origin and identity. By way of illustration, let’s look at the legends surrounding England’s embrace of the Faith.According to well-established legend, Joseph of Arimathea, the Jewish leader who petitioned Pilate to bury Jesus’ body, was also Mary’s uncle. When Mary, Joseph and 12-year-old Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover, it was at Uncle Joseph’s place they stayed. Sometime later, Uncle Joe took the teenage Jesus on a tin-trading trip to Glastonbury, in England.Other legends put the adult Jesus in Glastonbury, using his constructions skills in making a house and working as a ship’s carpenter. Older and even less reliable legends leave Jesus in Israel but send Uncle Joseph to Britain alone 30 years after Jesus’ ascension.In the 12th Century, a monk named William of Malmesbury made a record of the history of the Church at Glastonbury. In the introduction added a century later, the story goes that the Apostle Philip sent Joseph & 11 others to Britain where they were allowed to build a church there. Then, after yet another century, John of Glastonbury said Joseph of Arimathea was an ancestor of King Arthur & bringer of the Holy Grail to England.Okay, enough of the legends. What is certain is Origen’s reference to the Gospel having been received among the Britons in the early 3rd Century. And the faith hadn’t just come there, it was widely accepted. Even the North African apologist Tertullian wrote in An Answer to the Jews some time around ad 200 that the Faith had taken root and was growing in Britain. The first church historian Eusebius notes that “some apostles passed over the ocean to what are called the British Isles.”In AD 43, 2 years after Claudius was hailed Emperor of Rome, 40,000 Roman soldiers finally achieved Julius Caesar’s plan to invade Britain. Times had changed; Claudius invaded the island mainly because he could, and he needed the prestige of a military victory. Having landed on the coast of Kent, the legions subdued Wales and England, but found themselves overextended after a few victories against the Picts of Scotland.The British Celts adapted quickly to the lifestyle of their Roman conquerors. Celtic languages were abandoned in favor of Latin, and Celts began bowing to the gods of the Roman pantheon.It was because of this new Romanized British religion we learn the name of a British Christian: Alban.Alban was a pagan, but a friendly one. He welcomed a Christian priest fleeing persecution into his home. Which persecution is uncertain but the Anglo-Saxon church historian the Venerable Bede says it was under Diocletian at the end of the 3rd Century. It didn’t take long for the priest’s devotion to influence Alban. He renounced idolatry and put his faith in Christ. But no sooner had Alban knelt in prayer than soldiers appeared at the door, having been informed of the priest’s location. The new convert swapped clothes with the priest. It wasn’t until Alban was brought before the judge that his identity was revealed. The judge said Alban would bear the priest’s punishment. He had only one out à to sacrifice to the idols. Alban refused.The judge asked, “What’s your family and race?’Alban replied, “What does that concern you? If you want to know the truth about my religion, know that I’m a Christian and practice Christian rites.’The Judge blustered à “I demand to know your name!”Alban answered, “My parents named me Alban. And I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.”Again the judge ordered him to sacrifice to the pagan gods, & again he refused, saying whoever did so was “doomed to the pains of hell.” When beatings and whippings couldn’t change his mind, he was sentenced to death.The story of Alban’s martyrdom goes on. While it’s difficult to sort out fact from legend, his tale gives us an idea of the high regard the martyrs were given in the Early Church. Supposedly on the way to the hill where Alban was to be executed, his guards were unable to cross a bridge because of the crowd that had gathered. So Alban parted the river as Moses had parted the sea. This was too much for his executioner, who instantly became a believer himself and joined Alban at the block where his head was removed from his shoulders.Alban became Britain’s first, but by no means only, martyr. Turns out Alban & his former executioner weren’t the only ones martyred that day. So were 2 others.One of the challenges historians face when reviewing the history of Christianity in England is the syncretism that often seems to mark its early years. Syncretism refers to the blending of different things. Religious syncretism is something the Church has had to deal with since its earliest days. In many places around the Roman Empire, while Christianity supplanted paganism, in a few places, pagan ideas and rituals were taken up and adopted by the Church. Old feast days were gutted of their pagan origin & made to represent Christian commemorations, and so on. It’s in England such syncretism stands out. Several artefacts reveal that conversion out of paganism into a clear NT Christianity was a slow process. Pagans and Christians worshipped side by side in the same building in Kent. Several British churches were built in imitation of pagan temples and shrines. A mosaic in Dorset includes both pagan and Christian themes. The same situation appears in Ireland, where pagan and Christian statues are found side by side.While the assumption of most historians is that all this points to a syncretistic blurring of the lines between pagans & Christians, an alternative position sees the close proximity of pagan & Christian elements as evidence of a remarkable tolerance between the two groups. It may have been that the two groups shared the same location without conflating their faiths.In 314, 3 bishops from Britain: Eborius from York, Restitutus of London & Adelphius from Lincoln, attended a church council at Arles, in southern Gaul. The Council was called to decide the issue of the Donatists in North Africa, which we’ve dealt with in an earlier episode. It was at this council Donatists were officially labeled heretics. British bishops were also present at Sardica in 343 & Armininum 16 years later.That these British church leaders were able to attend these councils suggests they were organized early, well before Constantine’s Edict of Milan. It also means they had contact with the Church on the Continent. Monasticism, which would find such a prominent place in England, was a product of the Church in North Africa.Monasticism came to England via the work of Martin of Tours. Martin was a military veteran from Hungary who, after his conversion to Christ, seems to have a hard time deciding whether he wanted to work in a church or a monastery. His real passion was evangelism. So he preached Christ to the unconverted & the asceticism of monastery-life to the already converted. One of those was a Briton named Ninian.Ninian’s story, like so many from church history, is a shadowy tale clouded in legend. We’re not even sure that’s his real name. He was a missionary to the Picts in Scotland. Probably not the first to take the Gospel north of Hadrian’s Wall, he was the first to get credit for it. Martin urged several masons to go with Ninian to build a monastery at Whithorn. Venerable Bede says it was named The White House. It became a center of monastic activity, drawing students from Ireland & Wales.Needing the legions to defend the empire from hostile Germanic tribes, in 407, Emperor Honorius recalled them to the Continent. Within just a few years, Roman rule of England was completely dismantled.  In less than a generation nearly all traces of Roman culture, from philosophy to architecture was in ruins. And while many of the native Britons rejoiced as the Eagle flew south, they certainly did NOT appreciate the consequences as wave after wave of invaders washed over the land. The Picts came south from their highland homes. Scots invaded from Ireland. You might say, “Wait - Scots are from Scotland, not Ireland.” And that’s where a little known fact of history proves important. It wasn’t called Scotland at that time. Scot was the word used for the Irish. When they invaded and settled among the natives of northern Briton, it became known as the Land of the Scots.The real change for Britain came when the Saxons invaded from Germany. Then the Saxons were flowed up by the Angles & Jutes from Denmark. Foreign cultures overran Britain, snuffing out the last vestiges of Roman culture. In the eastern region of the isle even Celtic culture nearly disappeared.But it wasn’t just weapons that Saxonized & Anglicized the Britons. The British nobles who’d adopted Roman ways promptly “went-Saxon” so they could hang on to their social status. Immigration changed England’s demographics. Yet despite the large numbers of Northern Europeans who made their way to Britain’s shores, lots of ethnic Britons still inhabited 5th C England. Now without Roman infrastructure, life changed. Communication with the continent diminished. And with less interaction with Rome, the British church became insular. Older  historians emphasized this isolation, using it to explain the independent mindset that marked the Medieval English Church. But it turns out while communication did in fact fall off, it didn’t cease altogether.So while monasticism boomed in England after the Romans departed, and it took on a distinctly English form, it wasn’t utterly divorced from the monasticism practiced in the rest of Europe. And it wasn’t long before Celtic monks went forth from their isolation to carry Celtic Christianity to the mainland.
Jan 01, 1970
37-Patrick
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This week’s episode is titled, “Patrick”Last week’s episode was a brief review of Christianity’s arrival in Britain. We saw how the Anglo-Saxons pressed in from the east coast where they’d been confined by what remained of the Roman army. But when the Roman’s pulled out in 410, the Saxons quickly moved in to take their place, confining the Romano-British Christians to the western region of the Island. It was from that shrinking enclave of faith that a spark of faith leapt the Irish Sea to land in the dry tinder of Celtic Ireland. That spark’s name was Patrick.While there’s much legend surrounding Patrick’s life, there’s scant hard historical evidence for the details of his story.  We have little idea when or where he was born, where he lived & worked, when & where he died, & other important specifics. What we do have are incidental clues & his own records, vague as they are.The record of Christianity in Ireland prior to Patrick is sketchy. A bishop named Palladius was appointed by Pope Celestine to the island, but he didn’t stay long. He left the same year Patrick arrived.Patrick was born into an affluent & religious home. His father was a deacon; his grandfather a priest. The family was likely of the Romano-British nobility & owned minor lands along the shores of western Britain. Several locations claim to be Patrick’s ancestral home.  At the age of 16, he was captured by Irish slavers who regularly raided Britain’s coast. He was taken back to Ireland & sold into captivity.Patrick recounts little of his 6 yrs as a slave except to say he was a shepherd or swine-herd who spent long periods tending his charges. Being a slave, he endured long periods of hunger, thirst & isolation. This trial moved him to seek God in earnest. The faith of his parents became his own.Years later, in writing what is known as his Confessio, Patrick said he believed his slavery was discipline for spiritual apathy. Not only did he attribute his own slavery as the chastening of the Lord, he said thousands of fellow Britons also suffered for the same reason.  He came to see the discipline as God’s grace because it led him to God. He wrote -More and more, the love of God and the fear of Him grew in me, and my faith was increased and my spirit enlivened. So much that I prayed up to a hundred times in the day, and almost as often at night. I even remained in the wood and on the mountain to pray. And—come hail, rain, or snow—I was up before dawn to pray, and I sensed no evil nor spiritual laziness within.At 22, Patrick said he heard a supernatural Voice calling him to fast in preparation for returning home.  Not long after, the Voice spoke again: ‘Behold! Your ship is prepared.’ The problem was, Patrick was 200 miles from the sea. Confident he followed the direction of God, he struck out for the coast.  When he arrived & informed the captain he was supposed to board, the captain recognized him as a runaway slave and refused. Patrick realized now his situation was precarious and looked for a place to hide. Seeing a nearby hut he began to make his way there when one of the crew shouted at him to hurry up and board. It seems the crew was short-handed & thought to use Patrick as extra a novice seaman, paying for his fare by the hard work of a lowly deck-hand.The ship set sail & 3 days later landed. Where is a bit of a mystery as Patrick is vague at this point. The best guess was northern Gaul. He says once they landed the crew wandered in a kind of wilderness for nearly a month. We do know that between 407 & 410, the Goths & Vandals ran amok across this region. Things grew desperate and the captain began to berate Patrick, mocking his trust in an all-powerful, all-loving God. Where was all that power and love now that they were in danger of starving to death? Patrick wasn’t intimidated by the challenge. As we’ll see, this kind of opportunity called forth from Patrick an even more determined faith. He told the captain, “Nothing is impossible for God. Turn to Him and He will send us food for our journey.” In desperation the crew obeyed. And as they prayed, a herd of pigs suddenly appeared. The sailors feasted & thanked Patrick, but they balked at embracing his faith in God.There’s a break in Patrick’s account at this point so we’re not sure what happened next. A couple years pass and he’s back home in Britain with his family. They pleaded with him to stay but he’d learned enough of the will of God to know not to make such promises. A short time later he heard the call back to Ireland. He says he had a visionary dream in which an Irishman invited him back to the land of his slavery. Patrick writes in the Confesso -His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish’. And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut, which lies near the Western sea where the sun sets. They seemed to shout aloud to me as with one and the same voice: ‘Holy boy, we beg you, come back and walk once more among us.’ I was utterly pierced to my heart’s core so that I could read no more.Realizing God was calling him back to the Green Isle, Patrick began to prepare. He understood the call to evangelize the Irish but didn’t think himself properly equipped to do so. He sought training in the form of theological study & official ordination. Since both his father & grandfather had followed this course it seemed proper for him as well.  There’s some confusion at this point on where Patrick went to get his education. One biographer sends him to Rome while others say he went to northern Gaul to study under Bishop Germanus.How long Patrick spent in training is unknown but he was eventually ordained as a deacon. One notable event from this time that would later be important to his life was his confession of a youthful sin to a close friend. It was something Patrick had done about a year before the Irish raiders captured him. It troubled him ever after and moved him to confess to a friend there in Gaul. The friend told him he thought it not that important an issue to fret over and that it would not prohibit him from being used by God. The friend even assured Patrick he would one day be made a bishop. Though the sin is left unspecified to us, it would later come back to haunt him.How Patrick evangelized Ireland is an important case study because it opens to us the mind of Christian missionaries during this period. It may also help us understand the troubling religious syncretism that infected the medieval church.The native Celtic religion of Ireland when Patrick returned was dominated by a pagan priesthood called the Druids.  What we know of this Celtic religion is sketchy at best. Julius Caesar is one of our main sources from his encounters with them in his conquests of Gaul and Britain. The Romans loathed and at times feared the Druids. This was due to their near complete control over their people, a control enforced by abject terror. That terror may very well have been put in place by their being empowered by demonic spirits. Human sacrifice was a regular feature of the druidic system and they were attributed with the power to work the miraculous, often in cruel fashion.As I mentioned, there was some limited Christian presence on Ireland prior to Patrick’s arrival but the church had made little headway against the domination by the Druids. Patrick’s 6 year foray as a slave prepared him to know what he faced in the way of religious opposition when he returned. His plan was to confront the Druid’s on their own turf. He understood the only way to make headway among the people was by freeing them from their fear of the Druids. To do that, he’d need to look to the power of God to trump any demonstrations of demonic power the Druids conjured up.This is where the stories of Patrick’s life become difficult to discern the truth of. His medieval biographers take this kernel of truth and spin elaborate yarns about his confrontations with the Druids. Most of those stories are probably fictional, while a few may be based on real events. The larger lesson for us to glean is Patrick’s method of evangelism.The idea had grown among theologians that pagan religions weren’t so much anti-Christian as they were pre-Christian.  Drawing from the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:20, they believed that “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes were clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Paul himself applied this in Athens when spoke to the philosophers on Mar’s Hill. Paul was disturbed by the many idols he encountered in Athens, yet used them to evangelize the Athenians. He said, ‘I see how ultra-religious you are in every way. I even found an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god’. What you worship as unknown, I’m here to make known to you.” In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said God has written eternity on people’s hearts. Patrick & those who followed after looked for how to bring the Truth of Christ to the lost by using whatever elements of their native faith they could, converting it to the Truth of Christ.Patrick and his contemporaries in no way approved of paganism or considered it an acceptable variant of the Gospel. They believed there were supernatural beings behind the idols & ideals of paganism; demons who kept people in spiritual bondage. They believed miracles and magic did occur. After all, Pharaoh’s magicians used supernatural power. But à & here’s the key to Patrick’s methodology à the God of Moses was more powerful, & used His power to bring good while demonic power served only to promote ruin.So when Patrick arrived in Ireland and proclaimed the Gospel, the druids came out in opposition. Their hegemony over the Irish was imperiled. They thought nothing of moving swiftly to kill him. They were the law and could do what they wished. But: They found it harder than they thought. None of their plans or plots worked. It was as if a supernatural wall protected Patrick. He wrote of this time, “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity. But I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty who rules everywhere.”While trusting himself to the protection of God, he also took practical measures to gain allies among the Irish by building amiable relationships with them. These allies kept him informed of the various plots against him.While Patrick does not himself record any specific confrontations with the druids, that’s the subject of many of his biographers. A turning point in Patrick’s mission came when an Irish chieftain named ‘Laoghaire’ came to faith. This chieftain had a group of powerful druids who advised him but who were unable to defeat Patrick in demonstrations of supernatural power.  When a couple of those Druids fell ill, Laoghaire was convinced of the superiority of Patrick’s God and message and professed faith in Christ. As was common to that culture, with his conversion, the people of His clan also came to faith. Their alliance with other clans opened the door for Patrick to bring the Gospel to them as well and soon the entire region had converted.This then was Patrick’s method of evangelism as he made his way across Ireland. He confronted the Druids head on, showing the superiority of God’s power, breaking their monopoly on the minds of the Irish first, then going after their hearts with the Grace of God in the Gospel of Christ.Another turning point was the conversion of some of the Druids themselves.Patrick was driven to bring the Gospel to Ireland because Hibernia, as Ireland was called, was considered the end of the World & Jesus had said the Gospel would be preached to the ends of the world, then the end would come.  Patrick thought he was hastening Christ’s return. In his writings, he repeatedly mentions he was in ‘the last days’, and quoted Matthew 24:14. He wrote, “It has been fulfilled. Behold! We are witnesses to the fact that the Gospel has been preached out to beyond where anyone lives.’Patrick wasn’t alone in this belief. Christians never gave up the idea Christ would return when all the nations heard about him; they just discovered more nations. About exactly a thousand years after Patrick, Columbus went to America not merely in a quest for fame and riches, but to hasten the 2nd Coming.  His Book of Prophesies shows how he thought his discovery fitted into biblical predictions of the end times.While the legend of Patrick’s use of a shamrock to explain the Trinity is interesting, there’s no historical evidence of it. It wouldn’t have been necessary because in the Celtic religion, the concept of a divine trinity was already in place. There’s also no evidence to support the story of Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland.We’ve quoted the first of the two documents Patrick left us, his Confessio. The other was a letter he wrote to a British chieftain named Coroticus. Coroticus claimed to be a Christian but sent his soldiers on raids to Ireland. They’d taken many of Patrick’s converts as slaves. In one case, just a day after being baptizing, dozens of Patrick’s converts were brutally attacked by Coroticus’ raiders. Though they were still dressed in their baptismal garments, many were killed, the rest hauled off as slaves.  Patrick was outraged and wrote an open letter to Coroticus which he circulated to many others. It excommunicated both Coroticus and his soldiers, barring them from Christian fellowship and Communion until they did penance and restored what they’d stolen.Not long after Patrick was named bishop of the Irish church, that friend to whom he confessed his youthful sin, betrayed him. Though the man had earlier said what Patrick had done was no great error, he decided to brand it so by making it public and bringing shame on Patrick. Though we never do discover the nature of the thing, it was a scandal to church officials. Some called for Patrick’s immediate ouster as bishop. Misfortune is a magnet of ill-news and soon others were adding to the accusations against him.  One man claimed Patrick had gone to Ireland merely to get rich, an odd charge when we considered the poverty that marked his life and the unlikely prospect before he went of the success of that ambition.The charges were serious enough to require a church synod. They commissioned an investigation. A group went to Ireland to question Patrick. Though he never testified at the synod back in Britain, the turn-coat friend who’d betrayed him thought better of his betrayal and ended up defending him. The Confessio was Patrick’s reply to the charges against him.While the official outcome of the synod is unknown, that Patrick was never censured or deposed as bishop suggests the charges were refuted.Patrick was less concerned with planting churches as he was in making converts and was tireless in his journeys back & forth across the island. Following the pattern of the time, he considered the ascetic life of the monastery as the purest form of the Faith and encouraged his converts to be monks and nuns. This led to the building of dozens of monasteries and nunneries in Ireland. The rural nature of the island also encourage this form of the Church. Without major urban centers, large churches overseen by bishops were rare. So Irish Christianity was centered in communal monastic life.Patrick died of natural causes on March 17th, 493.  Today, he’s one of the most famous figures from the 5th C.  Like so many others of the past who accomplished great things, we’d probably not even know of him were it not for the dynamic missions outreach that came from Ireland. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland was British. And the Faith he transplanted across the Irish Sea eventually came back to Britain.Many have noted how the Irish have a habit of leaving Ireland. The missionary monks were no exception. There were churches in Britain before Patrick’s day. His father and grandfather were church leaders. But the Anglo-Saxons had confined Christian Britain to a small sliver of the west. A century after Patrick, an Irish monk named Columba founded a monastery on the island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. Though a small base, Iona was nevertheless responsible for a mighty wave of missionary outreach to Scotland & Britain.With this vibrant base in Ireland & Britain, Celtic monks went to the Continent.  They established bases of outreach in Germany, Switzerland & Italy. These in turn became centers of evangelization and scholarship. These Celtic monasteries maintained a fierce independence from Rome, though they held the same faith. The Roman popes tried to assert authority over them but for the most part Celtic Christianity resisted such control.It was in these monasteries that much of the ancient wisdom of the Greeks & Romans was stored, laboriously copied, & assiduously studied, waiting for the day when it would re-emerge in what’s known as the Renaissance.In his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill says this of Patrick -The Irish gave Patrick more than a home—they gave him a role, a meaning to his life. For only this former slave had the right instincts to impart to the Irish a New Story, one that made new sense of all their old stories and brought them a peace they had never known before.
Jan 01, 1970
38-Barbarians at the Gates . . . and Everywhere Else
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The title of this episode is “Barbarians at the Gates – and Everywhere Else”I live on the coast of Southern California in one of the most beautiful places on the planet – Ventura County. The weather is temperate all year round with an average temperature of 70 degrees. The beaches are pristine and most of the time, uncrowded. The County has several prime surf spots. But every so often, usually during the Winter, storms throw up huge waves that trash the shore. Some of these storms are local and wash down huge piles of debris from the hills that then wash up on the beach. Others are far to the south, off the coast of Mexico but they roll up waves that travel North and erode tons of sand, altering the shoreline.In the 5th and 6th Centuries, waves of barbarian invasion from the North and East swept across Europe to alter the political and cultural landscape and prime Europe for the Middle Ages.When Bishop Augustine of Hippo died in 430, the Vandals were laying siege to the city. While the Council of Chalcedon was meeting in 451, Pope Leo negotiated with the Huns to leave Rome unmolested.European history of the 5th and 6th Cs was dominated by the movement of mostly Germanic peoples into the territory of the old Roman Empire. The subsequent displacement and population shifting had a major impact on Christianity in the West. Medieval civilization was a result of this barbarian upheaval coupled with the vestiges of late Roman society and the impact Augustine had on the theology and practice of the Church.The incursion of Germanic tribes into the Roman Empire was just the first of 4 massive waves of migration.The Germans came in the 5th C. The Vars and Slavs swept into the Balkans in the 6th. The Muslims in 7th. And the Vikings in the 8th to 10th Cs.The resulting societal changes created by these invasive migrations had a monumental effect on the Church. We’ll take a look now at just the first of these population shifts - the Germanic invasions.The 5th C saw the climax of what was really a long process of mostly controlled immigration by the Germans. They settled land at the Empire’s frontier and served in the military. In truth, while the Romans referred to the Germans as barbarians, they often preserved the Empire by filling gaps in the declining population of Roman lands and by manning the legions. It was the Perfect Storm that saw things figuratively go south for Rome. Factors combining to generate this Perfect Storm were à1) The Germans were pressed by invaders out of central Asia,2) Key treaties between the Romans and Germans were broken,3) The warm weather that had seen a population boom in Northern Europe was followed by bitter cold so that the Germans were forced to move South in search of lands to sustain their larger numbers. It didn’t help Rome that the Germans now knew Roman military tactics and bore Roman arms.Note to Self: If you don’t want your neighbor to take over your house, don’t give him the keys and alarm code.Certain dates in the first half of the 5th C are important àIn 410, Alaric, leader of the Western Goths, or Visi-goths, sacked the city of Rome. This was an understandably traumatic event for the Western Empire. His successor, Ataulf, married the Emperor Honorius’ sister.In 430, Augustine, attempted to explain Rome’s Fall to the Visigoths in his classic work The City of God. He died the year before the Council of Ephesus and the fall of his city, Hippo in N Africa to the Vandals.In 451, Attila and the Huns from central Asia, swept thru Western Europe, then were defeated by an alliance of Romans and Germans led by Aëtius.In 455, Aëtius and Emperor Valentinian III were assassinated, and the Vandals under Gaiseric again sacked Rome.The first contact the Romans had with the Goths came during the reign of the Emperor Decius. During Constantine’s reign they became allies and often entered the Legions at elevated ranks. The Visigoths were being pressured from the East by the Huns, and in 376 sought refuge on the Roman side of the Danube. The emperor Valens granted their request, and there began a mass conversion of the Goths to Arianism. Due to mistreatment by Roman governors, they revolted in 378 and killed the Emperor Valens in the famous Battle of Adrianople.   Thus began the real Germanic invasions of the Empire. By 419 The Visigoths had subdued Southern Gaul and all of Spain.As we’ve noted in previous episodes, when the Goths invaded the Western Empire in the 5th C, for the most part, they came, not as pillaging pagans but as Arian Christians. A Goth Bishop named Theophilus had attended the Council at Nicaea in 325.The missionary who carried the Gospel to the Goths was Ulfilas in the mid to late 4th C. Ulfilas had amazing success in seeing the Germans won to faith for 2 reasons . . .1) Their native religion was in decline. Simply put, their gods seemed rather old and shabby.2) The many German tribes shared a common language.Realizing translating the Bible into German was a key to successful evangelism, Ulfilas spent considerable time on the project before his death. He left the books of Samuel and Kings out of his translation because he figured the Goths à Well, they already knew enough about warfare.In 406 when Rome recalled the Legions from the Rhine to protect Italy, another Germanic tribe called the Vandals poured into Gaul, then SW into Spain, and eventually jumped the Strait of Gibraltar to harass North Africa. Their King Gaiseric led them to Carthage which he conquered in 439 and made the capital of an Arian Vandal kingdom. Gaiseric was intolerant of other forms of the faith. In 455 he sent ships across the Mediterranean to sack Rome.At first, the Donatists in North Africa rejoiced at the coming of the Vandals. Remember they’d been labeled heretics by Rome. But it didn’t take long for them to realize that the enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend. The Vandals were not friendly. So in 484, a Donatist-Catholic synod met to try and patch up their theological differences.Catholics were persecuted under some of the Vandal kings in the late 5th and early 6th Cs. It was this persecution that gave the Vandals a bad name far more than any actual acts of “vandalism.” Really, the Vandals were no more barbaric than other Germans.Justinian’s famous general, Belisarius, repulsed the Vandals and reoccupied North Africa for the Byzantine Empire in 534.The Visigoths and Vandals were followed up by Suevians, the Burgundians, and the Franks.The Franks were the least mobile of the Germanic tribes. They settled in northern France and expanded their rule from there. They joined several other German tribes along with the Romans to stave off the common threat of the Huns in 451.Of all the German tribes, the Franks were the least inclined to heed the work of Christian missions. They seemed immune to conversion until their king Clovis in the mid 5th C.Clovis’s conversion to the Faith was a significant moment in the history of Europe. Since the Vandals, Goths and Burgundians were Arian, it seemed likely Arianism would take over the West. Alone of the Germanic kingdoms, the Franks under Clovis embraced what we call Catholic or Nicean Christianity, the majority faith of his European subjects.In 492, Bishop Avitus of Vienna arranged the marriage of a Burgundian princess named Clotilda to Clovis. Clotilda was a committed Christian of Nicean-flavor. The Royal couple had a son, who was baptized but died while still in his baptismal robes. Clovis, who at that point was still a pagan, loudly declared his gods would not allow such a thing to happen. Later they had another son. This one thrived.Then, in battle with the Alemanni and things not going in his favor, the desperate Clovis asked for the aid of the Christian God. The battle turned in his favor. When the Alemanni were defeated, Clovis submitted to baptism. Bishop Remigius of Rheims performed the rite on Christmas day in 496.The source for all this is a work by Gregory of Tours titled History of the Franks. This book gave the Franks their identity and shaped their understanding of the future they were to have in forging European history.Following his baptism, Clovis was anointed in his role as monarch. This anointing of the king by a bishop became a custom among the Franks. The resulting aura of sacred Christian kingship seemed to justify Frankish control of the Church. Sadly, Clovis’s character remained little changed by his official acceptance of Christianity. It seems he adopted the religion as a matter of political expediency, but he didn’t receive the Gospel.In 493, Odoacer, the German general who’d forced the abdication of the last Western Roman Emperor a little less than 20 years before, was killed by the Eastern or Ostro-goth king Theodoric. Next to Clovis, Theodoric was the most important ruler of the barbarian kingdoms. Theodoric made Ravenna in Italy his capital. He was an Arian who adopted Byzantine culture. Though he was personally tolerant, his Nicean-Catholic subjects weren’t so much. His rule saw the last flowering of late Roman culture in the West. The Ostrogothic kingdom continued until 553, when the Eastern general Belisarius retook much of Italy for the Byzantine Empire.The cultural revival that occurred during the first half of the 6th C  has been called the “Indian Summer of Christian Antiquity.” This period saw a number of influential persons who laid the foundation of Early Medieval society.Boethius was a from a leading Roman family who became a philosopher and statesman in the court of Theodoric. Although loyal, Boethius came under suspicion and Theodoric had him imprisoned and executed. While in prison, Boethius wrote his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy. This work is important because it marks the transition from the Church Fathers or what’s called Patristics to the Scholastics, who we’ll talk more about later.  Through his translations, Boethius handed to the Middle Ages, the ethics and logic of Aristotle. The Scholastics regarded Boethius as the greatest authority in philosophy after Aristotle.Dionysius Exiguus was a Central Asian who came to Rome toward the end of the 5th C. He collected and translated the canons of the Eastern Church into Latin. He also collected the canons and papal decrees of the Western church. His work bore tremendous ecclesiastical authority.But Dionysius had a much wider significance in that he introduced a system of dating based on the Christian era, beginning with the incarnation of Christ. He’s the one who came up with the whole BC and AD markers to divide time. Until that time, the secular method of charting the date was determined by the rule of the consuls of Rome and the Empire of Diocletian. Unfortunately, Dionysius miscalculated the date of Jesus’ birth, so that according to contemporary reckoning Jesus was born at least 4 BC.This is also the time of Gregory the Great, who’ll we’ll devote an entire episode to soon.Last in the chronicle we’ll include in the list of barbarians invasions is the Lombards. In 568 this Germanic tribe broke through the northern bounds of Justinian’s Empire and entered Italy. Gregory the Great turned them back in 593 and secured peace by dividing Italy between Lombard and Imperial land. The Lombards were a factious lot and ruled from 3 centers: The kingdom at Pavia in the north threatened the imperial capital at Ravenna; the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento in central Italy were a danger to Rome and Naples. The Lombards were Arian. Their acceptance of Catholic Christianity did not come until the 7th C.As we wrap up this episode, let’s take a look at the effect of the Barbarian Invasions.Augustine wasn’t the only one who attempted a literary response to the Germanic invasions. While the sack of Rome in 410 seemed to many the end of the ages, Orosius,  wrote 7 volumes against the Pagans to show that the pre-Christian world suffered no less than the present. The work became a kind of manual for understanding history in the Middle Ages. Orosius gave a central place to the Roman Empire in God’s plan. His history placed on the Western mind the idea of the divine role of Roman civilization. Jerome had already interpreted the 4th kingdom of the book of Daniel as Rome and concluded that it was to continue as long as the Church did. Orosius promoted the view that both the Hebrews and Romans played an important part in the salvation of the world.Salvian’s work titled On the Divine Government in 440 promoted the historical significance of the Germans. He exaggerated their good characteristics as set over against Roman corruption. He said God used the Germans as the sword of judgment on wicked Rome.Three attitudes prevailed in Europe regarding the barbarian invasions àAugustine held that ultimately, political success or failure make no difference. His focus was on the world to come. In contrast, Orosius said Christianity was the guarantor of the Empire’s prosperity. Salvian claimed the Empire was punished for its sins.But an interesting thing happened once the German invaders settled down in the old Roman lands. By and large, they shed either their Arian-flavored faith for Nicean-Catholic Christianity and they adopted the Roman culture – or at least, what was left of it. Over a couple generations they came to identify themselves as Romans rather than as Goths, Franks, Burgundians and Lombards.But even with these adaptations to Roman culture, the old Roman and the new Germanic peoples were divided by language. The Romans spoke Latin, the Germans Goth. Customs of food and dress carried on in many places with the Latins wearing togas while the Germans wore trousers.  Their legal systems differed and laws were applied to the different classes in the same kingdom. It took centuries for the 2 peoples to blend and become the nations of modern Europe. Greco-Roman civilization was based on cities. The Germanic invasions brought a decline to cities. A rural economy developed in the West, accelerating the move to what we’ve come to associate so centrally with the Middle  Ages - Feudalism. While in the East, cities remained the main fixture of the social organization, in the West, landed estates rose to prominence. Rulers relied on their own lands, so there was a decentralization of government.With a decline in centralized government in the West, the Church took over many of the services once provided by the State, like education. Churches and monasteries were bound to the agricultural economy of the West and profited by a close relationship with local rulers. But one thing that saw the importance and influence of the Church grow substantially at this time was the fracturing that occurred in the political realm. When Western Europe was divided up into hundreds of smaller regions, each with its own ruler, the universal authority of the Church under Rome and the regional bishops provided a continuity that was desperately needed. No secular authority in the West was able to control the Church as an organ of state to the same extent as the Eastern emperors. So in the West, rather than kings ruling in Church affairs, it was the Church that increasingly played an role in political affairs.Once again I want to say thanks to all those who’ve gone to the CS FB  page and given us a like. The comments have been a blessing.I especially want to say thanks to those who’ve given the podcast a good review on iTunes. iTunes is the main portal for the podcast and positive reviews go a LONG way in helping promote the podcast.I don’t often mention it, but need to occasionally If you’d like to make a donation to keep Communio Sanctorum online, you can use the donate feature on the website. Sanctorum.us podcast on iTunes.
Jan 01, 1970
39-Popes
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This episode is titled - Popes.We begin with a quote from Pope Leo I and his Sermon 5 ...It is true that all bishops taken singly preside each with his proper solicitude over his own flock, and know that they will have to give account for the sheep committed to them. To us [that is: the Popes], however, is committed the common care of all; and no single bishop's administration is other than a part of our task.The history of the Popes, AKA the bishops of Rome, could easily constitute its own study & podcast. Low & behold there IS a podcast by Stephen Guerra on this very subject. You can access it via iTunes or the History podcasters website.Our treatment here will be far more summary & brief, in keeping with our usual method.Several of the factors that elevated the Church at Rome to prominence by AD 200 were still pertinent to in the 4th & 5th Cs. Theologically, while at the dawn of the 3rd C Rome claimed an over-riding apostolic authority derived from both Peter & Paul, by the 5th Paul was dropped. His historical role in the Church at Rome was forgotten in favor of the textual argument based on 3 key NT passages that seemed to assign Peter a special place as de factor leader of the church under Christ. For those taking notes, the passages were Matt 16, Luke 22, & John 21.As noted in previous episodes, another factor lending weight to Rome's claim as premier church was the steadfastness of the bishops of Rome during the Arian controversy. Rome simply maintained a reputation for orthodoxy. It's interesting that the bishops of Rome never attended an ecumenical council. By doing so they ostensibly avoided the political maneuvers that often accompanied the councils; as we saw with Cyril & Nestorius, & the nasty schemes that embroiled the churches of Alexandria & Antioch.Administratively, Rome adhered to the tradition of a local & provincial synod twice a year. This group of conservative bishops was the vehicle through which their leader, the bishop of Rome, acted. This stood in stark contrast to the synod at Constantinople, held only when some need pressed & attended only by those bishops inclined to show up. And when they did, the bishops held varying loyalties between Alexandria, Antioch, & Constantinople. You remember the Robber's Council at Ephesus where it became a bloody brawl. And the Eastern Councils even altered each other's creeds & conclusions. With this kind of confusion in the East, it's little wonder Rome appeared a bastion of stability.Geographically, by reason of his location, the Roman bishop had a voice that was heard far & wide. Keep in mind that, Rome was the only patriarchate in the West.Politically, Rome, while still highly symbolic, was no longer the political center of the West. Milan, then later Ravenna were the capitals of the Western Empire. With the royal absence, Rome's bishop became the city's most important figure. Likely for this reason alone, the associations of imperial Rome began to surround the church's government.The word 'pope' derives from a word used by Greek children for their father = papas. It was first used in Latin the beginning of the 3rd C as an informal title for the bishop of Carthage. From there, the bishops of Alexandria picked it up & began to be called "pope" a few decades later. It's still the title of the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria.The first known use of the word for the Bishop of Rome comes from an inscription in 303 for Marcellinus, [MAR-shuh-LEE-noss] but a lack of attribution going forward over the next decades means the word was not a common title till much later in the 4th C. The title then became almost exclusively associated in the West with Roman bishop from the 6th C on.In covering how the Bishop at Rome BECAME the Pope, we need to look at HOW it was that the other bishops came to regard him, not just as first among equals, but as someone ordained by God to be in authority over them; someone they owed obedience to as God's Earthly representative. It's evident to anyone who takes the time to study the subject that while a growing number of bishops came to this conclusion, it was by no means something everyone acknowledged. The issue even led to the great rift between the Eastern & Western churches. // So Let's track, in outline at least, how the bishop at Rome became Pope.In the mid-4th C, during the tenure of the Roman bishop Julius, the 3rd canon of the Council at Sardica in 343 established the rule that a bishop who'd been deposed could appeal to the bishop of Rome. This was an important step in the recognition of his appellate authority.In the mid 4th C, the most important bishop of Rome for advancing the claims of his see was Damasus [Dah-MAH-sus]. He became bishop after a contested election in which there was bloodshed between his supporters and those of his rival Ursinus [ur-ZEE-noos]. Damasus made regular references to Rome as "the apostolic see" & spoke of the "primacy of the Roman see" on the basis of Matthew 16:18. Damasus sanctified the burial sites of previous Roman bishops in the catacombs, marking them with ornate inscriptions, he reformed the Latin liturgy, & commissioned Jerome to revise the Latin Bible.Instead of adopting the posture & accoutrements of a humble shepherd of God's flock, Damasus affected an imperial aura reminiscent of an emperor. So exalted was he that the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus hinted he might become a Christian if he could be bishop of Rome.At the end of the 4th C, Bishop Siricius regarded even his letters as being authoritative edicts & styled them as "apostolic." Shortly after that, Innocent I declared that Sardica' s 3rd canon giving the Roman Bishop appellate power was retroactive to the Council of Nicaea in 325. Innocent said the Church's highest teaching authority belonged to Rome. He extended his authority beyond the realm of the Western Empire into the province of Illyricum and started referring to the Roman Bishop as "vicar."Boniface I prohibited appeals beyond Rome.Leo I, AKA Leo the Great, can rightly be referred to as the first pope in that he embodied what that title means for most people today. He combined authority over councils & emperors with the idea the Roman Bishop was Peter's successor in constructing his theory of the papacy.As we saw in the episode a while back on Leo, his 3rd Sermon, delivered on the 1st anniversary of his election, explained the Petrine theory in terms of the Roman law of inheritance. Leo argued Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, so authority over the other apostles. He also claimed, after long tradition that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and his authority was passed on to the subsequent bishops of Rome. Therefore, Leo reasoned, the perpetual authority of Peter is found in the Roman bishop. He dispensed with earlier views of church leadership & made the authority of bishops dependent on the Pope.Since this is a Church History, not a theology or ecciesiology podcast, I'm not going to go into what I, as an Evangelical Protestant, find tenuous in Leo's position.What's important for our purposes here is to realize that now, the bishop of Rome stood between Jesus Christ and other bishops.When Leo's Tome was read at the Council of Chalcedon, the bishops echoed his claim with the acclamation that Peter spoke through Leo. Chalcedon was unusual in that it gave assent to Rome's teaching authority; something previously unknown and later seldom acknowledged in the East.While Rome's primacy was taken as fact in the West, it was a different story in the East. The Council of Chalcedon ranked the Eastern Capital as next to Rome in terms of authority. But Rome never accepted that canon, concerned that by doing so it would degrade Rome's claim to absolute authority.Leo drew a comparison between the 2 natures of Jesus and the 2 parts of the empire; that is, the the religious a7 the civil. Specifically, he referred to the priesthood and the kingship. He compared Peter and Paul as founders of the Roman church to Romulus and Remus as the founders of the Roman city. He presented the Pax Christianum as counterpart to the Pax Romanum.Leo's policy toward the barbarians was to civilize & sanctify them. They called him the "Consul of God." Leo negotiated with the Huns Attila to get them to turn back from Rome. He even claimed the title of the pagan chief priest of Rome, the "pontifex maximus" for himself; chief bridge-builder. He was the 1st Roman bishop to be buried in St. Peter's.It's clear that most of the powers & privileges of future popes were seen in Leo's methods, & policies. He acted as a head of Rome's civil government, checked the advance of barbarians, enforced his authority on distant bishops, preached doctrine, & intervened at Chalcedon.While Augustine provided the intellectual substance for the medieval Western church, Leo laid down its institutional form.At the end of the 5th C, Pope Gelasius took Leo's papal theory even further. He foresaw that the Emperor Marcian's claim to being a spiritual authority & kind of priest-king at the Council of Chalcedon was dangerous. Gelasisus said that the Old Testament functions of prophet, priest, and king, were filled by Jesus Christ alone as the God-Man. Among mere humans, these functions had to be kept separate. And that in the Kingdom of God, priests were superior in authority to kings. This position became a major point of tension throughout the Middle Ages. It will be the crucible that produces much of the history of Europe for the next few hundred years.Pope Gelasius continued the claim it was the office of the Roman church to judge other churches, but could be judged by no human tribunal.By the end of the 5th C, the Western Church virtually equated the kingdom of Christ with the Church. In the East the ideal of a Christianized empire continued on. The reign of Eastern Emperor Justinian seemed an affirmation, even a confirmation of this.As we end this episode, I want to take a little time to try & clarify some words that anyone who studies church history is bound to encounter. It's some titles for church leaders. The problem is sorting out exactly what these words & titles mean; WHO they refer to.I'm referring to the words--pastor, priest, monk, bishop, archbishop, metropolitan, & patriarch.What follows is BY NO MEANS a technical definition for these things. This is meant as a more practical and vastly simplified working definition for those who wants a quick handle on what these things mean as they review church history.Understand right off that these are also words that have been fluid in terms of definition over time.Pastor is a good NT word that's synonymous in the NT with the word's elder & bishop or overseer. All the words refer to the same office & ministry in a local church. And BTW, they do refer to that scope - a local church; not someone who oversees other pastor-elder-bishops.Elder refers to a man's maturity & character as morally & spiritually fit to lead a local church.Bishop refers to his office as a spiritual authority as an overseer,while pastor refers to his task as a shepherd of God's flock.A hundred or so years after the Apostles, pastors were regularly called bishops because they oversaw a team of fellow elders & deacons who served God by serving His people. We ought to think of bishops as equivalent to senior or lead pastors in today's churches.Now, keeping to that analogy, imagine there aren't several dozen churches of different denominational stripes in your town; there's just one church, led by a senior pastor bishop. That church sends out several younger pastors to plant churches in surrounding communities. They are going to look to their sending church and its bishop as a kind of spiritual parent. And if they in turn send out even more pastors to plant more works, that original sending church and pastor takes on a highly respected role of providing guidance, not just for his local congregation, but all the works they spun off. SO, he becomes arch­bishop - because all those local pastors are called, bishops, right?What happened over the first few hundred years of church history was that 5 churches became recognized as canters of church life and authority, 1 in the West at Rome and 4 in the East; Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, & a 4th that varied over time from Jerusalem, to Caesarea, & Carthage. The bishops of these 5 churches were at first affectionately referred to as patriarchs because they were regarded as spiritual fathers to their surrounding provinces. Over time, that title morphed from being merely an unofficial term of affection to an outright title, spelled CAPITAL P - Patriarch.The title "Metropolitan" was applied to the bishops of other large cities and their surrounding provinces beyond the 5 Patriarchates. Metropolitan is essentially synonymous with arch-bishop.A priest was someone who was officially ordained by a bishop to serve communion and baptize converts. That of course was just a very small part of his overall pastoral duties.Monks were people who devoted themselves to the service of God rather than secular employment. They may or may not be ordained as priests. Typically, they lived alongside other monks in a cloistered community.Again, this is a highly simplified description of these roles. But I hope it serves to help those of you doing your own reading in church history to sort out the various church offices.Till next time ...
Jan 01, 1970
40-The Divide
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This episode is titled – The Divide.I begin with a quote from a man known to scholars as Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite. In a commentary on the names of God he wrote . . .The One is a Unity which is the unifying Source of all unity and a Super-Essential Essence, a Mind beyond the reach of mind and a Word beyond utterance, eluding Discourse, Intuition, Name, and every kind of being. It is the Universal Cause of existence while Itself existing not, for It is beyond all Being and such that It alone could give a revelation of Itself.If that sounds more like something an Eastern guru would come up with, don’t worry, you’re right. Dionysius isn’t called Pseudo for nothing.We’ll get to him a bit deeper into this episode.The late 5th & 6th Cs saw important developments in the Eastern church. It’s the time of the premier Byzantine Emperor, Justinian. But 2 contemporaries of his also made important contributions to the most important institutions of the medieval church in the West. One of them we’ve already mentioned in brief, the other we’ll devote an episode to; Benedict of Nursia & Pope Gregory the Great.By the end of the 6th C, the unique characteristics of the Eastern and Western churches had coalesced in two different traditions. While the West remained loyal to the pattern held at Rome, the East emerged in 3 directions.The major Councils held at Ephesus & Chalcedon to decide the issue raised by the debate between Cyril of Alexandria & Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, over the nature of Christ, produced a 3-way split in the Eastern church. That split continues to this day and is seen in what’s called the . . .(1) Chalcedonian or Byzantine Orthodox church(2) Those called Monophysites or Oriental Orthodox, which follows the theological line of Cyril &(3) The Nestorian Church of the East.Without going into all the intricate details of the debates, suffice it to say the Eastern Church wasn’t satisfied with the Western-inspired formula describing the nature of Jesus adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In a scenario reminiscent of what had happened all the way back at the first council at Nicaea in 325, while they concluded the council at Chalcedon with an agreed creed, some bishops later hemmed & hawed over the verbiage. To those Eastern bishops beholden to Cyril, Chalcedon sounded too Nestorian to swallow. Chalcedon said Jesus was “1 person in 2 natures.” The balking bishops wanted to alter that to say he was “out of 2 natures” before the incarnation, but after he was 1 nature.Now, for those listening to several of these podcasts in a row rather than spaced out over several weeks, I know this is repetitious. In a brief summary let me recap Cyril’s & Nestorius’ views. Regarding how to understand who Jesus is; that is, how His identities as both God & Man related to each other . . .Cyril said he was both God & Man, but that the divine so overwhelmed the human it became virtually meaningless. The analogy was that his humanity was a drop of ink in the ocean of His divinity. Therefore, Mary was the Theotokos – the mother of God.Nestorius, balked at that title, saying Mary was Jesus human mother who became the means by which Jesus was human but that she should not be called the mother of God. Nestorius said Jesus was both human & divine and emphasized his humanity and the role it played in the redemption of lost sinners.Because Nestorius reacted to what he considered the aberrant position of Cyril, and because he lacked tact and a knew when to shut up, his opponents claimed he taught Jesus wasn’t just of 2 natures but was 2 persons living in the same body. For this, he was branded a heretic.But when the Council of Chalcedon finally issued its official stand on what compromised Christian orthodoxy regarding the person & natures of Christ, Nestorius said they’d only articulated what he’d always taught.So it’s little wonder post-Chalcedon bishops of the Cyrillian slant rejected Chalcedon. Their view left the humanity of Christ as an abstract and impersonal dimension of His nature. Because they SO emphasized His deity, at the cost of his humanity, they were branded as “Monophysites” or sometimes you’ll hear it pronounced as “muh-noph–uh-sites.” Sadly, just as those labeled Nestorian weren’t heretical as the name came to mean, the term Monophysite is also inaccurate because they did not DENY Jesus’ humanity.The Greek prefix mono implies “only one” nature. A better descriptor is monophysite. Hen- is the Greek prefix meaning one, but without the “only” limiter.But the Eastern push-back on Chalcedon wasn’t just theological; it was also nationalistic. The church in Egypt went into revolt after the Council because their patriarch Dioscorus was deposed!Then in Canon 28 of the Council’s creed, Constantinople was elevated as 2nd only to Rome in terms of prestige, so both Alexandria & Antioch got their togas in a bunch. Those bishops who supported Chalcedon were labeled “Melchites,” meaning royalists because they supported the Imperial church.We’ve noted that while the Western Emperor was out of the picture by this time, so that the Roman pope stood as a kind of lone figure leading the West, the Eastern Emperor at Constantinople still wielded tremendous authority in the Church. We might wonder therefore why they didn’t step in to settle the issue about the nature of Christ.  They wanted to. Several of them would have liked to repudiate Chalcedon, but their hands were tied, because there was one part of the Council they wanted to keep – Canon 28, setting up Constantinople as technically Rome’s second, but in reality, her equal.Now, as I studied the material that follows the debates between the Henophysites & Chalcedonians I found myself at a loss on how to relate it without boring the bejeebers out of you. I spent quite a bit of time working, editing, re-editing, deleting, restoring, and deleting again before deciding to just say that in the East during the 5th & 6th Cs, just about everybody was caught up in this thing. Emperors, bishops, patriarchs, metropolitans, monks, priests, & the common people. There are technical words like Encyclion, Henoticon, Severan, Acacian that are employed to define the different sides taken in the debate, and those who tried to forge a compromise. And let me tell you – THOSE guys failed miserably in working a compromise. They got hammered by BOTH sides.Regarding the long debate over the natures of Christ in the East, Everett Ferguson says that the irony is that the Chalcedonians, Henophysites, and the Church of the East were really trying to say the same thing about Jesus. He was somehow at the same time 2 somethings, but a single individual. Their different starting points gave different formulations their opponents couldn’t accept for theological reasons and wouldn’t for political reasons.Switching gears: Around 500 one of the most influential thinkers in Greek Orthodox spirituality made his mark, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. His real name is unknown. He claimed to be Dionysius, one of Paul’s Athenian converts mentioned in Acts 17. His contemporaries accepted his writings as legit. We know now they weren’t.Pseudo-Dionysius combined Christianity & Neoplatonism into a mish-mash slap-dash theology that appealed to both Chalcedonians and Henophysites. Probably because when you read it you inwardly say, “What?” but had to nod your head saying how amazing it was so you wouldn’t appear stupid. Like when I read or listen to Stephen Hawking waxing eloquent on some tangent of astrophysics; I say, “Wow! That guy’s brilliant!” But don’t ask me to explain what I just heard. He speaks English, but it might as well be ancient Akkadian.Besides being a Neoplatonist, Pseudo-Dionysius was also a mystic, meaning someone who claimed to have had an experience of union with God, not just a deep sense of connection to Him, but an actual uniting with the essence of deity. Pseudo-Dionysius became the author of a branch of Christian mysticism that was hugely influential in Eastern Christianity. When his work was translated into Latin in the 9th C, he became influential in the West as well.Pseudo-Dionysius writings stressed a tendency already found in Greek Christian authors like Origen, Athanasius, and Gregory of Nyssa who said the goal of human salvation was a kind of making humans divine.We need to be careful here, because as soon as I say that, all the Western Christians say, “Wait! What?!!?!? Back the truck up Billy Bob. I think we just ran over something.”There is in Eastern Orthodoxy a different understanding of salvation from that of Roman Catholicism & Classic Protestantism.Eastern Orthodoxy understands that the saved are destined to a level of glory in heaven that is on an order of existence that can only properly be described as divine.No; humans don’t become gods; not like the one true and only Creator God. But they were created in His image and will be restored to & completed in that image so that they will be as much LIKE God as a created being can be and still not be God.This quasi-deification is attained by purification, illumination, and perfection, meaning union with God, which became the three stages of enlightenment espoused by classic mysticism.Okay, hang with me as we go deep. Pseudo-Dionysius identified three stages in how someone seeking the fullness of salvation can describe God:1) Giving Him a name was affirmative theology.2) Denying that name was negative theology. And …3) Then reconciling the contradiction by looking beyond language was superlative theology.The way of negation led to the contemplation that marks mystical theology, which was considered a simpler and purer way to understand God. In other words, it’s easier to know who and what God is by concentrating on what He’s not. And if that seems backward and nonsensical – welcome to the club of those who aren’t mystics and just scratch their heads when the mystics start talking.Pseudo-Dionysius’ arrangement of angels into nine levels became the basis for the medieval doctrine of angels.Reading Pseudo-Dionysius can be frustrating for those who try to parse out his logic and seek to discern in his words some profound truths. While all very spiritual sounding, they’re typical of many such mystical tomes; a cascade of words that defy interpreting. The mind is set in a place of trying to reconcile competing, and ultimately contradictory ideas. This tension causes the reader to mentally shut down, and it’s in that state of suspended reason that the soul is supposed to be able to connect to God. It’s the same effect as repeated mantras and eastern style meditation.Still, Pseudo-Dionysius was extremely influential in shaping how countless Christians of the 6th through 10th Cs went about seeking to grow in their relationship with God. Today, we dismiss him by calling him Pseudo-, Fake-, Fraud-, Poser-Dionysius.
Jan 01, 1970
41-God’s Consul
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This week’s episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “God’s Consul .”One of the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s most important contributions to the Empire was to divide the top-tier leadership up so that it could rule more efficiently. The Empire had grown too large to be governed by a single Emperor, so he selected a co-Augustus & divided their regions of oversight between Western & Eastern realms. Since the issue of succession had also been a cause for unrest in previous generations, Diocletian also provided for that by assigning junior Caesars for both himself & his co-Augustus. When they stepped down, there would be someone waiting in the wings, pre-designated to take control. The idea was then that when their successors stepped into the role of being co-Augusti – they’d appoint new junior Caesars to follow after them. It was a solid plan and worked well while Diocletian was the senior Augustus. When he retired to raise prize-winning cabbages, the other rulers decided they liked power & didn’t want to relinquish it.Over the years that followed, rule of the Empire alternated between a single Emperor & Diocletian’s idea of shared rule. The general trend was for shared rule with the senior Augustus making his capital in the East at Constantinople. This left the weaker & subordinate ruler in the west with increasingly less power at the same time Germanic tribes pressed in from the North.What eventually spelled doom for the Western Empire was that Rome had forged treaties with some of those Germanic tribes; turning them into mercenaries who were armed & trained in the Roman style of war. When Rome stopped paying them to fight FOR Rome against their Germanic brothers & the Goths, it was inevitable they’d join them to fight against the rich pickings of the decaying Empire who could no longer field armies against them.We’ve seen previously, as the barbarians pressed into the Western Empire from the North & East, civil authorities had diminishing ability to do anything about them. People began looking to the Church to provide order. Because the Church was gifted with some remarkable leaders who genuinely cared about the welfare of the people, they managed to hold the decaying Empire together for a time. Pope Leo even managed to meet with the Hun leader Attila as he prepared to march on Rome. Leo persuaded the Huns to turn around, leaving the City intact. But Leo didn’t have as much luck with the Vandals who arrived a few years later. He did manage to persuade them to limit their sack to plunder & pillage. The population was saved from death & rape. After a 2 week loot-fest, the Vandals boarded their ships & sailed away - leaving the city otherwise unmolested.Historians mark the year 476 as the date when the Western Empire fell. It was then that the Goth leader Odoacer deposed the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus. Odoacer is called a barbarian, but he was, in fact, a military leader in the Roman army; a mercenary who led a revolt against the very people he’d once fought FOR. While historians mark 476 as the year of Rome’s fall, for the people living at that time, they would not have seen much if any difference between the reign of Augustulus & Odoacer. Things carried on much as they had from the previous decades. Which is to say – it was a mess!With the Fall of Rome, the Western Empire moved into what we know as the Middle Ages. This was a time when the Church played an ever-increasing role in society. The form that influence took varied over the centuries; sometimes being more religious & spiritual in nature, at other times being predominantly political. But there’s no denying that in Europe during the Middle Ages, the Church played a major role.During the 5th & early 6th Centuries, as civil society disintegrated, people looked to alternatives. Some found an answer in monastic communities.  There’d been communes of Christians since the 3rd Century, but the number of monasteries began to grow during the 5th. Some were highly structured while others were more loosely organized.The monastic movement took off due to the leadership of Benedict of Nursia whom we’ve already talked about. Benedict’s early attempts at being the leader or abbot of a monastery didn’t go so well; the monks tried to poison him. But as he matured, Benedict applied the lessons learned from his previous mistakes & founded a monastery on Monte Cassino in Italy that became the proto-typical monastery for years to come.Benedict was a genius for administration and organization. He formulated a simple plan for monastic living that was easily transferred to other communes. Known as the Rule of St. Benedict, it became the organizing & governing principle for monastic life & under it, hundreds more monasteries were begun. The Rule held forth a daily routine of Bible reading, prayer, and work. Benedict’s sister Scholastica adopted a similar formula for convents.Monasteries became repositories & treasuries of the learning and scholarship of Greece and Rome. As the rest of Europe plunged into what some refer to as The Dark Ages, many monasteries remained places of scholarship. The monks read, studied and spent considerable time copying ancient texts of both scripture and classical antiquity. The Renaissance would eventually be fed by the work of those monks and their hundreds of years of work.What we know about Benedict comes from his biographer, Gregory, known to us as Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great, a title conferred on him by the Church shortly after his death.Gregory was born into a wealthy and ancient Roman senatorial family around 540. Following family tradition, he was trained for civil service. But the political landscape was uncertain. During his childhood, the rule of Rome passed through several different regimes. While in his mid-teens, control of Southern Italy was wrested from the Visigoths by the re-conquest of the Eastern Emperor Justinian. But it was only a few years till the Lombards began their campaign of terror. They burned churches, murdered bishops, plundered monasteries, and turned the verdant fields of Italy into a weed-strewn wilderness.When he was 33, Justinian appointed Gregory as the Prefect of Rome, the highest political position in the territory. Gregory was responsible for the economy, food provisions, welfare of the poor, reconstruction of the now ancient and badly decayed infrastructure; things like baths, sewers, and streets. His appointment came in the same year both the pope and Imperial governor of Italy died.A few years later Gregory resigned his office. It’s rare when someone who wields great power walks away from it – but that’s what Gregory did. The death of his father seemed to be the turning point. One wonders if it wasn’t his father’s dreams FOR his son that had moved Gregory into a political career to begin with. Once the father was gone, there was nothing holding him to his position and Gregory followed his heart, which was to become a monk. With his considerable fortune, he founded seven monasteries and gave what was left to the poor. He then turned his family’s home into a monastery. As Bruce Shelly puts it, “He exchanged the purple toga for the coarse robe of a monk.” He embraced the austere life of a monk with full devotion to the Rule of St. Benedict.As much as Gregory desired to dissolve into obscurity and live a life of humble devotion to God, his outstanding gifts as an administrator had fixed a reputation to him he was unable to dodge. In 579, Pope Pelagius II made him one of seven deacons for the church at Rome. He was then sent as an ambassador for the Pope to the imperial court in Constantinople. He returned to Rome in 585 and was appointed abbot of the convent that had once been his house.Gregory was quite content to be an abbot and would aspire to no higher office, content to finish his sojourn on earth right there. But The Plague swept thru Rome, killing thousands, including the Pope. Unlike most monks who hid behind their commune’s walls, Gregory went into the city to help the sick. This earned him great admiration. After Pope Pelagius died, it took church leaders six months to settle on Gregory to replace him. He balked and fled Rome to hide in the countryside. When he was eventually located they persuaded him to return and take up the Bishop’s seat.Gregory seemed ill-suited to the task. He was 50 and frail. 50 would be young for a pope today, but when the average life span was a mere 40 years, 50 was already an advanced age. Gregory’s physical condition had been made worse by his extreme austerity as a monk. Drastic fasting had enfeebled him and contributed to the weakening of his heart. But what some might assume his main disqualification, was Gregory’s lack of ambition for power. He simply did not want to be Pope. Coming to the belief it was God’s will that he take up the task, it didn’t take long for him to learn how to wield the influence his office. He began his term by calling for public demonstrations of humility of what was left of Rome’s plague-decimated populace. His hope was to avert more disaster. And indeed, after a while the plague abated.Gregory hadn’t been Pope long when the Lombards laid siege to Rome. This was a time of chaos throughout Western Europe. Many otherwise cool heads thought it was the end times; Gregory was one of them. In a sermon he said,Everywhere we see tribulation, everywhere we hear lamentation. The cities are destroyed, the castles torn down, the fields laid waste, the land made desolate. Villages are empty, few inhabitants remain in the cities, and even these poor remnants of humanity are daily cut down. The scourge of celestial justice does not cease, because no repentance takes place under the scourge. We see how some are carried into captivity, others mutilated, others slain. What is it, brethren, that can make us contented with this life? If we love such a world, we love not our joys, but our wounds.It seemed every aspect of civilization was being shaken to ruins. The church at Rome was one of a few that survived the ordeals that came like hammer blows. Though Gregory saw his promotion to the papacy as punishment, he surrendered himself whole-heartedly to the task of keeping things together while everything else fell apart.Pope Gregory I was a tireless leader. He accomplished the work of ten. His volume of work is all the more remarkable in that he was often confined to bed because of sickness brought on by his frailty and overwork. Seeing himself as genuinely the first among equals with the other bishops, he kept up a vast correspondence, making sure the lines of communication between the churches kept everyone abreast of Church affairs. That alone would have been a full-time pursuit. But Gregory did more.He knew from both his time as a monk and in watching his brothers in the monastery, that the quality of one’s work FOR God, is directly proportional to the heart’s devotion TO Him. So in his book Pastoral Care, Gregory reminded spiritual leaders to never be so preoccupied with work that they forgot their own soul. But there was a much-needed counterpoint to that; they must also not become so internally focused that they neglected practical work. This was a point of balance rarely glimpsed in the Christianity of that age.Gregory was also concerned for the quality of worship in the church and encouraged the use of music. Though he did not invent what is called plainsong or plainchant, he greatly encouraged its use. In honor of his patronage of this form of worship, it’s known as Gregorian chant. Plainsong is a single melodic line without instrumental accompaniment. While a single singer may sing, it was usually sung by a chorus of voices in unison.Gregory took seriously his call to be the standard-bearer of the Faith. His contribution to theology was remarkable. He wrote more on theology than any previous and most subsequent popes. His main influences were Augustine, Ambrose & Jerome. He leaned heavily on Augustine’s work, even at times drawing inspiration from casual comments he’d made.Remember back several episodes to when we noted how the church believed baptism washed away all sins, up to that point. Well, what happened to those sins committed after baptism that were not confessed before death and had not been expiated by penance? Augustine mused on how God might, maybe, possibly -- remove these sins after believers died. It was from this speculative musing that Gregory developed the idea God purged them in a “purge-atory;” so the doctrine of purgatory was added to church doctrine.Gregory’s theology encapsulated not only the creeds of the councils and teachings of the Fathers, it also included some of the superstitious accretions of a Christianized paganism.I understand there are not a few Roman Catholics who subscribe to this podcast. I’ve been mightily encouraged by their kind remarks, and the occasional suggestions they’ve made. Even at points of disagreement, most have been courteous & used a heavy dose of tact when dialoging. I say that because in what follows, I suspect some will think I’m needlessly tweaking the sensitivities of our RC family. I hope I’m not, but am presenting an accurate view of the history here.To illustrate that, let me pose this question: How do we get from the picture of Christian Fellowship & the kind of church service we find in the NT and the earliest descriptions of them, to the elaborate, formal, highly-structured & stylized services of the Medieval & later Church? There’s an obvious discontinuity between them. When did pastors begin wearing elaborate robes and head-gear and start carrying gilded & bejeweled croziers? To put it bluntly – whence all the complex ritual? I don’t think anyone imagines Jesus conducting such a service, or even Peter. So it’s a legitimate question to ask when these things were adopted and became a part of church liturgy. The answer is, as the Western Roman Empire folded and church leaders became increasingly looked to, to provide governance, they also began to affect some of the trappings of political office. As Christianity became the favored, and then approved religion of the Empire, an all-too-common syncretism began to blend pagan and Christian practices. All Gregory did was standardize this syncretistic blend and bequeath it to the Church of the Middle Ages.He endorsed an earlier practice of appealing to past martyrs and saints for help in securing God’s aid. The idea was that a penitent sinner could never know if he/she had done enough penance to atone for sin. By appealing to those believers who’d died and gone to heaven for help, they might be able, through their special standing with God, to find assistance in having their sin discharged, kind of like spiritual brokers who negotiated a better deal for the Earth-bound.Gregory encouraged the collection and veneration of relics; strands of hair, fingernails, toe bones, or pieces of clothing from past saints and martyrs; as well as paraphernalia supposedly connected to the Bible; pieces of the cross, the spear that pierced Jesus’ side, a towel used to wipe Christ’s brow. It was assumed these relics possessed special power to heal and give the armies that venerated them favor in battle.Gregory taught that the body and blood of Christ were really present in the elements of Communion, the bread & wine. He claimed partaking of them nourished and strengthened one’s spirit, just as literal bread and wine nourished the physical body. But Gregory took it further. The real power of the Communion elements, the Eucharist, was in its renewing of the sacrifice of Christ’s death. The Eucharist didn’t just remember Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, it was a fresh enactment of it. During Communion, in the Mass, offered by a priest, sins were forgiven. What Jesus’ death on the cross did potentially for all people, the Mass applied to specific people who partook of it. So celebrating Mass replaced the need for some forms of penance. Certain sins required both attending Mass and penance. But for the average run of the mill kind of pedantic sins, Mass replaced penance. Then people reasoned, if dead saints could assist them by intercession with God, why couldn’t living believers attend extra masses for departed loved ones to lessen their time in purgatory. Light a candle, say a prayer, attend an extra Mass and you might shorten Uncle Giacomo’s sentence by a week. This theological base fashioned by Gregory would be used hundreds of years later to sell indulgences, and Tetzel’s clever fund-raising ditty – “When in the offering box the coin rings, another soul from purgatory springs.”Gregory’s realm of oversight wasn’t limited to the spiritual affairs of the Church. During his tenure, the Church owned huge tracts of land in Southern Italy & Sicily; some 1,800 square miles in all.  When the Lombards invaded, sweeping away the last vestiges of civil authority, it was church leaders & their representatives who had to step in to provide governance. They took over the infrastructure of providing food and the necessary collection of taxes to maintain some semblance of civil affairs.  Later arm-chair historians lament the blurring of the line between church and state. They fail to realize, had it not been for church officials stepping in following the Lombard incursions, tens of thousands would have perished. Gregory was the one who set up and oversaw this new tax and public assistance system. As the Lombards drew closer to Rome, Gregory took charge of the defense of central Italy. He appointed the military governor and arranged for a peace with the enemy leaders.Think of this now à Gregory was trained from youth for political office and had served well in that capacity until his father’s death when he resigned to seek the quiet life of a monk. When the Plague gutted both the church and civil sphere of capable leaders, Gregory was drafted to take the reins of the Church. The Lombards hammered the last nails into the coffin of Roman civil government, requiring for the sake of public welfare, that Gregory mobilize the leadership of the church to step up and follow his lead of taking on the task of civil authority. Though Gregory greatly expanded papal influence so that from his day on, the Pope was a central figure in European politics, his motive for all he did is seen in his simple concern for the welfare of the needy, as demonstrated by his refusal to stay safely behind the walls of his monastery when the plague ravaged Rome.The tension between the Eastern & Western church that had begun over a hundred years before as Rome and Constantinople vied for supremacy, grew during Gregory’s term, but certainly not because of Gregory’s personal ambition for power. His criticism of the Eastern Patriarch was due to his belief in Rome’s primacy and his resistance to the kind of pride on full display in the East. The Eastern Patriarch John IV had taken the title “universal bishop,” an honorific granted the Patriarch by emperors like Leo and Justinian. The title was confirmed in an Eastern synod in 588. But Gregory considered the title a usurpation of Rome’s primacy and a blatant arrogance God would not allow. He did all he could to have the title revoked and called down mighty anathemas on it. He threatened to break off all connection with the Patriarch and demanded the Emperor rescind the title. When someone applied the same title to him, Gregory’s reaction was immediate and vehement – no one was to be called a “universal pope”! He said, “I have said that neither to me nor to anyone else ought you to write anything of the kind. Away with words which inflate pride and wound charity!” He preferred to be known as simply – “the servant of the servants of God.”What appears a contradiction to historians is that while Gregory eschewed pretentious titles, he claimed and exercised authority over the entire Church. While in his case, that oversight was due to his scrupulous sense of duty to serve God by serving his people, later popes would accept the grand titles and use the power of the papacy to less altruistic ends.Gregory is an important name in the list of Popes because it was under his term that a great wave of missionary outreach began. If Leo the Great had sought to expand the power & influence of the office of Pope, Gregory the Great expanded the influence of the Gospel to new lands beyond the borders of the Empire. Being the first monk to become a pope, Gregory realized monasteries were like spiritual barracks that could send out an army of evangelists. If Rome couldn’t field military legions to repel the barbarians, why not send out legions of missionaries to convert those barbarians, then appeal to their faith to forestall attack? Convert war-like barbarians into daring peace-loving, then peace-spreading missionaries who instead of invading Europe would carry the cross North & East.Good plan. And Gregory implemented it well.When Gregory was a youngster, he’d watched as slave ships were unloaded at the docks. The slaves were Angles, from Angle-land, which later becomes England. The name Angle sounded like ‘Angel’ to the young Gregory and set within him the idea that where these barbarians came from needed the Gospel.Besides his interest in missions to Britain, Gregory also promoted missionary activity among the Germanic tribes. But it wasn’t until about a hundred years later that missionary work among the Germanic tribes would really take off. We’ll cover that in a future episode.If you’ve been following along with the podcast, a question may have risen that we turn to now. When did the western church, centered in Rome under the overall leadership of the Roman Bishop who’d come to be known as the Pope, really become what today we know as Roman Catholicism?There was no one day the Church transitioned from being the Apostolic church into the Roman Catholic Church. It was a slow, steady series of events that saw the Roman bishop be looked at as the mostly undisputed leader of the western church. I say “mostly undisputed” because while the eastern church centered in Constantinople, Antioch & Alexandria honored Rome’s bishop as first among equals, there were always a handful of western bishops who esteemed the lead pastor at Rome in much the same way. They didn’t see their role as the bishop of their city as in any way under a Roman pope’s authority.And don’t forget that the term catholic; which technically just means “universal” carried none of the denominational freight it does today. The word simply meant the Faith that followed the creeds set out by the ecumenical councils – those gatherings attended by a wide cross-section of the leaders of the church so they could define a Biblically faithful position on doctrines being mucked up by aberrant teachers & groups.An ultra-simple definition then of Roman Catholicism is that branch of the Christian Faith that embodies the early creeds of the church, as it coalesced in Europe, led by the church at & Bishop of Rome. As the generations passed, Roman Catholicism would take on much additional doctrine to that embodied in the early creeds. That doctrine was most often decided by the Roman bishop, whose power and authority grew so that he replaced the Councils.So while it’s difficult to name a date when Roman Catholicism became, you know – Roman Catholic, many church historians suggest Gregory’s appointment as bishop of Rome in 590 is as good a place as any to drive that stake into the church history timeline. Though Gregory refused the title “Pope,” he set up the system of church government that framed the entire medieval period & is called today the papal system. Gregory set a uniform liturgy to be used in the churches and did much to ensure all the churches walked lock-step with Rome.When he died in 604, worn out after 30 years of hard work, his epitaph proclaimed him “God’s Consul.” An appropriate description of the man who’ spent his life and career wholly in God’s service but wielding both secular and spiritual power like one of the ancient Roman rulers.
Jan 01, 1970
42-Living It
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This episode of Communio Sanctorum is titled, “Living It.”For generations, scholars have debated the cause of the Fall of Rome in the West. In his monumental work, The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire historian Edward Gibbon laid a large part of the blame on Christianity. And for decades that view dominated the popular view of the history of 5th C Europe.Christianity certainly played a role in the course of events in Europe during that time, and I’m loath to contend with such an eminent & erudite scholar as Mr. Gibbon, but The Roman Empire did not fall in the 5th C when barbarians overran the West. As we’ve seen in previous episodes, the Empire continued on quite nicely, thank you very much, in the East for another thousand years. What we see in Gibbons is the western provincialism typical of an 18th C European. He largely disregards the Eastern Empire once the West fell; this despite the fact the Eastern Empire continued to identify itself as Roman for hundreds of years.And as for Christianity being the most significant cause for the West’s fall? Wait – Christianity was no less in place in the East as the West. We can make a case for saying it was even more so ensconced in the seat of power. After all, while Church and State remained largely separate in the West, in the East they merged. So why didn’t the Eastern Empire fall to the no less frequent and concerted attacks by so-called barbarians?The reasons the West fell while the East continued are numerous and far more complex than we have the time to deal with here. Besides, this is a church history, not a history of the Roman Empire podcast. For that, you want to listen to Mike Duncan’s excellent The History of Rome.Gibbon’s justifies his position by saying the Christian faith encouraged chastity and abstinence, resulting in a population decline within the Empire. That meant fewer men for the army. And those men who did enlist were influenced by a passivism taught by the Church that didn’t want to fight. They were all a bunch of 5th Century hippies. “Make love, not war, broh.” Gibbon’s assumption is that at the same time, the Barbarians popped out warriors like rabid attack-rabbits amped to go to war as soon as they could swing a sword.Hold on Mr. Gibbon, those barbarians, weren’t they Christians too? Arian Christians to be sure, but weren’t they of the same general moral stripe as the Romans you claim were getting soften up and ready for the slaughter by a milk-toast brand of religion? So why were the barbarians different?A far better cause to look for on why the barbarians took down the West was the pressure they faced from other barbarians invading their territory. It was easier, and quite frankly far more tempting, to just vacate territory being invaded by blood-thirsty savages from distant lands, and move toward the rich pickings of a decadent and largely under-defended Empire. An Empire where the quality of governing officials had so declined the people would rather be ruled by barbarians than the rapacious, brutal and corrupt officials sent by Rome, or Milan, or Ravenna – where ever the Western capital now sat.So, did Christianity contribute to the fall of the Empire in the West?Some of Gibbon’s criticisms may have merit. But whatever factors the Church contributed to weakening the Empire were offset by the benefits the Faith brought. As we’ve already seen, had it not been for the Church and its very capable bishops, entire regions would have gone without any governance.What would have happened to Rome if Pope Leo hadn’t convinced Attila & his Hunnish hordes to turn back? What would have happened to the City had he not convinced the Vandals to limit their deprivations to looting?To be sure, the percentage of genuine believers in the Empire was small. But their influence was growing. And Christianity began to alter the culture of the Empire in both the East and West.In the mid 5th C, an elder of the church at Marseilles named Salvian wrote a book titled The Government of God. He wanted to answer the same question the great Augustine of Hippo wrestled with, “Why did Rome fall? Why would God bring suffering on a Christian people?” You’ll remember Augustine’s answer to that perplexing problem everyone was talking about was the book The City of God.Salvian said the suffering of Christians in Gaul at the hands of invaders was not a measure of God’s just rule; it was His judgment on the wicked aristocrats and greedy officials who’d mercilessly oppressed the poor.Salvian is unique because, until that time, writers tended to denigrate the common man in favor of the rich and powerful. After all, who bought books in those days? Salvian wrote for fellow believers, to help make sense of what they saw every day at the hands of barbarian invaders. He said God had let them in because the rich landowners and civil officials were corrupt and abused the common people.While the case he makes is simplistic, it did contain a measure of truth others thought but feared to voice. Contrary to Salvian’s picture, the common man wasn’t all a mass of innocence, nor were all officials corrupt. There were exceptions on both sides.  But a new note had been stuck in the old question of why Rome fell. And from that point on, the Church began to take an increasingly larger role in being the voice of the common people. The Church had always put a priority on charity and taking care of the poor, but rarely had it spoken out against the unjust policies of civil officials that deprived people of their rights and property. Now it began to.The City of Rome was in the habit of evicting non-citizens in time of famine but Bishop Ambrose worked to change the policy so they’d be provided for. A similar policy was adopted at Edessa in Greece as well as a 300-bed hospital – all at the urging and with the assistance of believers in the city.This is not to say in some places the Church was part of the problem rather than the solution. In Sicily for instance, church officials were oppressive in the way they exacted taxes from the commoners who worked church lands. But when Pope Gregory found out, he moved quickly to correct the problem.Historians have long debated the efficacy of the Christian faith on the morality of the Empire. The tendency among advocates of the Faith is to attribute too much influence to the Church while critics scoff and say the Church had no impact on morals. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.We know it was the influence of Christianity that brought an end to gladiatorial combats. But the ever-popular chariot racing, wild animal hunts, and the incredibly immoral theaters carried on despite regularly sermons preached against them. The theater was so bawdy, some Emperors banned them. But they carried on in secret, knowing that the next Emperor might very well lift the ban.One realm of morality that experienced a major overhaul was sexual ethics. The modern and popular conception of the late Roman Empire is that it was marked by lax sexual mores. TV miniseries on Rome have played this up to boost ratings. While the Imperial palace and homes of the wealthy were occasionally the scenes of moral debauchery, the common people were not given over to rampant sexual license. Society then was much like society now. What Christianity did was to elevate marriage and the status of women. Also, for the first time, virginity for both men and women was valued as a virtue. While marriage was held as sacred, the idea of staying single and choosing a life of celibacy so that a man or woman could devote themselves wholly to Christ became a regular part of the Christian Community.Pagans considered this odd and another mark that set Christians apart.Sexual intercourse outside of marriage was forbidden and violators were excluded from the Church. When the number of those excluded grew, it was decided to allow them back into fellowship after they’d demonstrated public repentance and done the required penance. As time passed and the idea of celibacy grew, even sex within marriage was edited. It was thought it should only be engaged in to produce children.  Finding pleasure in marital sex was deemed by some church leaders, themselves celibate, as sinful. Sex between a husband and wife was to be endured to produce children, not enjoyed to build intimacy. Too bad they didn’t take the Song of Solomon at face value or apply what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 7.The Christian view of marriage had a significant impact of Roman customs. Because it was considered a sacred covenant, divorce was forbidden except in the case of adultery. By Roman law, a woman was not allowed to marry a man beneath her social rank. If she did, her status was lowered to her husband’s level, he was never elevated to hers. In the early 3rd C, Pope Callistus not only eased the rule for sexual offenses, he declared as legal the marriage of men and women from any social level.Under the Roman law of paterfamilias, the male head of household had absolute authority over his family and estate to do as he pleased. Technically, he had the power to beat and even execute his wife, children, and servants. I say ‘technically,’ because while the rule of paterfamilias did grant a father that right, being an abusive brute and killing family members was certainly frowned on. What paterfamilias did was to denigrate the value of women and children.Christianity fundamentally altered that. Not only were women elevated as co-heirs of Christ with men, but children were also valued as parents were charged with the stewardship of raising them to the glory of God. The practice of exposing unwanted infants on a hillside, a common Roman and Greek custom, was forbidden for Christians, as was abortion. It’s said when non-Christians went to the hillside to leave their unwanted offspring, Christians came out from nearby hiding places to rescue them before the wild beasts could take them. They were then raised in Christian homes.As the Church grew and more people came to faith in Christ from all occupations and levels of society, the impact of the Faith began to be felt across a wider spectrum. Many believers found it difficult to live in a secular world. When a civil magistrate came to faith, how was he to order the torture or execution of someone who before his conversion he wouldn’t have thought twice for? Some thought to solve this problem by saying Christians couldn’t serve in public office. Meaning those who DID serve in that capacity weren’t followers of Christ and so were void of the virtues of a believer. This had to have contributed to the decline in morality that marked the late Empire, especially the morality of governmental administrators; who became rapacious and brutal tyrants.We think of men like Ambrose and Gregory who’d been magistrates before they left office to become leaders in the Church. The Church attracted the best and brightest who before would have gone into public office. Men like Athanasius and Augustine. There were hundreds who became bishops rather than governors and prefects. It was an ancient form of brain-drain that weakened the civil order of the Empire. These church leaders were more concerned to build Augustine’s City of God than to help shore up the sagging walls of the City of Man. And the barbarians were waiting just outside those walls to tear them down.This, more than anything else is what contributed to the Fall of the Western Empire.During the 3rd and 4th Cs, government policies saw a massive shift of people from being producers to consumers. By the dawn of the 5th C, the imbalance was unsupportable. The army had doubled in size to deal with the barbarian threat. As is the nature of government bureaucracy, it had mushroomed drastically. But producers like farmers and manufacturers had dropped significantly. The costs of doing business rose steeply consuming profits, and farmland was either threatened by invasion or stolen by elites who knew how to work the system to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.All of this burdened the government at the same time as impoverishing it. And wouldn’t you know it, it was right at that time that new barbarian groups decided have a go at the old girl called Rome.Many of the commoners of the Western Empire weren’t really all that worried about the barbarians. They were ready for change since their Roman overlords had become brutal and rapacious. A change in regime sounds kinda’ good. Out of frustration with the civil authorities in Rome, Pope Gregory negotiated with the Lombards. The Christians submitted to barbarian political rule, then promptly converted those barbarians to the Faith.So, Christianity may indeed have contributed in a small way to the fall of the Western Empire, but the question is – was it really worth saving? Was history set back by Rome’s demise? If Rome’s fall was Christianity’s fault, how then did the Church become the repository of culture and the treasury of civilization and emerge as one of the dominant institutions in the centuries that followed? The barbarians may have conquered the Western Empire, but the Church soon conquered them.
Jan 01, 1970
43-Into the Middle
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This episode of Communion Sanctorum is titled – “Into the Middle”Justinian I’s reconquest of Italy and liberating it from its brief stint under barbarian control was even briefer.  Soon after Justinian’s eastern forces regained control of portions of the peninsula and put them back under the Empire’s dominion, yet another Germanic group invaded and put most of Italy under their jurisdiction.The Lombards were a Scandinavian group who’d emerged as the dominant Germanic tribe. In 568, they conquered Byzantine Italy and formed what is known as the Kingdom of Italy, which lasted to the late 8th C when it was brought down by the Franks, though Lombard nobles continued to rule portions of the peninsula until the 11th C.The Lombards conquered Italy during Gregory the Great’s term as pope. As the Lombards advanced on the city of Rome, with not a whit of hope of help from the Imperial ruler sitting in Ravenna, Gregory took control in Rome. He secured supplies for the coming siege though both famine and plague were decimating the land. He bolstered Rome’s defenses and commissioned new military leaders to lead an army into the field to meet the Lombards. Once these plans were underway, Gregory opened negotiations with the enemy and finalized a peace with them, though made without the Emperor’s approval.It’s difficult for the modern student of history to understand how the Roman popes managed to wield such political power as they did during the Middle Ages. We tend to layer back onto history the current state of affairs. And as Europe is now firmly ensconced in a post-Christian era where the Pope has little political power, it’s difficult to see how he could have been the single most powerful political force for hundreds of years.While the influence of the Pope grew ever since the days of Leo the Great, it was under Gregory the Great that the office of the Pope became a defining role in the History of Europe.Though Gregory was in his senior years and increasingly frail, what he accomplished was simply astounding! At the same time, he was dealing with the Lombards and the daily needs of the city of Rome, he administered the Church. He oversaw its estates, cared for the needs of his flock, provided leaders for the churches of Gaul and Spain, dealt with the ever-present challenge of the church at Constantinople which vied with Rome for pre-eminence, and on top of all that, as we’ve seen, planned for the expansion of the Faith into new realms like England.Gregory’s term as pope marks the transition from the ancient world where Imperial Rome ruled, to the medieval world united by the Roman Catholic Church.The Church played a major, maybe even the most important role, in the shift to the medieval world. It was the one institution that survived and transmitted Roman culture into the Middle Ages.Though altered to fit its unique spiritual emphasis, the Roman church drew its organizational and administrative structure from the old Imperial form. Each city had its own bishop and each region an archbishop. Within each bishop’s realm of oversight, called a diocese, there was a staff of assistants that closely resembled Roman civil administration.Church rules, called “Canon Law” were parallel to Roman Civil law. At first Canon Law was defined by Church Councils that met to decide both practical and doctrinal issues. Eventually, Canon Law came to include decisions of the Pope, a form of Imperial edict.Latin became the common tongue, and Roman forms of literature and education spread wherever the Church took hold. Whenever a new church was built, its form was that of the old Roman meeting-hall; a basilica.As we saw at the end of the previous episode, though the Germanic barbarians conquered the Western Empire, it wasn’t long until the Church conquered them. While most of the Germanic tribes were Arian, when they moved south into areas controlled by the Roman church, they converted to Catholic Christianity. The Lombards were the last of the Germanic tribes to invade Italy. Part of Pope Gregory’s strategy in negotiating with them was to convert them; turning them into brothers in Christ. They too began as Arians, but he supported the Lombard Queen Theodelinda, a Catholic. It didn’t take long before the Lombards were firmly planted in the Catholic Faith.Gregory appealed to other Germanic leaders in Western Europe and they shed their Arianism as well. The Visigoths of Spain became Catholic when Gregory’s letter reached their leader Reccared.There was only one Germanic tribe to enter the Empire as pagans rather than as Arians – the Franks.  They occupied an area near the Rhine River.  When their king died in 481, he was succeeded by his 15-year-old son: Clovis. 5 yrs later Clovis led his warriors southwest against other Frank tribes. He extended his rule all the way to the Seine. Throughout this time he worshipped and gave credit to the ancient Frankish gods.Clovis' victories moved the rulers of neighboring tribes to attempt negotiations. One of Clovis’ envoys returned from a trip to the court of Burgundy, describing his beautiful grand-daughter Clotilda. Clovis sent another envoy to the Burgundian king asking for Clotilda’s hand in marriage. The Burgundians were worried what Clovis would do if they balked so they consented and the two were wed.Clotilda was Catholic and shared her faith with her husband but he remained committed to the old gods for the next 3 years. He thought his distrust in the Christian God warranted. After all, hadn’t the Roman Empire converted to the new faith over a century before? Why hadn’t He protected them from the barbarians? Then a more personal trial struck. Clotilda baptized their first-born child, who died a week later.  While Clotilda’s faith was unshaken, Clovis was enraged.Despite his suspicion of baptism, Clovis allowed Clotilda to have their 2nd child baptized. When this son also sickened, Clovis was furious. But the boy recovered at Clotilda’s urgent requests to Christ. With all of this freshly before him, Clovis went out to meet what was the Frank’s biggest challenge to date, a fierce Germanic tribe called the Alemanni. The battle took place near the city of Bonn. The Franks were losing badly so Clovis called upon his old gods. No help came. In desperation, staring defeat in the face, Clovis cried out to the Christian God saying something like, “Jesus, if you really are the Son of God as my wife tells me, grant me victory and I will believe in you." Certainly, a dubious request and God doesn’t bargain with humans. But the fact is, the Franks turned things around and defeated the Alemanni.That day in 496 turned out to be a dramatic turning point for the history of Europe. Clovis was good to his promise. He invited Bishop Remigius of Reims to instruct him in the Faith. Then on Christmas night, he was baptized.Remigius continued to instruct Clovis in the Faith but his understanding lacked something. When Remigius told the story of how Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed, Clovis jumped up and shouted, “If I’d been there with my Franks, I would have avenged Him!”A few thousand of his warriors soon followed their king in baptism. One anecdotal story that comes from this time was that there were so many troops wanting to be baptized they had to do so in mass-baptisms at a river. A dozen of them would enter the water at a time as a priest stood on the shore and blessed them. As they lowered themselves under the surface they lifted their right hands above their heads so they never went under the water. When the priest asked why, the warriors explained; they didn’t want to baptize their sword hand. They wanted to continue to make war and didn’t want to submit the hand that held the sword to the rule of Christ. Now, to be clear, this story, while attributed to Clovis’ troops, is also assigned to other periods of history, especially the Crusaders. Whether it’s true or not is in dispute.Clovis was one of the first of the line of French kings known as Merovingians.What this story illustrates is an important feature of medieval society; Adoption of Christianity was, in essence, a royal policy. The ruler’s religion decided the religion of his subjects. And queens did much to bring about the conversion of their husbands.Clovis’ conversion paved the way for an important alliance between the papacy and the Franks. But it took decades before that alliance altered the way the Franks treated the Church. Throughout most of the 6th and 7th Cs, the Merovingian court-appointed their own bishops to the churches of Gaul.At the end of the 6th C, Pope Gregory began to work with them to alter this but it wasn’t until the 8th C that Rome was able to regain control over church appointments.After Gregory, the West entered a difficult period as we chronicled in Episode 34 – The Great Recession. The Western Church suffered abuse from the Lombards and Byzantine rulers. In Gaul, the Merovingians treated the Church as a political tool and the quality of church leaders declined dramatically as church offices were sold to the highest bidder.Until this period, the clergy were men of great learning and intellectual skill. A list of the great thinkers of the 1st thru 6th Cs is dominated by monks and priests. But the political corruption that followed hard on the heels of the demise of the Western Empire led to a decline in the intellectual prowess of the clergy. That decline was slow at first but escalated as the decades passed. That’s what happens when church offices are filled by political appointment paying favors rather than gifted and called servants.Bishop Gregory of Tours lived in the late 6th C and is the main source of information about the Merovingians. He describes the sorry state European society had fallen to. He wrote that it was a period when women stood almost alone in maintaining what was left of morality and virtue. Monasteries and convents became lonely islands of true religion set in a sea of moral debauchery and spiritual corruption that included many, if not most churches.This state of affairs continued all the way to the 8th C when revival took root at the instigation of Celtic missionaries from Ireland. Other factors that led to this revival was a renewed papacy and a new Frank dynasty.Celtic missionaries had been at work in Europe since the last half of the 6th C. Most notable of these was Columba. He was born to a noble family in Donegal, Ireland. After schooling, he was ordained a priest and planted churches and monasteries in Ireland. Then, in 563, Columba left his homeland. Why he left is a mystery but it seems it was a kind of self-imposed exile. Columba helped spark a civil war between his and the king’s clans. As penance, he left – setting himself to go where ever the winds blew.He was accompanied by a dozen friends. They landed on the tiny island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland where, against all expectations, they established a thriving monastery. Many an objective observer would assume Columba and his companions would have died within in a year due to the harsh conditions. On the contrary, while life was tough, they thrived and the monastery became the focal point for a new movement of God that would reach out to thousands of miles.Missionaries were soon being sent out to found monasteries along the coast of Scotland, back in Ireland, and along the northern coast of Europe from Gaul all the way to Scandinavia.Columba himself was war-like in the way he went about spreading the faith. At his preaching, King Brude of the Picts was converted. Columba’s spiritually aggressive posture was necessary because he was dealing with a determined and overtly evil enemy in the form of the Druids who only understood force. A weak and timid brand of Faith would only have provoked them to acts of hideous grotesquerie.Columba’s blend of mystic spirituality w/a tough-minded application of the faith in a political and social context, all shaped by a commitment to scholarship and a love of nature, marked him as that rare individual who was the right man at the right time doing the right thing for the right reason. He’s the proto-typical example of Celtic Christianity. Columba was the mold the Celtic Christian missionaries were cut from as they sailed across the sea to land in Gaul, carrying the sparks of revival that united to bring Europe out of the Great Recession.
Jan 01, 1970
44-Expansion
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This Episode’s title is – “Expansion ”.We’re going to spend a little time now tracking the expansion of the Faith into different areas during the Early Middle Ages.We ended last time with the story of the conversion of the Frank king Clovis in 496. When he was baptized on Christmas Day by Bishop Remigius of Rheims {Reems}, 3,000 of his warriors joined him. It was the first of several mass baptism that took place during the Middle Ages in Europe. And it raises the issue of the paganizing of Christianity.The task of Missions usually proceeds in 1 of 2 ways.The first & more common route is that of individual conversion. Though in the NT we find converts being called into immediate baptism, it wasn’t long before conversion was followed by a period of instruction before baptism. That time for instruction in the basics of the Faith could be either short or long, depending on the standards of the bishop or community of believers.  This form of missions, that of individual conversion & baptism was the method used by the Church for the first 3 Cs, & by most Protestant missions from the 19th C to today. That’s because of the emphasis on an individual change of heart in Evangelicalism. While this certainly finds support in Scripture, it can miss an important dynamic when people convert to Christ out of a pagan culture. Their change in faith almost certainly means being uprooted from that culture; sometimes leading to the need to physically relocate to an area where their faith will not endanger their life or the lives of their family.For that reason, another method of Missions has sometimes been used; that of mass conversion, where an entire group of people make a communal decision to forsake their old religion in favor of Christianity.Now, I suspect some of those listening will respond to this idea of mass conversion with distaste. Evangelicalism has placed such an emphasis on personal salvation that the idea of the conversion of an entire community at once is highly suspect. We often talk of receiving Christ as one’s PERSONAL Savior. So the idea that an entire village or tribe would turn to faith in Christ at once seems disingenuous.But consider this: The idea of personal, individual freedom is in many ways a distinctly modern, western & democratic concept. Even in our own time, much of the world has little concept of personal or individual freedom. They understand themselves as part of a family, village, or tribe; as a member of a community of people where autonomous individuality is regarded as dangerous & a threat to the survival of the group. For much of history and a good part of the world, the idea that you would change your religion all on your own while everyone else believed in other gods was simply unthinkable. Conversion would enrage the old gods & so endanger your family & neighbors. This was something several Roman Emperors used as a reason for opposing Christianity.Some Christian missionaries realized the key to the conversion of these communal pagan peoples was to win the leader.  Because his choice was nearly always adopted by the entire tribe. To be sure, these missionaries understood salvation was an individual issue. But they knew the key to being able to work for individual salvations was to win the leader, who would in turn lead his people in a mass conversion. Then they could be free to work the faith into the lives of the people in a more intimate & personal way.The downside to mass conversion is obvious. Many who formally converted by being baptized, never went on to a real faith in Christ. They took the label of Christian without ever being genuinely converted. What made this especially troublesome was when it was the ruler who feigned conversion. Some did for purely pragmatic ends. Submitting to baptism often brought them political & economic gain. Mass conversions might make it easier for genuine converts to practice a new worldview, but it also imperiled the Faith because the unconverted brought with them old superstitions, blending them into Christianity in a syncretistic religious amalgam.This was the case with the Frank king Clovis. He went through the motions of conversion, but Jesus remained little more for him than a divine warlord.Gregory of Tours, who lived a century after Clovis, was his main biographer. Gregory says even after his conversion, Clovis used deceit, cunning, & treachery to expand his kingdom. He sent bribes to nobles and those responsible for protecting a rival king to betray him. He told another king's son if he killed his father, Clovis would support the son's ascent to the throne & make an alliance with him. The son did as Clovis hoped & killed his father. Clovis them promptly announced the son guilty of the heinous crimes of patricide & regicide &  took over his realm.As Dan Carlin likes to point out in his Hardcore History podcast-episode, Thor’s Angels,  when you think of the Goths & the Franks of this time, think of a modern criminal biker gang. You’re not far off the mark in what these Germanic barbarians were like; in both mindset & appearance. When Clovis submitted to baptism, all he did was trade in his black leather vest for a navy blue one.Among the barely converted Franks & other Germanic tribes, long-dead saints stepped in to replace their numerous deities. Each saint adopted a role the old gods had performed. St. Anthony took care of pigs, St. Gaul looked after hens, Apollonia cured toothaches, Genevieve cured fever, and St. Blaise soothed sore throats. For every human need the Germans posted a saint to take care of it.Many tales circulated about the miraculous powers of these saints. One told of 2 beggars, 1 lame, the other blind. They got caught up in a procession of the devoted who carried the relics of St. Martin. But these 2 beggars made their living off the alms of the pious & didn’t want to be healed. Fearful lest they be cured by their proximity to the relics, they quickly struck a deal. The 1 who could see but not walk mounted the shoulders of the 1 who could walk but not see & they tried to exit the procession. They weren’t able to get away quickly enough; both were healed. è Such stories were plentiful.As with Constantine the Great in the early 4th C, we can’t be certain if Clovis’ conversion was real or feigned. Certainly much of his behavior after his baptism is doubtful. But the political benefits of conversion were certainly not lost on him. Clovis was a man of huge ambition. He wanted to be more than a chieftain of the Franks.  He wanted to be king, a chief of chiefs. He knew he needed to distinguish himself among the many competing power centers in Western Europe. By joining the Roman Church he set himself apart from the other Germanic kings who were all Arian. This move secured the support of the Gaelic-Roman nobility throughout Gaul.Clovis was the first leader of the Franks to unite the tribes under one ruler, changing the leadership from a group of chieftains to rule by kings, ensuring the royal line was held by his heirs, known as the Merovingians.Not long after his baptism and the quick following by 3000 of his warriors, Clovis pressed other Frank nobles to convert & join the Roman church. He understood the religious unity of the kingdom was crucial in staving off assault, and to further campaigns to enlarge their borders. Wars of conquest became a means of “liberating other people from the error of Arianism.” And the church at Rome was not at all averse to having an armed force on its side.Clovis wasn’t all that successful in expanding his borders south & east into the region of the Burgundians, but he was able to push the Visigoths out of Gaul, confining them in Spain. In the Battle of Vouille {Voo-yay}, the Visigothc King Alaric II was killed. In appreciation for his service in defeating the Visigoths, the Eastern Emperor Anastasius I declared Clovis Consul, a provocative title as it was reminiscent of ancient Roman leaders.Clovis made Paris the new capital of the Frank kingdom & built an abbey dedicated to Sts. Peter & Paul.Not long before he died, Clovis called the First Council of Orléans, a synod of 33 Gallic bishops. The goal was to reform the Church & forge an enduring link between the Crown and Church. The Council passed a little over 30 decrees that brought equality between the Frank conquerors and their Gallic subjects.Clovis died in the Fall of 511, leaving the kingdom to his 4 sons. Unlike Alexander the Great who made no provision for dividing his empire among his 4 generals, Clovis carved up Gaul into 4 regions, one for each son; RheimsOrléans, Paris & Soissons. Clovis naively thought this would keep them content & result in peace. In truth, it ushered in a period of disunity which lasted to the end of the Merovingian dynasty in the mid-8th C.In Episode 37 we looked at the 5th C Irish missionary Patrick. The Irish had never been a part of the Roman Empire. Though they had frequent contact with Roman Britain, the Irish Celts were culturally, economically, & politically different. When the Roman army abandoned Britain as too costly & difficult to defend, the Church filled the vacuum. The spiritual outreach to Ireland was primarily the work of Patrick, who though British, planted a church in Ireland that remained independent of the Roman Catholic Church.Patrick understood the evangelistic dynamic of the Christian faith & discerned that it alone offered what the native Druids could not: Peace to a land troubled by constant tribal warfare. Patrick’s strategy was to win the tribal leaders to Christ. Many local lords became Christians. Because of the way Celtic society was arranged, when rulers converted, so did those they ruled.Ireland was ripe for the message & offer of the Gospel. The religion practiced by the Druids was a brutal, demonic, religious terrorism that many of the common people were eager to cast off. The Gospel was about as OPPOSITE a message & offer from Druidism as one can imagine. There are estimates of as many as 100,000 genuine converts to Patrick’s ministry.On the foundation of faith & church life Patrick laid, Finnian of Clonard built a pattern for Irish monasticism in the early 6th C.  Monasteries were founded all over Ireland. As they rose in number and prestige, the ecclesiastical organization Patrick established withered away. By the end of the 6th C the Irish church had become a church of monks. Abbots replaced bishops as the leaders of the Church. From the outset, Irish monks valued scholarship & an energetic spread of the Gospel.Interestingly, there’s evidence that the missionary fervor that stands as one of Celtic Christianity’s major traits may have been due to their system of penance. In an earlier episode we saw how the early church developed a view of repentance that included penance. The idea was that repentance needed to be demonstrated by some act showing contrition. The theology went like this: Repentance was a heart issue only God could see. But John the Baptist had said, “Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.”  So, when people repented, their account before God was cleared. But how about restoring them to the Community of faith – fellowship in the Church? While man can’t see the heart, he can see the actions that flow from that heart. Penance became a system of works people could perform that would mark repentance. It didn’t take long before lists were made of what penance was due for what sins. One of the forms of penance Celtic Christians practiced was exile, banishment from their homes. Some of the intense missionary activity of the Celtic Christians was motivated by this form of penance.Irish scholar-monks ranged far and wide across Europe during the 6th & 7th Cs. This aggressive missionary activity of the Celtic Church eventually caused trouble since it remained independent from Rome. Churches started by Irish missionaries were often located in regions that later came under the control of Rome.In 636, south Ireland decided to fold their church community into the Roman Church. Then in 697, the church in Northern Ireland decided to follow suit. Though most of Celtic Christianity was eventually folded into Roman Catholicism, isolated communities scattered across Scotland, Wales & the British Isles continued their independence for many years.One of the Celtic-English missionaries who had a huge impact in Northern Europe was Boniface.Born Winfrid in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the early 670’s, his family was prosperous and sent him to school at a monastery in Exeter. The life of the monks appealed to Winfrid & against his father’s wishes, he decided to pursue a religious career. He showed a mastery of the Scriptures & great skill in teaching & organization, traits sought after in monastic life. For further training he moved to a Benedictine monastery in Hampshire. This monastery was led by a brilliant abbot who’d made it an industrious center of scholarship. Winfrid soon became a teacher in the monastery school & at the age of 30 was ordained as a priest. When the abbot died in 716, the logical choice to replace him was Winfrid. In a surprise move, he declined, and left for the region of Frisia, what today we know as The Netherlands.Winfrid had a passion to take the Gospel of Christ were it was yet to be planted. He’d heard of a similarly-minded missionary named Willibrord who worked in Frisia & needed help. They spent a year together but when war broke, both returned home.A year later, Winfrid went to Rome seeking an audience with Pope Gregory II. He shared his vision of seeing the Germanic tribes delivered from their Arian heresy into the Catholic faith. Gregory replied, “You glow with the salvation-bringing fire which our Lord came to send upon the earth.”The Pope renamed him ‘Boniface’ after the 4th C martyr Boniface of Tarsus, & appointed him as the missionary bishop for Germania. This meant Boniface was a bishop without a diocese. The realm of his ministry had no churches. It was up to him to carry the light of Christ to the superstitious Germanic tribes. Boniface never returned to England.He focused his work in the regions of Hesse & Thuringia, leading thousands to Christ. He planted scores of churches.While the Germans were nominally Arian, entire regions were in reality still pagan, worshiping the ancient German gods and practicing superstitious rites. Boniface found some supposedly Christian missionaries as he made his way through Germany but they espoused heresy. It was little wonder they’d had little impact. When he confronted them, they resisted. So Boniface had them arrested & confined. He soon gained a reputation for being stern & determined.One story from Boniface’s career is legendary. Whether or not it’s factual is unknown. It’s certainly not difficult to believe that a man who would go to Rome & ask for permission to single-handedly carry the Gospel to heretics & pagans might do something like what we’re about to hear.The story goes that Boniface went to Geismar in Hesse where the Donar or Thor’s Oak stood. As was common for Germans, they considered trees and forests to hold great spiritual power. Thor, god of thunder, was the chief deity in their pantheon.  The Donar Oak was dedicated to his power and glory. Boniface knew there was no Thor & that there’d be no backlash if he chopped down a tree. Some Germans might protest & take it on themselves to defend Thor’s honor. So Boniface called them to gather round, then set them this challenge—let Thor, that mighty god of thunder, defend his tree himself. Certainly a god as great as the god of thunder could deal with a puny little Christian priest. Unl