Christianity was relatively similar to Judaism of its day, which had both the rabbinic interpretations of the laws and the apocalyptic stream where God was going to replace the kingdoms of the world with his messianic kingdom. Jesus’ teachings were broadly similar to what was being taught, so what distinguished his teachings was that he saw himself as both the messiah and God. Apocalyptic Judaism died out after Jerusalem was destroyed, and Christians seemed to have fairly seamlessly transitioned from expecting the imminent return of Christ to his return being in the nebulous future. The first major conflict concerned whether Gentiles needed to obey the Jewish Law. Paul’s said that the Gentiles did not obey the Law, but on the other hand, they were not free to do whatever they wanted, either.
Christians both borrowed from and opposed other religions. Since Gentiles had no concept of the Hebrew God, Paul used the ideas of a dying and reborn god from the mystery religions to help explain, the difference being that the in the mystery religions the god had died in the mythical past, while Christ died and resurrected at a specific time in history. Also, mystery religions were concerned with ritual and the results it produced, while being united with Christ was about being transformed into his loving character. Similarly, John borrowed from Jewish sources which had taken the logos, the animating force of the universe, from the Greeks and identified it with God. John then identifies it with Jesus specifically.
Early Christians needed to identity just what “Christian” meant. Gnostics reacted to the unease of economic contraction of the first century by saying that the physical world is evil, and that our problem is that we got enmeshed in the physical world. So they denied the humanity of Jesus, and that he was actually crucified. They also had secret teachings, and Irenaeus responded with the idea of apostolic succession: the bishops were appointed by bishops who were appointed by the apostles, who would have known if there were secret teachings, and there are not. Now Christian services were fairly free-form, and there were still itinerant prophets wandering about, which were of inconsistent quality, but you did need to honor the prophets. Montanus claimed that the Holy Spirit spoke to him, and could override Paul or anyone, but this meant that anyone could re-invent Christianity. But if you could not re-invent Christianity, that implied that the Holy Spirit had spoken in a certain way to Paul and the others than he does now, and suggests the idea of a canon of Scripture. Marcian fed into the problem: he said that the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament seemed so completely different that they must be different Gods: the Old Testament God created the world and was evil, and the New Testament God did not get involved until he sent Jesus, fully formed, divine and not man (but was actually crucified) to us out of love. He rejected most of the nascent canon to do this. The result of all this was that the Church became more hierarchical to protect orthodoxy; women had been involved from the beginning of the church, but since the model of hierarchy from the surrounding society was male-oriented, that is what the church developed. There also was a focus on determining the authoritative books of the Bible.
Christians initially tried to Jesus was both God and man and not worry about the details, but various people kept going too far in one direction or the other and being clearly wrong, which forced the church to come to some conclusion. Generally the metric was that any solution could not contradict the (nascent) Bible, could not change the liturgy (since people do not like discovering that they have been praying incorrectly), and could not make salvation unworkable. The Sabellians said that Jesus and God were the same, but that was condemned. If not, then would not there be two Gods? Tertullian used the example of that the roots of a tree and the branches of a tree are not identical, but they are both the tree. Arius said if the Father and the Son are not identical, then the Son must be subordinate to the Father, who clearly came first (and he put the idea to a catchy tune). But if there was a time when the Son was not, he must be created, and therefore not divine, which made that unworkable. The Council of Nicaea solved the problem by say that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, but they are different individuals, just like Peter and Paul are one human-substance, but different individuals, except that God is a special case and he always acts in unison. This was not entirely satisfactory, so clarifications were needed. The Latin-speaking Christians tended to think of God as one and needed to explain how he was three, and the Greek-speaking Christians tended to think of God as three and needed to figure out how he was one, which involved a lot of debate and misunderstanding. All these theological discussions were not just abstract. When you went off to be martyred, it was not much help if Christ only seemed to suffer (Donatism). Athanasius thought that Arianism implied that God might change his mind, and what if God changed his mind about salvation?
After the Empire split, the two halves began developing independently of each other, since they rapidly stopped learning each other’s language. In the East there were two major developments. One was a discussion on how deification, the process of man becoming God (“partakers of the divine nature”, 2 Peter 1:4), worked. Maximus the Confessor noted that we cannot understand God, as he is inaccessible to us. The reason for this is that God is “simple”, that is, he cannot be broken into sub-pieces. But in deification, we become joined to the divine, which is multiple pieces becoming one. Later, Gregory Palamas said that the energai of God, filter down to us like sunbeams and in participating in them, we participate in God. The other development was icons. Earliest Christians made no images, like the Jews before them, because you could not make images of God. But Jesus was also man, and you can make images of man. So Jesus, Mary, and the Saints got lots of icons in the city. The countryside tends to be opposed to the urban decadence, and in the 700s, Emperor Leo and his son had their support from the countryside, so there was a raging debate, which ultimately the iconclasts (the Emperor’s side), lost.
In the West, Augustine in the 400s was the most influential figure for centuries. He had two hugely influential ideas. One was that nature of man: original sin. He gets all broken up about stealing pears as a youth, and Placher says the reason is not excessive Christian “holiness” (which, frankly, it sure seemed like when reading Confessions), but rather, he did evil because he wanted to do evil. Later, he wants to become a believer, but cannot, until he heard a voice from next door saying “take up and read”, whereupon he picked up his Bible, read wherever it opened, he suddenly understood, and gave his life to Christ. So he said that, in his experience, we sinful—we want to do evil—from the beginning, and that it is divine grace that enables us to come to God. Augustine had chosen to begin evil, but could not choose to quit without God’s enabling. Pelagius, appalled at the moral state of Christians in Rome, said that Augustine lacked virtual and discipline, and that God could hardly condemn people if they had no ability to please God. Augustine replied that maybe it was easy for Pelagius, but if we could choose to be righteous, why would we need Christ’s death?
Augustine’s other idea was the City of God and the City of Man. After Rome was sacked, a lot of people blamed the Christians for causing the pagan rituals to be neglected (since the idea of paganism is that “we” have empirically discovered a set of rituals that keep the gods happy and keeping society working well; to neglect those rituals risks the chaos that the rituals prevent). Augustine said there were two cities. The City of Man seeks wealth and power; the City of God is the community of believers loving each other. Both are distinguished by love. In the City of Man, one subordinates the common good to one’s lusts, while in the City of God one subordinates oneself out of love to the good of the community. The problem with Rome was that they chose to build the temporary City of Man; if they wanted Rome to be the eternal city, they should have chosen the City of God.
The first Christians lived as outsiders in society, so just normal Christian life required a certain heroism, but when Christianity become normalized, heroism required more. Roman culture in the days of the early church assumed that purity came from denying the flesh, especially celibacy and this naturally was adopted by the first monastics starting in the 400s, the Desert Fathers, who went out individually into the desert and ate little, so as to deny the flesh. Benedict valued moderation, and developed a monsastic Rule that systematized the process, which avoided excesses by being both strict and considerate. However, each monastery was independent, which when coupled with increasing wealth and some monks being placed in the monastery by their family rather than having chosen the lifestyle themselves, led to some very lax monasteries. In 910, some French monks founded Cluny in the middle of a forest. It was successful, and when it planted new monasteries, they were run centrally from Cluny. After about 100 years this reached its natural limits. In 1098 the Cistercians were followed, which was neither individual nor centralized: periodically all the abbots got together and discussed problems and solutions. This system, combined with the fact that Bernard of Clairvaux joined, led to a revival. In 1200 Dominic founded the Dominicans, which focused on getting a good clerical education and then going out to serve the common people, rather than staying cloistered in contemplation of God. Similarly, Francis also served the common people, although he emphasized poverty.
One long-ranged theme was the practical mechanism of salvation. Holiness through poverty and ascetic living was too much for most people. But grace was unpredictable. Augustine said that works could not contribute to our salvation. John Cassian (who brought monasticism from the East) said that non-Christians do good works, so clearly grace is not a requirement for good works, and since Christ died for all, why would God only will some to be saved? Thus while grace is required for salvation, one could move towards salvation with good works. And while some refuse it, God offers salvation to all. Caesarius thought this made God seem ineffectual, and he thought that since it was impossible to refuse God’s grace, God had to limit to whom he offered it: grace is not given in response to a prayer, but causes a prayer to be given for grace. Gottschalk took this to the extreme: that we could not use our will for good, so God took over our wills; this was rejected at a church council in the 800s. Most people wanted some reliable process, and this developed into the sacraments, although the official seven were not codified until 1483. Baptism was one of the earliest sacraments, and it washed your sins away, but it could only be done once, which led to early Christians delaying baptism later and later. Penance was developed as a one-time, lengthy process that also absolved your sins, but again people started delaying it until the end of their life, and since monks had the habit of confessing weekly to their abbot, that developed into a weekly into confession and penance. The Eucharist likewise took a while to develop. The Council of Nicaea in 787 said that the bread and wine became Christ’s body, but since Augustine said that we should not take spiritual things literally, the Western bishops were more cautious. Paschasius Radbertus in 831 agreed with Nicaea, but even still in the mid 1000s Beringer of Tours objected, saying that after a millennium of eating Christ’s body, surely it would be up by now. The discovery of Aristotle offered a solution to the more tangibly appealing idea that the elements actually became Christ’s body. Aristotle noted that things keep their substance but change their properties, like water becoming ice; the Eucharist miraculously does the reverse: the bread and wine keep their properties but change their substance, and this is a tangible means of grace.
There were several notable theologians in the early second millenium. Anselm of Canterbury (1000s) agreed with Augustine that faith comes first; he said that faith informed understanding. He has two notable ideas. The first is his ontological argument for God: even atheists agree that the idea of God is the greatest thing that we can imagine, and since something that exists is greater than an intangible idea, God must exist. It feels a little bit like sleight-of-mind, but at the same time there is a timeless appeal, and it is hard to make a case against it. The second idea is a new view of the Atonement. The prevailing idea was that the atonement worked by God tricking Satan. Adam had given his authority to Satan when he obeyed him, and Jesus appeared to be a man, but he was also God, so when Satan crucified him, he overreached the authority he had been given. This allowed God to punish Satan, which he did by taking back humanity. Anselm said that Truth could not deceive, and he said that we had dishonored by our disobedience and therefore incurred a debt. But we could not do extra work to pay our debt, since we already owed God everything. Only God could do the extra work required to pay the debt, which Jesus did by voluntarily suffering. Peter Abelard (1079 - 1142) thought this made God look like a sadist, enjoying Jesus’ suffering. He thought that Jesus was an expression of God’s love which inspired and enabled us to love God in return. (He was professor at the University of Paris in a time when professors were expected to be celibate, and he ended up lovers with a student, and when her uncle got wind of it, the result was they both ended up in monasteries.)
The discovery of Aristotle set off a bombshell in the 1200s. Both Plato and Augustine thought that you looked inward for truth; for Plato the ideal-intangible Form of something was its deepest truth, but Aristotle thought that you should draw your conclusions from observing the world. This led him to say things that contradicted Church teachings, and led to Aristotle being banned in places. Some Christians thought Aristotle was right, some thought he was only partially right, but Thomas Aquinas synthesis faith and reason. He noted that Aristotle’s approach of observing and coming to conclusions was useful for things in the world, like habits of fish. Philosophy could even demonstrate the existence of God (we observe that things happen as a result of an action; trace this back, and there must be a First Cause to start all the actions in the universe going). But it could not say anything about the necessarily-existing God; that is what revelation does. Revelation augments reason. Now Plato thought that the Form was the highest ideal, so ideal was to transcend the physical world into the ideal Forms, which sat awkwardly with the Christian idea of a bodily resurrection. Aristotle thought that things had both Form and substance, and Aquinas said that the body was the substance and the soul made the body into a human. Therefore, the body was good, and things like sex and marriage were also good (but not polygamy because that destroyed friendship between man and woman, since friendship is based on equality).
The problem is, that previously authority descended from God down through the church hierarchy, and Aquinas had created a separation between the revelation and reason, between church and state. Naturally, this only grew wider with time. Realism was platonic, concerned with Forms, but the nominalism that developed said that there were no forms, only conventions that we developed. Aquinas said there is no form of “white, fluffy cloud”, nor are there individuals, but classes; all we can know is white and fluffy, and we decided to call those things “clouds”. Scotus said we could know individuals, and instead of Aquinas’ focus on what was reasonable for God to do, he thought we could look at what God actually did, which resulted in his conclusion that even if Adam had not sinned, God still would have incarnated as Jesus to reveal his love to us. William of Ockham thought that we must restrict ourselves to what God actually has done. He also developed a “razor” to shave off unnecessary objects and take the minimal idea as correct, and said that why postulate a form if three individuals will do the job. He and Scotus agreed with all the orthodox beliefs, but William said that logically, if we collectively choose to call white, fluffy things “clouds”, then it is the collection of believers who call the pope “Pope”, and, in fact, both men and women have a responsibility to hold the pope accountable. Marsilius of Padua went further and said that authority derives from the people, and that the people need to hold the church accountable when necessary.
Nominalists thought that God could save however he wanted, but normally he wanted rules. The problem is, that led to insecurity on their part (not the rationalists, who were fine with God being arbitrary, because he orders everything). The nominalist ideas also led to more emphasis on God saving individuals than on God saving humanity. Similarly, it gave support for mystical experiences, since those are individual experiences. They are also available to everyone, no university training required, and you could report them even if you were are woman. The problem that arose here was that it was not threatening when mystics talked about union with God in almost sexual language, because in sex two people remain two people, but it was threatening when they started talking about becoming one with God, even thought it was common earlier and in the Eastern church.
In the theological debates of the early church, the bishop of Rome had access to lots of written sources to aid in the discussion, and more importantly, consistently chose the winning side. The eastern empire had multiple large cities, and so the five patriarchs were the bishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Rome. When the empire split, the church in Rome helped take up the organization the secular government was no longer able to provide. And in a situation where there is not a strong government, physical security requires pledging allegiance to the local lord, so the church hierarchy was able to protect its bishops and monks who owed allegiance up the hierarchy, ultimately to Rome. In 1309 things had deteriorated to the point where Rome was no longer safe, and the Pope moved to Avignon. When he died, the people of Rome demanded that the next Pope be Italian and live in Rome, and the Cardinals obliged, but immediately left Rome, claimed they had been coerced, and elected a new Pope. Historically the church would have called a council to resolve the situation, but one of the popes would have ignored the result, so ultimately the bishops decided that the church council is what gave legitimacy to the pope, and that in exceptional circumstances, such as this one, it could act independently, although when the council tried to enforce that later it did not work.
The plagues and famines of the 1300s led to expectations of Christ’s return, an emphasis on personal piety, and a desire to rid the church of corruption and focus on ministering to the common man. John Wyclif was a sort of intellectual populist, saying that since we are predestined, according to Augustine, we should focus on the Bible, and inspired a English translation of the Bible. His agreement with Augustine that the communion elements were only spiritually Christ’s body and blood got him condemned as a heretic, so it is the Lollards who brought the English bible to the people. John Hus proclaimed the need to reform the church, saying that priests should not have concubines, should not interfere with popular preaching, and should give out communion wine to everyone, which they had stopped doing out of fear of Christ’s blood being spilled. The “Modern Devotion” groups in the Netherlands typically lived in community, but insisted on the importance of remaining in the world to serve people, rather than withdrawing from it in monasteries. In a similar vein, Bendetto Morandi thought that we should make the world better and Giannozzo Manetti said that God created a beautiful world and we are responsible for continuing to improve it. The idea that we could improve on God’s world was a new one.
Martin Luther’s break with the church in 1517 resulted in a new framework for Germany and the Netherlands, and a ripple-effect in the Catholic church. After struggling for years discovering never-ending sins to confess, he read Romans and realized it was by grace that we are saved. This, combined with the selling of indulgences were the main causes of the break. The papal structure had grown over the centuries and now needed more money, which was financed with indulgences to get out of purgatory, on the theory that the saints had accumulated an excess of merit which accrued to and could be apportioned by the church. His experiences led to him to say that we did not participate in our salvation, it was by grace alone. He reject papal authority and claimed the Bible alone as his authority. However, Germany at the time was ruled by princes, and he believed that rebellion was wrong. Carlstadt and Müntzer thought that the Holy Spirit was a better teacher than any church leader, but Luther thought this would lead to chaos. Both Luther and Zwingli (Switzerland, contemporaries) focused on keeping the church united (Luther hoped, vainly, that he would inspire reform by the Catholics), but attempts to unify to the two Protestant movements failed over irreconcilable differences over what happened in Communion: Luther took the Bible literally (although he did not know how the elements became Christ’s body because he rejected transubstantiation), while Zwingli agreed with Augustine that it was only in a spiritual sense. Luther and Zwingli won, though, compared to those who thought the church should only be composed of the committed believers. The Anabaptists are the best known of the “Radical Reformers”, most of whom were pretty far out on one spectrum or another. The best known descendants of the Anabaptists are the Mennonites, still known for the the social shunning of transgressors that the groups founded by Menno Simmons did.
John Calvin thought that God predestined people, but it was not an important part of his theology. The important thing for him was contributing to God’s glory in some way. After his death people, Holland became officially Calvinist, and made predestination a theological centerpiece, while Calvinists in other places had to live in more hostile environments and did not focus on it as much.
In England, there continued the steady of people who wanted a purer church composed of people who were following Christ in living a righteous life. There were different varieties of these Puritans, who were more successful in New England than in old England. Catholicism was seen as owing allegiance to a foreign power, since the Pope ruled over actual temporal land, and therefore Catholicism was seen as traitorous. But the Puritans were social chaos. So the Church of England took a middle road, where unity was more important than doctrinal purity, and thus the official position on some doctrines was that multiple views are okay, although it did reject transubstantiation in favor of a more Augustinian approach.
The Enlightenment changed the place of religion more than it changed the doctrines. In the Middle Ages people thought their lives mattered because they fit into God’s order; after the Enlightenment, God mattered because he could fit into our lives. There were a number of causes of this: wars (ostensibly) over religion, the fact that the result of the wars of religion was that nearby regions might have different views which made it more difficult to think that I must have the correct view, the attitude of question assumptions that was foundational to scientific inquiry, scientific discoveries while theology kept talking about the same things, and the rise of nation-states which tended to make the church second to the State. Reason was still viewed as important, and starting with the Cambridge Platonists, who thought that theological differences did not justify all the bloodshed of the English Civil War, gradually developed into “natural religion”, that is religion derived from reasoning about the world, rather than religion derived from an authoritative text. This was largely: there is a deity, men know their vices, and there is reward/punishment in the afterlife. Generally, Enlightenment Christians tended to think that “excitement”, that is emotional displays of passion or Holy Spirit ecstasy were signs of excess.
The Romantic period looked more favorably on emotions and experiences, and combined with nationalism created a value for “our” culture. This trend tended to emphasize enjoying “our” Christian tradition because it is what history has given us, rather than because of theological reasons. There was also a tendency to try to incorporate history into theology, since history of different cultures did not inevitably point to Christianity. Kant had thought that there were things-in-themselves, which are unknowable but are what ultimately create our experiences. Hegel thought that all we know is our experience, so what we have is, first, a thinking subject, but second, that thinking subject requires an object, but third, that object is part of the thinkers experience, so is not separate from it. So experiencing the world also changes the world, and thus the world must exist for God to be a thinking being, but God is not separate from the world. He thought that Christianity used metaphors to express the truth that Philosophy more clearly expressed. Hegel also though that history is the process by which the human race comes to self-understanding, which David Strauss used to say that the Gospels were myths but the truths expressed in them are valid. Ludvig Feuerbach said that Hegel had it backwards: God is simply our expression of what the ideal Man is. Karl Marx thought that theology was not useful if people were oppressed and impoverished, and that practical action was needed.
The twentieth century continued these trends. The more liberal parts of the church tended to emphasize the importance of dealing with poverty, while the fundamentalists, started in Princeton, went back to the basic fundamentals (biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the satisfaction theory of the atonement, bodily resurrection, and the miracles of Jesus), more as a reaction to the church of the late 1800s that was comfortable being part of culture rather than critiquing it. This is still influential in American conservative Protestant churches. In the US, theology also had to deal with feminism, from simply seeking for more equality, to throwing the whole thing out because it was male dominated. There was similar thinking happening around racial equality, and even some partnership with Marxists over poverty.
This book is an excellent summary of Christian thought over two millenia, which shows both how Christian thought was influenced from within (for example, the nature of Jesus, and the nature of the Communion elements) and how Christian thought responded to cultural influences (an emphasis on reasonable Christianity during the Enlightenment, for example). Covering 2000 years in 300 pages requires brevity and clarity, which Placher has succeeded in. This is a book assigned at some seminaries, for good reason. It is succinct, comprehensive, and identifies the root causes of the ideas.
I loved this book and it gave much a much better perspective on both the kinds of things Christians have thought about in the past (I discovered some people had already thought some of my thoughts on less-well-traveled areas, which is kind of encouraging). I also hated this book, because while it took me about thirty minutes to read a chapter, it took me ninety minutes to two hours to take notes on it, because it is really hard to summarize a summary. It is worth the effort, but it does make it slow going. That aside, this is an excellent book, I highly recommend it.
Ch. 1: Introduction
Ch 2: The Hope of Israel
- It is not possible to understand the authors of the New Testament unless you understand the Judaism that they were embedded within.
- Between around 1300 BC and 1050 BC, a group of tribes started considering themselves a nation. A common story brings unity, so the individual tribal legends merged to become stories of the nation, and tribal heroes became fathers of the nation. “Apparently the worship of Yahweh had begun among a group fleeing slavery in Egypt, so the story of how Yahweh had led them to their freedom to a central place in the national history.” (20)
- The point of these stories is not to communicate accurate history, it is to create a common unity. So whether the stories precisely and accurately record history is not the point; the stories are building unity by blending history. We do this in the US: we learn about Columbus and the Pilgrims, but nobody mentions that the Protestant Pilgrims probably hated the Catholic descendants of Columbus.
- The other nations around Israel also had a national unity, but Israel was different in its religion:
- The other nations frequently reference many gods that help them, but Israel only talks about Yahweh. (Early Israel did not deny the deity of other nations’ gods, but Israel worshiped only Yahweh.)
- Israel never made images of Yahweh, unlike the surrounding nations.
- Israel referred to Yahweh as “he”, but never talked about his masculine qualities like the virility that other nations talked about in their gods.
- The other nations worshiped their gods to maintain what was already happening (rain, the Nile flood, etc.). Yahweh made new things happen.
- Israel was content to enjoy the blessings of Yahweh in this life and that was the end; contrast with other religions, like Egypt, which spent a lot of effort on the afterlife.
- For some time the tribes had no king—very unusual—and the eventual king is seen as a rejection of Yahweh. Yahweh and his prophets even criticize the kings. In the other nations the king was pretty much divine.
- “Israel was thus unique, with its belief in one God, who made new things happen, who was the Lord of this world and this life, and who could criticize a king as easily as support him.” (21)
- The prophets, who were more about speaking on God’s behalf than foretelling the future, kept the worship of Yahweh unique and kept the people from blending in with the surrounding nations:
- Other nations worship of their gods was centered around doing the right rituals and sacrifices, while “Yahweh, the prophets increasingly taught, cared about righteousness, not ritual” (23).
- The prophets also extended Yahweh’s dominion over other nations’ gods; Yahweh watched over all the nations (see Amos 9:7 where God brings the Philistines from Caphtor, for instance).
- Yahweh also punished each person for his own sins, not the children having their teeth set on edge for the sour grapes the fathers ate.
- The prophets moved Yahweh’s activities from direct, now things like stopping the sun to a more subtle acting through history (Yahweh is the one who brings kings to power)
- “Judaisim” did not exist until after the destruction of Jerusalem.
- Things changed after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. “The few prophets after the return from exile spoke mostly about their own inadequacy, and then the tradition of prophecy came to an end. [Ps 74:9] Somehow, after centuries of tragedy, the sense that Yahweh advised his people and intervened at each stage of their history had lost its plausibility.” (25)
- One response to this was Ezra in around 400 BC, who created a distinctiveness for Israel by emphasizing all the rules that set them apart from everyone else.
- Another response was the apocalyptic future, which promised that the reason why God is not acting now is because he is waiting for the right time, and in the future he will make everything right.
- But the present is an evil age, you have to have more than just blessings in your immediate lifetime, so a theology of resurrection developed. This was still highly controversial in Jesus’ time; Paul got himself out of a scrape by saying he believed in the resurrection.
- Those who wanted the future now preached rebellion. The Maccabees were successful in becoming independent, but they were not good rulers, and reconquest was not difficult. The Zealots in Jesus time preached rebellion against Rome, but after 70 AD this stream of Judaism ceased.
- After the destruction of Jerusalem again in 70 AD, the military approach was discredited, and the apocalyptic future of Yahweh’s future Kingdom did not look likely, which only left the Ezra camp: the Rabbinic tradition of the Pharisees, who had developed a commentary on the Torah.
- Much of Jesus’ preaching was similar to what everyone around him was teaching. Rabbi Hillel, for example, said “What is hateful to yourself do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary.” (quoted from Jacob Neusner, From Politics to Piety, p. 13)
- Some of Jesus’ teaching comes from the apocalyptic stream (he claimed to be Messiah, he took the title “Son of Man” from Daniel’s apocalypse). The little of apocalyptic Judaism that survives is in Christianity. But Jesus tempered the future Kingdom with the Kingdom is also now, inside of you, and it is a seed that grows.
- The most distinctive feature of Jesus is how he saw himself.
- While Jesus’ views were largely in line with various streams of Jewish thought, he did not merely comment and interpret the Law, he also revised it. (“He taught as one who had authority.”) This implied that he considered himself speaking on God’s behalf.
- “Further, Jesus apparently thought that people’s response to him personally would determine their relation to the coming kingdom of God.” (30)
- All the stories put Jesus’ death at the center. He dies alone, not as a representative of any Jewish group, and thus he could die for all.
Ch. 3: The Mission to the Gentiles
- The early NT reflects quite a variety of different and somewhat contradictory beliefs, for instance Jesus’ second coming, but the diversity was not a problem.
- The early Christians expected Jesus to come back soon but they seemed to transition to a realization that they were wrong without there being a crisis. (Paul clearly went from expecting Jesus’ return soon in his early letters, to it being more on the back burner in later letters. But 2 Peter, which was probably one of the last books, still emphasizes Jesus’ return.)
- Christianity’s relationship to Judaism did cause a crisis. Paul, despite being quite an observant Jew, became convinced that Gentiles were not required to follow the Jewish law. Some Jews saw this as a betrayal of their heritage, which resulted in Paul going to Jerusalem to broker an agreement where the Gentiles did not need to become Jewish to follow Christ.
- On the one side was too rigid an adherence to the Law, but then Paul had to deal with Gentiles who thought they could be unrestrained (e.g. the Corinthians).
- Paul needs to be taken in the context of his day:
- While Paul did not explicitly grant women equality in the church, he did refer to a lot of women leaders, and in contrast with the prevailing culture which tended to think that men owned their wives, Paul consistently taught equality between men and women in marriage.
- Paul did not advocate elimination of slavery, but slavery looked a lot different then, and also Christianity was an illegal religion suspected of being insurrectionist, so Paul was hardly in a place to campaign to end slavery should he have thought it should be ended.
- Contrast this with later cultures where Christianity was the dominant force; Paul’s writings cannot be used verbatim in such a culture.
- “... an understanding of Paul’s thinking ought to begin with his central themes of freedom and unity in Christ, and to think about limits he seems to impose on such freedom and unity (whether one wants to follow him or criticize him at such points), remembering the cultural context in which he wrote.” (38-9)
- Early Christians probably thought about Jesus’ life as 1) his earthly life, and 2) his return. But this just begs the question what was Jesus’ state before his earthly life, and now while he has yet to return. Paul answered this as Jesus was with God before he came to earth, lived on earth, is now with God, and will come again to earth.
- This was difficult to explain to Gentiles who were not familiar with Jewish thinking about God and what being with him and what kind of special relationship “Son of God” might be. So Christians borrowed from other sources.
- The popular mystery religions initiated members into a story of a god who died and was reborn, and the rituals somehow united them with the deity. Paul seems to have used this, but the difference is that the death and rebirth in the mystery religions was in the vague, nebulous past, while Christ was in a very concrete, definable time-frame as an event that tangibly changed the course of history. Also, the mystery religions were, like paganism, about performing the rituals, while being united with Christ implies being transformed into following his way of love and sharing.
- Philo, a Greek-speaking Jew contemporaneous with Jesus, had fused the Greek idea of logos, which was the rational principle organizing the universe, with ideas of Jewish writers about the Word of God, where God’s Word and his Wisdom become divine powers (although not full deities). John has similar thoughts (although probably not via Philo) when he says that Jesus was the Word and created all things and was with God. “In Jesus, God’s creative and prophetic Word—related to God as a son is to a father—became a human being.” (42)
- The Jews pulled from Jewish sources: Paul talks about Jesus as a new Adam who restored the humanity that the first Adam corrupted, and Hebrews talks about Jesus being the high priest who is simultaneously a perfect offering.
Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Orthodoxy
- Since Christians believed they had good news that would transform lives and the world, over the first several centuries they needed to clarify exactly what Christianity was, just like “[manufacturers who carefully preserve] their legal rights to the names of their products, and with good reason.” (44) By about 200, the interpretations of Christianity known as Gnosticism, Montanism, and Marcionism had caused Christians to come to a consensus on what the label “Christianity” meant.
- The economic decline and social chaos of the first century caused many people to feel out of place. Gnosticism had innumerable solutions, but they all dealt with this by asserting that this world is evil, and that our eternal souls became enmeshed in the world, in these bodies. “If some members of an elite of true spiritual origin, feel out of place in this world, it is because they are; they have forgotten their true selves and become enmeshed in bodies. Yet if they are among those whose true home lies elsewhere, they need only hear the truth about themselves in order to recover their identities.” (46)
- Gnostics did not have a good solution for why evil came about, given that a good God had created the universe. Some saw the universe as a dualistic battle between good and evil; others thought evil came about through the gradual process of forgetting. The large hierarchy of gnostic deities may have been an attempt to “bridge the gap between primordial good and present evil by sheer quantity of intervening stages”. (47)
- Gnostics disagreed ethically: some thought that since the body was evil we should deprive it to purify the soul; others thought that since the body is not the essential self, what we do with it is unimportant, so we might as well indulge.
- Gnostics often claimed to be Christian, but they denied the humanity of Christ, as good God could not enter the evil world. Indeed, since the material world is illusory, Christ could not have had a physical body. Some denied that Jesus was born of a woman, many thought that Simon of Cyrene was crucified instead of Jesus, although some did accept that he suffered on the cross before his soul escaped.
- Some of the NT has warns about gnosticism, but the gnostics claim was that “they alone knew the secret wisdom passed down to the inner circle of believers”. To refute that, Christians need to determine who their inner circle was and show that the inner circle had never believed these things. Ignatius in about 110 said that we should listen to the bishops “because they inherit the authority Christ gave to the apostles” (49). In 170, Irenaeus articulated the doctrine of apostolic succession: “Christ chose the apostles, who chose a first generation of bishops, who chose their successors, and so on. If Christ had any secret wisdom to teach, these people would know it—and they were not Gnostics.” (49)
- Early Christians thought that the Holy Spirit could speak through anyone, and Paul describes meetings that were sort of chaotic, with the Spirit speaking through all believers. “Anyone could speak in tongues or see a vision, and other Christians would lead to respect. Leadership was ‘charismatic,’ depending on the gifts given by the Spirit.” (49) This seems to have resulted in itinerant prophets, of various moral character, and while one should listen to the prophets, they should not stay for more than a day (to avoid disrupting the continuity of local leadership), and they could only ask for money to be given to others. The desire to return to the free-form, egalitarian early days took its clearest shape in Montanus, whose gatherings were similar to the early Christians. “Indeed, in a number of ways the Montanists sought to return to earliest Christianity, with more spontaneous styles of worship, more rigorous ethical demands, and a more vivid expectation of the imminent end of the world.” (50)
- The problem was, Montanus claimed that when the Holy Spirit spoke to him, the Spirit could override Jesus or Paul or anyone else. This would mean that anyone could re-invent Christianity. But the implication was that the Holy Spirit had spoken to the originators of Christianity in a way that he no longer did, which naturally led to the idea of an authoritative canon.
- In this time period, women had significant authority, since the Holy Spirit could speak through women as well as men. This was true even of orthodox Christians. However, as a hierarchy developed in response to the Gnostics, it naturally took the shape of the culture around it, which was male dominated. This was further influenced by the fact that “religions with women priests were often associated with excesses and emotionalism of cults of sexual deities” (50)
- Marcion thought that a good God would not have created a world full of evil and suffering, so there must be two Gods: the OT evil God who created this world, and the NT good God who had no relationship with the world at all until he gracious sent Jesus out of love. “For Marcion, God’s prior noninvolvment meant that in Christ God is not restoring to us our rightful place but offering undeserved salvation out of pure love, and we should not try to learn some secret wisdom but accept that love in gratitude and simple faith.” (51) This is a refreshing return to Paul, but it meant that, unlike in Gnosticism, this world is our home, and therefore Jesus, who was not of this world, was clearly not human: Jesus had appeared, suddenly, full-grown, although he did think that Jesus was crucified and died. Marcion rejected most of Scripture, except a few edited NT books.
- At this time, “Scripture” was loosely defined as the Jewish Scripture, and useful writings. Paul’s writings were authoritative, as were other apostles and things written by disciples of the apostles. The canon was loose, and it was not clear what authority the writings had. “In the end the criterion of selection [for the authoritative canon] appealed to the principle used against the Montanists: the Holy Spirit had spoken to the first generation of Christians in a special way. Therefore, the New Testament included only books thought to have been written by an apostle or the student of an apostle.” (52)
- “.. one could present the second century as a tragic story of Christianity’s loss of freedom [freedom in the Spirit, leadership, and non-rigid canon]. Christians created a more structured leadership and began to define Scripture more carefully. They distrusted claims of the immediate working of the Holy Spirit, and they accused some of their fellow Christians of heresy. Given the biases of their society, the move to more hierarchical leadership increased male dominance. Yet it is easier to regret these tendencies than to see how they could have been avoided. The goodness and importance of this world and continuity with Judaism are important themes in Christian thought. Much of subsequent popular Christianity has taught that our bodies are evil and urged us to turn away from the earth and place all our hopes in heaven—ideas that come more out of Gnosticism than from the New Testament. In that context, one might wish that the second century had attacked Gnosticism even more forcefully. Affirming what is right seems often to entail denouncing what is wrong and running the risk of becoming more rigid.” (53)
Ch. 5: An Alliance with Philosophy
- “Israel worshiped a God who could grow angry, who changed his mind, a God involved in history, who cared so much about one group of people that their apostasies drove him to fits of impatience. The greatest philosophers of Greece spoke of an unchanging diving principle, far removed from our world, without emotion, unaffected by anything beyond itself. Improbably enough, Christian theology came to identify these two as the same God” (55)
- Greek philosophy was an attempt to use human reason to figure out the nature of reality, instead of relying on traditions and myth.
- Platonism thought that there are eternal, unchanging forms which things in the world participate in: there is a form for table and a form for brown, and a brown table participates in both. But how can we know the form for justice if all we have experienced is imperfect justice? Well, the soul is eternal and it experienced the form prior to our birth. We seek the forms not by the senses and passions, but by purifying ourselves from them and seeking the soul within.
- Plotinus (200 AD) was a Platonist mystic, who had ecstatic experiences of being losing his identity in being united with the One.
- Stoicism was concerned with ethics. We cannot control the our external circumstances, thanks to the empires we lived in, and we could not control whether our life is frustrating or pleasurable, but we can always act virtuously. Virtue is accepting our destiny, and ethics is the attitudes we have in facing the inevitable. Some Stoics even said that our pains serve the higher good, if we could only see how everything is interrelated. (They thought souls were material, though, not eternal, although their material was rather hard to observe.)
- Christianity, which was persecuted, was viewed as lower-class, so the apologists had to make Christianity intellectually reasonable, which required connecting it to philosophy.
- Justin Martyr said that the philosophers got their best ideas from Jewish scriptures, and that Christianity was the only philosophy which had grabbed hold of him. Since Christ is the Logos, when the philosophers used their reason they were being Christians. But Christianity was better because it was directly revealed.
- He also observed that one could not take some parts of the Bible literally, like God walking or coming, since if the universe cannot contain him, how can he be anywhere but everywhere.
- Clement of Alexandria taught that one needn’t give up one’s wealth as long as you were not too attached to it; that the way of truth is one river, but many streams flow into it; and he emphasized male and female equality under God. He even used feminine imagery, like God giving the milk of love from his breast.
- Origen believe that the deepest truth was hidden, but frequently he looked for the hidden meaning because the obvious meaning could not be true (like how can days one, two, and three have light if the sun, moon, and stars had not been created yet), in which case he looked for a figurative meaning. For instance, since “Adam” means “human being” in Hebrew, one ought to look at the story figuratively, as something Moses wrote about the nature of man, not events in a specific man’s life.
- Origen believed that history is important. His answer to why some good people suffer and some evil people prosper is that God created everyone (even angels) equally, since he is fair, but we get reborn based on our previous choices, which accumulate into divergence in position and prosperity. This way God guides history but also gives us complete free will.
- He believed all souls reach salvation.
- Origin believed that our souls are our real self, and his idea of rebirth whereby God gives freewill but also guides history was new to Platonism. But he rejected the idea that God is distant, indifferent to change, and emotionless. God is love, so how can he be passionless.
- Accommodating philosophy led to a reaction. Tertullian thought Christians should be withdrawn from the world, not participating in society (since doing so in any official way required sacrificing to the emperor. He opposed any attempt to reconcile Christianity with philosophy (“what indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” he said) and thought that Christians should not try to update things to be “reasonable”. God becoming man and dying on the cross for our sins is hardly reasonable, and that’s the point.
- Christians in the second century saw baptism as wiping our prior sins away, but not future sins. Hermas (around 150) said we could fall away once. Callistus (Bishop of Rome in 217) thought the goal was to help each other become better, so we should not exclude those who sincerely repented. Hippolytus considered this betraying the high standard of Christian ideals, and Tertullian likewise argued for high standards for membership.
Ch. 6: Truly Human, Truly Divine
- The Gnostics and others thought that Christ could not have been a real human; he just seemed to be (Docetism). Christians eventually concluded that if Jesus merely seemed human and had only seemed to die for our sins, then maybe we only seemed to be saved. But if the other side were true, that Jesus was only human and not divine, than prayed to Christ, worshiping him, and trusting him for salvation seemed misplaced if he were merely human.
- That sort of begged the question, if Jesus is both human and divine, how did that work, and what was his relationship to the Father? The Council of Nicea attempted the first question, the Council of Chalcedon answered the second.
- The effective rules of the debate were: 1) do not contradict the Bible (although it was not yet formalized), 2) do not change the liturgy (people really do not like being told they are praying incorrectly), and 3) preserve the mean of salvation.
- Theories of how salvation worked:
- Irenaeus proposed what theologians call the theory of recapitulation: Christ repeated Adam but doing it right. Adam disobeyed; Christ obeyed. But what had Adam done wrong, and how did Christ fix it?
- One theory said that Adam obeyed Satan instead of God, thus putting humanity under Satan’s rule; Christ freed us by defeating Satan. (Both Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine thought that God tricked Satan into it. Adam had voluntarily submitted to Satan, and God could not ignore that. But God had not submitted to Satan, and since Christ looked human, Satan tried to take him, but that was an overreach, which enabled God to punish Satan by taking humanity away from him.)
- Another used a legal analogy: Adam’s disobedience had damaged our relationship with God and required that a penalty be paid because we damaged God’s honor (and at the time, one did have to pay a penalty if you failed to show proper respect), and Christ paid the penalty.
- Both have roots in Platonism: all humanity shares the same form, so Adam’s sin corrupted all of humanity, but then when Christ, the divine, became human, all of humanity began to share in his divinity. Origen said “with Jesus human and divine nature began to be woven together, so that by fellowship with divinity human nature might become divine.” (71)
- Sabellians (notably Noetus, Praxeas, and Sabellius, all of Rome in 200) said that God and Christ are identical; this was roundly condemned because Jesus prayed to the Father, so clearly they could not be identical.
- But if they are not identical, then aren’t there two Gods? Tertullian used metaphors: a tree puts out a root; the spring becomes a river; the sun gives out rays. They are not identical, but also not two. The difficulty is that then Jesus is subordinate to the Father (which Tertullian accepted).
- Arius of Alexandria (in 300) took this to its logical conclusion, and said that the Son is not identical with the Father and only the Father is eternal with the Son subordinate: he put his slogan to a catchy pop tune and Alexandria was singing “There was a time when the Son was not”. Athanasius said that if the Son was created in time, then he could not be divine, since Judaism was very clear that God and his Creation were different. And if Jesus was somehow divine, then you had one uncreated and one created divinities, which is two Gods. Instead, both the Father and the Son are eternal, and the Son was begotten eternally, and just like parents beget children, the Son is of the same substance (homoousios) with the Father, but unlike human parents, the begetting must be an eternal begetting. Plus, if Christ came into being, then he had experienced change, and what is to say that he might not change and become evil, and thus our salvation would not be secure. This view was accepted at the Council of Nicea.
- Most of the bishops at Nicea interpreted “of the same substance” in the same way that “this marble is the same substance as the Parthenon” would mean “the same type of marble”. Humans are made of changeable stuff and God and Jesus are made of the same unchangeable stuff. But Athanasius insisted that it meant “a piece of marble chopped out of the Parthenon”, and accused the others of homoiousios (“similar substance”), and therefore there are two Gods. Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Basil said that the Father and the Son are one ousia, but different hypostaseis; this is like three Peter, Mary, and John, who are three people but one human-substance. But unlike humans who are individual and have different goals and likes, etc., God is special, and the hypostaseis always act in union.
- The Latin speakers had a similar approach, but with words that meant the opposite, and both the Greek and Latin speakers eventually decided they were using different words for the same idea. But there is a difference: the Greeks have always started with the three hypostaseis (they pray to the Father or the Son, for instance) and the difficulty is how to unite the three. But the Latins started with God’s unity, and had to explain how they acted differently. “In short, Greeks emphasized the threeness, Latins the oneness. If Greek Trinitarianism risked so emphasizing the distinctions that it ended up with three Gods, Latin Trinitarianism risked treating the personae as merely [theatrical] masks or roles and denying any real distinction at all.” (79) But it you want to avoid saying there are two Gods (Arianism) and avoid saying that there is only one God (Sabelliansim), you inevitably ended up with something like the Trinity.
- How was it that Christ was both divine and human? Gregory of Nyssa said he did not know, but developments forced a decision.
- Alexandria, with its history of Greek philosophy, focused on the Logos. Since the “Logos became flesh” Apollinaris said that Christ had a human body, but had the divine Logos in place of a human mind. Theodore of Mopsuestia said that this was incorrect because Jesus “grew in wisdom” and was also “afraid”, and clearly the body does not grow in wisdom. So Apollinaries replied that the mind has multiple parts, there is the lower fear and emotion part and the higher rational part, and the Logos replaced the reason. Theodore said, that still does not work, “since Christ saved humanity by uniting it with divinity, only those parts of us which have been united with divinity in Christ will be saved.” (81) In which case, human reason is not saved. “In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, ‘If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.’” (81) Thus, the Council of Constantinople in 381 condemned Apollinarianism.
- Theodore offered a solution in the Christ was both human and divine, so he had two natures, and so when he wept or feared, that was the human nature, and when he did miracles and forgave sins, that was the divine. Nestorius (patriarch of Constantinople in 428) took this to its conclusion. Christians had prayed to Mary as “the bearer of God” for two hundred years, but Nestorius said that you cannot apply the human part (“bearing [a child]”) to the divine part (“God”), so while he was happy to honor Mary, one could not say she was “the bearer of God”, although it would be correct to say “the bearer of Christ”. He was attacked as defaming the Virgin Mary. The rather nasty Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, pointed out that Nestorius emphasized the two natures of Christ with such distinction that it was not clear that humanity and divinity had actually joined. He got Nestorius condemned by virtue of a council in which he did not wait for the delayed Nestorius to arrive and intimidated his opponents.
- This was not very effective, and then Cyril started thinking, and realized that since Christ was both human and divine, you needed to address the issue, and he decided that since Christ was both human and divine, you could apply the human attributes to the divine and vice-versa, so he sort of switch from viewing Christ as having one nature to having two. His previous followers had a council at Ephesus in 449 to proclaim Christ had one nature. But at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, they read what the Bishop of Rome (Leo I) had written at Cyril’s “Robber Council” and the bishops rejected Christ having one nature, and decided that since he had both natures, you could apply both attributes to both natures.
- One of the consequences of all this was that, since the Bishop of Rome had happened to always be on the winning side, the Bishop of Rome gained authority as “arbiter of orthodoxy” (84). Another consequence was that the Nestorians were still around in the East, and were so persecuted by the orthodox believers that they preferred to join the Muslims, which facilitated the Muslim conquest of the East.
- “Theologically, it is admittedly sometimes tempting to dismiss all these debates as a quibbling over details. But by and large Christians avoided definitions until they felt their salvation stood under threat. For Ignatius of Antioch, going off to face suffering and death in the confidence that Christ had taken that road before him, it was not quibbling to reject the Docetist view that Christ had only seemed to suffer and die. Anthanasius thought that Arianism implied that Christ might change and turn evil; he did not consider that point trivial.” (85)
Ch. 7: Light in the East
- After about 450, the eastern and western parts of the empire no longer understood each other’s language.
- Originally Christians followed Jews in not making pictures of Christ, since he was God. Eusebius, who fawned on Constantine, rebuked Constantine’s sister when she asked for an image of Christ. But pictures were a good way of teaching the many illiterate people, and images (ikons) became incorporated into Christian practices. In the 700s there was great imperial resistance to images, especially Emperor Leo the Isaurian and his son Constantine V. One reason for this is that they were from the provinces, with large support in the provinces, and rural areas tend to distrust the city-dwellers, and in the rural areas, there probably were a bunch of uneducated people who did not get the distinction between using the image to worship God and worshiping the image directly.
- John of Damascus and Theodore of Studios (both monks) argued that Jesus was a man, and clearly one can make images of man. They also both argued that the emperors had no authority to be determining theology; that was that was the Church’s job and it was robbery to try to take it away from the church.
- The end result was that the iconoclasts lost, and that the emperor did not have the power to decide theology, which was one of the first limits on temporal power.
- Two influential theologians, Pseudo-Dionysius (unknown author from an unknown time, but until recently considered one of Paul’s converts) and Maximus the Confessor, said that we can only really know what God is not, not what God is. His existence is inaccessible to us. Thus, the most profound knowledge of God is silence knowing that God is unknown.
- One of the most important themes of eastern Christianity is the process of man becoming divine: God is love so as we love we become more divine. “Love, the divine gift, perfects human nature until it makes it appear in unity and identity with the divine nature.” (Maximus the Confessor).
- Western theologians saw history as a terms of states: Adam’s sin brought us to a state of sin; Christ’s redemption brought us to a state of grace. So naturally the emphasis was on the instant of time where our state changed, and thus an emphasis on God’s grace. But eastern Christianity focused on deification as a lifelong process, so naturally they needed to include human choice in that.
- One of the reasons that we cannot understand God is that he is “simple”, that is, cannot be broken into constitutate parts. But in deification we become parts of God. Maximus tried to answer this by saying that deification makes us everything God is except his ousia, or substance/essence (as mentioned in the Nicene Creed). However, one might think that if God is “simple” and indivisible, then all he is is ousia. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) asked how we could become (or even know) God if his essence is completely incomprehensible? Since the NT talks about about God’s love and God’s knowledge as distinct from God’s essence, we can experience these. Basil the Cappadocian had written a millenium earlier that God’s energeiai, God’s actions, come down to us, even though his substance remains inaccessible. Gregory took that and said that it is by these energeiai, splitting and filtering down to us like the sun’s light, by participating in them we move towards deification.
- The monks at Athos had developed a method of breathing and continuous repetition of the Jesus prayer (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy up me.”) Around 1000, Symeon the New Theologian had an experience when God’s light shown all around him and he lost awareness of everything around him. Those who had these experiences, including Symeon, often felt that those who had not were not saved (not unlike, say, speaking in tongues). Barlaam tried to get these practices forbidden, but Gregory Palamas came from Mt. Athos and debated him, apparently trouncing him, although he only claimed these to be one way to salvation, and did not take the place of sacraments (other had been saying that those with the experiences had no need of sacraments).
- In 1054 the Bishop of Rome and Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. In 1438-9, the two sides tried to reconcile. (A Turkish army surrounded Constantinople and they wanted help from the West, which was more likely if they were not excommunicated, and the Pope was dealing with a rebellious council and could use the political influence from having re-united the Church.) They managed to agree to disagree on issues like leavened or unleavened bread for communion, could married men become priests, at what point exactly did the elements become Christ’s body and blood, and was it necessary to believe in purgatory. The struggled over the issue of “procession of the Holy Spirit”. At Nicea the Church agreed that Christ was begotten, but Holy Spirit could not also be begotten, since Christ was the Father’s only begotten son, so Gregory of Nazianzus created a word “procession” and they agreed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. In the West, Augustine saw HS as love, and just as love binds the Church together, so love binds the trinity together, and therefore the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which was an addition to the Creed, which the eastern Church did not think was right. They reached a sort of compromise: since some eastern theologians had said that the Spirit proceeds through the Son and western theologians said from the Son, well they were both talking about the same thing. And the West had modified the Creed, but so had the Council of Constantinople. So both sides could just keep doing things the way they did. But when they got back the delegates were considered traitors.
- There was also the issue of the Pope’s leadership. The West had a hierarchical system with the Bishop of Rome having the final authority, but the East had the five Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch, and the council of the Church was the ultimate authority. The bishop of Rome was first among equals, but definitely not the head of the church.
- But in 1453 the Turks conquered Constantinople, which effectively stopped any chance for reconciliation.
- Russians supposed adopted Christianity after examining the major religions and the delegates to Constantinople being so in awe of the beauty of the liturgy. (But, supposedly they also rejected Islam immediately after hearing that alcohol was prohibited: “Drinking is the joy of the Russians, we cannot do without it.”) After the fall of Constantinople, Russian Orthodoxy considered itself the third Rome, the inheritors of the tradition of Rome and Constantinople. The Russian flavor was mostly a passive resignation in the face of difficulties (“my brother prince wants to kill me? Okay, I’m all his”), but there was definitely a strain of pushing back against power, for instance, Solzhenitsyn.
Ch. 8: Augustine
- Augustine gets his own chapter because he was the largest force making western Christianity distinct from eastern: his authority was long second only to the Bible. “Historians have with some justice described the Reformation as a struggle between two sides of Augustine: Protestantism began with his doctrine of grace, and the Roman Catholic response grew out of his doctrine of the church.” (108)
- The anguish Augustine has over the incident of stealing pears is frequently seen as him being oversensitive. But Plato (and therefore, Platonists) believed that man does evil out of ignorance, when we mistake a lesser good for a greater good. But Augustine says he and his friends were not hungry and they had pears of their own. “Our real pleasure was simply in doing something that was not allowed.” Placher follows with “Any adequate philosophy or theology must face up to the sad fact that sometimes we choose evil precisely because doing evil attracts us.” (110)
- Augustine was initially attracted to the Manichaeans who said that the stars controlled our actions, as well as our bodies which are impure. Problem was, a slave’s master wouldn’t accept the excuse “the stars made me do it”, and anyway, Augustine had chosen to steal the pears himself, not the stars or his body. Manichaism started to seem like a bunch of excuses.
- He liked Platonism, but it seemed like they were people who saw a city across the water (change some of their words and they would sound like Christians), but they had no means to cross the water.
- He wanted to believe but could not, until one afternoon he heard a sing-song voice next door repeating “take up and read”, so he took up the Bible and the verse he read caused him to give his life to Christ. He tried to avoid becoming a bishop—he avoided entering a city after a bishop had died out of fear of being drafted—but the bishop of Hippo asked him to be his assistant, and then his successor.
- Donatism was very popular among the common people in N. Africa. Tertullian’s influence had led to a high standard for church membership. So what to do with people who had given copies of the Bible to the authorities to be destroyed in order to save their lives? What if that person is a priest, since priests were sort of a second class, being able to give sacraments? The bishop ordained for Carthage in 312 had been one of these, and the Donatists said that batpisms and sacraments from such priests were invalid. Both sides argued from Cyprian. Augustine argued practically: if a priest’s sin makes the sacraments invalid, then if the priest, or the bishop who ordained him (etc.) had secretly sinned, then marriages and baptisms would be invalid. One can’t have the validity of things based on an unknowable state of sinlessness. Augustine argued that the priest’s authority was because of his ordination into the church, not his personal holiness. This gave reliable sacraments at the expense of Christian authority being purely hierarchical.
- At first Augustine refused to call in the army to resolve the dispute, as it would produce “hypocritical conformity” at best. However, when the Donatists began causing social unrest he did call in the army. Some Donatists later thanked him for forcing them out of their error. “but calling in the army to enforce a theological decision did set a precedent that would haunt Christendom.” (115)
- Pelagius was a British monk arrived at Rome and horrified by the low virtue of Roman Christians. Reading Confessions seemed just like Augustine lacked virtue to shake off his sin, rather than Augustine’s assessment that he had chosen to begin, but was unable to choose to end until God enabled it. Pelagius argued that it would not be fair for God to hold us responsible for our sins if we were unable to do better. Augustine replied that maybe it was easy for Pelagius, but Augustine’s experience was that he needed God’s help, and besides, if we could save ourselves, why did we need Christ’s death?
- Augustine’s experience informed his view that God predestines and chooses some people. “God gives some better than they deserve, but no one gets less. The whole theory may make God seem arbitrary, but at least it keeps people from being proud.” (115-6)
- This argument requires that everyone be a sinner deserving punishment. Augustine thought that pretty obvious, having seen an infant jealous of another sharing its milk. Baptism washes away sins, so why baptize babies if they had no sins? From Cyprian, he developed the idea that Christ had to be born of a virgin because somehow sex transmits the corruption of sin. While all pleasures were made by God, and in corrupted man all are pleasures are tainted, at least a good argument could persuade a glutton to stop eating in the middle of a meal, while reason had so little influence on sexual desire that it was folly to attempt to persuade someone to stop in the middle of sex.
- Julian of Eclanum argued that it is barbarism to say that babies haven’t had time to get weighed down by their own sin, but God punishes them for sins of others. Even barbarians don’t do that! Augustine did not have a good response, and wrote to Jerome, who did not know how to answer, either. So Augustine just kept to what he knew: even babies suffer starvation and disease; it is not easy to understand the goodness of God, but all he knew was that God had delivered him, but not everyone was so lucky, and therefore God must predestine some. Life isn’t as simple as Julian would like.
- Alaric sacked Rome in 410, and refugees fled to North Africa. Many said that this had happened because Rome abandoned the pagan rituals that had preserved it. Augustine argued that there are to cities, the City of Man and the City of God. The former is fame, wealth, empire. The latter is the people who love and serve God. The distinguishing feature is love. “These two loves of which the one is holy, the other impure; the one sociable, the other self-centered; the one concerned for the common good for the sake of the heavenly society, the other subordinating the common good to self-interest for the sake of a proud lust for power ... have brought about the distinction among mankind of the two cities.” (118) The Romans had sought the wealth and power in the City of Man; if they wanted an eternal reward they should have sought the other City.
- Augustine traced the history of the City of Man, but refused to do so for the City of God. Eusebius and others saw the Christian empire as evidence of God’s work, but for Augustine, without the divine guidance of Scripture we are unable to trace God’s hand in history.
- Augustine did not give neat frameworks, but somewhat contradictory ones. “Give me a lover and he will feel what I say. Give me one that longs, one that hungers, give me one that is on pilgrimage in this wilderness...give me such a one, and he will understand what I mean.” (120)
Ch. 9: The Path to Salvation
- From 400 to 1000, life was focused more on necessities, and people moved from the cities to the country, so there were not intellectual centers like there had been previously. Monasteries came to be some of the new intellectual centers, but for the most part Christianity needed to communicate clearly and vividly to the people.
- Monasticism started in 271 when Anthony gave up his possessions and moved out to the desert. Monasticism began as late as it did because prior to that Christians were already on the outside of society and had to lead heroic lives, but as they became more mainstream, people who wanted to live heroic lives had to do things differently.
- Roman culture assumed that you purified your soul by denying the body, especially in being celibate, so it was natural for Christians to do those things. It was surprising for people in Jovanian wrote a pamphlet around 390 arguing that unmarried Christians and not-fasting Christians are not superior to those who marry and eat and drink for the glory of God (since all people will be equally blessed on Judgment Day). Jerome gave him quite rigorous pushback.
- Benedict was nobody special in the late 400s, but his Rule ended up guiding most monasteries by 800. It was both severe and gentle, and Benedict sought moderation in all things, so it avoided ascetic excesses, too.
- Augustine had insisted that human good works does not contribute to our salvation. John Cassian brought monasticism to the West, and he argued that non-Christians obviously do good deeds, so grace can hardly be the prerequisite for good deeds. And besides, Christ died for all, it does not make sense that God would will only some to be saved. “Of course grace is necessary for salvation, Augustine’s critics acknowledged, but people can begin to move toward salvation without it, and God offers it to everyone, though some turn it down.” (126) Caesarius, bishop of Arles, argued that Cassian made God look ineffective. It was impossible to turn reject God’s grace, so God had to limit who he offered it to. Grace is not given as a result of prayer, but instead grace causes prayer to be given asking for it.
- Gottschalk to predestination to its limits, saying we never use our free will to do we; we only do good when God takes control of our wills. This was condemned at the Council of Quiercy in 853, which said that “Christ died for all, and, while God has predestined punishment for those who reject grace, he has not predestined those who will receive that punishment.” (127) Hincmar tried to argue with Gottschalk by saying that God only predestines the elect, but Gottschalk said that predestining one group implied predestining the other. Scotus Eriugena agreed with Hincmar but because it was because sin and evil do not exist (Augustine having said that evil does not exist in itself, it is and absence of good).
- Gottschalk saw grace as God’s predestinating choice; Scotus Eriugena saw God’s grace as the overflowing power of God’s love.
- Most people wanted a tangible way of obtaining grace, which ended up coming through the sacraments.
- The current Catholic seven sacraments was not official until 1483 at the Council of Florence.
- The Eucharist was seen as a sacrament far earlier, but what happened during it took a while to develop. Nicaea in 787 declared the bread and wine to become the presence of Christ’s body and blood. Western bishops were less enthusiastic, since Augustine had cautioned against being too literal about these things (since Christ had spoken of spiritual things, we should not be quite to take them literally). Still Paschasius Radbertus in 831 said that the bread and wine became the same body that died on the cross. There was still dissent in the 11th century; Berengar of Tours (d. 1088) argued that the bread and wine only because Christ’s body and blood spiritually: they still tasted like bread and wine, so they obviously were still that physically. Besides, a millenium of communion every week would have used up the actual body a long time ago!)
- However, the bread and wine physically becoming Christ’s body and blood was a lot more tangibly appealing, so that idea won.
- Aristotle said that things kept their substance but changed their properties: water kept its substance when it changed to ice, but it changed it’s properties. Communion miraculously did the reverse: the bread and wine kept their properties but changed their substance.
- Similarly, the saints were a tangible way to come close to piety and have some assurance prayers were heard.
- Mary in particular became central because of two things. First, when one angered a ruler, one went to the queen and offered apologies and a gift; so you could do the same with Mary when you offended the king (Jesus). Second, since Augustine theorized that sexual intercourse was the means of transmitting sin, it was important that Mary be sinless.
- Penance arose as a way of expunging sin. Originally, baptism washes your sins away, but since you could only be baptized once, people started waiting until later in life. So then you could apply to be a penitent, and by long penance receive forgiveness, but you could only do that once, so people started waiting until later in life for that. Monks were in the habit of confessing regularly to the abbot, so that developed into a system of penance that could be done repeatedly to expiate sins.
- Thus, baptism, the sacraments, and penance became the system that ordered peoples’ lives.
- The bishop of Rome gained authority because the bishop of Rome tended to take the right side in doctrinal disputes, Rome kept the best records so arguments could be made on reliable history, and the vacuum of civil government provided something the leadership of the Church could fill. However, since there was no strong state, they way you provided for your security was to pledge allegiance to the local lord and offer him taxes or to fight. When the Church did this, it subordinated the Church to the State, which it eventually resisted. In early 1100s Pope Paschal II offered the church to give up all its property and clergy would be simple shepherd of the people, but this might have actually exposed the bishops to more danger since they would not longer have any property; unsurprisingly, the bishops did not go along with this at all. Eventually the tug of war was resolved at the Council of Worms (1122) that the Church and State had different authorities, and while (German) emperor could not appoint the bishops, he could be present at the election.
Ch. 10: The Fragile Synthesis
- Benedict’s Rule created independent monasteries, which made it hard to maintain adherence to the rule, which was lax as the monasteries gained wealth. (Particularly lax by those who were placed in monasteries rather than choosing it.) In 910 some monks intent on obeying the Rule founded Cluny, with the difference that monasteries founded by Cluny were under the centralized control of Cluny, and this brought some reforming energy and helped Pope Gregory VII (he wanted to fight corruption, but he could only go so far, on the one hand he could not anger the powerful too much, and on the other hand he could not deprive the people of the sacraments, since many of those sacraments were administered by corrupt priests, nor could he risk people losing confidence in the Church). But Cluny also became wealthy, and besides, it got too big to centrally control. In 1098, reforming monks founded Citeaux in the middle of a French forest. The Cistercians were neither independent like the Benedictines, nor centralized like Cluny, but instead all the Cistercian abbots met regularly and talked through problems and policy. This produced an effective revival (although that was certainly facilitated by Bernard of Clairvaux joining them). Bernard was a passionate man, and his passionate outbursts were driven out of love for God. In the 1200s, Dominic founded the Dominican friars, who got a good education and then went into the world serving people. Around the same time, the Franciscans followed Jesus by being poor and owning nothing. This challenged the rich living of the clergy (who were largely from the nobility), and Peter Waldo was condemned for leading a group similar to the Franciscans, but when Francis came to the Pope, the Pope had a dream of a crumbling church held up by a brown-clothed Francis. After the Franciscans grew and started needing books to study, complete poverty and owning nothing was a challenge. Some Franciscans Joachim of Fiore’s works, which divided history into the Age of the Father (people married, and the patriarch was the ideal), the Age of the Son (grace, and the priest was the ideal), and the Age of the Spirit (ruled by love, people were to praise God, and the ideal was the monk). They thought they were inaugurating the Third Age and overthrowing the institutions from the previous age, but this did not work out.
- Anselm was the greatest thinker of the 11th Century. He, like Augustine, believed that faith came first and informed understanding; understanding was not possible without faith. He is notable for two things:
- His ontological argument of God: even atheists understand the idea of “God”, namely “that which is the greatest thing we can think of”, and since something that exists is greater than something that is merely an understandable idea, God must exist otherwise he is not the greatest thing we can think of. It should be noted that while it appears to be an argument to persuade the atheist, its context is associated with prayer.
- In Anselm’s time, the most common view of the Atonement was that God tricked Satan: Jesus appeared to be human, so the devil thought that he had the rights he had with humans, but he was also divine, so his overreach allowed God to punish him by taking humanity back. Anselm rejected that idea (how could Truth deceive?). Instead, he thought we incurred a debt when our sin disobeyed and dishonored God. But we could not repay, nor could we do extra work to make up for our sin, since we already owed God everything. “Only God could do something above and beyond what God requires” (144), so Jesus could voluntarily become man and voluntarily suffer what he did not need to suffer and then repay our debt.
- Peter Abelard flourished in the debate-oriented university. He thought Anselm’s idea made God to be a sadist, taking joy in Jesus’ suffering. Instead, he thought that Christ was an expression of God’s love, that inspired—indeed, enabled—us to return that love.
- Abelard was lovers with a young girl; her uncle found out and was incensed. The ideal of celibacy was so strong in the culture that publicly getting married would have ruined his career, so he offered a secret marriage. The uncle sent people to castrate him, and both he and Heloise ended up in monasteries, although Heloise never repented of loving him, and loved God because she loved Abelard and he told her to live a life of love for God.
- In the 1200s the rest of Aristotle’s works got translated from Arabic and disseminated across Europe. It was like what might happen when encountering an unknown advanced civilization: Plato and Augustine had looked inward for truth, but Aristotle looked to observation with the senses for philosophical truth, and sometimes said things very at odds with the Christian ideas. Similarly, Augustine required faith for proper understanding, but Aristotle simply observed. The Church was threatened and banned Aristotle in places. Some, like Siger of Brabant at Paris decided that Aristotle was the one who was right. The Franciscan teacher Bonaventure thought that we could learn from Aristotle in some areas, in others he was just wrong. Thomas Aquinas synthesized faith with Aristotle’s reason.
- Aquinas observed that we can know some things with reason, and some with revelation. We do not learn about the habits of fish from the Bible, but Aristotle and observation might be good tools for that. And while philosophy can demonstrate that God exists, it cannot say anything about who God is (just some things about who he is not); that is what revelation is for. So revelation augments reason. Nor can reason be opposed to revelation (Aristotle thought that the world was eternal, having always been, but Aquinas showed the he could not be sure about that on purely philosophical grounds, and here revelation augmented reason by telling us that the world was actually created, not eternal)
- Aquinas argued for the existence of God by agreeing with Aristotle that knowledge begins with observations by the senses. And we observe that actions cause other things to happen. If we go backwards, there must have been a First Cause somewhere to set all these actions in motion.
- Previously, Christianty’s inspiration by Platonic philosophy was a bit uncomfortable regarding the bodily resurrection, since the goal of Platonism is to transcend the body to the true Form. Aristotle said that things have both form and substance (rather than being instantiations of the Form), like a bronze statue has a substance of bronze and the form of a person. Aquinas argued that the soul is what formed the body (substance) into a human being, so he agreed with Aristotle that the goal was not a disembodied soul (although that happened in-between death and the resurrection).
- Since the body is good (God made it, and it is our substance), then natural desires are good, and sex is good. Marriage is good, although polygamy is not because it creates inequality between man and woman, and that destroys the friendship between man and woman that is central to marriage, since friendship is based on equality.
- Aquinas thought that we should obey government laws, because human reason understands God’s law, and this understanding is part of the natural order he created. However, unjust laws, or just laws applied unjustly were man’s greed or lust for power, and were outrages.
- Pope Innocent III used Aquinas’ ideas to claim almost a Millenial, messianic authority over the State. This was viewed very unfavorbably, especially since the Pope had some temporal, political authority which his neighbors thought might cause conflict of interests. A century later, Pope Boniface VIII tried to make similar claims in a dispute with France, but by this time national identities had formed and people talked of the Pope as an “outsider”. He was effectively kidnapped and did not succeed in his claims. (Aquinas’ students noted that there were kings in France before Christians existed, thus State power is quite separate from the Church’s power, but equally ordained by God.)
- “For a thousand years, Christians had thought of their world as a single ordered hierarchy. All knowledge began with faith; all authority depended on the church’s blessing. All truth and all authority, Aquinas agreed, come ultmately from God, but in this world he separated the realms of reason and revelation, church and state. Once that separation had been made in principle, it grew steadily wider.” (158)
Ch. 11: The Absolute Power of God
- In the 1300s and 1400s, plagues killed many people, there was the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, multiple popes at the same time, and the increasing papal bureaucracy requiring more and more money to support itself. Philosophically, nominalism developed (in contrast with realism, which asserted Platonic forms). It said that there were no forms, there were just the individuals and any name we gave them was a convention on our part. So three clouds were not instantations of the form of cloud in God’s mind, but we decided to call things that looked like those things “clouds”.
- Aquinas said that there was no abstract form, but that God thought of clouds as belonging to a class, and so were simply followed him when we did. He also thought that we could only know universals/forms, not individuals. That is, instead of knowing white, fluffy, summertime clouds, what we really knew was “white”, and “fluffy”, and “hot” and “summer”, nothing specific to these clouds. He was asserting that we discover the objective world that exists.
- John Duns Scotus (Scotch Franciscan, b. 1266) said that we could know individuals. He also focused on God’s will, where Aquinas focused on God’s intellect. Aquinas asked what was reasonable for God to do, but Scotus said we can only derive conclusions from what God actually has done.
- Aquinas thought that the Incarnation would not have happened if Adam had not sinned—there would be no reason for God to do it. Scotus thought that the Incarnation was an expression of God’s loving will, so he would have done it anyway to express his love for humanity.
- The effect of Scotus is a more emphasis on believing what is revealed rather than trying to reason out the logic of a rationally ordered world.
- William of Ockham (1280s - 1347) went farther than Scotus, saying that God can do anything that is not logically contradictory (which would make no sense to talk about), he could even declare something normally sinful to be acceptable. So we cannot say would God would or would not reasonably do, we must stick with what he has done.
- Ockham’s Razor: shave off unnecessary actors and assume that the minimum explanation is the correct one. So no need to bring in a form of a cloud if there are three individual objects.
- Ockham agreed with all the orthodox claims (as did Scotus). However, logically, if we call white, fluffy things “clouds” because that is what we decided to call them, then maybe the Pope is the Pope because we decided that he was, and he thought that there should be a general council of men and women, to elect him and correct him if necessary. A fellow exile with Ockham, Marsilius of Padua, went farther, saying that all authority derives from the people, and the people should correct the church when necessary.
- Ockham and other nominalists thought that God could save however he wanted, but normally he wants rules, and normally those who try to be righteous will be saved. Others saw this is Pelagianism, working your way to salvation. For the realists, since the world had intrinsic order, arbitrariness on God’s part was not a problem, but for nominalists it led to insecurity, so they needed to think that there were rules and patterns that they could apply for salvation.
- Nominalism also made less sense that God saved “humanity”, rather than individual humans. This led to a greater emphasis on mysticism by common people—the mystical experience ensured one of salvation.
- When mystics talked of union with God in almost sexual terms, no one objected. But when mystics talked about the seed of God in us growing into the divine, that was threatening. In sex, the two people remain the same, but to actually merge with God into a oneness, that felt unsafe (despite it having been common in the early church and in the eastern churches).
- Mystical theology was also more available to the common person—you did not need to be university trained to be practically pious, and you could report your experiences even if you were a woman,
- In 1309 the Pope moved to Avignon from Rome, which was no longer safe. In 1378, the people of Rome demanded the election of an Italian bishop to stay in Rome, and the cardinals complied, but afterwards they left Rome, said they were coerced, and elected another bishop in Avignon. Eventually some cardinals decided that a church council could resolve the issue of which pope was valid, but councils could only be called by the pope, and one of the popes would have vetoed the council. So they advanced various theories that it is actually the council that is over the pope and in exceptional circumstances the council could act independently. In 1415 the council at Constance succeeded in having the whole church choose Martin V, but when a later council tried to assert its headship it failed.
- The plagues and famines of the 1300s had resulted in religious fervor: groups of itinerant flagellants traveled between cities, there were secret societies expecting a great leader to fix the problems, and the return of Christ was expected. Sinful priests were frequently a target of these groups, sometimes even the structure of society.
- John Ball (Peasants Revolt in England, 1381) said that the right state of affairs was having everything in common and everyone equal in status. Such popular uprisings also tended to want an emperor and to be anti-Semitic (Church leaders had to protect Jews from such groups)
- John Wyclif (d. 1384) had a more intellectual populism. Since we are predestined according to Augustine, the Church hierarchy is not much use and we should stick to the Bible. Besides, Christ had no house for his head, so why were priests living in wealth? He inspired an English translation of the Bible. However, Wyclif also followed Augustine’s belief that the bread and wine were only spiritually Christ’s body, and this got him condemned as a heretic, leaving only the Lollards to travel in poverty around England with the English Bible.
- John Hus wanted similar reforms: priests should not spend their income on concubines, no interference with popular preaching, and everyone should receive the bread and wine. (The priests had started not giving out the wine out of concern for spilling Christ’s blood.)
- Generally, personal piety gained in importance. In the Netherlands, groups of men and women organized as “Modern Devotion”, often living in community for prayer and charity, but intentionally remaining in the world, seeing no use in someone withdrawing to contemplate God or experiencing mysteries when actual, concrete people had needs right here.
- Renaissance humanists like Bendetto Morandi thought that we should make the world better. Giannozzo Manetti said that God had created a beautiful world, and it was man’s task to continue the process. “Any orthodox theologian would have praised the world God created, but it was something new to suggest that we might improve on God’s efforts. That way of looking at the world as raw material to be remade rather than a glory to be contemplated would have profound effects.” (177)
Ch. 12: Faith Alone, Scripture Alone
- Luther joined a monastery because of a vow he made in a thunderstorm, but always felt like there was another sin to confess. After years of trying to be less sinful, eventually he saw in Romans that Christ’s death took our sin. As a result of his experiences, he insisted that we cannot participate in our righteousness, it is by grace alone. He also placed the Bible, not the pope, as his doctrinal authority.
- Luther also objected to the practice of selling indulgences (you could pay to reduce your penance, on the theory that the saints had acquired more than enough merit to be saved, and the church could distribute their extra merit) and of selling indulgences to reduce time in purgatory (starting in 1476). He was aided in this by the printing press.
- Luther had hoped that the Church would see the error of its ways and reform, but it did not.
- Luther lived in the context of a ruling prince (and depended on the prince for the fledgling movement’s survival, and indeed, his own life for many years), and he thought that while it was okay to criticize church leaders, Christians should obey earthly rulers (unless it contradicted the Bible), even if their complaints were justified. Rebellion, in particular, was not at all acceptable.
- Luther’s translation of the Bible influenced German language for centuries, and his happy marriage made clergy and people no longer separate (and also established a difficult standard for pastor’s wives and children).
- The humanists, like Erasmus, agreed with Luther about the (lack of) authority of the pope, opposition to the cult of saints and superstitions like relics, opposition to indulgences. However, Erasmus wanted to get rid of the corruption so that people could follow Christ simply and act decently towards each other; Luther saw this as flatly impossible, because he saw people as having no power to become more righteous.
- Carlstadt (a colleague at Wittenberg) and Müntzer emphasized the Holy Spirit’s voice which was able to teach more than all learned bishops and scholars; Luther saw as risking all sorts of chaos among the churches.
- Müntzer was fairly radical, he thought the church had been corrupt ever since the second generation of Christians, and he joined in a peasant rebellion, resulting in his death.
- Zwingli in Zurich was similar to Luther, but he lived in a context where Zurich was fairly democratic, and like Luther he wanted to preserve the unity of the believers. So he thought that one should reform gradually, to avoid divisions springing up. (Naturally that upset people who focused on purity and complete faithfulness to the Biblical text, notably Conrad Grebel.) He and Luther very much disagreed on the issue of Communion; Zwingli followed Augustine in thinking that the elements did not change, while Luther was sure that they did because that is what the Bible literally said, even though he did not know how it happened because he rejected transubstantiation. Their refusal to compromise scuttled a Protestant union that the various princes were trying to form.
- Luther and Zwingli believed strongly in keeping the church together, and they “won”. The “losers” are sometimes known as the Radical Reformers, which includes very different groups, but which tended to want the church to be composed only of the committed.
- Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”) thought infant baptism was invalid because infants could not choose to follow Christ, so they rebaptized people as adults. In 1534 some Anabaptists took over Münster to establish the end times Kingdom of God, which was a complete disaster of harsh penalties but wild sex of leaders, and it ended with neighboring princes besieging the city and starving and killing most of them.
- The Swiss Anabaptists were more reasonable, although they wore distinctive clothes to separate themselves from the world, and had a strict code of banning transgressors until a repentance was made. Menno Simmons founded a lot of Anabaptist communities on this model, and these have become the Mennonites today.
- The Spiritualists did not withdraw into communities but focused in individual freedom led by the Holy Spirit. Schwenckfelder thought that since Jesus was in all the churches, there were true believers everywhere (albeit always a minority), so why should churches be fighting. Because there was so much rancor over the Lord’s Supper, he decided to stop celebrating it.
- Some Anabaptists in Hungary and Poland questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, although they remained in withdrawn communities until Faustus Socinus. Socinus thought that Christ was not divine, but did God’s work. Also, he denied that God required Christ’s suffering and death as a payment. He quit wearing distinctive dress, and even allowed people to work in government and the military, as long as it did not involve putting people to death. They tended to be tolerant, since all none of us measure up to God. For a while this was the official religion of Transylvania.
- After Luther’s death, his second, Melanchthon (who Luther saw as a better theologian than himself), compromised with Catholics on some non-essential matters in order to keep the university open. There was a debate, but ultimately the Lutheran community decided that compromise was betraying Lutheranism.
- The other issue was how much we can participate in grace. Melanchthon said that we are not statues, and while God’s grace is the power, we do cooperate with it. This debate also went on for a while and was also settled in favor of Luther (although admitting that we are not statues).
- Luther was very passionate, but not a systematic theology sort, since he believe that ultimately what mattered was your relationship with God. After his death his followers principalized his thoughts into rigid ideologies, rather than Luther’s passionate but more context-dependent views.
Ch. 13: The Catholic Reformation
- The Catholic Church was already thinking about reform before Luther. The Fifth Lateran Council (1512-1517) decided that bishops needed to be worthy, and that high clergy should live better and stop selling exceptions to the rules, but these were goals without any energy to accomplish them. In 1537 some cardinals wrote to the pope pretty bluntly saying that reform was needed. There was an attempt to negotiate with the Lutherans, and Cardinal Contarini was able to say that we have two righteousnesses: that imputed from Christ by grace and righteousness inherent in us. We receive the one from Christ and grow in the other, not righteous by faith alone, but by “faith rendering itself efficacious in love” (202) and though good works do not make us righteous, God does reward them. However, Luther’s rejection of transubstantiation was fatal, as that was the official Church position since the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
- The Council of Trent (1545-1563):
- Luther rejected the authority of the Church structure, and even some bishops thought that Scripture and tradition were not on the same level. But at the same time, Christians had traditions from handed down from the Apostles before the Bible was written, and the Church assumed that it had maintained them. So Trent said that Christian faith rests on the truths written down in the Bible and on the unwritten truths of tradition.
- Luther said that original sin destroyed free will; Trent said that original sin weakened free will but had not destroyed it. Partly this is because Luther said that the desire to sin is sin, while Trent said that the desire in itself is not sin.
- Trent allowed for “moral striving” and thus kept the system of sacraments and penance intact.
- Luther said that justification is solely through grace, while Trent said that our efforts also matter. God does not command the impossible. So grace is first and awakens the process, but we must cooperate with it. And justification is not just cleansing from sin, but also the process of transformation from unjust to just, from enemy to friend. Luther focused on the instant of salvation, while Trent focus on the larger process.
- Trent also clarified how the sacraments help us cooperating in our salvation.
- Trent required a number of reforms: bishops must live in their diocese; they must teach regularly and simply according to local custom and language; mistresses were forbidden, and frequent attendance at Communion mandated. The council left the relationship of pope to bishops (bishops get their authority from the Vicar of Christ, or bishops and pope get their authority from God [since the apostles did not get their authority from Peter]) unresolved.
- The Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola, were instrumental in the time. Ignatius wrote Spiritual Exercises in response to people asking him for spiritual guidance. He thought that we think suffering and pain is helpful until we have completely given ourselves over to Christ, at which point we realize that our body is Christ’s and we should take care of it. So he emphasized getting good sleep and food, but also required endurance when necessary. He thought prayer could not be separated from practical activity, so Jesuits did not spend a lot of time specifically praying, like the other monastics did. He was, however, very insistent on obedience. If the Church said that the white that you see is black, then you trust that Christ is speaking through the hierarchy. At the same time, when he sent people out he gave them incredible freedom: he told his missionaries to contextualize, not transport southern European culture into an alien world.
- Teresa of Avila (b. 1515) was a Carmelite mystic, but spent most of her time founding convents and getting existing convents into shape. She did not think that visions were very important and were more in the earlier stages. In the later stages she felt God suspended our faculties and gave us something else.
- John of the Cross, younger than Teresa, was of her order. He said that at some point imagery distracts, but that we like images, so we get frustrated. In the process of growing contemplation, things which used to work for us cease to work, but there is nothing yet to replace them, and so we have no landmarks and feel like we are in a dark night of the soul, traveling alone to God. He was also an amazing Spanish poet.
- Aquinas had created a system whereby faith and reason, church and state, grace and free will, all cooperated. Luther did not think reason had much to do, you obeyed your ruler; nor did you have free will.
- In the later Middle Ages, people asked how we could even talk about God, since we could not experience him at all directly. Aquinas used analogy: we say God is wise because he produces wisdom in us, just like we say food is healthy not because food is healthy in the same way a person’s body is healthy, but because “healthy” food produces health in our bodies.
- Cardinal Cajetan (early 1500s, Dominican) said that this does not work, because you cannot know much about a cause from its effects. God causes wisdom, but he also causes ice, yet we do not say that God is cold.
- Francisco Suárez (c.1600, Jesuit) agreed with attribution by analogy, but not proportionality (i.e. that we do not know how wise God is, but we have some idea how much wiser he is than we are from his other attributes), because we do not know God’s wisdom nor do we know God’s being, so how can a ratio of two unknowns have any meaning? (He also disagreed with Aquinas’ First Mover argument because some things seem to move themselves.)
- Juan Mariana (Jesuit) argued that the right to rule rests on the consent of the community, and so he praised the assassination of Henry III of France because of his oppression. This produced bad optics of Jesuits appearing to support rebellion against Protestant rulers.
- Louis Molina (French, Jesuit) argued that humans were capable of some level of morality and happiness, even though only grace could raise us to salvation and experience of God. So our efforts alone can do some things, and grace is not efficacious unless we do cooperate. Bishop Cornelius Jansen considered Molina to be Pelagian. Antoine Arnaud also argued that the Jesuits were Pelagian, because they taught that attrition (repenting of a sin because you feared punishment) was sufficient, not just contrition (repenting because you actually regretted doing it); they also taught that you could not sin unless you intended to sin, and while Aquinas thought that doing something you had a suspicion about was sin, the Jesuits had noticed that some people were oversuspicious, so theory said that you had to think it was not an intentional sin if you thought it probably was not a sin. Arnaud thought that this basically let creative people off the hook for any sin. The Jesuits got to pope to condemn the Jansenists with the argument that they were Protestants in disguised. Pascal supported the Jansenists, but ultimately they just sounded to Calvinist, and Jesuits were condemned as Pelagian. [NB: the text must be wrong, since this has resulted in both the Jesuits and their Jansenist opponents being condemned]
- Madame Guyon (French) left her small children for a pious mystic life, and she thought that nothing was important except contemplation of God in “prayer of simple regard”; even meditating on Christ’s life was a distraction. In fact, we should be so surrendered that we do not even care if we are saved, and be possessed by God and moved by him without any resistance. This became known as Quietism. The bishops said that this may work for some, but it is certainly not to be held up as the normal example, and losing ourselves is not normally a good idea.
- “Mme. Guyon represents a tendency which regularly reappears in Christianity—a tendency to claim a special relationship with God to which the usual rules do not apply. In rejecting her appeal to the authority of her own experience and her argument for utter passivity in contemplation, the church reaffirmed some of the basic principles of the Catholic Reformation. Luther had appealed to Scripture alone as the basis for a theology of salvation by faith alone. In response Catholics appealed to both Scripture and the traditions of the church as the basis for a theology of salvation through the cooperation of grace and human efforts. Jansenist insistence on pure grace or Quietist appeals to individual experience and passivity had to be rejected. Such defences of church tradition and the importance of human efforts preserved the significance of the church and sacraments as means to salvation.” (215)
Ch. 14: God’s Governance
- Calvin became Protestant in France, which wasn’t a very safe place to be, so he left and stopped by Geneva for a night on his way to become a quiet scholar, and the people insisted God had called him to lead them. (Some years later they decided otherwise, although they then asked him back a few years after that, since they realized that they needed a strong leader.) Calvin was not emotional like Luther and Augustine, but very rational.
- Plato said we sin out of ignorance; Calvin said we are ignorant because we sin. In fact, “the sad truth is that ‘the whole man is overwhelmed—as by a deluge—from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin.’” (220) Since sin makes us unable to see correctly, the Bible is our only way to see a correct vision of God. He did think that the Bible might be wrong about non-doctrinal things.
- He thought that faith was not just believing that God exists and the narratives about Christ, we also needed to have a sense that God can change us.
- Luther contrasted the Law and the Gospel, but Calvin thought we are still in the same covenant as Abraham. Luther saw the Law and merely showing us our faults (and created a social order that prevented us from just killing each other), but Calvin saw the Law as a sting that motivates the Christian to not stagnate but advance morally. But of course one did not keep the Law because of fear or in order to earn salvation. God’s grace saves us, and in gratitude we attempt to obey God. That “grateful effort” (221) was so important that Calvin actually discussed it before justification.
- Calvin is known for predestination, but it was not a big deal for him. It was more because clearly people are not saved by their own works, but empirically not all are saved, and since the Bible talks about sheep and goats, God must have predestined some for salvation. Calvin refused to speculate on why or how many.
- Calvin sometimes thought that we could be confident of our salvation, and other times noted that confidence was no assurance, since “experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect.” (222)
- But the important thing is contributing to God’s glory in our small way. Corruption in the church, which is Christ’s body, dishonors Christ.
- Calvin was in-between Luther and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper. He thought that the bread and wine were more than just symbols, but could not accept Luther’s argument that Christ was everywhere, because a body that is everywhere could hardly be a finite body, in which case Christ would not be human. So he said that Christ is present in the bread and the wine, but he did not know how.
- Calvin thought that Christians should obey the rulers, although if one was in a government position where their job was to advocate for the people (such as the Roman Tribunes, or perhaps members of Parliament), then they had a responsibility to oppose the king if he was oppressing people. In fact, he thought occasionally God would send a prophet for the purpose. While revolution was a disaster, nonetheless, God does break the scepters of kings.
- John Knox, a Scottish Calvinist, told the Scottish nobility they had a responsibility to deliver their subjects from oppression, which cause Mary to complain that he was advocating people obey him rather than her.
- Calvinism became the official religion of Holland, which turned attention to predestination. Jacob Arminius saw some of his congregation who wanted to stop sinning but came to the conclusion that they were not predestined for it. So he thought that predestination muted people’s urge to live morally and to pray. So while we can do nothing without grace, we do need to accept the grace when it is offered.
- His view was rejected, and in 1619 Calvinists from Holland and some from Germany, Switzerland, and England agreed on TULIP:
- Total depravity: we are unable to come to God
- Unconditional election: salvation and (the inverse) are decided solely by God’s choice
- Limited atonement: Christ died only for the elect.
- Irresistible grace: regeneration is God’s work, and so we are unable to resist it
- Perseverance of the saints: God makes sure that the elect do not fall away
- England did not become Protestant because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. Wyclif’s reforms had never completely gone away, and some Protestant ideas had been imported across the Channel. England flip-flopped between Catholicism and Protestantism depending on the faith of the monarch, ultimately ending up sort of in-between. The Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles in 1571 allowed multiple views on some things, and compromised on others. It said that some are predestined for salvation, but did not specify if others were damned by God’s will or their own will. It rejected transubstantiation, but did affirm that Christ’s body and blood were present “in a heavenly and spiritual manner”. In the late 1500s, Richard Hooker wrote a moderate theology that was in-between Catholicism and Protestantism; he rejected the authority of the pope but did let the first few centuries of Christian writing weigh heavily in interpreting the Bible.
- There were plenty of people who wanted a purer church:
- Puritans wanted to “purify it of theological vagueness, moral laxity, elaborate liturgy, and bishops” (229). Although they claimed to come from Calvin, they did not accept Calvin’s acceptance of diverse styles of worship, and they insisted that we should do it only if it was in the Bible. So, no kneeling, stained glass windows, vestments, or bishops. Also, congregations should be independent, although presbyteries of ministers and elders in a region were okay. Nor was it okay to incorporate tradition into interpretation of the Bible as Hooker did; “the Puritans wanted to read their Bibles unencumbered by traditional assumptions” (230). To their contemporaries they were known mostly for working hard and saving their money.
- There were a variety of even more hard-core Puritans, although they were clearer on what they were against than what they were for. Some wanted quality bishops, others were okay with a presbytery, and others insisted on independent congregations. John Rogers would only accept people who could point to an “experimental” evidence of a religious experience that they were regenerated. Richard Baxter said this filtered out everyone who was less talkative. The precursors of the Baptists came from Puritan groups that insisted on adult baptism.
- Some groups emphasized the experience of the Spirit because the poor were not educated enough to read the Scriptures, although more moderates would ask people to demonstrate their ideas by Scripture not just “this was my experience”.
- The Quakers were a group that emphasized the experience of the Spirit. George Fox would get up after a minister had given his sermon and saw whatever the Spirit led him to say. James Naylor described an experience where God called him to leave his plow, his wife, and his children and go West. Early Quakers trembled, and sometimes walked naked through cities as a prophetic sign to call people to repentance. They insisted that all people were equal, so they addressed all people as “thee” and “thou”, instead of calling rich people “you”. Similarly, they thought that the Inner Light is in women just as much as men, so women could do all the things men did. They maximized the Inner Light of the Spirit and minimized the Bible, and denied a bodily resurrection after death. They also though that conversion made you certain that you were saved and free from moral fault, from which they concluded that a number of ministers were not saved.
- The Puritans did not succeed; “most moderate Puritans decided they could live with bishops and vestments more easily than with social and religious chaos”, but the ideas of individualism and religious diversity remained out there.
Ch. 15: Reason and Enthusiasm
- The Enlightenment period marks a shift in the place of religion more than doctrine. This period had great revivals as well as questioning of doctrine. “But even those caught up in revivals understood the world in a way different than earlier Christians had done. In the Middle Ages and the Reformation, believers thought that their own lives mattered only because they fit into the story of God’s activity in history. Now they tended to think that God mattered because he could be fit into the story of their lives—whether as a rational guide to a moral life or as the cause of a conversion experience. Many of the details might remain the same, but the center of the story moved from God to human beings.” (237-8)
- Five reasons for this change in the location of the center of the story:
- “Wars of religion”: a third of Germany died in early 1600s; in the mid-1600s England had a civil war, and religion was blamed for this (even if the connection as a cause was tenuous)
- The result of these wars was that neighboring regions were different religions, with the result that people interacted with different flavors of Christianity, and it was not so easy to believe that people you knew were going to hell just because their church was different. The result was that doctrine was seen as less critical.
- The philosophical attitude of questioning inherited beliefs. Rene Descartes came to fairly orthodox conclusions, but his method was skepticism and he said that only if we examined our beliefs can we know if they are actually correct. A skeptical mindset makes appeals to authority (Bible or church) difficult.
- There were all sorts of scientific advances, but theology kept arguing about the same things.
- “Fifth, the nations of Europe were trying to centralize their power. That involved dismantling all sorts of special privileges and exemptions held by nobles and guilds and other individuals and institutions.” (238) The State tried to take control of the Church as well, which tended to make religion second in importance to the State.
- In Germany, the region took the religion of the local ruler.
- In England, the Puritans in Parliament had started a civil war in the 1640s (including executing Charles I), and the resulting bloodshed gave the Puritans (and even Calvinists) a reputation as the cause of all the chaos. “Many would have agreed with the preacher who had warned Charles I’s archbishop, ‘Predestination is the root of Puritanism, and Puritanism is the root of all rebellion and disobedient intractableness and all schism and sauciness in the country.’” (240) But they saw Catholics as foreigners and traitors, which was even worse, which resulted in Charles II being dethroned. As a result, the Toleration Act of 1689 decreed that the Church of England would have a theology vague enough to allow many different groups, and some dissenters like Anabaptists and Quakers would be tolerated (but not Catholics).
- “Inevitably it seemed that religion function principally to maintain decency and moral order” (241) through common activities and moral values.
- “There is a Supreme God.
This Sovereign Deity ought to be worshipped.
The connection of virtue and piety ... is and alwasy has been held to be, the most important piece of religious practice.
The minds of men have always been filled with horror for their wickedness. Their vices and sins have always been obvious to them. They must be expiated by repentance.
There is reward or punishment after this life.” (242)
- David Hume (Scottish) said that the scientific assumption that repeatable experiments implies that the observed behavior always happens (i.e. induction) is not actually a proof. It is simply establishing a probability. Similarly, there is no reason why the what we observe implies a natural religion of a infinite, perfect God: there is a lot of disorder and death. And appeals to miracles are logically problematic, because it is always more probable that a miracle did not occur (since by definition they are improbable events), but convicing via argument requires that the argument make the conclusion more probable, which is impossible with miracles. Hume said this did not mean that miracles or Christianity were necessarily untrue, but philosophy was safer. (Placher: philosophers don’t murder each other)
- Rousseau thought that civilization was corrupting. He thought that one should accept your own religious traditions, although he also thought people were naturally good (and thus no original sin or no need for a savior)
- Lessing thought that all religions have some insight and are part of the education of humanity, but none has the whole story. He also felt that the search for truth was more beneficial to himself and humanity than knowing the truth (and if God offered him to know the truth he would reject it in favor of the eternal search)
- Kant was raised by Pietists, but came to think them superstitious, and hypocritical in some beliefs (namely pretending to have experiences). He viewed religion as ultimately ethics. Virtue is doing our duty to fulfill the moral law, and we must do it not out of desire for pleasure (whether for our pleasure or someone else’s), nor can we use people as a means to an end. There is no guarantee that acting morally increases happiness, so what if the virtuous action leads to unhappiness? We cannot abandon virtue, nor can we sacrifice people for virtue, so the only solution is to assume that acting virtuously will somehow serve human good. This requires the existence of God. And the fact that the virtue demands perfection, which we empirically cannot attain, requires grace. Kant rejected most of Christianity, though, because it says we should act morally because God says we should (not because it is right) and thus for reward. Also, religion tends to product cults and rituals which act against people doing their duty.
Ch. 16: City on a Hill
- The Puritans coming to Boston, Massachusetts in 1630 saw themselves as having entered into a covenant with God, and desired to be a city on a hill, a city of religious purity.
- They resolved the problem with predestination that nothing you can do has any influence on salvation but still retaining God’s freedom, with the idea of a covenant. God chose to bind himself with a covenant that if we believe in him, he will give us salvation. (“Federal theology”)
- Anne Hutchinson was Calvinist, and insisted that grace did not have rules, so it might come in the form of a drunkard or prostitute (also, she had prophetic visions confirming her views). She was exiled; “The New England dream was to produce that city on a hill as an inspiring example of a proper Christian community. That required a discipline that the preaching of unpredictable grace seemed to threaten.” (257)
- The church was only made of those who had covenanted to join it, and only those who could demonstrate their regeneration were allowed to join. Over the course of several generations, the percentage of those willing and able to meet the requirements dropped. In 1662 the eastern churches decided on a “Half-way Covenant”, whereby affirming the church’s beliefs and trying to live godly could be halfway in the church, even if you could not demonstrate a conversion experience. You could not vote or take communion, but your children could be baptized.
- Solomon Stoddard in the west took a different approach: he went more Calvinist, but since we cannot identify the elect, he let everyone take communion and let God figure out who was saved.
- Johnathan Edwards took over Stoddard’s church when he died, and reversed the policy. He was solidly Calvinist, but argued that Calvinism fits with science. Since science deals only with things we can touch and measure, it would seem that intangible things like souls and God might not exist, but Edwards argued that a consistent empiricist would note that our only observations are actually within us, and it is ideas and the mind that we are the most sure, so it is actual the material world that we should consider possibly imaginary. Others argued similarly, saying that the world of Newton is a system where everything follows from a cause, so thus our actions must have been determined from the beginning. (But we are still free, because being free is doing what you want, and you want to do what you are predestined to do.)
- Others said that God is unfair sending people to hell if they were predestined to do it. Edwards argued that all of us deserve hell, it’s just that God gives some better than they deserve. Well, it’s not fair for God to punish us for what Adam did. No; sometimes we see our arm as part of us and sometimes as an individual body part. Because of God’s covenant with Adam he see Adam’s descendants as one with Adam.
- “[Edwards] believed in a God so powerful he left no room for anything else. A stone or a horse or a human being is ‘nothing but the Deity, acting in that particular manner, in those parts of space where he thinks fit.’” (260)
- In 1734 Edward’s congregation had a revival. In 1740 George Whitefield went from Massachusetts to Maine preaching and people opposed all the shouting and weeping; so Edwards wrote a defense. “Excesses of emotion gave the Awakening a bad name.” (260) In 1750 Edwards’ congregation fired him: “practical people [on the frontier] who wanted results could hardly understand a theology that left everything to unmerited grace.” (260)
- Intellectual leaders gravitated towards a rational religion, since rationalism was the spirit of the age, and by 1776 many of the leaders were Deists. Franklin said he had never bothered with worrying about the divinity of Christ; Jefferson thought that no one would be turned out of heaven if they obeyed the common morality all religions shared.
- Some New England states had state-sponsored churches (the last, Massachusetts, ended in 1833), but because there were so many varieties of churches, there could be no official state church for the U.S., and civic events settled on a Deistic common-denominator.
- Rationalists reached their height with the Unitarians, who “began with an emphasis on reason and divine benevolence.” (261) The rejected the Trinity (not rational), and rejected predestination (irrational to condemn people to hell). William Channing also said that there was rational evidence for the miracles in the Bible, and rationally, miracles validate the message.
- Edwards (naturally) believed that revival would come in God’s time; In the 1820s, Nathaniel Taylor and Lyman Beecher said that good preaching and organization would bring revival, urging ministers not to expect God to do something when we have not done anything ourselves. Charles Finney went farther, saying that revival is a [scientific] result of using the proper means.
- All these revivals led to the burned-over district of upstate New York having a reputation for all kinds of cults (like southern California now).
- In 1774 Ann Lee had visions that showed her that she was the feminine incarnation of God and she founded the Shakers (equality of women, celibate, common goods, pacifist, opposed corporate punishment, alcohol, and tobacco)
- 1840s John Noyes founded Oneida, a community where everyone was married to all the opposite genders to overcome possessive love, giving “the right of a woman to dispose of her sexual nature by attraction instead of by law and routine and to bear children only when she chooses” (263)
- Ellen White (Portland, ME) founded the Seventh Day Adventists
- Joseph Smith founded the Mormons, which has so much new theology that many see it as a new religion, rather than a variant of Christianity. In particular, there have been many Gods, and God was once like us; in fact, we can become Gods. (The author asserts that Smith was still being rationalistic, having developed his ideas from the amateur pop lectures on Hebrew and other such that were popular on the frontier)
- In the 1800s, Romanticism started influencing American thought.
- 1830s, Ralph Waldo Emerson prioritized intuition: we do not need the Bible for revelation, we need only look within to find the infinite soul, for I am one with the universal being. Nor do we need to make much of miracles (or reject them as irrational), since life is a miracle. Transcendentalism was popular with Bostonians frustrated with realist Unitarians.
- Theodore Parker saw Jesus as a teacher of love but insisted that Christianity was really about what we do with our lives now; if Jesus never existed, Christianity would be just fine.
- John Nevin reacted against it, saying American Protestants had forgotten the Reformation, saying people did not see religion as cultivating the life of God in the soul but just revival emotional highs, and had forgotten that humanity was in a state of sin. He focused on the theology of the atonement and of sacraments.
- Horace Bushnell attacked individualism, revivals, and the focus on attacking rationalism. He rejected Calvinism and Unitarianism because they both saw the Bible as literal facts, but language can only offer poetic images of life. He opposed individualism because we are not people who can be changed in an instant in a revival; we grew up slowly in communities, so religion should be something that grows from a child. Hence he started the Sunday School movement. Since the idea of Christ paying our sins now seemed arbitrary, he gave the illustration that in the American Civil War men gave their lives to end slavery, so it is our experience that dying for others can bring about reconciliation. (The movement from individualism to a more corporate view of humanity is Romantic influence)
- Despite the fact that Black slaves generally first encountered Christianity from their enslavers (and that Christian masters had the reputation of being the worst), many became Christian, because it offered the hope of freedom, and it was the one institution that Blacks had ownership of. They were frequently Baptist, because the Baptists did not have educational requirements or complicated procedures for ordination.
Ch. 17: The Claims of History
- In Europe, Romanticism led to a valuing of emotions, and combined with nationalism, led to a value for the culture we live in and its history (for instance, the brothers Grimm went around collecting all the folk tales they could dig up).
- Friedrich Schleiermacher grew up with the Moravians, but also loved the Berlin poets. In 1799 he wanted to be both Christian and au courant, and he rejected the rationalist idea that history shows Christianity to be what pre-moderns believed and that now science has replaced it. He said you cannot look at a religion as a collection of abstract theological ideas because those are the externals; you have to figure out what inspires the pious believer. He said that inspires the simple pious believer is experiencing the unity with the Universe; every event is a miracle, every feeling a revelation. But we should not dumb this down to the lowest common denominator, but treasure our own tradition.
- In 1820 Schleiermacher was more conservative. He then said that theology only exists to describe the experience of the believer. His experience was feeling completely dependent, because he did not create himself or anything he interacted with, but he is related to the one who did create them all. This feeling of dependence he called God-consciousness, and said that sin was that which distracted us from the dependence. Christ, then, had perfect God-consciousness and was the genius who communicated that to others (like a [theoretical] Massachusetts resident genius who came up with the idea of being “American” and communicated that to all the other Massachusetts Colony residents).
- His approach was to re-interpret the Christian doctrines rather than reject them.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge said he valued traditional doctrine not because he was conservative, because he’d gone so far beyond Unitarianism that he had looped back around to the other side. He separated understanding from reason. Understanding collects facts and connects them by logic. “Reason intuitively inspires our moral life and enables us to see the value and ultimate meaning of things.” (275) Thus, religion is under the domain of reason, and therefore facts, like the Bible’s scientific or historical accuracy are not important. The Bible expresses truth like a poem does. Unlike his contemporaries who thought that government taxes maybe should not support the Church, Coleridge said that government is more than just creating armies and postal service, it is supposed to improve civilization, which it does with “clerisy” institutions like churches and universities. The church provides the public with weekly messages regarding moral issues and the values of the English tradition, and this is useful. (Here Coleridge is rejecting minimal natural religion in favor of the one specific to his culture.)
- In the 1800s, people began thinking about the relationship of history and claims to absolute truth, because every culture in all different points of time sees things differently.
- Previously, Kant had said that we are limited to experience. Beyond experience are things-in-themselves, which are unknowable, but which generate our experience. So our basic experience would be the same in different times and places.
- Hegel thought you could only make claims about absolute truth if you could find a perspective where all of history was a rational system. Hegel’s conclusion on the mess of wars and disasters was that “history is the process by which we come to self-understanding” (276). He said that if you could not know Kant’s things-in-themselves, how could you talk about them or even be sure they event exist? All we have is experience. “Therefore all reality has a three-stage form: (1) There is a thinking subject; but (2) in order to think, that subject has to have an object to think about; but (3) that object is part of the experience of the subject and therefore not really separate from it.” (276) [This sets up a three stage dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.] So reality is change: as I think about the world, I create the world I’m thinking about in my mind. Thus, God must create the world in order to be God, but it cannot be separate from God. “‘We define God when we say, that He distinguishes Himself from Himself, and is an object for Himself, but that in this distinction He is purely identical with Himself, is in fact Spirit’” (276) This is where the Trinity comes from in Christianity: there is God the Father, the thinking object; the Son who is the particular object; and the Holy Spirit unites them both in love. However, he saw Christianity as using images and metaphors to express the truth the he, the Philosopher, explained clearly through Philosophy. “Religion had given birth to philosophy, but later on philosophy turned temporarily against religion”, but ultimately it is Philosophy that fulfills what religion began.
- David Strauss, 1835. Prior to him, approaches to miracles in the Bible were that they had happened as the text said, or they had happened and gave a rationalistic explanation, or they were just fraud. Strauss had a new approach: the Gospels were largely myths. They were not historically true, but that is not a problem because Hegel says that history is the process of us understanding ourselves. In fact, taking them as historical truth would be taking images and metaphors literally, which is of course no good. “Thus Hegel permitted Strauss to hold on to the ‘real’ truth of Christianity while reaching skeptical conclusions about the historical accuracy of the Gospels.” (277)
- Ludvig Feuerbach, 1841, said that Hegel had it backwards. God did not posit human beings, but rather, “‘Man’s God is nothing other than the deified essence of man.’ Our idea of God really consists just of all our highest ideals put together and personified.” (278) So Feuerbach does not say that religion’s ideas are wrong, but that what they “really mean” is describing ideal man.
- This argument is has often been applied outside of religion, but it does not lead to good discussion when you ignore the actual arguments of the other side and attempt to explain/reinterpret their underlying motivations.
- Karl Max thought that God being deified essence was too abstract, unrelated to people feeding to clothing themselves. Interpreting the world is unimportant, what is important is changing it. He interpreted religion as the illusion that the economic oppressors used to control the oppressed.
- Søren Kirkegaard critiqued Hegel the other direction. He said “‘The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.’” (279) Hegel could only interpret the past, he could not tell anyone how to live now and in the future. Kirkegaard asked the Danes around him how to live and they replied that their answer is that they were Christians. But he did not see how comfortable people who did not attend church, or think about God, but called themselves Christians could be related to the apostles and martyrs, so he wrote books trying to teach them Christianity. Obviously he had to do this indirectly. He described the an asthetic stage (people living for pleasure now), an ethical stage (people devoted to universal moral principles), and a religious stage. He described Abraham sacrificing Isaac. Ethically, here is a father going to murder his son, but faith allowed Abraham to try to kill the son on which all his hopes rested and have confidence that all would be well. Religion is faith enabling one to embrace the paradox. But if faith were demonstratively probable then people would not need to make a decision, and it would thus not be faith. Thus, it is impossible to prove Christianity, or even demonstrate that it is probable, all you can do is embrace the paradox.
- Romanticism gave new interest in tradition, which would have been positive for the reception of Catholicsm, but the fact that the pope actually ruled much of central Italy created a conflict of interest and a suspicion, especially in England where being Catholic was seen as owing allegiance to a foreign ruler.
- The French Revolution stopped State funding for the Catholic Church, but Napolean restored it in 1801. Félicité de Lamennais argued that cutting of State support is actually Liberal: financial support and privileges results in the Church being dependent on the ruler, but if it renounced temporal benefits, then it would be free to actually address the needs of the oppressed poor. This was not an idea that was considered; the privilege to set truth was too important.
- Pius IX managed to (unintentionally) increase papal authority as he lost temporal power. But popes still advocated special privileges, with Leo XIII telling American Catholics to seek legal privileges for the Catholic Church.
- The Church of England was adaptable, but was could not bring itself to critique society. The Oxford Movement thought the CoE had compromised too much. When Parliament reorganized the Irish churches in 1833 it was clear that the State was in control, and could even have people who were not church members administering the church, which John Keble observed was the opposite state of a church that is the work of God.
- John Henry Newman caused a crisis in the Oxford Movement when he came to the conclusion that while the CoE could base itself on antiquity, the church in Rome had universality, and he converted to Catholicism. He said that we cannot prove our fundamental beliefs; even our belief that our closest friend is trustable, we have probably forgotten the reasons that we believe that. But that is no reason to quit believing these things. “We start with unexamined assumptions, make use of a variety of arguments, each leading only to a probably conclusion, and commit ourselves to accepting that conclusion in part because of the example of a trusted friend or because it just feels right. ‘Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action; to act you must assume and that assumption is faith’” (283-4).
- The Oxford movement emphasized doctrine and liturgy, and it was the high church flavor. The evangelical wing continued Wesley and Whitefield’s emphasis on evangelism and conversion. Frederick Maurice rejected both. You cannot tell the factory laborer that if he spends his remaining eight hours of the day in prayer for six that he might be saved, but the evangelicals only talked about sin and conversion. “‘The truth is that every man is in Christ; the condemnation of every man is, that he will not own the truth; he will not act as if this were true.’” (284)
- “The publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 raised awkward questions not only about how to interpret Genesis but also how to understand God’s action in history generally in the light of modern science.” (284)
- German Liberal Theology:
- Albrecht Ritschl: “Christianity, he said, is more like an ellipse with two foci: God’s action in redeeming us, and our response in working to create the kingdom of God. Theology which seeks only conversions and ignores social change is incomplete.” (285)
- Ernst Troeltsch: Since Christianity had emerged from eastern Mediterranean religions, “‘It is a purely historical, individual, relative phenomenon.’ Christianity cannot claim any eternal essence or absolute truth; it is simply the religious manifestation of our [European] culture.” (286)
- Albert Schweitzer: Bible scholarship indicates that Jesus thought apocalyptically that the world would get worse until God dramatically ushers in the new age, but that clearly Jesus got it wrong, because it had been 2,000 years.
- Friedrich Nietzsche was fairly unique in saying that Christianity did not improve humanity. He said that the Christian ideals of meekness, humility, etc. were weak and movements toward them were decadent. Instead, what humanity needed was the ubermensch, strong and connected to the earth. He also thought that Christianity had no claim to absolute truth because there was no absolute truth; truth was simply what society agreed to consider true.
Ch. 18: The End of Western Christendom
- “Nineteenth-century theology had often tried to identify Christianity with the forces of progress and the best in Western civilization.” (291) The twentieth century had trouble with that.
- When Karl Barth discovered as a young pastor that many leading German theologians had signed their support of the Kaiser’s war program, his conclusion was that there was something very wrong with the theological tradition that led up to that. He had already observed through his interactions with the labor movement that liberal theology seemed content to accept the existing values of society. Furthermore, the Bible something very non-European, ancient, and wild, while the liberal theologians tended to remove all the biases of the original author so that they could filter out the original culture and be left with something that could be applicable to modern culture. Barth said that this was impossible. Everything in Romans reflects Paul’s cultural assumptions. In fact, it is impossible for anyone speaking of God to do otherwise than speak it in his cultural context. Paul did know something about God, which is why we read him. Barth rejected the idea of the 1800s of trying to demonstrate the superiority of culture arising from Christianity, since there are unresolvable paradoxes all over the place, and even the resurrection is unfathomable, nor are we able to demonstrate that Christ was superior to any other religious leader. To Barth, theology was simply that God chooses to be revealed imperfectly through people who speak of him in their limited context.
- Barth opposed Nazism: “‘We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and must recognize other happenings and powers, images and truths as divine revelation. ... We repudiate the false teaching that there are areas of our life in which we belong not to Jesus Christ but to another lord. ... We repudiate the false teaching that the church can turn over the form of her message an ordinances at will or according to some dominant ideological and political convictions.’” (294)
- Barth rejected Nietzsche’s opinion that man was something to overcome: God came to man, and furthermore, Christ was human, so humanity must have value. He refused to say anything about evil other than Christ has defeated it; anything else would risk systemizing it into a something we could box up and forget about. He thought that Calvin had wrongly limited God’s grace, because Christ became un-elect and took our sins on himself. He thought God’s grace was available to all, but he was not a universalist: “We can hope that all will be saved, and we cannot set limits on God’s grace, but evil is real and terrible, and we take it far too lightly if we believe that, of course, God will save everyone.” (295)
- Bonhoeffer continued Barth’s separation of Christianity from culture and religion. He defined “religion” as someone that has turned from the world inward to focus on his own salvation, which is metaphysical and disconnected with the tangible world, and thus enables them to claim they are better. He thought theologians tended to argue in the fact of modernity that there was still room for God on the periphery, when in fact God should be at the center. “In the cross, ‘God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. ... God let himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.’ ‘Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world.’” (295-6)
- In America, Princeton theologians Charles Hodge and Benjamin Warfield defined orthodoxy as infallibility of the Bible, interpreted literally, including all facts. (By contrast, Medievals interpreted allegorically, Luther had a free interpration based on justification by faith.) Hodge rejected conclusions of science, but he took modern science’s way of thinking. “‘Truth’ meant a collection of facts, and ‘the Bible is to a theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his storehouse of facts.’” (296) Hodge rejected dictation theory, though, and he did acknowledge that the infallibility was only good for what God wanted the authors to teach us, so other things might be incorrect. This got lost as it filtered down.
- Pamphlets in 1910 - 1915 called The Fundamentals (biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the satisfaction theory of the atonement, bodily resurrection, and the miracles of Jesus) gave the name “fundamentalists” by their opponents. However, it was part of the reaction against a 1800s Christianity that was comfortable accepting the culture it lived in, rather than critiquing and seeking to raise the culture higher.
- Walter Rauschenbusch (American, pastored in New York’s “Hell’s Kitchen”) critiqued cultural Christianity in the social gospel, saying the Christians were focusing too much on personal salvation and not on affecting society. “‘Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus.’” (297)
- Rienhold Niebuhr (American) agreed with the need for social reform, but saw the social gospel’s idea of a steadily improving society into the Kingdom of God to be simplistic. He said that social movements tend to treat “us” as unambiguously good, but the reality is that all human groups are imperfect and actually are potentially dangerously excessive. He thought that social reformers were too optimistic about there being an easy solution to the sins of history. He came back to original sin: fixing society will not fix the problem, because the problem is that humans are not fundamentally good as assumed. Because he saw a cause as mixed and not unambiguously good, he steadily distanced Christianity from any particular cause, even though he remained passionate about social justice.
- Rudolf Bultmann (Germany) pioneered “form criticism”, which looked at each Gospel story to figure out why this one was told, and what it said about development of ideas. They were not looking to learn about Jesus’ life, because Bultmann thought that it was impossible to know much, and in any case, faith cannot be faith if there was any proof to be had, because faith is ultimately “a decision, a risk, a personal commitment” (299).
- The existentialist Heidegger said that life is finite (we die), thus we must choose one path over another and live with the choice. But many of us refuse to acknowledge this and live in everyday mundaneness, only paying attention to the unimportant little things of now and never asking what they wanted to do with their lives. He called this “inauthentic existence”. Bultmann said that full acknowledgement of our choices is terrifying, so we try to find a way out with excuses or escape; he said this is what sin is. Jesus’ forgiveness frees us from obsessively obeying all the laws of the Pharisees, leaving us free to love, and free to accept that we are loved by God, which then frees us to live authentically.
- Bultmann also thought that the New Testament world view of heaven above, earth, and hell below, with demons causing sickness, and incompatible with modernity, but that was okay, because the NT talked with myth. “‘The real purpose of myth is not the present an objective picture of the world as it is, but to express man’s understanding of himself.’” (300) He also thought a bodily resurrection was just out of the realm of consideration. The resurrection of Christ is the Christians (the body of Christ) getting new life through the teachings.
- Schubert Ogden (American, “left-wing” follower): Bultmann did not go far enough in discarding mythology; Christ had a particularly compelling vision of God’s love, but thinking God intervened at a point in history is still mythology.
- Ernst Käsemann, Günter Bornkamm (German, “right-wing” followers): they agreed that “Jesus lies inextricably at the foundation of Christian faith”, and therefore this requires Christians to actually have some reason why this is important, and therefore historical claims of Jesus are important.
- Paul Tillich (German, emigrated to America) was more existentialist, said that religious language is symbolic, “but he thought that we too often dismiss the ‘merely’ symbolic as untrue, failing to realize what artists and poets could teach us: that sometimes only symbols and myths can convey the deepest truths.”
- Pope Leo XIII gave two injunctions at turn of century: Catholics should study Thomas Aquinas and should care more about social reform.
- Bernard Lonergan (Canadian) noted that while we historically thought of truth as a set of propositions that had been compiled by the Church through the ages, modern understanding of history shows that it is impossible to find “the truth”. Thus, theology is not about finding the right answers, but following the right method, and there are some basic questions that all people use to find the answers (even though they ultimately disagree about the right answer). The method to asking good questions “involves being attentive to the data, being intelligent about forming hypotheses on the basis of that data, being rational in testing those hypotheses, and being responsible about applying the results of our thought.” (302)
- Karl Rahner said that, contrary to the modern idea the mystery has receded to the edges, mystery is fundamental to human understanding. Claiming that the mystery can be understood is a religious claim, and therefore religion is much more broadly part of our lives than we think.
- By 1960, new Catholic theology was de-emphasizing eternal truths and contrasted opposites (heaven/earth, nature/grace) and focusing on the search for truth and growth (nature moving towards grace, the world moving towards the Kingdom). Some thought that God’s grace also happened outside of the Church.
- Vatican II (Pope John XXIII, 1962) continued in that direction. The council noted that “‘the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one’” (303). It defined “the church” as “the pilgrim people of God”, rather than a hierarchy of bishops. They also said that people on both sides had blame for church splits, and said that the Catholic Church accepted these other Christians as brothers. It condemned anti-semitism. It said that goodness and truth found in unbelievers is preparation for the Gospel, and that those who had never heard the Gospel could attain salvation through righteous living. It saw the Kingdom of God as now as well as after we die, and therefore condemned arms races, which spend lots of money and yet the poor remain in misery in wealthy societies.
- Current (c. 1983):
- Catholic, Protestant, and even Orthodox theology has become much more one community rather than three separate communities.
- Some German theologies in the 1940s critiqued Bultmann for making the OT irrelevant, and that an alliance with existentialism focuses too much on individuals and not enough of social change.
- Advances in biblical scholarship have noted that eschatology and the kingdom of God were important parts of what Jesus preached. This concerned change, and indeed, eschatology is about the future, so Christians ought to be open to change. Many theologians have talked with Marxists about how to make change.
- Wolfhart Pannenberg says Christians have been talking in their own bubble and not attempting to defend the biblical world view of God’s eventual triumph among the broader philosophy community.
- In England, “logical positivism” was big in the 1940s: the only statements that are meaningful are those that are scientifically testable. Since the existence of God is not testable, it is not a meaningful question. Recently they have decided that this might be an oversimplification. Ludwig Wittgenstein argues that language has many ways of being meaningful, and instead of defining the rules for meaning in advance, it would be more useful to examine all the ways it is meaningful. Theologians can apply the same approach to religious language.
- Hodge and Warfield’s Evangelical theology remains important in America, but has not produced new thought.
- Alfred Whitehead is the only American with new ideas: process theology. Traditionally we think of the world as chunks of matter, that God acted on. Quantum theory shows this to be incorrect, and anyway, considering God to be unchanging, emotionless, and unaffected by the world was giving to God what belonged to Caesar. God remains perfect, since he is perfectly related to everything, and he “lures actions by lvoe rather than forcing them by power.” (306) “‘[God] is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness.’” (306)
- Latin American theologians are more concerned with “theology of liberation”, due to the state of society there. The question is how does Christianity address the problems of the societies in which they live. “Faced with poverty and injustice, these theologians find theycannot talk about love or hope without participating in the struggle for social change”. (307)
- Asian Christians face not only being a minority, but also the question of what does being a Christian look like when even the little things in society have been derived from Buddhist or Hindu thought? Do you give up your traditional customs? Would that not simply be becoming European? Is that even desirable?
- American Blacks face similar questions as Latin Americans. Blacks had long seen Christianity’s promise of liberation, but Martin Luther King brought it to attention with a good theological foundation, married to nonviolent protest. King’s message was not black, though, since he said everyone needed to work towards the dream of ending racial injustice. Those who wanted a more Black identity refused that integration, and often nonviolence, too. Some said that Black pride and identity were more important than acceptance by whites. James Cone focused on black liberation from the oppressing whites. Those moving away from King’s integration needed to answer if leaving integration was temporary, to focus on building Black identity, or permanent. Some saw “Black” as potentially universal; even Cone said “‘To be black means that your heart, yoursoul, your mind, andyour body are where the dispossessed are’”, not what your skin color is. Albert Cleague insisted Jesus actually was physically black. They had to decide how they felt about non-violence. And whether Black churches were actually helping or hurting.
- Similar issues with feminism. Generally there was a spectrum from pragmatic wanting more equality on a day to day basis, to addressing ideas like blaming women for sin because Eve ate the fruit, to considering that the male focus of Christianity merely represented the inherent bias and abandoned worshiping a God who became incarnate as a male.