The Making of Christianity in the West — A Conversation with Peter Brown

Here is a very interesting interview of Peter Brown, famed biographer of St. Augustine, and Al Mohler. Augustine is one of those figures who is so enormous that he must constantly be revisited. As new documents are discovered, particularly Augustine’s sermons, deepening insights are shaped that bring new understandings to the development of western Christianity.

By the way, many western Christians would do well to understand more of the shaping of eastern Christianity, the Greek speaking church. There is a richness there that informs the more legal and intellectual forms of Christianity in the west.

Reviewing “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense”

I have just finished reading this book that argues that equality does not require changing the definition of marriage. It is a Natural Law defense of the traditional configuration of marriage. In other words, there is not appeal to religious authority or an inspired book. Reason itself can establish that marriage is a “real thing” that is not capable of redefinition based on cultural fads or personal preferences.

Most people, I believe, are of the persuasion that all social realities are simply human constructs that change over time. Therefore, marriage is what we want it to be at any given point. Since those who define marriage are the ensconced powerful, changing the definition of marriage must appeal to the courts on the basis of justice. The preferences of the majority are irrelevant, every bit as much as they were relative to slavery, Jim Crow, or miscegenation laws.

The authors of the book – Sharif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, Robert George – are not arguing the good or otherwise of homosexuality. The book focuses on the definition of marriage. There are two definitions at play:

The conjugal view of marriage has long informed the law—along with the literature, art, philosophy, religion, and social practice—of our civilization (see chapter 3). It is a vision of marriage as a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished thus by its comprehensiveness, which is, like all love, effusive: flowing out into the wide sharing of family life and ahead to lifelong fidelity. In marriage, so understood, the world rests its hope and finds ultimate renewal.

A second, revisionist view is a vision of marriage as, in essence, a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desires. In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment, and remain as long as they find it.

There is nothing specifically homosexual about the revisionist view of marriage. It informs many male-female relationships. But it brooks no real difference between these and same-sex relationships: both involve intense emotional union, so both can make a marriage. Comprehensive union, by contrast, is something only a man and woman can form. Enacting same-sex civil marriage would therefore not be an expansion of the institution of marriage, but a redefinition.

I intend to blog through some of the arguments Girgis, Anderson and George bring to the table. They, in fact, are joined by significant voices in the gay community that understand the revisionist view of marriage doesn’t redefine it. It destroys it.

While most believe that moral positions demand religion to ground them, Natural Law theorists beg to disagree. The assert that the rational human who reasons from a position of disinterestedness can rise to relative certainty that a moral position can be grounded through careful thought that is not subject to cultural tidal waves. In other words, marriage is real, a substance if you will, that can be discerned through enlightened thoughtfulness. I agree.

More later.

Finally! A Complete Bible – or “A New New Testament”

A new “Bible” has just been published. Your problem is that you thought you had a complete one – the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 of the New Testament. The problem is that those pesky patriarchal early church fathers excised some of the books that should rightfully be included in Scriptures. You were left short changed with an incomplete canon.

We all know, and the Davinci Code made clear, that the authoritative books of the New Testament were determined by men who had something to lose if certain writings were included in the authoritative list of books of the church – you know, those books that made a larger place for women and made Jesus more human than the letters of the Apostle Paul seemed to do. The early church leaders wanted a more mystical Jesus. The more mystical he was the more the church would need leaders to represent him. If he was only a man who simply died and passed into history, that just wouldn’t do. The Apostles needed status, and they needed Scriptures that gave it to them.

And they needed Scriptures that kept women out of leadership. It would not do to have a democratic Jesus where all were equal. Slavery needed to be validated and women should be kept in check. Once again, the Apostle Paul would do the trick.

This narrative has power for those who are convinced that the Church is merely human and a play at power control. This narrative also has power for those who are uneasy with the Bible as we have it on such issues as homosexuality, same sex marriage, gender issues, capitalism, ecology, etc. By “finding” other excluded books of the Bible there is support for another version of early Christianity, which means that Christianity is more elastic and less absolute than its current popular version.

Walla!!! Let there be another Bible!!! And behold, there is!!! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has just released a new testament that includes some of the discarded books. It is titled, A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. The publisher comments:

It is time for a new New Testament.

Over the past century, numerous lost scriptures have been discovered, authenticated, translated, debated, celebrated. Many of these documents were as important to shaping early-Christian communities and beliefs as what we have come to call the New Testament; these were not the work of shunned sects or rebel apostles, not alternative histories or doctrines, but part of the vibrant conversations that sparked the rise of Christianity. Yet these scriptures are rarely read in contemporary churches; they are discussed nearly only by scholars or within a context only of gnostic gospels. Why should these books be set aside? Why should they continue to be lost to most of us? And don’t we have a great deal to gain by placing them back into contact with the twenty-seven books of the traditional New Testament—by hearing, finally, the full range of voices that formed the early chorus of Christians?

To create this New New Testament, Hal Taussig called together a council of scholars and spiritual leaders to discuss and reconsider which books belong in the New Testament. They talked about these recently found documents, the lessons therein, and how they inform the previously bound books. They voted on which should be added, choosing ten new books to include in A New New Testament. Reading the traditional scriptures alongside these new texts—the Gospel of Luke with the Gospel of Mary, Paul’s letters with The Letter of Peter to Philip, The Revelation to John with The Secret Revelation to John—offers the exciting possibility of understanding both the new and the old better. This new reading, and the accompanying commentary in this volume, promises to reinvigorate a centuries-old conversation and to bring new relevance to a dynamic tradition.

“Numerous lost scriptures”? This assumes what remains to be proved, that these writings were of the status of Scripture, a more technical designation of books believed to be inspired by God and therefore authoritative for the church. These newly included books were not nearly so influential as the publisher and the author claim in the underlying assumption that there were many kinds of Christianities alive in the early church, all in dynamic tension with one another with no single version trumping the rest.

The reality is much different than this imagined scenario. The scarcity of these texts is not the result of exclusion but the result of no longer being read and therefore no longer worthy of the effort of copying and preserving. The reality is that the early church was mostly comfortable with including as Scripture those books authored by Apostles or those immediately associated with them. They are first century writings written within the lifetime of Apostles. None of the other “new new testament books” were earlier than the second century and many were later.

The author comments

A New New Testament opens the door to a wider set of expressions, practices, stories, and teachings than they have previously known. 

This is exactly what modern humankind needs, isn’t it? A wider set of expressions and practices. Nothing authoritative here folks. Just move on. Just move on.

The book’s author asserts that Martin Luther removed from the Bible some books of the Old Testament, supposedly demonstrating that the Bible is a fluid thing, subject to historical forces and cultural biases. Did Luther remove books from the Bible. Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!!! Luther was merely repeating the practice of many before him of not including the Apocryphal books that were part of the Septuagint version, a Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible, along with the inclusion of some works that were not in the Hebrew Bible. These works might have been in Hebrew. They might never have been in Hebrew. We just do not know. But no one disputes the reality that the Bible Jesus knew and used was the Hebrew Bible with its (in English) 39 books. Some church fathers believed these deuterocanonical books (as the Roman Catholic Church calls them) should be authoritative for New Testament believers, some did not. In no case was it believed that these books were authoritative for Palestinian Jews of Jesus times. Jesus quotes from all sections of the Hebrew Bible but never from the Apocrypha.

As you can imagine, this discussion could, and does, go on and on. What is clear is that A New New Testament is not a product of neutral scholarship but an expression of the belief that there is no authoritative tradition that derives from an inspired canon but only creative versions of Christianities that in the author’s opinion would make the church more vibrant. And if there is any opinion in the book that is mere opinion, this is the one.

Stations of the Cross During Holy Week

I commend to you the practice of meditation upon the 14 Stations of the Cross that depict the last 18 hours of Christ’s life and death. Many Anglican and all Roman Catholic churches have them within the sanctuary. RC churches are open all day so you can slip in on your own and walk from station to station, there to meditate on each phase of Christ’s sin bearing. Stand, don’t sit. Christ must stand for the 18 hours of sin bearing. You stand, too. No bodily comfort here. Let the standing in its small way remind you of the strain of our Lord. He even “stood” on the cross, held up by nails.

Here is a well done video to encourage you.

An Interview with Lucinda Williams

I love the music Williams brings to the table. Aside from the alternative country sound, which is a genre I find myself naturally moving toward, the lyrics are earthy, honest and true to the human condition. In the broader listening audience she is best know for a cover Mary Chapin Carpenter did, Passionate Kisses. But it is Williams’ own voice that gives her music not so much beauty as resonance. She is not your classic blond babe that record labels love to market, but she is a woman with an independent voice who stands on her own and is to be listened to.

A few of my favorite pieces are: Are You Alright?; Learning How to Live(sound could be better but you’ll get the idea); Changed the Locks; Born to Be Loved; Over Time; Words Fell; American Dream.

Here is an interview with Lucinda I enjoyed. Select Show #380: 03.08.13

A Brief Abstract of Each Paper I Heard Presented at the Pappas Patristics Institute

Here are the papers I have heard presented so far. Still one day to go. So many I want to hear but one has to choose. If I am particularly interested in the topic, presenters will graciously email to me their papers as long as I do not cite them in any published work. They are still working on the papers since they are often a section of their PhD dissertation yet to be completed. The amount of work that goes into these papers is immense. They are the result of research in the primary sources, most often in Latin or Greek, but also in Syriac, Coptic, etc. I am surprised that people’s eyes still work after all that reading. 

Presenter   Maria del Fiat Miola, Catholic University of America

Title   Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses 3.22.4: Mary as Untier of Knots

Abstract   Scholars have amply documented the seminal role of Irenaeus of Lyons in

the development of Marian doctrine and theology; in the last century, they

have paid particular interest to his description of Mary as the New Eve. In

Adversus Haereses 3.22.4, however, Irenaeus uses a rare Marian metaphor

which has yet to be fully explored: “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was

untied through Mary’s obedience.” The present study seeks to untangle

this knot through a close exegesis of the passage and a study of its

connection to the rest of the Irenaean corpus.

After an examination of the image, it becomes clear that the metaphor of the

knot serves Irenaean theology in three ways. First, it enables Irenaeus to

describe a profound typological relationship between Mary and Eve on the

model of Christ and Adam. Second, the binding and loosing verbs place

Mary and Eve in the biblical context of a triple captivity to Satan, sin, and

death. Finally, the loosing of the knot highlights Mary’s unique and active

role in the dispensation of salvation. For Irenaeus, Mary has become the

cause of salvation (“causa salutis”) on two levels: she physically provides

Christ’s very flesh and she voluntarily accepts the Divine Will at the

Annunciation. Irenaeus’ Mary has rightly been named by M.C. Steenberg

“co-recapitulator” with Christ in redemption; Irenaeus’ knot eloquently

describes the Providence of a God who redeems humanity by making use

of the gentle, patient fingers of a Virgin Mother.

 

Presenter   Aaron Friar, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

Title   The Ecstatic Dance of Salvation: Synergy & Reciprocity in St. Maximus the

Confessor

Abstract   In the present essay, I attempt to unpack the soteriological implications of

the Orthodox doctrine of synergy especially as taught by St. Maximus the

Confessor and compare/contrast it with more linear or syllogistic

understandings of salvation vis a vis Blessed Augustine of Hippo and

Reformer John Calvin. Synergy is portrayed with the image of a divine

dance wherein both divine and human partners have a role to play of

initiation and response, of give and take, in a golden line dance of sanctity

reaching backwards and forwards through time.

In the epilogue, we discuss briefly the foolish and stupid arguments that

often result from arguing the priority of either faith or works in more linear

understandings of salvation and how the best and most spiritual response

to such disputes is to remain silent and to go within.

 

Presenter Jordan Jenkins, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary

Title THE PARADOX OF DICHOTOMOUS CHRISTOLOGICAL BRANDING

DURING THE SECOND ORIGENIST CONTROVERSY

Abstract   There is not a copious amount of scholarship available in relation to the

Second Origenist Controversy. Consequently, the scholarship that exists is

almost solely concerned with the writings of Cyril of Scythopolis and

Leontius of Byzantium. However, there are a plethora of underlying

historical and theological problems that exist within the controversy, none

of which is more confusing than the dichotomous Christological branding.

During the controversy a wide variety of figures are being accused of

holding to various positions that relate to Evagrian-Origenism. These

positions would traditionally be seen as relating to the pre-existence of

souls, apocatastasis (or final restoration), or simply the freedom for

theological speculation. 

Yet, the presence of these issues is overshadowed; historical evidence

illustrates that Christology holds a central position within the controversy.

When theological accusations are asserted they are almost always attached

with a branding of Nestorianism or Monophysitism. However, the figures

being accused do not always adhere to the Christological position with

which they are labeled. This issue has not been adequately resolved by

modern scholarship, and is in need of further study . In this essay I will

investigate whether this dichotomous Christological branding is an

overgeneralized combining of common enemies , an internal split within

the accused Origenist group , or whether there is a middle ground that

illuminates an interesting Christological perspective.

Presenter   Teva Regule, Boston College

Title   The Mystagogy of Germanus of Constantinople and Its Influence on the Byzantine

Rite

Abstract   Germanus of Constantinople is a notable exemplar of the interpretative

liturgical tradition in the East. This paper will examine his mystagogy

found in his work, Ecclesiastical History and Mystical Contemplation,

focusing primarily on his explanation of the Entrance Rites within the

Eucharistic celebration. It will begin by looking at the methods of biblical

interpretation in the early Church and their appropriation to the

understanding of the liturgy during the Early Medieval Period. For

Scripture, the text was the basis of the interpretation that followed. For

liturgy, the ritual became the foundation of interpretation. After placing

Germanus in his ecclesial context, I will summarize his interpretation of the

Entrance rites. This paper will then focus briefly on the implications of his

interpretation, specifically his subsequent influence on the thought,

practice, and ironically, the text of the Liturgy. Lastly, I will offer a short

critique of his liturgical interpretation and of the method more generally.

 

Presenter  Jason Steidl, Fordham University

Title   Gregory the Great and the Conversion of Sicilian Jews

Abstract   Gregory the Great’s missionary ventures have long provoked scholarly

discussion and debate. Especially pertinent for contemporary interreligious

dialogue, however, is the pope’s relationship with Jews and his attempts to

convert them. While much has been written concerning Gregory’s letter to

Cyprian (Series 2, Volume 12, Book V, Epistle 8 in Phillip Schaff’s Nicene

and Post Nicene Fathers), the deacon and rector of Sicily, concerning a plan

to bring Jewish tenants on papal lands into the Christian faith by lowering

their rent, it seems a later letter to Fantinus (Series 2, Volume 12, Book VIII,

Epistle 238 in Phillip Schaff’s Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers ), the papal

administrator of Palermo, has been largely overlooked. Written in response

to a large and seemingly unexpected group of Jews seeking conversion to

Christianity, the letter to Fantinus appears to describe the consequences of

Gregory’s policies put forward in his letter to Cyprian. For this reason,

Gregory’s instructions to Fantinus bear witness to the concrete effects of

papal mission strategy among the Jews in Sicily. Reading the letters

together presents a complete before-and-after view of papal administrative

policy while raising many questions concerning the reach of Gregory’s

episcopal authority.

 

Presenter John Boyer, Institution Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology

Title   EPHREM’S METAMORPHOSIS

Abstract  There is attributed to St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th c.) a masterful homily on

the Transfiguration of our Lord, as recounted in the Gospel according to

Matthew. Clearly a text meant to be delivered aloud, the homily’s form,

rhetoric and content are artful, riveting, and prime examples of patristic

biblical exegesis. St. Ephrem expands on and deepens the biblical account of

the event, painting a verbal icon of the Transfiguration. Focusing on the

Christological controversies of the time, he answers a series of questions, all

of which lead to the central question, “Who is this King of Glory?” This

paper will demonstrate that for St. Ephrem, the event, scene and

background of the Transfiguration is a weapon for Orthodoxy in the

Christological polemics of his time.