Posts Tagged With: greek

Paul in Context

So this Friday I will speaking with a local church here in Mexico about the book of Romans. Their are Two primary things I wish to accomplish with only one session. Those two primary things deal with context. Paul’s World that he engages with, and Paul’s own unique way of thinking and relating to that world.

In summary, Paul’s contextual world has to do with political social aspects of the Romans world, philosophical and religious aspects of the Greek-Roman World, and Paul’s specifically Jewish world. Paul is living in a world shaped by Greek thinking and religion, Roman power and culture, and Jewish lifestyle. Since the Apostle Paul is often hard to understand it is necessary for someone eager to actually have some sound answers about the things he says to make sure they understand the world in which Paul lived.

That said, part two of the contextualizing of Paul needs to do with what theological categories Paul actually used as a Jewish thinker who, -by the way, recently embraced Jesus of Nazareth as God himself. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves. Back to “Theological Categories”. The reason I believe this is an important precursor for studying the book of Romans is that for a long time scholars have placed upon Paul categories that he himself could not have been entirely committed to. Its not that Paul did not speak about sin, justification, sanctification, sovereignty, free will, predestination and so on. In fact most those words are in the book of Romans. But what has happened is that people have pressed on Paul their own systematic theologies, forcing Paul to agree with his interpreters. These theological categories hinder ongoing sound exegesis. It limits people to the terms and categories established by previous interpreters. That said, these categories I believe were developed by the greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so on. They should not be completely thrown out. But do they function as a way of understanding what categories (if any) Paul had.

If Paul had “theological” categories then they would have been more Jewish that ecclesiastical. So then, in summary of Paul theological categories as a Jew would have something like, Monotheism, Election, and Eschatology. Paul is not a thinker with clearly defined categories so we need to be careful how we might put his thinking into neat little boxes. He was Jewish, ancient Hebrew thinking is more fluid and story based. But Paul was also a Greek thinker and a master of logic and rhetoric. Hebrew thinkers like Paul were committed to the concept of a single God, a single people of God, and of a particular future in which the one God would liberate the specifically Jewish people, and the world would take notice. Was this how Paul thought? In what ways did Paul’s thought deviate from that?

This is something I have already gone in to detail about in previous posts. Yet again, I find it one of the most useful ways of interpreting Paul. If for no other reason than that a plane reading of Paul confuses many, and that even some of what has been said about Paul by great scholars has seemed to miss some of these more contextual elements.

JewnRomeRomans also comes into a better light when we understand the Roman Political world. The feelings of other Jews in Paul’s day and the anticipation of their own reestablishment. Much of what Jews thought about the world around them is shared by Paul, and yet the day has already come for Paul who believes that Jesus was Gods agent bringing a new day, an end to the exile, and a better hope for the whole world. The world was taking notice in what God did in Jerusalem through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is sad because for many Jews this day has come unrecognized. That his fellow kinsman were blind or deaf to what had occurred in Jesus the Messiah had greatly distressed Paul.

Beyond these main points of contextualization are further areas of context for the occasion of the church in Rome. This I will not divulge at the moment.

Paul’s World: 1) Greek Philosophy and Religion. 2)  Roman Politics. 3) Jewish Culture

Paul’s Theology: 1) Monotheism 2) Election 3) Eschatology

Categories: Bible, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Art & Bible: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts on Theology, World View (both ancient and modern, east and western), and my own Art. I would not consider myself an artist really but I enjoy it. I’ve no training or art classes. But sometimes I will be spending hours studying and the urge to draw something comes over me and once I actually sit down and draw or maybe paint something my brain feels better and I am able to continue working. So I have two projects. One of them is an Old Testament project to teach the book of Genesis in Salem Oregon in the spring of 2015, and then to teach the book of Romans for the first time in Tijuana, and in Honolulu with the CSBS in the spring of 2015 as well. I have piles of resources I will be going through and projected hours of time in study. I want to make a plan now to produce no less then 20 posts here on bibleontap over the coming months that include my art and theological and cultural ramblings from this or that area of my study in both Genesis and Romans. These two books I believe are two of thee most essential texts of scripture one could set out to study. Please join me and give your feedback along the way.

ST.Paul

This particular drawing is one I did in just a couple of minutes and it is what gave me the idea for this blog roll. I had already spent about 4-5 hours grinding away and then I just thought I want to draw a picture of the Apostle Paul. I have done this sort of thing before in prep for teachings as it helps me focus and connect more with the particular author or character I am studying.

When the church first reached Rome it was mostly a Jewish thing. The first churches of Rome were likely held in Synagogues and I doubt we would be able to tell the difference between a strictly Jewish synagogue in ancient Rome and a Christian one. Crazy thought. But then in 49 AD Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, in a blink of an eye, now becomes a mostly Gentile church. Then during the reign of Nero in 54 AD they were allowed back into Rome. It is a post 54 AD church in Rome that Paul writes his famous epistle to. The disunity of the church is apparent in his writing. His central focus is the work of God throughout history climaxing in his work of Christ. Though Romans is one of the most generally theological books it is not a book in which he specifically set out to be theological, or to write a letter about how to be saved. Many going along the whole “Romans Road” concept with Romans believe it to be a book that one would study to be sure how to be saved. The typical answer for many is now a compact definition based off of the passage in Romans, “Saved by grace through faith…”. Though this can often mislead folks. You might say to some one, this is how you get saved. Have faith. Someone might respond, “well, I’m not sure if I can right now. I don’t think I am ready to have faith.” In other words, just that line stripped out of context gives no hope to mans situation. Paul did not set out to give the church a simple formula for salvation. He set out to tell the story well. He begins in Adam, and explains Abraham, Moses, Egypt, David, Prophets, Exile, and more climaxing of course in the part of the story where God shows up and finishes the great work of salvation for all. This is less likely to mislead folks today. People need to know the story of how God did the work of salvation. Faith then is not a human effort to believe in something. It is simply what happens when people are confronted with the wonderful story of Gods work of salvation through out history and in Christ. Faith happens when people gladly receive and believe in the wonderful story.

Often the approach to a book like Romans (or the bible for that matter) goes like this; “What must I do to be saved?” And we force the conversation with scripture and the interpretation of it around that question. But that is really the wrong question to begin with. Many well meaning theologians all across Christian history have attempted to give answers to that question rather then present a better question as a starting point. The right question might then be; “How has God brought Salvation?” Coming at it in this way opens the door to really see the power of what Paul is doing throughout the book. More then ‘theology’ as we think of it Paul is being sort of Hebrew. He is telling a story of the one Gods redemptive work in the world.

Categories: Art, Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Genesis, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Existential Dualism: A Crash Course

plato_cmAs soon as we humans feel like we know something, it becomes known. It is not unknown. It is removed from the unknown category and placed in the known category. Unless we are talking about God or other deity. One, because most don’t believe “they” or “it” really exist and two, if we are willing to believe it may exist, it is still something unknowable. It is not something we can really place in the known category. It is mystical. Just as in science, what is unknown remains somewhat of a mystery, until it is known.

All this to say its is fascinating how we as humans, separate things into the categories of known and unknown, or known and mysterious. Or natural and supernatural. Material and metaphysical. For Christians there is what is sacred and what is secular.

What is perhaps even more fascinating is that people have not always thought in this way. In the west it seems we learned it and inherited it from our ancient Greek and Roman ancestors. But then for hundreds of years the use of Greek philosophers like Plato were only study by a few. Until we reach the “Enlightenment” and we owe a great deal of our modern thinking to that era.

It was the existential philosophers Kierkegaard, Sartre, Jaspers, and Heidegger who continue to expound on the destructive nature of dualistic thinking. They went further then simply placing the spirit world above and the physical world below. They determined that logic, and reason belonged below, and non-logical, non-rational above. And if you wanted to find meaning in life you needed to have a non-rational existential experience. Something that would be explainable in human terms. Something no man would ask you about if they had too achieved such an experience. I simple nod of the head would mean that both were initiates and have had their 98937experience in the beyond that gave their life meaning. However if you were so committed to only using rational logical thinking, you would then be forced to live your life without any real meaning. All of this came primarily by the way of the Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. He is the father of modern existentialism for both the secular and the religious thought.

Thus for Christians effected by dualistic existential thinking. We have placed ourselves unknowingly in the above category for that is were faith resides. Void of reason and logic we are constantly at war with everything else below the line, we do not speak the same language of those below and they do not speak our language.

For the beginning of the modern era, man was very optimistic about his logic and reason. Men could proudly call themselves logicians and rationalists. Until perhaps we reach the two world wars, beginning in 1914-1918 and again in 1939-1945 and then a shift began to take place ever moving us toward the post-modern negative perspective on human logic and reason.

It is actually accurate to say that before the enlightenment Christians engaged regularly with logic and reason as well as faith. In fact scholasticism of the middle ages was full of faith in reason. The nature of Christian faith in human reason was perhaps better founded then that of Kierkegaard because from the beginning Christians new of both natures of the human mind, 1) that it was made in the image of God and therefore had limited potential, and 2) that man had fallen and human logic and reason on its own was not to be trusted. Out of this dual understanding of human potential for reason came forth a system for keeping rationality and human discovery in check. The sciences were developed out of this skepticism and optimism of human potential for future human reason and discovery.

But back to the enlightenment and Kierkegaard, Christianity suffered a strong blow, and they did not hit back. Instead Christianity accepted its place in the above category. Logic and Reason in the sciences and and just about every other field of study and inquiry became something regarded as secular. If you wanted to be a good Christian then you stayed out of that stuff and engaged in theology.

Meanwhile, for all of those people who are now in the below category have either become very sad, or very desperate. Not everyone will just give up, though many do. Some however will attempt about anything to find meaning in their tasks. This leads many to take the “leap of faith“. Since they are convinced that to find meaning their can not be logic or reason involved man will take the leap. He will believe in Love against all doubt that love is real. Or he will go to church, and say the prayer, even though he feels like a fool. Or he will begin using strong drugs as many have done specifically in order to reach the needed experience that will finally give life meaning. There is a great many things that man, though he is not optimistic about his own reason any more, will seek an experience.

The tragedy is of course that man might actually be able to know something that gives his life meaning. Many no doubt may read this and say, “No! I don’t think that way, there are many things that give my life meaning.”  And to that I would say, “wonderful, I believe you.” See I am not convinced Kierkegaard was right, nor Plato. I believe that there are things that both that man may experience as well as know something that is real and give meaning to their life.

Love for family, and friends for instance is something, and it is not nothing.

God is something and not nothing.

I am something and not nothing.

I am convinced because there is something we can know about love, people, self, God and there is a real way in which experiencing all of these things gives meaning and purpose. I do not need to take a leap of faith. My Faith, I believe, is rooted in logic, reason, and experience.

Though many today will say that there is no meaning to life their experience reveals that there is meaning to life. Just as if some may say there is no such thing as Love, an experience changes that. Again, part of the tragedy is that when real man has an experience even with drugs he is experiencing something and not nothing. One experience with love proves with reason that love exists and provides some level of meaning in the universe. That is why I say that faith and reason are not separated, they share an important relationship for the fullness of the human experience.

 

* Something and not Nothing. This is something Francis Schaeffer says a lot in his book, “The God who is There”

Categories: Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Modernism, Philosophy, Post-Modern, Science, Society/Culture, Supernatural, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Reformations Rethought: Part 1

Intro: When Did the Reformations Start? Jan_Hus_2

Wikipedia gives the most common start date for the Protestant Reformations in the early 16th Century. The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions gives the same date. Wikipedia also identifies this as the schism that took place rather then an actual reformation of the church.

I want to take a look at the nature of what we call the reformations. Every October Lutherans around the world celebrate Reformation Sunday to commemorate the events of Martin Luther and other figures of the German reformation. However, this is a narrow view of the reformations. Our understanding of the reformations as something to do with Luther and the German church is obviously not hitting the whole church. There was an English Reformation, there was Calvin, Luther contemporary working to bring reform to France. There was the Bohemian Reformations initiated by the Czech Jan Hus. Only recently, and you can see it in the timeline on the Wikipedia page, that historians have begun to trace the beginning of the reformations to the 11th century.

The main body of this post will be to discuss the reformation spirit seen even earlier then 16th or 11th century. But generally it is a way of referring to the actual schisms that took place in the life of Martin Luther.

Generally speaking, most people are aware that Acts highlights the growth of the organic move of the spirit, and the work of the apostolic community. But were did the real trouble with the church begin. Before jumping to the time of Constantine i think it is important to remember what Jesus said about wheat and tares. Jesus knew that even in the Old Testament community of faith, there were those among the faithful who sought there own good and were not concerned with being the people of God. The early church, though it was a time of ‘organic’ growth, was a time when Judaizers sought to distort the message, Greek pagans, and Christian Gnostic attempted, and often succeeded in weakening the witness of the church.

It is obvious to me but not everyone, that ‘reformation’ may have been needed as early as the apostolic times. If we look at the nature of some of Paul’s letters it would seem that some churches, though young, encountered great error that needed to be addressed and people brought back to the truth. I think were the trouble lies later for the church is who has the authority to speak into the error within the church. Constantine, and the institutionalizing of the church has its pros and cons. I want to consider both when moving forward. But remember things were not perfect before the institution.

Constantine: Church gets Institutional con

To many various claims have been made about Constantine. That he was a blessing to the church because he helped it to triumph other religions and become the world religion it is today. Or that it was a curse to Christianity because it gave the church a sword. These two perspectives are a bit off though.

The triumph of Christianity was already in effect taking place leading up to the time of Constantine. If anything he weakened the expansion of the organic growth by supporting it. But there are some misconceptions here. Constantine did not make a Christianity a monopoly religion of the empire. He did not persecute pagans, many consider him to still be a pagan, and his conversion to Christianity fake. Some make an opposite argument. But in truth he simply ended the persecution of Christianity, sought the blessing of the Christian God in battle, and in time transferred some of the wealth of the state temples to the church. This weakened Christianity, because as Christ said, wheat and tares, there was not more of a reason for tares to come into the church. Also Christian bishops became friends, and influential parts of the Roman empire. The Capital of the Roman empire also became a capital for church policy and doctrine. Thought previous centers in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Ephesus, maintained their influence.

Constantine did work within the church to protect its unity with the sword, at times fighting off the heretics of the time. There is a bit that can be critiqued in the life of Constantine. Much is up for debate. One of the earliest issues within the church was that it became a place of power and influence. Simony, the buying and selling of offices within the church became a play at power for and were filled by sons of the aristocracy. The high office of Pope had its price along with the lowly parishes.  Clerical families took up residence in the high office. Pope Innocent I (401-417) Succeeded his father Pope Anastasius (399-401). This is the earliest example and the latest was 1044. This was far from regular but there are a handful of examples.

This gets me on then to the body of this post. Now that we have reached a somewhat institutional church as opposed to the early grassroots move of the church. What was the nature of the church? When did the reformations begin? Where there successful reforms? Was the church from Constantine to Luther corrupt, hiding scriptures, ignorant, and committed to all the wrong things?

Two Churches: From Constantine to Luther

I believe that this is a very unknown era of history for most Protestant Christians because when being told the story of the church people like to go to the beginning. For Protestants the beginning is often the reformations. Or maybe Acts. But usually not what happens in between. As a protestant young person, I’ve been grown disturbed at not having been adequately acclimated to this long era of Christian history. Not to mentioned it has polarized my faith from that of your average Roman Catholic. Though I remain protestant, some Sunday mornings I would just as soon attend a good Catholic church as I would a charismatic pentecostal church. And I say that not as a slant against either. I find that there are wonderful traditions in the Catholic church just as there are a few I do not appreciate. I also enjoy the emotional stirring of a pentecostal atmosphere from time to time. But it really is not about preference, I’m simply stating what my preferences are from week to week. So while I will remain protestant I will not bash Catholics. In fact I may be caught more often sympathizing with their beliefs and traditions save one or two.

I feel the need to do this sympathizing because there history is my history. Not to mention many of the Catholic traditions have in fact been carried over into Protestantism and it is wrong to claim them as solely protestant. So there is a large heritage protestants enjoy built up by those who’s loyalty to God, and the catholic church will be observed a bit here in this post.

However, when I refer to Catholic I am not using the word as a synecdoche. Catholic includes both the church of power, and the church of piety. Or the high church and the low church. These terms indicate that from a very early time in the history of the ‘institutional’ church that there was a difference in the part of the church concerned with power and those concerned with being the people of God. The early monastic movements as opposed to those buying office and playing politics. These are the two churches of the history from Constantine to Luther. If Luther and other reformers were not successful they would appear likely as another monastic movement within the Catholic church. Or had they been truly successful to reform rather than form a new sect then the catholic church would have remained in place. We may still have a Pope, although a very different version of what the Pope was and is and the authority he holds.

What we are then to be looking for is how much like the true church of Acts was the the two churches of the medieval era? ( also quick disclaimer, the two churches might bring to mind the eastern orthodox church. However, I will not be strongly including it because my knowledge is still limited as to what went on and why, within the Orthodox church.) So we will be looking at the church of Power, its corruption and some of the bright spots. Also we should be considering the reformation work of the monastic communities all throughout this era.

How the Church was the Church and how it was not

It is interesting to remember that the monastic movement was institutional just as the high church of power was an institution. Though many devotees went of in search of solitude and silence, ther reputations grew and soon man more would flock to learn from these hermits. The need grew for organization, rules, and establishments to be provided for many seeking to follow in the footsteps of influential monks. Francisco_de_Zurbarán_040

This is essentially the story of Pope Gregory the Great who was the first monk to ascend the papal throne. He began by seeking the kind of life that the great monastic founder St. Benedict. Upon his becoming Pope he fought endlessly for reform, he sought to reform the churches corruption of offices bought by wealthy families. He also reformed the monastic communities according to the Benedictine Order. He wrote a book on what being a Pope was to be about. For this early Pope, Gregory saw his role as a pastor over the whole church rather then the master of the flock. He understood his role as a servant to the church. After Gregory’s death the roman clergy quickly replaced monks with secular clergy. The church was still a tool for politics. Perhaps exactly what Constantine did, or something that came as a result of his influence given to the church.

He is an example of a number of men who rose to the high church even when this was not easy to do because of corruption and typically needing to buy your way into those positions.

But the traditions that had begun in the deserts of Egypt with monastic communities is a better way to trace the church being the church. Though its not completely one sided. There were two natures of the church during this era that I think are important to maintain. Monastics had a sincere approach and love for God. The High church was committed to public life, sometime to much, and sometimes compromising as I have mentioned.

It is helpful to think of the churches influence not in such drastic terms. The church did not consist of only Popes and Monks. The in-between is the job of the Bishop. When monks had spent time in meditation, discipline, scripture, education, they would then be elected to serve as Bishop. Many did so unwillingly because they preferred the life of a scholar and hermit. When examples came along who served faithfully as Bishop, and also enjoyed scholarly life then you had someone special. But scholastic monks had a great value even before becoming well known Bishops. Saint_Anthony_The_Great

The earliest well known hermit was Anthony the Great (251-356). His life inspired many to pursue the monastic life.  His most influential follower was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (354-440). Augustine’s influence is well known. His work as a scholar has likely been the most influential of all scholars. Calvin’s commentaries are like holding a mirror to the work of Augustine. Not only was his work influential for theology but he developed a model for education and modeled a wider education for what would become the Cathedral Universities of the Middle Ages. Not only did monastic communities make way for an educational system, but also for better economic systems.

These are just a few key examples of the movements started. A movement for the reform of both high and low churches had begun with Anthony in the 3rd century (the same time Constantine helped shift wealth and power to the church).  A monastic way of life became what many sought who wanted a sincere approach the service of God. Among the monastics developed an entire educational system for reading, writing, scripture and other important works. The Scholastic movement was an option, men like Augustine lead way in this. And then there was men who dared as Gregory I did to reform the church of power, to fight against Simony, Adultery, and the lies of the high church clergy.

Conclusion:

Perhaps Ive done more to open up a can of worms here then anything else. However, I think there are a couple of main conclusions. That there are obvious characters throughout what some call a “dark ages” who’s aim was to bring the light of reform long before men like Martin Luther. Luther, well known for his challenge of Papal authority and his educational reforms had many who came before him. Pope Gregory, and Augustine both sought and achieved these kinds of reform but compromise and corruption persisted. Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå gallerix.ru

The Sequel to this post will be to include what character’s, and events of the 10th century until Martin Luther hold. Protestants owe more to their Catholic, Monastic, roots then they realize. In order to continue to see our own needed reforms we need to understand our past and try to implement what we can from a true biblical worldview. We are not attempting as in a revolution to break off from the past and forget any of the lessons we could be learning from.

Knowing History is a precursor for Reformation.

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Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1

Myth Number OneImage

For centuries it has been commonly held that after the fall of Rome came the “Dark Ages” -many centuries of ignorance and superstition imposed across Europe by Christianity.

“a dark, dismal patch, a sort of dull and dirty chunk of some ten centuries, wedged between the shinning days of the golden Greeks… and the brilliant galaxy of light given out jointly by those twin luminaries, the Renaissance and the Reformation.” -Anne Fremantle

Voltaire (1694-1778) described the long era as when “barbarism, superstition, and ignorance covered the face of the world”. These same sentiments were carried on by Edward Gibbon, and Rousseau. Likewise popular historian Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) agreed that “it is not inappropriate to call these centuries dark, especially if they are set against what came before and what came after.”

The terms Renaissance and Enlightenment often appear simultaneously, at times along with the word, ‘Reformation”. This is because, of course, they all took place within a single century, and stretching into two or perhaps three. The Renaissance is the french word for “rebirth”. According to standard historical accounts, the Renaissance occurred because of the decline in church control over major norther Italian cities such as Florence.

Western history in summary;

  1. Classical Antiquity, to the fall of Rome
  2. Dark Ages, when the church dominated
  3. Renaissance-Enlightenment, which birthed…
  4. Modern Times

This has been the prominent theme in most standard historical textbooks despite the many historians who have known for some time that this is a complete historical myth. Looked upon by defeated historians as “an indestructible fossil of self-congratulatory Renaissance humanism.” (J. H. W. Liebeschuetz)

It is not appropriate to stop using the terms Enlightenment or Renaissance completely. Rather it is better to understand these eras in light of a more accurate portrayal of the so called “Dark Ages”.

Rome

Since it has been said, that it is appropriate to refer to the “dark ages” as ‘dark’ in comparison with the lights of Rome and the continued Greek learning of the Renaissance, lets take a look then at just how great Rome and Greek culture really was. After all it was the Enlightenment and Renaissance era that brought about such a deep Romanticism for the ancient civilization. What if all such reminiscing of the past was exactly that. Romantic ideas about a time long past, a time thought to have been the ideal civilization worth patterning the future after.

What is often forgotten about Rome even in an era when the French fought for revolution and a republic, is that the Roman Empire was, well, an empire. Where constant power struggles took place among the ruling elite, and that beyond border wars that brought wealth to the empire, and some impressive public work projects, very little happened. Change, whether technological or cultural, went on very slowly.

“Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future developments.” – Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus (40-103)

“Of course half the population of the empire consisted of slaves… Most free Romans lived at a bare substantial level, not because they lacked the potential to achieve a much higher standard of living, but because a predatory ruling elite extracted every ounce of surplus production. If all production above the bare minimum needed for survival is seized by the elite, there is no motivation for anyone to produce more. Consequently, despite the fabulous wealth of the elite, Rome was very poor.” -Sociologist Rodney Stark

“emperors amassed vast wealth but received incomes that were nevertheless small relative to Imagethe immensity of the territories and populations governed” – Economic Historian, E. L. Jones

“When the collapse of the Roman Empire released the tax-paying millions… from a paralyzing oppression, many new technologies began to appear and were rapidly and widely adopted with the result that ordinary people were able to live far better, and, after centuries of decline under Rome, the population began to grow again. No longer were the productive classes bled to sustain the astonishing excess of the Roman elite, or to erect massive monuments to imperial egos, or to support vast armies to hold Romes many colonies in thrall.” (Stark)

What many historians have been content, along with Enlightenment and Renaissance writers, is to simply write off slavery, and become transfixed by the ruin’s of Rome and its ancient monuments. We make the mistake of mourning at the fall of an empire that bled the productive classes when we should be morning the immense sacrifice of the ordinary. There is of course something we could learn from a correct understanding of such an empire as Rome was.

Hence, there was no fall from the glorious Roman empire into the “Dark Ages” of Christian ignorance and superstition. No glorious empire existed, only for the elite ruling class, and only in the minds of intellectual giants of the Renaissance who’s history had been severely flawed by their Romanticism.

So what good happened in the “Dark Ages”?

As I have already mentioned. The elaborate hoax was created primarily by two famous “Enlightenment” intellectuals, Voltaire, and Gibbon. One of the down falls was that most intellectuals had little interest in anything but literary matters. The medieval period was not an era well known for eloquent Latin. At least not as good of Latin as the best from any Roman era. There was limited though not a complete lack of attention paid to the works of Plato and Aristotle, this was taken as ignorance.

I believe it will be sufficient to simply list the achievements made in this era then to expound on the areas where myths have become legends.

Technology.

As has been said, much of the great Roman empires work force came, not from great technologies, but off the backs of slaves. As soon as the ninth century one-third of the estates along the Seine River, near Paris, had water mills, most of which were church-owned properties. Several centuries later there were mills every seventy feet along the river. (Walter Burkert, Franz Cumont)

By 1086 there were already 5,624 water-powered mills operating in England. “This mechanized the production of woolen cloth and allowed England to dominate the European market.” (Liebeschuetz)

Dams were also constructed and Europeans excelled in bridge building. A five hundred foot bridge was built in Ireland as early as 803. Europeans learned to harness the wind and not only used the power for the same purposes as water mills but used in order to pump water. The Netherlands, and Belgium used wind mills to pump out the sea and restore large portions of their flooded land.

Europeans developed a three-field agricultural system in which one-third of the land was left unplanted each year while still being cultivated and fertilized. This increased production tremendously. The invention of heavy plows brought better cultivation of wetter, more dense soil. Similarly the introduction of horse-collar supplanted the need for slow oxen teams. In monasteries the introduction of plant breeding produced more hardy crops. All together, these “Dark Age” inventions brought far more production with far less effort and time spent.

Chimneys also were invented, so no more holes in roofs letting rain and not allowing smoke to leave houses.

Eyeglasses were invented improving many peoples quality of life.

We all know the middle ages as an era of mounted knights. Well, before the “Dark Ages” there were no heavy cavalry. Stirrups, proper saddles, and lance where an innovation of the middle ages. (Stirrups, and a saddle with a high back brace would allow for knights to charge headlong into battle without falling off horses).

While the Chinese get credit for the creation of ‘gun powder’, Europeans are credited with the most functional cannons used eventually in naval and land battles.

What is so glaringly obvious is the great technological advancement of this era in comparison to that of the Roman times.

Along with great technological advancements came the well documented rise of capitalism. I realize that capitalism alone according is not the great cure all for a culture. Nor is democracy. But, even the infamous Karl Marx regarded the rise of capitalism as creating a “more massive and more colossal productive force than all preceding generations.” In short by the thirteenth century there were 173 banks in Italy having hundreds more branches across Europe. The grassroots of capitalism rose out of an unexpected source; The monasteries. Much more could be said about this. (Check out my Library for recommendations).

A great bit more could be said of moral progress throughout the medieval period. For example, by comparison, Roman philosophers were all slave owners, who viewed women in the same regard. Even an uneducated glance into their work would be offensive to any modern or post-modern person.

The “Dark Ages” saw many attempts and a handful of successful emancipation projects. Not only as a direct result of technological innovation, but as a result of theologians; popes, and monks alike. Slavery did not die easily as we well know. It re-surged in various part of Europe, at a number of times throughout the middle ages. Image

A seventh century King of the Franks Clovis II married his British slave, Bathilda who later reigned when Clovis died.

Charlemagne apposed slavery in the eighth century along with the Pope and other influential clerical voices.

Ninth Century Bishop of Agobard voiced: “All men are brothers, all invoke one same father, God: the slave and the master, the poor and the rich man, the ignorant and the learned, the weak and the strong… there is no slave or free.”

In the eleventh century, St. Wulfstan and St. Anselem successfully campaigned to remove the last vestiges of slavery in Christendom.

I have written previously on “High Culture” in the “Dark Ages”. You can check out a more lengthy explanation at the link. But again, in summary, the middle ages saw great advances in music and the development of polyphony. Wonderful art is littered throughout the period in the great Gothic architecture, stained glass, and “Romanesque” painting.

Literature was regarded as a lost art by Gibbon, Voltaire, Cervantes, Machiavelli, and Da Vinci. The Irony however, is that “each of their native languages had been given their literary form by medieval giants such as Dante, Chaucer, the nameless authors of the chansons de geste, and the monks who, beginning in the ninth century, devoted themselves to writing lives of saints…thus the vernacular prose was formulated and popularized” (Stark)

The next two great developments are left off here until later. The rise of universities, and higher education -specifically science will be be discussed in my next blog. And a second common myth exposed.

Conclusions:

Common Myth: The “Dark Ages” existed from 500-1500 AD. Christianity imposed an era of ignorance and superstition all across Europe. A period preceded and followed by the glorious lights of Greek and Roman antiquities, and the Enlightenment-Renaissance.

Common Revision: The Period from the fall of Rome until the Enlightenment across Europe was not ‘dark’ rather, the fall of Rome initiated a great and accelerating learning curve of innovation and progress that was only beginning to reach maturity as is neared the time of the “Enlightenment-Renaissance” era.

Click HERE for PART 2 of this Post – Myth #2

Categories: Bible, Church, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Modern, Philosophy, Renaissance, Science, Society/Culture, Uncategorized, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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