Posts Tagged With: Rome

Paul’s Reasons for Writting to Rome

Paul - Spain.001For Personal, theological, and for geographical reasons Paul writes to the church in Rome.

As I just said in a recent post, “Romans in not simply a theological book that Paul sought to write” but there were sociological reasons, perhaps political reasons. As we try to be aware of weather or not we are reading into Romans our perception of Paul’s theology we find that the book clearly addresses many things in the life of the church in Rome.

But I mean to highlight that Paul specifically in the beginning and ending of his book he speaks of 1) wanting to visit Rome, but 2) returning to Jerusalem from Macedonia region (likely Corinth) first, 3) finishing his work from Jerusalem to Illyricum and not wanting to build on others foundations, 4) wanting to finally come to Rome and get the churches help for further expansion west to Spain.

In other words one of Paul’s primary concerns outside of this specific group of believers in Rome is that he wants to see the ongoing mission of the church. He believes that since Jesus is in fact the Messiah then now is the time when Gods purposes for Israel are being realized when Gentiles believe and worship the God of Israel now revealed in the Messiah.

That said, if the church in Rome wants to be a part of this ongoing mission. Then they, a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles need to learn to get along. Paul speaks plainly in chapter 14 about not despising each other over issues of food and drink, or holy days. But before that Paul goes much deeper in chapters 1-11 as to what exactly they are to find their common ground in. Paul is careful not to shift the balance to far to one side which would lead towards anti-Semitic attitudes, or to attitudes of Jewish superiority.

This becomes more clear with just a simple knowledge of the timeline and historical events of the time. Paul is writing this letter in his third missionary journey 53-57 AD. He is near the end of it. At 54 AD Emperor Caligula died and his edict to ban Jews from Rome ended. The church that had once been Jewish and Gentile had become purely Gentile for a number of years, then the Jews came back. Not difficult then to image hostility towards the Jews from Gentile believers who do not feel the need to observe Jewish holidays and Jewish diet. The returned Jews may be causing some confusion. They may be narrowing the grace of God to yes embracing Jesus as Messiah but also doing the rest of the requirements in order to really be part of the Family of God. Gentiles are not only resisting this but perhaps getting into arguments and judgements directed towards those who historically rejected Jesus and depend on their traditions to much. They need some intervention and conflict resolution. Paul goes to the deepest possibly roots of this conflict. It is no wonder that this book has primarily been used to answer questions of how people get reconciled with God. Since there is a major emphasis on unity it is easy to narrow the discussion to unity between man and God. Really the roots of the problem presented here for the church in Rome goes then to the question of mans unity with God irrespective of their racial ethnicity. So it is not that Paul never talks about reconciliation with God but i would say the primary purposes of Paul in the letter and therefore the emphasis is on getting the church unified by the Faithfulness of God to his covenants.

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Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Doctrine, Faith, Mission, New Testament, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romans: Not what I expected

paulRomans is not at all what I had always thought of it as. When I began by School of Biblical Studies in YWAM 8 years ago I thought that Romans was the book I needed to know because this was the most theological book of the bible. I will not doubt in the strict sense of the word that Romans is a book that reveals more about who God is and is therefore a book about theology. However I always felt that how the theology of Paul worked was based around how to get Saved as an individual.

Of course this was of huge concern to me coming into the school because I had encountered some very strong (and I mean hyper) Calvinistic folks right before coming to do my CSBS. So I wanted to be sure Salvation was in fact by faith. Strangely my dilemma with Salvation by Faith was that I felt that there must be some kind of importance in my own heart, and mind, regarding the decision to actually have faith. I was shocked really after getting to Romans and after spending a few years coming back to Romans to the same issue.

Romans was a book written to a specific community of Jews and Gentiles in the first century AD. It was not written directly to me about Salvation. In fact it was not even written to them simply about how individuals get saved. Though there are passages that can be used to clarify how Individual Salvation works. I was shocked to find that it is a book written to groups, groups that Paul wished would learn to have fellowship together and call themselves the true Israel of God.

So then, the book references so much from the OT, stories, symbols, practices. It is a book certainly written with the Jewish people in mind. They are one of the communities he is speaking to. He uses the stories and symbols not at random to prove theological points. Instead he uses them (often in order) to show that there is an ongoing story of Gods redemptive work in the world. How that plan started when the race of man fell, or rather rejected God and his original plan. So God starts with plan two so to speak. Abraham, the rest of the patriarchs, Exodus, Law, Land, Temple, Exile, and eventually he climaxes with Christ. He retells the story to show that God had a plan to use the family of Abraham, to give him land, law, influence. But that just as Adam rejected Gods plan so Israel rejected Gods plan, they embraced pagan lifestyle. But what about the Jew during the time of Paul. They did not reject Gods Law. Some say they made an idol of it. That is very simplistic. However, I think it is not far from what Paul himself thinks is the problem in his own day. Paul’s thoughts on the Law are not limited to such a simple reduction. Its perhaps one of the most perplexing parts of Paul. I have written at length in other posts about that specifically. But in summary here I think Paul believed there were multiple functions that Law played both pre-Jesus and post-Jesus.

It did pronounce judgement. It did serve as revelation of God and witness to surrounding nations. It did intend to shape identity of Israel. Some focus in on specific uses of the Law because so many wish to simplify what Paul says about the Law. But to ask Paul to give one purpose for the Law would actually be very crude. Paul was a Jew. Jews in the first century saw a great many uses of the Law. One of which was that by paying close attention to it, study, and practice would bring about Gods blessing in the form of his deliverance and vindication of Israel. In short, Law brought salvation. Paul because of his faith in a faithful Jewish Messiah believes this has already taken place in Jesus. But of course Paul’s twist is that when God did what he had always promised to do in the Messiah he did it not just for the vindication of Israel in the Flesh but for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Passages that always terrified me in Romans could be narrowed down to two references to the OT. First is when Paul is telling the story of the Exodus and Pharaoh and the second is when he is talk about how God had always made distinctions between the people of Jacob and the people of Esau. The combination of God hating Esau, and God manipulating the heart of Pharaoh made me scared to press in any further. But why did Paul use those quotes of OT passages? Pharaohs heart was in fact hardened by God to bring about his salvation for all people, Jews and Egyptians alike. And God did not actually hate Esau or his family. Paul quotes this as a reminder that God simply made a distinction between Israel in the Flesh and its fleshly enemies. God had a plan for ethnic or fleshly Israel. That is why there is a distinction. They are being called to account for why they failed to carry out Gods plans of blessing the nations around them. Thus, the reference to Esau and Jacob is not about blind favoritism. It is about who had the greater responsibility. Paul goes on to say that it is in fact these tribes and nations that are coming into the Israel of God by faith, that they are being grafted in.

In short one of Paul’s most profound points is that being the people of God, the Israel of God, the Elect, is not just about privileged but it is about responsibility. This is my summarizing title for the book of Romans.

“The Story and the Future of the People of the One God”

Thus Paul is not doing Theology so much as he is implementing the use of Jewish story telling, with the key themes being eschatology, election, and monotheism.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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

Church History: Recovering Kingdom Heritage

9thSinaiAscensionChristian History begins in Acts with the ascension of Christ. Right before he is seen by his disciples going back into the clouds his disciples ask him, “Are you going to establish the Kingdom of Israel now?” Whenever I read this I laugh out loud. But I also recognize its rich significance. That was a question any person in their sandals would ask. After all that was what it was all about for the Jewish people. They had a great story about their origins as a nation and where it was all heading. For them it was the reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom. A new era that would surpass all the wonders of Solomon’s Kingdom in all of its glory.

But then Jesus was so patient with his friends. After he makes them aware that they are not to know the time or periods they were asking about he speaks of the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. He spoke of a time when they would begin in Jerusalem, being filled with the spirit, they would bring that same message Peter spoke at Pentecost, and the same spirit that fell, to the ends of the earth.

The beginning of the church saw multiple types of persecution. They were as Christ spoke of in Matthew 10, to be dragged into the synagogues and before the government of Rome. This persecution lasted long into the 3rd century until the conversion of Constantine. The shift that took place may be understood by referring to the early church as the apostolic age, and then from Constantine until the fall of Rome as the Imperial era of the church. There were various blessings and damages done by this new era of the church. The church benefited from the ceasing of persecutions and began gathering for important decisions about the nature of heretical text and sacred inspired text that the church used from the earliest times. Given that these gatherings of Bishops began in the time of Constantine the major consensus was that the large amount of Gnostic text had been something done within the lifetimes of those present at the gatherings. Gnostic gospels distorted the eyewitness accounts of those 1st century apostles who recorded and shared the message of what they had seen and heard. These early gatherings did not give the church the bible, they merely guarded what for centuries had already been regarded as authoritative and true accounts of historical eyewitnesses.

conThe untold stories of the Cannon Communities of early Christianity are now being hijacked by the resurgence of gnostic belief in pop-culture movies and books. Common people have begun to get their education of history from the History Channel, Youtube videos, facebook timelines. New Gnostic text are constantly being discovered though near not as often as apostolic texts. The new finds are published and added to the growing “evidence” for a new narrative about the origins of the Christian faith. That story begin told can be summarized as something beginning with Constantine, who is responsible for the growth and widespread popularity of Christianity because he made it so by his own conversion and the subsequent conversion of the entire empire to the new faith. Actually this is not true. If anything his conversion and acceptance of Christianity may have been more of a political move to protect his own power. The growth trend happening in the apostolic age was reaching its height by the time of Constantine. Also his conversion may also begin to be seen as something sincere. But lets not get overly sidetracked with Constantine.

When Rome fell the church did not. It remained. So even if Constantine did help get the church going, (which is a garbage theory) It was not dependent on the state. Many of the the damages brought about by the imperial church effected the church negatively throughout the middle ages. However the new era of the church was not “dark” as many have suggested. It most obviously can not be seen as “dark” simply for the sake of Augustine of Hippo who lived in the 3rd and 4th Centuries of the church. He was influenced heavily by the monastic movement that began before his time, as a response by those who despised the new damages done by the Constantine era of imperial power behind the church. Augustine is just a bit of glue aiding us to see the benefits of the devote monastic communities. But then on the other side Augustine is the rise of medieval education. Augustine is really a primary origin point for the creation of Universities as we know them. It was not the Greeks, though they did schools.  No lasting universities give evidence for any actual universities existing and Greek and roman times.

Saint_Augustine_PortraitNot only did men like Augustine, influenced by the monastic communities begin to have a profound effect on the development of European culture. But “the high church” can also receive some credit. They were not always corrupted by power and greed. The monastic communities had occasional victories in the church at large when men like Gregory the Great were elected Pope. The church began as early as the 5th century seeing many reforms. If anything the Reforms begin here rather then the 14th century. Even the reformer John Calvin recognized Gregory as a good Pope. These illustrations point out that this new era was again, not something “dark”. Though it had its share of issues, calling it “dark” robs us of understanding that it was the church that assisted all of Europe in recovering their own multiculturalism lost under the Roman empire. No longer were peoples creativity bound by a ruling elite who sucked up all the production of the lower cast. Rome had fallen, along with it the ruling elitists. Feudalism is often looked as evidence of a “dark” era rather then an era of state rebuilding and individual progress.

This bring us up to about the 10th & 11th century. The bridge between the early medieval period and the later are the events of the  Muslim Empire and the Christian Crusades. The rise of what many Christians regard as the cult of Mohammed did not shy away from its involvement in the state. The expansion of the Muslim empire came by force and had stretched deep into Spain before the Europe’s response. Of course in order to get Europe to respond at all some campaigning needed to be done. Petitions had already been sent to Rome for aid to be sent to those seeking safe access to the Holy Land. The desire for Christian tourism or pilgrimage was very common and encouraged. Just as it is today very important to many Christians to one day go to the place where God was made incarnate. There was a flurry of responses over the following centuries. Again, Europe was not a centralized government as it would have been under the Roman empire. It was necessary for someone, somehow, to promote the war against the Islamic empire before it took control of all of Europe. The church was at that time the most centralized source of public influence and took it upon itself to organize feudal Lords, Barron’s, Kings, and Knights to take up the call to defend Europe and reclaim territories as far as the Holy Land. It is unfortunate for the Christ-like reputation of Christianity that the church needed to use its influence to help organize armies to go up against the Muslim Conquest.

There were no doubt troubling elements within the church of the middle ages. Though this era can not either be refereed to as dark because the situation as a whole was very dark and called for a drastic step for the sake of all of secular Europe. Though it is often referred to as the “Christian Middle Ages” most common people remained pagan and superstitious. There also at this time remained a devote remnant. The era of the Crusades was not simply Europe vs. Islam, but Church Tradition, and Papal Authority vs heretical movements such as the Waldensian’s or Catharians. These “heretical groups” were also on the receiving end of a holy war influenced by the power of the church to organize armies. All of these events are unfortunate for the reputation of the church as something following the example of Christ. Though Europe’s response to the growing Islamic Invasion has found justification by many.

This brings us to the dawn of the “Reformation era”.

Many wonderful characters illuminate the 14th-16th century; Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulirch Zwingli, and a good many more. There men of the reformations fought valiantly for the minds and lives of Europeans. Their influence is massive, so much so that when people think of church history these names are often the first that any good protestant would think of.

Ijohn-wycliffe-oprea-nicolaef you are Catholic however then these names, though they are known, are not hero’s. After all they themselves were not successful in bringing a reform to the Catholic church. When the protestant movements began to break forth from the church the Catholic church went on later to make some necessary reforms. But the reformation era was crucial.

What was at the core of the motives of men like Luther, Calvin, Hus, Wycliffe, and Zwingli was to see scripture in a place of higher authority then tradition or papal authority. It becomes clear when these human authorities of mans tradition and mans hierarchy become corrupt that something else needs to be the source of authority. For the reformers it was not their version of truth, or in other words, their own traditions regarding scripture. The work of Luther, and Calvin did later become tradition that led to later schisms with the Lutheran and Reformed churches. But for the actual lives of the reformers, their aim was to see the church with the bible at the center, and Christ’s sacrifice at the central event of theology. No further mass was needed to bring propitiation for sin.

The reformers did more for Europe then challenging the church and creating the protestant movement. Their influence in the church touched much more then the church itself. Remember that the church was for more engrained in the public life. The church had in fact helped to rebuild the entire civilization of the west after the fall of Rome. So the reformers challenge of the church was in part  the beginning of a reform to the state. Overlords and Kings began to face new challenges. If the people of Europe were willing to see the hierarchy of the church challenged and its influence undermined by scripture then maybe following the OT model, Kings and overlords could be challenged with the rule of Law.

Retracing our steps we can see that the church was a growing and thriving source of education and social reform capable from the earliest days of the church to step out and lead a broken civilization. The middle ages saw many such advances, the whole modern enlightenment principle of ‘human progress’ was already in full swing long before the “enlightenment” or “modern era” began. In fact the whole idea of moral or human progress was not something disconnected from those who could be considered religious. The church faced the challenge of helping rebuild Europe, and they gave it universities, science, many new technologies, the rule of law, capitalism, implemented democracy, and abolished slavery. All of this developed long before the enlightenment or modern era.

What many Christians do at this point in their grasp of history accept that the reformers did a great thing and now we move on to today and try to implement their passion for truth in our own pursuit of it. But that would be to dismiss the enlightenment altogether as something that does not have any effect on the modern christian mind. It is however, very important to realize that we moravian_sealare all children of the enlightenment. Much of what we may think is common sense is actually accepting for better or worse what began in the enlightenment era. I have already written a good deal on the enlightenment. But here I wish to show how the church behaved in the modern era. Early on among the Lutheran community there developed another schism. Just as many Philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, or Kant had discussed the importance of reason as a means of discovering truth versus experiment so the Lutheran community did. The early schism was an attempt to get away from the head and into the heart of things were man may touch and feel his way toward the truth of God. This lead into the Moravian and eventually Wesleyan missionary movements and churches. These movements also saw schisms on the issue of public versus private outer-workings of the faith. Not only that but the modern era working all around the church was more and more scary for those who drowned themselves in theology but had nothing to say about the new work of Charles Darwin. The church had turned inward and became a private sphere only concerned with theology, gospel, and saving souls for heaven. They lost touch with bringing the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. The missions movement has been massive and the world is being evangelized with the message of salvation for eternity in heaven. But not here on earth, not bringing sense to the mess we are facing here and now. The current missions movement and evangelicalism we find ourselves in today has also developed another schism. Instead of working to convince men and women of the soundness of our gospel we have bought into trying to entertain, give a good speech, and proclaim the gospel and call it a day. There is very little persuasion in our proclamation.  And today we have a kingdom of God theology where our faith is all heart and no head, all private and not public, and all proclamation and no persuasion. We fall short because we have given in to the modern tide and have a fractured Christian inheritance.

Knowing history may help us begin to recover what true nature of Christ centered Kingdom living is. It is not something in the heavens we might one day escape to, nor is it a utopia on earth were man is the center of all things. But it is Gods redemptive rule of all of his creation.

 

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Modernism, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

The Mixed Blessing of Constantine

I want to reflect on the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, (Roman Emperor from 306-337).

There are more then a handful of crucial historical events in the life of Constantine that changed the course of History forever. Western and Eastern. My knowledge is stronger of the impact these events played on western civilization.

Here are a few things to reflect on in the life of Constantine.

1. Though the head of the church had initially been in Jerusalem with Christ, Peter, and other apostles. Constantin’s conversion allowed overseers from all over the empire to gather in Rome. They did this first under Constantin’s approval and protection. There was no Pope in Rome early on but their was the Bishop of Rome who had great influence. Another city of great apostolic influence was Ephesus. From the time of Constantine things shifted more towards Rome.

2. Around 324 AD Constantine moved to the Greek city of Byzantium and it was later named Constantinople after the emperor. With the shift of Roman authorities further east and again Constantine welcoming and the church came leaders to Constantinople. The Later split of Eastern Orthodox leaders from those of the Roman Catholic Church in 1,000 AD was preceded by this event early 4th century AD.

3. Constantin’s conversion played a key role in the proclamation of the edict of Milan, which brought religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire. Some have falsely assumed that his conversion brought about the intolerance of pagan belief and worship. Constantine himself did not have a part in that. He was however, more concerned about religious freedom within the church. Heresy within the church was punished with the force of the empire.

4. The first counsel of Nicaea was called by Constantine. For the first time Christian overseers could gather without fear of persecution and death. Instead Constantine himself hosted Bishops from all over the Empire.  They could finally narrow down the most beneficial text of the apostles, cut out those more destructive and inconsistent gnostic text that were harmful to their communities and to the view of Christ, his divinity and humanity. The overseers developed the Apostles Creed in order to help the church find unity on the essentials or orthodox views of the church. All other Christian Dogma could be up for debate without fear of being labeled heretical.

5. Because Constantine embraced Christianity himself and protected Christians he took funding that had been given from the empire to pagan temples and gave it to the church. There was a new incentive to converting to Christianity. As the church became the benefactor great wealth it became a target for people looking for an opportunity for power and wealth.  Simony became an ongoing trouble with the “high church”. The church was impacted by this sudden 180* from the persecuted church to the church of privileged, influence, and wealth. Not all negative in themselves but this made Christianity attractive for all the wrong reasons.

So that’s just one handful of some basic impacts made by conversion of Constantine on the church and on western civilization. Jesus was clear with his disciples about the issue of kingdom/church authority. His disciples would become the great apostles who’s teachings and writings would be read and processed and help guide the churches witness for jesus-before-pilate_03_hires1centuries. He said to them, “My kingdom is not of this world. Authority is different in my kingdom. If you want to be great you need to serve others. You need to feed my sheep. If you want to be great it wont be like Roman Authority. The leader is not simply in charge, telling those below what they must do, and making blind slaves to human authority. As those in authority you will serve others. You will feed and serve others so that they are better following the will of the father in heaven just as I do.” His apostles later appointed Bishops (overseers), and Deacons (servants). They were caretakers of the body of Christ. They were not commanders or slave drivers. They pointed others to the example of Christ by serving like Christ and laying down their lives for the spread of the gospel.

Constantin’s conversion effected the way that the church viewed its own authority. But scripture remains clear.

His conversion held blessing for organizing the church, centralizing core doctrines of faith, and bringing unity. The very scriptures we have are a result of Gods sovereignty in the lives of flawed men and women. This highlights something I think we can be aware of in our own time. While privileged, freedom, and wealth have served to strengthen the growth of the church it has also invited the insincere to take advantage and use it for personal gain and power. This can hurt the church.

Is the church to refuse wealth, influence, and freedom? Are we to embrace poverty, privacy, and persecution? What happens when we become the benefactor of influence, wealth, and opportunity.

Reflection on Constantin’s conversion and biblical authority is important because it causes us to question ourselves rather then judge dead people. What will we do with authority, influence, opportunity, and wealth?

Categories: Bible, Church, History, New Testament, Society/Culture, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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