Sunday, December 11, 2011
Yet I've been wanting to write the last few weeks, partly to assure my readers that I'm not dead, but also to review what has been going on with me over the last couple of months. Amid the busyness, I've been blessed with the opportunity for more reflection than most years, so I did want to share a few things along the way.
One of the blessings this fall has been my involvement in a course at church- the Life with God series through the Evangelical Centre for Spiritual Wisdom- which has provide much needed focus in my spiritual life when the challenges for keeping on an even keel have stepped up, what with lack of sleep and adjusting to a new routine and rhythm of life. It is hard to describe simply what this course is; the closest I can get is to call it group spiritual direction. The intention is to explore, first, the goodness of God in our lives, then to begin the exploration of the obstacles to letting us realize that goodness in our lives. Mind you, one of the things that I realized in the first part of the course was that, when compelled to consider God's goodness, my natural tendency is to get grumpy and gloomy. Part of that might be trying to do interactive projects late in the day or in the evening when I'm feeling grumpy at the best of times, but I think there is also a reluctance on my part to recognize the good that God has given the world; a reluctance which goes deeper than my conscious thinking. Perhaps this shouldn't comes as a surprise to me. I remember several years ago when I was working with a friend on spiritual issues, he kept asking me what I was grateful for and I kept wanting to lean across the table and slap him. I didn't and I did start asking myself that question often enough that I am grateful, most of the time. It seems I just need to remind myself more often than other people
Besides this course, I've also been keeping up my reading. I find myself conflicted here as well sometimes because I wonder sometimes how much my reading/projects are an escape from people and how much it is part of a spiritual discipline. I think sometimes I retreat into books as a way of escaping people, who I find are much more unpredictable and challenging (odd that!). Other times, I feel I discover things that I help me understand myself, my faith and my life better. And that isn't even getting into learning for my profession. One of the things that struck me this year, however, is that I have to maintain a careful distinction between a project and the spiritual discipline of study. A project is bad for me, partly because I don't have time for a project (are you kidding me, I'm barely managing what I need to do), but also because the project becomes about me showing off my spectacular intelligence, proving my brilliance or some such nonsense. Study as spiritual discipline, however, builds up my faith and brings me the joy of learning just 'cause. It is the very uselessness of spiritual study- no apparent object, no apparent reason- that helps me take away my ego and my desire for affirmation.And, if I am ever to share what I have learned, it is from that uselessness that I think I have to share from.
Lastly, I've been reflecting about blessings and curses. Our study leader commented last week about the power of curses and blessings in our lives. She pointed out that the world around us gives us curses aplenty from the religious ones like "Goddammit!" to more every day ones like "idiot" (Raca! as Jesus pointed out) or 'you won't amount to anything' or 'you're useless'. Blessings, however, are much harder to find and much more needed in this world of ours. That made me think about my use of blessings and, yes, of curses. One thing that I realized in this reflection is the ubiquity of curses in education and my own guilt in that. One that has touched me especially is the "telling the future curses"- 'I've seen the road you're on and this is how it will turn out'. I've been thinking about that one because this is the time of the year that the first signs of trouble appear in my first year Latin course. And it is the time of year that I get frustrated and start making comments like that. Looking back, even on last year which was a fairly quiet year, I realized that every single kid I said that to went the way I predicted - the curse had, unfortunately, worked and no wonder. If someone told me that I was heading a certain dire route, how motivated would I be to change that? Or how motivated was I, on the occasions that happened? What would have happened, if, instead of cursing or "telling the future", I blessed those students and looked to see what was wrong. I don't know, but, with God's help, I hope to find out.
As usual, I've gone on rather longer than intended, but I'll leave you, my readers, with a wish for a peaceful and happy Advent.
Sunday, October 02, 2011
In his discussion of this crisis, Clement is more concerned with considering spiritual causes for the Corinthian church's. What is interesting and chilling for us is that Clement charts these causes not as the flaws of certain bad individuals, but the direct consequence of the prosperity of the Corinthian Church. This robs us from the luxury of blaming others for our problems. Clement, however, doesn't let us off the hook because he argues that the very success of the Corinthian church contained in it the seeds of its own self-destruction. This success brought with it arrogance and a greater sense of self-importance which could only spell disaster for a spiritual community. If our success convinces us that, somehow, we deserve or, worse, caused our success; then, we are liable to stop recognizing our dependence on God and to start to think that our power is real. That, then, leads to power struggles as we fight over who should wield the power that, really, we don't really have. The result is that we spend more time trying to impose our vision of how we should employ our non-existent power rather than seeking God's will and direction about how to live out His Kingdom values. Self-will, as a result, runs riot and all we manage to prove is that we do that we aren't God and we don't know better.
For Clement, that process of the ecclesial self-destruction works itself out quite logically. First, the prosperity of the church encourages competitiveness, zelos and phthonos. This is interesting in itself because the two words, while frequently paired and almost synonymous, have very different tones to them. zelos is, more or less, positive, representing the kind of positive competition which draws out the best in people through competitive virtues going back all the way to Homer. phthonos is the destructive mirror image of zelos; the destructive competition which encourages cheating, lying and treachery. Yet, Clement pairs them as equally destructive and unjust. This implies that the kind of competitiveness which characterized the drive to succeed in Classical societies and, in rather different guises, our own has no place in the church. We do not strive to outdo each other in our Christian lives, but, rather, to be faithful servants of God. Our value is not found in our place in a hierarchy, whether ecclesiastical or spiritual, but, rather, in our faithful service to God and our neighbour.
Yet, if we are to be completely honest, competitiveness is a real temptation in a church. It is all to easy to look at someone serving in the church and be jealous of the accolades that they get in their service. It is all to easy to decide that someone else doesn't deserve their position of trust because we all know I can do that just as well or better. Jealousy and envy is alive and well in today's church because it is alive and well in me...and in many more people than me.
Perhaps this is why Clement spends so much time tracing out the examples of the impact of jealousy in the Old Testament, in the lives of Peter and Paul and even in the stories of Greek mythology. The destructiveness of these emotions becomes evident in these examples, by showing how ties of family, ethnicity and even faith cannot survive the destructiveness of jealous and envy.
Furthermore, this envy and jealousy leads directly to the kinds of dissensions and strife which Clement is trying address in this letter. This makes sense, of course. If we are looking askance at our neighbour and envying him, we are already storing up hostility and, ultimately, war against our neighbour. How can we contemplate peace and harbour jealousy in our hearts? Sooner or later, we will abandon peace and seek to 'restore' the balance of what is owed to us. Envy and jealous are the preludes to civil war, even ecclesial civil war such as the one evidently experienced by the Corinthian church and, arguably, the multiple ones experienced by churches today, large and small.
The logical result of this progress from our own individual jealousies and envy to the communal disruption of schism ultimately comes down to the weakening of our ability to live of what God has called us to be: the first-fruits of his kingdom. One of the most persistent scandals of the modern church is the scandal of church division. By this, I don't mean the diversity of worship styles, theological explanation or, even, ecclesiastical structure. Within certain limits, this diversity is a good thing. Rather, I refer to our inability as Christians to live with our differences and work together on what really is our common mission- seeking to further God's kingdom in the world today. While the ecumenical movement has softened the traditional denominational differences, we, all too often, allow ourselves to become distracted by the new fault lines of liberal-conservative, progressive-fundamentalist and such like. We all serve the same Lord, so why can't we work out a way to serve Him together?
In our next entries, we'll consider what Clement has to say about what we need to do just that: serve God together.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Last week, we started to discuss the 1st Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, its context and my aims in this series. This week, I want to get into the letter itself and see what it has to say about what the problem was in the church at Corinth at the time of Clement.
- In some ways, Clement's opening is unusual. After the customary greeting and a cursory apology for not writing earlier, Clement begins his discussion with a picture of the Corinthian church's past which looks, I must confess, pretty idyllic. Here, Clement suggests, is a church in which justice, peace and good order reigned. Here, the Christian virtues of mutual submission and brotherhood controlled how church members interacted. Here we have, if we follow Clement's imagery, the return of the post-Pentecost church, transposed to a Gentile setting- at least, until the troubles began.
This is a little odd, of course, because we do know something of the history of the Corinthian church. We know that Paul had enough problems with the Corinthian church that he felt he had to send two letters to them to get them back onto the right track. We know that the Corinthian church at the time of Paul was also torn by the same kind of division which Clement identifies in his own time. If that is so, just when was this idyllic past of the Corinthian church? What is Clement trying to accomplish here?
Perhaps we can explain this discrepancy by suggesting that Paul's letters and visits eventually did do some good in Corinth and that a period of peace followed Paul's correspondence which lasted right up to Clement's time. At this time, the Corinthian church was at its most fruitful and zealous, but, eventually, as the new generation began to chafe under the oversight of the older one, the younger Corinthian Christians began to try to remake the church in their own image; thus, falling into conflict with their elders.
Perhaps Clement is indulging in a kind of 'prince's mirror' in which he is trying to induce the very virtues which he assigns to the Corinthian church at a time when it distinctly did not have them. By setting out these ecclesial virtues, Clement may have hoped to provide the Corinthians with the vision of peace, justice and order which he wanted them to enjoy.
Regardless of which theory to explain Clement's image of the Corinthian church before this crisis, he is clear about what the problem- church division. For whatever reason (Clement doesn't really say), the Corinthian church broke into factions, quarrelling and strife which caused all the marks of the ideal church which the Corinthian church to rapidly unravel. With the collapse of justice and peace, faith weakens, doing one's Christian duty falls by the wayside and individual Christians begin to go their own sinful way. The Corinthian church was rapidly de-constructing itself, to the horror of Clement and, one presumes, the rest of the Christian world.
I'm not sure that we understand how visceral this Corinthian scandal must have been in Clement's day. In many ways, this kind of church division, while regrettable, is a rather common occurrence today. We have normalized church division to the extent that there are, literally, hundreds of thousands of Christian denominations, with more arising each year. One of the most common reactions to disagreement and conflict in many churches today is to split off form the 'unholy' segment of one's community. It is true that this is a peculiarly Protestant disease, but, really, if we look at it, even those churches which claim an adherence to a catholic ecclesiology have experienced church division as Orthodox and Anglicans split from the Roman Catholics and splinter groups which result perpetuate the division or divide anew.
Furthermore, I don't think that church division ends only here with the division of a community or a communion. Can we see it in our modern propensity to church shop for a community which satisfies our theological, aesthetic or political tastes? Can we see it in our willingness to dismiss a Christian brother and sister as too 'liberal, or too 'conservative' or too 'moderate'? Can we see it in our assurance in our own sense of spiritual self-sufficiency which causes us not to share our real selves with the world? This is to say nothing about muttering about the diocese or the bishop or the denomination's paper. Whatever divides us or causes us to pull back from our fellow Christian, is that not an injury to the community? And am I not as great a sinner in this area as anyone else? Of course.
Yet, we also aren't called to the opposite extreme of placing community ties so high on our priorities that we stamp out our individual conscience and discernment. There are times when the Spirit calls us to confront sin in our church and, at those times, we need the virtues of truthfulness and humility to lead us through the conflict which will result. But does conflict necessarily entail division? Does this conflict come from a moving of the Spirit or from our own sinful desire to dominate the opposition or even to set ourselves up as the authority in the church? I'm not sure it is very easy to know and that should call us to humility and patience as we discern the way forward. Unfortunately, neither humility nor patience are the strong suits of the modern church, even if they remain indispensable for a faithful church.
But how did the Corinthian church break apart? What caused it to turn its back on its own ideals and to descend to chaos? That is the topic for the next post.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
some disappointment among many of my readers, but I found this summer,
with the new addition to my family, it was only just sustainable to do the
2. I probably have to scale down my expectations about what I can
accomplish on this blog and just post when I have time and creativity. I'm still
not quite willing to drop the blog (well, certainly not its name!), but I will
be posting more irregularly.
3. I think I may have an interim solution to my soul-searching over what to
spend my study time on. For those of you who have followed the non-TWP
posts, I've been trying to discern where I should use my time and energies-
4. In keeping with this resolution, what I expect to see in this blog is
that, as I complete a work or a section of a work which gives me ideas
5. I'm excited about a program being offered at my church over the next
twelve weeks which focuses on Life with God (offered through the
We'll see, of course, if even this modest programs works for me.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Aggie on the AppAggie blog notes the Patristic application for i-phones- A Year with the Church Fathers by Mike Aquilina (of the Way of the Fathers blog). It almost makes me want to buy a i-phone...almost.
Joel on the Unsettled Christianity blog reviews Thomas Oden's book, The African Memory of Mark in two parts (part one, part two forthcomng).
Roger Pearse on his self-named blog gives an update about the promising reaction to the Eusebius book he sponsored (which is also on my list to get, but a new computer and a book on Greek religion (for work) first!)
Stephen Huller on stephan huller's observation discusses Marcion in light of a discussion with Professor Markus Vinzint, answers the concerns expressed by some biblio-bloggers (in my opinion, justified) about his 'myth-making' in his discussions about Clement of Alexandria,
condemns Eric Osborn's book on Clement of Alexandria (not my favourite, but for rather different reasons- Stephen because Osborn perpetuates the scholarly concensus about Clement's birth, me because it is a bit tedious), discusses the connections between Origen, Gregory Thaumateurgus and Carpocrates (aka Origin???????????), asks how the alleged Alexandrian ex-Patriot (sic!) church functioned in Jerusalem, wonders why Clement and Origen were so popular, discusses the connection between Clement, Origen, Secret Mark in Gregory's panegyric of Origen, discusses the attestations of names such as Carpocrates in Egypt (source, Stephen, source?), discusses the lack of second century discussions of Marcion (given the fragmentary state of second century Christian literature, is that surprising?), follows up by summarizing the evidence against anti-Marcian polemics (mostly, dismissing anything Eusebius has to say on the subject and arguing from the silence which follows), discusses how the Marcionites became associatedi with a (fictitious) Marcian, condemns patristic literature as rubbish because of the well-known ancient habit of mimesis (really, this is a pretty bad mis-reading. One of the ways that the ancients were different from us is that they didn't cite sources as we do- that is fairly recent i.e. within the last hundred years- and they frequently modeled themselves after an exemplary text- here Irenaeus' Refutation) and discusses the likliehood that anti-Marcion literature is actually hidden polemic against the Markan tradition in Alexandria. An editorial note needs to follow here. Readers will note my punchiness in this entry. It is an editorial policy of mine that I will cite whoever writes on patristics, whether I agree with them or not. I do reserve the right to say what I think about these entries. Stephen Huller is an immensely prolific and imaginative scholar, but I have serious issues with his methodology which seems to consist of discrediting existing sources on his subject of choice and substituting his own speculations about the subject. While patristic sources must be viewed critically, it is all too easy to use unreasonable and anachronistic standards to eliminate Eusebius or Irenaeus or anyone's testimony. However, the results of such an inquiry are neither satisfying nor convincing. I will continue to cite Stephen and continue to comment as things occur to me. Enough said.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review reviews Stephen Mitchell, Peter Van Nuffelen (ed.), One God. Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire
That is it for this week. I'm on a blogging break next week, so you'll have to wait until the following week for the next installment.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
This quote has been buzzing in my head the last few weeks, largely because of the time of year. Summer brings with it both more free time and a kind of internal pressure to do something 'productive' in my, admittedly, arcane patristics hobby. Don't get me wrong. This isn't about compulsive workoholism (I don't think....). It expresses a dilemma which has been with me for more than ten years, since I left my PhD in Classics. On one side, I truly love learning for its own sake and one of my joys is to have the tools to do that with the Church Fathers. I enjoy my reading of patristic texts and scholarly discussions of them. I like translating the texts--as odd as that sounds. And I have to acknowledge my debt to this study which has affected how I think about my faith and how I live out my spirituality. I can see how St. Augustine's Confessions influenced my conversion as a Christian and how St. Benedict's Rule informs my approach to fatherhood and, oddly, the teaching profession. The Desert Fathers (like Sisoes above) challenge my materialism and draw attention to the 'bad thoughts' which plague my attempts at humility and faithfulness. The Fathers do me the service of calling attention to my theological blind-spots (rather different from their own blind spots), help me read Scripture more deeply and remind me that theology isn't just an intellectual pursuit, but a spiritual one as well. When you get those benefits, more study seems like a profitable thing.
Yet, on the other hand, like Ammon of Raithu, I feel compelled to do something with my studies. That is, I shouldn't just read or translate for my own edification, I should publish something for goodness sake. I'm not saying that publishing is a bad thing nor am I saying that I won't consider working on a project intended to be published. This is probably not the time to fast-track it for it, not the least reason being my committment to my young family. Any planning that I make about this have to be long range, very long range, indeed. Perhaps some fruit will come that. I don't know.
Yet, I also feel the sting of this saying of Abba Sisoes. I don't need to do this. That is, this should not be a compulsion to produce, to argue, to explain. It is better to keep my attention on the spiritual virtues and prayer which my study of the Fathers and of Scripture give me day to day, yer to year. Then, I should do something radical and revolutionary: practice them. What I worry about my desire to 'do' is that it is a manifestation of one or the other of my two great temptations in my study: that all too common compulsion to produce as opposed to just shut and pray or a temptation to intellectualize my faith rather than mediate on it. Prayer, spiritual reading and work on self are gloriously useless activities, at least in the eyes of the world. Yet, I recognize that I need to do all these three things if I expect any spiritual growth or wisdom or, in fact, discernment over what I can contribute to the life of the Church. I need the ability to speak simply, with a a good conscience and pure mind, especially if I expect to write about spiritual things.
That means discernment. What is God calling me to? My main vocation is to teaching and, to my enduring my surprise, teaching adolescents . Yet, I feel the calling to write, but is that vainglory and/or avoiding spiritual growth? Time and discernment will tell me that, of course. So, patience is what is called for and the willingness to do what is 'useless' for as long as it takes. That, I trust, will be enough.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Brantly on the Young, Evangelical and Catholic blog offers a catena to support his argument that St. Augustine was Catholic as opposed to Protestant. Well, yes, but it would be anachronistic to argue otherwise. Yet, as has been pointed out by, I think, Paula Frederickson, Catholics and Protestants emphasis different elements of St. Augustine's teaching, so I'm not sure the distinction can easily be made.
Dan Wallace on the Parchment and Paper blog reviews Bart Ehrman's book, Forged in two parts, with a third projected. (part one, part two).
Joe Heschmeyer on the Shameless Popery blog considers the Council of Carthage's acceptance of the two books of Esdras, aka Ezra and Nehemiah to you.
Steven Huller on the steven huller's observation blog published a bewildering array of observations including a discussion of the lost letters of St. Clement of Alexandria found at Mar Saba, the continued failure to find out how many manuscripts were in the Mar Saba monastery, the alleged forgery of the Mar Saba document, the possible forgery of a letter of Theodore, why Origin denies that Clement of Alexandria was his teacher, the possible emergence of the name of 'Marcian' as heresy in the infiltration of Alexandrian Christianity into Jerusalem, Julius Africanus' evidence of Clement of Alexandria's activity in Alexandria and his flight, Clement's first reference to Marcianites, Clement's role in establishing the Alexandrian liturgy in Jerusalem, whether Irenaeus' dates are correct, why this change in dating will help sovlve the 'Mar Saba' problem, a discussion of Gaius and Hippolythus' holding of bishopric in the same city at the same time, and the internal evidence about whether Clement of Alexandria actually wrote from Alexandria. That is just the larger posts. For a critical comment on Stephen Huller's work, see Rod of Alexandria on the Political Jesus blog.
That's it for this week!
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Father Benedict Crawford on the Seeking the Kingdom blog posts Chapter Four of St. Benedict's Rule in two parts with a brief commentary (part one, part two). H/T Matthew Hoskin
mjhoskin on the pocket scroll blog considers the Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari and the insights that liturgical prayer have in our understanding of the Fathers (if we understand theology as worship as many of the Fathers did, I don't see how we could help learn more by praying as they did). He, also, discusses the effect that the Desert Fathers have on our sense of comfort in our lives today.
While not quite about Patristics, J. F. Hobbins on the Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog discusses a concern common to all students of the ancient world- the need for accessible ancient sources in the original language and the will to use them. I've seen the same phenomenon in Classics and in Patristics, writing more about one's colleagues than one's sources. It is easier and it is also symptomatic of our modern (especially North American) unwillingness to learn the linguistic tools of our trade.
Weekend Fisher on the Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength blog discusses a passage from Plato's Euptrypho which asks about the relationship between love and piety, answering in an almost patristic way.
That is it for this week! See you next week.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Douglas Dobbins on the Writer's Block blog begins a discussion in which he aims to vindicate St. Cyril of Alexandria and continues in the series, discussing the psychology of Nestorius.
Boniface on the Unam Sanctam Catholicam blog discusses the conservative and progressive nature of the patristic (Catholic) church as well as questioning the Pagan Creep theory. This is a part of a rather long running series on the Fathers from a Roman Catholic perspective.
The Oxford Patristics Conference blog continues to post new abstracts for its conference this summer.
Catholic Online discusses St. Benedict of Nursia and the example which he offers us today in our de-Christianizing West. A good article, but I wonder if 6th century Italy is really an analogy to today...yet. Are things falling apart quite that badly????
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog discusses the Coptic versions of St. John Chyrosthom's Homilies on Hebrews.
mjhoskin on the pocket scroll blog discusses the man and the life of St. Benedict of Nursia as well as the legacy of his famous Rule. He also discusses the definitive (!) proof for the truth of Pope Leo's Tome.
The Son of the Fathers blog discusses St. Athanasius' Letter to Marcellinus, outlining the importance of the Psalms in one's prayer life.
Weekend Fisher on the Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength blog discusses mjhoskin's discussion of typology, giving a Talmudic perspective.
James Pate on James' Thoughts blog discusses an article by R. Davison on the Old Testament and the Church.
That's it for this week. I'll see you next week!
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Under normal conditions, I wouldn't post comments on a book like this. Over the years on the posting on Internet bulletin boards and on blogs, I have found that arguing with someone who is as invincibly and stubbornly atheist as Dawkins is a futile endeavor. As even that irascible North African theologian, Tertullian, says about speaking with hardened opponents"you will lose nothing but your breath, and gain nothing but vexation" (de praescriptione haeriticorum, 17). However, when I'm given a book by someone who wants to hear an opinion (thanks, Victor!) or about which I have an interesting correspondence(that's you, Sean), I do feel an obligation. So, for what its worth, here is what I think.
Dawkins is not unspiritual (whatever that means)
This came as something of a surprise to me. Dawkins' basic issue is with theism, not with spirituality, if we define spirituality as believing in something beyond ourselves or our simple material existence. In God Delusion, this rather amorphous concept of spirituality (arguably, the dominant one in our culture) is reflected in a belief in the universe or nature or something like that. In that sense, Dawkins' belief is in the processes of evolution and physics and such like. His ire is raised by the concept of theism- the belief in a separate God who intervenes in the world which he views not only as preposterous, but, out and out dangerous. Personally, I'm a pretty convinced theist, so I tend to find the spirituality of this book rather abstract and unhelpful as I try to live out my life on a day-to-day basis, but, then, I (the annoying theist)would say that, wouldn't I?
Dawkins continues to fight the great evolution/creationism debates
While happy to heap scorn on religion on general principle, Dawkins keeps his real ammunition for the creationism debates which continue to plague the discourse between religion and science. Now, I'm happy to concede that, in some settings, this is a real debate, especially among the more conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Christians, but it is troubling to me that Dawkin fails to really recognize that most Christians and Christian denomination have long since moved on from this debate and accepted some form of modified evolution. The result is either a resounding "Huh?' from most mainline Christians or a not particularly stifled yawn or a heightened sense of embarrassment that such a debate even remains current. I mean, really, all this creationism is so 19th century!
Of course, this is a bit of flippant response to this section of the book. One of Dawkins' most consistent mantras is that everything is explainable using evolutionary theory which explains his emphasis on that rather oddly speculative field, evolutionary biology. Yet, it is entirely possible to accept that God might have made use of evolution and perhaps we need not get too hung up on the number of days or other details in the Genesis account (which can be read as following an order not unlike evolutionary theories). This would not suit Dawkins, mind you, because he wants Christians to be fundamentalists and scientists to be atheists. Unfortunately, the world is rather less tidy that all that.
Dawkins and Intelligent Believers
A striking element of Dawkins' discussion is his general contempt for the intelligence of religious people. This comes out in several ways including his recommendation of the annoyingly self-congratulatory epithet, brights, as a 'reclaimed' name for atheists (on the analogy of gay or queer for homosexuals- except these worlds were reclaimed from insults, not from complements, making the transformation and the subversity of the reclamation rather more compelling). On the odd occasion that Dawkins has to concede the intelligence of a believer, there is a sense of bemusement of that admission as he's wondering "but he/she seemed so intelligent...."
This is a failure of imagination on Dawkins' part. The inability to accept that one's intellectual opponents may actually have some point in what they're saying and that they are capable of intelligent discourse is a common fault in this culture of ours which enjoys the slap down, rather than the cut-and-thrust of a good debate. It is also central to our post-Enlightenment fixation on 'objective' truth which, really, represents a narrowing of possible intellectual options to one worldview. This, combined with a optimistic view of progress, means that we have to assume that someone who doesn't think like us, must be backward and stupid. This is demonstrably not true, if you have the occasion to read, say, Greek philosophy or, even, (*gasp*) Christian patristics.
Dawkins the fundamentalist?
This particular accusation has been made against 'new Atheism' for a few years now and it evokes a few pages of incensed denial in God Delusion. And that denial isn't necessarily wrong in the sense that fundamentalism is rather a conversational atomic weapon to throw about in a debate. It is not calculated to continue the discussion in a rational way, but rather to obliterate everything within a ten mile radius of the point argued. Yet, there is a family resemblance between the kind of 'scientific' stance which Dawkins takes in this book and fundamentalism. Both are relentlessly literal, seeking objective truth defined in its own terms and seeks to impose that truth on anyone outside the system. The difference is that Dawkins' authority is that authority of science and fundamentalists is in their own writings. The fact that the authority of science is in the ascendancy in our culture shouldn't hide the fact that there are assumptions within this belief system which are not anymore provable than the assumptions in a religious world view. We just accept those assumptions in the 21st century West because they are self-evident, we think. Dawkins' rigidity is not all that different from the rigidity of a fundamentalist in full sermon.
Dawkins the extremist
One of my fundamental issues with polemics of this kind is that they rarely acknowledge the existence of a via media which covers a wider range of beliefs than the extremists ever will. That means that there are a wide range of moderate Christians, Muslims and Jews as well as atheists and agnostics who are genuinely struggling to figure out how to react to religion and to science in a way that is constructive, but sensitive to where they have come from (tradition). And that this producing many different and sometimes beneficial ways of reacting to the world manifested in the actions of Martin Luther King, Gandhi and many, many anonymous do-gooders.
Dawkins, however, wants to have neither truck nor trade with any of this. For him, the problem with agnostics is that they either don't have enough guts to be atheists or they are just too fuzzy headed to recognize the difference between evidence which should produce provisional disbelief and evidence which should suggest a probable no. As for moderate religious people, they are as dangerous as extremists because they encourage the same, distorted evolutionary maladies as extremists even if they won't act on the logical outcomes. All that means is that religious people are caught coming and going. If you're an extremist, you are just acting to type. If you are a moderate, you are just breeding more extremists.
I think this is one of the most troubling aspects of God Delusion because there is no moral nuance, no shades of gray. There is an attempt to polarize here which can only lead to conflict which can, conveniently, be used to justify more polemic. It is also one of those reasons why I kept remember Tertullian's warning quoted above. Richard Dawkins isn't someone who is interested in debate, but rather in obliteration of his opponents. As a good liberal, he wants to argue them into the ground, but that is a form of coercion and, in a sense, violence.
Dawkins and evolutionary biology
I find this also a particularly disturbing section in that Dawkins argues that the impulse to theism is an obsolete evolutionary adaptation whose time has passed. In itself, this could be mere polemic, but the part that disturbs me is his insistence that belief in a God leaves an imprint on brain chemistry. This has two equally disturbing consequences to me. First, to Dawkins, he sees any attempt to influence one's children to belief in God to be something just short of child abuse because it is transmitting an disability (i.e. the disconnection from an atheistic reality) to them. Second, this whole idea of faith and the brain makes me think of the Soviet Union which was known to incarcerate religious figures in insane asylums as their faith was prima facie evidence of their insanity. No, Dawkins does not advocate this, but it is but a hop, skip and a jump to get there from Dawkins' reasoning. And this should be disturbing to anyone who is interested in human rights.
Dawkins the liberal
Ultimately, what saves Dawkins from such totalitarian solutions is that he is, like most academics, a good liberal, who is bound by the concepts of human rights and such like. He may not like us and he will work tooth and nail to prevent religious people from making more inroads into the culture, but he is bound by the limits imposed on him by his post-Enlightenment tradition. So, there are glimpses of toleration, even permitting religious studies in school, albeit as a way to inoculate people from (dead or freshly killed) religion. Still, he is not ungrateful. He is even positively nostalgic about his days at an Anglican boarding school. He would just prefer to see religion fade away.
I could continue on, but, really, those are the most important observations I would make. If, however, you want a chaser, you could do worse than to look up David Bentley Hart's Atheist's Delusion: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, to get the other side. I'm not sure I'm quite with Hart all the time, but his writing is lively and his thinking compelling.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Joe Heschmeyer on Shameless Popery discusses the 'Robber Council' of Ephesus (Ephesus II) and what it says about the criteria for accepting a council as ecumenical. This discussion is based on an entry from June, which I fear I missed ( here it is), which argues that Ephesus II's failure as an ecumenical council was because the Pope opposed it as soon as he heard about it. Well, yes and no. Papal opposition was the final nail in Ephesus II's coffin, but the rejection of the Antiochene delegates who arrived too late to participate in the early part of the council which rehabilitated Eutyches was probably just as important. Maybe the Orthodox were right after all. An ecumenical council actually has to accepted by the full church, not just one faction.
Oxford Patristics continues to publish abstracts for its conference later this summer.
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog discusses the fragments on the Scholia of the Monogenes by St. Cyril of Alexandria.
mjhoskin on the pocket scroll blog discusses Christianization at the time of Justinian in two parts (part one and part two) and problems that this effort made for the Church of the day including making the Church primarily a social insitution and the problem of incomplete Christian education and the survival of 'magic'. In addition, he argues for the promise of typ0logy in enriching our reading of the Bible.
Mike Aubrey on the en epheso blog notes the annoucement of an SBL Greek Language and Linguistics site/blog. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but it soundss interesting for both biblical and patristic scholars.
basically favourable review of Paula Frederickson's Augustine and the Jews.
I hope you enjoyed the entries and see you again next week!
Sunday, July 03, 2011
Al on the Is there Somebody Out There? blog discusses his connection with St. Irenaeus of Lyons.
The RevLife blog presents a patristic catena on the peaceful life.
Proffessor Markus Vincent from the Oxford Patristics (conference) blog posts a plethora of abstracts for the forthcoming Oxford Patristics conference. Far too many to comment on, but, for those in Britain and attending the conference, enjoy!
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog considers Coptic fragments of a sermon attributed variously to Severus of Alexandria, St. Gregory Nazianzus and Hesychius of Jerusalem, a supplentary leaf from a work by Epiphanius of Salamis, additional Coptic works attributed to St. John Chrystostom and notes on the canons of pseudo=Athanasius.
mjhoskin on the pocket scroll blog discusses the need to apply N.T. Wright's concept of a hermenutic of love (probably derived from Augustine's de doctrina ultimately) not only to biblical texts, but to patristic ones, the legacy of '2nd and 3rdgeneration' (wave?) desert monasticism, his thoughts on John Climacus, and discusses two saints of the week, Simeon the Stylite and Shenoute . Wow, I just couldn't keep up with mj, much less the whole list of posts in the last couple weeks.
April DeConick on the Forbidden Gospel blog reviews Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese's new book, The Apocryphal Gospels.
Nick Norellii on the Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth blog lists resources for Syriac Christianity and notes the Church Father's module for Bibleworks 8 (based on the work of amicus noster, Roger Pearse!)
The Bryn Mawr Classical Review blog features a review of Thomas O'Loughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians. and Jörg Ulrich, Anders-Christian Jacobsen, Maijastina Kahlos (ed.), Continuity and Discontinuity in Early Christian Apologetics. Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity
That's is it for this last two weeks. Back to weekly updates next week!
Monday, June 27, 2011
The good news is that the school year is done and not only can I get back to regular TWP's, but I may even manage a few substantive posts of my own. Stay tuned!
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Joe Heschmeyer on the Shameless Popery blog, in part of a post discussing why Protestants become Catholic, notes the historical Evangelical avoidance of the Church Fathers and the impact that the Fathers have on many Evangelicals. Interesting notes about the historical blindness of Evangelicals (clear to anyone who visits a Christian bookstore run by Evangelicals- very little history or even high end theology. It just doesn't sell), but one wonders what to do with the admittedly modest Evangelical Resourcement which has been going on for almost ten years.
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog discusses Coptic fragments of Isaiah of Sketis and a fragment of St. John Chrysothom's Homilies on Romans which gives the apocryphal names of the two thieves crucified with Jesus.
mjhoskin on the pocket scroll blog picks up a comment in the May 30th-June 4th TWP about next steps after introductions to patristics and discusses his recommendations. He also discusses the Roman Catholic ressourcement, beginning from the 1920s, and the monastic resourcement. Both give an excellent review of the scholarship which came out of these ressourcements.
Roger Pearse on his self-named blog discusses manuscripts at Rodosto which included a copy of Eusbeius' treatise against Porphyry with a follow-up discussion on the fate of these manuscripts and his concerns about the authenticity of these manuscripts, a reference to Theodoret in St. John of Damascus, and St. Ambrose's mentions of the cult of Mithras,
Kevin Edgecomb on the biblicalia blog discusses the importance of canonicity (here, the rule of faith) against the 'quest for the historical Jesus'.
Rod (of Alexandria) on the Political Jesus blog discusses
Cynthia on the per caritatem blog discusses St. Augustine's political activism as suggested by his letters in two parts (part one, part two). Thanks, Rod for pointing this one out!
That is all for this week. I hope you enjoyed the entries and keep them coming!
Sunday, June 12, 2011
David Bates on the Restless Pilgrim blog draws parallels between the death of Jesus and the martyrdom of Polycarp.
Alan Suciu on his self-named blog considers a new witness to St. Macarius of Egypt's Spiritual Homilies and more Coptic fragments of Ephrem Graecus.
Roger Pearse on his self-named blog lists the presentations on Eusebius of Caesarea from the last three years of SBL conferences.
Kevin Edgecomb on the biblicalia blog considers the rule of faith and canonicity from an Orthodox perspective.
Rod of Alexandria on the Political Jesus blog considers Elizabeth Johnson's book, The Quest for the Living God as akin to St. Athanasius' work. Since I haven't rad Elizabeth's Johnson's book, I'm not sure I get that, but when has that stopped me from posting.
That is it for this week. See you next week!
Monday, June 06, 2011
Here is this week's TWP. Enjoy the entries!
Jimmy Atkin on his self-named blog directs us to a Facebook group for his book on the Fathers, Fathers Know Best. I haven't read the book, but it is good to see another introduction out there. It does make me wonder what the next step is, now that we have so many competant introductions. He asks how long it took for the Gospels to spread.
Nick Norelli on the Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth blog reviews a collection of essays edited by Bradley G. Green, The Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy. Engaging Early and Mediaeval Theologians
Charles Ellwood Jones on the Ancient World Online blog allerts us to EDENDA, a project for editing the Latin Church Fathers.
Kelly Gerald on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review blog reviews a collection of essays, edited by Immo Dunderburg, on Stoicism in Early Christianity.
Joel on the Unsettled Christianity blog nominates the Council of Nicaea as one of the ten Most Shameful Events in Christian History. Funny, I'm rather partial to that particular Council. Besides, when you think about the rest of the Councils, ecumenical and not, Nicaea was a walk in the park.
John Bugay on the Triablogue blog considers the early papacy in a series of rather polemical articles including linking the papacy to Roman Emperor worship, discussing the views of St Optatus on 'real substance' and the papacy, discussing how critical scholarship dismisses the idea of an early papacy. I didn't link to all the entries on this topic because many dealt with contemporary theology around the papacy. He, also, questions uncritical readings of the Fathers which deny that they disagreed and were sometimes wrong.
Bryan Cross on the Called to Communion blog considers St. Optatus' treatise against Donatists, arguing that the pre-Donatist church was one church united under the Bishop of Rome. Hence, Protestants are in a state of ecclesial deism as they continue their independence from the Pope.
That's it for now. See you next week!
Monday, May 30, 2011
Rod on the Political Jesus blog spots the spectre of Nestorianism rising from behind the theology of Tea Party politics.
Michael F. Bird on the Euangelion blog discusses a new book by Markus Vinzent on the 2nd century view of the Resurrection
J.B. Piggin on the Macro-Typography blog posts his abstract for the Oxford Patristics Conference.
Mike Leake on the Borrowed Light blog reviews Michael Haykin's book, Rediscovering the Church Fathers.
That's it for this week. See you next week with TWP!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Welcome back to the delayed TWP. Thanks to a student conference and the joyful arrival of our second son, Matthew Colin Goulden Snider, I've been unable to gather the forces to do a review. So, here is the two week version. Enjoy!
vjtorley on the Uncommon Descent blog discusses David Bentley Hart's discussion of the 'new Atheists' in which he is critisized for mis-quoting Augustine and, generally, mis-understood the Church Fathers. vjtorley is probably right about the mis-quoting, but I find it telling that most of the examples against Hart's argument that the OT is taken allegorically are from Western fathers, not Eastern ones for which the statement is more true, especially if we are dealing with Alexandrian Fathers.
Ben Griffiths on the Huffington Post Religion blog discusses the reasons why we should learn to love the Church Fathers.
The Exiled Preacher on his self-named blog discusses Alistair McGrath's new book, Heresy. A History of Defending the Truth, which he considers in light of the new popularity of heresy over orthodoxy.
Clint on the 'Saint James' kids' blog considers the contributions of St Irenaeus and Tertullian to our understanding of the Ecclesiology and Christology respectively in three parts (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) A distinctivelly Orthodox take on these two Fathers. Not that that is a problem. Just saying.
John Armstrong on the Acton Institute PowerBlog considers St. Clement of Alexandria's discussion of the problem of riches and wealth with an application to our own issues in the same area.
Alin Siucu on his self-named blog identifies a Coptic 'Lament of the Virgin' fragment found in the British museum as emerging from a homily of Cyriacus, Bishop of Behnesa.
Rick Brannen on the ricoblog considers 2nd Clement's discussion of repentence and the final days in light of the recent predictions of the End for yesterday. 2nd Clement's advice? Repent and act like this is the last day. Sounds vaguley...Biblical.
James Bradford Pate on the James' Thoughts and Musing blog considers Rosemay Ruether's (in Gaia and God)reflection on the postive contributions of Christian ascetics to the environment in Rome.
Joel on the Unsettled Christianity blog reviews the recent IVP Ancient Christian Text offering on the Greek commentaries on Revelation.
That's all I have. I'll be back on track with TWP starting this week, God willing, so stay tuned.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Sunday, May 08, 2011
Kevin Edgecomb on the biblicalia blog features an update of his recommendations from the Popular Patristics series from St. Vladimir's Press. These book sre also a staple for my reading (I"m re-reading the volume on St. John Chrysosthom's sermons about family as the birth of my second son is imminent). They offer accessible and readable translations at a good price.
Father Ted on Father Ted's blog considers the usefulness of patristic authors in our understanding of Adam, highlight, especially, St Athanasius, St. Ephrem Syrus and St. John Chrysosthom.
Nick Norelli no the Rightly Dividing the Gospel of Truth blog considers St. Augustine's contribution to the controversy of the eternal functional subordination of the Son within the Trinity. A good entry, but, ever time I try to twist my head around the Trinity, my head throbs. He also considers St. Epiphanus' Panarion on the Incarnation.
Matthew Hoskin on the Pocket Scroll blog offers a discussion of St. Augustine, Pelagianism and Matthew's own reflections on the subject.
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog considers the Coptic manuscript of St. John Chrysosthom.
April DeConnick on The Forbidden Gospel blog provides a link to online images of the Nag Hammadi collection from Claremont College.
Well, that's it for this week. I'll be a little late for the next installment, as I'm off to my yearly big student conference. I should have things ready for Monday night.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Michael Barber on The Sacred Page blog discusses the Eucharistic theology of St. Irenaeus and St. Ignatius of Antioch. He also compares St. Justin Martyr's account of worship with a video of contemporary worship (I didn't download the video- my wife was watching the royal wedding, so that seemed unwise, but I suspect the comparison isn't favourable)
Apuleius Platonicus on the egregores blog considers the Christian appropriation of Platonism in light of a new book on Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Niketas Siniossoglou's Plato and Theodoret: The Christian Appropriation of Platonic Philosophy and the Hellenic Intellectual Resistance. Apuleius (and presumably, Niketas Siniossoglou) is quite right that a simplistic view of Platonism as a sort of Christianity light is problematic. The relationship is much more complex than that.
Ben Witherington on his Bible and Culture blog features a repost of a discussion of St. John Chrysosthom's hermeneutic of the Old Testament as a shaded picture of what was to come.
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog features a preliminary report on a Coptic papyrus which contains traces of Epiphanius of Salamis' sermon, In divini corporis sepulturam.
Kevin Edgecomb on the biblicalia blog highlights further discussion of Father Alexis Trader's new book on cognitive therapy and the (Desert) Fathers and other activities of Father Alexis. He notes the good news that Father Alexis' new book is selling well, which bodes well for a paper back edition!
Darrell Bock in his Bock's Blog considers Christopher Hill's new book, Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy in a quite favourable and not particularly long review (see his review of Ehrman's book in last update- Yikes!).
Jim Davila n the PaleoJudaica blog recaps the evidence that the notorious Lead Codices are fakes. He also includes a Jordanian newspaper account of experts who have been called in to assess the authenticity of the codices.
Nick Norelli on the Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth blog discusses the Athanasian creed and its understanding of salvation.
Seumus MacDonald on the Compliant Subversity blog considers whether the wood in the Abraham-Isaac sacrifice scene in Genesis 22 is an example of typology as St. John Chrysosthom thought. I think Seumus might be right here that there is typology going on, although, like most typology, probably not intentionally. The thing with typology is that you just don't recognize it until the reality of the type has come.
That is it for this week. Stay tuned for next week on TWP!
Monday, April 25, 2011
I'm starting this edition of 'This Week in Patristics' on Easter Sunday night after the standard busy time which is Holy Week. The week culminates in the 'Triduum triathlon' as we say in our house. In the 'triathlon', we begin with the celebration of the Last Supper and move directly into the arrest of Jesus on Maundy Thursday through Good Friday and the crucifixion to Easter Vigil on Saturday (the most luminous and longest service all year)and, of course, the joy of Easter Day. It is an exhausting, but, at the same time, invigorating three days- three days which remind us what makes Jesus different, condemned to die, only to save us all by defeating death on its own terms.
This Lent and Holy Week has been, of course, marked by the same marketing of religious skepticism (the 'Lead Tablet'- the latest update from PaleoJudaica- and crucifixion nails are this year's installments), but, for me, it has been marked by conversations with friends and colleagues as they wonder what it is that we Christians do in this week. Perhaps it is a query about how depressing Good Friday is (even if we can't get to Easter without it). Perhaps it is wondering who is this Jesus person is? Sometimes it is an agnostic, a Christian and a Muslim (it sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn't it?)sitting around and talking about God. Unlike most weeks of the year, this week is an occasion to talk about God. I'm not sure what was the result of all that talk this week, mind you- I leave that in God's hand-, but it was good to be reminded of the hope and grace which Jesus has taught me over the years.
Meanwhile, to business, patristics this week:
The Secretary-Treasurer of the NAPS (love that acronym- actually, North American Patristics Society) reviews John Leemans, Brian Metz, Stephan Verstraaten eds, Reading Patristics Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for 21st Century Christian Thought. I'm already planning on getting a hold of it from my local university library. I'm excited already!
Alin Suciu on his self-named blog discusses aspects of his research on Coptic Patristics with a discussion of a newly-discovered fragment of the Coptic version of St. Athony's life found at Oxford, the appearence of a fragment of the Pseudo-Gospel of the Twelve Apostles at an auction at Southby's and a discussion of the Asceticon of Abba Isaiah. Thanks to Alin for contacting me. Really, if you want to be sure to appear in this update, contact me!
Rick Brannan on ricoblog features a review of two introductions to the Apostolic Fathers.
Nick Norelli on the Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth blog considers books on crucifixion and Jewish and Christian perceptions of it. He also alerts us to a sale of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers second series on CBD until midnight tonight.
Joel Watts on the Unsettled Christianity blog considers the Catholic reading of Matthew 16, 17-19 in the light of St. Cyprian.
Steve on Triablogue assembles Derrell Bock's chapter by chapter review of Bart Ehrman's book, Forged.
That is about it for this week. Hope you enjoyed the offerings.
The Lord is risen indeed!
Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Catholic Culture.org blog notes the suggestion of an Orthodox official that modern psychology could benefit from reading the Church Fathers.
Joel on the Christian Watershed blog discusses the shortcoming of conservative evangelicals and emergent Christians and challenges them to read the Fathers and nothing but the Fathers for a year (complete with reading list). Not a bad idea. Thanks to Darrel Pursiful on the Doctor Playtpus blog who pointed out this entry and notes the Reformer's debt to the Fathers.
Father Ernesto Obregon on the Ortho-Cuban blog considers humility, the pastor and St. John Climacus.
Roger Pearse on his self-named blog discusses the frequently repeated charge that Eusebius of Caesarea and St. Basil both attacked science. Pearse tracks down the charges, searches out the references used to back them and, in the course of doing so, raises real doubt about whether the comments are attacks on science or against novelty or allegory respectively. Thus, proving my contention that, if you're not quite sure that an argument quite works, you should always dig through the references.
Larry Hurtado on his self-named blog discusses a Early Christian 'Testimonia' text from Oxyrhenchus. HT to Jim Davila on the PaleoJudaica blog.
That is it for now. Hope you enjoy the entries and please remember to pass along any mentions you run into as you surf. Next Sunday is Easter, of course, so I'm not guaranteeing that I'll post right on Sunday. I'll have the update by Monday night, I should think. Peace, Phil
Monday, April 11, 2011
Ben Witherington on his Bible and Culture blog takes a detailed look at the discussion about forgery in early Christianity in Bart Erhrman's new book, Forged, in three parts (Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three). Both Ehrman and Witherington are talking mostly about Biblical texts, but there is enough patristic content to include here. He also includes a discussion about the much vexed lead tablets from Jordan.
Mark Stevens on the Near Emmaus blog reviews David Alan Black's Why Four Gospels?
Seraphim Holland on the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church blog considers St. Mary of Egypt by numbers.
A.Z. Foreman on his Poems in Translation blog writes a blistering critique of early and late Christianity. He's not wrong about a lot of the sins of Christianity, but he relentlessly refuses to see any good coming out of Christianity either. And he has enough Classical learning to back up his argument. Mind you, he is way to one-sided, but that happens.
Michelle Van Loon on the Englewood Review of Books blog reviews Brant Petre's book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist from the point of view of a Messianic Jew.
The next update in the Patristics blogging world is coming out next Sunday. See you then! Peace, Phil