1. We have added a Gift Upgrades feature that allows you to gift an account upgrade to another member, just in time for the holiday season. You can see the gift option when going to the Account Upgrades screen, or on any user profile screen.
    Dismiss Notice

Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Chieftain

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2007
    Messages:
    8,194
    Location:
    Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Were any Greeks monotheistic?

    2. By the time of Jesus, about what percentage of Romans believed the Greco-Roman religion, with Jupiter, Neptune, Juno, etc.?

    3. When did the idea of atheism first come about?

    4. (Personal, you don't need to answer it if you don't want to) Are you yourself an atheist, deist, theist, or something else?
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    Sorry to be a while replying. Happy New Year everyone!

    Basically, I don't know. I know that "inquire"/"enquire" obviously comes from quaero ("I seek"), and a bit of Internet searching reveals that "quire" in the sense you give comes from quaternum. So it doesn't seem that they're linked. There are masses of words in Latin that begin "qu-" - all "question" sorts of words do - so I don't think there's any particular reason to see links between them. But I don't know much about this sort of thing. You'd be better off asking some of the linguists here!

    If you mean the Asian churches at the end of the first century or start of the second - in the time of John of Patmos and also, perhaps, the Didache - then I don't think that any of the churches you mention are much like them. The texts that are associated with these churches at that time testify to what sounds like quite a primitive, informal style of church leadership. Here's a brief bit I wrote about this recently:

    As a general rule, I think that the Orthodox churches are closest to the early church, at least in doctrine and style, but of course these churches are very hierarchical in structure, which does not seem very close to the system suggested here. In fact I'm not sure that any churches today have anything like the "wandering prophets" system, although some African churches in the first half of the twentieth century did.

    Maimonides answered this well already. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were around at the time of Jesus and the first generation of Christians. But Rabbinic Judaism did not yet exist (this is why John's Gospel is anachronistic to suggest that people addressed Jesus as "Rabbi"). The Sadducees ceased to exist after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. The Pharisees survived and seem to have had a great influence on the formation of Rabbinic Judaism, which came into existence at the end of the first century AD and would later become the dominant kind of Judaism.

    As for whether many Jews responded favourably to Christianity, no-one knows. The traditional view is that very few did, and that after the first couple of generations Christianity was almost exclusively non-Jewish. Some scholars have argued that this happened even earlier, right from the very first days. But others have argued that in fact Christianity remained almost entirely Jewish not simply throughout the first century but until after the time of Constantine, in the fourth century. The fact that there is such diversity of views on this indicates how little we know and how contradictory some of the evidence is. One of the problems is that when people ask questions like this they tend not to say what they mean by "Jewish". The fact that this word can have all kinds of different meanings inevitably means that there can be different answers to the question even without material disagreement.

    Speaking "in tongues" normally means speaking in what sounds like gibberish: it is believed that this is a kind of angelic language which God causes the speaker to use. This is a characteristic element of Pentecostalism - in fact the Pentecostal movement is often thought to have begun on 1 January 1901, when Agnes Ozman, one of the students of Charles Parham who started the movement, began unexpectedly speaking in tongues. Initially, some Pentecostalists thought that the "tongues" were real languages, such as Hindi or Chinese, and that God had given people the ability to speak languages they did not know. Parham believed that mission would now become much easier as missionaries would not have to learn languages before travelling overseas. Unfortunately for them it proved not to be the case!

    That depends on what you mean by "Greeks". Are you talking about pagan Greeks before the time of Christianity? If so, then there is a good case for saying that figures such as Plato and Aristotle were effectively monotheists, in at least some sense. But it also depends on what you mean by "monotheist". Was Plotinus a monotheist? In some senses, but not in others.

    I don't know that - I doubt anyone could - but certainly pretty much everyone paid at least some kind of lip service to it. Given that it was illegal not to do so, this was inevitable. But of course it would have meant different things to different people.

    That also depends on what you mean by "atheism". In antiquity this meant not paying appropriate homage to the traditional gods, so anyone who refused to sacrifice to them - such as the Christians - were considered "atheists". I don't think there were many people who actually denied that any gods existed. The Epicureans were sometimes considered to hold this view, but I don't think they really did.

    It's very hard to say whether anyone actively denied the existence of any God or gods in antiquity or the Middle Ages. Certainly atheism was considered a possible view in some sense, because philosophers constructed arguments against it. But I don't think it is possible to know whether they did so in an attempt to convince actual atheists of the existence of God, or merely as a sort of intellectual exercise, akin to Descartes' attempt to prove the existence of the physical world.

    In modern times, "atheism" originally meant the leading of an immoral or irreligious lifestyle, like that of the Earl of Rochester. It later came to mean someone who denies that God exists, but many people had difficulty distinguishing between these two senses. "Atheism" as we understand it really only took off in the eighteenth century, and even then it was only among certain groups of intellectual aristocrats. I don't think that atheism as we understand it became very widespread until the twentieth century.

    These days I would probably describe myself as an agnostic. I'm inclined to think that reductive atheism in the normal sense assumes too great an ability of the human mind to know truths about the non-phenomenal world, although I'm not inclined to think that theism in the normal sense is very likely either.
     
  3. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2005
    Messages:
    42,018
    Location:
    Pale Blue Dot youtube=wupToqz1e2g
    I've recently seen some comparison between Horus and Jesus, but I don't trust the source. Are the comparisons strong? And how concrete could this evidence be, considering the age of the faith regarding Horus?
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    You'd have to be more specific about what the supposed comparisons are. Obviously Jesus and Horus have some things in common - for example, both were worshipped as gods. But equally obviously they are different in important respects as well. The greatest difference is that Horus was simply a god, and the events of his life occurred in a mythic pre-history or in a sort of parallel, cyclic mythic time, whereas Jesus was a particular individual from a recent period in history who did things at a historically determinate place and time. In fact this seems to have been a unique feature of Jesus compared to other gods that were worshipped in antiquity, and is one of the things that makes Christianity unusual among ancient religions.

    That depends on what you think it's evidence for.
     
  5. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2005
    Messages:
    42,018
    Location:
    Pale Blue Dot youtube=wupToqz1e2g
    The idea that many of the myths around Jesus had been seen around Horus first. Born of a virgin. Killed and resurrected. Calming the storm. Sermon on the Mount. Visited by magi as a baby. i.e., a whole bunch of the Jesus story was borrowed from Horus mythology.
     
  6. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2005
    Messages:
    32,609
    Location:
    Moscow
    What's the difference between the 'original' Manichaeans and the Bogomils? Were the latter just a revival of the concept in Eastern Europe or were they a revision of sorts, and if so what particular doctrines (if they can be called that) were changed?
     
  7. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,059
    Location:
    In orbit
    Many 'Christian' notions are simply incorporated into Christian theology from older religions. (One might even say that there's not an original thought in Christianity that's not taken from earlier religions; with this, there's a similarity to the Roman pantheon, which simply incorporated earlier or 'barbaric' religious ideas into a Roman overlay.) Also, many of these myths weren't a part of Jesus' ideas during his lifetime, but became part of the Messiah myths intended to show that he was the Son of God - later even God himself, as in the Holy Trinity doctrine.
     
  8. tycoonist

    tycoonist Chieftain

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2006
    Messages:
    3,480
    Location:
    London
    it is not so much a philosophical question, but i guess it has philosophical meaning of a kind. In 1935, physicist Schrodinger proposed a thought experiment called popularly Schrodinger's Cat.

    In it he proposes, due to lack of observatory evidence, that the cat both is alive and dead. As a philosopher, would you subscribe to what is proposed here? What philosophical problems would this pose? (N.B. this experiment has never been carried out, but could be within our current technology.)

    EDIT: i suppose this question is not really related to theology, but i would be interested in a philosopher's answers.
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    I don't really know much about Egyptian religion, so I'm not competent to say whether these things were really believed of Horus. Without access to reliable sources my initial reaction is to be sceptical. One sees claims of this kind all over the Internet, sometimes about Horus, sometimes about Mithras, and so on. They rarely give sources for the claims, and when they do, they are usually nineteenth- or early twentieth-century secondary literature. Now I know for a fact that the claims you often see about Mithras (he was born in a stable, he rose from the dead, etc) are just not true. Where there are similarities between him and Jesus they are mostly minor or to be expected from anyone worshipped as a god. So I would tend to expect the same thing to turn out to be the case with other supposed "originals" of Jesus such as Horus, but right now at least I can't say anything more authoritative on that particular case.

    However, I can at least point out a general difference between the claims made about Jesus and those made about other ancient gods. As I said before, the stories about Horus, Mithras, and so on are firmly in the category of myth. They are not set at particular times or places. The characters are not human beings, but legendary heroes or gods. The events are of cosmic significance and intended to express fundamental truths about human nature, cosmic nature, or particular facts of nature such as why deserts are arid, why the Nile floods, and so on. It is not clear if the events are supposed to have happened in an impossibly distant past or if they are supposed to occur timelessly in a sort of parallel mythic timeline. It is not even clear if they happen once for all or if they recur constantly, perhaps following an annual cycle.

    None of these things is true of the stories told about Jesus. Jesus was a particular historical figure who lived at a particular historical time and place. The Gospels do not read anything like the mythic literature (to the extent that that survives) associated with other ancient religions. There certainly is Christian literature of that kind, most notably gnostic literature describing events in the Pleroma and suchlike, but the Gospels are really nothing like it.

    To put it another way, you can, perhaps, make it seem like there are striking parallels between the things believed of Jesus and the things believed of other gods if you take those beliefs out of context, turn them into brief summaries, and set them side-by-side in neat columns, as amateur religious historians on the Internet so love to do. But you don't really demonstrate much of interest by doing that. If you look at the actual texts and bodies of narrative in which these beliefs are embedded, the supposed similarities are much harder to spot. And of course they will be surrounded by striking dissimilarities too.

    I don't think that this is true. I mentioned above that many of these theories that Christian beliefs about Jesus were taken from pagan beliefs about other gods seem to appeal to nineteenth- or early twentieth-century scholarly literature, not recent scholarship. That is because notions such as this were very much in vogue at that time. A group of German scholars, in particular, known as the "history of religions" school, developed these ideas. Their methodology was based, in part, upon the supposition that ideas are transmitted from one religion to another, and that innovation is rare; so the content of one religion can generally be explained more or less fully by reference to earlier or contemporary religions as sources for it. They applied this to Christianity and concluded that everything in Christianity came from pagan religion.

    Most scholars over the past fifty years or so have rejected these ideas. This was partly because they have rejected the underlying assumptions - that religions develop only by nicking stuff from other religions - and also because there is much greater recognition both of the differences between Christianity and pagan religions and of the originality of Christian theologians in developing ideas fairly autonomously. The points I made above about supposed "originals" of Jesus in other religions are generally accepted today, I think. Also, where Christianity is seen to have taken ideas from earlier religions, scholars have been much more likely to see Judaism as the source rather than paganism. In fact this tendency reached a peak perhaps twenty or thirty years ago, with some scholars seeing pretty much everything in Christianity as coming from Judaism; the pendulum has perhaps swung somewhat the other way since then, with a more balanced view.

    Personally, however, I do think that the parallels between Christianity and Judaism, especially certain ideas that were knocking around in Judaism in the first or second centuries AD, are far greater than the supposed parallels between Christianity and pagan religions. It seems unnecessarily complicated to try to draw great comparisons between the Christian view of Jesus and the Egyptian view of Horus, when even if such comparisons are reasonable there is no reason to suppose that Christians were notably influenced by traditional Egyptian religion, when instead you could focus on the very obvious comparisons between the Christian view of Jesus and the Jewish view of Enoch and Metatron as developed in the later Enochian literature, when we know that Christianity did take rather a lot of stuff from Judaism.

    This doesn't make much sense to me. "Messiah" has got nothing to do with "Son of God", and the doctrines supposedly drawn from pagan religions have got nothing to do with either of them. The doctrine of the Trinity is quite distinct again. In fact the doctrine of the Trinity is a good example of something unique to Christianity, which developed within Christianity as a result of various pressures and influences, but mostly internal to the religion. Certainly it was originally inspired - to some extent - by ideas drawn from pagan philosophy (not pagan popular religion so much), but it developed according to a Christian logic of its own. Again, in the nineteenth century it was fashionable to try to draw parallels between the Christian Trinity and things such as Plotinus' three hypostases, but again, the similarities were largely shallow and the differences very deep.

    An even better example would be the doctrine of the incarnation. I don't think any other ancient religion had anything quite like the notion of a fully divine person becoming fully human and retaining both natures at once. Indeed, the notions of "person" and "nature", in which the doctrine was couched, were developed largely by Christian theologians for the purpose of expressing the doctrine.

    I think this is a very poorly understood area, so there isn't a definitive answer to this question. Basically, no-one really knows what happened to the Manichaeans, exactly, or where the Bogomils got their ideas from, so your question is almost impossible to answer. It may be that the Bogomils were a revival of Manichaeanism, or they may have been quite independent. It is also possible that they were influenced by the Paulicians. The problem is that we know even less about the Paulicians than we do about both the Bogomils and the Manicheans - we don't even know if the Paulicians were dualists or not, whereas we are at least pretty certain that the others were. If the Paulicians were dualists, then there may have been a fairly straight line of influence from Manichaeans to Paulicians to Bogomils. If they weren't, the influence may have gone from the Manicaeans direct to the Bogomils - or it may not.

    Extending the problem in both directions in time, it is also uncertain where the early gnostics fit into this, and also where the later Cathars fit in. It is unknown whether the Manichaeans took ideas from the gnostics or arrived at similar ideas independently, and it's uncertain whether Bogomils fleeing Byzantine persecutions helped to inspire the Cathars in western Europe.

    Part of the problem is that dualism of the kind that characterised most of these movements seems to be the sort of idea that tends to crop up quite often anyway. To explain dualist ideas in one group you don't have to posit influence from another dualist group, because most people seem to be quite capable of developing such ideas without outside help. So it is very hard to say.

    This is another thing I don't know much about! You really need to ask a philosopher of science, which I am not. However, as I understand it, Schrodinger didn't propose that the cat in the experiment would really be both alive and dead at the same time. The point was that the Copenhagen school of quantum physics thought that subatomic particles could be in different, contradictory states at the same time, until the contradiction is resolved by someone observing them, at which point they "flip" into just one of the states. Schrodinger's thought experiment was supposed to show that this view leads to absurd consequences, because you could set things up so that the state of the subatomic particle determines whether the cat is alive or dead, unobserved in the box. If the particle can really be in two states at once then the cat would be really dead and really alive at once, until someone opens the box and causes the particle to "flip" to just one state, and the cat with it. But this is obviously ridiculous, so there must be something wrong with the Copenhagen claim.

    Clearly you couldn't prove things either way by actually carrying out the experiment, because the whole point is that the particle and the cat are unobserved. As soon as you look to see whether the cat is dead or alive, the Copenhagen theory would say that you determine which it is. The point is that it is surely obvious that the cat must be either actually dead or actually alive even when it is unobserved, no matter what subatomic particles you've got it hooked up to.

    It seems to me that it is pretty easy to derive absurd consequences of this kind from the original supposition that something can be in two contradictory states at the same time until an observer resolves the contradiction simply by making an observation. For example, how do you define "observer" and what counts as making an observation?

    Of course there have been plenty of philosophers who have proposed that the physical world is mind-dependent. I suppose that George Berkeley is the most famous, but similar views can be found among ancient Neoplatonists and also among Hegelians. But these forms of idealism all propose that physical objects are actually constituted from mental objects, such as ideas. They don't propose that physical objects are independent of the mind and yet also dependent on the mind to determine what states they are in, as the Copenhagen physicists proposed. That seems to me to be a strange half-way house between physicalism and idealism, open to the objections made against both yet without anything of its own to recommend it. But then I don't know much about physics so I don't know what led the physicists to propose such an idea in the first place.
     
  10. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Chieftain

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2007
    Messages:
    8,194
    Location:
    Boston, Massachusetts
    Plotinus is just awesome.
     
  11. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,059
    Location:
    In orbit
    Nor do I think I was implying that.

    The notion of the Holy Trinity can indeed be viewed as an example of Christian theological innovation of an existing idea, i.e. the incarnation of a divine being, which, unlike you are stating, was quite common in antiquity: Horus, Mithras, and various fertility gods which are brought back to life on a yearly basis to celebrate new life. So, as I was stating, nothing new there. That theological development after Jesus was extensive, is ofcourse obvious. In fact this development has taken Christianity further and further away from the original message as supposedly preached by Jesus. Two examples being the "Son of God" (as being identical to God) and. more importantly, the development of a Christian church as such; it is highly questionable that an eschatological preacher like Jesus - expecting the end of the world - would be interested in the establishment of a religion based on the veneration of himself. And as you yourself admit, "pagan" philosophy and ideas from Judaism played an important part in the so-called Christian theology. (How could it not? There was virtually little else to build upon as Christian theology didn't exist at the time Jesus died.)
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    Well, first, the doctrine of the Trinity is quite distinct from the doctrine of the Incarnation. One could easily believe one of them and not the other. The doctrine of the Trinity is the notion that one God exists in three persons, while the doctrine of the incarnation is that a divine person has become human.

    Second, I don't see any connection between the doctrine of the incarnation and Horus, Mithras, or the fertility gods you allude to. Neither Horus nor Mithras was believed to be a human being. They were both gods who, as I said before, performed their godly activities in mythological time. I don't believe there is any evidence of any belief on the part of their worshippers that they were historical figures who lived at particular times in history, let alone that they were both fully human and fully divine.

    Now one can certainly point to elements in ancient religion which parallel the notion of incarnation in some ways. For example, the ancient eastern belief that kings were divine in some way, which was later taken over by the Roman emperors, has certain similarities. There you have a human being who is believed to be (somehow, and in some way) divine. This is especially the case when it is applied to emperors even during their lifetime. However, this was hardly a fully-worked-out doctrine of incarnation. As far as I know, no pagan ever wrote anything like Tertullian's On the flesh of Christ on the subject of what it meant to say that the emperor was divine.

    Certainly Christian theology developed enormously in both the decades and the centuries following Jesus, although one could argue that it always remained rooted in the original proclamation of his disciples, who had after all known him and his message. But that's not really to the point. More important is the fact that it didn't need to get everything from outside influences. That was the fundamental mistake of the "history of religions" scholars - they had no concept of theological innovation or creativity. But in fact people are perfectly capable of coming up with new ideas of their own and then developing them within their own traditions. The doctrine of the incarnation within Christianity seems to me a good example of that. One can argue about the original roots of that doctrine, that is, why the first Christians believed what they did about Jesus. But the subsequent evolution of that doctrine - from the original proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah and had been raised and exalted by God, to the final doctrine that Jesus is identical with the pre-existent Son, fully divine, but also fully human, with two distinct natures, which are united in one hypostasis, without mingling or confusion - occurred within Christianity.

    The factors which influenced that development were within Christian theology itself. For example, one of the main reasons why Christians became convinced that Jesus must have been fully human and fully divine was that they believed that salvation comes through Jesus. And they believed that salvation is a matter of humanity being divinised. And they believed that that could occur only if divinity and humanity had literally been joined in a single person. So the notion of Jesus' two natures - fully divine and fully human - developed as a way of defending and explaining this fundamentally soteriological aspect of Christianity. That is why, if you study the development of doctrines such as this in detail, you can see how they develop according to an internal logic which is rooted in the spiritual tradition which they address, and are not simply cobbled together by nicking ideas from other people.

    That's not to say that there is no cross-fertilisation, of course. There was plenty and there still is. There are many elements in Christianity which came from paganism, Judaism, and perhaps other traditions too. My point, however, is that it is far too extreme to suggest that everything in Christianity comes from such sources. But to see that fully I think one has to really immerse oneself in the early Christian texts and see how these ideas developed first-hand, or as close to first-hand as is possible. One has to see that these are not arid doctrines or speculations but arise out of spiritual experiences, those of individuals and also of cohesive societies too. Doctrine, spiritual experience, and practice form a closely knitted weave which cannot be unpicked without doing violence to it. That's why, as I said before, it is misleading to pluck doctrines from different religions, place them side by side, and conclude that they're just the same.
     
  13. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,059
    Location:
    In orbit
    Well, first, if Jesus isn't considered divine - he certainly wasn't during his lifetime - the idea of the Holy Trinity is absurd. It would seem then they are intimately connected. This is linked with what you ascertain hereafter:

    I'm unfamiliar with this work of Tertullian, but it seems obvious there was no need to explain what it meant to say that the emperor was divine as it was - as is obvious from ancient religions - quite a well-known concept, unlike the Christian concept of the dual nature of Jesus, a concept that had to be explained and defined quite extensively, both because of its absurdity and because it wasn't the ruling idea in the first place, just one of rivalling schools of thought on such matters. I'm sure you are aware that early (and later) Christianity was rife with conflicting ideas - first as Christian theology had to be invented to define it from similar religions, second to ascertain primacy and/or orthodoxy.

    Which is not something I did: I merely mentioned there are similarities. To start with your first remark: ofcourse Christian theology developed extensively after Jesus died - it didn't exist yet. As pointed out before, early Christianity was virtually indistinct from certain Judaic sects.

    "one could argue that it always remained rooted in the original proclamation of his disciples, who had after all known him and his message." One could, but one would find great dificulty in proving one's case; the development of Christian theology is in many ways a movement away from the original message Jesus brought according to the Gospels. In fact theological development was necessary - along with falsification or "correction" of the original texts - to synthesize Jesus' original message (which contains little or no original thought as concerns theology) with the extensive development of "Christian" thought thereafter. Now, is this inventive? In one way it certainly is. Is it innovation? That's another matter. The Protestant and Orthodox churches would consider certain Roman-Catholic doctrines blaspemous or heretical. In fact, one of the reasons of the development of Protestant churches lies in the fact that Roman-Catholicism had - in practice as well in theory - grown very distinct from Jesus' original message.

    "So the notion of Jesus' two natures - fully divine and fully human - developed as a way of defending and explaining this fundamentally soteriological aspect of Christianity." That's one way of looking at it, and quite an original one at that. (By the way "soteriological aspect of Christianity" actually only means that Christ - Christos in the original Greek - means Saviour.)

    Ofcourse - over time - Christian theology developed original ideas. What I was referring to however, is that early Christianity contained little original ideas.

    Now, I have no problem with a theologian defending (Christian) theology, but I'd appreciate if you stuck to the facts. For instance, I'm not sure why you are so adamant about historians of theology not understanding certain concepts of (Christian) theology. I'll leave references to "nicking" ideas and such for what they are.
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    I don't see how the absurdity or otherwise of the Trinity depends upon the divinity of Jesus. If the doctrine of the Trinity is absurd, it is absurd whether you believe Jesus was divine or not.

    Now of course, the belief that Jesus was divine (and yet not identical with God the Father) was one of the driving motivations behind the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. But that is a different matter.

    You may say that if you don't believe Jesus to have been divine, you would have no reason to believe in the Trinity either. That might be a reasonable point, but it is not the same thing as saying that without the divinity of Jesus the Trinity is absurd.

    Also, of course, defenders of the Trinity have developed arguments for its truth without reference to Jesus. I suppose the most famous of these was that of Richard of St Victor, who argued that it is in the nature of love to be other-regarding. If God is essentially love, then he must be essentially loving someone. But God is also self-sufficient and needs nothing else in order to be what he essentially is. So for these two conditions to be met, God must be multiple in some way - there must be at least two of him. Furthermore, it is in the nature of perfect love to co-produce. If there are two divine persons, who love each other perfectly, there must therefore be a third, who is generated from both. In recent times Richard Swinburne has resuscitated something like this argument. I don't think much of it in detail, to be honest; in particular I don't see any reason to think that perfect love must be productive of anything. But I do think that the notion that God is love, combined with the notion that love must be essentially other-regarding, does at least provide a powerful motivation for something at least vaguely like the doctrine of the Trinity. That's quite apart from any considerations about Jesus.

    Then I'm not sure what you're trying to argue. It sounds now as if you're saying that the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation at we know it was quite distinct from other ideas in both Christianity and other religions. In which case there is no disagreement between us.

    I don't think that Christian doctrine was developed in order to assert primacy or orthodoxy, as you suggest. I think that it was developed because people believed it to be true and enormously significant, and they wished to state it as clearly as possible to safeguard against what they saw as distortions of this truth. So orthodoxy was a result of this intent rather than its motive. But perhaps this is not so different from what you meant to say.

    I don't know why you say that the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation is absurd. Really it entirely depends upon what one means by "nature". But the Christian theologians had many understandings of this word, some of which they developed themselves and which were quite different from previous understandings of it. That was one of the reasons for all the confusion, of course. But it also means that it's rather jumping the gun just to label it all with the blanket evaluation of absurdity.

    You did say that "One might even say that there's not an original thought in Christianity that's not taken from earlier religions", but still, I was talking about the kind of argument that El_Machinae mentioned.

    I'm not sure which sects you're talking about there. In fact there were many distinctive things about (very) early Christianity. I don't believe there is any evidence of any contemporary Jewish sect which claimed that the Messiah had come, been killed, and risen again. Certainly there were some elements of Messianic speculation (which was not a mainstream concern of most Jews at the time) which held that when the Messiah came he would be killed, but nothing like the primitive Christian conception. I mentioned before that there were similarities between the Christian proclamation and some of the speculation concerning Enoch in the later books of that name, especially those that portray Enoch as having been taken into heaven and transformed into the angelic being Metatron, who is so exalted he is described as second power in heaven. Obviously there are clear parallels to the Christian idea that God had exalted Jesus at his resurrection. But again, Enoch never died - that was the whole reason why there was so much speculation about him. And he wasn't thought to be the Messiah either.

    Doctrinal issues apart, early Christianity was also quite distinctive in its practices. For example, there is no evidence that Judaism, at this time, involved baptism, except for John the Baptist himself. Judaism seems to have developed the practice of initiatory washing later in the first century, but this differed from Christian baptism in that the person did it to himself. It also post-dated Christian baptism and may have been developed in imitation of it.

    Of course the Christian proclamation is not, and never was, the same as what Jesus himself taught, but there's no inherent contradiction in that. After all, the Christian proclamation is a message about Jesus, so to the extent that Jesus didn't talk about himself (and he doesn't seem to have, much) it would obviously differ. Personally I think that there was probably greater continuity between Jesus' preaching and that of the early Christians than most people think. That is, after all, what one would intrinsically expect, but it's also borne out by a careful study of Paul, for example, who seems on the surface to be very different from Jesus but who has interesting similarities in his teaching. For example, one of the key elements of Jesus' teaching seems to have been the tension between the "now" and the "not yet" of the kingdom of God, which is both the seed that is planted today and the harvest that is coming tomorrow. You find the same idea in Paul, who speaks of death to sin and the transformation of resurrection as something that happens in this life and also as something to anticipate in the next one. That's not to say that there were no differences between Jesus' teaching and Paul's, of course - naturally there were many great differences. I'm just arguing that one shouldn't exaggerate them too much. Besides, there is great debate over the meaning of early Christian texts such as Paul's letters anyway - and even greater debate over what Jesus even said, let alone what he meant by it - which means that any claim about the relation between early Christian theology and Jesus' own preaching is going to be more or less uncertain anyway.

    But still, these things aren't really to the point. I'm more puzzled by your claim that "original texts" got falsified in order to bring Jesus' teaching into line with later Christian theology. What original texts are you talking about? What do you think happened to them?

    Really "soteriological" just means pertaining to salvation. However, there's nothing original about my claim that orthodox christology developed because of soteriological concerns. If you actually read the works of the key theologians who developed it, such as Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, or Maximus the Confessor, you'll find that they bang on about this all the time. Their whole point is invariably that the doctrine of Christ which they seek to defend is essential if salvation is to occur:

    Most famously, when arguing that Christ had a human soul, Gregory of Nazianzus stated that "The unassumed is the unhealed." In other words, if Christ did not have a human soul, then no human soul was restored and divinised in the incarnation. In which case, no human soul can ever hope to be saved. But salvation is possible for all elements of human nature, both body and soul; therefore Christ must have had a human soul. This is exactly how the church fathers reasoned, and they were generally quite explicit about it. When I say that doctrines of this kind tended to develop according to a logic that is largely internal to the spiritual tradition in which they are rooted, I'm not just making wild speculation. This is what one finds in the texts.

    I don't think that's a very helpful comment and I don't know why you feel the need to make it. I'm happy to argue about these things here, hopefully with the aim of mutual illumination, and I hope that the arguments or claims don't seem unnecessarily brusque, although perhaps sometimes they do, for which I apologise. But there is no need to accuse me of not sticking to the facts - in my previous posts I was trying to point out precisely some key facts which seem to count against the thesis that all or most of Christian doctrine was taken from other religions. These are difficult to set out clearly, especially in a forum such as this, for precisely the reasons I explained: theology is not a series of discrete doctrines but a complicated web of interconnected ideas which often cannot be studied in isolation from each other without misunderstanding.

    That is why I said that nineteenth-century scholars of the "history of religions" school (and not historians of theology in general, as you seem to have thought me to be saying) misunderstood not simply the relation of early Christianity to other religions but the nature of theology itself. I think most scholars today would share this assessment, which is why not only are the claims in question no longer defended by most scholars now, but those who propounded them are even known by a particular label. I think I've stated quite clearly why I think historians of that school were wrong.
     
  15. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2004
    Messages:
    10,649
    Location:
    an ecovillage in madagascar
    The Swinburne argument bothers me perhaps more than any other philosophical argument that gets taken seriously. I like what Peter Smith (Cambridge logician) had to say about it:

     
  16. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2006
    Messages:
    16,059
    Location:
    In orbit
    I don't see the necessity of an object (or subject) for perfect love. Compare it to an energy: even if unharnassed, it's still forceful - it's still there. (If the sun din't have any satellite bodies, it would still shine - just unnoticed.)

    It doesn't.

    I really don't see how without the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus the doctrine of the Holy Trinity would make any sense. I seem to remember you pointing out that it concerns three persons of the same divinity. That would imply that all three persons are divine. (I am not considering the additional doctrine of the dual nature of Jesus, which is irrelevant here, as one of Jesus' natures is, also, divine.)

    Not necessarily: pure or essential love needs no object. (In which case love goes wasted, but that is beside the point.) You seem to follow the same line of thought when speaking of perfect love not needing to be productive of anything below. (Though I would disagree on love not being productive: love unnoticed is still a productive force, whether it is picked up on or not.)

    I honestly don't see any obvious connection between the notion of a Godly love and the Holy Trinity. If God is in need of a loving object, humanity seems the obvious "other" (as is suggested by the Gospels - rather than the Torah).

    I didn't mean to imply - if that was the impression - that incarnation is an absurdity, as I pointed out other examples of this notion in various non-Christian contexts, though I would suggest that the Christian version is quite original.

    Fair enough.

    I've read and taken into account the rest of your comment, so I won't argue again or go into it in detail, except for one thing: you mentioned earlier that early Christianity and what one might refer to as Judaism (which as such hadn't really crystallized yet either) were virtually indistinct for the casual observer or contemporanean (if I may paraphrase your words like this). The messianic belief itself then was not particular to early Christianity (as it derived from Judaic thought), only the belief that the Messiah had arrived in the form of Jesus (which obviously was and isn't shared by the majority of Jews). In this sense early Christianity can be viewed as one of several Jewish sects, some of which are known through the tales of John the Baptist and the Dead Sea scrolls (the Essenes, to which John may or may not have belonged).

    Furthermore, there is a an essental distinction between Jesus' personal beliefs and early and later Christianity, which basically developed in different directions (and perhaps had to, but I'll not go into that here.)
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    I only presented Richard of St Victor's argument as an illustration of why someone might believe in the Trinity without basing that belief upon the belief that Jesus was divine - I'm not defending it myself. However, I think I would agree with the premise that love requires an object. Loving isn't like shining; it is a transitive verb. To say "The sun shines" does not raise the question "Shines on what?" but to say "I love" does raise the question "You love what?" I don't think it makes sense to say that someone loves without saying that they love something, any more than it makes sense to say that you see without seeing something or that you slap without slapping something. Of course someone could have a loving disposition without actually loving something, just as someone can have the power of sight without actually seeing something. But the doctrine that God is love means not simply that God is capable of love but that he actually loves. Remember that in traditional Christian theology there is no potentiality in God - he is pure act. If he is love, then, he must be actually loving, and if he is actually loving, there must be an object of that love. Love is essentially other-regarding.

    You could believe that God exists in three persons without also believing that one of those persons became incarnate, or is identical with Jesus, or anything of the kind. It is one thing to say that God exists in three persons - it is another thing to identify one of those persons with a particular human being or indeed anything else. As a parallel, consider the fact that many philosophers in late antiquity, such as Plotinus, believed in different (quasi-) divine entities or hypostases without also believing that one of those entities became human. That is not to say that Plotinus' three hypostases are the same as the Christian Trinity, because they are not, but there are obviously some parallels. It illustrates that one could believe that sort of thing without requiring any belief in incarnation.

    The problem with that is that if God is essentially loving (ie, he could not be God without being loving), and if he can only be loving if humanity exists, then it follows that God could not be God without humanity. But that contradicts the belief that God chose to create humanity freely and was not compelled to do so. The argument is that if love requires an object, and if God is essentially loving, and if God is to be truly independent and free and not require creatures to be what he is, then there must be an "other" within God to be the object of his love. That allows us to say that God would have been loving even had he created nothing at all, and this is necessary if the view that God is essentially loving is to be preserved.

    Right, although I don't think it's certain that the Qumran community was Essene.
     
  18. Azash

    Azash La Sombra

    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2005
    Messages:
    3,484
    Location:
    The Net
    Have you ever come across a pro or con argument to the existence of God nobody has been able to respond to?
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,794
    Location:
    Somerset
    No. In philosophy there are always responses to anything.
     
  20. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2005
    Messages:
    49,303
    Location:
    Stamford Bridge
    Which denomination of Christianity would you say is the closest to the truth(tm), if any?
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page