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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Yes, that's about right on the issue of Jesus' siblings (although the authorship of the letter of James is obviously disputed).

    As for the motive for the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity, that's a bit more complex and hard to pin down. The doctrine was common by the fourth century, together with the doctrine of Mary's virginity in parturition (according to which she gave birth to Jesus in a miraculous way which left her physically unmarked). These doctrines reflected the belief of many Christians that virginity had intrinsic value and should be preserved, together with the belief that Jesus' mother was the archetype for this endeavour. Some Christians disagreed, of course, such as Jovinian. He argued at the end of the fourth century that virginity was not preferable to being married, that all Christians are rewarded equally, and that Mary did not remain a virgin for ever more. The fact that Jovinian denied all of these doctrines indicates how closely connected they were in Christian moral theology at that time.

    There aren't really many claims to divinity in the Gospels at all. It is certainly hard to find any in the synoptics, at least any that are explicit, so it is a matter of disagreement whether, and to what degree, the authors of those Gospels think Jesus to be divine at all. The Gospel of John is another matter, but even there it is not necessarily clear precisely what is meant by the statements that ascribe divinity of some kind to Jesus.

    But however the belief in Jesus' divinity arose and became codified, I think the motive behind it is fairly clear. Christians believed that, in Christ, they would be saved. They also believed that salvation comes from God. Perhaps they experienced the new life they believed they were living in Christ as divine in origin. Taken together, these beliefs do not entail that Jesus was divine (he could have been just the conduit for a divine action), but it is easy to see how belief in Jesus' divinity could develop naturally out of them.
     
  2. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    Do you have any general opinions about Soren Kierkegaard and the theological aspects of his writings, if you've read any of them?
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't know much about Kierkegaard, but I have commented on his understanding of faith a few times.
     
  4. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    Okay, so you're not a fan of his "leap of faith" because it has been popularized in modern times as the meaning of faith. But, and this is coming from someone who has known many evangelicals, doesn't Hebrews 11:1 "definition" of faith seem to be why many people today see faith as belief in what you can't see (and possibly can't prove)?

    I doubt many Christians in the Church today even know who Kierkegaard is.
     
  5. cardgame

    cardgame Obsessively Opposed to the Typical

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    Catholics? ;)
     
  6. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    Mark 6:3
    • "Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the Brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him."

    Matthew 27:56
    • "Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children."


    There actually seem to be several scriptural references, not just to Jesus' brothers (which allows some ambiguity) but also to other children of Mary, which is very clear. The problem looks like the Catholic Church, having decided that Mary is co-redemptrix, has to retrospectively make her even purer - being miraculously born free of Original Sin just isn't quite pure enough.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Yes, Hebrews 11:1 certainly does suggest that faith is a kind of belief, but it seems to me to distinguish it from other kinds of belief by virtue of its object rather than by virtue of its evidential status or warrant. So "faith" is when you believe in objects of a certain kind, not when you believe in something in a certain way (so it has got nothing to do with "proof"). I have to say that's not a definition that makes much sense to me.

    Probably not, but you'd be amazed how many non-Christian discussions of faith just talk about Kierkegaard as if he's the archetype.

    Catholics aren't the only people who capitalise "church", you know!

    No, I think that the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity long predates the ascription to her of the role of co-redemptrix. The doctrine of co-redemptrix was around in early modern times but did not really become official Catholic teaching (if indeed it ever did) until the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. The doctrine of the immaculate conception is medieval. But the doctrine of perpetual virginity was mainstream by the end of the fourth century. So in fact the doctrines seem to have emerged in the opposite order to that which you suggest.
     
  8. innonimatu

    innonimatu Warlord

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    Why has the doctrine of "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" been generally accepted among theologians for centuries? How did it evolve among protestants? Sorry if this has already been asked (I couldn't find any reference).

    The reason I ask is that it seems to me that anyone considering this doctrine must have always seen how self-serving it was, for the church as an institution.

    Was it fear, self-interest on part of theologians (themselves usually members of the clergy), or some other reason which kept it very much unchallenged over the centuries? For example, the whole 16th century discussion about whether american natives had souls is simply ridiculous, but was carried out because theologians were attempting to preserve this doctrine in face of new evidence.
     
  9. rhodie

    rhodie Bwana M'Kubwa

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  10. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Obviously... only you said "basically" the first time. Obviously religion contains many elements, but, going one step beyond Kant, one might even say religion is essentially about rituals. How so? you might ask. Well, seeing as that ethics and ethical behaviour isn't limited to nor needs to be based upon religion (for instance, Kant's "moral imperative" and Jesus' tenet "Do unto others as thou would that others do unto thee", while making no reference to any specific religion nor any divine entity, provide perfectly sound ethical guidelines for the average person) and that the metaphysical - if indeed such a thing exists - can be discussed both inside and outside religion.
     
  11. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    Actually, a quick glance at Wikipedia* shows that Jesus spoke on the gold rule three times (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, Luke 10:25-28), and reffered to Jewish law as the foundation for morality two out of three times.

    *For the sake of practicality, let's ignore the question of the quality of Wikipedia's coverage of religion.
     
  12. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    How inevitable was Christianity? If we were to run back the time to 1BC and prevent Jesus from being born. Would a similar religion with similar beliefs and practices emerge or would everything be completely different with little to no similarity?
     
  13. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I appreciate this, but that's not my point: this simple rule is applicable without any religious reference, i.e. it is a rule for general conduct, whether one is a religious person or not.
     
  14. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    Of course it is, but what a religion could base it's morals on and what it does base it's morals on are different things entirely. If Jesus made habitual references to morality outside of the context of Jewish law, or outside of the context of his corrections, clarifications and expansions to Jewish law, then you'd have a basis for your claims.
     
  15. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Why would Jesus make "habitual references to morality outside of the context of Jewish law, or outside of the context of his corrections, clarifications and expansions to Jewish law"? That would have not made him very popular with his Jewish audience. (In fact, one migth state Jesus said very little original things - precisely because of his immersion in Judaic tradition and prophets.) How does that make a claim that Kant's "moral imperative" and Jesus' tenet "Do unto others as thou would that others do unto thee"... provide perfectly sound ethical guidelines for the average person unfounded? (And, in addition, I would even propose that limiting a discussion of metaphysics to the purely religious sphere might, given the extension of various religious doctrines, limit possible advances in this field. But then, ofcourse, that is another matter in itself.)
     
  16. Miles Teg

    Miles Teg Nuclear Powered Mentat

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    You're overextending my claims. I simply saw you saying that the moral teachings of Jesus are sound outside of a religious context, so I noted that's not how Jesus, or at least the author of the Gospels, intended them to be. I'm not saying you can't find aspects or justifications in his teachings that he didn't intend, but simply noted that you are projecting on to him.
     
  17. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Actually, you yourself are taking things out of context, as I merely mentioned the 'do unto others as thou would others do unto thee' as an example of a general tenet. I wasn't commenting on the religious connotations of the text in his time.
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by the phrase. If by "extra ecclesiam" you mean "outside the Catholic Church" then obviously, almost by definition, no Protestant would accept this doctrine. If, on the other hand, you mean "outside the church" with a lower-case "C", meaning the body of believers in Christ, then the question is really about the salvation or otherwise of non-Christians, which we've dealt with on a number of occasions already.

    The notion that in order to be saved you had not merely to believe certain things but also to belong to the Catholic Church, defined as a particular ecclesiastical institution and not vaguely as any ecclesiastical institution, developed pretty early on. For the church fathers, heresy and schism were virtually identical. The reason was that the apostolic churches, those founded by the apostles, were the guarantors of doctrine and practice. In these churches, and in those in communion with them, could be found authentic Christianity. Those who chose to separate themselves from these churches must, therefore, be breaking themselves off from the body of Christ. Hence Cyprian's saying that there is no salvation outside the (Catholic) church, which was repeated by Augustine. In patristic times there was no notion that an authentic Christian belief or lifestyle could be separated from membership of the community, and there was no notion that membership of the community was distinct from membership of the institution. There was no ecumenical sense that you could have different churches which somehow jointly formed the one universal church.

    That may be so, but it doesn't mean that that's the reason why the doctrine emerged. I don't think there's any particular reason to suppose that it is. After all, why would it have been particularly in the interest of Tertullian, Cyprian, or Augustine to develop it?

    I don't really see the connection here. First, the doctrine wasn't unchallenged at all, and in fact was modified over the course of the Middle Ages, as theologians argued that there were cases where people might be saved who were not members of the church, owing to special circumstances. These special circumstances were of two sorts: first, where someone had a Christian faith but for some reason had been unable to be baptised; such a person might be considered to have undergone baptism of desire (in voto) which was efficacious. And second, where someone was not a Christian at all, owing to invincible ignorance (ie, not culpable ignorance - perhaps they lived somewhere where Christianity had never been preached). There was no consensus on examples of the latter kind, though - some people thought that such individuals might go to limbo.

    In the case of the New World, I don't see how its discovery provided any "new evidence" against the doctrine of no salvation outside the church. The official Catholic position was always that (a) native Americans absolutely were human, with human souls, as Pope Paul III specified, and (b) it was possible for people living beyond the preaching of the Gospel to be given actual grace which would prepare them for faith and salvation, as the Council of Trent specified. Suarez developed this latter view to argue that such people might have implicit faith (fides in voto) in Christ, which was parallel to baptism in voto and which might prove efficacious. This, in fact, was also made clearer at Vatican II.

    It was the Protestants, who rejected the "extra ecclesiam" doctrine, who thought that the native Americans were probably all doomed to hell, because their adherence to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone gave them no conceptual space for the notion of people without faith being saved.

    You are right, but your argument doesn't work. The fact that one may discuss or follow ethical precepts outside the context of religion indicates only that religion is not essential to ethics. It doesn't prove that ethics isn't essential to religion. Your argument is like saying that because there are animals that aren't cats, being an animal is not essential to being a cat.

    The fact that a saying attributed to Jesus appears more than once in the Gospels does not mean that he said it more than once (or even, necessarily, at all). In the case of the so-called Golden Rule, the first two references you give are to repetitions of the same material in different authors (in fact they both get it from Q, so there is really only one source), and the third reference is not to the Golden Rule at all. I don't know what it means to say that Jesus asserted something "two out of three times", but in any case the sayings about the relation between his own teaching and the Law are among the most disputed in the Gospels.

    I don't think anything in history is really inevitable, and certainly not something like a complex religion with all sorts of particular features. It's impossible to say what would have happened if Jesus had never been born, but I don't see any reason to suppose that something very like Christianity would have happened anyway; I would have thought that religious history would have been very different.
     
  19. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Are there any particular features of Christianity, that you'd think were inevitable (or at least highly likely at the time)?
     
  20. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    The Jews had prophecies of a messiah - it makes sense to me that a potential messiah arose during a time when the area was under the yoke of the Roman Empire.

    I say 'potential' because they ultimately rejected him. There must have been a lot of other 'potential messiahs' at the time, though. I mean, all you need is something elevated to stand on and something interesting to say.

    Only Jesus managed to convince people that he was divine though, for whatever reason. If Jesus was never born, I don't see anyone else taking his role - after all, no other notable prophets arose in Israel at the time. (right?)
     
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