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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Very interesting explanations, thanks. (I've noticed that certain languages use the singular repetition to indicate plural - like orang orang).
     
  2. Cutlass

    Cutlass The Man Who Wasn't There.

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    What are the reasons behind why some Christian denominations have very different views on baptism from others? As in very soon after birth, to age of reason, to adulthood.
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That ultimately comes from their different understandings of what sacraments are, and what they do. To put it fairly simplistically:

    Catholics believe that sacraments, including baptism, are physical vehicles of grace. That means that sacraments actually do something. When a priest performs a sacrament, he changes reality in some way (or, more accurately, God changes reality in response to the priest's request that he do so). In the case of baptism, the baptised person receives grace and becomes a member of the church. It was rather like marriage: when two people are married, the mere performance of the ceremony changes their legal status (and more, if you accept the Catholic view of marriage as a sacrament).

    At the Reformation and thereafter, various Protestant groups rejected this view to varying degrees. Many came to hold that sacraments don't do anything; they merely reflect a situation that already exists. This was partly because of a strong tendency to "spiritualise" everything about Christianity, that is, make it a matter of a personal and inner transformation of the individual, rather than a corporate affair in which the church had anything more than a merely organisational importance - let alone a cosmic affair in which the physical world itself played an important role. These ideas were central to Pietism, for example. The end result of this was that baptism was regarded less like marriage and more like a university graduation ceremony. You've effectively got your degree by finishing the course - the ceremony is just a nice flashy way of recognising the fact. You don't have to go through the ceremony to count as a graduate of the university, at least in any real way.

    So for those who took the first view of baptism, there was no reason not to baptise infants, and in fact good reason to do so. It bestowed grace upon them and made them members of the church. But for those who took the second view, it was absurd to baptise infants. Baptism did not confer grace, it was merely a way of recognising the faith that a person already had - but obviously infants do not have such faith.
     
  4. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    Many Protestant groups also believe that, for baptism to be meaningful and effective, the recipient of baptism has to understand what is going on, they have to assent to God's grace rather than being passive recipients.

    While we're being pedantic, I believe that, contra Jeelen, orang orang in Malay is not a simple plural (ie men) but in fact means mankind.
     
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    It's also worth pointing out that, traditionally, in Catholicism "grace" is often characterised as a sort of "stuff" that God literally bestows upon people, as opposed to a purely abstract noun that refers to God's manner of acting. This was an idea that developed with scholastic philosophy in the Middle Ages. By the later scholastic period, theologians would distinguish between different kinds of grace - for example, God might give one person "sufficient grace" but another person "efficacious grace". Now this development postdated the practice of infant baptism, of course - which was an ancient practice - but it again helps to reinforce the notion of a sacrament that does something independent of the attitude of the recipient. If grace is a sort of stuff that God doles out, then he can dole it out no matter what your attitude is.

    (The distinction between "efficacious" and "sufficient" grace, incidentally, was meant to take into account the recipient's attitude: God gives a faithful person "efficacious grace" - which actually does something - but he gives the unfaithful person only "sufficient grace" - which is enough to do something but it doesn't actually do it. So it's not as simple as saying that Catholicism thinks the attitude of the recipient is irrelevant while Protestantism thinks it's important; obviously Catholicism thinks it's important too. The difference is that Catholicism thinks that something happens in a sacrament no matter what the recipient's attitude is - although the recipient's attitude may influence what results.)
     
  6. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Whatever came of the early split between the Gnesio Lutherans, Philippists, and Flacians? And what exactly was the nature of the split anyhow?
     
  7. Stratplayer

    Stratplayer Chieftain

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    Question: Which church division do you think has the most reasonable interpretation of the Biblical Scriptures?
     
  8. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    A closer English parallel might be "Athens", plural in form but used with singular agreement ("Athens is the capital of Greece", not "Athens are ...").
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm afraid I don't know at all off-hand. Early Protestantism splintered massively over all kinds of doctrinal disagreements - most of which were basically re-runs of older arguments that had already been done to death in the Catholic Church. The tremendous debate within the Reformed church over Arminianism, for example, seems to me little different from the earlier rows over predestination which had already fully explored pretty much every conceivable answer to the problem. In the case of the Lutheran groups you mention I think much of it had to do with certain doctrines more typical of the Reformed church - such as the doctrine of total depravity - which the Flacians held but the others didn't. But I don't know much about it.

    An important thing to remember is that when you have two churches or other clearly defined denominations who disagree about something, the situation is always at least twice as complicated. This is because it's not just a matter of Church A disagreeing with Church B. You'll always get some group within Church A who agree with Church B on some key matter, and likewise, some group within Church B who agree with Church A. And so there will be internal polemics within each church that will probably be fiercer than the inter-church ones - because if there's one thing that the people in charge of Church A hate more than Church B, it's the heretics within Church A who agree with Church B. The aforementioned Arminians can be viewed in this way, as they were (in a sense) members of the Reformed church who agreed with the Catholics. Their opposite numbers were the Jansenists, who were Catholics who agreed with the Reformed. (It was, of course, much more complex than that, but then it always is.) So where you get disagreement between two groups, that disagreement is then mirrored within the two groups, and so on recursively in a ghastly fractal of schism. This why you have so many mad American fundamentalist churches who spend their time disagreeing vehemently with each other even though they are more similar to each other than they are to any other churches. Another example of multiple recursive splits can be found in India, where the original church sometimes called the "Thomas Christians" has split into what are currently eight quite distinct denominations - quite apart from all the other churches in India, Protestant, Catholic, and other. One of the reasons for this is that when the Thomas Christians were exposed to different Christian traditions, such as Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, and so on, different groups within the Thomas Christians gravitated towards those different denominations and adopted their ideas. Result: the divisions between the western churches were all repeated, in miniature, within the Thomas Christians. Divisions beget further divisions.

    The Lutheran splinter groups that you mention, I think, also fall into this scheme. It's not enough that the Lutherans and the Reformed disagreed about stuff; this mere fact made it almost inevitable that you'd have a bunch of Lutherans who agreed with the Reformed, causing further divisions among the Lutherans. That's what the Flacians were. But more than that, including what happened to all these people, I don't know. I will try to find out when I next have a chance.

    I don't think that this comes down to any particular denomination. Rather, any Christian who accepts the methods and conclusions of modern critical scholarship will have a more reasonable interpretation of the Bible than one who doesn't. Some churches, such as the Church of England and the Catholic Church, are more open to modern critical scholarship than others, in that they have the intellectual and doctrinal resources for members to take that stance - but then, they hardly recommend it, and they have many members who are radically opposed to the very notion of modern critical biblical scholarship (especially in the Church of England, with its very vocal conservative evangelical wing).

    Yes, that's a more precise parallel. It's hard to think of any in English. Latin has a number of words which are plural in form but singular in meaning (so you have to learn the plural form of "unus", which is ridiculous) but they're still grammatically plural.
     
  10. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    Now there's a phrase I need to use more often.
     
  11. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    When you've been through a fractal of schism, you generally need a quantum of solace.
     
  12. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Okay, thanks. All I really knew about it was that these splits, whatever they were (inferring from the text, I get the idea that the Philippists were into something that Melanchthon came up with that may or may not have been sanctioned by Luther and the Gnesio group was against it, but I don't know the nature of the disputed doctrinal point(s?) or anything like that), caused the early Lutheran princes some political problems until the Elector of Saxony came down on one side or the other and basically everybody followed along with what he did. If that helps. Good point about the nature of schismatics, though.

    Speaking of Thomas Christians, how far back can we trace them? All the way to the written account of Thomas in India? Cause it'd be cool if there was more than just a grain of truth to that work about his early travels. (Helpful for Baktrian studies, too, because it'd lend more credence to the large territorial extent of Gondopharian suzerainty. Indo-Parthian kings mentioned in the account of the travels and teachings of St. Thomas? Awesome!)
    :goodjob:
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    One thing which I didn't mention is that when disagreements are not accompanied by formal breaks or schisms, they often die away. Basically, people get bored of arguing, or at least the next generation does. If a disagreement has been sufficient to cause people to break away and start a new church, then once that has happened, re-integration of the different branches becomes incredibly difficult (and almost never happens) even if the original disagreement dies away. But where this doesn't happen, the squabbling groups may just merge back into each other after a few years. It looks to me like this is the case with these Lutherans - they didn't actually found rival churches to each other, so there was no structural continuity from one generation to the next. Kind of like informal factions within a political party. Blairites and Brownites may hate each other, but in twenty or forty years, those divisions will have been forgotten in favour of new ones.

    Here's a very brief summary I wrote on this a while back:

     
  14. Masada

    Masada Koi-san!

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    Plotinus, could you explain how Christian thoughts on war went from Tertullian saying for instance this:

    To Saint Ambrose seemingly justifying or at least recognizing that cohabitation with war wasn't as intolerable as one might think:

    Before finally arriving at Saint Augustine who seems to me to have accepted that war while not desirable, was at least acceptable under a certain set of circumstances. Which he would lay out in his theory of Just War with things like this:

    I guess I'm just interested in the theological permutations that allowed that kind of, what seems to me, radical changes in the religious foundations of Christianity to occur.
     
  15. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    What's a good set of ten books to read if the Bible is too long? A friend took me up on an offer to read them if I would list ten summary books, and here's what I came up with on short notice:
    OT: Genesis, Isaiah, Samuel, Job, Daniel
    NT: Luke, Acts, John, Romans, Revelation

    My pastor's suggestions (from memory): "Samuel is two books. Cut out Job, it's too difficult for a beginner. Switch Isaiah for Hosea, it's shorter and more focused. You'll want Exodus as well as Genesis, so I think Daniel has to go. Drop Revelations, put in Ephesians or Corinthians instead."

    I'd like a third opinion, and maybe some commentary on picking for a beginners' introduction vs. picking for representativity if they don't expect to read more later.
     
  16. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    That's a really good question, Erik!

    I agree that Genesis & Exodus are required. Acts, too. There're a lot of stories in those.
    I'd be nervous about including John: I think it's important to modern Christianity, but it's too uncredible.
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That's a good question. The obvious answer is that Tertullian was writing at a time when Christians were a minority being persecuted by the state, while Ambrose and Augustine were writing at a time when Christianity was more or less the de facto state religion. Clearly a persecuted religion has the luxury of complete pacifism, just as a political party without a hope of being elected has the luxury of making whatever policies it likes - whereas a religion that is allied to the state lacks this luxury, just as a party that's actually in power may find that idealistic policies are no longer workable.

    I think that's true to some extent. However, the situation is also more complex, as usual. For one thing, Tertullian was not always representative. He was an extremist even by the standards of second-century Christianity, whose moral rigorism was so great that he eventually gave up on the mainstream church and joined the highly ascetic Montanist sect. The passage you quote was written in a book attacking not pagan soldiers but Christian ones. There were plenty of Christians who joined the army; Tertullian thought they were wrong to do so. It seems that there was a spectrum of opinions of this. Some Christians believed that the military was completely wrong and at odds with Christianity, and there are stories of men choosing to be martyred rather than join the army. Others believed it was quite compatible with being a Christian, provided they did not join in with any military ceremonies which were too pagan. Tertullian's On the crown describes a Christian soldier who refused to wear a triumphal crown, on the grounds that it was pagan. The usual view, I think, was that a military career was acceptable provided that a Christian did not become an officer (since he would have to order others to kill) or an executioner. Christianity was, at that stage, very much a pacifist religion, but it was also more pragmatic than one might expect about these things.

    By the time of Ambrose and especially Augustine, Christianity had obviously become wedded to the state to some degree, and emperors were now Christians (and yet perfectly happy to order executions, at least if people like Constantius II are anything to go by). So there is an element of inevitable loss of idealism associated with a greater position of power. However, it's important to bear in mind that Augustine's criteria for a "just war" are quite strict, and furthermore, they were made stricter later. In fact today they are so strict that the Catholic Church is bound to consider almost all wars unjust. So it's not a simple matter of idealism giving way to a cynical excusing of war. Although there certainly was change in Christians' attitude to war, I don't think it was that great a change - at least not during late antiquity. You will see, after all, that Augustine's emphasis is upon the evils of aggressive warfare, and in that he was perfectly in line with earlier Christian moralists such as Cyprian or indeed John of Patmos.

    I don't really know enough about the Bible to say, especially with the Old Testament. You'd surely want Genesis and Exodus, and perhaps Chronicles? Esther is quite fun but rather silly. Ruth is a nice book. I don't know enough about any of the prophets to be able to tell them apart, although Isaiah seems pretty important (and you get three authors for the price of one there...). I think Daniel might be a good choice to help with understanding various bits of the New Testament.

    With the New Testament, I'd say Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, 1 John, and Revelation. Er, which is too many. So drop John, Hebrews, and 1 John.

    It's important to all Christianity - but what's the aim of this anyway? It's not much more incredible than Genesis or Exodus. If the aim is to get an overview of the Bible then whether a book is believable or not is really neither here nor there.
     
  18. Sidney Magal

    Sidney Magal Latin Lover

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    I've been thinking: if God created the world, why did he do it? God is, by definition, a perfect being with no need of anything whatsoever and all the reasons I could think of suggest something incomplete in him. Was it to entertain himself with the struggles of his creation? Was it because he felt the need to be adored? Was it because he had an inner contradiction that he could only solve by making it exterior? How can theology help me understand this?

    I'd be very grateful if you were kind enough to pont me to some books or texts to get better informed on the matter. I usually prefer reading the classics, but I'm open to any suggestions.

    Edit: I read the previous discussion linked in the OP and my question remains.
     
  19. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    I've now gotten multiple suggestions for Matthew over Luke, why? Everyone has agreed that Acts stays in, and I thought of the continuity. (Will get to rereading both soon.)

    Asides:
    I'm rereading the OT books in preparation for giving commentary to the guy, and I was reminded how long Isaiah is.
    Some of the peoples mentioned in Numbers:
    :crazyeye: why do i bother :crazyeye:
     
  20. Tekee

    Tekee Bahama Mama

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    Is this understanding of the Deuteronomy or Paul scripture correct, or kosher?
    That those things, If a man lay with a man like a woman, he would have created an abomination. Does this apply ONLY to penetrative acts with man on man?

    Secondly, are you Catholic or Protestant Theologian?
     
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