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Ask a Theologian II

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

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  1. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Do you see any sweeping trends or patterns in the history of religion or does it seem more like one damn divnity after another?
     
  2. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    so mary is supposed to be the mother of jesus. in catholic theology jesus, the holy spirit and god are incarnations of the same being.
    so how do they explain that mary is the mother of god? (how can a human being give birth to god?)
     
  3. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    The incarnation is not the physical body of Jesus - the incarnation is the event of God becoming human.

    holy_king, you're a bit mixed up about the Trinity. It's not "God", Jesus, and the Holy Spirit - it's the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All of them are God, so it is inaccurate to call one of them "God" and not the other two. And they are not the same being. They are the same God, but they are still different persons, and they are not identical to each other. So the Son can be born of Mary without the Father or the Spirit being born of Mary. And the Son can suffer without the Father or the Spirit suffering. In fact in Catholic theology it is heretical to say that the Father suffers.

    To say that Mary is the mother of God is to say that she is the mother of a person who is God. It is not to say that she is the mother of the Godhead. That is, her son is God (more accurately, one of the three members of the Trinity), so she is the mother of God, but it doesn't follow from that that she is the mother of every person who is God. It's like saying that Elizabeth II is the mother of a prince, without having to say that everyone who is a prince has Elizabeth II for a mother.

    Also, to say that Mary is the mother of the Son is not to say that the Son is dependent upon Mary for his existence, in the same way that we are dependent upon our parents for our existence. Catholic theology states that the Son is pre-existent. He depends upon Mary not for his existence (if Mary had never existed, he would still exist) but for his humanity (if Mary had never given birth to him, he would still be the divine Son, but he would not have become human).
     
  5. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    Possibly my English is letting me down, but doesn't the phrase "give birth" refer to the actual delivery? Catholics believe that ordinary human foetuses are ensouled long before that*, and presumably the same goes for Jesus, so that Mary gave birth to him complete with his soul.



    * Used to be at quickening, current doctrine says at conception.
     
  6. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I suspect that a lot of times birth is used to refer to the event of a spirit entering the world even among those who believe that the soul and the body are united before then. My religion, for example, always talks of "birth and death" as being the beginning and end of mortal experience even though we believe that the soul enters the body at some point before then. It's just quicker to say.
     
  7. scy12

    scy12 Chieftain

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    Ahm , do you believe that the brain controls the body or does the soul do it ? What happens to people who suffer brain damage that renders them unable of conscious behavior?

    I must admit i made the mistake of often associating Soul with Brain or consciousness or Personality of a person when it may have been something different.
     
  8. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    What do christians think about aesthetic qualities of Jesus? I'd suppose they think that Jesus never did anything unethical, but do they think it would be possible that he was ugly (to someone's eye at least), or he smelled bad or was lousy singer?

    More generally: if christians think that the God is perfect and Jesus was (part of) God, what parts of perfectness apply to Jesus according to them? Surely he might have been able to run faster than anybody else (if he could walk on the water and such), but if we suppose he never made the world record in 100m, would it be still right from christian point of view to state that he was the fastest runner of all time (because he is perfect)?

    They answered it, but I'm not sure if I understood correctly. Theologians seem to be worse than politicans in this respect... As far as it goes with ordinary people it's probably fair to say that they believe in consubstantiation. To church folk the terminolgy seems to be more important:
    Spoiler :
    They said that the Bible is primary in this matter, and even Luther's texts only secondary. Also they said that there is no explicit use of the word consubstantiation in confession literature (if it's the right English term), and therefore, while the doctrine "describes fairly accurately the real presence, it probably isn't the explicit official view of the church".

    Also a dissertation was mentioned, where it was said that "admitting the real presence is primary to Luther. Explaining it's modus or terminology applied to it is secondary... To Luther the doctrine of transsusbstantiation is more like unnecessary than wrong"

    Translations are mine and might misinterpret the original message
     
  9. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There was an early tradition that Jesus was ugly. I think this was based not upon genuine memories but on Isaiah 52:14; 53:2, parts of a passage which Christians believed was a prophecy about Jesus. The earliest known image of Jesus is in the Capella Greca in Rome, dating from the middle of the second century, and it portrays him as a rather plump, young, clean-shaven Roman man in a toga. This was the usual look until the fourth century, when Jesus became thinner and acquired a beard and long hair with a centre parting, the usual look he's retained ever since, at least in the west. It was also in the fourth century that the idea emerged that because Jesus was divine he must also have been incredibly good-looking, and you find this notion repeated throughout the Middle Ages.

    I'm not sure about the theological implications of Jesus' being smelly or a bad singer... He did at least sing (Mark 14:26).

    Jesus' supposed perfection doesn't mean he was better at everything than everyone else. Christians traditionally believe that Jesus was "perfect" in two senses. First, he was "perfect God" and "perfect man". That means only that he was completely God and completely man. It's "perfect" in the sense of "absolutely" rather than in the sense of "best". So Jesus was completely human in every way, and also completely divine in every way. Of course there are well-known problems with the notion that something can be completely two kinds of thing at once, and especially with the notion that a person can be completely divine and completely human at once, since one would normally think that there are divine qualities and human qualities that contradict each other: for example, God is omnipotent, but human beings are necessarily limited in power. But that's another matter.

    Second, Jesus was "perfect" in the sense that he behaved perfectly. He never committed any sin.

    So neither of these senses of "perfect" entails that Jesus was the greatest runner the world has ever seen or anything like that. Of course it doesn't mean he wasn't, but it's rather unlikely and there's no need to suppose that he was. Indeed it would be impossible for one person to be better at everything than everyone else in the world, because different skills conflict with each other. For example, to be a good jockey you need to be small, but to be a good rower you need to be tall. So it's physically impossible for one person to be the greatest jockey in the world and the greatest rower.

    Spoiler :


    Well, that all makes sense, more or less, although I'd say it's a bit of a cop-out! I must say I generally prefer the Catholic approach of setting everything out as clearly and in as much detail as possible, rather than the more Protestant (and certainly Anglican) one of sort of setting a few fairly vague boundaries and not specifying anything in the middle. Well, I suppose fundamentalists don't do that. That's one thing in their favour.
     
  10. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Well, I was thinking that God is somtimes said to be perfect, and I suppose many christians believe that it is true. If Jesus is absolutely God, he had to be perfect also, wouldn't he?

    And actually I'm not that interested on modern opinions, as the question probably hints, but more about past speculations, in middle ages and such. The versions of ontological proofs I have heard/read have as a premise the perfectness of God, so it might have been generally accepted then?

    Or more generally, how have theologians tried to reconcile the contradictions deriving from Jesus' being God and a human at the same time? Are there separate humane and divine attributes? They could for example say that fast running is a property of a human and not God, and therefore Jesus wouldn't have to be the fastest runner. In moral questions there need not to be problems, since a human could in theory be perfect in his moral, but the aesthetic questions could have been problem, at least in the past when belief in objective aesthetics was probably more popular.

    So if Jesus and his apostles were competing in 100m dash, who would you have your bets on?
     
  11. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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    Do you ever just wonder, "how could anybody believe this..." to anything, if so what?
     
  12. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I am sure that if Jesus wanted to, he could win any race he entered. But he didn't come just to make a mockery of human achievements.
     
  13. Perfection

    Perfection The Great Head.

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  14. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    To settle a question appearing in another thread:

    Did the discovery of the New World cause anyone to re-evaluate their beliefs on the salvation of non-Christians?
     
  15. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    The relevant discussion in the original thread begins here, for reference.

    My skepticism, I should say, isn't so much directed against that anyone did so, as against that it being a common reaction.
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Oops, took a while answering these. This is mainly because these are rather hard!

    I tried to research this and couldn't find out very much. But I was surprised to find that in fact many Christians of the past do seem to have had this sort of view: Jesus' divinity meant that he was literally "perfect" in some way beyond merely being "perfectly human" in the sense of "completely human". It seems that references to Jesus' perfection are generally concerned with his moral perfection, and, to a lesser degree, the perfection of his knowledge. In the Middle Ages, theologians distinguished between different kinds of knowledge that Jesus possessed. They believed that, since he was both human and divine, he must have had both human and divine knowledge. His divine knowledge was "infused knowledge" (he had it innately) and his human knowledge was "acquired knowledge" (he learned it gradually in the normal way). Precisely how it's possible to have two kinds of knowledge in this way isn't very clear to me. But of particular interest to us is the claim that Jesus' acquired knowledge - not merely his infused knowledge! - was as extensive as it is possible to be. That is, in his human knowledge, Jesus knew everything that anyone has ever known, and this is certain because Jesus was perfect in his humanity.

    There's a lengthy discussion of this here, in the old Catholic Encyclopaedia - note that this is about a hundred years old and very old-fashioned in a Catholic sense, so this is basically an exposition of the medieval scholastic doctrine. In particular note the following passage:

    It seems to me that if one accepts this position then the "principle of perfection" which underlies it should be extended to other qualities too. That is, if it would be unworthy of Christ's perfection to be ignorant of anything known to humanity, then it would be equally unworthy for him not to be the greatest runner who ever lived. Now I'd be inclined to think that this is such an absurd conclusion that it ought to make anyone think twice about accepting that Christ's acquired knowledge was perfect. However, I've not been able to find any real discussion of this sort of problem. That's not to say that it doesn't exist (I've been too busy to investigate it thoroughly!).

    The traditional orthodox view has been that Jesus did somethings "through his divinity" and others "through his humanity"; so he walked on water through his divinity and suffered through his humanity. In other words we can distinguish between the qualities he has qua God and the qualities he has qua human. And I think this is a fairly standard way of explaining why he wouldn't have had human qualities to a perfect degree (other than moral qualities). However, the argument given above by the Catholic Encyclopaedia would rule out such a line of reasoning, because that argument states that Christ's perfection as a single individual (rather than his perfection only in his divine nature) entails that he had perfect human knowledge (not merely perfect divine knowledge). In other words, Christ is completely perfect - perfection is not merely a quality of his divine nature.

    But of course there are other problems than this. One is that if Christ has all human qualities, and also all divine qualities, then it seems that there can be no "overlap", or one would drive out the other. That is, say God has quality X to a certain degree, and human beings also have quality X, to a different degree. To what degree does Christ have it? It's always seemed to me that considerations such as this entail that, if Christ really has all divine qualities and also all human qualities, then there can be no qualities that appear on both lists. In other words, God has nothing whatsoever in common with human beings. And in fact this is traditional Catholic doctrine, being the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. The problem here is that this teaching has certain very well-known problems with it, most of which were devastatingly pointed out by Duns Scotus. For example, if God has nothing in common with us, we cannot meaningfully say anything about him.

    The "beloved disciple" of course: see John 20:3-4!

    I think the discussion we had earlier about the people who think that only the AV is the "real" Bible falls into that category. A position so ludicrous that no-one could believe it after thinking about it for more than a few seconds.

    This is another one that I'm not sure about. My instinct is that it did, but I simply don't know of any clear examples. On this question, it's important to remember that the church has not had a uniform teaching on the salvation of non-Christians. To put it simply, in the early church different people had different views; after the time of Augustine, pretty much everyone was an exclusivist (non-Christians won't be saved); in modern times it's opened up again and even the Catholic Church teaches, officially, that non-Christians can be saved in various circumstances. This opening up has of course been fuelled to a large extent by increased familiarity with different cultures and religions, but I don't think that this really happened at the time of the Renaissance voyages of exploration.
     
  17. scy12

    scy12 Chieftain

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    Ι remember from the Greek orthodox Religion lesson we had years ago in school (a disgrace of a lesson in school where they attempt to convert anyone with zeal into Christian Orthodoxy but the lesson is named Θρησκευτικα "related with Religions or lesson of Religions".

    They said " Jesus was a perfect Human and a Perfect God" (many times with loud Voices so it sticked to my mind whether i wanted it or not)

    So i think your version of the story is the one they where shouting to me 3 years ago.
     
  18. The Last Conformist

    The Last Conformist Irresistibly Attractive

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    Thanks. :hatsoff:
     
  19. Atticus

    Atticus Chieftain Retired Moderator

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    Thanks a lot! Your "not very much" is more than I expected, and much more than people usually bother at internet discussion pages.
     
  20. Pessimus Dux

    Pessimus Dux Seeker

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    Nevetheless, the Bible itself says that even non-christians can be saved, at least those who follows the Law, although they don't officialy recognize it:
    " For whosoever have sinned without the law shall perish without the law: and whosoever have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. For not the hearers of the law are just before God: but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another, In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel."
    (Paul, Romans 2, 12-16)
    Jesus goes even further, claiming that all who are not against him are with him, at least according to the 2 evengelists, despite the third one who claims the opposite (I forgot who claimed what, sorry).
     
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