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Ask a Theologian III

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Nov 7, 2009.

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'm not sure of the details, but I think it's for two main reasons. The first is that the early Reformers sought to distance themselves from the structures of the Catholic Church, which would include monasteries and the like. They were setting up their own structures instead, so they didn't inherit the old ones. The second is that the Protestants were theologically opposed to the idea of different classes of Christians. They rejected the notion of the priesthood, at least in the Catholic sense, believing instead in the priesthood of all believers. Similarly, they rejected the idea that some people were called to a more ascetic lifestyle. Thus Luther himself, although a priest and an Augustinian friar, got married.

    Still, it's interesting that Protestantism still did develop many movements which might be considered akin to watered-down versions of monasticism - or perhaps like the Franciscan Third Order. The various communes of the Pietists, like Herrnhut, or the Pietist conventicles or Methodist societies could be considered - not monasticism as such - but an expression of similar urges to those that, in an earlier age, had contributed to monasticism.

    No-one really knows. Obviously the date coincides roughly with various winter festivals of antiquity, but to say it's simply the solstice celebration must be wrong given that Christmas doesn't fall on the solstice (which is around 21 December now, and in the Roman calendar was 24 December). John Chrysostom suggested that the date had been chosen because it fell halfway between Saturnalia and New Year, so it gave the Christians something to celebrate while the pagans were recovering from Saturnalia and preparing for New Year. And I suppose that's as good a guess as any. Obviously the date was established before Christianity got much of a foothold in northern European cultures, so although Christmas acquired many of the traditions of the northern midwinter festivals, its date can't have been influenced by them.

    What the others said. I must mention, however, the Quartodeciman controversy, which was important to all this. The Quartodecimans celebrated Easter on literally the same day as the Jewish Passover (which was on 14-15 Nisan, and could fall on any day of the week). Other Christians celebrated Easter on a Sunday at around the same time (calculated in an unnecessarily complicated way, as already mentioned). There was fierce controversy over this which was theoretically settled by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, but which obviously continued to rage anyway since it took a long time for everyone to accept Nicaea. In England it remained famously unsettled until the Synod of Whitby in AD 664. The issue was considered important not simply because of ecclesiastical order, but because the Quartodecimans, by timing Easter to coincide exactly with Passover, were considered to be falling into a Judaising heresy.

    I've no idea about that sort of thing. I think that assuming that these things go back to fertility celebrations or the like is a bit rash though - you just never know. I'm sure not everyone in extreme antiquity was so obsessed with fertility (and with ancestors) as western anthropologists have stereotypically assumed in the past.
     
  2. Cheetah

    Cheetah Chieftain

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    If the Roman calendar had 24. December as the solstice, then it seems obvious to me that the early Christians decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on this night as well. So some celebrations on the 24. (mind you, in northern Europe the 24. is the big day) and some celebrations on the 25. (which is almost as big a day, but less people go to church on the 25.).
    Perhaps, but then again we know that ancient people were observant of the shifting seasons and that all of them had some form of celebrations around the winter solstice, the spring equinox, the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. And usually spring equinox was connected to fertility, creation and new life, while autumn equinox was connected to harvesting.

    Also, nearby civilisations that affected the Jews greatly, like the Egyptians and the Babylonians, all had festivals for the spring equinox as a fertility and new life celebration. (The Egyptians even painted eggs during this time!)

    I think it is reasonable to assume, at least, that the Jewish passover has its origins in some ancient fertility festival.
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That seems a bit strained to me. I don't know of any evidence for the supposition that Christians held any celebrations on 24 December in antiquity, although I'm well aware that they do in much of continental Europe today. Ancient Christians did hold vigils during the night before Easter (this was when catechumens were usually baptised), so I suppose it is possible that they did something like this on the night before Christmas as well, but then that would assume that the date was already set. The whole "celebrating the night before" thing is a matter of celebrating early for a festival that is already set in the calendar as the next day. While many Europeans celebrate Christmas Eve more than they do Christmas Day, the date of Christmas Eve is still derivative from the date of Christmas Day, not the other way around. If the early Christians had decided to celebrate Jesus' birth on 24 December to coincide with the solstice, then you'd think that the date of Christmas would have ended up being that date, not the day afterwards.

    So I certainly wouldn't call this idea "obvious". I would have thought that it's equally plausible - perhaps more so - that the Christians might have deliberately chosen a date other than Saturnalia to avoid the clash, just as Chrysostom said. Rather like Japanese Christians in the 1940s, who were ordered to move Christmas since it clashed with the anniversary of the emperor's accession.

    Again, all this is plausible but I don't think it would be reasonable to assume that this is how it happened - rather, it would be reasonable to think that it may have happened like that. But I really don't know the background to this one.
     
  4. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I apologize for not responding...

    Indeed. But 'right' and 'wrong' isn't the issue. I am not concerned with the ethics of the matter, nor do I discuss it.

    Thanks for pointing that out.

    I do not agree with that interpretation: that the Corinthans' donation should be ready when someone calls to collect it appears rather a straightforward request. Why Paul should be concerned that it not appear involuntary makes no sense; how can a donation not be voluntary - unless demanded? But Paul seems more concerned with appearance here.

    Well, at least that is consistent with your belief that Peter and James weren't opponents to Paul (or rather the other way around); I would, however, argue that Paul had a very specific view on how Christianity should be, and that if differed from the original community's; in that sense I would label them opponents.

    It's perfectly possible to be telling a lie while believing it to be wholly true; however, that was not the issue here, I believe.

    Not to presume otherwise, my intention was to show that my thought hardly was an original or unconventional one; it was not my intent to provide evidence for a hypothesis, as I'm not conducting historical research - which would be necessary to explore this further, obviously.

    I agree with you on being clumsy, as "fee" is what I came up with; I believe Luther translated the 'volutary donation' as a tax. I estimated that not to be appropriate in this context - so, to be clear, you won't find the word "fee" in Luther's translation.



    Yes, I paid good attention when learning Latin and know perfectly well that QED stands for quod erat demonstrandum. Since logic is an integral part of mathematics, I see no reason not to apply a perfectly good Latin phrase to an appropriate situation. I thought it be clear that I was referring to proving bias. Whether then QED is 'out of place' is a matter up for debate, I'd say. But if that is alright with you, I'd like to put the matter to rest.
     
  5. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    Treated as a historical question (which in this context means mainly political and economic) there are important non-theological reasons why Protestantism turned against monasticism. The monasteries were rich and at least in popular imagination were hotbeds of sin, and their corruption (financial and spiritual) was a key target in the reformers' campaign against the Catholic church. This was exploited most notably by Henry V111 of England, whose Dissolution of the Monasteries not only enriched the crown but was also popular in many quarters (though not universally; the Pilgrmage of Grace saw the good people of Yorkshire attempting to defend the monasteries). In Germany also, bringing under local control the rich monasteries (which often paid taxes and allegiance only to Rome) was a tempting non-theological motive for a Prince to back Protestantism.
    I know this is a theological site, but for historical accuracy it is important to acknowledge the other issues that drove the Reformation.
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, the purely historical factors are just as important, so thanks very much. I knew about Henry VIII and the monasteries, of course, but I didn't know that the economic factors were significant in other Protestant countries too, so thanks for the clarification.
     
  7. burleyman

    burleyman Chieftain

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    To be fair, it should be added that although Protestant princes were mainly responsible for stealing the property of the monasteries from, say, 1500 - 1700, the Catholic rulers thereafter joined in enthusiastically. Holy Roman Emperor Joseph 11 (died 1790)was the keenest, closing c. 700 monasteries. His motives were mixed; though a Catholic, he wanted to reduce the power of the Papacy, and considered that monasticism was economically wasteful, and that there were perhaps better uses of monastic wealth ...
     
  8. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    It could aslo be said to be a significant factor in some Catholic countries as well. The Catholic Earl of Killdare used Henry VIII confiscation of the Monastaries in England to justify the same in Ireland, which helped strengthen his (and Henry's) grip on the Country.
     
  9. _random_

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    To what extent do you think the teachings of Christ were pacifistic?
     
  10. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

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    Last night on PBS there was a Nova series called "The Bible's Buried Secrets"
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/

    It was a lot of fun, but I've become wary of documentaries ever since I've seen documentaries in my own field. There's a wide disparity in reputability.

    Any word on the reputation of this series?
     
  11. ParkCungHee

    ParkCungHee Chieftain

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    I was just about to ask this.

    Also, I have heard that early Christians were universally pacifist. Is this true?
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    We've already touched on this here.

    But I would also say that it depends on what you mean by "pacifist". If by "pacifist" one means "opposed to war under all circumstances" then I don't think we know of any teachings from Jesus on the subject. If by "pacifist" one means a more general anti-force attitude then there is conflicting evidence. On the one hand we have the teachings in Matthew 5:38-48 about turning the other cheek and loving enemies. On the other we have sayings such as Matthew 10:32-39 about bringing not peace but a sword to earth, and setting families against each other. Personally I'm inclined to think that all of these sayings should be interpreted not in an ethical way so much as an eschatological. What they have in common is the notion of society being turned upside down: of enemies loving each other rather than hating, and families turning against each other rather than working together. This is the sort of disorder one might expect to accompany the coming of the kingdom. So I suspect that these aren't really about war and peace or violence and passivity or anything like that - they're about the radical overturning of values that comes with the kingdom and with the redirection of one's focus upon God.

    I think that this is typical of Jesus' teaching, whether ethical or otherwise - it's all about the radical focus upon God rather than anything else. The story of the tax is enlightening in this respect. In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus is asked about paying tax, but he gives an answer that's about the right attitude to have to God. So it seems that Jesus wasn't really interested in questions about taxation except inasmuch as they related to God. I should think the same is probably true in the case of pacifism - he wasn't interested in the issue except inasmuch as it related to God. That would explain why the material on this question is rather inconsistent if one takes it merely as ethical exhortations and ignores the theological thrust. That's just my opinion though.

    I hadn't heard of this, but from what I can tell after looking at some stuff about it online, it seems pretty decent. It seems to deal honestly with the various issues in modern biblical archaeology and to explain to viewers how much or how little is known about them, and why, and that's got to be good.

    We've had this already too, here. As far as I can tell, the early Christians were completely against the taking of life of any kind. This meant that they were opposed to abortion (I think this was just as much to preserve the life of the mother as it was to preserve the life of the child, since ancient abortions were very brutal and often fatal procedures), to the exposition of infants, to capital punishment, to gladiatorial contests, and to war. They disagreed over what this meant, though. Some Christians thought that Christians should have nothing to do with the army, for example, and that even joining the army was an unchristian thing to do. Others thought that the army was an acceptable career for a Christian provided he never accepted a position of command that would require him to order executions or other life-taking acts. It is also important, though, to recognise that a lot of Christian opposition to these things was bound up with their opposition to anything to do with worship of the pagan gods - thus the avoidance of the circus was more about not wanting to be present at an event where the gods were invoked. But they might express their revulsion at these things in terms of the horrors of the violence that they involved - as in Cyprian's denunciations of the Roman state, for example. That's a tradition that went back to the book of Revelation and its portrayal of the Roman empire as a blood-engorged whore ravaging the world. Basically, early Christians were opposed to pretty much every part of Roman society, since more or less all of it involved either violence or worship of the gods, or both, which explains why the Christians were so unpopular.
     
  13. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    This also seems relevant to the subject:
     
  14. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Actually, that seems more relevant to the early Christian attitude towards the military than toward Jesus' personal attitude towards violence. But remember Jesus' words, addressed at Peter, attempting to draw his sword, during his arrest in Jerusalem: "Those who live by the sword, shall die by the word." (See also below.)

    This seems contradictory, while in fact it is not. Apart from the motivation (early Christians had little reason to be violent - yet) early Christianity could very well be typified as being pacifist - taking into account that this is an anachronistic term.

    In the first paragraph you oppose two Matthew quotes from different contexts: turning the other cheek and loving one's enemies clearly appears to be a personal ethic dictum, whereas bringing the sword and turning brother against brother (not: families against eachother) refers to the social effects Jesus expects from his teachings - and shows some remarkable foresight, by the way. I don't really see how the two quotes can be applied to the same issue though; the second is clearly metaphorically intended (or, dare I say it, allegorically - and the allegory is very clear).

    As a sidenote, it would appear that Jesus' religion at least is a very emotional, not a rational one.
     
  15. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    You're right, it's not families against each other but members of families against each other (including one generation against another) - I didn't express that well. I don't know why you think that's clearly metaphorical though. On the contrary, there is good reason to think that many Jews anticipated this sort of thing as a sign of the coming of the Kingdom, in which case it would be quite reasonable to think that Jesus meant it in the same way and meant it perfectly literally. See, for example, Micah 7:4-7, which presumably underlies the saying attributed to Jesus. See also Mark 13:12, a parallel saying which places this intra-familial conflict firmly in an eschatological context and doesn't appear to be metaphorical at all.

    But we cannot really know precisely what Jesus meant by these things - we cannot know whether he even said them at all, and the authenticity of these very sayings is disputed. To be honest I would say that nothing about Jesus' teaching is "clear" - that's why no-one can agree on how to interpret it. I think that E.P. Sanders is onto something when he argues that most of these things are best understood in an eschatological context, because that does allow us to make sense of them even when they seem to contradict each other. Of course the down side of that is that it means that Jesus' sayings no longer fit into our neat, modern categories such as "ethics" or "allegory" or "metaphor" or "pacifism". But then, why should they?
     
  16. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    That sounds perfectly reasonable.

    Some theological news, if I may: on December 23 theologian Edward Schillebeeckx died. Unable to find a proper necrology in English, I am referring to the following link for some reasonably reliable information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Schillebeeckx
     
  17. Elta

    Elta 我不会把这种

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  18. Erik Mesoy

    Erik Mesoy Core Tester / Intern

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    From my half-remembered Sunday School classes, I sort of remember that Matthew is written for the Jews, Mark for the Gentiles, Luke for the educated, and John for the mystics. Are these approximately correct? Can you give some details on who each Gospel is believed to be aimed at, if anyone, and what its general tone is?
     
  19. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    i read somewhere jahwe originally was the donkey headed god of palestinian donkey nomads, and that "jahwe" resembles the sound of a donkey.

    where does this theory come from and how probable is it?
     
  20. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Sorry to take a while getting back to this. I'd say I've been busy, but I haven't!

    Thank you for the information. I hadn't heard about that. I don't think I've ever actually read Schillebeeckx, unlike Kung - with whom he is always linked, perhaps not entirely fairly - but he is certainly important.

    Now I was thinking there are many ways to answer this. The idea that a human being might also be a god is important in many religions, and it's interesting because thinking about it helps to shed light on how we think about both divinity and humanity. One of the most common criticisms of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, for example, is that it is impossible for a single individual to be genuinely human and genuinely divine, because these are incompatible. For example, it is essential to divinity to be omniscient, whereas it is essential to humanity to have limited knowledge. So one individual can't have all the essential divine properties and also all the essential human properties, so he can't be really both of them. Some of the responses to this criticism have sought to define both humanity and divinity in ways that avoid the problem.

    An interesting problem that follows from that, though, is how one can tell that a given human being is divine. If you define divinity in such a way that it doesn't "clash" with humanity, then it might seem that divine people are unrecognisable as divine. For example, you might say that the sort of knowledge that God has is different in kind from the sort of knowledge that human beings have; so there is no contradiction in saying that one and the same individual has complete knowledge (as God) and incomplete knowledge (as human), because they are different kinds of knowledge. But then if the divine knowledge is some weird kind of knowledge that we never normally encounter, and if it doesn't impinge on that person's human knowledge in any way, how could anyone - even the person themselves - notice that it's there?

    Now some religions think that everyone is divine. Wiccans, for example, typically believe that all men are gods and all women are goddesses. This is very affirming but it seems to me to be problematic for two reasons. The first is that if everyone is divine then "divine" doesn't seem to mean very much. If I'm divine by definition, then telling me that I'm divine isn't interesting - it doesn't tell me anything about myself. The second is that if we're all divine already then there's nothing to look forward to. Is this as good as it gets? After all, you can't get better than being divine, can you? That's why I think I prefer the Orthodox Christian view, which is that we're not divine now but we will be in the future, when we are united to God and share in his divinity, just as Christ did.

    Of course one might also define "god" in such a way that it's not about the properties a thing or person has in themselves, but about how they are viewed by others. If you behave towards a thing or a person in a certain way, one might legitimately say that that thing or person is your god. It's striking how in popular culture today the word "idol" seems to have completely changed meaning, to refer not to something that is literally worshipped but to a contestant on a TV talent show. Or has it changed meaning? ahhhhh. (Yes, it has.) But the point is that there's a close link between religious worship and the world of celebrities.

    Then I actually watched that video. No, they are not gods.

    Well it's hard to say precisely, especially since no-one really knows who any of these authors were. The traditional view is much as you say. But part of the problem is the question, which we have already talked about at tedious length, of what the word "Jewish" means in a first-century context. For example, there's not much doubt that Matthew, say, was Jewish (in some sense) or that he wrote for a Jewish readership (in some sense) - but what do we mean by a "Jewish" readership? Are we talking about Jewish Christians or Jews who weren't Christians? And what does "Jewish Christian" even mean anyway?

    I don't think there's a whole lot of doubt that the Gospels were written for Christians rather than for non-Christians. The intent seems to be to confirm the faith of the readers rather than inspire new faith where it didn't exist before. We can see this from the way in which the material seems to be chosen, ordered, and moulded to address the situation of Christian groups of the time. For example, take Matthew's famous diatribe against the Pharisees in chapter 23. That reflects the bad relations between Matthew's own community (I hate to use that word in this context, or indeed in any, but it is so ingrained in New Testament scholarship it can't be avoided) and groups of non-Christian groups who were, or who were regarded as, the spiritual heirs of the Pharisees. So Matthew has Jesus come into conflict with the Pharisees of his day, and attack them at length, in a way that is intended to comfort the Christians whom Matthew knew in their similar conflicts. At least, that is a very plausible way of understanding the Gospel and the intentions of its author.

    It seems plausible to think that Mark was writing for a non-Jewish readership, given that he explains one or two Jewish practices, but it is hard to be sure. I don't know any particular reason to think that Luke was writing for the educated. Clearly Luke was reasonably well educated - he certainly writes better than Mark - but then exactly the same thing can be said of Matthew and John, too. I'm not sure why it should be said that John writes for mystics particularly, although he obviously likes to give "spiritual" explanations of physical things and has Jesus speak in long meditations rather than the shorter and earthier sayings of the Synoptics. John was certainly Jewish, like Matthew, and much of the imagery of his Gospel, especially all the dualism, was common in Jewish writings of the time.

    I haven't heard this before - it sounds a bit unlikely, but you never know - but then I really don't know much about the Old Testament and certainly not about pre-testamental stuff like that, I'm afraid.
     
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