Friday, August 31, 2007
Church History 1 Post 6
The last assignment was to pick a particular person who was instrumental to change within the culture or structure of the church. I chose to read and write about John Wycliffe. Enjoy!
A Prelude to Reform
The church found itself in dire straits during the 14th and 15th century. The Papal schism of 1378 brought many forms of reform for the Catholic Church. Some of these reforming parties were moderate and others were more extreme. Perhaps one of the more extreme members of those seeking reform, this individual sought to reform “not only the life, but also the doctrine of the church.” This essay will address John Wycliffe’s influence on the church of his day and the far reaching influence of his doctrines for the church to come. It will also briefly address how one can apply the lessons gained from Wycliffe towards ministry today.
John Wycliffe lived during the apparent collapse of Papal power which occurred in 1378. It was this event coupled with Wycliffe’s understanding of lordship and dominion that predominately shaped his views and opinions. Educated and professor at Oxford, Wycliffe was known for his unwavering logic. After serving as a member of the royal commission, Wycliffe was appointed to a parish in Lutterworth where he began to preach and question the authority and doctrines of the church. As Wycliffe first began to press church authority of his day he was supported by the English court system which tended to agree with his arguments “…on the nature and limits of lordship or dominion. According to him, all legitimate dominion comes from God. But such dominion is characterized by the example of Christ, who came to serve, not to be served. Any lordship used for the profit of the ruler rather than for that of the governed is not true dominion, but usurpation. The same is true of any dominion, no matter how legitimate, which seeks to expand its power beyond the limits of its authority. Therefore, any supposed ecclesiastical authority that collects taxes for its own benefit, or seeks to extend its power beyond the sphere of spiritual matters is illegitimate.” The court system frequently struggled with jurisdictional issues on taxes that were collected by the church. Unfortunately for Wycliffe, his famed logic also led him to denounce the governing political bodies of his day which led to his loss of support and subsequent retreat to Oxford.
Accompanying his teachings on lordship he also taught that the visible hierarchy of the pope was not representative of the church. “The scandal of the Great Schism encouraged this, and he began teaching that the true church of Christ is not the pope and his visible hierarchy, but rather the invisible body of those who are predestined to salvation – a point he drew from Saint Augustine of Hippo.” He claimed that the legitimate papacy ended with Urban VI, “therefore the church had to return to scriptures as the only source of its authority.” This in turn led to his belief that grace is not bestowed through the church by way of the sacraments. Instead, “all members of the elect have immediate access to Christ through the Bible.” Ultimately, Wycliffe believed that the practicing of the sacraments was useful for worship but they did not hold the same weight that the papacy attributed them. Essentially, he was saying that salvation could be found outside of the Catholic Church. Wycliffe’s belief about scripture being final the authority led him to the notion that the scriptures should be put back in the hands of the true church, the people. In turn, he translated the Latin Vulgate into English. This project was completed the year of his death in 1384.
While in Lutterworth, Wycliffe began having a profound influence on laity. “Even when Wycliffe was alive some of his disciples set out to preach his doctrines. It is not clear that this was done at his instigation, nor even that all who eventually received the name of “Lollards” were in fact Wycliffites.” The term “Lollard” refers to another reformation group who adopted Wycliffe’s views; namely, the denial of transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, the need for confession by priests, clerical celibacy, and the sacramentalism of the church. It is the work of these groups and individuals such as John Husk that are a testament to the influence of John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was first condemned by the archbishop of Canterbury in 1382 and later condemned and officially labeled a heretic at the Council of Constance in 1415. Because he was not available to be burned alive, the council saw fit to dig up his remains and ceremoniously burn them.
For anyone even slightly versed in the issues of the subsequent reformation of Martin Luther, it is quite easy to see the correlation between these two men. Wycliffe stands as a forerunner to the official protestant reformation. Because of this, particularly because some would say we are on the cusp of a similar reformation, it would be helpful to glean the positive and negative actions of Wycliffe to further understand the ministry of the church today. First, perhaps the most influential thing that he did was to encourage the laity to study the scriptures. Although the Bible has been available to the masses for quite some time, biblical literacy is at an all time low. This is the case in even the most evangelical churches. One might even say that the local protestant evangelical pastor acts in a manner similar to the pope. He is able to decree the do’s and don’ts of the church without repercussion. Second, Wycliffe may have been a bit too rash in pointing out those whom he thought to be reprobate. This too is a major concern for the church today. All too often the church becomes concerned with determining who is in and who is out that it shirks the duty and responsibility of making disciples by condemning rather than evangelizing. It is not clear whether this was true with Wycliffe, but ministers today should be aware of this. Lastly, to Wycliffe’s credit he was not afraid to stand against popular authority. The church would do well to learn from this. Frequently the church is found guilty of appropriating to the current ruling or political system. This certainly can be seen today.
Driven by logic and shaped by political church turmoil, John Wycliffe was an ardent preacher of the doctrines that he believed to be true. His influence is easily seen as one begins to read about figures such as John Husk and the outcome of the protestant reformation. Though his remains were burned as a heretic, his doctrines continue to burn brightly in the hearts of many even today.
 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY 1984) pg. 442
 Gonzales, 346-7
 Gonzales, 347
 Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2001) pg. 488
 HWCM, 488
 Gonzalez, 348
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The Jesus Incident and Beyond...SciFi Mania
I began my quest reading a book by Frank Herbert, which some of you may recognize as the author of the acclaimed Dune series, entitled The Jesus Incident. You can find a brief synopsis of it here. It certainly was an interesting read. Voidship...Ship...Worship...figure that one out.
I then moved on to a book written by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper called Building Harlequin's Moon. Unfortunately this book began stronger than it ended and I found myself pressing pretty hard to get through it. Here is a brief synopsis.
Since I just recently finished J.R.R. Tolkien's classic The Lord of the Rings, I thought it would be best to tackle an equally thrilling and challenging epic. So, Dune here I come. Here is a synopsis.
There are several things I've learned about SciFi:
1. A truly good science fiction novel tells us something about our current social structure.
2. Nanotechnology will some day destroy the human race, unless we are very...very careful.
3. If there isn't a Messiah character, then it's just not good.
If so many good science fiction writers can't survive without the aid of a Messiah (i.e., telling and retelling our story/God's story), why do we think we can get by without the aid of a Messiah?
Does reality for these writers drive the ideas behind these stories, or are they simply making them up?
These are the things I think about.
Church History 1 Post 5
Realism and Nominalism:
Contrasting Views of Anselm and Aquinas
The middle ages produced two of the most prolific theologians known throughout the history of the church. These theologians, though close in faith, were separate in method and ideologies. Anselm (1033-1109) subscribed to the more Platonic philosophical ideology of realism, while Aquinas (1225-1274) held to the more earthy Aristotelian philosophical ideology of nominalism. This short essay will deal with the works of both men while contrasting their different approaches to the knowledge of God and understanding how they relate to the work of Christ.
Anselm is most famous for his work entitled Proslogion (“Address”) which gives his ontological argument for the existence of God. In this work he first states, “…I believe in order to understand.” For Anselm, reason is a tool to be used by the theologian to better understand what he already knows and believes. This is distinctly different from a purely philosophical perspective which states that reason alone, apart from revelation, is the path to truth and knowledge. Thus, we find that Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God, though purely using reason alone, follows his already established belief of God’s existence. Anselm’s commitment to the dominant philosophy of the day predetermined the course that his arguments would take. Subscribing to the Platonic driven ideals of realism forced him to argue in absolutes alone. Realists believe that ultimate reality is found in the greatest absolute. For instance, the physical church on the corner is only a representation of the “real” established universal church. In a way, our senses deceive us or only give us glimpses, note Plato’s shapes and forms, into ultimate reality.
The Thomastic approach to theology is somewhat different. During Aquinas’s days of study a rebirth of Aristotelian philosophy was taking place. This ideology was taking form in the minds of the nominalists by stating that we only have the ability to recognize forms through experience and the senses. Thus, reality is found on the level of sense perception. “The mind knows something by forming ideas that are gathered from sensation through images.” As a contrary view, the true reality of the church, for the nominalist, is not necessarily the all encompassing ideal of the universal church, but rather the physical church located in each individual town. For Aquinas, theology and philosophy are not juxtaposed. “According to him, some truths are within the reach of reason, and others are beyond it. Philosophy deals only with the first; but theology is not limited to the latter.” It was this reasoning that drove Aquinas’s methodology in creating his complex systems of thought in Summa Theologiae. His meticulously organized system allowed for the freedom of reason to be used in subjects such as the natural sciences with the assumption that reason only has the ability to take you so far. The point in which reason can take one no further is the point at which revelation begins.
This next section will view both theologians’ arguments for the existence of God in order to differentiate between the two methodologies. “Anselm distrusted the senses, and thus starts, not by looking at the world, but by examining the idea itself of God.” By stating, “Now we believe that thou art a being than which none greater can be thought,” Anselm elevates the world of ideas above the world of the senses. On the contrary, Aquinas begins his first argument with the natural science law of motion. He states, “The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another…” Both of these men believed that “rational inquiry helps us to understand better that which we accept by faith,” but, because of their philosophical commitments, took drastically different approaches. Anselm’s approach tended to emphasize the more transcendent nature of God while Aquinas argued that nature gives us tangible witness to who God is.
The question then becomes, “How do these two methodologies interpret the work of Christ?” Both individuals worked to answer this question. Anselm, using feudal imagery, explained the incarnation by stating that Christ’s death on the cross satisfied as payment for man’s offense against God. Anselm explains,
“When we were considering God’s justice and man’s sin, God’s mercy seemed to you to vanish. But we have found how great it really is, and how it is in such harmony with his justice that it cannot be conceived to be greater or more just. For, indeed, what greater mercy could be imagined, than for God the father to say to the sinner, condemned to eternal torments, and without any power of redeeming himself from them, “Receive my only-begotten Son, and give him for yourself,” and for the Son himself to say, “Take me, and redeem yourself”? For they as much as say this when they call us and draw us to the Christian faith. And what could be more just, than for Him to whom the price paid to forgive every debt.”
Perhaps to our surprise, Aquinas begins his arguments for the incarnation and humanity’s restoration through Christ with the exact argument of atonement. He states, “Hence divine Wisdom judged it fitting that God should become man, so that thus one and the same person would be able both to restore man and to offer satisfaction.” It seems that both philosophical paths, in this case, have led to the same road. Relationally, Christ is experienced by us through his humanity. His sacrifice on the cross satisfies the necessary payment for the remission of sins. This He freely gives to us through the act of grace which for both Anselm and Aquinas were experienced in the sacraments of the church.
 Hugh T. Kerr, Readings in Christian Thought, 2nd Edition (Abingdon Press/Nashville Tennessee, 1990) page 82.
 Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2001) pg. 431
 Justo L. Ganzales, The Story of Christianity (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY 1984) pg. 318
 Gonzales, 318
 Kerr, 83
 Kerr, 112
 Gonzales, 318
 Kerr, 93
 Kerr, 119
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Church History 1 Post 4
Christian Life beyond the Empire
Generally speaking, most people understand the history of Christianity to be relegated to the borders and boundaries of the Roman Empire. Through important scholarship, historical research has shown that not only were there vibrant Christian communities outside of these boundaries but these communities were active in spreading the gospel, social life, and even scholarly efforts. This essay will focus primarily on the differences these communities had with Roman Christianity. It will outline lives for Christians located in Ethiopia (Africa south of Egypt), Persia, Central Asia, India, and China.
The Ethiopian church began first with the conversion of the King of Axum in the 4th century. Upon his conversion, Frumentius, a freed slave, traveled to Alexandria to tell the Bishop of that time, Athanasius, and to ask for support. Because of this appeal to the already established ecclesial structure, the Ethiopian’s church structure was very similar. As it turned out, Athanasius ordained Frumentius to do the work required in Ethiopia. The kinship between the Ethiopian church and the Coptic Church can be seen even today. “The perspective of the Abyssinian church was catholic, for it looked beyond its own borders to the bishop of Alexandria as its pope (or father) in the faith.”[i] Just as it was in Egypt, monastic life became central to the survival of Christianity in that region. These monastic communities have been credited with opening schools and translating scripture into the Ethiopian language which was Ge’ez. Scripture in the local language is perhaps one of the most distinct attributes the Ethiopian church has apart from the Roman church. Though there were many similarities between these two churches we must remember that “at the same time Christianity in Ethiopia was from its beginnings grounded in national cultural life and thus” is “an example of a distinctive African church.”[ii]
Similar to the Ethiopian church were the churches found in Persia. The Persian church had a strong connection with the city of Constantinople from its conception, but because the church existed outside of the Roman Empire, it could not be protected from persecution. Ties were severed with the western church from the 5th century on. Prior to that time, “the catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon was confirmed to be equal in authority to other patriarchs, such as the bishop of Rome, and Alexandria (the two Nicaea had recognized as supreme) and Constantinople (whose authority was recognized at the Council in Constantinople in 381).”[iii] Unlike the Roman church, “Christians were generally found on the margins of Persian life.”[iv] Zorastrianism was the dominant religion of the day which strained relationships between Christians and their neighbors. Zorastrianism disapproved of many Christian practices. Two examples would be celibacy and the burying of the dead. For the Zorastrians, celibacy was seen as an insult and offense punishable by death. They also didn’t like the fact that Christians buried the dead because they believed that it polluted the drinking water. The exclusion of Christians from the mainstream social sphere made the success of monasteries that much more important. The monasteries in Persia were the centers of Christianity. Because of their continued connection with the west and Roman church, the Persian monasteries had access to early Greek medical manuals. These manuals were guarded by the monasteries so much that physicians of that time were almost exclusively Christian. This allowed Christianity to move up through the social ranks and even serve the shah of shah’s as the court physicians. Unlike the churches counterpart in the west and despite the ability to hold company with high officials of the land, Christianity was never adopted or co-opted to be the civil religion of the land. In spite of the social struggles at home in Persia the church was successful with the spread of the gospel to land further east and south, namely India, Central Asia and China. It is to those that we now turn.
Central Asia was known greatly for being the crossroads of the famed Silk Road trade route. “The expansion of the Christian movement east of Persia after the year 600 was primarily the work of East Syrian monks, priests, and merchants who traveled the trade routes across Asia.”[v] Similar to earlier Christian expansion, Christianity was spread through the pluralistic culture of the day. Manichaeanism, Buddhism, Zorastrianism, and Asian Shamanism all played a prominent role in the culture and life of the day. The church in central Asia viewed the “East Syrian patriarch” as “the single most important church leader in the East.”[vi] It was through the help of this patriarch that many of the monasteries were established and many of the monks were commissioned to work as missionaries. It could be said that central Asia was a staging point for further mission expansion into India and China.
Life for Christians in India was much different than those in the west. Oral tradition states that the Apostle Thomas was the first to make a missionary trip to India and establish churches there. It is not known whether these churches actually survived between those first missionary movements and the later migrations of Persians. It is safe to say that the majority of Indian Christians were “immigrants of Persian descent who had settled…over several centuries.”[vii] At some point, Christians were given traditional Indian “caste” status and established communities centered around religious practices just as other Indians did during that time. Church structure was similar to the structure in Persia, and by the 8th century the church had grown to such a substantial size that they elected their own metropolitan who oversaw at least six bishops. Syriac was the official language of the church in the east. Even when the population in India began to speak the indigenous languages, they still continued to use the Syriac language for the church. They did this partly because they believed the language was close or similar to the actual language that Jesus and the disciples spoke, “hence it carried a connection with the land of Israel and Semitic culture that otherwise might have been lost.”[viii] The liturgy of these churches also carried many symbolic connections with Jerusalem and Semitic culture at large. Because of the scarcity or no availability of grape wine or wheat for bread, communion was performed with rice cakes and palm wine. It was these and other distinctly Christian characteristics that prevented the Indian churches from being “absorbed in the Indian religious world, thereby maintaining a distinctive Christian identity.”[ix]
Christianity in China, like most eastern Persian religions, saw little success. Confucianism was eventually deemed the teachings of the Imperial court and thus became “the ruling political ideology of the state.”[x] “East Syrian churches in 635 are the first documented evidence we have of Christians in the Chinese imperial capital.”[xi] Monasteries were built using the funds of the Imperial court and it is believed that Christianity’s acceptance may have been due to its close relations with Buddhism at the time. Dialogue between Christianity and the other religions, being Zorastrianism, Manachaenism, and Buddhism, seemed to be surprisingly civil. In fact there is evidence that monks from both the Buddhist and Christian monasteries collaborated to translate traditional Christian and Buddhist teachings into Chinese. In the year 845, an Imperial decree was issued to remove all religions foreign to the land. It appears that there may have been indigenous Christians at this time but they did not survive after the decree. Christianity in China seemed to be academic in nature and unfortunately never quite took hold with the population at large.
This short study has shown that the Christian message reached much more than the Western Roman Empire. Vibrant Christian communities existed from Persia and even into China. The political structure of the day allowed for the gospel to be spread via prominent trade routes and with relative safety. It seems necessary for us to remember that as western Christians we do not hold the exclusive story of the Christian church.
[i] Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2001) pg. 216
[ii] HWCM, 216
[iii] HWCM, 199
[iv] HWCM, 201
[v] HWCM, 305
[vi] HWCM, 307
[vii] HWCM, 310
[viii] HWCM, 310
[ix] HWCM, 310
[x] HWCM, 315
[xi] HWCM, 315
Friday, August 10, 2007
Church History 1 Post 3
Augustine of Hippo was a prolific theologian during tumultuous times. As the bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Augustine was confronted with many philosophical, theological, and even historical arguments against the Christian faith. His steadfast and determined will to combat these issues has left us with a plethora of writings that not only had influence in his own day, but later shaped the entire landscape of the western church. During his lifetime, Augustine witnessed the collapse of the great city of Rome and ultimately the collapse of the western empire itself. “Forged in the experience of historical crisis, his theology offered the hope of divine grace and redemption in history.”[i] This short essay will address Augustine’s position on sin, grace, and the church by exploring his differing views with the Manicheaens, the Donatists, and the Pelagians. Also, some of the main areas in which Augustine influenced the western church will be highlighted.
While studying in Carthage, Augustine joined a philosophical religion known as Manichaeism. This particular school taught that the material world was inherently evil and all things were pre-determined. Man, essentially, had no freedom. After his conversion he was faced with the issue of retorting the very beliefs to which he had once ascribed. To do this, Augustine appealed to the Christian doctrines of sin and the fall. “Creation was inherently good, and evil entered into it only through the agency of the human will that had sinned. The effects of that act extended to the entire human race, he argued, but this did not mean that the creation was evil.”[ii] For Augustine, sin and evil were not substances as the Manicheans taught. They are “a decision, a direction, a negation of good.” [iii] Augustine insisted that there is only one God who is inherently good, but through the choices by the free wills of man and angelic beings, evil entered the world. The original fall has had a debilitating effect on the human will and all of creation. As stated above, evil is an absence or falling away from good. It is like the ripples of water after a rock is thrown into a pond. The further away the ripples move, the more distorted they become. Thus, for Augustine, salvation was not an escape from the evils of this world, but a reorienting of life and will back towards its original objective or goal, which is contemplation on the goodness of God.
Augustine was not only faced with contention outside of the church, he was also faced with it inside of the church. During Augustine’s Bishop itinerate in Hippo, he was faced with constant threat from a separatist party of the Catholic church known as the Donatists. This particular party took a hard stance on the purity of the church and concluded that there was no purity in the Catholic Church and theirs was the only pure church. They came to this decision because in years prior certain bishops had been restored into the church after renouncing the Christian faith to save themselves from execution during the times of persecution. The Donatists believed that these bishops should not have been allowed to reenter the church because they had committed the ultimate sin of renouncing the Spirit. Thus the line of ordinates was tainted and impure. “Augustine responded that they validity of any rite of the church does not depend on the moral virtue of the person administering it.”[iv] Ultimately, Augustine concluded, along with Cyprian, “that for baptized Christians who left the true church (which he understood as to be the Catholic church), there was no salvation.”[v] Grace is only effective through the sacraments of the church and this had no weight on the purity of the ministers. Though the minister is impure, the sacrament still holds true. Because of this thinking, Augustine held the view that the unity of the church was far greater than the purity of the church. He writes,
“With so many sinners mingled with the saints, all caught in the single fishing net the Gospel mentions, this life on earth is like a sea in which good and bad fishes caught in a net swim about indistinguishably until the net is beached, and the bad ones are separated from the good. Only then does God so reign in the good, as in His temple, that He may be all in all. So it falls out that in this world, in evil days like these, the Church walks onward like a wayfarer stricken by the world’s hostility, but comforted by the mercy of God.”[vi]
Augustine was also confronted with a differing position by a British monk named Pelagius. Pelagianism “assigned to human beings a degree of responsibility for participating in their salvation.” Others involved in the debate agreed with this position as applied to spiritual growth after baptism. Essentially this is Augustine’s position. He writes,
“It must, therefore, be admitted that we have a will free to do both evil and good; but, in doing evil, one is free of justice and the slave of sin; on the other hand, in the matter of good no one is free unless he be freed by Him who said: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”[vii] Not, however, as if one no longer needed the help of his liberator, once he has been freed from the domination of sin; rather, hearing from Him: “Without me you can do nothing,”[viii] one must oneself say: “Be thou my helper, forsake me not.”[ix] I am happy to have found this faith in our brother Florus; it is indubitably the true, prophetic, apostolic, and Catholic faith. This is the right understanding of the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, by which alone men are freed from evil, and without which they do no good whatsoever, either in thought, or in will and love, or in action; not only do men know by its showing what they are to do, but by its power they do with love what they know is to be done.”[x]
Grace, through the order of the sacraments found in the church as stated above, is the agent that frees man to follow after and love God. This grace is given as a gift of God. Thus, the initial act of salvation is given by God and He then helps us to continually walk in Him.
Augustine’s theology was highly interpretive of the social aspects of his day. He began work on The City of God to as an apologetic to the fall of Rome in 410. As he continued writing the work turned into “a full-fledged theology of history”[xi] chronicling the effects of sin and the fall while using two allegorical cities - one heavenly and one earthly. Augustine viewed the Donatists as shattering the unity of the church, and the Visigoths, the tribe that sacked Rome, as shattering the entire order of social life. It is during this time that Augustine contributed long lasting writings pertaining sociology, soteriology, and ecclesiology that effected the positions of the western church. Subsequently, the church has contended that the doctrine of creation is sufficient to explain the problem of evil and the issue of will in soteriology. Also, the Catholic Church has firmly held in its ecclesiology that the sacraments or rites of the church hold firm regardless of the spiritual status of the minister. It has also held onto the notion that grace and salvation is administered through the sacraments which can only be found in unity with the church.
[i] Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2001) pg. 234
[ii] HWCM, 232
[iii] Justo L. Ganzales, The Story of Christianity (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY 1984) pg. 213
[iv] Gonzalez, 213
[v] HWCM, 232
[vi] Hugh T. Kerr, Readings in Christian Thought, 2nd Edition (Abingdon Press/Nashville Tennessee, 1990) page 66.
[vii] John 8:36
[viii] John 15:5
[ix] Psalm 26:9
[x] Kerr, 66
[xi] HWCM, 233
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Church History 1 Post 2
How did Justin's Apology address the cultural challenges to Christianity in the second century, and how did his Apology offer a different approach to Christ than we see in the theology of Tertullian?
Stoics and Epicureans:
Dominant Philosophical Challenges to Christianity
During Justin Martyr’s lifetime from 100-165 A.D. and beyond, Christians were faced with many intellectual and philosophical challenges and attacks by prominent philosophers. Perhaps the most prevalent and dominant philosophical schools of the day were the Stoics and Epicureans. These schools charged Christians with accounts of atheism, being a mystery cult, and with accounts of stupidity because Christianity attracted the “outcasts” of the day. This short essay will present the primary doctrines of these two schools in order to give a brief example of what apologists like Justin were up against.
Stoic philosophy had been present for quite some time before Christians arrived on the scene. The founder of Stoicism was a man by the name of Zeno who lived from approximately 336 to 264 BC.[i] Stoicism is a Monistic belief system. “When the world is in existence God stands to it as soul to body, being the soul of the world.”[ii] Fire is the primary source from which all things are created, and God is this immanent fire who acts as the “Consciousness of the world.”[iii] The conscious reason or logo is not spiritual in nature but is physical along with the rest of the world. The Stoics denied the reality of human free will and believed that time and history was destined to repeat itself. Copleston states,
“…God forms the world and then takes it back into Himself through a universal conflagration, so that there is an unending series of world-constructions and world- destructions. Moreover, each new world resembles its predecessor in all particulars, every individual man, for example, occurring in each successive world and performing the identical actions that he performed in his previous existence.”[iv]
The “world-conflagration” is not to be confused with the Christian understanding of teleology. Because of this world view the Stoics were forced to accept the idea of being stuck in the wheel of faith. Their goal was not to be released from the never ending spiral but to become content with their situation. By achieving contentment with one’s situation, the Stoics believed that one could gain some level of inner freedom. This was achieved by the study of philosophy and the pursuit to live a virtuous life. “…Cosmological determinism is modified by their insistence on interior freedom in the sense that a man can alter his judgment on events and his attitude towards events, seeing them and welcoming them as the expression of “God’s Will.”[v]
The pursuit of Virtue, being moral insight, courage, self-control or temperance, and justice, was an all or nothing affair. You either possessed them all or you had none. “Virtue is a disposition conformable to reason, desirable in and for itself and not because of any hope or fear or any external motive.”[vi] Remembering that reason is logos, we find that virtue is the foundational fabric of the universe.
Lastly, although the Stoics were in essence monotheistic, they deemed it necessary to include polytheism into their system. Zeno stateed that sacrifices were to no avail; however lesser forms or manifestations of the Supreme Principle are to be honored. The polytheistic Gods were these manifestations, i.e. the celestial heavens, thus they were to be honored.
Epicureanism was also present far before Christianity. Its founder, Epicurus, was born in 342 and opened his own school in Athens by 307 BC.[vii] It is said that the Epicurean doctrines or philosophical orthodoxy were maintained more than any other school.[viii] Among the most famous of the Epicurean philosophers was the poet T. Lucretious Carus (91-51 BC) whose chief aim was the “liberation of men from the fear of the gods and of death and the leading of them to peace of soul.”[ix]
The Epicurean cosmology was quite different than the Stoic concept of God as fire. In essence, the Epicureans were strong naturalists believing the universe to be made up of atoms. The world was thus created mechanically which releases us from postulating teleology, and because there is no ultimate purpose to existence there is no fear of death. They are quoted as saying, “Death is nothing to us for that which is dissolved is devoid of sensation, and that which is devoid of sensation is nothing to us.”[x] Truth for the Epicureans was found in three areas which were the “senses, and the preconceptions, and the passions.”[xi] Through these criterion of truth one finds that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life.
“…we affirm that pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily; for we have recognized this as the first good, being connate with us; and it is with reference to it that we begin every choice and avoidance; and to this we come as if we judged of all good by passion as the standard.”
To be fair to the teachings of the Epicurean’s, it should be said they did not have a hedonistic lifestyle in mind when postulating this formula. Their pursuit was for the “pleasure which endures for a lifetime” which was not found in physical happiness but only in spiritual awareness.[xii] Also, all pain was not to be avoided. If one could foresee a greater good by enduring pain then it was necessary to endure the pain for the short term. They state, “Every pleasure is therefore a good on account of its own nature, but it does not follow that every pleasure is worthy of being chosen; just as every pain is an evil, and yet every pain must not be avoided.”[xiii] Unfortunately, when lived out in praxis these tenants tended to lean towards a hedonistic lifestyle.
We see from this brief overview that the Christians, specifically the Apologists, of Justin’s time were faced with complex and in depth philosophical systems to refute. Some of the prominent theologians of the day believed it was their duty to respond to these views. Others did not see the need to respond at all. We see this in the case of Tertullian. Either way, it was perhaps by the grace of God and the act of the Holy Spirit that these men were successful.
[i] Frederick Copleston, S.J. A History of Philosophy: Volume 1(The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland 1946) p. 129. Zeno was first believed to follow in his fathers footsteps by becoming a merchant but fell in love with philosophy while in Athens in 315.
[ii] Copleston, 133
[iii] Copleston, 132
[iv] Copleston, 133 this same concept can later be seen in Neitzsche’s concept of “Eternal Recurrence.”
[v] Copleston, 134
[vi] Diog. Laert., 7, 89. According to Copleston, 141
[vii] Copleston, 145
[viii] Copleston, 146
[ix] Copleston, 146
[x] Diog. Laert., 10, 139. According to Copleston, 148
[xi] Diog. Laert., 10, 31. According to Copleston, 147
[xii] Copleston, 151
[xiii] Diog. Laert., 10, 128 and 129, According to Copleston 151