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Archive for the ‘Medieval Church’ Category

Too often (mostly all the time) we gauge God’s power by our own impotence. If God can conquer one sinner, he can conquer every one of them. If God can take one soldier from the kingdom of darkness and transfer him into the Kingdom of his own dear Son, he can take ALL that’s Satan’s and give it to his Son. If you’re reading this post, chances are very high that God has done exactly this for you. If he’s done this for you, why not your recalcitrant neighbor who hates Christ? Why not your whole neighborhood? How about your whole town or county? Too much to think? Really?!

Let’s do an experiment. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our Christian brothers in Rome in the year AD 64. This was the year that Nero began persecuting the Christians, lighting them up in his gardens, feeding them to beasts in the Coliseum, and generally terrorizing the Christians for almost five years. Nero was the head of the Roman Empire, the greatest force in the world. This Empire was opposed to Christ and purposed (on and off) to stamp out Christianity. Okay, now we’re back in Rome, hidden underground, praying for our brothers that have been arrested, and praying that the Roman authorities do not find us. How absolutely unthinkable is it that the Roman Empire should be a Christian Empire? What kind of pipe dream is it that Caesar should become a Christian, and that Christianity should become the official religion of the Empire? That could NEVER happen… (more…)

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Cur Deus HomoCur Deus Homo by St. Anselm of Canterbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anselm’s famous book was on one hand exactly what I thought it’d be, and on the other hand refreshingly different from what I expected.

Cur Deus Homo is often referenced in discussions of why the incarnation of the Son of God factored into the atonement which he purchased. It is quite common (praise the Lord) for people to speak of the Savior needing to be man because only a human could pay for human sin and also needing to be God, as only God could do the job of reconciling sinful men to an infinitely holy God. I totally expected to find this explained in Anselm’s book, and I was not disappointed.

I was also refreshed by a few things that I did not expect. The first thing that I didn’t expect was Anselm’s lucid style. This book is set as a dialog ‘twixt Anselm and Boso, a curious and educated inquirer. I think the style of the dialog is excellent and should be used more often. What’s more, I’ve heard Anselm referred to as the Augustine of the Middle Ages. With his clear writing style and the way in which he handles ideas, I can understand why Anselm enjoys that high distinction. Augustine, too, was a fabulous and lucid writer. I find that usually the great ones are far easier to understand than their handlers. Finally, the way in which Anselm conceives of the redemption purchased by the God-man is at once very similar, but also quite foreign to the contemporary discussion of the matter. I don’t want to go into detail here in this short review, but suffice it to say that there is great benefit in reading ancient writers. If nothing else, they can help us to see how our thinking is both modern and all-too-provincial.

One weakness of Anselm’s approach, it seems to me, is that he’s self-consciously and explicitly attempting to give a rational accounting of how the incarnation factors into the atonement. Thus, while he does occasionally refer to Scripture, and even call it the only rock on which we’re to build a sturdy house, reason is his guiding light in this book. In Cur Deus Homo he’s trying to show how the biblical doctrine and the church teaching regarding atonement through the God-man is rational. To that degree, I guess I have no beef. I would just like to see him root his work more deeply in the Scripture, which is, after all, the sword of the Spirit. His reliance upon reason, however, is part of what’s earned him another one of his titles (valid or not): the father of scholasticism.

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Augustine & Calvin

I’m always amused when people say that the majority of church history is not “Calvinistic.” I’m amused because it’s both true and false. It’s true in that the Reformation put a fine point on issues of divine sovereignty and human inability. Take note that I said the Reformation, not Calvin. If by “Calvinism” we mean a commitment to the utter helplessness of humanity and a profound commitment to the sovereignty of God in the salvation or damnation of sinners, then we might just as well call it by a name reminiscent of any of the Reformers. Arminius himself was absolutely committed to the utter and absolute helplessness of humanity. If, however, by “Calvinism” we (anachronistically) mean the five points of Calvinism, then a great deal of the church is not Calvinistic… that is, completely Calvinistic.

When I think of the “Calvinism” of the church in broad historical terms, I’m thinking of it in a general sense: a commitment Augustinian anthropology and soteriology. (more…)

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The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth CenturyThe Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century by Hughes Oliphant Old

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book to be fascinating, greatly informative and easily accessible. Old offers a look at the development of the practice of baptism among the Reformers, but in so doing he gives us much more than that. For anytime one studies the Reformers, one necessarily studies all of church history before the Reformers. This book offers a sweeping (but detailed) view of the baptismal rite from NT times into the early Christian centuries, through the long Middle Ages into the Reformation. Old analyzes changes in the rite of baptism in light of historical, political, and theological developments in the church and the culture generally. He demonstrates how the baptismal rite developed through the centuries and what the Reformers had to work with as they set to reforming the baptismal rite in their own churches. I’ve read a good deal about the Reformed doctrine of baptism, but I was blown away by how much I didn’t know about the Reformed practice of baptism. Further, I am impressed at how conversant the Reformers were (generally, but specifically with regard to baptism) with the early and medieval church. The Reformers (and Old’s presentation of their work and thought) should encourage us to read more broadly and be less provincial. This is an excellent book and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the doctrine and practice of baptism in the Reformed churches.

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Anselm of Canterbury

The first thing that struck me when reading Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo (free!) was his humility. Funny enough, the same humility struck me in just the same way when I picked up St. Augustine’s Trinity. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of that same humility in myself. The great teachers always have more to teach than merely what they write.

Anselm’s is asked by Boso (his dialog partner in the book) to discuss the incarnation with these words: “I desire that you should discover to me, what, as you know, many beside myself ask, for what necessity and cause God, who is omnipotent, should have assumed the littleness and weakness of human nature for the sake of its renewal?” Anselm answers thusly:

You ask of me a thing which is above me, and therefore I tremble to take in hand subjects too lofty for me, lest, when some one may have thought or even seen that I do no satisfy him, he will rather believe that I am in error with regard to the substance of the truth, than that my intellect is not able to grasp it. CDH 1, 2

Two things stand out: 1) He recognizes the vast loftiness of the subject and is rightly reticent to take it up. As I mentioned, I found the same humility in Augustine when he took up the subject of the Holy Trinity. This, by itself, is commendable and worth emulating. 2) He’s concerned that his poor articulation may have a negative effect upon someone else. This is a lesson I don’t know that I’ve ever learned. One wonders how many one’s turned off this or that doctrine simply by speaking poorly about it. All that’s in God’s hands, to be sure, but it’s still a gut check for a guy like me.

As to Anselm’s faith, that is (not so surprisingly) in the Augustinian tradition, too. Anselm’s faith seeks understanding. He does not turn that on its head and have understanding seeking faith. He holds to that most excellent principle (which was his motto): “faith seeking understanding.” This concept is, to me, a no brainer. For example, one of the first things we learn about God is that he’s infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Intellect: *POOF* – is that to be understood unto belief? Impossible. But it can be received in faith and pursued to understand more deeply. Anselm’s a great example for us that Christianity is always faith seeking understanding; it couldn’t be any other way.

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Young Saint Anselm

Okay, right out of the chute, Saint Anselm (or, Anselm of Canterbury, as he’s usually called) is super rad. He’s so much so that we named one of our little ones after him. Our little Saint Anselm is probably the youngest of the Saint Anselms on the planet.

We just celebrated the 900th anniversary of the death of the more famous St. Anselm last year on April 21. That day is Anselm’s memorial day, which is celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, as well as the Anglican and Lutheran churches. Somehow, the Reformed and Presbyterian folks missed the boat on this one. I’m out to change that.

Anselm of Canterbury was born ca. 1033 and lived an extraordinary life. Go do some Google research and read about him. Seems like he’s most famous for his so-called Ontological Argument for the existence of God. I think, however, that he should be more famous for his development of the incarnation and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He offered his thoughts on these topics in a book called Cur Deus Homo (or Why the God Man?), which I’ve just started to read. As I work through CDH, I’ll post here, and it would be great to get some discussion going on the topics of incarnation and divine satisfaction.

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The Qur'an

As I expected, posting on the burning of the Qur’an struck a nerve. A couple of friends have been doing some thinking here and here. Their thoughts are worthwhile. There’s another stone I hoped to turn over today. That is, a lot folks who don’t know about different religious traditions have a tendency to lump them all together. They say things like, “Religion has caused more bloodshed than anything else in human history.” I suspect that no religion, not even blood-thirsty Islam, can hold a candle to the religion of the state (Communism) in the 20th century. But I digress. These types of folks look at the worldwide bloodshed caused by Islam, shake their heads and say, “That’s just religion for you.” In some cases the ignorance typified in such comments is invincible by human means. In other cases, people simply don’t know and are not closed to learning. In such cases, the ignorance can be alleviated with some sound instruction.

What I am attempting to do in this post is to contrast the Christian takeover of Europe with the Muslim takeover of the Middle East and the northern parts of Africa. What I’m not attempting to do is say that everything done in the name of Christ is fuzzy bunnies, and that everything done in the name of Allah bloody carnage. I want to leave the reader with a distinct notion of the way Christianity spread, and I want that notion to be in vibrant contrast to the notion of the way Islam spread. These origins are important, as they necessarily reverberate and echo down the corridors of time, influencing the later practitioners of each religion. Christianity is what it is partially because of how it started and how it spread. Islam is what it is for the same reasons.

The Bible

CHRISTIANITY: The main figure in Christianity is Jesus Christ. He’s the one who died a sacrificial death to redeem the world to God. He suffered to remove human suffering. He gave himself up to be tortured and murdered for the life of the world. Christianity started with self-sacrifice for the sake of others in execution of Jesus of Nazareth ca. AD 30. From the time of Christ’s resurrection, Christianity was persecuted, first by the Jews, later by the Romans. It was not religio licita (a legal religion that was free from official Roman persecution) until AD 313 and was eventually received as the official Roman state religion in AD 380. As Rome fell and the Barbarian tribes swept into Europe, there were wars, some of them involving Christological conceptions (Arianism) and blood was indeed shed. But more profoundly impactful were the great missionaries of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries. I’m not going to tell the stories, but they’re worth knowing. They’re worth retelling to your children, and they again to theirs. They’re stories of selfless heroism in service to Christ and to humanity. These missionaries gave their lives to extend Christianity through preaching and service. Many of them left their homes and families and went to distant countries and lands. They poured themselves out peacefully to serve Christ. St. Patrick, usually associated with Ireland, was actually English. Columba is associated with Scotland, but was Irish. Aidan is associated with England, but was Irish. Augustine of Canterbury is associated with England, but was Italian. Boniface is associated with Germany, but was English. You get the idea. Christianity is spread through preaching the Gospel, Baptism, the Eucharist. It takes lives dedicated to serve others to spread Christianity. HUBBA HUBBA!

ISLAM: The central figure in Islam is, of course, the prophet Muhammad. He was born, by Western (read: Christian) reckoning in AD 571. Maybe another time I’ll contrast the personal lives of Jesus and Muhammad, but suffice it to say that in 622, Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. In Medina, he basically took over, raised an army and, in 630, he waged war on Mecca. He took over Mecca and established Islam as the super-dominant religious, military, and social force in all of the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad died two years after the conquest, in 632. The prophet died, but his conquest went on. There were conquests basically non-stop until ca. AD 750 (and they continue to this day). See the map to cover this time period. Also, see Wikipedia’s article for a lot more information.

Muslim Conquests to AD 750

These conquests were not “go preach the Word and serve people for Allah,” they were filled with violence and forced conversions (at the end of a sword). These conquests were “convert or be killed in the name of Allah.” Note the contrast of origins: Jesus was a selfless servant, one who gave his life for the world. Muhammad was a warlord, extending his rule through violence. Note the development: Christianity was under persecution for 300 years. Islam was the persecutor from the time of Muhammad. Note the takeover: Christianity flourished by the work of selfless missionaries. Islam flourished by murdering all that stood in its way.

Now, I submit that these two very different origins and expansions ought to be enough to show that Islam is vastly different from Christianity. It is enough to prove that not all religions are the same and cause bloodshed after the same fashion. I also submit that the subsequent developments of both Christianity and Islam are deeply influenced by the events outlined above. So, here’s a question for you: Which religion would you rather have take over your neighborhood? Maybe a more important question is which religion is responsible for creating the blessed society in which your neighborhood exists?

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