Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38
I’m just getting into John Chrysostom’s Homilies On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (CUA Press). The homilies attempt to explain that we can know nothing of the nature of God, but we can still know God. St. John gave these as a response to the neo-Arians who said that we could know the nature of God.
In order to give some background information, the introduction explains the controversy of Arianism and what it brought about. He talks about how how the adoption of the Nicene Creed was a response to Arianism. Yet he points out:
“…Arianism did not die; in fact it grew for four decades and was still a disturbing factor at the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it might have been reestablished after Nicaea were it not for Athanasius of Alexandria.”
For those who do not know, Athanasius is often referred to as “Athaansius Contra Mundum” (Athanasius against the world). Athanasius was a deacon when he attended Nicaea, but in 326 (the year after Nicaea) when Alexander of Alexandria died, Athanasius took his place as Bishop of Alexandria. During Athanasius’ tenure as Bishop of Alexandria he was banished from the city no less than five times due to his refusal to back down on his beliefs concerning Christ.
Eusebius (not to be confused with the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea), the bishop of Nicomedia, was an open Arian and used his position of influence to have the government of Alexandria consistently harass Athanasius. Much to the chagrin of Eusebius, Athanasius willingly faced the persecution; after all, he was raised during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire (303-311) and watched many of his family friends and his mentors die in the persecution. What was banishment compared to what he had endured as a child?
Athanasius turned away the favor of man and a position of prominence in order to stand for the truth. As C.S. Lewis says of Athanasius in the introduction to “On the Incarnation” (St. Vladamir’s Press),
“He knew that the very existence of the Church was at stake; but he was utterly certain of the truth and he knew that it must in time prevail.”
Athanasius was faithful to the doctrines of Christianity and to Christ not out of some desire to be right or some attempt to win an argument or exert his power and control over people, but because he was dedicated to the Truth who is Christ. In being dedicated to the Truth, he desired that all men know the Truth as He revealed Himself. The Arians created a Jesus who was different from the Jesus of history and therefore Athanasius, in loving loyalty to Christ, stood his ground and suffered for his holy obstinance. Banishment back then was not a simple thing; being in Egypt, he was banished into the wilderness. He had to leave all that he knew five separate times and depart into the unknown (though the first two times he went to the Desert Father Antony, while the last three times he went to the disciples of Antony). Continue reading
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In early Christianity, most of those who rejected a doctrine of God generally rejected His ability to create. They bought into the Gnostic belief that the material world was created by aeons or “little gods” or angels. Others, however, taught that matter pre-existed God and that God came along the scene, formed matter to His likening, and let it go. Though He had a plan for creation, He had no way of causing this plan to come about. We see this in modern heresies too. Whether someone denies that God has foreknowledge or is truly good or the strange theology of Weakness Theology (as per Caputo’s book, The Weakness of God, specifically chapter 3 where Caputo declares, “God is not omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, or supersensuous.” [p73]), some modern-day heresies begin with the denial of who God is.
For instance, the Damascene speaks of the Theocatagnostae (“Condemners of God”) who sought to find the faults within God. As John of Damascus explains:
“The Theocatagnostae, who are also called Blasphemers, try to find fault with [the Lord] for certain words and actions, as well as with the holy persons associated with Him, and with the sacred Scriptures. They are foolhardy and blasphemous people.” (Heresy 92)
In other words, those who say, “God was wrong” or that we shouldn’t trust all of Scripture are heretics. This might seem inflammatory to some, but others wear the title proudly. Caputo, on page 69 of his book, reverses the role of the serpent and God and says the serpent was telling the truth while God was being crafty. Such sentiment is not limited to Caputo (who few people have heard of). Instead, a studier of Caputo, my friend Peter Rollins also decides to shift the blame to God and make the serpent look innocent (chapter 2 of his book The Fidelity of Betrayal). For instance, Rollins, in talking about the narrative of the serpent deceiving Adam and Eve, supposes that God doesn’t have to be right and the serpent wrong. In a footnote to saying this, Rollins states:
A long time ago in an ancient kingdom, the young peasant decided one day to go throw rocks at the king’s castle.
As the young peasant was walking along the street with an angry look on his face, an old fellow with a big bushy mustache and a thick German accent came up to the young lad with an inquisitive look upon his face.
“And where might you be going?” asked the old man.
“I am heading to the castle to throw rocks at the king’s windows.”
“And why might you want to do that?”
“What concern of yours is it old man?” the young peasant replied.
“Ah, have you not heard of me? I am the greatest spectacle this town has ever seen. My name is Zarathustra. Many find me crazy. Many others hate me. But I hold out hope that one day someone will grasp my teachings. Until then, it is my curse to be mocked – ever since I came down the mountain to enlighten this…this…herd I have had nothing but mockery!” Zarathustra let out a frustrated laugh that made the young peasant think that this man was truly mad. “Now, let us walk to the castle to throw stones at the windows and along the way tell me why you have such a desire.”
As they walked along the path, the young peasant opened up to Zarathustra and began to tell him why he desired to throw rocks at the king’s castle. The peasant said it all began when his farm was burned to the ground five years ago. He had just inherited it from his father and was beginning to make a profit on the land when raiders from the underworld burned his crop to the ground. The king did not send an army for vengeance; in fact, the peasant theorized there was no army at all. This had happened to other farmers as well – so if there was an army, why weren’t they fighting?
The second incident that raised the ire of the young peasant was that the local town – which was supposedly under the sovereignty of the king – was left lawless. People were left to fend for themselves or to form police forces. This, however, did not stop the constant fighting, brawling, rapes, and even murders. It seemed that if the king were sovereign over such a town, certainly he would intervene to stop such lawlessness.
The third and final incident was when the young peasant passed a group of starving orphans. These children had not eaten for days, but the king’s generosity was no where to be found. The young peasant decided that the king must be responsible for these evils.
This is the thesis that I wrote last semester as part of a requirement for college (the topic was required, just a thesis). Anyway, as it is quite long, I have put it in PDF format.
I hope you enjoy.
Cross Posted at Purple Like Polka:
I attended an event in Waco, TX this evening sponsored by the VOID. Peter Rollins (How (Not) to Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal) was there as well. I got an opportunity to speak with him after the event, but I want to share my views on what transpired.
This was the first Emergent event I’ve been to in a long time that I actually enjoyed. Moreover, it showed the absolute importance of having doubts and questions about Christianity. My heart broke that these people had at one point been made to feel ashamed of doubting certain aspects of their faith. I’m glad that the service was geared to expressing these doubts and admitting that we have doubts.
I think we, as Christians, are fearful of our own doubts and especially of other people’s doubts. Doubts open us up to uncertainty; we don’t know the outcome of a doubt. What if the answer to a doubt is more devastating than the doubt itself? Doubt can be a very scary thing.
Cross-posted on Purple Like Polka:
I have no problem admitting that I am fascinated by early Islamic philosophy. I love reading the philosophy of Ibn Sina (Aviccena), al-Farabi, find the “rational theology” (Ilm-al-Kalam) fascinating, and find that I agree with much of what these early teachers say. I also appreciate many aspects of Islam, specifically in the Qur’an. I think there is much to be learned from it.
At the same time, though I believe there historically was a Muhammad and find much truth in Islam, I deny its central tenets and even some of its auxiliary beliefs. Though I agree with some of what Islam teaches, I also disagree with parts as well. In light of this, I can’t call myself a Muslim.
This brings me to my bigger point – why do people continue to call themselves Christians when they deny the central tenets of Christianity? There is no Peter Rollins for Islam, saying that we must merely live as Allah wants us to live and forgo the beliefs. Why is there one for Christianity?
If someone is going to deny that Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity, that the Bible is infallible and inspired, that Christ died for the sins of the world, then why keep the ‘Christian’ title? If you don’t like the organization, then don’t go by its name.
My question, then, is if a person denies the central tenets of Christianity, why do they continue to claim the name?