Hermits and Anchorites

Mary Wellesley in the London Review of Books revisits a distinctive aspect of medieval piety:

The cell was the size of a large cupboard. There wasn’t enough room to lie down. I’d come late on a winter afternoon; the light was seeping away. What light there was came through the ‘squint’ – the small window that looked onto the sanctuary. It was a cruciform shape and through it I could see a single candle standing on the altar. I turned on the torch on my phone. In front of the squint was an oak shelf with a dark circle on its edge where the wood had been rubbed smooth. Above it was a notice that read: ‘Please put nothing on the ancient sill. This was the prayer-desk of the anchorites for several centuries.’ I knelt in front of it. If the floor had been at the same height in the medieval period, the desk would have been too high for an anchorite to rest their elbows on. Had the indentation been made by pairs of hands gripping the edge of the ledge? I wondered at those pairs of hands. This cell had been a coffin to its inhabitants – once inside, they were never to come out. They may have been buried beneath my feet, in this tiny anchorhold in the church of St Nicholas in the village of Compton in Surrey.

An anchorite or anchoress permanently encloses themselves in a cell to live a life of prayer and contemplation. The word comes from the Greek ἀναχωρεῖν (‘anachorein’) meaning ‘to retire or retreat’. Anchoritism emerged in the late 11th century in tandem with a monastic reform movement and a growth in spiritual enthusiasm that is sometimes referred to as the Medieval Reformation. In the Middle Ages in England, as elsewhere in Europe, the practice was not uncommon – there were around a hundred recluses across the country in the 12th century; over the 13th century, the figure increased to two hundred. Women significantly outnumbered men, by as much as three to one.

I came out of the church into the empty churchyard. Except for the sound of passing cars, I was alone. The anchorites who had lived in the cell probably rarely felt that. Anchorites withdrew from the world in one sense, but anchored to their church, they were at the centre of community life. Anchorholds were often situated in prominent places in medieval English towns – sometimes along the routes of liturgical processions. In London there were many cells along the old city walls. As Claire Dowding has noted, they formed a ‘ring of prayer’ encircling the capital.

Life as an anchoress began with a death. On entering their cell for the first time, the recludensus (novice recluse) would climb into a grave dug inside the cell. The enclosure ritual is a piece of macabre high drama. In places the liturgy is indistinguishable from a funeral service. When the moment for enclosure arrived, the anchoress-to-be would process with the celebrant, choir and others out of the church and into the graveyard, as the choir sang ‘In paradisum deducant te angeli’ – traditionally sung as a body is conveyed to a grave. The procession would arrive at the cell built onto the side of the church, usually – in England – on the north side, where the wind was most biting and no direct sunlight fell. Some ordines (liturgical directions) state that the recludensus should pause at the opening of the cell and the bishop should say, ‘Si vult intrare, intret’ (‘if he/she wishes to go in, allow him/her to go in’). An antiphon drawn from the Book of Tobias was sung, concluding with the words, ‘Be of good courage, thy desire from God is at hand.’ The anchoress would then climb into the grave, where she was sprinkled with earth – ashes to ashes, dust to dust – and the door of the cell was bolted.

More at the link.

Protestantism, The Bible, and Church Tradition

In the early sixteenth century, everyone knew that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt, in that it was not living up to its own principles. The Pope may have been head of the Church, but he was also a secular ruler, the sovereign of the Papal States, and as such, engaged in all the subterfuge that Machiavelli describes in The Prince. The Church forbade any number of things, like holding more than one church office, marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity, or the keeping of mistresses, but was always willing to grant an exception for the right price, or turn a blind eye if the subject was important enough. Many popes enjoyed a very luxurious and self-indulgent lifestyle, and even if we got some great Renaissance art out of this, it still didn’t sit well with a lot of ordinary Christians. And altogether, the Church as an organization appeared bureaucratic and very venal, a long way from its lofty self-image as the foundation of Jesus Christ himself and the sole guarantor of human salvation.

So in this sense, Martin Luther had a point.

Luther went a little further than that, though. In common with Erasmus and a number of other prominent thinkers of his time, he identified the corruption of the Church with its wealth of extra-Biblical traditions. The humanist impulse was to go ad fontes, which to them was always textual, the text in this case being the Bible. Where in the Bible to you find any justification for:

veneration of saints and their relics
pilgrimage to visit these
penance
purgatory
indulgences
priests as a separate caste of human
monasticism
prescribed use of Latin

Etc. So all of these practices, some over a thousand years old when Luther was alive, were to be downgraded, because they’re not endorsed by the Bible. They were figured as useless at best, or positively harmful at worst – idolatrous and sinful. Now, I suppose that Luther had a point here too… but, really, his program was no more true than its opposite. It is arbitrary, a judgment call, that the Bible should be the sole source of Christian practice. Even Erasmus condemned the mechanized, what’s-in-it-for-me aspect of popular piety, not its non-Biblicism as such.

The real significance of Luther, though, is encompassed in the word Glaubensspaltung – the “Faith-Splitting.” Luther was in no position to be elected pope, at which point he could use the power of the office to impose a more Bible-based Christianity over everyone. Instead, he managed to convince certain German princes that it was no big matter to declare their independence from the Roman Catholic Church, so that he could at least impose his vision of Christianity over their territories. Americans generally view this secession favorably, given this country’s Protestant history and its own parallel origin in the Declaration of Independence. But you could also say that Luther permanently destroyed the unity of Western Christendom, a terrible and tragic thing.

And if Luther could break away in order to implement his own interpretation of Christianity, then so could everyone else. The Bible is a big book, with a lot of stuff in it, and it all depends on what you want to emphasize. Luther himself retained some non-Biblical Catholic practices like infant baptism or the notion of an established church, for reasons that he could justify to himself. But following Luther’s lead, all sorts of people in Europe then felt licensed to interpret the Bible according to their own consciences and to establish their own churches, often going beyond far beyond the dictates of Lutheranism. Jean Calvin discerned predestination and limited atonement from his reading of the Bible. Even more extreme were the Anabaptists, who sought to recreate the church of the first century AD as described in the letters of St. Paul. You know you’re pure when you’re a small group in a hostile world, and accordingly Anabaptists refused all connection to state power, which had only been established in the fourth century, long after the closure of the New Testament canon. Other signature Anabaptist beliefs included adult baptism (in the mode of Jesus, who accepted it when he was old enough to understand what was going on), pacifism (Matthew 5: “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”), the shunning of wayward members (Titus 3: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject”), and the refusal to take oaths (Matthew 5: “Swear not at all… but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay”). 

How many other Biblical verses have inspired new sects or at least cherished practices? Off the top of my head:

Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

This is spoken to Noah as he leaves the Ark, thus it predates Moses and even Abraham, and so is still binding, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This prohibition on the consumption of blood means that JWs will refuse to receive blood transfusions.

Exodus 20: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

That would be the sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, i.e. Saturday, the one the Jews keep. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the early Christian custom of treating Sunday as the sabbath was a grave error.

Mark 16: “And these signs shall follow them that believe… they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”

This has given rise to the Pentecostal custom of glossolalia (speaking in tongues)… and in extreme cases of serpent handling,* that emblem of Appalachian weirdness.

(Even the Westboro Baptist Church can explain very logically why the Bible compels us to picket AIDS funerals.)

Back in the sixteenth century, Roman Catholics responded to Biblicism by rejecting it. Or rather, they affirmed that the Bible was important, but they also affirmed that longstanding church traditions were important, on the principle that Jesus did not write the Bible, he founded a church, and without the church there would be no Bible. The Church precedes the Bible, and if the Church endorses a tradition, then it’s all good, and there is no reason to throw out customs that people have found efficacious and deeply meaningful for hundreds of years. Yes, the corruption of the church had to end, as did any calculated, mechanistic attitudes towards salvation. But, they rightly reasoned, there was no reason why a Bible-based Christianity would necessarily be the cure for these things. One can have the love of God in one’s heart, even as one believes in the efficacy of all seven of the sacraments, papal supremacy, or the intercession of saints.

And even the Anabaptists agree, in their way. The Anabaptist group that everyone knows about are the Amish. As mentioned, they hold themselves apart from the world (2 Corinthians 6: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”), and have adopted any number of customs in order to signal this. But where in the Bible does it say that one must abjure electricity and automobiles? Where in the Bible does it say that men must wear plain dress and have beards, but with no hair on the upper lip?

You can drive tradition out with a pitchfork, but it always finds its way back.

* The trouble is that verses 9-20 (the “Longer Ending”) of Mark 16 were probably not in the original manuscript. I personally think that the practice is condemned by 1 Corinthians 10:9: “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.”

Church Buildings

I was as shocked as anyone by the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. How could such a thing happen to such a famous building? You would think they would have taken better precautions to prevent it, and I really hope that no foul play was involved. But it is good to remember that over a long enough timespan the likelihood of such disasters happening approaches 1, and that all ancient buildings have been repeatedly damaged and renovated over the course of their existence – at its most extreme it’s like the hammer that has had three new handles and two new heads. And happily, Notre Dame’s roof might be gone, and the spire toppled, but the building retains its structural integrity, so rebuilding the lost parts should be easy enough.

Artist Daniel Mitsui said it well in a speech he made in 2017, an excerpt of which he posted yesterday to Facebook:

And earlier on this blog I wrote that:

As a historian I am interested in sacred space, but as a Christian I don’t care much for it. Christianity is wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name. Christianity derives from the Bible and Church tradition, and you can have these anywhere. Whenever people designate a particular place or object as being essential to their faith, they are just asking for trouble – what happens when you lose control over it? Your entire life’s purpose then becomes getting it back, at the expense of everything else that matters.

Having said all that, I don’t believe in the gratuitous destruction of Christian monuments, and when I denigrate fighting over sacred space, I mean specific coordinates on the earth’s surface, e.g. the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or the Temple Lot in Independence, Mo. I do believe that one’s built environment reflects something about one’s values. In the very early days Christians worshiped in people’s homes, and some sects continue this practice (e.g. the Amish – who have adopted plenty of other ways of publicly expressing themselves). But church buildings have been an integral part of Christian practice since before Constantine, and most religious universities have a chapel on campus somewhere for the use of the university community. Even if they don’t use it all that much, the fact that it exists at all is a statement: this university is affiliated with a Christian denomination.

This is Blanche Hagan Chapel at Reinhardt University, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. When I first arrived at Reinhardt, the college chaplain was directly responsible to the president, and she presided over a weekly chapel service on Thursday at 12:30. This was a dedicated time: no classes or meetings were scheduled against it, and all members of the college community were welcome to attend. This situation is very much in accord with my view of things – Christian practice at a college should include all its members: students, faculty, staff, and friends. Alas, this situation was not to last – the chaplain is now under the Dean of Students, and weekly chapel is now “Tuesday Night Fellowship” which takes place in the Student Center. TNF is an informal affair with lots of guitars and not much liturgy, aimed primarily at the students, for whom the chaplain serves as a sort of youth pastor.

I don’t have anything against this sort of thing but I don’t see why we can’t have both a weekly student service and a weekly corporate service, for all the other members of the Reinhardt community.

Not to worry, Hagan Chapel still gets used on Sundays. The local UMC congregation gathers for worship there… for now. Two years of negotiations between the congregation and the university over cost-sharing have apparently broken down, and this week the university has told the congregation that it must agree to a new set of terms, or face eviction. Rumors flew that Reinhardt was hoping to take the steeple off the chapel and use the building for some other purpose, although today these were vigorously denied.

So that’s a relief. Whatever happens to the Waleska UMC, we will still have a proper chapel on campus for use on those formal occasions when we need one, and for expressing our Christian identity at all other times.

Addendum. I am a big fan of Daniel Mitsui, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2013. Check out his home page, or his Facebook presence

Coptic Martyrs

From the Facebook page of Our Lady of the Mountains of Jasper, Georgia, an interesting icon:

An article on The Stream indicates that this icon was made in 2015 by Serbian artist Nikola Sarić. It references the kidnapping and beheading of 21 Christians in Libya by agents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which had taken place earlier in 2015. Twenty of the men were Egyptian Copts, and one was Ghanaian, whose darker face is shown on the top right; they were in Libya as construction workers in the city of Sirte when ISIL nabbed them.

The executions took place on the Mediterranean beach on February 15, 2015, with ISIL agents dressed in black and their victims in orange jumpsuits, referencing the outfits worn by al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Painting, Tomb of Rameses VI. Pinterest.

I like how there is something Egyptian about this icon, both from the way the figures stand and how they are arranged, and yet it is not so stylized that that horrific event isn’t instantly recognizable. I also like how icon-making is a living tradition and for actual martyrs for the faith, not just revered but non-religious figures like Harvey Milk, Steve Biko, or Mother Jones.

Merry Christmas from First Floor Tarpley

Courtesy Tim Furnish, an article on a theme of mine:

Keep the X in X-Mas

The abbreviation offends 6 in 10 evangelicals, but its history is deeply Christian

Though the demand for “more Christ in Christmas” seems to be losing momentum, most evangelicals still believe the holiday—and its seasonal greetings—should more explicitly reference the Savior….

Over the years, LifeWay found the abbreviation “X-mas” to be just as controversial as “Happy holidays” or more, with 42 percent of Christians and 33 percent of Americans saying it was offensive in this year’s survey.

Nearly 6 in 10 of those with evangelical beliefs (59%) find the use of “X-mas” instead of Christmas offensive.

The great irony in the distaste for the term “X-mas” is that it is thoroughly Christian, rather than an effort to remove the word Christ from the holiday.

The “X” in X-mas is not really an “X” at all. It’s chi, the Greek letter at the start of the word Christ, or Christos (Χριστός). Since the earliest era of political Christendom, “X” has been used as a shorthand for Christ, as LifeWay’s own Facts & Trends pointed out.

Constantine, the first emperor to convert to Christianity and whose Edict of Milan sought to free Christians from persecution, instructed his soldiers to inscribe the letter on their shields before the landmark Battle of Milvian Bridge. The chi “X” was paired with “P,” representing the Greek letter rho, the first two letters of and a signifier for the name Christ. Legend has it, the chi rho symbol came to Constantine in a vision.

Using “X” as an abbreviation for Christ is also thought to have appeared in many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

Even incorporating “X” into an English-language abbreviation for Christmas dates back a millennium. In the year 1021, an Anglo-Saxon scribe condensed Christmas to “XPmas,” and eventually the “P” was dropped to shorten the term even further, First Things noted.

According to the Christian Research Institute, the church was substituting “Christ” with “X” in the middle of the fifteenth century to save space and money when using newly invented printing presses, and Webster’s dictionary recognizes “X-mas” as a common term by the sixteenth century….

“People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, ‘Put Christ back into Christmas’ as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ,” he said.

“There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”

And from a while back now, a blog post from writer Blair Thornburgh on Christmas carols, with which I heartily agree:

I love Christmas carols. HOWEVER: I do NOT love what most of the idiot world considers to be a Christmas carol. Songs about sleighs, Santa, sugarplums, etc., are NOT carols, they are garbage that deserves to rot on the side of the street like so much crumpled wrapping paper.

No, the truly best Christmas carols fall into at least one of the following categories:

1. Songs in Latin
2. Songs about food
3. Songs about Hell and/or avoidance thereof
4. Songs about decidedly non-canonical adventures of Jesus, Mary, and/or Joseph
5. Songs that use the word “flesh”
6. Good King Wenceslas

Bonus points are awarded if the song was clearly hastily Christianized with a few macaronic verses or if it sounds good played on the bagpipe.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman

This is the only mainstream Christmas carol that mentions Satan, and IN THE FIRST VERSE, no less. (It was also my favorite as a kid for this self-same reason.) This is metal as heck.

The Holly and the Ivy

Two plants get uppity about which is better; also, Jesus was born. This carol gets major points for terrible rhymes (blood/good, grown/crown) which as we all know is a favorite territory of mine. I also like to think that this carol is directly responsible for the absence of ivy from conventional Christmas decorations.

The Cherry Tree Carol

If you do not know the lyrics to this one, go look them up, for verily they are BONKERS. A preggo Mary is wandering around and sees a bunch of delicious cherries growing on a tree. Being incapacitated due to her expectatory state, she asks Joseph to pick some for her, but he’s like “eh, why don’t you let the FATHER OF YOUR CHILD pick them” and then Jesus FROM INSIDE THE WOMB commands the tree to reach its branches down to Mary. I’m about 70% sure this didn’t actually happen in the Bible, but it probably should have.

In the Bleak Midwinter

This one is actually really annoying and smarmy (obviously, the lyrics are by Christina Rossetti) but it DOES contain the titillating phrase “a BREAST full of MIIIIILK” at which I challenge not to snort when the tenor soloist sings it plangently. (Tenors are always singing plangently.)

More at the link. Merry Christmas everybody!

In a Stable, ‘Tis a Fable

From Psephizo (hat tip: Cory Schantz):

*****

Once more: Jesus was not born in a stable

December 3, 2018 by Ian Paul

I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.

So where has the idea come from? I would track the source to three things: traditional elaboration; issues of grammar and meaning; and ignorance of first-century Palestinian culture.

The elaboration has come about from reading the story through a ‘messianic’ understanding of Is 1.3:

The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The mention of a ‘manger’ in Luke’s nativity story, suggesting animals, led mediaeval illustrators to depict the ox and the ass recognising the baby Jesus, so the natural setting was a stable—after all, isn’t that where animals are kept? (Answer: not necessarily!)

The second issue, and perhaps the heart of the matter, is the meaning of the Greek word kataluma in Luke 2.7. Older versions translate this as ‘inn’:

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (AV).

There is some reason for doing this; the word is used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, LXX) to translate a term for a public place of hospitality (eg in Ex 4.24 and 1 Samuel 9.22). And the etymology of the word is quite general. It comes from kataluo meaning to unloose or untie, that is, to unsaddle one’s horses and untie one’s pack. But some fairly decisive evidence in the opposite direction comes from its use elsewhere. It is the term for the private ‘upper’ room where Jesus and the disciples eat the ‘last supper’ (Mark 14.14 and Luke 22.11; Matthew does not mention the room). This is clearly a reception room in a private home. And when Luke does mention an ‘inn’, in the parable of the man who fell among thieves (Luke 10.34), he uses the more general term pandocheion, meaning a place in which all (travellers) are received, a caravanserai.

The difference is made clear in this pair of definitions:

Kataluma (Gr.) – “the spare or upper room in a private house or in a village […] where travelers received hospitality and where no payment was expected” (ISBE 2004). A private lodging which is distinct from that in a public inn, i.e. caravanserai, or khan.

Pandocheionpandokeionpandokian (Gr.) – (i) In 5th C. BC Greece an inn used for the shelter of strangers (pandokian=’all receiving’). The pandokeion had a common refectory and dormitory, with no separate rooms allotted to individual travelers (Firebaugh 1928).

The third issue relates to our understanding of (you guessed it) the historical and social context of the story. In the first place, it would be unthinkable that Joseph, returning to his place of ancestral origins, would not have been received by family members, even if they were not close relatives. Kenneth Bailey, who is renowned for his studies of first-century Palestinian culture, comments:

Even if he has never been there before he can appear suddenly at the home of a distant cousin, recite his genealogy, and he is among friends. Joseph had only to say, “I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar, the son of Eliud,” and the immediate response must have been, “You are welcome. What can we do for you?” If Joseph did have some member of the extended family resident in the village, he was honor-bound to seek them out. Furthermore, if he did not have family or friends in the village, as a member of the famous house of David, for the “sake of David,” he would still be welcomed into almost any village home.

Moreover, the actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story. As Bailey explores in his Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes, most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with hay, in the living area, where the animals would feed.

This kind of one-room living with animals in the house at night is evident in a couple of places in the gospels. In Matt 5.15, Jesus comments:

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

This makes no sense unless everyone lives in the one room! And in Luke’s account of Jesus healing a woman on the sabbath (Luke 13.10–17), Jesus comments:

Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the manger [same word as Luke 2.7] and lead it out to give it water?

Interestingly, none of Jesus’ critics respond, ‘No I don’t touch animals on the Sabbath’ because they all would have had to lead their animals from the house. In fact, one late manuscript variant reads ‘lead it out from the house and give it water.’

*****

More at the link.

A Post

Apologies for my blogging silence of late. A cartoon shared by Kennesaw State’s David Parker sums it up well:

Although, I am pleased that I got to have dinner tonight with Dan Audia ’08, who has recently been promoted to Assistant Director of MBA Programs at the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Dan says that he:

currently manages enrollment for the KSU MBA and WebMBA programs, specifically the areas of admissions and academic advisement. Our team provides top-notch customer service from prospective student inquiry to current student graduation. Our efforts for recruitment, retention,and progression to graduation are aimed at maintaining the high quality of the programs as demonstrated by several national rankings.

Dan told me about an interesting blog entitled Faith and History: Thinking Christianly about the American Past, run by Robert Tracy McKenzie, professor of history at Wheaton College in Illinois. He hasn’t updated it in a while, but I quite enjoyed perusing his back catalogue, including this post:

The belief that the Pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom is inspiring, but in the sense that we usually mean it, it’s not really true. I’ve shared this reality numerous times since writing The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History, and I almost always get pushback from the audience. That’s understandable, since most of us from our childhood have been raised to believe quite the opposite. But if we’re going to really learn from the Pilgrims’ story, we need to be willing to listen to them instead of putting words into their mouths.

One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Democracy in America where Alexis de Tocqueville observes, “A false but clear and precise idea always has more power in the world than one which is true but complex.” The Pilgrims’ motives for coming to America is a case in point.

The popular understanding that the Pilgrims came to America “in search of religious freedom” is technically true, but it is also misleading. It is technically true in that the freedom to worship according to the dictates of Scripture was at the very top of their list of priorities. They had already risked everything to escape religious persecution, and the majority never would have knowingly chosen a destination where they would once again wear the “yoke of antichristian bondage,” as they described their experience in England.

To say that the Pilgrims came “in search of” religious freedom is misleading, however, in that it implies that they lacked such liberty in Holland. Remember that the Pilgrims did not come to America directly from England. They had left England in 1608, locating briefly in Amsterdam before settling for more than a decade in Leiden. If a longing for religious freedom alone had compelled them, they might never have left that city. Years later, the Pilgrim’s governor, William Bradford, recalled that in Leiden God had allowed them “to come as near the primitive pattern of the first churches as any other church of these later times.” As Pilgrim Edward Winslow recalled, God had blessed them with “much peace and liberty” in Holland. They hoped to find “the like liberty” in their new home.

More at the link.

Pauline Roots of the West

From Think Theology, courtesy Tim Furnish, an interesting blog post and accompanying video:

I don’t know how Justin Brierley does it, but he gets the most fantastic guests on his show Unbelievable. In this clip from a forthcoming episode, Tom Holland explains to Tom Wright why he changed his mind about Christianity: specifically, how he came to realise that his assumptions about liberty, equality, human rights, international law and the like do not trace their roots to Greek or Roman concepts, as he had previously thought, but rather to the influence of Christian thinking, and that of Paul in particular. It’s a wonderfully concise and eloquent explanation, both in what Holland says about the Greco-Roman world and in what he says about Paul, and you can watch it all in four minutes.

Do so!

My only wish is that St. Paul could have written better….

“History for Atheists”

From Paul Halsall, news of an interesting and necessary blog. From the About page:

What is “History for Atheists”?

This blog is for articles, book reviews and critiques relating to “New Atheist Bad History” – the misuse of history and the use of biased, erroneous or distorted pseudo history by anti-theistic atheists. The author is an atheist himself so no, this is not some theist apologetics blog. It is simply an attempt to call out and correct the misuse of history, because rationalists should not base their arguments on errors and distortions.  Among the myths and pseudo historical theories that this blog tackles are:

That there was no historical Jesus at all and that Christianity arose out of a belief in a purely mythic/celestial being, not a historical Jewish preacher

That Christianity caused the “Dark Ages” by systematically destroying almost all ancient Greco-Roman learning,

That Christians burned down the Great Library of Alexandria and that Hypatia of Alexandria was murdered because of a Christian hatred of science

That pagan Greco_Roman society was rational and scientific and fairly non-religious and was on the brink of a scientific and technological revolution

That Constantine was a crypto-pagan who adopted Christianity as a cynical political ploy (and he personally created the Bible)

That Christianity somehow held back technology and we’d all be living on Mars by now if it wasn’t for the “Dark Ages”

That Medieval Europe was a theocracy ruled by the Church, which wielded supreme power and killed anyone who questioned any aspect of its teachings

That scientists were oppressed during the Middle Ages and science stagnated completely until “the Renaissance”

That “the Inquisition” was a kind of Europe-wide medieval Gestapo and that the medieval Church was an all-powerful totalitarian theocracy

That Giordano Bruno was a wise and brave astronomer and cosmologist who was burned at the stake because the Church hated science

That the Galileo Affair was a straightforward case of religion ignoring evidence and trying to suppress scientific advancement

That Pope Pius XII was a friend and ally of the Nazis who turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and helped Nazis escape justice

Check it out, especially his review of Catherine Nixley’s The Darkening Age.