Month: April 2011

Contemporary "Christian" "Worship" vs. the Worship of the Early Church

(Inspired by The Sacred Page); draw conclusions as you wish.

1. Sunday worship in the early Church:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.” – St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67 (AD 150-155)

“When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up as new-born children, we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike. As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honors. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Pentecost. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the cross].” – Tertullian, The Chaplet, 3 (AD 204)

2. Contemporary Sunday “worship”:

3. Orthodox Christian Sunday worship:

Why I don’t like modern apologists

(h/t: Otagosh)

“Contemporary popular apologists tend to look for any way to salvage the text, no matter how unlikely or untenable the argument. They’ll use scholarly sources selectively, or pounce on one scholar’s argument and run away with it, without any concern for the fact the vast majority of scholars haven’t been persuaded by it. They’re not interested in what’s plausible, only what’s “possible,” if it serves their immediate purposes. They trade in eisegesis, wild speculation, and fanciful interpretations, reading into the text what isn’t there, indeed, what’s often contradicted by the very passages they cite…

“But they seem oblivious to the real harm they’re doing. Not only are they giving permission for Christians to be dishonest with the material, they’re reinforcing delusions that disconnect well-meaning Christians from reality…

“These apologists are perpetuating an insular Christian culture, giving well-meaning Christians permission to switch off their brains and their consciences and go about their business, pretending everything is all right. The apologists don’t care to convince those struggling on the margins of faith – they’re preaching only to the converted, only to those who are looking for easy answers to questions others are asking them, but which they aren’t asking themselves.”

Thom Stark, Is God a Moral Compromiser?

I’ve noticed the same tendencies myself, which is one of the many reasons that I’ve taken pains to distance myself from apologists in recent months. I’ve said it many times in the past and I will say it again: Truth never needs falsehood to defend it. If you have to lie to support your position, it is a very good indicator that your position is wrong.

Religious tolerance, religious pluralism, and a brave new world

Ben Witherington asks, in the light of recent scholarly reevaluations of the policies of St. Constantine the Great, on his blog:

How should Americans, and perhaps especially our President approach the issue of religious tolerance? It seems clear enough to me that on the one hand, considering the drift away from our Judaeo-Christian roots of government in some respects, that we could not and should not expect to have a President like Constantine, especially in view of the Bill of Rights including freedom of religion as a moral principle of the state. On the other hand, there is no reason why we could not rightly expect to have a President who is a committed Christian, favors that religion, is happy to give tax breaks to churches and other charitable organizations, while at the same time, like Constantine, not de-funding other legitimate well established religious groups. Tolerance in this model, again, does not mean consent or agreement, it means tolerance. This is not the same thing as someone saying ‘all world religions are equal paths to God and equally legitimate’.

Think on these things.

My response, somewhat rambling and very uncertain:

There certainly is much food for thought here. I only recent read Elizabeth Digeser’s thesis concerning the policy of “religious concord” by St. Constantine and I have yet to read Peter Leithart’s book though it’s been sitting on my shelf waiting for me since Christmas.

I think that there are many other issues that surround the issue of religious toleration and what that means in America. For instance, while this nation’s founding fathers were not all themselves committed Christians, they certainly could not have imagined a country like ours with such (and growing) religious diversity. If they could not (and they clearly expressed that they could not — few Americans could until fairly recent times) picture an America in which blacks and whites lived side-by-side peacefully and even (!) inter-married, they definitely could not have pictured an America in which Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and individuals with dozens of other religious affiliations do so. They were firmly entrenched in the traditions of Western Civilization with its Catholic-Protestant roots (atheism and its forerunner deism are both the product of the Western religious tradition, whether their modern adherents want to accept that or not), the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Reformation.

The question that we encounter now is what do we do as we experience an influx of people coming from cultures who do not share such foundation concepts of Western Civilization as the separation of church and state, individualism, and so on. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian (albeit a convert from Western Christianity), I also count myself as a member of that growing population for whom such ideas are foreign ones, difficult to reconcile with our religious, philosophical, and cultural worldviews.

I certainly don’t have the answers; only the future will tell how all of this will play out as the demographics of the United States continue to change, getting further and further from the world that the founding fathers took for granted.

Ultimate evidence of the Resurrection

(h/t: MYSTAGOGY)

The mind can prove the truth of the Resurrection through reason based on the scriptures, and a non-believer cannot but admit the power of its arguments, as long as a sense of truth is not yet dead in him. A believer does not need proof, because the Church of God is filled with the light of the Resurrection. Both of these indicators of truth are faithful and convincing. But counter-reasoning can spring up and contradict mind’s reason, and faith can be trampled and shaken by perplexities and doubts, coming from without and arising within.

Is there no invincible wall around the truth of the Resurrection? There is. It will occur when the power of the Resurrection, received already at baptism, begins to actively be revealed as it purges the corruption of soul and body, and establishes within them the beginnings of a new life. He who experiences this will walk in the light of the Resurrection, and anyone talking against the truth of the Resurrection will seem to him insane, like a person saying in the daytime that it is night.

St. Theophan the Recluse

Earliest visual representation of the Crucified Christ

From a short but very interesting post by Larry Hurtado:

The earliest of the various “christograms” is the tau-rho (the capital rho superimposed on the capital tau, the device resembling a capital “P” superimposed on a capital “T”). We have examples of this device in several copies of NT writings dated to ca. 175-250 CE (P75, P66 and P45). And it’s still more intriguing that the letters in this device (also appropriated from prior non-Christian usage) don’t represent any name or word. Instead, the device is used as part of the special way that the Greek words “cross” and “crucify” are written in these manuscripts, and it seems intended to serve as a “pictographic” representation of a crucified figure, Jesus. This makes it the earliest visual reference to the crucified Jesus, some 150 or more years earlier than what art historians have tended to see as the first depiction of the crucified Jesus.

Neaderthals believed in the afterlife

(h/t: A Blog About History)

From Discovery News:

Evidence for a likely 50,000-year-old Neanderthal burial ground that includes the remains of at least three individuals has been unearthed in Spain, according to a Quaternary International paper.

The deceased appear to have been intentionally buried, with each Neanderthal’s arms folded such that the hands were close to the head. Remains of other Neanderthals have been found in this position, suggesting that it held meaning.

Neanderthals therefore may have conducted burials and possessed symbolic thought before modern humans had these abilities. The site, Sima de las Palomas in Murcia, Southeast Spain, may also be the first known Neanderthal burial ground of Mediterranean Europe.

“We cannot say much (about the skeletons) except that we surmise the site was regarded as somehow relevant in regard to the remains of deceased Neanderthals,” lead author Michael Walker told Discovery News. “Their tools and food remains, not to mention signs of fires having been lit, which we have excavated indicate they visited the site more than once.”

Walker, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physical Anthropology at the University of Murcia, and his colleagues have been working at the site for some time. So far they have found buried articulated skeletons for a young adult female, a juvenile or child, and an adult — possibly male — Neanderthal.

“We cannot say whether these three individuals were related, though it is likely,” he said, explaining that DNA has been denatured due to high ambient temperatures. “Surely the child was related to one of the others, though.”

The three skeletons represent some of the best-preserved, and most methodically excavated remains of Neanderthals.

“Such discoveries are extraordinarily uncommon,” Walker said.

The Neanderthals were found covered together with rocks burying their remains. The researchers believe it’s likely that other Neanderthals intentionally placed the rocks over the bodies from a height. While it cannot be ruled out that an accident killed the three individuals, the scientists believe that wasn’t the case.

“I think there is just enough evidence at Sima de las Palomas to think that three articulated skeletons are unlikely to have been the result of a single random accident to three cadavers that somehow escaped the ravages of hyenas and leopards, which were present at the site,” Walker said.

Unburnt bones of two articulated panther paws were embedded in rock “in an area where the rest of the animal’s skeleton was conspicuous by its absence notwithstanding its proximity to the human skeletons,” the authors write.

The researchers speculate that a Neanderthal cut off the panther paws and kept them. It is also possible that the paws were added to the bodies before burial, perhaps holding some ritual significance.

The remains of six to seven other Neanderthals, including one baby and two juveniles, have also been excavated at the site. The tallest individual appears to have been an adult who stood around 5’1″.

Erik Trinkaus, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals. He told Discovery News that “it is certainly possible that they (the Neanderthals at Sima de las Palomas) were buried.”

He said a few dozen documented Neanderthal burials from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia have already been documented.

Trinkaus added that the Neanderthal remains from Spain will “provide us with our first glimpse of overall Neanderthal body form in Southern Europe, as well as additional specimens for a number of aspects of Neanderthal biology.”

Enjoying the saints in late antiquity


(h/t: Medievalists.net)

By Peter Brown

Early Medieval Europe, Volume 9, Issue 1 (2000)

Abstract: The discovery at Mainz by Franĉois Dolbeau of a new collection of sermons of Augustine has enabled us to study, in far greater detail, the attitude of Augustine to the reform of the cult of the martyrs between 391 and 404. This study aims to understand Augustine’s insistence on the need to imitate the martyrs against the background of his views on grace and the relation of such views to the growing differentiation of the Christian community. It also attempts to do justice to the views of those he criticized: others regarded the triumph of the martyrs over pain and death as a unique manifestation of the power of God, in which believers participated, not through imitation but through celebrations reminiscent of the joy of pagan festivals. In this debate, Augustine by no means had the last word. The article attempts to show the continuing tension between notions of the saints as imitable and inimitable figures in the early medieval period, and more briefly, by implication, in all later centuries.

Click here to read this article from Stanford University…