Tag Archives: Christianity

A brief note about the influence of Neoplatonism on early Christianity

Some of my posts over the past four years have focused on the influence of ancient mystery religions on the development of Christianity. Here’s a brief quote, really a footnote, found in a friend’s book on Neoplatonism:

“That which is utterly beyond us and cannot be expressed or thought is by its very transcendence of distance and difference most intimately present. The Neoplatonists express this with particular force: it was from them that Christianity and Islam learnt their understanding of the unity of transcendence and immanence.” — A.H. Armstrong, in Hellenic and Christian Studies (Aldershot: Variorum, 1990)

What Cicero saw in the Eleusinian mystery religion and its similarities to Christianity

In Cicero’s dialogue “On the Laws,” a character comments on the Eleusinian mysteries:

“For it appears to me that among the many exceptional and divine things your Athens has produced and contributed to human life, nothing is better than those mysteries. For by means of them we have transformed from a rough and savage way of life to the state of humanity, and have been civilized. Just as they are called initiations, so in actual fact we have learned from them the fundamentals of life, and have grasped the basis not only for living with joy but also for dying with a better hope.”

So there you have four points that sound like outcomes from an evangelical conversion experience: (1) transformation from sinfulness to fullness, (2) knowledge of the source of life, (3) joy in this life, and (4) hope for life after death.

That quotation from the Cicero dialogue was found in The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, edited by Marvin W. Meyer. Here I’m including it as an additional note to some of my previous posts about ancient mystery religions, including this one and this one and this one. If you read the dialogue quotation with these three links in this paragraph, Cicero’s character seems to add something more than mere external and descriptive similarities between ancient mystery religions and Christianity. He seems to add something that maps with Christianity in the realm of interiority and values: enlightened living, joy for this life, hope for a wonderful afterlife.

It’s worth mentioning that the two most influential Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, saw these kinds of similarities not as challenges to Christianity but as supports for Christianity. Generally speaking, they believed the myths, poems, and philosophies of the ancient world were different kinds of divine revelation that prepared people for the advent of Christ — in Lewis’s famous phrase, “myth became fact,” meaning myths or pieces of myths were historically actualized and tied together in the Incarnation.

That being said, having been grown up with simultaneous influences of two very different strands of American Bible-skimming fundamentalism, I have to say the ancient mystery religions and their similarities to Christianity are a huge challenge to Christian faith (again, follow the above links). As a friend and I were saying the other night, the ancient mystery religions, sharing so many similarities to Christianity, challenge the assumptions and claims that there never was anything like Christianity before.

Gregory of Nyssa: your spirit is a copy of God

“Since one of the signs of the Divine Nature is its essential incomprehensibility, in this also must the copy be like the original. For were the nature of the copy comprehended, when the original was above comprehension, the copy would be a mistaken one. But, inasmuch as the nature of our spirit is above our understanding, it has here an exact resemblance of the all-sublime, representing by its own unfathomableness the incomprehensible Being of God.” — Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto

According to the Orthodox Church in America, Gregory of Nyssa was “[e]ndowed with philosophical talent” and “saw philosophy as a means for a deeper penetration into the authentic meaning of divine revelation.”

Prague Postcard: Jan Hus Memorial

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Prague is an amazing city. Mostly, look at the two photos. What follows is a newbie’s expression of a few things he’s just learned while here in Prague.

Apparently, the Jan Hus Memorial, pictured above and below, is famous for more than just its namesake. Built in 1915, the memorial counts as a work of Art Nouveau sculpture.

The funny thing about the above angle: The reformer Hus (1369-1415) appears to be looking at the Church of Our Lady before Týn, which is the church he wrestled away from the Roman Catholic Church, and some time after Hus’s death (burned at the stake), Rome wrestled back from his followers, the Hussites.

Between the two spires, you can see a lower cross, and beneath that, what looks like a gold light or plate. It’s an image of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. It wasn’t always there. Just underneath that image, there’s an empty space that used to hold a golden cup, symbolizing Hus’s and the Hussite’s belief that the layperson can receive the wine at Holy Communion, not just the bread, which at the time was the practice. When Rome regained control of the church, Catholic authorities had the golden cup melted and pressed into the image of the Virgin and baby Jesus. (I’m only repeating what I’ve heard on a Rick Steves audio guide or briefly read online—just quick postcard here! I’m probably missing nuances.)

One thing I didn’t know about Jan Hus is his impact on the Czech language: he was a professor who added the diacritical marks—like ý and š—that allow Czech to be written so the letters can represent Czech sounds that differ from sounds in the Latin alphabet.

Soon, I’ll be back in the States. Here’s Hus with a bird on his head:

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When the neighborhood Anglican Church starts another Baptist Bible study

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When the neighborhood Anglican Church starts another Baptist Bible study. 

 

 
Photos from Pixabay.com

Stumbled Upon: 2012 and 2014 EWTN Interviews With Bestselling Author Dean Koontz

I’ve only read one novel by Dean Koontz, titled Lightning, a fun read I picked up years ago. But Koontz’s reputation in the publishing business is hard to miss because he sells millions of copies of his books, which inevitably wind up on the bestseller lists. While searching for something completely different, I stumbled upon these EWTN interviews, one from 2012 and another from 2014, in which Koontz talks about his life, his work, good versus evil, and the Roman Catholic influence in his books. It’s really interesting to hear how he appropriates his Catholic faith in his writing—and to note how he doesn’t.

Heads up—the 2012 video, above, is entirely devoted to Koontz, while the 2014 video, below, includes an interview with him as part of a one-hour news program, so you’ll have to fast-forward or scroll ahead to see him in the latter.

Also see Dean Koontz’s 5 Favorite Books.

A Snaphot of Christianized Nationalism in the U.S., 1916

While there’s no precise analogy between our time and 1916, this newspaper clipping certainly holds some eerily familiar echoes:

From The Devils Lake World and Inter-Ocean, a newspaper in Devils Lake, N.D., June 29, 1916: nationalism It seems strange to sing patriotic songs in a sanctuary built for worshiping God.

But the issue then as now is not so much replacing one thing for another as conflating two unlike things.