Tag Archives: history

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Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, October 2014


Updated to correct the photo and add another.

Photo taken inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com.

Photo of the side of the altar area, inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com. Travel. Italy. Vatican City. Rome.

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Inside the Roman Coliseum, October 2014


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Richard Hooker versus the Puritan position — more about the Anglican view of Scripture, Reason & Tradition


I think Anglicanism looks most distinctive, at least to Americans, when it is contrasted with Puritanism, in part because America was influenced much more by the Puritans than by the Roman Catholics.

The Puritans and the Roman Catholics are relevant because Anglicanism was designed to be neither Puritan nor Roman Catholic.

Here’s a good witness for my case: Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale University historian of Christianity, who was acknowledged in many corners of Christendom as a scholar with a good grasp of the faith’s doctrinal and theological developments and changes.

In his book Reformation of Church and Dogma, which is Volume 4 in his five-book set The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Pelikan gives the following interpretation of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) and his book Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.

Hooker acknowledged that there were many doctrines, including the Trinity, that were “in Scripture nowhere to be found by express literal mention, only deduced they are out of Scripture by collection.” Yet that did not detract from “the sufficiency of Scripture unto the end for which it was instituted,” so long as one recognized what that end was — and what it was not. It was the knowledge of salvation, but it was not a detailed “ordinance of Jesus Christ” about the specific arrangements of ecclesiastical polity. These were to be known from the laws of reason and nature; for “when supernatural duties are necessarily exacted, natural are not rejected as needless,” and the law of God included both. Therefore it was a mistake, in the name of “a desire to enlarge the necessary use of the word of God,” to hold that “only one law, the Scripture, must be the rule to direct in all things,” when in fact “God hath left sundry kinds of laws unto men, and by all those laws the actions of men are in some sort directed.” (boldface added)

This should reveal Hooker’s belief in a reasonable exercise of reason, as well as an appreciation for traditional Christian beliefs that were handed down through practice and belief — yet not found spelled-out in Scripture.

When Hooker, within Pelikan’s paraphrase, said Scripture “was not a detailed ‘ordinance of Jesus Christ’,” he took exception to a point of view represented by the Puritans.

As quoted before on this blog, Professor David L. Holmes suggests that in the time of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the Prayer Book author who died two years after Hooker was born, the Puritans were uncomfortable with any exercise of reason or acknowledgement of tradition in church beliefs, practices, and offices:

The Puritan party, which desired biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church, viewed the Prayer Book as a half-way house to true reform and objected that it retained practices that were unscriptural.

In contrast, Anglicanism and the Church of England were distinct largely because of the English liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Puritans, according to Holmes, disliked the Book of the Common Prayer!

Furthermore, Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as described above by Pelikan, opposes the Puritan premise as described by Holmes. Hooker’s book, according to Pelikan, was “an apologia for the unique features of the Anglican settlement.”

We ought to register a significant difference between Anglicanism and the Puritan point of view.

This significant difference was not unique to Hooker. Professor William C. Placher, as I quoted elsewhere, said of Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer:

His interests lay less in systematic theology than in church history, especially the history of liturgy, and in writing the Book of Common Prayer he produced the foundation of much English religion and one of the glories of English prose.

Keep in mind that evangelical Christianity in the United States has largely shared the Puritan suspicion of reason and tradition. As Philip J. Lee writes,

The Puritan changes often brought the New England theology perilously close to gnostic Christianity. Of particular concern is the Puritans’ concentration on the self and their tendency to regard humanity from an elitist perspective.

That’s from Lee’s book, Against the Protestant Gnostics.

Anglicanism and ‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’


One of my previous posts, “‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’,” was designed to argue against the phrase “Biblical Anglicans.”

I gave some evidence — from scholars — for Anglicanism being a type of Christianity based on Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. I asked, essentially, why just Scripture?

I also said the Puritan desire to base everything in church on Scripture had the problem of Church (and churches) existing before the Bible was completely canonized. Church life, ritual, and worship existed before Christians could refer to a Bible.

Here, I want to look at excerpts of the definition of Anglicanism in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (second edition).

This word properly applies to the system of doctrine and practice upheld by those Christians who are in religious communion with the see of Canterbury.

Pause. Note the word “properly.” But like the word “biblical,” the word “Anglican” can mean nearly anything these days.

But it is esp. used, in a somewhat more restricted sense, of that system in so far as it emphasizes its claim to possess a religious outlook distinguishable from that of other Christian communions both Catholic and Protestant.

I’ll confess: at times, I think the self-identified “Biblical Anglicans” are stealth Congregationalists, Baptists, or Presbyterians. I know that’s not accurate, having not long ago visited an Angl0-Catholic parish that is part of the Bishop Lawrence diocese of ex-Episcopalian Anglicans — or should that be Anglican ex-Episcopalians? Which should be the adjective and which the noun? I’ll stop. Let’s get back to the definition.

Skipping ahead.

The 17th cent., however, was the golden age of Anglicanism…the Church of England at once confirmed her rejection of the claims of Rome and refused to adopt the theological system of the Reformers.

With a sincerely good-natured pat on the backs of some friends, I must confess I had been led to believe Anglicanism was the theological system of the Reformers. Good grief — who does Oxford University Press have writing and editing their dictionaries these days?

Continuing.

The historic episcopate was preserved, even though many, e.g. R. Hooker (the greatest of the Elizabethans), did not regard it as of divine institution.

See there? Hooker has given you an out. You can be a Congregationalist and an Anglican at the same time.

The legitimacy, and to some degree even the necessity, of ecclesiastical development was not denied, but its extent was held to be limited by the appeal to Scripture, as containing all things necessary to eternal salvation.

There you go. This let them off the Roman hook — you didn’t need the Official Church for salvation.

However, looked at from another angle, it also became a kind of concluding point for some people: Scripture contains all things necessary to eternal salvation, so why mess with anything else? That doesn’t only illuminate the Biblical Anglican’s occasional disinterest in liturgy, ritual, and aesthetics. It also illuminates why big evangelistic organizations can raise money more easily than local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Recall the salvific campaign of Bill Clinton and his appropriation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” Today sucks — but there’s always eternity! Blessings and be on your way!

Truth was therefore sought from the joint testimony of Scripture and ecclesiastical authority, which in its turn was to be based on the traditions of the first four centuries.

In that last excerpt, you can easily see the Scripture, Reason, and Tradition formula. (Take a look at the definition for “reason” in the ecclesiastical context.) Notice, too, that the “first four centuries” was approximately the length of time before a basic biblical canon began to take shape.

‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’


Updated at 11:20 p.m. [Jan. 9] with a link to a video clip at the end.
Updated at 1 p.m. Jan. 27 with an excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.

Anglicans often have been defined and identified by their braid of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition.

Of course, the use of “Biblical Anglicans” or “Biblical Anglicanism” in the current global environment says less about historical understanding and more about contemporary political rhetoric.

However, the use of “Biblical Anglicans” still raises the question: why not assert all of the whole, instead of one-third? Why not say, “Historical Anglicanism: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition”?

I’m afraid the emphasis on one-third of the whole stems from an underlying belief that Reason and Tradition caused all things that, accurately or inaccurately, are now tagged “un-biblical.”

Let’s clarify a couple of things. “Reason” here doesn’t even mean “narcissistic, arrogant humanism,” as a Biblical Anglican might fear. Religion professor Richard T. Nolan says, in the context of Anglicanism, reason

is misunderstood when understood as theoretical reasoning. Reason was understood in a classical sense, drawing from Plato and Aristotle, as a participatory knowledge. To know something was to experience it, to share or participate in something. Hence, scripture and reason inform each other. Again, there is a mutual, inward hold that scripture makes upon us and we upon it. As such, reason may be best understood as a practical wisdom. It is in this sense that scripture, tradition, and reason inform each other.

But that does not conflate Scripture, Reason, and Tradition as three versions of the same thing. The Biblical Anglicans, or One-Third Anglicans, seem comfortable with Tradition and Reason as handy proofs for the authority of Scripture, rather than being forms of authority themselves. That approach would not be historically accurate. Consider two cases in point.

First, Benjamin Amundgaard says,

Another understanding of the interplay between Scripture, reason, and tradition came in the early 1830s from the Oxford Movement. Led by John Keble, John Henry Newman, Hurrell Froude, and Edward Pusey, the movement sought to restore the place of tradition in the life of the Church. The Oxford men believed that it was wrong to suggest that all doctrines and practices must come directly from Scripture, but that such could be warranted if they were indirectly evidenced in Scripture and clearly practiced in the early Church (i.e., tradition).

Amundgaard goes on to quote a tract on infant baptism, written by the Oxford Movement leaders:

Where is this enjoined in Scripture? No where. Why do we observe it? Because the primitive Church observed it, and because the Apostles in Scripture appear to have sanctioned it, though this is not altogether certain from Scripture.

Notice that clause: Because the primitive Church observed it…

To round out the point, Amundgaard quotes another Oxford Movement tract:

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Episcopacy is in fact not at all mentioned in Scripture: even then it would be our duty to receive it. Why? because the first Christians received it. If we wish to get at the truth, no matter how we get at it, if we get at it. If it be a fact, that the earliest Christian communities were universally episcopal, it is a reason for our maintaining Episcopacy; and in proportion to our conviction, is it incumbent on us to maintain it.

Keep that last quotation in mind.

Now, the second case in point.

Early in his acclaimed book A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, Professor David L. Holmes devotes a section to the Book of Common Prayer. In the below revealing excerpts, Holmes is referring to the second edition (1552) of the Book of Common Prayer, which was Thomas Cranmer’s revision of his original work, and a tweaked 1559 edition released by Queen Elizabeth.

As it did during Edward’s time, the Elizabethan Prayer Book had opponents who felt it did not move far enough…. The Puritan party, which desired biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church, viewed the Prayer Book as a half-way house to true reform and objected that it retained practices that were unscriptural.

Furthermore, as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church said of Puritans,

They demanded express Scriptural warrant for all the details of public worship, believing that all other forms were popish, superstitious, idolatrous, and anti-Christian.

I’m not trying to rebut the Puritan party in its entirety, but notice the reasoning and reasonableness in the above Oxford Movement tract excerpts versus the unattainable and unrealistic goals of the Puritan party, at least as far as Holmes describes them.

The goals were “unattainable and unrealistic” because Christian liturgical worship, and its antecedents in Jewish liturgical worship, both were established prior to the final canonization of the Christian Bible.

In his book Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures, the late Yale University historian Jaroslav Pelikan explains how and when the Christian Bible was (more or less, as we’ll see) finalized as a specific collection of books.

The writings of Eusebius and of his contemporary, Athanasius of Alexandria, make it evident that agreement on the disputed books was approaching by the middle of the fourth century and that the canon of the New Testament which now appears in the Christian Bible was gaining general, if not quite universal, acceptance. That canon appears for the first time in a letter of Athanasius issued in 367 CE.

After that letter other traditions held their own for a time. Thus the scholars and theologians of Antioch in general accepted only three Catholic Epistles — James, 1 Peter, and 1 John — while one of its most illustrious representatives, Theodore of Mopsuestia, rejected the whole of this section of the canon. The West followed the lead of Athanasius. In 382 a synod was held at Rome under Pope Damasus, at which the influence of Jerome secured the adoption of a list of books answering to that of Athanasius. This was ratified by Pope Gelasius at the end of the fifth century. The same list was confirmed independently for the province of Africa at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 and 419 under the leadership of Augustine of Hippo. The second canon of the Second Trullian Council of 692…may be taken to have formally closed the process of the formation of the New Testament for East and West. This stands in sharp contrast to the status of the Old Testament canon within the church, which was not acted upon by an “ecumenical” church council until the Council of Trent in 1546 and then in a way that has gone on being disputed because of the status of the Apocrypha.

(Notice the finalization of the canon actually “has gone on being disputed” due to differences in opinion regarding the Apocrypha. Christianity, writ large, agrees on the majority of Scripture but not upon the canon.)

So: Reason and Tradition were instrumental in deciding what books would be part of the New Testament. Reason and Tradition made certain books part the package we call The Bible. (Again, that’s “reason” as defined above.)

But wait — an agreed-upon, basic package of Scriptural books did not mean Bibles were immediately published and distributed to local Christian bookstores and downloaded onto Kindles.

So Christian life, worship, and expression (arts, architecture, and rituals in particular), along with a provisional New Testament, were vital elements within various communities of believers before the Bible could be called the Bible. Traditions, practices, and rituals were foundational to architecture and worship spaces. As a small example, see the remnants of a Christian basilica I photographed in Ostia Antica, ancient harbor city of Rome, this past October.

The Puritan party would have had us believe, and the Biblical Anglican neo-Puritans of today would have us believe, that there must be “biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church.” But that’s to cut off — and degrade — the Christianity that existed prior to canonization, the very Christianity that provided the seedbed in which decisions about the canon were made.

Furthermore, even if we could establish “biblical warrant,” even that isn’t completely precise and certain, according to some Calvinist scholars.

I want to go back to the idea of reason again. The Truth is not the rubber ball that bounces between the believer’s head and the Bible. Reason, as described by Nolan, is a matter of practical and well-practiced wisdom. Reason, in this sense, is also a matter of one’s surrounding cultural and social climates, which inform one’s interpretation of the available translation.

This is where practice and experience and community come into play. As an analogy, reading blueprints is not the same as building a house. Reading blueprints won’t tell you how to build a house, either, just give you the basic structure and measurements. Sure, you need blueprints. But that’s not all, not if you want a place to dwell.

Update: See this brief video clip of Camille Paglia’s interaction with an audience member, regarding the Reformers, the Puritans, and their view of the arts and the Bible.

Last month’s visit to Ostia, the ancient port city of Rome, included a walk through an early Christian basilica


An early Christian basilica at Ostia, the ancient harbor city of Rome.

An early Christian basilica at Ostia, the ancient harbor city of Rome.

The sign with the info.

A walk through the early Christian basilica in Ostia, the ancient port city of Rome.

Ostia, Italy

I’m guessing this was the altar area.

To the left and behind the altar-looking area.

Early Christian basilica in Ostia, the ancient harbor city of Rome.

Looking back toward the entrance from the space in the previous photo.

Looking down the main aisle, back toward the entrance.

At the “front” of the basilica.

Ostia

What stories they could tell.

CNN International: ‘Skeletons found “holding hands” after 700 years’


Living well is not a gift from God (but the ability to live well is): Seneca on God & wisdom


I should start with three quick notes on Seneca’s relevance in Christian history because some background will give reasons for considering his writings as relevant to thinking about God.

First, a general assessment of Seneca’s point of view in relation to Christianity:

His [Seneca’s] writings represent Stoicism at its best and have been much studied by Christian apologists for the similarities as well as the contrasts of their moral teaching with the Gospel ethic.  — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Second, John Calvin’s interest in Seneca:

In 1532 he [John Calvin] issued a Latin commentary on Seneca’s ‘De Clementia’. — The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

And third, a translator’s note on Seneca’s importance to four Christian thinkers:

While scholars and schoolmasters in the century following continued to condemn Seneca, early Christians were taking to this kindred spirit among pagan writers, so many of who ideas and attitudes they felt able to adopt and share. Anthologies were made of him and he was frequently quoted by such writers as Jerome, Lactantius and Augustine. Tertullian called him saepe noster, ‘often one of us’.  — Robin Campbell, in the introduction to his translation of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic

Furthermore, as Campbell also notes, Dante frequently quotes Seneca.

So, as I was recently reading Seneca’s Letter XC, I came across something that helped me think about what God does and what God doesn’t do for humans.

In a way, the following passage sounds like an overview of the biblical book of Proverbs.

From Seneca’s Letter XC, as translated by Campbell:

“Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy? A corollary of this would be the certain conclusion that our debt to philosophy is greater than the debt we owe to the gods (by just so much as a good life is more of a blessing than, simply, life) had it not been for the fact that philosophy itself was something borrowed by the gods. They have given no one the present of a knowledge of philosophy, but everyone the means of acquiring it. For if they had made philosophy a blessing, given to all and sundry, if we were born in a state of moral enlightenment, wisdom would have been deprived of the best thing about her — that she isn’t one of the things which fortune either gives us or doesn’t. As things are, there is about wisdom a nobility and magnificence in the fact that she doesn’t just fall to a person’s lot, that each man owes her to his own efforts, that one doesn’t go to anyone other than oneself to find her. What would have have worth looking up to in philosophy if she were handed out free?

“Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds. The religious conscience, the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit, interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belong authority, and among human beings fellowship.”

My takeaway:

Life is a gift from God. Living well is a gift of philosophy. Philosophy is also a gift from God, and philosophy has taught us to worship “what is divine.” But living well is not a gift from God. We must engage philosophy to learn how to live well.

The Penguin Classics edition of Letters from a Stoic, selected, introduced, and translated by Robin Campbell

“Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca, translated by Robin Campbell

Five things you didn’t know about Jesus


Colin Foote Burch:

“In the end, as theologians like to say, Jesus is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be pondered,” writes Rev. James Martin. That reminds me of a Gabriel Marcel quote. (Also interesting in this short piece: The literary evidence of Jesus growing in wisdom, in a natural, normal sense, rather than just knowing all from the beginning.)

Originally posted on CNN Belief Blog:

Opinion by the Rev. James Martin , special to CNN

(CNN) — With Easter approaching, and the movie “Son of God” playing in wide release, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days.

You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.

Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.

Still, even for devout Christian there are surprises to be found hidden within the Gospels, and thanks to advances in historical research and archaeological discoveries, more is known about his life and times.

With that in mind, here are five things you…

View original 727 more words

‘From Martin Luther To Mark Driscoll: A Literary Version Of The Telephone Game’


Unfortunately for Christianity and for book publishing and for aspirations of beginning an academic seminary, a recent post by Warren Throckmorton demonstrates once again the shoddy research and poor attribution ethic of Pastor Mark Driscoll. The pastor is involved with the founding of a seminary. For that to be successful and reliable in any sense, it will need a scholar of some gravitas to offset Driscoll’s involvement.

Please read “From Martin Luther To Mark Driscoll: A Literary Version Of The Telephone Game” by Throckmorton.