Thinking about Salvation in Early Christianity (Part II)

Byzantine JesusMost early Christians seem to have lived with a fairly basic understanding of soteriology. Beginning with Tertullian of Carthage, however, deeper investigation into specific aspects of soteriological doctrine began to circulate within the Church.[14] Philosophical language and concepts began to find more frequent use among the Fathers, and soon after the Fathers began teaching that “Christ suffered for our sins, healing our wounds and destroying death by His blood, and that we have been restored to life and our sins purged by it.”[15] In the East, theologians such as Origen and Methodius debated the effect of Adam’s fall and its impact on human freewill, death, and the new Adam of Christ.[16] This eventually coalesced into statements indicating that, “sin called for a propitiation, and Christ stepped forward as ‘a victim spotless and innocent,’ propitiating the Father to men by His generous self-oblation.”[17] The developments in thought, influx of philosophical language, and challenges of geographic distance eventually led to different Christian centers processing different (at least slightly) beliefs regarding the person and work of Christ in human salvation.[18] Continue reading

Thinking about Salvation in Early Christianity (Part I)

diamaid-macculloch-christianityBy the early fourth century, the Christianity had spread across the Roman world with surprising speed, tenacity, and relative uniformity of belief. While the early Church was by no means completely uniform in doctrine, belief, or practice, the vast majority of Christians professed what has become known as Christian Orthodoxy.[1] Heresies such as Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, while threatening the fledgling Church, were never serious threats in the way that the Christological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries were. Chief among the divisions in the fourth century was the question of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth:[2] was the founder of the Church human? Was He divine? Was He somehow both? The answer to this question was important for historical reasons, but was even more important for its soteriological implications. Continue reading

Book Review: Life and Works (Gregory Thaumaturgus)

Icon-St-Gregory-ThaumaturgusGregory Thaumaturgus—the Wonderworker—remains a scantly studied figure of the late antique Christian Church. This is neither because he lacked pizzazz—he once moved an immovable boulder through prayer to convert a pagan priest—nor for his lax literary output. In all likelihood, Gregory (c. 210-270/5 ce) remains relatively neglected because he lived in a time when his theologizing about the nature of God took a back seat to surviving Roman persecution. Although Gregory lived through the Decian torments, he did so by leaving both his post as bishop of Neocaesarea in Pontus and the fervent example of his teacher Origen. Yet Gregory has much to offer for today, as Michael Slusser makes clear in his Fathers of the Church compendium on Gregory’s life and works. Continue reading

Discerning Division, Undertaking Unity

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

Silent MusicIf you drive through any appreciable stretch of the United States, you are bound to come across churches. In some sparse locales, these places of worship are few and far between, much like the dwellings of those who attend them. In other places, churches abound, with nearly every street seeming to possess its own house of God. When my wife and I lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, one of our favorite pastimes was driving through the rolling forests that lay between our city and the Appalachian Mountains. On these drives, we grew to appreciate the term Bible Belt, as we would pass countless small, country churches on every drive. On one stretch of road no more than five miles long, we encountered some ten different churches, at least five of which included “Baptist” in their title. Likewise in Saint Louis, where we now live, church steeples dot the cityscape with peaceful regularity, directing commuter’s eyes heavenward. Continue reading

The Early Church and the Trinity

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday for many Christians, very often the day of the year when the Trinitarian nature of God and Christian theology are most clearly discussed. This post reflects on how the early Church grappled with the complexities of Trinitarian theology.

TrinityThe doctrine of the Trinity–espoused by the Cappadocian Fathers as “God is one object in Himself and three objects to Himself”–is commonly understood to be one of the more difficult concepts to grasp in Christian theology. Much of Early Church history revolved around debates concerning the Person of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father, and doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit was often not explicitly discussed. However by the time of the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, an explicit doctrine of the Trinity was emerging in Christendom (Kelly, 252). In her essay entitled “Why Three?” Sarah Coakley engages the Maurice Wiles’ perspective on the Trinity as espoused in his The Making of Christian Doctrine. Continue reading

Church Search Update (May 2015)

Little White ChurchI have been meaning to write this post for some time now, at least since early December of last year and certainly since mid-January of this year. As many readers know, my wife (Hayley) and I have been undergoing a Church Search for nearly two years now. This post is intended to a) provide anyone interested in some of the background of this search greater context into what this process looks like for us, and b) to give a general update on the search itself. Continue reading

Reflections on Vatican II

Vatican II (Calnewman.org)The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) stands apart as one of the single most important events of modern Church history, not only because of the number of Christians that the Church at Rome influences, but also because of the magnitude and depth of the canons of the council. While a thorough examination remains outside the parameters of our course, here we examine three of the most interesting and impactful sections of the Vatican II documents, those decrees on Indulgences, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Non-Christian Religions. Through our examination of these sections we will note the interesting connection of the Vatican II statements to the history of the Catholic Church. Continue reading

Roman Catholicism in the Nineteenth Century

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

The nineteenth century posed a number of unique challenges to the Roman Catholic Church, among them the continued rise of Protestantism, the increasing influence of modernism, the development of historical and biblical criticisms, and the rise in understanding of numerous world religions. Roman Catholicism developed a number of responses to these challenges, most notably through Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors and the canons of the First Vatican Council. In these writings, Rome affirmed the veracity of the tradition of the Church in opposition to the world, dogmatically affirming the accuracy and infallibility of the teachings of the Church and Pope. Continue reading

Maurice Wiles and the Definition of Theology

OxfordThere are many questions in life with the potential for multidisciplinary and eternal significance. Among these are such questions as “Is there a god?”, “Do right and wrong exist?”, and “What happens when we die?” [1] Theologian Maurice Wiles adds to this list yet another question in his book titled What is Theology? To begin this work, Reverend Wiles defines theology as “reasoned discourse about God.”[2] If the term theology is broken down into its semantic parts, “theos” means “God” and “logos” means “word” or “reason.”[3] Therefore the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary is fitting: “the study and nature of God; religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.” Continue reading

Luther and Zwingli on the Lord’s Supper

The Lord's SupperIt has been widely noted that few events in the history of the Christian Church have dramatically impacted the course of western culture and civilization as the Age of Theological Reformation in the 16th century. Within the myriad of events that transformed a relatively institutionally monolithic Catholic Church into a plethora of competing theological claims, few events stand out as clearly as the failure of the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, where Protestant leaders Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli failed to negotiate their respective differences concerning the Lord’s Supper. This disagreement was neither the first nor last disagreement among the various Protestant Reformation movements in 16th century Europe, but it stands out as one of the most impactful, as Lutheran and Reformed branches of Christian faith can still trace one of the key divergences back to this meeting. Here we will briefly examine the perspectives of Luther and Zwingli on Communion, noting that it was primarily philosophical, and not strictly theological, differences that kept them from seeing eye to eye on the doctrine of communion. Continue reading