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

Book Review: Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)

Ancient Christian Worship (McGowan)There are few times in history so important and yet so obscure as the years following the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, when the movement bearing his name transformed from a band of several dozen followers hiding in terror into an international community that would shape the subsequent history of the world. Despite the paucity of evidence from this period, historians and theologians alike continually return to the earliest years of the Jesus Movement, attempting to ascertain precisely who was doing what and how they were doing it. To help bring clarity to the all important aspect of Christian worship from this period comes Andrew B. McGowan’s masterful Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014). Continue reading

Engaging Pseudo-Dionysius

Dionysius the AreopagiteThe Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite forms part of a treatise which belongs to a corpus of works said to have derived from Dionysus the Areopagite from Acts 17:34.[1] This writer of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy also wrote treatises on a Christian Celestial Hierarchy (dealing with realms of angels and angelic beings), the Divine Names of God, and certain aspects of Mystical Theology.[2] Throughout his various treatises, Dionysius also claims to have witnessed the eclipse of the sun in Heliopolis following the death of Christ, and to have met with Peter and James.[3] However, the writer of these theological treatises is now referred to as Pseudo-Dionysius primarily because much of the philosophy behind the writings depends on the works of Proclus, a Neo-Platonist who died in c. 485 CE.[4] Many scholars now date the writing of this treatise to the early sixth century, primarily due to the fact that the work was first appealed to at a colloquy at Constantinople in 533 CE. [5] Even at its first presentation, the authenticity of this work was doubted by Hypatius of Ephesus (6th c.); however, for many years its validity was affirmed by the church, until in the late-Middle ages and the Protestant Reformation, when the doubts of Renaissance Humanists Erasmus of Rotterdam and Lorenzo Valla surfaced and the dependence on Neo-Platonist thought of Proclus was discovered.[6] Continue reading

Book Review: The Didache (O’Loughlin)

“There are two ways: one is the Way of Life, the other is the Way of Death; and there is a mighty difference between these two ways.” (Didache 1.1)

The Didache (O'Loughlin)Thus begins the Didache, that early Christian text also called the “Teaching of the Lord Given to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles.” Since its rediscovery in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios, the Didache has fascinated scholars and Christians with its short yet dynamic statements on the manner in which Christians should live their lives. It was thus with great eagerness that I read Thomas O’Loughlin’s The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010). Continue reading

Pagan Christianity?

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

4087087895_0b2ea539c0_o-e1413998434680You occasionally hear it from the talking heads or on the History Channel. Maybe you notice an article about it on your newsfeed. Or catch the random title while browsing Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. Pagan Christianity: What you do on Sundays is really from Ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, or Royal Greece and certainly is not real Christian worship.

Maybe you listen for a few seconds, start to read that article, or read the back cover of that book. “Most of what present day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles.” [1] “How Mistakes and Changes Shaped the Bible We Read Today.” [2] Is walking down the aisle really derived from the Roman Imperial procession? Are Christian priests just pagan priests in disguise? Is there really any truth to these claims? Continue reading

The Divine Milieu

Teilhard De Chardin

Teilhard De Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin stands apart, along with Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac, and Hans Urs von Bathlasar, as one of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century. Teilhard’s overall theological program sought to reconcile the central features of traditional Catholic faith with the insights of such pursuits as reason and biology. Here we examine Teilhard’s insights from The Divine Milieu, his reflections on the centrality of the interior life of faith. While The Divine Milieu is not his best known work, that being The Phenomenon of Man in which he discusses the relationship between evolutionary biology and Catholic faith, this work nevertheless offers numerous insights into Teilhard’s emphasis on the universality and interior nature of Christian faith. Written specifically for Christians wavering in their faith as a result of such non-theological advances as evolutionary, Teilhard demonstrates what he understands to be the central defining feature of Christian faith, namely that traditional Christianity can be translated into the modern context of the Catholic Church (11). Continue reading

Book Review: The Church According to Paul (Thompson)

The Church According to Paul, ThompsonThe Christian church is facing a crisis. It is losing face, hemorrhaging influence in the public sphere of Western civilization, churches are declining in membership, and increasing swaths of people are not longer interested in what Christianity has to offer. This apparent decline is not a new trend to be sure—and stems, at least in part, from the ecclesiastical shift which began during the Protestant Reformation—but it is no less concerning. In order to address these concerns, Christians of all denominations and contexts have been recasting the church in various molds: as a political action committee, a corporation, a theater, an association or country club, the emerging church, or as a missional organization, to name a few. According to The Church According to Paul, this last option, in which the Church is defined by its mission to express the gospel of Christ in the community of God throughout the world, best represents the view of the Christian Church presented by the Apostle Paul. 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