Ep15: How Should Christians Spread the Gospel?

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The Wilderness and Early Christian Monasticism

st-antony-agains-the-demonsIn the sixth chapter of his The Word in the Desert, Douglas Burton-Christie reflects on the influence of eschatology, compunction (penthos), asceticism, and the struggle against evil on the shape of the scriptural interpretation of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). Highlighting monastic awareness of coming death and judgment (182-3), compunction and the power of scripture (187-91), and the dual (internal and external) nature of struggling against evil (192-5), Burton-Christie outlines the desert reading of the scriptures, remarking on the centrality of allegorical interpretation (196), the recapitulation of Jesus’ time in the desert (198), the power of the words of scripture (199), vigilance and guarding the heart (203-5), and the lack of relations (207). In light of a course devoted to the study of wilderness traditions, while Burton-Christie’s work remains intriguing, this treatment against raises questions about why early Christian monastics did not draw upon and/or develop further Israelite wilderness traditions. To my mind, the Father who asked, “Did Satan pursue them like this in the early days?” could easily have turned to Israel’s wilderness testing for some type of answer. Instead, figures such as Abraham, David, and Jesus were regularly utilized, at least according to Burton-Christie’s presentation. Although the Fathers were clearly aware of Moses—and, it seems, the language of the Pentateuch, at least exhortations to “watch yourself” (Gen. 24.6; Ex. 23.21)—these narratives were not meaningfully employed in the monastic resistance of evil. Could it be that Israel’s time in the desert was viewed more as a model of what not to do in order to avoid temptation? Perhaps. But Burton-Christie’s reflection on desert interpretations of scripture doesn’t address possible wilderness interpretations of Israel in the wilderness. Continue reading

The Scriptures of Saint Patrick: The Medieval Scriptural World

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

BibleTwo factors shaped the used and form of Patrick’s scriptural context, namely, the “lack of early medieval pandects (single-volume Bibles) and the fundamentally liturgical quality of early medieval biblical books….”[1] There is no doubt that the Bible’s liturgical use underscored its importance during the early medieval period. In the words of Susan Boynton, “The Bible permeated the medieval Latin liturgy: biblical narratives and themes lay behind the fundamental structures of the liturgical year, and scriptural texts were ubiquitous in the form of chants and readings.”[2] In short, the Bible and its message of the Lord Jesus prominently occupied the medieval Christian worldview through liturgical structures, be they liturgical readings, hymnody, the liturgical calendar, biblical interpretation, or communal feast days. Continue reading

SSP: Other Historical Patrick Issues

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

SaintPatrickShamrockLess divisive than the issues of chronology and geography, but no less important, are claims surrounding Patrick’s possible monasticism, his Latinity, and the plethora of extant traditions about Patrick’s life and work. From time to time the question of Patrick’s monasticism has been raised. Some have argued that the episcopal evangelist was celibate and others that he simply inhabited a deep and simple spirituality.[1] The omnipresence of the Bible in Patrick’s writings—as well as his preference for the Psalter—might suggest he had a monastic background of some sort.[2] Yet Hanson’s judgment seems best, that “The question of whether Patrick was himself dedicated to an ascetic life is worth raising, even though it cannot be answered with any certainty.”[3] Continue reading

Religion and World Construction

This post is part of our ongoing series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos. Today’s post consists of reflections upon the first chapter of Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy, entitled “Religion and World Construction.

98f7bcb0155736150cb93a9365e08In this chapter of The Sacred Canopy, Berger argues that human existence externalizes meaning, thereby creating continuously reconstituted social worlds by which other human beings are socialized and ordered. Berger further argues that religion has long been one of the most successful means of world-building, as religions imply meaning and order onto the totality of human existence. Here we examine an important facets of Berger’s argument, the importance of socialization among human beings within world-building and consider the implications of purposefully non-social forms of human activity for this thesis. Continue reading

Book Review: The Body and Society (Brown)

The Body and SocietyIn the updated 20th anniversary edition of his classic work, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Peter Brown examines the “practice of permanent sexual renunciation—continence, celibacy, life-long virginity” that developed in Christian circles from the first through fifth centuries.[1] In this work, Brown examines a vast array of perspectives within the early Christian context, purposing to clarify notions of the human body and society within Christian renunciation and to examine the effects of those ideas among Christian writers.[2] This review will summarize Brown’s work and offer an assessment of the strength of his claim that there was no mainstream perspective on sexuality and the body in early Christianity.[3] Continue reading