Tag Archives: Athanasius

On Alexandrian Christianity: A Few Principles

alexandria matrix

Out of jest, my former blogging partial pseudonym was “Rod of Alexandria” not because I have been anywhere near Alexandria, Virginia, but because at that time I was researching and writing a thesis on Clement of Alexandria. In the program for graduation formally, my thesis project was known to the general audience as “Black Theology and Alexandrian Christianity.” Years later I am re-reading some of the same texts I used for my thesis for renewed take on things, and I am making observations of things that never occurred to me in my research (the first time around). In Christian academic circles, there are women and men who embrace labels like “Augustinian” “Wesleyan” “Calvinist” “Kuyperian” “Yoderian” “Hauerwasian” and Barfian “Barthian.”

How come no one identifies themselves as “Alexandrian?” Isn’t Athanasius the Black supposed to be like the Superman of Church History according to some theologians? I’ll leave this all to your own speculation, but in a way if the Alexandrians were the 1980’s comic book world,

Justice League

Justice League (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and Athanasius is Superman, Clement has to Batman, and Origen, well, he’s Plastic Man sitting on the Justice League bench. I don’t know how in depth scholars have gone, but some research suggests that Clement’s work was read by the Cappadocians, specifically Gregory the Theologian.  If this indeed the case, the eclectic writing of Clement may need to be re-examined

English: Clement of Alexandria, from book 1, f...

English: Clement of Alexandria, from book 1, folio 5 recto of Les vrais pourtraits et vies des hommes illustres grecz, latins et payens (1584) by André Thevet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think there are several markers of Alexandrian Christianity that are either dismissed or “misunderstimated.” These defining principles I see as a viable alternative, to lets say, oh, the ever popular Barthian or Augustinian proposals

1. Logos Christology: By Logos Christology, I mean not only the pre-existant Logos that that silly Gospel of Mark never mentions, but also Jesus as Word teaching his disciples in the past, as well as teaching his followers today. In other words, its a High (creedal affirming, participatory) Christology where Jesus’ own words and actions are taken seriously.  In this Logos Christology, the motions of the Word in both the “Old” and “New” Testaments are viewed as a consistent movement calling us to fellowship with YHWH and our fellow human beings.

2. The Persistent Defense of Both God’s Goodness and Human Free Will: The supremacy of God in Clement’s and Athanasius’ theology is found in God’s moral superiority. The God of Judaism and Christianity is of a supreme moral character, and has endowed humanity with a freedom to choose good or evil.  This freedom is important for a few purposes: first, God is good enough to give us space to repent, to change from our evil ways. Second. human beings testify to the One True Loving God, over and against the divinities found in the ancient world of Greeks and Roman Egyptians. A key evidence for this is Clement’s Exhortation To the Greeks.

3. Reliance on Allegorical Interpretation Of Scripture: This is where many critical thinking Christians must depart with the Alexandrians.  Allegorical interpretation is frowned upon in both liberal and conservative Christian communities. This is where I think we get the Alexandrians wrong. First, I am just recently noticing that Clement of Alexandria, UNLIKE SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO, knows HEBREW. Why is this important? Whereas Augustine is the Latin-Onlyist, using only the Vulgate, Clement is familiar with the original languages used to record Scripture.  Contrary to critics of allegorical interpretations, language is really important to Clement, and so are Jewish sources (again, unlike Mr. Augustine). What also gets overlooked when it comes to the Alexandrians’ allegorical interpretation is their tendency to depend upon a metaphor when addressing their interlocutors.  For Clement, the reigning metaphor in his theology is Christ as Teacher, humanity as children. This plays out in much of the works of his that we have.

4. A Commitment To Nonviolence: Clement does not look upon war favorably; he argues that while war takes a lot of preparation, the way of the Logos is one of peace and simplicity.  I don’t think John Howard Yoder himself could have articulated it much better. Both Origen and Clement had much to say about the evils of violence. As for Cyril, and his violence towards the Jewish community in his day? He unfortunately had to get cancelled like the Blue Beetle in the New 52. #SorryNotSorry!

5. A Vast Knowledge of Other Cultures: In Alexandria, Clement had no choice in being monocultural or multicultural.  He HAD to be aware of others stories in order to communicate with  his Greek and Roman Egyptian (and maybe Judean and maybe Turkish) audiences.  EXHORTATION is a wonderful example (or not so wonderful if Clement’s citations of various mythologies bores you to tears) of both Clement’s vision of Christian particularity in dialogue with general society.

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Why Study Church History?

The Church History In A Nutshell or A History of Nutty Churchmen

 

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (soundtrack)

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think I would just like to say a few words on teaching churches Church History. Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to teach the adult Sunday School lesson. By some miracle I managed, with five pages of notes to teach all of Church History in 30 minutes. Of course, I used only 3 sentences or so for about the 1200 years before the Reformation (during the Crusades), but hey, it worked, heh? My starting point was the physical split of Christianity from Judaism in Jerusalem (the destruction of the Temple), with a focus on Tertullian, Justin Martyr, a few Roman emporers, and the canonization of the New Testament. With a general consensus coming together about the NT, debates started to foster over Christology, the Arian Controversy. I found it no coincidence that one of the men responsible for listing all of the NT books (in an Easter letter in 367 A.D.), Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, Egypt was involved the struggle to recognize Christ as both fully human and divine. That brought me to the next part of church history I covered, the rise of Emperor Constantine. I believe that Constantine represents a fundamental redefinition of Christianity, Christianity went from a religion of conversion, baptism of blood and water, to accepting the premise that politicians who did Christians favors were essentially Christian, even if they had not been baptized (aka committed to the faith). Athanasius would run into trouble with Constantine’s grandson (himself an Arian/denier of Christ’s divinity) and would be exiled into Rome (enemy territory at the time). Athanasius, according to his On The Incarnation, believed that Jesus was King who became a citizen, even that Sweet Old Baby Jesus in the crib, to save the world. Believing Jesus was King of Creation (divine) meant conflict with the rulers of this age. Athanasius had friends in what we call modern-day Turkey, the Cappodocians. “The Cappodocians”: (Basil of Caesarea [where Eusebius was from], his brother Gregory of Nyssa, their sister Macrina, and Gregory of Nazianus their friend): Basil as well as Gregory of Nyssa are famous for their works on the Trinity. Macrina, Basil and Gregory’s older sister, was known for living a life of holiness and discipline. Gregory of Nazianus, because he believed like Athanasius that Christ Jesus is Lord, was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to write about the evils of slavery, using his sermons on the book of Ecclesiastes. God’s ownership of creation (Jesus’ lordship) meant that no one single human being had the right to own another human being.

I would have gone over the Middle Ages, but for the sake of time, and because I have little interest in it, I could only sum it up this way: Rome fell to the barbarians, I mean Germans. For more than 1200 years of Christianity being united under the Emperors and Bishops of Rome; Less than a century before the Reformation happened, the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, and Russia declared itself the Third Rome, a center for Eastern Christianity [Russian orthodoxy now being protested for its support of Putin]. This history included the history of the Crusades. Many people see the Crusades as Christians attacking other religions, and demonize that part of history as an excuse not to follow Christ. Not necessarily true, Christians went to war with other Christians as well (East versus West), particularly in the 4th Crusade where a pope from Rome called for an invasion of Constantinople.

The Reformation starts w/ a German monk Martin Luther who began teaching on Paul’s Letter to the Romans in 1515, and subsequently 2 years after All Saints Day (October 31, 1517), he posted his 95 Theses (as a result of his studies) in protest of Pope Leo X raising funds for building through promises of rescuing souls from purgatory. There had been Christians [executed by church authorities] before Martin Luther who fought for the right for countries to have the Bible translated in their own language (rather than the Latin Vulgate), but Luther’s Theses set off a firestorm, as he persuaded his colleagues and townspeople across Germany of his arguments. Luther’s writings and sermons meant not only a Reformation outside the Catholic Church, but also inside of it as well.

With changes on the horizon in universities and churches, the Spainards wanted to initiate a new age of discovery. Catholicism in Spain was having a Reformation of its own a couple of decades before Luther’s Theses. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had earned the right, with permission from the Pope, to name men to the church positions. At one point, a friar was forced to take the position as the royal confessor. Christopher Columbus, a citizen of Spain was also a Catholic Christian during this time. The same year Columbus left to discover a path to India (the Americas he found), it was decreed that Jews who lived in Spain had to convert, as well as the Spanish Christians who sympathized with Martin Luther, or be condemned to exile [the Inquisition as we know it now]. The Protestant & Catholic Reformations spread from Germany to Switzerland (John Calvin), and into England and Scotland (John Knox). Because of the new invention of the publishing press, the Bible was translated into native languages, printed, and distributed to the masses. With more Christians being empowered to read the Bible for themselves, they could further develop their relationship with God.

As a result, there were a number of Christians, men like Menno Simons, who began to see Jesus’ words and deeds in the New Testament as divine. If Christ is God, his teachings were from God, and his teaching must take precedent over church authorities and tradition. Menno Simons taught that Christians must be baptized by immersion as a symbol, a public confession of Christ and commitment to the local church. Simons, like Tertullian before him, believed that believers should not engage in warfare or violent revolution, but be left free to be obedient to Christ. Christians who shared Simon’s views on baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper (as a symbol) eventually made their way to England, and eventually, the Thirteen Colonies in America. At this point in history, in the Americas, in Asia and Africa, Christians from Europe laid claim to ownership over the human beings and lands. The issue of owning and enslaving humans eventually meant churches in the United States becoming divided. In the middle of the 19th century, several years before the Civil War, a Baptist missionary agency refused to commission a candidate from Georgia because he owned slaves. How could he be a witness for Christ if he did not affirm Jesus’ Lordship over ALL of creation? That event would lead to the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptists were not alone, however, this rift played out in Methodism, Catholicism, and Presbyterianism all the same.

My conclusion:

Whether it was persecution by the Roman Empire, Athanasius’ defending the full divinity and humanity of Jesus, or the Discovery of the New World that involved Christians enslaving others, at the center of church history is the Christian struggle to understand the Lordship of Christ. Church History IS NOT just about learning facts and events from rote memory, OR is about simply learning from history in order not to repeat it (as the cliché goes); instead, it is an invitation to see how God works in unique ways through the centuries, as He calls us to repentance and redeems the world.

Sources: The Story of Christianity: Volumes 1-3 by Justo L. Gonzalez; The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins; Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of African Americans by Gayraud S. Wilmore; and, Women In Early Christianity: Translations from Greek Texts edited by Patricia Cox Miller

Online resources: New Testament Gateway/Canon and Early Christian Writings

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The Quest For the Historical Mary: Akin, Rape Culture, and Christianity

There Is Something About Mariology

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist”-From Pussy Riot, via Bridget from Women in Theology “Virgin Mary Mother Of God, Become A Feminist”

“The Virgin Mary brings the maternal back into the theological picture, one might say, especially in so-called Alexandrian traditions that emphasize the union of human and divine natures in Christ in such a way that Mary may be seen not only as the mother of the human but also the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos.” “-Virginia Burris in an interview with Religion Dispatches, “Let It Be Unto Me”: Akin, Rape, and the Early Church

I have been thinking about Mariologies recently, and what they may mean for cultures. If Christologies can be used to interpret modes of human action (ethics) and the types of moral agents communities desire to see, I would argue that Mariologies equally play a role in this as well. Postcolonial theorists have criticized the use of the image of women as nation-states (God bless America, and her people, for example) because of the history of war and the war crime of rape. Along with Scripture, particularly 1st Samuel and the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, Chandra Talpade Mohanty‘s Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity as well as science fiction media featuring strong female protagonists have gotten me thinking about Mariologies in a different light. I am coming to the conclusion that there are secular Mariologies that very much parallel and mimic the New Testament witness to the Theoktos (Mother Of God).

Mary superimposed on its Hebrew source מרים (M...

Mary superimposed on its Hebrew source מרים (Miryam/Miriam). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the USA, the country serves as both Uncle (Uncle Sam) and Mother, delivering us into life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. The citizens are weened on false myths such as American Exceptionalism derived from exclusive notions of prosperity rather than justice. Nationalism is a false idol and Mariology, parodying Christianity, giving birth to the nationalist war hero (the messiahs). Of course, the thing about these secular Mariologies is that they all start with the premise of Gentile superiority, completely severing the ties between the theological Mary, the Historical Mary, and the nation-state’s pseudo-Mary. The Mariology of this MTV world’s generation is the woman-as-consumer, enjoying her “freedom” while being objectified simultaneously. In a sense, the Kim Kardashians, Paris Hiltons, and Basketball Wives engender the social performance of late capitalism’s “virgin” (re: innocent) birth. The system, it now works for women! It is beyond critique!

One of the frustrating parts about being Protestant is knowing where to start with the personhood of Mary, Mother of God’s Only Begotten Son. Should we start with Karl Barth, as Dustin Resch of Briercrest does? The Patristics? The New Testament? Tradition? The Creeds?

Separating theology from history, many so-called Christian thinkers ignore Mary’s history and Jewishness. Supersessionist theologians tend to inevitably turn a blind-eye to both Jesus’ & Mary’s Jewish roots, while also showing willful spite towards the marginalized and the less fortunate. An example of this is Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, he of “Legitimate Rape” fame. Akin, a member of the Presbyterian Churches of America, whose leadership has worked to silence scholars mentioning anything positive about Second Temple Judaism: please see the Federal Vision Report: linked here, link to PDF. In sum, the New Perspective on Paul should be rejected because it is not in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which is THE standard for the PCA in interpreting Scripture.

Akin, like Augustine before him, and now with Jared Wilson and The Gospel Coalition, believes that the blame of rape falls solely on the victims. Rape victims are cast as liars, in conservative Reformed traditions, and so theologically, rape victims are violators of two of the Ten Commandments at the least: adultery and bearing false witness against her neighbor.

I start with a none-of-the-above approach. Rather, I choose to begin Mariology, as a self-imposed rule, with the story of Hannah, and her cry for justice, which resonates with Mary’s Magnificat. Both reflect a faith in a God of Justice, who takes a primary concern for victims first “YHWH raises the poor from dust”; “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” (1st Samuel 2; Luke 2:46-56). There is no Mariology without Mary’s Second Temple Jewish context, and quite literally, as Christians, we cannot reflect upon the story of King David, the monarchy, and the prophets without appropriately thinking about Mary, Jesus’ Mother.

“And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary”

– United Methodist Hymnal, traditional Apostles’ Creed

“For by Isaiah He says,: ‘Hear me, and yes shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” adding. ‘the sure mercies of David,’ in order that he might show that that covenant was to run its course in Christ. That he was the family of David, according to the genealogy of Mary [.]”-

Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 5, Chapter 1

“And in the Gospel according to Matthew, the genealogy which begins with Abraham is continued down to Mary the mother of the Lord”

-Clement of Alexandria, who makes the connection between Israel’s story and the story of Mary, from Abraham to David, from David to exile, in Chapter 21 “The Jewish Institutions and Laws of Far Higher Antiquity the the Philosophy of the Greeks” of Book 1 of Miscellanies (my translation of the title is “Carpets”).

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