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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Christians Believe

Alice C. Linsley

Modernism has had a significant impact on Christianity in the 20th century. Modernism draws off the empirical skepticism of people like David Hume, John Locke, and Jeremy Bentham and the theories of Charles Darwin. It expressed itself in criticism of the Bible, some constructive and some not so constructive. Modernism influenced bishops to set aside core beliefs of the Christian faith such as the miracles of Jesus, the miraculous conception of Jesus by his Virgin mother, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Former Episcopal Church bishop James Pike is an example. He rejected the doctrines of the Virgin birth and the Trinity.

As the influence of Modernism grew, so did the opposing movement of fundamentalism. This movement defended a literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis, and developed a new idea about the Bible, namely, that it is without error. Fundamentalism also held the Bible as the only authority for Christians (sola scriptura), setting aside the Church's historic view of the Bible as the first and last authority along with the consensus of the Church Fathers and Church Tradition.

Both Modernism and Fundamentalism find common ground in the emergence of Protestantism. Protestantism broke with the past in significant ways. It applied a rationalist approach to the Faith which led to doubts about the Trinity since this divine mystery cannot be grasped by the human mind.

Coupled with Renaissance humanism, Protestant rationalism prepared the way for ethics based on human reason and a liberal view of human rights. Some who called themselves Protestants became Deists. The Christian concept of moral obligation to God's law shifted to moral obligation to the natural law of individual liberty and property (Locke, Jefferson). Deism, combined with the Calvinist work ethic, launched a view of natural rights that justified private property as a divine right.

Protestants stressed living according to individual conscience and individual interpretation of the Bible, apart from the Tradition of the Church. Protestants are more comfortable with innovations such as Dispensationalism and the Rapture, new ways of services, contemporary praise bands, women clergy, and Pentecostal practices such as speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit.

Though there are many denominational differences among Christians, especially since the 16th century, Christians around the world tend to agree on certain core beliefs. Many of these beliefs have been clarified by councils of wise bishop, priests and deacons. This is why it is possible to speak of Christianity as conciliar.

The core beliefs of the Christian Faith are expressed in the words of the Nicene Creed, a formulation of the core doctrines originally adopted in the city of Nicaea (present day Iznik, Turkey) by the First Council of Nicaea in 325.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker (of heaven and earth, and) of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

by whom all things were made (in heaven and on earth);

who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;

whose kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father (Rome adds "and from the Son"), who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

In the history of the Church 7 councils have been especially important. These councils were called to resolve questions and controversies surrounding Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and holy images such as icons.

The Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh Councils address the veneration (honor) due to the Virgin Mary. The veneration of Mary was a common practice before the time of the Puritans, and the oldest cathedrals in England have side chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Many of the original statutes of Mary and other saints were destroyed by the Puritans. The destruction of images is called “iconoclasm.”

The veneration of Mary was common practice before the emergence of Protestantism. Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, had much to say about the veneration of Mary. 

He wrote, "The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart." (Sermon, Sept. 1st 1522) He also said, "People have crowded all her glory into a single phrase: The Mother of God. No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the tress." (From the Commentary of the Magnificat)

1. First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) with 318 bishops present, including St. Nicholas of Myra, St. James of Nisibis, and St. Athanasius of Antioch, who was a deacon at that time.

This Council was called to resolve controversy raised by the Alexandrian priest Arius, who rejected the Jesus Christ’s divine nature and eternal pre-existence as the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God the Father. Arius taught that the Son of God is the highest creation. Therefore, in the Nicene Creed we affirm that Jesus Christ is “begotten of the Father, not made…”

2. First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381) with 150 bishops present, including Gregory the Theologian, who presided over the Council, Gregory of Nyssa, and Cyril of Jerusalem.

This Council was convoked against the false teaching of the Arian bishop of Constantinople, Macedonius, who rejected the deity of the third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit is not God, and called Him a created power like an angel, and therefore subservient to God the Father and God the Son. The Council affirmed as a dogma (unchanging truth) the equality and the single essence of God the Holy Spirit with God the Father and God the Son. The Council also supplemented the Nicene Creed, or "Symbol of Faith," with five Articles in which is set forth its teaching about the Holy Spirit, about the Church, about the Mysteries, about the resurrection of the dead, and the life in the world to come. This is called the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and it serves as a guide to the Church for all time.

3. Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) with 200 bishops present

This Council repudiated the false doctrine of Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, who profanely taught that the Most-holy Virgin Mary simply gave birth to the man Christ, with whom then God united morally and dwelled in Him, as in a temple, as previously He had dwelled in Moses and other prophets. Nestorius denied that Jesus is God incarnate and therefore the Virgin Mary was not the God-bearer (Theotokos). The Council upheld the divine nature of Jesus Christ and that at the time of the incarnation he was of two natures, divine and human, and that being so, the Mary did indeed bear God.  The Council also affirmed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and strictly prohibited making any changes or additions to it (as happened when the Roman Catholic Church added the words “and from the Son” to the Creed, referring to the procession of the Holy Spirit. This is called the “Filioque clause” and it is now optional for Anglican to say when reciting the Nicene Creed.

4. Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) with 650 bishops present

This Council met to challenge the false doctrine of an archimandrite of a Constantinople monastery, Eutychius, who rejected the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. In attempting to defend the divinity of Jesus Christ, he himself fell into the extreme. Eutychius taught that the human nature was completely absorbed into Jesus Christ’s divine nature (Monophysitism). Therefore, it followed that one need only recognize Jesus Christ’s divine nature. The Council determined that Jesus Christ is perfect God, born by God, and perfect Man, taking his flesh from his mother Mary and in every way He is like us, except without sin.  Some Eastern churches do not accept this judgment. These include the “miaphysite” Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Church of India. These are considered “Non-Chalcedonian” churches. Miaphysitism holds that in Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united in one nature (monism), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

5.  Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553) with 165 bishops present

This Council reaffirmed that Jesus Christ has two natures, human and divine, and that these are neither separable nor mixed. This council convened to address the heretical proposition that the Christ and Jesus were two separate persons loosely conjoined, and that the Virgin Mary could not be called the Mother of God (Gk. Theotokos), but only the mother of Christ (Gk. Christotokos). This idea about Mary has already been condemned at the earlier ecumenical council of Ephesus in 431.

6. Third Council of Constantinople (A.D. 680) with 170 bishops present, including St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and St. Maximus the Confessor, who the Romans had tortured by cutting out his tongue cut and chopping off his hand.

The Council condemned the heresies of monoenergism and monothelitism, and defined Jesus Christ as having two energies and two wills (divine and human). Monoenergism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one energy, whereas orthodoxy teaches that Jesus Christ acts through two energies, divine and human, generally called Dyoenergism. Monothelitism teaches that Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. This is contrary to orthodox Christology, which teaches that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures.

The Sixth Ecumenical Council also rejected several innovations of the Roman Church, namely, the requirement that priests and deacons be celibate, strict fasting on Saturdays during Lent, and representations of Jesus as a lamb, or in any way other than He appeared on the earth. This was intended to curb what was regarded as Roman idolatry.

7. Second Council of Nicaea (A.D. 787) with 367 bishops, priests and “spiritual fathers” present

This Council was convened against the iconoclastic heresy, which had been raging for sixty years before the Council, under the Greek Emperor Leo III, who hoped to convert Muslims to Christianity. To do so, he thought it necessary to do away with icons. Emperor Leo’s son, Constantine V (741–775), held the Council of Hieria to make the suppression of holy images official. Veneration of the holy icons was finally restored and affirmed by the local synod of Constantinople in 843 A.D., under the Empress Theodora. At this last ecumenical council is was determined that, “As the sacred and life-giving cross is everywhere set up as a symbol, so also should the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the holy angels, as well as those of the saints and other pious and holy men be embodied in the manufacture of sacred vessels, tapestries, vestments, etc., and exhibited on the walls of churches, in the homes, and in all conspicuous places, by the roadside and everywhere, to be revered by all who might see them. For the more they are contemplated, the more they move to fervent memory of their prototypes. Therefore, it is proper to accord to them a fervent and reverent adoration, not, however, the veritable worship which, according to our faith, belongs to the Divine Being alone — for the honor accorded to the image passes over to its prototype, and whoever adores the image adores in it the reality of what is there represented."

In keeping with the spirit of the early Middle Ages, there was an emphasis on every church having a relic enshrined in the altar. A relic consists of the physical remains or personal effects of a saint or venerated person preserved as a tangible memorial. All Eastern Orthodox churches and many Roman Catholic churches have altars containing relics. Many of the oldest churches in England have relics. Relics of St. Thomas Becket are housed in Trinity Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral. Recently, archaeologists have found the remains of four of the Puritan founders of the Jamestown Settlement and were surprised to find a relic among the items buried with Capt. Gabriel Archer.  (See 2015, Washington Post, “Jamestownexcavation unearths four bodies and a mystery in a box”)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

T.S. Eliot on growing older

“As we grow older 
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated of dead and living. 
Not the intense moment isolated, with no before and after, 
But a lifetime burning in every moment... 
Here and there does not matter 
We must be still and still moving into another intensity 
For a further union a deeper communion.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

RIP René Girard

(Photo: Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)

René Girard, a great intellectual light, died on November 4, 2015 at the age of 91. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!  Girard lived a sequestered life in the academic burrows of Stanford, but his influence abroad is seismic. Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy cites his writings.

Stanford University

French theorist René Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era, a faculty member at Stanford since 1981 and one of the immortels of the Académie Française.

René Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era – a provocative sage who bypassed prevailing orthodoxies and "isms" to offer a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him "the new Darwin of the human sciences." The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

International leaders read him, the French media quoted him. Girard influenced such writers as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and Czech writer Milan Kundera – yet he never had the fashionable (and often fleeting) cachet enjoyed by his peers among the structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists and other camps. His concerns were not trendy, but they were always timeless.

In particular, Girard was interested in the causes of conflict and violence and the role of imitation in human behavior. Our desires, he wrote, are not our own; we want what others want. These duplicated desires lead to rivalry and violence. He argued that human conflict was not caused by our differences, but rather by our sameness. Individuals and societies offload blame and culpability onto an outsider, a scapegoat, whose elimination reconciles antagonists and restores unity.

According to author Robert Pogue Harrison, the Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature at Stanford, Girard's legacy was "not just to his own autonomous field – but to a continuing human truth."

"I've said this for years: The best analogy for what René represents in anthropology and sociology is Heinrich Schliemann, who took Homer under his arm and discovered Troy," said Harrison, recalling that Girard formed many of his controversial conclusions by a close reading of literary, historical and other texts. "René had the same blind faith that the literary text held the literal truth. Like Schliemann, his major discovery was excoriated for using the wrong methods. Academic disciplines are more committed to methodology than truth."

Girard was always a striking and immediately recognizable presence on the Stanford campus, with his deep-set eyes, leonine head and shock of silver hair. His effect on others could be galvanizing. William Johnsen, editor of a series of books by and about Girard from Michigan State University Press, once described his first encounter with Girard as "a 110-volt appliance being plugged into a 220-volt outlet."

Girard's first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English), used Cervantes, Stendhal, Proust and Dostoevsky as case studies to develop his theory of mimesis. The Guardian recently compared the book to "putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before."

The work had an even bigger impact on Girard himself: He underwent a conversion, akin to the protagonists in the books he had cited. "People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory," he said in 2009. "The avant-garde people are anti-Christian, and many of the Christians are anti-avant-garde. Even the Christians have been very distrustful of me."

Girard took the criticism in stride: "Theories are expendable," he said in 1981. "They should be criticized. When people tell me my work is too systematic, I say, 'I make it as systematic as possible for you to be able to prove it wrong.'"

In 1972, he spurred international controversy with Violence and the Sacred (1977 in English), which explored the role of archaic religions in suppressing social violence through scapegoating and sacrifice.

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978 in French; 1987 in English), according to its publisher, Stanford University Press, was "the single fullest summation of Girard's ideas to date, the book by which they will stand or fall." He offered Christianity as a solution to mimetic rivalry, and challenged Freud's Totem and Taboo.

He was the author of nearly 30 books, which have been widely translated, including The Scapegoat, I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning, To Double Business Bound, Oedipus Unbound and A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare.

His last major work was 2007's Achever Clausewitz (published in English as Battling to the End: Politics, War, and Apocalypse), which created the kind of firestorm only a public intellectual in France can ignite. French President Nicolas Sarkozy cited his words, and reporters trekked to Girard's Paris doorstep daily. The book, which takes as its point of departure the Prussian military historian and theorist Carl von Clausewitz, had implications that placed Girard firmly in the 21st century.
A French public intellectual in America

René Noël Théophile Girard was born in Avignon on Christmas Day, 1923.

His father was curator of Avignon's Musée Calvet and later the city's Palais des Papes, France's biggest medieval fortress and the pontifical residence during the Avignon papacy. Girard followed in his footsteps at l'École des Chartes, a training ground for archivists and librarians, with a dissertation on marriage and private life in 15th-century Avignon. He graduated as an archiviste-paléographe in 1947.

In the summer of 1947, he and a friend organized an exhibition of paintings at the Palais des Papes, under the guidance of Paris art impresario Christian Zervos. Girard rubbed elbows with Picasso, Matisse, Braque and other luminaries. French actor and director Jean Vilar founded the theater component of the festival, which became the celebrated annual Avignon Festival.

Girard left a few weeks later for Indiana University in Bloomington, perhaps the single most important decision of his life, to launch his academic career. He received his PhD in 1950 with a dissertation on "American Opinion on France, 1940-43."

"René would never have experienced such a career in France," said Benoît Chantre, president of Paris' Association Recherches Mimétiques, one of the organizations that have formed around Girard's work. "Such a free work could indeed only appear in America. That is why René is, like Tocqueville, a great French thinker and a great French moralist who could yet nowhere exist but in the United States. René 'discovered America' in every sense of the word: He made the United States his second country, he made there fundamental discoveries, he is a pure 'product' of the Franco-American relationship, he finally revealed the face of an universal – and not an imperial – America."

At Johns Hopkins University, Girard was one of the organizers for the 1966 conference that introduced French theory and structuralism to America. Lucien Goldmann, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida also participated in the standing-room-only event. Girard quipped that he was "bringing la peste to the United States."

Girard had also been on the faculties at Bryn Mawr, Duke and the State University of New York at Buffalo before he came to Stanford as the inaugural Andrew B. Hammond Professor in French Language, Literature and Civilization in 1981.

Girard was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and twice a Guggenheim Fellow. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005, an honor previously given to Voltaire, Jean Racine and Victor Hugo. He also received a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009. In 2013,King Juan Carlos of Spain awarded him the Order of Isabella the Catholic, a Spanish civil order bestowed for his "profound attachment" to "Spanish culture as a whole." He was also a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur andCommandeur des Arts et des Lettres.

Others were impressed, but Girard was never greatly impressed with himself, though his biting wit sometimes rankled critics. Stanford's Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature, called him "a great, towering figure – no ostentatiousness." He added, "It's not that he's living his theory – yet there is something of his personality, intellectual behavior and style that goes with his work. I find that very beautiful.

"Despite the intellectual structures built around him, he's a solitaire. His work has a steel-like quality – strong, contoured, clear. It's like a rock. It will be there and it will last."

Girard is survived by his wife of 64 years, Martha, of Stanford; two sons, Daniel, of Hillsborough, California, and Martin, of Seattle; a daughter, Mary Girard Brown, of Newark, California; and nine grandchildren.

Memorial plans have not been announced.

From here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chesterton on Corruption of Truth

"And it is some satisfaction to realise that we are not living in a nightmare in which No is the same as Yes; that even the modern world has not actually gone mad, with all its ingenious attempts to do so; that two and two do in fact make four; and that the man who has four apples really has more than the man who has three. For some modern metaphysicians and moral philosophers seem disposed to leave us in doubt on these points. It is not the fundamental reason in things that is at fault; it is a particular hitch or falsification, arising from a very recent trick of regarding everything only in relation to trade. Trade is all very well in its way, but Trade has been put in the place of Truth."-- G. K Chesterton

Friday, October 23, 2015

Random mutations and quantitative analysis

This is a great video for helping students to understand the problems facing evolutionary theory.

Related reading: Does the Binary Feature Signal Greater Diversity?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

When a Fundamentalist Finds Philosophy

Paul Pardi

I was rummaging through some stacks of stuff in the garage today sorting through items that needed to be recycled, discarded, and saved. I found an old, dust-covered briefcase that I used as a student, locked tight with long-forgotten combinations on the clasps. After trying various three-digit combinations that might have meant something to me back then, I gave up and grabbed the biggest screwdriver I could find and pried the locks loose. Among some dried up pens, an old notebook, and some tissues, I found a purple Pee-Chee with two dozen or so papers—obviously important since they were set aside from the reams of notes I have in an old metal filing cabinet at the rear of the garage. In back of the handwritten notes on epistemology and the dot matrix printout of reference materials I grabbed from the library, I found a single page on which I had written some lines in red ink. It’s dated June 1995 which makes it just a touch over 20 years old almost to the day.

In June 1995 I was scouting graduate schools with the goal of studying philosophy. I had grown up a Christian fundamentalist who generally had the world figured out by the time I was a teen and had my eyes firmly set on full time ministry. I took a required intro to philosophy class during my senior year at an ultra-conservative Baptist college by a professor who was not so conservative (and not so Baptist it turns out). I would never be the same. For the first time in my college experience, I had found myself with questions. Real questions, not the kind you’re taught to ask knowing you already have the answer. And there was something else. For the first time in my life, a small seed of doubt had been planted. I found myself with the terrifying consideration that some items in my worldview may not have been as iron-clad and irresistibly true as I had been led to believe they were. That seed flowered and by the end of the summer I had, for the first time, started reading to try to discover the truth rather than to reaffirm it.

Three years later, my worldview was in shambles and I knew I needed more training. Graduate school seemed like the best option and I headed to southern California to check out the program at Biola University. I stayed at a friends house not knowing who I was or where I was headed. I was alone and contemplative, one foot in the warm, comfortable old world and one out in the frigid unknown. Thoughts flooded into my head in that quiet room on that hot summer June evening and I jotted down these words.

At the top of the page, I simply wrote,


Look inside, outside, through pages of endless thought
endless mind in weary, dreary droll.

A slight glimpse a shadow vague—a stick, a nail
a jury-rigged edifice growing on the knoll.

Take, steal, beg, borrow desperately humbled
to light (or dark) not quite my own.

But shoulders are strong and tall enough
to bring heaven closer, nearer (not alone).

Secluded so it seems. A bubble impenetrable or only slightly visible.
A flame to few.

Half moon—silly half as many see it. Intelligence and genius reign
for those outside the pew.

Taste it. Good? You know it now. Ghosts haunt my mansion.
You live in an exorcised house.

Empty though it is, free, loose, explode! What’s beyond? Look!
The heres and nows.

Hand in hand we stand? Confusion with glasses on. Look closer.
More, heavier pages.

It squiggles and squirms. Can you catch it?
Not for all the stacks filled with sages.

Posted in Philosophy News

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Philosophical Basis of Science

Go back far enough in history and you’ll find the point where science emerged from philosophy. Indeed for most of history, science was known as natural philosophy.

As Mark Vernon writes in his delightful new book, The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy:
The presocratic philosophers were those individuals who began to ask the kind of questions that cause a certain distance to open between the individual and the world in which they had felt immersed. They began to create a mentality that feels more familiar to us, one that planted the seeds of the modern. We know one of those queries left by Anaxamines of Miletus, one of the earliest philosophers of the sixth century (B.C.E.) He thought to blow on his hand in two ways. First with his mouth wide open. Then, with his lips pursed. He noticed a difference. Try it.
When blowing with his mouth wide open, Anaxamines found that his breath felt warm. With his lips pursed, it felt cold on his hand. And then he thought to ask why.

That small question, Vernon writes, represents a massive leap of mind. “It wonders if the difference might have a physical reason, a proto-scientific explanation. We now describe the effect as a result of Boyle’s law.”
Read it all here.

Mark Vernon is a former Anglican Church priest. His Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy grew out of lectures he delivered at the New Academy based in Notting Hill, London.

Related reading: Ancient Wisdom, Science and TechnologyPlato's Debt to Ancient Egypt