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Chapter 4

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Religious Studies
RELS 131

Chapter 4- Christian Traditions  To identify oneself as a Christian is to declare Jesus the lord and saviour of the world  To be a Christian is to make a commitment of faith in the doctrine that Jesus was the incarnate son of God  There is about a billion and a half Christians in the world Origins The Life of Jesus  Very little is known about the early years of Jesus, before he began his public life around the age of 30  We are told that his childhood home was in Nazareth, in a northern region called Galilee, and we assume that he learned the trade of his father (a carpenter or builder)  At the age of 12, after spending the High Holidays in Jerusalem with his family, he is said to have become so absorbed in discussing the subtleties of Jewish law with the teachers at the temple that his family started home without him  His public years began with his baptism by his older cousin, John the Baptist, during which he sees the heavens open and the holy spirit descending like a dove o He interpreted this as a call to prophecy or ministry, and he withdrew into the wilderness on the eastern side of the Jordan River, on a kind of spiritual retreat o Here he is joined by Satan, who offers him a series of temptations which he refuses  Upon his return from the wilderness he goes to Capernaum, a town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, were his mother lived with his other family members (perhaps siblings, yet others say they were cousins)  One theory for leaving Nazareth might have something to do with the death of Joseph  After his return, Jesus attends a synagogue service in Nazareth and volunteers to do one of the Torah readings  The passage he had read spoke of a time where the lame will walk and the blind will see, and Jesus then told everybody present that this prophecy is now fulfilled o Underlines the idea that he has come to fulfill prophecies of the Hebrew Bible  Jesus then recruited 12 male disciples, most of whom were fishermen  He also attracted a number of women followers, among them Mary Magdalene  For the next year Jesus travels around the region of Capernaum, working miracles, teaching how to apply Jewish law to everyday life, and telling parables, many of which point to an impending apocalypse that will lead to a new era or peace he calls the kingdom of God  His main venues were synagogues or private homes, but sometimes he preached to larger crowds who gathered to witness his miraculous cures which included healing the blind and raising the dead  He caused a disturbance when he went to Jerusalem with his disciples for the holy days around Passover because he accused the money changers at the temple of cheating on the rate charged to exchange regular Greek and Roman coins for the Hebrew coins required to make offerings  On the Sunday before Passover he fulfilled another prophecy by riding into the town on a donkey with people placing palm leaves on the road and praising him  A few days later, while praying in a garden outside of Jerusalem, he was arrested by a mixed party of Roman soldiers and servants of the temple priests whose authority he had challenged  Taken first before the Sanhedrin and then before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus is accused of perverting the people and claiming to be the king of the Jews  He is paraded through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of execution, a hill called Golgotha, where is nailed to the cross and left to die  Two days later, on the morning following the Sabbath, some of his women followers go to his tomb where his body was placed on Friday and found it empty  In one account, an angel tells the women that God has raised him from the death; in others he appears to the disciples himself  He had been resurrected and gone to sit at the right hand of God in heaven, from where he will soon return to judge the people and usher into the kingdom of God  Jesus’ most frequent term for himself is the son of man  Son of man is not a synonym for messiah, but it has similar connotations, and Christians came to understand Jesus as the messiah  The Greek term christos was used as a synonym for messiah, and so he became known as Jesus the Christ The Gospels and Jesus  In Mark’s account, a Roman soldier who was standing by during Jesus’ death is moved to say “Truly this was a son of God”  Within a generation of his death, his followers decided that his message was not for the Jews alone, and that anybody could become Christian  In the accounts of Jesus’ life-known as gospels, from the Greek evangel, meaning “good news”- he performs miracles  He emphasizes forgiveness to a degree that is probably not exceeded in any other religious tradition  Because he lived in a time where there was no transcripts, our understanding of him depends on accounts produced a generation or more after his death  There are few non-Christian sources that might be used to dispute claims  More than 3 centuries later, when Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, church leaders made a list of the writings they acknowledged to be scripture  That standard list, or canon, of books and letters is what Christians know as the New Testament o Includes gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John Mark  His account is the simplest and shortest of the gospels, and most likely the earliest  It starts not with Jesus’ birth, but with the beginning of his mature ministry following his baptism by John the Baptist  After his 40 day retreat Jesus launches his ministry in Galilee, proclaiming that the kingdom of god is at hand  He violates the Sabbath law by picking grain and healing on the day of rest, and when he is challenged for doing so, he takes the notion of Jewish legal authority into his own hands, declaring that the Sabbath is made for people rather than people for the Sabbath  Once Jesus choses his disciples they accompany him to Jerusalem, arriving with an entourage that shouts Hosanna (a cry for divine deliverance in Hebrew prayer) and proclaim the coming of a king in the line of the Hebrew dynastic founder, Davis  Over the course of a week in Jerusalem he disputes with religious authorities, celebrates the Passover with his disciples, is betrayed by one of them (Judas) and is arrested  Jesus is executed on the cross, crying out a quotation from one of the Hebrew psalms, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Before the Sabbath begins his body is placed in a tomb, which is sealed by a large stone  The day after the Sabbath three women followers go to the tomb to anoint him, only to find the stone rolled away and the body missing  A figure appears to them and informs them that Jesus has risen from the dead and will meet with the disciples  In some manuscripts, Jesus appears to the 11 faithful disciples at a meal, commands them to preach the gospel, and promises that they too will be healers Luke  Luke’s account details events before Jesus’ adult baptism and ministry, and includes visions and portents anticipating the birth of John the Baptist as well as Jesus  It reports on Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and describes how shepherds in the field, informed of the birth of the messiah by angels, come to pay their respects  Luke does not mention any wise men from the East however, the magi (Persian for priests) are in Matthew  At a newborn purification ceremony in the temple, a devout man proclaims the infant to be the messiah  His opening chapters also incorporate a number of hymns which were already in use in the early Church  Luke’s version emphasizes that Jesus was born into his role and destined for it  Luke appears to have a Greek readership in mind, for the gospel is addressed to Theophilus “one who loves God” and he presents Jesus as being important to the gentile world  He also provides more information than Mark regarding the trial and crucifixion of Jesus  The charge against Jesus was that in claiming kingship, he was inciting rebellion  Although Pilate himself found Jesus innocent, mob pressure demanded execution  In Luke the Roman soldier declares Jesus is innocent, not the son of God as in Mark  After the discovery of the empty tomb, Jesus appears among his followers and speaks to them  Luke seems to consider signs and portents the most important evidence of Jesus’ special role  References to the fulfillment of Jewish expectations are not numerous Matthew  Matthew’s account includes much of the same material as Luke’s, but his focus is noticeably different  Matthew designed his narrative to persuade a Jewish audience of the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the messiah  His account of Jesus’ escape from the slaughter of infants by King Herod was intended to echo the Exodus account of the Israelites’ escape from the wrath of the Egyptian pharaoh  King Herod, upon hearing of the birth of a child who is to be the king of the Jews, plots to kill every Jewish infant to protect his own reign  An angel warns Jesus’ parents to take the child and escape to Egypt, where they remain until the tyrant’s death  Matthew begins his account by tracing the genealogy of Jesus as the descendant of King David, in a lineage that runs through Joseph  However, Matthew then bypasses this genealogy and declares that Mary was already pregnant with Jesus before her marriage, with a child fathered by the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph  Matthew’s purpose was to associate Jesus’ birth directly with a prophecy from the book of Isaiah which says a virgin will have a son called Emmanuel God with us  The Hebrew text of Isaiah mentions only a young woman; only Matthew and Luke are sources for the doctrine of the virgin birth  In his determination to link Jesus to Hebrew scripture he made some mistakes such as when he attributed a passage to the prophet Isaiah when in fact it comes from Psalm 78  The historical episode of deepest significance for Christians is the Passion (suffering) and death of Jesus on the cross  Bystanders mocked Jesus, Jesus said he is thirsty, and soldiers cast lots to divide up his clothes  Jesus wanted his fellow Jews to live up to the ideals already present in their tradition, and placed ethics ahead of ritual John  The three previous gospels share a good deal in common when they are contrasted with John’s, the fourth gospel  Scholars therefore refer to the first three as the “synoptic gospels”meaning they have a unified perspective  Johns gospel is a biography of another sort, and compared to the other gospels, it is a major theological essay  His purpose is to set out not just the narrative itself but its cosmic significance, and John proclaims Jesus’ identity as messiah and saviour  In the beginning he mentions logos and how the logos was with God o Logos is a Greek term which meant word not just as a vocabulary item, but the whole idea of divine intelligence and purpose  John declares Jesus to be the incarnation of that divine Word, and for him, the eternal divine purpose has manifested itself as a personal presence in human form, in the recent experience of the community  He emphasized the distinction that they early Christian movement as a Jewish sect was making between its message and the traditional Jewish law, the contrast between law and gospel o Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus  John, like Paul (an early convert who contributed to the shaping of the early Christian message) now uses the title Christ practically as a second name for Jesus  The idea that Jesus is the messiah becomes something more than John’s interpretation as Jesus declares it in his own words  John’s Jesus is more than a teacher with an insight into human nature; he is the definitive link between God and humanity  Salvation is John’s goal for humans, who need to be delivered from the flaws and constraints of our condition  He is especially concerned with our mortality, and he offers the hope of life  Paul was also concerned about our sinfulness, and offered the hope of justification- being set right with God  Jesus’ status as a manifestation of God was eventually spelled out in the doctrine of the Trinity, after the middle of the third century, but the link between the divine and the human in Jesus continued to be a doctrinal issue well into the 5 century From Sect to Church  The disciples were peasants and fishermen from rural Galilee, a small Jewish sect whose teacher had tired in them the hope that low-status people had a place in God’s plan  There are various explanations to how early Christianity transformed itself from a small sect within Judaism to an independent missionary religion  The New Testament book Acts of Apostles describes a miraculous event o In Acts 2 the disciples had gathered to celebrate the festival of Shavuoth, 7 weeks after the Passover crucifixion, when the Holy Spirit appeared to them as a rush of wind and fire o They were suddenly able to speak many languages and preach to all people  Acts also provides more everyday information about the apostles  Chapter 15 tells of a genuine debate about circumcision o In Acts, Peter and James, Jesus’ brother or kinsman, steer a middle course between exclusive Jewish and gentile definitions of the movement (Galatians says circumcision is not required)  Luke makes hardly any explicit reference to the Zealot-inspired rebellion against Roman rule when the Temple was destroyed o Christians may have wanted to distance themselves from Jewish nationalist ambitions  In Mark and Matthew it is said that the disciples were armed, that they resisted arrest, and that Peter cut of the ear of one of the men Paul  He was the principal influence on the direction of the early Church  He had the status of a Roman citizen, and was a Pharisee from the diaspora Jewish community in Tarsus who had gone to Jerusalem for a religion-legal study  He did not know Jesus personally, but he experienced a vision of post- resurrection Jesus while he was travelling to persecute Christians  From then on he travelled around the eastern Mediterranean preaching  The letters he wrote to Christian converts constitute the earliest Christian literature  In his letters he refers to himself as the apostle to the gentiles and rejects the idea that in order to follow Jesus you must become a Jew (all you need is faith and the divine grace)  Divine grace, transmitted through Christ, frees people from bondage to the law of Moses  A major theme that can be traced back to Paul is the “original sin” as well as the contrast between life in the spirit (centred on lasting religious values such as faith, hope and love) and life in the flesh (the pursuit of what passes away)  Thanks to Paul’s voyages, Christian communities were established in many of the port cities of the Roman Empire by the time he died (65)  Paul had become a martyr witness Marcion and the Canon  Marcion can be described as the author of a blueprint that was rejected  He lived a century after Paul, and was a wealthy ship-owner from the region of the Black Sea  Although his teachings led to his excommunication (formal expulsion) from the church, it did not stop him from making his views known  Marcion took Paul’s ideas to astonishing lengths  Paul’s contrast between law and gospel became for Marcion a contrast between the Old Testament and New, but only between scriptures but between Gods  Marcion sees the Demiurge (the creator of God of the Hebrew scriptures) as evil and cruel and that the coming of Jesus reveals a different God, one of love and mercy who would take Demiurge’s place  Marcion rejected the entire Hebrew canon and only accepted the ten letters by Paul and an edited text of Luke’s gospel and Acts th  He had somewhat of a following, especially in Syria, but it died out by the 5 century  His principal influence can be seen in the responses he drew from other Christian theologians as they rejected his view and affirmed that the Christian message was rooted in the faith of ancient Israel  Marcion pushed the Church to ratify the Hebrew scriptures as a part of the Christian message and helped define the scriptural canon The Gnostics  Paul was not the only writer to distinguish between the spirit and the flesh, as another spiritual and doctrinal challenge came from the movement known as Gnosticism  The Gnostics claimed to have privileged, secret knowledge (gnosis knowledge)  The Gnostic philosophical narrative is dualistic: the divine powers of good are opposed by the forces of evil, and spirit is in a cosmic struggle with matter  In the beginning, the material world was created through the entrapment or fall of spirit into matter, and spirit is the victim of temptation or attack  They understood Jesus as an messenger from the realm of the spirit who took on the appearance of human form but did not take on material existence  Later Christian centuries knew about the Gnostic teachings largely from the arguments against them in the writings of early theologians  Critics termed them docetic (dokesis appearance), and argued that to treat Jesus as a spiritual apparition was to rob Christianity of the power associated with the doctrine of divine incarnation in human form  An important collection of Gnostic manuscripts on papyrus was discovered in Egypt, which led for a more sympathetic view of Gnostic ideas  Among the texts was the Gospel of Thomas, that did not win ratification as scripture by the Church at large o Even though it was written after Jesus’ death it reports him as still alive and does not report on his death  One small Gnostic community exists today in southern Iraq; the Mandeans (manda knowledge) and came to be known as Christians of St. John because of their reverence for John the Baptist  A separate religion of the Gnostic type arose in 3 century Iran, as Mani, who was raised in Gnostic circles, declared himself to be a prophet, wrote scriptures, and organized a community  He claimed to sum up the teachings of Jesus, Zoroaster and the Buddha  Manichaeism, the tradition of the living Mani, spread through much of the Roman Empire and competed with Christianity  It won converts in Egypt and North Africa in the 4 and 5 centuries  The development of Christian doctrine responded to the challenges first of Gnostic and then Manichaean teachings  Christians came to stress the unity and sovereignty of God, the humanity of Jesus, and the goodness of life in the material world  Some Gnostic ideas, such as the devil as an antagonist to God and the value of self-discipline find a place in Christianity Crystallization Emerging Church Organization  Before long, formal ordination was required to perform ritual and administrative functions  The most basic ordinated positions was that of deacon, and women as well as men were so designated in the Early Church  During the first two centuries women played a variety of roles, but in later ages even the role of deacon became monopolized by men  Apostle, deacon and elder are the only leadership roles mentioned in the New testament, but sometimes the priest emerges as the person in charge of rituals and instruction  The ranking priest in a particular political jurisdiction was known as a bishop and his responsibility was to ordain deacons and priests, symbolized by “laying hands” on the head of the inductee o He also conducted baptisms  The archbishop supervised all bishops in a large region  The bishops of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch and Rome became known as patriarchs, and Constantinople was added when the imperial capital moved there  Christians invoked the apostles to give legitimacy to their claims of authority  Ordination lineage of bishops apostolic succession Saints  Paul referred to all loyal members of the Church as saints, but in time that title came to be reserved for individuals who were considered channels of divine grace, or who had distinguished themselves by displaying an unusual degree of piety Asceticism  The Hellenistic Hewish sect widely identified as the Essenes built their community in the desert, near the shores of the Dead Sea o John the Baptist was associated with that desert o It is where Jesus withdrew to resist temptation  Several factors likely contribute to the emergence of Christian asceticism o Some early ascetics wants to prepare for the return of Christ and strict discipline was said to deepen spiritual experience o During periods of persecution life in the desert was an alternative to martyrdom o To give up wealth was to make a public statement  The origins of Christian monasticism are traced to Antony, who lived in Egypt  Antony overcame spiritual temptations and lived as a hermit  Simeon, another hermit, built a pillar he sat on for the rest of his life  In time the desert fathers took up locations near one another for safety and support Persecution and Martyrdom  From the Christian perspective they were keeping faith with their heritage of exclusive Hebraic monotheism, but from the Roman perspective they were guilty of insubordination  Christians were subject to persecution as Romans believed they would provoke the gods to send out punishments in the forms of epidemics and natural disasters  In the 3 century the empire was in a crisis of deepening military, administrative and economic instability, so the emperor demanded public sacrifice to the Roman gods, punished by death if one did not comply  In this period martyrdom became the ultimate test of faith for Christians who followed self-sacrificing death like their lord did  The faith set by martyrs helped persuade many pagans to become Christian  The Great Persecution was under Diocletian and lasted 9 years Imperial Christianity Constantine  Constantine abandoned the persecution policy by issuing an edict that gave Christians the right to practice their religion, eventually granting them state support and patronage  The emperors conversion to Christianity was sparked by a vision he experienced on the eve of a battle when a cross appeared in the heavens, accompanied by the words “conquer in this sin” o He later won the battle and gained control of the western empire  Christian symbols had appeared on Constantine’s coins for some time, and even though his mother was a Christian, he was not baptised until he was on his deathbed  Christianity spread into the towns and along trade routes, while more remote areas stuck to paganism  The emperor Julian attempted to bring back paganism  Now rulers oversaw the appointment of bishops and convoked councils Creeds and the Trinity  The Church began composing creeds statements of the content of Christian faith, very early in its history  Because Christians define themselves as people who believe such-and-such about Jesus they expect other traditions to define themselves in terms of belief as well  A formulation known as the Apostle’s Creed came into use, mainly in the western part of the Mediterranean  The other well known formulation was the Nicene Creed, which covers the same topics as the Apostles’ Creed in more detail  Christians often assume the Trinity has been present from the very beginning, but it is hardly mentioned in the New Testament, and nowhere are the 3 put together in a list  At stake was the relationship among the three divine persons: God as heavenly father and creator, Jesus as son and redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as a continuing source of inspiration, guidance, and comfort  In the time when doctrine was still developing, orthodoxy (right teaching) did not exist o It is the consensus that can be affirmed  Paul of Samosata described God as the father, wisdom, and Word, and believed that the Word rested on Jesus  Arius proposed that the son of God was not eternal, but was created within time by the father as part of the creation of the world; there was an existence when the Son was not  Athandrian asserted the coequality of the father and son, underlining the power of the son to be a saviour  Constantine, hoping to promote stability through the church, called a meeting of the bishops in Nicaea, and the dispute between Arius and Athandrian was part of the agenda, and it went against Arius  Arian views continued to attract support, and surfaced until the rejection of them by Theodosius I at the Council of Constantinople  There was then the question of that if the son was equal to the father, then how did the eternal divinity of Jesus relate to his historical humanity? o Two separate persons, one divine and one human o One person, with only a divine nature o One person, but with both a divine nature and a human nature Differentiation Alexandrian versus Antiochene Christology  The split that produced the Nestorian churches was the result in part of political rivalry and in part of a doctrinal dispute between theologists  The Alexandrians understood Christ in terms similar to John: the eternal logos or Word was incarnated in the human person of Jesus  The Antiochene argued that the logos was an entity distinct from the human Jesus, over whom it had a controlling influence  For the Alexandrians Mary was the bearer of God (theotokos)  For the Antichenes, she was the bearer of Christ (christokos) o The mother of the man Jesus but not of the eternal son of God Nestorianism  Politically, the rivalry was between Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, and Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople  Nestorius supported the Antiochenes who rejected Mary as the mother of God, and soon he was deposed, and banished to a monastery in Egypt The Greek Orthodox Tradition  The councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon are all called ecumenical because both the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic branches of Christianity accept them  The position of Chalcedon, that incarnate Christ was one person with both a divine and human nature did not attempt to arrive at a final resolution, only to establish the debate’s limits  In an attempt to win back the Monophysite Christians to the east, it was proposed that Christ had two natures, but only one mode of activity or will  The main portion of the empire remained orthodox Christianizing the Slavs  Eastern Orthodoxy is the name used to refer to the form of Christianity that was carried from Byzantium to various peoples in eastern Europe  Language helped their success, as they used local language and not Greek  This missionary effort was pioneered by two brothers, Cyril and Methodius  A new alphabet was created for Slavic languages named Cyrillic  Other parts of eastern Europe were converted by Roman Catholic missionaries, who put in place Latin liturgy 
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