Christianity before modern times.

Abrahamic religion, you know, the one with the cross...

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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#61  Postby nunnington » Oct 18, 2010 12:05 am

Moses

I've lost count of the threads I've been in where various anti-theists have said something like, 'oh well, I do respect the fundies, as at least they are consistent with their literalism, whereas these liberal non-literalists, they are as fuzzy as hell, and they cherry-pick, and all the 'symbolic' interpretation is a pile of bullshit'.

So I am surmising that some anti-theists are kind of setting up the fundies as the authentic Christians, and the liberals as the phonies. Now, why they might do that is open to question.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#62  Postby Moses de la Montagne » Oct 18, 2010 12:35 am

nunnington wrote:Moses

I've lost count of the threads I've been in where various anti-theists have said something like, 'oh well, I do respect the fundies, as at least they are consistent with their literalism, whereas these liberal non-literalists, they are as fuzzy as hell, and they cherry-pick, and all the 'symbolic' interpretation is a pile of bullshit'.

So I am surmising that some anti-theists are kind of setting up the fundies as the authentic Christians, and the liberals as the phonies. Now, why they might do that is open to question.


The question at hand, though, is whether the Christians of earlier times were fundamentalist or liberal. Origen was an exceptional theologian in every sense of the word, but his rarefied approach does not seem to have gotten into the ecclesial mainstream; Augustine on the other hand (who was defending the Flood on biblical grounds against the naysayers of his own day) was hardly anyone’s definition of a liberal, and he ended up having an incredible amount of influence on the Church and on Christian thought. It should come as no surprise that Martin Luther (of sola scriptura fame) was a staunch Augustinian.

I’m willing to consider the requisites for what makes an “authentic” Christian, and maybe you can provide those. Surely we can both agree that an orthodox Roman Catholic (his or her Church being ostensibly of the “non-literalist” variety) shouldn’t be found denying a literal and historical conception of the Incarnation or the Virgin Birth. But if “authentic” Christianity is supposed to make its acquiescences to science, whence the continued insistence on these dogmas and not, instead, on a metaphorical understanding?
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#63  Postby GakuseiDon » Oct 18, 2010 1:54 am

Moses de la Montagne wrote:The question at hand, though, is whether the Christians of earlier times were fundamentalist or liberal.

I don't think that they were fundamentalist or liberal, in the modern sense. But were they 'literalists', and only took a more allegorical approach because of the encroachment of science? I think the answer is a definite 'no'. An allegorical approach has always existed and I think predates Christianity.

Moses de la Montagne wrote:Origen was an exceptional theologian in every sense of the word, but his rarefied approach does not seem to have gotten into the ecclesial mainstream

Here is Eusebius of Caesarea: http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Eusebius

    Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures also thousands of such passages concerning God as though He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any other human passions, which passages are adopted for the benefit of those who need this mode of instruction.
Moses de la Montagne wrote:Augustine on the other hand (who was defending the Flood on biblical grounds against the naysayers of his own day) was hardly anyone’s definition of a liberal

I don't think that anyone is arguing that, because they took some things allegorically, therefore they took everything allegorically. What it means is that, historically, Christians have always been able to take a non-literal view of the Old and New Testaments. There was never a time where a literal view of the texts was the only view.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#64  Postby Goldenmane » Oct 18, 2010 3:09 am

Interesting thread. I'm learning a lot.

The question that comes to my mind (and it is a serious question, because I am quite deeply ignorant on many aspects of this) is: If they were all running around taking things allegorically and the like, then what were the justifications for things like relics, killing people, the wielding of enormous temporal power, and such-like?

I know that's badly put and it is so because of my own ignorance. It's difficult to frame a question adequately in such a situation.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#65  Postby GakuseiDon » Oct 18, 2010 3:49 am

Maybe: "Your allegorical interpretation doesn't match the true allegorical interpretation. Heretic!" For example: Was Christ the same substance as God, or a similar substance?
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#66  Postby Goldenmane » Oct 18, 2010 3:55 am

Yeah, that's what I don't get. Why run around burning people to death based on what amounts to wibble? I don't understand how anyone could maintain any sense of honest self-esteem (that is, thinking that you're a pretty decent person) or personal integrity whilst torturing someone else to death based on bizarre specious bullshit like that.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#67  Postby virphen » Oct 18, 2010 4:04 am

Goldenmane wrote:Yeah, that's what I don't get. Why run around burning people to death based on what amounts to wibble? I don't understand how anyone could maintain any sense of honest self-esteem (that is, thinking that you're a pretty decent person) or personal integrity whilst torturing someone else to death based on bizarre specious bullshit like that.


Because they were a threat. I can easily think of two motivations - one that it is a threat to your authority, if people are not doing what you tell them to be doing - can't have that, kill them. The other is that if you really believe that shit, and you really believe in souls and an afterlife, and really believe that something as apparently trivial (to us) as whether Jesus and Jehovah were made of the same stuff affects your eternal afterlife - then you will strike out at these people in the same way we might strike out at someone who threatens us or our families physically.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#68  Postby Moses de la Montagne » Oct 18, 2010 4:23 am

GakuseiDon wrote:There was never a time where a literal view of the texts was the only view.


Of course, and that’s already been well-established on this thread. But the literal understanding was certainly there and, pace St. Augustine, the Church largely strove to preserve and defend the literal view because it buttresses the essential Christian faith in an intervening, interactive, and personal God—and not some static transcendent monad. Besides, if everything could be allegorical without being literal then a Gnostic Christianity would’ve evolved all over again thanks to the findings of biology concerning the post-mortem fate of a body (whether Jesus’ or Lazarus’).

Between Porphyry and a Fundamentalist Protestant, the only difference is how they regard the veracity of the Bible histories. Augustine may’ve argued for a multi-tiered understanding of the passages, but his greater kinship is obviously with the modern Protestant—who goes by “the true account of our documents, which are truly sacred.” Meanwhile, in the allegedly “non-literalist” Roman Church, a global flood and the descent of man still remain matters of genuine controversy. This is not a Church descended from the lineage of Origen. It is Augustine and Jerome’s baby.

Jerome found himself defending the book of Daniel against Porphyry’s suggestion that Daniel “did not foretell the future so much as he related the past.” And for good reason: after all, what merit has an “allegorical” prophecy if it was actually only a recorded history? It excludes it from being a prophecy. Modern scholarship has vindicated Porphyry, and who knows how Jerome would feel about his beloved scriptural inerrancy were he to suddenly resurrect in the modern world? Benedict XV surmised:

If Jerome were living now he would sharpen his keenest controversial weapons against people who take too ready a refuge in such notions as "implicit quotations" or "pseudo-historical narratives," or in "kinds of literature" in the Bible such as cannot be reconciled with the entire and perfect truth of God's word, or who suggest such origins of the Bible as must inevitably weaken— if not destroy—its authority.


"Pseudo-historical" indeed. :grin:
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#69  Postby quas » Oct 18, 2010 5:27 am

Moses or anyone else who happened to have info,

Can you tell me more about the beliefs of the Cappadocian Fathers? And the guys from the Alexandrian school (which was probably the most significant doctrinal center in the Church from 200-500 AD)?

Moses de la Montagne wrote:Besides, if everything could be allegorical without being literal then a Gnostic Christianity would’ve evolved all over again thanks to the findings of biology concerning the post-mortem fate of a body (whether Jesus’ or Lazarus’).

By the way, can you explain this?
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#70  Postby nunnington » Oct 18, 2010 9:19 am

Moses

I appreciate that any discussion of modern Christians is off-topic, but there is a connection, since the view of early Christians as inveterate literalists often seems to go hand in hand with the view that fundies are the authentic Christians.

Your point about orthodox Catholics being literalists is probably true, but of course, there are liberal Catholics, whose views presumably are less literalist. I suppose modern Christian views have spread out to now occupy a very wide spectrum, from fundies at one extreme, to Christian atheists at the other, who I suppose take everything symbolically (Sea of Faith, etc.).

Your middle of the range liberal Christian probably doesn't accept a literal virgin birth, takes a spiritual or symbolic view of the resurrection, and so on. It's possible that the same views were found in very early Christianity - at any rate, we find Paul arguing with those who denied resurrection completely, and he himself has a less than fully physicalist view of it, doesn't he?
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#71  Postby quas » Oct 18, 2010 12:38 pm

nunnington wrote:Your middle of the range liberal Christian probably doesn't accept a literal virgin birth, takes a spiritual or symbolic view of the resurrection, and so on. It's possible that the same views were found in very early Christianity - at any rate, we find Paul arguing with those who denied resurrection completely, and he himself has a less than fully physicalist view of it, doesn't he?

It's possible, yes. But why? Why would these people believe that? Some Christians told me that ancient Christians understood that Genesis was not supposed to be taken literally because of the writing style. The writing style of Genesis resembles more of a fable or poetry, whereas the NT bits about Jesus was written like a historical record. Another explanation is that early Christians knew that Genesis was written long after the patriarchs were gone, while the Jesus stories were written by contemporary eyewitnesses. I don't know what to make of this since I lack knowledge in this field.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#72  Postby Zwaarddijk » Oct 18, 2010 1:22 pm

quas wrote:
TimONeill wrote:I would have thought it was perfectly clear that I've said precisely the opposite. Some other things, however, (the ressurection, the miracles of Jesus) have traditionally been taken literally. If you ask a Catholic theologian how they know which things are meant to be taken literally and which are to be interpreted in other ways they will explain that they are guided by "tradition".

You don't suppose you know why the tradition is so? Why is certain events interpreted literally, while others not?


The tradition is considered to go back to (at least for some of the books) the very authors themselves. In a rather similar case, we actually know that some traditions regarding how to understand some tricky parts of the Jewish Talmud are quite likely to go back to the 200-400 CE compilers/redactors/editors of it. The author of a text is kind of likely to know what he meant, I'd sort of presume, so ...
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#73  Postby nunnington » Oct 18, 2010 1:24 pm

quas

I don't think many people say that the 'bits about Jesus' are written purely historically. They are surely theological documents with a historic baseline; this is one reason that we find differences between them, as different communities and editors had different emphases, for example, pro-Jewish, or less Jewish, more Christological, and so on. This can be used as an argument against a historical Jesus, although historians who study ancient history are accustomed to studying non-historical documents to glean historical evidence.

Well, of course, some Christians insist that it is all historical. But 'In the beginning was the Word' strikes me as a theological statement!
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#74  Postby Byron » Oct 18, 2010 4:32 pm

John P. M. wrote:I think that's precisely because material evidence over time has proven elusive when it comes to affirming many of the stories that faith is born from. But that's my opinion.

But of course - if a theist has had what he/she believes to be a genuine metaphysical experience (a vision of some kind), then - for that person - no evidence will be needed outside of that experience.

But I think this is the case for only a very small minority of theists.

The majority do seem keen on evidence, although that's a mere impression. I'd have to see some research to call it one way or the other.
And it's impossible to totally divorce it from what occurs with known forms of brain 'malfunction'. It could be, if the vision could inform us of something in the material world that we otherwise couldn't know about, but I haven't yet seen any verifiable examples of that.

I can understand that people who have had such experiences believe because of them, though. It's easy enough for me to be a skeptic, not having been there. But this is the case for any wild claim where there is no evidence, but where the person has had a very strong experience (alien abduction, etc.).

Metaphysical claims of other kinds are made without visions, & Christianity need be no different IMV. There's no reason you can't argue theology in terms of logic, and remove supposed supernatural corroboration entirely.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#75  Postby Moses de la Montagne » Oct 18, 2010 4:50 pm

quas wrote:Can you tell me more about the beliefs of the Cappadocian Fathers? And the guys from the Alexandrian school (which was probably the most significant doctrinal center in the Church from 200-500 AD)?


Tim O’Neill and Gakusei Don would probably be better-informed than I am to do so, but if there’s a stereotype that could be applied here it’s that Byzantine Christianity has traditionally tended towards a mystical appreciation of the scriptures, whereas the Latins have been somewhat more rigorous and exacting.

However influential Alexandria was in its day, it doesn’t seem to have bequeathed its aversion to the literal sense to the Catholic Church for posterity. Origen moaned in his Philocalia that even in his own time, “Scripture on the spiritual side is not understood, but is taken in the bare literal sense.” Augustine, Jerome, and Ambrose had the greater legacy when it came to exegesis. By the time St. Thomas Aquinas was writing in the thirteenth century, he noted (slightly to his disappointment) that Ambrose’s understanding of six successive days of Creation was the most popular:

Ambrose and other saints hold that the order of time is saved in the distinction of things [division into days: earth before animals, water before fish]. This is the more common opinion and superficially seems more consonant with the text, but the allegorical method is more reasonable and better protects Sacred Scripture from the derision of infidels, which Augustine teaches is especially to be considered, and so scripture must be explained in such a way that the infidel cannot mock, and this opinion is more pleasing to me.


By Thomas' own admission, "the derision of infidels" is a serious consideration in interpreting the bible allegorically. I suspect that's the tradition modern liberal Christians are trying to recapture. :mrgreen:

quas wrote:
Moses de la Montagne wrote:Besides, if everything could be allegorical without being literal then a Gnostic Christianity would’ve evolved all over again thanks to the findings of biology concerning the post-mortem fate of a body (whether Jesus’ or Lazarus’).

By the way, can you explain this?


Yes. As far as I know, there was a strain of Gnosticism which denied that Jesus was literally human, or literally resurrected. Since science has detected the impossibility of the resurrection of a body three days after death, it would stand to reason that Christianity should’ve followed the Gnostics and taught an allegorical understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection, had the Church taken St. Augustine’s advice:

Whatever [physicists] can really demonstrate to be true of physical nature, we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scriptures; and whatever they assert in their treatises which is contrary to these Scriptures of ours, that is to Catholic faith, we must either prove it as well as we can to be entirely false, or at all events we must, without the smallest hesitation, believe it to be so.


This has always been more of a theory than a practice, of course. Augustine himself had a difficult time following it. He was much fonder of proving contra-fide observations “to be entirely false” than he was of “believing them so without the smallest hesitation.” The Church very much followed his lead, and fifteen centuries later the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton was scoffing at Darwinism:

We have a series of hypotheses so hasty that they may well be called fancies, and cannot in any case be further corrected by facts. The most empirical anthropologist is as limited as an antiquary. He can only cling to a fragment of the past and has no way of increasing it for the future. He can only clutch his fragment of fact, almost as the primitive man clutched his fragment of flint. And indeed he does deal with it in much the same way and for much the same reason. It is his tool and his only tool. It is his weapon and his only weapon. He often wields it with a fanaticism far in excess of anything shown by men of science when they can collect more facts from experience and even add new facts by experiment.


And that seems to be the legacy of "prove them as well as we can to be entirely false." Origen's heirs might very well be Gakusei Don and nunnington, but I'm curious as to why they differientiate between the Flood and the Virgin Birth. Or, if they deny the literal sense of the Virgin Birth, I'm curious as to what their denial implies about the Godhood of Christ, or where a consensus of that denial can be found across two millenia of Christian theology.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#76  Postby Moses de la Montagne » Oct 18, 2010 4:56 pm

nunnington wrote:Your point about orthodox Catholics being literalists is probably true, but of course, there are liberal Catholics, whose views presumably are less literalist. I suppose modern Christian views have spread out to now occupy a very wide spectrum, from fundies at one extreme, to Christian atheists at the other, who I suppose take everything symbolically (Sea of Faith, etc.).


With Catholicism, however, there are some clearly-defined bounds to the spectrum of belief. Those doctrines which are called de fide must be affirmed by the believer in order for him or her to remain in communion with the Church—in other words, to actually be a Catholic. A Catholic (however “liberal”) who persistently and wilfully denies the Virgin Birth is no Catholic at all, but an apostate.

Are you a professing Catholic, nunnington?

nunnington wrote:Your middle of the range liberal Christian probably doesn't accept a literal virgin birth, takes a spiritual or symbolic view of the resurrection, and so on. It's possible that the same views were found in very early Christianity - at any rate, we find Paul arguing with those who denied resurrection completely, and he himself has a less than fully physicalist view of it, doesn't he?


By “liberal Christian,” do you mean liberal Protestant Christian? I’m not arguing that there aren’t as many ways to interpret the bible as there are people who read it. The Catholic, on the other hand, has a Magisterium to obey.

Yes, it’s possible that the Virgin Birth was denied during the early days of Christianity, but how likely is it? Especially when many of the Early Church Fathers were pointing out the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. What kind of “fulfilment” is an event that didn’t actually happen? Besides, miracles of that sort were much more readily accepted in those days. Even Celsus granted Jesus most of his miracle-working—but for Celsus this amounted to nothing impressive, since a variety of other magicians had reportedly done the same.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#77  Postby GakuseiDon » Oct 18, 2010 5:44 pm

Moses de la Montagne wrote:Yes, it’s possible that the Virgin Birth was denied during the early days of Christianity, but how likely is it?

Very likely. Irenaeus, writing around 175 CE, notes the views of some heretical sects that existed earlier. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05242c.htm

    The doctrines of this sect [Ebionites] are said by Irenaeus to be like those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They denied the Divinity and the virginal birth of Christ; they clung to the observance of the Jewish Law; they regarded St. Paul as an apostate, and used only a Gospel according to St. Matthew (Adv. Haer., I, xxvi, 2; III, xxi, 2; IV, xxxiii, 4; V, i, 3). Their doctrines are similarly described by Hippolytus (Philos., VIII, xxii, X, xviii) and Tertullian (De carne Chr., xiv, 18), but their observance of the Law seems no longer so prominent a feature of their system as in the account given by Irenaeus.

Moses de la Montagne wrote:Especially when many of the Early Church Fathers were pointing out the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. What kind of “fulfilment” is an event that didn’t actually happen?

Justin Martyr, writing around 150 CE, records a debate he had with Trypho, a Jewish scholar, who queries the applicability of the "born of a virgin" prophecy:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/t ... rypho.html

    And Trypho answered, "The Scripture has not, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,' and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather[should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ,[it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks."

Another exchange which might be relevant is Justin's claim that even if he is wrong about Christ being pre-existent and born of a virgin, and so just a "man of man", nevertheless he is right about Jesus being the Christ. He also points to other Christians who believe that Christ was just a "man of men":

    And Trypho said, "We have heard what you think of these matters. Resume the discourse where you left off, and bring it to an end. For some of it appears to me to be paradoxical, and wholly incapable of proof. For when you say that this Christ existed as God before the ages, then that He submitted to be born and become man, yet that He is not man of man, this[assertion] appears to me to be not merely paradoxical, but also foolish."

    And I replied to this, "I know that the statement does appear to be paradoxical, especially to those of your race, who are ever unwilling to understand or to perform the[requirements] of God, but[ready to perform] those of your teachers, as God Himself declares. Now assuredly, Trypho," I continued,"[the proof] that this man is the Christ of God does not fail, though I be unable to prove that He existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things, being God, and was born a man by the Virgin. But since I have certainly proved that this man is the Christ of God, whoever He be, even if I do not prove that He pre-existed, and submitted to be born a man of like passions with us, having a body, according to the Father's will; in this last matter alone is it just to say that I have erred, and not to deny that He is the Christ, though it should appear that He was born man of men, and[nothing more] is proved[than this], that He has become Christ by election. For there are some, my friends," I said, "of our race, who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have[now] the same opinions as myself should say so...
Justin is saying that even if Jesus was not pre-existent, even if he was not born of a virgin, even if he was just a man; nevertheless, he can still be regarded as the Christ. This is quite interesting, since many today see Jesus as being Christ precisely because he was pre-existent, etc.

Moses de la Montagne wrote:Besides, miracles of that sort were much more readily accepted in those days. Even Celsus granted Jesus most of his miracle-working—but for Celsus this amounted to nothing impressive, since a variety of other magicians had reportedly done the same.

That's right. But some mythicists appear to expect that the miracles should have so impressed the people of the day that there would be references left right and centre. Obviously both views can't be true.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#78  Postby nunnington » Oct 18, 2010 6:29 pm

Moses de la Montagne wrote:
nunnington wrote:Your point about orthodox Catholics being literalists is probably true, but of course, there are liberal Catholics, whose views presumably are less literalist. I suppose modern Christian views have spread out to now occupy a very wide spectrum, from fundies at one extreme, to Christian atheists at the other, who I suppose take everything symbolically (Sea of Faith, etc.).


With Catholicism, however, there are some clearly-defined bounds to the spectrum of belief. Those doctrines which are called de fide must be affirmed by the believer in order for him or her to remain in communion with the Church—in other words, to actually be a Catholic. A Catholic (however “liberal”) who persistently and wilfully denies the Virgin Birth is no Catholic at all, but an apostate.

Are you a professing Catholic, nunnington?

nunnington wrote:Your middle of the range liberal Christian probably doesn't accept a literal virgin birth, takes a spiritual or symbolic view of the resurrection, and so on. It's possible that the same views were found in very early Christianity - at any rate, we find Paul arguing with those who denied resurrection completely, and he himself has a less than fully physicalist view of it, doesn't he?


By “liberal Christian,” do you mean liberal Protestant Christian? I’m not arguing that there aren’t as many ways to interpret the bible as there are people who read it. The Catholic, on the other hand, has a Magisterium to obey.

Yes, it’s possible that the Virgin Birth was denied during the early days of Christianity, but how likely is it? Especially when many of the Early Church Fathers were pointing out the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. What kind of “fulfilment” is an event that didn’t actually happen? Besides, miracles of that sort were much more readily accepted in those days. Even Celsus granted Jesus most of his miracle-working—but for Celsus this amounted to nothing impressive, since a variety of other magicians had reportedly done the same.


Good grief, I am certainly glad I am not a Catholic, as your minatory tone about apostasy and the Magisterium, would have me quaking in my shoes.

I must hotfoot it over to my liberal Catholic friends, and tell them that they are apostates, and should on no account partake of communion on Sunday. I wonder if, going off them, purely anecdotally, if the Catholic Church is falling about its ears, in one sense, that Catholics are becoming like Anglicans (which I am), since I am in the happy position of believing what I want, and even disbelieving it on the following day, and if any priest or prelate should challenge this, why, sir, I would say to him, tell me, do you see Christ's blood streaming in the firmament (as Faustus did)? Well, then, shut up.

As for the rest, I don't know.
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#79  Postby Moses de la Montagne » Oct 18, 2010 8:17 pm

GakuseiDon wrote:
Moses de la Montagne wrote:Yes, it’s possible that the Virgin Birth was denied during the early days of Christianity, but how likely is it?

Very likely. Irenaeus, writing around 175 CE, notes the views of some heretical sects that existed earlier. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    The doctrines of this sect [Ebionites] are said by Irenaeus to be like those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They denied the Divinity and the virginal birth of Christ; they clung to the observance of the Jewish Law; they regarded St. Paul as an apostate, and used only a Gospel according to St. Matthew (Adv. Haer., I, xxvi, 2; III, xxi, 2; IV, xxxiii, 4; V, i, 3). Their doctrines are similarly described by Hippolytus (Philos., VIII, xxii, X, xviii) and Tertullian (De carne Chr., xiv, 18), but their observance of the Law seems no longer so prominent a feature of their system as in the account given by Irenaeus.


But that’s just it—the Ebionites weren’t considered orthodox. When I asked for a theological consensus on denial of the Virgin Birth, I (obviously) didn’t mean for it to be culled from the writings of those whom the Church considered heretical.

GakuseiDon wrote:Justin Martyr, writing around 150 CE, records a debate he had with Trypho, a Jewish scholar, who queries the applicability of the "born of a virgin" prophecy:

    And Trypho answered, "The Scripture has not, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' but, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,' and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower. And you ought to feel ashamed when you make assertions similar to theirs, and rather[should] say that this Jesus was born man of men. And if you prove from the Scriptures that He is the Christ, and that on account of having led a life conformed to the law, and perfect, He deserved the honour of being elected to be Christ,[it is well]; but do not venture to tell monstrous phenomena, lest you be convicted of talking foolishly like the Greeks."


Right, but that's Trypho's view: that of the Jewish skeptic to the Christian claim. I'm unclear on how this endorses the notion that a prophecy can be fulfilled by a fairy tale. For his part, Justin Martyr believed that the Virgin Birth had literally happened. The literal belief went on to enjoy a long life as a dogma of the faith.

GakuseiDon wrote:Another exchange which might be relevant is Justin's claim that even if he is wrong about Christ being pre-existent and born of a virgin, and so just a "man of man", nevertheless he is right about Jesus being the Christ. He also points to other Christians who believe that Christ was just a "man of men"


GakuseiDon wrote:Justin is saying that even if Jesus was not pre-existent, even if he was not born of a virgin, even if he was just a man; nevertheless, he can still be regarded as the Christ. This is quite interesting, since many today see Jesus as being Christ precisely because he was pre-existent, etc.


No. Justin is saying that people who call Jesus “man of men” (i.e., not born of a virgin) are those “with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have [now] the same opinions as myself should say so.” He is referring to the fact that there is heresy even in his own camp: “there are such men confessing themselves to be Christians, and admitting the crucified Jesus to be both Lord and Christ, yet not teaching His doctrines, but those of the spirits of error.”

Justin makes the point that Isaiah’s prophecy has to refer to the literal sense of the Virgin Birth in the gospel narrative—because if Mary is just some chick knocked up in the normal fashion, then what’s the use of anyone prophesying that?

If He to whom Isaiah referred was not to be begotten of a virgin, of whom did the Holy Spirit declare, 'Behold, the Lord Himself shall give us a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son?' For if He also were to be begotten of sexual intercourse, like all other first-born sons, why did God say that He would give a sign which is not common to all the first-born sons? But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind,—namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin's womb, and be a child,—this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it, as I have repeated to you, in various ways; in order that, when the event should take place, it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things; just as Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs, and as all living beings were created in the beginning by the word of God. But you in these matters venture to pervert the expositions which your elders that were with Ptolemy king of Egypt gave forth, since you assert that the Scripture is not so as they have expounded it, but says, 'Behold, the young woman shall conceive,' as if great events were to be inferred if a woman should beget from sexual intercourse: which indeed all young women, with the exception of the barren, do.


GakuseiDon wrote:Obviously both views can't be true.


So was Jesus literally born of a virgin or not?
"The vanity of teaching often tempts a man to forget that he is a blockhead." —Lord Halifax
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Re: Christianity before modern times.

#80  Postby Moses de la Montagne » Oct 18, 2010 8:26 pm

nunnington wrote:Good grief, I am certainly glad I am not a Catholic, as your minatory tone about apostasy and the Magisterium, would have me quaking in my shoes.

I must hotfoot it over to my liberal Catholic friends, and tell them that they are apostates, and should on no account partake of communion on Sunday.


:whine:

Well, regardless of my tone, it’s the truth. We can let the Catholic Church deal with her own apostates, but that needn’t stop us from having a knowledge of what she demands in order for a person to “hold the Catholic faith.” I don’t doubt the existence of liberal Catholics. I merely wonder what the point is in being a liberal Catholic (aside from whatever adolescent thrill may be derived from giving cagey and gnomic responses to the incoming flak from the atheists on one side and the orthodox Catholics on the other).

nunnington wrote:I wonder if, going off them, purely anecdotally, if the Catholic Church is falling about its ears, in one sense, that Catholics are becoming like Anglicans (which I am), since I am in the happy position of believing what I want, and even disbelieving it on the following day, and if any priest or prelate should challenge this, why, sir, I would say to him, tell me, do you see Christ's blood streaming in the firmament (as Faustus did)? Well, then, shut up.


If your position makes you so happy, then why should it matter to you whether or not early Christians were literalists? None of them were as laissez-faire as you are. They weren't in the habit of believing the articles of faith provisionally from day to day as their whimsy struck them (presumably, that is—I don’t discount the possibility that Gakusei Don will quote-mine a snippet of confirmation squirreled away in the marginalia of some early theologian!) So basically, you’re in a tent of your own with very little support from the tradition of a religion in which tradition itself is one of the pillars. To each their fancy, of course—and to each the religion of their own devising. But you must remember that the fundamentalists, in this respect, are no less “authentic” than you are. Enjoy.
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