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Thread: The Development of Religious Thought.

  1. #16
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I have heard of Celsus before. He was quoted in a book about the origins of Christianity. I don't think it was by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, but someone like them. The jist of the book was that there were a lot of god-man myths around the Mediterranean, in which a divine mad dies and is brought back to life. Celsus listed them. I think Osiris was one. Attis, another iirc. According to the authors of this book, most of these cults had levels of initiation. Each cult's text would have their face value meaning. Once the priests thought you were ready, they would initiate you into the secret meaning, and then there would be an inner meaning after that. The authors hypothesised that the gospels were a Jewish attempt at a god-man cult, but unfortunately the Romans slaughtered all the initiates of the secret meanings during the Roman-Jewish wars. This left only Gentile branches of the religion, who incredibly believed in the literal truth of the gospels.

    It was quite an entertaining hypothesis. I read quite a few books like that. Eventually I came to the conclusion that they were like books about the identity of Jack the Ripper. One theory sounds amazing and conclusive until you read another that sounds equally amazing and conclusive.

    Apparently none of Celsus's writings survive except in apologia written by Christian priests who attempted to refute his charges.
    Last edited by kev67; 04-25-2020 at 05:48 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  2. #17
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Thanks for your input Kev.

    From the research I’ve done, (aided by the peace of a virus self isolation), you are correct regards the nature of the survival of Celsus’s writings. He was the author of a work titled “On The True Doctrine.” The book was suppressed by the growing Christian community,and banned in 448 AD by order of Valentinian III and Theodosius II, along with Porphyry's 15 books attacking the Christians, “The Philosophy from Oracles”; so no complete copies are extant, but it can be reconstructed from Origen's detailed account of it in his 8 volume refutation, which quotes Celsus extensively. Origen's work has survived and thereby preserved Celsus' work with it.

    On the other points you made, I’ve found it fascinating regards the number and the variety of thinking of the numerous early Christian cults in the Mediterranean region at this time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come across so many genuine and well meaning individuals, who profess a particular branch of the Christian faith, because that was what they were born into and raised on. But I always baulk at the concept of the “true faith”, for the history of this period was one of competing cults. Eventually, what became the winner; as has been named the “Established Church,” could have had the potential to have evolved in a quite different way.

  3. #18
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Christianity could have gone any number of ways. Personally I used to wonder why the creed we recited in church seemed so different from what I read in the gospels. Emperor Constantine ordered a convention in Nicaea in 325 to resolve a religious dispute between those who followed Arius in believing God the Father had created Jesus Christ, and those who agreed with Athanasius that God the Father and God the Son were equals and had always existed. I think I would have been on Arius's side, but they lost heavily.

    I read a fictionalised history called Count Belisarius by Robert Graves, set over 200 years later in the reign of Emperor Justinian. Apparently the citizens of Constantinople were arguing about the nature of divinity even then.

    The book I referred to in my previous post was called The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  4. #19
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Here's GK Chesterton's take on the subject, which is a superb piece of writing, whether one agrees or no. It's from his book "Orthodoxy":

    This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so as exactly to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom--that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.

  5. #20
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Kev. I tend to agree with you on Arius’s interpretation, if only for the reason that Jesus seems always to be referring to the Father as having ultimate authority. Very little on co-equals. Having said that, having been raised as a Catholic, there was always the Credo which was the part of the Mass; basically a reaffirmation of the Nicene Creed. We were not exactly given a choice at that tender age, nor was the historical controversy part of our education.

    Thanks Ecurb. A supurb piece of writing. I must have reread it 3 times already.

    Best wishes to you both.
    M.

  6. #21
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Chapter 8.

    CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA .


    The new faith was making its way upward through society, and was gaining a hold upon the classes of wealth and education. The first four or five generations of Christians could not, on the whole, boast much culture. There seemed to be a tendency to both; speculation on the one hand, and a refusal to speculate at all on the other. This situation of opposite poles were the marks of second century Christianity.

    The early attempts that were made to come to terms with the new religion were not happy, either at the centre or on the circumference of the body. The adjustment of the Gospel story to Old Testament prophecy was not a real triumph of the human mind, nor were the efforts at scientific theology any better. Docetism, with its phantom Christ, and Gnosticism with its antithesis of the just God and the good God, were not likely to satisfy a vast number of people.

    Simple people felt that these things struck at their life, and they rejected them, and began to suspect the intellect. The century saw the growth of ecclesiastical system, episcopal order and apostolic tradition. Men began to speak of the "old church," the "original church" and the "catholic church," and to cleave to its "rule of faith"."

    By 200 A.D. the church was no longer a new thing in the world; it had its own history without going back to Judaism and the old covenant; it had its legends; and it could now speak like the Greeks of "the old faith of our fathers."

    Clement was either an Alexandrine or an Athenian. It also seems that he was born a pagan. Philosophy touched him, for it bore upon the two great problems of the human soul, conduct and God. At some time of his life Clement acquired a close acquaintance with pagan mythology and its cults. Then, subsequently, culling the flowers of the prophetic and apostolic meadow, begot what he regarded as the pure knowledge in the souls of those individuals.

    It was a strong sympathy with the simplest view of the Christian faith that made the life-work of Clement possible. For he was a man, a Greek of wide culture and open heart, who had dipped into everything; curious in literature, cult, and philosophy, and now submitted to the tradition of the church and the authority of Hebrew prophet and Christian apostle, but not as one bowing to a strange and difficult necessity.

    Clement had first of all to fight the battle of education inside the church; to convince his friends that culture counted, that philosophy was inevitable and of use at once for the refutation of opponents and for the achievement of the full significance of faith. Then he had to show how philosophy at its best was the foe of superstition and the champion of what he saw as God's unity and goodness, a preparation for the Gospel.

    Clement boldly asserts the unity of all knowledge. He vindicates the right of the Christian to claim Philosophy as the manifestation of the Divine Logos, and as a fore-runner of the Gospel, and in his “Protrepticus” he shows how the Christian thus re-inforced can deal with paganism.

    Clement looked upon his task as interpretation. The Scriptures are his authorities. He loved the sacred text, and he made it the standard by which to judge all propositions. It is perhaps impossible to over-estimate the importance of this loyalty in an age, when Christian speculation was justly under suspicion on account of the free re-modelling of the New Testament text that went with it. Clement would neither alter, nor excise, but he found all the freedom he wanted in the accepted methods of exegesis. He could quote Scripture for his purpose. To the modern mind such a use of Scripture is unwarrantable and seems to imply essential indifference to its real value, but in Clement it was not inconsistent with, indeed, it is indicative of, a high sense of the value of Scripture as the word of God.

    A lot revolved around the concept of the Logos, in so far as the main difference between Christians and philosophers was not as to God the Father, but as to Christ.
    He wanted a God beyond the contagion of earth, Supreme and Absolute; and Plato told him of such a God. Yet the world needed some divine element; it must not be outside the range and thought of God; and here the conception of divine Reason, linking man and nature with God Himself, appealed to his longing. The impossibility of thinking Jesus and his work to be accidental, of conceiving of them as anything but vitally bound up with the spiritual essence of all things, with God and with God's ultimate mind for man and eternity, was the natural outcome of entering into the thoughts of Jesus, of realizing his personality and even of observing his effect upon mankind.

    To him the Logos was the source of Providence, the author of all human thought, Saviour and Lord at once of all men, man being "his peculiar work". The Incarnation of the divine Teacher was the central fact for Clement. The identification of this incarnate Logos with Jesus of Nazareth was thus part of Clement's inheritance, and as usual he accepted the form which the tradition of the Church had assumed.

    The Christian religion, according to Clement, began in faith and then goes on to knowledge. A very great deal of his writing is devoted to building up this Gnostic, to outlining his ideal character. He is essentially man as God conceived him, entering into the divine life, and, by the grace of the Logos, even becoming God.

    This thought of man becoming God Clement repeats very often, and it is a mark of how far Christianity had travelled from Palestine. It begins with the Platonic ideal of being made like to God, and the means is the knowledge of God or the sight of God given by the Logos.The perfected Gnostic was seen as holding communion with God through Christ, and being made like the Lord as far as may be.

  7. #22
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Chapter 9:

    TERTULLIAN

    There are few figures of more significance in Latin literature, and of the men who moulded Western Christendom, few have stamped themselves and their ideas upon it with anything approaching the clearness and the effect of Tertullian.

    I think one could argue that he was the first Latin churchman, whose abilities helped to shape Latin Christianity after all the debate and confusion that had gone before.
    In many ways he was the first great Puritan of the West; precursor alike of Augustine and of the Reformation. The Catholic Church left him unread throughout the Middle Ages, but at the Renaissance he began once more to be studied, and simultaneously there also began the great movement for the purification of the church and the deepening of Christian life; which were the causes to which he had given himself.

    Tertullian was born about the middle of the second century A.D. at Carthage, the son of a centurion. He was not carried away by the extreme asceticism of the religions of his day into contempt for the flesh. For him it was the setting in which God had placed "the shadow of his own soul, the breath of his own spirit."

    His line of thinking was that if the soul is blended and mingled with the flesh, questions arise as to "whether the flesh carries the soul or the soul the flesh, whether the flesh serves the soul, or the soul serves the flesh?” Think, he says, of the services rendered to the soul by the senses; by speech, by all the arts, interests and ingenuities dependent on the flesh; think of what the flesh does by living and dying.

    He was very much influenced by witnessing in the ampitheatres of Carthage, the killing of Christians in what was obscenely termed “The Games.” The martyrs made him uneasy. There must be more behind than he had fancied from the little he had seen and heard of their teaching. "No one would have wished to be killed unless in possession of the truth," he says. He understood the fear of the things that come after death; yet here however were men who had not this fear. Their obstinacy was his teacher. He looked for the reason, he learned the truth and he followed it.

    Tertullian, accordingly, when persecution broke out in the autumn of 197 in Carthage, addressed to the governor of the province an Apology for the Christians. It is one of his greatest works. He expressed therin how their death was their victory; their "obstinacy" educatioal for the world; and that while men condemned them, God acquitted them.

    His language on the reality of Jesus, as an actual human being and no sidereal or celestial semblance of a man, on the incarnation still finds a response. For he laid faith in the written word of the Scriptures; where in the gospel narrative from beginning to end is the implication that Christ's body was like ours; "he hungered under the devil, thirsted under the Samaritan woman, shed tears over Lazarus, was troubled at death (for, the flesh, he said, is weak), and last of all he shed his blood."

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