Letter & Spirit, Vol. 5: Liturgy and Empire: Faith in Exile and Political Theology
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Mark the Evangelist founded the Church of Alexandria, Egypt. Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History reported that King Abgar of Edessa was afflicted with illness and contacted Jesus in the hope of a cure.
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Upon his healing by St. Jude Thaddeus , King Abgar converted to Christianity. Edessa became home to such writers as St. Ephrem wrote his beautiful hymns and religious poetry in Syriac, a dialect of the Semitic language of Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Syriac became the biblical and liturgical language of early Christian Churches in the East.
The theology of Eastern Churches often developed independently, outside the sway of Roman and Byzantine thought. Eastern Christian Churches allow clerical marriage , for they accept the gift of human sexuality given by God, who said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" Genesis Christians were severely persecuted through three centuries of the Roman Empire, especially at the hands of Nero 64 AD , Trajan , right up to Diocletian But their powerful witness through martyrdom only served to spread Christianity! Constantine became Emperor of the West in As he was in Gaul at the time, he still had to capture Rome where Maxentius held sway.
Welcome relief from Christian martyrdom came with the Edict of Milan in , through which Constantine and Licinius, the Emperor of the East, granted Christianity complete religious tolerance. His defeat of Licinius in made him sole Emperor of the entire Roman Empire, and he moved the seat of the Empire to Byzantium in and renamed it Constantinople.
Constantine considered himself Christian and did much to protect and support Christianity. Sunday as the Lord's Day was made a day of rest, and December 25 was celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. He restored property that once belonged to Christians. Peter in Rome. Christianity remain undivided until mankind sought to define the hidden nature of God and the mystery of Christ. A dispute concerning the relation of the Father and the Son arose in Egypt known as the Arian controversy.
The Nicene Creed was expanded and finalized at the Council of Constantinople in to include homoousios for the Holy Spirit as well, by quoting John , "the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father," to form the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed still called the Nicene Creed. Constantine considered himself both head of state and father of the Christian Churches. There were three stages in the formation of the Gospels: the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the oral tradition of the Apostles, and the written word. The Tradition of the Fathers of the Church was important to early Christianity, for they were the ones who chose those inspired books which best reflected the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in the formation of the canon of the New Testament, and were also involved in the interpretation of Scripture.
Jerome that "Matthew put together the sayings of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could" Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History , III, 39, Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus in to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible. Jerome completed the translation of the New Testament Gospels into Latin in , and finished his translation from both Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament by In view of his work, St. Jerome was named the Father of Biblical Scholars. The Latin Vulgate Bible published by St. Jerome served as the standard Bible for Western Christian civilization for over years.
He was born in Tagaste, near Hippo, in north Africa. His mother St. Monica was a devout Christian and taught him the faith.
However, when he studied rhetoric in Carthage, he began living a worldly life. He obtained a post as master of rhetoric in Milan, accompanied by an unnamed woman and child Adeodatus, born out of wedlock in The woman soon left him and their son, and Monica joined them in Milan. Under the incessant prayers of his mother, and the influence of St. Ambrose of Milan, he eventually converted at age 32 in AD.
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Perhaps the most eloquent examination of conscience is found in The Confessions of St. Augustine , where he describes his moment of conversion in the garden reading St.
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Paul to the Romans , But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh. Both his mother and son died soon afterwards and he returned in to his home in Tagaste. He was ordained a priest in , and became Bishop of Hippo in Augustine was people-oriented and preached every day.
Many of his followers lived an ascetic life. He had a great love for Christ, and believed that our goal on earth was God through Christ himself, "to see his face evermore. Augustine was one of the most prolific writers in history, and his writings show an evolution of thought and at times a reversal of ideas, as seen in his Retractations.
His Scriptural essays on Genesis and Psalms remain starting points for modern Biblical scholars. His commentary on the Sermon on the Mount is still read today.
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Perhaps most debated are his views on predestination. Augustine is the doctor of grace. In his book Grace and Free Will , he explained simply why he believed in free will. If there was no free will, then why did God give us the Ten Commandments, and why did he tell us to love our neighbor? Augustine's arguments against the Pelagian heresy set the doctrine of grace for the Catholic Church to the present day.
Pelagius thought that man could achieve virtue and salvation on his own without the gift of grace, that Jesus was simply a model of virtue.
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This of course attacks the Redemption of man by Christ! If man could make it on his own, then the Cross of Christ becomes meaningless! But Augustine saw man's utter sinfulness and the blessing and efficacy of grace, disposing man to accept his moment of grace, and hopefully ultimate salvation. Grace raises us to a life of virtue, and is the ground of human freedom. Perhaps one of his greatest works was The City of God, which took 13 years to complete, from to History can only be understood as a continued struggle between two cities, the City of God, comprised of those men who pursue God, and the City of Man, composed of those who pursue earthly goods and pleasures.
He refers to Cain and Abel as the earliest examples of the two types of man. The Roman Empire was an example of the city of man which had just been sacked by Alaric in and was the occasion of the book. Augustine was a living example of God's grace that transformed nature. He died August 28, , during the sack of Hippo by the Vandals. August 28 is celebrated as his Feast Day in the liturgical calendar. Pope Leo entered the Papacy at a difficult time. Alaric had sacked Rome in , and the Huns and the Visigoths were gaining strength.
However the Pope proved to be a master statesman and history has deservedly accorded him the title of Pope Leo the Great. One of his first actions in was to bless the missionary efforts of St. Patrick and to ordain him as Bishop of Ireland. A tension in Church authority between papal leadership and collegiality of the bishops was developing over theological questions. Rome was the place of martyrdom for Saints Peter and Paul. Rome's position as the capital of the Roman Empire was also supportive of a leadership role for the Bishop of Rome.
The Bishop of Rome as successor to St. Peter was the Pastor and Shepherd of the whole Church, as seen with St. The independent Church of the East in Persia believed in two distinct natures dyophysite in Christ and did not accept the wording. Pope Leo synthesized the thought of the differing Schools of Antioch and Alexandria in a letter known as the Tome. The Council of Chalcedon in was the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which supported Leo's stance that Christ had two natures, Divine and human in perfect harmony, in one Person or hypostasis. This set the theology for Roman and Byzantine theology and was important for European unity.
Just one year later , Attila and the Huns were threatening outside the walls of Rome. Pope Leo met Attila, who decided to call off the invasion! The Monastic Orders have been a premium influence on the formation of Christian culture. For not only have they been islands of asceticism and holiness that have served as ideals to a secular world, but also they have provided many if not most of the religious leaders within each historic age, especially during times of renewal and reform.
The word monos is the Greek word for one or alone. Monasticism began in the East and spread throughout Europe and saved European civilization. The practice of leaving the ambitions of daily life and retreating to the solitude of the desert was seen throughout Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, St. John the Baptist Mark an early example. The father of Christian monasticism was St. Antony of the Desert , the first of the Desert Fathers.
Antony of Egypt took to heart the words of Christ to the rich young man, " Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven" Matthew He headed across the Nile to a mountain near Pispir to live a life of solitude, prayer, and poverty. Soon many gathered around him to imitate his life, living as hermits in nearby caves in the mountain, and in he emerged from solitude to teach his followers the way of the ascetic.
He then moved further into the desert by Mount Kolzim near the Red Sea, where a second group of hermits gathered and later formed a monastery. He lived there for 45 years until his death in Maron , a contemporary of St. John Chrysostom, was a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch for the Orontes River to lead a life of holiness and prayer. As he was given the gift of healing, his life of solitude was short-lived, and soon he had many followers that adopted his monastic way.
Following the death of St. Maron in , his disciples built a monastery in his memory, which would form the nucleus of the Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon.