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UPDATE: Essays on Jesus’ Conception and Virgin Birth

 

Image of the “spark” of conception, a physical reaction recently observed when sperm meets an egg.  The flash you see in the upper right is actually made of zinc, and its brightness could indicate the strength of fertilization.  Research done at Northwestern University.

 

This past Sunday we discussed the virginity (including the perpetual virginity) of Mary, mother of Jesus, and how Aristotelian philosophy shaped Greco-Roman, Jewish, and the Gospel writers and the New Testament writers in general on how they understood human conception, and how this thought contributed to the understanding of Jesus’ conception and identity.

These essays were based on an article written by Andrew Lincoln titled “How Babies Were Made in Jesus’ Time” that appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Biblical Archeology Review.

 

 

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Plotinus – The One, The Mind, and the Soul and Christian Theology

 

We had a very good opening session last night to start the new semester.

We delved into Plotinus’ general philosophy and how it influenced Christian philosophy.  We can see its legacy even to this day in Christian circles.

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Plotinus – Ennead IV: The Immortality of the Soul

Diagram of Plotinus's philosophy.

Diagram of Plotinus’s philosophy.

We will have our first meeting tomorrow on Thursday as we discuss Plotinus’ philosophy on the immortality of the soul.

Reading Plotinus is not an easy task and his philosophy takes some taking used to, but you’ll begin to see traces of him as we go through the Confessions and the topic of the immortality of the soul will come up again as we go through Augustine’s work.

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Plotinus and the Immortality of the Soul

It’s been a while since I last posted here, but we’re ready to kick things off with our new semester.

As stated, before heading straight into Augustine’s Confessions it is highly beneficial to understand where Augustine is coming from.  Before coming to the Christian faith, he was heavily influenced by the philosophy of Plotinus and Neo-Platonism.  You’ll find echoes of Plotinus and Neo-Platonism laced throughout Confessions.

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Plotinus and Neo-Platonism’s Influence on Augustine

Plotinus (205 - 270)

Plotinus (205 – 270)

Before we delve into Confessions, we will start exploring the development of Augustine’s philosophy and theology.

For a while, Augustine had been influenced by Manichaeism, a Persian adaptation of Christianity, which added in Zoroastrianism, speculative philosophy and superstition.  Augustine was a Manichee for nine years.  Then during a trip to Rome in 383, due to his education in the liberal arts, he began to question Manichaeism when he saw that its understanding of the universe owed more to astrology than astronomy.

The next year, he met the formidable figure of Ambrose, bishop of Milan.  His great intellect and fiery sermons left a deep impression on Augustine.  In Ambrose, Augustine found someone who could communicate at his own intellectual level, further confirming his rejection of the Manichees and opening the way for his return to the Christian faith.

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Brief Overview of St. Augustine’s Philosophy

I know that I stated that we’d be doing Augustine’s Confessions later on this month, but I’ve decided to hold off a bit longer to see if we can recruit some more people into the group, so we will not begin until June.

In the meantime, we will spend the rest of the month getting to know Augustine and the world he lived in better.

The video above gives an overview of Augustine’s philosophy and the world he lived in, which is vital to understand what and why he wrote.  Although much of the video focuses on his monumental The City of God, we still get a good general overall sense of his beliefs, especially his political philosophy, and why he is still relevant today.

‘The Confessions of St. Augustine’

"The Conversion of St. Augustine" by Fra Angelico,  (circa 1395–1455)

“The Conversion of St. Augustine” by Fra Angelico, (circa 1395–1455)

 

 

‘You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.

You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.

You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.

I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.

You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.’

– Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (Book 10.27)

 

Starting in May, we will be taking an in-depth study into one of the most influential books ever written by one of the greatest and influential minds of the West, Confessions by Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, otherwise known as Augustine of Hippo (or St. Augustine).

 

Perhaps you had to read Confessions as a requirement for your classics or liberal arts classes during college, but only spent a couple of sessions on it. Or maybe you read it a long time ago and now want to visit it again and ruminate on Augustine’s thoughts a bit more thoroughly now. Whatever the reason may be, we invite you to join us as we begin a new venture into the heart and mind of a man deeply and passionately committed to his faith and whose thoughts still resonate vibrantly till this day.

 

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UPDATE: Chapter 22 – Part II – “God is Dead.”

 

 

It has been a long time coming, but here are our essays for the last half of Chapter 22, focusing on the rise of Christian fundamentalism, biblical criticism, the “quest for the historical Jesus”, and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

 

It was good to get back in the swing of things after a little over a month and a half, and hopefully we’ll get the momentum back till we finish the book.

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Chapter 22: Europe Re-enchanted or Disenchanted? (1815 – 1914) – Part II

Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

 

 

 

We’re still alive! Trust me.

 

We were on hiatus because everyone’s schedule seemed quite packed last month, but we’re itching to come back.

 

Next Wednesday, we’ll finish up with the last three sections of Chapter 22: British Protestantism and the Oxford Movement, Orthodoxy: Russia and Ottoman Decay, Masters of Suspicion: Geology, Biblical Criticism and Atheism.

 

 

Please write a one page summary of one of the following questions:

 

  1. Describe the aims of the ‘Oxford Movement’ during the 1830s in England. What were its aims? Who were the Tractarians? What was the relationship between the Church of England and the State like at this time? What was John Henry Newman’s role during this period? And what were their fears about the Roman Catholic Church?
  2. Discuss the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the Orthodox Church (especially the Russian Orthodox Church) after the Russo-Turkish War of 1768 – 74. Why did the Russian Church tolerate the tsar’s tight control over the Church? How did Jews and Greek Catholics fair during the ‘Holy Alliance’ formed by Tsar Alexander in 1815? Why was the ‘Holy Alliance’ formed in the first place?
  3. Describe the role the Russian Orthodox Church played in the independence of Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. How was the Ottoman Empire affected afterwards, especially the Ottoman rulers’ pursuit of Tanzimat?
  4. Discuss the impact of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection. How did his books, On the Orgin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), change how humankind was looked upon versus the biblical view of humankind? How are Darwin and his theory tied with his role in the anti-slavery/abolitionist movement?       How did the relatively new science of geology change the perception of the Bible?
  5. Describe the rise of biblical criticism during the 19th century. Discuss the works of pastors and missionaries, like David Strauss and Albert Schweitzer, in their quests for the ‘historical Jesus’. How did perceptions of the Bible change because of higher criticism?
  6. Discuss the development of ‘Fundamentalism’ during the 1870s. What was it a reaction against? How and why did it form? How did it get its name? Discuss the roles Ira Sankey and D. L. Moody played in its rise. What are the central tenets of Fundamentalism?
  7. Discuss the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.       Describe his ‘God is dead’ philosophy. Discuss how his Lutheran upbringing molded some aspects of his anti-Christian rhetoric.

 

Hope to see everyone next Wednesday.

 

 

 

UPDATE: Chapter 22: Europe Re-enchanted or Disenchanted? (1815 – 1914) – Part I – First-wave feminism, Ultramontanism, and Hegel

 

 

 

This past Wednesday we had a rather lively discussion on the notion of visions in Christianity – visions of Mary for Catholics and just general visions by Pentecostals or other generally charismatic sects.  It’s quite interesting that the Mother Mary almost never (to my knowledge) appears to Protestants – visions of Mary almost always occur to poor girls in small villages that are going through war or political strife.  For Protestants, claims of visions or other prophetic utterances seem to be hit or miss according to the limited experiences we discuss from our own personal encounters.

 

There was also some discussion on whether or not missions (in general throughout history) isn’t a form of Western imperialization in some respects.  We tend to go there and not only want to preach the gospel to them, but also hope and pray that they’ll receive the same benefits and even the comforts of an affluent Western lifestyle.  Has the Western mindset of the gospel been diluted and mixed with the gospel of Western standard of living and materialism?  There was also some thoughts as to whether or not Marcion was right in stating that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are NOT one and the same.  Christianity has moved so far away from Judaism and its understanding of God that when you compare the two, they seem worlds apart.  It is arguable, but it’s an interesting thought nonetheless.

 

Here are our submissions from our meeting this Wednesday.