The history of Christian theology can be a daunting, even forbidding field for the novice, who sees neither the need for nor pertinence of rummaging around dusty old texts. This people-friendly volume, a full-scale reader in the history of Christian theology, offers an easy, non-threatening, occasionally humorous yet quite thorough entry into Christianity's central texts from the Apostolic Fathers to Mary Daly.
It is also enlivened by dozens of cartoons by Rich Diesslin. Highly accessible introductions to five periods precede brief introductions to and texts from more than fifty key thinkers. The texts highlight perennial themes and questions in Christian tradition, especially the meaning and importance of Jesus, challenges to the institutional church, tensions of faith and reason, spirituality, and the Christian quest for social justice.
The new edition, 50% larger than the original, adding significant work from the Cappadocian Fathers and the Christological controversialists, the Franciscan tradition, the Radical and English reforms, and deeper coverage of twentieth-century theologians. With learning aids, research-paper suggestions and guide, and glossary.
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius, second bishop of Antioch during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117 C.E.), was a most unusual and unique personality. While functioning as leader of this early Christian community at Antioch, he was condemned for his faith and sentenced to death by Imperial Rome. He was to be sport for the Roman citizenry at the Coliseum offering his body to the infamous lions. While on his way to this execution, he sent letters to other Christian communities from which we may derive very useful information about this infant church and the living faith experiences of its leaders and ordinary believers.
One of the most important figures of the second century from a theological point of view is Justin Martyr. Born of non-Christian parents in Sichem in Palestine and flourished during the period 143-165 C.E. He tried many different approaches to find meaning in life, such as, the philosophies: Stoicism, Pythagoreanism, Aristotelianism, and Platonism, which he ultimately found appealing.
However, it was in the new faith of the Christian community that Justin found his truth for while Platonism had opened many doors of life to him, it was only Christianity that filled his heart. After converting to this new Christian philosophy, Justin devoted the remainder of his life to the defense of Christianity. He never relinquished his role of philosopher, however, and continued to wear his philosopher's pallium, a cloak signifying that special status. Thus, Christianity became INTELLECTUALIZED.
The Christian hating emperors were no longer soldiers persecuting an
oriental sect, but intellectuals persecuting intellectuals.
As a spokesperson for a group of Christians on trial for refusing to sacrifice to the gods, Justin added characteristically that if he were going to die for the truth it would be because his judges, blinded by error, were unworthy of the truth. For that kind of holy folly, Justin was beheaded.
Irenaeus of Lyons
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus was a man from the east, born somewhere between 130-140 C.E. He states that as a young man he sat at the feet of Bishop Polycarp (who was purported to have been a disciple of the beloved John the Apostle) who was martyred somewhere between 155-156 C.E.
At some point, Irenaeus left Asia Minor for Gaul and most likely spent some time in Rome on his way. Irenaeus wrote a long list of works of which only two have survived, but they are extremely important works. Five Books of Detecting and Overthrow of the Knowledge Falsely So-Called. Against Heresies.
Origen was a defender of orthodoxy and by rational temperament and ecclesiastical discipline in no way inclined toward heretical fancies of the gnostic varieties. Origen, c.185-c.254, generally considered the greatest theologian and biblical scholar of the early Eastern church. He was probably born in Egypt, perhaps in Alexandria, to a Christian family. His father died in the persecution of 202, and he himself narrowly escaped the same fate. At the age of 18, Origen was appointed to succeed Clement of Alexandria as head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, where he had been a student.
Between 203 and 231, Origen attracted large numbers of students through his manner of life as much as through his teaching. According to Eusebius, he took the command in Matt. 19:12 to mean that he should castrate himself. During this time Origen traveled widely and while in Palestine (c.215) was invited to preach by local bishops even though he was not ordained.
Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, regarded this activity as a breach of discipline and ordered him to return to Alexandria. The period following, from 218 to 230, was one of Origen's most productive as a writer. In 230 he returned to Palestine, where he was ordained a priest by the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea. Demetrius then excommunicated Origen, deprived him of his priesthood, and sent him into exile. Origen returned to the security of Caesarea (231), and there established a school of theology, over which he presided for 20 years. Persecution was renewed in 250, and Origen was severely tortured. He died of the effects a few years later.
What his Theology is NOT: Unlike Origen of Alexandria, Athanasius was not a scientific theologian; unlike Justin Martyr, he was not a philosopher of religion. Athanasius (295-373 C.E.) does not contribute much, therefore, by way of speculation; he does not develop any system of theology, nor does he invent new terminology. And yet, at the same time, Athanasius is one of the most significant personalities of the history of doctrine in the fourth century.
What his Theology is like: In the words of J. K. Mozley, speaking of Athanasius' famous treatise on the incarnation, his works are rather paeans of victory, hymns singing the praises of religion and in this specific case, the Christian faith.
Athanasius' greatest merit, or his greatest contribution to Christian theology, was his defense of the faith against the radical Hellenization of the faith in the person of Arius and his followers.
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430 C.E.). Volumes can be written about Augustine, bishop of Hippo, and indeed volumes have been written. Defender of the faith, scholar, preacher, teacher, administrator --- Augustine was all of these and more. Coming out of paganism and encircled with the prayers of his beloved mother, Monica, Augustine ran through a succession of philosophies and religious experiments. Augustine describes this experience himself in his Confessions in what some have argued is one of the most dramatic conversions to the faith since that of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.
Ultimately appointed bishop of Hippo Regius, a harbor city several miles west of the famous city of Carthage, Augustine consolidated the church against schismatic groups and set up a clerical training center that was famous throughout the Roman world. Augustine's work is comprehensive. He was drawn into almost every conceivable theological and ecclesiastical dispute possible and when challenged he used his pen like a sword, cutting through all sorts of red tape with decisiveness.
Pseudo-Dionysius (500 C.E.). There appears, late in the fifth century, as if from nowhere, an unknown genius of the highest order: a Neoplatonist destined forever to exercise a massive influence on all Christian theology. Following a received custom of the time, he uses a nom de plum, a pseudonym, a name already respected by his audience in order to win a favorable reading, convinced that the reader will have been so thoroughly benefited by the truth of what has been read that no real deception would have taken place.
The writer succeeded so well, with both pseudonym and presentation of what he saw as the truth, that the entire cadre of church leaders after him not only reverenced his purloined identity (the Apostle Paul had a convert named Dionysius the Areopagite: Acts 17:34) but accepted his strange mystical doctrine as well, even if they had to purify it of unorthodox elements. Perhaps the greatest of his disciples would be his orthodox interpreter, Maximus of Chrysopolis better known as Maximus the Confessor. Thomas Aquinas is another of his orthodox re-interpreters.
Little Known, Great Influence -- The actual author remains unknown, although it has been reasonably suggested that he flourished toward the end of the fifth century, probably in the vicinity of Syria where speculative mysticism abounded. He was widely read in the eastern church and when John Scotus Erigena translated his work in the ninth century, a series of important commentaries began in the west which extended his already vast influence.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 C.E.) - To many people Thomas Aquinas is the most magnificent architect of the discipline known as systematic theology, especially when viewed in terms of size, scope, and consistency. The systematics of Thomas paralleled the great Gothic cathedrals which enshrined the unified view of the world so predominate in the medieval world. The cathedrals were built of stone; the system of Thomas Aquinas of enduring ideas.
The Summa Theologiae, i.e. The Sum of Theology (more generally referred to as the Summa Theologica --- a Theological Summary) was begun in 1256 and nearly but not quite finished at his death in 1274. It was and continues to be the theologian's theology, though it was originally written as a textbook of instruction for those who had already professed the faith and were members of the Christian community.
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