Tag Archives: Church fathers

Religion of the heart – part II


Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...

Augustine: a pioneer of heart religion

This is continued from Religion of the heart – part I:

Heart religion is also rooted deeply in almost every stream of historical Christianity

Now by starting from today in this brief talk, and then moving quickly back to the 17th and 18th centuries, I don’t want to overlook another important fact: critics of heart religion are, let’s say, “historically outnumbered” in the church. In other words, heart religion is rooted deeply in historical Christianity. Let’s consider for a moment the early church:

Wilken: history of Christian thought cannot be told without the history of Christian love.

We often teach the early history of our faith as if nothing but the intellectual development of doctrine mattered. It’s nothing but a litany of heresies, apologists, and church councils. And while these things are important, they are in some respects only the surface of the story. People don’t get upset about heresies and arguments unless these are about something that matters to their lives. And so I was delighted a few years ago to read the wonderful book by the University of Virginia’s Robert Louis Wilken called The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. This is the history of Christian thought done right—done with a full awareness of the heart of the matter, if you’ll excuse the expression. So, here’s Wilken, introducing his book by talking about what the early Christians were doing when they had all of those theological debates I mentioned: Continue reading

Social justice, early-church style


Giotto's Franciscan allegory of poverty: Poverty is a winged gaunt woman dressed only in rags, at whom children throw stones or brandish sticks. Christ himself marries this woman to St Francis. Numerous angels, as well as the personifications of Hope and Chastity, are present as witnesses. As offerings, two angels carry worldly goods heavenwards. The reactions of the world are depicted at either side: on the left a young man imitates Francis, and on the right the rich express ridicule.

The most recent issue of neoconservative Acton Institute‘s organ, Religion & Liberty, brings an interesting interview with “paleoorthodox” pundit Thomas C. Oden. Actually it is an excerpt of the interview; other bits of interview, dealing with Marxist liberation theology and the current condition of Oden’s United Methodist Church, can be found here.

The excerpt printed in Religion & Liberty ranges from early Christian treatment of the poor to global South missionaries coming to the West. Here are some of Oden’s comments on the value of patristic exegesis for today’s Christians–in particular where such exegesis was applied to social issues:

Why do you think many evangelicals, in their searching, are drawn to patristic thought and commentary? What can churches do to encourage those that are searching?

They’re drawn to patristic thought because it is wise. They are hungry for wisdom. They are looking for reliable Christian teaching and, in many cases, evangelicals have not been exposed to these documents because they have been focused on Christian doctrine since the Reformation. Continue reading

Thanks, Da Vinci Code . . . for sending us back to Christianity’s founding fathers


Once in a while, a book or movie comes along that presents its own twisted version of the Christian faith or of events from Christian history, and the faithful rise up to object. And sometimes, the faithful also dig into our history to find out “what really happened.” This was the case with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, first published in 2003:

Thanks, Da Vinci Code …
… for sending us back to Christianity’s “founding fathers”—and the Bible we share with them.
Chris Armstrong

It’s been a while since Christian History got an online response to rival the emails that poured in after last week’s “Behind the News”. We enjoyed reading your responses to staff writer Collin Hansen’s fact-checking piece on Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

One thing that encouraged us about your letters is this: In the face of spurious claims from a man who poses himself as a historian even as he writes a novel (“All descriptions of … documents … in this novel are accurate”), some of you turned to the apostles and church fathers, to see what they and their Bible really had to say about the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Anything that leads people back to those dynamic early centuries of the church can only help the Christian cause. Obviously no human untruth can obscure the truth of the Gospel. And the first thing you notice when you read the early “church fathers” is that they are completely convinced Jesus is God himself. I’m talking about those bishops and teachers from the 100s and 200s too—long before the Nicean council (Brown claims) enforced on the church the supposedly minority position of Christ’s divinity. Continue reading

Three Wise Men from the East: The intrepid trio who saved the early church from idolatry


It’s tough for us to appreciate what a threat the Arian heresy was to the church in the 4th century. Basically, it had people worshiping Jesus even though they were convinced he was a fellow creature and not God–nothing short of idolatry according to the God of the Old (and New) Testament!

The Council of Nicea in 325 was supposed to slap down this mis-reading of Scripture, but for decades all it seemed to have done was stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy. For example Bishop Athanasius, the staunchest defender of orthodoxy at Nicea, was exiled by various Arian emperors no fewer than five separate times after the council was over.

Into this boiling pot of theological and spiritual confusion came three men of holy habits and clear thought: the Eastern trio now referred to as the “Cappadocian Fathers.” My friend Edwin and I engraved a cameo of each for Christian History a few years back:

Three Wise Men from the East
The Cappadocian Fathers brought the best gift of all: a powerful scriptural defense of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity against the Arian heretics.
Edwin Woodruff Tait and Chris Armstrong

Basil of Caesarea (“the Great”)
Pugnacious saint and theologian of the Spirit

Mention the “church fathers” to a Western Christian, and Basil the Great is not usually the first name to come to mind. Yet even for the Roman Catholic Church, Basil ranks with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom as one of the great propounders and defenders of the faith.

Born around 330, Basil grew up in a world where Christianity was recognized by the Roman government but divided between those who believed in the full divinity of Christ and the Arians who did not. For much of the fourth century, the Arians would enjoy the support of the emperors. The struggle between Christianity and the empire had not ended with Constantine. Continue reading