Tag Archives: early church

Stuff Chris Armstrong likes, #1


Picture of Benny Beaver (en), mascot of the at...

Yes, this is the mascot of OSU. Yes, it's a beaver. Don't anger it.

Some links I’ve run across and would like to share.

First, the Oregon State University historian of science, medicine, and ancient Greece & Rome Gary Ferngren (who I’ve quoted many times on this site–go ahead, search on his name–and am hoping can help us out on Christian History issue #101 on healing in the early church & the Christian invention of the hospital) was captured on video three years ago debating OSU colleague Marcus Borg at a meeting of the OSU Socratic Club. A straightforward, clear presentation of “traditional Christianity.” Worth watching.

Second, an interesting article on Salon.com about a question that has occupied my mind over the years: Why are Christian movies so awful? The “presenting symptom” here is the movie Soul Surfer.

Third, a poem by my creatively and intellectually outstanding future daughter-in-law, Hannah Sauerwein, on being sick. It moves in a different, perhaps more reflective, ambit than this poem by the master of humorous poetry, Ogden Nash. But it certainly has its own charm. Proud to know Hannah!

Ta ta for now!

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

To creed or not to creed?


Cover of

Luke Timothy Johnson, in his book The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (Doubleday, 2003), deals concisely with objections to the “novelties” presented by the Nicene Council and its creed, and answers anti-creedalists on the importance of creeds:

The creed formulated at Nicea was an innovation in at least three ways

  1. “It clearly brought the church into a position of cooperation—it could even be argued cooptation—with the state”
  2. “It imposed a universal creed to take precedence over treasured local versions” (though note this creed was not actually made universal until the later Council of Constantinople)
  3. “It used philosophical language within a profession of faith that was supposed to articulate the Christian story in the language of Scripture.” Continue reading

Ancient and medieval historical theology: Ur doin it wrong?


The subhead above should have read: “A group dedicated to doing it right.” But then I couldn’t have used this lolcat picture. And I have a weakness for lolcats.

Once in a while a bright seminary student will come to me and tell me that they want to “go on” and study historical theology, in the service of the church. What theology doctoral program should they enter?

I think of Duke and UVA, and then I’m flummoxed. Now, I know there are other good programs out there. I’m not the best-connected academic. So I suggest that the student email their question to one of the prominent senior historical theologians–UVA’s Robert Wilken is one–who are in fact pursuing their field in the explicit service of the church (may Jaroslav Pelikan rest in peace).

But it has seemed to me that the field has never quite recovered from the mid-twentieth-century assimilation of theology to the “religious studies departments” of the major universities, nor from the academy’s quite proper dismissiveness of the squabbling “my dogma is better than your dogma” confessionalism that marked the field in the decades leading up to that assimilation. Certainly, as theology still languishes far from her erstwhile status as “queen of the sciences,” historical theology as the queen’s handmaiden has also fallen on hard times.

Now I discover that a group of historical theologians at Boston College have, for the past few years, been dedicating themselves to leading their field of historical theology back to the pursuit of (this will shock you) the history of theology–instead of defense of dogma, study of philosophy, or other things only tangentially related to the health of the church. Continue reading

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought–Robert Wilken


Cover of "The Spirit of Early Christian T...

Run out and get it, & read it now!

Bryan Bademan over at the University of Minnesota‘s MacLaurin Institute has begun blogging on one of my favorite books, Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought:

In his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale UP, 2003), Robert Louis Wilken explains that “Christianity is more than a set of devotional practices and a moral code: it is also a way of thinking about God, about human beings, about the world and history.” Indeed, “for Christians, thinking is part of believing” (xiii). Wilken’s important work is centered on this great theme of early Christianity—that far from the faith banishing reason and clear-eyed analysis of the world, early Christians were obsessed with such intellectual practices and bequeathed to the world a faith tradition that was inextricably bound to (and yet creative with) the best of the classical past. For Augustine, this point was axiomatic: “Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking” (xiv).

Wilken’s book is helpful for Christian scholars today precisely because he’s interested in “how a Christian intellectual tradition came into being.” Continue reading

Healing hospitality in the early church


This will be the last post from Guenter B.
Risse’s Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (Oxford University Press, 1999). In these excerpts from chapter 2, “Christian Hospitality,” Risse sketches the events and ideas that shaped the church’s commitments to providing healing spaces in its earliest centuries.

[Page numbers listed at the beginning of each paragraph. To see other posts from Risse’s book, put his name in the search box near the top of the right column of this blog.]

69           “Late in the year 499, the ‘Blessed City’ of Edessa in southeastern Anatolia, with an estimated population of about 10,000, experienced a great crisis. Frequent wars in the surrounding countryside four years earlier had already destroyed entire villages and ruined the fields. This situation was blamed for an epidemic of boils and swellings during which many inhabitants apparently went blind. By the fall of the year 499, agricultural failures in the surrounding rural areas multiplied due to swarms of locusts devouring the remaining crops. Continue reading

Women practicing medicine in the early church


Image of Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead (1867 - 1941)...

Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, pioneering gynecologist

Women led in early Christendom in the area of medicine. Though the knowledge and practices of that field during those days were primitive, even laughable by today’s standards, late ancient and early medieval medical practitioners of both sexes did do significant good in nursing and basic care. Their work helped set the stage for the development of hospitals and religiously based medical ministries that dominated the field throughout the Middle Ages.

What follows are excerpts from a book I discovered while working on the profile of Christian medical ministry for the Bethel Seminary course (and I hope future book) Resources for Radical Living. The book is Kate Campbell Hurd-Mead, M.D.’s A History of Women in Medicine (Haddam, Conn..: Haddam Press, 1938). I have included only a small sampling of the fascinating accounts in the book:

[For more on early Christian medical ministry, see here and here.] Continue reading