The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci
In my last post, I asked, “What separates Protestants from Catholics on the matter of the arts? Why have Protestants done so poorly compared with Catholics?” I hinted that the answer lies in a certain aspect of the medieval heritage – which rightly belongs to all Western Christians today, but which the Catholics have retained and Protestants largely discarded.
What, then, did the medieval church have, theologically, that the Reformation church seems to have lost? What was the bridge from the material to the spiritual world that avoided both Gnosticism and materialism—and fostered the arts as well?
This missing links turns out to be one of the most central theological ideas of the Middle Ages: the idea of sacramentality. Sacramentality is the concept that the outward and visible can convey the inward and spiritual. Physical matters and actions can become transparent vehicles of divine activity and presence. In short, sacraments can be God’s love made visible.
Or to turn it around, sacramentality is the belief that transcendent spiritual reality manifests itself in and through created material reality, that all creation is in some sense a reflection of the creator, that God is present in and through the world. A correlative of this is that religion is not separated from, or compartmentalized from, the rest of life. It’s not something left for Sunday morning. God can and does manifest himself in and through the creation that he’s made. Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants
Tagged Augustine of Hippo, C S Lewis, Catholic Church, Creation, Gregory the Great, Incarnation, Middle Ages, miracles, relics, sacramentality, sacraments, Saints
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, (b. 29 May 1874 – d. 14 June 1936), English writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Worth noting: Pope Francis appears to be pro- the canonization of G. K. Chesterton, says Stratford Caldecott in this interesting article.
Caldecott relates the current pope’s interest in canonizing the great apologist and influencer of C S Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and so many others,
According to EWTN News and the Catholic News Agency, a letter to Mr Thompson from the Argentine ambassador who heads a Chesterton group in Argentina noted that the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, “encourages us in our aspiration to see the initiation of the Cause of Chesterton to the altars.” Not only that, but Cardinal Bergoglio, since elected pope, approved the text of a private prayer for the canonization of Chesterton.
We’ll just have to wait and see, but there is an English bishop who is doing more than that:
Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton is “sympathetic” to those who desire to see Chesterton canonized and is “seeking a suitable cleric to begin an investigation into the potential for opening a cause for Chesterton.”
This development is a long way from actual canonization, but its announcement by Dale Ahlquist at a meeting of the American Chesterton Society was greeted with “huge cheering and applause and great emotion.” Continue reading
January 3, 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly, one of the first depictions of Santa Claus
John McGuckin is one of those wonderful creatures, an erudite historian who can also communicate history compellingly to a lay audience. I know because he wrote a great, colorful article for Christian History‘s issue on the Council of Nicea–my last issue as editor at that magazine.You can see a preview of his article here and buy the issue here.
The “powers that be” at Union Theological Seminary in New York chose Thursday, December 6, 2007 as the date of Dr. McGuckin’s installation as Nielsen Chair in Late Antique & Byzantine Christian History. That was all the excuse the good Dr. needed: since Dec. 6 is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, he took St. Nick as his text.
The result was this enjoyable (and yes, compelling) talk. (That link seems broken, 12-6-14 – try this iTunes link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/john-mcguckins-inauguration/id85098839?i=32825222.) Skip the intro material and just jump ahead to 3:30. Here Dr. McGuckin begins to spin the tale of how Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus–jolly American consumerism and all–by way of Norse mythology!
Enjoy, and Happy Feast Day of St. Nicholas!
Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas, considered by many to be the original Santa Claus
Yup, there’s a traveling exhibit on St. Nicholas that’s been going around the country for the past few years, and now it’s here in St. Paul. MN.
The exhibit has actually been here since November 7 and will stay through December 26, 2010. It’s at the Landmark Center, 75 West 5th Street, St. Paul, Minnesota. For more information, see here.
The exhibit’s website tells us this about the original St. Nick:
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Continue reading
Saint Nicholas (Greek: Άγιος Νικόλαος, Aghios [“holy”] Nicolaos [“victory of the people”]) (270–6 December 346) is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaos of Myra, a saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Greek: Νικόλαος ο Θαυματουργός, Nikolaos o Thaumaturgos). He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. In Britain he is known as ‘Father Christmas’. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari.His feastday is December 6.
The most famous story about Nicholas is this one (pictured above):
A poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment would have to become prostitutes. Continue reading
If you’re wondering what Lutherans AND Roman Catholics can affirm about saints, here’s what the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue’s joint document, The One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary, has to say about it. Again, h/t to the folks at “Here I Walk.”
The document states some “church-uniting convergences” :
“1. We reiterate the basic affirmation that ‘our entire hope of justification and salvation rests on Christ Jesus and the gospel whereby the good news of God’s merciful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our trust in anything other than God’s promise and saving work in Christ.’ (§103)
“2. We now further assert together that Jesus Christ is the sole Mediator in God’s plan of salvation (I Tim. 2:5). Christ’s saving work and role in God’s design thus determine not only the content of the gospel and its communication but also all Christian life, including our own and that of Mary and the saints who are now in heaven… Continue reading
I once wrote that Luther tossed the saints off of the church calendar and thus removed an important spiritual tool from Protestantism. Now I am reminded by the “Here I Walk” blogger(s) that I should have qualified that statement. The document cited in the following is Lutheranism’s primary confessional document, the Augsburg Confession.
Melanchthon gives an account of why Christians should not invoke the saints in prayer (Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article xxi). But he and Luther both allowed for the possibility that the saints pray for us, and neither of them denied the designation of some believers as saints in the sense of “extraordinary witnesses to Christ.” In fact, Melanchthon lays out three extremely important things that saints do for believers that makes “giving honor” to them perfectly appropriate: Continue reading
Alister McGrath and Timothy George’s book For All the Saints came out a few years ago and didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved. As a historian, I am not deterred from lauding something just because it is a few (or a few hundred) years old, so here we go:
You should read this book if you are concerned with the “sanctification gap” in evangelical culture–that is, if you think evangelical thought and evangelical life have become woefully separated, favoring either thought over life or life over thought, to the detriment of both:
Christian History Corner: For All the Saints
A fascinating book reminds us to get our heads and hearts together, in the company of the cloud of witnesses.
By Chris Armstrong
“Evangelicals,” gather round. Fellow-travelers and outsiders, lend an ear. For we are about to talk about evangelicalism’s “dirty little secret.” It’s what historian Richard Lovelace has called “the Sanctification Gap.” And it was the subject of a conference held in October, 2000 at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama, which has now resulted in a book worth reading.
The book, like the conference, is titled For All the Saints: Evangelical Theology and Christian Spirituality (Westminster John Knox, 2003). Continue reading
Posted in Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants, Patron Saints for Postmoderns, Resources for Radical Living
Tagged Alister McGrath, Bethel Seminary, Christian history, community, evangelicalism, justification by faith, Regent College, Saints, sanctification, seminaries, Spirituality, the sanctification gap, Theology, Timothy George, union with Christ
The stories of other Christians are vitally important to our spiritual lives. That, in fact, is why the discipline of church history was added to Protestant seminaries’ curricula. But how and when did this happen? I got to share this story with Bethel Seminary’s trustees and the readers of Christianity Today online a few years back:
When Theology Comes Alive
Living theology: that’s what the 17th-century Pietists wanted to see. And so they invented church history.
An earlier version of this essay was given by Dr. Chris Armstrong (associate professor of church history, Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and senior editor, Christian History & Biography) as a talk to the trustees of Bethel University on May 5, 2005.
Dorothy Sayers, a 20th-century, Oxford-educated dramatist, novelist, and lay theologian, wrote to wake up her sleeping Anglican church. She saw people inside and outside of the churches of her day completely unaware of how radical and powerful the gospel really is. And so she wrote essays, stories, and dramas that made the gospel come alive for people. She had a phrase she liked to use when she encountered people who thought church doctrine—”dogma” as it is still sometimes called—was dull and irrelevant. She would say, “The dogma is the drama!”
I love that. The dogma is the drama. What Sayers was reminding us was that if we are falling asleep in church, it is because we have no idea what dynamite we are sitting on.
And as I always remind my students, a wonderful place to go to see what happens when the Gospel’s dynamite blows up in people’s lives is Christian history. I’ll put this idea in less violent form: Christian history is where theology comes to life. Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Bible, biography, Christian history, church history, Dorothy Sayers, early church, history, holiness movement, King David, Philip Spener, Pietists, Saints, scientific revolution, Scripture