musings from my rich inner world…

Church History

Missions and Colonialism

The 19th and 20th centuries saw a great expansion in Protestant missionary activity.  With the growth of European colonialism often came missionaries, spreading the gospel to new lands as well as covering some old ground.  However, mixed with the good news were cultural values and commercial interests that produced mixed effects among indigenous populations.  While the meta-narrative of progress tells us that the modernization and development of the non-Western world was generally a good thing, it is often difficult to distinguish the oppressive side of missionary activity from the empowering side.

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The Plague and Theodicy

The appearance of the plague brought with it a radical shift in the very fabric of society.  With some death statistics measured as high as one out of every three people in some regions, the losses impacted agriculture, economics, and family dynamics.  But the church was also affected as clergy and communities suffering the devastation of the plague struggled for survival and wrestled with questions of theodicy writ large in the unprecedented scale of suffering.

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The Rise of Scholasticism

With the rise of scholasticism, people of faith began for the first time to use their rational minds as a way of more deeply understanding those things which they already accepted on the basis of faith.  Moreover, in an attempt to find harmony between scripture, traditional authorities (e.g., early Church fathers), philosophy and the observable world, the scholastics attempted to address identified contradictions between (or within) authorities and to work out solutions that would allow each authority to be understood as in agreement.

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Apokatastasis in the Thought of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration (αποκαταστασις) that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Acts 3:19-21 (NRSV)

In many quarters of the Church today sincere Christians are raising questions regarding the rationale behind decreeing eternal punishment for temporal mistakes, for consigning human souls to unending fire as the penalty for decisions made in a fleeting life upon the earth. Though most Christians acknowledge the infinite love and mercy of God, we are often stymied when we contemplate the apparent contradiction between the God of love and the God of justice. We have been taught that there are eternal consequences for our actions and that the day is coming when the trees that produce no fruit will be chopped down and cast into the fire (Matthew 7:19). If God is just, we are prone to ask, how can unrepentant sinners share in the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom? The idea of sharing heaven with the likes of Adolph Hitler, the child molester down the street, or in some extreme cases even the folks from the other political party is repugnant to many who feel that salvation is attained by following a certain teaching or by participating in a defined set of sacraments. But for a growing number of questioning voices in the Western Church the idea of eternal punishment seems simply unworthy of God.

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Poverty as a Spiritual Value

In the outlook of several medieval Christian movements poverty was seen as a spiritual value. For some the rejection of material wealth was viewed as a fulfillment of Jesus’ instruction to the disciples. For others a life of poverty was a way of more fully identifying with the lowly and dispossessed. Finally, for some the renunciation of wealth was a practice for avoiding temporal entanglements that could interfere with one’s relationship with God.

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Looking through and beyond the Everyday toward Eternal Life

The writings of Bernard of Clairvaux, Anselm of Canterbury and Hildegard of Bingen provide us with windows into thoughts of their authors during a time of fruitful activity in medieval monasticism. Using references familiar to their readers, each author attempts to look through and beyond the expected, pointing the way to a spiritual value that leads the follower along the path to heaven.

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Church Reform in the 11th Century

The eleventh century saw a wave of reformers in the papacy that sought to effect changes in the way that ecclesial authority was realized. A series of popes including Leo IX, Gregory VII and Calixtus II worked to reform the election of church authority by stamping out simony (the practice of buying church offices) and enforcing celibacy for all priests (eliminating heirs to whom power could be passed down). In addition to these reforms, the church sought to establish itself as a separate spiritual authority superior to that of various European monarchs. At the zenith of papal authority, Innocent III enjoyed authority that extended over many of the secular rulers of Europe.

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National Flavors in the Christianization of Europe

As the Christian faith spread throughout Europe its message was received by many disparate tribes. These various groups found identity in ethnic distinctions of shared language and culture. While often serving as barriers or diplomatic challenges, these differences sometimes played key roles in how the gospel was received and spread among a people. The Saxon Gospel provides one such example.

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