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Civil Rights & Modern History

Catholic Catechism

Pope Francis Mentions Abortion in Gaudete et Exsultate, With a Prayer From Pope Benedict

Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.”

Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.  We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty. […]

Politics

Promise Keepers: Black Lives Matter To These Evangelical Leaders

Promise Keepers was founded in 1990 by Coach Bill McCartney.  He was the head coach of the University of Colorado with a winning record from 1982 to 1994.  His team won three consecutive Big Eight Conference titles and the national championship in 1990.  While attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet, he discussed with Dave Wardell the idea of Promise Keepers, an organization that would organize conferences that would train and teach young men on what it means to be godly husbands, godly fathers, and godly men.

Many black athletes see college and professional sports as their ticket out of poverty.  Many blacks attending college on athletic scholarships only know poverty, attended sub-standard ghetto schools, and really have a hard life and often have a difficult time in college.  Bill McCartney witnessed first-hand how the lack of opportunity for these black families affected his black athletes.

Promise Keepers asks the young men in its ministry to make seven promises to live a godly life.  This is the sixth promise: A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity. […]

Politics

A Democrat Christian Ponders Abortion and Morality

As you can tell from the length of this blog, abortion is truly a moral tar baby.  If you do not touch the tar baby and only glance at its outward appearances from twenty feet away, you can yell and scream and shout and maybe even shoot at those who do the evil deed, and think you are righteous and holy condemning those who you think made a sinful decision all day long on Facebook and Twitter and on the abortion picket line.

But if you dare to get one arm, then your other arm, then one leg, then your other leg into that moral tar baby called abortion, and start moving around and educating yourself and pondering and praying about all the sticky morass of moral issues, you will never get free of this moral tar baby, you will never be able to condemn any decision anybody makes about abortion, you will only be able to feel compassion towards those unfortunate few who must decide and who must live with their decision. […]

Civil Rights

American Civil Rights History: Yale Lecture Notes

There have been disagreements among the Civil Rights leaders, particularly in the decades following the Redemption era.  There was definite tension between those who were followers of Booker T Washington, the accommodationist, and WEB Dubois, the activist.  They are like the good cop and bad cop of early Civil Rights history.

These two pioneering black leaders were from two generations.  Booker T Washington lived from 1856 through 1915 and was the last black leader who witnessed the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War.  WEB Dubois was born later and lived longer, from 1868 through 1963.  WEB Dubois earned his PhD in history from Harvard and was part of the Talented Tenth movement who believed that black leaders should seek higher education to better enable them to champion the causes of their race. […]

Civil Rights

Post-Civil War Reconstruction and Redemption History, Yale Lecture Notes

Southerners were stubborn, Southerners were intransigent, Southerners could never accept St Paul’s declaration that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It was anathema, unthinkable, incomprehensible that Southerners, and many Northerners, would ever regard negroes as equal to free white men, in their eyes negroes were inferior, they would always be subservient. General Sherman may have burned Atlanta and destroyed livestock, crops, and railroads in his mark to the sea; General Grant may have continually fought and flanked Robert E Lee until he was cornered and cut off from supplies at Appomattox; these two Union generals may have momentarily exhausted the ability of the Southern generals to continue the war; but the true Civil War to change racial attitudes is a war that is being fought to this very day.

The South may have lost the Civil War, but it won the peace. The history of Reconstruction is in three phases. In Presidential Reconstruction lenient terms entice the Southern states back into the Union, but the South overreaches, enacting black codes so harsh that they effectively re-enslave the free blacks to their former masters, denying blacks any rights as citizens. Radical Reconstruction is enacted when many in the North to be outraged by the attitudes of their Confederates, the Radical Republicans gain a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress, the South is placed under military rule, and new elections are held and policies that benefit free blacks are enforced. But there is mass resistance, the Ku Klux Klan and similar white supremacy bands spring up, terrorizing the South in their night rides and burning crosses, lynchings become commonplace. The Panic of 1873 causes a deep recession, Northern public opinion tires of the endless struggle against the old Confederacy, leading to the final phase, Redemption. Federal troops are withdrawn from the South and the Southerners are free to rule as they see fit, Jim Crow laws are passed denying blacks their civil liberties and their ability to live a normal life with a decent paying job. The KKK and other night riders step up their lynchings to intimidate blacks, in some cases violently overthrowing legitimately elected local governments. […]

Eastern / Early Church Fathers

Early Church Writing

The Church Fathers Preach Against the Judaizers

John Chrysostom is the most strident of the early Church writers in his writings opposing the Judaizers where he warned his flock that Christians should not adopt Jewish customs and practices, that Christians needed to celebrate the Church festivals rather than the Jewish festivals, that Christians should not attend services at the synagogue. His work “Against the Judaizers” is so polemic that it is far more anti-Semitic than the writings of Barnabas and St Justin Martyr and many other church fathers, it is painful for us modern readers to read, we who remember the horrific events of the Holocaust. This work is not in the standard collection of the works of the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, but it was widely read in medieval times and afterward, and unfortunately was used to justify the European and Russian pogroms and persecutions against the Jews.[2]

One scholar who has pondered the problems posed polemic stands against the Judaizers by St John Chrysostom and also St Cyril is Robert Wilken. In this book “John Chrysostom and the Jews,” he explores the history of the early church to better understand the world of the early Church Fathers. We cannot totally excuse the errors in the teachings of the early Church Fathers, but neither can we blindly judge and condemn them for not knowing the lessons of the Holocaust. There is nothing wrong with reading the Church Fathers as they apply to our modern world, but particularly in this case we should also let the Church Fathers in their ancient historical context, we need to do both lest we have a distorted understanding of the history of our faith. […]

Philokalia Volume 1

St Mark the Ascetic, Blog 2, No Righteousness By Works

St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “when we fulfill the commandments in our outward actions, we receive from the Lord what is appropriate; but any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention.” When we live a godly life, the immediate reward is the living of a godly life. Salvation is promised in the next life for living a godly life, as St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “fear of hell and love for God’s kingdom enable us patiently to accept affliction; and this they do, not by themselves, but through Him who knows our thoughts.”

However, salvation can also be attained in this life when we are transformed into godly people, adopted sons of our Father in Heaven. Luke reminds us, “once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ’The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’”

St Mark continues, “Christ is Master by virtue of His own essence and Master by virtue of his incarnate life. For He creates man from nothing, and through His own Blood redeems him when dead in sin; and to those who believe in Him He has given His grace. When Scripture says ‘He will reward every man according to his works’, do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer.” […]

Philokalia Volume 1

St Mark the Ascetic, Blog 1, No Righteousness By Works

We should always search our heart for upright and humble motives. St Mark the Ascetic warns that “some, without keeping the commandments, think they are keeping the faith, while others, keeping the commandments, expect to receive the kingdom as a reward owed to them. Both are deprived of the kingdom.” Our reward lies in our humble obedience, our salvation is our striving to live a more godly life.

Salvation is not a transaction, salvation is not bartering, salvation is a gift by grace, unearned. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “when the Scriptures say, ‘God will reward each person according to his works,’ the Scriptures are not saying that works deserve hell or the kingdom, but rather that works are done out of faith or lack of faith in Him. Christ repays each person not as a businessman fulfilling his contracts but as God, our Creator and Redeemer,” out of love for us, not out of bartered obligations. […]

Philokalia Volume 1

St. Mark the Ascetic, Writings on the Spiritual Law

You cannot cherry-pick which commandments you should follow and which ones you should ignore. Little sins vs whoppers, scrupulously avoiding small penny sins to save up for the whoppers you need to be forgiven for when you hide thousands of dollars of defects when selling your house or when you need to ruin someone financially to steal their business. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “Those who do not consider themselves under obligation to perform all of Christ’s commandments study the law of God in a literal manner, ‘understanding neither what they say nor what they affirm.’ (1 Tim 1:7) Therefore the think they can fulfill the law by their own works.”(34)
“Do not seek the perfection of the law in human virtues. . . Perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ.(31) The law of freedom by true knowledge, and is understood through the practice of the commandments, and is fulfilled through the mercy of Christ.”(32)
“Fulfilling a commandment is one thing, and virtue is another, although each promotes the other.(193) Fulfilling a commandment means doing what we are enjoined to do; but virtue to do it in a manner that conforms to the truth.”(194) […]

Philokalia Volume 1

St Diadochos of Photiki, Blog 2, On Spiritual Knowledge

St Diadochos teaches that when “the energy of the Holy Spirit is within us,” “the soul is kindled into Love for God and, free from all fantasy and image, moves untroubled by doubt towards Him, drawing the body with it into the depths of that ineffable love. The Love which comes from the Holy Spirit so inflames the soul that all its parts cleave ineffably and with utter simplicity to the delight of its love and longing for the divine.” […]

Western Church Fathers / St Augustine

St Augustine

St Augustine on the Beatitudes

St Augustine tells us the fate of those who hear God’s words and does them, and then for emphasis those who do not, hearing is not enough, the words must be planted in our soul and bear fruit in our actions and deeds.

Who are the poor in spirit in the first beatitude, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God?” St Augustine teaches us that the poor in spirit are those who “are humble and God fearing,” whose spirit is not proud, not puffed up by the wind. St Augustine contrasts this with the spirit of the proud, in a passage quoted by the Catholic Catechism[2], that though the “proud seek after and love the kingdoms of the earth” while the poor in spirit possess the kingdom of heaven. […]

St Augustine

St Augustine on Concupiscence, Blog 3, Final Reflections

The church teaches that what gives marriage purpose is the bearing of children, so we do not live our lives for ourselves. Salvation is the purpose of marriage, the salvation of our children, the salvation of our spouse, and the working out of our salvation. How does the command to love our neighbor as ourselves work its way out in marriage? We should consider first the good of our children in the living of our lives, then we should work for the good of our spouse, and we should take care of ourselves, but we are last. But last of all in a marriage should be concupiscence, but we should not neglect loving kindness and tenderness, that should pervade all the relationships with our children and with our husband or wife. […]

St Augustine

St Augustine on Concupiscence, Blog 2

St Augustine starts his discussion on “On the Good of Marriage” with a discussion how marriage is first a friendship in bonds of family, and a friendship between man and wife, friends who walk together, side by side, raising children, growing old together. St Augustine is a bit harsher in “Marriage and Concupiscence,” teaching that “in matrimony, let these nuptial blessings b the objects of our love – offspring, fidelity, the sacramental bond.” This sacramental bond is meant to be ever-enduring, “lost neither by divorce nor by adultery, and should be guarded by husband and wife with concord and charity.” […]

St Augustine

St Augustine on Concupiscence, Blog 1

St Augustine’s most famous quote, made before his ultimate conversion, was a prayer to God, “Please, Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet.” This shows that St Augustine was quite human, just like us, and quite honest about his struggles with intimacy. Let us give St Augustine the benefit of the doubt, let us read him hagiographically, for even though the modern world with modern technology differs greatly from the world of the ancient Christian, St Augustine has much to teach us, and we can benefit from his teaching, finding purpose in our family life, working out our salvation through the raising of our children and through our relationships with our spouse and other family members and close friends. […]

St Augustine

On Christian Doctrine, Blog 1, Love of God and Neighbor

St Augustine’s key work, On Christian Doctrine, is translated often as On Christian Teaching, teaches us how to read Scriptures and teach and spread our faith to our neighbors. What is the core of this work? We should Love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind and with all of our strength, and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. If we do not love our neighbor, we cannot Love God, and if we do not Love God and our neighbor, we cannot fathom Scripture, let alone deign to teach and preach the Scriptures. […]

Greek / Stoic Philosophers

Cynic Philosophers

Diogenes and the Greek Cynic Philosophers

Diogenes Laertius tells us the Cynics were only interested in ethics, and unlike the other philosophical schools, they had no interest in logic and physics, much like the later Roman Stoics.  They had no interest in general education or literature, their only concern was how to live a life of virtue.  The Cynics “lived frugally, eating only for nourishment, wearing only a clock, despising wealth, fame, and royal birth.”  Some ate only vegetables, some drank only water, some lived in tubs in the marketplace, like Diogenes of Sinope.  The Cynics believed that “virtue can be taught, and when acquired cannot be lost.” […]

Greek Philosophy

Diogenese on the Greek Stoic, Zeno of Citium

Zeno speculates that “God is a living being, immortal, rational, perfect in happiness, immune to anything evil, exercising forethought for the cosmos and all it contains.  But he is not of human shape.  He is the craftsman of all things, both generally and in that particular part of him that pervades everything, and which is called by many names in accordance with all his various powers.” […]

Stoic Philosophers

The Stoic Socrates of Xenophon

Xenophon’s Socrates definitely sounds Stoic, he sought to die the good Stoic death. “Socrates was so arrogant in court that he invited the juror’s ill-will and more or less forced them to condemn him. His fate was proper to one loved by the gods, because he both avoided the most difficult part of life and gained the easiest of deaths. His fortitude was obvious, since he decided death was the better option, he showed no weakness in the face of death, but awaited it cheerfully.” […]

Plato

Sentencing and Execution of Socrates in Apology and Crito, Blog 2

In the end of his speech to the jurors who will decide whether he will live or die, he says, “Judges, be of good cheer about death, and know for certain that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.” Socrates is forgiving. “I am not angry with my condemners, or with my accusers; they have done me no harm. Although the did not mean to do me any good; for this I gently blame them.” […]

Plato

Trial of Socrates in Apology and Crito, Blog 1

How do you encourage your neighbor to grow in wisdom without preaching to him? The Platonic method is the dialectic, the Socratic Dialogue, questions and answers to encourage the citizen to think. The method used by the Gospels is the parable, similar in function to the Delphic Oracle, that also entices the listener to think through questions of right and wrong, justice and virtue. Plato does not use parables as often, but he does use parables very effectively, the most famous parable in the history of philosophy is his Allegory of the Cave in the Republic. […]

Ancient History

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Slaves in Ancient Greece and Rome, Blog 2

Slavery in the ancient world was not based solely on race like in the Confederate South. Slavery in the ancient world happened to you when your city was conquered or when you were kidnapped by pirates. When a city was defeated the women and children were often enslaved, the men were often slaughtered, though sometimes they were enslaved to work in the mines. Or if you could not pay your bills you could be sold into slavery. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Slaves in the Ancient World, Blog 1, Were Slaves the Employees of the Ancient World?

We are tempted to view slavery as something that went away with the Civil War, that with regards to slavery the modern world is so morally superior to the ancient world. The truth is that there were no employees in the ancient world, that slaves in the ancient worlds did the work that employees are hired to do in today’s world.

To understand the role of slaves in the ancient world we have a totally distorted picture when we only focus on the moral wrong of owning another person, treating servants like talking draft animals. The other aspect of slavery is paying someone such low wages that they cannot feed their family with dignity, that they feel like they live forever on the edge of the abyss, where the slightest crisis could force them to live in the streets. Someone who earns starvation wages is very much a modern-day slave. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Marriage and Family Life In Ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel

We in the modern world are so quick to condemn the ancients for misogyny, for not treating women as equals, for subjugating women, we forget how dangerous it was to be a woman in the ancient world. Indeed, those in the ancient world would be puzzled by these accusations, they would reply that their entire culture is built around the need to protect women, for it was dangerous for pretty women to be wandering about town for any reason, rape was a constant threat, women were sequestered partially for their protection. The Hebrews in the Old Testament culture did not sequester women quite as much as the Greeks, many of the stories in the Old Testament describe how romances center around the wells where the women draw water for their flocks. This was true even in the middle ages, St Francis and his monks could choose to minister to the townspeople, but St Claire and her nuns were always cloistered. […]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Ordinary Life and Justice in the Ancient World

The ancient world is very different from the modern world. We in the modern world view life is sacred, today we expect our children to survive until old age, because modern medicine ensures a long healthy life to most of us. If I had lived in the ancient world, I would have died as a teenager from appendicitis. In the ancient world, parents often did not name their children until they were a few weeks old due to the high infant mortality rate. Only half of children survived to adulthood, some scholars estimate that only one in ten survived to a ripe old age.
[…]

Ordinary Life in the Ancient World

Ancient Warrior Societies, Blog 3, World of the Old Testament

Warfare is mentioned over three hundred times in the Old Testament, swords four hundred times. Ancient Israel was caught in many of the ancient wars since it was in the cross-roads of trade routes between Mesopotamia and Egypt. Since Judah was mountainous, its armies relied heavily on infantry, but the Bible mentions that King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom had chariots, and that he was felled by arrow probably shot by a composite bow. Assyria and Babylon had cavalry archers on horseback, but not Egypt or Israel. An Israeli chariot had three horses pulling three men, a driver with a spear, an archer, and a shield bearer. We know from our Sunday School stores King David slew Goliath with a sling, but the ancient slings were not the puny toys we imagine, the sling in the ancient world was a deadly combat weapon. A skilled slinger could sling a rock over 120 miles per hour, faster than the fastest fast ball. […]

Catechism / Biblical Studies

Pope Francis Mentions Abortion in Gaudete et Exsultate, With a Prayer From Pope Benedict

Catholic Catechism

Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.”

Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.  We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty. […]

Council of Trent, The Reform Council Foreshadowing Vatican II

Catholic Catechism

Was the Council of Trent a reactionary council?  This is a common perception, that the Council of Trent initiated the Catholic Counter-Reformation to defend the Catholic Church from the influences of the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther, and that the Vatican II Council was a rejection of Trent, steering the Catholic Church in a more liberal direction.  Father O’Malley’s history leads to a different conclusion, that the actual Council of Trent, as opposed to the later impressions of Trent, is really a progressive council that is a precursor to Vatican II.  Indeed, the documents of Vatican II and the subsequent Catholic Catechism both cite the Council of Trent extensively.

The post Reformation polemics are to blame for this misunderstanding of the nature of the Council of Trent.  In Father O’Malley’s words, “When Pope Pius IV confirmed the council’s decrees, he forbade the printing of commentaries or notes on them without explicit permission of the Holy See.”  The Pope really had no choice, the Catholic Church was besieged, had the Pope not restricted access to the minutes of the Council of Trent, protestants would have taken out of context and distorted the debates to discredit the Church.  But this prevented balanced scholarship on Trent for four hundred years, until Pope Leo XIII opened the Vatican Archives in 1880.

Also, when he confirmed the decrees of the Council of Trent, Pope Pius IV established the Congregation of the Council that functioned for four hundred years, until the time of Vatican II, 1966.  Many of these interpretations of the Council of Trent were more reactionary than the Council itself, partly in response to the polemic pressures encountered by the Catholic Church.  In Father O’Malley’s words, “the Congregation’s decision promoted the impression that the council answered all possible questions, even on subjects it in fact never addressed, and that is left little room for change or further development and local adaptation.  This impression became an integral element in the myths about the council.” […]

AntiSemitism

Christians Coping Under Fascism in WWII: Warnings for Christians Under Trump

You need a strong moral compass to do what is right.  Like Trump, Mussolini did not have a strong, he did not even have a weak moral compass, his compass had no morals at all.  Shortly before the start of World War II Mussolini started looking up to Hitler, Mussolini visited Berlin, Hitler visited Rome, and Mussolini started to value the values of Nazi Germany over the values of the Catholic Church.
Starting in 1938, the Fascist government under Mussolini started to implement many of the same anti-Semitic race laws that had earlier been passed in Nazi Germany.  In the years before 1938 the Catholic Church prospered in its partnership with Mussolini.  In the remaining years of Mussolini’s rule these relations were more and more strained.  The Pope had started hearing disturbing reports from his churches in Germany and across Europe, disturbing reports on the fate of the Jews and the disabled and dissenters, priests, and believers.
Pope Pius XI started to have regrets about his compromises with Mussolini, Pope Pius XI was elderly and in poor health, Pope Pius XI started to worry about his salvation. […]

AntiSemitism

Vatican II Decree on Freedom of Religion, Embracing Democracy, Rejecting Fascism

The Church Fathers of Vatican II believed that the Catholic guarantee of Religious Liberty was crucial for regaining the respect of many believers and the modern world.  History had evolved so that the Catholic Church was not on the side of truth regarding religious liberty.  From ancient times the Catholic Church was supported first by the Roman emperors starting with Constantine, and then the royalty of medieval Europe, but the absolute monarchies had all disappeared, giving way to dictators and republics, some of which were constitutional monarchies.  The Jacobism of the French Revolution and its grandchild communism were the enemies of the church, and the church supported fascism to combat communism.  World War II totally discredited fascism, now the Catholic Church saw democracy as the bulwark opposing communism, and religious liberty was a cornerstone for democracy. […]

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I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. When I was in my twenties I read some of Luther’s works, and although his theological works were well written, seemingly well thought out, what [...]