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Preachers and Politicians

  1. Should a pastor simultaneously act as a government official, such as a governor or as an ambassador?
  2. Should a pastor call out a politician by name for his policies?
  3. Should the church be willing to use state force to combat heresies?

Once Christianity became the religion of the empire, it found itself having to grapple with these questions, and struggling to figure out where to draw that blurry line between state and church. As the bishop of a city which often housed the emperor, Ambrose found himself at the center of many of these controversies.

Ambrose (340-397)

Ambrose was born to Christian parents. His father was the Prefect of Gaul, which covered modern-day France, Britain, and Spain. His father died when he was a teenager, and the family moved to Rome, where he was educated to follow in his father’s footsteps. Eventually, he became a governor.

In Milan, where he lived, the Arian bishop had died, and there was a great conflict over his successor between the Catholics and Arians. Fearing a riot, he went to the church where the election was taking place and tried to talk the crowd down. During his speech, somebody yelled out, “Ambrose, bishop!” and soon the entire crowd was chanting it.

Ambrose fled and hid at a friend’s house, and this friend then turned him in. In the space of a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated as a bishop.

He threw himself into this role, immediately selling everything he had, giving it to the poor, and adopting an ascetic lifestyle. He threw himself into the study of theology, which he had not had any schooling in previously.

1. Ambassador Ambrose

In 383 General Maximus was proclaimed Emperor by his troops, and then marched on and conquered Gaul, as well as emperor Gratian. He was marching on Italy and the 12-year old emperor Valentinian II when the Eastern emperor Theodosius sent troops to stop him. Ambrose was sent as ambassador to dissuade Maximus from proceeding further. The mission was a success, and resulted in Maximus being recognized as the western emperor.

How did you answer Question 1? If you said “no,” do you still think so? Would it have been better for Ambrose to stay out of political questions and consequently also fail to help the many people who would be killed in the resultant fighting?

2. Massacre at Thessalonica

In 390 in Thessalonica, a governor had arrested a popular athlete for trying to rape a male cupbearer. The people demanded his release, and when the governor refused, they rioted and killed him. The emperor was enraged, and sent out his troops. The people were invited to an exhibition in the Circus, where they were slaughtered. 7,000 people were killed.

He almost immediately thought better of the plan and sent a letter countermanding the order, but by then it was too late.

How did you answer question 2? How should Ambrose, who was the emperor’s pastor, have responded?

The following is a letter he wrote Theodosius after hearing of the incident:

What then was I to do? Must I disclose what I heard? But then I had reason to fear that the same result which I apprehended from your commands would ensue from my own words; that they might become the cause of bloodshed. Was I then to be silent? But this would be the most miserable of all, for my conscience would be bound, my liberty of speech taken away. And what then of the text, if the priest warn not the wicked from his wicked way, the wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but the priest shall be liable to punishment, because he did not warn him?

Is your Majesty ashamed to do that which the Royal Prophet David did, the forefather of Christ according to the flesh? It was told him that a rich man, who had numerous flocks, on the arrival of a guest took a poor man’s lamb and killed it, and recognizing in this act his own condemnation, he said, I have sinned against the Lord. Let not your Majesty then be impatient at being told, as David was by the prophet, Thou art the man. For if you listen thereto obediently and say, I have sinned against the Lord, if you will use those words of the royal Prophet, O come let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker, to you also it shall be said, Because thou repentest, the Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die.

This I have written, not to confound you, but that these royal examples may induce you to put away this sin from your kingdom; for this you will do by humbling your soul before God. You are a man; temptation has fallen upon you; vanquish it. Sin is not washed away but by tears and penitence. Neither Angel nor Archangel can do it. The Lord Himself, Who alone can say I am with you; even He grants no remission of sin save to the penitent.

In America, a preacher who speaks against a political leader risks losing their church’s tax-exemption. Ambrose could have been exiled or even executed. In the end, the Emperor accepted the humiliation of public penance, and was eventually readmitted to communion.

3. Suppression of the Donatists

Remember the Donatists? They were still a force during the time of Augustine, roughly 100 years after the schism started. You probably answered “no” to question 3. Saint Augustine would have disagreed with you:

Again I ask, if good and holy men never inflict persecution upon any one, but only suffer it, whose words they think that those are in the psalm where we read, “I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them; neither did I turn again till they were consumed?” If, therefore, we wish either to declare or to recognize the truth, there is a persecution of unrighteousness, which the impious inflict upon the Church of Christ; and there is a righteous persecution, which the Church of Christ inflicts upon the impious. She therefore is blessed in suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake; but they are miserable, suffering persecution for unrighteousness. Moreover, she persecutes in the spirit of love, they in the spirit of wrath; she that she may correct, they that they may overthrow: she that she may recall from error, they that they may drive headlong into error.

Finally, she persecutes her enemies and arrests them, until they become weary in their vain opinions, so that they should make advance in the truth; but they, returning evil for good, because we take measures for their good, to secure their eternal salvation, endeavor even to strip us of our temporal safety, being so in love with murder, that they commit it on their own persons, when they cannot find victims in any others. For in proportion as the Christian charity of the Church endeavors to deliver them from that destruction, so that none of them should die.

One thing I did not mention previously is that the Donatists themselves had begun to turn violent. Sometimes they would loot and destroy Catholic churches. They also prevented people among their ranks from going over to the Catholic side by using violence. Does this change your view any?

And what are we to say of those who confess to us, as some do every day, that even in the olden days they had long been wishing to be Catholics; but they were living among men among whom those who wished to be Catholics could not be so through the infirmity of fear, seeing that if any one there said a single word in favor of the Catholic Church, he and his house were utterly destroyed at once? Who is mad enough to deny that it was right that assistance should have been given through the imperial decrees, that they might be delivered from so great an evil, whilst those whom they used to fear are compelled in turn to fear, and are either themselves corrected through the same terror, or, at any rate, whilst they pretend to be corrected, they abstain from further persecution of those who really are, to whom they formerly were objects of continual dread?

But if they have chosen to destroy themselves, in order to prevent the deliverance of those who had a right to be delivered, and have sought in this way to alarm the pious hearts of the deliverers, so that in their apprehension that some few abandoned men might perish, they should allow others to lose the opportunity of deliverance from destruction, who were either already unwilling to perish, or might have been saved from it by the employment of compulsion; what is in this case the function of Christian charity, especially when we consider that those who utter threats of their own violent and voluntary deaths are very few in number in comparison with the nations that are to be delivered?

What then is the function of brotherly love? Does it, because it fears the shortlived fires of the furnace for a few, therefore abandon all to the eternal fires of hell? and does it leave so many, who are either already desirous, or hereafter are not strong enough to pass to life eternal, to perish everlastingly, while taking precautions that some few should not perish by their own hand, who are only living to be a hindrance in the way of the salvation of others, whom they will not permit to live in accordance with the doctrines of Christ, in the hopes that some day or other they may teach them too to hasten their death by their own hand, in the manner which now causes them themselves to be a terror to their neighbors, in accordance with the custom inculcated by their devilish tenets? or does it rather save all whom it can, even though those whom it cannot save should perish in their own infatuation? For it ardently desires that all should live, but it more especially labors that not all should die.

Documents

Facilier_Friends

The Princess and the Frog liveblog

This live blog is brought to you by Global Warming: making it so cold we have no choice but to stay inside.

Though missed by those of our my generation, this movie is notable for having a black princess, allowing Disney to finally collect them all. Also notable for being one of the last non-CGI animated films.

They have taken the interesting narrative step of having the original fairy tale be known inside the world of the story.

These characters are extremely southern.

Tiana’s father just told her that hard work is more important than wishing on a star. I like this movie already.

They’re even singing about cotton gins. In case you didn’t get that this is the south.

Seriously, though, New Orleans does have great food.

The character voiced by John Goodman looks like him, too. I wonder if that’s true of most animated characters? Probably not true of Bob and Larry.

And now the mother is extolling the importance of forming a family over the importance of building your career. This movie has layers.

Although the moral probably ends up cutting against her.

The prince is kind of a jerk to his man servant.

Here comes the villain. He’s a witch doctor. And he has a pretty good villain song.

“When a woman says ‘later,’ she really means ‘not ever.'”

Villain tempts prince and servant by appealing to greed and pride, respectively. Layers, I say!

Not sure what they’re planning to do with the spoiled white girl. She’s painted as ditzy, but friendly to the protagonist.

Dream-crushing moment came pretty early.

If a talking frog demanded a kiss, would you do it?

Kiss turned the girl into a frog. Twist!

You know, the man-servant/traitor looks a lot like those old anti-Semitic Jewish cartoons.

Frog prince? More like horny toad, if you get my drift.

All Disney movies must have at least two animal sidekicks. This one has an alligator.

Usually the animals don’t get their own song, though.

What will Tiana’s restaurant have? Gumbo, jambalaya, po boys, muffalettas. Because it’s in New Orleans, in case you forgot.

I guess this also has a Cajun firefly sidekick.

Sure is brave of this firefly to help some frogs.

Villain just summoned the Vashta Nerada to help him.

I don’t like this prince. I’m rooting against him and Tiana getting together.

Villain is tempting Tiana now with images of her dream. I wish he’d gotten more screen time.

Bad end for the villain. And that is why you don’t do voodoo, kids.

Love story was a little forced on this one.

Not many movies make you feel bad about a bug dying.

But I guess he became a star? Seems a little superfluous to the plot.

Cut straight from a funeral to the happy ending.

Pretty good film overall. Themes of hard work and resisting temptation interleaved with a jazz playing alligator.

Overall ranking: Alladin > Princess and the Pea > Little Mermaid > Frozen.

I had a hard time deciding between this and Little Mermaid. The better moral won out. I’m a sucker for movies with good morals; I even liked Spiderman 2.

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Who do you say that I am?

Suppose you ran into an old friend of yours after you hadn’t seen each other in while. As you’re catching up, he happily mentions that he has entered into a relationship with a new girl. He seems really excited about her, so you ask her name.

“Oh, it’s either Jennifer, or Jessica, or maybe Mindy. Definitely something like that.”

“Well, what’s she look like?”

“Oh, you know, she has brown or maybe blackish blonde hair. I’m almost certain she isn’t bald, at any rate.”

What would you think of this relationship?

This is how a lot of people approach their relationship with God. But a relationship where you show no interest in what the other person is like is not a true relationship at all. Keep this is mind as we study the Arian Controversy, because while it may seem like it turns on obscure points of theology, the issue of who Jesus is and who God is stands at the very heart of Christianity.

The Council of Nicea

Having just finished reuniting the Roman world, Constantine found Christianity itself divided. To resolve the controversy and unify the empire’s new religion, he called for a church council at Nicaea. Roughly 300 bishops attended.

Many, like the holy apostle, bore in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, a fortress situated on the banks of the Euphrates, had suffered from the frantic rage of Licinius. He had been deprived of the use of both hands by the application of a red-hot iron, by which the nerves which give motion to the muscles had been contracted and rendered dead. Some had had the right eye dug out, others had lost the right arm. In short, the Council looked like an assembled army of martyrs.

To those who attended the council, Constantine manifested great kindness, addressing them with much gentleness, and presenting them with gifts. He ordered numerous couches to be prepared for their accommodation and entertained them all at one banquet. Those who were most worthy he received at his own table, distributing the rest at the others. Observing that some among them had had the right eye torn out, and learning that this mutilation had been undergone for the sake of religion, he placed his lips upon the wounds, believing that he would extract a blessing from the kiss. After the conclusion of the feast, he again presented other gifts to them.

This is known as the first ecumenical council because it pulled in bishops from all of Christendom, including outside the Roman Empire. The council accomplished several things: the construction of the Nicene Creed, settling the method for calculating the date of Easter, and the promulgation of some early canon law, which basically gave rules for how the church should be governed. By far the most important and far-reaching consequence of this was the Nicene Creed.

The Arians submitted a document with their recommended creed, signed by 18 bishops. The backlash against it was strong; bishops actually leapt to their feet and tore the document to pieces. 16 of the signers immediately recanted. The Nicene Creed was adopted instead, and along with it the following condemnation of Arius:

And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion — all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.

A grand total of six bishops opposed the creed. In the end, four of them gave way, with only two bishops and Arius refusing to sign the creed. They were deposed and exiled. (Eusebius of Nicomedia actually signed the creed, but refused to condemn Arius, and so he was exiled as well).

This was not the end of the story

Constantine himself did not stick to the decisions of the council for long, and soon Arian bishops were allowed back in, and even gained the upper hand politically. Over the course of his life, Athanasius was exiled five different times for his dogged defense of Trinitarian Christianity. At some points, it seemed like he alone defended Nicea against the whole world. Yet, in the end, he triumphed, and now the Nicene Creed stands as one of the most basic tests of orthodoxy.

I take some comfort in this. Trinitarianism first passed the truth test of commanding the assent of the first ecumenical church council. After this, its opponents attempted to stamp it out with their superior political power, and yet it survived and thrived, just as basic Christianity had before it. Had the defenders of Nicea retained the political power, we might wonder how much of its survival was due to superior firepower instead of truth. Had they failed to gain acceptance at the council in the first place, we might wonder how the church so badly missed the truth. Happily, it passed both tests.

So what is the Trinity?

It is easier to say what it is not:

With that out the way, the Trinity can be summed up as follows:

  1. The Father is God
  2. The Son is God
  3. The Holy Spirit is God
  4. The Father is not the Son
  5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit
  6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father
  7. There is only one God

You can see the problem there; that last statement seems contradictory. On the other hand, delving into the ultimate nature of reality has landed physics in similar territory.

Not that that helps us understand it any better. As you have just seen, most analogies end up as a heresy instead.

That said, here’s some analogies, courtesy of the great St Augustine

Mind
Mind is composed of memory, understanding, and will. We understand our memory, remember understanding, will to remember, and will to understand, understand our willing, etc. Each of these are in a way distinct from each other, but at the same time they are all the same thing.
Self-love
Just about everybody loves themselves (and usually too much). However, we are in fact allowed to love ourselves, so long as we also love our neighbor similarly. In so loving, We are simultaneously the lover, loved object, and the lover’s love.

Note that these are all still just analogies, and if you take them too far, you will probably again lapse into something that has been condemned as a heresy.

So why should we believe in this Trinity thing at all?

This is one of the few doctrines agreed on by all branches of the church, over a long, stretch of time. Those which deny it quickly lose the rest of their Christianity (see, for example, Unitarians). The messy history of how it came to be accepted also gives reason to trust it. When the church came together to consider it, they nearly unanimously came down on the side of the Trinity. Then, lest we fear that this was due to Constantine’s influence, political power almost immediately turned against it, and so Trinitarianism had to prove itself in the face of political repression, just as Christianity itself had.

Documents

  • Nicene Canons – The document that the Nicene Council ultimately set forth. It is brief, and well worth your time to read, if only to debunk some of the nonsense that has been promulgated about its contents.
  • On the Incarnation – Athanasius’ explanation of the Trinity and Jesus’ incarnation. If you read one book as a result of this class, make it this one.
  • Class Materials – Certainly the least important document in this list, but it does contain my chess-board visualization of the post-Nicene political wrangling, of which I am rather proud.
  • For good measure, the Nicene Creed in all its original glory:

    We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made, being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem) with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead. And [we believe] in the Holy Ghost.

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Love not the world

Writing in 197 AD, Tertullian said the following:

We are accused of being useless in the affairs of life. How in all the world can that be the case with people who are living among you, eating the same food, wearing the same attire, having the same habits, under the same necessities of existence? We are not Indian Brahmins or Gymnosophists, who dwell in woods and exile themselves from ordinary human life.

Within 50 years or so, this was no longer true for a significant chunk of the Christian population. The Christian ascetics and later the monastics sought to deny themselves and die to the world by cutting themselves off from it. Today we are going to learn about two of the most famous monastics. St Anthony, who served as the inspiration for millions more to go into the desert seeking God, and Pachomius, who brought the Christian hermits back together into their own form of community.

Anthony the Great, Father of Monasticism (251-356 AD)

Anthony was an Egyptian, born to wealthy, Christian parents. They died when he was around 20. Not long afterward, he was walking along thinking about how the apostles forsook everything and sold all they had to follow Jesus, and he happened to wander into church right as Matt 19:21 was being read: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
Anthony took this as a clear message from God to him. He sold off his family’s more than 200 acres and most of their possession, giving it to the townspeople and the poor. He kept just a small amount for himself and his sister.

The next time he walked into church, Matt 6:34 was read: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” Immediately he left and gave his remaining possessions to the needy. He gave his sister over to the care of a proto-convent, and “apprenticed” himself to a local hermit. He then left there and traveled about seeking out other ascetics to learn from, most of whom lived somewhat isolated lives on the outskirts of cities.
Finally, he had a friend seal him in a tomb, where he had his first great confrontation with Satan and his demons:

And when the enemy could not endure it, but was even fearful that in a short time Anthony would fill the desert with the discipline, coming one night with a multitude of demons, he so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain. … But the enemy, who hates good, marveling that after the blows he dared to return, called together his hounds and burst forth, ‘Ye see,’ said he, ‘that neither by the spirit of lust nor by blows did we stay the man, but that he braves us, let us attack him in another fashion.’ But changes of form for evil are easy for the devil, so in the night they made such a din that the whole of that place seemed to be shaken by an earthquake, and the demons as if breaking the four walls of the dwelling seemed to enter through them, coming in the likeness of beasts and creeping things. And the place was on a sudden filled with the forms of lions, bears, leopards, bulls, serpents, asps, scorpions, and wolves, and each of them was moving according to his nature.

The lion was roaring, wishing to attack, the bull seeming to toss with its horns, the serpent writhing but unable to approach, and the wolf as it rushed on was restrained; altogether the noises of the apparitions, with their angry ragings, were dreadful. But Anthony, stricken and goaded by them, felt bodily pains severer still. He lay watching, however, with unshaken soul, groaning from bodily anguish; but his mind was clear, and as in mockery he said, ‘If there had been any power in you, it would have sufficed had one of you come, but since the Lord has made you weak, you attempt to terrify me by numbers: and a proof of your weakness is that you take the shapes of brute beasts.’ And again with boldness he said, ‘If you are able, and have received power against me, delay not to attack; but if you are unable, why trouble me in vain? For faith in our Lord is a seal and a wall of safety to us.’ So after many attempts they gnashed their teeth at him, because they were mocking themselves rather than him.

Nor was the Lord then forgetful of Anthony’s wrestling, but was at hand to help him. So looking up he saw the roof opened, and a ray of light descending to him. The demons suddenly vanished, the pain of his body straightway ceased, and the building was again whole. But Antony feeling the help, and getting his breath again, and being freed from pain, besought the vision which had appeared to him, saying, “Where were you? Why didn’t you appear at the beginning to make my pains end?” And a voice came to him, “Anthony, I was here, but I waited to watch your struggle. And now, since you have persevered and were not defeated, I will be your helper forever, and I will make you famous everywhere.” Having heard this, Anthony arose and prayed, and received such strength that he perceived that he had more power in his body than formerly.

Anthony set out from there to the desert, one of the first ascetics to do so. Eventually he came to deserted fortress, and shut himself inside with enough food for 6 months. He spent the next twenty years there, and though he had visitors, he did not allow anybody in or ever venture outside. Those who did visit reported that they heard what sounded like mobs inside crying out, “Get away from what is ours! What do you have to do with the desert? You cannot endure our treachery!” When they peeked in and saw nobody there, they realized that it was demons they were hearing.

This, by the way, is a recurring theme with the desert monks. They saw themselves as very directly confronting and being confronted by the demons. Though they did not physically fight them off, this war was very real and very literal for them. One of Anthony’s later speeches to his fellow monks consists largely of practical advice for how to deal with the demons when they troubled them by either appearing in strange shapes or even whispering future events to them.

Finally, so many people had gathered outside the fortress wanting to follow him in asceticism that they tore open the door, and he finally ventured forth. “From then on,” Athanasius tells us, “there were monasteries in the mountains and the desert was made a city by monks, who left their own people and registered themselves for citizenship in the heavens.”

The following is from a speech given by Anthony to his fellow monks:

Nor let us think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with all the heaven. Wherefore if it even chanced that we were lords of all the earth and gave it all up, it would be nought worthy of comparison with the kingdom of heaven. For as if a man should despise a copper drachma to gain a hundred drachmas of gold; so if a man were lord of all the earth and were to renounce it, that which he gives up is little, and he receives a hundredfold. But if not even the whole earth is equal in value to the heavens, then he who has given up a few acres leaves as it were nothing; and even if he have given up a house or much gold he ought not to boast nor be low-spirited. Further, we should consider that even if we do not relinquish them for virtue’s sake, still afterwards when we die we shall leave them behind.

Therefore, children, let us hold fast our discipline, and let us not be careless. For in it the Lord is our fellow-worker, as it is written, “to all that choose the good, God worketh with them for good.” But to avoid being heedless, it is good to consider the word of the Apostle, “I die daily.” For if we too live as though dying daily, we shall not sin. And the meaning of that saying is, that as we rise day by day we should think that we shall not abide till evening; and again, when about to lie down to sleep, we should think that we shall not rise up. For our life is naturally uncertain, and Providence allots it to us daily. But thus ordering our daily life, we shall neither fall into sin, nor have a lust for anything, nor cherish wrath against any, nor shall we heap up treasure upon earth. But, as though under the daily expectation of death, we shall be without wealth, and shall forgive all things to all men, nor shall we retain at all the desire of women or of any other foul pleasure. But we shall turn from it as past and gone, ever striving and looking forward to the day of Judgment. For the greater dread and danger of torment ever destroys the ease of pleasure, and sets up the soul if it is like to fall.

Pachomius (290-347 AD)

“How can a person test his humility when he has no one to whom he can show himself the inferior? How will he give evidence of his compassion, if he has cut himself off from association with other persons? And how will he exercise himself in long-suffering, if no one contradicts his wishes? If the Lord washed the feet of the disciples, whose feet will you wash?” – St Basil (330-379)

“To save souls, you must bring them together.”-Pachomius

Born in Egypt to pagan parents, he was drafted into the army at 20. On the way to the front, he and his fellow soldiers stopped at Thebes, where they were housed in a prison. Local Christians came to visit the inmates and bring them food, which greatly impressed Pachomius. He vowed to investigate Christianity when he got out of the army, which was soon afterward. He became a pupil of the hermit Palamon for seven years, after which he set out on his own to follow the discipline of St. Anthony.

One day, God led him out about 10 miles to a deserted village by the Nile called Tabennesi, and commanded him, “Build a monastery; for many will come to you to become monks with you.” He built a cell there in 320, where his brother joined him as his first follower. Before long the community grew to 100, and by the time of his death it contained 3,000 monks. They shared everything in common, prayed and worked together, and followed the rules Pachomius laid out. These rules regulated the entire day, dictating when they would wake, when they would pray, what work they would do, and even how they would greet visitors to the monastery.

This system became known as “coenobitic monasticism” from the Greek words “koinos bios” (common life). It formed the basis for the rules that would organize all future monasteries, most notably the Benedictine monasteries.

Simeon the Stylite (390 – 459)

Simeon entered a monastery before the age of 16, and subjected himself to ever-increasing bodily austerities, from severe fasting to standing upright as long as he could possibly bear it. Eventually, he confined himself to living on a small platform on the side of a mountain. However, he was so overwhelmed by pilgrims seeking his advice that he finally decided to try escape the world vertically. He set up a platform on top of a 12 foot pillar and lived on it. Followers provided him with taller and taller pillars as time went by, the final one being over 45 feet tall, and there he lived for 37 years until his death. People continued to flock to him, and he preached to them and wrote letters. He converted thousands to Christianity, and inspired imitators all the way through to the 1400s.

Documents

Chi-Rho

By this sign, Conquer!

Diocletian united and stabilized the Empire, then divided it into 2 pieces with 2 emperors each. Shortly after he and his co-emperor retired in 305, the system broke down. Constantine and Maxentius succeeded their fathers in the West, and Licinius and Maximinus became emperors in the East. Very quickly, they began battling each other for supremacy, mostly with the two in the East fighting each other and the two in the West fighting each other.

The sign in the sky

Eusebius recounts the previous scene as follows, in Life of Constantine:

Accordingly he called on him with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. But since the victorious emperor himself long afterwards declared it to me, when I was honored with his acquaintance and society, and confirmed his statement by an oath, who could hesitate to accredit the relation, especially since the testimony of after-time has established its truth? He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, “By this sign, conquer.” At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle.

The battle of the Milvian Bridge

Again, from the Life of Constantine:

So at this time Maxentius, and the soldiers and guards with him, “went down into the depths like stone,” when, in his flight before the divinely-aided forces of Constantine, he essayed to cross the river which lay in his way, over which, making a strong bridge of boats, he had framed an engine of destruction, really against himself, but in the hope of ca-snaring thereby him who was beloved by God. For his God stood by the one to protect him, while the other, godless, proved to be the miserable contriver of these secret devices to his own ruin. So that one might well say, “He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head. ” Thus, in the present instance, under divine direction, the machine erected on the bridge, with the ambuscade concealed therein, giving way unexpectedly before the appointed time, the bridge began to sink, and the boats with the men in them went bodily to the bottom.

The Edict of Milan

Opening text of the Edict of Milan

When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Milan, and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule. And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts, may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation.

Constantine vs. Licinius

Relationships between the two emperors quickly deteriorated, of course…

kirk alone

The Worst Star Trek Links

By now, you have no doubt heard the news that Leonard Nimoy, known particularly for his roles as William Bell and Evil Spock, has died. In his honor, here are some of the worst Nimoy and Star Trek related videos out there.

Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

A Lazy Day

Laser technology: the final frontier of television

Before Star Trek, there was Bonanza

Spock vs Spock

Captain Kirk advertises for margarine

Kiss Me, in Klingon

genie

Aladdin liveblog

Liveblogging of Aladdin is about to begin!

Not just any Aladdin, either. This is the platinum edition. Enhanced for the home theater!

I don’t remember all the words to Arabian Nights. This saddens me.

Wait, they changed it? Then I do remember the words!

More proof that everything was better when I was a kid, including things from when I was a kid.

I have just been informed that I am in fact watching the Platinum Politically Correct Cleansed of Badthink Edition.

It’s strange when you consider that the entire story is really just made up by a sketchy salesman trying to sell you tchotchke.

Aladdin is a smart, able bodied fellow. Why doesn’t he get a freakin’ job instead of stealing bread?

I hadn’t realized it until now, but Aladdin is clearly a statist parable. Consider Aladdin. Perfectly capable of going out, working hard, and bettering himself, but he doesn’t. Instead, he sits back and wishes for riches to just be given to him. The ideal citizen! All that is lacking is some all-powerful entity to grant his wishes. Enter the government/the genie. The Genie is of course Blue. Everything is going great, until the bad guy, who is robed in red, steals control of the Govergenie. It’s so obvious! Wake up sheeple!

A chase ending in manure! The BttF classic move!

Aladdin has self esteem issues. I bet getting a JOB would help with that.

Princess is uninterested in all these boring, reliable, super-rich princes. Clearly she needs an exciting bad boy to come along.

The sultan and Jafar pose the age old question: would you rather be ruled by dumb and good, or smart and evil?

Or maybe they answer it. Good and dumb is the nominal ruler, but we know Jafar actually runs the place.

There’s got to be a good story behind how Jafar and Iago connected.

I wish I had a monkey sidekick.

“Touch nothing but the lamp.” And the magic carpet, I guess.

Monkey sidekicks: good for getting out of prison, bad for getting out of caves of wonder.

The carpet ride out of the cave of wonders was the hardest part of the SNES video game.

The cave closed much more quickly for the first guy.

And here’s Robin Williams. Now I have a sad.

Tricking an all-powerful being who has probably been driven insane by solitary confinement may not be the smartest move. Especially when you have a magic carpet which can do the job just as well.

See? The genie himself just used the carpet.

Aladdin’s first wish is to be a prince. But the whole rest of the movie is about how he’s not really a prince. He should get the wish refunded.

Have viziers always been evil, or is Aladdin responsible for that stereotype?

Jasmine really should recognize him. He’s not even wearing glasses as a disguise.

Aladdin can fly and completely hide his identity with the flimsiest disguises. He’s superman!

I wonder if we can get my daughter singing A Whole New World instead of Let it Go from now on.

Magic carpets were the hotrods of the past. Total chick magnet.

Jasmine should be happy that Aladdin isn’t dead, instead of being mad at him.

You’d think they’d be more careful about offing a visiting prince. That’s how you start a war.

Aladdin saw right through whole hypnostaff thing. How did he know about those?

“Praise Allah!” -Disney

They got engaged after just one date. Disney characters move quick.

I wouldn’t let the genie go free. Too dangerous to have such a powerful creature off leash.

I’d give him the option of turning human or staying put.

Aladdin is not dressed for a snowy wasteland at all. He doesn’t even have abs! Why show off your chest if you don’t have abs?

Jafar is a great villain. He has a bad pun to go along with every evil move he makes.

Contrariwise, the boss fight with Snake Jafar was not that hard.

Although you have to throw apples at him a bunch before tricking him.

Genie Jafar really illustrates the problem with freeing genies. You don’t know what they’ll do with those powers! (As the direct to video sequel illustrated.)

Aladdin, you don’t need to worry about wishes to spare for the genie. Let Jasmine use that wish!

It only took the sultan the entire movie to remember that he’s able to change laws.

Conclusion: Aladdin was as good as I remembered. Good characters, good story, well paced, well executed. Unlike Frozen.

You know, the movie never gets back to the sketchy merchant who was telling the story. But that last direct-to-video sequel *does*. I wonder if this was planned, or they just forgot and realized later.

Every time you say "I can't," you murder your sister.

Frozen liveblog

Though we have never seen the movie, Daughter is nevertheless obsessed with Frozen. In a few minutes, we will see what all the fuss is about. I will be live blogging the experience.

It starts.

Little girls never sing this intro song.

Silly troll. Brainwashing is not how you treat hypothermia.

Ah, here’s Build a Snowman.

Daughter doesn’t just sing this, she acts it out. Sometimes with the refrigerator door. Adorable, right?

WRONG! The parents die in the middle. Disney had caused my daughter to act out my death on a daily basis.

There sure are a lot of songs. Was Lion King 90% music?

Well, Hans and Anna sure move quickly.

On the other hand, they are both rich. That’s a good sign that it’s meant to be.

“I think it’s crazy; we finish each other’s sandwiches.” IT IS CRAZY. Joey doesn’t share food!

Why does everybody think we’d be anti-X-men? Everybody *wants* superpowers.

At least Elsa stuck with her real name instead of picking a lame one like “Iceman.”

Ah, here comes The Song.

“No right, no wrong, no rules for me.” Elsa is promoting Nietzsche.

Kristof has been negging Anna like crazy. I assume he becomes the real love interest, instead of the sensible, reliable, honorable, rich prince.

The snowman is singing about how excited he is to do “whatever snow does in summer.” This movie is sick.

Elsa sure switched to murder mode quickly. Maybe they’re right about sorceresses after all.

Why doesn’t Elsa just make another snow monster?

The moral is that nice guys are secretly evil.

Anna, falling in love with the first guy you ever met didn’t work so well. That doesn’t mean the second guy you ever met was actually The One.

(Neo is the One.)

(Also Sheridan and two others.)

It’s over. Lion King is still the best. Take that, kids these days!

Son is still clapping, but he claps for everything.

This is the first time I’ve seen a girl dressed as Anna. (Still way more Elsas. It was like Halloween all over again.)

The bad guy threatens your kingdom! What do you do?
A) The answer is love, maaan. Love.
B) Climactic cliff top showdown, as fires rage around you.
And that is why Lion King is better than Frozen.

Plato and Aristotle

Jerusalem and Athens

Back when I was studying Augustine, I found that the more I learned about his view, the more it sounded like he was basically a Calvinist. Predestination, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace; all of these themes can be found in Augustine’s thought, a thousand years before John Calvin entered the scene. But I could never be entirely sure. Some of my sources on Augustine were themselves explicitly Calvinists; might they be filtering his thought through their own? How could I disentangle Augustine’s thought from concepts that were layered on ages later? I’m still not sure, but I think the answer is that Calvin was in fact building on ideas first put for by Augustine. Augustine may not have been a Calvinist, but Calvin was an Augustinian.1

Plato gives me a similar feeling. Reading the Republic was a watershed moment in my life. It was almost a conversion moment for me, more so even than my actual conversion, which happened when I was so young that there was very little to convert. Reading through the ancient Greeks, I get the strong feeling that at last I’m getting a glimpse behind the dark glass at the real truth of things.

Greek philosophy seems so in line with Christian theology that it’s uncanny. The very word “philosophy” literally means “lover of wisdom,” which is given the highest praise throughout the Proverbs. Using only their reason, they deduced that there was a single God underlying all creation, in whom everything has its being. They held up pursuit of Truth as the highest good, something Jesus himself would certainly agree with. They were deeply concerned with living a life of virtue, and argued strenuously for it against the Sophists. In this world, they held up “friendship” as one of the greatest goods; but the concept would be better translated as “love,” which again ties back into God himself. Basically, all that is left is to identify those threads with Jesus and you’re done.

I’m hardly the first to think so, either. As early as Justin Martyr, Christians found themselves admiring and turning to the Greeks. And here we again come to Augustine. Augustine was a Platonist, and throughout his writings he merges the two systems of thought together. And that’s the catch. Do I find Plato appealing because he’s right? Or do I find him appealing because I’ve been living my whole life under systems of thought that always had him at their root?

It may not really be that important; so long as he is right the rest is really just details. I will always be grateful to and love Plato. Apologetics gave my faith a shield, but it was philosophy that gave it deep roots.

1 We are all Augustinians, at least all of us in the West.

How you doin'?

Love and Ambition

Blaise Pascal, famed mathematician and Christian philosopher, has some Valentine’s Day thoughts for you:

The passions which are the best suited to man and include many others, are love and ambition: they have little connec-tion with each other; nevertheless they are often allied; but they mutually weaken, not to say destroy, each other. Whatever compass of mind one may have, he is capable of only one great passion; hence, when love and ambition are found together, they are only half as great as they would be if only one of them existed.

How happy is a life that begins with love and ends with ambition! If I had to choose, this is the one I should take. So long as we have ardor we are amiable; but this ardor dies out, is lost; then what a fine and noble place is left for ambition! A tumultuous life is pleasing to great minds, but those who are mediocre have no pleasure in it; they are machines everywhere. Hence when love and ambition begin and end life, we are in the happiest condition of which human nature is capable.

I shared this with two acquaintances of mine, and they both immediately objected. Purse love before ambition? Madness! Money first, love later! (Much of our society’s advice on love could be boiled down to those four words.)

They are both unmarried, so I guess they have what they wish for. It’s worth pointing out that Pascal himself was a bachelor; he may have been speaking out of regret for a path not chosen.