Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who Is Matthias Scheeben?

I love that someone from Durham University put the phrase, "Who is Matthias Scheeben" into Ask Jeeves and it led them to my blog. The short answer is that Matthias Scheeben is the man! A little longer of an answer is that he was the greatest theologian of the nineteenth century and one of the greatest theologians the Church has ever known.

Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia's bio of him.

Below are some previous posts on Scheeben:
The Scheeben Renewal: The Primacy of Christ

Balthasar on Nature and Grace in the Thought of Matthias Scheeben

What Does Grace Do?

The Nature of Christian Justification

Partakers of the Divine Nature

The Two Sense of Nature in St. Augustine's Theology

If you are interested in reading some Scheeben, two of his masterpieces have been re-released at very affordable prices. I highly recommend them:
The Mysteries of Christianity

Nature and Grace

Oh, and for the person who found my blog by searching the phrase "grace destroys nature," well, it doesn't.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

God In Public Schools?

Kentucky has proposed a bill, which has passed the State Senate, to allow Bible classes as an elective in their public schools. Read the story here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pieces Of 7th Century Copy Of Exodus Reunited

From the Associated Press:

JERUSALEM – Two parts of an ancient biblical manuscript separated across centuries and continents were reunited for the first time in a joint display Friday, thanks to an accidental discovery that is helping illuminate a dark period in the history of the Hebrew Bible.

The 1,300-year-old fragments, which are among only a handful of Hebrew Biblical manuscripts known to have survived the era in which they were written, existed separately and with their relationship unknown, until a news photograph of one's public unveiling in 2007 caught the attention of the scholars who would eventually link them.

Together, they make up the text of the Song of the Sea, sung by jubilant Israelites after fleeing slavery in Egypt and witnessing the destruction of the pharaoh's armies in the Red Sea.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree

"The point is clear in the case of Muhammad. He seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning, Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms. Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be. seen by anyone who examines his law. It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly."

-St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One: God, 6.4

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Virtue Of Habits

Last week in class, I was teaching my sophomores about the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I explained to them that all of us are called to live out these counsels according to our state in life; for example, poverty is lived out for the laity in a different way than the Franciscans. At this point, one of my students told me that her aunt was a Franciscan nun and that she owned her own house. I responded by asking if her aunt wore a habit. She did not. And thus, the reason why so many religious orders in America are dying out (especially amongst the women religious orders). If the habit goes, so does the order.

However, not all religious orders are dying. Here is a story of one such group that is attracting many vocations and not only inspiring the renewal of religious orders in America, but the renewal of the Church as a whole (St. Francis would be proud!).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Elton John And The Historical Jesus

The Jesus Seminar isn't the only one who's conception of Christ amazingly resembles themselves. Elton John (who no doubt will request membership in the Seminar) has joined the Quest for the Historical Jesus and his surprising conclusion is that Jesus was....

.....wait for it....


Shocker, I know. And what does this newest member of the Quest base his extraordinary insight upon (I mean, other than Elton being gay himself)? Well, He was compassionate.

How did we not see this before?! We should have known that only a gay man can be compassionate. Why, Jesus was so compassionate, any talk of his being a heterosexual must be ruled out from the very start. Theologians who argue that Christ was straight are obviously biased and projecting their own straightness upon the Historical Jesus.

I wouldn't be surprised if Elton is contacted by the retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong, in the near future looking to co-author a book on the subject.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...........

Monday, February 15, 2010

Original Sin?

I was looking through back issues of First Things and came across this article by Fr. Edward T. Oakes who provides a defense for the doctrine of Original Sin a la Thomas Aquinas' Summa. Twelve years later it is pertinent as ever.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Book Review: How Africa Shaped The Christian Mind

Length: 204 pages
Size: 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches
Binding: hardcover
Publisher: InterVarsity Press (December 2007)
ISBN: 978-0-8308-2875-3
IVP Order Code: 2875

In Mainline Protestantism, the center of orthodoxy has shifted to the Global South, specifically to the continent of Africa. For Catholics, the great continent is also of central importance. Amidst the threat of Islamic persecution the blood of martyrs has become the seed of the church in Africa. This is nothing new, of course. Orthodoxy and martyrdom in Africa reach back to the beginnings of Christianity. Now that Christianity is moving out of Europe and reemerging with vigor in Africa, it is important to look to the past in order to see the way forward. It is for this reason that the time is ripe for a book such as Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind.

Oden’s intended audience is ambitious. This book is for Christians and non-Christians. East and West. Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Those convinced and those skeptical. But, primarily he writes for children of African villages. That is where the history of African Christianity must be reinvigorated. Amongst those whose ancestors are the protagonists. From there it will permeate the world.

The book sets out to remind the world of Africa’s role in the formation of Christian culture, the roots of which are apostolic. Tradition tells us that St. Mark the Evangelist, the disciple of St. Peter, established the See of Alexandria. It is also the home of such giants of the Patristic era as Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine. It is the locus of the early Church’s fight for orthodoxy. The early ecumenical councils of the Church, which hammered out the doctrinal formulations of the Faith, owe a great debt to the local councils of Carthage, Hippo, Milevis, and Alexandria.

Some of the key points that Oden presents are:

-How the birth of the European university was anticipated within African Christianity.

-How African Christian historical and spiritual exegesis of Scripture first matured in Africa.

-How African thinkers shaped the very core of the most basic early Christian dogma.

-How early ecumenical decisions followed African conciliar patterns.

-How Africa shaped Western forms of spiritual formation through monastic discipline.

-How Neoplatonic philosophy of late antiquity moved from Africa to Europe.

-How influential literary and dialectical skills were refined in Africa.

All this serves to remind us that, contrary to common misconceptions, the intellectual history of Christianity moved from South to North and not vice versa. Oden tells us that the narrative that posits a southward movement of Christian thought from Europe to Africa stems from nineteenth century French Enlightenment, German idealism and British empiricism under the likes of Hegel, Troeltsch, Harnack and Bauer. Essentially it is born out of liberal Protestantism. Yet, its effects are far-reaching so as to influence liberal Catholic scholars as well.

Oden reminds us over and over again in the book that “the early African vision of the world history was shaped by brilliant writers—Lactantius, Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, Augustine and the post-Vandal monastic diaspora. These are the historians who have been neglected by European and American scholars.” However, the case seems a bit overstated. It very well might be the case amongst Protestant theologians, and especially liberal Protestant theologians, but no so in the Catholic tradition. Catholic theology in the twentieth century has given a great deal of attention to African Patristic writers following the Second Vatican Council’s call for Ressourcement. This call was taken up primarily by Nouvelle Theologie writers such as Congar, de Lubac, Bouyer, Danielou and Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Pope Benedict even devoted his general audiences from March 2007 to February 2008 highlighting the Fathers of the Church in which he included all the major African writers.

Oden is right to be concerned of this lacuna amongst Protestants, however. One ignores African Christianity, past and present, at his own folly. This book is a great start to spur on the awakening. It is indeed only a start as Oden himself admits. There are many places where the reader wishes he would delve in further and expound upon the topic of which he so passionately speaks. Alas, due to health concerns, that is not the purpose of this book. Rather, he has written to inspire younger scholars to take up the task of proclaiming boldly Africa’s great contribution to Christian thought. It is not an easy task. In order to do it sufficiently, one must be able to access primary texts, which means learning the primary languages of Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Coptic. There is also a need to translate these texts into the modern languages of French, English, Portuguese and (in order for African children to truly appreciate their heritage) the regional languages of Housa, Amharic, Swahili and Zulu. The renewal of African Christianity must be a truly international endeavor lead by African scholars. To help make this project a reality, Oden has set up the website The Center for Early African Christianity. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind and the website are great resources for anyone interested in African Christianity as well as the formation of Christian thought as a whole.

Many thanks to Heather Mascarello and the folks at InterVarsity Press for sending me a review copy of this book!