Welcome to Communio Sanctorum

Welcome to Communio Sanctorum

Communio Sanctorum – History of the Christian Church is a short-form podcast on the history of the Christianity Church from the First Century to the Modern Era. The podcast began as a desire to find a Church History podcast similar to the excellent podcast by Mike Duncan, The History of Rome. My hope was to find short episodes that can be easily listened to while doing chores, working out, going for a run, or listening on the way to work. As I searched the internet, I found long lectures of an hour or more taken from classes offered in schools. A few were interesting, but as continued listening, they often grew tedious. So I decided to do my own podcast. Here we are many years later and CS has had a notable growth in followers. In a desire to satisfy the needs of a growing audience, we’ve improved the website and I am in the process of re-recording the episodes of the first season.

I want to thank my webmaster Dade Ronan, at Win At Wed for his help in the development of the new site.

Thanks to Lem Dees, a subscriber of many years to CS and a voice-over artist for producing the new Intros & OUtros.

Thanks to John Parra and Roberto Aguayo for their help ion the Spanish version of the first season of CS. John does the intros and outros of the podcast while Roberto translates the episodes and records them into Spanish.

We encourage all subscibers to our “Like” our Facebook page where they can follow the latest announcements.

Any donation is appreciated. (See the donate button above)


Special Announcement to CS Subscribers

Special Announcement to CS Subscribers

This is a special announcement for subscribers to the audio podcast > Communio Sanctorum – History of the Christian Church.

CS has been rolled over into my new online teaching presence which you can find at > Into His Image.us. The entire Church History series is being re-done in video, on the YouTube channel of the same name > IntoHisImage.

I’ll keep the CS website & Facebook page up for a while, but will eventually take them down since all the necessary information and much more will be available at the new site.

So head on over to the new website at IntoHisImage.us and the FB page at facebook.com/IntoHisImage.us

There’s also a Telegram channel. Just search for IntoHisImage (this link)

Besides History of the Christian Church, you’ll find many other resources for Leadership and Bible study as I’m posting there the regular teaching I do at the church here I serve as pastor.

I want to close out this short announcement with a word of the deepest gratitude for the many subscribers to CS over the years. It’s been a while since I posted fresh material, so many one-time subscribers disconnected. But others stayed – waiting for more. Your loyalty means a lot. I hope you’ll find the new offerings at IntoHisImage.us more than you hoped for.

Hone 2: Steps to Defining Your Vision

Hone 2: Steps to Defining Your Vision

The Steps to define your vision are . . .

  1. Pray: Ask the Lord to make your calling & vision clear.
  2. Spend time recording initial thoughts, dreams, life-long desires, & abiding urges.
  3. Answer this question: “What really excites me in terms of how I would choose to spend the rest of my life?”
  4. In 20 years, where would you like to be & what would you like to be doing?
  5. What do you believe is your specific calling & the gifts God has given you to accomplish it?
  6. What is your strongest spiritual gift?
  7. Get alone for a couple of days for fasting & prayer over all this.
  8. Record your thoughts about all of the previous steps.
  9. In the fewest but best words, summarize #8.
The Change Part 10

The Change Part 10

This is the 10th episode in our series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we consider the impact the Faith has had on science.

This subject is near & dear to me because when I first went to college in the mid-70’s, I was studying to be a geologist. I’d always been fascinated by science and loved to collect rocks, so decided geology would be my field. I took many classes on the trajectory of one day working in the field as a geological engineer.

I was only a nominal believer in those days and when I first entered college saw no incompatibility between evolution and Christianity. It seemed obvious to my then uninformed mind that God had created everything, then used evolution as the way to push things along. I now realize my ideas were what has come to be known as theistic evolution.

One of my professors, who was herself an agnostic, was also a fastidious scientist. What I mean is, she hadn’t imbibed the ideology of scientism with its uncritical loyalty to evolution. Though she admitted a loose belief in it, it was only, she said, because no other theory came any closer to explaining the evidence. She rejected the idea of divine creation, but had a hard time buying in to the evolutionary explanation for life. Her reason was that the theory didn’t square with the evidence. She caught significant grief for this position from the other professors who were lock-step loyal to Darwin. In a conversation with another student in class one day, she acknowledged that while she didn’t personally believe it, in terms of origins, there could be a supreme being who was creator of the physical universe and that if there was, such a being would likely be the Author of Life. She went further and admitted that there was no evidence she was aware of that made that possibility untenable. It’s just that as a scientist, she had no evidence for such a being’s existence so had to remain an agnostic.

For me, the point was, here was a true scientist who admitted there were deep scientific problems with the theory of evolution. She fiercely argued against raising the theory of evolution to a scientific certainty. It angered her when evolution was used as a presumptive ground for science.

It took a few years, but I eventually came around to her view, then went further and today, based on the evidence, consider evolution a preposterous position.

I give all that background because of the intensity of debate today, kicked up by what are called the New Atheists. Evolutionists all, they set science in opposition to all religious faith. In doing so, they set reason on the side of science, and then say that leaves un-reason or irrationality in the side of faith. This is false proposition but one that has effectively come to dominate the public discussion. The new Atheists make it seem as though every scientist worth the title is an atheists while there are no educated or genuinely worthy intellects in the Faith camp. That also is a grievous misdirection since some of the world’s greatest minds & most prolific scientists either believe in God, the Bible, or at least acknowledge the likelihood of a divine being.

A little history reveals that modern science owes its very existence to men & women of faith. The renowned philosopher of science, Alfred North Whitehead, said “Faith in the possibility of science, [coming before] the development of modern scientific theory, is[derived from] medieval theology.”‘ Lynn White, historian of medieval science, wrote, “The [medieval] monk was an intellectual ancestor of the scientist.” The German physicist Ernst Mach remarked, “Every unbiased mind must admit that the age in which the chief development of the science of mechanics took place was an age of predominantly theological cast.”

Crediting Christianity with the arrival of science may sound surprising to many. But why is that? The answer goes back to Andrew Dickson White, who in 1896 published A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Ever since then, along with the growth of secularism, college & university professors have accepted White’s argument that Christianity is an enemy of science. It unthinkable to many that Christianity could have fostered the arrival of science.

There are differences between Christianity and pagan religion. One is that Christianity, with its heritage in Judaism, has always insisted that there’s only one God, Who is a rational being. Without this presupposition, there would be no science. The origin of science, said Alfred North Whitehead, required Christianity’s “insistence on the rationality of God.”

If God is a rational being, then human beings, who are made in His image, also employ rational processes to study and investigate the world in which they live. That idea moved Christian philosophers to link rationality with the empirical, inductive method. Robert Grosseteste was one of these philosophers who in the 13th C went further and began to apply this idea practically. A Franciscan bishop and the first chancellor of Oxford University, he was the first to propose the inductive, experimental method, an approach to knowledge that was advocated by his student Roger Bacon, another Franciscan monk, who asserted that “All things must be verified by experience.” Bacon was a devout believer in the truthfulness of Scripture, and being empirically minded, he saw the Bible in the light of sound reason and as verifiable by experience. Another natural philosopher & Franciscan monk, was William of Occam in the 14th C. Like Bacon, Occam said knowledge needed to be derived inductively.

300 years later another Bacon, first name  Francis this time, gave further momentum to the inductive method by recording his experimental results. He’s been called “the creator of scientific induction.”‘ In the context of rationality, he stressed careful observation of phenomena and collecting information systematically in order to understand nature’s secrets. His scientific interests did not deter him from devoting time to theology. He wrote treatises on the Psalms and prayer.

By introducing the inductive empirical method guided by rational procedures, Roger Bacon, William Occam, and Francis Bacon departed from the ancient Greek perspective of Aristotle. Aristotelianism had a stranglehold on the world for 1500 years. It held that knowledge was only acquired thru the deductive processes of the mind; the inductive method, which required manual activity, was taboo. Remember  as we saw in  a previous episode, physical activity was only for slaves, not for thinkers & freemen. Complete confidence in the deductive method was the only way for the Aristotelian to arrive at knowledge. This view was held by Christian monks, natural philosophers, and theologians until the arrival of Grosseteste, the Bacons & Occam. Even after these empirically-minded thinkers introduced their ideas, a majority of the scholastic world continued to adhere to Aristotle’s approach.

Another major presupposition of Christianity is that God, who created the world, is separate and distinct from it. Greek philosophy saw the gods and nature as intertwined. For example, the planets were thought to have an inner intelligence that caused them to move. This pantheistic view of planetary movement was first challenged in the 14th C by Jean Buridan, a Christian philosopher at the University of Paris.

The Biblical & Christian perspective, which sees God and nature as distinctively separate entities, makes science possible. As has been said, Science could never have come into being among the animists of Asia or Africa because they would never have experimented on the natural world, since everything—stones, trees, animals & everything, contains the spirits of gods & ancestors.

Men like Grosseteste, Buridan, the Bacons, Occam, and Nicholas of Oresme, and later Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, saw themselves as merely trying to understand the world God had created and over which He told mankind in Gen 1:28 to have “dominion”. This paradigm shift is another example of Christianity’s wholesome impact on the world.

Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also to the conclusion that the universe is governed by rationally discoverable laws. This assumption is vitally important to scientific research, because in a pagan world, with gods engaged in jealous, irrational behavior, any systematic investigation of such a world was futile. Only in Christian thought, with the existence of a single God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, Who functions in an orderly and predictable manner, is it possible for science to exist and operate.

From the 13th to the 18th C  every major scientist  explained his motivations in religious terms. But if you examined a science textbook for the local public school you’d never know. Virtually all references to the Christian beliefs of early scientists are omitted. This is unfortunate because these convictions often played a dominant role in their work.

One early cutting-edge concept was “Occam’s razor”, named in honor of William of Occam. This idea had a tremendous influence on the development of modern science. Simply put, it’s the scientific principle that says what can be done or explained with the fewest assumptions should be used. This means that a scientist needs to ‘shave off’ all excess assumptions. The idea first arose with Peter of Spain but Occam finessed it into usable form. Modern scientists use this principle in theorizing and explaining research findings.

As was common with virtually all medieval natural philosophy, Occam didn’t confine himself just to scientific matters. He also wrote 2 theological treatises, 1 dealing with the Lord’s Supper and the other with the body of Christ. Both works had a positive influence on Martin Luther.

Most people think of Leonardo da Vinci as a great artist and painter, but he was also a scientific genius. He analyzed and theorized in the areas of botany, optics, physics, hydraulics, and aeronautics, but his greatest benefit to science lies in the study of human physiology. By dissecting cadavers, which he often did at night because such activity was forbidden, he produced meticulous drawings of human anatomy. His drawings and comments, when collected in one massive volume, present a complete course of anatomical study. This was a major breakthrough because before this time and for some time after, physicians had little knowledge of the human body. They were dependent on the writings of the Greek physician Galen whose propositions on human physiology were in large measure drawn from animals like dogs and monkeys. Leonardo’s anatomical observations led him to question the belief that air passed from the lungs to the heart. He used a pump to test this hypothesis and found it was impossible to force air into the heart from the lungs.

Lest anyone think Leonardo’s scientific theories and drawings of the human anatomy were divorced from his religious convictions, it’s well to recall his other activities. His paintings—The Baptism of Christ, The Last Supper, and The Resurrection of Christ—are enduring reminders of his Christian beliefs.

The anatomical work of Leonardo was not forgotten. The man who followed in his footsteps was Andreas Vesalius, who lived from 1514 to 64. At 22, he began teaching at the University of Padua. In 1543 he published his famous work, Fabric of the Human Body. The book mentions over 200 errors in Galen’s physiology. The errors were found as a result of his dissecting cadavers he obtained illegally.

When Vesalius exposed Galen’s errors, he received no praise or commendation. His contemporaries, like his former teacher Sylvius, still wedded to Greek medicine, called him a “madman.” Others saw him as “a clever, dangerous free-thinker of medicine.” There’s little doubt of his faith in God. On one occasion he said, “We are driven to wonder at the handiwork of the Almighty.” He was never condemned as a heretic, as some anti-church critics have implied, for at the time of his death he had an offer waiting for him to teach at the University of Padua, where he first began his career. Today he’s known as the father of human anatomy.

Where would the study of genetics be today had the world not been blessed with the birth of the Augustinian monk Gregor Johann Mendel? As often stated in science textbooks, it was his working on cross-pollinating garden peas that led to the concept of genes and the discovery of his 3 laws: the law of segregation, the law of independent assortment, and the law of dominance. Mendel spent most of his adult life in the monastery at Bruno, Moravia. Though Mendel is used by secularists to explain genetics & evolution, he rejected Darwin’s theory.

4 names loom large in the textbooks of astronomy: Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, & Galileo. The undeniable fact is, these men were devout Christians. Their faith influenced their scientific work, though this fact is conspicuously omitted in most science texts.

Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Torun, Poland, in 1473. While still a child, his father died, and he was sent to his mother’s brother, a Catholic priest, who reared him. He earned a doctor’s degree and was trained as a physician. His uncle had him study theology, which resulted in his becoming a canon at Frauenburg Cathedral in East Prussia. History knows him best for having introduced the heliocentric theory that says the Earth orbits the sun, not the other way around. During the Middle Ages it was suggested the Earth might be in motion, but nobody had worked out the details. Copernicus did, and therein lies his greatness.

Copernicus received a printed copy of his masterwork Concerning the Revolutions of the Celestial Bodies on his deathbed in 1543. He’d hesitated to publish his work earlier, not because he feared the charge of heresy, as has often been asserted without any documentation, but because he wanted to avoid the ridicule of other scientists, who were strongly tied to Aristotle and Ptolemy. It was Copernicus’ Christian friends, especially Georg Rheticus and Andreas Osiander, 2 Lutherans, who persuaded him to publish.

Although Copernicus remained a moderately loyal son of the Roman Catholic Church, it was his Lutheran friends that made his publication possible. That information is surprising to many people, including university students, because most only hear that Christian theologians condemned Copernicus’s work. For instance, critics like to cite Luther, who supposedly called Copernicus a fool. John W. Montgomery has shown this frequently cited remark lacks support.

When Tycho Brahe died in 1601, Johannes Kepler succeeded him in Prague under an imperial appointment by Emperor Rudolph II. Kepler, who’d studied for 3 years to become a Lutheran pastor, turned to astronomy after he was assigned to teach mathematics in Graz, Austria, in 1594. Unlike Brahe, who never accepted the heliocentric theory, Kepler did. In fact Kepler, not Copernicus, deserves the real credit for the helio-centric theory. Copernicus thought the sun was the center of the universe. Kepler realized & proved the sun was merely the center of our solar system.

Kepler’s mathematical calculations proved wrong the old Aristotelian theory that said the planets orbited in perfect circles, an assumption Copernicus continued to hold. This led Kepler to hypothesize and empirically verify that planets had elliptical paths around the sun.

Kepler was the first to define weight as the mutual attraction between 2 bodies, an insight Isaac Newton used later in formulating the law of gravity. Kepler was the first to explain that tides were caused by the moon.

Many of Kepler’s achievements came while enduring great personal suffering. Some of his hardships were a direct result of his Lutheran convictions, which cost him his position in Graz, where the Catholic Archduke of Hapsburg expelled him in 1598. Another time he was fined for burying his 2nd child according to Lutheran funeral rites. His salary was often in arrears, even in Prague, where he had an imperial appointment. He lost his position there in 1612 when his benefactor the Emperor was forced to abdicate. He was plagued with digestive problems, gall bladder ailments, skin rashes, piles, and sores on his feet that healed badly because of his hemophilia. Childhood smallpox left him with defective eyesight and crippled hands. Even death was no stranger to him. His first wife died, as well as several of his children. A number of times he was forced to move from one city to another, sometimes even from one country to another. Often he had no money to support his family because those who contracted him failed to pay.

Whether in fame or pain, Kepler’s faith remained unshaken. In his first publication he showed his Christian conviction at the book’s conclusion where he gave all honor and praise to God. Stressed and overworked as he often was, he would sometimes fall asleep without having said his evening prayers. When this happened, it bothered him so much that the first thing he’d do next morning was to repent. Moments before he died, an attending Lutheran pastor asked him where he placed his faith. Calmly, he replied, “Solely and alone in the work of our redeemer Jesus Christ.” Those were the final words of the man who earlier in his life had written that he only tried “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” He was still in that mindset when, four months before he died, he penned his own epitaph: “I used to measure the heavens, Now I must measure the earth. Though sky-bound was my spirit, My earthly body rests here.”

We’ll end this podcast with a brief review of the 17th C, scientist Galileo. Like Kepler, a contemporary of his, Galileo searched and described the heavenly bodies. He was the first to use the telescope to study the skies, although he didn’t invent it. That credit goes to Johann Lippershey, who first revealed his invention in 1608 at a fair in Frankfurt. With the telescope, Galileo discovered that the moon’s surface had valleys and mountains, that the moon had no light of its own but merely reflected it from the sun, that the Milky Way was composed of millions of stars, that Jupiter had 4 bright satellites, and that the sun had spots. Galileo also determined, contrary to Aristotelian belief, that heavy objects did not fall faster than light ones.

Unfortunately, Galileo’s observations were not well received by his Roman Catholic superiors, who considered Aristotle’s view—not that of the Bible—as the final word of truth. Even letting Pope Paul V look through the telescope at his discoveries did not help his cause. His masterpiece, A Dialogue on the Two Principal Systems of the World, resulted in a summons before the Inquisition, where he was compelled to deny his belief in the Copernican theory and sentenced to an indefinite prison term. For some reason the sentence was never carried out. In fact, 4 years later he published Dialogues on the Two New Sciences. This work helped Isaac Newton formulate his 3 laws of motion.

Galileo was less pro-Copernican than Kepler, with whom he often disagreed. He largely ignored Kepler’s discoveries because he was still interested in keeping the Ptolemaic theory alive. He also criticized Kepler’s idea of the moon affecting tides.

The mystery is – If he was less pro-Copernican than Kepler—why did he get into trouble with the theologians who placed his books on the Index of forbidden books? The answer was because he was Roman Catholic, while Kepler was Lutheran.

When modern critics condemn the Church & Christianity for its resistance to the Copernican theory, it must be noted and underscored that it was not the entire church that did so. Both Lutherans & Calvinists supported the Copernican theory.

And it needs to be stated clearly that the reason the Roman Church proscribed Galileo’s work was precisely because they adhered to the scientific ideas of the day which were dominated by the Aristotelianism. Their opposition to Galileo wasn’t out of a strict adherence to the Bible – but to the current scientific thought. I say it again – It was errant science, or what we might call scientism that opposed Galileo. This is the mistake the Church can make today – when it allows itself to adopt the politically correct line of contemporary thought; the majority opinion – what the so-called experts hold to – today; but history has shown, is exchanged for something else tomorrow.

Listen: History proves that while scientific theories come and go, God’s Word prevails.

And that brings us to the end of The Change series. Next week we’ll return to our narrative timeline of church history.

The Change Part 9

The Change Part 9

This is the 9th episode in our series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we take a look at the influence the Faith had on property rights & individual freedom.

I begin by saying I know what follows, some will take great exception to. While some of what follows will sound like politicizing, I will attempt to steer clear of that. There is an undeniable political component to this topic but I’m not politicking here. I’m simply trying to show how a Christian Worldview, that is, one that is Biblically consistent, does tend to promote a certain kind of economic system. And that system flows from what the Bible says about property rights.

Some listeners might wonder why CS, a church history podcast, as left off its narrative timeline to engage in this series we’re calling “The Change.” Well, really, it still is history. I’m attempting to show HOW the Christian Worldview has impacted WORLD history and how people live and think today. That’s when history becomes relevant, more than just academic fodder – when we understand how the past influences today.

In our last episode we took a look at Christianity’s impact on labor & economics. It shouldn’t take long to realize that 12 minutes isn’t long enough to deal with THAT massive subject. A 12 hour podcast would just scratch the surface of the Faith’s impact on economic theory & practice. A 12 month graduate course might make a bare beginning on the subject. Today, we’ll delve a little deeper, realizing that we’re really only dabbling in the shallows of a vast subject.

A person’s labor and finances have little dignity when he/she lacks the freedom and right to own property. Both are rooted in 2 of the Ten Commandments; Exodus 20:15, 17 =

“You shall not steal” and  “You shall not covet”

Both these commandments assume the indi­vidual has the right and freedom to acquire, retain, and sell his/her property at their own discretion.

Private property rights are vital to people’s freedom. The 2 cannot be separated. Yet this most basic truth is not well recognized today. It’s rarely taught in public schools which seem bent on promoting socialism, which we’ll see in a moment is contrary to Scripture. Promoters of socialism often decry private prop­erty rights, arguing that “human rights” are more important. This sophistry is deceptive and lacks historical support, because where there are no private property rights there are also virtually no human or civil rights. What rights did the people under Communism have in the former Soviet Union, where the state owned everything? Except for a few personal incidentals, private property rights didn’t existent. Not having the right to private property was closely linked to not having the right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press. Similarly, what human rights do the people have today in Cuba or China, where property rights are also non­existent?

The American Founding Fathers, who were strongly influenced by bib­lical Christian values, knew that individual economic, political, and social freedom was intrinsically linked to private property rights. Even while still subjects of the British king, they made it clear property rights and liberty were inseparable. Arthur Lee of Virginia said, “The right of property is the guardian of every other right, and to deprive a people of this, is in fact to deprive them of their liberty.” That’s why when the Constitution was written, its formulators included private property rights in the Article I, Section 8. The 3rd Amendment gives citizens the right to grant or deny housing on their property to soldiers. And the 4th Amendment protects the property of citizens from unlawful search and seizure.

But ever since the appearance of Karl Marx’s economic and political philosophy known as Communism, private property has been politically attacked. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, written in 1848 says, “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

Immediately after the October Revolution of 1917, Lenin, the first Communist leader of Russia, took the words of the Manifesto seriously when he secretly ordered the destruction of all legal documents showing property ownership, making it impossible for former owners to prove title.

Following the founding of the Communist party, numerous politicians, writers, & even a few theologians, have argued that socialism, a term synonymous with Communism in the Manifesto, is the most compatible economic and political philosophy with Christian values.

For instance, during the Great Depression, Jerome Davis said Christianity, like socialism, holds human values as higher than property values. While that’s true, it’s also misleading. It suggests property values are the same as property rights. They aren’t. Davis argued that human values are God-given, while property rights are merely human constructs.

But nowhere in the Old or New Testament are property rights ever disparaged. On the contrary, the Commandment “You shall not steal” underscores such rights.

In his parables and other teachings, Jesus often referred to property and material goods, but He never condemned anyone for possessing them. He only condemned people’s over-attachment to possessions because that interfered with loving God and others. The parable of the Rich Young ruler in Matthew 19 well illustrates this. In another parable a chapter later, Jesus has the owner of a vineyard say to one of this hired hands, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” It would seem some socialists today would answer, “No you don’t! We’ll tell you what to do with that money.”

The book of Acts records Ananias as judged severely by God, not for withholding his property, but for lying to God. The possession of private property was assumed by Peter asking him, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold?”

Even though Christianity doesn’t espouse a specific economic ideology, it would be wrong to conclude that any & every economic theory is compatible with Christianity. Despite that, many look favorably upon social­ism, which is an ideology that is in several regards contrary to Biblical doctrine.

A less discriminating student of scripture might assume that because early Christians sold their possessions and “had all things in common, & gave to each as anyone had need” or because they were expected to be their brother’s keeper, that socialistic governments are a reflec­tion of Christianity. Such thinking makes at least 3 mistakes.

First, it fails to recall that not all of the early Christians sold their possessions. Mary, the mother of Mark, retained her house and received at least implied commendation for doing so as that’s where the church met. Simon, a tanner in Caesarea, retained his house where he hosted Peter in Acts 10.

Second, they fail to note that the supposed socialism some of the early Christians practiced was totally voluntary. Whatever they shared in common was out of love for that individual, not because it was forced upon them by government coercion. As we noted in a previous podcast, behavior that’s forced, no matter how noble its objective, is no longer Christian. This point is all too often overlooked today, even by many well-meaning but confused Christians.

Third, while Christ wanted all to follow him, He also let them have the free­dom to reject him, a precedent that God already established at the time of creation when he gave Adam and Eve the gift of a free will. Christ healed 10 lepers, but only 1 returned to thank him. He’d not denied the 9 the freedom to reject him. Another time He said that He wanted to gather Jerusalem’s people to himself spiritually, like a hen gathers her chicks, but they were unwilling. He wept over Jerusalem’s spiritual stubbornness, but compulsion was not his MO.

Just as God does not want people to be coerced in spiritual matters, so too He does not want them to be coerced in earthly matters, such as in their economic activities. There’s not a single reference in either the Old or New Testaments in which God denies economic freedom to people, as do fascism, socialism, and it’s Siamese twin, Communism. The parables of Jesus that touch on economic issues are always couched in the context of freedom. Consider his parable of the talents, which relates the case of 1 man having received 5 talents; another 2; and a third, 1 (Matthew 25:15-30). The implication is quite clear: each was free to invest or not; there was no compulsion.

If we fail to understand that the involuntary, coercive nature of social­ism and its state programs is utterly incompatible with the economic practices some early Christians engaged in when they voluntarily had all things in common, we may think that socialism is a good way to practice Christianity. In 1848 this unfortunate thinking led F. D. Maurice to coin the term Christian socialism. Something done involuntarily or as a result of compulsion is no longer Christian. Christian socialism is an oxymoron. As the Austrian economist F. A. Hayek argued, socialism fails to tell people that its promises of freedom from economic care and want can only happen “by relieving the individual at the same time of the necessity and of the power of choice.” The prescient author Dostoyevsky expressed the incompatibility of socialism and Christianity by having Miusov, in The Brothers Karamazov, say, “The socialist who is a Christian is more to be dreaded than a socialist who is an atheist.”

Ever since the atheist and communist Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in the mid-19th C, the economic system of capitalism has been both misunderstood and castigated, partly because of Marx’s definition of labor. He wrongly saw labor as an antithesis to capital, when in reality capital is just labor transformed. Marx’s definition has dominated the discussion, even though it’s based on a false premise. Another misunderstanding relates to capitalism itself. Although Marx didn’t use the term, it became a despised concept to his sympathizers who used it in their pro-socialist, and so necessarily anti-capitalistic propaganda. Capitalism is negatively portrayed in the mass media. Ironically, even many news anchors, celebrities, & university professors who are paid millions of dollars annually—a capitalist salary—cast aspersions on capitalism, biting the hand that feeds them.

In reality, capitalism is only a synonym for free enterprise & free markets. If these terms were consistently used instead of the word “capitalism,” socialists would have a more difficult time getting people to see capitalism as evil. This would be especially true in societies that have a strong tradition of freedom, such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain. People would ask: How can this economic system be evil if it’s the product of political and economic freedom and has never been found to exist without such freedom?

A definition of capitalism by Pope John Paul II is relevant. In 1996, he asked rhetorically whether the eastern European countries, where Commu­nism failed, should opt for capitalism. Said the Pope, “If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative.” The Pope’s definition of capitalism underscores that it’s a synonym for free enterprise.

This is not to be understood to mean that Capitalism is the official Christian economic ideology. It’s merely that capitalism is a mate­rial by-product of the Mosaic law. Capitalism is a by-prod­uct of Christianity’s value of freedom applied to economic life and activities.  The economic freedom of capitalism can be & IS sometimes abused and misused. It’s also the only thing anti-capitalists like communists & socialists attribute to capitalism. Karl Marx believed that the abuses in cap­italism would inevitably destroy it. As an atheist, he couldn’t envision the humanitarian spirit of Christianity internalized by thousands of leaders in the West would correct economic abuse. So the free market has not only has survived, it’s given to a greater proportion of the world’s people more prosperity and freedom than any other economic system in history. As Milton Friedman has shown, in countries where the free market is not permitted to operate, the gap between the rich and poor is the widest.

It can be argued further that a free market economy as it practiced in America, is of all economic systems the most moral in that it does not coerce or compel individuals to make economic transactions. It permits individuals or companies to act voluntarily. Individuals need not buy or sell their products unless they so desire. Furthermore, individuals are not compelled to produce a product against their will as is the norm in socialist, or so-called “planned” economies.

Finally, given the positive relationship between economic freedom and a nation’s prosperity, the following question needs to be asked: Is it merely accidental that the greatest amount of freedom and the accompanying eco­nomic prosperity happen to exist in countries where Christianity has had, and continues to have, a dominant presence and influence? The evidence shows rather decisively that Christianity tends to create a capitalistic mode of life whenever siege conditions do not prevail.

On a deeper level, and maybe this gets more to the heart of the issue, is the question of the profit motive. Is the desire for profit inherently sinful, and if it is, should it be regulated by civil law and an economic system that makes profit something to be shunned?

In both the Old & New Testaments, the Bible says a worker is worthy of his/her wages. To pay those wages, the employer has to make a profit, or she/ he has nothing to pay the worker with.

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus gave legitimacy to the profit motive. The crisis of the parable revolves around what each of the 3 servants did with what was given to them. The 2 who made a profits were commended while the one who had no interest in increasing what he’d received was condemned.

The idea that the profit motive is evil doesn’t come from the Bible or Christian theology. It was Karl Marx, the atheistic Communist, who said profit, which he called surplus value, was the result of labor not returned to the laborers. So, profit was cast as exploitation of workers. The Soviet Encyclopedia projects this belief when it states, “Under capitalism, the category of profit is a converted form of surplus value, the embodiment of unpaid labor of wage workers, which is appropriated without compensation by the capitalist.”

Contempt for the profit motive is common fare for some intellectuals who harbor socialistic ideas. They impugn profit by identifying abuses in the world of banking, industry and commerce. To be sure, profits can and have been abused—horribly. But if this is to be used as condemnation of free enterprise, then socialism has to be held to the same standard. When it is, it fares worse than the free market.

What’s important to note is that it’s the Christian ethic that ensures the abuses inherent in profit are kept at bay. The Apostle Paul warns that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The NT repeatedly warns of greed & avarice, and their cousin, Envy.

Let’s take a look at a case study that well illustrates all this.

After the disaster at Roanoke Island and the mystery of the Lost Colony, the next English settlers in America landed in 1607 and called their set­tlement Jamestown. After a rough start that saw the colony nearly destroyed, Captain John Smith arrived & made moves to make it successful. The colonists were economically organized as a socialist community, requiring all the settlers to give all products of their labor to “the common store.” Individuals had no private property and no economic freedom. This system quickly turned disastrous, bringing famine and starvation. An early his­torian wrote, “It was a premium for idleness, and just suited the drones, who promptly decided that it was unnecessary to work themselves, since others would work for them.”‘ Smith’s threats that if a person didn’t work, he wouldn’t eat did little to improve the economic malaise. So, begin­ning in 1611, Governor Thomas Dale ended the common store, and 4 years later had the London Company deed 50 acres to each colonist if he would clear the trees and farm it. The injec­tion of private property and economic freedom brought about a dramatic change in Jamestown. The colonists immediately went to work and prospered. The new economic system demonstrated that socialism does not work.

A similar situation happened among the Pilgrims at Plymouth. When they landed on the shores of Cape Cod in 1620 and set up their Colony, like Jamestown, they tried to equate Christianity with socialism. Their common store system failed as well. The colony experienced economic disaster.  So in 1623 William Bradford, the colony’s governor, like Governor Dale in Jamestown, assigned all able-bodied persons a portion of land as their own. Before long the slothful and unproductive turned from laggards into will­ing, productive workers. Men who previously had “feigned sickness were now eager to get into the fields. Even the women went out to work eagerly…. They now took their children with them and happily engaged in labor for their own family. The result was that the following harvest was a tremendous, bountiful harvest, and abundant thanksgiving was celebrated in America.” With the common store, the Pilgrims had had little incentive to produce com­modities other than those needed for their immediate sustenance.

The new system, based on economic freedom, revealed for the second time that when people own their own property, they become energetic rather than lethargic and dependent on others. Socialism could only work if human beings were sinless & always sought the best for their neighbor. That person, however, does not exist. As both the Old and New Testaments teach, man is a fallen, sinful creature who does not seek his neighbor’s wel­fare.

As stated earlier, while Christianity doesn’t advocate a specific economic ideology, its support of human freedom and private property rights provides fertile ground for the free enterprise economic system. Contrary to a socialist mentality that advocates a redistribution of wealth, Christianity encourages productivity and thrift, which often results in an individual’s wealth.

While Christianity isn’t opposed to individuals becoming wealthy, it doesn’t promote wealth as an end in itself. Christians have always been expected to use their acquired wealth to God’s glory and to the welfare of their neighbor, as Martin Luther and John Calvin often made clear.

Closely related to the dignity of labor and economic freedom is Christianity’s concept of time. The British historian Paul Johnson contends that one of Christianity’s great strengths lies in its concept of time. Unlike the Greeks, who saw time as cyclical, Christianity, with its background in Judaism, has always seen time as linear.  Life and events proceed from one historical point to another. Groundhog Day is a fun movie, but it’s fiction.

Christianity’s linear concept of time led to the invention of mechanical clocks in the Middle Ages. In his fascinating books The Discoverers & The Creators, venerable American histo­rian Daniel Boorstin says that for centuries “Man allowed his time to be parsed by the changing cycles of daylight, [and thereby remaining] a slave of the sun.” This changed when Christian monks needed to know the times for their appointed prayers, giving rise to Europe’s first mechanical clocks. The appointed periods of prayer in the monasteries became known as “canonical hours.”

Referring to his second coming , Jesus said, “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” This linear concept of time had the effect of Christians seeing time as limited and having an end point. Although Christ’s warning referred to his sudden return and the need for Christians to be pre­pared, Paul Johnson says this awareness caused Christians “a sense of anxiety about time, which made men dissatisfied by progress but for the same reason determined to pursue it.” This time-related anxiousness motivated Christians to make the most of their time, economically and religiously.

By giving dignity to labor and accenting the spirit of individual free­dom, Christianity produced profound economic effects. Johnson says that “Christianity was one of the principal dynamic forces in the agricultural rev­olution on which the prosperity of Western Europe ultimately rested, and it was the haunting sense of time and its anxiety to accomplish, its urge to move and arrive, which gave men in the West the will to indus­trialize and create our modern material structure. . . Christianity provided the moral code, the drill and the discipline-as well as the desti­nation-which enabled the unwieldy army of progress to lumber into the future.”


The Change Part 8

The Change Part 8

This is the 8th episode in our series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we take a look at the influence the Faith has had on labor and work.

Historians of the traditional school laud Greco-Roman civilization for what it bequeathed the modern world in politics & philosophy.  But in the classical world poly-phi was done by the elite; the wealthy & powerful 1% who had the leisure time to engage exclusively in intellectual pursuits. What gets glossed over in this era is the low regard paid manual labor & those classes of society that did it. You could make a good case that it was the tension between the tiny elite, patrician class & the lower masses of plebeians that was the deciding factor in shaping Roman history.

Both Greeks & Romans thought manual labor fit only for slaves & the lower classes who had to work because they couldn’t afford slaves. The wealthy shunned work or any kind. Plutarch reported that Plato was infuriated at 2 fellow philosophers because they constructed a machine to help solve problems of geometry. Such a device ought to have been made by a slave or artisan—not by thinkers & freemen. But that wasn’t the end or extent  of Plato’s outrage. He was also incensed that a machine had been constructed to make geometry practical; it corrupted the excellence of geometry as a thought-experiment! In Plato, at least, and his thinking here likely expresses the rest of the Athenian elite – there was utter disdain with & for the everyday world of the common man.

The ancient mathematician Archimedes was embarrassed by having constructed devices that aided his studies in geometry. The 1st C BC Roman philosopher Cicero said no gentleman ought to lower himself to engage in daily labor to provide for his needs. He said, “Vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labor…and all mechanics are engaged in vulgar trades.” Seneca, who lists the honorable activities for freemen, never mentions manual labor.

In Athens in the 1st C AD, 1/3rd of the freemen did nothing more than sit in the city’s political assembly hall and discuss issues of State while slaves performed the work that made the State run. There were 5 times as many slaves in Athens as citizens.

So, if the elite 1% weren’t working, what were they doing? They were seeking pleasure purchased by the wealth earned by the lower classes they despised. It was into this anti-work cultural environment the early Christians entered the Greco-Roman world.

The value assigned simple work by Christians stemmed from 3 sources.

First – they had Jesus as their example.

He grew up in the home of a craftsman. Tradition says Joseph was a carpenter but the NT word tecknon refers to a skilled construction worker. Remember that though Joseph & Mary were from Bethlehem in the S just a few miles from Jerusalem, they lived up N in Nazareth when Jesus was born. That’s where He was raised. Joseph lived in Nazareth because in that day, that’s where the work was. Herod was building a new capital for Galilee in the city of Sepphoris, a short hike from Nazareth, which in that day was little more than a work camp for Jewish laborers working on Herod’s project. Tour the ruins of Sepphoris today and you come to the conclusion, Joseph probably did more work as a mason than as a carpenter. And following custom, Jesus would have learned his father’s trade & spent many hours in the quarries & on-site shaping stones. He plied this trade till he was 30.

Second – The early Christians had another excellent role model in the Apostle Paul who from his Hebrew heritage had learned a trade, even though his real career was as a rabbi. Paul repeatedly used his tent-making as the means of supporting his ministry. So much so, that phrase has come over into our vernacular.

Third – Early Christians were well aware of Paul’s admonition in 2 Thess. 3:10 that “If a man won’t work, he shall not eat.”

This embrace of work as noble not only set Christians apart from the Greco-Roman culture, it enabled them to prosper. Their strong work ethic bore fruit. But their increasing prosperity brought them under the eye of Roman officials wary of the power wealth inevitably secured. Though Christians used their wealth to better the lives of others, the Romans couldn’t help but assume they were constructing a secret society that would eventually challenge their control. This became one more reason to be suspicious & to persecute Christians – because of their success in business.

Another effect the Christian view of work had on Greco-Roman culture was the way it undermined slavery. If work is noble & industry is a virtue, then slaves possess dignity because they do nearly ALL the work. It was easy for freemen to overlook the suffering of slaves when they were regarded as nothing more than living tools, as Greeks called them. Assigning them dignity was dangerous, because ate away at the conscience of freemen. If a salve is a man or woman, not just a tool—it’s not right for them to be subjected to such treatment. A man can own a thing; but can he own another man? // It was the introduction of Christianity that began the long, slow road toward abolition.

In AD 375, church leaders compiled a list of policies regarding what constituted Christian practice. Called The Apostolic Constitutions, they were 8 treatises on discipline, worship, & doctrine, intended to serve as a manual of guidance for clergy & to a lesser extent, for the laity. In no uncertain terms, based on what Paul wrote the Thess., the Constitutions stated – “The Lord our God hates the slothful.”

The monasteries of the early Middle Ages were organized around Christianity’s high regard for work. Benedictine monks of the 6th C. considered labor an integral & spiri­tual part of their discipline that did much to increase the prestige of labor and the self-respect of the laborer. All the monastic orders honored work as they tilled the soil, tended herds, milked cows, & crafted artifacts.

Work was also considered an antidote to the sin of laziness. Basil of Caesarea in the 4th C said, “Idleness is a great evil; work preserves us from evil thoughts.” This is where the phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” originated. In the 12th C St. Bernard taught; “The handmaid of Christ ought always to pray, read, & work, lest the spirit of uncleanness should lead astray the slothful mind. The [willful] delights of the flesh are overcome by labor.” So strong was the Christian concern in the Middle Ages regarding the willful avoidance of work, the Church counted sloth as one of the 7 Deadly Sins.

The high value Christianity assigned manual labor was further bolstered during the Reformation. Martin Luther saw work not only as pleasing to the Lord but as a means by which His glory could be expanded. Work was a calling to serve God. The Latin word was voca­tio comes over into English as vocation; a divine call to the service of God, in whatever form that took. Up to that time, it was believed the only calling God gave was into the clergy. The idea that He also called farmers & merchants and the rest of the occupations of society was new & novel & revolutionized people’s view of a career. There was no low-status or high-status work, good work or bad work. It made no difference what kind work the Christian did so long as he/she performed it to the glory of God. Work was not an end in itself but something someone did in everyday life to the glory of God and to the service of mankind. It was thru work, especially the work of Christians, that God maintained and preserved the world and the people in it. Thus, all legitimate work was noble and God-pleasing. Work became a Christian duty.

And while the curse of the Fall had turned work into toil, the work itself was still noble because even BEFORE the Fall, God had commanded Adam to tend the Garden. He had work to do before sin made that work hard.

All of this conspired to produce the Protestant Work Ethic which found a society wide application in the Puritan settlements of Massachusetts & helped launch American prosperity.

When in Luke 10:7 Jesus said “the worker deserves his wages”, He par­aphrased Deut 25:4, an OT norm first spoken by Moses when he com­manded the Israelites: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Just as the ox treading out the grain needs to be rewarded for his work, so too, laborers are worthy of the reward of their wages. These biblical references made it mandatory workers be paid for their efforts. It also underscored once more in the eyes of Christians that work was honorable.

It’s simply assumed by workers today that they deserve a wage or salary for services performed. This hasn’t always been so. In pagan societies of the ancient world right up thru the era of the early church, the norm was for societies to have the majority of their residents work as slaves. These slaves, who performed all manual labor, received little other than a meager subsistence allowance. And that was only given so that they’d be able to keep working, not as a reward for their toil. People today ought to appreciate that the current practice of compensating workers & the belief it’s unjust to deprive them of fair compensation, would not be in place were it not for Christianity establishing the norm that “a worker deserves his wages.”

If employers who identified themselves as Christian, had faithfully heeded the biblical admonition to pay their workers as they deserved, labor unions might never have needed to come into existence. And unions, some of them being so rabidly anti-Christian in their policies, ought to consider this: The influence of the biblical admonition that the laborer is worthy of his hire lies behind today’s institutionalized practice of unions nego­tiating contracts for their members. If it didn’t come from this biblical norm, from where did it come? It certainly wasn’t present in the Greco-Roman era, where slaves performed nearly all manual labor.

Christianity’s 2000 year influence is more deeply ingrained and pervasive in Western economic val­ues and practices than is realized.

Before Christians brought dignity to work and labor, there wasn’t much of a middle class in the Greek or Roman society. People were either rich or poor, & the poor were commonly slaves. The Christian emphasis on everyone being required to work and work being honorable had the effect of producing a class between the wealthy & the poor. People like the Christians, who didn’t just live for “bread & games” to use Cicero’s expression. Christians couldn’t fail to prosper. So the economic phenomenon of a middle class arose, now present in Western societies but unknown before the advent of Christianity.

The presence of a middle class in Western societies has rightly been credited w/greatly reducing the extent of poverty & its inevitable by-product, disease. It’s also been a potent factor in fostering and main­taining political and economic freedom.

The Change Part 7

The Change Part 7

This episode is another in our series considering the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we take a look at the influence the Faith had on Education.

The roots of the Christian posture toward education lies in Jesus’ command to His disciples just before He ascended to heaven. He told them as they went, to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to keep all that He had commanded.

The modern Evangelical church has taken the word & idea of discipleship & turned it into something rather different from what those original disciples understood it to mean. A 1st C disciple from the region of Galilee where the original disciples were from & where Jesus spent most of His life & did most of His ministry, was someone who’d been selected by a rabbi to follow him and become a devoted learner. A disciple was, in the most intense sense of the word – a scholar whose field of study was the life & teaching of his rabbi. His goal was to be just like that rabbi, and he spent 15 years of his life following his rabbi, 24/7/365¼ so that he could be just like his rabbi.

He began following at 15 and ended at 30. If he proved himself a worthy student & his rabbi sensed he too was called, he became a rabbi at the age of 30. The Gospels tell us Jesus was about 30 when He began his public ministry. He was following in this pattern for rabbis & disciples in place in 1st C Galilee.

If a disciple wasn’t quite cut out to be a rabbi, which required a demonstrated divine authority from God, then a disciple returned to his village to become the Torah-teacher in the local synagogue school where all Jewish boys & girls went from the age of 6-10. There they trained these youngsters to memorize the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. Check it out: They didn’t just memorize the names of the 5 books of Moses; they memorized all that was written in them. Genesis thru Deuteronomy, word for word.

Those boys who excelled at memorization in this 1st phase of education went on to phase 2 in which the Torah teacher taught them the rest of the Tanach, as well as the commentary on it by Israel’s most famous rabbis. It was the cream of the crop from this phase that became candidates to train under a rabbi as a disciple.

The point is this: When Jesus told His disciples they were to go & do with others what He’d done with them – make disciples, they understood what “teaching them to keep all Jesus had commanded” meant = a rigorous course of education that aimed not just at knowledge but at life-change.

The disciples took Jesus’ command seriously. Acts 5 tells us after the Feast of Pentecost, the disciple snow turned Apostles never stopped teaching. As Acts chronicles the Apostle Paul’s ministry, we see his emphasis on teaching. Paul was a teaching machine! He used every opportunity to inform people of the truth then call them to the implications of that truth.

In giving the qualifications for the church leaders called “elders,” which in the NT is synonymous with the words “bishop” & “pastor,” Paul says they must be able to teach. Immediately following the time of the Apostles, the 2nd generation of Christian leaders took up the mantle of leadership & set out to cull the essence of what Christians believe. They devised what’s known as the Didache, meaning – the Teaching / Instruction. This was written sometime between 80-110 AD.

In the early 2nd C, Bishop/Pastor Ignatius of Antioch urged all churches to instruct children in the Scriptures and to teach them a trade. This was a direct carry-over from Judaism which placed tremendous emphasis on literacy, on God’s Word & on knowing a skilled trade.

As we saw in a long-ago episode of CS, while baptism in the NT was something believers were urged to do as soon as they came to faith as a public profession of faith, as the decades passed, baptism was delayed until after new believers could be catechized – that is, taught the catechism, which was a question & answer format in which they were taught the doctrines of the faith. These were no lightweight questions. It was some pretty deep theology. They weren’t baptized till they’d taken all the lessons & that meant 2 to 3 yrs before they were dunked.

These catechumen, as they were called, were at first taught in the homes of other church members. But eventually there were to many so special schools were built. In these schools, the emphasis was on literacy, where people could learn to read & write so that they could read the Scriptures & other classical works. Justin Martyr built one of these schools in Rome & another in Ephesus. They began popping up all over and earned a reputation as a home of great scholarship. The School in Alexandria, Egypt was regarded around the Empire as a great center of learning & scholarship. Another school in Caesarea on the coast of Israel was another. It was out of these schools that the towering intellects of men like Origen, Clement, & Athanasius arose.

While the main course of study in these schools was Theology & the Bible, they included other disciplines as well. Mathematics, medicine, philosophy, grammar, and what passed for science. These centers of learning went far to remove the stigma critics of the Faith had attached to it in its early days – that is was a despicable religion fit only for the poor, uneducated & slaves. The Church was led by some of the brightest minds of the day who were more than capable at not only defending the Faith but dismantling the majority paganism. Many of the early apologists used the best of Greek philosophy to argue for the superiority of the Christian worldview. It infuriated pagan apologists that their own heroes from the past seemed to lend their weight to the Christian Gospel.

To be sure, Christians weren’t the first to set up schools. In Corinth, the Book of Acts tells us, there were pagan schools when Paul arrived. They were doing a brisk business. Where the Christian schools defied convention was in their willingness to educate both sexes in the same setting. Romans taught only boys, and only from wealthy families at that. Christians taught men, women, & children, regardless of how many coppers they could pass the teacher.

In the 5th C, Augustine said that most Christian women were better educated than pagan philosophers.

As education became more and more of a mark of being a Christian, their schools expanded and the course of study grew more comprehensive. Students were taught the Trivium of grammar, rhetoric, and logic as core subjects, & the Quadrivium of arithmetic, music, geometry & astronomy as support studies.

The Church’s goal in this education was to make sure it’s members were well-educated, especially it’s clergy. They needed to be educated so they could love God with all their mind and serve Him with all their strength.

. In the 8th C, Charlemagne made sure his children were educated well & brought the famous English scholar Alcuin to tutor them as well as other children of the nobility. Hundreds of years later, King Alfred of England made sure his sons & daughters were taught to read & write in their native tongue & Latin, the scholarly language of the day. In the 1330’s a Florentine writer reported there were about 10 thousand children in Florence’s schools

While the Church educated both sexes equally for the first several Centuries, as the Middle Ages approached and the cathedral schools grew, the emphasis on education shifted to men being trained for the clergy. Women were moved to convents & nunneries where they learned basic literacy & the arts.

But the passage of time saw the emphasis on women’s education wane in favor of men & boys. There wasn’t so much an official position taken by the Church that opposed the education of women & girls. It was more the result of social apathy. In the 15th C 2 church leaders, Leonardo Bruni & Battista Guarinao, called attention to the appalling lack of emphasis on education for women & urged reform.

Those reforms were at least partially successful as the number of women scholars that appeared in Europe over the next decades and Cs was remarkable. Women such as . . .

Lioba  //  Hrotsvitha  //  Hildegard  //  Brigitta  //  Catherine of Siena & Christine de Pizan.

Students of Medieval history often have the mental image of the cloistered halls of monasteries where monks sit hunched over slanted tables laboriously copying ancient texts on parchment with quill & ink. What they ought to add to that is the cloistered halls of convents where nuns sit doing precisely the same thing. It was in these scriptoriums that Scripture & the ancient classics were copied; their treasure saved & passed on to posterity.

This emphasis on teaching both sexes dates back to Jesus’ own willingness to teach women. While there were no women numbered among the 12 Apostles, they certainly were counted among the larger number of unofficial disciples who followed Jesus. And that was something that was simply UNHEARD of among 1st C Jews! Rabbis did not allow women to come into contact with them. They did not accept them as disciples. Girls from age 6 to 10 were taught alongside boys in the Torah schools attached to the synagogue, but at 10 they went home to learn at their mother’s side how to be a wife & mother. Part of the scandal that simmered around Jesus was His acceptance of women as part of the small crowd that accompanied Him where-ever He went. He taught them alongside the men in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught them in Lazarus’ home in Bethany. The famous story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women in John 4 is stunning in its description of how utterly unexpected it was. She even said, “How is it that you talk to me – a Samaritan & A WOMAN?!?!?”

The famous historian Will Durant comments on the uniqueness of Christianity in the Greco-Roman environment it grew up it – that it broke with convention by being a religion for everyone –ethnicity, sex & social standing had nothing to do with its appeal or outreach. All were welcome & welcome equally.

The movement toward universal education came during the Reformation in the 16th C. Martin Luther’s appeal for reform, embodied in the 95 theses he tacked to the church door at Wittenberg, were necessitated by the appalling decline in education that had taken place over the previous centuries in Europe. The Church had become corrupted so that many of its leaders were lazy & shirked the call to scholarship. Instead of the clergy being the best educated, many couldn’t even read or write. As Marin Luther visited the churches of Saxony, he was dismayed by the number of nearly illiterate priests & monks. So he embarked on a campaign of education. In 1529 he wrote the Small Catechism which taught the basics of the Faith. Things began to turn around.

Luther said that people needed to understand both “the Word of Scripture and the nature of the world in which the Word took root.” He urged for a state school system in which elementary students would be taught the basics of grammar, reading, writing, then for secondary education would learn Latin so they could read the classics to broaden their worldview. He criticized parents who failed to make sure their children were schooled.

One of Luther’s most significant breaks with the religious schools of previous generations was his belief that not only were schools needed to train clergy, just as important a function was to train those doing non-religious or what we call, secular work. Luther believed clergy ought to be called by God, not just educated by man. Those not called to church work were called, just as much by God into secular work – so they needed just as strong an education. It was this sense of divine calling or vocation that framed what came to be known as the Protestant Work Ethic.

John Calvin, the reformer whose ideas shaped the City of Geneva, established a school system there.

As the Reformation spread across Europe, the idea of universal education met with some resistance from the lower classes; for 2 reasons.

1) What little education that had remained until that time was done by the Church which they considered corrupt. So, book-learning was suspected as being something that would corrupt the young; turning them into agents for the Pope.

2) The educated tended to be people in the upper social classes, so seen as lazy by the working class.

For that reason, in many rural settings, the movement toward universal education was slow to catch on. Luther & other Reformers knew that a healthy church was built by literacy & so urged civil magistrates to make the education of the young compulsory. In Many places in Germany they complied. And soon, public schools supported by taxes were growing across the land.

So it’s sad to see how the modern public school system has become so hostile toward Christianity. It owes its very existence to the Faith.

The Change Part 6

The Change Part 6

This is episode 6 in a series examining the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we continue our look at the impact The Faith had on the world’s view of Charity & Compassion, specifically in the founding of hospitals & health care.

In an earlier episode we noted how so many of what are called liberal ideals of modern society had their roots in the Christian transformation of culture, specifically in Western Civilization. Those ideas flowed from the Faith’s high view of the sanctity of human life, which was a radical departure from the pagan view of man and the strict classism that dominated the ancient world. The dilemma today is that secular liberalism wants to keep the advantages and rights Christianity brought w/o the moral and spiritual core that empowered them. Christianity’s exalted view of man is based on its higher & prior exalted view of God. Gut society of that view of God and its view of man is destined to decline. Which is precisely what we’re seeing in modern Western societies today. As one philosopher posed the question: “Can man be good without God?” The answer is; “Not for long.” As my pastor said years ago, “Is it any wonder that when schools tell children they are nothing but the chance result of random chemical reactions and descended from apes, they then begin to act by the law of the jungle while they live in Los Angeles, or London?

Those who assume modern charity and compassion, whether it be government welfare or voluntary assistance, developed on its own without the energizing influence of Christianity are misinformed. People need to understand that “civilization” isn’t some kind of mystical force that happens on its own. It’s not the product of social evolution where man keeps getting better & better. Christianity WAS the premier civilizing influence that shaped the modern world and gave Western civilization the benefits that have meant advancement.

The German historian C. Schmidt, a century ago said to disregard Christianity’s influence in civilizing the ancient world is “blind to the history of nations, and to the history of the Human heart. Both proclaim loudly that charity cannot be the product of egoism, nor a humility of pride; that without the intervention of God no new spirit could have regenerated individuals in the world.”

Carlton Hayes wrote, “From the wellsprings of Christian compassion our Western civilization has drawn its inspiration, and its sense of duty, for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, looking after the homeless, clothing the naked, tending the sick, and visiting the prisoner.”

Who built hospitals? Who founded rescue missions in decaying inner cities? Orphanages? Soup kitchens? Who founded charitable societies, taught literacy, worked tirelessly to end slavery, campaigned for equal rights, ended child labor? Christians! Men & women who understood the sanctity of human life & the urgency of guarding human dignity – that’s who.

It’s been interesting watching the assault the New Atheists have leveled on religion in general and Christianity in particular. They say the Faith is standing in the way of human progress. Yet virtually every support that makes it even possible for them to say that was provided by Christians living out their Faith. Where, pray tell, are the atheist rescue mission and orphanages. Where are the atheist founded & funded hospitals?

Jesus was concerned for people’s bodies as well as their souls. In commending the faithfulness of the disciples in Matthew 25, Jesus lauded their feeding & clothing the needy. The Gospels tell us as part of His ministry Jesus went all over Israel healing illness & disease. The blind, deaf, palsied, lame and even the socially outcast lepers were all healed by Him. Indeed, Jesus’ ministry seemed to pulse between these 2 poles – teaching & healing. Frequently the text tells us He was moved with compassion as he looked on the crowds coming to Him. Since the goal of a disciple is to be just like his rabbi, when Jesus sent His boys out on their own ministry exercise, they went forth teaching & healing. When they returned they were stoked about the miracles they’d seen God work thru them.

Later, when the Apostles went out to continue Jesus’ mission of preaching the Gospel, they carried on the wholisitc task of expanding the Kingdom of God by both preaching & healing. This personal, literal, physical touch was a far cry from the cult of Gnosticism that a century later would reduce the Gospel to an esoteric message utterly divorced from the physical.

The Greco-Roman world the early Christians lived in was void of care for the sick & dying. Oh sure, there were doctors, there were even healing centers. But these were exclusively for the service of the rich & powerful. Dionysus, a Christian pastor of the 3rd C described the behavior of the people of Alexandria in a plague in 250 AD. He said they “thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends. They cast the afflicted out onto the public roads half dead, and left them unburied. The sick were treated with utter contempt when they died.” But the Christians, he reported, came to the aid of the sick and dying. They ignored the danger to themselves. He wrote –

“Very many of our brethren, while in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness, did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully… drawing upon themselves their neighbors’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them.”

As I noted in a recent episode, the Emperor Julian, who wanted to roll back the ground Christianity had made in the Empire, & reinstall paganism, lamented that pagans could not come close to the charity & compassion exhibited by even the humblest of Jesus’ followers. In truth, Romans considered helping the sick as a sign of weakness. They thought it manly to resist the inner urge to pity. When Christians stayed to help the sick during plague, it unmasked the Roman idea as weak while showing compassion was courageous.

Christians of the 1st thru 4th Cs rejected the callous & inhumane cul­ture of the Greco-Roman world. They considered everyone as having an eternal & potentially-redeemable soul. It pleased God to tend to anyone, regardless of social status. Because eternal life awaited those who believed in Christ, life on earth wasn’t the ultimate value. If someone died while caring for the sick, a far better life lay ahead. And if a sick person came to faith in Christ because of the charity shown them, another soul was gained for heaven. That kind of thought & behavior was foreign to paganism.

Few of those early Christians who risked their lives to tend the ill had their names recorded for posterity. Few, but not none. One name that is known is Benignus of Dijon, a 2nd C Christian martyred in Epagny because he “nursed, supported, & protected a number of deformed & crippled children that had been saved from death after failed abortions and exposures.” Rescuing frail, unwanted children was an insult to the Romans. It violated their cultural norms. Remember the words of Seneca, the 1st C Roman philosopher: “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.”

Because of the pagan low-regard for human life and their de-valuing of the sick by not caring for them, there were no hospitals for the treatment or care of the general populace. A careful student of history may object & query, “What about the nearly 300 temples to Aesculapius, the god of healing? Weren’t those ancient hospitals?”

The answer is, Not really. Sick people went there but not to be tended by a doctor or receive treatment. They went there to ask the deity for healing and that he’d reveal to them what treatment might help. But no medicine was applied there. There were other places where doctors could be asked for assistance. But while people might be told what treatment to seek, they weren’t nursed at the temple of Aesculapius. The few places were the ill could convalesce were limited only to the recovery of people deemed worthy because of some benefit they provided society or their master. So there were treatment centers for wounded gladiators and soldiers. But there was NOTHING for the treatment & recovery of the lower classes; simply nothing.

In India of the 3rd C BC, King Asoka commanded that hospitals be constructed. But it’s not known who or what they were for. Because while the command was given, it was never carried out. When Europeans arrived in the 18th C, there were no hospitals in the land.

Simply stated, charity hospitals for the poor & needy did not exist prior to Christianity introducing them.

During the first 3 centuries, when Christians were the object of frequent and severe persecution, the most they could do was care for the sick where they found them or in extreme cases, take them into their homes. After Constantine removed the ban on the Faith in the early 4th C, Christians were able to direct more attention toward caring for the sick and dying. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 bishops were directed to set up hospices in every city with a major church.

Many of the early Christian hospitals were not what people understand by them today. While their most important function was to nurse and heal the sick, they also provided shelter for the poor and lodging for Christian pilgrims. These hospitals, known as xenodochia were prompted by Christ’s command to care for the physically sick and by the early apostolic teaching that Christians be hospitable to strangers and travelers.

The first real hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea of Cappadocia about AD 369. It was part of a large complex that included houses for physi­cians and nurses, workshops, and schools.  The rehabilitation buildings and workshops gave those with no occupa­tional skills opportunity to learn a trade while recovering. The compound’s comprehensive nature reveals additional humanitarian awareness. It’s difficult to argue this awareness had nothing to do with the spirit of Christ alive in St. Basil, the good bishop of Caesarea.

After St. Basil’s hospital was built in the East and another in Edessa in 375, Fabiola, a wealthy widow and associate of Jerome, built the first hospital in the West in Rome in about 390. According to Jerome, Fabiola donated all of her con­siderable wealth to construct it. She then brought in the sick from the streets. They later built another such hospital in the port of Ostia 50 miles from Rome.

Since this isn’t a podcast on the history of hospitals, I’ll drop the chronicle there. Suffice it to say more were built & staffed throughout the Empire & world, where ever Christianity gained a foothold.

While the Age of Discovery was more often than not a purely commercial enterprise, whenever new realms were opened, Christian missionaries followed and established bases to bring physical relief as well as spiritual light.

The 1st mental institutions were built & ran by Christians. Their later devolution into the hands of secular psychologists saw some of the most bizarre & inhuman treatments of the mentally infirm.

It’s important to note that nursing as a profession had its origin completely in the Christian impetus to help the sick & infirm and provide dignity for the dying. Florence Nightingale is world renowned in her care for the sick and wounded. At great personal peril & cost, she ministered to the physically needed – all in the compassion of Christ & for God’s glory.

In 1864, Jean Henri Dunant along with 4 others started the International Red Cross. While Dunant was a sometimes fierce critic of the organized church, he was driven by Christ’s example and call to take care of the physical needs of the poor, weak, sick and needy.

This brief review of hospitals & health care is enlightening in terms of what it says about the current health care system & debate. Modern society has come to view healthcare as virtually a RIGHT. Many believe it’s the government’s duty to provide healthcare as a basic privilege of citizenship. That’s a far cry from the Greco-Roman roots many of those people say they want to return to. It was Christianity, especially the Faith that developed during the Middle Ages to infiltrate & season Western civilization, that bequeathed to the modern world it’s exalted view of medical care – all based on the sanctity of human life, which rests on the foundation of a conviction man is created in God’s image.

One additional remark: As I record this episode, the United States, where I live, is engaged in a rather acrimonious debate over Radical Islam and terrorism. A mass shooting in San Bernardino took place just days ago a couple hours from where I live. The Syrian Refugee dilemma is in the news daily. President Obama held a national speech from the Oval Office of the White house to address these issues. He labored to make a distinction between Radical Jihadists and the larger religion of Islam.

Many of the listeners to CS are aware Islam has a long and checkered past. In the history of medicine, it has been a handful of Muslim physicians who’ve advanced the medical arts and bequeathed practices that shaped the origins of modern medicine. By digging a little deeper, we discover these Muslim doctors learned a good part of their practices from earlier Christian schools in the East at places like Edessa & Gundashpur. Those schools were conquered by Muslim invaders and their works were translated in Arabic.

As we end this episode, I want to say thanks to the many new subscribers to CS, for referring others to the podcast, and to all those who’ve popped by the Facebook page to give us a like.

The Change Part 5

The Change Part 5

This episode continues our series examining the impact Christianity had on history & culture. Today we consider how the Faith impacted the world’s view of Charity & Compassion.

Early Christians quickly gained a reputation for their concern for the poor & disenfranchised. Unlike paganism with its acceptance of fate & the Greco-Roman enforcement of social classes, the Gospel viewed all human beings as created in God’s image & of equal value. Having its roots firmly in Judaism, Christianity considered justice to include a healthy dose of mercy & compassion. The Law of Moses regulated the treatment of slaves so they retained their dignity. It required the corners of fields be left unharvested so the poor could glean. And it required an annual tithe to be set aside specially for the poor & needy. All of this was unheard of in the pagan world.

Building on this base of Jewish charity was the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 who said that taking care of the hungry, the sick & prisoners was a kindness shown to none other than Himself.

The parable of the Good Samaritan was one of the favorites of the Faith & shaped the Church’s mindset toward the needy.

In the mid 3rd C, Tertullian in North Africa records that Christians had a common fund to which they voluntarily contributed. No strong-arm fundraising was needed; believers were glad to add coins to the box whenever they could. This fund supported widows, the disabled, orphans, the sick & prisoners jailed for their faith. It was also on occasion used to bury the poor & to purchase a slave’s freedom.

All of this stands in marked contrast with the Greco-Roman attitude toward the poor. They practiced what was known as liberalitas. This was assistance a wealthy benefactor showed to a someone in need, with an eye to their repaying the favor someday, somehow. In Roman society, the upper classes rose in status by having lots & lots of clients who supported you. They shouted your name when cued to do so at some public event. The louder your name was shouted, the more supporters you had & so the more prestige you garnered. So a wealthy Roman would help someone who was needy only if that person could go on to add his voice to his support base. It wasn’t genuine charity; it was buying support. I’ll help you today, if you shout my name tomorrow real loud and get all your family & friends to do the same. The motive was selfish.

Charity just for the sake of helping someone in need was officially considered by both the Greeks & Romans as being weak & counter-productive. Someone who’d fallen onto hard times & couldn’t rescue himself was pathetic, not worthy of concern. And who knows; their poverty or illness might be the work of the gods, punishment for some foul sin. So don’t alleviate their suffering or you might incur the wrath of the fickle deities who controlled the fate of mere mortals.

I just said that charity wasn’t officially allowed in pagan society for these reasons. But history tells us while Paganism didn’t practice it, some pagans occasionally did. Almost all cases we know of where people reached out to help others in need was when some catastrophe like an earthquake struck of fire swept a city. Then the suffering was so widespread & in everyone’s face people couldn’t avoid helping in some way. But generally, in day to day life, all giving to the needy had a self-serving end.

Christians didn’t practice the selfish liberalitas of the Romans. They practiced caritas – compassionate caring. There was no thought of what one was going to get out of such care. It was done simply because the person receiving the help needed it. The motive was to glorify God.

Believers were moved by the words of 1 John 4:10–11 – “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

They remembered what Paul had written in Philippians 2:4 – “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

In the 5th C, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, sold the treasures & ornaments of the church to provide relief for starving people and in the 10th C, the bishop of Winchester sold all the gold & silver vessels of the cathedral to relieve the poor during a harsh famine. He justified his actions saying, “There is no reason the temple of God should abound in riches when the living temples of the Holy Spirit starve.” Historian Christopher Dawson recorded that nearly every local church had an official list of widows & the needy they supported and the sums given by those with means was substantial.

Christians didn’t just keep their charity to themselves; they met the needs of those outside the church as well. Both the Didache & the 2nd C letter called the Shepherd of Hermas called believers to meet the needs of all those who had genuine need. Providing such charity turned into risky business. By the 3rd C Christians had gained a reputation for their selfless love and this attracted even more to them. So 2 Emperors forbade prisoners from receiving outside help – which was a death sentence since their food came from what family & friends provided. Though it was against the law, Christians continued taking care of prisoners. Thankfully, few jailors enforced the Emperors’ edicts since they didn’t want their prisoners dying.

The charity of the early Christians flowed from the wider sense of compassion Jesus had consistently demonstrated throughout His life. The Gospels regularly comment on how Jesus was moved with compassion and reached out to take care of poor & needy souls. Since being a disciple meant being just like their Rabbi, the Christians sought to install compassion as one of their key virtues.

Yet as with charity, in paganism, compassion was not esteemed. The formative Greek thinker Plato said that a poor man, & especially a slave, who was no longer able to work because of sickness or age ought to be left to die. The famous Greek physician Aesculapius refused treatment to patients he deemed not worthy of surviving. The Roman philosopher Plautus said, “You do a beggar bad service by giving him food and drink; you lose what you give and prolong his life for more misery.”

In the 5th C BC, the Greek historian Thucydides [thoo-sid-a-dees] reported when a massive plague struck Athens during the Peloponnesian War, unaffected Athenians fled, leaving the sick behind to tend themselves. In the mid-4th C AD, the Emperor Julian the Apostate, who, as his name implies, hated Christians, couldn’t help but give them grudging respect that they alone stayed to tend the sick when a plague struck the Empire. He wrote, “The impious Galileans (his word for Christians, whom he called impious because they refused to worship the pagan gods) These impious Galileans relieve both their own poor and ours. It is shameful that ours should be so destitute of our assistance.”

Of course, we need only look back a few episodes to be reminded of the shocking lack of compassion Roman society had when we consider the popularity of the gladiatorial games. Compassion runs thin when life is cheap.

The compassion & charity of Christians stood out all the more when it was seen against the backdrop of a brutal Roman culture. Jesus had said, “Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.” Christians sought to demonstrate that love in the streets & byways of the Empire. And it had a profound effect in drawing people to faith in Christ.

The story of Pachomius is just one of many examples.  Pachomius was a pagan soldier in Emperor Constantine’s army. He watched while Christians brought food to his fellow soldiers afflicted with famine & disease & was profoundly moved.  When he learned they were motivated by a religion called Christianity he became curious to understand a doctrine that inspired them to such love & generosity. So he began to study the faith and was soon a convert. Something similar to that was duplicated tens of thousands of times all across the Empire.

Pachomius and others were moved by the compassionate acts of the Christians because Greco-Roman culture just didn’t see the hungry, sick, and dying as worthy of assis­tance. The worth of a human being was determined by external & acci­dental circumstances in proportion to the position one held in the community or state. A human being only had value as a citizen, but very few people qualified as citizens. So the sick, poor, & lower classes like slaves, artisans, & other manual workers for whom the Christians had compassion, weren’t citizens in the eyes of freemen. Non-citizens were defined as having no purpose and so not worthy to be helped when their lives were in jeopardy. In their dire condition they received no food or physical protection.

So it’s understandable why Christianity spread most rapidly in the early centuries among, can you guess who? Yeah – the poor & needy, among slaves & the disenfranchised. That’s why it came under the scrutiny of officials & scorn of the elite. Now, to be sure, there were both highly placed believers as well as some of the ancient world’s most intelligent & erudite. But generally, officials feared that Christianity would rally the lower classes to rebel while the unbelieving elite shunned it as a religion for the pathetic.

They were wrong then. They’re wrong still. In truth, today’s liberalism is but a secularized version of Christian charity & compassion. But without the God who declares life sacred, liberalism’s commitment to compassion will be traded in for paganism’s utilitarianism. A process already well under way.

The Change Part 4

The Change Part 4

This episode continues our series examining the impact Christianity had on history & culture. Today we take a look at how the Faith impacted the world’s view of women.

Contemporary secular feminism came about because of the Christian Gospel’s elevation of women. As with so many other privileges and liberties, as well as the prosperity many in the Western world enjoy; they find their origin in a Biblical view of the world and Mankind’s place in it. But as secularism gained traction in the 20th C and God was increasingly pushed from the public square, privilege became entitlement, liberty devolved to license, and greed turned prosperity into massive debt. All because the moral base that made them possible was forfeited in favor of the fiction told by secularism.

Radical feminism is a grand case in point. Feminists would never have been able to mount their attack on what they deem the subjugation of women were it not for the Christian elevation of women in the first place. They never would have had the platform to make demands were it not for the Biblical worldview Christianity ensconced in Western civilization.

In Gal. 3:28 the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians 5 where he defines the roles of husband & wife in marriage, Paul tells husbands to love their wives as they do themselves. Peter tells husbands to treat a wife tenderly & with great care as he would a delicate & precious vase. This seems like common sense, but ONLY because what Paul & Peter instruct has shaped our view of marriage and a husband’s duty to his wife. We don’t realize what an utterly radical assignment that was to men living in the 1st C.

At that time, Jewish men placed far less honor on women. One of the prayers some Jewish men prayed went, “Lord, I thank You I was not born a Gentile, a woman, or a dog.”  In the Greek and Roman world, wives were esteemed as little better than servants. A wife was a social convention by which a man raised legitimate heirs for the family name and fortune. But when it came to affection and pleasure, many men kept mistresses or visited temple prostitutes. Generally speaking, a wife had little honor in her husband’s esteem and had little claim on his attention or affections.[1]

When Paul told husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church in Ephesians 5, he elevated the wife to a place she’d not had before.

In 1 Peter 3:7 we read— “Husbands, dwell with your wife with understanding, giving honor to her, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”

When Peter told a Christian husband to honor his wife as he would a precious and delicate vase, this was nothing less than radical social revolution. The idea that a man would take the time to understand his wife was new and novel. And it was precisely for values like this Christians were accused by their critics of upsetting the social order and turning the world upside down. [2]

Imagine that! Because Christian men loved and served their wives, they were hated and persecuted. Why? Because they were monkeying with a system that had been in place for hundreds of years. Who knows what chaos might ensue if men started honoring their wives!

Now, I know what some feminists would say at this point because I’ve already heard it; “What about Peter & Paul’s instruction that a wife is to submit to her husband? See?! They’re just misogynist keepers of the tradition of a male-dominated society.”

Not exactly. In fact, not even close. Just as both Peter & Paul defied all cultural sensitivities of their day by calling men to love their wives sacrificially, & seek daily to understand and honor them, what they said to women in their roles as wives was JUST as revolutionary. Let me explain . . .

In Ephesians 5:22-24 the Apostle Paul says a wife’s submission to her husband is patterned after her submission to Christ. In v24, he says she’s to submit “in everything,” meaning it’s more than mere outward compliance. It goes deeper than just a tight-lipped surrender.

All of us need to understand that submission deals more with the posture of our hearts than with our actions. Before Paul moves to the roles of wives & husbands in Eph. 5, he speaks of the principle of mutual submission all believers are to hold. He then goes on to describe how men are to submit to those God has placed in authority over them at work and in the government. [3]

A lot of people think submission merely means giving in outwardly while inwardly they harbor resentment and defiance toward the one they’re supposedly submitting to. Their attitude is, “Okay, I’ll do what you say—but I still think you’re a jerk.”

In order to understand what Paul meant when he wrote that a wife is to submit “in everything”, let’s think about the cultural setting in which Paul wrote this.

In the Greco-Roman world of the 1st C, it was universally accepted that wives submitted to their husbands. Men were the undisputed rulers of their homes.  Paul wrote this letter to the Church in the city of Ephesus governed by the Roman Law known as paterfamilias. This law gave the male head of household absolute authority over his wife, children and servants.  He could beat and even put them to death if he wished, and the law was loath to interfere.[4]

So why would Paul call wives to something that was already so much an accepted part of life? Telling a wife to submit to her husband was like telling her to breathe. It was that obviousness that would move them to look closer and realize what he was really saying.

The clue to what he means is in the grammar. The verb ‘submit’ is in the middle voice. Paul says a wife is to “place herself in submission.” What he calls for isn’t merely a resigned outward compliance because of force.  He calls for a heart attitude of godly deference. The wife is to submit to her husband on the inside as well as on the outside.

Please don’t miss this because it’s the key to understanding the mind-blowing revolution Paul brought. He’s saying to the women of his day, “You’ve been yielding outwardly because you had no choice. You have no power in society so you have to comply with your husband’s wishes. But now God gives you this voluntary choice, this act of will rather than legal requirement & forced compliance. You can submit from your heart too.”

This is what he means by “in everything” in verse 24.  “Submit in everything: in your actions, in your heart, in your speech, even you body language.”

Rather than seeing Paul as some kind of male chauvinist seeking to cruelly subjugate women, realize he was giving them a power they’d never known before. It was the power to choose for themselves. He was making decision-makers of those who had been forbidden to make real decisions before.

While this truth may have been obscured for modern readers of the Bible, it it was certainly not lost to the men & women of the 1st C who when they installed these things in their homes found a new level of life , meaning, purpose & joy they’d never known before. And it was the beauty & excellence of their lifestyle that was so attractive to their unbelieving peers & saw them come into the faith by the hundreds, then thousands. Even though persecution by hostile authorities was still a regular occurrence.

Simply put – search the annals of the Greeks & Romans and you will find nothing that comes close to this marital ethic, or any other culture of the ancient world. Honest secular historians admit that the arrival of Jesus was THE turning point in the history of women and that the Gospel marked a sea change in women’s status in society.

[1] John MacArthur, Jr., Different by Design, (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994) 53

[2] Acts 17:6

[3] Ephesians 6 & Romans 13

[4] Paterfamilias • Originally called by the Latin title of paterfamilias, the father evolved into the patron of Roman Republican and early Imperial society. The father of the Roman family had the power over everyone and everything in the home. He could sell his wife or children into slavery and order their deaths at will. [© 1999-2002 Bible History Online (http://www.bible-history.com)]

The Change Part 3

The Change Part 3

This episode is part 3 in a series examining  the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we go even further in our examination of the sanctity of life that’s been the focus of the previous 2 episodes, but today, we look at it specifically in Christianity’s regard for the Sanctity of Sex.

As we begin, I want to pause to say that what we’re going to look at today may offend the sensibilities of some of our more secular &/or liberally-minded listeners. The redefinition of gender that’s become a hot topic of late has split the church, as well as the wider culture. It’s not my intent here to develop a theology of gender, merely to give an accurate, albeit summary, review of sexual ethics in Church history. So summary are the following comments they border on being simplistic, and for that I apologize.

This would be a good time to remind CS subscribers & anyone listening to this that I am what can be called a conservative, Evangelical pastor of a non-denominational church whose primary focus of ministry is the verse by verse expository teaching and preaching of the Bible. I believe in the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture & seek to cultivate a thoroughly Biblical Worldview. Part of that worldview is to not only cleave to Truth as revealed in the Bible, but to exemplify the character of Christ in my words & actions. We was, as John says in the first chapter of his Gospel, FULL of Truth & Grace. The legacy of the Gospel is that we also are to be filled by that fullness. So while I must, for sake of conscience, speak the truth, I must do so in love. Therefore I apologize for the times past in CS episodes when my joviality has been unkind; when for the sake of a couple yucks, I’ve demeaned others. That is definitely NOT consistent with the character of Jesus, who died to remove shame.

With that said, what follows could be found offensive to some because it upholds a Biblical morality in regard to sexual ethics & gender distinctions. I DO NOT apologize for that because it’s not I who’s offending – It’s God’s Word, as historically understood and applied by the Church.

And now, let’s get to it . . .

Wherever the Bible was read & studied, human beings were understood as being created in the image of God & as the creation account in Genesis makes clear, that meant they were made male & female. The first man & woman were placed in an idyllic setting, were naked & because they were innocent, they were without shame. God Himself officiated at their Garden wedding, then announced that the goal of their union was to become one flesh. You don’t have to be a genius to realize it was God’s original plan for human beings to enjoy a rich & rewarding sex life all within the marriage relationship, & that marriage alone is the proper place for the act of sex.

Just as the Christian who arrived in Rome found a low regard for human life, they also encountered a shocking moral depravity in regard to sex. Immorality was everywhere, an integral part of pagan culture. The Apostle Paul wrote of the Greco-Roman debauchery in Romans 1 when he said –

24 God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served what was created rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.

We know what social conditions were like at the time the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire because of contemporary writers who described it. Juvenal, Ovid and others recorded that sexual activity between men & women was promiscuous & depraved. The famous historian Edward Gibbon, whose epic tome The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire is considered THE standard work on the subject, said that the breakdown in sexuality morality began after the Punic Wars in 146 BC. By the 2nd C, normal sexual intercourse & marital fidelity had all but disappeared. It wasn’t just that adultery & fornication were common, people engaged in all kinds of bizarre sexual practices. What’s more, they were brazen about it; graffiti & iconic images of their bizzarity appeared on columns, walls, & household items like oil lamps, bowls, cups & vases.

It’s interesting that in the early years of the Republic, the Romans considered the Greeks who’d been the dominant civilization just before them to be morally corrupt. The Greeks exercised in the nude & practiced all forms of sexual license. The Romans shunned public nudity & considered much of what the Greeks had done morally shameful. But as power & wealth flowed into Rome from their many conquests, they increasingly aped the older Greek practices. By the 2nd C AD, they were doing more & worse than the Greeks had even thought.

Things were so bad at the turn of the Millennium from the 1st C BC to AD, that Augustus enacted a set of laws aimed at curbing people’s addiction to illicit sex. The law had little effect, as to be expected when the only person to be punished for committing adultery was the woman. It was a terrible combination when people were on one hand, obsessed with sex & on the other, despised marriage. Marriage was at a low point because most were arranged; social arrangements that aimed at one thing, securing one’s place in a society where standing was EVERYTHING. So men and women married with not an ounce of love or affection for each other. Couple that with no expectation of sexual fidelity on the part of either the husband or wife & it was a formula for massive infidelity. In certain segments of Roman society, women were as debauched as the men. Some women pursued sexual liaisons with every notable public figure they could; gladiators, politicians, actors, & comedians. The Roman satirist Juvenal wrote about these liaisons. The Church Father Tertullian wrote a treatise on proper conduct by Christians living in the debauched Empire. In a treatise called “Concerning Shows” he warned believers away from the theater because the plays enacted there were ribald & blatant live pornography. Ovid wrote that normal heterosexual sex had turned into a brutal sadomasochism; THAT was the new normal.

As the debauchery evolved from decade to decade, it grew progressively worse, as sexual sin always does. Since slaves were mere property, both men & women began to use their young slaves as sex objects. Then homosexuality became increasingly accepted, with older men making the object of their desire, younger & younger men & boys. Incest, a strict taboo for generations, was never openly accepted as normal, but it was quietly accepted for those who opted for it. Several Emperors led the way.

It was into this sexual maelstrom Christians came with a radically different sexual ethic. Only sex between a husband & wife was acceptable before God. Hebrews 13:4 made it clear – “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

For Christians, sex btwn a husband & wife was an expression of mutual love & intimacy. It wasn’t purely selfish gratification. In truth, the Apostle Paul made a mind-blowing statement when in 1 Cor. 7 he said that a husband & wife OWED each other sexual satisfaction. To a culture that legally treated women as the property of their husbands – that was astounding. For most in the Greco-Roman world, a wife was merely a social convention by which one raised legitimate heirs for the estate & family name. But for pleasure & fun, you had an affair or many. And since a wife didn’t expect her husband to be faithful or really even to check up on her, she also had lovers. So what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church was nothing short of astounding! And if you know anything about Corinth, then you know that’s saying something. As bad as things were all over the Empire, Corinth was considered by most as being really bad! Imagine the casino owners, showgirls & sex workers of Las Vegas saying, “Yeah, Corinth is a really morally nasty place” and you get an idea of how bad it really was.

Yet there was a church there, and Paul told the Christians they were to take all that sexual energy & focus it into the husband-wife relationship where it belonged. He even warned them about thinking that abstaining from sex somehow pleased God or made them more spiritual. A husband owed his wife sexual satisfaction, & vice versa. The only time they could abstain was during a short time to devote themselves to fasting. But when the fast was over, they were to get to it again. è I’m not making that up, read 1 Cor. 7 yourself, it’s all right there.

While most skeptics scoffed at the Christian commitment to sexual purity, a few commended them. Galen, a Greek physician of the 2nd C thought the Christian commitment to fidelity in marriage set them apart as noble. The fruit of healthy, loved filled marriages that shaped happy families began to have a dramatic impact on their neighbors. People thought Christians odd for their commitment to fidelity, but they couldn’t argue with the obvious love & devotion Christian couples had for each other.  They began to reason – “Sex is fun, but what my soul craves is love. I want pleasure, but what I NEED is significance, and it’s only a committed relationship that’s going to scratch that itch.”

Unrestrained sex began to be regarded as NOT inevitable. People COULD in fact reign in their passions & lust. Look! The Christians are doing it by the thousands! And surprise, surprise, they are waaaay happier than the pagans.

As the Christian ethic regarding sex gained traction, they told how Jesus had warned about lust in the Sermon on the Mount. He said if a man looks longingly & lustfully on a woman other than his wife, he’s committed adultery in his heart. It wasn’t just an overt act of sex that was prohibited. Christian sexual morality went further! It was about total marital fidelity to one’s spouse that included the thought life. Unbelievers began to realize Christianity wasn’t just moralism. It wasn’t prudish asceticism. It enjoyed physical pleasure, but in the boundaries God designed it for. It was an ethic that enhanced & enriched life, while the immorality they’d given themselves to before was degrading & life-quenching.

Biblical Sexual morality allows life to flourish while sin diminishes the quality of life.

One of the ways we can see the influence of Christianity in honoring marriage is in the beauty & solemnity of the wedding ceremony. In Greco-Roman culture it was a small affair without much to-do. And marriage had fallen to such a low state by the turn of the Millennium most weddings were more farce that ceremony. Christians changed that. Specifically, Christian women changed that. They took to heart Jesus’ elevation of women & embraced their calling as redeemed daughters of God. As wives & mothers they gladly took hold of their calling to raise godly children and saw the wedding ceremony as the commencement of that. They demanded the ceremony be reverent & solemn.  Their commitment worked slowly to effect a sea-change in the way all society viewed marriage & weddings. Christian women took a courageous & heroic stand. The pagan Libanius couldn’t help but express his admiration when he said, “What women these Christians have!”

Along with the wanton & debauched heterosexual immorality of Greco-Roman society was its acceptance of homosexuality. And not the plain 2 adults of the same-sex variety. Pederasty or pedophilia was common, where an adult man had sex with a boy btwn the age of 12 & 16. In fact, pederasty was the usual form of homosexuality.  Several Roman writers comment on this.

Pederasty declined & ultimately failed in its grip on Roman society for the same reason heterosexual immorality declined; because of the sanctifying influence of Christianity. Christians didn’t stage campaigns calling homosexuality wrong any more than they did for adultery & fornication. They simple showed a more excellent way that won the argument by the superiority of their lifestyle.

That being the case, in the modern return of the rise of sexual immorality, homosexuality, the turn toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, the popularity of the 50 Shades literary porn for soccer moms, and the plague of internet porn, w/the commensurate explosion of child-pornography & sex crimes against children, reason moves us to conclude it’s the failure of Christians to demonstrate to their culture the superiority of the Christian sexual & marriage ethic. We don’t need campaigns against same-sex marriage. We need Christian husbands & wives to love & serve each other, working for each other’s delight & raising happy, healthy families! Hard to do when the divorce rate among those calling themselves Christians is little better than the wider culture. Impossible when a church guy cheats on his wife or a church gal steps out on her husband.

Earlier I said the moral excellence of early Christians commended them to many of their non-Christian peers. While that’s true, it’s certainly not the whole story. The sexual purity of Christians moved others to hate them & accuse them of trying to subvert society. Why, those dangerous Jesus followers were fiddling with centuries of tradition. Keep that up & the gods will be ticked. Who knows what wrath might be brewing, ready to fall on everyone’s head for allowing the Christians to get away with their narrow sexual rules. And what’s this silliness about loving my wife! You Christians are hazardous social revolutionaries. Honestly, in some places of the Empire, it was arguments like this that led to persecutions, and Christians were put to death: è For loving their wives & staying sexually faithful to them.

Well, here we are, 1800 years later & the wheel’s turned once more. The Christian sexual ethic that won out because it was proven to be vastly superior to the pagan ethic, the Christian honoring of the sanctity of marriage & sex that transformed society for the better for nearly 200 years, is being rapidly swept away in a re-embrace of humanistic paganism. The failure isn’t the Gospel’s. Nor is it the overwhelming power of immorality & sin.

The age grows dark when the light goes dim.

The Change Part 2

The Change Part 2

This episode is part 2 of our series considering the impact Christianity has had on history & culture. Today we dig a little deeper into how the Faith impacted the world’s view of the sanctity of life.

In our last podcast, we talked about the ancient world’s widespread practice of infanticide & how Christianity affected a fundamental shift in the way people evaluated life. This elevation of the value of human life came from Christianity’s roots in Biblical Judaism with its revelation that human beings are created in God’s image, then taken further by the Incarnation; that God became man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The cross reveals how highly God values people. Therefore, God’s people must value them as well. So while the pagan world thought little of exposing unwanted infants to the elements & wild beasts, Christians rescued & adopted them, raising them as their own. It was an early & inventive church growth program.

Another way the Christian view of the sanctity of life affected the Roman world was its impact è on the arena.

The Roman writer Ausonius reported that gladiatorial games began in Rome about 264 BC. By the time Christians arrived there, the Romans had watched many thousands of gladiators fight to the death with one other & beasts. Because the whole thing was meant to be a show, more often than not, the battles weren’t quick affairs. They were long, drawn out torments where as soon as one combatant gained a significant advantage on his opponent, he took his time finishing him off to titillate the blood-lust of the spectators. Death by many cuts. As one historian wrote, the 300 year long popularity of the Gladiatorial games “illustrates the pitiless spirit and carelessness of human life lurking behind the pomp, glitter, and cultural pretensions of the great imperial age.”

Like infanticide, the games underscore Rome’s low regard for human life.

Gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war, or condemned criminals, all regarded as expendable. Rome’s seeming unstoppable war-machine meant a constant influx of new slaves & prisoners. The games provided a way to reduce the supply to the slave market to keep their price up & keep the legions who sold them supplied with income. So speaking purely pragmatically, the games were a slick arrangement. It helped regulate the slave industry & provided entertainment for the populace. If one poor soul had to die to keep a thousand happy, it was deemed worth it. Social commentators in ancient Rome remarked on how the State kept the ever-ready-to-riot masses pacified by providing free bread & games; giving rise to the phrase – Bread & Circuses.

Though over time a handful of gladiator achieved celebrity status, the main bulk of them were considered by society to be loathsome & doomed, assigned by Fate to a pitiless lot. Only a handful of freemen ever willingly became gladiators and if they did it was for money & fame. They enjoyed the applause of the crowd & were willing to imperil their lives to gain it. There were a few women gladiators.

Before being allowed to fight in the arena, gladiators were trained. BTW, that word arena comes from the place where gladiatorial contests were waged. Harena is Latin for “sand” and refers to the floor of the theater which was covered w/a fine sand to absorb the blood. The whole aim of the games were to entertain so gladiators were taught the rudiments of combat so they could make a good showing & increase the tension of the spectators. A good deal of gambling took place in the stands as people bet on their hoped-for champion. Because the games were a major event, the famous, rich & powerful were nearly always in attendance, including senators, emperors, pagan priests & vestal virgins.

The games weren’t held just in Rome. Amphitheaters for games were erected in most major cities of the empire. >> I want to pause briefly and make a clarification. In modern usage, the word amphitheater is often used to describe a venue that’s a half circle; like the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. But the prefix amphi means round, a full circle. For the Greeks & Romans, an amphitheater was a full circle, like the Colosseum in Rome. A half circle, is just a theater. Amphitheaters were used for the gladiatorial games while theaters were used primarily for political gatherings, speeches, & plays.

Back to the gladiators: In Rome, as combatants entered the arena, they’d file before the emperor’s box, salute & shout, “We who are about to die salute you.” They would then fight either man to man or in small teams. Occasionally masses of men would re-enact famous battles from Roman history. But most of the time it was 2 men battling each other to the death. When it became clear one was the victor & his opponent was close to death, the winner would look to the stands for the audience’s verdict. If the loser had fought well, they might mark their desire that he be allowed to live by extending their arms & giving a thumbs up. Most times, the crowd wanted to see the match finished by slaying the loser, so they gave thumbs down, the women just as much a part of this as men. All eyes then turned to the emperor whose decision decided the loser’s fate. He nearly always went with the crowd’s majority.

Occasionally gladiators fought wild animals that often got the better of their human opponents. During the early 2nd C, the Emperor Trajan celebrated his conquest of the region of Dacia by hosting games lasting 4 months. Ten thousand gladiators participated & 10,000 animals were killed. Half the gladiators died in the arena while many other died later of their wounds. When Titus inaugurated the Colosseum in Rome in 80 AD, 5,000 animals were killed in a single day, along with hundreds of gladiators.

While the average Roman throughout the empire enjoyed the games, Christians were appalled by them. But don’t forget, MOST of those early Christians were first, game-loving pagans. A radical transformation took place when they converted. What had once been entertainment became abhorrent as they realized the foolishness of their previous ways. For Christians, the games were gambling with men’s lives. They were a shocking violation of the Command, “You shall not murder.”

So, Christians refused to attend the games. It wasn’t so much a boycott as it was a simple decision to not attend an event so fundamentally a grotesque violation of their deeply held conviction.  What used to be entertainment became a deplorable & degrading vice.

Pagan critics of the Faith noticed the Christian absence at the games & complained; calling Christians anti-social! One critic accused, “You do not go to our shows; you take no part in our processions . . . you shrink in horror from our sacred games.” Interesting that the games were called sacred by this pagan critic. He saw participation in what the majority did civilly as a kind of civil religion everyone needed to be a willing part of or they presented a threat & danger to society. As we consider that attitude of the ancient Roman Empire toward Christianity, it speaks volumes to us today about how Christians are once again marginalized for our moral stand on same-sex marriage & intellectual position on theism & creation.

Church leaders called upon their members to not attend the games or other pagan celebrations where debauchery was on display. In AD 220 Tertullian wrote a book called “Concerning Shows” & devoted an entire chapter admonishing Christians to not attend the games.

Evidence of the profound impact Christianity has had on history & the valuation of human life is that today, as we read this chapter of the history of the Roman Empire, we shudder at the barbarity & butchery of the gladiatorial games. It’s appalling imagining people in the stands screaming for blood, cheering as a gladius is drawn slowly across the neck of some poor hapless slave.

Christianity’s high regard for all human life eventually moved Christian emperors to ban the games. Historians agree – it was the growth of the Faith & the persuasion of the Gospel that affected a fundamental shift in the way people regarded life. People grew uneasy with the idea that they were entertained by cruelty & murder. The emperors Theodosius & his son Honorius brought an official end to the games in the late 4th C after 7 centuries of brutality and untold thousands slaughtered for no more reason that entertainment.

Someone might ask if the modern penchant for violence in movies & TV, with all the blood & gore isn’t a return to the moral bankruptcy of the Roman games. There’s an important difference – in movies & TV, everyone knows it’s contrived – no one is actually hurt. In fact, stunt crews go to great lengths to ensure they aren’t; whereas in the ancient games, the victor was cheered & encouraged by the crowds to finish it by brutally killing his opponent. Even in modern boxing matches, the referee stops the match when one of the contestants is in danger of real harm.

Where this seems to be changing though is in the realm of MMA where combatants aim at doing real harm to their opponent and injury is common. As the sport grows & more fighters enter the octagon, the crowd’s thirst for the spectacular keeps growing apace. We can only hope they don’t ever get to the point where they stand, extend their arm and give a thumbs down on a loser who’s tapped out.

Christianity had a positive impact on other Romans laws as soon as the Emperor became a Christian. In 315 Constantine banned the practice of branding the faces of criminals condemned to serve in the mines or as gladiators.  He did so because man was created in the image of God and the face is a special & unique way of identifying individuals. He eventually banned all branding of slaves. He also required people arrested for a crime be given a speedy trial, since holding them implied guilt by holding them against their will. Coming to see the cross as a most cruel form of execution, crucifixion was also outlawed.

Constantine’s son Constantius followed in his father’s reforming ways. He segregated male & female prisoners, to which we say, “Duh!” But know this, until the mid-4th C, male & female prisoners were incarcerated together. And yes, you can imagine what that meant for the poor women. It reveals what low regard Greco-Roman culture had for women who weren’t under the manus, that is – the controlling hand of a husband. Such women were considered fair game for the unwelcomed attention of men. The elevation of women found in the Bible brought social transformation where ever the Faith spread.

We’ve already considered the long historical debate over the legitimacy of Constantine’s conversion. Was it real or feigned because he could see which way the religio-political winds among Rome’s legions were blowing? His reforming of these deep-seated Roman customs regarding the sanctity of life do suggest he really understood the implications of the Gospel & had some kind of a moral revolution himself. A guy who merely used Christianity when it was convenient wouldn’t call for the radical reformation of centuries old traditions knowing the social unrest it would cause unless he was convinced it was the right thing to do.

Another way the Christian view of the sanctity of life shines through in transforming the ancient world is in the end it brought to human sacrifice, a fairly common practice in paganism. Child sacrifices were common rituals for Canaanite worshipers of Baal. Before Patrick arrived in Ireland, the Druids sacrificed both adults & infants. As late the 13th & 14th Centuries, the yet unreached Prussians & Lithuanians practice human sacrifice. In the New World, the Aztecs & Mayans both sacrificed many thousands of victims in blood orgies. The Aztecs would even subdue a neighboring tribe just to produce victims to sacrifice, leaving pools of blood at the base of their pyramids.

But where ever the Gospel went & people were converted to faith in Christ, human sacrifice came to an end.

Finally, where ever the Gospel reached, people’s views of suicide changed. The philosophy of Stoicism which held a powerful sway over the mindset of the Roman Empire, put little value on human life, including one’s own. The ancient Romans had gone all in on the idea of quality of life. The only lives that bore any quality were those of the rich, powerful & privileged. The lower classes were taught to accept the fact that Fate had passed them by & the best they could aspire to was to make the lives of the blessed a little better before giving up their pathetic little lives. Suicide was considered a viable option when life was just too much to endure.

Some Greeks & Romans even considered suicide a glorious end. The person who took their own life in their own time, their own way was the master of their own fate – not leaving death to claim them at its whim. Many notable Romans took their own lives, including Cato, Seneca, Petronius & some of the Emperors. Suicide was lauded as brave, a noble thing to do if it meant avoiding shame.

It’s sad therefore to see the modern resurrection of the old arguments for suicide, that it’s noble if it means being the master of your own destiny, avoiding shame, or is a rebuttal to the supposed lack of quality of a person’s life. Christians joyously announce that in fact we AREN’T the masters of our fate, God is. Shame is dealt with at the cross, & the issue isn’t quality of life – it’s sanctity of life. Quality is subjective, with one person’s abyssmalation being another’s glory, & vice versa. Abyssmalation isn’t even a word – but it gets the point across.

Christianity regards suicide as self-murder, a most obvious violation of the sanctity of life. It’s also, in nearly all cases, a profound loss of faith in God; concluding that one’s life is beyond God’s ability to rescue, restore & redeem.

Interestingly, while suicide came to be generally regarded as incompatible with Faith in God, it wasn’t until the Council of Elvira in 305 that it was formally condemned. And even then it wasn’t suicide as an act of desperation that was in view by the ban placed on it. What prompted the Council’s ban was the fact some Christians were too eager to be martyred. Remember that the couple decades just before Constantine became emperor were times of great & bloody persecution for Christians. Martyrs had achieved heroic status. What had been meant as a way to encourage Christians to stay faithful went overboard & became a kind of perverse delight in being martyred. So there were dozens who could easily have survived just by exercising some simple wisdom. But they nearly dared their tormentors to kill them, thinking that by doing so they were being heroic and would earn more points with God. Really, it was an ancient form of suicide by cop – in this case, suicide by executioner = Martyrdom. The Council of Elvira called a halt to it in 305.

Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Gregory of Nazianus & Eusebius all condemned suicide. But the most vociferously opposed to it was Augustine in the 5th C. You may remember he wrote against the Donatists in North Africa. The Donatists believed there was no forgiveness of sins after baptism, so some had gone to extreme measures & agreed to a mass suicide right after being dunked.

Augustine reasoned suicide violated the command “You shall not murder.” He pointed out that in the Bible, none of the Heroes of the Faith took their own lives and when Elijah asked God to slay him, God refused.

As the years passed, the Roman church added more prescriptions to suicide in the hope no one would even think about it for the way it would consign the soul to eternal darkness. Public attitude toward suicide eventually changed to such a degree that it went from being considered noble to cowardly. Instead of using it to escape shame, it became a means to it.

In our next episode, we’ll consider Christianity’s impact on sexual morality.

The Change Part 1

The Change Part 1

We’re changing gears a bit to begin a series of podcasts considering the impact Christianity has had on the world. We’ll unpack how the Faith has left its imprint on society. The Title of this episode is The Change – Part 1: The Sanctity of Life.

Knowing my fascination with history and especially the history of Rome, a few years ago, someone recommended I watch a mini-series that aired on a cable network. While it was dramatic historical fiction, the producers did a good job of presenting the customs & values of 1st C BC Roman culture. While the series was suspenseful & entertaining, it was difficult to watch because of the brutality that was commonplace. And it wasn’t put in merely for the sake of titillation or to make the shows more provocative. It was an accurate depiction of the time. More than once, I found myself near tears, broken over just how lost the world was. Several times I said out loud, “They needed Jesus!”

Exactly! THAT was the very era Jesus was born into & the culture the Gospel spread in. How desperately the Roman Empire needed the life-affirming message the Early Church preached & lived.

There’s an old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” When the early Christians came to Rome, we can be thankful they DIDN’T do what the Romans did. On the contrary, slowly but surely, with fits & starts, they eventually transformed the Greco-Roman world from rank paganism to a more or less Biblical worldview. Nowhere was that seen more clearly than in the change that was made to the sanctity of human life.

During the early days of the Roman republic, the high value put on the family unit formed a moral base that lent a certain weight to the value of the individual. But as the idea of the State grew during the late republic, then blossomed in the Empire, people were evaluated in terms of what they could contribute to the State. That meant people on the bottom of the social scale had little to no value. The poor, women, and slaves became chattel; property to be used. Life became cheap. And the pagan gods bequeathed no real moral virtue into the Roman world. They were understood to be whimsical & selfish at the best of times, cruel in the worst.

The Christian value of the sanctity or specialness of human beings was based in the Jewish view of man as created in God’s image. There was a healthy Jewish population in the City of Rome itself & scattered throughout other major cities of the Empire. Early on, the unique Jewish view of man had infiltrated the Roman world where ever Jews were to be found. So different was this view of man from the paganized Greco-Roman worldview that many of the more enlightened Greeks & Romans had begun attending Jewish synagogues. If they stayed, they became known as God-fearers; Gentiles who believed in the God of the Bible, but hadn’t become full converts to Judaism by being circumcised, baptized, & keeping kosher. They occupied a section in many synagogues, sitting by themselves to hear the teaching of Scripture. The book of Acts tells us some of Paul’s most fruitful work was in this God-Fearer section of the synagogue.

The Jewish idea of men & women being created in God’s image took on new potency when the Gospel was preached, for it told of God becoming man. And becoming a man so He could go to the cross to ransom lost men & women; translating them from a destiny in hell to the glory of heaven. All this spoke of God’s view of the value of human beings. If He would endure the passion & cross, it meant life was of inestimable value. Rather than life being cheap, it was to be honored and protected at all costs, regardless of its station or quality.

One way the early Christian demonstrated this was the church’s opposition to the widespread practice of infanticide. It was common to expose unwanted children soon after birth, either by drowning or leaving them on exposed where the elements or wild beasts would finish them. They were left to die for physical deformities, for being of the wrong sex, or simply because the parents couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.

Abandoning unwanted infants was quite common in the Greco-Roman world. In fact, the founding myth of Rome begins with 2 infant boys being tossed into the Tiber River. Romulus & Remus both survived to be suckled by a she-wolf, then raised by an elderly shepherd. It was their later struggle that founded the city of Rome, named for one of the brothers – Romulus.

So in the city of Rome itself, parents would regularly leave unwanted children at the base of the Columna Lactaria. In later times, Roman parents would abandon their infants there to show grief over some national calamity, like the death of a beloved emperor. To put that in modern terms, imagine someone dropping off their 2 week old infant at a memorial for 9/11 – and just walking away; thinking that somehow shows solidarity with everyone’s shock & grief. Yet that’s what many Romans did with their newborns when calamity struck.

Greeks also practiced infanticide by abandoning infants. They did so because it was woven into their mythology. The well-known Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex revolves around Oedipus who at only 3 days was abandoned by his father King Laius of Thebes. Ion, founder of Ionia was abandoned as an infant by his mother. Poseidon, Aesculapius, & Hephaistos were all abandoned infants. Even Paris who started the Trojan War was abandoned as a child. In Sparta, every newborn was brought before the elders for inspection. If the child was deemed weak in any way, it was abandoned.

As shocking, is realizing in all the literature come to us from that time, nowhere is there a shred of evidence infanticide was wrong, or even questioned.

Infanticide wasn’t practiced just among the Greeks & Romans; other ancient societies practiced it as well. Plutarch said the Carthaginians had made infant sacrifice a regular occurrence. When building a new house or wall, they mixed the blood of an infant with the mortar, thinking it made the wall stronger. If a wealthy family had no new-born to offer, they’d buy one off a poor mother. Though we don’t have a record of what was on the 12 Tablets that formed the basis of Roman Law & civilization, we know a good deal of what was in them from the quotes of later Romans. Cicero says it was part of Roman law to expose deformed infants. In the 1st C AD, Seneca, remarks in passing, without batting the proverbial eye, that deformed infants were routinely drowned. Infanticide was so common in the later Greek era that in the 2nd C BC, Polybius blamed a population decline on it.


Because infanticide was so common, large families among both Greeks & Romans was rare. An inscription found at Delphi reveals that in a 2nd C sample of 600 families, only 1% had more than 1 daughter! Infanticide was practiced in India, China, Japan, Africa, the rainforests of Brazil, among the Inuit, & among the native North & Central  Americans.

Early Christians balked not at calling infanticide, murder. To them, infants were creatures of God who bore His image no less than their mature counterparts. They’d heard of Jesus’ attention to little children in Matthew 19. That passage is interesting because the disciples thought the children approaching Jesus weren’t worthy of His august attention. In their attitude toward the little ones, contrary as it was to Jesus’ own perspective, we catch of glimpse of how the Greco-Roman culture had influenced them. The pre-Roman Jewish culture put a huge emphasis on children. They were regarded as a great blessing from God. Children were God’s promise of a future! Yet in the disciples’ shooing the children away from Jesus, we see how the Greco-Roman devaluing of life had infected them.

We ought to reflect on how the modern abortion debate may have affected our valuation of human life. The parallels to the current population decline among ethnic Europeans ought to be obvious & a sign of how the Judeo-Christian worldview has been gutted from Western civilization.

The Didache, the standard catechism used by the Church in the 1st C tells Christians, “You shall not commit infanticide.” It’s condemned in the Epistle of Barnabas, written about 130. In AD 222, the 1-time slave turned bishop of Rome, Callistus expressed his dismay at the widespread practice of exposing unwanted infants.

It was this & the very vocal Christian opposition to it that helped fuel the persecution the early church faced in so many places around the Empire. The Romans placed great stock in tradition and looked with suspicion on anyone who sought to change it. The Christians were doing just that with their radical ideas about how to treat the unwanted.

While Christians opposed infanticide, they were unable to do anything about it as a social policy while they were an outlawed group. It wasn’t until the Edict of Milan in AD 313 that they were able to even speak to official policy. Then, only 60 years later Emperor Valentinian, at the urging of Basil of Caesarea, outlawed the wicked practice of infanticide.

But while they waited for the laws to change, early Christians didn’t sit on their hands. They regularly went out to the hillsides where children were left exposed and took them into their homes, raising them as their own children. In Rome, Bishop Callistus organized people to roam the streets in the late evening, looking for abandoned children. He then placed them in the homes of parents wanting them. As far as we know, this was the first organized adoption agency, even though it was done on the sly. The famous martyr Polycarp’s protégé, Benignus of Dijon, recused & nurtured abandoned little ones, ministering to the needs of children who’d been deformed because of botched abortions. Afra of Augsburg, a notorious prostitute before her conversion to Christ, began a ministry to the abandoned children of prisoners, thieves, smugglers, pirates, runaway slaves, and all sorts of ne’er-do’ wells.No one should get the impression from this that following Valentinian’s outlawing of infanticide & child-abandonment, there was an immediate, overnight end to the practice. Far from it. People in Europe & the Eastern Empire continued to off their off spring in large numbers. And Christians continued to adopt them. But as the influence of the Christian worldview spread, there was a deep & fundamental shift that took place in the way people viewed human life; all of it from cradle to grave. And where that respect for life settled in, infanticide evaporated. It got to the point where a single abandoned infant became a shocking event the news of which spread like wild-fire. And when desperation moved some young mother to abandon her child, where did she leave it? Not on a hillside to let it die. No. She left it on the doorstep of the local church because she knew her child would be taken care of.

So it ought to be with the deepest kind of grief that we hear now about newborns being left in dumpsters & gas station restrooms. It seems we’ve regressed, not progressed; devolved, not evolved. Society has at any rate. And to think – there are people who actually rejoice that the Christian worldview has been cut loose from modern society.

We have abortion, which is really just an earlier form of infanticide. Partial birth abortion isn’t even that! If a woman doesn’t make the appointment to rid herself of the unwanted before it’s born, no problem; when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

What’s next? Gladiatorial combat? Oops – too late. // Slavery? Again, too late. It’s already here.

We’ll be taking a look at many more ways the Christian Faith has impacted culture & civilization in the weeks to come.

Into His Image