The Early Church
The idea that virtually all of the earliest Christian writings are relatively late, from forty years to a century after Our Lord preached, and were mostly pseudonymous has taken such root in Biblical scholarship that a detailed challenge (from a liberal bishop, yet) is a surprise. In Redating the New Testament
, J. A. T. Robinson, best known for Honest to God
and other modernizing theological tracts, argues forcefully that none of the New Testament books can be convincingly shown to have been written later than 70 A.D. and that the traditional attributions of authorship are almost all valid.
There is a world - I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit - which is not the world in which I live. In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from the facts but always from somebody else’s version of the same story. . . . In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by Government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees. In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world no prophecy, however vaguely worded, is ever made except after the fact. In my world we say, ‘The first world-war took place in 1914–1918.’ In that world they say, ‘The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century.’ In my world men and women live for a considerable time - seventy, eighty, even a hundred years - and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they ‘preserve traces of primitive tradition’ about things which happened well within their own adult lifetime.
-- A. H. N. Green-Armytage, John Who Saw (1952)
James, the "Brother of the Lord", is an outstanding figure in the New Testament and is traditionally regarded as the first Patriarch of Jerusalem. He is also the only Christian of that era mentioned in a secular source. His image nonetheless quickly became enmeshed in legends of doubtful orthodoxy, then faded to to a dull, saintly pastel. The epistle that bears his name became controversial during the Reformation, when Martin Luther denounced it as "straw". John Painter's Just James
seeks to restore the portrait of this great leader. The Anchor Bible edition of the Letter of James
, prepared by Luke Timothy Johnson, illuminates its context and meaning, while taking the position that the epistle does in fact come from James himself rather than, as is widely assumed, a later psuedepigrapher.
The thousands of closely printed pages of The Ante-Nicene Fathers
are intimidating to the layman who wishes to learn more about the first three centuries of Christianity. Bart D. Ehrman helpfully culls some of the most important and characteristic early Church writings in After the New Testament
. The collection ranges beyond the bounds of what eventually came to be recognized as orthodox. Perusing what the heretics really said is likely to cure any thoughtful reader of the idea that the Great Church suppressed a diversity of valuable insights.
For seventeen centuries, controversy has swirled about the ideas of Origen, one of the great scholars and intellects of the early Church. Some of his admirers have themselves been outstanding Fathers of the Church; others have been condemned by Ecumenical Councils. Joseph W. Trigg has collected, in Origen
, a dozen long samples of his subject's most typical surviving work, prefaced by a succinct but thorough biography. These selections emphasize Biblical criticism, the field to which Origen devoted his greatest efforts. In some respects, such as scientific textual criticism, his work is surprisingly modern. Nevertheless, his approach to the Bible is different toto caelo
from any practiced today. Fr. Trigg thinks that we can learn from it. Maybe what we learn will be its pitfalls.
Hugh Trevor-Roper's Archbishop Laud
is a full, even-handed, but anachronistically secular, life of the key figure in the development of Anglo-Catholicism.
J. P. Kenyon recounts the most famous manifestation of English anti-Catholic bigotry in The Popish Plot
The Old Testament
In What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It
, veteran archaeologist William G. Dever argues for the historical reliability of much, though not all, of the Old Testament. Unlike most "the Bible as history" volumes, this one is noteworthy for coming from the hand of a secular humanist whose primary concerns are historical rather than religious.
In hac lacrimarum valle
Among the casualties of the attack on the World Trade Center was 85-year-old St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
, a tiny chapel in the shadow of the Twin Towers that housed icons donated by Emperor Nicholas II of Russia.
, last in the news seven centuries ago, are suddenly a hot topic. Islamic fundamentalists cite them as a continuing grievance, while conservative Christians has leaped up to defend them. The latter are right, I think, to portray the establishment of Outremer as a defensive reaction by Christendom against Moslem agression, but they overlook the point that the effort was badly conceived and probably weakened the Christian cause. Anti-Western Moslems would be lucky to have such inept opponents today.
"Just War" under modern conditions
: George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center has made an effort to bring the Just War doctrine into the 21st Century and the War on Terror. A critique by the Archbishop of Canterbury shows how well founded Weigel's position is. [10/19/03]
Tragic irony in Iraq
: As conditions improve, a priest worries that the country's ancient Christian community may be forced into exile by American softness toward radical Islam. [9/3/03]
The West and Islamic Reform
: The internal debate over the meaning of Islam is important, but Christians should not overestimate our ability to influence it. [7/30/02]
"Normal times" for the Church
: The lives of the martyrs, not our current state of comfort and safety, are the measure of Christian normality. [7/4/02]
Celibates and pedophiles
: Clerical celibacy isn't a root cause of the Roman Catholic Church's homosexual scandals. [6/9/02]
: Though Christianity is often dismissed as an obscure and obscurantist footnote to modernity, it is contemporary secularism that is adrift without answers to intellectual or moral conundrums. [5/5/02]
Ashcroft insults Islam?
: Pretending that there are no differences between Christian and Moslem beliefs is a disservice to both faiths. [3/12/02]
A Christian-econut alliance?
: Ecological extremists may be right about an occasional controversy, but making common cause with them is folly. [2/25/02]
Christianity and antisemitism
: Despite the fact that contemporary antisemitism comes primarily from strongly anti-Christian sources, some "experts" blame Chistianity for its existence. [2/9/02]
The Quest for the historical Mohammed
: Modern scholarly methods are rarely applied to the study of early Islam, but there are indications that the traditional picture may be far from factual. [12/8/01]
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library
is a huge collection of electronic versions of public domain Christian texts, including the complete series of Ante-Nicene Fathers
and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.
Most of the material has been converted to HTML. Some of the more obscure works are PDF files.
, maintained by Fr. Johannes Jacobse, has links to articles on social and moral issues and a blog
commenting on them from an Orthodox perspective.
My old and dear friends Father Charles and Presbytera Sara Dinkler serve Holy Cross Orthodox Church
, a small Western Rite
parish in Orinda, California. The parish's Web site has information about the Western Rite's history and customs, plus a selection Father Charles' excellent homilies. (Update: Fr. Charles entered into life eternal on the night of September 11, 2003. Lord have mercy upon him.)
is a nondenominational, though mostly Protestant, group devoted to fellowship among Christian fans and the exploration of the religious elements of science fiction.
Jewish World Review
(profiled by Rod Dreher in The Wall Street Journal
and Lou Marano for United Press International
) offers a wide range of religious and secular commentary from a politically conservative, traditionalist Jewish perspective. Tax-deductible contributions to this worthy, but financially strapped, enterprise can be sent to its sponsor, Keren Yehoshua V'Yisroel, c/o Black, 125 Carey Street, Lakewood, New Jersey 08701. (Mark checks "Jewish World Review" to make sure that they get to the right place.)
is a "semi-definitive list of Christian blogs". Blogging has also come to the Orthodox world. Orthodox Christian weblogs and personal sites include -
(by Fr. Nectarios, an Orthodox priest; links to articles and essays of interest to Orthodox Christians, with very little commentary)
(an Orthodox convert's first-rate blog)