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When someone seems to know through insight, intuition and experience how best to act or how things will likely work out, we say they’re wiser than those who make superficial, snap or conventional judgments.

Wisdom may or may not involve academic, specialized, scientific or factual knowledge. The intuitive aspects of wisdom may involve revealed, infused, illuminated, transpersonal or transcendent knowledge—that is, knowledge that saints, mystics and seers from many different religions say extends beyond the usual understanding of space and time.

name lost in internet. Seems to be Mystic Marr...

Name lost in internet. Seems to be Mystic Marriage of Christ and the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea of wisdom has been debated among religious traditions. Hindus, for example, might see Christians as slaves to externally imposed dogmas and rituals that seal them in ignorance, while some Christians may see the works of the devil binding Hindus to false or incomplete beliefs that deny or ‘water down’ the belief that Christ is the only Messiah.

Even within a given religion, opposing viewpoints can be found about the nature of wisdom. Fundamentalist Christians, for instance, often react strongly against the deeper aspects of Christian mysticism. In fact, some Fundamentalists go as far to say that all mysticism is Satanic.

drifts ...item 1.. Grand Jury's indictment add...

Photo credit: marsmet53 via Flickr

The Protestant Josh McDowell seems to lean in this direction. In his book The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, McDowell notes that there are many types of mysticism but only discusses the alleged errors of the “pantheistic mysticism of the East.”¹ More importantly, his discussion equates the term ‘mysticism’ as if it only applied to Eastern mysticism, particularly that of Zen Buddhism.

McDowell’s argument overlooks the plain fact that a mature discussion on mysticism applies to a wide variety of religious experiences, along with the key question concerning their transcendent origin and ethical orientation. In fact, Catholics and some Protestants take great pains to differentiate interior experiences that are from God and those that are not. Moreover, mystics can variously describe God as being wholly other or as some kind of natural or pantheistic consciousness.

¹ Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999: 643-658.

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Apollinarius (The Younger, 310-390 CE) was an early Christian teacher whose views on Christ were condemned as heresy. He and his father, a grammarian, rendered the Old Testament into a poetic form reminiscent of ancient Greek verse and Platonic dialogues. This was done after the Emperor Julian forbade Christians to teach the classics.

But Apollinarius’ sense of innovation didn’t stop there. He argued that Christ and God were one and that this doctrine should be taught to the people. This might sound similar to what some Catholic priests say in passing today, but it’s very different when we look at the finer points of Catholic theology.

For Apollinarius, Christ’s human spirit was replaced by the divine Logos. As such, Christ couldn’t morally develop during his lifetime because he was already perfect. This view denied Christ’s human side. It was rejected by an orthodoxy believing that all of humanity could not be saved unless God was partly human. The movement spearheaded by Apollinarius, called Appollinarianism, could only redeem the spiritual but not the natural aspects of humanity.

English: Stephen Hawking being presented by hi...

Stephen Hawking being presented by his daughter Lucy Hawking at the lecture he gave for NASA’s 50th anniversary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The distinction between spirit and human nature continues today. More generally, it takes the form of a broad distinction between spirit and nature. Some see these two ideas as identical and others don’t. A new wrinkle in this issue is the subatomic physics observation that matter can behave like energy and vice versa. This development has lead many to speak of “matter/energy.”¹

Although Apollinarius became Bishop of Laodicea (360 CE), he was condemned by the synod at Rome (374-380 CE) and the council of Constantinople (381 CE).

¹ The centuries-old theological idea of immanence means that spirit comes into or dwells within matter but matter and spirit remain qualitatively different. This idea is found within the Catholic Holy Spirit and with variations in many world religions. Now that subatomic physicists see matter as matter/energy, it doesn’t follow that matter/energy is necessarily the same as spirit. But not everyone sees it that way. Recent observations in subatomic physics seem to have given some, like Stephen Hawking, confidence in believing that they can speak meaningfully about God and spirituality. But Hawking’s confidence seems to be more about his exceptionality in conceptual thinking than in any kind of advanced mysticism. Accordingly, his remarks arguably fall short when he speaks to ultimate meaning and purpose. However, one can’t help but admire how he’s overcome adversity, as well as his treatment of complicated scientific ideas—especially when illustrating new theories about space and time. He’s also to be commended for asking the big questions, which many people never even bother to think about.



Early Christians celebrating Communion at an A...

Early Christians celebrating Communion at an Agape Feast, from the Catacomb of Ss. Peter and Marcellinus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In literary circles the Greek term agapē (Latin: caritas) refers to the ideal of universal love, especially charitable Christian love among brothers and sisters of the one human family.

As C. S. Lewis suggests in his book, The Four Loves (1960), this type of love is distinct from matrimonial, emotional, passionate-erotic and friendly love.

For many Christians, agape also refers to the institution of the Eucharist, introduced by Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is often connected by Christians with the Jewish Passover meal, an event signifying, among other things, fellowship.

Christians also stress that the Eucharistic meal is not just a celebration of fellowship. For believers in the Eucharist, agape is a “love feast” involving a genuine participation in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The rite is said to pierce through space and time and be sanctified from heaven.

Agape feast 04

Agape feast 04 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Believers also say the Eucharist is not a mere symbol nor memorial; rather, the host is essentially if not visibly transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

The roots of the Eucharist are traceable to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was believed that deceased ancestors partook of food and drink offered at funeral feasts. Somewhat like the Eucharist, this was not just a memorial feast but an active celebration of the living and the dead.

The Wikipedia entry on agape says that the earliest use of the term agape didn’t bear any particular religious connotation.

Although the word does not have specific religious connotation, the word has been used by a variety of contemporary and ancient sources, including biblical authors and Christian authors. Greek philosophers at the time of Plato and other ancient authors have used forms of the word to denote love of a spouse or family, or affection for a particular activity, in contrast to philia (an affection that could denote friendship, brotherhood or generally non-sexual affection) and eros, an affection of a sexual nature.¹

¹ This Wikepedia entry may seem less “biased” and more “objective” than a Christian theological view. But it’s arguably biased in its own way.

Related Posts » Consubstantiation, Eros, Philia, Transubstantiation

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Thomas à Kempis

Deutsch: Thomas von Kempen Nederlands: Thomas ...

Deutsch: Thomas von Kempen Nederlands: Thomas a Kempis, Thomas van Kempen, Thomas Hemerken (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas à Kempis  (1379-1471) Also known as Thomas Hemerken (with various spellings), à Kempis was born in Kempen, Germany. After his early schooling in Latin, he entered an Augustinian convent in 1406.

In 1413 he received Holy orders and and became sub-prior of the monastery in 1429. Primarily a copyist, he spent the rest of his quiet life as a religious, copying the Bible no less than four times. The only time we know that his peaceful life was disturbed occurred when the Pope didn’t accept the Bishop-elect of Utrecht, Rudolf van Diepholt. In a time when Church power meant everything, this would have been a big deal.

Thomas wrote several spiritual works but the most popular is his devotional classic, Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ). This work became so influential that it rivaled the Bible in sales after Johann Gutenberg‘s invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s.

Reading The Imitation today, one cannot help but note its medieval outlook. While clearly a milestone, times have changed. The pace of material, technological and psychological development during the last century has been faster than ever before in human history.

English: The First chapter of The Imitation of...

English: The First chapter of The Imitation of Christ published by Chapman and Hall in 1878. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based on biblical scripture, the sincere seeker of the 21st century might find some of the advice in The Imitation a bit outdated and inappropriate to the conditions and demands of today’s world. While some may say that “dogma doesn’t change,” many teachings and practices of the Church have changed over the years.

In 2002 New York photographer David Shankbone did a series of indoor pictures, using a cheap digital camera, of topless women vacuuming wearing only panties. This was part of a fashion show called The Imitation of Christ.  Shankbone’s images caused quite a stir among critics. However, one could perhaps interpret them along the lines of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s song, “Woman Is the Nigger of the Word,” which also sparked controversy in 1972. That is, Shankbone’s images portray “women’s subservience to men and male chauvinism across all cultures.”¹ Shankbone has uploaded some of his images at WIkipedia (warning: contains partial nudity).

English: John Lennon and Yoko Ono

English: John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While this may seem all pretty far away from Thomas à Kempis, it might not be. If one looks at how many Catholic parishes are run, the all-male priesthood rarely does any housecleaning. Instead, they tend to rest, pray, watch TV, listen to music or socialize during their precious little free time while women volunteers do the housecleaning. Catholics tend to justify this gender-based, institutionally reinforced division of labor by saying that men and women are equal but different.

Well, yes. But how exactly do they differ, other than the obvious biological and anatomical differences? Moreover, do not men differ from other men, and women from other women? On this score, many believe that current Catholic attitudes and related practices contribute to traditional sex-role stereotypes—stereotypes that hinder the true liberation of men and women.

L'imitation de Jésus Christ - Édition Alfred M...

L’imitation de Jésus Christ – Édition Alfred Mame et fils – 1874 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the debate doesn’t end here. Theologians often reply by asking what we mean by the word “liberation.” If you follow the rules and guidelines of the Church, they say, you will be liberated in heaven. No one is fully liberated down here on Earth because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.

To this argument, critics reply that it’s just a lame excuse to do little or nothing toward the elimination of repressive sex-role stereotypes. The Church does speak out on other social issues, they say. So why be concerned about some social problems but not all?


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An illustration of the blind Höðr killing Bald...

An illustration of the blind Höðr killing Baldr, from an Icelandic 18th century manuscript. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also known as Baldur or Baldr in Norse mythology, Balder was a noble, gentle and yet powerful god. Much loved by all, he was son of Odin and Frigg.

Reminiscent of Achilles, Balder was invulnerable to harm, except by the mistletoe. He was mistakenly killed by the blind god Hodur, who’d been duped by the trickster Loki into piercing him with a dart crafted from mistletoe.

The ensuing weeping among the Aesir immortals over the death of Balder lead some to liken him to the Norse version of Christ.

The roots of the his name are somewhat unclear. Wikipedia has a good discussion here:

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English: The Lord's Supper. Christ standing at...

English: The Lord’s Supper. Christ standing at an Orthodox altar, giving the Eucharist to the Twelve Apostles. Frescoes in the upper church of Spaso-Preobrazhenski cathedral. Valaam Monastery Русский: Алтарная апсида верхнего храма Спасо-Преображенского собора Валаамского монастыря. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consubstantiation is the teaching about the Lord’s Supper that says Christ is “in, with, and under” the bread and wine, which themselves are not altered in substance.¹ It’s often associated with Martin Luther, even though he spoke in terms of “sacramental union.”

The teaching, however, resonates with Luther’s view that Christ’s divine and human aspects are so closely united that he is omnipresent within all of creation.

Wikipedia outlines the, perhaps, first visibly historical incidence of consubstantiation:

In England in the late 14th century, there was a political and religious movement known as Lollardy. Among much broader goals, the Lollards affirmed a form of consubstantiation—that the Eucharist remained physically bread and wine, while becoming spiritually the body and blood of Christ. Lollardy survived up until the time of the English Reformation

¹ An alteration of substance but not of form is key to the Catholic belief in transubstantiation.


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Photo credit: zugaldia via Flickr

Christology is the theological study of Jesus Christ as a human and Divine being.

Various Christian sects in early Christianity emphasized either Christ’s humanity at the expense of his Divinity or, conversely, his Divinity at the expense of his humanity.

The Christian Church took great pains to officially resolve these as heresies.

Related Posts » Apollinarius, Arius, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Nestorius.



English: Resurrection of Christ

English: Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christianity is the religion based on the life, teachings, moral example, crucifixion and resurrection of the New Testament figure, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the son of a young Jewish woman, Mary, who conceived while engaged to her carpenter fiance, Joseph. The Jesus story tells us that Mary didn’t have sexual relations with Joseph but, instead, was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she’d become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit—a calling which Mary willingly accepted. So technically, Joseph was Jesus’ foster father.

Founded in Jerusalem, the Christian religion emerged from the Jewish scriptural tradition, which Christians today call the Old Testament. Jesus, in fact, is seen by his followers as the long awaited prophet promised in Jewish scriptures.

As with contemporary Christianity, Early Christianity was shaped by the Jesus story. But this isn’t all. There’s also the living grace which believers claim to experience. So rather than their religion being a dry routine based on some distant past event, believers say they can feel the Holy Spirit acting in their lives, here and now.¹

These two elements – the teachings and example of the earthly Christ along with the perceived guidance and indwelling love of the heavenly Christ – forged an unshakable belief in many of Christ’s early followers.

Some early Christians believed that Christ’s promised return – signalling the end of the world – was imminent. In one letter St. Paul chastises believers for not working due to their misguided belief about the end-times occurring within their lifetimes (2 Thessalonians 3:10, Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32).

The religion spread throughout the Mediterranean’s Gentile (non-Jewish) population for about 20 years after Christ’s death. It was declared an “illegal assembly” under Roman Law. And the tyrant Nero publicly blamed Christians for the great fire in Rome of 64 CE.

Cruel and barbaric persecutions at the hands of the pagan Romans followed but the religion continued to spread. While some Christians denied their belief in Christ when threatened with horrendous torture and death, a good number willingly – some even joyously – went to their deaths at the hands of the pagan Romans.

The graceful and heroic courage of Christians being fed alive to lions in the Colosseum at Rome impressed some of the more sensitive Romans, leading to their conversion to this new monotheistic religion. Conversions didn’t just take place among the poor, as commonly believed. By 96 CE the radical egalitarianism of Christianity became increasingly apparent as members of the Roman Imperial family also converted away from their pagan past. By the end of the 2nd-century, Christianity had spread into Britain.

Map of the distribution of Christians of the world

Map of the distribution of Christians of the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why was Christianity so successful?

Some sociologists suggest that the Christian message gave hope of eternal reward to the powerless and oppressed. In other words, it’s a religion for losers. But historians more correctly note that the religion cut across all class lines, fostered warm communal love and complete forgiveness for past wrongs, along with the promise of power over demons and everlasting life in heaven. Theologians add that the spiritual power of the living Christ has always been present among believers in the form of the Holy Spirit, giving life, love and direction to their religious worship.

In 313 CE Constantine issued an edict of toleration in Milan, enabling Christians to worship without fear of persecution. In 381 CE Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.

Some Christian sects in early Christianity emphasized either Christ’s humanity at the expense of his Divinity, or conversely, his Divinity at the expense of his humanity. The Church took great pains to officially resolve these as “heresies.”

Christianity continued to expand through the Roman empire. When the Western empire fell in 476 CE, the barbarian invaders were converted.

During the so-called Dark Ages, the Papal court fell into disrepute. Several Popes become blatantly corrupt. Murder, intrigue and absurd rationalizations for grave evils abounded. The flame of Christianity, however, was kept alive in the European monasteries. Monks by and large were disgusted with the scandalous and violent practices of the Papal court.

In the East, Christianity continued as ‘Byzantium’ until overrun my Muslim invaders in 1453 CE.

The Orthodox Church had become split by the 11th-century. Apart from subtle theological differences, the Western Church recognized the Pope while the Eastern Church did not.

Several additional heresies were squelched by the Western Church but the 16th-century rise of the Reformers and the Counter-Reformation created a decisive split between Protestants and Roman Catholics.


CHRIST by Fergal of Claddagh via Flickr

Protestant Churches, themselves, began to splinter, with many new denominations rising up, usually at the bidding of some charismatic reformer claiming to rekindle the “original truth” of Christianity.

Despite doctrinal differences among various branches of Christianity in the 21st-century, almost all Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the belief that God reveals himself in three ‘persons’ of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three distinct persons are said to be equal, eternal and also a unity, sharing the same substance.

Today Christianity is a world-wide religion of over 2.2 billion followers, largely the result of colonization and missionary work among various Christian denominations.

¹ Problems arise when different believers claim opposing ‘truths’ based on the apparent experience of the Holy Spirit. Quite possibly some individuals mistake a kind of vital, perhaps even biochemical, energy for the true love and peace of the Holy Spirit.

Related Posts » Christology, Church, Church Fathers

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Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Catholicism denotes the entire body of Catholic faithful along with their creeds, churches, institutions, clergy and hierarchy.

Contemporary Catholics believe that the Catholic faith follows the authentic teachings of Christ as given to the apostles and recorded in scripture, these teachings being preserved, present and developed through a legitimate and holy apostolic tradition.

Catholics comprise the single largest body of religious believers on the planet, and about half of all Christians.

The Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches together form the “Catholic Church”,[21] or “Roman Catholic Church”,[22] the world’s largest single religious body and the largest Christian church, comprising over half of all Christians (1.1 billion Christians of 2.1 billion) and nearly one-sixth of the world’s population


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English: A diagram showing the Nestorian view ...

A diagram showing the Nestorian view of Christ: Containing both a human and divine person. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dyophysitism is the religious doctrine, defined in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, declaring that Christ possesses a dual nature, one entirely Divine and the other entirely human.

The term has also been applied to Nestorian beliefs, although theologians continue to debate whether or not this is justified.

Related Posts » Monophysitism


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