“‘Whatever difference there may be between two persons, even if humanly speaking it were most extreme, God has it in his power to say, “When I am present, certainly no one will presume to be conscious of this difference, because that would be standing and talking to each other in my presence as if I were not present”’” (Soren Kierkegaard, quoted by Vernard Eller in Towering Babble ).
Tuesday, October 18, 2022
“The kingdom of God must be the desire of our hearts; then solutions will come. You can be useful when you are willing to bear the greatest misery for God’s sake…It cannot be in vain, bearing what God wills us to bear, when we are following the one who bore the cross” (Johann Blumhardt [or son Christoph], quoted by Vernard Eller in Towering Babble: God’s People Without God’s Word ).
Thursday, September 29, 2022
The Mediterranean Sea has a relatively uniform length west to east for two reasons. One, it begins at the Strait of Gibraltar which is only 9 miles (14 km) wide. Two, the Levantine coast on its eastern shore runs north to south in a relatively uniform way as it stretches from the Bay of Iskenderun to the city of Gaza. So, as a representative measure of length from west to east, from the Strait of Gibraltar to port of Beirut, the Mediterranean Sea is 2,316 miles (3,727 km) long.
When the mighty Volga River enters the Caspian Sea, its journey ends. The Caspian has no outlet. It’s the largest body of water with that characteristic on Earth. The Caspian itself is 750 miles (1,208 km) long from north to south, an average 200 miles (320 km) wide, and has an area of 149,200 square miles (386,400 sq km). It has an average depth of 692 feet (211 m) and a maximum depth of 3,363 feet (1,025 m). Surprisingly it’s a little salty, though with less than half of the ocean’s salinity. The shallow northern portion of the sea usually turns to ice in the winter; sometimes, the southern portion does as well.
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
In our fabled land of Olympia, the Dnieper River, at 1,367 miles (2,200 km) in length, is exceeded only by the Volga (2,200 mi/3,520 km) and Danube (1,767 mi/2,850 km). The Dnieper falls wholly within our geocultural province of Slavia. It starts 720 feet (220 m) above sea level in a peat bog in the Valdai Hills 3 miles (5 km) northwest of the rural village of Bocharovo (Russia) and 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Moscow. In its long journey, it flows roughly south through the cities listed below until it empties into the Black Sea.
Saturday, September 24, 2022
The Volga River forms a significant portion of the eastern boundary of our geocultural province of Slavia. The Don River, another in Slavia, lies to its west.
The Don springs from the ground 720 feet (220 m) above sea level in the city of Novomoskovsk, Russia, 125 miles (201 km) south of Moscow and 30 miles (48 km) southeast of the city of Tula. It curves in a semicircular way as it flows south and east following the eastern edge of the range of rolling hills known as the Central Russian Upland. It gets closest to the Volga a mere 40 miles (64 km) from Volgograd and has been connected at that point to the great river by canal since 1952. The Don then veers southwest and, after a total journey of 1160 miles (1868 km), empties into the Sea of Azov at Rostov-on-Don.
Friday, September 23, 2022
The Volga River forms a significant portion of the northern and eastern boundaries of the geocultural province of Slavia. It is Europe’s longest river, flowing 2200 miles (3520 km) from its beginning in the Valdai Hills to its end in the Caspian Sea. In comparison, in length the Danube is 1767 miles (2850 km); the Dnieper, 1364 miles (2200 km); and the Don, 1160 miles (1870 km). The Volga, Dnieper, and Don are all in Slavia.
The Valdai Hills form the northern section of the Central Russian Highlands. The headwaters of the Volga are located in these hills at Volgoverkhovye, 738 ft (225 m) above sea level, 264 miles (425 km) southeast of Saint Petersburg and 311 miles (502 km) northwest of Moscow.
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Tradition tells us much about the illustrious ancestors of the founder of Rome.
Perhaps twenty generations before the birth of Romulus, his ancestor Tros founded the kingdom of Troy in Anatolia. Ilus, son of Tros, founded what became the kingdom’s foremost city on the Hellespont (today’s Dardanelles). Ilus named his city Ilion after himself. The title of Homer’s book the Iliad means “the story of Ilion.” The city later became better known as Troy.
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Rapid change of religion in the 1800s
In the 1800s, in Latin Christendom itself, Christianity lost its centuries-old place as the dominant religion to a resurgent, exuberant, Olympianity. Christianity no longer provided the self-evident worldview. It no longer told us who God is or about his relationship to us and ours with him. It no longer provided the shared explanation of why things are the way they are. It no longer served as the source of society’s form, culture’s content, and the form and content of our personalities.
Saturday, September 10, 2022
Industrial Revolution: Christianity to Olympianity
The Industrial Revolution was in reality the first phase of a technological revolution still with us. With it a previously Christian society and culture became an increasingly Olympian one.
Urban growth and church decline
One consequence of the technological revolution: the explosive growth of large urban cities at the expense of small rural villages.
France lost a humiliating six-month war to Germany in January 1871. Afterward, French National Guardsmen joined political progressives in a revolt against the restorative national government that had gotten them into the bloody mess. In March 1871, they organized a Commune in Paris with a progressive government independent of the Third Republic ruling from Versailles. It lasted for two months.
Friday, September 9, 2022
Like the year 1830, 1848 was another one of revolutions across Europe. Early in that year, Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedrich Engels (1820-95) published The Communist Manifesto (1848). It opened with the words, “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre.”
Earlier, Marx wrote these words about religion (in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844):
Restorative movement across Western Europe after 1815
In 1815, with Napoleon’s banishment to a small rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the crowned heads of Europe heaved a tremendous collective sigh of relief. They also created with one another an alliance they called holy to restore Christian society and culture to its imagined pre-revolutionary purity. In societal terms, they recreated the Inquisition and the Jesuits. Culturally, they restored the Index of Prohibited Books.
Restoration in Gallia
Even in Gallia, the Bourbon monarchy was restored after Napoleon’s exile. Louis 18th (1755-1824, r. >1815) ruled in place of his slain brother Louis 16th (1754-93, r. >1774), the Revolutionary Convention, and the emperor Napoleon. Yet, unlike Louis 16th, the new king ruled as part of a constitutional monarchy. When his younger brother Charles 10th (1757-1836, r. 1824-30) became king, he strove to restore pre-Revolutionary French society and culture. His efforts backfired and he had to flee to England.
Church-State relations: seesaw of hostility and cooperation
Beginning with Charles and continuing for decades, different social groups in France pursued divergent understandings of the right relationship between Church and State. Periods of mutual hostility and cooperation followed one another in quick succession.
When hostile, the State would exalt social equality at the expense of the Latin Christian hierarchy, knowledge through reason at the expense of knowledge on the basis of authority, and the scientific method rather than divine revelation as the source of truth.
When cooperative, the State would exalt a Church hierarchy that supported the State hierarchy, taught the people all they needed to know about living as obedient servants of their betters, and served as faithful guardian of a submissive Church tradition.
But whether hostile or cooperative, the State remained the dominant partner in the relationship.
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Thursday, September 8, 2022
In Britannia, mid-1700s, enthusiastic Methodists inside and outside the established English Church challenged otherwise complacent members and leaders concerning their commitment to Jesus Christ. In Gallia, late 1700s, delirious representatives of an exuberant Olympianity overwhelmed a corrupt aristocratic Latin Church.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
On the morning of November 1, 1755—All Saints' Day—a powerful earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal. Less than an hour later a huge tidal wave flooded the city. As the water receded, fires engulfed what remained and burned for five days. Out of about 200,000 inhabitants, perhaps 40,000 died and over 85% of all buildings were lost.
While some leaders of the established Church of England may have devoted themselves to Vulcan as the clockmaker god of reason, others begged to differ. For them, Methodism became, among other things, an emotional protest against the reasonable god of these Deists and the staid and respectable limitations placed on the worship of such a god.
The Latin Christian civil war, the response of Jupiter and Mars to the Protestant Reformation, brought an end to Latin Christendom in 1648. Instead of the one Latin Christian Church of 1517, several national churches and various smaller church organizations went their divergent ways.
Classical cultural movement (1700s)
If Rococo art characterized Latin Christian Europe in the 1700s, English Christian Britannia found expression along more classical lines. Funereal art, for example, expressed in classical style, lines the interior walls of church buildings constructed during this time. Sculptures portray calm, satisfied, confident men, some even dressed in togas, mourned by stoic women and commemorated in recitations of standard virtues.
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Some Nonconformists flee Britannia for northwestern Germania. In 1581 seven provinces of the Spanish Netherlands declare their independence from Philip 2nd, king of Spain, and form the Dutch Republic. Unprecedented is the Republic’s guarantee of freedom of conscience and worship to all inhabitants. This freedom applies not only to Protestants but to Catholics and even Jews.
James 1st: persecution (>1604)
Elizabeth 1st (r. 1558-1603) pursues a policy of tolerance on questions of Christian thought and practice. James 1st (1566-1625, r. >1603) doesn’t. He prefers, for example, to punish Calvinist reformers within the Church of England. He chooses to have stubborn pastors excommunicated and to persecute their congregations. Even so, some congregations in Britannia persist in being Nonconformists to the Anglican church.
Powerful reform movement in Gallia
Huguenots are Calvinist reformers in Gallia. In the early years of the movement for reform, it seems possible that Protestant reformers will prevail in Gallia against leaders of the Latin Church in and out of Gallia.
Nobility and middle class
One important reason for this possibility: many people of the nobility and middle class favor progressive reform over conservatism or, later, restoration.
The three major groups of protesting reformers—Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican—all became established churches. There were other more mischievous movements, however, which pushed reform beyond the debilitating alliance of Church and State. Participants in these movements enjoyed the dubious distinction of being persecuted by Protestants as well as Catholics.
Monday, September 5, 2022
The Latin Church responds to Protestant reformers with a multi-faceted Counter-Reformation.
1. Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556, fl. >1540): birth to conversion
Ignatius is born into a wealthy aristocratic family in the castle of Loyola in the kingdom of Navarre in northern Iberia (1491). Thirty years later a cannonball shatters one leg of this haughty soldier during a battle in Pamplona. While recovering, Ignatius decides to abandon weapons of the flesh and become a conquistador of the spirit.
To train himself in his new vocation, Ignatius develops a series of spiritual exercises he designs to be done over a period of four weeks. Through these prayers and meditations, he is able to better detach himself from the things of this world and to focus more clearly on Jesus.
Paris: first friends
Ignatius leaves Iberia to study at the University of Paris (1528). While there, a small group of men become his friends, adopt his spiritual exercises, and with him commit their lives to witnessing to Jesus.
Ignatius and friends eventually travel to Rome (1538). There they promise complete obedience to Paul 3rd (1468-1549), pope (>1534), and his successors. Their goals are to share Latin Christianity especially with the marginal: the young, uneducated, or unfaithful, both within Latin Christendom and abroad. The pope officially approves their establishment of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) (1540). Given their commitment to the Latin Church, the pope commits them to fight the Protestant Reformation and, if possible, to regain lost governments, people, and land.
2. Rome: restoration not Renaissance
Rulers of the Latin Christian Church choose to become restorative champions rather than remain Renaissance patrons for internally coherent reasons as well as from competition with Protestant reformers.
Paul 3rd establishes the Roman Inquisition to suppress heresy (1542).
Paul 4th (1476-1559, r. >1555) forces all Jews in Rome to live in a particular neighborhood which becomes known as the Roman Ghetto (1555). He also requires them to wear distinctive clothing. He then creates the Index of Prohibited Books. On it are listed all books by Protestant reformers.
3. Council of Trent
A council of Latin Church leaders meets in the Norican city of Trent three times under three different popes (1545-47, 1551-52, 1562-63). There these leaders decide to reject the changes advocated by various Protestant reformers such as salvation by grace through faith, Sunday worship spoken in the vernacular language of ordinary people, and both wine and bread to lay people during the Lord’s Supper.
In keeping with the decisions made at Trent, Pius 5th, (1504-72), pope (>1566), strives to stop the sale of bishoprics and to provide all priests with the education, skills, and self-discipline needed to fulfill their vocations.
4. Wholesale oppression and war
Also at Trent, Latin Church leaders come to see conflict with Protestant reformers as one in which political oppression and war should be used without restraint.
5. Baroque cultural movement
Latin Christian Church and State intentionally create the Baroque movement to contrast with the austerity of Reformation art and architecture. It is massive and expensive to emphasize the wealth, power, and permanence of Latin Church and State against anything or anyone else. It expresses its supreme confidence in total victory over all enemies in dramatic displays of detail and personal expressions of intense emotion.
The Jesuits in Rome construct the Church of the Gesu, the first church building in the Baroque style. On its ceiling, Jesus ascends to Heaven carrying the cross. Ignatius follows him closely. The two of them are surrounded by a host of similarly soaring saints. This too is in conscious contrast with reformers who insist that Jesus is the only existing mediator between man and God.
Henry 8th (1491-1547, r. >1509)
Establishes a national church
The English Parliament declares Henry 8th, king of England, to be supreme head of a national Church of England in its Act of Supremacy (1534). This gives Henry complete control of the Latin Church in Britannia and disempowers the pope in Rome.
Friday, September 2, 2022
John Calvin in Basel
In 1535 John Calvin fled persecution of Protestants in Gallia and took refuge in Basel in Noricum. While there, he published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). He bettered other reformers by writing with greater brevity, clarity, and logic. He would continue to edit and expand the Institutes through many editions until his death. Shortly after its publication, John began a period of wandering.
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
Peasants’ War (1524)
In Germania and Noricum a widespread rebellion by peasants, along with some nobles and even cities, broke out. It was the culmination of over 100 years of protests against harsh conditions and oppressive responses. It was inspired by Martin Luther’s own example of rejecting imperial and papal authority and the words he himself had used to do so.
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Diet of Worms (April 1521)
Once Martin’s criticisms of the Latin Church reached a certain level of popular support, he attracted the attention of political leaders. Once political leaders get involved, so too does Jupiter. The question no longer concerns the truth. It becomes one of expediency. Even if rulers understand themselves as Christians, and do have tufluvian personalities, they face a dilemma: serve Jupiter and keep control or remain faithful to Jesus and lose it.
When controversy burst outside the bounds of Wittenberg, and even Saxony, Frederick believed that no harm should come to Martin without a proper hearing. Charles 5th (1500-58), Holy Roman Emperor and Frederick’s boss, agreed to hear Martin—and give him a chance to recant—before harming him.
Monday, August 29, 2022
Sale of indulgences
In 1517, Johann Tetzel (1465-1519), a Germanian Dominican friar, was selling indulgences near Wittenberg, Germania. Why? Albert of Mainz was archbishop of two dioceses and bishop of a third. To rule more than one diocese at a time, he needed the permission of the pope. Leo 10th gave him permission in return for a large donation toward the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Albert borrowed the money from the banking house of Fugger in Augsburg. Leo allowed Albert to sell indulgences to repay the loan. Half the money raised went to Leo and half to the Fuggers.
Wittenberg University and Luther
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an important member of the faculty at the university in Wittenberg. Frederick 3rd (1463-1525), ruler of Saxony, had only recently started the university (1502). Martin had only, even more recently, begun his teaching career there (1512).
On October 31, 1517, Martin posted 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Some of these expressed his individual insight that indulgences were absurd since all human beings were saved by grace through faith. He also criticized other practices of the Latin Church that troubled him. There was nothing subversive about this. The door served as the community bulletin board. Posting assertions there was the normal way of inviting comments. Martin wrote his theses in Latin and expected responses in Latin from his learned colleagues.
While Martin expected feedback from other professionals, his point of view nonetheless proved remarkably popular. Someone immediately translated his 95 Theses from Latin into German and rushed them into print. Soon readers across Latin Christendom debated them verbally. They also broadcast them in thousands of pamphlets made possible by the rapidly developing printing press.
Popularity of assertions
Martin’s assertions became wildly popular because many people across Latin Christendom already disapproved of various errors in Latin Christian teaching and practice. People in Germania also had a heightened sense that their interests were different from, and sometimes contrary to, those of the pope in Rome.
Martin’s struggle with sin
Martin Luther (1483-1546) entered an Augustinian monastery in 1505. Even as a monk, he was tormented by a sense of his own sinfulness as well as his absolute inability to overcome it by his own efforts and merit salvation. Martin firmly believed the Latin Christian theology of his day in that he felt like he was a debtor to God. What he could not believe was that any amount of good works on his part could make him a creditor to God.
Saturday, August 27, 2022
When popes took to commanding armies in a manner pleasing to Mars, they exposed themselves—and the people of Rome with them—to military attack. In 1527, mutinous armies of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, sacked the city of Rome. They even trapped Pope Clement 7th in nearby Castle Sant’Angelo until he paid an enormous ransom.
At 26, John Colet (1467-1519) left Britannia to travel around Gallia and Latium imbibing the works of classical culture. He studied Greek, ancient texts, and early works of the Church Fathers. He heard Savonarola preach in Florence.
Back home, he met Erasmus at Oxford (1498). The two became lifelong friends. A third friend was added around 1505 when John met Thomas More. He eventually became More’s spiritual advisor. All three lived as inspiring Christian humanists.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) received his early education from the Brethren of the Common Life. He became a monk in 1488 and a priest 1492. For him as an adult, however, the center of life was not a monastery, court, or university but the homes of friends like John Colet and Thomas More. Together they reveled as intellectuals in the renaissance of classical culture.
Giuliano della Rovere, a nephew of Pope Sixtus 4th (r. 1471-84), became pope himself and took the name Julius 2nd (1503). Head of the Latin Church, he ironically displayed great devotion to Jupiter, false god of politics, by participating in a bewildering and shifting series of alliances. He expressed his love for Mars, false god of war, by personally leading military campaigns against political enemies in Latium and Noricum. He did all this to free himself and his territories from interference by the French king.
Friday, August 26, 2022
Sigismund (1368-1437), king of Hungary (from 1387) and Germany (from 1410) added his authority to the chorus of voices calling for a new council of the Latin Church. The Great Schism had to end and one new pope, supported by all, needed to be chosen. Tensions in Bohemia also needed to be resolved. It finally met in the northern Norican city of Constance. Up to 70,000 people came.
Geert Groote (1340-84) started this religious order in Deventer, Germania, around 1380. With it began a new movement called the New Devotion, which spread gradually throughout Germania. People drawn to it sought a closer relationship with God through quiet devotion as they lived and prayed together and educated and cared for others. We may still sense the serenity of the movement by reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (ca 1380-1471) who was a student in Deventer from 1392 to 1399. Erasmus (1466-1536) also studied there.
Thursday, August 25, 2022
A Bohemian scholar named Jerome carried the writings of John Wycliffe from Oxford (Britannia) to Prague (Germania). These writings greatly influenced Bohemian church reformer Jan Huss (ca 1369-1414, >1391). They even sparked riots. Bethlehem Chapel, near the university, provided a center for Hus and others supportive of Wycliffe’s reforms. Built in 1391 to serve as a place for preaching in Czech rather than Latin, its focal point was a pulpit rather than an altar. Both Hus and Jerome preached from it.
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The Latin Christian Church in the 1300s was ripe for criticism. One of the more significant critics of Church and pope at the time was John Wycliffe (Britannia, ca 1325-84, >1367). He asserted that popes no longer served as witnesses to Jesus now that they lived like wealthy politicians, the Bible should be translated into languages ordinary people understood, and the selling of indulgences was wrong.
After the Babylonian Captivity of the popes at Avignon (1309-78) came something even worse: the Great Schism (1378-1417). In 1378 cardinals elected one man as pope and he lived in Rome. Disappointed in him, they elected another man who lived in Avignon. Beginning in 1409 a third man claimed to be pope. Circumstances reached the depth of absurdity when one of the popes began to call for a crusade against another and started selling indulgences to pay for it.
During the time of the Avignon papacy (1309-77), first called the Babylonian captivity by Petrarch (1304-74), the Latin Christian Church had seven popes, all Gauls. The first, Clement 5th (r. 1305-14), was pope when the papal bureaucracy moved from Poitiers in Gallia, where it had been for four years, just across the Rhone River into Noricum at Avignon (part of the Holy Roman Empire).
Monday, August 22, 2022
Around 500 AD, Benedict of Nursia abandoned a collapsing Rome devoted especially to Venus (false goddess of sex) and Bacchus (false god of consumption). He chose instead to pursue simple living, centered on Jesus Christ, in a cave about 50 miles (80 km) east of the city. Finding his example inspiring, others joined him. He eventually founded a monastic community known as the Benedictines. They recently celebrated their 1500th anniversary.
After 600 years of existence, the widely respected Benedictine order had changed dramatically in character from its humble beginnings. Monasteries had grown wealthy from donations by pilgrims and rich nobles. They had acquired larger buildings, more elaborate sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, and more complex chanting. Monks had long since abandoned their need for and commitment to manual labor.
Columba and his band of twelve monks were the first to carry Celtic Christianity, with its emphasis on preserving the written word, from Hibernia. They took it to Iona, an island off the coast of Caledonia, in 563. There they started a center of learning that kept the light of knowledge burning during the dark days which followed the collapse of the western provinces of the Roman Empire in the 400s. The monastery on Iona sent their monk Aidan to Lindisfarne, an island on the opposite side of Caledonia, to start another center of learning in 635. Eventually the Christianity and literacy practiced by the monks of Iona and Lindisfarne spread to Britannia and Gaul.
Vikings were warriors swarming out of Scandinavia. What became the Viking Age began when they attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne (793). There they destroyed the church building, killed some monks while capturing others for slaves, and carried away booty.
Monday, August 15, 2022
Charlemagne and Saxons (Germania, 772-804)
Charlemagne (742-814, r. >768), king of the Franks, begins his conquest of Saxony early in his long reign (772). He pursues this goal for more than 30 years. During this time, Charlemagne is not content to seize territory. He wishes to impose even a religious uniformity upon his new subjects. He commands his Frankish Christian armies to kill Saxon Olympian soldiers but, more importantly, to destroy their sacred places, steal any gold and silver objects found in them, convert Saxons at sword point, and execute those who relapse into Olympianity (reputedly 4500 in one day in 782).
Saturday, August 13, 2022
Boniface (ca 672-754; fl. >716) is, like Willibrord, both born in Britannia and a Benedictine monk. He even gains his first experience as a missionary ministering with Willibrord in Frisia (716). When Boniface travels to Rome, the pope sends him as a missionary to Germania (719).
On one occasion, while preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and challenging the devotion of the Germani to the Olympian gods, Boniface approaches a large and ancient oak tree sacred to Jupiter. He dares the god to strike him dead as he buries his axe in its trunk. Instead, a sudden gust of wind drops the tree. All the Olympians present instantly choose to become Christians. Thousands more do so in response to his preaching.
Willibrord (ca 658-739) is known as the “Apostle to the Frisians” of northwest Germania (today’s northeast Holland and northwest Germany). Willibrord is born in northern Britannia in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. As a young adult he travels to Hibernia to study at an Anglo-Saxon monastery (678-690). Egbert (639-729), his teacher, chooses him and others in response to a request for missionaries made by Pepin 2nd (635-714). At this time Pepin is Latin Christian leader of the Franks and new tentative ruler of the Frisians. Once in Frisia, Willibrord successfully starts numerous churches and monastic communities. In 716 the Olympian Redbad (ca 648-719, r. >680), traditional ruler of the Frisians, reasserts his control and orders church leaders killed and church buildings torched. Following his death, Willibrord returns to Frisia with Boniface under the protection of Pepin’s son Charles Martel (“the Hammer”) (ca 688-741, r. >715).
Friday, August 12, 2022
Joseph of Arimathea
Matthew tells us that Joseph of Arimathea, and early disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for the body of Christ and laid it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57-60). Medieval legend tells us that this same Joseph is among the earliest disciples to bring the Good News to Britannia. Certainly anonymous Christians bring it as they travel to the province.
Latin Christianity in Britannia
Latin theologian Tertullian (writing ca 200 AD) and Greek theologian Origen (ca 185-ca 253) both write of Christians present in Britannia. A contemporary summary of the Council of Arles (314) records the presence there of three bishops from Britannia. When ruler Theodosius makes Christianity the Empire’s sole official religion (391), this ruling applies to the Roman province of Britannia as well. Patrick, a native of Britannia and Christian missionary to Hibernia (Ireland) in 432, has grandparents who are Christians.
Ravenna was the major port in Latium from which travelers would embark for Constantinople. It still boasts six sumptuous church buildings constructed in the 500s and decorated in the Greek Christian style. A mosaic in the basilica of San Vitale (completed in 547) portrays the Greek Christian emperor Justinian as the representative of Jesus Christ on Earth. As such, he is being served equally by soldiers and bureaucrats—and clergy.
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Sack of Rome (Latium, 410)
After standing inviolable for over 800 years, Rome is sacked by Goths in 410 and, much too soon again, in 455 by Vandals.
Monasteries: source of new order (Western Christendom, 400s)
As the western provinces of the Roman Empire collapse into disorder, men seeking some meaningful and viable alternative begin exploring the possibilities of living together in monastic communities. At first these are nothing more than local attempts to create a little social order around Jesus as the center. Centuries later monasteries would be primary sources of new order across Christendom.
Christianity: persecuted (Roman Empire, 303-312)
Under the rule of Diocletian, the Roman government starts its severest persecution of Christians (303). Across the Empire, assembly for worship is forbidden, church buildings are looted then torn down, Bibles are burned, Christian politicians, bureaucrats, and soldiers are stripped of rank and benefits and cast out, and church leaders especially are targeted for harassment, torture, and execution. Even after the voluntary retirement of Diocletian in 305, the persecution continues another seven years. Despite it all, the Church remains standing.
Christianity: legalized (Roman Empire, 313)
Constantine and Licinius, the two rulers of the Roman Empire, meet in Milan and issue a written agreement (313), the Edict of Milan, in which they grant Christianity legal status and thereby end the centuries-long persecution of Christians within the Empire.
Monday, August 8, 2022
Nehemiah, cupbearer for the Persian emperor Artaxerxes (r. 465-424) in the capital city of Susa, hears of the difficulties facing his fellow Jews in Jerusalem. By the grace of Yahweh and permission of the emperor, he goes there in 445 (Nehemiah 1-2).
Strong local Olympian leaders oppose the establishment of a vibrant Jewish community in Jerusalem. For the Jewish community to gain strength against this opposition, Nehemiah sees it first needs to rebuild the city’s walls. He immediately sets men to the task.
Saturday, August 6, 2022
Destruction and Exile
Since calling Abraham to his side in the late 1900s BC, Yahweh had understood his relationship to Abraham and his descendants, as well as theirs to him, as unique. Yahweh spoke of it many times in just this way: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Yahweh’s intention was to be a blessing to them and a blessing to the other peoples of Earth through them. To cultivate this special relationship, Yahweh promised Abraham to grant his descendants a special place in which to live. Yahweh granted this Promised Land to his people Israel in the late 1400s BC.
Sadly, Yahweh’s people chronically rejected Yahweh’s special relationship with them and theirs with him. This despite Yahweh’s persistent attempts to strengthen that relationship and to weaken his people’s misguided devotion to the six false Olympian gods.
Friday, August 5, 2022
Jeremiah spoke words of Yahweh to Yahweh’s people for over 40 years. Yahweh’s goal was to call his people back to him—to win them away from false Olympian gods once again.
In Jeremiah’s time, Yahweh’s people much prefer the Olympian gods to him. With Pluto, false god of money, the rich trick the poor out of their money and leave the poor to starve. Loyal to Jupiter, judges know this but wink at their wealthy friends as they fail to establish justice and reestablish righteousness (or a rightly ordered society).
Like Amos, Isaiah speaks against religion. We may think of religion as a system of merit in which one conforms to a moral code and, by doing so, earns moral points. The more moral points one earns, the happier one’s god is with one and the more quickly one’s god must fulfill one’s desires. Also, if one possesses more moral points than another, then one is morally superior to that other and gets to look down on them with satisfaction.
Through Isaiah, Yahweh tells his people he is not interested in their religion. He is not a means to their ends. He neither awards moral points nor maintains a moral credit and debit account. Consequently, he freely disregards all the sacrifices of animals occurring in his house in Jerusalem. He does not care at all for the festivals being celebrated even if they are according to his law. He can no longer bear all the people traveling to Jerusalem to visit him (Isaiah 1:10-17). They say his name with their lips but their hearts are with the false Olympian gods (29:13-14). Proof: they tell his prophets to proclaim their smooth illusions rather than speak his tough truth.
Like Hezekiah, Josiah (r. 641-610) wholly commits himself as king of Judah to Yahweh. He becomes king when he is only 8 years old. When he is 18, he commands that money stored in the Temple of Yahweh be used to repair it. In the process of gathering the stored money to count it, the priest Hilkiah discovers the “Book of the Law” (2 Kings 22:8)—likely the Book of Deuteronomy.
After Deuteronomy is read to Josiah, he humbles himself, repents of the disloyalty of Judah toward Yahweh, and seeks to know Yahweh’s present will. A woman named Huldah, a prophetess, declares to him the word of Yahweh: all of the disasters following chronic disloyalty will fall upon the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Because Josiah humbled himself and repented, however, Yahweh will not bring these disasters upon Jerusalem during his lifetime. (ch. 22).
Thursday, August 4, 2022
Hezekiah is 25 when he begins to rule Judah in 726 BC. He becomes one of the few kings of Judah to remain as loyal to Yahweh as his ancestor David had been. One important way in which he expresses his loyalty to Yahweh (only true god), rather than to Jupiter (false god of politics), is by withholding tribute to the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:7).
Years pass between that refusal to express loyalty to Assyria and Assyrian retribution. Finally its huge army marches on tiny Judah and quickly captures all its fortified cities except Jerusalem (18:13).
Jeroboam 2nd (r. 825-784 BC) is the last king to rule over a politically expansive and economically prosperous Kingdom of Israel. Soon Yahweh will allow Assyrian aggression to end the Kingdom of Israel for its chronic disloyalty to him (2 Kings 14:23-29).
During this time of illusory rejuvenation, Yahweh calls the shepherd Amos (active 797-787) away from his flocks in Judah to warn Israel of its impending destruction.
Through Amos, Yahweh challenges Israel’s devotion to Jupiter (false god of politics). Fighting back, royal officials forbid prophets to speak the challenging but liberating words of Yahweh (Amos 2:12). Yahweh persists in sending these defiers of a destructive status quo because he does not act without first revealing his intentions to his people through his prophets (3:3-8). Yahweh tells the leaders of his people to seek good and not evil by establishing Yahweh’s justice.
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
Across the Jordan River, opposite Jericho, Elisha sees Elijah ascend to Heaven in a whirlwind (896 BC). Just before that, Elisha had asked Elijah for a double portion his spirit (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah had told Elisha that he’d get it if he saw him ascend to Heaven. Now Elisha’s got it.
At this time Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel, becomes ruler of Israel (896-884) while Jehoshaphat continues as ruler of Judah (914-889). Jehoram would do what was evil in Yahweh’s sight but not as much as his notorious father and mother had (3:2). Jehoshaphat had been doing what was right in Yahweh’s sight—mostly (1 Kings 22:43).
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
The Book of 1 Kings is 22 chapters long. Solomon, wisest and richest of Israel’s kings and builder of the one temple dedicated to Yahweh, dominates 11 of them. Ahab, king of Israel (918-897 BC), features in 7 of them. Why this attention to Ahab? An ironic reason: Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him (1 Kings 16:30). A more edifying reason: Yahweh’s creative response to Ahab’s multi-faceted evil through the prophet Elijah.
Ahab sins: he perpetuates the sin of Jeroboam by subordinating the worship of Yahweh to that of Jupiter (called Baal), marries Jezebel of Sidon (a foreigner and enthusiastic Olympian), builds a temple in the capital city of Samaria and dedicates it to Jupiter, and sponsors the worship of Venus (vs. 31-33). These are just the highlights.
During his rule (1015-975 BC), Solomon condemns thousands of innocent Israelites to hard labor first to build the Temple of Yahweh and then to construct a palace for himself. When he dies, the people of Israel tell Rehoboam his son that they will serve him only if he lightens their load (1 Kings 12:4). When Rehoboam consults advisors to his father, they encourage him to do this. When he asks his friends, they tell him to stay tough. Contrary to both, Rehoboam tells the Israelites he will impose his will on them by making their load heavier than they ever imagined. The Israelites abandon him and make a man named Jeroboam their king. Only the people of Judah and Benjamin remain loyal to Rehoboam (vs. 16-24).
Monday, August 1, 2022
Just before David dies (1015 BC), he appoints his son Solomon (1034-975, 59 years) ruler in his place. Priest Zadok and prophet Nathan affirm David’s choice by anointing Solomon king. David soon dies and, after a brief dynastic struggle, Solomon rules as king (1 Kings 1-2).
One night Solomon has a dream. In it Yahweh asks him what he desires. Given his youth, Solomon requests wisdom enough to rightly govern the people of Yahweh. This response so delights Yahweh that he grants wisdom to Solomon plus the riches and honors he did not seek (ch. 3).
Saturday, July 30, 2022
Following the death in battle of Saul, king of Israel, David (1085-1015 BC) is first anointed king of Judah (1055) then, seven years later (1047), king of Israel (2 Samuel 5:4-5). After David and his men take Jerusalem, he makes it the capital of the united kingdom of Judah and Israel. “David went on and became great, for Yahweh, God of Hosts, was with him” (v. 10).
Vulcan, false god of technology, bullies, bribes, and deceives us into building cities as our greatest monuments to him. Against Vulcan, David seeks to introduce a different element into Jerusalem. He seeks to devote the city to Yahweh by building in it a house (temple) for the Ark of the Covenant (ch. 6). The prophet Nathan, however, tells David that Yahweh does not desire this. Instead, Yahweh will build a house (dynasty) for David that will endure forever (ch. 7).
Yahweh yields to the demand of his people and has Samuel, prophet and last judge, anoint Saul of Benjamin as Israel’s first human king (1 Samuel, chs. 9-10). Previously, both Yahweh and Israel had understood him to be Israel’s king.
Initially, Yahweh is with Saul. When the Ammonites threaten to gouge out the eyes of every Israelite in Jabesh-Gilead, Yahweh inspires Saul and the people of Israel to defeat the Ammonites (ch. 11).
Friday, July 29, 2022
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And…behold, they were very dry…Then he said to me, “Son of Man, these bones are the whole house of Israel’” (Ezekiel 37:1-2, 11a; English Standard Version, here and following).
In “Faucet Theology” (July 28, 2022), we spoke of God’s silence today throughout the churches of the United States, Canada, and the European Union. Of course, when God is not speaking his life-giving words to us, we get the situation revealed by God through Ezekiel: our reduction to dry bones.
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
When we want water, we go into the kitchen, turn on the faucet, and water comes out of the spout. When we have all we want for the moment, we turn off the faucet. When we want more, we repeat this same simple procedure.
Faucet theology works in an analogous way. When we want the Holy Spirit, we turn on the faucet of prayer and expect all the Spirit we want. When we are satisfied for the moment, we ignore the Spirit, as we do the water in the pipes, until we want more.
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Corinthians 9:25, English Standard Version).
Once, while teaching in a foreign country, I met a woman who needed to improve her English for work but couldn’t afford to pay for lessons. She happened to be an enthusiastic participant in a church I wanted to learn more about. We made a deal: I would go to church with her on Sundays; afterward, she would explain to me in English what had happened and answer any questions I might have.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, English Standard Version, here and following).
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul speaks of our freedom in Christ as freedom from self-centered indulgence. He begins with examples of this freedom as refraining from self-indulgent evil. He speaks against factions (chapters 1-4), sexual immorality (5-7), and eating in the banquet halls of temples (8-10).
Paul then speaks of freedom in Christ even as voluntarily refraining from a self-indulgent insistence on rights which are good. He begins by rhetorically asking the Corinthians, Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? (9:1a). They rightly provided material support to other apostles, such as Peter (v. 5), when visited by them. Paul points out that he and Barnabas, in contrast, never claimed that right. His reason: they freely chose to endure hardship rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ (v. 12).
Saturday, July 9, 2022
7 Thus he showed me: and behold, my lord was standing beside a wall [built with] a plumb line and in his hand was a plumb line.
8 Yahweh said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” I said, “A plumb line.” My lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. Never again will I pass over him.”
and the sanctuaries of Israel—they will be laid waste;
and I will rise up against the House of Jeroboam with the sword”
(Amos 7:7-9, my translation).
By all ordinary appearances, in 750 BC the northern Kingdom of Israel was doing well. Spontaneous worship of Olympian gods was going well on the high places, mandatory worship of Yahweh was proceeding methodically at the sanctuaries in Bethel and Dan, the economy was buzzing, and relations with political neighbors were peaceful.
Friday, July 8, 2022
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Jesus first told us that we were blessed, highly favored and truly joyful, in our response to his call to be poor in spirit; that is, to find our place with him on the margins of society (Matthew 5:3). He then gave us his blessing for seeing the suffering of others on the margins and refusing any longer to ignore, deny, or justify it (v. 4). Today he invites us to enjoy with him the blessing of meekness, gentleness, humility, tenderness (5).
Indo-European is understood to be the root language of almost all the languages spoken by Europeans today. It developed into ten major branches. Those important to understand the linguistic context of Lviv, our microcosm, include Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Hellenic, and Italic.
Balto-Slavic eventually branched into Baltic and Slavic languages.
Slavic developed in three directions: East, West, and South. Old East Slavic was the language spoken by Daniel of Halych, founder of Lviv in the mid-1200s, and by his descendants into the 1300s. Later it evolved into today’s Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian.
Thursday, July 7, 2022
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
If we remember that blessed means both highly favored by God and truly joyful in response, then this blessing is a bit of a paradox. How can we mourn and be joyful at the same time?
When Jesus speaks to us through these words today, he actually disenchants us. He breaks the spell under which we otherwise labor. This spell is cast by the unholy Olympian spirit of our age through their own unscrupulous Olympian media. This spirit entices us to crave happiness, power, and earned righteousness. It drives us to gratify this craving by serving the false Olympian gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption. By breaking the spell of that lying spirit, Jesus frees us to affirm his Holy Spirit of truth, freedom, love, and vitality.
Let us define civilization as the enduring combination of society and culture, existing in a given area, defined primarily by one religion. This would mean that the organization of a society, its major cultural forms, and its dominant type of individual mentality are informed by, or give expression to, the major religion of a given area. I stress religion as the defining reality of civilization because it is religion which provides the most compelling beliefs, values, norms, goals, and stories.
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
When Jesus calls us blessed, his liberating word makes us highly favored and truly joyful. His word also always makes us increasingly marginal. We no longer fit in as well as we did before. That’s because, in speaking to us, Jesus disenchants us. He breaks the spell under which we labored. Unexpectedly we see things in a whole new way.
We live in an Olympian world. Here in the rapidly declining West, the six false Olympian gods appear to be our world’s dominant spiritual reality. The vast majority of people in the Empire, regardless of their other religious affiliations, are devoted primarily to these gods. This is true even of a vast majority of Christians. This Olympian spirit is the spell under which the majority lives.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Jesus Christ: the source, center, and goal of all truth, freedom, love, and vitality
Each and every person: 100% Tufluvian personality (image of God)
First circle (closest to center): radiant witness
First ring: outstanding: Christian (1)
Second ring: excellent: Non-Christian (2)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Blessed has two meanings. It means being highly favored by God and truly joyful. Jesus tells us we are both when he speaks these words to us today and frees us to be poor in spirit.
The expression, poor in spirit, is given the most diverse interpretations. One way to discern its meaning is by comparing this blessing in Matthew with its parallel in Luke. In Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). The poor would be the marginal. In terms of the six false Olympian gods, the poor would include those lacking in political, military, technological, sexual, monetary, and consumer advantages.
Sunday, July 3, 2022
A crowd speaks to Jesus about bread. The day before, Jesus miraculously fed over five thousand people with a mere five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-13). They were so happy they wanted to grab him and make him king. He narrowly escaped to a nearby mountain (v. 14).
We may look for the meaning of life in happiness, power, or religion (Christ’s three temptations, Matthew 4:1-11). In the name of Jupiter, false god of politics, political leaders maintain their power by promising to provide people with the happiness that comes from a full belly with no work. The crowd following Jesus that day was especially pleased because he actually fed them.
We witness to Jesus in a certain context. Many ways exist by which we might describe it. One way is by identifying the country in which we live and by establishing the relationship between where we live and important cities nearby. We did this yesterday for Lviv, our representative city, in “Lviv in Context (1): Geography.”
Another meaningful way of defining context is in terms of God’s good creation: the land, water, and air (habitats) and all the animals and plants (species) that fill them. We witness most clearly to God as creator when we live in ways which respect the integrity of the habitats and species he purposefully created to serve as the context of our tufluvian relationship with him.
Saturday, July 2, 2022
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13-17, English Standard Version).
We cannot predict the future. We cannot know what will happen a year from now. We cannot even say with certainty what will happen tomorrow. While our knowledge, methods, and existence see quite solid to us, we kid ourselves. God’s existence and nature remain unshakeable. Despite all illusions to the contrary, we are much more like ghosts than rocks and our understanding much more like a bad fairy tale than an accurate description of reality.
To witness clearly to Jesus Christ, we want to keep our thoughts and words concrete. We may do so in two ways. One, and most importantly, we may relate how we think and speak to Jesus Christ. Two, we may relate how we think and speak to the other people and creatures in the place where we live.
We will be using the city of Lviv as a microcosm, as a smaller more comprehensible world, to better understand how we might witness more concretely to Jesus Christ there and anywhere else in our larger world. To benefit from using Lviv as a microcosm, we need to know—concretely—where it is. We will do that today by identifying the geographic position of Ukraine as a country and that of Lviv as a city in relation to others cities.
Friday, July 1, 2022
In Congress, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Thursday, June 30, 2022
…many followed him, and he healed them all (Matthew 12:15b, English Standard Version).
Jesus healed them all. Should we be expecting that kind of healing to be happening today?
Apparently not. Aside from a few exceptions, Jesus is not healing that way today.
Why is that? Easy if incorrect answers start with we did not pray long enough, hard enough, or with enough “faith.” Or illness is a punishment for sin sent by God. Or illness is evil but sent by God to teach a greater good to the victim or to the victim’s family or friends.
A harder yet truer answer comes from inquiring about God’s relationship to us. In the Old Testament, there are long periods when God is silent: the times of the Judges, the exile in Babylon, the four centuries before the birth of Jesus. We are in such a period now. This point was developed at length by Jacques Ellul in his book, Hope in Time of Abandonment (1972).
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14, English Standard Version).
Jesus Christ himself is the narrow gate. He himself leads us personally on the difficult path of freedom which is based on truth, expressed through love, and leads to eternal life.
Jesus has been traveling from one Galilean village to another. He’s been telling people about the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, teaching them what this means, and showing them some of its meaning by healing people (Matthew 9:35).
For Jesus, though, this has not been enough. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (v. 36, English Standard Version, here and following). He has seen too many people needing help and not getting it from leaders who would rather exploit than serve them. To broaden his ministry, he sends out his disciples to proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom just as he has been. But he limits their range to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6).
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus speaks of a knowledge of Father revealed only by Jesus to those chosen by him (v. 27) and of things being easier with him as a result (v. 30). To appreciate Christ’s point of view, let us recall the context of these remarks.
First, from prison John the Baptist asks Jesus if he is indeed the one sent by God to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 11:2-6, see also Matthew 3:11). Jesus replies that he is bringing healing and wholeness to the blind, lame, leprous, deaf, dead, and poor.
Monday, June 27, 2022
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40, English Standard Version, here and following). How we respond to poor people is how we respond to Jesus himself. In this way the poor serve as God’s constant question to us.
Rich people don’t like the question or God’s insistence in asking it. So the rich hate the poor. The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly (Proverbs 18:23). The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender (Proverbs 22:7). The rich become wealthy at the expense of the poor (James 2:5-7). The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends (Proverbs 14:20).
Saturday, June 25, 2022
…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10, English Standard Version, here and following). Mischievous witness to Jesus Christ takes energy. Alone, we don’t have the necessary strength. Happily, we don’t journey alone. We walk the difficult path of freedom in response, each day, to a gracious invitation from Jesus to join him. With his words of invitation come the power of the Spirit to do them.
Paul tells us to stand against the schemes of the devil (v. 11), withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (v. 13) and then he immediately repeats, Stand therefore… (v. 14). Through these words of Paul, Jesus today is calling us to stand up, stand out, stand tall, and stand firm with him.
Friday, June 24, 2022
Jesus Christ leads us on the difficult path of freedom which is based on truth, expressed through love, and leads to eternal life.
This freedom in Christ means both freedom from and freedom for. Jesus sets us free from the causes and consequences of evil. We may look at the six false Olympian gods as causes of evil. They bully, bribe, and deceive us, as irresistibly as possible, to view the world in self-centered terms, to treat others as means to our own ends, to understand leadership as bossiness, and to understand bosses as having greater dignity and being more important than those they boss.
Jesus calls and enables us to be free for others. He particularly frees us to love others; that is, to commit ourselves to nurturing and protecting all persons with whom we interact.