Archive for the ‘Purpose of this blog’ Category

Further Reflections on Clement and Ignatius: Authority and Doctrine   Leave a comment

[This post is part of a personal reflective journey through Christian theology.  An introduction to this project was given in the first post of this series.]

Why this blog post

In the previous posts in this series on Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch I did not discuss much a key theme in both of their writings that was highlighted in Daryl Arron’s book.  That it is authority and doctrine in the church. Here I mean authority over the body of the church’s teaching not discipline of the behaviour of individuals.   In fact, this theme is inherent in the very title of Arron’s book “The 40 Most Influential Christians Who Shaped What We Believe Today“.

My thoughts were directed to think about this further by two events this week.

Firstly, a friend posted a link on Facebook to a London talk by Joseph Atwill, author of “Caesar’s Messiah”.

Then, wanting something to eat my dinner in front of one evening, I watched a repeat of an old TV documentary I saw years ago on the Gnostic and other non-biblical Gospels. [Discovery Channel, “Lost Gospels”]. (I have seen better documentaries covering the same ground e.g. the BBC documentary of the same title presented by Pete Owen Jones.)

Personal Reflections

I am not going to discuss Atwill’s writings in any detail here. (I am preparing a separate blog post on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth). However, Atwill’s hypothesis (he would put it stronger than that) is that Christianity was a fabrication of the Flavian Imperial Roman dynasty (69 to 96 CE) to help suppress Jewish revolt.  There is plenty of discussion of this on the WWW with some scholarly debunking from biblical and historical scholars of both Christian and non-Christian standpoints.

What Atwill’s claims made me think, in light of my reading about Clement and Ignatius, was how difficult such a fabrication would be and how unlikely an explanation it is for what we know about the first century or two of Christian history.  Both Clement and Ignatius show the lineage of the Christian message from Jesus, to the apostles and then to them who are the next generation of Christian leaders.  It is important in their understanding of the handing down of authority.  Indeed there is a whole web of characters mentioned both in the canonical Bible and other early Christian writings.  Many of these like Ignatius were martyred because of what they believed and taught.  Not many people would be martyred for what they think to be a fabrication.

This blog series is not a set of apologetics, for what the church (or different parts of it) have taught and thought through history, but a recording of personal reflections on reading or re-reading through a selection of that.  Nor, should it be apologetics for what I believe at this point in time, but the record of a personal reflective journey.  I am going to have to keep reminding myself of this as I do here.  Hence I ended the theme of the previous paragraph where I was tempted to research into details of source documents and earliest extant manuscripts etc.

The existence, in addition to the canonical ones, of numerous other gospels, in fragment or complete versions,  is indicative to me of this period following Jesus’ life where numerous people, in different groups, were groping with the questions of who was Jesus and what meaning did he have for them.  A few of these gospels, are possibly contemporary with Clement and/or Ignatius but most are thought to be from later in the 2nd through to the 4th century CE. Of course much of the teaching, and discussion at this stage would have been oral and we have no record of it.  It is in this context we have Clement and Ignatius being concerned about unity and false doctrine and noticeably in Clement’s writing love (or arguments about doctrine not showing love).

My reflection at this point was how did they discern what they considered to be true or false doctrine, and more relevant to this exercise how do I?  For myself, firstly this is not a simple black and white issue.  Perhaps a better expression of such questions would be:

  • “What is the truth in that?”

Truth for me, – how shall I phrase it?, let’s say – about matters of the divine and his/her interaction with creation, is sublime and of necessity often only understandable allegorically.  I use the term , without defining it, “poetic truth”.

A key part of the process of “discernment” for me is working through tensions in my world view.  A process I recently captured in a phrase that jumped into my head (I think I have coined it):

Now, I have been subject to decades of Christian teaching from different traditions, from people who I think honestly with St. Paul would say “what I received I passed on to you” [1 Cor 15:3].  I imagine this being very much how Clement and  Ignatius thought of their roles as Bishops in their respective churches.  However, certainly since my early teen years, and probably before, this has been received by me with a questioning mind.  How does this bit fit with that other bit of Biblical or Church teaching?  How does this fit with my scientific or historical understanding of the world?  What about these insights from other religions of philosophies?

My wife would tease me that I think too much and more seriously ask about my relationship with God as opposed to my thinking about Him.  There is some wisdom in that.  However, for me a key factor in that relationship is this continual thinking though my understanding.  Sometimes this thinking is stormy, and the cognitive dissonance remains for a long time.  However, I usually find a place of rest with the thoughts that reminds me of an Old Testament account of the one of the prophet Elijah’s encounters with God:

And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
[1Kings 19: 11-12, RSV]


Advent Sunday 2011 – The World’s End   1 comment

One reason for establishing this blog at this time is that I had resolved to follow a set of Advent reflections given out at the church I on/off attend. I am awful at any form of self-discipline and that includes sustaining spiritual exercises. However I thought if I set to writing a blog each day I might just sustain a series of short reflection for 28 days.

Advent, by the way, is the period in the church calendar that leads up until Christmas. Different parts of the church use the season to think on different themes.

The material given out for these daily Advent reflections is not one that I would have chosen for myself. [“Your Journey to Christmas” published by Redemptorist Publications]. However countless times on my spiritual journey I have experienced growth when I have yielded to a suggestion to read something I would never have chosen for myself.

I must admit the theme set for today made me groan: “Rapture” in its end of the world sense! I am not enraptured with the rapture. Confining my comments to Christian history alone in every generation there has been some individuals or some part of the church who have felt “the end is nigh”. The much publicised example of Harold Camping in 2011 was cited in the notes. Why this fixation with “the end of times”?

We all face our personal end of the world: death.

Mark’s Gospel quotes Jesus as follows:

31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The Day and Hour Unknown

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
[Mark 13:31-33 NIV]

If I am honest I set aside thinking about the end of the world. However I think that message of not knowing the day or the hour is one that is so central to thinking about our own death. You don’t have to be religious to gain benefit from thinking about it. Look how popular lists such as “100 things to do before I die” are in magazines and on the internet.

While on retreat in a much-loved place, an Anglican Franciscan Monastery called Glasshampton, probably nearly 20 years ago now. I was working though some meditation exercises on my own in the chapel. I can’t remember now whether they were Ignatian exercises, or those of Anthony de Mello, in fact this is such an obvious one I would expect most spiritual guides of whatever faith or none to have it in their repertoire. After stilling myself, I was encouraged to make a deep sense aware imagining of my own death, not the means of it but the reality of it, and then the funeral. Seeing my coffin lowered into the grave.

I don’t remember much of the detail of the experience, the pictures that came to mind. However I do remember the deep sense of peace I had when I returned to awareness of my surroundings. I am going to die, and it is all right that I am going to die.

Similarly, thinking of the end of the world in the sense of life on this planet. Life here is going to end at some point. Assuming man’s own foolishness does not render the place uninhabitable in the next century or so, it is going to become so eventually. The current scientific view is that the sun will, in its own death throws, swell to possibly swallow the earth it in about 5 billion years. Life would have become impossible here long before that, and there are plenty of other possible events such as asteroid collisions that could result in the same. The scientific consensus about how the universe will die is less clear with various theories of Heat Death (it expands so far and in doing so its temperature tends towards absolute zero) and Big Crunch (it at some point will start to collapse under its own gravitational pull which will eventually result in the reverse of the Big Bang – the universe will disappear up its own singularity). With so many possible causes (I have not mentioned pandemics, food webs becoming unsustainable, collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field, ….), we know not the day we know not the hour when life will end. However it seems very reasonable indeed to assume it will.

In conclusion I come to what I can only call a personal statement of faith. I believe in a God who creates (present continuous deliberately) and sustains the universe. Indeed in my imagining of that I envisage Him/Her entwined with, even innate to every sub-atomic particle and unfolding as the universe unfolds. He/She was there in some way at my conception and my birth and will be there at my death. Somehow God weaves on the whole loom of existence the minuscule thread that is my life. (If that analogy implies a God who pulls the strings it was not meant to.) I have no idea if I will have any conscious existence after death. But in the words of the much-loved English mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well“.

Hello world! Or whoever wanders by!   Leave a comment

The primary audience for this blog is myself.  It is reflections in several senses but one being to reflect back my own words to myself so that I can ask questions such as:

  • What did I mean by that?
  • Is that truly what I believe/think?
  • If that is true how should it impact on my life?

I have no desire to try and make you see the world as I do.   If you happen upon my words and they are used in some way in your own spiritual journey that would be lovely.  However in my own view that would have little to do with my words but more the mysterious interaction between every individual and the divine.

Yes I am theist, I have come to that through a Christian tradition but in my own spiritual journey have also drawn on other world religions, secular philosophies, science and my own academic roots in cybernetics.

Please feel free to comment, question and challenge anything I write.  However let us do so with respect for each other.  We all “see through a glass dimly”, we are all on a journey.  The world would be a much impoverished place if it was the same journey for us all with the same view. Therefore also feel free to share relevant aspects of your journey.

Martyn Cooper

27 November 2011

Posted November 27, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Purpose of this blog

Tagged with