Judith L. Kovacs
One of the earliest surviving Christian writings, Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians provides a fascinating picture of the life of one early Christian community and the challenges its members faced as they attempted to live out the gospel as a tiny minority in the midst of a pagan world. It also gives a first-hand glimpse of Paul's work as missionary and teacher. Written to a church Paul founded (Acts 18:1–17) and knows especially well, in response to a letter from the Corinthians asking him for guidance (7:1), the letter gives advice on healing factions in the community (chs. 1–4), sexual morality (chs. 5–7), how to relate to the civil and religious institutions of the pagan world (6:1–11; chs. 8–10), and various aspects of Christian worship (chs. 11–14). This article shows how 1 Corinthians is interpreted by a biblical scholar in the 21st century, drawing on a tradition of historical-critical study of the Bible that reaches back to the Enlightenment. It also provides a few glimpses into the long and rich reception history of the letter.
The period between the third and fifth centuries CE was crucial for the development of Christianity not least for ideas about desire and the body. Patristic writers hoped for the elimination of sex and sexual desire among Christians, encouraging the renunciation of sexual activity, marriage, and family life. Monasticism and men’s self-castration were among the varied means by which to achieve that renunciation, the former encouraged by the Church Fathers and the latter discouraged. Marriage was permissible if couples engaged only in procreative sex with each other, and married only once. Other types of sexual behaviour, including what we would call homosexuality, were condemned. Gender difference was also reinforced in this period and earlier notions of a genderless ideal in Christianity were mostly abandoned, through the strengthening of traditional public lives for men and private lives for women.
While Sceptics canvassed arguments against the existence of any gods, and Cynics were abrasive in their strictures on conventional religion, late antiquity offers no indubitable evidence of naked disbelief in the divine. Christians were called atheists because they abstained from popular and mandatory acts of worship, Epicureans because they denied the providential ordering of the world. In Christian literature the term is applied both to pagans, on account of their failure to recognise the true God, and to heretics who denied God any part in the creation or governance of the material realm. The ‘fool’ of Psalm 53.1 was characterized by some commentators as an absolute atheist by others only as a practical atheist. Christians of the early middle ages often accepted that the pagan gods had existed, either as demons or (according to the theory of Euhemerus) as humans who had merited special notoriety.
Under the general rubric of ‘Abrahamic Religions’ there is a sub-topic that highlights particular similarities between Islam and Christianity in areas of institutional and societal development. As joint inheritors of a Judaic theological and ethical legacy and a Hellenistic philosophical and scientific legacy, Islam and Christianity ‘co-evolved’ in directions that did not have distinct parallels in Judaism, which remained particularistic rather than universal in nature. Among the areas in which the two faith traditions converged were sin and salvation, spirituality and mysticism, conversion, state and law, violence and toleration, word and language, clergy, and education and mission. The degree of convergence warrants the assigning of the label ‘Islamo-Christian Civilization’ to the partially shared—though also antagonistic—social, institutional, and political structures that emerged over a period of fourteen centuries.
How does Christianity explain the existence of the two rival Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam? What place does it allow in Christian society for Jews and Muslims? The responses to these questions are many; this chapter examines a few prominent examples. Rather than a survey of Christians’ attitudes towards Jews (or Judaism) and Muslims (or Islam), it examines how Christian law accommodated Jews and Muslims as residents of Christian societies and at the roles that Christian thinkers assigned to Judaism and Islam in a Christian scheme of history. The emphasis is on a few salient examples from the fourth century (when Christianity obtains social and intellectual predominance in the Roman Empire) to the nineteenth (when Christianity loses that predominance in Europe).
This article examines Trinitarian theology in the fifth through the eighth centuries. It focuses on Cyril of Alexandria who served as a consolidator of Cappadocian doctrine, Dionysius the Areopagite with his emphasis on God as ever greater, Maximus the Confessor whose emphasis lies on the transformation of the soul brought about by contemplating the Trinity and John Damascene who roots his Trinitarian doctrine in the unity of God. It stresses the importance of hymnody for transmitting Trinitarian doctrine and considers the impact of the rise of Islam.
Twentieth-century studies highlighted Luther’s extensive use of historical argument and his doctrine of God’s presence in and guidance of history, even though he doubted human ability to interpret his presence precisely. Luther knew classical and European history well and drew parallels with contemporary events in making theological arguments. History is the field on which God and Satan are locked in eschatological conflict. Luther urged instruction in history for secondary education.
After a brief overview of the social context and role of marriage and sexuality in Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, the chapter traces the impact of the Genesis creation narratives, positively and negatively, on how marriage and sexuality were seen both in the present and in depictions of hope for the future. Discussion of pre-marital sex, incest, intermarriage, polygyny, divorce, adultery, and passions follows. It then turns to Jesus’ reported response to divorce, arguing that the prohibition sayings should be read as assuming that sexual intercourse both effects permanent union and severs previous unions, thus making divorce after adultery mandatory, the common understanding and legal requirement in both Jewish and Greco-Roman society of the time. It concludes by noting both the positive appreciation of sex and marriage, grounded in belief that they are God’s creation, and the many dire warnings against sexual wrongdoing, including adulterous attitudes and uncontrolled passions.
Russell L. Friedman
This article examines Trinitarian theology during the period from around 1250 until around 1500. It outlines some of the major positions and identifies their most important adherents. It describes two distinct ways of talking about the constitution of the divine persons, one based on relations and the other on emanations. It discusses the contributions of John Duns Scotus and highlights two important fourteenth-century developments: the denial that the Trinitarian mystery can be explained in any significant sense and innovations in Trinitarian logic.
In one of the most moving acts of his reign, when Charlemagne decided to collect a great library to build up the palace school of his court in Aachen, he did so first by bringing over from England a person, Alcuin of York. Alcuin in turn collected a group of scholars about him, to form the palace school and thus to create the palace library. Of course they brought books with them, but mostly they brought their learning, stored away in the treasuries of their memories. In doing so, Charlemagne, wittingly or not, was realizing an antique and early Christian trope (and reality) that one finds articulated in Jerome and in Cassiodorus, among others — that of the learned person as a living library, one who makes for him- or herself a mental chest of memorized texts and materials, which are then always ready as a reference and meditation tool. Two questions at once present themselves. Most intriguing perhaps is how one might go about making oneself into a library (whether of Christ or not). But this question depends on a prior one: why would want to make oneself into a library? The bulk of this article is concerned with the question of how, but it first addresses the question of why. A common explanation of ‘why>’ is that oral societies rely on memory because they lack access to writing and written sources.
Following an introduction that seeks to locate stories about apostles within ancient (especially popular) narratives, the chapter presents analytic and critical summaries of three groups: these are the five ‘major’ apocryphal acts, intermediate works including the Acts of Philip and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, and representatives of the ‘minor acts’, works which are devoted to Titus and Barnabas, as well as the Doctrine of Addai. The chapter therefore illustrates a trajectory by which the canonical Acts developed over the course of time to hagiography and pamphlets claiming ecclesiological privilege. A brief final section notes outstanding tasks for future research and study.
Samuel M. Powell
This article aims to illustrate the prominent features of Trinitarian theology in nineteenth-century Protestant thought, focusing on developments in Germany. It shows that Friedrich Schleiermacher had a major impact through his view that traditional Trinitarian doctrine is abstracted from the experience of salvation. This impact was reflected in Isaac Dorner's effort to develop a Trinitarian theology on the basis of analysis of the ethical or supreme god and in Johann von Hofmann's emphasis on the history of salvation.
Peter B. Clarke
This article looks at the origins, force and scope of millenarianism, sometimes referred to as millennialism or messianism, and offers some idea of how widespread the belief has become. The conclusion speculates about the reasons for its vitality, appeal, and persistence. Often associated exclusively with Christianity, the belief in paradise on earth has a long history and is found in many religious traditions, including Zoroastrianism, Islam, and forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. While the origins of millenarian belief pre-date Christianity, the Christian tradition very soon after its beginnings in the 1st century
Denis J.-J. Robichaud
Were there atheists and was there atheism in the Renaissance and the Reformation? There are no clear records for self-professed atheists at the twilight of the period, yet it is largely at that time that the semantic field of atheism began to be assembled and articulated. In one way or another various strategies have been adopted to study the history of atheism and atheists in order to negotiate the lack of evidence of self-professed atheists. Some scholars categorically deny the existence of atheists beyond the level of accusations, while others point to esoteric atheists. Some look for more visible evidence by studying atheism as a product of modern secularism, others by studying the history of theism. The essay offers an overview of the major scholarly approaches of those who have sought to answer this historical question, and presents a concluding case study of the humanist and philosopher Marsilio Ficino’s engagement with atheism.
Ruth Mazo Karras
This chapter examines three ways in which ideas about reproduction loomed large in medieval Christian culture: its relation to ideas about sexuality and nature, the somewhat overlapping topic of its relation to the sacrament of marriage, and the use of fictive parenthood or reproductive metaphors in Christian thought. Medieval Judaism is used as a point of comparison to highlight what is, or is not, distinctive about Christianity. The chapter argues that although virginity and celibacy got a great deal of literary attention, reproduction was the expectation for most medieval people and a tension about its value shaped their world. The period from 1100 to 1500 is the main focus but earlier writings, especially those of St Augustine, were highly influential.
As a general overview, the article explores the whole range of non-canonical texts about Jesus. Starting with aspects of the scholarly and public interest in those texts, and questions of genre and classification, the article discusses scattered sayings of Jesus (agrapha), the more important papyrus fragments of unknown gospels, and the fragmentary quotations from lost Jewish-Christian gospels and from the Gospel of the Egyptians. Then the more important infancy gospels are discussed (Protevangelium of James, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and later compilations), the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Pilate, and the Gospel of Nicodemus, further sayings gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip, and dialogue gospels such as the Epistula Apostolorum and the gospels of Mary and Judas. Finally, traditions about Jesus' writing such as the Abgar legend and the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark and the problems of its authenticity are presented.
Timothy J. Wengert
Luther’s reform efforts met success because of support from the team gathered in Wittenberg and beyond that carried out various aspects of reform. Luther’s Wittenberg colleagues, Philip Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, Caspar Cruciger, and Georg Major each played crucial roles in spreading Luther’s message and introducing his reforms. Book dedications, correspondence, common memoranda, etc. demonstrate this teamwork. Melanchthon’s support included diplomatic efforts, pioneering work in many academic fields, including biblical commentary and rhetoric and dialectic. Bugenhagen led institutionalization of reform in many lands and towns. Jonas translated his colleagues’ works. Cruciger edited Luther’s treatises; Major authored biblical commentaries. The entire Wittenberg circle led Luther’s Reformation.