Monthly Archives: March 2010

Stephen Colbert and Jesus vs. Glenn Beck

This is absolutely hilarious:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/267673/march-18-2010/glenn-beck-attacks-social-justice—james-martin

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Roman and Christian Funerals: The conclamatio

In the late antique, a prominent feature of the funerary rites was the conclamatio: the calling out of the deceased’s name. Numerous sarcophagi and reliefs from antiquity depict the conclamatio. The Haterii here is an example of this. The deceased rests upon a couch (κλίνη) while those who stand around her call out her name. They would continue to do this until the burial. If one was cremated, it seems as though the conclamatio continued until the pyre was doused, often with wine and water. An interesting note: people who were cremated often had a piece of flesh removed to be buried. Servius, in his commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid says that the purpose of calling out the name is simply to make sure they’re dead.(1) This was probably how the custom began (along with washing the body with warm water), but it later took on religious connotations. It probably served an apotropaic purpose, keeping the spirits of the deceased from sticking around the house (where the wake was held). This also seems to have been the purpose of the loud music and dirges at funerals.(2) The musicians can be seen on the Haterii relief in the lower left corner. Wealthy families would hire professional musicians and professional mourners (praeficiae) to lament at funerals.

So what about the Christians? They seem to have rejected it. There are no clear instances of a conclamatio in any early Christian literature of which I’m aware. Funeral dirges were replaced by the antiphonal singing of the Psalms. Referencing 1 Thess 4.16, Tertullian says the loud trumpets should not be played at a Christian funeral lest the buried Christian miss the trumpet of the angel.(3) Because the Christians had abandoned the traditional Roman and Greek views of the afterlife (which, in the late ancient world, were numerous), they had no reason to participate in those particular mourning customs that had grown up around those traditional Roman beliefs.

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(1)Servius, Commentarii in Vergilii Aeneidem 4.218
(2)J. Quasten, Musik und Gesang in den Kulten der Heidnischen Antike und Christlichen Frühzeit,195.
(3)Tertullian, De Corona Militis 11

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Book Review: Christopher A. Hall, Worshiping with the Church Fathers


  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Intervarsity Press (January 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 083083866X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830838660

Christopher A. Hall has done it again – Worshiping with the Church Fathers is a knockout book! I received the book a couple of weeks ago from the fine people at IVP Academic and have just finished reading it. I knew the book was going to be good when I opened to the first page of the first chapter and read the first line:

“Some readers, particularly those from an evangelical background and perspective, may find themselves surprised, bewildered, and perhaps troubled to discover that the church fathers thought, lived, and worshiped sacramentally.”

Hall is right, but it’s not just Evangelicals – every congregation has been touched by post-modernism’s incredulity to religious meta-narratives (of which sacraments are a part), and thus a lesson from the Fathers is in order.

This book is divided into three parts: I) Sacraments II) Prayer and III) Discipline. Part one covers Baptism and the Eucharist. Part two covers “The Basics of Prayer”, “The Challenges of Unceasing Prayer”, “Further Coaching on Prayer”, and “The Lord’s prayer.” The third part is divided into two sections: “The Transforming Call to the Desert” and “A Space to Draw Close to God.”

Hall’s opening line seems to be the guiding theme throughout the book, discussing the various themes through the Fathers’ sacramental lenses. Peppered with quotes from the Fathers and modern scholars alike, the book is a great introduction to the early worship (and not just liturgy) of the early Christians. In fact, I was surprised at first that this book is not primarily about liturgy, but rather discusses the entire Christian life as worship.

I appreciate what IVP is trying to do with these books, but not all they have put out are total knockouts. This one is. If you get one of the books out of this series, get this one – you’ll find yourself buying the other ones soon enough.

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Speaker on campus today

I just recently found out about this speaker being on campus:

MRST Lecture Series

David Michelson (Department of History, University of Alabama)

speaking on:

“Putting Action into Words: The Formation of Christian Orthodoxy in Late Antiquity Viewed from Syriac Sources”

THURSDAY, 25 March 2010 at 4:00 pm in Bate 1012

Michelson is a recent Princeton graduate (2007) and he did his Ph.D under Peter Brown. Brown’s book The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity was a major catalyst for my senior thesis, so I’m really excited to listen to someone who studied with him.

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James McGrath is a Chronicle Celebrity

Reading through the Chronicle tonight I found this article. Well done, Dr. McGrath! I’ll be looking for your autograph at this year’s SBL.

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Win stuff from Tyndale Press!

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Accepted at Notre Dame

This afternoon I received an email from Blake Leyerle, the director of graduate studies at Notre Dame’s Early Christian Studies program, telling me that I have been accepted into their MA program. I am so unbelievably excited and I look forward to moving up to South Bend in the Fall to begin my studies!

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What does τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆσ mean?

In my senior religion seminar term paper I argued that all elements of Augustine’s ideas concerning the peccatum originale existed within the late ancient thought world. One New Testament text I turned to was Eph 2.3. In his commentary on Ephesians, John Muddiman writes that the phrase “children of wrath (τέκνα ὀργῆσ)” is the Greek equivalent to the Semitic phrase “sons of disobedience.” He says that this implies that they are “‘characterized by’ rather than literally ‘born from’ disobedience.”(1)

My question is – is φύσει a dative of cause? If so, I think Muddiman’s explanation isn’t right. Granted, there are all sorts of problems with understanding the word φύσις (fusis or ‘nature’, among other things), but I think if φύσει is a dative of cause, then I think one could argue that some sort of an ‘original sin’ is in Paul’s view.

(1)p 105

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What’s good for General Motors is good for the University, or so we thought.

I’ll open this post with a quote from a talk given by the eminent Peter Green:

Over the past two or three decades, we have become increasingly acclimatized—faculty, by and large, less enthusiastically than administrators—to the idea of universities run according to the corporate model. We were reminded, regularly, that we have to compete. The function of a degree was increasingly seen, in vocational terms, as the ticket to a highly paid job. The idea of searching for, say, the meaning of life, came to be seen as a waste of time, and the humanities generally as a pleasant but inessential top-dressing to what really mattered: scientific facts and figures, the computerized bottom line that led to the new version of the Great American Success Story. The past was irrelevant, other countries and cultures were backdrops for guided tourism with interpreters, isolationism flourished, greed was good. I saw a house ad not so long ago boasting that “a small library in the basement apartment adds a touch of European charm.” Oh, those quaint Europeans, with their books and things! The humanities, you see, have been further attacked, under the all-purpose banner of elitism, by the kind of populist Forrest Gumpery that feels uncomfortable with any kind of mental effort beyond the scope of Joe Sixpack.

Two articles on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website have sparked some debate. The first is Thomas Benton’s “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind‘”, the second is James Mulhollands’s “Neither a Trap Nor a Lie“.

Both articles seem to miss a major point that Peter Green makes: the West, particularly America, has been fooled into thinking that facts and figures are all that matters. The University has become less about the pursuit of Truth, Beauty, Goodness (and to speak of such things is seen as silly, romantic, or naive) and more about training for a job – it has become a vocational center, a 4 year trade school. “Education” rarely happens – it has been replaced by training. We’re no longer looking to create informed citizens, but we have created a workforce that performs its tasks well. This training, by the way, should sound political alarms – a democratic republic can only function well if it has well-informed, moral citizens. Consider, for example, an example given by Peter Green later in the same speech: Bernie Madoff is not in jail because he is bad at business. He’s great at business. He understood how the business world worked in such a way that he was able to swindle people out of their money. What Madoff lacked was an education (and not training) in the humanities. He had no scruples because he figured that numbers were all that mattered. An argument against this would be that humanities professors don’t seem to be more moral on the whole. The problem, I think, is that so few are living out what they have learned – they may quote Plato, for example – they’ve received a training in Platonic thought, but they haven’t fully incorporated it into their lives. They did not educate themselves with Plato.

Unfortunately, the University has bought the lie wholesale. It has served as its own enemy. Instead of dispelling the myth that what is ‘practical’ is all that matters (and what does that mean, anyway?), the University embraced it.

For those of us in the humanities, particularly those whose fields are not seen as particularly ‘relevant’ (I often joke with friends about going to work at a Religion Factory), this should be troubling. This system has created an unfortunate scenario in higher-ed: 70%+ adjuncts, people who feel so pressured to publish that they end up writing absolute crap (which the rest of us have to sift through when we want to deal with what is supposed to be the relevant secondary literature), an over-saturation of various fields with Ph.Ds who cannot find jobs, and students who see these fields as esoteric (rightly so, in some cases).

What’s the solution? I’m not sure. Philosophies will have to change. America will have to realize the error of presentism and ‘practicality’. How we can accomplish this is beyond me.

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Tertullian and the Soul

For my religion seminar this semester I’ve written a paper arguing that all the components of Augustine’s ideas concerning original sin were already within the thought-world of the late antique. Tertullian seems to have been one of the earliest Christians to explain an explicitly biological link in the transmission of a sin nature. Borrowing from the Stoic idea of a λόγος σπερμάτικος (seminal reason), Tertullian explains that the soul is a material or quasi-material entity that permeates the being in which it resides. Because it occupies the same space as the person, it takes the form of the person. Tertullian proves this in De Anima 9 by citing Luke 16.23-24. Because the soul maintains the form of the person, even after death, “it happens that the rich man has a tongue and poor Lazarus a finger and Abraham a bosom.” (also see Adv. Her. ii.55). Tertullian also believes that the soul is a definite quantity and that when the father gives some of his “paternal germ”, his own soul decreases by a certain amount. This soul then grows in the child, who could potentially father more children. Therefore Tertullian writes that all souls, by reason of their birth, have their nature in Adam (De Anima 40) All souls are essentially offshots of Adam’s first soul, which had been corrupted by sin.

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