Thursday, January 06, 2005

on the "fully man, fully god" issue

Before I decided that it was pointless to carry on the debate any longer (see the comments at "a kinder, gentler god)," I asked the members of the Extian mailing list if those who are more knowledgeable of church history than I am could send me some information on the topic. After all the work they spent in gathering this stuff, I'd feel bad if I didn't use it. ;)

OK Mikel, I skimmed the exchange and got where he was coming from. Here's some things to consider.

Your opponent made a Logical fallacy in defining Christians.
Logical fallacy - There is No True Scotsman.

No Christian ever thought Jesus was anything but God
The Ebionites did not believe Jesus was God
Ah yes, but no TRUE Christian ever thought Jesus was anything but

The fallacy is in constantly modifying the definition of Christian to exclude anyone that disagrees with the initial premise. There were, in fact, several sizeable groups in the early centuries that considered themselves true Christians and followers of Jesus, but they did not hold to the God-Man concept later developed in Rome.

The Ebionites thought Jesus was just a man that was adopted by God as a special son (he had not been preexistent or part of any Trinity). They were well established by the early 2nd century.

The Marcionites, another sizeable 2nd century group, also considered themselves true Christians and followers of Jesus. They held that the vengeful god of the OT and the loving God of Jesus were 2 separate gods. They emphasizes Pauls "likeness of flesh" in Romans 8:3 to conclude that Jesus was not really a physical human, but a spiritual manifestation of God.

Both the Ebionites and the Marcionites were "labeled" heretical by the powerful church in Rome, but that doesn't mean they weren't Christians, only that they disagreed with the Roman Bishops.

In modern times, there are numerous groups that believe they have the correct understanding of who Jesus is (e.g. Judaism, Islam, JW, Mormons, etc.) and they disagree significantly with Christian fundamentalists.

"...are our..[Pagan beliefs] to be accounted myths and theirs [the Christians'] believed? What reasons do the Christians give for the distinctiveness of their beliefs? In truth, there is nothing at all unusual about what the Christians believe..." Celsus, late 2nd century CE, commenting on the similarities between Pagan and Christian beliefs.

While your opponent may assert that all these notions have been disproved a century ago, assertions are useless. He must present the solid, incontrovertible, evidence or admit the possibility of Christian borrowing from paganism.


Also, Darren sent me this response regarding the question of the past cruelty of Christianity:

In answer to Thomas Paine's question regarding when the cruelty of Christianity became apparent:

Following Constantine's conversion to Christianity.
The section regarding Constantine's conversion is quite revealing. Further down is a section about the new Rome and Constantine's government. Finally, there is this about Theodosius I:

"Theodosius' importance rests on the fact that he founded a dynasty which continued in power until the death of his grandson Theodosius II in 450. This ensured a continuity of policy which saw the emergence of Nicene Christianity as the orthodox belief of the vast majority of Christians throughout the middle ages. It also ensured the essential destruction of paganism and the emergence of Christianity as the religion of the state, even if the individual steps in this process can be difficult to identify. On the negative side, however, he allowed his dynastic interests and ambitions to lead him into two unnecessary and bloody civil wars which severely weakened the empire's ability to defend itself in the face of continued barbarian pressure upon its frontiers. In this manner, he put the interests of his family before those of the wider Roman population and was responsible, in many ways, for the phenomenon to which we now refer as the fall of the western Roman empire."


Thanks for your input!


Travis Prinzi said...


Unfortunately, I hardly have time to even begin addressing the historical errors in those posts, the most insulting of which is the reading of later Christianity (which was sometimes oppressive, unfortunately) into the early church. It was not a big, nasty, powerful, oppressive, mean church that considered Marcion (mid second century!) a heretic, but an overwhelming large group of Christians being murdered by Rome and hiding in catacombs that made such a decision. And they made that decision based on the fact that Marcion was teaching, in the second century, things that the apostles had not passed on from the first century. The continuity of orthodox Christian teaching is found in apostolic succession and the rule of faith.

But again, I simply don't have the time to get into all this now. Maybe in time I'll come back and write more, but for now I must attend to other things.

coffee goddess said...

Oh Travis, go blow it out your ear, okay?

Mikel, I really enjoy your postings. You provide thoughtful, articulate commentary in a reasonable fashion. I learnt long ago that we cannot make everyone happy, nor can we alter their opinion if they are steadfastly against us. That is the real difference between people their kind and ours. It has nothing to do with intellegence, nor logic. Some of the most ardent believers I have come across are capable of the most articulate of debates - your friend Travis is but an example.

Speaking of articulation, your other pal by far better demonstrated a Logical Fallacy than I did. I won't even suggest that it was my inability to play with Blogger formatting.

Incidentally, my father is an Anglican Priest - actually I think he is a Cannon now - and was closely involved in the writing of what is now used internationally as the prayer book. But my father is also a historian, university professor of philosophy, ethics consultant, and writer. Consequently I never grew up in an atmosphere of this is what you will believe this is correct, etc. Rather we grew up in an environment encouraged to learn about all things and then make up our minds; coming to a conclusion based on an educated process. Sadly for him, neither of his kids turned out Christian. My brother is a vehement Atheist, while I have a more Earth Centred approach.

Yes, I certainly believe in Jesus. But not Jesus as the literal son of god. Interestingly, early Christians did not believe this either. And, with some hope, and prominent Christian moderates like Bishop Spong and Tom Harpur, perhaps Christianity can get back on track again and there just might be a place in it for persons like you or I.

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." ~William Shakespeare

--From Twelfth Night (II, v, 156-159)

I've always liked this quote; and, if applied to the "FULLY MAN, FULLY GOD" debate, makes a pretty good analogy of the problem. Myself, I prefer to think that Jesus is a man whom attained greatness by way of achievement....

Travis Prinzi said...

Don't you find your response, "go blow it out your ear" kind of ironic in light of your criticism of the close-mindedness of ardent believers? How is intelligent conversation and dialogue supposed to take place in a context where rebuttals involve clever phrases like "go blow it our your ear"? Is it at all possible that you might be just as "ardent" about your view that Jesus is not God as I am in my view that He is? At least my stance on this is rooted in 2,000 years of solid tradition, rather than statements like, "I prefer to think of Jesus as..."

It is simply not historically true that early Christians did not believe Jesus was God. All four canonical gospels were written before the end of the first century, and they all contain these claims. Bishop Spong is a sadly mistaken individual. Again, since I've not got the time (I couldn't resist responding to "go blow it out your ear"), I'd highly recommend Bishop N.T. Wright. He even gets interview by people doing TV specials on early Christianity. I'll close off my side of this discussion by leaving one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis:

"A man who is merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Thanks for the discussion, folks. I always do appreciate good dialogue.

coffee goddess said...

"Blow it out your ear" ~ Actually, that was my way of trying to get a message across to all of us to lighten up. After I posted it, I realized it was not quite within the context I had intended; however, deleting it would have deleted the entire post. Call me lazy, I guess.

Travis, I feel I must correct you regarding the 2,000 year bit. Actually, its closer to 1,600 years of Christian tradition. There was a time when the early church did look upon the Gospels as escoteric in meaning. The whole process of drastic change hinged on the crucial decision to take the tradition of ancient escoteric wisdom held within the Gospels (the pre-Christianism Christianity of which both St Augustine and Eusebius wrote - then pre-emminent Christian thinkers) and make it exoteric (plain, open, and simple for the ignorant and unlearned masses - 'dumbed down' for lack of a better term).

"There are many things that are true which it is not useful for the vulgar crowd to know; and certain things which although they are false it is expediant for the people to believe otherwise." ~ St Augustine (on how a Spiritual Christianity was becoming a Literalist Christianism)

"The very thing which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients also, nor was it wanting from the inception of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, at which point the true religion which was already in existence began to be called Christian." ~ St Augustine

I specifically am using St Augustine here. Being recognised as the greatest of the Latin Fathers and one of the most eminent Western Doctors of the Church, I felt it added some credibility to the argument.

[St Augustine (354-430) holds a place of prominence among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, a place that many would say is comparable to that of St Paul among the apostles. He wrote prolifically; and, at a time of great Theological and Political upheavals (barbarian invasions of Rome and all) he was in the debate up to his neck. In his Christian apologia, The City of God, he formulated a theological philosphy of history, tracing the origin, progress and destiny of the church establishing it as successor (not replacement) to paganism.]

Just a little tooting of my own horn here (and sounding an awful lot like Jack Ryan in "The Hunt For Red October") but I have had the pleasure of sitting across a kitchen table and chatting at length with Bishop Spong - have you? (I had no idea whom the man was, just thought him another of mom and dad's string of house guests. I've also had the priveledge of talking with the likes of Bishop Desmond Tutu, and have met more than one of the Archbishop's of Canturburys. Am I well versed and educated in the likes of Theology and History? Nope, but I like to think I've had benefit of an extraordinary opportunity for 'hands on' education. Amazing the philisophical discussions that can arise over a good glass of wine or even sitting in the middle of a lake casting a rod or two with one of these great minds.

Mikayla Starstuff said...

Thanks very much for the kind comments Robin. It is true, when someone is relying on dogma rather then real facts and reason you will never change their mind. Faith trumps fact.

I'm very familiar with the "liar, lunatic, or Lord" argument by C. S. Lewis. It totally forgets that people can deeply believe things that are really not true, so perhaps that would fall under the category of "liar" (though that case shouldn't assume the character flaws of "liar".) What what I think is the most likely case is that Jesus never said those things. These are things that his followers--who were working on an agenda to convert people--claimed that he said. As for Jesus, I don't think we have one letter that came directly from him.

Mikayla Starstuff said...

Wow Robin, I didn't see that last comment on my last post. We must be on at the same time.

That is really impressive. And the quotes from Augustine are telling.

You really had philosophical discussion with Bishop Sprong! I've not read his stuff but I have heard a lot about him. But the fact that I've even heard of him says something about his fame :)

coffee goddess said...

Yes, I have; though it was some years afterwards that I realized the significance of whom he was. It was in my very vocal why-I-can't-be-a-Christian phase and I recall the gist of the coversation being his reasoning why I could still be a Christian without believing Jesus the literal son of god. Suppose there's hop for me yet.

At that time, my father was a Chancellor at a prominent Canadian university and principal of and Anglican College and Seminary. He and mom were always entertaining prominent figures both within and out of the Anglican Church. Many of them were visiting on lecture series to either the College or the University, many were connected to some of the other things my parents were involved with (as patrons of the arts, mom and dad had visitors of all creeds, colours, and philosphies). I have a wooden salad bowl handed down to me from my mom which was apparently my baptismal font. One of the Archbishop of Canturbury's did the job ~ then promptly changed my diaper as I'm told. Thus, I can say I've been blessed at both ends.

One of my more fonder memories was in high school when mom and dad held a garden party for the then Archbishop of Canturbury ('AB of C' is head of Anglican Church, kind of like Pope is to RCs). I had purple and orange hair back then (heck, it was the 80s) and he asked me to serve for him at the following day's services. He had his teenage daughter with him - very bored after weeks of being dragged around on his Canadian tour - so I took them out fishing and waterskiing after church the next day). That's my brush with greatness I suppose.