Archive for the ‘Platonism’ Tag

St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXIX

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Acts 15:36-18:23

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STS. PAUL, BARNABAS, AND MARK

I begin by backing up to 13:13:

Paul and his friends went by sea from Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

John was St. (John) Mark.

The tone in 13:13 is neutral.  The verse does not explain why St. (John) Mark returned to Jerusalem.  Consulting commentaries uncovers a variety of possible reasons and the intimation that St. Luke was being diplomatic in 13:13.

If St. Luke was diplomatic in 13:13, his diplomacy had ceased by 15:38:

…but Paul was not in favour of taking along the very man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had refused to share in their work.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. (John) Mark and St. (Joseph) Barnabas were cousins.  Naturally, then, St. Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) wanted to include his kinsman.  Yet human frailty broke up the team from the First Missionary Journey.  Sts. Barnabas and Paul separated.

A few years later, by the middle 50s C.E., St. Paul had forgiven St. Mark.

Aristarchus, who is here in prison with me, sends his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas–you were sent some instructions about him, if he comes to you, give him a warm welcome….

–Colossians 4:10, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. Barnabas reunited with St. Mark shortly after separating from St. Paul.  The cousins embarked on a mission to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).

St. Paul seems never to have reconciled with St. Barnabas.  Nevertheless, the reference to St. Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9:6, in the early 50s C.E., is not hostile:

Are Barnabas and I the only ones who are not allowed to stop working?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

STS. PAUL AND SILAS

St. Paul found a new missionary partner, St. Silas/Silvanus, and embarked on the Second Missionary Journey.  St. Timothy joined the team early in the journey.  St. Luke was part of the team, too, based on “we” (Acts 16:10-17).

During the Second Missionary Journey, St. Paul founded the house churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, to whom he subsequently addressed epistles.  Yet opponents continued to work against the success of the mission.

DYNAMICS OF POWER:  THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE ROMAN EMPIRE

One crucial detail of 16:25-40 is that Sts. Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  Therefore, the beating and incarceration of them without trial was illegal.  The possible penalties for those who had abused Sts. Paul and Silas included disqualification from holding public office (at best) to execution (at worse).  Therefore, the magistrates at Philippi tried to sweep this matter under the proverbial rug; they begged Sts. Paul and Silas to leave.

Paul’s citizenship is an important, although ironic, feature of his apologia in Acts.  In this regard, Paul’s acceptance of Philippi’s official apology (see v. 39) symbolizes his general attitude toward Rome in Acts.  His point is that Rome is unable to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world; and even this great empire must come hat in hand to the prophets of the Most High God.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 235

Notably, one house church in Philippi met at the home of St. Lydia (a woman, obviously), a Gentile.  The other house church met in the home of the jailer.

Paul’s strategic acceptance of their apology (16:39) suggests a reversal of power that has become an important political matter only after the households of faith have been established in Philippi.  The proper role of civil authority is not to dictate terms so that the church becomes yet another institution of its power.  Rather civil authority is now obliged to safeguard the deposit of faith in their city as an institution of divine power (cf. Rom. 13:1-7).  Luke’s portrait of Rome in Acts is of the inability of secular authority to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 236

The separation of religion and state (in the best interest of religion and of religious institutions, by the way) did not exist in St. Paul’s time, hence the events of Acts 17:1-15.

“The people who have been turning the whole world upside down have come here now….”

–Acts 17:6b, The Jerusalem Bible

These critics were wrong.  The people turning the world right side up.  The world was upside down already.  The Lucan Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20f) made that point clearly.

When we mere mortals, accustomed and acculturated to the status quo, fail to understand that the world is upside down, we may react negatively to those turning the world right side up.  Not one of us is immune to this moral blindness.

THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

The relationship of Christianity to philosophy has sometimes been a fraught topic.  St. Clement of Alexandria (died circa 210) defended the validity of Greek philosophy (especially that of Plato) in Christianity.  St. Clement, the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship,” accepted secular knowledge as valid; the truth was the truth.  Period.  After more than a millennium of favoring Platonism, Holy Mother Church switched to the thought of Aristotle in the Middle Ages.  St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) would have rejoiced to have lived long enough to witness this change, which he helped to effect.  St. Clement of Alexandria became a heretic post mortem and ex post facto.  Eventually, Rome revoked his pre-congregation canonization.

For the record, I like both Sts. Clement of Alexandria and St. Thomas Aquinas.

I have conversed with fundamentalists who have chafed at philosophy as something that informs theology.  When I mentioned the Greek philosophy in the New Testament (especially Acts 17:16-34 and throughout the Letter to the Hebrews), I prompted greater irritation.  Facts be damned; I changed no minds.

St. Paul used whatever was available to him in service to his mission.  In Athens, Greece, for example, he stood on common ground with the Stoics and the Epicureans when he proclaimed that God, not captured in human sanctuaries, does not need human worship.  St. Paul even quoted the Stoic philosopher Epimenies of Knossos when the Apostle decreed:

…it is in him that we live, and move, and exist….

–Acts 17:28, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Yet the Apostle argued against other aspects of Stoicism and Epicureanism.  Against Stoicism, he rejected pantheism and asserted the existence of one transcendent creator who sustains everything.  St. Paul also replaced the endless cycles in Stoicism with doomsday.  Against Epicureanism, he countered deism with God being intimately involved with creation.

St. Paul worked within circumstances.  He was not a systematic theologian.  Therefore, he contradicted himself sometimes.  (Newsflash:  People do contradict themselves.)  He spoke philosophically in Athens, Greece, but did not dictate philosophically in 1 Corinthians (see chapter 1).  The manner of how he spoke, dictated, and wrote depended on who the audience was and what the circumstances were.

CONCLUSION

The account of St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey tells of his successes and his failures.  Nobody can succeed all the time.  Success depends greatly on the receptiveness (or lack thereof) of the audience.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta (d. 1997) said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCAHSIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUGH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBITSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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