The Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict

Though very little is known about the life of St. Benedict, his Rule was to have a lasting impact on the development of Christianity. Born into a “distinguished Italian family” in 480 C.E., St. Benedict would abandon his liberal education in Rome for a life of solitude.[1] However his solitude would soon be broken by groups of monks who sought out his wisdom and guidance. While at first St. Benedict refused to allow these visiting monks to live near him, he eventually took them on as disciples. At some point in his life, St. Benedict wrote his famous Rule to help guide these disciples as they banded together into communities. By the time of his death in 547 C.E., St. Benedict had founded twelve monasteries “with an abbot and twelve monks in each of them.” [2] The Rule itself is fairly simple and straight forward, blending the best elements of the Eastern and Western monastic movements. The four primary guiding elements of the Rule are the opus Dei, communal work, intellectual activity, and vow of stability. Gluing these elements together was an “evident love and concern for the welfare” of the monks along with some basic common sense. [3] In reading the Rule I could not help but be struck at the cult-like instructions of total obedience to the abbot. Not only were the monks to obey every command of the abbot, they were not allowed to disagree with him on threat of physical punishment. [4] Though I know the culture was different during the time of St. Benedict with family patriarchs regularly controlling the actions of their offspring,...
“The Life of St. Anthony” by Athanasius

“The Life of St. Anthony” by Athanasius

As the persecution of the early church stopped and Christianity gained favor in the halls of power, dedicated followers of Jesus turned from the red martyrdom of death to the white martyrdom of the desert. These white martyrs gave up fleshly comfort (e.g. soft beds, nice clothes, etc.) and embraced an “austere and rigorous discipline” of solitude, prayer, and fasting.[1] The most famous of these desert hermits was St. Anthony the Great (c. 251 CE–356 C.E) who lived in the remote areas of Thebaid (a Roman province in modern day Egypt). The story of St. Anthony’s life was written down by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 295-373 C.E.) between 356-362 C.E. With a few short years, The Life of St. Anthony had “won acclaim not only among Greek-speaking Christians in the eastern Mediterranean, but also among Latin Christians in Gaul and Italy.”[2] A Latin translation of the book was read by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 C.E.) in Milan, Italy, and changed the course of his life, leading him to embrace the life of asceticism.[3] In the end, Athanasius’ The Life of St. Anthony became the “paradigm for the genre of Christian hagiography” adhered to by subsequent authors.[4] The flow of the book itself is fairly simple. Starting with St. Anthony’s childhood, the book follows him into the desert and traces his battles with himself and with the forces of darkness. Armed with a regiment of prayer, fasting, physical work and solitude, St. Anthony “gained mastery over Satan and his agents.”[5] He also trained other monks in the “use of prayer and the sign of the cross” for fighting...
Abrahamic Denominations Active in the United States

Abrahamic Denominations Active in the United States

This Christmas I had the pleasure of reading through the Handbook of Denominations in the United States (13th edition). For those who are not familiar with this book, it’s an encyclopedia of sorts giving a brief history and overview of the theology/practice of the Abrahamic religious denominations active within the USA as of 2010. Granted, the Handbook only lists those groups with at least 100 congregations and/or five thousand members so there are some smaller denominations/groups that are not listed. The Handbook itself is split into three major selections according to the three major Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. As to be expected, the Christianity selection takes up the bulk of the book with the various denominations listed alphabetically according to the major traditions within Christianity (i.e. Lutheran tradition, Reformed, Congregationalist, and Presbyterian tradition, Holiness tradition, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches tradition, etc.). Under the Judaism and Islam section, the Handbook lists out all the major traditions of those Abrahamic religions. This to me was one of the coolest parts about the Handbook as it was nice to understand a little more about the different sub-groups within Judaism and Islam. For example, the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) was under the “Holiness Churches” tradition within “Christianity.”  The Union for Reform Judaism was placed under the “Judaism” selection just like Sunni Islam and Wahhabism was placed under Islam. Interestingly enough, the Vineyard was listed under “Pentecostal Churches” tradition within “Christianity” section. This is odd to me as the Handbook includes a “Community and New Paradigm Church” sub-group that would have seemed a better fit for the Vineyard…  I guess...
Celtic Christianity and the Legend of the Wild Goose

Celtic Christianity and the Legend of the Wild Goose

A cool bonus about attending St. Stephen’s University is that they have a professor who loves Celtic Christianity. Sadly enough he was on a trip during the two weeks I attended class so I was unable to meet him. However I did take advance of the school’s library which had excellent collection of Celtic Christianity books thanks to this gentlemen’s influence. =D Buried within this collection was a copy of Ian Bradley’s “Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams.” This was a book that I have been wanting to read since 2006 – yeah, nine years is a long time to wait…but wow, the book was worth it! Ian Bradley is a British academic, author, and theologian who teaches at University of St Andrews in Scotland. With over 30 books in print, Bradley is one of the most well-known experts on Celtic Christianity and spirituality. His book “Celtic Christianity: Making Myths and Chasing Dreams” reflects the depth of his knowledge in this area as he traces the development of Celtic Christianity from the early days of the Celtic church to today. History, while only lived once, is never really static with folks of the current time reading their own wishes and desires back into the actions and thoughts of their forefathers. The various quests for the historical Jesus is a prime example of this human tendency. Bradley, being a professor of church history, not only looks at what actually happened on the British Isle, but also at how folks interpreted the historical events. In other words just like there has been three quests for the historical Jesus within modern...
Happy Theophany/Epiphany!

Happy Theophany/Epiphany!

The 12 Days of Christmas are over and a new season of liturgy has begun. To mark this shift, Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters celebrate the feast of Theophany in remembrance of when Jesus as baptized by John the Forerunner. The name Theophany means the “appearance of God” as it was at that baptism that the Trinity appeared clearly to humanity for the first time. God the Father spoke from the heavens while the incarnated God the Son physical stood in the Jordan river with the God the Spirit descending upon him. Among our Roman Catholic and liturgical Protestant family, today is celebration of Epiphany. That is, the day when the magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem, most likely when he was one years of age. The feast’s name, epiphany, means “manifestation” or “revelation” as the magi represented all the non-Jewish people of the world (i.e. the Gentiles) who received the revelation that God had taken on the likeness of humanity to rescue us from darkness. Both feasts have been celebrated by Jesus followers since the fourth century, if not earlier. So, if you are able, lift up a cup and shout: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Revelation...