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Among the innumerable warriors against legalized racial segregation and discrimination in American society, the iconic Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as a principal spokesman and symbol of the black freedom struggle. The many marches that he led and the crucial acts of civil disobedience that he spurred during the 1950s and 1960s established him and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as rallying points for civil rights activities in several areas in the American South. King's charisma among African Americans drew from his sermonic rhetoric and its resonance with black audiences. Brad R. Braxton, a scholar of homiletics, observed that King as a black preacher “made the kinds of interpretive moves that historically have been associated with African American Christianity and preaching.” Braxton adds that “for King Scripture was a storybook whose value resided not so much in the historical reconstruction or accuracy of the story in the text, but rather in the evocative images, in the persuasive, encouraging anecdotes of the audacious overcoming of opposition, and in its principles about the sacredness of the human person.” Hence, King's use of this hermeneutical technique with scriptural texts validated him as a spokesman for African Americans. On a spectrum stretching from unlettered slave exhorters in the nineteenth century to sophisticated pulpiteers in the twentieth century, King stood as a quintessential black preacher, prophet, and jeremiad “speaking truth to power” and bringing deliverance to the disinherited.
It is difficult to imagine Jonathan Edwards countenancing the “Confus'd, but very Affecting Noise” that erupted in Suffield, Massachusetts, on July 6, 1741. Yet there he stood, his loud voice rising in prayer above the din that emanated from an assembly of more than two hundred boisterous men and women who had gathered to listen to his exhortations in the “two large Rooms” of a private house. On the previous day, the visiting Northampton, Massachusetts, revivalist had administered the sacrament to nearly five hundred Suffield communicants, ninety-seven of whom had joined the church that very day. It was an extraordinary event—quite possibly the largest oneday church admission ritual ever observed in colonial New England.
In 351 c.e., Cyril of Jerusalem prepared catechumens for baptism at what he identified as the very center of the world. From Golgotha Christ once stretched his hands to embrace the ends of the earth, and Cyril's catechumens would soon receive a distinctive baptism predicated on their proximity to Golgotha first and Christ's tomb second. For this bishop location was truly everything, in his own words: “For others only hear but we both see and handle.” Cyril's Lenten Catechumenate consisted of an eight-week course of prebaptismal preparation culminating in an Easter baptism. Within this institution Cyril offered a privileged course of Christian inculcation and a singular notion of the “Christian Soldier.” Through a highly visual exegesis of the crucifixion and resurrection, Cyril transformed baptizands into witnesses to these two events, a status obligating them to defend the actuality of these moments and, in so doing, promote Cyril's particular conceptualization of Jerusalem as Holy Land.
High above Lake Como in Lombardy, overlooking the cathedral city of Como and the southwestern branch of the lake, looms the tiny village of Brunate. It is a picturesque spot, beloved of mountain climbers, which enjoyed a brief heyday as a tourist mecca in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An efficient if ear-popping funicular railway, inaugurated in 1894, now scales the steep cliff in a brisk seven minutes. But in the Middle Ages, when most of our story is set, Brunate was as remote and inaccessible a site as one could hope to find. A hagiographer around 1600 described it as an “ignoble village on that mountain whose vast ridge towers above the city to the east.… The mountain is arduous and laborious to climb.” In 1578 the village had a mere 156 inhabitants, and as late as 1900 its year-round population was barely over 500.
Few acts of the Scottish parliament can have had such deadly consequences as the following, passed on June 4, 1563: Anentis Witchcraftis.
ITEM Forsamekill as the Quenis Majestie and thre Estatis in this present Parliament being informit, that the havy and abominabill superstitioun usit be divers of the liegis of this Realme, be using of Witchcraftis, Sorsarie and Necromancie, and credence gevin thairto in tymes bygane aganis the Law of God: And for avoyding and away putting of all sic vane superstitioun in tymes tocum: ¶ It is statute and ordanit be the Quenis Majestie, and thre Estatis foirsaidis, that na maner of persoun nor persounis, of quhatsumever estate, degre or conditioun thay be of, tak upone hand in ony tymes heirefter, to use ony maner of Witchcraftis, Sorsarie or Necromancie, nor gif thame selfis furth to have ony sic craft or knawlege thairof, thairthrow abusand the pepill: Nor that na persoun seik ony help, response or cosultatioun at ony sic usaris or abusaris foirsaidis of Witchcraftis, Sorsareis or Necromancie, under the pane of deid, alsweill to be execute aganis the usar, abusar, as the seikar of the response or consultatioun.
In a letter to the people of Florence in the early part of 1067, the ardent reformer, Peter Damian, denounced a group of monks as locustae. These unnamed monks—whom it has long been accepted were the Vallombrosans—had been waging a campaign against their bishop, Peter Mezzabarba of Florence, whom they accused of obtaining his office by simony. Although Damian, who had been cardinalbishop of Ostia as well as prior of the eremitical community at Fonte Avellana, readily acknowledged that Mezzabarba might have a case to answer at Pope Alexander II's forthcoming council in Rome, he condemned their intrusion into matters of ecclesiastical politics that were none of their business. Yet it was clearly more than a matter of inappropriate activities. For he went on to dismiss in the bitterest of terms the dangerous pretensions of these monks to a superior holiness. Referring to their sanctity as odiosa, Damian concluded by saying that if monks like the Vallombrosans wanted to be holy they should not flaunt a spiritual arrogance in the face of weaker brethren. For Damian, the duty of monks was strictly defined by function: their calling was to weep for sins, not to announce them.
For what is worth as much as these festival assemblies? And what is so august and all-beautiful as to see the whole city with one's whole race issuing from the town, occupying a holy place to perform pure mysteries of the most genuine devotion?
Few Romans of any era would have disagreed with these exclamations, though earlier generations might have been astonished that such familiar sentiments could issue from the mouth of a Christian bishop. The ideal of civic solidarity through worship and celebration was a familiar concept from ancient times, one which Asterius felt to be entirely in keeping with the practice of Christianity at the end of the fourth century. Asterius's festival homilies reveal part of the process whereby views on society and citizens became informed by Christian belief. First he offers a critique of traditional society and religion. Second he promotes Christian politeia, by means of martyr festivals, as the true foundation for social harmony. Three conceptual strategies emerge in Asterius's program for transforming classical politeia: recommending distinctly Christian philosophic virtue, depicting citizenship in terms of familial relationships, and employing an eschatological dimension to patronage.
The Council of Sens (May 25, 1141), during which the teaching of Peter Abelard († 1143) was condemned by an ecclesiastical court, has long been one of the most disputed subjects in twelfth-century scholarship. The outcome of the Council, understood as a victory for Bernard of Clairvaux († 1153) over master Abelard, bequeathed us centuries of distorted historical interpretation. For far too long, understanding of what happened was firmly based on the account given by Bernard's biographers, in the first place his secretary (and adoring admirer) Geoffrey of Auxerre, who related the confrontation between Bernard and Abelard in his contribution to the hagiographical biography of the abbot. Not unnaturally, the Vita places Bernard at the center of his time, making him the dominant figure of the twelfth century. Thus no doubt was admissible concerning Abelard's heresy and Bernard's right and justice in condemning him.
In a separatist congregation in London in 1594 a storm was brewing. The church's pastor, Francis Johnson, imprisoned for his noncon-formist activities, had recently married, and Francis's younger brother George, also incarcerated, was deeply troubled about his new sister-in-law Thomasine. George Johnson feared Francis was “blinded, bewitched, and besotted with the slie [sly] heights of the subtile proud woman,” and he considered it his duty as a good Christian and concerned brother to help “reforme” the situation. George's central grievance against Thomasine, a young widow before her marriage to Francis, was her excessive pride—she was “much noted” for it, he observed, which “became not a Pastor's wife, specially he being under persecution: in Prison: and often looking for death.” For George, as for other nonconforming Protestants who believed that one's outward behavior revealed one's inward moral state, his sister-in-law's pride was so offensive because it was so publicly and extravagantly displayed upon her body, in velvet, lace, whalebone, and gold. George wanted to “shew” Thomasine “that proud apparel and fashions of worldly dames were not decent in a Pastor[']s wife: that the creatures [material things], though lawful to be used, yet [are] not to be abused.”
Henry Hammond (1605–60), the learned and practical English priest who during the Interregnum did as much as any man and a good deal more than most to reinforce and renew the ideational underpinnings of his Church, is a familiar figure in seventeenth-century Anglican studies. Historians speak of his captaincy of a circle of Anglican divines. One names him the “oracle of the High Church party”; another sees him as the principal transformer of Anglicanism. The Independent John Owen likened him to a clerical Atlas bearing on his shoulders “the whole weight of the episcopal cause.” The scholars just quoted call Hammond a “Laudian” but are uneasy with the label and loath to defend it. He appears in their work as an exemplary High Churchman standing for de jure episcopacy, Prayer-Book piety, the Eucharist, and royal headship of the Church. His intransigent Churchmanship contrasts in some degree with his character and temperament. He comes down to us as “the spokesman of those who would make no concession,” yet Richard Baxter, who thought him “the fons et origo of the prelatical bigotry of his day, wrote that he “took the death of Dr. Hammond … for a very great loss; for his piety and wisdom would sure have hindered much of the violence” of the Restoration.
The experience of Watchman Nee (Ni Tuosheng) and the Christian Assembly (Jidutu juhuichu or Jidutu juhuisuo) in Mainland China after the Communist Revolution of 1949 reveals the complexity of church and state relations in the early 1950s. Widely known in the West as the Little Flock (Xiaoqun), the Christian Assembly, founded by Watchman Nee, was one of the fastest growing native Protestant movements in China during the early twentieth century. It was not created by a foreign missionary enterprise. Nor was it based on the Anglo-American Protestant denominational model. And its rapid development fitted well with an indigenous development called the Three-Self Movement, in which Chinese Christians created self-supporting, selfgoverning, and self-propagating churches. But it did not share the highly politicized anti-imperialist rhetoric of another Three-Self Movement, the Communist-initiated “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” (sanzi aiguo yundong): self-rule autonomous from foreign missionary and imperialist control, financial self-support without foreign donations, and self-preaching independent of any Christian missionary influences. As the overarching organization of the one-party state, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement sought to ensure that all Chinese Protestant congregations would submit to the socialist ideology.
Medieval pilgrims making the dangerous journey from the Norman-Breton coast to the island monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel would have passed a tall stone cross rising out of the sands about halfway between the mainland and the north shore of the Mont. In the unlikely event that the visitors had not already heard the story of this monument, the so-called “croix des grèves,” they were sure to hear it—and perhaps even see it reenacted—once they arrived at their destination, since the miracle it commemorated was one of the most famous in the shrine's vast store of legend. Popularly known as the “Peril,” the miracle told of a pregnant woman who had come on pilgrimage to the shrine in the time of Abbot Hildebert I(1009–17). As she was making her way across the sands toward the abbey at low tide, a sudden storm blew in from the sea, carrying the tide in its wake. In her frantic efforts to reach the shore before the pilgrims' path was submerged, the woman went into labor and was unable to escape the quickly rising waters. According to the version of this story recounted to generations of pilgrims to Mont-Saint-Michel, the abbey's patron Saint Michael took pity on the unfortunate woman and made a dry space for her to wait out the storm in the midst of the sea, preserving her from harm while she was safely delivered of a healthy son. The boy was christened “Peril” in commemoration of his dangerous birth, and in gratitude to the archangel his mother designated him for the priesthood.
In December 2004 the George W. Bush administration filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of two Kentucky counties barred by the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from posting framed copies of the Ten Commandments in their courthouses, alongside a proclamation from President Ronald Reagan marking 1983 as the Year of the Bible. To those who would object that even a minimalist interpretation of the separation of church and state might preclude the prominent display of a religious text in just that place—the courthouse—where the principle of separation is normatively enforced, the White House offered assurance that “Official acknowledgement and recogntion of the Ten Commandments' influence on American legal history comport with the Establishment Clause [of the First Amendment].”
When President Bill Clinton testified before a Grand Jury hearing on August 17, 1998 that he “did not have sexual intercourse with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” the American public learned at least two important lessons. First, the definition of sex was debatable and second, the authority to define sex as sexual intercourse was the crucial factor in the meaning of that pesky verb “is.” The questions of what is sex and, more importantly, who defines it have been studied and discussed thoroughly by scholars of U.S. history and culture. In American popular culture the social scientific findings published in the Kinsey Reports (1948, 1953) and William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson's Human Sexual Response (1966) provided information (or “scientific facts”) for lay people regarding the diversity and possibility of human sexual expression: what sex “is.” The growing awareness since the late 1950s that sex is more than one specific act has led many people to question whether sex as we learn it from our parents, teachers, clergy, friends, books, and science is “natural” (a matter of biological response) or socially constructed (a matter of cultural control). Opinions vary, tempers flare, and the mountain of sex advice manuals available at local bookstores attests to the U.S. public's insatiable appetite for knowledge about sex.
Jacob Vernet (1698–1789) numbers among those eighteenth-century theologians whose relationships to the philosophes have saved them from being forgotten but at the cost of being misrepresented. Vernet is usually remembered for editing the first edition of Montesquieu's De l'esprit des lois, helping to restore Rousseau to Calvinism, and corresponding and then crossing swords with D'Alembert and Voltaire: it is especially the controversy with D'Alembert surrounding the article on “Geneva” in the seventh volume of the Encyclopédie (1757), as well as a sustained conflict with Voltaire over many issues, that have secured him scholarly attention. The scholars who have noticed Vernet have accordingly concentrated on aspects of his person: ascertaining whether he was mendacious, conniving, and hypocritical, as some of the philosophes, especially Voltaire contended, or the figure of impeccable behavior and conscience suggested by his office and his hagiographers. This one-sided emphasis on his person obscures the fact that Vernet wrote a shelf of books and was such an influential figure that he was the representative Genevan theologian of his day. The neglect of his thought is hardly astounding, however, since it is characteristic of the treatment accorded eighteenth-century theology in general. Theologians and students of religion have for long dismissed eighteenth-century theology as derivative; students of the Enlightenment have considered it outside the canon of Enlightenment literature and thus beyond their purview. Both these assumptions should be challenged.
In a book loaded with metaphors of assault and retaliation, Andrew Dickson White's A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom saved one of the best for Darwin. “Darwin's Origin of Species,” we are told, came “into the theological world like a plough into an ant-hill. Everywhere those thus rudely awakened from their old comfort and repose had swarmed forth angry and confused.” For White, the sometimes frenzied post-Darwinian controversies over providential design and divine creation were simply the latest episodes in an all-out struggle between theology and science that stretched back beyond Galileo's cheerless encounters with the Catholic Church. Though the voices may have been different, the song remained the same. Despite its continuing presence in the popular media, contemporary historians of religion and science now regard White's warfare thesis as an artifact of the constantly shifting relationships between these two cultural fields rather than a viable analysis of their engagement. The fundamental problem with the conflict model is that it is a bit like performing heart surgery with a Phillips head screwdriver: it is simply too blunt of an instrument for getting at the all-too-crucial particulars. As a result, it is likely to do more harm than good. To see why, consider what James Moore has called the “religious filiation” of Charles Darwin's evolutionary thought.
After the Revolution, Thomas Jones, an embittered loyalist exile, identified the culprits he deemed responsible for the rebellion in New York: the Whig “triumvirate” of Presbyterians—William Livingston, William Smith, and John Morin Scott. Jones averred that in the Independent Reflector (1752–53) and Watch Tower (1754–55), which they authored, “the established Church was abused, Monarchy derided, Episcopacy reprobated, and republicanism held up, as the best existing form of government.” The three wrote “with a rancor, a malevolence, and an acrimony, not to be equaled but by the descendants of those presbyterian and repulblican fanatics, whose ancestors had in the preceding century brought their Sovereign to the block, subverted the best constitution in the world, and upon its ruins erected presbyterianism, republicanism, and hypocrisy.”
The December 1899 issue of Our Little Friend, a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath school paper containing moral instruction, missionary stories, and the upcoming week's Bible study lessons, related the following story to its young readers: