Excerpt #2 — Larry Shiner on Friedrich Gogarten on Secularism

Here is the beginning of Larry Shiner’s book on Friedrich Gogarten, a German Lutheran friedrich gogartenwho wrote during the beginning of the 20th century. I found Gogarten through a footnote in a book by another German Lutheran, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and looking at this, it is difficult to hear that Gogarten differs from Pannenberg on this topic, whether due to the historical record or to the influence Gogarten had on Pannenberg (whose take on secularity and secularization shall eventually appear here).

Gogarten’s general thesis strongly resembles elements of the disenchantment of the modern world that Charles Taylor describes. Although disenchantment is not quite the same thing as the de-divinized world that the early Christians or their successors lived in, the two are related, and the latter certainly offered part of the foundation for the former. Also similar to the above-linked post on disenchantment is the model of meaning found in Gogarten, who argues, according to Shiner, that man

universally experiences responsibility for his own destiny as the task set by his relation to the world. However feebly we may live up to it, Gogarten sees in this responsibility the Law before which we must justify ourselves today, the ultimate “ought” written into the fabric of existence.

Although the pre-Christian world can fairly be described as presenting “a mythically understood cosmos determining and securing human life by its spiritual powers”, I am uncertain as to whether the pre-Christian engagement with the world neglected to think of the world as over-against humanity. Certainly the divinity of each and all things in The Iliad militates against this? –but then this could be taken to signal that the world is not other than the subject.

If the reader discerns me to have serious reservations about this excerpt, in whole and in part, he or she would be correct. It has value insofar as it presents one take –one take– on secularization as the actualization of Christian principles. (There are other interpretations that see modernity as such an actualization, and still other takes that see the secular modern period as something autonomous, and legitimate in itself.) Enough: here is Shiner on Gogarten. Continue reading

Summaries: Peter Brown on Christianization

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The first post introduced the historian Peter Brown and offered a summary of a lecture he gave at St. Vladimir’s Seminary on two fourth century figures, the Roman Emperor Constantine I and the bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. In it, Brown asked what the horizons of possibility were for the two men regarding Christianization. In the course of answering this, he noted:
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Peter Brown on Christianization, Part III: “Tempora Christiana”

The previous post covered another essay by Peter Brown on the modern narrative of the Christianization of the fourth and fifth centuries that we have inherited. There, Brown was replying to Ramsay MacMullen. In our modern narrative, MacMullen writes, any alleged process of Christianization ought to show “Christians not just talking but doing; and it must show them in some opposition to evidently accepted standards” [“What Difference did Christianity Make?”, Historia, 35 (1986), 324]. That is, there must be widespread socio-moral (and legal) change, or there is no manifest Christianization.

In the first essay of Authority and the Sacred that we earlier summarized, Brown notes three areas in which the Roman world did begin to change under the influence of Christianity, though “with the slowness of a glacier” [Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World (New York: Cambridge, 1997), 9]. The third of the three areas of Christianization concerned the heritage of the past as the inheritance of pagan habits to be overcome by Christian habits.

This is what concerns us here, the idea that history and a heritage can be divided into chronological epochs with their own moral worlds. I mentioned in a somewhat-recent post about how people began to divide time based on the birth of Jesus in the sixth century. There are roots in the fourth century for dividing history this way. After the sack of Rome in A.D. 410, pagans began to speak disapprovingly of the times in which they lived as “Tempora Christiana“, “Christian Times”, by which

they meant, not the stability of the Constantinian order, but a new age, overshadowed by a crisis of authority which led to renewed barbarian raids throughout the Roman provinces of the West. [Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, Tenth Anniversary Revised Edition (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2013), 86]

Christians in the late fourth century thought that the times had changed. The Apostolic period had passed. This was a new era. The empire was now conceived of as an instrument of divine providence, as part of sacred history that would advance the purposes of God in the world, and this lead to a sense that, in this era, things were both permissible and prescribed that were not before. Christianization had ushered in a new age in sacred history. What is the trajectory that enables this to be possible, and which made this a problem for those who lived through this period of alleged Christianization? (We will look more closely at this in the coming weeks, as we cover R.A. Markus’ Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine, but what does Brown give us as a background in chapters two and three of The Rise of Western Christendom?)

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Peter Brown on Christianization, Part II: Narratives of Christianization

The previous post (very) briefly introduced the historian Peter Brown and offered a summary of a lecture by him on Constantine I and Eusebius of Caesarea. In it, Brown asked what the horizons of possibility were for the two men regarding Christianization. This sense of the horizons of possibility changed during the course of the fourth century. The fact that Brown felt he needed to clarify what was distinctive about the Constantinian age and its hopes indicates something about how later history and later narratives were afterwards projected onto earlier times within the same century, making it difficult to see the world of the early- and mid-fourth century for what it was apart from these narratives. What can be said about the history that resists being assimilated by the narrative of Christianization we have inherited today? Continue reading

Peter Brown on Christianization, Part I: Eusebius and Constantine

If one did not know the name of “Peter Brown” (above, photo), then it is likely that one would have a radically limited understanding of the religious landscape of Late Antiquity. Should one do any real digging, or suffer any serious historical training in this period, it would be impossible to totally avoid him, much less to fail to take notice of his work.

His work is in academia. Brown currently enjoys the title of Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, having previously been a lecturer at All Souls College in Oxford and having enjoyed a position at the University of California, Berkeley. He lectures widely, and just finished a major book. Together with Robert A. Markus, he has largely pioneered the study of the period known as “Late Antiquity” — some would say he inaugurated it (wresting it away from the narrative of decline still presided over by the ghost of Edward Gibbon). (One of Markus’ books, The End of Ancient Christianity, was dedicated to Brown.) Brown is the recipient of numerous awards (some of which pay quite substantially), and a member of many societies. He can read in more languages than most professional translators can (26, if Wikipedia is correct, and his books seem to bear this out).

As for these books of his, which bear out his familiarity with a high number of languages: they are many. His books include staple introductions to Late Antiquity, and standard surveys of Church history from A.D. 200-1000, primary syllabus texts for topics such as marriage and sexual renunciation and the cult of the saints (as well as the way that wealth might be marshaled to aid the departed), the highly-acclaimed biography of Augustine of Hippo that seems to reign as king, and his recent, magnificent book on the economic dimensions of cultural transformation –specifically religious ideas surrounding wealth and poverty– in the Roman West between A.D. 200-550. He has returned several times to at least three of his major earlier works to update them, decades later, in the light of more recent scholarship.

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I noted that he lectures widely. In a paper he delivered in 2013 at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary titled “Constantine, Eusebius, and the Future of Christianity” (audio here), Brown addressed the question:

what did Constantine himself and the Christians of his age think that the future of Christianity would be and should be? What were for them the horizons of the possible? And so, what would they settle for as the measure of success? [118]

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