Final Essay for Masters, Christian History
Rev. Katherine MacDowell
One of the first striking elements of the course, which may or may not have been intended by the author, was the initial framing of the purpose of the course as one that ultimately explores history from a theological–revelatory perspective. Dr. Loy opens his lesson with an exploration of Paul's historical assessment that the Greeks, Romans, and the Jewish people had participated in the historical preparation for the emergence of Christ. While I would argue that this bears no resemblance to the field of history per se, it does illuminate one perspective of how history is interpreted theologically. This is a striking continuance of how the gospels themselves reexamine and reinterpret the Hebrew Scriptures outside their Jewish theological and social contexts and within the Christian frameworks. In this fashion, what I am ultimately arriving at, is one of the most striking elements I gained from the course was an awareness of and appreciation for the continued tradition of interpreting historical events as the unfolding revelation of God's direct involvement in human lives. While I am not a Christian, I can appreciate the vitality that such, what might be best termed, a "theohistorical" examination provides in assuring the continued potency of the faith and reinforcing the centrality of the theological belief that Christianity is the final covenant and revelation of God to humankind. In short, history is preparation for Christians—it is a place of continued discover of God's will.
This sense of unfolding revelation and continued vitality was also illustrated in the course through its examination of the theological, how Christians came to think about and understand their faith, development over time. Dr. Loy does a superb job in exploring the diverse fruiting of thought that emerged after the death of Christ and the rise of monastic orders and the structured Catholic Church. One thing that I would suggest would be a continued discussion of this unfolding through contemporary times that examines the true diversity of theological strands that have framed the diverse Christian views; in this fashion, truly examining the past and current breadth of the unfolding revelation of God within the Christian faith.
I was also struck with the relationship between the unfolding of the Christian faith and Christendom—that is a Christianized political environment. Dr. Loy discusses at length the growing complexity that such merging led to liturgically; additionally following this it appears the Christian church also underwent significantly greater refining of complex theological issues such as freewill. On the one hand, Pope Gregory asserted that while we inherit sin, we do not inherit "badness"—thus human beings not only engage in redemptive behavior through the baptismal and continued participation in the Eucharist, affirming their relationship to Christ, but are charged with engaging in rigorous self-assessment to ensure they are engaging in right-acting behavior. What questions I was left with in this lesson (16) was the precise definition of sin from a theological level as Gregory saw it—are the seven deadly sins defined at this point, is sin reflective of something less tangible, how is it defined against its Hebraic origins? I also found this theosophical element a fascinating one in that, to some degree, it logically undermines the notion that one can interpret the unfolding of historical events from a revelatory and theologically preparatory way. Pope Gregory appears to address this aspect by holding there are exceptions to the predestined versus freewill argument by suggesting there was an "elect" exempt from free will. I would have liked greater clarification as to who reflected this.
All in all, I enjoyed the course and I appreciated Dr. Loy also attending to issues pertaining to women within the church, violence that emerged as the Church became a political authority, as well as defining the unique differences between East and West Christian structures and the source of this schism.
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