The Indistinct Unity of the Triune Godhead in Meister Eckhart

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As I have been reading Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), I have noticed that he attempts to be both the Neoplatonic philosopher and the Christian theologian, and he tries to bring together the ideas about the One as found in Plotinus with the Christian idea of God as being triune. How does he do this when at first glance it seems as though these two conceptions about God (or the One) seem to be at odds with each other? Eckhart first wants to teach his readers that God is One, and that there is no distinction or multiplicity within him. Multiplicity and distinction are characteristics of finite beings, whereas God is an infinite being, indeed he is the source of all being itself, and indistinct from all things.[1] For the Meister, God is Existence itself and existence is by definition indistinct from all things. Indeed, nothing that exists or even can exist as distinct and separate from existence. Therefore, nothing that is can exist apart from God. Distinction is considered to be a quality of finite creatures, because it refers to the differences between these beings, their limitations and boundaries, their “thisness” and “thatness.” God has no limitations, however, no boundaries of which to speak. God is not distinct from finite beings because you cannot really define him as such, except by using negative language that you then have to qualify. For example, God may be seen as “distinct” from finite beings in the sense that he is indistinct from them. Now Eckhart goes on to say that it is because of the fact that God is existence itself that there cannot be more than one God. If you admit that there is more than one God, then either none of them are God or only one of them is, because you cannot have more than one source of existence, otherwise every being would actually be two beings.

Now, after saying all of that, the idea that the One God could also be Triune seems to be a little impossible at first glance. How could the One also be the Three? Eckhart says that there exists a relation within the Godhead. He tells us that while multiplicity and inequality are properties of created things, unity and equality are proper to God and divine things in as far as they are divine. A created thing is distinct, unequal, and many, and by its descent from the One and Indistinct God it becomes distinct and hence unequal. But this is not true of the Uncreated. The Uncreated does not fall or descend and therefore remains within the fountainhead of unity, equality, and distinction. And it is for this reason, says the Meister, that the three person of the Godhead, although they are plural, they are not many but one, and he even says that this would be true even if they were a thousand persons![2] It is this idea that the three persons all partake in the One divine substance fully that makes this true. He borrows the Neoplatonic ideas about emanations here in his explanations of the three persons, using the Latin term bullitio (meaning a kind of bubbling out or boiling over) to explain the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit.[3] This overflowing does not produce something like itself, but that which is one and the same as itself. That which is “born” from God is God. Eckhart relies upon Johannine language to describe how in the very beginning, the First Principle, that is the Father, was with his Logos or Word i.e. his Son, and that this divine word cannot exist without its breath or spirit I.e. the Holy Spirit. I am still thinking over Eckhart’s explanations, but so far I can see where he is coming from here. It is a complicated explanation, but I suppose the Trinity is a rather complicated doctrine to begin with. To quote St. Gregory Nazianzus: “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of That One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light.”[4]

[1] Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart, Teacher and Preacher, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 166.

[2] Ibid. 154

[3] Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 37.

[4] Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 40, On Holy Baptism.

 

The Last Year of My Undergraduate Studies

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Dear Readers.

The Summer is now over, and the Fall semester is right around the corner. I will be returning to the University of Georgia on Thursday to begin the last year of my undergraduate studies. I am looking forward to obtaining my bachelor’s degree after five years of study (I did the first two part-time while I was still working full-time). For those of you who do not know, I am a history and religion double-major, with a certificate in Medieval Studies. My favorite areas of study are European history (particularly Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages), and the history of Christianity.

At this point in the game, I’m down to mostly taking electives. I still have to take one history elective (which I’m taking this Fall), my senior seminar in history (I’m taking that my last semester), and I have to take one more religion class to satisfy my religion major. Aside from those, I’m mostly taking electives. For this semester, I am taking the following classes:

1. Tudor-Stuart England

2. History of Late Antiquity

3. Medieval Philosophy

4. Greek I

I have enjoyed my Summer break thoroughly, but now I am eager to get back to work and finish my undergraduate degree. I feel like this will be a good semester, with a good mixture of subjects that pique my interests well. After having taken four semesters of Latin, I now will be starting my study of ancient Greek. By the time that I graduate next May, I should have two Greek courses under my belt, giving me an advantage once I begin my graduate studies. After spending a few years working hard, and studying for long hours, I relish the thought of finally holding my degree in my hands. The fruit of my labor will be sweet indeed!

The Religious Ideals and Virtues of Medieval Knighthood

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The institution of knighthood underwent a transformation during the Middle Ages, beginning as an upper class of mounted warriors in the service of feudal lords and kings to an order based on the virtues of chivalry and influenced by Christian ethics. The question is why did this occur, who was involved in this transformation, and what was the ideal Christian knight supposed to look like? What virtues did he possess and how was he supposed to live out his life within his vocation?

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Chretien de Troyes, a 12th century French poet, wrote a number of romances dealing with the concepts of chivalry and knighthood, one of the most famous of which is Yvain: The Knight of the Lion. This epic poem concerns the nature of courtliness and chivalry, and one main event of the story describes a transformation that occurs within the character of Yvain as he eventually becomes the ideal knight. By looking at Yvain’s transformation, we can see how a true knight is supposed to live his life, which is important because Chretien is arguing that a true knight should not be selfish but that he should live according to a higher calling that is selfless and virtuous, seeking to help others who cannot help themselves, and how it mirrors the transformation of the concept of knighthood itself.

Jaeger argues that Chretien was almost certainly a cleric whose romances attempted to influence the laity by putting forth a model of behavior that a knight should follow while chastising the worldly aspects of knighthood.[1] And after Chretien, poet-knights such as Hartmann von Au and Wolfram von Eschenbach would write their own romances in an attempt to influence their own class. These poets had a profound sense of the ideals of a more civilized knighthood, one with a spirit of courtliness that would restrain a warrior class that was given over to excesses. This new code of chivalry was now more of an inner law imposed on each knight individually, instead of some law enforced by legal courts, and the instruments of enforcement were within the psyche, not outside in the form of threatened punishment. Each knight was supposed to hold himself to these ethical laws, and to break them would punish himself by violating his own values, bringing psychological punishment, and loss of self-respect.[2] This very thing can be seen in Yvain when Yvain goes mad after he is rejected by Laudine for breaking his promise to her and is forced to live in the forest naked, almost as a form of penance for what he has done.[3] Other authors from the knightly class such as Henry of Lancaster and Geoffrey de Charny would later write about how the harsh lifestyle of the knight was itself a form of penance, meritorious suffering that was pleasing and acceptable in the eyes of God as satisfaction for sin, and in its own way was a form of imitating the suffering of Christ. For these authors, Christ himself was like a knight who fought in a tournament and won, securing life for humanity.[4]

 

Knight Errant

After his miraculous healing by the magic ointment of the noblewoman, Yvain transforms into a more virtuous figure who sets out on one adventure after another, helping various characters along the way, including the noblewoman, the lion who will become his companion, Lunette (his wife’s servant who helped him previously), and the woman who was trying to get her inheritance. In all of these scenarios, Yvain fights not for his own glory, but because he sees that these people are truly in need, and he seeks to help them because it is the virtuous thing to do. When he comes upon Lunette, who is sentenced to be burned at the stake unjustly, Yvain vows to rescue her though it may cost him his life by saying “Expect me tomorrow, ready to do what I can, offering my body for your freedom, as indeed I ought to do.”[5]

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Similar to the story of Yvain is that of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a knightly romance that places special emphasis on the Christian virtue of fortitude or courage. In the story the Green Knight is portrayed as having the perfection of fortitude, in that while Sir Gawain possesses the virtue when he is attacking a foe, the Green Knight possesses it in its true form, fortitude in the face of death or martyrdom.[6]
grail legend

Eventually these knightly romances would take on a form that resembled hagiography, as many of Arthur’s knights in the Grail stories perform miracles as a testament to God’s favor in their vocations, and these Grail legends served to invest chivalry with a religious authority that was independent of the established religious hierarchy.[7] There developed an analogy between knighthood and the priesthood, for just as the priest received a special grace from God by means of the apostolic laying on of hands, so too did the knight receive a special grace from God by the means of knightly dubbing. Unlike Holy Orders, however, which is conferred regardless of the moral worth of the priest, Ramon Lull assumed that only a virtuous knight could confer this grace upon another knight, and that an unworthy knight could not confer the grace of knighthood to another.[8]

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There is also a strong motif of justice that runs through the poem, as Yvain originally acted unjustly towards Laudine in the beginning, but after his “rebirth” he is concerned with righting the wrongs that he encounters on his adventures. He saves a young maiden from being taken by the giant, and he even says that God would not suffer the giant to have the maiden. He then takes it upon himself to defend not only her but the entire village as well, knowing that he may die in the process, taking it upon himself to ensure that justice is accomplished.[9] According to authors like Ramon Lull, all knights, from kings or the Holy Roman Emperor down to the most humble of knights were called upon to do justice in God’s name by virtue of their office and their order.[10] Knighthood is thus seen as a type of religious vocation, with a higher calling towards the virtue of justice in the world. By the end of the poem, Yvain completes his adventures and is finally reconciled to Laudine, having been “born again” by his trials into the truly ideal knight who is selfless and keeps his word, though it may even cause his death. He thus displays courage and justice when he is defending those who cannot help themselves, and he puts the needs of others before himself.

Notes

[1] C. Stephen Jaeger, The Origins of Courtliness: Civilizing Trends and the Formation of Courtly Ideals, 939-1210 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 242.

[2] Ibid., 243.

[3] Chretien de Troyes, Yvain: the Knight of the Lion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 88-89.

[4] Richard W. Kaeuper, Holy Warriors: the Religious Ideology of Chivalry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 41.

[5] Chretien, Yvain, 112.

[6] David N. Beauregard “Moral Theology in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: The Pentangle, the Green Knight, and the Perfection of Virtue.” Renascence 65, no. 3 (Spring 2013): 148-150.

[7] Nigel Saul, Chivalry in Medieval England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 202-203.

[8] Beverly Kennedy, Knighthood in the Morte Darthur (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 1992),31.

[9] Chretien, Yvain, 124-125.

[10]Kennedy, Knighthood in the Morte Darthur, 14-15.

Meditations – A Reflection on 2015

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The last day of the year is here once more, and once again a new year is dawning upon us. I cannot help but look back on this year with mixed feelings overall. There were a variety of experiences, both bad and good, and I was always constantly busy. That being said, however, though 2015 proved to be a most challenging year for myself, I feel as though I have bettered myself overall despite these challenges.

I was, admittedly, an emotional wreck at the beginning of this year, still reeling as I was from the breakup that I had experienced at the end of 2014 with a certain young lady, whom shall remain nameless. I was in a deep depression over that whole affair for a good part of the year, which in turn affected my physical health as well because I did not exercise as well as I should. I put back on a few extra pounds as a result (which does wonders for my already wounded self-esteem). They say that time heals all wounds, however, and while I’m not sure that the passage of time heals the wounds so much as makes us numb to them, I am beginning to experience a turn around in regards to my feelings. I have already planned to start exercising once again, and my diet will also be more closely monitored and regulated. I would also like to the gym whenever I can, maybe I’ll convince my parents to finally start exercising like they should too.

I managed to make some progress in my university studies this year. I made both the Dean’s List and the Presidential Scholar’s List this year, and I completed two full semesters and a Summer semester to top it off. I was able to get a better grasp on the Latin language (and I look forward to increasing that knowledge this Spring semester). I took a class on Buddhism, which really helped to fill a gap in my knowledge. I plan to also take a class on Hinduism this Spring, taught by the same professor who seems to really like me. These classes should really help me to better understand the ways in which Asian cultures understand religion and philosophy, I think. I cannot say that I really had any bad professors this year, on the contrary, they were all great and I am sure that I shall be able to get enough recommendations for graduate school later. I am also proud to say that I discovered that I can earn a certificate in Medieval Studies here at UGA without having to take any extra classes, which thrills me to death! I have also finally become a Senior in college now, finally. I should be graduating in the Spring of 2017, with my BA in history and religious studies. I just have to keep working at it until I am finished. Stay the course!

Now about my New Year’s Resolution. I would like to read more Stoic philosophy in 2016, and hopefully try to put some of the insights that these ancient wisemen had into practice in my own life, with the goal that I will not be controlled by the negative emotions in my life that help cause depression. I want to learn to experience the ancient art of Stoic Joy, in addition to the joy that I have in Christ. I think that will do it for now, guys. Here’s to a new year, with better days ahead!

 

 

Anti-Semitic Rhetoric in Early Medieval Syriac Christianity

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In her chapter on “Defending Nicaea against Jews and Judaizers,” Christine Shepherdson noted that the relationship between Christians and Jews in Syria was complex, one in which Christians, in cities like Nisibis and Edessa, would associate with Jewish communities against the wishes of their spiritual leaders who wanted the two communities to be separate from each other.[1] She briefly notes that one of the reasons for this was due to their shared language (Syriac), culture, and that the Syriac version of the Old Testament, the Peshitta, was likely translated by Jews.[2].

Shepherdson argues that by looking into the writings of one of the first great Syriac Christian writers, St. Ephraim the Syrian, one can see by the rhetoric being used that there was some fluidity between the two communities, as Christians would regularly attend Jewish services and associate with them on a regular basis. She discusses how Ephraim implies that some of his congregants were visiting the local synagogues, attending Passover meals, and practicing Jewish law, including circumcision, and how he uses anti-Jewish rhetoric to dissuade them from doing these things.[3]

Her main argument can be summed up as follows: “Ephraim insults and criticizes the Jews in order to make them less appealing to his audience, contrasts them with Christians in order to highlight the differences that he sees, and warns his audience of the physical danger that Jews pose to them in order to fright them away from Judaism if his other tactics are not sufficiently effective.”[4]

A number of our primary sources, written a few centuries after Ephraim, continue this line of thought that is presented in his writings and hymns, demonstrating that Syrian Christians continued associating with Syrian Jews against the wishes of their spiritual leaders. John of Ephesus would later write hagiographies featuring saints like Sergius who, despite his very saintly lifestyle, exhibited a very strong disdain for the Jewish community in the area, even going so far as to burn down their synagogues. Sergius’ reasoning for doing this is based on the fact that he calls the Jews “slayers of God” and “crucifiers of the Son of God,” and that the local church was wrong to associate with them at all.[5]

Shepherdson discusses how Ephraim also describes the Jews as bloodthirsty murderers who not only killed Jesus and the Hebrew prophets but who are also a threat to their own lives. Ephraim describes the Jews in his sermons by implying that if they mixed with the Jews, Christians increased their chances of being seized and killed by the Jews also.[6]

Likewise, writing later, Jacob of Edessa responded to a question that asked if Christians were permitted to drink wine produced by Jews. Jacob tells him that he can only do this if it was a last resort, but that otherwise he should in no way associate himself with the Jews or buy anything from them because doing so would defile themselves and that they would be turned out of the church and numbered with the Jews.[7] The fact that Jacob was asked this question seems to suggest that Christians were still associating with Jewish communities on a regular basis even at this time.

 

[1] Christine Shepherdson, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephraim’s Hymns in Fourth-Century Syria (Washington: Catholic University Press, 2008), 43.

[2] Ibid., 41.

[3] Ibid., 43-46.

[4] Ibid., 47.

[5] John of Ephesus, “History of Simeon and Sergius,” in Lives of the Eastern Saints, ed. And trans. E. W. Brooks, Patrologia Orientalis, 17:90-91.

[6] Sherpherdson, Anti-Judaism and Orthodoxy, 136.

[7] Jacob of Edessa, answers and canons, ed/ amd trans. Arthur Voobus, The Synodicon in the West Syrian Tradition, vol. 1 (Louvain: Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 1974), 235.

The Faith That Could Have Been: The Role of Religion and Philosophy in Utopia

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Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was perhaps one of the most interesting figures of early modern European history. He was a lawyer, social and political philosopher, author, a celebrated statesman in the court of King Henry VIII, and a well-respected Renaissance humanist. He was a close friend of other humanist scholars such as Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) and John Colet (1467-1519), and he eventually served as Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII. He was truly a man of many hats and talents that nevertheless was torn between a life of secular service to humanity and the desire for a quiet life in a monastery. As a good humanist, More was proficient in both Greek and Latin and he authored many works on various subjects including treatises against heresies (like Lutheranism), works of history, works of Latin poems, and translations of several works including a biography of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494).

Perhaps one of his most well-known works is that of Utopia, one of his earlier works in which he imagines an island society in which the people live communally in a republic. Utopia is a work of satire, however, intended to inspire its readers to think about the ideas that More is writing about. One of the most interesting aspects of Utopia is the way in which religion and philosophy play a part in the society of the Utopians. One could argue that the religion of the Utopians is an attempt to blend together aspects of Renaissance Neoplatonic philosophy and More’s own Christian humanism in order to critique aspects of his own society.

The manner in which religion is portrayed in Utopia acts as a foil to the overcomplicated philosophical religion of the medieval scholastics that More resented. More, along with other Christian humanist scholars like Desiderius Erasmus and John Colet, thought that Christianity had become unnecessarily bogged down by the needless philosophical speculations of the scholastics, and that true religion should be more simplistic and spiritual in nature. They all decried the abuses and folk religion within the Church of their day, many of which they considered to be little more than superstition.[1] The religion of the Utopians, by contrast, offers a religion that is free from many of the burdens that the Christian humanists were upset about.

They only require two beliefs from their citizens: that the soul is immortal and that after death it shall be either rewarded for its good deeds or punished according to its evil deeds, and that there is a God who is the supreme source of all goodness.[2] This religion takes many forms on the island. Some worship the sun, others the moon, and still others worship a legendary man of virtue said to be the supreme god. Despite these differences of belief, More tells us that they are nonetheless held together by a single common thread:

Though the other sects of the Utopians differ from this main group in various particular doctrines, they agree with them in this single head, that there is one supreme power, the maker and ruler of the universe, whom they all call in their native language Mithra. Different people define him differently, and each supposes the object of his worship is that one and only nature to whose divine majesty, by the consensus of all nations, the creation of all things is attributed.[3]

The Utopian religion is thus a spiritual system in which the worshippers are monotheists and hold to the classic Christian and Neoplatonic view of the immortality of the soul. Their religion is not bogged down by needless philosophical debates about qualifiers and distinctions between essence and being, and no one is forced to be in conformity with the major religious group. It resembles the more simplistic view of Christianity that the humanist philosophers were aiming for.

The influence of Neoplatonic ideas upon the philosophy of the Utopians can best be seen in their philosophy of virtue and how one achieves true happiness in this life. More describes Utopian virtue as living according to nature, for which purpose God created human beings, which he describes as following the dictates of reason in choosing some things and rejecting others. Virtue itself draws human nature to good and honest pleasure, and to the supreme good. There are two rules of nature: to love and venerate the Divine Majesty, and to live a life as free from anxiety and full of joy as possible, and to help other human beings.[4]

This last point is humanistic virtue described perfectly, as the humanists always emphasized that humans were created to help each other. Alberti once summed up the Renaissance ethos by saying that “Man was born to be useful to man.”[5] Their concept of virtue exists in a dualistic view of pleasure that is separated into the categories of mind and body. The pleasures of the mind include knowledge and the joy that comes from contemplating the truth, as well as being able to look back over a life that has been well-spent. The pleasures of the body include that which fills the senses with immediate delight, and the harmonious state of the body, undisturbed by any disorder. Good health itself is a form of pleasure.[6] This philosophy could therefore be seen as a critique of the negative view of man that was prevalent during period in favor of a more positive view of humanity that was common among humanists.

A second thread of humanist Neoplatonism can be seen in Utopia in the way in which the Utopians are not limited by the vocations of their parents. Every man learns agriculture and a second trade that his father knows, but he is free to learn another trade in another family instead if he wishes. He determines his own place in life.[7] This self-determinism is very similar to the philosophy of Pico della Mirandola, whose treatise on the subject, The Oration of The Dignity of Man, was familiar to Thomas More. In that work, Mirandola argues that God created man outside of the great chain of being and that man has the potential to be whatever he desires:

He therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus: “Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, to the end that according to thy longing and according to thy judgement thou mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire.[8]

In true Renaissance Neoplatonist fashion then, the Utopians determine their own history and social standing, not conforming to the society of orders. There is also an aspect of equality among the citizens in that they share resources, houses, and come together in a communal meal that resembles the monastic life that More himself always desired. The character Raphael (the narrator of the much of the book) makes note how this resembles the early church and it is for this reason perhaps that the Utopians readily adopt the Christian faith when it is presented to them.[9] This view of the equality of man stands in stark contrast to belief that some people are better than others by virtue of the circumstances of their birth, and instead views their worth as equally important in the eye of their Creator.

Though Utopia was a work of satire, it nonetheless presented a complex set of ideas and beliefs that were intended to make the people of More’s time think about these issues. It presented a glimpse into what a religion based on the Christian humanist idea of a more simple, tolerate religion might look like, which sadly never materialized as it would only be a few years after he had written this book that Lord Chancellor Thomas More himself would be burning Protestant “heretics” at the stake for heresy in England. It also provides a Neoplatonic view of virtue and happiness that values the nature of man as being essentially good and capable of shaping its own destiny. By writing about a fictional nation whose religion and philosophy contain within it bits and pieces of More’s own ideas (though he himself admits that he does not agree with their views fully), he helped to create a medium through which these ideas could be contemplated upon and discussed within society.

Sadly the society of More’s day would soon descend into chaos as Western Christendom would be splintered by the Protestant Reformation, and More himself would participate both by persecuting others for their religious beliefs as well as being executed for his own. But if his goal was to inspire the religious people of his day to consider and debate about these issues, then we can only conclude that he succeeded in that task.

[1] Eugene F. Rice and Anthony Grafton, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 150-151.

[2] Thomas More, Utopia: A Revised Translation, Backgrounds, Criticism, 3rd ed., trans. George M. Logan A Norton Critical Edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011), 60, 86.

[3] More, Utopia, 84.

[4] More, Utopia, 60.

[5] Eugene F. Rice and Anthony Grafton, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 89.

[6] More, Utopia, 64.

[7] More, Utopia, 44-45.

[8] Marvin Perry, Joseph R. Peden, and Theodore H. Von Laue, Sources of the Western Tradition, 5th ed. (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2003), 59.

[9] More, Utopia, 85.

The Business of Running a Renaissance Family

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Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) was an important figure of the Italian Renaissance. He was a humanist author who wrote on many topics, and he also worked as an artist, a linguist, a poet, a clergyman in the papal court, and an architect. Among his known works is a treatise on the subject of the family. The family was an important part of Italian society during the Renaissance, arguably much more so than it is in modern times. The family was an essential part of society because each member played his or her own role in contributing to the overall health and vitality of the family. In his treatise, Alberti uses a dialogical style to discuss these ideas about the family and what is the best way to manage the household. Alberti, through the character of Gianozza, explains how each member of the family has a role with specific tasks that they are each expected to play, whether it is the father being the manager and overseer of the other members of the house and the family business, the mother acting as the supervisor over the household servants and the children, or the servants who work the tasks that the master appoints for them. The family of the upper level of Renaissance Italian society could thus be said to mirror both the old Roman family model, with the father ruling as the pater familias, and the emerging capitalist idea of the division of labor.

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The father of the family was held to be the master of the home and he had authority over every member of the household. Given the rise of the merchant class within Italy during this time, it is no surprise then that Alberti, through Giannozzo, provides a view of the father in a manner that resembles a rich merchant who owns his own business and manages the duties of the employees working for him. In one part of the text Lionardo asks Giannozzo about how he would manage a family, to which Giannozzo responds by telling him that one needs to apply their system of good management to them. The father must make sure that every member of the household, from the lady of the house to the servants, is doing what is within his or her sphere of business to do.[1] This is very similar to how the merchant-capitalists of this period would run a business. The merchant would buy and provide the raw materials that the laborers would then work with until they completed the final product which the merchant could then sell to others. He could hire whomever he pleased, pay them whatever he pleased, and he could order their work in whatever way he pleased. Some have called this the “putting-out system.”[2] Likewise, the father owned the land and he allowed his servants to work for him in order that he could make a profit from their labor. Alberti also uses a simile to illustrate this by comparing the father of the house to that of a spider. The spider spins his web and remains at the center of the web where he can be aware of whatever is happening on the web. In a similar manner, the husband must himself be at the center of the family so that he can be aware of everything that is occurring in the household and so that if there are any matters that require his attention he is immediately notified of these and can address them. [3]

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In addition to the role of the father in the family, Alberti also describes for the reader the proper role of the wife within the home and the way she is to carry out her duties. During this period of time, finding a good wife was a very important matter for an eligible young man fromeither the nobility or the merchant class. He could not just marry any girl; he had to marry someone who was most suitable for a man of his class.

This was such an important matter that entire books were written during the period teaching young men how to find the right wife and what qualities she should possess. She should be from a good family (to ensure a good political alliance), possess a dowry (to ensure the family profited), be healthy (to ensure she bore him many children), and be of a good character (to ensure that she could instill a good character into his children).[4] One could say that finding a good wife was very much like making a good business investment, because a man’s wife could help enrich his life financially and provide himwith both companionship and with good heirs to his business and fortune. Alberti, again speaking through the sage Gianozza, describes for the reader the role of the wife within the home.

He explains that it is the duty of the wife to look after the minor affairs of the household that are not related to business. She should have control over the details of housekeeping and raising the children. The wife also acts as a type of mediator between the father and the household servants. It is her responsibility to ensure that the household servants do their own tasks. She should also keep an eye on the things within the house, to ensure that no one steals anything that belongs to her husband. Nevertheless, it is not her place to know the finer details of her husband’s business and indeed it is better for her not to know these things lest she accidentally tell others about his secrets.[5] And so while the wife is an important person within the household, she nevertheless is expected to do the tasks that her husband requires of her and to not venture into his areas of business.

 

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Servants are also included in Alberti’s definition of the household, and they too have a specific role to play within the familial structure. Gionozzo describes to Lionardo how a man must make sure that his servants are performing their duties efficiently. He states, for example, that if only one servant is needed for a task and yet two servants are working on it then time is being wasted, and likewise if only one servant is toiling away at a task that takes two or more servants, then time is being wasted also. And if he has his servants working on a task that they are ill-suited for, then time will be wasted also. Gianozzo’s solution is simple: each man should be assigned to do what he knows how to do and who can perform the work.[6] Again, this appears to be very similar to the idea of how the putting-out system worked, with the master of the house owning the land or the raw materials and getting the workers/servants to do their tasks for either room and board or low wages perhaps. Gionozza specifically advises Lionardo to make sure that he rewards the servants who are doing their jobs well.[7] He compares this to giving a worker a bonus for a job well done. The servants were thus expected to obey the orders given to them by both the master of the house and his wife, while also being able to enjoy the rewards of a job well done.

In conclusion, the advice that Alberti gives about managing a family is very similar to how a wealthy merchant would manage his business. Just as the merchant’s workers make use of the materials he provides to make products that will give him a profit, so too do the members of the family make use of the property and resources that the father owns to bring him many benefits. The father himself acts as the manager, overseeing the entire family unit and making sure everyone does their part. The wife is the helper of her husband and helps oversee the affairs of the household, especially the raising of the children and the duties of the household servants. And the servants themselves play a key part in this by performing all the tasks that the master and his wife require of them, such as farming his lands, cleaning his house, and looking after his flocks. The entire family works together, each in his or her determined role, in order to ensure that the group as a whole benefits from the assigned tasks of each.

 

Notes:

[1] Leon Battista Alberti, The Family in Renaissance Florence, Book Three, tr. Reneé Neu Watkins (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1994), 50.

[2] Eugene F. Rice and Anthony Grafton, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 58-59.

[3] Alberti, The Family, 76.

[4] Rice and Grafton, The Foundations, 65.

[5] Alberti, The Family, 77-79.

[6] Alberti, The Family, 50-51.

[7] Ibid., 65.

Love, Rejection, and the Son of God.

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Love can be a very strange emotion. It can be wonderful and bring you happiness and pleasure, driving away all loneliness and depression, and just give your life a sense of meaning and purpose. Having someone in your life that you can love and will return those feelings is one of the very best things that a person can have in this life. We humans were created by our Creator to be social creatures, and most of us have this deep longing within ourselves for socialization and closeness with our fellow human beings. These relationships can range from our interactions with our coworkers to the most intimate relationships that we have with our mates.

 

And yet at the same time, love can also be our greatest weakness. Love can utterly destroy a person. No one can hurt you like a loved one can. Someone could insult you and it probably would not bother you that much, unless it was a close family member, or your girlfriend/boyfriend, or your husband/wife. Then it hurts. It hurts really, really bad. This is because you really care about that person and you value them and their opinions. And so when a person who you love does something to you, it cuts deep inside and can often leave scars that take years for them to heal, if ever. Love has this funny way of sneaking inside of you and making you extremely vulnerable to another person, which can be a very uncomfortable thing to think about really. I will use myself as an example, because this is my blog about my memoires after all.

 

Last year I fell in love with a girl who was also in college. She was a few years younger than me, about six and a half years to be exact. I was a little worried about that, but she assured me that our age difference did not matter to her. We started talking in the summer and we dated and spent time together. We texted each other every day and talked to each other on the phone every night before bed and in the early morning as I made my hour drive to the university. I had liked girls before, but I actually loved this girl. She was everything that I had wanted in a companion. She was intelligent, beautiful, with a great sense of humor and an awesome personality, and she liked a lot of the same things that I did. I truly believed that I had finally found my “soulmate” after so many years of waiting and disappointment. Sometimes she would call me in between her classes just to tell me “Hi!” and that she loved me. She was the first girl that I had ever really kissed in any romantic sense, and every time that she wrapped her arms around me in her loving embrace I felt as though nothing else in the world mattered and I was in heaven. We were together for five months. I was even beginning to think that maybe we would get married if things continued like that, and we had actually talked about that possibility. I did not really discuss my relationship with anyone besides my parents, because I am normally a very private person about these sorts of things. Our relationship was like a dream come true. I had always heard about how wonderful love was, but I always told my self that love was not for me and that I was probably going to be celibate. But now I had discovered love for my self, and I was addicted. Love is truly a drug you know? But all dreams come to an end and, sadly, so did mine.

When December rolled around my love told me that she still had feelings for her old boyfriend and that she felt bad because she did not want to hurt my feelings. She did not want me to hate her and told me that she still loved me and hoped that I would be ok. I told her that I could never hate her and that no matter what she decided to do, that I would always love her and that I just wanted her to be happy. And so our relationship ended, and we said that we would still be friends. I was sad and disappointed, naturally, but I really hoped that my love would be happy. This is the sad part.

After this I would run into her sometimes during the week. I tried to speak to her, to show her that I was not mad at her and that I still wanted to be friends at least. She always seemed like it made her uncomfortable to do so, however. She stopped answering my calls. She stopped answering my texts. I was worried. I saw her one day and tried to talk to her, and she told me that she was ignoring me because she could not handle two things going on in her life at the same time right now. I was crushed. I could handle the breakup. But never being able to talk to the person that had made me so happy again? Never hearing the mellifluous voice of my love that always made me smile? Knowing that the one who had told me how she loved me more than all others now wanted nothing to do with me? I would have rather someone taken a knife and cut out my heart than to have heard those words. Depression and loneliness came rushing in like a flood in that moment, as I realized that the person that I had desired to spend the rest of my life with was throwing me away like a pair of used shoes. “Why?” I kept asking myself.

“What had I done wrong?”

“Was I not nice enough?”

“Did I not love her enough?”

“Was I not good enough?”

“What did I do to deserve this?”

“I am a failure.”

“She hates me now.”

“I don’t want to live anymore.”

“Is God punishing me for something?”

A lot of questions pop into your mind during a time like this I suppose. Honestly, I felt empty inside. It was like someone had punched a hole into my ribcage, ripped out my bloody, still-beating heart, crushed it in their hand, and then shoved it back inside of my chest. It would never work the same again. I did not want to live anymore. Oh I did not think about suicide. I do not have the nerve to kill myself. But I honestly did not want to go on living anymore. I could not enjoy Christmas with my family, because I was dying on the inside even as I faked a smile with them. I hoped that going back to college would help me because I could throw myself into my studies and get my mind off of my lost love. It has been over two months, and you would think that I would have gotten over the hurt by now, but I have not. I think about her every hour of every day. She is the first thing that I think about when I wake up and she is the last thing that I think about when I fall asleep. Sometimes I even dream about my beloved. I only see her rarely now, but even when I do see her around, she does not speak to me. She avoids me like I have the plague.  So if I have sounded depressed as of late, I apologize. I have small feelings that I cannot seem to control sometimes.  Things will get better, so I am told. “There are other fish in the sea,” some tell me. Maybe, but I do not think that I can love again right now. Maybe later in the future I can, but not right now. The wound is still too fresh. I have kept my promise to her, however, about not hating her. I really do not hate her. I have tried to tell myself that maybe she has to ignore me in order to handle her feelings. Maybe that is how she copes with her emotions. I hope she is happy in life with her boyfriend. I hope they have a happy life together. I hope he is able to give her everything that I will not be able to give her, and that she will always have that beautiful smile upon her face.

Ok, now that I have vented my soul it is time to talk a little bit about theology. I believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. He is both God and Man. The author of Hebrews informs us that we do not have a high priest who cannot empathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). As a human being Christ has experienced many of the things that we have and so he can empathize with us and help us during these trying times in our lives. I am hurting right now, more so than I have ever hurt in my life. I am hurting because I feel rejected and I do not handle rejection well. The Son of God empathizes with me because he too has experienced rejection by those that he loved. The gospels tell us that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because he desired to save them but they were not willing to come to him and be saved (Lk. 19:41). He was the cornerstone that the builders rejected (Matt. 21:42, Ps. 118:22). He came to his own people and his own knew him not (John 1:11). If anyone knows what it feels like to be rejected, it is Christ. He knows the pain in the heart of the person who has been rejected by someone that they love. He knows the tears that you cry. He knows the sting of being ignored by someone that he loves. He knows and he cares about you. The great thing about the love of Christ is that he does not change his mind about who he loves. He always loves you. He never tells you that he loves you and then leaves you later for someone else, or abandons you. His love is perfectly consistent.  And with his love he is able to comfort those who are lonely. The Psalmist sings that “He heals the brokenhearted and binds their wounds.” (Ps. 147:3) And so my current prayer has been “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Ps. 25:16).

I am not over my loneliness. I am not over my broken heart, and I do not know if I ever will be. But what I do know, and what I want you, dear reader, to know is that in spite of our loneliness and heartache, Christ understands the suffering that we are going through and that he truly cares for our souls. He will never leave or forsake us, and one day “he shall wipe away every tear.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ethics of Healthcare During the Abbasid Caliphate

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During the aftermath of the death of the prophet Muhammed, the Islamic community faced the daunting task of appointing his successor to lead the ummah, or Muslim community. The community chose Abu Bakr, the senior companion and father-in-law to Muhammed, as the first Islamic caliph. The Arabic term is khalifa, which means a deputy, viceroy, or successor. The term appears in the Quran in reference to Adam’s role as Allah’s viceroy upon the earth[1] and so it was used to refer to the prophet’s successor as being Allah’s earthly representative. The caliphate thus became an important institution of the Islamic religion, specifically of the Sunni tradition, when the Arab people founded their empire in the seventh century. There would be many caliphates or dynasties throughout the middle ages, as each empire grew weak and was replaced by another. One of the largest and most influential of these dynasties was that of the Abbasid Caliphate, which ruled most of North Africa and the Middle East between the years 750 A.D. and 1258 A.D. The third Islamic caliphate, the Abbasid dynasty ushered in what has become known as the “Golden Age of Islam,” due to the great scientific and cultural advancements that were made during that period in history. As a result of these advancements, the Abbasids were able to better take care of their people by providing them with better forms of healthcare, a concern which was influenced by the ethics of their religion.

 

The Abbasids came to power in the waning years of the Umayyad Caliphate, when the Umayyad were growing weak from rebellions in North Africa. The Abbasids, who were descendants of one of Muhammed’s uncles, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib, claimed the right to the caliphate over the Umayyad caliphs by virtue of the fact that they were more closely related to Muhammed. The Abbasids offered a fairer Islamic order in which all Muslims, regardless of their national origin, would be able to participate on even terms, and they contrasted themselves against the Umayyad caliphs that had squandered the empire that they had inherited.[2]  The Abbasid revolution grew quickly as they marched upon Umayyad holdings in Iran and Iraq, finally defeating the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, in battle near the Tigris. Marwan himself fled to Egypt but was captured and executed six months later. With the Abbasid caliph, Abu’l-‘Abbas al-Saffah leading them, the Abbasid forces took Damascus, slaughtering all the Umayyad forces within. Later, with the ascension of the second caliph, Abu Ja’far al-Mansur, the Abbasids would move the political capital from Damascus in Syria to the newly established city of Baghdad in Iraq.[3]

 

Once the Abbasids had established their capital in Baghdad, they began to strengthen their empire, and one of the ways in which they did this was by the accumulation of knowledge, especially the sciences. The scientists and philosophers of the empire had a heavy interest in astronomy, which had a very utilitarian purpose for them because it allowed them to determine the correct times of prayer, agricultural dates, and the direction of Mecca in order to properly align the construction of their Mosques. Mathematics was also closely linked to astronomy and was the focus of early translation activity, as the Abbasid scholars worked to translate ancient Greek works of mathematics and philosophy into their native Arabic tongue.[4]  Medicine was also among the sciences that were of immediate interest and utility to the Abbasids.

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The study of medicine and healthcare was important to Muslims because of the importance Islam places upon helping take care of other people. One of the hadith attributed to Muhammed says the following: “The best gift from Allah to mankind is good health. Everyone should reach that goal by preserving it for now and the future.”[5]  For the Muslims, therefore, it was important to not only look after a person’s spiritual health but also their physical health as well. This belief caused them to embrace the achievements of classical Greek and Roman physicians, as well as from Syrian, Persian, and Indian sources. The Greco-Roman physicians had come to define illness in general as natural phenomenon within the humoral framework, which consisted of four constitutional humors (melancholic, guineous, choleric, and phlegmatic), three functional fluids (arterial and venous blood and nervous fluid), and the spirits (vital, natural, and animal) which controlled these fluids. This belief was spelled out in the writings of Hippocrates and Galen, which, under the support of the Abbasid caliphs such as al-Ma’mun, were translated into Arabic and became the basic reference texts for the medical students of the empire.[6]  The Abbasids also used their organizational talents and resources to put this knowledge into practice with regard to the health of their citizens.

 

The institution of the hospital had already been around for centuries before the Muslims adopted it, especially in Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian cities, and some scholars feel that the numerous Christian charitable foundations that provided help for the sick in Islamic lands after the Arab conquests provided inspiration for the later Islamic foundations. [7]  The first and most elaborate of these hospitals was constructed in the eight century during the reign of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, and was soon followed by similar institutions throughout the Abbasid Empire. These hospitals were paid for and maintained by financial support from caliphs, philanthropists, religious groups, and other rulers. The Arabic leaders had the foresight to preserve and utilize the medical institutions that they found in North Africa and Asia, such as famous hospital and academy in Gondeshapur, founded in fifth century Persia.[8]

Islamic Hospital

But what drove the Abbasids to establish these hospitals and to work so hard in the studyof medicine? The answer lies within the ethics of their religion, which placed a great emphasis upon saving human lives and treating the less fortunate in society with respect. According to the hadith attributed to the prophet:

Verily, Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, would say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me. He would say: O my Lord; how could I visit Thee whereas Thou art the Lord of the worlds? Thereupon He would say: Didn’t you know that such and such servant of Mine was sick but you did not visit him and were you not aware of this that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him?[9]

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This hadith echoes a similar teaching found within the Christian gospel of Matthew, inwhich Jesus tells his disciples the same thing when speaking of judgment day.[10]  In addition to the hadith, the Islamic concept of Zakat or “charity” also played a big role in the establishment of these hospitals. One of the five pillars of Islam, zakat is the responsibility of every Muslim and they developed a legal framework for the administration charitable trusts called awqaf. These charitable trusts then allowed devout Muslims to donate their property to pious causes, such as taking care of the poor and sick, which would help ensure their reward in the next life.[11]  There is historical evidence that links together the institution of the waqf(the singular of awqaf) to that of the hospital, especially for those within the Abbasid capital of Baghdad.[12]

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The organization of these hospitals was also advanced for their time. They offered separate wards for male and female patients, special wards for internal diseases, surgical patients, the mentally ill, those with ophthalmic disorders and orthopedic cases, and patients with contagious diseases. Extensive training and pharmacological facilities were standard, and physicians from all over the Muslim world stayed to perform their duties as administrators, practitioners, specialists, and visiting teachers.[13]  In funding these hospitals the Abbasids were providing their people with an Islamic alternative to Christian charitable institutions, as well as superior healthcare when compared to the hospitals found within medieval Europe.[14]  But this healthcare was not limited to Muslim patients, but was provided to Christians and Jews as well based on the historical records that we have from the era.[15]  Thus while being founded as Islamic charitable organizations, these hospitals were secular in the sense that a person’s religion did not determine who was treated there and how.

 

Notes

1.Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliph

2. Amira K. Bennison, The Great Caliphs: the Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire (London: Yale University Press, 2010), 24.

3. Ibid., 25-26.

4. Ibid., 183.

5. Howard R. Turner, Science in Medieval Islam: an Illustrated Introduction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997), 131.

6. Ibid., 131-132.

7. Peregrine Horden, “The Earliest Hospitals in Byzantium, Western Europe, and Islam,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Volume 35, Number 3, Winter 2005, 369.

8.Turner 133.

9. http://sunnah.com/muslim/45/54

10. Matthew 25:31-40.

11. Peter E. Pormann, “Islamic Hospitals in the Time of al-Muqtadir,” in ʻAbbasid Studies II: Occasional Papers of the School of ‘Abbasid Studies, Leuven, 28 June – 1 July 2004. (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2010), 369-370.

12. Ibid.

13. Turner 134.

14. Yasser Tabbaa, “The Functional Aspects of Medieval Islamic Hospitals” in Poverty and Charity in Middle Eastern Contexts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 1.

15. Pormann 368.

 

John Wesley’s Contributions to the Poor

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Within the religion of Christianity there exists the concept of sainthood, which teaches that certain individuals are venerated and honored for the holy lives that they lived and how they contributed to both the church and the society around them. And while Protestantism does not place the same emphasis upon the concept that Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians do, there is still this idea that certain figures are worthy of honor and veneration because of their holy examples. One of these Protestant saints is John Wesley, an Anglican priest and one of the founders of Methodism. John (as well as his brother Charles) are highly honored by both the Methodist and Anglican traditions and are included in the Anglican Church’s Calendar of Saints. Had Wesley been a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox priest, there is a great possibility that he would have come to be canonized as recognition for his holy life and the good work that he did for the people, especially the poor.

Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, England. His father, Samuel Wesley, was an Anglican priest, and his mother, Susanna, was the daughter of a Dissenting minister. Both of his parents had joined the Church of England as young adults and raised their children within the Anglican tradition. Wesley received a college education at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1720 where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts before going on to receiving a Master of Arts. He would go on to become a deacon in 1725 before becoming a fellow and teacher at the university. After he received his Master of Arts he was ordained a priest in 1728, serving as a curate at his father’s parish in Epworth. A few years later, in 1736, Wesley sailed to the American colonies to serve the church in Georgia and help spread the gospel to the Native Americans there. This experience would ultimately be unproductive, as Wesley had little luck in the colonies due to some controversy generated around the fact that he had refused to give the Eucharist to a woman he once loved and her new husband and sailed back to England feeling like he was a failure.

Wesley, despite his rigorous religious devotion, had struggled with doubt for a number of years and the experience in Georgia only served to further send him into a depression. It was then he turned to the Moravians, a group of Christians within the Pietist[1]. tradition, for support and guidance. This led him to one of their meetings at Aldersgate Street, London, where upon hearing Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans being read aloud he claimed to feel his heart strangely warmed by those words about how God forgives a sinner based on his faith in Jesus Christ. This is usually seen as Wesley’s “conversion experience” in which he moves from an outward form of religion where he felt he had to do good works in order to be accepted in God’s eyes toward a more inward form of religion where he began to do good works because his heart had been transformed by this experience he had with God.

Having experienced this transformative awakening, Wesley (along with his brother, Charles) would go on to start a revival movement within the Church of England. They started small groups that became known as “Methodist” communities, a pejorative term used to describe their set methods of religious living (which they soon embraced as positive term). The Methodist communities, though remaining part of the Church of England, soon took on a life of their own as they reached out to the poor and needy within society, helping them both spiritually via spreading the gospel as well as feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.

When discussing the subject of John Wesley’s view on how Christians should treat the less fortunate members of society, it is very pertinent to consider Wesley’s economic ethic. According to Wesley, everything ultimately belongs to God, resources are placed in our care to be used as God sees fit, God desires that we use part of these resources to meet our basic needs in life (providing food and shelter for ourselves and our families) and then finally to help other people in need. Thus, for Wesley, to spend our resources on luxuries while other people remain in need is actually robbing God.[2] In having this attitude toward material possessions, Wesley was only echoing earlier Christian authors such as John Chrysostom and Basil the Great whose writings had influenced his views greatly. For him, if Christians have a habit of accumulating surplus wealth while others around are suffering due to a lack of basic needs, then something was not right. Adam Smith viewed the accumulation of wealth as being a foundation of economic well-being, but for Wesley it was a mortal sin. He would further articulate this idea in the last decade of his life by writing several warnings against this habit by suggesting that the increasing tendency of Methodists to retain wealth instead of sharing it with those in need was a direct correlation with the decline of their spiritual growth and the spread of the revival.[3]

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Wesley’s care for the less fortunate members of society (e.g. the widows, the orphans, and even the prisoners) developed during his early Oxford years. He contributed to the Gray-Coat School (a charity school) in town. He contributed to a school that William Morgan had started that enabled the early Methodists there to educate and look after at least twenty children. He gave much of his own personal resources to those in Oxford that lacked the necessities of life, as well as to debtors in the castle prison and Bocardo Jail. He also bought flax for the children in the workhouses to use, as well as buying food for families that could not afford to feed themselves. In all of this he was convinced that it would be wrong for him to enjoy the luxurious comforts of life if others around him were going without the necessities of life.[4] How did John Wesley define what the necessities of life were? For him, the necessities were sufficient food, decent apparel, and proper housing. He was committed to the idea that all people, regardless of their social standing, should have the necessary means of living a content life, which he based upon Paul’s writings.[5]

Furthermore, in addition to their material and spiritual needs, Wesley was also concerned with the personal health of his fellow human beings. To accomplish this task he instituted an office of people who would be visitors of sick whose responsibility it was to visit every sick person within their district at least three times a week. These visitors would then inquire about the sick person’s bodily and spiritual health, offering both advice and pain relief. To aid in this process, Wesley prepared and published a small pamphlet for the visitors entitled Collection of Receipts for the Use of the Poor[6], which was based on his own medical reading and experience. Wesley realized that the problem was larger than what he first thought, due to the fact that so many of the poor became sick and the cost and accessibility of medicines was beyond their reach. Wesley soon began researching whether hospital treatment might aid the problem, making inquiries of several physicians in the process that seemed unable to help him. He had seen so many poor people wasting away and families being ruined that he decided to take matters into his own hands. He finally decided that he would prepare to help the sick himself. In 1746 he opened several dispensaries in London and Bristol to treat greater numbers of people at little to no cost to the patient. He had obtained the assistance of an apothecary and an experience surgeon and resolved to never go out of his depth in treating the sick, leaving all the complex cases to well-trained physicians and treating only chronic as opposed to “acute” distempers.[7] At these dispensaries, Methodists and non-members were treated alike in droves, being instructed to follow a prescribed regimen and medicine.

Part of Wesley’s desire for the spiritual and physical health of the poor was inspired by his clerical training as an Anglican priest. Throughout most of the eighteenth century this training also included the study of medicine and the church would dispense to its priests a license to practice physic[8], which was particularly valued in remote areas where access to medical treatment was often a rarity. Wesley also believed that many of these ailments that the poor were experiencing could be combated via natural remedies, which led him to expand his pamphlet into a large work entitled Primitive Physic, which contained a large list of known diseases and ailments, as well as their corresponding treatments that were arranged in alphabetical order. The work became so popular that the work went through twenty-three editions during Wesley’s lifetime (as medical knowledge advanced). His stated motivation for the work was to “set down cheap, safe, and easy medicines; easy to be known, easy to be procured, and easy to be applied by plain, unlettered men.”[9]

During his long life Wesley took seriously the words of Jesus that said that his followers should love their neighbors as themselves, and based on all the evidence we have he seemed to have lived out that maxim to the best of his ability by continually helping those less-fortunate members of society to have some measure of comfort in this world. He worked hard to help those that were in need, often giving up much of his own resources in the process and spending hours asking wealthy members of society to contribute to the cause. He did his best to look after the material, physical, and spiritual needs of the people that he came into contact with, and established an organization of people that would continue his practices for centuries after he passed away. It is for these reasons, and more, that John Wesley has come to be seen as a saintly individual and has secured his place within the Protestant calendar of saints.

Notes

[1].Pietism was a 17th century religious movement originating in Germany that placed an emphasis on personal bible study and religious experience.

[2].Randy L. Maddox, “’Visit the Poor’ John Wesley, the Poor, and the Sanctification of Believers,” in The Wesleys and the Poor: The Legacy and Development of Methodist Attitudes to Poverty, 1729-1999 (2002), 62.

[3].Ibid.

[4]. Richard P. Heitzenrater, The Poor and the People Called Methodists, 1729-1999 (Nashville, TN: Kingswood Books, 2002), 25-26.

[5].He frequently quoted 1 Timothy 6:8 “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.”

[6].Deborah Madden, “Wesley as Advisor on Health and Healing” in The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley, eds. Randy L. Maddox and Jason E. Vickers (Cambridge Companions to Religion) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 178-179.

[7].Ibid.

[8].Physic is an old English term that refers to a medicine that purges.

[9].Madden, “Wesley as Advisor on Health and Healing,” 182.

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