The Trinity and the Hidden Godhead?


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This is our last week of reading the works of Meister Eckhart, and we have finally come to the sermon that contains one of the most interesting statements from Eckhart concerning his beliefs about the Godhead or the God beyond God. We read an excerpt from this sermon in Bernard McGinn’s introduction of our reader, and this is an idea that has really stood out to me. Eckhart is discussing the need for the soul to empty itself from all created things in order that God might pour all of himself into that soul, and this appears to be a reference to his belief in pure detachment. It is only by becoming purely detached can we know God as he truly is as the ground of all being, and recognize the reality that all things are united within the One. He gives a metaphor here to describe the idea: “The comparison concerns my eyes and a piece of wood. If my eye is open, it is an eye; if it is closed, it is the same eye. It is not the wood that comes and goes, but it is my vision of it.”[1] In the same way, God is the ground of all being and everything in existence exists in unity with the One, whether or not they themselves realize that this is true. In other words, it is not as if I am not already one with God right this very instance and then at some later time I become one with God. No, according to Eckhart we are already one with God, because he is the ground of our very being, and we must become detached from all created things in order that we can come to this realization of the truth and know God as he truly is.

Now about the hidden Godhead. Eckhart says in Sermon 48 that “if a man will turn away from himself and from all created things, by so much will you be made one and blessed in the spark in the soul, which has never touched either time or place.”[2] Here again he is talking about detachment. Now he speaks about the spark in the human soul, and how this spark rejects all created things. This spark desires God but it “wants nothing but its naked God, as he is in himself. It is not content with the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, or with the three Persons so far as each of them persists in his properties.”[3] And further on he says that this same light is not even content with the simple divine essence in its repose, but that the spark in the soul wants “to go into the simple ground, into the quiet desert, into which distinction never gazed, not the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit.”[4] Now, the question here is what exactly does the Meister mean by all of this? If the Christian God *is* Triune in his nature, as has been traditionally understood by many theologians in the centuries before Eckhart, then how can Eckhart speak of that same God as if the spark in the soul is not content with the Three Persons but desires to move beyond them into the hidden Godhead? What then *is* the hidden Godhead? Is the hidden Godhead simply the divine essence that the Three Persons all partake in? But I suppose that might not even be the case because Eckhart says that the soul is not satisfied with the simple divine essence either. Is Eckhart referring to some kind of impersonal ground of being here, akin to the One of Plotinus?  Earlier, in his introduction, McGinn discusses this passage briefly and says that “there can be no distinctions in the innermost ground of God,” and he says that for Eckhart “any plurality comes solely from the poverty of our way of conceiving God.”[5] So, if we look at Eckhart’s sermon illustration of the wood and the eye, and if we pair it together with what he says there about how the spark of the soul desires to see into the innermost ground of being, beyond the Trinity, does that mean then for Eckhart that the Three Persons of the Trinity are not truly how God really is but we see God as Trinity due to the poverty of our conception of God? He discusses the Persons of the Trinity in many places, however, and so I am hesitant to say that Eckhart believes this, but this sermon does sound like he is saying something like this.

[1] Meister Eckhart, the Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 197.

[2] Ibid. 198.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 36.

The Birth of the Word in the Soul


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One concept of Eckhart that both confuses and fascinates me is his belief in the birth of the Word in the soul, and how we as human beings become the Only-begotten Son via our transcendence of the three obstacles that hinder our hearing of the Eternal Word. Eckhart tells us in Sermon 12 that “Whoever shall hear the eternal Wisdom of the Father must be within, must be at home, and must be one. Then he can hear the eternal Wisdom of the Father.”[1] Hearing the eternal Word is very important within the thought of the Meister, and it is often a difficult thing for us poor fallen humans to hear this word due to a few factors that hinder us. These three things are the following: Corporeality, multiplicity, and temporality.[2] Corporeality hinders us because we have to deal with our bodily existence and the attachment to external things that often come with that. Multiplicity hinders us because it blinds us to the truth of the One by causing us to constantly think about the universe in terms of “thisness” or “thatness,” and the attention of our will is on divided things. For example, let’s consider love.  God loves without distinction, and he does so with a perfect love. We, however, love with a distinct type of love that favors one person over another, and so that is not the ideal form of love that God exhibits. Temporality also hinders us by trapping us in this view of time and space that God is not subject to. Place and time are both foreign to God, alien to him in fact. God is not in time or in a certain place. God is both everywhere and nowhere at once. Now, Eckhart tells us that if a person could pass beyond these things, he would “live in eternity, in the spirit, in oneness, and in the vast solitude; and there he would hear the eternal Word.”[3]

Eckhart goes on to tell us that if we want to hear the Word of God, we must become totally detached, and he alludes to a teaching of Jesus to support him: “No one hears my words nor my teaching unless he has forsaken himself.”[4] This is a reference to Luke 14:26, where Jesus tells his disciples that they must forsake all to be his disciples. Eckhart tells us that everything that the Father teaches to us is his being, nature, and his total divinity. All of this he reveals to us completely via his only-begotten Son, and he teaches us that we are this same Son. “A man who had so passed beyond [these three things] that he was the only-begotten Son would have everything that belongs to the only-begotten Son.”[5] That sounds a little radical at first, the idea that we are the Son, but Eckhart is doing something here that is not so heretical as it would appear, perhaps. He further tells us that “When God sees that we are the only-begotten Son, he is very quick to pursue us and acts as though his divine being were going to burst and completely vanish, so that he might reveal to us the utter abyss of his divinity and the fullness of his being and his nature.”[6] Finally, he says that “Such a person stands in God’s knowing and in God’s love and becomes nothing other than what God is himself.”[7]

In saying all that, what Eckhart is trying to say here, I believe, is that once we have emptied ourselves of these three things (corporality, multiplicity, and temporality) that hinder us from truly hearing the eternal Word, and that once we have obtained that pure detachment, God then comes to fill us up with himself so that nothing remains but himself, and thus he births within us the Word or Son within our souls. It is not that we are literally Jesus Christ, but that we have become so identified with him as to be part of him. I may not be reading him correctly here, but I have a feeling that maybe this is what he is trying to get across to his listeners.

[1] Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart, Teacher and Preacher, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: Paulist Press, 1986), 267.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 268.

[7] Ibid.

Some Thoughts on Detachment, Love, and Divine Impassibility in Eckhart.


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I have been continuing my studies of the writings of Meister Eckhart this week, and I find his doctrine/philosophy concerning perfect detachment to be especially interesting as it relates both to God’s impassibility and its superiority to love. Now without disparaging the other virtues, Eckhart tells us that he has sought arduously and carefully the answer to an important question: What is the best virtue that will help human beings become more like God and conformed to his character? The answer to this question is in pure detachment from all things.[1] Eckhart believes that it is in cultivating this virtue that a man can “by grace become that which God is by nature, and with which man can come most of all to resemble that image which he was in God, and between which and God there was no distinction before ever God made created things.”[2]

If I understand this correctly, Eckhart seems to be equating this pure detachment with the idea of God’s impassibility i.e. that God does not suffer or experience passions.  But Eckhart does something interesting here. When talking about our prayers and good deeds, Eckhart says that “All the prayers and good works that man can accomplish in time move God’s detachment as little as if no single prayer or good work were ever performed in time,” which he goes on to explain how this is true while also maintaining that God is still inclined towards human beings by way of his divine foreknowledge.[3]

So, therefore, nothing that human beings can do can effect God’s detachment except for our own pure detachment, apparently. Quite strangely, in showing how pure detachment is better than love (Eckhart wants to go a step higher than St. Paul here), Eckhart says that the reason why pure detachment is better than love is that while love compels me to love God, pure detachment actually compels God to love me (because of the idea that like is drawn to like).[4] I have two questions about this idea, thoughts really.

1. If God really is impassible, how can anything compel God to do anything? I understand Eckhart’s reasoning here, and it makes sense that everything longs to be in its natural place e.g. God is pure detachment so he wants to be in a heart of pure detachment. But this still seems a little off given what divine impassibility teaches i.e. nothing can act upon God. So how can God be compelled to do anything of necessity?

2. Eckhart’s explanation for why detachment is better than love can just as easily show that love can compel God to love me too. If God is love, and if I have love for him in my heart, then shouldn’t like be drawn to like here?

Perhaps, but if Eckhart thinks that the only way that we can have perfect or pure love, a love like God has that is without distinction, then I suppose it actually becomes necessary to first have pure detachment in order to even have the kind of love that would draw God like that. I suppose then that Eckhart’s reasoning there is a bit sounder that I had first thought.

[1] Meister Eckhart, the Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 285.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 288-289.

[4] Ibid., 286.

The Indistinct Unity of the Triune Godhead in Meister Eckhart




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



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?

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]


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]


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.


[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



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 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.

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]

italian wife
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.


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.



[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.”