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.

Meditations – “Who Are My Brothers And Sisters?”

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I often like to meditate on things during my time at work or when I go for walks out in my neighborhood. I meditate on how I feel, recent events in my life, or on the scriptures. Occasionally, God will bring to my mind a certain scripture or theme upon which I will meditate on. And yesterday was no different. Often times we regularly hear of people talking about those who are our Christian “brothers and sisters,” and usually we also hear people saying that despite our different systems of belief or lifestyle, we are still brothers and sisters in the Lord because of our love of Jesus Christ. Because in the end that is really all that matters, right? As long as a person loves Jesus or says or even thinks that they love Christ, then that makes them my brother or sister, right? I began to meditate on this question, because I find myself having a hard time considering some people who profess to be followers of Christ as being my brothers and sisters. I am not simply speaking here of people who belong to a different tradition or have differing opinions on some biblical passages. I am talking about those who live certain lifestyles and who allow their way of life to influence their theology. These people say that they love Christ, and some of their actions even seem to show, at least outwardly so, that they believe that they are following Christ’s example by feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, helping the downtrodden and oppressed within society. And these are all good things, but as the Lord said to the churches in Asia Minor “Yes, that’s all very well and good, but I have these things against you….” (Revelation 2:4) I feel like that when I read and listen to people like Rachel Held Evans and Rob Bell, just to name a few well-known people.

Both Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans have been at the center of much controversy over the past few years, some of which was over nothing really. Both authors gear their teachings toward people who were hurt by the church and left it as a result, or toward the hip and cool younger generation that identifies more with spirituality verses religion (whatever that means). Personally, I have never really been impressed with either of them, but I have always been more geared toward the scholarly side of issues verses the populist message in certain Christian circles anyway. I liked some of what each of them said, but I really did not see the big deal to be honest. But despite my appreciation for the good that Bell and Evans have done in their respective ministries, I still have something against them because of the stance that they have taken on homosexuality. Both Bell and Evans support gay marriage and appear to teach that homosexual acts are not sinful (though they probably feel that they are not sinful if done within a monogamous relationship). This is where it becomes complicated for me.

On the one hand, both Bell and Evans claim to love Jesus and try to follow his teaching about loving your neighbor and taking care of other people. That is great and I applaud them for doing that. But on the other hand, both of them are teaching people that it is ok to live in a lifestyle (i.e. practicing gay sex as opposed to being a LGBT person who is abstaining from sex) that the Judeo-Christian religion has considered as sinful for over three-thousand years. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures speak of homosexual acts as being sinful, and post-biblical Christianity and Judaism both continued believing this to be true. Even Islam follows the lead of the other two Abrahamic faiths in condemning the practice as sinful. The scriptures even tell us that those who practice unrepentant homosexual acts cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). And so the problem that I was mediating upon was the question of “who is my brother and who is my sister?” Could I consider these two individuals my brother and sister in the Lord? They love Jesus Christ and try to treat others with love, but yet they do not speak against unrighteousness but give approval to those who practice it (Romans 1:32). So I meditated on this question earnestly, asking the Lord “Who are my brothers and sisters?”

While I was meditating, a scripture was brought to my mind. The passage is found within the gospel according to St. Matthew. In the passage, some of Christ’s family is trying to get to him, causing some of the crowd listening to Christ to tell him about his family wanting to see him. This was Christ’s response to him:

“But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

I meditated on this scripture for the rest of the day. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” Christ said. Jesus did not say “Whoever says they love me or whoever loves other people is my brother and sister and mother,” but he said “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven.” But what about people like Bell and Evans, people who really, really say or think that they love Jesus? Because is not loving Jesus the entire point? If treating others with love and respect, taking care of the poor and downtrodden, and sticking up for the oppressed is not proof of having love for Christ, then what is? Again, the scripture was brought to my mind:

“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21)

So if we have received the commandments of God, but we do not keep them ourselves and teach other people that it is ok to do that which God has forbidden them to do, how then can we even say that we love God; how can we say that we love Christ? But what about all the good works that they do? Is that not the proof of God’s love? According to Christ it is not. According to Christ, it is only those who have received his commandments (and gladly so!) and keep them that truly love him. And indeed, did not Christ speak through one of the holy prophets to King Saul and say to him “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to heed the Lord is better than the fat of rams!” (1 Samuel 15:22). He might as well have said that to obey God’s commandment is better than doing all the social justice in the world.

So in closing, this is what I meditated upon yesterday as I worked. The topic is a very deep one, perhaps above my meager intellect. I desire to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18), and to accept and welcome all as my brothers and sisters. But how can you do this when you are trying to urge people to live in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord when those who should be your brothers and sisters are teaching the people that it is ok to live in their unrighteousness? “Can fresh water and salt water flow out of the same fountain?” (James 3:11) “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3) “Can a person partake of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils?” (1 Corinthians 10:21). The only answer that I can come to, brothers and sisters, is that one cannot be of both worlds. Therefore I can only conclude that while we must “strive for peace with all men” we must also “strive for the holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14).

Ambrosiaster On God’s Foreknowledge and Justice

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During the course of church history there have been a great many commentaries written about the books of the Bible, particularly the epistles of Saint Paul. One can scarcely read any of the Church Fathers without running into lengthy commentary on the Pauline corpus, which is no surprise given how central his letters were to the New Testament. I would like to take this opportunity to share a bit of ancient wisdom from one of these ancient commentators in the hopes that it may bless your soul and cause you to think on these important topics. The Church Father in question is known only to us as Ambrosiaster. He lived sometime during the fourth century AD, and his writings demonstrate that his theology was decidedly pro-Nicene, which allows us to deduce that he wrote his commentaries sometime after that council during the reign of Pope Damasus I (whom he names as currently reigning). Ambrosiaster (“Star of Ambrose”) was not the author’s name, who actually wrote the commentaries anonymously, but was applied to him because for many centuries it was believed that Saint Ambrose of Milan penned the commentaries. Modern scholars believe, however, that Ambrosiaster’s style is so markedly different from that of Saint Ambrose that the two cannot possibly be the same man. The name has therefore served as a placeholder for the author’s true identity, which may never truly be known for sure (though many names have been put forth by scholars over the years). Regardless of his identity, his commentaries are very important because they provide a glimpse into the thought of this period in time, as well as providing a witness of an early Latin text of scripture that was different from that of Saint Jerome’s Vulgate.

I want to share a passage or two from Ambrosiaster’s commentary on Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans to give you a glimpse into this author’s view of the foreknowledge of God, and how that ties into the topic of God’s justice. He is commenting on Saint Paul’s text in Romans 9, concerning Jacob and Esau.

Paul proclaims God’s foreknowledge by citing these events, because nothing can happen in the future other than what God already knows. Therefore, knowing what each of them would become, God said : The younger will be worthy and the elder unworthy. His foreknowledge chose the one and rejected the other. And in the one whom God chose, his purpose remained, because nothing other than what God knew and purposed in him, to make him worthy of salvation, could happen. Likewise the purpose of God remained in the one whom he rejected.[1]

According to Ambrosiaster, God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was made in accordance with his foreknowledge of what kind of person each child would later become. God therefore chose Jacob to be the inheritor of the Birthright because he knew, in his infinite wisdom, that Jacob would better appreciate and take care of that honor and would better serve to be the vessel through which he could bring the Messiah into the world. There is no room in Ambrosiaster’s thought for a view such as Open Theism, which would logically have to admit that God did not, in reality, really know what sort of person that Esau would become or what type of person Jacob would have become. God would have had to have waited for them to mature before finding out the answer to this question.

But before someone accuses God of arbitrarily choosing the fate of these men, Ambrosiaster says the following: “However, although God knew what would happen, he is not a respecter of persons, and condemns nobody before he sins, nor does he reward anyone until he conquers.” For Ambrosiaster, though God foreknows the future he does not reward or condemn anyone until that person actually merits the outcome according to the conditions of justice. Ambrosiaster further elaborates on this idea in the following passage:

God knew those who would turn out to be people of ill will, and he did not number them among the good, although the Savior said to the seventy-two disciples who he chose as a second class, and who later abandoned him: Your names are written in heaven. This was for the sake of justice, since it is just that each person should receive his reward. Because they were good they were chosen for this service and so their names were written in heaven for the sake of justice, as I have said, but according to foreknowledge they were among the number of the wicked. For God judges according to his justice, not according to his foreknowledge.[2]

And again Ambrosiaster says the following:

There is no respect of persons in God’s foreknowledge. For God’s foreknowledge is that by which it is defined what the future will of each person will be, in which he will remain, by which he will either be condemned or rewarded. Some of those who will remain among the good were once evil, and some of those who will remain among the evil were once good.

The problem is solved, because God is no respecter of persons. Even Saul and Judas Iscariot had been good at one time. Scripture says of Saul: He was a good man and there was none better in Israel. And of Judas Iscariot the apostle Peter says: he was numbered among us and allotted a share in this ministry of performing signs and wonders. How could someone who was not good have a share in the Savior’s ministry? In the plan of God it was decided that he would be considered worthy for the time for which he was chosen, like the seventy-two I mentioned above.[3]

Ambrosiaster later goes on to reference both Kings Saul and David as other examples of how God’s foreknowledge and justice work together. His explanation of how they work together is one that I had thought about before but never actually heard or read another person articulate prior to reading it within his commentary. I found it to be a very good explanation, and it is at least as good as any other view that I have so far encountered in my studies of the topic.

Notes

1. Ambrosiaster, Commentaries On Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (Ancient Christian Texts) (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 75.
2.Ibid., 76.
3.Ibid.

On the Subject of Advent: A Brief History

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This past Sunday was the third Sunday in Advent, and so it was that I realized that the time had come for me to stop being lazy and write something about this important time of the year. But how does one even begin to talk about what Advent means without first establishing what Advent is? And so it is that I must first explain to you, dear reader, just what the season of Advent is and how it came to be celebrated by the vast majority of Christians in the world.

The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word “Adventus,” which means “coming.” Thus the period of Advent is a time of remembrance of the coming of the Messiah to Israel. This period of time marks the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Western Tradition (Catholicism and Protestantism), and begins at the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day. Traditionally, the first Sunday of Advent falls on the Sunday that is nearest to the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, November 30th. All together there are four Sundays between the start of Advent until its end on Christmas. This period gives the Christian time to prepare herself for the Nativity of the Lord by fasting and reflecting upon what the Jews experienced while they awaited the Advent of the Messiah, as well as reflecting upon the Lord’s Second Advent in the future. It is because of this aspect of Advent that makes it similar to Lent, the period of time that the Church prepares itself for Easter.

The exact origins of Advent are a bit uncertain and we do not know exactly when it was first celebrated, but we do know that the season was not celebrated until after the Feast of the Nativity was celebrated. One of the earliest references to the celebration of Christmas on December 25th appeared in Antioch during the second century, back when Christians were still being persecuted by the Romans. It was not until the fourth century, however, during the reign of the Christian emperor Constantine that the Feast of Christmas was officially determined to be celebrated on the 25th. It is also probable that the Church placed the feast during this time in order to help phase out some of the old pagan festivals around the Winter Solstice, but that is a matter for another blog eh? At any rate, there are homilies from the fifth century that speak about preparation in a general sense, but nothing like the modern period of Advent. In the fifth century, Bishop Perpetuus of Tours established a fasting period beginning on November 11th, and in the sixth century, the Council of Tours (567) mentioned an Advent season. The council also established that the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany[1] would be a sacred and festive season (from whence we get the Twelve Days of Christmas!). During the late sixth/early seventh centuries, we find within a collection of homilies, written by St. Gregory the Great, a sermon dedicated to the second Sunday of Advent. And by the year 650 we see that the church in Spain was celebrating five Sundays during the Advent season. This number was later reduced to the current four Sundays by Pope Gregory VII, during the eleventh century.

Fasting was originally a big part of the Advent season, though less so than it was during the Lenten season. The earliest sources for this fast come from the fifth century in Gaul, when St. Perpetuus decreed that a fast would be held three times a week starting at the feast of St. Martin until Christmas. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were to be dedicated to fasting and penance, though of a less strict nature than the Lenten fast. As the centuries went by, this fast was relaxed so that only the clergy were expected to keep it, and the Council of Salisbury seemed to indicate that only the monks were required to keep it. The Greek Church, however, continues to keep the Advent fast to this day. The Orthodox fast forty days, beginning on November 14, the feast of St. Philip the Apostle, where they abstain from meat, butter, eggs, and milk (the rich stuff, basically).

And so Advent is a special time for the Christian religion, because together we look back in time as well as forward, to both of Christ’s Advents. We reflect upon the way in which the Jewish people waited for their Messiah each time we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel!” The Church too cries out for the coming of Emmanuel, for we await the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I would invite you all to help keep the Advent season this year, whether you fast or not, and take some time out of your busy schedule to pause and reflect on what it meant for the Jews to wait for their Messiah to come, and how we should all prepare ourselves for the coming of our King.

Notes

[1]. Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates and commemorates the revelation of the Son of God as a human being in Christ. This period usually remembers the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, his first miracle at Cana where he turned the water into wine, and the visitation of the Magi.

John Dickinson and British Common Law

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220px-John_Dickinson_portrait

Early American history is filled with many interesting figures that have contributed much to the history of the nation, the most celebrated of which are the Founding Fathers. The Fathers have an almost saint-like quality within the culture of American identity, with many of them being associated with the concepts of liberty and fighting against tyranny. When one thinks of the Founding Fathers, they usually picture the figures of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, or Franklin, but they seldom know many of the other important figures that helped bring about the birth of the nation. One of these seemingly forgotten fathers was John Dickinson, the reluctant patriot. After reading his Letters from a Pennsylvanian Farmer, I believe that Dickinson attempted to defend the rights of the colonies against taxation by appealing to British Common Law and history.

John Dickinson was born on November 8, 1732 in Maryland. He would later become a lawyer and politician, serving in positions in both Delaware and Pennsylvania. When he finally lost his seat in the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1765 (after serving for three years), he was still very active in public affairs. He prepared the first draft of the Pennsylvania Assembly’s resolutions against the Stamp Act, which had imposed a direct tax specifically on the American Colonies, and it required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced with stamped paper that had been made in London. He served on the Stamp Act Congress held in New York, which consisted of representatives from the colonies to devise a unified protest against new British taxation. He is most famous for writing a series of essays between 1767 and 1768, called Letters from a Pennsylvanian Farmer, which attempted to justify colonial resistance to the Townshend Acts.

Taking on the persona of a Pennsylvanian farmer, Dickinson made several arguments against the new taxes being levied on the American colonies. He readily acknowledged the power of the British Parliament in matters pertaining to the British Empire as a whole, but he believed that the colonies were sovereign in their own internal affairs. Dickinson thus argued that while it was perfectly fine and understandable to place duties and taxes for the purposes of trade regulation, it was unconstitutional and a “dangerous innovation” to levy taxes upon the colonies for the sole purpose of raising revenue. [1] To quote Dickinson himself:

That we may legally be bound to pay any general duties on these commodities, relative to the regulation of trade, is granted; but we being obliged by her laws to take them from Great Britain, any special duties imposed on their exportation to us only, with intention to raise a revenue from us only, are as much taxes upon us, as those imposed by the Stamp Act. [2]

So for Dickinson, there was a fundamental distinction between two kinds of financial exactions: taxes and duties. Taxes were for the sole purpose of levying money, while duties were for the purpose of regulated commerce rather than raising revenue. [3] He believed that the purpose of government was to promote the common good or general welfare of the people. And so the ultimate reason why Parliament did not have the power to tax the colonies was because that power ran contrary to the general welfare of the colonies. Dickinson believed that Parliament could look after the general welfare of the British Empire by regulating trade via imposing duties on trade in one part of the empire to protect another, just as long as the imposition was part of a plan for the advancement of the general welfare. He vehemently opposed efforts to evade distinctions between duties and taxes, and felt that it was improper for Parliament to impose taxes disguised as duties. [4]

His letters were so persuasive that they caused a national sensation, and they saturated the political discourse of the colonies. One scholar has noted that: “none but the illiterate or the remote frontiersman could have been ignorant of the arguments of the Pennsylvanian Farmer.” [5]

One reason why Dickinson’s letters were so popular was because he presents himself as a reasonable farmer, as someone the common man can relate to, and as someone who only seeks to live at peace with the world around him. The reader should take note at how the Farmer begins his first letter:

My dear Countrymen,
I am a Farmer, settled, after a variety of fortunes, near the banks of the river Delaware, in the province of Pennsylvania. I received a liberal education, and have been engaged in the busy scenes of life; but am now convinced, that a man may be as happy without bustle, as with it. My farm is small; my servants are few, and good; I have a little money at interest; I wish for no more; my employment in my own affairs is easy; and with a contented grateful mind, undisturbed by worldly hopes or fears, relating to myself, I am completing the number of days allotted to me by divine goodness. [6]

By presenting himself in this persona, Dickinson appears to be a simple man who is minding his own business and has no axe to grind. He seems to be merely making observations about the facts of the matter, with no ulterior motive. He wrote in such a peaceful manner because he was attempting to speak to the broad number of colonists that had been happy with British rule and were seeking peace and reconciliation with their mother country. While firebrands like John and Samuel Adams were attempting to stir up the tempers of their audiences, Dickinson was enjoying a much broader audience with his more peaceful reasoning, which is probably why his letters were so popular. He was fully aware of the plight that these colonists faced in that they had legitimate grievances with London but they did not want to seem disloyal to the crown. Dickinson answers this by listing the grievances and then solving the problem by appealing to past examples of British history in which the people appealed to the crown e.g. The Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Right. [7] By doing this, Dickinson educates his readers, the common man, of their rights. He placed these grievances within their political and historical contexts, while giving examples of how these issues can be resolved by methods that have already been put into place. One example of this is in the first letter, in which he writes about New York. He states that Parliament has no right to tax the colony of New York for the purposes of supporting British troops stationed there, and though the call to provide and quarter soldiers was not a direct monetary tax, it was still a tax for all intents and purposes because it required public expenditures to comply with the Act. [8] Dickinson then answers this by reaching back into British Constitutional Law and asserts that the power to tax can never be lawfully exercised without the consent of the governed. Dickinson then quotes a member of the British Parliament to make his case:

Our great advocate, Mr. Pitt, in his speeches on the debate concerning the repeal of the Stamp Act, acknowledged, that Great Britain could restrain our manufactures. His words are these—“This kingdom, as the supreme governing and legislative power, has Always bound the colonies by her regulations and Restrictions in trade, in navigation, in Manufactures—in everything, except that of taking their money out of their pockets without Their Consent.” Again he says, “We may bind their trade, Confine Their Manufactures, and exercise every power whatever, except that of taking their money out of their pockets without Their Consent.” [9]

And so Dickinson makes a very good case, using British Law and precedents, that what the British were doing was going against their own laws. And yet Dickinson was in no hurry to rush to war over the matter either. In fact, one of the reasons why Dickinson is probably not as well remembered is that he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. It should be noted that he was no Tory, and his refusal to sign the document can be attributed to his belief (and hope) of reconciliation with Britain. It should also be noted that not long after Congress made its decision, he was commanding troops in defense of the colonies. Historians have also long downplayed Dickinson’s contributions to the Constitution, but as one historian has said “If James Madison was the ‘father of the Constitution, then John Dickinson was at least a kindly uncle.” [10]

Notes

1.John Dickinson, Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson). Letters from the Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), ed. Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1999), 18.
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/690 on 2013-09-05
2. Ibid.,
3.Robert G. Natelson, The Constitutional Contributions of John Dickinson , 108 Penn. St. L.Rev. 415 (2003), 436.
Available at: http://scholarship.law.umt.edu/faculty_lawreviews/46
4.Ibid., 438.
5. Joseph Leland Feeney, Jr., “Continuity and Revolution: The Basis of the American Revolution in the Common Law and the Ancient Constitution, As Explicated by John Dickinson” (master’s thesis, Louisiana State University, 2003), 83.
6.John Dickinson, Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson). Letters from the Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), ed. Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1999), 14.
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/690 on 2013-09-05
7.Joseph Leland Feeney, Jr., “Continuity and Revolution: The Basis of the American Revolution in the Common Law and the Ancient Constitution, As Explicated by John Dickinson” (master’s thesis, Louisiana State University, 2003).
8.John Dickinson, Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson). Letters from the Federal Farmer (Richard Henry Lee), ed. Forrest McDonald (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1999), 15-16.
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/690 on 2013-09-05
9.Ibid., 20.
10.Robert G. Natelson, The Constitutional Contributions of John Dickinson , 108 Penn. St. L.Rev. 415 (2003), 476.
Available at: http://scholarship.law.umt.edu/faculty_lawreviews/46

The Rogue Scholar’s Review of “The Five Love Languages.”

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Five love languages

The Five Love Languages is a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor and author. The book is written specifically for married couples but could also be helpful for those who are thinking of getting married in the future, as well as those who are in relationships in general. In the book, Dr. Chapman makes use of his years of experience in marriage counseling to guide the reader on a journey that will help them make the most out of their marriage. The entire premise of the book is that each person has what he calls a “love tank,” and that when this tank is full the person will be happy in the marriage, but if the tank is empty the person will experience dissatisfaction with the marriage. Chapman explains that each person experiences love in different ways and that we all have what he calls a “love language” that fills our love tank. Chapman has identified a list of five love languages that are commonly used in relationships, and how each language has various expressions or “dialects.” The five love languages include: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

Words of Affirmation are expressions of love such as verbal compliments or words of appreciation, such as when you compliment your wife on how nice her hair looks today, or how nice your husband looks in that new suit of his. They can be as simple as saying an encouraging word to your spouse or as elaborate as writing poetry dedicated to the way they make you feel. Words of affirmation make your spouse feel appreciated within a marriage, and reinforce their belief that you truly love them.

Quality Time is the second love language Chapman discusses. Quality time is defined as spending time with your spouse and giving them your full attention. The person whose love language is quality time will enjoy spending time with their spouse whether it is doing something that they enjoy or something their spouse enjoys; the point is that the two are spending time together and giving each other their undivided attention. Quality time would include sitting down for a personal conversation, going on walks in the neighborhood, and traveling together.

Receiving Gifts is the third love language, and is pretty self-explanatory. Bringing your wife flowers, buying your husband that new watch he fancies, or giving your spouse a birthday card all fall under the umbrella of receiving gifts. People whose love language is receiving gifts love finding little presents in the house. They will especially love it when their spouse gives them handmade gifts, because it will show them that their lover was especially creative with their gift.

Acts of Service is the fourth love language, and includes such activities as helping your spouse clean the kitchen, mop the floors, or vacuum the carpet. Reading this chapter made me think of my mother, who often shows her affection for my dad by performing acts of service for him. Acts of service are especially appreciated by wives who, after working eight hours, come home to find housework waiting for them in what has become known as the “second shift.”

Physical Touch is the fifth and last of the five love languages, and it refers to any sort of physical contact between companions. Most people would assume that physical touch would be primarily sexual relations but this is not so, because little gestures such as brushing against your husband or wife, rubbing their arm or holding their hand can also be strong signs of affection. Hugging is one of the most commonly used gestures of physical touch, and almost everyone enjoys hugging.

Dr. Chapman’s theory also goes along nicely with one of the theories of motivation from my psychology textbook, the incentive theory. This theory is known as the incentive theory, because it emphasizes the role that external stimuli play in motivating behavior. Chapman states that people in a relationship will respond favorably to their own love language and thus draw closer to their spouse as a result. This love language is the incentive for the person to respond in a similar manner. By contrast, a person’s spouse will be pushed away by behaviors that do not satisfy their love language, which are negative incentives. This is why so many marriages fail, because there is not enough positive incentives for them to feel motivated enough to keep the marriage going.

I believe that Dr. Chapman’s theory on the love languages is simply fantastic, and makes a lot of sense when you think about how a relationship works. His idea of everyone having a “love tank” that needs to be filled in order for that person to remain satisfied is just brilliant. I also feel that reading this book has helped me to better understand how relationships are supposed to work, and I am sure that if I ever get married, I will put his theory into practice.

There is a profile at the back of the book that the reader can take in order to ascertain his or her own love language. I decided to take the test for myself, and I feel that it was an accurate representation of how I feel love from someone else. I scored almost evenly in the love languages of words of affirmation and quality time (only one point of difference between the two), while physical touch was my lowest score. I know this to be true in my own experience, because I feel loved when people talk to me and give me supportive words of encouragement, as well as spending quality time with me doing whatever activities that we both enjoy. I think that this is true whether it is spending time with friends, family, or that special someone in your life.

In conclusion, The Five Love Languages is an awesome book that Dr. Chapman has written and I heartily recommend it for anyone who is in a marriage or is thinking of getting married in the future. A minister friend of mine has couples read it as part of his marriage counseling sessions, and I think that that is a fantastic idea! If you have not read Dr. Chapman’s book yet, I really urge you to read it for yourself and see what a difference it will make in your marriage or relationship.

An Introduction to the Sui Dynasty

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220px-Sui_Yangdi_Tang

After the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, China was plunged into a period of disunity that lasted over three hundred years; it was the longest period of disunion in Chinese history. [1] This period of Chinese disunity is known as the Six Dynasties period due to the six dynasties that ruled China between 220 AD and 589 AD. The period is usually broken into three sections: the Three Kingdoms (220-280 AD), Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), and Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589 AD). By 577 AD, China was divided into two dynasties: The Northern Zhou and the Southern Chen. The leader of the Northern Zhou, Zhou Wu, had ambitions to reunite all of China under his throne, something that had not been accomplished since the days of the Jin Dynasty two centuries before. He was a young and ambitious ruler, but just as he was planning the conquest he grew ill and died while campaigning at the age of thirty-five. [2] The task of reuniting China would fall to one of his officials named Yang Jian, a man who had fought for him, had given his daughter to be the crown prince’s wife, and had received the noble title “Duke of Sui” for his services. Yang Jian had also helped the crown prince, his son-in-law, Zhou Xuan, ascend to the imperial throne in 578 AD. Zhou Xuan was nineteen when he became emperor of Northern Zhou, and sadly possessed none of his father’s ambitions for long-lasting glory. He was more interested in his current power, referring to himself as “The Heaven,” while referring to his nobles of the court as “the earth.” He committed many gross offences and abused his power: he forced all of his officials to give up any decorative clothing or ornaments so that his would stand out; he grew paranoid and executed anyone who offended him; he went on long, lavish parades through the countryside to show off his power, while leaving his father-in-law Yang Jian in charge. [3] It was only a year after his coronation that he made his six-year-old son emperor in name, desiring to give himself more freedom to indulge himself in his carnal desires, such as beating and raping the women of the court. [4] Fortune favored the northern dynasty, the wayward emperor had a stroke and died in 579 AD, at the young age of twenty. Yang Jian, desiring to protect the empire of his old friend, took immediate action by forging a document making him regent for the new emperor, his seven-year-old grandson, Zhou Jing.

Among Yang Jian’s most notable supporters were the great general Gao Ying and a famous writer named Li Delin. Gao Ying used his influence to wipe out any opposition to his regency, while Li Delin wrote beautifully convincing political rhetoric about Yang Jian’s right to rule. By 580, the young emperor had signed an imperial edict praising Yang Jian’s worthiness. The edict proclaimed him “Supreme Pillar of State, Grand State Minister, responsive to the mountains and rivers, answering to the emanations of the stars and planets. His moral force elevates both the refined and the vulgar, his virtue brings together what is hidden and what is manifest, and harmonizes Heaven and Earth.”[5] In December of that year, Yang Jian made himself a prince, higher in rank than any other noble in the court. In January of 581, an edict of abdication appeared, clearly the writing of Li Delin but with emperor Zhou Jin’s signature at the bottom. As was Chinese custom, Yang Jian refused three times to take the title, though he was eventually “persuaded” to ascend to the imperial throne as Sui Wendi, emperor of the north [6] The new emperor, assured that he had received the Mandate of Heaven, made sure that his ascension would be unchallenged by murdering fifty-nine members of the Northern Zhou family, including his own grandson. When the king of the southern Chen dynasty died in 582, leaving behind a weak heir, the new emperor saw his chance to reunite China.

The Sui emperor spent seven years carefully planning his tactics. He first used rhetoric by sending agents into the south with three hundred copies of a manifesto that listed all the faults of the new southern emperor, explaining that the emperor’s vice and sin had deprived the southern dynasty of the Mandate of Heaven [7] The Mandate of Heaven was an ancient Chinese philosophical concept whose roots can be traced back to the Zhou Dynasty. The concept teaches that Heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler as defined by Confucian principles, but would be displeased with despotic, corrupt rulers and would overthrow them. The Mandate of Heaven would then transfer to those who would rule best. [8] The actual war began in 582, and soon Sui forces marched on the southern capital of Nanjing; by the time they arrived at the city walls, the power of the Southern Chen had crumbled. The Sui armies took control of the city with remarkable ease. Sui Wendi had united China using a two-pronged strategy of rhetoric and military force.

The Sui emperor put into place a series of swift and effective reforms. He restricted the use of weapons to the army, insuring that the possibility of rebellion and bloody feuds among the people would be reduced drastically. He ordered that the Great Wall to be rebuilt where it had crumbled. He then reorganized the governments of the north and south into one tidy, efficient unit that was highly structured and hierarchical, with each office having its own set of privileges, rank, and uniforms. [9] The emperor also ordered a new set of laws that would apply across the entire empire, replacing the contradictory and disorganized mass of local regulations in place at the time. He even married his son and heir, Yangdi, to a southern bride to reduce southern hostility to northern takeover. All later Chinese dynasties were indebted to the Sui’s accomplishments, especially the Tang Dynasty which built upon the foundation of the Sui and came to dominate culture and politics in all of East Asia for nearly three hundred years.[10]

Notes

[1].Denis C. Twitchett, ed., The Cambridge History of China, vol. 3, Sui and T’ang China, 589-906 Ad, Part 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 48.
[2]. Susan Wise Bauer, The History of the Medieval World: from the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 226.
[3]. Ibid., 226
[4].Ibid.
[5].Ibid., 227.
[6].Ibid.
[7].Ibid.
[8].Richard Bulliet et al., The Earth and Its Peoples, Brief Edition, Volume I, 5 ed. (Boston: Cengage Learning, 2011), 40.
[9].Bauer 227.
[10].Twitchett 48.

Why Study History?

Book

I love history. It has always been one of my favorite subjects in school, and it continues to be one of my favorite subjects in college. I plan to major in history, perhaps even teach it someday if God is kind to me. I enjoy reading about the different people and cultures that have lived (and died) on this wondrous world of ours. I love reading about their traditions, religious beliefs, accomplishments, and I believe that even the more unsavory aspects of history serve to teach us lessons about ourselves. It is for this reason that I am perplexed and even saddened by the statements I hear coming from people around me, either in my private life or in the classroom. “History is so boring,” “I don’t see the point of studying this,” “This is so lame,” “Why study history? What benefit is it?” It is because of this attitude that I am blogging about this topic today. So why study history? Here are just a few reasons why you (and everyone) should be armchair historians.

1. Studying history will help you better understand the world.

Whether or not you actually study history, the one thing that most of us do is keep up with the news, via television, newspapers, or the Internet. We often read about how the United States is doing something in the Middle East, or how Russia is invading Georgia (the country not the state), or how violence in Iraq is due to rivalry between groups of Muslims known as Sunni and Shi’ites. A lot of Americans probably do not have the slightest idea what is the big deal between these two denominations of Islam, but if you know your history you will know that there is a very good reason why these two have been rivals for about one-thousand and four-hundred years (give or take a few decades). A person studying history may realize that there are deeper issues for why Russia invaded Georgia, or why there is conflict between the Arabs and Israelis in Israel. Do you know why a lot of these countries resent America? It is probably because we keep interfering in their affairs either covertly or overtly, exerting our influence over these less-developed nations because we think we know better. Once you start researching the past, you start to get a better idea of what is truly going on behind these events in the world.

2. Studying history will help you have a better perspective on life.

“President Obama is the worst president in history!” this is a statement that I hear often in my own circles, while others might hear something like “President Bush was the worst president ever!” I also hear statements like “We’ve never faced a time like we are in now.” I usually shake my head and start talking about the Black Death or the Great Depression. I then see their eyes and I can tell that the wheels are turning, and suddenly this does not seem like such a bad time to live in after all. The study of history will thus challenge our perspectives about life and what we believe. I used to believe in Dispensational theology, specifically its view of the End Times, because it was the view that I grew up with. I thought all Christians believed this, and that some people were crazy for not believing what the Bible “plainly taught.” My views changed when, in addition to actually reading the entire Bible, I started researching about and reading the writings of the early church fathers and reformers. I learned from this study of history that not only was Dispensationalism not the dominant view of Christian history, but that it really only came about during the 1800s, almost 1,800 years after the original Christian movement! This really opened my eyes and made me realize that my worldview was not the correct one, and so I have changed my perspective on the subject of eschatology (the study of last things) as a result of my studies in history.

3. Studying history will teach you lessons about life.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana.

As the above quote shows, the study of history is also important because of the lessons that it teaches us. People often wonder just how Adolf Hitler was able to manipulate an entire nation to commit horrible atrocities against the Jews and other minorities, and how the German people could seem to just happily go along with his policies. For the student of history, however, the reasons become clearer because she has studied the history of Europe, the effects on Germany World War I had, and how these all came together to provide the perfect stage for a man like Hitler to come along and take command. We can also learn lessons about how to run our governments, businesses, and households by looking at both the mistakes and successes of those in the past. Does America want to last for a long time? Take a lesson from empires and nations that have last for a long time and do not repeat the actions that led to their downfall.

Conclusion

In conclusion let me just say that the study of history has much to offer everyone. The benefits of history far outweigh any momentary boredom you may experience while studying your textbook. You will gain knowledge about the world and how it operates, broaden your perspective on life, and learn valuable lessons that will hopefully make you a better person. Studying history also trains the mind to think logically and to make reasoned arguments about the subject that you are studying. It will also help you improve your writing, as there usually tends to be a lot of writing involved in the study of history. I encourage each and every person to try reading about an area of history that they find fascinating, no matter what that is. If you are a sports fan, try reading a book about the history of sports. If you like fashion, try reading a book about the history of fashion. If you are a science geek, try reading a book about the history of science etc. There is always something for everyone in the field of history.

Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance

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Charlemagne

Charles has become known as “the Great” for very good reasons. His long reign changed the face of Europe both culturally and politically, and he himself remained a prominent figure in the minds of the people during the Middle Ages as representing the ideal king.[1] We know so much about him because he became the subject of one of the first medieval biographies written by a layman, specifically one of his learned courtiers named Einhard. Einhard described Charles’ appearance and form of dress, his eating and drinking habits, his religious practices and intellectual interests, and many facts about his daily life such as his love of exercise, especially riding, hunting and swimming.[2] Charlemagne spoke and read Latin as well as his native Frankish, and he could even understand Greek and speak it a little. He also learned grammar, rhetoric, and mathematics from the educated clerics he surrounded himself with, and although hepracticed often, he never fully mastered the art of writing.[3]

His prestige increased when, in the year 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans in return for his protection and restoration after Roman aristocrats tried to assassinate him the previous year. Many saw this moment as being sort of a revival of the Roman Empire, with Charlemagne as its new Christian Emperor. Certainly this event is important in the sense that it made evident the fact that the popes no longer could depend upon the Byzantine emperors in the east for protection against their enemies, and so the bishops of Rome had to turn to local powers like Charlemagne (and his Frankish ancestors previously) to be their military and political protection in the west. During the history of the Carolingian Dynasty, many reforms were put into place designed to reform both the education of local priests in the Carolingian Church as well as the education of the people of the realm. This came about as a desire of the Carolingian leaders of society to educate the clergy, who were barely literate, in order that they might better teach and shepherd the citizens of the realm in the ways of the Christian religion. It was no longer sufficient that the people be impressed by the sight of the clergy, but that they should also be instructed by the words they read and sang to them. They used as their example the biblical King Josias, whose reforms called the Israelites back into the proper worship of God.[4] The Carolingian Renaissance appears as a well-organized program that was very effective in achieving its goals. Librarians and teachers carefully built up the collections of their local libraries, treating their books like treasure and constantly seeking copies of works they did not possess. These libraries in turn supported schools, which during the ninth century offered sustained instruction for several generations of masters.[5] In 789, in response to the poor command of language among the people, Charlemagne issued the Admonitio generalis (Latin for ‘general warning’) for the administration of the Frankish church and clergy and decreed that schools were to be established for boys of all social classes.[6] This decree also expected every diocese and monastery to be responsible for the supervision of education and to have its own schools and establish a curriculum in the Liberal Arts for the children of freemen and nobility alike. Teaching children of lower classes was particularly successful. This curriculum was devised by Alcuin, a scholar and clergyman, who was one of Charlemagne’s most important advisors. Alcuin’s curriculum consisted primarily of the trivium – Grammar, Dialectic (Logic), and Rhetoric; and the quadrivium – Mathematics, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy.[7]

It is no wonder that with all of the reforms being put into place by Charlemagne that he was remembered for centuries in Europe as being the ideal king, generating legends and songs that bards would sing for years to come. There were few monarchs that could compare to his accomplishments, which he achieved thanks to the road that had been paved for him by his father and grandfather years before. The Carolingian Renaissance goes a long way towards dispelling the myth that the Dark Ages were filled with ignorant people who made no intellectual advances during this period in history. Charles was able to take a people who came from barbarian stock and impart within them a thirst for knowledge that allowed them to transcend their humble beginnings and create an empire that would lay the foundations for the Holy Roman Empire.

Notes

[1]. George Holmes, ed., The Oxford History of Medieval Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 2002), 93.
[2]. Ibid., 94
[3]. Ibid.
[4]. Rosamond McKitterick, ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History., vol. 2, C. 700-C. 900 (New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 710.
[5]. Ibid., 711.
[6]. Herbert Schutz, The Carolingians in Central Europe, Their History, Arts, and Architecture: a Cultural History of Central Europe, 750-900 (Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2004), 149.
[7]. Ibid., 152