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Sex, Lies and Flagellants

Why no kids for Father Ted?

With children, sometimes it's best to keep them in ignorance about certain things, because their minds are not ready for the leap from fantasy to reality and, of course, Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and various "bogey men" have their part to play in our parenting box of tricks. But what about us adults? How do we respond if we are suddenly told that there are a lot of things which are not what they seem to be? I am speaking here of the way we "do Church".

How would you react to new ideas? Are you prepared to rethink and re-evaluate? I say this because what comes next may shock or surprise, as it deals with how Greek thinking has wormed its way into the very fabric of our Christian life. So consider yourself pre-warned, it may be an uncomfortable journey, in the same way that a tissue biopsy is uncomfortable, but vitally important in uncovering nasty things that need to be dealt with.

If you were to ask me to single out the most startling fact uncovered during the research for these articles it would be the following.

Virtually every Christian reference book, when speaking of influences during the formative years of the Church, agrees and accepts that Greek philosophical ideas were key to the understanding of the fundamental doctrines.

No criticism or regret, just blithe acceptance, as if the pagan polluting of the faith in Jesus Christ is just one of those things, as if the Bible alone was not sufficient for our understanding of God and His dealings with mankind!

Nevertheless, the great majority of the Christian philosophers down to St. Augustine were Platonists. They appreciated the uplifting influence of Plato's psychology and metaphysics, and recognised in that influence a powerful ally of Christianity in the warfare against materialism and naturalism. (Catholic Encyclopaedia - Life of Plato)

My goodness, when I think of the trouble the Jews got into for absorbing too much of the World into their lives during Old Testament times! Boy, did they suffer then - military failure, famine and exile, for marrying out and bowing to the odd stone idol. Their sacrifice was ultimately not in vain as they provided the environment and culture that ensured that the Messiah would be born into the world (though many Jews may argue this point).

The Jews endured a history of disappointment and suffering, but they kept their Scriptures pure and remained true to their God, enabling the Saviour to be born, live and die as fulfilment of prophecy. Then came the Church, the followers of that very same Jewish Saviour and, because it failed to remain pure and sullied itself with pagan philosophies, ensured that the Jews were going to continue to suffer for hundreds of years. This is surely one of the great ironies of history.

But the Church had moved on from that pure, simple and effective vehicle for spreading the true Gospel of Jesus Christ at the time of the Book of Acts. Those simple core beliefs were to become submerged in a sea of philosophy and debate. It appears that Christians were more prepared to debate the true nature of the Holy Spirit than to see him in action, drawing people to a faith in Jesus Christ. To see how this happened we return again to Plato's "Big Consequence".

Plato's Big Consequence: Soul = Good, Body = Bad

We have seen how this affected their reading of the Bible and their theology of the Godhead, but what about how they saw themselves in God's eyes?

For a start, the immediate effect of declaring the body as bad and soul as good is an obvious one. If the body is bad then so are things associated with the body, particularly voluntary processes like sex. To the early Church, those who followed "spiritual" careers, in the Church, were expected to be celibate, a practice that continues to the modern day Catholic Church and which has indirectly cost the Vatican millions of dollars in compensation claims (figure that one out for yourself). Monks were all required to be celibate and some of them were even resistant to the idea of taking a bath, in case they saw themselves naked! A Catholic view is still that celibacy is a "higher calling", in the sense of remaining pure until heaven beckons, when you will be united with Christ directly. Of course I am not proposing a 1960s-style sexual revolution for Christians. The early Church may have had muddled ideas regarding sex for the clergy, but one thing is absolutely clear - sex is an activity that can only be indulged in within the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Or, in other words, sex outside marriage for Christians is a complete no-no!

Then there were the flagellants and their like, who believed that only by scourging or whipping themselves could they achieve favour with God. They tended to appear during the plague seasons, such as during the Black Death in Europe, when they marched through the lands, whipping and beating themselves, in a misplaced idea of atoning for the sins of the World and appeasing an "angry" God.

Next week we are going to see more consequences of the ideas of Plato in the Church.

Steve Maltz
April 2012

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again ) 

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