Category Archives: Christianity

The Limbo of the Theologians

By the Middle Ages the theologians of the Catholic Church had constructed an elegantly coherent model of the universe: it explained the nature and existence of our world, the church and the individual believer’s place in it. It was a beautifully crafted cathedral of logic, each element neatly dovetailed with the next. The foundations were […]

Das Eschaton or Saving the Worst Till Last

We must all go, I suppose, into that good night, some gentle, some kicking and screaming, as the poet suggested, and some, it now appears, scribbling. Death throes were once thought painful and appalling. No longer, apparently; they are expected to be, at least by their authors and publishers, interesting. That is the impression left […]

Apostles and Apostolicity in Early Christianity

One of the remarkable things about the earliest history of what would become Christianity is the brief and largely unremarkable careers of the group known as the Apostles and their glorious, if mostly anonymous, afterlife in Christian tradition. The Church’s “Twelve Apostles” were in fact both “The Twelve” and “apostles,” so called after their two […]

Christianity as a “Made Thing”

In the simplest, if also the least useful, of definitions, Christianity is what people who call themselves Christians believe and how they act in accord with those beliefs. Today the beliefs held by Christians are so many and so diverse, and so too the acts performed in their name, that a descriptive approach to Christianity […]

Why Are There Gospels and How Were They Made?

The lives of the dead survive only as the memories of others. Those memories, along with the subject’s own reflections, are now preserved in a variety of mechanical forms: in writing, orally on recordings, and visually on film, but the memory of those who lived long ago is available only in the form of the […]

“That you might believe…”: Arguing With the Gospels

The Gospels are usually first and most often encountered in church. In that setting, where they are read out piecemeal, they sound like pastiches, anecdotal collections of Jesus’ miracle stories or parables. The listener is instructed, uplifted. Little wonder: they are being recited in effect to the choir. For someone who reads them through, however, […]

I Think I’ll Pass on the Bulgarian Monastery 2012

I am sitting, this late November day in 2012, beside a pool in the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Yesterday, before I left New York, I received a phone call from my first wife. I almost didn’t pick up when the ID flashed, but since this was her first call in 40 years, I […]

Imitatio Muhammadi: Moral Modeling in Islam

The Imitatio Christi, composed by the German monk Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471), is a classic of Christian spirituality, widely read and translated from Latin into a variety of languages. It is not of course an instructional manual for the imitation of Christ—How does one imitate the Son of God?—nor is it, more plausibly, about […]

Jesus, Paul and the Earliest Christian Church

According to the Gospels’ earliest and most primitive summary, of Jesus’ message, the Good News (euangelion) as it was called, was: “The opportune moment is now and the Kingdom draws near. Reform yourselves and put your trust in the Good News” (Mk. 1:15). How that message was understood is quite clear from our earliest preserved […]

Spain as a Christian-Muslim Frontier

Let me begin rather abruptly with a paradox. One of the remarkable differences between Christians and Muslims in medieval Spain has to do with conversion. While the Muslims made no special efforts in that direction, they did manage to convert large numbers of Christians; the Christians, on the other hand who did try to proselytize […]