Home arrow Recent Talks arrow Two Additional Testaments

Two Additional Testaments PDF Print E-mail

6 March 2012    Two Additional Testaments - Sam Alexander

Sam introduces the idea of two new testaments and dicusses the texts that should be included in these testaments. 


Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Sam Alexander proposes
Two Additional Testaments.

1. Preamble

For two millennia we have had the Old and the New Testaments. The old represented the Judaic tradition, whilst the new chronicles the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus. What Sam Alexander espouses is a Hellenistic Testament, paralleling the Old Testament, that recounts the strong philosophical traditions leading up to the time of Jesus, and a Modern Testament, which includes texts from the past two thousand years that are rich in both ethical and historical content, that in reading, would help make the reader better positioned to live a more enlightened life. 

Members of the audience will have the opportunity after the talk to each suggest a single text from both eras, but will of course be expected to justify their inclusion. 

Sam Alexander is a technologist starting as a PMG technician in the 60's, a large systems computer engineer in the 70's, a money market systems consultant in the 80's, an equipment manufacturer in the 90's, a retailer in the 00's, and self-opinionated in the teens. He also holds degrees in divinity and theology, and is a joint convenor of Philo Agora.

2. Introduction

I have a personal connection to this talk. I am an Australian born, Greek speaking Cypriot. My parents emigrated here in 1950. My father was born in Bafos in 1919. Bafos is famous as the birth place of Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and desire. She is said to have arisen from the sea, in foam on a scallop shell, as portrayed by Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, the Latin version of the myth.

Bafos is also known as the landing port of St Paul the Apostle a decade after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A strong local myth is that he was stoned by the villagers to dare preach a new God that supplanted the traditions of the Greek Gods. 

It is in this corner of the world where Paul, formerly Saul, a Jewish rabbi, brought up in the Old Testament tradition, meets the Cypriots, raised in the culture of the Greek gods, there to preach the new gospel, later to become the New Testament. And it is through us, 2,000 years later where we come together to discuss a Modern Testament.

I am therefore looking for a body of literature that parallels the Old Testament, that leads us to the New Testament; and from there brings us forward to today, that in reading, would help make the reader better positioned to live a more enlightened life.  

3. The Old Testament

The Old Testament is nominally a history of the Jews. It is composed of three sections – The Law, The Prophets and The Writings.

The Old Testament indicates at first it is a tribal cult, nomadic in nature. It then became a national cult in which agricultural life and ritual celebration are strongly linked. The Prophets then showed us indications that both Yahweh and Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, could not co-exist. Finally, following the Exile, Israel became fully monotheistic. Therefore, by the mid-5th century BCE, there was a great turning point; a community had formed that was committed to the “Law”, laid down by Ezra.

As such, Israel stopped being the descendants of the Israelite tribes or the inhabitants of the old territories, but that part of Judah which acknowledged the “Law” and would therefore be known as “Jews”.

An interesting point about the text of the Old Testament is that it is narrative in form. It expresses very little in the form of ideas. This may be put down to the nature of the alphabet, there are no vowels, and this is thought to have limited the expressions of the authors.

It is to the Greeks we go to in order to find a history of ideas. 

4. The Hellenistic Testament

At this point in the talk I must confess to the overwhelming body of literature that is at my disposal. Also once having found a book to include, I felt it would take the whole talk just to mention one book. So I have cheated, once a book was selected, where I could not summarise it myself into a few paragraphs, I went to “Squashed Philosophers” and “Wikipedia” for the brief synopsis.

A. Homer

In the Western classical tradition, Homer, is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.

When he lived is controversial. Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before Herodotus' own time, which would place him at around 850 BC; while other ancient sources claim that he lived much nearer to the supposed time of the Trojan War, in the early 12th century BC.

For modern scholars "the date of Homer" refers not to an individual, but to the period when the epics were created. The consensus is that the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” date from around the 8th century BC, the Iliad being composed before the Odyssey, perhaps by some decades, the Iliad being the oldest work of Western literature. The question of the historicity of Homer the individual is known as the "Homeric question"; there is no reliable biographical information handed down from classical antiquity. The poems are generally seen as the culmination of many generations of oral story-telling, in a tradition with a well-developed formulaic system of poetic composition.
The formative influence played by the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the teacher of Greece. Homer's works, which are about fifty percent speeches, provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval Greek worlds. Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds.

B. Pythagoras

Pythagoras (c526BC): Gained thousands of followers in Crotona in Italy. He understood geometry, and musical harmony, but had his disciples keep them secret. Held to many obscure sayings: do not eat beans, do not piss in the sunshine etc. He was reputedly killed by enemies when he refused to cross a field of beans.

C. Herodotus

Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Turkey and lived in the 5th century BC (c.?484 BC – c.?425 BC). He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. The Histories — his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced — is a record of his "inquiry", being an investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information. Although some of his stories were not completely accurate, he claimed that he was reporting only what had been told to him. Little is known of his personal history since ancient records are scanty, contradictory and often fanciful.

D. Socrates.

Socrates, the belligerent Athenian street-corner philosopher, refused to write anything down. It was therefore left to his pupil Plato to record his many discussions, of which The Republic is one. It is presented as a dialog between Socrates and, among others, Glaucon, Plato's younger half-brother, and Thrasymachus, one of the most famous of the 'Sophist' teachers of rhetoric and persuasion who enjoyed such popularity in the Athens of 400BC. We cannot know which of the ideas presented here are genuinely from Socrates, and which ones are Plato's idealised revisions, but most of us can see much of what we are now in them.

E. Plato

As a famous philosopher once said, "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato". Alfred Whitehead may not have been exaggerating. Many of the conclusions presented in The Republic may seem, with two-and-a-half thousand years of hindsight, just silly. But its method of reaching those conclusions, by a precise process of honest and careful step-by-step searching after absolute answers, has been, and remains, the one great distinguishing feature of the European way of thinking. It underlies the impossible search for perfection which has given rise to Europe's science, politics, psychology, education and much of its angst.

Plato was born about 429-427 BCE to a wealthy family. He was a student of Socrates and on his teachers execution in 399 BCE he left Athens and went to Megara and then Sicily. On his return he founded his philosophical school, the Academy, in a grove to the north of Athens.

Plato believed that an understanding of the universe was possible; not through the physical senses but through the mind by means of forms and ideas. The mind therefore creates a synthesis from the myriad of impressions that come through the physical senses.

True reality was the sense of "oneness". For instance, a cup is merely the shadow or reflection of "cupness", a table - "tableness”, etc., each the physical representation of the perfect. In his "Republic" Plato compares man with prisoners watching shadows in a cave. The enlightened one is he who steps outside and sees the real objects and then understands the shadows for what they really are.

The central theme behind this philosophy was the concept of the perfect good which formed the basis of all his philosophy. Further, by being faithful to this ideal good, a man could rise beyond the earthly life and prepare himself for the true existence his soul would ultimately enjoy. 

As a consequence Plato released man from mortality and created an opportunity for eternal salvation. If the soul were to understand the forms that made up this "oneness" the soul itself must therefore be immortal. This means that the soul existed before birth and that all human existence is a recollection, which is a reminder of eternal truths.

This providence was to provide the later believers in Christ with the framework for their theology. It expressed the basis of which should a man strive for salvation through Jesus Christ he would be rewarded with eternal life.

F. Aristotle

Aristotle, son of a physician, was born in Stagira and sent as a teenager to seek an education in Athens. There he studied under Plato and, after twenty years at the school of Academe, by way of a spell as tutor to the future Alexander the Great, he returned to Athens to found his own school of philosophy at the Lyceum, whose colonnades, the 'peripatos' gave Aristotle's followers their name of the 'Peripatetics'.

Although deeply influenced by Plato, Aristotle is far from uncritical. He abandons his mentors' concept that absolute truth is 'out there' in the shape of 'The Forms of Reality' in favour of a much more down-to-earth approach to understanding based on observation more than on reasoning. This empirical rather than idealist approach runs through all his huge output of works on logic, politics, biology, physics, medicine, and, here in one of his most famous works, the Ethics.

Although it is a bit later than the Republic of Plato, the Politics of Aristotle is the earliest known treatise in which the politics is dealt with as a specific branch of practical science, and in obtaining data Aristotle examined the constitutions of over a hundred Greek states; to him, as to all Greeks, the city-state was the only state highly enough organized to deserve the name. His work is a foundation of the subject of politics even to the present day; and, if some of his doctrines are interesting primarily as illustrating the difference in the conditions of the ancient and modern world, others are as true of to-day as they were of ancient Greece.

It is here we leave the Hellenistic Testimony, meet the Old Testament at the start of the New Testament.

5. The New Testament

Jesus’ life spanned some 30 plus years. The four gospels do not touch on his early life other than his infant years from his birth to about the age of four or five when his family settle in Nazareth in Galilee. The gospels pick up the narrative with his baptism by John the Baptist and his subsequent ministry.

The last week of Jesus’ life consumes almost one third of the gospel accounts with the passion or death of Jesus the majority of this third. One reason for concentrating on this aspect of Jesus’ life is that it is the only area where all four gospels detail the same occurrence.

The Christian is fortunate in that he has four gospels as part of his canon. Perhaps that is where the luck stops for each gospel is  different.   It has been common over the years to harmonise the different accounts by adding them together and any contradictions resolved by favouring one or more accounts over others.

Analysis of the Synoptic gospels shows that the majority or 90% of Mark is contained in Matthew and 50% of Mark is contained in Luke. This indicates that Mark is the first gospel. Secondly, there is common material of about 200 verses in both Matthew and Luke that suggests an additional common source now commonly referred to as the Q (for German Quelle) source . It is not known whether this was a written or verbal source but much of it is contained in the fifth gospel of Thomas.

From the many Synoptic gospels can be lifted pericopes - short  stories with their own beginning and end, which can be understood  in their own right without any reference to the overall context.  Further, it can then be seen that these pericopes are grouped by a loose commentary  such as “and after that”, “now when he”, “and  he came to” etc.. This indicates that the nature of the gospels is not classical or historical but folksy, oral tales and that within each is the essence of the gospel.

The gospels are therefore  dependant on the oral traditions of the day which further suggests that the writers of the gospels were not writers or historians but more likely editors of material. We do not even know whether the writers were Jewish or Gentile. This material then had its own particular form because of the function of the material.

This of course does not rule out that the gospel writers were not alive during the time of the crucifixion but it is unlikely that they were eye witnesses to the account. However, if they were about at the time, with at best Matthew being the tax collector disciple of Jesus, Mark being the son of Peter’ and Luke the physician to Paul, not one would have any firsthand knowledge of the conversations that took place before the Sanhedrin, Pilate or Herod, for as stated in the gospels, the disciples where the first to flee at the time of Jesus’ arrest.

Despite the fact that the New Testament is the authority for the Christians there are only two other historical references to Jesus and they are found in the writings of Saint Paul or Saul of Tarsus.

The first from his first letter to the Corinthians, (11:23-26) tells of the night of his death. The second piece from the same letter (15:3-8) tells of his subsequent death and resurrection.

It is not that unusual that so little was written about Jesus as Paul wrote some twenty years after the death of Jesus and some twenty years before the Gospels at a time when the knowledge of Jesus was fresh in everyone’s memory. Paul appears more concerned in preaching the message of Christianity rather than relating the story of Christ.

6. The Modern Testament

A. Josephus

Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70.

His most important works were The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70). Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into 1st century Judaism and the background of Early Christianity.

B. Pliny the Younger

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, (born ca. 112 AD), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him. They were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius on 24 August 79 AD.

Pliny is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, which are an invaluable historical source for the time period. Many are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian, Tacitus. Pliny himself was a notable figure, serving as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned AD 98–117). Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man, consistent in his pursuit of suspected Christian members according to Roman law, and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices. Pliny also came into contact with many other well-known men of the period, including the philosophers Artemidorus and Euphrates during his time in Syria.

In his correspondence with the emperor Trajan , Pliny reported on his actions against the followers of Christ. He asks the Emperor for instructions dealing with Christians and explained that he forced Christians to curse Christ under painful torturous inquisition:

They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of a meal--but ordinary and innocent food.

Pliny then explains to the Emperor how he questioned suspected Christians by torture and eventually sentenced them to death.

In light of the fact that Christianity was recognized as a sect of Judaism and as a threat to public order, it is therefore likely that, while his knowledge of Christianity itself was largely second-hand, he also had firsthand knowledge of basic beliefs such as Jesus' existence. More important here, however, is the testimony by Pliny that non-Roman suspects be executed for their confession of being Christians:

Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I therefore judged it so much more the necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.

In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

This indicates that Jesus was worshiped, and that believers of Christ may be put to death for their beliefs, in a short period of the early second century by Roman jurisdiction. Pliny executed members of what were considered at the time a fanatical cult. This could lend circumstantial significance to the writings of early Christians. Being required to “curse Christ” is evidence that Pliny reported this as a means to force reactions of the suspect Christians under torturous inquisition. Also "a hymn to Christ as to a god" alleges that during that time Jesus had been accepted as both God and man.

C. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339)

Eusebius was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon. He wrote Demonstrations of the Gospel, Preparations for the Gospel, and On Discrepancies between the Gospels, studies of the Biblical text. As "Father of Church History" he produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, the Chronicle and On the Martyrs.

D. The Church Fathers

The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were early and influential theologians, eminent Christian teachers and great bishops. Their scholarly works were used as a precedent for centuries to come. The term is used of writers and teachers of the Church, not necessarily "saints", though most are honoured as saints in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches, as well as in some other Christian groups.

I will quickly touch on these for the sake of completeness, but these are truly theological inclusions.

 Apostolic Fathers

The earliest Church Fathers, (within two generations of the Twelve apostles of Christ) are usually called the Apostolic Fathers since they were taught directly by the twelve.

Important Apostolic Fathers include Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna. In addition, the Didache and Shepherd of Hermas are usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers although their authors are unknown; like the works of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, they were first written in Koine Greek.

 Greek Fathers

Those who wrote in Greek are called the Greek Church Fathers. Famous Greek Fathers include: Clement of Rome, Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria the Cappadocian Fathers - Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Peter of Sebaste, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus.

These scholars set out to demonstrate that Christians could hold their own in conversations with learned Greek-speaking intellectuals. They argued that Christian faith, while it was against many of the ideas of Plato and Aristotle (and other Greek Philosophers), it was an almost scientific and distinctive movement with the healing of the soul of man and his union with God at its centre. They made major contributions to the definition of the Trinity finalized at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and the final version of the Nicene Creed.

Subsequent to the First Council of Nicea, Arianism did not simply disappear. The semi-Arians taught that the Son is of like substance with the Father (homoiousios), as against the outright Arians who taught that the Son was unlike the Father (heterousian). So the Son was held to be like the Father but not of the same essence as the Father. The Cappadocians worked to bring these semi-Arians back to the Orthodox cause. In their writings they made extensive use of the formula "three substances (hypostases) in one essence (homoousia)", and thus explicitly acknowledged a distinction between the Father and the Son (a distinction that Nicea had been accused of blurring) but at the same time insisting on their essential unity.

 Latin Fathers

Those fathers who wrote in Latin are called the Latin Church Fathers.

Tertullian (c.160–c.225), who was converted to Christianity before 197, was a prolific writer of apologetic, theological, controversial and ascetic works. Others include Cyprian of Carthage. was bishop of Carthage and an important early Christian writer. Hilary of Poitiers
was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church. Ambrose of Milan
was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He is counted as one of the four original doctors of the Church. Jerome is best known as the translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. He also was a Christian apologist. Jerome's edition of the Bible, the Vulgate, is still an important text of Catholicism. He is recognised by the Roman Catholic Church as a Doctor of the Church.

Augustine of Hippo, Augustine (13 November 354 – 28 August 430), Bishop of Hippo, was a philosopher and theologian. Augustine, a Latin Father and Doctor of the Church, is one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. Augustine was radically influenced by Platonism. He framed the concepts of original sin and just war as they are understood in the West. When Rome fell and the faith of many Christians was shaken, Augustine developed the concept of the Church as a spiritual City of God, distinct from the material City of Man. Augustine's work defined the start of the medieval worldview, an outlook that would later be firmly established by Pope Gregory the Great.

Saint Augustine was an intense Platonist and provided the synthesis between Christianity and the belief in a single God or creator expressed in Plato's most influential work - "Timaeus". In this work Plato describes a hymn of creation in which a divine craftsman or creator who is the "goodness" desires everything to be like himself and brings order out of chaos and creates a soul for the world. The cosmos is therefore a living being with both life and intelligence. This god creates all heavenly bodies with the earthly forms being the imprints they leave upon the earth.

His works - including The Confessions, which is often called the first Western autobiography - are still read around the world. After his word work to proclaim the word of God, he is now regarded as a father saint to many institutions, and some have been named after him.

E. Bede (672 - 735)

Also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede, was a monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth, today part of Sunderland, England, and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul's, in modern Jarrow (see Wearmouth-Jarrow), both in the Kingdom of Northumbria. Bede's monastery had access to a superb library which included works by Eusebius and Orosius among many others.

He is well known as an author and scholar, and his most famous work, “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” gained him the title "The Father of English History". In 1899, Bede was made a Doctor of the Church by Leo XIII, a position of theological significance; he is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation (Anselm of Canterbury, also a Doctor of the Church, was originally from Italy). Bede was moreover a skilled linguist and translator, and his work with the Latin and Greek writings of the early Church Fathers contributed significantly to English Christianity, making the writings much more accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons.

F. Thomas Aquinas, (1225 – 1274),

Aquinas was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis. He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy was conceived as a reaction against, or as an agreement with, his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory.

Thomas is held in the Catholic Church to be the model teacher for those studying for the priesthood. The works for which he is best-known are the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles. As one of the 33 Doctors of the Church, he is considered the Church's greatest theologian and philosopher. Pope Benedict XV declared: "This (Dominican) Order ... acquired new luster when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honored with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools."

G. Dante (1265–1321)

An Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia (Divine Comedy), considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

In Italy he is known as il Sommo Poeta ("the Supreme Poet") or just il Poeta. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are also known as "the three fountains" or "the three crowns". Dante is also called the "Father of the Italian language".

At this point I would like to mention Johannes Gutenberg (1398 –1468). A German blacksmith, goldsmith, printer, and publisher who introduced printing to Europe. His invention of mechanical movable type printing started the Printing Revolution and is widely regarded as the most important event of the modern period. It played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.

H. Erasmus (1466 – 1536)

Known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Erasmus was a classical scholar who wrote in a pure Latin style. He was an early proponent of religious toleration, and enjoyed the sobriquet "Prince of the Humanists"; he has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists." Using humanist techniques for working on texts, he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament. These raised questions that would be influential in the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation. He also wrote The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, Julius Exclusus, and many other works.

Erasmus lived through the Reformation period, but while he was critical of the Church, he did not join the cause of the Reformers. In relation to clerical abuses in the Church, Erasmus remained committed to reforming the Church from within. He also held to Catholic doctrines such as that of free will, which some Reformers rejected in favour of the doctrine of predestination. His middle road approach disappointed and even angered scholars in both camps.

Erasmus died in Basel in 1536 and was buried in the formerly Catholic cathedral there, which had been converted to a Reformed church in 1529.

I. Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546)

A German monk, priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor.

Luther taught that salvation is not earned by good deeds but received only as a free gift of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with Luther's teachings are called Lutherans.

His translation of the Bible into the language of the people (instead of Latin) made it more accessible, causing a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the translation into English of the King James Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant priests to marry.

In his later years, while suffering from several illnesses and deteriorating health, Luther became increasingly antisemitic, writing that Jewish homes should be destroyed, their synagogues burned, money confiscated and liberty curtailed. These statements have contributed to his controversial status.

J. William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616)

English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

K. David Hume (1711 –1776)

Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume is often grouped with John Locke, George Berkeley, and a handful of others as a British Empiricist.

Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic "science of man" that examined the psychological basis of human nature. In stark opposition to the rationalists who preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behaviour, saying: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." A prominent figure in the sceptical philosophical tradition and a strong empiricist, he argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. Thus he divides perceptions between strong and lively "impressions" or direct sensations and fainter "ideas," which are copied from impressions. He developed the position that mental behaviour is governed by "custom"; our use of induction, for example, is justified only by our idea of the "constant conjunction" of causes and effects. Without direct impressions of a metaphysical "self," he concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self.

Hume advocated a compatibilist theory of free will that proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles. Hume also examined the normative is–ought problem. He held notoriously ambiguous views of Christianity, but famously challenged the argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).

Kant credited Hume with waking him up from his "dogmatic slumbers" and Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent philosophy, especially on utilitarianism, logical positivism, William James, philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy, and other movements and thinkers. The philosopher Jerry Fodor proclaimed Hume's Treatise "the founding document of cognitive science." Also famous as a prose stylist, Hume pioneered the essay as a literary genre and engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith (who acknowledged Hume's influence on his economics and political philosophy), James Boswell, Joseph Butler, and Thomas Reid.

L. Immanuel Kant (1724 –1804)

German philosopher from Königsberg (today Kaliningrad of Russia), researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment.

The Critiques of Pure & Practical Reason - "Reason is the pupil of itself alone. It is the oldest of the sciences". Published in 1788, the Critique of Practical Reason forms the central focus of Kant's thinking. It stands midway between the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Judgement. Here Kant tries to establish the truth of Christianity, by first establishing the immortality of the soul and the existence of God. It includes an argument concerning the summum bonum of life, the special aim being to demonstrate that man should not simply seek to be happy, but should, by absolute obedience to the moral law, seek to become worthy of that happiness which God can bestow.

M.  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831)

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1837, The Philosophy of Religion
"God is the absolute truth."

Philosophy and religion are essentially identical - they both aim to discover God. Religions offer us diverse representations of the divine essence. But for us who have a religion, God is a familiar being, a substantial truth existing in our subjective consciousness. But, scientifically, God is a general and abstract term. The philosophy of religion develops and grasps the divine nature and teaches us what God is.

N. Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882)

Charles Darwin, 1836, On The Origin of Species

Over twenty years in the writing, this scientific treatise not only revolutionized every branch of the natural sciences with its theory of evolution, but has profoundly influenced every literary, philosophical and religious thinker who followed.

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in 1809, grandson of the polymathic Erasmus Darwin. His extraordinarily precise observations of the natural world, most especially in his travels as naturalist on board the Royal Navy survey ship HMS Beagle in Chile, Tahiti, Galapagos, New Zealand & Southern waters became the basis of this explanation of the theory of descent by natural selection which had already been outlined by Alfred Wallace.

Suddenly, the established Western view that creatures had been created independently by a God, and indeed the whole supernatural explanation of the universe, had competition. At first, denunciation by the likes of Bishop Wilberforce was complete. But religious views gradually adapted, through Philip Grosse's theory that fossils had been planted by God to give the earth a coherent history, to today's position where most theists have found accommodation with the idea of natural selection. Only a remnant population of die-hard creationists remains, and even they, should they care to study what Mr Darwin actually said, will tend to find themselves agreeing with most of it.

This is what Daniel Dennett called 'Darwin's dangerous idea' - that natural selection can be seen as governing, not only the world's flora and fauna, but even its history, its economics and its ideas. Even religious ideas, it seems, are subject to the same laws of advancement as all other things, "multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die."

O. Sigmund Freud (6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939)

An Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis. Freud's family and ancestry were Jewish, and Freud always considered himself a Jew, although he rejected Judaism and had a critical view of religion. Freud's parents were poor, but ensured his education. Freud was an outstanding pupil in high school, and graduated the Matura with honors in 1873. Interested in philosophy as a student, Freud later turned away from it and became a neurological researcher into cerebral palsy, Aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy.

Freud went on to develop theories about the unconscious mind and the mechanism of repression, and established the field of verbal psychotherapy by creating psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient (or "analysand") and a psychoanalyst. Though psychoanalysis has declined as a therapeutic practice, it has helped inspire the development of many other forms of psychotherapy, some diverging from Freud's original ideas and approach. Freud postulated the existence of libido (an energy with which mental process and structures are invested), developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association (in which patients report their thoughts without reservation and make no attempt to concentrate while doing so), discovered the transference (the process by which patients displace on to their analysts feelings based on their experience of earlier figures in their lives) and established its central role in the analytic process, and proposed that dreams help to preserve sleep by representing as fulfilled wishes that would otherwise awake the dreamer. He was also a prolific essayist, drawing on psychoanalysis to contribute to the interpretation and critique of culture.

Freud's theories have been criticized as pseudo-scientific and sexist, and they have been marginalized within psychology departments, although they remain influential within the humanities. Critics have debated whether it is possible to test Freudian theories. Some researchers claim evidence exists for some of Freud's theories. Freud has been called one of the three masters of the "school of suspicion", alongside Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, while his ideas have been compared to those of Plato and Aquinas.

P. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900)

A 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.

Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism, nihilism and postmodernism. His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition. His key ideas include the death of God, perspectivism, the Übermensch, amor fati, the eternal recurrence, and the will to power. Central to his philosophy is the idea of "life-affirmation", which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be.

Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. In 1869, at the age of 24 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the youngest individual to have held this position), but resigned in the summer of 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life. In 1889 he became mentally ill with what was then characterized as atypical general paresis attributed to tertiary syphilis, a diagnosis that has since come into question. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897, then under the care of his sister until his death in 1900.

Nietzsche was born in Roecken, Saxony in 1844 and became professor of Greek at Basel in Switzerland. At first he was deeply influenced by the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer and the music of Richard Wagner, to whom he was both friend and advocate. But both these attractions passed, and ill health led him to leave the academic life to devote himself to producing a whole series of, in his time, unsold and unread books expounding his ideas with a boldness which is as much poetry as philosophy. In The Dawn, The Gay Science, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Towards a Genealogy of Morals, Ecce Homo, and here in Beyond Good and Evil he argues that 'God is dead', that new thinkers are needed, free to create their own values. His ideal Übermensch, or 'Overman', would impose his will on the weak and worthless. He saw that knowledge is never objective but always serves some interest or some unconscious purpose, and that the 'slave morality' of Christianity has helped build a foolish system of values which comfort failure.

Q.  Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896)

An American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) was a depiction of life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom. It energized anti-slavery forces in the American North, while provoking widespread anger in the South. She wrote more than 20 books, including novels, three travel memoirs, and collections of articles and letters. She was influential both for her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible. It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States; one million copies were sold in Great Britain. In 1855, three years after it was published, it was called "the most popular novel of our day." The impact attributed to the book is great, reinforced by a story that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln declared, "So this is the little lady who started this great war." The quote is apocryphal; it did not appear in print until 1896, and it has been argued that "The long-term durability of Lincoln's greeting as an anecdote in literary studies and Stowe scholarship can perhaps be explained in part by the desire among many contemporary intellectuals ... to affirm the role of literature as an agent of social change."

R. Khalil Gibran (January 6, 1883 – April 10, 1931)

Also known as Kahlil Gibran, was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer. Born in the town of Bsharri in modern-day Lebanon (then part of the Ottoman Mount Lebanon mutasarrifate), as a young man he emigrated with his family to the United States where he studied art and began his literary career. He is chiefly known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose. The book sold well despite a cool critical reception, and became extremely popular in the 1960s counterculture. Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu.

S.  Richard David Bach (born 23 June 1936)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, is a fable in novella form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. It was first published in 1970 as "Jonathan Livingston Seagull — a story." By the end of 1972, over a million copies were in print, Reader's Digest had published a condensed version, and the book reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for 38 weeks. In 1972 and 1973 the book topped the Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States.

The book tells the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who is bored with the daily squabbles over food. Seized by a passion for flight, he pushes himself, learning everything he can about flying, until finally his unwillingness to conform results in his expulsion from his flock. An outcast, he continues to learn, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities as he leads an idyllic life.

One day, Jonathan is met by two gulls who take him to a "higher plane of existence" in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge, where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him "pretty well a one-in-a-million bird." Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to "begin by knowing that you have already arrived." Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, the very first of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to teach other flocks.

8. Conclusion

This brings me to the end of my talk.

< Prev   Next >