Why is birth control the Catholic Church’s last stand?

To many observers, the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to birth control seems nonsensical — they might as well oppose ice cream. It seems like a win-win: the liberals are happy that women get reproductive freedom, but meanwhile if you’re anti-abortion, it seems like avoiding unwanted pregnancies in the first place is the best possible solution. What’s not to like? Or more to the point: why are they making this, of all the many Catholic moral teachings, the cross they’re willing to die on, even as the laity has long since stopped caring?

I don’t think we can explain this simply through misogyny or fear of feminine sexuality, etc., because there are plenty of misogynists in the world who don’t make a point of picking a fight with the president of the United States over birth control. This birth control issue seems to be almost exclusively a Catholic “thing,” so it has to have a Catholic-specific explanation. I propose that the answer can be found in a historic compromise set forth by one of the most influential thinkers you’ve never heard of: namely, Clement of Alexandria, a second-century Christian philosopher.

In the history of the Catholic Church, Clement’s compromise was arguably almost as defining a moment as Paul’s declaration that Gentile Christians were not obligated to meet Jewish ritual requirements. Read the rest of this entry »

A Further Problem for the Hellenization Thesis: Plato’s Familiarity with Moses?

The more I study the origins of Christian theology in its Jewish roots, the less I become convinced that either side of the argument is entirely correct. One the one hand, it is hard to deny the development of Christian theology in Greek philosophical categories, but on the other hand an idea of “pure” Hebraic thought—which is exclusive of all of the supposedly “Greek” categories—is hard to defend as well. Recently, I have been reading Clement of Alexandria, who makes the seemingly absurd claim that the Greeks “stole” many ideas from the Hebrews. I have rarely seen scholars take this claim seriously, but I know of at least one—Margaret Barker—who gives reasons to suspect that the early Christian apologists were not necessarily fudging. Read the rest of this entry »

Patristic PDFs: A love story

Those of us who do work on the patristic writers have the dubious privilege of easy access to the Ante-Nicene Fathers/Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers translations online from multiple sources. I decided to take advantage of this by creating my own online anthology for my “Classical Christian Thought” course, a task that proved to be much more labor-intensive than I thought but that I hope will have the benefits of providing students with full texts (rather than the incredibly small excerpts one usually finds) and with common page numbers to aid discussion. I also tinkered somewhat with the formatting and antiquated language, but didn’t get as far with that as anticipated. In most cases, I included a link to my source for the text; sometimes I copied and pasted the footnotes, and sometimes I left the footnotes as hyperlinks that you can follow to the original website if desired.

In any case, in the interest of helping my colleagues in every possible way, I have posted the PDFs below. Of particular interest might be my selections from Against Heresies, which cuts the length to about a third and makes the text usable for class — and since I have somehow managed to read the text all the way through twice, compile detailed notes, and write a dissertation chapter on it, hopefully you will find me to be a trustworthy excerpter.

Read the rest of this entry »

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