John Paul II
- Pope John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, died today. May he rest in peace.
George Weigel, author of "Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II"
said in a 1999 presentation shown on CSPAN today that Pope Paul decided
early on that Culture drives history, and at the center of culture is cult.
I think that as historians, we have a tendency to think of cult as
obstacle, as something that must be stripped away in order to discover the
"real" history. But perhaps we should also regard cult as the bearer and
preserver of history. Christian worship normally consists of two main
parts: The Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Table. Both are
about history. The observation that cult may bend history to serve its own
purposes should not obscure that there is history to be bent at the core of
"Orthodox" Christianity fought a battle, vividly described by Elaine Pagels
and others, with the Gnostic Christians in the early centuries, even before
Christianity became normative. At the heart of that battle was that its
sacred texts must be an open book, not a secret book, and that Christian
doctrine must be open, not held in secret. This is in keeping with Jewish
tradition, in that the Tanakh is at great pains to show that Yahweh is not
an aloof God, floating disdainfully above a messy cosmos, but a God of and
in History. The Psalms, for example, recapitulate Jewish history over and
over. The Passover was and is a commemoration of the Jewish version of
history. Hanukkah is a commemoration of another piece of Jewish history.
Purim is a commemoration of another piece of Jewish history. It is no
accident that Moslems regard both Jews and Christians as People of the Book.
Now, I grant the findings of Vansina and Kelber about the historical
process, and that ancient sensibilities about history are different than
ours. However, I think that cultures vary in their attitudes towards
"history". This is not a special pleading, but a recognition of
variability. Furthermore, Crossan's study of orality in The Birth of
Christianity showed, if I remember correctly, that attitudes change if
there is any literacy at all in a society. The presence of written texts
for reference makes a difference.
So, let me go back to the initial point: How did the Christian cult begin?
That is, what were the ritual beginnings? From the way Paul writes, it must
have formed around table fellowship. From a later Christian perspective, we
tend to think of the Last Supper as formative, but I wonder if, given the
number of times the Gospels (and Paul) write about people eating together,
was the "Lord's supper" (1 Cor. 11:20-21) was formative?
20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper.
21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own
supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.
What were the first *weekly* parts of the Christian cult? Was it the Lord's
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Acts 2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they
broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day
the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and
soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but
everything they owned was held in common.
33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection
of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
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