Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Ecclesiology of the First Century Church: An Exercise in Hopefully Plausible Speculation

Disclaimer: This post is really long.  Like really, really long.  If you're gonna read the whole thing, you might want to get yourself something to drink, or perhaps a healthy snack, first.  Like maybe a grapefruit?  Grapefruit is pretty cool, you know.  

Got it? Then read on!

Ecclesiology, for the unaware, is a word for the structure of a Church or other religious body.  Now, while I'm sure you've all been hoping for an exciting examination of the structure of 1st century Persian Manicheanism in comparison to the Manichean church of the 4th century, I will instead (surprise!) be examining the ecclesiology of a more obscure religion called...(now where did I put that slip of paper?)...ahem..."Christianity."  Perhaps you've heard of it?

Apparently, Christianity is a pretty big deal.  Who knew?

I've been thinking about this topic quite a lot lately, and I have thought of it quite a lot more over the course of my lifetime; this post is essentially me trying to work out and fit together the various thoughts and ideas I've had on this topic in a way that halfway makes sense.  It will be mostly speculation, and, while I will make references to sources where appropriate, this is not a real work of scholarship with citations and such--that, if it comes, will be another project.  What this is is essentially what I've come to think and speculate after reading many of these sources and trying my best to understand and synthesize them.

Now, the Great Question of 1st century Christian ecclesiology, whether you're a Protestant, a Catholic, or a Whatever, is, essentially, "How do we get from Paul to Ignatius?"
St. Paul thinks
That is, the Apostle Paul's writings (which you can find in the New Testament) are pretty much THE source we have as to the day-to-day workings of the various Christian churches circa 50-60 AD, and from them, people have developed all kinds of theories about how things worked; these are supplemented by information we get from the Didache (a 1st century catechitical text) and the other books of the New Testament.  While I'll go over it in more detail later, the long and the short of it is that the Pauline letters show us a church structure with basically two levels of organization: the local one, composed of officials known indifferently as "presbyters" (elders) and "episkopoi" (overseers) and inferior officials known as deacons; and the super-local one, composed of inferior officials known as "prophets" and "teachers," and superior officials known as "Apostles."
St. Ignatius plays with lions
However, if we jump about 50 years forward to the years at the very beginning of the 2nd century, shortly after the death of the last Apostle, we have seemingly a completely changed ecclesiastical structure, universal throughout the entire Church.  One of our earliest and best sources for the structure of the Church at this time is St. Ignatius of Antioch, a Bishop (hey, what's that? you may ask.  Well, that's kinda the point) of Antioch in Asia Minor, who at around the turn of the century was forcibly removed from his flock and taken to Rome to be fed to the lions.  Along the way to his destination, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to various prominent churches in the Roman world, presenting his final lessons on doctrine and practice while preparing to meet his Lord.  In this letter, Ignatius emphasizes one single thing over and over and over and over again, with as much emphasis as it is possible to give anything: the absolute centrality and necessity of communion with "the Bishop," the singular official presiding over almost every Church throughout the world.  The Bishop, Ignatius makes clear, is simply the fulcrum point on which the Church itself hangs; those who are in communion with the Bishop and obey his authority are within the visible bounds of the universal Church, and those who are not are heretics and schismatics.  And lest you think that this was simply Ignatius day-dreaming a little bit on the road, his letters (and the fact that they were preserved by the communities he sent them to) make it very clear that all the Churches he writes to already possessed just such a Bishop, who already made all these claims and was obeyed by the vast majority of the faithful.  Besides this, in every place to which Ignatius writes, there are also the two other groups of officials which we have already encountered, the presbyters and the deacons, whose role (according to Ignatius) is to assist the Bishop in carrying out the work of the Gospel.  Apostles, as we might expect, are looked back on as part of a past age.

So, looking at this development, one question should jump out at us almost immediately: Whence the Bishop?  Where did this Bishop guy come from, anyway, and why is he suddenly the boss?  Over the course of the years, scholars, theologians, and people in tutus have proposed any number of theories as to the origin of what is called the "monarchical episcopate" (or, put more simply, the Bishop being in charge), the most prominent of which are probably the theories of Apostolic Succession and Gradual Elevation.  The first theory is that the Bishops were appointed by the Apostles as their direct successors, to, essentially, fulfill their role in the community; the second is that the role of the Bishop developed gradually over time from within the ranks of the presbyterate, with one presbyter gradually becoming more and more prominent within the body until he came to be seen as an order existing above it.  We'll go over what I think of all this a bit later.

However, this is not the only major question of first-century ecclesiology.  Even if we leave aside the seemingly post-Biblical role of the Bishop, there's still the question of what, exactly, is meant by the terms presbyter, episkopos, apostolos, and diakonos, officials whose roles are all very much debated in scholarly and Christian circles.  This question is obviously one of great importance, as it has important implications for how we view the entire question of ministerial roles in Christianity, the priesthood of all believers, apostolic succession, etc.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Trioculus, Jaxxon, and Waru are Star Wars

Following from the incredible hypothetical success achieved by my "Morn is Star Trek" post, I have found myself frequently and hypothetically pestered by fans, compressed air machines, and other air-moving appliances, all buffeting me with the same question: "What about Star Wars?"

I admit that when I first hypothetically heard this question, I did not take it very seriously, and answered it with the famous, proverbially hypothetical reply: "Well, what about it?"

However, after thinking long and hard on the issue, I have come to the hypothetical conclusion that this answer is somewhat flippant, and that it behooves me to take the feelings of my hypothetical air-moving appliances more seriously than this.

So!  Here, my beloved compressed air machines, is my answer: I am a Star Wars fan because Trioculus, Jaxxon, and Waru are Star Wars.
Star Wars!

Allow me to clarify.  Now Star Wars is, as we all should know, The Space Opera of all Space Operas, the Space Serial of Space Serials, boldly charting the way out of the God-forsaken Seventies with the heart of a Flash Gordon serial, the head of Joseph Campbell, and the hind-quarters of Star Trek.  Many people have many reasons to love Star Wars, from love of sci-fi technology, naval tactics, and politics to love of operatic characterization to love of mythology to love of pop-culture philosophizing to love of Harrison Ford to love of Jar-Jar Binks.  All of these are perfectly legitimate reasons to be Star Wars fans--except for the last one-- and I wouldn't want to challenge any of you who hold to them.  But for myself, the main reason why I continue to enjoy and appreciate Star Wars is because nowhere else in fiction does the evil Emperor of the Galaxy have a secret three-eyed pacifist son who ends up getting impersonated by another three-eyed mutant who turned to evil after being teased as a child about his third eye.
Star Wars!
Also, nowhere else in fiction does a giant, carnivorous green bunny rabbit team up with a desperate group of smugglers and criminals to fight off a vicious swoop gang while constantly remonstrating about his dislike of Space Carrots.  
Star Wars!
And, of course, nowhere else in fiction is a noble, heroic Knight with telekinetic powers rendered helpless by the mere presence of a giant pile of orange goo with healing abilities.
Star Wars!

And yet...all of these things are Star Wars!  That is to say, all of them are "canon," all of them "really happened" in the exact same fictional universe in which Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star, Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, and Jacen Solo was captured and tortured by extragalactic invaders.  All of these things, dark and happy, good and bad, serious and silly, philosophical and nonsensical, coexist in the same universe, the same setting, and sometimes even the same time.  At the same time as Emperor Palpatine is committing genocide against Alderaan, a giant green bunny is travelling around the underworld doing odd jobs and calling himself a "rocket rabbit."  At the same time as the Empire is struggling for its life in massive battles and campaigns throughout the Core, a three-eyed mutant is being proclaimed Emperor of the Galaxy and hunting desperately for the lost Glove of Darth Vader at the command of a dwarf dressed in a sparkly robe.  At the same time as the New Republic is dealing with political strife and resource problems, a gooey, extra-dimensional entity with anti-Force properties is creating an apocalyptic cult on a space station orbiting a crystal star.  

This, ultimately, is the real genius of Star Wars.  Don't get me wrong--the Star Wars films, especially the originals, were and are brilliant, and would be remembered and enjoyed by generations no matter what.  However, if that's all Star Wars was, and all Star Wars remained, we would not still be talking about it today, and I would not still be writing and thinking about it on a regular basis.  However, what makes Star Wars ultimately great is that the films are not all Star Wars is.  Star Wars, according to the official policy of Lucasfilm, is also innumerable books, comic books, and video games, all of which (with a few exceptions) are officially canon, and all of which really happened within the overarching universe of Star Wars.  That's what makes Star Wars great--what makes it not just a series of films, or a series of books, but in a sense a real universe, filled with many things silly and serious, grim and ridiculous, deep and shallow.  

Star Wars thus becomes far, far more than the mere "vision" of one man, and far more, indeed, than any one man's vision could ever hope to encompass.  

Of course, the various sources don't always play well together, often seem to contradict each other...but of course, these contradictions and various representations are always smoothed over and explained in the end.  Indeed, in this, Star Wars becomes even more like the real world--for what historical sources do we have which do not have seeming contradictions, strange points of view, and just plain oddities, which must be made sense of in the same manner? Likewise, this vastness of the universe provides so much room for cross-pollination, expansion, and continuing creative growth; a character, a species, a planet, a ship, can start off in one source by one author as a random mention with no explanation, then get a backstory in another work from another author's pen, and become the key to saving the Galaxy in a third.  Military campaigns and political events originally portrayed in a hundred unconnected sources can be brought together into a comprehensive, tantalizing picture of Galactic history and civilization, with room for debate and speculation to last a lifetime--a picture that is always being updated with information from new sources and stories.  Far from being "stifling," the vast continuity of Star Wars provides so much potential for stories and creativity that it's frankly insane--and the requirement of doing some research to keep from blatantly contradicting another source is no harder than searching Wookieepedia, and certainly far, far easier than writing any kind of historical novel.

Thus, ultimately, the Star Wars universe and setting becomes a place of almost infinite creativity and creative potential, with room for the both most serious hobbyist and the most unserious humorist.  

And that, my dear compressed air machine, is Star Wars.

Star Wars!

But, really, guys, now that all of that tom-foolery is out of the way, allow me to be serious for a moment.  
If you haven't understood the point of my post up until now, let me make it crystal clear for you: Waru is Star Wars.  You like Star Wars.  Therefore, you must worship Waru!  

C-3PO Loves Waru

Waru, you see, is an extra-dimensional entity with anti-Force properties and the ability to heal people by encasing them in his orange goo.  He created the Cult of Waru because he loves us and wants to devour our life-essences.  Though the evil Jedi and the evil Republic drove him from our dimension and dispersed his cult, nevertheless the loyal followers of Waru know that he shall one day return and fill the entire universe with his gooey orange majesty, punishing all those who opposed him and rewarding his loyal followers!  Join the Cult of Waru today!

Also, Trioculus is the rightful ruler of the Empire, and I highly recommend that you enlist in his forces immediately, lest he find you and punish you with his Lightning Power of the Dark Side.  The Eye of Trioculus is upon you, peon!  Dark Greetings!

Oh, and don't do Space Carrots, kids.  Seriously.