Seminary Program

This is where we post the essays from many of our Universal Life Church Seminary students. When students finish a ULC course, they write a comprehensive essay about their experiences with the course, what they learned, didn't learn, were inspired by, etc. Here are their essays.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Christian History

 ULC Seminary: Master of Christian History Paper
                        Lesson 13
1.    What set the post-Nicene fathers apart from the ante-Nicene fathers?

The “Ante-Nicene fathers”, are the Church Fathers who worked before the Council of Nicaea regardless of whether they were apostolic fathers, apologists, or polemicists. They studied the Scriptures in a more or less scientific way to gain theological meaning.

While the Post-Nicene Fathers which include the Eastern Post-Nicene Fathers and Western Post-Nicene Fathers are the Fathers of the church who were part of the schools of Biblical interpretation.

2.    Why is Eusebius of Caesarea’s Ecclesiastical History so important to us today?

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. A.D. 260-340): an Eastern Post-Nicene Fathers wrote a historical work known as ‘the Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History work’, which is a survey of church history from apostolic times until A.D. 324, is important because it offer a record of past trials of the church at the end of its long period of struggle and the beginning of its era of prosperity. Also the work is still very valuable today because of his access to the library at Caesarea and the imperial archives. Eusebius made a tremendous effort to be honest and objective in his use of the best and most reliable primary sources available to him. The work foreshadowed how the present-day historian goes about evaluating his sources of knowledge. His work is the best source of knowledge we have about the history of the ancient church in the first three centuries of existence, but scholars do wish that he had left some kind of notations pointing to where he got his knowledge from like the present-day historian does. His work also has at times a monotonous recitation of facts and extracts with no orderly view of cause and effect. Regardless, this work is very valuable to the church throughout the ages.

3.     In what way was Augustine the greatest of the Church Fathers and how did his work influence later Roman Catholicism and Protestantism?

Based upon the great weight of Augustine’s work and influence on the church of his time, he arguably was the greatest of the Church fathers (he left behind over 100 books, 500 sermons, and 200 letters) who can be called “post-Nicene fathers”. He was an able polemicist, a good preacher, a fine episcopal overseer, a great theologian, and the creator of a Christian historiography that is still valid in its fundamentals. Living in a time when the old classical civilization was on its way to doom at the hands of the barbarians, Augustine stood between two worlds, the classical and the new medieval. Both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism give honor to his contribution to the cause of Christianity.

The influences are also from his contributions like; his most widely known work which was his Confessions, one of the great autobiographies of all time. It was finished by A.D. 401. Like all of his main works, it came out of trials he or the church faced. In it he laid bare his soul for all to behold.

Augustine’s intellectual biography was a work he wrote just before his death entitled Retractationes or Revisions. In it he chronologically documented how his thinking had changed over time. He regretted being earlier associated with pagan philosophy because it would never bring humanity to the truth as it is in Christianity.

He also wrote philosophical dialogues, the most interesting being Contra Academicos. In it he showed that humanity could probably achieve truth through philosophy, but certainty can only be found in Biblical revelation.

His greatest exegetical work was De Doctrina Christiana, a small manual outlining his views on interpretation. It is there that he developed the concept of the analogy of faith. No teaching on particular passages should be developed unless it conformed to the general tenor of the Scriptures. Failure to recognize this leads into heresy.

Augustine’s greatest theological work was on the Trinity, De Trinitate. His Enchiridian ad Laurentium is a small manual of his theological views. He also wrote many polemical works condemning the false teachings of the Manicheans, the Donatists, and especially the Pelagians. His De Haeresibus is a history of heresies.

His greatest apologetical work, and to most the greatest work of all, was his treatise De Civitate Dei, The City of God (A.D. 413-426). Astounded by the sacking of Rome by Alaric in A.D. 410, the Romans assumed that this disaster occurred because they had forsaken their pagan gods and goddesses in favor of Christianity. Augustine answered this charge at the request of his friend Marcellinus. He showed that Rome had suffered tragedy long before Christianity came. Worshiping the Roman deities was not needed for eternal blessing. Christianity was the only thing that could give blessings.

It was also in The City of God that Augustine revealed his historiography, the first real historiography to be developed. This is significant for Christian historiography. Neither the Greek nor Roman historians had been able to gain any universal grasp of humanity’s history. Augustine elevated the spiritual over the temporal in maintaining God’s sovereignty. God created history in time. God is Lord over history and is not bound up in history as the philosopher Hegel later taught. History is linear, not cyclical. All that comes about is a result of His will and action. Even before creation, God had a plan for creation. This plan will be partly realized in time in the struggle between the two cities on earth and finally realized beyond history by the supernatural power of God. Augustine saw history as universal and unitary in that all people were included in it. Herodotus, writing of the Persian War, limited his work to the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians. Augustine championed the solidarity of the human race. Progress was moral and spiritual resulting from the fight with evil. The consummation would be in the final victory of the City of God. In this Augustine avoided the later error of Marx and others who try to make a relative temporal scene of history absolute and eternal by finding solutions to humanity’s problems in temporal history. Augustine taught that the goal of history is beyond history in the hands of an eternal God. This historiography sustained the church through the dark half-millennium before A.D. 1000.

Augustine is viewed by Protestants as one who had proto-Reformation ideas by saying that humanity is saved from original and actual sin only by the grace of a sovereign God who irresistibly saves those whom He has elected. But in this he so emphasized the church as a visible institution with the true creed, sacraments, and ministry that the Roman church considers him the father of Roman ecclesiasticism though he did so to refute the Pelagians and the Donatists at the same time. His analogy of faith in interpreting Scripture is of lasting value in the church.

Regardless of these abiding values, Augustine introduced some errors into the stream of Christian thought. He participated in the development of the doctrine of purgatory with all its associated evils. He so emphasized the value of baptism and Eucharist that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and sacramental grace were the logical results of his views. His views of the Millennium as the era between the Incarnation and Christ’s Second Advent in which the church would conquer the world led to the Roman emphasis on the Church of Rome as the universal church destined to bring all within its fold and to the idea of post-millennialism. The Protestant Reformers found Augustine to be a great ally in their belief that humanity bound by sin needs salvation by God’s grace through faith alone. Between the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther the church had no one of greater moral and spiritual stature than Augustine.

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