Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ancient social identity shedding light for today's urban Christians

There have been a lot of talks among urban Christians in cosmopolitans about their dual-citizenship as Christian and a nation's citizen. Perhaps this ancient example could shed some light on today's questions:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity.

The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life.

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.

They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

(The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, chapter 5, dated 2nd-3rd centuryA.D., Roberts-Donaldson translation. Italic and paragraphing added).

7 comments:

reasonable said...

Church History Lesson 101:

When Christians were powerless and were being persecuted, they did very well as witnesses for the God of Jesus.

But when Christians became powerful, they began to join the Dark Side!!!

And then, as history tells us, Christian leaders began to burn heretics alive and drown heretics ("baptism" by fire & water). For example, many lay Christians may not know that the great bible teacher John Calvin did that.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

On Calvin, from what i know, he didn't have a direct hand to put Servetus or anyone else on the stake to be burned.

No doubt he did wrote of his dislike and anger over Servetus. No doubt also that he did wrote to William Farel of his desire to have Servetus killed. No doubt too that he did agreed for capital punishment on heresy. Yet to say that these circumstantial evidents as having a direct hand in the process of sentencing someone to be executed is not conclusive.

And the arrest of Servetus was being politically manipulated by the Berthelier family to challenge Calvin. And it was the consultation of the Swiss local churches that decided Servetus' fate.

After knowing the result of the consultation of the local churches, Calvin asked for a merciful death for Servetus, to have him beheaded instead, but the politicians denied his request.

This is the little that I know. Perhaps you have other references that say otherwise. If so, please share. Thank you!

J said...

To clarify,

1. It is true that, after Christians gain power, Christian leaders began to persecute heretics including killing heretics (burning them or drowning them were just examples of killing that really took place). Take burning and drowning as metonymy of killing.

2. Calvin did not literally drown heretics and did not personally wanted to burn heretics.
But Calvin wanted the death of a heretic. In that sense "the gtreat bible teacher John Calvin did that".

3. For the "heretic" Servetus' case, Calvin said that "if Servetus comes to Geneva, I shall never let him leave alive if my authority has weight"

4. Calvin also wrote that that he hope for Servetus to be given a death penalty.

5. The Sunday after Servetus was burned alive (to death), one account said that Calvin declared in the pulpit that Servetus' incident was a great deed and a just one.

6. Calvin, after the death of Servetus by burning, apparently boasted that "posterity owes me a debt of gratitude for having purged the Church of so pernicious a monster". Calvin seemed proud to take personal credit for the death of Servetus.

7. Calvin said that whoever maintains that it is wrong to punish heretics would be an accomplice in the crime of the heretics.

Regardless of the extent of Calvin being an accomplice in the murder of Servetus, let us not be distracted from the fact that the church became the persecutor when it became powerful.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi J,

Thank you for your comment.

I think none of us here deny the fact that the church misused its political power. We all affirm that the church like any governments since ancient times until modern day misused and still misusing power.

Under such misuses, people are being persecuted.

Your clarification actually doesn't clarify anything as I've already come across all the quotes you quoted.

As in my reply to reasonable, I affirm all the threat and ill-wish of John Calvin towards Servetus. But to say that he was directly involved in the process to get Servetus burned is non-conclusive.

It would be better if you can produce historical documents that show Calvin's direct involvement.

If you realize, the Roman Catholic Church and all the Swiss local churches at that time also hated Servetus and wanted him dead.

According to your criteria that if someone (Calvin) hated and wanted someone (Servetus) dead, then when the person died, then that person (Calvin) is the prosecutor.

In that case, then the Roman Catholic Church and all Swiss local churches were the prosecutor. Why only highlighting Calvin?

Hence I was not distracted from the fact over the church's dark history, I wanted clarification when such charges simply being brought against someone (even if that's not Calvin).

reasonable said...

I posted wrongly as J, so what was said in J's post was actually said by me.

Thru J, I clarified in what sense John Calvin was responsible for killing a herectic even though he did not directly do it or personally do it. Once my "burning and drowning" was mentioned to be seen as a metanymn (and the post in J did not accuse Calvin of "directly" doing the killing or ordering the killing), then the original sentence in the first comment is to be seen from then on as not about Calvin being accused of "directly" killing a heretic, but rather Calvin was being accused (and the accusation is correct) of being an active accomplice and active initiator in the murder/killing (though he was not the only one responsible for the murder/killing, but he was certainly one of those responsible) a herectic. Many others were at fault too, both for the death of Servetus. I used Calvin just as one example since many Protestants now knew Calvin as a great bible teacher but many did not expect and did not realise that Calvin, in the name of religion, was an active accomplice and the one and only active initiator in the killing/murder of Servetus the "heretic".

Calvin was one of those responsible for killing Servetus because he took very concrete actions to push for the death of Servetus both by (1) being the one and only key initiator of the killing, and (2) also by his concrete and active actions to push for Servetus' death starting from his written intention to use all the influence and authority he have in Geneva to get Servetus killed if Servetus ever came to Geneva, and then when he recognised Servetus (when Servetus was escaping from persecution elsewhere and when Servetus stopped by to listened to a speech by Calvin), he made the "arrest" of Servetus (if not for Calvin's arrest of Servetus, Servetus might have been able to continue his journey to his planned destination of safety - and when Calvin made the "arrest" he should know in his mind that his "arrest" of Servetus was almost as good as Servetus being killed because when Calvin made the arrest, Calvin knew he had influencial power, Calvin knew his intention to ensure the death of Servetus in Geneva and Calvin knew the situation was conducive for Calvin to exercise his influence successfully to get Servetus killed - Calvin knew all these and then went ahead to arrest Servetus to prevent Servetus from journeying on - Calvin was the one and only actual key active initiator), and after the arrest, he wrote to request for the death penalty for Servetus, and then, after Servetus was burned alive, went on to boast that posterity should thank him for getting rid of Servetus. The Swiss churches were not as well-known today, and Roman Catholics are not highly admired/adored by Protestants, whereas John Calvin is widely admired by Protestants, and hence Calvin was a good example to be mentioned, while the rest were not mentioned.

Calvin was a good example that an expert in the bible and a pious believer, when powerful, could commit the crime of killing/murdering someone for believing in and promoting a different version of Christianity. Powerless pious Christians (e.g. in the early church, in communist China in the 1960s & 70s) tend to result in great witnessing for Christ, whereas political power in the hands of the Church, even in the hands of a pious teacher of the bible, often leads to bad witnessing for Christ.

The point of the comment was not about who were all the people responsible for the killing of Servetus but just to show that even a great bible expect like John Calvin could done such a thing when he had power.

reasonable said...

"According to your criteria that if someone (Calvin) hated and wanted someone (Servetus) dead, then when the person died, then that person (Calvin) is the prosecutor."

No, the above statement does not represent my position.

My criteria was not just about the existence of a desire for the death of an enemy because such a desire may or may not be actual causal factor in the death of the enemy. I may hate my neighbour very much and really wanted my neigbbour to be dead and I may even have a concrete plan to kill my neighbour next week. But if my neighbour suddenly died in a car accident tonight which I was not involved in anyway, then I am not responsible for the death of my hated neighbour.

My criteria included also a person taking concrete actions that a person knew would lead ultimately to the death of his enemy/target. (just like John Calvin took concrete actions which he knew would lead, or very likely lead, to the death of Servetus)

So it is
(1) a person's desire plus
(2) that person taking actions knowing that those actions would fulfill or very likely fulfill her/his desire.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

To be fair to Calvin, we have to know also why Calvin did what he did, and why he was able to did it.

To Calvin, someone who is spreading heresy is equivalent to modern terrorist. Servetus went around places and proclaimed that heresy against Trinity belief. To Calvin, such proclamation is damaging people's eternal well-being. Heresy was to Calvin, destroying lives.

Calvin was able to participate in Servetus' arrest and trial was because the civil system at that time allows it. Servetus was a criminal who was being sought after by almost every authorities at that time. Servetus escaped from his previous country and stopped by Geneva. It was there he was arrested. Similar with Mas Selamat's arrest.

Did Calvin commit a crime for killing/murdering like you have suggested in Servetus' case? Was Singaporean government committing crime when arresting Mas Selamat?

This is problematic comparison and transposing John Calvin to our modern judicial context is too easy a way that distort the historical intricacies at that time.