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Category Archives: Religion

Saint Patrick in his own words

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Today is Saint Patrick’s day. And yet for a long time, all I had associated with this saint was his holiday, drunken green-clad revellers, the Irish, leprechauns, and a story about snakes. He was more of a cartoon figure than a man, a cheesy one-dimensional character not really much more credible than Santa Claus.

But then some months ago I stumbled across his Confession, a fifth century work in Latin. (Here’s a free English translation, and here’s a Latin version.) I didn’t know any of his writings had actually survived. The Patrick of the Confession was a refreshing change from the Patrick of legend. It was a window into a world I had barely glimpsed before – the life of an early British missionary in Ireland.

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Is Amphiaraus a god?

It’s not every day that you hear of a legal dispute about whether a certain divinity is or isn’t a god. This may be because our states – at least, Australia, the UK and the US – have no formal obligations towards gods, and will generally refuse to comment on the true divinity of a god in the interests of protecting religious freedom.

Riace Bronze B, speculatively suggested to be a depiction of Amphiaraus (source) http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/date/2012/08/15

Riace Bronze B, speculatively suggested to be a depiction of Amphiaraus (source)

The Roman republic had it the other way around. There was no official obligation for the state to tolerate religions, but the state was formally obliged to serve gods. John North, in his article, “Religious Toleration in Republican Rome,” has argued that while the Romans were generally tolerant in practice, the concept of “religious toleration” as a moral obligation was absent from Roman thought:

We certainly do not know at any period of any theoretical principle of allowing plurality of worship or belief. The toleration, if that is what it was, was a function of situation not theory.[1]

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When Classics and Theology were the same subject

Classicists are usually vaguely aware that the study of ancient literature is a very, very old field of research, and that it used to be merged with the study and exposition of Christian theology. It is rare, however, for a Classicist to actually come up against past scholarship and see firsthand what kind of work that that unholy (or holy?) union had once produced. More often, modern Classicists are looking uncomfortably at each other, trying to spy latent “Christianizing” approaches in their own work, without actually having a clear definition of what could constitute a “Christianizing” approach in the first place.

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Ancient Atheism

Ancient Atheism

We take atheism for granted today; the ancients took theism for granted.

Of course, that’s a sweeping generalisation. But the first part holds true for most university students today, and it has often led students to assume that the greatest ancient philosophers, politicians and authors were atheists at heart too. That is, until they find evidence to the contrary. The assumption – and I may be treading on some toes here – even pervades scholarship, particularly in studies on Roman religion, where well-respected scholars have treated Roman religion as little more than a convenient charade for the elite, a tool they cynically used to manipulate the masses.[1]

But how prominent was atheism in Greek and Roman thought?

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To be deep in history

To be deep in history

“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

Sometimes, I just feel like a wayward Protestant sticking her nose a little too much into the ancient, way-more-Catholic-than-Protestant, world. Why would a Protestant even read history prior to the sixteenth century? Wasn’t that a time of “Great Apostacy”?

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