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Example research essay topic: Existence Of God Society And Culture - 2,006 words

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The Fourth Lateran Council was a watershed in the religious life of the middle ages. On November 11, 1215, Pope Innocent III painted an alarming picture of a Church dissolving in a sea of heresy. He could paint such a picture because the success of popular heretical and evangelical movements, such as the Waldensians and Albigensians, was positively explosive. The Church was faced with the threat of change by these heresies, a threat reflected in the Third Canon of the Council.

Heresy threatened the very foundation of the Church and of papal authority. But criticism came from elsewhere as well -- nobles, physicians, judges, merchants, men and women joined with the lower orders in order to criticize Church abuses and infidelity. The people, the bulk of Europe's population, were especially critical. They did not understand the fisheries of theological thought. Nor did they understand Church government. They complained about the un-Christian lives of the higher clergy.

Had they been able to read Dante's Divine Comedy, they would have nodded in approval as Dante situated seven popes in Hell. To make matters worse, none of the people understood Latin. If and when they bothered to attend mass, they heard strange words uttered while the clergy conducted rituals and ceremonies which they clearly did not understand. If the Middle Ages were the age of Christendom, or a Christian Kingdom in Europe, then just what did it mean to be a Christian? What is a good Christian? The people began to recognize their need for their own Gospel -- they sought their own Christ, not the Christ manufactured by Rome.

It is clear that the institution of the Church would not give these people what they wanted. And so, as a form of protest, many of these people were attracted to heresy. The heretics seemed to fill a role the Church could not. Two major factors conditioned a person's choice to become a heretic. First, most people had lost all confidence in the highest Church authorities -- the popes and bishops. Second, they were dissatisfied with a monastic form of life.

With liberty and new-found freedoms so characteristic of 13 th century society, most people would rather enjoy some of what life had to offer rather than abandon themselves to the rigors and denials of an ascetic life in the monastery (a life specified by the Benedictine Rule). And this led to a fundamental problem of medieval Christianity: how could an individual reconcile their worldly endeavors with their spiritual needs? No product of medieval Christianity has been more influential in the centuries since the Middle Ages than medieval thought, particularly the philosophy and theology of Scholasticism, whose outstanding exponent was Thomas Aquinas (1224 / 25 - 1274). The theology of Scholasticism was an effort to harmonize the doctrinal traditions inherited from the Fathers of the early church and to relate these traditions to the intellectual achievements of classical antiquity. Because many of the early Fathers both in the East and in the West had developed their theologies under the influence of Platonic modes of thought, the reinterpretation of these theologies by Scholasticism required that the doctrinal content of the tradition be disengaged from the metaphysical assumptions of Platonism. For this purpose the recovery of Aristotle -- first through the influence of Aristotelian philosophers and theologians among the Muslims, and eventually, with help from Byzantium, through translation and study of the authentic texts of Aristotle himself -- seemed providential to the Scholastic theologians.

Because it managed to combine a fidelity to Scripture and tradition with a positive, though critical, attitude toward the "natural" mind, Scholasticism is a landmark both in the history of Christianity and in the history of Western culture, as a symbol (depending upon one's own position) either of the Christianization of society and culture or of the betrayal of Christianity to the society and culture of the Middle Ages. When all is said and done, it can be argued that the Renaissance of the 14 th and 15 th centuries was not indicative of an extraordinary intellectual event or movement. The 12 th century Renaissance, characterized as it was by the by the spirit of inquiry and skepticism. Why did the Renaissance occur? This is a difficult question at best -- there are no easy answers.

In general, however, we could argue that the ordered, formalistic, and compartmentalized society of the Middle Ages allowed those forces which had created it to destroy it as well. These forces developed to such an extent that they outgrew the fixed and narrow framework through which they functioned. In other words, the medieval matrix held the seeds of its own decline. Realities such as a surplus of agricultural produce, the increasing urbanization of Europe, a swelling population, wider trading zones and a thirst for knowledge finally broke the stranglehold of the medieval matrix. Man emerged from the fragments of the medieval synthesis and saw, perhaps for the first time since the classical age of Greece, the world of Man and the world of Nature. Anselm is the prime example of the rational tradition which is incipient scholasticism.

It is a rational approach to God. It seeks to understand faith by rationally understanding it. Anselm, in particular, is the father of scholastic theology. The ontological approach rests firmly on Anselm's dictum Fides queens intellectual (faith seeking understanding). He believed in God by faith, and his infamous ontological argument was an attempt of a believer to rationally certify his own faith. He does not exclude the possibility of this argument as the ground of faith in God, but he does not present them in this context (even though they could be the logical ground of belief for the non-believer, as the text is addressed to the fool or atheist of the Psalm 14).

He is responsible for the famous phrase: credo ut intellifax ("I believe in order to understand"). Anselm hoped to advance theological insight by means of intellectual inquiry directed by a mind illuminated by God. Thus, Anselm was the first medieval thinker to inhabit the realm of speculative theology. He accepts the truth of faith and then penetrates it with reason, spiritually enlightened. His optimistic view of reason is used within the realm of faith, not as the foundation for faith. By faith he believed the God is supremely rational, and it must be possible to prove the necessary existence of God through reason.

But this took place only in the context of faith itself. His argument in the Proslogion is an effort at the rational understanding of what is believed by faith. He believed that there could never be anything irrational or anti-rational about faith. The ontological argument is an essentially dialectical deduction of the existence of God, whose internal necessity is that of the principle of contradiction. It is based on the premise that it is contradictory to think of the greatest conceivable thing as non-existing since it would not, then, be the greatest conceivable thing.

Perfection includes existence. It is impossible for us, then, to think of God as not existing. Consequently, Anselm seeks a rational understanding, even rational proofs, for the existence of God, the incarnation and the Trinity. He subjects the doctrine of atonement to rational inquiry in his Cur Deus Homo and the Trinity in the Monologium.

The cultural understanding of "rational" was Logic and consequent logical demonstration. Revelation provides the data which must be rationally understood. Theology, with the help of philosophy, explored the divine logic behind reality. It attempts to demonstrate the rationality of faith through the use of sola rating (that is, without citing authorities). Another great thinker of the early Reformation time was Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 1536), who is sometimes called the prince of humanists. In 1517, Erasmus became Professor of Sacred Theology in the conservative atmosphere of University of Louvain in Brabant.

When the institution came out in opposition to Luther, Erasmus pressed for moderation. He was condemned by both sides, and when papal legates proceeded against the heretics, he fled back to Basel in 1521. It was during this time that he wrote his book against Luther, On Free Will (1524). Even with this, certain teachings of Erasmus were condemned by the Sorbonne in 1526. He was declared a heretic by the Council of Trent, and some of his books were placed on the index of prohibited books. He was perceived as a traitor to the Reform, and never left the confines of the Catholic Church itself.

The basic perspective of the theology of Erasmus is well defined by himself: "I have endeavored to recall theology that has fallen into sophisticated squabbling back to its source and original simplicity. " The theology of Erasmus is an interior ization, a spiritual ization of religious practice, a more personal affair between the individual soul and God. Human beings are both body and soul -- there is a duality; nature and spirit. The goal of the human person is Christ who is our whole life to whom we dedicate all zeal, all effort, all leisure and business. Through the visible things of the world to the invisible life reaches its peak.

Religious life had become a matter of religious ceremonies and superstitious or conventional observances. The essential aspect of religion, for Erasmus, is the cult of the spiritual. The stations of the life of Christ are prototype of genuine piety in every aspect of life. These have concrete applications. Erasmus' piety is very much that of the Devotion Moderna epitomized by Thomas a Kempis and the Brethren of the Common Life. It took his stay in England with Colet to invest this with a specifically biblical content and framework.

Creation refers to the investiture of the original dignity of humanity. Sin has rendered humanity by nature a child of wrath. Everyone is born with a natural concupiscence. There is a total fall of the flesh, but there is not a total fall of the human spirit or soul. Right reason, for example, is warped and obscured by sin, but not extinguished. Nevertheless, there remains a natural disposition toward God.

It involves the rational ability to comprehend the law of nature, to understand one must flee from vices and follow virtue. The creator endowed all human beings with the mental powers of the light of nature to perceive God's authority, might, excellence, wisdom, goodness and eternal divinity. This natural disposition has been obscured by human disobedience. God's acts are the prima causa, and human acts of cooperation are secondary causes in salvation. Repentance is a human act which assists in the destroying the old Adam. Doing penance by mortifying the flesh, the penitent amputates all carnal desires.

The new human being is delivered from the bondage of sin precisely in order to lead a godly life through the divine Spirit. Erasmus gives an important place to the cooperation of the human response with the divine initiative. It does not absolutize the gracious election. But does he coordinate human effort, even achievements, with the first cause in such a way that they are effected by it and therefore qualify as secondary causes? Yes, as we will see with Luther below. Hope is the orientation of faith toward the fulfillment and consummation.

Trust arises from the recognition of God's loving kindness in Christ. It is not a trust of one's own merits. The Philosophy of Christ is founded in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. In this sense, Erasmus himself believed in sola scripture. There it is perfectly taught though the classics are also informative and useful for understanding the law of nature as it is expressed in the philosophy of Christ.

His attempt was grand design of reform to restore all things in Christ with a strong stress on moral and lay-oriented renewal with a biblical set of norms underlying it. It cannot be reduced, as is sometimes done, to an "ethical humanitarianism. " Erasmian humanism was rooted in an urge toward the rebirth of both classical antiquity and classical Christianity.


Free research essays on topics related to: existence of god, ontological argument, society and culture, middle ages, law of nature

Research essay sample on Existence Of God Society And Culture

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