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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

St. Augustine

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

On November 11,354),  Saint Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia, a part of North Africa that is now Algeria. He converted to Christianity as an adult and wanted nothing more than to settle down to a quiet life of thinking about theology and writing books. But when he moved to the port town of Hippo to set up a monastery, he was forced to take over the duties of the local bishop, and he regretted for the rest of his life that he had to spend so much of his time delivering sermons and running a parish, when he could have devoted all that time to writing.

He still managed to write more than 90 books in his lifetime, but he wasn’t taken very seriously by other theologians. He couldn’t read or write in Greek, which was the language of intellectuals, and he lived in a backwater part of the Roman Empire. But by living on the edge of the empire, he was intimately familiar with all the pagan influences that were threatening Christianity, and he devoted himself to debunking all the popular new-age religions. His most famous book The Confessions (c. 400) is in part the story of how he converted to Christianity after living for years as a pagan himself.

In the last years of his life, Augustine was witnessing the fall of the Roman Empire. His city of Hippo was besieged by vandals, and it was destroyed soon after his death. But somehow Augustine’s library survived, and all his ideas about resisting pagan influences became doctrine within the church. It’s partially due to his writings that the Catholic Church survived the medieval period and did not break up into separate churches for another 1,000 years.

 

Jesus and the Migrant Crisis

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

 

WASHINGTON EXAMINER

Jesus doesn’t fit your political narrative

by Nicole Russell

| December 23, 2018 08:00 AM

 

Since the migrant crisis in Europe began in 2015, it has become a common occurrence to see religious figures and publications combine incorrect theology with the political narrative of the day. For example, Pope Francis recently tweeted this:

Others have said similar things in recent months:

Whether evangelical or Catholic, many denominations try to encourage Americans to be friendlier toward migrants or refugees by insinuating that they should be like Jesus — and after all, Jesus himself was a refugee. This is entirely false and not only that, but this bizarre focus on Jesus as a “refugee” misses the entire point of the Gospel.

First, the concept that Jesus might have been a refugee comes from the fact that He was born in a stable after His parents, Joseph and Mary, could not find any room in the inn, following a lengthy journey from Nazareth, via donkey, to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were not going to Bethlehem because they had no home, nor did Joseph lack relatives in Bethlehem. The reason he went, and that there was no place to stay, is because the Caesar was a greedy, demanding ruler who demanded everyone return to their hometowns to participate in the census: “All went to be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3).

I’m not saying the journey was pleasant and not without peril, and indeed, following Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph feared for Jesus’ life because King Herod wanted to kill him. This wasn’t as much a political agenda as a personal one: Herod didn’t want another king to take his spot. The family fled to Egypt until Herod died. But even this did not make Jesus a refugee in the sense that he was seeking respite from political persecution, although I can sometimes see where people might interpret it that way. The Bible says in Matthew 2:15: “[Jesus] remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.'”

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus did not travel to Bethlehem or ultimately flee to Egypt fearing persecution or seeking asylum status. They originally went to Bethlehem because Rome demanded it and they fled because they wanted to evade Herod’s thumb — this also fulfilled prophecy.

The larger and more important picture is that Jesus was not some kind of victim, wandering in utero with his parents all over the Middle East just searching for a place to be born. Christians believe God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, sovereignly in control of all world events: from the donkey Mary rode to Bethlehem on to the fact that there was no room in the inn.

This is not a political statement but a spiritual truth to the Jews and the Gentiles of the world: A savior has been born. He has come from humble beginnings, but He will save His people from their sins. Without the simple humility of the idea that even the savior had no place to rest His head, His incredible sacrifice later on the cross would be difficult to accept. Still, because He was God in the flesh and was willing to become fully human — without which atonement for sins could not have occurred because a perfect deity cannot atone for sins — the gift of salvation is that much more a picture of grace.

This does not mean Jesus does not care about refugees or Middle Easterners more than he cares about Americans or atheists. It just means that the story of salvation is far bigger and more incredible than any political narrative, on the Left or on the Right.

Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.

 

 

Marie Curie/Ground Breaking Chemist and Physicist

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

November 7th was the birthday of Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie (1867). Curie discovered radium, without which we wouldn’t have X-rays or certain cancer therapies. Curie was born in Warsaw, which is now Poland, but used to be part of the Russian Empire. She went on to win two Nobel Prizes, but she always donated her prize money and remained humble about her achievements. She once summed up her potential biography as, “I was born in Poland. I married Pierre Curie, and I have two daughters. I have done my work in France.”

Curie came from a family of teachers who believed so strongly in education that her father brought home discarded test tubes from the laboratory at his school and encouraged Marie to perform experiments. Because she was a girl, she couldn’t go to University. So she began studying clandestinely at what was called a “Floating University,” a secret set of informal, underground classes held in Warsaw.

She met her husband, Pierre, after moving to France to further her studies. They set up a lab in a decrepit warehouse outside their atelier. The warehouse had an asphalt floor, a glass roof broken in several places, and was heated by a cast-iron stove in the winter. They worked on worn-out tables, often eating simple meals of bread washed down with water.

Curie often stirred the heavy and hot molten mass of radioactive products in a caldron herself, sometimes slipping samples in her pockets and forgetting about them. No one knew then about the harmful effects of radiation. When she died in 1934, it was attributed to four decades of exposure to radioactivity.

Curie and Pierre discovered radium and polonium in 1898. A watchcase containing a speck of the radium was exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1900. The label read, “Radium, discovered by Mme. Curie.”

During World War I, Curie and her daughter suggested that the armies equip automobiles with radiographic apparatus to treat the wounded, inadvertently inventing the X-ray and the ambulance at the same time. The X-ray could locate bullets and fragments in wounded soldiers, which meant quick, life-saving removal.

All of Marie Curie’s research materials and notes are too dangerous to examine because of their high level of radioactivity. They are kept in lead-lined boxes.

 

The Balfour Declaration

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

November 2nd was the 100th anniversary of Britain’s Balfour Declaration, which proclaimed its support for a Jewish state in Palestine (1917). The declaration took the form of a brief letter from foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, a prominent British Zionist. Balfour wrote a “declaration of sympathy” with the Zionist cause, adding: “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The British government believed the cause was just; they also hoped to gain Jewish support for the Allies in World War I.

Arab leaders felt betrayed by the Balfour Declaration, since they had supported the Allies against Turkey in World War I and had been guaranteed complete autonomy in the region in return. The declaration’s vague wording also made it unclear what exactly Britain was offering to do. The government later clarified that the intent of the declaration was to support a “homeland” for Jews, where they would live side by side with the indigenous Palestinians. They did not intend to advocate for a formal Jewish state. After the declaration, Jews migrated to Palestine in large numbers, and the Jewish population grew from 50,000 in 1917 to 600,000 in 1947. The state of Israel was established in 1948.

Earlier this year, the British government acknowledged that the Balfour Declaration should have explicitly protected the political rights of indigenous Palestinians, as well as their civil and religious rights.

 

John Keats/Great Poet

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

October 31 was the birthday of English poet John Keats , born in London in 1795. He’s best known for poetic odes like Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn, about the famous Elgin marbles on display in the British Museum, which ends with some of the most famous lines in poetic history: “beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ — that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

By the time he died at the age of 25, John Keats had only published three small volumes of poetry, 54 poems in all. He’s now considered one of the finest poets in the English language. He once told a friend, “I carry all matters to an extreme.”


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