History of Christianity
Christianity, as a religion and as a code of life, is a much-disputed topic among historians and philosophers, even theologians do not agree with one and other on many issues. The life of Jesus Christ, his teachings and his philosophy is depicted in many different ways, each expressing his own views on the subject. All of them have their own importance and no one can be termed as right or wrong, and this should be established before any reflection on their views.
John Knox is a well-known figure in Christian studies and his writings provide great insight on Christianity. In his works, he stressed upon the fact that people should be interested in the work of Jesus Christ and his teachings, and not in his personality or in the debate of humanity and divinity. There is always been a debate in Christianity about whether Jesus Christ was a human or divine. Many people believe in divinity of Jesus Christ and many oppose this notion, however, John Knox regards this debate as futile.
He believed that the main focus should be on the life of Jesus Christ and lessons should be learned from the actions of Jesus Christ. The philosophy of Christ is important and that will improve the lives of the people. He opposed the idea of thinking upon the personality of Jesus Christ and held that we may not be able to think beyond a certain point, and for this reason, sole attention should be given to God’s purpose of sending Jesus as a reformer for the humanity. The main argument put forward by him was of understanding Christ as a relationship with God and His son. He believed that Jesus can only be experienced and not examined like an object, for it is unimportant and impossible.
Jesus Christ is also portrayed as an individual and his personality is the main focus of some people. They believe that Christ can be understood as an object and his self is the main thing which teaches us a lot about God and life. Julian of Norwich was very passionate about the Jesus Christ and God and found Jesus as an inspiration for humanity. She saw the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as a source of redemption for the whole humanity and denounces the popular notion of sin in Christianity (McEntire, S. 1998 pg. 130-131).
Her view of Jesus is like of a mother who cares about the world and he does not seek pleasure by seeing people suffer. This representation of Jesus Christ is not shared by everyone, but Julian believed that Jesus, in reality, were like a mother for humanity, who saved us from evils of ignorance. In the book, she says “And so I saw that God rejoices that he is our father, and God rejoices that he is our mother, and God rejoices that he is our true spouse, and our soul is his much-loved bride. And Christ rejoices that he is our brother, and Jesus rejoices that he is our savior.”
The concept is different from other in regards with the depiction of Jesus as a mother. Everyone sees Jesus as a savior, but not as a benevolent mother who cares about her offspring. Her emphasis was on the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ and not on the ways of life he taught.
Martin Luther believed Christianity to be a path on which a man does good work in order to achieve salvation. His beliefs present a picture of Christ and religion that is most interested in the improvement of human beings and their lives. The emphasis is on being faithful and doing good, rather on punishment or understanding of Jesus Christ. According to Luther Jesus Christ is a symbol for mankind and we should work for the betterment of humanity like he did in order to help more and more people. He thinks that Jesus is a symbol of sacrifice and his presence and his actions were to instruct human beings to do good things. He says in his book “On Christian Liberty” that Christians have this duty to live for Jesus Christ and other human beings, instead of living for themselves.
Luther does not share the same optimistic opinion of Julian of Norwich, as he feels the Jesus paid with his life in order to protect mankind from the wrath of God. He also believed that the only way we can feel the true passion and fervour of Christ is by having faith to the words of God and being a spiritual man. According to his words, by believing what God promises to us, the Word of God and honoring him, one can unites his/her soul with Christ. Luther have the view that Christ as a sinless being who is the perfect model of true Christian. Christian should be ready to serve his neighbor like a servant. Even if Christ himself is free from all works and hell, he had made himself as the servant of al, while being loved and reverend as a lord. Christ says that “Owe no one anything except to love one another.”[Rom. 13[:8]] When we love our neighbor, we can be said ready to serve and help the others. Luther says that all the work of a Christian is futile if it is not aimed to serve neighbors or to keep himself on the right path (Luther, 1520). It is evident from this that Luther wished all Christians to view Jesus as a paragon.
If we observe closely the views of Luther and John Knox we will find some similarities in their opinion on Jesus Christ. Both portray him as a symbol to instigate action and motivate good work. They may have differences in their manifestation of the good work as John believed good work to be the work of Jesus Christ, while Luther thought it to be anything that reduces human sufferings and increase happiness.
On the other hand Julian had very different opinion of a benevolent God and motherly Christ. She widely differs from John and Luther as she focuses on the Christ as a symbol of love and happiness. Her focus on only good things and happiness is nowhere to be found in both John’s and Luther’s writings.
All three have depicted Jesus Christ differently and they symbolize him according to their own understanding of religion. The difference is in the depiction of Jesus Christ, not on the basis of Christianity. These differences should not be viewed different versions of religion, but just different versions of views on Jesus Christ.
Worldly affairs and human struggle in the world has always been a topic of interest for theologians and philosophers equally. The former denounces it completely while the latter worshipped it. The debate on the extent of human power to understand God is very old in Christianity and we ought to understand views of different people on this issue. The knowledge of God is we have in this world is very less and we know God only through his book and son. But one may argue against this ignorance and illustrate the concept of God through his creations in a metaphoric way.
Augustine was a philosopher and a theologian. His work is even accepted by famous atheistic philosophers, and his theories are also considered credible. He believed that God can only be understood if we understand ourselves. He said “O God ever the same let me know myself, let me know you” (Soliloquies, pg. 87). It is very important to know oneself and only then one can attempt to understand God.
The view that distinguishes Augustine from other theologians is his acceptance of inquires about God. He actually encourages people to ask question to themselves, as opposed to other religious leaders who condemn questions about God and life hereafter. This stands him among other flag bearers of church and religion. In his opinion avoiding the questions that arise in the mind is not a very good way to establish faith, but asking questions will reveal one’s self and in turn will help us understand God.
Augustine believed that we cannot be certain about many things in life and we will have to believe and we will have to keep faith in things. This is not just the case in religion, but also in other domains of life, like history and even present world of sensations (De Magistro11.37). Augustine also thinks that human mind has limits and it can only understand or only see things which God allows him to see. This view evidently portrays Augustine’s opinion of limit of human knowledge in relation with God. He thinks that there is limit to human understanding of God in this world and one may not be able to scientifically establish God. Faith is the answer of Augustine to these queries.
He instructs us to keep faith in God and believe in him regardless of the fact that human mind can develop little understanding of God. We can use our intellect to perceive knowledge and in this particular aspect he affirms Plato’s theory of forms. Augustine believed that we human beings through our limited knowledge cannot understand God in our life and the only little understanding which we can get is by knowing one’s self and asking questions about the world.
Aquinas was also a very famous philosopher and his views the limit of knowledge of God are, to some extent similar to Augustine. He developed a simple logic which helped in answering the question of understanding of God. He said that believing and knowing are intricately joined together as the lines between them are obscure, and therefore what we must believe we should also know (Essay on Saint Aquinas. 2010).
He also thinks that God cannot be fully understood by human mind. He thinks God can be proven, but a more deep and rational explanation of God may not be realizable to human mind. We can, although, understand God by searching upon the perfections His creatures have in them. The creatures of God are an effect of God and they share a certain level of perfection of God. So God may be understood by the perfections He has granted upon His creatures.
Aquinas told that we are not totally ignorant about the presence of God. We have sufficient proof of God and his presence, but the human mind is not equipped to fully understand God. According to him there are two different kinds of knowledge; the human knowledge and the heavenly knowledge. The human knowledge is the knowledge we can acquire through using our senses, but the heavenly knowledge may not be attained in the same way and we ought to use other way to perceive heavenly knowledge.
The way Aquinas prescribes to perceive heavenly knowledge is by fearing God and only this will allow us to be respectful to entity that created all of us. This is a method provided by Aquinas to understand God. By fearing God we will obey Him and will be subordinate to Him, and this will help us understand God.
The lines of spirituality are clearly seen in both Aquinas and Augustine, as both are calling upon to believe in God. Augustine discusses God as a timeless entity and Aquinas portrays Him as a fearing entity, but he believes that God can be seen in heavens. They both differ only in the method they suggested to understand God. They both accepted the limited capabilities of human mind.
Augustine and Aquinas both believe that belief and knowing are inseparable and we ought to believe in order to know. This is how they rationalize existence of God. Hints of skepticism are found in the work of both Aquinas and Augustine. Both question whether true and complete knowledge is attainable by human mind or not, and both seem to come to a similar conclusion that mind cannot fully understand the realities of world or God.