Owing to two recent posts on this blog — here and then, subsequently, here — I’ve been accused (both in the comments following those entries and, much more vigorously, elsewhere) of being “anti-Catholic.”
My crime? I quoted a passage from the nineteenth-century Oxford scholar Edwin Hatch that contrasted the manifestly Hellenistic-philosophical coloration of the Nicene Creed with the (to me and to him) plainly much less Hellenistic-philosophical content of the Sermon on the Mount. And, in the two sentences or so of my own that I appended to the quoted passage, I seemed to approve of what Professor Hatch had written.
I was, frankly, astonished to be labeled an “anti-Catholic” on this very flimsy basis — though I was entirely unsurprised when I saw certain others enthusiastically echoing and amplifying the charge at a place where I’m regularly described as a racist, a liar, a homophobe, a slanderer, a ticking time bomb, a religious bigot, a voyeur, a fascist, and an anti-Semite. After all, as Mrs. Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Neither Professor Hatch’s comment nor my brief subsequent remarks had even mentioned Catholicism, and, anyhow, the Nicene Creed was just as highly venerated in Professor Hatch’s Anglican communion as it was in Roman Catholicism. So why in the world, I wondered, did his comment, and my use of it, somehow become specifically “anti-Catholic”?
Apparently, simply opining that Christianity as a whole became more Hellenized between the first half of the first century and the first half of the fourth is somehow “anti-Catholic.” At a minimum, according to the saner and more cogent comments of two or three critics on this blog, it’s ignorant and out of fashion and academically inept and ideologically suspect and I should be embarrassed. Jesus himself was quite Hellenized, it seems, as was just about everybody in Palestine, including and perhaps especially the original Jewish Christian converts.
So I was relieved today, while leafing idly through the latest issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, to see an advertisement for the new “Antioch Bible,” a multivolume English translation from the Syriac Peshitta.
Syriac, you will recall, is essentially the Christian form of Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus and the first Christian disciples spoke. Thus, there’s some legitimate reason to hope that, in studying the Syriac Bible and early Syriac Christianity, one might be able to get as close as possible, at least in certain respects, to the Christianity taught by the Savior himself and professed by his earliest followers.
The advertisement features an endorsement from Sebastian Brock, of the University of Oxford, who is, by widespread general consent, the foremost authority on Syriac Christianity in the English-speaking world. (I’ve had a tiny bit of oblique contact with Dr. Brock myself, as evidenced by this book, and I can testify from personal experience that his name is a potent talisman when negotiating for access to Syriac manuscripts at the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome.) Here is what Dr. Brock has to say:
“[East Syriac Christianity] offers us a largely unhellenized form of Christianity that is deeply Biblical in character and quite different from the Christianity of the Greek- and Latin-speaking world of the Mediterranean littoral.”
Now, how to take that? Since, according to my critics, Jesus and the first disciples were heavily Hellenized, Sebastian Brock may believe that the Syriac form of Christianity somehow apostatized by abandoning all or most of the faith’s original Greek-philosophical elements while, by contrast, those original Hellenistic concepts were faithfully retained at the Council of Nicaea.
Or perhaps Sebastian Brock is just an ignorant anti-Catholic hack like me and Edwin Hatch? (In that case, what on earth was the prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library thinking?)
Maybe it’s an Oxford thing.
Perhaps I’ll find out next month. I’m going to be going through Oxford two or three times in July, including a little fireside with the Latter-day Saint students there. Perhaps anti-Catholic bigotry is so pervasive in Oxford that I’ll fit right in!