Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Philosophy Basics II / Paul in Athens

A little quote for us from the new translation of Giertz' Ordination Sermons, "Then Fell the Lord's Fire" (Magdeburg Press):  this one is for a pastoral conference in 1965, beginning on page 196.

"What you therefore worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you..."  (Acts 17:23)
We remember the word.  Paul had come to Athens for the first time in his life.  He had gone around and look at the celebrated city, which from its early greatness had now sunk to being something like Jena or Heidelberg, a university city for the sons of rich people, aesthetes, and philosophers... 
In this interest for news, there was also a place for religion.  It was open for debate, just like all news.  New cults were imported from the East.  New ways of thinking were launched from within philosophy.  Among all this the Athenians made themselves judges and sat in authority by their ability to rate philosophers, mystagogues, and theologians. 
Behind this interest there was also another longing, the human heart's desire for his Creator.  It could be so strong that the roles were cast, and men humbly stepped forward as supplicants before the altar and the idols where they found rest.  The religiosity that springs from this natural revelation is itself fairly the same in every age.  It oscillates between human arrogance that sets itself as judge over the divine and a restless worship that seeks after means to humor the divine and win its favor.  Sometimes it sinks down to magic that consists of a false sense between reaching for the unknown powers and the feeling of being their lord.  The ancient world was full of such magicians with their differing forms of witchcraft, books of the black arts, and amulets.  There was a more cautious religion among the sacrificing and worshiping people.  Among the intellectuals there was a more noble and spiritualized religiosity like the one pictured.  A man like Cicero is not very far away from the eighteenth century's religious enlightenment.  Even he could have gathered the essential contents of religion in these three words:  God, virtue, and immortality. 


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