Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chamberlain, Trinity, Book of Acts

 ( Originally written and posted on MySpace on March 14, 2009 )
Chamberlain on the pre-Christian Trinity

C. I. Scofield has a lengthy gloss on I Thessalonians in which he discusses man as a trinity of body, soul, and spirit.  The distinction between the latter two seems less than natural to those who have been influenced by the modern world outlook which is based on Cartesian dualism.   Houston Stewart Chamberlain points out in his Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, first published in English in 1911, that the trinity is pervasive in Indo-European thought,  that it precedes Christendom.  The following is a relevant passage from Chamberlain's Foundations:

    " As an excellent example of mythology which grows from external experience I should like to mention especially the conception of the Trinity. Thanks to the influence of Hellenic sentiment, the Christian Church (in spite of the violent opposition of the Jewish Christians), had, in the moulding of its dogma, steered successfully past that most dangerous cliff, Semitic monotheism, and has preserved in her otherwise perilously Judaised conception of the Godhead the sacred " Three in Number " of the Aryans. It is well known that we continually come across the number Three among the Indo-Europeans : it is, as Goethe says,
    die ewig unveraltete, Dreinamig—Dreigestaltete.

   "  We find it in the three groups of the Indian gods, at a later time (several centuries before Christ) developed into the detailed and expressly stated doctrine of the Trinity, the Trimurti : " He, who is Vishnu, is also Civa, and he, who is Civa, is also Brahma : one being but three Gods." And the conception can be traced from the distant east to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, where Patricius found the clover leaf as the symbol of the Trinity among the Druids. The number Three was bound at an early time to impress itself upon races that were inclined to poetry and metaphysics, for it and it alone is not a chance number (like five or ten which are derived from the fingers) nor a pedantically calculated number (like seven, which is derived from the so-called seven wandering stars), it expresses a fundamental phenomenon, so that the conception of a Trinity might rather be called an experience than a symbol. The authors of the Upanishads had already recognised that all human knowledge rests on three fundamental forms —time, space, causality—and that not a triplicity but (to quote from Kant) a " unity of apperception " results therefrom ; space and time also are inseparable unities, but possess three dimensions. In short, the threefoldness as unity surrounds us on all sides as an original phenomenon of experience and is reflected in all individual cases. Thus, for example, the most modern science has proved that without exception every element can take three—but only three—forms : the solid, the fluid, the gaseous ; and this only further shows, what the people long ago knew, that our planet consists of earth, water and air. As Homer says

    Everything was divided into three."

Chamberlain himself was quite an unusual thinker.   Born in England, he moved to Germany, married the daughter of the composer Richard Wagner, and became a successful author writing in German.  His Foundations was first published in German in 1898 as Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.  (He reminds one of Joseph Conrad, born in Poland,  who moved to England and became a famous novelist writing in English.)  Chamberlain's Foundations is actually a cultural history of the entire Western world,  the nineteenth century which he looked upon being for him the contemporary world.  In this magisterial work, Chamberlain shows how Western civilization came into existence.   

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on February 28, 2009 )

Memorable Scenes from the Book of Acts

The book of the Acts of the Apostles is a book of many memorable spectacles.  First and foremost, of course, is that great scene in the second chapter wherein the Holy Ghost descends upon the Apostles.   Reading this again, one can begin to understand why today's Pentecostalists base their church upon it.  Next there is the martyrdom of Stephen and the conversion of Paul into Saul.  Some spectacles seem to be almost out of a motion picture:  liberation from prison by an earthquake, shipwreck upon the island of Miletus.  More meaningful in Acts are the great confrontations.   These  include Paul's meeting with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens.  Even more vivid, however, is the meeting with an outraged merchant of Ephesus, Demetrius, who crafts and sells silver images of the goddess Artemis (or Diana).   This scene is reminiscent of Christ's encounter with the money-changers in the Temple.  Demetrius and his fellows obviously believed that Christianity would be bad for their business.

The original idol of Diana of the Ephesians was believed to have fallen from the sky, a typically pagan form of revelation.   Even simple meteors, much less artifacts falling from the sky, could change the course of history.  Thus, Plutarch in his life of Lucullus tells how just before his forces were ready to go into battle, "on a sudden the sky opened, and a large luminous body fell down in the midst between the armies, in shape like a hogshead, but in colour like melted silver, insomuch that both armies in alarm withdrew."  Most significant of all, however, was the famous Black Stone, a meteorite fixed in the wall of the Kaaba at Mecca.   The Kaaba, according to E. Cobham Brewer in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, is a cubical stone house "said to have been built by Abraham on the spot where Adam first worshipped after his expulsion from Paradise.  In the north-east corner is a stone seven inches long, said to be a ruby sent down from heaven.  It is now black, from being kissed so often by sinful man."  

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