Month: March 2016

Around 70 people were killed and more than 341 injured when a suicide bomber attacked a park in Lahore where Christians had thronged for Easter.  A high percentage of the victims were women and children.  You can read more at CNN.

2000 Years ago something truly extraordinary happened…

Photo Credits

1. Partially Sealed tomb, from Renewal Journal blog, online at:…
2. Sealed tomb:…
3. Inside burial chamber:…
4. Mount Carmel tomb, from…
5. Image of empty grave: “Empty Tomb Picture, 6”, available at…
Shaft of Light, Westing, by Mike Pennington, UK, 2007, obtained from Wikimedia commons, used in accordance with creative Commons 2.0 license
6. Robed man, altered from photo available at…
7. Mary Magdalene at the tomb, unknown original source, obtained from blog:…
8. Image of empty grave: “Empty Tomb Picture, available at…
9. Shaft of Light, Westing, by Mike Pennington, UK, 2007, obtained from Wikimedia commons, used in accordance with creative Commons 2.0 license

Audio effects and music

1. The Scripture is read from KJV, in public domain by LibriVox.
2. The Paschal Chant is public domain, obtained from
3. The other sound effects were from

On the heels of the attack by terrorists upon the airport in Brussels, it seems a good opportunity to revisit the question, “what is ISIS?” I recall a very good article by Graeme Wood in the Atlantic which lays out a lot of information on ISIS. One of the points that struck me was this one:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

This echoes the assessment of former Muslim Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, who is a speaker with Ravi Zacharias Ministry, and wrote a recent essay for USA Today:

This is not at all to say that most Muslims are violent. The vast majority of Muslims do not live their lives based on chapter 9 of the Quran or on the books of jihad in the hadith. My point is not to question the faith of such Muslims nor to imply that radical Muslims are the true Muslims. Rather, I simply want to make clear that while ISIL may lure youth through a variety of methods, it radicalizes them primarily by urging them to follow the literal teachings of the Quran and the hadith, interpreted consistently and in light of the violent trajectory of early Islam. As long as the Islamic world focuses on its foundational texts, we will continue to see violent jihadi movements.

In order to effectively confront radicalization, then, our tools must be similarly ideological, even theological. This is why I suggest that sharing alternative worldviews with Muslims is one of the best methods to address radicalization. Indeed, this is what happened to me. As I faced the reality of the violent traditions of Islam, I had a Christian friend who suggested that Islam did not have to be my only choice and that there were excellent reasons to accept the gospel.

Apparently a new “muscular” Christianity is threatening to shake the teacups out of the hands of our genteel British brethren.

The BBC’s head of religion has warned that Britain needs to address its “chronic lack of religious literacy” if it is to accommodate the rise through new immigration of “more assertive” forms of Christianity with “conflicting views” on same-sex marriage and other human rights issues.

Aaqil Ahmed, writing for The Independent, identifies a “more muscular Pentecostalism” emerging among African immigrants and an “upsurge in Catholic numbers” from Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. “Christianity may have been pronounced to be at death’s door in the last century but now it’s firmly back in the public space and how we deal with that is the real battle for Christianity here in the UK.”

You can read more at The Independent.

This was a heartwarming article:

How an Iowa Church Helped Save Its Small Town.

For decades, rural towns in America have struggled to survive. Imogene has, too. The ranching community from the 1860’s soon turned to the railroad boon. “The daughter of one of the railroad engineers had the name of Imogene and that’s where it got started,” said 70-year-old Joe Cheney, who was baptized in the church.

Five years ago, Imogene city leaders discussed whether the town should cease from being a town anymore, meaning no local government. Imogene needed inspiration.

“With the church and rich heritage and the nearby Wabash Trail, proud people of Imogene, I was never worried about it,” said Becca Castle who helped start the Sons & Daughters of Imogene, a community betterment organization.

You have to click the link or search images of this church; due to copyright uncertainty I did not reproduce the pictures. The interior is spectacular.

(A 13th-century fresco of Sylvester and Constantine, showing the purported Donation. Santi Quattro Coronati, Rome; public domain)

Someone at a satellite music channel has declared March to be “Bible appreciation month”. Of course, we ought to appreciate (and read and study) those remarkable writings year round. I am going to stray a bit to comment on one of the ways the Bible has been studied and scrutinized, namely the discipline of textual criticism. Textual criticism entails the careful examination and comparison of manuscripts and copies. I was recently reminded of one of the earliest examples of textual criticism, being used to demonstrate that a medieval document was a forgery.

In the western half of the Roman Empire, as the remnants of political power crumbled into the chaos of the “dark ages”, the papacy emerged as an energetic contender. The bishop of Rome had originally been one among many sources of authority within the church in the immediate post-apostolic period. His power grew over time, and the Pontiff began to claim temporal authority as well as spiritual primacy.

Pope Innocent III (1160-1216) had this humble impression of his role as not just a spiritual leader, but as one to whom kings are subject:

Just as the founder of the universe established two great lights in the firmament of heaven, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, so too He set two great dignities in the firmament of the universal church…, the greater one to rule the day, that is, souls, and the lesser to rule the night, that is, bodies. These dignities are the papal authority and the royal power. Now just as the moon derives its light from the sun and is indeed lower than it in quantity and quality, in position and in power, so too the royal power derives the splendor of its dignity from the pontifical authority…
(Letter to the prefect of Aserbius and the nobles of Tuscany, available online at this Fordham University site).

By the end of the 13th century Pope Boniface IV was claiming ultimate authority on earth. His papal bull Unam Sanctam insisted that

“We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal.”

And of course, the papacy claimed both. The document concluded:

“Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

(The text may be read here.)

I might pause and note that Boniface was unable to wield anything like the power he claimed to have. In his dispute with King Phillip IV of France, whom he excommunicated, he ultimately lost out to such an extent that mercenaries loyal to Phillip attacked his palaces at Anagni and kidnapped the pontiff, nearly killing him. Although he survived, he died just a few weeks later, in October 1303. Upon reading of the “two swords” in the Bull, one of Philip’s ministers is alleged to have remarked, “My master’s sword is steel; the Pope’s is made of words” (Ruggio 51).

One of the sources upon which this kind of papal authority and power was justified is the so-called “Donation of Constantine.” This document appears to have been “discovered” conveniently in the ninth century. The document purports to be by the emperor Constantine the Great in 315, and “donates” the western empire, including Rome and all lands to its west, to Sylvester, bishop of Rome, supposedly out of thanks for curing him of leprosy at his baptism. (Portions of the Latin and English texts may found at

The Renaissance, with its flourishing of scholarship in ancient latin texts, spelled the end of this forgery. In 1440, the priest and humanist scholar Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457), in De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione declamatio, demonstrated that the donation was a more recent forgery (text available here). To be fair, by the time of Valla, the document was no longer as important as it had been in prior centuries.


Valla began his discourse by noting that Constantine wasn’t the sort to enter into this kind of agreement, and furthermore all of the historical evidence would suggest that he continued to reign over the western Roman Empire, while there is no evidence that Sylvester had done so. He then analyzed the language of the document, showing that terms used, such as “satrap” were not from the 3rd century, but rather much later in the 8th century. The terms “consul” and “patrician” were misused in a clumsy way that would not have happened in ancient Rome. There is reference to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, at a time when the city of Byzantium was neither the seat of a patriarchate nor even yet renamed “Constantinople.” His other arguments can be read in the site which was linked at the end of the previous paragraph.

The work of Valla did much to fuel the anti-papacy furor of the Protestant Reformers. The work was apparently read by Martin Luther in 1519. He described his reaction to discovering the truth about the forgery to his friend Spalatin:

I have at hand Lorenzo Valla’s proof (edited by Hutten) that the Donation of Constantine is a forgery. Good heavens! what a darkness and wickedness is at Rome! You wonder at the judment of God that such unauthentic, erass, impudent lies not only lived but prevailed for so many centuries, that they were incorporated in the Canon Law, and (that no degree of horror might be wanting) that they became as articles of faith. I am in such a passion that I scarecely doubt that the Pope is the Antichrist expected by the world, so closely do their acts, lives, sayings, and laws agree. (Martin Luther, Letter to Spalatin, Feb. 24, 1520., as recounted in epistole blog).

In 1534, Valla’s work was translated by William Marshall for Thomas Cranmer in England, where it was used to bolster claims of independence of the English church (Parrish, 119).

For further reading:

  • “Donation of Constantine” in Wikipedia
  • Pearse, Roger. “The Donation of Constantine”, online at his blog,
  • “The Donation of Constantine” in Catholic Encyclopedia, online at
  • Lorenzo Valla,
    Discourse on the Forgery
    of the Alleged Donation of Constantine
    , In Latin and English translation by Christopher B. Coleman
    (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1922). Available online at Hanover College
  • Whitford, David. “The Papal Antichrist: Martin Luther and the Underappreciated Influence of Lorenzo Valla”, Renaissance Quarterly, 61 (2008): 26-52; abstract online here)
  • Lorenzo Valla, a review of his life and works online at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I knew a Taoist engineering professor, who often repeated the phrase: “He who knows the priority–what comes first and what comes second–knows the Tao, or the way that he must go.”

Christianity could almost be summed thus: “He who knows the Way (Christ), knows the priority.”