Theology: Biography
 References to people used in this study

Douglas Gleason,

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Aquinas, Thomas (1225-1274) [1]
Distinguished medieval theologian and philosopher

Born in the town of Aquino (Italy), about 80 miles southeast of Rome, Aquinas had a large physique, which earned him the nickname “dumb ox.” His combination of theological learning and Christian devotion, however, later earned him the label “angelic doctor.” Educated at the Universities of Naples, Paris, and Cologne, he belonged to the Dominican order of Preachers. He taught in Paris, Rome, and elsewhere, and provided the Dominicans with both theological and organizational leadership. The traditional theologians of his day so distrusted his use of Aristotelian philosophy that some of his teachings were condemned by the church for about fifty years. But his cause soon became that of the whole Dominican order, with the result that they adopted his theology (known as “Thomism”), whereas the Franciscans followed instead the teachings of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus.

Athanasius (c. 295-373) [1]
Bishop of Alexandria (Egypt)

Athanasius was born in Alexandria and was trained there as a theologian. He moved up rapidly as reader, deacon, and theological adviser for Bishop Alexander, accompanying him in 325 to the Council of Nicaea (near Constantinople, now Istanbul in modern Turkey). Athanasius succeeded Alexander as bishop upon Alexander’s death in 328. As Arianism’s greatest opponent, Athanasius emphasized redemption and the necessity of the Incarnation of the Word (Christ) for man’s salvation (Oration on the Incarnation of the Word). He taught that it was necessary for the Word to be as eternal as God if he was to form the divine image in man. In addition to contributing to the defeat of Arianism, Athanasius helped shape the Christian monasticism. He brought monasticism out of isolation in Egypt with his book, The Life of Antony. Athanasius knew the desert hermit monk personally and through his writing made the pattern of Antony’s life the ideal in the East. The Life of Antony also had an impact on many in the West.

Athenagoras (second century) [1]
Christian philosopher from Athens who allegedly became a Christian while reading the Scriptures in order to argue against them

Athenagoras wrote an Apology (177) defending Christians to the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius (ruled 161-180) and Commodus (ruled 180-192). In it he refuted three charges brought against Christians: that Christians were atheists, that they practiced incestuous immorality, and that they ate human flesh as a part of their ritual.

Athenagoras also wrote a pamphlet, On the Resurrection of the Body. His first argument for bodily resurrection was that if one believed God created all that is, then there was no reason to think that God could not reunite body and soul. His second argument was that God created man, body and soul, or a purpose; that purpose could be fulfilled only if body and soul were made to exist together after death.

Augustine of Hippo, (354-430) [1]
Greatest of the Latin church fathers.

Augustine was bishop of Hippo Regius, a town on the North African coast in the roman province of Numidia. His impact is still felt both in western churches and in western culture. More is known about Augustine than any other figure in the early church because of his Confessions (397-401) and Retractions (426-427). He was born in the small town of Tagaste in Numidia, the son of a pagan father, Patricius, and a Christian mother, Monica. With great personal sacrifice both parents sought the best Roman education for their gifted son as a key to his advancement from their small African town. Augustine studied first at Madaura and then received training in rhetoric at Carthage (375), which prepared him to “dress his words in style.”

At Carthage Augustine abandoned the faith of his mother and followed immoral practices of his fellow students. In 372 he took a mistress who remained with him for about thirteen years and bore him a son, Adeodatus (who died around 390). Reading Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost), Augustine was stirred to a religious quest for wisdom through philosophy. His quest took him to the Manichaen sect with which he remained as a “hearer” for nine years. During Augustine’s brief stay in Rome he turned to the writings of the Skeptics (Academics) who said that knowledge was not possible.

Augustine attended the preaching of Bishop Ambrose in order to hear his eloquence and Ambrose’s allegorical preaching began to remove the problems raised by the Manachaeans. At that time Augustine was in the midst of a moral struggle: he had sent his mistress back to Africa and was waiting for his mother to arrange a proper marriage to a wealthy family. In a sudden moral conversion he abandoned his teaching position and all desire for an advantageous marriage. He withdrew with some close friends, relatives, and his mother to a friend’s villa at Cassiciacum to pursue truth. Augustine received baptism from Ambrose on Easter of 387, and in 388 returned to North Africa after the death of his mother, Monica.

The measure of Augustine’s importance goes beyond the rare title, “Doctor of the Church,” given to him in the Middle Ages. He was the first to give a self-examination before God in the form of his Confessions and thus give the church a biblical understanding of a man’s life under the grace of God. He was the first to give a biblical view of history, time, and the state in his City of God. He established the doctrine of the church in his anti-Donatist writings, a view that prevailed in the church for centuries. He gave the Western church a clear statement concerning the person of Christ, which was later established as doctrine by Leo. He made the grace of God in the gospel the theme of theology in the West.

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Barth, Karl (1886-1968) [1]
Swiss theologian; one of the most influential Protestant leaders of the twentieth century.

Barth was born in Basel and was the son of Fritz and Anna Sartorius Barth. His father was a pastor and professor of New Testament and church history in a school related to the Swiss Reformed Church. In 1913 Barth married Nelly Hoffmann, and they eventually had five sons, one of whom, Markus, became internationally known for biblical and theological scholarship. Barth received his early schooling in Bern, where he showed an interest in military affairs, history, and drama. Following European custom, he studied at several universities: Bern, Berlin, Tubingen, and Marburg. [After starting at Berlin] to honor his father’s wishes, Barth then went to Tubingen to study with a conservative New Testament theologian, Adolf Schlatter. Finally, in 1908, Barth went to Marburg.

Barth was ordained in the Swiss Reformed Church in 1909. He served one pastorate for two years in Geneva, and a second for ten years in the small town of Safenwil (canton Aargau). In August 1914 the Western world was on the edge of total war, with Barth’s respected teachers supporting their nation’s military aims. Barth saw this as a failure of German liberal theology to answer crucial modern questions. Turning to a fresh study of the Bible, Barth and Thurneysen [his close friend] found a whole new world. That new world was the “word of God” within the Bible that explains how God, solely in grace, seeks to redeem humankind.

Barth gradually refined his thought, developing a total theological system. In it he emphasized God’s holiness, his incomprehensibility to the human mind, and his sovereign grace. Barth’s early expressions of his “new orthodoxy” were strongly influenced by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevski (1821-1881), as well as by a rediscovery of the Reformation emphasis on God’s grace.

Barth’s greatest influence was theological, with its emphasis on God’s sovereignty placing him firmly in the Reformed (Calvinistic) tradition. He differed radically from the mainstream of continental European theology, rejecting both its subjective emphasis on religious experience and the prevalent idea that Christian doctrine is subject to, or limited by its historical origins.

Three major themes characterize Barthian theology. First, Barth saw no justification for the idea of “natural theology”. To Barth, people are innately sinful and unable to receive or comprehend God’s message apart from his redeeming grace. People will come to God only through faint in God’s self-revelation. A second focus of Barth’s theology was the way God makes his revelation known. Because Barth accepted certain higher critical views of Scripture, he refused to equate the words of the Bible and God’s inspired Word. Inspiration, for Barth, had more to do with the Bible reader than with either the Bible itself or its writers. The words of the Bible convey the Word of God as the Holy Spirit speaks through them to the reader. Perhaps more than any other aspect of Barth’s theology, his doctrine of Scripture created serious misgivings among many evangelical theologians. Third, following Calvin, Barth insisted that true knowledge of God comes in obedience to God. Barth’s approach to theology was Christ centered. Jesus’ devotion to doing God’s will and his call to discipleship provided the model of obedient service.

Brunner, Heinrich (1889-1966)
Swiss Reformed theologian: often considered with Karl Barth as a leader of the movement known as “neo-orthodoxy” or “dialectical theology”

Bruner was reared in the Reformed tradition by devout parents. In his youth he encountered the religious socialist movement, which gave him one set of roots for a dialectical method in theology. Trained in liberal theology in the Universities of Zurich and Berlin, Brunner was ordained in 1912. After an eight-year pastorate in Obstalden (Switzerland), interrupted by a year study at New York’s Union Theological Seminary and a term of teaching In England, he taught systematic and practical theology at the University of Zurich (1924-1953). During his long career he lectured frequently in America.

In the 1920’s Brunner’s thinking paralleled that of a small but influential group of theologians including Karl Barth, Friedrich Gogarten, and Rudolph Bultmann. Their reevaluation of nineteenth-century liberal theology led them to develop a dialectical form of doctrine. For Brunner, theology was the task of interpreting the “personal correspondence” between God and humankind revealed in the Bible.

To Brunner, human beings are responsible creatures. Although made by God to respond to him in faith and love, they actually rebel against God because of sin. In revelation God personally makes himself known to his creation. What distinguishes the Christian, according to Brunner, is not mere knowledge of God (making God an object instead of the subject of revelation) nor absorption into union with God, but communion with God. Although Brunner was never as popular a theologian a Karl Barth, his writings were actually better known.

Bushnell, Horace (1802-1876)
American religious writer who became an important link between the orthodox Christianity of the Puritans and the liberal Christianity of twentieth-century modernism

Bushnell, a Connecticut resident all his life, attended Yale College and studied law before a conversion experience led him to enter Yale Divinity School. He accepted the pastorate of the North Congregational church in Hartford in 1833, where he remained until ill health forced him to retire in 1859.

Bushnell’s place in American theological history is marked out by his four most controversial books; Christian Nurture, Dissertation on Language (prefaced to God in Christ), Nature and the Supernatural, and Vicarious Sacrifice. Bushnell’s guides in theology were the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher and the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. [His] extensive moderation of traditional Calvinism met the desires of many of his contemporaries for a new religious orientation. [He] did not completely forsake his theological heritage, but he made the way easier for others who later would.

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Calvin, John (1509-1564) [1]
French Protestant reformer; generally regarded as second in importance only to Martin Luther as a key figure in the Protestant Reformation

Calvin has been called “the organizer of Protestantism” because in his pastoral work of organizing evangelical churches in Strassburg and Geneva [Switzerland], he developed an adaptable model of church government. In the sixteenth century new social institutions emerged to replace the deteriorating ones that had once held medieval civilization together; many of the new institutions were influenced by Calvin’s model.

Calvin was born in northwestern France, twenty-five years after the birth of Martin Luther. His actual name, Jean Cauvin, became “Calvin” years later when as a scholar he adopted the Latin form (Calvinus). His birthplace, Noyon, was an old and important center of the Roman Catholic Church in northern Europe. From a middle-class status Calvin’s father, Gerard, after serving the church in various offices, had risen to become the bishop’s secretary. As a result, young Calvin was closely tied to church affairs from the beginning.

To enable his son to advance to a position of ecclesiastical importance, Calvin’s father saw to it that he received the best possible education. At age fourteen Calvin was enrolled in the University of Paris, the intellectual center of Western Europe. Although Calvin pursued a career in theology, for several reasons his life took an unexpected turn. First, the new learning of the Renaissance (humanism) was waging a successful battle against scholasticism, the old Catholic theology of the late Middle Ages. Second, a strong movement for reform in the church had been flourishing in Paris not far from the university. Third, Luther’s writings and ideas had circulated in Paris for some time, causing a moderate stir. Finally, Calvin’s father had a falling-out with the church officials in Noyon, including the bishop. Thus in 1528, just as Calvin had completed his Master of Arts degree, his father sent word for him to leave theology and study law. After about three years of study he earned a doctorate in law and his law license.

Little is known about Calvin’s conversion except that it occurred between 1532 and early 1534, when his first religious work was published. When the French king, Francis I (reigned 1515-1547), decided that persecution was the solution to the Protestant problem, Calvin realized it was no longer safe to live in Paris or anywhere else in France. For the rest of his life, therefore, he was a refugee.

In Basel (Switzerland) early in 1536 Calvin published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. The work, which underwent several revisions before its final exhaustive edition in 1559, was without question one of the most influential handbooks on theology ever written. Its publication marked Calvin as a leading mind of Protestantism and kept him from pursuing the quiet scholarly life he had hoped for. As he described it, “God thrust me into the fray.”

In spite of his powerful influence on European affairs, Calvin has rarely been treated sympathetically by historians. Except among his followers, he has been portrayed as a cold, unfeeling, and calculating man, who imposed his stern will on a helpless or cowed people. He is seen as the proponent of an austere and joyless religion of fear and constraint, and of a vengeful and arbitrary omnipotent God who treats human beings as puppets, demanding of them servile obedience, yet severely punishing the slightest deviation from his strict moral code. Such a legalistic and negativistic religion, popularly attributed to Calvin, is a ridiculous caricature that recent scholarship has only begun to correct.

Calvin regarded himself as primarily a pastor and theologian. Spending almost all of his productive years as a refugee and a foreigner in the Genevan republic, he was accorded citizenship only five years before his death, and then only after he appeared to be dying. Because his opinions were highly regarded, his political views were influential, but he never held political office. His cultural impact was not that of an autocrat, but of a persuasive thinker who sought to apply biblical principles to every area of life. In contrast to the caricature, then, there is probably more truth to the conviction of the nineteenth-century French historian Joseph Renen (who was no Reformed enthusiast) that Calvin was “the most Christian man of his time.”

Clement of Alexandria, (c. 155-220)
First Christian writer to show extensive knowledge of pagan and Christian writings
Titus Flavius Clement was probably born in Athens of pagan parents and became a Christian through his study of philosophy. After traveling to the centers of learning in the Greek-speaking East, he joined Pantaenus’s school in Alexandria. Pantaenus impressed Clement by his ability to interpret the Scripture. The school which began with Pantaenus in 180 later became the official church catechetical school of Alexandria under Origen. Clement succeeded Pantaenus as head of the school circa 190.

During his years as a teacher in Alexandria (190-202) Clement wrote most of his works. In them he followed Philo who had used Greek philosophy to interpret the Old Testament. Clement adopted Philo’s allegorical method of interpreting Scripture, often quoting Philo at length and using his thought. Although the status of Clement as a church father was later called into question, he was the forerunner and teacher of Origen, who exerted a primary influence upon the theology of the East. Clement fled Alexandria during the persecution under Roman emperor Septimius Severus about 202 and died in Asia Minor.

Cyril of Jerusalem, (c.310-386)
Early Church father: bishop of Jerusalem

When the emperor Constantine’s Church of the Resurrection was dedicated in Jerusalem (335), Cyril was present as a deacon to witness the event. The Arian controversy, the fourth-century heretical teaching that Christ was less than God, continued even after [the Council of] Nicaea, and Cyril’s career was caught up in both the theology and the politics of that dispute.

In 343 Cyril was ordained priest by Maximus, the aging bishop of Jerusalem, who had been persuaded earlier to join the Arian faction. Maximus later recanted his Arian views and supported the orthodox champion Athanasius, who insisted on Christ’s full divinity. For unrelated reasons, Cyril repudiated his ordination. Acacius, Arian metropolitan (ranking bishop) of Caesarea, consecrated Cyril bishop of Jerusalem in 348, following Maximus’s death.

During his early years as bishop, although he was orthodox in his views, Cyril lived in peace with the Arian bishops and emperors. However, he was exiled three times, (357, 360, and 367) for conflicts with the ruling emperors. The Synod of Jerusalem (381-382) praised him as one “who had fought a good fight” against the Arians. He placed emphasis on Christ’s death and resurrection as the foundation of the Christian faith. He also advocated the veneration of relics and the “holy places,” and he was one of the first to teach that the bread and wine during Holy Communion changed into the actual “body and blood” of Christ (a doctrine called trans-substantiation).

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Gregory of Nazianzus, (c. 330-389) [1]
Cappadocian monk whose eloquent preaching and scholarly writing earned him the title “the theologian”
Gregory was born at Arianzus near Nazianzus. His father, bishop of Nazianzus, gave young Gregory a serious religious education. Gregory’s mother, Nonna, who had guided her husband’s conversion, also had a great spiritual impact on her son.

Gregory studied at Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, Alexandria, and Athens. During that period of time he cultivated a close friendship with Basil, another student from Cappadocia. After teaching rhetoric in Athens for a time. Gregory returned to Nazianzus in about 359. Though he wanted to become a religious hermit, Gregory was persuaded by his father to accept ordination as a church leader. Afterwards he repudiated that action and entered monastic life with Basil.

During the next twenty years Gregory’s ascetic life was interrupted intermittently with active church ministry. At the Council of Constantinople (381), his theological disputations won him the bishopric of Constantinople. Gregory refused the appointment.

Theologically, Gregory appears to have been strongly influenced by the early third-century theologian Origen. Gregory defended the Nicene council’s view of the Trinity and argued against the Apollinarian view that Christ’s humanity was passive. He condemned the emperor Julian, who tried to exclude Christians from higher learning and study of the classics.

Gregory of Nyssa (330—c. 395)
Cappadocian rhetorician and theologian; Bishop of Nyssa

Gregory, born at Caesarea in Cappadocia, was the younger brother of Basil and Macrina (a sister), whom he called his “teachers.” He with Basil and Gregory Nazianzus composed the “three Cappadocians” who powerfully influenced the fourth-century Eastern church.

Gregory received a diverse classical education. Under the direction of his domineering brother, he briefly served as a reader in church, but later chose to teach rhetoric instead. Gregory of Nazianzus urged him to return to Christian ministry. Basil, after asking Gregory to help him in his Caesarea diocese, finally forced the vacant bishopric of Nyssa upon him (371). Gregory’s enthusiastic anti-Arian stance drew opposition, and he was soon ousted from that position by the emperor Valens (about 376). Following Valens’s death (378) Gregory was recalled and commissioned to assist churches in Arabia and Palestine. In the Council of Constantinople (381) he defended the Nicene Creed.

Although often eclipsed by Basil’s brilliant career, Gregory was a theological prodigy. He elaborated doctrines of resurrection, divine grace, and Christology. He produced treaties on ascetic piety and mystic communion with God. Some scholars believe that his early work On Virginity indicated that he was married.

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Herbert, Edward, (1582-1648) [1]
British historian and philosopher
Lord Herbert of Cherbury was the brother of the poet George Herbert and a follower of John Donne. He is known as the father of English deism.

Dismissing any claim to an infallible church, an authorative priesthood, or a special revelation, Herbert based his thinking on certain eternal and universal truths, “common notions” recognizable by all men, thanks to their God-given faculties. These truths provide the essence of “natural religion” and of “natural law,” and by them all religions and all alls should be judged.

In religion, he lists five such “common notions”: (1) there is one supreme God, (2) who ought to be worshiped; (3) virtue and piety are the principal parts of worship, so (4) we should repent for our sins; and (5) God administers rewards and punishments in both this world and the next.

Measured by this yardstick, Christianity seemed to Herbert to stand up best, but its “superfluous” supernatural elements should be discarded. Eighteenth-century deism followed the direction he began.

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Irenaeus, (fl. c. 175-195) [1]
Bishop of Lyons in southern France; one of the most important Christian writers of the second century
Irenaeus grew up in Asia Minor under the preaching of the apostolic father Polycarp and moved to southern France, becoming “elder” (presbyter) in Lyons. When the aging bishop was martyred, Irenaeus succeeded him as bishop in the West. In his primary work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus gave his theology as statements of the Christian faith to refute the heresies of Valentinus (the Gnostic) and Marcion. For Irenaeus the authority of “the faith” is established through the direct line of elders in the church back to the apostles. He was the first to state four Gospels as canon. To these he also added a list of apostolic writings, quoting all as “Scripture” along with the Old Testament.

Irenaeus was more Pauline than the apostolic fathers. He was also more biblical and less philosophical than the Greek church fathers who came later. Although a contemporary with the apologists and their work, Irenaeus was the first to write as a theologian for the church.

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Jerome, (c. 345-c. 419) [1]
Latin Bible translator; biblical scholar
Born into wealth near Aquileia (Adriatic Sea’s northernmost point), Jerome spent his youth acquiring broad education in Rome. No descriptions of his conversion remain, but at about age twenty he underwent baptism. Soon thereafter, Jerome embarked on a twenty-year period of travel, a pilgrimage traversing the empire. But in 375, very discontented, Jerome moved to Antioch, in Syria, where in a conscience-stricken dream he faced vivid accusations of following, not Christ, but Cicero. As he pictured it later, he felt his Christian commitment underwent basic transformation through this incident.

Shortly after the dream, Jerome removed to the desert around Chalcis (east of Antioch). Here he began intense study of Scripture—mixed with learning Hebrew and Greek—and tried to find himself as a Christian. Jerome’s wandering concluded in the years 382 to 385, his pilgrimage’s happiest and most fruitful segment. Once again in Rome, and serving as Pope Damasus’s personal secretary, Jerome pursued his chief interests: thoroughgoing study of Scripture and active promotion of monastic asceticism. Yet this time ended abruptly due to Damascus’s death and persecutory attacks stirred up by Jerome’s acerbic personality. He settled finally in 386 in Bethlehem.. Here he spent his last thirty-five years engaged deeply in the biblical scholarship and Bible translation his gifted mind so acquisitively pursued.

Jerome’s many works may be grouped under six headings: translations of the Bible, commentaries on Scripture, translations of others’ works, historical treatises, theological essays, letters and miscellaneous works. It is the translation labors and exegetical works that are the most valuable of Jerome’s profuse efforts. Indisputably, over the centuries, the most influential of all versions of Scripture has been its Latin rendering. Since it is Jerome’s Latin version that the Roman Church used almost exclusively throughout its history until modern times, Jerome’s translation work was clearly one of Christianity’s watershed events.

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165)
Early Christian writer and martyr
Of Greek parents, Justin was born in Palestine near the modern city of Nablus in Samaria. He went to Ephesus and studied the philosophies of the time, especially Platonism. Although deeply impressed by the death of Christian martyrs, he was actually converted (as he himself related) by a humble old Christian. For a while he taught Christian philosophy at Ephesus, but left in 135 and went to Rome, where he taught and wrote until he was martyred under Marcus Aurelius.

He believed, as did Philo the Jew, that the pagan philosophers had studied and learned from the Old Testament. To him Christianity was Platonism and Stoicism corrected and completed by the Bible and by the Logos that enlightens everyone. He opposed the early Christian heresies of Gnostic origin, in particular Docetism, by standing for the historicity of Jesus. To Justin the culminating act of God was the Incarnation—when God became man. He remained within the early Palestinian tradition by his stress on the church as the true Israel and by his doctrine of the Millennium.

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Kierkegaard, Sǿren Aabye (1813-1855)
Danish Christian philosopher and author

Within the fourteen large volumes that make up Kierkegaard’s collected published writings (Danish edition) can be fond works that fall under the categories of literature, philosophy, and theology, plus a large volume of writings that are sermonic or devotional in form, but which the author calls “discourses,” since he was not ordained to preach.  His authorship culminated in an open attack on the state church in Denmark, waged in the newspapers and pamphlets.

Kierkegaard was reared in the wealthy home of Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, who was a devout but strict father, laced with a strong pietistic influence.  Kierkegaard was an extremely reflective person who from an early age struggled with feelings of guilt and depression.  The causes for this seemed to stem in large measure from his relationship with his father, who also struggled with guilt and what was termed “melancholy.”

As a young man Kierkegaard became engaged to Regina Olsen and then broke the engagement partly because he felt he was unfit for marriage.  This experience marked the beginning of his “authorship,” much of which concerned the necessity of “dying to self”—acquiring a willingness to sacrifice any earthly good if necessary—in order to achieve a genuine “God-relationship.”

Kierkegaard’s authorship is an attempt to help the individual acquire the inward personal concern or “subjectivity” he believed was essential to becoming a true Christian.  He saw Christianity as the final and most adequate answer to the question,  How should I exist?  Basically, he believed there were three major ways of answering this question.  The first stage he termed the aesthetic stage; this is the life view in which a person is urged to enjoy life by developing his natural drives and abilities.  The second stage is the ethical life—a life of duty and commitment, which is symbolized by marriage.  The final and highest stage is the religious, which involves a recognition that man is unable to become a whole person on his own and must seek the help of God.  

Kierkegaard stressed that Christianity sees the Incarnation as an actual historical event; thus a Christian acquires salvation not through trying to live a moral life (as many liberal theologians who were Kierkegaard’s contemporaries said) but through faith in the Jesus of history.  Kierkegaard believed that God’s loving self-sacrifice in Christ could not be understood by finite, sinful human beings.  He thus opposed any attempts to philosophically understand the incarnation or scientifically “prove” the truth of Christianity.

A significant feature of Kierkegaard’s authorship is his attempt to utilize “indirect communication.”  He believed that moral and religious truth could only be acquired by an individual through personal appropriation, unlike mathematical and scientific truth, which can be directly and “objectively” given one person to another.

Kierkegaard saw his task as that of “reintroducing Christianity into Christendom: by helping his contemporaries see that being a Christian requires a radical, courageous decision to follow Christ.

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Luther, Martin (1483-1546) [1]
Father of the German Reformation

Born at Eisleben in Thuringe, Saxony, Luther attended school at Namsfield, at Magdeburg under the Brethren of the Common Life, and at Eisleben. He then went to university at Erfurt (1501), where he came under Nominalist influence and learned Greek, graduating B.A. in 1502) and M.A. in 1505. He had intended to study law, but due to a narrow escape from death by lightning, he changed his mind and in spite of his father’s objections became an Augustinian monk in 1506.

In the Erfurt monastery he did further theological study, was made a priest in 1507, and with his transfer to Wittenberg in 1508 read for the B.D. (1509) and began to teach moral theology, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and the holy Scriptures. A visit to Rome on Augustinian business (1510-1511) opened his eyes to the corruption prevalent among the higher clergy. Returning to Wittenberg he took the degree of D.Th. in 1512 and was appointed to the chair of biblical studies, which he occupied for the rest of his life. He also became sub-prior of the Wittenberg house.

Outwardly Luther was building up a successful monastic and academic career but inwardly he was troubled by a conviction of sin that his diligence in monastery life could not relieve. His biblical reading, especially in preparation for his classes on the Psalms (1513-1515), Romans (1515-1516), and Galatians (1517) proved to be the decisive factor. It was probably during this period, perhaps in 1514, that he had the famous Tower experience when he came to realize that God’s righteousness in Romans 1 is not the justice that we have to fear but the positive righteousness that God gives believers in Christ — it is a righteousness they receive by personally trusting in Christ.

In 1517 Luther was aroused when just across the border from Saxony John Tetzel preached an indulgence in which crude theology was accompanied by the crassest materialism. In protest Luther rapidly drew up ninety-five theses for debate, which he posted on the door of the Castle church on October 31, 1517. When translated and widely circulated, these theses brought an explosion of anti-church feeling that wrecked the indulgence. Given practical application in this way, Luther’s theology could no longer go unnoticed, and he came at once under ecclesiastical pressures ranging from attempts at intimidation to promised favors for compliance.

Luther refused to be silenced. He won over too many Augustinians at the Heidelberg disputation in 1518. Pressed by Eck at the Leipzig disputation in 1519, he caimed the supremacy of the authority of Scripture over all ecclesiastical authority. When Charles V, the newly elected emperor, stepped up the pressure, Luther responded in 1520 with three powerful works that have come to be called his primary treatises. In the Address to the German Nobility he appealed to the princes to throw off papal oppression. In the Babylonian Captivity he attacked the current sacramental system. In the Freedom of a Christian Man he expounded the complementary theses that the Christian is both a free lord subject to none and also a servant subject to all.

By the middle of 1520 papal patience was at an end, an a bull was drawn up ordering Luther’s recantation and the burning of his works. Protected by the elector Frederick, Luther denounced the bull, and the theology faculty solemnly burned a copy at a ceremony on December 10, 1520. Early in 1521 a stronger bull of excommunication was prepared that, if carried out, would have deprived Luther of civil rights and protection. Before it execution Charles V agreed to give Luther the chance to recant at the diet to be held at Worms. Here Luther made his resounding confession before the emperor, princes, and other rulers: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God…Here I stand, I can do no other.”

The situation after Worms seemed hardly favorable for positive reform. A majority at the diet decided to apply the papal bull. In order to shield Luther against violence, Frederick arranged his “kidnapping” on the way home and hid him in the safe castle of the Wartburg under the guise of George the Knight. Able to return from the Wartburg in 1522, Luther turned his attention to the sphere of worship. The main step here, as in relation to Scripture, was to make the services understandable by putting them in the native.

During his time in the Wartburg Luther had given much thought to the question of celibacy. Even earlier he had come to think that the only lifelong vow a Christian ought to take is that of baptism, i.e., of general discipleship. While in the Wartburg he wrote On Monastic Vows. His reforming work when he came back to Wittenberg included the dissolution of monasteries and the ending of clerical celibacy. Luther himself married the former nun Katherine of Bora, and they had a happy life with six children.

From the publication of his 95 Theses Luther was engaged in unending debate with the Roman Church. In addition, he soon found himself in disagreement with other reforming groups. Since he was plain, outspoken, and pugnacious, and came into collision with equally militant opponents, these controversies often took on a bitter edge that brought personal alienation and greatly hampered the general movement of reform.

Pressured by ill health and harassed constantly by political and theological problems, Luther tended to display in his last years the less pleasant aspects of his virtues. His courage increasingly appeared as pugnacity, his bluntness as crudity, and his steadfastness as obstinacy. Instead of mellowing with the years, his opposition to the papists, the radicals, and other reformers became even more bitter. Nevertheless, he continued to work for military peace in the empire—and it is a tribute to his underlying desire for peace and reconciliation that the aim of his final journey was to bring together the quarreling rulers of Anhaldt.

Luther did a work that probably no one else in his highly gifted age could have done. He did it because he had the required combination of learning, insight, character, and faith. When under God the hour struck in1517, the man for the hour was there. The Reformation that had been arrested so long could no longer be delayed.

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Origen (Origenes Adamantius) (c. 185- c.254) [1]
Alexandrian Theologian

Born of a Christian family (most likely in Alexandria), the oldest of seven children, Origen was initially trained in both secular and religious literature by his father Leonides (who is exceedingly proud of his son’s learning). The burden of caring for his family fell upon Origen at the age of seventeen, so he began to teach. His classes became so popular that he had to divide them, leaving the beginners to an assistant, reserving the more advanced for himself. Origin lived in extreme austerity. He was bold in his admiration for martyrs, and many of his students suffered in the persecutions. Despite his lack of care for his own life, he was spared because many pagan philosophers and Christian heretics came to him for instruction.

His range of learning was vast. In addition to his father’s instruction, Origen also studied under Ammonius Saccas and Clement of Alexandria. For the sake of biblical exegesis, he learned Hebrew. His knowledge of the philosophies of the day, especially Platonism, was profound. While living in Alexandria, he began to write and compile books. So famous did he become that Mamaea, the mother of Emperor Alexander Severus, summoned him to Antioch to instruct her. On his way to Greece, he was ordained as a priest by the bishop of Caesarea. That Action was uncanonical and was protested by his own bishop of Alexandria. As a result, he never returned to Egypt but settled down in Caesarea, where he taught for the remainder of his life.

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Semler, Johan ((1725-1791) [1]
German theologian and church historian
Born in Thuringen, Semler in his early years was strongly influenced by his father’s Pietism. Later, while attending the University of Halle (1743-1750), he was attracted to the rationalism of J. S. Baumgarten. After teaching at Coberg and Altdorf, he returned to Halle as professor of theology (1753-1791) and soon became one of the most popular theologians in Germany.

Semler was a prolific writer. Most of his 171 publications are on ecclesiastical history and history of the canon. Although his views pointed in the direction of naturalism, Semler steadfastly opposed the conclusions of naturalism. He highly valued the marks of piety—such as prayer, singing of hymns, and Christian morality—that were promoted by the church. Thus, while one’s private beliefs must be free from coercion, public dogma must be preserved from its influences and strictly regulated by the state.

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Tertullian (c. 160-225) [1]
African Latin theologian and moralist
Besides what is known about Tertullian through his lifelong residency in Carthage, personal facts about him can be traced only in outline. He enjoyed a superior education, including literary, rhetorical, and legal training, and instruction in Greek and Latin. Very probably he practiced law at some point. Sometime in his late thirties, Tertullian was converted to belief in Christ. He was married to a Christian wife, and after her death he remained a widower. In succeeding years, he served the church at Carthage as a gifted teacher.

Out of his intense Christian commitment, Tertullian’s experiences with the Carthage church prompted much dissatisfaction over perceived laxities. Consequently, about 206, he joined the Montanists, a separatist yet largely unheretical Christian sect. Eventually he led a segment of this group called the Tertullianists. Except for separatist ideas on Church life, Tertullian remained doctrinally orthodox until his death. The Tertullianists rejoined the church at Carthage several decades later.

Soon after conversion, Tertullian began the large output of Christian writings occupying his last twenty-five years. Sizable portions of this production, thirty-one Latin works, are yet extant; and these may be divided by three types of content: apologetic, dogmatic, and moral. While the moral essays exhibit a rigorist outlook, Tertullian’s essentially mainstream posture changed little in the apologetic and dogmatic treatises. Most of Tertullian’s dogmatic works are acutely polemical in nature.

Tertullian’s works were influenced, on the one hand, by Stoicism and Roman legalism, and on the other, a highly impetuous, obdurate personality. Yet, overall, even the Montanists writings were respectful reflections of the scriptural teachings Tertullian honored as divine revelation. Literally, his special attainment was a pungent, aphoristic style, and a confrontational force unequalled by any other early Christian authority. Theologically, Tertullian’s teachings place him among the great early Christian fathers, positioning him as founder of Latin Christian doctrine and proponent of much in orthodox Western Church dogmas as a whole.

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   [1]   J.D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort, editors, Who’s Who in Christian History, (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 1992).