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This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Please check back later for the full article.
Astrotheology is that branch of theology that provides a critical analysis of the contemporary space sciences combined with an explication of classic doctrines such as creation and Christology for the purpose of constructing a comprehensive and meaningful understanding of our human situation within an astonishingly immense cosmos. Within the growing field of religion and science, astrotheology and its sister subject, astroethics, represent critical responses to the excitement permeating the space sciences, especially astrobiology. The excitement arises because of new searches for microbial life within the solar system and the discovery of exoplanets elsewhere in the Milky Way, some of which may be homes for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations.
John D. Barbour
Autobiography and biography (which together will be called “life writing”) raise theological questions in ways different from systematic or constructive theology. These forms of life writing tell a story that may or may not be correlated with traditional doctrines. They integrate the first order discourse of symbol and narrative with secondary hermeneutical reflections that interpret and analyze the meaning and truth of religious language. The probing and disturbing questioning in a profound autobiography such as Augustine’s contrasts with the assurances and settled answers expected of theology by religious institutions and communities. Particular religious questions shape specific genres of life writing such as Puritan discourses, nature writing, or African American autobiographies. The theology in autobiography may be either explicit or implicit and involves both questioning and affirmation, as may be seen in works as different as Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son. Conversion has been a central theme and shaping influence on Christian texts, even when authors challenge this focus and create alternative forms. A central theological question posed by autobiography concerns the authority of individual experience when it contrasts or conflicts with traditional norms asserted by orthodox believers and ecclesiastical hierarchy. In spiritual autobiographies by contemporary writers, we see serious attention given to communal norms for life stories and a search for a distinctive personal apprehension of what is sacred. Autobiographical writing has been stronger in the history of some religious traditions than in others. Yet in the modern world, almost every culture has produced life writing that questions or challenges established patterns of thought and practice. In contrast with autobiography, sacred biography has been an important part of every religious tradition, usually describing an exemplar to be revered and imitated. Its strong didactic interests often curb theological questioning of established norms. While modern scholarly biographies often mute theological questions, some writers raise normative issues and argue for why the subject’s life should be valued. As well as the theology explored within life writing, many works reveal a theology of life writing, that is, beliefs about how this kind of writing may bring the author or readers better understanding of God or deeper faith.
Avalokiteśvara is one of the most famous bodhisattvas in Buddhism. The worship of bodhisattvas (beings of enlightenment) is one of the most distinctive features of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Whereas early or mainstream Buddhism recognizes only two bodhisattvas—the Buddha in his previous lives and Maitreya, the future Buddha—there are a number of bodhisattvas in Mahāyāna to whom one can appeal for help and guidance. Of the many bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara is identified specifically as the embodiment of compassion and as such has been worshipped throughout Buddhist Asia.
Baptism opens a window to the heart of Martin Luther’s 16th-century theology. It offers a perspective for how Luther understands the impact of grace and its channels, as well as the nature of justification in an individual’s life. In his teaching about baptism, Luther demonstrates the vital working of the Word and lays a foundation for a Word-centered and faith-oriented spirituality. With baptism, Luther articulates his vision for the purpose of the Church and the rationale for sacraments. Baptism reveals different sides of the theologian: one who argues with a zeal on the “necessity” of baptism and its meaningful God-mandated practice in Christian communities and another who imagines God’s saving grace too expansive to be limited to any ritual. The apparent tensions in Luther’s articulation can be understood from his overlapping agendas and different audiences: in his baptismal talk, Luther is both processing his own Angst about salvation and negotiating his developing position in relation to the medieval sacramental theology and other emerging reform solutions. While feistily refuting his opponents, he is also speaking from his personal religious experience of being as if reborn with the encounter of the Word of grace and passionately extrapolating his most foundational conviction: God’s unconditional promise of grace as the ground of being for human life, given to humanity in the Word. The matter of baptism leads to the roots of different Christian “confessional” traditions. The format of the ritual has generated less anxiety than differing theological opinions on (1) the role of faith in the validity of baptism, and (2) the effects of baptism in one’s life. Whether infant or adult baptism is favored depends on whether baptism is primarily understood as a sign of faith, a cause of forgiveness and transformation, or an initiation into the Christian community—or all of the above. Baptism is at the center of Luther’s theological nervous system; it connects with every other vital thread in the theological map. Baptism is a mystery and a matter of faith; it calls for a philosophical imagination and mystical willingness to grasp the questions of reality beyond what meets the eye. “I study it daily,” Luther admits in his “Large Catechism.” “In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings.”
Contemporary issues in biology and Christian theology are still dominated by the legacy of 19th-century biologist Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Debates in evolutionary biology in relation to religious belief have been reinforced by historical myths that stress conflict over integration. More conservative branches of Christianity, often allied to particular Protestant traditions, argue for a form of popular theology that attempts to compete with science, namely, creationism. More sophisticated versions of this position may appear under the guise of intelligent design, though creationism and intelligent design are not synonymous. The mirror image of this position has developed among biologists who identify themselves as new atheists, adding further fuel to the fire of an existing controversy. Methodologically speaking, the engagement of biology and theology will depend on different philosophical presuppositions according to basic models of (a) conflict, (b) independence, (c) dialogue, and (d) integration. The biological sciences also have broader relevance to allied subject domains including, for example: (a) ecological, agricultural, animal, and environmental sciences; (b) anthropological, social, and political sciences; (c) medical sciences, including genetic science and embryo development; and (d) new technologies that include bioengineering. Theological engagement with the biological component of each of these domains is particularly intense where there are controversial ethical issues at stake that seem to challenge specific Christian beliefs about human nature or divine purpose. A more positive approach to the biological sciences that draws on research in the constructive systematic theological task, while avoiding historically naïve forms of natural theology, is starting to emerge in the literature. Within Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian traditions, there is a spectrum of possible positions, such that the field of science and theology as a whole tends to be ecumenical in orientation rather than divided along denominational boundaries. The Catholic and Orthodox churches, however, give greater precedence to official statements by their respective churches that then influence public reception of controversial issues in biology and theology in particular ways.
J. Blake Couey
The book of Isaiah is a compilation of prophetic poetry and narratives, named for an 8th-century
Isaiah is a sophisticated work of biblical Hebrew poetry, characterized by intricate combinations of imagery and wordplay. It features a high view of divine sovereignty, emphasizing Yhwh’s control over world nations and superiority over all human and divine powers; these ideas contributed to the emergence of monotheism in ancient Judah. The book also articulates diverse responses to imperial domination, even as it chronicles the ebb and flow of Judah’s own imperial aspirations. Striking portrayals of women and gender appear throughout Isaiah, including the extensive personification of Jerusalem as a woman and the comparison of Yhwh to a mother. Isaiah is also notable for its discourse about disability, which serves a variety of rhetorical functions in the book.
The impact of Isaiah was felt immediately, as evidenced by the number of copies of the book among the Dead Sea scrolls and citations of it in the New Testament. It greatly impacted the development of important religious ideas, including apocalypticism and belief in resurrection. In Christianity, Isaiah played an important role in reflection upon the nature of Jesus and the inclusion of Gentiles, even as it informed Christian anti-Judaism. The book has had a more complicated reception in Judaism, where it significantly influenced the growth of Zionism. Scholarly study of Isaiah continues to clarify the shape of its final form and history of composition. Current research on the book is increasingly interdisciplinary, engaging metaphor theory, disability studies, and postcolonial thought. The history of the book’s interpretation and reception is another area of growing interest.
Eastern Orthodox and Catholics of the Byzantine Rite practice a liturgical tradition historically synthesized and disseminated via the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Various traditions of Jerusalem, and Palestine more generally, became a significant part of the synthesis. After Constantinople’s fall in 1453, the Greek liturgical books printed in Venice came to codify the textual and structural bases for the various families of this Rite. These families nonetheless employ different languages and music. They are also distinguished by ritual particularities. The Byzantine tradition stresses the sacramentality of the entire worship space and retains a transcendent ethos. The latter derives from the belief that earthly liturgy is a copy of the heavenly.
While the full, codified Rite reveals an obvious regard for Scripture, approximately 85 percent of the Old Testament is not part of the lectionary—even if allusions to those unused passages are occasionally found in the hymnography.
Historically, various genres have evolved in Byzantine hymnography, but—with some exceptions—the evolution of new forms ceased after Constantinople’s fall. As in all classical Rites, the Eucharist consists of a Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, though an elaborate preparation of the gifts precedes the Liturgy of the Word. A distinctive Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts is a prominent part of Lenten observance. As for the Hours, Vespers and Matins (Orthros) are the “hinges” of the office. Especially in the ancestral territories of the Rite, these have remained prominent—even in parochial churches.
The Orthodox Church does not grant the same status to the Septinarium as does the Catholic, but all seven sacraments are celebrated with significant rites. Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), and the Eucharist are always administered together as initiation into the Church.
The immovable cycle of feasts begins on September 1, imitating the old Byzantine civil calendar, while Easter, the actual start of the Church year, inaugurates the cycle of movable commemorations. The latter includes a cycle of eight melodic tones, with one tone used per week. For the reckoning of the date of Easter, the Julian calendar continues to predominate, even though the Gregorian has been used by many Orthodox Churches for the immovable cycle since the post-World War I period.
The theological academies of the Russian Empire spawned a flowering of liturgical scholarship at the end of the 19th century. The Bolshevik Revolution curtailed this, and the baton passed to Rome’s Oriental Institute and to Orthodox institutions in Paris, Athens, and Thessaloniki, not to mention individual scholars throughout Europe.
Among the greatest challenges for the Byzantine Church today is the development and appropriation of solid research—both historical and theological—with a view to revitalizing worship in cultural environments significantly different from those in which it was born. Sociological factors, however, impede liturgical reform.
Susan E. Schreiner
Crucial for Luther’s theology and his own experience was the question of whether one’s salvation was certain. And the security of the truth which underlay doctrine was complexly related to that question. Luther thus received and developed notions of certitude and security. The concepts as Luther inherited them have a long and somewhat complicated history that can be traced back to ancient Greece. These terms were often distinct throughout antiquity and up to contemporary times. The term “security” has referred to the realm of the political; namely, the security or tranquility of the city state or “nation” both in terms of physical security in times of conflict and also in the history of law. Certitude has a more complex history. For example, Aristotle often understood certainty or akribeia to mean precision, especially in mathematical terms. Those sciences that had the most properties removed (aphaeresis) were the most precise and consequently the most certain. Most prominent in the history of certitudo was the issue of epistemic certainty. Thus we find in Augustine’s doctrine of illumination that uncreated, immutable exemplars were the guarantors of certainty. It was in the later Middle Ages that the issue of epistemic certainty, in the form of mental representation, became a controversial topic. Scotus criticized Henry of Ghent’s views of human cognition and contended that certainty could be had only of self-evident propositions, knowledge of contingent acts, repeated occurrences ordained by God, and sense knowledge of the external world. Ockham argued for epistemic certainty on the basis of self-evident propositions and, most importantly, the reliability of intuitive cognition of individual external objects.
Certainty also had a long history in Christian theology and most often referred to the certainty of faith. Certitude was the conviction of the truth regarding the contents of the faith. Frequently the issue referred to the relationship between faith and reason. Certainty referred primarily to definition of the Christian faith. Not surprisingly, throughout the Christian tradition, certainty was related to the problem of heresy. The early church Fathers tried to establish orthodox doctrine over and against various heretical groups. Everyone agreed that the foundation for Christian truth was Scripture. However, different people interpreted the Bible in ways that were judged to be contrary to Christian faith. Around the year 434, Vincent of Lérins provided a rule that distinguished Catholic truth from heresy. This “Vincentian Canon” required that Christian truth be that which was believed everywhere, always, and by all (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus). These criteria guaranteed the certainty and stability of doctrine. One target of Vincent’s was probably Augustine, because he could be quoted against himself. Due to the many conversions in his life, Augustine made many pronouncements he later retracted, and such retractions were not meant to contribute to uncertainty about the faith. Medieval Scholastic inheritors of Augustine continued to define faith as a cognitive certitude. Their training in dialectic was crucial because it provided the certainty of doctrine against heretics. Luther was trained in dialectic, but in his Disputation against Scholastic Philosophy he opposed the use of Aristotle and logic in theology. Nonetheless, dialectic remained a subject in the university at Wittenberg.
Dialectic could not answer the questions of certainty for which Luther sought answers. His questions were about the certainty of salvation and, for Luther, this certainty could only be found in Scripture and the experience of the Holy Spirit. Such certainty also required a redefinition of faith. As the various reformations continued to divide Western Christendom, controversies about the exegesis of Scripture multiplied both among various reformers and between reformers and Catholics. Throughout the course of the turbulent 16th century, the real source of certainty for all parties became the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the late Middle Ages, certainty and security referred to the relationship between the individual and God. For Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers, these terms took on a meaning beyond the faithful knowledge of the contents of the faith. Any examination of Luther’s writings show that he used “security” and “certainty” synonymously to refer to the certitude of salvation whereby one experienced the security, assurance, and certitude of God’s benevolent will. Moreover, despite his lack of a firm terminology, Luther meant the same thing by “the certainty of forgiveness,” “the certainty of justification,” and “the certainty of God’s good will,” as well as the phrase, “the certainty of being in a state of grace.” All of these phrases referred to the certainty of salvation or the security of knowing that God’s benevolence was directed to one’s own individual salvation.
Fundamentalism has a very specific meaning in the history of American Christianity, as the name taken by a coalition of mostly white, mostly northern Protestants who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, united in opposition to theological liberalism. Though the movement lost the public spotlight after the 1920s, it remained robust, building a network of separate churches, denominations, and schools that would become instrumental in the resurgence of conservative evangelicalism after the 1960s. In a larger sense, fundamentalism is a form of militant opposition to the modern world, used by some scholars to identify morally absolutist religious and political movements in Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and even Hinduism and Buddhism. While the core concerns of the movement that emerged within American Protestantism—defending the authority of the Bible and both separating from and saving their sinful world—do not entirely mesh with this analytical framework, they do reflect the broad and complex challenge posed by modernity to people of faith.
“Christian initiation” refers to the ritual process employed by various churches in forming new Christian converts through catechesis (instruction) during the “catechumenate” to baptism, postbaptismal rites (including hand-laying and anointing, sometimes called “confirmation”), culminating in First Communion, and leading to the further integration of these newly initiated members into ongoing Christian life through “mystagogy.” Christian initiation is the story of diversity and change as the biblical images of initiation lead toward a rich variety of early Christian practices and theological interpretations, eventually coming to focus on Christian baptism as “new birth” or the “washing of regeneration” in water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5 and Titus 3:5) in early Syria and Egypt and baptism as participation in the death and burial of Christ (Rom. 6) in North Africa and other places in the West.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, after Christianity emerged as a cultus publicus, the rites of Christian initiation underwent a certain standardization and cross-fertilization as various churches borrowed from one another to construct rites that display a remarkable degree of homogeneity. These rites include a decided preference for celebrating Christian initiation at Easter, after a period of final catechetical preparation in Lent; prebaptismal rites with an exorcistic focus; an almost universal (Rom. 6) theological interpretation of baptism; and postbaptismal hand-layings or anointings associated explicitly with the gift or “seal” of the Holy Spirit, still leading to First Communion within a unitive and integral process. Another characteristic, thanks to the controversies faced by Augustine with Pelagianism, was the development of a new theological rationale for the initiation of infants, which focused on the inheritance of “original sin” from Adam. This would have far-reaching consequences for subsequent centuries as infant baptism became the norm for practice and theology.
If the Eastern rites underwent little further development in the Middle Ages, the West experienced what many have been called a sacramental dissolution, disintegration, and separation. Gradually, the postbaptismal rites of hand-laying and anointing, associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit and now with the physical presence of the bishop, became separated from infant baptism and were given at a later point. Similarly, the reception of First Communion also became separated and was often postponed until the canonical age of seven. This process was inherited by the adherents of the Protestant and Catholic reformations of the 16th century. Little was done to restore the unitive and integral process of Christian initiation from the earlier centuries and confirmation itself developed among the reformers largely into a catechetical exercise or rite with First Communion either prior to or after confirmation.
In the early 21st century, thanks to the Roman Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and similar rites in other churches, the unitary and integral process of initiation has been restored. What remains to be done, however, is the full integration of infants and children into this process, although in several Anglican and Lutheran contexts infants now are again recipients of the full rites of initiation, including First Communion.