English 233: Introduction to Western Humanities -Baroque
Extra credit Option on
The Impact of the Enlightenment on Modern Biblical Scholarship:
Elaine Pagels on Augustine's concept of
[Note: Students who write on this extra-credit assignment are allowed to do up to two of the topics A, B, C, D, etc., though it is not permitted to do both subtopics under Topic D.]
Elaine Pagels (b. 1943) is a student of early Christian communities
who first made her mark in the academic world with her studies of the "gnostic
gospels," a collection of ancient papyrus texts discovered by a peasant
in a cave in Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945. Her special
focus came to be on the relations between religion and politics during
the first 4 centuries of the Christian era (c. AD 30-430). In
addition to her prolific output in the scholarly journals, she has published
a series of highly regarded expositions of her views for lay audiences: Most
famous among these are The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and Adam, Eve,
and the Serpent (1988), a study of early Christian controversies over
the issues of sex, gender, marriage, and politics controversies
that exhibit a lively variation among positions and outlooks but that shared
a common point of reference in the Genesis account of the Creation and
Fall of the First Parents. Different positions arose and flourished
or were banished to the margins at different times between the era of Jesus
and the death of St. Augustine, and Pagels' interest focuses on the
larger social factors that may have disposed adherents of different tendencies
to find these to be speaking convincingly to their personal experiences,
and which may help explain why one particular position, that of Augustine,
finally succeeded in imposing itself as the only orthodox one, with immense
ramifications for Western societies down to our own day.
Augustine's theory of original sin not only
proved politically expedient, since it persuaded many of his contemporaries
that human beings universally need external government which meant,
in their case, both a Christian state and an imperially supported church
but also offered an analysis of human nature that became, for better and
worse, the heritage of all subsequent generations of western Christians
and the major influence on their psychological and political thinking. Even
today, many people, Catholics and Protestants alike, regard the story of
Adam and Eve as virtually synonymous with original sin. During
Augustine's own lifetime, as we shall see, various Christians objected
to his radical theory, and others bitterly contested it; but within the
next few generations, Christians who held to more traditional views of
human freedom were themselves condemned as heretics ("Introduction,"
This is a fascinating book throughout, and students who have completed any one of the courses in the Western Humanities sequence are equipped to read it with enjoyment and insight. Partly as a sample to entice you to acquire the complete work from the library or bookstore, and partly because the subject of her final chapter raises issues that emerge again during 17th-century controversies we have been studying, I have focused this assignment on her final chapter, "The Nature of Nature." (As it happens, you'll also get an example of the way I go about annotating my own books.) I've also provided Pagels' "Epilogue," in which she discusses the distinction and relationship between "historical investigation" and "religious inquiry," which is one of the most striking legacies of the Enlightenment period.
You may acquire copies of these from the Arts & Sciences Copy Center (Eisenhower 11.)
The choice of topics. Study carefully these excerpts from Pagels' book (i.e., both Chapter VI and the Epilogue). Then write a well-organized single-spaced page (standard margins, 12-point type or 10 cpi) this is of course meant to be a rough guide in which you do one of the following tasks.
Topic A. Summarize the main points on which Julian of Eclanum's picture of nature and of the moral order of things differed from that of Augustine. Then ask yourself which of these views would seem most sensical to (choose one) Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, or Renée Descartes. Explain your answer.
Topic B. Despite Julian's vigorous defense of an alternative picture of the nature of Nature, many people evidently found Augustine's picture more attractive. How did Julian himself account for Augustine's own attachment to his views? (Can you locate anything to suggest what Augustine might have thought motivated Julian to persist in his views?) Summarize Pagels' theory as to why the Augustinian picture of nature might have been attractive to (a) to people in positions of political authority and (b) to ordinary people. Does she herself seem more inclined to Augustine's picture or to Julian's? Conclude by stating your own view: do you find Augustine's picture of nature convincing? attractive? (These are not necessarily the same!) How convincing do you find Pagels' account of the attractions of Augustine's picture? Try to go beyond mere declaration, and state at least one definite reason.
Topic C. In the course of their dispute, Julian
and Augustine develop quite different readings of certain key passages
in the Old and New Testaments. Pick one from each (a passage
from Genesis, say, and one from either the Gospel of John or the Letters
of Paul). For each passage you choose, cite at least one specific
point (word, phrase, issue) on which they develop divergent interpretations. Summarize
the interpretations they give. Do they argue for their interpretation
or against their opponent's, or do they just assert their readings? Do
their different readings presuppose different prior understandings of the
nature of God's character, or of His Providence, or of crucial moral notions
such as the conditions of responsibility or of justice in punishment?
Topic D. In her Epilogue, Pagels says that one of her friends surprised her in his response to an earlier draft of her book: "What, then, are you saying?" he asked. ""Whose side are you on? Are you saying that the real Christianity is more like John Chrysostom and the Pelagians (God forbid) than like Augustine? Or are you just saying that they all made interesting and different, but all politically and motivationally mixed and a little bit crazy, responses to what they took to be the gospel." Answer one of the following:
Topic D-1. Does Pagels answer, or evade, this
question, in the course of her Epilogue? What answer would you
say is supported by her chapter on "The Nature of Nature"?
Topc D-2. What does Pagels think "historical
investigation" is capable of disclosing, about "real Christianity"? How
is this illustrated in her chapter on "The Nature of Nature"? What
does she think it is not capable of deciding? Does
she give any indication of the sort of inquiry that would
be capable of deciding these other questions? Is there any hope
for these questions to be decided on a some kind of rational basis? some
other basis? What light (if any) does the passage she cites
from William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience cast on
Review the general instructions on Extra-Credit Assignments.
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