Yesterday I wrote a post on the Auckland Theology and Religious Studies blog on the exuberant use of typology in patristic and medieval biblical exegesis.

As I wrote, I was wondering about the origin of the belief that the “tau” sign in Ezekiel 9:4 was a type of Jesus’s cross. Unlike some of the other types in Scripture, this one’s not “authorised” by a typological connection in the New Testament.

In other words, it’s the kind of typology with which later Protestant exegetes would not have been very comfortable.

Anyway, I typed “lex moysi tau” into Google (law of moses tau), and eventually hit the/a jackpot with Roger Pearse’s online edition of Tertullian’s Adversus Judaeos (Against the Jews) written in 207/08.

In a frantic bid to prove that Christianity is right, Tertullian produces (to modern eyes) a rather strange collection of wooden and cross-shaped objects from the Old Testament.

So Adversus Judaeos 11 (English translation here) seems to be a source (if not the source) for the later Medieval reading of Ezekiel 9:4.

Chapter 13 also seems to be source for the Medieval iconography that shows Isaac carrying wood in the shape of a cross as he climbs Mount Moriah on his way to be sacrificed there by his father Abraham (Genesis 22:3-7).

Isaac carrying his crossed sticks can be seen in the bottom left panel of the “New Covenant” window from the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Bourges (early 13th cent.)

Typology of the passion

This post has no moral or conclusion beyond the fact that I find this kind of pointless, dilettante antiquarianism as rewarding as other people find doing the cryptic crossword or spotting trains.


Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

Last week Robert asked me to do a guest gig for his postgraduate course THEO700 Doing Theology in Context

At the moment the course is looking at the history of biblical hermeneutics. My job was to talk about the shift in Early Modern biblical interpretation towards philology (the original Biblical languages) and critical history.

From the 16th century there was a growing assumption that you couldn’t do Theology until you had a good grasp of the original Biblical languages, as well as some sense of the historical context in which the biblical texts were written.

For the earlier point of view, one has only to look at the way in which the Faculty of Theology at the University of Paris spent the first half of the 16th century condemning “humanists” (i.e. literary scholars) who “presumed” that their grasp of Hebrew and Greek gave them a right to talk about Theology. In 1536 the Faculty went as far as to…

View original post 1,009 more words


An image for brandishing every time someone tells you that the medievals believed in a flat earth.

(Apparently from a 15th cent. French ms. of Bartholmaeus Anglicus, De proprietatibus rerum [On the properties of things] first written in the 13th cent. Source:

Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

Image Birds perching on a sprouting vine from British Library Add MS 1885 f. 14r

I’ve been asked to write a post about Saint Valentine’s Day.

Those who asked me to do this, should have known that this was like asking Mr Scrooge to write a post about Christmas.

My reluctance is not for lack of romantic spirit, but from an inborn resistance (somewhere deep in my Presbyterian genetics) to being hustled into organised festivities – especially by card companies, florists and the media-industrial complex.

So let me proceed with my hatchet-job.

Valentine’s day very likely has as much to do with a saint called Valentine as Boxing Day has to do with Mike Tyson.

Mediaeval Christians marked their year – not as we do with financial years, civic holidays and weekends – but with festivals of the church. So, for example, in some of the mediaeval British universities like Glasgow…

View original post 741 more words

Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

Bike commuters in London; Credit: Paul Kubalek; Licence: Creative Commons

My mother taught me that it was ok to steal.

The nuns taught my mother that it was ok to steal.

Thomas Aquinas taught the nuns that it was ok to steal.

I suspect that some context is needed here.

In the Summa theologiae 2a2ae, q66, where Aquinas deals with the morality of theft and robbery, he considers whether it’s lawful to thieve in a case of necessity.

Aquinas argues that:

In cases of need all things are common property, so that there would seem no sin in taking another’s property, for need has made it common (2a2ae, q66, a7, co)

He gives qualified acknowledgement to property rights (albeit in a way that would make most red-blooded capitalists blanch). But he argues that in cases of “manifest and urgent” need, when no other remedy is available, a Christian…

View original post 754 more words

David of Thessaloniki, originally uploaded by Nick in exsilio.

Whatever functions Church History may or may not serve, the discipline is a limitless source of arcane ephemera for your next pub-quiz.

This weekend I was going back through some photos I took while visiting the former Chora Church of St. Saviour on the outskirts of Istanbul (now the Kariye Museum, and prior to that the Kariye Mosque).

This is an image from the parekkesion, a chapel connected to the main body of the basilica.

I didn’t have a guidebook, but was able to deduce from the Greek inscription that this image of a man in a tree was a David who dwelt in Thessalonica.

A little bit of googling (and nothing more careful than that) reveals that this is Saint David the Dendrite or David of Thessaloniki (d. 540).

While I had heard of the Stylites (hermits who lived at the top of pillars), hermits living in the tree-tops were new to me.

Now I just need to find the right kind of pub quiz.

Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

Change of Popes Doesn’t Sit Well With Traditionalists” is just one of the recent headlines describing the reaction of some conservative Catholics to the new pontificate. Chief among the pope’s transgressions to date has been that he last week washed the feet of a Muslim woman during Rome’s Holy Thursday ceremonies. It is not clear from conservative comment whether her religion or her gender stirred the greater alarm. It seems clear, however, that no good can come of it.

Such dire prognostications have been rivalled by headlines drawing favourable attention to the new pope’s “humility.” These reached self-parody in the tweeting of Los Angeles’ former archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony who effervesced about the new pope’s choice of black shoes. As not a few of his twitter followers pointed out, his comments were rich coming from a man who had not that long ago lavished cUS$180 million on a…

View original post 1,075 more words

%d bloggers like this: