The Albigensians

The Albigensians were a religious group of the middle ages that was very similar to the Manicheans. They believed that there existed two gods, one evil and one good, who were constantly fighting. They believed the good god was of spirit, and the bad god was of physical matter. Therefore, all physical matter had to be evil. This meant that one’s physical body was evil, and was a prison for the good soul, which was spirit. Since matter was evil, pregnant women were the ultimate evil because they brought more matter into the world. According to the Albigensians, there was no hope for a woman who died while pregnant.

Because matter was evil, the sacraments of the Catholic Church had to be be rejected, because sacraments were physical signs of God’s grace. Another important idea of the Catholic Church, the Incarnation, was rejected by the Albigensians. The Incarnation was the taking on of a human form by Jesus when he was born. Because, according to the Albigensians, matter and subsequently the human body are evil, God could not have taken on a physical form.

The Albigensians were divided into two groups, the Perfect and the Believers. The Perfect were celibate, and abstained from all animal products. The Believers were regular people who were not required to be celibate, and could eat animal products. When a Believer was about to die, he would be initiated into the Perfect through a ceremony called the Consolomentum. It is hard to believe that this extremely strange and highly unnatural religious sect could gain any followers, but it did. This was probably due to the fact that people were attracted to the highly ascetic lives of the Perfect, in contrast with the much more worldly lives of some of the Catholic clergy.

Essay 12: On Possible Uses of Scorpion Venom

Scorpions are Arachnids belonging to the order Scorpiones. Of the 1,750 known species, only 25 are capable of killing a human being. This may still seem like a lot, but many of these would only kill the very young and the very old. Their venom is a cocktail of various neurotoxins and enzyme inhibitors, designed for a wide variety of victims. Despite the obvious dangers of scorpion venom, there are possible human uses which may pose great benefits for mankind.

Chlorotoxin, a 36-amino acid peptide found in Leiurus quinquestriatus (the Deathstalker scorpion), has the potential to treat cancerous tumors, because it binds with glioma (tumor) cells. Maurotoxin, a 34-amino acid peptide of Scorpio maurus (the large clawed scorpion), may be able to treat certain autoimmune diseases as an immunosuppressant, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflamatory bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis. Meucin-13 and meucin-18, found in Mesobuthus eupeus (the lesser Asian scorpion), destroy microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, and yeasts by a process known as cytolysis, in which cells literally explode due to an osmotic imbalance within the them. Meucin-24 and meucin-25, also from Mesobuthus eupeus, both target two different types of malaria parasites, those that attack rodents (Plasmodium berghei), and those that attack people (Plasmodium falciparum).

Scorpions are dangerous creatures, and should be respected. However, certain toxins in scorpion venom have the potential to be highly beneficial. One day they may widely treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, and malaria.

Popular Misconceptions About the Crusades

There exist many popular misconceptions about the crusades which are often used as ammunition against the Catholic Church by its opponents in social media and elsewhere. While it is true that there were instances of cruelty and greed among the crusaders, especially during the fourth crusade, much of the popular opinion about the crusades is distorted from the truth.

It is often said that the crusades were unprovoked acts of aggression by religious zealots against the innocent Muslims. The actions of the crusaders were hardly unprovoked. The Muslims had taken over two-thirds of the Christian world, including Asia minor, the Middle east, North Africa, and much of Spain. In Asia minor, there were several cities of great importance to Christians, namely Antioch, Ephesus, and Nicaea (the city where the council of Nicaea took place, establishing the ever important Nicene creed), and in the Middle east, there was the city of Jerusalem, whose importance goes without saying. Today we associate these areas (except for Spain and Jerusalem) with the Muslims, but that is because they had taken them from the Christians! Many of the areas in Europe conquered in the Islamic holy wars were occupied for very long stretches of time. Hungary was occupied for 150 years, Sicily for 300 years, Serbia and Romania for 400, Bulgaria and Greece for 500, Portugal for 600, and Spain for 800 years. So no, the crusades were by no means unprovoked.

Another popular misconception was that the crusaders’ prime motivation was greed, and that they took advantage of the crusades to acquire personal wealth. The crusades were far from opportunities for personal gain, and the few who did think that they could establish their fortune that way would have very soon discovered the truth. Any military endeavor comes with great costs, and the crusades were no exception. Someone who wanted to go on crusade had to supply himself with weapons, horses, armor, not to mention all the food and other supplies needed for such a journey. No doubt many of the crusaders had families that needed supporting, and finances that needed to be put in order. It is not at all surprising that the crusaders were people that could actually afford to go on crusade, and therefore were not in need of plunder to to gain money. If these wealthy men were simply greedy for more money, it would have been far more profitable for them to stay home.

It has also been claimed that the Crusaders wanted to forcefully convert the Muslims to Christianity in the areas that they had conquered. Actually, no Muslims living in any of the crusader states established by the first crusade were required to give up their religion. In fact, in the conquered city of Jerusalem, the Muslims outnumbered the Christians.

Some have said that the crusades led to resentment among the Muslims which eventually culminated in 20th and 21st century terrorism. Well, if there does exist any resentment today, it was put there by misguided westerners who wanted to apologize for something that was not a significant event in Islamic history. From the perspective of the Muslims, the crusades were a minor event. It was not until the late 19th century that the first Muslim book was written about the crusades. In fact, all but the first crusade ended in failure, having little impact on the Islamic world.

There are many misconceptions about the crusades, likely emerging from people with a strong anti-Christian bias. It is true that there were unwarranted acts of violence against innocent people during the crusades, as in any military conflict. However, these events have been greatly distorted, and it has become necessary to step back and take a closer look in order to rediscover the truth.

The Fourth Crusade

After the first crusade, which successfully took back the Holy Land from the Muslims, and the unsuccessful second and third crusades, there was the disaster of the fourth crusade, which only further strained the relationship between the east and the west after the Great Schism.

The men who fought in the fourth crusade needed ships to sail from Venice to the Holy Land, so they made a deal with the Venetians. The doge (chief of an Italian state) of Venice offered a huge fleet, and unfortunately the messengers sent by the crusaders overestimated the amount of ships they needed and ended up agreeing to pay an amount which they could not afford. The doge was under great pressure to receive the money that was owed. This was because he called on the merchants to help prepare the fleet, which cost them greatly because they had not received anything for a year and a half. When he went to collect the money from the crusaders, they told him they weren’t able to pay the entire amount. They came to an agreement that they would pay the rest from their conquests gathered while on crusade.

The crusaders were told about a young man who was a claimant to the throne of Constantinople named Alexis. His brother, Alexis III, had taken the throne by treason, so it was deemed acceptable to try to assist him in taking the throne, in return for money to pay the Venetians. The crusaders then attacked the city of Constantinople and Alexis III fled. Alexis IV was crowned but did not pay all that he owed. He refused to pay more, so the Crusaders resolved to sack Constantinople.

The sacking of Constantinople was savage and ruthless. The crusaders’ behavior was appalling, destroying relics and sacred places. A Westerner named Baldwin of Flanders was put on the throne, and ruled for half a century. The Venetians were paid, but the main purpose of the crusade, to take back the Holy Land, was forgotten, except for a few loot-seeking knights and soldiers. The fourth crusade was a disaster, accomplishing nothing but the decimation of Constantinople and the complete loss of its standing in the world, not to mention furthering the divide between the East and the West.

Reconciling Paul and Justin Martyr

In many of the epistles of the Apostle Paul, we see ideas presented which seem to contradict the writings of other Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr. Justin’s First Apology seems to go directly against Paul’s epistles on important issues such as sovereignty and sanctions. These writings, however, are not as completely at odds as they might seem.

In the ninth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he held that since the sovereignty of God is absolute, the ultimate fate of a man (heaven or hell) has already been decided. Paul believed that God made men either good or evil from the start, which he illustrated in Romans 9:21, “Or hath not the potter [God] power over the clay [men], of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?” This seems to suggest that in Paul’s thought, one’s free will does not factor into which sanctions (negative or positive) are to be provided by God.

Paul’s exclusion of free will seems to counter what is found in Justin Martyr’s First Apology, particularly chapter XLIII, which very firmly states the importance of free will in God’s sanctions. Justin argues that if it was fated for a man to be good then it would be impossible for him to be anything but good, and because of this he would have no merit in being good, because it was fated for him to be so. Likewise, if a man was fated to be evil, then he could not be held accountable for his actions because it would not be any fault of his that he did evil. This teaches that men must have authority over their own fates, and must be able to choose either the path of good or evil for themselves.

These two arguments seem to run completely counter to each other. Paul teaches that God made men either good or evil, Justin teaches that God made men able to choose between good or evil. Paul writes that sanctions are dictated by God’s will, Justin writes that sanctions are dictated by men’s actions. However, unlike in Romans 9, chapter XLIII of Justin’s First Apology never even mentions God’s sovereignty, because it doesn’t need to. Sovereignty is not the issue, free will is. It is a given that God is completely sovereign and that God has authority over who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Justin is not arguing against the supreme authority of God, he is explaining the system of free will. He does not deny that God knew from the start who would be saved and who would be damned. He is merely discounting the notion that men have no control over their fates.

Sacraments and Indulgences

Sacraments

A sacrament is a Christian ritual which delivers grace to the soul. Sacraments are sensible signs, meaning they are detectable by the senses. There are two classes of sacraments; sacraments of the living and sacraments of the dead.

Sacraments of the living are only to be administered when the soul of the receiver is in a state of sanctifying grace, that is, when there are no mortal (damning) sins on the soul. Sacraments of the living include Holy Communion; the consumption of the body of Christ, Confirmation; the anointing of adolescents to become ‘soldiers of Christ’, Holy Matrimony; the joining of man and wife in marriage, and Holy Orders; the initiation of a priest.

Sacraments of the dead include baptism, which is the washing of away of original sin (the sin which all are born with on account of the fall of Adam and Eve) and all other sins committed prior to baptism. The reception of this sacrament marks the initiation into the church. Next is Penance, the confession of sins to a priest in order to regain the state of sanctifying grace.  Next is Extreme Unction, or the anointing of the sick, in which a soul is prepared for death. Extreme Unction is in a sort of grey area, because it is usually administered after Penance while the soul is in a state of grace, but can be administered if the partaker is not able to make a confession. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics  practice all seven of these sacraments. Protestants, however, generally only practice Baptism and Holy Communion.

Indulgences

There exist two types of punishment due to sin; temporal punishment and eternal punishment. Eternal punishment is the damning of a soul to hell forever. It is incurred when someone dies with mortal sins on their soul. Eternal punishment is wiped away when the sacrament of Penance is received. Temporal punishment is incurred with every sin, and is not canceled with Penance. Temporal punishment consists in spending time in a place called purgatory, which is a where the cleansing of souls before they can enter heaven takes place. Indulgences are acts that reduce or even eliminate temporal punishment due to sin. They can be obtained by doing simple acts, like saying a specific prayer, or visiting a sacred place, or reading the Holy Scripture. Indulgences can also be offered up to the souls in purgatory to reduce the time they have to spend there as well.

Essay 11: On Important Chordate Body Structures

Multicellular organisms, especially chordates (most vertebrates), exhibit several different body structures which allow for more sophisticated locomotion, sensory perception, and structure than in less developed animals.

All chordates exhibit a notochord, which is a long, flexible rod that provides support, and a place for muscles push against in locomotion. The notochord is present in the embryonic stage of vertebrates such as mammals, and develops into spinal discs later on. Another important development is the muscular tail. It is important as a source of locomotion in marine chordates, and serves many purposes in terrestrial chordates. The muscular tail is significant because it extends beyond the digestive tract. This is important because a combination of the various delicate digestive organs and the constant movement involved in locomotion would result in an efficiency loss of both systems.

Finally, another important chordate innovation is the pharyngeal cleft. The pharyngeal clefts are located on the pharynx, the region of neck or head just behind the mouth. These clefts, or pouches, serve many purposes among the chordates. In fish and some amphibians, they develop into gills. In other aquatic animals, they may develop into filter-feeding mechanisms. In many terrestrial chordates, they develop into structures which aid in sensory perception, such as ears and other structures on the pharynx.

Chordates have many developments which allow them to surpass other animals on many levels. They can achieve more advanced locomotion and greater structural strength with the notochord and the muscular tail. They can develop specialized organs on the pharynx that aid in many systems out of the pharyngeal clefts. Chordates are advanced animals whose success is based on seemingly simple innovations.

Political Ambition in the Great Schism

The Great Schism was a split between the churches of the East and Eest. It was fueled partly by cultural and liturgical differences between the two church centers, but initially, it was fueled by political ambition in the East.

The Catholic church had five Patriarchates, which were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. These Patriarchates each had a Patriarch, who had religious authority over his particular region. Over time, the East and the West, or more specifically, Rome and Constantinople, had been gradually moving apart. They had different liturgies, and they spoke different languages. The language of Rome was Latin, and that of Constantinople was Greek. The difference in practices and the language barrier between the East and the West were important factors in what would be one of the most important events in church history.

In the East, there was a closer relationship between church and state than the West. Constantinople wanted more authority and prestige, so in 381, it held the Council of Constantinople (the second ecumenical council), in which it affirmed its position as see (center of religious authority), having primacy of honor after Rome. The reason Constantinople deemed itself so important was that it had much more political power than Rome. Rome’s position was that the political power of a city was not important to its religious authority. The reason Rome was so important was because it was an apostolic see, meaning it was a see that was founded by an apostle, in this case, St. Peter. Rome would not accept Constantinople’s claims of authority, because it was not an apostolic see. Constantinople countered by saying that it was indeed an apostolic see, because St. Andrew founded it. This, however, was not true.

This whole affair heated up when the Patriarch of Constantinople, Ignatios (c. 798-877), refused to give communion to Bardas, an important government official, because it was suspected he was having an affair with his widowed daughter-in-law. Bardas, with the help of his nephew, emperor Michael, and a man named Photios, had Ignatios deposed. Photios, a layman, replaced Ignatios as Patriarch in 858 after going through the necessary steps in only six days. Both Photios and Ignatios appealed to Pope Nicholas I, who decided in favor of  Ignatios. Nicholas deposed Photios and reinstated Ignatios. Photios retaliated by excommunicating Pope Nicholas I four years later. This lead to a split between the Latin (Western) and Greek (Eastern) churches which culminated in 1054.

In 1054, the great schism truly occurred when Michael Cerularius, Patriarch of Constantinople at that time, closed down all of the Latin Churches in Constantinople, and was excommunicated by Papal legates. Michael then excommunicated the Papal legates, finalizing the schism between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches which persists to this day.

The differences between the East and West were more fundamental than simply cultural or liturgical. Earlier on in church history, the Byzantine empire and the eastern Catholic church had been more closely affiliated than in the west. With the iconoclast heresy of the 8th century, the Byzantine emperors had come to dominate church affairs in the East, and elsewhere. This interference was opposed by the Popes, and led to a slow alienation between East and West. The great schism was not fueled so much by religious differences or cultural barriers, as by the political ambition for more authority in the Byzantine empire.

 

Jesus and Zeus: A Matter of Ethics

The ethical conduct of Zeus and the ethical teachings of Jesus were completely opposite. Jesus’s teachings of God were based in ethics, and the actions of Zeus had little to do with any ethical system.

Zeus, according to classical Greek and Roman writers, operated on virtually no ethical guidelines or principles. He did as he pleased, constrained by neither god nor man. He was sovereign over all other gods, and over all of mankind. He frequently raped women and gods alike, such as the rape of Io as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Zeus administered negative sanctions unpredictably, and it was often difficult or even impossible to know what actions would be rewarded or punished by him. In ancient times, it was believed that the deciding factor in wars and other conflicts was which gods were on your side. The victory of one faction was attributed to the victory of the gods on one side over the gods of the other. However, the way the gods chose their sides was based entirely on whims and matters of seemingly small importance, and not on the fulfillment of ethical criteria by the side in question.

Many of the negative sanctions and punishments imposed on mankind by Zeus or any of the other Gods were based mostly on revenge. In Ovid, the story of the deluge, which superficially paralleled the story of Noah and the flood, was based on Zeus’s revenge on mankind for its evil. In the story of Noah, God wiped out all evil in the world in order start anew and repair mankind. There was no one selected to be spared from Zeus’s destruction, contrary to the story of Noah, and it was mostly by accident that a couple survived, and were able to restart the human race.

Zeus is obviously capable of evil, as is shown in much of Greece’s classical literature. He does not follow any guidelines, and is not bound to justice. His punishments are often based on whims or on revenge, not on the violation of certain laws.

Jesus taught that God is perfect, and incapable of evil. Evil is the only thing that God cannot do. Jesus also taught that God is ethically predictable, and always a force of good, and will always be against the forces of evil, with no exceptions. Unlike Zeus, God’s sanctions are based on a very specific set of laws which are known to mankind. If someone violates one of these laws and does not make reparation, that person will be punished. Likewise, if someone obeys the laws, and makes reparation if he does breach a law, then he will be rewarded. The punishments given by God are always completely just. These positive and negative sanctions are completely consistent, and do not rely on God’s “mood”. His actions are based on a system of ethics, not whims.

In addition to being completely just, Jesus taught that God is also completely merciful. This seems to be a contradiction, for how can something be fully just and fully merciful at the same time? The answer is, according to Christian doctrine, that it is a mystery, and we will never be able to comprehend it. All we can do is believe.

Jesus’s ethical teachings of God differed greatly from the way Greek and Roman writers portrayed Zeus. Zeus is portrayed as a monster, who was at many times evil. His treatment of mankind is unpredictable, administering positive and negative sanctions on whims. Mercy did not factor into Zeus’s system, and his justice was not based on ethics. Jesus’s teachings showed a very different system, one based on a God who was good, and both merciful and just. His justice was based on ethics and the violation or adherence to certain laws which are known to mankind. In conclusion, The God of Jesus’s teachings and the god portrayed by Greek and Roman writers were irreconcilably opposed.

 

Christendom

Christendom is the collective population of Christians in the world. Christianity has linked many diverse peoples in one belief. These believers share something special regardless of their race or nationality.  Catholicism, the very first form of Christianity, literally means “universal”. Christianity is the great equalizer, because whatever one’s nationality or social position, all are equal in the eyes of God. This is because all human beings have free will, and thus an equal opportunity to enter the kingdom of heaven. Christendom also linked scholars and artists throughout the world. Christendom has made it possible for very different civilizations to come together on the common ground of Christianity.