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Saint John the Evangelist Seminary


HST 501: Christian Doctrine and Traditions (3CH)
Course Syllabus



Instructor TBA


Course Description:

This introductory course is an examination of the Christian tradition and of Christian self-understanding in theological, historical, social, and cultural contexts. Its themes include among others the meaning of God, the nature of religious experiences, Jesus in the Gospels, the development and history of theological doctrines, the historical roots of Christian diversity, and the relevance of Christianity in the 21st century global world.


Course Objectives:

• Core Learning Objective 1 is to describe and compare central Christian ideas and practices with three other global regions and cultures: the Mediterranean world (Rome, in particular), Arabic cultures (centered around Islam) and Asia.
• Core Learning Objective 2 is for students to reflect critically on their own beliefs and understandings in relationship to the larger human experience of religion.


Required Text:

Introduction to Christianity, 4th Edition, by Mary Jo Weaver and David Brakke (Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009).


*This course relies on a steady encounter with the Hebrew and Christian scriptures in the Bible. All students should have ready access to a bible, either in print or in electronic form (e.g.,



Essay Papers:

You will write two short essays (3-4 pages and double-spaced) of an analytical nature selected from five paper topics. The essays will give you a chance to reflect on the readings we will discuss in class and respond to questions listed on the course schedule below.


There will be two tests during the course of the class. There is no final exam, however. Instead, you will write a research paper.


Research Paper:

Students are expected to write a research paper 2000-2500 words in length (approximately 8 to 10 pages) not counting notes and references. The paper will focus on one of six possible topics:

1. Knowledge of God
Christianity, like all revealed religions, claims knowledge of God and attempts to negotiate what living according to God’s will means and implies. This paper will focus on how Christians envisage God can be known and can include such themes as revelation, natural theology, scripture, religious experience, as well as a discussion of their validity.

2. The Word of God
Christianity considers the Bible revelatory of God, that is, of God’s actions in the world and of God’s will for the world. However, what is considered canonical and how the biblical texts should be read has been an issue of discourse for as long as Christianity has existed. This paper will focus on the Bible, its history, approaches to interpretation, and theological implications of specific ways of reading the Bible.

3. Theology and Philosophy
Christian theology and philosophy have always been closely related. In fact, as Catholic theologian Karl Rahner once observed, theology and philosophy are inevitably interlocked. Throughout history, philosophy has shaped Christian theology and, thus, the way Christians understand themselves in their relationship to God. This paper will address this interlocking of theology and philosophy by analyzing one particular case in point (e.g., Aristotelian philosophy in Thomistic theology).

4. Ancient Religion – Contemporary Questions
As a religious tradition of two millennia, Christianity encounters contemporary questions as a challenge. More often than not, the Christian message seems to clash with contemporary worldviews, moral sentiments, philosophical positions, or even the experience of the individual. This paper will look at one contemporary issue that either seemingly or really is in conflict with the Christian worldview. It will reflect on this tension and either attempt to resolve it or substantiate the claim that the situation is indeed irreconcilable. Themes may include topics such as the relationship of Christian theology and the natural sciences, sexuality, medical ethics, the role of women, etc.

5. The Trinity
The Trinity constitutes the central faith commitment for numerous Christians. But what does one mean when one says that Jesus the Christ is the incarnation of God? Or how do Christians envision the divine to be immanently present in the world qua the Holy Spirit? This paper will look at the development of Trinitarian though throughout Christian history.

6. Christianity and Politics
As the last presidential elections have once again shown, Christianity has long played a significant role in US American politics. This paper will take a look at how different Christian groups have used politics to further their goals and how politicians have used Christianity to further theirs.

Additional information on this project will be provided by the instructor.



Course Outline:


1. Introduction to the Course: Aims, Themes, Expectations
This introduction will give a brief overview over the course, its aims and themes as well as its requirements. We will take a close look at the syllabus address some of the underlying question of a class concerned with the Christian tradition.

• Underlying questions.
• Syllabus.

2. Sources of Religion
Given that Christianity is a revealed religion, we will focus on what Christians consider the sources of revelation. These include, among others, experiences, historical events, but also the Bible.

• Types of revelation.
• The Bible.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 1.

3. Beginning of Religion
The unit will seek to establish the metaphysical foundations of theology. In many ways, theology still is what St. Anselm captured in his famous formula fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). Here, now, the attention seems to shift from understanding in the sense of intellectual control to a more existential grasp of ultimate reality that affects one’s entire life. We will also ask how theology differs from religion.

• Fides quaerens intellectum.
• Theology as a science.
• Faith as ultimate concern.
• Experiences and their interpretations vis-ΰ-vis personal and general revelation.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 2; Mk 1; Mt 11:25-30.

4. Who was Jesus?
Was Jesus human or God or both, fully human and fully God? This unit will focus on the Bible accounts of Jesus and their early interpretations.

• Jesus as Middle Eastern Jew.
• Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah.
• Son of God.
• Incarnation of God.
• Savior.
• Mk 11-16

5. Christianity and Rome
Rome and Christianity share a long history. We will address the question how Rome influenced the early course of events in Christianity.

• Christian beginnings.
• Roman occupation and religious responses.
• Green, Ch. 1


6. Paul and the First Christians
We will look at the life and work of Paul. We will try to understand the meaning of “conversion” and the role it played in early Christianity as well as perhaps today. We will ask specifically how Christian theology emerged and explained what Christian Jews believed.

• Paul the Apostle.
• Conversion.
• Early Christian Jews.
• Acts 7:55-8:3; 9:1-30; I Cor 12, 13.

7.  Film TBA

8. Early Christianity: The Emergence of the Church
From its very beginning, the Christian Church struggled with theological interpretations of the life of Jesus and the Christ event. One important question that emerged during these early days was where the authority was to decide what true Christian beliefs are.

• The apostle's experiences.
• Internal conflicts in the early Church.
• External conflicts of the early Church.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 3; Lk 15; Acts 2:42-47.


9. The Patristic Period
The first five hundred years of Christianity saw important theological and ecclesiological developments. We will look at the key events and doctrines, as well as at some of the important thinkers of this important period. We will look at some of the early controversies about certain fundamental Christian faith commitments.

• Centers of theological activities.
• Important Church Fathers.
• Gnostics.
• Ecumenical creeds.
• Christology and early Trinitarian theology


10. Constantine and Creeds
Early on, two distinct forms of Christianity emerged; Roman Catholicism in the Latin west and Orthodox Christianity in the Byzantine east. While both traditions shared significant theological overlaps, they also differed on fundamental questions. In 1054 it finally came to the fist major split in the Christian church. We will take a closer look at this schism and this very important period in the history of Christianity.

• Orthodox Christianity vs. Roman Catholic Christianity.
• Monasticism.
• Constantine.
• Rise of the Papacy.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 4.


11. The Nicene Crisis
This unit will take a closer look at the underlying question of the Nicene ecumenical council. German theologian Adolf von Harnack summarized the issue that dominated most fourth century thus: “Is the divine that has appeared on earth and reunited man with God identical with the supreme divine, which rules heaven and earth, or is it a demigod?” Arius argued that any scriptural references to Christ’s divinity were merely courtesy titles. Athanasius responded that the divinity of Christ was central to a Christian understanding of salvation. With the Nicaean council convened by Constantine himself the debate was settled in favor of Christ’s divinity.

• Arianism.
• Athanasius.
• Mystery of the Trinity


12. The Middle Ages and Renaissance
The Middle Ages were a rather productive and creative period for Christian theology. Here, the works of Greek philosophers such as Aristotle were introduced to Western Christian thought by Islamic scholars often first in Arabic translation. The Middle Ages saw the invention of the university and the rise of scholasticism, which doubtlessly influenced not only theology, but certainly also the development of the
natural sciences.

• Medieval theology.
• Charlemagne.
• Founding of universities.
• Fall of Constantinople.
• Reason in theology.
• Scholasticism


13. Test 1

14. Islamic Influences
The unit will look in some detail at how Islamic philosophy, in particular its creative appropriation of Greek thought, influenced theology in the Latin west.

• Avicenna.
• Averroes.
• Metaphysics.
• First cause.


15. Anticipating Scholasticism: Anselm’s Ontological Argument
We will look at one of the hallmark thinkers of the medieval west, Anselm of Canterbury. In particular, we will analyze his ontological argument for the existence of God.

• Ontological argument for the existence of God.
• “Being than which nothing greater can be conceived.”
• Read - Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium


16. Scholastic Dialectic: Thomas’ Five Ways
One of the towering theological minds of the theology of the Middle Ages was doubtlessly Thomas Aquinas. To this day his Summa theological stands out as one of the most important theological treatises in Christianity. Its main achievement was the synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology. We will look at Thomas’ famous Five Ways of proving the existence of God.

•Thomas Aquinas.
• Scholastic dialectic.
• Five Ways (infinite regress).
• Aristotle.

Reading - Thomas Aquinas, Summa theological, book 1, question 2.


17. The Reformation
The sixteenth century was a time of major upheaval in the Church. The Reformation sought to return the Church to what its proponents conceived of as a more biblical foundation of faith and morality. This unit will look at the beginnings of the Reformation movement, starting with efforts prior to Luther’s Protestant
Reformation, as well as at the Lutheran Reformation itself.

• Wycliffe.
• Hus.
• Conciliarism.
• Indulgences
• Luther.
• Reformed Tradition.
• Roman Counter Reformation.
• Council of Trent.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 5.


18. The Reformation Continues
In this unit we will take a look at how the Reformation spread and diversified.
• Peace of Westphalia.
• Puritan Reformation.
• Elizabeth I and Anglicanism.
• Scientific Revolution.
• Enlightenment and Deism.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 6


19. Film "A Man for All Seasons"


20. Modern Christianity
The Church moves out of its Western European context to become truly a world Church. Theology engages modern philosophy and opens up entirely new avenues of theologizing.

• Enlightenment.
• Romanticism.
• Schleiermacher.
• Postmodernism.
• Karl Rahner.
• Vatican II.
• Liberation theology


21. Vatican II’s Aggironamento
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) constitutes a major reformational shift in the Roman Catholic Church. We will look at some of its motivating ideas and how the Church of Rome interprets its results.

• Aggiornamento.
• Ultramontanism.
• Nouvelle thιologie.
• John XXIII.


22. Christianity and the Natural Sciences
Often considered irreconcilable opponents, theology and science are in fact closer related than commonly believed. We will look at the relationship of the two and see how a constructive relationship can be established.

• Active self-transcendence.
• Omega Point


23. Christian Globalization
Christianity expanded to the Americas, Africa, and Asia. In this unit we will take a look at this expansion and try to address the question whether Christianity invented globalization.

• Mission.
• Ecumenism.
• Christianity in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
• Enculturation.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch. 9.

24. Example Asia
The unit will take a closer look at the development of Chrisitinaity in Asia as an example of Christian globalization. How can Christian beliefs and values be adopted in Asian culture?

• Religious non-theism of Asian cultures.
• Holy Spirit envisaged in atheistic cultures.
• Humility as Asian Christian virtue.


25. Test 2

26. Living the Tension Between World and Church
Is participation in a worldly life irreconcilable with being a Christian? Are Christians required to flee the physical world in favor of achieving spiritual clanliness and, thus, the true Christian life? In this unit we will try to find answers to these questions.

• Withdrawal and Nonconformity.
• Monasticism.
• Cultural withdrawal.
• Weaver and Brakke, Ch.10.


27. Christians and War
The past decade has been ridden with war. Can war, from a Christian perspective, be justified? This question seems particularly timely given the religious overtones in the current violent conflicts.

• Just war.
• Iraq war.
• Augustine.
• Tony Blair.
• Jean Bethke Elshtain


28. Christianity and Islam Today – Rivalry or Sibling Possibilities?
Are Christianity and Islam irreconcilably divided by hate, or is there potential for a peaceful and mutually beneficial coexistence? With Paul Knitter, we will look at the theological reasons for why the two Abrahamic religions are at odds with one another and how theology, too, can open up avenues for reconciliation. Key for Knitter is viewing the two traditions as siblings.

• Chosenness.
• Supersessionism.
• Christology and Prophetology.
• Shared monotheism.
• Peace and justice.


29. Feminism, Mujarista, Womanism
Christianity has long been a patriarchal religion, where women have not shared the same rights and possibilities as men. For the past four decades or so, feminist theology has offered alternative interpretations of scriptural sources that were used to dominate women. We will read three recent papers by eminent feminist scholars.

• Feminist theology.
• Mujarista.
• Womanism.

30. Homosexuality and Christian Faith
Can sexual preferences be a criterion for exclusion from the Christian Church? Or is it only certain sexual practices that justify excommunication? We will address these questions.

• Scandal.
• Theological problems with the act.
• Love.

31. Final Exam



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