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The Concept of Kind in Church History Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2020

Introduction

Concepts change semantically over time to reflect different historical contexts. Identifying these temporal changes through church history is critical to the conceptual application of such words. The term ‘kind’, as a noun, is defined as a collection of entities with comparable features. This paper traces the usage of ‘kind’ within church history by analyzing quotes derived from writings dealing with this concept from a spiritual and philosophical perspective. It highlights the term as used by scholars writing in the Early Church period through the Modern Age.

The Concept in the Early Church Period: 0-300 CE

The first three centuries of church history featured a diversity of Christian beliefs and competing groups like the Sadducees and Pharisees. A prominent event that occurred during this period is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by the Romans for charges of rebellion against the religious establishment and deity claims. Additionally, in 70 CE, the Jewish temple was destroyed following an invasion by the Roman army.

The usage of the concept of ‘kind’ can be traced to the early church period. It appears in the works of Christian scholars writing in 0-300 CE, notably, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. An excerpt from one of Clement of Alexandria (2001) works reads: “choice and avoidance are exercised according to knowledge; so that it is not pleasure that is the good thing, but knowledge by which we shall choose a pleasure at a certain time, and of a certain kind” (p. 167).

On his part, Origen views pain and disease as the seeds of sin concealed in the body. He notes that “although a man may appear to be afflicted with evils of a serious kind, suffering convulsions in all his limbs, he may nevertheless, at some future time, obtain relief and cessation from his trouble” after enduring his affliction wholly (Origen, 2011, p. 2342). The concept of ‘kind’ is evident in both of the quotes.

The contexts in which the two theologians are writing are different. Clement is tackling the topic of the Stoics’ contempt for pain and poverty where he challenges the belief that the body does not affect the soul. Citing spiritual temptations of Christ and Job, he notes that being sinless forces the body to abstain from things of the flesh for the sake of the soul (Clement, 2001). In this regard, choosing bodily pleasure or avoiding pain is not always a good thing.

Clement sees choice and avoidance of entities of a certain ‘kind’ as entities predicated on the understanding of what is suitable at a given time. In contrast, Origen is writing to ‘medical men’ or practitioners. He notes that the all-knowing God causes vices and secrets concealed within one’s heart to burst forth as a disease that must be endured to its full extent before restoration. Therefore, Origen considers afflictions of different ‘kind’ as an outcome of sin.

The usage of the word kind in the above quotes shows some similarities. First, ‘kind’ is used as a noun to refer to a spiritual entity that is in a constant struggle with the body or flesh. Both Clement and Origen use the word to refer to a form or category – pleasure and evil. Another similarity lies in the singular construction of the concept. The two writers differ in the type of entities they refer to, i.e., pleasure (Clement) versus evil (Origen). Therefore, ‘kind’ is used as a negative (pleasure) vs. positive (evil) word.

The Concept in the Age of the Imperial Church: 300-590 CE

This imperial church period was characterized by the triumph of orthodoxy over paganism and diminishing religious intolerance during Constantine’s reign. Key events in 300-590 CE that shaped church history included the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE, the formation of the four ecumenical councils (Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon), and the rise of monks, missionaries, and the papacy to fill the vacuum left behind after the fall of the Empire in 476 CE.

Christian scholars writing during the 300-590 CE period dwelled on the issues of religious tolerance and Imperial powers in Christian life. Nestorius, in a treatise to the Emperor, challenges the decision by corrupt bishops to declare the Council incomplete and their failure to consult John, the archbishop of Antioch. He uses the concept of ‘kind’ twice in his letter. While referring to the bishops’ impatience, he writes that they could not wait for John “who art far from all affection for mankind and from all the sufferings of human nature” (Nestorius, 1925, p. 127).

In the second instance, Nestorius likens the bishops’ actions to the behavior exhibited by fish. He writes: “as the kind of fishes which are called cuttlefish, which go from clear waters into troubled waters that they may not be caught, so hast thou also acted” (Nestorius, 1925, p. 127). The context of Nestorius’s protest letter to the Emperor is an apparent failure by bishops from Rome to wait for John (a cleric from Antioch) before deciding to hold the ecumenical council incomplete.

Constantine, in his treatise to the Antiochians, says, “How pleasing to the wise and intelligent portion of mankind is the concord which exists among you!” (Wikiquote, 2017a, para. 6). In concluding his letter, he promises to please God and the Christians at Antioch and “to enjoy happiness commensurate with your kind wishes, that I love you, and the quiet haven of your gentleness” (Wikiquote, 2017a, para. 9). The context of Constantine’s letter relates to the discontent and clamor for church leadership in Antioch.

One similarity is evident in the usage of the term ‘kind’ by the two theologians. The concept is used as a collective. Both letters include the word ‘mankind’ to refer to people – men and women – collectively. However, while Nestorius uses ‘mankind’ to mean individuals with affection, Constantine employs it to denote rational (intelligent) beings. Additionally, the second usage of the term in Constantine’s letter refers to a friendly or generous nature (adjective).

In contrast, Nestorius uses it to denote a unique type of fish. Thus, unlike in the 0-300 CE period were ‘kind’ referred to a category or form of an entity, its meaning evolved to include generosity and people in general (when amalgamated with ‘man’) in the 300-590 CE era.

The Concept in the Christian Middle Ages: 500-1500 CE

The 500-1500 CE period featured the German invasion of Rome that led to the fall of the Roman Empire at around the start of 500 CE. Other significant occurrences during this era include violence against Jews (the crusaders) in Europe, including their exile in Babylon, and the papacy’s acquisition of secular power. Missionary work began during this period, resulting in a cultural milieu centered on Christendom. The medieval Christian unity would fall in the wake of Reformation movements.

Scholarly writing in the Middle Ages reflects a gradual shift to the economic revolution at the height of Feudalism. While some scholars emphasized a loving God who has called all Christians to love Him and their neighbors, others focused on the economic renaissance. In this context, Bede writes: “above all else, he was afire with heavenly love, unassumingly patient, devoted to unceasing prayer, and kindly to all who came to him for comfort” (Bede, 2003, p. 98).

He paints a picture of a loving Savior who desires a close relationship with His people. In contrast, Bacon considers the many practical applications of the science of alchemy. He writes: “and science of this kind is greater than all those preceding because it produces greater utilities” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 6). Thus, Bacon is writing from a scientific context. From the two excerpts, it is clear that intellectual modernity was beginning to take shape overlapping Christian beliefs.

The usage of the concept of ‘kind’ in the Middle Ages reflects an overlap between secularism and Christianity. While Bede uses it in a Christian sense to illustrate an attribute of God (kind to all who seek him for comfort), Bacon applies it to describe a type of scientific discipline (alchemy) that promises immense possibilities. The usage of the term reflects differences between secularism (science) and Christianity. Like in the Age of the Imperial Church, the conceptual application of the word ‘kind’ in the Middle Ages relates to an innate trait of being generous or gracious that is attached to a deity.

The Concept in the Reformation: 1500-1650 CE

The Reformation period is characterized by the rise of Protestantism triggered by Martin Luther’s 96 theses that essentially challenged the Catholic clergy’s practice of selling indulgences. Among the other major occurrences of this time-period are Luther’s excommunication, the Augsburg peace treaty, the Calvinism movement in Scotland, and religious wars in Europe.

Scholars writing in the 1500-1650 period focused on intellectual exchanges and criticisms of different perspectives on reformation. Zwingli, in his letter, refutes Luther’s book, stating that “I am indeed wholly averse to this kind of fighting; but what do they think is to be done by him who is attacked with edge and point?” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 4). The context of Zwingli’s writing involves Luther’s criticism of Catholicism and subsequent ex-communication, which he supported.

Another quote by John Calvin illustrates man’s disobedience and the varying levels of God’s punishment. Recognizing the different remedies that the sick require, he writes that “from this, it is to be seen that some are tried by one kind of cross, others by another” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 8). The context here is that pain and suffering are meant to draw people closer to the Lord.

The term ‘kind’ is used during the Reformation period to illustrate disagreement or suffering. Zwingli employs to denote an emerging type of intellectual criticism of philosophical positions. He uses the word ‘kind’ to mean that he is not opposed to such debates. Similarly, Calvin utilizes this term to refer to a specific type of cross among many. Despite these similarities, the conditions in which the term is used differs between the two writers.

While Zwingli uses it to mean intellectual or philosophical fights, Calvin applies to the nature of punishment for sin. This singular construction of the term ‘kind’ to identify a category or form is seen from 0-300 CE through 1500-1650 CE periods. However, the usage of the concepts of ‘mankind’ (300-500) and ‘kind’ (generosity) is not seen in the 1500-1650 CE era.

The Concept in the Age of Reason and Revival: 1650-1799 CE

The 1650-1799 CE marked humanity’s shift from religion to knowledge, rationality, and intellectual freedom. Among the prominent events of this period were scientific revolution and discoveries, the emergence of dualism, pantheism, and deism to counter Christianity’s view of God as a mysterious being. The era was marked with disdain for spiritual matters and approval of practical ideas.

Scholarly writings during this period centered on the individual pursuit of knowledge and liberty. Writers like Benjamin Franklin focused on practical solutions to life’s problems. He wrote: “for life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often pointed to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 11). He is speaking from the context of scientific thought and exploration that characterized the age of reason.

On his part, Wesley writes from a background of religious bigotry that treated miracles by other sects with disdain. He writes: “in every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God,” and later calls on Christians to show others “kindness in word and deed” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 13). The concept of ‘kind’ is used in both writings to denote a unique type. A notable difference noted between the two scholars is the application of the term ‘kindness’ by Wesley’s to mean compassion or humanity. The concept was first used in the 1650-1799 period, as it does not appear in earlier ages.

The Concept in the Modern Period: Age of Progress (1800-1918 CE)

The modern age spanned from the end of the 1900s to the turn of the 21st century. Key occurrences of this period included the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of nationalism, the recognition of the concept of equality in European jurisdictions, and the increase in prejudice against the Jews – a religious minority in Europe.

Scholars writing during this period dwelled on the political, social, and economic issues of the day. Abraham Lincoln noted that “when the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 15). The background or context for this assertion was the gullibility of subjects to influential political leaders. In contrast, Gladstone wrote from the perspective of public spending by governments.

He warns of an economic crisis in his observation that “charges upon the public funds of every kind have been admitted from time to time upon slight examination” (Wikiquote, 2017b, para. 16). The usage of the word ‘kind’ in both cases is different. While Lincoln uses it to denote generosity or kindness, Gladstone means a variety of public funds, a semantic application that is consistent with that in earlier historical eras.

A Summary of the Results of the Analysis

The semantic usage of the concept of ‘kind’ has evolved through history. However, the traditional meaning of this word has been retained even in the modern period. In the early church era (0-300 CE), ‘kind’ was used to denote a type of pleasure (goodness) or evil. In contrast, in the age of the Imperial Church, ‘kind’ was amalgamated with ‘man’ to form mankind, which referred to humanity in general. Nevertheless, the term was also used to mean a category of an entity or object.

The usage of the word in its adjectival form (denoting generosity) first appeared during this period and continued through the Middle Ages. The concept was used in an abstract sense during the Reformation time-period to refer to suffering or disagreement to a large degree. In the age of reason, the term ‘kindness’ emerged, meaning compassion. The word ‘kind’ was used to mean a category of people or gentleness in the 1800-1918 CE period.

References

Bede, V. (2003). Ecclesiastical history of the English people: With Bede’s letter to Egbert and Cuthbert’s letter on the death of Bede. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Clement, F. (2001). Volume 12: The writings of Clement of Alexandria (volume 2: The miscellanies). Delaware, BO: Adamant Media Corporation.

Nestorius, B. (1925). . Web.

Origen, A. (2011). The works of Origen: De principiis, letters of Origen, Origen against Celsus. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.

Wikiquote. (2017a). . Web.

Wikiquote. (2017b). Welcome to wikiquote. Web.

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