Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Church of the East

Philip Jenkins reports on what "happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago" — When Jesus met Buddha. In short, "they got along."

I was a bit surprised to read the author of The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice to write, "Over the past 30 years, the Roman Catholic Church has faced repeated battles over this question of Christ's uniqueness, and has cracked down on thinkers who have made daring efforts to accommodate other world religions." The author says that "the church refuses to give up its fundamental belief in the unique role of Christ." Would we expect Buddhists to question Buddha's uniqueness or Muslims Mohammed's?

Despite its flaws, the article is well work a read. An excerpt:
    Europe's is not the only version of the Christian faith, nor is it necessarily the oldest heir of the ancient church. For more than 1,000 years, other quite separate branches of the church established thriving communities across Asia, and in their sheer numbers, these churches were comparable to anything Europe could muster at the time. These Christian bodies traced their ancestry back not through Rome, but directly to the original Jesus movement of ancient Palestine. They moved across India, Central Asia, and China, showing no hesitation to share - and learn from - the other great religions of the East.
Leaving aside the fact that Nestorianism "is a Christological heresy," the author asks us to "broaden our scope to look at the faith that by 800 or so stretched from Ireland to Korea, we see the many different ways in which Christians interacted with other believers, in encounters that reshaped both sides." This claim, I have to say, wtrikes me as rather dubious: "No other church - not Roman Catholics, not Eastern Orthodox - has a stronger claim to a direct inheritance from the earliest Jesus movement." The speculation "that Nestorian missionaries influenced the religious practices of the Buddhist religion then developing in Tibet" is interesting, as is the claim that "[a]ll the famous movements of later Japanese history, including Zen, can be traced to one of those ancient schools and, ultimately - incredibly - to the work of a Christian bishop."

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.