Saturday, January 12, 2008

In Our Time

In Our Time is a radio programme on BBC Radio 4.

It is presented by Melvyn Bragg and guests investigate the history of ideas.

Often the programmes are on Religious Themes

You can listen again to all the programmes.

Access is through this page on the BBC website.

Topics include:

The Nicene Creed - when Christ became God

""We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds."

Thus begins the Nicene Creed, a statement of essential faith spoken for over 1600 years in Christian Churches - Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.

But what has become a universal statement was written for a very particular purpose - to defeat a 4th century theological heresy called Arianism and to establish that Jesus Christ was, indeed, God. The story of the Creed is in many ways the story of early Christianity – of delicate theology and robust politics. It changed the Church and it changed the Roman Empire, but that it has lasted for nearly 2000 years would seem extraordinary to those
who created it."

The Jesuits - the school masters of Europe

Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared. By the 17th century there were more than 500 schools established across Europe. Their ideas about a standardised curriculum and teaching became the basis for many education systems today.

They were also among the greatest patrons of art in early modern Europe, using murals and theatre to get their message across. However, their alleged influence over monarchs, their wealth and their adaptability to local customs abroad provoked suspicion, prompting their eventual suppression in the late 18th century. They were re-established in 1814 and now have more than twenty thousand members.

So why was education so important to the Jesuit movement? How much influence did they really have in the courts of Europe and in the colonies? And were they really at the heart of conspiracies to murder kings?

The Devil - a brief biography

In the Gospel according to John he is ‘a murderer from the beginning’, ‘a liar and the father of lies’, and Dante calls him ‘the ill Worm that pierces the world’s core’. But Milton’s description of him as a powerful rebel was so attractive that William Blake declared that Milton was ‘of the Devil’s party, without knowing it’. To ordinary folk the Devil has often been regarded as a trickster, a tempter, sometimes even a figure of fun rather than of fear.

How did this contradictory character come into being? Why did it take so long for him to become an established figure in Christianity? And if the Devil did not exist, would we have had to invent him?

The Apocalypse - was it a revelation?

George Bernard Shaw dismissed it as “the curious record of the visions of a drug addict” and if the Orthodox Christian Church had had its way, it would never have made it into the New Testament. But the Book of Revelation was included and its images of apocalypse, from the Four Horsemen to the Whore of Babylon, were fixed into the Christian imagination and its theology. As well as providing abundant imagery for artists from Durer to Blake, ideas of the end of the world have influenced the response to political, social and natural upheavals throughout history. Our understanding of history itself owes much to the apocalyptic way of thinking.

But how did this powerful narrative of judgement and retribution evolve, and how does it still shape our thinking on the deepest questions of morality and history?