Author Topic: Ethnicity and The Fathers  (Read 1327 times)

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Offline GabrieltheCelt

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Ethnicity and The Fathers
« on: September 02, 2009, 03:47:42 PM »
First, the title of this thread could be much better worded.  If anyone has a better idea, petition the moderators to change it.

What I wanted to discuss and learn, is the subject of "ethnicity" as understood by the Fathers (and Mothers).  I can't seem to locate my source at the moment, but I seem to recall reading that some of the Fathers described themselves as belonging to the Christian race.  From a modern biological understanding, one's religion doesn't fit into the category of 'ethnicity'.  But then again, there is the Jewish question; I read about people who classify themselves as both Jewish as well as Christians.  There are even some Orthodox Christian priests who are from Jewish background.  Some Jews consider themselves religious and some Jews have nothing do to with religion yet they identify themselves as being Jewish.

How did the Fathers and Mothers understand 'ethnicity'?  If they indeed considered Christianity as a 'race', should today's Orthodox Christians begin aligning themselves a little more with this mode of thinking?  One argument for this mode of thinking comes from Scripture where St. Paul says something to the affect that it doesn't matter what one's ethnic background is when they become a Christian.

Thanks for any help.

 In Christ,

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Offline Schultz

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Re: Ethnicity and The Fathers
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2009, 04:23:47 PM »
Interesting question.  I've seen it before, as well, but never thought about it like this.

A starter question, I think, would really be what the exact Greek/Latin terms the various Fathers used for the words translated as "Christian race" by, presumably, 18th/19th century pedagogues who had an almost obsessive desire for taxonomy and classification.  Do you have any cites for the phrase that our more erudite posters who have Greek and Latin (and access to the citations in the original language) can give us an idea of the original wording?

Secondly, living in an age where Rome (and later Constantinople) was supreme and the Great Uniter, so to speak, I think that the Ancients had a much different view of what constitutes ethnicity, and its importance.  It was far more important to be a citizen of the Empire than anything else, regardless of ethnicity.  It was, after all, what saved St. Paul from crucifixion even though he was a Jew.
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Offline Liz

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Re: Ethnicity and The Fathers
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2009, 06:37:47 PM »
It's interesting, too, to think of how circumcision functions as an indicator of some kind of identity, which we'd now call ethnicity. Both circumcision and (for example) skin colour are physical features that can be used to place someone in a particular ethnic category, but the one is usually chosen (at least by the parents!), and the other cannot be (er ... the later Mr Jackson notwithstanding).

This chimes in with what Schultz says - in both cases people's identity as a subgroup is primarily to do with participating in a humanly-imposed order.

I think our concept of 'race' is quite modern and unusual - it's very far removed from 'tribal' identity.