The Philosophical Thread

Plato and Socrates

Although the Renaissance is credited with the ‘rebirth’ of the classical worldview, in fact, the Middle Ages were permeated by the ideas of Plato and Socrates. The documentary considers the contributions of the ancient world to Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. The short film presents Aquinas through the lens of modern Catholic teaching.

Edward Tivnan is the author of two books for Simon & Schuster, The Lobby (1987) and The Moral Imagination: Confronting the Ethical Issues of Our Day (1995); he co-authored Escape from Slavery, a story of modern slavery (St. Martin’s: 2003). A veteran journalist, author and screenwriter, Tivnan was a staff writer for Time Magazine and a writer/producer for the ABC newsmagazine 20/20.  As a freelancer for more than 40 years, he has written major features for such national publications as the New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine and The Nation; co-produced TV documentaries, including two for the BBC; and has collaborated on 10 other published books, including Hernando de Soto’s global best-seller, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Has Triumphed in the West and Failed Everywhere Else. Tivnan has also written for ten different dramatic television series, including “Miami Vice,” “The Client” and “New York Undercover.” He has degrees in classics and ancient history from Amherst, Oxford, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton.

In the course of the seminar on October 7 Ed Tivnan referenced several books which were of interest to the participants. Following is an annotated bibliography from Ed:

Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown – a masterpiece of historical writing (published in 1967 and reissued in 2000) by the former Oxford classicist and historian who left Britain for Berkeley in the 1970’s and then moved on to Princeton where he continues to hold a chair.  He has written a series of brilliant books on late antiquity and early Christianity, including The Body and Society, an eye-opening account of marriage and sexual practices in the Eastern Mediterranean area of the late Roman Empire – discussing promiscuity and chastity, asceticism and monasticism, along with the ideas of Ambrose, Augustine and other Christian writers. Brown is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.  

Saint Augustine, Garry Wills – a brief (150 pages) but intelligent essay on Augustine’s life and ideas in the “Penguin Lives” series by the veteran journalist, author, polymath and former Jesuit seminarian.

Paul the Convert, Alan Segal – a well written look at the man who delivered the gentiles to Christianity by a Jewish scholar who is also an expert in early Christianity.

Pagans and Christians: Robin Lane-Fox – a fascinating look at the Second to Fourth Century Roman Empire when Romans were embracing Christianity.  Another Oxford ancient historian, Lane-Fox is also the author of a major biography of Alexander the Great, which was the basis of the 2004 Oliver Stone blockbuster movie. He also wrote an entertaining takedown of the Bible: The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. Lane-Fox has moonlighted for decades as the gardening columnist for the Sunday edition of the Financial Times of London.

When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation: Paula Frederikson. Published in 2018, this is an amazingly learned effort to recreate the world of the Jews who followed Jesus during the decades after the crucifixion. A well known scholar of religion, the author disrupts many conventional views of the New Testament and the divinity of Christ, and is controversial among traditional Christians.

Elaine Pagels’ books:

The Gnostic Gospels. A popular account of the discovery of the Nag Hammdi library discovered in the Holy Land of the writings of this ascetic, Christian sect, which won the National Book Award in 1980 – by the former head of the Dept. of Religion at Barnard, who moved to Princeton in the 1980s, where she still teaches.

Adam and Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity(1989). Very good on Augustine’s battle over the Church’s teaching on sexuality and chastity with the British Christian intellectual Pelagius.  

The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans and Heretics (1995) Fascinating account of the origins of anti-Semitism, which, she argues (controversially) began first among competing Jewish sects (e.g. traditional Jews attacking the ascetic Jews who founded the Essenes – who seemed to influence Jesus and his followers.

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