Very soon I will be reviewing Philip Jenkins’ The Lost History of Christianity. This is a wow book for anyone interested in:
–Continuing Jewish influences on Christianity
–The interplay between Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism in the East
–Pluralism and faith
–The sad, destructive force of Islam in history
–The sad, Western ethnocentric (perhaps supremacist) views of Euro-American religion
–The lost culture of a Christendom that excelled the Western Church in many areas
A key figure in Jenkins’ first chapter is Timothy, the Patriarch of the Eastern Church (not the one in Constantinople–try further east, based in Seleucia in modern Iraq), whose rule over that church extended from 780-823 C.E.
Timothy and the Eastern church were in dialogue with Islam and also Buddhism. Once in a meeting with a massively powerful caliph, Timothy gave this parable. Jenkins remarks that the Western Church might cringe at the openness of the parable in contrast to the certitude often associated with Christian faith. I think it is a beautiful expression of intellectual honesty that nonetheless clings to faith:
We are all of us in a dark house in the middle of the night.
If at night and in a dark house, a precious pearl happens to fall in the midst of a people, and all become aware of its existence, everyone will strive to pick up the pearl, which will not fall to the lot of all, but to the lot of one only, while one will get hold of the pearl itself, another one of a bit of glass, a third one of a stone or a bit of earth, but everyone will be happy that he is the possessor of the pearl.
When, however, night and darkness disappear, and light and day arise, then every one of those people who had believed that they had the pearl, would extend and stretch out their hands toward the light, which alone can show what everyone has in hand.
The one who possesses the pearl will rejoice and be happy and pleased with it, while those who had in hand pieces of glass and bits of stone will only weep and be sad, and will sigh and shed tears.