History in the Concrete

“A historic personage is one in whom the spirit of an age [zeitgeist — CD], or a church, is MORE CONCENTRATED and powerful than in the average of individuals. He is therefore HISTORY IN THE CONCRETE; history in a SINGLE mighty and passionate personality” (W.G.T. Shedd, History of Christian Doctrine; emphasis mine).

These comments prompt the ideas of “efficiency” and “optimization” as related to the History of Theology (whether the theology is heretical, truly orthodox, or merely orthodox in the outer shell). I suppose the idea would be to focus on a particularly INFLUENTIAL (and consequently, REPRESENTATIVE) person in whom a given doctrine is extraordinarily CONCENTRATED.

I also think (whether correctly or incorrectly) of such things as the Pareto Principle and/or Pareto Distribution and Price’s Law adapted to the biographic monograph as related to the History of Theology or a particular Doctrine (e.g., Augustine and Athanasius on doctrine X rather than some more obscure individual). Other analogous examples might be the focusing on Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, rather than the lesser known or lesser influential x, y, or z.

An additional example of efficiency or optimization in monographs (or other historical writings that are less limited and more broad in their scope).

“One humanist would eventually overshadow all others in Europe. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536), a man who embodied all the reforming impulses of the new learning and late medieval piety. Ever the consummate scholar and man of letters, Erasmus never tired of critiquing the ethics and religious life of his own culture. Often with a healthy dose of humor and no small measure of sarcasm. A philologist, translator, satirist, philosopher, poet, and theologian, Erasmus would become the first literary superstar in modern history thanks to the printing press and his unique talents. He would influence his contemporaries as no writer ever had in all of human history, receiving invitations to teach in nearly every nation from Spain to Poland, and giving rise to an entire generation of young Erasmians throughout all of Europe.” [My (rough) transcription of an audio book, Carlos M. N. Eire’s Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650.]


“‘It is at the very sources that one extracts pure doctrine.’ No reform could take place, therefore, without knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. For no translation could ever contain the real meaning of the Biblical text. Comparing the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament to the original Greek text, Erasmus would say: ‘For we have in Latin only a few small streams and muddy puddles, while they have pure springs and rivers flowing in gold…I see that it is utter madness even to touch with the little finger, that branch of theology which deals chiefly with the Divine mysteries, unless one is also provided with the equipment of Greek.’” (Eire)


“But…he [Erasmus] also won for himself an uncomfortable distinction — the ability to alienate a broader spectrum of contemporaries than almost any other reformer.” (Eire)