Sunday, April 19, 2009

(1) The Pantocrator


Going up to Oxford was like going to a totally different universe.
My life in Canterbury was structured, more quaint perhaps than
what I would be experiencing at Oxford. Everyone at Oxford--
except me--seemed so savvy and suave! Not knowing anyone,
not knowing much, my foray into my first term seemed utterly
cluttered and chaotic. The way I felt back then, it was a wonder
I survived the experience.

But wonders happen, and I did survive. Being a fresher or a new
boy is stressful. One has so much to learn, so much to do at
first. However, after the initial shock of it all fades away one
can move on. I did.

For example, I quickly joined the Oxford Union--a debating society
of the highest rank, and one that covers an incredible territory of
interesting topics. Occasionally there's the invited famous guest
debater, but the student debaters were really great. Dressed
formally, they reflected the high caliber of the Oxford Union. In
fact, even those debaters from Scotland wore their dress kilts!

Hanging from the balcony, at first I probably spent an inordinate
amount of time at the Oxford Union. The debates expanded my
intellectual horizon by leaps and bounds. I discovered the good
theatre and music available at the university--including the
excellent chapel choir at Queens College. As for our college
chapel, it was lovely--but it wasn't Canterbury Cathedral, which
I still missed keenly.

Eventually I began to move into my studies. Queens College
offered an undergraduate program and degree in "Philosophy
and Theology." No faith commitment was necessary to enter this
program. As it stood, I decided to do five papers in Theology and
three papers in Philosophy. This meant writing dissertations in
each chosen subject sometimes in lieu of a final examination.
Of course there were courses presented by the university's
Faculty of Theology. The courses were offered to all the colleges
at Oxford. Each college, including mine at Queens, provided
tutors that basically kept one up-to-speed. For each subject area
that I chose to study, my tutor provided me with a reading list that
we were expected to follow. This emphasis on individual research
was a tool that held me in good stead for the rest of my life.

As for the course offerings, far too much that boggled the brain.
Alphabetically, here's some of the topics that one might try to
manage: Agnostic theism; Argument from free will; Biblical studies;
Christian worldview; Classical theism; Cosmological argument;
Deconstruction and religion; Existence after death, Faith and
rationality; God in Christianity; Holy Wisdom; Immanence; Liberal
theism; Monism; Mythical theology; Natural theology, Personal God;
Philosophical theology; Revealed theology; Sacred geometry;
Secular theology; Stewardship; and the Nature of God in Western

The topics mentioned above were just a snippet of offerings provided
by Oxford's Theology Faculty. As for Philosophy, well that was my
minor interest. I was very attracted to the Classical philosophy of the
Greeks--i.e., the Presocratics, Platonism, NeoPlatonism, and Stoicism.
And I "dared" trying to work into Hegel's monumental spiritual
philosophy. Kant's analytical philosophy was formidable as well.
My foray into philosophy mainly served as a foundation for some
of my later theological pursuits.

As for my major academic pursuit at Oxford, it included a myriad of
courses in Theology--some listed above. But in the midst of all this
coursework, I discovered the "Pantocrator." It means "all mighty," or
the "sustainer of the world." Essentally it is the Godhead, the Logos!
Jesus was deemed the "Incarnation of the Logos." Many icons of
Christ as the Pantocrator still exist in the churches of Greece, though
the very first such icon was discovered in an ancient monastery in
Egypt. And, actually, its antecedents can be traced back to pagan
and even Hebrew roots. Nonetheless, the concept of the Pantocrator
also rightly belongs to Early Christianity. I must admit that I was nearly
totally mesmerized by the Pantocrator.

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