Gladstone: A Theologian, Scientist, or Both?

John Hall Gladstone’s interest in science and religion began during his childhood. He and his three brothers were tutored throughout their youth. They became quite interested in natural science through this education. Gladstone furthered his interest in science while attending chemistry lectures during his time at University College London. Additionally, during his adolescence, he held a great passion for religion and claimed he wanted to work for the ministry. In 1850, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious group of European scientists who contributed a fair amount of research and work to the natural sciences. Gladstone’s interests ultimately focused on both science and religion.


Gladstone wrote “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science” in 1872. This work showcased his support for both religious and scientific hypotheses associated with creation. When considering his interest in both of these fields, it is evident why he supported these conflicting views on creation. Gladstone wrote this piece about a decade after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Darwin made controversial arguments regarding how species were created in this work. He claimed that God was not the sole creator of all beings. Instead, he believed that evolution and natural selection were the root cause of this phenomenon. A great deal of Europe’s population, a society dominated by Christian ideology, felt frustrated by these assertions. Gladstone, however, was not horrified by Darwin’s views. He stated that while reading On the Origin of Species, “I felt no shock to my religious faith: indeed the progressive development of animated nature seemed to harmonize with that gradual unveiling of the divine plan which I had loved to trace in the Bible.”[1] Rather than seeing Darwin’s claims as an attack against Christianity, Gladstone believed they helped solidify many of his religious ideas regarding creation. He believed that scientific and spiritual beliefs regarding creation could coexist. By writing in this way, it is possible that both scientists and theologians agreed with his work.

Rather than solely supporting religious or scientific hypotheses on creation, Gladstone interestingly supports both in “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science.” How do you think Europe’s population reacted to such claims? Although he exerted an interest in both ideologies throughout his life, do you believe he should have supported only one side on this controversial topic?

[1] Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science, 1872.

Domostroi 1-11

Chapers 1-11 of the Domostroi focus on themes of social hierarchy as well as the presence of a loving, merciful God. Chapter 1 instructs men to teach Christian values to their children, wives, and servants, in order to spread God’s will. As a testament to God being loving and forgiving, servants are never to be reprimanded with physical harm but with warmth and kindness. Chapter 2 through chapter 5 elaborate on the practices and values held within the orthodox faith. Good Christians must worship the holy trinity and Christ’s cross as well as believe in Christ’s Blood and Body as being present in the communion. The Domostroi instructs, in great detail, that communion must be received carefully and with a pure heart. Most importantly, it is a Christian’s duty to do the work of God and to care for the unfortunate, needy, or troubled individual. In reference to the importance of social hierarchy, chapter 5 is entirely devoted to treating bishops, priests, and monks with reverence and obedience, as God commanded.  In chapter 7, the tsar is honored as the “earthly king” while God is the “heavenly king”. There is a change from the merciful God we have previously seen in this chapter: “The Lord will destroy all those speaking falsely, slanderously, or deceitfully to the tsar, a prince, or any boyar.” The tsar and the princes are not deliverers of God’s mercy but agents of God’s punishment. The author is literally instilling the “fear of God” into the readers’ hearts so they will remember to always obey and honor the tsar. Chapter 8 through chapter 11 focus on respectful, appropriate behavior within the home, instructing readers to place icons in every room of their home, even explaining how to keep the icons clean. There are also instructions for how to invite a priest to your home and how to host a dinner party that honors God. One is to always eat gratefully and devoutly so as to keep angels close and warn away the devil.

Novgorod Chronicle and Mongol Invasion

The Novgorod Chronicle presents the Mongol invasion as a punishment sent by God. The Mongols invaded because the princes were selfish and fought against one another, disobeying both their father and God. The Chroniclers write that the Devil himself is responsible for inciting this discord among the princes.

The Chronicle lessens the importance of the Mongol’s role in the invasion because God is named as the one pulling all of the strings. God allowed the Mongols attack as punishment for the people’s sins. If God had not intervened, then the Mongols would never have invaded; therefore, God plays the central role in this story, not the Mongols.

Did the Mongols practice Paganism? Was there religious tolerance under Mongol rule? If God is the one responsible for this devastation, then shouldn’t the people of Rus direct their anger towards God and not towards the Mongols? If the princes had behaved more righteously, does that mean the Mongol invasion would never have happened? What is the point of being a Christian if God offers no protections from such horrors?

Conflicting Ideas in Christianization of Rus

The author’s opinion of Christianity and Paganism is made clear in the first paragraph of The Christianization of Rus’ According to the Primary Chronicle, in which pagan idols are referred to as “devils” and Russia pre-Christianization was a land “defiled with blood”. As Vladimir is visited by representatives of different faiths, it is again beaten into the reader that Christianity is the only reasonable choice.

Not only do followers of Islam not drink wine, but most of what they say is “false” and crude. The validity of the Jewish people as the chosen ones of God is similarly looked down upon because God had dispersed them, his favorite people, to foreign lands as punishment long ago. Later, when Vladimir sends emissaries to investigate these religions further, nothing is said about the Bulgarians’ Islamic practices other than that they are “disgraceful” while there is a detailed description of the lavishness and beauty of the Greek Orthodox worship.

After being told of the glory of the Greeks’ practices, a year passes and then Vladimir marches an armed force against a Greek city. I find his actions to be confusing, as he had just been told of the emissaries’ respect and admiration for the Greeks. Would he not want to set out in purpose of creating good relations with these people, as opposed to sacking their city? This could be an example of Vladimir’s many conflicting motives for choosing a religion for Rus – the primary being to make his land and his own reign stronger, as opposed to his desire to worship God.

I found The Life of St. Theodosius to depart from a few of what I consider to be the primary teachings of Christianity, in particular the Ten Commandments. A primary theme throughout the text is Feodosii’s refusal to obey his parents. Obedience and respect of one’s parents is generally very important to Christianity (i.e. “Honor your father and mother”) but, in this case, Feodosii is a saintly figure because he refuses to do as he is told. For example, he would rather wear shabby clothing and read divine teachings instead of dressing nicely and playing with other children. Feodosii disobeys his mother and runs away from home to become closer to God. His obedience and adherence to God’s call comes above all else. This is illustrated most obviously when God speaks to him and says, “Whosoever hath not forsaken his father and mother and followed after me is not worthy of me…”

In the introduction to this text, it is clarified that this particular view of religion is not unique to Rus. If so, what region or group of people are these values unique to? Or did everyone pick and choose the aspects they liked about St. Theodosius and ignore others, such as his self-abuse? Can any religion really be valid or credible if its current form is the result of a compilation of conflicting ideals and teachings?

State-Building in Post-Kievan Rus’

These readings illustrate the diverging types of states that developed after the fall of Kiev, and geography is a main factor in the separation of different governments.  Novgorod and the north attempted to establish restrictions to princely power and set up a system of elections and assemblies to limit the influence of the elites.  In the southwest, the elites had more power than the prince, who was subject to the will of the boyars.  Finally, in Moscow and the northeast, princely power grew and became more entrenched as land rights were transformed into personal property.  These documents demonstrate the way in which each area was reevaluating their relationship with the state, and this was responsible for bringing about new requirements for good rulers that protected the new form of government.

On thing that stood out in all three readings was the relationship of Christianity to the state.  In the Treaty of Novgorod, the document protecting property rights had to be sealed with a kiss to the cross so that the prince would be held accountable to God if he broke the treaty.  In the Galician Chronicle, the underlying message was that good rulers are Christian because God favored the devout and helped them to achieve their status.  Finally, in the will of Dmitrii Donskoi, he condemned any that violated the testament to be judged and punished by God.  Because Christianity had already spread throughout Rus by the time of the fall of Kiev, it seems that it played a much larger role in the state than it had at the beginning of the Kievan state.  Whereas princely law and church law were once separate, now we seem them becoming combined.  The separation between church and state jurisdiction is now blurred as things once under state jurisdiction, like private property, are now answerable to God.

The Roots and Growth of Christianity in Early Rus

Something that I found to be particularly interesting is the manner in which Christianity came to Rus compared to the power that the church wields in Russia today.
Pages sixty-three to sixty-seven paint a very clear picture of the real purpose for the introduction of Christianity to Rus. It’s made quite clear that Vladimir wanted to bring Greek Orthodoxy to Rus because it was a religion that could bring him greater wealth, influence, and power than he currently possessed, but he didn’t have to sacrifice much for it.
The book states that numerous religions presented themselves to Vladimir in order to grow throughout his lands, but Vladimir declined them because of personal opinions or dislikes for them. For example, Vladimir rejects Islam because it requires him to become circumcised and stop drinking alcohol (apparently his favorite activity).
Then, Vladimir sends judges to the lands of these religions to determine which one he wants to accept or which one is most favorable to him. Eventually, Vladimir decides that because he can extort a wife, a city, and an alliance of sorts out of it, he will convert himself and all of Rus to Greek Orthodoxy (I should also mention that his envoys liked the Greek church services the most, too).
It takes time, but the Orthodox church grows over the next few centuries to become a significant political, cultural, and religious (obviously) player in Russia with major influence over the direction that the nation takes.
The part of this whole situation that is most interesting to me is the course of growth that the church and the state take together. In much of Europe the Roman Catholic church (or the Orthodox church in Eastern Europe) grew independent of the state. In fact, the church often grew in times that the states were not growing, but in Russia, the church often grew with the state. The timeline of growth is not perfect for this as the church grew in times when the state was stagnant and the state grew in times when the church was less influential, but I think that two factors have primarily caused this unusual growth pattern.
First is Vladimir made the Orthodox church the state religion at a time when Rus did not yet have a great sense of “self” or national unity. This allowed the church to establish at a time when the state gained a greater identity, causing the two bodies to have a very heavily linked history of growth.
Second is the mutual relationship between the church and the state. Vladimir made Orthodoxy the state religion for the benefits that he (and his children) would reap. The church benefited from the large amount of previously unreached people and the state benefited from the economic and cultural effects that the church had on Rus.

Jesus Christ as the Ideal Christian Figure

The Orthodox Church’s notion of the ideal Christian was a person as close to Christ himself as it was possible for a human to be. The stories of historical figures idealized by the church display this both in their actions and in the situations which they lived in.

The Life of Theodosius, for example, contains many parallels to the life of Jesus Christ. In Childhood, Jesus was supposedly an extraordinary student (Luke 2:41-52), but we can also assume that he was not the awesome and powerful figure that he would later become from the fact that so little exists documenting his early life. Theodosius, called Feodosii in the text, also spends his youth studying the word of God, all the while being very respectful to his parents and his teachers. As he grows older, he takes on many other Christ-like qualities. He busies himself with giving aid to the poor, and insists upon being as meek and humble as he can be, even as those around him attempt to convince him to act like any other boy in his position. When he was beaten and enchained by his mother or mocked by his peers he stood strong in his faith regardless, just as Jesus was not swayed by those who did not believe in him. Just as Jesus’s actions earned him his followers, so too did Feodosii’s humble behavior and selfless actions also managed to inspire others to support him, such as the governor of the town who grew to love Feodosii more each time he gave away his nice clothing to the poor.

Unlike Jesus, Feodosii was not martyred, and was able to live the rest of his life in service to God. The ideal of giving one’s life for God is represented instead in the story of Saints Boris and Gleb, whose deaths symbolized “a particular form of piety which came to be highly regarded in Rus’ culture”. Boris and Gleb were both killed by their elder brother, Sviatopolk. Rather than attempting to fight back, they allowed him to make martyrs of them so that they would not have to corrupt their peaceful lives with acts of violence. So too did Jesus sacrifice his own life without fighting back against his killers.

St. Theodosius: The Ideal Rus Christian

St. Theodosius (or Feodosii, as he is called in Life) is portrayed to be on the far side of Christian devotion. The text portrays Feodosii as an idyllic Christian, able to purge himself of any and all earthly needs and desires. From a young age, he appears to be completely and utterly devoted to God. Feodosii wore ragged, patched clothes and preferred to study divine books, rather than playing with children. Life provided any Rus citizen with the perfect painting of what it meant to be a Christian, while simultaneously setting the bar so high that it appears no Rus citizen could ever compare.

Reading the text from today’s mindset, St. Theodosius’s actions appear utterly ridiculous. What child would completely forsake playing, in order to study diving books with “submissiveness and obedience”? Though the text quite clearly spells out the author’s idea of an ideal Christian, it completely neglects the notion that people are human, and therefore prone to the occasional bout of selfishness or the odd desire for enjoyment and pleasure.

Despite seeming far-fetched, though, I feel that the author painted St. Theodosius’s life to be such a struggle so that readers can take note of the degree of piety. A rational human wouldn’t expect another average human to take beatings without fighting back, to perform self-harm to prove religious devotion, or even to forsake all earthly goods in the name of their Lord. By making the story of St. Theodosius’s life so extreme, the author ensured that the audience would take something away from the story, even if they couldn’t be the ideal Christian that Feodosii embodies.

The fantastical image of the ‘ideal’ Christian (one who constantly studies divine books, bakes bread for the Church, performs labor with slaves, who travels on pilgrimages, and who ultimately devotes their life to a monastery) gave Rus citizens something to strive for, even if it was unattainable. The high standards would ensure that Rus citizens always had to something to work on and emulate, ultimately creating generations of devout Christians.

The “Ideal Christian,” according to Feodosii

The Life of St. Theodosius teaches us that the Russian Orthodox Church had nearly impossible standards for the “Ideal Christian.” According to the Chronicles, St. Theodosius–also known as Feodosii–was a child whose love for God led him to withstand a life of social exclusion and horrible abuse from his mother. Feodosii’s mother continuously bought him nice clothes, but he always gave them away to the poor, preferring not to exhibit his own wealth in order to be closer to God. His mother also beat him over and over again as he tried to bake loaves for the church or run away to learn more about God, but Feodosii’s faith remained steadfast. Finally, his total devotion to God, exhibited by his lonely, pained life, led the monks to accept him into their monastery.

This story teaches that the “Ideal Christian” should retain his faith in God no matter the physical, mental, or emotional costs. But even more drastically, it teaches that these losses and pains lead to a better relationship with God than a happier, more balanced life might. Feodosii’s adamant refusal to wear nice clothes or to fight back against his abusive mother were signs of his complete devotion to God. Even once he enters the monastery, Feodosii’s life is still hapless: “Thus he humbled himself by self-denial in every way and tormented his body with labors and abstinence so that the venerable Antonji and great Nikon marveled at his meekness and submissiveness and at such virtue, steadfastness, and good cheer [] a youth” (“The Life of St. Theodosius”). Here, we see that the life of a monk–the life of one who is closest to God–is filled with physical pain, denial of all pleasures, and submissiveness of character.

If the Russian Orthodox Church venerated St. Theodosius lifestyle, then did it expect the same type of character from all its followers? In class today, we discussed how the law code worked both to enforce Christianity and to build up a strong, structured civilization. While the ideals of self-denial and submissiveness which St. Theodosius exhibited might also have helped create a civilization of loyal, submissive citizens, these characteristics might also inhibit cultural advancements because they stunt creative thinking and personal desires. I wonder if such a strict, painful lifestyle was really beneficial–let alone attainable–to Rus civilization at this time.

Gender in Rus Society

After having compared the  Pravda Russkaia with the Statute of Iaroslav, their treatment towards the subject of gender, women in particular, is not only apparent but different from each other as well. Specifically speaking, although both texts clearly state that women within society are more heavily governed, the methods which each text states are different.

Through out the Statute of Iaroslav the text clearly and consistently focuses on women in terms of sexuality. The text in particular focuses on laws around subjects including marriage, divorce, adultery, and cheating. Yet for the Pravda Russkaia, on the other hand, places more focus towards overall worth.

Furthermore when looking more closely to each document, in terms of  within Rus society, there was a surprisingly limited amount of information focusing on homosexuals. In the Statute of Iaroslav, in particular, the closest mention to any form of homosexual activity is found at the 28th law stating “If two brother engage in intercourse with one woman [they are to pay] the Metropolitan 30 grivnas; and take the woman into convent.” Other than this neither the statute or Pravda Russkaia made any attempt in mentioning the subject of homosexuals, which leads me to wonder if, during this time, the idea of homosexuality was so uncommon to the society that there was no need for laws to be made?