The Scholar’s Challenge (Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013)

Reviews

“The Scholar’s Challenge by Julian Bauer is, in my humble opinion, one of the best new books on the market…I have never read such a revealing, well balanced look into the work of this man [Origen] as I have found here…I found a new respect for the epic journey the Catholic Church took through the treacherous landscape between truth and lies as it came into formation….Mr. Bauer’s eye for authentic detail also did a lot to color in the historical picture….One of the most interesting aspects of The Scholar’s Challenge was how the reader is drawn not only into the Christian struggle for survival and identity, but also the search for truth—even drawing an outline of the complimentary Jewish struggle for that same truth….In writing this book, Mr. Bauer did honor to those who have lit the path before us. A worthy task indeed.”  www.CatholicFiction.net

“There are very few books I would highly recommend to Christians across the board but The Scholar’s Challenge qualifies. I found this book interesting as well as vastly informative…”  Ann Frailey at Amazon.com, April 21, 2014

“If you think it would be hard to incorporate history, philosophy, human reason, spirituality and theology into one interesting and enjoyable book, you might be right. But Julian Bauer did it, abundantly.” M. Davidson at Amazon.com, December 23, 2013.

“This historical novel cleverly exposes the compelling secret behind the “Universal Church” and how it remained “One” after Christ in spite of differing opinions on such matters as the nature of God. The brilliant Fathers of the Church not only faced persecution, but philosophical disputes among themselves. Julian Bauer does a masterful job in pointing out how Christianity became the largest religion in the world while ruled by Rome. I strongly encourage you to buy this book if you have an interest in history and how it relates to current events. It’s true, history repeats itself. Fact Lover at Barnes and Noble, April 9, 2013

“Due to the historical interest and extensive research that was written I found ‘The Scholar’s Challenge’ to be an exceptional book. Being a Novel allowed me to feel as if the story was alive. Also, having traveled to the locations mentioned made it more interesting and real for me. The origins of the Catholic religion and the Bible are exceptionally portrayed. Great read; I highly recommend.”  Grubbs mom at Amazon.com, November 18, 2013

 Synopsis

This is a gripping story of two geniuses in the 3rd and 4th centuries who encountered disturbing and passionate opposition to their great ambitions. Our story takes us to the locations of great Christian upheavals: Alexandria, Rome, Caesarea, Bethlehem, Basel, and the Dalmatian plains.  How did Origen remove the complicated and divergent layers of dogma slowing emerging in early Christianity? It was inevitable that the 1,800 bishops at the time, living in different cultures and speaking different languages, should interpret the meaning of Scriptures and Apostolic Tradition passed down to them in varying ways. How could it be other wise since they had no telephone, no printing press, no reliable postal system with which to communicate? As told by his childhood friend, Ianos, the first Ecumenical Council had not been held and the Universal Church had not made many of the decisions Origen was attempting to answer. Ianos clearly spells out the difficulties faced by Origen.

In the fourth century, Damon, servant to Jerome, describes how his brilliant master became enraged at those who sought to tie him to the writings of the much maligned Origen. Nevertheless, while he sought to distance himself from those writings, Jerome used them extensively in his own publications. Why shouldn’t he have done so, for Origen wrote the first clear explanation of Christian dogma, the first extensive comparison of various versions of extant Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, and the most comprehensive answer to pagan slanders against Christianity.

Authorized by the Pope to rewrite Scriptures so that the common man could read and understand them, Jerome studied the best available Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic versions available and wound up giving Christianity a Bible used for a thousand years—the Vulgate Bible. A scholar who studied several languages so that he could read and interpret early versions of Scripture in the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, Jerome understood that every copy of the Scriptures that he read might have been hand-copied thousands of time, each time adding new local colloquialisms. How was Jerome going to search for the truth and then persuade the church officials that his version was the best that could be written?

Excerpt

I started putting my finger in the soup being prepared instead of telling Polona what had transpired during the day. She tapped me on the hand with a ladle to bring me back on topic. While my position at the school over the past year had been extremely intriguing, both as an unpaid teacher of catechumens as well as a student of more advanced learning, I found myself returning home to Polona and our newborn son, Thespis, eager to repeat what had taken place.
I talked and talked while Polona prepared supper, while we ate, and while we prepared Thespis for bed. I tried to be helpful by checking Thespis to see if he needed changing. If he did, I would remove the diaper. At this point, I usually gagged and Polona would push me aside, laughing. What a great life. Once the baby was in bed and sleeping, we gathered several cushions and took them into the cool evening air, leaving the door open in case the baby cried. We lay arm in arm watching the stars, with the occasional shooting star racing across the sky.
One night Polona asked, with a loving squeeze of my hand, “What was the most important thing you did today?”
Feeling her warmth next to me, I answered, with a return squeeze, by saying, “Do you remember how I told you about Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus, the early Christian martyrs?
“Yes. And?” she moved her body closer to mine.
“Well, Origen and I were teaching a class of catechumens today about the martyr Justin, who died less than forty years ago.”
“Was he from Alexandria?”
“No, he was from Flavia Neopolis, in Samaria, just north of Jerusalem. Actually, he was educated in the Greek philosophies and spent most of his life in Rome.”
“Why is he important?” Polona asked.
“Because he wrote in answer to the same false charges Christians face today.”
“What charges?”
“You know—when we assemble for worship, the pagans charge us with secret gatherings for incest, for child murder, and for cannibalism.”
Polona snorted. “That’s nothing new. Those charges may be found from Antioch, to Jerusalem, to Carthage, and even in Gaul. How did Justin answer to these charges?”
“He addressed his apology to the emperor, Antonius Pius.” Adjusting the cushion beneath my head, I went on. “In it he cleverly imitated Plato’s Apology of Socrates by asking for justice, not mercy.”
“So what did you tell the catechumens?” Polona asked impatiently.
I felt a cool breeze coming from the Mediterranean Sea touch my cheek. “Actually, it was Origen who gave Justin’s refutation in his usual strong voice. First, Justin argued, we are not atheists as charged, for we worship one God, the Father of righteousness and virtue. Secondly, we Christians are not immoral, for we are willing to be punished for any crimes we commit. And, lastly, we are not disloyal, for the kingdom we seek is a heavenly one.”
“That’s beautiful,” said Polona.
“Yes, it is.” I kissed her shoulder.
“What else?”
“Well,” I said, bringing her fingers to my lips, “Justin wrote that it was not sufficient to condemn us simply because we go by the name ‘Christians.’ Rather, we should be tested, as are all criminals, to see whether we are, in fact, evildoers.”
“That seems logical to me,” Polona said, pulling her hand back.
I laughed, remembering how Justin had made fun of the pagan gods here in Egypt. “Do you know Justin wrote to the emperor that a shrew is embalmed and considered sacred at Thebes? And that at Bastet, a cat goddess is worshiped, as is a crocodile at Onuphis in the delta?”
“He should also have mentioned how silly the Greek and Roman gods appear to us with their human characteristics and immoral actions.”
“Actually, he did. It was a stunning rebuke, but cleverly written so as not to offend too much.”
I went on to tell her how Justin taught in Rome, publicly confessing Christ Jesus. He was brought before Rusticus, the prefect of Rome, where he was ordered to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Naturally, he refused. So he was beaten with rods, all the while praising God. Finally he was beheaded. We were silent for a while, lost in our thoughts, and then we gathered our cushions and returned to the house, where Thespis was sleeping soundly.
Polona turned to me with a frown on her face. “Rumors, lies, and hatreds never die. Only two decades ago, an educated man by the name of Celsus wrote a book called True Doctrine here in North Africa. It is now all over the Mediterranean. The same false allegations are listed. Who will respond?”
As I prepared our bed, I said, “There is a Roman citizen in Carthage by the name of Tertullian who is writing his own apology on the same allegations to the Roman magistrates. However, he writes in Latin with a sarcastic tone. I told Origen, with his mastery of the Scriptures and Tradition, that he should respond to Celsus, word for word, in the Greek language, as Celsus used Greek to write True Doctrine.”
“And what did Origen say to that?”
“He said he was an interpreter of Scripture and apostolic tradition, not a philosopher, for philosophy only leads to heresy.”
“I’d wager Justin felt differently.”
“Justin recognized that his words were not the final statement on the matter; as he put it, his words were but a ripple in a stream of ripples that is the Church.”
“How beautiful.”
I agreed and then blew out our small oil lamp. We said our night prayers, standing and raising our palms to the ceiling in supplication. Afterward, climbing into our rush bed, I added, “Justin would brag that there was not a single race of human beings who did not say their prayers with the name of Jesus Christ on their lips.”
“I thought Clement said that,” said Polona.
“He said that also,” I replied, having forgotten what I had told her on several other occasions.

To read more about this book at Amazon.com click  HERE

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One thought on “The Scholar’s Challenge

  1. If you enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of the early Christian Church, you will love this book. Imagine how a universal church operates without a printing press, telephone, or common language and culture. Everyone seems to go off on a different direction. How does the church present a unified position when local versions of the “good news” vary? If you thought the church was threatened today, I guarantee you will think today’s threats a picnic compared to the first several centuries of the “universal” church.