English 233:   Introduction to Western Humanities - Baroque & Enlightenment

A sample student essay

Jennifer Stohr's essay on the role of the concept of advent
in the traditional Christian picture of history.

Here's an example of an outstanding essay on the out-of-class option on the concept of "advent."  You might want to what we have said elsewhere about what is entailed in writing good essay exams.  That memo focuses on the other topic option (the role of the concept of Original Sin in the traditional Christian picture of history), but a test of whether you've been able to get the point about the general criteria of performance in conceptual analysis papers is whether you can see how they would apply to a related topic.  Make some notes about the general principles that are appealed to in that memo, and carefully check to see how Jennifer Stohr negotiates them in the light of the issues inherent in the assignment and the material on hand for exploiting.  Of course it is possible to do a bang-up job on this assignment with a different scheme of organization and focusing on different concrete examples (with the exception of the Fall and the Atonement, which pretty much have to show up somewhere in the analysis).   But you should be able to appreciate how it is that Jennifer arranges for coherence, comprehensiveness, and specificity in the job she does with the assignment.

For a start, consider how clearly-plotted is the introductory paragraph to the essay as a whole.  This kind of overall conception of what must be the various parts and pieces of the overall problem, and of how they logically fit together into a comprehensive, coherent whole is not something that one is likely to be able to dash off at the beginning of one's sitting down to do the assignment.  It must be the product of an initially fitful but more sure-footed process of reaching clarity by sifting and sorting.

Essay Test #1, English 233, 9-28-96

Jennifer Stohr

The Role of the Concept of Advent
in the Traditional Christian Picture of History

Before discussing the role of the concept of advent in the traditional Christian picture of history, it is important to define and differentiate "advent" from "event".  Christian history, as historians would tell it, consists of a sequence of "events" or occurrences which somehow give rise to one another.  The traditional Christian picture of history, on the other hand, is incorporates as well of a sequence of "advents", or occurrences which God actively causes to take place in order to promote the fulfillment of God's plan for his creation.  According to Christian theology, God's plan includes the fall of the human race from God's grace through original sin, the redemption of mankind by the Lord's self-sacrifice on the cross, and the second coming of God at the end of time.  However, the term advent does not merely refer to such moments in the traditional Christian picture of history as these.  Advent, from the perspective of Christian theology, can refer to any moment in which God worked through his creation to further His master plan of the salvation of humankind.

The traditional Christian picture of history has been adventful ever since the Lord created light (Gen 1:3) and includes the advent of man's fall from God's grace.  Now, suppose a Christian is not fully aware of the role of advent.  He might be tempted to ask "Why, if He is truly omnipotent, did God create a free-willed being, capable of disobeying him?" or "If God is omniscient, could he not have foreseen Eve's disobedience and somehow avoided it?" or "Don't the punishments of death and the rebellion of all which man previously held dominion over seem a little harsh in light of God's supposed omnibenevolence?".  A Christian theologian might respond by saying that the creation, fall, and punishment of mankind are each advents, pieces of the puzzle of God's contrivance which are crucial to its completion.  When God granted man dominion over all of creation, He knew that man would eventually sin and, in fact, He intended for man to sin.  The sin referred to is, of course, Eve's belief that the Lord had lied when He said, "You may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden, except the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad.  You must not eat the fruit of that tree; if you do, you will die" (Gen 2:16-17) and her subsequent disobedience of this command under the supposition that it was a lie.  In these two decisions, Eve broke the unspoken covenant of trust and faith that had previously existed between her, the servant, and God, the Master.  Consequently, is was necessary for God, being omnibenevolent and, therefore, just, to punish the rebellion of His servants by causing a similar rebellion among Adam and Eve's servants, the animals and the earth.  For example, God told Eve, "I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth." (Gen 3:16) and told Adam, "Because of what you have done, the ground will be under a curse.  You will have to work hard all your life to make it produce enough food for you.  It will produce weeds and thorns, and you will have to eat wild plants." (Gen 3:17-18).  These punishments illustrate the rebellion of the lower realms - the uterus and the earth - against the upper realms - the mind and heart - and mankind.  Along with these punishments, God also branded Adam and Eve, as well as their descendants, with the mark of original sin.  This mark, visible on each man's soul, could not be removed until the advent of next step in God's plan :  His self-sacrifice.

Between the fall of humanity and its redemption, numerous advents occurred which were important factors in the scheme of God's divine plan.  Two such advents are the forty years the Hebrews spent in the desert before they reached the land of Canaan and the Babylonian captivity.  During the forty years subsequent to the Hebrews' freedom from Egyptian slavery, God related the entire history of advents up to that present time through a prophet, Moses.  God also gave Moses the ten commandments to relate to the Hebrews.  The significance of these two advents, as with any other advent, is that each of them relates a part of God's intention for his creation.  The history told man how he had come to be and why he held the position he currently did.  The ten commandments were meant to be a guide for the daily lifestyle of the Hebrews as God wished them to live.  The second important advent that occurred between humanity's fall from grace and its redemption is the Babylonian captivity.  In 586 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Judah, destroying Solomon's Temple, where the ten commandments were stored in the Ark of the Covenant, and deporting most of the Hebrews to Babylon.  The Hebrews saw their situation from the perspective of advents, instead of events.  In retrospect, they realized that God, through His prophets, had been trying to warn them that their corruption and sin would not be tolerated indefinitely.  Therefore, when the Hebrews did not heed his warnings, the Lord destroyed their prosperous kingdom more quickly than He had blessed them with it.  These two advents - the forty years in the desert and the Babylonian captivity - demonstrated to humanity God's approval and disapproval respectively, as well as the roles each of these play in furthering God's ultimate purpose.

The next significant step in God's plan is the birth which bears the name "Advent"; the birth of God's Son, Jesus Christ.  This advent, as well as His teachings and death, are all central to the traditional Christian picture of history.  Christ's life was committed to the proclamation of His Father's commands - love you neighbor as yourself, worship the Lord with your mind, body and soul, etc.  These teachings built a foundation of love for the early Christian church.  Similarly, the advent of Jesus's death on the cross brought His followers a new outlook on the future.  By His death and resurrection, the gates of heaven were opened for the first time and mankind was offered the opportunity to enter, and to regain God's favor and grace.  The advent of the life and death of Jesus Christ, although dependent upon the advents of the fall of humanity and its original sin for significance, is at the center of the traditional Christian picture of history.  Without it, the absolution of original sin through baptism would not be possible, Christianity would not even be a religion - the list of advents subsequent to, and therefore dependent upon, Christ's death is literally endless.  

Advents do not stop occurring simply because Jesus has come.  The final advent of God's plan is the second coming of Christ at the end of time.  Until that time, advents are still occurring everyday to further God's plan.  As with the Exodus and Babylonian captivity, since the advent of Christ's death, there have been advents of God's favor with His Christian people and His disfavor always in accordance with His plan.  For example, during the first Jewish War a hundred years or so after the death of Christ, the Christians suffered no persecution of any sort and, therefore, considered themselves in God's favor.  On the other hand, with the advent of the Black Death in 1347, numerous Christians believed they were being punished for their sinfulness as well as the corruption of the church.  Similarly, it is believed that God shows His approval or disapproval of Christians even today through the advents of daily life.  For instance, if one is leading an exemplary Christian life and hereby in God's favor, he might explain his survival of a car accident in terms of advent, of God's intervention to save his life to fulfill a specific purpose, rather than in terms of event.  Also, a Christian who has not been leading a very exemplary life might interpret a similar near-death experience as a warning to turn from his sinful ways and seek the Lord's forgiveness.  In this way, advent is not a concept of the past, but is also understood and believed in by many Christians today.  

From the perspective of the traditional Christian picture of history, advents occurred and will continue to occur every hour of every day.  Some of the most important advents include the fall of mankind from God's grace, the Babylonian captivity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Black Death, however, occurrences need not be a part of Christian dogma to be considered advents.  In each Christian's daily life advents occur in which God's plan for that particular person is further revealed to him.  The role of the concept of advent in the traditional Christian picture of history is to explain the occurrence of each moment in the everyday life of any Christian, past or present, as it relates to God's overall plan to bring His people back into His grace.

In Christian theology, God's plan includes the fall of the human race from God's grace through original sin, the redemption.

Hats off! Of course we can locate places where improvements could be made.   But it should be possible to appreciate why this performance is excellent.   This is something quite different from a series of true statements about a general subject.   The essay consists of a hierarchy of rational moves, in which the writer systematically undertakes a series of questions that are related to each other logically.   

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Essay copyright 1966 by Jennifer Stohr.

Comments copyright 1966 by Lyman Baker.

Permission granted for non-commercial educational use.   Otherwise all rights reserved.

Revised 28 October 1996 and 25 August 99.