Friday, September 30, 2005

Kirkin' o' the tartans!

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Huh? It's a Presbyterian thing; you wouldn't get it. ;o)

Now, of course, I know I'm not Presbyterian; I'm a Catholic. A great deal of this blog goes to exclaiming and exploring that fact. All the same -- I was Presbyterian, and I was exceedingly happy as such. (And hey, so was Avery Dulles, more or less, in his tinder years at Harvard.) Today, Tim Enloe linked to a short piece by James B. Jordan, "The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind". In the piece, Jordan laments the absence of a once-outstanding thing: Calvinistic thought. He laments the robustness of traditional Reformed controvery going the way of user-friendly fluff. (Of course, if he wonders where many a good Presbyterian has gone, he should face the fact, no acrimony intended, that they've gone to Rome!)

But o, what a cord Jordan's piece struck! How I loved the throaty, lucid "texture" of Reformed thought. The drama of presuppositionalism![1] I miss those P&R books and all those poorly printed tracts of Bible warfare. More than that, I admit, I miss the extreme comfort I knew in growing up (for 20 years!) in my home Presby church. That's all I shall say about this now, but I realize once again, with a tinge of strange regret, that I am Catholic for every reason OTHER than a distaste for my Protestant roots.

[1] Yes, I know.

A short dialogue for the blogging soul

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[Present. Wherever you are.]

READER: Elliot, why do you post all this stuff?

ELLIOT: Because you read it. And because I like writing. Of course, I don't post everything I write either.

R: Really? Hm.

E: Let me ask you a question.

R: ?

E: Why do you read all this stuff I post?

R: Because you post it. Of course, I don't read everything you write -- but I read it cuz it's there.

E: Hm.

The religion of Christianity?

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[Here's the "primer" I recently mentioned (using an NAB translation). seb-/euseb-/thresk- = religion, piety, devotion; religious, pious, devout Don't let your eyes glaze over with scriptural refrences. Try to imagine the fun I had making this and make ti your own. Approach with the question, "How do I as a __________ feel and think about 'religion'?"

As always, I welcome edifying corrections, insights, questions, etc. Meanwhile, I really do need to get religion.]

Acts 3:12
When Peter saw this, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this, and why do you look so intently at us as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety [eusebeia]?”

Acts 10:1-2, 4, 7
Now in Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, ... devout [eusebes] and God-fearing along with his whole household, who used to give alms [eleemosunas] generously to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly. ... [An angel] said to him, “Your prayers and almsgiving [eleemosunai] have ascended as a memorial offering to God. ... When the angel who spoke had left, he called two of his servants and a devout [eusebe] soldier from his staff....

Interestingly, because God accepts from all peoples whoever fears him and acts uprightly (i.e., work righteously = ergazomenos dikaiosunen) in 10:22, Cornelius, who was not yet a Christian, is described as righteous (dikaios), and clearly on account of his religious devotion (i.e., prayers and alms [cf. 10:4, 31]) prior to faith or baptism.

Acts 17:22
Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious [deisibaimonesterous].”

Acts 17:23
“For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines [sebasmata], I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship [eusebeite], I proclaim to you.”

Acts 26:5
“They have known about me from the start, if they are willing to testify, that I have lived my life as Pharisee, the strictest party of our religion [threskeias]. But now I am standing trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors. Our twelve tribes hope to attain to that promise as they fervently worship [latreuon] God day and night....”

Notice how Paul unites himself as a Christian to our religion, our ancestors, our tribes and the worship of our God in hope of our Savior. Cf. worship = latreian in Rom 12:1. So much for Christians claiming Jews worship a different God.

Colossians 2:18
Let no one disqualify you, delighting in self-abasement and worship [threskeia] of angels, taking his stand on vision, inflated without reason by his fleshly mind.... While they have a semblance of wisdom in rigor of devotion [ethelothreskia] and self-abasement [and] severity to the body, they are of no value against the gratification of the flesh.

2 Thessalonians 2:4
[The antichrist] opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship [sebasma], so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god....

1 Timothy 2:2, 3:16, 4:7-8, 5:4, 8, 6:6, 11
2:2 [Pray] for all kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion [eusebeia] and dignity. ... 3:16 Undeniably great is the mystery of [our] devotion [tes eusebeias].... 4:7 Avoid profane and silly myths. Train yourself for devotion [eusebeian], 4:8 for while physical training is of limited value, devotion [eusebeia] is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future. ... 5:4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let these first learn to perform their religious duty [eusebein] to their own family and to make recompense to their parents, for this is pleasing to God. ... 5:8 And whoever does not provide for relatives ... has denied [ernetai] the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ... 6:6 Indeed, religion [eusebeia] with contentment is a great gain. ... 6:11 But you, man of God, ... pursue righteousness, devotion [eusebeian], faith, love, patience, and gentleness.

2 Timothy 3:1, 2, 5, 10-12
3:1 But understand this: there will be terrible times in the last days. 3:2 People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents [cf. 1 Tim 5:4, 8!], ungrateful, irreligious ... 3:5 as they make a pretense of religion [eusebeias] but deny its power. Reject them. ... You have followed my teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings.... In fact, all who want to live religiously [eusebos] in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

deny = ernemenoi; cf. “denied” in 1 Tim 5:8.

Titus 1:1
Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen ones and the recognition [epignosin] of religious truth [eusebeian]....

James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks he is religious [threskos] and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion [threskeia] is in vain. Religion [threskeia] that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

2 Peter 1:3, 5-7, 2:9, 3:7, 11
1:3 His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion [eusebeian] through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. ... 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, 1:6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion [eusebeian], 1:7 devotion [eusebeia] with mutual affection [philadelphian], mutual affection with love [agapen]. ... 2:9 [The] Lord knows how to rescue the devout [eusebeis] from trial and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.... 3:7 The present heavens have been reserved by the same word [i.e., of God] for fire, kept for the day of judgment and of destruction of the godless [asebon {“religionless”} anthropon]. ... 3:11 Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, ... [conduct] yourselves in holiness and devotion [eusebeiais]....

If faith alone (sola fide) is perfect and sufficient for our salvation, how or why could we add anything to it (cf. 1 Pet 1:5)? If sola fide is sufficient, why did Paul command the Thessalonians to remedy “deficiencies” (usteremata) in their faith (cf. 1 Thes 3:10; 1 Cor 15:2)? And if we already have received faith and righteousness as divinely perfect gifts, gifts which we can never lose, how could we pursue and increase them (cf. 1 Tim 6:10, 21; 2 Tim 2:18); or, for that matter, how could some wander from, and lose, such gifts? See Heb 3:12-14, 6:4-8 (which use the same metonyms for true Christian salvation as in Heb 10:26, 29, 32; 1 Cor 6:11, 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 1:18; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25) and 2 Pet 2:20-22 (which uses the same terms [esp. knowledge = epignosis] of these fallen-away Christians as the Bible does of saved Christians [see 2 Pet 1:2-4; Col 2:2-3, 3:10; 1 Tim 2:4, 5:8; 2 Tim 2:25, 3:7; Tit 1:1-2]).

In his first letter, Peter expresses the same urgency about our efforts in holiness: “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I [am] holy.’ Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works [ergon], conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your [earthly] sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct...” (1 Peter 1:13-18). For the same idea – of the ultimate importance of our holy or unholy efforts/works – see Ezk 18:20-24; Mth 6:14-15, 7:13-23, 16:27, 18:26-27, 32-35; Lk 8:11-15, 13:6-9; Jn 15:1-2, 5-10; Ac 10:34-35; Rom 6:11-13, 16-19, 8:12-17, 11:19-22; 1 Cor 9:23-10:13, 15:2; 2 Cor 5:9-10; Gal 5:16-23, 6:7-10; Col 3:23-25; 1 Tim 6:11-13, 18-19; 2 Tim 2:15-22; Tit 3:8 [kalon ergoon = good works]; Heb 10:26-31, 12:14-17; Jam 2:1, 12-26; Rev 2:5, 19, 23, 3:2, 8, 15-19, 20:12-13, 22:12.

Teacher's Day...

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...yesterday here in Taiwan. It goes back to being Confucius' Day, as Confucius was and the model for all didactic excellence. (Well, so Confucius say.) Unfortunately, it seems Taiwan's big cheeses[1] think there is no better way to honor teachers on "our day" than by enabling us to fulfill our calling -- in a word, we stil had to work. I think Heavenly Order might be off on this one. Bougis say, "Happy Teachers' Day OFF!"

[1] It hits me every now and then: very little cheese here in Taiwan, at least any worthy of the name.

Differences between Catholicism and Presbyterianism

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[As I mentioned in my staggering TO DO list, these are the notes I prepared for Fr. Ramon to give a talk to/at the Presbyterian Student group at Providence U. I'm dissatisfied with a number of ohrases and expressions, but I wrote this fairly quickly and haven't done a lot of revising (yet?). (You're thrilled to hear this, I'm sure.) I'd appreciate any edifying comments, corrections, questions. I've also provided a link to -->
a handy comparison chart
.]

One of the most basic places to compare and contrast Presbyterianism and Catholicism is in the drama of Church history. According to the Catholic Church, its rites, structures and doctrines go all the way back to the Apostles. The Catholic Church claims to be the Church Jesus Christ established centuries ago. The Presbyterian churches, by contrast, admit to being the fruit of a relatively modern movement of Christian reformation that began in the late Renaissance. Presbyterianism’s chief guides are John Calvin, Frances Turretin (both in France) and John Knox (in Scotland). Now, admitting its historical roots lie in the Modern Period does not preempt Presbyterians from claiming as well to be the church – or at the form of Christian life – which Jesus established. The Reformation would never had had to happen, Presbyterians argue, if the post-apostolic and medieval Church had not abandoned its earliest traditions – which, they also claim, Presbyterianism restored and most fully preserves in our day.

This is not the setting to debate who is right about being the “established” Church of Jesus. But what we can do is face the historical “tendencies” in Catholicism and Presbyterianism. Simply because the Catholic Church is an older and globally wider communion, it by and large approaches changes and crises with a wider, slower and deeper sense of its options. Presbyterianism, by contrast, because it came to life so deeply in the Renaissance, in the Modern Age, has Renaissance biases. For example, one of the key aspects of the Renaissance was the advance of critical textual scholarship. Along this went the rise of critical linguistic studies. As scholars (such as Montaigne, Erasmus, et al.) were able to compare and analyze ancient manuscripts, they could also dispel bad translations and erroneous teachings. Luther, Calvin and most of the Reformers, as men of their day – and as extremely well educated men of their day – were swept up into this critical frenzy. As a result, they felt competent to challenge seemingly outdated, unsupported medieval teachings in defense of a “purer,” more “explicit” form of Christianity. Calvin, for example, trusting in the best scholarship of his day, argued against the papacy in one case by using what turned out to be spurious versions of Ignatius of Antioch’s letters. Luther, for example, also trusting in the power of advanced textual analysis, felt free to relegate the books of James, Hebrews and Revelation to an appendix of his biblical translation, and in fact to deny their full authority in scripture.

What does this mean for us today? We still see the heavy influence of Renaissance ideas in Presbyterianism. Presbyterians, for example, are, on average, the most well educated Christians in the world (in terms of advanced degrees, etc.). There is also still a very anti-medieval tendency in Presbyterianism in favor of “serious” modern scholarship. By contrast, the Catholic Church is often accused of preying on the uneducated masses in underdeveloped countries, or of defending outdated claims with a medieval reverence for “tradition”. The Presbyterian churches focus on the verbal, intellectual clarity of Christian truth as divine propositions to be believed, even at the expense of Christian art and music, whereas the Catholic Church is more inclined to preach the Gospel not simply textually but also very richly with music, icons, incense, vestments and cultural (non-intellectual, non-verbal) affectivities.

Obviously, none of this historical background is an argument for or against either communion – but it should help us see how what difference a thousand years of life in Christ can mean for each communion. At the risk of stereotyping, Presbyterianism generally stands in tension between two historical poles of authority (outside the immediate authority of the Bible, of course). On the one end, Presbyterianism is intent on returning “ad fontes” – to the deep wells – of the pristine, pure, primitive apostolic church in opposition to any ancient or modern corruptions from that first church. On the other end, Presbyterianism feels compelled to stay sharp with the most advanced scholarship in order to cut away any un-Christian layers on the Gospel. The tension arises because, in many cases, the best scholarship either confirms a more “catholic” – and less “presbyterian” – understanding of the primitive Church, or is used by secular critics to undermine the credibility of Christianity in general.

This leads us into two of the most fundamental differences between the Catholic Church and all other forms of Christian communion. First, in sharp contrast to Presbyterianism, and Protestantism generally, the Catholic Church regards Sacred Tradition as a second, but not secondary, source of Christian authority. Tradition is not subject to Scripture, and neither is it superior to it; they are to be equally revered as two springs from one common source (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] #75ff). Second, in contrast to Protestantism, and even to Eastern Orthodoxy, which does also revere Tradition as a source of divine authority, the Catholic Church has a very clear role for the Church’s living teaching office (or Magisterium). In the first case, Presbyterians see the Bible as their sole, infallible authority. Notice that the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura is that Scripture is the sole infallible authority, not, as is commonly assumed, that it is the sole authority in any sense. This means that Reformed theology does, technically, regard tradition as a useful source of guidance and/or inspiration. Unfortunately, this principle rarely gets “lived out” in day-to-day Presbyterianism, where, unfortunately, the average Presbyterian is warned to avoid “catholic” influences and, hence, is all but oblivious of the Fathers and great Medieval Doctors.

The paradoxical result is that, because it has no trust in ecclesial Tradition as an ongoing, reliable source of authority, Presbyterianism is continually driven to affirm only the absolutely clearest and most indisputable aspects of Christianity – but also finds it increasingly difficult, in a pluralistic age, to claim anything is undisputed Christian truth. Not only does Scripture not interpret itself, but Scripture also did not generate itself. The Scriptures were born as enduring artifacts of a pre-existing Gospel Tradition in the Church. As the most basic example, without relying on the testimony of Tradition as a voice of divine authority, how does one defend the canon of Scripture itself? If we can use Scripture as our only infallible guide, how do we know in the first place what texts make up the Scripture we use as our sole authority? Where is the infallible biblical “table of contents” if not in infallible Tradition? In a word, how does one settle any scriptural dispute without a reliable “lens” to help us read the Scriptures clearly? This “lens of Tradition”, as one Catholic author calls it, is the most fundamental difference between Presbyterianism and Catholicism.

Without the lens of Tradition, however, Presbyterianism is, and always has been, obsessed with the so-called “perspicacity” of Scripture. Since, they argue, God gave us only the Bible for divine authority, surely He would have made all necessary truths clear enough for all Christians to understand and agree upon. Anything less than “perspicuous” in Scripture, therefore, has a hard time rising from “controversial interpretations” to true dogmas. This brings us to the role of the Magisterium mentioned above. Not only does the Catholic Church rely on Tradition as a true source of divine truth, it also trusts in the present guidance of the Holy Spirit in the leaders – particularly the bishops as successors of the Apostles – God appoints for the Church. So, even when the light of Tradition seems unclear in our attempts to better understand and live the biblical truth, the Catholic Church trusts in God’s guidance in the voice of the Church’s “shepherds.” Ideally, this structure of teaching authority keeps the Church in order and frees the faithful from worrying if one private interpretation is the truth or not. Even so, the shepherds themselves, as the living anchor of teaching in the Church, need a center of unity, which the Catholic finds in the Bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter, chief of the Apostles (cf. CCC #84ff, 880ff). In Presbyterianism, as synod after synod struggles to find unanimity and truth in the disputed “perspicuity” of Scripture, the churches continue to fragment: from one Presbyterian Church in the USA centuries ago, to two in 1934**, to three in 1978**, to increasingly more in the past decade or two. In Catholicism, by contrast, we have a two-thousand year-old saga that began when God gave birth to the Bible from the Church’s Tradition, and which continues into our own day in a harmonious dance** between the Bible, on the one hand, deepening and purifying the Church’s lived Tradition, and the Tradition, on the other hand, clarifying and realizing the Bible’s tremendous power. Meanwhile, this whole mysterious dance of divine truth is shepherded by the Church’s apostolic successors as ministers from the Holy Spirit.

From here, we can more quickly note the main differences between these two communions.

SACRAMENTS: In the Catholic Church, there are seven sacraments, which Jesus established as permanent means of grace for His people. In the Presbyterian churches, there are only two: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. As mentioned, because these two are the only “sacramental things” unequivocally attested to in the Bible (sola scriptura), Presbyterians are willing to call only them true Sacraments of Jesus. Again, without a binding Tradition or a Magisterium to navigate the less clear parts of the Christian heritage, Presbyterianism must “settle for” only the most fundamental, most perspicuous elements of the Faith.

EUCHARIST: While Presbyterianism, classically, acknowledges the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it sees this Presence only as a sacramental visitation, which, in a sense, “disappears” apart from the immediate action of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus, in a sense, hides the bread and wine in Himself at the Lord’s Supper, but as soon as He has nourished His people, the bread and wine reemerge and Jesus, in a sense, returns to His rightful place, in Heaven, before His Second Coming. Catholics (and Orthodox), by contrast, recognize not only the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but also affirm the enduring reality of this Presence in the elements as the hidden manna of life (i.e., transubstantiation; cf. Rev. 2:17; Jn 6:48ff), although He veils His own glory before His returns in full glory. Further, because Jesus wholly and truly remains with His People in the Holy Gifts, these gifts as the Lord Himself are worthy of adoration, an action no Presbyterian would ever dare do at the Lord’s Supper. A final difference is that Presbyterianism utterly rejects the Mass as an efficacious propitiatory sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, whereas the Catholic Church sees the Mass as the sacramental re-actualization of Jesus’ saving death at Calvary. Because Jesus is the enduring Lamb of God slain in Heaven, Catholics on earth enter His blood Mass after Mass for the hope of salvation (cf. 1 Jn 2:1-2; Rev 5:5ff).

Jesus prayed that all His disciples would be one, as He and the Father were one; and He prayed that we would love each other, so that the world would know we are truly Jesus’ disciples in the love of the Father (cf. Jn 17:20-23). We must never forget the deeper truth that we are united as brothers and sisters in the baptismal union of Christ’s death and resurrection! So, while these comments so far may seem very negative and competitive, we must close on a good note. What are some similarities between Presbyterianism and Catholicism? What are some common “stones” we share in order to build a unified house of faith?

First, both Catholics and Presbyterians believe in Infant Baptism.

Second, unlike some radical charismatic groups, both Presbyterians and Catholics believe in the need for order (cf. 1 Cor 11:33). Hence, while denying the need of ordained bishops, Presbyterians do have synods of elders in each region and a council of elders ("presbyters”) in each church for the regulation of church affairs.

Third, while many Presbyterians do have iconoclastic tendencies (no icons, no musical instruments, no art, etc.), a number of them do use liturgical vestments and colors and they do follow a yearly lectionary to keep “sacred time.”

Fourth, while many people think only Calvin and Presbyterians teach predestination, Catholics, most notably in the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, also believe in the absolute necessity of God’s grace alone for our salvation prior to any of our own efforts.

Fifth, as mentioned, both Presbyterians and Catholics believe in at some kind of Real Presence of Jesus in Lord's Supper. This is a huge connection! Jesus calls us to Himself in this Supper and if we are serious about meeting Him, we must be equally serious about meeting and embracing each other in Him as our common Bread of Life.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Added a couple features

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AdSense atop the bloggle column (soon to be adapted for FCA's content/readership). You too can make money blogging! (So they say.)

BibleGateway search bar at right in the sidebar.

Am considering making/selling books on CD (I read 'em for my own purposes, and at the same time make an audio copy for others' needs). Not legal, right? Maybe just Scripture and my own poems, essays, stories, etc.

Onward.

Thoughts on Orthodoxy, Trinity, "the West", etc.

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[Wanted to post these afore I fergot to...]

1 John 4:8, 16 say, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. ... And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him." Further, we see (in Rom 5:5 and Gal 4:6, Mk 1:11, 9:7, Lk 3:21-23, Jn 17:26, etc.) that God sends His love to the Son and the Church in and precisely AS the Holy Spirit.

Let us also note St. Gregory Palamas’s words:

The Spirit of the most high Word is like an ineffable love of the Father for this Word ineffably generated. A love which this same Word and beloved Son of the Father entertains towards the Father: but insofar as he has the Spirit coming with him from the Father and reposing connaturally in him.

[alternate translation: “This Spirit of the Word from on high is like a mysterious love of the Father towards the Word mysteriously begotten; it is the same love as that possessed by the Word and the well-beloved Son of the Father towards him who begat him; this he does insofar as he comes from the Father conjointly with this love, and this love rests naturally on him.”]
(_Capita physica_ XXXVI, _PG_ 150, 1144 D-1145 A)

Consider also Sergius Bulgakov:

The tri-hypostatic union of the Godhead is a mutual love, in which each of the Hypostases, by a timeless act of self-giving in love, reveals itself in both the others. ... The Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father to the Son, as the hypostatic love of the Father, which "abides" in the Son, fulfilling his actuality and possession by the Father. In turn, the Holy Spirit passes "through" the Son, returning, as it were, to the Father in a mysterious cycle, as the answering hypostatic love of the Son. In this way the Holy Spirit achieves his own fulfillment as the Hypostasis of Love. ... If God, who is in the most holy Trinity, is love, the Holy Spirit is the Love of the love.
[_The Wisdom of God_ (1937), p. 57-58; _Le Paraclet_ (1946), p. 121; _TWoG_, p. 74]

Finally, consider Dmitri Staniloae:

In the Trinity the Spirit subsists in continuous procession from the loving Father towards the beloved Son, and in loving 'irridation' from the Son towards the Father. . . . He is this flowing current of the love of the Son or, more exactly, of the Father, returning from us also as a current which is united with our, loving affection for the Son or, more precisely, for the Father. ... The love of the Son for the Father differs from the love of the Father for the Son. Through the Spirit the Son responds with his own joy to the joy which the Father takes in him. . . . The irridation of the Spirit from the Son is nothing other than the response of the Son's love to the loving initiative of the Father who causes the Spirit to proceed. The love of the Father coming to rest in the Son shines forth upon the Father from the Son as the Son's love.
[*Theology* (1964), p. 25, 30-31]

Notice 1 John does not say “the Father is love”, or “the Spirit is love”, nor “the Son is love”, but bluntly that God (in His divine essence) is love. Hence, this feature of the divine essence must be equally and fully “possessed” by each of the persons. Further, after taking such pains to clarify that God does not “have” his energies, but really IS (and really is “had”) His energies, I fail to see how calling love an energetic action of God allows one to deny that same love-energy IS God. That the Holy Spirit “possesses” the divine nature of being love more vividly or dynamically than the other Persons is only an apparent difficulty: just as the Son manifests certain aspects of the Godhead more than the Father, and vice versa, so too may each person be said to BE divine in a unique, preeminent way.

At any rate, I've always taken the objection that "calling the Spirit love de-personalizes/ de-hypostasizes Him" to be too wooden, or just too easy. It seems to ignore the fairly central biblical notion that a person IS what he/she LOVES (with all various necessary qualifiers and "in a sense"s). The perichoretic LOVE of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit simply IS what makes them God (both distinguished hypostatically and unified essentially). The Son's entire person is comprised of His loving-of the Father, which in itself "makes" Him as much God as the Father. Same for all three persons.

From a different, more “human” perspective, I do not blush calling love a person precisely because in loving, we are most truly ourselves; and when we are most truly and purely ourselves we become pure love. God loved the world so much that He became one of us; and we, by divinizing grace, grow to love God so much that we too become God. Man becomes his idols. God becomes his beloved.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Two other things:

1) Who in the West has claimed to see the Trinity? Er, St. Ignatius, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, to name only three counter-Reformation figures. I may as well ask who in the East has enjoyed apparitions of our Lady, or who in the East has manifested stigmata. Clearly something is going on both sides of the Bosporus. Hence, asking such questions, while helpful in certain ways and at certain times, tend too easily to become a "my mystic is better than your mystic" theo-pissing contest. Not my style.

2) "The first principle [of Augustine’s theology – EBB], viz., that of the absolute sovereignty of God over the will, in opposition to the emancipation of Pelagius, has not always been understood in its entire significance. We think that numberless texts of the holy Doctor signify that not only does every meritorious act require supernatural grace, but also that every act of virtue, even of infidels, should be ascribed to a gift of God, not indeed to a supernatural grace (as Baius and the Jansenists pretend), but to a specially efficacious providence which has prepared this good movement of the will (_Retractations_, I, ix, n. 6). It is not, as theologians very wisely remark, that the will cannot accomplish that act of natural virtue, but it is a fact that without this providential benefit it would not. Many misunderstandings have arisen because this principle has not been comprehended, and in particular the great medieval theology, which adopted it and made it the basis of its system of liberty, has not been justly appreciated. But many have been afraid of these affirmations which are so sweeping, because they have not grasped the nature of God's gift, which leaves freedom intact. The fact has been too much lost sight of that Augustine distinguishes very explicitly two orders of grace: the grace of natural virtues (the simple gift of Providence, which prepares efficacious motives for the will); and grace for salutary and supernatural acts, given with the first preludes of faith. The latter is the grace of the sons, gratia filiorum; the former is the grace of all men, a grace which even strangers and infidels (filii concubinarum, as St. Augustine says) can receive (_De Patientia_, xxvii, n. 28).

Be ye nuclear, for I, the Lord your God, am nuclear!

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Russian admiral named patron saint of nuclear bomber force

Historic Russian admiral Fyodor Ushakov -- a hero of Russia's wars against Turkey and Napoleon Bonaparte -- was designated the patron saint of nuclear-armed, long-distance Russian bombers by the Orthodox Church.

Russian Patriarch Alexei II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, carried a reliquary and an icon of the admiral, who was canonised in 2004, into the Moscow chapel of the Russian Air Force's 37th Air Army in Moscow, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency said Monday.

"I am sure he will become your intermediary as you fulfil your responsible duties to the fatherland in the long-range air force," the patriarch said.

(AFP - Yahoo! News - Mon Sep 26,11:09 AM ET)

I've always loved the smell of ammonia!

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When I was a teen, my dad, a phenomenal cook and baker, had me help him more than a few times prep squids for fried (or baked) calamari. In this way, I grew to have a special affinity for the little tentacled carnivores. (I mean, you try severing someone's tentacles, ripping out his beak and entrails, flaying, washing, frying and then eating him without getting a little attached! I'm only human.) Years ago I read Peter "Jaws" Benchley's _Beast_, about ye olde giant squid, and had a blast. (As Fakespeare once said, to flay and love a baby squid is but to love and hope to flay a giant one. Ah, how true.) The fact that ye olde giant squid has never been caught "live" -- but almost always found washed up, dead or dying, reeking of ammonia -- made it that much more intriguing for me. Job's modern leviathan?

Anyway, all that's changed, as some Japanese scientists have finally done it: they have "captured" ye olde giant squid (Architeuthis) -- albeit only on camera.

TOKYO - When a nearly 20-foot long tentacle was hauled aboard his research ship, Tsunemi Kubodera knew he had something big. Then it began sucking on his hands. But what came next excited him most — hundreds of photos of a purplish-red sea monster doing battle 3,000 feet deep.

It was a rare giant squid, a creature that until then had eluded observation in the wild.

Kubodera’s team captured photos of the 26-foot-long beast attacking its bait, then struggling for more than four hours to get free. The squid pulled so hard on the line baited with shrimp that it severed one of its own tentacles.

(Science - MSNBC.com - AP - Updated: 2:01 p.m. ET Sept. 28, 2005)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

By the way...

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I love The Roots. You?

Cogs, turning...

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Quick update. Still doing what I can to keep on my TO DO list. But lately I've also had a really exciting detour with bursts of insatiable Scripture (especially NT) study. My critical resources (and especially my knowledge of Greek!) are good (Greek NT, Septuagint, an NAB Bible, and the NIV Greek-Hebrew Key Study BIble), but I'd love to get my hands a few other resources. For example:

1) Word Study Greek-English New Testament - Paul McReynolds,

2) The Orthodox New Testament: Translated Out Of The Original Greek: The Text Of The 4 Gospels, Acts, 21 Epistles, And Revelation and

3) The Precise Parallel New Testament: Greek Text, King James Version, Rheims New Testament, Amplified Bible, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Bible.

It's really amazing to see all the connections beneath the translated surface. I've recently been working on another biblical primer, this one about the "religion" of Christianity. Many people (esp. fundamentalists ... and liberals, I guess, too) deny Christianity is "a religion," since it is "a relationship." This is true, but it's far truer to say it's a *religious* relationship. God, the object of all religion, the God of Triune inner-realtions, meets man relationally. Man, as a relational being, must however return God's embrace in a correspondingly divine, religious way. God "condescends" to meet us in "mere" human relationships; we for our part must be willing to ascend to him with the liturgical and ritual dimensions of our being. Religion is not a handicap on man's relationships, since man himself is religious, the homo religiosus. (I always think it's funny how skeptics and rationalists denounce religion as an oppression laid on man... but then rail against the power of man *himself* to create religions! External oppression or internal fulfillment? I guess it wouldn't matter to them if scoring points is the main goal, but oh well...)

At any rate, I've been compiling as many references to religion/piety (*eusebeia*) in the NT as I can find -- and surprisingly, to this former Evangelical, the great majority use the term very positively. I might post this primer in the near future.

Onward.

HUH-larious

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No, I don't need a lot -- just one star war.

(hat tip to Mark Shea)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Saints, silkworms, souls and haikus

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If, perhaps, you'd like to understand a little better the latest, even more cryptic than usual haikus (Life and Light), I suggest you consider their author in light of these words by St. Teresa of Avila about silkworms’ and the soul's union, and predisposition for such union, with God:

When the warm weather comes ... [t]here with their [silkworms' – EBB] little mouths they themselves go about spinning the silk and making some very thick little cocoons in which they enclose themselves. The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. ... This silkworm, then, starts to live when by the heat of the Holy Spirit it begins to benefit through the general help given to us all by God and through remedies left by Him to His Church.... I would like to point out that this [woven silk – EBB] house is Christ. ... Not that we can take God away or build Him up, but we can take away from ourselves and build up, as do these little silkworms. ... Let it die; let this silkworm die, as it does in completing what it was created to do! ... When the soul is ... truly dead to the world, a little white butterfly comes forth. O greatness of God! (_The Interior Castle_, Fifth Dwelling, chapter 2-6)

Lord Jesus, bring Your risen light into my darkness, and may I find my only light in Your crucified darkness.
Blind me with your darkness, overshadow me with Your light!
May Your poverty impoverish my highest riches, and may my highest riches enrich the service of Your poverty.
May I hold Your poverty over my highest riches, and may Your many riches fill my poverty.
May I live in Your death and die in Your life.
Heal me with Your merciful wounds and wound me with Your merciless healing!
Fill me, O Lord, with your overflowing emptiness, empty me with Your bottomless fullness!
[1]

[1]I used to think things like this prayer were just meaningless mysticisms, but God seems to want me to see just how meaningful such mystical meaninglessness really is! Pray for me.

One of the nice things about Tradition...

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...is that you don't have to do all the footwork yourself. This dawned on me, again, last night.

I was reading an introduction to some of St. John of the Cross’s works and was struck by his profoundly biblical sanctity. He was known to carry his Bible everywhere he went, and could be “caught” reading it in almost any free moment. When other monks and seminarians ran off to town to see the latest stigmatist or hear the latest mystic, St. John stayed in his cell hunched peacefully over his Bible (cf. Kevin O. Johnson, _Why Do Catholics Do That_ [New York: Ballantine, 1994], p. 273). The longer he soaked in the Scriptures, the more driven and inspired by biblical “triggers” he became. Everyday speech would trigger biblical parallels in his mind, which would in turn trigger other biblical resonances. St. John’s ever-alert, sensitive, imaginative Biblicism, which is especially vivid in his poetry, forged his very concrete, earthy, dynamic vision of theology and divinization. Among the many gems of exegetical insight I gleaned from St. John in this introduction, one that especially caught me was this: in order to avoid being seen in a nighttime maneuver, the Gideonite soldiers carried their lanterns in clay jars (cf. Jdg 7:16-20). St. John sees in this concealment the inner fire of God’s love veiled in the temporary darkness of this age, in the fragile opaqueness of faith. "Faith," he says, "represented by those clay jars, contains the divine light. When faith reaches its end and is shattered by the ending and breaking of this mortal life, the glory and light of divinity, the content of faith, will at once begin to shine."[1]

What a beautiful, potent vision! Though we entered the dark vale of tears by sin, our God, Who has promised to dwell in darkness (cf. 1 Kg 8:12) met us in the darkness at the Cross, when the Light of the world plunged into the darkness of death (cf. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45). Faith is the very medium, the vessel, in which we possess God – and this medium is a darkness often rife with emptiness. St. John’s insight about the soldiers’ lanterns was not mine to create "on my own", but, thank God, has truly become "my own" by virtue of accepting my Christian inheritance, Living Tradition!

Tradition is a glistening, marvelous hallway running through the heart of the Church; this hallway of faith, the Church’s living backbone, is built from the jewels, glass, wood and stones of Scripture, along which the living, ever-present light and voice of God shimmers and echoes into every age. The longer light fills the heart of the Church, which is holy life growing always from the Lord’s own Heart, and the longer His Word resounds in that pondering heart, the brighter and clearer the Tradition becomes for our posterity in the corridor. Hence, for every child of Tradition, just when you think you’ve made a new discovery, if you look back far enough, or open enough doors, you’re almost certain to find some saint or other has already had the same insight. Even better, though, is finding some saint or other who has had insights you never dreamed of having! The farther forward you travel towards God, which paradoxically means to the farther and longer back you travel down the hallway of the Living Tradition, the more easily you will see the footprints of your predecessors, footprints which, though they precede you in time past, also anticipate you in future glory.

[1] _The Ascent of Mount Carmel_, book 2, chapter 9, 2, as cited in _St. John of the Cross_ in the Classics of Western Spirituality series (New York: Paulist, 1987), p. 102.

Will or willn't?

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[Same weird-gap=Chinese-Word apology as in other posts...]

The aim of this post is to reflect on a riddle I see in Calvinism. But first, let me make a brief detour about why I am no longer a Calvinist (hey, it’s my blog). The final point of this detour turns out to be the point I ultimately wish to make in this post, so your time won’t be totally wasted getting to the bottom.

First, there is the fundamental issues of Scripture and Tradition. Calvin, like all the Reformers, simply missed the boat on this one. In a crash of sola scriptura polemic, they unfortunately threw out the baby of Tradition with the abuses of various traditions [on this, you can wade through an old Catholic Light comment thread I was in under my pre-Catholic nom de guere, Geistesweisheit]. By making only the first four councils truly binding in any way as Tradition, Calvin, as any sola-scripturist does on every front (esp. that of the biblical canon), ran into the problem of defending these councils as the only true interpretations of Scripture, when neither they themselves nor Scripture ever teach them, or any council, to be such.

Second, I see simply no way historical Calvinism can be reconciled with the Church’s truth about the truth of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice worthy of latria [you can check out two earlier posts I made about the Eucharist {under a different pre-Catholic nom de guerre, Trujillo} here, part 1 and part 2]. And even if such a “reformation” were made to salvage Calvinism, and rectify Calvin’s “lapse” in this regard, we ipso facto have even less reason to see him as anything like a reliable authority for the Church, nor anything less than a brilliant lawyer who sadly wrought the same ecclesial fractures he so sternly wrote against. Strangely enough, I had without doubt my most intense pre-Catholic Eucharistic experience in a (PCA) Calvinist service as I held the loaf for people to take from.

Third, once I encountered the Church’s bold claims about God’s Providence, particularly in St. Thomas Aquinas’s theology, I spontaneously felt the – and I must admit this impression – sharp, icy grip of Calvin slip from my neck. A good part of my embrace of Calvinism was that it filled a tremendous need, in my college years, for a real sense of security: away from home, awash in theories, growing on an unclear road, etc. Now, even though Nietzsche was right to point out that just because something fills a need doesn’t make it true, we should also remember the equally obvious retort he seemed to miss (which is a common occurrence in Nietzsche): just because something fills a need doesn’t make it untrue. There is no need to deny the fact, and good reason to affirm it: Calvinism’s “notorious” emphasis on God’s sovereignty and man’s utter reliance on grace alone is simply good biblical, Catholic truth (cf. Jimmy Akin's article on, basically, the question of "how Calvinist a Catholic can be"). And so merely because I loved Calvinism for reassuring me of God’s sovereignty, I had to face the awkward fact that, despite the typical Calvinist bluster of truly being the only people on the planet that truly understand the true need of true grace in true Christianity (eeesh), in reality, divine Providence is simply not the private property of Calvinism, or the Reformation generally.

Fourth, I came to see that the ontic divide Calvinism places between fallen sinners and the holy God simply decapitates the good news it claims to defend. This excessively stark divide in Calvinism, which ultimately becomes a theological and pastoral crisis of the first order, became clear to me in small touches of Providence. For example, one night I was (as always) rearranging and packing books) when I flipped through John Baillie’s _On the Presence of God_. (I can’t praise highly enough the book of his younger brother, D.M. Baillie, _God Was in Christ_!) To paraphrase Baillie (poorly), “By emphasizing so strongly the utter incapacity of man to respond to God’s grace, Calvinism actually ended up by incapacitating grace from reaching fallen man.” This was an unexpected touch of Providence which set alarms off in my head. In the same way, in the midst of my Calvinist-Lutheran- Orthodox-Catholic upheaval towards the end of college, I was flipping through Paul Tillich’s _A History of Christian Thought_, when I read (to paraphrase again), “Although there is a great emphasis on God’s sovereignty and will, there is surprisingly very little mention of God’s love in Calvin.” Alarms, alarms! And, as a final warning touch of Providence, one day a year or two ago I was “comboxing” with a committed Calvinist at Mark Shea’s blog, when I asked him point-blank: “Does God love me? Does God love you?” Now, this is one of the simplest, most obvious “Sunday-school” questions in the Christian Faith, and one which any decent Sunday school kid will immediately answer, “Well, duhh! Yes! He’s God, and God is love!” But the Calvinist’s answer? “I don’t know.” The only feeling stronger than my sheer revulsion at such a “Christian” answer was my deep sorrow for people who live by such a “gospel.” But, the hard truth is, that Calvinist was just being consistent. For as long as election remains the “inscrutable”, monergistic prerogative of God alone, no Calvinist can in good faith say she knows God loves her as one of the elect. At any moment – as the grieved confession of a wonderful Calvinist friend made so clear to me around the same time – “I could fall away and only then realize I was never really among the elect!” By laying so much weight on man’s “utter depravity”, Calvinism lost sight at a deep level of God’s exuberant, magnanimous love for all His creatures. By focusing so intensely on the deadness of man in sin, Calvinism has obscured, if not in fact rejected, the unparsimonious vitality of God’s life in Christ’s blood shed for all people.[1]

It is here that my semi-biographical detour ends and here that I would like to present the riddle I mentioned above. Realize, now, that by pointing out this riddle, I am not arguing in any strict or direct sense against Calvinism, merely that I am highlighting a bizarre paradox in an otherwise paradox free soteriology[2] According to Calvinism, and Christianity in general, God is free in the fullest sense. His freedom, the beneficent liberality of His will, is one of the defining elements in an orthodox theology of God. God has libertarian free will in the highest sense of the word. A second uncontroversial claim in Calvinism, as a form of Christianity in general, is the truth that God created man in His image; that man bears the imago Dei, the very likeness of God, in a human mode. This imago Dei is, classically, recognized in man’s creativity, productivity, (Trinitarian) social proclivity, (marital) fecundity, transcendent rationality and imagination, etc. And yet – get ready for it – despite his uncontested God-resemblance, man in Calvinism lacks one of the central features of God, namely, libertarian freedom! This is simply bizarre! So bizarre in fact that I am labeling a big fat theological “cop out” (yeah, yeah, that’s real “low,” I’m sure).

This, then, is Calvinism’s riddle of the "theletic lacuna": though humans are created in the image of a free God, they are themselves not free, even after being redeemed by the divine Spirit who instills freedom (cf. 1 Cor 3:18; Jn 8:32, 36; Rom 6:20-22; etc.).

Ponder this riddle with me and tell me your thoughts.

[1] A strange consequence: Calvinists rail all the time against Catholics “communing with dead” by invoking the saints, but according to their own soteriology, we interact everyday with people who are truly dead (in sin)! In the strictest Calvinist sense, then, evangelism/witnessing is nothing less than “contacting” the dead! Wowzers! Go, go, Gadget Irony!

[2] Another irony about Calvinism is its basic stance towards the Mysteries of Revelation. A transcendent God and immanent in creation – an impenetrable mystery! An unchanging eternal God immanent in temporal contingency – an unscalable mystery! An inerrant holy book written by fallible sinners – a humbling mystery! A man born of a Virgin – a sheer mystery! God and man united in the one person, Jesus – mystery of Mysteries! A holy God saving sinful men – oh, well that’s easy: God just incinerates their rebellion with irresistible grace and brings them home without the slightest complicating amount of synergistic freedom or failure. (Hmmm, which one of these is not the like the others?) [P.S. As Jimmy James Akin points out so nicely in _The Salvation Contorversy_ {pp. 90ff}, the very words of Scripture teach synergism. See the Greek, for example, in Mark 16:20 {sunergountos}, Romans 8:28 {sunergei eis agathon}, 2 Cor 6:1 {sunergountes} and 1 Cor 3:9 {sunergoi}.]

Marriage and Celibacy in Christ

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[Here's the biblical primer on celibacy and virginity I mentioned. I wrote this largely because a friend of mine - yes, the same one that explained why unmarried pastors are better at "connecting" - has more than once disparaged celibacy, one time, in fact, calling it "a bunch of crap." This really wounded me. To scorn a gift so highly praised was pure scandal for me. So, I wrote this not only to see if I was overreacting about the gifts' biblical basis, but also, perhaps, to offer it to my buddy to help him see things in perspective. {Sorry for the weird apostrophe and quotation gaps; pasting from a Chinese Word document does that, I guess, but I have no time right now to fix each gap.} Tell me your thoughts, thanks! {Oh, and, no, despite the vigor of my primer, celibacy is not a foregone conclusion for me!}]

Why not marry? Jesus was single. St. Paul was single. Some, indeed many, of our Faith’s most dynamic and humbling saints were unmarried in order to walk every day with the one true “lover of their souls,” Jesus. Our Lady, Mary, as a prime example, remained a virgin her whole life [see NOTE 1].

Consider also St. Paul’s words and model: “I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God.... It is a good thing for [the unmarried] to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire. ... If you marry, however, you do not sin, ... but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. ... I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint on you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. ... So then, the who marries ... does well; the one who does not marry ... will do better.” (1 Cor 7:7-9, 28, 32-34, 38).

Most importantly, we must heed our Lord’s words and example: “Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it” (Mth 19:12). Ought to, He said. Jesus also said to Peter, who had “given up everything” to follow Him, “Amen, ... everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands” – in a word, all the connections and blessings of the married life – “for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Mth 19:27, 28a, 29). Such a sacrifice is a living witness of the Kingdom to come, since, as Jesus said, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage ... [for] they are like angels” (Lk 20:34-36). Hence, in Revelation, we see the faithful followers of the Lamb wherever he goes described with glowing praise as virgins (Rev 14:4).

Obviously, such a long-term sacrifice of such a good thing is not easy; but its difficulty is precisely part of “carrying the cross” every day and, moreover, of sharing in Christ’s sufferings as He Himself was emptied (Greek, kenoō) of all claims to comfort and intimacy (cf. Lk 9:23; Rom 8:16-18; Php 2:5-9). Denying marriage for oneself is hardly an insult against marriage, since marriage is a supreme gift – a Sacrament – of God and a living witness of Christ’s marriage to His spotless Bride, the Church (cf. Eph 5:25ff). As St. John Chrysostom said (in the 4th century), “Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good” (cf. _Catechism of the Catholic Church_, #1620).

However, to deny the goodness of celibacy is indeed to question the soundness of Jesus’ counsel of it – “ought to accept it” – as a means to attain perfection (cf. Mth 19:12, 21). As St. Francis de Sales said (in the 16th century), “[T]o despise aiming at Christian perfection is a great sin, and it is a still greater sin to despise the invitation by which the Lord calls us to it. ... It is true that a man may refrain from following the counsels [of celibacy, poverty, obedience, etc.] without sin because of an affection [or fear or need, etc.] ... that he has. ... But to proclaim that one does not wish to follow the counsels – not any of them – cannot be done without contempt of Him who gives them. Not to follow the counsel of virginity in order to marry is not to do wrong; but to marry because you regard marriage as a higher state than celibacy ... is great contempt either of the counselor or of the counsel” (cf. _Treatise on the Love of God_, Book 9, chapter 7).

So, why not marry? Not to denigrate marriage; not to fear sex; not to be a “loner”; but, simply, to become that much more like Jesus, and to have that much more of the “freedom of emptiness” in the service of our God and our neighbor.

[NOTE 1: Mary’s perpetual virginity is indicated in at least six ways. First, we catch a prophetic glimpse of her in Ezekiel when the Messiah’s entrance into the City is foretold; Mary was and is the perpetually closed “eastern gate” through which the glorious Lord, and He alone, passed for our salvation (cf. Ezk 43:1, 44:2).

Second, by bearing the Word of the New Covenant, the Staff of the redeemed Priesthood, and the true Bread from Heaven, Mary quite dramatically, and mystically, became the Ark of the New Covenant – which was not to be “tampered with” by even the most well-meaning outsiders (cf. Heb 9:4; 1 Chr 13:9-10 {with Num 4:5}; Jn 1:14, 6:30-33, 41).

Third, insofar as Jesus was the New Adam and reversed the Fall by obedience (cf. Rom 5:12ff), so too we see Mary as the New Eve, quite literally flesh of His flesh. Through her humble obedience (cf. Lk 1:28-30, 38), this New Eve gloriously reversed Eve’s shameful disobedience (cf. Rev 12:1-6, 13-17 with Gen 3:15-16). Hence, just as Adam and Eve became one flesh perpetually free from adultery, so too Jesus and Mary remained (and remain!) united in virginal purity by the total gift of themselves to each other, as “one flesh”: Jesus gave His life and death for Mary and all humans; Mary gave her womb, her very flesh, for the life of her Savior (cf. Lk 1:46-48).

Fourth, Mary’s baffled but faithful reply to the angel Gabriel’s prophecy about bearing a child suggests that she, like more than a few Jews in her day, had already taken a vow of celibacy. How can she bear a child, she asks, since she “does not know man” (Lk 1:34)? Mary obviously understood sex and fertility (hence the Hebraic “knowing a man”), and therefore wondered how she could have a baby in light of her vow of celibacy to God as His “lowly handmaiden” (cf. Lk 1:38, 48; interestingly, the Greek in 1:48 {tapeinōsis} echoes Jesus’ own unmarried, humiliated emptiness {cf. Ac 8:33} as the Suffering Servant whose “posterity” was cut off {cf. Isa 53:8, 10} and who – as we see fulfilled in Christ’s spiritual brotherhood with us – only “gave birth” to “descendants” by the faith He plants in us Christians {cf. Rev 12:13; Jn 3:5-6; Tit 3:4-7; etc.}). All such ideas clearly hearken back to the Hebrew concept of God’s beloved anawim: the poor, the crushed, the empty, the fruitless, the alone – and yet the faithful.).

Fifth, Mary’s maternal despair as she watched her only son die on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:26-27) also suggests she had no other children. It is plainly bizarre to imagine her supposed other children leaving her so utterly alone at Jesus’ death, and in Jesus’ era, even more outrageous to imagine Jesus entrusted her to a non-relative, St. John, if there were any other immediate kin to care for her (cf. 1 Tim 5:4, 8).

Sixth, the vast majority of Christians until well into the 18th century – including Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and Wesley – believed as a clear part of history and Christian Tradition that Mary always remained a virgin.]

Guidelines for a Whipped Bibliophile

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In an attempt to stave off my apparent addiction to buying (and then, errm, not always reading) so many books, I wrote this "rule of life". Needless to say it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. But I think it's fun to review it, with a few years of hard-nosed hindsight. Your thoughts?

1. Don't buy a book if you can find it in the library. [Shyeah, in Taiwan?]

2. Read a book (in the library or from a friend) before buying it. [How can I get my hands on it without buying it?]

2a. Don’t write in books you don't own or take many notes from them unless you return to them. [Fair enough.]

3. Buy a book only if you have read it and will (surmisably) return to it ... [Well, I can surmise almost anything....]

OR

3a. ...only if the book is for classes or for your annual study topics. [Fortunately, every year is a new year, and every book makes me a class of one!]

4. If a book's not in a library, buy a used copy, if possible. [Good for me, every book is used as soon as you buy it!]

5. Request books as gifts before buying them. [I do – but I seem to be the only one ready to treat me to a book for those special times.]

Get Back, or, What I Didn't Learn from the Beatles

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This'yere's an old mewzin' (21 April 2002), a speck'a mah "juvenalia" as them college boys mahght call it, Ah figgered Ah may's well'a brought t'yer attantion (with a few mahnor ree'visions here'n'ther). Ah cayn't rahght r'member zackly what Ah wrote it foor, but it sands lahk an ill-fated an' overwrought college essay a'some sort. Yer thoughts'll olways fahnd a place bah this blog's log fahre.

The Beatles, all sitars and cryptic drug allusions aside, are known for love.[1] "Soldier of Love," "To Know Her is to Love Her," "Can't Buy Me Love," "All My Loving," "Love Me Do" - from the start the Beatles were bards of love, ready to arm the lovesick rocker with catchy tunes and sweet lyrics to serenade what"s her name again. Years later, the world was mesmerized, shocked and grieved all at once by the tragic end to John and Yoko's fabled love affair. Who hasn’t had "All You Need Is Love" ringing in the ears after hearing it? The Beatles were perhaps the most adored band to emerge from the decade of free love, and probably because they were that era’s clearest spokesmen. And that’s precisely where I fault them.

Actually, it was only recently that I began to see flaws in the Beatles' amorous euphony. The end, you might say, came at the end. The last track (excepting twenty seconds of "Her Majesty") of the Beatles last album, _Abbey Road_, is titled "The End." True to form, the Beatles said farewell to their fans with these famous lilting lines: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." For years I had sung along compliantly with this melodic apothegm. Arguably, no finer ethic could (or should) survive the twentieth century.

But one day, a dark thought filled my mind and dampened my voice. What if, in the end, all the love I can ever expect really *is* equal to the love I give? O, dismal thought! If their last words have the last word, the Beatles returned from India with as strong a faith in karma as they did in sitar accompaniment, for according to this last lyric, karma wins. You get *only* what you give. *Only* what goes around comes around. Love is a closed system with no slack on either end; a stagnant pool; a perfectly tabulated account. No matter how prosaic or melodic, this idea of "karmic love," strikes me as lethally cold. If I had to whittle the Beatles' karmic love to its essence it would be this: Love = Love, hence, Effort = Reward. At bottom, beneath the saccharine frosting of groovy feelings, I heard the Beatles saying in no uncertain terms that love, in the end, is a hard-won treasure in an arid, flinty world. And that is precisely where I diverge from the Beatles.

Of course the Beatles were not rogue bards. Their hermetically sealed view of love is and was typical of their era. For example, what are we to make of the idea of "free love"? Superficially it conveys a giddy abundance of love. Love, it cheers, cannot be bought or sold if it is everywhere. This is a sort of erotic socialism: all is owned and all is shared. There can be no private, legal sex, since there is only public, free love. What's mine is yours, including our share of love. The problem with erotic socialism is that it cheapens the hard work of true good lovin'. True love must always outlast and outdo the parsimonious equal sign of a failure in love. True love must persevere in spite of conflict, or it is merely mindless, ephemeral attraction. Generosity is a petty pacification of beggars when strewn indiscriminately from the larders of luxury. True generosity, by contrast, is a willful, perhaps even painful, sharing of limited resources. Love always binds the lover. Love always costs the lover. Free love is a lie because love is never free. As Jesus said, "This is love: to lay down one's life for your friends."

The basic cause of the Beatles' representative ethical error is the rejection of grace as an operative principle in human life. It's no secret that the 60s were a time of moral revolution and rejection, particularly against Christian values and conceptions (such as law, duty, grace, truth, etc.). Notably, of course, to the horror of conservatives, this revolution burst forth as sexual promiscuity, civil disobedience and drug abuse. But beneath this "naughtiness" lay a festering, burning rejection of grace, which not even conservatives can claim to be free from. Contrary to the narrow fears of the conservative counterstrike, the 1960s were not primarily about "breaking the rules" (i.e., of the Bible and/or of society), but breaking the back of the *spirit* of those rules, namely, grace.

Over against the crude, heretical arithmetic of the Beatles’ karmic love – is there anything more sterile than an = sign? - the Bible stamps a resplendent + sign on our world. Love does not equal love. Love-plus equals love! Grace equals love! Grace means that, in the end, we have been given more than we can ever give. We have been loved longer and more passionately than we could ever muster (or dare) to show on our side of the karmic = sign. Common grace assures us that, despite appearances, *we are always better off* than we deserve. According to the Gospel, in the beginning, in middle and in the end, the love you take infinitely outweighs the love you make. As the Beatles (nearly) crooned, "To know this is to love Him."

[1] Yet, sadly, I once heard John Lennon's son speak in an interview about how hard it was growing up while his dad sang so much about love onstage but showed so little at home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Can't hurt to repeat myself myself for a good cause, can it?

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All right, I know I've said at least twice I will update "youse guys" on some events in my recent life. And I will do so. But prepping for, growing through, and recuperating from WYD, as well as getting back into the swing of a new semester/year, have all kept me tied up. But the posts are coming. Why bother announcing this? Partially to keep any faint embers of interest warm in your blog-hungry minds, but also to post a blog-memo for myself: "Hey, dude, get on it. You're not the only one waiting on those posts!"

So, on the horizon here at FCA:

+ Finally finish/post my pre-reception series on the Sacraments. [DONE]

+ Share some thoughts on my post-reception "euphoria" as a new Catholic.

+ Sketch a whimsical experience of being Catholic at a monastery in rural Taiwan.

+ Share a couple humorous confessional anecdotes and some funny "near-drama" at Mass this weekend. [DONE]

+ Unveil the great pre-WYD prayer crisis!

+ Post a few thoughts on our Dear, Blessed Lady (i.e., the doctrines associated with her and especially the Assumption). [POSTPONED/CANCELLED] How I love her.

+ Share a brief primer on the New Testament basis for virginity as a way of Christian life. [DONE]

+ Present a rather long (serialized) article on Confession (and sacramental reality generally).

+ Offer a shorter reflection on the biblical basis for, and eschatological vision of, merit (that notorious "Catholic invention"!). [POSTPONED/CANCELLED]

+ Highlight a new FCA Patron Saint! [DONE]

+ Offer some tips on prayer from my own experience. [DONE]

+ Post some photos and commentary from WYD.

+ Post a reflection on the evangelical counsels in religious life *as well as* in the connubial life.

+ Present some reflections and statistics on global population issues.

+ Continue (and thereby withdraw from) my discussion with "Reader" about the celibacy of Jesus and "the historical Jesus" in general.

+ Perhaps also run an outline of the Differences/Similarities between Presbyterians (my former denomination, and a background I truly cherish!) and Catholics (to help Fr. Ramon with a talk he will give at the Prov. U. Presby student union). [DONE] How I loved growing up in "the wings of the Church" at RPC in Jacksonville. O Dominus, ut unum sint! Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis peccatoribus!

That's enough to forecast for now. Thanks for your patience, as it were, and keep me in your prayers. Mass was beautiful this morning, and going to Providence U. to lead the Chinese-English Bible study yesterday was worth the whole long exhausting urban day. (Tonight's Spanish-English-Chinese study should also be edifying! Haha!)

Cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The emptiness of life

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The only meaningful foil to the emptiness of life is the life of emptiness. Kenosis is our only hope.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Given for you

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At Mass yesterday (yes, I have become an early-morning-Mass-Catholic... 6:30 AM three-four days a week!), after having received the Blessed Sacrament, I was kneeling praying, reflecting on the words, "This is the Lamb of God, who was given for you." It hit me: the Lamb of God, raised up at the Cross and now exalted in the heavens, is not merely given for me, but, re-presented and exalted in the Mass, is actually given TO me as well! Christ did not simply die for sinners, but in dying for them, gave Himself to us! The Mass brings this “divine action”, quite literally, quite mystically, into our daily lives, into our very bodies and souls.

The shift in perception was immense. Whereas a few years earlier, as a Protestant, I had cherished and proclaimed the truth of Jesus being given for our salvation, I had never been able to bring Him down to the concrete level of being given TO me for my salvation. Obviously, Protestants "receive" Jesus as their "personal Lord and Savior," but it dawned on me this is in effect the reception of a Great Idea, a Noble Truth. Without the existential and liturgical "intrusion" of God's life and love into our own all-too-concrete lives, the Gospel message remains a mere word about what happens in the heavens. But, thanks be to God, at the Mass, Heaven touches down again; Heaven descends to my palm, to my tongue, to my body, to my soul -- to the only "me" I have. Far from "caging God in a wafer," the sacramental Presence of Christ is the only thing that ensures we do not cage Him in the heavens. Truth is a Person, Jesus Christ, God made flesh. Contrary to _The X-Files_, the Truth is not "out there"; in the Mass, the Truth -- this living Person whom Christians adore -- is right here, where we are.

Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2005

But he was a Jew! (part 2)

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[My reader replied at greater length in our (initially sparky!) discussion of Jesus’ unmarried status. Onward.]

Dear Reader,

I have no Internet at home, and between my study and ministry “stuff”, exercise, spiritual life, etc., I found no time till now, at work, to reply. Thanks for your reply. I wanted to move this discussion out of the comboxes, just because they are so tedious for extended replies.

I again apologize you took my “circumlocution” as a charge of idiocy. I am often frustrated when people confuse directness with rudeness, truthfulness with sarcasm. As much as it may seem I’m “antagonizing” you, I’m not; in the following please don’t mistake my truthful directness for sarcastic rudeness. (I also apologize for any grammatical goofs, which I’ll try to weed out if I find them upon a later reading.)

First, I admit quite plainly I do find your position (which I first of all recognize is not “your” position as such and, second, that it is not a dogmatic argument *for* the *truth* of Jesus’ marriage, but more of an intellectual attempt to widen our view of Jesus) – I admit I do find it faddish. By faddish I simply mean it is (basically) novel and plainly a minority, dare I say cliquish, position. Your position simply is not academically well represented in the appropriate circles, largely because (as I believe) it is also not a very well substantiated contention. Consider: even John Dominic Crossan – no friend of “doctrinal” presumptions over radical historicity! – finds it completely obvious Jesus was not married, and then explains why that was so (cf. Beliefnet.com’s article, “Why Jesus Didn't Marry”). Likewise, as Darrel Bock points out (in his book, _Breaking the da Vinci Code_), Jesus’ celibacy is one of the few issues liberal and conservative exegetes agree on (cf. also Bock's Beliefnet.com article “Was Jesus Married?”). Fads may change, or even become, the reigning style, but it seems perfectly obvious fads plainly and novelly stand out *against* the current norms. Hence, without any condescension, your view is in a basic sense faddish. (Would “recent” or “unique” be better?)

Second, I mentioned Brown, Baigent, Starbird, et al. simply because I *do* assume they are the major purveyors of this “hypothesis.” Given that the marriage hypothesis, as a matter of plain cultural fact, is promulgated mainly by these “pop” scholars, I think it’s a fair assumption (if such there be) to think that was the well you were drinking from. I’m glad to be proven wrong.

Now, as to the substance of your position, let me respond with a series of questions (and a few elaborations on them). They are, some of them, rhetorical questions, meant to point to an answer on my part, but even so, you need to address them to make your hypothesis coherent and tenable. Away we go.

1. What is the motivation for this “doctrinal” cover-up of Jesus’ marriage? Why hide a “fact” about him that would have made him only that much more acceptable to a number of would-be converts?

2. In 2 Corinthians 9, why does St. Paul not use Jesus’ marriage to bolster his own “apostolic right” to have a wife? Obviously, standing on the precedent of Jesus’ marriage would end any argument *in favor of* Paul’s right to marry. Why hide the fact when it would work so well in his favor? Along the same lines, in Ephesians 5, why didn’t St. Paul draw from Jesus’ married example in his analogy of the mystical marriage of Christ and the Church? Why not deepen his whole point by saying Christ’s marriage laid the pattern for the ecclesial marriage?

3. Now, assuming you reply St. Paul was actually “in on” the “cover-up”, why then didn’t he use the (albeit illusory) precedent of Jesus’ (albeit fictional) celibacy to bolster his argument *for* celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7? You can’t have it both ways: St. Paul either suppressed Jesus’ marital status, and thus lost a lot of power for his own arguments, or he suppressed Jesus’ celibacy. (By the way, the very likely reason St. Paul didn’t defend celibacy by citing Jesus’ example is because doing so would have proven too much. St. Paul’s whole point in 1 Cor 7 is to show the latitude of celibacy *and* marriage in the Church. Arguing for celibacy by way of Jesus’ celibacy would have preempted marriage as a viable option for Christians.)

4. In light of St. Mark’s Hebraic “mythologizing” about Jesus’ continuity with the patriarchs, why didn’t he emphasize one of the most salient features of the patriarchs' lives – namely, their marriages? Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, the Prophets, etc. -- all of their stories were intimately and plainly wrapped up with their marital status. If, then, the Gospel writers wanted to “harmonize”, and thus magnify, Jesus’ with his patriarchal ancestry, why leave out such an uncontroversial and central aspect of the Old Testament patriarchy? Again, if they wanted to emphasize Jesus’ patriarchal status, they simply dropped the ball by ignoring (or “suppressing”?) what you take to be a reality: Jesus’ wife. How odd….

5. If you reply they did so to appeal to the Hellenistic (Stoic) world, why then so strongly emphasize Jesus’ continuity with the *Jewish* religious worldview? Why spin Jesus as a Hellenized celibate while simultaneously situating him suqarely in the non-Hellenic, Hebrew heritage? Again, you can’t have it both ways. So don’t.

6. You place a lot of weight (though based only on the “observation” of one scholar) on the idea that the other great rabbis (Gemaliel, Hillel) and rabbis generally were all married, and therefore that we should see Jesus in this light too. But why measure Jesus by (assumed) rabbinic standards when he was not an official rabbi? You are holding him to (presumed) socio-religious standards which he doesn’t even merit. Why wasn’t Jesus’ authority recognized as rabbinical, even if it was opposed (i.e., “By what authority do you teach?”, Jesus expressed – and was understood to express –his “authority” and ministry in distinction, if not outright opposition, to that of the mainstream rabbinic schools. You’re trying to make an apocalyptical itinerant (square peg) fit a traditional rabbinic category (round hole).

7. Along these same lines, even if we put Jesus in a basically rabbinic category, why should we see Jesus himself, as an individual, in the same light? Why should we assume a man with an extremely apocalyptic message, ceaselessly itinerant ministry, and ultimately disastrous end would have a wife – particularly when none is ever mentioned in any context? Keep in mind also that in that milieu apocalypticism was also *assumed* to entail celibacy for the eschaton. (Wow, square peg, square hole!) Further, how did Jesus’ itinerant, persecuted *poverty* give him any social or fiscal basis to support a wife? (Square peg, round hole.)

8. Assuming Jesus had a wife, why were people not more scandalized by his apparent flirting with adultery by having other women so closely involved in his ministry? Why, if he had a wife, did no one ever accuse him of adultery/immorality by associating (and so scandalously) with women who were not his wives? As I’m sure you know, a core element of Hellenic-Judaic morality was *avoiding*, like fire, women besides your wife. Further, given the highly ascetical dimension of morality at that time, why assume Jesus didn’t embrace this same ascetical celibacy for the sake of virtue per se? (Square peg, round hole.)

9. In the same way, in the Gospels and other contemporary literature, men are typically, almost invariably, linked in a clearly marital status with women in their company (cf. Joses, Peter, James, et al.). Yet, not a single woman in Jesus’ company is given a marital link to him. Why not?

10. Why does even the extra-biblical, gnostic literature that does underscore Jesus' closeness to Mary (Magdalene) itself do so only in a spiritual, and not marital, way? If biblical and extra-biblical materials alike simply give us no basis, no pinpointable evidence, for seeing a wife in Jesus's wife, why do you insist on inserting one?

11. If the Gospels really are such “manufactured” texts, why should I or you be concerned in the first place whether they do or don’t emphasize Jesus’ celibacy? You seem to be caught on a dilemma (the "redactionist retreat"), saying in one breath the Gospels give us a skewed, doctrinalized version of Jesus, while in the next breath saying we can demolish this false image precisely by using the Gospels as our measure! (Huh?) Your argument rests on the more basic train of though that the Gospels were manufactured to “puff up” Yeshua into Christ, and therefore that they emphasized flashy, prophetic features of Jesus’ life while suppressing the more compromising, “unsellable” features of it. But this whole line of thinking is incredibly curious when you start to ask yourself why the Gospel writers (and meddlesome redactors, as you have it) *left* so much *embarrassing* material in (e.g., the discontinuity of a married patriarchy with an ostensibly unmarried Jesus, the devastated end of a supposed prophet of God, the remarkable failures of Jesus in hostile or unbelieving audiences, his flashes of apparent anger, his admissions of ignorance about key features of God’s actions, his intimacy with [multiple] women, etc.). Is that really the best they could redact?

I hope these questions converge back to my first question: what was the motive behind this doctrinal cover-up? You have spoken of rearranging Jesus' biography alnog Hellenistic, Judaic lines, but never explained why or to what end. You asre thus left with a mishmash of peculiarities and details but no coherent picture. You have no probative "story", but only a number of feisty suspicions and surmises. Assuming Jesus was married -- but that the fact was buried -- simply raises too many questions (i.e., 2-10) and therefore demands an incredibly compelling reason to assume a cover-up, which, let’s be honest, is what your position amounts to: a well-mannered academic conspiracy theory.

I see a key flaw in your approach as two-pronged. First, historiographically, you are relying on ambiguities and “strange” parallels to explain away otherwise straightforward material about Jesus and his time. Your second "flaw" if I may be so bold! ;) ) is that you and I approach these matters from fundamentally different positions: I from the perspective of faith and providence, you from the perspective of skepticism and suspicion. I don’t mean that snidely either. Both of us acknowledge various forms of “tinkering” – no, the Gospels are not simply news reports, and I do not mean to say they are – but you attribute that to “mere” humans, while I see the work of God in those same humans. The Gospels do indeed highlight various Old Testament features of Jesus’ presumably less striking purely biographical life. But that is because he, in a sense, forced them to do so. Jesus presented an immense existential and religious challenge – and hope -- to his peers. The “tinkering” of the Gospel is thus a divinely commingled attempt by the faithful to make sense of this crisis in light of their received worldview/traditions. Hence, of course, they would emphasize the ways Jesus fits in to this heritage.

The bottom line is you, I believe, regard Jesus’ “resurrection” as essentially one more historical datum to be weighed on supposedly “objective” grounds. I, on the other hand, regard the Resurrection not only as the only “explanation” for the “Jesus event”, but also as a radically alteration of the way history itself works. The Resurrection is the divine infusion of a radically personalist (pneumatic) dimension to history, whereby posterior memory is realized only in dialectical and existential *union* with an antecedent and enduring *presence*. I’m sure that sounds a bit weird, and maybe incoherent, but I recommend you look at Fr. M. D'Arcy's _The Meaning and Matter of History_, L.T. Johnson’s _The Real Jesus_, N.T. Wright's _Jesus and the Victory of God_, P. Jenkins's _Hidden Gospels_, T.F. Torrance's _Space, Time, Resurrection_, C. Blomberg's _The Historical Reliability of the Gospels_, and G. Habermas's _The Historical Jesus_. Our opposing views of the Resurrection alter how we approach the "texts" and "testimony." Nevertheless, as I hope my questions and comments point out, your marriage hypothesis stands weakly at best and, hence, singularly under the burden of proof. Poke holes in "the Jesus cult" if you will; but I advise to find an issue with more credibility and coherence than that of a married Jesus. As the coconut tree said to the monkey, "You can climb all day, but I really don't have any apples." You can surmise all day, but this tree has no fruit.

Cheers!

Friday, September 9, 2005

Thursday, September 8, 2005

But he was a Jew!

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In reply to my recent musing about Jesus' celibacy, a reader commented in reply to my observation about Jesus celibacy:

How do you know Jesus lacked a wife? Several scholars have argued that scriptural silence on the issue suggests just the opposite: since an unmarried state was not thinkable for an adult male Jew, and the texts do not specifically mention his unmarried state, which it would have had he been in that unusual condition, he might well have been married. Don't mistake doctrine for historical fact.

In all humility, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone raised this "objection." All I can say is that I find it odd, extremely so, that Jesus would describe the loss and renunciation of marriage as a highroad into/for the Kingdom he came to inaugurate -- which was also a principle his earliest disciples taught (cf. 1 Cor. 7) -- if he himself didn't take that path (cf. Mth. 19). Even a casual reading of the Gospels makes it clear that ruffling his contemporary culture's feathers is one of the clearest elements in Jesus' life (cf. e.g., Jhn. 2; Lk. 4; Mth. 5-7, 23-27). Jesus is, by definition, unusual as far as his (and our) culture's assumptions go. Hence, I find the "but-Jews-always-married" claim a red herring. At any rate, even if the culture's assumptions were the point, though, that woudn't matter, since there was indeed a place for celibacy in Jesus' era (e.g., the Essenses, the Stoics, Talmudism, etc.). In this vein, see also this ATRI article, Fr. Mateo's article and Br. Anthony Opisso's discussion of ancient Jewish celibacy.

Finally, by "several scholars" I must admit I can only suspect my reader means Dan Brown, Leigh Baigent, Margaret Starbird and other pop-neo-gnostics (as well as Robin Williams in his latest HBO comedy routine -- now there's some serious academic weight! ;o) ). My reader advised me not to mistake doctrine for historical fact. Pardon me, but what facts? As it stands, I suggest we all not mistake faddish conjectures for plain, unbroken historical/ecclesial testimony (a.k.a., evidence). The absence of evidence is, as the historiographical maxim puts it, not the evidence of absence. Meanwhile, the presence of evidence immediately shifts the -- in this case, *enormous* -- burden of proof onto the objector.

From my brain to my heart

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"Liberty is a detachment of the Christian heart from all things to follow the known will of God."

-- St. Francis de Sales, [source unknown -- EBB]

"[I]f you would progress a long way on this road and ascend to the [Spiritual] Mansions of your desire, the important thing is not to think much, but to love much; do, then, whatever most arouses you to love. ... [L]ove consists, not in the extent of our happiness, but in the firmness of our determination to try to please God in everything, and to endeavour, in all possible ways, not to offend Him, and to pray Him ever to advance the honour and glory of His Son and the growth of the Catholic Church. Those are the signs of love; do not imagine that the important thing is never to be thinking of anything else and that if your mind becomes slightly distracted all is lost. "

-- St. Teresa of Avila, one of my new favorite siblings, The Interior Castle, Fourth Mansion, chap. 1, 8

"I abandoned myself and forgot myself
Laying my face on my beloved;
All things ceased; I went out from myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies."

-- St. John of the Cross, another of my new favorite siblings, Ascent of Mount Carmel, stanza 66

As regular FCA readers probably know, I have a great interest in and love for the Jesuits.[1] Reading a collection of St. Ignatius's personal writings (recollections, letters, etc.) while I was in Europe, I have come to love Ignatius himself all the more as one of my dearest (celestial) spiritual fathers. Interestingly, I also have recently discovered a connection between the Jesuits and my patron saint, St. Francis de Sales, namely, that St. Francis was educated by Jesuits! (But of course!) This makes perfect sense (to me), as his Ignatian background carried over quite markedly into St. Francis's loving, heroic call to holiness for all walks of life. Add to these discoveries a study by Fr. François Charmot, SJ, Ignatius Loyola and Francis de Sales: Two Masters, One Spirituality (see also my Amazon Wish List), and I have gained insight into what my "own" spirituality is: practical, common-sensical, apostolic, driven by an interdisciplinary (if I may put it that way) pursuit of excellence, all with a heavy ballast of "sensual" (i.e., imaginative-meditative) biblical prayer and an unflinching existential taste for the often very "ordinary" efforts of holiness. In a word, I am an Ignatian-Salesian type of Christian ... I think. (Of course, from what little I know of the spirituality, I may just as easily add "Carmelite" to my spiritual make-up, since I've grown in the last few years to have quite a Carmelite taste for the paradoxical desolation, darkness, dryness and stillness of living the divine life.)

All these insights are but a few of the *numerous* changes and steps of growth God has wrought in me -- to my own great surprise! -- in the wake of World Youth Day. The quotes above are meant to capture some of where God is guiding me: from my brain (i.e., from my highly self-conceptualized Self), to my heart, to the smallness of Myself-in-God. As I continue to "shrink", please pray for me. Your support does, and will, add to the adventurous joy that is sanctification, "the ascent" of theosis. An increase in Eucharistic Adoration, worshipping in the Mass, and Cnofession have, of course, played an already remarkable role in this growth.

Onward!

[1] To any "Jesuitaphobes" out there, remember the next time you want to roll your eyes at "the latest Jesuit nonsense" that Mother Teresa's spiritual director was himself a Jesuit. ;)

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Haiku: On getting ahead of yourself (version 2.0)

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Despairing of hope,
the bound young caterpillar
wept in his cocoon.

Haiku: On getting ahead of yourself

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"Oh, there's no hope here,"
said the young caterpillar,
in his new cocoon.

On how to "connect"

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A friend of mine (an Evangelical to be exact), once told me a reason he thinks celibacy is a bad way of life for pastors: "They don't know how to relate to their people, who, most them, are married." I didn't think of it at the time, but I'd answer now that it's funny how Jesus, lacking a wife and all, was able to "connect" to his people so well.

Monday, September 5, 2005

I find this just so funny

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And not the least because it's about my own uncle.

My uncle, my dad tells me, recently clocked in one minute early at his job. Spontaneously, like a bat from the ceiling, his supervisor swooped down the stairs to confront him. "Tony," he chided managerially, "be sure to clock out today at 2:29, not 2:30, okay?" My uncle looked at him, and then broke out in to laughter. Still laughing, he grabbed a pen from his pocket and meticulously wrote "2:29" on the palm of his hand. "Okay, yes, 2:29, sure thing." Happily, the supervisor was able to laugh about it too.

Simply hilarious.

War and Peace ... what is it good for, huh?

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Insofar as history is the record of events awash in a sea of personages and insofar as biography is personages awash in a sea of historical events, _War and Peace_ is both. This is, I believe, why Tolstoy said the work possessed a singular, and singularly Russian, place in literature.

Now, let me state quite plainly that I am inveterately skeptical of "the great books" since literary fanfare can often be mere "pop hype" in a sophisticated guise. All the same, _War and Peace_ really is a *great* book. It is worth the effort -- the true effort -- to forge through its hundreds of pages, plot turns, character names and observations. The length of reading it is itself a vital dimension to "the _War and Peace_ experience". It becomes a part of your life for at least a few weeks -- and I spent six months on it. Its epic size adds an immersive texture to the book, as if you are synchronically entering and experiencing the story's progress. _Les Miserables_, another huge-but-worth-it book, has the same capacity for pressing itself into your life, but I find its otherwise compelling pathos is, unfortunately, sometimes tainted with operatic bathos[1], such that it simply doesn't have the same "existential traction" as _War and Peace_.

This "immersive traction" is noticeable in the reading of a good number of any "big book," but I think _War and Peace_ really is in a league of its own in terms of its holistic vision, in terms of its historical scope and narrative detail, in terms of its ability to draw you into its own world. Karamazov's _The Brothers Karamazov_ does, however, have a similar immersive grip as _War and Peace_, but at a psychological and spiritual, rather than a philosophical and historical, level of transformation. Yes, both books are lengthy and profound enough to *transform* you, albeit in different ways. _War and Peace_ enables you to see the world in a different way. _The Brothers Karamazov_ enables you to see yourself in a different way. (And if I may be a little cheeky, _Les Miserables_ enables you to see the Parisian sewer system in a whole new way!) The first two books' transformative power lies, I believe, in their fundamentally Christian worldview.[2] Tolstoy arrays all things historical, from war to peace, in the benign but mysterious eye of divine Providence, whereas Dostoyevsky arrays all things most deeply personal, from murder to mercy, from tears to laughter, in the benign but equally mysterious "infiltration" of the God Man, of the joyous light of the Divine Life, of Jesus Christ, into the otherwise gloomy, and all too somber fabric of humanity.

[1] Tellingly, it was made into a world-famous musical drama, which is the way most people think of "Les Mis" ("I saw it in *London*!") by far more than as a novel.

[2] In no way do I mean to disparage the transformative, and highly Christian, nature of _Les Miserables_. It's a great book, and I love it. But right now is Russian lit time. ;)