Posts tagged ‘Bible’

October 6, 2017

Jesus’ own mind was the defining locus of humanity’s capacity to hear and obey the historical summons of God

In other words, the Old Testament and the redemptive work of Christ are not related simply by way of objective semantic reference, but also through the living subjective experience of the Redeemer—Jesus’ own understanding of Holy Scripture. The conjunction of the Sacred Text and the redemptive event was originally discerned in the active, self-reflective understanding (phronesis) of Jesus of Nazareth, who heard in the words of the Hebrew Bible the Father’s personal summons to obedience. Jesus’ own mind was the defining locus of humanity’s capacity to hear and obey the historical summons of God.

…Divine revelation—God’s Incarnate Son included—is available to us only through the specific men and women in whose lives the revelation took place. This fact is most obvious in the Sacred Writings. Our access to the events of Sinai, for instance, comes to us through Moses and the myriad authors, editors, and scribes—Jewish and Christian—who transmitted the experience and content of what took place in the Exodus and the Sinai encounter. Likewise, our historical access to Jesus, the Son of God, comes through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and, prior to them, through Peter and Paul and the congregations to which they and their companions ministered. In short, none of this revelation is available to us except through that corporate, historical body: Israel/ the Church.

…For this reason I have always wondered about the adequacy of the expression solus Christus (“Christ alone”). Christ is, in fact, never alone. God’s Son did not simply show up here one day. He came to us through a believing Mother (whose consent in faith was absolutely essential to the event of the Incarnation), and He gathered around Him disciples and apostles, whom He commissioned to evangelize the nations. In the Bible we hardly ever find Jesus alone. He stands always with the saints. We know our Lord—and, in the strict sequence of history, He is certainly our Lord before He is my Lord—through the experiences and writings of the saints.

…Thus, the experience of the saints is essential to the matter and form of the revelation. The Church—the body of the believers, the saints—pertains to the very substance of the Gospel. Those who mediate the Good News are an integral component of the Good News. This is the reason the Creed includes “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” within its articles of belief. It is an extraordinary thing to reflect that God reveals Himself to us through the responsive experience of others who preceded us. Their Spirit-given response to God’s revelation became a component of the revelation. Consequently, it is crucial not to mute the historical quality—the sequential and transmitting process—of the revelation. When we speak of the historical, factual nature of revelation and redemption, we mean something very clear and definite: Certain historical events actually constitute the substance of revelation and redemption. Redemption and revelation are identical to those events.

…With respect to the second meaning of “time” (chronos), the aforesaid events took place sequentially, in the formal process of a Tradition (paradosis). They were transmitted—and in the Spirit-given memory of the Church, the very historical identity of the Church, continue to be transmitted—in a specific historical, accumulative sequence; revelation and redemption are chronometric. All of sacred theology, including the theology of salvation, comes through salvation history. It is essential to the Christian faith to insist that at absolutely no point do revelation and redemption lose their historical quality.

From Patrick Henry Reardon’s book Reclaiming the Atonement: An Orthodox Theology of Redemption (Volume 1 of 3: The Incarnate Word).

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November 24, 2014

each stitch was such a ponderous ritual that he couldn’t bear to watch

Various passages from The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel by Michel Faber:

Overall, though, he had to admit that the scenery here was less beautiful than he’d seen in, well, quite a few other places. He had expected mind-boggling landscapes, canyons shrouded in swirling mists, tropical swamps teeming with exotic new wildlife. It suddenly occurred to him that this world might be quite a dowdy one compared to his own. And the poignancy of that thought made him feel a rush of love for the people who lived here and knew no better.

…This was a world where aesthetic niceties weren’t wanted and utilitarianism ruled. It shouldn’t bother him, but it did. All along, he’d assumed that the church he would build here should be simple and unpretentious, to give the message that its outward form didn’t matter, only the souls inside; but now he was inclined to make it a thing of beauty.

…How strange it was to be inside a machine again! All his life he’d been inside machines, whether he realized it or not. Modern houses were machines. Shopping centers were machines. Schools. Cars. Trains. Cities. They were all sophisticated technological constructs, wired up with lights and motors. You switched them on, and didn’t spare them a thought while they pampered you with unnatural services.

…In order to imitate the sounds they produced, he’d probably need to rip his own head off and gargle through the stump. Whereas the Oasans, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Tartaglione and Kurtzberg, and to the zeal of their own faith, had made extraordinary progress in English—a language they were as unsuited to learn as a lamb was unsuited to climb a ladder. Yet they climbed, and Peter felt keenly the pathos of their strivings. He could tell, from the Bible verses they’d managed to memorize, that Kurtzberg had made no concessions to their physical handicaps: whatever was printed in Scripture was what they must voice.

…Oasans handled sewing-needles with the same care and respect that humans might handle chainsaws or blowtorches. Each stitch was such a ponderous ritual that he couldn’t bear to watch.

…”What did he die of? What happened?” Lover Five stroked herself perfunctorily over her arms, chest and midriff, to indicate the entire body. “InSide him, many thingS gone the wrong way. Clean thingS became foul. SProng thingS became weak. Full thingS became empPy. CloSed thingS became open. Open thingS became cloSed. Dry thingS became filled with waPer. Many other thingS alSo. I have no wordS for all the thingS.”

…Halfway into his stay, Peter went through a strange phase which, looking back on it afterward, he could only call the Crying Jag. It happened during one of the long, long nights and he woke up somewhere in the middle of it with tears in his eyes, not knowing what he had dreamt to make him weep. Then, for hours and hours, he continued to cry. Upsurges of sorrow just kept pumping through his bloodstream, as if administered at medically supervised intervals by a gadget inside his body. He cried about the weirdest things, things he had long forgotten, things he would not have imagined could rank very high in his roll-call of griefs. He cried for the tadpoles he’d kept in a jar when he was a kid, the ones that might have grown into frogs if he’d left them safe in their pond instead of watching them turn to gray sludge.

…For years, that poisonous repetition of “If genuine …” festered in his mind, proof of everything that was creepy and cold about his father. By the time Peter was ready to understand that the quarrel was bluster and that his dad had simply been hurt, the old man was in his grave. About all these things and more, Peter wept. Then he felt better, as if purged.

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November 3, 2013

tools for recovering the real Jesus

Even fundamentalism, for all its official emphasis on “the Bible alone,” owes its end-time obsessions to the extracanonical innovations that Cyrus Scofield’s influential Study Bible wove into the scriptures it was supposedly dispassionately interpreting. “Unlike most commentators,” Paul Boyer points out in his history of end-times beliefs, When Time Shall Be No More (1994), “Scofield combined his notes and the biblical text on the same page, so the former took on much the same authority as the latter.” Both Jefferson and Scofield claimed to be reworking the New Testament based on pure reason and simple common sense, while Smith and White and Eddy and all the various spiritualists claimed to be taking divine dictation. To these tools for recovering the real Jesus, nineteenth-century European academics added a third, the historical-critical method. Their First Quest of the Historical Jesus, as it was later called, flowered in Germany and then spread across the Western world, promising to use the tools of scholarship to excavate the biblical narratives, reveal the layers of invention that lay atop the Jesus of history, and recover the truth about his life.

From Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat.

July 16, 2011

concience as captive to the Word of God

While many of the criticisms that Roman Catholics and the Orthodox direct at Protestant use of the Bible are legitimate, both the Catholic appeal to magisterial teaching authority and the Orthodox appeal to unbroken liturgical tradition appear to me to have just as serious problems in using Scripture as Protestants do–though their problems are admittedly different. Nonetheless, especially as a Protestant historian, I’m very much aware that if Martin Luther’s appeal to his conscience as captive to the Word of God solved some very important problems, it also created other and quite serious problems as well.

…The Bible per se is too easily the source of what Luther called “delusions” that arise when the individual conscience runs wild through the scriptural landscape. Instead of the Bible per se, Luther presented the Bible as narrating a particular account of how God encounters human kind. That account is certainly biblical, but it is the narration or message of redemption in Scripture as a whole that can become satisfactory grounding for Christian learning.

“The Place of Scripture in the Modern Christian University” by Mark Noll from The Cresset (June 2011) pages 10 and 12.

June 28, 2011

when I came forth out of Egypt

This extended passage about a prayer from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (“a little book with prayers for the Eucharist, baptism, ordination, and other rites reflecting practice in Rome at the end of the second century”) is again from Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (32-36). Although Wilken defends a Catholic conception of Christ’s re-sacrifice that I do not espouse, there is great value in his overarching insight that God’s redemptive acts, recorded in scripture and remembered in the sacraments, are a true and present reality to us.

Although it is a prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication, it has a distinct narrative structure.

…[This imitates] the psalmists [who] do not simply praise the majesty and goodness and power of God, they identify God by his actions, “his mighty deeds.” To praise God is to narrate what he has done.

…Yet it is apparent from the wording of the prayers that something more is at work here than recalling ancient history. After reciting the history of salvation leading up to the “night on which he was betrayed,” the prayer continues as follows: “And we sinners make remembrance of his life-giving sufferings, his death, and resurrection on the third day from the dead and ascension to the right hand of You, his God and Father, and his second glorious and fearful coming.” The key term here is the Greek word anamnesis, usually translated “remembrance,” which in this context means “recall by making present.”

There are parallels between this sense of remembrance and the way the Exodus out of Egypt is remembered in the Jewish Passover. In the Mishnah, the collection of Jewish law from the early third century, it is reported that Rabbi Gamaliel used to say, …”In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt, for it is written, ‘And you shall tell your son on that day saying, “It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”‘” Those who celebrate Pesach are not spectators, they are participants. “It is I who came forth out of Egypt,” says Rabbi Gamaliel. Remembrance is more than mental recall, and in the Eucharist the life-giving events of Christ’s death and Resurrection escape the restrictions of time and become what the early church called mysteries, ritual actions by which Christ’s saving work is re-presented under the veil of the consecrated bread and wine. Speaking of the Christian paschal celebration Origen wrote, “The Passover still takes place today” and “Those who sacrifice Christ come out of Egypt, cross the Red Sea, and see Pharaoh engulfed.” What was once accomplished in Palestine is now made present in the action of the liturgy, as the prayers indicate: “We offer to You 0 Lord, this awesome and unbloody sacrifice, beseeching You to deal with us not according to our sins.”” Liturgy is always in the present tense. The past becomes a present presence that opens a new future.

…The repeated celebration of the liturgy worked powerfully on the imagination of early Christian thinkers. It brought them into intimate relation with the mystery of the Christ, not as a historical memory, but as an indisputable and incontrovertible fact of experience. Leo the Great, bishop of Rome in the fifth century, put it this way: “Everything that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world, we know not only as an historical account of things now past, but we also experience them in the power of the works that are present.” Before there were treatises on the Trinity, before there were learned commentaries on the Bible, before there were disputes about the teaching on grace, or essays on the moral life, there was awe and adoration before the exalted Son of God alive and present in the church’s offering of the Eucharist. This truth preceded every effort to understand and nourished every attempt to express in words and concepts what Christians believed.

June 18, 2011

tame as canaries

Jan Luyken etching, Parable of the mustard seed from the Bowyer Bible

When posting about the Bible as “a cornucopia of scenes and images” yesterday, this poem came to mind (much thanks to Christine Perrin for introducing it to my class and me). It recalls the burning bush as well as the tree of life, the great tree of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the prophet Daniel, and the mighty mustard tree full of nesting birds in Christ’s parable (Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32 and Luke 13:18–19). It is by contemporary Russian poet Elena Shvarts.

The Book on the Windowsill

Like a lamb in a storm, or two and two crammed in a crate
I sit in these teeming branches, and tremble with fear.

A mighty tree is the word of God,
A laurel with leaves that whisper and rustle;
The prophets hang on it like thorn-apples,
Or fish on an angler’s line (jump hop!).
Confusion, darkness and beauty dwell in its shade,
Branches, fruit, a chorus of angels all singing,
Singing and weaving — what? Purple brocade.
Whales in the foliage spout fountains;
Birds fix predatory eyes on the berries,
Longing to cram their craws to the brim;
But down they go plummeting on scorched wings,
And sit caged in the branches, tame as canaries.
I cannot approach the tree in its thickets;
Yet you’re there in the heart-wood, the smouldering trunk.
The birds bob in the swirling leaves like bathers;
Jonah lies in the Whale at night, in the morning the Whale lies in him.
Down thuds an apple, and splits to show peacocks inside;
Eve wearing harlequin colours, and Adam with gilded feathers —
There’s Abraham, bright as a lemon. The hollows hold luminous spirits,
And on each calyx gazelles and fallow-deer graze.
Judith flies through the air, cracking nuts like a squirrel,
‘Holofernes!’ she cries, and preens her blue fur.
Noah is chanting and caulking a mighty barrel:
‘Lord, hear my cry when the water is high’ runs the song;
And Elijah wraps up the tree in golden ribbons of lightning.

They say you can’t read every word. If you do, you go mad.
It seems to be true: I can feel that my own mind is shaking.
Reason’s as ready to burst as an over-ripe pumpkin,
Just as the smug, stout-walled town of Jericho learnt.
So let me walk in my strange, light sleep, half-waking
And pass through the waterfalls of shades.
O Moses, when you came at last to the Promised Land
Did you ever feel you were something she’d dreamt?

June 17, 2011

a cornucopia of scenes and images

Another one of “the most distinctive features of Christian intellectual life” is the influence of God’s word. However, Wilken stresses that the scriptures provided far more than an intellectual basis for the early church.

Christian thinkers were not in the business of establishing something; their task was to understand and explain something. The desire to understand is as much part of believing as is the drive to act on what one believes. …Christian thought arose in response to the facts of revelation, how its idiom was set by the language and imagery of the Bible, and how the life and worship of the Christian community gave Christian thinking a social dimension that was absent from ancient philosophy. (p. 3)

And from his introduction:

The intellectual effort of the early church was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to change their lives. Christian thinkers appealed to a much deeper level of human experience than had the religious institutions of society or the doctrines of the philosophers. In this endeavor the Bible was a central factor. It narrated a history that reached back into antiquity even to the beginning of the world, it was filled with stories of unforgettable men and women (not all admirable) who were actual historical persons rather than mythical figures, and it poured forth a thesaurus of words that created a new religious vocabulary and a cornucopia of scenes and images that stirred literary and artistic imagination as well as theological thought. God, the self, human community, the beginning and ending of things became interwoven with biblical history, biblical language, and biblical imagery. (pp. xiv-xv)

Fresco of Adam and Eve in the catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter (Rome, A.D. 300-350).

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