Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Justice, Mercy and Job

This is one of those posts that I will likely never manage to articulate what's on my heart, at least not well.

As I said in my previous post, Job intrigues me. Much like Ecclesiastes, it asks a hard question about God's justice. How can God allow bad things to happen to good people? Now, some or many of you will say "But Oggie, all have fallen short." Yes, yes, yes. But that's not the point here. In the text of Job especially, Job is considered the quintessential "good" man. In the context of the book, he does not deserve his sufferings. The prologue makes clear that God permits Satan to punish Job not for any sin, but so that God can prove that nothing will cause Job to falter from his devotion and obedience to God. How can God permit Job to be punished like this, when (in the context of the story) he doesn't deserve it?

As the work unfolds we have some of the finest poetry not just in Scripture, but in all ancient literature. All of Job's friends argue as some of you might "Job, you are a sinner, you must have deserved this. Just confess your sin and God will stop the suffering." But Job is at a loss for what he did. None of them understand suffering. To them it is only a punishment. If someone is rich, it is because they were good and deserved it. If they suffered, they were sinners ... and deserved it. They cannot understand there might be other points to suffering.

Elihu provides a close glimpse at this. I find Elihu's interjection fascinating. No one seems to take any notice of him, not even God whom he introduces. When God doles out punishment to Job's friends, He never mentions much less praises or condemns Elihu. Job never responds to him. He walks on, says his peace, and as far as I can tell, never has any impact on the narrative at all. But he is the only character to talk about other uses to suffering.

Isaiah gives us a hint too, although obviously not in this book. I think of course of the paradoxical poetry-prophesy of "by His stripes we are healed." And it is in Christ that we see this played out, of course. Suffering can be redemptive. When we imitate Christ, especially by suffering vicariously, we help His salvific sacrifice continue to bear fruit in the world (cf Col 1:24 - my favourite Bible verse, btw).

But what of Justice and Mercy? Before I go further, I want to say something about these concepts. Sir Philip Sidney wrote Arcadia he, and many others besides, saw Justice and Mercy as being in opposition. One can either be just or merciful.

But I don't think this is true. It seems to me the real lesson of Job is this ... God is both just and merciful, because God is love (1 John 4:8). And what we understand as Justice and what we understand as Mercy are actually the same thing ... Love. This explains Elihu's purpose. He's not in the story for anyone in it, he's in the story for us. He's supposed to alert us to the notion that suffering has more than just the binary purposes the characters seem to think it does. He points us, subtly, to Christ. And the epilogue is more explicit. God did not, ultimately, let his servant falter because of both His Justice and His Mercy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What I'm working on: Justice Teaser

So, I have been somewhat quiet on my blog, partly because I am wicked busy IRL with budgets and the like, but also because I have been making my way once again through Job. I love the Book of Job. It is some of the best poetry in any poetic tradition, and I likely would hold that view were I not a believer. I get a strong urge every so often to delve back into Job, and swim about in its rich language.

This time around I have noticed that it has a very interesting bit to say about Justice, and it does this by omission in my opinion. But I shall say no more until I have had a little while more to formulate my thoughts on this.

Monday, April 20, 2009


It is interesting to me that the Psalm for Divine Mercy Sunday (also called Thomas Sunday and Quasimodo Sunday) was Psalm 118. What is interesting about this Psalm is that it contains the Hebrew word chesed, which is so variously translated. Sometimes it is loving-kindness, sometimes mercy (as in the KJV, the Douay and the NAB), sometimes love (as in the TEV) and sometimes steadfast love (as in the RSV) and so on.

The appropriateness of certain translation choices is not the aim of this post though. The idea that I wish to discuss is that this word is the focal point around which the other three readings revolve.

Consider the first reading (Acts 4:32-35). Now this passage has been used a lot by some to impute a modern left-wing context on a first century occurrence. I think that completely misses the point. The earliest community of believers wasn't socialist or Marxist or even proto examples of these. No, the way we are to understand this passage is completely in the light of chesed. They lived this mercy, this love. That is what it meant to do so. They shared of their provender. They shared of themselves. Not out of political will, but out of devotion to this very Godly love.

And thus the Epistle (1 Jn 5:1-6) is on point. Consider that this brief little snippet is a very dense exegesis on the word chesed. The first and second verses naturally flow into one another. And as you can see, that is the pericope from Acts acted out this Johanine exegesis. But for John this has more implications. If we truly love God and His children, then we will not just passively love them but go out and actively conquer the world with and in Faith. John ties the pericope together with the last verse, which makes it clear that this is part and parcel of our baptismal mission. The waters of baptism didn't just wash us clean, they conferred upon us a mission to go out and make disciples of all the world ... for love.

And finally we come to the Doubting Thomas pericope (Jn 20:19-31). It is not hard to see then that this is a perfect example of Divine Mercy, when we understand that word to be same as in Psalm 118. Christ isn't in this story like the Roman spectators holding a thumb up or down, passively exercising mercy in the sense of withholding wrath. Instead, Christ comes back to Thomas and subjects Himself to the humiliating and degrading spectacle of Thomas' scientific/empirical analysis. Thomas performs an experiment on Christ, and Christ not only does not balk but practically encourages it. But He also mildly, and it must be said lovingly, rebukes Thomas. It is good that he believes for having seen and touched, but so much better for those who will not or did not have the opportunity Thomas had and still believed. Thomas rightly acknowledges Christ's Divinity, but I put it to you it was because Thomas realised that his empirical analysis was unnecessary, rather he was moved by the Divine Mercy He was shown.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On the Road to Emmaus and the Liturgy

In another conversation with Pr. Lehmann, we discussed the Road to Emmaus pericope. I want to just touch briefly on a few of the things he and I discussed.

In the case of the Road to Emmaus pericope, it seems obvious to me that we have a very plain Eucharistic exegesis by Luke. Luke of all the Evangelists is concerned with the Liturgy. After all, he is the one who lets us catch a glimpse of it in Acts 20:7-12 (I believe I am right in that I remember Chrysostom pointing this out). In both the Road to Emmaus and this shorter pericope (where Paul raises Eutychus from death) we see that the liturgy of the earliest Church followed a similar pattern as today. The first part, where the pair converse with Jesus and He quotes to them the Scripture closely mirrors the Liturgy of the Word, what used to be called the Mass of the Catechumens, because the uninitiated had to leave after the proclamation of the Word and the preaching. In the same way, the two on the road with Christ are similarly unenlightened. It isn't until the next phase, with the very important aspect of Christ breaking the bread and sharing it with His own hands that they see. He disappears from their midst, from their senses shall we say, but the lasting effect of this koinonia experience with Christ remains in their hearts.

The next pericope we discussed immediately follows this. It is Luke's recounting of Christ's appearance to the Apostles in the Upper Room. Here, and I think Pr. Lehmann agrees with me, Christ's eating does not have as much to do with "table fellowship" and the like. The symbolism is all wrong. Christ takes from the apostles and eats. There is a practical reason here; Christ seeks to demonstrate that He is not a ghost, and so eats regular food.

Having said that, I remember my Tertullian when I say that it is not insignificant that the apostles give him fish to eat ...

John 19 and Christian Doctrine

Pr. Lehmann, a contributor to the comboxes and a dear friend of mine, mentioned something a few days ago. He said something to the effect of whether Jn 19 contained all Christian Doctrine and then stopped himself because it does. I am not doing his statement justice, and so I hope he will correct me. But I decided to use his observation as an impetus to reflect deeply on this Chapter. In so doing I noticed something that Pr. Lehmann might not have considered in his statement.

I was struck by verses 26 and 27. Now, I know as well as the next person that more ink has been used to talk about these verses in defending our views on Mary. But that's not what struck me about it (although I don't think that what I am about to say takes anything away from those observations). It occurred to me that if no one told us John wrote his eponymous Gospel we might not know who did. And I began to wonder why even here at the foot of Cross John did not mention himself. And then I began to realise that his omission might be the point after all.

It is a well known and ancient technique that certain characters, about whom we know very little even at the conclusion of the work, are inserted into the text so that we can see things from their point of view (like the two clowns in Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress or their spiritual cousins the droids in the Star Wars saga). John does not call himself by name not only out of humility, but because he intends for us to be part of the story. We see what he sees. It is why he mentions, alone of the gospels, that he was known to the power structure and thus allowed to accompany Christ. Like the other Evangelists he could very easily just report what Christ said and did before Caiaphas or Annas or Pilate for that matter. But the point isn't just to report facts, but to tell us so that we will believe. That's the point of the whole Gospel, of course, as it says. But one way to do this is to bring the reader (or the congregant as the pericope is read aloud) into the drama of our salvation. We reclined at Table with Christ (and do every time the Sacrament is confected), we stood at the cross, we were given the Mother of the Saviour, we went into the tomb, etc. We were witnesses to this so that we might believe, for "whosoever believeth in [Christ] may not perish, but may have life everlasting." And after all, this most famous of Scriptures was noted down in whose Gospel?

The Tale of the Resurrection Narratives

I have been under the weather recently, so I have not been blogging as I ought. But even while I was recuperating, I was still ruminating. So, now that I feel a bit better, I am going to post the three main topics on which I had focused my attention.

The first of these is a kind of general observation about the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels and we might also say Acts and Paul's own writing. At first glance there appears to be significant divergence in the different tales. People like Bart Ehrman make a great deal of how many women actually went to the tomb, did Peter alone or with John go into the tomb itself, was there a single angel or were there two, etc.

I think it prudent to take a step back and consider the general structure of the Gospels themselves before approaching this question. We can general say that the Gospels all portray the Public Ministry of Christ differently. There is material found in Luke not found anywhere else, like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. The order between Mark and Matthew is often different. And John portrays a very private Christ, especially during the Farewell Discourse. Then when we get to the Passion Narratives they come together and tell almost essentially the same story with only very minor variation. And then with the Resurrection Narratives they appear to diverge again. Now some people might look at that and say that the reason for this is that the only thing that can be definitively pointed to as being historically true is the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. The stuff that came before is attributed to Him, but might not necessarily have been really said or done by Him, and the stuff after is just fancy. We certainly know people who advance this argument.

But I think that the Public Ministry material and the Resurrection material are structurally different, and that this partly explains their appearance of divergence. I'll briefly touch on the Public Ministry side to make clear why the Evangelists, in my opinion, wrote them the way they did. Since each Evangelist had a particular lesson about Christ to convey they portrayed Him in that light. So, when we think of it like this, it becomes clear that if Matthew wants to show Christ is the New Moses, mentioning the Flight to Egypt makes sense, to drive home the parallelism that both Moses and Christ came to lead their people from out of Egypt, so to speak. If one's job is to show a new teaching perhaps alien to a Gentile like Theophilus, telling a much different infancy narrative is thus important. And so on. Really treating this in detail is clearly for another blog post. But the point to make about the lead-ups to the Crucifixion is that they tell us a great deal about the Evangelists and the points they were trying to make.

But the Resurrection Narratives are different animals altogether. They essentially tell the same story. Whether there were two or one angel is perhaps not the point, or rather missing the forest for the trees. The point can best be described by looking at Mark and Luke. Both mention the Road to Emmaus, but only Luke looks at it in detail. Why? Because the point of this difference, and indeed the point of all the divergences is how we encounter the Risen Lord. You see, we all encountered the Saving Victim on the Cross together as Fallen Human Kind Redeemed. But we encounter Christ Risen individually. Consider how the major stories that differ between the versions of the Gospel are about Christ coming to individuals and little groups. He is the one who for some journeys to Emmaus and rebukes them because they should have known the Scriptures. For others He comes to them in the Room and submits to The Twin's empirical analysis. It is why Christ called Peter a second time and asked him three times whether he loved The Lord. Our encounter with the Risen Christ is individual to draw us together into His body.

It seems to me then, that in this regard it becomes clear why the Resurrection narratives are as divergent, such that they are.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He is Risen! Alleluia, Alleluia!

He is Risen Today! Happy Easter

Click Here for the Easter Proclamation

Exultet iam angelica turba caelorum:
exultent divina mysteria:
et pro tanti Regis victoria tuba insonet salutaris.

Gaudeat et tellus tantis irradiata fulgoribus:
et, aeterni Regis splendore illustrata,
totius orbis se sentiat amisisse caliginem.

Laetetur et mater Ecclesia,
tanti luminis adornata fulgoribus:
et magnis populorum vocibus haec aula resultet.

Quapropter astantes vos, fratres carissimi,
ad tam miram huius sancti luminis claritatem,
una mecum, quaeso,
Dei omnipotentis misericordiam invocate.
Ut, qui me non meis meritis
intra Levitarum numerum dignatus est aggregare,
luminis sui claritatem infundens,
cerei huius laudem implere perficiat.

Vers. Dominus vobiscum.
Resp. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Vers. Sursum corda.
Resp. Habemus ad Dominum.
Vers. Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
Resp. Dignum et iustum est.

Vere dignum et iustum est,
invisibilem Deum Patrem omnipotentem
Filiumque eius unigenitum,
Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum,
toto cordis ac mentis affectu et vocis ministerio personare.

Qui pro nobis aeterno Patri Adae debitum solvit,
et veteris piaculi cautionem pio cruore detersit.

Haec sunt enim festa paschalia,
in quibus verus ille Agnus occiditur,
cuius sanguine postes fidelium consecrantur.

Haec nox est,
in qua primum patres nostros, filios Israel
eductos de Aegypto,
Mare Rubrum sicco vestigio transire fecisti.

Haec igitur nox est,
quae peccatorum tenebras columnae illuminatione purgavit.

Haec nox est,
quae hodie per universum mundum in Christo credentes,
a vitiis saeculi et caligine peccatorum segregatos,
reddit gratiae, sociat sanctitati.

Haec nox est,
in qua, destructis vinculis mortis,
Christus ab inferis victor ascendit.

Nihil enim nobis nasci profuit,
nisi redimi profuisset.
O mira circa nos tuae pietatis dignatio!
O inaestimabilis dilectio caritatis:
ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti!

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum,
quod Christi morte deletum est!
O felix culpa,
quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!

O vere beata nox,
quae sola meruit scire tempus et horam,
in qua Christus ab inferis resurrexit!

Haec nox est, de qua scriptum est:
Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur:
et nox illuminatio mea in deliciis meis.

Huius igitur sanctificatio noctis fugat scelera, culpas lavat:
et reddit innocentiam lapsis
et maestis laetitiam.
Fugat odia, concordiam parat
et curvat imperia.

O vere beata nox,
in qua terrenis caelestia, humanis divina iunguntur!¹

In huius igitur noctis gratia, suscipe, sancte Pater,
laudis huius sacrificium vespertinum,
quod tibi in hac cerei oblatione sollemni,
per ministrorum manus
de operibus apum, sacrosancta reddit Ecclesia.

Sed iam columnae huius praeconia novimus,
quam in honorem Dei rutilans ignis accendit.
Qui, licet sit divisus in partes,
mutuati tamen luminis detrimenta non novit.

Alitur enim liquantibus ceris,
quas in substantiam pretiosae huius lampadis
apis mater eduxit.²

Oramus ergo te, Domine,
ut cereus iste in honorem tui nominis consecratus,
ad noctis huius caliginem destruendam,
indeficiens perseveret.
Et in odorem suavitatis acceptus,
supernis luminaribus misceatur.

Flammas eius lucifer matutinus inveniat:
Ille, inquam, lucifer, qui nescit occasum:
Christus Filius tuus,
qui, regressus ab inferis, humano generi serenus illuxit,
et vivit et regnat in saecula saeculorum.

Resp. Amen.

English Translation

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

My dearest friends,
standing with me in this holy light,
join me in asking God for mercy,

that he may give his unworthy minister
grace to sing his Easter praises.

Deacon: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Deacon: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Deacon: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavenly Father,
in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

(For it is fed by the melting wax,
which the mother bee brought forth
to make this precious candle.)

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What is Truth?

What is Truth?

This is an odd question that Pilate puts to Jesus in the Good Friday Gospel. The text makes it seem that Christ never answers this, because immediately after putting this question before the Saviour, we go immediately to the Scourging and the Ecce Homo scenes. But Christ does answer it. He answered it immediately before it was asked, and He answered it another way.

Immediately before Pilate asks his question, Christ says "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. And this makes it seem that He came into the world for His public ministry. But even so, it doesn't answer the question of what is the truth to which Christ came to testify. The answer is simple. It is not what Christ said that was so important, or the one purpose for which He came into the world, it was what He did, what He was doing right at that minute. The first reading gives us the clue as to the Truth to which He testified: But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.

Just as on Maundy Thursday Christ acted out the Supper, so on Good Friday He acts out the Truth. He came into the world to die for us, because only He could. He came into the world to rise for us, because only He could triumph over death. This is the Truth. Did He answer Pilate? In a sense, He had Pilate answer it for himself, "Ecce Homo." It is why that scene follows almost immediately after the question. He is scourged (i.e. stripes) and adorned as a King, and we -- the sinful people -- asking for Him to be crucified. The very fact that He then answers Pilate that Pilate's role is one permitted by a Willful Act from Above proves that He heard our cry for His crucifixion and assented (He had assented before all Time, of course).

What is Truth? This is the Truth.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

Let us take tonight merely to reflect on the suffering the perfect God inflicted on Himself in order to save fallen humanity.

Good Friday Teaser

I doubt I will have enough time to finish this tonight. So I will finish it tomorrow. But in the meantime, the aim of my Good Friday reflection will be to answer Pilate's question: What is truth?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Love One Another As I Have Loved You

Today's readings (Ex 12:1-8, 11-14, Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18 with the Antiphon from 1 Cor 10:16, 1 Cor 11:23-26, and Jn 13:1-15) are all about one important thing ... the Supper. Exodus points to the Passover meal that would be both the occasion of the Last Supper and its type, the Psalm calls the presidential prayers offered by Christ and priests ever since, the Epistle relates the actual story of the Institution. They are also intimately about the central figure in the readings: Christ and ever afterward his priests.

Now, I have not forgotten the Gospel. One might be tempted to think that is because it might appear that the Gospel is only tangentially about the Supper. The Supper itself is only mentioned briefly. But to that I say, on the contrary, it isn't about the Supper, it is the Supper.

In order to elucidate this, one must take a step back and think about John's Gospel in general. What can be said of it compared to the synoptics? In a sense, it is the one most concerned with Jesus the private individual, Jesus the private teacher, the one most concerned with Christ's Interior Life, whereas the synoptics are concerned with the public Christ. Where the other Gospels see Christ up into the mountain to pray and leave Him there, we are listening close to Him as he does in John. There is something else about John to keep in mind: he explains so much with very simple terms. Consider how words like Light, Bread, Water, Word, and so on are used in the Gospel narratives in John. John does not prepare a Doctoral Thesis like Paul's Epistle to the Romans. John's Gospel is eloquent, complete and satisfying precisely because it is so simple. He is also the Evangelist most concerned with showing more than telling. Think of how the Gospel begins ... with a hymn! But the rest of the Gospel shows how this hymn is true. It doesn't just say "look at the doctrine in this hymn to the Word. There it is, that's the doctrine." No, instead the whole Gospel shows us.

So now we return to the Gospel pericope for tonight and how it is intimately connected to the other readings. The synoptics usually focus on the Institution narratives because that is really their first crack at the Eucharistic significance of the event. But John already covered it by describing Christ's Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6 (interestingly, that pericope is one that is in reverse. First, He showed people what the Eucharist was with the significant symbols of fish and bread, and only then did He tell them what it was after). So what happens in John is that he shows us what Christ did to demonstrate what the Supper was. Remember ... the showing not telling ... the simple language ... This is what the Supper is and does. It cleanses us who have already been cleansed by being admitted into the body. It is, in the words of the Pange Lingua, Christ giving His own body to his disciples with his very hands, and then calling on them to do this for each other, the community of believers. All of these things that we say about the Washing of the Feet: they are about service, they are about the institution of the Sacrament of Orders. All true, but ... that is only because this pericope is about the Supper itself. All our devotions flow from and back to this event. And this is why it was this Gospel, this act re-enacted in the Sanctuary tonight. Father washed the parishioners' feet, because Christ washes us in the Sacrament. We have priests now, specially set aside for this purpose, so that Christ can continue to give Himself with His very hands to us.

And that is the really message of the mandatum (Jn 13:34), why this is called Maundy Thursday. This is how Christ loved His disciples, by giving Himself so intimately and totally to them and for them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Power of the Almighty

I wasn't always a Calvinist. Like many Protestants of my generation my parents first attended a small neighborhood church. The church sang only hymns in the early 90s and then, in an effort to gain members, switched to the pithy "contemporary christian" music now found in the megachurches. The theology was pre-millennial (meaning that the Left Behind books served as youth group manuals) and generally avoided the hard questions of the faith. God was "our friend" . When you prayed, you were asking God for a favor, just like you would ask your mother or father for a favor.

This sort of belief was unsatisfying, which is why I made my slow drift into Calvinism. While I expect most of Ogden's readers to have a cursory knowledge of the term, I'd like to give a definition, and explain what I believe are its strongest points and do away with misunderstandings. The Fundamental belief of Calvinism is that God is Sovereign and good. He decides what happens in Heaven and on Earth, although he gives humanity freedom. Like all other orthodox traditions, we teach that God created humanity in His own image, that is, with an independent will, and that humanity used this will for evil. God sent Christ to save us from our sins, and we must accept living under the will of Christ in order to be saved. This is all rudimentary and basic, but here is where Calvinism differs from our Eastern, Catholic, Lutheran, and Arminian brothers in Christ. Calvin taught, after reading the scripture, that humanity was incapable of saving itself through works and required God's sovereign grace. The idea is not original, after all, Augustine taught something very similar to calvinism. humanity has free will, but we are so sinful, so corrupted, that faith in Christ is not a choice that is available to us. Bernard Lonergan, a Catholic theologian, believed that each person existed in different horizons, and that we were incapable of seeing beyond our own horizon. This is much the same, humanity, on its own, is incapable of freely choosing Christ. Although some have accused Calvinists of arrogance in believing themselves to be of the elect, calvinism is indeed the opposite. We believe that no person is capable of choosing Christ, and we are grateful if Christ has given us the grace to love him. Charles Spurgeon, a great Calvinist preacher, puts the contrast between Calvinists and Arminians this way

"Lord, I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not-that is the difference between me and them."

Calvinism is a tradition that that puts the power of God supremely above humanity. This is the underlying belief of Calvinism, we cannot save ourselves without God first acting to save us. The rest is simply the logical outgrowth of this belief.

Calvin's 5 points are as follow Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.

Total Depravity is once again, merely words meant to describe the state of a sinful humanity. While men may seek God, they cannot love God on their own. We are so sinful that we have willfully cut ourselves off from Him. This is perhaps one of the least controversial aspects of Calvinist theology

Unconditional Election is merely words to describe the belief that God does not save people because of their own action. When put this way, it is a belief that all Christians can ascribe to. However, other branches are uncomfortable with the logical fallout of this belief. God must have chosen those he wished to save. This is not to discourage anyone from seeking salvation, indeed, it is quite the opposite. It lets people know that no matter how sinful, God can still save them. This is not double-predestination(as hyper-calvinists might confuse some into believing). Humanity has damned itself.

Limited Atonement is perhaps the most controversial aspect of Calvinism because critics(and hyper-Calvinists) misinterpret its meaning. Limited Atonement does not mean that Christ only died for part of the world or only for the elect. It means that his sacrifice was only MEANT for the elect. God can and quite possible might decide to save everyone, but the penalty paid on the Cross was meant for those God has chosen for eternity.

Irresistible Grace is also often misinterpreted. It does not teach that the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, it only teaches that those God has willed to save will be saved.

Perseverance of the Saints is in opposition to the modern evangelical notion of once saved, always saved. Modern evangelicals teach, erroneously, that if you say a little prayer when you are a small child, that you can grow up to be the next Hitler and still go to Heaven, because after all, you have fire insurance. Perseverance of the saints teaches that instead, those who fall away from the faith were never a part of the elect to begin with. As Christ teaches in the parable of the Sower, the plants sown in rocks or thorns died off, their faith never had a chance. This view is consistent with Christ's pledge that nothing can remove us from his hand while avoiding the ridiculousness of the modern evangelical ideas.

Calvinism is not some extreme, insane theology(although hypercalvinism, which is a misinterpretation that focus on the wrong aspect of the tradition is). It is a sensible, reasonable exposition of the faith that is much needed in today's America.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Thoughts on a Passionate Journey of a King

cum illud bibam novum in regno Dei

tu es rex Iudaeorum

have rex Iudaeorum

I'm just going to jot down a few thoughts that occurred to me about today's readings (as well as the processional Gospel). The first thing that strikes me about the readings is the journey motif, and the other is the constant reference to kings and kingdoms.

Obviously, it is not surprising that on Palm Sunday we should experience the concept of "journey." Christ rides into Jerusalem (precisely as Simon Maccabeus did. cf 1 Macc 13:51). His long journey of Ministry is drawing to a close. The Gospel narratives then have him give a number of important lessons which we don't read today. Instead, the Mass, via the Liturgy of the Word, takes on another journey. We move from the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the tone begins to slowly change. We have the suffering servant piece from Isaiah 50. This excerpt could almost be read as just shy of proud; almost boasting that in spite of these terrible things, he can hold his head high. Then the Psalm is a little darker. The Epistle gives us the closest hint of what is coming next when it mentions Christ's Incarnation (a kind of journey), His kenosis. And then we have the journey from the Last Supper to the Cross. This is a perfect preparation for the week we're about to experience. It too is a journey through the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, something hinted at in the Psalm's final stanza. It is there, if only out of focus.

But why? Because it is a journey of a king. It is important to note that Christ's enemies set him up to be Caesar's enemy (this we will explicitly here in Jn 19 on Good Friday). And that's an interesting point. During this period of Roman History, the Emperor made numerous efforts to create a legal fiction that he was not monarchial. Augustus adopted the title of First Citizen in order to convey that he was rather a protector of republican not monarchist values. So the Caesars, during the Principate, were kings in reality if not name. Moreover, an Imperial decree was an evangelium, the same word for Gospel. And they claimed to be a Son of a god. But Christ was a real king, and not just in name only, since he was the Principal Author of Creation ("through whom all things were made"). His Good News was real, genuine and timeless. It had been issued before Caesar was born, before there was an Italian Penninsula, before Aeneas ever left Troy, etc. And Caesar only claimed to be a Divi filius, son of a deified man (Julius Caesar, in fact). Christ was the true Son of the Living God, the filius Dei. To continue this line even further, each Caesar claimed to be the mortal descendant of a quite mortal God (i.e. Julius Caesar). But Christ would show Himself to be a Son over whom Death could have no power, the Son of an Ever-living God.

We should spend Holy Week reflecting on this interesting point. The True God, True Man "humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" precisely because He was a king. This journey to the Cross, through death, to the Resurrection was a journey He undertook for our sakes ... because He is our King. The authority that let Him cleanse the temple, was the same authority by which He submitted to death for our sakes. Only the king could die for us, and only the king could have the power to ignore death and rise again.


I will probably not be blogging much this week, since it is a week of prayerful reflection, but I might post something on Holy Thursday tying it into Good Friday.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Two Issues of Sadness

Recently as I have been reading the blogs two topics have lit the blogosphere ablaze. But I decided not to respond immediately, but rather to ruminate on them. Those who read the blogs listed on my blogroll will have certainly encountered them: The Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale's sermon praising abortion as a blessing, and the decision by Notre Dame to invite President Obama to speak.

The first was most disturbing to me ... (click for more)

The first was most disturbing to me. It was actually originally posted on another Blogger site: Sermons by Katherine Ragsdale. There it had an August 2008 date, and the one she has on her site now has a 2007 date. The date is important because Father Z pointed to Diogenes on April Fools Day. And when one reads the document, can one be in any doubt of why I might want to check the date? It makes me sick to even copy and paste the root of her commentary, but it is simply this: "Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done." Yes, that's right. Sick, isn't it?

I mean I find it difficult to even describe what this. But one thing is clear, it is objectively evil. Now, please understand I am saying the content and not the person. Given the distance of time that has occurred, we cannot safely make judgements on the content of others' souls. But the words as they exist on the page are evil. It is a pity that the original page was deleted, because some of the comments were instructive. Several commentators identified themselves as "pro-choice," but even they were appalled at the sentiments described. Partly that is because of what the pro-life community has long said and the well-meaning segments of the "pro-choice" community have denied even to themselves, that there are such people who want more abortions not fewer. She begins her piece noting that the Democrats have dropped the "safe, legal, and rare" language from their platform. Now, we know from the text she wants them to be safe, and she clearly wants abortions to remain legal. So that leaves only the rare to which she must object. If she doesn't want them to be rare ...

But obviously a desire to see murder -- and yes we can objectively say that abortion is murder since the foetus in the womb has all the necessary qualities of a human being and murder is the needless killing of a human -- more frequently carried out is not the only thing evil about this. The idea that anything could be blessed about this is shocking. Some of her examples suggest to me she has no idea what blessings are. Take one of her examples: for a woman in poverty the abortion is a blessing. Surely, it's a tragedy ... two tragedies! One that anyone should have to live in such abject poverty, but that a death is the only option for her (or so she thinks). Surely that's calamitous. Surely that is reprehensible. Surely that is everything but blessed. All of her other examples are of the same ilk. Far from blessed they are tragedies. That anyone should think that a death is the only available solution is a source of tears not glad tidings.

But why? Why can this speech be filled with such obvious evil? Or to put it in the terms of St Augustine, be so lacking in Good? I think you will want to read Pr. Lehmann's take. For he is right. We cannot be surprised that Good is lacking when Christ Himself seems to be as distant from the sermon as one can get.


Since it is on the same subject of abortion, I will comment briefly on the Obama Invite. Now numerous members of the Episcopate have already commented. Two of the most notable are Cardinal DiNardo's, Archbishop Nienstedt's and Archbishop Beltran's responses. Although, they are by no means the only ones. People are rightly up-in-arms over this, because as ND is the most pre-eminent Ostensibly Catholic University or College (OCUC for short). And as an OCUC, one staffed by the Holy Cross Fathers no less, there is a presumption that one will make at least a passing attempt at being ... Catholic ... and teaching what the Catholic Church teaches ... But the self-same Adversary who moved behind the Reverend Ragsdale's sermon is also trying to do his worst in our Church. And this is why he has contrived to have arguably the most pro-abortion President in American History come to the pre-eminent OCUC in America. It is the Adversary's hope to push Christ further out. So it is not surprising that "Jesus wept" -

I am fairly staggered that President Obama, incidentally, has done more for this one constituency than even fixing the economy. One would think the latter should be more pressing, but dead babies can't vote, and the pro-abortion lobby are extremely powerful. But, Catholics also contributed to his victory, perhaps as much as the pro-abortionists. Are we now feeling buyer's remorse?

My own personal take is similar to Father Z's, we should take out television ads praising him for clearly so identifying with what the Catholic Church holds, in much the same way people did to President Bush over his Bob Jones appearance.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Four Years Ago Today

John Paul II went to sleep with his fathers in the hope of the resurrection on this day four years ago. I fervently pray that the Holy Father will confirm my belief that John Paul II heard his Saviour say "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

On the Multiple Senses of Scripture

When reading yesterday's readings, I was struck that it was so apropos with respect to Pr. Lehmann's and my discussion in the combox below on the senses of Scripture. It also ties in somewhat with the post I have just done on the Lectionary.

The Old Testament reading from Numbers retells the story of the Bronze Seraph, the serpent that was held aloft and any who looked upon it was healed. Wis 16:5-7 dwells on the theological implications of this, in that it affirms that the Seraph didn't do the healing, but God did. It is a condign merit, in that God promises a reward for doing some act and keeps His promise. The people didn't deserve the Seraph or the healing. The pericope makes clear they grumbled. But God promised them gratuitously that if they looked upon it, they would be healed. Thus the people didn't merit the healing, per se, but instead were granted the healing because God fulfills His promises. That's the sort of literal take anyway, with apologies for the slight digression/explication.

But it is clear both implicitly in the Gospel for the day, and more explicitly in Jn 3:14 that Christ saw this action as being a prefigurement of the Crucifixion. In this sense the holding up of the Seraph has much wider meaning for us. It is the same with the Red Heifer and Isaac's Sacrifice, as well as others. All these point to Christ in some way, and especially the saving Cross.

But we might not appreciate this aspect of the story from Numbers, if the Church didn't bid us take note of it in the Lectionary and then also juxtapose it with Christ's own commentary? This is also, therefore, one of the benefits of the Lectionary. That we can appreciate other aspects and senses that might not be immediately apparent when we only read passages independently of one another ...

The Lectionary

(This might post twice, and if so I'll keep the version which reads the best)

Pr. Lehmann, on his blog, discusses the Lectionary in his ecclesial tradition. Of interest is that he approaches it from the perspective of having to preach various pericopes and how this keeps one honest. I remember my confessor years ago wryly admitting to me that after years and years of doing so it can be hard to think of new things to say about the Corpus Christi readings for example. Pr. Lehmann has a few more years to go, I suspect, before he runs into that problem.

There are two things I like about our Lectionary. First, in a three year period, if one was to attend daily Mass, one would hear almost all of Scripture proclaimed. Now, it's true some bits are left out (like those thrilling genealogies in the beginning of 1 Paralipomenon, aka Chronicles. Mother Church felt the stirring excitement of those lines likely too much for anyone to handle all at once. Perhaps at a future time). And, in a similar vein to Pr. Lehmann's observation, it forces the whole of Scripture to be proclaimed, even if the lector or priest would prefer not to. I think of the pericope that contains Eph 5:22. If the priest is of a ... shall we say .. "progressive" bent, this passage might not be one he wishes to proclaim because it might offend his sensibilities. But Holy Mother Church bids it proclaimed, and so it is.

The second thing I like is not independent of the first, and that is the fact that the Lectionary ensures that the whole world hears the same Word proclaimed at the same time. Thus, when the Church bids Eph 5:22 be proclaimed, the sun never sets on it when it is so bid. In this way the two parts of the mass, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist both have a kind of koinonia.

And so the Lectionary is a great gift to us, because it is part and parcel of the "universality" of Christ's Church.