Monday, September 7, 2020

Not a Post

 A bit too much happening this week to post.

It is our Synod, Thursday evening and Friday.

And it is by Zoom.

Which has its challenges for a large event.

And a few other things going on by way of deadlines looming.

Next Monday should be fine :).


Anonymous said...

"We are back to the Greco-Roman world of the first century... It was those despised Christians who upset the world."

Herewith, an irenic comment inspired by James's comment among others, but also by several of + Peter's most interesting posts of the past few years. Please consider this--

The apostolic faith was less a *religion* than a *therapeutic philosophy*.

It was not a religion because it tacitly dropped Israel's sacrificial system, and merely adapted two practices on the fringe of that system to initiatory uses. To an ancient mind, it was a philosophy because the apostles reasoned, much as Stoics and Epicureans did, from a world-picture to a way of life that healed those who followed it. It was therapeutic because all philosophy then was in some way a therapy.

Nothing about recognising this is hard except that it runs against the tragic anti-Semitism of the old German liberalism. Even today, we hear the stereotype: the religion of ancient Israel was worshiping a monad, hearing voices, obeying laws, disobeying laws, and stoning people, but not thinking in profound ways about God, life, wisdom. In that view, Jesus can only have been an ironic Romantic rebel against The Man, not the virtuoso of Judaic thought who elevated it to a universal conversation.

For concrete example, St Paul's letters show his own confidence that, as his converts understood the gospel more deeply, they would be healed of destructive passions would begin to become wise in the Lord, and would just so begin to serve God's purposes in the world. This is not an outcome that one then expected from rituals, sacrifices, etc, but it is more or less the outcome that readers of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations expect even today.

The Pastoral Letters have the same basic contract between author and audience: stick to our version of the gospel and your heads will clear of fog and you will begin living in a more reasonable way. The brief letters attributed to St Paul connect fact to wisdom for individuals, while those attributed to other apostles show that the contract was not simply his own.

And Jesus himself? We have had spirited discussions here about what he was (not) up to in his comments on diverse laws, but they have tended to miss the two big trees in the forest: (1) he was more renowned as a healer; (2) his dicta about right conduct always move it in the direction of more straightforward reliance on the basic Judaic faith. Hence we are not surprised that the earliest Christian writers outside the NT introduced him to their world as a philosopher.

Tellingly, the earliest representations of Jesus are modeled on those for-- Zeus? Hermes? Hercules?-- Homer. The Iliad and The Odyssey embed moral reflection in a narrative that itself heals passions (eg the wrath of Achilles) and offers a model of heroism (eg for Telemachus, Odysseus). In late antiquity, christocentric readings of these epics attracted so many disciples to the faith that the apostate emperor Julian famously forbade Christians to teach them. He recognised with disgust that the "Nazarenes" he despised were Judaizing the ancient culture of Hellenism.

The apostolic faith was more a *therapeutic philosophy* than a *religion*. Yes, it inherited and created forms of worship and evolved patterns of community with defined beliefs and distinctive behaviours, but then so did the Pythagoreans among others. All philosophical schools posited some dogmas about ultimate reality and then explored what it is to live according to them. Our word *dogma* was first their word for the same kind of thing.

Moderns of the centuries just past had difficulties with the mere notion. But ancient pagans could feel in their bones the difference between thinking of the world as the playground of capricious gods and thinking of it as the creation of a provident Creator. Dogma (eg the Apostolic Creed) was a helpful way of remembering where the boundaries are. The old rivalry is back.

Anonymous said...

Because the West forgot that philosophy was once therapeutic, we have forgotten that the apostolic faith was both philosophical and therapeutic. It truly was not about "meeting people's religious needs" or "getting into heaven when you die" or "being united by practice rather than truth" or other (post)modern dodges. A properly Judaic knowledge of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit frames life in ways that call for reflection and we are Jesus's disciples when engage in this reflection and we live by it.

Several of our recurring topics here at ADU appear differently when we frame them as inquiries in philosophy that we expect to have therapeutic answers.

(a) Because it is the fresh example, abortion. If Christianity were a religion, it would have had a exhaustive Leviticus of its own, and about abortion we would have inquired into the sort of sacrifice required to expiate the guilt that it incurs. But because the apostolic faith is more philosophy than religion, there is no such document before the C2. When it appears, it is not a sacrificial document like Leviticus (or the medieval Irish penitentials); it is an expansion of St Paul's lists of virtues and vices. As we would expect of a mode of wisdom, the emphasis there is on true/false belief guiding a right/wrong heart on a good/evil path. A discussion that avoids *dogma --> wisdom --> way* for *sentiment --> action* bypasses Jesus. His disciples have no reason to listen to such bypasses.

(b) Oliver O'Donovan has aptly summarised the change in late C20 Anglicanism this way: before, liberals mediated evangelical and anglo-catholic partisans for the overall peace of the Communion, but now liberals are themselves partisans against evangelicals and nobody is mediating at all. This is as much as to say that fideist partisans were free to argue religion in ritual controversies-- do Anglicans have any other kind?-- because the heirs of Latitudinarians were going to settle their disputes on a more philosophical basis. Where there are lovers of opinions but no lovers of wisdom, there is no way to peace. Unity with substance requires that every position at the table represent itself as philosophy rather than religion, as a matter of what is wise rather than of what must be expiated.

(c) Since the old-fashioned sort of liberals no longer rescue evangelicals from anglo-catholics, it is interesting to consider how evangelicals might adapt to the necessity of *dogma --> wisdom --> way*. Evangelicals are not afraid of the *dogma* or the *way*, but they have long (cf the Tractarians on evangelicals) been more dodgy about *wisdom* than we would expect from their knowledge of the scriptures. The culprit seems to be a bad synergy of PSA with forensic justification that accredits the (rare) conversions of the dying at the expense of a solid doctrine of sanctification for everyone else. But with so many scholars finding *theosis* in the headwaters of Protestantism, this does not seem beyond repair for those evangelicals willing to become Protestants.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman
Your thoughts strike many chords with me while raising a question.
The chords concern the way of Jesus as less about dogma and more about divinization; less about holiness and more about healing.
Great reminder that Christianity didn't spread in the ancient world because it looked it would spawn an amazing code of canons which governed every decision we would ever make.

Question: your thoughts deserve a book. Are you writing one? Or thinking about it?

Father Ron said...

"The chords concern the way of Jesus as less about dogma and more about divinization;" - your words, Bishop Peter.

AND, I am inclined to agree. The Jewish Church had enough extant dogmatic strictures - which, at times, were criticised by Jesus for their inhumanity (e.g stoning prostitutes while letting their (male) clients go free!). There was, at times, a hint of hypocrisy connected with the application of The Law, for which the Scribes and Pharisees were held to account by jesus.

As God's respresentative, who (also representatively) took our human sinfulness with him through the gate of death - at his crucifixion - Christ's raison d'etre was God's rescue mission which offered mercy and love in the place of judgement that was based, so often, on injustice. At my celebration of the Eucharist on Friday, we pondered the meaning of the Psalmist's insistence that seeking justice was required as a preeminent virtue among God's people, and that the just person was considered a 'righteous before God'. In Jesus' story of the Pharisee and the publican, it was the penitent 'sinner' who was commended for his honesty and went away 'justified'(Not the one whose righteousness was self-proclaimed).

God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Anonymous said...

"All philosophical schools posited some dogmas about ultimate reality and then explored what it is to live according to them. Our word *dogma* was first their word for the same kind of thing."

"The chords concern the way of Jesus as less about dogma and more about divinization"

"The Jewish Church had enough extant dogmatic strictures - which, at times, were criticised by Jesus for their inhumanity (e.g stoning prostitutes while letting their (male) clients go free!)."

The word *dogma* is often misunderstood.

In antiquity, it was the usual Greek word for the *distinctive* opinions of the Hellenistic philosophical schools. The existence of the Logos is a dogma of Stoicism in which Epicureans did not believe.

Israel had no dogmas. Jews in Canaan distinguished their beliefs from those of their neighbours with the Bible's distinctive narratives. In fact, the first widely acknowledged statement of Jewish dogma is the unofficial list of 13 proposed in the Middle Ages by Moses Maimonides (1135–1204). Medieval Jews began to formulate such lists in response to Christians and Muslims who already had them.

The Jewish narrative way of knowing God only became what we call *dogma* as converts to St Paul's mission (cf Justin Martyr) took their place among the schools of the Gentile world. It was an unavoidable work of inculturation. The usual summary is the Apostolic Creed.

*Dogma* emerged from Greek philosophical schools seeking reasonable principles behind intelligent action. It would be a vicious circle to use *dogma* to describe a law or behaviour, so generally speaking nobody does.

There could be a dogma that a road is a shared space in which drivers should cooperate to avoid collision. There cannot be a dogma that the speed limit on that road is 100 km/hr.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for kind words at a busy time.

"Christianity didn't spread in the ancient world because it looked it would spawn an amazing code of canons" No, it spread because Jesus's intuitions about the Creator and his kingdom challenged and displaced the conventional pagan evaluations of things like outgroup altruism, gentle parenting, heroic patience, honest poverty, incarceration, and death in ways that made moral sense and generated social capital.

Two stories about this.


Pachomius, a pagan, served in a Roman legion in Egypt (eg Legio II Traiana Fortis). His commander lost a round in a power struggle. In retribution, the victors marched Pachomius's unit far into the desert, sealed them into an abandoned fort to starve to death, and posted a guard to prevent anyone from releasing them. By starlight, however, people from the surrounding dunes risked death to pass food through the windows to the prisoners.

"Who are they?" Pachomius asked a cell-mate.


"Why are they doing this?"

"Their god inspires this."


His comrade did not know. Their commander's fortunes reversed, and soldiers soon appeared to to rescue them. On his release, Pachomius went to find the Christians who fed him in the night to ask about their motivation. He went on to found cenobitic monasticism.


In about the same period, the apostate emperor Julian wrote a letter to the pagan priests of Alexandria, whom he had tried to organise into a church-like body there. Among other instructions, he deplores the "Galilean" practice of taking care of the needs of the poor, but advises his pagan priests to adopt it themselves for the good publicity that it will bring them.


In retrospect, any of us can guess the motivation that Pachomius and Julian could not. If we put that into words, we will say something about *divine benevolence* and *agape* that makes sense with respect to YHWH but not Zeus. We could call that saying *dogma*, especially if we have in mind something explicitly defined by a council.


Book-worthy? I do write elsewhere about these things, but I am not sure which of them you find unusual enough to need their own exposition at length.


Anonymous said...

If the incarnation of the Lord was only a response to the failings of Israel, then how essential to God's being and purposes can it really have been?

It may have been odd of God to choose the Jews, but could faith accept the thought that the Jews were far less intelligent, creative, compassionate than ancient pagans who had no light of revelation from God?

If the only good thing that we can say about Jesus is that he opposed wicked Jews, then what happens to our faith when we find that the Jews were not especially wicked?

If we only admire Jesus for his opinions, and only value those because because they found some flaws in ancient Palestine, then how high is our regard for him really?

How does it survive the discovery that Jesus's arguments were well within the broad spectrum of Jewish opinion? In his day, the world of Judaic religion was a ferment of factions, each critical of the others. Jesus's arguments reflected that world even when they opposed opinions popular with say Pharisees, Sadducees, Samaritans, etc.

Which is more likely-- that prophets meditating on the meaning of Israel's exile sketched an identity that Jesus stepped into and made his own, or that despite divine inspiration they were still too stupid to do more than point vaguely at a future that only Gentiles nurtured on paganism could understand?

If Jesus was at heart a Gentile tourist wandering Palestine to pick fights with cruel and benighted Jews, then how is it that today's historians of Judaism value the gospels as an source and talmudists regard Jesus's arguments as landmarks of Jewish legal thought?

If we don't believe as science in a young earth created in six days, then how can we believe as history in an anti-Semitic Jesus?

Most people who had absorbed anti-Semitism as children gave it up after the Holocaust because we cannot hate any group simply for existing without hating humanity as such, which is absurd, of course. A generation ago, freeing the mind from anti-Semitism was what freeing the mind from homophobia is today. Then as today, extreme cruelty called our attention to nasty prejudices.

But there is still a lot of zombie anti-Semitism shambling through churches. It eats the brains of preachers and teachers-- both evangelical and liberal-- who are stuck in the prejudices of the C19 founders of their tribes. As with the Jews-in-ovens sort of anti-Semitism, the zombie relies on reflexes far from conscious thought. We cannot usually see them unless we have explored the foundations of faith down to the basement where the rats are, which of course is why Protestants do that.

It is extremely unlikely that any of Peter's readers is a danger to any Jew anywhere. But it is also very likely that many of them would have a stronger faith in Jesus Christ if they could free it from anti-Semitic prejudice (just as they could come to a deeper appreciation of the dyad, procreation, etc if they could free all that from homophobia). Every branch of theology seems more lifeless and dry when we are estranged from the Judaic worldview to which it is native.

Here and now, I will note only that it is impossible to have a low estimation of ancient Israel and a high one of the canon. Many Christians shamble along like this-- their admiration of Jesus is mostly disdain for Jews, but that disdain closes their minds to the Bible Jews wrote, which these Christians then cannot read from the heart as sacred scripture. They may be ashamed of their disgust with the Bible, but they live with it as a guilty secret.

It does not have to be this way.


Father Ron said...

I agree, Bowman, one cannot be truly Christian and anti-Semitic. After all, Jesus was both Son of God and son of Mary - with links through his foster-father Joseph to King David. However, the human Jesus became progenitor of the New Israel of God! Interestingly, Jesus' criticism of his own people was mostly for those in authority who seemed to practise injustices that actually disadvantaged the marginalised.

Anonymous said...

"... the New Israel of God..."

The old Israel is still God's Israel. St Paul dedicates the most unread chapters of Romans to precisely that point. Most respected theologians today reject the *replacement* ecclesiologies in which God's promises to Abraham, Israel, and David were cancelled by the birth of the Church at Pentecost. The Pope has a kind of relationship with the Chief Rabbi in Rome. This much is clear.

Is the Body a siamese twin? In Christendom, we could dodge the question by counting the Jews in the *corpus christianum* of say England, but out of the Body in the same place. For Christ's sake, we both acknowledged and denied them. In England, Jonathan Sacks is in the House of Lords, but not the House of Bishops.

In the postmodern condition, governments cannot speak for us. But there is not much agreement on what churches should affirm about synagogues or Christians about Jews.

"Interestingly, Jesus' criticism of his own people was mostly for those in authority who seemed to practise injustices that actually disadvantaged the marginalised."

Clearly it was not. If this were true, then the gospels would be full of Jesus's diatribes against the theology of Jews with some actual civil power-- the High Priest and Sanhedrin. And the epistles would be explaining why, after all Jesus's divine politics, the Father abruptly let the Romans have it all in 70. More generally, a Jesus like that would have a more positive evaluation of power per se than the Jesus who instead stressed rendering unto God what is God's. Jesus was not Mohammed.

As it is, one of the central facts of the gospels is that Jesus, although well aware of power centred in Jerusalem, mostly ignores it. When he does address it in the passion narrative, it is to show the exalted their lack of legitimacy and importance. Simply having power from the Romans did not make them important to him. St Mary sang the Magnificat, not We Shall Overcome.

Instead, he engages (a) several persons far from power who represent the dilemmas of the time, (b) professional scribes respected everywhere for their close knowledge of the scriptures, and (c) the rather populist movement of Pharisees who, despite being a thorn in the side of official Israel, had widespread influence *at the gate* in the towns and villages of the countryside. Bearing in mind that Israel was a very decentralised society where your neighbours could decide to stone you to death, Jesus gave most of his attention to the popular culture of his fellow Jews, and often seems to be defending their oldest traditions from innovators (eg Moses!).

Back of many Anglican misreadings of the scriptures-- evangelical and liberal alike-- are estimates in bad faith of the social distance between ancient Israel and the contemporary world. The difficulty is an honest one: how can one read the Bible as an address to oneself if one sees oneself as a presentist social
construct unless the Bible came from a world like one's own? There are answers for another day.


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- Then how, minds of a certain age demand to know, do I explain the several accounts in which Jesus seeks the company of those not in the best social standing? Is it just a coincidence that Jesus is almost always talking to dodgy strangers that solid Anglicans would never let their children marry?

No, it is not a coincidence, but neither is it the flower-powered 1960s breaking through the bureaucratic 1950s. Jesus intervenes in their lives by healing them, not by leading them in revolt. There is no earthly Establishment against which Jesus shakes his fist. When Jesus alludes to something burdensome in the law, he always frames it as a misguided innovation, pushing back against somebody's well-intended attempt at Progress. Moses instituted monogamy, but in a form that betrays its spirit. Pharisees have spiritualised Temple observance for the masses, but in a way that obscures their deeper point. Jesus's understanding of what the law is, where it is found, and what it is to love it are decidedly non-modern.

Above all, the ethos to which Israel aspired was in principle more egalitarian and participatory than that of societies like ours (cf Jubilee). When he treats the unlucky as loved by God, he is disrupting a misunderstanding of divine providence that is corrupting that ethos from within, not proposing a startling new idea. Israel had its problems; we have our problems; they are different problems.

My main point above is that many of us have made a bad bargain that hurts our faith: when we stay with Jesus just so long as we can see him as a Romantic rebel because that is the form that we imagine that our own liberation should take, we cast Israel and its faith as the Establishment against which he rebelled. The bargain is bad because the Jesus it gains is not quite Jesus, and the Judaic faith that is rejected is, well, Christianity. It hurts the faith of ordinary Christians by making us unreceptive to the spirituality that is waiting at our fingertips.

But what if one was traumatised by the compulsive and compulsory conformity of the 1950s. What if one is triggered today by those who yearn for that long-lost stability? Jesus may not have roared into Jerusalem on a motorcycle in a black leather jacket, but thinking that he did is at least an antidote to a nightmare Jesus in a dark suit, white shirt, patterned tie, full windsor knot, big desk. Appearance matters, especially in one who shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

The deep problem is that admiration for the Lord enables us to bless his holy name and to discern and do his holy will. Persons who resile viscerally from bosses and rules believe that they would be dangling from a cliff by their fingernails if not for the bad bargain that lets them imagine Jesus as an anti-hero. And blinkered though it be, this dodge does inspire them to do more of God's will than the alternatives that other readers might prefer.

The bad bargain does not work for the great mass of Christians who are not so traumatised by mere order. And if someone in ancient Palestine had the moral sentiments of today, that would be a Ripley's Believe It Or Not factoid, not a basis for one's spiritual life.

Is there a counter-offer to the bad bargain? Yes: in the canon as a whole, the ethos of the kingdom is one of allure amid danger rather than of obligation within order.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman
There is a lot to ponder in your comments on this thread (and my comment/question re writing a book is simply that I am not aware of where what you are putting forward for pondering is being widely discussed at this time).

This I am pondering the meaning of OT in relation to NT, Judaism in relation to Christianity, Jews (and God's purposes for the Jews) in relation to Christians, and, of course, the ever old and always new question, Who is Jesus today and who are we today who seek to relate to Jesus, even to the point of claiming to abide in him and abide by his teaching, to say nothing of suggesting that the shape of our lives represents Jesus abiding in us!

A few (likely disjointed) responses:
1. The importance of preaching: a regular opportunity for congregations to engage with the meaning of Jesus for today.
2. The importance of the "five" gospels, Matt, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. What are they each saying, why are they each a little (or a lot) different, and what was it about their messages at the time of propagation which won a hearing and converts?
3. The importance of self-understanding: what cultural context do I inhabit and how does it help or hinder me understanding the will of God in Christ Jesus?
4. A strength of Anglicanism: it is a broad enough tent to be open to finding that Jesus might be living in another part of the tent than we thought he was, and moving accordingly to be closer to him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for taking the time to reply at a busy time.

On 8th August 1900, David Hilbert proposed a list of research problems to the mathematicians of the century ahead, claiming that the progress of their field as a whole required their solution. Hilbert's List was a remarkably fruitful exercise.

If say Rowan Williams or Benedict XVI had proposed a similarly grand list for theology in this century-- why didn't they?-- it likely would have included the ones I've tacitly asked just above--

Is the gospel a therapy of wisdom? (Nouvelle theologie, David Ford, Sarah Coakley, Martha Nussbaum, Linda Zagzebski)

How does theology differ among preachers, researchers, and contemplatives? (Jean Leclerq, Thomas Merton, Benedict XVI, )

Is the Body a siamese twin? (Paul Phillip Levertoff, Peter Ochs, Robert Jenson, Stanley Hauerwas)

What does the Promised Land mean to Gentiles after Pentecost? (Robert Jenson)

Is the Bible divine speech to all? (John Webster, Robert Jenson, Matthew Levering, Suzanne MacDonald)

How does the Lord address those hurt by domination? (James Cone, Grace Ji-Sun Kim)

Adding your question--

Is union with Christ the same in every time of this aeon? (Nouvelle theologie, Grand Macaskill, Tomas Mannermaa, Robert Letham, J Todd Billings)

Stated more simply, it is easier to guess where most of these get discussed from time to time. That said, a theological conversation is slower than most, a few are not quite ripe, and I have only listed a celebrated few of the usual suspects.

As with some items on Hilbert's List, our challenge is sometimes less to find an answer than to demonstrate its truthfulness to the satisfaction of at least a quorum of other souls.


Anonymous said...

A postscript to my 3:20s and 2:19 above.

Dogmatics is closer to daily life than ethics or liturgics. If it were not, then neither would be interesting.

Consider the eucharist. The word is Greek; it means roughly *thanksgiving*. Every reason for gratitude that has ever been or could ever be is implicit in the apostolic creed. Indeed, the creed motivates godward gratitude as an orientation to life, and that in turn motivates dispositions in ethics and liturgics that amount to a philosophy that heals the passions and grounds one's life in a divine calling. So although Life --> Eucharist --> Creed does not make much sense, Creed --> Life --> Eucharist has sanctified millions of souls.

What then is at stake in a discussion of the real presence? Richard Hooker famously said that, so long as a church someplace teaches that Christ is present in a communicant, its local belief about the mode of that presence does not enable or prevent communion with it. Fine.

But a communicant is conscious of the presence in acknowledging that his own living is within Jesus's relation to the Father and Holy Spirit. How does one learn to do that acknowledging? The wisdom to do this is implicit in the creed.


Some in churches fidget and squirm in the light of dogma. A few are deeply averse to clear speech about God. Others, who do not trust the testimony of the Body, are most resistant where that trust is necessarily deepest. Still others speak clearly but idiosyncratically about the Lord. To do more than acknowledge that God loves them (see above) is over the horizon of this comment.