Monday, August 30, 2021

The challenge(s) of reading Scripture in 2021

Reading 1

Sometimes, discussing various issues of the day, one side or the other or another raises the question of slavery, the New Testament and Christian ethics. One argument being that it took a while for Christians to figure that slavery is wrong, fullstop, because it wasn't banned by any of the New Testament writers. Therefore, we cannot rely on the NT for our ethical determinations as Christians. A counter-argument being that, although it wasn't banned, St Paul (especially in Philemon) undermined slavery as an institution in society, so effectively the NT declared it was wrong. Therefore, the NT is a final word on slavery.

Except, a counter-counter argument is that, nevertheless Christians through many centuries waxed and waned on the matter, here banning it and there supporting it, and only finally in the 19th century did Christians, universally, "get the message" that there shouldn't be slavery (ever again). Whatever was going on with Christians reading the NT, on slavery (at least), its message was not universally clear and decisive.

Even a relatively early commentator and theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, writing on Ecclesiastes 2, offers a theological argument against slavery and not a simple appeal to one biblical rule on the matter, in this Twitter thread.

On the whole I am inclined to the view that within Christianity, our ethics on slavery developed, albeit on lines set in motion by the NT. The NT is clear that slaves are to be well treated and the master and slave, mistress and slave are sisters and brothers in Christ. It is difficult to sustain an ethic of being family together when half are free and half are slaves! It is not clear, however, from the NT, that slavery should end immediately as a human practice. Our common conviction in the 20th and 21st centuries that slavery should not be a human practice lacks the unequivocal, explicit support of the New Testament.

That the NT does not offer a clear reading against slavery is illustrated by this very recent 21st century Tweet:

Now, let me hasten to add, nearly 100% of readers here will have 100% of Christian friends, family and colleagues who not only do not think this way but would never even have such a thought cross their minds. This post is NOT about lurking pro-slavery theology in the global church. This post is about how the NT (indeed all of Scripture, an OT text is coming up below) is a complex document to read in respect of ethics in a changing world.

Christians do move beyond the strict, literal words of Scripture to new positions on matters of human ethics. In this case, the pastor cited above is reading Scripture as though it is 121 AD and not 2021 AD with 1900 years of context re slavery to also bring to his reading of Scripture.

Let me also hasten to add, that this post is not another foray into That Topic. It could be, but it isn't. Plenty of previous posts on That Topic. Comment there.

Rather this post is about how we actually read Scripture, in day to day or common usage, as well as how we might read Scripture agreeably together.

Reading 2

That this seemingly straightforward task of reading Scripture agreeably together is not straightforward has been highlighted this week by an (at best) interesting take on a familiar Scriptural text by committed Christian, President Biden.

"During a press conference following the attacks at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in Afghanistan, the US President said the American service members standing guard at the airport who lost their lives in the attack were heroes and part of the "backbone" of America. 

He then quoted from the Old Testament to commend their eagerness to go to Afghanistan:

"Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah, when the Lord says, 'Whom shall I send…who shall go for us?' And the American military has been answering for a long time: 'Here am I, Lord. Send me. Here I am. Send me.'"

The verse, from Isaiah 6:8, come from a vision from the prophet Isaiah where he sees God and is convicted by his own unrighteousness and offers to serve God and preach His message to unrepentant people. 

After quoting scripture, Mr Biden continued: "Each one of these women and men of our armed forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice of volunteering to go into harm's way, to risk everything - not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.

"And I ask that you join me now in a moment of silence for all those in uniform and out uniform - military and civilian, who have given the last full measure of devotion""                                     

There is no questioning here in this ADU post about the willingness of US military personnel to serve sacrificially in global hotspots of trouble and strife. (NZ would be a Japanese colony were it not so.) But Isaiah 6:8, as this comment by Samuel Goldman in The Week makes clear, is the wrong verse to choose in order to correlate US military mission with God's mission:

"Biden's point was that the Marines and other personnel overseeing the evacuation knew they were in danger of precisely the kind of attack that occurred but continued their duties anyway. In that respect, it was a fitting effort to honor their courage. 

But the Biblical verse he used was a bad choice to make that point. Jews read Isaiah 6 as describing God's calling to serve as prophet to the chosen people. For many Christians, it is seen as prefiguring the vocation of missionaries to promote the Gospel. In both interpretations, the phrase "Here I am" expresses willingness to participate in the fulfillment of divine purposes.

The conflation of foreign policy with a religious vocation is a recurring tendency in American history. It's also a dangerous one, because it transforms agonizing calculations of risk and benefit into contests between good and evil. Biden is leading American forces out of Afghanistan and appealed to national interests elsewhere in his remarks. Yet the crusading attitude that the Bible quote expressed is part of the reason we have failed to secure those interests for the last two decades. To avoid similar disasters in the future, we need to remember that presidents are not prophets and the U.S. military is not the army of God."

Somehow in President Biden's mind, his reading of Scripture has picked up a laudable response to any call from God to any human or divine task, "Here I am, send me", whisked it out of context - a fairly stable context of readers through thousands of years, reading about a prophet called of God to announce God's message - and applied it to a controversial military mission. 

Both the President and the pastor offer readings of Scripture that (fortunately) very, very few people also share (though clearly the President has an influence which could change the odds in favour of any one else in the future attempting a similar reading). Each highlights that reading Scripture with "one mind of Christ" in 2021 remains a challenging task.

Reading 3

Last week I wrote about the one (Nicene) creed, two (Eastern/Western) versions and that sparked some very illuminating comments - thank you - which dug deep into issues of "reading": what were the Nicene Fathers and the Toledo Father/Pope "reading" as they read their Scripture within their contexts of theological struggle? 

And, what were and continue to be the consequences of sticking to their respective readings to the point where they became emblematic of "tribal" identities in the centuries leading up to the never-healed schism of 1054? 

It is easy to turn on the pastor and the President with their readings of Scripture. But as long as the East and the West of Christianity are divided, none of us can claim to have perfected the art of reading Scripture in order to engender a truly undivided common reading of God's written Word! 


At a very technical level - the level of textual criticism where scholars work with variances or obscurities in the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of Scripture and try to work out what the original text likely said - there are challenges "reading" the text in order to make sense of it. For the geekier Greekiers among us, this post on Evangelical Textual Criticism may be of interest, concerning "Calvin's Conjectures."                                                                        


Anonymous said...

"You shall love the Lord your God... You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets."

Dear Citizens of Zhling, Alpha Centauri:

I am pleased to read that the torrent of religious broadcasting from Earth that you hear has led you to accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. And I am more than intrigued that you aspire to form a member church of the Anglican Communion. It is good that you are diligently searching the Bible for God's will.

I have referred your application to become Anglicans in good standing to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has extraprovincial responsibility for your solar system.

I cannot answer your questions about biblical ethics without more study. I can see that a species that requires seven organisms to reproduce may struggle with rules framed for only two. And I can almost understand that, because your many happy slaves would find the abolition of their slavery barbaric, St Paul's letter to Philemon is under suspicion for being so lukewarm about that pillar of Zhlingish happiness. But candidly, I am still far from seeing your problems as you do.

For now, try to absorb something about your new faith that has eluded all your talk show hosts: the scriptures have no divine order for secular societies or their governments. The only society and state that God has ever founded passed into memory in AD 70. You are not Jews; Zhling is not Canaan. So these questions you ask about what a society or its state should (not) do have no direct answers in the scriptures.

Because beings of our kind-- and yours?-- are self-absorbed and in some circumstances quite cruel, we all have to be changed to live in God. Souls still committed to any malevolence of thought, word or deed are barred from his kingdom. Souls learning the Creator's own benevolence are approaching it. We learn the good-hearted way from the scriptures, the lives of the saints, etc.

Not a blueprint for civil society per se, the Bible instead shows us the inner spiritual relations of people who stand with YHWH, both for each other and for their neighbours. As we live alone and together in him with less cruelty, we set an example as a city on a hill.

No civil society can altogether replicate the Body. Only some may wish to emulate it. We cannot argue non-believers into this desire. We can only share our own faith and pray for them.

In the Lord,


Anonymous said...

Joseph Biden's religious beliefs, whatever they are, make very little difference to his political acts, no more than Jacinda Ardern's upbringing as a Mormon affects her now. Both examples of political praxis are deeply secular humanist and indifferent to religion (or in Biden's case, actually anti-Catholic on abortion and marriage), except as it may be rhetorically employed for a political purpose (and I don't think Ardern does that, this is something that plays better in America). Well, no more Pride Month in Kabul, and New Zealand had better get used to growing Chinese hegemony in the Pacific. Those bizarre semi-pagan maunderings about taniwhas and dragons and NZ's defection from the Five Eyes intelligence network are a sign of cultural cringe and fear of the power of the CCP. The remoteness and economic fragility of NZ - reinforced in the past 18 months - are never so clear as when the power of China - economic, military and now cultural - becomes apparent. Persecuted Christians and Uyghurs in China or trade deal? Hmm, tough choice. But Uyghurs don't vote in New Zealand. Meet your new masters. NBA, Comcast and Google voted for money as well.
Biden has always been a chameleon, cheering on whatever side in his party seemed to be winning. He is the very definition of a figurehead and his recent use of the phrase at a highly managed "press conference" "I am instructed to call on (journalist X)" illustrates the strange and disturbing state of American politics at present. Just who is actually "instructing" him? Somebody evidently figured it would be a good photo opportunity to show the President going to mass before he signed an Executive Order mandating more money for global abortions.
The disappearance of Christianity from the cultural life of New Zealand as well as from the northeast and the west coast of the United States (and its progressive exclusion from US education and the Democratic Party, unless you're black, where it is seen as a cultural artefact, not a foundation of policy) is the real bqckground story in politics,
As for actual Christian preaching from Isaiah (something I have heard very little of in my life), you could do a lot worse than watch the services from St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, which is expounding the book each Sunday.


Unknown said...

Welcome back, James.

Richard Nixon reminded people often that he had a Quaker upbringing. To induce the North Vietnamese to negotiate a favourable peace, he ordered the Christmas bombing of their bases in Cambodia. Quakers officially objected that real Quakers are pacifists who do not escalate wars.

Margaret Thatcher often reminisced about her Methodist upbringing. But she also weakened or dismantled social programs that the Methodist church over there officially endorsed. So her least empathetic critics in Britain found her religious professions confused, cynical, or misleading.

The first officeholder to profess faith, act in worldly ways, and be criticised for the apparent inconsistency seems to have been Constantine the Great. His personal conversion to Christianity was rather spectacular, but he did not altogether abandon the pagan ceremonies of the state cult.

Notwithstanding their critics, biographers mostly agree that Nixon, Thatcher, and Constantine were deeply influenced by their religious positions. Which is not to deny that they used their influences to build political support, or to affirm that their state policies achieved the descent of the New Jerusalem. The question is: how should a believing magistrate understand his job?

Personally, I take a Lutherish *two kingdoms* view of this. Empowered by God's *left hand*, states take, coerce, and kill, activities beyond the pale for disciples of Jesus.

But love of country is from God, and can motivate a disciple to serve the state. When s/he does so, it is necessarily in the web of this world's power. So even the most conscientious effort to rescue civil power from the Powers will not look much like the inner life of the Body.

It is unwise to take office unless God calls one into it. Most people cannot navigate that moral complexity. Those in power without principles are playthings of the Powers. Nixon and Thatcher, in their occasional remarks about their own religions, were alluding to that reality. I hear Joe Biden saying the same thing.


Anonymous said...

I think you know, BW, that Biden has done all he can to promote abortion in the United States as well as abroad. I think you know that Obama-Biden pushed "gay rights" in Africa and punished Christian African countries that wouldn't get with the program. They didn't try to push Muslim countries around, though. I think you know that abortion is a grave sin in Catholic moral theology. So you can logically conclude that Biden has deliberately acted against Catholic moral teaching in a grave matter.
The contrast with the Trump administration couldn't be sharper.
There is nothing at all in Biden's contemporary manifestation that wouldn't also have been enacted by a secular leftist like Bernie Sanders, so Biden's occasional religiosity is pretty pointless. Maybe they have a sign at the entrance to the Biden White House: "Checx your Christianity here".
You may also know that Vice President Biden officiated at the same-sex marriafe of two of his staffers in 2016, for which purpose he sought a special temporary license from D.C. So he deliberately repudiated Catholic teaching on marriage,

Sorry, I really don't know what your second last paragraph means. I have never heard of a politician - religious or not - who didn't claim to be motivated by love of country.
I lived in England for a lot of the Thatcher years and your comments about Thatcher are wide of the mark. I can't think of any "social programs" that she dismantled. The essence of her reforms were about privatization and the ending of state subsidies to industry. Quite tellingly none of these were reversed by her successors.


Father Ron said...

I was in the middle of making a comment on the Letter(s) of James appearing in this thread, but they were 'taken away' in the midst of my effort, so maybe I was not meant to make my point - about the slanderous remarks directed towards the Leaders of Aotearoa/New Zealand and the United States of America! Highly inflammatory and off-piste on this thread.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, I really don't know what your second last paragraph means."

No problem, James. I myself can't tell whether you reject *two kingdoms* doctrine (antepenultimate paragraph), or have just forgotten that chapter of the Reformation. And, without knowing what positive political theology you yourself hold, it is hard for me to engage it in a useful reply.


Anonymous said...

"Highly inflammatory and *off-piste* on this thread."

Thank you, Father Ron, for the gift of a new word :-)


Anonymous said...

I'm not a Lutheran, BW, so my view has always been that Luther got some things very right and some things badly wrong. In my view, Luther was basically right about the meaning of justification by faith (and Tom Wright is confused on this), and Luther was badly wrong on the Jews. So he is not a secure guide on Christian politics. Luther was never a fully reformed thinker - a lot of medievalism still lurked in his mind.
I think those who came to power in Germany in 1933 would also say they "loved their country". Was their patriotism inspired by God? Hmmm. A little more theological sophistication needed here.

I struggle to understand sometimes what you write because you employ your own jargon and individual set of ideas. Which is your prerogative, of course, but it may mean people talk past each other. My basic point is that Christianity has been progressively pushed out of leftist politics, in America, Europe and down under. Individual religiosity may live on (think: Tony Blair) but the sacred cows of feminism (abortion), LGBTQ+ and other icons of cultural Marxism will not be challenged (next down the pike: medically assisted suicide). This is why the left also wants to impose censorship of speech: to control public discourse in what can be debated. "Hate speech" is the obsession of the left - in New Zealand as well.


Anonymous said...

James, after sleeping on the matter, I can give you a more elegant account of *two kingdoms theory* than a Wikipedia link. Critique or not, as you wish.

Since the Fall, human society has been liable to chaos and malice. By his sustaining providence, the Creator provides states that restrain these evils with basic order. They are not expressions of his ultimate will for humanity, but even with their flaws, they do indicate his love.

The principles God uses in these states are necessarily those of the post-Fall world. So, the Romans had taxes, jurisprudence, and violence; the medievals had a hierarchy of territorial lords; and we have bits of those earlier systems along with bureaucracies, welfare, and voting. God has used unbelievers as well as disciples.

Disciples of Jesus, however, live partially in a new creation. Among them, chaos and malice are checked by God's *governing providence*, which anticipates his ultimate will for humanity (ie Revelations xx). So they experience a more or less sharp disconnect between civil order and the life of the Body-- two kingdoms. Can it ever be a new creation *vocation* to serve in a state which is necessarily liable to all the flaws of post-Fall humanity?

Yes. *Patriotism* (as distinct from a merely oppositional *nationalism*) is a deeper motivation in the new creation than in the old one. A disciple who accepts a call to power is not personally liable for the evils incidental to the provisional order that God provides in the state. So, for example, a disciple is particularly forbidden to kill, but as a judge he may order an execution. And freed from bondage to the powers, an inspired disciple may see paths to the ends of state with less coincident evil that are invisible or simply uninteresting to an unbelieving power-holder.


(1) This is a very Western theory with roots in St Augustine's City of God. The Byzantine East developed a better ecclesiology than the West, but (as + Peter noted last week) the West began its evolution with a better political theology.

(2) In seeing the cusp of the two aeons as the state-church boundary, it limits, distinguishes, and focuses our expectations for each. The state, for salient example, is not a general purpose enforcer of all morals that a church may think wise and good for life in the new creation. And although churches will usually think and look somewhat like their civil societies, their true common life is that of the emergent new creation. On the ground, each does things well that the other cannot do at all, and both do badly things that they were never meant to do.

(3) In practice, this rather pauline ethos highlights character-- virtue and vice, gift and calling, judgment and competence-- as much as law. It resists a tendency to reduce all thought about human life to rules that can validate it.


Anonymous said...

BW, I am partial as well to Augustine's Two Cities theory and recall that the fundamental distinction (and separation) lies in the direction of one's love, whether for the city of God or the ciy of man.
The kind of "civic theology" expounded by Calvin understood this as well and was not actually a theocracy,even in Geneva. Modern participatory democracy is itself in large measure the offspring of reformed theology (as America has always known, and de Tocqueville later described).
Calvin's successors also understood that Christians could also serve in states that were less than Christian commonwealths. And yes, it is true that "a disciple is not personally liable for the evils incidental to the provisional order ... of the state". But that is VERY, VERY far from the actual promotion of abortion globally by the Biden administration and the transgender madness being promoted in American schools by activists in the US Justice Department. That is the pact he made for power (please, no silly pieties about following a divine call to serve). An anti-Christian spirit (certainly an anti-Catholic one)runs through these and similar policies and their root lies in cultural Marxism - though I doubt if Biden has ever heard of this. No matter; like his predecessor, he is hardly an intellectual. A onetime acquaintance of mine, the Reformation historian Carl Trueman, recently brought out a substantial study on "The Triumph of the Self", tracing modern liberal identity politics back to Rousseau through Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Reich. This is the contemporary manifestation of the City of Man.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you James and Bowman for a fascinating thread. Much to think about re Two Kingdoms (much to like, but the worry that such theology may have enabled the rise of Hitler); Trueman's book (a Bryden Black fave); Calvinism (does it mean theocracy or not?); discipleship in age of cultural Marxism; etc.

One of my objections to capital punishment is that I myself could not pull the trigger: I might not be able to be a good Lutheran!

I find - as a Christian - nearly everything is very unsatisfactory about modern politics.

Oh, well ...

Unknown said...

"We have bits of those earlier systems along with bureaucracies, welfare, and voting."

+ Peter and James, I should have listed *parties* among the principles of the post-Fall world that God uses to secure order. What James aptly calls a pact made for power is the instrument by which the voting that I did mention has organized the governance of modern states.

It often results in governance of which the governor himself disapproves. In 2016, for example, candidate Donald Trump promised his base that he would respect the welfare state, especially healthcare subsidized by the Federal government. But as a president governing with Republican support, he discovered that this support was conditioned on his support for Mitch McConnell's corporatism and Paul Ryan's libertarianism.

Peter Carrell said...

You've reminded me, Bowman, of two other political philosophers we should not continue this thread without mentioning: (I paraphrase):

Churchill: Democracy is the least worst system of government.

Bismarck: no one should be forced to see either sausages or legislation being made!

Unknown said...

That is, having been elected to be a president from the right who would defend those healthcare subsidies, Trump could only govern as the junior partner in a coalition determined to repeal them. Should Trump betray his base or alienate his party in Congress?

His pact made for power was "Repeal And Replace," the repeal that his frenemies wanted as the prelude to the "better" subsidy that he wanted. For all three men, this was effectively a wager on who would emerge stronger from the midterm elections of 2018.

For our purposes, Trump's dilemma is a reminder that in our time, as in Constantine's, power emerges from the alliances that are possible at a given moment. Those alliances have rarely given their leaders the absolute freedom to decide all their positions on everything.


Unknown said...

"Such theology may have enabled the rise of Hitler."

Only to the degree that it has enabled every other politician (eg Churchill) to rise in a Western state.

However it is true that some Lutheran theologians in 1930s Germany (eg Werner Elert) struggled to find in *two kingdoms* theology (a) a scriptural way to question God's providence in allowing Hitler to be elected, and (b) a basis for rejecting the totalitarian state that Hitler implemented. In retrospect, the Germans erred in emphasising abstract Power where I have instead mentioned concrete principles for the restraint of chaos and malice.

My own German ancestors-- abolitionists in colonial and ante-bellum Virginia-- navigated the difficult years of the Confederacy by the stars that Calvinists know as *the doctrine of the lesser magistrates* and that Catholics know as *subsidiarity*. Doctrines of the two kingdoms are helpful for thinking scripturally about power, but they are not the only heuristics on offer.


Unknown said...

I have no idea what he himself thinks of the works of Abraham Kuyper, but ADU readers who have an affinity for Reformed theology and like James's comments may enjoy delving into them.


Anonymous said...

Well, if you want to bring up the mare's nest of Obamacare you might consider why the Obama-Biden administration sued a Catholic order of nuns to force them to provide - against their Catholic conscience - insurance cover for abortions and contraception. It's hard to think of a more blatant example of anti-Catholic animus. But that is Biden for you - a man who praised the abortion policy in China. It is no accident thst a Catholic priest in South Carolina refused him communion.
There is a chapter on the Little Sisters of the Poor in Ted Cruz's recent book "One Vote Away". Eventually the matter found its way to the US Supreme Court under the free exercise of religion clause.
Once upon a time the right was the political philosophy of authoritarianism but all that has changed in the past generation and the left have become the enthusiasts for authoritarian control over speech, expression of opinion, how you may spend your money - and what you must wear in public.
In general, the left think of themselves as the Smarter People (perhaps because so many of them inhabit social science posts in academia) and technocrats, but in practice they are no more competent or self-knowing than the right. The humiliating debacle in Afghanistan illustrates this recurring theme.


Unknown said...

Yes, James.

Whoever drafted the *contraceptive mandate* should have included a religious exemption.

Whoever planned the withdrawal from Afghanistan should have had the aircraft mechanics leave with the last rather than before everyone else. No mechanics --> No air support for the Afghan Army --> no air support, no Army --> speedy Taliban advance --> Etc.

But faulty staff work-- indeed faulty policy and faulty execution-- happen everywhere. Life is chance and change. I like politics, but nothing makes obsessing about that stuff in government healthier than it would be in the rest of life.


Anonymous said...

Yes, we can always blame underlings. The buck stops further down, as Harry S. Truman didn't say. Or as Quintilus Varus reportedly said about the Battle od the Teutoburgerwald: "Merda accidit" - "Life is chance and change".
Meanwhile the US government has gifted the Taliban the biometric details of western-friendly Afghans and 700 thousand weapons.
If there is any Afghan Christian Church left, I expect it will be martyred by September 11th.
But as a future President once said, "What difference does it make?"


Unknown said...

"You will say I lost my faith in the politicians. They all seem like game show hosts to me." Sting

As a Christian, Peter, I do feel sorry for happy warriors and their wingnut trolls, and I wish my country's two main parties were as well aligned as they once were. But I also suspect that the most consequential decisions of this moment are being made in corporations, civic organisations, metropolitan regions, and nonpartisan bureaucracies.

When civil society sorts itself out on the ground, a better national politics will follow, much as it did in this country about a century ago. In the meantime, sound and fury signify candidates raising campaign funds.

Whether that fits two kingdoms theory (obliquely the latter chapters of Romans), and the more Calvinian political theology that James mentioned, I have not decided. In this country, evangelicals who are confessionally Reformed study Abraham Kuyper, and postliberals (by definition past the brothers Niebuhr) study Stanley Hauerwas.


Father Ron said...

Contrary to the 'Oughts and Shoulds' cod-theology of some fundamentalist Christians, Pope Francis - in a public audience recently, warned against such scare-mongers; ending his talk with this pericope of wisdom:

"Let us ask for the wisdom to always be aware of this reality and to dismiss the fundamentalists who propose a life of artificial ascesis," that is, the practice of strict self-discipline "that is far removed from the resurrection of Christ."

(Anglican Hymn: "There plentiful redemption in the Blood that has been shed....!")

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, I was wondering when you were going to post those words by Francis :-)

Tonight, I am reading your favourite but unread theologian: Marguerite Porete, who was burnt at the stake in 1310. Amid the anxiety of the Avignon papacy, her uppity way with inquisitors, esoteric Mirror of Simple Souls, preaching against rationalism, influence with Beguines, and radical insistence on Love had all caused an up-Rohr in Paris.

But her Mirror of Simple Souls continued to be copied, and two years later-- probably in the residence of the inquisitor who condemned her-- Meister Eckhart read it. Porete's influence shows in his breakthrough "Poverty Sermon" (*Beati pauperes spiritu*, Sermon 87 in Walshe & McGinn).

I hope that all is well with you and SMAA.


Father Ron said...

Thank you, Bowman..Old age brings its own simplicity and economy of speech. Yes, we are in high level lockdown here in N.Z. so that. gathering for worship is limited. Looking forward to Eucharistic company with my friends. DIOCESAN SYNOD currently on ZOOM. Too complex for simple souls.Peace and All Joy.

Jonathan said...

Bowman, I am afraid I know neither Zhling, the USA, nor ancient Israel as well as many, but have a few thoughts. If I confuse what might have been the case in Zhling for what might have been the case in another far-off corner of the galaxy, my apologies. As I understand it in Zhling slavery was a civil matter and civil societies are under no obligation to follow Scripture on anything. Zhlingians of faith in Jesus are free to work towards either the reformation or abolition of slavery (as only one of many matters of deep concern to them) as some of them find themselves in positions of influence – one or two have been rather skilled novelists even, and have proved persuasive to some in that area. In the meantime, Zhlingian Jesus-leaders called for Jesus-following masters to be kind and Jesus-following slaves to work diligently, whether or not their masters are kind or harsh. But a debate may have arisen amongst Zhlingian Jesus-followers as to whether to seek the abolition - or reform - of slavery – at the very least, amongst those belonging to the Jesus community. Might the real issue not be slavery, but rather a failure to treat slaves with dignity, and as siblings-in-Jesus? It is conjectured that Zhling, like Hebrew and many other societies, had no social welfare available; and that unlike a North American country on far off Earth, their slavery was not race-based. Some Zhlingian slaves might be wondering if their masters ought – indeed must, as a matter of obedience to an authority higher than the state, release them; while some masters thought this destabilised the whole system. Some Zhleologians thought if it was good enough for God to prescribe for an ancient society over on Earth it could not be an inherently evil institution; the real issue was not to pit “love your neighbour as yourself” against more explicit instructions on how slavery ought to work but rather to make sure that abuses of the system were corrected. Other Zhleologians thought God was permitting, not prescribing slavery - a kind of accommodation to a particular context; that it was essentially a merciful set of rules, softening the cruelty seen in some versions of slavery (the Roman version, for an anachronistic example). Ultimately, these folk thought, God called on all slave owners everywhere to repent of owning slaves. Others argued the applicability or non-applicability of slave and master imagery in ancient texts. One or two even thought that Paul quoted Jesus on the matter while others argued that the 3rd to 6th verses of the 6th chapter of the 1st book to Timothy could hardly be taken to be referring to the 1st and 2nd verses; and in any case, honouring one's master didn't preclude running away if one could successfully do so without anyone facing bad consequences. They even argued over which side the little Philemon text actually supported. Scholars seemed to have polarised views on every text available, and things got quite heated. It is at this stage that my observations of Zhling (and, as mentioned, I may be confusing Zhling for another place altogether) come to an end but not my ponderings as to whether the ancient texts regard that institution as good in some contexts if used wisely, or inherently evil in all times and space, or merely permissible in the light of the hardness of human hearts.

Unknown said...

I suspect, Jonathan, that the difficulty that those interested in Jesus have on Zhling is: for them to be in Christ, they have to form a body in him, and to do that they have to overcome the natural Zhlingian love of authority and conformity to recognise themselves and each other as *persons*. That is a new way of thinking and feeling.

The more they become a household of faith where all value self-knowledge enough to repent, grow in wisdom, receive and share spiritual gifts, etc the harder it is for them to act there in their civil social roles as masters and slaves. So quite organically, novel patterns of speech and action push aside the stilted old ones of the society outside.

As others outside the circle of Jesus want whatever it is that those inside have, these bystanders feel themselves being estranged from the industrial slavery on which Zhling's whole economy depends. It intrigues and irritates them that they cannot name what inside them is changing.

So even that second hand love for the Three is subversive of the law and order of Zhling. This understandably frightens everybody who has been content, even proud, to be a unit rather than a person.

The debate over rules is much as you imagine it. But because devotion to God requires a new consciousness, that debate is missing both the root problem and the differing passions about it.

Of course, earthlings are very different from Zhlingians. Our controversies here are nothing like theirs.


Anonymous said...

Yes, earthlings are very different from Zhlingians. Earthlings still need women, I mean birthing persons, to produce new earthlings.
Unless you are US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his "husband" Chasten who have tweeted that they have become "parents" to Penelope Rose and Joseph August Buttigieg. Such tony names!
Who knew that two men could become parents absent a mother? Science is wonderful!
But who will do the chest-feeding?
Being rich, they will no doubt be able to secure a wet nurse to do this, along with the top & tailing of messy infants and the hundred other things that women instinctively do for children. Maybe a young immigrant woman grateful for the money.
But watch out, Pete and Chasten, they might start calling her "Mommy"!

No doubt Michael "All you need is love" Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (along with Pete's abortion-favoring Catholic boss), will have sent warm congratulations to Sunday school teacher (and ex-Catholic) Pete. Curry wil be delighted to learn that (some) Episcopal churches still have Sunday schools (whatever they teach the kids).

If you are struck by the weirdness and unseemliness (nay, sinfulness) of this story - that rich men can hire a womb to satisfy their desires, that motherhood is made into a commodity instead of a gift from God, that children should be brought into the world with the express adult male intention of them not having a mother, and that the chattering classes should praise them for this - then you are acknowledging that natural law and conscience still have some sway in the post-Christian west, despite the best efforts of modernity to kill them.

I can only imagine how the Taliban - who found a rainbow flag in the trashcan in the US embassy and have become experts at trolling on social media - will spin this story of "new American Christian values" for September 11th.