Sunday, April 2, 2023

It's Passiontide … how certain may we be about the truth of the cross? (2/3)

The curses of Twitter are often noted, espcially now it mediates with musky tones. But there are blessings. One recent one has been a reference to an Australian artist I had never heard of before, Clarice Beckett. Extraordinary. Relevant to Holy Week is a link noticed this morning to a post by Diana Butler Bass, The Holy Thursday Revolution

Another fairly common blessing is notices of books. 

Yesterday a Tweet alerted me to a recent book prefaced by Cardinal Burke* and afterworded by Cardinal Sarah - an Anglican equivalent would be prefaced by the Archbishop of Nigeria and the concluding word would be by the Archbishop of Uganda. 

This book is The Faith Once for All Delivered: Doctrinal Authority in Catholic Theology edited by Kevin L Flannery with 13 contributors. It has in its sights theologians such as Rahner and Kasper and its great concern is the lifting of the anchor of Catholic theology, especially post Vatican 2, from the objective doctrine of the church, deposited once and for all in Scripture and Tradition. That lifting of anchor is through the unwelcome efforts of Kant, Hegel, and the nouvelle theologie of the first half of the 20th century. Thus this comment is made by Pecknold, and recited in the Introduction:

“Maritain’s early worry that ‘the new theologians’ were playing the early Church Fathers to the music of Hegel has proven prescient.” [Location 229/762 in the Kindle sample of the book which I downloaded for free].

Ironically (with philosophers Hegel and Kant in view as enemies of sound doctrine) the key to sound doctrine which threads through the Introduction is that theology-and-philosophy is critical to maintaining the faith. Thus a sharp jibe concerning Kasper’s theology is made:

“Stark neatly summarizes the consequences of Kasper’s line of thinking by concluding that “in theology politics is slowly replacing philosophy.” “ [Location 260/762 in the Kindle sample]

“Politics” here means theology undertaken with a view to the hsitorical circumstances of the day and thus with the possibility that the consensus of today’s faithful might be different from yesterday’s.

The first half of the book can be summarised as:

“ the negative effects of German idealism on Catholic theology throughout the twentieth century, in particular, of the doctrinal and moral relativism produced by the influence of historicism.” [Location 355/762 in the Kindle sample]

The second half sets out the way forward to avert doctrinal disaster. Topics include the Magisterium, development of doctrine, the sense and consensus of the faithful, the apostolicity and historicity of Scripture, and the (limited) role of bishops meeting in national conferences.

Of course, the great target through the book is the Pope himself. The Introduction implies that throughout the essays in the book, no opportunity to state that popes are not above criticism is left unstated!

As best I can see, from reading the Introduction, the thesis of the book is that there is sure and certain doctrine held by the church which is in grave danger of being revised and deconstructed by theologians who have lost sight of the - in this case, Catholic - basics of knowing and maintaining “the faith once for all delivered.”

All good then?

Not really, in my view, and working only from the Introduction, per my free Kindle sample download, it is interesting that a lot of emphasis is placed on being sure and certain that Scripture is without grave problems as a clear repository of doctrine because (e.g.) the questions raised by modern critical approaches to the Bible can be waved away. 

Yet the very fact of needing to restate what the Magisterium is (and is not) and what different levels of magisterial-speak mean supposes that we cannot be (and, indeed, never have been) sure and certain about the teaching of Scripture since it is not even intuitively clear what authority (in this case, the Magisterium) constitutes the uncontested authority to determine what the teaching of Scripture is. 

In this respect, we must always remember, whether we are Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox that on the most basic issue of doctrine, the nature of God in relation to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit, the church took centuries to settle the “faith once for all delivered.”

With reference to a parallel in the Protestant world, I also refer readers to recent comments to the post below re Nostalgia. What are "confessional" statements but tributes to the failure of Scripture to be "sure and certain" on various matters?

We might, then, this Passiontide, also reflect on another matter of basic doctrine: the truth of the cross. What was and is the meaning of the cross, or, what was it that Christ achieved through his death and resurrection?

Now, let's get something straight at the beginning: Scripture, via the Gospels and Epistles, with a significant helping hand from Isaiah, teaches many things about Christ's salvific work on the cross. It is not in doubt that many things are taught. Nor is it in doubt that each such thing is inordinately, indeed eternally valuable. Nor is it in doubt that Scripture teaches that through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, the possibility of salvation exists for all who respond to Jesus Christ in faith.

What is at question is whether Scripture yields one definitive or "sure and certain" theory of atonement.

What does Scripture say? (With NRSV as translation used unless otherwise indicated.)

First, we might note that the Gospels themselves are pretty coy about what Jesus himself said about the meaning of his imminent execution. 

Matthew and Mark emphasise that Jesus died, according to his own words, "to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28//Mark 10:45). But what is meant by ransom (normally meaning the price paid to set a slave free)? 

Luke 21:28 refers to a future "redemption" (without explicitly associating that with Jesus' death on the cross) and reports to us that after the resurrection, Jesus twice refers to the cross as necessary suffering the Messiah had to undergo (24:26, 46). (We might note that in Peter's Pentecost sermon, the purpose of Jesus' death seems to be that his being raised from the dead is the greatest of all the signs and wonders associated with Jesus). 

John makes the strongest link between the death of Jesus and its consequences for our wrongdoing. In John 1, Jesus is "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29, cf. 1:36) and in John 18-19, Jesus dies at the hour the lambs for the Passover feast are being sacrificed.** Yet in John 10, where Jesus speaks of his being the shepherd who "lays down his life for the sheep" (10:11, 15), there is no explicit explanation of how this sacrifice brings life (10:10) or salvation (10:9) to the sheep. 

John is quite allusive to the meaning of the cross. On it some kind of work is done ("It is finished", 19:30), but what is that work? On the cross, God is glorified and thus the cross is, somehow, a testimony to the truth which God reveals in Jesus (see, e.g. the high priestly prayer of Jesus in chapter 17). Finally, in his death, Jesus expresses the love of God (3:16) and exemplifies the way of love for his followers (part of the point of the washing of his disciples' feet in chapter 13).

Of course the clearer understanding of Jesus' death comes when we open up the key epistolary commentary on the Gospel according to John, the epistle bearing John's name, finding these helpful words:

"But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) - with "atoning sacrifice" translating hilasmos = expiation; or propitiation (ESV) (also 4:10).

Generally, the epistles are "the" Scriptural providers of interpretation of the meaning of the cross. Some examples - by no means an exhaustive set:

1 Peter 2 is pretty clear that 

"Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps" (21)


"He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed" (24).

We may note that the second meaning of the cross for Peter does not take us deep into "how" we are freed from our sins or healed by his wounds.

Hebrews, especially through chapters 9 and 10, is more detailed in its understanding of the cross. There Jesus, our great high priest offers himself as a permanent and complete sacrifice for our sins, understood with the Mosaic law to mean that we are sanctified or cleansed from our sins. A few verses only cited here, such as:

"he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption" (9:12)

"But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9:26)

"For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (10:14)

"Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, ... let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (10:19-22).

Ephesians 2 proposes a different understanding, with an emphasis on "reconciliation": between humanity and God, and simultaneously between humanity's two groups, Jews and Gentiles:

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace: in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us ... that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death than hostility through it." (2:13-16)

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul writes about how his readers were once "dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived" but now they have been "made ... alive together with Christ" (2:1, 5) while not spelling out exactly how this is so. Even though "wrath" is mentioned in 2:3, there is no sense, here, that God has punished Christ in our place.

And, bien sur, Romans where 3:21-26 sets out, in the context of why the law and obedience to it counts for little and faith counts for much, how Jesus has justified and redeemed us through becoming "a sacrifice of atonement" or hilasterion (a means of propitiation (ESV) ; a means of expiation (REB; NEB) - also used at Hebrews 9:5 = "mercy seat" -  and Romans 5 follows through with:

"Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God" (9)

Finally, we should note a theme which has already appeared above, redemption or the sense that we have been slaves to sin and now through Christ's death we have been redeemed from that slavery. So, one example, Colossians 1:13-14:

"He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

Other "redemption" examples include Galatians 3-4 and 1 Peter 1:18-19, while the whole of Romans 6-7 is focused on our freedom from slavery to sin without the word 'redemption" appearing.

In summary, Scripture proposes a wonderful, richly themed account of what Christ achieves on the cross: salvation in which we are justified, we are made righteous, we are redeemed, we are forgiven, we are reconciled to God. Yet, if we press Scripture hard and ask questions such as "to whom is a ransom paid? To Satan? If so, why would God be beholden to that snake?" or "How is our forgiveness from sin and reconciliation with God achieved - is it by propitiating or by expiating God's wrath against us?" or "Is it Christ's death on the cross alone which saves us, or Christ's death-and-resurrection?" then Scripture is not as comprehensive and full of detail as we might like it to be so that we had utter clarity in the answers. There is a mystery in the death and resurrection of Jesus: we can be certain of what it achieves (our salvation) and not quite so certain of how that is achieved.

Moreover, a bit like what Scripture says in relation to the relationship between God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the statements relevant to these questions are here and there across many writings in Scripture. There is no definitive teaching about salvation to be found in one writing only. Hebrews, Romans and Galatians come close, but our understanding of salvation is illuminated by other passages - in the Gospels, in 1 Peter and 1 John (per citings above) and elsewhere, and could we be as rich and deep in our understanding if we only had one of Hebrews, Romans or Galatians?

So, I don't buy the confidence The Faith Once for All Delivered has in the apostolicity and historicity of Scripture as though it provides some uncontestable space for theology to begin and doctrinal development to take place, providing we do not let the Kants and Hegels cloud our minds.

I do understand the human desire for clarity in teaching and certainty and conviction in what we are meant to believe, whether we are among the brainiest of current Catholic theologians or the oh so very crisply toned English rebels in London who a few days ago announced a piece de (literal) resistance to the CofE bishops by setting up a "deanery" because of their certainty that the bishops are wrong on a matter.

But can we be so certain when Scripture is a complex amalgam of writings, with varied themes and emphases, and, however uncomfortable it is to acknowledge, a lack of a sentence or two on many matters which, if made, would have saved (and would save) the church hundreds of years of debate!

Is the calling of Jesus to follow him accompanied by a promise of clarity and certainty on what to think? Are disciples of Jesus better disciples because they learn all the propositions they are meant to believe (whether as rationalistic evangelicals or rationalistic Catholics) and hold steadfastly to them no matter what?

The call of Jesus, in gospel reality, seems to be much more a call to follow Jesus through storms and into controversies with the only certainty being that Jesus will always be in the storms and in the controversies. 

The propositions of our faith are helpful but they may not get us to where God is leading us. Peter thought he had discipleship sewn up in a neat rational "for the Jews only" package, until he encountered God and Cornelius. Paul knew the propositions of his faith forwards and backwards. Then he met Jesus!

There are many certainties in Scripture - that we are saved, that God is the God who identifies with Jesus Christ the Son and with the Holy Spirit, etc - but there are also uncertainties, some of which have been so worked on that the universal church proposes through the creeds what we may be sure of (e.g. that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and some of which, despite assertions of "we are certain" are not quite there as universal dogma (Does the Spirit proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son?).

This mix of certainty and uncertainty, I suggest, is also true of moral theology (a significant concern of The Faith Once for All Delivered). We can be certain that God intends for marriage to be lifelong and not asundered and less sure what we are to do when a marriage breaks and there is a divorce (again, note differences between Western and Eastern Christianity, and within Western Christianity). We can be certain that killing is wrong, that beginning a war is consequentially wrong, and less sure whether, when invaded, we should fight back or not, or, if pressed to join the military we should do so as Christians or not.

Finally, to the matter at hand, we may be sure that God in Christ loved us so much that on the cross he died for us, that we might live an abundant life for eternity, saved from sin, redeemed from the clutch of the evil one, cleansed and made whole through the high priestly sacrifice of the Great High Priest, a matter made sure by the resurrection on the third day.

To the resurrection the next post will turn. A blessed Holy Week to all readers.

I can't usually find the time to make such a long post but the last few days have unexpectedly granted me some spare time!

*As an illustrative case of why this same Cardinal might be wrong when he is sure that he is right, and, in particular, that history (the new appreciation of the equality of women with men) may affect our understanding of some matters, see Bosco Peters' post on Burke's resolute opposition to girls/women in the sanctuary.

**I leave aside here the question of how a lamb takes away sin when the Mosaic law speaks of a "scapegoat" taking sins into the wilderness, and the Passover sacrifice of lambs commemorates Israel's release from slavery in Egypt.


Mark Murphy said...

Is there such a thing called "Scripture" at all?

"What is at question is whether Scripture yields one definitive or "sure and certain" theory of atonement.

What does Scripture say?" (+Peter, above)

Isn't it clearer, more honest, and more representative of the many biblical authors, literatures, witnesses, and ideas contained within these, to speak of *scriptures*, *the Christian scriptures*....rather than this capitalized, singular entity called "Scripture"?

Then it is easier to say: there are many different views of the cross, many different authors, eye witnesses, and theories of atonement.


"Is the calling of Jesus to follow him accompanied by a promise of clarity and certainty on what to think?" (+Peter)

Jesus seemed to spend very little time explaining his ideas, if you can even call what he preached ideas. They're more announcements, parables, dialogues, right? He "speaks" more through what he does, and through what he refuses to say, right?

The idea of a Magisterium being set up and perpetually funded to authoritatively detail, clarify, and explain Christ's teachings and life, let alone tackle Hegel and Kant....I don't know if that would have left Jesus the carpenter's son cold to the core or rolling around in laughter.


"At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants...".


The 'meaning of the cross' only emerges by living it, by undergoing it, right?

Is only revealed to "infants"?

MsLiz said...

An abundance of learning for me here, +Peter. Many thanks!

Is only revealed to "infants"? ~Mark Murphy

Now I'm wondering if the "pure spiritual milk" of 1 Peter 2:2 refers to learning the "certain" things which are easier to digest and suitable for infants.

Uncertainties are a challenge for us. Cf Hebrews 5:11-14 re "practice" and becoming more discerning:

11 About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing.

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,

13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness.

14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

~NRSV Updated Edition, Bible Gateway

How does one read these words? To individuals, to the church ... to both? (I'd tend to think both). Anyone care to help me out?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Mark and Liz
Two brief responses:

Mark: "Scripture" refers to the Bible/Holy Scripture/the collection of specific scriptures which the church has accepted as a collected whole (and which, for some of us in the church at least, is the collection of writings that we are required to preach from).

Liz: I think it could apply to individuals and to a group. I am not sure that that passage applied to what I am saying: some of the most mature Christians are happy to live with the mystery at the edge of understanding; some of the newest of Christians dive deeply into specific theories of atonement, or explanations of the mystery of the Trinity. Is maturity a stage we reach when we recognise what we do not yet know rather than a stage we reach when we have acquired a great level of doctrinal expertise?

Moya said...

I read a Collect this morning in Anglican Mission’s ‘Partners in Prayer’ (Day 1), that seemed appropriate to +Peter’s post and the comments. “You O God are the living Word, you elude us, yet surprise us by your presence: encourage us to seek you and let our searching help others find their way; through Jesus Christ “.
PS I loved The Holy Thursday Revolution!

MsLiz said...

"Is maturity a stage we reach when we recognise what we do not yet know rather than a stage we reach when we have acquired a great level of doctrinal expertise?"

Thanks for teasing this out +Peter.. yes, I think that's where I was trying to get to but struggled for words.

e.g. what I encountered at TEC challenged what I *thought* I knew based on what I grew up with and it was an effort to open up to new ways of understanding. But then having opened up, I struggled with the statements of those who want to define for us what's "orthodox" and "faithful" according to their perception of "biblical authority". Obviously the voices on all sides are far more "expert" than I'll ever be.. so it's confusing!

"The propositions of our faith are helpful but they may not get us to where God is leading us." I think this is what I need to lean into. This, along with your examples of Peter and Paul, encourage me to worry less about the conflicting views that trouble me. Their definition of "faithful" simply doesn't accord with mine and in any case, God knows my heart.

Anonymous said...

"voices on all sides"

I agree with + Peter.

If one has to choose, it is better to be faithful in the dogmatic minimum than to be merely opinionated or even expert in one of the systems. The creed is enough.

If one has an office of some kind-- librarian, evangelist, cook, abbess, bursar, spiritual director, iconographer, groundskeeper, missionary, cellarer, pope, etc-- then a theory of its effectual authority can be a useful tool for the job. Otherwise, why think about authority at all when it is so much better to think about God?

If you are trying to solve a problem that God has put before you, then learn all that you must to find the solution. But (so say old manuals) there is a spiritual chastity in not letting others make their own problems your problems.

St Matthew xvi, St John xx


MsLiz said...

Thanks BW. Matthew 16 reminds me how disciple-Peter was all over the place - I find that comforting.. blessed by Jesus for saying Jesus is the Messiah, rebuked by Jesus for being a hindrance. "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!" seems right on topic for me, and then the unforgettable "If any wish to come after me..."

I wasn't disagreeing with +Peter but rather pondering whether spiritual maturity is perhaps characterised by being increasingly open to new/unexpected understandings (while being less inclined to be dogmatic about what is or isn't "evil").

I was formed in dogmatic maximum so it's a built-in problem but if one follows Jesus in a genuine way then I suspect it's natural to shed much of that and to increasingly embrace dogmatic minimum - which seems to be the way I'm heading. With care.

Anonymous said...

"appropriate to +Peter’s post"

This week, Moya, two for the price of one!

About the introduction to the collection, + Peter is right. It is not strong. Having read a few of the contributors elsewhere, I suspect that some of the essays rise above that beginning.

Beware. Gazing across any wide divide, there is a risk that one will indiscriminately polarize to the far extreme anything across the center line. The same thing happens in reverse when an embittered enemy of SSM cannot distinguish + Peter's centrist position from whatever extreme frightens people these days.

Looking at neo-traditional Catholics, I see the noonday sun streaming through the gap between Joseph Ratzinger, who defended the Enlightenment and used critical scholarship, and those who think that a critique of modernity exempts them from even considering it. If a car runs over an armadillo crossing the road, backing up the car will not bring the critter back to life.


Anonymous said...

Bowman, have you actually read Benedict XVI's three-volume "Jesus of Nazareth", as I have?
If you have, you will find there is hardly any historical argument in it that a contemporary evangelical wouldn't also make.
I encourage you to read the books if you haven't done so. It is really very, very far away from what we normally mean by "Enlightenment scholarship" - a very 18th/ early 19th stream of thought that rejects miracles, Incarnation and a lot of other Christian doctrines. Ratzinger never privileged human reason over revelation, a basic principle of the Enlightenment.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz

Try this--

I have not read Renihan's book, and have no reason to think that it is not solid.
However, I do note that his study is addressed to the Reformed.

Being cheerfully dogmatic, I usually start with the origin of a dogma and work forward in time rather than starting with a modern system and trying to squeeze the thought-form of another human epoch into it. Not only is that much easier to do well, but it allows one to see neglected dogmas like the descent as organic parts of a whole.

You may find, as I and others have, that the creeds are all that you truly need.
The rest is icing on the cake, if it's good, gilt on the lily if it's not.


Anonymous said...

"does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son?"

The rabbis denied that there was a third throne in heaven alongside the two in Daniel vii. So to them the Holy Spirit was either a creature, or thinking of Genesis i the companion of Proverbs viii, or an emanation like the *sefirot* of Kabbalah.

Incredible as it seems to Jews and Christians today, scholars of Judaica like Daniel Boyarin and Peter Schaefer have shown that this, not the incarnation, was the point where the rabbis and fathers parted ways After all, bar Kochba was also described as a divine man.

To the fathers, the resurrection showed the Holy Spirit to be, not enthroned in heaven alongside the Father and Son, but active in the earth. This comported with the scriptures, but could leave the impression that there are two gods. Defining the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and his equal worship and glory clarified this reality. Hence the anathema on any who tamper with the creed there.

The provincial Council of Toledo and the papal interpolation departed from the biblical and ecumenical conversation. True? Even if so, bad precedent and perhaps confusing.


MsLiz said...

Thanks so much BW, the link you shared looks marvellous!

"I usually start with the origin of a dogma and work forward in time"

That makes sense but I'm not an academic and I'm unsure how to "start with the origin" of Christ's descent. Given it's in the Apostles Creed and based on OT and NT verses I guess there's some really old writings on the subject - is that what you means - going WAY back?

"descent as organic parts of a whole"

Yes, definitely that's how I'd like to understand it. My enthusiasm for this got a big boost when I looked into eph ho that you told me about so the overall context of life/death is very interesting for me!

"You may find, as I and others have, that the creeds are all that you truly need."

Starting with the Nicene? Should I memorise the words? I'm unsure how to approach or relate to the creeds because they've not been part of my experience before.

MsLiz said...

BW, I looked at Proverbs 8 that you mentioned in (4:51)

This is great! especially 34-36:

Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.

For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,

but those who miss me injure themselves;
all who hate me love death.

Why would one listen, watch daily, and wait unless one anticipates ongoing revelation?

[I'm not sure if "revelation" is the word I should choose but please bear with me]

What I'm trying to get at is this.. isn't this the very definition of "faithful"?

~listening, watching daily, waiting (and therefore I assume, expecting!)

Anonymous said...

Bowman comments: "To the fathers, the resurrection showed the Holy Spirit to be, not enthroned in heaven alongside the Father and the Son but active in the earth.'

Really? I suspect that would have been news to St Basil when he wrote 'On the Holy Spirit'; or to his successors, since prayer in the Orthodox Church regularly begins with the invocation of the Holy Spirit:

“O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things, and Giver of life: come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every sin, and save our souls, O Good One!”

Western Christians may not be familiar with calling the Holy Spirit 'Heavenly King;, but the Orthodox certainly are.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz

Busier day, quicker answers.


You may be searching for the idea *illumination*. Either way, you are talking about something that God does, but saying that you have received a *revelation* sounds as though he has sent you angels with golden tablets announcing a new covenant for the cosmos when all that you probably mean to say is that he has given you insight into something already revealed. Less latinate words for *illumination* include *showings* (Julian of Norwich) and *openings* (Quakers).

"listening, watching daily, waiting"

Yes, illumination is ordinary for disciples. But persons of very different mindsets have been exemplary disciples, each illumined in ways that obliquely show as much about them as about God. In contrast with say Julian who experienced the crucifixion for herself and wrote theological commentary on it there are people with active and rather concrete mindsets who dream few dreams but feel God opening paths of service for them.

Spiritual direction is concerned to help each singular disciple recognize the illumination that actually comes, and is helped by scraping away expectations and stereotypes irrelevant to a particular soul's openness to God. This seems to be characteristically Christian in that analogous relationships in other religions are didactic rather than discerning.

"going WAY back"

No and yes. No, we should start with our own baptism, and the creed is the verbal link between that and the post-Pentecost apostles. So daily recitation of the Apostles' Creed with the sign of the cross enacts a return to baptism that has been recognized as a spiritual discipline for as far back as we can see. It is embedded in the daily office. Romans v-viii is a good place to explore all that.

Did the apostles sit in a meeting, appoint a working group to write a creed, debate the text, take a vote, etc? That is very hard to imagine, but it is not what the attribution means to believers. From the sub-apostolic age it has been associated with their ministry and received as inspired by God.

If we must have an origin fable, let it be that the creed evolved from the earliest baptismal rites. If we are saved through participation in the body and Body of Jesus, then this has intrinsic authority.

(People who understand that are sometimes called *catholics* as distinct from others who suppose that they are saved in an entirely individual transaction independent of participation.)

Yes? A return to one's own baptism as understood by the people who first baptized requires some recovery of what they meant in doing that.


Mark Murphy said...

I love the English language of *showings* (Julian) and *openings* (Fox), to which I'd add my own *whispers*.

Let's not forget *dreams*, too.

It's a bit easier to wake up in these words than in *illumination* or *enlightenment*.

Waiting at the gate, I once heard these are all "revelation", "revelations", so the revelation- illumination distinction seems false to me. N. B.: this is view has not yet been approved by councils or the magisterium, but who can wait?!

What will we been shown, opened to, about the cross this Easter?

MsLiz said...

Thanks for your help, Bowman. Much appreciated.

Mark Murphy said...

Yes, lovely Liz. That's the journey...into the heart of us and God. Not wanting to be unnecessarily provocative, but, personally speaking, creeds and councils, let alone magisteria, are quite unhelpful for this - for me at least, for me *now*, as well as for many in my generation and younger. I'm not even sure if Theology and Scripture is that helpful for me anymore (so perhaps I should stop commenting here as don't want to sour it for others).

MsLiz said...

Mark, I love the diversity of voices on ADU so please just keep being you! I know by far the least here and a few dissenting opinions won't sour anything for me if I detect a hint of sweetness...

The sated appetite spurns honey,
but to a ravenous appetite even the bitter is sweet.

~amazing what one finds in the scripture(s)

Anonymous said...

"stop commenting"

"With respect to religion, we are more wise in what we affirm than in what we deny." -- usually attributed to Frederick Denison Maurice, but sometimes to W R Inge and William Temple. A true maxim gets around.

William James was right: there is no existential knowledge of a religion before one has staked one's existence on it.


MsLiz said...

Final verse of a poem I read tonight, in a newsletter from Diana Butler Bass
From A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


Anonymous said...

"the diversity of voices on ADU ... a hint of sweetness..."

Yes-- and well said-- but the more diverse the voices, the more and better common ground they need to be mutually intelligible. As pluralism deepens and media become global (a) the scope of postmodern Christian conversation has outrun the stock of religious ideas known by ordinary modern churchgoers, (b) there is a reflex to sort basic, perennial and ecumenical ideas to one or another pole of some culture war, and (c) That Topic hogs attention and reduces intelligence. Understandably, those who wish not just to comment for comment's sake but to communicate with other minds are not sure how to do it .

So trolling aside, our own diversifying voices are heard with due sweetness but alas too little understanding and empathy, and the more directly they speak about life in God the less they are heard or mentioned. Thankfully, the spirits here are willing, but churchly discourse is historically and dangerously weak.

What can we do? As always, believe Colossians i 15-20, esp 17, and make his peace.

+ Peter himself has written more and more often about the common ground of that discourse. Writing OPs like those requires much more time and energy. Thank him when you have a chance!


In no particular order, these plates of *amuse-bouche* sit on a table where Mark's edgiest comments over the last year would have a chair. This is not to say that he agrees with every opinion expressed-- how would I know?-- and indeed several are simply reports of contrasting perspectives.

But in moments when he is leaning hard on George Fox to make a point, I sense that it is not Quakerism for Quakers that Mark is talking about but the *ground* of non-scholastic theology retrieved for the West by the *nouvelle theologie*, chronicled by Jean Leclerq, expounded in his wider synthesis by Josef Ratzinger, and sometimes championed here in its Fransciscan mood by the late Father Ron Smith.

Because it is a common ground for friends rather than a polarized position for haters, we should not be surprised that those who occupy it disagree on ephemeral matters. Occupying it with Mark would not guarantee agreement with him, but it would give his intuitions place, respect, and clarity.

Mark himself has probably not read this diverse company, and he presumably disagrees with some of it some of the time. So how can this possibly represent his views?

It doesn't. It points to intelligible conversation about the realities that Mark talks about. The wind bloweth where it listeth...

LTR Marguerite Porete, Free Spirit

LTR Hesychasm in Orthodoxy


Bernard McGinn How to compare the mysticisms of different religions

Francis X Clooney SJ Reading Hindu and Christian Classics. Respondents: Jon D Levenson, Sarah Coakley.


SoU with Justin Sledge Is Mysticism Rational?

EJS Are mystical experiences true? Can gnosis be trusted?


GJAK Three Ages of the Spiritual Life

Simon Oliver La Nouvelle Theologie


Christine Hayes Divine Law: Two Concepts, Three Responses

Yuval Mann Zevi Slavin on Sex, Kabbalah, Mysticism


Is all that my position? No. Again, a ground is not anyone's position. My own comments at the edge of ADU are nearer to figures both famous and obscure who have dug into this ground toward the roots of the tree of life, and climbed up to the treetops of interfaith scholasticism.


Anonymous said...


MsLiz said...

"Thank him when you have a chance!"

Timely advice BW, earlier this morning I read through +Peter's post again and I am deeply grateful. What stood out for me this time through is " an abundant life.." ~I'm keen to study more about life/death. Thanks very much, +Peter!

"That's the journey...into the heart of us and God." Loved this, thanks Mark.

Further to the verse I shared above.. "For it is important that awake people be awake,.." : this morning I came across a quote from Merton in an article:

This hyper-vigilance need not be restricted to Easter alone. As Thomas Merton memorably put it, “The spiritual life is . . . first of all a matter of keeping awake.” Nothing else of significance can happen if we sleepwalk through our spiritual lives.

~selected from

Moya said...

‘What will we have been shown, opened to, about the cross this Easter?’

I had a deeply moving experience in our parish Good Friday service of readings and songs today. The focus began with the curtain of the Temple and the climax of the Passion story was its tearing from top to bottom at Jesus’ death. This entry allowed into the Holy of Holies, in fact into the very heart of the presence of God, was a profound revelation of what the death of Jesus truly accomplished for us.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Anonymous said...

Isn't the rending of the curtain an astonishing sign? To Caiaphas, Jesus had just alluded to Daniel vii and Psalm cx. Now the tear shows the high priest both that he has undone his own temple by making Christ the new temple, and also that all in the Israel of this strange Messiah can enter his new holy of holies. Heaven now touches earth in another place by another way.


MsLiz said...

Interesting article shared by Kristin Du Mez via Twitter (she's quoted in the article, among many others).. very American focus.. in The Wall Street Journal.

Title--Our Many Jesuses--At a time of shrinking church membership, Jesus remains a uniquely powerful and popular figure in American culture. The great divide is over what he stands for.

The essay is based on the 'He Gets Us' advertising campaign and discusses the many ways in which Jesus is (and has been) portrayed.

Anonymous said...

The Lord is risen indeed!
Paschal blessings to this community - remember always that the Risen Lord has conquered sin and death - and even $ecular Manhattan, $ex-mad Hollywood and $elf-obsessed Disneyland (the other pseudo hypostases of the ersatz American religion that Bowman forgot to mention). Yes, everything in American life really does begin with the dollar sign and there is no sin you can't turn into $in.
But there is no sin - even materialism and self-worship - that the Risen Lord cannot overcome.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

MsLiz said...

BW, thanks for the overview. A few years ago I read Strangers in their own land by Arlie Hochschild and I think that may've sparked my curiosity re US so I first got interested in Louisiana, then kept reading.

Before watching your Jeff Sharlet link I did a search to remind me who he is and found a radio interview (Wisconsin, 03 April) - so listened to both - and if you get a chance you might like to try it.

He talks about flags at one point, describing/explaining an American flag in shades of black. I'd never heard of it before. Yikes. Mind you, I don't think anything surprises me any more :(