Monday, June 29, 2009

After "Constantianism" Supposedly Established, St. Ambrose Excommunicates Caesar

Sometimes our formulations are too easy. When Protestants do history I think we should be especially on guard because, let's face it, our propensity is to slough off the effort from a long tradition of neglect of history between Augustine and Luther, or beyond. For instance, in the case of the charge that since Constantine the church has succumbed to "Constantinianism" and "doing ethics for Caesar" has to be mitigated if not thrown out when actual intricacies of history are look at seriously. Take for instance the following case which occurred almost 90 years after Constantine has become emperor:

"When, in the year 390, Saint Ambrose excommunicated the Christian Theodosius for his massacre in Thessalonika, he was holding Caesar accountable to the ethics of the Church". A more correct view seems to be the following:

"The history of the relations between the church and the state in the Middle Ages is a history of a long dispute waged with wavering fortune on either side. Extravagant claims on one side called forth equally extravagant claims on the other. The Eraastianism of post-Reformation settlements was the answer to earlier imperiousness on the other side" (p. 34, American Babylon, 2009, Richard John Neuhaus).

Dorothy Sayers and Christian Economics

“...Sayers would have agreed that the housing meltdown was, at base, a moral failure. The belief that it was not merely reasonable, but virtuous, to want that which you could not afford would have struck her as preposterous as well as sinful...Moreover, Sayers would have identified envy as the sin at the heart of left-wing critiques of capitalism. "If avarice is the sin of the Haves against the Have-Nots," Sayers reminded her audience, "Envy is the sin of the Have-Nots against the Haves," and therefore "can always find support among those who are just and generous-minded." We are as familiar as Sayers with these plausible plaints, but Sayers recognized in envy a deeper and more subtle evil, in which the spirit of vindictiveness masquerades as righteous indignation. ”

“...Her address to the Council Sayers entitled "The Other Six Deadly Sins," in which she berated the churches’ concentration on lust. Sayers took avarice and held it to the light, with results that must have been unpleasant to the more reflective audience members. "The Church says covetousness is a deadly sin—but does she really think so? Is she ready to found welfare societies to deal with financial immorality as she does with sexual immorality," Sayers mused, rhetorically asking "does the Church arrange services, with bright congregational singing, for total abstainers from usury?"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Christ's Face a "Very Present Pledge of Salvation"

“...we lack nothing for an abundance of all good things and for assurance of salvation so long as the Lord is our God. And rightly so! For if his face, the moment that it has shone forth, is a very present pledge of salvation, how can he manifest himself to a man as his God without also opening to him the treasures of His salvation? He is our God on this condition: that he dwell among us, as he has testified through Moses [Lev. 26:11]. But one cannot obtain such a presence of him without, at the same time, possessing life. “ -John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, CH. X, Section 8.

Here is another surprising (for me) little meadow opening up in Calvin's prose, a familiar theme, one that should be familiar I think to every Christian: the face of Christ. It is hard for me to imagine a person truly looking into Christ's face in comprehension and yet thinking there might be others of equal value. I am forced by love to think of their minds as darkened.

The present intimacy with Christ cannot really be sectioned off. But I think there is a place for contemplation of the future and of the past within this present intimacy. The past in seeking to allow God to shape your life into a story worth telling, the future in memento mori, etc. both to clear up one's judgment and thereby clear up the capacity to see Christ.

Calvin's reflection from Scripture on the Christ's face as the very present pledge of salvation is hymned in a beautiful poem by John Donne, one of the peaks of the English language:

by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
    Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
    And do run still, though still I do deplore?
        When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
                    For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
    Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
    A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
        When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
                    For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
    My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
    Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
        And having done that, Thou hast done ;
                    I fear no more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Contemplation in God of Neighbor

“We ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in themselves. When we turn aside from such contemplation, it is no wonder we become entangled in many errors. Therefore, if we rightly direct our love, we must first turn our eyes not to man, the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love, but to God, who bids us extend to all men the love we bear to him, that this may be an unchanging principle: whatever the character of the man, we must love him because we love God.” -John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, CH. VIII, Section 55.

[A succinct formulation of a basic teaching of Christianity...The contemplation of all in God. “In a single feeling of love” - an inner disposition we learn from continual remembrance and communion. ..."the sight of whom would more often engender hate than love" sounds something of a misanthropic note. Perhaps I would feel more the same if for instance a close friend of my youth was burned at the stake for espousing views deemed heretical (as was Calvin's friend). Regardless if we commiserate with the starkness of Calvin's formulation and the hard sentiment, he rightly points the way to love the wellspring of love, that same one as natural human love, but deepened, clarified and revealed.

True Courage: Advancing Toward the Horror Knowing

“Fortitude presumes to a certain extent that a man is afraid of evil; its essence does not consist in knowing no fear but rather in not allowing himself to be compelled by fear into evil or to fail to accomplish the good. Anyone who ventures into some danger, even for the sake of the good, without realizing how dangerous it is, or out of an impulsive optimism ('Nothing is going to happen to me'), or with a well-founded confidence in his own power and capacity for struggle does not yet have the virtue of fortitude. The possibility of being courageous in the true sense comes about only when all those apparent or genuine elements of security fail, that is, when the natural man fears for himself; indeed, not when he fears for himself out of baseless anxiety, but rather when, on the basis of clear perception of the true state of matters, he cannot do otherwise- as it were, with good reason- but fear for himself. Whoever in such a situation of unqualified seriousness, in the face of which any miles gloriosus (glorious soldier) falls mute and every heroic gesture becomes crippled, nonetheless advances toward the horror and does not allow himself to be prevented from doing the good, specifically for the sake of the good and thus finally for the sake of God, not out of ambition or out of fear of being taken for a coward: that person is truly courageous.” -Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, pgs. 26-27.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tasting Truth As It Is

"A wiseman is one to whom things taste as they are". A saying from the Middle Ages. I pause here to steal a moment of free form reflection. Implied in the statement is an oughtness to taste. What is rejected is the kind of rejection of judgment of taste by some forms of utilitarianism such as that of Sedgwick.

What this and all my subsequent reflections must not be is a perishing into mere words, a kind of low mental rearranging of words, outside of the purview of life. Modern vogue ways of knowing seem largely to adopt an Enlightement division of knowledge and action and, as Hamann noted of Mendelssohn, tend to cut them into two dead halves. That is a splitting of prudence right down the middle in the name of knowledge.

I think implied in the quote is a view of wisdom which encompasses the soul and emotions. Right emotions in the face of things. But all this is rather convicting (and probably hard to follow). One can talk about virtue but actually trieing to live virtuously is, to one bent, monstrous. Beyond sorting through the facts and getting to controlling principles there is a deeper place in which virtue has its roots. It is that deeper face that provides the context for the virtuous principles. Otherwise, the abstract principles are just deadly. The touch of the Spirit of God provides the context out of which order may arise.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Mere Knowledge of Scripture

“'Bible Religion' is both the recognized title and the best description of the English religion. It consists not in rites or in creeds, but mainly in having the Bible read in Church, in the family, in private. Now I am far indeed from undervaluing that mere knowledge of Scripture which is imparted to the population thus promiscuously. At least in England, it has to a certain point made up for great and grievous losses in its Christianity. The reiteration again and again, in fixed course in the public service, of the words of inspired teachers under both covenants, and that in grave majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a vast benefit. It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high moral standard; it has served them in associating religion with compositions which, evenly humanly considered, are among the most sublime and beautiful ever written; especially, it has impressed upon them the series of Divine Providence, in behalf of man for his creation to his end, and, above all, the words, deeds, and sacred sufferings of Him in whom all the Providences of God centre.”

-John Henry Newman, The Grammar of Assent, Bk. 56-57.

[In 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul instructs Timothy regarding the main tasks as a pastor he is to perform win Paul's absence: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” I have been thinking lately that these three things are still vital signs of a church's health.

Paul follows up: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 'Diligence in these matters' includes the three things he mentioned above, it seems. The quote from Newman stirs cultural memory of a time which is now largely past, but in which the “mere knowledge of Scripture” through “the Bible read in Church, in the family, in private” was a marked sign of Christianity in England. I know there are considerations and questions that deserve attention regarding what this meant in Paul's day. It might be suggested that as far as such public Scripture reading, it was called for by the high rates of illiteracy of the time. There is certainly a place for discussion about the formats that modern shapes of living call for in advancing this “mere knowledge of Scripture”, but a bottom line for a healthy church is that Christians should know and be taught to know the Scripture. Paul even ties up these labors of Timothy with salvation for him and his hearers.

Sometimes the classical liberal notion of the equality of religions is held forth in the old adage that the different religions are like a bunch of blind men in a room with an elephant who have never seen an elephant and who latch onto just part of the elephant and think it is the whole and dispute with each other that the dimensions of their part of the elephant are the correct one. The problem with this analogy, which is meant to suggest the folly of adhering to any one religion, is that it presupposes a bird's eye view, a superior vantage point. In order to see the folly of the blind men you have to presume to see the elephant whole (or the Brahmin spirit, or the Oversoul or whatever you call it). Rather than exposing the pride and folly of the religions it turns out to conceal a presumed superiority which may turn out to be the most acidic pride of all. And this vantage point becomes the effective religion, rather than any one of the religions.

Contrast then with the kind of devotion Paul is speaking of here. He does not speak of Christianity as merely a culturally positive local place to plant yourself, one which is interchangeable with other faiths. He does not harbor a sense that it is bigoted and a fallacy to presume that Christianity has some special corner on the truth, some X marks the spot. Rather he says that these things mean salvation. Not fashion and fancy but life and death.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Josef Pieper on Distraction and Its Cure

“The 'concupiscence of the eyes' reaches its utmost destructive and extirpative power at the point where it has constructed for itself a world in its own image and likeness, where it has surrounded itself with the restlessness of a ceaseless film of meaningless objects for show and with a literally deafening noise of nothing more than impressions and sensations that roar in an uninterrupted chase around every window of the senses. Behind their papery facade of ostentation lies absolute nothingness, a 'world' of at most one day constructs that often become insipid after just one-quarter of an hour and are thrown out like a newspaper that has been read or a magazine that has been paged through; a world which, before the revealing gaze of a sound spirit uninfected by its contagion, shows itself to be like a metropolitan entertainment district in the harsh clarity of a winter morning: barren, bleak, and ghostly to the point of pushing one to despair.

Still, the destructive element of this disorder, born out of and shaped by illness, is found in the fact that this disorder obstructs the original power of man to perceive reality, that it renders a person unable not only to attain his own self but also to attain reality and truth.

If, therefore, a fraudulent world of this kind threatens to overrun and conceal the world of reality, then the cultivation of the natural desire to see assumes the character of a measure of self-preservation and self-defense. And then studiositas (diligence) means especially this: that a person resists the nearly inescapable temptation to indiscipline with all the power of self-protection, that he radically closes off the inner space of his life against the pressingly unruly pseudoreality of empty sights and sounds-in order that, through and only through this asceticism of perception, he might safeguard or recoup that which truly constitutes man's living existence: to perceive the reality of God and of creation and to shape himself and the world by the truth that discloses itself only in silence.”

-Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, Ignatius Press (1991), Trans. By Paul C. Duggan, p. 40-41.

The Soloist- On Putting Connection with the Person First, Above and Beyond the Limits of Science

"Making a diagnosis isn't as important as making a connection...He tells me the challenge for doctors, mental health workers and advocates is to treat the person and not the disease."

-Insights on helping those with mental disorders from Mark Ragins as conveyed by Steve Lopez in The Soloist, p. 57. (Mark Ragins is the author of a book called A Road to Recovery which unfortunately is not available in any bookstores or on, at least not the big chain stores I checked at. )

Friday, June 05, 2009

From "Against Readings" by Mark Edmunson

"...The desire to turn the art of reading into a science is part of what draws the profession [Academic literary criticism] to the application of sterile concepts...Criticism is getting into skeptical dialogue with the text. Mounting a conventional academic reading- applying an alternative set of terms- means closing off the dialogue before it has a chance to begin."

-Mark Edmundson, "Against Readings"

What's Wrong With Modern Education?

"...For a long time I puzzled over this image of the well-educated person, especially because so many of the men and women I teach with are actually strongly motivated by a love of truth. Slowly, however, I have come to realize that we tend to teach as much in response to our fears as our hopes. There are, perhaps, two main and very different intellectual fears. The first is a fear of opportunities squandered, of truths unnecessarily missed. The second is a fear of deception, of falsehoods wrongly cherished.

It is crushingly obvious that the present dictatorship of relativism is profoundly motivated by the second fear. Aside from the natural sciences, we give students little more than training in critique. Loyal to our critical principles, we can barely squeak out the slenderest of affirmations. Fearful of living in dreams and falling under the sway of ideologies, we have committed ourselves to disenchantment.

I find myself recalling one of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. He urges us to remember that love is just sexual intercourse: “it is the friction of member and a convulsive expulsion of mere mucus.” We are to apply this method of critical thinking to all aspects of our lives in order to free ourselves from fanciful notions. “Where things make an impression which is very plausible,” he advises, “uncover their nakedness, see into their cheapness, strip off the profession on which they vaunt themselves.” The goal is simple: Humanize yourself by disabusing yourself of illusions.

No philosophy or faith worth its salt endorses a witting love of illusions. It’s the truth we want, not fantasies. Yet, there is something desperate and loveless in the triumph of suspicion. Love falls. As the urgent, searching bridge in the Song of Songs reminds us, love risks the dangers of deception and betrayal. We cannot fall into the embrace of truth by way of cool, dispassionate critique. If we fear that truth will elude us, then we must search and seek with reckless desire..."

-R.R. Reno, "Teaching in the Twenty-First Century"

Murder in the Name of Economics

..Consider the following example. Lawrence Summers—currently the head of President Obama’s National Economic Council—for a time served as Chief Economist of the World Bank. While in that position he sent an internal memo to a colleague arguing that the World Bank should encourage poor countries to sell space for western pollution. “A given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” The Economist got hold of the memo and, while acknowledging that the language was “crass,” went on to admit that “on the economics his points are hard to answer” (37). If “economic logic” leads to the obvious conclusion that it is good for developing countries voluntarily to assume the “health-impairing” toxic waste of developed countries, then perhaps there is something wrong with economic logic. Could it be that it is blind to important facets of reality?..."

-from "The Dismal Science vs. Community", by Mark T. Mitchell