David Koyzis teaches political science at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, and is the author of the award-winning Political Visions and Illusions (InterVarsity Press, 2003). He is an amateur poet and musician and has a special interest in sung metrical psalmody, especially the 16th-century Genevan Psalter. Born near Chicago and living now in Canada, he sometimes calls himself a Franco-Greek-Cypriot-Finno-Anglo-American-Canadian, one of the smallest ethnic minorities in North America. His second book, on authority, office and the image of God, is forthcoming from Pickwick Publications, a division of Wipf & Stock.
In chapter 2 of my own Political Visions and Illusions, I trace the development of liberalism in five stages: (1) the Hobbesian commonwealth, (2) the night watchman state, (3) the regulatory state, (4) the equal-opportunity state, and (5) the choice-enhancement state. The movement from each stage to the next requires an expansion of the state beyond its normative sphere of competence into the minutest corners of life—all in the name of expanding personal freedom. I have summarized this development here: Tracing the Logic of Liberalism.
Not everyone will agree with my analysis, especially those who persist in thinking early liberalism to have been solidly grounded and its later decadent manifestation a betrayal of the original vision. Yet I am by no means alone in noting the spiritual continuities among the stages of liberalism. To take just two of many recent articles on the subject: Douglas Farrow’s The Audacity of the State is one of the more trenchant analyses, and this past Friday Wesley J. Smith’s The Coercive Freedom of Choice probed what I call the choice-enhancement state, roughly encompassing the period since 1960. According to Smith, “We have now reached the point that others are expected to pay for individuals’ ‘choices’ and maximizing others’ self-identity—even when it violates the payer’s own beliefs. . . . Not too long ago, Americans mostly believed in ‘live and let live.’ The ironic motto for the current day: ‘You do it my way.’”
Is this paradoxical quality in the unending expansion of individual autonomy implicit in the logic of liberalism? I don’t know what Smith would say, but I would say: Yes, most definitely. If liberalism is based on the tendency to reduce all manner of communities to mere voluntary associations, as we see in the contractarian approach of Hobbes and Locke, then we should not be surprised if the effort to mitigate this tendency by, say, an appeal to natural law in the more conservative English-speaking liberals is unsuccessful over the long term, and in the name of freedom tyranny ends up extinguishing freedom.
God’s people have sung the Psalms for millennia, especially in dark times when it seems that he has abandoned them. One young man nearly four hundred years ago found himself in a horribly difficult situation. His name was Wojciech Bobowski (c. 1610—1675), a Polish Reformed Christian who at the age of eighteen (or perhaps as old as twenty-eight, depending on the year of his birth) was kidnapped by the Tatars during one of their occasional raids into his homeland. Sources differ on his birthplace, some pointing to the village of Bobowa (hence Bobowski) and others to Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). During his childhood and early youth, he had come to know the Bible thoroughly and to sing the Genevan Psalms, apparently in his native language.
Because Bobowski was intellectually brilliant and an accomplished musician and linguist, the Tatars sold him as a slave to the Ottoman Sultan. In an act reminiscent of Pharaoh’s promotion of the biblical Joseph, the Sultan recognized his gifts and elevated him to the positions of court musician, treasurer and translator. Bobowski at least nominally converted to Islam and came to be known as Ali Ufki. Yet even if his conversion was genuine, he did not leave behind his interest in, and apparent love for, the Bible, which he translated into the Turkish language, in which it came to be known as Kitabı Mukaddes, or “Holy Book.” Well into the twentieth century Ali Ufki’s Bible was the only translation available in the Turkish language.
Ali Ufki also translated the Church of England’s catechism and the works of Hugo Grotius and Jan Comenius into Turkish. He eventually gained his legal freedom and lived out his years in Egypt as a dragoman, or diplomatic interpreter.
Yet it is his translation of the first fourteen Genevan Psalms into Turkish for which Ali Ufki is best remembered today. As it turns out, the distinctive modal flavor of the Genevan tunes made them well-suited for adaptation to the musical system used in the Ottoman Empire. This enabled him to publish his collection, Mezmurlar (Psalms), in 1665. We do not know whether he ever intended to translate the entire Psalter and, if so, why he stopped at 14. Nevertheless, in the first decade of this century increasing numbers of musical performing groups began paying attention to them.
For example, in 2005 the German musical group Sarband, in conjunction with the King’s Singers, produced a recording titled, Sacred Bridges: Christian, Jewish and Muslim Psalm Settings. Featuring Ali Ufki’s renditions of Psalms 2, 5, 6, 7 and 9, most of which are sung in both French and Turkish, this recording brings together two quite divergent musical traditions, and the overall effect is little short of astounding. Employing Turkish instruments, Louis Bourgeois’ sturdy tunes take on the unmistakable flavour of typical Near Eastern music. In fact, a youtube video performance of at least one of these comes complete with whirling dervishes, an addition that would leave the typical Dutch or Hungarian churchgoer reeling.
A few weeks ago I was on the GO train to Toronto filled with morning commuters. I would shortly be arriving at Union Station, where I would then transfer to a VIA Rail train to Montréal. Although my mind was initially on the lecture I would be delivering at the end of my journey the following day, I became aware, sitting across the aisle from me, of a middle-aged woman who looked to be Filipino. She was reading from a very small tattered booklet that appeared to lack a cover. After reading she would close her eyes for a time and then resume reading again. She was obviously not dozing. As I myself had prayed the daily office using my e-reader back at the Hamilton GO station, I knew exactly what she must be doing. I had to resist the inclination to ask to see her well-worn booklet. Instead I silently prayed that God would answer her prayer.
Because I am not a regular commuter into Toronto, I will likely never see this woman again. I may have been the only person on the train who knew that she was praying, but because of this, I felt as if the two of us have something—or rather Someone—very precious in common. Someone whose sacrifice on the cross we observe with gratitude during this Holy Week.
The following appeared in the March 11 issue of Christian Courier as part of my monthly “Principalities & Powers” column:
In November 1976 I was privileged to visit what was then called Czechoslovakia and its capital city, Prague. Although the communists were still in power and the weather was cold and gloomy during my stay, I fell in love with this beautiful fourteenth century urban jewel, which managed to glitter despite the austere Stalin-era buildings at its periphery. As a child I had grown up hearing one of my mother’s favorite musical pieces, Bedřich Smetana’s Vltava, or Moldau, a tone poem dedicated to the river on which Prague is built. Thus I was thrilled finally to walk across the fabled Charles Bridge spanning the waterway that had inspired the 19th-century composer.
For an amateur musician Prague is a treat, as its residents glory in the music of Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Bohuslav Martinů and many others. Stepping into a church one Sunday I heard a soloist singing two of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, which I had worked up in my undergraduate voice lessons and had come to love. Dvořák wrote these haunting songs based on the Psalms while in the United States, after learning of the death of his friend and conductor, Hans von Bülow, and of the imminent death of his own father back in Europe. Not surprisingly, the grieving composer turned to the Psalms for comfort. (more…)
I consider myself a Reformed Christian of strongly confessional bent. I love Scripture and recognize it to be God’s Word, the final authority for faith and life. I love the Heidelberg Catechism with its warm, evangelical flavor as it speaks to the heart of believers of our “only comfort in life and in death.” I love singing the Psalms, especially the sturdy melodies of the Genevan Psalter.
Given my unequivocal commitment to the Reformation, and especially to the branch stemming from John Calvin, some may find it surprising that I would pray for Pope Francis and the communion which he leads. Yet I do so, because all Christians in every tradition have a stake in the world’s largest ecclesiastical body. The sixteenth century Reformers themselves initially had no desire to break with the western church, doing so only when forced to. Instead they wished to reform an institution they loved—an institution they believed was corrupt and not living up to the demands of the gospel.
I take no pleasure in the scandals that have beset the Roman Catholic Church in recent decades. Some Protestants may experience a certain schadenfreude at the travails of the church with which their forebears broke so many centuries ago. But not everyone. I genuinely hope and pray that the new Pope, who took the name of another would-be reformer loved by Protestants and Catholics alike, will be able to clean up what needs to be cleaned up in his church. My prayer to God is that, where there is despair he may sow hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is corruption, holiness and unwavering fidelity to the cause of Christ.
In the continuing controversy over climate change it is difficult to sort out the validity of conflicting reports. Here, for example, is a Financial Post column by Lawrence Solomon, “Not Easy Being Green.” According to Solomon:
Arctic ice has made a comeback, advancing so rapidly that the previous decade saw less ice at this time of the year than exists today. And previously balmy Arctic temperatures just nose-dived, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute, which has tracked Arctic temperatures since 1958.
Alarmists shudder when looking south, too, at the stats from Antarctica. There the sea ice extent started growing early this year, and the ice cover remains stubbornly above average. All told, the global sea ice — including both polar caps — now exceeds the average recorded since 1979, when satellites began their measurements.
In September 2012, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean shrank to a record low extent and volume. The region has warmed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1960s—twice as much as lower latitudes. With less snow and ice to reflect the sun’s rays and with more exposed ocean to absorb heat, a vicious cycle leads to even warmer temperatures. Thinner ice combined with rising temperatures makes it increasingly difficult for the sea ice to recover. The historically ever-present white cap at the top of the globe could disappear entirely during the summer within two decades. . . .
While Greenland’s ice loss is astonishing, on the other side of the globe, parts of Antarctica’s vast ice sheet may be even less stable. The continent is flanked by 54 major ice shelves, which act as brakes slowing the movement of ice in land-based glaciers out to sea. Twenty of them show signs of thinning and weakening, which translates into accelerated ice loss. After the 3,250-square-kilometer Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed in 2002, for instance, the glaciers it was bracing flowed up to eight times faster than before. The most dramatic thinning is in West Antarctica.
Which is right? Obviously they cannot both be. The two reports are separated by only a week, yet their respective accounts as to what is happening to the polar ice caps could not be more divergent. As a complete layman in the field, I am incompetent to judge the veracity of the two reports, which I am certain is true of most other readers as well.
However, in the absence of certainty on the issue, our political leaders must still make policies while weighing in the balance the various conflicting considerations at stake. The balance will never be perfect, of course, but in general it seems to me that, even if anthropogenic global warming is not occurring, we still have an obligation to pursue policies to protect our physical environment, both for the sake of future generations and in recognition of our responsibility before God for his creation. We may not be able to settle the debate, but it seems wise to err on the side of caution and of minimizing the environmental risks to our descendants.
Sometimes it takes a nonbeliever to speak truth to believers. This time it comes from the “not even religious” George Jonas in Canada’s National Post: Searching for one-size-fits-all religion. Amidst calls from some Roman Catholics that the new Pope toe their own line rather than lead them into truth, Jonas mentions the minor character Helene Bezuhov in Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel, War and Peace.
Exquisitely drawn, like all of Tolstoy’s creations, once you make the Countess Bezuhov’s acquaintance, you can’t quite forget her. Helene is married to Pierre Bezuhov, one of the leading characters in the novel, but she doesn’t feel suited to him and hopes to contract a more agreeable marriage. Maybe even two marriages. She contemplates marrying an older prince first, and then, after he dies, perhaps saying yes to a much younger applicant.
Helene is beautiful. Her arms and shoulders are the marvel of Moscow. She doesn’t lack rich and socially prominent suitors, but she belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. Divorce being unthinkable in that church at that time—during the Napoleonic wars—she converts to Roman Catholicism. Rome doesn’t permit divorce as such either, but the Pope can sometimes annul a marriage.
“According to her understanding,” writes Tolstoy, describing Helene, “the whole point of any religion was merely to provide recognized forms of propriety as a background for the satisfaction of human desires.” Then Tolstoy continues: “I imagine, (says Helene to her new Jesuit confessor) that having espoused the true faith I cannot be bound by any obligations laid upon me by a false religion.”
Helene would be reassured to know that her heritage lives on. Her standard is held up by men and women who, having acquired the liberty to do as they please, now demand religion to also applaud their moral choices. They want their churches, their priests, even the very Vicar of God, to approve and endorse what they do, or else they threaten him with irrelevance. God Himself becomes irrelevant unless he can be used to rubber stamp human desires—because, as Tolstoy points out, that’s what God is for, at least as far as Helene Bezuhov is concerned. That’s how it was in 1812 and that’s how it is in 2013.
If, on the other hand, genuine religion concerns the little matter of what is true and how we are to live in light of that truth, then whether that truth is relevant to and confirms our desires is beside the point. The martyrs of the church undoubtedly preferred to avoid suffering and keep their lives, but they chose instead to accept their lot for the cause of Christ. Accordingly, we remember and celebrate their lives as signposts pointing to the coming kingdom.
In a world where so many of our brothers and sisters are still on the receiving end of persecution, martyrdom never loses its relevance, sad to say. Therefore, if we love God with all our hearts and glory in our salvation in Jesus Christ, we will do well to look to the likes of St. Stephen the Protomartyr and St. Polycarp of Smyrna rather than to the Helene Bezuhovs of this world.
The following appeared in the 11 February issue of Christian Courier as part of my monthly “Principalities & Powers” column:
I love the Hungarian people. Among their many national virtues, they boast some of the greatest musicians, such as Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), who did so much to shape 20th-century music by drawing on their country’s unique folk idioms. There is a substantial Reformed Christian minority in Hungary, and they are well known for their love of singing the Psalms. In fact, it can be justly argued that psalm-singing carried them through four decades of communist tyranny.
Last year saw the 450th anniversary of the completion of the Genevan Psalter. Although the Psalter’s texts were originally written in French verse, they were quickly thereafter translated into a number of other languages, including German, Dutch, Czech and Hungarian. The remarkable polymath, Albert Szenczi Molnár (1574-1634), was responsible for the Hungarian version. A pastor, linguist, poet, writer and translator, Molnár (whose surname means miller) was born in Senec (Szenc), near what is today the Slovak capital of Bratislava, and would come to exercise a formative influence on the development of the Hungarian language. (more…)
The following piece appeared in the January 14 issue of Christian Courier as the latest installment of my “Principalities & Powers” column. The story related therein is based on Constantijn J. Sikke’s book, Een waarlijk vrije: levensschets van Dr Kornelis Sietsma (A Truly Free Man: A Sketch of the Life of Dr. Kornelis Sietsma) (Amsterdam: Kirchner, 1946).
On a Monday early in 1942, the Rev. Dr. Kornelis Sietsma was arrested by the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD) at his home in Amsterdam. The previous day he had preached a sermon on Luke 4:1-13, the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, in which he emphasized the temptations that come with power. This was at his own congregation, the Schinkelkerk, which worshipped in a fifty-year-old building in the Dutch capital city. At the offering he announced that a collection would be taken for the denomination’s mission to the Jews, something that had come to the attention of the SD, whose agents had attended his church that day.
German troops had occupied the Netherlands for not quite two years. Queen Wilhelmina and her government had taken refuge in London and the occupiers set up a pro-Nazi régime in its place. All of this occurred despite the Dutch declaration of neutrality at the beginning of the war in 1939. However, only months later Germany violated Dutch neutrality and invaded the country. Now German soldiers patrolled the streets, and the Jewish population was beginning to receive discriminatory treatment at their hands, with much worse to come. (more…)
Last week marked the fortieth anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. In the absence of a consensus favoring legal protection of the unborn, what are the alternatives available to us in the short term? In my most recent Capital Commentary piece, I make four suggestions:
First, we always do well to assume that our pro-choice opponents are people of good will who love their families and genuinely care for the welfare of their communities. It will not do for pro-lifers to vilify those on the other side of the issue, a perennial temptation for anyone viewing the struggle in stark apocalyptic terms and focusing on the legislative battle. Those taking a pro-choice position do not hate babies; rather, they see themselves having a heart for vulnerable women in crisis pregnancy situations. We need to build on this sympathy, making a case that it should be extended to the vulnerable child in the womb as well.
Second, those of us who can speak from experience should do so, and in such a way as to open, rather than to close, the lines of communication. Although I personally have no experience with abortion, my wife and I do have experience with an early birth. Our daughter was born fourteen weeks premature nearly a decade and a half ago, weighing in at just over two pounds and spending her first ten and a half weeks in two area hospital neonatal intensive care units. During this difficult time we quickly discovered that our daughter would smile briefly when she was content. It did not take much to convince us that, if she could smile at such a young age, then fetuses, who are more than just inert tissue, must surely smile in the womb. Several years later our suspicions were confirmed by a British study which discovered as much through 3D/4D ultrasound imaging. We were struck by the sheer incongruity between our daughter possessing the legal status of personhood outside the womb, where she should not yet have been, and her lack of such status if she had remained in the womb the full nine months.
Some of us may have missed it, but President Obama declared yesterday Religious Freedom Day in the United States. Here is an excerpt from the presidential proclamation on the White House’s website:
Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace.
As we observe Religious Freedom Day, let us remember the legacy of faith and independence we have inherited, and let us honor it by forever upholding our right to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.
While it is good to know that the U.S. government is doing something to recognize so fundamental a right, it would be better if it could acknowledge the injustice of forcing Hobby Lobby and other businesses to act against their owners’ consciences on pain of crippling fines. Otherwise such a proclamation sounds empty indeed.
In order to draw inspiration for his magnum opus, John Rawls travels back through time to converse (in song) with a selection of political philosophers, including Plato, Locke, Rousseau and Mill. But the journey is not as smooth as he hoped: for as he pursues his love interest, the beautiful student Fairness, through history, he must escape the evil designs of his libertarian arch-nemesis, Robert Nozick, and his objectivist lover, Ayn Rand. Will he achieve his goal of defining Justice as Fairness?
A former student suggests that I should audition, but only if I get to sing this song by none other than Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Everywhere in Chains.
The line about the American general meeting the Arab Christian isn’t as familiar as it should be. “When did your family convert?” the general asked. “About 2,000 years ago,” the Arab answered wryly.
The general’s ignorance is widely shared. Take but one example from closer to home. Over-zealous teachers in London have recently been pulling Syrian Orthodox refugees out of school assemblies in London, on the basis that Arab children must by definition be Muslims. The truth, of course, is that Christianity is an import from the Middle East, not an export to it. Christians have formed part of successive civilisations in the region for many centuries – they were, as Rowan Williams has pointed out, a dominant presence in the Byzantine era, an active partner in the early Muslim centuries, a long-suffering element within the Ottoman empire and, more recently, “a political catalyst and nursery of radical thinking in the dawn of Arab nationalism”.
Today, though, the religious ecology of the Middle East looks more fragile than ever, as the Arab spring gives way to Christian winter. [Emphasis mine]
Sad to say, the numbers of Christians in the region have steadily declined over the centuries, with emigration accelerating over the past decade. Threats to Christians continue, not only in Egypt, but also Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria, China and many other countries.
Here in North America, the threats to religious freedom are not as overt, and most people appear not to recognize them as such. (more…)
The truth is that the Sexual Revolution had the power to alter our way of life, but it could not alter our essential nature; it could not alter the reality of who and what we are as human beings. It made nearly everyone feel that they were free, or free-er, than their parents had been—free to smoke pot, free to sleep around, free to pursue the passing dream of what felt, at the time, like overwhelming love—an emotion which very seldom lasts, and a word which is meaningless unless its definition includes commitment.
How easy it was to dismiss old-fashioned sexual morality as ‘suburban,’ as a prison for the human soul. How easy it was to laugh at the ‘prudes’ who questioned the wisdom of what was happening in the Sexual Revolution. Yet, as the opinion poll shows, most of us feel at a very deep level that what will make us very happy is not romping with a succession of lovers. In fact, it is having a long-lasting, stable relationship, having children, and maintaining, if possible, lifelong marriage.
Wilson cites statistics concerning abortion, sexually-transmitted diseases and divorce to bolster his case, none of which will come as a surprise to most of us. What is surprising is that a prominent newspaper in post-Christian Great Britain has chosen to publish this piece, and that the readers’ comments are as positive as they are. I find this moderately encouraging as we head into 2013.
For many years now I’ve been teaching my students that a constitution is more than a scrap of paper but is to be found in the deeper principles and commitments of a particular political community. Here in Canada in recent decades we have embraced the notion that our constitution is identical to our codified Constitution Acts, while traditionally we have recognized other sources of our constitution, including organic statues (i.e., ordinary laws whose subject matter is constitutional), court rulings (including those of London’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council prior to 1949), and, above all, the unwritten conventions of the constitution, such as responsible government.
Superficially, Louis Michael Seidman would appear to agree with this understanding of a constitution, desiring to import it into his American context:
Countries like Britain and New Zealand have systems of parliamentary supremacy and no written constitution, but are held together by longstanding traditions, accepted modes of procedure and engaged citizens. We, too, could draw on these resources.
However, Seidman goes much further: Let’s Give Up on the Constitution. Why? Because it’s been ignored numerous times in the past and, as an 18th-century document, it is no longer suited to the 21st-century United States.
What has preserved our political stability is not a poetic piece of parchment, but entrenched institutions and habits of thought and, most important, the sense that we are one nation and must work out our differences. No one can predict in detail what our system of government would look like if we freed ourselves from the shackles of constitutional obligation, and I harbor no illusions that any of this will happen soon. But even if we can’t kick our constitutional-law addiction, we can soften the habit.
Yet what if it turns out that the most central of these “entrenched institutions and habits of thought” is the respect that Americans hold for the very document he wishes to abandon? No one is asking Seidman or anyone else to believe that its origin is divine, but one would be foolish to give up on something as crucial as the general reverence for the rule of law, which can hardly be taken for granted in much of the world outside of the west. Seidman is, of course, welcome to work for changing the law, but it seems incomprehensible that a constitutional law professor would be so ready to relinquish, not just an old document, but that intangible and durable consensus undergirding its status — and indeed his own profession.
It is generally believed that the birth of Christ is celebrated on December 25 because our savvy Christian forebears with a flare for marketing took over a winter solstice holiday from the surrounding pagans. Not so, apparently. Here is William J. Tighe on Calculating Christmas and Andrew McGowan on How December 25 Became Christmas. McGowan writes:
There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.
Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.
Yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut, like other similar tragedies before it, calls to mind a widespread and persistent tendency to assume that we can prevent every “avoidable” tragedy by passing yet another law. Sad to say, no law will effectively deter every possible crime in advance. Although activists and politicians alike are loath to admit it, in this life there can be no such thing as defeating terrorism outright, ending violence against women (or men), eliminating child abuse, etc. The most we can expect to do is to apply the appropriate penalties when the law is violated, while remaining thankful for the deterrent effect the law has undoubtedly had on other would-be criminals whose evil imaginations will forever remain hidden from us. It is best, after such carnage, to avoid the temptation to score political points and simply allow ourselves to mourn the loss of so many innocent lives and to pray for God’s mercy.
To my humble supplication
Lord, give ear and acceptation;
Save Thy servant that hath none
Help nor hope but Thee alone.
Send, O send relieving gladness
To my soul opprest with sadness,
Which from clog of earth set free
Winged with zeal, flies up to Thee.
To Thee, rich in mercies treasure,
And in goodness without measure,
Never failing help to those
Who on Thy sure help repose.
Heav’nly Tutor, of thy kindness,
Teach my dullness, guide my blindness,
That my steps Thy paths may tread
Which to endless bliss do lead.
This is from the notes for the Hyperion recording of Holst’s Two Psalms, of which 86 is one:
Holst’s Two Psalms, for chorus, string orchestra and organ, H117, were written in 1912 at a time when the composer’s compositional style was undergoing a process of textural and structural refinement. He had recently completed the last of his Sanskrit works, The Cloud Messenger, which had been a complete failure, although his next major composition was to prove extremely successful—the symphonic picture ‘Mars’ for The Planets.
Holst composed very little religious music as such, probably as a result of his somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the Church. He found the spiritual aspect enormously appealing, but felt stifled by regimented orthodoxy. Of the current two Psalm settings, that of Psalm 86 is the more striking with its greater textural variety and emotional range, though the beautiful setting of Psalm 148 has a compensating warmth of expression that is rarely found in Holst’s music.
The melody for Psalm 86 was composed, or at least adapted, by L Bourgeois in the Genevan Psalter (1543). The first text (‘To my humble supplication …’), sung by the chorus, is a metrical version of the words by Joseph Bryan (1620); the second (‘Bow down thine ear …’), sung by the tenor soloist, is taken from the Authorized Version of the Bible (Psalm 86: 1–6, 12).
Incidentally, despite Holst’s general lack of enthusiasm for liturgical music, the hymn text, “O God Beyond All Praising,” is often sung to his tune THAXTED, taken from the Jupiter movement of The Planets.
Ted Olsen has written a fascinating article inspired by the recent decision of Boston’s Old South Church to sell off one of its two remaining copies of the original edition of the Bay Psalm Book, used liturgically by the New England Puritans in the 17th century: What You Need to Know About the Bay Psalm Book.
Last week, Boston’s Old South Church voted 271-34 to sell one of its two remaining copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book—one of the most historic volumes in American religious history. When it goes up for auction, Sotheby’s vice chairman David Redden told The Boston Globe, it’s likely to fetch between $10 million and $20 million. (The historic and liberal United Church of Christ congregation is also selling 19 pieces of early American communion silver.)
The church says its building needs at least $7 million in repairs, and its endowment needs to grow to support at least $300,000 in annual repairs after that. “We will take this wonderful old hymn book, from which our ancestors literally sang their praises to God, and convert it into doing God’s ministry in the world today,” Nancy Taylor, the church’s senior minister, said in a press release.
While one can understand the congregation’s desire to raise funds for its ongoing ministry, one is justified in hoping that the historic volume ends up in the right hands. It’s certainly too dear for me to bid on. On the other hand, I am content to own a copy of the 1903 facsimile edition of the Bay Psalm Book, which my beloved wife gave me for Christmas three years ago. Despite its evident literary flaws, the Bay Psalm Book is testimony to our forebears’ eagerness to sing God’s praises in his own words.
One of our brethren, Anthony Esolen, has written to extol that old-fashioned word, brethren. His comments have relevance for that increasingly complicated and contentious enterprise, Bible translation. In the older translations of the New Testament, such as the Geneva Bible and the King James Version, the Greek αδελφοί (and its related forms) is rendered brethren, as it is in the Revised Standard Version. In the late 1970s and early 80s, the translators of the New International Version, wishing to communicate God’s word in contemporary English, changed these references to brothers. The much newer English Standard Version has followed suit.
However, while the Greek αδελφοί encompasses male and female siblings, the English brothers does not. This has prompted the revisers of the NIV as well as those who produced the New Revised Standard Version to opt for brothers and sisters, the latter with a somewhat curious footnote indicating that the Greek word means brothers. Nevertheless, the NRSV does not do this consistently: in some passages the word becomes believers (1 Cor. 6:8), beloved (1 Cor. 15:58) or friends (2 Cor. 11:9).
It seems to me that the somewhat cumbersome brothers and sisters is thus to be preferred to brothers for reasons of accuracy of translation. However, for economy of expression, it would be even better to return to brethren, which, as Esolen points out, is never used in a gender-exclusive sense and is found in the names of a variety of Protestant denominations, especially in the Anabaptist tradition. To those who object that the word is too archaic, it should be recalled that the more obviously obsolescent mortals (for άνθροποι) was brought back in both the NRSV and the recent update of the NIV. So, if anyone is listening, I cast my vote for brethren to replace brothers and sisters and brothers in the next updates of the major Bible translations.
Last year, leaders of Britain and the 15 former colonies that have the queen as their head of state informally agreed to establish new rules giving female children equal status with males in the order of succession — something that will require legal changes in each country.
“Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen,” Prime Minister David Cameron said at the time.
Canada is, of course, one of the sixteen Commonwealth realms that recognize the Queen as head of state. In order for a change in the succession to the Crown to be successful, more than the agreement of the heads of government is needed. Each realm must enact the relevant statutes to make this possible, and this requires parliamentary approval. In Canada’s case it would seem to require an amendment to its Constitution Acts under sections 41 and 41(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Such an amendment would require the assent of both chambers of Parliament and all ten provincial legislatures. Past efforts at formal constitutional change, most notably the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, illustrate that such unanimity is not easily procured. Canada could conceivably end up with a king while its fellow Commonwealth realms go with a new queen.
Of course, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the notion of equality of opportunity for men and women is fairly securely established in this country’s political culture, so it might not be that difficult to carry off. All the same, the larger issue of nondiscrimination will have been only partially settled by the requisite legal and constitutional changes. Sex discrimination, yes. But obviously not age discrimination. Hereditary monarchy is intrinsically discriminatory against younger siblings. If this form of discrimination were ever to be addressed, it would seem to make the monarchy itself untenable. Because only one person can occupy a single office, the process of determining who will fill it necessarily discriminates against those ineligible for it on a variety of grounds. The elimination of sex (or gender) as a criterion for succession is a reform whose time has undoubtedly come, although it is not obvious to some of us that it is any less fair to favor males over females than it is to favor the eldest over younger siblings.
David T. Koyzis teaches politics at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada.
No matter which hollow man occupies the bunker at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the evidence from 225 years points to an inescapable conclusion: the Founders erred horribly in creating the presidency. To invest in one man quasi-kingly powers over the 13 states then, 300 million people and half a continent today, is madness. And it didn’t have to be this way.
Many Anti-Federalists proposed, as an alternative to what they called the “president-general,” either a plural executive—two or more men sharing the office, a recipe for what a sage once called a wise and masterly inactivity—or they wanted no executive at all. Federal affairs would be so limited in scope that they could be performed competently and without aggrandizement by a unicameral legislature—that is, one house of Congress—as well as various administrative departments and perhaps a federal judiciary.
The New Jersey Plan, fathered by William Paterson of the Springsteen State, was the small-f federal option at the Constitutional Convention. It is the great decentralist what-might-have-been. The New Jersey Plan provided for a unicameral Congress with an equal vote for each state, and copresidents chosen by Congress for a single fixed term and removable by Congress if so directed by a majority of state governors.
This would have saved us from the cult of the presidency, the imperial presidency, the president as the world’s celebrity-in-chief—the whole gargantuan mess.
Obviously one cannot reverse history, but one wonders whether it might be possible even now to recognize the key anti-federalist insights and to implement reforms that might curtail the powers of an imperial presidency.
Another protracted presidential election cycle has come and gone, with Americans on one side of the political aisle celebrating victory, and those on the other licking their wounds in dismay. Two months ago in this space I asked whether the United States is becoming the next France, whose politics was long characterized by sharp division between partisans and opponents of the 1789 Revolution. The end of the recent election campaign will not diminish and may only exacerbate these tendencies.
What would the U.S. look like if it had no president? What if we were spared the quadrennial hoopla that has Americans investing so much of their energies in putting one person into a single political office at such huge expense? It might look something like Switzerland.
Having grown up with the King James Version of the Bible, I have no sentimental attachment to the Revised Standard Version, although I do read from it in the context of daily prayers. Still I cannot manage to summon up Fr. Neuhaus’s enthusiasm for this translation, which has a number of literary flaws, stemming mostly from the translators’ misguided retention of some Jacobean English features in an otherwise modern translation. The problems are especially obvious in their inconsistent use of the old second-person-singular pronouns (thou, thee, thy, thine). In general, these are used in addressing God, as in this example from Psalm 25:
To thee, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee I trust, let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. (more…)