Friday, May 10, 2013, 4:04 AM
The story of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus is recounted several times in Acts: First when the event happens (ch. 9), and then twice retold by Paul, once before Jews and once before Agrippa and Festus (chs. 22, 26).
In the final retelling, Paul quotes Jesus’ words: “I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you” (26:16). What do these categories of witness refer to? “What you have seen” refers specifically to the appearance of Jesus near Damascus, which constitutes proof that Jesus was risen from the dead.
But in addition to this dramatic appearance, Jesus promises to appear to Paul in the future. When did that happen? Verse 17 explains: “delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you.” Every escape from Jewish or Gentile enemies was another appearance of Jesus, and became another saving event to which Paul was a witness.
Paul then had to suffer persecution in order to have something to preach about. He had to be afflicted so he could be a “minister and a witness” to Jesus’ repeated advents, so he could testify that God had fulfilled the promise to the fathers that we, being delivered from fear of our enemies, might serve him without fear. Like David, if he were not attacked, he wouldn’t have anything to sing about.
Friday, May 10, 2013, 3:37 AM
I argue that cultural conservatives can’t address the crisis in the family without being willing to pose uncomfortable questions about our economic, political, and technological way of life at firstthings.com this morning.
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 5:44 PM
Apringius (Latin Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 43) follows a common tradition in interpreting the scroll in Revelation 5 as the Old Testament, once sealed and concealed and now revealed by the Lamb. On this interpretation, the seals of the book represent moments in the life of Jesus: ”The seven seals are these: First, incarnation; second, birth; third, passion; fourth, death; fifth, resurrection; sixth, glory; seventh, kingdom. These seals, therefore, are Christ.”
As William Weinrich explains in his translator’s introduction, this interpretation reflected rites in the Mozarabic liturgy: “Upon recital of the Nicene Creed the priest took the largest host which is consecrated and broke it into two pieces. From one piece he further broke the host into five pieces and from the other part into four, arranging them on the paten in the form of a cross.” Each piece corresponded to a moment in the life of Jesus,and the rite was intended “to teach the faithful concerning the mystery of the Faith in which they participated when partaking of the Supper of the Risen Christ” (xxxi).
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 5:37 PM
Apringius Latin Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 25-6) offers a fascinating numerological interpretation of Jesus’ declaration that He is Alpha and Omega. The numerical value of Omega is 800, and so is the Greek word peristera, “dove.” Alpha adds a 1 to this, and thus Jesus’ self-description indicates “the deity of the Holy Spirit [dove] in the unity of the Trinity.”
The shape of the Greek Omega and the Latin “o” also bear theological weight: “In Greek, the Omega is written with three curved marks that lie along the bottom and in part are raised. In the Latin, the letter is closed in the roundness of a circle. Now, both in this enclosure of the circle and in that raising of what lies at the bottom, that divinity is declared that contains and protects all things.”
Their position in the alphabet is also significant: Omega comes at the end of the Greek alphabet, “O” in the middle of the Latin, and these together indicate that Jesus, identified with Alpha and Omega, is “himself the beginning and the end and the middle of wisdom.”
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 5:29 PM
From Irenaeus on, the vast majority of patristic and medieval commentators have claimed that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian in the mid-90s AD. There have been a few dissidents, the most famous of which was Epiphanius of Salamis (fifth century), who may reflect an independent tradition in saying that John wrote the book during the reign of Claudius in the 40s.
The long-forgotten Apringius of Beja is another. He writes (Latin Commentaries on Revelation (Ancient Christian Texts), 26): “The ecclesiastical writers have taught that at the time of Claaudius Caesar, when that famine that the prophet Agabus had announced in the Acts of the Apostles would come in ten years was at its height, that during that difficulty this same Caesar, impelled by his usual vanity, had instituted a persecution of the churches. It was during this time that he ordered John, the apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, to be transported into exile, and he was taken to the island of Patmos, and while there he confirm this writing.” He seems to be referring to the expulsion of Christians from Rome that Suetonius refers to.
That dating is hard to square with the way Revelation 17 speaks about the kings who have been, are, and will be. Yet Apringius does provide evidence that Irenaean dating is not altogether uncontested.
Thursday, May 9, 2013, 5:18 PM
Julianus Pomerius, who directed a school in sixth-century Gaul, emphasized straightforward, unadorned preaching. “A teacher of the Church should not parade an elaborate style,” he writes in his The Contemplative Life, ”lest he seem not to want to edify the Church of God but to reveal what great learning he possesses.” It is not “the glitter of his words” that distinguishes a preacher but “the virtue of his deeds.”
Caesarius was one of his devoted students, and learned the lesson about the rhetoric of preaching well. According to William Klingshirn (Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul), the issue was status: “It was the social meaning of rhetoric in late Roman Gaul that gave the [simple] standard its novelty and importance. The spoken word not only communicated information, but also defined social rank. The ability to compose and deliver complex an elegant speeches required many years of education and great expense to perfect. Because this skill was generally available only to members of the aristocracy, it served as a mark of aristocratic birth and carried with it a series of powerful associations. The refined speech of an aristocrat was calculated to reinforce feelings of solidarity with his peers, evoke a sense of deference in his inferiors, and demonstrate to everyone his knowledge and capacity for leadership. Thus, bishops who addressed their congregations in the highly ornate style . . . did so not to confuse their congregations but to establish their credentials as aristocrats, to reinforce their authority as leaders, and to demonstrate their status as spiritual experts.”
Preaching can reinforce or subvert the Pauline declaration that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free.”
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 2:27 PM
With my views on baptism again subject to scrutiny, I take a moment to summarize what I’ve written on the subject. There is nothing new here. It is what I wrote in my dissertation, The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism, in my book, The Baptized Body, and it is the assumed theology of baptism behind my various incidental writings on the topic.
First, we should take the Bible’s statements about baptism as statements about baptism. Through Paul, God says that those who have been baptized are dead and buried with Christ (Romans 6:4) and that as many as have been baptized into Christ are clothed in Christ (Galatians 3:28-29). By analogy with the exodus, Paul implies that those who are baptized are rescued from Egypt and baptized into Christ, the new Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Peter tells his hearers at Pentecost to repent and be baptized “for the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38) and says “baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). We can choose to disbelieve these things, or explain them away, but that’s what these texts say. I submit that we should believe what God has to say on the subject of baptism. That’s the starting point. When the Bible speaks about baptism, it is speaking about the rite of baptism; and what it says is true.
But how can we say this? We know that not everyone who is baptized is saved. We know that not all baptized people even profess to believe. The New Testament speaks this way about baptism, I have argued, because of what it teaches concerning the church.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 5:05 AM
As Stephen recounts the history of Israel to his persecutors, he refers in passing to several chronological details. Abraham’s descendants were slaves for 400 years (Acts 7:6), God appeared to Moses after 40 years of sojourn in Midian (7:30), and another 40 years passed with Israel in the wilderness (7:36). Stephen thus highlights the parallel, already evident in Exodus, between the experience of Moses and that of Israel, the 40 years of the “head” recapitulated in the 40 years of the “body.”
Paul repeats some of the same chronological details in his first sermon in Acts 13. Yahweh bore the grumbling of Israel for 40 years (13:18) and there were 450 years between the promise to Abraham and the entry into the land (13:19). Paul adds that Saul reigned for 40 years (13:21).
One effect of this repetition is to link Stephen and Paul, the first martyr and the former persecutor who would eventually be a martyr. Another effect is to highlight the significance of 40-year periods, which suggests a link between the apostolic generation and the wilderness generation. Whatever the intentions, the fact that chronology is part of the apostolic proclamation is not insignificant.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 4:53 AM
In a 2006 article in Studies in Philology, Sean Benson explores Shakespeare’s use of hawking imagery in romantic relations. Shakespeare “employs the gendered discourse of hawking language in order to make the interspecific leap from the falconer’s training of his female hawk to a husband’s training of his wife. Beginning with The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare uses hawking metaphors to suggest that a husband tame his haggardlike wife as a falconer would his bird. What allows such a leap is the language the falconry manuals use to describe the training of a hawk and in particular their recommendation that falconers cultivate a loving relationship with their birds, one whose intimacy implicitly draws upon the language of marital love.” Hawking, like marriage, involves an asymmetrical union of wills.
But Shakespeare inverts the standard gendered use of the imagery. Benson examines “Shakespeare’s decadelong engagement with wife taming by means of hawking language and his increasing tendency, between 1592 and 1604, to experiment with shifting the normative gender roles of falconer and hawk. Even as early as Romeo and Juliet, there is some gender slippage: Juliet is both tamer and, at certain moments, would-be tamed woman. Only in Othello,a play that has received scant attention for its hawking metaphors, does Shakespeare’s exploration of hawking language reach its culmination. Othello and Desdemona vie with one another for the right to tame the other, only to have Shakespeare point out, as he had hinted in the much earlier The Taming of the Shrew, that the interspecific leap from training hawks to training one’s wife is finally incompatible with human dignity.”
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 4:32 AM
Milbank further argues that gay marriage is not about gay rights per se but instead about the modern state’s continuing expansion of its power and persistent elimination of all rivals. As he says, legalization of gay marriage “would end public recognition of the importance of marriage as a union of sexual difference. But the joining together and harmonisation of the asymmetrical perspectives of the two sexes are crucial both to kinship relations over time and to social peace.”
This union of difference “has always been the very ‘grammar’ of social relating as such. The abandonment of this grammar would thus imply a society no longer primarily constituted by extended kinship, but rather by state control and merely monetary exchange and reproduction.” From this angle, the push for gay marriage appears as “a strategic move in the modern state’s drive to assume direct control over the reproduction of the population, bypassing our interpersonal encounters. This is not about natural justice, but the desire on the part of biopolitical tyranny to destroy marriage and the family as the most fundamental mediating social institution.”
He acknowledges that these lines have already been crossed with the allowance of sperm donation and surrogate motherhood, both of which invite “psychological confusion, family division and social conflict.” Britain (and America too) has “sleep-walked into the legalisation of practices whose logic and implications have never been seriously debated.”
Milbank suggests that the church’s best response may be to take marriage more fully into the church: “ in order to safeguard the churches from pressures to conform to the norm, we should now welcome a withdrawal from the churches of their rights as a civil marriage broker. This would leave the churches free, in their turn, to claim that only natural and sacramental marriage are genuinely ‘marriage,’ while state marriage is mere civil union. They could trump secularisation by declaring that the era of civil marriage had been a failed experiment.” Instead of ceding marriage and reproduction to the state, the church might have an opportunity to affirm and bolster the mediating institution of marriage and family.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 4:20 AM
John Milbank observes that in recent British debates over gay marriage, “legislators have recognised that it would be intolerable to define gay marriage in terms equivalent to ‘consummation,’ or to permit ‘adultery’ as legitimate ground for gay divorce.” In these decisions, “the legislators have been forced tacitly to admit the different nature of both gay sexuality and of gay sociality. But such an admission destroys the assumption behind the legislation and the coherence of what the legislation proposes to enact.”
Milbank doesn’t think it will stop there. If gay adultery has no legal force, then, on the assumption of equality, heterosexual adultery will also cease to be grounds for divorce. After all, “if the binding and loosing of gay and straight marriage are stipulated in different ways,” then the distinctions that gay marriage is designed to eliminate is reinstated. In Milbank’s view, “secular thought will not so readily let go of the demand for absolutely equal rights based on identical definitions. In that case, we face an altogether more drastic prospect. Not only would ‘marriage’ have been redefined so as to include gay marriage, it would inevitably be redefined even for heterosexual people in homosexual terms. Thus ‘consummation’ and ‘adultery’ would cease to be seen as having any relevance to the binding and loosing of straight unions.”
In short, gay marriage is not an expansion of marriage to include a new set of relationships. It undermines marriage as such, and thus tends to make marriage, not just gay marriage, impossible.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 3:59 AM
The final installment of Pastor Ralph Smith’s series on Deuteronomy 22-23 is up at the Trinity House web site.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 12:06 PM
Zachary Seward thinks people miss the point of The Great Gatsby: “many people seem enchanted enough by the decadence described in Fitzgerald’s book to ignore its fairly obvious message of condemnation. Gatsby parties can be found all over town. They are staples of spring on many Ivy League campuses and a frequent theme of galas in Manhattan. Just the other day, vacation rental startup Airbnb sent out invitations to a ‘Gatsby-inspired soiree’ at a multi-million-dollar home on Long Island, seemingly oblivious to the novel’s undertones.” Seward comments that “It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party.”
True enough, but it misses a crucial point, especially with regard to the Baz Luhrmann movie. On film, you have to show the glitz and glamour, and it always looks, especially in Luhrmann’s hands, glitzy and glamorous. How can you capture condemnation with a camera? It’s nearly as impossible to translate Fitzgerald’s tone as it is to capture Austen’s piercing ironies. As one critic commented, nearly every Austen film looks as if Mr. Collins were holding the camera.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 4:25 AM
In The New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh analyzes the paradoxes of the anarchism promoted by David Graeber, the eminence grise of the Occupy movement.
According to Sanneh, “Graeber refers to march planners and other organizers as ‘verticals,’ and to him this is an insult: it refers not just to defenders of Kim Jong-un but to anyone who thinks a political uprising needs parties or leaders. He is a ‘horizontal,’ . . . . as he listened to speeches in Bowling Green, he realized that many of the people there seemed to be horizontals, too. Working with some like-minded activists, on the opposite side of the park, Graeber helped to convene a general assembly—an open-ended meeting, with no agenda and a commitment to consensus. Adbusters, a Canadian magazine, had called for an occupation of Wall Street on September 17th, which was six weeks away; that afternoon, in Bowling Green, a few dozen horizontals decided to see what they could do to respond.”
The result was predictable: “When the day came, Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location—Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site—for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.”
And the other result was equally predictable: “Inevitably, this triumph of horizontalism increased the prominence of a handful of horizontals, none more than Graeber, who has emerged as perhaps the most influential radical political thinker of the moment.”
Pity the anarchist.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 4:16 AM
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Marin Cogan thinks that photobombs give us an insight into the culture of Washington. “Photobomb” is “a catch-all term for the act of appearing in a photo intended to capture someone likely much more important than you.” Photobombs can be funny, embarrassing, even slightly scandalous. If you’re caught in a picture with the right person, a photobomb can be a point of pride, a status symbol.
They reflect the basic premises of Washington culture: “1) We are the heart of an obsessive, up-to-the-nanosecond news culture; and 2) that culture is dominated mostly by a generation of iPhone addicted narcissists, accustomed to self-documenting and publishing every photo and banal thought to the Internet. It’s easy to understand why the Washington photobomb is both a source of pride and embarrassment. On the Hill, where photos are likely to be taken in the midst of a frenzy of reporters and staff chasing a fleeing lawmaker, there is a very high likeliness that you will be caught looking like an asshole.”
If there’s anything that is more narcissistic than DC photobombs, surely it’s an article subjecting DC photobombing to analysis.
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