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Jesu, Juva

The Fruit of Our Lips

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I read Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Fruit of Our Lips recently and appreciated it. I’ve already shared one quote on prophecy. Here are some others that provoked me:

The “four gospels” . . . can prove one thing: the Word changed the world of the mind once and for all. In antiquity, a book was closed to all other books; an ancient school of philosophy was closed to all other schools; a book had a beginning and an end, two covers contained it. That is not true of the four gospels. They respond to a dead-end, to an end of the world. They move through time, and when they end, they have scarcely begun. At the end of all four gospels, John says that the whole universe isn’t big enough to contain all the books that could be written about Jesus. That sounds fantastic, but after all, today even this chapter of mine bears witness to the fact that John’s cheerful confidence was well-founded. (72)

In his gospel, Matthew progresses from speaking as a Jew to speaking as a non-Jew—the text is plain. In his first chapter, Matthew begins: “This is the book of the birth of Jesus the Christ, the son of David, the Son of Abraham.” In the same first chapter, verse 21, we read: “Jesus shall free his people from their sins.” Obviously, we are in Israel, for Matthew seems to see no necessity to explain the “his” in “his people” at all. But by the 28th and final chapter, Matthew’s eloquence has carried him beyond the Jewish world. When he comes to reporting the machinations of the priests and elders among the Jews, he writes, “this [has been] common talk among the Jews to this day” [28:15]. Here the Jews are no longer divided into those who believe in Christ and those who do not; the Jews, as Jews, are outside Matthew’s family. The fence between them and Matthew is infinitely higher in the 28th chapter than in the first. The outpouring of his experiences, his memories, and his notes changed the writer’s own mind. . . . The wisdom of our tradition consists in the fact that in the first gospel a man writes himself out of Israel by writing up Jesus. Thus, he makes real, makes visible, to his readers that to write “about Jesus” means to reduce the Bible to the Old Testament. That could never have been achieved with argument. . . . An Evangelist is a man who, by speaking of Jesus, changes his own mind and, because he is in the process himself, leads others into the same process. Matthew’s gospel institutes a process whose power changes the face of the world—and of Israel—for Christianity is the world as it always was, plus Jesus’ death. (74-75)

Where in Matthew a worldly process makes all mankind Jews, in Luke the same process makes Rome into Jerusalem. So here too we miss the sense of the scripture if we treat it as “material.” Its purpose is to force us to our own change of mind. No Communist is as thorough a materialist as the biblical critics have been. (77)

This is a fascinating observation:

We may say too that the climax of Peter’s self-denial is that Mark is not allowed to give the name “Peter” to one of the two disciples who see the risen Christ in Emmaus, even though Paul bluntly declares that Peter was the first who saw the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:5). . . (83)

What is the beginning and the end of speech? The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of a particular act of the spirit. End and beginning bring inspiration down to earth; the end and beginning of any book tell you if it is true or not. This truth is a threefold truth: a word may be true in its content; it may secondly be true enough to prove the author right; and finally it may be so true that it forces the next speaker to respond and speak in turn.

Shakespeare compelled Milton to swerve out of the path of earlier poetry because his language was so perfect that Milton complained (“On Shakespeare,” 1630). The Church has lived on in the truth of the facts told in the “four gospels”; Christians in their own lives have lived on in the truth of the men who told them. (110-111)

The word “freedom” must never replace the experience of liberation, the word “good” must never replace the experience of getting better. Today it is the particular curse of the educated that “kindness” so often replaces the passionate need to love, as “adjustment” replaces the experience of personal commitment. (116)

The price of freedom is threefold: time, life, and substance. All three must be given freely to achieve great ends. Where not even one of these three powers is given freely, freedom becomes an empty word. Freedom’s way into the world consists of the investment of these three forms of capital in the service of a new love, a new faith, or a new hope. . . .

The relationship between freedom and law is absolute; no one unwilling to pay the price may enjoy freedom. He who is not willing to marry, cannot and can never know what full love between the sexes can be. He who is not willing to suffer for the truth, can never know what the truth is. He who does not defend his country will not and shall never understand what freedom is though not everything that calls itself a fatherland is one. (119)

In the year 38 A.D. all twelve apostles lived as a closed corporation in Jerusalem. The Lord had granted them all their powers as one inseparable common hand, and when Matthew picked up his pen, he could only do so as their secretary. Today’s criticism arises from the hell of individualism that has ruled since the Enlightenment, so it sees individual Evangelists wandering around like will o’ the wisps in the swamp. Oh, each one of them spoke in the name of all the apostles—most of all the latecomers, Matthew and Paul! . . . .

They are all of one mind. The genealogy in Matthew is no more “Mattheine” than the prologue to John is “Johannine.” They all believed themselves to be sinners and righteous like everyone else, and only together to be worthy of the healing power of the spirit. This way we can arrive at a sensible dating fo the gospels. They are not cheats with prophecies invented after the fact; they are not forgeries with a purpose. The gospels actually accuse the authors or their protectors of the weaknesses to which they fell victim, and they all go back to the most intimate community of the apostles with each other. Matthew wrote for the twelve while they were still together, and I still hope to see the day an honest Bible critic recognizes in these twelve years in Jerusalem, from the crucifixion to Peter’s departure, their Lord Jesus’ greatest achievement of genius. (121-122)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 31, 2021 at 8:57 am

Posted in Bible, Books, Quotations

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