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Jesu, Juva

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Reason

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In clearing up the underbrush of privilege and prejudice, liberalism or rationalism was convinced that it held in its hand the naked truth, undisguised, unstained by dogma or tradition. Reason discovering nature can test everything by experiment. There is no room for traditional habits: fashion takes the place of habit. But it is precisely fashion which enslaves Reason. The philosophizing mind has its prison of sensuality and drudgery exactly like a pupil of the Jesuits or a child in a backwoods village. Its fairy-tale and its prejudice are not dependent upon miracles or dogmas or incense or witchcraft, but the apparatus of Reason is subject to the same laws of sensuous disguise as any other part of the human soul. Superstition sends us to the medicine man, physical pain to the physician. We have a native sense that urges us on toward Reason and Philosophy: this sense is curiosity. Without a sense for novelty, no thinker can succeed or affect the life of the community. The self-indulgence of Reason is its predilection for the new. The newspaper is the true expression of this quality of philosophical perception, the sensuous form which enables man to recollect truth in its disguise as news. New facts and new ideas inflame our imagination. Without this flame the best idea, the wisest thought, remains useless. Any influence upon our senses is useless so long as our senses do not react. Indifference is a state of perfect equilibrium. When we feel neither cold nor warm, our internal thermometer is not registering anything. As long as we feel neither joy nor pride, our emotional system is quiescent. Philosophy has recognized the external dependence of all our senses. It is aware that they are all based on impressions, and react to influences from outside.

Now Reason is exactly the same kind of servant. It serves us well whenever its proper centre is stimulated. It is created and given to us for the purpose of distinguishing between new and old. It begins to move and to be stimulated by sensations which are new, unheard of. Reason is tickled by novelty. The nineteenth century changed the oldest truths into sensational news. We are willing to believe that the wind bloweth where it listeth, or that to him who hath shall be given, if we read it on the front page of our newspaper as the latest cable from Seattle. As the latest news in the newspaper, the oldest truth is welcome to Reason. The Age of Reason reveals truth by proceeding from news to news. It believes that the age of Revelation is gone; it believes in Enlightenment. But it itself is wholly based on Revelation. Reason cannot understand eternity or old age. It scorns tradition, ancien régime, customs, irrational weights or measures. It is clear, precise; but it also destroys everything which cannot be made either bad or happy news. Anything that is not willing to break out or happen or change is hidden to Reason. The nineteenth century forgot all eternal truth which was not ready to step down into the arena of Latest News, telegrams and publicity. A man had to become a sensation lest he be a failure.

. . .

These, then, are the “grandeurs et misères” of the victory of Reason. Reason, abstract and unreal, without roots in the soil, without rhythm in its movements, cannot govern its world without submitting to the directing power of sensation.

Today we are somewhat tired of this self-indulgence of Reason. The titillation of our sense of novelty is expensive and ruinous, because world, facts, truth and values lose their roots in the timeless when they are made to depend upon being rediscovered from time to time. Under the dictatorship of Reason, man begins to live like a solitary and one-celled animal. This unicellular life can get nowhere except by eating and swallowing. Multicellular life can depend upon older achievements without eating and digesting them. The modern society of the nineteenth century kills everything which cannot be swallowed in the form of news and sensations. It is unicellular. Now civilization does not form visible cells; its cells consist of generations, ages, periods. The repressive and outstanding feature of the age of Reason is its “single-aged,” one-generation character. Such an age may go on for two hundred years; but it will always remain a one-generation affair as long as its values depend on reproduction in the form of novelty. We meet reality through various senses. Any sense which states a difference is able to inform us. A consideration of our modern life will reveal how much of its information is based on a mere sense of curiosity. Curiosity arranges the things of the universe according to their quality of being new; and this produces an order of things of remarkable futility. The movie star comes to the foreground, wisdom is ridiculed, forests are sacrificed without a qualm because they grow so slowly, and skyscrapers are adored because they go up so fast. It is a very limited outlook on the universe which we gain through our instruments for news. There are other instruments, like hunger, reverence, patience, faith, which work in a different way and discover very different parts of the world.

The sense of novelty has been organized in the last hundred and fifty years as our main highroad of information. We say: it has been organized. The nineteenth century did not make discoveries or inventions in the same way as any other period of history. It invented the technique of invention; it formulated the methods of discovery. The secret of the French Revolution is the organization of discovery. We no longer stumble from one invention to the next; we have learned to plan our inventions and discoveries.

The sensation of novelty is sanctified by the campaigns carried on in our laboratories into the unknown. But like any sacrament, this one is stained by terrible superstitions. No one wishes to minimize the miracles performed in the laboratory; but we must overcome this appalling destruction of family, discipline, faith, by curiosity and by the growing paralysis of the rest of our senses. Because everybody has been trained in curiosity, most people have neglected their other senses; our deeper, wiser, better and more important links with reality have degenerated under our system of newspapers, radios, phonographs, movies, with their organization of novelty. They are the bane of modern life. The prohibition of news would restore the peace of many families. Truth will die if the masses see it based on nothing but novelty. Truth is not new, it is all around us. It was before we were. The original thinker knows that true originality consists in being as old as creation. (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, 248-253)

Rosenstock-Huessy’s comments on the organization of scientific progress call to mind Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Each revolution in history—and doubly so the coming transition from empire to tribe—involves a gestalt shift. Usually this is a generational shift because old wineskins cannot handle new wine. And until it happens, we often cannot see clearly how it will take form, though we know that the old ways will cease to work, things will fall apart, and the new ways will not be exactly like anything that has come before. But what is exciting about this is that, if you are willing to heed the prophets, you can still give your children a head start by freeing them from service to the fashionable–idols and helping them to love what is true and good and beautiful.

Written by Scott Moonen

September 19, 2021 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Books, History, Quotations

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-34)

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Mark Horne writes about God’s perfect justice and how God acts generationally (part 1, part 2, part 3), concluding as follows (but you should read all three):

We need to distinguish between descendants being affected by the sins of their ancestors and their being guilty of those sins. . . . So yes, sometimes God’s public justice destroys people who didn’t personally commit the injustice. The young and marginal in Sodom and Gomorrah got burned up with the rest. Achan’s family (along with the warriors who first attacked Ai) got destroyed for his sin that some may not have had a part in. Those deaths are punishments of the sinner (Achan and whoever was an accessory) but their personal deaths are justified in Genesis 3, not in what Achan did. Their deaths are, on a personal level, no different than the deaths of Job’s children who were killed because he was righteous.

Three key points to keep in mind are that (1) death comes to all of us in Adam; (2) it is not necessarily judicial (for which see the moving 1 Kings 14:13); and (3) the Bible often hides for us either a distinction that God is making, or at least his reasons for making it. One example of this is the sons of Saul in 2 Samuel 21; it is clear that not all of Saul’s sons are put to death, but we are not let in on the (obviously) righteous distinction that was made. Another example is the family of Korah in Numbers 16; it seems from this passage that God put the entire family to death, but Numbers 26:11 tells us that at least some of Korah’s children were preserved, and it is likely their offspring are the Korahites faithfully serving in God’s house in 1 Chronicles 26 and several of the Psalms.

This is a good time to remember that Jephthah did not offer up his daughter. However, God was righteous in commanding Abraham to offer up Isaac.

I revisited Deuteronomy 20 wanting to decide whether “civilian” was a proper distinction for jus in bello. I’m not sure that it is. At the city level, all of the men of a contumacious city are subject to the sword. I’m not sure to what degree this extends beyond the level of a city; I’m not convinced that Judges 19-21 is a righteous example. It’s also worth reflecting on the typology of trees and thorns; what are fruit trees? Are they women?

I’m so thankful for the elders of the CREC!

The Lord’s table must reflect the diversity of his body (Galatians 2, James 2, 1 Corinthians 11). Now, James teaches the church not to engage in partial social engineering—as if we would fly in someone from Saskatchewan, or work especially hard to bring in a Florida man, or begin conducting our services with Hungarian translation. And since the old covenant was completely torn down in AD 70, the church does not even go “to the Jew first” but to all men. But James does command us to welcome all those whom God sends our way. Therefore it is of utmost urgency that the church baptize her little ones and welcome them to the table. In the new covenant, where holiness and cleanness are now contagious rather than death (Matthew 9, 1 Corinthians 7), our little ones are now more welcome in Jesus than ever before (Mark 10; you can be sure that Jesus’s blessings are not mere platitudes); “your children shall come back” (Jeremiah 31), “they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest . . . for I will forgive their iniquity” (Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8). If we do not welcome our little ones to their Lord’s table, then we fail to “discern the body [of Christ]” and become “guilty” of his body and blood (“for this reason many are weak and sick”); we are “out of step with the truth of the gospel;” and we “stand condemned” as Peter and the disciples—ultimately teaching the world a lie about the place of little ones in a polis.

This is why they look at me with suspicion, seeing me as a sort of sheep in wolf’s clothing. (Conversations with René Girard, 181)

As the scapegoat mechanism has been revealed, we do not return directly to it, that is, we do not directly accuse the victim of having done something. We don’t blame them directly. But the scapegoat mechanism continues to work, though in a different way: the politically correct movement accuses their opponents of creating scapegoats. They accuse them of victimizing others. It’s like Christianity turned upside down: they take whatever is left of Christian influence, whatever is left of Christian language, but to opposite ends, in order to perpetuate the scapegoat mechanism. (Conversations with René Girard, 182)

Christianity never had this goal. It never sought to organize society. (Conversations with René Girard, 182)

Today people in academia are not even trying to be honest. (Conversations with René Girard, 183)

It seems like the ancient, primitive fatalities, temporarily discarded by the light of the prophets and the Gospel, are coming back. In the Bible, the protection of children appears alongside the protection of the handicapped, lepers, cripples. These are the preferential victims of ancient societies, and we understand we must protect them. We still protect crippled people, handicapped people, but in the center of it all we find a sort of cancer growing, which is the return to infanticide. This is a decisive argument, which few people will take into consideration: those who defend abortion are trying to make our society go back to pre-Christian barbarism. (Conversations with René Girard, 184)

This was a fascinating Twitter thread. I recently bought a Berkey filter thinking that the main benefits would be chlorine and fluoride filtering. But it seems like there are more benefits—and also that you might want to consider a filter even if you drink well water.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 20, 2021 at 6:56 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-33)

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Now is the time for states, counties, and municipalities to be enacting a great many sanctuary laws. You may have heard of this in relation to the second amendment, but we need to expand the idea to cover abortion, mask mandates, lockdowns, and vaccine mandates.

I’m in favor of the following tests for political office: (1) familiarity with the Bible, (2) familiarity with René Girard, and (3) familiarity with Edwin Friedman. I think this would solve a lot of problems.

There is one place where social distancing is against the law: the Lord’s weekly supper (Gal. 2). There is neither masked nor unmasked, vaccinated nor unvaccinated, but Christ is all and in all. Greet one another with a holy kiss. And go do likewise at your own tables and workplaces.

We saw a velvet ant on a walk yesterday; I had never seen or heard of them before. They are actually wasps, and are sometimes called “cow killers,” not because their sting is dangerous but because it is painful:

James Jordan writes about long-haul postmillenialism:

As an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian who has been a postmillennialist for nearly twenty years, I think about this when I look at the postmillennial resurgence in America today. Is it going to be a true, Biblical postmillennialism? Will it have room for Ecclesiastes? Will it have room for cross-bearing? Will it see that for us God really is incomprehensible, though not inapprehensible? Will it be clay in the Master’s hand?

I do think that some day we will be wrestling with the chains of Pleiades and the cords of Orion.

I am not necessarily hostile to all the things which I do not mention in my writing. (Conversations with René Girard, 60)

Nothing would be easier [than to put humanity back on the right path] if we wanted to do it: but we don’t want to. To understand human beings, their constant paradox, their innocence, their guilt, is to understand that we are all responsible for this state of things because, unlike Christ, we’re not ready to die. (Conversations with René Girard, 73)

Revelation is dangerous. It’s the spiritual equivalent of nuclear power.

What’s most pathetic is the insipidly modernized brand of Christianity that bows down before everything that’s most ephemeral in contemporary thought. Christians don’t see that they have at their disposal an instrument that is incomparably superior to the whole mishmash of psychoanalysis and sociology that they conscientiously feed themselves. It’s the old story of Esau sacrificing his inheritance for a plate of lentils.

All the modes of thought that once served to demolish Christianity are being discredited in turn by more “radical” versions of the same critique. There’s no need to refute modern thought because, as each new trend one-ups its predecessors, it’s liquidating itself at high speed. . . . For a long time, Christians were protected from this insane downward spiral and, when they finally dive in, you can recognize them by their naïve modernist faith. They’re always one lap behind. They always choose the ships that the rats are in the midst of abandoning.

They’re hoping to tap into the hordes of people who have deserted their churches. They don’t understand that the last thing that can attract the masses is a Christian version of the demagogic laxity in which they’re already immersed. (Conversations with René Girard, 77)

Once the Soviet state is created, the Marxists see first of all that the wealth is drying up and then that economic equality doesn’t stop the various kinds of discrimination, which are much more deeply ingrained. Then, because they’re utopians, they say: “There are traitors who are keeping the system from functioning properly”; and they look for scapegoats. In other words, the principle of discrimination is stronger than economics. It’s not enough to put people on the same social level because they’ll always find new ways of excluding one another. In the final analysis, the economic, biological, or racial criterion that is responsible for discrimination will never be found, because it’s actually spiritual. Denying the spiritual dimension of Evil is as wrong as denying the spiritual dimension of Good. (Conversations with René Girard, 82)

I think the reason we talk so much about sex is that we don’t dare talk about envy. The real repression is the repression of envy. (Conversations with René Girard, 100)

What people call the partisan spirit is nothing but choosing the same scapegoat as everybody else. (Conversations with René Girard, 133)

We have experienced various forms of totalitarianism that openly denied Christian principles. There has been the totalitarianism of the Left, which tried to outflank Christianity; and there has been totalitarianism of the Right, like Nazism, which found Christianity too soft on victims. This kind of totalitarianism is not only alive but it also has a great future. There will probably be some thinkers in the future who will reformulate this principle in a politically correct fashion, in more virulent forms, which will be more anti-Christian, albeit in an ultra-Christian caricature. When I say more Christian and more anti-Christian, I imply the future of the Amit-Christ. The Anti-Christ is nothing but that: it is the ideology that attempts to out christianize Christianity, that imitates Christianity in a spirit of rivalry. (Conversations with René Girard, 141)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 13, 2021 at 3:27 pm

Mission

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My favorite quotes from Peter Leithart’s Theopolitan Mission:

The principle of ministry in the church is simple: “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26). This is the rule: Do everything you do to complete Christ’s body. (39)

Macedonians make a koinonia contribution to poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26). As Paul sees it, they don’t throw money at a problem from a distance. Rather, their generous gifts overcome distance, joining Macedonian Gentiles and Jerusalem Jews in one fellowship of the Spirit. Material gifts have a quasi-sacramental power to join the members of the church into one body. (50)

A church isn’t carrying out the mission of Jesus if it doesn’t gather on the Lord’s Day at a common table. (54)

Conflict is no accident, nor is it avoidable. Suffering is the only path into the kingdom, an inevitable part of mission. (71)

Like the ark, the church receives and preserves the treasures of the world (Rev 21:24) so they can be purged, transfigured, and brought out again to adorn creation. As worlds collapse, the world’s riches are kept safe in the ark of the church. All things are gathered into the church so that all things can disembark into a new creation. Noah performs this magic only once, but Jesus does it continuously. Treasures flow continuously into the ark of Christendom. The church has received the treasures of Greek and Roman art, philosophy, and politics, to purify them and bring them to fulfillment. It will plunder the gold of China, Japan, and India, of the Masai and Zulu, of Arabia and Iraq and Afghanistan. Treasures from the city of man enter the city of God so they can return to the city of man, renewed. The city of man enters the ark of God so it can become more perfectly what it’s supposed to be, more perfectly an image of heavenly Jerusalem.

The church pilots the world. What happens in the holy church guides what happens outside. If the church is unfaithful, leaves her first love, and turns to false teachers, Jesus will move the lampstand and abandon the house (Rev 2-3). If the church keeps her lamps burning, continuously supplied by the oil of the Spirit, the world will be full of light. (79)

I wonder sometimes if any of my international colleagues are secret brothers and sisters.

Transformed by the Eucharist, our making is freed from pure utility and functionality. Utility is good. A woodworker makes tables for meals, weavers make cloth for clothing, metalworkers make wires for electricity and rebar to strengthen walls. All these forms of making have practical ends. But when we make in order to offer our fruit to God in praise, we transcend mere usefulness. The cobbler doesn’t just cover bare feet; he cobbles for the glory of God. At the same time, the sanctuary frees us from the sterile circularity of making for its own sake, the effete snobbery of “art for art’s sake.” Making Eucharistically, a craftsman makes for God. “Art for art’s sake” is a sign of decadence. It’s a symptom of the decay of liturgy. (88-89)

A flood is coming. It’s already sweeping away the world as we know it. The world we know will be submerged as the Lord turns the world upside down and gives it a sharp shake (Hag 2:6-7).

It’s not the end of everything. Creation will survive, and civilization will be reborn. Jesus will steer the ark of his church through the storm. As the clouds gather, as the thunder begins to roll, as the deluge crashes down, we’re called to continue the often-imperceptible work of building the ark of Jesus. With our lives scripted by the Scriptures that reveal the Christ, we cling to the apostolic gospel, gather to break bread, share our material and Spiritual gifts, offer a continuous sacrifice of prayer and song. We preach the good news in false churches and public squares, endure the rage of the mob, suffer with Jesus so we may share His glory. We confront idols and demons and call all men from darkness to light, from Satan to the living God (Acts 26:18). In the Last Adam, we’re made right-makers, grateful makers whose making is an act of worship. Some will slip, lizard-like, into palaces (Prov 30:28) and gain a hearing before Prime Ministers and Presidents.

As we do these things, we preserve the treasures of the past and, by the alchemy of the Spirit, transfigure ancient treasures into new. When the storm is over and the flood waters recede, we’ll have and be the seeds of a new creation. We’ll flow like living water to fertilize the wasteland.

If you’re a Christian, that’s what you’re doing. Your life may not look like a big deal. You’re kind to your neighbors, serve your brothers and sisters in church, gather each week to receive God’s Word and God’s Bread. You train and teach your children as disciples; you love your husband or wife. You’re an honest and productive employee, an attentive employer, an entrepreneur or bureaucrat in a well-established institution. You do and make, but no one notices. . . .

You feel invisible, but that’s an optical illusion. You’re participating in the biggest project imaginable. You’re joining with millions of others to build the self-building ark of Jesus. Through your witness and labor, a new world is taking form. You’re fighting the battle of the ages. You’re constructing the city of God among the cities of men in order to transform the cities of men to become more like the city of God. Nothing is small in the kingdom of Jesus.

There’s nothing to fear. We live in joy and expectant hope. Jesus is in the boat, and He calms the seas. The Carpenter of Nazareth will pilot his ark until it rests on a new Ararat, a new Eden, the garden-city where the river of life flows. (100-101)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 4, 2021 at 10:19 pm

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

The Lost Supper

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I recently read, and greatly appreciated, Matthew Colvin‘s book The Lost Supper. Colvin builds his understanding of the Lord’s supper on a thesis earlier offered by Robert Eisler and David Daube. He summarizes the puzzle he is seeking to unlock with an opening quote from Daube:

“Jesus could not at the same time have introduced both the general idea of eating a cake of unleavened bread as the Messiah and the specific identification of that cake with himself. That is just not how rites come into being.” This is an important difference between [Daube’s] view and most Christian understandings of the eucharist and Last Supper: many Christians have a view of the effect of Jesus’ words of institution that actually renders them incomprehensible to the disciples in the Upper Room. (Colvin, 37)

Colvin and Daube are not arguing that we must backdate the modern Seder into the first century. But they are arguing—compellingly—that the first century Passover must have had Messianic echoes that reverberate today in both the Eucharist and the Seder. Colvin summarizes his conclusion as follows:

Thus, as we also found in the case of the words over the bread, we discover that Jesus’ words about the wine are more concerned with using the Passover to speak to his disciples about his own impending death and its significance within Israel’s story than they were about explaining the metaphysical relation of the bread and wine to his body and blood. His words over the bread identify himself as Israel’s Messiah; his words over the cup are a way of indicating that he will offer himself as a sacrifice, a new Passover lamb to accomplish a new Exodus; and that this will bring about the coming Kingdom of God. Messiah, new Exodus, and coming Kingdom: this is a deeply Jewish set of meanings for these rituals, full of the themes that were on every mind and heart at Passover. Jesus in the Last Supper is doing what we should expect for a Jewish Messiah’s last meal with his disciples; he is doing exactly what Jews have always done with the food and drink of the Passover: make them tell the story of God and Israel—past, present, and future—and by ritual participation inscribe themselves in that story, in those events. (Colvin, 92)

This idea that a ritual is a removal from time, a participation in both the past and future, is key to Colvin’s understanding. He quotes Alastair Roberts:

Much as in the case of a Passover meal, a memorial of a past deliverance anticipates future salvation and each repetition re-establishes us within musical cycles of memory and hope. It repeatedly stabilizes us by restoring us to Christ’s decisive, once-for-all, action in the past, and destabilizes us by exposing us to the fecundity of the future that this action opened. It ties together founding action with the anticipation of final judgment. (Colvin, 82, quoting Alastair Roberts, A Musical Case for Typological Realism)

Colvin rejects mere real presence in favor of robust participation:

Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples on Passover, far from culminating in a sacramental “real presence,” begins with presence and moves from presence to something higher. The disciples have Jesus “present”—sitting in front of their eyes—but they still do not understand who he is or how they are to relate to him. . . .

In [Luke’s] narrative, the presence of Christ is not effected by the eating of the bread (still less by “consecration” of it); indeed, the resurrected Jesus appeared and was bodily present to his disciples on the road to Emmaus only in order to bring about the disciples’ participation in his new life, which is the life of the renewed Israel, the climax and fulfillment of Israel’s story. The goal is participation, not “presence.” (Colvin, 97-98)

Colvin’s project is very similar to that of Leithart with baptism: he understands the spiritual activity of the Lord’s supper to run along thoroughly corporate, social, and physical lines. It is a bodily activity as well as a mental one:

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s formulations, it is a positively daunting feat of reverence and emotions, requiring 14 different mental acts beforehand, another 13 during the Supper, and another 7 if they judge themselves to have partaken successfully, or 5 if unsuccessfully! Astonishingly, the Westminster Divines do not actually state that those “that receive the sacrament” must eat and drink the bread and wine. Every action specified in Q. 174 (as well as those in Q. 171 and 175) is something Christians do with their minds. By contrast, all of the commands of Jesus concerning the Supper—”take, eat, drink, do this”—are things that Christians do with their bodies. (Colvin, 100)

Thus, for Colvin, failure to discern the body is not a cerebral but rather a thoroughly public and corporate and social matter, consistent with much of the rest of 1 Corinthians:

The form this condemnation took is also the same as in the Exodus: supernaturally inflicted death. “Because of this [failure to draw the boundaries of the people of God properly], many among you are weak and sick and some are asleep [i.e. dead].” (11:30) If we are looking for a mechanism by which the eucharist operates, I submit that we have found it here: the communal meal, as an acted sharing in the salvific sacrificial death of the Messiah, marks the people of God as the ones who are to be spared God’s deadly judgment, leaving those outside the Christian community exposed to that wrath. It is inflicted by God’s own power.

This modus operandi should look familiar to us. In Exodus 11:4-7, YHWH announces that the Passover will work the same way. . . . The discrimen, the means by which this difference [between the Egyptians and Israel] is marked, is the ritual meal itself. (Colvin, 128)

The supper therefore naturally functions as a memorial to God rather than a mere reminder to ourselves:

Was Israel also commanded to remember? To be sure, and all the rituals of Passover to this day are aimed at inscribing the Exodus indelibly in the consciousness of every Jewish child. Yet in Egypt, it was not the Israelites’ consciousness, but the Lord’s response to his own commanded memorial (zeker) that effected salvation for the Israelites and destruction for their enemies. In Paul’s understanding, the eucharist operates not by the followers of Jesus thinking about it, but because it marks them as the people defined by Jesus’ sacrificial death, which God remembers and honors and to which he responds with action in history. (Colvin, 133)

All of this is simply a function of how meals work:

Paul’s arguments by analogy with pagan sacrifices (1 Cor. 10:20) and with Jewish sacrifices in the Temple (1 Cor. 10:19) are only possible if the eucharist works the way other meals work. What is special about it is not the way it connects its participants to a person, but the person to whom it connects them. (Colvin, 137)

Thus, the supper is a participation-communion-koinonia, side by side with all of God’s people, both in the past events of the crucifixion and resurrection, but also in our future resurrection and glorification. But this is only a specific instance of what happens throughout the entire service of covenant renewal worship. On the Lord’s day, together with all the Lord’s people, we really are caught up out of time and into the heavens. The bread and wine that we consume are heavenly–spiritual bread and wine; not just a foretaste of the coming feast, but an actual distribution of it. And all this is precisely what it means to worship in Spirit (John 4, Revelation 1).

Colvin closes with helpful practical thoughts on the Lord’s supper today. I largely agree with him, although I think that treating the supper as a feast should not lead us to make much of a common cup. He does not take up a critique of the pious notion of withdrawing oneself temporarily from the supper as a kind of contrition, but I think his principles warrant against that powerfully.

I’ve argued previously for real presence along several lines, but I take greatly to heart Colvin’s charge to think in terms of participation-communion-koiononia rather than mere presence.

However, my friend Randy also cautions that we have a sure hope even if bread and wine are taken away from us:

But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 ESV)

Incidentally, as part of his argument, Colvin also makes a fascinating point about the Lord’s prayer. He argues that the entire prayer has an eschatological bent, including the petition for bread:

[This word] is thus “the coming bread,” the eschatological bread. . . . Thus, the force of the word is to make the petition a request for “the bread of tomorrow” or the eschatological bread. (Colvin, 57-58)

Written by Scott Moonen

January 19, 2021 at 11:14 pm

Never again

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Then one of the demons answered: “Lords, we have been ruined by what we thought would benefit us most. Remember the words of the prophets, who said that the son of God would come down to earth to save the sinners descended from Adam and Eve. And we went and seized those who said that the man who would come to earth would deliver them from the torments of Hell. Everything the prophets said has now come true. He has taken away all those that we had taken hold of, and we are powerless against him. He has taken away from us all those who believe in his special birth, who believe he was born of woman in such a way that we had no part in the event and were not even aware that it was going to happen.”

“Don’t you know, then,” said another, “that he has them washed in water in his name? They are washed in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, so that we can never again have them as we used to. We have now lost them all through this washing, so that we have no power over them unless they choose to come back to us. Thus the man who has taken them away has reduced our power. Moreover he has left ministers on earth who will save them, no matter how great a part they have had in our works; they have but to repent and renounce our works and do as the ministers say. We have thus lost them all. Our Lord has offered them a great spiritual gift: to save mankind, he came to earth and deigned to be born of woman and suffer all the torments of the world; and he was born of woman unbeknownst to us and without committing any sin of the flesh. When at last we came along, we tried and tested him in every way we knew, but he resisted all our efforts and chose instead to die in order to save mankind. He must surely love all men, if he was willing to suffer such great pain to take them away from us. We now have to seek a way to win them back so that they cannot repent or even speak to the ministers who could grant them the pardon that he paid for with his death.”

Then all together they said: “We have lost everything, since he can pardon sinners up to the last moment. Whoever embrace him will be saved. Even someone who has always performed our works is now lost to us if he repents. We have now lost them all.”

From The Prose Merlin, in The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, p. 307

I find it especially interesting that the author has the demons call Jesus Our Lord.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 16, 2020 at 3:48 pm

There’s no other way

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“You have done what was required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that.”

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Written by Scott Moonen

March 1, 2020 at 9:05 am

Posted in Books, Quotations, Vocation

Follow me

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My name also is Ransom.

Maleldil, to Elwin Ransom

Written by Scott Moonen

February 15, 2020 at 7:24 am

Posted in Books, Quotations

The Piano

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When I am stuck in writing a book, when I am stuck in a problem in life, if I go to the piano and play Bach for an hour, the problem is usually either resolved or accepted. I find, as I grow older, that I turn less to the romantics and more to the baroque composers, though they’ve always been my favorites. In college I asked if I could learn something with more feeling in it, and my professor gave me some Chopin. What I had really been wanting, of course, was Bach.

And I did, years earlier, discover counterpoint for myself. We were visiting my grandmother in the South. What I remember most about her big old house was that there was a small conservatory, always green-smelling and warm, and that there were birds in it; and I remember her white, cluttered bedroom, off which was a screened sleeping porch entirely surrounded by trees covered with Spanish moss and filled with the singing of birds; and I remember the music room, with double doors leading to the living room. I spent a lot of time there, the doors closed, and one evening after dinner I was leafing through some old music and came across a rondeau by Rameau. I hadn’t been taking piano lessons for more than a year or so, and I will never forget the shock of joy with which I heard my left hand repeating what my right hand had been doing, heard both hands together, one starting the melody, the second coming in with it: the feeling of discovery, of sheer bliss, is still vivid.

Here in Crosswicks we have my mother’s piano. It is older than I am, has become difficult to tune, is not always predictable. Keys stick. Notes do not always sound when struck. When we moved back to New York for the winters it was clear that the piano would not stand another transition. In any case, we did not want to empty the house completely; it still had to be Crosswicks.

For a while we lived in a lovely but almost empty apartment. My mother came up from the South to visit, and one day she said, “You do miss a piano, don’t you?” Yes, I did. Desperately. We kept our eyes and ears open for a second-hand piano, and eventually found one which Mother bought for me. It was not a great piano, but neither am I a great pianist. For a good many years it was perfectly adequate. Then it got to the point where the bass sounded dead and the treble sounded tinny, and tuning didn’t help at all.

One evening we were at Tallis’s for dinner. The friend who had cashed Emily Brontë’s check and I were with him out in the kitchen. Hugh was coming up after rehearsal; had he been there he probably would have shut me up, but I was beefing about the piano, and said, “If one of your ritzy friends is breaking up a big house and wants to dispose of a piano, I’m in the market.”

The following Sunday after church we were again up in Tallis’s apartment, and he staggered us by announcing, “Madeleine, I’ve decided to give you my piano.”

Hugh’s response was, “You can’t! Where will you put your pictures?” For the top of the piano was covered with dozens of photographs—friends, godchildren, people from all over the world, famous and infamous, majah, minah . . .

The piano is a Steinway grand. It came to Tallis from Austin Strong, the playwright. It has been played by Paderewski and Rachmaninoff. It has also almost undoubtedly been played by my mother, though none of us knew this at the time. Austin Strong was a friend of my father’s; they were of the same generation, and they saw each other weekly at the Players Club. My mother was a splendid pianist, and one of my earliest memories is hearing her run through an opera score while friends from the Met stood around the piano and sang.

The piano is now in our living room in New York. Tallis quite often remarks that things know where they belong. And The Piano is quite definitely an icon. I am convinced that the fact that Paderewski and Rachmaninoff have played it affects my own playing; the first night it was in our apartment I took my bath while Hugh walked the dogs, but instead of going to bed, I wrapped myself in a huge towel and, unable to resist, went to the piano. When Hugh came in he began to fumble with the dials on the radio-phonograph control, which are out in the hall by the front door. “What are you doing?” I asked him. He answered in surprise, “Are you playing? I thought it was WQXR.” Such was the effect of The Piano.

Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet, 165-167

Written by Scott Moonen

January 27, 2020 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Books, Music, Quotations