I've just got back from the hospital with Meg and Emmanuelle. The tests didn't turn anything up, and the diagnosis is that whatE has is viral; which is, I assume, good news. Anyhow, E is home, and her face is looking so sweet that I'm concerned some bees will try to shove her in their hive.
After not getting much sleep in the hospital last night, M and E are looking forward to some decent rest.
Thanks for your prayers.
The hospital stay proved beyond doubt (if there ever was any) that E is Feisty with a capital F. The staff couldn't stick needles in her, of poke her abdomen, or attach her to various pieces of apparatus without her cracking it.
1. To think that what one says or does is better than what others say and do. 2. To always want to get your own way. 3. To argue with stubbornness and bad manners whether you are right or wrong. 4. To give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it. 5. To look down on another’s point of view. 6. Not to look on your own gifts and abilities as lent. 7. Not to recognize that you are unworthy of all honours and esteem, not even the earth you walk on and things you possess. 8. To use yourself as an example in conversation. 9. To speak badly of yourself so that others will think well of you or contradict you. 10. To excuse yourself when you are corrected. 11. To hide humiliating faults from your spiritual director, so that he will not change the impression that he has of you. 12. To take pleasure in praise and compliments. 13. To be saddened because others are held in higher esteem. 14. To refuse to perform inferior tasks. 15. To seek to stand out. 16. To refer in conversation to your honesty, genius, dexterity, or professional prestige. 17. To be ashamed because you lack certain goods.
That is, ‘Do not put your trust in princes’ –Psalm 146:3 (145:2 in the Vulgate). ‘Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish’.
These words were going through my mind on Saturday night as I saw the election results. One of our ‘princes’ – John Howard – has left the scene to be replaced by our new ‘prince’ - Kevin Rudd. The prayers of our little congregation are with our new Prime Minister, of course, just as they were with our old one. But neither man, thank God, has been or will be the Saviour of our Nation.
On Saturday night, as I heard the crowds cheering, I got to thinking about changes in my experience - and in my understanding - of political debate. In recent years I’ve grown less eager to hear (from myself and others) politicians (of any political stripe) vilified. I welcome (and enjoy) vigorous discussion on the merits (or otherwise) of political policy and ideas, but when conversation descends into name-calling and personal attacks on politicians it gets me down. I can’t help feel that such conversation is a display of a lack of faith in God – that is, I can't help feeling that when faith in God weakens then we have to find scapegoats other than the Lamb of God - and so I hear vilification of politicians, from myself or others, as reluctance to take our anger and frustration to the One who is ultimately responsible: God.
But on Saturday night I heard the crowds not simply cheering, but chanting the name of at least one politician. And this disturbed me more than any of the abuse I have heard poured on any politician. Personal attacks on politicians I can understand, even if it gets me down. But chanting the name of a politician?
Nolite confidere in principibus. It's my suggested motto for election nights.
In the last few weeks, in preparation for the next round of the national Lutheran / Roman Catholic dialogue, I’ve been reading on the place of Scripture in the life of the Church. One key passage from Vatican II sums it up this way: “It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (DV II 10) As the dialogue process proceeds, I look forward to hearing what the Catholic participants have to say in their understanding and explanation of these words. It seems to me that one could accept this teaching while at the same time holding that the Church is ‘under’ Scripture. We’ll see. In looking through the Book of Concord, I’ve been surprised to find how few references there are to the place of Scripture in determining doctrine. There are, however, some important passages that deal directly with the issue, including this one form the beginning of the Formula: “1. We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119, 105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1, 8.” (FC Ep. I 1) What interests me about this passage is the use of the passives ‘should be estimated and judged’. Estimated and judged by whom? A typically protestant answer might be ‘estimated and judged by each individual Christian’. But is this the way that Lutherans, at least as we expound our confessional teaching, would rightly answer? It seems to me that the next round of dialogue will be interesting.
Over the last 13 years I have enjoyed a close friendship with Lutheran Pastor Adam Cooper. Apart from the similarity of our age and cultural background, one of the things that has bonded us as friends is the similarity of the questions that we bring to the Lutheran Confessions. In particular, we have enjoyed hours of conversation thinking through the role of the human body in salvation, and how the reality of the salvation of human beings as embodied creatures is addressed (or left unaddressed – because not a point of contention in the 16th century) in the Lutheran Confessions. While Adam has pursued theological questions regarding the body in an academically rigorous way (see, for example http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/HistoryofChristianity/EarlyChurch/~~/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4MDE5OTI3NTcwMA==) I’ve plodded along in my own rather undisciplined (and less intellectually powerful) way, reading a fair range of theology, history, and philosophy, and dragging into conversation whomsoever I can on the role of body in our destiny as human beings.
Now I’ve just this afternoon finished talking through with Adam a draft of a paper that he is preparing for our next district pastors’ conference. We’ve gone over a number of familiar issues, and one in particular that I want to blog about is the way that, in our contemporary culture, the body seems to be seen as an obstacle to human freedom.
It seems to me that in western society there has for the past two millennia been a basic (although waning) assumption that bodily existence is a given, and that human flourishing and happiness (and even beatitude) is the result of submitting to the bodily limitations that we enjoy as created beings. From the point of view of theology, confessing the reality of the resurrection of the body has been a way of understanding that our existence as creatures with bodies is not an obstacle to us seeing the face of God – to us finding our eternal completion in the gracious presence of the holy angels around the throne of the Lord of hosts. In fact, Lutherans have confessed (with the whole of catholic Christianity) that our salvation will not happen without our bodies, and that our bodies, that are the result of God’s creative power, that are baptized into Christ, that feed on the body and blood of the Lord, will somehow be resurrected in glory.
But it seems that something has been happening in our culture so that this understanding of the destiny of embodied humanity has receded into obscurity, and that the human body, so far from being seen as the place in which our salvation is worked out with fear and trembling, is seen as an obstacle to the desires the human spirit.
I’ll give one example of what I’m talking about. Consider discussion on the meaning of marriage. Catholic Christianity would see the given-ness of the distinction between the sexes as the foundation to what makes marriage what it is – a lifelong union between a man and a woman established by God through which God, in addition to giving his human creatures comfort and love, desires to transmit new human life. In a catholic Christian understanding of marriage sexual differentiation is not an imposition on human freedom, but the very way in which human beings, created as men or women, freely find a significant (even sacramental) completion of their statuses as human beings made male or female.
In our contemporary western society, however, there seems to be a repudiation of the given-ness of human beings as male and female. Rather than reading the language that God, the author of the body, has inscribed upon it, postmodern western people seem to read the body as a text without any meaning except that which the disembodied human spirit gives it. The body, though the means by which the human spirit exerts its will, is also an obstacle to the limitless desires that are part of the human spirit. In terms of marriage, this attitude plays itself out in an apparent variety of ways: male to male and female to female ‘marriage’; ‘marriage’ between three and more persons; ‘marriage’ between siblings; ‘marriage’ between humans and non-humans (I don’t know of any actual legally binding cases of the last form of ‘marriage’ on this list, but presumably it’s only a matter of time). In all this there seems to be a desire somehow to escape the limitations of embodied life, or at the very least to treat bodily existence as presenting a problem to be overcome by the application of new techniques say, for example, in this context, of a lesbian couple using technology to create a child (or, in the future, of a cross species pair creating a hybrid).
Of course much of this way of seeing contemporary western society will be familiar to readers of C S Lewis. Back in mid 40s Lewis was able to discern the very different way of viewing reality that began to emerge in western society during the renaissance. In the Abolition of Man, he wrote: “There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating them from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious…”
But Lewis, the professor of English, didn’t live to see Derrida. As far as I can tell, Derrida did a Nietzsche on texts, insofar as he presented a way of reading literature in which authorial intention recedes, and interpretation is all (Roger Scruton, as it happens, sees this as a form of idolatry, and I think he is right). It seems to me that our contemporary culture as a whole is now in the throes of ‘doing a Nietzsche’ on the ‘text’ of the body – in talking, legislating, and acting with the understanding that there is no authoritative intention for the body (that there is no God who gives salvation to embodied human beings).
(I could also add that it seems to me that western culture is slowly coming to terms with its‘doing a Nietzsche’ on creation, but that it is trying to overcome this apparent disaster by deifying creation. This does not bode well, I fear. The gods, traditionally, desire human sacrifice, and Moloch desires child sacrifice.)
In my opinion widespread acceptance of the supposed obstacle of bodily existence reveals itself bodily in the form of tyranny by the bodies of the powerful over the bodies of the weak. I think that it was at work already in the ‘Total War’ of (especially) the Eastern front in WWII, and I can’t help thinking that it was at work in -a powerful irony here - the dialectical materialism that found political expression in Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, and is still alive and sick in North Korea. These days, it seems to have a specially technological twist: Embryo experimentation, abortion, cloning, contraception; creating hybrids; sex-selection; a renewed eugenic enterprise not dissimilar in spirit – but far more sophisticated in technique - to that of the Nazis; all this seem to me to be the fruit of an exaltation of the disembodied spirit. And it seems to be working itself out in a willed sterility that is apparently sweeping across most of the western world.
Well…this is a bit far from interpreting the role of the body in salvation in a Lutheran Confessional context, I grant. But what else is a Blog for, if not to express such opinions!
I’ve recently been reading the seminary’s copy of ‘Catholic Matters’ – the new book by Richard John Neuhaus (editor-in-chief of First Things http://www.firstthings.com/). I’ve been an RJN fan for some time – in fact I was pleased to attend a lunch with him in Melbourne a couple of years back (thanks Schutz http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/), and I have fond memories of myself, Pastor Adam Cooper, and Lutheran seminarian (but then Classics student) Tom Pietsch (http://tom.untothislast.net/) engaged in conversation with RJN in St Patrick’s presbytery later that night. We’d got RJN talking on the topic of private opinion in the thought of John Henry Newman. But that’s for another post.
Anyhow, back to the book. In it, RJN proposes a way of looking at the life of the Catholic Church since Vatican II that makes a lot of sense to me. Rather than seeing the aftermath of Vatican II in the Catholic Church through a left/ right, progressive/ conservative filter, RJN suggests making a distinction between those who see the council as a great break with the past and those who see it in continuity with the past (he calls the two groups ‘the party of discontinuity and the party of continuity’). Viewed through this filter, he suggest that both the radical progressive theologians and the schismatic traditionalists are both in the party of discontinuity – they are united in the common conviction that the council brought into being a new church – one that is radically discontinuous with what went before.
It got me thinking that a ‘party of discontinuity’ and a ‘party of continuity’ exists outside the Catholic Church, and is an ecumenical reality. At least, these different parties seem to have a life in the LCA. Consider: How are we to receive the Book of Concord? As confessions of faith that are to be read as radically discontinuous with the Catholic Church (and I’ll be specific – with the church that was in communion with the pope – yes, even the ‘antichrist’ papacy), or continuous with it?
The Confessions, in their plain sense (if I may put it that way), invite the conclusion that Lutherans should be committed to the party of continuity. The Augsburg Confession states: “Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches.”
Now before Schutz accuses me of wanting to do a Tract 90 on the Book of Concord, I’d like to say that here the Augsburg Confession specifically invites us to do a Tract 90 on it. So there.
But more importantly: Ecumenically speaking, isn’t a commitment to being of the party of continuity – no matter to which ecclesial body one may belong- the sine qua non of movement toward the goal of outward, visible unity?
In the last week we've had a couple of friends up to stay (Athanasius Stambolidis and Vinni Ramm), and so have been doing a bit of sightseeing. For the first time I've got 'round to taking pictures of the local Catholic cathederal, which, as you will see, is pretty special (especially for a city of 100,000 people).
In the last week attended a talk given by LCMS theologian Daniel Preus on the JDDJ. I am grateful to have had the chance to hear a Missouri theologian make informed comment on the JDDJ. In due course I'll put up a post on aspects of the talk (and my own response to it).
In the last week I've also been reading Sara Butler's 'The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church'. This is a very impressive (and wonderfully concise) book that gives a clear presentation of magisterial teaching on this controversial issue. Since Schutz has done a great post on this (and since I can't be bothered writing any more tonight), if you're interested check out what he says http://cumecclesia.blogspot.com/search?q=butler
I've been having a great time reading Malcolm Muggeridge's 3 volume autobiography 'Chronicles of Wasted Time'. It's a wonderfully cynical and humorous work, and is an invitation to deepen one's own cynicism about politicians and, especially, journalists (the way he writes about his time as a journalist at the Guardian is as illuminating as it is wicked). I'm just coming to the end of the second volume which deals, among other things, with his time in the secret service in Africa during the Second World War. He makes this observation:
"As so often happens, Afrikaners tend to combine a tolerance of collective wickedness, as is embodied in the vile doctrine of apartheid, with particular squeamishness in matters of personal behaviour. Similarly, the privately immoral are often the loudest in protestations of public virtue. Hence the insistence of the New Testament that a balance must be struck and maintained between our duty to God and to our neighhbour."
As a Lutheran I would prefer to say that we must distinguish but never separate our duty to God and to our neighbour. But still, an interesting observation that seems to hold good today.
Last night I sat in front of the telly reading through some newspaper articles from The Weekend Australian (June 30-July 31). Included was an article by Noel Pearson headed ‘Needless Misery’. In the article he said: "[W]hat policies do we need so that all avoidable suffering is avoided in our society? We cannot remove evil from the world and I am not basing our hopes of escaping avoidable suffering on supra-human powers. I am asking us to use our considerable human powers to escape avoidable suffering. This is a question for our social policy: are our policies maximising the avoidance of such suffering? The answer is no. There is too much misery – chiefly endured by the disadvantaged in our society, the lowest classes – that is avoidable. And we do not need to achieve a socialist nirvana to relieve this suffering. I suggest that we can and must aim to hold a capitalist democracy to account to be consistent with the eradication of avoidable suffering." When I read this I immediately recalled the teaching of Karl Popper in his classic ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’. Get a load of this summary by Magee in his brilliant and brief survey of Popper’s philosophy: "The general guiding principle for public policy put forward in The Open Society is: ‘Minimize avoidable suffering’….The Popperian approach has this consequence right across the board: instead of encouraging one to think about building Utopia it makes one seek out, and try to remove, the specific social evils under which human beings are suffering. In this way it is above all a practical approach, and yet one devoted to change. It starts from a concern with human beings, and involves a permanent, active willingness to remould institutions." (Popper Bryan Magee’ 84-85) Maybe one the many reasons I like Pearson’s writing is that I find it to be so Popperian (and also so Christian, in that in focuses on the good of individual human beings without ignoring the fact that human beings always live in community). Anyhow, in this post I have got to mention Popper, Magee, and Pearson (and the teaching of the Lord). Just the sort of post I like to present for the consideration of the multitudes of you who read my blog.
If you have 20 minutes to spare, watch and listen to the man. He is being interviewed about the Howard government's policy to intervene in Aboriginal communities where there are children at risk of (or already suffering) sexual and physical abuse.
Noel Pearson is an Aboriginal from Hope Vale, and a Lutheran Christian. His approach in dealing with the political process seems to refect a deep knowledge of the teaching of the Lord. The Lord told his disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. " One interpretation that I make of this command is that we who are called to follow the Lord should understand, with serpent-like shrewdness, the way that powerful people will seek to manipulate and to use us according to their interests. I also take it to mean that we disciples should be utterly transparent and guileless in our own dealings with all people, and especially those who are vulnerable. I see Noel Pearson as understanding well that there are political aspects to the Howard government's present policy on intervention in Aboriginal communities. But I also see him as being transparent and guileless in his defence of vulnerable children.
I have always read Noel Pearson's writings with interest and sympathy. He's no Aboriginal Messiah, of course, but I look with hope to what may happen as a result of his outspoken leadership on issues of vital importance to Aboriginal people and all Australians.
Last night the Meg and I watched ‘Sophie Scholl’ – a recently released movie about the White Rose student resistance movement in Munich during WWII. There are many movies that leave me feeling defiled, but this is not one of them. Instead the movie presents well and sympathetically the interplay between faith and political action. What’s more, without having to descend to tiresome moralizing, it got me thinking about the need for our own nation to be scrupulous in upholding laws that are in accord with natural law. Anyhow, this is my first movie recommendation on this blog.
This is another quote from Magee, but this time it’s about his friend Karl Popper, and what Magee learnt from Popper’s way of arguing. I would love to read more polemical theology that was written following Popper’s example (and I would love to write polemical theological with Popper as a guide).
“One of the things that impressed me most, and has influenced me science, was Popper’s way of dealing with opponents. I had always loved argument, and over the years I had become quite good at identifying weak points in an opponent’s defence and bringing concentrated fire to bear on them. This is what virtually all polemicists have sought to do since ancient times, even the most famous of them. But Popper did the opposite. He sought out his opponent’s case at its strongest and attacked that. Indeed, he would improve it, if he possibly could, before attacking it – over several pages of prior discussion he would remove avoidable contradictions or weaknesses, close loopholes, pass over minor deficiencies, let his opponent’s case have the benefit of every possible doubt, and reformulate the most appealing parts of it in the most rigorous, powerful and effective arguments he could find – and then direct his onslaught against it. The outcome, when successful, was devastating. At the end there would be nothing left to say in favour of the opposing case except for tributes and concessions that Popper had himself already made. It was incredibly exciting intellectually.” Bryan Magee, Confessions of a Philosopher pp152-153
Here is another quote from Magee. I plan for there to be many more yet. This is a nicely put observation on the relationship between science and metaphysics. Enjoy:
“To may working scientists, science seems very obviously to suggest an ultimate explanation, namely, a materialist one; but a materialist view of total reality is a metaphysics, not a scientific theory. There is no possibility whatsoever of scientifically proving, or disproving, it. The fact that it is held by many scientists no more makes it a scientific theory than it can be said to be an economic theory because it is held (no doubt) by many economists. Science is compatible with metaphysical outlooks of widely differing and mutually incompatible kinds. Some of the most path-breaking of twentieth-century scientists, including Einstein himself, have believed in God. The founder of quantum mechanics, Schroedinger, was attracted by Buddhism. For the individual there is not, and never has been, a conflict between fully accepting the claims of science and holding non-materialist beliefs. The realization that this is so seems to be spreading at last, though the number of people who assume the contrary is still large.” Bryan Magee, The Confessions of a Philosopher p.218
In our household there are many sorts of devotion. I think that it's fair to say that my daughter Francesca has developed a devotion for My Little Pony, and my son Oscar has developed a devotion for Howheels. I provide photographic evidence for your consideration.
If you’ve been reading this rather inactive blog site, you’ll know that I’m rather keen on Bryan Magee’s ‘Confessions of a Philosopher’. Recently I found some comfort in rereading his reflections on his years as a Labour Party MP in the UK:
“At one and the same time they were richly educative years and disillusioning. Learning about everyday politics, and how to function effectively as part of it, was wholly to the good, but I was dismayed to discover how small a role ideas and ideals played in it all – and, to the extent that they did play a role, what shabby ideas and ideals they were, for the most part. Most political activity was actually a pursuit of self-interest in the light of situational logic. It was opportunistic in character; and in the Labour Party’s case originated with the material interests of the trade unions in particular, and after them the less well-off fifth or sixth of society. Most of the ideas articulated were rationalizations of this activity, and they went out not in advance as a beacon and guide, but after the event as justification. Most of these rationales were based on rudimentary notions of common humanity, justice and fairness, and when expressed by ordinary party members came out as a form of wet liberalism. That, at least, was the case with the majority. Alongside them was a substantial minority who were tougher in practice and more astringent in theory, and they were the dissident left. Their guiding light was Marxism, expressly so with many intellectuals, though more often making itself felt as an unarticulated influence on people who were not primarily intellectuals – and on their many organized groups who acted as apologists for the Communist regimes, and engaged in lying about them while savagely attacking anyone who told the truth. I found all this appalling.”
As I said, I found some comfort in rereading these words. I’m encouraged not to expect too much from our political leaders; and to I’m encouraged to pray for them.
This Sunday I’m preaching on the Revelation reading (but I’m including the less pleasant verses also – so the whole of 22:12-21), and especially on the verse “See I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work”. What captured my eye in this reading when I first looked at it last Tuesday was the mention of reward. In the last few days I’ve been looking at different Scriptural passages that deal with reward, and at the Lutheran Confessions on merit.
The Scriptural passages I’ve been looking at are: Matthew 6:1-34; Luke 6:20-26; Romans 2:6-11;;Romans 13:8-14; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:5-16; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7; Galatians 6:7-10; Ephesians 6:5-8 ; Ephesians 6:1-4.
What the confessions have to say is very interesting. Get a load of these quotes:
First, from the Athanasian Creed:
At his [the Lord Jesus’] coming all men shall rise with their own bodies and give an account of their own deeds. Those who have done good will enter eternal life, and those who have done evil will go into everlasting fire. This is the true Christian faith. Unless a man believe this firmly and faithfully, he cannot be saved. The Athanasian Creed
Then there’s this from the Small Catechism:
God threatens to punish all who transgress these [ten] commandments. We should therefore fear his wrath and not disobey these [ten] commandments. On the other hand, he promises grace and every blessing to all who keep them. We should therefore love him, trust in him, and cheerfully do what he has commanded. SC 22
And these quotes from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession:
After justification works merit bodily and spiritual rewards because they please God through faith. There will be distinctions in the glory of the saints. AC IV 355
We also concede, and have often declared, that though justification and eternal life belong to faith, still good works merit other rewards, both bodily and spiritual, in various degrees AC IV 366
And this from the Formula of Concord:
We believe, teach, and confess further that all men, but especially those who are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit, are obligated to do good works. FC Ep. 8
And this condemnation from the Formula:
We also reject and condemn that teaching that faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are not lost through malicious sin, but that the holy ones and the elect retain the Holy Spirit even though they fall into adultery and other sins and persist in them. FC Ep.19
The analogy that I’ve prepared to explain this teaching comes from the family, and it goes like this: It would be perverse for one of my children to think that they become my child by doing the things I reward. If one of my children thought and acted this way, it could destroy any chance of a good relationship between us. But it would also be perverse if one of my children thought that, since they are already my child, then it doesn’t matter how they behave. If one of my children thought and acted this way, it could also destroy any chance of a good relationship between us. The best possibility in my family would be for my children to trust that they really belong on the basis of their status as sons and daughters of the family, and that they would do things that please Margaret and me because we are their loving parents with authority over them to reward them or punish them. Well, so far the analogy.
I take the Scriptural testimony, and the Confessions, to say that we are children of God by God’s grace in Christ alone, and that as children we can behave in ways that merit the temporal and eternal rewards that God desires to give us
This also seems to the be the teaching of the Catholic Church – I just looked up their Catechism this (Saturday) morning, and found this:
2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. (The italics are theirs, not mine)
So, there we have it. This is teaching that I have not given a lot of consideration to in my ministry so far, but which seem important and encouraging.
Without recourse to government-funded naked rain dancing, Bendigo has recently received some great rain. Check out these two pictures on how the land behind our church has changed in the last few weeks.
In preparation for this week's sermon I was reading through different passages in the Confessions, and came upon this from the Large Catechism:
All this, then, is the office and work of the Holy Spirit, to begin and daily to increase hoilness on earth through these two means, the Christian church and the forgiveness of sins. Then, when we pass from this life, he will instantly perfect our holiness and will eternally preserve us in it by means of the last tow parts of this article. (LC II, 59 -italics mine).
It's the second sentence here that interests me. On what passage(s) of Scripture, do you think, Luther's teaching of instant perfection in holiness is based?
If you've read my musings on previous posts, then you'll know that I'm keen on a philosopher by the name of Bryan Magee, and that I think his book 'Confessions of a Philosopher' is a gem. As I was preparing for a funeral on Friday I found myself recalling some of the things Magee recounts in relation to his reading of the New Testament (and of the Gospels, it seems, in particular). After summing up his (perhaps rather idiosyncratic) interpretation of the Lord's teaching, he concludes:
[T]he fact that there was anyone at all going around preaching things like [Jesus preached] two thousand years ago in a desert area of the Middle East is, to say the least of it, surprising...[W]ithin the limitations of morality he goes as deep as anyone was to penetrate for the better part of two thousand years. When it comes to tellingness of moral insight, a question like 'What will a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?' is unsurpassed. (pp 355-356).
Well, I hardly disagree. But what got me thinking was that this same Jesus, whose moral teaching is so striking that it has undeniable power for anyone who cares to listen to it, also said things like this:
In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:3).
A great moral teacher who gives a personal promise of eternal life. He speaks with such authority when it comes to good and evil that I can't believe that he lies about heaven and hell. And yet this word of promise about the Father's house he gives privately, to his chosen disciples.
It makes me think about the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord. His empty, open tomb was there for all to see. Accessible. Perplexing. Ambiguous in its meaning. But the Lord revealed his glorified body only to those whom he chose to be his witnesses; and he explained the meaning of his death and resurrection privately. And yet even his own hand-picked disciples, beholding his glorified body with their eyes, and hearing his words with the ears, could still doubt (Matthew 28:17).
The Resurrection seems almost as unbelievable as death.
The funeral I was taking was for a woman who had died in her mid fifties. She was a very active person who was evidently greatly loved by her family, friends, and workmates. Six weeks ago she was fine, but was quickly taken by very aggressive brain tumors (NB Nick Lindner, if you’re reading, Kate Drummond was this woman’s neurosurgeon). It was hard to believe that her body was in the coffin at the front of the church. Or that her body is now in a box six feet under in a cemetery at Spring Hill. Or that I will also die.
Lord Jesus, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
On Thursday night I was briefly interviewed by a journo from the Herald Sun (a Melbourne tabloid). She wanted to know if we up here in the dry country were going to heed Malcolm Turnbull's (an Australian politician's) advice and start praying for rain. I was in a freewheeling sort of mood, and this is what ended up in the paper on Friday:
IF Malcolm Turnbull says Australians need to start praying for rain, church leaders in country Victoria reckon everyone needs to start catching up on them… Bendigo Lutheran Pastor Fraser Pearce, whose parish stretches to Castlemaine and Seymour, said constant prayer would continue. "But there haven't been any naked rain dances or anything," he said. "We also pray for our politicians to have wisdom, I wouldn't like to be in their position at all."
Sasse’s ‘This is My Body’ is a book that I first read (on the recommendation of the formidable Zdenko Zlatar) while studying history at the University of Sydney. It’s a book that I’ve returned to repeatedly, each time with a deeper appreciation of Sasse’s scholarship. It’s also true that each time I’ve returned to the book I have felt more acutely questions that seem to be unresolved in the Lutheran tradition. So, for example, have a look at this gobbet from chapter four:
‘Here lies the fundamental difference between the Lutheran and the Roman understanding of consecration…For Luther it is the word of Christ, and nothing but his word, which is the cause of the Real Presence of the body and blood in the Lord’s Supper; there is no secondary cause. The minister to whom the consecration is reserved is the minister of the Word and the Sacraments, the appointed administrator of the means of grace; he is not, however, a priest in any other sense that that which regards all believers as priests because they are members of the priestly people of God.’ (p137)
When I read Sasse on this point (and indeed whenever I read the Confessions and the Lutheran Fathers on transubstantiation) I feel a certain shame at my relative ignorance of Aristotelian philosophy. I assume that when Sasse uses the term ‘secondary cause’ he is employing it in a technical, Aristotelian sense, and I fear that I can not repeat accurately and in my own words exactly what Sasse is getting at. It is apparent that this insistence that there is no 'secondary cause' has its genesis in polemic against the views of certain late medieval Catholic theologians (I would assume particulalry as these views relate the priesthood to the sacrifice of the mass), and may be primarily rhetorical, rather than theological, in its force. Nevertheless I have a question that such an argument provokes in me, and to which I cannot find a clear answer in the Formula, Chemnitz, or in any writings from Lutheran theologians that I’ve had the opportunity to study. It’s this: what is the place (if any) of the body of the minister in the Lord’s Supper?
I’ll explain what I mean: In the Lutheran tradition the focus in the Lord’s Supper is on the Words of Institution not as historical report, but as the performative words of Christ that effect what they say they will effect: the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (although the word ‘change’ needs to be understood with some care so as not to give the impression that the Lutheran church has a particular theory as to how this change is possible, and so as not to give the impression that the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine). But in all this the fact is that the performative words of Christ need to be spoken, to be somehow incarnated. From the point of view of the Augsburg Confession, the one speaking the words should be ‘rightly called’. But this, at least to me, immediately suggests that there is something other that the words of Christ that effect the change of the bread and wine; that is, that the words are spoken by a rightly called person.
Let’s say someone in the Lutheran church wanted to maintain that in fact any baptized person could, in an emergency, celebrate the Lord’s Supper (and, insofar as it was an emergency, be somehow ‘rightly called’). Presumably they would assert that the person should be baptized. Then it would be the word spoken by a baptized person that would effect the change in the bread and wine (and not simply the word). Let’s say they would not even insist on this, but that they would simply assert that it would need to be a person (and not, say, a synthesized voice) proclaiming the words. Then it would be Christ’s word spoken by a human being that effected the change in the bread and wine. But if they would not even insist on this, then what? What in the Confessions would provide a convincing refutation of someone wanting to propose a disincarnate ministry?
According to the Augsburg Confession Christ instituted the Ministry for the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, so that justifying faith may be obtained. The Ministry is an office that needs to be filled. But can we say, from the Confessions, that Christ necessarily calls particular people - that is, particular human beings- to the Ministry, or is it conceivable that the Confessions allow for a disembodied Ministry? If the Word and Sacraments could be delivered by other than human agency (say, by sophisticated robots), would this be problematic from a Confessional point of view? In the Confessions, what is the place (if any) of the body of the minister in the Lord’s Supper?
Now there’s a strong theme in Lutheran theology that the Lord’s Supper needs to be celebrated according to Christ’s institution, and I can see that a strong argument could be made that Christ instituted the Sacrament to be celebrated by human beings – that the Lord handed the leading of the celebration of the Holy Supper into the care of human beings (and indeed, some might add, male human beings), not robots. Fine. It’s just, if we make this argument, can we then go on to say that there is no secondary cause of the Real Presence in the Lord’s Supper?
Well I’m thinking about it, and would welcome comment.
Well, I'm back again after Easter, with nothing much to Blog about just yet. Blogging (and, for me, reading blogs) can be addicative; the Lenten 'fast' from blog reading and writing was refreshing, but I'm enjoying having a look at what's been put our there since I switched off on Ash Wednesday!
Good to see that Peter Holmes has a site. What happened to Marco's 'Confused Anglopapist'?
Not that I've been doing much on this blog recently, but just to let you know that I won't be putting anything on this site (or reading other sites) during Lent. So if you don't hear from me, it's not because I'm ignoring you!
Yesterday evening we had dinner at the Pietsch's. Before the meal Oscar went outside with Tom and Jordan to have a hit of cricket. The bat they used was just about full sized, and so quite heavy. Oscar was concerned about this. Why?
"When I get 50 I won't be able to raise it above my head".
If he had said "When I get a double century I won't be able to put it above my head" I would have been particulalry impressed. But nevertheless, the boy has attitude.
For the statisticians out there: He got 4. With help.
One book that I’m re-reading at the moment is Bryan Magee’s “Confessions of a Philosopher: A Journey through Western Philosophy”. This free-ranging book takes the form of an intellectual autobiography, but includes compact and clear overviews of some of the most important philosophical reflections in the Western tradition. Magee was a teacher of philosophy at Oxford, a member of parliament in England (Labor), and a television personality. He was well-acquainted with Bertrand Russell, and was close friends with Karl Popper. He has written extensively on a range of subjects; he is never boring.
Last night I re-read a section that is a real two-fisted polemic against uncritical atheism. I’m so used to reading academics rail against theism, that it’s refreshing to read what Magee has to say. Just so you know, Magee is a thoroughgoing agnostic. He says, for example, “It is true that we might have immortal souls, though I am inclined to doubt it. And it is true that the might be a God, though I am inclined to doubt that even more. (p199)” So you can see that he doesn’t attack dogmatic atheism from the point of view of a believer. But get this:
“I have little intellectual patience with people who think that know there is no God, and no life other than this one, and no reality outside the empirical world. Some such theistic humanism has been one of the characteristic outlooks of Western man since the Enlightenment, and is particularly common among able and intelligent individuals. It is the prevailing outlook, I suppose, in most of the circles in which I have moved for most of my life. It lacks all sense of the mystery that surrounds and presses so hard on our lives: more often than not it denies its existence, and in doing so is factually wrong. It lacks any real understanding that human limitations are drastic, in that our physical apparatus must inevitably mould and set very narrow bounds to all that can ever be experience for us – and therefore that our worldview is almost certainly paltry, in that most of what there is almost certainly lies outside it. It is complacent, in that it takes as known what it is impossible we should ever know. It is narrow and unimaginative, in that it disregards the most urgent questions of all. I, like Kant, would go so far to say that it is positively mistaken in believing that there is no reality outside the empirical realm when we know that there must be, even if we have no proper understanding of it. Altogether, it is a hopelessly inadequate worldview from several different standpoints simultaneously; and yet it is one that tends to identify itself with rationality as such, and to congratulate itself on its own sophistication. Throughout my life I have found most of its adherents unable to understand that truly rational considerations lead to quite different conclusions…Their attitude is what Schopenhauer called ‘shallow-pated rationalism’” (p200-201).
To get what he’s saying here it helps to have read his comments on Kant and Schopenhauer, but even as it stands it has some real power. What he has to say on Nietzsche is just brilliant; I’ll blog on that anon!