Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Repaying Stolen Honor


From the theme on which it was published I have called it Cur Deus Homo, and have divided it into two short books.  The first contains objections of the infidels…and also the reply of the believers…[and] proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without [Christ].

Cur Deus Homo: Why God Became Man, St. Anselm (also available online)

Anselm begins by stating that his purpose is not to satisfy believers of their faith through reason, but to offer to believers reasons for their faith such that they may stand against anyone who demands these.  It is necessary to accept the deep things by faith, but then helpful, even necessary (in defense), to delve into these through reason.

The issue being addressed here:

… for what cause or necessity, in sooth, God became man, and by his own death, as we believe and affirm, restored life to the world; when he might have done this, by means of some other being, angelic or human, or merely by his will.

All the while, Anslem recognizes that what ought to be sufficient on this topic has already been said by the fathers (as I have previously offered the words of St. Atanasius as one such example).

Boso cautiously plays the role of the infidel, asking questions and raising objections.  For example, that we dishonor God by claiming that he descended into the womb of a virgin and grew on the nourishment of men.  Anselm offers that it is no injustice, but cause to give to God the highest honor and thanks.  God offered to us the greatest love possible.

Why our salvation had to come through a man (as opposed to through an angel or simply a decree from God) is considered: as death came through the human race, life had to also come through the human race; as the first sin was through a woman, restoration of life had to come through a woman; and as sin came through the eating of the tree, life had to come through a man suffering on a tree.

But it is not sufficient to consider that man alone could do this work:

Do you not perceive that, if any other being should rescue man from eternal death, man would rightly be adjudged as the servant of that being?

We were created to be servants of God, not servants of man or servants of angels.  In sum, there is necessary reason that Christ was man and necessary reason that Christ was God.  But as I am only on page ten (at this point of the argument) of eighty-four pages, there is clearly much more to be said on this topic: Boso doesn’t let it go at this, therefore neither does Anselm.

Boso: For if he could not save sinners in any other way than by condemning the just, where is his omnipotence?  If, however, he could, but did not wish to, how shall we sustain his wisdom and justice?

We will find, through this study, that, once again, God can do anything except the nonsensical.

Anselm: For the Father did not compel him to suffer death, or even allow him to be slain, against his will, but of his own accord he endured death for the salvation of men.

To which Boso again objects: there are many passages which seem to indicate obedience as opposed to Christ’s free will.

It was obedience that demanded of Christ that he maintain truth and justice, and it was for this that the Jews persecuted him unto death.  It seems clearly inconceivable that God might be capable of violating the perfect law that God created.  Hence, Christ had to be obedient to this law of truth and justice, because He created it perfectly.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Blessed are the Meek…


…for they shall inherit the earth.

“Meekness is an immovable state of soul which remains unaffected whether in evil report or in good report, in dishonour or in praise….it is a mark of extreme meekness, even in the presence of one’s offender, to be peacefully and lovingly disposed towards him in one’s heart.”

-          John Climacus, as quoted by Metropolitan Alfeyev

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

The world understands that the opposite of meek, as the world commonly understands the term, is necessary if one is to succeed: to “inherit the earth.” Strength, power, self-assurance, and aggressiveness.  These are the characteristics of those who will inherit – at least this is how the world sees it.

DMLJ: Once more, then, we are reminded at the very beginning that the Christian is altogether different from the world.  It is a difference in quality, an essential difference.  He is a new man, a new creation….

And if we are not “altogether different” and a “new creation,” this speaks to us and where we stand in our Christian faith, not to the teaching of Jesus.

MHA: Jesus’ commandments can seem difficult to fulfill, but fulfilling them brings peace to the soul, because doing so frees the soul from the burden of earthly cares.  The means of acquiring this inner peace is meekness and humility.

John Chrysostom paraphrases this as follows:

“…if thou duly perform His words, the burden will be light… But how are they duly performed?  If thou art become lowly, and meek, and gentle.”

I am reminded of a Jordan Peterson story: he would ask a student if he would like to play a game.  After an affirmative reply, Peterson would simply state: “You go first.”  No discussion of rules, objectives, etc.  No game board.  Nothing like that.  Of course, with this unlimited and absolute freedom, the student stood frozen, unable to do anything.

Fulfilling Jesus’s commandments frees us; doing this bring peace to our soul.  This gives us freedom to now play the game.

Lloyd-Jones reminds that Matthew was writing primarily to the Jews, and the Jews had a different idea of the kingdom: materialistic, military, with a Messiah that would lead them to victory (not much has changed in this regard).  Therefore Matthew, early in his gospel account, strives to disabuse the Jews of this notion.

DMLJ: Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. … It is my attitude towards myself; and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others.

Metropolitan Alfeyev examines the word “meek,” and how it is used in the Septuagint to translate a whole range of Hebrew words (and then offers these in English): whole, perfect, in both a physical and religious sense; humble, stooping; destitute, poor, needy, uncomplaining, submissive.  There is another Greek word also close in meaning that can be understood as calm or soft.

He also offers a few verses from Proverbs that contrast meekness with envy, wrath, or anger.  Some other Old Testament passages about meekness are interpreted in the New Testament as foreshadowings of Jesus Christ.  Christ, who is called or referred to as a lamb multiple times, offers a picture of meekness.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Letting Go of the Reins


We, in the name of a demented constitutionalism, have dashed out the brains of far more infants than Hamas could ever dream of. That’s the problem with those Third-World pikers—they simply don’t know how to scale. And not only does their ineptitude not know how to scale, these ignorant barbarians slaughtered the infants of their enemies instead of doing what civilized Westerners do, which is to target their own citizens.

Evangelical Doctors, Coughing Up Blood, Doug Wilson (video, blog)

Setting aside that I still don’t know that there is any evidence of Hamas deliberately targeting infants, the line is humorous, biting, and profound.  Wilson introduces this post with the vote in Ohio to enshrine abortion in the state constitution.

So am I about to lay the responsibility for America’s condition at the feet of the evangelical church? Why, yes. Yes, I am. … In a time when our nation has declared open war on the God of heaven, despising His law/word, we, ostensibly His people, have responded with a farrago of lame theological excuses…

He then goes on to describe some of these lame theological excuses – the taking of the two kingdoms idea not just to an extreme but to two different corners; a concern that “any Presbyterian attempt to save the babies is just a trick that will enable them to flog Baptists again…” (a reference to the paranoia and misunderstanding of what Wilson, at least, means by Christian nationalism).

That “vixen” known as secularism has had its way with everyone in town; everyone knows what’s going on except for the evangelicals.  What these evangelicals, and others, don’t see is that we are already, now, today, living in under the wrath of God. 

Wilson points to Romans 1 to demonstrate that God does not have to do anything to demonstrate His wrath; He just stops doing.  I also have described this as one of God’s purposes for giving us the natural law ethic: when we violate it so blatantly and extensively, God does not have to do anything – the ramifications of such prolonged violations will do all the doing necessary.

God just lets go of the reins:

This stallion has long fancied himself a Pegasus, and so the moment the rider gets off and lets go of the reins, that idea is immediately put to the test at the very first cliff.

I guess time for me to insert: as the stallion is falling at free fall speed, he can still report “OK so far!”  Which is how many see our situation today: OK so far; unfortunately this includes many Christian leaders.  But it isn’t as if the judgement is somewhere ahead of us; we are living the judgement today.

…the sins of woke America were revealed when the permit for the first pride parade was obtained.

And we are living in His judgement for our agreeing to slaughter tens of millions of babies, which comes to the quote with which I opened this post.  And this in a land of tens of millions of Evangelical Christians, many of whom still can’t get it through their heads that you’ve got to serve somebody; there has to be something at the top of the value chain.  Not just that there has to bethere will be.  And if it isn’t God and God’s law, it will be something else.

So, we keep pretending that belief is optional, personal; everyone can have their own god at the top – this is our secular society and it is the society acceptable to Christians who believe that there is no concern about God’s Kingdom until after we see Jesus coming down in the clouds.

We have read this story before, many times in the Bible:

This is supplemented with claims that all those gnarly things the Bible talks about are not the same thing as what we are doing. Our Sodom is not like their Sodom. Our Moloch is not like their Moloch. Our scribes who mutter deceits are not like their scribes who muttered deceits.

Oh, but they are, like peas in a pod.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Yes, it is Genocide

Imagine a minority population, in the midst of a land surrounded by people of a different religion and ethnicity, where there has been violence against the minority by the majority in authority, and where the minority is treated, both by law and custom, as second-class citizens – not afforded the full rights of citizenship despite having lived on the land for countless centuries.

Imagine that this minority is then subject to the worst atrocities by the majority – a majority that has all of the advanced weaponry.  Death and destruction ensue, with most of this poor minority population displaced, and many of them killed.  Men, woman, children, combatant or not – all subject to the same devastation.

Imagine that the justification for this heinous act is that a small handful of individuals from this minority population have committed what is considered some form of terrorist action against the majority population.  Not justifiable, perhaps, but very much understandable given the harsh treatment for as long as any of the minority population (as well as parents and grandparents) has been alive.

Imagine further justification for this devastation was the fear that the minority population would side with the enemy in any instance of war.  Again, maybe true for a handful of this minority population, but not for any meaningful percentage.

There once was such a genocide:

The first non-colonial genocide of the twentieth-century was the Armenian catastrophe in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. It started in early 1915, when the Young Turk regime rounded up hundreds of Armenians and hanged many of them in the streets of Istanbul, before beginning the genocidal deportation of most of the Armenian population to the desert, in which up to a million died or were murdered en route.

The Armenian minority in Ottoman Turkey had been subject to sporadic persecutions over the centuries. … From 1915, inspired by rabid nationalism and secret government orders, Turks drove the Armenians from their homes and massacred them in such numbers that outside observers at the time described what was happening as ‘a massacre like none other,’ or ‘a massacre that changes the meaning of massacre.’

In this genocide of the Armenians by the Turks, all of those imaginings were realized.  Every single one.  Of course, they are all just as true of Israel’s current actions against the Palestinians.

From a video of Norman Finkelstein on Gaza, with Aaron Mate; Finkelstein succinctly lists statements made by senior Israeli officials on October 8, one day after the incursion by Hamas:

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Provocation


This chapter is one of the most important chapters in this book because it is one hinge on which its argument turns. … This chapter is so important because it identifies the provocation of Luther’s Reformation.

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett

In this chapter, Barrett will begin to examine, in detail, the change in medieval Scholastic thinking, from that of Anselm and Lombard to the changes that began with Duns Scotus: the departure from the realism of Thomas toward the nominalism of the via moderna.

This transition opened the door to Semi-Pelagianism and even Pelagianism.  Certainly, the Reformed view of sola gratia and imputation was beyond the views of Thomas, but in neither camp did the idea of human perfection achieved by free will have traction. Barrett sees this transition in the Scholasticism after Thomas.

Further, it is the Reformers that have been tainted with the charge of cultivating the nominalism of Ockham, hence abandoning the realist conception of participation and opening the divide between the sacred and the secular:

However, this chapter, as well as parts 2 and 3, will lay a foundation that demonstrates such a thesis could not be more mistaken.

This will take patience on all of our parts, as part three ends about 550 pages from now!

This charge can be laid against Ockham and those that followed his path.  The Reformers reacted against this nominalist soteriology, with a doctrine that made room for the double grace of justification and sanctification.  Yes, in some Reformers, there was a nominalist influence in epistemology and metaphysics, yet these still reacted against its soteriology. 

In short, the Reformation’s reaction against the nominalist soteriology of the via moderna (see chapter 8) is proof that in the minds of the Reformers they remained catholic while the via moderna was radically uncatholic.

For reference, this post begins chapter 5.

To begin this examination, Barrett walks through the influence that Plato and Aristotle had in early Christianity, through “The Great Tradition” that encompassed Christians both east and west.  By Great Tradition, think of C.S. Lewis’s great hall in Mere Christianity:

When [Lewis] then proceeded to write Mere Christianity, Lewis did not just write any old—or new—theology.  He aimed with great success “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”  … In other words, he was trying to articulate the Great Tradition—those bedrock beliefs of the Bible, the early church, the creeds, the Reformers, and orthodox Christians throughout the ages.

Platonism offered a perspective that explained transcendent reality.  Unlike nominalism, Plato understood that universals were real (hence, realism).  In this way, goodness was not left to chance, to material or mechanical processes.  The world participates in the Good; room was made for a transcendent divinity. 

Not any philosophy would do – one looks in vain for Christian Epicureans.

All truth is God’s truth, a view that runs from Augustine through Aquinas through Calvin – even the truth from “profane authors.”  Per Calvin:

Friday, November 17, 2023

Blessed are They That Mourn…


…for they shall be comforted.

DMLJ: To ‘mourn’ is something that follows of necessity from being ‘poor in spirit.’  It is quite inevitable.  As I confront God and His holiness, and contemplate the life that I am meant to live, I see myself, my utter helplessness and hopelessness.

MHA: …in Matthew’s version mourning as an inner spiritual state is transformed into being comforted, which again is of a spiritual nature.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

It is ‘blessed,’ or ‘happy,’ to mourn.  Talk about a statement that marks off Christians as something far different than those who are not Christians, for whom this is an utterly ridiculous statement.  They say: We don’t mourn, we chase pleasure.  We do everything we can to not face our troubles.  This is the world that many inhabit today.

Instead, Jesus teaches that the only ones who are truly happy are the ones who mourn.  Here again, the idea is a spiritual one, not a physical one; it references a spiritual attitude.  A fundamental conviction must occur – one that comes with mourning.  This conviction must precede conversion (the term used by Lloyd-Jones); a real sense of sin must come before there can be the true joy of true salvation.  Instead, this defect regarding a true understanding of what sin is produces a superficial person and offers a wholly inadequate kind of Christian life.

DMLJ: They have failed to see that they must be convicted of sin before they can ever experience joy.  They do not like the doctrine of sin.  They dislike it intensely and they object to its being preached.  They want joy apart from the conviction of sin.

To be happy and blessed via true conversion, first one must mourn by seeing sin and its consequences for what these truly are.  We mourn because we see our sin.  The Christian knows this feeling of utter hopelessness: the good that I would do, I do not; the evil which I would not do, I do. 

MHA: The second Beatitude, like the first, has a rich history of interpretation.  In the Eastern Christian tradition, the interpretation that became established connected this Beatitude with the theme of repentant mourning, which must be the Christian’s lifelong labor.

There is nothing of glib joviality in the apostle Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.  We are taught to be sober, grave, temperate; sober-minded.  The Christian examines what principles are in him that move him to act to sin.  By examining, he finds a war in his members; he hates this and mourns because of it.

MHA: Another type of mourning is found in tears of compunction.  …tears of repentance first arise out of a person’s consciousness of his own sinfulness; these tears are accompanied by bitterness of heart and contrition.

From Metropolitan Alfeyev, Isaac the Syrian teaches:

For a man comes from mourning into purity of soul. …All the saints strive to reach this entrance-way, because by means of tears the door is opened before them to enter the land of consolation.

Mourning is an attitude that Lloyd-Jones finds wholly lacking in the church of his time, and consider this was written over sixty years ago.  He is writing at a time when men are not at all attracted to the church, something that has only grown more problematic in the intervening years:

DMLJ: …men who are outside the Church always become attracted when the Church herself begins to function truly as the Christian Church, and as individual Christians approximate to the description here given in these Beatitudes.

I have heard the author Tom Holland offer, during the covid madness, that he didn’t want to hear from the Church of England the same public health mumbo-jumbo that came out of the NHS.  Instead, he wanted real meat – explain the mysteries, hold individuals accountable, teach the virtuous life.

DMLJ: But I also think that another explanation of this is the idea which has gained currency that if we as Christians are to attract those who are not Christian we must deliberately affect an appearance of brightness and joviality.

I saw a video of the worship team at Andy Stanley’s church opening with “Stairway to Heaven,” an even louder and more raucous version than the original, with band members that made Led Zeppelin look like the Osmond family.  Then again, Stanley attracts large crowds.  But does any of this indicate a life different and separate, as Jesus is teaching here?  To ask that question is to answer it.  Just because large crowds are attracted says nothing of what they are being attracted to.

Instead of joy and happiness arising from within, it is a manufactured “joy,” to use the term loosely.  It is really more of a glibness or joviality than true inner joy.  And whether by design or not, it is a superficial joy that hides or overcomes any sense of sin:

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Musings, Dreams, and Wishes


Recent events have opened a plethora of possibilities, some not imaginable even a few weeks ago.

Fund the Destruction of Western Civilization?  No problem!

Numerous billionaires, who have no problem spreading countless millions of dollars to (so-called) elite universities when these universities and their students were actively destroying western civilization suddenly have a problem when someone utters the “P” word.

Antitrust Prosecution, Anyone?

On October 20, 2016, the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice ("DOJ") and Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") (collectively, the "federal antitrust agencies") jointly issued guidance for human resource ("HR") professionals regarding the application of the federal antitrust laws to hiring practices and compensation decisions.

The guidance asserts that an agreement among employers who compete for talent to limit or fix the terms of employment for potential hires may violate the federal antitrust laws if the agreement constrains individual firm decision-making with regard to wages, salaries, terms of employment, or job opportunities.

Seems simple enough.  So how about this?

Over two dozen Wall Street law firms are taking a stand against growing instances of antisemitism on college campuses with a warning about students' future employment.

Where, O Slur, is Thy Sting?

The charge of anti-Semitism for even saying the word “Jew” or “Israel” is being buried right before our eyes. 

The Left is Consuming Itself

This was a certainty – just as feminism was going to be consumed by trans athletes, support for people of color ™ was going to be embraced until it touched on the people of color living between the river and the sea ™.

Well, the so-called right isn’t doing any better, with one outdoing the other on the desire to fulfill zany end-times lunacy.

Christian Zionists for Genocide?

Speaking of zany end-times lunacy…. Can we put a knife in the horrendous blasphemy that is Scofield, once and for all?

Monday, November 13, 2023

Thematic Continuity


A more topical or thematic approach also unveils varying degrees of continuity between the sixteenth century and Scholasticism.

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett

Barrett will examine this continuity through two case studies: first, natural theology, and second, the fourfold meaning of Scripture.

Natural Theology

From John Calvin’s Institutes:

“Again, you cannot behold him clearly unless you acknowledge him to be the fountainhead and source of every good.”

Natural theology enjoyed a continual presence from the church fathers to the Scholastics, at least through the earlier Scholastics to include Thomas.  There has been thought in some Reformed circles in the twentieth century that the early Reformers also abandoned this notion.  In fact, it is often Calvin that is used to make this argument, even by luminaries such as Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til.  Barrett will present an alternative case.

He starts with a bang, referring to the contemporary translation of Calvin’s Institutes:

Calvin kept at bay Scripture citations in his opening chapters so that he could give proof of God’s existence, but McNeill and Battles have written into the text over forty biblical passages, which only serve to mask Calvin’s argument from natural theology.

Calvin would reference the apostle Paul in Romans 1: God has shown Himself to even the pagans.  Further, man prefers to worship even wood and stone, as opposed to not acknowledging that there is a god.  Calvin would note that Plato would teach that the highest good of the soul is likeness to God.

Calvin recognized that natural theology couldn’t get him all the way – for example, not to the Trinity.  He would write of the need for spectacles of faith.  But by this, he did not deny a place for natural theology; he only would keep it within its proper limits.

God is the author of two books – yes, the Scripture, but also nature; Calvin would appeal to the latter to develop a natural theology, even though he did not use the language.  If Calvin differed in some way from other key Reformers (from Luther and Melanchthon and Zwingli, even extending into the eighteenth century), it was not on the matter of natural theology: instead, where many other Reformers would see that natural knowledge could aid in knowing who God is, Calvin believed that it could only lead to understanding that God is.

Barrett notes that many key documents of the Reformation point to this embrace of natural theology, from The Belgic Confession to The Westminster Confession.

In summary, the Reformation and its heirs did practice natural theology and in a way that put them, by their own admission, in “broad continuity” with the church catholic.

The Fourfold Meaning of Scripture

As the Quadriga demonstrates, the literal sense was considered indispensable.  Allegory teaches “what you should believe, morality teaches what you should do, anagogy what mark you should be aiming for” but the “letter teaches events.”

As early as the sixth century, Gregory the Great would note that the literal is the foundation on which the other meanings were built.  Yes, the Reformers criticized allegory, but only where they felt this method was abused.  They could condemn it on the one hand, and use it to understand and interpret the Old Testament on the other.  For example, Luther and Calvin would interpret the entire canon through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit…


…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

DMLJ: …if one feels anything in the presence of God save an utter poverty of spirit, it ultimately means that you have never faced Him.  That is the meaning of this Beatitude.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

Lloyd-Jones says this opening Beatitude is the key to all that follows – that there is a definite spiritual order to Jesus’s teaching; these are not just randomly sequences ideas.  There is no entry to the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God apart from this first Beatitude.  To be poor in spirit is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian.

To be poor in spirit, unlike the Beatitudes that follow, is an emptying – the rest that follow are manifestations of a filling.  We must first be emptied before we can be filled.  This opening Beatitude brings us face to face with a fundamental reality of the complete Sermon:

DMLJ: You see, it at once condemns every idea of the Sermon on the Mount which thinks of it in terms of something that you and I can do ourselves.

This idea, that it can be preached and then immediately put into practice is a dangerous one; in fact, it is an utter denial of the Sermon itself as the opening and fundamental proposition is that we must be poor in spirit.  The one poor in spirit is at a loss to “do” the Sermon on his own, but it takes one poor in spirit to be open to God for the teaching and ultimately the doing of the Sermon.

DMLJ: The Sermon on the Mount, in other words, comes to us and says ‘There is a mountain that you have to scale, the heights you have to climb; and the first thing you must realize, as you look at that mountain which you are told you must ascend is that you cannot do it, that you are utterly incapable in and of yourself, and that any attempt to do it on your own strength is proof positive that you have not understood it.’

It isn’t a program meant to be followed.  One must be emptied before one can be filled.  Both actions imply that there is one who empties and one who fills.

This, in contrast to how some understand this Beatitude, influenced by the wording from the parallel passage in Luke chapter 6: 20 Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.  There is no mention of “spirit.”  Metropolitan Alfeyev offers as explanation for this difference:

Scholars see this as a reflection of Luke’s interest in the theme of wealth and poverty, which occupies much more space in his Gospel than in the other Gospels. … If anything, one could say that each of them emphasized certain aspects of Jesus’ teaching to greater or lesser degrees.

Per Llyod-Jones, to assume that the teaching is a commendation of poverty is an incorrect assumption; in the context of the passage, he sees it as a call to not rely on riches – and this is a risk whether one is rich or poor in material wealth. 

So how might one understand Luke’s wording as opposed to Matthew’s?  When considering the overall ecclesiastical tradition, poor in spirit is to be understood as poor in some spiritual quality:

MHA: In the words of Macarius the Great, to be poor in spirit means to be “never thinking [oneself] to be anything, but holding [oneself] in a lowly and humble attitude as one knowing or having nothing, even though [one] does know and does have much.”

John Chrysostom says that it means to have a humble and contrite in mind.  So why not say “humble” instead of “poor in spirit”?  Because it means much more: it means to be awestruck, to tremble at the commands of God. 

The problem is, in English we don’t have another singular word to describe poor in spirit that works better than “humble” or “humility,” so I will lean on this occasionally throughout this post – as both authors do in their writing.

This is the teaching of the poverty of spirit.  It regards a man’s attitude toward himself.  As noted in an earlier post, the Sermon is the clearest indicator of the difference between the natural man and the Christian, demonstrating the line that divides those within the Kingdom from those without.  In a world that emphasizes self-reliance, self-confidence, self-expression, and implores you believe in yourself, nothing emphasizes this division more than “blessed are the poor in spirit…”

There is no human way, through self-confidence and the like, to bring in the kingdom.  No “Act of Parliament” will bring in the perfect society:

DMLJ: Everywhere we see displayed this tragic confidence in the power of education and knowledge as such to save men, to transform them and make them decent human beings.

It is humility that the Bible regards as the greatest virtue, and as demonstrated by the opening of the Sermon, it is the necessary first step in living the complete Christian life. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Divinity of the Word


By the grace of God we also noted a few points regarding the divinity of the Word of the Father and his providence and power in all things, that through him the good Father arranges all things.

On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

St. Athanasius here opens this book by referring to his prior treatise, Against the Gentiles.  In the opening paragraphs, he uses “Word” to describe Christ.  Nothing new or novel about this.  But the way it is used opens, for me at least, a new door. 

·         “Incarnation of the Word”;

·         “…not think that the Savior has worn a body as a consequence of nature, but that being by nature bodiless and existing as the Word…”;

·         “…its recreation was accomplished by the Word who created it in the beginning”;

·         “…from nothing God and having absolutely no existence brought the universe into being through the Word….”

At the moment of conception, God’s “Word” joined man.  It sounds different to me than referring to this baby as Jesus – the nice manger scene at Christmas.  All of the avenues that this picture paints are too much and too vague for me to contemplate at the moment, and if I speculate too much on it here I will no doubt tempt heresy.  I will just say it makes the Trinity easier for me to comprehend.

St. Athanasius continues by describing the creation of man, made in God’s image.  He describes man’s fall.  He does this because speaking of the manifestation of the Savior necessitates speaking of the origin of human beings.  It was our cause, our transgression that was the occasion of His descent. 

With man growing ever more corrupt, what should God do?  If He neglects man’s continuing fall, it would show weakness – that He could abandon His creation.  This would be unworthy of the Creator.  At the same time, He could not let the corruption pass – the Father of truth would then be a liar.

Repentance.  Wouldn’t this suffice?  Man repents from his sin?  No, this isn’t enough:

But repentance would neither have preserved the consistency of God, for he again would not have remained true if human beings were not held fast by death, nor does repentance recall human beings from what is natural, but merely halts sin. 

The consequence of the fall still has its hold on man; the sinful nature remains.

But if once the transgression had taken off, human beings were now held fast in natural corruption and were deprived of the grace of being in the image, what else needed to happen?  Or who was needed for such grace and recalling except the God Word who in the beginning made the universe from non-being?

Repentance was not sufficient to restore man to his incorruptible nature – to the creature God intended. 

Being the Word of the Father and above all, he alone consequently was both able to recreate the universe and was worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to interceded for all before the Father.

It had to be the Word, and this is why the Word became manifest – and manifest in man.  He took on the human, since it was the human that was liable to the corruption of death.  He delivered it over to death on behalf of all and offered it to the Father.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Luther and Thomas


Due to the oppositional narrative, it is unusual – even considered comical – to label Luther or Calvin “Scholastic.”  …That assumption, however, has been challenged as Reformation scholarship has further investigated the connection between Scholasticism and the Reformation.

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett

Unfortunately, many in the mainstream Protestant narrative carry the same thinking – the Reformation repudiated Thomas, or something to this effect.

Barrett will proceed to provide evidence to back this notion of the stronger connection between Thomas and the Reformers. For example, while some differences are certainly identified, both Thomas and the Reformers were very Augustinian in their soteriology; there was even a stronger continuity in the domain of the atonement.

The issue comes back to one I have touched on previously at this blog – Luther was reacting to Ockham and Biel and thereby painting all of Scholasticism with this same broad brush.  But, as just one example, if one sets Thomas’s view of predestination side-by-side with Luther’s Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s Institutes, one finds a striking similarity.

There is little basis on which to believe that Luther had meaningful direct contact or engagement with Thomas’s work.  Some point to Luther’s engagement with Cardinal Cajetan, and the latter’s leaning on Thomistic theology, but others suggest that Cajetan might not be reliable as a Thomist. 

It was Biel that Luther read as a student, and it was Biel’s description of Thomistic Scholasticism that Luther would write against.  But, as will be seen, Biel’s teaching and interpretation of many key Thomistic points left something to be desired. 

Biel gave an accurate representation of Thomas on a range of topics; however, when it came to some of the key issues such as sin, grace, and justification, Biel has been demonstrated to have misrepresented Thomas.  Barrett presents a table demonstrating where Biel misrepresents Thomas on these and a couple of other issues and instead compares this to the proper Thomistic understanding.

On a key issue – sinners could put their best foot forward to begin the process to merit their own justification – Biel presented Thomas as having a Pelagian view at worst, Semi-Pelagian at best.  Quoting David Steinmetz:

“It is simply not true [as Biel thinks] that Thomas teaches that sinners can merit the grace of justification, not even by merits of congruity.  The general effect of Biel’s interpretation is to move Thomas in a more Pelagian, even a more voluntaristic direction, and away from the more Augustinian, more ontological framework in which he properly belongs.”

Barrett notes that some historians believe that if Luther had read the real Thomas for himself, the Reformation would not have happened.  On this, I am not so sure.  Luther’s ninety-five theses were focused on indulgences, and it was this that was at the heart of the antagonism by the Church toward Luther.  Luther and others had questioned many doctrinal positions before, and the result wasn’t Reformation, it was disputation (well, sometimes burning at the stake as well).

Further, with or without Luther, at some point Reformation was coming – we know of the martyrs before Luther (and he would also likely have been one if not for Frederick), and the issues, including the corruption, were not shrinking in size or magnitude.  There were strong negative feelings in Germany about money flowing south of the Alps and to the Vatican.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

The Twentieth Century Roots of the Palestinian Conflict

And I know the roots go further back, but today’s conflict could not have happened had not certain actions and decisions taken place in the early to mid-twentieth century.

For your weekend or extended reading, following are books I have read and written about at this blog that address the early twentieth century roots of the conflict regarding Palestine.  As you will note from the title of each book, some are focused on the region, for example the carving up of the Ottoman Empire throughout the Middle East, while some are focused specifically on Palestine – one of the results of the carving.


David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East

o   The Vintage of History is Forever Repeating

o   The More That Things Change

o   The Financier of the Revolution

o   Lather, Rinse, Repeat

o   The Hundred Years’ War

o   Once is Tragedy, Twice is Farce


Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans

o   The Fall of the Ottomans

o   The Dying Days of Empire

o   The Road to Genocide

o   A Genocide by Any Other Name….

o   Gallipoli

o   Revenge or Justice?


Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate

o   Birth of a White Negro

o   Laughed At by Time

o   The Story of a Donkey

o   From Immigrants and Refugees to Terrorists


Alison Weir, Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel

o   The Betrayer of High Principles

o   Born in Terrorism

o   Homesteading?


Hugh Wilford, America's Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

o   America’s Great Game

o   America in the Middle East

o   America and Zion

o   The Coup

o   The Syria Obsession

Friday, November 3, 2023

The Beatitudes


DMLJ: Do we belong to this kingdom?  Are we ruled by Christ?  Is He our King and our Lord?  Are we manifesting these qualities in our daily lives?  Is it our ambition to do so?  Do we see that this is what we are meant to be?  Are we truly blessed?  Are we happy?  Have we been filled?  Have we got peace?

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

There you have it.  The Christian will answer yes to each of these.  Others, who may display one or more of the characteristics found in the Beatitudes, will answer no to one or more of these.  And this is how Lloyd-Jones makes the division – the Christian vs. the non-Christian.

Each author offers an overview of the Beatitudes, an introduction.  Before getting into the first “Blessed are,” each author presents how we might understand this first section of the sermon.  Once again, the whole – its meaning and purpose – must be understood before examining, or debating, the parts. 

MHA: Even within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes constitute a complete spiritual program; in them Jesus enumerates the qualities that his followers are called to possess.

The purpose first is to understand the Christian character, before we consider right conduct.  Focusing on the parts without understanding the purpose of the whole leads to heresy.

This idea of Lloyd-Jones has been one of the most helpful to me this early in the study.  How often do I consider one of the “Blessed are…” statements and say to myself – no way, that doesn’t make sense; no one can live like that?  Lloyd-Jones would say I am starting at the wrong place for understanding, and, in fact, any understanding based on this could lead to heresy.

DMLJ: The only man who is at all capable of carrying out the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount is the man who is perfectly clear in his mind with regard to the essential character of the Christian.

Character first, conduct later.  This is the point being driven home.  Lloyd-Jones describes the Beatitudes as a “delineation of the Christian man in his essential features and characteristics.” 

Metropolitan Alfeyev offers a listing of dozens of beatitudes to be found in the Psalms.  He notes that these texts were well-known not only to Jesus, but also to those to whom he was preaching the sermon.  This was not a coincidence – Jesus was using a formula familiar to the audience. 

There are further beatitudes found in the books of the Wisdom of Solomon and Proverbs as well as the Wisdom of Sirach.  Metropolitan Alfeyev even points to a list from a recently discovered Qumran manuscript dating from right around the time of Christ.  However, while there are a few overlaps, there is an important difference:

MHA: The former beatitudes (Qumran) praise the wisdom that comes from following the law of Moses, while the latter (Gospel) have as their central theme the kingdom of heaven.  In the evangelical Beatitudes Jesus speaks of a reward for righteousness and sufferings on earth, while in the Qumran beatitudes this theme is absent.

There is no reversal in the Qumran: for example, the poor do not become rich.  So, while Metropolitan Alfeyev points to all of these non-Gospel examples for the purpose of clarifying that this method of teaching was well-known, he does conclude that what Jesus taught was unique at least when compared to what else was being taught during His time.

In this sermon, Jesus is telling us that this is the only kind of man who is truly blessed, who is happy.  Happiness – Beatitudo in Latin, Makarios in Greek.  Metropolitan Alfeyev offers that this happiness is beyond earthly happiness – there is a clearly expressed religious dimension. 

In my prior examinations of this word, I have come to understand it as meaning fulfillment through other-regarding action.  In other words, love.  The word “love,” however, is a rather empty basket – it can be and has been filled in many ways by many people.  Think of today’s “love is love.”