Knuth on Bible Study

In the introduction to his book “3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated“, Donald E. Knuth writes:

“There are two ways to read the Bible. Method 1: We can read it straight through, for context. By reading at normal speed, we can follow the flow of the ideas and get intuitive impressions, just as the first readers and hearers of these words might have done. Or, Method 2: We can single out isolated verses, for meditation and/or scholarly study.  By focusing on small details, it’s possible to understand the deeper significance of a passage.

Both of these ways are important. Method 2 is most satisfactory for group study, since Method 1 works best when a person can read at leisure and without interruption.”

Knuth’s book provides a stratified sample of the Bible by spending four pages on each 3:16 verse in the protestant version of the Bible: one page on the book as a whole, one page with calligraphy of the verse, and two pages on the verse in particular.

I’d like to be in a Bible study that used his book as a guiding text, supplemented by also looking at 1:6 and 6:13 verses and including the omitted books from the unabridged Bible.  This would be very different from any Bible study in which I’ve participated.

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Dealing with Corruption

From Fr Dwight Longenecker’s article “Help, I’m Sinking in the Quicksand of Scandal‘:

When you stop again and think again, why did you expect anything else, and furthermore, wouldn’t you be suspicious of a church which wasn’t riddled with sin and populated by sinners? Have you ever been involved with one of those creepy religious communities (and I’ve know both Protestant and Catholic versions) where everyone is smiling all the time and pious 24/7 and always sweet and holy? Don’t such communities actually give you the creeps? They do me.

I love the church. I love the faithful people. I love the triumphs. I love the tragedies because I see in all these things we are more than conquerors. I see in all these things God’s mysterious hand of providence at work. This is the lesson from the Old Testament–that God is working his way out in the world not only despite the human frailties and failures but through them. Yep. He doesn’t just steer around them, he uses them to accomplish his final purpose.

Remember that all is harvest. He will use even the sin to accomplish salvation. Isn’t that what a crucifix says? Here was history’s darkest deed. Here was mankind’s most terrible action–they killed their own savior, and through that action God saved the world.

If he can do that, then I believe his promise that he will never forsake his church and that even all the hordes of the underworld, howling from the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.


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On Disagreements

Our son recently messaged:

“I just don’t get how you can claim to be a Christian and support this administration.”

I replied:

Yes, I know that Daniel and I find it VERY interesting that you can not. While years ago I would have thought ‘well, he’s just not trying to understand’ I am more inclined to think that this is a good illustration of the view that, for example, political disagreements/discussions are rarely fruitful unless there is underlying agreement on worldview (and worldview disagreements are rarely fruitful unless there is underlying agreement on philosophy/theology).

     I don’t guess you’ve read Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue?
He explores this phenomenon in detail there (ie folks talking ‘past’ one another due to disagreements at a more fundamental level).
   I recently came across an interesting article on this:
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Some Books on Mathematical Analysis

  • Understanding Analysis, 2nd edition, by Stephen Abbott
  • Complex Variables, 2nd edition, by Robert Ash
  • Measure and Category, 2nd edition, by John Oxtoby
  • Classical Introduction to Modern Number Theory; Ireland & Rosen

These have a similar style which I admire. By the way, I’m a Platonist insofar as I agree with his advice that studying mathematics is an essential preliminary to philosophy. There aren’t many Platonists in this sense.

On the other hand, I think technology is very important and clearly the most important technology is language. The language experts are not the philosophers but the poets.

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The Season of Ascension

Ascension is a season and not merely a day, whenever celebrated. Just as the Church requires the seasons of Advent and Lent for her spiritual formation in anticipation of  Incarnation and Easter, the Church most urgently needs to pay attention to God’s insistence that disciples wait and pray, in the earthly city of God, as they await ‘power from on high’.

Amid various real needs, the suffering Church urgently needs to remember ‘the one thing necessary’: God, as we groan together in unity.

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Apologia Pro Vita Sua

The edition John Cardinal Newman’s Apologia that I use is Frank Turner’s “Apologia Pro Vita Sua and Six Sermons”. However, I recognize that Turner has an ax to grinds and so want to refer to Stanley Jaki’s review of an earlier book by Turner in the New Oxford Review.

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Twenty One Plays by Shakespeare

The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Twelfth Night
All’s Well That Ends Well
Measure for Measure
King Lear
Richard II
Henry IV, Part One
Henry IV, Part Two
Henry V
Henry VIII
Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra
Troilus and Cressida

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No Need for Religion?

When a man tells me “personally, I feel no need for religion” what I hear is “I don’t want to be part of any social structure for which I’m not in charge. Moreover, to the extent that folks are under my authority, I don’t want it for them either.”  This attitude is widespread and even applies to some pastors, especially those with a congregationalist governance.  I try to stay as far away from that attitude as possible; therefore, I am Catholic.

The matter reminds me of the ‘no man is an island’ theme which John Donne rings so well:

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Or, as Bob Dylan’s song goes:

Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

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On America

Growing up in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia, I absorbed a view of America forged by the Revolutionary War.  Since moving west I’ve come to consider that to be more a definition of what the United States is ‘not’.  What the United States ‘is’ was only later forged by the Civil War. Walter McDougall’s book ‘The Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877‘ gives an interesting account of this period, which seems very contemporary.

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Two World Wars

Two World Wars: I respond to the rhetorical hyperbole of ‘Trump is Hitler’ with ‘No, Trump is Churchill’. See Sayet’s article on the culture war and Heiden’s article on The Darkest Hour.

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Speculative Execution and the Gospel

The recently publicized matter of security issues with modern computer CPU design is very interesting from a Thomist perspective, and in fact from  the viewpoint of any serious Christian philosophical perspective.  Now of course, existentially, the most important matter remains ‘is the Gospel true’; however, leaving that aside for the time being consider instead: if the Gospel is true, what are the implications?  Surely one implication is that to assume one can accurately predict the future is to be heading for a fall and will have serious security risks.

Modern CPU design is deeply pipelined and in order to get the fastest performance out of this has also adopted speculative execution To quote from, “Speculation (also known as speculative loading ), is a process implemented in Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing ( EPIC ) processors and their compilers to reduce processor-memory exchanging bottlenecks or latency by putting all the data into memory in advance of an actual load instruction.”

Inherent in this, I think, is an over confidence in our ability to predict the future which is dangerous and it is to be expected that security risks would arise. Further, given the nature of modern cloud IT structures, these security risks will have major financial implications.

Who would have thought that being an IT Manager would lead one back to Saint Thomas Aquinas?

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Nine Dylan CDs and One Song

  1. The Times They Are A-Changin’ – 1964
  2. John Wesley Harding – 1967
  3. Blood on the Tracks = 1975
  4. Senor – 1978
  5. Trouble No More #1 – 1979
  6. Trouble No More #2 – 1981
  7. Oh Mercy – 1989
  8. Dylan Unplugged – 1995
  9. Time Out of Mind – 1997
  10. Tell Tale Signs #2 – 2008


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The Fundamental Historical Fact

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the fundamental historical fact and it changes everything. Among other consequences, it changes the nature and significance of history and historical research in comparison to experimental science.

Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, do not think much about the consequences of this, for various reasons.  And, of course many folks do not consider it to be a historical fact at all. However, IF it is a historical fact, then it certainly warrants very careful consideration and has wide-ranging implications.

This course will be studying Christian reflection on this fact during the period from Saint Athanasius through Pope Saint Gregory — roughly the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries in the Christian calendar.  The previous posting, from Dec. 11th, lists the texts we will be using.

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Five Early Doctors

Early Doctors of the Church

The text below is from Wikipedia.

Doctor of the Church (Latin doctor “teacher”) is a title given by the Catholic Church to saints whom they recognize as having been of particular importance, particularly regarding their contribution to theology or doctrine.

In the Western church four eminent “Fathers of the Church” attained this honour in the early Middle Ages: Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, and Saint Jerome. The “four Doctors” became a commonplace among the Scholastics, and a decree of Boniface VIII (1298) ordering their feasts to be kept as doubles in the whole Church is contained in his sixth book of Decretals (cap. “Gloriosus”, de relique. et vener. sanctorum, in Sexto, III, 22).[1]

In the Latin Church, the four Latin Doctors “had already long been recognized” in the liturgy when the four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church, John ChrysostomBasil the GreatGregory of Nazianzus, and Athanasius of Alexandria were recognized in 1568 by Pope St. Pius V.


Athanasius (c. 296–298 – 2 May 373) is counted as one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church in the Roman Catholic Church.[3] In the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is labeled as the “Father of Orthodoxy”. Some Protestants label him as “Father of the Canon”. Athanasius is venerated as a Christian saint, whose feast day is 2 May in Western Christianity, 15 May in the Coptic Orthodox Church, and 18 January in the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. He is venerated by the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutherans, and the Anglican Communion.


Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great (330 – 379), was an influential theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early Christian church, fighting against both Arianism and the followers of Apollinaris of Laodicea. In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labour. He is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity.  Basil is considered a saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity. His feast day is January 2nd.


Ambrose (c. 340 – 4 April 397), was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was the Roman governor of Liguria and Emilia, headquartered in Milan, before being made bishop of Milan by popular acclamation in 374.  was one of the four original Doctors of the Church, and is the patron saint of Milan. He is notable for his influence on Augustine of Hippo.


Jerome (c. 27 March 347 – 30 September 420)  is best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin (the translation that became known as the Vulgate), and his commentaries on the Gospels. He is recognised as a Saint and Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Anglican Communion.[7]


Augustine (13 November 354 – 28 August 430) is recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church, the Eastern Christian Church, and the Anglican Communion and as a preeminent Doctor of the Church. He is also the patron of the Augustinians.


Gregory (c. 540 – 12 March 604) is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Latin Fathers. He is considered a saint in the Catholic ChurchEastern Orthodox ChurchAnglican Communion, and some Lutheran denominations. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim.[5] The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope.[6] 



For the class/discussion, in addition the Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version, we will use the following books:

  1. Athanasius – Khaled Anatolios
  2. Basil – Stephen Hildebrand
  3. Ambrose – Boniface Ramsey O.P.
  4. Jerome – Stefan Rebenich
  5. The Confessions – Augustine  (Everyman Library edition)
  6. Gregory the Great – George Demacopoulos


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Faith and the Future

…the future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith.  It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.
To put this more positively: the future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality.  Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial.  By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened.  He sees only to  the extent that he has lived and suffered.  If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other.  Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us.  If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are.
From Ratzinger’s 1969 book ‘Faith and the Future’
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Baldwin of Ford, Archbishop of Canterbury

Baldwin of Ford was the 39th archbishop of Canterbury. His birthdate is unknown and he died on November 19th, 1190 AD. He was a Cistercian monk and the abbot of their Abbey at Ford, in Devonshire, before being elected to the see at Canterbury in 1180.

“The Spiritual Tractates were written almost entirely during the decade Baldwin lived at Forde, probably as sermons which were then recast later. They reveal a man thoroughly and happily at home in cistercian spirituality, an acute theologian well aware of contemporary currents, and one of the last true representatives of the rich patristic-monastic tradition.”

In the Liturgy of the Hours, the second reading for November 3rd has this extract from one of his writings:

The word of God is alive and active
The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely. These words tell us how much power and wisdom there is in the word of God for those who seek Christ, who is the word and the power and the wisdom of God. This word, with the Father from the beginning and co-eternal with him, came at its own chosen time, was revealed to them, was proclaimed by them, and was humbly received in faith by its believers. A word, therefore, in the Father; a word in the mouth; and a word in the heart.
  This word of God is alive. The Father gave it life coming from itself just as the Father’s own life comes from himself. The word is not just alive, therefore, it is life, as it said itself: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Since the word is life, the word is alive to give life. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses. He gives life, as when he calls the dead man out of the tomb, saying Lazarus, come forth.
  When this word is preached, the voice of its preaching which is heard outwardly calls forth a voice of power that is heard inwardly, that voice by which the dead are restored to life and their praise raises up sons for Abraham. So this word is alive in the heart of the Father, alive in the mouth of the preacher, and alive in the hearts of those who believe and love. If a word is alive in this way, how can it not also be active?
  The word is active in creating, active in guiding the world, active in redeeming the world. What could be more active? What could be more powerful? Who shall tell of his powerful deeds? Who shall proclaim the praises of the Lord? It is active when it works, it is active when it is preached. For it does not come back empty-handed: wherever it is sent, it prospers.
  It is active and cuts finer than a double-edged sword when it is believed and loved. For what is impossible to the believer? What is hard for the lover? When this word speaks, its words transfix the heart like a flight of sharp arrows, like nails hammered deep into its very essence. This word is sharper than a double-edged sword in that it cuts deeper than any strength or power, it is finer than anything made by human ingenuity, sharper than any human wisdom or learned speech.
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Weinandy’s Letter

July 31, 2017

Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Your Holiness,

I write this letter with love for the Church and sincere respect for your office.  You are the Vicar of Christ on earth, the shepherd of his flock, the successor to St. Peter and so the rock upon which Christ will build his Church.  All Catholics, clergy and laity alike, are to look to you with filial loyalty and obedience grounded in truth.  The Church turns to you in a spirit of faith, with the hope that you will guide her in love.

Yet, Your Holiness, a chronic confusion seems to mark your pontificate.  The light of faith, hope, and love is not absent, but too often it is obscured by the ambiguity of your words and actions.  This fosters within the faithful a growing unease.  It compromises their capacity for love, joy and peace.  Allow me to offer a few brief examples.

First there is the disputed Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.  I need not share my own concerns about its content.  Others, not only theologians, but also cardinals and bishops, have already done that.  The main source of concern is the manner of your teaching.  In Amoris Laetitia, your guidance at times seems intentionally ambiguous, thus inviting both a traditional interpretation of Catholic teaching on marriage and divorce as well as one that might imply a change in that teaching.  As you wisely note, pastors should accompany and encourage persons in irregular marriages; but ambiguity persists about what that “accompaniment” actually means.  To teach with such a seemingly intentional lack of clarity inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth.  The Holy Spirit is given to the Church, and particularly to yourself, to dispel error, not to foster it.  Moreover, only where there is truth can there be authentic love, for truth is the light that sets women and men free from the blindness of sin, a darkness that kills the life of the soul.  Yet you seem to censor and even mock those who interpret Chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia in accord with Church tradition as Pharisaic stone-throwers who embody a merciless rigorism.   This kind of calumny is alien to the nature of the Petrine ministry.  Some of your advisors regrettably seem to engage in similar actions.  Such behavior gives the impression that your views cannot survive theological scrutiny, and so must be sustained by ad hominem arguments.

Second, too often your manner seems to demean the importance of Church doctrine.  Again and again you portray doctrine as dead and bookish, and far from the pastoral concerns of everyday life.  Your critics have been accused, in your own words, of making doctrine an ideology.  But it is precisely Christian doctrine – including the fine distinctions made with regard to central beliefs like the Trinitarian nature of God; the nature and purpose of the Church; the Incarnation; the Redemption; and the sacraments – that frees people from worldly ideologies and assures that they are actually preaching and teaching the authentic, life-giving Gospel.  Those who devalue the doctrines of the Church separate themselves from Jesus, the author of truth.  What they then possess, and can only possess, is an ideology – one that conforms to the world of sin and death.

Third, faithful Catholics can only be disconcerted by your choice of some bishops, men who seem not merely open to those who hold views counter to Christian belief but who support and even defend them.  What scandalizes believers, and even some fellow bishops, is not only your having appointed such men to be shepherds of the Church, but that you also seem silent in the face of their teaching and pastoral practice.  This weakens the zeal of the many women and men who have championed authentic Catholic teaching over long periods of time, often at the risk of their own reputations and well-being.  As a result, many of the faithful, who embody the sensus fidelium, are losing confidence in their supreme shepherd.

Fourth, the Church is one body, the Mystical Body of Christ, and you are commissioned by the Lord himself to promote and strengthen her unity.  But your actions and words too often seem intent on doing the opposite.  Encouraging a form of “synodality” that allows and promotes various doctrinal and moral options within the Church can only lead to more theological and pastoral confusion.  Such synodality is unwise and, in practice, works against collegial unity among bishops.

Holy Father, this brings me to my final concern.  You have often spoken about the need for transparency within the Church.  You have frequently encouraged, particularly during the two past synods, all persons, especially bishops, to speak their mind and not be fearful of what the pope may think.  But have you noticed that the majority of bishops throughout the world are remarkably silent?  Why is this?  Bishops are quick learners, and what many have learned from your pontificate is not that you are open to criticism, but that you resent it.  Many bishops are silent because they desire to be loyal to you, and so they do not express – at least publicly; privately is another matter – the concerns that your pontificate raises.  Many fear that if they speak their mind, they will be marginalized or worse.

I have often asked myself: “Why has Jesus let all of this happen?”   The only answer that comes to mind is that Jesus wants to manifest just how weak is the faith of many within the Church, even among too many of her bishops.  Ironically, your pontificate has given those who hold harmful theological and pastoral views the license and confidence to come into the light and expose their previously hidden darkness.  In recognizing this darkness, the Church will humbly need to renew herself, and so continue to grow in holiness.

Holy Father, I pray for you constantly and will continue to do so.  May the Holy Spirit lead you to the light of truth and the life of love so that you can dispel the darkness that now hides the beauty of Jesus’ Church.

Sincerely in Christ,

Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap.

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On Romans

I’m participating in Bible Study Fellowship’s session on Romans. Their ‘study’ is mostly a presentation of standard reformed protestant understandings and I find to useful to collect a few quotes, in response, from N.T. Wright’s ‘The Day the Revolution Begin”

from beginning of chap 12 of Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began (the first of the 2 chapters on Romans in that book).

The first four chapters of Romans have for many years been read as though they were a statement of our old friend the ‘works contract’.  Humans were supposed to behave themselves, they didn’t. God had to punish them, but Jesus stood in the way, so God forgave them after all (provided they believed in Jesus). Rather than going to hell, they can no go to heaven instead. That, with small variations, is how Romans 1-4 has been read.  It is frequently referred to as the “Romans road.”  When people in churches preach and teach the kind of view that I have been warning against throughout this book, it is to Romans that they go to “prove” what they are saying.
And I am convinced that this is mistaken.  That is why we need, in this chapter and the following one, to look at Romans in much more detail.  At this point  we cannot avoid getting our hands dirty with some detailed reading of the text.  I have suggested in the previous chapters that the four gospels are far more important than has usually been supposed for understanding the early Christian view of what Jesus’s death achieved. But sooner or later we must come back to Romans.  Debates about the meaning of Jesus’s death in the New Testament tend to stand or fall right here.
The general structure of Wright’s two chapters is:
Chap 12
    a) general intro/outline
    b) chap 5-8 in detail
Chap 13
   a) intro on Passover and Atonement
   b) usual reading of Romans 3 and its problems
   c) redemption re-imagined
Wright focuses on Rm 1-8 .. not much detail on rest of Romans, for complex reasons (not all of which are due to the focus on “Debates about the meaning of Jesus’s death in the New Testament tend to stand or fall right here.”  More on Romans 9 and following would, I think, require Wright to write more about the nature of ‘The Church” than he thinks appropriate at the present time.)
anyway  at the end of the general intro in Wrights chap 12, there is this brief overall outline of Romans as a whole:
That true worship, contrasting with the failure seen in 1:18-26, is what Paul sees Abraham offering in 4:18-22. The result, for those who share Abraham’s faith, is expressed in cultic terms: “we have been allowed to approach, by faith, into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate the hope of the glory of god” (5:2) — the “hope of God’s glory” being, in the Jewish world of the time, the hope for the divine Glory to return at last to the Temple. That is part of the meaning of Romans 8, where the indwelling Spirit means that the Messiah’s people not only share his “rule” over the new creation (8:18-25), picking up from 5:17), but also share his priestly intersession for the world (8:26-27, looking forward to 8:34). This then sets Paul up for the prayer theme, which holds together chapters 9-11, starting with lament (9:1-5), continuing with intercession (10:1) and ending in praise (11:33-36). This framework means that Paul is exemplifying and embodying the idea of a renewed priesthood standing between God and his people.  It should be no surprise that chapter 12 begins with an equally “priestly” theme:
“so my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s.” (12:1)
Here again the section that is introduced with this “cultic” appeal concludes with a similar call to worship: the point of the whole gospel is to fulfill the promises to the patriarchs and to bring the nations to praise God for his mercy (15:8-9).  Nor should we then be surprised (tho some readers have been) when Paul moves into the concluding section of the letter by describing how he has been called to work “in the priestly service of God’s good news, so that the offering of the nations may be acceptable, sanctified in the holy spirit” (15:16). All of this could be considerably expanded. This summary ma be enough to alert us to the fact that, in Paul’s presentation of salvation, the GOAL is for humans to share the “royal” and “priestly” ministry of the Messiah himself.
If that is the goal, how is that goal attained?  This is the particular puzzle that Romans presents to our present topic.  Granted all this framework, what does Paul say about the way in which the death of Jesus has dealt with this problem (idolatry and sin) about brought about this result?
from chap 13 of Wrights book, on the problems with the ‘Romans road’ reading of Romans 3

this understanding of Rm 3:21-26 leaves vv 27-31 stranded. It appears to change the subject from “how you acquire this ‘righteousness’ ” to “how Jews and Gentiles come together into a single faith family.”  That, indeed is what many writers and preachers have imagined.
So too chapter 4 becomes seriously undervalued.  Many who expound Romans regard Abraham in this chapter merely as an “example” of “someone in scripture who was justified by faith.”  Sometimes the chapter is simply labeled as a “proof from scripture” of the “doctrine” that Paul has supposedly been expounding in chapter 3. But this misses the whole point.
This reading also ignores the plain meaning of 2:17-20.  It flattens out Paul’s careful statement of the vocation of “the Jew” (to be the light of the world) into simply another aspect of the general truth that “all have sinned” This in turn leaves 3:1-9 high and dry, or at least very difficult.  This short passage consists of a rapid fire series of questions and answers that make excellent sense if we read 2:17-29 in the way I am suggesting, but very little sense any other way. Again many commentators and preachers have noticed this; some very careful and “conservative” expositors declare that the passage is too complex and puzzling to be much help. This in turn results in a failure to see what Paul is getting at in 3:21-26.
Finally, the “problem” Paul is addressing is assumed to be simply human wrongdoing (“sin”).  However, in Romans 1:18-32 and in the summary of that passage in 3:23 we find a deeper element as well. “Sin” is rooted in idolatry, the swapping of the divine Glory for images.  Here Paul is exactly on the map of Second Temple Jewish writings. But many today, eager to talk about “sin,” have forgotten that it is the second-order problem. The root cause of the trouble is worship of idols.
These exegetical problems point to the underlying theological difficulties with the usual reading.  This usual reading is all about how we get “right with God” in order to “go to heaven”; but Paul never mentions “going to heaven,” here or elsewhere in Romans, and the idea of being “right with God,” though related to Paul’s theme, is usually taken out of the specific context he intends.  Ironically, the usual reading takes “going to heaven” (or some near equivalent) for granted and then complains if, instead, someone tries to reintroduce into these chapters the themes that Paul demonstrably IS expounding.  It all become so complicated, people grumble — when what they really mean is “I am so used to reading this passage one way that I find it hard to switch and consider other opinions.”
In Israel’s scriptures, to which Paul explicitly appeals in 3:21b (“the law and the prophets bore witness to it”) God’s righteousness is not simply God’s status of being morally upright. It is, more specifically, God’s faithfulness to the covenant — the covenant not only with Abraham and Israel, but through Israel to the wider world.
This idea of God being faithful the covenant clearly seems to be Paul’s meaning here in Romans 3.  Within the larger unit of chapters 1-4 as a whole, 3:21-26 is framed more particularly between the argument that starts at 2:17 and the exposition of Genesis 15 in chapter 4.
Romans 2:17-3:9 is concerned, first, with the worldwide purpose of Israel’s divine vocation (2:17-20), second, with Israel’s covenantal failure (2:21-24; 3:2-4), and third, with the problem that this poses for God’s “dikaiosyne”, his “righteousness (3:5).  How is God to be faithful to the covenant — to rescue and bless the world through the Jews — if Israel is faithless”  Romans 4 is then all about Gods covenant with Abraham, its worldwide purpose, and the way n which, through the gospel, God has now been faithful to that covenant.  These two (Israel’s vocation to rescue the world; God’s covenant promises to Abraham to give him a worldwide family) obviously go together. The divine purpose through Israel for the world is the subject of the passages both before and after 3:21-26.  There is every reason, therefore, for taking “God’s righteousness” in 3:31 in its normal biblical sense of “covenant faithfulness.”  There is every reason too to understand the display of that “righteousness” as connected with God’s somehow rescuing the world from idolatry and sin, through Israel, in order to create a single worldwide family for Abraham. The actual arguments Paul advances on either side of our passage, in other words, strongly support a reading of dikaiosyne theos and cognate ideas in 3:21=26 ad “covenant faithfulness.”  This fits with what we have just seen about the passage itself, which ends with an emphatic reference to God himself being “righteous,” rather than to “God’s righteousness” as a moral status or quality that God credits to others.
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Evangelical Fundamentals 2

Back on July 2, 2008 I wrote:

Jim Packer recently commented: It is important to know who our friends are. Anglo-Catholics generally believe in Trinity, Scripture, atonement, resurrection, judgement, prayer, etc. A ‘higher’ view of sacraments and priesthood seems secondary in the light of those primary correspondences. I can be friends with Anglo-Catholics. Modern Anglo-Catholicism has a different agenda from in the past. I can, with qualifications, be friends with Anglo-Catholics.

Yes, evangelicals generally consider soteriology and theology proper to be more fundamental than ecclesiology. So much more fundamental that, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t seem completely unfair to say that evangelicals don’t believe in the Church (except as a mere label for the set of all Christians). The “with qualifications” is, I think, a bit amusing and, I suspect, relates to how pushy the non-evangelical is about ecclesiology as summarized in, say, the fourth part of the Nicene Creed.

It’s difficult to make sense of the Anglican “Communion” nowadays.






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The goal of advertising is to persuade folks that stuff they don’t care about is, in fact, important. This extends far beyond, say, the selling of toothpaste.   Furthermore, since only some many matters can be considered important, advertising also has a secondary goal to persuade folks that stuff they do consider important is, in fact, not important.

Consider any major media source nowadays and the main thing advertised is: Politics is important; Religion is not important.

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