Memory eternal

Metropolitan Lavrus of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia has reposed in the Lord today, the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Filled with the uncreated grace of our God, he oversaw the reunion of the ROCOR with the Moscow Patriarchate, both now rejoicing at one chalice. It used to be said that it would take a miracle to achieve that. It did. The miracle was Vladyka Lavrus’ leadership, a godly example for all.

May we all work for God’s Church as hard as His servant Lavrus!

May the Lord grant him rest in Paradise!

Memory eternal! Memory eternal! May his memory be eternal!

Louth, Gadamer, Haecker

Language and literature disclose to us the moral realm of free human agents: the moral realm, because we understand it by analogy with the way we understand ourselves. In it we are confronted with the mystery of human freedom, as opposed to the puzzle of the interaction of natural laws; and this is a mystery in which we participate. “The world of history depends on freedom, and this remains an ultimately unplumbable mystery of the person. Only the study of one’s own conscience can approach it, and only God can know the truth here. For this reason historical study will not seek knowledge of laws and cannot call on experiment. For the historian is separated from his object of study by the infinite intermediary of tradition” [Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode; 4th ed. Tuebingen, 1975; p. 191. A newer, revised English translation is available: Truth and Method, Second Revised Edition. Continuum, 1989]. But this intermediary of tradition, although it does exclude experiment and the search for that sort of objectivity, is the bearer of positive meaning and truth: “it is not a yawning abyss, but is filled with the continuity of custom and tradition, in the light of which all that is handed down presents itself to us” [ibid., pp 264-5]. This “continuity” is the continuity of human communication, an experience of the transparency laid bare by language and literature: “‘hearsay’ is here not bad evidence, but the only evidence possible” [ibid., p. 191]. Understood like this, tradition is the context in which one can be free, it is not something that constrains us and prevents us from being free. “The fact is that tradition is constantly an element of freedom and of history itself. Even the most genuine and solid tradition does not persist by nature because of the intertia of what once existed. It needs to be affirmed, embraced, cultivated…” [ibid., p. 250]. The act of interpretation is one of the ways in which tradition is “affirmed, embraced, cultivated” and passed on.

From such a point of view the idea of an antithesis between tradition and reason, tradition and historical research, history and knowledge is rejected. Rather, tradition, as preservation, is an act of reason, and interpretation is engagement with what is presented to us by tradition.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Oxford, 1983)

It’s difficult to extract any passage in Louth’s book as these excerpts give the impression that they are discrete entitities, which is anything but the truth. His argumentation flows, quoting from one writer and then another, with all the facility of a master mosaicist, each quotation a jewel-like tessera set in place to create the kingly image of his own devising. The passage above is roughly in the middle of a long exposition of Gadamer and those of whom Gadamer writes, and with a short transition flows smoothly into an interesting excerpt from Theodor Haecker, Vergil: Vater des Abendlandes (5th ed, Munich, 1947):

I am not talking about Vergil and Vergilianism without presuppositions. No one does that or can do it, whatever or whomever he speaks of. Each consideration or description is based on a principle, even if on the nihilistic principle of being without principles. Man acknowledges nothing without presuppositions, even nothingness itself presupposes fulness of being, not vice versa. It is not presuppositionlessness in general and in itself which is the requirement of an exact science, but on the contrary, the possession of the fulness of all presuppositions which belong to a determinate object both subjectively from the side of the one in pursuit of understanding and objectively on the side of the object. Certainly, for a historian as a rule the present is confusion and darkness, things must lie at a certain distance before they can have or reveal a meaning, but then also they have it within living history only through things which lie before us, which for better or for worse have indeed to be presupposed as true things. If then, for example, someone demands of me that I speak of Vergil and Vergilian man without presuppositions, then I will ask him what he means by that. Is he demanding of me that I should speak, in the words of the ancient historian, sine ira et studio [=”without anger or partiality”], that is without yielding to any disposition, without any passion that clouds the vision, without any egotistical or partial purpose? Good, he is doubtless right. Is he demanding of me not to permit what does not proceed from the object itself? Good, he is again right. But is he demanding of me that I should leave out in my analysis of Vergil and Vergilian man “the” faith, the greatest concern of the West, the emergence, so close to Vergil, of Chrstendom, that I should determine it only from its past and what was immediately contemporary with it and not from its future, which now lies in the past and still lies in the present, then he asks of me what is improper and absurd [ibid., pp 16-17].

(As a side note, it’s interesting to see here in Haecker [the first editon of Vergil dates to 1933] is that which was claimed late in the twentieth century to be newly discovered by postmodern literary criticism: the impossibility of presuppositionless investigation or of objective interpretation.) In Louth’s mosaic, Haecker contributes further to the curve of continuity arcing throughout. Whether in language, culture, religion, or any other of the humanities broadly defined, we find continuity to be inextricably bound up. All of these rely upon community and commonality at core; they could not survive without them. As Louth deals with earlier in this chapter on The Legacy of the Enlightenment, there is a sharp distinction between what we call in English science, that is the natural sciences and experimental science, and the humanities. And never the twain shall meet. Louth puts it well:

The sciences are ahistorical; they deal with a natural order that has always been much the same as it is. The humanities are historical; they deal with the doings of men who are shaped by the historical contexts in which they live. But while the awareness of historical consciousness brings with it an awareness of the peculiar nature of the humanities as forms of knowledge, it may also contain unexamined presuppositions that qualify the nature of this insight. And we may begin to suspect this when we see an awareness of history—historical consciousness—smuggling in as a method, parallel to the scientific method, a way of procedure calling itself the historical-critical method. For such a method may unconsciously bring with it presuppositions that underlie the scientific method but which are not appropriate to the humanities. There do in fact seem to be a number of interrelated presuppositions being thus introduced. One is the notion of objective and subjective truth, and another, it will be argued, is a priveleged position being ascribed to the present, or what is thought to be the present. (Discerning the Mystery, pp 26-27)

Now, in the above paragraph, Louth is describing the historical-critical method in general, not its parochial application in biblical studies. While Louth’s book is, as the title describes, an essay on the nature of theology, there is no concern with biblical studies at all in this chapter. He’s working at a much higher level of abstraction at this point, though he does eventually come to it in later chapters in some detail. Here, his point touching on anachronism is particularly topical today, when the naive and uncritical application of the norms of modern historiography to ancient texts in a kind of quasi-scientism is rife in certain circles.

Overall, I can’t recommend Louth’s Discerning the Mystery strongly enough. It’s unfortunately exceedingly rare to find a theologian competent in philosophy these days, though Louth has always maintained a greater than fine reputation in that respect. Likewise, it’s unfortunate that this book is very hard to find, and thus expensive when found. But there is much material in it that is thought-provoking, and Louth covers many issues that have since his writing come to the fore in various fields, so many and in such satisfying detail as for him to seem prescient.

And what was the point of this post? I suppose it’s just so I can enjoy the above quotes whenever I want to, and to register my delight in a book that doesn’t skimp at all on the brain food!

On Fools

Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice restrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

Gracian’s Manual, § 197

Two Septuagints

After so long a time, we now have, within the space of a year, two complete English translations of the Septuagint, the Old Testament of the early Church, and still the Old Testament for Orthodox Christians. One is a scholarly edition, the New English Translation of the Septuagint, published by Oxford University Press and typically referred to as NETS ($19.80 at Amazon; thanks Iyov!). I’ve written about this translation previously. Now there is also the St Athanasius Academy Septuagint, the trademarked (!) name of the Old Testament included in the new Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World published by Thomas Nelson Publishers (the New Testament translation included is the New King James Version, which was likewise the “boilerplate” used as a guide to the translation of the Septuagint, in a role analogous to that of the NRSV for NETS). The OSB is available in both a hardback and a “genuine leather” edition, and least expensively from Amazon (hardback only is available for pre-order; available now in hardback and “leather” from Conciliar Press). As I’ve already described the NETS, I’ll now briefly review the new Orthodox Study Bible (henceforth OSB) and proceed to a comparison of these two welcome translations.

First, as is patently indicated by its title, the OSB is a study Bible intended primarily for an English-reading Eastern Orthodox Christian audience and other English readers with an interest in Orthodoxy. At the bottom of each page are notes of varying lengths, though tending toward brevity, rather like those of the Oxford Annotated Bibles. There are various single-page study articles interspersed throughout both Testaments, covering subjects like Ancestral Sin, Sacrifice, The Tabernacle, Types of Mary in the Old Testament, and so on. There are likewise a number of different full-color pages including reproductions of various icons, which the Orthodox are well-known for. A number of different articles and helps are likewise included: Acknowledgments, Special Recognition, an introduction, a page listing the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Old Testaments, a page of abbreviations of patristic authors and materials used in the notes, “Overview of the Books of the Bible” by Bishop Basil (Essey) of Wichita and Mid-America, “Introducing the Orthodox Church,” “The Bible: God’s Revelation to Man” by Bishop Joseph (al-Zehlaoui) of Los Angeles and the West, “How to Read the Bible” by Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, a “Lectionary” which is not precisely the actual liturgical lectionary of the Eastern Orthodox Church but is intended for a devotional reading schedule, a glossary of terms and phrases used in the notes, pages of morning and evening prayers, indices to the annotations and study articles, the traditional list of The Seventy Apostles (see Luke 10), and a set of full-color maps. Throughout the OSB, each book of the two Testaments is given an introductory section including Author, Date, Major Theme, Background, and Outline. All this indicates therefore a volume of satisfying heft, and of a great variety of resources typical of study Bible of our day and age.

Continue reading “Two Septuagints”

Are you listening, my soul?

The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit on earth, and the man in whom the Holy Spirit dwells feels paradise within him.

Perhaps you will say, “Why is it I have not grace like this?” It is because you have not surrendered yourself to the Divine will but live after your own fashion.

Look at the man who likes to have his own way. His soul is never at peace. He is always discontented—this is not right, that is not as it should be. But the man who is entirely given over to the will of God can pray with a pure mind. His soul loves the Lord, and he finds everything pleasant and agreeable.

Thus did the Most Holy Virgin submit herself to God: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.” And were we to say likewise— “Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word” —then the Lord’s words written in the Gospels by the Holy Spirit would live in our souls, and the whole world would be filled with the love of God, and how beautiful would life be on earth. And although God’s words have been heard the length and breadth of the universe for so many centuries, people do not understand and will not accept them. But the man who lives according to God’s will will be glorified in heaven and on earth.

From the writings of St Silouan the Athonite, presented by Archimandrite Sophrony, from a page picked at random out of this magnificent book.

Face of the Deep (1.9-11)

Continuing with The Face of the Deep, Christina Georgina Rossetti’s 1892 devotional commentary on the Apocalypse, the first full commentary of any sort on that book written by a woman. Rossetti is one of the best poets in the English language, and her commentary is strewn with poetry throuhgout, which plays an integral role in the commentary, making this one a truly extraordinary commentary on the Book of Revelation.

The earlier installments:
The Face of the Deep
The Face of the Deep (1.1-2)
The Face of the Deep (1.3)
The Face of the Deep (1.4-6)
The Face of the Deep (1.7-8)


9. I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the island that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

“Your brother, and companion . . . in the kingdom . . . of Jesus Christ.”—Thus far St. John addresses all baptized Christians, but not necessarily all, as concerns “tribulation” and “patience.” The first and obvious priveleges are ours by Royal gift; the second and less obvious are likewise ours potentially and in the germ, yet neither effectually nor in maturity unless our own free will co-operate with God’s predisposing grace.

Patience is a great grace; but is it at all a privelege? Yes, surely. The patient soul, lord of itself, sits imperturbably amid the jars of life and serene under its frets. “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Hence we infer that where patience is perfect, nought else will remain imperfect.

Tribulation cannot but be a privelege, inasmuch as it makes us so far like Christ.

Continue reading “Face of the Deep (1.9-11)”

A work in progress

I would burn, my God,
in Your fire divine.
My wicked will consumed,
pure, I would stand reborn—
stand ever joying in Your shining face
and ever praising Your merciful grace.
Never more the dross to bear,
never more for sin to care—
with You, All in all, my heart repaired.

Me, today, on waking

Three Reasons for Blogging

Nick Norelli done tagged me! The latest meme is quite a fun one. Here are the rules:

Rule 1) List three reasons for your blogging.
Rule 2) List these rules.
Rule 3) Tag three others with the thread.

Reason 1:
Originally I just had things to say that didn’t really fit in the context of group discussion boards or mailing lists or comments on other blogs. Topics that would draw out lengthier essay-like musings simply need a home of their own. And since blogs are so easy to set up these days, it was an easy thing to do. My first substantial post, Sun, Moon, and Storms, shortly and sweetly suggests a solution to a problem that many don’t recognize exists. I’m still quite happy with my suggestion.

Reason 2:
I remember way back when, when weblogs were a new thing, looking at various different ones (long before there were any biblical studies blogs) and thinking, “God, the ego of these people! Who on earth cares to read this stuff?” Yikes. What a meany. But blogging really is a way to make connections with many different people. I’ve had a really enjoyable time “meeting” all the various people I have through our blogging and mailing list connections, all of which seem to have taken off into a new level lately, particularly with the very recent launch of The Biblicalist. There are a number of very well-known scholars I’ve met through my blog, some still only electronically, but a number in person, and I’m even working on a book with one of them now (and I mean right now, as in a “the books are on the desk around the computer and I need to finish this post and get back to it!” kind of now), which is exciting, and for another I’ll be proofreading his next book later this year or early the next. I’m also having fantastic conversations via email with scholars I’ve learned much from, who’ve written in response to something I’ve written on my blog. These things certainly would not have happened had I not been blogging. I’d not still be learning at such a satisfying level, either.

Reason 3:
I’m enjoying writing much more than I used to because of the blog, and that makes me want to write even more, just for the act of writing. I’m enjoying not just the wordplay that people have sometimes mentioned they enjoy in my writing, but the very act of constructing essays, which blog posts really are. The essay is not a form that’s well-used anymore. I’ve heard, though, that it’s coming back into appreciation precisely because of the widespread interest in blogging. Short, tightly constructed, and pointed writings are difficult to successfully achieve, which is what the essay is meant to be. Blogging is a kind of writers’ workshop, really. The more the better. The goal is to be able to toss off an essay on any given topic, which may sound like a party trick, but will be very helpful if not necessary for something that’s coming up for me (more on that later!).

So, I tag my Orthodox brother, well-crowned in words, Esteban; my recuperating friend and fellow moderator Iyov; and another friend and fellow moderator, John “Big Daddy” Hobbins. Have at it, gents!

The Jinn

have an oily railyard lantern flare
of equivocal blaze. Sometimes, when so
inclined, the coastal jinn give off a musk
animal glow such as cat fur produces on a rainy day.
They are fond of tall tales and they cluster round
the burner when the bunn is being roasted.
As the magic whiff
of freshly roasted coffee beans climbs up
the hairy wall of the tent and as tranquility
glints in the smug crimson of the coal,
the jinn begin to gloss the words of men.

Their speech is an incised shape of silence, an intaglio,
in which the word is not a single, schisted bloc
of sense, like ours, but guards its pristine
opacity and is impossible
for any dragoman to approximate

We can only
struggle to imagine their colloquies,
all consonant and sukûn,
a gravity of gesture tinged by the fire they are—
ingot-malleable, nugget-plush, pyritic and aureate—
and yet, for all their clang,

perorating and impulsive as a flame.

Eric Ormsby, from Araby, included in Time’s Covenant: Selected Poems

A new mailing list: The Biblicalist

A new Yahoo! Groups mailing list has been founded:

The moderators would like to announce the release of their new biblical studies email list, The Biblicalist

The Biblicalist is a biblical studies list of academic emphasis open to all who wish to approach the Bible in its wider context, past and present. All viewpoints and perspectives which draw on the work of scholars in
biblical studies and cognate disciplines are welcome.

Topics of discussion include the interpretation of particular texts of the Bible and related literature, the background of ancient Near Eastern and Classical cultures, theological and philosophical reflections on
relevant issues, and the Bible in art and literature, including the reception of the Bible from ancient times to the present. Other topics in a similar vein are not only welcome, but encouraged.

The moderators (listed below) are all well-known biblicabloggers and participants on other lists. We would like to invite all interested people to join our new list.

Stephen Carlson
Kevin Edgecomb
Chris Heard
John Hobbins
Suzanne McCarthy
Jerry Shepherd
Rikk Watts
Chris Weimer
Tyler Williams

I trust there are a number of familiar names in that list of moderators, or at least one, to my readers.

This list is going to be a little different than other such lists. While we’re seeking to maintain a strong academic flavor to the list, we also want the following: for the list to avoid becoming a forum that is representative of only one stream of modern scholarship and thus one that is truly representative of biblical studies as a whole; we want the focus to be wider than simply the Bible and academic interaction with it alone, and therefore inclusive of various tangential subjects like archaeology, historiography, Classics, and so on; we want participants to the list to find it acceptable to post on philosophical, theological and other matters, ancient or modern; and last but not least, we want to have fun!

So, if you’d be interested in joining an email list that sounds like that, please go here and sign up. We’d be happy to have you join us!