Top 50 Biblical Studies Blogs

You will find a number of familiar blogs listed on N.T. Wrong’s First Ever Biblioblog Top 50 – October 2008.

I’m surprised and honoured that my own blog appears in this list at number 24. Fun!

I recommend the blogs listed there, most of which are on my daily rounds already, but some are new to me. All of them are very interesting and informational, with each presented by real personalities. Delight in the variety.

New Orthodox Study Bible Review

Chris Orr of Orrologion brought to my attention an extremely useful review of the new full Orthodox Study Bible, written by R. Grant Jones: Notes on the Orthodox Study Bible (2008 Edition). He focuses on the quality of the translation as representative of the underlying Greek, providing an excellent chart presenting the differences. It’s a topic I’ve touched on in my own reviews (especially this one; see here and here for links to many others), but not in such substantial depth and detail as Mr Jones has done. His review is only beginning, but a point that has been clearly demonstrated in his detailed examination is that the OSB Old Testament relies too heavily on the NKJV as its base text, to the extent that it cannot be honestly called a translation of the Church’s text, the Septuagint. For this reason, when I’ve been asked for a good, contemporary, complete English Septuagint translation, I can only recommend the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS). Various ongoing translation projects are nearing completion, so there will be more options soon. A very important point advocating for accuracy in translation is one that Mr Jones expresses very well in his notes: important patristic theological discussions were based on particular readings of the Septuagint text which are not present in the Hebrew. By opting for the latter’s readings, important didactic opportunities are missed with direct connections to patristic commentary, something that should have been the motivating goal of the annotations.

I look forward to the continuation of Mr Jones’ review.

Infernal advice

My dear Wormwood,
…About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything–even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game,
            Your affectionate uncle,
            Screwtape

The quotation “Only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations” is from Reinhold Niebuhr’s An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (Harper & Bros, 1934). The work is, of course, noxious, but undoubtedly still popular in some circles. Unfortunately there’s much more; it reads like a charicature, really. But I do wonder if Niebuhr ever learned of this quotation having been placed by Lewis, entirely appropriately, in the mouth of a demon. Such a fitting antitribute! Lewis managed to peg Niebuhr, in this case, as one batting for t’other team.

Know your enemy!

The Rose

Press me not to take more pleasure
      In this world of sugred lies,
And to use a larger measure
      Than my strict, yet welcome size.

First, there is no pleasure here:
      Colour’d griefs indeed there are,
Blushing woes, that look as clear
      As if they could beauty spare.

Or if such deceits there be,
      Such delights I meant to say,
There are no such things to me,
      Who have pass’d my right away.

But I will not much oppose
      Unto what you now advise:
Only take this gentle rose,
      And therein my answer lies.

What is fairer than a rose?
      What is sweeter? yet it purgeth.
Purgings enmity disclose,
      Enmity forebearance urgeth.

If then all that worldlings prize
      Be contracted to a rose;
Sweetly there indeed it lies,
      But it biteth in the close.

So this flower doth judge and sentence
      Worldly joys to a scourge:
For they all produce repentance,
      And repentance is a purge.

But I health, not physic choose:
      Only, though I you oppose,
Say that fairly I refuse,
      For my answer is a rose.

George Herbert, 1633

Some notes on the text:
sugred lies: sugared lies, lies made sweet
Colour’d griefs: griefs painted, as with makeup, to be more attractive
As if they could beauty spare: As if they had beauty enough to spare some
pass’d my right away: handed off my right
yet it purgeth: Roses were used as a purgative.
Purgings…urgeth: purgatives bring forth the harmful food, which one will avoid in future
physic: a purgative medicine
Only…Say that fairly: fairly in a double sense: 1) justly 2) prettily

The Man of Steel

His piety was redoubled by a very strong concern with orthodoxy. For example, in one of his homilies on Saint Luke he says: “As for myself, my wish is to be truly a man of the Church, to be called by the name of Christ and not that of any heresiarch, to have this name which is blessed over all the earth; I desire to be, and to be called, a Christian, in my works as in my thoughts.” Love and faith are fused in this outcry; it is the force of love which exacts rightness of faith. He often alerts us to the danger of false doctrines from which, he observes, “human nature finds it difficult to purify itself.” Such doctrines are for him in the true sense, so to speak, “the abomination of desolation.” He insists that one must protect oneself against them by vigilance and by prayer. Not content to invoke “the rule of the Scriptures” or “the evangelical and apostolic rule,” he constantly appeals to “the rule of the Church,” “the faith of the Church,” “the word of the Church,” “the preaching of the Church,” “the tradition of the Church,” “the doctrine of the Church,” “the thoughts and teaching of the Church.” In the bones of the paschal Lamb he sees a symbol of the “holy dogmas of the Church” of which not one shall be broken. He does not want “that there be any disagreement on doctrine among Churches.” He is Adamantius, “the man of iron”; “doctrinal firmness” is one of the virtues closest to his heart. He exalts the constancy in the faith and stability of dogma. Even before Saint Augustine, he speaks of “chastity of the heart,” that is, of the understanding, and doctrines that stray from the rule of faith seem to him worse than evil ways of life. Again, he says that “one must guard oneself against committing an offense of the head” and against eatin the sacred foods outside the temple, that is, “against harboring thoughts different from the faith of the Church on divine dogmas.” One must receive the faith of God in the spirit which the Church teaches us, and must not do like the heretics who search the Scriptures only in order to find some confirmation of their own doctrines. Their pride raises them “higher than the cedars of Lebanon” and their sophistries are full of deceit. But it is no use for them to pretend that they have a tradition which comes down from the apostles; they are professors of error. While the faithful Christian in no way strays from the great tradition, they appeal to secret Scriptures or to secret traditions in order to confirm their lies. Thus they want to make us worship a Christ whom they have invented “in solitude,” while the only authentic Christ reveals himself “within the house.” They disfigure those vessels of gold and silver which are the sacred texts, in order to fashion them into objects according to their own fancy. They are thieves and adulterers who seize the divine words only to deform them by their perverse interpretations. They are counterfeiters for they have coined their doctrine outside the Church. Falso teacher, false prophets, spinning out of their own minds what they propound, they are the liars of whom Ezekiel speaks. By a perverse trickery they often cover their idols, that is, their empty dogmas, with sweetness and chastity so that their propositions may be smuggled more easily into the ears of their listeners and lead them astray more surely. They all call Jesus their master and embrace him; but their kiss is the kiss of Judas.

Who is this remarkable personality who bore the nickname Adamantius? Why, it is Origen, of course! The above is found on pages xiii-xiv of the 1973 reprinting by Peter Smith of Gloucester, Massachusetts of the G. W. Butterworth translation of Origen’s On First Principles. It is excerpted from the 1966 edition’s Introduction, which is actually a translation (by William Babcock) of selections from chapters one and two of Henri de Lubac’s Histoire et Esprit, l’intelligence de l’Écriture d’après Origène (Paris, 1950).

I have always found a somewhat salacious delight in the irony of hearing those of a more pseudo-intellectual and falsely liberal bent complaining about the Church’s condemnation of Origen, holding up instead an image of Origen as a neo-gnostic like themselves, for whom dogma is “of the little people,” all the while ignoring his utter devotion to the Church! Little do they know him, this Adamantius! He would have been the first to disabuse them of their heresies both petty and gross, flaying, dismembring, and incinerating such foolish ideas, finally discarding the remnants on the ash-heap of theological history.

But we do find problems in Origen’s writings, despite his true Christian faith and his devotion to the Church. And with his recognition, entirely deserved, of being one of the more brilliant men of his generation, Christian or otherwise, we find that even his more peculiar ideas took on a lustre and maintained a staying power in certain circles, even in the face of developments of the understanding of theology in the universal Church which were opposed to Origen’s understanding. This was a problem, that certain circles, convinced of Origen’s genuine intelligence, thought his ideas were better than those that the Church held as correct. (It still happens today, far too often, though not with anyone of genuine brilliance and authentic faith like Origen’s–ours is a paltry age of the intellect when such faithless vapidities are listened to as have been.) Now, we can be sure that Origen would not have held such ideas in the face of ecumenical synodical decisions to the contrary; he would simply have rejoiced in the doctrine of the Church, as he always had. Yet, he died long before, and so lacked the benefit of, the Ecumenical Councils that would establish the formulation of doctrines to preserve the faith against heresy. And unfortunately, in one of them, the Fifth Ecumenical Council, Constantinople II of 553, in chapter 11 of the surviving canons of the council, Origen is anathematized:

If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinaris, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, as well as their impious writings, as also all other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and by the aforesaid four Holy Synods and [if anyone does not equally anathematize] all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema.
NPNF Second Series, volume 14, page 314

Two lists of anathemas are likewise attached to this council: a list of Fifteen Anathemas against Origen, and a list of Nine Anathemas against Origen written by the Emperor St Justinian himself. Unfortunately, because of the anathemas, Origen’s original writings have been almost completely destroyed (except for a collection of excerpts and several works in Latin translations of variable faithfulness), and so the consideration of these ideas (some of them very peculiar, indeed) as representative of Origen’s positions must be taken with a certain amount of faith. But I think here it is important to note those last phrases of the official act of anathematization: “all those who have held and hold or who in their impiety persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned: let him be anathema.” All we know of Origen, and contrary to the other heretics listed with him, is that he would not have held “to the end the same opinion,” but in the light of the Church’s teaching he would certainly have changed his opinion to reflect that of the Church. There can be no doubt about this. His devotion to the Church, evident in the de Lubac citations above, would have allowed of nothing else. Unlike Arius and the others listed in the anathema, from what we know of Origen he would never have, despite his nickname, adamantly defended his speculative theology in the face of the teaching of the Church. So, one could say, even at this distance, that according to a strict reading of the anathema in which Origen is named, there is room to excuse him, for even though some of his ideas may certainly be worthy of anathema, he would not have held them when challenged by the Church in the body of an Ecumenical Council.

But there is something more important to keep in mind. There is always room for you to pray for another soul, too. Say a prayer for Origen sometime, for a loyal son of the Church. It’s just what he would ask of you, and just what he would do for you.

A lullaby

Bluebird, bluebird
craw, craw, craw
From my window you must fly.
Bluebird, bluebird
take my prayer
to the ear of God Most High.
Bluebird, bluebird
craw, craw, craw
Fly away, fly away,
fly away to God

Me, last night

Grain of Wheat

Mike Aquilina recently mentioned this new piece of historical fiction written by Michael E. Giesler, Grain of Wheat (Scepter Publishers, 2008).

The book is the third in a trilogy following the lives of several Christians in the mid to late second century city of Rome, from the end of Hadrian’s reign into that of Antoninus Pius. I will avoid any spoilers in this short review. This volume is set entirely in Antoninus Pius’ reign and relates especially the story of Marcus Metellus Cimber, son of a senator, and the results of his conversion on his family. There are several ancillary stories describing, I presume, the further adventures of some of the characters from the first two books in the series, which I haven’t read. Among these are Numer, a black Egyptian Christian who is a close friend of Marcus, and Dedicus, a Christian from Samaria,friend of both Marcus and his hometown friend Justin (not yet, of course, known as St Justin Martyr in the book), a teacher and writer who has just moved to Rome. There are Christian fish merchants, freed slaves, and Christian-sympathetic people of the senatorial class, including even the head of the Praetorian Guard.

The story itself is gripping. There is the accurate depiction of a palpable anxiety among the Christians, whose religion was illegal, and who were required to meet in private homes, which could potentially result in exposure by a jealous friend, or embittered slave or family member. Christians could be and were often accused in the courts; when offered to recant their religion and apostasize, they often chose martydom instead. These were facts of life through the first three centuries of Christian existence, particularly in centers of secular power, but especially in Rome. Yet, it is also not always the case that people known to be Christian were not simply rounded up and all done away with immediately, and the book shows this aspect accurately, too. Those Christians of greater wealth or ability, and particularly the clergy, were most in danger of being denounced by friends and even family. It was a cruel time. Yet one could live one’s life as a Christian without it ending in execution, which is often forgotten. The book also accurately depicts the fervent and very personal faith that we find record of in the catacombs, as well. People are praying to Christ constantly, even experiencing the charism of glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”). They refer every worry and care about friends and family to prayer, and are shown experiencing the joy of the Eucharist. The incidental details in the book show the author is very familiar with the period, and has done his research well. The setting is sufficiently authentic and yet without annoying extraneous detail that the picture given of Rome is lively and believable. This is a very enjoyable book. I hope the series will continue.

I think perhaps one of the best things I can say about this book is that I couldn’t put it down. It was a pleasant and a quick read (one late night). I would estimate its reading level to be young adult, so it should be fitting for any teenaged reader and upward. As Mike Aquilina mentions, two of his teenaged daughters loved it and have passed that love on to others. The contagious love of a book can spread like wildfire. This book is worthy of it.