. . . to go on speaking – like Al Davis.

The mentor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote a little book of great ideas not long before he died, The Fruit of Lips, or Why Four Gospels.  In the chapter called “The Cross of Grammar” he wrote:

A word may be true as to content; it may be true enough to be verified in its own author’s actions; finally, it may be so true that it compels the next speaker to respond and to go on speaking.

These words came to mind as I read the good words in the Marshall News Messenger about a friend to many and civic servant from Marshall, Al Davis.  Al was a longtime attorney and former assistant district attorney, and husband to Jane Ogden, our university colleague in psychology, now retired.  A faithful churchman and choir member at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Al died of a heart attack this past Saturday.  We shall all miss him.

Rosenstock-Huessy (R-H) wrote of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that “They are sound as wells of speech.”  He meant that they are all authentic responses to the message of the life of Jesus in relationship to his disciples, Father God, and the World, and that each Gospel contributes uniquely to the same story.  The Gospel writers complemented each other.   R-H writes,

What is the end and the beginning of speech?  The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of this particular act of the spirit.  End and beginning bring an inspiration down to earth.  End and beginning of any book declare whether it is true or not.  But this truth is a threefold truth.  A word may be true as to content . . . .

And so it is, and was, and shall be, relating to the life of Al Davis among us.  Our newspaper carries the eulogies – the good words – of Al’s colleagues, coworkers in the community, his friends, and many he helped.  If a man’s life is a book, and his words are text for his life, then Al Davis finished well – he completed a good, admirable book.  We know this because so many already have been inspired to speak further good about him, and in the days to come others will speak in a similar way.

The life and, to us, untimely, death of Al Davis bereaves us but also inspires us.  His life, actions and words should remind us that in each of us, in our communities, we have the resources to overcome the wrong, to organize our efforts so that our intentions and plans succeed, to speak encouraging words to each other so that each person is inspired to contribute his or her own words and book in the time available, to make our relationships, community and society more what they can and should be, and to bring more music and joy into everything we do.  I believe Al Davis would like that!  After all, that was so much what he was about while he lived and served among us.

Now, what about us?  One more word from E-H – a word for pondering:

The Gospels were true enough to compel the next speaker to go on speaking above and beyond the last word of the last speaker.  Each one had to step in where the last speaker left off.  They were imparting the concrete time and scene of their speech so vividly to each other that they touched each other off, to the next move.  They sing, over forty years perhaps, one Gospel, each in his own key, on his specific wave-length, according to his lights, in handing the joyful and arduous task over to the better man, one after another.  In this act, then, the “Four Gospels” became a continuation of Jesus’ life through the minds which were made over by their office of Evangelists.  They were created into the Lips of the Word.

Let’s all be like Al Davis, “the better man.”


References all from pages 81-82, The Fruit of Lips.



Sacrifices Remade

In his big little book, Fruit of Lips or Why Four Gospels, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy made a late-in-life-and-career statement about the four Gospels.  He spoke about Matthew’s impolite (so Official Israel took him to be) emphasis on blood sacrifice and salvation.   The sacrifice Who dared to speak spoke and died as a demonstration of the Way of the Cross for all who were to follow Him.  Most Christians miss the point, though, in practice.  So, Rosenstock-Huessy writes (p. 71):

The whole expression of a Body of Christ,

With the head in heaven,

Meant exactly this,

That we who would crucify the Lord every day,

In our rage and envy and indifference,

Now, with our eyes opened once

For what we have done and are doing,

Declare solemnly:

We, now, together with our Head,

Step on the side of the silent victims

And offer ourselves to our Maker

So that he can remake the sacrifice

As he pleases.

How else could ever a new inspiration

Befall us as a people

Unless we offer ourselves

As the body for this inspiration?

Time and again, man has to be ripped open

By the ploughshare of suffering

And open himself

Like a dry and desiccated earth

To dew and rain.

And ever since one man did this

Manifestly all alone by himself,

His congregations relieve the members

Of the total pressure of absolute loneliness.

In every generation, the group

Which may be remodeled,

May increase, until the whole of mankind

Will be allowed to fall silent

And to cleanse themselves

From the chatter and clatter of the day,

And to listen to the spirit,


Table fellowship, the sharing of a meal together, gained a new depth of meaning and purpose, far beyond what men had practiced from the beginnings of society.  E-H explains this more fully in his meditations on the Gospel according to Matthew.


“Interpretation” for my students, re G. Steiner

In his book, Real Presences, George Steiner asserts a “wager on transcendence.”  He is referring to

“the wager on the meaning of meaning, on the potential of insight and response when one human voice addresses another, when we come face to face with the text and work of art or music, which is to say when we encounter the other in its condition of freedom, is a wager on transcendence.” (4)

He argues for that which is real or substantiated when people use language or create forms, when in making meaning they arrive at “meaningfulness.”  Now, all that is possible, Steiner argues, because God is present and is the transcendent reality that makes it possible for us to truly create art and to communicate.

We are talking about interpretation or hermeneutics in class.  Steiner writes that hermeneutics defines “the enactment of answerable understanding, of active apprehension.”  We may have to unpack that a bit in class . . . .

He also mentions three “principal senses” of interpretation:

An interpreter is:

  • a decipherer and communicator of meanings;
  • a translator between languages, between cultures and between performative conventions;
  • in essence, an executant, one who “acts out” the material before him so as to give it intelligible life.
An actor interprets Agamemnon or Ophelia.  A dancer interprets Balanchine’s choreography.  A violinist a Bach partita.  In each of these instances, interpretation is understanding in action; it is the immediacy of translation. (8)
Another quote from Steiner–and though he refers to music, theatre, art and poetry, he also refers to “non-dramatic literature,” which of course can mean for us the more “typical” primary source texts in history, whatever they would be–dealing with the moral aspect of interpretation and the question is “the reviewer, the critic, the academic expert accountable?”
Interpretive response under pressure of enactment I shall, using a dated word, call answerability.  The authentic experience of understanding, when we are spoken to by another human being or by a poem, is one of responding responsibly.  We are answerable to the text, to the work of art, to the musical offering, in a very specific sense, at once moral, spiritual and psychological.  (8)
Steiner has much more to say, but for our purposes right now, these points may help us to reflect on how we examine and analyse historical source documents or other primary source artifacts in our study of history.  This means that as historians we are not just examining evidence from the past.  We are serving as interpreters, translators in an important sense.  This kind of study requires us to be fully engaged and surprisingly deeply committed to what it is we think is important about the past.  In this kind of study we actually become historians in much more personal, intellectual and spiritual ways.  We gain new understanding about our own moral sensibilities and responsibilities.  So, we are involved in an exciting, holistic, human pursuit.
Sooner or later we all experience the challenge or delight of “interpretive response under pressure of enactment.”  Actually, in a sense, we face this each day; there is no day when we are not required to be answerable or responsible, even in the “everyday” or mundane things.  To propose a point to ponder:  was not Jesus the Christ, the incarnate God, the ultimate enactor-responder-artist of humanity, the model not just of a fully-realized humanity but of the immanence of God–God’s very presence in human person and community?  And even in his earthly, human life, did he not show us the extraordinary dimensions of wholeness as well as holiness?  And why should we not strive to realize, to find him “made real” in every part of our individual and social lives?  Even in a history class?  Let’s think about it and try it out.
Hebrews 9:1–10:25
Quotations from George Steiner, Real Presences, University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Rosenzweig on Meinecke on History

So pithy, this student statement of Franz Rosenzweig about his history professor, Friedrich Meinecke, at Freiburg in 1908:  “He treats history as though it were a Platonic dialogue, not murder and manslaughter.”

Rosenzweig, citizen of the militant Kaisersreich, the German Empire, knew about war as a contemporary fact.  The quotation shows his frame of mind about war–it was no abstraction to him.  Before long he had the opportunity to serve the state during the Balkan Wars and the Great War, though not in direct combat.  His opinion of war did not improve, and war sharpened his focus on the ultimate things.

Heartless Paganism

I follow up here on a previous posting with a challenging quotation that caught my eye — or should I say it caught me between the eyes?  Yes, it’s the Rosenzweig connection again, but it has to do with the struggle of the believer, certainly of Christian and Jew, and perhaps others.  The quotation is from the Koren Sacks Siddur 4th edition (citation below):

The prophets were critical of the sacrificial system. They reserved for it some of their most lacerating prose. Yet none proposed its abolition, because what they opposed was not the sacrificial act, but the ma’aseh without the kiyum, the outer act without the inner acknowledgement that gives the act its meaning and significance. The idea that God can be worshiped through externalities alone is pagan, and there is nothing worse than the intrusion of paganism into the domain of holiness itself. Then as now, the sign of paganism is the coexistence of religious worship with injustice and a lack of compassion in the dealings between the worshiper and the world.

O Dear Reader, check THAT out against the teaching of Jesus, and you will know why I have that pain between my eyes! “. . . the sign of paganism is the coexistence of religious worship with injustice and a lack of compassion . . . .” What did Jesus say? (Let us remember that the Christ was of the Jews and emphatically of the Father.) Let me make a blanket statement here in saying the “Sermon on the Mount” is a full-blown commentary on the believer’s tendency to paganism (but then, so is the Bible entire). For example, after providing examples of exterior religion and profession versus interior purity of response to God, Jesus exclaims that not all who claim him as Lord will enter his Kingdom, but only those who do the will of the heavenly Father. (Matthew 7:21) His simile of the wise man’s house built on the solid rock and comparison to the fool’s house built on sand sums up the difference between true belief and paganism. (Matt. 7:24-27) And then, to conclude the sermon section, Matthew’s Gospel reads, “When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law.” (Matt. 7:28-29, NET Bible)

The Gospel accounts of Jesus illustrate and validate his identity as Son of God and Son of Man, and in him no hint of the divided mind, the selfish heart, the deceptive intention, the hidden agenda, the need to manipulate. He stands apart from all other human persons for he is holy, uniquely God’s Son, yet fully and honestly human, and so, human in the best way.

The old Christian hater, Saul of Tarsus cum Paul the Apostle, having met the glorified Christ en route to Damascus, certainly speaks from experience when he challenges the Jews, “. . . you who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself?” He questions whether, though they “rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God and know his will and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law, . . . ” and despite teaching these things to others, they actually put them into practice.  Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:5, for immediate effect, I think, but also with a much deeper allusion or implication in mind.  “The name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” or, “my name is being constantly slandered.”  (See Romans 2:17-24) In Romans he moves immediately to discuss circumcision as a primary evidence of adherence to the Law.  In Isaiah 52, captive Zion (Judah, Jerusalem) is in exile at the hands of Cyrus of Persia, but the special servant of the Lord (call him Israel who can be understood as fully representing the Lord God) will complete the Lord’s will as redeemer and deliverer.  His activities fully match the presence, power, and glory of the LORD who is king, who consoles, who displays his power to all the earth, who goes before the people, just as he did when he led Israel from Egypt and through the wilderness. (Isaiah 52:7-12; compare Isaiah 42:1-7; and see 43:14-21)

These are only parts, but important parts, of the vision of Isaiah. But they proceed to the astonishing vision of Isaiah 53 (actually beginning with 52:13). We can hardly read that one without immediately projecting forward to the suffering servant, Messiah, Jesus Christ, so that we leave the immediate historical context behind. Yet that context is important because it suggests hope that the “ideal servant” sacrifices every desire, every prerogative and honor in order to be a healer and redeemer for the people and to serve the will of the Lord God completely.

Paul writes in the context of his example of circumcision, “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29, NET Bible. Compare Leviticus 26:41, Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 4:4, Ezekiel 44:9.)  The Romans letter takes us beyond the teachings of Jesus, yet only by illustrations suitable to the demands of the day and situation Paul addressed, not only to the Roman church, but to all of the churches of Christ. Jesus’ instruction holds firm as revealed truth. Elsewhere, in James and the Petrine letters for example, that instruction holds firm in its application in the earliest church. Paul writes out of a background that includes the prophets, Isaiah included here, who looked not to the sacrificial system or the outward trappings of religion, but to the heart of his people in Zion in response to the redemptive work of the sovereign king, through his servant Israel, but only that servant whose heart and intention was completely obedient to his will and intention; with that his name could be praised.

There is no praise in paganism, whether in superficial Jewish life and practice, or in skin-deep Christian life and practice, for there is in that superficial religion and worship no turning of the human heart, the core of God-given personhood, to the creator who alone is to be worshiped–as Jesus said, “in spirit and in truth.”

I think this connects with the Koren Sacks quotation in this way. If someone hurts, or needs, or suffers to the point of hopelessness, he or she does not want to hear from anyone who does not have a firm hold on a true source of hope. The hungry do not want to hear “bless you” while they are left with an empty bowl. The impoverished do not want to hear “Oh, you’ll work this out eventually,” because if they could have done so, then they would have already. Victims of injustice here and elsewhere cannot get the liberation and hope they need from others’ apathy and claims “there is nothing to be done.” Rarely is a person’s problem simply “a problem” but a complex of problems.  That is why the connection of life and worship is so important. It is why discussions about changing communities has been so important. It is also a good reason not to lose faith in our churches–that is, to lose our resolve to make, or keep, our churches significant in the right ways.

Citation: Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (UK), “Understanding Jewish Prayer,” The Koren Siddur, 1st Hebrew/English ed., Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009), xxxviii.

Education, revelation and wisdom

A “must-quote” here in connection with current investigations.  Leo Strauss has been discussing the challenge of the literary expression of truth in “a society which is not liberal,” such as we find in many countries today and in the past.  He writes about “exoteric” writing–attractive and accessible to the reading public on the outside, but containing truths that have to be dug out through hard thinking or reading between the lines:

The works of the great writers of the past are very beautiful even from without.  And yet their visible beauty is sheer ugliness, compared with the beauty of those hidden treasures which disclose themselves only after very long, never easy, but always pleasant work.  This always difficult but always pleasant work is, I believe, what the philosophers had in mind when they recommended education.  Education, they felt, is the only answer to the always pressing question, to the political question par excellence, of how to reconcile order which is not oppression with freedom that is not license.  [Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Free Press, 1952, 1980; University of Chicago Press, 1988), 37.]

By philosophers he means Plato and Aristotle, primarily.  The education he mentioned produces discernment, prudence, and wisdom, and presumes a level of intellectual and moral maturity as evidence of its effectiveness.  That reminds me that Jesus did say, “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Perfect: “fully made or formed”, “mature”, “grown-up”, but like God.  Jesus was teaching–this is the Sermon on the Mount, not just some offhand comments.  But be like God?  Who were his hearers?  Beyond his disciples and a nameless crowd at the time, or intervening generations of people, most certainly you and I are his hearers today.  We are to be like God in some specific ways.  But he pronounced two key things, one at the start, one at the end:  do what you know to do and profess to believe in order to show that God’s truth really lives in you (Matt. 7:26), and be sure you know you get nothing unless you see yourself honestly as spiritually impoverished, and needing clean intention, and so forth in the “Beatitudes” (Matt. 5:3, 8).  Jesus customarily spoke in ways that required long, hard thinking and personal honesty in order to know personal liberation.  Socrates probably would approve.

What about that “order which is not oppression”?  I hasten to wrap up the present thought by quoting James Schall on the Trinity:

The trinitarian life of God is reflected in what is not God on the vastest of scales, the scales both of cosmos and of history.  But the paradigm of the order that we encounter in the world is already found in the Trinity of Persons and their inner relation to one another.  We are to imitate the divine order in all ways that it can be imitated–in making, in living, in thinking, in loving.  But ultimately the point of contact is where Gift meets gift, where what proceeds out of the inner life of the Godhead meets the inner life of the finite persons who have, in the end, nothing higher to do than to accept a gift, the gift of revelation with its description of the inner life of the Godhead, that which we call the Trinity of Persons:  Father, Son, and Spirit.  [James V. Schall, S.J., The Order of Things, Ignatius Press, 2007].

I understand the Trinity much better from having read Schall’s chapter “The Order within the Godhead” and his book.  Cannot recommend it highly enough.  Blessings on you.


Preoccupation with the One Nearest

Dr. Watkins preached on Deuteronomy 6:4-9 this morning–the Shema (Hear O Israel!) and on Jesus’ midrash-in-the-flesh-and-word about it in Mark 12:28-31.  Don’t let anyone try to convince you that the Scriptures don’t hang together, for they do so beyond normal vision and comprehension.  This was a reminder–actually a dawning recognition for me–that whatever the overall Christian analysis and response to the challenges of modernity, the Jewish philosophers of the early twentieth century have more to say to us than most of us have imagined.  They offer at least as trenchant and provocative a challenge to all of us to look at the terrifying realities of our modernity-postmodernity.  They ask us to be honest in our thinking and living.  (No, Wallace didn’t bring that up; but the theme of his sermon made me think about these things.)

Paul Mendes-Flohr gives some insights in an article where he quoted Jacques Derrida in a eulogy for Emmanuel Levinas:

The Torah is transcendent and from heaven by its demands that clash, in final analysis, with the pure ontology of the world. The Torah demands, in opposition to the natural perseverance of each being in his or her own being (a fundamental ontological law), – and Derrida emphasizes [Mendes-Flohr]  – concern for the stranger, the widow and the orphan, and preoccupation with the other person.

(These guys are/were philosophers, so forgive the lofted language, but Derrida is simply talking about the “way of being” in the world and the “natural” self-interest of all people.)  Anyhow, I thought immediately of I John 4, particularly verses 7-8.  Beloved, let us love one another, . . . . I have thought of the type of love in I John as a “dynamic other-interestedness” that describes the Spirit-motivated and empowered interest of the believer in the welfare of others.  Derrida’s “preoccupation” rings true in the same way, and against self-preoccupation.  And isn’t that the illness we all share?

Mendes-Flohr actually was discussing a little book that Martin Buber got by the Nazi censors in 1935.  The book was titled “The Neighbor” or “The One Nearest” (Can’t get the umlaut “a” in, so no German title here), but not just in the sense of being close by, but in the sense of persons living in the same space, what you might call an “existential” space.  Buber presented the teaching as it came from Jewish sources.  His book was subtitled “Four Essays on the Conduct of Man to Man (Person to Person–Mensch, “human being”).”  By 1935 Hitler had seized power, and the repression of German Jews suggested greater oppression and persecution to come. So Buber’s appeal was an appeal for humanity in a context where the government seemed to threaten it.

Mendes-Flohr restated Buber’s assertion that “the neighbor is one whom destiny places next to oneself, face to face, as Levinas would later put it; at a particular hour, one is confronted by another human being in need – and the need may not only be defined by material want and political oppression; and to whom one is beholden by biblical decree to love, to love as oneself.”  Mendes-Flohr sums it up, saying that by extension the neighbor represents all of humanity, that the Nazis desperately worked to destroy Enlightenment concepts of humanitarianism, and that Buber, among others, wanted to affirm a “post-modern humanism”.  Its foundations were biblical, Jewish.  That is of interest for Christians, too.

Buber, Mendes-Flohr and many others could tell us that the point has everything to do with the character of our private and public lives.  It is a point that appears in all the “axial” civilizations (those whose great religious and philosophical foundations were set by about 2,500 years ago, and none more so than in the Hebraic/Jewish tradition, and so also in the Christian tradition.  In Mark 12, Jesus prompted the expert in the law to repeat the Shema; the expert affirmed that it was the ultimate commandment.  When the expert did this, he was calling the entire Law back over himself and everyone who was listening.  And so the expert showed everyone that what they thought was contention with Jesus was actually beyond contention.  It was the “one thing,” the central concern of Yahweh and Moses at Sinai, and the core of the Deuteronomic revival.  I believe that goes for the “rest of us” who read and discuss this matter a long time after the encounter in Mark 12.  What do you think?

In my city many people in civic, educational and governmental organizations are serving for the public good, including service to the poor, the orphan, the widow.  Many are church members.  Big-hearted people in many organizations–the Boys and Girls Club, the Lions, Optimists, Kiwanis, Rotarians, and others; and special programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Backpacks for Kids, My Friend’s House, the Twelve-Step Foundation.  They give money, hours, and hard work to help out.  There can be a certain weariness to it all.  But these people don’t quit.  There exists the sense there’s never enough, but servants continue to serve.  These people vary in their “preoccupation” with the welfare of their neighbors, but they are worthy, consistent models.

The model could use some more implementation in our churches–all around–and more broadly in the community.  Isn’t that true across the country?  I am hearing about programs and proposed programs to help kids and families most at risk.  Not with government programs alone — they’re not enough, but with intentional, planned and sustained community “preoccupation” with doing what government can do only in part, besides, that is not the primary purpose of government anyway.

This is one of the things we can do to build our own “human capital,” to build real character and strength into lives where hopelessness and weakness seem to have a stranglehold.  This is what can be done to develop leaders out of the most unlikely candidates in our communities–kids from families that don’t work out well, hungry kids, kids who have no healthy models except by accident, kids who need help beyond what the public schools alone can provide.  Some people discount these kids and their families, failing to see that these people are assets to whole, healthy communities.

I live in one of four Texas cities judged by a recent MIT national study to be “forgotten cities.”  (Galveston, Waco, Marshall, Sherman).  Here’s the link to their report:

http://web.mit.edu/dusp/dusp_extension_unsec/people/faculty/lhoyt/Hoyt_Leroux_FC.pdf They couldn’t study or list them all; surely there are many more.  Industrial and economic development have passed them by for decades.  This kind of study has its uses beyond the original intentions.  It helps us to know the general conditions more clearly and to identify not just specific personal and organizational needs, but how all these fit together in a community.

Paul Mendes-Flohr related the story told by the Hasidic master Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov:

How to love [others] is something I learned from a peasant. He was sitting in an inn along with other peasants, drinking. For a long time he was as silent as all the rest, but when he was moved by wine, he asked one of the men seated beside him: ‘Tell me do you love me or don’t you love me?’ The other replied: ‘I love you very much.’ But the first peasant replied: ‘You say that you love me, but you do not know what I need. If you really loved me, you would know.’ The other had not a word to say to this, and the peasant who put the question to him fell silent again. [And Rabbi Moshe Leib adds]: But I understood. To know the needs of [our fellow human beings] and to bear the burden of their sorrow – that is the true love [of others].

I really do not know my neighbors well enough, either literally next door or in other parts of town, preoccupied as I am with other matters, even rightly those of my family.  Somehow I must broaden my preoccupations!

Citations:  Mendes-Flohr was quoting from Martin Buber, The Tales of the Hasidim, 1948.  His article:  Paul Mendes-Flohr, “A Post-Modern Humanism from the Sources of Judaism,” in Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 62:2/4 (Apr. – Dec. 2006): 59-67.  Accessed at stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40419468 .

Randism contra the Real Norm

There may be more provocative statements in a recent Christianity Today article on Ayn Rand and “Randism,” but not by much:

Those who spend a lot of time and money on books and videos speculating about the antichrist can devote themselves to more immediate concerns. As I have explained elsewhere repeatedly, key candidates for the job have been running the American economy the past 30 years with our unwitting assistance.

That’s Gary Moore, “Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession,” online at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/2.36.html?start=1

Moore’s article is part of a current wave of awareness of the kinds of conservatism and libertarianism (well, yes, and liberalism!) that not only run against Judeo-Christian teachings and ethics, but against the general welfare.  These speak, too, about the varieties of spiritual and functional disabilities in the churches–the dark underbelly of popular Americanism combined with Biblical ignorance or disregard, hostility to God, and selfishness.  Selfishness with respect to the neighbor whether next door or next day in our globalized world.

I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and Ship of Fools too young, in the sixties, and am surprised now (or should I be) that Dad brought them home from his job at Vandenburg along with None Dare Call It Treason and some John Birch Society titles.  I never talked with Dad about his reading, and I’m not sure how it influenced him–maybe it was just reading to kill time, borrowed from a co-worker at Convair or GDI.  I could not get into those books, and maybe it is just as well.   Whatever their influence on Dad, I think he turned in several ways from the past when he entered full-time Christian ministry in his late thirties.  I’ll never know how completely he changed, but he and Mom paid too much into the lives of others in tiny inner-city and rural churches, sometimes rebuffed and ill-used, but the evident truth of servanthood, even at times in brokenness and bad judgment serves vindication.  They received a lot of good in turn, too, but doesn’t that show the virtue of lasting communities where real caring and sacrifice are normal?  I don’t think Rand would understand.

Horrible Sermons & Cogency at Risk

Really, the title refers to two seemingly unrelated, provocative quotations this morning, from one of James V. Schall’s books. I recommend all of his books to you.  The first quote from a chapter called “On Spiritual and Intellectual Life” simply is striking, I think it holds its power even out of context:

On August 22, 1957, Flannery O’Connor wrote a letter about her cousin’s husband, a man who taught at Auburn University. The professor finally had come into the Church. Flannery O’Connor explained his conversion as follows: ‘We asked how he got interested and his answer was that the sermons were so horrible (when he had gone to Mass with his wife), he knew there must be something else there to make people come.’ The mystery of conversion remains not merely a question of successful rhetoric.

The second quotation follows a Chesterton comment on Thomas Aquinas, “It was his special spiritual thesis that there really are things; and not only the Thing; that the Many existed as well as the One.” (i.e., he was a realist who told others to “get real” in their thinking and believing).  So, then:

Not everybody needs to be an intellectual. Not everybody is a saint. Yet we must acknowledge that it is dangerous for ourselves, for the public order, when there are no philosophers. We suspect it is even more perilous for there to be no saints. When we wonder why, the answer returns to “receptivity”, to the realization that the highest things, which we rightfully seek because of what they are, are not for us to “make” or concoct. Aquinas wrote:

Nature is a prelude to grace. It is the abuse of science and philosophy which provokes statements against faith. These mistakes can be confuted by showing how impossible or unconvincing they are. Remember this, that as the truths of faith cannot be demonstratively proved, so the denial of them sometimes cannot be demonstratively disproved, though any lack of cogency can be exposed (Exposition, de Trinitate, 2, 3).

It is well to make note that Aquinas was referring to proof on the mystery of the Trinity, just for context’s sake. Schall has much else to say, about the compatibility of the spiritual life with that of the philosopher (contrary to the presuppositions of many a twentieth-century philosopher), the “liberty of the sons of God” in seeing that “what is is larger than what we are,” (contrary to the modern era’s rejection of “a God larger than itself.”) He writes that “This openness we possess to all being is our grace and our blessing, what we have accepted because we receive, not make, our own being. When wonder is addressed by grace, we are. This is the spiritual life given to intelligent beings.”

We receive, not make, our own being. I wonder at, and like, that statement. The truth of it is strength for me today. I hope it is for you also.

Schall quote from Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, p. 347, in James V. Schall, “On Spiritual and Intellectual Life,” in Another Sort of Learning–Selected Contrary Essays on How to Finally Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found (Ignatius Press, 1988), pp. 260-1; on Chesterton and Aquinas, pp. 267-8.


The Wing-Beat

I have read lovely phrases recently; e.g., in Franz Rosenzweig’s writings on the “literary and human aspect of the Scriptures” and on translating the Scriptures (he collaborated with Martin Buber on a new OT translation in the 1920s); first, his reference to the painters’ depiction of St. Francis’ halo (Latin nimbus) as an “aureole of light”, second, his metaphor about the deep spirit of translation.  After noting the “history of translation” starting with the translator’s attempt to achieve the essential meaning of the text despite its spirit being lost in the process, he wrote,

 “Then, one day, a miracle happens and the spirits of the two languages mate.  This does not strike like a bolt out of the blue.  The time for such a hieros gamos, for such a Holy Wedding, is not ripe until a receptive people reaches out toward the wing-beat of an alien masterpiece with its own yearning and its own utterance, and when its receptiveness is not longer based on curiosity, interest, desire for education, or even aesthetic pleasure, but has become an integral part of the people’s historical development. . . .”

[Franz Rosenzweig, His Life and Thought, 3rd ed., presented by Nahum N. Glatzer (Indianapolis:  Hackett, 1998), 257, 259.]  Emphasis mine.

I do still need to compare the passage with the original German, when I find a copy.  I wonder, did you think “oriole” when you saw the word aureole as I did?  Yes, they are related (aureolus=golden).  The passage above suggests far more than words, including Rosenzweig’s reverence for the Jewish Scriptures, what he called the “Only Testament.”  When I reflect on his conviction the Scriptures used words-beyond-words to reveal the proper relationship between God, Man, and World, I find his passage and its translation into English to have been inspired.