Saturday, August 17, 2013

The metaphysical is historical

"as astonishing as it appears to our modern minds, Thomas sets up no opposition between metaphysics and history.  In him the two aspects are intimately bound up together:  he has an historical view of man because he has a properly metaphysical understanding of him."

     Jean-Pierre Torrell, "Saint Thomas et l'histoire:  état de la question et pistes de recherches," Nouvelles recherches thomasiennes, Bibliotheque thomiste 61, ed. L.-J. Bataillon, O.P, and A. Oliva, O.P. (Paris:  Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 2008), 144 (131-175) =Revue thomiste 105 (2005):  355-409.

No modern "priesthood of all believers" in Luther

Not the phrase:  "There [a]re no references to this phrase anywhere in Luther's own writings.  'Das allgemeine Priestertum aller Gläubigen,' in all of its Latin and German permutations[, i]s nowhere to be found" (1).

Not the doctrine, understood as the sort that would justify (except in the very rare case of a true emergency) the assumption of a supposed ministerial "function" on the part of an unordained member of the Christian community.  Luther reduced the two (e)states (Stände) to one, the single, baptismally-generated spiritual state of priestly existence (Priestersein, in the felicitous phraseology of Harald Goertze and Wilfried Härle (TRE 27, 402-410, as quoted at 13n16)), but refused to compromise when it came to office (Amt), which is much more than an interchangeably exercisable "function":  "'all Christians are truly part of the spiritual walk of life [Stand], and among them there is no difference except because of the office [Amt] alone'" (WA 6, 407, ll. 13-19, as quoted at 9, italics mine).  "a single Christian walk of life (Stand) and a variety of offices (Ämter)" (30).  Proper ordination is therefore required.  “our baptism may consecrate us as priests [(pfaffen, pffeffyn)] but does not authorize us to exercise the pastoral office” (16 & 23, italics mine).

     It is rather in Spener that we "find the first serious discussion of the category [('the Spiritual Priesthood,' 'deß Geistlichen Priesterthums')] though not the term itself," and in Pietism that the term as well as the doctrine appear.   And it is from there that it wormed its way into the assumptions that nineteenth-century specialists made about Luther (2 ff.).

     Timothy Wengert, “The priesthood of all believers and other pious myths” (2005).  See also, and Saying and Doing the Gospel Today, ed. Rhoda Schuler, Occasional Papers, no. 12, of the Institute of Liturgical Studies (Valparaiso, Indiana: Institute of Liturgical Studies, 2007), 92-115.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Question the lexica. Or: The myth of the tollere liberum, suscipere liberum, etc.

     “Often the purpose of historical research is to create by explanation and description; occasionally, however, it is destruction that is required.  In the present case, two intertwined historical myths are the problem”, “both . . . so deeply rooted in modern scholarship and in popular consciousness that the hope of eradicating them by this brief exposition is not very great.  The first myth is the claim that the Roman father, especially as delineated in the legal model of the paterfamilias, maintained in his hands a formal power, the so-called ius vitae necisque—the ‘right  of life and death’—by which he could legally kill his children.  The emphasis must be on ‘legally’ since no sensible historian of antiquity has ever sought to deny the pervasive reality of infanticide or, more commonly, the exposure or setting out of unwanted newborns.  Closely related is the second myth:  the widespread acceptance, again by both scholars and the informed laity of a liminal ritual by which the [Roman] father formally accepted the newborn child into his possessions and power, which is to say into his familia.  The ritual, we are told, consisted of the father ceremonially lifting the newborn up from the ground after it had been placed at his feet, and then raising the infant in his arms for all to see.  The scene is worthy of a DeMille or a Mankiewicz, but not, alas, of mundane history despite constant allusion, description, and detailed analysis by reputable historians.  The ritual, so it is claimed, was designated by the technical phrase tollere liberum, or sometimes by its equivalent suscipere liberum.  Recent standard treatments of the Roman family have affirmed, occasionally in intriguing detail, the nature of the liminal ceremony itself.”

     Cf. the entries in Lewis and Short, s.v.
suscipio II.B.:  To take up a new-born child from the ground; hence, to acknowledgerecognizebring up as one's own (class.; cf. “tollo): simul atque editi in lucem et suscepti sumus,” Cic. Tusc. 3, 1, 2: “puerum,” Ter. And. 2, 3, 27: “haecad te die natali meo scripsi, quo utinam susceptus non essem!” Cic. Att. 11, 9, 3.
tollo I.A.2.a.:  Tollere liberos, to take up, i. e. to acceptacknowledge; and so, to raise upbring upeducate as one's own (from the custom of laying new-born children on the ground at the father's feet; cf. “suscipio): quod eritnatum, tollito,” Plaut. Am. 1, 3, 3: “puerum,” id. Men. prol. 33; Enn. ap. Cic. Div. 1, 21, 42 (Trag. v. 67 Vahl.): “natum filium,” Quint. 4, 2, 42: “nothum,” id. 3, 6, 97: “puellam,” Ter. Heaut. 4, 1, 15; cf. id. And. 1, 3, 14.—Also of the mother:  “si quod peperissem, id educarem ac tollerem,” Plaut. Truc. 2, 4, 45.
And similarly in the Oxford Latin dictionary, Cassell's, etc.
     Shaw names also the following variants:

Starter bibliography (in progress):
2001:  Brent D. Shaw, “Raising and killing children:  two Roman myths,” Mnemosyne, ser. 4, vol. 54, no. 1 (2001):  31-32 (31-77). 
1994:  William V. Harris, "Child-exposure in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman studies 84 (1994):  5 (1-22).  Here Harris makes only a passing reference, but does no debunking.
1990:  Thomas Köves-Zulauf, Römische Geburtsriten (München : C.H. Beck, 1990), 1-90.  From the review by Jane F. Gardner, Classical review 42 (1992):  92-94:  “Part I [(Tollere infantem)] challenges the common belief that the recognition of a child by its father, and its acceptance into the familia and into his potestas, was done by means of a ritual immediately consequent upon birth, involving the ceremonial laying of the infant upon the ground from which it was picked up by the father.  K., pointing out that tollere is a word bearing a number of meanings (instances of which he cites and discusses at perhaps unnecessary length), analyses in detail a large number of texts concerning the activities immediately consequent upon childbirth, and finds no trace of this alleged legitimating ceremony.  The  obstetric practices customary among the Romans and the various stages of postnatal care involved at some point an actual deposition of the child on the ground and its subsequent picking up, by midwives.  Fathers may sometimes have been present in the birth-chamber, and have been handed the child—and more or less of an ‘event’ may have been made of this—but it was not a ‘legitimating’ act (since their potestas was not dependent on any ceremonial performance) nor, he demonstrates, do the texts indicate that it had a religious significance.”  L’Année Philologique lists also the following additional reviews:
1986:  William V. Harris, "The Roman father's power of life and death," in Studies in Roman law in memory of A. Arthur Schiller (Leiden:  Brill, 1986), 93 ff. (81-96).  There is no debunking here.  In 1986, Harris (as in
"Child-exposure in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 84, (1994): 1-22) is still assuming the legitimacy of the old interpretation.
My thanks to American Theological Library Association colleague Amy Koehler for the diversion.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"when they think they have said enough to prove that they are brutes, they appear as proud as if they had demonstrated that they are gods."

     "The materialists are offensive to me in many respects; their doctrines I hold to be pernicious, and I am disgusted at their arrogance.  If their system could be of any utility to man, it would seem to be by giving him a modest opinion of himself; but these reasoners show that it is not so; and when they think they have said enough to prove that they are brutes, they appear as proud as if they had demonstrated that they are gods."

     Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America II (1840).II.xv ("How religious belief sometimes turns the thoughts of Americans to immaterial pleasures"), trans. Henry Reeve, with revisions by Francis Bowen and Phillips Bradley ((New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), vol. 2, pp. 145).

Aiming low

     "Not only do the Americans follow their religion from interest, but they often place in this world the interest that makes them follow it.  In the Middle Ages the clergy spoke of nothing but a future state; they hardly cared to prove that a sincere Christian may be a happy man here below.  But the American preachers are constantly referring to the earth, and it is only with great difficulty that they can divert their attention from it.  To touch their congregations, they always show them how favorable religious opinions are to freedom and public tranquility, and it is often difficult to ascertain from their discourses whether the principal object of religion is to procure eternal felicity in the other world or prosperity in this."

     Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America II (1840).II.ix ("That the Americans apply the principle of self-interest rightly understood to religious matters"), trans. Henry Reeve, with revisions by Francis Bowen and Phillips Bradley ((New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), vol. 2, pp. 126-127).
     For Tocqueville, there are three possible aims:  1) happiness in this life, 2) happiness in the next (both self-interested), and 3) the disinterested "love of God".  Tocqueville "respect[s certain 'zealous Christians'] too much to believe them" (125) when they say that they are virtuous in "the hope of a recompense" in either 2) the life to come or 1) this one (respects them too much to believe that they do nothing "for the love of God" alone), but thinks "the principle of interest rightly understood" reconcilable with religious belief.
     Here, however, he claims that "American preachers" tend to aim no higher than at 1) happiness in this life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"On quite specific, practical matters where there is nothing to lose, like joining library consortia, even big rats and little mice will collaborate: but not when a hefty chunk of cheese is at stake."

     James Turner, the Rev. John J. Cavanaugh CSC Professor of the Humanities at the University of Notre Dame, on one of the two reasons why, as things stand today, we shouldn't expect a lot of collaboration between the Catholic universities and the Evangelical colleges and universities.  "Enduring differences, blurring boundaries," in Mark A. Noll and James Turner, The future of Christian learning:  an Evangelical and Catholic dialogue, ed. Thomas Albert Howard (Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2008), 81.
"Less cynically, one could argue that the largest interests of Christian learning demand that Notre Dame strive to become a Catholic Harvard or Michigan and that it will not get there by swimming with smaller fry.  Notre Dame does not even club with other Catholic universities, except in superficial ways.  In the feeding frenzy of intercollegiate competition for status, differences in standing and vision will preclude continuing, extensive cooperation between Boston College and its near neighbor Gordon College or between Notre Dame and its near neighbors Goshen College, Wheaton College, and Calvin College" (81, italics mine).
This because
"the leading Catholic universities occupy a niche isolated from the niche occupied by the best evangelical schools. . . . Notre Dame is not going to hook up in any substantial way with Baylor, for the same reason that Baylor is not going to hitch its start to Mercer University, even though Mercer is likewise self-consciously 'founded on Baptist traditions and principles.'  Baylor and Notre Dame are both looking in the opposite direction:  above their current echelon in the academic rating game" (80).
     Coupled with the admission that "while Notre Dame may prefer to rub shoulders with Duke and Princeton rather than Calvin and Gordon, it does not hesitate to cherry-pick top scholars from its evangelical neighbors", I found all of this refreshingly frank.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"what to do when it is God who has said everything he has to say": "if everything is said, a thousand things remain to be done."

     "At bottom, what God has to say, and what he in fact says, in one sense is not a lot.  He perhaps says one thing.  But it is the thing that he alone can say.  In the Old Testament, it is his name (Exodus, 3, 14).  The New Testament explains this name by agapè, 'charity' (1 John, 4, 8).  Man has as his task, to say the rest.  And salvation is that he is made capable of doing so.
"Once God has said all that he has to say, and precisely because he has said everything, he gives the platform to man.  What obliges man to take up the task of speaking, is not the silence that would be due to a simple and total absence, or to the disinterest of a God situated too high or too far away from him.  It is the silence that comes from the fact that God has said everything he can say, to wit:  everything he is.  A silence of this quality is necessary for the human word to be truly authorized.  Not merely permitted, even less simply tolerated, but endowed with the very authority of God, who in fact gives it."

     Rémi Brague, On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others), trans. Paul Seaton (South Bend, IN:  St. Augustine's Press, 2013), 109-110.  The heading comes from p. 106, but the entirety of chap. 5 ("A God who has said everything") bears re-reading.

The remission is more than the forgiveness of sins

"In an initial approximation, one can very well say that God 'forgives' our sins.  But forgiveness is not yet remission.  Forgiveness is something human.  The remission of sins [(ἄθεσις ἁμαρτιῶν, remissio peccatorum)] can only come from God.  In truth, when someone forgives a wrong I have committed against him, he thus refuses to consider me as a wrong-doer and as definitely marked by my misdeed.  But he can do no more.  To be sure, he can turn his eyes away from what I did and attempt to forget it, and to look only to the future.  But he cannot change me, he cannot change my heart.  He cannot restore my liberty of not-sinning.  God alone is capable of that, and this is what he does by remitting my sins.  Remission is a liberation.
     "The remission that God alone is capable of granting transcends human forgiveness. . . ."

     "God forgives our sins, not in order to recuperate what we would have caused him to lose, but to allow us to recover our lost integrity.  Nor does he grant us this remission 'on condition,' for example, requiring us first of all to love him.  'What?  A God who loves men, on the condition that they believe in him. . . .'  As we saw, this sentiment comes from Nietzsche.  This is an absurd demand, for the simple reason that sin is precisely what deprives us of the ability to love, and hence, to  believe; the forgiveness of sin must first of all give us this capacity.  Thus, it is by her regained capacity to love that Jesus recognized that the sins of the woman who anointed his feet with oil were forgiven (Luke, 7, 47). . . .
     "God does not demand that we love him in return, as if, once it is assumed that we know how to love, we have to choose among different objects, all equally worthy of our love. . . . In reality, he invites us, quite simply, to love; or rather:  he allows us to do so.  And the love that he frees in us spontaneously orients itself in the direction where is can assume all its amplitude and live according to its proper logic.  This 'direction' is, precisely, God."

     Rémi Brague, On the God of the Christians (and on one or two others), trans. Paul Seaton (South Bend, IN:  St. Augustine's Press, 2013), 146-147, 153-154.