archive: apocalypseofpeace blog

A Course on Narnia I will be teaching a course on the Chronicles of Narnia on Wednesdays at noon, beginning in January '09. The title of the course is "Narnia and the Discarded Image." We will be re-reading each of the seven volumes and evaluating the thesis of Michael Ward (and others) that Lewis dipped Narnia in his favorite aspects of the medieval worldview. There is much here! This course will also be a good introduction to Lewis's thought. [7.29.08]

For Students of Biblical Languages I stumbled upon a nice and relatively inexpensive resource: Stephen Renn's Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (2005). Most popular Hebrew and Greek resources are out of date and pre-critical, whereas the critical scholarly resources are too much for those who are only beginning their study. Renn's dictionary is a welcome bridge: it is organized according to English words, so under the entry for "Love," the Hebrew and Greek terms are listed and explained; biblical texts are cited as key examples. There is a Hebrew and Greek index, so Renn's dictionary allows students to look up the basic meaning of words as they come upon them in Hebrew and Greek texts. Since the Hebrew and Greek words are transliterated, this book might be of use to those who do not know the languages. There is also a CD-ROM that contains PDFs for the entire book (send me an email if you would like to see an example).

One warning: this sort of resource must be used wisely. It is a starting point, but it does not replace student learning: understanding how biblical words are used is a time-consuming process that requires good judgment. Word study is limited in what it can achieve because human discourse is so much more than individual words. Renn's dictionary cannot determine biblical theology or replace theological reflection, but it can assist students in both areas. [7.28.08]

Bear One Another's Burdens Another one of my friends has been afflicted with cancer, so I am thinking today of CS Lewis' experience of suffering with his cancer-stricken wife. From his friend Charles Williams, Lewis learned of "co-inherence": through the Holy Spirit Christians could "dwell fully with each other and in another's lives" (Alan Jacobs, The Narnian, 284). The stimulus for the idea was St. Paul's words: "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2);  "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).

For Williams, it was the Christian's duty to die "each other's life," live "each other's death." Thus Lewis prayed that Joy's suffering be transfered to him. For a time, it appeared that his request was granted, as Joy's condition improved dramatically and Lewis began to suffer physically. Lewis thus happily experienced the "way of exchange" that Williams envisioned, receiving "in his body her pain" (Jacobs, 285).

Other than the mystical inter-connectedness of those "in Christ," what strikes me about Williams's idea and Lewis's experience is that the Christian imagination can see so much in the words of our Lord and his Apostle. Because he has been crucified since the foundation of the world, Christ reveals the truth about us and our world, the "hidden and secret wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:7) that has been obscured with our loss of the Paradise made for us. Those who take Christ's words seriously see the supernatural world and can tap into the power of the slain lamb (Revelation 5:6).

By the way, this "tapping into" is a gift, a "fruit of Christ's paschal mystery" (Catechism). It is also essential to sacramental theology. [7.19.08]

The Story and the Sacraments The Christian Sacraments were instituted by Christ in the New Testament: "Go and make disciples, baptizing them..."; and, "do this in remembrance of me." Of course, most people already know this.

But the Sacraments are otherwise fully grounded in the biblical story, the drama of salvation. According to our story, the human person (ha-'adam) was made for Paradise, to dwell with God, to wear garments of God's glory, to drink from living water, eat from the tree of life, and to be united with a spouse. The pain, toil, death and disordered relationships that persons experience are not the Paradise that God created for them. Our story portrays the person -- represented by Adam and Eve -- losing access to Paradise. According to St. Paul, their story is the common human story: "all have sinned and lack the glory of God....Because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man" (Rom 3:23, 5:17). Each person participates in Adam-and-Eve, and has thereby received the consequences of their disobedience. Their plight is the common human plight.

The person lost access to Eden in Adam-and-Eve, but regains it through Christ's death and resurrection. The Catholic Catechism labels the Sacraments as the "fruits of Christ's Paschal mystery." This reminds me of St. Ephrem the Syrian's (4th century) understanding of the impact of Christ's death and resurrection: it re-opened Paradise (Eden). The Sacraments are those elements of the present fallen world that allow the person-in-Christ to experience Paradise -- as a foretaste.

In the Gospels, Christ authorized and empowered the 12 Apostles to administer these gifts of re-opened Paradise (e.g., freedom from spiritual oppression and broken bodies) to the world. Thus, the Sacraments of the 12 Apostles are grace, the gift of God. Moreover, Paul wrote that the person-in-Christ can participate (koinonia) in Christ's death and resurrection through Baptism and the Holy Meal. The Pauline tradition also contributed the idea that the spousal relationship signifies the love of God and the Church.

The Sacraments are therefore a more than, a manifestation of Supernature, a glimpse of the enchanted world that was created for the person. For example, the chrism oil is the balm of the tree of life, for the healing of the human person. These Sacraments may look to the natural eye like the religious rituals of humanity, just as Christ's sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary looked liked a socio-political execution in the bone yard. Seen with the eye of Christ-faith, these sacred mysteries are the real real, supernatural gifts (grace) that allow the person-in-Christ mystically to sniff the Eden created for her. They are also glimpses of heaven, therefore. [7.11.08]

Lewis, Paul and Orthodoxy In the '90s, +Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia published two articles that explored C.S. Lewis as an "anonymous Orthodox." Kallistos identified a few "points of convergence" in Lewis's thought and the Orthodox tradition (e.g., the "sacramental character of creation"). I think theosis, that is, progressive divinization of the Christian person, is the most important biblical emphasis of Orthodoxy. And it is here that Lewis and Orthodoxy are most closely aligned. 

But Lewis's depiction of the Christian's transformation into the image of Christ is not reliant on Orthodox theology. Rather, both Lewis and Orthodoxy find their stimulus in St. Paul. Paul's imagery is at the root of a Christ mysticism, expressed in Orthodox theosis and Lewis's many images in "Beyond Personality." Lewis was an excellent interpreter of St. Paul, especially in book four of his Mere Christianity.

For St. Paul, the Christian life begins with one's "yes" to God: God offers (grace) and the person accepts (faith). This simple exchange begins the process of transforming the person from within. The person "in Christ" (St. Paul's term) receives God's Spirit within, and God recreates and empowers (charisma) her. "Fruits of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22f.) and/or "good works" (Eph 2:10) are the positive outcomes of the inner regeneration, new life that has begun and is slowly "conforming" the person in Christ into the "image of the Son" (Rom 8:39). And the change within the person includes a remarkable change in the Christ-communities, a unity that destroys the ethnic, class, and gender boundaries that haunt human life together (Gal 3:28). As a group the Christ-people are his "body," transformed by baptism into his death (1 Cor 12:12) and the sharing of his blood and body (1 Cor 10:16-17), equipped by the Spirit to teach and serve each other and the world (1 Cor 12:4-7).

St. Paul's scheme is well reflected in Lewis's Mere Christianity, especailly book four, "Beyond Personality":

“The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God.”

“And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.” 

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kmd of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

“In the last chapter we were considering the Christian idea of ‘putting on Christ,’ or first ‘dressing up’ as a son of God in order that you may finally become a real son. What I want to make clear is that this is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.” 

“When He said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. ¶ This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else.… the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.” 

“What we have been told is how we men can be drawn into Christ—can become part of that wonderful present which the young Prince of the universe wants to offer to His Father—that present which is Himself and therefore us in Him. It is the only thing we were made for. And there are strange, exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drawn in, a great many other things in Nature win begin to come right. The bad dream will be over: it will be morning.” 

My point is, then, that although +Kallistos is justified in looking at Lewis as an "anonymous Orthodox," the most meaningful similarity that one finds between Lewis and Orthodoxy is actually a family likeness of those who have looked with St. Paul at the reality and purpose of Christ-likeness. There are many Christian traditions that claim St. Paul as their own, but have significantly missed his vision of life in Christ. Lewis and the Orthodox tradition have not. [7.4.08]

Love and Money A local Catholic parish is using a popular evangelical money management program. The program's author is also a radio personality, so I have heard his financial philosophy in my car many times. From a practical perspective the program makes sense as a way to attack the plague of credit debt, but it disturbs me that it is described as "biblically-based." This description certainly attracts the many churches that subscribe to the program, but is it biblical enough for a Catholic parish?

I do not think so. From what I have heard, the program cites, as divine justification, texts from the OT that one would not find in official Catholic socio-economic theological reflection. Catholic theology does not start from the book of Proverbs, for example. 

The Catholic principle "agapéic love is the telos of human relationships" signifies the biblical starting point. Agapéic love reflects the the Greek term agapé, used in the NT for God's love for the world, Jesus' self-giving love that he exemplified and enjoined to his disciples: "agapé one another as I have agapéd you." Agapéic love is the starting point because Jesus said that it was: in answer to the question what is the first thing, the most important (prōté in Mk 12:28) value, Jesus replied "love God" and "love neighbor." From Jesus' explicit teaching comes the principle "agapéic love is the telos of human relationships." It means, whenever human beings interact -- even in the bedroom -- agapéic love must be the goal of that relationship. Finance is a human relationship, therefore ....

Agapéic love is the only biblical basis of personal finance. Basis means foundation, root assumption, or starting point. Other biblical texts and principles must be subordinate to the explicit teaching of our Lord. To subordinate means to place beneath in importance, so no biblical financial philosophy can subordinate agapéic love to lesser values, even if these values appear in scripture. 

Jesus himself rejected the subordination of higher values to lower values: when asked about divorce, his response indicated that the value of marriage as expressed in the creation story -- the two can become one flesh -- is a higher value than Moses' later allowance for divorce (Dt 24:1). 

There is much more to explore here, but this is enough for now. [6.5.08]

Redux Is it not theologically significant how Jesus, Paul, and the other NT writers understood their Scripture, the OT? How did they read and value the creation story? -- this is my question, partially addressed below. For those who want to learn more about how the Ancients read their Bible, I heartily recommend James Kugel's books The Bible as It Was (I have used it as a textbook in various courses) and the recent How to Read the Bible, which contrasts the Ancient and modern critical approaches to the OT. [5.28.08]

Whither the Creation Story? There is no greater theological separation between the ancient and the modern critical approach to biblical texts than in their valuation of the creation story in Genesis 1-3. Ancient Israel began its own particular story with two stories that connected Israel's story (from the election of Abraham to the fall of Judah) with the common origin -- and plight! -- of all people. In the days of Jesus and Paul, these stories were the primary sacred mysteries.

For this reason the author of the Fourth Gospel began the Jesus story with a re-writing of the first words of Genesis that portrayed the pre-Incarnate Christ as God, the Word, and the primordial Light that illuminated the cosmos before there were celestial lights; Paul believed Jesus the Christ was the second Adam who undid the problems introduced by the first couple in Genesis 3; and the Colossians Christ-hymn (1:15-20) appears to be a reflection on how Jesus filled up the first words of the Bible (be-reshit) with meaning: "by him were all things created...he is before all things...by him all things consist." Christ is the Head, the Summit, the Fullness -- each term a reflection of the Hebrew term reshit ("beginning" in our English versions of Gen 1:1).

The problem is that modern critical scholarship views these stories as two add-ons that were not part of Israel's core expression of faith. Therefore, in textbooks the creation stories are relegated to late chapters, far removed from the place that ancient Israel assigned them in the grand drama of scripture. For example, a 2006 OT textbook, published by St. Mary's Press and marketed to Catholic colleges, begins its analysis of the story with Genesis 12, the Abraham story, which is the beginning of the specific story of Israel; this is chapter two of the textbook. The creation stories are buried in chapter thirteen (well over 300 pages removed from the analysis of Genesis), following the theology of creation in Proverbs and Sirach!

I understand why biblical scholars do this: they re-arrange the biblical story according to the widely accepted critical reconstruction of the development of OT literature. Election and Exodus are primary expressions of ancient Israel's faith; creation, as it is narrated in Genesis 1-2 is not even secondary.

The primary problem is that this rearrangement results in bad theology: the NT was written in the light of a biblical story that began with the stories of creation; the NT storyworld -- i.e. what was possible and impossible -- was dependent on the creation story. Moreover, the problems of the person that required fixing -- by Christ -- were the consequences of Genesis 3.

The primary result is the separation of Jesus' story from its place in the biblical drama. Christ cannot fix what was not broken. This is not a happy result for Christian theology. Our sacred story is symmetrical, for the conflict that emerges in Genesis 3 is resolved only in the Apocalypse, with the descent of the new Edenic city of God.

Nor is the re-arrangement positive for ancient Israel's understanding of itself. It is as if Israel's story cannot stand on its own, but must be reconfigured according to later critical criteria. The irony is that in attempting to salvage Israel's story, scholars have judged that ancient Israel was wrong about its connection to all of humanity. Without Genesis 1-3, the biblical story is missing most elements of its storyworld. The story does not begin with the cosmos as a positive order created on purpose. Finally, there is no image of the human person created in the image of God and formed from the earth. [5.27.08]

The Danger of Light and Joy My family saw Prince Caspian on its opening weekend, but it did not impress me enough to write a reflection. Rather, I have had the following excerpt from Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring laying about for over a year. This scene, from "Farewell To Lórien," was not included in the movie version, although it can be found on extended DVDs. As he and his new friend Legolas are paddling away from the Elf realm, Gimli the dwarf is overcome with what he is leaving behind: the beauty of Galadriel, the elf-queen (Cate Blanchett in the movie). Galadriel is "that which was fairest" in the excerpt:

"The travellers now turned their faces to the journey; the sun was before them, and their eyes were dazzled, for all were filled with tears. Gimli wept openly.

'I have looked the last upon that which was fairest,' he said to Legolas his companion. 'Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift.' He put his hand to his breast.

'Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!'

'Nay!' said Legolas. 'Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream. But I count you blessed, Gimli son of Glóin: for your loss you suffer of your own free will, and you might have chosen otherwise. But you have not forsaken your companions, and the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlórien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart, and shall neither fade nor grow stale.'

'Maybe,' said Gimli; 'and I thank you for your words. True words doubtless; yet all such comfort is cold. Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zâram. Or so says the heart of Gimli the Dwarf. Elves may see things otherwise. Indeed I have heard that for them memory is more like to the waking world than to a dream. Not so for Dwarves.'"

Once Gimli had experienced beauty itself, which Galadriel represents in Tolkien's epic, nothing else satisfies. The "danger of light and joy" means all other shadows of true Beauty only make him long for Beauty itself, which he now has only in unsatisfying memory. The elements of reality that he formerly found beautiful and satisfying now seem dull and dingy.

It does not surprise me that this scene was left out of the theatrical release because it is impossible to portray the beauty of Galadriel --despite Blanchett's stunning features -- as it was perceived by Gimli. The audience may have mistaken Gimli's longing lament -- for the One -- for a baser human desire.

Perhaps this scene reflects the difficulty of expressing the experience of the source of Beauty. Human analogies and likenesses (e.g., a bush burning but not being consumed, a brightness no bleaching agent can achieve) do not convince those who have not experienced Beauty, whereas, for those who have had a glimpse, every likeness is pale, dreary, unsatisfying.

The human person is prone to choose lesser beauties over the source of all Beauty, but this choice becomes all the more difficult when one has experienced the Source. Not only does the likeness not satisfy, nothing satisfies but the One. That is Gimli's "danger of light and joy." [5.21.08]

HEAVENS and THE SKY I have been thinking about the terms "heaven(s)" and "sky" because I am reading Michael Ward's Planet Narnia: the Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (2008). Lewis saw a meaning in the medieval (pre-Copernican) hierarchical cosmos that I have not, but the book also makes me wonder whether I am missing something, that I have demythologized the heavens/sky (in favor of space) and thereby lost something that must be recovered. I can only hint at what has been lost because I have not yet put my finger on it, but it may be reflected in the dialog between Eustace and an old star, Ramandu. In the story Eustace has been a symbol of the modern person who believes that a star is a "huge ball of flaming gas." Ramandu's response: "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of" (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

In the biblical languages the same term signifies both heaven(s) and the sky: shamayim in Hebrew, ouranios in Greek. But I envision sky as space, and space in my modern worldview is empty of life and alienating -- even though I am a fan of science fiction. Heaven is sacred space, the enchanted realm of God. But heaven is not "up there"; sky/space is "up there." I may be wrong here, but my impression is that modern Christians share this view -- at least most of my students do, even if they point to heaven "up there."

The "up there" heaven is clearly an element of the biblical story, however: at the Baptism, in the revelation of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit descended and a voice came from the heavens (Mk 1:10); Jesus ascended (Acts 1:9), and will descend and his people meet him in the clouds (1Thes 4:16-17); the new Jerusalem descended (Rev 21:2). [Note: descend = "go down"; ascend = "go up."]

For years I have told my students that they should think of "heaven" as Eden, the sacred space for which each person longs, the realm in which God is present and the person wears the glory and partakes of the living water and fruit from the tree of life. The Edenic heaven and heaven "up there" are both part of the biblical story. But can modern Christians reconcile these two concepts with the sky that signifies lifeless and seemingly limitless space? Remember, there is no separation in the biblical story between heaven(s) and the sky: "the sky (shamayim) declares the glory of God" (Ps 19:1)! [5.16.08]

ROOT ASSUMPTIONS OF CST Catholic Social Teaching is widely known in summary form by a list of themes; a themes handout is circulated in parishes. (See the US Bishops' six themes of CST.) The themes approach to CST gives the impression that the themes have equal weight and have no moral hierarchy; the themes handouts that I have seen do not identify the reasoning by which the themes emerge. I prefer to identify the root assumptions of CST: if people understand its starting points, then the conclusions found within the Church's social documents are clear. The following are my three root assumptions of CST.

  1. the transcendental value of the person: the person is a good which may not be subordinated to other goods; social structures must be ordered to, or at least not hinder movement toward, the true telos of the person.
  2. natural law: a universal moral standard to which all governments and leaders are accountable.
  3. love (agape) as the telos of all human relationships: a truth entrusted to the Church -- i.e., revelation -- to share with the world as a sign-post of where the person is ordered. (Agape is a Greek term that signifies the particularly Christian flavor of love; telos is a Greek word signifying in Catholic theology the God-designed goal or purpose.)
One might add a fourth, the claims of human community, but this is derivative from the first three. [More on CST] [5.4.08]

Re-SHALOM-ification In the Pauline tradition, the concept of reconciliation signifies the beginning of the re-shalomification of the cosmos by the cross. The term itself is a bit of a gag, yet it was designed to reflect an important idea: because of OT messianic texts, ancient messianic Judaism rightfully expected the messiah to return the world to the state of shalom in the beginning (see Isa 11:1-9, 65:25) -- "swords into plowshares," the lion-and-lamb image, etc.

My point then is that Paul, who is the only NT author to use the concept "reconciliation," saw that the Christ-event inaugurated the process of returning the cosmos to shalom. The evidence of this, in his mind, is the relationship in the Pauline communities between people of different social classes, ethnicities, and gender roles, as well as the renewed relationship between God (the offended party) and the human person. The Pauline Jesus communities demonstrated that the process of re-shaloming had begun. [5.2.08]

APOCALYPSE OF PEACE This phrase reflects my approach to the biblical story, specifically Christ the non-retaliating victim ("slain lamb," Rev 5:6) conquering the powers of evil and the secret power of redemptive non-violence that has been in the cosmos from the beginning.

"Apocalypse" signifies an unveiling, the disclosure of what has formerly been hidden. The power of the cross has been hidden from the first, as Paul hints at in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8: "we speak of a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. The rulers of this age did not understand this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." His phrase "for [eis] our glory" means that this hidden wisdom is also the telos (or, end for which God has ordered the human person) of those who share in Christ's passion: "sumpaschomen hina kai sundoxasthōmen" (Romans 8:17) -- suffer with and then hope to be "lit up" (glorified) with. The glorification of those in Christ signifies they have "put on" the Lord of Glory.

Peace is the truth, then, but it has been been hidden in the cosmos until the Christ event revealed it ca. 30 AD. What has not been hidden is the Darwinian principle, "survival of the fittest." Although this principle seems to reflect the natural world, it obscures the "truth about us," the human person's telos, which is glorification in the slain lamb. Moreover, the violence by which the strong survive is, in a sense, a lie -- as JP2 noted: "violence is a lie."

The slogan "myth of redemptive violence" is widely used among peaceniks to reflect the belief that violence begets violence, not peace. Our culture accepts redemptive violence as a truth, however unfortunate; but redemptive violence is not consistent with Christ's law of non-retaliation, his Beatitudes ("the meek shall inherit the earth"), or his kenotic (self-emptying) example. If Christ reveals the truth, then the success through violence is ultimately a lie.

According to the biblical story as the Ancients read it, God created the world in a state of shalom, but creation was "flushed" when the human person allowed violence to overwhelm the created good (Gen 6:13). God has ordered the world to shalom; thus violence is a dis-ordering, and cannot be the truth about us.

The apocalypse of peace reflects the Endzeit/Urzeit typology of the Ancients: the apocalyptic end will reveal the reshith (beginning) shalom of the biblical God's order, but until then, the people of the Lamb can tap this hidden power by living non-violently on behalf of the Good and the True. [4.27.08; rev. 5.2.08]