Curiosity, a desire to learn and discover new things, is a good and necessary part of what it means to be a healthy and active human being. However, if a person is spiritually sick (because of their own actions or the actions of others) this good impulse can become warped and symptomatic of a troubled soul. Ancient and medieval philosophers, mystics, pastors, and theologians gave a lot of thought to diagnosing spiritual ailments and prescribing appropriate treatment for those ailments in the form of spiritual discipline. One philosopher named Josef Pieper is almost unmatched in his ability to distill this ancient and medieval wisdom and present it fresh to the modern world.
Josef Pieper died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 93. New Media would doubtless have been known to him, though it had not yet begun to dominate late-modern life as it now has. However, what he writes seems to anticipate some of the issues that New Media has exasperated in human souls. It seems that New Media, may act as a kind of stimulant for spiritual struggles which have always afflicted Adam’s helpless race in varying degrees.
Pieper outlines a particular kind of spiritual illness which is called accidie, or acedia (Faith, Hope, Love, pp 120-121). Accidie is normally (and unfortunately) translated ‘sloth’. It is regarded as one of the Seven Capital Sins (often referred to as the Seven Deadly Sins – also a misnomer). It is more accurate to understand accidie as a ‘sorrow of the world’ (2 Corinthians 7:10), existential listlessness, a kind of wrath turned inward on the self (shown vividly in Dante’s Inferno, canto 7). Accidie will come up again and again in New Media Holiness, but for now I want to focus upon a couple of the by-products, or symptoms, of accidie. Continue reading “Curiositas killed the New Media cat”
“”But what becomes of the non-elect?” You have nothing to do with this question, if you find yourself embarrassed or distressed by the consideration of it. Bless God for his electing love, and leave him to act as he pleases by them that are without. Simply acquiesce in the plain scripture account, and wish to see no farther than revelation holds the lamp. It is enough for you to know that the Judge of the whole earth will do right” (A. M. Toplady, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination, pgs 18,19).
Introductory Essay Concerning Accidie.
Yea, they thought scorn of that pleasant land, and gave no credence unto His word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord
Most men may know that strange effect of vividness and reality with which at times a discoloured of character and experience in some old book seems to traverse the intervening centuries, and to touch the reader with a sense of sudden nearness to the man who so was tried, so felt and thought, so failed or conquered, very long ago. We are prepared, of course, for likeness and even for monotony, in the broad aspect of that ceaseless conflict through which men come to be and to show what they are; for the main conditions of a man’s probation stand like birth and death, like childhood, and youth, and age awaiting every human soul, behind the immense diversity of outward circumstance. We expect that the inner history of man will go on repeating itself in these general traits; but when out of an age whose ways imagination hardly represents to us with any clearness, there comes the exact likeness of some feature or deformity which we had thought peculiar to ourselves or our contemporaries, we may be almost startled by the claim thus made to moral kinship and recognition. We knew that it never had been easy to refuse the evil and choose the good; we guessed that at all times, if a man’s will faltered, there were forces ready to help him quietly and quickly on the downward road; but that centuries ago men felt, in minute detail, the very same temptations, subtle, complex, and resourceful, which we today find hiding and busy in the darker passages of our hearts, is often somewhat unreasonably surprising to us. For we are apt, perhaps, to overrrate the intensive force of those changes which have extended over all the surface of civilized life. We forget how little difference they may have brought to that which is deepest in us all. it is, indeed, true that the vast increase of the means of self-expression and self-distraction increases for many men the temptation to impoverish life at its centre for the sake of its ever widening circumference; it may be harder to be simple and thoughtful, easier to be multifariously worldly now than once it was; but the inmost quality, the secret history, of a selfish choice or a sullen mood, and the ingredients of a bad temper, are, probably, nearly what they were in quieter days; and there seems sometimes a curious sameness in the tricks that men play with conscience, and in the main elements of a soul’s tragedy.
Continue reading “Introductory Essay concerning Accidie – Francis Paget.”
SCM Theological Commentary on the Bible
by R. R. Reno
Near the beginning of his treatise against Gnostic interpretations of the Bible, Against the Heresies, Irenaeus observes that Scripture is like a great mosaic depicting a handsome king. It is as if we were owners of a villa in Gaul who had ordered a mosaic from Rome. It arrives, and the beautifully colored tiles need to be taken out of their packaging and put into proper order according to the plan of the artist. The difficulty, of course, is that Scripture provides us with the individual pieces, but the order and sequence of various elements are not obvious. The Bible does not come with instructions that would allow interpreters to simply place verses, episodes, images, and parable in order as a worker might follow a schematic drawing in assembling the pieces to depict the handsome king. the mosaic must be puzzled out. This is precisely the work of scriptural interpretation.
Origen has his own image to express the difficulty of working out the proper approach to reading the Bible. When preparing to offer a commentary on the Psalms he tells of a tradition handed down to him by his Hebrew teacher:
The Hebrews said that the whole divinely inspired Scripture may be likened, because of its obscurity, to many locked rooms in our house. By each room is placed a key, but not the one that corresponds to it, so that the keys are scattered about beside the rooms, none of them matching the room by which it is placed. it is a difficult task to find the keys and match them to the rooms that they can open. We therefore know the Scriptures that are obscure only by taking the points of departure for understanding them from another place because they have their interpretive principle scattered among them.
As is the case for Irenaeus, scriptural interpretation is not purely local. The key in Genesis may best fit the door of Isaiah, which in turn opens up the meaning of Matthew. The mosaic must be put together with an eye toward the overall plan.
Irenaeus, Origen, and the great cloud of premodern biblical interpreters assumed that puzzling out the mosaic of Scripture must be a communal project. The Bible is vast, heterogeneous, full of confusing passages and obscure words, and difficult to understand. Only a fool would imagine that he or she could work out solutions alone. The way forward must rely upon a tradition of reading that Irenaeus reports has been passed on as the rule or canon of truth that functions as a confession of faith. “Anyone,” he says, “who keeps unchangeable in himself the rule of truth received through baptism will recognize the names and says and parables of the scriptures.” Modern scholars debate the content of the rule on which Irenaeus relies and commends, not the least because the terms and formulations Irenaeus himself uses shift and slide. Nonetheless, Irenaeus assumes that there is a body of apostolic doctrine sustained by a tradition of teaching in the church. This doctrine provides the clarifying principles that guide exegetical judgment toward a coherent overall reading of Scripture as a unified witness. Doctrine, then, is the schematic drawing that will allow the reader to organize the vast heterogeneity of words, images, and stories of the Bible into a readable, coherent whole. It is the rule that guides us toward the proper matching of keys to doors.
Continue reading “Series Preface to the Brazos (SCM) Theological Commentary on the Bible”
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One cannot overstate the influence of this book. Spinoza applied the scientific method (which was developed in order to conquer nature) to the reading of Scripture, and this became what is now known as the “historical-critical method.” His view was that religious conflict in Europe was a result of differing interpretation on key biblical passages. He developed this method of reading Scripture in order to bring about universal agreement on its meaning. The method is exceedingly powerful (like the scientific method) and it was for a long time, and mostly still is, the only method of Bible study taught in seminaries and colleges. It is often taught and used without any reference to its philosophical roots. Like the scientific method applied to nature, it does not allow for a spiritual or supernatural component in reading the Bible (or any other book). Being merely natural, a devotional aspect has to be attached to it, rather artificially and as an afterthought. So, like the relation of modern science to nature, there is the conflict in Biblical circles about the difference between “conquering” scripture and “understanding” scripture. Modern biblical scholarship is reluctant to throw out the method because of fears regarding “free for all” interpretation of scripture, but some quarters have also acknowledged the inherent danger of this disecting and critiquing method upon any devotional relationship to it. Various alternative methods have been developed (ie, “historical-narrative” method and neo-patristic reading) in order to try and keep the desired scholarly objectivity while allowing room for devotion.
“If we would separate ourselves from the crowd and escape from theological prejudices, instead of rashly accepting human commentaries for Divine documents, we must consider the true method of interpreting Scripture and dwell upon it at some length: for if we remain in ignorance of this we cannot know, certainly, what the Bible and the Holy Spirit wish to teach.
I may sum up the matter by saying that the method of interpreting Scripture does not widely differ from the method of interpreting nature — in fact, it is almost the same. For as the interpretation of nature consists in the examination of the history of nature, and therefrom deducing definitions of natural phenomena on certain fixed axioms, so Scriptural interpretation proceeds by the examination of Scripture, and inferring the intention of its authors as a legitimate conclusion from its fundamental principles. By working in this manner everyone will always advance without danger of error — that is, if they admit no principles for interpreting Scripture, and discussing its contents save such as they find in Scripture itself — and will be able with equal security to discuss what surpasses our understanding, and what is known by the natural light of reason.
Continue reading “Spinoza on “the interpretation of Scripture””
Judges 5:15-17 (Song of Deborah and Barak)
“Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds,
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he stay with the ships?
Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
staying by his landings” (ESV).
Psalm 91: 5,6
“You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (ESV).
“You will not be afraid of nocturnal fright,
of an arrow that flies by day,
of a deed that travels in darkness,
of mishap and noonday demon” (New English Translation of the Septuagint).
“Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD” (ESV).
2 Corinthians 7:10
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).
Ancient and medieval exegesis identified “the destruction that wastes at noonday” and “worldly sorrow” with acedia.
“To understand it [heaven], let us skip all approximations and go straight to the point: Heaven is the intimate reserve of holy God, that which St. Paul calls the “light inaccessible” which he inhabits, unapproachable for any creature (I Tim. 6:16). When we meet a person in the street or in a room, he stand there openly before us. We can look at him, photograph him, describe him, and can often guess a good deal of what is going on inside him. Withal, he is more or less ‘public.’ On one point, however, he remains impenetrable: his attitude towards himself, his manner of answering for himself and his acts. For the most part, man is absorbed by corporal, psychological, sociological realities; in other words, by public things. But there are certain moments when he retires into a corner of his being that is closed to others–into his most personal self. No one can violate that privacy; if it is to be opened, then only by opening itself. This is what happens in love, when a person not only permits himself to be observed, not only speaks about himself, but gives himself in vital exchange. If the other accepts him, likewise opening the way to his most intimate self, desire the other more than himself, entering into pure contemplation and exchange, the the two intimacies unite in a single community open to both participants, but closed to everyone else. The greater and deeper the person and his experience, the less accessible this inmost realm will be. But what if it is not question of a person, but of God? God, the incommensurable, infinite, simple; essence of truth and holiness? His reserve is absolute. Nothing can even approach it. God is all light because he is Truth itself; all clarity, because nothing can overshadow him; he is the Lord, free and genuine Being to whom all that is belongs–yet inaccessible in his light, mysterious in his truth, invulnerable in his kingdom. This initmate reserve of God is heaven, ‘destination’ of the risen Lord–and not only of his spirit, but of the whole resurrected Lord in all his living reality” (Romano Guardini, The Lord, p 429).