Tuesday, January 30, 2007

G.K.Chesterton's mad scientist

I ran across an interesting story in E. Christian Kopff's 1999 book, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition. Kopff is writing about education issues, but the story is also important for present-day Christians who value "the treasures of tradition."
Kopff cites a story from G.K. Chesterton's book The Poet and the Lunatics:
G.K. Chesterton's poet Gabriel Gale meets a brilliant scientist devoted to the cause of emancipation from tradition and social conventions one evening at an informal gathering. Gale and the scientist are discussing with a few friends the scientist' s philosophy when Gale realizes that the scientists is mad. The poet rushes everybody away from the house just before the scientist blows it sky-high. Gale later explains to his bewildered friends that his suspicions were alerterd by seeing three goldfish gasping desperately in a pool of water on a table in the library. In accordance with his philosophy, the scientist had liberated them from their bowl (3).
A bit later, Kopff says the conflict between Gabriel Gale and the mad scientist "represents the most important contest of our age," and he continues:
The intellectual leaders of our age . . . feel that if they can only free themselves from the trammels of tradition in religion, science, art, and politics, true fulfullment will be theirs. For them tradition is merely memorizing what others have accomplished. Fulfillment, in their eyes, comes to those who have rejected the past, the handed-down, the socially constructed, in order the enter into a reality that is individualistic, innovative, and free. There is nothing innovative and free, however, in flopping about on a table in a pool of water. Tradition is not a cage. It is the goldfish bowl that keeps us alive (4).
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, January 29, 2007

John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, c. 407

Many Christians honor St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Consantinople, each year in late January (Jan. 27). He was born in Antioch in the mid-4th century, and went on to earn the title "Golden mouth" from the early church. This is quite an honor, among so many others known for powerful oratory. One of his many prayers is often used in the daily office and is included in The Book of Common Praryer in this version:

Almighty God, who has given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication unto thee, and hast promised through thy well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in His Name, thou wilt be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants as may be best for us: granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

The web site http://www.chrysostom.org contains a wealth of information on his life and work.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, January 15, 2007

January 15: Martin Luther King, Jr., Renewer of Society, Martyr, 1968

Signed by all 'heads of communion' of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) member churches on the 21st anniversary celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the fifth anniversary of CUIC, the letter urges "our congregations to join with other CUIC congregations in your community to discern ways to exercise common witness and common service as together we seek to dismantle racism and, in so doing, to be the voice and presence of God’s love in the world." In the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presiding Bishop Hanson is asking all congregations to read the letter in worship on Sunday, January 14.> Read the statement (pdf)

The collect fot this day:

Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent to call the Church to its taks and renew its life, particularly on this day your servant Martin Luther King, Jr. Raise up in our day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

January 13: Hilary, Bishkp of Poitiers, 367

Today many remember and thank God for the life and witness of Hilarius or Hilary (c. 300367). Hilary was bishop of Poitiers ('pictavium') and considered an eminent doctor of the Western Christian Church. He was sometimes referred to as the malleus Arianorum ("hammer against Arianism") and the “Athanasius of the West”. His name comes from the Greek word for happy or cheerful, the same root as English "hilarious". His saint's day is observed on January 13th.

He holds the highest rank among the Latin writers of his century prior to St. Ambrose. Designated already by Augustine of Hippo as "the illustrious doctor of the churches"; he by his works exerted an increasing influence in later centuries; and by Pope Pius IX he was formally recognized as universae ecclesiae doctor (i.e. Doctor of the Church) at the synod of Bordeaux in 1851.

Hilary's day in the Roman calendar is January 13, from which the name of Hilary term is derived at Oxford University and other institutions.

Editions of his writings were produced by Erasmus (Basel, 1523, 1526, 1528). An English translation by E. W. Watson appears in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Several of his works have appeared in Sources Chretiennes (i.e. commentaries on Psalm 118 and St. Matthew, his attack on the emperor Constantius, on the Mysteries and most recently, in three volumes, on the Trinity).

He was, perhaps, mentioned by Augustine as being the author of Ambrosiaster.

A vita of Hilary was written by Venantius Fortunatus c.550 but is not considered reliable. More trustworthy are the notices in Jerome (De vir. illus. 100), Sulpicius Severus (Chron. ii. 39-45) and in Hilary's own writings.

Thomas S. Buchanon in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christiainity, gives us a glimpse asto how Hilary thought as a Christian:

The fourth-century saint Hilary of Poitiers once pointed out that just as a coin is made by taking a piece of metal and stamping the icon of Caesar upon it, man is stamped with an icon of God. In some of us, this icon is blurry, like that of a coin whose image has been obscured through abrasive contact with other objects over the years. In others—the saints—the stamp of God is like the image on a freshly minted coin.

You may wish to give this prayer to God for Hilary, who was an icon of God:

Eternal Father, whose servant Hilary steadfastly confessed your Son Jesus Christ to be true God and true man: We beseech you to keep us firmly grounded in this faith; that we may rejoice to behold his face in heaven who humbled himself to bear our form upon earth, even the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marcus Borg on Metaphoric Reading of Genesis

Marus Borg has an intesting paragraph in his 2001 book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time on how to read Genesis (and the rest of Scripture) through metaphoric lenses--not literally. The subtitle for his book tells his approach: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally. Borg quotes the early Christian writer Origen (c. 185-254 AD) as follows:
What intelligent person can imagine that there was a first day, then a second and a thrid day, evening and morning, without the sun, the moon, and the stars? [Sun, moon, and stars are created on the fourth day.] And that the first day--if it makes sense to call it such--existed even without a sky? [The sky is created on the second day.] Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardner, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life? And that by eating from another tree, one would come to know good and evil? And when it is said that God walked in the garden in the evening and that Adam hid himself behind a tree, I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings by using an historical narrative which did not literally happen. (71)
Borg is translating Origen's De Principiis 4.1.6. The words in brackets were added by Borg.
As I read this passage, I thought how different would be the current debate about Creationism if 21st century Christians paid a little more attention to this 3rd century father of the Church!
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Saturday, January 06, 2007

A Prayer for Epiphany

Today (Jan. 6) is celebrated in many churches as Epiphany--the day the Magi are believed to have arrived to worship the infant Christ. The Book of Common Prayer includes the following collect as a prayer for this day:

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The daily office lectionary readings for today are: Isa. 52: 7-10; Rev. 21: 22-27, and Matt. 12: 14-21, accompanied by Psalms 46, 97 for the morning prayer, and 96, 100 for evening prayer.

Best wishes,

Mason Smith

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