I Saw the Light

April 19, 2008

If you have any doubt as to why many (including myself) consider David Crowder Band the most fantastic band working today, here you go — okay, you will need to buy their albums to be convinced, but this is still a great cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” from 1948.

The Hind and the Panther

April 18, 2008

John Dryden

In 1687, John Dryden published his masterwork on the relation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England, The Hind and the Panther, in effect a response to his celebrated Religio Laici (1682), a defense of the Church of England against the claims of Rome. A year before The Hind and the Panther was published, Dryden converted to the Roman Catholic Church and soon set to write his versed dialogue between a panther (the Church of England) and a hind, female deer (the Catholic Church). It is a fascinating read, ably displaying Dryden’s peculiar form of poetic style, best described by Bonamy Dobrée:

“What Dryden aimed at was precision, finality of utterance, saying all that could be said upon a subject in the most concentrated way. His is the gift, or rather, one should say, the hard-won capacity, of expressing exactly what he means. But the hold which romantic poetry has upon the imagination is to a large degree due to the opposite quality, namely of formulating a deliberate ambiguity, of seeming to mean, of intending to mean even, a great deal more than it actually says: it seeks to set the imagination free in the fairyland of desire rather than to concentrate it on a definite object or idea.” (Introduction to Poems, John Dryden, Everyman’s Library No. 910)

In this contrast to romanticism, we can see Dryden as displaying the best of the this-worldly sanctifying attention found in the Catholic and Thomistic tradition. It is the sort of realism that I find most attractive in the greatest of modern poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a convert received into the Church by John Henry Newman. Here is an excerpt from The Hind and the Panther, displaying less Dryden’s doctrinal-intent but, more, his greater insight to the seductions surrounding epistemic warrant:

Your inf’rence wou’d be strong (the Hind reply’d)
If yours were in effect the suff’ring side;
Your clergy sons their own in peace possess,
Nor are their prospects in reversion less.
My Proselytes are struck with awfull dread,
Your bloudy Comet-laws hand blazing o’re their head.
The respite they enjoy but onely lent,
The best they have to hope, protracted punishment.
Be judge your self, if int’rest may prevail,
Which motive, yours or mine, will turn the scale.
While pride and pomp allure, and plenteous ease,
That is, till man’s predominant passions cease,
Admire no longer at my slow encrease.

By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The Priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.
The rest I nam’d before, nor need repeat;
But int’rest is the most prevailing cheat,
The sly seducer both of age and youth:
They study that, and think they study truth:
When int’rest fortifies an argument,
Weak reason serves to gain the wills assent:
For souls, already warp’d, receive an easie bent.
(lines 376-399)

Those last six lines are worth re-reading.

Danaid by Rodin

The blog at First Things has a great critique by Robert Benne on the latest report from the ELCA‘s “Task Force on Sexuality.” Here’s an excerpt in the context of Benne’s broader argument for natural law:

“This formlessness appears immediately in the statement’s theological and ethical foundations. The law, though affirmed, remains a ghostly, abstract, and empty category. No commandments are mentioned. No covenantal structures—such as God’s gift of marriage to Adam and Eve—are affirmed. Indeed, there is no explication of male and female together being created in the image of God. Rather, the statement tries to derive its sexual ethic from the incarnation of Jesus and the justification his work has wrought. One of most astounding statements in the document asserts that ‘a Lutheran sexual ethic looks to the death and resurrection of Christ as the source for the values that guide it’ (emphasis mine).”

Prep for the Pope

April 12, 2008

In view of the “Christ Our Hope” papal U.S. tour 2008, here are some great reads to get you prepared, mind and spirit, for the good bishop:

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The Christian Post has the latest on “unchurched” proclivities. What should come as no surprise to any observing, educated to any degree, human being is actually a surprise to the conductor of the latest Lifeway Research survey: “…the unchurched [especially young adults] preferred more traditional looking buildings by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio over any other option.” Yes, Ed Seitzer, director of Lifeway Research, was “surprised.” I will forever be baffled why the super-sanitized (majority of) contemporary architecture has any appeal, except perhaps that we live in isolated, sanitized worlds that prefer the super-slick over the creative-risk adventure and transcendent wonder that gothic art (and most other pre-20th-century art) mastered. Yet, I have always suspected that the average modern pagan (like pagans of yore) has a greater connection to the world and the common sense that comes from unreflective sense impressions which speak an inherent truth and dignity to the multi-faceted dimensions of the material world — and, so, this is reflected in art. Contra this, we have hipsters and bourgeois evangelicals (oddly enough) united in shitty architecture that mirror their equally perverse rationalist, functionalist circumscriptions of the universe.

St. Peter's Basilica; photo from MJ at debugmybrain.blogspot.com

I recently watched this week’s episode of “The Journey Home” on EWTN. The guest was Dr. Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas and author of Realism Regained: An Exact Theory of Causation, Teleology, and the Mind (Oxford 2000) — I love that subtitle. I enjoyed the episode; it is always interesting to hear someone of high intellect articulate the basic reasons for his becoming Catholic, from Lutheranism in Dr. Koons’ case. The number of converts in academia to the Catholic Church has been one of the more intriguing phenomenons of late. Here are some of them:

Bruce D. Marshall, Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Methodist University. His works include Christology in Conflict: The Identity of a Saviour in Rahner and Barth (Blackwell 1987) and, most importantly, Trinity and Truth (Cambridge 2000). Former Lutheran.

Douglas B. Farrow, Associate Professor of Christian Thought at McGill University. His works include the important contribution to dogmatics, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension (Eerdmans 1999), and most recently, Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage (BPS 2007). Former Anglican.

Reinhard Hütter, Professor of Christian Theology at Duke Divinity School. His works include Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Practice (Eerdmans 1999) and Bound to Be Free: Evangelical-Catholic Engagements in Ecclesiology, Ethics, and Ecumenism (Eerdmans 2004). Former Lutheran.

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“Existentialism on Prom Night” by Straylight Run

Straylight Run formed after Will Nolan (vocals, guitar) and Shaun Cooper (bass) left Taking Back Sunday and teamed-up with Will Noon for drums and Will’s sister, Michelle, for vocals, guitar, and piano. Taking Back Sunday’s first album was truly great and thanks largely to Will Nolan, so if you want to get emo at some of its most creative, then get TBS’s debut, ‘Tell All Your Friends,’ from 2002. Though TBS took a major hit with Will and Shaun leaving, the upshot was the forming of Straylight Run.

Pilgrims 

The whole question between Protestant and Catholic turns on the nature of revelation. While to the Catholic it came as a system, to the Protestant it came as a salvation. It came as personal redemption, it became revelation only as redemption, and within the soul arose another soul to be its true King and Lord. The only truth for the soul was not Redemption but its Redeemer. What was revealed was not truth in the custody of a Church, but it was a spiritual act and person of salvation in the experience of a soul. That was the nature, the price, the glory of the individualism of the Reformation. …

This faith, then, was the new, the reformatory thing in Luther’s position. What did it replace? It replaced what we find passing for religion to-day in the circles where the Reformation influence has not truly penetrated, where an institutional, episcopal, and priestly Church keeps the public soul under a mere Catholicism. What is that? …It is the Catholic idea of certain beliefs and certain behaviours; of accepting the knowledge of God and of the world authoritatively given by the historic Church of the land, along with the exercise of certain moral virtues to correspond; ‘Believe in the Incarnation and imitate Christ.’ That is all very well, but it is not a Gospel, only a Church-spel. Orthodoxy of creed and behaviour is this ideal, rising to the idea of imitating Christ as the great Example, but too seldom tending to trust Him as a matter of direct personal experience. It is right knowledge on the Church’s authority, and right conduct in personal relations, but less of actual and experienced personal relations with the divine object of the knowledge. Now the Reformation did not discard either right knowedge or right conduct; but it cast these down, for their own sakes, to a second place; and it put in the first place what Catholicism had, for the average believer, only made second (if second) — the personal trust and experience of Christ in a real forgiveness. Out of that all right belief and conduct must proceed, and it was the only guarantee for either. The first was made last and the last first. The whole Reformation might be defended as a crucial instance of that characteristic principle of Christian change, of divine judgment by inversion. The thing that was now put first is the thing that is always first in the spiritual order. It is the creative thing. Faith is the power creative both of right creed and right living. All the ethical world spreads away from the true focus of personal faith in God’s forgiving grace in Christ. All the moral order is ruled from this throne. I do not say that morality does not exist apart from religion; it does. But I do say that finally it cannot; in the spiritual and ultimate nature of things the two are not separable, distinguish them as you may. The permanent ethic is Christian ethic; and Christian conduct dies soon after Christian faith.

P. T. Forsyth
“What Did Luther Really Do?”
Rome, Reform and Reaction (Paternoster Row 1899), pp. 125-6, 136-8.

John Calvin speaking at the Council of Geneva, 1549

Review of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, chapter 13, on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here we find a classic delineation of the Trinity, spawned by attacks on the doctrine during Calvin’s time that parallel those found in the early church. Thus we have an occasional piece of literature, filled with the customary rhetoric, but also a piece of constructive dogmatics as Calvin develops a scripturally-founded apologetic for this received doctrine in the West. Calvin repeats what he takes to be the simple definition of the doctrine, namely that the essence of God is undivided but equally belonging to Father, Son, and Spirit who themselves are differentiated by a “certain characteristic” which nonetheless causes no division or partitioning of God’s essence. Calvin is quite certain that if we simply keep this formula in mind we shall be saved from all heretical deviations, but, of course, a host of problems must be attended to, including some important qualifications on Calvin’s part. The main treatment of this formula of the Trinity is found in sections 16-20 where some interesting questions arise, but we will first briefly look at the preceding sections. Read the rest of this entry »