Scripture and the Crisis – Part 1

Eamonn Clark

In several posts, I have tried to provide some context to the present crisis of morals in the Church. As always, the linchpin is Holy Thursday and Good Friday – we are always doing better than that – but here I wish to give sexual crimes and cover-ups a deeper treatment through looking at a few examples in Scripture. I will present an abbreviation of the text and my own gloss.

The first story, familiar to most, is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s escape.

GENESIS 19

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. [Lot is a quiet force for good in Sodom. He sits at the gates on the lookout. He knows what is around him, and he has a real concern to keep his guests safe from harm. He offers his own house so that they will be under his own watch, and then he gently suggests that they should get out of the city quickly afterward – he even uses unleavened bread to feed them, as will also be used later in the Exodus as a symbol of hasty departure.] Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” [These men are opportunists, but they are also homosexuals. They do not want Lot’s virgin daughters, they want his male guests. This group has grown large enough to protect themselves, as they come from all parts of the city. Although they arrive at night, they are open about what they want. We can infer that they have been at this for some time – they have corrupted the young and incorporated them into the group, likely as a lower caste. Twice we hear about the bifurcation between the ages within the group.]

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” [Lot knows that he cannot stop the men from sinning. Knowing the lesser evil, he proposes it to them. He can’t do anything else – it is beyond his power. Despite being “in the know,” his responsibility is limited. Undoubtedly, his opinion on this group is already well-known throughout the city.]

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. [We see the manipulative and coercive tactics of the group… Command, ridicule, threats, and finally violence.]

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” [God does tolerate great evil, but only up to a point. Evidently, the existence of such a group has become intolerable, and death is their penalty.]

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. [Lot finds that his whistle-blowing lacks effect. His sons-in-law surely know of the evil in the city, but they don’t believe it is bad enough to warrant divine intervention. Could there really be that much of it? And is it really that wicked to begin with? Etc.]

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” [The way to protect oneself from being destroyed in Sodom is to run away from it. It is not Lot’s responsibility or prerogative to reform or rehabilitate the group, it is to distance himself from it.]

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. [Incredibly, Lot is somewhat attached to the city. It is familiar to him and is pained by the thought of putting it behind him. The purification, although he knows it is necessary, is a fearsome thing.] 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. [With the rising of the sun comes a plain view of Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants what comes next to be seen.] 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. [Curious schadenfreude, or misplaced mercy and regret? Either way, it was not virtuous. One of the few who was supposed to be saved destroyed herself by failing to keep her sights set in the right direction.]

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today. [The end of the story leaves our hero in disgrace. Lot thought that since he had escaped the evil men of Sodom, he was safe. He was not – he carried evil with him. He failed to stay vigilant, as if he believed the destruction of Sodom destroyed all the evil in the world. His own fall into perversion, while unintentional, leads him to become the father of two wicked races who would later persecute the sons of Israel, trying to keep them from reaching the Promised Land.]

The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, not spared even after Abraham’s pleading, called for a proportionate punishment, which in this case meant the absolute destruction of the cities. (There is archaeological evidence of the historical truth of this account, by the way.) God “gets it.” Coincidentally – or not – August 30th saw the 450th anniversary of an Apostolic Constitution by Pope St. Pius V which legislated degradation and then death for clerics who participated in the perversion of Sodom. Such curious times we are living in. But as Lot’s ultimate downfall shows us, no one should presume to be above depravity, even those who fight against it.

Next, we will look at a story about a cover-up… and how it goes awry.

No, “pressure” to resign from the papacy does not make resignation invalid…

Eamonn Clark

Look. I’m not a professional canon lawyer. But two days in a row now even I have been able to point out some whoppers, both involving juridical validity.

It’s been irresponsibly suggested that “some canon lawyers” (who?) say that if a pope resigns due to scandals, he “cannot be said to have made his decision of his own free will – even if he insists that he is doing so.”

As the kids say these days – lolwut?

Even though the Holy Father apparently has said he has no intention of resigning, he is an unpredictable man, isn’t he. So let’s take a look at this important topic anyway.

Okay, so just a few questions to start us off… Since when is there a legal definition of “scandal”? And who determines whether there is such a “scandal”? And wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that a person who sees danger and ineffectiveness coming for him due to a scandal would truly want, as an authentic good, to leave office?

If it is true that scandal precludes the resignation of office, it would mean that the person is stuck there, even if due to his own sins and the real good of the Church requires his resignation. On what planet is this a juridic reality? The fact is that there are always scandals and pressures facing popes which would incline them to leave office, many of which are unknown to most people. So is every papal resignation therefore invalid?

No, of course not. As my own professor of canon law told our class, one of the important tools in reading and interpreting canon law is common sense. 

Let’s go through the text, shall we? My comments in bold.

Can. 187 Anyone responsible for oneself (sui compos) can resign from an ecclesiastical office for a just cause. Obviously, the pope is such a person. Note that mounting scandals and ineffectiveness due to pressure to resign would certainly constitute a “just cause.”

Can. 188 A resignation made out of grave fear that is inflicted unjustly or out of malice, substantial error, or simony is invalid by the law itself. This means that, even if there is grave fear on the part of the office holder, that fear must be caused by a serious threat to that person which violates justice in its mode or in its end… We could quibble about exactly what “unjustly” and “out of malice” mean, (and it’s unclear to me if “out of malice” is its own clause – perhaps so) but at present, there seems to be nothing but serious complaints and demands for answers. No threats against the life or liberty of the person of the Holy Father.

Can. 332 …

§2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone. The key here is how to interpret the word “freely.” As we have seen, grave fear of being an ineffective pastor or of harming the Church through giving scandal would not suffice to inhibit freedom in the proper way, even for holders of a “normal” office. The office of the papacy, however, is not a normal office – it is the supreme office of the Church militant – and so even more stringent requirements would seem to obtain with regards to proving who seems to be the pope isn’t the pope or who seems to have left the papacy has not.

…ah but wait – let’s go back a few hundred canons…

Can. 14 Laws, even invalidating and disqualifying ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt about the law. When there is a doubt about a fact, however, ordinaries can dispense from laws provided that, if it concerns a reserved dispensation, the authority to whom it is reserved usually grants it. So since there is at least a serious argument to be made that “scandal” and “pressures” do not of themselves suffice to render a resignation null when it is properly manifested, there is at least doubt about the law. This subjects the invalidating law, c. 332 §2, to a “stricter” interpretation. Any claim must overcome the arguments provided.

What, then, might actually render an attempted resignation invalid due to a restriction of freedom? Well, the pope could not be tortured to procure a resignation, for example. He also could not reasonably be presumed free when publicly and presently threatened with death or imprisonment by those with clear means to procure either. Anything like this, in which an invalidating pressure is manifest to all reasonable persons, when the Holy Father actually manifests an intention to resign it would indeed be invalid. Otherwise, we have at a minimum a doubtful application of law, which, especially given the importance of the office, should therefore be subject to strict interpretation, as explained above.

Therefore, the Pope is perfectly free to resign, no matter how bad the scandal gets.

Well, that’s my basic argument. Someone will have to show me where I’m going wrong, if indeed that’s the case. We didn’t even get into c. 17… That would be important too.

Text and context.

True Myth Part 3: Noah’s Ark, Utnapishtim’s Ark

Eamonn Clark

So here’s a shocking fact for your Monday afternoon… The story of Noah and the Flood is reiterated in ancient cultures across the entire planet. China, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, North and South America, Oceania… In all these places we find a story about a pre-historical global flood, typically brought on by divine power in response to some problem or frustration, a hero who wins survival (almost always with a boat in which he protects some other living creatures), and ensuing re-population, usually after a prayer of thanksgiving. Some even have their own version of the mysterious “Nephilim” and the “sons of God” who fathered them, mentioned immediately before the story of Noah – and not just in the Ancient Near East. What does that tell us?

Possibly a lot, especially given a defining characteristic of the Jewish version… Unlike the other heroes, who are saved because of their strength or cleverness, Noah is saved because of his righteousness.

Beyond this, the order of the world after the Jewish Flood is quite different, including a clear provision for violence in both sustenance and punishment; there is a covenant; and in the end of the story we find the very roots of the rivalry between the Jews (the descendants of Shem… “semites”) and the Canaanites (the descendants of Ham). Quite significant.

The words “Noah’s Ark” often brings one of two visceral reactions: open mockery or full-blown fundamentalist zeal. I suggest that neither are warranted. Without an attempt to unpack every intimation of salvation history and every echo of other Flood narratives, here are some quick thoughts for consideration.

The story of Noah is much subtler than people usually give it credit for. Like many Biblical texts, it has a chiastic structure (ex. A, B, C, B’, A’), where each part of the story is “undone” or “reflected” in reverse order later on, with the apex being the moment that God “remembers” Noah. Also, the Ark is not an “equal opportunity” vessel: one pair of each of the unclean animals, seven pairs of the clean animals. Of course, all life is contained in the Ark – nothing outside survives the Flood. The point is to purify the Earth… although some “impure” things are kept alive intentionally, thus pointing towards some later, more complete purification.

Perhaps this helps explain why violence is explicitly sanctioned by God after the Flood – both to kill animals for food, and to kill men as punishment (“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed…” – Gen. 9:6). The antedeluvian order is not simply reiterated, lest it go awry once more. Since God commits Himself to refraining from destroying the whole Earth again as in the Flood, the race of men evidently need the right to govern themselves more severely, and to “cleanse” their concupiscence by eating flesh. (It is not entirely clear that eating meat was forbidden before the Flood, but it is at least explicitly allowed after.)

Unlike Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah does not win immortality; in fact, he dies shortly afterward. And lifespans get shorter in general. (Bossuet notes this in his wonderful book The Continuity of Religion – a wetter, cooler climate would lead to shorter lives, goes his explanation.) So what was the Flood for? It leads to an arguably more violent world order with shorter lifespans, and the ritual impurity aboard the ark was outmatched by the spiritual impurity of Ham, who shames his father Noah and becomes the patriarch of the wicked race of Canaanites whom will be purged by the descendants of Shem. Could it be pointing at a spiritual order yet to come, where lives are yet longer, and there is no bloodshed, in crime or punishment, and no need to purge anyone from the Earth? It seems that the story expresses this longing, which cuts through all cultures… The Flood doesn’t present itself as a permanent solution.

While we should expect similar stories across cultures about eternal things, the similarities between Flood myths are striking. Could there have really been some prehistoric event, perhaps in North East Africa or the Fertile Crescent which was carried by early human migration across the planet? It’s certainly possible.

Supposing this, what would that mean for the Jewish account of the story? Are the Jews simply “sprinkling some God on it” for the sake of some theological agenda? Whether that is true or not, it remains that the text itself is inspired – apparently, this is the version of the story which God prefers, and its lessons are the ones to be learned. This would be true regardless of its literal historical status. The text is revelatory and so can tell us His own private thoughts and actions – such as a covenant or moral prescriptions. Whether the historical figures of an ancient flood did precisely what Noah did is not exactly the point either way. Reducing Scripture to mere “brute fact” history cheapens it in a way. God’s inspiration of “epic history” – however “literally” historical – makes him like a supernatural version of Herodotus. He gives us the interpretation of important historical events which is most conducive to salvation.

And that perspective is what has to inform any Christian study of comparative religion… God knows well the context in which He has taught and appeared and uses it to His advantage. A universal Flood myth, healed and spiritualized by the Jewish account, is a great example.

Clerical Celibacy: The Devil’s New Target

Eamonn Clark

If you haven’t heard it yet, there is a silver bullet which will cure all the ills of the Church’s clergy… it will increase vocations, it will root out the sexual deviants, it will enhance ministry to spouses… it is the end of mandatory celibacy for priests.

With the outbreak of the recent abuse/gay scandal, and the Pan-Amazon Synod around the corner, it seems that the Enemy has revealed the game plan. Let’s see if we can make a compelling argument for keeping celibacy around.

There are three classical categories of value of celibacy in itself. In increasing order of importance, they are:

  1. Economics
  2. Witness
  3. Union with God

Most are somewhat familiar with the economic problems with a married clergy. If not, here are a few of the issues.

  1. Parishes would have to support an entire family rather than one or two priests – room, board, insurance, education, health, etc.
  2. A lot of money would need to be invested in new seminaries to accommodate more seminarians (presumably, at least for a while,) and their families
  3. It is difficult to split time and energy appropriately between one’s family and the parish – it often causes serious strain and burnout

Depending on how broadly one makes the “economic,” it could also include the psychological toll on the wife, who can be subject to intense scrutiny and gossip in the parish.

The other two nodes are more important but less appreciated. The value of celibacy as a witness to the reality of the future coming of Christ helps to mark our priests as special in the eyes of the world. And how uncomfortable it makes the worldly… After all, one of the daughters of lust is a loss of desire for the goods of Heaven. To compromise here would be to lose that power. Hold that thought.

The last node is almost entirely unheard of these days, but it centers around the imitation of Our Lord and the life of Heaven to come, which will not contain marriage, as He said Himself. (Mt. 22: 30) The celibate state allows a person to focus his or her efforts entirely on pleasing the Lord, directly, as it were, rather than indirectly through pleasing one’s spouse. This is just what St. Paul said. (1 Cor. 7: 32-35) It makes more room for charity, and the continual foregoing of the great good of marriage for God’s sake, especially under a vow, is its own special form of worship.

We can see how simpler economics leads to better witness, and better witness leads to quicker union. By freeing oneself for ministry, a person is more able to preach, teach, govern, sanctify, etc., meanwhile extracting a minimal amount of resources from the faithful (a reality which St. Paul continually drew attention to on his own part). It is clear that this brute fact of more availability due to celibacy is at least in part the reason why the vast majority of the Church is Latin, and not part of an Eastern Rite which generally allows for married priests. The Latin discipline has rendered an astonishingly greater number of disciples – celibacy is, after all, traditionally seen as the “hundredfold fruit” of the good soil. (Mt. 13: 23) This greater spiritual reaping naturally leads one closer and closer to the goodness of God, which disposes one for greater union in this life. This in turn should actually inspire increasing poverty and obedience, which should increase the amount and quality of witness, which should increase union, and so on. It’s a beautiful cycle.

But the challenges which celibacy faces today have mostly to do with the topic of witness. Let me break them down by stating the claims which one will hear today in various corners of the Church (and beyond, for whatever that’s worth):

  1. Celibacy discourages vocations
  2. Celibacy leads to adverse sexual behavior/deviance
  3. Celibacy renders one less able to minister to couples as such

The first point is at issue in the upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod, which I have already written about at length here. The reality is that this short term gain will yield long term damage. The growth may indeed spring up at once, but over the years, the sun will dry out the plant, and the hundredfold fruit will disappear. The Amazon, and whatever other areas claim the same need for an exemption from universal law due to abysmal vocation numbers (viz., most of Western Europe), will likely have priests who, while more numerous, will be less interested in priestly work and less able to do it, meanwhile exacting a much higher tax on the faithful.

The second point is initially plausible. A great number of people can’t imagine living a life willfully without marriage without any pre-existing “condition” which renders one uninterested in the first place. Therefore, the people who do try to stick it out are left only with inappropriate vents for their pent up sexual urges. And so, most priests who aren’t already “off” become mentally ill and act out.

In response, we must consider a few things. First, the fact is that sex abusers almost universally are not “equals” with the ones they abuse. These people, if they wish to lead a public life, seek (or by nature have) positions of power over vulnerable potential victims. Coaches, teachers, older family members, etc. And of course there is the manipulation of the casting couch and other abuses of gate-keeping. The point is that the mental pathology is what creates these men’s desire for Holy Orders – it is an attempt to obtain power, prestige, and plausible deniability so that their twisted appetites can be satiated indefinitely. In other words, these men had “fauxcations.”

The other side of the coin is that the men with normal sex drives do not become monsters when those desires are suppressed. It is not a reasonable progression to go from a healthy sexual desire to homosexual and/or age-inappropriate desire. The natural progression would be to “normal” instances of acting out, such as flirtatious behavior, entertaining impure thoughts, etc. To suggest otherwise would be like saying that sustained dieting leads people to want to eat dirt or human excrement – yes, it will make the hunger go away, but it is repulsive to someone with a healthy appetite. There is simply no substantial evidence to suggest that there is a significant problem with good sexual desires turning toward homosexual or other abnormal perversion due to accepting celibacy as a state of life. These problems pre-exist in persons who have them, often due to having been abused themselves. The solution, therefore, is not to do away with celibacy, but to do away with those with these pathologies.

But suppose celibacy was indeed done away with as a requirement for priestly ordination in the Latin Rite. On top of the challenges already noted, given the current crisis of both homosexuality and abuse of minors, there is an obvious additional problem… Those few men who really do have the gift of celibacy and choose to use it (rather than just ignoring it) would each face an unwelcome public perception: “What’s wrong with you?” Because priests can marry, and these ones didn’t, they must be attracted to men or kids.

So much for that approach.

Finally, there is the strange suggestion that one without experience of marriage can’t very well minister to people approaching marriage or living it. I already addressed this kind of thinking here, but briefly, this thought bases itself at least on an insufficient understanding of the relationship between experience and wisdom. Of course experience can cause wisdom, but so can abstract learning. (Do you need to be a former Pro-Bowler to coach an NFL team to a Superbowl win? No.) A lot of that sort of knowledge can come through extended interaction with married people, especially in confession. Just as well, the healthy celibate has a privileged perspective on what marriage is, given that the desire remains and yet its fulfillment is foregone… When we fast from food, for example, we more easily understand its rightful place in relation to our lives here and hereafter – and the same can be said of marriage.

There is definitely a massive crisis in the clerical ranks surrounding the 6th Commandment. But lowering the bar is not the right approach… And if we do dispense with celibacy, either for specific regions like the Amazon or in universal law, it seems it would be nearly impossible to go back.

“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors,” says Scripture. (Prov. 22: 28) Food for thought.

True Myth, Part 2: A Hidden Lesson in Eden

Eamonn Clark

Surely, there is hardly any limit to the meaning of the imagery in the opening chapters of Genesis. The dichotomy of dark and light, the details of the order of creation, the numerology… But let’s just focus in on one little part of the story.

We find Adam and Eve happy in Eden, but – the serpent tells them of something that God is holding back from them. There is special, privileged knowledge that is available through disobedience. God doesn’t want them to have it because He is afraid, jealous, selfish… They would become too much like Him.

We know how the story goes – it doesn’t work out for Adam and Eve. What is glossed over is a lesson which sought to correct some misunderstandings about divinity pervasive in the Ancient Near East (ANE).

In ANE cosmologies, the world and the pantheon were very permeable, almost the same world entirely, one might say. The gods come and go as they please, a bit like God walking in Eden and coming in the Incarnation. The difference with the ANE gods is twofold: motive, and nature.

The motives for the pantheon’s involvement were the petty kinds of endeavors we are used to seeing in myth – fear, jealousy, selfishness, and other passions common to mere human beings. The nature of these gods is that, essentially, they were created out of a realm which lies above them. Both in motive and in nature, the God of Adam and Eve is completely different. He is only concerned for the authentic good of His creatures, driven by His own totally free choice, and He is utterly transcendent, uncreated, and quite radically unlike human beings.

The lesson about motive is clear enough – the “knowledge” they gained by disobedience was truly unhelpful for Adam and Eve. It did not make them happier, that is, more authentically “like” God. It was therefore out of selfless love that God restricted them from eating from that tree. The lesson about transcendence is less clear, although even in the lesson about motive it is inherent. Because God does not think like a human being, the way the ANE gods do, He must be higher than the ANE pantheon. But that’s not all…

In the ANE, magic was commonplace. We can see how it comes from their theology: the gods are finite, they don’t love perfectly, therefore they aren’t always going to help me get what I really need to be happy. So, the thinking went, an appeal can be made to this “realm above the gods,” the place from which the pantheon comes. Magic was done by channeling the powers of that realm through some natural element, like water, rocks, blood, plants… even perhaps a fruit.

Adam and Eve were the first magicians, according to Genesis. That’s my theory.

It seems that the choice of the sacred author to use natural imagery that evokes the ANE theory of magic is to teach a clear lesson about God’s transcendent nature: there is nothing above this God. He was not created like the ANE pantheon. There is no going around Him. And because His transcendence is also a guarantee of His goodness, as we saw, we can trust Him.

No more magic.

An Analogy for Teaching the Necessity of the Incarnation

Eamonn Clark

When I was in middle school, I wondered about many things. “Do I have a chance with this girl? (No.) Will I make the high school basketball team? (No.) What does it mean to say that Jesus died for our sins?” Though I didn’t get a satisfying answer to the third question until much later, thankfully it didn’t bother me too much. But for those of you who are looking for a way to teach kids – or even adults – the main idea of St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, here is a helpful analogy which can be elaborated or simplified according to time or audience. (Be careful not to ruin the central ideas though!)

A caveat – it is an analogy, so despite its strength it isn’t perfect. You’ve been advised.

Imagine a town with a strict but kind mayor. He lives in a large house near the local baseball field and, in his spare time, he makes incredibly ornate and unique stained glass windows, together with his son. One of his windows faces the field, and at night the light from his house shines on the field – just enough for the local little league team to practice for a while before night. The mayor knows the evening is the most fun time to play baseball… He knows all the kids on the team and wants the best for them.

One evening, the team captain steps up to the plate. He knows he is strong enough to hit it out of the park, and his friend, the pitcher, knows it too. They have been having so much fun that they have lost their good judgment… They conspire and decide to show off by going for a major home run. A friendly pitch, a hard swing, a big hit, and a crash – the ball went right through the mayor’s priceless window and shattered the whole thing. The light goes out, and the mayor comes out to yell at the players… He discovers it was really the fault of two – the pitcher and the batter both, and that the batter is in fact team captain. He is especially at fault as batter, and since he is team captain the whole thing is made even worse… Because of the town’s laws, people like team captains get to represent a whole group of people in public events, but they also get the whole group in trouble if they do something wrong publicly. To punish the team, the mayor tells them they are banned from playing on the field until the debt gets paid – they’ll have to settle for cheap imitations, like parking lots and back yards, which don’t even allow for a real game at all. The team now owes the mayor a debt of the worth of his window. It is a debt that they can’t repay and could never repay. To replace the window is a task that belongs only to the mayor and his son.

Due to his strictness, the mayor won’t simply forgive the debt to the team. It would be inconsistent and unfair. They don’t get special treatment. But because of his kindness, the mayor wants to find a way that he can let the kids play again, and so he needs to come up with a way to get the team to repay the debt.

The solution occurs to him: it is time for his son to start playing baseball. The mayor gets his son signed up for little league, and he insists that his son also become team captain. Now the mayor’s son, who can make the window again, represents the whole team.

In a short while, after some difficult work, the son has remade the window, paying the debt on behalf of the whole team. He made the window stronger this time, too, so if it gets hit again it will only break in one pane instead of shattering – easy to fix. The mayor is satisfied, and he is willing to let the team play baseball again, with their new captain, but not in the evenings anymore. Though it’s the most fun time to play, they will have to settle for the normal daylight. The light still comes through the window, but it can’t be seen clearly. The mayor says that one day, however, the team will be allowed to play in the evenings again, and the colorful, beautiful light will be brighter than ever before, and they can play as long as they like into the night.

The End.

In case it’s not obvious, the mayor is God the Father, his son is the Son, baseball is the life of virtue, the first captain is Adam, the pitcher is Eve, the evening is Eden and Heaven (with the better light), the light and the window are the operation of God’s love and grace, breaking the window and the debt incurred is original sin, the town rules are the natural and eternal law.

It has its limits, but I think it’s alright. The essential point is that the son has to join the team and become its new captain in order to pay the debt that the team couldn’t otherwise pay. What do you think? Have you used similar metaphors with any success?

True Myth, Part 1: The Fundamental Thesis

Eamonn Clark

While interest in religion and in myth are perennial, at this moment it is particularly appropriate to dive into a study of the relationship here between true religion and true myth. This is not only because of my own personal acute interest presently, but the broader culture at large seems abnormally interested as well. This is due in no small part, perhaps almost exclusively, to the success of Intellectual Dark Web numero uno, Dr. Jordan Peterson, whose meteoric rise into international superstardom has exposed many people for the first time to a serious way of thinking about religion, especially Christianity, in a way similar to the exploration which will be undertaken here. For all his ideological red-pilling, which has made him most well-known (and which I typically find incredibly satisfying  to watch), his most popular video to date is the first in his series on the Bible. With Jung for a guide, Peterson explores the Scriptures from a psychological and pragmatic point of view. (Maybe a few parts of this series will pick apart one of his lectures.) While this kind of work is useful to an extent, my own sojourn into this region of thought will emphasize not only the usefulness of religion and myth, but their usefulness specifically insofar as they are true in a realist sense. William James’s self-defeating paradigm has little to do with my project. Religions might be useful in a number of temporal ways, but clearly we want to find a “non-temporal usefulness” which is powerful in its own right, such that its object can save us from that state in which we are no longer able to act on our own. When we are dead, we are no longer pragmatists… we are helpless. So we are here investigating not merely the truly useful; we are concerned with the usefully true. We want a saving truth, as it were, which can operate on its own.

With that introduction, here is the fundamental thesis. God gave mankind in general many common desires and ideas about the universe. The myths of various profane civilizations reveal these desires and ideas in fragmented ways, and the stories of the sacred civilization of Israel reveal them more plainly. Through the Biblical narrative of salvation, God corrected, spiritualized, and completed the profane myths. This threefold action corresponds to the triple purpose of grace – to heal, to elevate, and to perfect – and also corresponds to the triple munera of Christ, the prophet, the priest, and the king. As prophet, God corrects, as priest, He spiritualizes, and as king he completes. The Biblical story is mankind’s true myth, the perfect expression of what God wants us  to believe about and to desire from ourselves, the rest of creation, and God Himself. There is no archetype left untouched, no emotion left unexplored, no space of the human mind left unsatisfied. In the Judeo-Christian narrative we will consistently find God’s threefold action on profane myth, and this action is exhaustive.

The first topic we dive into will be a little slice of the opening pages of Genesis – and the Ancient Near East mythical context which helps us make sense of some of the puzzling imagery. What is this “fruit” all about?

Being Critical of the Historical-Critical

Eamonn Clark

I am watching some lectures on Scripture which were put out by Yale’s divinity school – it is quite an interesting experience. After many years of formation in what might be called “catechetical Scripture studies,” from CCD, to a Catholic university, to seminary, to a Roman pontifical university, encountering at length the material presented at an Ivy League school is like being thrown into a tornado.

It’s not that the material is altogether new or revolutionary – although some of it is certainly quite new and interesting to me, even edifying – it is the attitude which undergirds it which strikes me as bizarre. I have known a long time that this approach is out there, especially in higher education, but it’s my first time really having meaningful exposure to it.

Without making accusations of the professors I am watching, (and I have not even come close to finishing the courses,) a few characteristics leap out at me of this way of teaching and studying Scripture. Each follows the other.

  1. It is dogmatic. The conclusions tend to guide the argument – the texts can’t be harmonized, the stories can’t be historical, the authors must be pseudonymous, etc., etc. It seems the grand conclusion which is protected by these kinds of conclusions is that God can’t really be entering into creation. Further, there is a dense wall of “scholarship” which protects these conclusions, and because this scholarship is the newest and most popular, it must be the best. It seems rather off-limits to use “traditional” sources in a serious way. In one word, it is Modernist, or at least has strong Modernist tendencies.
  2. It reverses the mysterious character of the Judeo-Christian story. By taking away the traditional positions on questions of historicity, authorship, dating, etc., a veil of mist is put over the text – “What does it mean? Who wrote it? When? Why? Where did they get their material from?” These questions occupy the student, while the mystery of the Living God presented by the text is basically ignored.
  3. It is purely didactic. There is not a further purpose to understanding the history of the Scriptures. They are merely items of curiosity – a bit like how Herod enjoyed John the Baptist, who is easily seen as the representative of the entire prophetic tradition… Interesting? Yes. Convicting enough to cause a personal conversion? No, not here. And when the call comes to sacrifice its integrity for the pleasure of the world, of the academy, or of one’s own personal life, there will perhaps be reluctance, but there will be obedience. The quest for the “historical Jesus” is no grander than the work of any historian; it is just more dangerous to discover and hold fast to the truth. Since historical-critical exegetes are, by and large, not in it for a real encounter with the God of Abraham, the danger isn’t really worth it. Not all that long ago, probably even at Yale, to enter a program of theological studies required faith. That is to say, if the school were Methodist, one had to be a Methodist in order to study theology there. Anyone else, so the thinking went, was wasting their time.

So why continue watching? Well, I enjoy knowing what the “others” are up to, so that when I meet them I know where they’re coming from. Second, there certainly are plenty of real insights presented. Third, it is better than watching cat videos.

We need to use the historical-critical method in the right way – as an aid to what might be called the “spiritual method.” For example, to know that there were other Flood narratives in the Ancient Near East (and well beyond, even into the Americas, might I add,) is probably helpful to understand the composition of the text of Genesis, but knowing the differences helps us to know something – really to know something – about how our God is different. In this case, one major difference is that Noah is saved because of his virtue rather than his cleverness or strength…

In the past few months, I have become especially interested in the world of myth and how it relates to salvation history. Therefore, I have decided to start a series on the topic, called “True Myth,” that title of Christ shared with C. S. Lewis by Tolkien. Stay tuned for more, and be sure to subscribe.

7 Reasons Why We Needed the Ascension

Eamonn Clark

Bertrand Russell, perhaps the most famously atheist man of the 20th century, was asked on his deathbed what he would say to God if he met Him when he died. Russell said, “Sir, why did you take such pains to hide yourself?” Among the many objections to the Christian Faith, and to revealed religion in general, is this: that God does not make Himself evident enough. It is an understandable difficulty – if God is so good and wants people to know Him, why does He not make Himself more openly available? Clearly, the Ascension invites this question, especially when combined with the limited appearances of the risen Christ… He appeared to the Apostles, some other close disciples, and a nondescript large group in Jerusalem. Why not to as many as possible? The Romans? The Greeks? The Native Americans? (Thus the attractiveness of the Mormon doctrine that Jesus visited the Americas.)

We can start to answer this question with another question: should Jesus have jumped off the parapet of the Temple, as the Devil had suggested? Assuredly not, simply because He did not. While Jesus responds by rejecting the proposition because it would “test” God, we ought to be struck by the fact that it was not part of God’s design that the Christ would do such open miracles as flying around for all to see. Instead, the miracles of Jesus are, for the most part, quite obscure and hidden. There is chaos in the multiplication of the loaves, there is darkness and rain in the storm when He walks on the sea, the healings and resuscitations are done “inside” the body, etc. That’s why a depiction of Jesus like this might seem a little bit “off”:

When Jesus does fly, it is in front of a small group of hand-picked men, it is not to prove His power, and it is only done for a moment before He disappears into the clouds. Why did He not do a flyover of all of Israel, or even beyond?

Most of all – why did He not just stick around? Surely, the sight of a 2,000-year-old Jesus would be a definitive sign of His power for any sane person. He could continue His public ministry, and we could have a world leader with a perfect vision of human flourishing. It would have been easier especially for the Jews, who were basically expecting this kind of “worldly” Messiah anyway.

Let’s start with Christ’s own explanation for His departure: so that the Holy Spirit can be sent. Why is the sending of the Spirit contingent on Christ’s departure? One answer that comes to mind is that it would have been confusing to have such a dynamic… Why the need for the Spirit when Christ is physically here among us? If He remained, it would have been tempting to ignore the action of the Holy Spirit which moves us towards the spiritual union with Christ, that union which is called charity… People would have insisted on seeing Christ “in person,” since He would not be omnipresent the way He is now thanks to the sending of the Spirit Who teaches us to pray, as Paul says.

This leads us to the second reason for the Ascension, which is given by St. John of the Cross – the disciples’ relationship with Jesus was too sense-based and needed to be spiritualized. “Stop holding on to me,” as He told the Magdalene, “for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” (John 20:17) The relationship with the risen Christ is going to be of a different kind: one in the Spirit. Prayer and the Sacraments make much less sense if the physical Christ remains among us – they would seem like cheap imitations of a physical encounter or a direct word to or from Christ in the flesh. The Eucharist would be especially confusing… How is it that Christ is here and is consumed, but also physically over there, where He can be directly seen? His continued physical presence would prove to be a great obstacle to the appreciation of this mystical union.

Third, the popular hope of a worldly Messiah is destroyed by the Ascension. No doubt, after the Resurrection, the Apostles were still wondering when they would start a war with Rome and bring peace to the land of Israel. Jesus had been demonstrating during His public life that this was not the plan, but the misguided hope yet lingered. For the idea of a worldly Messiah to go away, the Messiah had to go away. Christ shows us Who He is and what He is really about when He goes back to Heaven – the King of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Another reason presents itself immediately, which Sheen offered, namely, that in order for a man to become truly great he must die. Only after the completion of one’s life can people make a judgment about how well that life was lived. As Qoheleth says, “There is no embalming like a good name left behind; man’s true birthday is the day of his death.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) Of course, Christ does not die at the Ascension, but His public life “dies,” which suffices. Nobody is waiting for Him to make a mistake, like the Pharisees used to do.

Fifth, in the Ascension, Christ transfers responsibility onto the Apostles, and by extension, onto the whole Church, for the task of making disciples. He does this in word and in deed: in word by commanding the Apostles to preach and to baptize (the “Great Commission”), and in deed by removing His bodily presence so that nobody could defer responsibility to Christ directly in these matters. With this enormous duty comes an enormous privilege and joy: to participate in the life of God insofar as He governs, teaches, and sanctifies His people.

Next, given that Christ is “one step removed” from the normal exterior functioning of the Church, it takes a purer kind of assent to enter into the Church’s life. One must have a more resolute determination to trust in God if God is using secondary causes to do His work. In other words, the added difficulty of Christian faith presented by Christ’s physical absence – especially given the circumstances of the Resurrection appearances – redounds to our merit for believing. The low-bar is set higher, as it were, giving those who make the “leap” the winners of a greater prize than what it might have been otherwise, and those who don’t will be the recipients of milder punishments. (Why the bar is set specifically there and not at another height seems unanswerable except by an appeal to God’s wisdom.)

Finally, Christ’s Ascension points us towards our own final destiny – dwelling in the presence of the Godhead – and makes us hope for it. Unless He returns very soon, we too will die, rise, and hopefully appear before a Friend rather than a Judge, and then be brought into Heaven. Where Christ physically went, He brought our human nature with Him in His own, and so this is also a sign of our present status as ones who also currently dwell with God, albeit in a dimmer way. Furthermore, the thought of Christ’s return is particularly important in helping us to acknowledge that we are waiting for His help – resurrection and judgment are not mere promises of a King on Earth, they are promises of a Savior Who resides in the very place to which we aspire, where He is preparing a place for us with Him.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below! Happy Ascension Thursday Sunday.

 

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