Humanities

Certainly, philosophy, theology, and literature were weakened by the apparently embarrassing comparison to strict science. But the humanities were already in bad shape. The romantic emphasis on personal uniqueness had undermined the belief that universal ideas are conveyed in great texts. Perennial themes about nature and human nature looked like the furniture of grandma’s attic, but the endless stream of facts surrounding each age and author appeared fresh and promising. The nineteenth century, we were repeatedly told, was the era of the factory worker and the assembly line. And since the generalist has no place in any fact-accruing business, the university must emulate the pin factory.

And so the disciplines multiplied, the specialties emerged, and the once-cohesive worldview of the humanities faded, carrying away with it the deep questions college was supposed to teach.

Not everywhere, of course. Realizing the need to educate students in “the art of living,â€? “the spirit of learning,â€? “the best that has been thought and said,â€? many of the older universities retained or reinstated a remnant of their old curricula as core requirements and humanities sequences. Shortly after the Second World War, both Harvard and Yale established programs with the goal, they said, of intellectually defending the values of civilization—liberty, democracy, human dignity—for which so many had just given their lives. Where religious convictions and a Christian worldview had once ordered the university’s mission, secular humanism now stepped in.

Amanda Shaw Life, the University, and Everything reviewing Antony T. Kronman Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life

The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God

Now and again, there appears in all fields of study a work that offers its readers a radical reconception of the basic subject matter in question. In the case of Douglas Knight’s The Eschatological Economy, the term ‘radical’ is especially apt because, rather than seeking something novel, Knight returns us to the roots of Christian theology, to the basic story of humanity laid out in the biblical narratives. By returning to the roots Knight’s intent is simply to lay bare the ‘main story’ of the biblical narratives. That story is, he believes, an Irenaean story about God’s nurturing and maturing of humankind, within which Augustine’s account of the fall of Adam is not the main thing but only a subplot (p. 14). The basic thesis of the book is that the divine economy is properly understood as an eschatological economy whose content is determined from the end, rather than from the beginning. It is determined, that is, not by what humanity does before God in its infancy but by what God ordains for humanity at its end. God’s purpose for humanity – the freedom and full form of the creature in relation to God – is established and made known in Christ the one true Israelite who takes up and fulfils Israel’s appointment as God’s servant. The good news, accordingly, is that God comes to humankind and in the course of this coming we are enabled to grow up in love for God and for his creatures. That process of formation is delayed though not defeated by sin and rebellion, while time is conceived as God’s gift to us allowing the process of formation to be worked through.

The reorientation involved in the conceptual shift from a protological to an eschatological economy opens up new vistas on the biblical story that Knight explores with impressive creativity and insight. Drawing especially on John Zizioulas and Robert Jenson, and in constant dialogue with the contrary assertions of modernity, Knight traces in the biblical narrative an account of human persons in constitutive relationship. Persons are fundamental, Knight contends, and are sustained only through relationship with other creatures and by the ongoing relationship of the Creator with the creation. Such relationship is not a status but a project and so ‘an account must be given of the place and work into which persons are to grow, and so of the ongoing co-labour of creation’ (p. xvi). The freedom of the creature is the work of creation. This is God’s work and ‘very subordinately it is the task into which God introduces human beings’ (p. xvi). Thus does Knight develop, in opposition to the pervasive individualist and monist ontology of modernity, a ‘participative ontology’ in which we learn and grow into fully human being. These themes will certainly be familiar to readers of recent work in theology.

Knight’s fascinating contribution to our consideration of such themes consists in his development of them through sustained and detailed attention to Israel’s story. The election of Israel, Knight explains, is the means by which God introduces human beings to the co-labour of creation and discloses what it means to develop competence in the life that God shares with us. In communion with God, Israel learns and practices the life God gives and thus becomes, through liturgy and ministry, steward of and witness to God’s purposes for his creatures. Knight offers us a thoroughly trinitarian construal of Israel’s task. Israel’s role is that of the Son. The Father speaks to the Son and the Son hears and receives his speech. By addressing Israel in this way God draws Israel into the Sonship of Christ. Israel’s being is constituted by its incorporation into the life of the Son. All that goes on in the temple is the expression and demonstration of Israel’s appointment to Sonship. There Israel exercises the offices of story-telling, intercession and sacrifice. The high priest enacts these offices for Israel and, just so, all Israel enacts them too. Jesus Christ and Israel are thus to be understood together, the former, the one, determining the identity and task of the many. As Gentiles learn the character and action of the Son, they too, through the Spirit’s enabling, become members of his body and one with him. The Holy Spirit adopts all creation as the medium through which we grow into the being of the Son, while the event of the cross is our baptism into this new medium (p. xviii).

By virtue of this trinitarian construal of the divine economy it may be seen that God is not separated from his work (p. xvii). God plays both his role and ours so that we may come to play our role for ourselves (p. 100). This is the basic plotline of Knight’s imaginative and profound retelling of the biblical story. Along the way he offers provocative and arresting accounts of the Aqedah, of law and sacrifice, of the temple, of atonement and the cross, of the Enlightenment, of modernity and of the loss of mediation, all in service of a theological account of what our human being properly consists in.

Knight’s rendition of the explanatory and saving power of the gospel will restore confidence in theology’s mandate to understand the
world in the terms that scripture offers, and to address the world with the truth about the divine economy into which all the peoples of the world will one day be assembled.

Murray Rae International Journal of Systematic Theology 9.4 October 2007

Find out more about The Eschatological Economy

What he once spoke, he now sings

There are no liturgical materials available in the parish. The vessels are glass or pottery, everything else having been tossed out. So there is no monstrance, no patens, and the tabernacle is buried somewhere where it can’t be seen. The available vestments are unworthy.

Then there is the belief infrastructure of the parish. People are out of the habit of confession, daily Mass, and spiritual reading. For the most part, people cannot defend the faith and are largely clueless about what the liturgy is intended beyond the need to gather Christians together for fellowship.

It is easy for priests to despair under these conditions. It is hard to know where to begin. You can just replace people because there is no one to take their place. You can’t just say that from now on, we will sing chant because no one knows what to sing or how. There is also the very important reality that it is unwise to enact a liturgical reconstruction insofar as people have no idea what is taking place or why.

There is where singing the Mass comes in. This is an improvement that celebrant can make on his own. He doesn’t have to ask the liturgy committee. He doesn’t need accompaniment. It requires no line in the budget. In fact, it will not upset anyone; in fact, it is a way that Father demonstrate that he truly cares about the liturgy, which has a way of flattering everyone.

It is a simple matter: what he once spoke, he now sings.

It has a dramatic impact. People listen to the words more intensely. It contributes a nobility to the liturgy. It is necessarily chant, and thereby acculturates people to the sound and feel of authentic liturgical music. It creates an expectation that that contemporary Christian music cannot satisfy and thereby lays the groundwork for developments later on.

Jeffrey Tucker Making a Liturgical Desert Bloom

Presenting the Word that becomes flesh in the liturgy of the day

The words that Benedict XVI speaks every Sunday at midday, before and after the Angelus are among those most closely followed by the media.

The real and proper message comes before the prayer…is a brief homily on the Gospel and the other readings of that day’s Mass.

As in the Wednesday catecheses Benedict XVI is gradually recounting the life of the Church from the Apostles to the Fathers, so in the Sunday Angelus he is presenting to the faithful the figure of Jesus.

But there’s more. The path that the pope takes to get to Jesus each week is the same one that every member of the Catholic faithful travels in participating at Mass that same Sunday.

This is clearly a deliberate decision, and one typical of this pope’s vision. The Gospel upon which Benedict XVI comments at the Angelus is not “sola Scriptura,” it is not a bare book. It is the Word that becomes flesh – the body and blood of Jesus – in the liturgy of the day.

In order to raise to acceptable levels the average quality of the millions of homilies pronounced every Sunday all over the world, Catholic priests could do no better than to enroll themselves in the school of Benedict XVI’s Angelus addresses.

Sandro Magister The Secret Angelus Messages of Pope Benedict

Abortion

Saturday 27th October 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Time for Change brings together churches, professional bodies and pro-life organisations to mark this anniversary.

There will be a rally in Old Palace Yard outside Parliament on Saturday 27th October followed by a march and a service of remembrance, repentance and healing at Westminster Cathedral.

Courageous posture against the corrupt and very popular culture of their day

In the tenth volume in its Liturgical Studies series, A New Song for an Old World, Musical Thought in the Early Church, Calvin Stapert discusses the relationship between the emerging church and the musical culture of the late-antique Mediterranean world. Believing that Christian ideas about music have been “truncated and twistedâ€? by naturalistic thought since the Enlightenment, Stapert seeks to persuade contemporary evangelicals to embrace the patristic heritage of liturgical music based up the Psalms. This volume is Stapert’s brief for a reformation of evangelical worship.

Certainly Stapert’s volume is timely. It’s hardly news to Christians living in China and Pakistan that they live in a culture largely opposed to their fundamental beliefs, but for many Western Christians it’s a relatively new sensation. While the aggressive secularism and growing atheism of our culture certainly was not a characteristic of Roman antiquity, our contemporary emphasis upon “diversity,â€? distaste for dogmatic pronouncements, and hedonism was. Romans sometimes condemned Christians as “haters of mankind.â€? As that charge is again made today, it might benefit Western Christians to see how the Fathers urged believers to order their lives in the face of such a broad societal malediction. With music apparently an important part of the ancient world, what role did the ancient church believe music should play in private piety and public worship?

In chapters dealing with song in the New Testament, the relationship between the church and pagan society, and writings referencing music by Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Augustine, Stapert surveys the sources. Although he makes it clear that he is not an expert in this material, Stapert is skillful in assembling and referencing the work of other writers (and he is generous in his quotations of both primary and secondary sources). His chapter on Augustine is particularly well done and his observation that music for Augustine was a form of rhetoric (and a thus a subcategory of the trivium instead of its own branch in the quadrivium) is insightful and illuminative.

Stapert concludes that “the early Christians can inspire and encourage us by their courageous and unwavering posture against the corrupt and very popular culture of their day. They can teach us that we need to draw a line, and they can encourage us to stand bravely behind that line.â€? The line for Stapert means that the “whole Psalter with its full-orbed expressionâ€? should be the central element of Christian music, that the essential stance of the church should be countercultural, and that the Neoplatonic idea (by way of Boethius) of a musica mundana (or divine music of the spheres) should be the foundation of Christian aesthetics.

Lurking in the shadows of Stapert’s book is the contemporary evangelical praise service, with its “seeker friendlyâ€? popular aesthetic, scriptural amnesia, and manipulative stagecraft. His text is a useful indictment of the genus, at least from the viewpoint of the Church Fathers.

Michael Linton A New Song from the Old World

Biblical studies against biblical theology

‘Modern’ theologians do not regard biblical theology, that sets out the narrative logic of Scripture, as a respectable form of discourse. Their apologies and caution betray their fear that the hard men of critical historical biblical studies will burst in on them and pour scorn on their proceedings. But the Scriptural exegetes are genuinely not interested in what biblical theologians are saying. They have created for themselves a parallel universe that discusses the same territory in such a different idiom as to make it effectively a separate discourse. The biblical theology and Christian doctrine people have been brought up to whisper in case the neighbours bang on the wall. But they can shout all they like and will never be heard in the neighbouring department. A peace line has been built just where the first and most essential conversation should be taking place, between the Scriptures and the Church, on one side theologians without exegesis, on the other exegetes without theology. Once the particular contribution of systematic theologians was to comment on the work of the theological exegetes, but modern theology can only be a commentary on a work that never takes place. The theologians have been re-trained to give all their effort to providing reasons why theological exegesis is no longer possible, why the Scriptures and the Church, and Church and university, must never be allowed to hear from each other.

Weberianized Church

The three previous thinkers (Pannenberg, Jüngel and Moltmann) find strategies of accommodating to the Weberian-inspired ‘fact-value split’ of the modern academy, in which reason is seen as instrumental while the final purpose of life is deemed to be wholly subjective. Via accommodation, they also ‘Weberianize’ the Church in the process. In a Weberian mode, mainline Protestantism tends to manage bureaucratically the confessional diversity that it fosters. When it seeks a ‘public’ voice, it does so under conditions of modernity, transforming the promise into ethics, feeling or theory.

… In contrast, Jenson wholly disavows this split.

Mark C. Mattes The Role of Justification in Contemporary Theology p.120