Commonplace Book: September 2004 Archives

Puritanism--Reductio ad Absurdum

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First, please let me make it perfectly clear that much to Erik's eternal chagrin, I do have enormous respect for and love of the writings of some of the Puritan divines. I nevertheless can set that in the balances with the plain fact that on some issues they were simply wrong. They overcorrected a perceived fault and wound up in error themselves.

That said, I was amused by the following anecdote:

from God's Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

The words of scripture, and an intellectual consideration of them, were the essence of Separatist Christianity and in many ways of Protestant Christianity itself. Some separatist pastors took this one step further: if the Bible was the word of God, it was intended to be conveyed to men in its orignial languages. Every translation, however good, was bound to contain errors and so by defintiion could not be used. If God had spoken in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, then those were the lanugages in which he should be heard. John Smyth, originally from Gainsborough, but by 1608 pastor of the Brethren of the Separation of the Second English Church at Amsterdam, its congregation made of of Lincolnshire farmers, decided that they needed to hear the scriptures in the original. One can only imagine the effect on the poor exiles from Gainsborough: hour on hour of Smyth reading out passages of Hebrew and Greek of which they had not the fiantest understanding, desperately looking for the sanctity in this.

Smyth was an eccentric--after realising that no other ecclesiastical authority could be as pure as himself, he dunked himself in holy water and became famous as the Se-Baptizer or Self-Baptist--but his position is only a distortion and exaggeration of what everyone in Protestant Europe believed. (p. 181)

The book is full of vignettes like this. We get a sense of the times and of the people and of the conflicts of ideas that gave rise to the Authorized Version. What many protestants do not remember or even know is that the Authorized Version in its original translation included all of the deuterocanonical books. The KJV is a truncation of the full translation of the text of the Bible. This is an aside.

For those interested in the history of the most important translation of all time, this book is a remarkable and easy introduction. I don't find much to complain of by way of partisanship, and I think, on the whole Nicolson strives and attains a nice balance between Anglican and Separatist and between undue admiration and undue criticism. I love the way he gives us Lancelot Andrewes, pious, holy man weeping for his sins and Lancelot Andrewes, betrayer of a congregation beseiged by the plague. We get the portrait of a flawed man striving for holiness. We get, in miniature a portrait of ourselves--of the contradictions and contraindications each of us lives out.

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A Prayer of John Bruen


An amazing, beautiful death-bed prayer:

from God's Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

Come Lord Jesus, and kiss me with the kisses of thy mouth, and embrace me with the armes of thy love. Into thy hands do I commend my spirit; O come now, and take me to thine owne selfe; O come, lord Jesus, come quickly. O come, O come, O come.

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from God's Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

[referring to the Translators' notes on "The Song of Songs."]

That aching gap, between the ecstatic sexulaity of the poem and of the rather helpful and intersting notes which the Translators provide, might make us smile now, but it was clearly not a comic effect that the Jacobean Translators were after. The modern reaction to their binding of the religious and the erotic experience is a measure of what Eliot called the 'dissociation of sensibility' that occurred to English consciousness at some time later in the seventeenth century. We can no longer imagine that erotic passion and religious intelligence can be bound together into one living fabric. All we see in the commentary of Chaderton's company is what looks like their prudishness, their refusal to see the erotic and the passionate for what it is. But in doing that, we patronise them, we assume they were trying to conceal what they were so clearly and self-consciously making vital and present.

I have often wondered about this--about the lack of blood in the Crucifixion, that so easily got critics worked up about its violence, about the santization of religion, the removal from it, even in Catholic circles of some of the elements of sexuality. We tend to shy away from the overtly sexual imagery of the Song of Songs, to allegorize it before we have even absorbed it. The erotic and the passionate have little place in the sphere of modern religious sensibility. And perhaps that is the way the pendulum swings right now. At other times, it well could have been quite different.

But I recall an example in my own life, one that I occasionally still grapply with. I remember reading or hearing that the Chassidim, a group within Judaism that I do not sufficiently understand well enouogh to explain, were regarded among the very finest people for the diamond industry because of their strict scrupulosity in all money matters. And I remember upon first hearing it thinking, "How can turly religious people desire to make a lot of money?" For me their was a discrepancy between seeking money or wealth and religion. And yet, it is not money that is evil, it is the pursuit of money and the love of money above all else. I had somehow come by a generalilzation that suggested that money equalled a lack of a holy life. And certainly, that can happen. But didn't Jesus tell us "Seek ye first the kingdom of God." I would assume that if one's first goal were always the love and service owed to God, then it would be perfectly all right to work at whatever profession.

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Excerpted from a Sermon by Father John Sullivan, OCD

Quite aware of how adversity can erode one's willingness to be kind to others, he [St. John of the Cross] still was able to write the following piece of advice to a religious, a scant five months before he died four centuries ago: "Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and there you will draw out love." Here one has a reliable recipe for happiness: Instead of waiting for love to happen, put it to work and you will then harvest its fruits.

We can be bitter, suspicious, and dubious. Or we can choose to live the life Jesus has granted us to live.

I found this notion salutary as we enter our season of elections. We do well to bear in mind how our personal preferences affect our view of all parties contending in this election. And "where there is no love, put love," in the substantive form of ardent prayer for all of the people involved and for our nation. "And we will draw love out."

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Becoming One in Christ

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Today I stumbled across one of the few good things I have found in a book by Alan Jones.

from Soulmaking
Alan Jones

The device of the vocal quartet, becoming a quintet, becoming a sextet, and on and on--until everyone is singing is a vivid metaphor for the truth that each of us sings our own unique melody, and all contribute to one great and glorious sound: all sounds mix and rise together to become unending music. It is thus that I find my "home" in harmony with all other creatures. . .

The Christian understanding of God is concerned with holding together unity and diversity. And the belief in God as the Holy and Undivided Trinity speaks directly to our desire to be one without being swallowed up. . . .

The other day I read a blog post--either a post or a comment in which the commenter suggested that our goal as Christians is to all become one and thus lose any individual identity we would have. I had a number of thoughts about this. For example--then why create individuals? Wouldn't it do just as well to create some sort of syncitial organism (with respect to souls) that incorporates all in one? Doesn't God cherish each of us individually, as we love each of our children for their own unique personalities and aspects? Somehow the idea of being blended together in a big grey mass of personality doesn't seem particularly heavenly or delightful. And why would it entail a resurrection of the body? If one were to simply become one in Christ without identity, what point?

But this notion of oneness--the idea of individual voices all singing the individual melodies that blend together to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. This seems (pardon the pun) sound and accurate. The Saints--those whose lives more closer mirror oneness in Christ than does my own--they are each unique, individual, separate. Each one has a distinct personality, each one distinct talents, each one a special mission.

So perhaps becoming one in Christ is harmonizing with all around--singing our own God-given melody in such a way that it unites those around us and corporately moves all of us closer to salvation. In Calvinist theology, salvation is a very lonely, one-on-one business. And to some degree that is truth (I think). My own salvation necessarily impacts others, but it does not necessarily "save" them. And yet I think there are ways of thinking about salvation that are not so lonely, and the Church has long recognized the communal aspect to salvation. Our actions do affect one another (one of the reasons for the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation) and we can be effective instruments of grace to our traveling companions. We harmonize with those around us. We learn our own parts, and coach others in learning their's in such a way as to make the greatest sound of joy to the Lord. Imagine the glorious sound of a octogiga-et, a sound, that ironically could be channeled back to the beginning of time (as suggested by the Ainur at the beginning of The Silmarillion and sing creation into being. A truly wonderful ouroboros.

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Apparently King James himself developed fifteen rules for the translation of the Bible that he ordered. In these rules we see a remarkable wisdom, indeed, in one so vain and so full of himself, we see the light of the Holy Spirit Himself, assuring a translation that would guide His people for a great many years and resonate throughout all of our literature for four centuries and more. Much of what we read after this translation of the Bible was deeply influenced by its cadences and its beauty.

There are two major points of these fifteen precepts I want to touch upon. One serious, and one quite humorous.

from God’s Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

4. When a word hath divers Significations, that to be kept which hath ben most commonly used by the most of the ancient Fathers being agreeable to the propertie of ye place and the analogies of fayth.

The Church of England, like the Church of Rome, but unlike the more fully reformed churches of Europe, relied for its understanding of the often complex texts of scripture on the ancient inherited traditions of Christianity, the statements and resolutions of the councils of the early church and the great body of patristic scholarship, in particular those church fathers—above all Jerome, St John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Origen—of whom sixteenth-century English scholars, including several of the Translators, had made a particular study. This instruction is part of that widespread Reformation phenomenon, the search for primitive authenticity, for avoiding all hint of dreaded ‘innovation,’ looking for true meaning in the most ancient and hence most reliable texts. This too is a mark of the moderate: a historical consciousness and a sense that the world now has fallen away from the more perfect state in which it once existed.

Whether we like the fact or not, the King James Version of the Bible was guided by very “Catholic” understandings of the meaning of Scripture. We tend to think of the times as Puritan, and because the translation was eventually embraced by the Protestant Church, we tend to regard KJV as somehow “sullied” by its Protestant provenance. However, if one were to judge objectively on the base of guiding principles, the notion of interpreting scripture by Tradition is very, very Catholic.

This, coupled with another James’s edicts (7) that there should be no marginal notes beyond those required to clarify linguistic difficulties, actually resulted in a translation that was far from partisan. To quote Nicolson, “ The words of this translation, then, could embrace both gorgeousness and ambiguity, did not have to settle into a single doctrinal mode but could embrace different meanings, either within the text itself or in the margins. This is the heart of the new Bible as an irenicon, an organism that absorbed and integrated difference, that included ambiguity and by doing so established peace. “ The resultant work could reflect both the difficulties of translation and the multiplicity of meanings inherent in written language in such a way as to create both a profound work of literature and a meaningful instance of the Word of God. What is most interesting is that the tension between the Puritan Translators and the Anglican Translators forced the Anglicans into a more “high church” mode resulting in adherence to Catholic Traditions (which, of course, they insisted were “reformed” by the true Church founded by Henry VIII). Whatever the cause, James’s edict for the translation resulted in a deep, meaningful, and fruitful translation that has yet to be equaled in beauty, if not in clarity. (I will point out though, that it was clear enough to my grandfather and his generation—my Grandfather himself having graduated only 8th grade. (This could be likened today to having graduated from a junior college at least.)

Anyway, now for the more amusing point, which was actually a side note to the main body of the text. One of James’s rules stated that the names of persons in the Bible should remain as names and not be translated into what they meant. Thus, Timothy was to remain Timothy and not be translated as “Fear of God.”

Bancroft himself had written about the absurdity of calling your children ‘The Lord-is-near, More-trial, Reformation, More-fruit, Dust and many other such-like.’ These were not invented. Puritan children at Warbleton in Sussex, the heartland of this practice laboured under the names of Eschew-evil, Lament, No-merit, Sorry-for-sin, Learn-wisdom, Faint-not, Give-thanks, and the most popular, Sin-deny, which was landed on ten children baptized between 1586 and 1596. One family, the children of the curate Thomas Hely, would have been introduced by their proud father as Much-mercy Hely, Increased Hely, Sin-deny Hely, Fear-not Hely and sweet little Constance Hely.

Now, would that I had only known this before we had Samuel. Then we could have “The-Lord-is-My-Shepherd” Riddle. Or perhaps If-Thine-Eye-Offend-Thee-Pluck-it-Out Riddle. Can you imagine bubbling THAT name in on those stupid standardized test forms? Maybe we should have a Puritan name-giving contest for our next goldfish or turtle.

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Jaime's comment below provoked my interest and I thought I would scrounge around for more information. The following is an excerpt from an article available at EWTN by John Saward.

from " The Grace of God in Courtesy"
John Saward

Courtesy is not strictly distinct from the other virtues, but rather
a quality to be found in them all. It has something to do with
reverence, humility, and chastity. It is shaped by charity, the form
of all the virtues, into the quality of mercy. It is the beauty of a
brave and generous life.

Courtesy is, first of all, reverence for one's fellow man. In the
Christian knight, it is a habit of seeing made possible by faith and
charity, an eye which sees in every man, great or small, the shining
image of the Trinity, the brother for whom Christ died. The courteous
person has an attitude of "worship" toward his fellows: by small
deeds of kindness, he acknowledges their worth, their dignity, as
human persons. In the Sarum marriage rite, the husband vows reverence
and thus courtesy toward his wife in the very acts of married love.
"With my body I thee worship." Chivalrous respect is of the very
essence of husbandly love.

Secondly, courtesy is closely tied to humility. In fact, Chesterton
defined courtesy as "the wedding of humility with dignity" and gave
us an example of the Black Prince, who waited like a servant on a man
who was his own prisoner (). The courteous
man has dignity, but he does not stand on it. He does not lose his
throne, and yet he is ready to leave it. There is something in
courtesy that deserves to be called self-emptying, the noble refusal
of self-worship. The proud or self-centered man may be polite, but he
can never be courteous, because he refuses to serve. is
the defiant cry of the prince of death and discourtesy.

Thirdly, courtesy is the first cousin of chastity, what the Middle
Ages called "cleanness." A man blinded by lust cannot see his lady as
the fitting recipient of his courtesy. She has become a thing to be
used rather than a person to be served. Malory's Sir Lancelot does
not consort with paramours "for dread of God." The debauched knight
will not only be distracted in the short term, but disappointed in
the long: "Knights that are adventurers should not be adulterers or
lechers, for they would not be happy nor fortunate in wars." (Sir
Thomas Malory, Works.)

The whole article is worth your attention. And I find this notion of courtesy very evolved and quite appealing.

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from God's Secretaries
Adam Nicolson

These were moderate and distinguished men, suggesting moderate changes. But James--and Bancroft who seems to have been in an excitable state at the theatre unfolding around him--was treating them like extreme schismatics from the outer reaches of Anabaptist lunacy. . . .

Reynolds, who had never married, said he didn't like the phrase 'with my body I thee worship,' which formed part of the marriage service. James couldn't resist a vulgarity: 'Many a man speaks of Robin Hood', he said, 'who never shot his bow; if you had a good wife yourself, you would think that all the honor and worship you could do her were well bestowed.'

The picture one gets of King James in reading this book is utterly fascinating. One intimately involved in Church affairs, vain, vulgar, sometimes profance. The times themselves were interesting in their hopes and horrors. But most interesting of all is that providence would lead me to so pointed a passage on the anniversary of my own marriage.

God bestows His blessing when and as He will. We need only keep our eyes open to see them.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from September 2004.

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