Friday Logoi II

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.” –St. Seraphim of Sarov.

“The ontological unity of humanity is such that every separate individual overcoming evil in himself inflicts such a defeat on cosmic evil that its consequences have a beneficial effect on the destinies of the whole world. On the other hand, the nature of cosmic evil is such that, vanquished in certain human hypostases it suffers a defeat the significance and extent of which are quite disproportionate to the number of individuals concerned.” –Elder Sophrony, St Silouan the Athonite

Friday Logoi

[On suffering and physical disability] “God wants it, so I accept it.” Pope John Paul II

“Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile. While we do control our choice of action, we cannot control the consequences of our choices. Universal laws or principles do.” First Things First, Steven R Covey, and A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R. Merrill.

“But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus (Luke 12:7)


Well, at long lost, I have begun (completed first five chapters of) the final installment of the Harry Potter series.  I must say, the first 80-odd pages have not disappointed.  I found myself waxing quite maudlin at Dumbledore’s death in book 6 again.  And then I got mad as yet another character got killed off (he of the whirlygig eyeball) in book 7.  It’s taking me much much longer than I’d anticipated to get here, but I’ve been blessedly free of any potential spoiler information, and, given the rate at which I’m kept page-turning at the moment, I may very well finish the final book by mid-week.

I happened to pick up Granger’s Looking for God in Harry Potter, 2e, which takes the series up through the sixth book.  But I declined to read it till after I’ve completed book 7.

I also recently aquired, from Holy Apostles Convent, The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, and The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy.  I’ve only started part-way into each.  More reactions later.

I’m heavy into re-evaluating this blog.  I’ll probably settle on a final decision by 1 September.

The First Edition of the New Testament

In my previous blogging about sola scriptura, one of my fellow parishioners emailed me about David Trobisch’s The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford: 2000). I was intrigued. He offered it to me as a gift. And I am extremely grateful. I present here something of a summary and review of Trobisch’s argument.

First, a resume of the conventional conservative understanding of the formation of the canonical New Testament. Each individual book that would later form the canon was inspired from the moment of its writing. The canonization process was primarily a matter of the Church’s recognition of that divine origin and authority. Over the period of about two and a half centuries from the consensus date of the composition of the last of the New Testament books, the early Church sifted through various early documents purporting to be divinely authoritative, eventually settling on the 27 we now recognize. There was no ecumenical council who declared these books to be canon, but a grassroots recognition as exemplified in the Muratorian canon, in the works used by early Christians such as Origen in their own writings, and St. Athanasios’ festal letter (though this was later recognized by local councils in Rome, Hippo and Carthage), so that by A.D. 400, the canon of the New Testament was recognized universally.

Trobisch, however, wants to call this consensus view into question.

The thesis of this study is that the New Testament, in the form that achieved canonical status, is not the result of a lengthy and complicated collecting process that lasted for several centuries. The history of the New Testament is the history of an edition, a book that has been published and edited by a specific group of editors, at a specific place, and at a specific time. (6)

I have restrained myself from advancing a theory about where and when and who published the Canonical Edition. However, I hope this study will serve as an important step toward finding valid answers to these questions. In addition, I do not intend to challenge the current consensus that none of the writings included in the New Testament originated significantly later than 150 C. E. (7)

Indeed, this canonical edition was in place early and used widely.

At the end of the second century and in the beginning of the third, Irenaeus was reading this edition in Lyons; Tertullian read it in Carthage and Asia Minor; Clement had it in Alexandria, and Origen in Palestine. This particular edition, in other words, was read worldwide. (106)

A view such as this, that breaks with the received scholarship is going to have to argue cogently and clearly for such a position. Trobisch does just that. His argument falls into three parts: the manuscript evidence, internal evidence of a final redaction and internal evidence of the editor(s) addressing the readers. I will focus primarily on the manuscript evidence.

Manuscript evidence

Trobisch focuses on five key pieces of evidence in the manuscripts that, he argues, provides incontrovertible evidence of a final redaction of an editor (or group of editors) intent on publication of the volume. Those five pieces of evidence are: the widespread use of nomina sacra; the almost exclusive use of the codex; the arrangement of the writings into clearly demarcated groups, and the number of those writings; the titles of the works; and the title of the canonical edition.

nomina sacra

The nomina sacra are abbreviations of sacred words such as theos (God), huios (Son), christos (Christ), iesous (Jesus), and so forth. The manuscripts vary in how they abbreviate the original word, and have a horizontal line drawn across the word. That these are not intended to be abbreviations is evident from the fact that there is no standard shortening to which they adhere and that in many cases would take more time and effort (especially in drawing the horizontal line over the word) than would standard abbreviations. Neither are the nomina sacra an imitation of the Jewish Tetragrammaton (the four consonantal characters for the name of God, usually rendered in English YHWH, and always unpronounced, with the word Adonai, Lord, usually substituted in oral readings), since the Tetragrammaton was frequently written in Hebrew characters. Further the nomina sacra was not a consistent convention for the Tetragrammaton even in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament).

Furthermore, the nomina sacra exist in our earliest manuscripts and consistently throughout all our earliest New Testament writings. It is extremely unlikely that the nomina sacra was an agreed convention by all the New Testament writers since they wrote at such disparate times and places and under extremely variant circumstances.

Clearly then the nomina sacra are an intentional publishing convention.

use of the codex

Christians were alone among their contemporaries for devoting their important literature to the codex form. Trobisch charts a provisional graphic demonstrating the growth of the use of the codex from the first century onward. Among the users of the codex, Christians by far outnumbered their contemporaries. Indeed, our earliest copies of the New Testament are codices.

That the use of the codex was an intentional publishing convention is seen from its universality among the manuscript copies we have, dating back to our earliest copies, and that this was a unique characteristic of the first edition of the New Testament that set it apart from similar works of its day.

arrangement and number of writings

The oldest complete copies of the New Testament all show the complete list of 27 New Testament canonical books (or it can be determined, if they are incomplete, that they are almost certainly to have done so). The fourth century codex Siniaticus lists all twenty seven, in the groups of Gospels, Praxapostolos (Acts with the Catholic epistles), the Letters of Paul and the Apocalypse. Fourth century Vaticanus is incomplete but from various factors is considered to have had the New Testament 27. The fifth century codices Alexandrinus and Ephraemi Rescriptus had all twenty-seven books. All four of these early manuscripts are independent text traditions (different families of copies) and all of them contain the Septuagintthus making them complete Christian Bibles. And although the arrangement of the books differ among the codices, both in the arrangement of the four groups (Gospels, Praxapostolos, Letters of Paul and Apocalypse) and works withing those groups, they all have the same four groupings and all groupings have the same works within them.

Given this consistent grouping of the New Testament books, this is almost surely an intentional publishing decision.

titles of individual works

That the titles of the individual New Testament books (e. g., Gospel according to John) were not original is almost universally accepted. But our earliest manuscripts contain these titles. These titles are awkward both in the grammatical constructions (according to [author’s name]–kata plus accusative) and are not entirely accurate representations of the genre they entitle (gospel, praxapostolos), once again points to an intentional publishing decision.

title of the canonical edition

Finally, tucked away in 2 Corinthians 3 is the distinction made between the old testament and new testament. The joining of the Septuagint and the canonical New Testament in our early manuscripts, and the denomination of them as old and new, similarly represents an intentional publishing decision to give the entirety of the New Testament books a name and reflects a clear theological position on the relationship of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Internal evidence

implied authorship

Trobisch notes that the titles of individual works indicate who the authors are. The entire New Testament canon is put together in such a way so as to identify the authors. For example, the order of the catholic epistles matches the order of the list of the pillars of Galatians 2:9. The identity of Matthew is provided by the references to Levi in the other gospels, but by Matthew in the Gospel according to Matthew. Mark is identified in the Acts and in Paul’s letters; which serves to connect Peter with Paul and all of Paul’s letters. Trobisch goes into great details making all these connections. But his point is simple, the entirety of the canonical New Testament serves to authenticate the authorial titles of individual works with dozens of intricately connected references within the New Testament works itself.

That this preponderance of connections was an intentional publishing decision seems a very strong plausibility.

canonical New Testament arrangement mirrors Septuagint

The title of the canonical edition, noted in 2 Corinthians 3, is joined with the Greek Old Testament, and the arrangement of the New Testament canon is a mirror of the arrangement of the Old Testament canon. The Torah is the foundation of the Septuagint as the Gospels are for the New Testament. Just as the historical books of Joshua through Esther connect the Torah with the wisdom literature, so too does the Acts connect the Gospels with the Epistles; where the wisdom literature and the epistles together put into practice what is fundamentally revealed in the Torah and the Gospels. The prophetic literature of the Old Testament points to the coming of the Lord in his incarnation just as the Apocalypse points to the coming of the Lord in his glory.

That this was an intentional publishing decision, especially since the arrangement of the Septuagint differs markedly from the Hebrew Masoretic text, seems clear.

editorial note to the reader

The Gospel according to John ends (21:25) with a very clear address to the reader. There are other similar such notes scattered throughout the New Testament. There is Luke’s acknowledgment of other Gospels in Luke 1:1-4. There is Peter’s acknowledgment of Paul’s writings as canonical Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul himself acknowledges other of his own writings that are not present in our canon (the epistle to the Laodiceans, Colossians 4:16). All of these, and others Trobisch discusses, are an intentional publishing redaction intent to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that what they hold in their hands is the canonical edition of the New Testament.

My extremely brief summary of Trobisch’s argument does not do the book justice. His work is only a bit over a hundred pages long, but his evidence and argumentation are dense and tightly written.

I’m not competent to judge Trobisch’s argument on its merits. I know just enough of some of the subjects he addresses (textual criticism, New Testament manuscripts, etc.) to both follow his argument and find it extremely persuasive.

I definitely recommend this book for your reading.

J K Rowling Sucks

If you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and/or you don’t want to know the really big plot spoiler I will reveal in my rant, do not click on the link to continue reading.

I’m serious: You will be reading about THE REALLY BIG THING THAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE BOOK if you read any further.

Are you sure you wanna?


Are you sure?
Continue reading “J K Rowling Sucks”

Dark Night of the Soul and Other Spiritual Classics Available Online

John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul, translated by E. Allison Peers, is available online. So, too is Ascent of Mt. Carmel and Spiritual Canticle.

From that other well-known Carmelite, Teresa of Avila, you can read the following online: Life of Teresa of Jesus, Interior Castle, and Way of Perfection

Those with Russian and/or Orthodox predilections will be glad to know that The Brothers Karamazov is also available.

(For a full list of available works from this site, go here.)

Vladimir Lossky: Essences and Energies

. . . [T]he theology of the Eastern Church distinguishes in God the three hypostases, the nature or essence, and the energies. The Son and the Holy Spirit are, so to say, personal processions, the energies natural processions. The energies are inseparable from the nature, and the nature is inseparable from the three Persons. These distinctions are of great importance for the Eastern Church’s conception of mystical life:

1. The doctrine of the energies, ineffably distinct from the essence, is the dogmatic basis of the real character of all mystical experience. God, who is inaccessible in His essence, is present in His energies ‘as in a mirror,’ remaining invisible in that which He is; ‘in the same way we are able to see our faces, themselves invisible to us in a glass,’ according to a saying of St. Gregory Palamas. [Sermon on the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the Temple, edited by Sophocles, Athens, 1861, pp. 176-7.] Wholly unknowable in His essence, God wholly reveals Himself in His energies, which yet in no way divide His nature into two parts–knowable and unknowable–but signify two different modes of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the essence.

2. This doctrine makes it possible to understand how the Trinity can remain incommunicable in essence and at the same time come and dwell within us, according to the promise of Christ (John xiv, 23). The presence is not a causal one, such as the divine omnipresence in creation; no more is it a presence according to the very essence–which is by defintion incommunicable; it is a mode according to which the Trnity dwells in us by means of that in itself which is communicable–that is to say, by the energies which are common to the three hypostases, or, in other words, by grace–for it is by this name that we know the deifying energies which the Holy Spirit communicates to us. He who has the Spirit, who confers the gift, has at the same time the Son, through whom every gift is transmitted to us; he also has the Father, from whom comes every perfect gift. In receiving the gift–the deifying energies–one receives at the same time the indwelling of the Holy Trinity–inseparable from its natural energies and present in them in a different manner but none the less truly from that in which it is present in its nature.

3. The distinction between the essences and the energies, which is fundamental for the Orthodox doctrine of grace, makes it possible to preserve the real meaning of St. Peter’s words ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ The union to which we are called is neither hypostatic–as in the case of the human nature of Christ–nor substantial, as in that of the three divine Persons: it is union with God in His energies, or union by grace making us participate in the divine nature, without our essence becoming thereby the essence of God. In deification we are by grace (that is to say, in the divine energies) all that God is by nature, save only identity of nature . . ., according to the teaching of St. Maximus. [‘De ambiguis,’ P. G. XCI, 1308 B.] We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation.

These distinctions in God which are made by the theology of the Eastern Church do not in any way contradict its apophatic attitude in regard to revealed truth. On the contrary, these antinomical distinctions are dictated by a concern for safeguarding the mystery, while yet expressing the data of revelation in dogma. Thus, as we have seen in the doctrine of the Trinity, the distinction between the persons and the nature revealed a tendency to represent God as a ‘monad and triad in one’, with the consequence that the domination of the unity of the nature over the trinity of the hypostases was avoided, as was the elimination or minimizing of the primordial mystery of the identity-diversity. In the same way, the distinction between the essence and the energies is due to the antinomy between the unknowable and the knowable, the incommunicable and the communicable, with which both religious thought and the experience of divine things are ultimately faced. These real distinctions introduce no ‘composition’ into the divine being; they signify the mystery of God, who is absolutely one according to His nature, absolutely three according to His persons, sovereign and inaccessible Trinity, dwelling in the profusion of glory which is His uncreated light, His eternal Kingdom which all must enter who inherit the deified state of the age to come.

Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 85-88.

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm VI

Annie Dillard ends her meditations with a prayer for Julie.

There is Julie Norwich. Julie Norwich is salted with fire. She is preserved like a salted fillet from all evil, baptized at birth into time and now into eternity, into the bladelike arms of God. For who will love her now, without a face, when women with faces abound, and people are so? People are reasoned, while God is mad. They love only beauty; who knows what God loves? Happy birthday, little one and wise: you got there early, the easy way. The world knew you before you knew the world. The gods in their boyish, brutal games bore you like a torch, a firebrand, recklessly over the heavens, to the glance of the one God, fathomless and mild, dissolving you into the sheets.

You might as well be a nun. You might as well be God’s chaste bride, chased by plunderers to the high caves of solitude, to the hearthless rooms empty of voices, and of warm limbs hooking your heart to the world. Look how he loves you! Are you bandaged now, or loose in a sterilized room? Wait till they hand you a mirror, if you can hold one, and know what it means. That skinlessness, that black shroud of flesh in strips on your skull, is your veil. There are two kinds of nuns, out of the cloister or in. You can serve or you can sing, and wreck your heart in prayer, working the world’s hard work. Forget whistling: you have no lips for that, or for kissing the face of a man or a child. Learn Latin, an it please my Lord, learn the foolish downward look called Custody of the Eyes.

Continue reading “Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm VI”

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm V

Today is Friday, November 20. Julie Norwich is in the hospital, burned; we can get no word of her condition. People released from burn wards, I read once, have a very high suicide rate. They had not realized, before they were burned, that life could include such suffering, nor that they personally could be permitted such pain. No drugs ease the pain of third-degree burns, because burns destroy skin: the drugs simply leak into the sheets. His disciples asked Christ about a roadside beggar who had been blind from birth, “Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Christ, who spat on the ground, made a mud of his spittle and clay, plastered the mud over the man’s eyes, and gave him sight, answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the words of God should be made manifest in him.” Really? If we take this answer to refer to the affliction itself–and not the subsequent cure–as “God’s works made manifest,” then we have, along with “Not as the world gives do I give unto you,” two meager, baffling, and infuriating answers to one of the few questions worth asking, to wit, What in the Sam Hill is going on here?

The works of God made manifest? Do we really need more victims to remind us that we’re all victims? Is this some sort of parade for which a conquering army shines up its terrible guns and rolls them up and down the streets for people to see? Do we need blind men stumbling about, and little flamefaced children, to remind us what God can–and will–do? . . .

Continue reading “Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm V”

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm IV

Facing squarely the rock mountain and the salt sea, the airplane fallen from the sky, and little Julie Norwich burned, Annie Dillard is ready. Am I?

I know only enough of God to worship him, by any means ready to hand. There is an anomalous specificity to all our experience in space, a scandal of particularity, by which God burgeons up or showers down into the shabbiest of occasions, and leaves his creation’s dealings with him in the hands of purblind and clumsy amateurs. This is all we are and all we ever were: God kann nicht anders. This process in time is history; in space, at such shocking random, it is mystery. . . .

There is one church here, so I go to it. On Sunday mornings I quit the house and wander down the hill to the white frame church in the firs. On a big Sunday there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia. The members are of mixed denominations; the minister is a Congregationalist, and wears a white shirt. The man knows God. Once, in the middle of the long pastoral prayer of intercession for the whole world–for the gift of wisdom to its leaders, for hope and mercy to the grieving and pained, succor to the oppressed, and God’s grace to all–in the middle of this he stopped, and burst out, “Lord, we bring you these same petitions every week.” After a shocked pause, he continued reading the prayer. Because of this, I like him very much. “Good morning!” he says after the first hymn and invocation, startling me witless every time, and we all shout back, “Good morning!” . . .

The higher Christian churches–where, if anywhere, I belong–come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.

–Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm (Harper & Row, 1977)