Monday, September 30, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 7-8 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 6)

Ezra 7 – The reign of Artaxerxes begins around 464. This is the period during which Ezra makes his appearance. He is the son of Seraiah—Azariah—Hilkiah—Shallum—Zadok—Ahitub—Amariah—Azariah—Meraioth—Zerahiah—Uzzi—Bukki—Abishua—Phinehas—Eleazar—Aaron.

He arrives from Babylon around the 7th year of Artaxerxes’ reign. He “had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach the statutes and ordinances in Israel” (7:10). The document authorizing Ezra’s mission also permits any other priests, Levites, singers, doorkeepers, or other servants of the Temple to go with him and to take money, food, and other necessities. Freewill offerings from others they may take, and no one is permitted to levy a toll or other tribute on them. “Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, or wrath will come upon the realm of the king and his heirs” (7:23).

The chapter ends with this nice passage. “Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king to glorify the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, and who extended to me steadfast love before the king and his counselors and before all the kings mighty officers” (7:28). A Jerusalem Bible note says Ezra as a scribe was probably “a kind of minister for Jewish affairs at the Persian court. But because Ezra was such a scribe, when they are transplanted back to Jerusalem, the term comes to mean one who reads, translates, and expounds the Law to God’s people. Ezra is the father of these scribes. The edict alluded to here meant that the Jewish communities were to be governed on the basis of the Law.

Ezra 8 - So a second migration from Babylonia goes forward with Ezra. The names of those heads of families who accompany him are listed. He makes sure they have at least one descendant of the Levites with them—Sherebiah—but he has family too.

When all are assembled at the river Ahava, they fast in supplication for a safe journey. He says “I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and cavalry to protect us . . .since we had told the king that the hand of our God is gracious to all who seek him. . .” (8:22). He turns the precious gold an silver offered to them for the house of God to the leading priests, and tells them to guard it until it can be turned over to the chief priests and Levites and heads of families in Jerusalem.

They leave on the 12th day of the 1st month and with God’s help come through ambushes on the way. They get to Jerusalem and stay three days before turning over the valuables to Meremoth, son of Uriah and others. The returnees offer burnt offerings to God, and they deliver the kings’ commissions to the king’s satraps and to the governors of the province.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day.

Part 6
But even this description of Quaker “biblical vision” does not exhaust what Friends did with scripture.  Fox saw the scripture story as inexhaustibly revelatory of God’s work in human life.  A similar but more detailed approach to the scripture’s narrative line involved breaking it down into “ministrations” or stages of God’s redeeming love. 

He believed that he himself had passed through a process of redemption substantially the same as what had happened in the history recorded in scripture, and he told the story of his own life in terms of these ministrations. The saga as Fox saw it was a passage through four or five “ministrations”: the “ministration of condemnation;” the “ministration of Moses;” the “ministration of the prophets” which culminated in the “ministration of John the Baptist;” and the last ministration—the ministration of Christ’s immediate presence and power.   He does not actually call this last a “ministration,” but it is clear that he saw Christ’s ministration in the new covenant as the substance and culmination of all the preceding ministrations.

The “ministration of condemnation” was the stage we were in when the real truth of our spiritual condition in the fall was opened to us inwardly; it is a condition of spiritual death and darkness.  Though it is a painful vision, it is the first opening of Christ’s light in the mind and heart of the seeker.  It can be distinguished from despair by the fact that it is always accompanied in some measure by a sense of God’s loving presence and power to overcome the death one is caught up in.  Fox enters this first ministration when he sees that people “do not possess what they profess;” indeed even he does not. (Fox’s Journal 4).

The problem is deeper than hypocrisy. The problem is that people are alienated from the very power that can help them live by the standards they admire, that can bring them into possession of the things they profess. In this ministration, Fox sees the gulf that separates him from God and wants to bridge it, but he is alienated from the life of Christ within him that is the only power that can bridge that gap and has not yet discovered that Christ.  He knows about the Christ of scripture and he knows about the Christ of church doctrine and teaching, but he does not yet know that it is Christ in him that is opening his condition to him or leading him.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 6 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 5)

Ezra 6 – The records are searched and the proclamation is found wherein Cyrus told the Jews to go back and rebuild their temple. Tattenai and the others are instructed to leave the alone, and in fact to assist them by paying the costs of the rebuilding “in full and without delay, from the royal revenue” (6:8).

If “anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of the house of the perpetrator, who then shall be impaled on it. The house shall be made a dunghill” (6:11). It is done as the Emperor directed. The temple is finished on the third day of the month of Adar in the 6th year of Darius’ reign (516? Jerusalem Bible note says April 1, 515). The people, priests and Levites celebrate the dedication; they offer a hundred bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs and 12 male goats as a sin offering (according to the number of tribes). 

The priests and Levites are organized again, and Passover is celebrated. “With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel” (6:22). It is this Temple that will be remodeled by Herod the Great. It is in use for 585 years and is finally destroyed by Titus in 70 AD.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day.
Part 5
As we did what Abraham did, we too would find the redemptive part of their story unfolding within us—not in every outward detail but in substantially the same way.  So you will find early Friends seeing themselves as “spiritual Jews” being rescued from bondage and led to freedom.

. . .in his infinite love and tender pity and compassion [He looked] down upon us, whilst in the land of Egypt, and house of bondage spiritually, and [did] send forth his light and truth, to give us a sense inwardly of the deplorable states of our souls in the separation from, and depravation of the enjoyments of the Lord, which sense and sight begat in us living breathings and a holy cry after the knowledge of him we saw ourselves ignorant of . . . (Charles Marshall, Early Quaker Writings, 32)

You will find Friends seeing themselves as dead spiritually being brought out of graves like Lazarus or Christ himself.

“Wait to see the law set up within . . .and the rebellious nature yoked [earthquakes and thunder].  Wait in patience for the judgment, and let the Lord’s work have its perfect operation in you; and so as you turn to him who has smitten and wounded you; he will bind up and heal.  And give up all to the great slaughter of the Lord, to the Cross. . .And as the earth comes to be plowed up, the seed which is sown comes up; and, the rocks broken, the water gushes out.  You so will see that some promises will arise in you to the Seed which is coming up out of the grave, and so the love of God will appear in you, and you will be stayed, and see hope in the midst of calamity . . .And as you come to be redeemed from under the bondage of sin, and come above the bonds of death, and the pure principle lives in you, there will be a delight in you to do the will of the father, who has redeemed you from sin and its law to righteousness and its law. (Francis Howgill, Early Quaker Writings, 177)

This was what they meant when they said you had to enter into the Spirit that gave the scriptures forth—to “see” the same work being carried forth in your own life.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 4 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 4)

Ezra 5 – The prophets Haggai and Zechariah are in Judah and Jerusalem during this time. Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates (“Beyond the River”), came and asked them who gave them permission to rebuild the Temple and the names of the men working on it.

They send a letter to Darius telling him all that the workers told them—of the original building, of how because of their people’s unfaithfulness, they suffered its destruction and exile, but that Cyrus gave them permission to rebuild it in the first year of his reign. The upshot of the letter is to request that officials search the records of King Cyrus and see if what they say is correct.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day. 

Part 4
Early Friends did this [examine the scriptures with a sharp eye to the truths they illuminated regarding their own spiritual conditions], and they did it in beautifully creative ways.  I think, for example, of William Penn’s wonderful comparison of the overcrowded inn in Bethlehem with the state of the average person’s soul.  We are all like that inn, crowded with worldly guests, having no room for Christ to be born in us. Or Fox’s use of the Baptist’s proclamation (Matt 3:3) and its reference to Isaiah 40:4 as a description of our readiness to have Christ enter into our lives:

“And I saw the mountains burning up and the rubbish and the rough and crooked ways and places made smooth and plain that the Lord might come into his tabernacle.  These things are to be found in man’s heart.  But to speak of these things being within seemed strange to the rough and crooked and mountainous ones” (Fox’s Journal 16).

But while examples of this kind of biblical allusion are very common in Friends’ writing, what Friends ultimately came to see and describe was something far more profound.  They ultimately came to see that the whole story recapitulated itself in the spiritual lives of people who opened themselves to Christ and became joined to His life by faith. 

I think it is special about Friends that they saw “types” and “figures” not only of Christ’s narrative; most of the early Church fathers saw this – the fulfillment of all Old Testament characters and sayings. But Friends saw scripture filled with “types” and “figures” of everyone’s spiritual life.

But faith for Friends meant far more than simply assenting to prescribed formulas of doctrine or profession.  Faith meant the daily hearing and obeying of God’s living Word both in their personal depths and in the community of those gathered in His name.  If one came to a faith like this, one’s spiritual journey would actually parallel the story scripture told—or at least its key events.  The story was not Adam’s alone or the Jews’ alone.  It was the common spiritual heritage of all men and women.  We were the ones cast out of God’s presence, the ones who envied and killed our brothers, who wandered the world in alienation from God and strangers to one another.  We were the ones God called to come away from that fallen ancestral “state”, the ones called to claim God’s promise of salvation.  We too had to respond to God’s call; we too had to abandon our ancestral homes (the purely outward dimension of “tradition”) and learn to rely on the voice of God addressed to us.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 2-3 and My Own Article on "Friends and Scripture" (Part 3)

Ezra 3 – After seven months, Jeshua, head of the priests, and Zerrubabel, set out to build the altar of the God of Israel and to offer burnt offerings on it. They do it fearful of the response of the neighboring people (3:3).

They kept the Festival of Booths [or Shelters - Sukkot] and other offerings prescribed by the Law. They gave money to the masons and carpenters to work on the foundations, food and drink to Sidonians and Tyrians for the cedar they brought in ships. The second year after arriving, they “made a beginning” (3:8). Levites oversee the work, and Jeshua and certain other families “took charge of the workers in the house of God” (3:9).
Praise is offered up when the foundation is complete. “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, thought many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away” (3:12).

Ezra 4 – When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin (Samaritans?) hear that the temple is being rebuilt, they reproach Zerrubbabel for not asking them to help. They claim to be worshippers of Yahweh too, but their offer is rejected. Then the landed people, “people of the land” [Samaritan settlers] discouraged the people of Judah from their efforts. So things are frustrated until the coming of Darius in 522, it says.

Then it goes on to say that in the reign of Artaxerxes (much later from 464-423), some of the adversaries of the returnees wrote to the Emperor, complaining that they were “rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations” (4:12). The petitioners encourage the Emperor to recheck the court records to see that this is a rebellious people, not one that should be encouraged to rebuild. The Emperor responds ordering them to cease the rebuilding. When Rehum and Shimshai (Governor of Samaria, center of Persian government for the region, and his Secretary) get this message, they go to Jerusalem and “by force and power made them cease” (4:23). The work is discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius (4:24).A Jerusalem Bible note says the delay in rebuilding occurs between 538 and 522 or through the reign of Cambyses, not Artaxerxes. Haggai blames the delay on their indifference. The Chronicler blames their opponents.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day. 

Part 3
Now Fox would never have described the words of scripture in this way [analyzing the words and meanings of the scripture narrative as a way of “opening” some inward reality – kind of the way the “Life of Pi” describes].  The concepts were just not part of his intellectual life in the 17th century.  But I am convinced that the fundamental experience of coming into those familiar words was the same in his life and in mine.  So what I want to explore here is what early Friends did with respect to the scriptures—not what did they say, but how did they use them to encourage others to “enter into” the words.

One of the most revealing passages from Fox’s journal on the scriptures goes into great depth on the problem as Fox saw it. People approached scripture, according to Fox, “without a right sense of them, and without duly applying them to their own states (Fox’s Journal 31).

. . .I saw the state of those, both priests and people, who in reading the Scriptures, cry out much against Cain, Esau, and Judas, and other wicked men of former times, mentioned in the Holy Scriptures; but do not see the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Judas, and those others, in themselves.  And these said it was they, they, they, that were the bad people; putting it off from themselves: but when some of these came, with the light and spirit of Truth, to see into themselves, then they came to say, “I, I, I, it is I myself that have been the Ishmael, and the Esau”, etc.  For then they came to see the nature of wild Ishmael in themselves, the nature of Cain, of Esau, of Korah, of Balaam and of the son of perdition in themselves, sitting above all that is called God in them (Fox’s Journal 30).

The characters of scripture were not merely historical personages, people comfortably distant from us in time and place.  They were exemplars of every kind of spiritual condition and nature that one might have to contend with—inwardly or outwardly. Those who envied and persecuted the godly were people who dwelled in the nature of Cain; those who chose earthly goods over the heavenly promises of God were in the nature of the earthly Esau. Those who rebelled against God were in the nature of Korah, and those who traded in God’s wisdom for material gain had the nature of Balaam.  On the other hand, those who received the living Word of God in their hearts and responded to it were in the nature of Abraham; those who saw into the pure law of God were in the nature of Moses and those who were able to see into the types and shadows had the nature of the prophets.  This did not mean for Fox that the historical Moses or Korah or Cain were imaginary.  It simply meant that they were more than just human and historical; they represented spiritual realities we all encounter either in ourselves or in others.  So we should approach the characters and events of the scriptures with an eye to “types” and “figures” they represented, the truths they illuminated and the insights they gave us into our own spiritual conditions.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Ezra 1-2 and My Own Article on Friends and Scripture (Part 2)

Ezra 1 – “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah” (1:1). He sends the exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. 539 is the date of Cyrus’ conquest over Babylon, 538 the first year of his reign over the Empire. The 70 years turns out to be about 49 years unless, as a Jerusalem Bible note suggests you count Babylonian rule from the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign in 609. Then the numbers work.

He sends out an edict saying, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah” (1:2). The Persians were generally good about letting subject people worship their own gods, but their own special devotion was to the “the gods of heaven.” Perhaps for this reason they felt the Jewish God was their supreme deity as well. Any Jew is free to go up and assist in the rebuilding of the Temple. “[E]veryone whose spirit God had stirred” (1:5) went or sent gold or goods with the returnees to help them. The treasure that Nebuchadnezzar took from the Temple is returned. Sheshbazzar is the prince of Judah at this time.

Ezra 2 – The people who return with Zerubbabel and ten other leaders (one is Nehemiah) are numbered by town of origin. The Jerusalem Bible has twelve family heads, adding Nahamani. A note indicates that their list was reconstructed a bit from the Memoirs of Nehemiah. It also says the layfolk are listed by clan for the upper classes and by town for the lower.

Then returnees from the priestly families, the Levites, the temple servants, etc are enumerated. It is obviously a carefully kept record of people and families in exile. Genealogical records are alluded to in verse 62. The whole assembly together was 42,360 not counting male and female servants and singers (1:65).

When they get to Jerusalem, the heads of families make freewill offerings. People return to their towns. The priests stay in Jerusalem (1:70).

“Friends and Scripture”
This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day. 
Part 2
I know my own conversion experience, which resulted in large measure because of my contact with these early Friends’ writings, led me to see from the beginning that the scripture words, contexts and reference points had been utterly central to me. 

When I tried to tell people what it had been like, feeling reawakened to God and to Christ, I had used an image from a popular move I knew everyone was familiar with, The Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.  For those who aren’t familiar with it today, the movie is about the childhood of Helen Keller, a well-known celebrity whose victory over blindness and deafness made her a heroine in the early years of the twentieth century.  In the story the movie tells, Helen’s teacher, Annie Sullivan, seeks to free Helen’s mind from its dark, silent prison by teaching her a tactile alphabet that can make it possible for Helen to learn words and language. Helen quickly learns the alphabet and the game of fingering words to get what she wants--her D-O-L-L, her M-O-T-H-E-R or the sweet C-A-K-E she loves; but the concept of words, that everything in the world can be named and that words make learning and communication with other human beings possible, this Helen cannot seem to learn.  For months Miss Sullivan labors to get the idea across with no success.  Finally, as she is about to give up, Helen has a moment of grace at the water pump outside her parents’ home.  Forced to refill a pitcher of water that she intentionally dumped on her teacher, Helen holds the pitcher under the spout while Miss Sullivan pumps the water and repeatedly fingers the word W-A-T-E-R into her palm.  Something in that moment at the pump--its intensity--its repetition or its evocation of a primitive memory Helen has of a time when she could still see and hear and knew what water was—something--sparks a light in Helen’s mind and she sees what her teacher has been trying to open to her.

This was exactly what I had experienced in my conversion. I was seeing a landscape I had never seen before, a set of realities I had “knocked around” in and stumbled over and been curious about for years but had never really seen.  But now I was seeing, not directly because those realities are not directly perceivable but I was seeing them through the medium of this language I had been taught [night prayers, Christmas story, Easter – the messages inscribed on everybody’s mental “hand” if they live in a Christian country] earlier in my life but had never seen the point of—not really. Now I was seeing their point and their power--the Light of Christ, sin, the fall, the cross, resurrection--they had to open up this landscape of spiritual truth in me.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Chronicles 36 and My Own Article on Friends and Scripture (Part 1)

2 Chronicles 36 – Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, is made king. He is 23 and reigns only three months. The king of Egypt deposes him and imposes a tribute on the land. He makes Jehoahaz’s  brother Eliakim king and changes his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz is taken to Egypt.

Jehoiakim reigns eleven years and does what is evil. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon comes against him, binds Jehoiakim in bronze chains and takes him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also takes some of the treasures of the Temple too.

Jehoiachin, Jehoiachim’s son, takes his father’s place when he is only eight years old and he reigns only ten days. He does what was evil too (at age 8??).

In the spring, King Nebuchadnezzar sends to have him brought to Babylon too. His older brother Zedekiah (36:22) is made king. He reigns 11 years but also does what is evil. He “refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the Lord” (36:12). He also rebels against Nebuchadnezzar “even though he had taken an oath of loyalty in God’s name. Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel” (36:13).

The leading priests and people also are unfaithful. “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly sent his prophets to warn them, for he had compassion on his people and his Temple. But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the Lord’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be dome” (36:15-16).

The Lord brings the king of the Chaldeans against them. He kills their youths in the sanctuary and has no compassion on anyone. All the Temple treasures are taken. They burn the house of God down, break down the walls of the city and burn all the palaces. “The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power” (36:20).

“So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said” (36:21).

It is King Cyrus of Persia who will rebuild the Temple. Jeremiah’s prophesy is again fulfilled when King Cyrus when he permits the Lord’s people to return to Jerusalem.

“Friends and Scripture”
Introduction: This article is one I wrote some years ago and it was eventually part of the book I wrote called Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism. My plan here is just to include a few paragraphs of the chapter each day.

Part 1
When modern liberal Friends talk about the how the scriptures are not the “Word of God” but only the words, they do so, I think, with an eye to justifying the space they believe Quakers put between themselves and scripture, to distinguishing themselves from those benighted Christians who take a more literal or authoritative view of scripture or those who believe that the scripture is an essential element in the learning of truth.  The space they believe early Friends put between themselves and scripture justifies the even greater space they have put between themselves and the Bible, a space they believe is healthy because of the limitations they see in it—its “primitive,” warlike aspects, its historical unreliability, its cultural baggage (the exclusivity of its claims and the patriarchal elements that feminists find so irritating) and its authority in other Christian denominations that Friends find hard to take.

But the view that early Friends put any kind of distance between themselves and scripture is simply not true.  Early Friends questioned the prevailing approaches to scripture mainly to get people to erase the distance they put between themselves and scripture by seeing it too outwardly, by setting it up as an artifact rather than as something to be entered into and viewed from within.  One of the most moving and profound parts of the testimony and writings of early Friends is the way they internalized what they read in scripture, the way they entered into the spirit of it and saw the world in its terms.

I think this is something I always knew about 17th century Friends, but I could never find “outward” words in Friends’ writings that were clear enough to keep other Friends from insisting that Quakers had always viewed the book as less authoritative than other Christians of their day had seen it.  Their statements about it being the words, not the Word of God; their (or at least Fox’s) insistence that he had come to his inward revelation without “the help of man” and without the help of “the letter” by which he meant the letter of scripture (Journal 34) all seemed to justify the claim modern Friends made that Quakers did not view the scriptures as central.  But when I read the testimonies of early Friends or read their pamphlets or catechism or debates with others, the one thing I could not understand was why they always couched their ideas in scripture quotations.  And if they did not think the scriptures were authoritative, why were they seemingly the most literal of Christians in refusing to take oaths, in refusing to use any term that was not biblical, or in making sure that people understood that they believed Jesus’s teachings on simplicity and non-violence were normative for Christians, not merely ideals he set.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 34-35 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 35-36

2 Chronicles 34 – Josiah is eight when he becomes king, and his reign lasts 31 years. It is a time of renewal and reform. “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right” (34:1). When he is 16 it say he began to seek God, and when he was 20 he “began to purify Judah and Jerusalem, destroying all the pagan shrines, the Asherah poles, and the carved idols and cast images. He ordered that the altars of Baal be demolished and that the incense altars which stood above them be broken down” (34:3-4).  He does the same in other towns too – the towns of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon.

Then he restores the Temple. He gets money from all the surrounding countries for Hilkiah, the high priest, to restore it. One day, while they were bringing out the money that had been donated to the workers and overseers, the Hilkiah finds “the Book of the Law of the Lord that was written by Moses” (34:14). He gives the book to Shaphan, the king’s secretary, Shaphan reads it to Josiah.

When the king hears it, he tears his clothes and commands Hilkiah and others to go and “speak to the Lord for me and for all the remnant of Israel and Judah. Inquire about the words written in the scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger has been poured out on us because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord” (34:21).  

They take the scroll to Huldah, a prophetess who is the wife of Shallum, keeper of the Tempe wardrobe. Huldah tells them that “All the curses written in the scroll . . . will come true” (34:24). But, she also says that because the king’s heart was penitent and he has humbled himself before God, the Lord has heard him (34:27). He will gather the king to his grave in peace. His eyes shall not see the disaster prepared for Jerusalem and its inhabitants.

When the king hears this, he gathers all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem together, they go up to the temple and there in the hearing of the people “he read. . .all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord” (34:30). The king “made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book” (34:31). He “required everyone in Jerusalem and the people of Benjamin to make a similar pledge” (34:32). They do, and “throughout the rest of his lifetime, they did not turn away from the Lord, the God of their ancestors” (34:33).

2 Chronicles 35 – Josiah announces that the Passover of the Lord would be celebrated in Jerusalem. They slaughter the Passover lamb, appoint priests to their offices and encourage them in the service of the Temple. He tells them to put the Ark in the house of the Lord, to serve the Lord and his people. The “no longer need to carry it back and forth” (35:3).

He contributes 30,000 lambs and young goats from his flocks along with 3,000 bulls. The chiefs of the Levites also contribute many offerings. They conduct the sacrifices and all the various servers conduct their parts according to the requirements of the Law. “No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah, by the priests and the Levites, by all Judah and Israel who were present, and by the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (35:18).

After all this, King Neco of Egypt leads his army up from Egypt to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah marches out against him. Neco sends to him tell him he is not coming against him, and that it is God who has told him to make war. Josiah will not be dissuaded from fighting him, however (35:22). He disguises himself and joins the battle against the Egyptians in the plain of Megiddo. Archers shoot him and he is carried back to Jerusalem, where he dies. All Judah and Jerusalem mourn him. And Jeremiah too utters “a lament for Josiah” (35:25).

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
35 - But any habits whatever have so great power to hold possession of men's minds, that even what [habits] in them are evil, which usually takes place through excess of lusts, we can sooner disapprove of and hate, than desert or change.

Do you think that little has been done for the benefit of man, that not some few very learned men maintain by argument, but also an unlearned crowd of males and females in so many and different nations both believe and set forth, that we are to worship as God nothing of earth, nothing of fire, nothing, lastly, which comes into contact with the senses of the body, but that we are to seek to approach Him by the understanding only? That abstinence is extended even unto the slenderest food of bread and water, and fastings not only for the day, but also continued through several days together; that chastity is carried even unto the contempt of marriage and family; that patience even unto the setting light by crosses and flames; that liberality even unto the distribution of estates unto the poor; that, lastly, the contempt of this whole world even unto the desire of death?

I may be wrong but he seems to be saying that these are all good and amazing fruits of the spread of Catholic Christianity. There are places where he seems inconsistent with what he’s said elsewhere, however: approaching God by “the understanding only” (??); “contempt of this whole world”.

Few do these things, yet fewer do them well and wisely: but whole nations approve, nations hear, nations favor, nations, lastly, love. Nations accuse their own weakness that they cannot do these things, and that not without the mind being carried forward unto God, nor without certain sparks of virtue. This has been brought to pass by the Divine Providence, through the prophecies of the Prophets, through the manhood and teaching of Christ, through the journeys of the Apostles, through the insults, crosses, blood, of the Martyrs, through the praiseworthy life of the Saints, and, in all these, according as times were seasonable, through miracles worthy of so great matters and virtues. The blossoming of the Church has come about through all these things.

When therefore we see so great help of God, so great progress and fruit, shall we doubt to hide ourselves in the bosom of that Church, which even unto the confession of the human race from [the] apostolic chair through successions of Bishops, (heretics in vain lurking around her and being condemned, partly by the judgment of the very people, partly by the weight of councils, partly also by the majesty of miracles,) has held the summit of authority. These are the signs to Augustine of God’s favor.

To be unwilling to grant to her the first place, is either surely the height of impiety, or is headlong arrogance. For, if there be no sure way unto wisdom and health of souls, unless where faith prepare them for reason, what else is it to be ungrateful for the Divine help and aid, than to wish to resist authority furnished with so great labor? And if every system of teaching, however mean and easy, requires, in order to its being received, a teacher or master, what more full of rash pride, than, in the case of books of divine mysteries, both to be unwilling to learn from such as interpret them, and to wish to condemn them unlearned?

36 - Wherefore, if either our reasoning or our discourse has in any way moved you, and if you have, as I believe, a true care for yourself, I would you would listen to me, and with pious faith, lively hope, and simple charity, entrust yourself to good teachers of Catholic Christianity; and cease not to pray unto God Himself, by Whose goodness alone we were created, and suffer punishment by His justice, and are set free by His mercy.

Thus there will be wanting to you neither precepts and treatises of most learned and truly Christian men, nor books, nor calm thoughts themselves, whereby you may easily find what you are seeking. For do you abandon utterly those wordy and wretched men, (for what other milder name can I use?) who, while they seek to excess whence is evil, find nothing but evil. And on this question they often rouse their hearers to inquire; but after that they have been roused, they teach them such lessons as that it were preferable even to sleep for ever, than thus to be awake.

For in place of lethargic they make them frantic, between which diseases, both being usually fatal, there is still this difference, that lethargic persons die without doing violence to others; but the frantic person many who are sound, and specially they who wish to help him, have reason to fear. For neither is God the author of evil, nor has it ever repented Him that He has done anything, nor is He troubled by storm of any passion of soul, nor is a small part of earth His Kingdom: He neither approves nor commands any sins or wickedness, He never lies. For these and such like used to move us, when they used them to make great and threatening assaults, and charged this as being the system of teaching of the Old Testament, which is most false. Thus then I allow that they do right in censuring these. What then have I learned? What think you, save that, when these are censured, the Catholic system of teaching is not censured. Thus what I had learned among them that is true, I hold, what is false that I had thought I reject.

But the Catholic Church has taught me many other things also, which those men of bloodless bodies, but coarse minds, cannot aspire unto; that is to say, that God is not corporeal, that no part of Him can be perceived by corporeal eyes, that nothing of His Substance or Nature can any way suffer violence or change, or is compounded or formed; and if you grant me these, (for we may not think otherwise concerning God,) all their devices are overthrown.

But how it is, that neither God begot or created evil, nor yet is there, or has there been ever, any nature and substance, which God either begot not or created not, and yet that He sets us free from evil, is proved by reasons so necessary, that it cannot at all be matter of doubt; especially to you and such as you; that is, if to a good disposition there be added piety and a certain peace of mind, without which nothing at all can be understood concerning so great matters. And here there is no rumor concerning smoke, and I know not what Persian vain fable, unto which it is enough to lend an ear, and soul not subtle, but absolutely childish.

Far altogether, far otherwise is the truth, than as the Manichees dote. But since this discourse of ours has gone much further than I thought, here let us end the book; in which I wish you to remember, that I have not yet begun to refute the Manichees, and that I have not yet assailed that nonsense; and that neither have I unfolded any thing great concerning the Catholic Church itself, but that I have only wished to root out of you, if I could, a false notion concerning true Christians that was maliciously or ignorantly suggested to us, and to arouse you to learn certain great and divine things. Wherefore let this volume be as it is; but when your soul becomes more calmed, I shall perhaps be more ready in what remains.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 33 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 34

2 Chronicles 33 – Manasseh is 12 when he succeeds his father. He reigns 55 years in Jerusalem, but does what is evil in the sight of God. He rebuilds the high places, erects altars to the Baals, makes sacred poles and worships “all the host of heaven” (33:3). He builds altars for these gods even in the two courts of the Temple. He makes his own son “pass through fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom” (33:6), practices sorcery and consults mediums.

He so misled his people they actually were worse than the people whom God had displaced in their name (33:9). The Lord speaks to Manasseh and his people, but they give no heed to him. So God brings the king of Assyria against them. The king takes Manasseh captive and brings him to Babylon. There, in distress, Manasseh finally calls upon the Lord and the Lord “heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom” (33:13).

In Jerusalem again, he builds outer walls, fortifies cities and takes away the foreign gods from the Temple. He restores the altar of the Lord and offers sacrifices on it. The people, however, still sacrifice on the high places.

When Manasseh dies, his son Amon, aged 22, succeeds. He does what is evil as his father had. He did not humble himself before the Lord though. His servants conspire against him and kill him. But the people of the land kill the conspirators and make his son Josiah king at the age of 8.

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
34 - This is, believe me, a most wholesome authority, this a lifting up first of our mind from dwelling on the earth, this a turning from the love of this world unto the True God. It is authority alone which moves fools to hasten unto wisdom. So long as we cannot understand pure (truths), it is indeed wretched to be deceived by authority, but surely more wretched not to be moved. For, if the Providence of God preside not over human affairs, we have no need to busy ourselves about religion. But if both the outward form of all things, which we must believe assuredly flows from some fountain of truest beauty, and some, I know not what, inward conscience exhorts, as it were, in public and in private, all the better order of minds to seek God, and to serve God; we must not give up all hope that the same God Himself has appointed some authority, whereon, resting as on a sure step, we may be lifted up unto God.  I love the humility and mindfulness of his words here.

But this, setting aside reason, which (as we have often said) it is very hard for fools to understand pure, moves us two ways; in part by miracles, in part by multitude of followers: no one of these is necessary to the wise man; who denies it? But this is now the business in hand, that we may be able to be wise, that is, to cleave to the truth; which the filthy soul is utterly unable to do: but the filth of the soul, to say shortly what I mean, is the love of any things whatsoever save God and the soul: from which filth the more any one is cleansed, the more easily he sees the truth. Therefore to wish to see the truth, in order to purge your soul, when as it is purged for the very purpose that you may see, is surely perverse and preposterous. Therefore to man unable to see the truth, authority is at hand, in order that he may be made fitted for it, and may allow himself to be cleansed; and, as I said a little above, no one doubts that this prevails, in part by miracles, in part by multitude. But I call that a miracle, whatever appears that is difficult or unusual above the hope or power of them who wonder. Of which kind there is nothing more suited for the people, and in general for foolish men, than what is brought near to the senses. But these, again, are divided into two kinds; for there are certain, which cause only wonder, but certain others procure also great favor and good-will.

For, if one were to see a man flying, inasmuch as that matter brings no advantage to the spectator, beside the spectacle itself, he only wonders. But if any affected with grievous and hopeless disease were to recover straightway, upon being bidden, his affection for him who heals, will go beyond even his wonder at his healing. Such were done at that time at which God in True Man appeared unto men, as much as was enough. The sick were healed, the lepers were cleansed; walking was restored to the lame, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf. The men of that time saw water turned into wine, five thousand filled with five loaves, seas passed on foot, dead rising again: thus certain provided for the good of the body by more open benefit, certain again for the good of the soul by more hidden sign, and all for the good of men by their witness to Majesty: thus, at that time, was the divine authority moving towards Itself the wandering souls of mortal men.

Why, say you, do not those things take place now? Because they would not move, unless they were wonderful, and, if they were usual, they would not be wonderful. For the interchanges of day and night, and the settled order of things in Heaven, the revolution of years divided into four parts, the fall and return of leaves to trees, the boundless power of seeds, the beauty of light, the varieties of colors, sounds, tastes, and scents, let there be some one who shall see and perceive them for the first time, and yet such an one as we may converse with; he is stupified and overwhelmed with miracles: but we contemn all these, not because they are easy to understand, (for what more obscure than the causes of these?) but surely because they constantly meet our senses. Therefore they were done at a very suitable time, in order that, by these a multitude of believers having been gathered together and spread abroad, authority might be turned with effect upon habits.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 31-32 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 33

2 Chronicles 31 – When all this is finished, “all Israel” goes out to the cities of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh and break down the pillars, the sacred poles and high places. Hezekiah organizes the priests and Levites, reestablishes the system of offerings and reinstitutes tithing so the priests and Levites can devote themselves to the Law. People give generously.

Hezekiah oversees everything carefully.  They have a surplus of wealth left over, so they build storage facilities for it. Hezekiah did “what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God . . .he did with all his heart, and he prospered” (31:20-21).

2 Chronicles 32 – After this, King Sennacherib of Assyria comes against Judah. In response, Hezekiah and his officers “stop the flow of the springs that were outside the city” (32:3) so that the enemy will find no water.

He also builds up walls that were broken and builds another wall outside the old wall. He gathers his soldiers and encourages them with this speech: “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (32:7-8).

Sennacherib sends an emissary to Jerusalem to try to persuade the people not to trust Hezekiah. He reminds them of the victories they had won over other peoples, the helplessness of their many gods to defend them. He also sends letters and has them read in a loud voice in their own language. “They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as if he were like the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of human hands” (32:19). Hezekiah, and Isaiah with him, pray and cry out to the Lord. In response, the Lord “sent an angel who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the King of Assyria. So he returned in disgrace to his own land. When he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword” (32:21). So they were saved.

Hezekiah becomes sick and nearly dies. He prays to God and God answers him; but this time Hezekiah (it says) does “not respond according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud” (32:25). The Lord’s wrath spills out on him and all Judah. When Hezekiah humbles himself, the Lord relents for a time.

Hezekiah’s reign is very prosperous materially. He makes changes in the water flow, closing the upper outlets of the water of Gihon and directing them down to the west side of the city of David. He also is said to do something about the envoys from Babylon sent to inquire “about the sign that had been done in the land,” but it is very mysteriously alluded to. It says, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in hers heart” (32:31). When he dies, his son Manasseh succeeds him.

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing

33 - Wherefore, although I am not able to teach, yet I cease not to advise, that, (whereas many wish to appear wise, and it is no easy matter to discern whether they be fools,) with all earnestness, and with all prayers, and lastly with groans, or even, if so it may be, with tears, you entreat of God to set you free from the evil of error; if your heart be set on a happy life. And this will take place the more easily, if you obey with a willing mind His commands, which He has willed should be confirmed by so great authority of the Catholic Church. For whereas the wise man is so joined to God in mind, as that there is nothing set between to separate; for God is Truth; and no one is by any means wise, unless his mind come into contact with the Truth; we cannot deny that between the folly of man, and the most pure Truth of God, the wisdom of man is set, as something in the middle. For the wise man, so far as it is given unto him, imitates God; but for a man who is a fool, there is nothing nearer to him, than a man who is wise, for him to imitate with profit: and since, as has been said, it is not easy to understand this one by reason, it behooved that certain miracles be brought near to the very eyes, which fools use with much greater readiness than the mind, that, men being moved by authority, their life and habits might first be cleansed, and they thus rendered capable of receiving reason.

Whereas, therefore, it needed both that man be imitated, and that our hope be not set in man, what could be done on the part of God more full of kindness and grace, than that the very pure, eternal, unchangeable Wisdom of God, unto Whom it behooves us to cleave, should deign to take upon Him (the nature of) man? That not only He might do what should invite us to follow God, but also might suffer what used to deter us from following God. For, whereas no one can attain unto the most sure and chief good, unless he shall fully and perfectly love it; which will by no means take place, so long as the evils of the body and of fortune are dreaded; He by being born after a miraculous manner and working caused Himself to be loved; and by dying and rising again shut out fear. And, further, in all other matters, which it were long to go through, He showed Himself such, as that we might perceive unto what the clemency of God could be reached forth, and unto what the weakness of man be lifted up.