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.

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