Fulfilling the Psalms

Commenting on II Samuel is complicated because of its deeper narrative structure.  The characters are not types like in Genesis or Exodus; they have a lot more depth and development.  More interpretive moves are required at the literal level before the spiritual senses shake out.  Those spiritual senses are in some ways more profound, but they require more explanation and time to see.

Hacking my way through these issues has helped me get a handle on one of St. Luke’s phrases that I never fully understood.  Of course all the gospels are interested in Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, and I can give some easy sense to what it means for Jesus to fulfill the Law.  But St. Luke always chips in this extra mode of fulfillment—that Christ fulfills the Psalms.

Of course there’s a simple way to explain that—St. Luke is saying the Psalms are prophetic.  But it’s a little strange, right?  That’s like picking up a hymnal at mass and saying that it is prophetic.  Prophetic how?

The Psalms sing the story of David—the good and the bad, the triumphs and defeats, and always the cry to God.  They are the soundtrack to I and II Samuel, the lessons that David learns, the internal deliberations and frustrations that he experiences during all these scenes.  Psalms are the blocking to his play. Continue reading Fulfilling the Psalms

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The Joy of Learning?

A great student question: am I defective because I like eating more than I like learning?

Let’s back up.

Compare two different kinds of goods: the noble good of truth and the necessary good of food.  As a rational animal I require both for the full flourishing that is happiness.  If I go without the first my life is debased; if I go without the second my life ends.

Because truth is a nobler good that perfects the higher part of my nature, it is rational to make sacrifices of lower goods to obtain it.  But make too many, and we act irrationally (and die). Continue reading The Joy of Learning?

St. Anselm/John of Fecamp, Oratio XXVII (for priests)

Oratio XXVII

Ad Christum

Cum sacerdos corpus Christi et sanguinem in manibus tenet, tenensque dulciter recordetur quos dolores in cruce pro nobis passus est.

Dulcissime, et super omnia desideranda desiderande et suavissime Jesu Christe, adesto supplicationi meae, et intende voci orationis meae (Psalm 5:3), et per tuam magnam misericordiam emunda ab omni inquinamento peccati animam meam, ut dignus possim accedere ad servitium tui altaris, digneque tractare mysterium corporis et sanguinis tui.  Fateor, dulcissime Domine, coram omnipotentia tua me nimis esse culpabilem, et multa mala fere per singulas horas facientem, et tamen de ineffabili bonitate tua non desperantem.  Bonus es tu, Domine, et in bonitate tua doce me justificationes tuas (Psalm 119:68), ut eas intelligendo, easque, sicut decet, jugiter operando, mundo corde mundaque anima possim recipere mysteria tua.

O Sweetest, [and To Be Desired above all things to be desired], and Gentlest Jesus Christ, attend to my supplication and hear the voice of my prayer (Psalm 5:3), and through Your great mercy wash out my soul from every defilement of sin, that I may be worthy to approach to the service of Your altar and worthily conduct the mystery of Your Body and Blood.  I confess, Sweetest Lord, before Your omnipotence, that I am exceedingly culpable, and doing many sins nearly every hour, and yet not despairing of Your ineffable goodness.  You are good, Lord, and in Your goodness teach me Your ways (Psalm 119:68) that by knowing them and, as it fitting, constantly doing them, with clean heart and clean soul I may be able to receive Your mysteries. Continue reading St. Anselm/John of Fecamp, Oratio XXVII (for priests)

Does Mephibosheth Betray David?

The Books of Samuel are compelling because they devote time to character motivations and development.  One of the most interesting of these is the tale of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan.

Early in II Samuel, as David is wrapping up his war against the House of Saul, we are introduced to Mephibosheth.  His appearance is completely out of place in the story at that point, a “We interrupt this broadcast…” moment, and the information we get is pretty basic—when his father died on Mt. Gilboa at the end of I Samuel, Mephibosheth’s nurse dropped him while fleeing.  Because of this he was lame for the rest of his life.

That’s it!  No other details.  Quelle bizarre.

Four chapters later he becomes important to David’s story.  Continue reading Does Mephibosheth Betray David?

A Heresy on Charity?

Many years ago I had a terrific argument with one of my Ethics students in which he gave the most cogently argued objection I’ve ever fielded as a teacher.  We were going over St. Thomas’s definition of enjoyment in the Summa which is, boiled down to simple terms, “to adhere lovingly to a thing for its own sake.”

My student (does he even remember that he did this, I wonder?) argued that this was an impossibility, since we would know that this brings us happiness and therefore “for its own sake” would be lost in favor of “for the sake of something else (my happiness).”  I don’t think he was working off of any research or prior reading.  I think he’d argued his way directly into a famous self-interest objection against eudaimonism.

We went back and forth a little and I went the boring route of talking about intention and whatnot and that was the end of that.  But for some reason this moment came back to me powerfully this year as I worked my juniors through another section of our Ethics class: Pieper on Prudence.

So here’s my potentially crazy thought.  What if I bite the bullet on my former student’s objection and say, “You are 100% correct.  We can never love any end with the kind of perfect self-forgetfulness necessary to meet this definition.  Our wills just don’t work that way.  And that is why we require the supernatural virtue of charity.” Continue reading A Heresy on Charity?

David, Type of Christ

David as forerunner to Christ?  Not exactly news to most people.  But David as type of Christ, according to the four-fold sense of Scripture?  That gets a little less play.

It’s easy to focus on Jesus as a Davidic messiah, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, a descendent of David whose kingship, it turns out, transcends the merely earthly.  St. Matthew in particular is keen to show his royal lineage, and put “Son of David” on the lips of sinners and supplicants.

I think David is underappreciated, however, and have felt so since I chose him as my confirmation saint long, long ago.  That’s right, I roll old school with my saints.  St. Moses, St. Abraham, St. David.  Not a common way to address them anymore, but they all have a place in the old Roman Martyrology.

St. David is a Christ figure according to the allegorical sense of Scripture.  To refresh, take Moses: St. Moses is a type of Christ—indeed a much more famous one than St. David—because the entire Exodus account has as its allegorical sense the Christian’s escape from sin and death.  The Israelites are us, the Red Sea is sin and death, the army of Pharaoh is the host of fallen angels pursuing us to our destruction, the night is the world of sense and sorrow, this valley of tears.  And since St. Moses is the one leading the people through the sea in the literal sense, his very person corresponds with Jesus, our Redeemer who leads us through the dark night and out of the clutches of the sea.  That makes him a type of Christ.

So where’s one to find an Old Testament story where St. David plays a similar roll?  I’m glad you asked! It’s II Samuel 15.  Continue reading David, Type of Christ

Old Hobbies Renewed

What do Chess and Sumo Wrestling have in common?  Me as a fan!  Or rather, I’ve renewed my interest in each.

==De Summo Sumo==

Back in the ’90s there was a brief surge of interest in sumo wrestling in the United States.  Chad Rowan, wrestling under the shikona Akebono, became the first (and so far only) American to be promoted to sumo’s highest honor, yokozuna.  He carved out a pretty nice sumo career before retiring for WWE, K-1, and other sideshow sports.

220px-sumoakebono
Don’t call him Chad

Thanks to Akebono, for a short time sumo could be found on some sports channels at weird times.  My younger brother got me interested, although we couldn’t watch often and I was always trying to catch up to him in understanding.  Our sumo phase lasted only a little less than did America’s in general.  I remember being fascinated by the affair but it was not easy to be a sumo fan in those days.

Enter the internet!  YouTube makes it extremely easy to be a sumo fan living in Not Japan these days, and there are plenty of easy-to-use online resources to get you through the byzantine maze of language and custom shrouding the sport.  Inspired by an article on ESPN about Hakuho, one of the greatest rikishi of all time, I threw myself back into the sport with glee. Continue reading Old Hobbies Renewed

St. Anselm/John of Fecamp, Oratio XXV (for priests)

Oratio XXV

Prayer 25

Ad Christum

To Christ

Cum sacerdos multum timet ne officium altaris, quod gerit, magis et noceat quam proficiat; et quod consilium de hac re capiat.

When the priest greatly fears lest the office of the altar, which he conducts, harm him more than it profits; and what counsel he may take in this matter.

Dulcissime et benignissime Domine Jesu Christe, altissimi Patris altissime Fili, qui cum eodem Patre tuo, et Spiritu sancto universitatis Creator existis; cui nota sunt omnia antequam fiant, tu nosti insipientam meam, nosti et quam infirma sit et fragilis anima mea; et eius peccata atque delicta a te non sunt abscondita.  Te vero Creatorem meum esse recognosco; et omnia, quae mihi ad praesentis vitae necessitatem sunt, administrare fateor: fecisti ergo me, cum tibi placuit, et tandiu in hac vita ero, quandiu tibi placuerit; nec quousque tibi placeat, ulla vis me hinc expellere poterit.  Et quia de hac re certissimus sum quod ita sit, hoc super omnia immensam bonitatem tuam deprecor, ut qualitercunque mihi eveniat, dum vivo, saltem de me bonus sit finis, omnibusque iniquitatibus meis per veram poenitentiam dimissis, ad visionis tuae gloriam pervenire valeam, propter quam me creasti.

Sweetest and Most Benign Lord Jesus Christ, Most High Son of the Most High Father, Who with the same Father of Yours and the Holy Spirit do exist as Creator of the universe; to Whom are known all things before they come to be, You have known my foolishness, you have known also how infirm and fragile is my soul; and its sins and delicts are not hidden from You.  You, truly, do I recognize as my Creator; and all things which are for me a necessity of the present life, I confess to administer: therefore You made me when it pleased You, and I will be in this life for just so long as it pleases You; nor however long it be pleasing to You will any power be able to drive me hence.  And since in this matter I am most certain it is so, this I implore above all things, the immensity of Your goodness, that howsoever it should befall me while I live, at least for me may the good be my end, and do You remit all my iniquities through true penitence, that I be hale to arrive at the glory of Your vision, on account of which You have created me. Continue reading St. Anselm/John of Fecamp, Oratio XXV (for priests)

Old Testament Precursor Parable: II Samuel 13-14

The New Testament is hidden in the Old; the Old is made manifest in the New.
(et in Vetere Novum latet, et in Novo Vetus patet)
–St. Augustine, Questions on the Heptateuch II.73 (modified for grammar)

There’s a fantastic Old-New connection hiding in II Samuel, one of the last places one would think to look.  Ok, one of the last places I would think to look.  Seeing the connection requires some set up, because stories unfold with quite a bit more detail and complexity in the Books of Samuel.

Going into II Samuel 13, we already know that David has had his major lapse–the rape of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah–and that pain is coming.  David stands apart from his predecessor Saul not by virtue of sinlessness but rather because of repentance.  That’s what Psalm 51 is about.  But repentance is not a get out of jail free card—you still have to face the consequences of your actions. Continue reading Old Testament Precursor Parable: II Samuel 13-14

A Benedictine Joke

How can you tell the difference between a Benedictine and a Dominican?  A Dominican thinks the Latin word conversatio means “conversation” [insert sarcastic guffaw].

In a Benedictine author like St. Anselm, if you see conversatio it should almost certainly be translated in light of the Benedictine promise of conversatio morum, or “daily conversion of one’s life.”  This is made a little trickier by the fact that St. Benedict’s use of the word would be something of an archaism by the time of St. Anselm, but we are going to trust his grounding in the Rule.

So when a Dominican author copies a Benedictine author’s use of conversatio, now how should we translate it?  The standard use of the word by the time of Aquinas is simply “conversation” as we would use the term.  See opening joke of this post: my English translation of St. Thomas’s prayer gives “discourse” where the saint has conversatio.  He’s only a Dominican, right?

But he is lifting directly from St. Anselm’s prayer, another way in which the Abbot of Bec exerted enormous influence over the scholastic era.  Here’s the side-by-side: Continue reading A Benedictine Joke