“Priesthood of the Laity” became quite a thing in the Catholic Church a couple of generations ago. The phrase has played a role in the Catholic identity wars that have been raging ever since. Often if someone hammers the idea of priesthood of the laity, they advocate a de-sacramentalized church in which we all get to do the fun things that only ordained priests once were allowed to do. Flat church, anti-hierarchical, indistinguishable from low church Protestantism.
The struggle over the true meaning of the phrase has turned over all sorts of interesting keys in the last few decades. I can’t pretend to encompass all the literature, nor do I care to broaden myself by attempting to do so. I’m sure there’s a lot of good work being done out there, and you should definitely go read it and tell me all about it. Spoilers: we’re not low church Protestants.
But when I think of the priesthood of the laity I think of the books of Samuel. I’ve written a few things about that before—king-priests, intercession, Purgatory. Would people be so quick to tout the priesthood of the laity if they took it to mean that, as priests, it is our job to take a spiritual bullet for all the baptized? Continue reading Priesthood of the Laity–Old Testament Edition
I’ve argued—alright, claimed—previously that the overarching theme of the Books of Samuel is the priestly action of intercession. We see the need once again in II Samuel 21, when the aggrieved Gibeonites bring their suit to King David.
A famine has fallen upon Israel, which can only mean one thing: some kind of transgression. The Promised Land always supports the people so long as they keep the commandments. When the people abandon the Deuteronomic way of life, the land rises against them.
The last time we saw this was in the time between judges, when the civil war and the widespread sins of the Israelites led to a famine that drove Elimelech and Naomi to sojourn in Moab, bringing the wonderful character of Ruth into the bloodline of David. We also saw it negatively reinforced when Saul’s rash oath deprived his Israelite army of the sustaining honey of the forest.
This time around, the spiritually alert David consults God and learns the cause of the famine. Israel has bloodguilt for something Saul did many years previously during his reign. At the time of the failed conquest, the Israelites had made a covenant with the Gibeonites that they would ally with them against other Canaanites and in return not drive them out.
Upon Saul’s ascent to the throne many years later, he broke this oath and began to wage war against them. Using a previous divine command to justify enriching Israel at the expense of the nations? Not surprising, given his failure in I Samuel 15 with the Amalekites! Saul is dead now, but the bloodguilt for his action has gone unpaid, and the land has turned against the Israelites as a result. Continue reading High Priest David: Gibeonite Punishment
My favorite character from II Samuel is Joab. This is a hero for the 21st century!
Joab is David’s right hand man throughout the trials and tribulations of II Samuel. When something needs to get done, Joab is your man. He does not qualify as one of David’s “Thirty”—his mighty men of valor—but instead commands the armies of Israel. He is the cunning strategist willing to pay the price for victory. He is the loyal soldier who wants Israel and the house of David to be strong.
For Joab, “the price for victory” can be anything. So can the conditions for victory! He is fully committed to playing the villain so that the good guys can win. If ever there was a means to worry over, Joab could find the end to justify it.
Joab ambushes and murders the noble warrior Abner as he leaves the court of David. Abner had been the sole force propping up the fading house of Saul; after his honor was impugned Abner concluded a peace agreement with David which forecasted the end of the war between their houses. But Abner had, in the previous hostilities, slain Joab’s brother Asahel when the latter refused to break off the fighting. Asahel’s death was a sad but guiltless casualty of war…to everyone except Joab. Family ties being his apex ethical norm, Joab murdered Abner.
What fascinates me is that David curses Joab and his family for making him into an oath-breaker…but Joab remains commander of David’s armies. He is the indispensable heavy, the enforcer who does the dirty work so the boss can keep his hands clean. It is some insight into David’s character that he finds Joab repellent but does not dispose of him. Continue reading Joab, Anti-Hero
There’s a tough question for you: at the level of allegory, who is Absalom?
This question is a lot more difficult than asking the same of Pharaoh, because (again) the Books of Samuel give us richer and more complicated characters. We can see and understand and sympathize with the motives of the various actors.
In one obvious sense, Absalom just has to be playing the role of Satan. This is especially clear in II Samuel 15-16. If David is the true king of Israel, whose people have abandoned him for another king, walking in sorrow up the Mount of Olives…well, Absalom has to be Satan. He’s the rebel who won the hearts of the king’s people and turned them against him, the one who has ascended in his pride and usurped the place of the king, the one who seems to conquer as the true king is defeated and goes down into exile. In the king’s absence he plunders his bride(s) just as Satan defiles the souls of believers and the Church herself. He’s a bad dude. Continue reading If David = Christ, Absalom = ???
The Abbey Boys keep plugging along with their recordings of Orlando Furioso. The rate of progress is comical, unless you already know Abbey Boys. Then it’s not surprising that a weekend task takes six months. But it beats doing homework!
If they keep this up they will get pretty good by the time they graduate. The ERC nerds experimented a little with scoring the recitation and tantalized me with an ultimately disappointing promise of a “drop” (as in, “Wait for the…”). One day I’ll score a student-artist willing to do 6-10 drawings of the scenes of a canto for a text-and-slide show on YT or something.
Anyway, enjoy the fruit of their labors:
Brandon’s post on St. Peter Damian inspired me to hobby translate the opening chapter of de divina omnipotentia (Spade’s translation, which Brandon links, skips over large swaths of text). An enjoyable diversion, and an excellent precursor text for St. Anselm’s treatment of divine attributes in Proslogion! I plan to go back to format and clean-up later, probably to set up a text for teaching St. Anselm in the future. Still draft-y, but voici:
Who is snatched alone from the gales of the sea’s surge, while he sees still that a net endangers between the cliff and the rocks, between between threats and swelling heaps of waves, is inhuman if he does not deplore his allies laboring in distress. I therefore, dismissed from the episcopate, rejoice that I am as one exposed on the sand; but that you by winds and blasts are ground, and bob among the gaping maws of the sea, I sigh not without fraternal compassion. He errs, father, he errs, who pledges himself at the same time to be a monk, and to abandon care. How wickedly he merits, who presumes to desert the monastic cloister that he may be hale to bailiff the soldiery of the world. The healthy fish is plucked from the waves, not that he may live for himself, but that he may feed others. We are called, we are drawn; but that we may live for others, let us die to ourselves; the hunter loves the stag, but that he may make it food for himself; he pursues the goat, he slays the hare; but, that he himself be well, those things nothing. Men also love us, but not for us; they love for their own selves, they desire to turn us into their delicacies. And while we describe them, small marvel, in exteriors, what repudiation do we give them other than our monk, who hides inwardly? Continue reading St. Peter Damian, Omnipotence
Pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.
You are dust and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19)
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
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?
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)