Sacrifice, Gift, Liturgy

Another way to look at the religious act of sacrifice is to see it in relation to gift-giving.

“Gift” in English typically has the connotation of freely-given, something not given in payment of some debt.  In light of my previous post on sacrifice, that would making gifting and sacrificing two different modes of giving.  Sacrifices are things given to God (or, more broadly, the gods) because we owe a debt of worship; gifts are given in a superabundant act of generosity or love.*

The asymmetry of the God-human relationship I discussed in the previous post extends to this gift-sacrifice distinction.  God can never owe anything and creates all that is in a superabundant act of love; He can only give gifts.  Humans can never truly own anything of their own to gift to God; humans can only give sacrifices.  God gives; we sacrifice. Continue reading Sacrifice, Gift, Liturgy

Debt, Worship, Sacrifice

Let’s reinvent the wheel a little bit.  By the end of this we will have come back around to a very common, very basic doctrine of the Catholic Church.  In writing this I have in mind primarily my students, for whom connecting all the things we teach is usually very difficult.

Justice

We begin with justice, the repaying of debts that we owe.  Among all the different kinds of justice-relations we can find ourselves in, the just person above all recognizes that there are some debts that can never be properly repaid.  To be truly just is to attempt to repay those debts anyway, even knowing that it will never really be done.

By way of introductory example, consider the case of one person saving another person’s life.  It doesn’t seem strange to imagine a person feeling that they could never repay their savior, but that they would in any event constantly strive to do so.  Just because “thanks” or “a check for a million dollars” doesn’t seem to cover the debt doesn’t mean we should do nothing.  It’s not hard to imagine the indebted party gladly doing good for their savior in a variety of ways, hoping that some day they could reciprocate in some genuine way.  Anyone who shrugged and ceased to care about their debt because of the inadequacy of their efforts would be wicked. Continue reading Debt, Worship, Sacrifice

Theological Virtues

Brandon has a thoughtful piece on the virtue of hope which I enjoyed very much and yet with which I find myself in several points of disagreement.  Much as I typically agree with Brandon, that I might disagree on a few points here is no surprise: the nature of the theological virtues and their relation to the other virtues is notoriously problematic.  Perhaps putting down my own thoughts on the matter can mark a return to active blogging!

Caution: what follows is my idiosyncratic attempt to re-invent the wheel.  It is not really a proper response to Brandon either, more of a set of counter-thoughts inspired by him (much like his original post with respect to the article, I think).  Caveat lector. Continue reading Theological Virtues

Rhomphaia in the New Testament

Remember when I was playing with biblical weaponry and speculated on a muddy, probably-impossible-to-prove distinction between rhomphaia and machaira as divine and human swords, respectively?  You have suggestive uses like the cherubim wielding a rhomphaia to keep people out of the garden; you have an explicit contrast in Ezekiel’s doom against Egypt between the machaira Pharaoh wields and the rhomphaia God will give to Babylon; but mostly you have an unclear mixture of the two throughout the Old Testament.  It feels to me like there’s an idea lurking behind it all but much too obscure and inconsistent to do much with it.

Well, enter the New Testament.

New Testament authors refer to swords 36 times and there is a very strong pattern indeed.  Here’s a quick list, with commentary to follow. Continue reading Rhomphaia in the New Testament

Biblical Weaponry

[This is an old draft I want to push out, warts and all, so that I can riff off of it with another post coming up.  It’s verrry imperfect but hopefully amusing.  This investigation is what inspired me to write my post on the Septuagint and the Masoretic text two years ago.]

You know who likes ancient weapons?  This guy.

Trying to get a handle on the use of framea for spear in the Vulgate sent me down a rabbit hole of Biblical word studies for naming all the different tools you can use to kill people.  There’s quite a tangled web of words and strange choices by biblical authors.

I’m no closer to being an archaeo-armorer, but I can share the fruit of my paltry labors.  Think of it as another “how to say ‘tree‘” post, but with gore this time. Continue reading Biblical Weaponry

Old Testament Adventures: Josiah’s Failure

Why isn’t Josiah the greatest of all the kings of Israel?

Sure, David is the gold standard by which all future kings are judged.  They either walk in the ways of David their father or (much more commonly) they do not.  He writes the psalms, the prayer-book of the people of Israel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  He brings the ark to Jerusalem and attempts to build God a temple, which leads to God making him a covenant mediator on par with Abraham and Moses.  None of this even touches upon the countless stories of his great personal faith in God.

But then again he has epic failures.  No other king has so much ink devoted to them, and quite a bit of that ink draws an unflattering portrait.  He multiplies wives.  He massacres the blind and lame of Jerusalem in response to a taunt.  He rapes a woman and murders her husband, one of his own trusted warriors, to make her his own.  And that’s not even the worst one!  He brings down a curse of death upon the people of Israel through the taking of the census against God’s command.  So at a minimum Josiah compares quite favorably to David by what he doesn’t do; there are no epic failures counter-balancing his greatest accomplishments. Continue reading Old Testament Adventures: Josiah’s Failure

Old Testament Adventures: Elisha’s Death

As Elisha nears the final hour of his life, we get this perplexing scene in II Kings 13:

14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows”; so he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow”; and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands upon the king’s hands. 17 And he said, “Open the window eastward”; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. And he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 And he said, “Take the arrows”; and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; and he struck three times, and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

What a horrible old man that Elisha must have been!  A grieving king comes to him in his final hour, full of filial devotion for this departing holy man, and instead he gets yelled at and blamed for Israel’s future ills because he didn’t correctly read Elisha’s mind?  How awful!

Just kidding.  What, do you people not read the whole Bible or something? Continue reading Old Testament Adventures: Elisha’s Death

Aquinas Against the Death Penalty

The most crushing objection I’ve ever seen against the use of the death penalty is given by St. Thomas Aquinas as the first objection in ST II-II Q64 a2.  Let’s marvel at the objection for a bit and then look at how Aquinas responds.

In the Summa Theologiae, very often the first objection of an article is the conclusion of a previous article.  You might think of these as consistency objections, or an introduction to further refining a point.  “But wait a minute, you just said…” in the most annoying student voice you can muster.

On the other hand there are many objections which are just very intuitively powerful or insightful.  Reading the really great objections, being rocked on your heels, finally seeing the problem, really seeing it for the first time–these are perhaps the greatest the pleasures of reading St. Thomas.

The first objection against the use of death as a penalty is one of these, but with a bit of a twist: it’s a quotation from Sacred Scripture.  Why is that weird?  Well, very often I find his Scriptural objections fairly week or formulaic, or at least a bit of an interpretive strain to see how it really works as an objection.  There are exceptions of course, but I usually steer my students away from these so they can focus more on the main argument.

Well this is definitely one of the exceptions.  I’m not sure Aquinas ever gives a Scriptural citation with as much power as this one.  For those who know the reference, you probably don’t even need to see the text or have it explained to realize the problem for someone inclined to argue in support of the death penalty.  It is the famous parable of the wheat and the tares from the thirteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

The text, si placeat: Continue reading Aquinas Against the Death Penalty

Aquinas Doesn’t Care That Much About War

When the ethical topic of war comes up, as it does often enough and with intensity every so often, St. Thomas Aquinas is usually mentioned as a defender of a long-standing Catholic endorsement of the idea of “Just War.”  That’s not wrong exactly, but let’s subvert the claim for a bit.  I’m a teacher; being ambiguously provocative is basically my whole life. Continue reading Aquinas Doesn’t Care That Much About War

Translating Psalms (75)

If you are not familiar with how the Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, first read II Kings 18-19 (it’s also in Isaiah 36-37).  Then read Lord Byron’s immortal take, even though the psalmist beat him to it by about 2500 years.

For Holy Saturday, it is the harrowing of hell.

“Notus in Judaea” (Psalm 75)

[1] In finem, in laudibus. Psalmus Asaph, canticum ad Assyrios.

Unto the end, in praises.  A psalm for Asaph, a canticle unto the Assyrians. Continue reading Translating Psalms (75)