Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church (Review)

9780310514879Bell, James Stuart, with Patrick J. Kelly.

Awakening Faith: Daily Devotions from the Early Church

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. Hardcover. $24.99.

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With thanks to Zondervan for the review copy.

The Fathers, I’m afraid, remain an unknown quantity to many, and perhaps most, devout churchgoers. This isn’t only true of Evangelical Protestants, but even of Orthodox and Catholics, who lay claim to patristic theology and spirituality as their own inheritance, and ostensibly consider such an inheritance to be both foundational and authoritative. Part of the problem, of course, is that the body of existing patristic literature is so extensive as to send even the most determined new reader into fits of debilitating fatigue. Moreover, those who might survive a first encounter with a bibliographical listing of patristic works, even only in translation, go on to face various other obstacles: the translation might be so archaic as to be incomprehensible; a deficit in historical and/or theological background might render the basic argument of even a short work inscrutable; and so on. And then there’s the open secret that many people just don’t know how to undertake a serious reading of literary classics, let alone a philosophical or theological treatise. Or, perhaps more distressingly, they’re simply not interested in ever undertaking any such reading.

And yet the Fathers ought to be read, as the introduction to this little book rightly pleads. The Fathers are our forebears in the Faith, and we owe them filial respect. They are authentic teachers and witnesses, the champions of Christian doctrine,  who through their struggles, and sometimes even through the shedding of their own blood, handed down to us the deposit of Faith. They teach us to read Scripture anew, and they are sure guides in the path of virtue, in which they exercised themselves. So clearly, again, the Fathers ought to be read. What isn’t so clear is that our average churchgoer must read, e.g., St Ephrem the Syrian with the goal to understand the meter of his Syriac poetry, or St Basil the Great with a view to mastering the multiple facets of his argument for the divinity of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, there ought to be a place for a devotional reading of the Fathers, unencumbered by the business of critical introductions and apparatuses, and with a view to spiritual edification—and, needless to say, this isn’t only true for our average churchgoer, but for initiates of patristic study as well. It is here that Awakening Faith lends us a hand.

The book features 366 page-long selections from early Christian writers from 1st to the 9th centuries. Occasionally a longer reading or narrative will be split into two sections (or, exceptionally in the case of the Martyrdom of St Cyprian, the Conversion of St Augustine, and St John Cassian’s instruction on covetousness, three). The idea isn’t new, of course, and it has a quite respectable pedigree, arguably reaching back to the Byzantine and Medieval catenae and florilegia. The execution of this particular volume, however, is very much in the style of daily devotionals known to Evangelical Protestants: each numbered daily reading is provided with a thematic classification, a title, and a short Scripture quotation to frame the selection. These added editorial aids do feature from time to time some instances of vocabulary more familiar to Evangelicals than to the rest of us (“evangelism,” “plan of salvation,” “witness and testify,” “the lost,” together with the charming warning in the introduction not to be alarmed by the occasional reference to the “Apocrypha”). This does not at all detract from the value of the chosen texts themselves, which to me seem to have been well selected on the whole. I do note that, as is often the case in projects of this nature, “Church Fathers” seems to be understood as basically synonymous with “early Christian writer.” Yet, at least as far as we Orthodox are concerned, not every ancient writer is thereby a Father: certainly, St Theodore the Studite is a Father in a way that Theodore of Mopsuestia can never be. That said, as far as I can tell, no reading in this volume is problematic from the point of view of the consensio patrum, and I appreciate the broader exposure to early Christian literature in both prose and verse that the selections afford. The selections themselves have been edited for syntax and vocabulary, and the editors have laudably resisted the temptation dumb down the texts to the point of banality. Instead, the selections are given in elegant contemporary English. They read quite well, and command one’s full attention.

There is a full listing of all of the early Christian writers featured in the book, from St Ambrose of Milan to St Zeno of Verona, which provides brief bibliographical notes on each author together with a list of their numbered selections as given in the devotional. These notes are succinct and very well done; I do regret the recurring use of the jarring “Antiochean” for “Antiochene” in them, and hope that future editions of this book (of which I hope there shall be many) will correct this. Perhaps the most disconcerting omission in this publication is the lack of citations for each of the chosen selections. Once or twice I have wished to follow up on a reading, and have had to expend considerable effort to find the source. I should like to encourage either the editors or the publisher to make the list of sources available online to those who wish to have it. Surely this is but a minor chore in our age of electronic dissemination.

Another desideratum would be an index of the topics assigned to each of the readings (“Father and Spirit,” “Jesus Christ,” “Holy Days,” “The Bible,” “Holiness,” and so on). With such a tool in hand, one could proceed to navigate this book in one of three ways:

1) In numerical order, from 1-366;
2) In alphabetical or chronological order, by author; or
3) Thematically, by assigned subject.

Each method would only improve and enrich the reading exercise in new ways.

In spite of these minor imperfections, I am very pleased with Awakening Faith, and look forward to using it daily for my own enrichment and edification, as I have been doing in recent weeks. I warmly recommend this devotional to one and all.

The Tale of the Partridge Manuscript

“In 1936 Professor Norman Nash, a colleague of Dr. [William H. P.] Hatch [at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts], was explaining to the junior class in New Testament Studies that scholars for some time had been struck by the curious construction of the fifteenth chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. He indicated that he had come to feel that the doxology appearing in Romans 16:25-27 was originally to be found between verses 13 and 14 of the fifteenth chapter. Nash acknowledged that there was no manuscript evidence that supported his theory, but he concluded, ‘Who knows what archaeologists may one day turn up?’

“Following the class, Barrett Tyler and Reamer Kline talked further about their professor’s wistful comment. Between the two of them, they formed a plan to provide what Nash was hoping would some day turn up. At one of the stationery shops on Harvard Square they obtained a sheet of high-grade parchment. After returning to their room in Lawrence Hall they proceeded to ‘age’ their purchase in a solution of coffee grounds and strong tea. Following repeated boilings and soakings the desired coloration was achieved and the now antiqued parchment was placed under the dormitory doormat, where the traffic of students’ feet would give the sheet a still more aged appearance.

“By practicing with a broad-nib pen, Kline copied on ordinary paper the style of Greek script from photostats of various New Testament Greek manuscripts. Finally he chose the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus as his model. This is written in uncial letters, the capital letters of the Greek alphabet, and therefore the easiest ancient style to imitate. Beginning with Romans chapter 15, as precisely as possible Kline copied the text of Vaticanus until he came to verse 14. There he inserted the ‘missing’ doxology and continued on to the end of the page.

“Next it was necessary to bring the ‘Kline-Taylor manuscript’ to the attention of the New Testament scholars. A letter was written on stationery from the Hotel Essex near South Station in Boston and sent to Professor Nash. It read as follows:

April 27, 1936

Dear Professor Nash,

Enclosed you will find a manuscript which I bought during a recent trip to Egypt. I happened to be staying in Cairo and visited my friend Howard Lowell. While I was showing him various curios collected during the trip he became particularly interested in this manuscript.

I called your house this morning but you were out. I am leaving for Portland on business but will stop on my way back. I would appreciate any information you might give me concerning this manuscript as to whether it might be of value. Looking forward to meeting you, I remain very truly yours,

Wilfred J. Partridge

229 Greenwood Boulevard
Evanston, Illinois

“The letter and the manuscript arrived in the office of Professor Nash two days later. Being a cautious man by nature, Nash was skeptical but intrigued. It had the feel of an ancient manuscript, and important discoveries have occasionally happened unexpectedly. At any rate, he was certain that his colleague, Will Hatch, an internationally recognized authority on uncial manuscripts, could give an authoritative opinion concerning the authenticity and value of the fragment.

“The style of the script was clearly similar to other fourth-century specimens. After consultation with Professor Gulick of Harvard it seemed that the manuscript warranted serious consideration. The unexpected location of the doxology stimulated additional attention, and a technical opinion was requested from the Fogg Museum. The Fogg specialists asked for permission to scrape off a bit of ink for chemical analysis. Apart from such an analysis, they could render only a tentative opinion that the ink appeared to be of a variety common to many ancient manuscripts.

“Nash and Hatch agreed that chemical analysis was called for, but were reluctant to go ahead with it without first receiving permission from the owner of the document. Unfortunately, Mr. Partridge of Evanston, Illinois, had not returned from his business trip and consequently was unavailable.

“The Episcopal Theological School is a small community and interest in the Partridge Fragment began to spread. At this point Tyler and Kline began to have second thoughts. Their ‘fragment’ had been taken seriously and academic reputations were at stake. Their own academic future could be in some jeopardy.

“A few days later, a postcard arrived at Professor Nash’s office with a Cambridge postmark and dated April 30. It contained an adapted quotation from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ and was signed by the missing Wilfred J. Partridge. It read,

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of manuscripts and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—.’

“The following day, the two students appeared in Nash’s office and revealed the entire story to him. An unamused Professor Hatch was informed as gently as possible, and the ‘Partridge Fragment’ was retrieved from the Fogg Museum.

“Tyler and Kline were graduated in 1938 and were subsequently ordained in the Episcopal Church. Kline went on to become president of Bard College at Annandale-on-Hudson, and Tyler became a military chaplain. Professor Hatch never quite got over his sense of professional embarrassment, and the Partridge Fragment was rarely mentioned in his presence.

“Ten years later, in 1948, a magnificent stained glass window was dedicated at Episcopal Theological School in memory of Barrett Tyler, who had been killed in the service of his country during World War II. The circular window depicts scenes from Pilgrim’s Progress and contains an inconspicuous memento recollecting the hoax of the Wilfred Partridge manuscript. The central panel shows Bunyan’s Christian, at whose feet stands the figure of a partridge, firmly grasping a cord from which dangles a rolled scroll!

“Following the ceremony of dedication of the window Hatch was heard to say that he could not recall the mention of a bird in Bunyan’s classic allegory. Whether anyone ventured to explain to him the reason for its presence in the window must remain unknown.”

Bruce Manning Metzger, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), pp. 133-6. (Incidentally, the late Professor Metzger’s delightful memoir is chock-full of stories of scholarly lore, and should be read by all.)

[The header image of the partridge and the above reproduction of the panel in which it appears are both details from the Barrett Langdon Tyler Memorial Window at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They are taken from Ralph Adam Fine’s beautiful photograph of the same, and are used here by his kind permission. Mr Fine is a talented photographer and all-around nice fellow, and his work may be sampled, among other places, on his Flickr page.]

On Englishing the Bible of the Orthodox Church: Further Updates and Reflections

I.

While moderating my queue of unapproved comments, I was delighted to find a note from Michael Asser, whose fine KJV-LXX Psalter and Old Testament I have mentioned in the past. He writes:

I’m very glad to inform you that Archbishop Mark of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain (ROCOR) has blessed my ‘King James Septuagint’ (an adaptation of the OT of the King James Bible to the Greek Septuagint), and it is expected that it will be published by September 2013 by the St Innocent Press of Middlebury, Indiana.

This is very good news indeed. As I have noted before, the full text of his excellent KJV-LXX Old Testament is already available online at the Orthodox England website. It appears that the published volume will comprise the entirety of the material on that pageincluding, one hopes, the substantial Slavonic appendix. Needless to say, I enthusiastically look forward to the release of the printed edition, and congratulate the indefatigable translator on finding a suitable publisher for this invaluable work. Beyond this, allow me only to restate a wish I have expressed before:

I have read somewhere that Mr Asser has tentatively started to work on the KJV’s Gospel of St Matthew in order to bring it into conformity with the 1904 Patriarchal Greek New Testament. While he has not committed himself to a full-fledged New Testament project, I, for one, hope that he does carry out a full revision of the KJV New Testament to supplement his KJV-LXX Old Testament. In this way we would have, at long last, an accurate and stylistically consistent English edition of the entire Church’s Bible suitable for use at the Divine Services.

II.

Most Orthodox readers of bibliophile proclivities are no doubt already aware of the publication of A Psalter for Prayer, edited by David James (Jordanville: Holy Trinity, 2011). This project was several decades in the making, and at least a couple of editions, under such names as The Augmented Psalter and The Russian Orthodox Psalter, had been previously released electronically. This is a remarkable book, which includes not only a revision of the Coverdale Psalter (the one given, as is well known, in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), but also an admirably full compilation of the devotional and catechetical materials often printed in Church Slavonic Psalters. I understand that in some places this new Psalter has already come to replace that old staple, The Psalter According to the Seventy (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration, 1974). Having never been an Anglican, I lack the attachment to the words of the Coverdale Psalter that others seem to have; however, I can certainly attest to their verve and beauty, since I privately used Coverdale for a long stretch as a substitute for the HTM Psalter (my distaste for which I have never exactly kept a secret).

A Psalter for Prayer retails for $44, but in a most unusual development in the marketing of Orthodox liturgical publications, the book can be purchased from Amazon for a mere $28.69, while a Kindle edition (!) sells for $12.99. Interested parties would do well to promptly take advantage of this.

III.

Some might worry that the publication of Michael Asser’s KJV-LXX and David James’ A Psalter for Prayer within a couple of years of each other will needlessly cause them to be in direct competition: after all, both of these books seek to find a place in the private and public prayer life of Orthodox who use “hieratic English.” I rather doubt that this will be the case, if only because the books have different, and in fact complementary, goals. It might well be desirable to use the same Psalter liturgically that one uses in private reading, and this is the rationale behind such publications as the CTS New Catholic Bible, which prints the text of the Jerusalem Bible together with the Grail Psalms as used in the official Roman Catholic lectionary for the UK. Still, the use of different Psalters for liturgy and private reading need not be at all disruptive, as witnesses the long coexistence of the Authorized Version and Prayer Book Psalters, on which our publications are respectively based.

IV.

The need for a suitable liturgical Psalter in contemporary English has occupied my thoughts of late. There is, of course, The Septuagint Psalms by José de Vinck and Leonidas Contos (Allendale: Alleluia, 1993), which is certainly not without its charm, but in my judgment is gravely lacking in matters of editing, accuracy, and style. There is also The Psalter According to the Seventy (Westport: WORDsmith, 2001), published under the auspices of the OCA Archdiocese of Canada, but now out of print and nearly impossible to find. In spite of my best efforts, I have regrettably never had a chance to examine this volume. I understand, however, that a second edition is in the works and hopefully will appear at some point before the Parousia. Better by far than Contos and de Vinck is the Kathisma Psalter with Canticles (Otego: Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery, n.d.). As I have said many times before, while not perfect, this is a lovely and clear translation, and eminently suitable for reading and singing. It is truly a pity that it is not more widely known and used.

I should note that in his recent Prayer Book of the Early Christians (Brewster: Paraclete, 2012; also available in a Kindle edition!), Fr John McGuckin intriguingly uses the Grail Psalms, lightly emended for this purpose. Now I am aware of the many merits of the Grail Psalms and can certainly sympathize with, and even admire, this decision. It occurs to me, however, that Fr Lazarus Moore’s Psalter, at once laconic and lyrical, shares many of these merits and has yet other advantages. Could we not, with a little bit of effort, produce a revised contemporary text of this wonderful Psalter instead?

“The Voice of Stefan” is now “Bouncing into Graceland”

Greetings, my gentle snowflakes! I realize that it has been a long time indeed since we last met, but be anxious no more: for I have returned.

The first order of business is to inform as many of you as have heroically withstood with the merciless passing of the seasons that this blog’s name and look have changed. Allow me to introduce you, then, to Bouncing into Graceland.

As long time readers might recall, not only has this blog featured the above “Graceland” header image from its inception in 2007, but for as long as it was hosted on Blogger it also carried a subtitle taken from the homonymous song by the great Paul Simon:

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

These are surely some of the greatest American lyrics of all time, and the Graceland sign with the upwards arrow was specifically chosen to match them. “The Voice of Stefan” (which, incidentally, I first used for my short-lived Vox journal in 2006) was only meant to be a provisional name until I found something more satisfactory; however, I then started to blog in earnest, and the provisional name stayed almost by default. So the new name really isn’t new, after all, but in fact picks up on a theme that has been present here from the beginning. But more on that later, when I finish that one post I started to write back in 2008 (!).

Of course, those of you who also read Nick Norelli’s blog were already aware of the name change. As noted in his announcement, Nick did provide a number of suggested alternate names at my request, and he even listed some of them. I feel, however, that he left out of his partial list some of his better suggestions, which I therefore now share with you for your edification.

  • “Maybe, something like, ‘Radical Orthodoxy, Only Less Radical.'”
  • “Anything with some interesting foreign letters in it would be cool. Something like a Spanish Ñ or a Norwegian Ø in the title would be awesome.”
  • “If you wanna go something more classic how about ‘Irenaeus is Awesome’ or ‘Machen Kills Liberals’? Both have a nice ring to them.”
  • “‘Garfunkled’ could be cool. You could end every post by saying, ‘You’ve just been Garfunkled.'”

The first two are just fun. “Garfunkled” would have made for a splendid name (and catch phrase!), and indeed one with precedent in the Paul Simon oeuvre:

I been mothered, fathered, aunt and uncled
Roy Halleed and Art Garfunkled
I just discovered somebody’s tapped my phone

However, naming my blog after Art Garfunkel probably would have haunted for the rest of my days.

I must admit that I very nearly went with “Machen Kills Liberals.” I even envisioned an image of Machen holding a copy of Christianity and Liberalism, with the words “This Machine Kills Liberals” etched around the border (after the model of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” guitar). This would have been spectacular. I ultimately passed on it, but only with deep regret.

In the end, I decided that my traveling companions would be poorboys and pilgrims with families along the wayso, my gentle snowflakes, welcome to Bouncing into Graceland. I hope you’ll be my traveling companions too, and that we all will be received there.

Sundays with Silva: The Problem of Overinterpretation

“It is approximately the year 2790. The most powerful nation on earth occupies a large territory in Central Africa, and its citizens speak Swahili. The United States and other English-speaking countries have long ceased to exist, and much of the literature prior to 2012 (the year of the Great Conflagration) is not extant. Some archaeologists digging in the western regions of North America discover a short but well-preserved text that can confidently be dated to the last quarter of the twentieth century. It reads thus:

“Marilyn, tired of her glamorous image, embarked on a new project. She would now cultivate her mind, sharpen her verbal skills, pay attention to standards of etiquette. Most important of all, she would devote herself to charitable causes. Accordingly, she offered her services at the local hospital, which needed volunteers to cheer up terminal patients, many of whom had been in considerable pain for a long time. The weeks flew by. One day she was sitting at the cafeteria when her supervisor approached her and said, ‘I didn’t see you yesterday. What were you doing?’ ‘I painted my apartment; it was my day off,’ she responded.

“The archaeologists know just enough English to realize that this fragment is a major literary find that deserves closer inspection, so they rush the piece to one of the finest philologists in their home country. This scholar dedicates his next sabbatical to a thorough study of the text and decides to publish an exegetical commentary on it, as follows:

“We are unable to determine whether this text is an excerpt from a novel or from a historical biography. Almost surely, however, it was produced in a religious context, as is evident from the use of such words as devoted, offered, charitable. In any case, this passage illustrates the literary power of twentieth-century English, a language full of metaphors. The verb embarked calls to mind an ocean liner leaving for an adventuresome cruise, while cultivate possibly alerts the reader to Marilyn’s botanical interests. In those days North Americans compared time to a birdprobably the eaglethat flies.

“The author of this piece, moreover, makes clever use of word associations. For example, the term glamorous is etymologically related to grammar, a concept no doubt reflected in the comment about Marilyn’s ‘verbal skills.’ Consider also the subtleties implied by the statement that ‘her supervisor approached her.’ The verb approach has a rich usage. It my indicate similar appearance or condition (this painting approaches the quality of a Picasso); it may have a sexual innuendo (the rapist approached his victim); it may reflect subservience (he approached his boss for a raise). The cognate noun can be used in contexts of engineering (e.g. access to a bridge), sports (of a golf stroke following the drive from the tee), and even war (a trench that protects troops besieging a fortress).

“Society in the twentieth century is greatly illuminated by this text. The word patient (from patience, meaning ‘endurance’) indicates that sick people then underwent a great deal of suffering: they endured not only the affliction of their physical illness, but also the mediocre skills of their medical doctors, and even (to judge from other contemporary documents) the burden of increasing financial costs.

A few syntactical notes may be of interest to language students. The preposition of had different uses: casual (tired of), superlative (most important of all), and partitive (many of whom). The simple past tense had several aoristic functions: embarked clearly implies determination, while offered suggests Marilyn’s once-for-all, definitive intention. Quite noticeable is the tense variation at the end of the text. The supervisor in his question uses the imperfect tense, ‘were doing,’ perhaps suggesting monotony, slowness, or even laziness. Offended, Marilyn retorts with a punctiliar and emphatic aorist, ‘I painted.’

“Readers of Bible commentaries, as well as listeners of sermons, will recognize that my caricature is only mildly outrageous. What is wrong with such a commentary? It is not precisely that the ‘facts’ are wrong (though even these are expressed in a way that misleads the reader). Nor is it sufficient to say that our imaginary scholar has taken things too far. There is a more fundamental error here: a misconception of how language normally works.

“Our familiarity with the English language helps us see quite clearly that any ‘exegesis’ such as the one I have just made up is, in the first place, and overinterpretation of the passage. Except perhaps in certain poetic contexts, we do not use words and grammatical functions as suggested by those comments. Of course, none of usnot even the finest scholarcan acquire the same familiarity with biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek that we have with our native, living tongue. Consequently, it is a littler easier to read alien concepts into an ancient text and sound quite scholarly as we do it. And if the text in question was written by a great classical author, we are even more readily disposed to assume that it contains great richness of meaning.

“The problem intensifies when we deal with Scripture. Surely and inspired text must be full of meaning: we can hardly think that so much as a single word in the Bible is insignificant or dispensable. True enough. But we must never forget that God has spoken to us in the language of the people. Much of what passes for biblical interpretation, whether in books or sermons, implies that God has used an artificial, coded, or even esoteric language. Ironically, not a few examples of ‘grammatico-historical exegesis’ suggest that the Bible is as distant from common believers as it was assumed by the proponents of the allegorical method. We must recall this basic principle: the richness and divine origin of the biblical message are not compromised by the naturalness and simplicity of the form in which God has chosen to communicate to us.

“In addition to overinterpreting the passage, however, our whimsical commentary above is deficient at a more important level: it contributes virtually nothing to the reader’s understanding of what the passage actually says! A simple translation into twenty-eighth-century Swahili would have conveyed far more accurately and efficiently the point of the text. Similarly, clear English versions of the Bible communicate to the modern reader the main (and therefore most important) point of any passage without recourse to obscure points of grammar.

“Preachers who make appeals to ‘the original’ may in some cases help their readers obtain a better insight into Scripture. More often than not, however such appeals serve one of two functions: (1) they merely furnish illustrations to heighten interest to that hearers think they have a better understanding of the passage (cf. the comment on embark above); (2) they provide the occasion to make a point that has little do to with the passage (cf. the comment on patient).”

Moisés Silva, “God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in the Light of General Linguistics” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation: Six Volumes in One, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), pages 199-201.

The NIV and the Messiah in the Old Testament

I expect that most of my readers are aware by now of the recent resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention on the NIV 2011. In this document, the SBC expressed its “disappointment” with what they term an “inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture,” requesting that LifeWay Christian Resources (an agency of the SBC) “not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores” and further resolving that Convention could not “commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.” The Baptist Press News blog comments that this was “a surprising and dramatic move,” further noting that “[t]he Resolutions Committee had asked messengers not to consider the resolution.”

This hastily presented document and the politically engineered process that led to its approval stands in stark contrast to the careful, balanced, and genuinely helpful supplemental report that the Translation Evaluation Committee of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has prepared for its own convention later this month. The indefatigable Rod Decker already directed our attention to this document nearly two months ago, and I am a bit surprised that his notice has failed to elicit further discussion of the report’s contents. I encourage anyone interested in English Bible translations in general, and the NIV in particular, to acquaint themselves with the supplemental report and the various other supporting documents available on the WELS website.

The Translation Evaluation Committee, who were impeccably thorough in the fulfillment of their mandate, sat down for an extended discussion with Douglas Moo, Chair of the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation. This meeting is described in some detail in pages 7-9 of the report. I was intrigued to learn the following, from page 8:

Regarding the understanding of messianic prophecy, Moo said that all of the members of the committee believe that the Old Testament has predictive prophecy that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He suggested that the majority of the committee follows the Walter Kaiser “line of fulfillment” approach.

In a footnote, the report further elaborates:

Walter Kaiser accepts the existence of direct, messianic predictions in the Old Testament. But he also emphasizes that, in many cases, one shouldn’t have to choose if a particular prophecy is fulfilled in the immediate situation of the psalmist, or later in salvation history, or in Christ and the church. It can be fulfilled in all of them, even though it may be ultimately fulfilled in Christ. A prophetic passage’s unity of meaning consists in the fact that from the original “seed” meaning, the core idea grew in content over time as God’s promise-plan unfolded. See: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan, 1995, pp. 23-31.

These comments piqued my interest for at least a couple of reasons. For one, Kaiser’s views on these and related matters are often dismissed as naïve, particularly by younger Evangelicals who claim a certain degree of hermeneutical sophistication. There may be some truth to that assessment, of course, but Kaiser is not a rube and his views are not an oddity. In fact his views remain extraordinarily influential, to the extent that a majority of a select group of the best and brightest in Evangelical biblical scholarship are said here to operate within his single-meaning, “epangelical” approach to the interpretation of messianic prophecy. Secondly, this bit of information constitutes a rare insight into the minds of the translators, and it might suggest to informed readers how to properly evaluate disputed renderings in the NIV when they touch on this vexed subject.

Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: The Importance of Thoughts (Part 3 of 4)

The following is the third in a series of four guest posts from Father Alexis Trader, a priestmonk and spiritual father of Karakallou Monastery on the Holy Mountain, and author of In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2002). Fr Alexis has recently released a new book, and it is about this new book that he writes below. (The first, second, and fourth posts either have been or will be posted elsewhere; please see the posting schedule at the end of this post.)

++++++++++++++++++++

The Importance of the Thoughts: Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron
Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds

So, what’s the book about? In a word, thoughts. The New Testament and the Church Fathers both recognize that a person’s spiritual state is a reflection of the thoughts harbored in the heart. Research in cognitive therapy has verified that psychological states of depression, anxiety, and anger are largely a function of the evaluative thoughts that individuals have about their current situation. Obviously, there is something very similar and something very different going on here. What are the similarities? What are the differences? And what does all this mean?

To tease out these issues, I decided to approach the subject in two ways or through two lenses, one panoramic and the other close-up. First, I looked at the Christian conception of the world as the foundation from which Christian views on the thoughts make sense and the scientific worldview as the basis for cognitive therapeutic positions on the mental life. Of course, huge differences surfaced rather quickly in this examination, but what is far more interesting is the existence of perhaps unexpected similarities with patristic approaches in certain philosophical currents at the heart of the scientific method and intrinsic to cognitive therapy. The details can be found in Chapter Two: “Worlds Apart: Myth, Method, and Metaphysics.” Originally, the table of contents listed the subheadings. I’ll list them now to give the reader a bird’s eye view of what is covered in that section:

1. Beholding the World in the Light of the Christian Narrative

A. The World in the Beginning: Creation ex nihilo and the in Image of God

B. A Fallen Humanity and a Fallen World: the Ancestral Sin

C. The World’s Salvation: Christ’s Wondrous Work

D. Divine Revelation to the World and the Orthodox Christian Worldview

2. Explicit Method and Implicit Metaphysics: Underpinnings of the Worldview of Modern Science

A. Novum Organum: Empiricism, Rationalism, and Atomism

B. Metaphysics Concealed: Naturalism, Positivism, and Materialism

C. Method or Metaphysics? Evolutionary Theory and Related Philosophies

D. A Pragmatic Postscript: As Long as it Works

3. Seeking a Common World Between Divergent Worldviews

4. Slaying the Serpent to Rescue the Remedy

I would say more, but this post is not intended to be a spoiler.

Second, I decided to look at how Aaron Beck’s cognitive theory defines thought, emotion, behavior, and their relationship to one another in normal human functioning, in psychopathology, and in recovery. That’s a fascinating subject in its own right, but I wanted to go further. I wanted to see how the Church Fathers would look at these psychological subjects. At times, the Fathers speak quite directly to issues raised by cognitive therapy. At other times, their responses are more indirect. But the Fathers are always relevant! This exploration, which makes up the second third of the book, brings a lot of fascinating issues to the fore. In this post, I’ll just note four major themes. First of all, patristic and cognitive views on how our emotions are affected by the way we interpret our situation converge in the following passage by Epictetus that is cited with approval by both Church Fathers and cognitive therapists: “It is not things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things…. When, therefore, we are hindered or disturbed, or grieved, let us never blame anyone but ourselves, that means our own judgments.” Second, cognitive theory refers to deeper beliefs about danger, pain, helplessness, and lovability that are primitive in terms of being developed during childhood or similar to the reactions of animals under threat. These deeper beliefs seem to be related to the patristic notion of the passions that the Fathers see as both childish and brutish. That explains the subheading: “Of Beasts and Babes” in Chapter Three. Third, cognitive thinking errors such as making a mountain out of a molehill and the patristic bad thoughts such as gluttony are related in intriguing ways that suggest how cognitive therapy can be useful for pastors asked to explain why a bad thought is bad from a psychological perspective and for therapists looking for some moral direction when giving advice to Christian patients. Finally, I explore the deceptively similar issues of selfishness and egocentricity, which are so crucial in matters concerning sin and psychopathology. Knowledge of when a person is acting for selfish motives verses egocentric reasons turns out to be quite important for spiritual fathers and therapists, so they can determine whether a given problem with which they are dealing is primarily psychological, spiritual or both. In the next blog post, I will write a bit about the themes in the third half of the book in which I consider what cognitive theory looks like in practice, what goes on in a therapy session, and what techniques are used to modify thought, behavior, and emotion.

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The book, published by Peter Lang, is readily available for purchase from Amazon. Those unfamiliar with academic presses that cater to the “library market” will doubtless find the book rather expensive; yet the publisher has suggested that if the hardcover copies sell well in the immediate future, a less expensive paperback may well be on its way. I would therefore fervently encourage those who wish to read the book, but presently find it outside their budget, to approach their local college or public library about the possibility of purchasing it. Also, perhaps groups of five people could agree to purchase a copy as a donation for their parish library, or even as a gift for their pastor.

For the rest of this series of blog posts, follow the links below:

Post #1 – March 22nd at John Sanidopulos’ Mystagogy
Post #2 – March 25th at Fr Jonathan Tobias’ Second Terrace
Post #4 – March 31st at Kevin Edgecomb’s Biblicalia

Also, extended excerpts from the book are available at the following locations:

Introduction

Chapter 9

Learning Greek All Over Again

It is high time, my gentle snowflakes, that I made mention of what is, in my estimation, one the more important bibliographical events of the decade just ended for students of Biblical Greek: the publication of our friend Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament: A Practical Introduction for Teaching and Exegesis (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2010).

Readers interested in getting a taste of what this truly groundbreaking grammar brings to the table may wish to peruse the 60-page sample that Steve has made available on his website.

Now it is no secret to frequent readers of this blog that the illustrious Steven Edward Runge, D. Litt., is not only the acclaimed author of the aforementioned workhe is also a devoted reader of The Voice of Stefan, and indeed, the gentlest of all my snowflakes. We may therefore be assured not only of his superior scholarly abilities, but also of his exceptionally good taste.

It is entirely in keeping with his well-earned reputation as a gentleman and a scholar that, cognizant of the feverish eagerness with which I anticipated its publication, Steve should have decided to send along an inscribed copy of his Discourse Grammar. For this, I am profoundly grateful. I have taken the liberty to reproduce below his manuscript inscription for your edification:

Beautiful, isn’t it? Far be it from me to point out, as I have so many other times, that I myself am no snowflake at allgentle, noble, or otherwise; the gentlest of all my snowflakes simply can do no wrong.

Be that as it may, readers may have noticed that I have chosen some exceptionally ornate language to describe Steve’s Descriptive Grammar, and given my widely documented aversion to sycophantic blurbery, I feel that I must offer a personal word of justification for this.

My study of Greek, which for nearly 20 years has commanded my attention in a variety of settings, has been chiefly informed thus far by the more conventional historical and diachronic approaches common to grammars everywhere. As a result, I seem to be aware of a good bit of information on the history of the language, and can read, with various degrees of ease, a great deal of literature from the archaic to the late Byzantine periods. This is all very good, but I have long been aware, on the one hand, of the significant contribution that modern linguistics can make (and has made!) to the study of the Greek language, and on the other, of my woefully inadequate background on the subject in spite of some programmatic reading in the field. Particularly vexing has been to read time and again about the great promise of discourse analysis for the study of Greek grammar and the practice of exegesis, but to have precious little in the way of publications that corroborate and elucidate this claim. It is on this score that Steve Runge has bravely gone where few others have dared to venture, and as a result has offered us a substantial work that goes a very long way towards resolving this lamentable bibliographical deficit. For this, we all surely stand in his debt.

I have spent the better part of a month with the Discourse Grammar, and not infrequently, while reading one section or another, I have felt like I am learning Greek all over again. This is a wonderful and even exciting prospect, and I cannot help but to wholeheartedly recommend this book to every serious student of Biblical Greek.



A Strange and Wondrous Mystery

On this day, December 25 (O. S.), we celebrate the holy and great festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior JESUS CHRIST. With great joy, I extend to one and all the festal greeting:

 

CHRIST IS BORN!

 

 

From a sermon of St John Chrysostom on the Nativity of Christ:

“I behold a strange and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing! The Archangels blend their voices in harmony! The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory! All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven: the One above comes below by his saving dispensation; the one below is raised above by the divine love for mankind.

“Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

“When He was born the Jews denied his strange birth; the Pharisees misinterpreted the divine books; the Scribes spoke in contradiction of the Law. Herod sought Him out Who was born, not that he might adore Him, but to put Him to death. Today all things proclaim the opposite. For they have not been, according to the Psalmist, hidden from their children, in another generation (Psalm 77:4, LXX). And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

“Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead. And behold, Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory; soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy; virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy; infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise; children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech; servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom; fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men; publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist; sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant; and that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

“Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the highest; and with the shepherds, and on earth peace, good will among men.”

(Taken from M. F. Toal, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, vol. 1 [Chicago: Regnery, 1958], pages 110-1; cf. PG 56 col. 385. The translation has been minimally revised, and punctuation lightly edited.)

 

Мир Божији, Христос се роди! Ваистину се роди!
Peace from God, Christ is born! Truly, He is born!

On Reading the Scriptures, Part II

On New Year’s Day 2010, I posted some initial thoughts on the subject of Bible reading. In that first post I sought to offer some considered reflections on the purpose of daily Bible reading and on the ascetical dimension of reading the Scriptures in a disciplined fashion, as well as some practical suggestions on how to embark on a reading program for beginners that takes into account the preeminent place of the Gospel and the Psalter in the Church and the vital need to avoid biting off more than one can chew. I have learned that these initial thoughts have proved useful to some, and for this I am grateful. Now the purpose of this post is to detail a more comprehensive Bible reading plan that builds on the foundation of the basic program described earlier. Needless to say, the points addressed in the first post are simply assumed here, and those who have not read the previous discussion should take a few minutes to do so.

III. Taking the Next Step: The Rest of the New Testament

Once a person has solidly established a regular daily discipline of reading the Gospel and the Psalter in the manner described earlier, it is perhaps time to start thinking of how to move from this bare minimum of Scriptural reading to a fuller program that can, in due course, lead the reader through the vast swaths of otherwise unexplored Biblical literature. Since abrupt change is ultimately detrimental to growth in the disciplines of the Christian life, and since, as we have seen, the Gospel and the Psalter should not be neglected in our daily reading of Scripture, it is probably best not to give up the program to which one has thus far become accustomed, but rather we should seek ways to sensibly add to it. Once again we must resist the temptation to do either too much or too little: one is a sure prescription for burnout, and the other simply caters to our complacency. So here, too, we must do only as much as we can, while we strive to grow in our discipline, which will in turn allow us to do more.

A first step might be to add a daily reading from the rest of the New Testament: Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation. If one has followed the Gospel reading program laid down in the “Cell Rule of the Optina Monastery,” which was warmly recommended in the first post, the easiest way to accomplish this would be to add the Epistle reading program appointed by the Rule, which is designed to match it. Readers will recall that the Optina Rule calls for reading one chapter of the Holy Gospel every day. There are 89 chapters in all when we take all four Gospels together, and so one reads through them once every three months. The Rule further calls for reading two chapters from the rest of the New Testament every day, with last seven chapters of Revelation being read at the rate of one per day. In this way, the reading of these books is completed also in 89 days, together with the reading of the Gospel.

A few years ago I prepared a reading plan in four columns whose purpose is to assist those who wish to conduct their reading of the New Testament according to the Optina Rule in keeping track of their progress. Our good friend Kevin Edgecomb has graciously hosted the plan in his website from the beginning, and it may be found here.

Now 89 multiplied by 4 is 356, so if one is using the program laid down by the Optina Cell Rule as a yearly reading plan, this leaves 9 days at the end of the year that would fall outside the reading cycle. Nothing prevents a reader, of course, from turning to the first chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel on December 23 and starting over, but I suspect many of us would prefer to start anew at the beginning of the year. Personally, I find that those days give me some elbow room in case I am unable to fulfill the reading plan on any given day. For instance, the intensity of the services from Holy Thursday to Pascha, and frankly, the sheer exhaustion from the long hours in Church, leave me with little time or inclination to read. Every year, then, I simply read for the last time on Holy Wednesday, and then pick up again on Bright Monday. That uses 4 of those additional 9 days. On the remaining 5 days, if I haven’t been ill or have otherwise needed to make use of them, I will often read through the Gospel of St Luke, whose extended birth narrative is singularly appropriate for season, and which at 24 chapters may easily be read at a rate of roughly 5 chapters per day.

IV. Reaching for the Goal: Reading the Old Testament

The rather minimal addition of two chapters from the rest of the New Testament to our daily Gospel and Psalter regimen brings us closer to our goal of reading through the entire Bible, but we yet have quite a bit of ground to cover. Again, once we have firmly settled into the exercise of this expanded discipline, we will be ready to add the final layer of our reading program, which will see us through to its completion. In this final and all-important step, we add a daily reading from the Old Testament.

Since we have been reading daily from the Psalter from the beginning and will continue to to do so, our plan will comprise the rest of the Old Testament read in sequential order over the course of the entire year. This can comfortably be done at a rate of roughly 3 chapters per day. Some years ago our friend Kevin Edgecomb prepared a reading plan covering the entire (N)RSV Old Testament, including the full Anaginoskomena, basically by dividing the number of chapters by 365. Then a while back I followed his plan for a year (excluding the Psalms), reducing the length of the daily readings to 2 or 3 chapters, and trying not to break up larger narrative, poetic, and prophetic sections. Again, Kevin kindly agreed to host the revised plan on his website, and it may be found at the very bottom of this page.

The plan is rather straight-forward, and it includes readings for all 365 days of the year. However, as I mentioned earlier, I usually skip the daily readings at least 4 times every year. This causes a bit of difficulty with this reading plan, since there is no elbow room to miss any readings. My own solution to this small problem is to read the book of 4 Maccabees, which is in an appendix to the Greek Old Testament and is not included in the Slavonic Bible, perhaps every other year and outside the reading plan. This may not be an entirely satisfactory solution, but it does open up 6 days at the end of the year.

And so we complete the 4 stages of our progressive reading plan for the entire Bible. I should mention that Kevin has prepared a PDF document that features all four reading plans side by side, and aligned with the day of the year. He has also an alternative version of this document that adapts the OT reading plan to the book names and versification of the NETS. Finally, I soon hope to feature a similar static page here on my blog with the reading plan for 2011 as I will follow it, taking into account the Holy Week hiatus and the reading of the Gospel of St Luke at the end of the year.

Again, all of the above is offered in the sincere and earnest hope that it may prove useful to someone in carrying out their desire to read the Holy Scriptures. And as has often been noted by Kevin and myself, these plans are under continuous revision, and suggestions for improvement and both encouraged and welcome.