What Hath Socrates to do with Melchizedek?

James Schall is a smart man but reading him makes me wonder if an important difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics is the lens through which each side views Jesus. Is Jesus part of the narrative of the West that begins with the Greeks? Or is Jesus the culmination of the law and the prophets?

Schall seems to adopt the former:

The trial of Socrates is replicated in the trial of Christ. In both cases, we have noble and good men before the courts of the best cities of their time. The governor/judge at Christ’s trial even wanted to know what “truth” was, or at least he asked about it. In the reflections of Plato on the trial of Socrates, we have the human mind at its best knowing the issues that must be confronted by a mind. In the case of Christ, the history and explanation of who He was, who He claimed to be, lies in what we now call “revelation.” This revelation stretched through long periods of Hebrew history.

This history even had an account of “the beginning.” The heavens and the earth were said to have been created by God “in the beginning.” It is strange, but when the Gospel of John began its explanation of who Christ was, it also used these words “in the beginning.” But this beginning is one step back from the beginning in Genesis. The world begins in the Godhead, in the activity of the Father who sends the Word, His Son, into the world.

The account of revelation itself contains intelligibility. It can be understood in its outlines. The curious thing about this revelation is how it addresses reason. Indeed, Christian revelation first presented itself not to other religions but to the Greeks, to Athens, to philosophy. It could not properly begin unless it met human reasoning at its best. Revelation is mind addressed to mind as mind—insofar as it knows what it can know, and what it cannot.

Thus, when revelation read Plato, it encountered something familiar. It knew of the death of Christ, the just man rejected and killed by the state. The experience of Christ followed that of Socrates and, as I argue, completed it. Plato was right. Ultimate justice is not found complete in any actual city. But it exists nonetheless. When the young Plato asked if the world was created in injustice, he sought to save justice. Here, political philosophy and revelation meet on their own terms, but terms intelligible to each other. The logic of reason and the logic of revelation meet and supplement each other. In the end, the world is not created in injustice.

The completion of Plato lies in the resurrection, in the reality that sees not just the immortality of the soul but the acting person as the source of all reason. Revelation completes the logic of reason because it answers a question that reason by itself is unable to answer.

That is not how the New Testament writers conceived of Jesus’ relation to what went before. Consider Hebrews:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, fa better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:11-22)

Seeing Jesus in relation to Socrates or Melchizedek could explain why Roman Catholics stress philosophy more than Protestants emphasize the Bible, or why Roman Catholics regard virtue and human nature more like Plato and Aristotle than Protestants who follow the prophets and Paul on sin and sanctification.

But why Roman Catholics don’t take the Old Testament more seriously, since their observance of communion stresses sacrifice and long OT lines, is a mystery.

An Argument that Bites Off More than It Can Chew

Bishop Robert Barron is traveling in Italy and recently came across the teeth of Ambrose of Milan. They were on display as relics at a basilica in Milan, and led the bishop to make this argument in defense of such sacred material:

[Cardinal Newman] had come to understand such pious gestures as a logical development of the doctrine of the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God truly became flesh. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took to himself a human mind and will and imagination, but also feet, hands, internal organs, muscles, veins, and bones. He lived, died, and rose in a real human body. Subsequently, in the mystical body of the Church, the Incarnation is extended through space and time, the Spirit of Jesus coming to dwell in the humanity of all the baptized and in a privileged way in the humanity of the saints. Paul acknowledged this truth when he cried exultantly, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” How wonderful, too, that this Christ-life is placed in the bodies of the faithful through the materiality of the sacraments: water, oil, imposed hands, transfigured bread and wine, etc. And this, Newman realized, is why the Church has, from the beginning, reverenced the bodies of the saints and treasured their relics. She has known that, as Paul put it, our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit, dwelling places of Christ.

So why not save the remains of all the deceased? Ara Parseghian seemed like a pretty decent man who, even though a Presbyterian, Notre Dame fans revered. Why not preserve his bones and teeth?

The reason is that only some believers in Rome achieve the status of sainthood. Only their remains are holy. The others? The incarnation only goes so far.

You Can Make This Up

Father Z explains the old and new rules for becoming a saint after the Vatican’s recent expansion of the categories of beatification:

In the Church we have had the ancient teaching and tradition of “red” or bloody martyrdom for the sake of charity whereby the martyr dies giving witness in the face of hatred for Christ, the Church, the Faith or some aspect of the Christian life that is inseparable from our Christian identity. There is also a long tradition of identifying “white” martyrdom, coined by St. Jerome, whereby a person gives witness through an ascetic life, withdrawal from the world, pilgrimages involving great sacrifice, or who suffer greatly for the Faith but who do not die in bearing witness. Coming from another tradition there is a kind of “blue” (or “green”) martyrdom, involving great penance and mortifications without necessarily the sort of withdrawal from life that a hermit or a cenobite might live. Gregory the Great in his Dialogues, writes of different kinds of martyrdom, bloody, public martyrdom in time of persecution and secret martyrdom, not in time of persecution. He wrote that secret martyrs are no less worthy of honor, because they also endured sufferings and the attacks of hidden enemies, but they persevered in charity.

In principle I think that this is a good move… if we are going to stay on the course of so many causes for beatification, that is. Once upon a time, it was an extremely difficult process to investigate a life, gather proofs and organize all the documentation properly, and then study it thoroughly, etc. Now, with the modern means of travel and communication, that process is easier. Many more causes have resulted and, because they in fact corresponded to the criteria established, more causes have been successful. Also, it was the clear desire of John Paul II that there be more examples of Christians “raised to the altar” for our edification and imitation, so as to say, “Yes, it IS possible to be a saint!” I think that results have varied in that project. In a way, it is good to encourage people to aspire to sainthood. However, once the number of beatifications and canonizations multiplied, they seems less “special”.

Whatever happened to faith in Christ (doesn’t look like that Joint Declaration with the Lutherans on justification changed all that much the sufficiency of Christ)?

Meanwhile, for the rest of the church, beatification is not the end but purgatory:

Let’s start by reviewing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1030-1032) teaches about Purgatory:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. … The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire…”

“This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture…”

“From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God…”

“The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead…”

Is the lesson then that a hierarchical church produces a hierarchical plan of salvation? The saints and the rest?

In Protestantism, all believers are saints. Even Paul knew that:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Cor:
1-2)

The Amazing Holy Spirit – He Goes Wherever You Do

Does word-and-sacrament ministry (or Sunday worship) have a shelf life? Put differently, do you go to church to have your spiritual batteries recharged? If so, will the charge last for an entire week? Or do we need a mid-week service to revive our spiritual energy?

This may be one reason for spiritual retreats or mid-week Bible studies. It may even explain the reason some people have daily quiet times. You never want to be too far away from the spiritual outlet.

This is not simply an evangelical Protestant problem. Turns out the mechanical calculations of the Mass’s effects also turn up among those loyal to the Bishop of Rome:

How long does the fullness of the sacramental presence last? To assert that it perdures for life would be to deny that the Holy Eucharist is our daily bread, and would be inconsistent with our nature as finite, mutable mortals. If one Holy Communion sufficed for life, our time of trial would be an anticipation of Heaven, when our souls will be so transformed, so glorified in the rapturous consciousness of their eternal union with God, as to be invulnerable to change.

At the moment of Holy Communion, we have a very definite sense of the complete possession of Christ — a calm, heavenly absorption of His divine life quickens our souls. But if this condition continued, it would not accord with our spiritual development, which, because we are finite beings, is gradual; and the Holy Eucharist would not be the pledge of eternal life.

Does union with Christ in the Mass totally transform the believer? It better not since humans can’t handle a full blast of grace (or one that makes purgatory unnecessary). It needs to be partial, even daily, if it is going to sanctify the ordinary work a Christian does:

Even if we are not vividly conscious of the presence of our Divine Guest during the performance of our daily duties, it will influence us both interiorly and exteriorly, sanctifying the most trifling commonplace of our unobtrusive lives. It will urge us to imitate His eucharistic life, cost what it may, for the spirit of Christ will sustain us, and His light will not only illumine our own souls, but will also enlighten those “sitting in the darkness and shadow of death.”

Maybe it’s just mmmmeeeeEEEE, but the Protestant doctrine of vocation sure looks a lot less complicated and a whole lot more compelling. By the Holy Spirit Christians offer up sacrifices to God through the duties they perform as part of God’s providential care for his creation. By the Holy Spirit, Christians are priests. By the Spirit, they perform a small imitation of the priestly responsibilities that God gave to Adam in garden when work was synonymous with worship.

No need for a pit stop at the parish before going to the office. Family worship will do.

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It

Why does so much confusion surround the so-called Alt-Right while so many people are absolutely certain they oppose it? The Southern Baptist Convention seemed to set the standard for establishing indignant distance from the Alt-Right and its associations with white supremacy. At the same time, pretty much no one knows what the Alt-Right is. If the SBC had thrown Charles Murray, the co-author of The Bell Curve, into its resolution, I doubt anyone would have cared. Who is Charles Murray? Not sure. Must be a white supremacist because those kids at Middlebury College know what’s what.

Here is Joe Carter’s attempt to define the Alt-Right even after the fact of the resolution — reporting catches up to voting:

The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.

The Southern Poverty Law Center gives a somewhat broader definition (that could actually include Joe Carter and me at times):

The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.

At the Alt-Right website, the defining component of the movement seems to be a race-based defense of Western civilization. One question in these race obsessed times — and can anyone remember this goes back to the election of Barack Obama and didn’t just start with the 2016 election? — is if you defend cultural goods of the West like smart phones, rule by law, or tennis are you guilty of the sins of the Alt-Right? Or if you look favorably on the United States, which people of European descent have dominated for good and ill, are you also tainted?

But a bigger question is what a white man is to do. The comments at Joe Carter’s piece suggest that even the fans of John Piper and Tim Keller are not willing to support the SBC’s resolution even while they do not identify with the Alt-Right:

The SBC did us a huge disservice by not defining the Alt Right. The more familiar one becomes with their bigotry, the more disgusting their venom. I think, however, there is a danger in all of this. Since we have left the Alt Right as an ambiguous term, we have set ourselves up for witch hunts. For instance, If I believe in a strong national defense, and in protecting our borders, am I to be branded with this label, and thereby made notorious? If I call myself a “Proud American”, then I am, by definition, a nationalist. Will that term soon become, “white-nationalist” with the passage of time? As the author points out, the “Alt Right” has far more in common with progressivism, than with true conservatism. I would welcome a clarification to the resolution. One which helps us all understand the dangers of this deceptive movement, but which does not leave those Christians who lean left, with the misunderstanding that Conservatives are hateful, or bigoted. That would seem to me to be the exact kind of Xenophobia we just denounced.

One of the reasons for such criticism is that Carter leaves the average white person in a dilemma. One the one hand, identifying as white is a sin:

White supremacy, white nationalism, and white identity are not all the same thing, but they are all equally repugnant….

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

If that is true, that even recognizing myself as white as opposed to Christian is a form of idolatry, what am I supposed to do if I am a Southern Baptist and read calls like this?

White leadership must be vigilant in yielding the floor to black voices, black language, and black tone on this issue in particular, regardless of perceptions or consequences. Right is right and it often takes authentic voices and types of expression to rightly convey it. Jesus said that if you enter a banquet do not seat yourself at the head of the table but at the foot. It is time for white leadership in the SBC to sit at the foot of the table and learn from their African American brothers and sisters how to rightly oppose racial injustice in this country. Including allowing for language and tone that may at times be uncomfortable.

Do I get to ignore this because I say I’m not white but a Christian? Or do I have to look around the room at skin color and come clean that I am white and so need to take a back seat to people of color? At that point, have I not committed the sin of idolatry by identifying as white? Something along the lines of doubly damned comes to mind.

Not to mention that whites and blacks talking about race often ignores Asians and Latinos. Do whites and blacks also sometimes need to sit at the feet of Native Americans or Korean-Americans? At this point, have we really heeded Paul that in Christ there is not Jew nor Greek? Or aren’t we simply a little late to the aggrieved minority party that Democrats have been holding since 1965?

Doesn’t the right side of history have an expiration date?

Would You Rather Be Honorable or Moral?

After reading H. L. Mencken and seeing the John Stott quote that Tim Challies turned into an infographic (yowza!), put me on the side of honor. I’ve seen too many obedience boys and girls who show not the slightest interest in being human when sanctity is the ultimate aim. But plenty of parents know they can’t apply high standards of conduct all the time. Sometimes you let the down the guard so you can win another day. Life is not a court of law. It’s a pilgrimage and honor aids dignity and relationships that may down the road help holiness prevail.

That’s why Mencken yet again shows uncanny insight:

In the face of so exalted a moral passion it would be absurd to look for that urbane habit which seeks the well—being of one’s self and the other fellow, not in exact obedience to harsh statutes, but in ease, dignity and the more delicate sort of self—respect. That is to say, it would be absurd to ask a thoroughly moral man to be also a man of honour. The two, in fact, are eternal enemies; their endless struggle achieves that happy mean of philosophies which we call civilization. The man of morals keeps order in the world, regimenting its lawless hordes and organizing its governments; the man of honour mellows and embellishes what is thus achieved, giving to duty the aspect of a privilege and making human intercourse a thing of fine faiths and understandings. We trust the former to do what is righteous; we trust the latter to do what is seemly. It is seldom that a man can do both. The man of honour inevitably exalts the punctilio above the law of God; one may trust him, if he has eaten one’s salt, to respect one’s daughter as he would his own, but if he happens to be under no such special obligation it may be hazardous to trust him with even one’s charwoman or one’s mother—in—law. And the man of morals, confronted by a moral situation, is usually wholly without honour. Put him on the stand to testify against a woman, and he will tell all he knows about her, even including what he has learned in the purple privacy of her boudoir. More, he will not tell it reluctantly, shame—facedly, apologetically, but proudly and willingly, in response to his high sense of moral duty. It is simply impossible for such a man to lie like a gentleman. He lies, of course, like all of us, and perhaps more often than most of us on the other side, but he does it, not to protect sinners from the moral law, but to make their punishment under the moral law more certain, swift, facile and spectacular.

By the way, honor is even key to the way Christians should regard the civil magistrate. Paul recommends honor in Romans 13, and Calvin agrees. But if you really want morality, say hello to the religious right and the permissive left.

Why Crawford Gribben is Holier than I

He has read much more John Owen than I and in the introduction to his recent book, John Owen and English Puritanism, he explains that one of the ways to mortify sin is to read Owen:

My own sense in preparing this book is that biography is an especially demanding medium that continually refuses to permit intellectual shortcuts: at times, when I was overwhelmed by the demands of reading Owen’s millions of words in their very different contexts, I felt that he could not die soon enough. (20)

Sometimes when I read Owen, I think I can’t die soon enough.

So Owen’s affect on Gribben and me is opposite, either to wish the Puritan or the reader dead.

Wait, doesn’t that make me holier?